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In the Hour of Our Death

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The last sign comes when Kieren goes down twitching into the snow. First his eyes roll up, and for a second Simon thinks he’s only making fun of him, that he will sigh a heavy sigh and throw his head back a little - and he does throw his head back, but far enough to be staring at the sky when he falls. It looks like a seizure, limbs jerking in thoughtless violence. It’s the most frightening thing Simon has ever seen. He’s on the other side of the yard, trying to clear the pavement for when Kieren’s parents come by, and then he’s dropping the shovel and sprinting, skidding to his knees in the snow.

Simon partly drags, mostly carries Kieren inside - stupid leftover instinct, to warm him up, like it will do any good. His eyes clear just as they get into the living room, and his mouth opens in a dry, rattling gasp. He grips Simon’s arm, swallows. “Toilet.”

It’s cool in the washroom, with its tiny window, the burnt-out yellow bulb Simon’s been meaning to replace, but Simon can’t feel it. Kieren stares at the toilet for a long, uncertain moment, but all he does in the end is drop onto the edge of the big tub, body folding flat toward his knees and his hands tucking themselves in against his chest. His hands are shaking. It doesn’t hurt, he says, but Simon doesn’t like the look on his face, the fear and barely-leashed desperation. It feels like someone’s pulled out Simon’s unbeating heart and is trying to squeeze it down to nothing in their fist. He’s hunched at the other end of the tub, and it’s like that still half hour at the GP after Gary and the Blue Oblivion, a chair’s length between them and Simon too unsure of himself to reach out.

“It’ll be okay,” he says.

Kieren closes his eyes. There’s still snow in his hair, cradled in the folds of his jumper. “You don’t really believe that,” he says. His voice trembles too.

Simon waits. Then he stands, and goes into the kitchen. There isn’t anything he can do. He can’t get Kieren a blanket or make him chicken soup or tea or give him pills. So he picks up the landline, dials Kieren’s parents.

It’s Sue who picks up, but he can hear Steve calling indistinctly in the background. “Hello?” she says.

“Sue. Hi. It’s Simon. Listen, I was just calling to say -“

“Simon, I’m so sorry dear, would you hold on just a tick? Steve’s forgotten where he’s left his trousers and we can’t seem to - oh. Never mind.” She laughs. “Here they are. Steve, love.” He has an image of them lying in bed together, middle-aged and happy, maybe cuddling a little before they get up for the day. Her laughter is high-pitched and easy, and Simon closes his eyes, opens them, stares at the half-open bathroom door. “Hello,” Sue says in his ear. “Sorry about that.”

“No, it’s alright. I just - something’s come up, and I have to go into town for the day.”

“Oh, well. We’ll have Kieren all to ourselves then. That’s alright, isn’t it.”

“Ah, no. Kieren wants to come with me.” He hates to do this to her, these overt lies and lies of omission. She and Steve have been so kind to him these past few months; they’ve been better parents to him than his father, but Kieren doesn't want to tell them - not yet.

“Oh. Oh, of course. No worries, love, we’ll see you next week. Tell Kieren I said hello.”

He says goodbye, and the line clicks off. The living room is quiet around him, muffled, still full of Amy’s furniture and Amy’s blankets and her aunt’s silver etchings of places none of them have ever seen. Kieren wanted to go to Paris, once, or Berlin. Now he’s probably going to die here.

In the bathroom Kieren’s still sitting where Simon left him, curled over at the far end of the tub. He’s taken off his shoes, and Simon can just see the knot of bone where his ankles disappear into his scrunched-down socks. His feet are thin and pale, with long thin toes. When he was alive, Kieren told him once, he used to be ticklish, just at the arches of his feet.

“What did they say?” Kieren asks.

Simon sighs, and sets his back against the edge of the tub, close enough to touch now if he reached out. “That they'll see you next week. Your mam says hey.”

Kieren pulls at the ends of his sleeves. “Pretty soon you’ll have to bind and gag me when they come visit.”

