We decide not to use a lie this time.
Not a real one, anyway, not unless they ask for specifics, which they never do. We’re going to tell them mostly the truth—I really was already at Penny and Shepard’s place! Granted, it’s because I live there now too, but they never ask me why I’m always over there in the first place, and I’m not going to be the one who tells them just for fun. Oh, we could have gotten you! Why didn’t you call? they’ll say; Oh, you didn’t have to! I was already with Shep and Pen! I’ll say, and that’s typically where that line of thinking ends.
It’s no wonder we’ve been able to keep this thing between all of us a secret. Simon and Baz don’t interrogate like they used to. (God, I would hate to be in a Watford-era interrogation courtesy of Simon or Baz. Nowadays, not so much. They’re too busy being married and smoothing out each other’s edges.)
Anyway. It’s not like deciding to tell them something other than the whole truth is much of a decision. Penny’s not ready for them to know the whole truth; I don’t even think she’s ready for them to know some of the truth, but there’s only so many times we can use the line, Agatha was just nearby so we went and picked her up. There is nothing suspicious here. Please just accept this.
And it’s…fine. If she’s not ready, then she’s not ready. That doesn’t stop me and Shep from being tired of it all, though.
“I don’t want to lie to them anymore,” Shepard says now, reaching across the car and placing a hand on Penny’s knee. It’s his go-to move whenever he wants to make sure we’re taking what he’s saying gently. The man has a bit of a habit of saying whatever his mouth decides he needs to say, regardless of how it sounds on the way out.
I watch for Penny’s reaction. She’s focused on the road, so I can’t make out much of her eyes from my position in the back, but I can tell that she’s tensing up. I can feel it in my own stomach when her magic drops into her gut and starts swirling around in that way it does when she’s stressed. (Sharing magic is interesting sometimes. I know how Penny’s feeling just from how the magic shared between us tingles inside my body.) (Another thing Simon and Baz haven’t picked up on: Penny’s magic smells a bit like mine now.) She’s also doing that thing with her eyebrows that I hate—she’s going to have wrinkles there one day.
“I know,” she finally sighs out, letting the tension in her body slowly leak through. “I know, baby, I know. I just don’t think he’s ready.”
“Will you ever think he’s ready?” I ask as lightly as I can. It always freaks her out a bit when we talk about this stuff. About telling Simon that we’re all together. That his ex girlfriend is dating his best friend and his bro. It feels a little like we’ve all kind of ganged up to make this the most convoluted friendship circle of all time. But that’s kind of the thing: we didn’t. We just fell in love. (I didn’t even see it coming, to be honest. I couldn't have predicted this.)
I sort of get it, though. I get that Pen doesn’t want Simon to become all weird and clammy like he still does sometimes. He does better now most days, but six years doesn’t just erase the trauma he went through; it doesn’t erase the trauma any of us went through, but most especially him. He was a walking weapon who was lied to and abused by one of the only grown-ups he thought liked him. He lost all of his magic. He lost Ebb. It makes sense that he still gets tense sometimes and acts like we’ve slapped him if we bring up certain stuff. So I’m really not sure how finding out about us would affect him. It’s a big change to what he’s used to, and even now, change is an issue for him. He stayed in the same flat with Penny for the first few months after he and Baz got married because he would get into his head and spiral anytime he and Baz went looking for apartments. If I have to think about Simon's reaction, I can only picture him flying himself into the sun, so. Pretty sure I might be wrong on this one. (Pretty sure I want to be wrong on this one.)
“I don’t know,” Penny says, her voice tense. Our magic twists again, and I reach out to place a hand on her shoulder. She glances at it once and shoots me the smallest smile; my chest starts to ache a little at the sight. “It's just…”
“I know,” I say, tightening my grip. I fill in the words for her in my head: It’s just that he might not understand. It’s just that I’m not ready for him to know. It’s just that I don’t want to tell anybody about us. Because, I mean. It’s not just Simon who might not be ready. Any time we get too romance-y in public, Penny loses her cool. It’s like she’s afraid word is going to get back to Simon from the Normal world—or like she thinks it’s going to get back to the Magickal one and spread to her parents. (I don’t particularly care anymore if it reaches mine—I did, back at the beginning, but now I kind of just wish we could tell everybody all at once. Just set up in a conference hall and announce it. I think if I suggested anything like that to Penny that she’d actually implode.) “It’s okay. We don’t have to tell him tonight.”
