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Betwixt and Between

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It is still hanging there, between them, the unanswered question.

"You left. I searched everywhere for you. Where did you go?"

Simon had tried, right after Amy, to explain it to Kieren, but he couldn't, not directly. He had still felt a bit unglued, not completely sure himself where he'd gone. So there the question sits, in midair, maintaining a little treacherous space between them that Simon can't quite close until it is answered.

*

The first time he tries again, Simon has joined the Walkers for another Sunday "lunch", although only slightly more than half of the participants eat from the vast spread of food, of course (Kieren has shared that he thinks his mum will never stop cooking for him, and he's stopped trying to stop her). Simon volunteers for clean-up duty, the least he can do, really, for this family willing to take him in, conduct awkward small talk about village life, and let him share their son.

Kieren joins him at the sink with a dish towel, and they silently pass the dripping plates and bowls and forks for a few minutes. Simon can hear Sue and Steve in the next room picking out a film to watch, accompanied by Jem's sarcastic commentary. Something about his easy acceptance by the Walkers presses a need in Simon's gut. Makes him want to do things right, be worthy of this. Of Kieren. Simon starts to feel the pressure of the unanswered question hanging there between them.

Simon clears his throat. He's never sure how to begin. "Hey."

Kieren looks at him, "Yeah?"

"I've been meaning to say something." Just start. "You remember those actions last autumn. The one in the city."

Kieren takes a plate from Simon's soapy grasp. "Hmm?" Distracted, but Simon sees the moment Kieren's brain processes his words. "Wait. What are you saying?"

"The attacks in the cities." Simon starts to scrub at the casserole dish, can't look at Kieren, has to keep talking. "I knew those people. All ULA. Some were...friends."

"Oh." Kieren has not stopped drying the same plate, Simon can see him out of the corner of his eye. "Why are you telling me this?"

Simon's hands are covered in suds, he watches them rather than face Kieren. "I need you to know some things. What they were like." Pull it together, Monroe, Jesus Christ. Simon turns to look at Kieren. "What I was like."

"Simon. I knew who you were."

This stops Simon's progress and he looks over at Kieren. "Did ye?"

"Yeah. Well, I sort of...assumed. Mr. Disciple and all." Kieren's back is to Simon, he's stacking dried bowls in the cupboard. After a quiet moment, he adds, "I found Blue Oblivion in your room."

Simon goes still, hands in the sink. "You did?"

"Gary got it off me."

Oh Jesus. It's like being punched. Simon wants throw the dripping casserole against the wall to watch it shatter. (He wants a hit.) Instead, he calmly places the dish on the counter for Kieren to dry. "Shit," he says instead, which really doesn't cover it.

"Did you want to hurt people?" Kieren asks.

Simon fishes the last stray silverware from the sink, grateful for something to do with his hands. He wants to grab Kieren, hold him close, but he'll never be able to pull him all the way in unless he keeps talking. "Sometimes."

"Did you?"

This is the opening, Simon can see the path clear to the end, he can tell Kieren now, and let the question be answered, and find out at last what Kieren will do when he knows who Simon really is.

"No," Simon starts, and Kieren lets out a little breath, and Simon inhales to keep talking, ("...but almost,") when Jem comes barging in from the sitting room.

"Fucking blu-ray, Jesus." Jem pulls open a cabinet and grabs a beer, then leans back against the counter, cracks it open.

Simon goes back to rinsing the final dishes, can't look at either of them. His heart is quiet in his chest, but it feels like his pulse is racing.

"You dickheads with your noble offer to do the washing up, leaving me to face that insanity alone." She takes a long pull of her beer. "I mean, how many menus can one man look at before hitting the play button?"

Simon watches the water drain from the sink, and Kieren steps up close and hands him the dish towel to dry off, his hand brushing a secret line (that Simon can feel, how can he feel it?) along Simon's lower back that says are you okay? I am okay, and then the moment is gone. They follow Jem to the sitting room to watch Ben-Hur, and fall asleep on the sofa, and then go back the bungalow and wrap up tight around each other all night.

