Part Ten, Chapters 30-32
"I had no idea this place was even here," Simon said, turning halfway around in his chair to look out over the low hedges at the narrow road. Truth be told, he didn't precisely know where he was; he'd gone into a light trance of expensive-car appreciation and not snapped out of it until Jeremy was easing said car into a parking spot. They were definitely still somewhere in DC, he knew that much, but nowhere he was familiar with. The houses surrounding this little outdoor cafe' were just small and narrow and old enough to be extremely expensive, and Simon didn't get out to the ritzy parts of town much. Everything was red brick and greenery. Senators probably lived around here. Lobbyists. Cabinet members. Simon thought he could probably see the slime trails if he squinted.
"I only found it a few days ago myself," said Jeremy. He was still wearing his sunglasses; out here on the patio they didn't even seem all that out of place. Simon was vaguely grateful for them. "I'm afraid there's no horse on the menu, but it is on our way"
Simon rolled his eyes. "Christ, can we drop the horse thing? It was a figure of speech, and it was a lame one, and it was like an hour ago anyway."
Jeremy smiled, slightly. "One might say I was beating a dead horse, then?"
Simon bit the inside of his cheek to keep from groaning. "Don't think I'm not considering throwing a fork at you," he said. "Only thing that's stopping me is not knowing which of these forks is for throwing."
"When in doubt, start at the outside of the silverware arrangement and work your way in," Jeremy started to say, but just about then their waitress appeared pretty much out of nowhere, bearing two glasses of water and a relentlessly awed expression. Jeremy retreated into a small superior smile.
"I'm sorry for your wait, sir!" the waitress told Jeremy, putting the water glasses down and whipping her order pad out of her apron. As an afterthought, she beamed half her leftover smile at Simon. "Can I get you two something to drink while you take a look at the menu?"
Simon considered having a beer, remembered the car, and changed his mind. "Water's fine," he said.
"I'll have a club soda, please," Jeremy said, settling back in his chair and giving the waitress the benefit of his smile. She almost craned towards him, hanging onto every word like there were fifty-dollar bills tied to each one. Which, given that it was Jeremy, was more likely to be true than not. "With lime, if you'd be so kind."
"Yes, sir!" their waitress said, and darted off, dodging between the small round tables at a rapid trot.
Simon watched her rapid retreat sourly. "You've been here before. I can just tell."
"Didn't I say so?" Jeremy said vaguely, engrossed in his menu.
Simon sighed and slumped down in his seat, folding one arm across his stomach. "Definitely better," he said.
"Very much so," Jeremy said. "I'll just call for the bill, shall I?" He raised a hand and waggled his fingers. Sure enough, the waitress materialized at their table, bearing both the check and a poorly-concealed hopeful expression.
Simon stifled a belch behind his fist and turned to watch the road, not paying much attention to anything. Expensive cars cruised by on occasion but the sidewalks were nearly deserted, and Simon spent a moment theorizing as to why before remembering that it was early Thursday afternoon and almost everyone had somewhere else to be. "Feels weird not being at work," he said, watching a late-model SUV lumber by. "I keep thinking it's Saturday or something."
"I take it you don't vacation often," Jeremy said, pushing back his chair with a slight screech and standing up.
"Not really," Simon said, glancing at the leather check folder just out of habit. However much money Jeremy had tucked in there, it was all neatly hidden away from Simon's eyes. Simon shrugged a little and stood up himself, staggering a bit from sheer fullness. "Not like I have anywhere I really want to go."
Jeremy made a little noise of assent and headed for the exit. Simon watched his retreating back for a moment and then flicked open the check folder. A little pile of crisp twenties, at least six of them, sat on top of a bill for close to sixty dollars; Simon snorted, closed the folder, and jogged after Jeremy. "Hey," he called after Jeremy as they hit the street. "Wait up."
"Mm?" Jeremy said, glancing over his shoulder.
Simon jogged around Jeremy and got in his way, reaching out to thump Jeremy's chest with his knuckles. "Gimme," he said, holding out his hand.
Jeremy stoppedit was that or run face-first into the Great Wall of Simonand looked up at him, just barely smiling. "Did you want something?"
"Gimme," Simon repeated, wiggling his fingers.
"Give you... what?"
"Quit being a dick and give me the keys," Simon said patiently.
"You could say 'please'," Jeremy suggested. He was already fishing around in his pocket.
Simon shrugged. "I could also say 'or else'," he pointed out.
"That's true," Jeremy said, dropping the car keys into Simon's waiting hand.
Simon closed his fingers around them before Jeremy could change his mind. "Great," he said, turning around. "Uh, where'd you park?"
"Around the corner," Jeremy said. "You do remember which one is mine, don't you?"
"Little silver one," Simon said, heading for the corner. He had a bad moment when there proved to be two little silver convertibles parked in the parallel spaces along the road, but then he spotted the Porsche logo on the back of the nearer one and was able to rule it out. Besides, it was the other one that chirped when he pushed the 'Unlock' button on the electronic key.
Without a word Jeremy slid into the passenger seat and settled in, waiting patiently; Simon wedged himself into the driver's seat and spent a few uncomfortable moments with his knees jammed up against his chest before his groping fingers hit the little lever under the seat cushion. Once the seat had been adjusted to his liking Simon wriggled his shoulders, settling back into the curved leather seat with a sigh. "So," he said, craning his neck to figure out where the key went, "which way is 95 from here?"
Jeremy touched two fingers to his sunglasses, pushing them back up. "Behind us," he said, still smiling a bit. "It's probably easiest just to make a U-turn and then hang a right when this street ends."
"Gotcha," Simon said. After a bit more fumbling the engine roared to life, and he twitched his foot off the gas pedal before it could do any more of that.
"I'd appreciate it if you didn't damage the car," Jeremy said, right on cue. "Also, please do try not to get pulled over. The car and I are only technically legal, you understand."
Simon paused, hand on the gearshift. "Is it stolen?"
"No, no, nothing like that," Jeremy said. "It's just that when I say that I've 'rented' it, I mean that I've actually borrowed it under the table from someone who owes me quite a favor for, ah, services rendered once upon a time. And also the name on the insurance and all that isn't quite real, although I should hope it would stand up to most scrutiny."
"Fair enough," Simon said, fidgeting the car into reverse and gingerly nudging the accelerator. "It's okay, though. I'm not going to get pulled over."
"I hope not," Jeremy said.
"No, seriously, I'm not going to get pulled over," Simon said. The car responded eagerly to the slightest suggestion and he found himself having a hell of a time not launching the little missile into parked cars as he fought his way through a six- or seven-point turn. Finally the car was pointed in the right direction and moving smartly towards the stop sign, and Simon was able to add, "I know pretty much every spot on 95 where the highway patrol lays up. We'll be fine."
"If you say so, Simon," said Jeremy, nestling down into the cradle of the passenger seat. No attempt to put his hand on Simon's leg seemed to be forthcoming; given how hard to manage the car was proving to be, Simon decided he was grateful for that.
Five minutes later they were on 95 and Simon had gotten the hang of the little car. The trick was remembering that despite its cool, sleek, expensive exterior it was as excitable and eager to please as a puppy: it would put on speed if Simon thought the word 'fast' too loudly. "This is a great car," he said, speaking loudly to be heard over the low roar of the wind, cocking one arm out the rolled-down window and letting the steering wheel slide through his fingers.
"I'm fond of it myself," Jeremy said. Simon risked a glance over at him. Jeremy was still wearing his sunglasses but Simon could see Jeremy's swollen eye past the earpiece, now a vivid dark red; Simon winced and looked away, only to discover that he was doing close to eighty again.
