Actions

Work Header

Date me, Baz Pitch!

Chapter Text

SIMON

 

It all happened the weekend of Halloween. Baz Pitch always hosted an annual ‘exclusive’, ‘invitation-only’ Halloween costume party. I, of course, never acquire an invitation, but I get in as Penny’s plus-one (she and Baz are ‘academic allies’) – or on account of being on the rugby team (captain) (although he never tells me to invite the team, he tells our mutual friend Matt to bring over his ‘rugby friends’). Baz is never surprised when I show up like he expects me to be there. But he never actually invites me. He’s aggravating.

Baz’s house looks like a gothic mansion. I’m not sure if that’s part of the Halloween décor or if he legitimately lives in a Victorian-era haunted house. Similarly, I am half convinced that Baz Pitch is actually a vampire. He always dresses up as a vampire for Halloween. Every. Single. Year.  I thought repeating outfits every year is ‘uncool’, but on him, it’s somehow ‘endearing.’ I swear he’s mocking us and is actually a vampire – he looks like a vampire on an average day. But what are you going to do? Accuse the most popular guy in school, who dresses as a vampire annually, of being a vampire? I bet that’s his whole cover though. Like; if he makes himself look like a stereotypical vampire, no one will suspect he is one. Anyway.

The thing about Baz Pitch is I hate him.

We hate each other, actually. We’re enemies, yeah? – captain of the football team and captain of the rugby team.  Although he rarely acknowledges our rivalry. He pretends to be too cool to even remember my first name, yet he almost always does these subtle things to instigate a reaction from me. After all, he only started dressing up as a vampire for Halloween after I accused him of being one in middle school. He just…owned it.

Anyway, it all happened at Baz Pitch’s Halloween Party.

Saturday, October 31 st

SIMON

 Baz is violently ignoring me. He’s ignoring me with the level of commitment where you know that it’s intentional and he wants you to know he’s ignoring you, very loudly. This silence is deafening, that sort of thing.

Baz is playing that dumb jock game (I say that as a dumb jock) (Baz, of course, is a very intellectually inclined jock. The only student rivalling Penny. I hate him.) where you throw a Ping-Pong ball into a cup of alcohol and then drink.

I’m trying to readjust my tail – I’m dressed as a red demon with wings – when I see Agatha approach Baz. Agatha is my on-again, off-again girlfriend who Baz has always been after. She’s draping herself all over him, wrapping his cape around her body. She’s wearing literally a bikini with rhinestones and feathers. I want to drag her out of here by the feathers – but we’re off right now so I can’t make a scene. Baz is encouraging her flirting, as always. I still don’t know if it’s because he actually likes her, or just to fuck with me. I’m not sure which possibility is worse.

She leans in to kiss him… I tense. My jaw is clenched. I’m gripping a red cup so hard I’m sure it would have been overflowing into my lap if it wasn’t empty (I’m not a heavy drinker, I’ve been sitting here with an empty alcohol cup for an hour, so people stop offering me drinks. ) I should have left over an hour ago, I’m bored, and Penelope wants to leave. But I need to stay here to keep an eye on a very drunk Agatha, and Baz who is definitely plotting something.

He turns his face slightly, avoiding her kiss. She lands his cheek instead – still too much kissing for me, but I’ll take it as a victory. She looks agitated now, I’m sitting far enough away that I can only barely make out what they’re saying. She’s angry about him rejecting her. She’s accusing him of always leading her on, he’s assuring her that he doesn’t want to make a move on her while intoxicated. I guess that means he actually likes her, then. I feel my stomach sink – why? This should be better than the alternative …

She’s assuring him now that she wants this and consents to it. I roll my eyes. She’s a flirty drunk. I can’t hear his response, but he walks away, she looks embarrassed.

I should probably keep an eye on Agatha, but I need to follow him, make sure he’s not up to anything. Why else would anyone reject Agatha?

Baz meets Dev – his cousin, and one of his minions - in the sitting room, I hang back in the kitchen to watch them from a safe distance. They’re bickering about something.

“Just – look, trust me. Don’t keep these feelings to yourself, how will you know if you don’t put yourself out there?”, Baz seems to be giving Dev … romantic advice?

Dev scoffs, “well those are rich words coming from someone who’s never been in a relationship.”

That surprises me. I guess it’s true that I’ve never seen Baz actually have a girlfriend at school, but he’s that type that you know is dating someone.


“I don’t need to draw from experience for this to look at it objectively.”

“feelings aren’t something you look at objectively!”

“It can be – when you know both parties so well!”

Dev sighs, “you’ll understand when you actually develop significant, scary feelings for a person.”

“un-fucking-likely”

Dev groans. A little louder than he probably should have – they’re attracting attention now. Although I guess Baz Pitch can only ever go a few minutes without attracting attention.

“It’s not like you can’t find someone to date you, it’s just that you’re real fucking stubborn”, Dev rolls his eyes

“oh, please”, Baz is activating his diva mode now, he’s tying his sleek black hair into a messy knot, it looks more attractive than it should when it took 3 seconds and didn’t require a mirror. I hate how arrogant he is. “I could probably date a new person every week if I wanted to – I just don’t want to. I’m not stubborn, I just know my standards.”

“Prove it, then.”, Dev smirks right back at him. “I’ll put myself out there when you do.”

BAZ

“Prove it, then.”, Dev, the bastard says loud enough for at least 2 dozen people to hear - and I know Simon is stalking me. “I’ll put myself out there when you do.”

What does this moron think he’s doing? He knows I’m as gay as a maypole. I’m so deep in the closet that I could find Narnia. I’m not ashamed; Niall is openly bisexual, and he hardly gets shat on for it. I’m just not ready to come out yet … I don’t know how to, without it becoming a whole thing. Maybe I would if I had a legitimate reason to, but I’m single and happy about it, and we leave for college in a few months so what’s the point? I’ll come out in college.

“Pardon?” because it’s all I can say right now. I’m still processing – I might be malfunctioning.

“The great Baz Pitch,” Dev teases, “too good for anyone in this school,” He knows that’s not it. I just haven’t met any viable options. “Prove it”. The bastard is smirking. I roll my eyes a whole 360 degrees – But Pitches don’t back down from a challenge.

“what are you thinking, Grimm?” It’s hard to take him seriously when he’s dressed like a giant Pooh Bear.

We’re drawing a significant crowd now. Mostly everyone who isn’t drunk, hungover, or currently getting shagged. Niall seems to have re-joined us too, from where he was making out with Matthew (our friend from the rugby team, whom Niall has recently started hooking up with) on the Porch. Niall is dressed like zorro. He’s objectively attractive, but we’ve never seen each other that way. Also, he and Dev are pining for each other, with me in the middle as the only knowing party, of no help because they both swore me to secrecy.

“A challenge of sorts,”, Dev is using that tone where I know he’s going to dare me to do some dumb shit, I’m going to do it, and then we’re both going to be fucked until Niall can get us out of trouble. We all know our roles in this friendship.

I hope things stay the same when they start dating.

Dev continues, “– I dare you, Tyrannus Basilton Grimm – Pitch,” I roll my eyes, “ to date someone new every week.” He’s smirking.

I’m not sure what he’s trying to do, really. Kick me out of the closet? He’d never do that. And, he’s in it too.

He is always on my case about casually dating and getting to know people. The only reason I’m even still in the closet is because I haven’t found anyone worthy of coming out for – and personally I’m comfy here. Dev, however, argues that I’m going to be hiding myself until I find someone worth it, but I won’t find anyone because everyone thinks I’m straight.

Again I say: college.

I raise an eyebrow at him, “elaborate.”

“a dare,” Dev explains, taking a seat next to Penelope Bunce on the couch, “you need to date a new person every week. If you get tired of it or run out of people to date – you lose”

“well there’d have to be a time – limit on that; eventually he’ll exhaust all options and then that’s hardly fair” Niall, bless his soul, cuts in

“A dare like this needs proper rules. I nominate myself as dare chancellor, all in favour?”, Penelope Bunce volunteers.

All things considered, this is quite mental, but I actually trust Penelope to keep things fair, so I start clapping, and soon everyone is clapping. I chance a glance at Simon Snow – he looks bewildered.

“okay Bunce, give us the rules”

“time limit. It’s a new relationship every week, so it has to be long enough to require a proper pool of willing participants to prove your point” – merlin she’s already made dating sound boring, “but it can’t take over your whole life” – I’ve always liked this girl. “how about … from Monday until the valentines Ball? it’s hardly fair to force you to celebrate valentines day with someone you probably aren’t voluntarily dating”

“I like that. Three months sounds fair. Dev?”

“sounds fair”, dev agrees. “but, if Bazzy loses then his punishment is he needs to take a date to the Valentines Ball. And I’m talking pre-date dinner, limo, tux, dancing – the full monty”

Dev should stand for Devil.

“what if Baz wins?” Matthew asks. He’s always been a friend but he’s been trying to get an in-, in our trio lately. Trying to get along with Niall’s friends. I see Dev clench his jaw. He looks away from Matthew, back at me.

“Name your price, Bazzy”

“If I win then you’ll get off my back about dates, dating, romance all that stuff! I don’t want to hear a word about it again – I am going to the Valentines Ball stag and looking better than everyone, and you’ll will be fucking happy about it”

“that’s fair – you’d have tried dating about a dozen people by then so if it’s still not for you we won’t bring it up again”, Niall offers

“Okay,” Bunce intervenes, “if Baz loses, he has to take a date to the Valentines Ball but if he wins he gets to go stag for, like, the rest of his life. Any rules?”

To my surprise (or maybe I shouldn’t be surprised because he always thinks I’m plotting) it’s Simon who responds, “How do we know Baz is playing properly and not just paying a different person off every week? Or pretending to date someone?”

“Really think I can’t catch a date without my wallet, Snow?” that hurts a bit since I fancy him more than a bit. That’s precisely the reason I’m an arsehole to him. I don’t need the constant reminder about how straight he is when all I want is to scatter his body with kisses, like the moles that cover it.

“ 'course you can,” he says easily, “but a different person every week? That’s a big ask for even you, Pitch” he smirks.

“We could keep it within Watford only – no outside participants” Penelope suggests

“And Baz can’t ask anyone out”, Dev smirks.

“what? Then how the fuck must I date anyone??”

“If you ask people –I know you, cousin, you’ll have a spreadsheet of candidates you’re going to ask out for every week for the next three months by tonight! You’ll do it for the sake of doing it and ask out everyone who isn’t even a legitimate option for something real – you won’t give anyone a chance.”

I roll my eyes, but he’s not wrong.

“that’s probably for the best though,” Bunce adds, “anyone participating can’t feel too special about you asking them out and they need to know the rules – so no one bothers getting attached. Maybe the rule should be that every week, you date the first person to ask you out. That way, you know whoever asks you already knows about the dare and the rules and that you’re breaking up in a week”

“That’s fair. So, if I’m waiting for people to ask me, I don’t really have much control of the situation except being a boyfriend.”

“scared no one’s going to ask you out, cousin?” Dev smirks

“I’m encouraging people to ask me out, Dev, with a guarantee that I won’t reject them I’m certain I can pool together enough people for 3 months.”

“a few more rules,” Bunce cuts in, “there should be a code or something – so we know that the person asking you is asking on the basis of the bet and not genuinely … to avoid any confusion”

“they’re not really asking – it’s not like Baz has much choice. They’re just updating you about who your stand-in partner is for the week” Niall says. I really do appreciate my friends. They’ve so carefully steered clear of saying the words ‘girl’ or ‘girlfriends’ … leaving it open if any guys want to ask me. I’m not out, but this isn’t a bad way to casually come out.

“I got it. The first person every Monday morning – in school – to say “Date me, Baz Pitch” will automatically be my partner for the week. But only until Friday, I’m not dedicating three months of weekends to this”

“the school week” Penny agrees, “they have to ask you out after the first bell on Monday morning, and you can break up after the last bell on Friday afternoon. Fair?”

“fair. So, what are all our rules?”

“Hold up – I’ll post this to my Ig – get the word out” Niall volunteers as Dev and Penelope finalize something adjacent to a fucking contract.

Date me, Baz Pitch: Dare

Rules:

 

  1. Baz must say yes to the first person to ask him out after first bell every Monday Morning.
  • Starting: November 2nd2020
  • Last Week of Dare: February 8th2021
  1. Every relationship ends after the last bell every Friday.
  2. The person must say the words “Date me, Baz Pitch” as a code that they agree to the terms of this dare.
  3. No physical intimacy during the duration of this dare – this is not a real relationship.
  4. No repeats. Different person every week.
  5. Baz is not obligated to any commitments or promises exceeding the break-up date following one week.
  6. Only seniors of Watford Highschool can participate.
  7. Baz loses if:
  • He fails to be asked out by anyone before last bell on Monday afternoon.
  • He quits the bet prematurely.
  • He breaks any of the rules.
  1. Baz wins if:
  • He follows all the rules and completes the three months.

PENELOPE

“okay”, I’ve just finished a tentative list of rules that Niall and Dev will both put up on their socials to get the word out. Truly I think this whole dare is barbaric and I should not be encouraging this behaviour. I just felt so bad for these morons, they really needed some rules to be dictated to them and someone to make sure they don’t end up breaking the law or anything – they didn’t even realize that Basil is eighteen and needs to exclude minors from the sample group!

January 2021

SIMON

And that’s how it started. A stupid argument and a stupid dare to get people off his back about relationships – a deal to temporarily date the first person to ask him out every week.

It had been over two months. Baz had played along, he never broke his rules for anyone.

Until me.

  

Chapter Text

Saturday, October 31st

DEV

“what, the fuck, is wrong with you?” Niall is reprimanding me – again. He doesn’t sound so much angry as exasperated. I’m glad he’s not angry at me. It takes a lot to get him angry, he’s a laid back dude, but when you succeed he tends to hold a grudge about it.

“I’m sorry – yyyy” I whine. I want to walk closer to him, but I can’t stop seeing Matt – the arsehole- draped all over him. I’ve never been particularly possessive of any of the girls I’ve dated. I knew I was the shit, and if they couldn’t see that I simply moved on. I never questioned my worth. I never got … jealous. I believed you didn’t need to get jealous if you were secure enough.

The day I first saw Niall making out with a guy was very difficult for me. And confusing. I realized two things; firstly, I was jealous. I didn’t know why but I wanted to drag the guy off Niall. Baz was with me and stopped me and then we both had to have a long-ass conversation about my reaction and what this potentially means about my sexuality and emotions and shit.

Subsequently, I also realized I was probably not the straightest. Although – No other guy does anything for me. Why is Niall the exception? I don’t know.

Why did I only get jealous when I saw Niall with another guy when I had seen him kiss girls before? I don’t know that either.

Baz believes it’s because the image made me realise that I’m an … option. I don’t know if that’s it, but since then I’ve felt my stomach sink to my dick every time I saw Niall with anyone else– guy or girl alike. Maybe Baz is right and seeing him with a guy just made me realise a bunch of shit I couldn’t un-realise.

Honestly Dee,” he berates, I love when he calls me nicknames, “What were you thinking? How could you dare him something like that when you know we’re the only ones who know he’s gay”

“Need I remind you that you helped write the contract?”

“I had to oversee! You two need consistent supervision and should never be left alone – least of all together!”, Niall sounds exasperated now - I would love to be alone with him.

I sigh exaggeratedly, “I intentionally never used the word ‘girlfriend’ – guys have just as much right to ask Baz out – they just need to have the balls.”

“I did pick up on that,” Niall smirks at me, “nice trick. But still – most, if not all, of the people who ask Baz will be girls. That’s going to be a disaster! What if no one else picks up on the loophole? And everyone still thinks he's straight so they may never ask him out anyway”

“We should defs spread the word – we're friends with a bunch of queer guys … I’m sure we can subtly mention that there’s a gender loophole in the dare so the rules still apply to guys …”

“they might feel then like Baz is only saying yes because of the dare –”

“Baz is only saying yes to anyone because of the dare –”

“but they think he’s straight – they might feel more like it’s… harassment. Trust me,” Niall trails off nervously, “I would never hit on a straight guy, even if I knew there were conditions where he had to say yes. If I knew it wasn’t what he wanted I’d never want to induce a sexuality crises in him or just … cross his boundaries, y’know?”

It almost feels like Niall is trying to tell me something else with his words...

NIALL

Take a fucking hint, Jesus, are you straight or not for fucks sake

DEV

I sigh.

“what if you ask him out?” I enquire

Niall looks at me like I’ve suggested we go and egg Kensington. I wouldn’t mind trying to egg Kensington, actually, now that I think about it…

“I mean,” I amend, “just to get it going y’know? – like, if by December still no guys have caught up and at least tried to ask Baz out, even if girls beat them to do it first, then you can just ask him out?

Just to get the ball rolling and if anyone asks just be like ‘well we never specified boys can't play’”

Niall looks troubled.

“he’s like a brother to me, Dev,”

“he’s literally like a brother to me so I can’t do it… it’s not like it’s a real relationship that would affect your friendship or anything and we can tell him why you asked him so he won’t get the wrong idea – wait …is this about Matthew?”

“what?”

“is this about Matthew? Is he your boyfriend now?”

Niall groans, “no it’s not about Matthew it’s about the fact that Baz is my friend and I don’t want to date him – but, if I get an opening I’ll mention that guys can also play”

We’re at his gate now. We were walking home together from Baz’s house. Our houses are all just a few minutes away from each other, we grew up riding bikes on these roads – it’s how we became friends (well, Baz and I are cousins but it’s how the three of us became buds).

I linger… I should walk away. It’s the ‘bro’ thing to do. I don't want to wait until Monday to see him again. 

NIALL

Don’t go.

 

DEV

I back away after a minute of silence.

“see you, man,” I give him a small wave as I continue the few minutes walk to my own home. I hope I hid my longing. 

***


 

BAZ

Well. Things are going quite poorly if I do say so myself. Currently, I’m lying face-down on my bed, being a failure in life. Why did I agree to this dare? Because I didn’t want to seem a coward in front of my peers? – unlikely. I don’t particularly care about being a people-pleaser, which is probably why I’m considered ‘cool’ in the first place. And because of my social status, any response I could have had to Dev’s insane dare would have been considered a ‘cool guy response’. There was no wrong answer.

Except for my answer.

Date a new person every week? That’s some bullshit, not to mention impossible. I’ve never been anyone’s boyfriend in my life, what is this, a catch-up course?

It’s not that I doubt that people will ask me out, I’m dreading the inevitability of it, in fact. Firstly, it’s unlikely that anyone I actually want to date would participate in the dare. I’m uncertain how obvious Dev was about his loophole that guys are, in fact, not explicitly excluded from the participant pool, but everyone thinks I’m straight so it’s unlikely any of the possibly closeted gay prospects would go through the trouble of coming-out for this. As for the pre-existing pool of out and proud queer guys, I’m not particularly partial to any of them. Sure, many of them are attractive and multiple guys have even hit on me in the past – albeit cautiously – but I really do think my particular type is ‘straight’ guys.

Speaking of my type, maybe that’s the reason I let Dev reel me into yet another insane plan – because Simon Snow was there? Because I wanted to get on his nerves and get his attention?

Simon and I aren’t friends per se… there’s a mutual animosity between us. I’m convinced he hates me. I don’t hate him.

When I was fifteen, I began to suspect that I was not as … straight as I’d initially assumed. Simon bloody Snow showed up to a pool party and took off his shirt and I was suddenly very, very gay. It took me a while to come to terms with it, I avoided him for the most part. After some exploration, I came to terms with my sexuality and the fact that I had a whole crush on Simon Snow. The problem was, I didn’t know what to do about it. Should I flirt with him? How do you even know if another bloke is queer and if it’s acceptable to flirt with him before finding out?

Simon Snow caused me a mid-life crisis at fifteen. (Then again, maybe that was the middle of my life – it was also the summer I started smoking, so.)

I’ve always been particularly good looking so it’s not like I had never before charmed or flirted with anyone, but it was my first genuine crush. After weeks of mental and emotional preparation, I decided to try subtly flirting with him and then hypothesizing his sexuality from his reaction. I saw him walking in my direction in the halls, I decided to bump into him while walking past to get his attention – as they do in the movies sometimes. I thought maybe he’d drop a few books and I could bend down to pick them up at the same time as he does and our fingers would brush …

That was not what happened.

I bumped into him hard and he turned a startled glance at me. He did not drop the books - I had not planned for that. Apparently, I panic-flirt by being mean because my response was, honest to god, “watch it, Snow, for snakes sakes are you blind”, I think I even accompanied it with a sneer.

He swore me since I walked into him. A few weeks later, when I had finally regained the courage to try again – with fewer insults – he started dating Wellbelove. That … hurt more than it probably should have, since I only tried flirting with him the one time and ended up behaving like an arsehole. Unfortunately, Snow apparently decided after that incident that we were enemies. The animosity wasn’t helped by the fact that Wellbelove also seemed to fancy me. There was just no going back afterwards and now I’m a dick to him every time I see him because it’s too late to stop, and he’s a dick to me but I think he’s more genuine in his hatred.

I’m not sure if it’s unresolved feelings for Snow (I’m not even sure if I still like him or not since its completely hopeless now. I’m still very gay for him.) or the trauma from the epic failure that was me flirting with the first guy I actually liked, but I never actually fell for anyone since then – apart from just admiring them on an aesthetic, superficial level.

So… maybe tonight was just me acting out to get his attention. Make him jealous? – ridiculous.

I can’t psychoanalyze it right now… but I know that Monday will be a whole new version of Hell.

The old grandfather clock downstairs chimes the hour.

00:00, November 1st.

I tie my hair into a messy bun, switch off the lights and toss and turn until eventually I’m swept up into an uneasy sleep. Not for the first time, I dream of blue eyes and a constellation of freckles.

Chapter Text

BAZ

It’s not like I was deluded into thinking that the dare wouldn’t be a big deal at school. I know how I look. I know being captain of the football team, rich, and smart, leads to inevitable popularity. I never actually wanted it, I may not be particularly low-key, but I’m hardly a social butterfly.

The notoriously single golden boy, bound to say yes to the first person to ask him out every week? I knew it would make waves. I knew it would be the height of Watford gossip for a few weeks at least.

I was not prepared for this, though.

Monday, November 2nd

I pull up to my usual parking spot – next to the football field – and put the Porsche in neutral. The parking lot is busier than usual for this time. It’s still early and I’m only here for football practice, but they’ve left my spot available. Perks of popularity.

Dev’s jeep is here. I wonder if Niall got a ride with Dev today or with Matthew? Sometimes, the three of us carpool for fun and convenience. But I tutor after football practice so Dev and Niall generally travel without me – except recently, Matthew has joined the equation.

Jogging to the changeroom, I find Dev already changed into his kit.

He grins at me, I give him the stink eye. “Niall drive with you today?”

He visibly saddens, “no, he rode with ‘Matthew’”

I shake my head, “just – trust me, tell him you have feelings for him before he’s actually in a serious thing and you can’t say anything.”

“last night he said you were like a brother to him!”

“ditto”, I raise an eyebrow at him.

He sighs, “he’s known me just as long as he’s known you, and he knows about you-” he means that I’m gay, “- if he sees you as a brother, then-”

I cut him off, this is ridiculous, “just stop, Dev, feelings don’t work this way. And it’s up to you to tell him because as far as he knows, you’re straight. You’re not even an option. It’s easier for you, you know he’s bisexual.”

“Yeah, brilliant” he’s in his moping mode now, “so when he rejects me, I’ll know it was because he didn’t like me, I can’t even convince myself that it’s a sexuality thing.”

I bang my head against my locker.

The 'Dev&Niall' situation is a confusing dynamic. Niall came out as bisexual when we were fifteen. He was never too concerned about it – his parents are very liberal. I was still figuring my feelings out at the time, and I came out to Dev and Niall, both, roughly a year later.

There was a phase last year when I really wanted to come out. I was tired of gently letting girls down when they hit on me, some of them were really nice and meant well. Niall and Dev were both very encouraging. Niall asked how I realized I was gay and if I had feelings for anyone, that’s when I told him about Simon. That’s when he told me about Dev.

He said he’d always loved Dev and me, but with me, it was like a brother and with Dev…it had felt different in the last few years. Dev was basically the catalyst of Niall’s bisexual awakening. He said he couldn’t pin down the moment he started feeling differently about Dev, but that it was just a bunch of things. Wanting to be close to Dev all the time,  wanting him around, missing him when he wasn’t. I think the main comparison that Niall drew was his feelings for Dev compared to his feelings for me. That’s how he knew what he felt for Dev wasn’t platonic anymore.

He fell in love with Dev, so slow he didn’t even realize it until he was all in.

Niall swore me to secrecy, he made me promise. I would never even considered breaking his promise, although Dev is my cousin. I told him Dev would be understanding, but he said it was hopeless because Dev is straight and he didn’t want to ruin one of the most important relationships in his life over a pipedream. He hid his feelings and although I felt bad for him, all was mostly well. For a few months.

Niall - in love with Dev - resorted to casually dating and making out with every hot guy and girl in his general area in a desperate effort to get over Dev.

Then Dev saw Niall kissing some guy, had a sexual identity crisis, and now Dev wants Niall.

Which would be fucking brilliant - except Dev is too scared to tell Niall, and I can’t tell him that Niall is already in love with him because it’s not my secret to tell – I don’t want to ruin this for either of them. As far as I know, Dev is attracted to Niall and weirdly possessive of him, but I don’t know if he’s in love with Niall so I can’t sell Niall out.

But, I also can’t tell Niall about Dev because, firstly, Dev asked me not to (I don’t really care about this promise since I know Niall is mutually interested) but more importantly, Dev isn’t out. Coming out is his. It’s important that he does that for himself, I can't rob him of that.  I won't. Especially coming out to someone as important to him as Niall. 

So now I’m caught between the secrets of both my best friends who are pining over each other and I can’t give them a crutch without outing one of them or jeopardizing the feelings of the other. These two seriously need to have a conversation about their feelings.

Alas.


Dev and I bicker more on our way to football practice. The moment I reach the pitch is when I know I fucked up. The bleachers are full. Packed. As busy as they are for our games, and this is literally nothing more than a non-compulsory early morning practice. No one ever shows up for these. The entire team seems to be paralyzed – and confused – when Aimee Hernandez struts up to the center of the pitch. She’s walking towards me.

“do you like what I did here, Bazzy?”, I hate when she calls me that. That was Dev’s nickname for me when we were toddlers and she just hasn’t earned the right to call me that.

“not my name – are you responsible for this … gathering?” curiously, I survey the crowd. Most of the senior class is here, but a fair amount of juniors and freshmen. Really it feels like the entire school is here. Still, upon a more detailed observation, I see that only about half the bleachers are actually full. Way too much for practice, but not as much a crowd as game days.

“I wanted everyone to witness when we finally make this,” she gestures between myself and her…boobs, “official.” She smiles sweetly. Or at least it probably should have been sweet but she’s a vicious little thing. 

She’s been telling people we’re a thing for years. Captain of the football team and captain of the cheerleading squad.

I feel like taking one of her megaphones and screaming, “Give me a G! – Give me an A! – Give me a Y! – what does that spell? GAY! I’m gay you blind arseholes!”

But I do not.

“This?”, I say instead. I’ve learned that the best way to get under Aimee’s skin Is to pretend to be oblivious to her advances  - or our apparent love.

She’s getting agitated, now. She inhales dramatically while pinching the bridge of her nose. But then she says the words that get me right where she wants me. She pulls out one of those large cone-shaped megaphones, and makes direct eye-contact with me while saying, for the entire crowd, “Date me, Baz Pitch!!!”.

The crowd erupts in cheer.

I turn to glare at Dev, he looks genuinely sorry. Instead of answering I check the time on the large clock which we use to keep track of practice. The first bell has just gone off a few minutes ago, while Dev and I were in the changeroom. Practice is about to start. I have no loophole. She’s looking at me expectantly.

I exhale a sigh of defeat, “yes.”

 

DEV

Okay, fine. I feel like shit.

I hadn’t created this dare with bad intentions, trust me. I really didn’t intend for Bazzy’s first relationship to be with Aimee. She’s gorgeous, but she has the depth of single-ply toilet paper. The personality of it too. Also, he's gay.

Really, I just wanted him to put himself out there more. He’s content but I don’t always feel like he’s happy. I know how I feel when I’m lonely. I didn’t want him to feel that way.

Really I thought this whole thing would be fun and a positive experience for him. I thought it would just make him more popular – if that’s possible – and if we got guys to ask him out he might actually meet someone he liked. Baz might be confident and popular but he’s terrible at social confrontation. Even if he fancies a bloke, I don’t expect him to handle that appropriately. And I’m sure there’s plenty of decent lads interested in him, but he’s 'straight' and intimidating. I thought that if people knew he would say yes, he might actually meet someone through this and just … I thought it would be good for him.

In the future, I shall simply resort to taking Baz and Niall to a gay club.

Watching the frown on his face, the crinkle of his brow as he grudgingly agrees to spend a week dating a girl we all can’t stand? Pretending to be someone he’s not?

I’m a terrible friend. I’m terrible family, really.

No wonder Niall prefers Matthew.

PENELOPE

The look on Baz’s face as he says yes to the Queen Bee – Simon’s name for Aimee – actually makes me pity him. Although I don’t really know what else he was expecting to come of this dare. Myself, I had anticipated that either Aimee, Agatha, or Anwar (they never explicitly excluded men from asking Baz out and I knew Anwar, a gay guy who runs this school about as much as Agatha and Aimee do, would take advantage of that)  would be the first to ask him out.

To ensure the dare's effectiveness, we (I’m still dare chancellor) agreed that Baz needs to take this seriously. Saying that he’s someone's boyfriend for a week and ignoring them doesn’t count. We excluded physical intimacy, but Baz is obligated to actually civilly speak to Aimee, eat lunch with her and text / call her during the five-day relationship duration.

I never thought I’d say this, but I pity you, Baz Pitch.

 

BAZ

Aimee has taken to sitting directly on top of me during lunch. It’s very off-putting. She smells like vanilla and it’s intoxicating. We’re sitting at the cheerleader’s table and the conversation is a bore. I want to go play footie with the boys or intimidate Simon. Aimee behaves like my arms don’t work – she keeps feeding me – when the real issue is I can’t feel my legs with her on top of me.

They’re snickering about Wellbelove now, “She’s not sitting with us today, I guess she’s still jealous that I beat her to asking you out”, she leans forward to kiss me on my cheek, I avoid her face.

“no physical intimacy – it’s in the rules”

“surely those stupid rules don’t apply to me, Bazzy”

“those stupid rules are the only reason I’m ‘dating’ you Aimee,” I say with finger quotes at the word ‘dating’, “and who knows, maybe she’ll ask me out next week”

“next week?”, Aimee looks positively startled. I can’t imagine why.

“Surely you’ve read the terms of the dare, haven’t you, Aimee?” I seriously inquire, “It’s how you knew what to say?”

“sure, but -”

“so you know that each ‘relationship’ lasts only five days, next Monday someone else asks me out – no repeats”

“That’s what it said, but we’re already together now Basil –” oof, if she’s using my actual name she’s likely at the end of her fuse. I better push her. Not my fault if she dumps my ass. “ – as we should have been for a while now, so you don’t need to continue with this stupid dare. Luckily I was the first person to ask you out – ”, I mean I don’t feel lucky but okay, “ – so we can just stay together and even though you lose the dare you’re taking me to the ball anyway so it won't matter”

I am rather bewildered.

And perplexed. 

I am bewildered and perplexed. 

I clear my throat.

“Aimee, dear. I assure you, this is all part of the dare. None of this is a real relationship and I will be following the rules of the dare exactly because the only reason we are here right now,” I gesture vaguely to the cheerleader table, “is because I intend to win the bet. Now - ”, I dislodge her from my lap, “no physical intimacy. We’re lucky Penelope didn’t see, she’s dare chancellor, she could have my head for that breach.”


I stroll into AP Calculus after lunch like I own the place. I guess I kind of do, with a 95% average. My only competition for the head of the class is Penelope. I wink at her as I take my seat, next to her. In some ways we’re rivals, I guess. But mostly we help each other out. I don’t know if we’re friends exactly because we don’t make conversation about anything that’s not related to academics (until the dare, apparently), but we’re definitely academic allies. As much as I love the taste of beating Penelope Bunce, I’m equally impressed by her when she beats me.

“Hi, Basilton,” she says to me, straightening her cat-eyed glasses. She’s the only person who says the fuller version of my name, but I guess its fair since I call her Bunce (only when I'm talking to her) (if I'm talking about her she's 'Penelope' because I don't appreciate the hate she gets from the popular girls), “ can I cross-reference your homework with mine? I meant to ask you for it during lunch but you had a cheerleader on you.” she’s smirking, slightly. She’s teasing me, I realize.

“saw that did you?," I hand her my binder for the module," are you going to reprimand me in the name of the dare, oh mighty chancellor?”

She giggles. It’s not as annoying as it usually is when girls giggle in front of me. Perhaps because she’s sincere about it. She’s not trying to be ‘cute’ or flirt. She just thinks I’m funny.

It’s refreshing.

“Aimee’s as clingy as a koala bear, she was being all territorial because Agatha was watching. I decided to overlook that particular breach assuming it wasn’t your doing, but any more serious breaches will have you going to the Ball in a horse and carriage and corsage shopping.”

I frown. “We’re writing that Monday”

She laughs, “I know. I’ll be home studying that Sunday night while you’re twirling Aimee around, don’t feel too sad when I beat you. maybe I’ll even share my study cards with you as a show of good faith”


“careful, Bunce, I might just ask you to the Valentines ball if I lose the dare just to prevent you from studying without me”

She laughs, I smile at her. It’s easy with her. She doesn’t try to impress me. Our priorities line up. And most of all, we have an unspoken agreement to never mention Simon.


SIMON

I’ve been in a shitty mood all day. You can’t go five minutes without hearing about Baz-fucking-Pitch or his stupid dare. I messed up at rugby today and the coach told me to take a run to clear my head – I was too aggressive.

I was too aggressive for rugby.

I’ve just changed out of my rugby kit when I pull out my phone to check Penny’s timetable. She saved a picture for it in my gallery so I can always find her when I’m free between classes, I’m free after rugby, for the rest of the day.

She has AP Calculus but it should be finishing in about 20 minutes – I decide to take a slow walk there and get us both some food from the cafeteria. She has that class with Baz.

I remember Aggie ranting about how self-deprecating it is to attain a boyfriend based on a bet, and that although she wants to date Baz she’d rather he ask her out of his own will and not because of a dare, for five days.  It was the first time Agatha had blatantly stated that she wants to date Baz and I don’t like how it makes me feel. While aggie ranted, Penny was complaining because she needed something from Baz but can’t see past the cheerleader on top of him to ask him for it.

“for snake's sake, Pen, I’ll go ask for it”, I said, while getting up. Penny stopped me and said she’d just ask for it in class.

Matthew catches up to me on my walk to the main campus, he’s on the rugby team with me.

“hey, 'cap, where you heading?”

“Hey Matty, Pen has calc with professor Sakowitz, I’m going to stop at the caf and then make my way there to fetch her after”

“oh cool! Yeah, I think Baz has that class too”

I’m not sure why he’s telling me this.

“you and Baz close?” I enquire

“Yeah totally, I’m kind of dating his friend Niall, y’know?”

Oh, that makes sense. I say so.

“oh! I didn’t realize you guys were that serious, but congratz mate”

“I guess we’re not that serious yet,” Matthew shrugs sheepishly. We’re walking up a steep incline now to reach the main campus and it kills your quads after spending an hour of practice in scrummages, “but we’re getting there. And a part of that is making friends with his friends – you mind if I tag along?”

“sure”

“how about that bet tho?”

I all but roll my eyes, “hmm.” We’re entering the cafeteria now and I pretend to be too preoccupied considering my options to respond appropriately.

“I swear – if I wasn’t trying to date Niall I would totally ask Baz out first thing next Monday!”

That get’s my attention.

I turn to him, abandoning my quest for food.

“what?”

Matt raises his eyebrows, “well, they never really said guys can’t participate, and Baz isn’t homophobic…”

“but he’s straight – I think it was a given that only girls should ask him out since he’s straight”

Matthew shrugs. Like this is a situation that is appropriate for shrugging. “well, there’s no physical stuff, yeah? It’s really just hanging out, texting, lifts to and from school, stuff like that. And it has an expiry date. Really, for us, gay guys it's just like… a chance to live out a fantasy. It’s not like anything can happen for Baz to feel uncomfortable”

I think about that, but I don’t say more about the topic.

I order a wors roll with cheese and fried onions for myself, and a butter paneer curry and naan for Penny. It will take a few minutes for both orders to be ready – they’re from different places – so I resort to meeting Penny outside her class while I wait. Hopefully, they’re both ready by the time we return.

Matthew joins me and we make idle conversation about rugby.


We’ve only been sitting on the bench outside Mr. Sakowitz’s class for a few minutes before we hear shuffling. The door opens and students start pouring out. I know Penelope and Baz will be the last to leave despite the fact that they sit right at the front of the class – they don’t pack their bags early, they write until they’ve written it all down (else Pen takes pictures of the whiteboard with her phone if she can’t finish in time and she sends them to Baz as well) (their friendship would be cute if he wasn’t my enemy), they always have arguments and attack Mr. Sakowitz with questions after the lecture. I get comfy on the bench. This will take a while.  I’m used to this.

Matthew, evidently, is not. I can see him searching the crowd of students for Baz. For a reason I can’t fathom, I find it deeply frustrating.

“he’ll be a few minutes,” I tell him, “he’s got to pack his bag in a particular order, and not before he’s written everything down and queried everything he wasn’t sure about with the lecturer.” I roll my eyes. I’m not sure why. penny does that too (except her bag is a bit more haphazard than Baz’s).

After an extra ten minutes, they walk out together. They seem to be having a heated argument and if you didn’t know them you’d think they were fighting. She spots me and her expression immediately clears up, she turns to Baz.

“I guess we’ll see which one of us is right on Wednesday, Basil” she gives him a smirk and a small wave, as he winks at her and then turns a superior smirk at me. Before I can respond, he turns his back to me, blocking off any conversation, and makes conversation with Matthew. They’re still conversing as Penny and I walk past them – Matt and I nod to each other in mutual farewell – and head to the cafeteria.

Baz didn’t even wonder why Matthew was waiting outside his class. I know it’s the first time Matt’s done that. Baz wasn’t hostile or an arsehole at all, he was perfectly civil.

Why can’t he ever talk to me like that?

BAZ

Bunce and I are having an intellectual disagreement. This isn’t new but it’s uncommon – we generally agree with most things on an academic level. I barely have any time to visit the loo and grab a bite to eat before practice and tutoring. We present our disagreement to Mr. Sakowitz who seems equally exhausted of the two of us (can’t blame him) as he is proud of us (as he should be). He said he sees where we’re both coming from and we make strong arguments. Still, he thinks it would be more beneficial to us to try the homework he left us. If we don’t figure out which one of us is right from there, we’ll address it during corrections on Wednesday.

Now we’re just arguing over which one of us is going to be right on Wednesday when we spot Simon and Niall's boy toy waiting outside the class. For a moment, I assume that Matthew is here with Snow, they’re friends from rugby -  before I see him turn away from Simon and look expectantly at me.

Why is he here? What does he want?

Penelope bids me a farewell, I wink at her and smirk at Snow. I’m not sure why. I just like riling him up.

I head over to Matthew, “what’s up, mate?”

“hey, man”

he nods to Simon.

He makes casual conversation, apparently, Niall still has a lecture before he’s ready for Matt to give him a ride home (Niall doesn’t have his own wheels yet because he failed his drivers' test. Not that he immediately needs it with Dev and me at his disposal), so he thought we’d hang out. I note that he didn’t think to find Dev. Hilarious that he’s the first person to find me more approachable than Dev.

He seems rather serious about Niall, I guess.

He’s nice enough.

Sorry bud, but I’m team Dev.

“sure, mate, I’m just heading to get some food before going to the field”


Aimee tries to make me cancel my tutoring gig to drive her home  – I tell her to either wait the hour or go home the way she got here. I’m silently grateful that she’s not actually my girlfriend.

I don’t need to do tutoring, not financially anyway.

But it looks good on a cv and college apps, and I’m brilliant. And kids genuinely rely on me.

After practice, I’m heading to the changeroom, mentally preparing myself to tutor, when I see him.

Bronze curls, blue eyes.

He’s watching me from the bleachers.

Simon Snow.

Naturally, I try to get his attention.

That’s a lie – I try to keep his attention, he’s already watching me.

I place the football on the ground and aim for his general area, I kick.

 

SIMON

I love watching football practice when I can. Personally, I’m partial to rugby but football is so graceful. It’s like watching the athlete lose himself in a trance. And Baz is the best. He’s the fastest, and longest – honestly, and the most graceful. He ties his long hair in a bun when he’s playing but it’s silky enough that it quickly unravels as he plays until there's strands of hair plastered against his sweaty forehead and neck. His cheeks are flushed pink, and he’s breathing hard by the end of practice. He seems lost in thought when he notices me.

What was he thinking about so intently – Aimee? Agatha?

I don’t want him thinking about Agatha, it’s good that I distracted him. I hold his eye contact. I won’t break first.

The bastard smirks as he breaks eye contact – ‘I won’, I think to myself before I realize what he’s doing.

He’s setting up a shot.

He’s aiming right for me.

BAZ

Simon Snow never ceases to disappoint.

He catches the ball before it can collide with his chest.

He bounces It on his knee once before kicking it right at me (good form – for a rugby player), I head it when it reaches me and it easily bounces off and lands on the equipment scattering the floor.

 

Is this flirting?

Chapter Text

Friday, November 6th

BAZ

‘The sky is the same color as Simon Snow’s eyes,’ I think to myself as I gaze out my open bedroom window with eyes full of sleep. My alarm hasn’t gone off yet; it must still be early.

Today is a good day.

It’s Friday. Friday is game day.

I love football; I thrive in competition. I particularly love when Simon is in the bleachers. There’s always a 50/50 chance that Simon might show up, depending on the rugby team's schedule, but I know he won’t be there today since the rugby team is playing simultaneously. I don’t know why he comes at all since he hates me, but maybe he just likes football enough to ignore me. That can’t be easy though, I like to show off. I’m always unnecessarily grandiose with my shots when I know he’s watching me. I sneak a peek at him sometimes, after scoring when I know he’s there. Sometimes I swear I catch him smirk or smile … maybe he just really likes football.

I also have a calculus quiz today, as we do every Friday on the content covered that week. Penelope and I shared notes last night.

Most of all, today is a brilliant day because I finally get to be a single man again (however temporary). In nine hours, the relationship duration ends, and I get two and a half days to myself before I am subjected to yet another ‘relationship.’ This last week dating Aimee has been an absolute nightmare. Give a drama queen nothing to lose, and she becomes a tyrant. Aimee knew that the relationship had an expiration date and that I wasn’t willing to change my mind. Still, she also knew that I couldn’t break up with her before the week was done, and I had to fulfill the basic terms of boyfriend requirements, so she was as clingy and demanding as possible.

Of course, I could just admit that this isn’t for me. I could admit that I keep encouraging Dev to put his feelings out there when I can’t do that myself. It’s nowhere near the same thing because I know that the subject of his affection is literally in love with him – but he doesn’t know that.

My alarm finally goes off. As I check my phone to put it off, I see Dev and Niall's texts on our group chat. Speak of the Devils.

Minions

(23:56) Niall: Give me a lift tomorrow? GOT NEWS!!

(05:51) Dev: Baz will drive – sore from practice.

 

You better deal with that before the big game!

We need a win today.

 I’ll drive.

***


  SIMON

Today is a terrible day.

I’m up at 4 am because if I’m any later, my new foster parents’ real kids hog the bathroom – and if I’m late today, I’ll miss my first-period quiz in biology.

And, If I miss or fail anything, I’ll be benched from rugby; my only outlet. The only thing I’m good at.

Although, how far that really matters, I’m not sure since I’m sitting out today’s game anyway.

I’ve been in this foster house for only a few days, so this is the first game day I’ve been here for.  They’ve imposed a curfew of 8 pm, which wouldn’t be a problem except that Friday is game day, the matches only start at 7 pm, and the school is a 20-minute walk away.

It’s impossible.

I don’t know how long I’m going to be in this house, and it’s not the worst house I’ve been in, so I’m not sure if I’m hoping to leave … but if I keep sitting out games, I’m bound to lose captaincy and get kicked off the team anyway.

I revise my biology notes while I nibble on a banana, letting time pass me by. As soon as it’s a reasonable time to leave home - 6 am exactly - I grab my earphones and start walking to school.

This home is by no means terrible. I’ve experienced terrible.

But, they have their own kids. It doesn’t feel like my home. 

I leave every morning at 6 am, and stroll in at 5 minutes to 8 pm, daily. I don’t disrespect them by breaking curfew, but I don’t stay in their personal space longer than necessary.

***


NIALL

I text Baz privately asking him to pick me up before we fetch Dev. I need to talk to my best friend, the one I’m not in love with, alone for a minute. I’m still spiraling out of control when I see the Porsche pull up.

I greet Baz as I jump into the passenger seat, we head back the way Baz came, towards Dev’s house.

“Actually, do you think we could do a round around the neighborhood…slowly…before we stop at Dev’s?”

“spill.” Baz dictates, slowing down so we’re almost creepily cruising the streets at 7 am.

“Matthew asked me to be his boyfriend.” I’m watching his reaction. He raises both his eyebrows in interest, but he doesn’t seem particularly surprised.

He responds after a moment, selecting his words very carefully, “he’s a nice lad, undeniably besotted … do you have an answer for him? have you answered him already?” he arches his eyebrow at me. He would probably look intimidating if we didn’t decide to become best friends in the first grade after I pushed a kid down the stairs for calling him “Tyrannosaurus”.

I sigh. “He treats me well, Basil.”

“I don’t doubt it,” he says kindly, “but do you love him?”

“It’s still soon for love. I like him …. I could love him, with time, I think …”

“You can’t force yourself to love him just to get over Dev, Niall. He deserves to be someone’s first choice. And you deserve the happiness your heart wants. And Dev… he deserves to at least make the choice, or at least to know that he has one! He doesn’t even know that you’re an option. At least tell him that much, before you give up on him”

“He’s straight, Basil, I’m not going to pressure him into a sexuality crisis, that’s not what you do to someone you love.”

“If he isn’t interested, he’ll say so, admitting your feelings isn’t pressuring him into homosexuality”

“I don’t want him to try just so he doesn’t hurt me! I don’t want to lose my best friend by being greedy and asking for more. Stop pushing, Tyrannus.”

BAZ

I sigh. I wish I could just tell him.

But I wouldn’t want anyone else kicking me out of the closet before I was ready.

He's at the end of his rope with me though - he used my first name. 

“Niall,” I say softly, “I’m your best mate. You know I’ve always only had your best interest in mind,” we’re slowing down at Dev’s driveway now. We can’t waste any more time without being late to practice, “trust me. Don’t give up on Dev just yet.”

Niall sighs. “Matthew … he makes me happy.”

“Does he make you not love Dev?”

A sad smile. He shakes his head.

“Then he also deserves to be someone’s first choice. Not to be settled for, when your heart belongs to another.” He’s silent. “Look,” I proceed, “don’t get rid of Matthew. But just … maybe don’t make any serious decisions while you still love Dev.”

Our conversation is cut short by Dev prancing down to the Porsche. I take a moment to marvel at my cousin's impeccable paisley shirt.  I’ll be borrowing it. In truth, we have absolutely no reason to be so dressed up on a day when we have practice and a game, but Dev and I are nothing if not voguish. My shirt is Gucci.

“what’s up, my men” Dev sings as he hops into the back-seat ruffling both our hair, earning a smirk from Niall, and a glare from myself. “What’s this news?” he says looking at Niall in the rearview mirror, “have you finally heard back from Pari’?”.Niall’s dream is to go to Paris (he’s part French but he’s never actually been to France). He’s applied for student loans, and both on- and off-campus residence; as long as he gets accepted in any of the France universities for next year he’s off, but his favorite and first choice is the University of Paris. He’s been nervous about hearing back from them from when he applied, months ago.

It’s sweet that Dev remembered.

Niall twists around so his cheek is resting on the seat while he looks at Dev, “not yet, my application is still pending… Matty asked me to date him,”

I try to catch Dev’s eye in the rearview mirror but he’s entirely focused on Niall.

“and how do you feel about that?”, he says too slowly. Too much emotion. Too … afraid.

But I don’t think Niall noticed or comprehended it for what it was, because he too looks afraid.

“I don’t know as yet. I asked him for some time to think about it”

Dev smiles at him. A smile that doesn’t reach his eyes. “well, we’ll support you in whatever brings you happiness,”

They’re quietly watching each other as I pull into the Sports Center parking lot – it’s not awkward, but it’s intense.

The bell chimes the hour, signaling the start of practice, and the last day of being Aimee Hernandez's boyfriend.

***


DEV

Apparently, someone has created a Facebook page dedicated to the dare. It’s called ‘Date Me, Baz Pitch!’ and at least a quarter of Watford Secondary are following the page already. There’s not too much content on it as yet, but it does indicate that week ones' ‘winner’ was Aimee Hernandez, featuring a few pictures students captured of them throughout the week. Aimee asking Baz out during practice in front of the huge crowd she summoned. Aimee on Baz’s lap at the cafeteria (I didn’t even know this happened), captioned ‘Physical intimacy? Physical intimacy.’ The most recent is a picture of Aimee in the Porsche (in my spot) (well, Niall’s spot really) (when he decides to ride with us instead of Matthew), from when Baz was obligated to drive her home yesterday after school.

The page description promises to provide detailed updates regarding Baz’s weekly girlfriends (bold of them to assume it will always be a girlfriend but okay) and keep followers updated on the latest gossip regarding the dare.

I’m not sure if I should be following this or not to be honest. Who even created it?

I send the link to the ‘Minions’ group chat, and after a moment of thought, I forward it to Penelope Bunce as well.

***


SIMON

The day is ending as Penny and I lounge on the stairs leading to assembly. The weekend is upon us. The pep rally is starting. I’m indulging in a chicken tandoori roti roll that Penny’s mother made for me (Penny’s mum packs lunch for me every day. I really love roti, now).

Penny giggles and I peer over to see her texting someone.

“Micah?”

“Chew. Close your mouth. Swallow.”

I do as told, “Micah?”

“no, Baz”

I raise an eyebrow at her, she laughs. “Not like that,” Micah is this guy she matched with on Tinder and progressed their conversations to instant messaging, it had better not be like that. “Baz texted; ‘Dare Chancellor: am I to break up with Aimee? or are we in a mutual understanding that our relationship has been terminated?”

I roll my eyes, he’s so dramatic. “well, is he? Are they?”

“I think it’s more expired than terminated.”

Our friend Shepherd calls Penny over and she leaves me for a moment. I watch her go. Shepherd fancies Penelope, I think. And she seems fond of him, but she’s also been talking to Micah for a while, so…I’m not entirely certain where her feelings genuinely lie right now. Knowing Penelope, she’s probably not planning on committing to anything other than academics since we’re almost high school graduates and we’re college hunting right now. if she did get a boyfriend right now, I fear she might just ... forget that he exists until he dies of old age. 

I’m done eating. I ball up my foil, tossing it at the bin. I miss. I notice a shadow looming over me a moment before I register who it is.

“well thank goodness you’re not captain of our basketball team, it would be suicide.” We don't even have a basketball team, who even plays basketball. 

I roll my eyes and turn to him. “Pitch.”

He’s wearing a maroon shirt that’s open three buttons. His skin looks startlingly pale against it. His hair is in his face today, fluttering in the breeze. His arms are crossed against his lean yet muscled chest as he judges me, sleeves buttoned below his elbows. He looks like he’s in an ad for expensive watches – even though he isn’t wearing one.

I hate him.

“Snow.” He acknowledges, “where’s your better half?”

I clench my teeth, “left me for you, but you knew that.”

BAZ

I’m puzzled. Then it dawns on me. I chuckle, “I was talking about  Bunce, but good to know that the rugby team's golden boy can’t keep a woman” I tease, “does this mean that Wellbelove will be at my game tonight instead of yours?” I cock an eyebrow. I’m trying to rile him up. Sometimes I push him too far, and he pushes back physically. Sometimes it gets rough. Sometimes it even hurts. But those few moments are the only time I have his undivided attention. The only time that all he’s thinking about is me – even if it’s about how much he hates me. I want to see him angry; I want to see him get rough. I want him to lose control, I want to be the cause of it. I want his love, but I’ll settle for his hate if it’s all I can get. I will not fade into the background. I’ll have his unrelenting passion, one way or another.

“Neither.” He says, clearly getting agitated - he’s clenching his teeth. “She just made the women’s lacrosse team, so she has her own game,” there’s a hint of pride in his voice. He looks away, “I’m not playing today anyway”. He mumbles that last bit, almost like I’m not supposed to hear it.

“why not?” I raise an eyebrow at him, “don’t tell me you’re so heartbroken you can’t function without Wellbelove. If that’s the case I promise not to date her for at least 3 months,” I smirk at him, “unless she asks, of course. Preferably on a Monday”

He groans, loudly...it’s a gorgeous sound.

“Do you always need to be such a fucking twat?”, he’s pulling his hair, it’s positively arousing.

“Can’t handle it?” I’m getting in his space now, challenging him.

He doesn’t back down. Simon never does.

I can push him, he'll just push back harder. 

“I can handle you, Pitch”

Not a doubt in his voice. Don't you realize what you're doing to me?

There’s hardly any space between us now and I’m sure he’s going to throw a punch any minute, but all I can think about is his spicy scent and the fact that there’s a lighter shade of freckles under his darker freckles, Which I can only see up close, like this.

Before I can get another word out, though, someone clears their throat and we both startle.

Bunce.

 It is not the time.

Bunce starts leading him away from me.

“don’t lose today”, he tosses at me over his shoulder before they disappear into the thickening crowd, heading to the pep rally. It almost feels like a ‘Good luck’.


Three minutes after the game starts, I score. Someone spears me into a celebratory hug as I catch Dev's eye in the goalpost and we smirk at each other – I know I won’t see Simon today, he’s at his own game.

Blue eyes. Blue eyes catch mine, and they’re so familiar I almost think it’s Simon for a moment. But they’re not at their usual spot at the top of the bleachers, they’re trailing along the outskirts by the exit. Why would he be here? There’s a rugby game. He's literally the captain. 

The whistle signals that I need to get my head in the game. A few minutes later, the ball is heading towards our goal and I let the defenders and Dev do their job, I try to catch the blue eyes again.

I see bronze curls walking away from me. I’m almost certain it’s Simon now, but it doesn’t make sense.

I need to get my head in the game.

***


SIMON

I asked coach Rooney if I could play the first half and then leave. If I skip the post-game shower and immediately sprint to the foster house, I might just make curfew.

He said I cannot.

Coach asked why I can’t play a full game, he asked if  I have commitments I put before the team, which as captain, I should not. I said that there was nothing I put before the team, and it’s true. I’m at every practice, compulsory and non-compulsory alike. I try my hardest. I play like I have nothing to lose; because it’s all I have.

I got captaincy not purely because I’m the best performing player on the team, which I am, but because of the effort and commitment I put in.

You’d think that would give me some credibility, but Coach just said he can’t allow special treatment.

He told me to sit the game out if I can’t make it, so I had no choice. My vice-captain, Matt, will captain today. He’s a competent captain. If I’m being honest, the half-backs are going to feel my absence the most; I play fly-half position and my substitute, Alex, is hardly at my level. The other halfbacks will have to compensate.

Hopefully, next Friday's game will be during the 5pm slot. If I keep sitting out games, Coach will have no choice but to replace me as captain.

 

My only hope for a future with my background and means is for a college scout to be impressed by my performance. This curfew is ruining my chances at a future. Coach would probably understand and might reconsider letting me play half the game and then sub out if I explained the situation. Still, I try my hardest to not use the foster kid card for sympathy or special treatment.

I could probably talk to my foster parents about it … but I’ve only entered this house. We don’t know each other, we have no relationship for them to care about my passions and interests, let alone adjust their rules for it. I don’t want them to see me as ungrateful either. I may not be particularly fond of them – I don’t know them. But they haven’t locked me away or treated me as a slave. They haven’t starved me or raised their hands at me. They haven’t made inappropriate advances at me.

In a few months, I’ll be eighteen and then I’ll have either the burden or freedom to take care of myself. But, for now, I work weekends and save up every dime I can to afford residence next year if I don’t get a college rugby scholarship.

I need to figure out something to stay on the team and actually play, if I want to have any future at all, off the streets.


Since I’m effectively benched, I don’t stick around to watch the beginning of the game in case Coach sees me and thinks that I don’t actually have an important commitment. It might also be too tempting; I go into jock mode when I’m on the field. The last thing I need is to see my team need me, play a full game, deprioritize curfew, and end up back at the orphanage across town.

I don’t want to return to the foster house early though, so I head over to the football field instead. The games were at the same time today. I plan to watch the first half-hour and leave at 19:30.

When the players claim the field, Baz heads them out.  Baz and I are enemies, but he’s also my favorite football player. I never really had any interest in football before. It was too tame for me. I was spying on Baz one day, just watching him to make sure he wasn't plotting anything. We had just become enemies back then and I didn’t trust him. he looked at me like I was something he could eat, spit up my bones, and use them to clean his vampire teeth. I ended up following him to football practice and I watched for a while, it was mesmerizing.

He’s so different on the pitch. Sometimes I feel like he hides behind his hair and his clothes, even his brains and brute, making sure you don’t really see him. Everyone knows Baz, but I can’t help but feel like we see what he wants us to. Like he shows us a shallow, stylish, smart, perfect version of him. he doesn’t show us himself. 

But when he’s on the pitch, his masquerade drops. He’s entirely focused, he’s graceful and fierce. Like a cheetah before it pounces into action. He’s formidable. Hypnotizing.

I’m not entirely certain if I like football or watching Baz play football (he missed a day of school when he got his wisdom teeth removed last year, I went to watch practice and It was very boring. I left after ten minutes). It’s weird since we hate each other, but I can’t help the feeling that I hate the version of Baz he lets me see, lets everyone see, because he’s trying to keep everyone at arm's length.

I often wonder about the truer version of Baz. The side that’s revealed when he’s on the pitch. I also saw him when Baz played violin at the musical last year. I feel like I wouldn’t hate that version of Baz. Who he is when he forgets that people are watching – or he’s too focused to care.

I’m lost in thought until I realize that Baz scored – the game just started!

I see him look at the top of the bleachers. I usually sit there, and we make eye contact every time he scores. It’s probably a coincidence because I usually sit at such a visible point. He catches my eyes as he turns back to the pitch, and looks again – to make sure.

He looks confused, I can't blame him since I was supposed to be at my own game right now – that is if he recognized me.

Dev saves a goal, let’s one in, and saves two more attempts.

Before I know it, it’s 19:25 and I decide to head out. I still have time, but there are at least four games going on at the moment and the campus is overflowing with students, families, and friends. I take a stroll to the foster home trying to figure out my next step.

DEV

We win, although the points gap is barely existent so I’m sure Baz is disappointed. I did my best to shut down the goal as much as possible, but the Ravens were worthy competitors and I still let 4 through. 

I catch up with Baz and tug on his hair in silent ‘good job’. He scored three of our five goals tonight which helped my job by giving me a number to work with. He pats me on the shoulder in a ‘good job, too’. I did stop at least seven attempts.

We’re leaving the pitch, heading to the change rooms when I see two heads of blonde hair speaking close to each other, waiting at the exit. Niall and his boy toy. The rugby game probably just finished a few minutes ago, I heard he’s Captain in Snow’s stead today. He’s all sweaty and flushed, using his shirt to wipe his face and Niall is checking out his abs. it makes me sick.

I look away. Baz is watching me.

“I think you should come out”, he says. That surprised me, I have to say.

I raise an eyebrow at him, “you come out!”

“I’m not ready to come out!”

“well, neither am I!”

He’s silent for a moment. “hypothetically, if the subject of your affection had to return those sentiments … how would you deal with that if you were still in the closet?”

“they don’t”

“hypothetically, it’s for research”

I scoff, “hypothetically if Niall loved me back then yes I’d come out to be with him, he’s already out and I wouldn’t hide that relationship, but he doesn’t so I have no incentive to deal with that right now, in college, maybe, like you” I exhale, and try to control my voice. I don’t know what Baz is going on about, but I know he doesn’t mean harm. Especially on this. “maybe you and I can come out together, bro-memories,” I say light-heartedly.

BAZ

love?

my eyes are rather large, I am quite stunned, “do you love Niall?”

Dev casually starts undressing like this new revelation doesn’t change everything.

“yes, Basil. Close your mouth before you swallow a fly.” He’s being sarcastic to hide his vulnerability. Fuck. We really are related.

“I thought you were just attracted to him, I didn’t know you were in love with him”

“well, I didn’t feel the need to give you progressional updates since this will amount to nothing”

“how long have you known?”

“a while”, he snaps. He’s almost done with this topic. I’m probably reacting insensitively but to be fair, this changes everything. I can’t be quiet anymore.

“come out.”

“what” he snaps, he’s getting annoyed at me now.

I sigh, “to him” I amend, “come out to Niall, trust me, brother. I would never push you out of the closet before you were ready or rush you into something you’re not comfortable with. You don’t even need to tell him that he’s the reason you’re questioning your sexuality, just …  come out to him. let him know that you’re an option, that you’re not entirely straight. Before he says yes to Matthew and then you need to play the supportive best friend role”

 “I don’t want to ruin his relationship”

“I’m not asking you to. I’m not even asking you to tell him how you feel. Just tell him you’ve recently been questioning your sexuality. Who knows, maybe knowing that you could possibly see him as an option would make him see you as one”

Dev shuts his locker and makes his way to the shower, “you’re encouraging me to build sandcastles in the air, Bazzy”

“trust me, Dev. Have I ever tried to hurt you?”, I respond. Dev and I are rarely this serious, that’s how he knows I’m sincere.

He sighs. “I’ll think about it. Coming out to Niall… either way, I’d have to come out to him first before everyone else…”

“exactly”

We shower and head to my car.

***


NIALL 

Matthew and I are in his car. He's sitting at the driver's seat, seat reclined as far as possible. I'm straddling him, the steering wheel is digging into my lumbar spine - but my fingers are in his hair and his teeth are latched onto my neck. An embarrassing sound escapes my lips and I grind down against him, eliciting a moan from him. 

"you little minx," he bites me harder. 

I tug on his hair, bringing him back to my mouth as I kiss him harder, seeking entrance to his mouth with my tongue. He grants it. 

I take his bottom lip between my teeth in retaliation for the marks that are definitely forming on my neck. 

We're both panting. His hands find my ass and he grabs, pulling my body flush against his. The kiss deepens and it's starting to get more sensual than sexual before my cellphone vibrates in my back pocket, under his palm, and startles us both. 

"Check it," he mumbles against my skin as he opens the top buttons of my shirt, "might be important." He's nibbling and licking on my collarbone. He pulls my cellphone out of my back pocket and passes it to me. I'm gasping as I unlock the phone behind his head and try to be coherent. 

 

Minions

(20:52) Dev: Niall, riding back with us?

Nah

I'm good x

 

By the time I put my phone on silent, lock it and toss it in Matthew's back seat; I find that my shirt is sliding off my shoulders and my jeans have been unbuttoned. 

Chapter Text

Monday, November 9th

BAZ

This time, I’m taken before football practice.

I guess it’s kind of cheating - or maybe it’s a loophole, but I wasn’t where I’m expected to be when the first bell goes off on Monday morning. It’s no coincidence when Lily Fray catches up to me outside the broken water fountain by drama club and greets me with a playful wink and a “Date me, Baz Pitch!” the second after the bell silences.

I exaggerate a fake sigh, “well, if you insist.”

She smirks at me, I smirk back.

I ruffle her hair, “Okay, Fray, I’m already late to practice so I gotta go.”

“Thanks, Ty,” she waves and smiles as I jog off to practice.


Lily called me on Saturday, asking if I’d be okay with her asking me out today. I was kind of surprised because she’s never exhibited an interest in me before, but she assured me it was platonic.

“I don’t like like you, Ty” she reasoned.

When we initially became friends, Lily discovered that ‘Basilton’ was actually my middle name and that no one called me by my first name, she decided we absolutely need to change that. I can’t say I mind the nickname. My mother chose the name Tyrannus, so I feel like she would have liked Lily too.

“I’m sorry – are we twelve now?” I smirked.

 “It’s just that ‘dating’- ”, I could practically visualize her air quotes “ – you for the week establishes a level of popularity that I just don’t have, so I thought maybe … you hang out with a friend who isn’t going to bug you for a week, and I become noticeable to the dozens of guys who never noticed me before – but only if you think that will be fun, I don’t want to make this weird, you’re legit my friend!”

I couldn’t help but smile. Lily is adorable. She’s a tiny strawberry blonde and really quirky. We became friends because she’s in the drama club and Dev and I often help the music department during musicals. I wish she had more self-confidence, but she’s right that it would be fun to just spend the week hanging out with a friend.

“‘Course I don’t mind, Fray, but you’re tiny and they’ll bully you - we need to plan a strategy”

“The drama department is rather void of your usual crowd during Monday morning’s – or, like, ever - it’s right across the football field, too”

“If I show up in my kit, I can be at the department at first bell and run to practice while the last few lads are just finishing changing up”

“you sure you don’t mind? This won’t make things weird?”

“No, Fray, you’re saving me here. I don’t know who’s going to ask me out, but I know I can’t take one more diva. And you’re right, it would be good to hang out with a friend”

“I’ll be sure to trap you first thing Monday”

“Just remember,” I stopped her from hanging up, “anyone who hasn’t noticed you all these years doesn’t deserve you now. You’re too good for me if we were dating for real, so you’re obviously too good for any other guy”

“Obviously.” I heard the smirk in her voice, “Thanks, Ty,”. I hung up with a smile, and I knew where to be this morning.


I’m already in kit, so I jog to the field where my team is already running laps to warm up. I cut in when Dev passes me with a raised eyebrow, and jog alongside him.

“I see you, Pitch,” Coach rolls her eyes, “Two more laps for you”

“yes ma’am!” I wink. she rolls her eyes again, smiling. She’s fond of me.

“Where were you?” Dev enquires as we jog.

“Let’s just say that Lily may have mentioned that she would be at drama club this morning. And that if we happened to be together during first bell, she may ask me out. And then I may get to spend the week fake dating a friend, completely stress-free, while she uses the opportunity to gain some popularity,” I smirk at him. This is all his fault anyway.

I am calling Penelope

“There is no rule that says my friends cannot suggest that I stand in a socially secluded area, at a convenient time for them to meet me, in a mutually compatible location.”

Dev rolls his eyes; he knows he isn’t winning this one

“But no way – cute Lily from theatre or cheerleader Lily?”

“Cute Lily. I would not go through all that for cheerleader Lily”

“Cheerleader Lily is cute too,”

“I don’t know, I’m just too gay for this,”

“hmm, speaking of that, I’ll tell Niall. Not about my feelings and things, just… that I’m not straight.”

“that’s great!”, the rest of the team are finishing their laps and waiting for me to run my last two before we head to our dynamic warm-up. Apparently, Dev is coming with.

“you don’t need to run the extra laps, Grimm,” yells Coach from the other side of the field

Dev fakes an exaggerated gasp, “We are FAMILY, Coach!”

We are. That has absolutely nothing to do with anything, though.

“it’s just… you were right, I need to tell him before I tell everyone else. I’m not obligated to come clean about my feelings for him but …he’s my best friend and he deserves to know. He told me way before he came out.”

We’re about to rejoin the team when we’re interrupted by the cheer squad commandeering practice.

“Attention!”, I wish someone would confiscate Aimee’s megaphone. And freedom of speech.

Coach tries to control the situation, but Aimee cuts her off, “Hernandez this is extremely unaccep -”

“- no need to worry, Coach, we only have a question for Basilton and then we’ll be on our way.”

 Then she turns away before Coach can even respond.

“Basilton!” Aimee says into the megaphone although we’re only a few feet apart and looking at each other.

“what?”, I snap

“I’m dumping you.”

“We fucking broke up on Friday!” I roll my eyes. We didn’t really break up; we just haven’t communicated after I sat with her during lunch. I assumed it was because she understood that the rules of the game meant our relationship expired after the school day on Friday. Now I’m just confused.

“Language, Mr. Pitch,” Coach reprimands me but there’s a level of kinship – and dare I say, approval – in her green eyes.

“yes, well, I’m just making it official because Lily has something to say”

Cheerleading Lily, Aimee’s best friend, takes the megaphone and screams into it; (which is very unnecessary because the whole point of a megaphone is so that you don’t need to scream) “Date me, Baz Pitch!!!”, followed by a giggle that would probably make half my team swoon, but I just find severely irritating.

Lily isn’t a bad person. But she wants to be Aimee. I find it hard to not grab her by the shoulders and shake some courage and independence into her by force.

I turn on my charismatic fake smile, “I’m flattered, Lily.” She giggles again. “Unfortunately, someone has already asked me, but good luck for next week.”

I turn to Aimee, “please get your team off the pitch now, this is football practice, not the Kardashians”

what do you mean someone’s already asked you! it’s not even first period yet, Lily is the first person to ask you so you either say yes or you lose the dare!” she seems minutes away from stomping her foot on the ground and throwing a tantrum.

“yes, it’s not first period yet. But first bell was some fifteen minutes ago, and someone has already asked me. I don’t answer to you, though. I do believe there’s a Facebook Page dedicated to the dare so I’m sure they’ll be posting this week’s ‘winner’,”(drama Lily would be proud of my efficient use of air quotes) “ Please leave now.”

I turn around and start doing impromptu walking lunges. Dev and the boys follow suit. We must look entirely bizarre, and Lily (Fray) is going to need some protection this week, but at least I’m one cheerleader without.


PENELOPE

Simon usually doesn’t sit with the rugby team because he’s been sitting with Agatha and I since before he made the team - but it’s generally voluntary. Today, there seems to be tension.

I ask about Friday’s game, and that’s when he tells me everything.

I knew he had moved to a new Foster house across town, but whenever I ask about it, he shrugs it off. He says they don’t give him a hard time and mostly keep to themselves … I’ve known about Simon’s endeavours in the foster system for years, so this new house sounded like a blessing.

But Simon needs rugby. It’s integrally woven into his emotions. I kid you not – the kid is genuinely happier on days he has practice, and he thrives off Fridays. But, more than that, rugby was supposed to be his ticket to college. To a scholarship. To some independence. He can’t sacrifice that … he’s not getting there with his marks alone. He needs this rugby scholarship.

And if anyone on Watford’s rugby team is getting a college rugby scholarship, it’s Simon Snow. He just needs to play.

“you should ask them, Simon. They seem like decent people; they haven’t really given you any trouble thus far. Just explain that on game days you need your curfew pushed back an hour. They can even come to the games if they’d like”

“Maybe … but if they think I’m asking for too much and they send me back to the orphanage -”

“– then you’ll survive the orphanage just like you did for the last 18 years. There’s just a few more months then you can get out of there. But you need to play so you can secure your future. Whether or not you stay in this house Simon, the one definitive thing is that in a few months you’ll be an adult and a rugby scholarship can secure you a future. You need to fight for it”

Simon shrugs. “I’ll see.” He takes a bite of the lunch my mum packed him, and I know the conversation is effectively over.

It breaks my heart that for Simon, “asking too much” is asking for a curfew extension so that he can play a sport in the hopes of securing a future for himself. I know the world isn’t fair. But sometimes I feel like Simon got handed the worst of it.

SIMON

Penny means well. Penny always does. And she’s right, too (Penny’s always right, even Baz knows it – and that’s saying a lot. They had different approaches to a problem in Mr Sakowitz’s class week Monday and on Wednesday, during the correction, they discovered that Penny was right. Baz admitted defeat – Baz never admits defeat!).

And she’s right today too. Missing a few games will allow me a roof over my head (that is not the orphanage – I hate the orphanage) for now, but in a few months I turn eighteen and I’ll probably be out of there anyway. I have no idea what will become of my life in a few months. But rugby may be able to help with that. Between my social and financial situation, Penny says she can probably help me lock down student loans which I can pay back later at the very least if I don’t get a full ride to college on rugby. But that’s only if I play.

I got captaincy because I play like it’s the only thing that matters – because it’s all I’ve got.

I need to get my head in the game.

If they kick my ass back to the orphanage, I’ll just need to rough out these last few months and make sure I get to college.


While I have my existential internal crisis, the girls make idle chitchat. I’m mostly zoned out until I hear Agatha mention Baz’s name.

I instinctively glance at the football teams table, and then the cheerleader’s table when I remember the dare – nothing.

“It was a whole thing, Penny, I would sell my soul to Satan to see her reaction when he shut that down and then kicked them out -”, Agatha is in complete gossip mode. I have no idea what she’s going on about but she’s passionate.

“Dev’s dog, Satan or the Devil, Satan?” I enquire at the same time as Penny contributes, “- surely that’s exaggerated”

“Both!”, Agatha says at me, before shaking her head at Penny, “na-uh, Veronica told me herself and you know how close we were when I was on the cheer squad, she’s a reliable source!”

“what are we talking about?” I’m just very confused.

“and then he just, fucked off and, like, squatted away or some shit and the whole team joined him it must have been legendary,” Agatha talks over me entirely.

Penny, apparently, takes pity on me and fills me in, “Lily Dominic asked Baz out for the dare during football practice, megaphone and all, and he said no because someone had already asked him and then he asked the entire cheer squad to leave…and did exercise or something”, Penny’s eyebrows furrow in confusion at the last bit

“wait so who is he dating now?”

Penny points to a table in the upper level of the cafeteria, at the corner. The drama clubs table. I can’t see who he’s sitting next to, but I see him immediately. His hair is pulled away from his face in a bun and he’s wearing a coral button-up shirt with white, fitted jeans. He looks like a flamingo.

I scoff, “Baz is dating a commoner?” I roll my eyes.

“Baz is dating Lily”, Penny smirks

“Fray!”, Agatha adds.

“Lily? Baz is dating Lily?” I ask Penny incredulously. Lily is my friend. She’s quirky and fun and nice, and she’s everything that Baz is not. He’s just going to corrupt her. The dare sounded like a ridiculous idea from the get-go, but somehow when he was dating the prospects (popular, diva cheerleaders) I had always expected him to date anyway, it didn’t seem as such a big deal. As long as he stayed away from Agatha, I didn’t really care.

But now it’s seeping into my friend group?

Now, people who are close to me, people who I have relationships with – they are dating Baz Pitch?

I need to do something about this.

He can’t just … run the whole school.

What does he want with someone nice like Lily anyway? What is he plotting?

 

“I’ll be right back,” I say as I get up from the table and head for the upper cafeteria, ignoring Penny’s protests and Aggie’s exasperation behind me.

DEV

Niall’s boy toy is sitting with him at the cricket team’s usual table, today. Previously, Niall, Baz and I would alternate between the cricket table and football table. But since Matthew joined the equation, Niall and he have been splitting their breaks between the cricket and rugby tables, only sitting with Baz and me about once a week. 

Today I’m sitting with Baz at the drama club’s table, though. Baz has to sit with his ‘girlfriend’ at lunch, and I’m also casual friends with the drama kids since Baz and I have been helping them with their musicals for a few years.

Anything to distract me from the way Matthew’s arm is possessively snaked around Niall’s hips.

I’m sitting next to Ricky, across from Baz who is next to Lily. There are about five other people at this table. It’s actually rather relaxed. The conversation is far more mundane than the usual conversation at the football table, but it’s relaxing. I rather like these people. They seem authentic.

Lily is showing Baz her cellphone and telling us that the Facebook page dedicated to the dare has updated that she is this week’s winner, as Baz reads off comments on the post and we all laugh.

“Regina Phalange said that we would probably make a really cute couple because I’m tall and you’re pocket-sized”

“she’s not wrong,” he says as he winks at Lily, who laughs. A real laugh. She’s not trying to impress us.

“Thomas Carter says that he had no idea who you were before this,”

“the point,” says Lily and Baz replies with “his own loss”

“oh, Donny from Lacrosse said he’s jealous of you,” Baz says with a laugh, a barely-there blush tinting his cheeks.

“better luck next week Donny,” I add.  I’m only now figuring out my sexuality but even I know that Donny is as hot as they come. And Baz is a far more established gay, he can’t have missed it.

“Jackson from the rugby team replied to Donny that he’s jealous of me”

“Now we’re talking,” it’s Lily’s turn to blush

“Anything from Thing 1 and Thing 2?” I ask

“Aimee and cheerleading Lily have been uncharacteristically quiet. Also, remind me to buy the team pizza in thanks for backing me up with the lunges? Good men”

We’re still rattling off comments when Simon Snow walks up to our table. The whole Baz-Simon dynamic is confusing. I know that Baz had a crush on Simon in his younger days. I know that’s what made him realize he’s attracted to men. I never thought much of it. Simon is objectively attractive, and it’s not like Baz doesn’t check out other hot guys. But Baz never checks Simon out, at least not noticeably and he never mentioned him to us after he told us about his previous crush. For the most part you’d think that Simon is just irrelevant to Baz’s life… but I haven’t missed the way Baz instigates arguments with Simon. He’s never as much of an arsehole to anyone as he is with Simon. Baz hates when girls hit on him – it makes him feel like he’s being insincere by not just coming out. He encourages Agatha though – I’m certain it’s to piss Snow off.

Sometimes I think that Baz hates Simon for making him realize that he’s gay.

I don’t entirely blame him. I love Niall, in every way, but even I must admit that life was easier when I was oblivious and straight.

Simon approaches Lily and greets her with a hug, then asks if he can borrow Baz.

Baz raises an eyebrow at him.

This is what I mean; if it were anyone else, Baz would have just followed them. But it’s Simon, so Baz is going to be an arsehole.

“Can I help you, Snow?”

“Follow me.”

Simon turns around and heads to the lower caf, Baz on his tail.

SIMON

After closer inspection, I’ve realized that Baz’s shirt has a single thick, red stripe on one side. The material looks fancy, and soft for a button-up. His hair tie is pink and matches the shirt.

He looks pretty, I realize. But that’s not relevant.

I lead him to the courtyard outside the cafeteria, behind the water fountain so we can have some privacy. He looks nervous.

“Can I help you, Snow? Frankly, I’m not in the mood for a rendezvous so get to the point”

I didn’t really plan this. I don’t really know what I mean to say. I’m not even entirely certain why I’m angry. Am I jealous? But I really don’t like Lily that way.

No, I just don’t like him spreading his influence.

“Why are you dating Lily!”, it’s a question but it verbalizes as a command.

“Because she asked me, Snow. Do you even know how this game works?”

I guess I should have thought of that. Those are the rules. What am I doing here? Making sense of the situation hasn’t eased my urgency and anger, though, so I take it out on him anyway. Even though he seems just as confused as I, regrettably, am.

“why would she ask you out? You’re nothing alike!”

“what’s it to you”, he cocks an eyebrow at me. he’s challenging me.

“Lily is my friend, and I don’t want her getting hurt!”, well, it’s not false. It’s just that I just thought of it.

“she’s my friend too,” he gives me a very judgmental look, “and I’m not going to hurt her, we’re not even really dating. This is a game, not a real relationship”

“Just … don’t lead her on or anything. She’s kind. She doesn’t deserve it.”

I lift my chin, stubbornly.

“As I said, Snow, Lily is my friend too. I would never let anyone hurt her, least of all myself!”

He turns around and storms off.

I want to stop him and apologize. I want him to stop being angry. I want him to stop walking away when it took so much effort to get him here in the first place.

I don’t understand why I want these things.


After practice, I’m just changing up when Coach calls me into his office.

“Simon, I need to know if you’re going to play this week, or if I need to shuffle around the boys. I can’t keep Alex playing fly, it’s not his strong suit”

I sigh, “what time is this week’s game, sir?”

“Simon, being team captain means that this team needs to be a priority. Whatever time the game is scheduled for, you’re supposed to be there!”

“Coach I’ve always kept this team as my priority, you know that! Don’t I have any credibility after all?”

Coach sighs. “Snow, I can’t help you if you refuse to speak to me.”

I’m silent for a moment. Contemplating.

But Penny is right, I’m going to need to talk to my foster parents anyhow, so I might as well talk to Coach.

“Coach … you know I’m a foster kid, right,”

Coach is silent but he nods in understanding. Prompting me to carry on without interruption.

“Well, last week I was relocated to a new foster house,” I see his face fall in shame. He’s picking up on the direction of this conversation and regretting pushing me. This is why I hate using this part of my life for sympathy. He feels bad for me. “and they have a curfew of 8 pm.”

Coach put’s his head in his hands. “that’s why you asked if you could play the first half”, his voice is strained even as realization dawns on him.

I shrug, “it’s a twenty-minute walk on average, I thought if I play the first half and skip the shower I could run back just in time … make it work.”

Finally, he looks up at me. “Simon, I’m sorry,”

“you didn’t know, Coach,” Please stop feeling sorry for me for my daily life. There’s nothing wrong with me.  

“I’m sorry for doubting you, Simon. You’re right that you’ve always taken your position on this team, and then as captain, very seriously. I never should have doubted your motives… is there anything I or the team could do to make this work?”

“you could let me play the first half, sir,”

Coach nods. “I wasn’t trying to be difficult before, I really didn’t want the lads accusing me of special treatment. Sometimes I get students asking me for the night off to meet their girlfriend or go to parties,” he rolls his eyes, “but we’re also a family on this team, and we help each other. Simon, would you be okay if we spoke to the team about this? I’d need their acknowledgement to make something like this work without hiccups”

It’s disheartening, but it’s more hope than I had before practice. “okay, Coach.”

Coach nods. I start getting up when coach stops me again, “Actually, Simon, that’s not the only reason I called you back here,”

I raise an eyebrow

“You’re failing biology.”

I’m on my feet. I’m ready to protest. “I passed that quiz!”

Coach dramatically exhales, as he pulls out my biology quiz paper, “you got 52%”

“as I said, I passed,”

“Simon, Mrs Norris said that the class average for this test was 76%, this was a fairly easy test and you just barely passed, if it was a little harder, you wouldn’t have. Listen, Simon, I know you’re dealing with a lot. But at this rate, you might fail the exam, which is just before playoffs!

You’re fighting so hard for your spot on this team, for your position as captain, do not make me bench you because you failed fucking biology!”

I’m pouting. But even I know the rules of joining extracurricular clubs at Watford.

“I’m not benching you; I’m warning you. If you keep your head above 50% all semester, brilliant. But this is a warning that if you’re barely passing an easy test, you need some help to pass the exam”

“help?” I raise an eyebrow at him

“there’s a student who provides tuitions, he’s produced excellent results”

“Can’t I just ask Penelope for help?” That’s how I tackle all curveballs life throws at me.

Coach furrows his eyebrows in confusion, “Does Miss Bunce take Biology?”

“Uhm, no, she takes Geography,”

Coach gives me an unimpressed look. I sigh, defeated. “who’s the kid?”

“Basilton Grimm-Pitch.”

 

BAZ

Practice goes well for the most part. I’m exhausted, I’ve pushed the boys harder than usual today; last week’s point gap was virtually nonexistent. We’re playing the Bearcat’s this week, who are slightly more competent than last week’s Ravens, I don’t want them getting any ideas. We’ve only lost one game this season, and that was because Dev wasn’t in our goal (he was sick). We are not losing a game with our best squad. Not whilst I am captain, at least.

I’m heading off to the shower’s, Dev a few steps behind me (he’s really tired) when I see blue eyes staring me down from the bleachers. I smirk. He’s here more often than not – not sure why. I was too focused to look for him today, so I didn’t even put on a show… but his gaze is as intense as ever.

I’m a little hesitant to acknowledge him after our argument. What he said hurt. I hate that he always sees me as a bad person. I hate that I’ve given him reasons to. But he’s here. I’ll act like it doesn’t bother me that he can’t think of any reason someone he admires would find me good enough to date.

“I must say, Snow, I admire your commitment to attend football practice, when you didn’t even attend your own match. Having a change of heart, are we? Tryouts are closed for this year, try again next year”

Simon rolls his eyes, “I’m not switching sports, Pitch. But actually, that’s sort of why I’m here. I don’t still want to be here next year, and I definitely don’t want to give up rugby.”

