Part Eleven, Chapters 33-34
On Monday morning Simon woke up with the slight but definite feeling that something was missing. Jeremy wasn't there, of course, but that wasn't it; somehow he almost always managed to be up and gone before Simon woke up, and Simon couldn't say that he minded missing out on the morning-after experience at all. No, it was something else that was absent.
Simon blinked up at the ceiling, then scrubbed his eyes with his hands. He felt... fine. The suite was quiet but the street outside was as noisy as ever, and Simon let his hands fall to his chest and listened to the far-off commotion for a few minutes.
Eventually he got tired of chasing his hunch around and got up, poking his head out into the main room. Empty, of course. Simon grunted and headed over into the other bedroom suite to have a shower.
By the time he emerged, showered and dressed, both Jeremy and their breakfast were waiting for him in the main room. Breakfast was sitting on the coffee table under its fancy silver lids; Jeremy was standing by the desk, flicking through yet another pile of messages from the concierge, a steaming teacup forgotten beside him.
"Morning," Simon said, dropping onto the couch and grabbing for the coffee. "So what time's checkout in this joint, anyway?"
"Mm?" Jeremy asked, looking up at him and blinking. His shiner was rapidly fading, mostly browns and yellows now. It barely bothered Simon at all. "Oh. I hadn't actually been planning to check out, Simon. I'll take you home this afternoon and then come back."
"Oh," Simon said, first a bit taken aback and then grumpy with himself for giving a shit. "Uh, okay. Guess that saves us having to be out by noon, anyway."
Jeremy turned his attention back to the pile of messages, slitting the next envelope open. One of these days, Simon vowed, he was going to figure out where Jeremy kept that little blade. "Did you want me to come back to DC?" Jeremy asked, his voice absent.
"Oh, hell no," Simon said, poking around in the serving trays. "I've got things to do, Archer. As, uh, interesting as this has been, I've got to get back. Hell, my poor truck's been sitting there for a week with a busted tire, I've got to take care of that, at least, and there's a little matter of a hole in my wall, and everything."
"Mm," Jeremy said, his attention wholly absorbed by the inevitable sheet of cream-colored paper in his hand. Simon waited a moment, then shrugged and dished himself up some breakfast.
Eventually Jeremy dropped the last empty envelope in the trash and picked up his teacup, joining Simon. Simon passed him the bread basket without being asked. "Plus it's probably safer for you to stay out of DC for a while," Simon said, picking up the conversation where he'd left it. "I mean, I sincerely doubt Karpol's guys are looking for you too hard, but if they are, they're more likely to be looking for you there than here."
"That's true," Jeremy said, filching a scone and putting the basket back down where Simon could reach it. "Ah, well. Will you miss me terribly?"
Simon pretended to consider this. "Nah," he finally said. "I'm pretty fucking sick of you by now."
"You always were such a sweet-talker, Simon," Jeremy murmured into his tea.
"Who's sweet-talking? I'm just telling the truth." Simon popped the last bite of his toast into his mouth and poured himself another cup of coffee. "You know. The truth. It's the kind of thing us normal law-abiding citizens put a lot of store in. Maybe you've heard of it."
"It does sound vaguely familiar," Jeremy said. "Ah, well. I suppose I'll just have to attempt to carry on without you."
"Yeah, yeah, I'm sure you'll get all emo and start emailing me godawful poetry," Simon said. "After all, I'm a hell of a guy."
Jeremy was smiling now. "Would you like me to send you a severed ear?" he asked.
"Okay, now, that? That's unsanitary." Simon chugged off half his coffee and flopped back against the couch cushions. "Plus that's for artists, not for art thieves. You were any kind of real art thief, you'd go steal van Gogh's severed ear and send that to me."
After a moment Jeremy laughed and abandoned his half-eaten scone on one of the empty plates. "Well! You certainly seem to be feeling better."
Simon hesitated. That feeling that something was missing came back to him, more strongly than ever. "Yeah," he finally said. "I guess I am." As soon as he admitted it everything fell into place; he'd woken up this morning without that nearly subliminal sense of dread that had been dogging him all week. Whatever happened now might be awfulwas undoubtedly going to be awful, in some casesbut for the first time in a week he felt confident that he could handle it. "Nothing's ever going to be the same," he added, "but... well, light at the end of the tunnel and all that."
"Glad to hear it," Jeremy said. His tone was casual, almost dismissive. If he'd picked up on the churn of Simon's thoughts, he didn't let on. "At any rate. Theoretically we can leave for DC at any time, but if you wouldn't mind, there's somewhere I'd like to go before we leave."
"Uh?" Simon said, blinking to clear his mind and bring himself back to the conversation at hand. "Where?"
"It's a museum, actually," Jeremy said. "There's something I'd like to show you while I have you here in New York"
"Oh no. No way," Simon said immediately, holding up a hand and cutting him off. "There is no way I am going into a museum with you, Archer. I've got zero interest in being your accessory before the fact."
Jeremy actually looked taken aback for a moment before he burst out laughing again, tenting a hand over his eyes. "Oh, dear. No, Simon. I promise you that I have absolutely no professional interest in the artworks on display."
"So then... what?" Simon asked, suspicious.
"As I said, there's something I'd like to show you," Jeremy said. "It shouldn't take long."
Simon waited a beat. "You're up to something again, aren't you," he said, when nothing else was forthcoming.
Jeremy's little smile was thin and teasing. "Oh, be fair, Simon, you always think that."
"I'm usually right!" Simon said.
"So where's this museum?" Simon said, turning in a slow circle on the sidewalk to look up and down the street. A guy in a sharp suit and a cellphone earpiece scowled and dodged around him, nearly whacking Simon in the hip with his trendy slim briefcase before stalking on up the street, muttering; "Yo! Sorry!" Simon bellowed after him, mostly just to be an ass about it.
"It's just up here," Jeremy said, waving his hand negligently in the other direction. "Another block or so. No more than that, I shouldn't think."
"Hokay," Simon said, falling into step with Jeremy again. "What'd you say this place was called again?"
Jeremy smiled and flicked up his sunglasses, despite the tall buildings all around them that completely blocked the sun from view. "I didn't," he said, "but since you asked so nicely, it's the Oly Tamson Museum Of Architecture."
"The what?" Simon said. "Never heard of it."
Jeremy nodded. "Can't say I'm surprised."
"Hey," Simon said warningly.
Jeremy quickly held up a hand. "No, no, I didn't mean it in that sense, Simon. I simply meant that's not one of the more famous museums. And there are so many museums in New York in any case... no one could fault you for not having heard of them all."
Simon eyed him for a moment longer, then nodded, mollified. "Okay. So what's there? What are we going to go see?"