The question is still unanswered.

*

The next time he tries they are at the bungalow.

Amy left the place to Simon in her will, so he could "be a gorgeous guiding light" for the undead of Roarton Valley, with the addendum, "Guitar played daily." For several weeks, he's just lived there, like a camper or a guest, unable to move a single item that had been Amy's or her Gran's. (He's covered the ULA graffiti with a tacked up sheet, his only alteration.) Then one afternoon, when Kieren is over and it's calm and quiet, Kieren just stands up and starts taking the place apart. After a few minutes, Simon rises and joins him. They fill five boxes full of fake flowers and old photos and religious knick-knacks in less than half an hour, and the place looks odd and stark, but suddenly Simon believes that he might really be able to stay there.

He's never had his own home before; never, ever lived alone. Before, he'd always talked his way to a friend's sofa, a communal flat, a shared house. In this life, he's been sheltered by the prophet, always with other believers. This is new, terrifying.

Kieren helps him, patiently stripping the beds, emptying drawers, and taking down frilly curtains. They pull all the furniture out of place, just to make a change, to exorcize the Dyer family ghosts, or at least shake them up a little. They clean and scrub.

It's a whole week before the place is down to the bare bones. Shirley Wilson stops by on her rounds and helps them take a load of things to the charity shop, and Simon picks up a few new items there as well, a bedspread and a lamp he likes. He came to Roarton with everything he owns in the world, hardly enough to fill a small rucksack. Later that afternoon, Shirley stops by with a huge bag of brand new sheets, pillows, and towels, tied with a big bow. "Housewarming," she says, and Simon can't hardly get his voice to say, "Thank you."

Kieren brings over one his new paintings, just of feet (his new obsession, so many sketches of feet), but Simon knows the shoes: Amy's and Kieren's and his own. Simon hangs it in the sitting room- his sitting room- and stares at it all afternoon, overwhelmed. Kieren sits by him (drawing Simon's feet) until long after dark.

One of the ways Simon made himself indispensable at his various flats and co-ops over the years was by being a decent cook. The prophet had spoken harshly against keeping up useless human skills, so Simon has not made anything in the kitchen but neurotriptyline (using a very different set of his human skills) for years. But he's not following the prophet anymore, is he, so after another week of settling and rearranging, he shocks himself (and Kieren, eyes wide and full of doubt) by inviting the Walkers over and Shirley as well (she brings Tom Russo; Philip is invited if he wants, which seems unlikely, and he doesn't). Simon makes a roast and potatoes. Odd to not be able to taste it himself, but the crowd of the living seems pleased. Kieren's hooked up a little stereo, there's music, and everyone with bloodflow has a few glasses of wine.

Simon diverts to the kitchen all evening, claiming he's checking on the food. Kieren has to come and talk him back out, looking rather desperate ("Can't listen to another word about the decorations for next year's fete, Simon."). Simon had not realized how a crowd, in this space, would affect him. He's not sure what to say, feels an odd instinct to preach. He's rattled and awed at the normalcy he's invited into his life.

Kieren has extracted him from the kitchen once more (this time with a long kiss and a look), and settled him down next to him on the sofa.

"How's the shoulder, Simon? Holding together?" Tom Russo had stapled the gunshot wound closed on his back, and it's held, looks all right. He'd also repaired the ripped staples on his lower spine without comment, a thoughtful gesture for which Simon cannot possibly express his appreciation.

"Fine," Simon says. "Good as it will ever be."

"Suppose that's true," says Shirley with a laugh. "But aren't we all so thankful for what you did." She takes a big gulp of wine and in all innocence says, "What a horrible day that was. What luck you were even in the cemetary that morning. What were ye doing? Seems the entire village was there." She shakes her head, sighs, and pats Kieren on the knee, and suddenly the unanswered question is looming over Simon, casting it's long shadow.

