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Who knew grocery shopping could be such a cathartic experience? As Kieren walked through the shop, picking up the items on his list, he felt this sense of peace and relaxation. With every fruit or vegetable he ran his hands over, testing for ripeness and looking for a flaw, it was almost as if one of his concerns dissipated. Maybe he should go to the shops more often.

Kieren was practically buzzing with excitement as he walked home from the shops with an armful of groceries. Simon had finally agreed to meet up with his parents a second time and this time, his parents were much more accepting of Simon, especially since he saved Kieren’s life.

Everyone was still processing Amy’s death and hadn’t quite moved on from the whole incident but they did their best. It was also nice to see the rest of the village being kinder to him and treating him with a little more respect.

Kieren wanted his parents to truly accept Simon because the pair wanted to make it official and of course, Simon wanted their approval. He never did tell Kieren why he was insistent on telling them about it, but all he knew was that he didn’t want to stress Simon and agreed. This was something Kieren had started to take note of. Simon was constantly searching for someone’s satisfaction or for them to be proud of him. It could have been because of his relationship with his father. Simon never spoke much of him but Kieren knew they had a rocky relationship and that the man never expressed his gratitude or pride. It was always insults and criticism.

After much discussion, they’d finally settled on having dinner at the Walker’s place and Kieren couldn’t wait. The three hours before the arranged meet-up seemed like years to Kieren. It would be pleasant to take a breather and settle down, especially since it hadn’t been too long since Amy’s passing. He missed the cheer and glow she brought with her wherever she went, hopefully, she was in a better place now.

He was snapped out of his reverie by Zoe who stopped in front of him, blocking his path. He was mildly irritated by this because it wasn’t the first time but he humoured her. She didn’t do much harm anyway.

“Hello, Zoe. How can I help you today?”

“Simon’s a traitor. I can’t believe he picked you over us. You disgust me. He’ll pay for what he did,” She snarled.

“What do you mean?”

“You don’t know? Huh, what a coward. I figured he wouldn’t tell you anything.”

Kieren was stunned. He knew the ULA weren’t on good terms with Simon anymore but he didn’t understand why. Whenever he tried to ask Simon what happened, the other man gave him a curt answer and gave him the look. The look that said ‘Let’s not talk about this and move on with our lives’ but Kieren couldn’t do that. Not when ULA members came up to him every other day spitting hate and lies about his lover. This was the first time anyone mentioned that they would take out their anger on him, hopefully, it was just empty threats.

“Sorry Zoe, I’ve got to get back. Have a nice day,” He tried to sound friendly but his attempt was poorly executed. He hurried by her, trying to ignore her piercing stare. He wouldn’t let this ruin his good mood.

He bumped into Simon just as he was about to reach home to his pleasant surprise. Kieren grinned, his lover’s eyes glinting mischievously. Simon pulled him into a kiss, snatching his bag of groceries out of his hands.

“Why are you here so early?”

“I couldn’t wait to see you. I’m sure your parents won’t mind me being a little early,” Simon smirked.

His silly little crooked smile and small caresses made Kieren blush, he hadn’t felt this way in a very long time.

“Of course they won’t mind.”

Kieren suddenly realised that Simon was wearing his cover-up mousse and was donning his mahogany brown contacts. Unusual but not too surprising.

“You’ve got your mousse on! I thought you didn’t like to wear it.”

“I don’t. But I don’t want to freak your mum and dad out. They don’t seem to like my au natural look very much.”

“But I do. I think you look very handsome au natural, it’s not like anyone’s going to mind!”

Kieren wished he could have seen Simon’s blue eyes when he was alive, nevertheless, he still looked gorgeous with his grey eyes. The brown contacts made Kieren feel bad, he knew how uncomfortable they made Simon feel.

“The ULA might, now that I’m not one of them.”

At the mention of the ULA, Simon could tell Kieren was slightly rattled, the tremor in his hands and the way his eyes kept flitting back and forth from Simon to something behind him gave away his anxiety.

“Kier, what’s wrong?”

