She sat on her chair.
“How’d you do in YA Lit?” she asked.
Levi just looked at her for a few seconds. “I got a B-minus.”
“That’s good, right?”
“How’s your dad?” he asked.
“Better,” she said. “It’s complicated.”
“How’s your sister?”
“I don’t know, we’re not really talking.”
“I’m not very good at this,” Cath said, looking down at her lap.
“Whatever this is. Boy–girl stuff.”
Levi laughed, lightly.
“What?” she asked.
“You’re a lot better at boy–boy, aren’t you?”
They were both quiet again. Levi eventually broke the silence. She was pretty sure he could be counted on in every silence-breaking scenario. “Cath?”
“Is this—? Are you giving me another chance?”
“I don’t know,” she said, watching her hands clench and unclench in her lap.
“Do you want to?”
“What do you mean?” She let her eyes stumble up to his face. His cheeks were pale, and he was chewing on his bottom lip.
“I mean … are you rooting for me?”
Cath shook her head, and this time it just meant that she was confused. “What do you mean?”
“I mean…” Levi leaned forward, hands still fisted in his pockets. “I mean, I spent four months trying to kiss you and the last six weeks trying to figure out how I managed to f**k everything up. All I want now is to make it right, to make you see how sorry I am and why you should give me another chance. And I just want to know—are you rooting for me? Are you hoping I pull this off?”
Cath’s eyes settled on his, tentatively, like they’d fly away if he moved.
She nodded her head.
The right side of his mouth pulled up.
“I’m rooting for you,” she whispered. She wasn’t even sure he could hear her from the bed.
Levi’s smile broke free and devoured his whole face. It started to devour her face, too. Cath had to look away.
* * *
That’s how she ended up with hundred-watt Levi. Sitting on her bed and grinning like everything was going to be just fine.
She felt like telling him to slow down—that it wasn’t fine. She hadn’t forgiven him yet, and even though she was probably going to, she still didn’t trust him. She didn’t trust anyone, and that was a problem. That was a fundamental problem.
“You should take off your coat,” Cath said instead.
Levi unzipped his jacket and shouldered out of it, setting it on her bed. He was wearing a sweater she’d never seen before. An olive green cardigan with pockets and leather buttons. She wondered if it was a Christmas present.
“C’mere,” he said.
Cath shook her head. “I’m not ready for ‘c’mere.’”
Levi reached out, and she went still—but he was just reaching toward her desk, for her laptop. He picked it up and held it. “I’m not gonna do anything,” he said. “Just come here.”
“Is that your best line? ‘I’m not gonna do anything’?”
“I know that sounded stupid,” he said, “but you make me nervous. Please.” The ultimate magic word. Cath was already standing up. She kicked off her boots and sat twelve inches away from him on the bed. If she made Levi nervous, he made her catatonic.
He set the computer in her lap.
When she looked up to his eyes, he was smiling. Nervously.
“Cather,” he said, “read me some fanfiction.”
“Because. I don’t know where else to start. And it makes things easier. It makes … you easier.” Cath raised her eyebrows, and he shook his head, agitating his hair with one hand. “That sounded stupid, too.”
Cath opened her laptop and turned it on.
This was crazy. They should be talking. She should be asking questions, he should be apologizing—and then she should be apologizing and telling him what a bad idea it was for them even to be talking.
“I don’t remember where we left off,” she said.
“Simon had just touched Baz’s hand, and it was cold.”
“How can you possibly remember that?”
“All of my reading brain cells go to remembering things instead.”
Cath opened up the Word doc and scrolled through it. “‘Baz’s hand was cold and limp,’” she read out loud. “‘When Simon looked closer, he realized that the other boy was asleep.…’” Cath looked up again. “This is weird,” she said. “Isn’t this weird?”
Levi had turned sideways to face her. His arms were folded, and his shoulder was pushed into the wall. He smiled at her and shrugged.