His tone is all-business no-bullshit. I’m caught off guard but intrigued.

I give Dev a look that (hopefully) communicates ‘go on, shower and get out of here. Don’t wait for me.’

I think it works because Dev jogs the space between us. He lays a hand on my shoulder as we pass each other, “you’re tutoring in like 20 minutes”, he reminds me. I know, but he’s a good friend.

I nod. He jogs off to shower.

“what are you rambling on about, Snow”

He takes a deep, slow breath. Exhales just as slowly.

“I need you to tutor me in biology, so I don’t get kicked off the rugby team”

I just stare at him. I kind of want to laugh, but none of this is funny. It’s just that this is one of the scenarios younger-me had imagined, lying in bed at night, for how I would get close to Simon on my terms. In my element, where I wouldn’t fluster and start being an arsehole (like I do literally every time I speak to him). Those fantasies always ended in porn, so.

I don’t think he means ‘tutor me’ as in ‘tutor me on how to give a blowjob’, so I try to contain myself.

I can’t imagine spending a solid hour with Simon, frequently.

Merlin and Morgana, you cannot expect me to spend a solid hour with Simon and be coherent enough to share knowledge. Really, this is just testing my gayness.

I sigh. “Simon. You hate me.”

“As do you,” I really don’t. it’s just easier to be mean than to tell you I think you’re pretty. It’s easier making you hate me than letting myself be vulnerable. “but… I do need your help. I… I can admit that much.”

He does admit it. And he looks extremely ashamed as he does. He’s staring at the bench in front of him, avoiding eye contact. I hate this, there’s nothing to be ashamed of for asking for help.

I wish I could tell him so. The words get caught in my throat.

“I don’t mind helping you. But I’m already booked every day, and our free periods would clash with each other’s practices. I need the evenings for my homework and studies and to prepare my tutoring notes for the following day. The only day I don’t tutor is Friday’s and that’s because I have games. And, well, you do too.”

His face falls. It breaks my heart because I’m sure he really wasn’t looking forward to the prospect of voluntarily spending one-on-one time with me for any amount of time. I’m sure he never wanted to admit that he needs my help.

‘It’s okay.” He says. He laughs, a bitter sound, void of any humour. “I told him you wouldn’t help me”

That irritates me. “told who?” I snap.

“Coach. I told him you wouldn’t want to help me. he said I had to at least ask”

“Snow, it’s not that I don’t want to help you. I’ve already committed to my preexisting weekly tutor sessions, one of which I’m going to be late for in a few minutes, and I just don’t think I have the time”

He hums what I assume to be an acknowledgement and starts to turn around.

I feel like I’m breaking some fragile thing … which is ridiculous because the only thing between us is distrust and animosity.

“weekends,” I say, quickly before he can shut the door on my chance to get to know him. My chance to let him know me. To let him see that I’m not the monster he’s written me off as, or at least I try not to be.

“hmm?”

“my weekdays are full. I can tutor you Saturday and Sunday.”

“oh!”, he looks genuinely surprised, “that would be … brilliant.”

“What time? Do you have any commitments on the weekends?” I’m usually very strict about scheduling my tutoring sessions when it’s the most convenient for my schedule. That’s why they’re generally after practice and not in my free period. The students I tutor generally wait the hour after last period while I’m at practice, and then I meet them at the library for an hour of tuitions after I shower and change up. But I know Simon is a foster kid and I don’t really know what that entails. My weekends aren’t really scheduled, I just have violin practice and I study, both which I can move around.

“Uhm,” Simon stumbles over his words a lot, “well, I work on weekends. But I can move around my shift, that’s fine, when is it convenient for you? you’re really saving me here.”

The prospect of ‘saving’ Simon Snow shouldn’t make my cold heart feel so many things.

“what shift do you usually work?”

“late shift, twelve to eight.”

“that’s fine, we can work in the mornings. I prefer working in the morning anyway”

“where?”

“where do you work?”

“the Starbucks off Madeline drive”

“is it quiet enough to study there?”

“yeah, if we go to the upper level.”

“that’s perfect then. 10 am?”

“yes, uhm… what are your, rates?”

“Pardon?”

“how much do you charge for tuitions?”

I don’t actually want to charge Simon anything. I generally charge the rich kids. I know Simon isn’t rich. I know he’s working, so he can make up the money to pay me, but I also know he’s working for a reason. I don’t know too much about the life of a foster kid, but I don’t think it’s easy and financially comfortable. But I know the idiot in front of me won’t take anything for free.

“let’s see how much help you need, and we can negotiate after our first lesson on Saturday”

“yeah, okay,” he’s smiling at me. I don’t think he’s ever smiled at me. it’s like looking into the sun.

So, I guess I’m not entirely over him then.

“see you Saturday, Snow.” I throw him a two-fingered salute and jog off to the change rooms. I’m definitely going to be late to tutor Sebastian.


NIALL

We’re hanging out at Off the Wall when Matthew ruefully approaches the topic again. Really, I should be flattered that such a sweet guy wants to be my boyfriend. I am. But my heart has belonged to Dev for so long … I’m not sure if I can even picture it.

We’re in a corner booth, my back against the wall and his against the backrest. Both my legs are draped over his lap, I’m sitting adjacent to the table with my left elbow leaning against it.

he’s telling me about their game on Friday. He wanted me to come watch, but I told him I always watch Baz and Dev’s games if my cricket games aren’t at the same time. Thus far we’ve been hanging out, going on almost-dates, making out … but we weren’t exclusive. There were no obligations. I didn’t need to feel bad for blowing off his request for my friends if anything I was just being a good friend. I just happen to also be in love with one of those friends.

He was disappointed when I rejected him of course, it was his first game as captain.

He has naturally pouty lips, so when he’s actually pouting, it’s adorable.

“I don’t know what Simon’s deal is,” he says, while absent-mindedly rubbing a hand across my thigh, “but as long as he’s bailing – I’m captain.”

I smile at him, “I’m sorry you lost your first game as captain”

He shrugs, “maybe we’d do better next week if I have a lucky charm in the stands,” he winks.

I roll my eyes. I do want to go to his games. But I don’t want to get too boyfriend-y until I’m certain about what I want.

I know my feelings for Dev are hopeless. I know they won’t amount to anything.

I can even tell myself to stop loving him. in fact, I’ve been convinced multiple times that I did stop loving him. Then he does something so familiar and domestic and … insignificant, like feed me popcorn while we’re watching a movie, or carry an extra jacket in his jeep for me every day even though I rarely need one (I stopped carrying my own hoodies once I realized), or remember that I’m in a consistent state of anxiety waiting for the school of my dreams to give me feedback… and I just…fall in love with him all over again.

Being friends with Dev is falling in love with him every day.

It’s getting your heart broken every night, but knowing it’s worth keeping him in your life anyway because he’s so protective of you that if he knew someone (let alone himself) was causing you pain, he’d never let them get away with it.

I can’t imagine not loving Dev. I find comfort in the torture after all this time. That’s probably unhealthy, but he’s my safe space.

Baz is my best friend.

Dev is my person.

Matthew is a sweetheart. And he’s sitting in front of me with my legs on his lap as I treat him (in compensation for the free rides to and from school, I say). And he wants to make me his. And I guess I could be his. I’m loyal to him now even, I don’t mess around with multiple people at once.

Maybe I could learn to love him.

I think I’ve been silent for too long. Because he’s regarding me thoughtfully.

“who is it?” he asks.

“hmm?” I feel like I’ve woken up from a dream. I got so lost in my head, I forgot he’s even here. That we’re here in this crappy diner together.

“there’s someone else.” He smiles at me. It’s a sad, knowing smile.

But I’m stubborn. I raise an eyebrow at him in a very Baz-like manner.

He sighs, “it’s like … we hang out every day and for the most part, you indulge me. it’s like youre mine on the surface but sometimes you zone out and I know you’re not thinking about me. any time I bring up anything hinting at us actually being … a couple, you retreat. I know it’s not that you’re not interested at all, I can see that you are. I don’t think it’s an ex either, you’ve been single for as long as I’ve known you, just the casual hook up here and there that never lasted more than a few weeks.” He casts a downwards glance. He looks insecure. “but I want this to last more than a few weeks,” he says, much softer. Far less confidence than before. “I want more, with you. But I feel like … like you can’t give me more because your heart’s taken.”

I never wanted to hurt him.

This was supposed to just be a meaningless hookup.

“I never wanted to hurt you. It was casual when this all started, that’s why I didn’t say I’ll be your boyfriend. That’s why I retreat every time you suggest something that … means something. I didn’t want to hurt you when I know what I can offer you.”

“there’s someone else.” He says softly

“not really.” I say, cautiously, “I’m not the type of person who dates a bunch of people at once. There’s no one else … but I am in love with someone” like ripping off a band-aid … “It will not amount to anything, and I know that … but I am in love with him. and it wouldn’t be fair of me to date you while my heart ultimately, and has for a long time, belong to someone else”

He nods. Slowly. Absentmindedly.

“who is it?” he says, softly

I shake my head

He nods.

“is that it, then? You don’t want to see me again?”

I give him a sad smile and scoot closer to him on the booth.

“I love hanging out with you. I love how easy it is and the fun we have together. The chemistry. I don’t want to stop hanging out with you. but if you’re developing feelings for me… then I don’t want to stick around and keep hurting you. I’d rather let you get over me as fast and easily as possible.”

He exhales a shaky breath. “can we still be friends? I don’t just mean it as a ‘break up prompt’, I mean it. I want to stay on good terms with you”

“I want to as well. yes, I want to stay friends,” I lean forward, and up a bit (he’s taller than me) and kiss his forehead. “thank you for these last few weeks,” I say softly, nosing his cheek, “you were amazing.”

He leaves.

I pay the bill and then realize I need a ride home.

 

 

Minions

Can anyone pick me up from Off the Wall?

If not, it’s chilled, I’ll take the tube

(16:31) Dev: you shall not.

(16:31) Dev: on my way

Practice finished 30 minutes ago you must be home already

I can wait

For Baz to finish tutor

 

(16:35) Dev: on my fucking way.

 

 

Dev pulls up 20 minutes later, looking suspicious. I can hardly blame him, he ought to know I got here by means of Matthew. I’m waiting for him to ask; it’s been a few minutes and he doesn’t. we’ve both been silent since I jumped in, which is odd for us. There’s always comfortable chitchat to be made between us, or a comfortable silence. It’s never this tense.

I assume it’s because he’s waiting for me to tell him why I needed a lift when he starts talking.

“I need to tell you something - ”

Dev is cut off by my phone vibrating in my back pocket.

 

Incoming call: Matthew

 

Due to my familiarity and the frequency with which I travel in Dev’s Jeep, my phone automatically connects to the Jeep’s Bluetooth. We initially set this up so I can play my music conveniently, and consequently, it meant that any calls I answered automatically played from the Jeep speaker for all passengers to hear, but this was never a problem before. We don’t keep many secrets from each other, in our little trio.

I briefly consider switching off my Bluetooth, but I’ve never done that before and I didn’t want it to seem suspicious.

I answer.

Dev glances over and clenches his jaw. He’s doing a really good job not exploding.

“Hey, everything okay?”, I say to the Jeep in general. It’s on speakerphone.

“hey, I’m so sorry I’m such a fucking douchebag I entirely forgot that you got there with me and that I was your ride back! I was about to drive back as soon as I realized but I thought I’d call to find out where you are since that was like half an hour ago”

“Nah it’s cool, no stress, I’m in Dev’s Jeep now, he just fetched me”

There’s a moment of silence before, “wait … Is he -,”

“- okay cool man, thanks for checking in bye” I cut the call.

Dev is raising an eyebrow at me.

I sigh, “what did you need to tell me?”

“it looks like you have stuff to tell me too”

I shrug, “it’s not important and yours seemed to be”

“it’s your feelings so it’s important”

I roll my eyes. I love this boy.

“I told Matthew that no, I will not be dating him, and he left, and only afterwards did I realize he was my ride. That’s why I called you.”

“well actually, you volunteered to wait for Baz to finish tutor and then make a 15-minute drive here”, this seems to bother him for some reason.

I shrug, “I could wait, I didn’t want to bother you when you were home already,”

He clenches his jaw again. Somethings bothering him today. I thought he was just mad at Matthew for leaving me stranded (he’s protective of Baz and me), but he knows what happened now. It was more my own fault than Matthew’s. “You’re not a burden, Niall.”

Dev is never this … serious. “Is everything okay, Dee?”

Dev’s expression is complex. “I thought you liked him … why did you end things?”

I shrug, feigning nonchalance, “he wanted more than I could offer.”

Dev seems lost in thought as he slowly nods.

“what was your news?”

He’s quiet for a few minutes and soon we’re only a few roads away from our houses.

“it wasn’t really important. Are you doing okay? do you need anything?”

I’m silent for a beat, “you’re lying.”

He’s silent.

“what’s bothering you Dev”

“What do you mean he wanted more than you could offer? Is this… is this about sex?”

I’m quite surprised, but I guess I see why he’d interpret my words that way.

I need to be honest with him. or, well, as honest as I can be.

“no, Dee,” I reach over and stroke his scalp, letting my fingers thread through his hair. It always soothes him when he’s stressed out. Dev and Baz, both, really like having their hair played with. “He wanted me to be his boyfriend, and I thought about it, honestly. I liked spending time with him. but what I felt for him … it wasn’t deep enough for me to want to be in a relationship with him. he felt more for me than I felt for him. I didn’t want to hurt him so I let him go, so he could move on.”

Dev is quiet for a while. The tension still hasn’t left his body although he seems slightly less … ready to murder a bunch of people.

“please tell me whatever you were going to, even if it’s not important. I’d like to know.”

He pulls up at my house. “tomorrow,” he says.

I look at the front door of the house I’ve called home from the time I was a baby. I think Dev and Baz also see it as a variation of a home, they’ve both slept over here countless times. It’s not as fancy as their houses, they’re old family royalty or something, I don’t know. I don’t think they even know.

But it’s still a nice house, and it’s more homey than either of theirs.

I can’t let him drive home and be alone right now. I don’t know what’s bugging him … but I think we both need each other tonight.

I definitely need him, even if it’s not the way I want him. I need the familiarity of Dev sleeping on the couch in my room, snoring quietly. I need his presence. I’ve been pushing him away lately in an effort to get over him, in an effort to replace those non-platonic feelings with feelings for Matthew.

It felt like a vital organ had been ripped out of my body. I’ve missed him like a life source.

“tonight,” I correct him, “you’re spending the night.”

I tug on his hair and then climb out of the Jeep. I’m a little shorter than him, it takes a little hop for me to jump off.

Dev is still in the driver’s seat, “tonight? I have no clothes and we have school tomorrow and I didn’t even ask my mum – nor have you asked yours –”

“ – like your parents are going to care once they hear you’re with me? they literally rely on me to bring you home in one piece, and my parents won’t care, and you can use my clothes for one day. Stop looking for excuses. Or we can drive back to your house right now, pick up an overnight bag and talk to your mum but we are having a sleepover tonight because you need to talk about whatever it is that’s bothering you.”

He sighs exasperatedly, “Baz?”

“I think we can make do without Baz for a while,” I’m feeling greedy about my time with him after I’ve had to restrain myself for weeks, “unless you need him? – should I call him, would it help?”

He’s watching me with a peculiar look his face. “I’m okay.”

He finally gets out of the Jeep and follows me into the house. We greet my mum and sister and let mum know that Dev will be staying the night. We make it to my bedroom, and I head to the shower, tossing soft old T-shirt and grey sweatpants at Dev.

It feels familiar. The sight of him in my bedroom. In my clothes. Matching my breaths to his as we fall asleep. I can’t lose this. I may not have as much as I want, but after distancing myself from him, I realize that he is all that I need. I can’t risk losing this by asking for too much.

He showered after practice, so by the time I exit my en suite I find him fast asleep on my bed. he’s wearing the sweatpants but he’s (gloriously) shirtless, hugging my pillow. He must be really exhausted, he said Baz really pushed them at practice today.

Mum calls us down for dinner but I know better than to wake Dev up when he’s asleep and being away from him right now is the last thing I want.

I yearn to curl up around him on my bed, hold him against my chest and go to sleep. But I restrain myself.

I cover him with the blanket, grab the extra pillow and a throw blanket, and head to the couch.

I feel more content than I’ve been for a long time.

Chapter Text

Tuesday, November 10th

NIALL

Darkness.

Hazy thoughts.

It’s dark and quiet when I’m dragged out of unconsciousness, out of deep sleep.

It takes me a few moments to comprehend that Dev has me by the shoulders and is shaking me awake. What could this idiot possibly want? He’s still shaking me awake and saying my name when I mumble the question.

“I’m hungry,”

“Then eat,” I turn around and try to fall asleep again, but Dev won’t budge. He’s still shaking my entire body, whining.

“C’mon Niall, come downstairs with me I’m starving.”

“You are the reason we missed dinner,” eyes still closed, I mumble against my pillow.

He’s silent for a beat, and I almost think he gave up, when, “you missed dinner too?”

“Obviously,” I respond, “I wasn’t going to leave you passed out up here alone and go eat dinner”

He whacks the back of my head, which is enough to wake me up, “you should have!”

“I wasn’t hungry,” That’s not entirely true.

“well, you also haven’t eaten so we’re both going to get food, come along little one,” he has both my hands in his as he tries to pull me up

“That is the worst angle to try to lift someone; you have, like, no base of support to draw momentum from, let alone leverage and aah –” I’m cut off by Dev wrapping an arm around the back of my knees and tossing me over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Before I can yell at him, he’s already standing up and heading for the door. “Dev, you put me down right this minute!” I whisper-shout at him. I don’t want to wake the whole house. I also can’t afford to get a hard-on right now because he will definitely feel it. He’s ignoring my thrashing and we’re in the kitchen in a few minutes. He set’s me down, in front of the refrigerator.

“you bloody, devil!” I berate him as soon as my feet touch the cold kitchen tiles. When he lets go of me, I sway a little. He steadies me; holds on to my waist.

“What time is it, even?”

“Around 12, Happy Tuesday,” the bastard winks at me. The shirtless bastard. I’m only now realizing how shirtless he still is.

“Well, we fell asleep early, so… I’ve already slept too long for me to get any more sleep tonight,”

“Perfect, let’s eat,”

He’s still looking at me though, making no move to actually feed himself. I roll my eyes. “Dev, you know my house is practically yours, you don’t need to wait for me to serve you”

“Well it’s rude to open someone else’s fridge and rummage through it”

“A strangers’, yes, probably. We’re not strangers,” I shoulder past him and get to the fridge, fishing out the lasagna mum made for us last night. “What did you need to tell me earlier?”

He straightens at my question. I don’t know what this is about, but it seems to bother him.

A lot.

DEV

I don’t know why I’m scared. What’s he going to do, shun me for my sexuality?

If anything, I’m in the club now.

So why am I choking on my words?

My heart is beating faster, and the back of my neck feels like it’s on fire. I’m starting to feel dizzy. My stomach has dropped to the floor and the lasagna aroma taking over the kitchen is starting to make me nauseous. My previous hunger is gone entirely. Is this a panic attack? Or is this general panic?

Why am I even panicking?

Really, I have no idea. Niall’s not going to give a shit if I’m straight or gay or anything else on the spectrum.

Maybe that’s why I’m nervous? I’m not just coming out for the first time; I’m coming out to the object of my affection. I’m coming out to my best friend who I’m in love with.

If he doesn’t care, is that rejection? That’s hardly fair, it’s not like I plan to tell him I’m in love with him. Just the sexuality thing.

 He’s oblivious to the role he plays in this.

NIALL

I sigh, “Dee,” I turn to him, taking a fist-full of his curls in my hand.

Unlike Baz; Dev keeps the sides of his hair short. But, the top is a crown of thick, dark, curls. Not the small, spirally curls. His are gorgeous; they’re big and wavy - like straight hair after you take a curler to it. He’s especially adorable with bedhead; the curls of his fringe falling into his eyes in disarray.

“– you know you can tell me anything, don’t you? No matter how big, or scary, or embarrassing. It’s me.” I tug on his hair with more force. Grounding him. My voice is softer than I usually allow myself with him. We’re always kind and affectionate, but I try to limit the amount of adoration I allow him to see, so he doesn’t figure my heart out.

But in this dark kitchen – the only light illuminating us is from the open fridge – I find it a little harder to restrain myself.

DEV

It occurs to me that this is my first time coming-out – maybe that’s why I’m scared?

Baz knows of course, but I never really came out to him. He helped me work through my feelings and figure out my sexuality, which’s different from saying the words to someone.

Come on. Like ripping off a band-aid.

“I don’t think I’m as straight as previously assumed,” I say.

NIALL

He says it so softly I’m almost unsure if I heard correctly.

Is this some cruel dream?

A late-night fantasy?

 It wouldn’t be the first time, but it would be the most vivid.

The microwave beeping brings me back, and I realize that Dev has been staring at me anxiously for a few moments. I don’t know what prompted this, and I don’t know what this means – if anything – for me. But right now I need to focus on him. This was a big, important admission for him. I need to be the friend that he was to me three years ago.

This may be worthy of a personal freak out on account of my own feelings, but we can focus on that once he calms down.

I turn to him again. I smile at him and take a step closer, placing my hands firmly on either side of his shoulders, my thumbs brushing his clavicles, “Thank you for telling me. Thank you for trusting me with this,” I pull him into a hug, “are you alright?”

DEV

I crumble into his arms, my head in the crook of his neck even though I’m taller than him. My eyes are closed and I’m focused on his scent. My arms wrap around his waist and pull him against me.

We stand like that for a long time. Until the coffee machine beeps. Niall lets me go, takes a step back, and ruffles my hair. I realize that my cheeks are wet only when he cups my face and wipes them dry with his thumbs.

He’s on his tiptoes and kisses my head before I can register it.

“It’s okay, Dee. You’re not alone. I’ve got you,” he mumbles against the skin of my forehead.

NIALL

I have so many questions.

I need to talk to Baz about what this means about my feelings – the main reason I’ve kept them a secret was that I refused to pressure a straight boy.

I need to find out if Baz even knows.

What prompted this epiphany in him? Dev never seemed uncertain or insecure about his sexuality before.

Is there another boy? I’m not sure if I can handle that.

 

I have so many questions.

But none of them are as important as the fragile boy in my arms, quietly crying into my neck.

It’s true that he has no reason to be crying when he’s coming out to me of all people.

But he’s figuring out his sexuality and that's terrifying. He’s coming into himself.

And his family is far less liberal than mine. Society can often be not-so-liberal.

He must be scared.

I want to protect him from the world.

 

I take his face and wipe his tears. I kiss his head.

I’m on thin ice, I’m being far too tender but it’s the only way I know to make him feel safe.

I just hope he doesn’t figure out that I love him.

DEV

The moment is gone as fast as it came, and the next coherent thing I acknowledge is Niall handing me a plate of lasagna and leading us to the table. It’s darker now that the fridge is closed, but we don’t feel like sitting in a bright room. We’re still silent as I switch my phone flashlight on and place it on the table between us. It provides just enough light for us to see each other. We eat in silence.

I love this boy.

NIALL

After we eat, we watch two FRIENDS episodes, and Dev seems to cheer up a bit after the second episode. We work on the homework we abandoned last night, together, and before we know it the sun is rising. I dress up as Dev packs his school bag. We’ll stop at his house for him to shower and change, and pick up a few things before we head to school.

We’re about to head to the Jeep when both our phones vibrate – Group chat, then.

Minions

(06:17) Baz: I’m fetching Lily for school this morning – anyone else?

(06:18) Dev: no thanks – I’ll drive us.

(06:18) Dev: slept over at Niall’s last night.

                    Going home to change and then we’ll drive to school.

(06:19) Baz: without me?

(06:19) Baz: Rude.

 

“Does Baz know?”, I ask Dev. We haven’t brought it up since the confession. He seemed emotional and uncharacteristically quiet. But I need to know if I’m keeping this from Baz – it would … complicate things.

“Yes. He’s the only other person who knows.”

 

***


 

 

PENELOPE

“It was brilliant Pen,” Simon says between bites of the lunch I brought him, “I expected more resistance on their part but Coach explained to them why I missed last weeks game and the curfew situation, and the whole team came together and agreed that I should I play the first half. Ethan even said that he’ll give me a lift back to the house as soon as I’m done so I don’t need to literally sprint home!”

“but Ethan’s on the team,”

“He’s a sub so he doesn’t play full games,” Simon says distractedly.

I smile up at him from behind my own sandwich, “that is brilliant, Si. So you’re still captain?”

“Well, we’re starting training with Matthew as co-captain,”

“how do you feel about that?”

He shrugs, “he’s not a bad captain, and it’s not like I’m even on the pitch in the second half. And if I don’t pass biology I won’t be on the pitch at all, the lads need another captain”

“so how are we conquering the biology thing? I don’t do it but I’m sure we can make do with videos and study guides, library study date?”

“Actually,” he says in a tone that makes me suspicious, “I’ve looked into the biology thing?”

I raise an eyebrow at him.

“Coach forced me into tuitions,”

Both my eyebrows raise in surprise this time. That’s a good plan. It’s just not usually necessary, I’m usually enough to get Simon out of his near-misses without outsider help.

We’ve never needed anyone else.

“Well? With who?”

He lets out a defeated sigh, “Baz”, he says softly. Eyes cast downwards.

“Baz?” I know that Baz offers tuitions but I also know Simon hates him, “you’re relying on  Baz?”

“he’s brilliant, Penny”

“I know he’s brilliant, Simon,” I say incredulously (maybe we should work on enhancing his vocabulary, next). It makes Agatha look up from her cellphone at us for the first time in 20 minutes, “I’ve been telling you that he’s alright for years, you’ve hated him for years and now you’re casually mentioning that  Baz is your tutor?”

“what,” Agatha looks surprised too. This is probably awkward on her part – she left Simon for Basil.

Simon groans, “it’s not like I had a choice, okay! Coach told me I had to ask Baz and I did and he agreed!”

Agatha scrunches her eyebrows in confusion, “I thought you hate each other?”

“I’m pretty sure it’s just Simon who hates Baz,”

“He hates me too he’s just cooler about hiding it! And yes, we do, but he’s probably just looking at what he’s getting out of it, he’ll probably just use it as an excuse to be a dick to me for an hour while getting paid,”

“Can you afford his tuitions, Simon?” Agatha asks. I glare at her.

I respond before Simon can, “Basil told me that he doesn’t tutor for the financial aspect, it’s not like he needs it, he said it’s mostly because it makes his CV stand out when applying to colleges,”

This makes Simon scoff, "he already has the grades and the football and the music and the hair, how much more does he need to stand out," he rolls his eyes 

I forgot that Baz is even involved in music - he doesn't take the class. "I am certain that your hair doesn't affect college acceptance selection," I scrunch my eyebrows in bewilderment. 

“he said that we’ll do the first session and then he’ll give me a price based on how much help I need,” Simon says to Agatha

“When’s the first session?” I ask

“Saturday morning,”

That gets my attention, “I thought Baz only tutored on weekdays at school. I specifically remember him saying that his weekends are for him, only. That’s why he even insisted that  the dare only lasts the school week”

Simon shrugs, “he said that his weekdays are full already so we can do Saturday and Sunday mornings,”

“He’s giving you his Sundays as well?” I’m positively surprised, I glance up at Baz at the drama club table where he seems to be laughing at something Lily said.

“He’s giving me an hour, Penelope,” Simon rolls his eyes at me.

Somethings going on here. I can’t help but feel like I can’t see the whole board. Like I’m missing important pieces of information.

I hum acknowledgment at Simon, “well, anything that helps you is a good thing, Si. No matter how unconventional. Let me know how Saturday goes,”

***


 

BAZ

Turns out; sitting at the Drama table is far less dramatic than sitting at the cheerleader table, and I’m all for it. Lily and her friend, Isaac, are enlightening the rest of us on their Christmas musical, and subtly dropping hints that Dev and I are more than welcome to assist with the 'music' aspect.

Niall is sitting with us as well, today. Matthew is back at the rugby table looking somewhat somber. I haven’t gotten a chance to really talk to the lads today and find out what the hell is going on. We don’t have noncompulsory practice on Tuesday mornings, and they both arrived at school too late for me to even see them before the first period.

I had first period French with Niall, but I never got him alone to speak to him. That’s the thing about jocks. Pack mentality. It’s like football and cricket players have been gravitating towards us all morning. I practically feel cock-blocked, or conversation-blocked.

Niall has been roped into a conversation with Lily about costumes, so I take the chance to give Dev the ‘let’s go have a quick smoke’ nod. I need to get them separately.

When we’re outside, I light up two cigarettes and pass one to Dev.

“What’s going on?”

“Did Niall say anything in French?” Dev takes Spanish.

I shake my head, “didn’t get a chance,”

“I told him I’m queer,” he says around his cigarette.

I still, and look at him with large eyes, “And?! How did it go?”

He shrugs. “He was supportive. He doesn’t know he has anything to do with it.”

I nod, “Still. This was big for you. How do you feel?”

He exhales a puff of smoke, “This might  not change anything,”

“ - Or it might change everything,” I cast a sideways glance at him, gesturing with my cigarette, “he still doesn’t have enough information to know he’s an option”

“I don’t think I have another big confession in me” Dev softly admits.

I nod. Dev got the ball rolling, I’ll just have to convince Niall into the last part. 3 “Well, there’s been a distinct lack of Matthew today so that’s a score”

“Niall dumped him; didn’t you know?”

That is surprising, “He didn’t mention it, but we didn’t really get to talk today either”

I’m sure Niall is itching to explode at me about Dev’s new revelation.

The final bell goes and we’re about to head inside. “are you coming to the game on Saturday?” Dev enquires.

Since cricket is a lot longer a sport than our other clubs, their games are often on weekends, and rarely – if ever – on Friday’s with the rest of us. It also takes most of the day, so I usually only show up for a single inning. Preferably when Niall is fielding, so we definitely see him on the pitch.

“yes, though I may be late – I’m tutoring.”

Dev raises an eyebrow at me, “since when do you tutor on weekends?”

I sigh, “Snow might get kicked off the rugby team if he-”

But Dev cuts me off, “Woah Woah, wait, Snow? Don’t tell me you’re falling down that rabbit hole again”

I can tell he’s going to be insufferable unless I appeal to his interests, “If Snow can’t play, Matthew is captain,” I remind him. Matthew is a good guy, but he’s never going to be best mates with Dev again.

“I have always felt that Snow was a brilliant captain,” Dev chimes in, with a false wistfulness to his voice.

“oh, you did?” I ask sarcastically

“yes yes, you know how important rugby is to me,” I doubt he even knows all the rules, “we need our best men out there, please see to it that Simon plays”

“mhmm,” I smirk at him as we head to the fourth period.


I don’t actually get a moment alone with Niall, but I get a call from him as soon as I’m done with tuitions. He updates me on the Matthew situation, which helps things get less complicated, and then proceeds to freak out about Dev’s sexuality. Thankfully, he never questioned why I knew first, nor why I never mentioned it to him. He understands.

But he still won’t come clean to Dev. He doesn’t think Dev feels the same way, and Dev won’t because he doesn’t think Niall feels the same way.

I may have been going about this all wrong. All this time I’ve been trying to get these morons to admit their feelings to each other instead of me. Words are scary, but they’re also not what’s important.

 

I need to let them see each other’s feelings for themselves.

I need them to show each other what they can’t say.

They’re already in love, they just need to realize it.

 

But, for now, I have AP calc homework for tomorrow where I need to beat Penelope, I have a bunch of tutoring notes to prep for my sessions, and I have a blue-eyed demon (angel) to mentally (and sexually) prepare myself for in a few days.

It’s going to be an interesting week.


I slip into my silk pajamas (they’re the fancy kind with my initials – TBGP – sewed on the breast pocket), and call Lily once I’m in bed. Part of the dare is giving the ‘winner’ the full Baz Pitch boyfriend experience, so I call my dates before bed every night in addition to giving them lifts and sitting with them at lunch. It’s easy with Lily though. She’s been gushing to me about Lacrosse-team-Jackson for a solid five minutes without pausing to breathe. It’s so simple. So innocent. She doesn’t even really know him, but she can’t get him out of her mind. She’s ‘accidentally’ memorized his class and practice schedule and we’re discussing excuses she could use for why she suddenly absolutely needs to attend lacrosse practice, every day. It’s so jovial. So tooth-achingly sweet and innocent.

It almost stings. She has a crush on a guy and while she’s nervous about him finding out, it’s only for the fear of rejection. Only because she’s insecure that her feelings may be unrequited. Not because her feelings are considered taboo. Not because a simple thing like thinking a specific boy's eyes are pretty or dimples are cute, can change your entire reputation instantly. Or fucking 'send you to hell'. I’m almost tempted to tell her that I, too, can’t get a specific guy out of my head. Unlike you, Lily, he does know I exist – he just hates me. I wish it could be so simple to talk to my friend about a boy I like, as she is. I wish my genuinely innocent feelings weren’t some secret I need to hide.

Because these feelings are innocent. I don’t know Simon as well as I’d prefer to, and although I am lustfully attracted to him, the reason I like him is quite innocent. I watch him with his friends – how protective he is of the very few people he has in his life, and it warms my heart, it makes me wish I could be one of those people. One of Simon Snow’s people. I watch his passion for rugby (far more discreetly than he watches my practices) and it’s so fierce, the thrill is contagious. He plays like he has nothing to lose, and sometimes I worry he doesn’t. I watch him pull on his curls in biology when he doesn’t understand the labs we’re doing. And I watch him smile, shyly, when he got an answer right once. Even he was surprised. It’s the small pieces of the puzzle that is 'Simon Snow' that I’ve accumulated over the years, that made me think about him a lot. And then fall for him. And now I’m concerned that I might love him. Well, as much as you can love someone you don’t genuinely know or have a healthy relationship with.

It’s like… potential love. I know I could love him If only I had a chance.

But this isn’t a world where Simon Snow would give me the chance to love him.

And so, I am content to spend my days loving the boy of my daydreams and night fantasies, from afar.

Well, until now.

Because, apparently, I can verbally harass him but I can’t turn him down a favor once he turns his puss-in-boots-eyes on me, so now I need to spend two hours a weekend one-on-one with him. This should be interesting.

This is really testing my restraint.

 

It's past midnight when I cut the call with Lily. I turn onto my tummy, hugging my pillow with both hands; and not for the first time, I dream of blue eyes and freckles. 

Chapter Text

Saturday, November 14th

BAZ

Starbucks doesn’t have a legitimate parking area, so I decide against taking the Porsche. It’s 8:50 when I pull up at Starbucks on my Ducati, my hair in a bun under my helmet. I bite on the strap of my leather glove and tug it off, shoving it into my helmet as I fish my wallet out of my backpack.

“caramel frapp, thanks,” the barista writes my name on the cup; Tyrannus (I gave her my first name the first day I encountered her - to fuck with her because she was flirting with me, and I know it’s a pain to spell - now I’m stuck with it because she never asked my name again) and keeps shooting me flirty glances and smirks.

I’m usually in and out of here within a few minutes, but I take my drink to the yet-explored upper level where Simon said he’d meet me.

I’m over an hour early, but I need the time. I’m always prepared for my tutoring sessions; I have my own notes ready for them before I get there. I’m not yet prepared today. The first lesson with a new student is always crucial; it’s where I figure out the benchmark of their learning curve, where they stand, and where I need to get them. I asked Simon for his most recent biology test, which I retrieved from Penelope on Wednesday. This academic - and athletic - week was so demanding that I never got a chance to work on it. After yesterday’s game, I took the guys out for pizza— victory pizza and in thanks for backing me up after Mondays' predicament at practice.

I thought if I got here early, I could put together my study material and be ready before Simon shows up. I imagined he’d be a bit late and I could be a douche about it.

I didn’t account for the golden-brown curls that catch my attention in the corner window seat. I can only see the top of his head, but I’d recognize him anywhere. Simon wears his hair short on the back and on the sides, but the top is a thatch of loose curls. Brown with golden highlights. His curls are falling into his eyes and I watch as he distractedly pushes them away (maybe I should offer him a hair tie). He’s sitting on the ground like an animal, his back resting on the couch base. He seems to have quite a few books open on the coffee table in front of him, which he uses as a study desk.

I know he said it’s fairly quiet here, but I never imagined he’d come here to genuinely study. I didn’t expect him to be an hour early, either.

Before I know it, I’m walking up to him. There’s a bruise blooming on his cheekbone. I want to kiss it better. It’s not uncommon for the rugby team to be a little bruised up now and then, but I always worry about Simon when it's him.

He looks up when my shadow catches his attention.

The light filtering through the floor-to-ceiling windows bring out the gorgeous colour of his eyes – the same blue as the morning sky backdropping him.

“Baz,” he startles. I wonder if it’s because I’m early, or because he doubted I’d show up at all. “What’re you doing here?”

I raise an eyebrow at him, “you literally asked me to meet you here, Snow,”

He looks at his watch. It’s a very ordinary watch, a bit loose on his hand. It’s not his size. “you’re kind of early,”

“So are you.”

He sheepishly looks over his books, then back up at me, “I was just studying …”

“Do you always study in a café?” I’m just genuinely curious, but because it’s him – and he turns me into a douchebag to cover up my inner vulnerability – it sounds more like judgment.

Simon just shrugs, “it’s quiet up here. And the windows don’t make me feel claustrophobic,” I’m pretty sure that’s the biggest word I’ve ever heard Simon say “It’s peaceful. I can… focus better up here” he looks out the large windows in wonder.

This precious idiot.

I toss my helmet and backpack on the couch facing him and settle down, pulling my study supplies out, “so you’re here every day then?”

 

SIMON

Well, shit.

I wasn’t expecting him here this early. I got here as soon as doors open – at 7 am – and intended to study until our session at 10. Baz said we’d negotiate his rates after the lesson, depending on how much help I need. So I figured; the harder I study independently --> the less help I’ll need -->the less he’ll charge --> the more money I'll have once I’m on my own post-graduation, y’know?

I mean, he’ll probably charge me more anyway because he’s a twat who hates me. But maybe if I’m not entirely clueless, I can piss him off a little less and he’ll keep helping me. Penny is right, I can’t risk losing the opportunities rugby can potentially afford me for a better life.

I miss the days when I played rugby because it was fun. An outlet. I had gotten on the team because I was good, but I didn’t really care about it so much. I just loved the sport. Now it feels more like a job. A means to an end.

Baz settles down across from me, his legs are parted and he’s on higher ground on that couch since I’m on the floor. I wonder if he realizes the view I have from this position.

I have no idea how I feel about it.

I look back down at my notes.

“no, weekdays I study at E block after school, by the water fountain behind by admin block?” Baz nods, “I generally spend weekdays either here or at Penelope’s, she has a porch swing! It’s really peaceful there too, her mother has the most adorable garden,”

“you like nature,” Baz observes the large pot plant next to the couch I’m settled at and the sky outside. I do, love nature. It’s calming. I find it a lot easier to calm my mind and focus on something when I’m surrounded by nature.

I simply nod and look back at my notes. Why am I sharing all of this with Baz Pitch?

He doesn’t want to hear it. He doesn’t even want to be here. His weekends are for him, and him alone. He said so.

“Why are you early?”

“well actually,” he pulls out my test. The one coach yelled at me for.

The one I passed.

“this week was hectic; I didn’t get a chance to look at your paper. I sort of already have a schedule and I didn’t have time as yet to make up my study plan for our sessions,”

I feel bad.

“-so I thought I’d work on my session notes before our lesson” he concludes.

“We still have an hour,” I rearrange my textbook and notes, so he has his side of the table clear.

Baz looks at me thoughtfully for a moment, nods and gets to work.


Baz’s pencil case is the cutest. It’s transparent with tiny purple stars. It’s odd that Baz owns such a mundane possession. I don’t know what type of pencil case I expected my arch-nemesis to have, per se, but I did not expect cute purple stars.

 What’s less surprising is the expensive-looking pen he’s writing with.

I see him roll his eyes at something on my test and take notes in his notebook.

“staring.” He says. Soft, but clear.

“hmm?”

“you’re staring at me, Snow,” he raises his silver eyes to meet mine. “I thought you were supposed to be studying- am I really that distracting?” he raises an eyebrow at me.

He is, actually. Distracting.

Baz lounges on the couch with his left foot on his right knee. he unravelled his raven hair a few minutes ago and carded his fingers through it; it’s in disarray and he still looks perfect. He’s such a douche.

He smells really nice.

“I’m just observing your poor taste in coffee,”

He raises his eyebrows at me.

“you have bad coffee choosing skills.” I nod seriously.

“excuse me, Mr Barista,”

“ - I actually work in the bakery department but okay,”

“ - but are you hating on my caramel Frappuccino with extra whipped cream?” he clutches his chest, feigning offence.

I roll my eyes at him, “yes, I’m judging your diabetes in a cup”

He looks me in the eyes, “rude.” And then he slurps up the last remaining coffee and frowns down at his cup when it makes the ‘I’m empty’ noise.

I laugh, I like this Baz better.

I get up and grab his cup, “I’ll grab you another,”

“no I’ll go, I’m feeling for something warm anyway”

“I got it,” I say, walking away.

BAZ

When Simon gets back, he hands me a foam cup of warm liquid and settles down on the floor again with his own cup.

I’m not paying attention when he tosses a hand full of sugar sachet’s at my head, I glare at him and he laughs.

I like him like this. When he understands that my glares and bad communication aren’t actually malice. It never was. Simon Snow you simply make me too nervous to function.

“that’s already sweet though,” he says, “I didn’t know if you’d still want sugar”

“what is it?”

“Café Mocha,”

I smile at the cup. Simon Snow got me a coffee. Simon Snow guessed my favourite coffee order. Simon Snow got me extra sugar, just in case (and then he proceeded to throw it at my head – but that’s a very Simon thing to do)

I pull out my wallet.

“No, that’s alright don’t worry about it,”

“that’s okay –”

“No, Baz, I literally just went into the kitchen and made it, I didn’t even pay,”

I raise both eyebrows at him, “Am I drinking stolen coffee, Simon?”

Belatedly, I realize that I called him Simon. In my head he’s Simon, but out loud, he’s Snow. I cannot risk him noticing the affection with which I say his name.

I guess I was a little distracted this time. Simon Snow made me a coffee!

He’s not even – technically – the barista!

“We all do it!” he reasons, “and not, like, all the time. When our friends come in we still have to either charge them or cover it ourselves, but we can take a free coffee now and then, it’s not like we’re stealing stock – it’s just ingredients”

“so, you took two coffee’s for yourself?” I smirk at him while I try to adjust my books on the table. It’s not working out, it’s a coffee table, not a study table. It’s too low.

“that’s why I’m on the floor,” he chuckles, observing me.

SIMON

Baz rolls his eyes and settles down on the floor across from me. His legs are a lot longer than mine though – that’s where his height his – and he’s having a hard time…arranging his limbs under the shared table. He tries to stretch them out but I can tell I’m in his way. He tries to position them, stretched out, to one side of me, before he just gives up and folds them.

I can tell he’s not too comfortable. I wouldn’t be, either, if my jeans were as tight as his.

“Daddy long-legs,” it's out my mouth before I can stop it. We both freeze. We’re silent for a moment.

I want to die.

BAZ

“What?” What. My voice is too high.

“it’s a spider,” he panickily defends himself.

“Okay,” I’m probably glaring at him. I don’t really know how to react, “What about it?”

I know it’s a fucking spider, but that’s not where my mind went when he fucking randomly spurted out Daddy Long Legs.

“I…saw one,” he says, eyes darting around the room, “on the pot plant, behind you,” he nods, “wasn’t sure if you were a fan of spiders or not…thought I’d warn you…”

Simon's voice raises an octave at the end. Like a question. Like he’s begging me to just roll with it.

I clear my throat, “don’t really care about spiders,” I am almost certain that there is no fucking spider on that tree. “are you ready to start, it's almost 10,”

He nods, relieved.


“So, we have to cover the eight systems in biology, but our next test is on the reproductive system so I thought we should cover that first,”

Unfortunately.

It’s going to be awkward. There’s literally a penis he needs to label. In detail.

 

Simon is surprisingly responsive. I expected him to fight me a little more… but he listens to my guidance and tries. He doesn’t know as much as he should, really, but that’s the point of tuitions. He’s definitely not my worst student.

 

He tries. That’s the biggest thing. He knows why he’s doing this.

The biggest problem he has is remembering essay questions in detail, so I try to explain them to him. “if you understand the process, you don’t need to remember it word for word, Snow,”

“you called me Simon before,”

“I did not – you can just explain it. Like, you need to understand the effects of the female hormones, FSH, LH and Progesterone. If you understand what each hormone does in the body you can explain it and put it together in an essay. You don’t need to remember the template essay exactly,” he nods, “study for application questions. Read your notes and try to make your own – that’s what helps me, I set tough questions for myself so I know that the test questions can’t be harder – If you study for application questions, you can put everything you know together for an essay or simplify it for a short question,”

He nods. I ask him questions, he tries to answer. He’s mostly part right and I fill him in on what he missed out. I explain what he doesn’t understand. He’s attentive. 

I readjust again, these jeans are not for sitting cross-legged.

Simon sighs, “just come over here,” he scoots to the extreme left “then you can stretch out your legs,”

Having Simon talk about my legs…stretching… it’s really testing my restraint.

“you just want to peep into the study guide,” he doesn’t have his own so I’m teaching him from mine.

He’s really quite smart, he just doesn’t study using the right approach for such a theory extensive module.

I don’t need to keep repeating stuff as I do with my poorer students. Once I explain something, he grasps it quite fast. Really, its sort of a study session, not tuitions. I’m learning as I teach him, which I would have done today anyway.

He rolls his eyes at me, “I just don’t want you to be uncomfortable for another thirty minutes, just stretch out your legs”

I do, they’re both on his left. He stretches his legs out too, probably to make me feel more comfortable.

We study. We revise. We’re only half done with the reproductive system when the one hour mark is up. I don’t know whether to tell Simon or not, but maybe he wants to stop?

“you have work in an hour,” I say instead.

“already?” he frowns and checks his phone lock screen, “oh, wow. I’ve never enjoyed studying for that long before,”

I shrug, “you’re really not that, Snow, if you put in a few more hours, and use the tips I gave you, you won’t even need me”

Simon beams at my praise.

“I’ll make you some flashcards and give it to you tomorrow, it should help you test yourself.”

“I’ve always known that you were smart,” Simon smiles, “but Baz…you’re a really great tutor”

I nod my acknowledgement and halfheartedly pack my stuff.

“So… you said you’d let me know about your rates after you figure out how much help I need” he reminds me, looking awkward.

I completely forgot that Simon is technically expected to pay me. It feels wrong to charge him. Really, we studied together. I learned while teaching him, and he didn’t really need that much help, to begin with. He just needed someone to explain the stuff better and show him easier ways to study.

He just needed some guidance.

In all honesty, if Simon had my study guide, he’d be fine.

I take a moment to think about that.

I shake my head at him, “honestly Snow, I expected you to need a lot more of a crutch than you did. Really, we were just studying together. I can’t charge you for that.”

Simon looks flabbergasted.

I can’t blame him; I’ve always cared for him but I have difficulty conveying that. From his vantage point, I’m an asshole who he wasn’t even sure was going to show up.

“Basilton,” no, that sounds wrong. “- you can’t just … not charge me! I understand everything so much better because of you!”

“that’s the point of group studying, Snow,”

“-you called me Simon before”

“You called me Basilton just now,”

“you can’t just... not charge me! This wasn’t a favour – ”

“because it was mutually beneficial,”

“Because it was a waste of your time, your weekends are yours, didn’t you say? And you’re giving me time on a Saturday and a Sunday and if you don’t give me a price right now I’m just going to track down one of the other students you tutor, find out your rates and force-pay you”

He’s so stubborn. This precious idiot. It’s not like I even need the money.

It’s not like he doesn’t.

I shake my head as I stand up and stretch my sore limbs, “free coffees,” I say eventually. At his confused expression, I elaborate, “I’ll tutor you on weekends and you can repay me with free coffees whenever I stop by – as long as you’re on a shift of course – it’s not like Starbucks is cheap, and really it's more practical for me. I’m not just getting paid per session, which is twice a week. If I choose to show up for a coffee every day, you have to give me free coffee”

“I literally only work weekends”

I roll my eyes at him, “if I want to a new coffee every hour of your weekend shift you have to give me, like, five free coffees a day. For as long as you work here”

Obviously, I won’t be doing that, but this seems to help him receive my help without hurting his pride.

Because really, that’s all I want to do.

I just want to help a boy I like.

Because I can.

Because he needs it and he came to me for help, and there’s no better way I’d like to spend my time than with him.

“Yeah, okay,” he eventually concedes, “but if you change your mind after a few sessions… if the work gets tougher and I’m needier, please feel free to charge me an actual fee. I want to pay you an actual fee.”

“I will.” I will not.

Simon calms eventually and smiles at me, “coffee for the road?”

“Snow, I’m an Englishman and this is my second coffee in three hours”

“I mean technically the first one wasn’t a coffee,” he rolls his eyes, “but come on, let's get some tea in you,”

“not if I have to pay for it,”

“oh, you won’t be paying in this establishment for quite some time, Basilton,”

I feel my cheeks redden at the sentiment.

Chapter Text

Sunday, November 15th

SIMON

I’m making my morning coffee when the Frappuccino cups grasp my attention. I do owe Baz free coffee indefinitely. And if it’s the only payment he’ll accept, I’ll just have to hand him a coffee cup every time I see him for the rest of my life.

I still can’t believe he let me off the hook that easily. I don’t know what to make of it – I assume Penny will have a thing or two to say. I hardly expected Baz to agree to help me at all. And once he had, I didn’t expect him to put in a genuine effort to teach me – I definitely expected him to charge me more than his average student.

Maybe Penny is right, and this whole rivalry is just in my head? No. I’m not imagining his hostility towards me every time we run into each other.

Deep down, I note the possibility that his recent behaviour could be due to the ‘poor orphan’ card I never intended to play. He could just be feeling…pity.

The only thing worse than being hated by Baz Pitch is being pitied by Baz Pitch.

I wish he would just charge me a fee, but I think about what he said. That it was more of a mutually beneficial study session than tuitions. I guess that’s kind of true. I was already passing the module; I just needed his help to secure my head above water. And he did seem to be memorising a lot of content by testing me.

I sigh. I need the money anyway. I’m trying to save up every penny I can; god knows what’s going to happen when I’m not guaranteed a shelter and food in an orphanage or foster home. When I turn eighteen, I’m my own problem.

It's scary. But I’ve saved up enough in the last few years from working small and odd jobs to afford myself a few months of cheap rent and the bare minimum - until I can bag a better job with my senior education diploma. 

Of course, that’s assuming rugby doesn’t get me into tertiary.

 Which is why these sessions with Baz is so crucial. I need to stay on the team.

 And this way; it almost feels as if we’re…friends. I never thought that was something I’d want, but it’s suddenly important to me.

Penny thinks I try too hard to be liked by everyone. I never bothered about trying to get Baz to like me, but I’m suddenly nervous about the possibility of Baz walking in this morning, acting like nothing happened yesterday, like we were never getting along…acting like enemies.

Yesterday’s session went relatively well. It was a little awkward initially, but we fell into comfortable companionship once we indulged in biology – neutral ground.

He wasn’t even being as much of an ass as I expected. In turn, I didn’t need to be.

I don’t know why Baz is being nice to me as spontaneously as the day he started being a dick to me.

After spending time with him yesterday, I feel like I know a different layer of Baz Pitch.

It’s like when you’re peeling an onion, and every new layer you uncover makes you cry more. But the more layers of Baz I uncover, the more comfortable I feel with him. I finally feel like I’ve met the Baz who Penny has been friends with for years. The Baz who helps her with her homework and teams up with her on group reports so they can slaughter every other group in class. I like this Baz, even if I’m still learning the ropes with him. He’s a lot like my Baz, albeit tamer.

Or maybe…maybe he was always this way, and I just needed to be patient with him?

Perhaps I expected Mr Popular to be a dick so much that that’s all I saw in him.

It’s not like he was that different yesterday. The aura was just different. When I knew that I couldn’t fight him because I needed his help; I brushed off the comments he made that I would usually have been defensive of. Eventually, I recognised the absence of bite behind his words, and our banter became playful.

I hope that when we’re out of this unfamiliar territory... when we’re back at school and it’s easier to go back to being enemies to each other; that we’re still this Simon and Baz.

The versions of ourselves we found in the corner window table at Starbucks when no one was watching.

***


BAZ

I don’t actually know if Simon expects me at 9 or 10 this morning, but I know he’ll probably be there studying, and I want as much time with him as I can get. Even if that means sitting in silence and studying biology together. Actually, that sounds perfect.

After Niall’s game last night, I worked on a bunch of flashcards for Simon to self-study. As a last-minute decision, I stop at the copy place and photocopy my biology study guide for him. I ask them to bind it for me, so now Simon has his own.

I don’t usually go this far for my students, but I’m biased.

When I get there at 9, there’s a couple at Simons favourite table. At our table.

“Over here,” Simon beckons me to a table on the opposite side of the room, alongside the wall. It’s cosy and snug, but It’s not open and freeing… I can imagine he feels somewhat … claustrophobic.

 He looks troubled when I approach him, but he hands me a Caramel Frappe and proceeds to glare at the couple as they obliviously make conversation and lean into each other’s spaces. I wonder how he knew I’d be here early.

“maybe if you glare hard enough, you can set them on fire” I glance at him. His books and stationery are scattered on the desk, but it looks more haphazard than used, as it did yesterday. Like he’s been trying and failing to focus here.

“Hopefully,” he glumly replies.

I sigh, “C’mon Snow, where do you usually work when your seat is taken?”

He shrugs, “I head to Penny’s. Or school.” I note that he never mentioned studying at home. I know he’s a foster kid – I heard from mutual friends on the rugby team that he has a curfew, so he only plays half a game. I figured his foster parents were stricter, but shouldn’t they encourage studying, then? Why won’t he study at home?

The curiosity burns, but I know we’re not close enough to ask.

I’m not even sure if we’re close at all. Nothing has changed, really, are we still enemies?

“There are other window seats,”

“but they’re not in the corner, so it doesn’t feel as private”

“this ones in the corner,” I point out.

but it feels like I’m sitting in a box” it’s a booth, “that one was just perfect, Baz,” he whines, “maybe I can just ask them to leave?” I sense a tantrum arising.

I sigh exasperatedly. Let us not disturb love, even if it is heterosexual.  “I have a better idea, let’s go,” I turn on my heel and stride back towards the spiral staircase. This is a terrible idea.

Simon haphazardly packs his backpack, grabs his coffee, and jogs after me.

“Where are we going?”

“a secluded yet tranquil environment that meets Simon Snow’s studying standards,”

“wait!” I turn to him.“you can’t drink and drive,” he smirks at me, cutting a glance to my frappe.

SIMON

I settle Baz at a corner table on the lower level for us to finish our drinks. I’m buying time; I’m nervous about getting on his motorcycle…

I leave Baz with our drinks (is it safe to leave your enemy unsupervised with your drink?) and head to the kitchen to get a snack. I’m hungry, and if free Starbucks is the only way I can repay him, I may as well milk it.

I grab a few sour cherry scones for myself and a chocolate-drizzled cream pastry for Baz (he appears to have a sweet tooth).

I freeze on my way back to the table when I notice Baz. He’s abandoned the lid and straw of his frappe; his curling tongue licking the whipped cream off his drink.

It looks sinful.

Hazel -the barista who works the morning shift - nudges me. “I didn’t serve him today, how did he even get his drink?? He just walked in, helmet and all, walked right past me to the upper level.”

“I made it for him, don’t worry; I covered it.”

Hazel raises her eyebrows in surprise, “you know Tyrannus?”

I raise my eyebrows right back; no one calls him Tyrannus. I mean it’s his name, yeah, but even the teachers refer to him as Basilton.

“we’re in the same class, he’s my bio tutor.”

“oh, lucky!” she gushes, practically eye-fucking Baz “what I’d give to lick that whipped cream off his-”

“Ohkayy” I cut Hazel off, desperately.

I pass Baz his pastry and settle down opposite him. He looks up at me in surprise.

“The deal was only on coffee, Snow,”

I shrug, “you’re early; have some breakfast.” Turns out, watching Baz eat a cream-filled pastry is even more sinful. I rip my gaze away from his lips and divert my attention, “I just made those yesterday,”

“you made these?” he sounds genuinely surprised.

“Yeah, I told you I’m in the bakery department.”

He hums his acknowledgement. I’m done with three scones before he finishes his pastry – he eats very slowly. Afterwards, we toss our wrappings in the bin and head outside to his motorcycle.

BAZ

I toss my helmet at Simon as I straddle my bike. “you better hold on tight,” I smirk behind me. His face reddens, but he awkwardly holds my chest. “do you want to fly off, Snow?” I tighten his grip.

I take off slow, easing him into it, but I need to speed up as we reach the main road.

I feel his arms snake down my body, and soon he’s tightly secured around my waist. I’m going to have a gay freak-out about this later.

His entire torso is pressed against my backpack. His head leaning on my shoulder blades.

What I’d give to be Simon Snow’s personal chauffer if it means I get to experience this more often.

Too soon, we arrive at our destination.

SIMON

Riding on the back of Baz’s motorcycle was not how I envisioned my morning going, but I hope I get to do it again.

It felt like flying.

 Freeing.

I didn’t even mind the proximity if it makes me feel that type of high.

Eventually – too soon, in my opinion – I find myself outside Pitch manor. I’ve only ever been here when Baz threw his Halloween parties (that I was not technically invited to). I can’t fathom what we’re doing here right now. Baz leads me up multiple flights of stairs, and we don’t encounter anyone. I’ve never travelled beyond the ground level before. It’s just as creepy upstairs. Eventually, we reach a door that Baz does stops at (there are too many rooms in this house). We’re on the third level now – who even has a three-story mansion?

 He looks at me for a moment, an odd expression on his face. Slowly, he twists the – very old and expensive-looking – doorknob and holds the door open for me. I never considered Baz Pitch to be a gentleman before. My thoughts are redirected when I realise where we are.

I’m not sure which sense overwhelms me first.

The sound? I hear tranquil water.

The smell? Nature.

The sight beholding me? I’d assumed he was leading me to his library or study, but –

The ceiling above us is a glass dome, the sky above as clear as day. The entire left wall is glass. A giant, intricately carved water fountain is the greenhouse's centrepiece, with a matching bench alongside. Plants, trees, and flowers of every type surround me, it’s like my personal heaven. The room is dominantly green, but even the greens are varying shades.

When I adjust my eyes to take in the details, I notice the butterflies littering the plants and flowers across the room. I haven’t even walked around the room as yet, but I already notice a few tiny birds.

It’s beyond me that this is in his home.

I walk up to a tiny orange and black bird, “are they yours too?”

Baz shakes his head, closing the door behind us, “all the insects, birds, butterflies… everything that’s not  a plant, basically, sort of just showed up here over time” he points to the row of open windows on one side of the room. “they can leave if they want, but this much of nature isn’t so available to them in the city.”

I’m mesmerised, “why did you bring me here?”

“you said you like nature… you said the openness of it helped you focus,” he dwells deeper into the room and gestures for me to follow.

We reach a round, white, stone table with beautifully carved designs adorning it and two matching benches on either side.

This is too much. It’s too nice. “Baz I,” I’m shaking my head slowly.

I try to articulate my thoughts, but I can’t. Baz seems to understand, though. “Sit down, Snow” he reassures me, “honestly this is more convenient for me too. I’m obviously more comfortable in my own home, and look” he knocks his fist against one of the benches, “adequate seating.”

I laugh at his high maintenance and sit across from him.

***


NIALL

“With all due respect,” Dev gets out between guffaws of laughter, “that was awful.”

I roll my eyes at my cell phone even though Dev can’t see me. Dev is on speakerphone, the cell phone carelessly tossed on my bed.

“wasn’t that bad,” I mumble.

“you sound… laboured. What are you even doing? Why do you sound so far away?”

“push-up’s.”

“oh.” He’s quiet for a moment before he’s back on his bullshit. “well, like I was saying; it was pretty bad. Disappointing even,” he’s taking the mickey out of me because I got bowled out for a golden duck yesterday. To be fair, I never let him live it down every time he lets a goal through.

“remind me why I invite you to my games?”

“because you need a ride there,” Dev reminds me as he laughs, “when are you going for your driver’s test again? You need to get it done before college.”

“why would I do that when I have you as my personal chauffeur?” I was just teasing, but he’s quiet again.

Dev is rarely quiet, so it’s always a cause for concern.

“you gonna ride your bike around Paris?” his voice strained, “I won’t be there to drive you around.”

I stop mid-push-up. Flat on my bed a second later, Dev is on handset against my ear again. I know he knows. He always knows the difference and complains when I put him on speaker – says I’m dividing my attention from him.

“y’know…. you’d love Paris,”

“Hmm,”

“you don’t really know what you want to study as yet. You’re still figuring it out. You can figure it out in Paris too,”

Dev scoffs, “you seriously contemplating taking me to another country just so you don’t need to get your license?”

“no, I’m contemplating taking you to another country, so you’re there with me,” It’s out of my mouth before I can stop it. I can only hope he doesn’t sense the depth of my words.

After a moment, Dev makes a noncommitted sound, “well, it’s not like I even applied to any global universities, so,”

I’m quiet.

France has always been my dream. But Dev is my dream too.

Do I want to take him with me? His presence makes everything better. Makes everything feel complete.

Do I want to leave him behind and experience this without him? It’s the only way I’d ever stand a chance to get over him.

But like he said, I’m trying to make my way there to chase my dreams. It’s not his dream. It’s not my choice.

Dev’s voice draws me out of my introspection.

“Baz seem…weird, to you yesterday?” he asks.

“weird? How?”

“like…. just different. Distracted. Less…present.”

“I was kind of busy being a failure on the pitch, as you know, so I didn’t really spend a bunch of time with Pitch,”

“nice,” he smirks at my wordplay, “I dunno, he seemed strange yesterday. He showed up for the second half, but it was like he wasn’t even there.”

“Did he seem upset? D’you think something happened?”

“no…” Dev sounds lost in thought. It’s possible. Thinking is hard for him. “he just seemed…elsewhere.”

“Hmm, well, his study session with Snow was yesterday.”

“you think Snow did something?” I hear the protectiveness in his voice. They’re adorable when they’re wholesome cousins and not dicks to each other.

“maybe…Snow always gets Bazzy all weird. Like he can’t decide if he wants to kiss him or kill him and he might explode” It’s Dev’s nickname from when they were kids, I’m the only other person they allow to use it.

Dev laughs, “you think he still likes him? He’s always only ever a dick to him, but that’s not saying much because he’s Basil.”

I make a thoughtful noise, “Simon was significant to him, the first – if not only – guy to make him soft.”

“we’re still going to tease him about the date tomorrow though, right.”

“oh definitely."

***


SIMON

 

Baz is a lot nicer than I expected. Beyond teaching me, he really did make me the promised study cards. He also photocopied his entire study guide for me – cover page and all – had it bound and casually handed it to me. Printing alone would have cost him quite a bit.

I tried to renegotiate our arrangement again today, but he wouldn’t budge – he’s still not accepting my cash because “he didn’t even do anything” when really, he’s doing the most.

The one-hour mark comes and goes, and I notice it but don’t say anything. I’m having fun with this Baz, and it almost feels like he is too.

I’m scared that when we return to school, he’ll go back to normal.

When we’re in familiar territory, he’ll go back to old ways.

I don’t want to lose this Baz. He’s nice to me.

I think I might actually enjoy his company almost as much as Penny’s and she’s literally my favourite human.

Eventually, it’s 11.30, and I need Baz to drive me back to the café.

The drive back is even more pleasant than the first – Baz leaves his backpack at home, so I’m hugging his back like a clingy koala bear.

When did I start wanting to be this close to Baz?

I’ve always made sure I could keep an eye on him, but I’ve never wanted to just … hold him for a ten-minute drive. I’m almost sure that’s new.

I’m almost sure we’re friends too, sometimes. But then he refuses to call me by my first name, and I’m not so sure anymore.

There’s still some time left before my shift starts when we reach Starbucks, so I talk Baz into resting his legs at the lower level couch while I make him a compensatory tea.

I carry our drinks to him and settle down on the same couch, turned to him.

“I really appreciate all your help.”

He nods in acknowledgement but doesn’t offer more. I want to hear his voice, though. I only have eleven minutes before I’m on the clock again and he’s wasting time being cool.

“What did you do yesterday after our lesson?” I ask. Just for something to talk about. Just to make sure we aren’t back to normal where he only talks to me to be snarky. “study more?”

“a bit” he admits, “when I was making your flashcards. But when I left here, I went to Niall’s game”

At my confused expression, he elaborates, “the mages cricket team had a game yesterday.”

“but Friday is game day.”

“cricket is too long a game to start after our academic day, so most of the time it’s on the weekend and starts earlier, all other sports are Fridays, either at different or overlapping times” he explains.

I nod in understanding, “I don’t think I know the first thing about cricket.”

He considers me silently for a moment. “if you’re ever at any of the games, let me know. I’m generally around for Niall. I’ll explain the game to you.”

“flashcards and all?” I smirk at him

“only if you pay me,” he smirks right back.

We casually converse for a few minutes more until my shift starts.

From the window of the Starbucks’ kitchen, I watch the dark-haired boy leave on his motorcycle.

What is this feeling?

Chapter Text

Monday, November 16th

BAZ

Lily and I thought we were so slick last week. She caught me before practice, as soon as the first bell rang. We planned the whole thing. We had a fun, chilled week 'dating', and now she's caught the attention of a guy she actually likes, and they're 'talking'.  What we didn’t realize is it started a whole frenzy. People are no longer waiting to run into me or even coming to practice to ask me out before the first period.

I’m now being sought out earlier.

I’m being sought out so I can be asked out practically during the first bell. As soon as possible. As soon as legal in accordance to dare rules. This is madness.

I’m in the changeroom, changing into my kit when it happens.

I look at the man in front of me in terror. I can’t say yes. But the team around me stares intently, football players and rugby players alike. I know my alternative. Say no and be accused of homophobia for saying no to a dude when it’s not against the rules.

Oh, how clever Dev thought he was with that one. How we hoped a guy would catch up, and I could get my first boyfriend out of this.

We never anticipated this.

I look at the man in front of me and force out the word, “yes.”

DEV

We’re doing our pre-practice warm-up. And by ‘we’ I mean my team and I. Baz; our captain is nowhere to be found. Okay well, I didn’t look for him, but he’s usually here by now. We assumed he was just running late, so we started warm-ups, but it’s almost time for drills.

“Has anyone seen Pitch?” Coach yells. A murmur of ‘no’s’. “I know this is technically non-compulsory, but this close to qualifiers; everything is compulsory!”

“If anyone knows that, it’s Baz, Coach” I provide.

She sighs. “Yeah, I know. Just… tell Basil no missing practice this close to qualifiers!”

“No need,” a velvety voice cuts in. Cousin dearest. “sorry I’m late, Coach.” 

Coach nods at him, “Three laps, Pitch. Then we start drills.” She blows her whistle.

The team settles down on the ground to stretch and have a breather while Baz runs laps. He nods the signal; he wants me to join him. Baz and I take off, and Coach doesn’t bother telling me to hang back this week. She’s probably hoping I’ll get Baz to stop showing up late to practice.

“where were you?”

Baz turns wide, somewhat panicked eyes at me, “we have a situation.” 

I raise an eyebrow at him.

“I was only, like, two minutes late – I was having a bad hair day” I can see that. His hair is in a half-ponytail; the bottom half is loose. Clearly, he gave up styling it and resorted to simply keeping it out of his eyes during practice. “– but I would have made it in time!” he whisper-shouts, “Matthew was in the change room!”

BAZ

“Matthew?” Dev crinkles his nose in distaste. His expression pretty much says Ew, Matthew.

“Yes Matthew, I take back every pleasant assessment I’ve ever made regarding his character,”

“Okay, I hate the guy, but why can’t Matthew be in the change room? there’s rugby practise too.” Dev nods his head in the direction of the rugby field adjacent to us. 

We’re on our second lap now, so I need to wrap this up, “We don’t have time to talk right now, but the short version is; he caught up with me in the changeroom and asked if I have a minute. I said yes because; courtesy, but also; Niall, anyway,” I breathe, “he asked me out.”

“what!” Dev looks equal parts furious and bewildered. Matthew really isn’t going to be besties with Dev.

‘he asked me out,” I make big eyes at him.

Seriously?”

“well, no,” I consider, “it was for the dare, but I am serious, yes.”

“well, fuck.

“Fuck indeed.”

“The fuck did you say?” Dev still looks utterly horrified

“I didn’t exactly have a choice!”

“You said yes?!”

We’re on our third and last lap before drills. We have a bunch of consecutive classes afterwards. And I’m stuck with Matthew during lunch. “What other option was there?” I plead, “The dare is too public now, as are the rules. We wanted a guy to find our loophole, but I never imagined it would be him! if I said no then everyone would assume homophobia – which is rather ironic, to be honest,”

“So now you’re dating Matthew? Is he just fucking making his rounds through our whole group?”

“For a week, I guess, but I don’t intend to be pleasant about it.”

“Fucking hell.”

“How the fuck do I tell Niall?”

***


 

SIMON

I was in the change room when it happened. I always pay very close attention to Baz; I need to keep an eye on him in case he’s plotting.

But today I was just watching him.

Don’t ignore me, I thought to myself.

Don’t act like this weekend never happened, I pleaded.

Baz did ignore me although it seemed without malice. He always ignores me in the changeroom. He ignores mostly everyone in here, even his own teammates – save Dev and Niall. It’s like he’s violently against looking at semi-nude blokes.

Maybe he’s just very straight.

As am I, but even I can appreciate the way his lean torso looks when he steps out of the shower; a towel wrapped around his waist. He may be lean, but he has abs. They’re brilliant to look at, so I do.

Baz never looks at me in here, so I watch my fill, knowing I won’t get caught.

If he really is violently heterosexual, then he couldn’t have enjoyed what happened next any more than I did. I watched him put his socks on as I put on my protective gear when Matthew approached him. He greeted Matthew kindly. The interaction piqued my interest because Matthew previously mentioned that he tries to get close to Baz on the basis of his anticipated relationship with Baz’s best mate.

 I did not expect him to check his watch, let the first bell ring and then ask Baz out immediately.

Baz looked like a deer in headlights although whether it was because Matthew should be dating Niall, or just because Matthew is a guy, I’m uncertain.

All I know is that I felt a surge of anger when the words “Date me, Baz Pitch!” left Matthew’s mouth, followed by a sinking, gaping hole in my chest when Baz uttered the word “yes” through gritted teeth.

Baz looked so uncomfortable, I wanted to save him. Not that Baz Pitch ever needs saving.

Everyone started clapping and a few people high-fived Matthew for ‘shooting his shot’, but I just felt distant. I don’t understand the toll this had on my emotions.

 This has nothing to do with me, but it feels personal.

Suddenly, I didn’t have the energy to attend practice. I’m the captain so technically I need to be there even if it’s not compulsory practice. But Matthew is my co-captain, and he’s the last person I want to see right now. The last person I want to work with.

I don’t know why.

I don’t understand how I feel.

I sigh. I can’t ditch practice – the team is suffering enough because of me.

We lost Friday's game (Coach says it’s because I didn’t play half the game), although we lost by a shorter point gap than the previous week (Coach says it’s because I played at all).

Starting today, we’re using practice to rearrange our strategy and approach to accommodate for the half of the game I’m not playing. The team is so tailored to both, my game style and captaincy that we had a significant lead in the first half, but the second half was – apparently- very sloppy.

I can’t let the team down, no matter what psychological crisis I’m currently sporting.

Grumpy and agitated, I stormed out of the changeroom and finished my padding on the bleachers instead.

It takes a few minutes, but I eventually see Baz jog onto the field. He’s late. I watch him run with his cousin. They look over at our field at one point, and I know that Baz is telling Dev about Matthew.

My heart sinks.

***


BAZ

I don’t get to complain again until French, the period before lunch. I excuse myself and give Niall the signal that he should, too. Thankfully Mr Fauvel is a pushover, so he doesn’t really care.

“Problem,” I stress, “we have a problem.

“What problem? Are you okay?”

“So you know how people have been either asking me out or harassing me about who I’m dating, all period.”

“yeah, you kept brushing it off, what’s up?’

I hesitate. But he needs to know. “Matthew asked me out.”

Niall’s mouth forms an ‘o’ shape. He’s the image of silent shock.

“w…what did you say?”

I sigh. “I … I didn’t know what to say, Niall,” I plead with him, “if I’d said no, they’d think that it was a homophobic thing…”

“no, no of course,” Niall rubs his eyes, “you can’t lose the bet for him,”

“it’s not about the bet, Niall” I plead, “and it’s about you, not him,”

Niall walks towards me and head-butts my shoulder (he’s a few inches shorter), “stop stressing, Bazzy. I’m not mad. I broke up with him. Heck – I didn’t even date him!”

“- yeah but you liked him,”

“But I didn’t love him.” Niall smiles up at me, head still leaning against my shoulder. “You know who I love. Matthew…this is just his way of spiting me after he poured his heart out to me, and I rejected him. I deserve it really,”

“He could have just asked someone else out to make you jealous or whatever,” I growl.

“but it wouldn’t be such a slap in the face, he’s proving a point.”

“It’s heartless,”

“It’s heartbreak.”

I sigh. We’re at an impasse.

“I just have to call him my boyfriend for five days, but I couldn’t care less for him—no phone calls. No rides. Hell, I’m not even going to sit with him at lunch,” I roll my eyes.

“Yeah, you are,” Niall chuckles, “The dare demands the full Baz Pitch boyfriend experience.”

“I’ll be a terrible boyfriend, then,”

Niall laughs, “Oh, don’t pout Bazzy. I’m okay. And it’s not even a real relationship. Come Monday, the rotation starts again.”

I bring my left arm up – he’s resting on my left shoulder – and tug on his hair. “Thank you for not being mad at me…I-I didn’t want this. I didn’t want to hurt you.”

“I love Dev, Baz.”

I smile at the finality of his words, “You should tell him,”

Niall groans, “If only it was that easy.” But it could be. If only one of you spoke up.

“You should ask him to help you make Matthew jealous – get back at him for this.”

“That’s not me. And as much as I dislike what he did, I understand his heartsore,”

“I don’t – surely the best friend is off-limits.”

“It’s just a week. Five days.”

“I didn’t even really have a choice. He manipulated me into it, basically,”

“Up-side; maybe guys will get the hint now and finally start asking you out,”

“I don’t know if I want them to…I’m mostly happy with the way things are,”

Niall smirks up at me, “Do you have a new crush, Bazzy?”

I scoff, “I’m more than self-sufficient, I don’t need a boyfriend,”

“I know,” Niall sighs, “C’mon, let’s get back in there.”

“Niall I…I know I said yes, to him. Technically. But if it bothers you at all, I promise you I’ll say no. It’s only third period, I’ll say I changed my mind, and I’ll throw the bet I don’t care, it’s not important. You're important. And if anyone starts their homophobic shit, I’ll just point out that he’s a friends ex,”

Niall pulls my hair. It’s all open and loose now. Still more untidy and unkept than usual but today is shaping out to be a pretty terrible day in general. I should have got the warning when I couldn’t set my hair.  “I hurt him. I understand what he’s doing. Don’t be too hard on him, he really is a sweetheart.”

We head back to class, and I’m just grateful that Niall understood. That he didn’t blame me for saying yes to Matthew. It’s not a real relationship, and it’s not like I want him in any sense of the word, but I still felt like I should have said no. There was just … more at stake.

Still, I’d end the fake relationship and throw this whole bet for Niall if he asked.

Also, I think I agree with Dev, fuck Matthew.

***


PENELOPE

Honestly, Simon” I groan, exasperated, “if you want to sit at the rugby table, then just go.

“I don’t want to.”

“We won’t care, I promise” I gesture between myself and Agatha, “you’re literally captain, we understand if you want to sit with your team sometimes.”

“co-captain” he huffs in a pout. He’s in full-blown tantrum mode, and I’m not even certain what the tantrum is about. Sure, they lost Friday’s game. But Simon played his half flawlessly so if there were college scouts present, they’d be impressed by his performance regardless. Mission accomplished.

“and whose fault is that?” Agatha retorts. I glare at her, but Simon either doesn’t pick up on her sarcasm or just doesn’t care.

“Matthew’s” Simon replies with a scowl.

I raise my eyebrow at him, “what’s your problem with Matthew?”

“Did you know he’s who Baz is dating this week?” I did. It’s all anyone could talk about all morning. I didn’t think anything could make gossip waves as big as the dare did, but Baz – captain of the football team – being asked out by (co-) captain of the rugby team really did make first place in a matter of hours. “He just did it right there in the changeroom before practice like it wasn’t a big deal, and I could tell that Baz didn’t even want to say yes, but the dare forced him”

“Not really. I mean, he’d lose the dare, but he can still opt-out if he really wants to.”

Agatha nods her head, purposely, “You are dare chancellor after all.”

Simon shakes his head, “Baz didn’t want to say yes – he’s not even gay.”

“I mean, we don’t know” I reason.

Apparently, this was just encouraging Simon because he raises an eyebrow at me, “What do you mean, Penelope” oh god. He’s full-naming me. He must mean business. “What do you know?”

I sigh, “I don’t know anything, Simon. It’s just that Baz hasn’t explicitly confirmed his sexuality – it’s not like he needs to; it’s not our business. But he hasn’t declared either, so it’s kind of rude to assume that he’s heterosexual on the basis of him never mentioning that he’s not, y’know?”

Simon doesn’t seem to comprehend me.

“He could be straight, or he could be bi, gay, pan. Fuck, he could even be ace! But we can’t assume. It’s rude.”

“It’s like saying that straight is the default sexuality” Agatha, bless her soul, summarises. “Like saying that everyone is straight unless they say otherwise.”

Simon slowly nods, “you’re saying that we shouldn’t assume anyone’s sexuality.”

“Yeah,” I add “it goes either way. You can’t assume someone is queer if they never said they are. You also shouldn’t assume someone is straight just because they’ve never said otherwise. Really, we have no business assuming anyone’s sexuality, it has nothing to do with us.”

“And if it does,” Agatha adds, “the safest thing is just to either ask or make your own intentions known and let them decide their own approach.”

Simon nods.

“You never did explain why you’re so upset about Baz and Matthew, though,” Agatha asks.

“You’re not?” Simon counters.

Agatha shrugs, “Not any more than I was when he was dating Aimee or Lily. It’s not like any of these are even real relationships,”

Simon is wearing that expression where I know he’s wracking his brain for excuses. “It’s just that Matthew was just telling me about how he and Niall are basically a couple. And now he’s trying for Baz? Isn’t there some law that makes Baz off-limits, regardless of his sexuality, since Niall is his best friend?”

I’m calling bullshit because I really don’t think Simon gives a shit about Niall’s dating ventures– more likely he just thought of that – but I play along.

“Law? Probably not. But it is a common courtesy” I tell him. “Anyway, how did your study session go?”

Simon immediately brightens, which is unexpected. I was expecting more scowling and glowering. Maybe some swear words.

“Pretty good, actually. I was going to call, but I had a busy weekend,” he apologises, “When I wasn’t working I was either at tuitions with Baz or working with the flashcards and study guide he gave me,”

I furrow my eyebrows. I’m pretty sure Baz just tutors for college credit – I haven’t heard anything about him providing additional study aid, prior. I’ll ask him about that.

“I feel a lot more prepared for the next quiz – confident even.”

I’m mildly confused, but if this is a good thing for Simon, then I’m happy about it.

“that’s great, Si, do you have another session next weekend?”

“yeah,” he confirms, “oh, I hope we can go back to the greenhouse – but I don’t think I can ask.”

 “Pardon?”

“oh!,” realization dawns on him, “so on Saturday we studied at Starbucks, like I said y’know,” I nod my head. I know Simon likes to study upstairs. He finds it calming.  “and it was great – I mean we had to sit on the ground, and he’s a bit high maintenance for that, and he didn’t know where to put his legs, and I accidentally called him daddy-long-legs –”

Agatha chokes on her lemonade – she’s practically crying – and I stop mid-bite, my sandwich is in mid-air.

Simon is beaming.

“ – But we made it work, and it was really, really helpful,” he inhales, “but then on Sunday my seat was taken,” his eyebrows wrinkle. He hates when that happens.

He feels more at home in that little corner than he feels in any of the places he’s lived.

“- so Baz took me to his greenhouse, and we studied there and Penny, it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen!” he exclaims, oblivious to mine and Agatha’s astonishment, “more beautiful than any garden I’ve ever seen – no offence – and there were butterflies, and they just…fluttered around him and he- he just let them.

He takes a deep breath. Seems to notice that Agatha and I are both frozen personifications of shock, and exhibits confusion, “what is it?”

Agatha beats me to the punch. “Basil took you to his house?”

“yeah?” Simon asks her, confused, “it’s not like we haven’t been there before.”

“not beyond the first floor”, she’s right. Baz’s parties are always huge, but he controls the crowd to the ground level – which is spacious enough between the house and the yard. He doesn’t exactly have a garden – it’s not that kind of house (it’s more Victorian era) – so the greenhouse is news to me too.

Simon just shrugs. “well it was gorgeous, I was actually genuinely sad when we had to leave – knowing I may not see it again. I don’t know if it was a one-time offer, but he only offered because my seat was taken, and his greenhouse is wayyy better than my little corner at Starbucks.”

“really?” I chime in. Simon loves that corner.

Simon nods back in confirmation. I nod back in acknowledgement (and slight suspicion.)

“well, how was the day otherwise? Do you finally believe me that he’s not out to get you?”

Simon looks troubled at this. “dunno. The time we spent together was definitely good,” odd but okay “and we didn’t fight as much. And he let me off the hook with the fee,” Agatha and I make eye contact at that. Like when you’re communicating via looks when you can’t speak? I just have zero idea what we communicated with that look other than mutual suspicion – but it’s not the kind of thing one questions, that’s the whole point of the look. “but he still calls me Snow – except that one time, by mistake” he has a fond smile on and my own turns coy. “and it’s not like we’re friends or anything.” He sighs. “I don’t know. But I want the lessons to continue. They help me a lot, and I don’t hate them.”

“what do you mean he let you off the hook with the fee?” Agatha asks

“oh – well we agreed to negotiate the price after the first lesson, yeah? So he could see how much help I needed before giving me a price, and he ended up saying that it was more of a mutually beneficial study session than tuitions, so he just charged me free coffee in exchange for ‘lessons.’” He put’s the word lessons in air quotes.

I just smile at him. Agatha looks troubled.

A burst of raw laughter erupts from the rugby table and Simon – surprisingly – get’s up and walks over before we can stop him.

I turn to face a distressed Agatha and smirk at her. “are you jealous of Baz or Simon in this situation?”

Agatha is dear to me. She’s one of the few people I’d deem worthy of my time.

But her relationship with Simon was a stressful time for all involved parties, myself included. She’s one of those beautiful, popular girls who generally wouldn’t even give me the time of day, but she’s not stuck up like that. She doesn’t act superior. She just wasn’t right for Simon, nor he for her, and I can’t say I was heartbroken when two of my best friends ended their commitment to keep hurting each other. Yes, Agatha did leave Simon for Baz – which was shitty – but she wasn’t happy, and neither was Simon. She didn’t exactly think her plan through (this is why people should just come to me when thinking is involved) because she made this decision without finding out if Baz wants to date her. Agatha may not be stuck up, but she can definitely be vain – I don’t think she ever doubted if Baz would want to date her, as long as the option was available to him. He gave her more attention than he did the average girl; he casually flirted and mostly tolerated her advances – but nothing ever really happened between them. And I don’t think he wants there to. I don’t know if Agatha really wants something to happen with Baz, or if she just feels like she should want it. Sometimes I feel like she dated Simon because it made sense. Because they made sense (she was on the cheer squad before she dropped her pompoms and picked up a lacrosse stick, he was quarterback before levelling up to captain.) Everyone liked Simon. I think she assumed she did too because he was likeable. I don’t think she ever really thought about if she liked him. And I don’t think she’s really thinking about if she likes Baz either – or if he’s just likeable.