Simon can't even think of a lie. He's so off-kilter, surrounded by this kindness. If he opens his mouth, the truth is going to come spilling out all over this new, fragile life he's building, right in front of all of these generous people who have gone out of their way to help him, when he hasn't deserved any of it. He considers for a moment, his jaw unclenches and his mouth forms the first vowel ("I'd followed Kieren there to kill him, actually."), but he can't do it. He wants this life now, is desperate to keep it. His days of self-destruction are behind.

Kieren's already managed to change the subject, got his dad talking about the history of the Beating of the Bounds. Simon lets his lips fall closed again, swallows the words, and let's them steep for a little while longer.

*

Last time he tries, a hard week later.

The bungalow has a window smashed, crude graffiti scrawled across that says, "Dead Man." The unintentional irony and petty childishness smack of Zoe and her crowd, so Simon's not too concerned. (He knows who the prophet sends when he's serious, and they wouldn't be coming to vandalize his house.)

Kieren however, is a mess. Doesn't understand who would do this (Simon's fault, he hasn't told him), won't let Simon out of his sight. He makes Simon stay at his house for two days while they repair the window and have all the locks changed. Steve hires Dean to repaint the bungalow (his new business, Simon tries to let go of his resentment there, but is not very successful; the paint job is fine, however).

Kieren insists on walking back with Simon, late in the afternoon, when all of the work is finished and he can return home. (Simon does not mind, of course, hopes Kieren'll stay. Always wants Kieren to stay.) Kieren walks with him like a bodyguard, just ahead, eyes darting everywhere, and if Simon didn't feel so damn guilty about putting him through any of this, it would be endearing.

Inside the door, Kieren slams it shut and turns the new bolt, sags against it. This can't go on. Simon turns to him, cups Kieren's face (gorgeous, worried), and kisses him, presses him back against the door, doesn't let go, trying not to let himself wonder if this will be the last time.

When he pulls away, Kieren's eyes are still wide. "What's that for?"

Simon swallows his fear, lets himself look hard at Kieren, gathers his courage (in short supply). "I haven't been fair to you."

It's obviously not what Kieren thinks he's about to say. "What do you mean?"

"I need to answer your question."

"Haven't asked one."

"Not recently. No." Simon waits patiently, sees Kieren's skeptical expression slowly morph from confusion to memory to understanding. Simon knows Kieren's been waiting for this as well.

"Oh."

"There are things I need to tell you. You shouldn't be in the dark, suffering for my mistakes. I want to set this straight with you." Simon looks at Kieren, whose face is still in Simon's hands. "Need to."

Kieren shifts in Simon's grasp, gives him a wry look. "Will this require a stiff drink? Because I'm afraid that's out of the question."

Simon manages to smile a little. "You'll be all right." (God, Simon is in love with him.)

They settle in the sitting room, Kieren perched on the edge of the sofa, alert. Simon can't bring himself to sit, stands in the doorway instead.

"This is about where you disappeared to?" Kieren asks.

Simon nods. He just needs to start, and all of the doubt can be laid to rest. Jesus. Big intake of air, to get the words to start coming. "You watched the Undead Prophet preach."

"The videos? Sure. We all have."

"You know of his vision of the second rising?"

Kieren is very still, and his face flashes a moment of deep pain, not at all what Simon expected (this isn't the hard part). He can't look at him for a moment. Kieren starts shaking his head before the words come. "No no, not more of that insane second rising shit, Simon. You can't...no."

"I don't believe in it anymore."

"But you did."

"Yes."

"That myth ruins lives, Simon. Kills people."

"I know."

Kieren is obviously far away for a moment, in some other memory. Then his gaze snaps back to Simon, totally present. "Simon?"

"Hmm."

"Sit down?" Simon crosses the room and sits next to Kieren on the sofa, leaving space between them. Kieren reaches over and takes Simon's hand, holds it so tight in his own so that Simon can feel it. "Will you just just say it, whatever you need to say."

Simon nods. He looks at the place where their hands are joined, and starts talking. "The prophet believed he had discovered the key to the second rising. We needed to find the first risen, the first of the redeemed to break out of their prison and walk the earth. When we found that person, the second rising could begin."

Kieren is shaking his head, "Why did you even want that?"

