Shadow of the Templar: Its Rightful Owner

On timeline: some unknown amount of time post-High Fidelity
Spoilers for: everything in general, bits of High Fidelity in particular
Warnings: oh, you know, cursing, violence, criminal activity, abrupt style shifts, tremendous pornography

Auctioned off in the wake of the Haiti earthquake to raise money for the relief effort, this story ended up raising $75 for the Red Cross! That's worth a little something special, isn't it?



      "Well, well, there he is," said Ethan, raising a lazy hand in greeting. A furled umbrella hung jauntily from his other arm, shedding water onto the tiled floor. "Welcome to England, 'Mr. Moorhead'. Or should I say 'cheese it, it's the fuzz'?"

      "The fuzz?" Simon said. "How old are you?"

      Ethan arched one gray-furred eyebrow. "Oh, I'm sorry. Do the young folk call you 'pigs' now?"

      Simon just grinned and dropped his duffel at his feet, shrugging into his jacket. The little train station didn't look significantly different than it had the last time he was here, although the posters had changed. It was too early for the commuter crowd; he'd shared the train with ladies laden down with shopping bags and a few students playing hooky from somewhere. "So, not that it's not good to see you and all," Simon said, "but you're not exactly the ride I was expecting. To, uh, coin a phrase."

      "I'm afraid Jeremy's been unavoidably detained," said Ethan, without so much as a twitch at the double entendre. "Business, you know."

      "Huh. Yeah, I know business. So... business, or—" Simon dropped his voice half an octave "—business?"

      "Just business," Ethan said, his voice perfectly casual. "Shall we go?"


      "Sir James?" the appraiser said, letting himself into the pleasant little waiting room. His eyes swept over Jeremy with refreshing unsubtlety and his entire bearing changed on the instant; six thousand pounds' worth of bespoke suit and an Eton tie were apparently worth at least ten degrees of warmth, if Jeremy were any judge. "I'm terribly sorry to have kept you waiting, sir."

      "It's quite all right," Jeremy said, stiffly waving that away. "I understand that you must be very busy."

      "Hopefully your wait won't be quite so awful in the future," said the appraiser, with a professionally hungry glint in his eye that promised exactly that. "Would you like something to drink before we begin?"

      Jeremy glanced away. "No, no," he said vaguely, turning his eyes on the (really quite phenomenally awful) paintings on the wall while the other man took his seat on the other side of the desk. Jeremy cleared his throat, still gazing off at the paintings, aping mild embarrassment. "I'm afraid it's a bit of a delicate matter, really."

      "I can certainly promise you my discretion, sir."

      Jeremy didn't quite smile, although he let the ramrod stiffness of his spine relax an iota. "Well, ah, you see..." After a moment of hemming and hawing—God, but 'Sir James Holyoke' was a stick-in-the-mud—Jeremy steepled his fingers in front of his chest and temporised with, "My father, God rest his soul, kept a very careful record of every last bit of jewellery that ever he bought my mother. For the estate, you know. He was very punctilious."

      "Admirable," the appraiser murmured, his manner warming a bit further at the mention of more jewellery.

      "In any case, when we were settling the estate, every piece was properly documented and authenticated, save this one." With a little frown Jeremy reached into his terribly-expensive jacket, fetching out a square black velvet case. "We've no records of this one at all, not anywhere—I haven't the faintest idea where it came from, or even if the stones are real, but it was in my mother's jewellery safe with, ah, all the other valuable pieces." Clearing his throat, Jeremy pushed the case across the desk, glancing from side to side as if to assure himself that they were not observed.

      The appraiser picked it up and flipped it open, his eyebrows lifting in professional respect for the glitter of it. The rubies were fakes, as Jeremy knew quite well, but quite good fakes, and even so the necklace was a breathtaking piece. "I see," said the appraiser, closing the box again. "And you'd like us to verify its, ah, provenance?"

      "Quietly, if you could," said Jeremy, closing his eyes for a moment.

      "Of course, Sir James." The other man's smile was equally understanding, even as the taste of scandal made him wet his lips with his tongue. "I'm afraid it will take at least a day to fully authenticate the necklace—perhaps longer, if its origins prove, ah, murky. And if the stones are real, of course, we recommend that you hire a professional gemmological firm to do a full appraisal."

      Jeremy bowed his head in agreement. "Yes," he said faintly. "That would be sensible, I suppose."

      "I shall make you out a receipt." The appraiser pulled open a drawer and fetched out a small digital camera.


      England was as gray as ever, unsurprisingly. Ethan flicked open his umbrella without making the slightest gesture towards sharing it with Simon, making his sedate way across the parking lot; Simon ducked his chin into the collar of his jacket and followed, squinting against the mist. It wasn't actually raining, not in the falling-drops-of-water sense, but Simon was still damp to the skin by the time Ethan deigned to open the car door for him. "Nice weather," Simon said, mostly for the hell of it.

      "We save it up just for you," said Ethan, starting the car. It wasn't one of Jeremy's sweet little sports cars, but it definitely had the tang of money to it. Simon could just tell. Ethan maneuvered the car out of the lot and into traffic with an all-too-familiar restraint. "At any rate," Ethan said once he had the car moving, "Jeremy's promised to be back by this evening, although he did say that he couldn't promise to be back in time for dinner."

      "Once his business is concluded," Simon said, with only mild sarcasm.

      "Precisely," said Ethan, with none at all.


      Jeremy tucked his receipt and the four pictures of the necklace into his jacket, then stiffly rose from his chair. The appraiser stood with alacrity. "A pleasure, Sir James, and you have my word that I shall act with the utmost discretion."

      Pretending to a vague and embarrassed relief, Jeremy shook the offered hand. His heart was already speeding. "Thank you very much—I do appreciate it, and I shall see you tomorrow. Ah... before I go, is there a washroom I might use?"

      "Of course! Just down that hallway, on the left."

      "Wonderful, thank you," said Jeremy, already turning to go. The appraiser carried the necklace away with some mild pomp, which Jeremy only barely noticed; his mind was on the minutes ahead.

      Locking the door of the washroom behind himself, Jeremy loosened his tie, just a little, and dropped 'Sir James Holyoke' like he was shedding an overly-starched shirt. It was still the stiff-lipped Sir James who looked back at him from the mirror, of course, but underneath the slight disguise, he was all Jeremy once again. So far, so good. Jeremy leaned against the door and listened to the hallway noises outside while he pulled on a pair of latex gloves, flexing his fingers until the gloves sat just right. "Nine nine two, eight seven eight," he murmured under his breath, pulling a tiny black box from his pocket. Once upon a time it had been a remote trigger for a digital camera—now, its signal boosted, it was a remote trigger for something else entirely. "Nine nine two, eight seven eight—"

      Abruptly the hallway outside fell silent, momentarily deserted. Jeremy pointed the remote trigger at the ceiling and pressed the button, then dropped it back into his pocket. "Nine nine two, eight seven eight," he breathed, even as he let himself back out of the washroom and crossed the hall.