“Or handcuffs.” One corner of his mouth slides up. “I could cuff you to the bed.”

Kieren snorts. Then there’s a half second’s pause, where he seems to really think about it, and then he folds into helpless giggles, holding onto his stomach like it actually pains him. “Oh. Can you - can you imagine the look on my dad’s face?” It goes on for a while, because every time he looks at Simon he starts laughing all over again, and Simon’s trying not to laugh too but it isn’t really working. It’s good to see him smiling. He hasn’t been, lately.

When it fades, and Kieren’s face is loose and open, Simon puts a hand on Kieren’s knee. “Hey. You coming back out?”

Kieren shakes his head. He was smiling but now he isn’t, and the skin around his eyes is wrinkled into a squint. “Later. I just want to sit here for a bit. I feel really tired, for some reason.”

I feel. I feel. Simon feels like he’s going to crumple backward into the tub and wash down the drain, body crushed small as an ant.

 

 

 

 

Kieren moves into the bungalow just after the new year. It’s cold but they haven’t gotten any snow yet, just fields of yellow grass and trees cracking in the cold. Steve drives them over. The boot and back seat are stacked with boxes of Kieren’s clothes, Simon with a box in his lap and under his feet, and Steve keeps making all these comments about how it feels like he’s sending Kieren off to uni.

“I’ll come visit Dad, Jesus. I’ll only be ten minutes away.” Kieren’s fiddling with the radio, and eventually settles on some talk radio channel Simon’s positive he doesn’t listen to. But, he thinks, maybe he’s wrong. Despite what he feels for Kieren he doesn’t know what Kieren likes and doesn’t like, doesn’t know his favourite artist or book or place in the world. But he looks forward to finding out. He wants to know everything, hear everything. He wants to hear about Kieren growing up, and about how he got into painting, and how he fell in love with Rick Macy who nearly killed him, once.

“Be sure you do,” Steve says. “Or we could come visit you, even. Sunday tea. Your mum and I would like that. Even if the two of you don’t ah, you know.”

“Eat?” Kieren smiles a little, glances at Simon. “That’d be great, Dad.”

They ferry the boxes into the living room, and at the end of it Simon shakes Steve’s hand, takes the last of the boxes over his shoulder. It’s light. Probably clothes.

“You take care of each other,” Steve says. He hugs Kieren, claps Simon on the shoulder, gives them both a shaky-jawed nod. The car pulls out into the street, trailing a short white tail of exhaust, and Kieren stands in the doorway until it’s all the way down at the end of the road.

“Come on,” Simon says once it's turned the corner. “I want to see your masterpieces.” Kieren cuts him a look, but Simon can tell he’s pleased. There’s a leaf in his hair he hasn’t noticed yet. Simon considers plucking it out, but doesn’t. He can see it, how easily it would go from his fingers against Kieren’s head to Kieren’s hands against his shoulders, Kieren’s mouth against his, and he likes just knowing it could happen.

“You ready for this?” he asks.

“You have no idea,” Kieren says, and laughs. “I don’t know how many more movie nights I could’ve taken.”

 

 

 

 

It’s just his hands. He drops a cup laying places for his parents when they came to visit, and when Simon asks Kieren tells him it has happened before, but never for more than a few seconds. It’s like when you’re sitting and your leg just starts bumping up and down, he says. Nothing you can do about it. But Simon keeps a cautious eye out, after that, and it happens again. Fast and wild as a rabbit’s heart, but the look on Kieren’s face is annoyed and vaguely confused.