"How does it do that?" Simon asked, easing off on the accelerator and not really expecting an answer.
"Never mind." Simon paused and hunched his shoulders a little. "D'you want to pull over somewhere and get some more ice to put on your eye?"
Jeremy thought about it. "Actually, as long as you're going to be doing the driving, that's not a bad idea."
"I'll find a convenience store or something," Simon promised, letting the little car slither over into the right lane. "Get myself some coffee, too."
"Ah, your real motivation surfaces," said Jeremy. Simon, already negotiating the exit and trying not to overshoot the turn, just snorted at him and didn't deny it.
After a few minutes of fruitless searching (and privately muttering to himself that the gas station wasn't that big so where could the little bastard have gone anyway) Simon finally thought to actually go outside and check the empty car in person, rather than just glancing irritably at it out through the big plate-glass windows. Four feet away from the car it became obvious that the passenger side seat was missing; two feet away and Simon could see where it had gone. Simon leaned over the side of the car, coffee in hand. "There you are," he said in exasperation. "I couldn't figure out where the hell you'd gotten to."
Jeremy blinked up at him (or winked, at least; his left eye was hidden under yet another bag of ice). "Ah, of course," he said after a moment. "With the seat fully reclined I'm invisible, aren't I?"
"Yes," Simon said, crossing his arms on top of the passenger side door. His styrofoam coffee cup dangled from his fingers, less than six inches from Jeremy's hip. "You look comfortable."
"Actually, I am rather comfortable," Jeremy said, closing his visible eye and sighing deeply. "Laying back seemed like the easiest way to keep the ice on my eye."
"I guess so," said Simon, studying the tableau beneath him with some vague interest. Without really meaning to, he reached down and splayed his free hand out on Jeremy's stomach.
There was a pause, and then Jeremy opened his visible eye about halfway and smiled slightly. Simon huffed a little and pulled his hand back, then went around to the other side of the car and got in without another word.
They were back on 95 in what seemed like a matter of seconds, the little convertible nearly leaping up the onramp despite Simon's attempts to keep it under some kind of control. The rush of the wind discouraged conversation; within five minutes Jeremy appeared to be falling asleep in the reclined passenger seat, and Simon's attention was fully claimed by the car's enthusiasm anyway. "It's doing it again," Simon said, after fifteen minutes or so.
"Doing what?" drifted up from Jeremy's reclined seat.
Simon gestured at the dash. "I blink and suddenly I'm going ninety-five again."
"... you sound terribly happy about that," Jeremy said sleepily.
"Oh yeah," Simon said with an outrush of breath. "I totally am."
Simon hunched his shoulders and restarted the car. "... don't even start," he said.
"In my defense, Simon, I haven't said a word," Jeremy said, upright again and making a few minute adjustments to his seat.
"It's not a ticket," Simon insisted. "He let me off with just a warning, okay? That's not a ticket."
Jeremy said nothing, just tilted his head down and hid his smile behind his hand. "Shut up," Simon said anyway.
Jeremy snorted out a laugh before he could catch himself.
"I said shut up!" Simon said, shooting a highly put-upon glare in Jeremy's direction and goosing the accelerator. Gravel crunched under the tires as Simon got the little car back up to speed, the state trooper's car dwindling in the rearview mirrors.
The next few hours passed uneventfully. A few miles away from the Holland Tunnel Simon found a convenient gas station and pulled over, figuring that even if he was insane enough to drive a fantastically expensive convertible into Manhattan, he certainly wasn't insane enough to do it when he didn't know where he was going. "Your turn," he said, undoing his seatbelt.
Jeremy stretched luxuriously. "Fair enough," he said when he was done. "How are we on petrol?"
"Probably ought to fill up while we're still in New Jersey and can make someone else do it," Simon said. "Lemme guess. Premium?"
"Premium," Jeremy confirmed.
Simon cocked his arm over the door and waited until the somewhat harassed-looking attendant came scrambling over. "Fill it premium," he told the guy, and then hopped out of the car. "And you," he said, pointing at Jeremy, "pay the man."
"Yes sir," Jeremy said, and managed to squeeze in a thoroughly ironic salute before Simon turned his back.
Simon headed for the station proper, scuffing a hand through his windblown hair. When he was almost but not quite out of earshot, he heard Jeremy laugh and tell the attendant, "He rather likes to give orders." Simon ducked his head and kept going.
Even with Jeremy at the wheel, they still made it out of New Jersey in a matter of minutes. After an interlude in the Holland Tunnel loud enough to make Simon's ears ring, they got into the city proper and promptly got mired in traffic. "Christ, every time I come here I'm reminded of why I don't come here more often," Simon muttered, slumping down in the passenger seat and staring straight ahead.
"What, don't you like New York?" Jeremy asked, stepping smartly on the brakes to avoid a right-drifting taxicab. Simon's seatbelt promptly clamped down across his chest, so he only lurched forward slightly.
"New York's like someone tied a whole bunch of normal cities together and started trying to beat you to death with them," Simon said, settling back again. "It's great, but it's... too noisy, I guess."
"Mm," said Jeremy, coming to a neat halt at a red light. The car was promptly engulfed in hustling pedestrians, none of whom deigned to so much as glance in their direction. "If I were to say something along the lines of 'well, then, don't ever go to Tokyo', you'd probably accuse me of being a snob, wouldn't you?"
"Oh, yeah, definitely, but mostly because I hate you and also you are one," Simon said. "Although, you know, I'm aware that there are bigger cities out there than New York. I know I'm not half the world traveler that you are"
"only you could make that sound like an insult"
"but I'm not stupid, either," Simon said. "I know what's out there even if I haven't seen as much of it as you have, thanks."
"I wasn't accusing you of being stupid, Simon," Jeremy said, most of his attention consumed by turning left without hitting anyone or anything. "Just in case you were wondering."
"Yeah," Simon said after a minute, subsiding. "I know."
Jeremy glanced at him, then nodded and went back to sparring with cabs.
Simon, who'd been watching the city go by, didn't even see it coming; one moment Jeremy flicked on the turn signal and the next everything went dark, the car dropping out from underneath him. Simon blinked rapidly, the concrete walls of the underground parking garage evolving out of the darkness as his eyes adjusted. "So I'm guessing we're here," he said.
"We're here," Jeremy confirmed. The parking garage was mostly full, but there was an empty space right by the bank of elevators and Jeremy slid the little convertible into it, parking under the discreet little sign that said RESERVED. Simon considered the sign, considered Jeremy, and didn't mention it.
"We'll need to stop off in the lobby for a moment," Jeremy said, touching something on the dash. Behind them something whined mechanically and the car's soft top unfolded, closing them off from the dim yellow light of the parking garage; Jeremy touched something else and the trunk opened with a muted chunking sound.
"Good boy," Simon said, patting the car's dashboard.
The elevator doors opened onto a lobby that looked like something out of a James Bond movie. All the furniture looked like it had been imported from Europe at great expense during the 1850s and had not been moved since. It was all darkened wood and dulled brass and faded brocade, shabby and antique and completely real, like something out of a glossy travel magazine. Simon immediately felt underdressed. "My proletariat ass is going to get thrown out of here for not being the right sort, isn't it," he muttered, putting a protective hand over his battered old duffel bag.
Jeremy laughed softly. "Somehow I doubt that," he said, heading for the long low counter that ran along one whole side of the lobby. "Although I suppose you could stick close, if you're so worried."