      He spared half a moment to glance at the security camera in the corner. The green light was, indeed, off. Excellent. Fifteen minutes of tape to spare, and no one in the hallway—Jeremy ducked in through the EMPLOYEES ONLY door and trotted off down the much-less-attractive back hallway, moving as fast as he dared. He could claim to have got lost looking for the washroom if he were caught now, but not if he were running.

      The storage room was protected by a very impressive-looking steel door with a numerical keypad beside it. Impressive-looking, certainly, but liable to be absolutely useless if the pass-code weren't changed ever so often. Jeremy, currently painfully aware of his surroundings, didn't even have to look to know that the hallway was still deserted in both directions; he darted for the keypad and rolled his fingers over it, typing in the six-digit code. The light over the keypad flashed from red to green and the door rumbled open. A flash of triumph jolted up Jeremy's spine even as he slipped into the darkness behind the door.

      The door rumbled shut again as the room's lights flickered on, brilliant blue-white halogen lights meant to pick out every last facet of a gem. Jeremy winced and shielded his eyes against the glare, yanking down his tie with his free hand and popping open the topmost button of his shirt. The burnished gleam of champagne pearls shone from the resulting gap, a surreal and oddly feminine contrast with the conservative severity of 'Sir James's suit.

      The necklace he'd come for was in the middle drawer, which was entirely unlocked, although a piddling little keyed lock stood open at one corner. This particular auction house prided itself more on its long history of discreet service to the various toffs of England than it did on its excellent security, although Jeremy had the feeling that that would change soon enough. Even now, in his hurry, Jeremy had to take a moment to appreciate the pearl choker at hand: six strands of pearls interspersed with the occasional delicate gold spacer, in graduated sizes ranging from grain of rice to pea, in colours ranging from palest champagne to cafe au lait. He'd always liked pearls, for all that they were a terrible pain to get rid of afterwards. He shook his head slightly and snatched the pearls from their box, then yanked aside his high shirt collar.

      Frankly, the imitation pearls wouldn't fool anyone for more than two seconds, but sometimes every second counted—Jeremy flicked open the catch and lifted off the fake necklace, dropping it into the box in exchange. The real necklace went about his neck, the six strands of pearls rising high on his throat like a collar. Safer there than anywhere else, and, for some reason, it was the last place a security guard would be likely to look. Jeremy buttoned his shirt back over them.

      The completed appraisal was folded beneath the pearls' box, already signed and notarised, waiting for the necklace's owner. Jeremy filched the papers and stuffed them into the inside pocket of his jacket. A rather more appropriate set of papers took their place under the box, and he was just settling his tie back into place when the door hissed open again behind him, making him freeze in his tracks. Someone caught her breath, startled. "Oh! Oh, dear," she started to say, "I didn't—"

      Know anyone was in here, she had probably been about to say, but Jeremy's hand darted back over his shoulder before she could complete the sentence. The gas caught her full in the face; she made a faint and trembling sound and collapsed into a heap on the floor.

      "Oh, damn!" Jeremy leaped forward and caught her by both wrists, dragging her into the vault. The door hissed shut. "My apologies," he muttered, rolling the white-coated technician under the appraisal bench. Her skirt rode up around her thighs, and with a faint embarrassed wince Jeremy pulled it back down before abandoning her there.


      The ride back to Ethan's passed pleasantly enough, mostly in a gray and oddly comfortable silence. Ethan's attention was almost wholly on the road; Simon's attention was neatly blunted by the onset of his jet lag, although the fact that the passenger seat was on the left-hand side of the car made it almost impossible for him to doze off. Once or twice he found himself groping for a steering wheel that wasn't there.

      "So," Simon said, after ten or fifteen minutes. "Do I get to see the rest of the house this time, or will it still eat me?"

      "I assure you that you're welcome to go anywhere in the house you like," said Ethan. The steering wheel slid through his fingers with a little hissing sound.

      "That's big of you, but long experience with Jeremy has taught me to notice that that's not quite a straight answer."

      Ethan's momentary smile was fleeting, but it was there. "I suppose so."

      "So..." Simon waited.

      Ethan sighed. "The, ah, extra precautions won't be online, no. I do turn on the ordinary alarms before I go to bed, but Jeremy can show you how to work the keypad."


      "I expect it won't be an issue in any case," Ethan said. "I've decided to put you out back in the guest cottage—"

      "—you have a guest cottage?—"

      "—instead of in one of the upstairs suites," Ethan finished, just as if Simon hadn't said anything. "So you probably needn't worry about the house's alarm at all."

      "The guest cottage," Simon marveled. "Christ. Crime does not pay, et cetera."

      "So they say."

      "What did I do to deserve this honor?"

      Ethan's smile returned, now just a bit tight. "Oh, it isn't what you've done. It's what you likely will do."


      "By putting you out in the guest cottage, I've assured us all—" Ethan barely hesitated "—our respective privacy."

      Jet-lagged as he was, it took him a minute. Once Simon got it, though, he seized up for half a second, not sure if he wanted to choke to death on laughter or just flat-out die of embarrassment. In the end, he sort of did both, smirking at his ghostly reflection in the car window, floating over the rolling green-and-gray of whatever part of England this was. "... oh. Gotcha."

      "'Gotcha' indeed," Ethan said, still utterly pleasant.


      Really, if he hadn't been painfully aware of the mess he'd left behind, Jeremy could have laughed at the metal detectors at the entrance. They might be some sort of deterrent against your average stick-up artist, he supposed, but the metal detectors were backed only by an older gentleman from a security firm who was diffidently polite about searching people's bags as they came and went. Searching bags, yes, but certainly not patting anyone down, or checking anything that wasn't bag-shaped—Jeremy was momentarily sorry that he hadn't dropped five or six choice pieces into his furled umbrella, just to teach this portly fellow a thing or two about how a real thief went about subtracting things from places.

      The security guard was just opening up a briefcase belonging to another customer when Jeremy, now firmly 'Sir James' once again, strode stiffly up to the metal detectors. He ducked through with a slight, aggravated wince, like he found the blasted things to be annoying. (Which Jeremy did, but not for the same reason that Sir James might.) "I'll be right with you, sir," said the security guard.

      Momentarily Jeremy considered grumbling and pushing on by, but it was best not to cause a fuss if he could help it—"Yes, of course," Jeremy said, schooling his voice to irritated absence and switching his umbrella to his other hand.

