Part Nine, Chapters 28-29

      The next eight hours would remain a blur for the rest of Simon's life.

      Bits and pieces of those missing hours would occasionally surface, unconnected to each other. He could remember shivering in an anonymous interrogation room somewhere, deeply in shock and soaked to the bone, his clothes sodden and freezing in the air conditioning. Someone must have given him a trauma blanket eventually—he could remember clutching the reflective silver stuff around his shoulders, desperate for warmth but wincing away from the glare—but he didn't remember who brought it, or when.

      Simon only vaguely remembered repeating his half of the story again and again to an entire series of people, all of whom remained stubbornly faceless in his memory. The story set, congealed, and hardened through multiple repetitions, until he could repeat it by rote without looking up from the table; the more he told the story, the less it seemed to have to do with what had actually happened, and the easier it got to repeat.

      He had a single clear memory of two people putting their heads together over his gun, sealed away in a plastic evidence bag. He also remembered pulling the empty holster from the small of his back and putting it on the table so that they could take it. Neither memory seemed real. What did seem real was the lump of stone lodged under his breastbone. Simon could feel it there every time he breathed in, heavy and painful. Sometimes he thought he was choking on it.

      No one told him anything. Later, in hindsight, he could reconstruct what had been happening outside the room, but just then he wasn't able to think clearly at all. It was shock, he knew it was, but he didn't care.

      He was hunched up inside his emergency blanket staring down at his laced hands, his clothes already halfway dry, by the time Upstairs arrived. "Simon," the heavy, familiar voice said. It registered in a way that the other voices hadn't, and even though Simon couldn't bring himself to look up he paused to listen. "Simon," Upstairs said again. "Are you listening? Can you hear me?"

      Simon was still. After a moment, one of Upstairs' hands floated into his view, dropping onto his own. Simon jerked and then nodded. "Uh huh," he said faintly. The stone in his chest leaped and settled again.

      "Good," Upstairs said, leaving his hand tented over Simon's laced fingers. "I want you to listen to me now, all right?"

      "Uh huh," Simon said again.

      "It's being handled," Upstairs said. Simon couldn't imagine why Upstairs thought this would be important to him, but he listened, mostly out of habit. "Assuming your story checks out, you're in the clear," Upstairs went on. "As of now, you're officially on paid suspension until we finish the investigation. It'll be a couple of weeks."

      Simon nodded, again out of habit. Upstairs squeezed his hands in a manner that was vaguely reassuring. "Someone will take you home here in a few minutes," he said. "I want you to try and get some rest. Will you do that for me?"

      Simon nodded again. Upstairs paused, then pitched his voice lower. "I know you don't want to hear this right now, but you have to listen to me. Until the official investigation is over you are not to attempt to contact any of your team members. Do you understand?"

      "Uh huh," Simon said. His chest ached.

      Upstairs nodded encouragingly. "We have to do this by the book and we can't afford to have their testimony compromised in any way," he said, as if Simon cared about the reasons. "Your gun will be returned to you once the investigation is complete." Simon nearly cringed and Upstairs must have noticed, because his hand pulled away. Simon was sorry to lose the comfort of it, but only vaguely. "Do you have any questions?" Upstairs asked.

      Simon shook his head. Then he nodded. "Do you know who Edward Plunkett is?" he asked, only half-hearing himself.

      There was a pause. "I'm afraid not," Upstairs said after a moment. "Is it important?"

      "No," Simon said, and he heaved out a breath. "It's nothing, it just... I was thinking about something else."

      "I see," said Upstairs, not unkindly. "Go home, Simon. Get some rest. And don't worry."

      Simon couldn't think of a way to express the idea that there was nothing left to worry about, that nothing could be worse than what had already happened. So he just nodded. "Uh huh."

      The agent who was assigned to drive him home did so in uncomfortable silence, his attention strictly on the wet road in front of them. Simon slumped in the passenger seat and stared off at nothing. He made one small, faltering attempt at communication, asking if he knew who Edward Plunkett was; the agent didn't know, and said as much before falling silent again. Simon didn't bother to try again.