"It's a surprise," Jeremy said cheerily, stopping at the corner and waiting for the lights to turn.
Simon heaved out an exasperated sigh. "You are such an infuriating little bastard," he said.
The lights changed. The WALK signal came on. Jeremy glanced left and right and stepped out onto the crosswalk. "Flattery will get you everywhere, Simon," he said over his shoulder, flashing Simon a small and private smile.
They walked along in a comfortable silence for a few minutes, dodging other pedestrians and the occasional bit of scudding garbage. The sidewalk was littered with people trying to sell stuff of all kinds, from knockoffs of designer watches and handbags to things that 'fell off trucks' to just plain cheap and kitschy crap; they called out to everyone that passed by except Simon, and by extension, Jeremy. Simon couldn't help but grin a little. You probably didn't work the streets like this without developing a sixth sense for badges. "There it is," Jeremy said, interrupting Simon's train of thought to point at a building about halfway along the block.
Simon came to a halt in front of a hot dog vendor's cart and eyed the building askance for a long, long moment. "So, let me see if I've got this straight," he finally said. "That building there is a museum of architecture."
"Mm-hmm," Jeremy said, smiling slightly.
"A museum that's intended to celebrateoh, let's seearchitecture. Fancy buildings and, and, uh, columns and arches and all that crap."
"Mm-hmm," Jeremy said again, the smile growing wider.
"And they chose to house this celebration of the glories of architecture... in that," Simon said, waving a hand at the dull black windowless slab of a building.
"One could argue that the contrast only heightens one's appreciation for the wonders inside," Jeremy said, but he was nearly laughing now.
"One could also be talking out of one's impossibly pretentious asshole," Simon said, grinning right back.
"Hey, you guys gonna buy something or just stand there all day and practice your vaudeville act?" the vendor asked, annoyed. Jeremy glanced at him, startled, then looked back at Simon and promptly burst out laughing. Simon rolled his eyesbiting the inside of his cheek to avoid laughing tooand caught Jeremy's shoulder, pushing him away from the cart. The vendor watched them go, glaring wearily after them before turning to watch for more customers.
"Oh dear," Jeremy said as soon as they were out of earshot, his eyes gleaming with good humor. "I'm afraid I've inconvenienced that poor fellow."
"Nah, he's a New Yorker, that pretty much counts as flirting with you," Simon said.
"Really," Jeremy said, pausing and giving the cart a long, considering look. The vendor glanced over, caught him doing it, and promptly threw Jeremy a huge and dramatic shrug: what?! Simon snorted and pushed at Jeremy's shoulder again. "Ah, well," Jeremy said, dismissing the cart and vendor with a weary wave of his hand and heading on towards the museum. "He wasn't my type in any case."
"Yeah?" Simon said. "Do I even want to ask what your type is?"
"Do you have to?" Jeremy said, glancing back at him and smiling. Simon coughed and promptly got very interested in the black slab they were heading towards, which was kind of a stretch, because it still didn't look all that interesting. Now that they were closer he could see the museum's name picked out in discreet brass letters across the black, but it wasn't until they were almost there that he saw the recessed doors.
"Whoa," Simon said, stopping. In direct contrast to the grim dull black slab of the museum's front, the doors were a gothic extravaganza of arched stonework, curlicued and frescoed all to hell, with attenuated bleeding saints rolling their eyes to heaven on either side and a massive gargoyle curling down from above. Set deep into the blank exterior, the doors were a startling contrast. "Okay," Simon said, blowing out a breath and gesturing at one of the gray saints, "that's cool."
"I rather like the contrast, myself," Jeremy said, studying the doors.
Simon glanced at him, struck by a sudden hunch. "Have you not been here before?"
"Actually, no," Jeremy said, glancing over at him for a second before looking back at the doors.
"But there's something here you want me to see..." Simon said, letting the sentence trail off in an attempt to make Jeremy finish it, or at least explain.
"Oh, yes," Jeremy said. His smile flashed on for a moment. "Something the museum just acquired recently."
"Fine, be that way," Simon said, and looked back at the doors. Man, those granite saints looked like they were really hurting. It was kind of creepy. He wouldn't want to come here at night. "Something you originally saw somewhere else, then."
"Mm-hmm," Jeremy said, tugging off his sunglasses and making them vanish inside his jacket. He reached out and put a hand on one of the massive wrought-iron doorhandles. "Shall we?"
"Yeah, let's," Simon said. Jeremy pulled the door open; for all its vast size it swung open almost too easily, ponderous but completely silent on modern hinges. A breath of cooler air curled out and touched Simon's cheek before dissipating. He shivered and stuck his hands deep into his jacket pockets, following Jeremy in.
The grim and massive doors opened up onto a much more conventional museum lobby, enormous and echoing and nearly deserted. A pair of pale and intense-looking college kids were hovering around a glass case at one end, and there was a volunteer manning the window at the other, and that was it. Jeremy looked around, rolled one shoulder aimlessly, and headed towards the window. He glanced back at Simon, as if to make sure that he was following; Simon was struck by how alert Jeremy suddenly looked. A suspicious itch crawled up between Simon's shoulderblades. Maybe now would be a good time to pay attention.
Halfway to the window where the docent was waiting, Jeremy's stride altered. It was subtle, but Simon was watching for it, and thus he saw it as clear as day: Jeremy slowed and pulled his shoulders back, shifting his center of gravity. The walk that resulted couldn't quite be called a swagger, but there was something self-satisfied about it anyway. "Hallo!" Jeremy cried as he reached the window, sliding his hand into his jacket and producing his ID. "I'm Jeremiah Harbottle, Mr. West's representative? I do hope you were expecting me!" His accent was definitely thicker than usual. The incident at the hotel hadn't just been Simon's imagination after all. Simon ticked his tongue against his teeth and settled in to watch the show.
"Oh, yes, sir, Mr. Harbottle," the lady behind the window said, looking a bit flustered. Simon felt a momentary stab of pity for her; she looked like a nice older lady, with her reading glasses on a little chain around her neck like a librarian's. She didn't deserve someone like Jeremy. Then again, Simon was privately convinced that no one did. "Mr. Tamson told us to expect you! Just give me a moment and I'll find your all-access ID badge..." She trailed off, rummaging around in her drawer while Jeremy cocked an arm on the counter and beamed at her. Simon started to feel really sorry for her.
Finally she came up with a discreet-looking brass tag, which Jeremy accepted with an overly ceremonious little half-a-bow before clipping it onto his lapel. The volunteer's eyes skipped to Simon for half a second before returning to Jeremy. "I'll just call for Mr. Denton, he's our head docent, he's so eager to show you around"
"No, no," Jeremy said, lazily waving a hand. "That's quite all right. I much, much prefer to walk around on my own and form my own opinions. My companion and I will show ourselves around."