Kieren's parents aren't their only guests, though. Philip stops by sometimes. His pockets are always full of Amy’s notes and hair pins and a photo they took of the two of them at the winter fete, faces smiling out of a wooden pastoral scene. The first time he comes by he’s completely hammered, falls asleep in Amy’s bed and wakes Simon early the next day with his sobbing. Grief makes people do strange things. But getting drunk a couple times isn’t so bad, on the scale of things. Worse is the sort of gaping silence that always comes over him when he tries to talk about her. Fish-mouthed, tears in his eyes, these pitiful mewlings in the back of his throat like a baby bird. When it happens Kieren fixes him tea from their Sunday Afternoons stash, and makes these terrible faces at Simon over Philip’s shoulder. Kieren’s taking it hard, Simon knows, harder probably than him, but Kieren’s healing. Philip isn’t.

“When I went back to the grave the day after,” Philip says once, in a voice so low and hoarse Simon has to strain to hear, “it looked like - like she’d - like someone -“

Kieren’s eyes find his, but Simon presses his lips together, shakes his head. There is nothing but dashed hopes in that direction. Amy wasn’t the First Risen. And anyway, Simon had visited a little later that week, and found it still filled in. He’d seen graves people had climbed out of during the Rising, remembers the look of churned earth, clutched handfuls of grass and earth clawed in when they pulled themselves out. There hadn’t been any of that. The gravediggers might have been a little careless filling it in - there’d been a soft footprint in the mud, the mound a little uneven, and he’d felt a hot flash of anger in his chest then because Amy deserved better - but no one crawled out of that grave.

Philip’s drunk all his tea, so Kieren goes to make him another cup - English Breakfast, with a little creamer from the handful of restaurant packets they keep in the drawer next to the refrigerator, because it keeps longer than milk. But he keeps fumbling the tabs, tremors beginning in his fingertips and then washing back against his wrists. Simon watches, head half turned toward Philip, staring at his hands at the table. He only hears the short breath Kieren gives when he gives up.

Simon slips a hand under Kieren’s elbow, tosses a creamer to Philip. It bounces off his chest, down against his thigh onto the floor.

Philip actually blushes. “I - sorry,” he says, patting for it on the linoleum, “I wasn’t ready.”

Later, when Philip’s gone and Simon’s trying to get a stain out of the table with the side of his fingernail - being careful, because if the nail cracks or lifts off it won’t grow back - Kieren comes to stand at his shoulder. His mouth is half open, and it looks like he has something stuck in the back of his throat that he can’t swallow down, but he doesn’t say anything. Simon stands, lays a hand against Kieren’s neck, wishing he could actually feel it.

“What is it?” he asks.

Kieren’s eyes are white and wide and hard to read, two frozen stars cracking open. “It’s never been that bad before,” he says. He sounds a little amazed, but under that is a layer of fear that’s trembling as badly as his hands had been. And Simon doesn’t know what’s happening, but he reaches to pull Kieren’s face toward him with both hands, opens his mouth in a promise he doesn't know if he can keep.

 

 

 

 

Give Back has them pulling weeds in the graveyard, trimming hedges, that sort of thing, which is probably someone’s idea of an apology. What's worse is having Zoe sorted into their group. She comes late sometimes the same way Simon did, hinting at missions from the Prophet, which could be true, and trips to the city, which probably aren’t; since she became the new leader Gary’s taken to following her around like a wary blood hound. Sometimes he stops by Give Back even, just to stare at her, though once he caught Kieren by the elbow and tried to make him promise to tell Jemima he was sorry, because she wasn't taking his calls. The look Kieren had leveled at him was the closest thing to hatred Simon had ever seen him wear.

Zoe's late again today, flashing their monitor a close-mouthed smile. “Sorry," she says. "I had to take care of some things.”

She gives Simon a dirty, cold-eyed look as she passes, but doesn't stop. Brian's waiting for her on the other side of the yard, crouched nearly against the fence. A laid-back guy, Simon remembers, calmer and more cautious than Zoe. The way they were together before, Simon figures he’s her second-in-command, which is probably for the best; he’ll round her out, keep her even. It might even work. Because, what the Prophet wanted to do to Kieren aside, Simon still supports the ULA. He believed in it for over a year; the Prophet’s influence is in his speech patterns, his newspaper subscriptions, his tendency of leaning toward people when he speaks. Simon can’t just carve that out of his skin.