      The guard made a brave attempt to discreetly search the open briefcase without giving offence or looking too long at its contents (really, Jeremy didn't envy him that job) and then closed it and pushed it across to its owner. "Thank you, sir," he said.

      The briefcase's owner accepted his violated bag with a slight frown, then hesitated. "Excuse, please, but what is the best way to get back to M25?" he asked, his English halting and accented.

      Shifting from foot to foot, Jeremy waited as patiently as he could through the ensuing explanations. Between the one man's stilted English and the other man's increasingly convoluted descriptions of the London streets, the conversation spun out to a perfectly ridiculous length—Jeremy, fighting against an ever-rising tide of adrenalin, thought it must have lasted for almost a century before it ended, neither of its participants particularly satisfied with the outcome. "Thank you," said the briefcase's owner, frowning dubiously as he headed out through the building's heavy front doors.

      "Sorry about your wait, sir," said the guard, half-bowing in apology. "No bags today, then?"

      "No, just this," said Jeremy, putting the umbrella down on the counter in front of the guard and glancing at the doors. The guard, he was vaguely amused to note, barely glanced at the umbrella before smiling and gesturing Jeremy on his way—

      The scream was thin and muted, but still very clear. Both Jeremy and the security guard glanced in that direction, then the guard frowned and touched a button on his console. The front doors both locked with a sudden thunk of bolts shooting home, clearly audible even over the rising babble of voices from deeper within the building. Jeremy's heart thudded against his ribs, once. "I'm terribly sorry, sir," said the guard, wincing at this distressing lack of manners on his part, "but I'll have to see what the trouble is before I can clear you to go. I do hope you don't mind waiting just a moment."

      Jeremy shut his eyes, then opened them again. No bloody help for it at all. "Actually," he said, "I'm afraid I do—" and he jerked his right hand back, hitting the guard in the face with another blast of the gas.

      The man fell like a stone. Snatching up his umbrella Jeremy leaned over the counter and smacked the panic button with the back of his wrist, even as the babble of excited voices got closer. The bolts snapped back—stupid, stupid alarm design, fortunately—and Jeremy slammed out of the front doors just as the doors behind him crashed open and every alarm in the place went off at once. "Hold it!" someone yelled behind him. Jeremy wasn't inclined to do so.


      The massive old house looked pretty much the same, as did the garage and, ultimately, the immense and frightening kitchen. "Are you hungry?" Ethan asked, dropping his wet umbrella into a discreet little canister by the garage door. "It'll be several hours 'til dinner, and I'd hate for you to starve."

      "I could eat," Simon said, turning on his heel to take in the familiar kitchen. It hadn't changed much. "I mean, I had something on the plane, but I don't know if that counts as food, let alone lunch."

      "Mm. No. Probably not." Ethan glanced around, taking stock. "Well, then. Why don't I show you to the guest cottage, so you can freshen up? By the time you're done unpacking and such, I'll have put together a little something for you."

      Simon laughed under his breath. "You could spoil a guy, you know that?" he said. "Okay. Sounds like a plan."


      Three of them behind him, at least, and not that far behind him, either—by the time Jeremy hit the bottom of the stone steps they were already at the top and spilling down. One of them was still shouting for him to stop; the other two, smarter, were saving their breath for the chase. Lucky he wasn't in America or they'd already be shooting at him.

      The few pedestrians who were out and about gave way for him in startled confusion. Not enough pedestrians to slow Jeremy down, fortunately; not enough to slow down his pursuers, either, damn the luck. Mentally cursing the hubris which had led him to only carry two shots in the gas shooter—because more would have made an odd bulge in his bedamned sleeves—Jeremy fled towards the largest road he could see, in hopes of finding larger crowds, or an alleyway, or some such.

      He was faster than his pursuers, he was pleased to note, and his ten-metre lead had grown closer to twenty by the time Jeremy burst out into the intersection. Not enough people about here, either, but it was still worth a try—Jeremy was thirty metres down the road when he glanced over his shoulder and spotted the massive articulated lorry trundling up behind him, obviously lost. Despite it being nearly as wide as the road it was on, it was going at a good clip, although not good enough for the ten or so cars that were racked up behind it, all travelling on more or less patiently. The road in the other direction was almost clear—"Six thousand pounds," Jeremy groaned under his breath, and as the lorry drew up abreast, he counted to three and then threw himself underneath it.

      His pursuers shouted as one and several onlookers screamed in panic, but the lorry driver's eyes were firmly on the road ahead of him and he didn't notice a thing. Jeremy's momentum skidded him straight across the tarmac under the semi-trailer (ruining his suit and scraping large swathes of skin from his hip and thigh) and he rolled to his feet just a second before he could get squashed by the back tyre. His pursuers promptly got tangled up in the train of cars following the lorry—there was quite a lot of honking and shouting going on as Jeremy dashed for the far side of the road and a providential alleyway.


      The guest cottage was separated from the main house by about fifty feet of pleasant gravel path, currently wet. The trees above Simon's head provided him with some shelter from the misting rain, except when they didn't; by the time Ethan unlocked the cottage's front door, Simon was feeling decidedly clammy. "Guess I should have brought a raincoat," Simon said, ducking into the cottage and dripping all over the floor.

      "I suppose you should have known what you were getting into," said Ethan. "I'll just leave you to get settled, shall I?" Without really waiting for an answer, Ethan bowed himself out. His footsteps crunched away down the gravel path.

      "Sure," Simon said absently, looking around. Unsurprisingly, the 'guest cottage' was three or four times the size of Simon's apartment, a rambling place full of windows that looked out over the wooded backyard. There were several bedrooms to choose from; Simon picked the largest, in the very back of the house, and put his duffel down on the massive old bed. The walls in here were a rich, dark burgundy color, which would probably have felt kind of claustrophobic if the ceiling hadn't been so high. "Nice," Simon said under his breath.


      Off the street, off the street—Jeremy dashed down the alleyway. At this point he'd settle for putting a corner or two between himself and his pursuit. He could still hear shouting, but he'd bought himself a little time, at least.

      The alley abruptly opened up on a second, larger alley, full of dustbins, locked back doors, and, bless providence, fire escapes. Jeremy flung himself at the second one he came to, leaping for the raised ladder and just barely catching it, hauling himself up and onto the lowest landing. Three flights of iron steps between him and the roof—Jeremy gulped in a breath and bolted upwards.

      The fire escape rattled under his feet, but not nearly as much as he'd been fearing. He was only five steps from the top when he heard shouting in the alley—redoubling his speed Jeremy literally threw himself onto the roof, landing flat on the pebbled tar-paper an instant before he would have been spotted.

