Shadow of the Templar: What Comes Naturally

On timeline: three or four years post-High Fidelity
Spoilers for: eh, you know the deal, vaguely spoilerific for everything
Warnings: completely pointless, oddly soft and atmospheric, also there's porn and banter

A few years on down the road and everything's a little different.



       Simon actually woke when the car began to slow. By the time it pulled in and stopped he was mostly awake, still a bit logy but once again aware of his surroundings. He hadn't actually moved, though—hadn't lifted his head from the surprisingly comfortable cradle that the seatbelt made over his right shoulder—and he only stirred and blinked when Jeremy's hand lit gently on his shoulder. His mouth tasted like dirt. Old dirt. "We're here," Jeremy said, not so much shaking Simon's shoulder as letting his hand quiver atop it.

      "Great," Simon said rustily. He scrubbed his fists into his eyes and reduced the world to an explosion of static. "Where's here?"

      "La Cortinada," Jeremy said. Something like that, anyway. As the static faded from Simon's vision, nothing replaced it—there was only darkness outside the dimly-lit contours of yet another little convertible from Jeremy's long line of sweet little sports cars. After a moment Simon could make out something dim and massive in the distance, like a grayish wall.

      Jeremy's door chunked open and the little car flooded with light. Simon winced away from it, lifting a hand to guard his eyes, and by the time he'd done that Jeremy was gone, wafting out of the car like smoke. The door shut behind him and the light vanished again. Simon sat there like a lump for a few seconds, waiting for his eyes to undazzle, then shut them firmly against the light to come and opened his own door to roll out into the night.

      Simon's legs ached a little from sitting for too long. He thought for a moment that he might stumble and accordingly he reached out and caught the car's roof in one hand, just in case, but it quickly became obvious that he'd never been about to stumble at all—he'd just assumed that he would, like writing a little story in his head. Simon snorted at himself and went around to the back of the car, letting his hand trail down along the car's roof and along its flank, like he needed its guidance to make sure that he got there.

      The trunk also had a light, but it was a small and tentative one and its illumination didn't hurt Simon's eyes, only serving to outline the vague shape of Jeremy just now shouldering their bags. With a quick little twist of smile Jeremy held out Simon's duffel. Simon took it and shrugged into the shoulder strap, even though the bag wasn't really all that heavy to begin with.

      The trunk shut with a soft, decisive sound. Jeremy turned his back on the car, picking his way into the darkness like it was broadest daylight. Simon hurried to follow him before Jeremy was entirely lost to sight. For all that he'd slept in the car for at least an hour and probably more (it was too dark for him to check his watch) Simon was aware of that lurking exhaustion still hanging in there, just waiting for him to get comfortable again. He wouldn't be able to stay awake much longer. Oh, well. He would just have to live with it. And so would Jeremy, he supposed.

      After a few moments the gray wall swam out of the darkness in front of them, a raggedy boundary made of stones. Jeremy was a perfect silhouette against its dimness, a shadow sliding along its length to knock at a wooden door set in the middle. It opened shortly and Jeremy murmured something polite, spicing it with a little smile, like he did.

      Simon trudged after him, dimly aware of bulging plastered walls and wooden stairs worn concave in the middle and low ceilings and doors set deep into the walls like the entrances to caves. The room that they were eventually shown into was lit only by a tiny bedside lamp, the light of which seemed weirdly gray to Simon's eyes. The room itself was something close to barren. There was a heavy dresser against one wall with a tiny mirror over it, and a wrought-iron bed that looked tiny from the doorway and larger close up, and a couple more of those wooden doors that led, Simon presumed, to a closet and a bathroom. The only decoration on the bare white plaster walls was a wreath of some kind of dried flowers. One wall was made of those rounded grayish-brown stones, with two windows set deeply into it. Darkness pressed itself up against the glass. The dark looked solid, like someone had painted the windows onto the stone and never bothered to decide what was outside them.

      Moving entirely on autopilot now Simon dropped his duffel at the foot of the bed. A soft buzz of conversation behind him attended the kicking off of his sneakers, and soon he heard retreating footsteps. The door chunked to behind him. "There we are, then," Jeremy said, satisfied.

      "Yeah, great," said Simon. He shoved himself out of his jeans, stripped his sweater off over his head, and crawled into the bed. The sheets were so cold that they felt hard, like metal against his skin, but he barely cared. His head fell to the pillow with a thump, the pillow denting in an absolute and final kind of way. Feathers, maybe. His little nest warmed around him.

      He was already half-asleep by the time Jeremy laughed and flicked out the light. Jeremy didn't need light, had never needed light, and thus he did whatever it was he needed to do in perfect silence and perfect darkness, not minding a bit. Simon was a hair's-breadth from being fully asleep by the time the mattress dented underneath Jeremy's weight, as well. As if the vague warmth of Jeremy's back against his own was the signal for which he'd been waiting, Simon sighed and collapsed into unconsciousness at last.


      The room was full of light when Simon next managed to crack open an eye, looking for a clock that he couldn't find. Outside the windows the world was a sun-washed white that was painful to look at. Simon rubbed at his eye. The view outside the window resolved into rich green studded with gray and brown, smears of color that didn't resolve into any kind of sense.

      "Good morning," Jeremy said from his seat in the deep windowsill. He had one leg crooked up before him with a magazine resting on it; he was, of course, clean and dressed and perfect right down to the way his stupid perfect hair broke into stupid perfect little curls on the back of his stupid perfect neck.

      "Nnh." Simon shut his left eye and managed, after some effort, to open the right. "Where are we, again?"

      "La Cortinada," Jeremy repeated, smiling.

      Simon flopped out on his back, rubbing his prickly face with both hands. "Doesn't mean anything to me."

      "The Ordino region?"

      "Still just funny sounds."

      "... of Andorra?"

      "Keep going?"

      There was a moment of amused silence, which Simon didn't deign to notice. "The little country south of France and north of Spain?" Jeremy finally said. "In Europe? ... on Earth?"

      Simon sighed out a long breath and flipped Jeremy off. "Okay, okay, smart-ass."

      "I could go on."

      "I don't doubt it." Simon struggled into a sitting position, the blankets falling away. Now that it was light out, the room didn't look quite as bare as it had last night—the quilt on the bed was a patchwork thing of browns and blues and there was a blue rag rug on the floor—but it was still a stark and empty space, particularly when compared to the lush urban environments in which Jeremy usually lurked. The room itself was clean whitewashed plaster, worn gray wood, and brownish-gray stone. And space. A lot of space, if not much headroom. "So which one of those is the bathroom?" Simon asked, gesturing vaguely at the far wall.

      "That one," said Jeremy, nodding at the one on the left.

      "Great." Simon dragged himself into it.


      "I feel weird," Simon announced, ducking back out of the bathroom half an hour later. The room itself had been more of the same plaster/wood/stone stuff, but all the assorted porcelain things in there had been familiar and had worked more or less like he'd expected them to, which had been nice.

      "Jet lag, I suppose," Jeremy said. He'd discarded his magazine onto the floor at some point and now sat curled in the windowsill like a giant black cat, gazing peacefully out at the green. "Possibly the altitude."

      Simon scratched absently at his chest. "Altitude? Huh."

      Jeremy glanced at him. "Yes, Simon. Altitude. Or did you fail to notice the mountains, too?"

      "I'm gonna be honest here: if I try real hard, I can just about remember leaving the airport yesterday." Simon carried his duffel over to the dresser, found an empty drawer, and dumped everything in. "But yeah, I feel kind of light-headed and gaspy all the time, so... altitude sounds right."

      The pause was, unfortunately, telling. "Is that what it is," Jeremy finally said, not quite purring it.

      Ignoring as much of Jeremy as possible, Simon stuffed the duffel in after his clothes. "So! I'm up. Feed me."

      "I'm certain that can be arranged," said Jeremy, unfolding himself from the windowseat. He bent and snatched the magazine up off the floor, tossing it onto the bedside table in passing.

      "No, wait, hang on," Simon said.

      Obligingly, Jeremy came to a halt just inside the doorway. "Mm?"

      Simon eased himself through the space between Jeremy and the foot of the bed, heading for the windows. Now that he was conscious and upright, and now that there was light to see by, the green-and-gray blur finally resolved into leaping, rolling, hilly fields that quickly burst into looming mountains. Flecks of blue sky still showed here and there, but the clouds breaking around the mountains' peaks were pretty heavy and tinged with gray. "Looks like rain rolling in," Simon said, once he'd finished appreciating the view.

      "So I'm told," said Jeremy. "Shouldn't last more than a day or so."

      Simon straightened up. "So... no problem."

      "None at all. Lunch?"

      "In a minute," Simon said. It was a matter of two steps to close with Jeremy from here—Simon hooked an arm around Jeremy's neck and reeled him in, getting the taste of him that Simon had been too tired to claim last night. Jeremy tasted slightly of smoke and slightly of some long-ago breakfast—probably raspberries if Simon was any judge—but mostly, as always, like nothing else on earth but Jeremy. His hands splayed out across Simon's chest, then fell to curl over Simon's hips. It still surprised Simon, sometimes, how easy this continued to be. "Yeah, okay," Simon said once the kiss broke, pulling Jeremy's head down against his shoulder just so that he could rest his chin on the top of Jeremy's head. "Lunch."

      Jeremy laughed a little, the sound vibrating through Simon's chest. "I'll admit that that's not the impression that I was getting."

      "Pfft." Simon pulled his arm free with just enough force to make Jeremy take a step back; Jeremy's hair was a mess for two seconds and then Jeremy shook his head, settling it back into place. It made Simon grin. "Lunch first," he said, catching the door handle and pushing it down.


      By daylight, observed when awake, the place was still a stone-walled warren or possibly a cave. Jeremy led the way down the stairs and into a low-ceilinged, broad subterranean room that left Simon vaguely claustrophobic—he could pass under the heavy wooden beams holding up the ceiling with several inches to spare, but he still had to resist the urge to duck every time. The windows were narrow things set high up on the walls. Three of the four walls of this room were made of browny-gray stone, and the fourth was all plaster and wood, leading off into a kitchen that looked equally spartan.