He twists his fingers into the weeds beside the next grave. Alison Merriweather. He recognizes the quote from Corinthians. Where, O Death, is your victory: where, O Death, is your sting? But the grave’s on the wrong side of the yard, and twenty years too early for the Rising. It’s all older graves where they are now, from when Roarton first became a village. There are only a scattering of deaths, one every couple of years, babies and elderly, a man in his forties and a girl who died when she was only 25.

Amy’s grave is in the middle of the yard, on the side of a low, sloping hill. She showed it to him when he first came to Roarton, on a cloudy day with a brisk wind blowing, the day Kieren had come tramping across the grass with his head covered as though he was cold.

“She’s staring at you,” Kieren says.

Simon looks at the small pile of weeds between his feet. “Zoe?”

“Mm.”

He falls back on his heels, sitting easily just beside the headstone, then puts a hand out to touch the straight cuts in the granite. Zoe’s arms are crossed, her eyes narrowed, head down like a lion in the long grass. Brian’s saying something urgent to her but she isn’t listening, and Simon lifts his chin toward her, half invitation, half challenge. He has never in his life backed down from a fight, but he’s also never thrown the first punch. She raises her eyebrows.

“Jesus Christ,” Kieren mutters. He’s not talking to Simon, though. He’s pushing himself up with his palms, holding them fisted at his sides as he strides toward Zoe. There is something in the straight line of his spine then that Simon recognizes from the bedroom the first time they slept together, a flat determination, a thin iron strand of conviction that holds him up even when it’s the only thing left. Simon can’t hear what he says to her, but he watches her bristle, then bite, then shrink away. She snatches up her work gloves and strides off, Brian trailing, and Simon smiles, tilts his head at Kieren’s back. This kid will never stop surprising him.

Then Kieren turns around, and Simon sees that his nose is bleeding.

 

 

 

 

When he asks Dr. Russo about it, Russo starts shuffling his papers and doesn’t answer until he’s gotten them into some new order. Simon hadn’t had to wait long to see him; it’s a Wednesday, and slow, and the woman at the desk had been eager to get him out of the waiting room. That business with the two undead being released has kind of been swept under the rug, but the town’s still on edge. “What are the symptoms, again?” Russo asks.

Simon shifts. The chair would be uncomfortable if he could feel pain. “Trembling, mostly. He had a nosebleed yesterday, which. Probably related.”

“How bad was the nosebleed?”

“Not very. I just… I need answers.”

“Well, typically, those are symptoms we saw with those PDS Sufferers who didn’t respond to medication, or who relapsed. Had quite a few of those in the beginning, actually, but once the Neurotriptyline takes hold it doesn’t just stop working, far as I know. And this doesn’t sound like that anyway, to me.” He pauses, staring at Simon with his lips just open for three long seconds. And then he sighs, smoothes his files down, and looks up again. “I suppose it doesn’t matter now, does it.” His voice has gone careful, slow, like he’s walking it down a narrow path through broken glass, which is about how Simon feels. He’s worried about Kieren but layered over that is a buzzing anxiety at being back in a hospital. And not in the waiting room, like he and Kieren had been before, but in the back, in an examination room, where he can see instruments laid out on the counter and Russo’s watching him with cautious concern.

“Sorry, go on?”

“Well, before she was killed,” Russo says, “similar things were happening to your friend Amy Dyer. It was a side effect of the Neurotriptyline she’d been using - some sort of homemade stuff, don’t ask me what was in it - but Kieren’s only ever used the branded sort, far as I know.”

“Can’t we send off for tests?”

