Wayward Son Read online
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For Rosey and Laddie May you know that you’re loved, even when you’re lost
Simon Snow did what he came to do.
What they all said he would do someday. He found the big baddie—he found two—and he finished them off.
He didn’t expect to live through it. And he hadn’t.
Baz once told him that everything was a story, and that Simon was the hero. They’d been dancing at the time. Touching. Baz was looking at Simon like anything was possible for them now, like love was inevitable.
Everything was a story. And Simon was the hero. He saved the day. That’s when stories end—with everyone looking ahead to “happily ever after.”
This is what happens if you try to hang on after the end. When your time has come and passed. When you’ve done the thing you were meant to do.
The theatre goes dark, the pages go blank.
* * *
Everything is a story, and Simon Snow’s is over.
Simon Snow is lying on the sofa.
Simon Snow is pretty much always lying on the sofa these days. With his leathery red wings tucked up behind him like a pillow and a can of cheap cider hanging off his hand.
He used to hold a sword like that. Like it was attached.
It’s finally summer in London. I’ve been studying all day—exams next week; Bunce and I are buried in books. We both pretend that Snow is studying for his exams, too. He hasn’t been at uni in weeks, I’d wager. He hasn’t been off the sofa unless it’s to go down to the corner to buy chips and cider; he ties his tail around his waist and hides his wings under a dreadful tan mackintosh—he looks like Quasimodo. Or a flasher. He looks like three kids in a trench coat pretending to be a complete wanker.
The last time I saw Snow without wings and a tail, Bunce had just got home from a lecture. She cast a concealment spell his way without even thinking about it—and he went feral on her. “For fuck’s sake, Penny, I’ll tell you if I want your magic!”
It wasn’t very long ago that all the magic was his.
He was the One, wasn’t he? The most. The magic-est.
Bunce and I never leave him alone now if we can help it. We go to lectures, we study. (That’s what Bunce and I do. That’s who we are.) But there’s always one of us around—making Snow tea he won’t drink, sharing vegetables he won’t eat, asking questions he won’t answer …
I think he hates the sight of us most days.
I think he hates the sight of me. Maybe I should take the hint.…
But Simon Snow has always hated the sight of me—with a few recent and bittersweet exceptions. In a way, that face he makes when I walk in the room (like he’s just remembered something awful) is the only thing that still feels familiar.
I’ve loved him through worse. I’ve loved him hopelessly.…
So what’s a little less hope?
“I think I’m going to get a curry,” I say. “Do you want anything?”
He doesn’t turn away from the television.
I try again. “Do you want anything, Snow?”
A month ago, I would have walked to the sofa and touched his shoulder. Three months ago, I would have dropped a kiss on his cheek. Last September, when he and Bunce first moved into this flat, I would have had to pull my mouth away from his to ask the question, and he might not have let me finish.
He shakes his head.
Maya Angelou said that when someone shows you who they are, you should believe them.
I heard that on an inspirational television show. It came on after Law & Order, and I didn’t change the channel.
When someone shows you who they are, believe them.
That’s what I’m going to say when I break up with Baz.
* * *
I’m doing it so that he doesn’t have to.
I can tell he wants to end this. I can see it in the way he looks at me. Or in the way he doesn’t look at me—because if he did, he’d have to face what a tosser he’s saddled himself with. What an absolute loser.
Baz is at uni now. Thriving.
And he’s as handsome as ever. (More handsome than ever. Taller, bolder, with a beard now anytime he wants one. Like adolescence isn’t quite done dealing him aces.)
Everything that happened last year …
Everything that happened with the Mage and the Humdrum just made Baz more of who he was meant to be. He avenged his mother. He solved the mystery that’s hung over him since he was 5. He proved himself as a man and a magician.
He proved himself right: The Mage really was evil! And I really was a fraud—“the worst Chosen One who’s ever been chosen,” just like Baz used to say. He was right about me all along.
When someone shows you who they are, believe them.
When someone fucks up absolutely everything—that person is an absolute fuckup.
I don’t know how to make it any more clear to him. I lie here on the sofa. And I don’t have any plans. And I don’t have any promise. And this is what I am.
Baz fell in love with what I was—power and potential unchecked. Nuclear bombs are nothing but potential.
Now I’m what comes after.
Now I’m the three-headed frog. The radioactive fallout.
I think Baz would have broken up with me by now if he didn’t feel so sorry for me. (And if he hadn’t promised to love me. Magicians get hung up on honour.)
So I’ll be the one to do it. I can do it. One time, an orc-upine shot a needle into my shoulder, and I tore it out with my own teeth—I can handle pain.
I just …
I wanted a few more nights of this. Of him being here in the room with me, mine on the surface at least.
I’ll never have someone like Baz again. There is no one like Baz; it’s like dating someone out of a legend. He’s a heroic vampire, a gifted magician. He’s dead handsome. (I used to be someone out of a legend. I was Foretold, you know? I used to be part of the oral tradition.)
I wanted a few more nights of this.…
But I hate watching Baz suffer. I hate being the reason he suffers.
“Baz,” I say. I sit up and set down my can of cider. (Baz hates cider, even the smell of it.)
He’s standing at the front door. “Yes?”
I swallow. “When someone shows you who they are—”
Penny bursts in then, jamming Baz’s shoulder with the door.
“For Crowley’s sake, Bunce!”
“I’ve got it!” Penny drops her backpack. She’s wearing a baggy purple T-shirt, and her dark brown hair is scraped into a messy knot at the top of her head.
“Got what?” Baz frowns.
“We”—she points at Baz and me both—“are going on holiday!”
I rub my palms into my eyes. They’re crunchy with sleep, even though I’ve been up for hours. “Not goin