Kieren shook his head, he didn’t want to bother Simon but the problem was getting bigger and bigger. He needed to let him know what had happened. They’d have to talk soon.

“The ULA keeps talking about us. They stop me from going to places and say you’re a traitor, that you couldn’t do it, whatever it was. I’m worried about you, Si.”

Simon’s demeanour changed immediately, He began to look around, hands running up and down, brushing his hair back hastily. He looked Kieren dead in the eye and spoke, “Promise me you’ll be careful. Don’t ask why just… just promise me.”

Kieren nodded, “I promise.” He’d follow along to what Simon said if it made him happy. He’d pressure him on what was going on another time. As for now, they had to get ready for dinner.

*

Sadly, Jem wasn’t at the table with them that night, she wasn’t feeling up to it and Kieren respected that. She needed her space and he’d give that to her.

Simon sat next to Kieren, twisting his fingers nervously under the table. Kieren reached out and placed his hands on top of his, giving him a supportive smile. This display of affection was significant to the pair of them, it was almost like their special thing. Mutual support was what kept them going.

They had many different ways of displaying their love but Kieren’s favourite ones were when they pressed their foreheads together and held hands, relishing in the other person’s company. No one had to talk, all they had to do was just be there for one another.

Sue and Steve were silent during the first few minutes, unsure of what to say or how to start the conversation. It was painstakingly awkward and Simon kept shooting Kieren pained glances, wishing that he would start a conversation. It wasn’t like they could fill in the silence by eating, no matter how good the food looked.

Steve cleared his throat, gesturing at Simon and asked, “So are the two of you together? I mean, are you going to be official?”

Simon nodded, looking up enthusiastically for the first time since he sat at the table, “Yes, yes we are. And you can trust me, I’ll keep Kieren safe and out of trouble.”

Kieren laughed, “That’s not true! You’re the one who brings trouble to me.”

Sue began to tell them about the first time she met Steve and Simon was strangely comforted by that. It was nice hearing about other people’s lives and what they did. Maybe someday he would be the one telling those stories.

The rest of the night was filled with embarrassing stories about Kieren when he was younger, tales of Sue and Steve’s adventures and of course, the plans for Kieren and Simon’s relationship.

Everything seemed to go by so quickly and before any of them noticed, it was getting pretty late and Simon was ready to take his leave.

“Why don’t you stay for the night? You can share the bed with me.”

“I’ve seen your bed, Kier. It can barely fit you! I’m heading back to the bungalow to pick up the rest of my stuff, it doesn’t seem right to be staying there without Amy. I’ll come round in the morning? It’ll be fun if we took a stroll,” Simon responded, leaning against the doorway with that dumb grin on his face.

Kieren could see the track marks and tiny holes in his wrists when he did that, it was sad memories but ones that couldn’t be rid of. Kieren thought they spoke a million words about Simon’s personality and they were all good words. Even if he racked his brains, he couldn’t think of a single thing Simon did wrong.

“Kier! We’d like to speak to you for a moment,” His mum called out.

Kieren placed his hands on Simon’s shoulders, “Don’t go anywhere, I’ll be right back,” he said, tripping over his own feet as he stumbled over to his parents.

Simon chuckled, murmuring to himself that he wasn’t going anywhere.

“Yeah? What’d you want to say?”

Steve looked at his wife, who gave him the nod of approval, letting him express both of their opinions.

“We think Simon’s a brilliant chap and we’d love to have him over more often.”

Kieren huffed in surprise, breaking into a massive grin and giving his parents a tight hug. “That’s fantastic! He’s going to be exhilarated when I tell him,” Kieren said, still in slight shock that his parents had come to terms with his relationship so quickly.

Kieren hurried back to Simon who was now sitting in the driveway, staring at the silver pinpricks in the pitch-black sky. It was beautiful. He sat himself down and wrapped his arms around the taller man’s torso, placing his head on his shoulder.

“Si, guess what they told me?”

Simon turned to face him, cheekily ruffling his hair, “I don’t know, Kier. Tell me.”

“They said they don’t like you and think you should leave.”