It's just like Kieren to ask the question Simon is not prepared to answer. "We thought the second risen would change things, make it impossible to persecute and control us anymore. New allies, an army of redeemed soldiers to combat the evil of the living." Simon can still hear the prophet's gravelly voice, remember the beauty of this vision, but he knows he's not really telling Kieren the truth. "And there are always people you wish you could...bring back." Kieren's grip on his hand tightens, and so Simon goes on.

"So why did you leave?" Kieren's voice is soft.

"I'd found him. The first risen."

"Here?"

Simon nods. "The prophet believed that the first risen came from Roarton cemetary."

Kieren stares at Simon, then rolls his eyes. "I'm sorry, that is ridiculous, Simon. How could the bloody Undead Prophet know that. For all any of us know, the first to rise was in, I don't know...Peru or...Afghanistan."

"I see that now, Kieren, I really do."

Kieren settles back down, leans against the cushions of the sofa, still holding Simon's hand in an iron grip. "I know you...broke with them. The ULA. I'm not an idiot, I've noticed they aren't sleeping on the sofa anymore or having meetings here. I just...it's hard to imagine you really believed this stuff."

Now or never. Simon closes his eyes, lets the words finally flow, after they had been trapped inside of him for so long, like the breaking of a dam. "When I left, where I went, the prophet told me I had to kill him, the first risen, to make the second rising happen." Kieren looks properly horrified, so Simon steam-rollers on. "I didn't know, had no idea what I would be asked until I went to the city to get my instructions."

"Kill him. Jesus, Simon. That's horrible. Who was it?"

Last chance. Simon closes his eyes, and opens his mouth to say You but Kieren beats him to it. "Are they still in danger? We can help them, or I can if you can't. It must have been someone who was already up when I rose. There were seven or eight, I reckon, and Amy was there, I remember her skirt..."

Someone who was already up when I rose. Kieren is still talking, Simon can see his lips moving, but his own vision and hearing has tunneled down to nothing at Kieren's words. Someone who was already up when I rose. Oh god. Ohgodohgod. Simon feels like he's floating.

"You weren't alone?" He's interrupted Kieren, but he can't hear properly and the words just come out.

"When I rose? No. What gave you that idea?"

"Oh Jesus." Simon lets himself fall back against the sofa cushions, can't hold himself up. This is too much. (He's accepted this isn't Hell; don't be Hell.) "You did."

"I did?"

"At lunch."

Kieren's face is starting to show his panic, Simon can see he's putting it all together. "At lunch? With Gary?"

"Yes." Ohgod.

"What, when I also said I rose at the stroke of midnight in the pouring rain and there was a lightning storm? You believed all that?"

Simon nods, can't stop nodding.

"Jesus, Simon, that was fucking poetic license." He releases Simon's hand (oh) and stands up, his back to Simon. His voice is terrifying, soft and to himself. "Oh my god, you thought it was me, didn't you?"

Nod.

"You were supposed to knock me off and get your precious second rising?"

Simon looks at Kieren, hopes he can sense his agony, feel his regret, because the only thing he can say is, "I was."

"Jesus Christ, Simon."

Kieren grabs his coat, strides to the entryway, (fumbles with the new locks), and slams the door hard behind him. For better or worse, the question is answered.

*

Kieren is gone for four long hours. Simon spends most of it sitting on the sofa and staring at the trio of feet on his wall.

Everything he'd believed, believed with a devout and certain passion (life is meaningless, the undead are more perfect than the living, he is the first risen), has been proven wrong. His flesh has been stripped bare, his new home cleared and emptied, and now this. It is an odd sense of freedom. Rising from the dead had only been the beginning. He can feel the open, endless possibilities. Everything is new.

The sun sets. Simon doesn't bother with the lights.

Finally, the door rattles, and Simon has a brief bad moment (Zoe?), but then Kieren's soft voice calls, "Simon?" and there is the click of the door latch and the bolt being turned.

"In here."

Kieren appears in the doorway, leans against the jam, arms crossed. "Sitting alone in the dark. Never a good sign."