“I wouldn’t recommend it. After I sent Amy’s blood samples in, Halperin and Weston dispatched a pair of employees out here to find her. Since she died they went back empty-handed of course, but they… they didn’t want just to talk to her, I’m pretty sure.” His face is drawn and sympathetic, but he gives Simon a significant look where he’s gone still against the wall, forcing himself to be calm, be calm, be calm. The top of his spine twinges in phantom pain. “We don’t have the resources here,” Russo says, “but I could ask around, or possibly send them to a private lab. Everything in the UK and even mainland Europe is tied up with Halperin and Weston, but there’s a company based in Japan, I believe, that’s doing some good work with PDS.”

“Maybe. How long would that take?”

“Ah. Quite a while, I’m afraid. Everyone’s got a bit of a back log these days. At a guess… two months?”

Simon closes his eyes. “Was there anything wrong in Amy’s blood samples?”

“I don’t know.” Russo smiles a little, wryly. “They never sent them back.”

 

 

 

 

The street they live on in Amy’s house is a neat row of equally dated architecture, some with front gardens, some with porches, some with colorful drapes in the windows. It looks no different from any other street in Roarton, so someone would have to know which house they lived in - which house Simon lived in. He and Kieren don’t go out much and there is no PDS sign, not anymore, so someone would have to have been here before, or seen them; someone would have to have had a reason.

“It was your followers, wasn’t it,” Kieren says.

“Ex-followers. I was booted out, remember?”

“Shame. They’re such lovely people.”

Someone’s thrown eggs against the garage door, against the front door, long streaks of yellow dried tacky and thin against the metal, and here and there is an orange smear of rotten tomato. They must have gone shopping specifically for this. Must have let the tomatoes sit on the counter until they sunk into soft, malleable rot. His voice had been even, but Simon knows his face has fallen into the cool smoothness he wore so often as a Disciple, into controlled anger and detached, furious calm. It feels like a mask. This is injustice. “We should clean this up,” he says, and walks back into the garden.

They’re out there for nearly half an hour, hosing off the walls. Most of the yolks froze before they dried, so they don’t have to do much scrubbing; it must have happened late last night, just before the temperature dropped again. He doesn’t know how things are going in the reorganized ULA now that he and Amy are both gone. He thinks Zoe Kelly is leading them now, though she’s really too mercurial for the Prophet’s calculated plans. She is fire and acid; Simon made her as surely as the Undead Prophet made him, and he never made her for for self-direction. This is proof of that.

When Simon straightens, finally, his hands are wet and slimy-looking with egg residue, and he can see bits of yellow curved up under his fingernails. Kieren doesn’t look much better, but he’s smiling, he’s standing with one hand on his hip, he looks pleased with the work.

“That should do it,” Kieren says, wiping a hand across his forehead. He turns toward Simon. “Still up for that movie?”

He’s picked an old one, Citizen Kane, and spends the first ten minutes telling Simon how it revolutionized film-making with techniques like deep-focus photography and high and low-angle shots, “So you can see the ceiling or the floor sometimes, which makes everything seem either a lot bigger or really closed in.” Simon’s not sure how much he picked up from his dad, who is full of bizarre movie trivia, and how much is artistic interest, but halfway through the movie he looks over to see Kieren’s fallen asleep.

“You long-faced, overdressed anarchist!”

“I am not overdressed!”

“You are too! Mr. Bernstein, look at his necktie!”

The flickering glow of the television casts pale shadows over Kieren’s face. His eyelashes are long and black, dark smudges under his eyes. He’s been sleeping more since the seizures started, which could be either a side-effect or another symptom, and Simon’s sick of not knowing which, of what it means, of what’s going to happen next. Kieren’s not dying, exactly, but when he goes Rabid he might as well be dead. He won’t be able to paint, won’t be able to play Scrabble or fight back or talk. No amount of willpower will keep him aware enough to let Simon kiss him and kiss back.

When Simon was alive, this would have been the point where he went hunting for his bag of Oxy or a squirreled-away eight ball, but drugs stopped working for him a long time ago. Doesn’t stop him wanting them sometimes, especially when Kieren’s in another room or away at his parents’, places where Simon can’t keep him in sight.