      "So," said Simon, eyeing this vision askance, "I am guessing that this is not a hotel."

      "And you would be correct." Jeremy ducked into the narrow kitchen and flicked at a switch on the wall. The light was slow to come on and oddly gray when it arrived. The appliances looked familiar but old, save for the inevitable American-style coffeemaker parked on one slumping stone counter—it was obviously brand-new, just out of its packaging, its cord still bound up in a little bundle with a twist-tie around it. It made Simon feel pleasantly catered to. The coffeemakers always did.

      Simon edged past Jeremy and pulled open the fridge. Whoever had been so kind as to stock the fridge had obviously been forewarned of Jeremy's complete inability to cook anything more complicated than toast: the fridge was stocked full of pre-made things in covered pans, with clear reheating instructions taped to each one. In between the meal pans there was a dismembered roast chicken that looked like it ought to sandwich up well. The crisper drawer yielded a head of lettuce and a tomato. Simon looted the fridge, set his bounty on the counter, and went off in search of bread.

      The sink went on behind him. When he turned around Jeremy was patiently swirling water about in the coffee pot, cleaning the new off it. Jeremy glanced up long enough to smile, then looked back down.

      A quick search turned up both homemade-looking bread and some kind of semi-frightening cured sausage, encased in something that looked like white mold. Simon added a plate and an assortment of knives to his arsenal, then began assembling his lunch. ""So what's the story with this place? Drug-smuggler's hideaway on loan? 'Old friend' doing you a favor? Or, wait, I know, it's that place where you've been stashing your ever-growing collection of, of Greek statues and Rembrandts all along."

      "There's no need to be ridiculous, Simon," Jeremy said. The coffeemaker beeped and started to burble.

      Simon snorted. "So who's being ridiculous?"

      "It's a rental property, that's all." Jeremy leaned against the counter in a consciously decorative pose. His little smile was quite crooked, his voice conspiratorial. "I found it through the internet."

      Simon twitched, then pointed the bread knife at Jeremy. "That is so weird that I never want to hear you say it again."

      "And instead I should say... what?" Jeremy brushed the blade of the knife aside.

      "I don't know. Tell me you stole it."

      Jeremy considered this. His little smile never quite went away. "So you want me to lie to you, then?"

      "Sometimes—just sometimes, mind you—I think that my life would be a lot easier if you lied to me more often." Simon sawed off a hunk of the sausage, peeled off the casing, and popped it into his mouth. It punched him in the tonsils with a rush of wine and spiced meat. "Mmph. S'good. You wanna bit?"

      Jeremy held out a hand. "I suppose I can't argue with that theory," he said.

      "Eh." Simon sawed off another piece of sausage, stripped it, and dropped it into Jeremy's waiting hand. The winey taste continued to zestfully pickle his tongue, making Simon smack his lips and hang his tongue out to dry. "Glahh. Damn, that's good."

      Jeremy nipped off a tiny bit of sausage, then blinked, then nibbled a bit more. "That is good."

      After adding another few chunks of sausage to his plate, Simon put everything extra back where he'd found it. The coffee was still brewing, but it would be ready when he was done eating—Simon patted Jeremy's jutting hip, then picked up his plate and ducked back out into the main room. He couldn't hear anything from behind him, but still, he was pretty sure that Jeremy followed him out.


      Lunch—and coffee, always coffee—completed Simon's transition into the land of the awake. He ran water over his dishes and then abandoned them in the sink, slapping his hands dry against the legs of his jeans. "So..."

      "So," Jeremy echoed. Suddenly, and without any apparent effort, he managed to be too close.

      "So," Simon said again. He turned around and leaned back against the edge of the sink. "I have to admit, I'm kind of torn."

      There was a brief, loaded moment in which nothing happened, and then Jeremy's hand lit on Simon's chest, just above the slight recurve of his belly. "Are you, now."

      Simon coughed out a laugh. "And now I am so tempted to say 'not any more', you have no idea—"

      "Haven't I?"

      "No, okay, I take it back, I'm pretty sure you've got a good idea. But." Simon ran a hand back over his hair, still damp from his shower. "See, I'm in a foreign country and all, and I have no idea what's up with this house but it looks... old or important or something, and it's threatening to rain, so common sense tells me that I should go look around a little before the rain sets in. And then I can rip your clothes off. But..."

      Instead of answering, Jeremy only smiled, the corners of his mouth twisting inwards. In the resulting silence Simon became aware that the hissing sound that he'd been hearing for several minutes was rain striking the high, narrow casement windows and flicking through the grass outside. "Oh," said Simon. "Huh."

      "'Oh' indeed," Jeremy said. His hand dropped away from Simon's chest. Jeremy swayed back and caught himself on the counter behind him, one long lean black line from the floor to Simon's eyes. "I suppose I could still take you on a quick tour of the house—"

      The invitation was so clear that Simon found himself crowding Jeremy back against the counter before he thought. Not that he wouldn't have done it anyway, but it still startled him, and he fell back maybe half an inch and fought himself for a little space. "Eh," he said, aiming for levity and missing, falling instead into a sudden and impatient rasp."Fuck a bunch of that."

      "'Fuck a bunch of' something, at any rate," said Jeremy, curling a leg about Simon's. Simon could hear the mocking quotation marks, not that he cared.


      Up the stairs and down the hall, half-falling into the bedroom that they'd slept in last night, Jeremy's jacket dropping across the threshold like a welcome mat—Simon hauled Jeremy's shirt off over his head and got a shock: a broad pinkish smear of freshly-healed skin wrapped around Jeremy's ribs on the right-hand side, still liberally striped with thin scabbed-over cuts. Like road rash, or clawmarks. Jeremy feathered his fingers through his hair and put it to rights. "It's nothing," he said with a little smile.

      "Yeah, guess you've had worse." Simon shook his head to clear it, then grabbed for Jeremy again. Without thinking about it he reached for the bedside table, yanked open the drawer, and found the condoms inside—he'd long since stopped questioning how they were always there, no matter where he and Jeremy were. It was just something that Jeremy always quietly took care of, like the coffeemakers, like Simon's transport, like Simon's pent-up energy...

      They threw each other onto the bed and it squealed in protest. Neither one of them was listening.


      It went like it always did, from there. Somehow Jeremy had ended up sideways across the bed with his head and shoulders hanging off the far side, and he'd ended up having to brace his hands against the floor to prevent them from agitating their way straight off the far side of the bed. Not that there was anything wrong with the floor—there was even a rug that they could have landed on—but falling onto it in the middle of things always did come across as something of an interruption.

      Simon flicked his sweat-damp hair out of his eyes and worked on catching his breath. It was hard at this altitude: he was somewhat dizzy from pulling in deep breaths that contained too little air. His knees felt burnt. Behind him the rain was still splatting lazily against the windows—beneath him Jeremy was still breathing hard, the rise and fall of his chest exaggerated by his position. From this angle Simon could see only the underside of Jeremy's chin, which was shaved clean and marked with a tiny worm of scar along one side of his jaw. "Hnf," Simon said after a moment, insinuating two fingers into the close and sweaty place between them, trapping the base of the condom as he eased himself free.

      "Mmm," Jeremy said, his usual noise strangled by position and effort. As Simon scooted back—noting in passing that the skin of his knees was, in fact, a highlighter-bright pink—Jeremy rolled upright to follow him. His arms went around Simon's neck and pulled Simon forward into a quick, artless kiss, and then Jeremy let Simon go and reclaimed his legs to sprawl out on the bed in a more normal manner. "Much better."

      "Yeah, I've gotta agree with that," said Simon, dropping onto one hip. As quickly as he could he snapped off the condom, tied a knot in it, and stuffed it back into its wrapper. The room was so spartan that it lacked even a handy wastebasket—Simon didn't feel like getting up and throwing the condom away in the bathroom, so he put the bulging wrapper down on Jeremy's discarded magazine and flopped out on what was left of the bed. "Course, now I need another shower."

      "Oh, horrors."

      "Yeah, well, I'm just saying." Simon yawned so hard his jaw cracked, then shook his head and rolled onto his side, dropping a hand onto Jeremy's stomach. "And I guess I better go do it soon, because if I fall asleep now I'll never get to sleep tonight."

      Instead of answering Jeremy stretched out underneath Simon's hand, the curve of his stomach going concave. "In a minute," he said, once that was done.

      Simon swept that hand over and ran tentative fingers over Jeremy's new war wound. The sweat-damp new skin was hot, even more so than the unmarked skin next to it; the scabs were tiny and hard, like grains of wet sand. "In a minute," Simon agreed, not really listening to himself. "So how'd you get this?"

      "Let's see, how to answer that..." Jeremy made a show of staring up at the ceiling, laying one finger thoughtfully across his lips. "Let us just say that when cement and flesh disagree, cement usually wins."

      "I think it's safe to say that I already knew that." Simon absently patted Jeremy's chest and let his hand fall away. Having run out of things to say Simon went quiet, listening to the rain drum against the windows, listening to Jeremy breathe; Jeremy tucked his hands behind his head and gazed peacefully up at the ceiling. The little patch of brownish hair under Jeremy's arm was right in front of Simon's face, and without really thinking about it Simon poked at it. Jeremy jerked, his hands popping out from behind his head as he went defensively fetal.

      The little rush of discovery burned through Simon like fire. He propped himself up on one elbow. "Oh my God," he said. "You're ticklish."

      "Well, that's a load of nonsense," Jeremy said warily, dropping his legs back to the bed. "You only startled me—"

      "Yuh huh, sure," Simon said, grinning, and he fell on Jeremy like a landslide. Jeremy gritted his teeth and rode it out for a few moments, but that trick had never worked on anyone since before the beginning of time—finally, giving up on the 'stoic' thing, Jeremy snatched both of Simon's wrists out of the air and jerked them down. He was a blur for a moment—Simon vaguely saw Jeremy's leg kick straight over in a roundhouse that hit nothing but air, and then somehow they ended up with Simon on his back and Jeremy astraddle him, pinning the untidy bundle of Simon's wrists to the pillow beside Simon's ear. "Pfft, spoilsport," said Simon, tugging at Jeremy's grip on his wrists, mostly for show. "Also, hey, check out this interesting position we've landed in, huh?"