      His pursuers ran past below, calling to each other. Only once their voices had started to fade in the distance did Jeremy look up, straight into the eyes of a shocked pensioner with a garden trowel still in her hand. Her rooftop garden, some small part of Jeremy's mind noted, was very nice.

      "Oh," she said, her hand fluttering to her mouth as Jeremy warily pushed himself to his feet. Her hand fell a moment later and her expression hardened. "It's those bloody hooligans from down the street again, isn't it?" she said. "I've complained to the council I couldn't tell you how many times—oh, look at that, your lovely suit..."

      Jeremy compressed his lips against the waiting hysteria, fighting it down. "The suit can be replaced," he said, brushing himself off. "I'm afraid I'm rather less certain about my skin. If you don't mind, madam, I'll just use your roof for a bolt-hole for a few minutes."

      "Nonsense," she said briskly, stabbing her trowel into the soil. "It's about to rain and you look a fright. You'll come downstairs with me and have some tea—"

      "—madam, I wouldn't dream of imposing—"

      "—no, now, I insist. The rain will drive those nasty little yobbos indoors, you see if it doesn't, and you can be about your business in half an hour or so." She stepped forward and caught Jeremy's arm in a pincer grip that brooked no resistance.

      With an inner whoop of laughter, Jeremy gave in. "Kind of you," he murmured, noting as an afterthought that he was still, somehow, clutching his battered umbrella.


      Freshly showered and changed and feeling a world better for it, Simon padded back out into the main room to take stock. The guest cottage's kitchen felt like an afterthought—the stove was basically a glorified hot plate and the refrigerator was so small as to be almost cute—but, Simon was cheered and bemused to note, there was what looked like a brand-new American-style coffeemaker blatantly parked on one of the tiny counters. He wasn't sure whose idea that had been, but either way, he suddenly felt a lot more comfortable.

      His sneakers were by the front door where he'd left them, still damp and steaming. No help for it, though. If he'd known he was going to be a gravel path away from the main house, he'd have brought a second pair of shoes—Simon stepped back into his sneakers, winced, and headed for the main house, lured by the promise of food.

      The wonderful smell pounced on him the moment he opened the back door and dragged him into the kitchen, his stomach already rumbling. "I smell bacon," Simon said brightly, slamming through the swinging doors.

      "And it's just about ready, to boot," said Ethan, eyeing one of the ovens critically. "I'll just assume you won't be wanting tea, shall I?"

      "Tea? With bacon?" Simon mimed a shudder.

      Ethan rolled his eyes, not wholly unamused. "Yes, yes, you've made your opinion on the matter very clear," he said, banging open the oven door. "Fetch yourself whatever you consider more appropriate to drink, why don't you?"

      "Yessir," said Simon, heading for the gigantic fridge. After a prolonged and appreciative study of its contents, he decided that orange juice sounded just about right—frankly, after the trip he'd just had, orange juice sounded terrific. Restorative. Simon got himself a glass and headed for the breakfast nook.

      He'd no more than sat down when Ethan put a plate in front of him. "I'm using your presence as an excuse to have bacon sandwiches for tea," Ethan said, already moving off again. "Indulgent, I suppose, but then again, I am sixty-six and entitled to a bit of gluttony now and then."

      "Goddamn, indulge all you want, I'll be there for you," Simon mumbled around a mouthful of crumbling toast and bacon.


      "It's an ill wind indeed," Jeremy murmured to himself, twisting about to check out his arse in the mirror.

      His overpriced suit was, unfortunately, a total write-off. Shredded, blackened, bloody, and torn, it'd never be anything but dusters again. However, while he'd been closed up in the loo tending to his skinned hip and thigh, his pleasant-if-slightly-misled hostess had dug into a trunk of her former husband's things and somehow come up with an antique pair of men's grey flannel trousers, pre-war at least, possibly bloody Edwardian given the unusual and generous cut. They were a touch large in the waist, but his belt would hold them up for now—and quite frankly, after getting an eyeful of himself in the mirror, Jeremy was thinking about having them taken in and then never taking them off again.

      Out in the cluttered main room Mrs. Luckett was bustling around, putting together tea for the both of them. Rain patted lightly at the windows, doubtless discomfiting the employees of a certain auction house, whose search was growing more fruitless by the moment—Jeremy smiled at himself in the mirror and touched the pearls, still safely about his throat.

      The suit's jacket had protected his shirt and tie nicely, at least, and his shoes were scuffed but otherwise fine. Once he'd resettled his tie he looked quite presentable, if a bit eccentric (and both his forearm harnesses and the pearls were neatly hidden once again). Jeremy tucked the battered remains of his suit into a plastic carrier bag, also provided by his lovely hostess, and made his way out into the living room.

      "There we are," Mrs. Luckett said, catching sight of him. "Feeling better, then?"

      "Oh, loads," said Jeremy, putting the bag by the door. "Thank you ever so much—really, you must let me pay for these."

      "Won't hear of it!" The refusal was punctuated with the loud bang of a cabinet door. "Honestly, they've just been lying about in storage all these years, they weren't doing me a bit of good, you're welcome to them."

      Jeremy tried not to smile. The Mrs. Lucketts of the world never really changed. "No, no, I insist," he said, as he must. "They're too nice for me to just up and take—you don't see material like this any more."

      "That's the truth," Mrs. Luckett said, nodding. "It's all cheap-looking stuff, these days." She came out of the kitchen carrying a tray; Jeremy darted forward to pull her chair out for her, earning himself a narrow-eyed and measuring look. "Well, if you must," Mrs. Luckett added, apparently soothed by the show of manners.

      "I must," Jeremy said, slipping a fifty-pound note under the ceramic chicken which graced the table with its presence.


      Feeling much better for having eaten, Simon excused himself and wandered back to the guest cottage. Dumping the contents of his duffel in the topmost drawer of the dresser, he declared himself officially unpacked, then went out to see about inaugurating that coffeemaker. He was feeling all right now, but his jet lag would catch up again in an hour or so—Simon dug around in the cabinets and produced a small can of coffee and a box of filters, all brand-new and pristine.

      Simon put the coffee on. Once it was burbling and hissing—sounding like home—Simon left it to do its magic and ambled off to check out the cottage more thoroughly. It was a remarkably comfortable place, full of very nice but well-used furniture and old books. If it hadn't been a guest cottage parked out in back of something he might almost call a manor, Simon would have thought the cottage was just someone's house, a bit shabby, a little too warm, and not musty-smelling at all.

