The seasons were changing, stripping the trees bare and dusting them with snow. The stores were lining their windows with tinsel as Christmas approached, and I was refusing to acknowledge that a year had finally passed since his ‘ incident’ . Baz was looking at me strangely; staying arms-length; flinching when I broke our silence to speak. Neither of us were talking about magic anymore, but both of us were thinking about it.
I kept busy. Did the expected boyfriend-things, like gift hunting and biscuit baking, while Baz seemed to tip-toe and mope around my apartment, looking like he was about to say something, then not saying anything, then expecting me to not notice, so I (like a good boyfriend) pretended I didn’t notice. This was driving me fucking mad.
Doubt is a miserable gift to give someone for Christmas. Then again, so is a near-apocalypse. Perhaps we’re even now.
The days always got slower in the lead up to Christmas. It felt like I had to earn a holiday, a real one, and my habits of laying in bed until 3pm and not showering in fear of the bathroom mirror were not earning me brownie points. Baz always sat in the doorway on those days, holding a mug of tea to his chest and reading his book. Then, he’d do his performance: look at me, lock-and-load a question, grimace, disengage. I’d wait, selfishly, and pass the time by imagining all the things he could have been saying. I imagined our break-up three times in one day, once.
It’s fine. Absolutely.
It's been a year since my world dispersed and got sucked into a void, my counterfeit magic dropping into a bottomless well that I had been stealing from, unknowingly, for years. There were days where I was bowled over by how much harm I caused. My childhood was a military campaign that left me vulnerable, both mentally and physically. Without my magic, there were headaches, and colds, and migraines, but I managed. It’s fine.
In the apartment that Penny and I share, the drizzle dripping down the window outside painted a slow picture of the typical almost-London suburb beneath my throne. Dusk blended the royal blues and subtle amber into a wash of paradise. It tinted grey clouds, street lamps and apartment lights blotched over the landscape. I was watching the raindrops run down the window. Baz was reading in the doorway. The room was lifeless with us taking up so much space.
It was a good day, though. Better than the others. I was sick of the feeling of grime on my skin. Tired of the dry sweat on my sheets. I wanted to hold Baz and not worry about how disgusting I felt.
When I pushed the blankets down and clambered to the bathroom, Baz looked up from his pages, a languid movement that should have felt like familiarity but instead translated to contempt. Simon lingered on him, even past Baz’s attention span, and wished he could reach into his own chest and squeeze his heart, just he knew it was still there, beating.
Beyond my pining for my own boyfriend, I could feel a headache spreading over the front of my scalp. I walked into the bathroom, feeling a bit dizzy and overheated. Deep breaths weren’t working the wonders I needed, and the stumble I made to the kitchen sink surely caught the concern of a certain apathetic vampire. The boy I saw in the mirror was pale and tired and stupid for thinking he could forge a family he loved, and one that loved him back. The sink filled with cold water, and I splashed a helping over my face to ease the sickly heat in my cheeks. Droplets fell off of my limp lips and a few drenched stray curls, landing on my shaking hands. My breathing was growing weak. I could feel the Earth spinning.
When I gazed into the mirror again, I saw him. The well that could never fill. The black hole of magic that I so swore I'd killed. The Insidious Humdrum . My worst fear.
With a blink, he was gone. In fact, the mirror was gone. In fact, I found myself on the bathroom floor with a pounding migraine and a very concerned boyfriend of mine kneeling over me, calling for me to wake up. My eyes couldn’t properly open under the angry white light, but I felt Baz pressing his forehead to mine and revelled in the feeling.
“Snow, tell me what’s wrong,” he panicked. “Tell me, please.”
“Baz,” I managed to murmur. “Baz…”
“ Sweet dreams , Simon.” He kissed my forehead. “I’ll handle this, now.”
The sheets felt clean beneath my palms. Baz felt cold beneath my head.
He was holding me loosely, my head in his lap, the breeze from an open window grazing over my bare chest. His thumb brushed over my cheekbone, back and forth, mesmerising. If I wasn’t so aware that it had taken a health crisis for him to touch me again, I might have thought this was romantic.
I shifted on his lap.
“You’re awake,” he whispered.
Feigning the same amount of shock, a subtle mockery, I replied, “you stayed.”
He sighed with disapproval, but caught me when I fell forward, still dizzy, still sick. I looked at him sheepishly. It was nice of him to take care of me.
“I’m...waiting,” Baz said.
Simon huffed. “For what?”
The offence in his tone. The audacity . As if I hadn’t been waging war on myself for every time Baz could have spoken but chose not to, wondering if I was enough, if he could ever be proud of me. I spent weeks — no, months — asking myself if it was right for me to tether him to myself when he so clearly wanted more. This wasn’t fair. He wasn’t being fair .