For a moment, it seemed like Simon actually believed him but after he saw Kieren crack up, he realised it was a joke.

“Come off it! You can’t scare me like that.”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. They said you were brilliant and would like to have you over more often,” Kieren said between peals of giggles.

Simon’s eyes widened in surprise and he placed a kiss on Kieren’s forehead, “That’s amazing, I’m glad. I love you, Kier.”

Kieren looked back into his lover’s eyes, hands moving tentatively to pull his face closer to his own and pressed a kiss onto the other man’s lips.

Gentle yet passionate, they took their time to part and when they did, neither of them actually wanted to leave. Simon stood up, pulling Kieren up with him.

“Bye now. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Bye. I love you.”

“I love you too.”

Kieren watched until Simon disappeared into the darkness, standing there for a few more moments before walking back into the comfort of his own home.

*

Simon had had a phenomenal night, words couldn’t describe how elated he was when he heard that Kieren’s parents approved of their relationship. It was nice seeing him so positive and not gloomy. Simon would be lying if he said that the ULA weren’t on his mind because they were. He saw them out of the corner of his eye most of the time, trailing him silently or coming up to him and trying to spit on him. Disappointing.

Truthfully, he felt that the moment he betrayed them, the ULA had fallen apart. He was the one who kept them in check, to stabilise them and to ensure they wouldn’t cause grievous harm to others. He had never been afraid of them but now that they had started to threaten Kieren, he needed to protect him. He didn’t want him getting in the way of all this drama. A part of him really wanted to tell Kieren what had happened on that day, what he was supposed to do, but he didn’t want Kieren to hate him. There were enough people who hated him already.

As he walked along the edge of the forest, staring at the half-built fence and leaves rustling in the wind he wished he could feel, he felt this immense guilt all of a sudden. It seemed so improbable and ridiculous that just a few weeks ago he had tried to kill Kieren. He had tried to kill the man he loved. The stupid Undead Prophet had clouded his visions and upon deeper reflection, if his father hadn’t thrown him out of the house, he wouldn’t have considered turning to the ULA.

Even though his time at the treatment centre made him want justice, he wouldn’t have taken such drastic measures. He shivered when he thought of that place, he wished he could forget all of it. Maybe he was better off dead.

Despite being so caught up in his thoughts, he had the feeling something was wrong. His instincts told him that someone was behind him and without warning, he spun around to land a fist in whoever’s face that was.

It was Zoe who was behind him. His fist landed square on her nose and she cried out in shock as she tumbled to the floor. He was infuriated, how dare she? Just as he was about to question her, he could feel something hard and sharp press up against his lower back, near his kidneys, and a firm hand on his shoulder.

“Hello, Simon.”

He froze when he recognized whose voice it was. Julian.

He slowly turned to face the older man, maintaining his composure. Truthfully, he was fearful of Julian. He knew what that man was capable of and he didn’t want to be on his bad side. It was a pity he already was.

“Julian. What brings you here?”

“You. You brought me here.”

Simon was tired of these short answers, yes, he knew that he didn’t complete his mission but he wanted to know the exact reason why Julian was here. It appeared to be just him and Zoe which made him feel a little more confident. If there were more members, he would have been a tad more concerned.

Zoe had begun to stand up and Simon was so tempted to shove her back down but with a blade pressed up against his body, he figured it wasn’t the best idea. She seemed to be on good terms with Julian and had taken his place. She was now his right-hand woman.

Julian gave Zoe a supportive smile and told her he would handle this situation. Simon maintained his silence the entire time, not wanting to aggravate him any more than he already did. His whole body was itching to defend himself.

“Go home, Zoe. You’ve served me well.”

Zoe dusted her pants and walked up to Simon, giving him a hard slap across his face. It wasn’t like he could feel it anyway, but his head snapped to one side from the impact. Who knew she could hit this hard? Simon had believed her to be one of the more gentle ones but he was dead wrong. He had planted his ideas and beliefs into her head and it was too late to change that.

She stormed off, leaving him alone with Julian. The other man wrapped his arm around Simon, leading him into the forest.

“Let’s take a walk, shall we?”