      Eventually he wound up back in the back bedroom and found himself standing irresolutely over the bed, staring down at it, his mind already not quite working. He'd just lie down for a few minutes, he told himself, pulling down the covers. The coffee maker would beep when it was done. He'd get back up then. If not then, then when Ethan came to let him know dinner was ready.

      He was asleep not thirty seconds later, sprawled out on top of the rumpled covers, still wearing his jeans.


      "No, really, you've been very kind," Jeremy said. "I can't thank you enough."

      Mrs. Luckett nodded, tugging absently at the high collar of her blouse. "You be careful, then," she said. "Keep an eye out for those little bastards."

      "Believe me, I intend to," Jeremy said, with some fervour. Raising a hand in farewell, he thumped on down the stairs towards the front door.

      Mrs. Luckett's door closed behind him. Jeremy came to a halt. Once he heard the bolt being thrown he counted to twenty and then turned back around, padding silently back up the stairs; he let himself out onto the roof a minute later, conscientiously closing the roof-access door behind himself.

      The next building over was separated from this one only by a waist-high brick wall (and, admittedly, by Mrs. Luckett's rooftop garden). Jeremy dropped his carrier bag and his umbrella over and vaulted the wall, being careful not to scrape up his fancy new trousers.


      The coffeemaker beeped cheerily, burbling and hissing to a stop. In the back bedroom Simon frowned in his sleep, but didn't wake.


      All in all, it took Jeremy nearly two wet and miserable hours to make his way back to his hotel, sticking to alleyways and rooftops unless there was absolutely no help for it. All seemed well at his hotel—he crouched on top of the building opposite, underneath his umbrella, and watched the building for half an hour without seeing hide nor hair of the police—but still, he slipped in from the access door on the roof and crept down to his room via the back stairs, taking pains to remain unseen.

      Finally—finally—he let himself into his hotel room and fell back against the closed door with a great outrush of breath. "Damn," he said, then burst out laughing from sheer relief. This would be one to tell Ethan about, for certain. That was, assuming Ethan didn't laugh himself to death over the trousers, first.

      Once Jeremy managed to get himself back under control, he did up all the locks, first thing, and jammed a chair under the door-knob just to be certain. Only then did he peel himself out of his wet things, carefully laying his new trousers out to dry and making sure they lay just so. The pearls he took off with some care, carrying them into the bathroom to blot them dry on a fresh towel; the choker was still just as astonishing a piece as he remembered it being, and he found himself loath to put it in the waiting case. Still, he was getting chilly, and eventually he stashed the pearls between the mattress and the box-springs and went to get in the shower.

      He spent a good five minutes just letting the hot water spill over his face before bothering with the soap. The last of 'Sir James Holyoke' went swirling down the drain in a drift of reddish-brown soap-suds, Jeremy's hair reverting back to its customary light brown and the slight suggestion of wrinkles vanishing from his face. By the time he stepped out again he was once again Jeremy Archer to the core; he checked himself in the mirror, smoothing his hair back until it lay just so, and then padded back out into the main room.

      The hotel room, which not half an hour ago he'd seen as a nigh-unobtainable sanctuary, now felt like a trap waiting to be sprung—particularly with Jeremy's post-job nerves jumping as they were. He dressed quickly, back in his own clothes once more and much happier for it. The jewellery case and the packet of appraisal papers went into the inside pocket of his black jacket. Everything else went into his suitcase. Ten minutes later he checked out of the hotel, waiting out front until the valet brought his car around. "We hope to see you again, Mr. Allgood," said the valet, hopping out.

      "It seems likely," Jeremy said, slipping him a folded bill.


      The coffee maker kept the pot warm for two hours, then shut itself down with a nearly inaudible click, sighing to itself in the darkened kitchen. The orange light on the front winked out. The guest cottage was dark, a vague and hulking shape amongst the trees; the rain had let up half an hour ago and now the moon peeked out from between the clouds.

      An hour or so later there was a soft tapping at the front door. Simon made a grumpy noise and rolled over, smashing his face into the pillow.

      Whoever was tapping at the door tapped once more, and then all was peaceful once more.


      His client sat bolt upright in her chair at the very back of the tea-room, fiddling with the handle of her cup; the tea inside had long ago gone stone-cold, if Jeremy were any judge.

      Her eyes drifted over him as he let himself in, then snapped back and widened. All of a sudden she didn't seem to be able to move. Despite the hour, the place was still about half-full, mostly of fashionable ladies of a certain age having a bite of something sweet after their suppers; several pairs of eyes followed Jeremy as he made his way through the dining room, towards the little table tucked away in the very back. "Ms. Wadlow," he said, pulling out the other chair and dropping neatly into it.

      With a little start, Ms. Wadlow—the former Mrs. Hudd—came back to herself, blinking several times. "Mr. Brown," she said, her voice small and lost.

      Jeremy waved off the waitress with a casual gesture and sat forward, crossing his arms on the table-top. "I believe I have something that belongs to you," he said, offering her a little smile.

      For whatever reason, the news didn't seem to penetrate. Ms. Wadlow looked down at her teacup, her eyes closing as if in despair. It wasn't until Jeremy fetched the black velvet case from his jacket and slid it across the table that Ms. Wadlow came back to life, pulling the case into her lap and flipping it open as discreetly as she could. She sucked in a breath.

      Jeremy fished out the packet of papers and slid it across, as well. "They'd already finished the appraisal by the time I got there—I thought you might like to have the paperwork, as well. Just to make everything tidy."

      "Yes," Ms. Wadlow said faintly, scratching at the edge of the envelope until she could get her fingers under it. All of a sudden all the starch went out of her spine, and she bent forward like she was curling her body about the pearls. For a heart-stopping moment Jeremy thought she might cry. "Thank you," Ms. Wadlow said, and again, much more firmly, "Thank you!"

      A rush of purest triumph burned up along Jeremy's spine. Sometimes he thought he might work just for the pleasure of that sensation alone, although that wouldn't pay for his dry cleaning. "All in a day's work, you might say," he said with a little smile.

      "My husband will be so angry," she said, testing the idea. Judging from her tentative smile, she rather liked it.

      "Your ex-husband is a cad," Jeremy said. "He gave you those pearls, I'm sure, he didn't hire them out to you. In a sense, you were only reclaiming what was rightfully yours."

      Ms. Wadlow pushed the papers and the jewellery box in her purse, her fingers lingering on the black velvet cover. "He'd have sold them by the time the courts decided that. At best I'd have got what they were worth, but it's not the money that I want, is it."

      "Of course not." Jeremy paused, scrutinising his client, then smiled again. "The other half of my fee?" he prompted.