"Oh, but... are you sure?" the volunteer asked. Her eyes flicked to Simon again and she frowned in confusion. "I'd hate for Mr. Denton to think I sent you out on your own..."
"I'm absolutely positive," Jeremy said. "In fact, I must insist. I do hate to seem so standoffish but I find that I serve Mr. West's interests better when I'm undisturbed. If I have a question, I'll certainly find someone and ask." He paused, and then laughed a little, splaying a hand out on his chest. "Oh, goodness, I sound like such a prima donna, I'm terribly sorry."
"Yeah, well, that's because you are one," Simon muttered under his breath. Jeremy glanced at him for just a second, his smile never faltering.
The poor flustered volunteer gave no sign that she'd heard him at all. "If you're certain," she said doubtfully, picking up a walkie-talkie and hugging it to her chest. "I'll just let Mr. Denton know that you don't wish to be disturbed."
"Bless you, madam," Jeremy said with sudden and immense gravity, giving her another one of those half-bows. "Is there anything else you need from me before we go?"
"Your companion," she said. "We weren't expecting..." Her voice trailed off uncertainly.
Jeremy dismissed that with a wave of his hand, already turning to go. "He'll stay with me, I'm sure."
Simon couldn't resist rolling his eyes. He was almost immediately sorry he'd done so, because the volunteer lady caught him at it and blinked in confusion. Simon gave her a quick apologetic smile and headed after Jeremy, biting his tongue until they were safely inside the first room and out of earshot. The moment they passed through the doorway Simon caught Jeremy's shoulder and pulled him off behind a display case. "Okay," he said. The room caught the first word and boomed it back to him. Simon winced and lowered his voice. "What the hell was that?"
"What was what?" Jeremy said, suddenly all innocence again.
"That!" Simon said, waving a hand in the general direction of the lobby. "That whole cock-and-bull story! What in the hell?"
Jeremy didn't immediately answer. Instead he reached up and brushed Simon's hand off his shoulder, twitching his jacket back into place. "Actually, Simon, it was the truth," he said. "As I would have explained if you had given me a moment, I am here as Mr. West's representative. It's simply not the only reason I'm here."
"Fine," Simon said, folding his arms. "Explain."
Jeremy sighed and reached into his jacket, coming out with a slim black pen. "Shall I explain as we go? It's a bit of a story, but fortunately, it's also a bit of a walk."
Simon jutted out his jaw and studied Jeremy for a moment, then threw up his hands in exasperation. "Fine. But I'm getting tired of this mysterious act of yours. And I don't like surprises."
"What a pity," Jeremy said, slithering past him and pausing in front of one of the lit display cases. Simon followed him, barely glancing at the tiny wooden building inside the display case before looking expectantly back at Jeremy. "Mr. West is a... business acquaintance of long standing," Jeremy said, in a voice so low that it barely carried to Simon.
"Okay..." Simon said.
"A few years back he made an enormous donation to this very museum," Jeremy went on, abruptly stepping away and heading to the next display case. Simon ground his teeth and followed. "So enormous, in fact, that they're just now finishing the installation. The exhibit is supposed to open in the summer."
"And so you called in a favor and got him to lean on the museum for you, huh," Simon finished for him. "Maybe he wanted somebody to come by and make sure they're not screwing things up anyway. Little quid pro quo."
Jeremy smiled. "Exactly," he said. "That's what I like about you, Simon, you're so very clever..."
"Can it," Simon told him. "Okay, fine. So what was up with the so-veddy-British act in the lobby?"
"Ah, you caught that," Jeremy said, his smile curling in on itself. "You are clever."
"Or maybe you're just transparent."
"Possibly." Jeremy moved away from the second display case, heading for the far wall and the series of photographs there. He brought up the black pen and pressed down on its clip, and a brilliant red dot popped into existence on the leftmost photo. "Isn't that interesting," he murmured, tracing the laser pointer up and down along one of the walls in the photograph. "Look, it tilts inward..."
"You are changing the subject," Simon said impatiently.
"So I am," said Jeremy, the dot hopping to the next photograph. "But I see you currently have no interest in forced perspective, so let me see, how best to put this."
"How about 'immediately'?" Simon suggested.
"Tch," Jeremy said. "Well. I have a number of identities, correct?"
"So I tend to give each one a distinct personality and set of mannerisms," Jeremy said, shrugging. "It helps me keep their stories straight."
Simon looked at him for a moment longer, then snorted out a laugh and looked away. "Christ. Normal frustrated actors wait tables, you know."
"I suppose I just had to be different," Jeremy said. The laser pointer dot hopped to the third photograph, traced along a roofline, and vanished.
"Sure you don't mean 'difficult'?" Simon askedhad to ask.
Jeremy smiled. "Also that."
Ten minutes and three rooms later, Simon was bored out of his mind. While he was sure that all these massive slabs of marble and weatherbeaten statues were important, that didn't make them interesting, and the museum's tendency to err on the side of two or three dramatically-lit pieces in a huge echoing space was getting on his nerves. Maybe it was stylish, or maybe they just didn't have enough pieces to fill their rooms yet.
What was worse, Jeremy seemed perfectly content to amble along, occasionally tracing things with the dot of his laser pointer or pausing to read one of the little brass plaques. Simon was beginning to seriously consider grabbing Jeremy by his belt and collar and frogmarching him through the museum at double-time when he noticed the figure lurking by the doorway they'd just come through. "Hey, we've got a stalker," he said.
"I know," Jeremy said, not looking away from the weird flat-headed marble woman that he was currently studying. "He's been following us for about five minutes now."
"You know, for someone who flattened a kid on Friday out of sheer paranoia, you're sure taking this calmly," Simon said, glancing back at their stalker again. "Also, that woman you're staring at? Her head's flat on top."
"Really? I hadn't noticed." Jeremy abandoned the flat lady and moved on to a group of three worn-down stone women standing nearby, none of whom had particularly flat heads or, in one case, any head at all. Simon followed him, glancing back at their stalker again; the guy seemed content to lurk in the doorway. "I suspect it's the mysterious Mr. Denton, trying to stay handy in case I suddenly develop a question without actually disturbing my concentration by coming too close," Jeremy said. "Isn't it wonderful how you donate a few million pounds' worth of stonework to a museum and suddenly they're just terrified of offending your representatives?"
"A few million..." Simon trailed off there and looked at Jeremy askance. "What the hell did he give them, a whole church?"
"Something like that," Jeremy said. "You'll see."
"... I was kidding," Simon said.
