“Simon? Simon Hawthorne? It is you, isn’t it?”
Ben Leyton turned toward the woman at the same time his partner, Simon, did. She was in her sixties, smartly dressed, and he didn’t remember seeing her before. Not that that was anything unusual. Ben could count the number of people he knew at the funeral on one hand, although most of them seemed to know Simon.
“Yes, I’m Simon Hawthorne,” Simon said politely. He took a step forward, the movement placing him between Ben and the woman. “I’m sorry, ma’am, do I know you?”
She giggled and suddenly sounded very girlish. “We have met but it was a very long time ago. I was only ten years old but you still look the same.”
Simon peered at her more closely, as though recognising something about her. He relaxed. “Unless I’m mistaken, I can see something of your mother in you.” He smiled. “You’re Isa’s daughter, yes?”
“Yes.” She seemed delighted he’d remembered, and held out her hand. “Phoebe Bennett. You’ve got a good memory, Mr. Hawthorne.”
“Professor,” Simon corrected absently. He shook her hand, and then pulled Ben closer, into the conversation. “Miss Bennett, this is my partner, Ben Leyton. Ben, I met Miss Bennett’s mother during the war.”
“Pleased to meet you,” Ben said politely. He didn’t know how Simon kept track of everyone he’d met, especially as often they were so much older the next time he saw them.
“Mrs. Bennett, actually. Phoebe.” Phoebe lowered her voice. “Your partner… he knows then?”
“Yes, he does.” Simon smiled. “Ben and I don’t have any secrets.” He glanced around the crowd. Forge was talking to someone on the one side of the room. Lucas was having an animated discussion with a woman on the other. He looked up at Simon and Ben and grinned before returning to his conversation.
The funeral was for a friend of Simon’s, a vampire, so the guests were a mix of supernaturals and humans. All of them would be aware of his true nature so there was no need to pretend to be something he wasn’t.
“Why don’t we find a seat?” Ben suggested. If Phoebe had known Simon all those years ago, this was going to take a while, and besides Ben was keen to encourage the conversation. He liked hearing about Simon’s past.
“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Leyton,” Phoebe said once they were seated.
“Ben,” Ben said. She’d told them to call her Phoebe so he didn’t see the point in making her stand on formality either.
Simon slipped his hand into Ben’s, and squeezed it gently. “I didn’t know you’d settled in Flint,” he said.
“I haven’t,” she said. “But I heard about Cynthia’s death and came to pay my respects. My husband and I live a few hours from here so it wasn’t a long drive. He had some business to attend to so couldn’t be at her funeral. Probably for the best as he doesn’t know. I told him she was an old family friend.” Phoebe shrugged. “Which is true. She helped my parents find their feet when they settled here after the war.”
“I met your father once,” Simon said. “He was a good man. I was sorry to hear of his passing. His and your mother’s.”
Ben knew he should wait until they were alone before asking about how exactly Simon and Phoebe’s mother had met, but his curiosity got the better of him. He also knew Simon would play down the situation. “So you knew her mum during the war, Simon?”
Simon shot him an amused look. “I would have told you later, you know.”
“I know,” Ben said. A thought occurred to him. “Unless it’s something you don’t want to talk about?” he asked Phoebe. “In which case I’m sorry, and I’ll just shut up and listen to you guys, okay?”
Phoebe glanced between Simon and Ben. She smiled. “I had a very girlish crush on Simon when I met him. He was so handsome and sophisticated, and I was only ten years old.”
“He’s still handsome and sophisticated,” Ben murmured. He grinned when Simon flushed.
“And you’re very much in love,” Phoebe said. “I can see it in both of you.” She studied Ben for a moment. “You’re not a… you know?”
Vampire. The unspoken word hung between them until Ben broke the silence.
“No, I’m not,” Ben said.
“And he’s not going to be either,” Simon said quickly. “How did you find out? Isa wouldn’t have told you. About me, or what happened.”
“After she sent me to bed I eavesdropped on your conversation,” Phoebe admitted. “Don’t worry. I never told her I knew. Not until we met Cynthia again years later and I remembered her from when I was a little girl and realised she must be like you when she hadn’t aged. We talked about it then, but I’ve never told anyone else.”
“Isa wasn’t meant to find out,” Simon admitted. “It was an accident.” He shrugged as though brushing off a memory.
“An accident?” Ben was curious as hell now. He also knew Simon well enough to know that whatever he was talking about would have been anything but.
“He was rescuing my mother from Gestapo custody and took a bullet for her,” Phoebe said softly. “She would have died otherwise and I wouldn’t be here today.”
“Simon?” Ben’s voice shook. Although it would have been years ago, the thought of Simon getting shot made him turn cold.
“It was a long time ago,” Simon said. He leaned in and kissed Ben, brushing his lips over Ben’s cheek. “Isa was in the German Resistance. She’d been arrested and her rescue didn’t go quite according to plan.” He kept his voice light. “I didn’t think, I just reacted. After all, it wasn’t as though I was going to die from a bullet wound. She would have.”
“It still would have hurt like hell, and you guys aren’t like Superman. It’s not like it would have bounced off you.” Ben knew Simon was playing it down.
“It didn’t, but I recovered.” There was something in Simon’s tone that made Ben look at him.
Don’t talk about this now.
“I want to talk about it later,” Ben said, leaning in and speaking in a very low voice that Simon, with his enhanced vampire senses, would hear.
Simon nodded, but didn’t say anything.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories,” Phoebe said. “I just… I saw you here today, still looking the same and I wanted to say thank you. For saving my mother. I couldn’t before because I wasn’t meant to know but I figured I could now.” She stood. “So thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Simon said as though she’d just thanked him for something less earth shattering. “You don’t have to leave. And they aren’t bad memories. It was a long time ago. Your mother went on to have a good life. That’s the important thing, right?”
Phoebe leaned over and gave Simon a brief hug. “Yes, it is. It’s a very important thing. It was nice to see you again. And to meet you too, Ben.” She then gave Ben a quick hug, and whispered in his ear. “Look after him. I’m glad he’s found someone who loves him like you obviously do.” She walked away before either of them had the chance to reply.
Ben watched her disappear into the crowd. “I know you heard what she said,” he said softly. Vampires heard everything.
“I did.” Simon pulled Ben close and kissed him again. “And you do. Look after me. You don’t mind these bits of my past turning up like this, do you?”
“Of course not.” Ben wrapped his arm around Simon’s waist. “You’re way older than I am and that means your past is a lot longer than mine. Way more complicated too. I love you. That means all of you. Vampire, and all that, as well.”
Sometimes Ben felt like Simon’s life was some kind of tapestry, full of different kinds of threads. Mostly it hung in the background out of sight, but occasionally like today, stuff from his past shook loose and needed to be talked about, before being stitched back in again.
The crowd was thinning out, just a few pockets of people still talking.
“You still want the full story of what happened back then, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I do.” Ben knew he wouldn’t like all of it. He never liked hearing about Simon being hurt. Logically he knew it was in the past, that Simon had survived, or he wouldn’t be here now. With Ben. But it didn’t make it finding out about it any easier.
They’d go home. Talk. And then make love, wanting to reassure each other that this was now, that was then, and they were together.
Simon leaned his forehead against Ben’s for a moment. He ran his fingers through Ben’s thick dark hair. “Let’s go talk to Hugh.” They needed to take their leave from Cynthia’s husband first. “And then,” Simon said, “I’m taking you home.”