The accommodations Baz and Simon were currently sharing were… fine.
Baz’s family were the kind of rich that made other rich people feel inadequate, and so Vallo’s pleasantly furnished, spacious apartments struck him as amusingly quaint, and reminded him more than a little of the room they had shared back at Watford in their school days. Where were the gloomy and stern ancestral portraits? Why didn’t the bathroom have black velvet wallpaper? The lighting was fluorescent, for Crawley’s sake. Baz was a snob, but he had to admit that the cozy little Vallo flat brought up good memories, for the most part, even if the apartment was just large enough to provide space for the elephant currently taking up most of the living room:
Just what were they?
Baz had made a point to refer to Simon as his boyfriend on the network. A few times now. It was as if the phrasing was a spell - the more he said it, the more it would be spoken into life and come true with all the assurances he desperately wanted. Baz wasn’t a fool; he knew he and Simon both were likely to slide into old apathetic behaviors, and so today at five o’clock sharp, he had announced that he was cooking dinner, and it was going to be some complicated Thai soup he’d found the recipe for online. Baz knew saying “we need to talk” would only cause them both not to talk, but providing an activity - well! Simon was basically a kindergartener at heart, in Baz’s estimation; give him a bell pepper to slice and you might be able to sneak in all sorts of productive adult conversation.
And so he set everything he’d need for the soup onto the counter, bringing out cups, knives, measuring spoons, the lot of them. It’d been a hassle finding tools that used the metric system, but luckily, Vallo stores had a little bit of everything.
He handed Simon a knife and a cutting board and a yellow onion and an order: “Dice this. Where did you decide to work? Or did you decide to go to school?”
Simon frowned when the onion was slid in front of him. He had come to the kitchen under the guise of watching Baz make food for both of them. It had become a pastime since coming abruptly to Vallo—watch Baz do normal things, that kept him occupied, so that Simon could watch him without being obvious. He was in a game of chicken with his boyfriend—they were still boyfriends, right? Baz had said it often and Simon was tripping over the word constantly, that he knew they were going to address it. But who would be the first? Who would finally give in?
Not Simon, no way. He would continue to be a scared and stubborn thorn in Baz's side about their status. They could continue to feed this awkward elephant with all the tense silences and uncomfortable fumbling about each other. Simon was getting Thai and absolutely not saying a word. Win-win. So why did it feel like a big lose?
His frown only deepened as Baz continued with questions. Couldn't just leave the onion chopping to its own devices, could he? His tail, as usual, flicked side to side, betraying his internal apprehension. "Why do I have to do anything?" Simon asked, as he diced. "Have you decided? School? A job? There's a bloke who gives fishing lessons. Maybe he needs a first mate?"
Keep talking, Simon told himself, keep talking and Baz won't bring it up. Solid plan, except his eyes started watering from the bloody onion and he was only making it worse (and more dangerous) by swiping his tears away with the hand holding the knife.
“If you don’t work,” Baz poured olive oil in a pot, “and you don’t go to school-” he turned the stove on to medium-high, “then you’ll be a kept man. A trophy boyfriend.” He glanced over to where Simon was chopping onions, and out of instinct grabbed Simon’s wrist that was waving wildly about. “And trophy boyfriends don’t cut their eyes out in tragic cooking accidents.”
The sarcasm felt normal; gripping his boyfriend’s wrist did not. Baz let it go, carefully, and offered a paper towel for Simon’s onion tears.
“I haven’t decided,” he demured, “what I’m doing. There are any number of magic shops and book sellers and… enchanted libraries. I’ve started a list and I think I’ll work my way down. Apply and see who’s offering what. Since no one thinks we carry our memories with us when we go back home-” When, not if - “then additional schooling or jobs that really tax us seem more like punishment than enrichment.” And then, casually, scooping the onions that Simon had diced and dropping them into the now-sizzling oil, Baz said with a sort of lazy voice that didn’t imply he’d been practising this in his head: “Have you considered taking up with one of the sword masters here? You always were brilliant with a sword.”