"Stick close," Simon repeated, falling in step behind Jeremy. "Gotcha."
The ancient brass bell on the counter barely deigned to clatter asthmatically when Jeremy tapped it, but all the same it drew someone's attention; the man who appeared soundlessly from behind the row of wooden letter cubbyholes managed to look dignified and aloof for about two seconds until he saw who had rung the bell. Carefully cultivated New York sangfroid warred with naked greed on his face, and his exclamation of "Mr. Harbottle!" was probably a lot warmer than he'd meant it to be.
"Harbottle?" Simon muttered.
Jeremy ignored him. "Hallo!" he said cheerfully. Simon could have sworn that Jeremy's accent was thicker. "Any messages for 1200, then?"
"I believe so," the desk clerk said carefully, twisting around to check the wooden cubbies and fetching out a long cream-colored envelope marked J. Harbottle. "Ah, yes, sir! From the concierge."
"Ah! Wonderful," Jeremy said, taking the envelope and not bothering to open it. "And I'll just need a second key for the suite, if you wouldn't mind."
"Immediately!" the desk clerk said, vanishing back to wherever he'd come from just as silently as he'd appeared. Jeremy glanced over his shoulder at Simon; the corner of his mouth twitched upwards in a mocking little smile. It warmed Simon's heart. He stopped fidgeting.
"Key for you, sir," said the clerk, reappearing and dropping not a plastic ID card but an actual brass key into Jeremy's hands. The clerk's eyes flicked to Simon and narrowed. "Will... sir be staying with us?"
"Oh, yes, for a few days," Jeremy said, straightening up and tucking the envelope into the inside of his jacket. His hand slid back out with the inevitable folded bill caught between his first two fingers, and suddenly all of the clerk's visible distaste for Simon vanished, along with the money.
"If I could just get sir's name?" said the clerk.
Jeremy waved a hand dismissively, already turning to leave. "I'm certain that won't be necessary."
"Of course, sir," the clerk said with only the barest of pauses. "Have a good day, sir."
"I intend to!" Jeremy said, and flicking a casual wave over his shoulder he headed for the elevators. Simon edged away a step or two, then spun around and followed, managing not to stumble over his own feet despite all the lurking ambiance waiting to trip him up.
"What was that about?" he muttered under his breath, just as soon as he'd caught up with Jeremy at the elevators.
Jeremy bypassed the bank of normal elevators and stopped in front of one that stood alone to one side. Instead of the usual 'up' and 'down' buttons this elevator had only a small brass plaque with a keyhole in it; Jeremy slid the room key in his hand into the keyhole and the elevator doors immediately creaked open. "I'm reasonably certain he believes I went cruising foroh, what's the wordrough trade," Jeremy said cheerfully.
Taken completely by surprise, Simon had a coughing fit. "What?" he wheezed, when he could.
Jeremy put a hand over the elevator door sensor and jerked his head back. "Come on," he said, still with that irritating good cheer.
Simon shot him a look but joined him in the elevator, making sure not to stand too close. "Am I supposed to be insulted or something?" he asked. "Because, you know, I feel kind of insulted."
"Oh, don't be," Jeremy said, leaning against the wall as the elevator made its ponderous way upwards. "What do you care what he thinks?"
"Let me see if I can put this in a way that you'll understand," Simon said. "I care because, let's see, I'm not a hustler?"
"So if I know that, and you know that, what else matters?" Jeremy asked. "The man has a comb-over. I suppose he has to get his sleazy little thrills where he can."
Simon subsided, grumpily. "Not a hustler," he muttered again.
"How nice for you," Jeremy said, still smiling.
"Uh," said Simon. "No offense."
"None taken," said Jeremy.
The elevator doors creaked open again, revealing a short and ominously fancy hallway that ended in two doors. The carpet was thick enough that Simon couldn't hear his own footsteps as he followed Jeremy down the hall. Jeremy unlocked the door marked '1200' and then held out the key. "There you are," he said.
Simon took it, stared at it for a moment, and then stuffed it into his jeans pocket. "I didn't think hotels still used real keys," he said.
"Some do," Jeremy said, pushing the door open and going in. Simon followed him into the suite.
After a long, sick minute, Simon said, "I'm not impressed."
"Of course not," Jeremy said.
"No, seriously, not impressed," Simon said, looking around. "Especially not by the view. Nope. Not impressive at all."
"The view does get better at night," Jeremy said. "For what that's worth."
"Christ, this one room is bigger than my entire apartment," Simon said, dropping the pretense.
"Many things are," Jeremy said with a quick twist of smile. "At any rate. There are two bedroom suites" Jeremy held both hands out, gesturing at the doors on opposite walls; Simon thought he looked a little like one of those vapid women who point to prizes on game shows "and you may sleep in whichever room you like."
Simon eyed him suspiciously. "Which room are you sleeping in?"
"That one," Jeremy said innocently, flickering the fingers on his left hand.
"Gotcha," said Simon, and headed for the other one.
Unpacking took Simon all of about a minute, and by the time he had finished, found a place to kick off his sneakers, and explored the rest of 'his' suite (the bathroom was large enough that his half-disgusted exclamation of "Jesus!" echoed hollowly off the tiled walls) he no longer felt like he was trespassing. He wandered back out into the main room and found himself alone in it, the door to the other bedroom suite closed, so he indulged his curiosity and spent a good five minutes staring out the massive bay window at the city stretched out below and around him. Off to one side he could just barely see a splash of green, which he took to be Central Park mostly because he didn't know of any other large parks in Manhattan.
Once he'd come to terms with the view he padded around the rest of the living room, opening drawers and cabinets, turning up the television, a rather disturbingly complete wet bar, what appeared to be a small library of books and DVDs, and some sort of laptop docking station that had been discreetly hidden in an antique rolltop desk. There was still no sign of Jeremy, and so finally Simon made his way over to the other door and knocked lightly.
"Come," Jeremy called, his voice made faint by the closed door.
Simon twisted the doorknob and pushed the door halfway open, lurking uncertainly in the doorway. "So, uh, what now?"
Jeremy, seated crosslegged on the bed, waved a piece of cream-colored paper in Simon's general direction. The matching J. Harbottle envelope, neatly slit open, lay on the bed beside him. "We have reservations for dinner," Jeremy said, "but they're not until eight, so we needn't leave for another hour."
"You got the concierge to make dinner reservations," Simon said, watching the piece of paper flap stiffly in Jeremy's hand rather than look at the dark red beacon of his left eye. "You were that sure I was going to come back with you, huh."
"Yes, well, reservations can always be cancelled," Jeremy said. "Better safe than sorry, I thought."
"Judging from the way the day has gone so far, your definitions of 'safe' are as fucked up as everything else about you," Simon told him. "So what's the 'J' stand for?"
"Mm?" Jeremy asked, refolding the paper and tucking it back into the envelope.
Simon gestured at it. "The 'J'. 'J. Harbottle'. What's it stand for?"
Jeremy's smile flashed on and off again. "Jeremiah," he said.
"Ah," Simon said, going very still.
"Ironically, 'Jeremiah Harbottle' is one of my best-kept secrets and least-connected alter egos," Jeremy said, fiddling absently with the envelope. "Plus he has the advantage of being completely legal and thoroughly documentable. I've always made certain to keep him alive, just in case."
"Just in case," Simon repeated.
Jeremy dropped the envelope to the bed and folded his hands in his lap. "As I was saying, we've an hour or so before we ought to leave, so if you'd like to lay down for a while or what have you, feel free. Personally I'm for a shower and a bit of a liedown myself." His smile flickered again. "It's been quite a day."