      The slight exasperation faded from Jeremy's face, leaving him with his omnipresent little smile. "Pity I'm currently in no condition to do anything about it," he said, although he shifted his hips in the spirit of experimentation.

      "Well, yeah, but I'm just saying, let's remember it for later." Simon caught his breath and jerked his arms straight down, breaking Jeremy's hold, albeit with more effort than he cared to admit to. Jeremy rolled atop him, absorbing the sudden outburst of momentum. Simon put his hands on Jeremy's hips. "For right now, though, I'm thinking shower."

      For a moment Jeremy was still, eyeing Simon narrowly; then he reclaimed his smile and patted Simon's hand. "I hope you don't mind if I join you."

      "I was kind of hoping you would, actually—" and Simon edged out from under the shallow arch of Jeremy's widespread legs, managing to stand up without staggering too much.


      Like the light, the house's hot water was always a little slow to arrive. It felt like Simon sat on the edge of the tub for hours before the water from the tap started to run hot over his fingers. Once it had, and he'd shunted the water to the showerhead, just stepping under the torrent of almost-too-hot water made him groan—he was already tired (and light-headed to boot) and suddenly anything more strenuous than standing under the water was just beyond him. He'd stopped keeping his eyes open long ago. It took everything he had just to shuffle aside and make room in the shower for Jeremy, particularly since it left half of him at the mercy of the elements.

      An errant draft flicked across his wet and naked back and made him shiver. The downpour was glorious, but a little too narrow for both of them—Simon grunted and threw his arms around Jeremy, dragging them both under the spray before letting his head fall. Jeremy went still for a moment, then laughed softly and wrapped his arms about Simon's waist. The water poured down on them both, plenty of it, hot.

      "We're not cuddling or anything," Simon said, after a minute or two of this. "We're sharing the water. It's economical."

      "Oh, economical. I see. Very clever of you."

      "Also because this is about as close as I can get to just falling asleep under the water—" Simon broke off there long enough to yawn.

      Jeremy's hands slid up along Simon's back, the falling water making the little motion almost completely frictionless. A little groan slid out of the tail end of Simon's yawn and he rolled one shoulder demandingly until Jeremy's hands found the right spot. The ensuing backrub, however perfunctory, stole a lot of the remaining starch from Simon's muscles. He sagged against Jeremy, perfectly content to be held upright.

      Eventually he came to for long enough to decide, muzzily, that he should reciprocate. Freeing one hand he ran it down along Jeremy's spine, appreciating the way that his hand just kind of slipped along without any drag involved—Jeremy arched his back into the stroke and Simon ended up catching a decently-sized handful of Jeremy's ass, although he wasn't quite sure if he'd done that or if Jeremy had engineered it. Still, it wasn't a bad thing, and it was a part of Jeremy that needed washing anyway, so Simon made a lazy attempt at it. A half-assed job, he caught himself thinking, and he snickered against the top of Jeremy's head. "This is nice," Simon said, not really listening to himself.

      "It is, isn't it?"

      Simon yawned. "Guess I forgive you for making me fly all the way to Algeria or whatever."


      "I kid, I kid. ... Albania?"

      Jeremy huffed out a laugh and straightened up, eeling free of Simon's relaxing grip with frictionless ease and startling Simon awake. Jeremy turned about under the spray, knocking off the last of the sweat, and coincidentally washing his sodden hair into his eyes—it made him into a stranger on the instant. Simon was fascinated by the change, at least until Jeremy stuck his head back under the water and slicked his hair straight back again. As if he were aware of Simon's attention Jeremy ran one self-conscious hand back over his hair, all sleek against his skull. "Are we done being economical, then, or was there more water that you needed to save?"

      Simon scrubbed his hands down his front, once, briskly, and decided that that was good enough. "I'm good."

      "Mm." Jeremy brushed aside the shower curtain and stepped out onto the mat.


      By the time Simon finished dressing again, the rain had slackened almost to nothing. The clouds still hung heavy and low in the sky, but for the moment, they were done. Simon considered the bed, then caught a handful of covers and dragged them up, not so much making the bed as hiding the mattress. "There," he said. "So... show me the place."

      'The place' was both bigger and smaller than he'd thought. There were three more nearly-identical bedrooms of varying sizes, including one tucked away behind the back staircase that was little more than a closet with a bed stuffed in it. Downstairs there were two big rooms sunk halfway underground, the one next to the kitchen and... the one not next to the kitchen. After some thought Simon dubbed the first one the dining room and the second one the den and decided that that was close enough.

      The entry hall was long, low, and pleasant, even if it made Simon stoop out of sheer reflex. It was lined with ancient gray wooden doors which Simon threw open one after another, discovering first a little half-bath, then a large closet-like thing with benches and pegs on the wall, and finally, behind the door inset with a pebbled-glass fan so old that the glass gave off oily rainbows, a tunnel up to the outdoors. The front steps led up instead of down, ten swaybacked steps that brought Simon up from between two hard-packed dirt walls to the tumbling wild green of the rest of the world.

      They emerged into a gray and lowering day, the air heavy with wet and just brisk enough to wake Simon the rest of the way up. From outside, the house was almost literally just a pile of those brown stones, plunked down in the middle of all that green like they'd been washed there by the floodwaters. A low wall of matching stones surrounded the place and boxed it in. The 'road' was a hundred feet away, a meandering narrow strip of blacktop just barely wide enough to qualify as a driveway.

      Jeremy came to a halt on the side of the road, shading his eyes with one hand (entirely for show; it was as gray as ever). "The rest of the town is... about two miles in that direction," he said, waving a hand down the slope. The gesture widened a moment later, sweeping across to indicate a different bit of green. "The resorts and such are mostly over there."

      "Resorts, huh," said Simon, joining him. The low wall ran alongside the road like it was keeping cars out. Simon kicked idly at one crumbling edge.

      "Oh, yes. People come from all over the world for the skiing."

      "I can sort of imagine," Simon said. He turned in a circle, taking it all in. The ancient house was the only building for miles, inhabiting a slender run of valley that it seemed to have all to itself. Far down at the base of the valley, almost at the edge of his vision, there was a cluster of squared-off shapes which was probably the town in question. Up here, though, there was just the pile of stones, and the wall, and all that wild greenery, and the mountains. Simon stepped up onto the wall—"Hup!"—throwing both hands out for balance.

      One of the round stones rocked a little in its mortared moorings, but it didn't throw Simon off. After he was certain of his balance he took one careful step along the wall, and then another. Before he knew it he was following the wall in the direction of town, with Jeremy tagging along amused and quiet in his wake, walking on the side of the road like a normal human being.

      "I don't know what the hell I think I'm doing," Simon said, laughing under his breath. "Damn wall's going to crumble under me any second now and I'm going to fall and break something."

      Jeremy shrugged, not looking unduly worried. "It's possible."

      "And then you'll laugh at me," Simon concluded. He was wobbling along with his hands out, feeling like an idiot but keeping on with it anyway, too stubborn to quit. "Because you probably never fall."

      "I wouldn't say never."

      "Well, okay, no, but you'd never fall off this. It's a foot high—whoa—see?—and even if it fell apart under you you'd just take a giant step off and pretend nothing ever happened."

      Jeremy considered this. "You're probably correct."

      "So, in conclusion, I hate you," Simon said, hopping down. "Maybe I ought to make you walk on the wall."

      "I could, I suppose, but I don't feel any real need to."

      Simon pointed at him. "See, that's how I know you're not a real man—"

      "—so real men walk on walls, then, I see—"

      "—a real man would do it just because it was there," Simon concluded semi-triumphantly.

      "To be walked upon."

      "To be walked upon."

      Jeremy gave the wall a long, considering look. "Well, I suppose I can't argue with that," he said, stepping up onto it.

      "See? There you go. Golf clap." Simon patted his hands together twice and let them drop again.

      Jeremy glanced down at Simon—the 'down' part was new and vaguely unsettling. Simon took a step back. Unheeding Jeremy rocked onto the balls of his feet, then dropped again. "Well, then."

      Simon took a step in the direction of town, then another. Jeremy followed, ambling along the top of the low wall, hooking his thumbs into his pockets with what Simon personally considered to be a little too much aplomb. "Show-off," Simon said, rolling his eyes.


      "That," Simon said, gesturing vaguely at Jeremy's midsection and the offending thumbs.

      "This?" Jeremy pulled his hands free and spread them wide. "This is showing off now?"

      "Uh, yes? I mean, okay, granted, there are degrees of showing off, but still, I submit that that is, indeed, showing off. When you do it." Simon looked back over his shoulder, then down at the town. "Does anyone actually drive on this road?"

      Jeremy didn't answer him. When Simon looked back at him Jeremy was just standing there, hands hooked in his pockets once more, looking down at Simon with a thoughtful expression that boded no good for anyone. "What?" Simon said, suspicious.

      For a moment, nothing. Then, with immense (yet entertained) gravity, Jeremy slid his thumbs free and held out his hands, palms up and open, as if to say 'see, nothing up my sleeve'. "If I'm going to be damned as a show-off anyway—" His hands hit the wall at his feet with a startling suddenness and Simon took another hop back as Jeremy's legs swept up, leaving him standing on his hands on the low stone wall.

      "Okay, Jesus, this is even less necessary than usual," Simon said, rolling his eyes. "Would you get down already?"

      As if in answer Jeremy scissored his legs apart. One of his feet dropped to within a couple of inches of Simon's breastbone, leaving Simon staring along a split from an entirely different angle. Just looking at it made his balls ache a little—carefully, queasily, Simon curled one hand about Jeremy's instep. "Okay," he said. "What am I supposed to do with this, huh?"