      The man dropped him off in front of his apartment. After that it was just a matter of putting one foot in front of the other, engaging the autopilot, trudging up the stairs and letting himself in. Like a man in a daze Simon kicked off his sodden and ruined sneakers and abandoned them on the welcome mat outside his apartment, then closed and locked his door, putting on the chain. The lights made him uncomfortable, so he turned them off.

      Still working on autopilot he stripped in the darkened bathroom, leaving his still-damp clothing in a pile on the floor. The water in the shower was blessedly hot, and he stood under the spray with his hands braced against the wall and his head down until he finally stopped shivering, washing the last of the rain off his skin. After that it was just a question of avoiding the mirror while he dried off.

      Then he put on a pair of clean sweatpants and lay down, staring at the wall. He didn't think he was going to be able to get to sleep, especially not with this stone still lodged in his chest impeding his breathing. Five minutes later, he passed out.

      He didn't get up again for three days, although at the time he was entirely unaware of time passing.

      Occasionally he'd stumble out of bed long enough to use the bathroom, avoiding both the mirror and the pile of damp clothes still heaped on the floor. He didn't really feel hungry but sometimes he'd find himself in the kitchen, eating handfuls of dry cereal right out of the box or drinking milk out of the carton; when he couldn't sleep any more he'd sit in front of the television and stare at it, not seeing much but vaguely grateful for the noise. Then he'd go back to bed and doze again, curled up around the stone in his chest.

      Both of his phones rang a few times. He pulled the covers over his head and ignored them. Eventually they would always stop ringing.

      At some point during the fourth day, Simon became vaguely aware of the rattling.

      It was late in the morning. He was pretty sure of this, because the sun was trying to shine directly into his eyes and he'd buried his face in the covers to get away from the glare. Curled up in his usual spot with his face hidden in the comforter Simon listened apathetically to the rattling and waited for it to stop. Eventually it did. Simon shut his eyes and started to doze off again.

      "Hullo?" someone said behind him, standing in the doorway to the bedroom. Simon blinked once, edging towards conscious again, but didn't come out from under the covers. Whoever it was, they could just go away.

      Whoever it was, they hadn't gotten the memo. "Hullo!" the voice said again, affable and offhand. "I'm looking for one Simon Drake? Big handsome fellow, black hair, blue eyes? I don't suppose you've seen him."

      Under the protective tent of the covers, Simon opened his eyes and ran his tongue over his lips. "Go—" he started to say, and produced only a painful and unintelligible rasping sound. He swallowed, clearing his throat. "Go away."

      "Mm," the owner of the voice said. "No, I'm rather afraid I can't do that."

      It ought to have been annoying. Instead Simon just closed his eyes again, dimly certain that if he just ignored the voice for long enough, it would go away. He scrubbed his tongue against the roof of his mouth, trying to clear out some of the foul taste.

      "I rang you a few times but you weren't answering," the voice went on. "So eventually I took the liberty of ringing Ms. Leone instead, and she, ah, told me what had happened." Simon cringed in vague horror. Heedless, the voice's owner went on. "In any case, she told me that she wasn't currently allowed to have any contact with you, so I was under no circumstances to tell you that she said that no one blames you for what happened, Simon."

      It lanced into Simon's heart like an arrow and he folded up around the pain of it, suddenly and completely unable to breathe. "Go away," he said again, when he could.

      There was a pause, just long enough for Simon to catch his breath. "No," the voice said.

      "Fine," Simon said wearily, and fell silent.

      It only bought him a moment's peace before someone started trying to pull the covers away from his face. Simon fought half-heartedly against the pull for a few seconds before giving up and allowing himself to be brought blinking like a lizard into the sunlight.

      "There you are," Jeremy said, dropping the corner of the blanket and settling back onto his heels. "You look a fright."

      Simon narrowed his eyes against both the invasive sunlight and the last person in the world he wanted to see, looking away. "Can you blame me?" he rasped, reaching up to rub at his sticky eyes.

      The faint smile faded off Jeremy's face. "No," he said quietly. "I suppose I can't."

      "Glad we—" Simon coughed, once, clearing his throat and making the stone in his chest push hard against his heart. "Glad we got that settled," he said. "Go away."

      Jeremy shook his head. "The answer's still no, I'm afraid."