Her smile widens, just a bit, and her shoulders start to slacken too—I feel her become less tense beneath my fingerpads. Like her whole body is taking part in a sigh of relief.
“Thanks,” she whispers, reaching up a hand to place it on top of mine. The magic in my gut simmers and eases.
“I love you,” Shepard says out of the blue, looking at her like he always does, his eyes gone all soft. Then he turns to me and looks at me the same way and repeats himself.
“Love you,” Penny says, squeezing my hand before moving hers away to lay it on top of Shepard’s.
“Love you both,” I exhale, smiling. I undo my seatbelt and lean forward until I am basically in the middle of the two front seats, and then I quickly plant a kiss to Shepard's cheek, followed by one on Penny's, before I sit back and redo the belt.
We’re good. And this dinner is going to be fine. It always is.
The dinner is not going fine.
“No, what do you mean?” Penny practically shouts, spreading her hands out in front of her on the table. “Because, last time I checked, we don’t have any spells for latching living souls onto dead ones—”
“That’s not what it is!” Baz roars back. “You don’t latch it onto a soul that’s already gone, you connect them when you’re both still alive; otherwise, it wouldn’t work!”
“It wouldn’t work anyway!”
“God,” I say to my plate, “if you’re there, please. Please make them stop.”
They’re still going; I do my best to ignore them.
“I think I owe Simon twenty quid,” Shepard whispers next to me like he doesn't want Penny to hear.
“Why?” I whisper back, already annoyed.
“Because I bet that Penny and Baz wouldn’t get into a debate until after dessert. He bet that they wouldn’t make it through dinner.”
I look at my food, only half-eaten, and frown. “You should have known better.”
I’m being dramatic—everything is still fine, really. Penny and Baz get into debates all the time. It’s just their thing now. One of them will say something specifically meant to bring the other one into a magickal difference of opinion, and then it just spirals until they’re both standing and gesturing wildly. I think it’s their favorite part of any time we all spend together. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of us like it very much.
“Baz,” Simon says, reaching for his husband’s plate, “I am going to eat the rest of your food.”
Baz doesn’t seem to be paying him any attention; he’s on some kind of roll with Penny. “That’s why you have back-up spells planned, or you use the right bloody spell in the first place—”
I tune out the rest of what he’s saying. Simon says, “I’m taking that as an okay.”
“Simon, please,” I try, “call him off or something.”
He narrows his eyes at me as he starts eating Baz’s leftovers. (He still eats like he did at Watford, like he’s afraid the food will disappear if he waits too long.) (The food never does; he’s rounded out a tad. It suits him. Like this is what he was always supposed to look like.) “He’s not a dog, Ags.”
Penny shouts, “Just don’t use those spells at all, and you’ll be much better off!” and then something else about spells that I don’t really care about. Pen’s the one who gives a crap about this stuff; everyone knows I don’t cast anymore. (Not because I broke my wand or anything. Just because I prefer myself without it.)
“This is how we’re going to die,” Shepard muses. “They’re going to come out of this conversation with the three of us bleeding out.”
“Nah,” Simon says around a mouthful. “They’re going to kill each other instead.”
“Manners,” I say, shoving a napkin at him.
They’re still at it. Simon, Shepard, and I have moved to the living room, and we can still hear them going on from the other side of the house, except we’re hearing them in terms of muffled reverberations instead of actual words. Baz sounds off; Penny’s voice follows behind; the cycle goes on. I’ve no clue what either of them are saying until I start hearing Baz calling Simon’s name, and that's only because he keeps saying it as he moves around the house.
“You’re being summoned,” I say from my place on the floor, nudging Simon with my foot.
“I know,” he replies, scowling. “I don’t like it.”
“He’s going to find you eventually.” As if to back me up, Baz’s voice gets closer.
“I know.” Simon’s scowl deepens. “What do you think they’ll have me settle this time?”
“I haven’t the slightest idea.”
“Why am I always the one to settle things?” Simon turns to look pleadingly at Shepard, who is sat somewhere behind my right shoulder on the couch that’s against my back. “Shepard, you do it. You settle it this time.”
“Would love to, bud,” Shepard replies, smiling and shrugging his shoulders. He raises his hands in a gesture of surrender. “But they never listen to me when I do.”