The knife was now pointed at his side, digging into his flesh but not quite piercing it yet. Julian’s grip was tight, not letting Simon turn away or free himself.

Every rational part of Simon was screaming at him to run, to run all the way back to Kieren but another part of him wanted to talk to Julian, to explain what had happened and why he couldn’t do it.

Thunder began to rumble, flashes of silver lighting up the darkened sky. Crystal drops of rain began to fall at a steady pace, getting caught on the leaves before sliding onto the ground.

“I’m going to give you one more chance, Simon. You can come back to us, I promise to take care of you.”

“I’m never going back. We were all fed lies and I don’t want to hurt anyone.”

Julian snorted, grip tightening, “You never had an issue with what we did before.”

Simon couldn’t argue with that statement so he hung his head low.

“Why didn’t you kill the First Risen? You said you had found him.”

Julian’s voice was cold, devoid of any emotion and his face was stony, eyes gleaming with restrained fury.

“I...I couldn’t do it. I loved him and he loved me back. You can understand that, can’t you?”

“Loving is for the living. There is no place for love here. You choose to betray your brothers and sisters for this one person? The living only want you to suffer!”

Simon shook his head, “They aren’t so bad, people here are becoming more friendly to us!”

He wasn’t certain that everyone was alright with them, they could have put on plastic smiles and forced laughter but at least they weren’t trying to kill them.

“You know what humans are capable of. You suffered at their hands for so long, don’t you remember?”

Julian brought his hand to Simon’s spine, using two fingers to ‘walk’ along it. This was news to Simon. No one knew about his scar, he never told anyone, not even Kieren. The only people who knew about it were John and Doctor Halperin and the Undead Prophet. The Undead Prophet…

“How do you know about that? I never told you about it,” Simon was beginning to get more panicked, head throbbing as memories of the event began to replay in his head again.

“Are you the Prophet?” He asked, whipping his head around in a panic, his throat felt like it was closing up and it was getting harder and harder to calm down. His hands began to shake incessantly, from both anger and fear.

“Yes, I am. Funny, isn’t it? No one would have thought it was me. It was easy to get access to the speakers and cameras at the treatment centre, all I had to do was pretend to be ill and be placed in a room where I had access to all these items. The voice changer was easy to get as well since it was one of those things lying about that I nicked. I will say I had no idea why a treatment centre would need one of those.”

Simon was panting heavily at this point, hands rubbing his neck for some relief and he tried to distance himself from Julian, pushing him away as he slid down a tree trunk, scrambling away as the other man toyed with him.

“You have to pay for what you did. We will find the First Risen and we will start the Second Rising one way or another. Before that, why don’t we celebrate your temporary loyalty to us with a drink?”

Julian pulled out a bottle of vodka, pushing the drop point blade into his pocket. Simon knew exactly what Julian was up to and he wished his legs would work properly so that he could run away from all of this. He felt that it was so pathetic that he was here, acting like a helpless child when he could have stayed at Kieren’s. He didn’t even know how they figured out he would be here, taking this exact path.

“No...Julian, don’t,” He begged.

“Cheers,” was the only thing he said before forcing the bottle into his mouth, pouring the cheap liquid down his throat. He choked and spluttered as more and more of it burned his insides and he struggled and that only caused Julian to put a tighter grip around his neck, spilling some of the rancid drink down his clothing.

He must have swallowed at least half the liquid and the moment Julian let go of him, he gasped, shaking and tears began to trickle down his face.

“One last thing before I go,” Julian snarled, taking out his knife and sticking it into Simon’s abdomen, eliciting a broken cry from the weakened man. He dragged the blade across his body, forming a deep gash that spanned from one hip to another. With his final job completed, Julian let out a sigh of relief.

“Goodbye, Simon Monroe. It was fun while it lasted.”

Simon pressed his hands against his wound, watching as black blood began to pour freely over his clothes. Thank God he couldn’t feel anything. To tell the truth, he could imagine the agony and that was already bad enough. Phantom pains in his back were enough to make him have nightmares for days. Simon was whimpering softly, trying to stop himself from completely breaking down.