“Please.” My voice was shaking. With anger and with grief. “Call me Simon.”
Baz hesitated, but he conceded. “Simon. I’ve been here everyday.”
“Yeah. Sitting in my doorway. Reading your books.” (I couldn’t bear to say that he was locking me in. I don’t think he intended that.)
“Waiting,” he added. He even leaned forward, like he wanted to kiss me, but stopped short, just fight me. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
“I’m right here,” I insisted.
“No, Simon, you’re not.” He brushed my overgrown curls out of my eyes. “You haven’t been. You’ve been cooped up in here, avoiding both myself and Bunce, pretending to be okay when you’re not.” He huffed. “You’re sick. You have been for ages.”
I glared at him. “And what did you do about that?”
Guilt was always tangible on Baz. It rolled off him in waves, like he was casting a spell. It was the upturn of his eyebrows, the bitten pout. “Admittedly, I...wasn’t helping.”
I crossed my arms. I thought my point was proven.
“I was reading up about how to help. Your immune system was laden with magic that stopped you from getting viruses, or allergies, or the damn sniffles. Now, though, it’s weak. You’re getting sick, but I know what to do.”
Despite how kind he sounded, how thoughtful he was, I was stubborn about letting him off the hook. My boyfriend was supposed to let me know he cared instead of waiting until I could have been dying to hold me.
I just wanted to be held, all that time.
Still, I lay down at the opposite end of the bed and faced him. “We’re not okay,” I admitted. Someone had to say it first.
Baz nodded. “But we will be.”
Hot baths and hot soup and hot tea. I had never been so bloody warm.
Baz’s plan (which he thought was a stroke of genius) was to burn me from the inside out and back again. He insisted on writing down everything he was doing, from the comforters to the hot water bottles, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him that Normal people figured out how to combat the common cold without magic quite a while ago. Besides — having his complete attention was exactly what I wanted.
By the end of the next week, I was feeling better. Physically. I still had a blocked nose and a sting at the back of my throat, but I wasn’t feeling so foggy. I was waking up next to Baz again as well. That was pretty nice.
This illness, however, was a gross reminder of how much I really lost with my magic. I was never without it before. I lost my community, my future, now my health — if I was left alone too long I would start to tremble, imagining life Baz and I could have had if I were just a Mage. He caught me, sometimes, tracing sword fight scars on my biceps, staring into my tea, and he would go to say something — stop — then leave.
I was beginning to understand him a bit better.
That Friday, we were preparing to spend Christmas at my apartment. Just the two of us, since Penny was away visiting her family. Baz took this as an excuse to cut my hair.
“You need to look presentable again,” he decided, draping a towel over my shoulders. I had been herded into my ensuite and sat on a stool without a lot of conversation, but I was quite used to that now. “I’m sick of pushing your hair every which way to see your eyes.”
“You don’t need to see my eyes,” I grumbled.
“I like your eyes.”
There was an intimacy in feeling Baz shave the back of my neck. His hands were caressing my scalp gently, carding through my curls every now and then, brushing over my ear. As he moved to massage products into my hair, he began leaning in close to finally, finally lay kisses on my neck and shoulder. He hadn’t kissed me in so long.
“I missed you,” I said, sipping my tea. We stared at each other in the mirror.
“I’ve been here the whole time,” Baz answered.
“No.” I placed a hand on his cheek and traced his cheekbone. “You haven’t.”
Maybe Baz knew what I was asking him to do. Maybe he finally figured out what he wanted to say. He ran his hand over my fringe again and sighed.
“One day, I came home and you were still in bed,” he relented. “I couldn’t wake you up and you were sweating like crazy. You had a fever. I was terrified, Simon. I thought something was really wrong.”
I blinked at him a couple of times. “That was months ago.”
He nodded. “And you were never the same afterwards. We kissed and fucked and held-hands, but you were sick. You weren’t really there at all. At some point, I felt bad about pretending with you. I felt like I was enabling this performative relationship, where we said the right words and meant none of it. So, I stayed close enough so you could see me, but far enough that you could walk away if you wanted to. Albeit, I was in the doorway.”
He chuckled. I didn’t. I moved to cover his hand on my shoulder with my own. “I thought you wanted to leave me.”
“I wanted to tell you that I love you.”
“So, why didn’t you?”
“You weren’t there.”
I pulled at his arm until he walked around and sat in my lap. Up close like that was where I liked him best. Our noses brushed, his hands still admiring my new haircut. “I’m here now, Baz. I promise. Say it.”
Baz smiled. “I love you, Simon.”
Finally, I kissed him. Judging by the way he sighed in relief and pushed at me eagerly, I figured he had also been holding out.
“I love you, Baz,” I gasped. He kissed me again and again and again.