"Yeah," Simon said, shaking his head a little. "I'll, uh, leave you to it." And he retreated, pulling the door shut before going back over to poke through the room's little library.
His poking turned up a book that looked at least mildly entertaining and Simon leafed through it without much interest for half an hour or so. The shower in the left-hand suite went on at one point and off again a while later; Simon noted both things but didn't pay them much real attention.
Finally he admitted to himself that he wanted another shower, so he dropped the book on the coffee table and went into his own suite to have one. A look in the mirror convinced him that he was doing the right thing; five hours in an open convertible, partly in Manhattan, had left his hair a tangled mess and his face windburned and grimy. It took him a few minutes of negotiating with the ridiculous tub, but eventually he managed to produce hot water.
Clean and dressed again, Simon went back out into the main room. Jeremy, in his inevitable black-and-shades, was sitting on the couch idly leafing through the book that Simon had left there. "Well! There you are," he said, putting the book back down. "Shall we go?"
"This isn't a place that's going to make me wear a jacket or anything, is it?" Simon asked. "Because Christ, I don't think I even own a tie."
"Neither do I," Jeremy said, not precisely answering the question. "Loathsome things. Might as well be wearing a dog collar with a sign attached that says 'hello, I'm a very small cog in a very large machine'."
Simon eyed him askance. "Whatever," he eventually said. "So I'm okay?"
"You're fine," Jeremy assured him. "I harbor a deep distrust of restaurants that require one to dress up anyway. It says to me that they care more for ambiance than food, which misses the point."
"Okay," Simon said warily. "So... let's go."
"Right!" Jeremy said, hopping to his feet. "It's only a few blocks away, so I thought we'd walk, if that's all right with you."
"Sure," Simon said. "Actually, sounds really good. I haven't... I could stand to stretch my legs some."
"Oh dear," said Jeremy, already halfway to the door. "If you're going to stretch those long legs of yours, I suspect I'll find myself trotting to keep up with you."
"Not that you wouldn't be up to it," Simon said, following him. "Christ, you're damned near bouncing off the walls. Are you on something?"
"I am, as they say, high on life," Jeremy said cheerfully. He pulled the door open and burst out into the hallway without waiting for Simon.
"No one actually says that!" Simon yelled after him.
Dinner proved to be Italian, so damned good that Simon promptly forgave New York City for everything, and afterwards by mutual unspoken agreement they wound up wandering around looking in windows instead of just going back to the hotel. Wherever they were, it appeared to be about sixty percent snotty little upscale art galleries, and Simon learned more than he'd ever wanted to know about Jeremy's opinions on the contemporary art scene. ('Viciously unimpressed' seemed to sum it up pretty well. As did 'catty'.)
Eventually they got coffee in the world's narrowest coffee shop and started heading back in the general direction of the hotel. Whatever was fueling Jeremy's weird energy hadn't run out yet, and Simon found himself having to make a point of keeping up. And it was all okay; surprisingly okay. Simon felt so normal that he felt guilty about it, when he remembered to. He could go for long stretches of time without thinking about anything but what was right in front of him.
By the time they got back to the hotel it was well after eleven, and the snotty clerk with the comb-over had been replaced by an older guy with a jowly basset-hound face who watched Simon and Jeremy go by with a sleepy unblinking stare. No sooner had they gotten into the suite than Jeremy flicked the chain across the door and announced that he was going to bed; Simon agreed and headed off into his own room before Jeremy could suggest anything else, closing and locking the door behind himself.
He was okay while he changed into his sweatpants, and he was okay while he brushed his teeth and washed his face, and he was okay when he was looking askance at the fancy little box of chocolates that had appeared on his pillow while they were gone. He was okay climbing into bed and he was okay turning out the light, and then he lay back in the darkness and pulled up the covers and realized that he was not okay at all.
He lay there for a while, wide awake and staring at the ceiling. His chest hurt and his mind thrashed around. For the longest time he refused to look over at the clock, certain that he'd be asleep at any minute, certain that it had only been ten minutes and the rest was just his mind talking crazy talk, certain that it had already been hours and the sun would come up at any moment. Finally, after a particularly loud horn blast from outside had disrupted his horrified half-trance, Simon looked over at the clock, saw that it was getting on towards one, and gave up.
He didn't bother with the light, just swung his legs out of bed and stood back up. The room was almost completely dark, the heavy curtains pulled over the window, but he'd been lying there in the darkness for so long that he could see perfectly well; he made his way to the door without running into anything, the rug dampening his footsteps almost to nothing, the click of the door's latch amazingly loud in comparison.
The main room, in contrast, was almost bright. The drapes were still wide open, letting the city in through the massive bay window. Simon stood in front of it, looking left and right, and conceded that Jeremy had had a point. The view did get better at night.
He lowered himself gingerly onto the window seat and leaned his forehead against the glass, staring out. The city glittered all the way out to the horizon, and below him he could still see cars and taxis flowing by in an endless stream. Down on the street it was almost bright as day. Up here, it was night, if only barely.
As long as he was upright the turmoil in his mind receded, leaving him mostly alone. Sooner or later he'd fall asleep, if only when he fell over, but right now... it wasn't happening. Simon huffed out a breath, fogging up the window in a little circle, and considered turning on the lights, maybe giving that book another try or flipping through the channels.
The little click of the other bedroom door opening didn't really surprise him at all. "Can't sleep?" Jeremy said softly.
Simon shut his eyes wearily and waited for Jeremy to go away, even though he knew, deep down, that it was probably futile. Jeremy had never been the kind of problem that just went away. For a long moment the silence held, the back of Simon's neck prickling under Jeremy's steady gaze, and then Simon roused himself enough to say, "Go back to sleep, Archer." His voice sounded rough from disuse, but steady enough.
"Mm," Jeremy said. "No, I don't think I will."
Simon snorted. "How did I know you were going to say that?"
"Perhaps you're psychic," Jeremy said. His footsteps, already muffled by the thick rug, were entirely lost under the constant traffic noise from outside, but Simon knew he was coming. He knew it by how the phantom itch on the back of his neck spread down his spine and across his shoulders. That was Jeremy. Always irritating.
Jeremy slid around him and sat opposite him on the window seat, drawing one leg up so that he could hug his knee. He reached out and touched the window with one hand. "It's a beautiful view, isn't it."
Simon muttered some sort of agreement. Jeremy fell still, smiling out at the city, like he'd built it there himself. Eventually Simon acknowledged that Jeremy wasn't going to go away until he was placated, so he raised his head and looked at him. "I suppose it wouldn't do me any good to tell you that I'd rather be alone," Simon said.
Jeremy tilted his head to the side. The weird ambient glow of the city outside dyed his skin in patches of amber and blue, except for the whorl of bruise around his left eye, which in the semidarkness was a deep and unrelenting black. "Well, I'd have to give you points for honesty," Jeremy said quietly, his smile catching the city lights for a second, "but then I'd have to tell you that no matter what you prefer, you probably shouldn't be alone in any case."
"Jesus, who died and made you my case officer?" Simon said, nettled. "I don't need your help."
"Tch, and here I'd given you points for honesty," Jeremy said. "You don't want my help, is what you mean."
"Same difference," Simon said.
"Not really," Jeremy said, "but I suppose it isn't really important."
"No, it's not." Simon rubbed a hand down his face, scrubbing his palm over the faint stubble on his cheeks. "Leave me alone, okay? Shit, I'll even say 'please' if it'll make you go away."