He reaches out and, though neither one of them can feel it, presses his fingertips against Kieren’s cheek. Kieren shifts down in the couch, eyes coming half open and then closing again. Simon loves this boy. He presses a kiss to Kieren’s forehead, then goes to find his boots.

 

 

 

 

He’s only been to Zoe’s house once before, to pick her up for a meeting when he first came to Roarton. He hadn’t been inside, or stayed very long, but he recognizes the pale white exterior and the rose bushes growing against the street. It was in better condition, last time. Trimmed grass, lines of salt laid down against slugs. Now the grass is long and wild under a thin layer of snow, the rose bushes prickly and too big once spring comes.

She opens the door just a crack, until she sees who it is, and then she swings it wide. “Realized your mistake, have you?”

He steps past her. “It’ll take more than eggs on my front door to get me back.” The inside is a predictable mix of IKEA furniture and stuff that obviously used to be her parents’, of clothes thrown over the backs of cheap-looking chairs and CD cases stacked against the radio. Burial, Digital Mystikz, an old Skrillex album. He sifts through them with his fingertips. “I came over to ask you not to do that again.”

“You betrayed the cause.” Her arms are crossed over a skinny chest. She’s wearing a long-sleeved shirt, and her limbs are thin and spider-like in black. “You betrayed the Prophet. You deserve more than eggs on your front door; you deserve a knife in the back.”

He doesn’t feel very calm, but his voice sounds like it is. His hands slipping between magazines on top of the radio are slow and casual. “So you admit it.”

“A false witness shall not go unpunished.”

Simon smiles. “You think I’m a false witness?”

“Well you’ve lied, haven’t you? You know who the First Risen is,” she says. Simon stills. “The prophet said you told him you’d found the First Risen.” She’s moved closer, voice going high and shaky, and he notices for the first time she’s not wearing much make-up. She’d stopped wearing mousse once she joined, of course, but she’d still favoured brightly-colored eyeshadows, emerald green and the purples of spiraling galaxies. “There’s still - it’s not - That woman thought it was Amy, but it wasn’t; she’s dead and fuck-all’s happened since, so who is it?” She steps forward. “Who’s the First? Tell me you god damn -“

Listen.” Simon gets a fist of her hair, and pulls back sharp enough to stop her talking. Her eyes are a bright, clean white, the shattered suns of her irises darting from one eye to the other. He has done worse things. “You stay away from our house, you hear me? You stay away from me, and you stay away from Kieren, or I will tear your head off with my fingernails.” He does not throw her down, just lets her go, and she scrambles up from the half crouch he pushed her into.

“I followed you,” she says, voice high and stripped raw with anger. “I believed in you and you just - threw it all aside. This is important. You have no idea what this town used to be like - you think December was bad? When I first came back from the treatment center they were executing undead in the streets like it was nothing, the rest of us cowering behind the curtains, too afraid to go out.” She’s halfway to tears and Simon looks at her, remembering how hard his first few weeks as a Disciple had been, learning the moves, what to do and say. She could get there too but she’s going the wrong way round; there’s too much hate in her. And he has other loyalties now.

His mouth twists. “You stay away from us.”

“Traitor,” she yells. Something crashes against the door as he closes it. He can hear her screaming, but he can’t make out what.

 

 

 

 

 

Philip’s standing on the steps when Simon answers the door two days later. He’s wearing a heavy but oddly long coat that looks like something Amy would have appreciated. “Hey,” Simon says. “Come in. Kieren’s -“

“I wanted to talk to you, actually, if you don’t mind.” Philip bobs his head, moving past Simon’s welcoming arm, but like always he gets a look at the living room and then drifts to a stop. Kieren’s hung a few of his paintings but it’s still full of Amy’s books, Amy’s furniture, Amy’s terrible choice of wallpaper. There’s a little glass square with her face done in air bubbles on top of the television; she looks younger, but not so young Simon ever had to guess who it was. There’s a bundle of dried roses propped in the top row of the bookshelf that probably smell like something, still.