      "Well, I don't suppose you need to do anything at all with it," Jeremy said from somewhere around Simon's thighs, sounding not at all put out by this position. His shoulders tilted one way and his hips another and one hand lifted up off the wall, rising to gesture in the general direction of the road.

      Simon had just opened his mouth to mock this latest display of showboating when they both heard the approaching buzz of some kind of vehicle. Simon let go of Jeremy's foot. Jeremy kicked his feet around and flipped sideways off the wall, twisting in midair and landing neatly in the grass—a hidden rock turned under his foot and Jeremy ended up—"Whoop!"—stumble-hopping a step to keep from being dumped on his ass.

      Simon choked back a snort, then gave up and burst out laughing. Jeremy looked injured for about a second before the expression dissolved and he cracked up as well. When the car swept by a few seconds later, it passed a couple of idiots howling with laughter on either side of a low stone wall.


      Barely ten minutes later the rain started up again, fat heavy drops plunking off the wall hard enough to splatter. They hadn't gone too far, at least, so they hurried for the house and made it there with seconds to spare. "Gonna go take off my sneakers," Simon said, heading for the main room and the stairs.

      "Mm," said Jeremy, busy brushing water droplets off the shoulders of his jacket.

      Simon tromped on upstairs, gritting his teeth to stifle a yawn. The bedroom was pleasantly dim, grayed out, with rain splatting against the window in a lazy way. Simon kicked off his shoes and toed them up against the wall by the door, his eyes dropping half-closed without any conscious input from his brain. The battle was over before he even knew he was fighting it—fumbling with the buttons of his jeans Simon staggered towards the bed, its rumpled sheets and half-askew quilt inviting in a way that a neatly-made bed could never be. He barely managed to walk out of his pants before he dropped like a rock, accidentally bashing his face a good one against the unforgiving feather pillow. "Ow," Simon mumbled, pushing himself over on his side and burrowing under the covers.

      The door opened some unknown amount of time later. Simon was about three-quarters of the way asleep, just aware enough to notice the sound. There was a pause, then the door shut again, leaving him alone on this perfect napping day.


      Simon dozed for what felt like a long time, down pretty far, drifting through the murky depths of a dream-state that was mostly darkness and pressure and, eventually, a vague, unfocused horniness that descended on him as he drifted back towards consciousness. Dimly Simon became aware that somewhere a thousand miles away his actual body was shifting under the covers, looking for something to rub against—he fell into an old friend of a dream where he kept dreaming that he'd moved his hand onto his dick, he could feel it, and then he'd realize that he hadn't actually moved his hand but had only dreamed that he did so, but this time he really had moved his hand onto his cock, he could feel it, and then he'd realize... and so on, and so forth.

      He was down so deep running through the tease over and over again that when a hand did actually light on his cock, his brain just absorbed it into the rolling sequence—Simon kept on mumbling and shifting and being convinced that this time he really had put his hand on his dick, and when the dream rose on past the usual place and Simon rose with it, he was all too glad to go. Simon came in his underwear and burst out of sleep in the same arching, upward movement, punctuated with an urgent and unguarded groan.

      Nearly dizzy with it Simon collapsed back onto the mattress, his satisfied brain still a bit fuzzy about the edges. It was dark and he had no idea where he was, but he didn't care yet—it was warm and there was rain pattering somewhere, and the dream-hand on his dick was still there, running back and forth along the collapsing shape of it—the last of Simon's nap shredded away, for better or for worse. Simon pulled his hands out from under the covers and scrubbed at his face. "Gnh," he said, eventually.

      "I'd only come to knock you up and tempt you downstairs with promises of dinner," Jeremy said, "but you were so obviously—"

      "—nnnn," said Simon, trying sleepily to ward off what he just knew was coming—

      "—in need of a hand?" Jeremy finished, talking right over him. Simon groaned again. Jeremy stifled a smallish laugh. "Sorry."

      "Yeah," Simon said. His voice was full of rust. He left his hands tented over his face.

      Jeremy paused, then withdrew his hand, patting Simon's hip in passing. The bed rose as Jeremy slid back out of it, the covers dropping behind him. "Whenever you're ready," Jeremy said softly. The door opened and shut again.

      Eventually Simon let his hands fall away from his face. He'd slept so much today that he felt logy and slow, like he could roll over and sleep for another hour, or possibly for the rest of his life—he felt pretty good otherwise, though. He lifted a hand and made a vague pawing motion in the general direction of the door. "Come back here, you," he muttered. Jeremy didn't, so eventually Simon kicked off the covers and got himself moving.


      Jeremy was frowning at one of the pans from the fridge when Simon ducked into the kitchen, once again clean and dressed. "So... what is that?" Simon asked, pulling open the fridge and looking over its contents.

      "Do you know, I have no idea," Jeremy said, flicking a finger against the raised foil cover and making it rattle.

      Simon shut the fridge again and hung over Jeremy's shoulder, the better to check this out. The pan's contents were hidden by a fancy-looking pie crust of some kind, with what looked like mashed potatoes showing through the cut-out shapes. "Huh," said Simon. "Pie."

      "Pie," Jeremy agreed. "Well! I suppose it's dinner. I'll just pop it in the oven."

      "Yeah, you do that thing," Simon said, ducking back out of the kitchen and leaving Jeremy to it. At a loss for what to do now he wandered through the big downstairs rooms, waiting for something to catch his eye. It was probably inevitable that what caught his eye was the television in the front room, which was pretty big for an old-fashioned square box. Simon found the remote and turned on the television, not expecting much. He got news in some language he didn't speak, which didn't surprise him at all.

      The cabinets underneath the television were more interesting, though: Simon turned up a cheap but decent DVD player and a reasonable selection of DVDs in multiple languages, although the collection was slanted towards the brightly-colored 'keeping the damn kids entertained' side of things. "Huh," Simon said, dropping onto his ass in front of the television.

      "What?" said Jeremy, from the other side of the room.

      Through an act of will Simon did not jump, although his shoulders snapped up and then relaxed again. "I knew you were there all along," he said, running one finger along the row of DVDs.


      The mystery pie came out of the oven steaming and smelling pretty good, although Simon was no wiser as to its contents than he'd ever been. He dug out a plate and a spatula and dished himself up a gloppy square. There was still coffee left in the machine, but Simon was going to have enough trouble getting to sleep as it was—he opened the fridge and located a can of something that he devoutly hoped was beer. "So."

      "So," Jeremy echoed, gingerly poking at the mystery pie.

      Simon hipchecked the fridge shut. "You know what, I'm thinking fuck it, I'm on vacation, let's eat in front of the television."

      Frowning in concentration Jeremy maneuvered a smaller square of pie onto his plate. "And this is different from your normal behavior... how, precisely?"

      "At home I eat over the sink," Simon said patiently. "Come on. Humor me. I have a cunning plan."

      "Oh, well, far be it from me to deny you your occasional bursts of cunning." Jeremy waved Simon on with a flick of his fingers. "Go on, then. I'll be out in a moment."

      Carrying his mysterious pie and putative beer Simon loped out into the main room, abandoning both on the coffee table before hunkering down in front of the DVD player. By the time Jeremy joined him Simon had slotted in a disc and was negotiating with the remote. "I tried to pick something appropriate," Simon said, not without some glee.

      "I... suppose I'm glad to hear it?"

      "No, seriously," Simon said, hitting 'play'. After a moment he was rewarded with the MGM lion, and he hurried around to claim the good seat on the couch before Jeremy could take it. Suddenly he was starving—he cut off a corner of his pie and stuffed his face as James Bond strolled across the screen, framed in the sights of a gun. Simon settled in. After an amused glance in his direction, Jeremy curled up at the other end of the couch.


      An hour later the death toll was mounting, the pie was gone, and Simon was on his second beer. It was still raining outside in a desultory way, which was kind of pleasant. It was all pretty nice, really. All that was preventing Simon from sinking into a shallow-breathing movie-watching coma was Jeremy at the other end of the couch. Every few minutes he'd glance in Simon's direction, and Simon would catch just the slightest flicker of a smile before Jeremy looked back at the television screen. It was distracting, to say the least.

      Jeremy waited for a relatively-dull chunk of exposition before sliding across the couch to where Simon was sitting, a look of something like malice aforethought on his face. Quickly, before that could get out of hand, Simon threw out an arm and reeled Jeremy in—it was only after Jeremy blinked and settled up against Simon's side that Simon thought to question whether he would have preferred things to get out of hand. "Christ, this is so weird," he muttered into his beer.


      "It's so..." Simon groped for the word. "... it's so normal."

      "Normal," Jeremy repeated.

      "Like there's nothing weird about you at all," Simon said. "... you know what I mean. Oh, just shut up and watch the movie."

      "I didn't say anything."


      Jeremy laughed under his breath and leaned back into the curve of Simon's arm. Snuggled back into it, Simon thought, before he firmly forbade himself to ever think anything like it again.


      By the time the credits rolled Simon wasn't bothering to pay any attention to them—he was shoved up against the arm of the couch with Jeremy boneless and heavy on top of him, a turn of events which he'd seen coming from miles away and hadn't bothered to ward off. Normal, he'd said, and nothing was more normal than eager, aimless making out on a couch in front of the flickering television—if this went on for much longer Simon might actually find himself back in high school, which was a sobering thought.

      Jeremy bit at Simon's lower lip, not too hard, just hard enough to make Simon catch Jeremy's head in both hands and kiss hell out of him. Jeremy's hair was soft and fine underneath his fingers, newly damp with sweat, and Simon returned the little bite with interest. "Owe you one from, from earlier," he managed to rasp out.

      "Surely we don't need to nnn keep a running tally." Jeremy leaned down to lip at Simon's jaw, almost gently. "Let's just—" his mouth trailed up until he was breathing warmly against Simon's ear, instead "—do whatever comes naturally," Jeremy finished in a hoarse whisper, following this suggestion with a little flick of his tongue that ran along the inner curve of Simon's ear.