"It probably wouldn't," Jeremy admitted.
"So... what, then? I don't want to 'talk about it' or anything," said Simon, turning to look out the window again. He could see Jeremy's faint reflection in the glass, glowing and half-dressed, the ghosts of his bare toes resting not six inches away from the ghost of Simon's knee. Simon tried to ignore it and found that he couldn't. "And I don't want company," he added. "I'll just sit out here until I get tired enough to sleep and then I'll go back to bed."
"Well, yes, you could do that," Jeremy said. Like Simon he turned to look out the window, and suddenly it was only his reflection that had a black eye; the right side of his face, turned towards Simon, was normal and unmarred. Jeremy and his reflection smiled a little. "But then you'd miss breakfast."
"I don't eat breakfast," Simon said. "Well, most of the time I don't."
Jeremy waved a dismissive hand. "Then you'd miss sitting around and watching me eat breakfast. And I feel that I should add that the hotel makes excellent coffee, for what that's worth."
Simon snorted. "That was pretty lame, Archer," he said.
"I suppose it was," Jeremy said.
"It doesn't matter anyway," Simon said. "Even if I did try and go back to bed now I'd just lie awake."
"Mm," Jeremy said again, and he stood up, extending his hand towards Simon. "Come on."
Simon eyed the extended hand and didn't take it. "What?"
Jeremy wiggled his fingers. "Come on," he said again, in the soft cajoling tones of someone trying to coax a nervous puppy out of his doghouse. Simon scowled and refused to rise to the bait. Undeterred, Jeremy leaned forward and plucked one of Simon's hands out of his lap. "Come on, get up," he said, tugging at Simon's hand.
Simon resisted for a few seconds, although he didn't bother pulling his hand free of Jeremy's grip. "Why?" he said peevishly.
"Bed," Jeremy said. "Come sleep. It'll be easier that way."
"What? In there? With you?"
"Yes," Jeremy said patiently. "It does help, you know."
"Maybe I don't want your help," Simon said, tugging half-heartedly against Jeremy's grip on his hand.
Jeremy's fingers tightened, just enough to keep him from escaping. "Too bad," he said. "I'm afraid you're going to accept my help whether you want it or not. Unless you care so strongly about it that you'd prefer to black my other eye, in which case I suppose I would probably leave you up to your own devices."
"Okay, now that, that is really low," Simon said, stung. "Jesus. I only hit you because"
"because I deserved it?" Jeremy finished for him, raising one eyebrow.
"Yes!" Simon said, then immediately corrected himself. "No! ... fuck. I don't know. Can't you just go away?"
"I'm afraid not," said Jeremy. He'd stopped tugging on Simon's hand a while ago; now his thumb traced a light arc across Simon's knuckles. "Just accept my help, Simon. I promise I won't tell anyone."
"Christ," Simon muttered, giving up and heaving himself to his feet. "Obnoxious little faggot."
Jeremy just laughed, leading Simon towards the door to his suite. "Charming as ever, Mr. Drake," he said.
"Yeah, well, I try," Simon said, lagging behind, forcing Jeremy to half-drag him onwards.
Jeremy's bedroom was as dark as Simon's had been, the curtains drawn tightly shut over the window. After staring into the expanse of the city Simon was blind again, and only Jeremy's guiding hand kept him from running into anything; then his hip bumped against the high shelf of the bed and Jeremy let go of his hand. "This side?" Simon asked.
"That's fine," said Jeremy, his voice moving around the foot of the bed. "Go on, get in."
Simon sighed and groped across the top of the bed until he found the edge of the covers, crawling under them with something like relief. Christ, he was tiredthe other side of the bed depressed under Jeremy's weight and the covers pulled tight across Simon's chest for a moment. Jeremy settled lightly against Simon's side and put his arm across Simon's waist. "Good night, Simon," he said, absolutely radiating smug contentment.
"Yeah, this is cozy," Simon muttered, wedging his arm under Jeremy's head before Jeremy could trap it against his side. There was a pause, and then Jeremy put his head on Simon's shoulder. Simon rolled his eyes at the ceiling. "Christ, you camel, shove over a little, will you?"
"Am I hearing things, or did you just call me a camel?" Jeremy asked.
"Yeah. Uh. Story my mom used to tell me when I was a kid," Simon said.
Jeremy made a little curious sound. "I don't believe I know the story. What's it about?"
"Basically there's this guy and his camel in the desert and they stop at an oasis for the night and the guy sets up his tent and why am I telling you this story?"
"Because I asked?"
"Jesus, you're demanding," Simon said. "So anyway the guy's all nice and warm inside his little tent and it's cold outside and so the camel sticks his head into the tent and says he's cold, so could he just put one foot inside the warm tent, and the guy says"
"So this camel talks."
"Yeah, the camel talks. What do you want from me? I'm not the fucking Discovery Channel. Anyway, the guy says sure, it's a small tent but there's probably room for one of your feet, that's fine. So the camel sticks his foot in. And a few minutes later he says that he's so cold, can't he put in another foot? And the guy says okay, I guess, there's probably room for two feet. So the camel sticks in another foot."
"You know," Jeremy said, "I believe I can see where this is going."
"So yeah, to make a long story short, the camel keeps wedging parts of himself into the tent until he's all the way inside and the guy's been shoved out into the cold, and my point is, scoot the hell over or you're going to knock me off onto the floor."
"Well, if you insist," Jeremy said, shuffling back and tugging lightly at Simon's hip. Simon scooted away from the edge of the bed but, somehow, did not manage to escape from Jeremy's loose grip. "There we are," Jeremy said. "And I had a bedtime story and everything. My goodness, we should do this more often."
"No, we shouldn't," Simon said. "I'm just doing this because I'm too tired to argue with you."
"Well," Jeremy said, settling down and tugging the covers up. "Whatever works, I suppose."
"Yeah, I guess it works, I just don't like it," Simon said. "G'night."
"Good night, Simon," Jeremy said, and then he fell silent.
Simon stared up at the ceiling and listened to Jeremy breathe and decided that as soon as Jeremy was asleep, he was leaving, even if it meant peeling Jeremy off like a leech. Jeremy shifted against his side and sighed softly and sent Simon's thoughts scurrying away, and Simon curled his arm around Jeremy's shoulders without really thinking about it, and somewhere in the middle of it all, to his surprise, Simon fell asleep.
When Simon finally swam back to consciousness he was alone in the bed, and he wasn't really surprised by that at all.
Narrow bars of sunlight shone in under the closed drapes and the door to the main room, but the bedroom itself was still murky. The sounds of traffic had only gotten worse, and on the street below people were yelling and playing music too loudly, but for the moment it was just dull background noise. Simon looked around the room blearily, licking his lips, and then put his head back down onto a pillow that still smelled slightly of whatever Jeremy used on his hair and went back to sleep.
Some time later he woke again, still alone in the bed. The bars of sunshine had moved across the floor, but not too far, and there was a low and indistinct buzzing of voices from the living room. One of them was Jeremy's (Simon would recognize that ironic tenor tone anywhere) but he didn't recognize the other one.
Simon sat up and scuffed both hands through his hair, listening incuriously to the muted voices. He couldn't make out much, not with the door closed. Still, it didn't sound like an argument or anything, so after a moment or two Simon dismissed it and trudged into the bathroom.