Simon groans; I let out a laugh.
Baz storms into the room, Penny right behind him, and Simon’s groan transforms into a sigh. “Yes, Baz?” he says, like he’s resigning himself.
Baz wastes no time. “If I die before you, will you date someone else?”
Simon’s eyebrows almost merge into his hairline. “Huh?”
Baz rolls his eyes (he’s smiling, though, so he doesn’t mean it) and pushes a hand through his hair. “If I die before you—”
“No, yeah, I heard you. What?”
“Yeah, I second that,” Shepard pipes up. “What?”
“Exactly,” Penny says, like she’s won something.
“Why are we even talking about you dying?” Simon asks, curling his fingers together in his lap and looking a bit like he wants to make a running start out of the room. And—yeah, why are we talking about Baz dying? What the hell did Penny and Baz get into? Last I heard, they were arguing about soul spells; when did this happen?
“I’m not dying,” Baz says like a comfort, as if it’s an explanation. He splays his hands out with his elbows in front of his hips, and Simon looks him over from afar before silently opening his own arms wide. He still looks like he wants to fly away from all of us, but Baz takes the cue like the married man that he is and flops down onto Simon’s chest, snuggling against him on the couch. Simon can't go flying anywhere now; he's anchored down.
The scene makes me feel a little ill, if I'm being honest, and I force down a lump that begins to form in my throat. I never get to do…that. With Penny. With Shepard. I don’t get to fall seamlessly into someone’s arms while we’re surrounded by other people. I don’t get to cuddle with them on a couch and have it not be questioned. Penny and Shepard could do that if they wanted to—but not with me, because I’m not the one either of them is married to, and it would immediately reveal us.
I get it. But I also really, really wish I didn’t have to.
I’m so busy thinking about all of the things I can’t do that I only hear the tail-end of the conversation happening around me. “…quickly our respective lovers would move on, is all.”
“Won’t move on,” Simon mumbles into the top of Baz’s head. “Impossible.”
“While that’s sweet,” Penny chimes in, reminding all of us that this situation started as some sort of argument, “it’s unrealistic.”
“Simon,” Penny says, apparently exasperated.
Simon sits up and pushes himself away from Baz, and his feet start tapping against the hardwood out of sync with each other. A hand reaches behind his neck and starts pulling at the hair there, and if his wings weren’t spelled down, I am positive he would be flapping them. His tail flicks out and wraps around Baz's leg, ensnaring him, making sure he doesn't go too far. “Do we have to talk about this? Baz is here now. No one is dead.”
“It’s the entire premise of his argument about spelling souls together!”
Simon looks at me for help, bright eyes begging. What the fuck, he mouths. I just shrug. I don’t think Penny even notices.
“The premise of my argument,” Baz starts, pushing himself up to a standing position again (but staying within the range of Simon's tail), “is that Simon is the love of my life. I don’t want to find anyone else if he dies, and I would appreciate it if the gesture were reciprocated. Spelling our...”
Baz keeps talking, but I’m done listening. (I always am when Baz starts talking about magic. It's a bore. Sorry.) When Baz’s mouth has stopped moving, I tune back in, and it’s silent for a couple seconds until Simon asks, “I’m the love of your life?”
Baz looks back down at Simon with so much love in his eyes that I think I might actually be sick. “You already knew that.”
“Right,” says Simon, but he’s still a little starry-eyed.
Penny takes that as her cue to jump back into the fray. “I’m also in love”—I notice she doesn’t say with who—“but I’m not going to bind my soul to someone else’s. What if I die before them and they fall in love with another person after I’ve passed? I don’t want to be the thing standing between them and happiness.”
“Sure, that sounds nice,” Baz concedes, which is more than he’s ever done in any argument with Penny ever, I think, “but what if they don’t find anybody else?”
“Then they don’t find anyone else.”
I tilt my head up in Shepard’s direction. “What is this argument even about?”
He leans down towards me. “I have literally zero clue. Death? Whether you should find somebody else if your significant other dies? Something about spells?”
“Here,” I say, turning back around. “I’ll answer this question: you’ll be dead. None of this will matter. Next.”
“You’re missing the point,” Baz says at the same time that Penny says, “But that’s the whole thing!”