      "Christ, twist my arm—" and then Simon shut up with a grunt as Jeremy shoved a hand between them and found Simon's dick, hard along where the curve of his hip met his belly, tangled in his underwear and trapped in denim and pushing up as Jeremy's hand ground down. The heel of Jeremy's hand skidded down along the length of Simon, erratically but firmly, and it was like fire on his nerves but Simon hadn't brought that many pairs of jeans with him—"Come on, upstairs," Simon said, catching Jeremy's upper arms.

      Jeremy groaned under his breath as Simon forcibly sat him upright, an urgent little sound that nearly undid Simon entirely. "I can't believe you want to stop," Jeremy said, writhing to get free, to knock Simon back down onto the couch.

      "Stuff's up there," Simon rasped.

      Jeremy's hands splayed, then snapped into fists, then popped open again and grabbed two handfuls of Simon's shirt. He said something that Simon could not parse at all—it all came out as a growling laughing sound—and then Jeremy was on his feet and pulling Simon after him.

      The trip from the couch to the bedroom only took fifteen seconds or so, but it still cooled them both off by a few degrees, damn the luck. The urgency that had driven them there was... not gone, precisely, but fading, and instead of groaning Jeremy was once again laughing under his breath as Simon pushed him at the bed and scrabbled for the drawer. The condom was slippery and a bit cold and it ate another ten seconds of Simon's life and in those ten seconds he stopped feeling like he could batter down doors with his cock—then Jeremy's mouth closed on him, condom and all, and Simon recovered his momentum nicely. He let himself have the sloppy blowjob for a glorious few seconds before pulling Jeremy away and pushing him face-down onto the bed. "What comes naturally," Simon said, half-mocking them both, and that was about the last thing he was coherent enough to say for a while.


      When it was over—when Simon fell off Jeremy and finally found a moment to catch his breath—Simon was beginning to believe that he might sleep well that night after all. Hell, at the moment he couldn't summon up enough energy to deal with the condom, let alone push himself the right way around on the bed or go clean up.

      Jeremy rolled over (with a slight and vanishing wince) and did Simon the favor of pulling the condom off him and stuffing it back into its wrapper. Simon's wet dick fell against his belly with a distinct splat, which was so gross that it made Simon laugh, just a little. "Yeah, that was sexy," he said, rubbing his cleaner hand down his face.

      "Oh, you'd be surprised," said Jeremy, rising to his feet and padding off. Too tired to sit up and watch him go Simon contented himself with craning his head back, which did give him a nice view of the retreating Jeremy, albeit upside-down; the light in the bathroom snapped on and Jeremy dropped the condom wrapper into the trash.

      Simon yawned. Behind him the water went on, then back off. Simon was summoning the energy to stand up and stagger in there when a wet washcloth (warm, fortunately) dropped onto his chest. "Since I was up in any case," Jeremy said affably.

      "Ooh, careful, Archer, you'll spoil me," Simon said, plucking the washcloth off his chest and mopping himself vaguely clean. As an afterthought he swiped at the wet spots on the sheets, Jeremy's aim having been less than perfect in the heat of the moment. "We keep this up and we'll need clean sheets," Simon said, yawning again. "Or we'll need to keep switching beds until we run out."

      Jeremy leaned over him and reclaimed the washcloth. "The housekeeper should be by tomorrow afternoon," he said, tossing the washcloth into the bathroom. It landed in the tub with a second, wetter splat.

      "Awesome." Simon inched around until he was laying more or less in his spot on the bed, with his head and feet at the proper ends of the bed. He was worn out (and aware of the slightest pang in his groin, the one that said hey, buddy, three times today, nice going, but any more and you're going to feel it tomorrow) but not quite inclined to sleep yet. Simon groped along the floor and found his underwear. "You know what, I left the television on," he said. "I'm gonna go deal with that. And have another beer. As a reward."


      Simon slept like a rock.


      When he woke the next morning he felt nothing short of terrific, all loose-jointed and lazy. The need to make up for lost time that had driven him yesterday was gone, worked out—sure, he wasn't done with Jeremy by a long shot, but he wasn't backed up any more, which was always a nice feeling. Simon kicked down the covers, checked the windows (heavily overcast but not currently raining) and decided that his shower could wait until after he'd eaten something.

      The board floors were cool and smooth under his bare feet as he made his way down to the kitchen. He could smell the coffee before he got there, which was enough to put a little hurry in his step; a few more steps and he could hear someone making small kitchen noises, which was so weird that it was nice. A cabinet shut with a soft bang, and Simon ducked into the kitchen just as Jeremy took the coffeepot off the machine and filled a mug. "Heard me coming?" Simon said, his voice still thick with sleep.

      "Heard you coming," Jeremy confirmed, holding out the mug with a little smile. He looked clean and groomed, the bastard, but he hadn't bothered with anything more elaborate than a pair of loose pajama pants that looked about ten times as nice as Simon's. Even taking into account the healing skin on his ribs it was a pretty sweet view, and, when combined with the proffered mug of coffee, could be upgraded all the way to 'terrific'. Simon took the mug with a grunt of thanks, and Jeremy smiled and went back to picking at the bowl of raspberries on the counter.

      Simon leaned back against the counter with his mug in both hands. For a minute or so he had eyes for nothing but the coffee, which was exactly as mediocre and American as the stuff he got at home and therefore perfect. Eventually, though, he woke up enough to consider this scene through the thin haze of coffee steam. Again he found himself thinking about normal—just a couple of guys in a kitchen, having breakfast. Usually when he was with Jeremy they were in some kind of super-fancy hotel and breakfast was an event, but this was just a house (albeit a funky one) with ordinary food in the fridge. If it hadn't been for the occasional flash of scar above the waistband of Jeremy's pants—Simon's fingers drifted down and touched the fading splat of scar under the left side of his own ribcage, as if he needed reminding of who he was.

      "I'd thought we might as well go down into the town while the housekeeper is here," Jeremy said. He popped one last raspberry into his mouth and sucked a bit of berry juice off his thumb. "She isn't due until after lunch, though, so we've the morning to waste."

      "Yeah," Simon said. "Hey, Archer?"


      "Do me a favor?"

      "Oh, dear."

      "Do..." Simon made a small frustrated gesture. "Do something interesting."

      Jeremy paused. "In the interests of keeping the peace I'll have to ask just how you meant that—"

      "I mean..." Simon paused. How did he mean that? "I don't know. Show off a little, maybe. Do something Archer-ish at me."

      "Oh, and now you want me to show off," Jeremy said, running water into his empty bowl and abandoning it in the sink. "What brought this on?"

      Simon shrugged. "Whim?"

      "I see." Considering, Jeremy rose up onto the balls of his feet, balanced there for a moment, and then dropped again. "Honestly, Simon, just when I think I've got you figured—" and he hopped up to sit on the edge of the counter. For a moment all he did was wriggle in place, which was definitely interesting but not what Simon had had in mind. Once he was done wriggling Jeremy brought his feet up, stretching his legs out straight in front of him, his pointed toes almost but not quite touching Simon's hip.

      "That's not really all that impressive," Simon said, making a vague grab for the closer of Jeremy's feet.

      Jeremy laughed and twitched his foot away from Simon's hand. "It wasn't meant to be."

      "So you're a failure, that's what you're saying."

      "Of course. I thought you knew." Jeremy's legs parted with a whisper of shifting silk. Shifting his weight back Jeremy spread his legs wide, which went from 'hot' to 'vaguely disturbing' as they opened past the place where Simon generally thought that legs ought to stop. Finally Jeremy's legs were a perfect straight line along the edge of the countertop, the front split coincidentally giving him a package out of all proportion to what Simon knew was in there. "Will that do?"

      Simon considered this pose for a long moment. "You fall off there and you'll break your face on the floor," he finally said, shaking his head.

      "So... catch me," Jeremy said, with a little shrug.

      In the interests of safety Simon stepped away from the counter and put himself squarely in the way, which also put him squarely in the center of the kitchen. Jeremy swayed forward and caught himself with his arms around Simon's neck, which made Simon grunt and stumble forward a step, into range; Jeremy's legs promptly snapped shut about Simon's ribs, blanketing him in silky pajama stuff. "I still stink," Simon said in warning.

      "I don't mind," Jeremy said. He lifted himself off the counter and hung from Simon's neck for a moment before nonchalantly sliding down Simon like he was some kind of fireman's pole. By the time Jeremy's feet touched the floor Simon's pajama pants had been hitched down to ride perilously low on his hips. "There." Jeremy let go. "Satisfied?"

      "Think so," Simon said, hitching up his pants. Patting Jeremy's ass (because, after all, it was right there) Simon eased himself past. He felt better, in some weird way. "Shower now, I think."

      "Mm," said Jeremy, standing in the center of the kitchen, looking perfectly normal, watching him go.


      It was actually somewhat surprising when Simon managed to get all the way through his shower without the onset of company. He'd been expecting company. He wasn't totally sure if he wanted it—showering with someone else was often pleasant, but sometimes a man just wanted to get clean and get on with his day, dammit. So really, he was mostly relieved at the lack of Jeremy in his shower, and only a little disgruntled.

      Clean and dry Simon wrapped a towel around his waist and went in search of clean clothes. He stopped in the doorway, momentarily disconcerted: Jeremy was sitting crosslegged on the bed with his hands loose in his lap, and his gaze was... somewhat intent, to say the least. "Hey," Simon said, uncertain of why he felt so awkward all of a sudden.

      Jeremy's response was a predictable "Mm" and a slow sweeping look that took in Simon from head to toe. His little smile bloomed and grew.

      "What?" Simon said, nettled.

      "Ah, nothing." Jeremy hopped up off the bed and just like that the sudden mood disintegrated, leaving Simon in the lurch. "If you're feeling up to it, I'd thought perhaps we could walk down to the town and have lunch. The weather seems likely to cooperate, at least long enough for us to get there."

      Simon snorted. "Feeling up to it, huh."