It took his sleepy brain almost a minute to connect 'unknown voice' and 'possible Karpol thug' to each other, and it gave him a nasty shock just when he needed it the least; he only narrowly managed to avoid peeing on the toilet seat. Just as quickly as the connection had come to him, he dismissed it. Even assuming Karpol's people had managed to find Jeremy under this alias and get past the desk brigade and the keyed elevator, they didn't seem the type to sit around and make urbane conversation with their intended victims; if it had been one of Karpol's thugs, he'd probably have been awakened one hell of a lot less pleasantly, and someone would be dead by now. Paradoxically, this was something of a calming thought.
Still, the momentary shock did leave him wide awake, and after splashing some water on his face Simon went back out to see what was what. He opened the bathroom door at pretty much the exact moment that Jeremy opened the other door. "Ah," Jeremy said, blinking at him. "I thought I heard you moving about."
"Yeah, I'm" Simon cleared the frog from his throat "I'm up. Who was that?"
"Room service," Jeremy said. "I was just coming to tell you that breakfast was here."
"Should have guessed," Simon said. "Is there coffee?"
"No, of course not, it didn't seem importantof course there's coffee, Simon."
"Too early in the morning for sarcasm," Simon informed him. "Uh. What time is it?"
"A little after ten," Jeremy said.
Simon could smell the coffee now, mingled with other, less interesting smells. "Bit late for breakfast," he said.
Jeremy shrugged. "I suppose. But unless you have some pressing plans that you neglected to inform me of, there's absolutely nothing preventing us from also having a late lunch."
"True," Simon said, drawn irresistibly in the direction of the coffee. Jeremy slid to one side, still blocking half the doorway, forcing Simon to edge past him to get out. It was such a Jeremy thing to do that Simon reached down and grabbed Jeremy's hip before he really thought about it; then he did think about it, and he dropped his handful of Jeremy like it had burned him.
"You didn't have to stop," Jeremy said.
"Uh," said Simon, and he finished squeezing past Jeremy. "Coffee," he said in explanation.
"Ah, yes. It's clear where I fall on your to-do list," Jeremy said, following him.
There was coffee, an entire silver pot of the stuff. Once Simon had had half a cup he felt up to the challenge of poking around in the serving dishes; uncovering the neat little rounds of sausage made his stomach growl. He was startled to discover that he was ravenous, and he fell to with a will.
Jeremy sat cross-legged on the couch opposite him, a china teacup in both hands. His left eye was afloat in a mottled swirl of purplish-black, although the skin around his eye was significantly less puffy this morning. Simon concentrated on his eggs and tried not to look at it.
Eventually, once the initial growl of his stomach had been muted, Simon noticed that he was doing all the eating. Jeremy hadn't touched anything besides his tea. "What, are you not eating?" he asked, spearing another bit of sausage. "Trying to fatten me up or something?"
"I'm fine," Jeremy said, cradling his cup in both hands. "Although if you could pass the bread..." He gestured at a linen-draped basket with his elbow.
Simon picked it up and flicked off the napkin, curiously. "Hey, someone poked a bunch of holes in your English muffins. Think that makes them Swiss muffins?"
"They're crumpets, actually, although I suppose they are fairly politically neutral." Jeremy plucked a puffy triangular thing out of the basket and held it up. "And before you ask, this is a scone."
"I know what scones are," Simon said, nettled. "They sell 'em at Starbucks."
The rest of the morning passed slowly but not unpleasantly. Once Simon finished ravaging the breakfast plates he went back to his own suite and took a shower and got dressed, then ate one of the two chocolates in the little box, working on the theory that you shouldn't waste food. Then he ate the other one, working on the theory that the first one had been really good.
Jeremy was gone when Simon finally strolled back out. Simon poked his head into Jeremy's suiteemptythen poked his head out into the hallalso emptythen finally found the note on the coffee table, beside the covered breakfast debris. Gone down to check messages, back in a flash - J. Simon crumpled it up and tossed it into the trash can, then settled down on one of the couches with yesterday's mildly interesting book.
By the time Jeremy got back the book had become more than just mildly interesting, and Simon waved without looking up. Jeremy was obligingly silent, standing by the desk and sorting through a smallish stack of envelopes, slitting them open one after the other with a deft flick of his wrist. Finally Simon got to the end of a chapter and put the book down on his thigh, folded open to his place. "So what's up?"
"We have dinner reservations at eight," Jeremy said, waving one envelope, "and a few recommendations for good places to have a late lunch, and also the concierge wanted to know if we had any interest in seeing any shows. I told him that I doubted it, but I thought I'd check with you, just in case."
"Yeah, I'm not" Simon broke off there, considering.
"Mm?" Jeremy looked up from his messages.
"I had a thought," Simon said, drumming his fingers against his upraised knee. "I'm no Broadway fag buuuut..."
Jeremy's lips twitched up into a faint smile. "But?" he prompted.
"Spamalot," Simon said.
Jeremy gave Simon a blank look. "Spam"
"Spamalot," Simon said again, patiently. "Because it is just not right that you've never seen any Python, and also it'll make half my team dgo green with envy if I get to see it. Besides, not like our social calendar is full right now."
"I've not heard of it," Jeremy said.
"That is not surprising," Simon said. "Scares me sometimes how out of touch with pop culture you are. Look, just tell the concierge. He'll know."
Jeremy pursed his lips, considering, then nodded. "Fair enough. I'll see if he can't finagle tickets."
"Sweet," Simon said, picking up his book again. "Hell, I'm almost not sorry I came with you now."
Jeremy smiled, already heading for his suite. "Please, spare me your effusive gratitude, Simon. It's so embarrassing to be fawned over like that."
Simon, already deep into the next chapter, just grunted.
By the time Simon finished his book and put it back in its place on the shelves, it was close to two. Despite his having eaten breakfast not four hours ago he was already hungry again, and so accordingly he went and pounded on Jeremy's door. "Hey!" he called. "Rich guy! Feed me!"
"Just a moment, Simon," Jeremy said, his voice muffled by the closed door. Simon rolled his eyes and went to put on his sneakers and grab his jacket. Jeremy still wasn't out by the time Simon was done with that, so he pounded on the door again. There was a pause, which in retrospect should have been Simon's first warning, and then Jeremy said, "Well, come in, then."
"About time," Simon said, throwing the door open and almost immediately jerking it shut again. He leaned against the closed door and rubbed a hand down his face. "You could have told me you weren't dressed," he said.
"But you seemed so impatient," Jeremy called back.
The lunch place that the concierge had recommended was a good fifteen blocks away, deep in the heart of midtown. After his lazy morning Simon was good and ready to get out and do something, and apparently, so was Jeremy; Simon found himself having trouble keeping up with him once again, particularly when the sidewalks were too crowded to let him work up a good stride. Pedestrians parted like water for Jeremy, who darted through tiny openings in the crowd without seeming to think twice.
"Am I going to have to put you on a leash?" Simon asked, catching up with Jeremy at a red light. Jeremy gave him a long and thoughtful look; Simon was immediately sorry he'd asked.
"I apologize," Jeremy said, eventually, his smile flickering on for a moment. The light turned green and they were both borne into the street by the surge of pedestrians. "I suppose I'm just... happy to be out and about."
"Uh huh, sure," Simon said. Jeremy started to pull ahead again as they neared the opposite curb and Simon grabbed a handful of the back of his jacket, reining him in. "You act like you're on speed or something. Knock it off."
Jeremy rolled one shoulder, twitching the leather of his jacket free of Simon's hand, and shot him an apologetic look. After that it got easier. They fell into a gap between one group of pedestrians and the next and managed to stay there, Jeremy visibly restraining himself.