Cath shook her head again, wasn’t sure what she meant by it, then looked down at the computer and started to read.
Simon was tired, too. He wondered if there was an enchantment in the nursery that made you sleepy. He thought about all the little babies, the toddlers—about Baz—waking up to a room full of vampires. And then Simon fell asleep.
When he woke up, Baz was sitting with his back to the fire, staring up at the rabbit.
“I decided not to kill you in your sleep,” Baz said without looking down. “Happy Christmas.”
Simon rubbed his eyes and sat up. “Thanks?”
“Have you tried any spells?”
“The letter didn’t say to spell them. It just said to find them.”
“Yes,” Baz said impatiently. They must not have slept long—Baz still looked tired. “But presumably the sender knows you’re a magician and assumes you might actually consider using magic from time to time.”
“What kind of spells?” Simon asked, glancing up at the sleeping rabbit.
“I don’t know.” Baz waved his white-tipped wand in the air. “Presto chango.”
“A changing spell? What are you trying to do?”
“Didn’t you say I should do more research before barreling forward into danger?”
“That was before I’d stared at this damnable rabbit for half the night.” Baz flicked his wand. “Before and after.”
“Before and after only works on living things,” Simon said.
“Experimenting. Cock-a-doodle-doo.” Nothing happened.
“Why didn’t you stay asleep?” Simon asked. “You look like you haven’t slept since first year. You’re pale as a ghost.”
“Ghosts aren’t pale, they’re translucent. And pardon me if I don’t feel like snuggling up with you in the room where my mother was murdered.”
Simon grimaced and cast his eyes down. “Sorry,” he said. “I hadn’t thought of that.”
“Stop the bleeding presses,” Baz said, and waved his wand at the rabbit again. “Please.”
Baz gulped. Simon thought he might be crying, and turned away to give him some space.
“Snow … are you absolutely sure there was nothing more in that letter?”
Simon heard a heavy rustling above them. He looked up to see the giant, luminous animal stirring in its sleep. Baz was stumbling to his feet. Simon stood, too, and stepped back, taking Baz’s arm. “Careful,” Baz hissed, jerking away from Simon and away from the fireplace behind them.
“Vampire,” Levi said smugly. “Flammable.” Levi’s eyes were closed now and his head was tipped against the wall. Cath looked at him for a moment. He opened an eye and nudged her leg with his knee. She hadn’t thought she was sitting that close.
Above them, the rabbit seemed to take on dimension and heft. It stretched its back legs against the sky and twitched its nose. Its ears quivered to attention.
“Are we supposed to catch it?” Baz asked. “Talk to it? Sing it a nice, magical song?”
“I don’t know,” Simon said. “I was awaiting further instructions.”
The rabbit opened one boulder-sized, pink eye.
“Here’s an instruction—do you have your sword?”
“Yes,” Simon said.
“But it’s the Moon Rabbit…,” Simon argued. “It’s famous.”
The rabbit turned its head from the ceiling (on closer inspection, its eyes were more red than pink) and opened its mouth—to yawn, Simon hoped—revealing incisors like fangs, like long white knives.
“Sword, Snow. Now.” Baz was already holding his wand in the air like he was about to start conducting a symphony. He really was grandiose sometimes.
Simon held his right hand over his hip and whispered the incantation the Mage had taught him. “In justice. In courage. In defense of the weak. In the face of the mighty. Through magic and wisdom and good.”
He felt the hilt materialize in his hand. It wouldn’t always come, the Mage had warned him; the blade had a mind of its own. If Simon called it in the wrong situation, even in ignorance, the Sword of Mages wouldn’t answer.
The hare reached with its forepaw almost timidly toward the floor of the nursery—then fell from the ceiling in a graceful lump, like a pet rabbit shuffling off a sofa.
“Don’t strike,” Simon said. “We still don’t know its intentions.… What are your intentions?” he shouted. It was a magic rabbit—perhaps it could talk.