She raises a stubborn eyebrow at me. “what do you mean?”

I sigh. Everyone is clueless.

“I don’t really know what’s going on,” I admit, “but I do know one thing. Simon and Baz had to travel from the café to his house somehow,” she gives me her ‘so what?’ look. “And Baz didn’t take the Porsche. He mentioned it to me in class earlier. Said his hair was all messy from driving around on his motorcycle all weekend.”

Realization dawns on Agatha. Her expression is complicated, which is expected because her feelings towards both of them are anything but straightforward. But she doesn’t say much – she seems to be lost in thought. And I don’t say much, I eat my lunch and keep an eye on Simon at the rugby table, next to Niall.

Simon and Dev are an unexpected pillar of solidarity behind Niall against Matthew.

If you ever thought boys were less dramatic about this kind of stuff than girls, you were misled.

***


 

BAZ

Everything about this lunch is entirely awkward, and if I must keep this up for five days, I will resort to starvation.

Spending lunch with my partner of the week is a standard agreement of the dare. I’ve already fulfilled the requirement with Aimee and Lily so if I adamantly don’t do it now, it will look like homophobia. Homophobia is proving to be a big problem for me. One I never thought I’d have. Maybe I should just come-out so I can stop worrying about people thinking I’m a bigot.

Especially since it’s technically not a big deal since the dare prohibits all physical contact (thank god) and we’ve sat at the rugby table before.

What is, however, a big deal; is that Niall is seated directly opposite me.

Dev, Niall and I always sat together unless either Dev or Niall were hooking up with someone and occasionally ditched us to sit with them. Dev has thus far always accompanied me on this part of dare fulfilment, and the only time Niall didn’t was when he was dating Matthew.

Now, Niall is seated directly opposite Matthew, and I. Dev is flanking him on his right side and the hostile glares he keeps shooting Matthew every time they even vaguely make eye contact is very obvious. My own visible hostility towards Matthew cannot possibly be going unseen. I’ve barely said a word to him, and I have my books placed on the bench between us, forcing a distance between us. At least a third of the school already speculate my homophobia (which is honestly ridiculous considering Niall is openly bisexual and my best friend and everyone should know about his history with Matthew since it ended like last week).

I thought things couldn’t possibly get more awkward, but I was wrong.

Brown curls and blue eyes navigate to our table and plop down next to Ethan.

No one questions Simon’s presence since he’s literally team captain, but Simon never sits here. He always sits with Penelope, and she wouldn’t get on with jocks.

What is he doing here?

The small-talk and awkward conversation present around the table continue without contribution from myself, Dev, or Niall – and now Snow. After about ten minutes, I notice that Snow has moved to flank Niall on his left side.

Suspicious.

What is Simon’s angle?

I’m bewildered, and to be honest, I yearn to hear his voice. It feels weird sitting at a table with him and practically ignoring each other, after spending the weekend together. Yes, it was a study date, but we spoke a lot, and I want to talk to him more.

I don’t want us to go back to normal because we’re back here.

I don’t pick a fight with him, hoping that helps. My more immediate issue is Matthew. He didn’t seem to be expecting anything further since he asked me out, thankfully. But he can’t be blind to the toll this is taking on our little trio.

After what feels like an eternity, the bell goes, and we head to class.

***


SIMON

It’s after final bell and practice when I finally speak to him.

He’s leaning on his Porsche hood, having a smoke. I walk up to him. I keep some distance between us and more distance between myself and his car. It feels like too nice of a thing for me to touch.

But then I did straddle his Ducati, so.

It feels weird; approaching him like this. Not knowing if he’s about to be cruel or kind.

It’s scary. I’m afraid of him acting like this weekend never happened. That’s why I needed to approach him today. While it’s still fresh. Break the ice on familiar territory. If I can get us to be the friendly version of us in school, it will be easier to go forward.

“Stop thinking so hard, Snow, you’ll malfunction,” he says in a cool drawl.

It infuriates me. This is the version of him I hate—the condescending, superior pick.

One version of him is a façade, and I am determined to figure out which one.

I think back to this weekend, to every time he made a comment and I didn’t get revved up – because I couldn’t – and we ended up having a conversation since I didn’t let things escalate.

He instigates fights, it’s his fault.

But this one time I’ll try. I’ll try to let it slide, and be nice, and find that Baz from the greenhouse.

Maybe he’ll stop pushing me if I refuse to push back harder.

“your study guide and flashcards helped with that,” I retort. I’m still using a bit of a tone with him, but he’s a dick, so. “I- I just wanted to say thanks again, for them. Y-you didn’t need to do that.”

He doesn’t say anything, unfortunately. But he doesn’t make any cruel comments either, so that’s a plus.

“And thank you for taking me to your Greenhouse,” I give him a smile that he can’t see – he won’t look at me – “it was amazing.”

I back away, preparing myself to leave.

I’m sad that he couldn’t say one nice thing to me. I guess it’s an improvement that he didn’t intimidate me after his initial comment, but I expected more after this weekend.

I expected more from him.

I watch as Matthew walks towards the Porsche – get’s rides home as part of the dare. I have to physically restrain myself from rolling my eyes.

I’m almost out of earshot when I hear him.

“Same time on Saturday?” he asks.

I smile to myself. “See you at nine.”

Chapter Text

BAZ

I didn’t have sixth period with Matthew, but I know exactly where to find him. The rugby players would have left the sixth period a bit early to gear up; they have a game today, only a half-hour after the academic day. A good thing, because that means that my team and I can actually watch the game, and a good thing for the rugby team because their captain can actually play a whole game.

I leave class early; jogging past the rugby pitch, football pitch, the pool at the sports centre entrance, and finally reaching my destination—the boys' change room. 

I wait outside for three minutes because I’m extra.  When I do walk in, I walk right up to – a very surprised – Matthew. I pause, look at my watch, let the final bell ring out, look him in the eyes and say, “I’m dumping you, Matthew O’Brian!”

There’s a round of “ooh’s” and “aah’s”. A few homophobic slurs – which I hate. A few people accusing me of being homophobic – which is misled but I appreciate.

Matthew looks annoyed by my theatrics, but he’s otherwise fine. That’s fine. It’s not like we ever really liked each other. We were friends for a few years, but not so close that I can’t do without him.  It’s not like that’s why he asked me out. This was all just a ploy to get back at Niall for breaking his heart, and I was the pawn.

Well, fuck you, Matthew. Baz Pitch is not a pawn.

It’s not like I’m even obligated to break up with the person – Aimee and I didn’t 'break up'. Lily broke up with me over text and then called me laughing saying, “I just wanted to be able to say I dumped Baz Pitch over text. But like, I love you, Ty.” I didn’t mind.

The point is, this was grandiose and unnecessary, but I had to get revenge for his scene on Monday morning.

Wednesday, November 18 th

BAZ

Something hit’s me in the face. I look down to find a French fry. I look up; Dev and Niall are staring at me expectantly. Dev’s hand is up in mid-motion – he threw the French fry then.

I take in my surroundings. I’m at the cafeteria – not the changeroom. I’m still dating the dumbass next to me. My friends watch me; their faces betraying some emotion between annoyed and concerned - they looked constipated. 

“You good?” Niall asks

“You zoned out for a while there,” Dev explains.

“I’m good,” I give Dev the ‘let’s go have a smoke’ signal and head outside. Niall tags along. He’s smoked with us before, but he doesn't smoke as often as Dev and I do. He doesn't like the aftertaste, or the smell it leaves on you afterwards. Granted, Dev and I smoke the good stuff. Expensive cigarettes; they don't really smell that bad. But Niall isn't a fan of tobacco. He isn't smoking with us today - he never smokes in school (he would be in a lot more trouble if we got caught than Dev or I would - our parents would just be focused on 'more important' things and tell us to be more careful next time). But he tagged along anyway - he didn't want to be left with Matthew. 

After Monday, Simon never came back to the rugby table. I don’t know why he ever came there in the first place, but I suspect he didn’t come back because I dismissed him later that afternoon. I didn’t mean to be rude…but is that not us? What’s the protocol here? We’re constantly antagonizing each other, and he goes around telling the whole school I’m his nemesis - at what, I have no idea - but his enemy, nonetheless. What is expected of me, really? Especially after this weekend. I’d allowed myself to be entirely too soft with him, and that’s dangerous. Simon would never return the sentiments I share, so he can never know about them. When you start going around, sharing your feelings, that’s when people figure out you love them (unless you’re Dev or Niall, apparently). I have to be strict with him. I have to keep him at arm's length.

Loving Simon Snow is like dancing with an open flame. He’s constantly drawing you in, and you’re constantly getting too close.

And then you burn.

So, arm's length. I have to keep him at a distance before this ends in flames.

It’s difficult when he’s trying so hard to…be friends? I don’t really know. He’s the one who decided that we are enemies in the first place.

I can tell he wants to reach the softer side of me he saw when I lost control – and my mind – this weekend. The version of myself I became when we were alone, in unfamiliar territory, and I didn’t know the protocol. I don’t know if it’s the truest versions of us...but we’re different people when it’s just us.

I let him ride on my motorcycle. I’ve had so many people (girls and guys alike) ask if they could do that, and I never let any of them. I took him to my home, for what? So he could look at some plants and stop pouting? I knew that was a terrible idea – I just couldn’t stand him looking so …. evicted, over a tiny table in a coffee shop. He had this ‘I don’t belong anywhere’ look on his face, and I knew that losing that table ran a whole lot deeper than our study session. It was a place he felt safe and at home. And when he couldn’t access it; that triggered some shit.

Honestly, I think Simon Snow needs some therapy.

But all I could offer him at the time was some comfort—a new place, to get his mind off his corner. But I was too soft. I let him get too close, and now I spend all my time either yearning for him or cringing away from my ‘boyfriend’.

The only thing getting me through this week is the knowledge that I’ll see Simon this weekend. And that’s pathetic and dangerous.

Something hits me at the back of my head. I come to ,looking around to find that I’m outside with an unlit cigarette in my hand and Dev and Niall looking genuinely concerned.

I zoned out again.

"Seriously mate, what’s going on? Are you even present?” Niall asks.

I sigh. “I just have a lot on my mind.”

“Talk to us,” Dev urges, before putting his cigarette back in his mouth and taking a long pull. Dev exhales his smoke on Niall’s face. Niall shoves him.

Cute.

 “I don’t know how long I zoned out in there, but I was fantasizing about dumping my dear boyfriend,” I mumble around the cigarette in my mouth as Dev lights it up with a match. “and well, now it’s just this Snow stuff,”

“it’s going to snow?” Dev asks, eyebrows raised. Eye glinting in excitement. 

“wha- no, no, I meant Simon. This Simon stuff. Simon Snow.”

“What Simon Snow stuff?” Dev raises an eyebrow. This is less exciting for him.

“I’ve been tutoring him,”

“You tutor a lot of people – you have brains and stuff,”

“I don’t often tutor people I use to have very strong feelings for,” I seethe between gritted teeth. They’re just making me bring up the situation. Forcing me to acknowledge that it happened and that I have feelings and stuff.

I hate them.

“well…do you still?” Niall enquires

“still?”

“have feelings for him, you numpty!” Dev flicks his ash at me, and I shove him – playfully – into Niall. They both glare at me for the same reason, without the other person noticing. Because they’re oblivious like that.

“No!... I don’t know,” I sigh. “it’s not like the type of situation where you get closure, y’know? It was just a hopeless crush that you do nothing about, and you think it went away, over time. Then you’re forced to spend alone time with them. Now you can’t get them out of your fucking mind!” I didn’t realise how my voice was rising until I finished my dramatic monologue and needed to take a few breaths. “it’s just… a lot right now.”

“you don’t know it’s hopeless, Bazzy,” Niall says kindly.

“he’s straight!”

“I mean, that’s an assumption.”

“Wellbelove!”

“he could be bi,” Dev adds, “I thought I was straight for 17 years, heck – I even liked Wellbelove for a while,”

“that’s not the same,”

“Did he ever say that he’s exclusively straight or are you just assuming?” Niall asks, who really should be the last one talking because the object of his affection is his bisexual best friend and he still won’t speak up.

“I just…know.”

“Baz”

“do not make me get my hopes up for something that will never happen just to get hurt,” I snap. They both shut up.

They don’t bring up the situation again, and soon we had back to class –but they've already planted the seed of doubt.

Intellectually I know that Simon is straight….but they already made me wonder…what if?


Thankfully, the boys never really made me deal with Matthew on a one-on-one basis. I was obligated to lunch dates – which they accompanied me on. Monday was unexpected (for me at least. I’m pretty sure Matthew planned this because he conveniently didn’t drive his car to school that day, he got a lift instead because he knew I’d end up giving him a lift home). Niall accompanied us on Monday instead of getting a lift with Dev (much to both of their dismay) so that I need not be alone with Matthew. I wasn’t ready to speak to him. I didn’t really. For the days that followed, I gave Matthew lifts to and from school, and Dev and Niall both joined us. Dev sat in the back seat – it’s impressive how consistent he is at glaring at Matthew without tiring. Niall sat upfront with me, simultaneously to keep Niall away from Matthew (for Dev), make Matthew jealous (for Niall), and just so that I don’t need to sit with Matthew (for me).

Good men.

It was a hectic week thus far, but I was holding on to Friday.

If there was one helpful thing Matthew did, it was updating us on the rugby team. Apparently, the team was having a hard time adapting to two captains. They were so adjusted to Simon’s captaincy tactics and his skill level on the field that they relied on him. In the second half, they had to follow Matthew’s captaincy style which may not necessarily be ineffective but is different while adjusting to a player less competent than Simon on the field. The team needed to practice adjusting to Matthew’s captaincy style. And if it was still too confusing for the team to follow two captains, Simon might lose his captaincy altogether. Matthew said that Simon wouldn’t be benched – everyone understood and sympathized with this situation – so he could still play his half of the game, but if being captain for only half the game was causing more detriment, then Matthew would take over captaincy indefinitely.

I felt bad for Simon.

He tried so hard. He hates me, and although our tutoring sessions weren’t as bad as expected, he swallowed his pride and came to me for help without knowing how I would respond or how pleasant the session would be.

Just to stay on the team.

But this Friday’s game gave them a chance. Their game was earlier than usual, right after the academic day ends. I will not really be publicly dumping Matthew as I fantasized about, but Dev, Niall and I would go to the game. We usually didn’t get to since our games overlapped, but their game should finish before ours starts. It also means that Simon gets to play a full game. And prove himself as a player, and as captain.

And I’ll be on the bleachers.

***


NIALL

Resisting Dev has been a lot harder – and so have I – since he came out to me as bisexual. Maybe it’s the false hope and sliver of a possibility that I’m an option, even though realistically I know I’m not. Maybe it's the camouflaged jealousy because I know someone must have made him realise that he’s bisexual. It could be deep, or it could be lustful, but someone made Dev realise that he’s ‘not as straight as previously assumed’ and that’s hard to swallow.

Regardless, I find myself wanting to devour Dev a lot more often than I previously did. I’ve always wanted him, but my anchor of self-control was the knowledge that he was straight, hence this was a pipedream. The inkling of possibility throws all my morals out the window, and I’m genuinely concerned that I might just suck his dick the next time he gets mouthy at me.

He was all…caring on Monday. After we found out that Matthew asked Baz out.

I hated it.

Don’t check up on me. Don’t feel bad for me because a guy I used to like asked out our friend. Just don’t, if you’re not going to be jealous. If you’re not going to claim me.

If you won’t make me yours.

We promised Baz we’d ride with him and Matthew – that we wouldn’t leave them alone.

“Niall is sitting in the fucking front seat,” Dev decided, we didn’t object. I blushed internally. It was sweet. It was protective.

But it was also my best friend – he’s protective of Baz too, he wouldn’t let anyone hurt Baz, and he wouldn’t let anyone who hurt him before, close enough to try again.

It wasn’t possessive. Territorial.

It’s not fair to expect these things of Dev.

It’s not at all fair.

But I still yearn for it.

Every time he’s sweet and caring, and protective…every time he’s all the things that made me fall in love with him initially… it’s hard not to be greedy for that last bit.

For that piece of him that no one else can reach, not even Baz.

He’s like a rose. He’s gorgeous, everyone knows it. But I’m willing to endure every thorn before I can reach his bud and petals. I’ve been enduring them all these years, anyway. I’d endure every hamartia if it made him consider giving me an inkling of his love.

Not the best friend kind.

All of him, or just some. Whatever he can give me, I’ll take. I’m taking it. It keeps me going.

He keeps me going.

***


SIMON

 

I need to speak to my foster family. I know this.

Penny told me that this needs to be done, and like I previously mentioned, Penny is always right. But that doesn’t make it easy. I’ve meant to approach them about the curfew issue for weeks, but I feel nauseous and feverish every time I try to bring it up. I don’t know if that’s fear, anxiety,…trauma. But I don’t like it.

The team understood the situation as best they could. I’m allowed to play half the game for evening matches, a courtesy otherwise not allowed. Still, the team is suffering under dual captaincy, and they deserve better. I might lose captaincy for this reason, and I worked for it.

I need to talk to my foster parents, I need an extended curfew for game days. Penny says I should invite them to my games on Fridays so they can see that I’m sincere about my reason for requesting curfew extension.

But it’s not easy to ask for more when you’re so used to having nothing.

They haven’t illtreated me or done anything to hurt me since I’ve been here. More than anything else they’ve been absent, but that’s the best-case scenario. There are just a few months left until I turn 18 and angering them now would just make them send me back to the orphanage – I hate the orphanage more than anything.

I refuse to go back.

I’ll deal with the rugby thing. You can’t have everything, I know that. So I may have to sacrifice captaincy if Matthew is what is best for the team. As long as he lets me play, I can still pray for a scholarship.

At least that was the plan.

You think you have a plan, and then life throws you another fucking hurdle.

I’m already juggling rugby for university, academics, work and tuitions for the academics to allow me to play the rugby.

And now, my manager called saying that she needs me to cover Hazel’s shift this weekend. I can’t really complain because prior to tutoring sessions with Baz, I requested the early shift because of my curfew situation (I don’t work the shift alone, so I take off just in the nick of time for me to run home before curfew.) However, this does mean that I might lose my tuitions with Baz – he said he prefers morning sessions. He’s doing me a favour, I’m not even paying him, I can’t just expect him to give me his weekend afternoons.

I sigh. There’s no way out of this. I need this job.

I call him.

***


BAZ

 

 Incoming Call: Simon Snow

I’m applying a face mask while proofreading my History essay that’s due next week when my phone starts vibrating on my bed. A peek at the caller ID has me frozen in place.

Why is Simon Snow calling me?

How do I answer Simon’s call?

Hello?

How can I help you?

Hi?

Greetings and Salutations Snow?

Snow (but in a rude tone)?

What do you want?

Should I just sneer? 

Answer and say nothing until he does?

So many options and I can’t text the minion's group chat for advice because my phone is ringing Simon’s name. I accept the call probably a minute before voicemail picks up – because my voicemail sounds dumb and I don’t want Simon to hear it. I just…place the call on speaker (my face is messy) and resort to saying nothing at all.

 

00:05 seconds

Eventually, he speaks. “Baz? Are you there?”

“I am,” I say in what I can only hope is cool nonchalance.

He asks me how I am, I tell him I’m fine, and I don’t ask him how he is.

This isn’t going so bad.

“So… I just needed to speak to you about this coming weekend, our scheduled tutoring session…”

I feel my heart sink. That’s what was getting me through the week. It sounds like he’s about to cancel. Was I that bad, last week? I know I suck at communication, but I did try to be manageable…

“Yes?” I snap. Probably ruder than I should have, but it’s to mask my sadness.

“well, my boss changed my shift this weekend. She wants me to work the morning shift. And I know you said you’d tutor me in the morning because you prefer it that way so…so if you choose to discontinue tutoring me I will understand.”

He’s not cancelling?

“Okay.”

“Okay you’re cancelling?” he sounds unrealistically sad. He doesn't really need me that much with my study guide and flashcards.

“Okay, we’ll work after your shift. What time do you get off?” I really wish I phrased that question literally any other way. I bite my tongue.

“wha-oh, ah” he blusters, “Twelve. I start at five even though doors open at seven, to bake and stuff.”

“Okay. You’ll probably need a break after a full shift. What time do you want to start?”

“Literally any time is fine, whenever it’s convenient for you…I didn’t really expect you to accommodate me at all.”

“I’ll pick you up at 12, and we can start around 1” it’s out of my mouth before I can stop it. I realise my mistake.

“P-pick me up?” he stutters, “we aren’t working at Starbucks?”

Well fuck.

“Sure we can.”

“But you don’t want to?”

“Pardon me for preferring an actual bench over sitting on the floor, Snow,” it’s not wrong, but it’s also not the reason. Something about having him in my house is exhilarating. He lit up when he walked into the Greenhouse, and I want to see that again. The Greenhouse feels like… our place. And it’s private and ….and it’s not keeping Simon at arm's length at all. Not to mention the motorcycle rides I played back in my head on a loop every night ever since.

He’s right. “You’re right though, Snow, we should probably work at Starbucks,”

He’s silent for a beat, and I sneak a glance at my phone screen, checking if he’s hung up.

“You’re a high maintenance bloke, sitting on the ground is basically abuse,” his voice is a lot softer now, suddenly the phone call feels a lot more intimate. “Where did you have in mind? Greenhouse?”

“Yeah,” I’m softer now too. “I mean if you want to. Starbucks is fine. I’ll sit on the couch and leave you on the ground like an animal.”

He just chuckles, “The Greenhouse is perfect. I’ll see you at 12.”

And just like that I know I’m in shit.

***


Friday, November 20th 

BAZ

I’ve never been this relieved to break up with a person in my life, and I’ve dated a cheerleader. Okay, granted dating a cheerleader doesn’t sound that bad. But she was a woman, and I am horrendously gay.

I really want to break-up with Matthew, but I decide to be civil and settle for never speaking to him again. The news of me dating a boy, no matter how fake, seems to have upturned the entire school. I don’t mind it, the attention hasn’t been unbearable…but the questions do make it more difficult to stay in the closet. I’ve never tried to hide my sexuality, (okay, well I stopped trying to hide it once I learnt to accept it a few years ago. It was hard to hate that part of myself when Niall is also queer, and I could never hate that part of him. He gave me the strength to accept myself.) but I’ve just…never brought it up.

On Pride day every year the jocks cross-dress, it’s a tradition. I do it too. Now the thing is, I’m gay, but I don’t particularly cross-dress. It’s not like every queer person does. But the tradition stands to give homophobia a big ‘fuck you.’

But no one’s ever questioned my sexuality, at least not to me. It’s been harder to evade this week. A few people thanked me for not being homophobic about Matthew asking me out, and allowing him the same rules in the dare even though I’m straight. I just smiled at them in acknowledgement. The words ‘I’m not straight’ burning the tip of my tongue – but I was too cowardice to say anything. I’m sure there are plenty of homophobes, but since I had no say in the matter, I didn’t need to deal with them (as yet). In my chemistry class, a guy mentioned that he wanted to ask me out – live out fantasies through the dare, y’know? but he was certain I’d be mad about it. He asked if I’d mind if he asked me out the following week. I told him the truth, I didn’t mind. This whole dare is ridiculous, and if it can do a little good by helping Lily socialize or allow a cute gay nerd to come out and live out some high school fantasies, I’m all for it.

But staying in the closet is only getting harder. No one has asked me if I’m straight, but they’re all assuming it. To me. Not correcting them is beginning to feel just as shameful as lying. It’s easy to say that you’re not hiding your sexuality, that you’re just not broadcasting it when no one is suspicious. When people talk about your sexuality and your options are either telling the truth or fuel a lie, it’s a lot harder.

But today is a good day. After lunch (which is always really awkward because I speak to everyone at the table apart from Matthew, which I’m sure the team noticed) I simply block Matthew from my socials (there’s still a few hours left of our relationship, but I won’t see him until after school when we break up anyway) and mentally prepare myself to spend eighty minutes staring at Simon Snow on the pitch this evening.

***


NIALL

 

This is the closest thing to a date I’ve been on with Dev in a while. We’ve been busy between exams, university applications, and our sports schedules always clashing. He’s free Saturdays when I generally have games – he comes to my games, but I’m obviously busy during that time. He has church and family lunch on Sundays. And we’ve been studying every free moment we’ve got. Not to mention that I had been really preoccupied with Matthew as of late.

It’s been a while since we were like this. Relaxed. Both of us in the bleachers together. Watching a game neither of us are on the field for. Sharing a soda. Body contact, shoulder to knee.

I feel like melting into him, his fragrance hypnotizing.

Matthew does something impressive, I think. I’m not sure what. I wasn’t really paying attention – least of all to Matthew. But Matthew is getting his hair ruffled, and his arse smacked (rugby players are very affectionate – but they say it’s straight. It’s weird.), so I assume he did something.

For a few minutes, Matthew is the center of attention. Dev leans onto me and whispers in my ear, his breath tickles my earlobe, making me shiver.

“you okay?” he asks.

“perfect, why?” my voice is soft. this moment feels intimate. Baz is on the other side of Dev, but he’s mostly ignoring us, engaged in conversation with Penelope Bunce (she was already here when we arrived, and Baz wanted to sit with her. He’s fond of her). Dev cuts a glance at the field and then back at me in response.

I scoff, “I’m a big boy, I can watch an ex-boyfriend on the field without it hurting my feelings,” I’m about to roll my eyes when he cuts me off.

“boyfriend?”

I sigh, “almost-boyfriend, hookup, I don’t know mon loup you were there, you knew what was going on.” He smiles at the pet name. He always has. When he asked me what it meant, I said it means wolf. We’ve always been like a little wolf pack. The world around us kept changing, but we were always us. And Dev was always protective over Baz and me. There wasn’t really an alpha, per se, but Dev was the protective one. Just like he’s trying to protect me right now. Even emotionally.

“Still, we can leave if you wanna. Even if it’s not too hard, but if you just don’t want to look at his stupid face, Baz will be fine with Penny – heck maybe he wants to leave too, I’m sure he’s seen enough of Matthew’s stupid –”

I sneak my around the back of his head to clamp my palm over his mouth.

“hush. I’m fine. We haven’t been out in forever, let’s just enjoy the game.”

He licks my palm, and I retaliate by wiping it on his cheek. He snaps at me, grazing my wrist with his teeth and I shove his face away, by the neck. Before this escalates into something erotic, we stop and turn back to the game.

But I’m certain we’re both slightly leaning into each other, an inch closer than we were before.

Shoulder to ankle.

Our pinkies grazing.

***


BAZ

 

Simon Snow is fucking brutal on the field. It’s amazing.

He’s this beautiful, fragile, stubborn boy. But on the field, he has this air of confidence I’ve never seen in him before. He plays one of the quarterback positions – I only know the basics – and fifteen minutes in I can tell that he’s one of the most talented players on the team (hardly a surprise since he’s captain, but he’s clearly compensating for other players). Every time he gets tackled or shoved, my stomach flips a little. I’ve watched Simon sport countless bruises, it’s even hot sometimes, but watching the process makes me nervous. Surely, he should have a concussion by now. Rugby is a bastard sport, Jesus. This is more erotic than a sport probably should be. But in my defence, I’m watching a cluster of sweaty, muscled, fit blokes in tight shorts, tackling each other.

Simon takes an elbow to the jaw. I already know he’s showing up to our lesson tomorrow with fresh bruises – the other player gets a yellow card. In football, that move would have gotten him benched immediately. No one seems too concerned though so I try to calm myself down. I probably seem intensely interested in the game (a glance at the scoreboard lets me know that the game is, in fact, interesting. The mages are behind by only a few points – nothing they can’t come back from) but really I’m just admiring Simon. I rarely get a chance to watch him so freely. Whenever I usually try, he catches me, and then I need to play it off by sneering at him, and he glares at me, and it becomes a whole thing.

I wonder what would happen if I could flirt by winking like a normal person.

Throughout the first half, both teams compete for the lead, taking it in turns. By half time, the mages are leading, but barely. They’re playing a good game, but their competition is an even match.

I take comfort in the knowledge that Simon will be playing the second half, too. If he was leaving at this point, there wouldn’t be a doubt in my mind that The Mages would lose the game. But both teams have a fighting chance right now. This could go either way.

Both teams return to the field refreshed, and with a few substitutes. They come back more aggressive than in the first half. Like they can taste victory already.

They fight for dominance, consistently exchanging the lead.

The Mages eventually scrape a win. A win they should dedicate to Simon. If he hadn’t played the second half, I’m certain they would have lost.

Matthew looks happy – he doesn’t look bitter by Simon taking back his captaincy. Either he suspects it’s temporary or this isn’t a battle for power.

Simon is on the shoulders of Matthew and Christopher (who is very hot but I suspect that he’s a mediocre player since he spent the entirety of this game as a benchwarmer) when he eventually (finally) notices me. He looks surprised. His cheeks flush – they’re somehow even darker now than they were after he spent 80 minutes being tackled.

We hold eye contact for a minute, and I can see the wheels in his brain working. He’s wondering why I’m here. Of course, he can’t just ask me – I’m just watching our team rugby game, there’s nothing to suggest I’m here to antagonize him. there’s nothing to suggest I’m plotting anything – as he so often accuses me of.

I hold eye contact, I won’t break first.

We play this game whenever he’s at my practice.

But I’m used to looking for him during football practice, unless he has practice as well. He's not used to me in his stands.

He has to break first as his teammates lower him to the ground.

SIMON

Baz came to my game

Chapter Text

 

Saturday, November 21st

BAZ

 

 

 

 

“I’ll pick you up at 12, and we can start around 1”

 

What the fuck was I thinking?

I thought that perhaps after a 7-hour shift, Simon could use a break before we get down to work. Why I thought he’d want to spend that break with me, of all people, I have no idea. I decide to compromise and arrive at Starbucks around 12:30. I’m driving the Porsche today- It’s less douchey to pick someone up from a café in a sports car than to park your sports car outside a café. Or so Niall tells me.

Also, it’s raining.

Jogging through the glass doors with my coat pulled above my hair, I spot Simon on the couch in the corner, a cup in his hand and a scowl on his face. He spots me and glares. Why is he agitated already? I just got here.

Across from Simon – on the other side of the table – lies a Frappuccino with mostly melted whipped cream, and my name on it. ‘Baz’, not ‘Tyrannus’ - Simon made it for me. I plop down on the couch across his own and scoop up my drink, taking a long, savoured gulp. It’s not my regular, but it’s unexpectedly better. I can’t pinpoint the drink from the menu, and I’ve tried most of them. I close my eyes in appreciation as I devour an indecently long sip. I’m pretty sure I even moan.

“This is heavenly, Snow, what is it? I don’t know this one.”

Simon proceeds to glare at me. I can’t be rude to him while indulging in this much sugar, so I just take another long sip. When I open my eyes again, the drink is half empty, and I’m smiling slightly. Simon is giving me this look that pretty much says ‘really?’

“What’s the matter Snow, cat got your tongue?” I try to antagonize him, but the words are entirely without bite. “And what is this divine beverage? I’ve never tasted it, but I think I’m in love,”

SIMON

If you want to tame a beast; you give it sugar, apparently. At least if that beast is Baz. I’ve been trying to be mad at him since he strutted in here, but he’s completely distracted by his drink. It’s like he’s on a sugar high – he’s smiling, not a malicious ‘I’m plotting your demise’ type of smile, it’s a sincere childlike happy smile, it’s…it’s rather cute, to be honest. I don’t think he even realises that I’ve been glaring at him for the last seven minutes. He’s practically hypnotised.

Note to self: Give Basilton sugar every time you need him to stop being an arse.

Maybe he’s just generally sugar-deprived, which is why he’s so agitated. It would make sense. He’s always better behaved (and nicer) after I give him frappes and pastries.  

“It’s a Pumpkin Mocha Breve, and you don’t deserve it.”

“Why not?” he pouts. Baz Pitch is pouting because I said he doesn’t deserve his Frappucino. What is happening?

“I’ve been waiting here for, like, a half-hour Basilton,” I try to keep my voice as stern as I can but his softness is ruining my tantrum.

“I know, I thought you’d be delighted,” Baz says. He’s not even teasing me; he seems to mean it. I’m confused.

BAZ

“What?” Simon snaps at me. He’s in a really foul mood. Someone should give him a Pumpkin mocha breve.

SIMON

“I realised after we spoke that you probably need a break after working such a long shift so I thought I’d give you some time before I show up,” he reasons.

“You said we’d start the lesson at one, Baz, and you said you’d be here at twelve. That’s a one-hour break before we start! I waited for, like, a half-hour!”

“I didn’t think you were waiting for me; I thought you’d enjoy your alone time before you need to deal with me.

“I made you a Frappuccino!”

“And I am really enjoying it,” Baz gazes fondly at his mostly empty cup.

I sigh. It’s impossible to fight with Baz when he’s like this (my own fault). Him not fighting back is one thing – he does that sometimes when he’s pretending that I’m not even worth fighting back – but right now he’s just…harmless. Without guile. A kitten.

I concede, “you should have sent me a text if you were running late,”

Finally, he makes eye contact with me, pushing his empty cup aside. He slings one leg over the other and settles deeper into the couch. “I wasn’t really late,” Baz explains, “I just thought… you had a long day. I thought you’d need a break before I began picking at your brain, and you hate me, so I figured... you’d rather not spend that break with me or any more time than you absolutely need to. I know you just came to me for help with biology, and you probably don’t want to spend time with me unnecessarily, but you wouldn’t say it to be polite,”

I’m shocked into silence.

What he’s saying…it’s wrong. But it also makes sense, and that makes me sad. Do I hate Baz? Still? Have I ever?

Has anything even changed? And if I don’t hate him, and nothing has changed, does that mean that I never truly hated him?

I have no idea.

“well, I didn’t enjoy my break because I spent it waiting for you, so I’ll be back with snacks. We can have a bite to eat and then get going,” I decide. “Do you want anything in particular?”
“I’m good,” he shakes his head.

I bring him a good old-fashioned London Style tea – he needs to sober up after his sugary joyride – and a slice of red velvet cake. This is technically me repaying him for his lessons (which are definitely helping), and he's been kind enough to accommodate me on my schedule, so I might as well spoil him as best I can. We’re silent as we nibble and watch the rain outside.

“You always bring me something different,” he eventually comments.

I shrug, “I don’t particularly know what you prefer, so I’m just trying to figure it out.”

“And what have you figured out?” he raises an eyebrow at me. He’s trying to be intimidating, but after his sugar-induced episode earlier I don’t think he’ll ever intimidate me again.

“I figured you preferred the chocolate and cream croissant over the red velvet cake. And I know I got it right with the Pumpkin mocha,” I smirk, “you liked it more than your regular,”

He nods, “the red velvet cake is appreciated - not my favourite cake though, and yes I'll hand you that victory – that drink was amazing. I don’t think I’ve seen it on the menu before, though, is it new?”

“Something like that. I created it today.”

“You created that heavenly substance?” his eyebrows are drawn up in genuine surprise, his eyes are wide open.

“You seemed to be picking the sweetest things on the menu; I thought I’d try all our sweetest ingredients together and then…that thing was born.”

He’s silent for a moment. His face betraying blatant astonishment. “you… created a drink… for me?”

“And it tastes like a blended candy bar,” I crinkle my nose.

 

BAZ

I think I’m malfunctioning.

I think I forgot how to think.

I think Simon Snow is doing it again. He’s drawing me in, to the edge of the precipice, preparing me to fall all over again. And then just when I’m about to jump, the ground beneath me crumbles, and I’m reminded of the harsh truths of this life. That Simon Snow is straight, and that even if he weren’t, he would never choose me.

SIMON

We finish our …brunch? And then I grab my backpack as we head outside. I have no idea how long we have because it’s 13:17 when we get into his car (he brought the Porsche today; I assume because of the rain) and we were supposed to study from 13:00 to 14:00.

He turns the heat on in the car. I don’t really need it; I don’t get cold easily. But instead of saying anything I just shrug out of my jacket (it’s faded blue denim. It’s my favourite jacket; Penny bought it for one of my birthday’s. it’s a little snug these days but it’s still my favourite) which is damp anyway.

“You aren’t cold?” Baz asks as he glances over. Riding shotgun in his Porsche is very different from riding on the back of his motorcycle, I’m not sure which I prefer. You’d think this would be more comfortable …but when we take the Ducati, we’re both distracted by the intense feeling of riding a motorcycle. It’s intense and intimate for those few minutes until it’s over and we don’t mention it again. I’m feeling nervous in the Porsche. It still feels oddly intimate in the warm, tiny space (sports cars are surprisingly snug) as London rain sloshes down the windows. There’s little to distract me from watching Baz, or him from noticing me watch him. I feel like we should be making conversation, but words seem to have evaded me. We leave London and arrive at Hampshire after a silent drive. It was awkward at first, but soon enough, we fell into a comfortable and companionable quiet.

I grab my backpack and follow Baz into his house. A polite, elegant-looking beautiful woman catches me off guard. This is Baz’s family house, so I don’t know why I’m so thrown by running into his family … but the place seemed deserted last week, and I wasn’t prepared for this confrontation. Do they even know I’m here? Are they okay with it?

“Mother,” Baz addresses the polite lady, “this is Simon Snow, my colleague,” he turns to glance at me, “Snow, this is my step-mother, Daphne.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Simon,” polite lady – Daphne – embraces me in a warm hug. I’m not used to being hugged like this. Penny and I hug all the time, but that’s different. Penny is small. Her head reaches my chest, and it feels like… like I’m protecting her from the world. Agatha was taller, but our hugs were…something else entirely. But polite lady’s hugs feel protective. I’ve never felt protected by someone else before. This is strange.

“Hi, ma’am, it’s so nice to meet you,” I mumble into her hair. It smells nice.

Am I crushing on Baz’s stepmother? No, no, I don’t think so. I’ve had plenty of crushes, and this is nothing like those. I’m not sure what this is, but the hug was over way too soon. I was really enjoying her embrace…which is an odd thought to have about your friend’s mother.

Is Baz my friend? – one crisis at a time, Simon.

“I hope I’m not intruding,” I continue as she lets me go.

“Oh, not at all!” she says, “Basil never brings any friends home except Dev and Niall! – unless he’s kicking us out for the night to throw a huge party” she fondly scolds him.

“I literally only do that once a year, Mother,” I’ve never heard his tone this …polite. “And I’m Snow’s biology tutor, I just thought we’d be more comfortable here,” he explains.

I’m sure Daphne has a lot of questions about that, but she graciously nods at him, and after a few more pleasantries, we’re making our way to the third floor.

“You didn’t warn me that I’d be running into your family!” I hiss at him.

Baz raises an eyebrow at me, “surely you didn’t assume I live in this big house by myself, Snow,”

I roll my eyes, “I didn’t, I guess it just didn’t occur to me that I’d run into your family since last week we didn’t.”

“We were earlier last week,” Baz explains, “the kids were probably sleeping in, and my parents must have been around here somewhere, but we didn’t linger, we just never ran into them,”

“And their okay with me being here?”

Baz just shrugs, “I don’t exactly need to ask permission,”

Baz leads the way to the Greenhouse, and I wish I could say that knowing what to expect has made it less mesmerizing. If anything, after dreaming about returning all week and not knowing if I ever would, it’s even better this time. An aura of peace overcomes me as I walk into the room, my mind settles.

Baz looks me over, “You really like it here,” a smile tugs at his lips but it’s more genuine than teasing.

“It’s hard to describe,” I shrug.

“Try.” He leads us to the table we worked at last week, his books and study material are already set up on his side. I settle in across from him.

“It feels like…” I take a breath. Exhale. “– the absence of chaos.”

Baz considers me for a moment but nods without saying more. He starts skimming through his session plan as I unpack my own study materials – including the study guide he gave me – from my backpack.

“Did you bring it?”

“I did,” I smile while passing over yesterdays biology quiz on the reproductive system.

Baz takes a look at it, and his mouth slightly curls upwards – you’d miss it if you weren’t looking for it.

64%

“Good to know I’m not wasting my time,” he says, but his voice holds a tone of pride in it. “Good work, Snow. We only had two sessions, and you already improved by over 10%.”

“It was a very helpful two sessions, and I worked with the flashcards and study guide in my free time, thank you, Baz.” The moment is silent, fragile. Neither of us knows what to do now. We’re being uncharacteristically nice to each other; we don’t know the protocol.

“So, eight anatomical systems are being focused on in our syllabus,” Baz starts, “every week is a new section and we write a test on it at the end of the week. Our exam will test all the systems again. So, we’re going to keep these tests, and when we’re done studying each system individually, we’re going to redo these tests and try to master them before the exam. Questions are often repeated.”

I nod.

“Also, you’re getting homework every Sunday from now on,”

I frown and nod.

BAZ

I’m proud of Simon. I can tell he’s been working with the extra material I gave him. He’s been trying.

We’ve been working for about a half-hour when I leave him with a short task while I fetch us refreshments. He’s done with his task and has wandered to a bunch of orange flowers. He looks over at me when he hears my footsteps. A gleaming smile dominates his bruised face.

“Look, Baz! I never noticed them last week because the flowers are the same colour, but there’s a swarm of butterflies camouflaged all around them.”

“A kaleidoscope of butterflies - and they're probably camouflaged for a reason, Snow.”

His face falls, “oh, I hope I haven’t upset them.”

I sigh, rolling my eyes. “Follow me.” I lead him to the other end of the Greenhouse where there are more flowers and flat rocks for them to land on. The butterflies here are different colours, Blue and yellow as well as orange. Simon’s face lights up again. I call him over and make him sit on a large, flat rock next to the plants. “Now, look…. less threatening. Here, open your palms and rest them on your knees.” He obeys. “Stay absolutely still. Breathe as slow as possible. Don’t move.” I back away so I’m not intimidating them. After about three minutes I think it’s not going to work and I’m just wasting our study hour when finally, a large yellow butterfly starts fluttering around his head. I speak slowly, and just loud enough for him to hear me “okay now do not move Simon, you’ll scare them away.” I’m pretty sure he stops breathing altogether, but he listens to me. When he doesn’t move, the other butterflies deem him safe. A few more butterflies start fluttering about.

“There’s a butterfly on your shirt, Simon.” He looks down. “No, no, it’s on the back of your shirt, but if you stay still, I’m sure more will – oh there’s a blue one on your hair now.”

“Why don’t they want to land where I can actually see them,” he says it so softly I barely hear him, but it’s enough to startle them, and they flutter away.

Simon has a soft smile for the rest of the hour.

SIMON

The endocrine system is significantly more difficult than the reproductive system, albeit less awkward to study with Baz. Baz is still uncharacteristically patient and helpful with me; I’m beginning to think this might be a plot. But plot or not, it’s definitely helping my grades, so I guess I’ll keep feeding him sugary drinks until he’s sick of me. I don’t know why he’s being so civil, but I appreciate it. It’s unexpected, but I enjoy the time we spend together in his Greenhouse – and it’s not just the Greenhouse, it’s hanging out with him too. He’s different when it’s just us.

Baz praises me for my grades on the last quiz and says he expects a 70% on the next one. That’s a bit of a steep ask – students who can get 70% don’t really need tuitions – but I’ll keep working with the material he gave me and try to make him proud. He was proud of me today - I like the feeling.

It’s 14:30 when Baz and I start packing up.

“So, where should I drop you off, Snow?”

“You called me Simon before,” he did. When we played with the butterflies (never would I ever have thought that I’d be casually playing with butterflies with Baz Pitch).

Baz rolls his eyes. Baz rolls his eyes a lot. “Where should I drop you off, Snow?”

I shake my head, suppressing a laugh “Starbucks is fine, thanks,”

“I thought your shifts over?” It is. But I still have hours to kill until curfew, and I’d rather not spend all day there.

“It is, I’ll just study there,”

“Oh…” Baz regards me with an expression I can’t describe, “how will you get home when you’re done?”

“Same way I got there? I’ll walk, it’s not too far,”

“It’s raining cats and dogs,”

“It’s England.” It’s not like I’ve never had to walk through the rain before, bloody rich people.

“Well…yeah…” Baz opens and closes his mouth, but no words escape for a few moments. “you know…you could just study here, and then when you’re done, I can drive you home,”

I have no idea how to respond to this. I was not expecting this.

“No, really Baz it’s okay. I really really appreciate your offer, like you don’t even know,” I’m rambling, “but it’s fine. I walk through the rain like three times a week,” I chuckle. This isn’t really a big deal. It rains all the time here, and I don’t have a car, how did he think us peasants got around?

“Yes, but you don’t need to this time, and you prefer the greenhouse anyway! What if your corner is taken? It probably is, it’s late,”

“Then I’ll jog to Penny’s, really Baz; I do this all the time,”

“That’s an even farther walk!” Why does Baz even know where Penny lives.

“That’s not a problem! I keep an umbrella at the café.”

Baz sighs. “I won’t leave you somewhere in my fancy-ass sports car so that you can walk 20 minutes in the rain!

I soften my voice, “This is hardly a new situation for me, Baz, it’s almost always raining, and I have places I need to go, it’s not a big deal.”

Baz sighs. “I’ll drive you to Starbucks if you check that the table is free and text me, so if it’s not free I’m already there and can give you a ride to Penny’s.”

“Deal.” I’ll just tell him it’s free regardless. He’s being ridiculous.

“And call me when you’re done, and I’ll give you a ride home,” what is this guy’s deal.

“It will be late. I’m sure you have more to do on your Saturday night than chauffer me around,”

“What time will you study until?”

“Around half 7, to be home for curfew,”

“I know you need to be home at a certain time, but I really don’t think you absolutely need to stay out until that time,” I just shrug. It’s voluntary.

He does the thing again—the thing where he’s watching me carefully but doesn’t say much. “Are you sure you don’t just want to study here? I’ll stay out of your way and give you a ride later,” I’m starving, and I’m not asking him for food, so, no.

“Thank you for offering, Baz,” I smile at him, “but I’ll be okay.”

“So, you’ll call me when you’re ready for a ride home?”

“I will not.” He frowns but stops pressing. “I do this all the time Baz. It’s just a little rain, no biggie,”

It’s actually a lot of rain today. Above us, the raindrops splatter against the high, glass dome roof. Like everything else here – including the stubborn boy in front of me – it’s beautiful. Eventually, Baz concedes, and we drive back to Starbucks. He comes in for tea and a sandwich, and we have lunch by the first-floor window while watching the rain.

“What time tomorrow?”  Baz asks.

“Same as today.”              

He nods. Chews. He speaks again after a minute, “Do you want me here at 12 or 1?” he asks. He looks nervous.

I subtly smile at my turkey sandwich, “12.”

He nods. There’s a barely visible smile evident in his features too.

I’m done before Baz, so he tells me to check on the table while he finishes his tea. It’s not free. But he’s already gone out of his way for me for enough; I’m not going to ask for more favours.

 

 

 

 

Baz Pitch

 

(15:25) Simon Snow: it’s free 😊

(15:26) Simon Snow: thank you for today, it helped a lot

(15:26) Simon Snow: See you tomorrow

(15:27) Baz: See you at twelve.

Chapter Text

Sunday, November 22nd

DEV

Sunday is family day which means that I don’t get to see Niall or Baz - who actually is family (so I guess its immediate family day).  Consequently, Niall, Baz and I have hung out on Saturdays - either at one of our houses or more recently at Niall’s matches- for as long as I can remember. Baz said he’d catch up with us in the evening because he was tutoring Snow at midday today– that’s a thing with him now, going out of his way for Snow. I don’t know if I should be concerned about that as yet.

The cold wakes me up – the fireplace must have burned out. I’m lying in bed, lost in thought at 5 am. I should be leaving for Church soon, but I can’t keep the thoughts of the previous day from my mind. I don't particularly want to. They're good thoughts. 

I slept in yesterday and awoke to Niall jumping on my bed.

“This thing is older than I am, you numpty,” I mumbled into my pillow as Niall finally stopped jumping – content with waking me from my slumber – and landed on the pillow next to me after one final bounce. Niall in my bed first thing in the morning was not helping my self-control.

“Well, it’s not my fault you sleep like the dead. I’ve been trying to wake you up for ten minutes,”

“WHY.” I’m not a morning person. He doesn’t care. He just laughed.

“Baz has Snow until later, and I’m bored,” he grumbled, rolling on his side and facing me.

We were nose-to-nose in this very bed. I can almost still smell his cologne. Niall has always been an early bird, which meant that he showed up at my house at 7 am on a Saturday morning when I had no commitments and merely wanted to sleep in.

“Baz’s session isn’t for a few hours,”

“But if I go there, he’ll just kick me out – they’re studying at his house. And you know he needs a few hours to get ready to see Snow,” he laughed. In all fairness, Baz does stress out about his outfit and hair before his recent lessons with Snow - even though Snow has no fashion sense and doesn’t care or appreciate Baz’s aesthetic efforts. Maybe this is something I should be more concerned about.

“And I won’t kick you out?”

Niall grinned, “not a chance,”

He wasn’t wrong. He smirked as I scoffed, “you can stay if you shut up and let me sleep,”

His smirk turned softer; a genuine smile, “way ahead of you,” he pulled out the book he was currently reading – 'Red, White and Royal Blue' – and got comfy as I dozed off into a sleep far more peaceful than I’d previously occupied.

I drifted in and out of sleep for the next few hours, but it was peaceful. Sometimes certain things drew me to semi-consciousness; Niall huffing a laugh or turning the page. I remember his fingers carding through my hair as I slept – he does that to Baz and me sometimes – but I’m not sure if it was a dream or not. When I woke at 11 am, I was snuggled into Niall’s side, my arm draped loosely across his waist. His book was on the floor, and his head and back rested against the wall – he’d fallen asleep while reading. His left arm hung off the bed and his right arm was draped around my back. I should have woken him up. Instead, I snuggled closer and pretended to be asleep until he woke up 20 minutes later and untangled us.

I sigh. Getting lost in daydreams of my best friend is becoming too often an occurrence. Rain plummets against my vintage windows, the London air is chilly enough that I feel it under my thick blanket and silky pyjamas. Crawling out of bed, I gather my church clothes and head for the shower – blonde hair and green eyes occupying my thoughts.

***


SIMON

Baz’s greenhouse is my serendipity.

I told Penny about it yesterday; she thinks I’m obsessed with it. I feel like that’s kind of harsh, but it’s better than her previous assessment that I’m obsessed with Baz in general.  I’d already mentioned vaguely that we’d studied there, but I indulged her as she dried me yesterday. Seriously – Penny uses her hairdryer on my whole body.

Baz’s Greenhouse is quite possibly my favorite setting. The most tranquil spectacle I’ve ever visited in my life. I hope he appreciates it. I never thought I’d find a safe haven in the home of my enemy, but there are really pretty butterflies there.

Penny didn’t believe me at first when I told her that Baz and I played with butterflies, and then she did believe me but was concerned, and now she just wants to see the Greenhouse.  

Being surrounded by the flora feels almost alien. When I’m here, my problems feel so small. I feel like I’m in an alternate universe. I feel happy and comfortable and …not judged. I don’t need to put up a front for anyone.

And the surprising part is, I’m not in here alone like I was in my study corner at Starbucks – my previous favorite place. It's not the solitude that brings me peace like it is for Penny.  Having Baz here with me doesn’t affect the ambiance. I like the Baz he is when we’re here, alone, hanging out in his Greenhouse. It’s like…there’s a weight off his shoulders too. He’s not trying to be anyone or impress anyone either.

Within these walls, we can just be us.

And I like this us.

But then before you know it…it’s Monday again.

And Baz is someone else’s boyfriend by 8 am.

And I don’t see that Baz – Greenhouse Baz – my Baz, for five more days.

***


Monday, November 23rd

NIALL

Matthew asking Baz out appears to have started some type of queer frenzy which would be hilarious if it wasn’t mildly terrifying – and I say this as a queer person.

Dev specifically articulated the rules hoping that some smartass bloke would read between the lines, find the loophole and allow Baz his first boyfriend without him actually needing to come-out as yet. Clearly, Dev fucked it up.

We hadn’t previously realized that one guy successfully asking Baz Pitch out made every other male in the Watford Senior class realize that they too have a chance to date Baz Pitch if they desire it. And they do, apparently.

At this point, anyone is fair game as long as their a Senior, which is a problem. The dare was already overwhelming, but this week…things are mildly out of control.

The rules dictate that Baz must date the first person to ask him out after first bell on Monday morning. This lead to the cheer squad coming to practice to catch him as soon as first bell rang, even before first period. Last week that progressed to Matthew asking Baz out during first bell, in the changeroom.

And this week it led to three guys trying to ask Baz out all at the same time during first bell while semi-nude in the changeroom, scaring Baz, and starting a fight.

Baz missed practice this morning to sit in the principals' office as he tried to explain the circumstances of the fight – or so Dev tells me (I don’t attend non-compulsory practice, cricket practice starts unnecessarily early). Jackson has a busted lip, Jarred has a bleeding (and possibly broken) nose, and Ethan – who everyone previously thought was straight – has a black eye. Baz looks like a deer in headlights (he’s usually confident and unaffected, but three hot and semi-nude guys are apparently his undoing). We might all get suspended if the Mage doesn’t take to this dare too well.

***


AGATHA

I didn’t want to have to do this, but, “Who’s Basil dating this week?” I sweetly ask Simon. Penny and Simon are sitting across from me eating their matching lunches (no one ever offers to pack a matching lunch for me). It would probably be more pleasant to ask Penelope. Still, from the two of them, it’s obvious who has a greater likeliness of knowing. I try to make it sound conversational in hopes they don’t realise that I actually want to know. They’d assume it’s because I want to date Baz – I don’t even know if I want to date Baz or if I just feel like I should want to date Baz – they don’t know that I need to find out because I’m running a secret ‘Date me, Baz Pitch!’ page on Facebook.

It’s very popular. I want to be a publicist, this just felt like a good power move. Everyone is looking for something to spice up their college CV’s, and they overlook me. Everyone also follows this page. No one knows it’s mine.

If only they know.

Streams of comments have been coming through for the last hour. I usually update the list by first period, and now it’s lunch!

“three guys asked Baz out in the changeroom, literally during the first bell,” Simon all but growls, “I don’t know who he ended up saying yes to because it ended up in a brawl and all four of them got sent to Principle Mage.”

“I heard from Lily,” Penelope cuts in (I swear they’re like Thing 1 and Thing 2. I guess that makes me the Cat in the Hat.) “that the cheer squad showed up at practice to ask Baz out again, as they do, but he wasn’t there,”

“principles office,” Simon reiterates around a bite of his roti roll.

“so no one knows who he’s dating?”

“check that Facebook page,” Penny tells me, “it always updates before any of us know,”

I’m flattered, Penelope, I truly am – you are however of no help to me.

***


BAZ

So here’s the thing that I think a lot of people missed.

The story going around the school is that three guys asked me out at once, got into a fight over me, and then we all went to the principles office. This is not entirely accurate.

No one asked me out. Jackson was in the shower talking to his friend (who I don’t know because they’re lacrosse players – I only know Jackson on account of his astounding hotness) about how he intends to ‘pull a Matthew’ on me. Ethan proceeded to call dibs on me. Jarred was literally just walking towards me, looking kind of nervous while all this was happening. Someone yelled out that while Ethan and Jackson are arguing, Jarred is going to trap me. Ethan shoved Jarred to stop him and then it all just got out of hand, fists were thrown and then our respective coaches threw us all out. 

But no one actually asked me out. No one bothered asking me out afterwards because news travelled around the school that three guys already asked me out and everyone's waiting to see who I say yes to – who asked first.

But no one asked at all!

What a confusing way to lose a bet.

The boys meet me at the cafeteria at break, and they’re awaiting instruction. They’d like to know where we’re eating this week.

I sigh. “none of them actually reached the point of asking me out,”

Realization dawns on Dev, “oh yes! They just started playing whack-a-mole at each other and didn’t give each other a chance!” Dev looks astonished. It is pretty ridiculous.

“And then no one else bothered because they’d all heard what happened and assumed they’d missed their chance,” I explain while sipping my chocolate milk. I lead the lads outside. Everyone's watching us, trying to figure out who I’m dating by the table I sit at. I can’t deal with the attention right now. I missed practice, so I have too much pent up energy.

"How did it go with the Mage? I don't really know if the dare breaks any school rules or not but I can't imagine it's welcome," Niall frowns at me. 

I smirk, "He never found out about the dare," 

Dev raises an eyebrow at me. At times like this, I remember that we're family. "How in hell did you explain that situation?" 

I shrug, feigning nonchalance, "Well, I managed to put some clothes on while the three of them were going at it. Jackson especially was wrapped in a towel - he was still in the shower! Anyway, as the only clothed candidate, the Mage settled for addressing me only and he asked me to explain," I smirk, "I just told him that Jackson, Jarred and Ethan were fighting over me. I didn't mention the dare at all, none of them - bless them - said anything about it. They didn't seem particularly upset with my summary, I think they caught on. The Mage can't really reprimand any of us for anything without sounding like a raging homophobe, they just got detention for fighting and then he kicked us out to get dressed and head to class,"

"You fucking legend," Dev grabs me by the back of the neck and shakes me. 

Niall smiles, "next course of action, what do we do about your date for the week?"

“you’re going to lose if no one asks you,” Dev looks genuinely concerned as if I wouldn’t be losing the bet to him.

It’s weird. He’s been one of the (two) most supportive people through this bet, and it’s literally against him. I don’t think he cares about winning. I think he feels bad about the position he put me in and he’s just trying to make it as pleasant an experience as he can.

I shrug, “it’s been only three weeks, but I am damn exhausted. I could use a break. I’ll just ask one of our friends to Prom.”

“Lily?”

“she’s got a boyfriend I think,”

“you should ask Bunce,”

“that’s not a bad idea,”

Niall cuts off my and Dev’s conversation with a groan, “you are not losing this bet on a miscommunication, Dev will never shut up about his mighty win.”

“This is true,” Dev nods thoughtfully “, but it’s not my fault no one asked Baz out, I played fair.”

“but no one knows Baz is still available, we all know you’ll get asked out if you explain,”

“maybe he can start a whole riot in the cafeteria,” Dev suggests,

“or maybe I’ll end up dating another person I can’t stand for a week, the only person I actually enjoyed spending time with this week was Lily, and that’s because she’s a friend and we weren’t serious about it, it was like taking a week off,”

“so take another week off then, anything to keep this guy from winning,” Niall smirks, cutting a sideways glance at Dev who is rolling his eyes but smirks right back.

“I don’t have any more friends willing to date me for fun, and I can’t exactly ask them to, I don’t think that’s allowed, it has to be voluntary,”

Niall sighs dramatically, “Date me Baz Pitch,” he says in a completely monotone, disinterested voice. I’m still shocked, though.

“no,” I say incredulously.

“You say no, you lose the bet,” Dev reminds me, a wide grin covering his face.

I roll my eyes, “he’s not serious, Dev.”

“oh! So Matthew can get a yes, but I get a no? am I not good enough for you Bazzy? Is it my height? Is it my subpar cricket skills?”

I roll my eyes more. “I’m not dating you, Niall, it’s weird!”

Niall just laughs, “just do it, you numpty. It will be a week off for all of us. You’re eating with me at lunch and giving me lifts home anyway. No difference,”

I think about it. He’s got a point. I cut Dev a look…he’s the reason I’m on the fence. He winks at me. He knows there’s nothing to worry about with Niall.

I roll my eyes, “fine,” I whine. “like old times. Just the three of us against the world, it’s been a while.”

Dev throws an arm around each of us, and we stride back to our old table and catch up about our day’s. I tell them about Simon’s sessions. Dev tells us about family day yesterday. Niall tells us more about France and complains about the university not getting back to him.

And for the first time in a long time, I think this might be a good week.

 

AGATHA 

 

 

Date me, Baz Pitch!

Week Four: Niall Demaury

Chapter Text

Friday, November 27th


The University of Burgundy is pleased to grant Niall Demaury a provisional acceptance and bursary in BA English and Literature, pending final results.


 

NIALL

I’m shocked. I’m in shock.

 

Minions

 Post-game dinner tonight?

My treat

Got news.

(05:24)

(05:54) Baz: Post-break-up dinner?

Harsh.

(05:54)

Baz and I are still technically dating which is in no way different from the last decade of friendship except that we make shitty jokes about being boyfriends.

 

(05:55) Dev: I won’t say no to your treat

(05:55) Dev: Good news?

Wait and see.

(06:00)

(06:05) Baz: Sounds good

(06:06) Baz: Am I fetching anyone today?

 

(06:08) Dev: ME.

You don’t really have a choice but to fetch me, lover.

(06:10)

I received the email from one of the – many – universities that I applied to in France. Really, I just want to go to France, any of the universities would do, I didn’t even have a preference.

It’s always been my dream to go to France. We have family on my father’s side there. My surname originated there. And yet I, myself, have never visited the country.

It’s hard to describe really, I’ve just always yearned for it. Travel lust, but for France in specific. It’s… irrational, but I almost feel like it’s just something I need to do in my life. Like that’s when I’ll find myself. Where I’ll find myself. When I’ll feel content.

I don’t even know how I feel right now. When you wish for something so hard and then you actually get it…how are you supposed to feel?

Elated?

Happy?

Excited?

…Terrified?

Right now, I feel…numb. Probably in a good way, but numb. Like I’m not certain if this is real and if I should allow myself to feel it. What if it’s taken away, now, when I’m so close? Could I handle that?

It feels fragile like if I do the wrong thing or tell the wrong person it might be taken away from me. And not getting something this important to you is manageable but getting and then losing it… is less endurable.  

I haven’t even told anyone. I haven’t spoken a word since I got up. I saw the email and texted the boys.

I saw my mum and kissed her cheek. I should tell her first, but she’ll be so excited, and she’ll start calling all our family – in France and not – and it will just become real immediately.

I think I just need to be quietly happy a little while longer.

Baz shows up for me as I’m shoveling cornflakes into my mouth. Not for the first time, I take my yellow cereal bowl with me to the front seat of the Porsche (Baz knows the drill by now, he doesn’t

even bat an eye).

He’s picked me up before Dev, even though Dev’s house is between ours, which either means that Dev

wasn’t ready (probable) or Baz thinks I have gossip for him that Dev can’t hear as yet (most likely).

Baz greets me and we pull into the road and we’re practically cruising.

“Is there a reason we’re driving on 10?”

“I assumed you’d want some time to share this news with me before Dev gets here, and it’s either this or we drive around the block five times,”

“Oh? And what makes you think you’re getting the news before Dev?”

Baz gives me a side-eye, “Don’t I always?”

I scoff, “When it’s about Dev, sure, but I’m afraid this time you’re going to have to wait for tonight, when I tell both of you, like a mere peasant,” I smirk at him.

He laughs but he speeds up to a normal velocity, “okay so if it’s not about Dev then I think I know what this is about,” and his smile only grows in excitement.

“do you now?”

Baz casts me his Cheshire-cat-smile – teeth and all – “ Yep, but I won’t say anything, I’ll allow you your grand announcement later on but we’re getting wine drunk later,”

The only classy way to get drunk, according to Baz. He’s not wrong.

We pull into Dev’s driveway a minute later and he jumps over the back door into the back seat (the convertible is down today since we have decent weather – a very rare thing because it’s almost always raining in England and when it’s not, Baz hates the Sun. He’s particularly partial to cloudy-yet-dry days, that doesn’t mess up his hair or burn him. Baz is very high maintenance. Regardless, it’s cloudy today.)

“Did you get it? Are you in?” Dev frantically gets out while shaking my shoulders from the back seat as I desperately try to contain my cereal.

“If one milk drop gets anywhere on this car – Dev you are cleaning this entire vehicle”

Dev differs to grabbing a handful of my hair and tugging, “Did you get in Nemo??”

“Did I get in – aah – where??”

“Oh don’t play coy with me, Niall boy, did you hear back from any Universities or not? That’s what this news is about, yeah?? I swear if you’re building up the anticipation to tell me you’ve taken Matthew back - ”

Baz cuts Dev off when he bursts out laughing – a fair reaction considering how ludicrous Dev’s insinuation is,

“There there,” I laugh, “Matthew’s days are over,”

“And technically we are still dating so I will be deeply offended if you cheat on me with Matthew,” Baz exaggerates a grimace.

“So then it must be about France tell me,” Dev is pulling at my hair with a lot more force now and it’s mildly erotic.

I glance at Baz, “I see he’s taking a very different approach from you,”

“and what approach may that be?” Dev asks from the backseat.

 Baz glances at him in the rearview mirror, “Not bombarding Niall with questions – even if we suspect what the news is about, letting him make the announcement on his own, having patience, that sort of thing, y’know?”

Dev apparently did not know. “Oh fuck that,” he exclaims, “I need to know if you’re leaving us, Nemo,” he stresses while shaking my shoulders again.

I still. Instantly, my mood deadens. It’s not like I never realized that if I did move to France I’d be leaving Dev behind (Baz too, I’ll miss him like a part of me – but we’ll keep in touch and survive it. It’s different with Dev, what with me being in love with him and everything). Moving to France had just always been a pipedream. I never reached the point of really considering the implications of the decision, what I’ll leave behind because I never really imagined I’d leave. Never really imagined I’d be able to.

Dev picks up on my change of mood. He leans forward until he’s leaning fully against the front seat, leans over, and wraps his arms around me as best he can. He hugs me against him. his arms only wrapped around my shoulders since the seat is between us, but he holds me firmly. No one says anything, even Baz is quiet. I tuck my head under his chin and lean back, letting him hold me together, wondering if this could ever possibly mean the same thing to him as it means to me.

We pull up at the school a few minutes later. No ones said a word yet, Dev is still holding me close. We’re at the general parking lot today the boys don’t have morning practise on game day. I do (my game day is tomorrow) but I don’t attend non-com practice.

A few meters away I spot Matthew at his car, he’s watching us intently. We’re probably a confusing sight; I’m dating Baz and canoodling with Dev, but the situation is complicated enough for us to follow so we never bothered explaining it to anyone else. Half the school thinks I’ve been harbouring secret feelings for my best friend all this time – which is true, but they’ve got the wrong friend in mind.

Baz sighs and pries Dev off me, “okay, listen. We’re not letting anything ruin this accomplishment fir you Niall – we’ll think about the finer details later on but for today, we are going to dinner and you are sharing your big news with us over champagne,”

“you said wine,”

“And we’re not going to ruin this news for you by focusing on the empty half of the glass, Alright?” he looks between Dev and me, we nod.

It’s the beginning of break when I’m pulled into a janitors closet on my way to the cafeteria. Someone grips my wrist pulls me into the dark room and pins me against the wall. The door closes behind me and it’s dark enough that I can only vaguely recognize the person holding me down. And even then, it’s only because we’ve been in this position enough times that it’s familiar.

“Matthew?”

He doesn’t respond, but his hands release my wrists and settle on my hips, pushing me against the wall. I can’t blame him for thinking this is okay – we’ve done this a lot, stealing a few minutes, enough to get each other hot and bothered but short enough that we’re back before anyone realizes we’ve been missing.

He’s cautious, though. His hands are on me but he doesn’t try to kiss me. He leans his forehead against mine instead. I don’t push him away – I feel bad for him, how could I not? We messed around for weeks and he fell and I didn’t – and if my heart hadn’t already been taken I probably would have too. He was falling and I didn’t catch him. I’ll never not feel guilty for inadvertently playing with his feelings. Leading him on. He was ready to make me his boyfriend and then I left him.

“what’s wrong, Matty?”

Something must be bothering him if he pulled me in here. He didn’t bring me here for a makeout session.

“Is it Basilton?”

“is what Baz?”

He’s still leaning his forehead against mine. leaning down slightly; he’s taller than I am. He’s holding my hips tight – like I might run away.

I might.

“you left…because you love someone else. It’s Baz, isn’t it?”

I sigh. “I told you…I can’t tell you, at least not before I tell him,”

His shoulders hunch in defeat. He leans his forehead against my shoulder. “okay.”

“okay?”

“Okay.”

“did you pull me in here just to ask me if I’m in love with Baz?”

His arms wrap around my waist. He doesn’t try anything more, but he holds me against him. An embrace.

“no,” he says softly.

I wait a minute but he doesn’t offer more. “then?”

“I don’t know why I pulled you in here. I just saw you…and I miss you.”

I close my eyes. This is what I didn’t want. I bring my hands to his hair – he has beautiful blonde hair, it’s shades paler than my own golden locks, it’s platinum in some lighting.

“You deserve better than me, Matty,” I mumble quietly. The buzz of students outside the door is loud and we’ve been disturbed twice already by students trying to get in here (to make out, probably – we jammed the door with a mop). Still, the aura surrounding us feels delicate. The boy in front of me – fragile. “You deserve someone who can put you first. I adore you, I always did – still do, but I’m not that person.”

“You don’t know how much I wish I could be that person,” I add after a minute. “How much easier it would be if I could be that person for you, easier for both of us if I could just …not have the feelings I’m feeling.”

“I know the feeling,” Matthew feebly murmurs into my shoulder.

We’re quiet for a few more minutes until he speaks again. “I wouldn’t have done it if I’d known,” he says quietly. Cautiously. Guiltily.

“hmm?”

“I wouldn’t have asked Baz out if I’d known that you loved him,”

I still.

“It is him, isn’t it? I thought it was Dev at first when you called him to get you from the restaurant – but since you asked Baz out… it’s him isn’t it?”

“I just asked Baz out so he wouldn’t lose the bet, why did you ask Baz out?” I can’t help the bitterness in my voice. I wasn’t jealous. I wasn’t even mad – not for myself. I can hardly blame him, he didn’t know Baz is actually gay. But that doesn’t change the fact that he sparked doubt about Baz’s sexuality. It doesn’t matter that he asked Baz out on a technicality, what matters is that boys can play the game, which unavoidably makes the school wonder, is Baz actually straight?

Baz isn’t ashamed. He’s not hiding.

But he wasn’t ready to come out just yet. He wasn’t ready for the entire school to be discussing his sexuality.

Granted – Dev is to blame too, this whole dare is on him. And we all wanted a guy to catch up and allow Baz an easy way out of the closet. We did.

But it shouldn’t have been Matthew.

There should have been some … courtesy. I can't help but feel like he did it as a slap in the face to me.

“I thought you liked dev – not Baz, and I knew he wasn’t a bigot, and I just… I felt pretty shit, for a long time after you broke up with me. I just… I guess I thought that dating the most popular guy in school would make me feel better. Give me some credibility. Boost my confidence, I don’t know.”

“So it wasn’t about me then? It wasn’t about…making me jealous or proving a point or anything ?”

“It wasn’t to hurt you – if you do like Baz. I can’t deny that a part of me hoped you would be jealous, hoped that you’d change your mind. I guess that means that it was in part because of you – but not to hurt you.”

I sigh. “I never wanted to lead you on,”

“I know,” he almost sounds sincere, “you didn’t know I was falling. You didn’t know I was serious – I wasn’t at first, so I can’t blame you,”

“I really wish I could give you what you want, I – I wish I could want it.”

We don’t say anything for a few minutes longer. He just holds me. I just let him.

It almost feels like a real break up – the one we probably should have had. Back then I still thought we’d maintain some sort of friendship, eventually at least. Now it feels like I’m saying goodbye.

Saying goodbye

“Would it help you move on from me if you didn’t have to see me anymore?”

“You mean because we’re graduating in a few months?”

“no – different universities only do so much. I mean because I’m moving to France.”

Matthew lets go of me – allows some distance between us to glare at me in surprise. “you got it?”

“preliminarily, I didn’t tell anyone yet but … I thought maybe knowing I’m leaving might help. It would have been better in the long run that we didn’t work.”

“what about the boy you love?”

“if its any consolation, he doesn’t love me back, either”

He gives me an empathetic look, “does that mean you’re feeling like I feel?”

“I just hope you don’t feel the way I feel”

The buzzer goes. Have we really been here a half-hour?

We part ways and I make my way to Health class. I sit in front of Dev, behind Baz. Baz turns around so they can both glare at me.

“Where were you?” Baz starts the interrogation

“Did you even eat anything?” Dev asks from behind me

“What were you doing for the entire break?” Baz continues even though I haven’t answered his first question

“We checked the loo, the library, the cricket pitch,” Dev adds

“the janitors closet” I don’t miss the way Baz’s eyes glance at Dev for a split second before they’re back on me, ready to pounce.

“With who?” Baz demands

“Matthew,”

“You're hooking up with Actively-kicking-me-out-of-the-closet-Matthew, again?”

“I thought you wanted to stop leading him on,” Dev says. He sounds far more upset about this than he should, considering that he hates Matthew.

“I’m doing neither of those things,” I hiss at them both, “he pulled me in there at the beginning of break,  told me he missed me – all that ex stuff. I’m pretty sure we’ve parted ways indefinitely, now, I told him I’m moving to France so hopefully, that helps – ”

“you told Matthew you got accepted and you’re moving before you told me?” Dev asks incredulously. Baz’s eyes have doubled in size, but he’s otherwise quiet. Staying out of it.

I turn around to face Dev, but the hurt looks splashed across his features catch me off guard. I didn’t think he’d be this upset.

“you already knew,” I reason

“I guessed, you didn’t tell me, not yet – did you tell anyone else before you told your best friends?” his tone is condescending, a tone he never takes on me, I don’t like it. I don’t like him this upset. I don’t know why he’s this upset.   

“I didn’t even tell my mother yet, Devereaux” I eventually snap.

He looks momentarily hurt before his cynical façade flashes back, “oh what an honour for Matthew to be the first person you tell, how romantic,” his words hold a venom they never do. Dev is the funny one. The light-hearted one. The jovial one. Dev is the calm to the storm that is my mind.

I’ve never seen him so …what is he feeling? Angry, hurt, scared…why?

Before I can snap back, he gets up and leaves.

I sit there in shock, staring at his empty seat for a minute. When I turn back around, Baz is looking at me in judgement. “you need to tell him, tell him right now – especially if you’re, he deserves to know”

“I don’t want to leave knowing he hates me and doesn’t want me to come back,”

“that’s bullshit, all these excuses are. You didn’t want to tell him because you thought he was straight and you didn’t want to pressure him – fair enough. But this has gone to fair, Niall. If you were ever going to tell him, you need to tell him right now.”

I glare at him stubbornly.

He sighs.

“I need you to trust me.”

“I trust you. But this is bigger than that.”

Baz shakes his head, “nothing is bigger than that. Tell him”

I roll my eyes.

“If you don’t tell him… I will.”

I look at Baz in shock. I look at Baz like I don’t know him.

“you wouldn’t,” I say softly.

Baz looks sad, and guilty, but relentless. “I need you to trust me, Niall. I don’t want you to hate me I just need you to trust me and… if you don’t tell Dev I will.”

“I told you because I trusted you not to” I say, the anger seeping back into my voice. The anger at everyone. The anger at Matthew, for not understanding that I can’t love him, the anger at Dev for not understanding that I do. The anger at Baz for not understanding why I can’t say anything – for using my feelings as a weapon.

Of all people, I never expected this of him.

Baz’s phone beeps. He checks his notifications before looking back up at me (I’m scowling at him – I don’t think I’ve ever scowled at Baz before).

“Dev is going home,” Baz reads off his phone – that immediately ends the strike I felt building up against him.

“there’s three lessons left – he has a game later!”

“he’s definitely bunking class… not sure if he’s playing the game, we may need to sub,”

“Do you even have a sub”

Baz gives me an incredulous look, “Do you even know anything about sport – you have to have a sub,”

“I have never seen you sub goalies,”

“I’ve never had to sub goalies, Dev is the best,”

I frown to myself, “yeah, he is,”

The lesson goes slow. I don’t hear a single thing that’s said and I’m pretty sure Baz doesn’t either. But at the end of the class, while I’m packing my bags, he turns to me.

“I’m bunking last period, I’ll make sure he’s okay, so don’t worry about that. But… you need to tell him by this weekend. Or I’m telling him.” he gets up and walks out, not waiting for my protest.

***


DEV

I’m in my boxers upside down on my bed, scratching Satan’s head when I hear the doorbell. The point of being semi-nude is to prevent myself from getting dressed up, heading back to school and apologising to Niall (I’m very lazy about dressing up because when I do dress up, I’m going to dress well. It’s Gucci or boxer shorts.)

A peep from my bedroom window awards me a view of the Baz’s Porsche outside. He should be at last period, right now. I hope he didn’t bring Niall.

Satan follows me – wet nose and bobbing tail – as I pad downstairs to let Baz in.

Baz takes a deep breath and opens his mouth to berate me as soon as I open the door, he lets it out when he sees me. “self-restraint?” he says instead, considering my indecent state.

I nod confirmation, turn tail and head back to my room, he follows. He’s alone.

“I thought Baz Pitch doesn’t bunk? Cool without callous and whatnot,”

“I figured you needed me.”

“You need me,” I counter, “to play later,”

Baz shrugs, “the games not important – I’ll sub if you’re not up to it, I’d prefer you though. But come on…are you…”

I flop onto my back, limbs spread out like a starfish, “I’m not okay. He’s leaving. He’s leaving and the time he spends here is being used to savour Matthew.”

“I don’t think it’s like that

“what takes half an hour in the janitors closet? We looked for him everywhere, I was worried!” my voice raises at the end, I watch the sympathy settle in Baz’s features – I hate it.

He sighs. “You need to tell him.”

I scoff, “fat chance.”

Baz looks at the ground. He looks ashamed. Why would he be ashamed. “you need to tell him or I’ll tell him. this weekend.”

I stare at him. a cruel laugh rips through me, “what the fuck Tyrannus”

“You have to tell him the truth!” he yells, “you have to tell him that you’re in love with him before he fucking leaves the country and finds some French boyfriend and you spend the rest of your life regretting never taking the chance!”

“And what if I spend the rest of my life regretting ruining my relationship with my best friend?” I shout back

“You won’t! nothing you say to him, about anything, could ruin what you to have! You need to tell him, he doesn’t know and he deserves to know!”

“I can’t” I grit between my teeth

He raises his head in the arrogant way of us Grimm’s, “well you have to. You said you’d put yourself out there when I did and I’ve been dealing with this bullshit for a whole fucking month – I’ve dated cheerleaders and friends, friends ex’s even, I’m pretty sure no one even believes I’m straight any-”

I laugh. Nothing is funny. “So this is about revenge?”

He sighs. He breathes slowly. He seems to be trying to calm himself down. “I would never do this to you out of spite, Deveraux, you should know that – you do know that. You just… you need to trust me. it’s better if he knows. You won’t lose him, you could never. But right now you’re pushing him away because you’re scared and hurting and he doesn’t understand because he doesn’t know you love him, and if you keep this up you’re going to push him all the way to fucking France – and then you will lose Niall, for good!”

Baz takes a deep breath.

“you’re benched tonight.” He tells me. I narrow my eyes at him. “your head wouldn’t be in the game anyway,” he reasons, “you need to think. You need to plan. You need to tell him by Sunday or I am telling him. I’m not threatening you, I’m giving you a heads up.”

And then Baz walks out.

Chapter Text

Friday, November 27th

BAZ

I don’t want to break my promise. The boys probably hate me for even considering it. But neither of them are taking the first step, and they’d hate me even more if I let Niall leave, knowing what I know. We all know what this move symbolises for them right now – space. Space to move on. Space to let go, to get over each other.

But they don’t need to, they just don’t know. I do.

I think if they were to find out when it’s too late… they’d hate me even more for keeping their secrets. Hopefully, I’m doing the right thing… I’m trying to put their feelings for each other above how they feel about me right now. I can be an absent friend sometimes, but…hopefully, I’m doing this right?

I may not even need to do anything more; hopefully, I’ve done enough to just…scare them into action.

However this plays out, they’ll both know that they’re loved by the end of this weekend.

I just hope that when this is all over, I’m still loved, too.

***


DEV

I’m shrugging on sweatpants and a hoodie because I’m a disappointment to myself. The point of moping around in my underwear for the last two hours was to prevent myself from running back to Niall and apologising.

But it’s starting to rain, and Baz is busy training our sub goalie, which means that Niall doesn’t have a ride home. Sure, Niall isn’t an infant; he can take the bus or get a ride home with one of the guys or walk. But as pathetic as it makes me… I like doing things for him. Taking care of him makes me happy. Even when I’m angry. And if I can help him, I’d rather he relies on me than try to arrange a lift with one of the other guys – Matthew – and he’s definitely not walking home in the rain.

Niall is fragile – he’s very small!

Okay, that’s not necessarily true, but he’s shorter than Baz and me, so. He’s small by comparison.

I idle close to the school exit – there are no parking’s available this close to the exit at this hour – so Niall can see that I’m here. He has to pass the parking on his way to the bus stop.

He’s surprised to see the Jeep but gets in without comment. He knows I’m here for him.

So yes, fine, I may be running back to him, but I am not apologising.

Neither of us says anything. Neither of us knows what to say. I haven’t acknowledged his presence beyond reversing out of the lot. We’re on the road once he finally speaks – soft and careful, the mood is fragile – “you came back.”

I don’t respond. I haven’t looked at him since he got in. I can’t – I’ll break. The few sad certainties weighing me down are enough to make me keep him close and a safe distance away, both at once.

 

France. Leaving.

Janitors closet – Matthew.

Leaving me.

Blonde hair.

Green eyes.

I’ll miss you.

You’re leaving me.

I love you.

Don’t go.

Let me love you.

I support you. You should go.

Don’t leave me.

I barely register Niall at all through the maelstrom in my mind until I hear him – sharper and more dominant than before – “Stop the car!”

Clutch. Breaks. Handbrakes – I stop. Why are we stopping?

I look at him.

We’re at the side of the road, and he’s looking at me panicked.

“What’s wrong?” I ask croakily. My voice is rough of disuse and panic – I haven’t said a word since Basil left.

“What’s wrong?” Niall repeats incredulously

“Why did we stop?” I clarify

“Did you hear a single word I said since I got into this vehicle?” his voice is raising, he’s not used to us actually fighting – neither am I – he’s angry at me for being angry at him, he doesn’t know the protocol.

“Not really, no, can I start the car now?”

That just eggs on his anger, he scowls and turns a few shades of mauve, “Fine, start your fucking car,” he unclips his seat belt and turns away from me to open his door. I lock it from my side (I can control all the locks from the driver’s seat). I’m not letting him walk – it’s raining (it’s always raining). He unlocks it again – I lock it immediately. He turns to me abruptly, “What?” he snaps.

“You’re not walking.”

“Why’d you even come back?” he sneers, “you made your feelings pretty clear when you just – fucked off.”

“I came back,” I point out.

“Why!” he demands

“because it’s raining.”

“It’s always raining, not good enough,” he unlocks his door again, I lock it again.

“because you needed a lift,”

“no.” he shakes his head.

“because you hate the bus,” I’m not screaming anymore.

“I hate you,” he sounds defeated. And fussy. I know he’s lying; we both know it. He’s fussy.

“that’s not true,” I lean over him, grip the seatbelt and drape it across him – clipping it back on. Our faces are millimetres away from each other as I lean across his seat.

“no,” he agrees, “but I’m angry at you” his eyebrows are angrily furrowed, but his lips are in a full pout. He’s trying very hard to be angry instead of sad.

It just makes me feel sadder.

“that’s fair,”

“You were a dick,”

“I’m sorry,” I guess I am apologising then.

“I already apologised to you already – you ignored me,” so that’s what he was saying while I was spiralling out of control.

“Why?” we’re leaning in a fraction closer now.

“for making you worry,” he inches an immeasurable fraction closer, our noses brush.

“you’re leaving me,” it’s barely a whisper.

“never,” he breathes the word. It’s barely audible.

I’m not sure who leans in, who initiates it … but our lips reach other, and it feels like home.

It feels like coming home.


BAZ

This goalie is very bad.


NIALL

I don’t know how this happened, and I don’t know what I expected once it had. To be kissed in the rain? To be incapable of keeping our hands off each other long enough to get in the house? To be pinned against the doors and countertops and beds and kissed senselessly?

Instead, we shared a shocked moment of silence after the kiss, neither of us knew what to say. I don’t even know who initiated it, to be honest. Dev brought his fingers up to his lips in awe. And then he started the car and took us home – his home – as I blushed in his passengers’ seat. I didn’t ask why he wasn’t taking me home, I couldn’t say goodbye to him right now.

***


BAZ

We are going to lose this game. Radlett are going to score all the goals.