Lunch was goodand, more importantly, there was plenty of itand the restaurant wasn't too crowded at two-thirty in the afternoon. By the time they were done Simon was finally beginning to feel like he'd filled up that hole that he'd starved out of the center of himself. Moreover, he'd apparently caught whatever was causing Jeremy's odd energy; when Jeremy suggested cutting through the park on the way back to the hotel, Simon readily agreed, and he didn't have any trouble at all keeping up after that.
Simon spotted the first flicker of green between the buildings at close to four and instinctively angled towards it, for once leaving Jeremy in his wake. They just barely made the light and crossed 59th Street, caught in a tidal wave of people ducking out of work early to get their weekends started; as quickly as the crowd had formed it thinned again, leaving them in their own little momentary space on the sidewalk.
It was the churn of motion that first caught Simon's eye. Half a block ahead there was a disturbance in the flow of traffic, someone moving too fast, someone running, his head and shoulders flashing in and out of sightand if there was one thing Simon automatically distrusted, it was someone running when he didn't need to be. Reflexively Simon stuck one hand in the pocket of his jeans and reached around behind himself with the other, coming to a momentary confused halt when his hands encountered neither his ID folder nor the butt of his gun.
Ahead of them, someone screamed. The crowd not ten feet in front of them rippled and burst open, spitting out a skinny kid with a woman's purse dangling from one hand, dashing down the sidewalk towards them, his eyes darting from side to side. Simon's hands snapped open and in the next heartbeat he would have lunged for the purse-snatcher, brought him downbut at that very moment the kid ran into a black blur of something and he went flying, turning an entire somersault in mid-air before his chest hit the pavement with a thud that drove all the air from his lungs in a shout. The stolen purse dropped to the pavement with a jangle and a clatter, spilling its contents at Simon's feet.
Jeremy slammed his foot down onto the middle of the kid's back and jerked one of his arms up behind him, and then stopped dead, looking just about as startled as Simon felt. He looked up at Simon, blinking, and then abruptly burst out laughing, even as he yanked the kid's arm up a little farther to quell the thrashing. "Oh dear," he said, his voice quavering with hilarity. "I seem to have accidentally upheld the law!"
Simon was saved from having to reply to that by the purse's owner fighting her way out of the crowd, still screaming in fury. She took in the scene in front of herself and skidded to a stop, the shriek tapering off. "Thank you!" she cried, throwing out her arms, sounding more frustrated than anything else. "Fuck, I didn't think anyone was gonna have the balls to stop him!"
"You're quite welcome," Jeremy said, giving the kid's arm another warning twitch. "If you'd like to call the police"
"Fuck that," the woman said, and she hauled off and kicked the kid in the ribs, hard, before hunkering down and shoveling everything back into her purse. After a moment Simon dropped down and helped her gather up the last few bits of her stuff. "You guys can do whatever you want with him, I don't care," she said, straightening back up and clutching her purse to her side. "I'm outta here."
"Just what I always wanted, a purse snatcher," Jeremy said reflectively, but she was already gone, merging back into the crowd, strutting like an infuriated chicken. Simon watched her go; Jeremy kept his eyes on his prisoner. "So," Jeremy said after a moment. "If I let you go, what do you plan to do?"
The kid made a little choking sound before he realized that Jeremy was talking to him. "Huh?" he said, his voice thick and breathless.
"Keeping in mind that my companion here is armed," Jeremy said, sounding almost pleasant, "if I let you go, what do you plan to do?"
"I'm gonna get the fuck out of here," the kid wheezed, recognizing and grabbing for his opportunity with both hands. "Fuck, fucking bitch, ow, my fucking ribs..."
Jeremy glanced at Simon. Simon shrugged and took a couple of steps back, clearing the way. "Fair enough," Jeremy said, taking his foot off the kid's back and dropping his wrist, shifting smoothly into a defensive stance as an extension of the same motion. He didn't need to bother. The kid was running before he even stood up, crossing the first few feet of pavement on all fours before managing to scramble ungracefully to his feet. The crowd closed around him like water over a stone, and he was gone. Jeremy dusted off his hands and stared after him, looking thoughtful.
"You know, not to detract from your little moment of victory or anything, but I'm not actually armed at the moment," Simon said. "Just thought I'd point that out."
Jeremy glanced at him and shrugged. "You carry yourself like you are," he said.
"Huh." Simon turned to look in the direction that the kid had gone, shoving his hands in his pockets. "He's just going to go mug someone else, you know."
"Possibly, possibly not." Jeremy tugged at the lapels of his jacket, settling it properly on his shoulders again. "I did stick a fifty up his sleeve while I had it so handy."
Simon didn't quite gape at him. Upon reflection, he wasn't that surprised. "You did what," he said evenly, not even bothering to turn it into a question.
Jeremy shrugged again, his features reassembling themselves into something that approximated innocence. "I do, after all, know what it's like. Call me a sentimentalist, I suppose."
"How about I call you an idiot?" Simon said, shaking his head a little and setting off towards the park again.
Once they were inside the park itself even Jeremy seemed content to slow down. Following the paths they headed vaguely north, not bothering to keep up even the most desultory of conversations any more; whatever Jeremy was thinking, he was keeping it to himself, and Simon was (by habit of long standing) turning over the memory of the foiled purse-snatching in his head, putting it in order as if he were going to be required to file a report on it later, pulling out and examining details that he hadn't had time to study when it was actually happening.
I was about to tackle him, Simon thought, glancing right as a child shouted. Then... Archer came around my... left side? Left side. And he put out his armhe clotheslined that kid, that had to hurt
Jeremy slid into view, moving in front of him to let a woman and her dog jog by in the opposite direction. Simon glanced up at him, then back down, staring at the pavement in front of him. And then... what? Why'd the guy go flying like that? He was walking on autopilot now, using just barely enough brainpower to make sure he didn't wander off the footpath. Wait. Wait. The kid was going by us on the right. But Archer didn't hit him with his right arm, did he?
Simon's head jerked up. "Wha?"
Jeremy laughed a little. "Earth to Simon. Are you in there?"
"Yeah," Simon said, shaking his head. "Just thinking."
"Oh, thinking," said Jeremy. "It looks difficult. I'll just be quiet, then, shall I?"
Simon grunted, looking back down at the path they were following. No, he didn't. It was his left arm. So... Archer was twisted around, sort of. That looks right. Wait, okay, so Archer was facing the kidSimon brought his hands up, forming a vague 'T' in front of himselfwho was facing me. And he stuck out his left arm, and... and what. What. Okay, back up.
Jeremy caught Simon's sleeve and guided him onto a different path, one that crossed the one they'd been on. Simon's concentration wavered for a few moments, but then Jeremy dropped his arm and he was able to settle back into visualization mode. So the kid runs neck-first into Archer's left arm and starts to fall backwards. Right. So... he should have hit the ground on his back, or just staggered back. Sowait, no, okay, you saw Archer do it to Sandy, remember, he stuck his left leg behind the kid, so the kid was moving backwards and tripped over his outstretched foot. Unaware that he was doing it, Simon brought his hands up again, gesturing blindly in front of himself, reshaping the moment. Right, that's it... wait, his right arm blurred. What was itwhere did it go?