Eventually they came into a large and echoing room with no exhibits in it at all, which seemed to Simon like carrying the museum's predilection for empty spaces just a little too far. Instead there were a few uncomfortable-looking wooden benches, a couple of fake plants, and at the far end a massive roped-off stairway, leading down. More of those discreet brass letters informed Simon that the stairway led to THE ETHAN WEST CATHEDRAL HALL; a little sign on the velvet rope added 'opening August'.
Simon wandered over and peered down the stairs. His idle curiosity was foiled by the massive wooden double doors at the bottom of the staircase, currently closed, with a loop of jarringly modern titanium chain wound through their iron handles and fastened with a serious-looking padlock. "This it?" he asked Jeremy, gesturing down the stairs.
"What was your first clue, Simon?" Jeremy asked, unhooking the velvet rope from one of the two poles and gesturing him in.
Simon hesitated, his sense of order vaguely offended by the casual removal of the rope. "You know, that rope's there for a reason," he pointed out.
"Yes," Jeremy said. "To keep out the people who aren't the two of us. Mr. Denton?" he asked, raising his voice slightly.
Immediately their mysterious stalker detached himself from one of the doorways and hurried towards them, a squawking walkie-talkie in one hand. Once he got close enough he turned out to be a small and pudgy man in his forties, with thick glasses and thin hair. "Mr. Harbottle," he said, his eyes wet and nervous behind his glasses, putting out a hand as soon as he got close enough. "I'm Stephen Denton, the head docent here at the Tamson, it's a pleasure to meet you"
"A pleasure," Jeremy said, gravely taking the limply proffered hand. "And might I just add that it's truly wonderful to work with a man such as yourself? You would not believe the number of museums I've dealt with where the employees would simply not leave me alone to do my work."
By biting the inside of his cheek Simon managed not to start laughing. "Well, that's sure as hell true," he said instead.
"Ah. Yes. Well." Stephen Denton wiped his hand on his pants leg and held it out to Simon. "Stephen Denton. I don't believe we've been introduced...?"
"You know what, I think you're right," Simon said, automatically shaking his hand. It was a little like squeezing a piece of raw fish. "Nice to meet you."
Denton stared at him wetly for a moment longer, then gingerly reclaimed his hand and started patting down his pockets. "I have the keys here somewhere," he said with a nervous little laugh. "Will you be wanting to go in alone?"
"Oh yes," Jeremy said firmly, doubling up the velvet rope to get it out of the way. "As I explained to the lovely lady working the window, I simply must have peace and quiet in which to work. I'll call you if I should need anything."
"Whatever you like, Mr. Harbottle!" Denton said eagerly. Finally he came out with a large ring of keys and started picking his way down the staircase toward the door. Jeremy followed him. Simon trailed along behind them.
After a few moments of fuss the docent managed to undo the padlock and slide the chain free, but Jeremy laid a hand across the doorhandles before Denton could pull the doors open. "The first look is always the most important," he said, sounding almost apologetic. "You're so kind to cater to my little peccadilloes."
"Ah, ah," Denton said, fiddling with the length of chain in his hands. "Of, of course, Mr. Harbottle. I'll just... be in the West lobby upstairs. Just give a shout if you need me!"
"Believe me," Jeremy said warmly, "I will." And he gave Stephen Denton such a luminous smile that the poor guy turned bright pink and scuttled back up the stairs, chain clanking in his hands as if he were a particularly cheaply-equipped ghost. Jeremy watched him go, then turned that crazy-bright smile on Simon, curling his fingers around both doorhandles. "Well," he said softly. "Shall we?"
"Yeah," Simon said. "After all this buildup I'm just curious as hell. Hit me."
"Mm," said Jeremy, and he pulled on both handles, gliding back a step in order to fling the massive doors open wide. Like the front door, they opened much too quietly.
At first Simon couldn't see much; the room beyond was all gray and shadowed, with rows of columns marching off towards some sort of squarish altar in the distance. The doors caught and stayed open with a soft pneumatic hiss. Jeremy smiled and bowed to Simon, gesturing him in. "After you," he said.
"Yeah, yeah," Simon said, and went in, and stopped dead as the roomthe cathedralresolved around him. The sheer unrelenting scale of the place threatened to buffet Simon to his knees. He'd never felt so small. Weatherbeaten angels and saints, ranked row upon row in the distance like soldiers, stared forlornly at him from the walls to either side; shadows massed in the soaring arched vaults of the ceiling above, making the room dissolve upwards into darkness. The columns to either side were as large around as tree trunks, and the stone underfoot was pitted and uneven but carefully laid. His breath echoed. Everything echoed. And somehow this massive space had been shoehorned into just another museum in Manhattan. Simon's mind made a completely unwanted association with opening the refrigerator and finding the Temple of Zuul.
Behind him the doors chuffed shut again. "Would it ruin your enjoyment of the experience if I told you that it was the result of a massively complicated money-laundering scheme?" Jeremy said, the purr of amusement plain in his voice. "Actually, the plan itself was utter brilliance, and I don't think anyone failed to benefit from it, but make no mistake: the remains of the cathedral are here because they washed clean loads of stolen money."
"Shut up," Simon said, still staring up into the dark recesses of the ceiling. His voice echoed back to him, and despite himself, he winced. "I'm having a rapture or something."
"Yes, it's like that, isn't it," Jeremy agreed. Simon didn't answer him, just continued to stare. Behind him Jeremy fell mercifully silent, tugging the doors the rest of the way shut and then fiddling with his laser pointer.
"Huh," Simon finally said, shaking his head and moving into the cathedral proper. His sneakers were quiet on the uneven stone floor but the massive space still caught those slight echoes and tossed them around.
Jeremy trotted a few steps and fell in beside him, his own footsteps annoyingly silent (or, at least, lost under the sound of Simon's). They passed between the first pair of massive columns and into the nave, worn statues watching them go by. Now that they were (slightly) closer, Simon could see that large chunks of the walls were missing, and what was left was carefully bolted to the walls in an approximation of where they'd once stood. "Amusingly, those are the exterior walls," Jeremy said, waving a hand at the stone angels. "It's as if the cathedral was partially turned inside out, but of course the stained glass was long gone after the Second World War."
Simon grunted, not really listening. The altar on its dais at the far end was slowly drawing closer and it was beginning to dawn on him just how big that thing really was. The red dot of Jeremy's laser pointer skittered over the far wall for half a second and vanished; Jeremy didn't say anything else.
When they were halfway through the colonnade, in the center of the massive space, Jeremy stopped and put a hand on Simon's arm. "Uh?" Simon said, looking over at him, but Jeremy was already turning around, looking back the way they came.
"All right," Jeremy called, his voice pitched to echo. "You can come out now."
"He didn't follow us in" Simon started to say in exasperation, but a second voice cried from the heavens like an avenging angel's and cut him off: "Oh, you Christing bastard, you said you'd come alone!"