Simon had unnaturally stilled at Baz's touch. He had zero tact about keeping his emotions in check, and the look that crossed his face was surprise—maybe longing—but Simon was terrible with words. It was why he was in this predicament with Baz. The beach had been a boiling point, but it had quickly simmered back down the moment they arrived in Vallo. So he let Baz call him a trophy boyfriend (another zing of feelings) and take the knife from him with a stubborn huff.
He wiped quickly at his eyes with the paper towel, just to do something. Force himself not look at his boyfriend,his boyfriend, cooking him dinner. It was so domestic and kind that it made Simon's chest hurt—he couldn't give these same things back to Baz.
"And do what?" Simon asked again, sounding a bit petulant, the way he always did when questions he didn't want to answer were directed at him. He laid his head down on his folded arms. Back to watching Baz. "Have you seen some of these people? Found out most of the Normals aren't even regular ones. Saved the world, time traveled, possessed by magickal beings. And the sword wielders have magic."
His stomach rumbled. "Go back to the part where you said you were going to work in a magic shop. I want to come by and see you work the till." Like a boyfriend would.
Baz gave the onions an annoyed stir - they smelled wonderful, damn them - and cracked open a can of coconut milk to the side. “Not everyone has magic,” he bit out, “and saved the world? TIme travelled? Been possessed by magical beings? So what? You’ve done all that and more.”
He dumped his own chopped peppers into the mix and gave the mixture another stir, grateful for the distraction. “If nothing else,” he added, “there are at least five vampires here in Vallo. I’m surprised you haven’t been peeping in their windows.” Not that Baz had. Lurking about in filters that included him without anyone knowing had been as aggressive at vampire hunting as he’d been, lately; everyone here appeared to drink human blood straight from some sort of hospital, egads.
He was irritated by inaction. How had they fallen so far - again? Baz thought they’d really developed some momentum back in Vegas, even if things had never been perfect. He resisted the urge to imagine Simon spending time with him in a bookstore, drinking a sugary latte, foam on his top lip, red hair glinting in filtered sunlight…. “I think they call hanging about and not paying for things loitering.”
Simon's face soured, not because Baz was wrong, but because Baz was right and Simon hated being wrong. He should have been used to it, Simon was wrong about a lot of things. He had done all those things—saving the world—but in another life. When he was sucking magic like a blackhole in the world. It didn't feel fair.
"Five?" Simon asked, incredulous. He sat up then, ignoring how much he wanted to dump the contents of the currently cooking pan right into his mouth. This was starting to feel more and more like a set up, waiting for Thai food and stuck in a conversation that swirled around something more important. "Where? Who? Have you talked to all of them? Are you—" And just like that, Simon was back on the beach, digging his feet into the sand, and telling Baz he didn't have to hide. That Baz could be happy with others like him and not stuck with Simon, who was just, just a...
He huffed around the loitering comment and instead added, "Are you going to hang about with them?" Then softer, unintentionally, "You could if you wanted to. They probably know more about what you're going through than me."
Baz made a frustrated noise that sounded like a Volkswagen car horn with a head cold. Simon and his continual insecurity regarding other vampires drove him crazy, particularly when it was coated in encouragement. He made a point not to think about how annoying he was with his insistence to be watchful, and yet not engage.
“Why would I?” he asked shortly, and crushed open the can of coconut milk without a can opener, which totally illustrated how calm and chill and mature he was. Ugh. Hang about with the vampires. “They’re not vampires like what I am; they’re from completely different worlds. And they’re---” Baz searched for the word to describe literally every other vampire in Vallo, none of which he’d actually talked to: --overwrought.”