      "Well. With the altitude and all."

      "Oh. Right." Simon scruffed his fingers through his damp hair. "Yeah, sure, sounds good. Should we go now?"

      "That would probably be best, yes."

      "Great. I'll just—" Simon twitched towards the dresser, then stopped, weirdly unwilling to drop his towel. It made him cranky with himself. Defiantly he yanked off the towel and threw it into the bathroom. "I'll just get dressed," he said.

      Jeremy only smiled. "Yes, that would probably be for the best," he said, disappearing into the closet.


      Bravado aside, the walk to town was harder than Simon had been expecting. Sure, it was only two miles and downhill to boot, but the altitude confused his brain and upset his lungs; through an effort of will he did not actually pant, but he was breathing a little more quickly than he'd have liked. He was already not looking forward to the uphill return trip at all.

      Jeremy, of course, seemed utterly unaffected, strolling along by Simon's side like they were at sea level and had all the oxygen they could ever want. He was kind enough to let Simon puff along in peace, only occasionally pausing to comment on some bit of scenery. They'd barely said fifty words to each other by the time they walked into the town, or what passed for the town, anyway. La Cortinada was a little string of squarish buildings jumbled together at the foot of a mountain, almost all of them made from that same brownish-gray stone. It all looked ordinary and yet somehow ineffably foreign. Pretty, though. Definitely that.

      They had a lazy lunch in a restaurant attached to a tiny hotel—it was fine, as far as Simon could tell—and then wandered around the town a little. It didn't take long. If La Cortinada had more than forty buildings in it, it was news to Simon. There was a little nature center, which was neat, and one of those incredibly ancient European churches, which was okay, and then they were more or less done. "Do you want to head back?" Jeremy asked, checking his watch.

      Simon looked away up the hill and blew out a breath. "Yeah," he said, marshaling his strength and what he could find of his breath. "Yeah, let's do that."

      They got about twenty steps up the road before the rain swept across them both like someone drawing a curtain, forcing them both back under an overhang. It was a fine, light drizzle, the kind that could keep going for hours before it stopped. Jeremy made a tch'ing sound under his breath and reached into his jacket. "Or perhaps I'll just call us a taxicab."

      "That'd probably be best." Simon tried not to sound as relieved as he felt, but given the amused way that Jeremy glanced at him past the edge of his phone, he hadn't done so good a job.


      The housekeeper had been and gone by the time the taxi dropped them off in front of the house. The dishes were gone from the sink, put back in the cabinets where they belonged. Everything smelled clean, and—Simon checked—the fridge had been conscientiously restocked. Simon had always felt a little weird about paying someone else to clean up after him, but really, he couldn't argue with the results.

      He ran upstairs, stripping off his sweater as he went. The bed had been made, the messed-up sheets changed, and the incriminating bathroom wastebasket emptied, which embarrassed Simon for about half a second. "I'm gonna go ramble around a little," he said, grabbing a hoodie from his small stash of clothes. "You can come, if you want."

      Jeremy glanced at the windows. "I believe I'll stay in, if it's all the same to you."

      "Suit yourself," Simon said, putting up the hood as he thumped back downstairs.

      The rain was cool but light enough that the hoodie mostly warded it off. Aggravated by the altitude Simon forced himself up the slope of the hill behind the house, pushing himself until he was breathing hard enough to hear it—he was going to get used to this altitude or die trying, he'd decided, although for a moment it looked like it was going to be the latter. There was a broken rock jutting from the hill halfway up the slope and Simon collapsed onto it in relief. The standing water soaked through Simon's jeans on the instant but he couldn't bring himself to care.

      Everywhere he went, everywhere he looked, he saw a different jumbled panorama of mountains and green. The occasional swathe of dandelions was the brightest thing around. After catching his breath—a little before, actually, but he was getting cranky with how long it was taking—Simon stood up again and pushed on up to the top of the hill.

      Once he was there, there was a mountain pretty much directly in his face. At this level it was all piles of overgrown broken rocks and hanging roots, and Simon was climbing the mess before he thought about what he was doing. The first few steps were simple enough and the rock was cool and wet under his fingers; by the time he had to stop and think about where to put his feet next, he was thirty feet up. Simon dropped onto his ass on his current rock and took stock. From up here the house looked even more like a random pile of stones that someone had covered with a roof as a practical joke. The little flash of red that was Jeremy's car sat parked on a patch of asphalt behind it. Simon could see most of that long and rambling wall from here, too: it encompassed a fairly random rectangle of land, for no good reason. The land inside the wall looked exactly like the land outside it, and in some places the wall had fallen down and not been replaced; someone had built it to lay claim once, that was all.

      Simon's butt was numb from the chill by the time he moved on, edging back down the mountainside with a great deal more care than he'd gone up it. For some reason the threat of slipping and crashing all the way back down seemed a lot more real on the descent; still, he made it to the hilltop without incident, and slid back down to ground level from there. He was sodden and puffing, chilled and sweaty both, but he felt a lot better.

      He jogged across what passed as the house's side yard and let himself in. His sneakers he abandoned inside the hall closet, and after some reflection he shucked off his hoodie and hung it up to dry as well. Plucking at the waistband of his jeans he debated leaving them in here, too, but it seemed wrong, somehow. Everything he was wearing was at least damp. A change of clothes was in order. Simon picked his way up the stairs, wincing at how the damp denim clutched at the insides of his thighs.

      He was going past one of the other bedrooms when a soft sound from inside caught his attention. Simon stuck his head in. A few small bits of exercise equipment lay here and there: a yoga mat, a pair of those awful yuppie traveling dumbbells that you were supposed to fill with water before using, and some kind of stool-looking thing that Simon didn't recognize. Jeremy was doing chin-ups on a bar set across the open bathroom doorway, his fists together, his legs tucked neatly up underneath him. He didn't stop, but he flashed Simon an absent little smile between one chin-up and the next.

      Simon leaned against the door frame and watched, his wet jeans momentarily forgotten. It was like watching a piston, or a metronome: Jeremy just went on and on, casual as anything, showing no signs of slacking or tiring. After a while Simon noticed that he was counting in the back of his mind, and the count hit thirty-seven before Jeremy slowed to a stop at the top of his arc, holding himself up there like it was no big deal. Which it probably wasn't. "So that's how you keep your girlish figure," Simon said.

      "That's how," Jeremy said, bringing his knees up to his chest. He didn't even sound all that out of breath. "I suppose you were entertaining some fantasy about steroids and plastic surgery."

      "I wouldn't call it a fantasy, really." Simon went in and picked up one of the sloshy yuppie dumbbells. It wasn't all that heavy, unsurprisingly.

      Jeremy continued doing his stomach crunches, trying to knee himself in the chest over and over. "You're welcome to borrow whatever you like."

      "Eh, these are kind of piddly," Simon said, doing a couple of experimental arm curls. "Guess there's only so much weight you can get with water."

      "It's true," said Jeremy, somehow managing to shrug in the middle of a crunch. "They do pack well, though."

      Simon grunted in agreement. Watching Jeremy from the corner of his eyes, he did a few more reps, just because he'd started and didn't want to look like a quitter; finally he got bored with it and put the weight back down. "Need a shower," he said, heading for the door.

      "Really?" Behind him Jeremy thumped lightly to the ground. "What a coincidence."


      Barely five minutes later Simon found himself shoved up against the back wall of the shower with Jeremy's mouth hard on his and Jeremy's soap-slick hand tight around his cock—he'd been expecting it and looking forward to it, both, and he was of the opinion that there was no better way to warm up than this.

      Jeremy broke the kiss with a twisted little smile, the water washing his hair into his eyes and making him a stranger again. This time, expecting it, Simon just pushed Jeremy's hair back again and got on with things.


      The days before set the tone for the days to follow. Simon had never been very good at entertaining himself but somehow, here, it was easy: he slept late, rambled around in the wild, watched DVDs, napped, ate mysterious meals, availed himself of Jeremy's exercise equipment, and got himself laid at least once every few hours. Three days in and he was more or less accustomed to the altitude, his lungs having given up and adjusted to the oxygen level; five days in and Simon was relaxed and calm, almost smug, having fucked himself into a state of repletion that, fortunately, never lasted for too long.

      Everything sort of blurred together after a while, although it was a good kind of blur, one that Simon could look back on later with satisfaction. A few mental snapshots stuck with him, moments of clarity that packed enough punch to resist fading, at least for a while: Jeremy down on his knees in front of him while Simon leaned back against the kitchen counter, unwilling to protest that he'd only come in here for beer; Jeremy on top of him in the darkness, working his cock in and out of Simon's hands while his mouth opened and closed and said nothing at all; Jeremy sprawled out across the bed with his wrists pinned to the mattress, goading Simon even further with a thin and vicious smile like the edge of a knife-cut; Jeremy underneath him in the aftermath, his back hot and sweaty against Simon's chest, his breathing thickening and slowing. These were the memories that would tide Simon over until the next time Jeremy dropped by on his way to Russia or South Africa or Japan or wherever the hell. They'd keep Simon hiding a smile behind his coffee mug for months.

      Jeremy had pushed Simon up against the back of the house and blown him right there in the great outdoors in front of God and nobody, with the rain spattering lazily over them both—Simon had just finished buttoning up his jeans and Jeremy still had the back of his hand pressed to his lips when the housekeeper's battered little car pulled in and parked next to Jeremy's, and the two of them escaped to town just barely choking back laughter. Some random jet-lag backlash had woken Simon in the middle of the night and he'd decided to see how far he could get without waking Jeremy—he'd thought he was doing so well, too, until he'd pulled back with his mouth full of come and Jeremy stopped feigning sleep long enough to give him such an amused look. The sheets got messy and the trashcan filled up and the nightstand drawer emptied out and Simon was never quite without that low ache in his overworked balls any more, an ache that was actually kind of pleasant and easy to ignore—Simon wore that ache like a badge of achievement, putting on his underwear with extra care after a shower and wincing through a grin as he jostled his balls into place. It didn't stop him. Hell, it barely slowed him down.