After approximately 30 minutes of practising – in the bloody rain – and Charles not stopping even one of my shots, I hear a laugh from the bleachers. I turn to find Simon Snow smirking down at me, Charles apologizes again, but my attention isn’t on him. A few insults run through my mind that are perfect for this occasion, but I’ve been trying to be nice to Snow, lately. He’s been trying too.

“Shouldn’t you be at your own damn practice, Snow?” I sneer. That’s as nice as I get. That sneer is out of affection, really.

“there’s no practice just before a game, smartass. Let alone in the rain. Speaking of – are you trying to get fatigued before your game?” he raises an eyebrow at me.

I roll my eyes, “Clearly I need to train our backup goalie,” Charles is a few meters away from where Snow has approached me, I doubt he can hear us over the rain.

“Where’s Dev?”

“Even the best of us need our downtime, Snow,”

“Simon,”

“Snow.”

“ I mean he’s not terrible, give the poor guy a break. He’s not even going to make it to the game at this rate.”

I give Simon a condescending look, “He hasn’t stopped one of my shots.”

“One of your shots – you’re the best striker on this team, most keepers cant stop your shots. If anything, this is a test of your ability, not a test of his.”

“Dev can stop some of my shots,” I protest.

“Dev is as good as you are, but you’re both better than the average high school athlete.”

The idiot has a point, “are you saying there’s a chance he might actually somewhat keep our goal?”

Simon regards Charles, “I think he might not be Dev, but that doesn’t mean he’s hopeless. And you may not play as well as you do with Dev in your goal, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a fighting chance.”

Snow probably recognizes that I’m still sceptical, because he continues, “here,” he takes the ball from me, “if he can’t stop me then you’re right, and he’s a shit goalie,”

“you’re a rugby player!”

“you think aiming a kick at a goal isn’t pivotal to rugby?” he raises an eyebrow at me as he sets his goal up.

He shoots. It’s nowhere near my skill level, but it’s a passable kick. More force behind the kick than shot strategy, but I guess that’s the rugby player in him. Charles blocks the shot. Simon smirks at me despite not making the shot.

“I told you – he’s not terrible, you’re just ridiculously good. You’re hardly the benchmark of an average striker” he says it so casually like being complimented by Simon Snow won’t cause me to immediately combust.

“But can he stop a soccer player,”

“I’d bet he can if you stopped pushing him so hard and let him actually rest before the game,” his tone is condescending.

I know a challenge when I hear one, “and if he doesn’t?”

“what do you want,”

You. “do I need to decide now?”

“ ‘course not – but if he does, I get to call in my payment.”

“Okay, but wait – are we betting on me losing the game or on Charles not stopping literally any goals?”

“to level the odds – I’m betting on you winning, despite the inexperienced goalie.”

“and I’m betting that we probably won’t win with Charles in our goal.”

“throwing the game doesn’t count though – it has to be because Charles failed”

I am genuinely offended, “I would never throw a game.”

Simon smiles.  “are you sure you’re not just sentimental because you miss Dev?”

“I am.”

“thank goodness for the rain buffering the noise – you’re hardly being an encouraging captain – poor Charles.”

I hold out my hand, he shakes it.

Never before have I wanted to lose a football game.

***


DEV

The trip up the creaky wooden stairs is silent, but Niall’s taken my hand in his, so I feel at ease. I head to my walk-in closet once we reach my bedroom. Niall waits for me on my bed, rubbing Satan’s belly. Satan’s tail is wagging in delight – he’s crazy about Niall (you and me both, buddy). I toss a pair of soft, worn sweatpants at Niall’s head, followed by my old football team shirt from last year’s kit (because I’m soft for Niall in my clothes). “GRIMM 3” it reads. Niall has abs and lean muscle, but he’s shorter and slighter than me – my clothes are a size too large on him. It’s wholesome.

We still haven’t said anything following the kiss. He doesn’t seem mad about it, which is comforting, but I think that’s because we’re both very confused and I’m not entirely sure who leaned in first.

Niall takes it upon himself to crawl up my bed and under the covers. It is cuddling weather, but this is not helping my self-restraint at all. He steals my pillow – not the spare pillow he usually uses when he sleeps over – and makes himself at home. I take it for the ice-breaker it is, and crawl under the covers, after him.

I poke his side. “you took my pillow.” I’m sitting upright, leaning on my calves.

Niall looks up at me, sinfully relaxing on his back. His arms behind his head. “oh?”

“you know that’s my pillow,” I halfheartedly tug on the corner.

Niall grabs my wrist and pulls me down on top of him, leaning up to smother my lips against his once I’m close enough. I gasp in surprise, and he swallows my breath. As confused about feelings and motives as I may currently be, that’s all the confirmation I need to know he wants this too – wants me too. I lose myself in him. The kiss doesn’t last more than a few seconds, but when we pull away, he leans up to whisper in my ear. “I’ll be your pillow.”

***


SIMON

Once again, I find myself playing half a game. I have a ride to the foster house as soon as my half finishes, but I can’t keep doing this. College scouts have already begun sitting in on matches – I need to prioritize rugby right now; lord knows nothing else is going to get me a life. Matthew is earning more and more support from the boys, and I can practically taste the mutiny on my horizon – they understand my situation, and it goes unsaid, but I know they feel I shouldn’t be captain if I can’t prioritize them.

They’re not wrong.

But… rugby, being captain…it’s one of the few joys in my life. I’m not going to step down without fighting for it.

I need to talk to my foster parents.

***


NIALL

We’re being good. We’ve controlled ourselves despite a few kisses – a great effort on my part. Dev took my offer to be his pillow very seriously; he’s wrapped his arms around me, and his head is pillowed on my chest.

“Are we going to talk about it?” he asks after only a few minutes – Dev is not particularly known for his exhibition of patience.

“We have to, I think” I respond after a minute, the fingers of my right-hand carding through his curls. “I thought we’d last longer than that though,” I laugh.

He twists around to look at me, “I can’t enjoy this until I know what it is,” he admits, “I feel like you’re about to just …go home, act like this never happened,”

I reposition myself, so I’m next to him instead of under him, the hand that was lost in his hair now cups his cheek. We’re nose-to-nose. “I would never do that to you” I whisper.

He closes his eyes. Like he can’t even look at me. “you did it to Matthew…I never blamed you – you guys were just messing around, he knew that he caught feelings anyway. But I can’t…I can’t do that messing around thing. I won’t.”

“you’re not Matthew,” I coo. His eyes are still closed. “Matthew knew I didn’t feel the same way about him – I never claimed otherwise. But he asked me to be his boyfriend anyway, in case that could change over time.” His eyebrows furrow, he doesn’t like this story. “I knew I could never fall for Matthew. Do you know why?”

He doesn’t respond, but he opens his eyes to gaze in mine.

“Because I’ve loved you all along” It’s impossible to miss the raise of his eyebrows in surprise. The gasp. The ‘o’ shape his mouth forms. The astonishment.

The hope.

Hope?

That’s when the panic starts to set in. I just told Dev I loved him. “this is a lot to hit you with at once,” I say, panicked. “It’s not fair – I shouldn’t have told you all that!” I turn back on my back again, away from him. I stare at the ceiling. It’s vintage, and it still has all the glow-in-the-dark stars he, Baz and I put up there when we were kids. The stupid stars remind me of how big a part Dev is in my life. “I mean – I don’t even know why you kissed me – were you about to tell me it was a mistake and you don’t want to hook up anymore?? I understand – you’re too important to me to risk ruining things over a friends-with-benefits situa –”

Dev cuts off my rambling by pinning me against the bed and kissing me senseless – as previously predicted. This kiss doesn’t last too long either, I suspect it was primarily to shut me up.

“you love me?” he asks.

I want to defend myself. I want to take it back – reject it. But he has that look in his eyes again – that look I can’t quite decipher – hope.

I sigh. I’ve come too far to half-ass it now. “I’ve loved you all along,” defeat is evident in my voice.

“Je t’aime” he whispers. French. French, for I love you.

I give him a disbelieving look. “you don’t need to tell me what you think I want to hear… it won’t ruin our friendship if you reject me. it will just crush my soul.

Dev chuckles. “you’re so stupid,” he kisses my nose. “I’ve loved you this whole time – I was just too scared to tell you,”

I sit upright in shock, he follows, blissful.

“what do you mean, this whole time,”

“I realized I had feelings for you, like, a little over a year ago maybe,”

“you never said anything!”

“I didn’t think you returned my sentiments,” he protests.

“I’ve spent my whole life loving you!” I practically yell at him.

“what?” his voice is small, and his face is shocked and confused.

I exhale. “remember when I came out,”

“years ago.”

“like a year before that,”

Dev unnecessarily throws the blanket off and grabs me by the shoulders, “what – we were kids! You came out when we were….babies!”

I give him a bland look, “I came out when we were fifteen.”

“Are you saying you started liking me at fourteen?” his tone is utterly disbelieving – he’s buying none of this.

“I started crushing on you before that – you were my first crush.” I never thought I’d get to ever tell him these things. “but it took me a long time to realize I had a crush on you. it was hard because I didn’t know I was bisexual back then. And it’s not like you were new and I just developed a crush on you – you’d been in my life for as long as I can remember. My life has always revolved around you, and baz, so it took me a long time to even…figure my feelings out. But I came out when I realized it wasn’t just a crush,”

He’s still looking at me in shock. “all those years,’

“you were worth the wait,” I whisper.

“you should have said something.”

“you were straight,” I explain, “and you probably wouldn’t have developed feelings for me if you were conscious of mine for all that time – it wouldn’t have happened naturally.”

He gives me a small smile, “yeah…I used to think I was straight until I realized I was gay for you” he smirks.

“wait… you came out to Baz first… did Baz know?”

“yeah Baz knew all along,” he says offhandedly.

I just stare at him. It takes him a moment to realize that I’m not planning on responding. That I can’t respond.

“oh don’t be mad at him,”  Dev starts, “he couldn’t tell you because I made him promise to keep it a secret – and he also didn’t want to out me,”

I cut him off, “Baz knew about me too!”

His brows furrow. It takes him a moment. He does the math. I can pinpoint the millisecond that realization dawns on him. “Baz knew! Baz knew this whole time that we felt the same way about each other!”

I nod in exasperation.

“oh, that arsehole,” he whines, “why didn’t he say anything,”

“to be fair… I did make him promise not to tell,”

“yeah but that’s because you didn’t know if I felt the same way, so, fair. But when I told him that I had feelings for you, he should have told me that you already loved me!”

I shrug, “I wish he said something sooner…but he was just keeping our secrets. And to be fair to him, he did try to talk me into telling you the truth consistently recently. Which makes sense, I guess. For the years before then he just sorts of…looked at me with pity about my feelings for you and in the last year or so he’s been trying to force me into telling you the truth – I just thought it was because it was senior year and we might all be splitting up for college,”

Dev nods in understanding, “Baz was here a few hours ago – gave me a deadline, said if I don’t tell you by Sunday then he’ll tell you. I was so angry. I thought he was being a prick to get revenge for the dare,”

I cover my face with my hands, “he told me the same thing! After you stormed out of the class – before he came to see you!” I groan.

Dev smiles softly. “he just wanted us to figure it out for ourselves…

“he didn’t want us to hear from a third party that the person we love, loves us back,” I smile at him.

Dev lays back down and turns to me. “but I’m glad he gave me the deadline, I’m glad he pushed us,”

I nod, laying back down next to him. “I’m glad I know you love me back,”

“I love you back,”

“I’ve loved you all along,” I remind Dev.

“I’ll love you always,” Dev promises me.

***

I don’t remember falling asleep or what happened after the “I love you’s” but I wake up hours later, tangled in sheets with Dev who is drooling slightly. Satan is asleep on the floor next to the bed. Dev’s hand is loosely draped around my hips. We fell asleep facing each other, exchanging endearments.

I grab my phone to check the time.

The game is on at the moment – I guess Dev is definitely not playing. I know Baz is probably fuming.

I think about his ultimatum – really it was just supposed to be a nudge in the right direction, but we weren’t playing along.

 

 

 

Minions

(18:52) *image_attachment*

I take a selfie of myself (clearly wearing Dev’s football shirt) under the covers, a sleeping Dev next to me.

 

 

 

(18:53) Thank you, Baz.

Chapter Text

Saturday, November 28th

SIMON

When you move into a new foster home, there are a few protocols they undertake to ensure the foster kid and foster parents' mutual safety and comfort. I’ve lived through the process so many times that its second nature by this point.

Firstly, there’s a scheduled weekly visit for the first few weeks when a foster kid arrives at a new house, as well as a few impromptu visits. Personally, I haven’t been visited as yet although that’s likely because of my age – the system probably assumes that I can take care of myself at this point, or at least contact social services if there are any issues. They prioritise the younger ones – I can’t begrudge them that since I’ve been one of the younger ones.

I have my first scheduled visitation in this new house this evening. It really disturbs my study time with Baz.

My social worker – Beverly – is expected at the house at 3 pm. She’s nice, albeit mildly disappointed that despite years of both our best efforts, she was never able to get me adopted.

On account of the visitation, my current foster mother – Denise – asked me to be home by 2 pm. I agreed and jogged off to the morning shift.

To be home by 2 pm means that Baz and I have hardly enough time to have lunch before we get to studying. We have no time to spare today, no time to talk or just catch up. Except for that first week, we’ve hardly kept to the one-hour agreement. We take our time nibbling on pastries and sandwiches after my shift, and then we always go to the greenhouse – we don’t even check if my previous study table is free, anymore. At the greenhouse, we study and take breaks where Baz basically explains the botany to me, and we play with butterflies and lizards. Baz shy’s away from the more unappealing bugs – I pretend not to notice, but I’m pretty sure he’d faint if he saw a roach. The point is that we’re rarely done by 2, these days, which means that I’ll need to tell him that I have a commitment to attend to.

My mind drifts between explanations I could give Baz for why I need to be done early today. I don’t want this to change our weekly schedule. I don’t want him to rush through tomorrow’s study session as well, thinking that I’m making an excuse to just… not unnecessarily hang out with him.

Maybe I should just tell him the truth? I try to avoid using the Foster-Kid-Card, ever, but surely telling him the truth will help him understand that this is a one-time thing.

I decide to put this all in my ‘try not to think about’ box, while I mix the wet ingredients for chocolate cupcakes.

My shift gets off at twelve; I’ll decide then what I’m going to tell Baz.

It’s before eleven when he struts in – demanding attention, even from the kitchen, where I am – with his minions flanking him. They settle in a corner booth on the lower level.

Why had it never previously occurred to me that Baz comes to Starbucks for reasons other than tutoring me and free coffee? It shouldn’t surprise me that he’s here with his friends, not looking for me, flipping through our little menu and deciding what to order.

He didn’t even text me that he was coming and wants to order for free. Not that he needs to order for free, but still. Does he even remember that I work here? That I’m expecting him to meet me here in an hour?

Or is that irrelevant and he’s just here with his friends?

***


DEV

It’s not uncommon for me to be woken up on a Saturday morning by Niall being either obnoxious or clingy. It is less common to be woken up on a Saturday morning with Niall curled around me under my covers, while I am in little spoon position.

We woke up late last night, wrapped up in each other. Thankfully Niall’s presence at my house is expected, so my parents didn’t bat an eye when I told them that I was driving Niall home at 10 pm.

However, Niall’s mother gave us both a chewing out for Niall missing curfew and returning home ‘in the dead of night without texting or calling’. We both apologised. Niall responded by informing his mother that I’m his boyfriend now, which served as informing me as well that I am now Niall’s boyfriend.

Not that I was mad, of course. Just unexpected. The sight of Niall in his living room, bundled up in my baggy clothes – my soccer shirt with my surname and number on the back – apologising to Mrs Demaury for missing curfew and telling her that I’m his boyfriend.

I never thought I’d get this lucky.

As an afterthought, Niall also informed his mother that he’d gotten accepted to university in France. She kissed and congratulated him – and then me, although I don’t know why – and then proceeded to cry.

Niall’s parents aren’t on the best of terms with each other, so I’m uncertain how she feels about her son moving to another country to explore his roots with his fathers family, but…no one could miss the light in Niall’s eyes when he talked about moving to France.

We couldn’t not support him. This is too big. He’ll never fully be the person he’s supposed to be if he doesn’t do this for himself. So we all cried for another hour. We drank tea, and she told Niall how proud she is of him, and she told me how there’s no one she’s ever trusted with Niall as much as she did Baz and me, and that she’s beyond happy that I’m his boyfriend. That acceptance meant the most. I’m not even out to my own parents, and Mrs Demaury has always felt like an aunt to me. her acceptance of this relationship made me even happier than I was the previous hour when I found out that I was in the relationship.

Basically, yesterday was an emotionally turbulent day. When Niall informed us that he’s leaving for France, I felt my heart rip out. When I found out about his encounter with Matthew, I felt like he tore the disembodied heart to shreds. When he kissed me, I felt like he was putting the pieces back together. When he loved me, I felt like he was trying to stitch all the broken pieces of me back into a whole human. When I saw him in my clothes, and he told his mum about me and called me his boyfriend… I felt alive for the first time in a long time.

So, basically, last night’s sleep was incredibly earned, and so if this idiot had to attempt waking me up in any of his usual ways, I would have kicked him off the bed. I almost did.

While arguing about which one of us is the little spoon by nature, we decide that we should tell Baz about us. It’s not like he doesn’t know – this probably wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t been pushing us. But after everything we’ve both put him through these past few years, and all the effort he’s put in to nudge us in the direction of making the first move without encroaching on our personal space… he deserves better than a post-makeout selfie.

Snow has Baz booked this afternoon, so Niall and I waddle out of bed and text Baz to meet us at Starbucks. I head to the shower to freshen up while Niall curls up under my covers, waiting for me.

When I walk out of the en suite, a cloud of foggy mist behind me, I find Niall shirtless at my dresser. He’s in the process of shrugging into one of my hoodies – his own t-shirt and jacket discarded in crumpled forms on the bed.

“problem?” he challenges when he catches me watching him with interest.

I shake my head. “I’m keeping this, though,” I reply as I take the t-shirt he came here in, fold it, and settle it into my pyjama shelf.

I hand him his leather jacket to wear over my hoodie and pin him against the wardrobe once he’s dressed.

“I’m keeping your football shirt,” he informs me as I nibble on his earlobe. His fingers creep up the back of my neck and find my hair – he pulls.

“I was hoping you would. I didn’t hand it to you by coincidence yesterday.” My hands find his ass as I lick a strip down the side of his neck. “ It was a calculated move – getting you to wear my name, my number …”

Niall whines.

It’s the most gorgeous sound I’ve ever witnessed.

We’ve ended up back on my bed – Niall pinned against the mattress by my body, his hands held down above his head and his neck exposed for me to mark – when we hear a car hoot outside. We’d ignore it, except we both know the Porsche’s horn by now.

Niall groans under me. “did you tell Baz to fetch us?”

“no, I think he’s just obsessed with transporting us places,”

“I think he’s just obsessed with us in general.” Niall is pouting, but we neaten up and head downstairs to see our cockblocking best friend anyway.

It’s weird to think that he’s known about both our feelings all this time. A part of me wants to be mad at me for not telling us. Another part of me understands that our own requests of him are what prevented him from doing just that. He was merely protecting us – from our own feelings and from each other. We backed him into a corner.

I can’t be mad at him for never telling me about Niall when he kept trying to convince me to come clean – and come out – to Niall (and I’d bet he gave Niall the same lectures about coming out to me). I can’t be mad at him for not outing us to each other when I was mad at him yesterday for forcing me to tell Niall and giving me an ultimatum. I can only look at it from the angle where he was trying to be a good friend to us both, and appreciate him for it.

When I get outside and lock up behind me, Baz is outside his car, leaning on the door – blatantly judging us.


BAZ

What will I do with all this free time that I now have on my hands, now that I don’t need to spend several daily hours trying to convince my two best friends that they’re in love with each other.

Maybe I should take an extra class.

“So? Who made the first move? – because that person gets shotgun.” I’ve earned the right to be a dick about this.

“I mean, personally I’d prefer if Niall and I both sit in the backseat,” Dev instigates.

“there shall be no canoodling in my car!”

canoodling?” Niall finds this hilarious, but Niall finds half of mine and Dev’s interactions borderline hilarious. He thinks we’re too alike for our own good – I don’t see it, beyond our sense of style.

“yes, canoodling.”

“We have no idea who made the first move,” Niall explains, “I think we just both leaned in at the same time and hoped for the best,”

DEV

“you kissed?” Baz is more excited by this than I expected, although whether its because he’s happy for us or just happy that he doesn’t need to deal with this anymore, I’m not sure.

“yes – we only actually got to the feelings part after we made out and made it to the bed,” I smirk at him.

“ew – okay too much information.”

Niall just laughs as he settles into the front seat. He doesn’t correct my insinuation – he’s perfect, you see?

“Thanks for that Bazzy, by the way – I see now why you kept trying to make me talk to Dev about my feelings,” he’s using the finger quotes and everything, “ – even though he was straight,” Niall tosses an accusatory glance over his shoulder at me.

“I thought I was straight!” I protest

“No one is really straight,” Baz says

Niall’s eyebrows furrow, “that’s not true – surely some people are straight,”

Baz shrugs, “well, no one in this car is straight, at least,”

Niall and I nod in confirmation.

“anyway, I also see why you kept telling me to come out to Niall, like, every five minutes,” I say

Baz nods. “Apparently, the concept of ‘just trust me and take my advice’, means nothing to you idiots and the only language you understand is forceful ultimatums, so,”

“oh yes, about that; sorry about all the names I called you in my head whilst receiving said ultimatum” I reply

Niall nods passionately, “ditto.”

Baz rolls his eyes. “whatever – so, this is a legit thing then?”

“we’re boyfriends, yes,”

Baz smiles. He’s genuinely happy for us, I think. “who asked who?”

Niall freezes.

I smirk. “Niall informed his mother – and me – that I am his boyfriend.”

Niall turns in his seat to face me, stricken, “I’m sorry – shit – I thought we just …agreed that we were together, I should have asked!”

I lean forward in my seat to kiss his forehead.

“Canoodling!” Baz reprimands

“we’re boyfriends,” I confirm with Niall. “I don’t care that you didn’t ask. You told your mother. That was the sweetest thing.”

Niall smiles contently.

Baz gives me a look in the rearview mirror. Are you going to tell your parents???

I don’t know my expression hopefully says back.

Baz’s eyes cut to Niall and then back to mine, But Niall!!

I know!!

Baz’s eyes turn sympathetic. Do you want me to help you tell them?

I sigh. I don’t know.

We’re off to Starbucks.

***


SIMON

I shouldn’t be taking peoples orders – I’m not actually a waiter, but I dust my flour-covered hands on my apron, grab April’s notepad and head to Baz’s table to take their order. No one else will know not to charge Baz for his coffee – this is just me fulfilling my side of the agreement.

As I drift closer, I realize that both of Niall’s legs are draped over one of Dev’s knees – hanging between Dev’s legs. Dev is facing Baz – who is sitting on the opposite side of the booth from both of them – in conversation, as Niall scrolls through something on his phone. It’s casual and intimate…and not the most platonic.

Is this new or is this one of those social cues that have always been there and I’m just now noticing?

Three heads look up at me as I approach them, it’s Baz who speaks.

“I didn’t think you ever left the kitchen, Snow,” Baz’s voice doesn’t hold judgement these days – just teasing.

“I could send someone else, although that means you don’t get your fancy drink that only I know how to make,” I smirk at him.

Baz playfully narrows his eyes at me. “Touche, Snow. These lovely gentlemen,” Baz gestures vaguely in Dev and Niall’s direction, “are treating me to breakfast to say thanks for being the amazing friend that I am,”

I see what Baz is doing – he’s hinting at me not to mention that he eats for free here. He’s making his friends treat him. It’s not like money is a particular issue for any of them, so I assume he’s just fucking with them – I play along.

I take their orders; Dev order’s a chai latte with and a stack of pancakes. Niall orders a black coffee – he says he’s not hungry, to which Baz informs me that Niall will simply steal Dev’s food. This is apparently a thing. Dev doesn’t seem bothered by it, I smile as I write down their order.

I turn on my heel to head off towards the kitchen, Baz interrupts me.

“don’t I get to order?” he calls after me.

“you give me enough orders already,” I call over my shoulder, “you’ll take what I give you – and you’ll like it.”

BAZ

“you’ll take what I give you, and you’ll like it,” Simon smirks at me over his shoulder.

I flush. He smirks. I look up, shyly. Dev and Niall are both smirking at me. I roll my eyes.

“So what’s this fancy drink that apparently no one but Snow can make?” Niall asks me once Simon is out of earshot.

I sigh. I knew this was bound to happen sooner or later. “I guess it’s not technically on the menu.”

“technically?” Dev’s tone is condescending.

“Okay – it’s not on the menu at all.”

Niall is smiling cheekily, “Explain.”

I groan to express my displeasure at telling them any of this. “Snow figured out that I just – always order the sweetest drink on the menu so he …made up a whole new concoction – it’s better than any on-menu drink, I swear! But I guess since he made it up, it’s not a legit drink so… no one gets it but me. And only he knows the recipe.”

Niall and Dev stare at me in silence for a few moments.

Dev breaks the silence first. “Snow made a drink for you?” I nod. “that’s…”

“…romantic,” Niall completes.

“ you guys can not turn into one of those couples who finish each other's sentences,”

“we’ve been doing that since before we even got together,” Dev protests.

“it’s incredibly irritating,”

Niall objects to this, “it is not as annoying as the silent conversations you two idiots have. I don’t know how that’s even possible!”

“I am just brilliant at communication, you see,” Dev interjects

“Says the guy who couldn’t tell the guy he’s in love with – who just happens to also be his best friend – that he has feelings for him, or that he’s bisexual, or figure out that those feelings were requited,” I drone on.

Dev is showing me the finger when Simon returns to our table with a tray of our orders. He sets the plate of pancakes between Dev and Niall with two forks, distributes our drinks (he does get me the Pumpkin Mocha) and lastly, presents me with a thick slice of oreo cake.

My diet may be my Achilles heel, but at least Simon seems to support it.

***


SIMON

It’s nearly 12 when I’m faced with an unforeseen dilemma. I sneak into the toilet to call my life-guru.

“Hey Si, what’s up?” Penny’s voice rings through the line. The background interference is enough to tell me that her parents are awake, at home, and all over the place. I love Penny’s house. It’s always chaotic and busy and interesting – but not like the orphanages I grew up in. It may not always be the neatest – but it’s not just a house, it’s a home.

Something Mrs Bunce once said has always stayed with me, has always hit home, personally.

Home’s are for self-expression, not first-impressions. It’s one of those mantra’s I could never fully relate to, having never had a home, but I could never forget about either.

“Hey Pen, I’m alright. Tired; my shift just ended. How are you?”

“I’m okay. I’m teaching Anush how to make tea.” She sounds rather proud of herself.

“Isn’t Anush a little…young, to be handling boiling water?”

“You’re never too young to learn how to make tea, Simon! I was seven when I learned!”

I chuckle to myself. Penny is brilliant, which also means that she’s hardly the benchmark for age-appropriate development.

I play along. This is why she keeps me around. “He’s already a year behind, then.”

“Exactly!” I’m pretty sure she’s serious. “Anyway Si, what’s up? Shouldn’t you be studying with Baz right now?”

“that’s why I called, actually –”

I can hear the level of exasperation in her sigh. “what did Pitch do now?”

“Nothing! – or well, I’m sure he did something, but nothing I know about at least – anyway, he’s here with Dev and Niall. They’ve been here for the last hour or so, and now its time for our study session and I don’t know what to do! Do I go over there and …tell him my shift is done? – but they might take that as me invading their social time when Baz is already helping me as a favour. But if I just don’t go at all, and Baz knows I know he’s here, he might just…wait for me?” I groan. “what’s the protocol here, Penny?”

“why not just ask him?” she responds reasonably, “text him. say that you’re done with your shift whenever he’s ready.”

“I guess – but that sounds kind of demanding for someone who is doing you a favour.” Penny doesn’t really need people to do her favours; she’s exceptionally self-sufficient, so I don’t think she understands the courtesy. She can also be rather demanding; so I don’t think she gets where I’m coming from about that one either.

I hear her sigh. “they didn’t cash up yet?”

“no,”

“But you’re off the clock?”

“yes.”

“Hey guys, I just wanted to check if you needed anything before I clock out for the day,” Penny starts in a deep voice that I presume is meant to be me. “So Baz will remember the time. Then, if he doesn’t say anything; just go have lunch and read over your notes while you wait for him. Stay within his line of sight but try not to make it seem like you’re waiting for him,”

If anyone ever wonders why I come to Penelope for literally everything, it’s because it’s a one hundred percent effective tactic.

NIALL

“Hey mates, I just thought I’d check if you need anything before I clock out for the day,” Snow greets us with a radiant smile. He’s a pleasant lad. I get why Baz fell for him. Unfortunately for Snow, this means that Baz needs to be a dick to him on principle. It’s just Baz’s way – a coping mechanism of sorts.

It’s fascinating to watch Baz and Snow interact like this. Baz is relaxed when it’s just us. But whenever Snow is here, he sits up straighter, looks more purposeful, and makes eye-contact with every inanimate object that is not Snow. He tries very hard to act casual. It’s so pathetic, it’s adorable.

“guess you need to go now too, Bazzy,” I mumble around a generous bite of Dev’s pancakes.

Baz wipes his hands on a napkin, preparing to get up, “I do. Thanks for breakfast gentlemen,”

“ – We never agreed that we were paying,” Dev halfheartedly objects.

Baz continues like Dev never spoke. “ – I’ll catch up with you boys later. Do try not to snog each others' faces off, this is a family joint.” Baz smirks at us as we watch realization dawn on Snow.

He doesn’t react fast enough to mask his surprise. I guess he shouldn’t be that surprised – my legs are draped over Dev’s knee, and I’ve been nibbling on his food all day. Dev isn’t discouraging me, but he’s being pretty normal for the most part. I’ve never particularly shied away from PDA, and he doesn’t seem to mind, so.

- Unless Simon is surprised because Dev and I are like this in general?

Dev subtly turns to me. “hang out for a bit?”

I nod.

“don’t you have a game today, Niall?” That catches me off guard. Mild panic.

I hurriedly fish my cellphone out of my jeans pocket and search the teams' group chat, scrolling through unopened messages. The chat has been ‘muted for one year’ which doesn’t really help me stay updated.

“it’s okay, I’m off the team,” I casually inform them.

I hear Baz attempt to smother a laugh as Dev has a surprise-induced coughing fit next to me. “what do you mean?”

I’m not essentially concerned by this new information – I’m more relieved than anything. I buy myself a moment to answer as I swallow another bite of pancake. “they kicked me off the team.”

“wha – I – well – I mean –” Dev sighs. “are you okay?”

DEV

Niall pauses chewing to observe me for a moment. He seems to realise that I’m genuinely concerned about him. Niall leans up a bit and kisses my nose. The gesture makes my tanned skin blush.

“I’m okay.” Niall assures. “more relieved than anything – I hated being on the team.”

“you love cricket!” I object.

watching cricket,” Baz interjects, “why did you join the team? You never enjoyed it enough to take it seriously. And just because you like a sport doesn’t mean you necessarily need to play it,”

“like me and football.” Snow contributes, a smile on his face.

“and here I thought that the only reason you keep crashing our practice is to watch me play,” Baz feigns an exaggerated sigh.

“I just like the sport, arsehole,” Snow mumbles, but his ears are red.

Niall just shrugs. I can see there’s more to it – but he doesn’t want to talk about it right now. Whether that means in front of Snow, or in front of Baz too, I’m not sure, but I’ll ask him later. “I’m really fine.” He drapes my right hand around his shoulder and settles it there. Leaning into my side as he continues to munch down the last of my pancakes.

I chuckle. “and how am I to eat if my hand is around you?”

Niall brings a bite of pancakes to my lips and feeds it to me.

Wholesome.

I turn to Snow. “Simon, I know you’re off the clock – but could you please send a waiter over?”

Snow smirks, “what can I get you? I’ll place your order at the kitchen on my way out and get them to bring it to you when it’s ready.”

“another stack of pancakes please,” I turn to Niall whose drink has long since emptied, “coffee?” Niall nods. I turn back to Simon. “and two coffee’s, thank  you,”

Simon nods and heads off towards the kitchen.

Baz gets up as Simon leaves the kitchen. “we didn’t think this through – I’m your ride, but I need to take Simon to mine. should I leave you guys home, or?”

Niall answers for  us, “actually – since it’s Saturday, the weather is good, and I don’t have a match… Dev and I are going to wander around the city for a bit. Don’t worry, we’ll make our way,”

I don’t know where we’re going or how we’re making our way, but I’m excited at the prospect of spending the day alone with Niall.

Baz smiles – a genuine smile – “my session with Snow is only an hour – call me if you need a lift.”

I wink at him and try to communicate thank you but get the fuck out of here we’ll be fine through a single facial expression.

***


BAZ

“So?” Simon asks as soon as we’re on the road.

I raise an eyebrow at him as I drive. “So?”

“So did Charles hold the goal or not?” he demands, smiling brilliantly. His confidence tells me he already knows the answer.

“No, he didn’t.”

“Liar!” Simon shouts at me – clearly, no one ever explained passenger seat etiquette to him. when your life is in the hands of the driver you should not be shouting at him.

I laugh, “he did okay. He wasn’t Dev, he let in four goals,”

“but he held the goal well enough for you to score the winning goal,” Simon smirks “so he did his job,”

“We won by one goal, that’s hardly a win.”

“that’s still a win, and it’s a win by the standards most teams use. You’re just used to being untouchable,”

“well it’s good to know it’s not all Dev, I can still hold my own,”

“definitely – although you and Dev on opposing teams, there’s a game I’d play to see,”

“you should watch us practice drills then. The only goalie that challenges me enough to actually practice is Dev, and vice versa, the only striker that tests him is me – so we practice against each other. It gets heated.”

Simon’s interest piques, “can you score on Dev?”

“sometimes,” I admit, “but he can also block my best shots sometimes. I’d say we’re an even draw,”

Simon nods. “I do come to your practice often… but I don’t really see you and Dev facing off,”

“you come to team practices – Dev is my vice cap, so he helps me train the boys. When we have our private practices, just the two of us, that’s when it gets interesting. We can’t perform at our best when we’re training the others, but we can push ourselves – and each other – to the max when it’s just us,”

“I want to watch,”

I shrug even though excitement builds at the idea, “you can if you’d like – Niall always watches,”

“are those two an item now? Or were they always and I’m just oblivious?”

I laugh, “it's new, but yes, they are.”

Simon nods. "okay, so I won our little wager - do I need to decide my reward right now?" 

I consider him thoughtfully. "I'll allow you to call on it later if you give me vedo privileges,"  I negotiate. 

"One vedo." 

"Three." 

"One." 

"Two." 

"I will call it in right now and you will get no vedo privileges," he threatens. 

"Fine." 

 

Never have I ever regretted scoring the winning goal, before. 

Chapter Text

 

Saturday, November 28th

SIMON

No matter how many times you do it, the nerves never cease. It feels like getting an injection; you’re anticipating the needle, and they warn you before they prick you – but even if you’re not afraid of needles, you can’t help the millisecond of nervousness the second before you’re injected.

House visits from the system feel the same way. You know they’re coming; they’re always coming. You expect it. It’s supposed to be a good thing, supposed to make you feel safe.

And yet, every visit feels like the orphan’s equivalent to parents’ day at school – the day your social worker comes in to check on your progress in your new home.

It took me a few years to learn the point of it all. It hadn’t occurred to me when I was younger that that day was an escape—a chance to tell the truth. When I was a kid, the visitations were the one day that the foster homes were at their best. They just did it to put up a front, but it was practically a festivity for me. On that day, I was dressed up in my best clothes and given food and presented to the system with faux fondness. Not hidden away.

Of course, not every home was bad – some of them were a safe haven, but I’ve spent seventeen years in the system, so I’ve had my share of shitty homes, too.

The thing about these visits is that the uncertainty makes you nervous – not the visit itself, the uncertainty of what happens next.

Will you be allowed to remain in this house? – that depends on if those foster parents want to keep you and if it would be in everyone's best interest’.

Will they move you again? – Again, this depends on the decision of the hosts.

 The shitty part is that if a family wants to get rid of you, they can’t really be forced to keep you. They just need to make a phone call, and you’re out of there. But if the kid wants to leave? You need a valid reason. Sometimes it feels like you need to wait for something bad to actually happen for you to leave a bad home. You can’t just say that they made you feel bad and you don’t enjoy who you are when you’re there.

The more self-sufficient I grew to become, the more these visits began to feel like a parents’ meeting – the irony in that isn’t lost on me.

It’s the day Beverly comes to check on my behaviour. Comes to check if I’m coping in my environment and being treated fairly – and the fucked-up part is that you never know whether to complain or not.

Even the good homes (like my current home) are never going to feel like home. Because it’s not your home. You are charity.

But you never know whether to complain because your next home is a gamble. The thing about being a foster kid is that you’ve had better, but you’ve had worse, too.  And if you get relocated again, you don’t know if the next house will be better or worse.

And when you’re in a decent house and have only a few months left in the system, you don’t complain. The fear of the unknown still fucks with your head, though. Because the thing about Denise and Jared is that I haven’t actually interacted with them since I got here, not beyond the bare minimum of greetings and the like. That’s not the worse thing in the world, so I didn’t complain. But why go through the inconvenience of becoming foster parents if you don’t even want to interact with the kids you’re hosting? Unless they enjoy being foster parents, and I’m the problem? – in which case, I have no idea what they intend to say to Beverly today, and that’s very concerning. What if I’m back in the orphanage by Monday?

My mind has been spiralling all morning to the point where even Baz has noticed.

“Crowley, Snow,” he berated me, “I’ve been explaining the immune system for like five minutes and then just describing the plot development of My Little Pony for another three – are you even listening to me?”

Not really, no.

“Why are you following My Little Pony?”

“I have sisters,” he’d answered noncommittedly. Baz went on to be a drama queen, expressing how something must exceptionally be wrong if it keeps me from paying attention to him – which is apparently impossible.

Something I didn’t know about Baz Pitch before we became… familiar; is that he’s an attention whore. Or maybe I’ve always known it, but I’ve only recently been introduced to the drama queen he becomes when you don’t pay attention to him – it’s amusing to rile him up. He likes attention. He knows he can command it. But…it’s not malicious like I’d always assumed – or accused, I guess.

I had to explain my distractedness.

I didn’t want him to think that he’s doing me this favour, and I don’t even care enough to take it seriously.

When I told him about my scheduled visitation later today – and the fact that I needed to be home earlier – he'd packed up immediately. “Well, why didn’t you say anything, Snow!” he scolded. “We don’t need to have a session today!”

Which was the opposite of what I was hoping would happen, to be honest.

His presence is calming. I knew that the minute I was on my own, I’d get lost in my head again – like I am now.

 Instead, I just told him that I do actually really need his help for this new section. 

Instead of conceding – Baz Pitch does not concede – he said we could have a two-hour session tomorrow instead (which did make me feel sort of better. It gave me something to look forward to beyond today, at least.), and then he drove me home.

It was the first time I allowed him to leave me at my actual house.

So now I sit here – foot-tapping and knee bobbing – waiting for Beverly to show up.

When Beverly does finally show up, it’s in a flurry of cinnamon-scented perfume and paisley-patterned clothing. Chaotic and familiar.

I’d been passed around throughout my childhood a lot – it was basically a game of hot potato, and I was the potato. But Beverly is a constant.

When my eyes find hers as she walks through the big, old-fashioned oak door…something in me shatters. I can’t describe the emotion, nor any possible reasons behind it.

I mostly keep it together. I don’t erupt into tears or anything – but I feel my entire mental and emotional state drop as she asks me how I’m doing. I just want her to hug me and tug on my curls like she used to when I was little.

I never realised how touch-starved I was.

I manage to keep up appearances until the private interview. Beverly and I settle down on the porch swing. It’s usually a lot more formal than this, but Beverly has been my social worker since I was six years old.

“What’s the matter, Simon?” she kindly asks me.

Slowly, I shake my head, not trusting my words.

Beverly casts a concerned look my way. “Is this place bad, Simon? I could get you removed right now – I’d leave here with you right now,” she assures me. And she means it, I know - If I was in any real danger. I don’t think I am.

“It’s fine,” I shake my head, “they’re fine, really.”

She doesn’t look convinced. “then what’s the matter? You’re rarely this quiet – even when you had that cute little stutter,” she teases. She looks wistful, reminiscing.

I struggled with speech as a child. I had a stutter which was only outgrown once I had reached double-digits. It still visits me in a mild form when I’m particularly scared or nervous.

I take a deep breath. In through the nose. Out through the mouth.

Beverly takes my hand in hers. It's warm and far softer than my own.

“What three things cannot long be hidden?” she asks me like she’s asked me time and time again when there’s too much going on in my mind. It’s been a while since I’ve needed this mantra. I smile at the comfortable familiarity of it.

I take a breath, in and out.

“the sun.” Breathe. “the moon.” Breathe. “the truth.”

Exhale.

She smiles fondly at me. Beverly likes to act poetic, but Penelope suspects that Beverly learned that little trick from Teen Wolf. I haven’t watched Teen Wolf myself, but the mantra does help when I need to calm down.

“Now,” Beverly tries again, “What’s your truth?”

I slump further into the porch swing in surrender. “Really, everything’s fine. They’re fine. They’re not the Murphy’s,” – Abuse, “or the Cooper’s,” – different kind of abuse, on a different foster kid, I got out of there immediately. “or even the Blue’s.” – treated me fucking poorly, Penelope calls it emotional abuse and starvation. “ - they treat me like a person. it’s just… I …”

“you’re not happy?”

“it’s selfish to expect more. And I wasn’t going to ask for me – I’m not asking for that. I don’t know. I think I’ve just felt abandoned here for so long that as soon as I saw a friendly face I broke down.” I look down, ashamed.

Her eyebrows furrow. She frowns. “what do you mean – abandoned?”

I cast a downwards glance. “it’s just… it gets less comfortable the older you are, y’know? Like, at seventeen, you’re still a foster kid. In a house where they have their own kids. I don’t fit in.”

Beverly brings me into a side hug. I lean into her scent. It’s not my favourite, but the overly sweet essence is comforting – familiar. “I’m sure the more time you spend together, the more comfortable, you’ll feel. You just need to give it time before you feel like you belong.”

“But we don’t spend any time together  since we know its not a situation where they’d ever consider adopting me – this just serves as a shelter.” I turn to face her. “they’re pleasant people. They haven’t made me feel…anxious or scared or anything – they’re fine. But it’s like…it’s sort of like living on your own – which I will be soon, but at least then I’ll be comfortable enough to just hang out in my own house.”

“what do you mean?” her tone is serious now. “ where do you hang out now?”

I shrug. “here and there. School, Starbucks, rugby practice. Friends houses. I leave early in the morning and make it back just in time for curfew – I don’t want to be in their way. Oh! That reminds me; is there any chance that you could help me request a later curfew for game days while you're here? I’ve been playing only the first half of games to make curfew, but I’m not going to impress any scouts that way. Also, I’m captain…”

Beverly looks like a gaping fish.

“okay. Okay, wait... there’s like…so much to unload in that.”

I wait patiently.

 “okay. Let's start with the easiest thing. Why are you missing games? There’s no reason for you to be kept from that – especially if it will help you secure your post-foster care future. I’ll look into that. what did they say when you requested a later curfew?”

I cringe slightly.

“you did ask before this, right?”

I cringe more expressively.

“so what?” Beverly sounds exasperated now. “your plan was just to miss games and jeopardise your whole entire future until you could find someone to ask for you?”

“I just didn’t want to sound demanding!” I plead, “they may not be the most…affectionate bunch, but they were easy enough to live with, so I didn’t want to get kicked out in my final year of care.”

Beverly sighs. “Simon. We spoke about this – about you naturally assuming the worst. Sometimes people may want to help you, or in this case, just not make things unnecessarily difficult for you, and that’s okay!”

“well, it’s not a reality I have much experience with, Beverly,” she said. I could call her by her first name a few years ago when we became so familiar that she lit up a cigarette in front of me. It was also around the time we both understood that I had probably already surpassed the age of adoption. “– so, under my circumstances, it’s just being realistic. If you have a good thing – or something that’s better than a bad thing – you work around everything else and try not to be ungrateful.” I’m rarely strict with Beverly; she’s practically family. Well, she is to me anyway. I’m sure I’m just a job to her. But I’m pretty sure that there was slightly more than the anticipated level of venom behind those last words.

She pulls me back into a hug, and I sink into her. It’s only now that I realise what really made me break down when I saw Beverly – what broke through the façade I’ve been implementing to keep myself strong all these weeks.

It’s not the family’s fault. Not in the slightest. They’re genuinely pleasant people – albeit a bit detached, but that’s not the worst thing in the world. And maybe if I’d had them a year or two ago, I would have enjoyed the freedom. I would have been more appreciative of their hospitality and accommodation and looked at the blessing of solitude. But right now… right now it’s not them. Right now, it’s the fact that in a few months, I’m leaving the system, and although there is a tiny part that awaits independence…I’m also fucking terrified. And I’m also fucking afraid of being entirely alone. What if Penny goes to a college far away? She likely will. I’ll have no one, and I won’t even have foster families and other foster kids to force me to be social. I’ll become a recluse. And maybe that’s not the worst thing, but it’s a scary thing.

I’ve just been left alone in my head for too long.

“I should appreciate their accommodation. And the mutual respect. They haven’t given me a hassle about anything – they’ve just been unusually absent, but I’ve never addressed it, so I don’t know why. And that’s not the worst thing.” I sigh. “I think I just….I’ve been feeling alone for too long. I’ve always been alone, but my aloneness hasn’t always felt lonely until recently.”

“you're never alone, Simon.” She hugs me tightly. “you have my number – you know you can always use it. You never do. But maybe I should be using yours to check up on you more between visits.” She decides. “I’ll talk to them privately about their detachment thing, and we’ll both address the rugby thing.

I thank her, we catch up for a few more minutes, and then I’m on my phone, killing time and awaiting the verdict.

I don’t realise I’m doing it until I hit send, but I text Baz.

 

 

 

 

 

Baz

Simon: thanks for understanding, today.

Baz: Contrary to popular belief, i have emotions and things.

Simon: oh?

Simon: what emotion are you feeling now?

Baz: is this your smartass way of asking me how I’m doing?

Simon: How you doin’

Simon: *Joey Tribiani voice*

Baz: you are a nightmare.

Baz: I’m okay.

Baz: are you?

Simon: I guess. mostly.

Baz: how was the meeting?

Simon: it’s going on at the moment, actually.

Baz: oh?

Baz: couldn’t wait to text me?

 

I roll my eyes.

 

 

 

 

 

Simon: awaiting the verdict. Private meetings.

Simon: might get extended curfew though. Full matches.

Baz: Dev will be happy to hear that.

Simon: Is Dev a fan of our rugby team?

Baz: He is not.

Baz: he just particularly hates Matthew.

Baz: and Hence, is team #SnowForCaptain

Simon: omg.

Simon: Because Matthew dated Niall?

Baz: oms*

Baz: yes.

Simon: oms?

Simon: you also dated Niall.

Baz: oh my Satan.

Baz: only a little.

Simon: ah yes. The great dane.

Simon: how far must one debauch young Niall before they are worthy of Devs fury?

 

I didn’t realise the minutes ticking away as I texted Baz to distract myself, but the adults come back in.

The rest of the evening goes by in a whirlwind. We drink tea because Beverly is – above all – a guest. And because this is England. And I almost spit out my tea across the table onto Denise’s face when she directly addresses me.

“Simon,” she says kindly. “Beverly has brought it to our attention that my husband and I…well, that you may have felt neglected.”

I just stare at her for a moment. I know I’m not in trouble – she wouldn’t try anything in front of Beverly…but it's still awkward. I swallow thickly.

“and we just wanted to make it clear, Simon,” Denise continues, “that that was never our intention.”

“definitely,” Jared – Denise’s husband – adds quickly. He’s a large man – almost too tall to be a human – with a trimmed beared and thick sideburns. He has hair the length of Baz’s which he wears in a ponytail, but it doesn’t look anywhere near as soft and silky as Baz’s hair is. Denise in contrast is a short, rounded woman with hair possibly shorter than Jared’s. It’s a conundrum. “we never wanted you to feel…unwanted,”

“We just wanted to give you your space,” Denise cuts her husband off, “we’ve never fostered a teenager before and we didn’t want you to feel like you were being forced to spend time with us because we’re housing you. We know as a young man you need your freedom,”

“controlled freedom, of course,” Jared says to Beverly, “hence we gave him a curfew,”

“maybe we should have communicated it a bit better… it’s just, you were never home, and we thought you were spending time with your friends and we didn’t want to force you to spend more time at home we had already given you a curfew,” Denise explains.

Beverly starts playing therapist.

“Simon, why were you never home?” she asks patiently.

Three heads turn to me and I feel my mouth go dry. “I… well I just didn’t want to intrude on your home too much. I thought I should stay out of your way…”

Jared frowns. “Simon… we’re fostering you because we want you to find a home here too, this isn’t just our home, we want to build a relationship with you.”

Denise nods, “we just didn’t want to force it.”

Beverly turns to me again. “would you like to share with us where you spent your time while you were …out, Simon?”

“Uhm…well I went for a walk before school… rugby practice is after school and then I just studied until curfew. On weekends I work and have study sessions with a friend after…”

Beverly gives him her signature ‘you’re doing great’ smile of encouragement. “and how do you feel about the curfew that Jared and Denise have implemented?”

“I mean… I don’t mind it. It’s just on game days that it’s a bit of a problem…” I look at Beverly and she just smiles. “rugby matches often start late, so to be home for curfew, I only get to play the first half…”

Surprise washes across Jared and Denise's faces. Beverly looks proud of Simon for finally speaking up.

“oh, Simon, I’m sorry we didn’t know!” Denise exclaims

I shake my head, “I should have said something sooner, I just didn’t want to seem ungrateful for your hospitality.”

She looks at me with eyes of endless pitty.

“I didn’t even know you were on the team,” Jared says confused.

“uh-I’m the captain. Well – co-captain since I’ve only been playing partial games,”

More noises of regret and despair from Jared and Denise. I’ve never heard them this vocal.

“of course your curfew can be adjusted for game days, Simon, it’s for school!” Denise adds.

“If you want…” Jared starts cautiously, “I mean…it’s late, and you really don’t need to walk home in the middle of the night once it's after my working hours…”

“- Sometimes a friend gives me a lift,” I add. What is he getting at? Is he going to lend me his car? I don’t even have a license.

“sure, but if you want,” he looks nervous, “only if you want, we could attend your matches – I’d love to see you play, and then we can all drive home together…but if you don’t want that we understand, of course!”

I’m in awe. “you want to?”

“of course.”

I look down at the sugar cubes in front of me. “I’ve never had anyone in my bleachers before… everyone else on the team has people who come to watch them but for me, it’s just Penelope – who’s my best friend."

Denise smiles at me with fondness. “well maybe we can meet Penelope and keep her company in the stands,”

“Oh…” I look starry-eyed. “alright.”


“and if you’d like to, we’d love to get to know you better, Simon. We’ve always wanted to but we didn’t want to push you before you were ready. So only if you want to…maybe we could figure out how to spend some time together,” Jared says.

“I want to know more about this Penelope,” Denise agrees. “and football, and your job! I didn’t know you had one. And your study sessions! Maybe I can even help. Do you have a girlfriend?”

“or a boyfriend,” Jared adds quickly, “that’s alright too,”

And I laugh. I don’t know when last I laughed – it was probably with Penelope, maybe even with Baz – but I know I haven’t before laughed in this house.

And maybe…maybe everything will be okay.

Chapter Text

Sunday, November 29th

BAZ

“you look half dead,” Simon snickers.

“I am,” I groan. “I’m so exhausted; Dev kept me on the phone for two hours last night with a detailed narration of his first date with Niall. When I was finally able to cut the call on him, I was just drifting off when Niall calls with his point of view of their date,” I sigh. “At this point, I feel like I’ve been on the date myself,”

My head rests on my left palm as I mark the homework I left him with during yesterday’s brief session.

“Oh?” Simon prompts, his tone mischievous. “So, would you say you’re struggling to stay awake, then?”

I raise an eyebrow, but before I can respond, Simon fakes a big, deep yawn. I want to roll my eyes, but before you know it, I’m yawning. Just as big and just as deep – only it’s involuntarily real this time.

Simon bursts out laughing – but his laugh is cut off by a very real yawn.

We’re both guffawing in laughter within minutes.

“that’s called the echo phenomena,” I explain, “the involuntary mirrored response when someone’s yawn makes you yawn.”

Simon just smiles at me for a moment and then looks down shyly. “You’re so smart.”

He doesn’t say it with a tone of flattery. He just… states it, like a fact. And somehow, that throws me further off balance.

I turn my attention back down to his homework, my cheeks crimson.

We work for 45 minutes before deciding to take a break and hunt for coffee downstairs. Today’s treat (Simon is still paying me in treats – just because we don’t work at the café anymore doesn’t get him off the hook. He just brings them with, when I pick him up after his shift to bring him to my house.) are Simon’s favourite sour-cherry scones from the Starbucks bakery. He baked them himself. He smells like scones, it's mouthwatering.

“Are you starting to get the hang of this section?” I ask him as we head downstairs. He looks adorable today. He must have washed his hair this morning – the freshly conditioned curls bounce across his forehead in golden waves.

“Mildly confused,” he answers, “but we’ve tackled harder.”

And then the demon winks at me.

He’s been in a good mood today, far better than yesterday – I want to ask him how the meeting went… but I don’t know if it’s my place.

We’re working around each other in the kitchen when my step-mother walks in.

“Good afternoon, boys,” she greets us with a warm smile. Daphne is always a comforting, reassuring presence – but right now, I regrettably wish she would vacate the kitchen, because the atmosphere was starting to feel particularly domestic and cosy…

“How are you, Simon?” Daphne continues after we’ve greeted her. “it’s good to see you, you left in a hurry yesterday. I hope everything is okay.”

Simon cuts me a glance that says something along the lines of you didn’t tell her? – but I can’t be sure because he’s not Dev, and we’re not practised in nonverbal communication yet. Daphne, of course, did ask me if everything was okay. But above her maternal concern, I felt it wasn’t my place to share something so personal.

“Hello, Daphne,” he politely smiles at her. They’re on a first-name basis now; it’s adorable. It also induces gay panic in me when I think about it for too long.

“Yes, I had a visit from my social worker yesterday,” he explains.

Daphne’s face somehow gets softer and sweeter. “I hope it went well, my dear. You know our doors are always open if you need anything at all.”

Simon’s smile brightens. “It did, actually – go well, I mean. And thank you so much… I appreciate it a lot.”

They make idle chitchat for a few more minutes as the coffeemaker goes ding. I butter Simon’s scones and add jam to mine.

By the time Daphne leaves to see to my sisters, Simon’s attention is back on me, and I have our mugs and saucers on a wide tray, waiting patiently.

“What time do you need to be home today?” I ask.

“curfew.”

“there’s no rush, then…. we can eat in the sitting room instead of the greenhouse if you’d like? And then continue upstairs?”

I was nervous to ask, but after watching the excitement dawn his features when he mentioned his visit to Daphne, I get the feeling that he wants to talk about it. Daphne wouldn’t ask more questions; she wouldn’t want to come off as intrusive. But Simon texted me during and after his visit, so… that's encouraging, I think.

“sure,” he smiles.

He needs to stop smiling at me if he expects me to maintain coherence.

We settle on the comfortable armchairs on opposite ends of the mahogany coffee table. He immediately digs in, scattering crumbs on the coffee table, and I hide my smile behind my coffee mug. His manners are horrendous, a disaster – he should not be endearing.

Outside, the rain pours. We’re cuddled in cosy furniture next to the floor-to-ceiling windows. Faintly, I hear my twin sisters watching tv a few rooms over and Mordelia playing the piano upstairs. Daphne loves him. We’ve been tiptoeing around my father’s presence, but of course, I’ve made father aware of Simon’s weekly visits. This feels so domestic. Comfortable. It almost feels like a date.

I’m in too deep. Practically drowning.

But he’s got more to worry about than teenage hormones, and he’s straight. I try not to focus on my own feelings too much. I try not to think about it.

“So, how did the visit go yesterday?” I manage to ask after he’s munched down his first scone. “ – if you don’t want to talk about it, that’s okay,”

He shakes his head, “it went really well.”

“Oh? You were pretty unsettled beforehand,”

“I was nervous,” Simon explains, “they were… okay, do you actually want to know, or are you asking out of courtesy? Because the short answer is, it went fine – better than expected, and I’m fine now. I can focus if that’s what you’re concerned about.”

I try to keep the frown off my face, but that hurts. This isn’t his fault – I’m the one who pushed him to the point of thinking that I’m an emotionless monster.

“I really want to know.”

“It went really well. I was a bit concerned… but really, I think it was just a miscommunication. Beverly – my social worker – made us talk it out loud, and … it’s good now.”

I wait a few more minutes until I realize he’s not planning on elaborating. I settle in with my  mug, “I’m listening.”

He smiles around his cup and starts at the beginning. He tells me about his social worker, how she’s been on his case since he was six years old and is the closest thing he has to family. He says he doesn’t remember much about his previous social worker, except that he stunk of cigars and had a large, grey moustache covering his upper lip. He doesn’t tell me much about his experience in the system – which I’ve been wondering about for years – but starts at the house he’s currently in. He tells me about how he left home at dawn and killed time until curfew. How he’d spent weeks staying out of their way, trying his hardest to live in their home without intruding on their lives. Missing games to make it back before curfew, but not asking them for an extended curfew as to not seem ungrateful for their hospitality – the whole shebang.

It pisses me off that the world could harm something so pure. Simon Snow was named accurately by whoever named him. Snow. Something so pure, light, innocent – yet when angry; destructive, numbingly painful to touch, deadly. An element all on its own. Snow flutters down to us mere mortals in effortless beauty, leaving us in awe. But it doesn’t last long. It melts soon after because of the harsh conditions it’s exposed to. I don’t want Simon to melt.

I wish I could protect him from this harsh world. I wish he didn’t consider me as a part of it.

And yet, he’s telling me this story with a lopsided grin and vibrant eyes – as if he’s telling me a happy story.

“the thing is,” Simon continues, “they said that they’d never meant to make me feel neglected. They just wanted to give me my space and freedom. Controlled freedom, hence the curfew – and I guess missing games is on me because I never actually made my schedule known to them, but they said they want to work on it! They said they’d come to my games, so I’ll be playing full games now, and they want to get to know me, and – you look mad, why do you look mad?” he cuts off mid-gush.

I’d been keeping quiet for the sake of not ruining this for him… but I guess my face betrayed my anger.

They’re giving him space? What bullshit of an excuse is that. Giving a teenager space means letting them have a life before curfew and not bothering them every half hour about it. It means letting them have their own room with privacy and knocking before you barge in. It means talking to them and letting them know that they could always talk to you – but not forcing them if they’re not ready.

It does not mean letting the kid fuck off from dawn until curfew with no knowledge of where they are, if they’re safe, if they have lunch or need money to buy some. They didn’t know about his job. They didn’t know he’s been seeing me every weekend. They didn’t know he’s on the fucking rugby team – let alone the captain, let alone putting his duties as captain second to his duties as a ward. Simon Snow is the fucking sweetest human. You’re telling me he wasn’t approachable enough to speak to when he’s a kid, and you’re an adult, and he lives in your house? This sounds suspiciously like bullshitting the social worker to not get in trouble with the agency for neglect. 

And the thing is … he’s not an idiot. He’d see it, too, if it were happening to someone else. If he looked at this from a different perspective. If he didn’t want this so badly. And now he’s looking at me expectedly and, what? Am I supposed to tell him? All he wants is a family to love him. He already believes I’m a monster; is it up to me to break this truth to him? Is that fair to him, to me?

He’d hate me if I tell him; he’ll think I’m just trying to break his heart – trying to prevent something good from happening for him, and him from enjoying it.

He’ll hate me if I tell him, and I’m somehow wrong, and they’re just morons instead of cruel.

He’ll hate me if I tell him, and I’m right. He’ll be shattered – not for the first time, surely, but every time you break and piece yourself back together, you lose a few pieces of yourself. You’re never entirely the person you were before. I don’t know how many more times this boy can break and still be himself.

Do I tell him, to prepare him for probable heartbreak? Or, allow him these brief moments of happiness instead of making him have anxiety about it before it even happens?

He’s waiting for an answer. His scones are finished. I still have half a scone left. I take a small bite to buy myself some time.

“Just…be cautious,” I tell him after I swallow. “I’m happy for you that they want to put in more effort going forward and make things right. Just… be careful. Don’t rely too much on anyone else. Don’t give away your power over your emotions,”

I probably sound like an idiot, but I don’t know what else to say. It’s not fair to tell him everything before anything has happened. He’s happier than he’s been since we’ve started these lessons, and he deserves a day or two of it.

I’ll just need him to keep me in the loop about it – I'll get him out of there if things get bad again.

He smirks at me, “worried about me, Basil?”

I roll my eyes, a smile tugging on my lips. “Worried about not getting my pumpkin mocha if you’re too depressed to make them.”

“Always the gentleman,” he laughs contagiously.

We head back upstairs and work for an hour and a half, pausing only when a butterfly lands on the tip of my bun. Simon decided he absolutely needed to take a picture. It’s a sight to behold. It’s a picture of my side profile – Simon sat next to me instead of in front of me; hence he noticed when the butterfly landed upon my low man-bun. My feathered fringe flutters in my face, and although it’s a mere side profile, you can recognize that I’m scowling (to hide the smile). Unfortunately, he refuses to delete the picture. Fortunately, he refuses to delete my picture.

We’re far more productive today than usual – two hours allow for far more productivity than a single hour apparently does. Usually, it’s time to pack up as soon as we really get into it.

Soon, it’s time for me to take him home, and he asks me to take him to his house instead of Starbucks. I freeze slightly in surprise. It wouldn’t be my first time doing so – I dropped him at the house yesterday because he was in a hurry to get back in time for the meeting. But, he’d been avoiding this house like the plague if he could help it. Returning only at night. And now it’s 16:30 in the afternoon, there’s still a few hours left, he hasn’t even bought himself dinner as yet, and he’s just…going home? I don’t trust these people. He’s too vulnerable right now to think about this clearly. Will they feed him?

His voice draws me out of my spiralling thoughts.

“So, you’ve heard about the same date in detail twice, from both peoples points of view,” I assume he’s talking about Dev and Niall, “was there any difference in their stories? You know, how stories can change slightly if there’s a shift in perspective?”

And that makes me smile because it’s such a scholarly thought that it sounds more like something Penny would say, but in the weeks we’ve been spending time together – with a steadily decreasing amount of animosity – I’ve learned that Simon Snow is actually smart. He’s not a genius in terms of book smarts, and honestly, I’d owe that more to his circumstance. But he’s smart and knowledged, and actually thinks like an intellectual – I don’t think I’d be able to spend this much time with him if he didn’t.

“mostly the same,” I tell him. “but I think that’s because this wasn’t your typical first date. They already know each other. They’re already in love with each other and know that their love is requited – and they’re best friends, so hanging out is easy. The biggest difference in their detailed narration’s was that Dev’s elaborated on how cute Niall was at literally every given moment, and Niall’s narration obsessed over how adorable everything that Dev does is.”

“tell me about this date, and it’s very cute, adorable participants then.” he laughs, a smile playing on his lips.

And the thing is, it’s not about the date. Niall and Dev’s social life doesn’t concern Simon at all. It’s just this, I think. Us. Talking easily about everything and nothing. Filling the silence with comfortable conversation because we learned how to do that now, instead of antagonizing each other.

So I speak to him. I tell him about my best friends, about their first date, and how I feel about our friendship dynamic shift since they started dating. I tell him that I don’t feel left out, that I’ve been waiting for this to happen for literal years, that I was the only one who knew before they did.  That their love makes me happy.

And he smiles, and his eyes are closed. He’s leaning against my car seat, facing me – his cheek pillowed against cool leather.

Sometimes my knuckles brush his jeaned thigh when I change gears – because this is a sports car, which is small, and because Simon Snow has thick thighs.

And it’s perfect. Domestic. Easy.

Loving him like this is so easy. Thrilling. Terrifying.

Dangerous.

Soon – too soon – we pull up at the house, and he’s still smiling as he waves goodbye to me and heads inside, closing the oak door behind me.

I do a silent prayer that they take care of him. That somehow I’m wrong because I’m just a suspicious, untrusting person, and that these people are idiots, but not dangerous. I pray that he keeps smiling and he’s well-fed. Not neglected.

After everything… I just ask that if I’m right, and he’s unhappy…that he calls me.

Chapter Text

 

Monday, November 30th

BAZ

Dev and Niall apparently have no intention of officially coming-out to the school or making their new relationship publicly acknowledged. That’s not to say they plan on hiding it at all, they just think it should be funny to just be themselves and see how long it will take people to figure out that they’re dating now. An interesting consideration, seeing as most people still assume Dev is straight.

It's going fucking amazing. It's hilarious.

The rumours have started circling the school – thanks to Matthew ( apparently he ran into Dev and Niall during their first date on Saturday, so he knows the truth) – but no one knows whether or not to believe him because he is Niall’s ex-boyfriend, and hence, not the most reliable source.

Ouch.

Anyway, Dev’s possible gayness and secret relationship with his best friend is the biggest gossip this school has seen since, well, my dare.

Speaking of the dare, it has been only a month, and it feels like I’ve been at this for years. I am so tired of dating everyone.

We’re back to basics this week, at least. I’m dating a cheerleader – a flyer – Roe. She’s undoubtedly very pretty. But I am very gay and very distracted searching this cafeteria for blue eyes and moles.

We’re settled at the cheerleader table today – dare specifications – and I’m focusing all my attention on the hilarity that is everyone at this table overanalyzing every move Dev and Niall make in an attempt to decode their relationship status. The thing is, Dev and Niall have always been best friends (with me, but I’m mostly preoccupied with my rotating dates, so they’re left on their own more often these days) and have always been close – physically and affectionately – so if you don’t catch them literally snogging, you can’t be sure.

Of course, they could just ask, but Dev Grimm is one of the most popular guys in this school – in our town – and everyone wants to be in his good graces. As far as they know, he’s straight and has been single for a long time. Asking him straight up if these days he likes his best friend dick isn’t the best way to stay on his good side. Especially if it weren’t true and they ended up looking like instigating idiots.

Watching them squirm is hilarious.

“Well, that’s new,” Dev comments, his gaze fixed behind me.

I turn around to find Dev watching Matthew, very publicly flirting with Jarred. I frown; Jarred is sweet and nice and a handsome guy. He deserves better than Matthew, in my opinion. And in Dev’s opinion, probably (even though he hardly knows Jarred). A glance at Niall lets me know that Niall is happy for Matthew. Niall believes that Matthew is the victim in this whole thing and feels bad for leading him on, however unintentionally. He justifies Matthew's behaviour as acts born of heartache. I think Niall understands heartache and yearning a bit too well. I just hope he can experience love now.  To love freely and to be loved wholeheartedly.

Dev and I are content to fulfil our best friend (and now, boyfriend) duties by hating Matthew for all eternity. Matthew did manipulate me into dating him when he thought Niall was in love with me, so I think we’re more than justified.

Unimportant chatter with Roe fills up the rest of lunch. Dev teases his observers by faking a yawn, and just when you think he’s about to wrap his arm around Niall’s shoulder – he flicks Niall’s ear and steals a fry from his plate.

All through lunch, I scan the cafeteria for Simon. I didn’t see him in the changeroom this morning, and he wasn’t at rugby practice. I didn’t have any classes with him this morning, but I have AP Calculus after lunch – and if there’s one person at this school who might just know Simon Snow’s schedule better than myself, I’ll find her there.


PENELOPE

Basil flounders into class like he owns the place. Maybe he does; for all I know, he has the money to potentially buy the whole school. He settles down next to me, and just when I expect him to pull out his notes so we can have an intellectual debate and compare answers on the homework, he faces me and takes my face in his hand.

I’m not sure what to do about this.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure many girls would love to be in my position right now, but this is just very uncomfortable. And random.

He’s not holding my face in an affectionate manner – thank Merlin – it's more, sort of… squishing my cheeks between his thumb and index finger. My face probably mimics that of a fish; my eyes goggle in surprise and my glasses are about to fall off.

Basil is hardly the most touchy person unless you’re one of his minions or he’s literally punching you in the face, so this is all a little flabbergasting.

“Penelope,” he greets. His tone alone lets me know that he wants something. “Oh, dear Penny,” he sings.

“What do you want, Basilton?” I try to sound as stern as I possibly can whilst my speech is slurred and my cheeks are squished. I don’t know if he’s trying to be… cute? Affectionate? Charming? Whatever the end goal is, he’s failing epically.

“I need you to tell me. I need to know.” He says seriously.

“The homework?” I dubiously ask.

“Not the homework, Bunce,” Baz sighs as he lets go of my face and leans back in his chair, finally unpacking his notes from his backpack. “Simon, I need you to tell me where Simon is, I haven’t seen him at all today,”

That’s…curious. Not Simon’s absenteeism, I knew about that, but the fact that Baz noticed and cares.

They’ve been odd these recent weeks. I knew Baz was tutoring Simon, but it's… more than that. They’ve always been incredibly intense about each other, always going out of their way to get in the others face and be noticed. When Simon told me Baz was tutoring him, that wasn’t surprising. What struck me as odd was the favours Baz grants Simon. I naturally assumed he’d be strict with Simon,  be hard on him, use this as leverage to hang over his head. Instead, they work on Simon’s schedule, on weekends which Baz made a point were for his own studies. Baz allows Simon to pay him with free coffee, not to mention that Simon called three hours later than scheduled, yesterday because he had an extended study session with Baz with a coffee break that lasted an hour on its own. They work in the comfort of Baz’s home instead of the café because Simon likes nature. Baz picks Simon up from the café after his shift and leaves him home afterwards. He cancelled a study session they had already started, just so Simon could focus on his visitation, and prolonged the next meeting to make up for it.

Of course, Simon still insists that Baz is the absolute worst, but I think he’s just saying it out of habit these days. I don’t think he realizes that he’s grown fond of Pitch – as I told him he would if he gave it a chance. I don’t know if Baz has realized that the previous animosity that burnt between them has been replaced by something akin to friendship. That they’re fond of each other, to say the least. That he isn’t doing this as a favour anymore – he wants to do it. I’d bet that their study sessions are an excuse to hang out. If Baz hasn’t figured it out, we may have finally found the answer to the ultimate question – which one of us is smarter.

“What’s it to you, Pitch?” I ask him now, pretending to puff a cigar with a pencil between my fingers.

“Don’t be coy, Bunce. I left him home yesterday. He told me about his foster family. How they were…” he pauses for a second, trying to find the right wording. “neglectful, for a while. I just want to make sure he’s okay. I told him he could call if anything happens, but I don’t know if he will.”

I expected a budding friendship between them, but Basil seems sincere and genuinely concerned for Simon. I also consistently worry about Si, so I can’t help but feel a sliver of gratitude as Simon’s best friend. I’m not his foster parents’ biggest fans, but I’ve heard enough stories of his experiences and struggles to know they’re not the worst he’s gotten, not by far. If anything, they’re preferable.

Sometimes it feels like I’m the only person who really cares about Simon. I’m sure Agatha does, in her own way, I’m sure she even loves him when it's convenient for her. But I can’t trust her to stick around and love him, and take care of him, and put herself in the line of fire for him when it all goes to shit – and I have a bad feeling that as shitty as the system may be, its all going to shit once he turns eighteen and is on his own.

I watch Basil carefully. If he wants to try caring about Simon, sure. That’s just great. But Simon trusts too easy and although I like Baz and I trust him with me, he’s hurt Simon too much in the past for me to just trust him with Simon that easily.

I don’t disapprove of their friendship of course – it’s definitely preferable to being enemies, but I’ll be watching his intentions. I’ll be watching him. And Agatha. And his foster parents.

“he’s okay,” I tell Baz.

“So where is he then?” he presses.

“He’s not in school today,” I say offhandedly as I turn to my notes, opening up his notes and comparing our answers.

“Yes, Penelope,” he rolls his eyes, “I’ve noticed that but if he’s fine then where is he? He’s not the type to just skip school,”

I sigh. The class will start any minute now and he’s not going to discuss calculus with me until I tell him.

“Why do you care? You don’t have a tutoring session today.”

“I just told you why,” he grits out. “I just want to make sure he’s okay, what with all the drama he’s dealing with at home.”  

I survey him for a moment. He looks sincere enough – I cave.

“A bird fell off the roof of his house. He found it on the floor. It may have a broken wing.

Baz stares at me expectantly.

“He took it to eh vet.” I elaborate.

He stares at me more purposefully this time. “He took it to the vet?” he asks incredulously.

I nod in confirmation, “he insisted.”

“does the vet even treat injured …wild, birds?”

“I’m sure they can treat it, it’s a question of if they will treat it.”

Baz is still staring at me incredulously like the words I’m saying is ridiculous. Well, think about how I felt when I got a phone call from my best friend that he’s not coming to school to take a wild bird to the vet.

“I tried to talk him into coming to school but he said he couldn’t leave it alone and helpless, there was no talking him out of it.”

There’s silence for a few minutes. The teacher joins us and starts the lecture.

“He took it to the vet?” Baz whispers again a few minutes later.

“yeshetookittothevet!” I whisper-shout at him in a rush. “now pay attention!”


NIALL

By the end of the day, Matthew’s ‘rumour’ has reached the whole school. No one’s worked up the guts to just ask either of us yet, so we’ve been stalked all day.

I’m hardly known for my modesty or for shying away from PDA, so I would have had no problem using this as an opportunity to claim Dev as taken while the whole school watched. But I need to be mindful of Dev. He never got a chance to actually come out, I know how scary that can be. I know he’s not ashamed of me, but he’s still figuring out his own sexuality and I don’t want him to feel pressured into doing so because I’m out.  According to Dev; he still doesn’t see other guys any differently – it’s just me. Maybe he’s demisexual. Whatever it is, being in a same-sex relationship when you previously considered yourself straight isn’t the easiest, so I need him to have the space to figure out and accept his sexuality before putting him in a position where other people are labelling him.

An additional issue – the Grimm’s.

There is no way for the entire school to know about Dev and I whilst keeping it from his parents. I won’t kick him out of the closet.

Maybe we should have been a bit more careful at Starbucks around Simon, and especially around Matthew. But we were still relishing the high of finally being together, and having our love requited. And Matthew just ignites Dev’s territorial side – no way was he going to let Matthew think I’m available. As hot as possessive-Dev is, this is too big a deal for me to let him slip out before he’s ready. Before he’s sure. Before he can decide if I’m worth coming out for.


SIMON

I’m all out of options.

I skipped school today to take care of this little guy, turns out I fucked that up too. I brought him inside when I found him hurt on the ground, and manoeuvred him into an old shoebox with a few bread crumbs to nibble on and a small bowl of water, before heading off to the vet. The vet said they could treat him, and I was ecstatic until they gave me the bill. Basically, if I pay for his consultation and treatment, I won’t have a home after I turn 18.

I raised the concern to my foster mother, Denise. That did not go as helpful as I’d have liked. At Saturday’s visitation, she seemed very enthusiastic about being involved in my life and getting to know me. So I thought I’d start by turning to her with my current dilemma. I didn’t ask her to pay for the treatment of course – that’s rude – but I did mention that I took him to the vet and can’t afford the treatment he needs. She merely cooed at me about how sweet it is that I care so much about a wild bird, and then said she had to go back to work. She must have seen him hurt on the ground this morning, too, because she left for work before I or her children left for school (now that I decided not to leave home at the asscrack of dawn anymore).

Speaking of their kids, it's as if they don’t exist. I never saw them much before because I always left home before they did and came home after dinner when they were already locked away in the privacy of their bedrooms. They never attempted to talk to me or bothered to show up for meetings with social services or Saturday’s meeting with Bethany. We just – share a roof. I spent more time at home this weekend, and I left at a decent hour this morning, so I ran into them, but we didn’t exchange much beyond a polite greeting. At least they don’t give me a hard time, so it’s not that bad.

But they wouldn’t be of much help in my current situation.

I’m just about to call Penny for help when I get an unexpected text. Things with Baz have been pleasant lately – I’m almost sure he doesn’t hate me anymore, certainly I don’t hate him anymore. Yesterday in particular was real. We talked, and shared real thoughts and feelings.

It’s been a disappointing day thus far, so his text makes me feel lighter.

 

Baz Pitch

(15:25) Baz: Heard you’re Wattford’s very own superhero. Skipping school to save lives.

The first thing that registers is that Baz noticed I wasn’t in school today.

My little adventure was hardly gossip-worthy, and the only people who knew about it was Penelope and possible Aggie. So how would Baz have found out?

I hope he wasn’t talking to Agatha.

 

Not quite.

*image_attachment*

I send Baz a picture of Tweety (I decided to name the bird since we’re spending more time together than either of us had hoped) in his cage, looking all sad and hopeless.

 

(15:35) Baz: How is the little guy doing?

He’s had better days.

His wing’s hurt and I can’t afford the vets consultation

(15:42) Baz: I’m on my way

Why is he on his way?

I want to tell him no, I won’t let him pay, but the thing is… is that even my right? This isn’t something for me it’s something for Tweety and it’s not up to me if Baz decides to sponsor wing surgery for a wild bird. This has nothing to do with me, so why do I feel guilty about Baz offering his money?

 

(15:43) Baz: Just let me leave Roe home

A bitter feeling becomes me. My mind wanders back to the bet – not like I could have forgotten; every Monday he belongs to someone else and turns into a different version of himself to tolerate them. Only on our weekends, those few hours with privacy within the walls of his greenhouse, can we just be ourselves and lose ourselves in something not unlike friendship. Not unlike companionship.

After the truths and secrets shared this weekend, though, something feels different. He’s never just… purposelessly texted before.

Baz arrives at the house soon, just after 4 pm. The sheer speed with which he left her home and then came to meet me makes me irrationally happy.

I tell myself that its just because the sooner he gets here, the sooner Tweety reaches the vet, who should start closing in a few hours. But that thought only occurred to me belatedly. I grab Tweety’s shoebox once I hear the Porsche outside and head out the large oak doors, just in time to see Isabel – my foster parents’ daughter – arrive home. She’s a sophomore but not at my school. Still, she takes in the sight of Baz Pitch in his sleek, sexy Porsche and her eyes goggle at me. Waving at her, I settle in the passenger seat with Tweety’s box on my lap.

Baz doesn’t acknowledge Isabel at all and that, too, makes me giddy inside.

“So I was thinking,” Baz starts the minute I’m in the car, “You said you couldn’t afford the vet fee, but have you taken her to SPCA?”

They’re a nonprofit organization for animals. They’re who we call when we find strays or come across animal abuse cases. They also have shelters around town where you can adopt.

“I thought they’re just for…adopting animals, and reporting abuse and stuff,”

“They’re an animal welfare organization,” he says. “Surely, they must treat the animals in their care – and if we explain that it's not your bird but a bird you found injured, hopefully, they’ll just… help. And appreciate that you took the initiative to dedicate your whole day to try and help him.”

And that makes me smile. After this terrible, disappointing, heartsore day, Baz just showed up in his black Porsche with a Penny-level approved plan and made everything better.

“What if they don’t, though?”

Baz just shrugs nonchalantly. “Then Plan B, we go to the vet, I’ll cover the consultation. It’s not a big deal to me. I just thought you might like this idea better because, clearly, the SPCA staff would care more about the animals’ well-being than the vet did if they let you walk out of there with your injured bird.”

I never thought Baz Pitch would be able to make me smile on a bad day. I never thought he’d be this considerate about my feelings or the health of a wild bird.

“Thank you for coming,” I tell him. “Thank you for coming to help.”

“Couldn’t let you get all the credit,” he says coolly, but his cheeks pink slightly at my gratitude.

“So, are you going to show it to me?” he prompts.

“Oh! Oh, yes yes,” I take the lid off the shoebox to reveal a battered but breathing bird to him. “His name is Tweety.”

Baz raises an eyebrow at me. “You’re not serious.”

“It’s a fitting name for a bird!” I argue.

“Tweety was a tiny, fat, yellow, baby bird,” he enunciates.

“– he wasn’t that fat,”

“This bird is a Raven, Simon, he is gorgeous and cool, and rumoured to be a harbinger of death – you cannot name him Tweety, he must be offended that you named him Tweety, I’m sure he would rather die than be reincarnated as Tweety,”

I can’t hear the rest of his rant over the roar of my laughter. Tweety thuds in concern by my outburst.

“what would you name him then?”

Baz takes a moment to consider, he glances at the bird in question as if testing different names out to find the one that best suits him, and then replies.

“Lucifer.”

“Is that just to spite Dev?” I smirk. Dev’s dog's name is Satan and it makes for very interesting conversation.

“I saw an opportunity. I took it.”

I chuckle and watch him drive. His hair blows in the wind, coming undone from his bun. He’s so different – in my eyes at least – from the boy he was a mere month ago. Have I changed in his eyes too, I wonder?

These thoughts keep me busy as we reach the shelter.

True to Baz’s word, the SPCA are far more cooperative and willing to aid an injured wild animal than the literal vet was. Tweety is patched up within an hour and they don’t bother us with consultation fees seeing as he wasn’t my pet. I don’t miss the large donation Baz slips into the donation jar – it would have been enough to cover the vet consultation, but I think it would do more good here.

Tweety leaves with us and I’ve received caretaker instructions to keep her – shoebox and all – for the next week, fed and hydrated, and to remove the bandage after a week. After which point, she may be free to leave if she so desires.

We also found out Tweety is a girl. Baz wants to name her Morgana now, so we argue about that on the way home.

“How did you know I wasn’t in school today?” I ask as we near my foster house. “How did you know what I was up to?”

Baz shrugs, “Bunce was complaining about your absence all through Calc,”

And the thing is – I don’t believe him. Penny did complain but she complained to me directly when I called to tell her I was ditching today. and she’ll complain tomorrow when I see her in school. She wouldn’t complain to Baz, she’s far too independent a character for that – and Baz serves a single purpose of intellectual calculus-based conversation to her.

So no, I don’t believe him, but I’ll ask Pen about it tomorrow.

We reach home. I thank him for coming, I thank him for helping. He shrugs it off – it was no big deal he says. But he tried. And he came, immediately. I hadn’t even asked him to come. But he did.

And that’s what changed, isn’t it?

If I call, I know he’ll come.

Chapter Text

Thursday, December 10th

DEV

“Honestly, Deveraux,” Baz chides, “you know I don’t mean to kick you out of the closet,”

I scoff.

“ – I merely encouraged you out of there for the good of your own love life! Anyway, you know I don’t mean to pressure you into coming out but think about it, you have a boyfriend now and you told his ex-boyfriend, and he pretty much told the entire school. There’s no way to hide this from your parents for long when the entire neighbourhood is gossiping about it, it’s already reached the kids at the club!” Baz exhales an exasperated breath. I don’t think he’s taken a single breath his whole rant.

The situation isn’t ideal. And we shouldn’t have told Matthew, but when your boyfriends' very attractive (or so everyone says), very out ex-boyfriend who is willing to have a public, official, meet-the-parents type relationship with your boyfriend, shows up, you need to claim what’s yours.

But I get Baz’s point. The rumours have already reached the other kids in our school who also attend the club, and our parents are incredibly linked to club gossip. It’s only a matter of time before it gets back to them and my options will be to either lie or tell them the truth. And I can’t lie, not about Niall. 

I sigh, covering my face with one of Baz’s cushions. I’m lying on my back, limbs spread out like a starfish on his bed. He’s polishing his violin on the floor while judging me mercilessly.

“How did you tell yours?” I ask.

“You were there.” Baz reminds me.

“And it didn’t exactly go very well,” I remind Baz who cringes. “but what I meant was, how did you reach the point of making yourself tell them? I mean, you didn’t really have a pressing reason, you didn’t need to tell them. No one suspected, you didn’t have a boyfriend…”

“My pressing reason wasn’t anyone else,” Baz explains. “I was my own pressing reason. It was always there weighing down on me. What they’d do, say, and think, if they’d ever find out the truth of me. If they’d ever know me, if I really wanted them to.