      "Why's that?" Simon asked, scrubbing his knuckles over three days' worth of stubble and surrendering to the fact that, for better or worse, he was awake. Coherence brought with it both all the memories that he'd been working so hard to repress and a sudden implacable bitterness so complete that he could taste it in the back of his throat. "Come to gloat?" he asked nastily, swinging his legs over the side of the bed and sitting up. "Wanted to lord it over me how you were right all along?"

      "Not really," Jeremy said, after a significant pause.

      "'Not really'," Simon mimicked, pushing a hand through his hair. "Then why are you here?"

      "Mm," said Jeremy. He stood up and fell back a step, giving Simon some room. "I don't suppose you'd believe me if I told you that I'd been worried about you."

      "You know what, you're right, I wouldn't," Simon said. "Get the fuck out of my apartment."

      "Well," Jeremy said with a jerky little laugh that didn't sound amused in the slightest. "I can see you're feeling more like your usual lovable self..."

      "Shut up," Simon said, shoving himself upright. He tottered a bit on unsteady legs before catching himself and making a peremptory shooing gesture at Jeremy. "Shut up and get the fuck out of my apartment, Archer. I refuse to deal with you right now."

      Jeremy looked towards the doorway to the bedroom, then back at Simon. "No," he said again.

      And now the taste of bile in the back of his throat was so strong Simon was momentarily afraid he was going to throw up. "If you don't leave, I'll throw you out," he said, very softly, scrubbing the back of his hand over his lips and just barely holding on to his temper. "Believe me when I say that."

      "I believe you," Jeremy said, equally softly. He squared his shoulders and spread his feet apart. "But I'm afraid I'm not going to leave."

      Simon's vision went red around the edges again and he grabbed Jeremy's arm, hard enough to feel the muscle under the leather of his jacket. "Yes, you are," he said, yanking Jeremy forward and taking a vicious little pleasure in making him stumble. "You're leaving. Right now. Even if I have to throw you off the balcony to make you go."

      "I said no," Jeremy said, so calm that it was perfectly infuriating. "Let go." His free hand rose and snapped down sharply, the edge of it striking Simon's wrist, knocking his hand off Jeremy's arm.

      Simon wheeled around and drove his fist into Jeremy's face.

      The force of the blow slammed Jeremy back into the bedroom wall, cracking the plaster, and he rebounded off the wall with a hollow boom. Simon grabbed Jeremy by the collar and threw him into the wall again, pinning him there with a forearm across his throat. "Christ, I've been wanting to do that to you for days now," he hissed, watching almost dispassionately as Jeremy clawed at his arm and started to turn red. "You should have gotten out when I told you to."

      "I'm getting that idea," Jeremy choked out, hooking his fingers over Simon's forearm and wrenching it down just enough to let himself breathe. He dragged in a breath, the flush fading from his cheeks again.

      "This is all your fault," Simon said softly. He was so incredibly angry that he'd never felt so calm—even the stone wasn't hurting him now. The skin around Jeremy's left eye was rapidly swelling and turning red, Simon noted with vague approval. "All your fucking fault."

      "I'm afraid that's true—" Jeremy started to say.

      "Shut up," Simon told him, and hit him in the stomach. Jeremy's eyes bulged and he made a whooping gagging sound. "The problem with you is that you don't know when something is none of your fucking business," Simon went on, idly watching Jeremy choke like he was watching the whole scene go down on a security camera somewhere. "No, you pry, and you poke, and you meddle—" almost absently he pressed his forearm down again and watched Jeremy scrabble at it "—and look what it got you," he finished, softly. "Look what you did."

      He paused to see if Jeremy had anything to say for himself, easing up on Jeremy's throat almost as an afterthought. Jeremy whooped in a ragged breath and shut his eyes, still clutching at Simon's forearm. "Well?" Simon asked after a moment.

      "I'm sorry—" Jeremy started to say. Simon punched him in the stomach again. Jeremy coughed out an agonized breath and shut up.

      "See," Simon said, now speaking so softly that he could barely hear himself under the roar in his ears, "it's because you were messing around where you shouldn't have been that Rich is... that Rich is dead."

      He paused again. Jeremy, either learning his lesson or concentrating entirely on getting enough air, didn't say anything. After a moment, Simon nodded and leaned in close, breathing against his ear. "You forced me into that situation," he said, his voice a bare murmur. "You. Did that to me. On purpose. So what have you got to say for yourself?"