Simon let's himself feel a tiny sliver of hope at Kieren's tone. He reaches up and turns on the lamp by his shoulder. Kieren is wet and a little muddy, but otherwise looks like himself. Simon wants to wrap his arms around him, say anything to make him understand, forgive him.

"Where did you go?" Simon says instead.

"Cemetery. Had a long think. There was someone I needed to talk to."

"How was that?"

Kieren shrugs. "One-sided."

Simon is too wrung-out, by this day, this week, this life, to do more than hope. Maybe Kieren can sense how little he can manage (Simon's imagines how he must look to Kieren, slumped on the sofa, still wearing his coat from the walk over, hours before), because he comes over to the sofa, grabs Simon by the hand, and pulls him up.

"Come on."

"Where are we going?"

"To meet someone."

Simon let's himself be led; Kieren has his hand in his firm grip again, and he takes Simon out the door and sets them off on a path, hand-in-hand, through the village. They don't talk on the way, but Simon is strangely at peace, giving this moment entirely over to Kieren, at his mercy. (Please, let there be mercy.)

They enter the new cemetery, a small forest of white crosses. Simon hasn't been back here since that day. It's beautiful in the dusk, the crosses glowing as the last of the daylight seeps out of the woods. Kieren leads him to the last row, the newest graves. Simon can't read the name, but he can see the fresh flowers; looks like a new one was added today. He has a guess.

Kieren sits, gestures for Simon to sit, too.

"Hey Rick," Kieren says, addressing the grave, "this is Simon, the one I was telling you about."

Simon shifts, unsure (he has no idea what to do here, at all, completely out of his ability to improvise), but Kieren holds his hand touches his knee. Stay. He talks to the soil.

"I thought you'd want to meet him, seeing as how he saved my life. Now I know, small problem that he briefly considered the need to murder me, but, well, I've thought about it now and here's the important part. He didn't. Every powerful thing in his life was telling him he had to, and he didn't. Instead he turned his back on his beliefs, put himself in danger, and possibly even decided to stay in Roarton- fucking Roarton, Rick- for me. So, you know, as the one person in my life who can appreciate how much I needed someone putting themselves out there for me, as someone who always wanted that for me, I thought you should meet."

Kieren only makes it to "saved my life," before Simon starts to shake; he's been beyond forgiveness for so long, with his family, with himself. It's too much. He can't tear his gaze away from Kieren, magical Kieren, can't even blink. Kieren, whose pale skin glows as bright as the crosses, who is not special for any other reason than that he just is, and Simon is lucky enough to have figured it out.

They sit for a few minutes like that before Kieren starts to speak again. "Now, I know what you are thinking, Rick," Kieren's voice shifts, teasing, he's squeezing Simon's hand hard, "Ren, this guy is just sitting on me grave, silent, staring at you, looking moody and intense. But he does that, Rick, it's all part of his moody, intense-guy charm."

Kieren gives Simon a sly, side-long look, full of forgiveness, and Simon can't hold it in anymore; an odd sound, made up of a collection of sobs and laughter and relief comes rolling out of him. Kieren slides close, so that they are pressed together, shoulder to hip (Simon can see it (feel it?)), and he holds Simon's hands in both of his and is just there with him, for as long as it takes, while Simon feels all of it.

It's full dark now. Kieren leans his head on to Simon's shoulder, and Simon honestly believes (his first new belief?) that he could sit all night like this, and maybe all day again, it's so right. But after a few more minutes, Kieren nudges him in the shoulder, and starts to rise, brushing himself off.

"So, it's late, Rick. I'm going to take Simon home now. He has a home here, and it might be a teeny bit my home too. When we get there, I'm going to push him up against the wall, and kiss him for hours, and then take off all of his clothes- which I must add you never let me do, which was truly short-sighted of you- and then if I'm lucky he'll take mine off too, and...well, fuck it, Rick." Kieren's gaze latches on to Simon's. "You can just go ahead and imagine the rest."

Kieren reaches out his hand. Simon takes it, and lets Kieren pull him up to his feet and on into the future.