Five feet ahead of him, Jeremy stopped and turned around, looking back at himSimon had drifted to a stop, staring down at his hands. Kid trips over Archer's left leg, so his legs are coming up, right, so Archerwhat? Grabbed one of his legs with his right hand and threw him the rest of the way over? ...actually, that sounds about right. Simon shut his eyes and replayed the memory again. That's it. Yeah. So the kid went all the way over and Archer grabbed one of his hands out of the airin his mind he could see it now, Jeremy snatching one flailing arm and hauling it down and backand all he had to do once the kid hit was step on his back and finish pulling his arm up. That's it. Christ.
"Simon?" Jeremy said.
Simon opened his eyes. "I get it," he said.
Jeremy blinked. "You get... what?"
"You're still worried about Karpol, aren't you," Simon said. "That's why you've been so nerved up every time we step out of the hotel. No wonder you went for that kid like that. You've been waiting for someone to attack us all this time."
For a long time, Jeremy was silent, his face completely blank. His eyes were unreadable behind his sunglasses. "If you like," he finally said, and just like that the animation flooded back into his face; one eyebrow twitched, and he smiled.
"Frankly, I don't think you've got that much to worry about," Simon said. "I may be on... currently on suspension, but if something had happened to Langridge they'd have told me no matter what. And under that name, in this city? You're fine. Stop worrying about it."
And now Jeremy laughed, turning away and heading up the path. "If you say so, Simon," he said. "I do trust your professional judgment."
Simon snorted and jogged after him, falling into step with him once more. "Not entirely sure why," he muttered, mostly to himself. "I haven't exactly been batting a thousand lately."
"Mm," Jeremy said. Simon waited, but he didn't say anything else, and after a while Simon fell back into his own thoughts while they made their way out of the park.
Another one of those inevitable cream-colored envelopes was waiting in 1200's cubbyhole when they got back. Jeremy traded a folded bill to the desk clerk for it and carried it up with them, slitting it open once they were safely inside the room.
"So... what is it this time?" Simon asked, shucking off his jacket and tossing it on the arm of the couch. Wordlessly Jeremy held up a pair of yellow tickets. Simon whistled. "Oh, sweet," he said. "I thought that show was sold out forever."
"Never question the ways of the concierge," Jeremy said, tucking the tickets inside his jacket. "At any rate! It sounds as if we have plans for tomorrow night."
"The guys are going to be so jealous," Simon proclaimed, throwing himself onto the couch and toeing off his sneakers. "Mike is just going to shit himself. It'll be great."
Jeremy tossed the empty envelope into the trash. "And of course that's just the sort of reaction I live for."
Simon let his head drop back onto the couch's cushions and stared up at the ceiling. "Rich wouldn't have liked it, though," he said carefully, waiting to see if it was going to hurt. And it didhe had to reach up and rub away the sharp twinge in his chestbut it didn't hurt as badly as he'd been afraid it was going to. So he shut his eyes and went on. "Rich never liked it when things got adapted. Like movies made from books. Or, you know, Broadway musicals made from movies."
Jeremy was silent for a while. "Ah," he finally said.
"Yeah," Simon said, and laughed a little. "He could be really vicious about it. You should have heard him when the Lord of the Rings movies were coming out." Jeremy didn't say anything. After a moment, Simon added, "They made movies out of this series of books called Lord of the Rings, in case you didn't hear."
"No, no, I heard about them," Jeremy said. "I was, erm, engaged in the States when the second film was about to come out, and you couldn't miss the fuss."
"But you never saw them," Simon said.
"No, I never saw them," Jeremy agreed. "I don't know why this surprises you."
Simon lifted his head and opened his eyes a crack. "It doesn't surprise me," he said patiently. "I'm not surprised. I'm making fun of you. You ought to be able to tell the difference."
"Ahh," Jeremy said, a little smile curling on his face. "At any rate, we'll need to leave for dinner in... two and a half hours, more or less."
"Works for me," Simon said, lunging forward to pull open the cabinet door that hid the little library. He was scanning the titles on the books' spines when he heard the door to Jeremy's room open and close again, leaving him alone, which suited him fine.
"not as bad as, say, your current shirt," Jeremy was saying as the door to the suite swung open.
"What the hell is wrong with my shirt?" Simon asked irritably, following him in. He was beginning to feel a bit like a pincushionJeremy had started needling him halfway through dinner and hadn't let up yet. If this was his punishment for copping to Jeremy's Karpol paranoia, then, well, he still didn't like it any. "I like this shirt!"
"Of course you do," Jeremy said, flicking a finger against the topmost button of Simon's shirt. "That would explain why you wear it despite... everything."
"Oh, this from the guy who dresses like a Miami mortician," Simon said. "Are you allergic to color or what?"
"I'm allergic to those colors," Jeremy said, gesturing grandly at Simon's shirt and shuddering theatrically. "Light gray and light blue. Ugh. Either one alone would be terrible on you, and togetheractually, light gray is terrible on most everyone."
"Well, that's just fascinating, except for the part where I don't give a shit," Simon told him.
Jeremy's thin smile curled in on itself. "Now the jeans, the jeans I approve of," he said, nearly purring it. He paced around Simon in a circle, looking him up and down; Simon found himself faced with the choice of letting Jeremy go where he pleased or revolving in place like an idiot. Not particularly wanting to look like an idiot, he crossed his arms over his chest, determined to wait it out. "Oh, yes," Jeremy said from behind him. Simon tried not to twitch. "Very nice."
"I'm so glad you approve of my pants, Archer," Simon said heavily. "Really. Can we drop this now? This is stupid."
"Actually, I wasn't talking about your pants, precisely," Jeremy said, tugging lightly at one of the beltloops. "I was referring to the view."
Simon gritted his teeth. "Okay, fine," he said. "Would you just let up already? Are you trying to be this irritating?"
"Yes," Jeremy said, appearing around Simon's other side. "Is it working?"
"Ye" Belatedly, Simon got it, and he snapped his jaw shut with a little click of teeth.
Jeremy made a pleased little sound in the sudden silence, reaching out to put his hand on Simon's chest. "I miss waking up with rug burn," he said, softly.
"Yeah, I" Simon started to say, his voice thick. That was as far as he got before his throat swelled shut and he had to stop and swallow. "Jesus, Archer."
"Mm," Jeremy said, walking his fingers down along Simon's chest, ticking the buttons one after another. When he reached Simon's crossed arms he reached out and tugged at one of Simon's wrists. Simon grudgingly let his arms drop. Jeremy reached back up, flicking the topmost button open with a deft little snap of his fingers. "It seems to me that we're going to have to start all over," he said, undoing the second one.
"Hey," Simon said, grabbing Jeremy's wrist and hauling it away from his shirt. Despite everything it was getting harder and harder to think straight. "You're not going to quit it, are you?"
"Mm, no, I don't think so," said Jeremy, making a grab for the third button with his other hand. Reflexively, Simon caught it. Jeremy glanced at the hand around his right wrist, glanced at the hand around his left wrist, and then turned that cool smile on Simon. "Well," he said. "Here we are, then."
"Yeah," Simon said, and swallowed again. "Shame there aren't any large air-conditioning ducts around for us to get stuck in. It worked so well before."
There was a brief pause and then Jeremy laughed, swaying forward. Simon automatically tightened his grip on Jeremy's wrists, but it turned out not to matter; Jeremy pressed up against him anyway, cocking his hip, rubbing it up against the sudden bulge in the front of Simon's pants. "We'll make do," he said, his voice rough.
"Christ, I guess we will," Simon said faintly, and he used his grip on Jeremy's wrists to sling him to the floor. They fell down in the doorway between the main room and Jeremy's suite with a thud that not even the thick carpet could muffle; Simon had just enough time to pity whoever had the suite below theirs before he forgot to care at all.