      Jeremy swallowed convulsively. Simon, waiting for his answer, felt Jeremy's eyelashes flutter against his cheek. Here in the too-calm eye of his rage he was far too aware of it—the oddly intimate little touch stung on his cheek like sandpaper—and he shut his eyes and sighed, anticipating Jeremy's next fumbling attempt at an apology and his own response like this had all been choreographed and videotaped months before. He could see it. He was looking forward to it. He was exulting in it. His free hand balled into a fist in readiness.

      Instead Jeremy drove his knee up into Simon's stomach, which broke Simon's grip, his sense of distance from the scene, and his thin veneer of calm all at once.

      Simon barked out a shocked breath and reeled backwards, clutching at his stomach. Jeremy staggered but managed to keep his feet, reaching up to rub his throat with one hand. "I'm sorry I had to do that," he said, his voice rough but eerily calm. "I'll admit I deserved a fair bit of that but I won't stand for simply being beaten—"

      Simon roared and lunged for him again, hands not in fists but in claws this time. Jeremy whipped aside and Simon hit the wall instead, showering the carpet with more plaster. His roar choked off into fast and infuriated panting and he spun, grabbing for Jeremy's throat—Jeremy threw up an arm and deflected Simon's hand with his forearm and Simon seized his wrist instead, slamming it against the wall over Jeremy's head. Jeremy hissed out a little sound and struck out at Simon with his free hand, trying to dig his thumb into the hollow at the base of his throat; it was child's play to grab his other wrist and pin it up with the first. Remembering the knee in his gut Simon piled bodily into Jeremy, driving his shoulder into Jeremy's chest and pinning him to the broken wall. "And then you come here," he panted, "all calm and fucking cheerful, to do what? Apologize?"

      "Yes!" Jeremy said defiantly, wheezing right along with him. "My God, Simon, of course I came to apologize! Do you really think that I intended for this to happen? I didn't think you even believed me!"

      "I didn't!" Simon bellowed. Jeremy flinched. Simon squeezed his eyes shut and whooped in another breath. "I didn't," he said again. The stone in his chest leaped, thudding against his ribs with every rapid beat of his heart, making Simon have to pant shallowly for enough breath to keep going. "If I'd believed you," he said, pausing to gasp in another breath, "I wouldn't have told him!"

      Jeremy said nothing. For a long moment the only sound in the room was their breathing, harsh and tearing, while Simon tried not to think about what he'd just said—and failed. His anger drained away, replaced by that same awful numb feeling he'd been sunk in for days. "Oh, Christ," he said faintly, resting his forehead against his upraised arm. "Oh, Christ..."

      "It's not your fault, Simon," Jeremy said urgently. Simon winced. Jeremy butted his forehead against Simon's cheek until Simon looked up at him, his eyes flat and haunted. "It's my fault," Jeremy said, holding Simon's gaze like it was the only thing in the world. "All my fault."

      "All your fault," Simon repeated numbly. His chest hurt.

      "All my fault," Jeremy said again, softly, persuasively. "Go ahead and be as angry at me as you want. It's my fault."

      Simon's hands flexed around Jeremy's wrists. "Your fault," he said again, digging down deep to find his anger again. It flared dimly, making the waves of numbness recede.

      "There," Jeremy breathed. He shifted, making another shower of plaster dust fall from the cracked wall—abruptly Simon became acutely aware of the rest of him, pinned between Simon and the wall like a flower pressed in a book. "This is all my fault," Jeremy said again, curling a leg around Simon's, "and I'll accept whatever's coming to me now."

      Simon squeezed his eyes shut and swallowed. "Christ, you idiot, it doesn't work like that," he said weakly, "do you actually think I'm turned on by this kind of—" and then he shut up and lunged forward, burying his teeth in the side of Jeremy's throat.

      Jeremy wheezed out a sound like a laugh, jittery and nerved up, and lifted his chin to give Simon more room. His leg slid up until it curled around Simon's waist, leather against bare skin, and that was all right, but when he tried to gently tug his trapped arms free Simon stopped and slammed Jeremy's trapped wrists against the wall once for emphasis. "No," he said firmly.

      "No," Jeremy repeated, and shut his eyes, and fell still.