“Here’s my answer too,” Shepard chimes in. He adjusts his position on the couch, and when he does, his knee gently knocks into the side of my arm and stays there like he’s done it on purpose. I don’t move; I’m afraid Simon and Baz will notice, and Penny’s eyeing both of us like we’ve transformed into rabid badgers or something. “I don’t understand what this argument is about, and I would like it if it stopped.” Then he smiles.
Baz narrows his eyes. “As a married man,” he says, “I would think you’d have a stronger opinion on the matter—”
“As a married man,” Penny interrupts, sounding a little like her throat has started to close up, “who is married to me, I think that he’s being smart and deciding not to disagree with me.”
“Correct,” Shepard says. “And I am also literally so lost.”
“Same,” I say, shifting so my hand is resting against the floor, right next to Shepard’s foot. Not close enough that it’s touching, but...almost. I hope he can sense what I’m trying to say: that I’d reach out if I could—that I’d touch him on purpose too if I was allowed.
His knee pushes more pressure against my arm.
Penny’s eyes widen, just a fraction.
I don’t want to do this anymore. This thing where I hide what’s going on between us. But I really don't know if I have much of a choice.
I love Simon, I do. So much. And I know that he loves me too. We’ve been best friends for too long for me not to know that, so I know that this shouldn’t be a thing that ruins us. But Simon’s not very good about change. I don’t want to...to scare him, I guess. I don’t want to make things different between all of us. Because once it’s out in the open, it’s not Penny and Shepard and Agatha, two separate and unrelated entities. It’s Penny and Shepard and Agatha, all rolled into one. It's me dating Simon's ex-girlfriend. It's Simon's entire friendship circle, except up and turned into a relationship.
And, I mean, if I tell Simon, then who's next? My parents? No, thank you. I don't think they'd understand this. I don't think they would comprehend how I could be in love with two people at once, at least not at first. There would be questions. There would be arguments. They'd probably tell me to leave them both, and then where would we be? I don't want to fight.
And then there's my job—I have Agatha as my emergency contact on the form. What if something happens and Agatha has to come get me? What if she has to use her magic (she hasn't used it in years, and I doubt she ever will again, but still) because I've been indisposed and someone realizes that our magics smell a little too alike for it to be coincidental? Then the whole Magickal world would know. It's already an open secret that I'm married to a Normal, and that was already almost reason enough for them to reject me; what would they do if they found out the Magickal Theory teacher was married to a Normal and was bound by magic to another mage?
It's a recipe for disaster, and it all starts with telling Simon and Baz. Because I feel like, once I start saying it, I'll never want to stop.
I love Shepard. I love Agatha. I want to tell the entire world. But I can't. Right? I can't.
I know they want to. I know that I'm the thing keeping us a secret. They would tell Simon and Baz right now if they could. They're hardly even touching, and it's all because of me. (They hardly ever touch when we're around people, even when they're not Simon and Baz; none of us do.) Shepard has his knee pressed to her arm; that's it. That could be called an accident. That could be called being friends. That could be called not paying enough attention.
I look at them and then look back at Simon and Baz. Simon and Baz, who are still touching in a way that means it's on purpose: Simon has his tail wrapped around Baz's thigh, and Baz is keeping his hand pressed against the spot where tail meets pant leg. They're always holding some part of each other. They're so open about it all. That's not something that could be an accident; that's an intimate gesture, one that says to everybody looking at them that they're together, and if that wasn't enough, they've got matching wedding bands that they never, ever take off.
I look down at my own wedding band. It's nice and simple, and every time I look at it, I wish that Agatha had one too.
I don't want us to be a secret anymore. But I can't just tell Simon and Baz...right? The path that leads me down—I'm afraid of it.
Agatha's hand shifts to rest right next to Shepard's foot, and I feel my eyes widen. Not touching. Another accident.
I stare at them; I stare at Simon and Baz. I look between them all, over and over. Matching wedding bands versus one hand bare and free. Tail hugs versus hardly-there touches.
I think I'm tired of being scared.
“Shepard,” Penny finally says after what feels like ages of silence, looking like she’s found some kind of resolve (to do what, I'm not sure), “I would want you to be with somebody else if I died early.” She doesn’t look at me when she says it, but she doesn’t have to.
“Noted,” Shepard responds, his smile tight.