      Contrary to Jeremy's pronouncement on the first day, the rain stuck around. And stuck around. And stuck around. Simon didn't particularly care—he hadn't exactly come to Andorra for the hiking—but the endless grayness got to be kind of oppressive after a while. Simon found himself turning on lights in the middle of the day and falling asleep on the couch in front of the television (which could be risky, with Jeremy around). In the end, though, he came to terms with it. It was relaxing, in its way, and it wasn't like he had much choice.


      On the night that the inevitable finally occurred Simon came down to dinner in his pajama pants, fresh from his post-workout shower and not inclined to get dressed again, particularly since he had expectations for the rest of the evening. Jeremy raised an eyebrow at Simon's ensemble but smilingly declined to comment; it wasn't until Simon was rinsing his dinner dishes off in the sink that Jeremy drifted up behind him and bit his shoulder, not too hard, just as an editorial comment on his dishabille. It made Simon snicker. "Hey," he said, turning around and looping an arm around Jeremy's waist. "Quit that."

      Jeremy thought about it. "No," he finally said, with a little flick of smile, and he leaned forward and bit Simon's shoulder again, this time from the other side.

      "Am I going to have to make you quit?" Simon said, threading the fingers of his other hand in Jeremy's hair, just in case.

      Jeremy thought about that, too. "I suppose I could be reasoned with," he said. "Given an alternative."

      Simon snorted out a laugh. "You make it too easy, you know that?" He cleared his throat: "Oh, I'll give you an alternative," he announced, and he stopped up that vicious biting mouth with his own.

      Jeremy's own laugh was little more than a hum against Simon's lips. His hands curled over Simon's hips, two fingers toying absently with a fold of Simon's pajama pants—but they'd both gotten laid so much over the past week that there wasn't any hurry in it, no real need yet, and Simon was content to lean back against the sink and let things take their lazy course for a while. The drawstring of Simon's pants stayed tied, and while Jeremy's t-shirt might have eventually ended up puddling on the kitchen floor, it was dropped there, not thrown there.

      They made their way upstairs long before they needed to, a little snake of anticipation starting to coil in Simon's gut, nudging him to stop Jeremy halfway up the stairs and push him up against the plaster. Still, they couldn't stay there forever. Eventually Jeremy slipped out from between Simon and the wall and vanished, silent in shadow, the only trace of him a lingering warm Jeremy-scent in the air—but Simon was pretty sure that he knew where Jeremy had gone.

      He was right, too. They caught each other on the far side of the bedroom door and moved from there to the bed, still lazy, still in control. Sitting on the edge of the bed Simon craned up into the ongoing kiss and fiddled Jeremy's belt free while Jeremy stepped neatly out of his shoes.

      However it happened—whether Jeremy pushed him there or not—Simon wound up pushed back against the headboard (the iron was shockingly cold against his bare back for a few seconds before warming to match his skin) with Jeremy sprawled out on top of him, occupying the space between Simon's upraised knees. And okay, now Simon was starting to feel a little less lazy, so he started fiddling with the buttons of Jeremy's pants, thinking about how he'd last come barely three hours ago so he was going to have some staying power and so maybe he'd better keep it throttled back a little so that he didn't wear himself out in the process.

      Jeremy slithered away long enough to slip out of his pants and ease Simon out of his own. When he moved back up he wound up straddling Simon's thighs, which seemed like a pretty damned clear suggestion—Simon grabbed for the drawer in the nightstand where the supplies were. His fingers scrabbled blindly around until they lit on the little bottle, which Simon flicked out and tossed to Jeremy—"Hey, think fast!"—before reaching into the drawer again. This time, though, his fingers hit nothing but bare wood. Simon frowned and groped around.

      A few seconds later Jeremy's hand closed into a loose fist with a little wet sound. Leaning past Simon Jeremy put the bottle down on the nightstand, his lips closing on the point of Simon's jaw just under his ear, his slick hand closing on Simon's cock—after ten seconds of increasingly-incredulous searching Simon was forced to conclude that there wasn't a single condom left in the drawer. "Can't believe this," Simon muttered, patting at the bottom of the drawer just in case he'd somehow missed one tucked away in a corner.

      "Can't believe what?" Jeremy murmured against Simon's ear.

      Simon started to answer, but Jeremy did something clever with his fingers that turned the answer into a throttled "Gnf." instead. "Fresh out of latex," Simon said hoarsely, when he could. "Shit."

      Jeremy's hand paused, three fingers curled over Simon's balls, the middle flicking lightly back and forth over the ticklish little spot just behind them. "We were going through them at quite a clip," Jeremy said, following up this stunning unhelpfulness with a little bite to Simon's jaw.

      Simon caught both of Jeremy's biceps in his hands, but couldn't quite bring himself to sit Jeremy back and lose that hand. Instead he hissed in a breath and shifted his hips up into the touch, his cock bouncing off his belly. "Don't suppose you have a couple of spares tucked away for, for emergencies," he managed.

      "Afraid not," said Jeremy, now working two fingers ever so lightly against that spot, making a muscle in Simon's thigh jump.

      Simon swallowed to throttle back the little quivering laugh that was threatening. One of Jeremy's fingers skittered back and rubbed into him by just a fraction of an inch, dissolving half his muscles in static, and then just like that it was gone again. Simon shivered. "Guess we'll just... just have to do something else."

      "Or we could just—" Jeremy rolled up against him, warm and heavy, his cock brushing against Simon's and picking up a thin sheen of slick stuff. "—do without."

      Even at this level of distraction the idea made Simon twitch and snort out a laugh. "Yeah, no."


      "No." Simon put an arm around Jeremy's shoulders to keep him right where he was. "Right now I'm thinking you can just keep doing that—"

      "What?" Jeremy's fingers slid back again. "This?"

      Simon hissed and shifted again, giving Jeremy's fingers room. "Yeah."

      "I suppose I could." And for a few gloriously dirty moments he did, fingers flirting with the idea of burying themselves in Simon, wrist pressed down against Simon's balls, forearm on one side of Simon's cock and his own cock on the other—it all managed to be great without quite ever being enough and Simon made little noises and tried to shift himself into better positions, and he was still trying when Jeremy's fingers stilled and slid free with one last long drawn-out stroke that made Simon shudder. "But I'm just not sure it's safe enough," Jeremy purred.

      Distracted as he was, Simon needed a second to parse this. When he did, though, his eyes popped open. "Jesus, don't be a bastard about this—"

      "I'm only trying to respect your choices," Jeremy said, amusement now plain in his voice. "Since safety is such a priority for you—"

      "—sonofabitch this is not funny—"

      Jeremy's hand dotted off Simon's chest as he pushed himself upright, leaving behind five clear and glistening fingerprints. "Of course it's not funny," he said. "Your health is the most important thing, after all, and I'm happy to respect that—"

      "You are such an asshole," Simon said. He was still crumpled into a painfully-turned-on heap against the headboard, spotted with lube and a few dots of other things here and there, starting to feel the burn of thwarted, insulted anger deep down—"Yeah, so I'm uncomfortable with that idea, so fucking what? It's not like we can't do something else—"

      "And we will," Jeremy said, curling a hand around his own cock, his eyes drifting shut. He gave it a long, careful stroke, the muscles in his thighs shifting as he thrust into his own hand, and despite Simon's anger he had to admit that it was a hell of a sight. "Give you an eyeful," Jeremy said, his smile flickering on his face. "All you have to do is watch." Simon subsided, pacified by this lure—Christ, but that wasn't the worst substitute, really, when he got right down to it—and he'd probably have just gone for it if Jeremy hadn't added, "I'm sure that it doesn't come much safer than that."

      "Ha, ha," Simon said sourly, sitting up a bit just so that Jeremy's 'eyeful' didn't turn literal. He'd had come in his eye before and it wasn't an experience he was eager to repeat. "You're still a bastard," Simon added. "Trying to manipulate me into barebacking you, Jesus."

      "Mm." Jeremy worked his cock in relative silence for a few more seconds, his breath going a bit ragged around the edges. "I suppose you're right," he finally said. His eyes drifted closed and his mouth fell open. "My apologies."

      Simon dropped his hand on his own cock, scrubbing his palm roughly down its length to pacify it, which worked for a whole couple of seconds. "Trying to make me feel guilty for wanting to be safe," he muttered, eyes glued to Jeremy's little show. "I mean, okay, you probably don't have any dread diseases, I'd have noticed by now, but still."

      "Mmmmmm." It wasn't so much an answer as it was just one of those little Jeremy noises. The clouds outside caught what little light there was and bounced it back, dyeing the room and the bed and Jeremy all the same indeterminate grayish color, just bright enough to pick out the shifting of his chest as he breathed and the slight rocking of his hips as he pushed up into his own hand, which was still working at a measured pace on his cock—"I nn don't know where I'd have caught them," Jeremy finally said, his voice airless and hoarse. "You're the only person I sleep with these days."

      "Yeah," Simon said, thoroughly distracted. His cock nudged impatiently against his palm and he stroked it again. "Same here."

      Jeremy's eyelids flickered, his eyes glinting at Simon like two sparks before they closed again. "And even if you did have some sort of... disease, well..." He switched hands on his cock, his newly-freed hand cupping his balls. "... I suppose I've mmn already swallowed more than enough of your come to have caught it."

      Simon coughed out a little laugh and glanced away for a fraction of a second before 'horny' trumped 'embarrassed' and he looked back. "Guess there's that," he said, catching up his dick in a loose grip. "But still."

      "Still," Jeremy agreed. "It was tacky of me, I suppose..." The hand on his balls speared back and into him and Jeremy hunched forward, his mouth flying open and only the smallest sound coming out of it.

      That tiny, breathless "Guh!" was almost drowned out by Simon's simultaneous, answering "Gnh." Simon shook his head a little, to clear it. "Fuck," he said under his breath, unable to resist working his cock a couple of times as he watched Jeremy fuck himself with his own fingers, which never failed to get his heart rate up... "Don't think I don't know what you're doing," Simon grated out. "It's not going to work."