      Simon watched him narrowly for a moment, then nodded. "No," he said again, squeezing Jeremy's wrists together and pinning them both with a single hand, splayed wide. Jeremy didn't move or resist again, not even when Simon's newly freed hand clawed down his chest to rip at his belt.

      "Bastard," Simon said, astounded at himself, at how present he suddenly was, at how this had all inexplicably turned from honest anger to something more complicit. Blood roared in his ears. "Bastard—"

      Jeremy slitted his eyes open, gazed at Simon from under his lashes for a moment, then shut his eyes again and let his head fall to one side, baring his throat. Simon reached up and put his free hand on the front of Jeremy's throat for a moment, not squeezing, just letting it rest there. Jeremy hiccupped out a startled breath but didn't open his eyes, and after a minute Simon returned to the much more pressing business of yanking open the buttons of Jeremy's pants.

      Once the buttons were done, the rest was easy: Simon pushed Jeremy's leg down and shoved at his waistband, and Jeremy rolled his hips from side to side, rubbing his thighs together, wriggling out of his pants and underwear like he was shedding his skin. Simon got them down to about mid-thigh before grabbing both of Jeremy's wrists and throwing him at the bed.

      Hampered by the clothes around his thighs Jeremy stumbled and fell to his knees halfway there, throwing both hands out to catch the edge of the bed and break his fall. He sucked in a quick breath and started to crawl forward. Simon watched for a moment, then fell to his knees behind Jeremy and reached around, grabbing both wrists and pinning them to the mattress. "No," he said again.

      "No," Jeremy echoed, falling still and letting his head drop to the bed. Simon nodded, letting go of Jeremy's wrists to fumble with his own pants and shove them down.

      Jeremy hissed in a shaking and soundless breath when Simon drove into him, his face contorting. Everything else fell away from Simon in a haze; he only dimly noted the dry and painful friction of it, or his own roaring breathing, or Jeremy's fingers knotted white-knuckled in the covers. The stone against Simon's heart swelled, cutting off his breath, threatening to choke him—

      —only to crack and shatter as he came, barely aware that he was doing so. Simon brayed out a hoarse sobbing sound against the back of Jeremy's neck and shut his eyes, ceasing to be aware of much at all.

      For a few breathless moments they both balanced there, unmoving. Then Jeremy collapsed underneath Simon and Simon fell with him; Simon pulled free as they fell, and in near-perfect unison they both yelped. Jeremy hissed and rapidly shifted his weight onto one hip, leaning heavily against the foot of the bed, breathing hard. Simon just hid his face against Jeremy's shoulder (Jeremy was still wearing his jacket, for Christ's sake) and breathed in the scent of sweat and leather and, dimly, his own stink. How long had he been—was he—what day was—

      Jeremy wearily rubbed his cheek against Simon's, interrupting the flow of confused thoughts. "Muh," said Simon, not yet willing to lift his head.

      "Invigorating," Jeremy said in apparent agreement. "Perhaps next time you'll do me the favor of shaving first. It's like having sex with an old broom."

      "Muh," Simon said again, shuddering a little. "Yeah. ...need a shower."

      "Why don't you go have one?" Jeremy said, curling up a little tighter. "I'll just... catch my breath, shall I."

      Leaving Jeremy curled up on the floor at the foot of his bed in a disheveled little depantsed huddle (under any other circumstances it would have been funny) Simon stumbled towards the bathroom, automatically closing and locking the door behind him. Without really thinking about it he swept up the abandoned pile of mostly-dry clothes and stuffed them in the hamper, tossing his filthy sweatpants in after them.

      The hot water stung on his skin; it felt wonderful. Like being scoured. Leaving his eyes tightly shut Simon washed himself clean, hands moving slowly and mechanically over his body. Simon barely paid attention, not even when the soap got into his light abrasions and made them burn. What just, he thought, not letting himself finish the thought. Did I just. And finally, a complete thought: what did I just do?

      His hands hit the tiles under the shower head with an abrupt thump and Simon ducked his head, grimacing under the spray. Now that his rage and its accompanying remoteness was gone Simon couldn't stand up under the returning flood of memories, neither the old ones nor the new ones; he slumped forward until his forehead rested on his crossed arms and breathed the clean and steamy air in great whooping gasps, struggling not to fall apart. It was, eventually, a struggle he lost.