“Philip. You coming?”

He starts. “Sorry.”

In the living room, Simon perches on the edge of the chair he used to hold sermons from. It made him uncomfortable at first, to sit there and remember what he stood for and what he nearly did, but since Kieren moved in it’s just a chair. Straight-backed, wood, plain, even sort of comfortable. “So what’s this about?”

“You know Doctor Russo from the GP, right?” Philip waits for Simon’s nod. “I had to go in to see him yesterday -“

“Oh?”

Philip’s hands clench loosely in his trousers, then open as he shrugs. “I had to go in for tests a while back, and the results finally came in. I’m fine, of course,” he says quickly. Simon hasn’t seen Philip in a while now, and didn’t spend any time at all with him before Amy died. Different crowds, and all. He’d forgotten how awkward Philip is, how uncertain. But he looks better now, like he’s thinking of something else, eager to get it out even if he stumbles over so many of his words. “I just, he said - we were talking about Amy, and I mentioned the stuff that had been happening to her, the shaking and, he said it seemed to be going round. He wouldn’t say anything else because of confidentiality agreements, but that must mean someone else is going through the same thing. Right?”

Simon’s face relaxes, into the mask he wears when he’s waiting or when he’s certain of something, like the fact that if Philip tells anyone about Kieren Simon will hit him over the head, tie him to the bathroom radiator, and never let him free. Closed mouth, half-lidded eyes, uplifted chin. He touches the glass cube with Amy's face in. “Why does it matter?”

“Well… Amy told me - she called it ‘warming up’.” He smiles a little, half sheepish, half fond. “She was starting to feel again, and right before - before - in the graveyard, her heart…. That’s why she died. Because she could. Because she was alive again.”

The Second Rising. Is that what it means? Is that - Trying to get to the thought is like trying to catch fish with his bare hands; every time he gets a hold of it it slips away again. “You mean they're… turning back? Un-dying? That doesn’t make any sense.”

Philip shrugs. “Stranger things have happened, haven’t they?”

“Tell me what was happening to her.”

So Philip does. Shaking, nosebleeds, seizures, sensation, heartbeat. He lays it down in a halting tangle of sentences and a story about crazy golf Simon’s pretty sure is supposed to be a metaphor, but it’s all the same. Everything that happened to Amy is happening to Kieren. He won’t be a hundred percent sure until Kieren’s heart starts beating, but this feels like salvation, a chance they shouldn’t be getting - but they shouldn’t have had a second chance either. He puts both hands on the counter, forces himself to breathe.

“Are you okay?”

“Fine.” Simon shakes his head. It’s like that night in London, when the Prophet told him he’d have to kill Kieren, and he couldn’t even argue because it had been a recording, only in reverse. “It’s Kieren.” He breathes. “It’s Kieren who’s turning back.”

He’s going to faint. But there is no blood running in his veins. So he stays standing, thinks Thank you, thank you at the ceiling, just in case. There will be things to worry about later, like if this will happen to everyone else, and what this will mean for the social justice movement they’ve built up, because it’s hard to forgive people treating you like shite just because they don’t anymore. But for now he smiles, lifts his face to the winter sunlight coming in through the window, thinks of Kieren still asleep in the other room, Kieren who is going to live.

“Wait here,” he tells Philip.

In the bedroom, Kieren’s turned over on the sheets and wedged himself between the pillows, one sleeve ridden up to show the tender spread of veins across his wrists, under the scar. The collar of his shirt has slipped down past the sloping knots of his collarbones, and Simon presses his fingertips into the hollow, palms the side of Kieren's face. “Hey,” he says quietly. He’s laughing. He can’t stop smiling against the neat curve of Kieren’s neck, the sharp peak of his chin, the opening valley of his mouth. “Wake up. I’ve got something to tell you.”