      Jeremy pulled in a long and hitching breath. "Another minute or so and it won't have to," he said on the exhale, the little string of words pouring out of him so quickly that they might as well have been a single sound. His shoulders were starting to quiver and after a moment his face tightened, his eyes squeezing shut. It was an expression with which Simon was familiar: it meant that Jeremy was going to come, and soon.

      In the end it was the fact that Jeremy was about to come that did it. It wasn't just a dirty trick any more, if it ever was. Manipulative or not, the little show was now real and now almost over—"Goddammit," Simon said, grabbing both of Jeremy's wrists and pulling his hands away.

      Jeremy's hands came free with a slithery popping sound. The tight expression on Jeremy's face collapsed into surprise and then almost immediately into something akin to pain, and he groaned out an extraordinary sound, his chest hitching arrhythmically. "OhGod," Jeremy said, all one word, his hands clutching at nothing.

      "Yeah, you deserved that," Simon grated out, hauling Jeremy up. "Come on, you wanted it so much, come and get it—"

      Jeremy jerked a hand free of Simon's grip. He caught Simon's cock, pushed it upright between his thighs, and worked himself down onto it, all in one half-desperate movement that forced a strangled "Hah!" sound up and out of his throat. Simon choked right along with him. He didn't know what he'd been expecting but this was pretty much it anyway—he flailed around for a second before grabbing both of Jeremy's hips and pinning him down, which eked out another of those rough-edged groans. Prevented from moving Jeremy clawed fruitlessly at Simon's wrists for a few seconds before collapsing into a panting hulk astride him.

      "Yeah," Simon said hoarsely. He didn't exactly know what to think about this. It felt great, sure, but he wasn't sure it felt great enough (or different enough) to justify the risk—not that there was much risk, really—but still. He kept coming back to that. But still. After a while, though, the pained expression on Jeremy's face started to register. "Shit, sorry," Simon said, gasping out an embarrassed little laugh. "Did I blueball you?"

      "A bit, yes," Jeremy grated out. "I suspect I'll live."

      Simon patted his hip. "I'll make it up to you."

      "Yes," said Jeremy. "I rather suspect that you will." It sounded more like a threat than anything.

      His fingers flexing against Jeremy's hips, Simon attempted a shallow, testing thrust. It drove the breath from his lungs like a well-placed punch: without anything between them there was this low, wet clutch to it that had only ever been a promise with the latex. He thought he could maybe feel the faintest echo of Jeremy's heartbeat and the strange faint flutter of half a dozen muscles—Simon revised his opinion of barebacking on the spot. "Gonna have to let me catch up," he growled, pulling back, pushing in again.

      "If I can." Jeremy touched two fingers to his cock, then hissed out a breath and pulled them away. Instead he leaned forward and caught the iron bedstead in both hands, putting them damned near chest to chest. In the weird half-light from the clouds outside his face was narrow-eyed, unamused, intent—"Go ahead," Jeremy said, a definite challenge in his voice. Blue balls had made someone grumpy, that was for sure. Simon grinned and went for it.

      It was both more and less astonishing than it had any right to be. Between them they had Jeremy braced so firmly that even Simon's best efforts couldn't dislodge him—held him in place so tightly that every thrust sank all the way home. The friction and the drag were both redoubled without the latex to blunt them, and the heat of it, damn—but still, there was that faint and nagging sense that an act with this much psychic weight ought to feel... magical, or apocalyptic, or something. Still, Simon was rapidly losing his ability to think logically about anything, so in the end, it was working fine.

      Jeremy made some small and throttled sound and leaned forward until his head was almost on Simon's shoulder. He was breathing fast and shallow against the side of Simon's neck, cooling the sweat there—Simon shut his eyes, the better to enjoy it.

      When it wasn't enough any more Simon put a hand on Jeremy's shoulder and eased him upright, looking for a better angle. Jeremy let go of the headboard and swayed back, his eyes closed nearly to slits, his teeth buried in his lower lip. For the space of three long strokes he balanced there, hands out, considering Simon from under his lashes... then caught Simon's shoulder in one hand and kept going, falling backwards in slow motion and bringing Simon along after him. Jeremy ended up flat on his back on the bed, both hands hooked loosely around the iron bars at the foot of the bed, with Simon arched forward over him. Simon had one knee on the bed and one foot on the floor, but it was working, so he wasn't going to complain. Jeremy tilted his chin up and Simon leaned down to bite at the front of his throat.

      It went on like that for what felt like hours, always on the verge of being just a little too much. Harder would... probably not hurt, but it didn't seem necessary, not when every little shift of Jeremy's body transmitted itself straight up Simon's dick to his brain—eventually Jeremy pulled one hand away from the bedframe and insinuated it between them, his knuckles scrubbing over Simon's belly as he took himself in hand—Simon found a hand somewhere and added it to the mix, tangling their fingers together around Jeremy's cock. After that it only took seconds—Jeremy stiffened underneath Simon and threw his head back, groaning out a low, hoarse, urgent sound. The space between their linked fingers went slippery as hell.

       Simon watched through slitted eyes. He made a sound that might have been encouragement but suddenly it didn't matter—electricity sparked up his spine in both directions and he choked on his breath and came himself. The sudden slickness of it nearly startled him into stopping before he groaned and gave in to the lure, gentling himself through with a series of quick, rhythmless, shallow strokes made easy by the slickness of his own come. That was new—that was worth every bit of this trouble—the sudden frictionless slide of it transformed what was usually a series of (pleasant) shots to the gut into an arc that built, peaked, and faded away. He slowed to a stop, his muscles tingling like he'd just mainlined a healthy shot of adrenalin, and finally realized the semi-ridiculous pose he'd put himself in, not that he had the coordination to fix it.

      Jeremy was spread out in front of him, occupying most of the bed, breathing a little hard. For a long moment neither of them said anything, too busy reclaiming their scattered thoughts. Simon found himself uncertain of what to do now. In the end he put a hand on Jeremy's knee and just... slid free, for once not having to worry about trapping the condom in place—the ease of it, one last slick stroke along his length, made Simon shudder and blurt out a hoarse "Jesus."

      "Mmmmm," Jeremy said, presumably in agreement. He rolled over onto his side, pillowing his head on one arm—abruptly Simon sat down before his legs could give out. They watched each other in a measuring silence for a few seconds. "I do hope you found it worth the risk," Jeremy finally said, giving the last word a faint and mocking twist.

      "Dunno." Simon ran two fingers up along what was left of his erection and shivered again. "I mean, yeah, but..."

      "But still?" Jeremy said, quirking an eyebrow.

      "Yeah," Simon said. "But still."

      Jeremy closed his eyes. "I'm sure it's fine," he said patiently.

      "I know it's fine," Simon said, a little irritated.

      "You're just superstitious, then?"

      Simon scowled and looked away. "Superstitious, my ass."

      After a moment, Jeremy put his hand on Simon's knee. "I'd just like to reassure you that I did not find that meaningful in any way," he said, his voice suddenly all bell-bright mockery.

      "Christ, don't do that," Simon said, knocking Jeremy's hand away and hunching his shoulders.

      Jeremy laughed and resettled himself—he was still upside down on the bed, looking almost obscenely comfortable. "Have you honestly never done that before?"

      "No? Not really." Simon ran his clean hand through his hair. "Some of us care about our health, after all."

      "... not really," Jeremy said, piercing straight through to the weak point in Simon's argument.

      "Yeah, well. I mean." Simon shrugged. "With girls. When I was in college and stupid, mostly."


      "But not with guys, you know? It's... it's a thing."

      "Yes, I know the thing in question, I believe." Jeremy sighed, then shuffled himself back. "I'd best go clean up if we intend to actually sleep in this bed tonight."

      Simon nodded, watching Jeremy go with some interest. He couldn't be sure, not with the ambient light as dull as it was, but he thought there might be a single glistening snail-track on the back of one of Jeremy's thighs, which gave Simon a misplaced little glow of pride of possession deep in his gut—"Sure."

      That was almost it. He almost got away with it. But when it came to Jeremy, there wasn't really any such thing as 'almost'—Jeremy slowed to a halt standing in the doorway to the bathroom, one hand on the doorframe, and glanced back over his shoulder. "I suspect you wouldn't thank me for mentioning that this makes us monogamous?"

      Simon threw a pillow at him and missed.



Fulfilling a couple of passing requests and also entertaining myself. The story sort of rambles on without a point for a while and then it ends—by the end of High Fidelity a lot of the tension that characterized their relationship had been resolved, so they became more comfortable with each other. Good for them; bad for the narrative.

I actually find this story a little disturbing, and not because of the content. (Hell no, I've got no problems with the content.) See, the actual SotT novels were written in one very specific pared-down simplified voice—but when I started writing the Lacunae and other assorted bits of porn, the 'novel' voice just did not suit. At all. I therefore developed a second voice just for writing SotT porn, something a little more lush and descriptive, and I passed this off as reasonable because I figured that Simon's POV would change when sex was definitely in the offing and his mind focused on it.

That's all well and good. However, by this point, the 'porn' voice has taken on a life of its own, and while I still like it, it doesn't sound all that much like the 'novel' voice—in short, this feels like nothing so much as me writing fanfiction of my own stuff, and that is just weird. I mean, I'm my own worst fangirl and I admit it, but this is definitely another step in the weird direction.

Anyway. Andorra! Why Andorra? Fuck if I know! (One of the things I discovered while writing this story is that Andorra was actually left out of the Animaniacs song 'Yakko's World'. And that's terrible.) I was originally going to set this somewhere in the south of France and then the story ended up wandering, not that I mind. That's how I found Nevis, after all. La Cortinada is a real town; the house is also real (and, like Jeremy, I found it on the internet) but it's located in an entirely different region of Andorra. I relocated it because I could.

The problem with writing SotT is that now I want to go to these random places that I keep writing about.