I’d be fine, idling in mundane activities and then Daphne would do something kind like bring me cut-up fruit while I was studying – herself, she wouldn’t even get the maid or housekeeper or my nanny to get it for me – and I’d just sit there for twenty minutes glaring at the bowl of fruit and wondering, would you still love me if you knew me? Or is this love conditional?

I started pulling away from them because this secret was weighing too heavily on me and I needed to breathe. That was my pressing reason. I couldn’t be close to my family while lying to them and I couldn’t lose any more family.”

Baz was silent for a moment, and I didn’t know what to say. What is the right thing to say? How could I possibly fathom what he feels, how can I make this feel better?

 I never considered how my current dilemma must bring back a surge of past personal struggles for him.

I was his best friend, and I was there through that whole journey but I never knew of this maelstrom of feelings and fear incapacitating him through that transition. The same fears I’ve been having every night since I started reevaluating my sexuality.

Baz speaks again a few moments later.

“There was no way for me to know if they really loved me, until I knew for certain if they’d still love me, knowing I’m gay.” He said in a small voice.

The words unspoken hang in the air between us. Maybe no one else would pick up on it, but Baz and I have always been able to understand each other without words and I know what he’s thinking now.

He can’t know for sure if his mother would have loved him, would still love him, if she got to meet this Baz, if she got to know him. And his secrets, and his darkness, and his sexuality.

I’m sure she would but he’ll never know, and I know that eats him up inside. That uncertainty. That need to make her proud. To live for her, and in her name. for her to exist through him. He keeps her name for a reason, he’d never want to disappoint her. Baz isn’t a people pleaser; he can walk away from most people and not care if they approve of him. But not her. Not aunt Natasha.

“I loved you,” I remind him. Because I do, and I did before I knew I was gay too. Because I would, no matter what. We don’t say it as flamboyantly as Niall does, but he knows.

Baz crinkles his nose in a dramatic show of disgust. “That’s gay.” He objects. I throw a pillow at him.

“Did you feel better after telling them?” I ask. It’s a question I’ve been meaning to ask him for a while now, but it never felt like the right time. It felt selfish to make him relive that.

I knew I needed to tell them because I had no choice but to tell them since Matthew decided to tell every Tom, Dick and Harry our school has to offer. I also knew Niall deserved for me to tell them since he told his mother about us before he even confirmed our relationship status with me.

But I didn’t know what it would mean for me after I told them. What would happen to my relationship with my family?

Everyone focuses on how you should approach telling them. Not the aftermath.

“For the first few days I just felt like I was walking on eggshells,” Baz explains. “I avoided them as much as possible. I didn’t want to aggravate the situation by forcing them to spend time with me.”

“When did things start getting better?” I ask glumly.

This is hardly encouraging.

He’s quiet for a moment before smiling. “For a week or so after I told them, I’d avoided them. Not because I didn’t want to see them, I did, but because I assumed that they wouldn’t want to see me. That seeing me around the house, at dinner, would hit a nerve and remind them of our conversation – not that I ever imagined they’d forget it. I’d go to school, practice, tutor, study in the library until it got late enough. Pick up something for dinner to eat in my bedroom, or I just wouldn’t eat at all. After a week of my avoidance, Daphne called me down for dinner, I didn’t go. She came to my bedroom with a plate and said that if I needed more time if I wasn’t ready to eat with them yet, it was okay, but I should eat a proper meal.” Baz smiles, he smiles so genuinely, so rarely. It’s nice to see. It makes me smile, despite it all.

“I took the plate from her – I wouldn’t admit it but I was so sick of takeout. I’m sure she was worried about my eating, but she would’ve found the takeout containers in my trash. And my room smelled of curry. I bought a lot of Indian that week – that’s the only thing the Winifred can’t make.” He huffs a laugh. He’s tearing up now, I’m not sure if he’s noticed. “When she was leaving my room I told her that I wasn’t avoiding them because I didn’t want to see them, I was staying away because I assumed that they wouldn’t want to see me, after what I told them.

 I could see she wanted to get all mushy but she knows how I’m not the most comfortable with that so she kissed my head and told me to come to eat dinner with them. When I got there, I found out from Mordelia that she thought I was sick for the past week, but that my place had been set at the table every day. They wanted me around, they just thought I needed space so they gave me a few days before coming to me.”

It takes me a moment to process all this. At the time, Niall and I just spent as much time as possible with Baz – extra practices, unnecessary study sessions at the library, video calling him and blowing up the group chat once we got home – without physically moving in with him. But he’d needed a distraction, so although he kept us updated about big occurrences, like when he started hanging out with his family again, he didn’t get into detail about his feelings for the most part.

It’s my first time hearing this story and I was there the whole time.

“And now?” I ask softly.

Baz’s sexuality isn’t a secret but it isn’t brought up, either. His family doesn’t try to set him up with girls at the club as my parents jokingly do to me, but that’s about as far as acknowledgement goes. Whether this is good or bad I’m not sure.

There’s less constant tension and secrets to hide, but when Baz inevitably brings a boy home one day I don’t know if it's going to be like coming out all over again because they didn’t quite take to it the first time.

“I know that my father wishes it weren’t true,” Baz says, “but he’s managed to separate the two. He is aware that I am gay, but he doesn’t just see me as gay. He knows that I’m still me and that’s just one part of me, even if it’s a part he’s not a fan of. I wish that he could love that part of me, instead of loving me despite that part of myself. I won’t lie and say it doesn’t hurt. But I expected worse. I know a lot of people have it worse. But he stopped trying to set me up with girls, even if he never mentions my sexuality. He doesn’t bring it up but at least he doesn’t act like we never had the conversation and treat me as straight or try to forcefully convert me. we just…. Ignore that part. For now. I’m sure it will change when I bring a boy home but… but it will be okay, think.”

Joining me on the bed Baz sets his violin aside and lays on his tummy. He smells strongly of expensive polish and his hair is in a messy bun. He doesn’t look glamourous. His socks don’t match.

His cheek is squished as he faces me. I turn on my side to face him, hugging the cushion to my chest.

“I told them,” he tells me, “and it was hard. And it was hard afterwards. But … with space, and time, we tried to understand and respect each other’s feelings and … it’s not perfect; I don’t exactly talk about the boy’s I like or bring them around for family brunch but it’s not bad and I feel loved, which is what matters in the end.

You have me like I had you. And I’ll be there with you if you want me to, and a call away if you don’t.

And you have Niall who is, like, overflowing with his love for you.

You have my family for support. Dad will talk to your dad if the need arises.

How you handle this is up to you, but it won’t be alone.” Baz assures me.

“I have to tell them, that’s not even an option anymore. I don’t regret dating Niall, even though it’s sort of forcing me out of the closet. Trust me, I’ve been pining for this, yearning for it for years. I wouldn’t change this for anything. But… but I don’t really have a choice in coming out or not. I’m on a clock.”

“I mean,” Baz instigates, “no one really has confirmation yet. All they have is Matthew’s word. It’s not like that’s worth much…”

“No,” I say firmly. “I can’t lie about Niall.”

“You’re not out, yet. He’d understand.”

“and that’s why he doesn’t deserve it.”

Baz’s response is disturbed by his ringtone.

He scrambles over to his study desk upon which his phone is charging, and I watch a smile blossom across his features.

I already know who it is.

“Snow.” I hear him acknowledge as he accepts the call – I was right, then.

Simon Snow.

The first, if not the only, boy to own dear Bazzy’s heart.

They’ve been terrible to each other up until recently but lately, something has shifted. Baz’s study sessions with Simon surpassed academia long ago, and their one-hour duration is honestly a joke. Niall and I have accepted that we either see Baz at dusk or dawn on weekends, no in-between.

Simon spends his weekends in the Greenhouse upstairs – none of Baz’s other students gets this treatment – and Baz’s face gets all gooey-eyed when Simon calls. It’s never for anything actually warranting a phone call either, they each always have an excuse – god forbid they actually admit that they’re calling for nothing, just to hear the other's voice – but their excuse is absolutely irrelevant.

Not to mention that Baz has been visiting Simon after school this week – much to the chagrin of this week's date, Jackson, who actually wanted to spend time with Baz – because they’re apparently raising a poorly-named bird together.

It’s nauseating. I ship it.

I also worry about it constantly.

Simon is straight as far as we know, and as long as he plans on staying that way, I don’t want Baz to get hurt. He’s already so far down the rabbit hole, and the worst part is the denial. He’s convinced that he isn’t falling again (Niall believes that Baz never fell out of love with Simon in the first place, hence the hostility at his unrequited love). Simon’s a nice guy. But I don’t know what his motives are, I don’t think even he knows. He’s sweet and friendly, and charming – and I just don’t want Baz to read too much into Simon’s sentiments that may not mean anything.

I just hope Baz remembers that Simon is straight. I hope his heart is prepared for it. It’s been years, but I’ve never seen anyone get under Baz’s skin quite like Simon Snow has. And I don’t think that Baz ever really got over him.

Baz is currently dating lacrosse-captain-Jackson, whom both Baz and Niall have made it their personal duty to make me aware that he is exceptionally hot. And yet, Baz doesn’t seem to care.

Jackson asking him out means Baz actually has a real chance with a guy he finds attractive. And he isn’t shooting his shot. Even worse, he’s not giving Jackson the time of day to shoot his shot.

Baz is losing it, losing himself in Simon Snow again. His own personal drug.

I need Niall’s beautiful brain for this one. What in Merlin’s name are we going to do?


BAZ

 

“Baz, she just won’t stop following me and honestly, it's mildly concerning,” Simon stresses through the phone.

“Who, Snow, who won’t stop following you?”

I’m not sure if this is a genuine issue and I should call the cops and drive to him immediately or if he’s merely found himself an admirer and decided to gush to me about it.

I’m not sure which possibility is more distressing.

“Tweety!” Simon exclaims, “I removed her bandages days ago and she still keeps showing up! And not just in my house, I don’t notice her following me and sometimes I think she’s left, but she showed up at school today, at practice, she was just hopping around on the bleachers and I know it was her. She’s here right now, Basilton. Free to flutter off back to her family and she’s perched on my windowsill glaring at me.”

That bird is living the ideal life.

“Isn’t this a non-issue, though? I thought you liked her?”

“I like her, but that’s irrelevant! She’s a wild bird and she’s free to go home. She shouldn’t be … domesticated. I didn’t save her to do that. She’s free. I just don’t think she’s understanding this.”

He’s too precious for his own good.

“Why does she even want to follow me around?” Simon continues, “Does she feel indebted to me? How can I explain that we are cool?”

“She’s a bird, Snow, not an idiot. Did you even try explaining it?” I deadpan. Because it’s Simon, and I’m a shithead to him.

“Yes!” he yells and I’m heaving in laughter. Not what I expected. Although I should have; Simon doesn’t disappoint.

If I close my eyes I can see him glaring at me as I laugh at him, the image of Simon trying to break up with a bird rendering me helpless.

Eventually, I calm down and try to be helpful.

“In her eyes, you’re a bonded pair. You saved her life, I don’t think she feels indebted to you – if Ravens can even feel that – but I think she considers you her companion. She’s returning to you because she wants to be in your company, not because she feels trapped. And don’t worry, you’re not so much domesticating her as allowing her in your home periodically. I’m sure she leaves and hunts and whatever else Ravens do, and she probably just keeps an eye on your whereabouts and pops in to say hi every now and then.”

“Well,” Simons says consideringly, “she does disappear for hours at a time. She’s not always here. It’s just that she always seems to be in my general area because she manages to find me no matter where I am.”

“You’re not keeping a wild bird in a small cage, Simon,” I conclude, “as long as she knows she can leave whenever she wants, she’s there by choice, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. if anything, she seems fond of the companionship.”

Simon sighs in agreement and it seems he’s finally accepted my reasoning. And it's nice. It's nice, comforting, that when Simon needs advice, or help, or just needs to rant, he calls me. And when he can’t sleep at night lately, anxious about the days ticking away until he’s eighteen, he texts me. It's cute that he puts in a lot more effort into the homework I give him these days, I suspect because he actually cares what I think of him these days. It's adorable how he blushes when I tell him I’m proud of him.

And I am. I’m proud of him. I’m proud of his marks, and the fact that he doesn’t even need my lessons anymore and I’m proud of how strong he is, having endured the life he’s lead and still be so pure.

He thinks I haven’t noticed, but my caller ID on his phone is the picture he took of me when a butterfly settled on my hair – my bun. I don’t think he knows, but his caller ID on my phone is a picture I discreetly took of him on my couch, drinking coffee from a mug from my kitchen, smiling down at a plate of goodies he smuggled us from Starbucks.

Domestic bliss; the few hours I get him to myself. They’re few and far between. Never quite enough, yet I’d never give them up.

Simon will soon realise that he doesn’t need a tutor anymore, and that makes me nervous – never really knowing when I’m going to get a casual text cancelling the upcoming lesson, and all the lessons after that. Never knowing if this lesson is the last we’ll have. Because truthfully; we study together these days. Between my flashcards, study guide, and the studying techniques he picked up from me, his marks have exponentially improved – I’m no longer necessary.

When he figures that out and stops showing up at my Greenhouse, I can only hope that he remains my friend. The only thing worse than going back to fighting with Simon after being his friend would be not having him in my life at all.

When he doesn’t hate me anymore to pick fights with me and be in a consistent state of suspicion, and he doesn’t need me anymore, where does that leave me?

We talk for a few more minutes before I cut the call and re-emerge in my bedroom doorway. If it were anyone but Dev Grimm waiting for me in there I’d probably feel guilty about leaving them alone for twenty minutes to take a personal call. But he’s not a guest. Sometimes, he offers me beverages in my own house.

Upon entering the room I find that he was just fine without me, and is occupied on a video call with Niall.

“Oh, babe, Baz is back,” Dev tells Niall as he turns the mobile around so I can see the screen.

Babe. Cute.

“Hey, Bazzy,” Niall is relaxed in bed, his head pillowed by his bicep as he smirks at the screen.

“Hey, best friend whom I just saw mere hours ago,” I quip.

Niall laughs and Dev takes his phone back to make gooey eyes at his boyfriend.

It's nice that not much has changed between the three of us, I was nervous about that. About where I’d stand once they no longer need me, once they love each other openly.

But for now, at least, we’re still Baz, Dev and Niall – except that Dev and Niall are now Dev & Niall.  

But they don’t make me feel like a third wheel.

I mean, Niall clearly isn’t busy and neither is Dev, but he’s here lounging on my bed, having one-on-one cousin time. Not making me feel like making time for me is a chore. Not making me feel like he cannot wait to get out of here and return to his beloved. Nor is Niall – who evidently knows that Dev and I are hanging out without him – bitching about either not being invited or Dev not hanging out with him instead of me.

Dev promises to visit Niall for a few minutes and kiss him goodnight on route home (Niall’s mum is chilled with the gay), before bidding him farewell and turning back his attention to me.

“Sorry about that,” I apologise once Dev cuts the call, “Snow called to tell me about his Raven, who is in love with him.”

“So that makes both of you, then.”

I glare at him.

Hugging one of my pillows to his chest, Dev sits up and pockets his phone. “Listen, Baz. I just… be careful.” He says.

“What are you blabbering about?”

“I’m talking about the fact that Simon is straight,” he deadpans. “I’m on board with you two suddenly being best buddies – it's definitely healthier than the constant fighting. But this isn’t just some random guy you find attractive – it's Simon and you’ve been pining for him for years and I just… don’t want you getting your hopes up by reading too far into his actions, just to get hurt when he inevitably gets back together with Agatha.” He sighs.

“Trust me,” I roll my eyes. The whole 360 degrees. “I have no delusions about Simon Snow ever returning my sentiments.”

“This isn’t some enemies-to-lovers Romcom, Basilton, Simon is straight. And he’s nice, he’s friendly and sweet but that’s just his personality. I don’t want you getting your hopes up over him just being who he is, because you’re not used to this side of him. You fell for him when you two were being arseholes to each other, I’m obviously concerned about you when he’s actually being nice.”

“I know that Simon’s not interested, Dev, the gay isn’t contagious,”

“Then what's going on with you two if you aren’t expecting this to go anywhere?” Dev stresses.

I don’t blame him, but I also don’t want to talk about this.

“I like this better than fighting,” I say simply. “If my options are making him hate me all through this last year before I never see him again, or making this last year easier for him – I’d rather be there for him. No ulterior motives, I’m just taking what he’s willing to give.”

“You’re giving more than you’re taking,” Dev objects.

“Well, he deserves it,” I say, finality colouring my voice and Dev backs off slightly.

“If you know this thing with Snow isn’t your endgame then why aren’t you giving anyone else a chance?” he detours, “Jackson – who both you, and my boyfriend, have made it very clear that you’d gladly dick him down – wants to dick you down and you’ve been spending this whole week brushing him off.”

“He does not want to dick me down, and I am offended that you would consider me a bottom,”

“if you were a bottom at least you’d be having some sex,”

I give him two middle fingers. He returns them.

“Well he’s been trying to get to know you all week,” Dev insists, “And you haven’t given him the time of day. Not to mention that it took some balls to ask you out  in the first place, he’s captain of the lacrosse team, he put a lot on the line asking you out.”

I frown.

“I have to call him tonight before bed, but… instead of an exactly thirty-second duration phone call, I guess I’ll try to… talk to him and stuff.” I try.  

Dev smiles at me. “Just put yourself out there. That was literally the point of this dare.”

“Isn’t your boyfriend waiting for you? Romeo, o’ Romeo, where art thou Romeo?”

He rolls his eyes but gets the hint. “Don’t forget, drama Lily wants us to join their rehearsal for the Christmas musical, we start Monday,”

I mutter my confirmation and Dev ruffles my hair before hugging me and taking off to Niall’s.

“Oh!” I stop him at the door to the manor, “Are you guys still coming to the rugby match tomorrow though?”

Simon called in his payment – I owed him since we betted on Charles the disappointing goalie – and he asked that I attend his rugby game tomorrow. I had vedo privileges, but why would I? The rugby game starts towards the end of my game tomorrow – they’re playing later than usual – so it's perfect. Dev, Niall and I should make the second half.

“How is Simon even playing such a late game though,” Dev enquires, “especially if we’re only attending the second half – will he even be playing?”

“Yeah, the curfew thing isn’t an issue anymore. Apparently, his foster parents attended the last game? It's just super confusing because they’re also arseholes. I don’t know. I’m trying very hard to understand.” I explain as best I can, “but unless there are any surprises, he should be on the pitch tomorrow for the full game.”

Dev and I say goodbye and he takes off to Niall’s to do gross boyfriend things.


I get ready for bed after dinner and then call Jackson. He should be anticipating my call, I always call roughly around the same time, but after yesterdays detached interaction I don’t think he cares if I call or not anymore. To his credit, he sounded enthusiastic on Monday and Tuesday. But I’ve been giving him the bare minimum – nothing beyond the absolute dare requirements, I can’t blame him for tiring of me.

Jackson answers on the third ring and I get the feeling that he’s been staring at the phone the entire time, contemplating sending me to voicemail.

“Hi, Baz.” He answers formally. Straightforwardly. Not rude, but unemotionally. Detached. A business call.

“Hey, Jackson. How are you?”

“I’m fine. How are you?”

“I’m good. Are you busy?”

He’s silent for a beat. He was expecting me to follow up with I’m just calling to say goodnight because that’s the basic script I’ve been following thus far.

He recovers a moment later.

“No?” he sounds uncertain.

“Me neither,” I prompt. I’m not genuinely invested in this call, but Dev makes a good argument and Jackson did nothing wrong to deserve this treatment. And he’s insanely hot. He’s clearly not straight, and he’s interested in me. I wish these facts had more of an impact on me than it actually does, but I can entertain the idea.

It makes sense on paper. I could even see, to an extent, us working. I try to muster the enthusiasm.

“I was thinking we could chat for a bit? I mean – if you don’t absolutely hate talking to me that is. I promise if I bore you, you can block me immediately, no questions asked.”

He’s definitely rattled. It takes him a minute or two to reply, and he sounds confused when he eventually does. “I honestly just didn’t think you’d want to.”

I sigh. “I apologise for my behaviour and abandonment this week. It's just been a busy week, personally, but it wasn’t fair to you. I’m sorry for being a dick.”

Jackson huffs a laugh, “Honestly, I just thought you were being very straight,” the irony, “I felt bad for putting you in an uncomfortable position, coercing you to go out with me. So not how I wanted to get my first boyfriend,”

That makes me smile despite the circumstances.

“I’m your first?”

“Boyfriend, yeah,” he says, “I mean I’ve dated girls, but I’ve only recently come to terms with my sexuality,”

I frown, “Well, I’m sorry for being a disappointing first boyfriend, then, Jackson. You deserve better.”

“That’s not entirely true – the part about dating you being a disappointment.” Jackson clarifies, “I mean, it's not like I would have wanted anyone else, even if only for a few days. My… my crush on you is what made me realize I’m not straight….”

And … oh.

Well, now I feel like shit.

I’m his Simon Snow and he tried to do something about it, and I’ve just been brushing him off and not paying attention to him all week.

“Can I be completely blunt with you, Jackson?”

“Please.”

“I’m not straight.” I hear an uncomprehensive squeal from his side of the line, but I need to power through without giving him false hope. This is too delicate. I didn’t expect this to be real feelings, on his part. “I’m not ready for anyone in that way, I don’t want a boyfriend, I’m not ready for it where I am in my life. That’s why Dev pushed me into this dare, thinking he was being helpful but it's just, not something I want right now. Not with college mere months away, it doesn’t seem like the ideal time to start something I may not be around to see through. You deserve a great love story and a great boyfriend and… and I’m sorry for turning out to be a major disappointment,”

I hear him start to object. I cut him off. “I’m not done, I will tell you this: I have been unapologetically eye-fucking you for as long as we have been sharing a changeroom.” I hear him shriek of laughter and that’s nice. I don’t want him to be sad.

I want to like him.

It would be so easy to like him.

But I just don’t, and I can’t lead him on.

“I find you deliciously attractive and that’s not me just trying to butter you up – you’re fucking edible, you’re gorgeous, it’s just that I may be single but I am not emotionally available and I can’t give you what you need, what you deserve,”

I hear him sigh. “I knew you were hot,” he muses, “but I didn’t know you were a sweetheart.” He says earnestly. “Thanks for the truth, Baz. We’re cool. And I won’t tell anyone about you, don’t worry. But thank you for telling me, I’ll keep your truth safe.”

“Thank you, Jackson. And you never made me uncomfortable. I just… wish I could return your sentiments,”

“I understand, and I’m glad we got to meet, at least. Because we never officially met, prior, even though I got in a whole fight over you that landed all our semi-nude asses in the principals' office,” he laughs, “you were just fucking brilliant in there, by the way, the way you got us out of that, a fucking genius,”

The memory triggers another whole laughing fit between us.

“I’m glad we met, too,” I tell him earnestly. “and… I know it's not what you hoped for, but if you don’t hate the idea, I’d like to still be your friend once this fake relationship is over tomorrow. A real friend. But only if that won't make you uncomfortable or be too… soon? if you’re not open to it, that’s completely understandable,”

“I’d like that,” I hear the smirk in his voice, he finds my nervous rant humorous. “Just a heads up, friend, I check you out when you’re shirtless in the changeroom,”

“oh same here,” I smirk.

And just like that, the conversation is easy. He doesn’t try to change my mind or be forceful. He knows that no matter what, we break up tomorrow. He knows that I’m not straight and that I think he’s delicious, but I’m not interested. And maybe he’s not personally okay with it but he doesn’t try to force it. We talk for about an hour before he yawns and bids me goodnight.

We have chemistry, and if my heart wasn’t already preoccupied I would probably like him back. In an hour he’s complimented my body, my intellect and my personality. He’s flattered me, and he’s utterly attractive, and cute when he gets shy.

And yet, as I fall asleep, all that’s on my mind is the twenty-minute phone call about a Raven.

Chapter Text

Friday, December 11th

 

Having lost their previous match, the Foxes were riling for a win. Their most intimidating players – including a giraffe of a man with a tattooed cheek – glared and scowled at the home team, who needed no such desperation to match the Foxes’ ferocity.

Baz Pitch led his men onto the pitch, with Dev Grimm bringing up the rear. They were clad in Watford purple, except for Dev, whose uniform was green.

It was a home game for the Magicians, which meant that the stands were purple and green – the only exception a small orange cluster of Foxes fans who accompanied the team.

Baz wasn’t nervous. He had his best friend, one of the best goalies in U19 Football, holding down his goal. He was good at what he did, as a captain and a striker. It was harder to score on Dev than it was to miss on him, and it was harder for Baz to miss than it was for him to score. He trusted his team, his boys whom he led through games upon games – and they haven’t lost yet, not this season.

What was it, which lead the Magicians to lose their first game of the season to a far lesser team – cockiness or confidence?

By the end of the game, Baz Pitch would be disappointed. Dev Grimm would be exhausted. The Watford Magicians Football Team would be defeated. The Foxes would be triumphant, and Simon Snow would be scanning the bleachers of his own game, searching for a boy in a football shirt and messy bun.

***


NIALL

The game has just barely started, and already we can tell that somethings wrong.

“Are you sure about playing Keller?” Dev had cautiously asked Baz just before the toss, “he can’t score on Minyard,”

“Minyard closes,” Baz had brushed him off, “he won’t be in the goal during the first half, I’ll sub Keller out when Minyard takes over,”

“Why doesn’t he play full games?” I’d asked.

Baz shrugged, “he doesn’t take the game seriously; they probably can’t afford to keep him in the goal all game,”

Bryson Keller is the team’s best striker after Baz. He’s also the only striker on our team who cannot score on the Foxes’ goalie, Minyard. Now, the thing is, it’s not so much that all the other strikers are better than Bryson, it’s just that Minyard lets every striker except for Bryson, score. Minyard is an amazing goalie, dare I say, more skilled than Dev. But he’s also a wildcard, which is why Dev is considered the best goalie in U19 Football. If Minyard doesn’t want you to score, you don’t score. But Minyard doesn’t take the game seriously, so despite his talent, he watches goals fly into his net as if it amuses him.

When he plays the Magicians, he targets Bryson. He blocks every shot Bryson makes and watches every attempted goal by any other player, sail past him. He doesn’t even lift a finger when Baz makes a shot – his disrespect to the game pisses Baz off even though it makes his job easier. We don’t really know why Minyard targets Bryson in particular, random selection or something personal? My guess is that he has a crush on Bryson, and this is his way of getting his attention. Not the most effective method of flirting – but it definitely gets him Bryson’s attention.

Minyard might be the best player on his team, but his disregard for the game itself is likely one of the reasons the Foxes rank so low in the general hierarchy of U19 Highschool Football teams in the district.

Regardless, Baz went into the game with a simple but efficient plan; keep Bryson on for the first half – which Minyard never plays – let him bag the goals, and sub him out in the second half to replace him with a different striker whom Minyard probably won’t bother to guard his goal against.

But the Foxes surprised us today.

The team for the first and second halves were already submitted, and just as the boys emerged on the field for the first half, Minyard took position on the goal.

I watched as Baz looked mildly confused, glanced at Bryson who was glaring at Minyard and then at Dev who was looking at him with a concerned expression. It was too early in the game to sub Bryson out.

But that wasn’t where the surprises end. There were two new players on the team, strikers, and they were both good. They were Baz level good. Their defence line, although composed of the familiar players, played with fierceness and determination we’d never seen in them before.

Altogether, the team played well, someone had stepped in and whipped this team into shape and the Magicians were entirely caught off guard.

The most concerning factor was that Minyard entirely shut down the goal. No one knew why he suddenly decided to take the game seriously, but it was as if every striker on the field was Bryson Keller and he stopped every shot.

Our own defence line is brilliant, and we probably would still have been safe even though the offence line was stumped, but their two new players, strikers, were brilliant and although Dev tried his best – and he did block more than he missed – he let in three goals in the first half.

From my spot in the team’s dugout, I could tell that Baz desperately regretted not taking the Foxes seriously. Dev and Baz were committed in practice – compulsory and non-compulsory – as always, but they’d genuinely expected an easy win tonight. They hadn’t even considered the Foxes as competition.

And maybe if they had shown up with their familiar team and attitude, they wouldn’t have been. But with Minyard holding up the entire teams’ defence on his own, and their new players – a tall, tattooed hunk and a shorter, blue-eyed pretty boy – dominating the offence, they were running us into the ground.

Dev tried his best to limit them, but he could only do so much. Baz, Bryson, the entire offence line tried their best to level up the odds but Minyard had shut down the goal, an immovable wall.

By halftime, everyone is in shock. They don’t really know the protocol for losing. They’ve had uncertain and tough games before, but with Dev in defence and Baz in offence, they always snag a win, even if just barely. The boys join us in the dugout – I stay with the team, I’m not banished to the bleachers like mere mortals – and although they look defeated, Baz seems to remember that he’s the captain and rallies his boys around us.

DEV

Niall and I are keeping things lowkey in public, but that game was fucking mental, so I make my way to him as Baz rallies everyone in a huddle, and our arms brush each other just barely. His presence alone calms me down.

The boys look – to say the least – ambushed. They look borderline betrayed that the Foxes aren’t as terrible as usual. Baz’s expression is basically how dare Minyard randomly decide to actually guard his goal against me?

Coach nervously chews on her nails, which is deeply concerning because I’m fairly sure they’re acrylic.

“We’re behind,” Baz says simply to the surrounding group. “But half a game is enough time to do damage, as they’ve demonstrated. We can still get back in this, we just can’t let the pressure of being behind get to us.”

“Dev,” Baz turns to me, “Don’t look at the scoreboard. That’s not your job, you can’t do anything about the scoreboard,” he gestures vaguely at himself and the rest of the offence line, “we’ll worry about that. Our job is to score more than they do. I don’t want you to think too far into the stats of the game; who’s winning, who’s losing, I want you to take every ball as a new ball. I want you to focus on blocking every ball that comes your way, don’t worry about anything else, that parts on us,” I nod.

“Defense,” Baz turns to my defenders, “David and Goliath are new,” he says, probably referring to the new players on the Foxes’ team. I’ve never seen them before; one is tall and intimidating as the other is tiny yet feral. They’ve given me a hard time this last half.

“We don’t know how they play,” he continues, “we don’t know their strengths and weaknesses, but none of that changes your role. You keep them off Dev, you don’t let them get too close. You protect him so he can protect our goal. They got enough off our defence last half,” he says, “they’re not scoring again this game.” They all nod.

“boys,” Baz turns to the rest of the offence, “their one weakness is their defence,”

“but Minyard,” Kai cuts in.

“ - Minyard is on his game today,”  Baz agrees, “but the rest of their defence is lacking, it’s their weak point, they can’t keep us off him,”

He turns to address the whole team, “we were caught off guard first half, but we know our roles now. We’re shifting to an offensive, attacking strategy. Their defence is nothing, we’re going to get past them as soon as possible and aim for the goal. Try, repeatedly, you either score or you miss and tire Minyard out. He’s not used to playing full games, he’s a closer,”

“you think he’s playing this full game?” Niall asks from next to me, “you think he’s coming back this half?”

Baz shrugs, “we prepare for the worst. If he doesn’t, it can only get easier for us.”

“The Foxes proved a – surprisingly – worthy opponent. But they’ve had their fun and it’s time to remind them who we are. Dev, defenders, they don’t score again this half. Strikers, Minyard is small, he can’t block every inch of that goal,”

Laughter spreads through the changeroom and everyone’s mood lightens. They look determined. Their captain has faith in them, in their ability to make a comeback. He hasn’t given up yet and that’s contagious.

After drinks and a few pats on the butt and shoulder squeezes – why is sportsmanship so gay my boyfriend is right here – we’re back on the field for the second half.

The Foxes have probably anticipated that we would come back fighting because they’ve shifted to a more defensive approach. The strikers are still taking me on whenever they get the ball, but their priority seems to be to keep Baz and the boys from scoring any this half.

For the first time that I’ve ever seen, Minyard is actually communicating with his defence line. I’m on the complete opposite end of the field so I can’t see what’s going on, but the defence line seems to be getting chewed out by him, I’d assume for letting Baz get past them so easily.

Baz is doing what he does best, and right now that means being the best. The fastest, the fiercest. He hasn’t scored yet this game – this game is full of firsts – but that doesn’t halt his aggressiveness.

He knows who he is, he’s going to remind them.

Baz’s hair comes undone as he viciously dribbles and employs some fancy-ass footwork to confuse the goalie – it’s Minyard again this half, the first time I’ve seen him play a full game – he shoots, he misses.

 Watching Minyard in the goal is undeniably intriguing. He looks almost bored until he springs to life at the last moment, like a lion pouncing.

Barely a minute later Baz is once again gunning down, breaking through their defence. He passes to Keller who passes back to him, he shoots – he scores!

He doesn’t celebrate, we’re still three goals down – the Foxes scored once more this half – but there’s a glint of hope in his eyes. It gives us hope that you can score on Minyard. Maybe Baz just needed to adjust to Minyard’s technique, since he’s never really faced the goalie when he was actually trying. The only Magician used to being blocked out was Bryson.

Still, there’s an aura of hope as the Magicians take this as the breakthrough they needed.

That is until the referee calls the end of the game.

Everyone had been so invested in the game – in a nothing-nothing team like the Foxes dominating the superior Magicians – no one kept track of the time.

And that’s the game.

1 – 4; Foxes favour.

Niall follows the rest of the team onto the field. Across the pitch, I watch as Minyard butts heads with the smaller new striker – number 10. That’s the most social interaction I’ve seen from the goalie towards his teammates, ever. If anything, he’s always seemed even less concerned with them than he was with us.

Idly, I wonder if they’re an item and that maybe that’s why he hadn’t bothered picking on Bryson specifically today – he just blocked us all out.

Maybe that’s why he’s flexing his goal keeping skills. He’s trying to score.

Niall reaches me and affectionately ruffles my hair – which he adorably needs to be on his tiptoes to do. I see it in his eyes, the need for contact. The need to be close to me, to comfort me. But we’re not safe right now. They’re watching, they’re scrutinizing, they’re already disappointed in our performance today and they’re looking for anything. Any sliver of the truth for the sake of their drama, any indication as to whether or not Matthew’s claims were true.

I pull Niall into a hug. That’s normal, and I need it.

Baz reaches us a moment later and joins the hugs, although if it's with the intent of covering for us or just because he needs a hug, I’m uncertain.

After their little celebration, the Foxes form a line and soon the Magicians follow suit. The teams shake hands before heading to the showers.

Niall takes my wrist in one hand and Baz’s in the other and hauls us away from the locker room towards the parking lot instead. I guess we’re showering at home, then. 

Neither of us has any fight left in us, so he gets away with manhandling us. It's cute.

Niall digs my Jeep’s keys out of his back pocket. He also has mines and Baz’s phones, thank god since he didn’t allow us to go back for our duffels.

Baz climbs into the backseat. To my surprise and utter concern, Niall casually climbs into the drivers’ seat. I lean against the open drivers’ side door and raise an eyebrow at him.

“I have my learners’ license!” Niall defends, “and both, you and Baz are licensed drivers, this checks out!”

“But are you sure you want to practice in a big ass Jeep in the middle of the night, reversing out of a busy parking lot with agitated high school drivers?”

“yes.” He confidently replies.

I sigh in defeat.

I would die for Niall. But if Niall drives, I might die.

“If you change your mind, just pull over and I’ll take over,” I sigh as I close his door for him and head to the passengers' seat.

“it’s the perfect day for this because I really don’t care if I live or die,” Baz chirps from where he’s draped across both back seats.

“I won’t kill us but thanks for the vote of confidence Bazzy,” Niall retorts.

“Okay baby focus on reversing us out of here,” I cut them both off because we might all die tonight.

I make sure Niall stays between gears 1 and 2 the whole drive. I don’t sit back once, tense and alert the whole drive, ready to take over at a moment’s notice. My fingers twitch and remain ready to apply the handbrake at any given time. To his credit, Niall tries to get us there safely. We don’t kill anyone or ourselves but there are multiple occasions where the other driver needs to slam their breaks, give us the finger or stick their head out the window and brutally swear us. When this happens; I focus on the road, Niall apologizes by sticking his own head out the window and decidedly not looking at the road and Baz quietly glares at them while giving them the finger, even though we are very clearly at fault.

“Where are we going?” Niall asks as we approach our neighbourhood. We all live a walking distance away from each other, so Niall didn’t need a specific heading.

Baz just shrugs in disinterest from the backseat, seemingly done with life.

“Well it wouldn’t make sense to go to your house since Baz and I need to shower, one of ours,”

Niall nods and silently passes my house en route to Baz’s. I don’t question it but a look in the rearview mirror meets my eyes to Baz’s.

He’s avoiding your parents, Baz silently communicates through sheer facial expression.

I figured I give him a deadpan look.

He feels uncomfortable because they don’t know Baz stares loudly.

I know! I’ll tell them! Now get off my back about it! I scowl.

“Gosh, I hate Minyard,” I say to change the subject. Also, to include Niall in our drama since I know he feels left out when Baz and I start communicating telepathically.

“To be fair,” Niall reasons, “he didn’t actually do anything beyond just, doing his job. It’s just that no one expected him to do his job,”

“he hustled us,” Baz nods in agreement.

This doesn’t sit well with me; Niall being impressed by another goalie.

“You’re just defending him because you think he’s hot,” I bite out.

I’ve seen Niall draped around too many guys (and girls) to just…get over it, I guess. Of course, he recently explained that his reason for floating around was to get his mind off me since he deemed me unattainable, but it’s still not an easy thing to have seen when I was in love with him the whole time.

He’s not a hoe by any means, and the other person was always aware of the situation, he didn’t lead them on or anything – it’s just that his standards of who he’d hook up with were, just, ‘hot’.

I’ve never said he was hot,” Niall argues, which is bad since he’s still driving. We swerve to the opposite lane which is – thankfully – momentarily empty and I readjust the steering wheel to take us back to our lane, “do you think he’s hot? He’s just your type too, short and blonde,” he scoffs, unexpectedly.

Do I think Minyard is hot? I never really thought about it, to be honest, I thought he was an obvious kind of hot.

“You’re not even short,” I redirect this dangerous line of conversation  “you’re just shorter than me but I’m tall,”  I reason, “and before I fell in love with you I was literally heterosexual,”

“Well, you’re not heterosexual now,” Niall argues.

And who’s fault is that,” I quip back.

“I cannot believe we’re even having this conversation,” Baz contributes from the backseat completely monotone, “if any of those Foxes are even remotely worth turning gay for, it was that striker with the blue eyes the one who got all those goals off Dev,”

Two goals,” I counter-argue, “he got two goals off me,”

Our conversation is interrupted by Niall pulling up at Pitch manor. Daphne greets us warmly and Mordelia makes us aware that we smell, as we head upstairs to Baz’s bedroom.

Baz calls dibs on the shower, and even though there are at least five other bathrooms in his house, Niall and I wander out to the balcony to wait for his en suite to be available.

A shiver passes through me at the brisk night breeze. I’m still dressed in my kit, a shirt and shorts are all that protects me from the weather.

Niall shrugs off his cosy hoodie, and I notice that he’s wearing my old football kit shirt underneath it. It’s purple, from before I became goalie. Despite the cold, seeing Niall in my name, my number, my clothes, being mine, makes blood and heat rush through my body.

“Didn’t think I’d come to your game without wearing your number, did you?” he smirks at me while tossing the hoodie at me. It’s one of his favourites, it’s light pink and says BE GAY DO CRIME in white letters.

I shake my head, “you’ll feel cold,”

“ – then warm me up,” he cuts me off, his daring gaze a challenge.

I slip into his hoodie and pull him to me by the hips. “I just wish you didn’t have to hide it,” I say, savouring the sight of Niall wearing my name.

His hands find the back of my neck and he gets up on his tip-toes. “I get it,” he mumbles, his lips brushing mine as he speaks, “there’s no rush,” he takes my bottom lip between his teeth and tugs. “I don’t mind waiting for you, I’ve loved you all along.”

“I’ll love you always.” I kiss him.

It’s soft and slow. A promise.

“You look for me,” Niall mumbles against my jawline as he kisses, nips, licks, bites. Has his way with me. Claims whatever he can reach. Pulls me down by the back of my neck when he demands more.

“huh?” I mumble incoherently as I’m kissed senseless. He’s tiny, and he’s dominating me.

My hands travel down his back to the swell of his ass as I pull him into me, he moans against my neck.

“you look for me when you save a goal,” he breathes. “Every time you save a goal you look for me,”

“I always have,” I bend forward and let my hands travel over the back of his upper thighs, before lifting him off the ground.

With a yelp of surprise, he grips tightly on my shoulders and wraps his legs around my torso, locking his ankles behind my back.

“I was tired of bending,” I mumble against his lips as we kiss again.

“we’d make eye contact sometimes when you saved goals before,” he continues as he breaks for air. “but I convinced myself it didn’t mean anything, or it was just a coincidence,”

“You mean everything.” I declare, carrying him into the bedroom and tossing him on the bed.

When you spend enough time pining for something, when you’ve built someone up in your head enough, it's easy for the reality of them, faults, weaknesses and all, to be a disappointment.

Niall is the furthest thing from a disappointment. It’s not exactly like I’d imagined it would be, it’s more comfortable than that. Not much has changed between us, or our interaction with each other. We’re still in love with each other, it’s just all out in the open now.

He’s still Niall. Still my best friend, who makes me laugh and want to spend the rest of my life kissing him. He still makes me roll my eyes a concerning number of times a day. He makes me dream about devouring every inch of him, while never letting anyone else lay a finger on him. He makes me want to protect him even though I know I don’t need to; he can hold his own. And we still argue, we still have disagreements and clashing of interests and opinions, and we still butt heads.

And I’d never give up on him. I’d rather argue with him every day than love anyone else.  

I’d rather have Niall than have it easy.

***


SIMON

“Si, I really don’t think that this is part of Basil’s plot,”

“But you agree that he has a plot?” I ask Penny on the phone.

“What plot could this possibly be, Simon?” she sighs. She’s probably very disappointed that we’re back here after all these weeks.

“I don’t know,” I grumble, “maybe he just wanted to make me look like an idiot. I looked for him all second half, Penny, and after the game! His Porsche wasn’t even in the lot,”

“ – Actually, I think he came with Dev and Niall,” she cuts in.

“I checked for Dev’s Jeep too! It wasn’t there. He didn’t come. He said he would, he lied.”

I don’t know why it feels like this. It shouldn’t feel like this. Who cares about him? So what, if he didn’t show up?

“Is it possible, Si, that you’re simply upset because you were looking forward to seeing him today?”

“that’s irrelevant, it’s the principle of the thing, he said he’d be there and he wasn’t.”

“has he said anything since then?”

I pull the phone away from my face to check for notifications. “no.”

“Well you’re seeing him tomorrow, right?”

“I don’t know,” I say sceptically, “maybe I should promise to be there and make him wait and then just never fucking show up.”

“I don’t think that would work,” she says seriously, “he’s picking you up from work, you can’t not go to work just to prove a point.”

I sigh. “what do I do, Pen?”

“Is there anything to do, Simon?” she asks, “It’s not that big of a deal he must have just forgotten, lets not forgot that he had a game immediately before that – during your game, actually - and I heard they lost,”

“They lost? They don’t lose,”

“they lost,” Penny confirms, her tone suggesting that this is genuine gossip. “he was probably so distracted and upset about losing that he forgot about your date,”

“ – appointment.” I correct.

“I really don’t think that this was part of a mastermind plot to distract you during your game or hurt your feelings,” Penny expresses, “If Basil was still – or ever, really – plotting against you, then why would he tutor you on his weekends for free? And why would he show up to help with Tweety, and dig out all those books on birds and Ravens from his library for you, and text you late at night when I’m asleep and can’t therapize you,”

“ – Okay okay I get it, you can stop now,”

“And bring you to his Greenhouse every week because nature soothes you,”

“I said I get it!” I sigh. She’s adamant that Baz isn’t out to get me. “well, what should I do? It’s going to make things awkward tomorrow because I expected him to be there and he wasn’t,”

“Address the elephant in the room before then,” she says as if it's obvious, “call him – casually, Simon, don’t yell at him and accuse him of plotting for Merlin’s sake – and bring it up, he’ll explain his side and tomorrow everything will be back to normal”

“you’re actually brilliant,” I say, it’s true.

“This is true,” Penny agrees.

“love you, Pen,”

“love you too. Before you go, Si… just remember… I know you’re disappointed that Baz didn’t show up tonight, but whatever his reason is, just try to remember and focus on the good things going on for you right now. I know you wanted him there, but you had me there, I’m always there to watch you, and Shepherd was there and I bet if Micah didn’t have a game he’d be there too! Lily was there cheering you on too! Which, to be honest, was pretty surprising because last I checked she was seeing some guy from Lacrosse I think, so she should be at his game but anyway, Si, your friends are there. And Simon, oh my god, your foster parents were there! That’s something you’ve never had before so relish in it while you do! You get to play full games these days and you don’t need to sprint home afterwards, and college scouts get to watch you play and you were man of the match! There are so many brilliant things in your life to be happy about and honestly, these things are going to matter so much more in a few months than whether or not some guy who may or may not be your friend was in the bleachers,”

I sigh. She’s always right. I’d be as useless as a grape without Penny.

“You’re right. And you’re also right that you’re there every week even though you don’t care for rugby so … I appreciate you, Penny. I don’t say it enough.”

***


DEV

“hey,” Niall coo’s, “are you okay?”

“yeah?” I refocus on the boy in my arms. I’m cushioned on him, pinning him to the bed. I snuggle my face into his neck.

Content.

“you zoned out for a while there,” he says concerned as he affectionately tugs on my hair.

“Sorry, pup,”

“pup?” he muses.

“like a golden retriever,” I kiss his forehead, just under his messy blonde bangs.

Niall makes a noise of protest.

“You’re right,” I agree. “you’re more of a pug.”

Niall bucks his hips in retaliation, eliciting a moan from me.

Immediately, I pin his arms above his head and lean down towards his ear, “well you’re going to have to pay for that,” I whisper before taking his earlobe between my teeth and tugging.

Niall moans, and then pulls my face up to his, looking me in the eyes.

“Mark me,” he says simply.

At my confused expression, he elaborates, “give me a hickey, mark me as yours,”

“People will ask,” I hesitate, “they’re already scrutinizing us,”

He cuts me off, “ – they may not know it was you but they’ll know I’m taken, and I want to wear your mark. I can’t mark you, your parents don’t know and it’s too suspicious when you haven’t dated in such a long time, but my family knows, and no one at school needs to know it was you,”

I rest my forehead against his. “thank you. thank you for understanding, and being patient, and still wanting to be mine…”

“I’m yours, I’ve been yours this whole time now do something about it,” he pulls on my hair while bucking his hips again, and I lose any remnants of self-restraint I previously possessed.

I hook my fingers under his chin and look into his eyes. His pupils are dilated, I can see my reflection in them, and I can only assume I look equally debauched. “I’m yours,” I promise.

I kiss and lick against his jawline. My lips and tongue explore his neck until I hear him intake a sharp breath.

“Found it,” I smirk against his skin before biting down on the sweet spot of his neck. He gasps, and his grip on my hair tightens almost painfully. Licking over the sensitive skin, I leave a hickey on his neck, and another a little lower on his collarbone even though no one will see.

Soon, Niall is shirtless beneath me and a trail of hickey’s decorate his abdomen, from his neck to the V-line of his hips lower abs. He’s writhing beneath me as my attention ventures closer to where he needs me, but not close enough.

Finally, two of my fingers slide under the waistband of his jeans.

“Yes or no?” I ask as my other hand massages the bud of his nipple.

“Fuck, yes,” he moans.

“No.” replies a voice from behind me.

Niall and I both startle in surprise.

There’s silence for a moment. Another moment.

Niall breaks the silence eventually, “I don’t really have an excuse.” He admits.

“I completely forgot you were here,” I add

“get a room,” Baz replies, “preferably one that isn’t mine.”

He rolls his eyes as he throws a clean towel at me, and I head to the shower.

***


SIMON

Penny was right about something else, too. Sure, I’m annoyed that Baz said he’d be there, and he wasn’t. But really, I’m just disappointed because I spent all week looking forward to him coming to my game, coming to watch me particularly, and then he just didn’t show. Didn’t even text or call. Just, either, forgot or didn’t bother – I’m not sure which possibility is worse.  I even dreamt about it a few nights ago. I trained twice as hard at practice, to make sure that I was at my best when Baz was watching. I don’t know when this need to impress him birthed, but I just wanted to see him smiling at me from the bleachers, watching me with even a fraction of awe with which I watch him play.

Our Greenhouse adventures, our motorcycle rides, even when we take his Porsche when it’s inevitably raining… we have fun together. I miss his company all week. I count down the days until the weekend, but not for the reasons everyone else does, I just can’t wait to spend time with him.

It's true that I see him every day, but I don’t always have an excuse to talk to him – we were never friends. Furthermore, he’s dating someone new every week and he’s always preoccupied with them. He sits at their table with their friends.

Those few hours during our lessons are the only moments I get him to focus on me. I don’t know why or since when this is important – it’s not even about keeping him away from Agatha anymore – I just know that it is.

I just know that when he calls me it makes me happy and that when I have a nightmare or anxiety the first person I want to talk to is him (even if Penny isn’t asleep yet. She doesn’t know this, I don’t understand it. She’s my best friend – he’s not replacing her. I don’t know what’s going on.) I know that when he showed up for me, and for Tweety, I was immeasurably grateful. I know that my favourite place to study was my window seat at Starbucks, and yet I don’t miss it one bit, but I dream about Baz’s Greenhouse.

I also know that in those dreams, it’s not the Greenhouse. It’s not the Greenhouse that makes me feel this way if Baz isn’t in it with me. When I dream, I dream of the green and the pond and the pretty flowers, and I dream of grey eyes and sarcasm.

I don’t understand it, but I know how I feel on the back of Baz’s motorcycle.

I don’t understand this at all. But I know that even though I endured so much for my chance to play rugby and to play full games so that college scouts can see me play rugby, I spent the entire second half looking for him.

And I admit to, but don’t understand the disappointment I felt when the final whistle sounded at the end of the game. When we won the game and I was man of the match – courtesy of all the extra practise I’ve engaged in this week – and I could not, for the life of me, paint a smile on my face. Because he was supposed to be there. Because he was supposed to watch me do it.

Because he said he wanted to see me, and he didn’t.

Because I gave him veto privileges and he didn’t use it, but instead just stood me up, essentially.

And I know that I want to know why he didn’t come, and I just hope it wasn’t a stupid reason – because I don’t want to give up on him. I don’t want to feel disappointed. I don’t want to go back to hating him.

I know that I want to hear his voice even though I’m mad at him. And I want to see him tomorrow even if I don’t want to look at him right now.

I know that I don’t need help in Biology anymore – I’m just hoping he doesn’t notice.

I know that he snuck a photograph of me drinking coffee in his sitting room armchair – I don’t know why, but I didn’t ask because I don’t want him to delete it.

I know how I feel when he picks me up at work. I know how I feel, arms wrapped around his waist and head leaning on his back between his shoulder blades, his scent encasing me, as we ride on his motorcycle. And I know how he tries to smother his smile when I make him laugh because he won’t admit that he thinks I’m funny, I know he’ll ditch his date to help save a bird, I know he’ll support an animal welfare nonprofit instead of a vet that disappointed me, and then donate a shit ton of money to them anyway.

And I know how he opens and re-ties his hair when he’s annoyed. How he smiles down at my homework when he’s marking it, although I don’t think he realizes it. The way he leans into me when we share a bench and he’s explaining a section to me.

I don’t know what to do with these feelings, but I think I know what they mean.

I think I’m in love with Baz Pitch.

***


NIALL

I’m woken up by my pillow vibrating. It takes me a moment to realize that it’s not my pillow but that I’ve migrated to the edge of Baz’s pillow and that his hair is in my face. I’m sandwiched between Baz and Dev, who is big spooning me.

I guess we fell asleep while Dev was showering and he didn’t want to wake us.

The vibrating hasn’t disturbed Baz, but my shuffling has woken Dev.

“that yours?” he gruffly asks.

“Baz,” I mumble while digging around for his phone under his pillow. He doesn’t even startle.

“it’s Simon,” I turn to Dev. It isn’t really late; we were just tired and Dev and Baz were still pretty disappointed. “should I wake him up?” I ask Dev.

Dev looks over me at Baz, sleeping soundly. Snoring slightly.

“I mean, he’ll see him tomorrow for their lesson thing,”

The phone stops ringing as Simon gets Baz’s voicemail.

We let Baz sleep as Dev puts his phone on the dresser on his side of the bed and takes me in his arms.

We’re silent for a long time, and just as I’m at the edge of consciousness I hear Dev whisper, “I’m going to miss you.”

I’m fast asleep a moment later.

Chapter Text


 Saturday, December 12th

NIALL

“Plain vanilla with a flake, and a plain vanilla with rainbow sprinkles,” I order from ‘Steve’.

“Being an adult is balancing your rainbow sprinkles with plain vanilla,” Dev declares from beside me.

“I’m pretty sure being an adult means not ordering rainbow sprinkles,” I smirk.

Dev looks at me like I’ve just told him that Santa isn’t real. I know because I’m the one who’d told him that Santa wasn’t real. He’d looked at me the same way.

“I’m sorry,” I backtrack immediately, “I’m wrong; what do I know about adulting? I’m wrong, love, adults can have rainbow sprinkles,” I coo.

His shoulders relax slightly, and he seems genuinely relieved as he accepts our ice-cream cones from Steve and hands me mine.

I’ve never been to this eatery before; it’s just McDeez, but it’s a lot smaller and further out from town than the one we frequent. It almost feels like we’re in an all-new town, a place where no one knows us or cares who Dev and I are to each other.

An escape.

Dev’s sleep broke at 3am, our parents both thought we were at Baz’s, Baz’s parents were asleep… long story short; we snuck out of Baz’s house and hit the road with no destination in mind.

Nothing's ever felt like this. We’re not doing anything particularly taboo. It’s just something about being on the road before sunrise. After sunset. That space of time between dusk and dawn that’s reserved for vampires and the devil. When you get to be a different person, or maybe the person you wish you could be during the day.

Baz had been fast asleep while Dev prodded me awake. He gestured for me to be quiet and then handed me one of Baz’s jackets (he was wearing my hoodie). I changed back into my jeans from the previous night, but Dev borrowed a pair of Baz’s pants, and we snuck off into the night, tip-toeing as if we were committing the most heinous of crimes.

I knew we weren’t going home, but I never asked where we were going. It didn’t matter; I’d follow him anywhere.

I don’t think Dev had a destination in mind either because we drove aimlessly. We took turns at random with no forethought. We took the turns we never usually take. I figured the plan was to drive aimlessly and then take the GPS back home—an adventure. A road trip in the purest sense of the word – following the road itself; no destination, no maps.

7 minutes after we started driving and I realized that Dev has no idea where we’re going, I decided to navigate. Dev drove straight unless I instructed him otherwise. He took the turns I chose without hesitation. This almost feels like a bonding exercise.

We drove for nearly a half-hour before we approached a McDeez and stopped for ice cream, which we’re taking back to the Jeep to eat while we drive. I have no idea where we’re going from here. We’re close to home, and we’re going home in a few hours, but this still feels liberating.

For the moment, we’re just two lost boys in the dark.

***


BAZ

I’m brushing my teeth when it hits me.

Spitting the leftover toothpaste into the basin, I don’t even bother wasting a minute to rinse as I dash off in search of my phone. I haphazardly search through the sheets and under the pillows looking for it – a daily ritual – before spotting it on the nightstand.

I apparently don’t have time to walk around the bed to the nightstand because I fling my body across the King size bed and reach for the phone.

Dead.

Fucking hell.

What is the point of scientists if they can’t invent a phone that never dies, and what is the point of being filthy rich if I can’t buy one?  

Charge. 0% 1%

I sit on the floor next to the charger and wait for it to turn on. It does, after what feels like an eternity.

There are more notifications than I’d care to deal with right now, but one catches my eye.

1 missed call: Simon Snow

It’s from last night, probably after I fell asleep. No text messages – that’s not good.  Whenever I miss his calls, he leaves me a text message about why he called – like he needs an excuse. No voicemails either, although that was a long shot.

Who even leaves voicemails anymore?

I wish he had.

I feel dread rise in me. I can’t believe I forgot about his game.

In all honesty, he hadn’t crossed my mind at all last night, which almost never happens. The worst part is he wouldn’t believe me (and I’d never tell him) but I was looking forward to this excuse to watch his game. I even dreamt of it a few nights ago. I’ve been anticipating it since he brought it up last week. If I actually didn’t want to go, I’d have just vetoed it.

But I wanted to. I wanted him to want me to.

Of course, I wanted to watch him play.

Of course, I wanted to watch him, period.

But after yesterday’s game, I could think of nothing but the bitter and unfamiliar taste of failure all evening, all through the night. In my dreams, Minyard blocked me, shot after shot and then laughed at me. Sure, I’d never even seen him laugh, or display any form of emotion really, but in my dream, he was a monster.

It was my fault; I can’t just brush that under the rug. If anyone is responsible for this loss, it’s me. I’m the captain, I should have taken them as seriously as I’d take any other team. I’m the best striker on our team, I should have been able to get past a subpar defence and a goalie a foot shorter than me. I’m the one who pitted Keller against Minyard despite the advice of my vice-captain, and he couldn’t score. Granted, neither could I, but Minyard was a pro at blocking Keller so that just took up space from replacing him with a player Minyard wouldn’t be able to anticipate.

And I’m the one who promised Simon I’d be there, and then I wasn’t.

And sure, it sounds like a small issue. A mistake. Forgivable.

But its more than just whether or not I showed up, it’s the fact that I said I’d do something and then I didn’t. Who am I to judge his foster parents’ sincerity when I break my promises and let him down?

How many people have made and broken promises to this fractured boy?

I claim to love him (however secretly), I claim to want better for him than anyone else in his life – well, maybe I’m challenged by Bunce but that’s about it – and yet I let him down.

And it’s worse this time, even though I’ve gotten on his nerves, made him mad and disappointed him countless times before. Because this time, it’s coming from someone he considers a friend.

***


NIALL

It occurs to me that we’ve never really bothered to venture beyond the boundaries of our comfy little town. We eat at the same diners, we shop at the same stores and take the same routes I could navigate in my sleep. Sure, it’s a great town, a privileged town. But what does this say about our sense of adventure if we’re only roughly a half-hour out of town and I’m intrigued by a McDonald's branch?

Travel lust consumes me to the extent that I’m leaving for France in mere months, and yet I’ve never even bothered exploring my own city.

France.

France is a topic which Dev and I have cleanly avoided since our first kiss, which is a pretty impressive deed since it’s come up approximately every second day before we got together.

That is, until last night.

To his credit, Dev likely thought I was asleep already, and I mostly was. But I know I wasn’t dreaming when I heard Dev say he’d miss me.

I’m not going anywhere. I’m all his, I’m all in this.

Except that I’m literally leaving for France, and the timer is ticking down. And I don’t think either of us knows or are ready to find out, what this would mean for us.

I’ve waited so long for this and he’s always supported it. Supported me. It’s been us against the world since forever, and yet what we have now has always seemed unattainable. A dream.

I was lost without him. I knew where I needed to get, but I couldn’t get there. And then I stumbled into it headfirst, the Columbus of loving Dev Grimm. And he loves me. And now whenever I feel lost I look at the boy in the seat next to me, one hand on the steering wheel and the other on my thigh as we drive aimlessly – and I’m found.

How can I leave this beautiful boy behind?

I know Dev, I love him for a reason; he’d never ask me to give up something that’s this important to me. I don’t think he’d even let me give it up without coercion. Not even if I was staying for him.

Especially if I were staying for him.  

 But am I expected to offer? And if I do offer, can I really say that I’m offering to give up on a dream I’ve had for years, wholeheartedly, and not just to be polite?

But also, can I leave him behind after experiencing being loved by him?

How can I leave him if I love him, but how can I give this up while being true to myself?

***


BAZ

 

 

 

Sorry I missed your call, rough night, |

 Backspace.

Sure, losing the game sucked but we’ve both had legitimate rough nights so let’s try not sounding like a douche.

 

 

 

I’m so sorry I didn’t show up yesterday. I was honestly just so upset after the game (you probably know, the Foxes dominated us) and I forgot, and that makes me a huge asshole but I’m sorry. And then I fell asleep and I missed your call and |

Backspace.

Well, now I just sound desperate.

 

 

 

I’m in love with you and I didn’t mean to stand you up and I wish I was there instead of cocooning in my own self-pity please know it was a mistake on my part, but I didn’t mean to break my promise, and I’ll spend every day making it up to you if you give me a chance|

Backspace. Well, I was never actually sending that last one but typing it out was cathartic.

The truth is that I am sorry. Hating Simon was a fun experiment to get his attention. I didn’t know how to be his friend when I liked him so badly, and the possibility of him rejecting me terrified me, so I was an arsehole to him on principle. And that was okay when it was all I could have. If my options were being hated by Simon Snow or being invisible to him, I pushed him, because I’d rather him see me than be irrelevant. I never imagined being one of Simon’s people. I never imagined being soft, even though I’ve always been fond. My feelings for Simon have always been a raging fire, uncontrollable and strong but all-consuming and dangerous. He shapes it. Calms it. By no means lessens it, but makes it feel warm instead of incinerating.

He’s making me soft.

But after knowing what its like to be one of the people Simon cares for, I can’t go back to him hating me. And I can’t go from being his friend to someone he used to know.

If he can never love me, I want him to at least keep liking me.

He doesn’t need to know the truth of how I feel, but I don’t want to destroy any sliver of positive feelings he may have towards me.

No. No text is going to fix this.

Simon Snow doesn’t care about excuses. He’s kind, he’ll forgive me and understand, and then just silently be disappointed. Or he’ll just lower his overall expectations of me, he’ll never ask me to show up again.

No, he cares about actions. He cares about the fact that I said I’d be there, and I wasn’t.

I wasn’t there.

A text isn’t going to make this better. It’s just going to acknowledge it.

It’s seven a.m.

He should be at Starbucks by now.

It’s a good thing that Dev and Niall snuck off on their rendezvous when they thought  I was still asleep, so the Jeep isn’t blocking me in. Looks like we’re heading to Starbucks.

***


PENNY

Baz struts into Starbucks the same way he walks into AP Calculus – like he owns the place. He looks uncharacteristically dishevelled today. He’s wearing his letterman jacket – which I don’t think I’ve ever seen him wear – and skinny faded jeans. His freshly washed hair is wavy and damp from the drizzle outside.

“Baz is here,” Lily smiles pleasantly.

Lily and I meet at Starbucks sometimes study together, or just work on our individual homework together. It’s never really a planned thing, we just sit together if we’re here at the same time, which is often. Sometimes I come in to study here when Simon is on the clock and I miss him.

“Ooh,” Agatha smirks suggestively, “Baz is here,” she eyes him up and down in a way that makes me uncomfortable.

Lily cringes, but it's so subtle that you wouldn’t notice it if you didn’t know her.

Agatha and Lily aren’t really friends, but they have me in common, so they end up in each other’s company sometimes, like right now.

Agatha sips on her iced tea while flipping through a magazine as Lily and I catch up on homework and fuel our caffeine addictions.

“What did you get for f?” Lily asks me.

“uhmm,” I flip to the previous page, “x = 78”

Lily pauses before crinkling her eyebrows in confusion. “Well, that’s odd since we’re doing Geography,” she declares before flipping through her Geography textbook.

“Are those two buddies now?” Agatha asks as she curiously watches Baz and Simon converse in the kitchen. The staff kitchen. The one we’re not supposed to enter.

“Wouldn’t they be?” Lily asks. She’s friends with all of us and yet she’s entirely out of most gossip circles, which is a bit odd but I think she prefers it that way. Whenever we hang out, she never volunteers or seems too interested in general gossip. The most controversial thing she’s ever done was initiate the one-week relationship with Baz – which is why I think Simon was so protective of her; it was so out of character that we assumed she actually had feelings for him, and it’s hard to not want to protect Lily. “They’re both particularly lovely,” Lily continues.

“I know that,” Agatha rolls her eyes, “but they don’t seem to agree with the sentiment. What? Are we just forgetting that they’ve been like Doofenshmirtz and Perry since, like, middle school?”

“well, which one of them would be Doofenshmirtz and Perry, then?” Lily asks smiling.

“Simon has the whole tragic childhood thing down,” Agatha suggests.

“True, but Basil has layers, there’s more to him than you’d think,” Lily says.

Agatha seems agitated by the prospect of Lily being closer to Baz than herself. “Well, Baz would be a better villain, I don’t think Simon could ever play the evil genius,”

“Well it’s not like Doofenshmirtz is really good at being the villain, so I don’t think that’s a valid point of comparison,” I explain. “If Simon had to spontaneously turn evil, he’d probably be as effective a villain as Doofenshmirtz is, whereas I think Baz would be a very successful villain,”

“So then are we saying that Baz is Perry the Platypus?” Agatha asks incredulously.

Lily and turn to each other, and shrug. “I guess so.”

“honestly, I can sort of see it.” Lily adds. “and it's not like they were really nemesis’. I mean, let's say, Baz shows up at Simon’s house once a day, listens to him rant about his issues, then they mutually beat each other up and then Baz goes home.”

“I see it.” I declare.

“I can’t unsee it” Agatha looks mildly traumatized.  

***


            NIALL

We’re about four hours out of town, parked off on the side of the road with a bag of sugar-doughnuts and coffee, laying on the head of Dev’s Jeep as we watch the sunrise.

The last few hours have been the most romantic date I’ve ever been on, and that’s the thing about being in love, I think. You don’t need anything fancy for it to be a date. For it to be a great date. I just need him.

This morning was beautiful. An adventure. Trust. Love. Getting lost together. Getting lost in each other. I’ve never loved him more. I’ve never felt more loved.

“Should we head back?” I ask, soaking up the sun – a privilege in England.

I don’t want to head back yet, but we still have a four-hour drive back home – which should take us about five hours adding time to stop and make out around the halfway point – and we’re already probably further out than we should be.

“This might have been a mistake,” Dev mumbles.

“What do you mean?”

“We’re four hours from home and I’m falling asleep.”

“You don’t need to drive the whole way – I can drive us back.”

“Yes, but you’re only allowed to drive with a licensed driver who’s conscious, I don’t know if I can make it four hours.”

I consider this. Sure, we woke up early, but we got at least five hours of sleep in.

“What time did your sleep break?” I ask because it just occurred to me that just because Dev woke me up at 3 am, doesn’t mean that his sleep only broke at 3 am.

“I couldn’t fall asleep,” mumbles sleepy Dev.

My eyes widen in surprise, “Dev! Why didn’t you tell me? you must be exhausted you’ve been awake for days at this point,” I cup and squish his cheeks between my hands, “we could have stayed close to home if I’d known,”

Dev shakes his head, “I didn’t intend to drive so far out, I was just really enjoying our date, I think it’s just the sun making me warm and sleepy,” he yawns and hops off the hood, heading back to the driver’s seat.

I scramble after him. “You aren’t driving four hours, sleepy,”

“You aren’t driving if I’m asleep.”

“You won’t even enjoy the rest of our road trip if you’re tired,” I protest, “You’re just going to be waiting to get home and for it to end so you can go to sleep,” I scowl.

His eyes soften. “I just want to keep you safe. I don’t want you driving if I’m asleep, at least until you get your license. I know you can drive it’s just that I want to be able to protect you if there’s an emergency, not be half asleep.”

“I don’t want to put you in danger either,” I lean over the centre console and kiss his cheek, “that wasn’t my suggestion though. I just meant we don’t need to drive the four hours right now,” I pull out my phone and hit up Google. “Okay, the nearest hotel is about an hour out, but there’s an inn only fifteen minutes from here. It’s small, but it seems cosier than a motel and we should be okay without a reservation since it’s only for a few hours,”

Dev looks at me incredulously. “What are you suggesting?”

“We take a nap, hit the road again in a few hours, we’ll get home early enough.”

Dev still looks surprised, but he agrees easily enough and soon I’m navigating him towards The Heron inn.

***


SIMON

I wonder if a football scholarship would fund me studying to be a pastry chef.

I wonder if Pen would allow me to be a pastry chef, or if she’d lecture me about instability and employment limitations. I don’t need to listen to Penny, I choose to, because the thing is, even when she says stuff that’s not what you want to hear – she’s right. She may be one of those people who think they’re always right, but the thing is she mostly is. That’s just one more thing she’s right about.

I like baking. This job is one of the few good things in my life ( a list that’s been steadily and gratefully growing in recent months) because I get paid to do something I enjoy. Baking calms me. It allows me an escape from the maelstrom of emotions that is daily living. There’s no room for feelings, judgment calls, memories, attachment, expectations in baking. It’s precise measurements and specified ingredients. If you follow the instructions perfectly, you’ll be okay.

Baking allows me control over something, and the reward is something beautiful.

And today, baking is my escape from my mind.

“I’d like croissants today,” declares a velvety, familiar voice behind me.

Well, the emotional escape didn’t exactly last long.

I’m surprised by the distraction. No one is allowed back here.

And I know the voice. I wasn’t expecting it.

When I gather myself a moment after being startled, there’s chocolate batter speckled on my face, hair, and hands.

“Baz?” I turn to him while wiping my hands off on a paper towel. “What’re you doing here?”

“Here as in at Starbucks 5 hours early, or here as in the kitchen?”

“Both?” I’m confused.

Baz sighs. “I wanted to apologize for yesterday. I said I’d be there. I should have been there.”

“I look down at my bowl of batter and proceed folding. “You could have just vetoed out,” I remind him.

It’s something that’s been bugging me. If he didn’t want to come, he had the option to veto. Yeah, it would have sucked but at least I wouldn’t have spent all night looking for him. All week excited for the game.

Baz shakes his head in protest, “No it’s not that, I didn’t not want to come – it wasn’t intentional – ”

“Did you forget?” I ask blatantly.

He cringes. That tells me everything. A sad smile finds my lips as I pour the batter into the casserole tray.

Baz groans as he walks over to me, pulling on his open hair in frustration. He looks nice, more casual and effortless than usual – but nice. Cosy. Comfy. His hair is longer than it usually is; he’ll have it trimmed soon. Baz may have hair longer than the average blokes, but it’s always well-groomed and taken care of. It looks soft, and even when it’s messy or in disarray it looks like silk.

“I didn’t forget,” he stresses, “forgetting suggests that I didn’t care enough to remember, and it wasn’t like that!”

I keep mixing. I’m not sure why he’s putting in this much effort to convince me, though. That’s not very Baz Pitch of him.

Unless this is what it’s like to be one of Baz Pitch’s own. One of his people. Penny and Lily have been telling me he’s a nice friend, I never believed them. Maybe this is the Baz they’ve known all along.

In which case I can’t blame Lily for asking Baz out. Even if just for the dare.

Baz leans his back against the countertop I’m working at and leans into me slightly, trying to get my attention by getting in my face.

“We lost yesterday,” he explains, “we didn’t just lose, it was humiliating! We lost 4 – 1 and the one goal I was able to even score was in the last 30 seconds of the game, which means I spent like 89 minutes as Minyard’s bitch!” his voice is louder than it should be. The kitchen isn’t that big, I’m almost positive that the baristas can hear him.

“By the time the game was over, I was so disappointed and embarrassed and just overall shook and Dev was bummed out and Niall was in complete mama hen mode, he drove us home – and I do mean he drove us home, I’m almost certain Dev saw his life flash before his eyes – and then Dev and Niall were gross and I fell asleep almost immediately and then I woke up this morning and remembered your game mid-brushing my teeth and I was like well oh fuck and in conclusion, I didn’t forget, It just slipped my mind in the midst of it all!”

Baz takes a deep and well-deserved breath.

I turn to face him. I consider him for a moment. He does look sorry, and although I’m annoyed that he hadn’t shown up yesterday it isn’t a serious enough offence for him to look sorry. Unless he actually did wish he was there.

Unless he wanted to come, as much as I wanted him to.

“how come you didn’t just leave a message? Or wait until our lesson to catch me up?” I ask

He shakes his head. “I was supposed to be there yesterday. I wasn’t. a text wouldn’t have made that better. But I’m here now. I needed you to know that I really do wish I’d come. That I didn’t mean to flake on you.”

I’m not used to a Baz who apologizes. A Baz who tries to make things up to me. A Baz who cares. Or maybe Baz has always cared, but I’m not used to a Baz who tries to show it.

“Hey, you know, I don’t think I need a lesson this week,” I say, “I was thinking of skipping this week.”

The light instantly leaves his eyes, and that surprises me. I didn’t think he’d care. I didn’t think he’d show it. An emotionless smile starts to bloom across his features before he catches himself, puts on his poker face and nods in confirmation.

“I was thinking of testing how far Tweety follows me, y’know?” I ask him over my shoulder as I move to the fridge to fetch the buttermilk. “I was going to go for a walk and try to spot her in the trees. I wanted to go to the lake. I reckon she’d like the lake.”

“Sounds fun,” he’s being polite, but his walls are building back up around him. His armour. He’s about to shut me back out. Get all professional and polite, not friendly, and intimate. Not us.  

“so will your Porsche be okay outside the café for a few hours or do you need to leave it back home first?” I try to keep my voice casual. I try not to show him how nervous I am that although he seems to want to hang out too, I’m terrified of his rejection.

He raises his head to meet my eyes so fast, I’m concerned he may have pulled a neck muscle.

“You want me to come?” he asks in disbelief which he tries to mask with feigning arrogance, but I’m learning to see pat the façade a lot better these days.

“Well, you can’t say you’re busy since I was your alibi, but if you’d rather not come then that’s okay, just tell me,” I mostly believe his explanation for yesterday. But only mostly.

He doesn’t smile. He doesn’t say anything peppy, or sweet, or encouraging.

He walks over to me with such sheer confidence that I back up against the fridge without even realizing it until I feel the cold against my back. Baz’s eyes look into mine, my neck arches up to make eye contact with the taller boy, now only centimetres away. He raises his hand to my face and for a moment, I can’t breathe. Or, perhaps I can breathe, but I wouldn’t dare disturb this fragile moment.

Baz’s thumb brushes against my bottom lip, pulling it down slightly.

My heartbeat is erratic. My breath is caught in my throat and all I can see is him.

His smell is intoxicating, his pupils are blown out where they’re focused on my lips and his fingers are surprisingly cold for a boy who makes me feel so warm.

Loving Baz Pitch was easier when I didn’t realize I was doing it, now I just feel lost.

To my disappointment, Baz pulls his finger away after a moment. I’m confused until I notice the smudge of chocolate against his finger.

He was just wiping the batter off. Irrational, misplaced disappointment overcomes me.

But he’s still staring at my lips. And his pupils are still dilated. And he may have been only wiping chocolate off my lips but he hasn’t backed away yet.

In a moment of unjustified confidence, I guide his hand back to my lips and lick the batter off his thumb. Baz’s eyes cut back up to mine the moment my tongue touches the pad of his finger – I’m already looking right at him.

His breath hitches in his throat and his cheeks are flushed.

I let go of his hand a moment later. I can’t push him too far – he might already want to punch me in the face. I didn’t ask him how he feels about any of this, I’m working purely off body language here.

But I can tease him if he’s going to tease me.

We stare into each other’s eyes for a few moments more – intimacy, confusion, suspicion, passion.

Being close to Baz pitch after realizing my feelings for him is not going to be an easy task.

And now I’ve invited him on a romantic stroll to the lake.

***


LILY (from drama)

Agatha Wellbelove is … strange. She’s not as venomous as I’d always thought – or as she likes to act, but she’s not really pleasant to spend time with, either. I’ve always been puzzled by the friendship between Agatha and Penny. Penny and I are different too, but we’re a compatible different. Although I can’t figure out how Agatha and Penny are compatible with each other when they couldn’t be more different. I mean, I’d always assumed their friendship was based on them having Simon in common, but Agatha and Simon broke up and yet the three of them still eat lunch together and Penny and Agatha still hang out without Simon. They’re friends in their own right, it’s just an unconventional friendship to dissect.

“So, what’s the sitch with Tinder boi?” Agatha asks Penny, who is smiling at her phone while replying to her text. Penny rolls her eyes, “I wish you wouldn’t call him that Aggie, we’ve been texting for months now.

“True,” Agatha nibbles on the peel of a lemon slice from her iced tea, “But you haven’t hung out with him yet so I’m not bothering learning his name as yet, and you met on Tinder, so the name checks out,”

“His name is Micah, learn it, and I wasn’t texting him actually,” Penny tries to take a swing of her coffee, finds it empty, and frowns.

Agatha’s face beams in interest, “Oh? Well, I’m right here and Simon’s working so who are you texting, then?”

“it’s just Shepherd,” Penny dismisses without preamble.

Just Shepherd?” I’ve hypothesized that Agatha’s voice gets higher in direct proportion to her excitement. “Pen, that boy has been in love with you for the longest time,”

Penny shakes her head, “we’re just friends,” she turns to me, “we’re just friends.” she informs me.

“But you’re stringing him along!” Agatha insists, “you’ve had guys ask you out before and you’ve shut it down if you weren’t interested, but you give Shepherd the slightest sliver of hope by tolerating him and not shutting it down entirely, because you’re keeping him as a backup if it doesn’t work out with Micah!”

I’ve never seen Penny angry before but the look she turns on Agatha is as fierce as Medusa’s snakes.

“well, I guess you’d know all about stringing a boy along, won’t you?” Penny spits.

Agatha huffs, her cheeks red in anger as she stands abruptly, straightens her pleated skirt and knitwear jersey and storms off.

***


NIALL

So apparently; they just, don’t allow you to book a room for a few hours – you need to book it for the whole day. That’s some bullshit. Anyway, this was my idea and I intended to fit the bill because Dev literally always pays for everything. I don’t make him pay for everything he just does. I get that he’s rich, but that’s hardly the point. I want to treat my boyfriend too, even if I can’t spoil him as much as he spoils me. We’re not in an unfortunate financial situation, but my household runs on a single income and I have a respectable and appropriate allowance for a teenager, unlike Dev and Baz who inherit a working man's salary as an allowance.

But that’s not the point. When Sarah – the receptionist at the Heron inn – told us that we have to book the room for a day, and told us the price, I hesitated for only a moment and Dev beat me to using the tap feature to pay the bill. He didn’t even give me a chance to protest before it was confirmed and irreversibly paid for.

It’s a nice in. It makes me wish we were actually spending the night, but it’s family day tomorrow for Dev so that’s not an option.

The walls are painted a light, pastel yellow and there’s a vase of sunflowers on the receptionist’s desk. There are cosy couches distributed around the sitting room as well as a vintage-looking rocking chair. My favourite pieces are the prints of famous paintings adorning the walls including Monet’s Water Lillies, Van Gogh’s Almond Blossoms and Starry Night, and Picasso’s The Old Guitarist which had always reminded me of Baz for some reason, even though he favours the violin and would be offended by the sentiment. I’m an art geek. I can not wait for France.

We’re just in time for the breakfast serving so we follow the stream of people to the kitchen. It’s homey and beautiful, composed of intentionally mismatched but complimenting chairs around round tables with cute knitted tablecloths and an understated vase with a single rose at each table.

Dev and I help ourselves to tea – because we’re Englishmen and we’ve already had our fill of caffeine – and I treat myself to a serving of pancakes as Dev indulges in a plate of scrambled eggs and buttered toast. He feeds me bites of egg with my pancakes, and they go together quite well. We don’t say much, content to simply sit together, in a beautiful room, enjoying the silence of the other’s company and eating some surprisingly impressive breakfast.

About an hour later we’re barely conscious as we float up to our room. Warm, full and exhausted, unconsciousness becomes us easily.

***


LILY (from drama)

“You’re Lily, right?”

I turn towards the source of the noise to find myself face-to-face with the captain of the Lacrosse team.

Jackson – whom I’ve had a crush on ever since I dated Tyrannus for that week, and Jackson commented on the Date me, Baz Pitch! Facebook page that he’s jealous of Ty. Sure, I’d always found him extremely attractive, but it was an unattainable attractive. The sort of attraction that only amounts to anything in YA romance novels, where the popular jock chooses the bookworm over the cheerleader – not in reality. If Jackson is going to date a Lily at Watford, he’s going to date cheerleader-Lily, not Drama-Lily.

Of course, that particular fantasy dissipated when Jackson got into a three-way-fistfight over Ty and then proceeded to date him too. I know he’s bisexual so it’s not like him liking Ty really affects whether or not he could like me – not that my chances were thriving prior – but clearly, his type is way too… not in my league.

I ended up dating Jace from Jackson’s lacrosse team for a few weeks. He, too, only noticed me post-my relationship with Ty, but with him, I think I only said yes because he’s cute and finally someone saw me, and I wanted to be liked.

I wanted to spend my senior year of high school not being invisible.

I just wanted to be the kind of girl a Baz or a Jackson or Jace could actually take to a party.

So, when Jace asked me to that party, I said yes. And that party was the biggest, most boring waste of time I’ve ever spent five hours at, but I went to a few more parties with him anyway. He’d said I was cute and innocent, and he’d have a fun time corrupting me – I don’t know why I ever thought that a good thing.

We went on a few dates.

I even did my part and had a few drinks.

I missed drama practice to hang out with his friends as they discussed steroids and – for a short amount of time, yo-yo’s, although I have no idea why.

I didn’t like him. And I didn’t like who I was when I was trying to be liked by him.

But girls like Lily Fray don’t dump guys like Jace Day, so I just… went along with it.

Until he asked for more than I was willing to offer. More of myself than I thought he’d earned or would ever appreciate. More of myself than I was comfortable letting someone else discover… and he sure as fuck was not going to be the first person I’d ever let know me like that. He wasn’t a bad person. He wasn’t a villain; he was just a boy.

But he didn’t deserve to know me like that.

So, I didn’t take off my clothes that one night the party ran particularly late and he was particularly drunk.

And by Saturday morning I was single again.

I’ve been quieter since then. I haven’t gone to a lacrosse game since then.

“Yeah, I’m Lily,” I tell Jackson, cautious.

“Is it okay if I sit next to you?” he gestures at the empty couch next to me.

Both, Agatha and Penelope, left a while ago. Agatha stormed off first and shortly after, Penelope dismissed herself. Probably in pursuit of Agatha.

I pointedly look around the café, at all the vacant seats – he’s adamant and doesn’t take the hint.

“Okay.” I allow. Cautious. Not falling for the bullshit of a cute lacrosse-playing-jock ever again.

“I just …” Jackson looks down, “I wanted to apologize.”

At my undoubtedly clueless expression, Jackson elaborates. “I’m sorry if I lead you on.”

My cheeks start to burn in embarrassment. Why is he trying to embarrass me this way? People like him don’t even talk to people like me, and not about this – did Jace put him up to this?

I silently glare at him.

“I just… the comment I left on the Facebook Page for the dare? The picture of you and Baz?”

 I nod slowly. Yes, I’d seen it, he’d said he was jealous of Ty, as in jealous of Ty being able to date me – hence, the cause of my budding crush on him.

“I meant it,” he promises.

Empty promises.

“You were really cute in that picture, I really did mean what I commented, but it was also wrong of me because I guess you saw it and I kind of lead you on,” he must someone know that I’d developed a crush on him after that, then. This can’t possibly get more embarrassing. “but I didn’t mean to. It's just… I’d liked Baz for a long time.” He tells me honestly. “I liked him for a long time, and I hated the whole dare because – obvious reasons, but then guys could play too so I thought maybe this is my chance…”

He’s rambling. He’s borderline venting.

“and I’m just sorry if I lead you on or made you feel bad or anything, I really didn’t mean to.”

I can’t deny that it stung when I thought that maybe he’d noticed me, and then he tried to date Ty … but he didn’t do anything irredeemable. We’d never even had a proper conversion. It was all… assumed stuff, secret glances, comments – he didn’t lead me on, I chased waterfalls. This isn’t his fault, even if it ended up making me a bit sad.

He's not the one I’m truly mad at.

I shake my head, “It’s fine. Thanks.”

