Lamb’s giving me the grand tour, pointing out all the sights along the strip, along with detailed anecdotes for each.
“Promise you won’t venture out during daylight hours,” he says, curling his lip in a smile that’s just this side of feral at a group clearly out celebrating someone’s Stag Do. “Everything here is better once the sun goes down.”
“Everything is better everywhere once the sun goes down.” He laughs at my words. “But yes, you’re right. The sun does seem particularly insidious here. Yet you seem so…” My voice trails off. I’m not sure how I was going to finish that sentence. You seem so…not half-baked by UV radiation? So un-charred by the sun? So whole and hale and healthsome? So sickeningly salubrious?
Lamb stops. His hands are in his trouser pockets, and his head is tilted. He keeps looking at me like I’m something that needs to be examined—and smiled at—from all directions. “I seem so what, Mr—what’s your last name?”
I can’t tell him my real last name and I can’t think of anything that rhymes. (Well, I can think of one thing.) So, I do what anyone would do. I try not to panic.
“Snow,” I blurt. “Chaz Snow.” (I panicked.)
“Chaz Snow.” Lamb rolls the sounds around in his mouth, as if tasting the syllables. “Hmm. Pure as driven.”
Well, if I hadn’t disappointed and frustrated Simon out of a relationship with me by now, surely giving his surname as my own has done it. Fucking hell, Basilton, what were you thinking?!
Simon has probably punched a hole through the drywall back at the hotel.
He said Snow. He gave my surname to Lamb. Mine. I should be scared or angry or something, right? Except I’m not. I’m really, really not.
Penny seems to be—seems to be something. She’s staring intently at me, her brown eyes trying to bore a hole through my skull. I haven’t even looked at her, I can just tell. I’ve got a sixth sense for Penny’s looks.
“We going to talk about this or—” I break her off mid-sentence.
“Or. I’ll take or.” I shake my head, but she carries on. Of course she does.
“He gave your name,” she says, and I can’t read her tone, but I know there is one. “Anything you forget to tell me?”
“I mean, Las Vegas does have a certain reputation, Simon. Did you two manage to sneak off and get married when I wasn’t looking?”
I feel my cheeks blaze hot. My hands are fisted in my hair.
“I’m surprised. I’d have thought Baz would make you take the Pitch name. Though I suppose he is utterly gone for you.”
“He is not.”
“Yeah, he is,” Shepard chimes in. He’s been silent through our entire exchange, staring at me over the tops of his wire-rimmed glasses as if I’m a puzzle and he’s just slotted a particularly bothersome piece into place.
“Shut up,” I say, before going to the window and opening the curtains. The strip glitters and glistens back at me, glowing horribly in the dark of the night. Somewhere down there Baz is wandering the strip with a strange vampire and telling people his surname is Snow. I snap the curtains shut.
“Spell my wings. I’m going out.”
“You don’t even know where he is!” I can still hear Baz and Lamb talking quietly through the speaker of the phone.
“Sure I do. Lamb gave us explicit directions.” I didn’t intend to spit his name like a curse, but it sure came out that way. (Lamb. Is that a surname?)
“There’s thousands of people down there, Simon! And Shipton knows how many of them are vampires!”
“Oh, lots.” Shepard volunteers helpfully.
“See, Simon! Lots!”
“I’ll figure it out, Penny,” I hiss. “Now spell my wings.”
“You don’t even have a mobi—” Penny starts up again, but Shepard butts in. (He’s lucky she hasn’t spelled him silent.)
“Let him go. You strike me as a strong enough witch you’d be able to find them if things go wrong.” Penny curls her lip at his words and I can’t tell if it’s a smile or a snarl.
“Fine.” She rolls her eyes. “Try not to get yourself killed.”
“I don’t plan on it.” I’m already backing towards the door.
“Or turned into a vampire.”
“Again, I don’t plan on it!”
“And come back. Tonight preferably!” She grunts and casts the spell that makes my wings disappear.
“I’ll be fine, Pen. Really.” I don’t know that. I might not be.
Her sigh mixes with the creak of the door opening, and I head out into the night to find Baz.
I’m drunk, I think.
Drunk people are so boring. Except, what’s happening right now is decidedly not boring.
I’m drunk and Lamb has me shoved into a nook between two bars and is threatening me. I tell him about Agatha, about the Next Blood, and he, thank Morgana, believes me. He leaves me with a location and a time to meet the next day and the instruction to get a drink. I don’t think he means more alcohol. (I don’t want more alcohol. I want to go home. I want a cup of tea. I want—)
I’m heaving breaths now, hands on my knees as I attempt to right my reality. The world smells like blood and alcohol and milkshakes and burnt popcorn—
He’s standing a ways off, hands jammed in his hip pockets, staring at me. He isn’t smiling, but he doesn’t look angry either. Perhaps he’s gone so far past angry I can’t read his expression. That’s fair.
He charges at me and I hold my ground. I won’t be bullied into this damn nook twice in one night.
“Simon,” I say low, a warning, once he’s come to an abrupt stop before me.