      When he was done he raised his face into the spray and washed it clean, only then noticing that the stone that had been lodged in his chest was gone.

      Steeling himself Simon swiped his hand across the mirror, wiping the steam away. For a moment the man in the mirror was a stranger, pale and drawn and puffy-eyed with three days' worth of ragged black beard, but the face quickly resolved into Simon's own.

      Simon stared into his own eyes for a few seconds just to prove to himself that he could do it, then picked up his razor and got on with things.

      The smell was the first thing that hit him when he opened the bathroom door, and Simon wrinkled up his nose. Wallowing in his own filth for how long—a breath of cleaner, cooler air from behind him made him turn around. The window and blinds in the second bedroom were open, letting in the sunlight and the faint spring breeze. Simon stared at the open window for a moment before slowly turning around and heading into the bedroom.

      Mercifully, the bedroom was untenanted, its windows also thrown open to the noontime sun. Carefully not looking at the large and vaguely human-shaped dent in the plaster Simon shut the bedroom door and threw his towel on the rumpled bed, going in search of clean clothes without really caring if people could see in or not.

      Clean, shaved, dressed, Simon let himself back out of the bedroom, dropping the towel off in the bathroom. The windows in the main room were also open but he barely noticed as he went by, heading for the kitchen.

      The window at the far end of the kitchen was open, too. Jeremy stood in front of it, his back to Simon, leaning nonchalantly against the refrigerator and occasionally flicking ash off his cigarette out the open window. Simon stopped in the doorway, unsure what to do next. He settled for saying, "... if you start a fire in the dumpster the apartment complex is going to evict me, you know."

      "If that should happen I fully intend to blame your downstairs neighbors," Jeremy said, flicking the butt end of the cigarette out the window and turning around. He was holding a bag full of ice and water against his left eye; Simon, who'd been about to say something else, stopped with his thoughts in a jangling disarray. "Well!" Jeremy said, not noticing or pretending not to notice the uncomfortable silence. "You look better."

      "I feel better," Simon admitted, scuffing one hand through his damp hair. "I, uh. How, uh, bad is it?"

      "How bad is—ah." Jeremy lowered the icepack. His left eye was mostly closed, surrounded by a puffy swirl of reddish-brown bruise. Simon winced. "I expect it'll be a lovely shade of purple by tomorrow," Jeremy said, putting the icepack back. "Still, I can probably force the swelling down if I'm vigilant."

      "Yeah," Simon said helplessly, frozen in the doorway. "I, uh."

      "Don't worry about it," Jeremy said, making a little dismissive gesture with his free hand. "I've had worse."

      "Yeah, but," Simon said, and stopped again.

      "I said don't worry about it," Jeremy said again. "I'll be fine."

      Simon scowled a little. "I'm still sorry, dammit."

      "You're forgiven," Jeremy said lightly. "There, wasn't that easy?"

      "No, it's not that easy, and you know that," Simon said. "The, uh, the bowl's in the dishwasher. If you want to use that instead of the dumpster."

      "Thank you, but all in all I think I'd rather stand," Jeremy said, all in a rush like he was embarrassed to be saying it. "Would you do me a favor and come in? You're making me nervous, lurking in the doorway like that."

      "Yeah," Simon said awkwardly, but he stood there for a little longer before forcing himself to step into the kitchen. Uncertain of what to do next he sat down at the kitchen table, folding his arms and tapping his fingers nervously against its wooden top.

      Jeremy leaned back against the refrigerator, tilting his head back and letting the icepack rest heavy on his eye. "Ow," he said, almost conversationally.

      "Sorry," Simon said again, faintly.

      "Are you feeling better?" Jeremy asked, either not hearing or ignoring Simon. "Honestly."

      "I think so," Simon admitted, looking down at the table. "Christ, it's... I still can't wrap my head around it. Any of it. Rich, or... or you..."

      "I can see how that would be difficult," Jeremy said. "It's a lot to take in, isn't it."

      "Yeah," Simon said. Something had been spilled on the kitchen table and left to dry; he dabbed his finger at it, scowling at the stickiness. "It doesn't seem real. None of it seems real. Like I've had a long nightmare or something."