“I meant it though… I thought you were cute. And maybe I even would have done something about it if I wasn’t hung up on Baz-”

Something snaps, I turn on him, “Listen, I’ve just about had it with guys who discovered that I exist after I dated Baz,” and maybe that isn’t fair, since that was the whole point of me fake dating Baz, but I’m hurting right now, it’s hard being rational when you feel this used. This open and bare and disrespected. This … unimportant. This nothing. “-but don’t really give a shit. I’m sorry if Baz didn’t like you back, I really am.  But I’m no one’s second best, or replacement, or temporary hookup, or fucking rebound.”

I stand up, shoving my books and stray pens and highlighters into my bag. I get ready to storm off. But Jackson clutches the handle of my bag.

“Are you alright?” his crinkled eyebrow suggesting concern, as does his tone. He doesn’t seem offended by my outburst, although I feel ashamed and like I’m about to cry. Whether out of sadness or anger, I’m not sure as yet.

“I’ll carry this for you,” he tries to take my bag from me.

“I don’t need you to.” I snap, pulling it back, before turning around to storm off.

Unfortunately, my short legs allow him to keep my pace with ease.

“I’m sorry if I offended you, Lily,” he says, “that was literally the exact opposite of what I’d hoped to do. What I approached you to do.”

“Well fuck, sorry for ruining your plans,” I retort.

 I’m really not usually this bratty, I don’t know where all this sass is coming from.

But I’ve spent the last few weeks so pissed off, and so unable to unleash these emotions. I’m Lily-from-theatre. I’m either invisible or tiny and peppy and adorable – the bookworm type of adorable, not the attractive type – and I can’t really unleash this anger on everyone. And I couldn’t unleash it on drunk and half-naked Jace. And Jackson hadn’t really done anything, but he said a dumb thing and he’s here and I’ve reached my limit.

“I noticed you before you dated Baz, Lily.” He says.

I scoff, “sure.”

“You played beauty in sophomore year,” he says referring to our musical that year – Beauty and the Beast, the musical.

I wore a brunette wig and the costume department made me a big yellow dress.

And I sang.

And I didn’t think Jocks came to the theatre.

“I noticed you then,” he says, “and I kept noticing you after that, but we don’t really have mutual friends and I never really saw you at parties – so I never ended up talking to you, but I noticed you that night in sophomore year, and I watched you over the years, I watched your hair get a tone more strawberry than blonde, and I watched you not get taller, I watched you in different plays and I watched you be false peppy with certain people and genuinely happy with other people, you were always… interesting. Authentic, and real and I saw you, and then you dated Jace,” his tone takes a sourer tone, “and then I saw you everywhere, but you weren’t you,”

He catches up to me, holds onto my shoulder so I stop stomping down the street ahead of him.
“You were there, at parties. But you weren’t you. It was like the light inside you had gone off. and I saw you at my games and unlike a lot of the other girlfriends who showed up, you seemed genuinely invested in the game, not just in him. But then he’d wink at you and make you blush and I’d just roll my eyes because… I’d think how can such a smart, and independent person not realize that they’re dating a pile of horse shit?”

I’m almost certain that that’s a rhetorical question.

“and then I saw him making out with someone else at a party and I asked him about you, and he said something that pissed me off and I punched him in the face.”

 I’m pretty sure my eyes are enormous.

“I don’t think he remembers that I’m the one who hit him to be fair, he was very fucking drunk, but I did, and I was so… I just couldn’t believe you’d date a guy like that. I thought about the way I caught you looking at me sometimes, before then,”

I hide my head, I look down, I try to wiggle free of his grasp.

“I thought you’d liked me, to be honest, and that’s when I remembered the comment and realized… I must have led you on, you must have started liking me after that, and then I dated Baz and messed it all up… but the truth is I couldn’t let anyone else in because I was pretty invested in this fantasy I had that was entirely unrealistic. But I think I’m ready to let go of Baz now. We talked, and he’s nice, and he’s also not mine, and you’re right, you’re not a rebound or a replacement or a second choice,”

He grips my chin and guides my face up, drawing my attention to his eyes, “so I’m not asking you out, Lily Fray. Because truth be told, you need to move on from him and I need to move on from my him, but I’m just telling you that, that I’d noticed you years ago, you existed before you were affiliated with Baz, and I’m saying that as someone who has feelings for him. and I’m saying that I think you’re cute, and I don’t think the timing is right for either of us to try more of this but just…”

He swallows. He looks nervous now. He’s been talking for like five minutes, but he looks nervous now.

“don’t date any more arseholes. And let me get to know who you are behind the cute front, behind the harmless mask, because this particular conversation leads me to believe that there’s more fire that you hide from people, and I just… I want to get to know who you are. I’ve admired you from afar for a long time, and I’m not asking you for anything except… don’t write me out, not yet.”

I look up at him, he lets go of me finally. “Are you trying to ask me to be friends?”

He smirks at me, tucking a strand of my hair behind my ear, “for now.”

***


 

Chapter Text

BAZ

Simon waddles out of Starbucks with large brown takeaway bags and a tray of four different beverages. His face betrays the level of concentration needed to balance all of it.

“What’s all this?”

“Food.” Simon supplies from behind a large brown bag. What does he have planned?

My insides feel…. Weird. If I was the blushing type, my cheeks would be red.

SIMON

“Simon, are we having a picnic by the lake?” Baz is blushing. He’s glaring at me, but he’s blushing – it’s a very Baz thing to do.

“I guess,” I play it down, “we usually have a bite after my shift, before we get to studying, so I thought I’d bring some food,”

Of course, it would have been far easier to just get Baz inside, have lunch, and then head to the lake but that just seems like a waste of a very incidentally romantic situation.

I hand him one of the bags of food – the smaller one (with his pre-requested croissants – we’re headed for a very croissant-themed picnic, the boy asked for croissants so he’s about to get a shit lot of them) – and he takes the tray of drinks from me too. I lead the way, strolling towards the lake.

“Why can’t we just take my car?” Baz complains, “Where we can reach the lake in 5 minutes and keep the food in the backseat?”

A laugh bubbles out of me, “because the end goal isn’t the picnic, Baz, it’s to see if Tweety follows me which I don’t think she can do if we’re travelling by car. Also, it’s like a 20-minute walk and it’s a beautiful day, that’s half the adventure.”

Baz makes noises of protest, but he keeps my pace easily – long legs, athlete, show off. The walk is surprisingly pleasant. We talk, about nothing in particular, nothing important. Baz tells me about how the dare is going, some of the awkward moments and hilarious ones. He’s enjoyed a few of the weeks, he says, but none of them he’d take seriously – Niall, Lily, Jackson.

He tells me about Niall and Dev, how he knew about their feelings before anyone – he doesn’t fail to complain about his hardships during their courting, nor take credit for their eventual relationship. He tells me about his and Lily’s ploy so she could ask him out first, and what happened in the principal’s office after Baz got called in, towing three semi-nude males, after they got into a fight over him. He tells me how Niall is leaving, how he’s sad about it but even more worried about how Dev will take it.

I tell him things, too. I tell him about Tweety – the few words she’s taken to repeating and a few of the habits she’s picked up, she has a personality all of her own and its endlessly fascinating. I tell him about Penny; how she’s the closest person in my life, the closest thing I’ve ever had to family and that I’m worried about her either jeopardizing her future to stick around and take care of me… or leave me. I tell him about my foster family and how although there still doesn’t feel like there’s much of a bond between us, they’ve been putting in an effort to be pleasant and make me feel welcome. At least one of them came to my games, we have dinner together every night and there’s always enough, and Isabelle has taken to watching telly with me. We don’t converse too much, but it’s not awkward like it was at first. I haven’t seen much of my foster brother yet, and Jarred is mostly busy with his birthday party gigs, but I can see myself riding out the remainder of senior year, here. And I don’t think they’d mind.

He asks about my plans once I leave the system. Once I graduate, turn eighteen, join the big bad world. I tell him I don’t know. I’m scared of knowing.

Baz takes a sip from every drink – including the two that are mine – I assume in an effort to figure out what each one is. He could have asked instead of tasting each one but I’m not complaining. There’s a hot chocolate and pumpkin mocha breve concoction for Baz, and a coffee and chocolate frappe for me. He alternates sips between his pumpkin drink and my chocolate milkshake the whole walk. I don’t complain.

It’s not the first time we’ve enjoyed the other’s presence. Nor the first time we’ve made idle conversation, laughed together, enjoyed each other’s company. It is, however, the first time we’ve done so without the pretense of obligation. It’s the first time we’re facing the fact that… we’re just here, doing this, together, because we want to.

Because… somewhere along the line something changed and now we’re not at each other’s throats anymore.

It feels thrilling and nerve wracking, and like we’re on the verge of something. Everything. So much.

Every now and then we scan the clouds for a flutter of ebony feathers, but we haven’t spotted her yet.

Some time later we reach the lake. It’s beautiful, and the walk was peaceful and lovely, but our arms are tired of carrying the food, so we set it down on the dock and stretch our arms.

After a moment, I whistle. I’d noticed recently that she responds to my whistle. I’d never trained her to, but she considers it her calling.

Tweety doesn’t disappoint. After only a few moments of whistling, she swoops out of the forest towards us and settles down on my shoulder.

She’d been watching over me the whole time.

 

BAZ

“This bird is looking at me with judgement.” It is. It really is.

“She’s not,” Simon dismisses, “that’s just her face,”

“She’s borderline glaring at me, Snow,”

“Yeah, well, you glare at me and look at me with judgment, so,”

I glare at him.

I look at him with judgement.

Simon gives me a look that says, see.

Simon Snow wants me to spontaneously burst into fucking flames. After a deadass romantic stroll from Starbucks through the shortcut in the woods and towards the lake, we settle down at the edge of the dock with our feet hanging off the edge and the smell of food encasing our senses. The walk has made me ravenous and I’m minutes from eating that judgmental bird.

Simon opens one of the packets and hands me a takeaway box of what turns out to be a croissant stuffed with cheese, lettuce, bacon, onion, tomato – basically it’s a croissant sandwich. These are not on the menu. I did not realize this was a thing.

I do not particularly like that this is a thing.

I raise an eyebrow at him. “this is hardly what I meant when I requested croissants, Snow. Or is this my punishment for blowing you off yesterday?”

I instantly regret my words, but he thankfully doesn’t catch the unintentional innuendo.

Simon shakes his head as he takes hold of his own monstrous croissant sandwich. Croissant sub? I don’t know – people have no business mixing food with dessert.

“Just trust me, try it. And no, the punishment for that is that you need to tell me about the game,” he smirks at me evilly.

I gasp at him in shock, “You would make me… relive it?”

“Every detail,” Simon nods seriously.

“You monster.”

“do you want my forgiveness or not?” he challenges.

 

I tell him about the game.

***


DEV

Niall and I have had countless sleepovers over the years. We’ve shared the bed, we’ve fallen asleep to the rhythm of the other’s breathing, and lately, we’ve even fallen asleep in each other’s arms. But there’s something about the four hours of distance separating us from home, away from our families and anyone who knows or cares who we are – who we are to each other. The thrill of adventure and spontaneity.

There’s something about the lime green eyes already watching me as I lazily regain consciousness and take in my foreign surroundings.

Maybe I’d panic, under different circumstances. Waking up on a bed that doesn’t smell like Satan, no gargoyle statues staring me down, flowered wallpaper, a bed that doesn’t belong to me, or Niall, or Baz.

Maybe I’d panic if it wasn’t for the boy smiling down at me. Nothing bad will happen to me when he’s looking down at me like this. I’m not lost if I’m with him – even if I don’t know where exactly I am.

And then I remember where I am, and startle awake.

I don’t know where Niall scavenged his supplies form, but he’s settled on a chair beside the bed with his sketchbook – which he keeps pretty lowkey, it rarely makes an appearance – balanced on his thighs, feeling out the texture on the page with his ink-stained fingers. It’s hardly common knowledge, but Niall is good at art. He hasn’t branded himself as the artsy type, he doesn’t indulge in the aesthetic. But I’ve watched Niall with his spiral-bound sketchbooks and ballpoint pens, pencils, charcoal, pastels, and Prismacolor’s many times over the years. They calm him.

Niall loves art, you just need to pay attention to see it. You need to want to see him.

And this is him. This is Niall. Ink blotches and spiral-bound lineless pages, foreign countries and sassy comebacks and late-night drives… with me.

Not the jock he pretended to be for the longest time, before he realized he never needed to.

“Morning, sleeping beauty,” he purrs, I blush. “I called Baz,” Niall declares, “told him we took a little impromptu road trip and to cover for us if your parents ask, since we stayed at his last night. I told him we’d be back for dinner,”

I nod, still hugging my pillow.

“By the way,” Niall continues, “we completely forgot Simon’s game yesterday so Baz is bitching about that – he said, and I quote, At least one of you assholes could have remembered, since I was preoccupied being traumatized.” Niall flourishes his mockery with the committed use of air quotes that would make drama-Lily proud.

I straighten at that, genuinely surprised. I had completely forgotten about the game. Baz was excited about it, so I feel bad.

“Fucking Minyard,” I grumble, rubbing my eyes awake.

Niall snickers, “Baz shared the sentiment.”

Of course he does. If Baz has a hit list – and he seems like the type of guy who does – I’m sure Minyard is leading the herd, battling for first place with Simon Snow.

Realizing that he’s finally stunned me awake, Niall sets aside his supplies and smiles at me warmly. He leans forward to caress my forehead with a brush of his lips.

“we should probably hit the road soon if we want to get home at a decent hour,” he says.

“What time is it?” my voice is still hoarse from hours of disuse.

“Almost 3pm,” Niall says.

That jolts me awake. “we slept at, like, 9.”

Niall ruffles my already disarrayed hair, “Yes. But you didn’t sleep at all last night, and then you drove like five hours, so you needed the rest. Now,” he confidently continues, getting up from his chair and smoothing down his clothes, “I’m sure you don’t feel like dealing with people as yet, so I’ll go get us some lunch.”

Niall pulls on Baz’s jacket and leaves me to curl back up in the blankets, checking my phone. No missed calls from my parents, but there are a few messages on the family group chat, including mum asking if I’ll be home for dinner. I text back, letting them know that I’ll be home in a few hours, but I might miss dinner – I will definitely miss dinner.

An unwelcome worry invades my mind; what if this was the last chance, I had to spend private, alone, intimate time with Niall before he leaves, and I spent the last 6 hours fucking asleep, and now we need to go home?

And then an even more unwelcome, far more urgent thought resurfaces– one that crosses my mind and plummets my mood on an hourly basis – Niall is leaving.

***


SIMON

“Fine. I’ll admit that the croissant sub was fairly brilliant.” Baz rolls his eyes but he hasn’t wasted a crumb, so I’m not fooled.

“see!” I exclaim, “Honestly Basil, I really thought that after the Pumpkin mocha incident you’d learn to trust me with your orders,”

He frowns and pats his tummy, “It was only a single croissant, how the fuck was it so filling?”

“I stuffed it with enough shit – also you’re on your second drink, so,”

“I don’t think I have any room for dessert,” Baz complains as he descends flat on his back, legs swinging slowly off the edge of the dock.

I lean back on my elbows and raise an eyebrow at him, “What makes you think there’s dessert?”

He looks sheepish but he nods towards the untouched packet. The only thing we haven’t attacked as yet.

Tweety hops around the dock floorboard and Baz fights her for the old straw and the other pile of trash we’ve accumulated.  

“Technically that’s not dessert,” I tell him, pulling the packet towards us and nudging it in his direction. “Those are just for you, for later.”

Curiosity evident in his features, he pulls the box out of the packet and looks inside, “croissants?” he smirks.

“I didn’t know if you’d like the sandwiches or not and I know that when you requested them this morning you were talking about the dessert, so there’s a few different kinds in there. Plain, jam, cream, custard. They’re mini croissants but you can taste the different fillings. For later.”

He smiles – or maybe the more accurate word is that he blushes because the tips of his ears are a tone of pink.

“Thanks, Simon.” He says.

His hair is open today and the lake breeze has its way with it, it’s gorgeous – I can’t look away. His pale skin is particularly flushed under the breezy conditions, but we’re used to London weather, so it doesn’t affect our outing.

We hang out at the dock for an hour or so after eating. It’s relaxing. We talk sometimes, about whatever comes to mind. Sometimes we sit in silence and watch Tweety bob around. Sometimes she speaks – Baz and Tweety say “Hi” to each other for like three minutes.

She also – generally – says “Fuck” and “Baz” so thank Merlin she hasn’t said that today as yet.

Baz gets a call from Niall at some point, and it makes me unexpectedly happy that he takes the call in my presence. He doesn’t take the call elsewhere. He doesn’t tell them he’ll call back when I’m not around. They just talk for a few minutes about a conversation I can’t really follow until Baz berates him for also forgetting about my game the previous night – apparently, Niall and Dev were meant to come as well.

We hang out like that, relaxing on the dock with alternating silence or comfortable conversation, flat on our backs until Tweety decides it’s a super great idea to pull on Baz’s hair. Obsessively.

It’s been a few hours by then, so we dispose of our dirt, Baz grabs his croissants, and we trail back to the Porsche and Starbucks.

***


 

DEV

This morning – in the dead of last night – all I really wanted was to take Niall and run. Go anywhere. A place where it’s just us. Him and I. Me and him. A place where no one knows us, no one’s watching every move we make and psychoanalyzing it, a world where we don’t need to come out to society (and my parents) because it’s no one’s fucking business who we love, and mostly just because love is love and the gender of the subject of your affection is irrelevant.

More than anything, even more than a world where I don’t need to think about coming out to my parents, I wanted to run to a world where Niall wasn’t leaving me. Wasn’t packing his bags and leaving Baz and me behind. We’re the Minions – imagine Bob just packing his shit and leaving, one day.

I can’t tell anymore what would have been worse – never having told Niall how I feel and constantly wondering what could have been, or letting him know and experiencing his love back – and then losing him.

Because once Niall sees how big the world is, he’s not going to want to come back home, to me.

My love story with Niall is winding down in chapters, we’re nearing the end.

***


 

BAZ

Simon is getting very comfortable in my Porsche. I’m driving him home from the café after our picnic, and he just leans in and fiddles with the stereo, disconnecting my Spotify and putting on some radio station I’d never waste my time on.

A really old and ridiculous song comes on.

“Oh!” Simon beams, “This is one of my favorites!”

That’s so unfortunate. How can I love a boy with such poor taste? It tastes like poor storytelling. Of a poor story.

Is this even music?

Simon sings along.

“Baz,” Simon turns to me, “You’re not singing along!”

I raise an eyebrow at him. “I think I might actually hate this song. I think this song has given me an ulcer.”

He rolls his eyes at me and sings louder.

“It just doesn’t make any sense,” I talk over him, “why would you walk through the whole desert on a horse with no name? why wouldn’t you name the fucking horse at some point?”

“is your biggest issue with this song the fact the horse is nameless?”

“My issue with this song is that it’s considered a song at all,

“It’s by the band AMERICA,”

“You named your stray bird within a few hours, before you even realized you were keeping her, and this doesn’t seem strange to you?”

“I mean I guess I’d name my horse, if I were travelling through a desert on horseback,” Simon reasons seriously,

“considering your naming strategy, the horse will probably be named something like fluffy,”

I expect a glare, but Simon just laughs – genuinely- “Do you think she’s following us? Tweety? This is my first time testing this out in a vehicle,”

“Let’s see. She could use a challenge, Ravens are smart birds,” and then I press on the accelerator.

Tweety better flap those little wings.

***


NIALL

 

The drive home is quiet. Quiet isn’t bad – Dev and I share comfortable silences often – but there’s something about this quiet that doesn’t sit right with me. Dev is too quiet. He’s alert and driving safe but he’s absent. He’s not here with me. His mind is elsewhere.

I thought we were having a good day together. Maybe we were, but I can’t forget that the reason for the road trip because Dev couldn’t sleep, and I think I know why.

Four hours go faster than expected when you both spend the whole time worrying, stressing, and overthinking. It’s a little faster when you have a heading, GPS, and can actually drive the speed limit, too.

We’re at my house by 19h30. Dev stops the Jeep. I turn to face him. He won’t look at me.

Why won’t he look at me?

“Dev?” I ask carefully. He turns away. Looks out the drivers’ side window instead.

My heart sinks, I reach out and tug on his curls, “Baby? Talk to me. Let’s talk about it.” My voice is barely a whisper. This space between us feels fragile.

He refuses to look at me.

Fine. I’ll give him space, then. I lean forward to plant a kiss on his cheekbone, but he turns at the last minute to capture my lips in his.

It’s barely a minute but it’s like we’re coming up for air after hours of drowning. It’s passionate and hot and intimate and everything, this boy is everything.

“Don’t go.” He whispers against my lips.

“Come in,” I mumble against his chin.

“No – I - ,” he makes a strangled noise, and that’s when I realize.

“You mean France.” I look up into his eyes. His beautiful eyes.

I see the flash of regret and panic in them. “No.” he says firmly. “I didn’t mean don’t go... I’m so proud of you and you have to go I just meant…” he makes a noise of frustration.

“I’ll miss you.” I say instead, taking his lips again. “I’ve loved you all along. What’s four years?”

“I’ll be waiting for you,” he promises. “I’ll love you always,” he nudges his nose against mine, and then his lips are my undoing.

***


SIMON

“Thanks for the ride home,” I smile at Baz.

We’re outside the foster house now. I should get out. Go inside. We have no further business here.

And yet he’s not unlocking the doors. Neither am I.

“Thanks for the food.” He counters. His voice is softer than usual. Velvety. Quiet, just for me.

He turns off the ignition, which doesn’t exactly encourage me to get out of the car immediately, so I turn towards him in my seat instead.  He mirrors my posture.

Neither of us speaks. What more is there to say? I should think of something, else he’ll expect me to leave. We’re just watching each other across the console and breathing quietly. My favorite thing about his sports car is how little space there is separating us.

“So…” Baz tries, “you were right, she really does follow you everywhere,”

“yeah,” I say absentmindedly because that’s not what I’m thinking about. Not right now.

Not when Baz dropped everything to come to apologize to me and make it up to me.

Not when we spent the entire day talking, or not talking and just enjoying each other’s company.

 Not after the romantic walks, and the lake.

 Not while his hair is still messy from sitting in the wind for hours and his pale skin is pink from the breeze.

 And not when the windows are rolled up, he drove me home, we’re parked outside and he’s …. Well, stalling.

“yeah.” He says, too. Absentmindedly.

His smell is intoxicating. Cedar and bergamot and bacon and croissants. He smells like trouble, and before I notice it, I’m leaning in.

But that’s okay because he’s leaning in, too.

It’s so subtle, so slow, that I don’t think he realizes he’s doing it, but he is.

And I think… he might just want this like I want this.

We’re leaning in, slowly. His eyes dart down to my lips almost against his will. I bite on my bottom lip, and he inhales sharply, lips parting, pupils dilating.

He’s so close.

It’s so much, it’s nowhere near enough. I never expected to want this much of Baz Pitch. He’s always been… so much. So present. So demanding of my attention, my thoughts, my feelings. That hasn’t changed. Except now … I want more. I want it all, with him.

Him.

Mine.

And that’s – that’s when I remember. Not mine.

The dare.

This fucking dare.

That’s when I realize… he’ll belong to someone else by Monday.

I don’t want to think about that. But this doesn’t feel right anymore… not while he belongs to… them.

So, I lean back and smile politely before closing the car door behind me on my way out.

It feels like I’m closing the door on a lot more.

Chapter Text

 


Saturday, December 19th

BAZ

 

I don’t know the statistics of couples who break up after high school, nor those of whom make it long-distance. I know some couples believe that their love knows no bounds - and then break up. Some don’t even bother breaking up; they just lose touch and let the distance between them engulf whatever bond previously bound them.

I’m sure the statistics of couples who make it long-distance and come out on the other side just as in love as they were before don’t bode well for Dev and Niall. I don’t know the odds – don’t tell me. What I do know, is that if two people can make it work regardless of time and space, it's my two people. They’ve loved each other unyieldingly for the longest time, before even realizing that their feelings were requited. Knowing that they’re loved back, they’re not about to lose each other because of distance.

They can make it through anything. If they break up, well, then I won’t have any reason to believe in happy ever after at all.

I sound tremendously gay. Which is fine – because I am. Speaking of which, Simon is sprawled across my queen-sized bed, hugging my pillow to his chest, staring at my reflection in the full-length mirror as I straighten my tie.

It’s the first time he’s in my bedroom. I’m trying to distract myself from getting a boner by dissecting the gross love between my cousin and best mate.

I look good, but there’s nothing new there. Simon is drinking in every ridge and angle of my body. It's really testing my ability to not burst into fucking flames. Or tears. I don’t know if he doesn’t realize that he’s staring or if he’s just so stupidly confident that he doesn’t bother masking it.

Whatever the reason, I may as well put on a show. I fold up the sleeves of my shirt, buttoning them just below my elbows.

Snow is practically drooling.

SIMON

Baz is wearing – honest to god – a flowered shirt. When did he start wearing flowers? It looks good on him.

Everything looks good on him, though – the tosser. I take in the sight before me; Baz in slacks and a floral, silky, button-up shirt, his forearms and collarbones on display. The sight of Baz in a tie is doing weird things to me – which is odd because our Watford uniform very specifically includes a tie.

Is this new, this desire to clutch his tie at the knot and pull him against me? It feels new.

That’s not the only thing I want to do with his tie, although it’s the most respectful. The most decent. The most he’d probably allow me to get away with.

Would he let me get away with it?

I’m distracted by a very inappropriate daydream – in Baz’s general direction – when he raises an eyebrow at my reflection.

“Can I help you, Snow?”

“Can I borrow a shirt?” is out of my mouth before I can give it a single thought. Watching Baz dress has only been minimally about his wardrobe itself, but it has made me feel severely underdressed.

I’m still clad in my washed-out old blue jeans, a white t-shirt and my favourite denim jacket. I’m dressed as I had for my Starbucks shift and then for our tutoring session, which finished a little more than an hour ago. I’m invited for Niall’s surprise farewell party later this evening, and Baz has errands to run, and we were already together… so I volunteered to help set up and then we’ll just… go to the party after.

I’d only intended to spend a little extra time with Baz, do normal people stuff together - pick up a cake, and buy ice. We had only civilly spent time together during our tutoring session until our picnic last week, and it was amazing. I just … want to spend time with him – there’s nothing new there; I’ve always needed to know where he was, what he was doing. I guess I’ve always been obsessed with Baz. Realising my feelings has hardly had an adverse effect.

And if I’d unintentionally insinuated that we’d go to the party together, well, there are worse things.

“You want to borrow one of my shirts?” Baz asks. He doesn’t seem annoyed or upset by the request, just vaguely confused as he turns to face me directly.

“yeah, if you don’t mind. Or I could go home and change – I didn’t really know what the dress code for a farewell party is, and I had a work shift this morning. But one things for sure; you and I don’t look like we’re going to the same place.”

Baz just shakes his head, a smirk playing on his lips.

“You can use my shower, Snow, and borrow whatever you want, I’ll be back soon,” he says as he grabs his Porsche keys.

“what – you’re leaving?” I hurry to get up, which just results in me on my arse on his hard, wood floors.

“well we need to get a move on things. I’ll go fetch Niall’s grandparents, give them a ride to the house while you dress,”

“but I wanted to help with the errands!”

“calm down, Snow, we still have to fetch the ice, the cake, and the food. Dev’s on babysit-Niall-duty so the actual errands are on us.”

“You’re sure you don’t mind? I can just go home and meet you at the party later,” I’m possibly pouting. I’m probably pouting.

I really don’t want him to ask me to go home.

“And abandon me to carry all that stuff myself? This silk shirt not meant for manual labour, Snow, that’s what you are for.”

“so you’re just the driver?” I tease

“I’m the arm candy.” Baz very seriously informs me before I roll my eyes and burst out laughing.

He smirks – but it’s almost a smile. He’s been doing a lot of almost smiling recently. “I’ll see you in a bit. Bye Snow, Tweety.”

I wave. Tweety has the good sense and etiquette to bid him a verbal farewell from where she’s perched atop his balcony railing.

I wasn’t sure if she’d been able to follow me to Baz’s house earlier since we took his car from the café, but it took her only 20 minutes to casually – as if she were invited – swoop in through the upper level of open windows in the greenhouse and join our study session.

If I thought I love the greenhouse, Tweety fucking loves the greenhouse. She spent the hour eating worms and bugs she found, bullying a tiny black and orange bird, and exchanging (repetitive) greetings with Baz – to which he always responds.

 Baz says that Tweety follows me around because she feels bonded to me since I saved her. I can’t help but feel that she feels a level of bond – or at least, favour – towards him, too. She never shows up when I’m at work, at school, or with anyone else. I don’t think anyone but Baz, Penny and Aggie even know about her. But she shows up when I’m with Baz. She shows up at Baz’s house. She talks to him. Voluntarily. Continuously. Even if just to say “Hi” fifty times.

She can say his name, too. “Basil” or “Baz”. But she only ever says it to me. I think it's because she picked it up from me – I guess I speak about him more often than I’d thought; Penny would have a field day with this. I don’t think she realizes it's his name.

She can also say “fuck” and “tosser”, although I’ve been trying to minimize this by swearing less.

If nothing else, this bird has been a good influence on me: me and my diction.

I’m just done in the shower, one of Baz’s fluffy towels wrapped around my waist, when I head to his walk-in closet to borrow some clothes.

That’s when I realise my issue. I take the only rational course of action – I videocall Penelope.

***


DEV

Balloons. So many fucking balloons and they’re all over the place. Nobody really knows Niall’s favourite colour – least of all Niall – since the artist in him associates different colours with different moods.

I tried to drop hints that the décor should be literally anything but blue – blue is Niall’s sad colour – but Saroise (Niall’s mum) insisted that blue was the most fitting. I guess she was right, in a way; we’re all feeling exceptionally blue that he’s leaving.  

Niall and I have been desperately avoiding the topic of France. The elephant in the room. The sand through the hourglass – we’re almost out of time. We’d held on to a single truth every time the weight of the looming horizon of separation suffocated us – we still had time. The sand hadn’t run out yet.

This farewell party is the universes way of dangling the hourglass in front of our faces. Ringing the buzzer. Luring us to look at the countdown.

I’m not ready to say farewell.

***


PENNY

 

“Nudity.” I announce as I answer Simon’s video call.

His phone is balanced a distance away, and all I can see is Simon – surrounded by hangers of posh clothes that is definitely not his own – completely starkers. Also, I think he’s wet.

“I’m wearing a towel.” Simon distractedly reasons as he sifts through his options of formal shirts.

“oh thank god,” I exhale. “I can only see your torso, I was afraid of what I would see once you move the phone.”

“Focus, Penny,”

“On what? What’s going on – and where are you?”

“Baz’s closet,”

“You’re inside Baz’s closet?” I ask, bewildered.

“He has a massive walk-in closet, it’s bigger than the bathroom,”

“you really should get out of the closet, Simon,” I smirk at him.

He narrows his eyes at me.

“Ha-ha, Penelope, this is an emergency, he’ll be back any minute now.”

“He’s not there?” I dubiously ask, “Please Simon, tell me you didn’t break into Basil’s house to steal his clothes.”

“He said I could shower and borrow something for the party,” Simon reasons.

“And where is dear Basil?” I tease, “the apple of our eye, the love of our life, the knight in shining Porsche –”

“Oh don’t tease, Penny, we don’t have the time!” he glares at me. “He went to fetch Niall’s grandparents – that’s not important, he’ll be back any minute and I need your help!”

“Fine then, lay it on me. But you should hurry up, Agatha’s on her way here and she doesn’t know about your crush on Baz.”

“Yes yes, don’t tell her. I’d rather not bond with my ex over our respective crushes on Baz.”

“What’s the matter, Simon?” I prompt.

“Right – Baz said I could borrow something to wear so I took a shower and, well.” he picks up the phone, switches to the main camera and introduces me to the inner depths of Baz’s walk-in closet. It’s bigger than my bedroom! Shelves of shoes, wracks of fancy clothes on hangers, a full-length mirror, a large oak dresser in the corner with a stool and a smaller mirror. It’s a dream. It’s basically a wholeass dressing room. “I have no idea what to wear. I have never had this issue before – I usually pick the most appropriate of a dozen shirts and five pairs of pants. I have no idea what to do.”

“wow.”

“Help, Penny!”

“maybe I could if I were there but all I can see is that Baz is the English guy version of Paris Hilton, I can’t see details,”

“I’ll give you options,” Simon says, “I’ve sifted through a few wracks and there’s a lot of silk, suits, floral, this other pretty pattern,” he holds out the shirt to me.

“That’s called paisley, it’s very pretty,” I provide.

“I’m not wearing any of that. something lowkey. Simple. I’ll give you options.”

“that’s fair.”

“Should I borrow a pair of slacks, too?”

“I mean, you do wanna get in Basil’s pants, but is this the best way?” I taunt.

Simon gives me the finger.

“I’ll just borrow a shirt and put my jeans back on. Here, between these three,”

“The blue. It matches your eyes.”

“thanks Penny. I gotta go – I don’t wanna be butt naked when Baz gets back.”

“that might help your case, honestly,”

“Bye Penny,”

“Be sure to get out of Baz’s closet,” I wink at him before he cuts the call.

When Simon told me that he has feelings for Baz, I was not as surprised as he thought I’d be. Or as he wanted me to be. I didn’t know before he told me. It just … made sense. And now that we’re seriously considering the possibility, I can’t help but think that Baz might return the sentiment.

They’ve spent a great deal of time hating each other, yes, but they could never just leave the other person alone. Cut them out of their lives. It’s been like a dance of defiance, a waltz for dominance. Simon always had to know where Baz was, what he was up to, who he was with. Baz always had to hold Simon’s attention, even if that attention wasn’t good – god forbid Simon pay attention to someone else. Not that Simon did. Not that Baz did, either. Everything about Baz drove Simon insane – but he noticed every little detail that made up Baz. And, well… Baz has only ever had eyes for Simon.

***


BAZ

This party should no doubt be interesting. Saoirse went all out. The entire senior class was invited. Dev and I tried to make specific parties feel particularly unwelcome to spare Niall the trouble of dealing with them – i.e. Matthew. Saoirse may feel that everyone is welcome, but no way is Matthew getting around Dev, myself, and the entire football team (who were more than happy to get on board – Niall is basically the team mascot.) The cricket team hasn’t been uninvited, but hopefully, they have the good sense to not show up; things are kind of awkward there since Niall got cut (rightfully so) from their team. Wellbelove will be present – a person of interest whom Simon and I have neatly avoided bringing up since we became friends, especially since she, essentially, left Simon for me, and then I rejected her for him (neither of them knows about that last part.) Needless to say, everyone in one place that isn’t school is bound to be … interesting.

The cherry on top is that the entire party is being hosted by Dev’s parents, neither of whom know that the guest of honour is their future son-in-law.

Whoop-di-fucking-doo.

***


AGATHA

“Jace asked me to the Valentines dance,” Lily shares as we each do our make-up.

She’s not the absolute worst person, even if sometimes it sucks that Penny has more in common with her than with me. But at least Penny is branching out, making different friends.  There was a time when we were younger, during which she was actively against having more than, like, three friends. There are only so many hours in a day, she would say.

We met at Penny’s house to get ready for the party. Some girl time was just what we needed, I think, after our fight a few days ago. I apologized; I said it wasn’t my place to butt into who Penny talks to or what she’s doing in her love life. She apologized too, accepted that she was out of line. Such is my friendship with Penny. We’re severely different people – upbringing, status, priorities, ethics. It’s not uncommon for our contrasting personalities to clash. But we’re the type of friends who have just… always been in your life. You know those friends aren’t going anywhere, like it or not. They’re as ingrained into you as your first pet or childhood celebrity crush. It’s reassuring and frustrating all at once. Sometimes it feels like I could move halfway across the world and never get away from Penny’s opinions and judgement concealed as advice. Other times, there’s no one else I’d rather go to for advice. There are people you outgrow, and then there are people you learn to grow with. We don’t need to be alike to like each other – that sort of thing.

It’s like what I’d imagine having a sibling is like. You can’t stand them a lot of the time, but they’re a constant, and you’d be thrown off balance without them.

I haven’t awarded Lily the same sentiment, but she’s alright.

“I thought you broke up?” I ask.

I hope they broke up because Aimee (from cheer squad) was just gushing to me about her hookup with Jace not three days ago.

I’m certainly not going to be the one to tell her.

“We did, I really don’t know what he was expecting to gain from asking me.” Lily explains.

“You don’t need a guy to take you anyway,” I say. “ I’m putting on my best dress, highest heels… and dancing with myself all night long,”  I say.

Penny throws me a borderline proud smirk. One of the reasons I’d put off breaking up with Simon for so long after we figured out that we weren’t working, was that I was worried it would throw our entire trio out of whack, but Penny and I have been closer since Simon and I broke up. I think she feels like she doesn’t need to pick sides anymore.

Lily turns her back to me, moving her strawberry-blonde hair over her shoulder, “clip this for me?”

I accept her choker from her outstretched palm and clasp it around her petite neck. She looks really pretty today. They both do.

“Are you going to the dance with anyone, Penny?” Lily asks.

I’ve been wondering, but I’d decided to remove my opinion from anything guy-related, at least until Penelope figures out what she wants.

Penelope frowns. “I was planning on going with Micah, but he hasn’t asked me as yet.”

“There’s still time,” Lily assures her.

Penny bites her lip in contemplation as she applies mascara. She looks really different with her contacts on instead of her glasses.

“What do you think I should do, Ags?” she turns towards me.

“You want my advice?” I dubiously ask, “on inter-gender interaction?”

Penny rolls her eyes. “We’ve been talking for a while, but it’s been mostly platonic. I didn’t want to make the first move, but I’m starting to feel comfortable with him and I’m just thinking… maybe he isn’t making the first move because I’ve been so… casual… with him that he doesn’t know if I want him to make a move.”

“You want to show him you’re interested,” Lily provides. Penelope nods in confirmation before turning back to me.

“well.. you can’t expect him to ask you if you’ve never spent time with him in person,”  I explain. “That’s a wholeass commitment. You need to spend time together before then, figure out if you like each other in person, that sort of thing. If you still like each other after, its only a matter of time before he asks you.”

“But he doesn’t know I’m interested,” Penny stresses.

“it’s challenging guessing a persons intention over text,” Lily says, “I’m sure that once you spend time with him in person, it will clear up the miscommunication.”

I nod in affirmation, and Penny seems to calm slightly.

“Okay, so how do we make this happen?” Penelope asks.

“Well,” I say, “ideally he would ask you to hang out, and that sorts that out. But, knowing you, you probably took 14 hours to text him back and didn’t drop any hints suggesting that you even want to meet him in person, so we turn to plan B.”

“Oh I do like plans.” Penny smiles.

“show me his facebook page,” I suggest.

Penelope has it up on her phone in a minute, and I scroll through. It’s a dead-end. He almost never posts, checks-in, or shares posts on his timeline at all.

I settle for his Instagram instead, and we find that there are multiple posts from a diner nearby, including his current story, which is a second-long boomerang video of himself licking whipped cream off the top of his milkshake.

The video just radiates fuckboy - but I’m not telling Penny that.

“He’s at Ebb’s,” I declare.

Penny raises an eyebrow at me. Lily smiles, catching up.

“We’re going for pre-party milkshakes to Ebb’s,” I explain, “you’ll run into him, talk, and that should get things moving so hopefully you’re dating him before V day.”

If there’s one thing Penelope Bunce loves, it’s having a plan.

***


BAZ

I’ve just chauffeured Niall’s grandparents to the Grimm house when I pause to check my phone before I head back home. Hopefully, Simon managed to shower and change himself with minimal difficulty.

There are unopened messages on my group chat with Dev and Niall. It must be Niall, since Dev has been calling me at 20-minute intervals, to check in on how my errand-running is going, to shove over some of his allocated errands onto me. He’s doing quite a bit, but he can’t tackle most things without ditching Niall, and if he ditches Niall… well, Niall will get suspicious. Then he’ll bother me – who is also busy. Then he’ll just show up at Dev’s house altogether and find his surprise party.

So, no, we need Dev on babysitting duty.

 

 

Minions

(13:26) Niall:  I’m done @ library

                           Anyone picking me up? I can take the tube

                          @Bazzy, do you wanna hang out today?

                          Feels like we haven’t hung out in forever

 

I sigh. If you only knew, Niall.

 

 

(13:28) Dev:  I’m on my way.

                         Don’t talk to strangers.

 

 

I want to.

But Simon’s tutoring ran late today so I’m still busy helping him.

I’ll drop by later today.

Sorry, x

(13:31) Dev:  Eww that’s gay

With Dev and Niall temporarily occupied with each other, I head back home to Simon. The anticipation… knowing he’s in my bedroom, probably wearing my clothes, it’s enough to make me nervous.

It’s just the type of domestic daydream I’d allowed myself before. Knowing that he’s there… it’s almost too much.

No amount of overthinking could have prepared me for the sight of Simon Snow -the scent, the sight, the Simonness of him - in my bedroom.

Waiting for me.

Allowing Simon to borrow my clothes was a mistake; this much is clear as I re-enter my bedroom. I’ve never seen him look so… put together. Like he could be from my world. The type of guy I could have met at the club.

Granted, he only looks halfway decent because he’s wearing my clothes, but that too is doing something to me. Simon on an average day is devastatingly beautiful. In my clothes… he’s an absolute nightmare. This boy will be the death of me. My blue shirt is the exact shade of Simon Snow’s eyes. I know this because that is the precise reason I bought it. It’s a snug fit, and the sleeve length is a tad long on him, but he looks beautiful.

It feels like time slows down as I take in the image of him.

He smiles shyly at me – Simon Snow is so rarely shy – as he tries to button the cuffs on the right sleeve of his shirt. Well, my shirt.

“Give me a hand?” he huffs nervously, holding out his arm to me.

I fiddle with the button. It takes me a moment longer than usual to get it done – my hands are shaking, my heart is racing.

I feel seconds from tackling him to the ground and either kissing him or punching him in the face for making me feel this way – I haven’t decided which one as yet.

He takes his arm back after I button the sleeve. I reach for his collar, straightening it out.

It doesn’t need to be straightened out.

Then, I take Simon by the shoulders and gently turn him around, facing the mirror. He’s a head shorter than me. I watch his reaction in the mirror as he takes in the sight of himself in fancy clothes.

“Sometimes Aggie’s parents would get me a formal shirt to wear at theirs, around the holiday’s,” he says, “but your clothes….it feels… different.”

We make eye contact in the mirror.

“Bad different?” I ask. My voice is low. Soft.

Tender.

He shakes his head. “I never liked buttons and collars and formal pieces. I never liked the fuss of it, I never liked feeling constricted. And I … I didn’t look like me. When I looked at myself in the mirror, all dressed up … I saw Agatha’s boyfriend, a part I played for her, I didn’t see me.”

“You don’t need to dress formal for this party, Snow. It’s a farewell party, not the prom.”

He shakes his head again, a small smile forming. “I don’t feel that way right now. Not in your clothes….”

“So you don’t see Agatha’s boyfriend when you look in the mirror?” I raise an eyebrow at him.

He turns away from the mirror, to his left to make eye contact with me – the real me – behind him. “Not even close.” He whispers. And it feels… like an admission. Like a promise. Like a confession, all wrapped up in three words. And maybe I’m imagining it, maybe I’m high on the emotions of the day, but we’re already so close – his back mere millimetres from my chest – and I feel him lean back a hairsbreadth.

Without even thinking about it, I lean forward. Or at least I think I do – I don’t get a chance to finish the thought because my phone starts to ring; Dev calling to check if I’ve picked up Niall’s grandparents.

I snap my confirmation at my cousin, cutting the call not even 15 seconds later, by which Simon seems to have woken up from his daze and has taken it upon himself to borrow my hand cream and perfume.

And as annoyed as I am by the moment being broken, by not knowing what would have happened had we not been interrupted … there are worse things than watching the domesticity that is Simon Snow rummaging around in the dresser within my walk-in closet like he owns the place, helping himself to my beauty products and wearing my clothes.

***


AGATHA

“He could very well have left already, in the time it took us to finish dressing up and get here,” Penelope points out.

Well. He hasn’t left already, although maybe it would have been better if he had.

The idiot is on a date. Milkshakes, shared plate of fries between them, arm around her shoulders, stealing a fry out of her mouth with his teeth – the whole shebang.

A glance at Penny lets me know that she’s definitely disappointed. Hurt. Sad.

I’m not so sure if it’s her feelings for Micah himself or the fact that she’d managed to put her independence complex on pause for a half-hour and open herself up to the possibility of being vulnerable. That’s big for Penny. She’s never needed anyone – least of all a man. Penny is the type of person you need, not the type of person who needs you.

But despite her confusing signals, she really liked Micah. She’d never have been nervous about meeting him otherwise. Or have dressed up and travelled all the way here.

And she may have taken a half-day to reply to texts, but the fact that she replied at all is saying something.

“okay, maybe this is just a first date. You guys are still casual so just because he’s keeping his options open doesn’t mean he isn’t interested in you,” Lily tries.

“Yes. True. Okay, mention that we’re going to a party tonight, ask him if he wants to come with.”

He is on a date, and even if it’s a first date, its still one more date than I got!” Penny whisper-shrieks.

“if he says yes to the party, that will be your first date,” says Lily.

“Listen,” I reason. “you like him. You’re here already. Just go in, order, relax … if he recognizes you and comes over then mention the party, and his response will tell us if he’s interested.”

Penny still looks uncertain, but she follows Lily and me into the diner.

LILY

Turns out, Micah doesn’t notice us – he doesn’t seem to be straying his attention from his date at all, actually.

Twenty minutes in, our milkshakes are almost empty, and we’re all out of casual conversation to fill the air until Micah notices Penny. I’m starting to think this whole trip was a bust.

That is, until Penny surprises us in a moment of confidence and struts to Micah’s table the moment his date slips to the loo.

PENELOPE

The moment Micah’s date leaves, I’m on my feet. Lately, conversation with Micah felt forced, strained. Sometimes, he just didn’t reply at all – that’s typical for me but uncharacteristic for him. I could feel him pulling away, but with exams and college applications, I just didn’t have the time to deal with it.

Micah looks up as I reach the table, surprise evident in his features. That’s fair, I guess, since he’s on a date and it’s not with me.

“Penny?” he asks uncertainly.

“Micah.” I smile at him.

He isn’t smiling. I wish he was smiling.

Micah’s eyes dart to the loo – from where his date should return any moment now – and back to me in a moment. “What are you doing here?” he asks.

“you said you wanted to meet in person.”

“that was months ago,” he objects, “every time I tried to ask you out, you made an excuse,”

“I wasn’t making excuses,” I frown, “I really was busy.”

Micah sighs. “Sure. Anyway, what are you doing here?”

“uhm,” I’m suddenly nervous. I feel awkward. He hasn’t offered me a seat. “my friends and I,” my eyes dart to Agatha and Lily a few tables away, “are heading to a party tonight, and we just stopped by for a snack before. I saw you here and … well, actually, I was going to ask if you’d like to come to the party tonight.” He’s looking at me dubiously. “With me.” I add for clarification.

This isn’t the reaction I’d anticipated.

“Penny, I’m literally on a date right now.”

My eyebrows furrow, “yes about that, I thought we… liked each other….”

“Penelope we’ve hardly had a conversation in weeks,”

“because we’re both busy.”

“You can’t possibly have thought I wasn’t talking to anyone else when I have to wait three business days for a response from you.”

“three days is hardly a long time when you’re high school seniors, writing tests and applying to colleges - ”

“ – uhm, hi?” Micah’s date is back. She has long dark hair, she’s wearing a lilac dress with white flowers, and she looks uncomfortable. “Should I… give you a moment?”

“yes.” I say at the same time as Micah says, “no.”

Micah glares at me and then turns back to the girl. “No, Erin. Please, sit. Penelope was just saying hi, she was just leaving.”

He turns a pointed look at me, and suddenly I feel… well, like an idiot.

I really should have worn the waterproof mascara.  

 

Chapter Text


AGATHA

“We don’t still need to go if you don’t want to,” I remind Penny.

After the disaster at the diner, Penny, Lily, and I headed back to my place so I could fix Penny’s makeup and we could hang out until it was time to leave for the party.

“No,” Penny sighs, “It’s Niall’s farewell,”

“Are you even friends with Niall?” 

“I’m friends with Baz and he’s friends with Niall, so,”

“Since when are you and Baz friends,” I ask, air quotes and all.

“we are friends, we just wouldn’t say we’re friends.” Penny stresses.

“Is that because of Simon’s beef with him?” Lily smirks.

Penny tries to smother a private smile – I’m not sure what that’s about.

That’s one of the reasons I don’t mind having Lily in our little group. When it’s just me, Penny, and Simon, I always feel like they’re in some secret club that I’m not a part of, with inside jokes and secret meetings. I was always the third wheel, even when Simon and I were dating.

“those two are hopeless,” Penny says now. “but no, Baz and I are just … academic friends, of a sort.”

Lily hums in understanding. “Baz and I became friends when he and Dev started helping out the music department with the school plays, I was surprised to find that he’s pleasant once you get to know him.”

It’s interesting listening to their individual assessments of Baz. Everyone knows him; he’s Baz Pitch, candidate for valedictorian, straight-A student, captain of the football team, dashingly handsome, available, stylish, rich, just enough of brooding darkness to make him mysterious while still incredibly hot. He’s not typically nice, but that just adds to his dangerous, bad boy charisma – it just makes him more irresistible.

And yet … even I hardly know Baz.

There’s a surface layer to Baz, a side of him he allows you to know.  The charming, confident, charismatic heir about himself when he wins the Magicians a game or scores a total on a test that the class averaged a fail for.

He’s the type of guy I tried so hard to like because I felt like I should. What isn’t there to like? We make the most sense, and everyone thought that I should like him, so I tried to.

And yet, he was only mildly more interesting than Simon.

But I’m not even really friends with him.

“is it weird being friends with him after you guys broke up?” Penny asks Lily.

“Who?” Lily’s eyebrows furry in confusion.

“You and Baz? you were one of the first few to date him,”

“oh,” Lily looks amused, “we didn’t really date, it’s not like I consider him an ex or anything. We just hung out platonically for a week, it was fun. No it didn’t effect our friendship at all, it’s just an anecdote to tell at parties now,” she laughs.

“Well, I mean, you asked him out because you liked him, though, right?” I ask.

Lily glances at me and looks uncomfortable.

I can’t blame her – I was nothing but flamboyant about my flirting with Baz before; she probably thinks I’m seeing her as competition.

Not that she wouldn’t be, but she doesn’t know how little genuine feelings I have invested in this thing with Baz.

“not really,” Lily says, “Baz and I are friends and it just seemed fun – what time are you guys heading to the party?” she changes the subject.

“an hour, an hour and a half from now?” Penny turns to me; I nod in agreement.

“coming with us? We’re taking my car,”

“Well, I’ll be driving us back since I’m the DD,” adds a smirking Penelope.

“Still taking my car,” I roll my eyes playfully at her before turning back to Lily.

“Actually,” Lily starts, featuring a sheepish smile.

Penelope and I share a look before we both turn a raised eyebrow at her.

She sighs. “Jackson asked if he could give me a ride to the party.” She caves.

“Have a thing for Lacrosse players, do we?” I smirk at her.

She rolls her eyes. “Should I tell him to fetch me from here?”

“Sure, long as he’s not late, else we’ll all be late,”

Lily blushes subtly as she pulls her phone out of her jacket pocket and texts (presumably) Jackson.

I can’t help but think about all the guys who’ve asked to take me to the party. It’s that type of party – the type you take a date to, not find one at.

I’d turned them all down. Most people assume it’s because I’m waiting for Baz. And it’s true that I give him more attention than most … but it’s just different. I didn’t turn all those guys down for him. I turned down those guys because I wasn’t into them. I give Baz attention because if I have to (and when you’re in high school and popular, you have to) flirt with someone, it might as well be an attractive and wealthy guy who clearly isn’t falling at my feet. There are other prospects, but they’re already too… taken with me. With Baz, his lack of interest is almost comforting – I know that it will never escalate beyond mild flirting, even if I act like I want it to. I know he’ll never expect me to meet his family or accompany him as his date to a grand ball. Or wear the Pitch family signet ring – or is it the Grimm signet ring? I don’t know; that boy is confusing.

Where Baz is safe, Simon was anything but. With Simon, I misunderstood my own feelings. He was the very first guy I formed such a close bond with. I really did have feelings for him – it’s just that it took me a few years of self-growth and acceptance to realize that it was nothing but platonic.

I can’t help but feel like at least a part of him felt the same way. We were close friends for a while, and then we got older, and I was beautiful, and he was charming, and everyone thought we made such a cute couple, so we became a cute couple. We held hands in public, and we kissed in private, and we just … never wanted more than that.

We did what we thought we should want to do, even if I don’t think either of us wanted to do it.

Sometimes I think something’s wrong with me. Why can’t I find a guy I actually want to pursue something with? I reconsidered my sexuality – but nope, I don’t want that with a girl, either. Demisexuality? Asexuality? But I’d totally let (young) Hugh Grant or Leonardo Dicaprio debauch me.

All I can say is if Penelope is this sad about Micah and Lily is this nervous about Jackson, maybe I got the easy way out.

***


DEV

 

To say that Niall is surprised by the party is an understatement.

I’m concerned for a moment that he might actually pass out, but he recovers from his shock and instead starts to blush. His mother comes forward, takes him in her arms, and shares a moment with his family.

I want to take him in my arms next. Hug him. Kiss his forehead, his cheeks, his lips. Share in the sentimentality of the day.

Instead, I slip away during his moment of distraction. No one can know. No one can figure us out. Not here, in my parents’ house. My parents can’t know. Someday, maybe, but not today.

Today isn’t about me. Today is about him.

That’s the whole point of doing this party so early, isn’t it?

Saoirse didn’t want the attention divided from Niall by Christmas, New Years, the Valentines ball, or graduation… that’s one of the reasons she decided to throw the party before the festive holidays - so that Niall could be the center of attention.

So that Niall wouldn’t expect it.

He glances around the room, looking for me. He’s realized that I’ve been distracting him from this all day and no doubt wants to yell at me, but he’s being swarmed by guests right now. His grand mum’s already pinching his cheeks.

I devote myself to holding down the fort for the next few hours. The only way to not let myself slip up and be blatantly obvious is for me to not be too close to him.

 He deserves some time with his family. He’s not only leaving me - I need to remind myself - he’s leaving England, and that includes his family, his friends, all of it.

And besides, I was on babysit-Niall-duty, so I’ve had his undivided attention all day. The least I could do is keep the party running smoothly so his family – his mum, especially since she put her heart and soul into planning this party – can actually spend time with him.

NIALL

Dev and I had been having the perfect date, at least in my opinion.

He showed up to fetch me from the library with enough takeout food, milkshakes, and ice cream to feed a small village. An old comforter is carelessly tossed across the backseat, along with two old pillows and Satan.

Dev shrugged at my raised eyebrow. “I’m tired of being ignored for hours every time you go to the library,” he’d said simply (I never have the patience to hold off on reading the books I’ve borrowed.) “I thought we’d make a date of it.”

Dev set up a makeshift picnic in the park. We spent the afternoon with my head on Dev’s lap as I read. Dev played fetch with Satan with his right hand, his left gently – absentmindedly – brushing through my hair and massaging my scalp.

I don’t remember falling asleep, but I recall being woken up by Satan, who was drooling on my forehead. Dev did nothing to dissuade the hound.

I thought he was driving me home before he passed my house without even slowing down.

I was skeptical about revisiting his house instead. Since we started dating, I’d been avoiding his parents; they’d always been nothing but pleasant, kind, and accepting of me, and lying to them didn’t come naturally to me – although I respected Dev’s boundaries.

Not everyone has it as easy I did with my mum. She was open-minded and accepting of me when I decided to come out. Just because that’s the experience I had, and because Baz’s parents came (mostly) around as time went on, doesn’t mean that Dev will receive the same hand. I could never begrudge him this. Or rush him out.

Needless to say that the surprise party in Dev’s parents’ backyard is a little overwhelming.

I had been all mellow and in love as I strolled into my boyfriends’ backyard. The next thing I incoherently registered was a bunch of faces I couldn’t immediately place, family and friends who really shouldn’t be in the same place – and that place most definitely shouldn’t be Dev’s backyard – Baz who flaked on me today because he was apparently busy today, almost everyone I’ve ever known from school (half of whom I’ve rarely ever spoken to, the other half I’d like to never talk to), cousin’s I don’t particularly care for, and grandparents I like but who have no business here. My mum, conversing with Mr. and Mrs. Grimm.

Dev let go of my hand, left me feeling unanchored.

It was all too much, for a moment.

It all still feels like too much to take in at the moment, but my mind manages to make the connection, to read the banner. This is a farewell party. That makes sense. I manage to throw on a smile and make polite conversation. This party was thrown out of love. The least I could do was recognize and appreciate that.

My mum is on me within the moment, and before you know it, I’m swallowed up by the crowd.

Still, I scan the room for my person. All I see is his back as he walks away from me.

***


SIMON

“Niall looks like he might faint.”

“That’s the point of a surprise party, Snow.” Baz drawls.

“to prevent his departure by means of cardiac arrest?”

“That’s a big word for you, Snow, did Bunce get you a Word-of-the-day calendar?”

I push him playfully but grab onto his bicep before he can knock into the table behind him. There’s no bite in his words at all, though. There rarely ever is, these days.

“That’s new.” I comment as Lily and Jackson whisper to each other. He’s sitting on a stool and she’s standing up, it’s the only way really since Lily is pocket-sized. Jackson is watching her like he’s seeing the sun for the first time. Lily is keeping her cool, keeping her composure, the only giveaway is the flush of pink highlighting her cheeks.

“They came together,” Baz smirks, “Jackson gave her a lift.”

“Did you know about this?” I ask, surprised.

Baz just shrugs as he sips his champagne. He knew, then.

Lily and Baz’s friendship still surprises me as much as ever. She’s just so nice and he’s… Baz. A villain. A villain? No, he’s not a villain. He’s just … he’s Baz.

When did I stop thinking of Baz as a bad guy? When did he become just Baz?

 “I need to find Penelope.” I say instead. “they got here like five minutes before Niall, I didn’t get a chance to see her as yet and now she’s disappeared.”

“Wellbelove dragged her inside, they’re probably just using the lavatories.” Baz says.

I roll my eyes at him playfully. Who even uses the word lavatories?

“I’ll go find her.” I decide, turning towards the grand mansion.

“You can’t follow ladies into the bathroom, Snow, honestly.” Baz sighs exasperatedly.

“that’s not what I mean, and you know it,” I protest.

“And besides,” Baz talks over me, “the formalities are starting. We’d best get going.” Baz pinches my – his? – shirt sleeve between his fingers and drags me behind him to a set-up table. I guess I’m spending the ceremony with Baz, then. A waiter with a tray of champagne strolls past us and Baz grabs us two flutes. He passes one to me like it's no big deal. Like we’re friends who sit together and meet for drinks. Like this domesticity is the usual.

I can’t help but hope that maybe one day, it could be.

We’re joined almost immediately by Jackson and Lily who smile at us, Lily hugs Baz and me both and Jackson nods at me and claps Baz on the shoulder in that way that popular jocks do when they recognize a fellow popular jock. Even if they’re not friends. A gesture that says I am a popular-douchebag-hot-piece-of-ass-jock and I recognize a fellow popular-douchebag-hot-piece-of-ass-jock. I, too, am a jock, but you’d note that I did not receive a clap. It feels unfair.

Dev joins us a moment later, materializing from thin air with a persona so unruffled you’d assume he’s been here all along.

A few moments and greetings later, Agatha and Penelope join our now-full table.

Everyone grabs their drinks. The formalities start. There are speeches – Baz gives one, he looks gorgeous up in front of everyone, illuminated by the décor fairy lights – toasts, a slideshow of pictures of Niall – Baz is featured in a few of the pictures. It’s bloody irritating that he manages to look cute even during his pre-adolescent years – a few party games and a shit ton of food.

Niall looks overwhelmed, to say the least.

He’s attentive to the speech’s and he smiles politely. He tears up a few times. He smirks at Baz’s speech. He downs multiple drinks. He looks distracted. And most of all, his eyes wander to our table more than it probably should. Dev and Niall are clearly hiding, but no one would buy that they’re not in love. It’s written in their eyes. In the way they watch each other. In the way they see no one but each other, even in a crowded room (I know the feeling). Everyone’s watching Niall. Niall’s watching Dev.  It’s beautiful. It’s painful to watch.

***


BAZ

“Does he look … distracted, to you?” Dev whispers to me as Niall’s grandmother gives her speech for the second time - because she forgot what she was doing halfway through and started over.

“yeah,” I whisper back, “by your face.”

But Dev shakes his head, he’s serious. “he’s seemed …distraught, all night.”

“was everything okay today?”

“everything was perfect until we got here to be honest. We went on a picnic date. We ate, he read, we took Satan to the park. But he’s not as happy as I thought he’d be about the party.”

“he’s probably just overwhelmed,” I look around the room at the elaborate décor, the hot waiter guys prancing around drink refills and appetizers, the fact that  Dev’s parents hosted the party. “not to mention that he’s been avoiding your house and your parents for weeks.”

Dev just nods absentmindedly.

“you look distracted, too.” I point out.

Dev frowns. “Saroise asked me to give a speech. I thought she’d call me up after you but then she didn’t, now I’m thinking she’s saving me for last and I have no idea if she’s going to introduce me as Niall’s best friend or his boyfriend. Not to mention the fact that speech is so bland and full of cliché neutralities you’d think I don’t know Niall at all.”

“Why?”

“there’s no way for me to say everything I really want to say, in front of all these people, and have them believe that I am anything but in love with that boy.”

And that’s when I see the true sadness in Dev’s eyes. In the frown of his lips and his downward glance as he ignores everyone to play with his tie.

A glance around the room, a closer look at Niall, and I see the same. Niall is taking it all in. This party – albeit a few months early – forced him to face the reality that he’s leaving. We’ve all known it, but we’ve been avoiding it for the most part.

This whole party is just a cruel reality check. The rug was pulled out from under him. Niall was completely unprepared for the cruel reminder, camouflaged as a celebration.

***


NIALL

A celebration.

I know, realistically, that everyone means well. That this party is just as much because my family is proud of me as it is because they’ll miss me. That my temporary relocation to France is a big enough deal to require acknowledgment in the form of balloons and champagne.

But when you’re feeling angsty and you’re taken off guard, and there’s a party being thrown in your honor in the backyard of the people you’re forced to pretend to not be in love with the love of your life in front of, and you’re a lightweight who has had to sip their champagne at the end of every speech so far, this whole party starts looking an awful lot like a celebration that you’re leaving.

That’s not fair.

That’s not what this is.

In my rational state, I know this.

But Dev’s been platonic as fuck with me from the moment we reached here. That’s one of the reasons I avoid coming over to Dev’s place instead of mine, even though we have far more privacy here. I don’t like the hiding. The pretending devastates me. I’ve spent years hiding my feelings for Dev and call it selfish or unappreciative but I want the world to know he’s mine. I don’t need to go around announcing it, per se, but lying about it is beyond me.

And yet, we do it every day at school. And now, at a party with my entire family and everyone I love, we’re doing it still. My mum knows and that helps, but before I leave, I wish I could introduce my boyfriend to my grandparents, to my family.

The waiter guys are hot – I’m taken, I’m not blind – and a particularly pretty one keeps sending me flirty looks. He’s the type of guy I would have dragged into one of the Grimm’s many spare, empty bedrooms as soon as his shift was over and debauched him after the party. Now it just disheartens me. It disheartens me because he – like everyone else – thinks that I’m available. As far as anyone knows, I’m fair game for a quick hookup - no strings attached, of course, since I’m fucking off in a few months. I just wish I could kiss Dev in front of everyone here. Declare my feelings. Let them know I’m off the market. Claim him. be claimed. The pretty waiter guy winks at me, I avoid his eyes. I don’t feel guilty – I don’t want him. I don’t want anyone but the boy with the dark curls and sad smile, the one who’s been avoiding my eyes all night.

DEV

Saoirse – bless her heart – introduces me as Niall’s ‘oldest friend’ which isn’t false and doesn’t immediately kick her out of the closet. I assume Niall mentioned to her that I’m not out yet, that my parents don’t know.

I give my speech. Looking down at my flashcards most of the time, the guests some of the time, Niall none of the time.

I can’t bring myself to look at him. I’m not even sure why. Nothing’s changed in the last few hours, we were at our happiest just a few hours ago. But the truth of the party … the heaviness of what it means, it’s weighing down on my heart now.

It feels like there’s a countdown ticking away and we’re almost out of time.

That’s nothing new. But it doesn’t get easier.

I give my boring, nonpersonal speech. I don’t need to look at him to know he’s disappointed. My parents smile at me, they’ve always been fond of Niall. If only they knew.

Saoirse smiles sympathetically at me. She does know.

Baz ruffles my hair as I settle back down next to him after my speech. I try to clear my head and focus on his conversation with Snow, instead of my spiraling emotions – apparently, there’s a bird here or something, I don’t know why this is important enough to warrant a conversation but Baz is watching the trees with Snow, so I attempt to watch them too.

The last straw is when I spot one of the waiters shamelessly eye-fucking my boyfriend.

***


NIALL

The formalities have finished only a few minutes ago, and I’m searching for Dev. He slipped away as everyone rose from their seats and migrated towards the buffet table, but now I can’t find him.

It’s only a matter of time before I’m expected back at the party – guest of honor and all – but I need to see Dev. I feel… unhappy, towards him. I don’t know why. Angry at him? not entirely, he hasn’t done anything. But I want to find him and throw a small tantrum. And hug him. and have him tell me that he loves me – mini tantrums and all.

The last hour and a half felt like a huge fucking goodbye and I just need him to be here, I just need him to still be here.

Finally, I hear his voice downstairs (I’d searched his bedroom upstairs for him, only to find it empty).

“Yes, you.” his voice is uncharacteristically tight and agitated. I wonder who he’s talking to. “You’re fired. Leave.”

Dev is firing someone?

As I approach the last few steps, I see Dev in a heated conversation with the waiter who has been making passes at me all night.

I guess Dev noticed it, too, then.

I really don’t want the guy to lose his job over this – he didn’t know I’m taken – but I can’t help the small smile that creeps upon my features at Dev’s jealousy and possessiveness.

I’m still his.

“there’s still two more hours I’ve been hired for!” hot waiter protests.

Dev rolls his eyes, pulls out his wallet, and throws an uncounted fistful of notes at the boy. “Leave.” he says again.

I don’t know how much money Dev gave him, but it must be more than he was hired for because he hauls ass right out the backdoor.

Dev still doesn’t know I’m here, and I’m just about to approach him, pull him up to my bedroom, and kiss the jealousy right out of him when Matthew shows up.

***


SIMON

“Are you alright, Pen?”

I never got a chance to talk to Penny, but I can see that she doesn’t seem like herself. Something is bothering her. It’s been annoying me all evening, the need to make sure my best friend is alright, but everything was at a fast pace once Niall showed up and we couldn’t talk much during the function.

As soon as the formalities were declared over and everyone was invited to leave their tables, wander around, attack the buffet table, I pulled Penny inside.

“I guess,” Penny frowns.

 “Soo that’s a no.” I take her chin between my fingers. “What happened, Pen?”

It’s just us in this random passageway that leads to god knows what in this unnecessarily enormous house. Baz got swept up in a few rounds of greeting and conversation with Niall’s relatives whom he apparently knows, and Agatha and Lily allowed me to steal Penny from them as they followed Jackson to the buffet table.

“I met Micah today.”

“yeah?” I asked enthusiastically. She’s been talking to him for a good few months, and that’s saying something for Penelope. He’s a few years older than us – in university – and that makes me mildly concerned, but Pen is already far more mature and smart than anyone her age, maybe a slightly older guy is the only one who can actually match her.

But she looks sad.

“Did it not go well?” I ask.

“He was on a date.” She says bluntly, “apparently whatever was going on between us has died a long time ago and I just didn’t notice. Or accept it. or figure it out or something.”

I pull her into my arms, her head fits neatly under my jaw. She’s short.

“Penny,” I coo. I don’t really know what to say.

“I just wish he’d said something,” she mumbles against my chest. “I mean, I know we weren’t in a committed relationship but it was something, y’know? I mean – do you just stay up all night texting any random person if they don’t mean anything to you? do you ask them about their families and their favourite childhood memories at 3am without prior prompting, just because you’re fucking curious, and not because you want to know them? what about the pet names and the long, deep conversations? He told me things he never told anyone, or at least that’s what he said. I know we hadn’t talked much recently but it’s the final months before I’m in university too,I’m obviously busy, I thought he respected that!... I thought he was waiting for me.”

I hug her tighter when I hear her throat start to close up. She’s masking her tears, but they’re there.

Penny doesn’t let just anyone in her tiny circle, but once you’re in she doesn’t give up on you. She’s very loyal and devoted to the few she considers her own, and she expects that loyalty in return.

But not everyone holds friendships and relationships in that high regard.

And… well, being friends with Agatha came at a price to Penny. They were close since before popularity was even a thing, but as Agatha got more attractive and popular and Penny’s – although beautiful – prioritized school over popularity, people draw comparisons. You can’t look at Penny without noticing Agatha since she’s always there. And most people, once they notice Agatha, don’t look back at Penny.

People exhibit interest in Agatha all the time. Penny doesn’t need the attention – Penny doesn’t need anyone – but I know that having this guy like Penny instead of Agatha, meant a lot to Pen.

“You need to eat, Pen.”

“kay.” She mumbles. “can we leave, after? I don’t want to deal with people. These shoes. And I just want to tie my hair in a messy bun.”

I huff a laugh, pulling back to kiss her forehead. “yeah, Pen, we’ll leave after we eat. I need to, anyway. I have curfew and Baz promised to drive me home.”

And I know she’s really emotionally drained because she doesn’t even make fun of me for it.

There’s a commotion in the entryway which distracts us from our sad, best friend moment. Penny and I draw closer to the voices to investigate.

“What are you doing here?” the first voice – Dev, I think – sneers. “I told you not come.”

“I was invited,” bites back the second voice.

“I fucking uninvited you,” Dev – we’ve reached the scene now – practically growls.

“well, it’s good it’s not your party, then, isn’t it?” Matthew – the second voice – retorts.

“It’s my fucking house, isn’t it?” Dev mocks back. “Leave, he doesn’t want you here.”

“You don’t speak for him, why don’t you let him decide?” Says Matthew as he raises his eyes to meet Niall’s – on the staircase next to Penny and I, behind Dev.

Dev spins around so fast I feel whiplashed on his behalf. He looks surprised to see Niall behind him, but the feature is quickly replaced by nervousness.

Niall walks down the steps and approaches the now nervous Dev, with a soothing hand on his back. His eyes are trained on Matthew. “Lets not make a scene,” is all he says.

“I told him not to come,” Dev glares daggers at Matthew.

“I’ll leave if Niall wants me to.” Matthew glares back.

“I don’t particularly want you to be here, not want you to leave. I’m nonchalant.” Niall says carefully.

Matthew looks troubled, but he lifts his chin and holds his ground. “He’s not asking me to leave.” He says to Dev.

“Well, I am.” Says a voice from the passageway under the staircase on the opposite side of the room.

Baz.

“It’s not your party either,” Matthew sneers.

“I suddenly feel very uncomfortable and harassed by your presence, and my therapist says I should distance myself from people who make me feel uncomfortable.” Baz says in his most posh accent. It’s hard to not burst out laughing. Baz doesn’t have a therapist.

Niall just rolls his eyes, a small smile on his features. He ignores Baz, but he turns to Dev.

“Does it bother you that much if he’s here? because I don’t care one way or the other but I don’t want you upset.”

Dev doesn’t say anything, but he glares at Matthew again.

Niall just sighs. “Matthew –”

“boyfriend got you on a tight leash there,” Matthew cuts Niall off.

“I don’t control him.” Dev argues at the same time as Niall snaps back “I’m not on a leash.”

“that’s enough,” Baz snaps. “You,” Baz points at Matthew. “get out.” He points at the door. “you two,” he says softer, gentler, but still leaving no room for argument – pointing at Dev and Niall -
“you need to talk.” His eyes dart upstairs. Niall grabs Dev’s arm and pulls him up the stairs without another word. “and you,” Baz’s eyes find mine and I feel like a deer in headlights. Penny and I had been so quiet, so out of the scene that I didn’t think anyone even knew we were here. “let’s go. It’s almost curfew.”

It’s hard to find words for a few moments. The way he took charge of the situation, demanded attention, commanded the room – he’s breathtaking.

“Can you give Penny a ride home, too?” we didn’t eat yet but I don’t think anyone is thinking about that right now, and anyway, we ate a lot of appetizers.

Penny groans. “I forgot I’m the DD, for Agatha and Lily.”

“I don’t mind giving them a ride too, but I’m sure Jackson is planning on taking Lily home.”

Penny taps away at her phone and gets a response a moment later. “Jackson will take Lily and Agatha home.”

Baz nods. “Come on, lets get some food in you and then leave,”

I can’t help but smile at that. Baz knows me. He pays attention. He kept an eye on my curfew time, on whether or not I’ve eaten.

***


PENELOPE

After a quiet meal, I give Agatha her keys – how is she even getting the car home? At least she was understanding about me leaving- and follow Simon and Baz to his car.

“I told you to leave.” Baz sneers at a shadowed figure as we reach the car.

As we get closer I recognize it as Matthew.

“Relax,” Matthew rolls his eyes. “I’m just waiting for my ride.”

“An uber doesn’t take that long, I’m not leaving until I’m sure you’re gone.” Baz crosses his arms and leans against the hood of the Porsche.

SIMON

I hope Baz isn’t serious, because I really do have a curfew and it’s not going to wait for Matthew and Baz to play a game of whose more stubborn – it’s Baz – but it’s also incredibly hot when he’s all-dominating like this.

Matthew just glares at him. “I didn’t call an uber, I called my brother. He should be here soon, he left a while ago.”

Baz is apparently serious about waiting this out, because he unlocks the Porsche for Penny and me to sit inside, but stays perched up on the hood for several minutes until a car pulls up next to us.

“That’s him.” Matthew says.

The guy – Matthew’s brother – stops the car and gets out. Penny gasps and gets out of the Porsche, staring at the stranger. I don’t really know why, so I jump out too and stand in front of her. I notice that Baz, too, stands up straight and repositions himself in front of Penny on her other side, instead of beside her.

Affection for him overcomes me.

Protectiveness for them both.

“Micah?” she whispers softly, and I turn my wide eyes at the asshole.

“You’re Micah?” I ask loudly

Micah rolls his eyes. “is there a problem here?” he asks Matthew, ignoring us completely even though he obviously saw and heard Penelope. He doesn’t seem surprised by her presence here, but she was clearly not expecting him to be here, nor expecting him to be related to Matthew at all.

“Who’s he?” Baz asks me.

“Asshole.” I say promptly.

This is apparently a satisfying explanation for Baz because he simply glares at both the brothers.

“Your ride is here.” he says to Matthew, “get out.”

“You don’t talk to him like that.” Micah takes a step in front of Matthew and snarls at Baz.

You don’t talk to him at all,” I all but growl at Micah, getting between him and Baz – he was getting in Baz’s face and I’m not having that.

“Or what,” Micah snaps.

“Oh for snakes sakes just fuck off,” groans Penelope. “You’ve done enough,” she says to Micah, then she turns to Matthew. “you both have.”

***


DEV

Niall drags me up the stairs and into my own bedroom by my shirt sleeve. It’s not as sexual as I’d hope it would be – there’s definitely no pinning-me-against-the-door-and-kissing-me-senseless. He closes the door behind us, leans against it, and watches me with crossed arms.

I can be stubborn. I’m at my wit's end. He didn’t even tell Matthew to leave. So, I grab a random book off my bookshelf, turn to a random dog-eared page and start fake reading.

Niall sighs and walks over to me. He picks the book out of my hand and places it back on its designated place on the shelf. It’s my history textbook. This feels like a very civil and mature fight.

Until it isn’t.

“What was that about? This isn’t you; firing people, kicking people out of the house,”

“Sorry,” I say venomously, “I’m sure you were really enjoying the looks that waiter was giving you,”

He just rolls his eyes calmly, “I didn’t give a shit about the looks anyone was giving me, but I did notice you not looking at me at all tonight.”

“Why do you care if I fired him, then.” I choose that specific part to answer to.

“it was unnecessary. You know I wouldn’t have acted on his advances.”

I clench my jaw and look at anything other than him.

“Seriously?” he sounds angry now. “You don’t trust me to not cheat on you with a random fucking waiter? You think I’d do that, in your own damn house?” he hisses.

And the thing is, I know he’d never do that. I trust him not to pursue anything with the waiter. I got jealous and fired him because I didn’t like the way he was looking at Niall. I got jealous, but it was at no fault of Niall’s.

But hiding my feelings for Niall has been a crutch and a deflection for so long, that it comes easier than being vulnerable in this moment.

Than just telling him that I’m not myself because I’m scared.

“It’s waiter’s in my house now, it’ll be French barista’s in bakeries soon enough.”

It’s out of my mouth before I can stop it.

“So that’s what this is really about.”

“it’s not just that. You didn’t even ask Matthew to leave.”

“I didn’t invite Matthew here either!” he yells, “I was completely overwhelmed, I wasn’t expecting to see him, or expecting any of this, so sorry if I didn’t react appropriately!”

I don’t even know why we’re fighting anymore.

I understand everything he’s saying.

I’m still so angry.

“it’s not about Matthew.”

“Then what the fuck is it about, Dev?” he explodes, “tell me, instead of making it about everything else!”

“You’re leaving!” I yell back, “You’re leaving and we can’t keep acting like it isn’t happening, or like it isn’t a big deal! I love you and you’re leaving me!”

“And you never asked me to stay!!!” He screams. He screams, he’s never screamed at me before. His voice breaks at the last word, at the word stay. A single tear escapes his eye, and his fingers are pulling on his hair. His mouth stays open a moment even after he’s said his piece, a silent sob escaping.

And the last bit of me breaks.

We watch each other for a moment. He’s full-on crying now.

I don’t know what to say.

Stay.

It would be so easy to say it. I can’t say it.

Because he’d do it. For me, he’d give up on his dreams. He’d make me his new dream. He loves me, I actually know it.

I see it because I love him.

And that’s why I can’t ask him to stay.

But I don’t know what to say. And apparently, silence isn’t the right response either because he turns and opens the door to leave.

He opens the door to my stunned, shocked – possibly confused – parents.

My parents who have no doubt heard everything.

***


BAZ

Simon is comfortably messing with my car radio again, although this time it’s to turn the volume down and stare at me.

We’ve just left a somewhat distraught Bunce at her house, and now we’re heading to his foster house. I don’t call it Simon’s house, because regardless of what anyone says, I want him out of there.

I don’t trust them with someone so pure.

“Something you want to say, Snow?” I sneer. Or at least I try to sneer. I’ve been entirely too soft with him lately.

“You’re sad.” Simon simply says.

It’s drizzling lightly outside, but it’s warm in the car with the heater switched on. Cosey.

“I don’t get sad. It’s a useless emotion.”

“Is it…” he chews on his lower lip anxiously. The sight has more intense an effect on me than probably intended. “Is it because Niall is leaving?” he asks as if I hadn’t spoken at all.

I very pointedly – and silently – switch my left indicator on, check my mirrors and blind spot, make the left turn, and then lean forward to turn the radio volume up again without a word.

Simon switches the whole radio off.

“It’s okay to be sad, Baz. Whatever you’re feeling is okay.” he coos. “I’d be sad too, if Penny were leaving.”

“isn’t she?” I ask. Because I’m a monster. And because I actually want to know; Penelope is brilliant and surely, she’s been accepted to numerous institutions already.

“She’s going to school in London,” Simon says excitedly, “she got accepted a few days ago.”

I nod in understanding, there’s not much to say. It’s obvious that Bunce is staying close to home for Simon’s sake. She could go anywhere, do everything.

She’s the only student rivaling me for valedictorian. Does that mean that Simon is staying in London post-graduation?

“And you?” I ask.

I’ve been wondering about this more and more lately. It’s all been a chain effect; Simon came to me for help with biology so he doesn’t get kicked off the football team, so he can get scouted by a college team and go to college.

“I applied to a few schools in London, but it depends on if I get a rugby scholarship. If not, I’ll get a job – a more permanent, full-time job – while I figure out my next step. Penny suggested community college the following year, once I have some savings. Penny and I are getting an apartment in London together after graduation,” he smiles brightly at me, and it’s so wholesome I can’t even find it in me to begrudge Bunce or be jealous.

“I’m still waiting to hear back from a few Universities, but I’ll be damned if I leave London.” I say earnestly. “And that sounds fun, you and Bunce in the city alone? What could go wrong?”

I’m fond of Bunce, I appreciate her even. And I’ve managed to come to terms with my feelings for Simon years ago. But the two of them, together, they always manage to attract mountains of trouble. Their mix of curiosity, bravery, and intelligence is the deadliest recipe for trouble.

Someone needs to keep an eye on these two – and it’s looking like it might just have to be me.

We pull up at his foster home, then.

“I assume you need to get back, yeah?”

I nod, slowly, avoiding his stare. “Yeah. People should be leaving soon, but, I mean, it’s Niall and Dev … ”

He nods but makes no move to leave the car. I don’t ask him to

SIMON

“It’s stupid.” I declare after a few minutes of companionable silence.

Baz turns his attention to me in question.

“This whole dare,” I elaborate, “It’s just stupid.”

Baz nods absentmindedly, “I agree,”

“You clearly don’t enjoy it,” I argue over him, “you’re not even happy, most weeks. Why… why don’t you just call it?”

Baz looks mildly taken aback by my sudden outburst, but he thankfully answers me anyway. “Dev dared me.”

That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard a smart person say. I’m almost tempted to come back with if Dev dared you to jump off a cliff, would you do it?

“whatever,” I mumble instead as I get out of the car.

Baz climbs over the gear stick and follows me out of the passenger seat a moment before I could slam the door. He could have just come around the car, but he’s nothing if not dramatic.

“Snow, why are you mad?” he asks, bewildered.

“What do you even get out of this if you win?” I yell at him from the stairs leading up to the front door. He’s just outside the car, looking up at me with desperate confusion.

Baz waves his hand dismissively as if what he gets out of winning is hardly as important as winning itself. “I don’t hear another word out of Dev about my social life for as long as I’m stuck with him – so, for life. And I don’t need to take a date to the Valentines dance,”

“Would that really be so bad,” I snap at him. I wasn’t planning to… it just… I hate when he acts like this. Like dealing with other people is the biggest inconvenience and waste of his time. Like he’s above everyone.

Like everyone else …. Like I am just a burden.

Baz just raises an eyebrow at me. He’s good at that, he looks like a TV show villain. “Simon, what’s the matter?” he asks. He asks… gently. Softly.

He said my name, he almost never says my name.

And that’s what diminishes the last of my patience. I can deal with all the shades of Baz that make him him, but when he’s soft with me; those rare moments are my undoing.

I’m down the steps before I can register it before I can even decide to act. Baz’s tie knot grasped in my palm. I’m all up in his face, he’s just frozen in surprise.

“Date me, Baz Pitch.”

Baz just stares at me, completely wild-eyed for a moment. “It’s –” Baz stutters. Baz never stutters. I’ve managed to make Baz Pitch stutter. “It’s not Monday,” he gasps finally.

He hasn’t pushed me away as yet, even though I have the front of his shirt bunched up in my fist and I’m centimeters from his face.

I take that as a green light.

“Fuck Monday’s” I growl, as I crush my lips against his, swallowing the sound of surprise that escapes him.

 

 

Chapter Text


THE PREVIOUS NIGHT

 

BAZ

Simon is all worked up like he could go off at any moment, and for the life of me, I can’t fathom why.

“Simon, what’s the matter?” I ask him softly.

I realize my mistake a moment later; his outburst made me act without thinking – I never call him Simon out loud. It’s too soft for us. It’s too intimate. It’s too transparent – he might just see through me, right into the heart of my feelings for him. I can’t say his name without exposing the vulnerability for him I’ve spent years burying.