“Snow,” he replies.
Snow? What ridiculousness is this? When I call him Snow he’s on me to call him Simon, and now suddenly he wants me to call him Snow again? I’ll never understand him. (I’ll never stop trying.)
“Snow,” he says again. “You told him your name was Snow.”
If there were enough blood in me I’d blush. Instead I nearly bite through my lip.
“Yes, well, in the heat of the moment I—”
He doesn’t let me finish my sentence. Apparently I am going to be bullied into this nook twice in one night.
Simon crashes his body into mine, the action grinds my skull back into the wall. A pathetic little surprised noise breaks from me before my mind catches up to what’s happening. He’s kissing me. Simon is kissing me.
I don’t know what’s happening right now, but I know I’d be a fool not to kiss him back.
Baz’s mouth tastes like sugar and milk and chocolate and alcohol, and his tongue is cooler than usual.
I wasn’t sure what I’d do when I finally saw him, I didn’t have a plan (I never have a plan) but kissing seems like as good an idea as any.
But nothing good can last. When I pull back slightly to run my tongue along his lower lip, he pushes me away with a gasp.
“What in Merlin’s name are you doing?!”
“Kissing you,” I reply. Was that not the right thing to do? I should have asked. (But he told me I don’t have to ask.)
“You were supposed to stay at the hotel.” He fumbles in his pocket for a moment, pulls out his phone and hisses into the speaker. “He was supposed to stay at the hotel, Bunce.”
He stares at the phone for a beat. “Oh. It’s gone dead.” He’s looking at the phone as if it will suddenly power back on again if he just stares at it hard enough. I think he might be tipsy.
“Is that why you came? Because my phone went dead?”
“I came because you told him your name was Snow.”
Baz clears his throat. I know him well enough to see that he’s trying to scrape back some dignity now. “I suppose I did, but in fairness I needed to think on the fly and nothing much rhymes with Pitch.”
“I can think of one thing,” I smirk.
He stares down for a moment, past me, to our shoes on the pavement. It’s awkward. I don’t know what to say. Or do. Apparently kissing was all wrong. “I’m sorry, Simon. I shouldn’t have given your name.”
“I liked it.” Baz’s eyes shoot up at my words.
I shrug. “Dunno. I just—liked it.”
He huffs out a laugh at that. “You don’t know?”
“Do I need to?”
He’s quiet for a long moment. “No, I suppose not.”
I reach out, grabbing his hand. It’s a clumsy move. I wish I could be graceful like Baz, he deserves someone who can be graceful, not an oaf like me. (Lamb seemed graceful.) Still, I take his hand and slowly bring it up to my face. He can pull away at anytime, if he likes. I kiss across his knuckles. He lets me.
“Should we try to talk about this?” Baz asks, voice low.
“No, you know I’m no good at that.” My lower lip catches on the knuckle of his index finger as I speak.
“Well, we can’t very well stand here on the street all night. Surely Bunce will worry.”
I sigh. I let go of his hand, letting it drop, but he reaches back out and catches mine up.
"Come along, Snow," he says with a shy sort of smile, pulling me gently in the direction of the hotel.
"Come along, Snow, yourself," I smirk. We hold hands the entire walk back. Nobody spares us a second glance.
After we debrief with Penny and Shepard, and I’ve had a chance to sober up, I take a shower. When I’m through I notice Simon is settling himself against the door of the hotel room. Is he still mine? Am I still his? Has the affection we shared on the walk back to The Katherine gone up in flames already? Am I left, once again, grasping at smoke and ash and calling it love?
“Will you sleep there?” I ask.
He nods once. “Wouldn’t feel safe otherwise.”
His answer is short, his mouth a tight line. Smoke and ash it is. It would be a terrible idea to go to him now. Foolhardy. I’ve already pushed my luck too far, at some point it will break.
But then, I’ve never known what’s good for me.
I grab an extra blanket from the closet and sit down beside Simon. His back goes ramrod straight for a moment and he sucks in a deep breath. I worry he’s about to tell me to piss off, but instead he pulls the blanket over the both of us and wraps one arm silently around my shoulders, then wriggles his wing behind me, pulling me in close to him. I lean into his neck, breathing deeply.
“Is this alright?” he asks.
“I’ve already told you, you don’t have to ask.” I answer softly. I don’t want Penny or Shepard to hear. Simon’s hand settles on my thigh beneath the blanket, and I focus on his breathing. His nervous heartbeat.
“Night, Baz,” he says eventually, kissing my hair.
“Goodnight, Snow.” I feel, more than hear, his laughter at my words. It rumbles through me. Jump-starts my heart. Vibrates along my spine. He’s quiet for a long while, then he turns his face to nuzzle at the top of my head.
“Snow,” he whispers so quietly it’s barely there. It’s only for me to hear. “You said your name was Snow.”
“You wouldn’t perhaps consider forgetting about that, would you?”
“Never,” he whispers into my hair, kisses feather-light against me. “Not for anything in this world or the next.”