Before Simon could do more than blink, Jeremy ducked smoothly and drove his shoulder into Simon's side. Caught off-balance Simon reeled sideways, overbalanced, and fell, choking on a yelp when his hip hit the cold hard stone of the floor; there was a popping sound and a bullet whined off the stone where they'd been standing, raising a puff of dust and leaving behind a bright new pit in the floor. Simon scrabbled backwards on all fours, heading instinctively for the closest column and cover. Halfway there Jeremy slammed into him again and they rolled the rest of the way in a graceless but fast-moving tangle of limbs, coming to rest in the safety of the column's shadow with Simon's head reeling and Jeremy half on top of him.
Simon scrambled up onto his elbows but Jeremy put a hand on his chest. "Stay," he said urgently, and flattening himself against the column's marble flank he flicked out the laser pointer in his hand like he was wielding a lightsaber. It wasn't a little red dot that appeared on the column opposite them, but a long red line, about six feet tall; just as quickly as it had flashed into existence it flashed away, Jeremy blindly waving it across the back half of the cathedral like some kind of futuristic handheld scanner. Half a second later someone screamed, and an enormous metal something boomed onto the stone floor just a heartbeat behind the scream, deafening them all with the echoes of its fall.
Jeremy sucked in a shaking breath and shut his eyes. The hand on Simon's chest pressed down, but Simon growled and batted it away, scrambling to sit upright and put his back to the column. Automatically he grabbed for the holster in the small of his back, hissing in dismay when it wasn't there. "Who the fuck" he started to ask, and then his brain kicked in. "Oh, you son of a bitch," Simon growled under his breath. "Couldn't even fucking well warn me"
"Later," Jeremy breathed, and then raised his voice. "Ah, yes, that's a little flaw we discovered in the low-light lenses about three years ago," he called, sounding so calm and confident and completely on top of things that Simon had to fight down the urge to hit him again. "Unfortunately we didn't know how to get in touch with you to tell you about it"
"Jesus!" the other man screamed, his voice high and thin with panic. Only it wasn't Jesus!, it was closer to Jaysis! Simon definitely recognized that voice now. "You've blinded me, you bastard!"
"Yes, well, you did just try to shoot me," Jeremy called back. "Under the circumstances I really don't feel all that bad." The other man howled in wordless anger, making the massive space ring around them. Simon resisted the urge to clap his hands over his ears. "Now, then," Jeremy said, still calm as anything, once the howling echoes had died away. "Would you like to scream some more, or shall we get on with this?"
The howl tapered off into ragged and infuriated breathing. Now that it was mostly quiet, they could hear the doors at the far end rattling frantically, and a faint voice crying something. "Damn," Jeremy breathed. "Mr. Denton has heard us. I'd hoped that the doors would be thick enough to cover the racket."
"You blocked the doors," Simon said, not really surprised.
"Oh, yes," Jeremy said. "Put a crowbar through the handles. It'll take them a few minutes to get in."
"So we're trapped in here with the crazy guy who wants to kill you." Simon let his head fall back against the column with a dull and painful thump. "Great. Maybe if I knock you out and hand you over I can cut a deal."
"All right, you fuck," their assailant cried, his accent turning it into something that sounded like awright, yeh fook. "What d'you want?"
"Throw down your other gun," Jeremy called, patting Simon's shoulder.
"Like fuck I will!"
Jeremy's hand fell still on Simon's shoulder and his own shoulders began to quiver. Simon, still nerved up on adrenalin, couldn't believe what he was seeing; Jeremy started laughing out loud a moment later, confirming it. "Oh, dear," Jeremy said, his voice still trembling with laughter. "You've treed yourself fifty feet up a bloody column and managed to drop your riflewhich, I might point out, gives me an excellent idea of which column you've shinned upyou can't see, your targets have nearly perfect cover, and either you stay treed up there until the authorities arrive or try to climb down and give us ample opportunity to pick you off, and you still think you can dictate terms?"
After five seconds of fuming silence something smaller boomed off the stone and skittered away. Jeremy dropped his head to Simon's shoulder and choked back laughter. "Oh, God," Jeremy whispered, his voice wobbly with crazed hilarity.
"Christ," Simon muttered back, and suddenly he was having trouble not laughing, even though his heart was still racing in his chest. "Maybe he ought to go shoot whoever told him he was a competent sniper..."
Jeremy made a choking snrk! sound and slapped Simon's chest, lightly. Simon, unable to resist, ruffled Jeremy's hair. "All right," Jeremy cried, his voice still wavering a bit. "You might as well come on down. I'm getting quite tired of yelling."
"I can't come down, y'idiot! I've been blinded! D'you want me to fall to my death?"
Jeremy heaved out a deep breath and pushed a hand through his mussed hair, putting it back in order. "You're not blind!" he said patiently. "You're just a bit dazzled. Wait a few minutes. You'll be fine." Edging forward he stuck his head out and jerked it back almost in the same motion. "All right," he said softly. "He's gotten himself stuck up top of the second column from the door in the opposite row from this one."
Simon nodded, once again reaching around behind himself and once again coming up empty. "Can he get to the guns?"
"If he dives for them," Jeremy said. "Stay here. I'll go fix that."
Simon grabbed Jeremy's arm before Jeremy could stand up. "Don't touch them," he said. "Just kick them away. If that's the gun I think it is, I want it, and I don't want it smeared with your fingerprints."
Jeremy nodded, shaking his arm free. "That would complicate things, wouldn't it," he said. "Don't worry." And he slid around the far side of the column and vanished into the gloom.
Simon braced his back against the column and slowly slid upright, flexing his fingers. For the moment, all was quiet; he couldn't hear Jeremy, their mysterious assailant was presumably sulking, and Denton had left off rattling the doors, probably to go call security. They didn't have longsomething heavy clattered across the stones behind him and Simon's heart leaped into his throat for a moment. From far up above him the other man yelped inarticulately, nearly covering over the second long clattering sound. "There," Jeremy said cheerily from somewhere behind him. "That ought to take care of that. How are your eyes? Can you see yet?"
"No, I fucking well can't!"
"Liar," Simon muttered under his breath.
"Liar," Jeremy said at almost the same moment, seconding Simon's hunch. "I'm sure you can see well enough to climb down. Best get started, hm? I'm sure you'd rather like to finish this before the police arrive..."
"Fine!" the other guy yelled, completely and thoroughly frustrated. Simon could empathize. Actually, it was kind of nice to know that Jeremy infuriated someone else almost as much as he infuriated Simon. "I'll come the fuck down, then" down was almost doon "and it'll be on your bloody head if I bust my head open!"
"Yes, yes," Jeremy said impatiently. His voice had shifted; he was moving away from Simon again. "And I shouldn't get any bright ideas, if I were you."
