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Kieren knew love well enough; he'd loved and been loved before.

He'd never been cherished before.

Simon loved him the way poets wrote about love, and artists drew. Simon loved him enough to die for him, and it was both frightening and comforting at the same time. Rick had risked death to get away from Roarton, and it had killed him; Simon had risked death to stay, and Kieren couldn't stand the thought of losing him.

Kieren would wake up to Simon grabbing a book or burying his face in a pillow, pretending he hadn't been watching Kieren while he slept. Simon would wave him goodbye after a visit and turn around two, three times during his walk away, as if needing to check Kieren hadn't disappeared.

"I'm not going anywhere," Kieren had told him over and over, and he hadn't added, "Where would I go anyway?" in months. Simon took things to heart, and wouldn't always admit when he was hurt.

Kieren knew he liked Simon, but he didn't love Simon the way Simon loved him, recklessly and unconditionally. He didn't mind the thought of staying with Simon for the rest of his second life, but love was complicated, tied up with family and bullets and lost friends, and he wasn't certain he wanted it.

 

It was complicated further by how Kieren couldn't fathom how Simon's mind worked at times, and he was increasingly sure Simon felt the same way about him. Sometimes talking to Simon felt like talking in a different language, because Simon often took him seriously when he was clearly being sarcastic, and other times Simon would be utterly confused by a simple question or simple answer.

Simon was an open book and a mystery at the same time, to the point where he wished he had Amy around so they could nickname him Agatha Christie. He already had plenty of in-jokes with Jem. He hadn't had enough with Amy.

Simon still hesitated every time they kissed, as if waiting for permission, but he had no qualms about draping himself over Kieren with no regards for their surroundings. It wasn't just an act of defiance, like when they would take a train together and sit side by side, one of them resting their head on the other's shoulder and ignoring anyone who glared at them for it. Sometimes Simon was wholly oblivious, sliding a hand under Kieren's shirt or taking Kieren's wrist and kissing his fingers one by one in front of his parents.

Kieren couldn't decide if Simon's quirks were funny or frustrating at first, but after a period of fluctuating between both answers, he started to think of the quirks as sweet.

There weren't many people in the world who would wake you up with a kiss, and say without a hint of irony, "Sorry love. You're just so beautiful."

Simon didn't half talk bullshit at times, but once in a while, it was the right sort of bullshit.

 

Kieren doubted he would ever have bothered to visit Ireland if Simon hadn't waxed lyrical about the southern countryside so much. Technically their trip was illegal - they had British PDS ID cards, not Irish - but the man they'd rented their barge from hadn't particularly cared. He'd made good money off undocumented individuals before, and as far as he was concerned, a sailing "rabid" wasn't far from being a stranded rabid.

Kieren liked waking up in a bed larger than the one waiting for him back at home, and finding Simon already up and at the wheel, his oversized sweater and pale skin suiting the grey canal banks and greyer skies. He liked seeing Simon relaxed, quiet and thoughtful as he steered the boat, and he liked seeing Simon at peace without Kieren holding his hand.

Kieren climbed out of bed, not yet bothering to change out of the pyjamas he'd slept in, and snuck up on Simon, wrapping his arms tight around Simon's waist. He couldn't feel heat, and knew Simon ought to be cold, but the illusion of warmth was enough to be satisfying.

"Wish they'd fix mobile phones already," Kieren murmured against Simon's shoulder.

"What for?"

"So we could run away without scaring fam."

It was a fleeting fantasy, but worth sharing for Simon's smile.

 

They moored for the night as far from the other docked barges as they could, knowing the light from their lanterns wouldn't make their undead state obvious at a distance. Simon's face suited shadows, and the flickering lantern light reminded Kieren of the first time he knew the chemistry between them wasn't all in his head. Promises that he wasn't alone, promises that he was wanted, and a hand covering his own, offering something new.

"There's me."

Kieren listened to Simon playing his guitar, soft and quiet, his voice a deep rumble that could reach Kieren's bones despite the layers and layers of dead nerves covering them. There wasn't any real theme to his music choices - there were songs of roaming and sight-seeing, songs of coming home, songs of love, and songs of loss - but somehow they all fit together. Kieren could have listened to him for hours.

They might have sat like that together all night, Kieren cross-legged at Simon's feet while he played, if a voice from one of the further out boats hadn't yelled, "Y'missed the best verse out!"

Simon froze up, Kieren resting a hand on his knee as they watched the distant boat light up, a sweater-clad couple walking into view with a guitar of their own.

"I think that's a challenge," Kieren teased, smiling at Simon to reassure him as the other couple started singing.

Within half an hour the whole dock was alight, couples and singles and families joining in on the sing-a-long, and Kieren held all the tighter to Simon, grinning at the thought they had somehow started this. He even joined in singing on the songs he knew, and a few choruses of songs he didn't after picking them up.

Their bodies didn't allow for tears, but the way Simon's hand took Kieren's own and squeezed it tight enough for Kieren to hear his bones creak was expressive enough.

 

Simon didn't want to go to bed any more than Kieren did when they reached the point of both slumping together on the floor of the barge, yawning after every few words and pinching numb skin to try and wake themselves up.

"That was fucking magic," Simon said after they finally conceded defeat and retreated inside, half-walking and half-lazily dancing their way to bed.

"It was perfect," Kieren agreed, and thought, you were perfect, and then, as he peeled off his jacket and set it aside, thought, I love you. If he hadn't been so tired, the thought might have startled him, but fatigue left it feeling more like the recognition of something obvious than a dramatic revelation. It was simple and obvious and he might never have known if he hadn't looked at it the right way, just like learning addition and subtraction for the first time.

"Simon?"

"Yeah?"

Kieren kicked off his boots before flopping down on the bed and waiting for Simon to join him. "Guess what?"

Simon kicked off his own shoes and climbed on alongside Kieren, scooping Kieren into his arms and pouting in pretend thought for a moment. "You're pregnant."

Kieren snorted, shook his head, and said, "I love you."

Simon stared at him, dumbfounded, and Kieren wondered if that expression was going to stick before the moment was broken by Simon punching him in the arm. "You beat me to it, you fucker," Simon grumbled before swallowing Kieren's first attempt to laugh with a kiss, covering the second with, "I love you too," and echoing the third with laughter of his own.

 

Kieren didn't love Simon like a poet or an artist. He loved him like the average, everyday human.

And that felt like enough.