      "I assure you it's quite real," Jeremy said

      "Yeah, thanks," said Simon, with just a hint of bitterness. "I wasn't asking to be reminded."

      Jeremy coughed. "My apologies."

      "But I feel... awake again. I guess that's the best word for it." Simon heaved out a breath and rested his chin on his crossed arms, staring vaguely off in the direction of the sink. Jeremy was just a slight black blur in the corner of his vision. "It still hurts pretty bad to think about it, but..." He trailed off again.

      "Well, then," Jeremy said, covering up the small silence. "I deem this visit a success, in its own odd little way."

      Simon snorted and closed his eyes. "Christ, your definition of 'success' is fucked up, Archer."

      "Be that as it may," Jeremy said, "I'm still content."

      "Content," Simon repeated in vague disbelief. "What the hell would I have to do to you to make you discontented? Set you on fire?"

      "Mm," said Jeremy, shifting a little and resettling the ice pack. "Yes, I believe that setting me on fire would discommode me quite a bit, now that you mention it."

      "I'll keep that in mind," Simon said, dropping the subject with some relief. For a minute or so they sat in silence—well, Simon sat, and Jeremy stood—listening to the sound of cars outside.

      "So what will you do now?" Jeremy finally asked, breaking the silence.

      "I don't know," Simon admitted, sitting back up and rubbing a hand over his face. "It'll be a couple of weeks before they finish investigating and let me come back to work. Technically, I'm on suspension. Isn't that funny?, forget it, that's not funny."

      "Ah," Jeremy said. "In that case, allow me to admit that I had an ulterior motive for visiting today. Well. Another ulterior motive."

      "Uh?" Simon said.

      "I came to ask if you'd care to come to New York City with me for a few days," Jeremy said.

      It made so little sense that Simon could only sit and blink for a few seconds. "What?" he finally said.

      "Come to New York City with me," Jeremy said again, phrasing it more like an invitation this time.

      "...okay, I must not have heard that right," Simon said. "You want me to what?"

      "Oh, what?" Jeremy said, sounding vaguely amused. "You've said yourself that you're on suspension for the next week or so. What else are you going to do, sit around your apartment and rot?"

      Simon hesitated. "What are you up to?" he finally asked, suspicious.

      "I promise that if they call you in I can get you back to DC within two hours," Jeremy said, now pretty much blatantly ignoring him. "If necessary I'll charter a plane. I promise."

      "You didn't answer my question," Simon pointed out. "What are you up to?"

      "Me?" Jeremy asked innocently. "Why do I need to be up to anything? Isn't it possible that I simply don't want you to have to mope around here with nothing to do for another week?"

      "Nope," Simon said. "You're up to something. I can tell."

      "Fair enough," Jeremy said. "So I'm up to something. If you don't come, you'll never find out what it is."

      Simon scowled at Jeremy for a moment, then switched his scowl to his own hands, folded on the tabletop. It was a ridiculous idea, particularly now, after all that had happened, when they might call him back at any time... but, he had to admit, getting out of his little box of an apartment and doing something, anything, definitely held some appeal. Simon glanced out into the main room. "Fine," he finally said, grumpily. "But only until... uh... what's today?"

      "Thursday," Jeremy said.

      "Christ," Simon said, startled. "Already?"

      "I'm afraid so," said Jeremy.

      "Christ, that long," Simon said, and shook his head violently to dispel his thoughts. "Uh. Anyway. I want to be back here no later than Monday."

      "I can do that," Jeremy said, shifting upright (with a bit of a wince) and nonchalantly pitching the icepack out the window. Simon heard it land in the dumpster with a faint metallic bong. "Go pack a bag. I'll close things up."

      Simon heaved himself to his feet. "This is ridiculous," he muttered, pushing the chair back under the table. "New York City. Yeah, sure, why not."

      "We'll stop and have a bit of lunch somewhere along the way," Jeremy said, ignoring him again. "That is, if you're hungry."

      Simon paused to consider this. "I'm starving," he said, surprised. "Jesus, I could eat a horse."

      Jeremy smiled a bit. "I'm reasonably sure that won't be necessary. I know you Americans are a touch backwards, but..."