He lurched forward and threw up more black bile, expelling the vodka that Julian had forced him to drink. It was not a fun experience at all, every part of him hurt, and the wound just wouldn’t stop gushing blood.

He threw up a couple more times, wrenched sobs escaping every few moments as he clutched his abdomen. After he was sure that he had puked all the vodka out, he leaned back to catch his breath. Was it possible for him to get to the bungalow before he bled out? Could he even walk?

Kieren’s house was the closest but he wasn’t sure his boyfriend would appreciate him showing up and bleeding all over his house. He didn’t have much of a choice though, the bungalow was way too far away.

With a stifled groan, he stood up, doing his best to maintain pressure on the gash and made his way to Kieren’s house.

He managed to make it quite far before having to grip a wall for an inkling of support, feeling slightly lightheaded. His hands were stained onyx and his clothes were soaked. It had even begun to drip onto the ground with a muted splatter, leaving a trail of dots.

*

It seemed like ages until he reached Kieren’s house, most of the lights in the house were turned off except for one. He could see the vague silhouette of someone seated in the living room, thank the heavens. He knocked on the door, hoping that he wouldn’t wake up the rest of the Walker family.

Please be Kieren, he thought, it would have been strange if one of his parents answered the door. Thankfully, it was Kieren who opened the door, his initial excitement morphing into horror. He wasn’t wearing his contacts or his mousse which meant he was probably about to go to sleep.

“Kier, I need help,” He groaned, trying to take a step forward but instead collapsing forward into Kieren’s arms. His embrace was warm and comforting and Simon knew he’d be okay.

“My God, Simon, what happened? My parents have just gone to bed, shall I wake them? They can help you.”

Simon shook his head weakly, he didn’t want to hinder them any more than he already did. Kieren helped him up to his bedroom, laying him down on his bed before hurrying into the bathroom to get the medical kit.

He was out of his mind with worry, Simon was not looking good and was even paler than he could possibly be. Who could have done this to him?

The medical kit contained stitches and a needle, his mother liked to be prepared for all possible accidents, and Kieren set to work on helping his boyfriend.

“Do you want to take off your shirt?”

Simon shook his head, not wanting Kieren to see his back. It was silly, he felt that he should have opened up to him more but it was that nagging doubt and fear that Kieren would leave him once he saw who he really was.

Kieren gently lifted his shirt, wincing when he saw the wound. It wasn’t pretty. His nimble fingers moved with the utmost care as he threaded the needle, pushing it through Simon’s flesh, doing his best to stitch it up. The bleeding had been reduced to a lazy trickle which was certainly an improvement.

Simon was lying still as a statue, seemingly lost in his thoughts again, and Kieren shook his leg to tell him that he had closed the wound but needed to wrap a bandage around it.

Simon sat up, making eye contact with Kieren. His boyfriend looked so stressed and concerned for him and he didn’t want to make a big fuss about not wanting to take off his shirt. It was time to tell him the truth.

He took off his jacket, and slowly lifted his shirt, turning his face away so he wouldn’t have to look at Kieren. The younger man kept whispering supportive words and soothingly shushed him, and as he began to wrap the bandage around his abdomen, he could hear the hitch in Kieren’s voice. He saw it.

It was like all of Simon was on display for Kieren, that he could see through everything and that his true self was visible to everyone. Exposed, ready to be shamed. Kieren didn’t shame him, he didn’t say anything either. He just kept wrapping the bandage until he decided it was properly done.

After Kieren put away the medkit, he began to wipe away the stains of blood and bile off Simon’s face and body, gently cupping his cheek and asked, “Did they do this to you at Norfolk?”

A miserable nod was all the response Simon gave, biting his lip in preparation for Kieren to poke fun at him. Instead, Kieren continued to ask more questions.

“Does it hurt?” His fingers lingered over it and Simon told him he could touch it if he wanted. His fingers moved ever so gradually and tenderly, tracing his spine. Kieren wiped his mousse away and helped keep his contacts so that the pair weren’t hiding anything.