"Fuck you right up the ass," his opponent promptly replied, and Simon bit the inside of his cheek to keep from laughing again. Jeremy didn't respond, and after a moment Simon could hear a soft slapping sound that he couldn't quite identify.
Time to move, Simon thought, and he sidled around the far side of the column and dashed for the next one, bringing himself closer to the column that Jeremy had pointed out. He risked a glance to the side as he wenthe couldn't see the sniper himself but there was a band of something slung around the column in question, and even as he watched it loosened, flipped down a foot or so with a leathery slap, and then went taut again. A linesman's belt. Then Simon was behind the next column, his footsteps still hanging in the air. "Th' fuck was that?" the guy up the column cried.
"I expect it was my friend, moving," Jeremy said. He was somewhere else again, somewhere far from Simon. "I wouldn't worry about him, if I were you; unlike you, he's not the sort to shoot anyone in the back."
"Oh, ouch," Simon called, figuring that it was about time he got in on this little conversation. He edged to the other side of the column and glanced out, checking the sniper's downward progress. A third of the way down, if that. Satisfied, Simon pulled back. For the next minute or so, the only sound in the cathedral was the rhythmic sound of the linesman's belt inching down the column. Simon thought about saying something else, but as little as he liked this guy, he liked the idea of being responsible for his falling to his death on the flagstones even less. Let him concentrate.
The slap of leather gave way to the rattle of chain behind him, and then something hit the stone with a thud. "That's quite far enough," Jeremy said at almost the exact same moment, his voice crisp. "Simon? Would you care to join us?"
Simon rolled his eyes at one of the saints on the far wall and took a deep breath, then slid around the side of the column and into the nave proper.
The discarded linesman's belt lay loose around the base of the column. Both of them stood by it, ten feet apart, but only Jeremy spared Simon a glance. At some point Jeremy had discarded his jacket, revealing the harnesses strapped to his bare forearms; his left arm was extended, his left hand cocked back, his right hand curled loosely around his left wrist. Simon could see the glint of metal against the heel of Jeremy's hand: the prongs of his taser.
Their mysterious assailant had his hands up, and that was about all Simon could tell about him. He was wearing one of those catsuits like Jeremy's and the face mask that he'd been wearing at Annadale; his eyes were still hidden behind a familiar rectangle of smoked glass. "Nice," Simon said, studying this apparition. "The ninja look is very in right now. Very trendy."
The rectangle of black glass twitched towards him for half a second before jerking back to Jeremy. Jeremy smiled. "My associate does raise a good point," he said. "Take off the goggles and the mask, please."
"Go an' fuck yourself," the black figure replied.
"Mm, no, it's ever so much nicer when someone else does it," said Jeremy. "Take them off."
The other man twitched like he'd been hit, but didn't reach for his goggles. Jeremy's little smile vanished and he thrust his hands out slightly. "I'll do it," he said softly, flexing the fingers of his right hand around his left wrist. "Believe me when I say that."
The tableau held for three more breathless seconds before the other man snarled out a wordless sound and ripped his goggles down to dangle about his neck. "Oh, sure, an' you'll taser me like a damned dog," he spat, grabbing a handful of his hood and yanking it off with a crackle of static.
Simon, finally able to put a face to the voice, found himself less than impressed. The man was pale and fine-boned, his pale eyes sunken in between sharp cheekbones and a high forehead, his dirty-blond hair cropped close to his skull. Taller than Jeremy but not as tall as Simon, just as Jeremy had said, and on the thin side, but not extremely so. In fact, he'd be wholly unremarkable if it wasn't for the anger that twisted his features into a sneer.
Jeremy let out a long and shaky sigh and then, despite everything, smiled. His smile was a small and uncertain thing. "Hallo, Irish," Jeremy said softly. "It's good to see you again." The other man's sneer deepened until it bared his teeth, but he refused to say anything else. Simon glanced at Jeremy, waiting to see what he'd do next.
Jeremy, catching the glance, let the smile deepen into something broader and much less sincere. "Oh, I'm sorry," he said, pitching his voice to carry. "Where are my manners? Simon, I'd like you to meet Bran Lindseythat's B-R-A-N L-I-N-D-S-E-Y, in case you were wonderingmy foster brother... Bran, this is Simon." Jeremy paused for a heartbeat's worth of time, letting the echoes die away a little before he spoke again. "I believe you've met. Simon's with the FBI."
The shock of it wiped Bran's face clean, leaving him slack-jawed for just a moment before his face contorted with rage. "You son of a bitch!" he screamed, hurling himself at Jeremy with his empty hands clawed; Jeremy fell back a couple of rapid steps instead of firing the taser, hesitation written clearly on his face. Simon lunged forward and caught Bran by the arm, jerking him back. Bran snarled and fought against Simon's grip without ever taking his maddened eyes off Jeremy. "You gave him my name, you Christing fuck!"
"Yes, I did," Jeremy said, calm as ever, recovering and nodding absently at Simon. "And, I point out yet again, you just tried to shoot me. In the back. With a sniper rifle. What were you thinking?"
"You," Bran breathed, his eyes narrowed to slits. The sheer malice choking his voice transformed the word into something like hyuuuu. "You Christless, nutless, gutless bastard, you fucking snitch, you Sodomite, you fucking arsebandit Brit" Once the dam had broken Bran showed no signs of being able to stop. Little dots of foamy spit formed at the corners of his mouth as he heaped ten years' worth of bile and pure unadulterated crazy on Jeremy's head. Simon couldn't help but be impressed at the sheer length, breadth, and depth of the cursing out that Jeremy was receiving (at one point Bran called Jeremy a 'motherfucking cuckoo's egg', which Simon thought was impressively scholarly, particularly in the mouth of a crazy fucker like this one) but he also couldn't help but wish that Bran wouldn't scream so loudly. With the echoes in here, it was really starting to hurt his ears.
Jeremy waited patiently through the torrent of abuse, his little smile fading to nothing. Bran might not have run out of words yet but eventually he ran out of breath, and paused for a heartbeat to gasp. "Ethan still sets a place for you at the high table every Christmas," Jeremy said, in a quiet voice that cut across Bran's bluster like a knife.
Whatever it meant, it shut Bran up like Jeremy had slapped him. He fell still, breathing hard. Jeremy waited a moment, then looked over at Simon and flicked his fingers twice: let him go.
Simon widened his eyes and raised his eyebrows. Are you crazy?
Jeremy repeated the gesture. Let him go.
Simon waited a beat, then shruggedFine.and let Bran go, stepping back. Without taking his eyes off Jeremy Bran reached up and rubbed his arm, fingers working in absent circles over the slick material. He didn't say anything.