      "Yes, of course," she said, fumbling about in her bag until she could fetch out a different envelope. She slid it across the table; Jeremy picked it up and slipped it into his jacket, unopened. Business concluded, Ms. Wadlow shook her head like she was coming out of a trance and snapped her purse shut. "Will you have some tea before you go?" she asked, purely by rote—grateful she certainly was, but Jeremy's provably-unlawful presence was starting to make her uncomfortable.

      "I'm afraid I can't stay," said Jeremy, tapping the table before pushing back his chair and standing up. "It's been a pleasure, Ms. Wadlow. You have my number should you need to get in touch."

      His client nodded. Jeremy knew very well that he'd never hear from her again. "Thank you, Mr. Brown," she said a final time.

      Jeremy paused, studying her face, unable to keep the smile from his face. "You're welcome," he finally said, and with that he made his way back out into the night.

      The rain had passed. The rising breeze was cool and damp. Jeremy, still utterly focussed and alert from the invigorating day, fancied that he could see around corners, hear so much as a pin dropping, and beat a cheetah in a foot-race; halfway to his car he broke into a light jog, just to burn off some of the energy kindling in his gut.


      Simon struggled up and out of sleep in an unfamiliar darkness, momentarily confused, unable to remember where he was, or why. A moment later his mind caught up with the rest of him and Simon blearily checked the clock: a few minutes after nine o'clock at night. He'd been asleep for four and a half hours. He'd almost certainly missed dinner. And the hairs on the back of his neck were still prickling—"Archer?" he said in a gluey voice, already feeling stupid for doing it.

      The little acknowledging laugh that floated out of the darkness was like a bucket of ice water to the face. Simon jerked upright, completely and utterly awake, a fine flush of adrenalin burning out along his limbs and disintegrating. At least he no longer felt like an idiot. "Jesus Christ," he said, flapping his hands. "What... why... watching me sleep, Jesus, that is so weird, you are so weird, how long have you been there?"

      "Only a minute or so," Jeremy said, from somewhere around the door. "Your instincts seem as sound as ever."

      "Good to know, I guess," said Simon, groping for the lamp and nearly knocking it over. A minute later he managed to produce a dim yellow light, just enough to illuminate the edges of things and throw huge looping shadows on the room's dark walls. Jeremy was leaning against the wall by the door with one foot kicked up, as casual as anything, his hand raised to block out the light; the shadow of his hand fell in a ragged stripe across his face, obscuring his eyes. He looked exactly the same as ever. "So," Simon said, clearing his throat. "Business concluded, I take it."

      Jeremy let his hand drop. Even in the low light his eyes glinted, slightly; some sixth sense made Simon go still, his stomach turning over once in his belly. "Oh, yes," Jeremy said. "Done and dusted."

      "And successfully, I'm guessing," Simon said warily.

      "I suppose I ought to refuse to answer that on the grounds that it might incriminate me," Jeremy said lightly, pushing off the wall and coming upright. "But yes, successfully. I feel as if today I won something of a moral victory, to be honest."

      Simon held up both hands in a warding-off gesture. "I am not even going to ask," he said. "And you can't make me."

      "No, I suppose not." As graceful as ever, Jeremy rolled his weight forward, coming to rest in alert mode, his shoulders square, his arms loose, his weight on the balls of his feet. As if to contradict the message that the rest of him was sending, he pushed back his jacket and thrust his thumbs into his beltloops, his fingers splaying casually out over the front of his pants. "There are many things that I can't make you do, after all."

      Simon found himself with nothing to say to that. Everything that he could think of sounded wrong: too suggestive, not suggestive enough, deliberately obtuse, too direct. The silence stretched between them, taut and anticipatory, not exactly wrong, but definitely more loaded than Simon was given to expect from the first five minutes of their periodic interactions. He was still eyeing Jeremy and struggling to think of something to say when Jeremy drifted forward a few steps, putting himself neatly between Simon and the bathroom door. "Ethan says that you slept through supper," Jeremy said, coming to a halt again.

      "I guess so," Simon said. "I didn't mean to, but..." He trailed off and shrugged. "Jet lag. You know."

      "I know," said Jeremy.

      The weird, tense silence fell around them again. The little smile that played about Jeremy's mouth looked odd. Too tight. Too at odds with the wired look in his eyes. Despite his lingering befuddlement Simon was rapidly getting the message, his skin tingling as he woke the rest of the way up; trying to put things on some kind of even keel Simon stood up, bringing his height into play. "So—"

      Jeremy hit him like an oncoming freight train. Simon's shoulders slammed into the wall hard enough to jar the breath out of him, his hands flying out to find a balance that he suddenly didn't need; the mouth on his was hard and demanding, the slight bite of stubble adding a bit of spice to the mauling. Jeremy's hands knotted around two handfuls of Simon's wrinkled shirt and Simon groaned out a muffled sound and dug his fingers deep into the leather of Jeremy's jacket, trying to catch some slight measure of control over the sudden proceedings.

      Jeremy thrashed out of his jacket with a vehemence that tore the leather from Simon's fingers, and probably would have torn Simon's arms from their sockets if he'd tried to keep hold. The jacket hit the wall, not the floor, and fell into a pile from there, and almost before it hit Jeremy had grabbed Simon's shirt again, twisting his hands in opposite directions and forcing all the buttons open in a series of silent pops. "Jesus, Jeremy!" Simon said—he wasn't scared, it wasn't fright, but he was aware of a sudden, powerful, gut-deep excitement that had all his nerves whipsawing.

      Jeremy said nothing. His upper lip lifted to bare his teeth in an expression that wasn't quite not a smile, and his eyes raked across Simon's face hard enough to sting; the initial bleeding edge of frenzy was gone, now, and Jeremy efficiently stripped Simon of his shirt in a manner that was almost matter-of-fact, although in the back of his mind Simon suspected that things would have gone a lot less calmly if he'd resisted. He didn't want to resist. Resisting would just slow things down, and Simon was suddenly curious to find out exactly where this crazy train was going. "Okay," he said, meaning a lot of things by it, but mostly that he was along for the ride.

      Jeremy's eyes swept up and pinned Simon's to the wall. Simon was barely conscious of the world spinning out of his control, but the crazy stomach-churning excitement redoubled on the instant, making him shiver. Jeremy's hands lit on Simon's shoulders and slid down over his chest, the touch firm and sure, pressing Simon back against the wall again; those fingers slid under his belt and undid it, then confidently picked open the buttons of his jeans one after the other. Unhurried now Jeremy caught the waistband of Simon's jeans in both hands and pushed down his jeans and underwear both, and then somehow Simon was naked while Jeremy was still fully clothed, all the way down to his shoes—"Uh, okay," Simon said again, now not sure what he meant by it at all.