“I thought you were going to laugh at me,” He choked out.

Kieren scoffed, tracing his thumb across his face, “Never. I love you, Simon. You should know that I’d never do anything to hurt you.”

“Do you want to know why I was at the graveyard on that day? Actually, I should tell you anyway. You deserve to know the truth. I was supposed to kill you, to start the Second Rising, I had to kill the First Risen which was you. It was only then that I realised I couldn’t do it. The ULA viewed me as a traitor because I didn’t fulfil my task.”

Kieren was silent and Simon felt so torn. It was meant to be a happy evening and he had ruined it.

“I’m not the First Risen.”

“What?”

“There were quite a few people there when I came out of my grave. I wasn’t the first.”

“But...at lunch you said-”

Simon was horrified, it meant that he could have killed Kieren. He could have killed the man he loved and with no result.

“I’m sorry,” He choked out, furiously wiping his eyes to stop the tears from falling.

Kieren moved closer to him, placing one hand on the nape of his neck and the other on his cheek. He kissed Simon, a kiss that was full of love and passion and he wasn’t holding back anything.

“Simon, I’ll always forgive you. No matter what you do, I’ll always love you. It’s you and me until the end.”

Kieren was shocked by Simon’s confession but he understood where he came from. He had known something was wrong for a very long time and he felt relieved that Simon told him the truth. It was a little painful but he did appreciate the fact that he didn’t go through with it at the end. He understood that Simon was constantly under pressure from his family and even the ULA and deep in his heart he knew Simon would never want to hurt him.

“We’re going to get through this together, alright?”

Simon was so relieved. He didn’t deserve to be forgiven. Every moment he spent with Kieren Walker was a blessing and he was so fortunate to be with him.

“Are you sure? I’m really sorry, Kier, I’m really really sorry,”

Kieren lightly laid a finger on his lips, quieting him. He ran his hands through Simon’s hair, wrapping his arms around him and planting comforting kisses up and down his neck. Simon breathed a contented sigh, returning Kieren’s embrace.

“Do you ever get flashbacks?” He asked Kieren, rubbing the other man’s hand.

“Mm. I do, we could talk about yours if you want.”

Kieren had sensed the unspoken words and Simon just couldn’t stop getting impressed. Every second spent with Kieren wasn’t a dull moment.

“No, not now. Thank you.”

“Would you like to stay the night? I think you should.”

Simon watched, enraptured, as Kieren took off his stained shirt, throwing it onto the ground before climbing into bed next to Simon. Kieren looked so beautiful. Slender and tall and an angel in Simon’s eyes.

As the pair lay on their backs staring at the ceiling, Kieren traced his finger over Simon’s lips, shifting closer to him until they were touching the other. It made both of them feel secure and Simon melted into Kieren’s touch. It had been far too long since he had been loved.

“Are you still up for that walk tomorrow morning?” Kieren asked, running circles with his fingers along Simon’s well-developed muscles.

“Definitely. Come here, Kier.”

He grabbed Kieren who yelped in surprise, laughing as he did his best to whisper.

“My parents are going to wake up!”

Kieren was now laying on top of Simon and the two began to laugh as they stared into the other’s eyes.

Kieren moved first, kissing him hard and nibbling on his lip, moving with this intensity and a vehemence that was unexpectedly enjoyable. Simon slid his hands up and down Kieren’s back as the other man rocked his hips forward, thrusting against his own hip.

Who knew a kiss could be so empowering? Kieren was a force of his own, a gorgeous powerful man and Simon loved him so much.

They finally separated, Kieren lying next to him with his head tucked in space between Simon’s shoulder and head. It was a warm feeling, one that made your gut ache in a good way. That burning sensation when you feel that connection with another person.

“Goodnight Simon. I love you.”

“I love you too. Goodnight.”

The pair lay in the comfort of the other’s presence until they fell asleep. Unbeknownst to them, the ULA was making preparations to find Kieren and to start the Second Rising.

The two lovers would be ready for them, however, and Simon was not going to give up so easily. He’d protect Kieren to the death. To the end, they promised.

To the end.