"He misses you," Jeremy said, still so quiet. "You're welcome to hate me all you like, Bran, but for God's sake stop taking it out on Ethan. He's your father and he loves you."
Bran was still silent. After a moment, Jeremy tried to smile again. "And if you'd just come to Christmas it'd save me having to carry on answering the door all by myself"
"Shut up," Bran hissed. Sweat was beading on his forehead.
"Go back to England," Jeremy said, maintaining the smile, although it wobbled. "Stop playing the bloody prodigal. Whatever mess you're in with this Russian, he can handle it, you know he can, he'll fix it"
"SHUT UP!" Bran screamed, so loud that Simon jerked away from him and grabbed for a gun that still wasn't there. "I don't need him and I don't need you! I never needed you! Not once!"
Jeremy was silent, no longer smiling. The echoes died down to nothing. "God," Jeremy finally said, looking away. "I wish you had."
"Shut up," Bran said, nearly panting now, his breath hissing in and out between clenched teeth.
"I needed you."
"I" Loved you, Jeremy saidSimon read it on his lips as clear as day, like a punch to the gutbut the actual words were lost under Bran's rising inarticulate scream as he charged.
"Shit!" Simon hissed, grabbing for him again. Bran twisted and Simon's hand slapped against the frictionless material, slipping off. Simon dashed after him, one hand outstretched, reaching for the band of the goggles still around Bran's neck...
Jeremy flowed back a step, his face suddenly and completely empty of anything resembling an emotion. His hands rose, not in a firing pattern but in a defensive stance; he twisted to the side and whipped his right foot up and out in the same motion, kicking Bran square in the chest with an audible thud.
Bran's eyes popped and he made a tiny startled hk! sound, sent flying backwards into Simon, who caught him by pure reflex. It was like trying to hold on to a live wire. Gasping too hard even to scream Bran threw himself forward again and again, trying to break free of Simon's hold and get at Jeremy.
What finally quelled him was the babble of raised voices from the double doors behind them. Something hit the doors with a boom and they creaked, but held. Bran fell still, taut as a wire and trembling, and glanced over his shoulder; his wide eyes were rolling in his head like a spooked horse's.
"Oh dear," Jeremy said. "We seem to have company."
Bran made a high-pitched panicky sound and threw himself forward again, so hard that Simon stumbled forward half a step just trying to hold on to him. "One last chance," Jeremy said. Whatever Bran heard in Jeremy's voice, it was enough to make him stop struggling, although he was still panting. "Because you're my brother and I cared about you once" Bran shuddered once, a full-body shudder that came closer to freeing him than all his thrashing had "I'll give you a chance."
"And what chance is that?" Bran said, trying to sneer the words and failing in his panic.
"Yeah, Archer," Simon said. "What chance is that?"
"There's an emergency fire exit behind the altar," Jeremy said, gazing at Bran and ignoring Simon. Bran jerked and fell completely still, barely even breathing.
"Excuse me," Simon said.
"It can't be opened from outside," Jeremy went on, still ignoring Simon. "For security purposes. So they can't come in that way."
"Excuse me," Simon said again.
"They may or may not have thought to post a guard out there, but it's certainly a better chance than you'd have if you went the other way," Jeremy said.
"Excuse me!" Simon said, now completely exasperated. "This is all very nice and brotherly and all, but there's this little problem of me wanting to arrest this crazy fucker"
"Simon, please!" Jeremy said, ripping his gaze away from Bran to stare at Simon. The plea in his eyes was so damned plain that it made Simon wince. "Bear with me," Jeremy said, forcibly reining in the emotion in his voice.
Simon ground his teeth and tightened his arms around Bran's shoulders. "Fine."
Jeremy hesitated, then nodded, and then looked back at Bran. "Well?"
"What's th' catch?" Bran asked.
"Yeah, Archer," Simon said. "What's the catch?" The look of pure exasperation that Jeremy shot him went a long way towards restoring Simon's good humor.
Jeremy didn't answer right away. The banging on the double doors was very loud now, but right here in the center of the room everyone was silent; then Jeremy sighed and spread his arms wide. "All you have to do is get by me," he said. And he smiled. It was a small, thin, tight little smile, devoid of anything like happiness. Simon had never seen him look so goddamned crazy.
"That's not fucking fair," Bran immediately said, jabbing a finger at Jeremy's arm. "You've still got your effin' weapons about"
"Oh, and now you care about what's 'fair' and what isn't," Jeremy said, never once losing that godawful rictus of a smile. "You know what, fuck 'fair', Bran. You've not been fair to me a day in your life and I'm bloody sick of making excuses for your nasty disposition."
The banging on the door suddenly acquired a heavy stroking rhythm, the doors shuddering and creaking with every blow. All three of them glanced in that direction, startled; before Simon could recover Bran stamped down on his foot with all his strength. Simon bellowed and reflexively tightened his grip but Bran still broke away, eeling free of his grip with an eerie and boneless speed that was only improved by the slick surface of his suit. Jeremy barely had time to say "Oh, now that was uncalled for" before Bran was on him, jabbing his stiffened fingers at Jeremy's windpipe.
Jeremy swayed to one side and grabbed Bran's wrist as it shot past his ear, then let go to block the punch to his stomach that followed, his hand flicking around in a circle to strike at Bran's eyes half a heartbeat later. The resulting scuffle was almost too fast for Simon to follow, the two of them striking at and blocking each other at nearly preternatural speeds, flowing across the floor like a single creature that had turned on itself; it ended as quickly as it had begun when Jeremy slammed the heel of one hand into Bran's face.
They broke apart, Bran reeling backwards. He caught himself and scrubbed a hand across his face, smearing his upper lip with blood. "That's none o' Ethan's," he panted.
"No," Jeremy said. In contrast he was barely out of breath, although he was mussed and gleaming with sweat. "It's only mine."
"Thought you were the one going t' carry on Ethan's legacy," Bran said, thin and jeering. "T'isn't fitting o' you t' go against his teachings like that"
"That's a right load of crap," Jeremy said. Behind him, the doors boomed.
"I hate to break into this touching moment," Simon said, "but you are aware that he's mocking you to buy enough time to catch his breath, right?"
"Yes, Simon, thank you for your input," Jeremy said patiently. "Let him catch his breath. It isn't as if he's going to be able to beat me anyway."
Bran hissed in his breath through his teeth and struck like a snake, his clawed hand lashing out at Jeremy's cheek. Jeremy slid backwards half a step and Bran's clawed fingers whipped past not an inch from his nose, their momentum jerking Bran halfway around; almost casually Jeremy stepped behind Bran and booted him in the ass. Bran stumbled forward two huge looping out-of-control steps and smacked face-first into one of the columns, grabbing the column to keep from falling like a drunk man might hug a lamppost. Simon choked on a snort of laughter.