      One hand on the side of Simon's neck, one hand on his hip, the muscles of his arms taut as wire, Jeremy guided Simon away from the wall and back towards the bed; he most assuredly did it with Simon's connivance, since Simon was bigger and stronger, but Jeremy's hands were still firm and sure and Simon couldn't think of a reason to resist, didn't want to hold this party up, found himself doing what Jeremy's hands told him to—why not? Why the hell not? Wherever this was going, he was going to get something out of it—he was already picking up one hell of a contact high from Jeremy's lunatic mood, and Jeremy had always been the considerate type—it went without saying, it went without thinking that Simon was bigger and stronger than Jeremy and he could put a stop to this any time he wanted, and in the end, since he knew that in his bones, since it was an unassailable fact of the universe, since he was so obviously allowing this to happen, he found himself comfortable with allowing it. For a while. Just for a while.

      The edge of the bed brushed the backs of his thighs and Simon rolled back onto it, trusting at least some of his weight to Jeremy's grip without thinking in the least about what he was doing. He wound up flat on his back with Jeremy arched forward over him and there was the rub of leather in the damndest places and Jeremy's mouth was slow and assured and confident as it grazed along Simon's jaw from his chin to his ear. Simon put his hands on Jeremy's hips and ran them all the way up, the faint ridges of Jeremy's ribs discernible under his palms, the silk of Jeremy's t-shirt making the passage easy as hell; Simon caught a fold of Jeremy's t-shirt and fiddled it free of his pants, then got distracted and dropped it again. Christ, the blood-warm leather of Jeremy's pants against the inside of his thighs—he'd have to watch out or he was going to develop a fetish or something.

      Jeremy's mouth slid from Simon's ear down the side of his throat all the way out along his shoulder, one hand hard against the bed under Simon's right arm, the other hand gripping the curve of Simon's waist just over his left hip. Simon put his arms around Jeremy, his hands flat on Jeremy's back, picking distractedly at his t-shirt; without really thinking about it Simon wound one leg around Jeremy's, trying to pull Jeremy down, and then there was leather chafing against his bare skin everywhere including against his cock, which liked it, in spite of the faint dragging discomfort of it, possibly because of that discomfort. Simon couldn't tell. It wasn't important. He was going to get friction burns. He'd make Jeremy kiss it better later.

      The hand on his waist lifted away. Simon tried to keep track of where it went, but Jeremy's mouth battened onto his again, with no give to it at all, and all of Simon's attention was suddenly focused on keeping the invasion from becoming a full-on rout. The cracking sound was familiar, he'd heard it before, and the sound of an empty tube hitting the carpet, that was familiar, too. Jeremy shifted within the circle of Simon's arms, his weight suddenly liquid and heavy on top of one of Simon's thighs; one hand slid under Simon's head and the other painted two jagged lines of slick stuff high up on his inner thigh before drawing a delicate circle about Simon's balls. Simon swallowed and juddered up and into that teasing, jostling gesture, and while his hips were raised and his thighs were spread wide and Jeremy's weight pinned one leg to the bed and Jeremy's knee pushed the other leg aside—while all that was going on, two of Jeremy's fingers pressed down against the little hidden spot behind Simon's balls, skidded wetly back, and speared into him up to the second joint.

      It wasn't that Simon was taken completely by surprise. It was just... he hadn't thought it was actually ever going to come to this. He hadn't ever put Jeremy into that particular mental category—he'd dismissed the whole uncomfortable concept with a mental yeah, right, sure even as he'd waited to see what Jeremy really intended to do. He wheezed out a choking sound of surprise and tried to thrash away from those invading fingers and discovered that there was nowhere for him to go. The two of them were so entangled that trying to move away only brought Jeremy with him—"Shh," Jeremy breathed against Simon's lips, even as he shifted that hand and drove those fingers in further and sent a bolt of lightning straight up along Simon's spine from the inside.

      Simon jerked against Jeremy's restraining grip, his eyes wide, smacking Jeremy's arm ineffectually with his free hand. "Fuck," he croaked under his breath. Inasmuch as he could think at all, he was denying that this could be happening—Jeremy didn't do this—this was Simon's end of things and he wasn't comfortable with having that taken away from him by anyone, let alone by someone provably smaller and weaker than he was—he didn't want it like this, he didn't know how to do it like this—Jeremy pressed his mouth to Simon's shoulder and presented Simon with the side of his neck, rising out of the low collar of his t-shirt. Simon shut his eyes and buried his face against Jeremy's throat, hiding his eyes, his fractured train of thought fading away into static; Jeremy flexed those fingers again, making Simon jump. With the last of his nervous strength Simon groped out over the bedside table and turned off the lamp, casting the room into darkness. It'd be easier that way.

      For some unknown amount of time they rocked together, Jeremy's body lean and hard and still fully clothed against Simon's. Now that they were lost in the darkness, it was a hidden, secret thing; now that Simon wasn't coherent enough to protest any more, it was almost easy. Jeremy's hands guided him surely through the motions, and Simon cursed breathlessly and put up the occasional token resistance. It was weird, it was wrong, and every little twitch of Jeremy's fingers shook Simon from his navel to his knees—the head of Simon's cock rubbed up against leather, tight over Jeremy's hip, every time that they rocked together, and Simon's balls plumped lightly against Jeremy's wrist, and eventually Simon gave in and admitted that he didn't hate it. "Fuck," Simon breathed, and "Fuck," he breathed again, and after that it was more of a "Fuh..." sound.

      He was about halfway to coming despite himself when Jeremy stilled them both and gently twisted his fingers free. All of a sudden Simon was embarrassed by his acquiescence all over again, and he collapsed onto the bed and fought to get hold of his mind again, to say something witty, to guide this back into more normal channels even as his abandoned cock throbbed out an urgent complaint against his stomach—

      —the sound of Jeremy's zipper was very loud, there in the darkness.

      Simon went still in disbelief. They were still tangled together, so tightly that Simon could have probably stood up without dislodging Jeremy overmuch, assuming that he was still capable of standing up at all—but Jeremy had a single hand free, and Simon felt more than saw that hand come up to Jeremy's face. The condom wrapper tore open with a sound like wet paper ripping, and then Jeremy's hand fell again, and wherever that hand went—not that Simon didn't know where it had gone—it didn't fall onto Simon anywhere.

      In the darkness Jeremy shifted again, touching his forehead to Simon's. There was almost no light in the room, but there was just enough moonlight coming in from outside to make out the twin sparks of Jeremy's eyes, burning steady and bright, still reflecting that unnerving confidence. For a moment they were both still, Simon twisting somewhere between embarrassment and anticipation, Jeremy inscrutable—then Jeremy laughed under his breath, brushed a small, dry kiss against Simon's lips, and slithered down.