He seems to see it too; something in his eyes changes completely at my words like he’s reached a resolve he’s been struggling to find.

Before I can register what he’s doing, he’s in front of me with my tie in his fist and my body pinned against the Porsche. 

My breath hitches in my throat, but I don’t dare exhale. I’m frozen in place, too afraid that if I move, something about this fragile moment will break, shatter, disintegrate right in front of me and Simon will just turn around and leave … like he did the last time we shared a moment, in the Porsche.

The absolute menace doesn’t disappoint, though.

“Date me, Baz Pitch.” He says.

His voice is low, lower than I’ve ever heard it. His body is curved toward mine. We’re as close as we possibly can be without actually touching – except for where he’s still holding me in place by the front of my shirt and my tie.

It’s incredibly hot.

To my own horror, I stutter – “It’s… it’s not Monday.”

I’m still not sure if he’s taken hold of me like this to just punch me in the face, but I think I might just kiss him.

He’s leaning against me, and his mouth is slightly open (mouth breather), and his eyes are alive alive alive.

I’ve never kissed anyone before (I’ve never wanted to kiss anyone but him.)

And because he’s Simon Snow – and he gets anything he wants if he growls loud enough – “Fuck Monday’s.” he growls.

And then he kisses me.

SIMON

Baz’s mouth is colder than Agatha’s.

Because he’s a boy, I think, and then: No, because he’s a bad guy.

He’s not a bad guy, he’s just a bad boy.

He’s not a bad boy, he’s just a boy.

I’m kissing a boy.

I’m kissing Baz.

He’s so cold, and the world is so hot.

 

BAZ

Is this a good kiss? Am I doing this right? I don’t know, but I try to kiss back.

Simon’s mouth is hot. Everything is hot.

He’s pushing me against the Porsche, so I push back.

His mouth is killing my every thought.

Simon Snow.

SIMON

If Baz thinks I’m ever letting him go, he’s wrong. I like him like this. Under my thumb. Under my hands. Not off dating a new cheerleader every week and being the bisexual awakening to previously-straight-lacrosse-playing-jocks.

I just want him to stop going off and dating other people – people who aren’t me. A new person every week, a new table at lunch, a different person riding shotgun in his Porsche who isn’t me. 

I’ve got you now, I think. I’ve finally got you where I want you.

***


 

NOW

Sunday, December 20th 

 

SIMON

 

 

“I still can’t believe that Matthew and Micah are brothers,” I say.

It’s mid-morning.

Penny and I are sprawled across her bed, a plate of samoosa’s between us. I’m never left hungry here.

Penny just shrugs and curls up in her blanket.

Unsurprisingly, it’s pouring outside.

I’m off today – I was asked to swap shifts with Ryan, who was supposed to work the late shift on Wednesday evening. I don’t usually take the late shift on weekdays, but it felt like more than a suggestion, and Wednesday is the start of Christmas break anyway – so we’re using this time to catch up.

I see Penny nearly every day, but it feels as though we’ve both been incredibly preoccupied as of late. I’ve missed her. Not to mention that although Penny tries to brave-face it, she’s sad about Micah.

This is also why I haven’t mentioned Baz …

I pet her hair and focus on the movie playing on her laptop. We’re having a How to train your dragon marathon. Pen doesn’t really feel like talking, but I know that company and cuddles are what she needs right now—company, cuddles, and food.

“Is it racist of me to order Indian food?” I ask

“why would you order Indian food when we make it at least three times a week.”

I don’t make it three times a week,”

I bring you roti roll lunch wraps!”

“fine,” I ruffle her already incredibly messy hair, “what do you want?”

She’s quiet for a few minutes, either considering her options or engrossed in the movie.

“anything but fish,” she cringes as Toothless spits out a fish head in offering to Hiccup. I laugh with her.

“Chinese.”

“of course,” I kiss her forehead and climb out of her bed.

“No, Si, just pass me my phone and I’ll order it to deliver.”

I know what she’s doing. If she orders from the app on her phone, it’s connected to her card. I don’t have a card, so I can’t do that, but I can run to the Chinese takeaway shop and get my best friend some goddamn fortune cookies and chicken noodles.  

“That’s alright,” I dismiss her.

“It’s literally raining.”

“not that heavy – you can blow-dry me when I get back, and I’ll borrow your umbrella,”

“It has pink flowers on it!”

“I’m secure in my masculinity.”

“Simon, they’ll deliver you don’t need to do this.”

I give her a look. She knows I know what she’s doing.

She’s as stubborn and mule-headed as I am, though.

“Fine, then take my card.”  She challenges.

I sigh, “Pen I know what you’re doing, and I appreciate it, but just let me take care of the most important person in my life when she’s having a bad day, okay?”

She looks troubled, but she climbs out of bed and throws a black hooded jacket at me that’s way too big to be hers. I raise an eyebrow at her. She rolls her eyes.

“It’s Premal’s.”

I nod at her and grab the girly umbrella from the closet on the way out.

I’m glad that I get to be here for Penelope – despite that I’m not getting paid for today – but I’m honestly relieved to have a few minutes to myself. To just feel the drizzle against my skin, feel the harsh cold breeze, and clear my head. Or maybe to just think.

I never got a chance to really think since Baz left me home last night.

Baz.

Baz, my enemy of many years, slash recent sort of friend, slash catalyst of my bisexual awakening.

Last night I kissed Baz. I kissed him like I’d spent the last few weeks imagining doing countless times, and it was better than every fantasy.

In my dreams, Baz was unrelenting. He was dominating, as he always is when I’m involved. In my dreams, kissing Baz was like fighting in place. I push him; he pushes me back harder.

In reality, it was mutual surrender. Baz went pliant under my hands. He gave in. First in shock and then in submission. He let me take as much of him as I wanted - an open fuse.

It was like there was no fight left in him – not like he was giving up, but like he had just felt the first inkling of hope. His rough edges were smooth and safe, and he was cold, but he let me make him warm.

It was like none of the intensely intimate fantasies I’d previously daydreamed about.

It was perfect, beyond anything I could have imagined.

And I don’t know what it means.

 I need to see Baz; I can’t let him act like this never happened. I can’t leave this long enough for him to act as though this never happened.

But just as we’d separated and taken a moment to get our breath back last night, and I was about to ask him to sneak inside with me, he’d received a frantic call from Niall and apologized, saying he had to go.

 Baz got into his Porsche and drove off without a look back.

I couldn’t begrudge him – I saw the lines of worry in his features when he received that call from Niall. Something is clearly going on. His friends need him – Merlin knows I’d drop everything and run if Penny called me frantic, and Niall is nothing if not Baz’s Penny.

I check my phone once I’m inside the warm, lantern-lit shelter of Penny and my favorite Chinese restaurant. I’m waiting for my order to be ready.

There’s a text. From Baz.

I inhale sharply, and my stomach twists in anticipation – before it sinks entirely. It’s the opposite of what I was hoping to hear from him – right about now; I’m wishing he hadn’t texted at all.

 

 

 

Baz Pitch

 

(10:45) Baz: Snow.

                    Unfortunately, I need to cancel today’s study session.

 

He’s scared. He’s confused and angry and scared about our kiss, and he plans to ignore me forever. Does Baz hate me? I did kiss him full on the mouth without permission, and I don’t think he even likes blokes! I don’t think I even like blokes – It’s just him, and I just know that I need to see him. I can’t let him retreat into himself and see him tomorrow at school as if nothing’s happened.

 

 

 

Is it because of me?

Are you … mad at me?

After last night?

Should I have asked?

I probably should have asked.

Oh fuck is this sexual harassment?

Do you hate me???

 

 

(11:05) Baz:    You absolute nightmare.

                          Breathe, Snow.

                          I don’t hate you, I’m not mad, and do you even understand the concept of sexual harassment? Your homework is – seeing as I can’t tutor you today –  to read up on sexual harassment, it’s important.

                        I just can’t make it today.

 

That… helps. I wanted to see Baz today, but it makes me feel better that he doesn’t hate me, and he’s just busy.

 

 

 

Alright.

Can I …

See you later, then?

If you’re not too busy?

 

 

(11:07) Baz: I might be busy all day. But if I’m not, I’ll let you know.

I pick up Penny’s takeaway and pocket my phone. I’m still concerned. I’m not as excited and happy as I was this morning, but I’m not as nervous as I was a few minutes ago when I thought that Baz hated me. I think my nerves will only settle when I see him when I get to talk to him and see where he stands after last night.

When I – hopefully – get to kiss him again. Show him it wasn’t a mistake.

I need to see him. More than I have ever needed to see him.

But I don’t know if I’ll get to see him today, that’s up to him, and I can’t do anything about that.

 What I can do something about is my sad best friend, who is curled up into a ball of misery under three blankets.

So, I know that Baz will never fully leave my mind – he never does, he definitely won’t right now, but I put my freak-out about the kiss, what it means, our feelings … everything, into a box in my mind. Penny needs me right now. Until Baz – hopefully – calls, I’ll focus on what I can do something about.

Holding my packet of Chinese food to my chest, I open up the umbrella and begin the brisk walk to the Indian restaurant a few minutes away. Penny said she didn’t want Indian food, but I know that she’ll love me if I surprise her with one of those Indian milkshake-type things she loves – a Bombay Crush.

PENNY

 

Simon has been coddling me all morning, and this is becoming a bit much, especially because he seems to be so far lost in his own mind that he’s not even listening to anything I say or paying attention to the movie.

I can tell there’s something bothering him. I haven’t asked because I’d assumed he’d talk about it when he's ready, but he hasn’t as yet. It's not that I need him to direct all of his attention to me; it’s just that I can see that there’s something on his mind. He’s never shied away from talking to me about anything before, no matter how unethical, repetitive, Baz-orientated, or just flat-out embarrassing. I can’t fathom what could be keeping him distant this time.

Maybe it’s because usually, I get to be there for him.

I get to do the coddling or bail him out of trouble.

Maybe now that I need him, he feels like he can’t need me too.

Crowley, I hope not. I don’t know what’s happened, but I can imagine it is far more dire a situation than my petty teenage drama.

Simon needs to know that he can come to me, no matter what’s going on with me.

It’s still the two of us against them all.

Against high school, the foster system, global warming.

The two of us, and sometimes Agatha.

The two of us, sometimes Agatha, and these days Baz.

 

***


Baz

I have never looked more like a vampire than I do right now.

I got no sleep last night, none.

 It’s almost noon, and I haven’t had a single cup of tea yet.

Sure, these are small issues in the grand scheme of severe issues we are currently facing, but they are making dealing with the severe issues – kissing the boy I’ve been in love with for years who just so happens to be my arch-nemesis before promptly fucking right off, my best friends’ secret gay relationship being exposed while one of those best friends has been outed to his family and the other best friend is soon leaving the country - far more difficult.

 After Simon and I kissed (Simon and I kissed!) I left to meet Niall, where he informed me that the party had turned into an absolute shitshow in my absence. And then he started crying.

The crying was very manly and everything – not sobbing – but I couldn’t really get enough information out of him to figure out what is going on beyond that I shouldn’t call Dev for a few hours and that he fucked up.

Niall’s mother was far more cooperative after Niall himself fell into a fitful sleep around 2 am. I couldn’t sleep, so she took me to the kitchen, gave me a glass of boiled milk, and proceeded to tell me what had happened – at least from her third-party point of view.

After that, sleeping wasn’t even an option.

I texted Dev. Let him know that I’m with Niall, that he’s okay. I asked if I could come over. If I could call.

Radio silence on his end.

I’m worried.

My aunt and uncle have been accepting enough of me, but they’ve mostly done so by acting as if my sexuality isn’t even a thing. They know, but we just don’t talk about it. They’ve never had to fully face it since I’ve never really brought a boy home – neither have my parents, really.

They can’t ignore Dev’s sexuality and hope it goes away, not when he has a boyfriend. Not when that boyfriend is Niall. A kid they watched grow up and consider family, a kid they love as much as they love me, probably.

The one single kid they know they can’t force Dev to stay away from.

Probably the only person they know they don’t stand a chance against in Dev’s book.

I toss and turn all night. My thoughts alternate from Dev and my concern for him, Niall who’s sleep breaks every 20-30 minutes, and Snow.

Snow, who kissed me. There’s just … so much to unpack in that I don’t even know where to start. I don’t think I even have the energy to obsess over it right now – and that is saying something when this is all I’ve ever wanted.

Dev still hasn’t replied when the sun begins to rise.

There’s a cruel irony in the fact that Sunday is family day. Dev is expected to go off the grid on Sundays. He texts us and calls sometimes, but we don’t see him on Sundays. His parents work so often; they don’t do compulsory family dinner like Daphne has made the norm in my house. So, Dev’s parents had designated Sundays as family day from the time we were kids. He can’t leave home or have friends over. He spends time with his parents on that day and apparently just relaces, watches tv, or studies when they’re busy. But it’s family day.

Today is family day for Dev. That just feels like the universe’s cruel joke.

To be fair, I don’t know how his parents took the news, but if all had gone well, I’d have expected him to be more social.

Niall wakes in a jerk of action, grabbing at the sheets in search of his cellphone before his eyes even open – for a moment, I’m not entirely sure if he’s even fully conscious.

His face falls when there are no messages.

He buries his face into his pillow and stays concerningly still for a few moments. I’m not sure if he’s fallen back asleep or if he knows I’m here at all.

Both those questions are answered when he asks me, “Did you hear from him.”


“nothing.”

He turns his face to meet my eyes, his cheek smushed against the pillow. “It’s family day,” he unconvincingly excuses.  

We both know that that’s not why he’s on a communications lockdown.

“Yeah,” I say softly, “it’s family day.” I lie back.

***


SIMON

 

“I’m sorry I didn’t wait for you,” Penny says into her phone as I return to her room with a packet of Chinese takeout, balancing a tray of Indian milkshakes, “It was just all too much.”

“Jackson got Agatha home safe last night,” Penny tells me once she cuts the call.

Aah, yes, Agatha. I had entirely forgotten about her. I feel bad about that.

“knew he would,” I say instead, “he’s a decent sort.”

Penny watches me for a few minutes, considering. “Is something the matter, Si?”

“hmm?” I raise an eyebrow at her, my mouth full of food. I’d handed her the chopsticks and taken a fork for myself – I’d never had the patience for chopsticks. “s’all good,”

Penny frowns. She doesn’t believe me.

“You can always come to me, Si, no matter what’s going on with me, you can talk to me.”

“I know I can, Pen,” I nudge her socked foot with my own, “and I if I need advice or need to talk, you know I’ll come to you. it’s nothing like that. yes, there’s stuff on my mind, but nothing I need help with… and nothing I want to talk about – is that okay?”  I’m a bit nervous, I know she won’t say I can’t keep things from her, but I don’t want her to be upset about it.

Her smile softens, “obviously, Simon. You don’t need to tell me everything, I just needed you to know that you can.”

“When I’m ready to, I will.” I lean forward and kiss her forehead.

She smiles. She thanks me for her surprise Bombay crush.

Penny presses play on the movie, and we finish the rest of our food in comfortable silence.

***


BAZ

 

“is that him?” Niall asks anxiously as he walks out of the shower with a towel around his waist.

I shake my head, “Snow. I’m just cancelling our study session,”

“You don’t need to do that – ” Niall begins to object.

“It’s not like I could focus,” I cut him off, “haven’t slept a wink.”

A shaky, fragile exhale escapes Niall’s lips. He searches through his drawers for a loose t-shirt and trackies.

“how do I know if its over?” he says softly – voice muffled by the shirt he’s trying to put on.

“it’s not. It’s a fight, and that’s normal. Healthy, even – it’s abnormal to be as obnoxiously in love as you two are. Even soulmates get on each other’s nerves sometimes.”

Niall turns to me with such unwarranted speed I’m concerned he may have sprained his neck.

“you think we’re soulmates?” he chokes out.

I give him a flat look.

“I’m being serious Basilton,”

“Me too, Demaury,” I roll my eyes, “you’ve been in hopeless assumed unrequited love with your best friend for how many years? And he was seemingly helplessly straight until he caught you kissing another guy and realized that could be him, and then you were both in love with each other – yes I think your goddamn soulmates”

“Dev figured out he wasn’t straight when he saw me kissing another guy?” is the part Niall focuses on, astonished.

“He got jealous, promptly realized that jealousy wasn’t the straightest straight guy reaction, and then proceeded to be in secret love with you every day since.”

“well, I loved him first.” He argues.

I’m silent as I reply to Simon’s texts. He’s freaking out about sexual harassment. He’s an idiot.

“what?” Niall demands.

I sigh, “when he saw you kissing whoever that guy was, he didn’t just realize he’s bisexual and wants to bone his best friend – he realized he was jealous because he was in love with you, and if you’re kissing guys – or anyone, really – he only wants you kissing him. it didn’t turn him on, it made him jealous.

I reckon he’s been in love with you about as long as you’ve been in love with him, you just realized it first because you were already aware of your sexuality and that it was a possibility.

 Dev had never been attracted to another guy, he’d never considered the possibility of having feelings for you before then – doesn’t mean he didn’t have them.”

“but … but I was in love with Dev a long time.”       

I nod.

years.” He stresses.

I nod. He can take it from here.

“fucking hell.” He groans. “I need to go see him. take me to go see him.”

“he didn’t say that we could - ”

“I don’t care!”

“well you should.” I say calmly. “Niall, bud, I love you, but you had it easy in the coming-out department. We don’t all have a Saoirse who just wants us to be ourselves. Coming-out was a fucked up time for me, and I did it on my own terms! I was ready to come out! Dev wasn’t. I know you wanted him to be, but he still got kicked out of the closet.”

“that’s why I want to be there for him!” Niall yells. It’s more like he’s yelling at himself than at me.

“You need to wait for him to be ready for you to be there. Coming out to his parents … it’s something he needs to do by himself. You can’t be there for him right now as a best friend without being there as his boyfriend – and that’s not going to help things with his parents right now.”

Niall looks on the verge of tears.

“Buddy, you can’t do this for him. when he’s ready, he’ll let you be there for him. but this is something Dev needs to face on his own. His coming out is his, it’s not about you even if you are his boyfriend. Just … let him know that when he’s ready for it, you’re here for him.”

“I just ..” he mumbles, “I’m going crazy here, wondering if he’s okay, wishing he’d call.”

“it’s worse for him.” it’s probably not the best thing to tell him,  but it’s most likely the truth. “Niall, you deal with all shitty parts of being queer that society makes us face, but you’ve never had to face this. The coming out to a family that may not accept you. if anyone else doesn’t accept you, you’re better off without them. but it’s different when it’s your own parents, your only family … that fear of not knowing if you’ll still have a home after they find out who you are. The nausea. The …. ” how do I describe this in Niall-terms ? “the blue-ness of it all. It’s different when it’s your own parents, and you never had to deal with that thank Merlin, but Dev does. If you’re going crazy here, it’s worse for him, and you showing up at his house isn’t going to make anything better.”

“what do I do?” he pleads

“your mum … she said you guys were having an argument. That’s why they came to investigate. Whatever you were fighting about, it was clearly loud – and I noticed that both you and Dev were… off, all night. Think about that, about whatever you need to think about – maybe that’s something you can help, eventually when he’s ready to talk about it,”

“that’s not important anymore,”

“ – if it was important enough for you two to scream at each other – which you never do – then it’s still important, even if there’s a more pressing issue right now. You can’t help Dev with his coming-out, because that’s not about you. but this relationship is as much yours as it is his. You can help with that.”

Niall doesn’t look happy, but he does settle down, and after some lunch he curls up and falls back to sleep. The exhaustion is evident in him – emotional, psychological, maybe even physical since his sleep kept breaking last night.

I grab a random book of his shelf and sit next to his sleeping form on the bed. I flip through the pages with one hand as I read through The Foxhole court and card my fingers through his hair with the other – the companionship seems to calm him somewhat, and he actually falls into a decent sleep for a few hours.

***


SIMON

 

Penny fell asleep curled against my side under the covers halfway through the second movie. I’d have to get up and disturb her to pause the movie, so I guess I’m seeing this movie marathon through on my own.

My cellphone buzzes on my nightstand, and I try to maneuver to reach it without disturbing her.

 

 

 

Baz Pitch

 

 

 

 

(12:32) Baz: Hi.

 

I can’t help the smile that invades my features at that stupid, one-worded text.

Because it’s him and he’s texting me first.

Because it’s him and he said he’d let me know if we could hang out later – and maybe this means we can.

Because it’s him.

And because I’m crazy about him.

 

 

 

Hey, Bazzy.

(12:33) Baz: I beg you to not.

 

I chuckle. I can practically see him rolling his eyes, an unimpressed glare on his face that he doesn’t mean at all. The small smirk of his lips that he tries to hide.

I’ve heard Dev call him Bazzy, I wasn’t sure if he would be okay with me using it but he doesn’t seem to mind.

 

 

 

That’s fair. That one’s all Dev’s.

Would you prefer Baby?

 

Baz is typing.

Baz stops typing.

Baz has been online and unresponsive for a whole three minutes and now I’m just nervous that I’ve overstepped – that I’ve somehow made him feel uncomfortable. I’m about to text and leave him an apology – take it back – when he finally replies.

 

 

 

 

(12:37) Baz: You’re an absolute nightmare and I hate you.

 

And it is then that I realize that Baz hadn’t disappeared in disgust or discomfort – he was feeling bashful, blushing even.

 

 

 

Baby boy?

(12:38) Baz: I will literally block you.

 

An unexpected huff of laughter escapes me, and it causes Penny to stir.

“shh, shh Pennny,” I pet her head and rub her back with my arm that’s around her, holding her to me. I don’t turn my attention back to the phone until she’s settled and I know she won’t wake up. That’s when I find a new message from Baz.

 

 

 

(12:41) Baz: So, anyway, what are you up to?

 

The simple sentiment makes me smile. Because it means that Baz didn’t text me for one particular reason – he’s just texting me.

It helps calm my fears that he isn’t blowing me off and canceling our study session because he’s decided to hate me, and rather because he really is just busy.

 

 

 

Babysitting a sad Penelope.

You?

 

This time he types and stops typing a few times. like he keeps changing his mind about what he wants to say, or maybe like he’s typing out a really long message.

I go with the first assumption since his reply a few minutes later isn’t very long or informative.

(12:45) Baz: Babysitting a sad Niall

I guess that’s what he was reconsidering telling me about.

A moment later, a photo attachment of Niall sleeping next to Baz’s thigh where Baz is sitting upright on the bed, comes through. Niall’s face is next to Niall’s head and he looks like he’s in a deep sleep. One of Baz’s hands – the one that isn’t gripping the phone – is in Niall’s hair.

It’s an intimate gesture. And yet… I don’t feel jealous.

Not because I don’t care – no – because I understand Baz’s friendship with Niall. It’s about the same as my friendship with the girl curled up next to me in bed right now.

I snap a picture of Penelope wrapped up between my arm and torso under the blanket – the blanket is covering everything but her eyes and hair – and send it back to Baz in reply. 

 

if you want to talk about it, you can.

 

(12:55) Baz: Thank you, but that’s okay.

          This is just why I couldn’t hang out today.

         Best friend duties.

        Not because I didn’t want to …

 

Trust me, I understand best friend duties.

And that’s okay … we still have time  

Are you …

Are you going to be dating someone new tomorrow?

 

(12:59) Baz: I don’t know ….

                    The festive holiday starts on  Wednesday.

                    It isn’t even a full week so I don’t know if we’re doing the dare at all.

                  Did you … mean it? What you said before you kissed me?

 

 

 

Would it make a difference if I did ?

 

 

 

(13:00) Baz: it wasn’t Monday.

                     Your best friend – the woman you’re cuddling – is the dare chancellor, you know, the woman who made these rules?

 

 

Aah, yes, with the help of the man you’re cuddling.

 

 

(13:02) Baz: 🙄

 

 

Baz Pitch.

Where are you going to be the minute first bell goes off tomorrow morning?

 

Baz once again begins and ceases to type a message for several minutes.

 

(13:05) Baz: there isn’t any football practice until after the break, so …

 

 

Can you be persuaded to stay in the Porsche and wait for me tomorrow morning?

 

 

 

(13:06) Baz: Be serious, Snow.

 

 

As serious as my curfew, Pitch.

Wait for me in the parking lot?

  

Baz Pitch types for a while, until.

 

(13:09) Baz: fine but I’m not waiting long, I have an early class.

 

I can’t help the smile that reaches my face.

It’s going to be a good week.

***


BAZ

 

There’s still no word from Dev when Niall is drawn back to consciousness by the smell of food wafting from the kitchen, a few hours later.

“Do you want to talk about whatever was going on? whatever you were fighting about?”

He just shakes his head. That’s fine. This is theirs, they need to find their way through this.

“okay,” I say easily, “but if you change your mind,”

“you’re here, I know,” he ruffles my hair, and that’s when I notice a bulky silver ring on his thumb.

I pull his hand closer to inspect it – and I recognize it instantly because for a moment I thought it to be my own. Because I have the same one.

The Grimm family signet ring.

Most of the old families have their own rings, although they’re not really worn as a fashion statement by the youth of today. they’re mostly kept as heirlooms, worn to grand events like weddings or balls, or – in this case – given to your beloved, someone you plan to marry.

I smile up at him, he’s looking down at the ring on his thumb. It fills me with a childlike warm feeling, realizing that Niall probably has to wear the ring on his thumb because his fingers are smaller than Dev’s, and that the ring would have fallen off his ring finger.

“Don’t you ever take this off,” I tell him. “Dev wouldn’t give this to just anyone. We only get the one.”

“you have two,”  Niall points out, causing me to roll my eyes.

“because I have two surnames,”

I wear the gold Pitch family ring most of the time because I’m the last heir of Pitch and because it makes me feel closer to my mum. But I have the silver Grimm family ring – a matching pair to Dev’s (or, now, Niall’s) as well. I tend to swap them out with different outfits, depending on if I want silver or gold jewelry.

“but I only get one of each, there aren’t many left so if I lose one of these they don’t just replace it. giving someone your signet it … it means a lot.”

Niall smiles at the ring, a smile I hadn’t seen in what feels like years.

He must have had the ring for a while, but avoided wearing it because they were a secret. No one would believe that they were anything less than gone for each other after seeing that.

But he has it. And now Dev’s parents know. It’s all out there now. I know Dev, he’s wanted to claim Niall to the world this whole time but he was afraid of coming out to his parents.

Now that they know, he’s not going to want to keep it from anyone else.

“Don’t ever take this off.” I tell him.

“I never have,” he says softly. I raise my eyebrow at him.

At my confusion, he simply pulls out an understated gold chain from under his hoodie. I hadn’t noticed it before, it’s not particularly flashy.

“I’ve been wearing it on this chain this whole time.”

***


 

Chapter Text

Monday, December 21 st  

 

BAZ

“You go on ahead,” I say to Niall, “I’ll catch up.”

“I can wait” Niall settles into the passenger seat, staring at his phone screen – no doubt at Dev’s chat – not leaving the Porsche. I’ve thought out every possible outcome of this morning’s interaction with Snow, and Niall is in none of them.

Honestly, I don’t expect him to show up at all. It’s more than likely that this is all just an elaborate prank and he’ll just leave me waiting here for him until I figure out, I’ve been stood up. Perhaps people are watching, bets placed on whether or not I’ll wait for him. Well, that’s unlike Snow. That’s not his style. He’s too genuine for his own good.

Regardless, the one thing I am sure about is that Niall should not be here.

“Really, Niall, I might be here a while you don’t need to wait,”

Niall had left a message on the minions' group chat earlier this morning – way too soon for any of us to be awake, really, so I’m concerned about whether or not he slept – asking whether Dev or I were picking him up today. Maybe he thought that if he acted as if all were back to normal, Dev would reappear. Maybe he thought Dev would respond to the group chat like nothing had happened.

Alas, Dev never did respond at all – or open any messages from neither Niall nor myself – and I ended up fetching Niall, which I really did not want to do today.

See, in all my unlikely daydreams of this morning I’d fantasized, they all had one thing in common – I was alone. Alone, as in not with Niall.

Niall, who won’t leave.

Niall turns to me, suspicious of my insistence that he leaves.

“You’re hiding something.” He says confidently.

“Yes.” I agree immediately, “run along now,”

“what’s going on, Basil?” he asks suspiciously, “is this about Dev?”

“No, Niall, for the first time this weekend something is not about Dev.”

Niall’s expression makes me bite my tongue – something between offense, hurt, and judgment. Perhaps that was a bit insensitive on my part.

I sigh. “I didn’t mean it like that, it’s just been a long weekend.”                

On Sunday, I got home to discover that my father had been at Dev’s house for hours, trying to explain to his brother that having a gay son isn’t the end of the world. That his relationship with his son is far more important than societal norms or opinions. I was oddly touched; proud of my father for how far he’d come. That’s not to say I wasn’t shocked – I’m out to my family but my father’s acceptance approach is ignoring my sexuality entirely.

Unfortunately, I hadn’t heard from Dev all weekend, either.

“I’m worried about him,” I say to Niall, “but we can’t do anything until he lets us be there for him,”

“So, what is going on, then?” Niall raises his eyebrows at me, an odd interrogatory tactic.

A part of me desperately wants to gush to my best friend about finally kissing the boy of my dreams – or any boy, really. My first kiss, really. The catalyst of my homosexual awakening, really.

But … Snow is in the closet and I can’t out him. And Niall is dealing with a lot right now, I don’t think updates on my social life would be appreciated right now.

“It’s … personal,” I settle on, “I’ll tell you when I’m ready, but it’s nothing you need to worry about, I promise.”

He watches me for a moment longer, scanning me. He must find whatever he’s looking for because he unbuckles his seatbelt and opens his door.

With one foot out the door, Niall turns back to me, “You’re hooking up with someone, aren’t you?” he smirks.

“out!” I snap.

He’s nothing short of smug as he exits the Porsche. “I just can’t believe you’d disrespect the Porsche like this,” he sings as he gets out of the car and struts towards the school.  

There are still about twenty minutes to the first bell. I’m early. I don’t really need to stay, waiting in the car; I could go for a walk and meet Snow back here in twenty minutes. But it’s Monday, and once this week’s prospects sink their claws in me they won’t leave me alone until I’m dating one of them – and they know who exactly that person is.

Also, it’s raining and I can’t have it messing up my hair on possibly the most important meeting of my entire life, so, instead, I put on some soft, calming, music, and kill time scrolling through Instagram.

One of Matthew’s posts shows up at the very top of my timeline. Unfollow.

I check my dm’s to find that Snow has sent me a few cat videos – that’s something we’ve been doing lately, sharing posts and memes, nonsensical, and yet it makes me smile every time – I heart them all.

The minutes tick away from me and I actually temporarily forget what I’m waiting for when the passenger door opens abruptly and Simon Snow settles into the passenger seat, raindrops in his hair and a nervous smile on his lips.


SIMON

Baz jumps in surprise when I open the door to his car. I’m not really sure why he’s surprised when he’s here waiting for me – or at least I’d assumed he was; I’d been counting down the minutes, waiting by the benches on the lacrosse field where I had a clear view of the parking lot.

I stopped breathing when I saw the Porsche pull up.

When Niall got out without him, I couldn’t contain my smile – I wasn’t sure if he’d really wait or not. I could hardly reel myself in, I didn’t want to seem overeager and show up at his car 20 minutes early.

He needed time to change his mind if he wanted.

But he’s still here, so I’m taking that as a green light.

“hey,” I smile at him.

His hair is really pretty today, it’s tied with a few stray strands hanging about. I like when his hair is up. I like when it’s open, too. I love the way his neck is on display when his hair is tied, and I love the way his hair frames his face when it's loose, the urge to run my fingers through it gets harder by the day.

I think I have a fixation on his hair.

“hi,” Baz whispers back. He seems nervous.

“how are you?” I ask.

He’s silent for a bit, like he’s considering how to answer. Give a generic response or genuinely answer the question?

“I’m alright,” he settles on eventually, “how are you?’

“I’m good,” I smile. He’s wearing lilac today, and it looks beautiful. He makes everything look beautiful.

I’ve never thought of a bloke as beautiful before, but Baz just … is.

He’s handsome, he’s beautiful, he’s flawless beyond words.

It feels like an honor being in his presence, I should be grateful to have his attention. I am.

I sneak a peek at the car clock. I’m just a few minutes early.

That’s probably a good thing, though. I’d given him enough time to bolt if he wanted to. But he still looks like a nervous deer so I fear if I’d held out any longer he’d have let his nerves get the better of him.

I never thought I had the ability to make Baz Pitch nervous. What a privileged life I live.

He’s beautiful like this.


BAZ

I have no idea what’s going on in his head, but Simon is biting his bottom lip and just … staring at me.

He looks nice. He looks like he always does. White t-shirt, denim jacket two sizes too small. Raindrops in his hair and a twinkle in his eye.

He’s beautiful.

“Why did you ask me to wait?” I ask

“Why did you listen?” he counters.

“do you always answer a question with a question?”

“do you always avoid answering?” he smirks.

I look down, playing with the edge of my phone case just for something to do with my hands.

“so … you know that whoever I’m dating for the week has to be public knowledge, right?”

Simon looks down.

“just for the dare, so they know that I really am dating someone.” I explain, “And, well, you’re not out yet – as far as I know at least – I just thought I should … mention that.” I clear my throat. “just in case you want to rethink that whole thing … I’d understand.”

He’s playing with his fingers. He looks like he’s struggling with something.

“I would never out you,” I reassure him. “it’s just that if you’re my date for the week, everyone will know you asked me out. I can’t keep my date for the week a secret, as per the rules of the dare.”

“the dare,” he says softly.

“pardon?”

“and what if I wasn’t asking you out for the dare?” He asks eventually.

That stumps me. I thought that’s what this was all about?

Was this really all just an extensive prank, to mislead me and make me look like a fool?

“that’s what I thought we’d been discussing. If it was a miscommunication then there’s no problem.”

“why did you wait for me, Baz?” he asks again. Louder this time. Urgently, he’s watching me carefully.

“why did you ask me to,” I snap.

I’m tired of these games.

We’re glaring at each other now.

Or at least, I’m glaring at him and he’s staring at me with a carefully intense expression that I can’t really label.

“I don’t think this is what I want,” he says finally. “to ask you out, for the dare.”

“brilliant.” I say, turning towards the door.

He stops me with a hand on my shoulder.

“because what does that even…. even mean?” he presses on, “I date you for, what, a week? Without even touching you, that’s one of the rules right?”

“technically you’d date me for two days, Christmas break starts on Wednesday,”

“and then the next week you’re someone else’s again,”

“the rules are on Facebook, Snow, you didn’t have to get me here to recite them.”

“I didn’t want to ask you out for the dare, you numpty, I wanted to ask you to be my boyfriend,”

Both his hands are holding on to my shoulders now. He’s a lot closer than I’d noticed. Our noses nearly brushing.

“no expiry date,” he whispers, leaning in, “freedom to touch,” he slides his hands up my shoulders to the back of my neck, “you not belonging to someone else in a few days,” and as he says those words, his lips brush mine. Not in a kiss, not yet. Just … close enough that I can feel him speak against my lips.

His tongue snakes out, licking his bottom lip, and it brushes against mine as well.

I should pull away.

No way am I pulling away.

His hands hold the back of my neck with his thumbs slowly caressing the front of my throat. It feels more vulnerable than I’d ever imagined.

The first bell startles us both – we’d forgotten about it entirely, we’ve been whispering in this sacred space between us, the loud sound seems harsh.

A smile creeps onto his lips.

“Date me, Baz Pitch?” he asks as soon as it’s quiet again. A mischievous glint in his eyes.

“for the dare?”

He pauses, pretends to think long and hard about this.

“nah,” he smirks.

“and the dare?”

“what happens if you lose?” he leans forward as he speaks, nudging my nose against his in a playful, intimate gesture.

“I have to take a date to the valentines ball,”

“you can take me? I mean, only if you want to?”

“are you … out?”

The idiot actually looks confused.

“do people know you’re gay, Snow? Are you even gay actually?”

“I don’t think so,” and now he seems to really be thinking, “I’ve never wanted a bloke like I want you. I never really gave it much thought to be honest, I just know I want you.”

And how does he expect me to continue functioning if he’s going to say things like that?

“if you’re dating me, though, everyone will think you’re gay.”

“there goes my job prospects,” he kisses my cheek, lingering, “what will my parents say?” he kisses my cheekbone.

I huff, but I can’t even fake annoyance right now, not with everything I’m feeling.

“are you gay?” he asks.

“completely.”

He nods like this is no big deal.

Well, I guess seeing as he’s currently nibbling on my earlobe with his hands around my throat that my being gay isn’t really a surprise, still, this isn’t how I’d imagined Simon responding to my coming-out. And I’d imagined coming-out to him plenty of times.

“So, what’s it going to be Bazzy?” he asks, mouthing at my jawline, “will you be my boyfriend? If you’d like, we could do a trial run and I’ll be your boyfriend for the week, while you figure out if you still want to continue with the dare. I’ll wait. Although that does mean I’d have to stop kissing you, if we’re following the dare rules, and that seems like a terrible idea.”

He’s navigated his way to my neck now, kissing my Adam's apple as his thumbs caress my throat.

“you’re serious about this?” I try to sound as put together and confident as I can manage, “you’re sure? You want to … you want to be my boyfriend? For real?” I ask incredulously.

Simon pulls away a quarter-inch, just far enough to look into my eyes.

“yeah,” he smiles crookedly. “yeah. I want to be your boyfriend. For real. I’d probably be a terrible boyfriend, honestly, but… I want to try this. With you. I want to try.”

We’re just staring at each other, now that the kissing has halted I can actually think somewhat clearly. And what I’m thinking is that this is ridiculous. I should just focus on winning the dare, that’s what is important – I can’t right now remember why it is important, just that Pitch’s don’t lose, and I’ve come too far to give in now.

But Simon Snow is sitting across from me in my car with raindrops in his hair and hope in his eyes and he’s asking me to be his.

For real.

It’s everything I’ve ever lost sleep fantasizing about.

And that is why, despite my better judgment, I whisper into the space between us, “okay … we can, try… if you want.”

Simon’s eyes light up and it makes no sense that that could possibly be for me. It makes no sense that I get any of this. That I’ve somehow earned it.

“yes?” he asks again.

“yes.”

And then he’s once again swallowing up my surprised gasp as he crushes his lips against mine.


NIALL

First bell and still no sign of Dev.

 


BAZ

Simon doesn’t seem to care, much, about the entire school knowing he’s gay. Or, gay enough to date me, a whole man. I should introduce him to the concept of bisexuality, he seems very confused about the spectrum beyond gay and straight.

 Personally, I don’t know how to feel. I was never actively hiding my sexuality before – or so I told myself – but I was cozy and comfy in the closet. No one suspected it, so I never brought it up, and my excuse was that I wasn’t going to make an announcement of the fact that I’m gay and it just … never came up.

Essentially, I’d told myself that no, I was not in the closet – my parents knew, my father knew, and isn’t that the biggest hurdle? – it’s just that it never came up.

But this … this dating Simon, dating him for real, throwing the bet to date him, that’s coming out to everyone and I just … am I ready for this?

Can I walk away from Simon offering me everything I’ve ever wanted?

My excuse for never acting on my emotions before was that he hated me. Well, there goes that excuse.

Rude of Simon to make me face all the problems I’ve been hiding from before 9 am.

We walk into school together, it’s just a few minutes before the second bell and first period.

We’re just walking beside each other. Nothing suspicious here.

It’s approximately fourteen seconds before I’m noticed and a pretty girl from – swing band? – approaches me. She’s shy as she walks up to me, and now I’m just nervous.

I know where this is going and honestly, under normal circumstances, I would have been happy to say yes to her. She seems unproblematic, easy to be around. She’s pretty and quiet, and not really the type of person you’d expect to be involved in a dare like this, but –

“Hey, Simon,” she blushes.

Well, okay then. Not what I was expecting. She didn’t even acknowledge me. She twirls her red curly hair while smiling up at Simon with a dreamy expression.

She seems awful, honestly, thank God I don’t have to date her.

Simon looks more startled by all this than I do, I don’t think he knows her either.

I guess this is a relief, really. I had no idea what I was going to say when I was asked out.

 Yes? – but Simon.

No? – then I’d have to explain why. Because I’m already taken? I’d have to explain by whom.

And the big question here is, do I tell people I’m dating Simon for the dare? That outs him without outing me, and that also means he has to play the part of the dare, and that only buys me a week because people are going to expect me to be single again next week.

I’m dating Simon for real? Then I need to deal with the whole coming-out thing as well as throwing the bet.

I need Dev and Niall, right now. Surely, I’m breaking some sort of bro code by not talking to them about all of this.

But they’ve got enough going on right now.

Kind of rude of me to steal Dev’s coming-out thunder by coming-out.

I sigh. What do I tell people?

Apparently, I’m missing a whole conversation because swing band girl is halfway through asking Simon if he’d like to go out this weekend.

“Oh,” he smiles kindly, “thank you, that’s sweet of you, and I’d have loved to,” her eyes light up, “but I’m seeing someone right now. I appreciate you asking me though, thanks really,”

“Oh,” you can see the light go out of her, and if I wasn’t so smug right now, I’d feel bad for her. It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there and ask someone out. Especially if you don’t know how they’d react. “Oh, I just … I’m sorry, I thought you and Agatha broke up.”

I resist the urge to roll my eyes, but just barely.

“We did,” Simon smiles at her, “I’m dating Baz.”

I freeze.

She freezes.

He smiles like this is all completely normal.

“Oh, uh, oh, alright – I just thought,” she’s looking back and forth between us now, wordlessly, like she’s malfunctioning. “I guess I can’t ask you out, then, huh?” she says to me now and I am absolutely stunned. “Anyway, there’s always next week, bye boys,”

“- that’s not what I meant, wait, and she’s gone,” Simon sighs.

He turns to me, on the verge of laughing.

“Was she really going to ask me out immediately after asking you out? Right in front of each other?”

Simon – like the child he is – sticks his tongue out at me, “she was just settling for you, because I’d said no,”

“One can only hope. She asked you out for this weekend, a whole five days from now, for all we know she could have asked you out, and then asked me out even if you said yes, date me for the week and then go on a date with you as soon as we broke up,”

“Not the vibe I initially got from her,”

“Looks can be deceiving, and what not,”

Simon turns to me, and now he really is laughing.

The moment is broken by one of my football teammates slinging an arm around my shoulder, “Date me, Baz Pitch!” he smirks

I shove him off, laughing, “yeah yeah, very funny,”

“no seriously,” he says, “unless someone already asked you?”

“Wait, what?” I stare at him dumbfounded. Emilio is … he’s my teammate. He’s mine and Dev’s friend. We all eat lunch together. He’s…well I’d always suspected he wasn’t the straightest, but I couldn’t be sure and I’d never got that vibe from him towards me, specifically. I did catch him staring at Dev’s arse once, although we made an unspoken agreement to never bring that up, in the best interest of all involved parties.

“I mean, would you mind, Baz? No offense, you’re not really my type, but this seems like a fun way to casually… slide out of the closet,”

Well, that’s a relief.

I laugh, ruffling his hair, “it’s all good, Emi, unfortunately, yeah, uh, Simon asked me out,” I glance at Simon to see him glaring daggers at Emilio. That’s interesting. I’ll psychoanalyze that later. “And anyway, we both know I’m not the Grimm you want,” I wink at him.

Emilio is adorable, really. If his skin wasn’t brown, I’m certain there’d be a visible blush right now. He nervously shrugs, his hand at the back of his neck and his eyes glancing downwards, “I mean, is Dev really dating Niall?” he asks, “but Niall is leaving, right? Is Dev really gay?” he looks hopeful.

Oops.

“Aah, not my story to tell, there, mate.” Is this an unintentional confirmation?

“No worries,” Emilio smiles, “bye, Baz, Simon,”

I turn back to Simon, who still looks grumpy. He glares at me. I smile at him, feigning innocence.

“Are we just dating for the dare, Baz?” he asks straightforwardly, “because if we are then that’s, well, fine, I guess. I did give you that option. I’ll wait for you, and stuff, but – well I need to know. Don’t let me think you’re my boyfriend when we’re really breaking up in five days.”

Well, that was … a lot.

“didn’t we just go over all of this, Snow?”

“Yeah, well that was a neat omission there. Emilio thinks we’re just dating for the dare, he probably thinks I’m just dating you to ‘casually come out’.” Simon makes use of air quotes and everything.

“I didn’t say Simon beat you to it, or Simon is my date this week, I said Simon asked me out – I just wasn't specific that it wasn’t for the dare but he – and everyone else – will figure that out eventually when we don’t break up in a few days,”

“You said unfortunately,”

“I was letting him down gently, Snow, he’s my friend,”

“Trust me he wouldn’t mind being more than that,” Simon practically growls, rolling his eyes.  

“Are you jealous Snow?”  there’s no hiding the fact that I am absolutely delighted.

Simon – always full of surprises – just turns to me, “do I have anything to be jealous of, Baz?”

He sticks his chin out. Stubborn. Fighting stance.

The boy I fell in love with.

And I smile. Oh, he’s not smiling, but I smile. Softly. Genuinely.

“No, Simon. I suppose not.”


NIALL

Third period, and still no Dev.


BAZ

All morning there have been people coming up to me, asking who my date for this week is. I told them the truth; I’d told them Simon.

A few people were surprised, a few people were too busy being disappointed that I’d already been asked out, to even be surprised.

Everyone basically assumed that this was just part of the dare.

I guess I have a week until they catch up that this is a mutual thing, that this isn’t really for the dare. When we don’t break up. I have a week until everyone knows.

But for this week, I get to have Simon without the stress of dealing with everyone else. I’m not hiding him; I’m dealing with this much the same way I’d dealt with my sexuality – not mentioning it unless it comes up.

I get through the first session without issue, and pretty soon it’s lunch.

Lunch on a Monday has become an ordeal. Those who haven’t yet figured out who I’m dating that week can’t wait to figure it out depending on who I’m sitting next to in the cafeteria.

This is the moment of truth – well, partially.

At least Simon doesn’t sit at the rugby table, because Ew, Matthew.

Niall is waiting for me outside my class after third period.

“So, what is this I hear about you dating Simon Snow?” he asks without preamble.

“I think I liked you better when you were too distracted with Dev to pay attention to me.”

“Low blow, Basilton, low blow.”

I sigh. “Simon asked me out.”

“Simon Snow, the guy you’ve been in love with since forever, the catalyst of your homosexual awakening, has asked you to date him and you didn’t think this warranted a conversation? A fucking text message? I found out from fucking Gary

“Sorry, I didn’t think you’d want to deal with it, what with everything you’re already dealing with,”

“This is still important, Baz, I still care, and like you said; we can’t be there for Dev until he’s ready to let us in. I want to just show up at his house but that might make things worse for him.”

“Me too, but I’ll try after rehearsals today,”

“Thank you, call me afterwards, also; tell me about Snow.”

I sigh. “Are you sure this is something you want to deal with right now?”

“Yes.”

“Okay.” I don’t know why I’m nervous. Niall knows I’m gay. “Simon is who I was waiting for this morning.”

“I knew you were hooking up with someone! Right in front of the Porsche Baz how could you!”

“Technically it was inside the Porsche, on Saturday it was in front of her,”

“What happened on Saturday?” Niall screeches.

“I didn’t want to say anything because of everything you were already dealing with!”

“Well, tell me now!”

And the thing is, he isn’t just asking to be polite. He’s actually interested. He’s actually excited for me, despite everything he’s dealing with personally.

“He kissed me, on Saturday.”

Niall makes a noise I don’t think grown men should be able to make. He’s refraining from jumping up and down and clapping his hands together, but only barely.

“This is important I can’t believe you didn’t tell me!”

“What was I supposed to say? Sorry you had a huge fight with the love of your life and then he ended up getting outed to his parents and now we have no idea how he’s doing or what happened afterwards, also, I kissed the love of my life?”

“I mean, you could have told me this morning!”

“I didn’t know what was going to happen! He told me to wait for him so he can reach me before anyone else gets a chance to ask me out, but I was still suspicious this was all a trap!”

We’ve reached the cafeteria now, and I’m staring it down like it’s my own personal hell.

“Well, good thing Simon doesn’t sit with the rugby team,” Niall comments.

“That’s what I said!”

“So we’re sitting with Snow, Bunce, and Wellbelove today?”

I sigh. I’m doing that a lot today. “I suppose so.”

“Well, how does this work though? because you actually like him, and if he kissed you I’d argue he likes you back so…”

“So?”

“You can’t just date for five days and then go your separate ways!” he whisper-shouts.

Well. It’s as good a time as any to practice saying it. “we’re dating for real.”

“What.” Niall actually shouts this time, but we’ve reached Simon’s table so that saves me the trouble of responding.

Simon and Penelope seem to have been having a very similar conversation, they quiet and look up as we reach them.

“Bunce,” I nod in greeting.

“Basil,” she acknowledges.

“Snow.” I settle next to him.

“Oh, no,” he grins, “if we’re dating then you have to call me Simon,”

“I don’t recall all these ultimatums when you were asking me out,”

“So, it’s true,” Agatha says surprised, she’s just reached the table and that was apparently the first thing she heard.

Fucking brilliant.

“I thought you two hated each other,” she says, looking back and forth between us.

Well, it’s better than I thought you two were straight.

This is her ex-boyfriend we’re talking about.

I turn to Simon. He should handle this one.

“We haven’t hated each other for a while now,” he says diplomatically. His hand creeps onto my thigh under the table, he’s just subtle enough that no one notices.

I can only hope that my face isn’t giving it away.

I have never been this hard.

Still, my hand covers his under the table. I don’t know what’s going to happen a week from now, but I’m going to milk this for as long as I can.

“Oh. Well, good for you.” It’s awkward as fuck, but she doesn’t sound as bitchy about it as I’d expected from her.

Penny moves the conversation along and soon, everything is comfortable again. Niall grabs lunch for me and him, Penny apparently brought lunch for her and Simon. Matching lunch boxes, how cute. Jackson and Lily join us which is a pleasant surprise – ignoring the fact that I currently have three exes, my boyfriend, and his ex who used to flirt with me, all around my lunch table.

Niall and Agatha surprisingly get along and make conversation, although she does most of the talking and he checks his phone every three minutes – Dev.

I’ve been checking mine too.

It’s tough to compete with Penny for Simon’s attention, so I don’t bother. They make conversation and causal banter, and I listen to them. Simon keeps his hand on my thigh, and I keep my hand on his. Jackson has an arm around Lily who smiles up at him with affection whenever he’s telling a story.

I wouldn’t mind having more lunches here.

With Dev here, and me not needing to hide Simon’s hand under the table, everything would be perfect.

***


NIALL

Fifth period and still no Dev.

It feels like I’m only half present. Like a piece of me is physically missing, like missing a limb or a sense.

I’ve thought through everything I’d said to him that day a thousand times. I was so angry. And now all I want is to hold on to him. For him to tell me that everything isn’t ruined and that he’s still mine.

The bell rings and I head off to last period.

***


SIMON

Baz texted me to meet him at his car after school.

He’s perched upon the hood of the Porsche like a Playboy Ad. His hair is open and messy, his top three buttons are undone, and his tie is so loose it could be a scarf. He looks like sex, or maybe that’s just in my head.

“Hey.” I say, now in front of him.

If I take a step forward, I’ll be standing between his legs as he sits on the Porsche. I want to. I want his hands on my hips and his lips on my neck. I don’t want to have to be so careful about who’s watching, especially when I’ve hidden my feelings for him for so long. Especially when now I know the noises that escape his lips when I bite his neck, and the gasps he lets out when I surprise him with a kiss… the moan’s he lets out when I tug on his hair.

Self-control has never been this difficult.

Just looking at him makes it difficult.

“Hey,” he’s watching me too, giving me a once-over, I’d pay to read his mind right now, “I’m just waiting on Niall,”

“Okay,” I take a seat next to him. It’s safer for us both if I’m not looking at him right now. He never asked me to keep this a secret, but he’s been avoiding the confrontation, hiding behind the dare.

I wish he wouldn’t but maybe he isn’t ready, yet.

“Where was Dev today?” I ask.

“Home. He’s going through some stuff.”

“that’s why you left on Saturday night,”

He turns to me, he looks apologetic. I try to convey it’s okay in a single facial expression.

“And why I was busy this weekend.”

I nod in understanding. “So … being your boyfriend means I never have to walk home again?”

He blushes… have I always had this power?

“well, sometimes you might want to walk instead of waiting for me. I have tuitions , as you know. And football practice – but then you’d probably have rugby practice so that’s fine, and like today I have rehearsals,”

“rehearsal?”

“with the drama club,” he explains, “it’s how I made friends with Lily. Dev and I help out with the Christmas musical, I play violin and he plays piano.”

“I’ve never been to a Christmas show,”

It’s true. I know about it of course – there are flyers all over the school. But firstly, the tickets are an unnecessary expense, and it’s during our Christmas break which makes it difficult to get out of the orphanage or foster home with a valid excuse. My valid excuse is usually school or work.

Baz doesn’t ask me why I’ve never come. He doesn’t laugh at me for never having had this basic experience.

He just turns to me and searches my face.

“Come this year.” He says simply.

“Oh. Uh, they’re probably sold out,” I lie.

It’s not that I can’t afford a ticket – they’re not that expensive and I do have a job, but when you actually need to save the little money you have for bare essentials, investing in anything extra feels irresponsible.

“I’ll get you one, I’m in the show, it comes with perks,”

“You really don’t have to,” I try to object

“What, is my boyfriend not going to come watch me play?”

He’s teasing. I know he is. I can see it in his eyes. But just as I did earlier, hearing him say the word boyfriend leaves me literally breathless.

“Okay,” I whisper. We’re so close to each other now, no one would believe that this is just for the dare. “Okay. If you can get a ticket, and if it’s not too much trouble.”

I wasn’t planning on investing in the show, but if Baz is playing and he wants me there, I guess I can set aside some money for it.

To see my boyfriend play the violin.

“it’s not.”

“okay love birds lets get going before I puke.” Says Niall from where he’s perched against the side of the Porsche.

When did he get there? How did we not notice?

“Simon called shotgun,” Baz tells him as he opens the driver’s side door.

I did not. I try to smother my smile as I get into the passenger seat, but from Niall’s eye roll, I don’t think I’m doing a very good job.

***


NIALL

I’ve been thinking about him all day. And yet, I don’t know what to do when I see him.

He’s curled up under my sheets.

This bedroom. The only bedroom I’ve ever had. My childhood. The room I’ll be moving out of soon. This was  one of the sore spots in our argument from the other day and now I don’t even care about it. Any of it.

I can’t care about anything beyond the fact that he’s here.

A part of me wants to apologize for screaming at him. Another part of me wants to scream at him for disappearing for nearly 48 hours.

Most of me just wants to say nothing at all. Wants to cuddle up next to him under the sheets. Hold on tight, while I still can.

We both said too much, the last time we saw each other. We listened too little.

And then we didn’t say anything at all when there was still so much to be said. When more than ever, we needed to talk.

Right now, what I need more than anything, is just to hold on to him. Like we did the first time we kissed when neither of us knew what to say just yet, knew anything other than one fact – we needed each other. Before we could deal with any of the freaking out, any of the apologies, explanations, drama, we just needed each other.

There will be time to talk later, and we will. But right now, I just need the boy I love in my arms.

It’s been a long few days.

I untangle my arms from my backpack and toe-off my sneakers, getting in bed behind him, pulling his back against my chest.

He’s awake, but he looks exhausted. There are circles under his eyes. I don’t think he’s slept since our fight, since everything.

I think he needs this too.

He lets out a noise of content as I throw my leg over his hip and pull him closer to me.  That’s all the reassurance I needed. He doesn’t say anything either.  But he’s here.

He took the first step. He’s in my bed when I hadn’t asked him to come. This is his concession. This is him taking the first step, I’ll gladly take the rest.

Dev falls asleep almost immediately.

I stay awake though. Despite my exhaustion, I want to be awake. I want to remember every moment of this.

When Dev kissed me – or maybe when I kissed him, we never really got to the bottom of that – I thought fucking finally.  I thought now I can face anything, as long as I have him. I still think that, but I also realize that I’ve been carelessly naïve.

Loving Dev had always come so naturally to me, that I’d thought adjusting from being best friends to boyfriends would just include kisses, dates, and declarations of love.

And it did, for a while, at least.

But there’s so much more that a relationship entails. So much more that we both still need to work on, talk about.

Dev and I have always known each other better than anyone else did. We understood each other, we talked about everything – well, almost everything, evidently. And yet despite all of that, we weren’t the best at communication, not when it came to our feelings.

When you spend so many years hiding your feelings from someone, being open and letting them in doesn’t come as naturally. It takes conscious effort.

I’d always thought I loved Dev so fiercely that he’d never need to doubt my feelings.

My love for Dev was an immutable truth. I never stopped to consider that maybe Dev does need that reassurance that I thought was unnecessary. My love was always so obvious, so all-consuming, that I never thought that Dev might question how much he means to me.

And I think he felt the same about his feelings for me.

We thought the depth of our love went unsaid, but some things should be said anyway. Sometimes, the other person needs to hear it.

“I love you, Deveraux.” I mumble into this sleepy boy’s hair.

He’s asleep, but that’s okay; I’ll be saying it a lot more now. And not just in the sweet moments. But in the hard moments. I won’t just tell him how long I’ve been in love with him; when he’s awake, I’ll tell him how much, how deeply, how all-consumingly.

Dev and I need to work on our communication. I think that’s what this all comes down to. We’ve always talked about everything, so I don’t think we realized just how easily we omitted talking about the scary things.

Like the fact that, for years, we were in love with each other.

Or more recently, the fact that in a few months I’m leaving.

We’d spent the first few weeks of our relationship in the honeymoon phase. Holding hands and declaring our feelings. Sneaking kisses in private and shamelessly eye-fucking in crowded classrooms and the cafeteria – daring others to notice and knowing it wasn’t enough for them to confront us about.

I was wrong. it's so obvious now.  I never should have expected Dev to ask me to stay. Dev would sooner pack his bags and come to France with me than he would ask me to turn down this opportunity.

***


SIMON

“What time is rehearsal today?”

We just left Niall home, and now Baz is taking me home.

Which is … adorable, really. Niall lives closer to his house. I expected him to leave me home first. But … this gives us more time together. This gives us time alone together.

This just … gives us time.

“it’s usually after school,” he says, “but it’s in about an hour today. Since the show is in a few days it’s a longer rehearsal today, so they’re starting later to give everyone a breather. I’m only going around 5, though, because they just need me for the musical.”

“Can I come? Or do you have to be part of the crew to come to rehearsal?”

He looks stunned. I can’t imagine why.

He took the long way home to spend a few extra minutes with me, is it that hard to imagine I’d want to spend time with him too?

“Well, no... anyone can come, rehearsal is in the theatre. I just … it can get pretty boring. I’ll be playing violin the whole time so I won’t even be able to hang out with you, and it can ruin the show for you really if you’re watching the rehearsal,”

“– do you not want me to come? It’s okay if you don’t. I just ... sprung it on you.”

“it’s not that, I just … you don’t have to.” He sighs.

“I want to.”

“Okay,” he smiles shyly. He’s been doing that more than I ever would have expected. It’s like… almost a blush.

It’s the cutest thing I’ve ever seen.

“Okay.” I agree.

“That’s in just a little over an hour, do you want to hang out at mine until then? Or would you prefer going home first and then I’ll pick you up at 5?”

“Can we get food?”

“of course, Snow, I know who I’m dealing with.” He rolls his eyes playfully. I have no idea how he can do that while safely driving a vehicle.

“We can hang out then,” I smile.

“Okay,” he smiles.

“Okay.” I smile.

Baz changes gears, and once he does, I pull his hand into mine. Lightly – so he can pull away when he needs to change gears again. But he doesn’t pull away, and we hold hands for most of the drive.

***


DEV

 

“How long was I out?” I mumble against Niall’s arm.

I know he’s awake. He’s breathing more purposefully than he was the last time my sleep broke and he was asleep. He’s big spooning me, which doesn’t make the most sense since he’s so damn short, but I enjoyed the feeling of being held more than I’d care to admit.

“About five hours,” he says softly.

He kisses my shoulder. Wide awake then.

“And you … stayed?”

“We cuddled for about the first hour, but then I got very hungry, so I had to leave you for, like, ten minutes, threw together a sandwich, brought it up here to eat while I did some homework. Finished my homework after about an hour and you were still asleep, so I just cuddled up with you again and just … fell asleep. I woke up a little while ago.”

I turn in his arms so I’m facing him.

“Big spoon?”

“You weren’t complaining when you were being cuddled,” he smirks.

I lean forward to nudge his nose with mine in rebuttal. He smiles.

I wish I could save this moment … not a photograph, but I wish I could save this moment to relive when I’m feeling down. When he’s far away.

This moment where we could just … forget everything that’s going wrong outside. Just hold on to each other and let the world go on without us.

He sighs. “We need to talk,” he says. As if I don’t know. As if I’m not terrified of exactly this conversation. As if we haven’t been putting it off for – not just two days, weeks really.


NIALL

“yeah,” he says, softer than I’ve ever heard him.

I hate this, I hate hearing him this fragile.

“hey,” I say, taking his face in my hands. “we’ll be okay,” I promise. “I love you, yeah? I’ve loved you all along.”

“I’ll love you always,” he says, kissing my palm.

“no,” he looks up at me concerned. “no I mean … I’m not saying it as a … as a fucking… catchphrase. I’m saying, Dev, that I’m in love with you. That I really did spend my life loving you, and that that really won’t change. Even when things are hard, like now, that doesn’t make me love you any less.”

He barely lets me get the words out before he pulls me into his chest in a hug, laying back on the bed, pulling me on top of him.

“I love you; I was so scared I’d lost you.”

“I’m yours. So, you’d better come find me if I ever get lost.”

“Always.” He kisses my forehead.


DEV

“Are you okay?” Niall asks me.

“Better now,” I mumble into his shoulder. He’s still lying on top of me, like a starfish. My arms are wrapped around him, his arms wrapped around my neck.

We’re having a serious conversation, but I guess we’re doing it like this.

“What did your parents say? What happened after I left?”

“They were … they sent everyone home.” I swallow. I wrap my legs around him. He’s on top of me, I’m clinging to him like a sloth clings to a tree. “And then they just … dad asked to see me in the sitting room. We stared at each other for the longest time, and then I got fed-up and just decided to get the ball rolling. I didn’t know what to say, I just said its true. Mum … mum said that maybe they misinterpreted the bits and pieces of the conversation they’d overheard, said they hadn’t meant to eavesdrop, but when they heard yelling, they got worried … she said she didn’t know who I was fighting with, they were surprised when you opened the door… because we don’t fight like that.”

Niall pauses for a moment, before leaning up on his elbows and looking down at me confused. “Okay … what about what we said?”

I shrug, “they just … they didn’t mention it. They played it off like they were shocked because we were screaming at each other, not because of what was said.”

“so, they… don’t know?” he looks utterly confused.

I don’t blame him. it was utterly confusing.

“I think they just didn’t want to bring it up, like if they didn’t have the conversation, it’s not true…. Well, I guess we know all about that,” we both cringe, “but … we all knew they did hear the conversation. And I’d been needing to tell them anyway, I’ve been putting it off. And I’ve been hiding you because of it, and you don’t deserve that,”

“-I’d never force you to come out before you were ready,” he objects.

I cut him off with a peck on the lips, “I know, pup, but I did tell them.”

He holds his breath. Like he’s scared of the next part of the story. Like he doesn’t know it ends up here

“I told them that whatever they heard, was true. That we were having a fight, because you’re leaving and that’s been hard on both of us, because you’re my boyfriend, and I’m … well, I’m not straight. I’m not entirely sure what to identify as, as yet. Maybe Demisexual? I don’t know. Anyway, dads response was that I don’t know what I’m talking about, and that it’s perfectly normal to be very close to my friends and that I’m just confused.”

I can feel the restraint its taking Niall to avoid rolling his eyes.

“I said that I’m not confused, or an idiot, and that I’m in love with you.”

Niall hides his face in my neck, I’m not sure if he’s covering a blush or embarrassed or afraid of where this story is going, but I don’t mind him hiding there.

“Dad yelled for a bit, mum looked on the verge of tears. It was … it got ugly.” I sigh. “Eventually when we all went our separate ways, I called Baz’s dad,”

“- you called him?”

“Yeah. Dad and Malcom, they’re like … they’re like Baz and I, essentially, I knew that if there was anyone who could talk any sense into my dad it was Malcolm.”

“I was surprised when I found out that Baz’s dad was at your place, on your side. His idea of being supportive of Baz is ignoring the entire concept of his sexuality,”

“that’s true. But … Baz ignores it too, to an extent. And since he’d never had a boyfriend, they both just never addressed it. I didn’t want to do that. Act like this whole entire confrontation never happened. I never want to hide you again,” I say, caressing his cheek. He leans into it.

“I really did understand. I came out in my own time, just because you’re dating me,”

“-shh,” I tug on his hair, “we’ve been through this. And I told them. And it was … tense, for a while. They didn’t talk to me most of Sunday. I’m sorry I went MIA, by the way I just … I needed to think,”

“Yeah. It wasn’t just the coming-out thing, was it?”

I sigh, “we need to talk about our fight, too.”

Niall nods. “I’m sorry Dev.”

“I’m sorry, too.”

“Why are you sorry? I’m the one who screamed at you. I was mad at you for, what? Letting me leave? I’m the one who’s leaving, I don’t get to be mad at you for being okay with it,”  

I scoff outright at that, nudging him off me until we’re next to each other again. We’re sitting upright now, staring each other down. “Okay with it. Okay with it? You think I’m okay with you fucking off to another country?”

“You never said otherwise,”

“Neither of us broached the topic at all!”

“it’s – that’s not the point. The point is… I’m sorry. I was so mad at the party because it felt like… it made me realise how soon I’m actually leaving, it made it feel real and I just… it felt like you were celebrating the fact that I’m going,” he says, softly, “Dev, I’m terrified about going; about what it will mean for us, about losing you when I’ve wanted you for so long and honestly I just felt like… not like you want me to leave, but like you weren’t very affected by it. And it just … hurt. But that’s selfish,” I’m just staring at him dumbfounded at this point. My boyfriend is a fucking idiot, apparently. “It’s selfish and wrong of me to have expected you to ask me to stay, because you wouldn’t do that. You’d never ask me to give up something that’s important to me, I know that. It’s selfish of me to leave and then want you to be more upset about it, especially when it’s my choice.”

“Wow that was…” he’s watching me, he looks so fragile right now. “That was so stupid, you’re an idiot honestly,” and now he’s just glaring at me. “You think I’m… what, unaffected? Nonchalant? Niall, you leaving is going to feel like losing a fucking limb or a vital organ. Even if we were still just best friends who weren’t in love, I wouldn’t have been fucking – unaffected. You think I’m okay with losing the boy I love? I just … I can’t say anything to sway the way you handle this. I don’t want to be the reason you change your mind, and then regret it one day. I don’t want to be that guy. I want you to have everything you’ve ever wanted; not hold you back from them. But if you think it’s because  I don’t care enough, or won’t miss you enough, you’re a fucking idiot.”

He’s quiet for a few moments.

Then, Niall crawls onto my lap and just … hugs me. There’s nothing sexual about it, which is amazing seeing as he is sitting on my dick, but he just holds on to me.

It’s a solid few minutes before he speaks again. “I was scared,” he mumbles against my shoulder. “and insecure.”

I sigh. “I was jealous. I’m sorry about what I said, I do trust you.”

“I’d never cheat on you,”

“I know,”

“not in your home, not when you’re near, not in France.”

I pull away from him at that. He’s still on my lap, but I pull away to look into his eyes, “that’s another thing … when you go… what’s going to happen to us? We never really discussed if you want to go to France single… or if we’re going to try long distance…”

“Do you want to break up?”  he looks very disapproving of this idea, which is reassuring.

“I don’t. I just… I don’t want to hold you back. You might change your mind when you’re there… when you see how big the world is … how much more there is to offer than just …me.”

He takes my chin between his fingers, “it doesn’t matter that I’ll be in another country,” he says, “you have my heart. Yes, France is a big deal for me, and I can’t wait to travel out of England, and I am excited, but you aren’t …fleeting. My feelings for you, they’re real. I really am in love with you and that doesn’t just go away because I haven’t seen you in a while, or because I’ve seen how big the world is.”

“You can’t know that. Four years is a long time.”

“well, I do know that. I know how long four years are, because I’ve been in love with you for nearly as long. And I was actually aware of the fact,” he says.

“you’re going to meet so many new people. I’m going to seem so … small, so uninteresting in comparison.”

“you’re going to meet so many new people in university, too,” Niall counters, “whose to say you won’t get tired of waiting for me, and then… stop waiting? You might be the one to move on.”

I just shake my head confidently. I know my emotions; I’m not worried about that. “This isn’t just a fresh romance or a long distance boyfriend it’s you, I am who I am because I loved you. You’re such a big part of me. You helped shape me. I can’t just … not love you. I can’t do it.”

“You can get tired of waiting,”

“Then I’ll throw a fuss and be moody, but I won’t not love you.”

“We should …. We need to work on our communication strategies for when we’re in different countries. We have enough communication issues as it is, and I haven’t even left yet.”

I nod, leaning forward to kiss his chin. “So… we’re going to try long distance, then?”

“I don’t want to lose you. Never. So… if it’s something you also want, I think if anyone can make it last, it’s us.”

“What are four years when you intend to spend the rest of your life with someone?”

He leans forward, eyes locked on my lips, “they’ll fly by,” he agrees, “and after college we can pick a place, wherever we want to live, and move in together. Make up for lost time,”

“We’ll write,” I promise, “I don’t just mean emails and long messages and phone calls. I mean letters. The old-fashioned way. Send me pictures, proper ass polaroid’s and I’ll write you handwritten letters. To hold on to when the distance feels like too much. To hold onto and know that it travelled all the way from me to you.”

He nods, his lips faintly brushing against my own, “every Friday I’ll write you a letter. Tell you about my week. We’ll call every day, or try to at least, but we’ll write letters too. I’ll send you care packages from France, chocolate and photographs, books, maybe a hoodie. Lots of pictures actually, to decorate your dorm room. Let everyone know you’re taken.”

At that, I pull the chain out from under his shirt. “And everyone will know you’re taken,” I say, holding the ring. “You don’t need to hide this anymore.”

“You sure?”

“Yes.”

“Your parents…”

“Niall,” I press a kiss on his lips, “yes.”

I kiss his forehead, and we settle back under the covers to cuddle.

“Oh, by the way,” he says around a yawn, “Baz is waiting for you to text him back,”

“You spoke to him?”

“he’d intended to stop at your house after rehearsals, so I let him know that you’re here.”

“Okay, thanks pup,”

“Stop trying to make pup happen,”

“it’s pup or kitten so take your pick,”

He yawns again, and I maneuver us so I’m spooning him this time, pulling his back against my chest. He’s made to fit there.

“I’m not sure, actually,” he mumbles, falling asleep.

“Like them both?”

“Hate them both actually,” he half-heartedly mumbles.

“Hmm,” I kiss the top of his head, “get some sleep pup,”

“Okay,” he agrees, sleepily.

“I love you.”

“Always,”                                                                               

He’s asleep in my arms even as the word leaves his lips.

Chapter Text

Tuesday, December 22nd

 

BAZ

My skin hurts where it brushes the fabric of my pillow, a bruised and fragile feeling. My head hurts, just by me being conscious, and it’s enough to make me certain that opening my eyes is not an option. I wish I could telepathically tell my alarm to shut the fuck up because I don’t have the energy to move my hand enough to switch it off or make my limbs work with my mind.

It takes at least five failed attempts, but I eventually get my limbs to work, searching between the covers until I feel the cold surface of my phone. Switching off the alarm, at least, is reflexive enough that I don’t need to think about it or open my eyes.

I don’t recall exactly when I drift off again.


It’s brighter once I regain consciousness again.

My skin feels bruised, my muscles hurt. I feel void of energy. Even thinking feels like too much effort.

By now I’ve comprehended that I am sick.

I could get out of bed; get to the thermostat, make it a bit warmer in here. That would help. It sounds nice. But it requires temporarily leaving the warmth of my blanket cocoon, and that sounds unappealing so I’m procrastinating that particular venture.

Instead, I burrow deeper beneath the covers and switch my phone on, trying to focus my eyes on the bright screen after hours of sleep.

It's past 10 am. I sit here for a few moments digesting this. I’ve missed the first two periods.

Did I make a conscious decision to stay home today? I check my messages. Is it still 2020? Did I miss Christmas?

 

Daphne:

 Basil, I tried to wake you, but you weren’t well. Stay home and get some rest today. Take some medication from the cabinet – you know what to take. Call me if you need anything. Love you.

 

Father:

Basilton, your mother says you’re home sick today. I’ll email the principle. Dev can bring you the homework. Call if you need anything.

 

Minions

Dev, Niall, You

 

 

 

 

Niall : Who’s taking me to school today??

 

Dev : He’s bullshitting. I’m literally in his bed. We’ll meet you at school.

 

Niall : Bazzy is late????

 

Dev : Bazzy what about your perfect attendance record???

 

Niall : Hey Baz are you alright? Call us.

 

Dev : Spoke to your dad, he says you’re home sick. Do you need anything? We’ll stop by your place after school.

 

Niall : STAY STRONG MY ANGEL I LOVE YOU

 

Niall : Dev has whacked me.

 

And then there's Simon. 

 

Simon:

Good morning

 

Tell me Goodmorning too

 

Is the goodmornings the type of cliché boyfriend things you don’t wanna do? That’s okay

 

Can I meet you this morning before classes?

 

Baz are you in class today?

 

Penny has informed that you weren’t in class today. Are you okay? Let me know if you’re alright.

 

Niall says you’re sick and at home today. I’m sorry. Text me when you’re awake, let me know how you’re feeling

 

I text my parents back and let Dev and Niall know that I’m doing alright, that I don’t need anything, and they don’t need to drop in – I just need some rest.

And then I re-read Simon’s text thread, smiling softly.

It’s so stupid, it’s not like texting is new to us. These texts aren’t particularly romantic or intimate but … it makes me smile despite how I feel right now.

He’s everything. And he’s been everything I’ve ever wanted for so long that I don’t even know what to do now that I might just have it. This. Him.

Good morning, Snow, I text back. I’m sorry that I couldn’t meet you this morning.

Thank you for checking in, I’m awake now and I’m doing a bit better. I’m still sick, but I’ll be okay soon. How is school?


It’s the doorbell that draws me back to consciousness hours later.

Groaning, I call Dev.

"You know where the key is", I scold, as soon as he answers the phone.

"This is true", Dev agrees.

"So, use it, and shut up." I snap, cutting the call.

The doorbell rings again just as my phone starts ringing. It’s Dev.

"What are you talking about? Did you change your mind? I’m at Niall’s, we’ll come over if you’re up for it."

Well, that makes me pause.

"You’re not ringing the doorbell? "I ask. It comes out more whiney than I’d intended. But I’m sick.

I’m out of the bed and at my bedroom window before he can confirm that no, he is not ringing the doorbell all the way from Niall’s house, and asks me to inform him if I’m being robbed by the world's most polite burglar.

 It’s Simon.

"I’ll talk to you later", I cut the call.

Simon looks unsure; like he’s about to turn around and leave – which honestly, I should probably let him do. I’m at my grossest right now. I could get the door but I’m … I haven’t even brushed my teeth today and it’s the middle of the afternoon.

That reminds me, I’m parched. And starving.

Simon answers his phone immediately; “Baz?” he sounds relieved, looking up between all the windows probably trying to spot me. “where are you?”

“In my room, I was asleep, what are you doing here?”

“Oh”, he frowns. I can hear it in his voice, his frown. “I’m sorry for waking you up”,

“It’s okay, I’ve been asleep all day, it’s about time I got out of bed. What are you doing here?” I ask again.

“You hadn’t answered any of my texts and I was worried, he says. Aggie gave me a lift on her  way home, I just wanted to check up on you.”

And that’s just … it’s so Simon of him. That hero complex. That, instead of waiting until I eventually got back to his texts, instead of calling – which you’ll note he hadn’t done – instead of transferring the burden to my friends, he showed up here, to find out for himself if I’m okay.

“The garden behind you,” I say after I take a moment to get my head together, to wrap my head around everything he’s just said.

“What?” He’s spotted me standing at my window now.

“Turn around, Snow. Look at the garden behind you.”

He tilts his head at me in confusion, but listens, turning around after a second.

“The elf with the green jumpsuit – not the big one, the small one – his hat comes off. The spare key is in there. Come in, I’m just going to shower real quick. You know where my bedroom is.”

***


AGATHA

“So, Agatha,” psychologist Betsy Dobson smiles kindly at me, “what brings you here today?”

“I need therapy,” I say conversationally while sipping my hot chocolate.

Betsy smiles patiently. “Is there a particular issue you’d like to discuss?”

“Not really,”

“What would you like to talk about?”

I don’t really know. There’s a shelf near the window displaying a collection of crystal ornaments.

“You collect them?” I ask. I’ve always found collecting a fascinating hobby. I collect miniature horse ornaments, myself. It’s just … your collection is something you can add to your whole life. You can display, or keep it private, a secret quirk about you that only the closest people to you know about. You can travel and find rare additions to your collection. You can spend time doing something just because it makes you feel joy.

Not because it’s expected of you. “Sort of,” she smiles, looking over at the shelf with fondness in her eyes, “they’re all actually birthday gifts from a patient.”

That’s a surprise – there are at least seven figurines displayed, imagine needing seven years of therapy? Not to mention that I'd read that she specializes in young adult and adolescent psychology, so I'd assumed that all her clients were young.

“So,” Betsy guides us back on track, “you don’t have a particular issue you’d like to prioritise… did someone suggest you see a therapist?”

“Lord no, no one knows I’m here.”

“And why is that?”

“Well, who would I tell, really?”

“Well, what about your parents?” Betsy looks interested like she’s on to something.

“We don’t really share,” I wave her off.

She takes note of that while distracting me with her next question, “What about your friends?”

“I don’t really think that Penelope would understand,” I explain – it’s why I didn’t tell Penelope why I was canceling our study plans, so I could come here, “she’d either point out that I don’t need therapy or insist on psychoanalyzing me herself.”

Betsy nods, “is this Penelope your closest friend?”

I nod.

“Is there anyone else?”

“Well, I’m popular. I know everyone, I’m only close to a few people though. Penelope, there’s also Simon.”

“Have you considered discussing therapy with Simon?”

“Not really. Simon is the friend I call to do stuff, or hang out, or if I ever need anything. But we don’t really just … talk. Share feelings and shit.”

“Have you ever tried?” Betsy says, “maybe Simon doesn’t realise you’d like to be closer.”

I can’t help but snort, “I doubt it. we’ve been as close as we could ever be, and it didn’t work out.”

“Would you like to elaborate on that?” she asks patiently.

“He’s my on again, off again boyfriend. We’re off right now. Although this time I have a feeling it’s gonna stay off.”

“And even when you guys were on, you didn’t discuss your feelings?”

“I mean – I knew he loved me; he knew I loved him. We didn’t discuss feelings in too much detail, no. There wasn’t much to say.”

“What do you think was the reason for your instability with Simon?” Betsy asks.

I sigh. “I really don’t know. I think it reached a point eventually where we were just together so we didn’t have to break up.”

“And yet you maintained a close friendship even after breaking up?”

“Yes, he’s one of my best friends. I do love him, we just stopped being in love.”

“What makes this break up different from the others?”

“he’s dating the guy I tried to get with after I left him, for one.”

To Betsy’s credit, she just nods as she makes notes. “Are there any other close friends we’re missing?”

“Well, Lily has been around lately,” I say, “and she’s fine. But it’s like … we’re just friends because she has a lot in common with Penelope. Although, I am friends with her boyfriend – at least I think they’re dating – in my own right so maybe we would have become friends anyway. Eventually.”

“Would you say you’re closer to Lily’s boyfriend than you are to her?”

“I think it’s more that Jackson’s in my social circle. We’re of the same standing in society, our parents know each other, we all belong to the same country club…”

“Speaking of your parents, is there a reason you don’t talk too much?”

“We talk, we just don’t really share feelings or talk about more than mundane things.”

“When did this start?”

“it’s always been like this.”

“Do you wish things were different”

“I can’t really imagine it. it’s just the way it is. There are things you share, and there are things you don’t. There’s dinner table conversation, which you talk about even if you don’t even find it mildly interesting, and then there are things that you just don’t talk about at all even if it’s eating you up inside, because it’s not socially acceptable.”

“Like what?”

I sigh, “I don’t have a particular example, we’re just more polite than we are close.”

“What would you say your relationship with your mum is like?”

“I’m everything she wishes she was. She loves me, but sometimes I think it’s more because she wishes she was me. she lives vicariously through me. I still haven’t told her I broke up with Simon.”

“Why not?”

“She'd invite him for dinner and parent trap us – plot twist, it’s the parents doing the trapping.”

“What would you say your relationship with your dad is like?” She changes course.

“I know he loves me, but sometimes I’m not sure if he likes me.”

Betsy and I talk for a little longer until my appointment hour runs out. I don’t feel like we’d done too much therapizing, but maybe that’s because this was mostly an introductory session.

“So, Betsy,” I ask at the end of our session, “did you figure out why I need therapy yet?”

Not knowing why is probably one of the reasons I need the therapy.

Betsy smiles at me kindly. “I don’t think you need therapy, Agatha. I think you just need someone to talk to. I think you just needed the acceptance. You didn’t need a therapist, you needed to talk for an hour without the fear of possible rejection or future abandonment. And paying someone just seemed like the safest way to get that, for you.” 

***


 

DEV

 

Niall is sprawled on top of me like a starfish. I don’t really have any objections.

“I need to get my license before France,” he mumbles against my collarbone.

Talking about France still feels weird since we went so long violently not talking about France, but we’re easing into it. I have hand a pillowing the back of my head, while my other hand gently massages his scalp.

“You really, really do,” I agree, “I can’t always be the one driving to you.” I’d gladly drive ten hours to him.

“Ten hours is a long drive ….” He’s being insecure again. I’d always thought I would be the insecure one in our relationship, seeing as I’ve never been with a guy before – barely been with anyone, really – but it’s Niall. I think he feels responsible for everything since he’s the one leaving.

“Ten hours is a long way away from each other, yes. We’ve never been apart; all our lives we’ve been ten minutes away. But it’s not too long to drive to see you. I’d drive ten hours to spend two of them with you.”

He pushes up onto his elbows, watching me carefully, “you’re really not mad at me for choosing this?”

I frown … looking away for a moment to gather my thoughts. “I never want to be the guy who keeps you from things. I want you to do everything you want to, and I’ll support you. I don’t want you to be so far away but … but we agreed - what’s four years, when I plan on being with you forever?”

I feel his lips curl into a shy smile as he turns his face into my palm. He places a tiny, butterfly-light kiss on the inside of my wrist. “You know, Baz told me something interesting,”

That does not sound promising.

“I leave you guys on your own for one weekend and the drama you two cook up is truly astonishing,” I finally went back to school today to find that Baz was now out of it, and also that he’s apparently in a whole relationship with Simon Snow. We desperately need to talk, and freak out, and I need to say I told you so – among other things, but he’s sick, and Niall and I have been busy making up (and making out), so I haven’t gotten a chance to as yet. “Well, out with it, what stories is old Bazzy telling you,” I say whimsically.

Sits up fully, legs crossed, and pulls his chain from his shirt – why is he even still wearing a shirt – showing off my Grimm family ring. It makes me smile. I’d pictured him wearing it so many times, I thought I’d never get to see it.

“You don’t really need to hide that, anymore,” I say, “if you want.”

Niall raises both eyebrows at me, “you haven’t really come out to the school yet …”

“The reason I was avoiding it was because I was nervous about my parents finding out. They know now, and I don’t want to hide you, you deserve better than that,”

“You don’t need to come out just for me,” he says hurriedly.

“I’m not coming out for you; I’m coming out since I’m dating you – that’s no fault of yours. Now what did Baz say?”