Baz swivels to look back at Si. “Simon, I would appreciate you not being with somebody else. Or at least waiting a decent amount of time before doing so. Say, ten years or so.”
“Also noted,” says Simon.
I’m not involved in this, but I don’t think I want to be anyway. I know what Penny means, regardless of if she names me or not. She wants Shepard and I to stay together, even if she’s not involved. And, like, yeah. I’m not planning on jumping ship. I love her, and I love Shepard; I am in love with them both. It’s not one or the other.
I think we’re done then—that everyone’s got everything out that they need to get out, that we’ve come as close to admitting it to Simon and Baz as we are ever going to get, that I can go home and settle back into my skin—when Penny does name me.
“Agatha,” she says, and I feel every muscle in my body freeze at the way she says it. It’s like I’ve been dunked into an icy river and completely forgotten how to swim. Our magic mingles in my belly, and I feel it thrum like Penny’s casting a spell. I think I know what she’s about to say, but I’m not sure what to do; I don’t know how to stop her. I can’t talk because I just feel her magic, twisting and turning inside of me as if she’s making a decision. Fuck, I think.
She’s staring at me.
I’m staring right back.
I hear Shepard’s breath catch.
“I would also want you to be with somebody else if I died early.”
Oh my God.
Oh my God.
Oh my God.
“What does that mean?” I hear Simon ask. I would check to see how he and Baz are handling things, but I’m too busy staring at Penny.
She said it. She...there’s no way to take what she said and turn it into something platonic. I would also want you to be with somebody else if I died early. She said also. She said to me the exact same thing that she said to Shepard. She said it, and now they know. They have to know.
I stand up and cross the room and throw my arms around her neck.
Agatha practically jumps into Penny’s arms; Shepard’s not far behind, and he wraps his arms around them both. And then they’re all three just...wrapped up together in what looks like the world’s softest hug.
“Ah,” Baz says quietly. “That makes sense.”
“What’s happening?” I whisper as I reach for his hand.
He curls his fingers against mine and looks down at me for a few seconds before he sits down next to me again and grabs my other hand to pull them between us. “Simon,” he says, like he’s trying to ease me into something new, “have you been paying attention to where Agatha has been every time we’ve hosted a dinner?”
“Er,” I say, feeling heat begin to fill my cheeks. I try to remember. She was with Shep and Pen this time...she was with them last time...I think she was with them the time before… “She’s usually with Shepard and Penny, right?”
“Right. And that means…?”
“That she hangs out with them a lot?”
Baz smiles a bit. The corners of his eyes crinkle. (I like how it looks on his face. I don’t think I’ll ever be over it.) “Yes, Simon, it means that they all hang out a lot.”
I look over at them. They’re all still in that hug, kind of like they’ve forgotten Baz and I are even here. I feel like I’m still not understanding everything.
I watch them for a minute. They're all very...touchy. And it doesn't look like an awkward hug, which is usually how hugs look between more than two people in my experience. It looks like a hug that people who are in love have, which is kind of strange, and—
“Oh my God,” I say, and they all turn their heads to look at me. I am an idiot. “You’re all together.”
“Surprise,” says Penny, wincing like she’s not sure how I’ll react. Which, okay, we’ve got to deal with that at some point, but right now, all I can do is interrupt her and ask, "Is that why Agatha never needs a ride?"
"Thank God," Agatha practically shouts. "Yes. I live with them. No rides needed, ever; I am covered."
"Is this why we only ever have dinner parties here?"
"Yes!" Agatha seems really happy to be getting all of this off her chest; she's beaming at me.
"Can we start having them at your place?"
Agatha moves her mouth, I think to answer me, but Penny speaks first. "Is that really your biggest question right now? If we can start having dinner at our house?"
I shrug. "Yeah."
She stares at me. "You're not nervous or upset or anything?"
"Why would I be upset?"
She shares a glance with Baz before continuing. I make a mental note to ask Baz what it means later. "It's a big change, Simon."
"Having dinner at your house?" I ask, scratching the back of my head. "I mean, yeah, I know—"
"No. The three of us...dating."
"It's been happening for a while, yeah?"
"Then it's not a big change."
Penny starts to say something else, but Agatha puts a hand over Pen's mouth, and Shepard talks before them both. "I'm glad you feel that way, Simon!"
He smiles, and I smile back.
Penny and Shepard take turns holding my hands for the rest of the night.