"He's never been as good as I am," Jeremy said, his voice still even. "Not at this. Not at anything. And he's too bloody thick to realize that there's plenty to go around. There never was some mythical single spot that we both had to fight for."
Simon turned his head, taking in the cathedral around him, and just couldn't resist the crazy impulse that came bubbling up in him, clamoring to be voiced. "There can be only one!" he cried, letting it boom off the walls and echo back to him.
"Here we areborn to be kings, we're the princes of the universe," Simon half-sang under his breath.
Jeremy's head jerked back, slightly. "My God," he said, blinking. "Do you know, I actually saw that movie?"
Bran lurched away from the column, leaving a smear of blood on the stone at nose height, and dropped into a crouch. "Bastard," he snarled, his voice thick and bubbly from his nosebleed. "You stole what was rightfully mine"
"Not to belabor the obvious," Jeremy said, sliding his feet apart and raising both hands to hover in front of his stomach, "but I am a thief. In fact, I'm the best thief in the world. And you're not."
Bran snarled and struck out at Jeremy, once, testing his guard. Jeremy slapped Bran's hand aside. Outside the heavy thing struck the doors again, and this time there was a loud splintering of wood; Bran's shoulders jerked into a straight line and he threw himself at Jeremy, baying in desperation.
Jeremy brought his knee up sharply into Bran's stomach, driving him back a step. Even though it left Bran sobbing and gulping air he struck at Jeremy again, stabbing his thumbs at Jeremy's eyes. Jeremy swayed backwards and kept falling backwards, his hands hitting the stone floor. His leg pistoned up, his foot thudding into the underside of Bran's jaw with a crunch.
Bran reeled backwards towards Simon, who took an instinctive step back. Jeremy flipped back to his feet, a good fifteen feet away. "Kill you," Bran gurgled, and gathering himself in a crouch he launched himself towards Jeremy
"I'm sorry, Irish," Jeremy said, and his left hand whipped out, two thin wires singing across the gap between them. There was a loud snap like a squirrel stepping on a transformer and then Bran fell to the ground in a twitching and graceless heap, his heels drumming on the stone, the faint smell of smoke and burnt meat hanging about him.
It took everything that Simon had in him not to yell "Pull!", but somehow, he managed.
Expressionless, Jeremy drew his hand back. The tail end of the wires fell free of his wrist pouch and dropped to the floor with tiny musical sounds that Simon could somehow hear despite the splintering and booming and shouting from behind. Picking up the inert wires Jeremy wound them about his wrist, crossing to where Bran lay; for a moment he studied the semiconscious man at his feet with that same unnerving lack of expression, then wordlessly cocked his right hand and shot a stream of whitish gas into Bran's face. Bran jerked, wheezed out a thick sound, and passed out.
Simon discovered that he hadn't been breathing and whooped in air. "That was exciting," he said, still a bit breathless.
"Mm," Jeremy said. "I think we'd best go."
"Wait, go?" Simon said, unable to believe what he was hearing. "Like hell. I want this guy. And that gun. We paid you to help catch him"
"and he's caught," Jeremy said, flicking a hand at the slowly collapsing doors. "The gas will hold him until they manage to get past the doors. Do you really want to be on the record as being here? While you're on suspension? In the company of a known criminal? Under false pretenses?"
"Fuck," Simon said. "Uh. Where are the guns?"
"Back that way," Jeremy said. "By the first column on the left."
"Right," said Simon, fired with inspiration. "Have you got a pen?"
To his credit, Jeremy didn't ask, just dug a pen out of one of his wrist harnesses. He threw it to Simon, who caught it one-handed, rooting around in his pocket for his wallet.
The guns were right where Jeremy said they would be, in a ferocious little pile. Simon dug a receipt out of his wallet, checked to make sure that it didn't implicate anyone but Jeremy, and scribbled I'M DIRTYRUN ME THROUGH THE NIBIN on the back, using the column as a makeshift desk. When he was done he stuck the pen in his teeth and caught the receipt in a fold of his shirt, scrubbing his palms vigorously together to remove his fingerprints from the paper as best he could. Satisfied, he let the smeared note flutter to the ground and nudged the smaller gun on top of it with the toe of his sneaker. "There," he muttered, and he loped back to where Jeremy was standing. "Okay, let's go," he said.
"Yes, let's," Jeremy said, and he took off at a run for the altar, bending down to scoop up his abandoned jacket in mid-flight. Simon yelped and pelted after him, conscious of the splintering wood behind them, and the yells that he could both hear and understand now...
Jeremy hit the bar of the emergency door with his shoulder and they both tumbled out of the gloom into a bright sunlit day, nearly blinding themselves. The Tamson Museum's fire alarms all went off in a shrieking chorus and Simon cringed and stumbled away, clapping his hands over his ears and frantically blinking to clear his sun-dazzled eyes. They were alone in the alley; there was no guard in sight. It didn't precisely inspire Simon to respect the NYPD. But, then, he was FBI; nothing much could.
"Come on," Jeremy said, plucking at his shoulder. "And walk. Nothing looks more suspicious"
"than someone running away from an alarm, Christ, don't you think I know that?" Simon said irritably, jerking his shoulder free. Knowing it and doing it were two different things, though, and he fisted his hands and dug his fingernails into his palms to keep himself from bolting. Beside him Jeremy shrugged back into his jacket and ran both hands through his hair, putting it back in order.
The muscles in Simon's back were taut with tension. Any second now that fire exit was going to burst open and spill policemen into the alley, and even assuming they didn't get shot right away there'd be a hellacious amount of explaining to dosomewhere in the middle of Simon's grim reverie they reached the end of the alley and slipped out onto the street, immediately lost in the throngs of Manhattanites on their lunch hour. Simon heaved a deep breath and tried to relax, but his nerves were still jumping. He turned on the only target he had left. "Don't you ever fucking well do that to me again," he said under his breath. "If I'm walking into a goddamned firefight I want to know, do you hear me?"
Jeremy was silent for a moment. Simon was about to repeat himself when Jeremy abruptly barked out a laugh. "I must admit I wasn't expecting the sniper rifle," he said, his voice nearly shaking.
"Still," Simon said. "Never again. Jesus Christ. I'm not saying I don't get why you did it, but Christ, don't ever do it to me again."
Jeremy took a deep breath and held it for a moment, then let it out. "I sincerely hope it will never again be required," he said, sounding almost calm again. He looked calm; he looked a thousand miles away.
"Yeah, you better," Simon said. Then he snorted. "Fucking drama queen."
Jeremy smiled a little despite everything, digging around in his jacket and producing his sunglasses. "I suppose you were right about me all along," he said, putting on his shades like a shield against the world.