The rabbit cocked its head, as if in answer, and shrieked at the empty spot in the sky.
“We’re not here to hurt you,” Simon said. “Just … calm down.”
“Crowley, Snow, are you going to ask it to heel next?”
“Well, we’ve got to do something.”
“I think we should run.”
The rabbit was crouching between them and the door. Simon reached for his wand with his left hand. “Calm down, Please!” he shouted, trying the powerful word again. The rabbit sent a stream of angry spittle in his direction.
“Yes, all right,” Simon said to Baz, “we run. On the count of three.”
Baz had already made a break for the door. The rabbit screeched at him but wouldn’t turn its back on Simon. It swiped at Simon’s legs with a deadly-looking claw.
He managed to jump clear, but the hare immediately aimed at him from the other direction. When it cuffed him on the head, Simon wondered if Baz would even bother to bring back help. It probably wouldn’t matter; no one would ever get here in time. Simon swung his sword at the rabbit, slicing it, and it pulled back its paw as if it’d caught a thorn there. Then the beast rose up onto its haunches, practically howling.
Simon scrambled to his feet … and saw ball after ball of fire catch in the rabbit’s white fur.
“You filthy, bloody rodent!” Baz was shouting. “You’re supposed to be a protector. A good-luck charm. Not a f**king monster. To think I used to make cakes for you and burn incense.… I take back the cakes!”
“You tell him,” Simon said.
“Shut up, Snow. You’ve got a wand and a sword, and you choose to wag your useless tongue at me?”
Simon swung his sword again at the rabbit. In a fight, he always favored his sword over his wand.
In between balls of fire magic, Baz was trying paralyzing spells and painful curses. Nothing but the fire seemed to make a difference.
The sword was working—Simon could hurt the rabbit—but not enough. He may as well have been scratching at it with an embroidery needle.
“I think it’s immune to magic!” Baz yelled, just as the rabbit charged toward him.
Simon ran up the hare’s back and tried to sink his sword through the dense fur at its scruff. The blade slid along its hide without piercing it.
Baz charged, too, casting his wand aside and leaping onto the rabbit’s chest. The animal thrashed, and Simon grabbed its neck and held on. He caught glimpses of Baz through the frenzy of fur and fang. The rabbit was swinging at Baz with its teeth, and Baz was holding on to a long ear—bashing at its nose with his arm. Then Baz’s head disappeared into the rabbit’s fur. The next time Simon saw a flash of him, the other boy’s face was painted red with blood.
“Baz!” Simon lost his grip, and the rabbit threw him across the room. He landed on the ring of futons and tried to roll with the impact. When he picked himself up again, he saw that the rabbit was flailing around on its back, all four paws tearing at the air. Baz lay across its stomach like he was hugging a giant stuffed animal—the white fur around his head a bloody mess.
“No,” Simon whispered. “Baz. No!” He ran toward the rabbit, holding his sword with both hands over his head, then plunged it with all his strength into one red eye. The rabbit collapsed, utterly limp, a paw falling into the fire.
“Baz,” Simon croaked, tugging at the other boy’s arm. He expected Baz to be limp, too, but he wouldn’t budge. Simon tried again, digging his fingers into Baz’s slim shoulder. Baz reached back and pushed him off. Simon fell to the ground, confused.
That’s when he noticed that Baz was pressing his face into the rabbit’s neck. Nursing at it. There were gashes along the hare’s throat and ear, much deeper than anything Simon had accomplished with his sword. Baz hiked his knees up the rabbit’s chest and pushed its giant maw to the side, craning his head deeper into the gore at its neck.
“Baz…,” Simon whispered, slowly finding his feet. For a moment—for a few moments—he just watched.
Finally Baz seemed … finished.
He dropped down off the rabbit and stood there, with his back to Simon. Simon watched as Baz reached for the Mage’s Sword and slid it bloodily from the beast’s eye.