“Oh,” Niall looks suddenly nervous, “Baz said that giving someone your signet ring is like …. The proposal to the proposal to the proposal,” His eyes are large and he looks like a baby tomato. Or a regular tomato, but he’s small.

Was it really necessary to tell him this?

What could they possibly have been talking about that made Baz tell him that? – I mean it’s not wrong, but I didn’t make it that big of a deal when I gave it to Niall. We haven’t even been dating a month, yet! It felt right, giving it to him; he’d owned my heart for the longest time, I’ll never love anyone else like I love him, so it didn’t feel like too soon to give it to him – I was sure about my feelings for him. But you don’t just tell someone that!

Add this conversation to the list of things I need to yell at Baz about.

I clear my throat  and try to pass off my tone for casual, “did he now?”

“Is it true?” Niall goes right for the kill shot.  

I sigh. “it’s like …  it’s not an engagement, I didn’t propose on our first date!” I reassure him, “but it is of great significance. It means you’re serious, and this is …serious,” I cringe at my own inadequate explanation, “I guess Baz was on to something. The signet rings for the old families; they’re rare and they’re – they don’t make them anymore, the ones we have, have been handed over through generations, it’s an heirloom… giving it to someone is a big deal. It’s not a proposal but … it says that I intend to love you forever.”

I have my forearm thrown over my eyes, flat on my back. “Is that … is it too much?” I ask eventually.

Niall is quiet. Niall is nearly never quiet.

I’ve just opened my eyes when he straddles me, balancing his body with arms on my chest. “It’s not too much,” he leans over pressing his lips to my ear, “It’s everything, you’re everything.”

“You know, it wasn’t my intention at the time,” I mumble as he kisses along my jaw, I unclip the necklace, “but at least all the hot French boys you’re going to meet will see it and know you’re taken,” I pull the ring off his chain, before hooking his chain back around his neck.

He sits up properly – still straddling me – and smiles, giving me his hand.

I slide the ring onto his thumb (he has small fingers) and bring his hand to my lips, kissing the ring, before kissing every knuckle on his hand.

He’s practically beaming.

“Hmm, it’s not like you’re not going to be meeting a whole new pool of people in university, too, I need to leave my mark on you as well,”

“What do you have in mind?” I smirk.

“I’ll think of something,” he promises, “at least I know there’s no way you’ll be able to successfully bring any guys back to your dorm.”

Oh?” I tease, “and why is that? I mean, I’m not going to, but I’m intrigued regardless,”

“Our pictures from our first date,” he says casually, “I’m putting it up in your room. Making my presence known and what not. Like a poltergeist.”

That grabs a short laugh out of me. “Hmm, but they’re not particularly large photo’s and they can be missed. You should probably leave your scent around too. Maybe a few hoodies. Mark your territory” I suggest conversationally.

“Yes definitely,” he nods along seriously. “And well, if a guy tries to give you his number,” he grabs my phone from the dresser, unlocking it with his fingerprint (his fingerprint was added to my phone’s passwords before we even started dating. Baz does not know this, because his fingerprint is not added.) I pull Niall down to rest next to me so I can see what he’s doing. He’s searching through my gallery. “- you only have off guard, ugly pictures of me,” he pouts.

“Impossible. You’re never ugly.”

He rolls his eyes. Niall cuddles closer to me, kissing my cheek, “take the picture,” he mumbles against my cheek. I roll my eyes at his theatrics, but it’s not like I’m going to say no.

It really is an adorable picture. I’m smirking, mostly to keep from blushing, and his eyes are closed as he brushes his lips against my cheek.

He pulls my phone back and sets it as my lock screen.

“There.” He says, very self-satisfied. “So, no getting guys numbers, for you.” I wrap my arms around his waist and smile into his neck.

“I wasn’t going to. Unless it’s like platonic, I mean I’m going to have friends in university” I state firmly.

“Duh,” he says seriously.

“How do I make friends though? I’ve always had you and Baz, I’d never needed to do that,”

“I mean sure, you’re with us most of the time, but you have plenty friends. If it’s something you’re nervous about, maybe join a club or sports team. Having a team is an easy way to make friends.” He mumbles. “And yes, God Dev, you know that’s not what I meant. I don’t want you to not have a life outside of our relationship, or not talk to anyone beyond me and your cousin. We’ve just always been each other’s best friends, so we never needed anyone else, but … you need to have friends and go out to parties and just, fucking – enjoy your youth. Have fun, and then call and tell me about it. I want to know you’re having fun.”

“I know that you’re not like that. but like you said, we’d never bothered getting close to other people before because we always had each other. I don’t know how to do that now,”

“I think … you don’t pick a random person and try to make them like you, or be your best friend,” he says slowly, “I think you just be you, let people see who you are, and when you find someone who you enjoy spending time with or have things in common with, you become close naturally.”

I cuddle against his neck, “I’m lucky I have you.”

“this is true, yes.”

“we’ve never been apart from each other, though … and we’ve only just started dating and as it is I had a jealous fit and fired an innocent waiter,”

That gets a laugh out of him, “yeah that wasn’t your best moment honestly, but at least you paid him,

“But I mean … that happened when we were in the same place. I don’t want us to be feeling insecure and jealous and things when we’re ten hours apart.”

“What are you thinking?” he turns to me.

“I’ve never been in a committed relationship,” I shrug, I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this, “Is there, like … rules? Do’s and don’ts? we aren’t particularly controlling of each other but that doesn’t mean I want to share you with French boys.”

He’s quiet for a moment, thinking.

Eventually, when he speaks, he’s looking into my eyes, “I think our biggest problem was we weren’t talking about the things that scared us or made us feel insecure. We need to talk to each other. If you’re feeling jealous or insecure about something, you need to trust that you can just straight up ask me about it and I won’t get mad, and I’ll tell you the truth. And I’ll do the same. If we’re missing each other or upset about something, we can’t not say anything. We cant read each other like we do now, when we’re in different countries. And I think … as far as rules go, I think it’s just – don’t do anything we can’t tell the other person about? If we’re not doing anything wrong, we should be able to tell the other person about it. If it’s innocent drinks and a night out at the pub, I should be able to tell you I’m out at the pub with friends, no need to lie about it. Is that… does that make sense?”

“Communication,” I summarise with a smirk.

“And trust,” he nudges my nose with his.

We fall asleep in each other’s arms soon after.

***


SIMON

When I make it upstairs to Baz’s bedroom, he’s in the shower. I’m not sure what I’m doing here, but Baz doesn’t seem to mind that I showed up. I just … I knew that he wasn’t okay, and I wanted to check up on him.

Baz’s bedroom lacks his characteristic order and neatness. His phone is tangled in his haphazard nest of blankets. There’s a faint smell – not really an odor, but more a smell that tells me a sick person has been marinating within these walls for ten hours.

I try to make his room more comfortable for him, for when he returns. I open his bedroom window, letting in some fresh air. As an afterthought, I plug is phone into his charger. I consider changing his sheets so he’s more comfortable … but rummaging through someone's drawers looking for new sheets is creepy, right? It’s probably rude. I make the bed instead. Still, it looks far more inviting and comfortable than it was when I got here. I travel downstairs to get him a glass of water and keep it by his bedside drawer.

Baz must be hungry. I should ask him if he wants a sandwich. Does he have warm enough clothes? Surely, he’d have carried them in the bathroom with him.

My concerns are answered as Baz steps out of the shower with a bun and cozy pajamas. His hair is dry, so that shouldn’t make him feel more sick.

“Hey,” I smile at him. “You should get back in bed,”

He looks around the room, uncertain. “Did you … clean?” he looks at me with confusion and surprise.

His face is pale. Paler than usual. His eyes are hollowed, despite the hours of sleep he’d gotten. He looks extremely weak. Frail. This isn’t good, I don’t like this. Baz should never look this fragile. He’s a force of nature; strength and power. He shouldn’t look this vulnerable.

“Not really,” I reply, “I just …made things a bit more comfortable for when you got back.”

He smiles softly, and actually listens to me, getting under the covers. He notices the glass of water and makes eye contact with me. “Thanks, Snow.”

I shrug, but I’m smiling too. I was concerned that he might have asked me to leave. “how are you feeling?”

“Pretty shit.” He supplies.

“Did you take any medication?”

He shakes his head. “I was asleep for most of the day, actually. I just woke up when I replied to your messages, and then fell asleep. You woke me up when you rang the doorbell.”

He probably notes the horror on my face at disturbing his sleep because he continues immediately, “it’s fine,” he says, “I needed to get up and have a shower anyway, honestly.”

“Come on, let’s get some food in you,” I stand up.

“Gonna cook for me Snow?” he’s trying to tease, but he’s just so … soft right now.

“I’ll try, ideally I’ll make you a sandwich,”

He scrunches his face, “bread,” he says glumly.

“Do you have something against bread? Is it anorexia?” I ask concerned.

Baz – despite his fatigue – casts me a flat look. “Do you even know what anorexia is Snow? – and no, my throat is just sore, I don’t think I can swallow bread.”

“Oh!” that makes more sense, “Soup! C’mon I’ll make you soup. I don’t really know how to make soup, but I’ll figure it out,” I offer my hand, and he takes it, letting me lead him out of bed. He’s smiling, and that’s nice. I like it when he smiles.

“No need,” he follows me out the door, “Munira would have prepared something. Surely, she knows I’m sick.”

“Munira?”

“the housekeeper,” Baz provides, as if having staff serving you is entirely normal, “well, the housekeeper slash cook slash nanny – she kind of raised the girls,”  

Rich people,”

“there’s nothing wrong with being privileged Snow, it’s not like I use my money for evil,”

“Could have fooled me a few months ago,”

He uses his little energy reserves to roll his eyes at me and follows me down the stairs.

“what’s the most extravagant thing you’ve ever bought?” I ask.

“The Porsche probably. Followed by the Ducati.”

“I don’t know much about cars but I suppose those do seem proper posh –”

-We’re halfway down the stairs when Baz sways. He balances himself on the railing just in time. He takes the next step casually like I wouldn’t have noticed.

I shake my head, taking a step forward, and scoop him up in my arms, bridal style.

Baz protests and thrashes quite a bit for someone without enough energy to walk competently.

“Shh,” I hush him, “you said you were fine, I let you do it your way. Clearly you’re not fine so now we’re doing it my way.” His arm is loosely draped around my neck and he’s looking at me incredulously.

“Now, would you like me to take you to Munira, or leave you in your room and find her myself?”

“I’d like you to set me down?”

“Sure, but where exactly?”

“Here?”

“Baz,” I sigh, “I’m just trying to take care of you. I don’t want you straining yourself, and I’m here so you don’t need to.”

His gaze turns softer. But he’s still a twat so, “are you going to drop me?” he asks.

I scoff, “I’m totally strong enough to carry you,”

He smirks – apparently being sick doesn’t affect his smugness – “okay, Snow. I’m tired of my room. Let’s go to the sitting room, Munira should be around here somewhere.”

***


NIALL

“Do we, like, absolutely have to go?” I whine, eyes still closed, face still smashed into the pillow.

“I do,” Dev says. His voice is muffled as he puts his shirt back on. “You don’t really need to,”

“How would you survive without me for three hours though,”

“Exactly,” Dev smirks, pulling his shoes back on.

I sigh. “I can’t wait for this stupid play to be over with so you can stop running to rehearsals” I roll my eyes.

“y’know football practice will start up again after the break, right?”

I glare at him, which for some reason makes him laugh.

“c’mon Nemo lets go,”

“I really don’t wanna,”

“Meet you after?”

I glare harder.

Dev sighs and leans forward to kiss my forehead. “I really need to leave Niall. You don’t need to come along; I know you get bored waiting for me for so long. Why don’t I meet you here after? I’ll bring takeout.”

I pout. I guess that means my tantrum is not working on him.

“no, I’ll come,” I grumble, getting out of bed and checking my reflection in the mirror.

“You don’t have to, it’s just a waste of your time,” he frowns.

“Sure,” I agree. It really is. “But when I’m ten hours away from you I’ll miss this waste of time where I get to stare at you for three hours.”

I grab my sneakers in one hand and his hand in the other, “let’s go, theatre boy.”

***


SIMON

Baz is high maintenance when he’s sick.

This shouldn’t really come as a surprise, since he’s high maintenance even when he’s in perfect health.

He’s been asleep – fitfully – for almost two hours now. After he’d had some tea and only, like, a quarter bowl of soup, he’d decided that he was both full and fatigued and ready to go back to bed. He insisted on walking, so I insisted on walking next to him with my hand cradling his lower back, just in case he needed it. Luckily there were no more dizzy spells, I think eating a little helped.

“Thanks for taking care of me, Snow,” he’d mumbled against his pillow as I’d tucked him in.

“you’re welcome Baz,” I whispered.

“You going now?” he said softly.

“Do you want me to?”

He was mostly asleep by this point. He didn’t say anything, but I caught the slightest shake of his head.

Good. I didn’t want to leave. He’s so sick, and I know Munira is here if he needs anything, but I don’t trust him to speak up and not try to be self-sufficient.

I had let him sleep and settled down at his study desk with my homework.

There’s shuffling behind me, now.  He must have shoved his blanket off onto the floor again. He’s done this twice already, while asleep. He gets the sweats and shoves his covers off, and then twenty minutes later his teeth will start chattering and he’ll get the shivers. I’ve been alternating between keeping him cool and warming him up, as his temperature fluctuates.

Dropping my pencil back in the makeshift study guide Baz had given me, I get up to pick up Baz’s blanket again.

He’s still warm, so I lay the blanket next to him instead of on him. There’s a faint sheen of sweat covering his forehead as I push his hair back.

I’m not really sure what to do. if I open the window or lower the thermostat, he’ll be shivering again in twenty minutes anyway.

Sure enough, Baz’s teeth are chattering again in a few minutes. I cocoon him in the blankets again, up until his chin. Only this time, his eyes crack open and peak at me.

Baz looks adorable when he just gets up; that moment when his mind is still fuzzy and uncertain, and he’s not sure if he’s dreaming, or you’re really here. He’s beautiful, I didn’t think anyone could pull of still being beautiful while being this sick. I don’t think he’s properly awake as yet; he doesn’t say anything, just stares up at me groggily.

“Hey,” I say softly, feeling his forehead with the back of my hand, “you’re burning up. I don’t think I’m supposed to let you cover like this.”

“Cold,” he says softly.

“Yeah?” I ask as if I haven’t been dealing with his hot and cold flushes for the last two hours. “you’re burning up though, your fever needs a chance to cool down,”

At least that’s what they told me once at the orphanage when I was freezing but they took my blanket away. It made sense at the time; I was cold but my forehead was hot, so it needed to cool down. Right?

“Are you sure?” he frowns at me uncertainly.

I frown back, “not really, no,”

He makes some sort of noise – I think it would have passed for a scoff if he wasn’t this sick – and then just cuddles deeper into his blanket and closes his eyes.

“Hey, don’t fall back asleep yet. Here, drink,” I pass him the glass of water.

He stares at it silently for a moment, either trying to figure out if it’s worth getting up for or trying to move it with his mind, but eventually, he sits up slightly and takes the glass from me.

He takes only a few sips before handing it back and settling down.

That’s good. I don’t know too much about caring for sick people – I’ve almost always had to take care of myself when I was sick – but I know he needs to stay hydrated. “Do you need more medication? I don’t know how many times you’re supposed to take it,”

At least their medicine cabinet is fully stocked.

He checks his phone and then looks at me slightly dazed for a few silent minutes.

“Hey, what is it?”

“you’ve been here for three hours,”

I nod, “yeah.”

“don’t you need to go home?”

“Do you want me to?”

don’t you want to? I’ve just been ignoring you, asleep for the last two hours,”

“Well, I didn’t really come here to be entertained, Baz, I came to take care of you. So, someone’s here if you need anything.”

He continues to stare, silently. So, I continue, “Daphne is back by the way. With your siblings. I greeted her. She asked how you were doing, and I told her what medication you had taken and that you ate. she said she’s here now to take care of you if I need to leave, but not that I had to, so I thought I’d hang out until you woke up and see what you prefer … do you … you want me to go home?” I ask. “it’s okay if you do, whatever helps you recover better,”

Watching him gaze at me this way … there’s no words for it. The affection, and the vulnerability … He’s always been so … immovable. So tough, so domineering. Powerful. He still is all those things, but he’s letting me see the other sides of him now. The fragile sides. I never thought of Baz as soft, or gentle, but how can I not, right now when he’s cuddled up under blankets, gazing at me with endless grey eyes? How could I have ever been anything but gentle with him?

He still isn’t answering my questions.

“Do you want me to go, Baz?” I whisper.

Baz shakes his head.

“okay … do you want to go back to sleep? I’ll study at your desk.”

He glances at his desk for a moment, where my stationery is haphazardly spilled. “you’ve been there for hours,” he croaks out, “you must be tired,”

I shrug.

“You can use the rocking chair,” he says softly, “or the couch.”

“Okay,” I whisper, “you going back to sleep?”

He shakes his head.

“Can I bring the rocking chair closer to your bed, then?”

He nods.

I drag the large, old-fashioned oak rocking chair over to Baz and settle down near him. We’re close enough that I could take his hand … but I’m not sure if he’d like that. I’m not sure if I’m moving too fast for him.

I’m not sure how he feels about me at all if I’m being honest.

“Do you want to talk? Or does it hurt?” I ask.

“Talking is fine,” he mumbles, “just tired. Honestly it just …” he blushes, “it feels weird being pampered like this. I’m fine,”

I raise an eyebrow at him.

“I’ll be fine, I’m not a baby,” he rolls his eyes.

I really, really want to make a comment on that, but I’ll let him rest before I tease him too much.

“I know you can take care of yourself,” I tell him, rocking back and forth, “I just… want to take care of you too, if you’ll let me.”

He huffs, shoving his blanket off again. But he doesn’t look mad. He looks … bashful.

“Talk to me,” he says. He’s on his side, watching me. His cheek is smushed against his pillow.

“what about?”

“anything,” he closes his eyes.

“Hmm. Tweety’s wing is mostly back to normal now. Also, she’s visited you a few times today, while you were sleeping. Kept tapping at the window, I think she’s mad at me for keeping it closed,”

“Let her in,” He opens his eyes.

“She won’t let you sleep,” I shake my head, “she’ll pull your hair until you give her attention,”

He smiles at that.  He’s so fond of her. I’m so fond of him.

It’s odd to think I flat out hated him at one point, but I think that was just my way of processing how fixated on him I’d always been.

That, and he was twat sometimes.

“What else?” I think out loud. “Oh, should it tell Lily you won’t be at rehearsals today?”

“Dev should tell her,” Baz says. “Are you hungry?”

I ate sandwiches earlier when Baz had his soup.

I shrug, “I could eat.”

“let’s get some food in you,” Baz sits up.

“Will your step mum mind?”

“Will she mind you dedicating your afternoon to taking care of her son? I’d hope not,”

Baz and I make our way back to the sitting room. I have ham and butter sandwiches and Baz drinks and nibbles on a slice of toast.

“Tell me more things,” he watches me over his teacup.

“About what?” I’m really not that interesting.

“I don’t care.” And somehow, it makes it sound almost fond.

“Do you just want to listen my voice?” I tease.

He glares at me silently, and that’s an answer on its own.

“I have another house visit on the thirtieth,” I tell him, “I’m less nervous this time since I’m not planning to ask for anything.”

“Asking for an extended curfew so you can participate in extracurricular activities and earn a scholarship to university shouldn’t count as asking for something.” He deadpans.

I just shrug. “Things have been better since the last visit, it would be nice to see Beverly, though. I miss her.”

“Do you talk to her, outside of the house visits?”

“Sometimes. She texts to check up on me every few weeks. And I have her number for emergencies.”

Beverly sounds fair,” Baz says.

I sigh. “I know you don’t like Jared and Denise, but they’re not all that bad. We were just … adjusting to each other.”

“They neglected you.”

So much sass in someone so sick.

“You just,” how do I even explain this? Being a foster kid isn’t an experience you can explain in words. You either are one, and you get it, or you have a family, and you can only imagine it. Granted, some people would be better off in foster than with their particular families. But even they know where they come from. Being a foster kid … it’s sitting on the train and watching different people, wondering if you could be related. It’s seeing someone with the same colour hair and wondering if they’re an uncle or cousin – it’s steering clear of wondering if they’re your parent, because that would hurt too much. It’s thinking up every possible reason your parents could have given you up. How did I end up here? what could I have done wrong as a baby? Maybe your parents died. But … was there really no relatives at all who could have taken you in. Maybe they weren’t fit to take care of you, but maybe they are not and one day they’re going to reappear at your next house visit and explain that they’re sorry for leaving you, that they want you back, and that they’ve been trying to find you.

It’s a whole life you could have had, and never got a chance to.

“You don’t understand,” I tell Baz. “You can’t. you’re not an orphan, you can’t imagine it.”

“I get that,” Baz says softly. “I can’t pretend to understand what it feels like for you. What it’s always felt like. I’m not a foster kid. But I also know that Denise and Jared should not be foster parents.”

I groan. “it’s just … I get what you’re saying. They’re not model foster parents Baz, I get that. they should have approached the whole thing differently. They said they didn’t know how to foster a teenager, but they have two teenagers of their own, and they knew my age before they chose to foster me. I should have been able to talk to them. They should have been more involved. But Baz … I’ve been in bad homes. This isn’t my dream home, but I’ve been in bad ones. You know who really shouldn’t have been a foster parent? The ones who didn’t have enough food to feed their kids and yet fostered multiple at once. The ones who couldn’t stop drinking or keeping their anger in check. The abusive ones, so many types of abuse. I was lucky to not be a victim of most of it. Baz … I’ve known enough bad people to recognise that Denise and Jared aren’t bad people. They’re less than ideal, and they need to be spoon-fed and guided and taught but … it’s not the worst place to be.”

I think that’s the most sentences I’ve ever consecutively strung together, ever. I didn’t even stutter. Baz is quiet for a few minutes, sipping his tea.

He speaks eventually, sounding far more subdued. “I didn’t mean to make it sound easy,” he says. “I just … I hate that you’re so… grateful, to people who don’t even deserve you, for wanting you.”

“what’s the alternative?”

He sighs. “You don’t need them, Simon.”

“there’s still a few months until I turn 18. I can’t take off yet. This is better than an orphanage, and most foster homes.”

Baz nods. I can I see he’s still not a fan of the arrangement, but he’s letting me handle this one.

I have to handle this one.

“Do you want me to not talk about them to you?” I ask. “If it upsets you?”

Baz shakes his head immediately, “no. this is your life, and I want to hear about it.”

I smile at that. “you know, Denise and Jared are so peculiar,” I say, “Denise a short, round woman with a snout for a nose,” Baz chokes on his tea and looks up at me with wide eyes, a smirk pulling at his lips. I continue, hoping I get to make it a smile. “Jared is almost too tall to be a human being, and his hair is longer than Denise’s. He wears it in a ponytail most of the time – it’s a little longer than yours, but nowhere near as shiny,”

Baz blushes. “if I knew you were just going to roast them I’d have encouraged this a long time ago,” he smirks.

“I’m really not!” I protest, laughing, “These are accurate descriptions, I swear – oh, and Jared? He used to be a clown.”

Baz’s almost-smile – regrettably – vanishes and is replaced by open-mouthed surprise.

“you’re not serious.” Baz says.

“I am,” I nod. “That day when Tweety fell, and you helped me take her to the vet?” he nods, “that box I put her in? clown-shoe shoebox,” I say casually.

Baz’s eyes are saucers. “People should not be able to do this,” Baz says seriously, “people shouldn’t just be bale to be clowns, no one should have that authority!”

“Clown authority?”

“Why would someone do that?” Baz asks seriously.

I shrug, “he really enjoyed is clown days, best years of his life he said”

Baz looks traumatized.

“a clown.” He says after a few minutes of silence – mostly to himself than to me.

“a clown.” I nod in agreement while sipping on my own tea.

After Baz eats a little and I finish my sandwiches, I head home. Baz thanks me for taking care of him, and apologizes for me needing to take care of him – I don’t mind, I didn’t need to, I wanted to. Daphne thanks me profusely for everything I’d done, and packs me a Tupperware of biscuits. I think she likes me, and that makes me smile. Baz texts me a little while later to thank me again, and I call him before bed to check if he’s doing okay.

And everything just seems like it will be okay.

 

Chapter Text

Thursday, December 24th

 

PENNY

 

“Hey,” Shepherd smiles brightly at me from the other side of the door.

I just stare at him. Why is he here? I don’t have the mental or emotional capacity to deal with boys right now. And why would he want to talk to me anyway? Micah has made it clear on behalf of the entire male species that I am the absolute worst.

Shepherd is undeterred by my silence as he reveals a bouquet of flowers from behind his back. Sunflowers and roses. Not the most common combination, but certainly gorgeous. I look up at him, unsure of what to say.

He doesn’t look nervous, though. Shepherd looks entirely at ease. Like he does this every day, and for all I know, maybe he does. As far as I’m concerned; I’m entirely oblivious to any and all social cues. I may as well be Simon.

“Can we talk?” Shepherd eventually asks after a few moments of me just staring at him.

I’m not trying to be rude; I just genuinely don’t know what the right way to communicate with guys is, anymore. I thought I had all this down, that this wasn’t something I had to worry about anymore. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

“Sure.” I lead him to the garden. “How are you?”

“I’m good,” Shepherd smiles and it’s all dimples and pearly whites. I wasn’t quite prepared to be on the receiving end of it. “How are you?”

I shrug. “Thank you for the flowers,” I say, bringing the bouquet up to my nose to smell them, “they’re really pretty, but uhm, why?”

“Because you deserve flowers.” Shepherd says simply as if any of this is simple. “Also, I know it’s early, but I, well I didn’t want to wait around in case someone else beat me to it, y’know? So, Penelope, would you go to the Valentines ball with me?”

I’m pretty sure I’m silently staring again; it’s the most I can manage.

“I know we’re still getting used to each other, still getting to know each other, so you don’t even need to be my literal Valentine unless you want to…. But would you be my date to the dance?”

“Look. Shepherd,”

“- that is not an encouraging tone,” he cuts me off, “you take your time, think about it. Get back to me when the answer is yes. Yes?”

“This is so sweet, really. And I love the flowers, and I really appreciate you asking me,”

“– still not loving that your tone of voice is like you’re about to tell me that my cat just died – not a good sign so again I say, sleep on it.”

“But I’ve literally just got out of a relationship,” I persist, “sort of. I think. The fact that I don’t know is probably an issue in itself,”

“– sleep on it, and I’ll ask you again when you’re feeling more hopeful and positive. I’ll see you at the musical, yeah?” Shepherd kisses me on the forehead on his way out.

What have I gotten myself into?

***


DEV

“I still can’t believe you’re dating Snow,” I say again, “like, really, this is more surprising than Niall and I getting together,”


“It is more surprising than you and Niall getting together,” Baz says, “that was not surprising at all.”

“Behave, boys,” Niall plays mediator, “where is Snow? Is he working today?”

“Yeah, he’s probably in the bakery,” says Baz.

“Are you going to tell him that you’re here so you can keep leeching off him for free desert?” I smirk at Baz.

He glares at me. “I am not leeching off him,” Baz sneers, “I just refused to take money from him, and his pride didn’t allow him to accept free lessons from me,”

“Which of course now that he knows you wanted to dick him down that entire time, he’s going to see as you making him pay to spend time together,”

Baz narrows his eyes at me just as the waiter comes over to take our order, “that’s not what happened and you know it,”

Baz does, in fact, end up paying for his meal, and because Niall and I are messing with him; he ends up paying for our meals too. All through lunch we steered clear of bringing up Simon Snow – mostly in case he popped up – but we did discuss the dare and what Baz’s recent romantic foray means for it.

“I guess that’s that on the dare,” Baz had said, “we tried to casually mention to people at school that we were together, but it was surprisingly difficult to get taken seriously.”

“So that’s it, then?” Niall glanced at his cellphone calendar, “Dare: time of death; eight weeks,”

“Longer than I’d expected, honestly,” said Baz.

“Far better an outcome than we’d expected,” I’d said, “I figured that when it eventually crashes and burns it would be because you’ve grown tired of it, not because you finally trapped Snow,”

Niall and I are holding hands under the table, and it’s very distracting. Niall has rough hands, which you wouldn’t expect when you take in his delicate frame. He’s an artsy boy, though, and years of paint and turpentine were harsh on his hands; his skin is rough and calloused now. I love it. I love feeling his hands on my skin and knowing it's him, without even opening my eyes.

“I’d hardly say I trapped Snow; if anything, he initiated everything!”

“You still lost the dare, though,” Niall says, “does this mean you’re taking Simon to the Valentines ball, then?”

Does this mean I’m taking Niall to the Valentines' ball? It’s the first time I’m even hearing him speak about it, he’s never mentioned it – has he been waiting for me to ask him this entire time?

And do I actually have to ask him or are we in an assumption that since we’re boyfriends, we’re going together?

Why doesn’t he ask me?

Baz shrugged, “he mentioned it.”

“You still haven’t thanked me for the boyfriend my dare gave you,” I smirked.

“If you’re choosing to take responsibility for the boyfriend, then you need to take responsibility for everything your precious dare caused, psychological and emotional trauma included,” Baz sneered.

“What I want to know,” Niall changed the subject before Baz and I could start bickering again, “is who’s behind the Date Me, Baz Pitch Facebook page? They’ve been pretty on the ball with everything, and I have no idea who it could be,”

“I honestly just thought it was Dev being dramatic,” Baz said

“As much as I would love to take credit for this one, it’s not me. Maybe it’s your boyfriend, he’s been obsessed with you all this time so it’s pretty in character for him.”

That seemed to make Baz pause in surprise and genuinely consider if it could be Simon.

“Can we bet on who’s running the dare website?” Niall smirked, “or is that too much?”

So now the three of us have a running bet. I said it’s Simon, Niall said it’s Bunce – it just makes sense, he said, she’s like a little evil genius – and Baz said it’s me because he has no trust.

I don’t know how much faith in our guesses any of us actually have, but we bet $50 apiece.

It feels like old times when it was just the three of us making dumb decisions. When our issues weren’t one of us moving to another country. When Niall and I weren’t together – a time I don’t miss, but a time that did seem more like it was about all three of us and not just our relationship.

I don’t know how long it’s going to be just the three of us. Now that Baz is dating Snow. Now that we’re all going to make different, new friends in college.

Everything’s going to change, isn’t it? I suppose Baz had already come to this realization when he realized Niall and I were in love with each other.

I just hope that no matter what, we still have this in ten years. The three of us in a random café, Baz and I trying to trick the other into paying while Niall eats more than  the both of us.

I hope we never stop being the Minions.

***


BAZ

The Christmas musical is today, and I got Simon a ticket.

I’m not nervous; Dev and I have been doing this for years. We’re not even part of the drama club; they want us to join their performances every year.

I do feel a little smug knowing that Simon is coming to the show just to see me.

All these years it had only been mine and Dev’s families, and Niall’s family – Saoirse has always been there to cheer Dev and I on, even if Niall wasn’t part-taking. The fact that Simon is coming solely to see me is exciting. It’s hardly a secret how impressed he is when watching me on the football pitch. And the violin has always meant more to me; always made me feel more. I hope he enjoys watching me play this, too.

I hope it makes him feel something.

I’ve made a mostly complete recovery since Tuesday. My throat is just a bit sore, but luckily there’s no speaking or singing involved for my part. A good thing, since I still sound like my throat has been rubbed raw with sandpaper.

After paying the bill for these idiots, I sneak into the kitchen behind the café to visit Simon. That’s not really allowed, but only the baristas saw me, and they’ve known about Simon and I  since before even we did. They’d suspected we were dating long before either of us tried to do anything about it.

Simon looks up at me as I enter, with flour in his hair and a lopsided grin on his face. He looks pleasantly surprised by my arrival, and he greets me warmly.

“Dev, Niall, and I just came for lunch.” I explain, “I figured I’d find you back here.”

“I’ll come take your order in a minute.” He says.

“Oh – oh, no. we ate already …”

Simon frowns, “did you pay?”

Does he really think I’d come searching for him just so I can get out of paying?

Does he not realize I’m a trust fund brat? Niall came to this realization about both, Dev and I, early on – he has no remorse about us paying for everything.

“Yes, Snow. Sometimes I can pay in this establishment.”

The frown on his face suggests otherwise.

“I just wanted to give you this before I head out,” I hand him the envelope, “Dev and I need to head to the theatre for a final rehearsal, and I need to dress up,”

Simon dusts his flour-covered hands on his apron – Simon looks delicious in an apron – and takes the envelope from me. He opens it to find his ticket to the show tonight and beams up at me.

“Thanks, Baz,” he smiles widely, “how much was it?” he asks, reaching into his pocket in a gesture I can only describe as Simon searching for his wallet.

“Absolutely not,” I roll my eyes, shutting that down immediately, “you’re not paying me for the ticket, goodness, Snow,”

“I don’t need charity.” Simon objects.

“I’m glad,” I say, “and this is not charity. You’re coming to a show to see me, it’s just a ticket, and I refuse to let you pay for it.”

He opens his mouth to protest.

“This is non-negotiable, Simon,”

Simon sighs. “Well, can I at least buy you flowers?”

How can he just say these things? Ask me these questions and expect me to continue, entirely unaffected?

“If you want to.” I allow, talking at the tiles to avoid his eyes as my face burns up.

Simon smiles – no, he beams at me. No one has ever been this happy about being allowed to spend money on another individual.

“Okay,” Simon smiles, excited, “do you have a favorite?”

“a favorite?”

“a favorite flower?” Simon asks, “you’re not allergic to any of them, are you? you’d better tell me if you are, I think that’s important information to know about your boyfriend.”

Simon Snow is going to be the death of me. Death by blushing.

“Not that I know of. I don’t really have a favorite …. I’ve never really received flowers before, to be honest.”

Why am I telling him all of this? Apparently, you give me a little bit of honesty and I open up the floodgates. Soon I’ll be asking him if he wants children.

“Okay,” Simon says like it’s a promise, “I’ll pick something nice.”

“I’m sure you will.” You literal Prince Charming.

“Do I need to wear a suit?” Simon asks.

“Do you own a suit?”

Simon shrugs, “not really,”

Was Simon going to go hire a suit just to attend a play? Or was I going to have to lend him a suit? I almost want to say yes, just for the excuse to lend him one of my suits. I have a charcoal suit that Simon would look gorgeous in.

“You don’t need to wear a suit, just wear a neat shirt if you have one. Or it doesn’t really matter what you wear, you won’t be on stage,”

Simon and I smile at each other and banter for a little while longer. He tells me about what he’s currently baking – scones – and he wishes me well for the show. I won’t see him until then, and I may not get to speak to him until afterward.

“Do you have Niall’s number?” I ask when I’m about ready to leave, “he’ll be there to, maybe you could sit with him.”

“I’ll ask Dev for it.”

I nod. For some reason, this is starting to feel like a bit much. Simon Snow is coming to watch me play. He’s coming to the musical for me. He’s buying me flowers. He’s sitting with Niall.

You did this to yourself, Pitch.

“Is Niall heading over early with you and Dev?” he asks.

“No, he’ll join us later on, with his mum, she comes to all our shows. Dev and I are just going earlier for rehearsal.”

“Will I be sitting with Niall’s family, too?” he asks nervously.

“You don’t have to, I just thought it would be better if you knew someone there.”

“Yeah,” Simon nods, “yeah I’ll sit with him. Penny will be there, too,”

“Oh?”

“Her family goes every year,” he explains, “her brother is part of the production crew.”

“How come you’ve never gone before?”

Simon shrugs, “I’ve never had a reason to.”

“So… am I your reason now, Snow?” I tease.

“Baz,” he smiles at me softly, “you’re my reason for a lot of things.”

***


NIALL

I figured when Baz started dating Simon, that Dev and I would have to become friends with him.

I figured we’d invite him to the pub with us where I can make him feel like part of the group and Dev can interrogate him every time Baz looks away, or for lunch with us somewhere he doesn’t work. Honestly, I was thinking along the lines of double-date.

Simon Snow beat me to it, though.

He just called and invited me to go flower shopping with him.

This is not what I expected.

I’m pretty sure he meant it along the lines of, I can buy Dev flowers whilst he buys Baz flowers… I don’t think Simon knows how to effectively communicate with guy friends – he’s only ever seen with Bunce, Wellbelove, or the team.

Anyway, flower buying is now a whole thing.

But, if Simon Snow is attempting to make friends with me, I’ll take the step for Baz. So now I’m strolling through the florist with Simon Snow, and my mum is giving him a ride to the showcase afterward.

Simon is aimlessly scanning the shelves of bouquets, pointing at what he thinks looks nice.

It’s pretty obvious that the bloke has never bought flowers for anyone before – surprising since he dated Wellbelove for a solid amount of time and she seems like the type to remind him to buy her flowers.

Simon’s not subtle about comparing the price tags – there’s nothing wrong with that, I’m not rich – so I wonder a bit away and pretend not to notice.

It’s sweet really, that even with Snow’s limited means and money, he still wants to spend some of it on Baz. 

But we don’t need to go about our flower-shopping escapades the same way – I had plans to buy Dev flowers before Simon Snow called – so I stick to my initial plan and head over to the florist. Just because I’m bisexual doesn’t mean I know anything about buying flowers.

“Hi,” I greet the florist warmly. “I’m looking for a bouquet for my boyfriend, he’s playing the piano for our school’s musical tonight, and I want something sort of … romantic, but maybe that also says Goodluck? He gets nervous before he performs for large groups of people. Do you have any ideas?”

The florist is a small, wrinkly old lady who frowns slightly at my declaration of unapologetic gayness.

It’s pretty ridiculous in my opinion, to work in a flower shop and be homophobic. I can’t be the first queer person here. But I’m still a paying customer, so she has to assist me as if I were shopping for my girlfriend – which I imagine she’s pretending I am.

I end up getting Dev a bouquet of light pink peonies – which symbolize good fortune while still being romantic - separated by baby’s breath.

Simon’s strategy is to avoid the homophobic old lady altogether and takes to googling flower language.

“It’s a good thing you told me that different flowers mean different things,” Simon says, “I had no idea. I’d hate to buy Baz a break-up flower. He’d probably know, too.”

“But you’re still avoiding the florist at all costs?” I smirk.

“Yes.” He says seriously. “Now that I know there’s a thing called flower language, I’ll just google it. it’s better than explaining why I have a boyfriend against her better judgement. She’ll probably make me buy an anti-gay flower.”

“Surely that’s not a thing,”

Simon shrugs.

He settles on a bouquet showcasing lilacs. I didn’t ask what it symbolizes – that seems personal – but he was really excited about it, so I ought to mention to Baz to do some research on flower language later.

It’s time to head home before we know it. Mum is driving us to the showcase, and she’s more than happy to accommodate Simon, despite having never met him before.

I’ve never bothered branching out beyond Dev and Baz before, so I’d assume my bringing home a new friend makes her happy. Especially since these days, one of my best friends is my new boyfriend, leaving me with just the one platonic friend.

When Simon mentions that his flowers are for Baz, mum loses her mind. She’s so excited – she loves Baz like one of her own – and demands that Snow tells her the whole story.

Which he does, animatedly. Clearly, Snow doesn’t realize that the dare is a topic we’ve been keeping from our parents this whole time.

He tells my mother everything, and she gives me her best we will talk about this later look in the review mirror.

I don’t see how this is on me when it was Baz’s dare and Dev’s idea, but I have a feeling we’re all about to get a lecture on respecting ourselves and others, and shit like that.

“Oh my god,” Simon whisper-shouts as we make our way over to the front row, “it’s the homophobic lady!”

“The homophobic lady?” my older sister asks me, concerned. No doubt she’s mentally preparing herself to fight an old lady.

Simon is right, though. A few rows to the left sit’s the florist from earlier, skimming through her program.

“The florist,” I explain to my sister, “when I’d mentioned that I was buying flowers for my boyfriend, she did a complicated thing with her face. Didn’t say anything though.”

“Okay,” says my sister casually, “I’ll push her down the stairs, but I won’t say anything so it’s fine,”

My mother sighs, “one of these days, one of my kids is going to get arrested.

“Probably Niall,” my sister agrees. “For killing innocent pedestrians while trying to drive.”

I tug on her hair – hard – she shoves me, my mother frowns. “You really should do something about that before college, Niall. Do you want to go to a proper driving school?”

“Nah, Dev will teach me,”

“Sure, because Dev has nothing better to do,” my sister teases.

“This is correct,” I agree.

We take our seats.

“I wonder what she’s doing here,” says Simon, still staring at the florist.

I shrug, “she must have a grandkid around here somewhere,”

Simon frowns, “imagine having her as a grandmother,” and honestly, I find the sentiment hilarious.

Simon – an orphan – is more horrified by the idea of having this harmless old homophobic lady as a grandmother than his reality of not having a grandmother at all.

“oh, there’s your driving instructor now,” my sister elbows me, pointing at Dev who is hiding behind the opened curtains. He’s backstage, grinning and waving at me excitedly.

The theatre is starting to fill up now. It’s always a full house for their Christmas show.

Dev must be nervous, especially because he’s the only one on piano, so if he messes up it’s noticeable. But he’s always amazing.

Simon flags down Bunce eventually, who ditches her family to settle down on the other side of Simon. She’s pretty obviously hiding from somebody; glancing around the room wildly and sinking down in her chair suspiciously.

Simon seems too happy to see her to bother questioning her skeptical behavior. Or maybe he already knows what's going on. I don’t get a chance to ask her about it (or to ask her about the Date Me, Baz Pitch! Facebook page) because soon enough the lights are going down.

***


SIMON

Baz looks amazing up there.

He’s wearing an ink blue suit with pink flowers, paired with a light pink silky-looking shirt. He looks marvelous.

If I were to wear that outfit, I’d end up looking like a sofa. But not Baz; he looks like he just strutted out of a men’s fashion magazine. And I don’t just mean his clothes – which are very nice – I mean him. He looks like he belongs on a magazine cover.

I’ve always known that Baz plays the violin. I’ve heard him play before when I hid outside his practices – just to make sure he wasn’t actually plotting. But I’ve never watched him play before. Not like this. I so rarely get an excuse to just stare at him, just watch him without an excuse. I’ve always done so under the pretense of doing something else.

But not tonight. Tonight, I get to just … watch him.

And what a high that is. The spotlight hits Baz like he’s born to be in it. I wouldn’t be surprised if he was – born and destined for fame, that is.

He’s easily the best-dressed person up there. It hardly seems fair, he’s not even one of the cast, let alone one of the main actors, and he looks better than both the leads.

His hair is down tonight; slicked back away from his face. It makes him look all dressed-up and dramatic. I personally like it loose, or in a bun, but he still looks gorgeous like this.

He’s a work of art; his violin tucked under his chin, and his eyes closed as he loses himself in the music.

He’s amazing. It’s all I can think, watching him.

You’re amazing.

This boy is amazing.

So, I just watch him, for three hours. I watch him as he plays, and I watch him as he watches the play during the scenes when the orchestra is quiet.

He’s scanned the crowd a few times, but we haven’t made eye contact – Niall tells me that they can’t see us from the stage, beyond all the lights. That makes sense.

I like to think that Baz is looking for me in the crowd, though. That even though he knows he probably won’t recognize me from his place up on stage, behind the lights, I like to think he’s looking for me anyway.

Merlin knows I haven’t stopped looking at him.


NIALL

Snow is whipped.

It’s kind of nice to see since I know Baz has it worse, but Snow is entirely taken with him.

We’ve been watching this play for nearly three hours now – we’re nearing the final act – and I’d argue that he has no idea what it’s about.

He’s just been staring at Baz this entire time.

I’ve been doing my fair share of staring at my boyfriend, but I watched at least some of the musical itself – I could at least give you a summary of what’s going on. Of whom the lead characters are.

Snow could not.

Meanwhile, Penny isn’t being subtle about her crisis of hiding from someone.


SIMON

Penny is hiding from Shepherd, although I can’t for the life of me figure out why.

Oh! Baz is playing again.


NIALL

Eventually – after an amazing performance by all involved parties – the curtains close.

Penny practically crawls back to where her family is seated, in the midst of the chaos of clapping hands and a standing ovation.

We make our way outside to wait for the boys, and that’s when it gets awkward. Because usually, my family would wait with the Grimm’s and Pitch’s. But across the walkway, just a few meters away, is Dev’s mother, and she’s glaring at the Peonies in my hand.


SIMON

I’m still standing with Niall and his family after the show; we’re outside the theatre now, waiting on Baz and Dev.

At some point, I turned around and Penny had disappeared, but I don’t have time to be concerned about that right now, because Baz is making his way over with Dev on his tail.

Dev looks nervous. He’s looking at us and his eyes keep darting behind us. Baz leans close, telling him something in hushed whispers. Dev nods absentmindedly.

“is everything okay?” I lean over and whisper to Niall.

“Dev’s family is here,” he whispers back, “they’re not on board with us dating as yet.  He doesn’t know whether to go to them or us first.”

I turn around to find not only two individuals I’m fairly sure are Dev’s parents, but also Baz’s parents. But by the time I turn back around, Baz has reached us and is smiling down at me.

“Hey, Snow,” he smiles as Niall’s mother takes Dev in her arms.

“hey,” I beam at him, “gosh, Baz you’re gorgeous! And you were amazing, that was brilliant!” I hand him the flowers.

“Thank you,” he smiles shyly.

Our moment is cut short by Niall’s mother pulling Baz into her arms as well, squeezing him as he pats her back reassuringly.

My flowers are still cradled in his arms.

Dev and Niall are speaking in hushed tones and Dev still looks nervous, but he’s sniffing his flowers subtly, a small smile threatening his features.


BAZ

“Come with me,” Dev says, taking Niall’s hand in his own.

“where?” Niall looks up in confusion but doesn’t let go of his hand.

“To my parents. Come with me.”

“I don’t think they’re ready for me, yet,” Niall says softly, looking at the ground.

I hate seeing him like this. He’s already so small. I hate seeing him feel smaller.

Clearly, Dev feels the same way.

He’s been handling everything post-coming-out with a level of understanding and avoidance out of respect for his parents adapting. But he looks fired up, right now. He’s not hiding Niall anymore. He’s not letting Niall feel ashamed.

This has been coming for a while.

“I think you should both come,” I say as Saoirse releases me. “if you’re up for it, Snow?”

Simon looks temporarily flabbergasted – that’s fair, I sprung this on him – but he rallies. He juts his chin forward - fighting stance. And then I know he’s ready to take on my father. Or a war.

So, I take Simon’s hand in my own – the one that isn’t holding my flowers – and Dev takes Niall’s hand, and we head off towards our respective families like we’re marching into battle.

***


NIALL

“Mum, Dad,” Dev greets his parents as we approach them holding hands. He clears his throat awkwardly, “you know Niall.”

Yeah, no shit babe.

They’ve only practically been my surrogate family my entire life. They hosted my fucking farewell party not a week ago, but sure, introduce me to them like your new bride.

This couldn’t possibly be more awkward.

I think it feels worse because they used to love me before this.

Dev and Baz’s parents had always trusted me to bring them home in one piece, to not let them be too impulsive or amp each other up into doing dumb shit. Dev and Baz both have good heads on them, until they get together and encourage each other to do dumb shit, and when you have the means these two have, their ideas are rarely harmless.

Now, Mrs. Grimm watches me with an uncertain expression. She’s staring at our interlocked hands like she can’t quite fathom what it means. Mr. Grimm looks severely uncomfortable and almost constipated.

Apparently, this is the ideal time to introduce your new beau to your very uncomfortable family, because this is exactly what Baz does.

“Father, mother,” he steps forward, his hand cradling Simon’s lower back subtly, “this is Simon Snow; my boyfriend.”

I’d imagine that at any other time, Baz’s father would turn down his nose at his son’s boyfriend. He’d be less than enthused in accepting the irrefutable proof of Baz’s sexuality.

Baz has been out for years, and yet Malcolm's idea of accepting him has involved ignoring his sexuality until it went away.

But Malcolm has just given his brother a speech about how having a queer son isn’t the end of the world, and that your relationship with your son is more important.

So, he raises his chin and nods at Baz in acknowledgment.

Daphne – bless her – breaks the ice by warmly greeting Simon.

I suppose I could be jealous of Simon’s reception (Daphne is squeezing the boy half to death right now, and no ones bothered hugging me.) but I know it’s not a reflection of their feelings towards me. They’ve always been fond of me.

I’d imagine that if Dev absolutely has to be gay, they’d rather he dates me than someone with values they don’t agree with or someone they can’t trust with their boy. And I know that their acceptance of me isn’t even for me, it would be for Dev – it would be them accepting his choice of partner, not so much about me.

And that’s why I feel sad. I don’t feel jealous of Simon, because it’s nothing personal. I just feel sad for Dev that by not accepting me, they’re not accepting him, and his feelings, and his choices.

I turn to Baz, instead. He’s watching Daphne gush over Simon with a soft look in his eyes, and at that moment, I know this dare is definitely done for good.

***


BAZ

Daphne – bless her – breaks the ice.

Dev’s parents tear their eyes away from Niall to stare at Simon. I feel somewhat guilty for using introducing Simon to my family as a distraction to take the heat off Niall, but honestly, Simon doesn’t seem to mind, I don’t know how long he’s planning on ‘dating’ me so I’d rather take advantage of the situation, and both Dev and Niall really fucking needed a distraction.

There’s a tense set to Dev’s shoulders. I’d imagine he’s not happy about his declaration being glazed over. He just introduced Niall as his boyfriend and didn’t get acknowledged at all.

“There’s an afterparty at Lily’s house,” Dev tells our parents. “I’ll be home late,” he turns defiantly to his father.

“Be safe.” His mother says formally.

She’s probably grateful for the opportunity to talk about anything other than our joint queerness.

“don’t drink and drive,” says my uncle, “you’d rather spend the night, or take an uber back home.”

“no need,” I say, “I won’t be drinking tonight.”

“you can if you want to,” says Simon. He has a hand placed gently on my shoulder, and he’s leaning close to me. My father must be imploding. “I won’t.”

“You don’t have a car, Snow.”

“I could drive the Porsche,” Simon teases, which would probably be cute if we weren’t having this conversation in front of my father, who bought me the Porsche, and looks like he’s having an aneurysm.

Soon enough Niall’s mother and sister join us, and then the adults converse casually.

Dev’s parents may be able to act like Niall no longer exists, but they can’t play that game with Saoirse – a woman they’ve been friends with their entire lives. Someone who’s been watching their kid for his entire life.

We wander to the parking lot where we run into Lily, surrounded by flowers, family, and a starstruck-looking Jackson.

Jackson watches her like she, personally, hung the stars in the sky and I’ve never been more glad that things didn’t work out for me and a hot guy.

In another life where I’m not in love with Simon Snow, perhaps I would have given him a chance.

But in this life, Lily is his endgame.

They’re beautiful together. And if I played any part in leading them to each other, I’m fucking glad.


(drama) LILY

"you got me lilies?" I smile up at Jackson. 

He looks beautiful today. He put in an actual effort to dress up a little more formally and a little less... stylishly? He got me flowers, lilies, a little on the nose - I love them. 

"I considered getting you roses," he says, "I visited your grannies flower shop earlier? I saw some pretty bouquets and I nearly got you roses but I just..." he tugs on his hair, struggling for the words, "it felt romantic but it didn't feel like you... lilies just felt ... right. The most appropriate. The most you." 

I smell my lilies, my beautiful lilies, from my beautiful boy. 

I guess I get to say that. Mine. We didn't have that conversation again, we aren't officially dating, but this feels more real and committed than it ever did with Jace, who I was actually dating. 

"you didn't have to," I remind him. 

Jackson leans forward, brushing away a few strands of hair from my face, "you deserve flowers." he says simply. "You deserve flowers every time you get off the stage. And I'd be honoured to be the one to give them to you." 

 


BAZ

Speaking of Simon Snow, he’s currently whisper-yelling at Niall right now, the two of them having a very … enthusiastic conversation.

“what is going on?” Dev scolds them both.

“that lady!” Niall whispers urgently, gesturing vaguely at the old woman I can only assume is Lily’s grandmother, “she’s homophobic! Well, kind of. She wasn’t too glad about me buying you flowers,”

“what?” Dev sums up my thoughts exactly.

“she’s the florist we bought yours and Baz’s flowers from,” Simon says, “she was homophobic, and we were trying to figure out what she was doing here,”

“Now to be fair, she’s not the most homophobic individual I’ve ever encountered,” Niall reasons, “but when I told her I was buying flowers for my boyfriend, she was less than enthused,”

“That doesn’t make her homophobic,” says Dev.

“she was on board before she found out that I was particularly buying flowers for my boyfriend,” Niall argues, “if you were my girlfriend, she wouldn’t have pulled her face!”

“and pull face she did!” Simon agrees heatedly.

What the fuck were these two up to today.

“did you two go flower shopping together?” Dev asks incredulously, looking between Simon and Niall.

Simon smirks, it’s a beautiful thing. “well, our boyfriends were the stars of the musical,”

“we were hardly even in the musical,” I object.

“the stars,” Niall agrees, “what were we gonna do? Not show up with flowers?”

“you’ve been coming to our shows for years,” Dev points out.

“sure, but you weren’t bae, back then,”

“I was too! You said I was always!”

“it was a secret though, and that wouldn’t have lasted long if I showed up at your show with flowers,”

“now that’s not necessarily true,” I say, “no one would have suspected anything if you got me flowers, too,”

“oh, I don’t like that arrangement,” says Simon.

“Ty!” Smiles Lily, “Dev! Hey, you guys were amazing! I mean to no one’s surprise, but really you were amazing!”

“well look who’s talking,” I lean down to give her a hug, “you were the star of the show,”

“to no one’s surprise,” smirks Dev, leaning down to hug Lily as well.

Lily shrugs, shyly, “I was alright,”

“you were amazing,” says Jackson, smiling down at her with the fondest of expressions. That boy’s in love.

Lily glances up at him for a millisecond before averting her eyes, her cheeks flushing.

“hey,” smiles Niall angelically at Lily’s granny, and I know he’s about to do some dumb shit.

Niall is an angel most of the time, but he’s also a little shit. Especially when it comes to homophobes. He just hasn’t built up the tolerance for them, since his family has always been so accepting.

“Mrs.… florist? I got flowers from you today,” he smiles politely and it’s absolute bullshit, “for my boyfriend, this is Dev, my boyfriend,” he pulls Dev against him by the elbow, “he was on the piano!”

“Oh you met grammy!” Lily beams, oblivious to the discomfort of the situation, “grammy this is Dev and Baz, they’re the only reason our musicals are competent, they help us out for the Christmas musicals every year even though they aren’t in the drama club – although you could say they’re basically honorary members at this point,” she smiles at us, “and this is Niall – are you guys officially dating now?” she beams at Niall “adorable! I ship it so so hard!!! And this is Simon! He’s one of my close friends!”

“Also, I’m dating Baz these days,” Simon says casually, and Lily really does shriek this time, jumping up and down in excitement before tackling Simon in a hug.

Lily’s grandmother looks heavily scandalized, but she does nod in greeting at all of us.

Jackson smirks at me, congratulating me with very engaging eye contact.

It’s strange; Simon telling people casually that we’re together when this is something I’ve dreamed about for a longer time than I could remember. He says it like it’s something casual and not entirely thrilling and frightening.

It feels like I’m waiting for the other ball to drop. Waiting for him to say ‘haha just kidding,’ or to just let me know that he changed his mind about me. About this, and us.

When you’ve wanted something this badly, for this long, it feels surreal to just be handed it so casually.

“Are you guys coming to the after party?” Lily asks us hopefully.

“Simon?” I turn to him.

“I’ll be right back,” he says distractedly, observing the Bunces on the other end of the lot, “I need to check in on Penny.”

***


PENNY

Shepherd comes over after the play and bows to my parents.

Why does he bow? I don’t know, why does anyone bow when meeting someone who isn’t the queen?

But bow he does and it’s altogether exceptionally awkward. My father is amused, and my mother is looking at him like he’s something she wants to squish with her shoe.

“Mr., Mrs. Bunce,” he says politely after straightening up, “did you like the show?”

“We did,” says my dad, “were you a part of the crew or cast?”

“Oh, neither, but I do love the theatre, I was here as a spectator.”

“Delightful,” says my mother.

 She gives me a look the says wrap this up, now.

I pull Shepherd away by the sleeve until we’re out of earshot.

“Why are you bowing at my parents,” I hiss at him.

“You look really pretty tonight,” he smiles at me. “did you get a chance to think about what I asked you?”

shepherdd,” I groan.

“Penelope,” he smiles down at me, “it’s okay if you need more time. It’s also okay if the answer is no. I just … I didn’t want you to shut the idea down before you even gave it any thought.”

I sigh.

“I’m not saying no, Shepherd, it’s just not the best time.”

“that’s fair,” he says patiently, “when would be a better time?”

“what?”

“it’s not convenient for you right now. That’s fine. When would you prefer I ask you out.”

“it doesn’t work that way,”

“it works whatever way you want it to, Penelope,” he says, “you call the shots, I’m just here to be in awe of you, and try my best to keep up.”

***


 

Chapter Text

Sunday, January 3rd

NIALL

We’re on my bed.

By we, I mean Dev and myself – Satan is relaxing on the floor next to the bed. Dev brought him over because I’ve missed him and I’m still boycotting Dev’s house like the plague.

Dev sits back against the headboard watching shitty YT videos on his phone, one hand carding delicately through my hair. I’m laying across the bed with my head pillowed on his lap, reading a book.

Domestic bliss. I’ve never felt more content. This comfort. The thrill of this being normal, of being able to get this just by asking – or not even needing to. This … love.

Dev and I don’t always need to actively entertain each other when we hang out. We don’t need to give up any of our hobbies to spend time together – but we still put in the effort to go on dates every now and then. Most of the time we just hang out doing whatever we would have been doing anyway, but together. It’s the togetherness we crave.

 I think we’ve always craved it.

Right now, this is a whole date - lazing around in my room, with Satan staring at us like he understands that we’re boyfriends now, but that he would still like to be taken for a walk and be the center of attention.

I flip to the next page of my book.

Dev is smiling at his phone in amusement, he does that a lot lately – he’s discovered this Youtuber who watches the first episode of a series and then skips to the series finale without context and does voiceover commentary where he’s just basically confused and judgmental. I think it’s rubbish, honestly, but Dev finds it hilarious. He watches those videos while I read.

“Oh!” Dev exclaims. He sits up abruptly; ripping his earphones from his ears and then ripping them out of his phone altogether, answering the call. I wonder if he realizes he could have answered the call with his earphones on. I don’t ask.

He’s so cute.

“It’s Baz,” he informs me.

“Bazzy,” I sing-song at the same time that Dev greets, “Basilton.”

He switches the call to speakerphone.

“Niall,” Baz acknowledges, “Dev, you motherfucker.” He argues.

“I haven’t fucked a single mother,” Dev assures me. I roll my eyes.

“It’s you!” Baz exclaims, “It’s! You!”

“– what’s me?” Dev asks suspiciously.

it’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you,” I sing, “everything I do,”

Dev sticks a finger in my mouth to shut me up, pressing down against my tongue.

“Did he die?” Baz asks.

“I’m choking him.” Dev supplies.

“Kinky.” Baz and I say at the same time – me mumbling a little less coherently around Dev’s finger.

 “what’s me?” Dev presses.

“You’re behind the Date Me, Baz Pitch! Facebook Page!”

“we’ve been through this!” Dev raises his voice.

I start sucking on Dev’s finger like a baby bottle. He pulls it out quickly and throws me a nervous glare. I smirk at him triumphantly (and slightly horny, honestly.)

After nearly two months of the ‘Date Me, Baz Pitch!’ dare dominating Monday mornings at Watford, the dare has officially come to a steamy end. Apparently, even our very own notoriously single golden boy Baz Pitch could hardly withstand the temptations of dating a new hottie every week,” Baz recites, “So what eventually brought the dare to a withering end? Did Baz break one of the commandments? – when did we agree to fucking call them commandments? Or has Baz Pitch finally found love, and chosen it above being crowned Watford’s own forever-single stud? Rumor has it, it’s the latter! To protect their privacy, this author will not disclose the information regarding the subject of Baz’s affection, - gee, thanks Dev. You may be an arsehole but at least you didn’t fully kick me out of the closet,” Baz says flatly.

I guess he solely believes that Dev is behind the Facebook page, then.

Baz continues reading, “- but you can be sure that it’s steamy. And if the previous terms of the dare stand – as we can be sure that Dare Chancellor Bunce will ensure that they do – we should be seeing Watford’s newest lovebirds at the Valentines Ball together. One thing’s for certain, the dare may be over, but the gossip has only just begun! Who knew you were such a gossip girl, Dev?” Baz instigates.

“You can’t seriously believe that that whole thing was me.” Dev says in disbelief.

“I was joking when I said it was you the first time – well, mostly – but now I’m certain. Who else knows these details? No one but you guys know that the dare is over, I haven’t even told the school yet, or come out, it shouldn’t be up on the Facebook Page yet!”

“So, you trust your new boytoy more than your own cousin, is that it?” Dev retorts, annoyed.

He’s stopped brushing through my hair, which is disappointing.

 “It could just as easily have been Simon stating that the dare is over, just to make sure that it really is over, but not wanting to hurt you by outing you just yet. And you did say that he mentioned going to the ball with you.”

“Simon didn’t do this,” Baz dismisses.

“I get it,” Dev sits up, pulling away from me. He’s getting heated. “Simon couldn’t have done this because he’s too pure, but I could have?”

“you’re the one who got me involved in this stupid dare in the first place! this was all your idea!”

“and that’s what got you out of your comfort zone enough to end up dating Simon in the first place!” Dev argues.

“That happened because Simon and I were put in a situation where we had to spend consistent hours together, because I was his tutor! That would have happened with or without the dare, stop trying to make yourself feel better about essentially whoring me off, by taking the credit for my relationship!”

I should stop this before one or both of them says something they regret, but they’re both heated, and I don’t really know how to placate this.

“Simon asked you out because of the dare!”

“Simon explicitly asked me out not for the dare!”

“Okay,” I coo, “lets calm down and talk about this. Let’s meet up for lunch, yeah?”

“No!” they both yell.

I pull the phone away from Dev, “Baz, I get that you’re angry,”

“– I am!”

“but Dev insists that he isn’t the one who made the website, and under all your anger you know that he wouldn’t lie. Dev does some dumb shit,”

“- hey!”

“ - but it’s always something he can take credit for, or what’s the point?”

I glance at Dev to see him fuming at these accusations. But I know that these feelings run deeper than that. He also feels guilty for getting Baz involved in any of this.

He was so mad at Baz when he came up with the idea for the dare, because Baz had been trying to push him to come out to me and tell me about his feelings, and he just wanted to prove that although he was scared of rejection, so was Baz. Little did he know; the only reason Baz was trying so hard to get him to talk to me, was because his feelings were requited. By the time he found out, he’d already put Baz in this uncomfortable position.

The dare may have been fun at times, but it definitely caused more drama and unnecessary stress for Baz in his senior year than it was worth.

“Simon wouldn’t do this!” Baz argues, but he’s tamer than he was when he was arguing with Dev directly. I think it’s because they’re too alike, they egg each other on. If Baz is fire, so is Dev. They intensify the effects of each other. I’m the air; I try to keep them controlled without putting them out entirely. And I keep them alive, honestly.

Or maybe it’s just because they’re related so they have a free pass at being assholes to each other.

“No, I agree, I don’t think it was Simon,” I assure Baz, “there’s a list of candidates, and we need to consider the possibilities thoroughly before making assumptions.”

Baz is quiet, which means that he knows I have a point, so he’s not going to argue with me, but he’s also not happy about it.

“Like, when I guessed Bunce, I was joking. But for all we know, it could have been her!” I continue, “she would have just as much information as us on the dare and your relationship – because best friend privileges – but she would never share it out of malice, which explains why this person obviously knows about Simon but didn’t out either of you, and not to mention that Bunce’s name was mentioned in the article!”

Baz makes a noise. Hesitant consideration.

“It just doesn’t sound like her. She wouldn’t bother.” He says after a moment.

“Oh, but it sounds like me?” Dev instigates, hurt.

I wrap my free arm around Dev’s waist, pulling him close and leaning my forehead against his chest. He stills. Pauses pacing.

He frowns and fusses and pouts, but he doesn’t pull away.

“Maybe!” Baz argues in exasperation. But at this point, I think they’re both just arguing for the sake of arguing.

“My point is, there are many people it could be. Lily and Jackson both know – heck, even Lily’s homophobic granny knows and she seems way more likely to be a cyber villain mastermind than Dev does!”

Dev gives me a look that can only be described as ‘really?’

“because you’re not bias,” Baz replies.

I sigh. “I’d bet Agatha knows, too, since she’s so close to both Simon and Penny. And a number of people could have overheard us after the show, when you literally introduced Simon to your family as your boyfriend. Or seen you guys at the afterparty – you were not subtle.”

“There was nothing to see!” Baz argues.

“Just because it was eye-fucking and not the traditional kind, doesn’t mean we couldn’t all pick up on the vibes,”

“ – plus tipsy Simon was very obsessed with the softness of your hair,” comments Dev.

“aah yes,” I agree, “I believe he compared it to the delicate touch of a butterfly’s wing,”

Baz groans through the speaker.

“Look,” I say seriously, “all I’m saying is, we all have suspicions but we don’t know who’s behind the website, and pointing fingers at each other isn’t going to help. But you don’t need to stress about this! They haven’t posted anything off-limits, I don’t think the point of it is to make you look bad, honestly. If they know this much then they’ve figured out your sexuality and they haven’t outed you – and honestly, you know it’s not Dev. you know he wouldn’t do this. You just want to pick a fight so you’re doing something.”

Baz makes an incomprehensible noise. You’re right but that doesn’t mean I need to be happy about it, it says.

“Calm down, lad. Snog your boyfriend. It’s an effective coping mechanism.”

That gets Dev to grin. I can almost hear Baz rolling his eyes at me through the phone.

“They’re annoying,” says Dev, softly, “but I don’t think they’re dangerous. It will be okay, mate.”

Baz sighs. Baz has been sighing a lot since the beginning of this dare.

“Okay. Yeah, you’re right. Sorry, Dev. We really do need to figure out who this character is, though. And why they know so much about my life!”

“we will,” Dev reassures him. “Now go fetch Snow for your date or studying or whatever, Niall and I will bring Satan by later on his walk,”

“Oh, Good!” Baz gushes, “I haven’t seen him in forever, I want to introduce him to Tweety! I’m not really sure which one of them would be the bigger threat!”

We hang up on Baz shortly after, curling up in my bed for cuddles, sleepy kisses.

***


 

SIMON

“So… now that we’re dating …. Is it weird that you’re my tutor?”

Baz’s cheeks flush. Have I always been able to get Baz this unsettled? This… flustered, just by saying that we’re dating? This power feels very recent. He’s always so in control. No matter how much I push him, he always stands his fucking ground.

It feels amazing turning him into a gooey mess.

Baz clears his throat, “I think I’m just your boyfriend now, Snow. I’m just helping you with biology, I’m not technically your tutor anymore,”

He’s trying to get back control. I can’t have that.

“Well, what’s different now than before? about the studying situation, I mean.”

“Well, you don’t have to pay me. it’s not a transaction, I just want to help.”

“I wasn’t really paying you before…”

“I ate far more than my regular fees in pastries and coffee,” Baz assures me.

“I still want to bring you those things!”

“I mean, you could. Then you’d be a boyfriend who spoils me, though, it wouldn’t be in direct transaction to the tutoring because I’m no longer charging you for those.”

“So, I’d be ... like, your literal sugar daddy?” I smirk.

Baz’s composure evaporates. The intended response, of course.

Baz rolls his eyes trying to feign being unaffected, but it does nothing to cover up his reddening cheeks. He shoves me playfully, “Do your work, you absolute nightmare.”

We’re mid-study-date in the greenhouse. Tweety has tagged along once again, which was very alarming for Baz’s family who looked severely concerned when I walked in with a bird perched on my shoulder.

I don’t think that Mr. Grimm approves of me. Whether it’s personal or because I’m a guy is yet to be determined.

Tweety is having a blast. She bullies the smaller birds who’ve found refuge in the greenhouse.

Maybe I should reprimand her. I should probably train her, now that we’ve established that she isn’t going anywhere … but it feels wrong, somehow.

Tweety isn’t a pet. She’s my companion. She sticks around voluntarily. She’s here at her own will, not because I’m making her. I don’t intend to change her. Or control her.

What’s that quote Agatha has as her phone lock screen?

Love her, but leave her wild.

Yeah, that’s the one. I doubt it was intended for a wild raven, but it feels appropriate.

“Everything alright, Snow?” Baz asks, drawing me out of my daydream.

“I just feel bad that she’s bothering your pretty birds. This was their home first. I don’t want them to get hurt.”

And I don’t want to change her. This is her nature.

“I don’t think she’s dangerous,” Baz says, “I think she’s just an arsehole. Now come on, Snow, focus.”

As if I could ever focus on anything but him.

***


NIALL

“Have you ever thought about … leaving London?”

Dev is silent for a moment, considering. We’re a bundle of tangled limbs under the sheets of my bed, breathing in each other’s air.

He leans forward, placing a butterfly-light kiss on my nose.

“It’s always been an option, I think, since I knew you were definitely going to.”

“Are you scared?” he asks after I’ve been silent for a good few minutes, “to move out? Be in a new country on your own?”

“I guess… kind of? But like it’s a normal college kid thing,”

“doesn’t make it any less of a big deal,” he says, “or a big change. You’ll be fine though,” he rushes to reassure me, “You’ve always thrived under pressure. Remember that art contest, the one where you had to, like, fucking go to the event and draw for them live in 20 minutes, in front of everyone?”

I turn into my pillow, groaning. That was a whole disaster. I’d had twenty minutes to sketch out the model they had butt-naked in front of us. He was hot. I got a hard-on in front of everyone. Dev was in the crowd, and I was in love with him. The thought of Dev watching me drawing this naked man, posing in front of me, did nothing to alleviate the horniness.

It was a literal nightmare.

“You were so nervous,” Dev went on, “you said you always drew ten rejects before you settled on a version you liked, so how could you draw live, in front of everyone?”

I remember none of that, honestly. Every time I think about that day I just think public boner.

“And then you walked away with second place,” he smirks, leaning forward and maneuvering me so I’m facing him again, “and I was so fucking proud.”

That gets a laugh out of me. “That’s a blatant lie, you were pissed!”

Dev joins in the laughter, “okay, no. but listen. I really was proud,” he insists, “my anger was just more urgent, you deserved first place, and they gave it to that girl who was like a fucking anatomy major or some shit, it looked more like a drawing for an anatomy textbook than a piece of art. I looked at it and I thought ‘well that’s accurate, but I don’t feel anything’. Your drawing made me feel something – passion, urgency, whatever. But art should make you feel, isn’t that what you always say – that quote? What is it,” he thinks out loud, scrambling through his memory.

Rowell,” I stare at him in awe, “Rainbow Rowell; “Art wasn’t supposed to look nice, it’s supposed to make you feel something.”

“yeah, that one!” he nods.

I just stare at this boy. This boy I love. I haven’t read that book in years. I haven’t quoted it in … a long ass time.

I lean forward, brushing my lips against his. “That’s why you’re a masterpiece.”

***


BAZ

“Hey…Baz?” Simon looks over at me, shy.

He’s chewing at the end of his pen like a Neanderthal. Apparently, I’m attracted to Neanderthals though, because I can’t help but stare at the way his lips wrap around the pen cap.

“Yeah?” I raise an eyebrow at him. Some habits die hard.

“Thanks.”

… “You’re welcome?”

“For tutoring me,” Simon elaborates. “There was no reason for you to say yes, right at the beginning. There was nothing in it for you, in fact it was an inconvenience to you. It would have been easier for you to just tell me to fuck off, and I thought you would, honestly. You didn’t like me back then, in fact you hated me. But you gave me your weekends – for free, even – just because I asked. You don’t know how you saved me. Thank you.”

Those are the most coherent, consecutive sentences I’ve ever heard Simon string together.

What a ridiculous creature; thanking me for giving him a few tutoring lessons. As if I wouldn’t make the world spin backwards if I thought he’d like it better that way.

How does he do this? He’s so earnest, so pure. I know he means every word.

He’s gotten over his nervous stutter around me, I think he’s just less intimidated by me.

I wish I could be half as open about my emotions as he is. But after years of actively repressing my feelings and my sexuality, my reflex is to hide away, retreat.

“That’s not true…” I try, “I didn’t hate you… I tried to. It would have been easier …”

I sigh, “What I feel for you … I’ve always felt it. It was just so strong. So… intense. I could never ignore it or hope for it to burn out. I knew – or well, I thought I knew – you’d never feel the same way. I couldn’t deal with being nothing to you. Fading into the crowd.

I just …”

I pull on my hair, frustrated. How do I explain this without sounding like an utter arsehole?

“If I couldn’t have your love, I’d have your hatred – that’s how I looked at it. I wanted your passion, one way or the other.”

I turn to look at him, slowly. Preparing myself for the hatred in his eyes. Waiting for him to unavoidably see the darkness in me.

He looks a bit stunned, but mostly smug. The idiot.

“Your undivided, all consuming attention. Let’s just say I wasn’t about to be friend zoned. That’s so fucking toxic, I’m sorry.”

Simon watches me carefully for a few minutes.

Then, he reaches across the table, taking my chin between his fingers.

“You have it,” he says simply.

I raise both eyebrows at him.

“My love.” He says like it’s no big deal. “My undivided attention,” he teases, and I have to actively refrain from rolling my eyes. “my passion,” he brushes his thumb over my bottom lip. “You don’t need to fight for it, you never needed to. You don’t need to fight anymore. You have it. Me.”

***


SIMON

Baz is looking at me speechless. I don’t think Baz Pitch has ever, in his life, not known what to say.

I guess I’ll have to take over for a little while, let him find his bearings.

“Actually, about that, I’ve been meaning to ask you something,”

“Yeah?” Baz asks. This is more his arena; me not knowing things and him explaining them.

“that fancy ring Niall started wearing? That’s Dev’s, right? I think I saw crest on it, and he never wore it before he started dating Dev, and I know you fancy families have rich people shit like that…”
“it’s Dev’s signet ring, why?”

“Well… You have one too, then?”

“I have two, actually.”

“Why?” I ask, confused.

“Two surnames,” he explains noncommittedly, “but I mostly wear the Pitch ring. The Grimm ring is identical to Dev’s.”

“And… this is something you give to boyfriends? Or, like, girlfriends, I guess.”

Baz watches me carefully. Like he’s putting the pieces together in his mind – no. Like he’s already put the puzzle pieces together, but he just can’t quite believe the picture.

“Simon …” he says, cautiously. I love when he calls me by my first name. It’s almost like he’s calling me by a pet name or a nickname since he usually calls me Snow out of habit. “Are you asking for– do you want – Would you… like to wear my signet ring?”

I have the ability to make Baz Pitch stutter. Alastair Crowley, I’m living a charmed life.

“If you wanted me to,” I say, “I mean, I know we just started dating, so it doesn’t have to be now… but, some day. But I know its special to you, you don’t need to part with it, I was just asking –”

“You can have it.” He cuts me off, before clearing his throat. “If you want.”

“I do,” I smile happily.

There’s been a lot of smiling lately.

***


DEV

“Pancakes?”

Niall considers his options. A very important decision, clearly.

“I can’t decide.” He frowns.

“food or dessert?”

He contemplates, tugging his pouty bottom lip between his teeth, eyes narrowed at the laminated menu that we both have memorized by now.

“I really don’t know.”

I sigh. “I’ll order pancakes, you order a sandwich, we’ll swap if you change your mind?”

Niall smiles angelically at me – the little brat, “Love you,” he nods.

“yeah, yeah,” I grumble.

I always end up getting pancakes when he doesn’t know what he wants – it’s the one thing he’ll never not want, so we can just swap. It occurs to me that I’ve been spoiling him way before we got together.

I turn to the waiter who – bless her soul – has been patient this whole time.

“Chocolate-chip pancake stack, with maple syrup and chocolate sauce,” I like chocolate sauce, but Niall likes maple syrup, and who knows who’ll end up eating the pancakes? – “and a chai late for me, thank you.” I smile politely, she nods in acknowledgment, scribbling down on her notepad before turning to Niall expectantly.

Niall orders a chicken-and-mayo toastie (my favorite, not his) and a strawberry milkshake.

“Oh, and a side order of chips, please,” I add to our order; Niall likes to dip his chips in his milkshake.

The waiter – Hazel – heads off to get our drinks as Niall smiles at me thoughtfully.

“Do you know what this reminds me of?”

I raise an eyebrow at him. “The other three billion times we’ve come here for lunch?”

“No, idiot,” Niall rolls his eyes. He subconsciously reaches across the table to grab my hand, idly playing with my fingers. “That time you took me for late night cheer-up pancakes and paid with Baz’s card,”

“Baz was treating us, he just didn’t know it,”

“How did you get his card, anyhow?”

“I stole it,” I say simply.

“You suck at being rich,” Niall smirks. Our drinks reach us. Niall leans forward to take a lick of the whipped cream topping his milkshake. It’s positively indecent.

“I think he pissed me off somehow,” I sip my late, “so I was like, ‘you know what will set you straight? You’re gonna pay for us to get late-night pancakes. Without you.’”

Niall laughs. “What did we need cheering up for? I just remember it being comfort food,”

“One of your art exhibits. You didn’t win, and you were bummed out. And I had ditched a game to come watch you which meant we lost and didn’t make the semi’s that year, so I was bummed out, basically the pancakes were essential,”

“Would Watford have won if you’d played?”

I give him a flat look.

“Well at least you’re humble,” he comments sarcastically.

“It was Charles’ first real game!” I protest, “I’m pretty sure that day  birthed Baz’s personal vendetta against him,”

“Poor Charles. Being judged not on the basis of his own talent, but in comparison to yours. There really is no justice in the world.” Niall licks his whipped cream.

“It’s a shame.” I roll my eyes, “Speaking of Charles, I heard Ethan asked him to the dance,”

Niall’s eyebrows furrow in uncertainty.

The thing is – Niall is popular, but he never bothers making friends with other people, he’s just friendly acquaintances with literally everyone (and then there was the periodic hook-up).

Point is, Niall has no idea who Ethan is.

“Ethan from rugby? One of the participants of the famous locker-room fight over Baz,”

Niall’s eyes widen.

“Oh! But – I’m almost certain Charles is straight. I got no vibes, and my gaydar is almost always accurate,”

“Oh? You got no vibes from me,”

“An outlier,” Niall waves off casually, “You were too close for me to be objective. If I did get vibes I just thought it was wishful thinking. But I really didn’t think Charles was queer,”

“Well, your gaydar isn’t malfunctioning, Charles turned him down. Now this is where it gets interesting,” I pull Niall’s milkshake towards me,  licking off some of the barely-there remnants of whipped cream, “I can’t believe I forgot to tell you this but basically Charles rejected Ethan who then decided to ask Jackson for advice – who you will note, is another member of the famous locker-room-brawl – Jackson suggested he ask out Timothee. But Timothee made it very known that he wants to go stag and just, hook-up with everyone,”

“as one does,” Niall interjects.

“At this point Ethan is just sad. He keeps getting rejected. So Emilio – you know Emilio from my team? He sits at our table,”

“ – the one with the huge crush on you? I think I have an idea,”

“ – wait, what? No. I didn’t even know he wasn’t straight before now, he only just came out!”

“Babe, your gaydar is underdeveloped from years of sexual repression. Trust me, he was never subtle about his crush. Even Baz agrees.”

“What?” I’m genuinely surprised. “No. And it wouldn’t even matter. But Emilio was just, like – and this is in the middle of the locker room after practice – ‘I’ll take you’ and that was how he came out. So now Emi and Ethan are going to the dance together.”

 “Hmm,” Niall hums, “speaking of the dance – oh, our food,”

Our food arrives.

Niall’s fries are placed at the center of the table. His sandwich is set in front of him and my pancakes – oh. Oh. My pancakes are framed by sliced strawberries drizzled in chocolate, the letters, D – A – N – C – E –? written across the top pancake in chocolate sauce.

Slowly, my eyes travel back to the green ones watching me anxiously.

He actually has the nerve to look anxious.

“I asked, but they refused to write ‘will you go to the Valentines Day Ball with me?’ in chocolate syrup,” Niall fakes a breathless laugh. He clears his throat. “Speaking of the dance,” he continues once he’s somewhat composed himself, “will you go with me?”  

***


PENNY

“You know, it’s fine if you don’t like him. Just because society feels that teenage girls almost always have a crush on someone, doesn’t mean you can’t, just, not like anyone.”

“I just… don’t know.” I’m doing Aggie’s mendhi as we catch up on the boy-related events of the last few days. The intricate designs of the dark paste looks beautiful on her pale skin, and manicured fingernails. “I do like him, is the thing. But, like … how do I know that this will last? That this will end well? After Micah? I was just … I was so sure about him. About where we stood and how we both felt. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that the feeling wasn’t one-sided. So after being so sure, and then having it implode in my face … how can I just date someone else and know that everything will be okay?”

“I don’t think there’s any way to know. I think you just need to trust that it would work itself out if it’s meant to, and that you’ll be okay if it doesn’t. I mean… the whole thing with Micah sucked, but you’re doing okay.”

I sigh. “yeah. But… that’s the thing. I don’t even know how much trust I have in Shepherd. I’m not half as sure about Shep as I was about Micah, which sounds ridiculous given that I know Shepherd in person. But it’s like … he’s a whole adventure. Equal parts exciting and terrifying. It’s not half as secure and stable as it felt with Micah and it’s exciting enough to let me know I do like him but…” I look up at Agatha, “how do I know that these butterflies I feel aren’t just wasps that are going to sting me later?”

Aggie smiles at me sadly. “that’s just it, isn’t it? When you know for sure, where’s the thrill in that? where’s the excitement? Like, With Simon … I knew we could make it work, make it last. It wasn’t passionate or exciting or … anything at all. And all I knew was it should feel like more than that.  With Shepherd, you don’t know. But you’re excited to figure it out. He’s an adventure, and Penelope Bunce, when have you ever turned down an adventure?”

***


BAZ

 

We’re lying on my bed.

By we, I mean Simon and myself (Tweety decided to chill in the greenhouse upstairs.)

I’m sitting up with my back leaning against the headboard, a book in my hand as I outline the study material for one of the other students I’m tutoring this week. Simon’s laying on his stomach across my bed, playing a game on his phone and trying not to disturb me.

It’s a fruitless effort since he’s an effortless distraction. Luckily, I’ve spent years admiring him from afar with him unawares, so I’m subtle about it.

I’d expected him to leave an hour ago.

After our study session, we hung out for a bit while chatting over tea and cake.

We relaxed on the porch swing and spoke about different things, both important ;(in addition to Simon’s rugby scholarship applications he’s applied to various funding schemes for children in financial need, hoping for a scholarship to college next year), and unimportant;(Simon’s dream the previous night about talking scones begging to not be eaten. He ate them.)

Actually, Simon and I spoke quite a bit today. We just hadn’t approached the topics as ‘important conversations’ – little pieces of truths weaved their way into our conversation during tea, or while we were distracted from studying by the butterflies, or on the drive to my house when I picked Simon up.

I got closure about a few things I’d spent nights wondering about.

 Simon told me more about his foster family – whom I still hate. He still firmly believes that they’re not bad people, albeit oblivious and mildly self-centered. I disagree but I’m not the one who has to live with them, so, whatever calms his mind.

“I’ve lived in actual bad homes,” he’d said. “When you know what a real bad place is like, you learn to appreciate inconveniences. And yes yes I know what you’re going to say, I know I deserve better, but that doesn’t change anything, does it? If I throw a fit here, what happens to me? I’m a minor. I either end up back in the orphanage – which is way worse, or to another foster house which could be worse. This isn’t even bad, it’s just not ideal. I can stick it out a few more months.”

 And it broke my heart to hear. And I wanted to fight him, his parents, the social care system… but Simon was right. This was one of those hurdles in life I couldn’t face for him, and I couldn’t shield him from. I could only… hold him. Hold his hand. Support him. Let him know he has a safe place to come to when he chooses to. And make sure he feels safe enough talking to me about this part of his