Baz dumped the coconut milk and some chicken broth into the pot and gave it a stir, sulking. He realized he was sulking a few moments later, wondered how on earth Simon could annoy him to the point of toddlerhood when they were supposed to be talking about Simon, remembered that he and Simon had been at each other’s throats for seven years, and gave a sigh.
“I want,” he said, stirring the soup, because this part of the recipe only required stirring and not chopping or anything that required too much violence, “to hang about with you.”
"I'm just saying that this whole bloody place is overwrought." And okay, Simon didn't mean to mimic Baz's voice, exaggerating the word 'overwrought' but when tensions started to rise, Simon fell on old habits. He blinked away his shock as Baz crushed the can.
Simon used to find a particular kind of pleasure in ruffling Baz's metaphorical feathers. But every time he did it now, even if he had been trying to—and he sort of, kind of, had been trying to—an awful churning happening in his gut. It had absolutely nothing to do with his hunger, or the fact that somehow the food seemed to cook slower as they sped quickly into the conversation they both had been avoiding.
"And I'm saying, you don't have to," Simon blurted out, surprising even himself. At some point he had risen out of his seat, hands on the counter, tail notoriously whipping around behind him in agitation. Apprehension? Straight-up anxiety in his little cartoon devil tail? "I'm not an obligation to you. Last year was rough but I'm okay, I'll be okay. I won't fall apart if, if—" If Baz didn't want to be stuck with someone like him.
Was Baz chopping onions again? No? Oh, bloody hell. He tried to remain serious, adamant in his stance despite the stinging in his eyes.
This was the part of the script where Baz protested weakly, pledged his loyalty, and changed the subject. He knew his lines with the same ardor that he’d once studied for school. He’d realized on some level that Simon had been halfway to breaking up with him (more than halfway?) for a while, but he’d hoped to cure him of the notion with how good they were together - look at them, living together in a quaint little flat and making Thai!
Was it what Simon actually wanted? One glance at the swishing tail told Baz no. So why did Simon continue to stalk around the issue?
So Baz broke from script, still stirring the soup, and said softly: “Simon, I’m not obligated to you at all. No one is obligated to one another, not really. I’m with you because despite all reason, logic, and taste, I love you. If it were a matter of obligation, you’d never have seen me again after we rescued Agatha the first time and aided my mother. I don’t do-” his lip curled, “obligation. I’m a Pitch, for Morgana’s sakes. We have pride.”
Thank fuck he’d been Type A enough to pre-measure his ingredients. He added sugar, salt, chili sauce, and a tiny bit of fish oil he determinedly did not sniff to the mix. Baz got a little bit of broth onto his spoon, blew on it, and delicately offered it to his boyfriend, not commenting on his reddened eyes, his touch on Simon’s shoulder gentle despite his barbed words. “Does it need more salt?” he asked softly.
Despite all reason, logic, and taste, I love you.. That undid him. Simon sat back down, stunned in the same manner Baz had managed to do so before. And again, and again,and again. Simon knowingly was selfish, and it took a lot to get through his incredibly thick skull. Simon was getting annoyed at himself. Is this how everyone felt about him? Oh, ugh, absolutely horrid.
Simon pushed off introspection. He had done enough of that on their road trip, and he was still exhausted from the intensity of it all. He only managed to tune back into the conversation when Baz offered him up a spoonful of broth. Simon leaned in to taste, dutifully, and because he was so often lured into things by the simple promise of food.
"No, it's perfect. As always," Simon said, trying to sound mad that his vampire, magickal boyfriend could do anything and everything right, even in the middle of this not-fight. But he wasn't mad. He was just really bad at words.
His shoulders slumped against Baz's touch. "I love you, too," Simon said, equally as quiet but painfully earnest. When was the last time he had said that to Baz? It hurt to think about. "But I'm not the same person anymore. And I'm okay with that, I'm learning to be okay with that. But what happens when you realize you aren't? I'm not the same one you fell in love with and I might be—" Simon made a frustrated noise. "I can't use obligation anymore, you've gone and bloody ruined it."