      "But we're not French," Simon finished for him. "Americans don't actually eat horses. They're fucking icons over here. It'd be like eating a, a bald eagle or something."

      "Uch," Jeremy said cheerfully, pulling the kitchen window closed and turning the latch. "Go, go. If we leave now we can be in New York before dark, and there I can promise you an excellent dinner. No horses or bald eagles involved."

      "Yeah, okay," Simon said, easing around the corner of the kitchen table and grabbing Jeremy's chin in his hand, tilting his head up. Jeremy blinked up at him, although it was more like a wink and a stutter; his left eye was still half-closed and rapidly purpling, and the lids barely moved. "Christ," Simon said again, shaking his head and letting his hand drop. "I'm really sorry."

      "Don't be," said Jeremy. "That much, at least, I deserved." The miniblinds rattled down, abruptly casting the kitchen into a grayish gloom.

      "You are fucked up," Simon told him. "And don't worry. I'll, uh, behave myself while we're in New York."

      "Oh, I rather hope not," Jeremy said serenely, edging past Simon and patting Simon's hip as he went. "You're so much more fun when you misbehave."

      Simon stared after him in disbelief. "So," he said, gingerly approaching the idea, "even after all that, you... we're... there's still a 'we' in here somewhere?"

      "I don't know," Jeremy admitted, pausing in the doorway. "I do think, however, that there's still a 'you and I'. And, do you know, I think that will suffice for now?"

      "Fucked. Up," Simon said again.

      Jeremy was quiet for a moment. "If you think it's that easy to be rid of me, Simon, I assure you that you're quite wrong," he finally said.

      "That easy," Simon said. "That easy. Christ, I would have to set you on fire to get rid of you. You're like a, a persistent mildew stain or something, I don't know."

      "Oh, I am flattered," Jeremy said over his shoulder. "Next you'll be comparing me to athlete's foot. If you'd like, you can pretend I only stick around because you're irresistible."

      Simon snorted and followed Jeremy out of the kitchen.

      Simon stopped abruptly at the foot of the stairs and slapped his forehead. "Shit, I forgot, my Jeep's still at work," he said. "Now what?"

      "That's all right," Jeremy said, edging past him and heading down the sidewalk. He was wearing his sunglasses now; it made him look almost normal, although Simon could see the edges of the bruise if he looked closely. "I thought we'd take mine."

      "Yours?" Simon asked, following him. "You have a car?"

      "How exactly did you think I got here?" Jeremy asked pleasantly. "There's nothing wrong with walking, I'm sure, but—"

      "Yeah, yeah, okay, I get it, wise guy," Simon said.

      "Of course, it is only a rental, but it'll do," Jeremy said, rounding the corner of the sweetest little silver convertible Simon had ever personally seen.

      "Whoa," Simon said, stopping. "Is that a Porsche?"

      Jeremy made a pained face, waving the key in its general direction. "It's a BMW, thank you. Hang about, I'll pop the trunk..."

      "I want to drive," Simon said, watching the trunk slide sedately open, absolutely fascinated.

      Jeremy paused. "Far be it from me to belabor the obvious, but it's my car."

      "I let you drive mine," Simon pointed out, dropping his duffel bag into the miniscule trunk and shutting it with a faint whuff of hydraulics. "Come on. Let me drive."

      "Mm, no," Jeremy said. "You're not insured on it, for one thing."

      "What a waste," Simon said, shaking his head. "You have a sweet car like this and you drive like a little old lady going to church. It's a crime or something, I swear."

      "So arrest me," Jeremy said, pointing the electronic key at the convertible and making it beep. "I'm still driving."

      "Yeah, but you're really in no condition to drive with that shiner," Simon went on. "Reduced eye function and all. It'll be safer if I drive."

      "Oh, now, that is just low, Simon," Jeremy said, laughing a little. "Is there anything you won't stoop to?"

      "It's a nice car," Simon said, shrugging.

      "So it is," said Jeremy. He opened the driver's side door and slid in gingerly, hissing once. Simon tried to ignore it. "Hop in. We can negotiate driving privileges at lunch."

      "Woo," Simon said, throwing himself into the passenger seat and settling in with a great sigh of contentment. "Oh, Christ, I'm like two inches off the road surface, aren't I?"

      "Something like that," Jeremy said. The car purred to life.