      The head of his cock brushed against Simon's thigh, high up on the inside, slick on the surface with the drag of latex underneath. Jeremy's hands were still oddly matter-of-fact as the dim shape of him rose up onto its knees, guiding Simon's legs up and over his own, curling gently around Simon's balls and lifting them out of the way, two fingers slipping down and in and serving as a guide for something else entirely—

      Simon jerked up off the bed, his hands flailing uselessly around for a heartbeat of time before grabbing up big hunks of the covers to either side. He'd clamped down automatically when this thing had started to happen and he couldn't figure out how to relax again and he'd left them both in some kind of awkward demi-fuck state that was going to fall painfully apart as soon as Jeremy's grip gave out—"Simon," Jeremy said, his voice low and calm and collected, and at the sound of his name Simon stopped panicking for just long enough to figure out how this worked. He collapsed back onto the bed—he was already sweating like a racehorse and sticking to the leather of Jeremy's pants—Jeremy was still dressed—a hand came out of the darkness and curled about his cock and Simon barked out a breath and bore down and let it happen.

      It didn't really hurt but he didn't like it all the same—for all that Jeremy was being considerately slow about pushing in, it burned like fuck (heh, like fuck) and it was just too damned much to take. Does not go there! Simon's mind was screaming, despite the fact that it damned well knew better. Fingers up his ass were okay, fingers Simon had had before, but this was... this was... Jeremy hit bottom, the edges of his undone fly digging into Simon's thighs, and Simon shouted loudly enough to make his own ears ring.

      Jeremy laughed or something, the little sound nearly lost under the echoes of Simon's yell. Once Simon had faltered to a stop, shuddering and blowing and drenched in sweat, Jeremy patted his hip. "Give me your hands," Jeremy said. His voice was quiet and collected; he sounded neither like a man in the middle of fucking nor like a man giving an order, and yet it didn't even occur to Simon to balk. He untangled his fingers from the covers and held them out.

      Jeremy's hands found his in the darkness, fingertips brushing lightly over the backs of Simon's hands before catching them in a gentle grip. "I'll leave you responsible for this," Jeremy said, guiding Simon's hands down and folding them closed about Simon's cock, which was immediately grateful for the attention.

      "Yeah," Simon grated out, still gasping. He shifted his grip, getting hold of himself in the way that he liked.

      Jeremy's hands fell away and caught Simon's hips, this time in a grip much less than gentle. "Tell me if I need to ease up on you," said Jeremy, so matter-of-factly that Simon couldn't even take offense at the implied slur on his manhood, and then the amazing drag started up as Jeremy pulled himself free, so much raw friction in such a tender place that Simon's entire body spasmed with it—

      Simon barely had a moment of respite before it happened all over again, a little more quickly this time, fanning the flames of that low burn as Jeremy forced the issue. Don't shout, Simon thought disjointedly, don't shout this time, and thus when the head of Jeremy's cock hit the sweet spot and sent the lightning up Simon's spine Simon managed to restrain himself to a choked and startled "Guh!"

      "Good?" Jeremy asked, pausing long enough to cycle his hips in a short, flat arc and hit that spot four times in rapid-fire succession.

      "Guh—goo—uh—ood," Simon managed to say through his overload.


      Jesus, no, Simon thought. "'Kay," he said.

      It started again, and this time it didn't stop, in leading directly to out and flowing straight back into in, and Simon was dizzily aware of the noises he was making but unable to stop making them, unable to do much of anything besides shudder and clutch ridiculously at his own cock like it was a lifeline—eventually a couple of its clearer demands burned through the haze and Simon made a faltering attempt to comply. After the first stroke his attempts became a lot less faltering and now Simon was wondering why he hadn't been doing this all along, as it took something that was akin to 'prodding at a sore tooth with your tongue' times a thousand and channeled all that energy in a single direction—it was all still too overwhelming and demeaning to be 'good' and Simon never wanted it to happen again and right now he'd kill someone if it stopped.

      Every little movement ripped the backs of Simon's sweaty thighs free of the leather of Jeremy's pants, and every time they glued themselves back down again. The teeth of Jeremy's undone zipper bit lightly into the skin of Simon's groin and Jeremy's t-shirt was rumpled up halfway to his chest and he'd closed his eyes and bitten his lower lip, framed in the upraised 'v' of Simon's thighs, just barely visible in the moonlight but visible enough—Simon fucked the closed circle of his hands and arched his back and made sounds he'd be embarrassed by later, and somehow in the darkness it was all right, what happens in England stays in England, right?

      Without any warning Simon's hands fell right out of the deliberate rhythm, jerking at his cock three rapid, stuttering times between one stroke and the next and suddenly he was shouting and coming all over his own stomach and hands—without any hesitation Jeremy rolled forward again and Simon was pretty damn sure he'd just come all over again or something. It went on forever, it milked him dry, and by the time Jeremy threw himself forward and arched his own back and came (with that throbbing, pleased growl of his) Simon was a quivering hulk on the bed, unable to do much more than drag in an unsteady gasping breath each time Jeremy moved.

      And just like that, it was over. Jeremy's weird hyper-alert mood left him on the spot, dissipating like smoke and drifting away. Simon finally caught his breath and shut his eyes, fighting like hell against the embarrassment that he knew was coming. He didn't exactly go into sex looking for dignity but all the same he usually expected to come out with some, and he couldn't find any here—"Are you still wearing your shoes?" he said, staring blindly up at the ceiling, trying to cover. "Seriously? On the bed?"

      "Afraid so," Jeremy said, that sardonic teasing note firmly back in his voice at last. "Where are my manners?"

      "Damned if I know," Simon said, shutting his eyes. Some vagrant, counterproductive impulse prodded him to add, "I mean, you couldn't even give a guy a reacharound, I thought that was basic etiquette."

      The hesitation was only momentary. "You're absolutely right, and I apologize," said Jeremy, laughing. He paused long enough to insinuate two fingers between them and pull himself free, sending one last fuzzy static shock out along Simon's nerves. "Next time I'll be certain to be more thoughtful."

      "Wait, next time? What do you mean, 'next time'? Far as I'm concerned there wasn't even a 'this time'," Simon said. Now that he could, he brought one leg up and settled it back down next to the other, firmly removing Jeremy from the space between his legs. "And if you turn on that light, I will kill you."

      "I thought as much," said Jeremy, finally pulling his t-shirt off over his head.


If Simon were a real person—and I am reasonably certain that he is not—he would probably hunt me down and kill me for giving this story the title that I did. Too bad for him, I guess.