Baz had given a pleased, smug little flicker of a smile at Simon’s pronunciation of ‘perfect’ - of course it was perfect; he’d done his soup research - and was deep into opening the noodle package when Simon returned the declaration of love. To Baz’s credit, his hands didn’t shake as he poured the noodles into the simmering soup, his fingers a little too close to the steam for it not to hurt. Which figured, honestly, with what came next:
“I’m glad I’ve ruined obligation,” he said sourly, pushing the noodles into the liquid one by one (the pot was a little small). “I look forward to ruining other words for you. Honestly, Simon, I know you’ve gone through countless traumas in the last few years - and you know as well as anyone that I understand having your very essence transformed into something unrecognizable - but just because you’re disappointed with yourself doesn’t mean I am.” Get things back up to temperature. Honestly, he really should have come up with this “holding-Simon-hostage-to-a-conversation-by-way-of-cooking” thing earlier.
“You could have burnt me to a crisp with a stray thought,” Baz continued. “Not even an evil thought, or an intentional thought. Just with a slight loss of your temper. And while I’d admit that the thought of surrendering myself to your immolation appealed on a certain self-destruction level, I was also fifteen and deeply upset with the world. Your loss of your magic is a tragedy; I won’t pretend it’s not. I can’t imagine how awful it is for you, having to rewrite your future.” A stray thought occurred to him. “Are you staying with me because of obligation? This isn’t some sort of weird projection thing, is it? Being with a dead man not as elegant and fanciful as the serials cracked it up to be?” He didn’t think it was true; it sounded ridiculous to say out loud, but it was a mirror to Simon’s worries and he thought it needed to be said out loud anyhow, if only to toss the ridiculousness back at his boyfriend. Baz hadn’t worried about that in a few years now, even if the thought had plagued his ego consistently when they had first started dating.
His tail swished, now in obvious anger, his wings doing a strange shuddering against his back where he had attempted to keep them tucked away. Simon was getting frustrated, but Simon got easily frustrated by things he couldn't explain, the words all caught up in his throat, with misunderstanding. Why couldn't Baz just get it? Simon's world had now shrunk down into a small box, while Baz's was opening up to all these opportunities. Who would want to be with someone who had limitations? In this new city, in this domestic little flat, the problems were just put on pause.
How come Simon had difficulty saying all of this? It was always hard to explain insecurities and admitting fault. So naturally, instead of something civilized and eloquent, the first thing that exploded out of Simon was, "You don't get to use obligation if I don't! You know it's not like that! If I was projecting, then you would just understand!”
Okay, nope. He was going to try again. Simon was breathing heavily, that temper getting the better of him. No fires in sight though. "I was never with you because you were—you." Simon gestured wildly at Baz, meaning the undeadness. "I just don't want, I don't want..." Words, c'mon, Simon. He could do it. "I don't want you to resent me. I don't want to let you down because of expectations, like I’m going to get it all back. You have all these opportunities, you've got your magic and vampires, even the ones here that you are turning your bloody perfect nose up at, and all these places where you can belong."
Simon squeezed his eyes shut as he said the rest. "And I'm not anything special anymore. You saw all the ugly bits while I tried to figure it out, and I'm just... me." There was a beat, before Simon added, "A me with wings."
Baz was watching him with a steady glare that belonged to a black and white silent movie villain, the nostrils on his perfect nose flared as he struggled to get ahold of his temper. Unlike Simon, he rarely let it loose - he couldn’t afford to, not with his predilections - and so once he was certain he could speak with the lazy sort of ‘I don’t care’ tone that he knew drove Simon crazy, he said: “Your problem is that you only think you’re special because of what you could do. Not because of who you are.”
That parting shot delivered, he gave the soup another stir, a headache tightening ropes around his temples. He needed to eat, and then he needed to drink - not anything fun, mind you, but whatever the forest would give him by way of small woodland animals.
“This is done,” he said, and it wasn’t entirely clear if he was referring to the conversation or the soup. “Add in the basil, cilantro, green onions, and then a squeeze of lime. And if it’s terrible, blame the blogger who insisted on writing about her entire boring life history before she got to the actual recipe.”
That tone drove Simon crazy. That stupid, annoying, frustratingly aloof voice that had Simon simultaneously want to strangle it right out of Baz, and kiss him to shut up. It was more of the strangling at this point because there was a counter in between them that made the kissing part difficult.
And of course, he had to say the exact words that took all the fight out of his sails, slapping him across the face. Simon hated that he didn't have a good rebuttal ready; constantly living in the moment and not planning the conversation ahead. How did Simon tell Baz that he knew what he meant about being special without sounding petulant?
His expression twisted up into irritation—and sadness, Crowley, why did Baz have to be always right—his cheeks going red. "I'm not hungry anymore," Simon said, childish and a liar. His stomach gurgled loudly in protest. Was everyone against him today?
He pushed his stool away from the counter, all big dramatic movements. It made swallowing his frustration easier if he was standing. "I know what I have to do, Baz," Simon said, grabbing for his tail to tuck it around his waist. "But it's not easy, you can't just say things and it will instantly make everything alright."
Baz gave him a long look of irritation - it hurt somehow in a new place, the thought of Simon refusing his food - and turned back to the soup, pulling some into his bowl. Goddammit, he was hungry. Even if now he was just stressed. But he’d eat it anyway, because he wasn’t going to follow Simon’s lead now for anything.
“You can’t just not say things and expect for things to magically get better, either,” Baz said crisply, squeezing a lime wedge far more violently than it deserved. “But I’m not your keeper, and I’m not your therapist. If I find any place interesting to apply to, I’ll let you know.” His tone spoke of very tired things, and despite the fact that there was a perfectly good couch he’d halfway entertained visions of eating this very soup on together, he took a spot at the table, digging in immediately.
“You’re right,” he said after a moment. “It is perfect.”
Simon wanted to rewind time. If he had magic and thought hard enough about it, he could have. But he was just a twenty-something with wings and a boyfriend who cooked him Thai food that Simon was just stubbornly refusing to eat on principle. This was certainly not going how he had planned when he agreed to chop onions—a lifetime ago in this kitchen.
He silently watched Baz prepare his food, before sliding his attention down to the counter. He felt stupid, and as much as he wanted to blame Baz for that, it was his own fault. Simon huffed, and then waited the exact amount of time necessary, before following after Baz, grabbing the food he said he wasn't hungry for, and a lime, and all the other toppings for this soup.
Squeezing uncomfortably into the chair across from Baz, Simon made a show of adjusting his wings and his tail and just the whole sitting situation. He nearly knocked the bowl across the table. Simon stabbed—yes, stabbed—his soup with his spoon, giving a sharp glance to Baz and then back down. This was his compromise, sharing a meal with his boyfriend.
He wasn't talking about it, but he wasn't not talking about it. "Make sure it's a place where I can loiter." Around a spoonful of the soup (it was perfect, bloody hell), Simon added, "You can also say I'm right again whenever you want."
Baz kept his eyes off of Simon as Simon got his dinner, but it’d be a lie to say that his peripheral vision wasn’t tracking his every movement. When Simon sat across from him, Baz was focusing on a particularly difficult rice noodle, using every bit of skill he had developed over the past several years of attempting to block Simon out of his concentration and ignore him utterly and completely.
Still. At least Simon was here. Baz hadn’t been certain he’d join him at all.
He blew on the hot broth, and took a delicate sip. It was easier now than it had been, keeping his fangs in, although it was still something he had to make an effort to achieve. “You were right,” he said at last, an olive branch. “...to fancy me. I’m amazing.” Well, an olive branch on fire, but nonetheless.
From the outside looking in, their flat looked peaceful.