Part Eleven: Chapters 94-96

      "Jeremy," Simon said rustily, pushing himself up onto one hip. Half a second later he fell right back down as his shaking arm abruptly gave out. He strangled on a yelp and went fetal, his eyes watering. "Oh, Christ, that hurts," he gritted out. He could faintly hear the sound of running footsteps from outside, but no shouting—no one on his team was going to waste their breath shouting once shots had been fired.

      Jeremy said nothing. As far as Simon could tell, Jeremy wasn't actually registering his presence at all. Or moving. The gun and his eyes were all focused on that little spot in mid-air that had contained Farraday's head just thirty seconds ago, and Simon did not like the look of that thousand-yard stare at all.

      Simon tried sitting up again. This time, he made it. Painfully, grabbing onto the corner of a box, Simon hauled himself upright. He made it, although his chest was now screaming out loud and he had to pant shallowly for breath for a few seconds before he trusted himself to let go of the box. "Archer," he said, pleased to note that he sounded a lot closer to normal.

      "Ah," Jeremy said faintly, still frozen. After a long moment one of his fingers twitched on the gun's grip, then another.

      Simon took a careful step closer, making sure to stay to one side, just in case. "Archer," he said again. "... Jesus, you look like shit."

      "Ah," Jeremy said again, his voice dreamy and faraway, thus confirming that yes, something was really wrong here. The muzzle of the gun drifted slowly downwards; Jeremy's arms stayed fully extended, leaving the gun pointed at nothing but the streak of drying gore on the floor.

      Simon glanced at him, then down at the gun, then winced. Jesus, if that thing went off again while it was pointed at the concrete floor, who knew how the bullet would ricochet—"Archer," he said again, trying very hard to sound exasperated. "What did I tell you about leaving your finger on the trigger?"

      "Mm," said Jeremy. After a long moment his index finger slid slowly free of the trigger guard and straightened—Jeremy put it back into its ready position pointing along the barrel of the gun, just like Simon had showed him how to do.

      Simon relaxed, somewhat. At least they weren't in imminent danger of a catastrophic ricochet, and Jeremy was still in there, somewhere, as a bonus. Behind him Mike and Sandra burst into the room, Mike pulling up short with a wordless yelp of disgust as he nearly stepped in what was left of Farraday's brains—Simon threw up a hand without looking back at them and they both stopped where they were, falling quiveringly silent. Simon could feel them staring, but now was not the time to notice. "Archer, I need you to give me my gun back," he said, firmly.

      For a moment it did not seem as if it would work—then Jeremy let his head fall, blinking down at the gun in his hands as if he were just now noticing it was there. "Oh," he said. "Yes." To his credit, he did not actually point the gun at Simon, merely pushed it sideways in Simon's direction. Somewhere behind Simon Mike and Sandra got out of the way with alacrity.

      "That's not how you hand a gun to someone, Archer," Simon said, watching Jeremy carefully. "Take your left hand off the grip and put it on the top of the gun."

      Jeremy's left hand drifted away and up, pausing cupped in the air over the gun's barrel. His hand turned back and forth in midair, and Simon eventually realized that it was asking a silent question: which way? "Thumb back towards you," he prompted. Jeremy's hand closed over the top of the gun. Simon nodded. "Okay," he said. "Now let go with your right hand and turn the gun so that the grip is pointing towards me."

      Jeremy's hand came away from the grip with a faint tearing sound: at some point he'd squeezed the gun so hard that the textured grip had printed itself on the flesh of his palm. Simon heard more footsteps, another wordless noise of disgust—this one high and gagging, so probably Nate—and then nothing. Mike and Sandra had probably passed on the word. Simon did not have time to think about this right now, though, as Jeremy turned the gun and offered him the grip.

      Simon took it, gingerly. "I've got it," he said. "You can let go now." Jeremy's left hand opened and fell away. Simon let out the breath he hadn't quite been aware he was holding and put his gun back into its holster. Jeremy was still gazing off at nothing—well, not at nothing, at the remains of Farraday, and that wasn't good—but Simon needed to take this one step at a time, and he needed to start with the steps that could possibly hurt someone else.

      "Templar," Nate squeaked from behind him.

      "Yeah," Simon said. He touched the bandage on his chest and winced when it made a wet sound: he was bleeding, and pretty hard. Not hard enough to kill him (he hoped, anyway) but hard enough that he'd have to have himself looked at again. Christ, Farraday must have jammed his fingers in past the first joint—Simon banished that thought as far away from himself as he could. "It's okay," he said instead, his eyes on Jeremy. "Someone bring me my headset, will you?"

      In the end, it was Sandra who brought it to him, picking her way gingerly across the befouled floor. Her eyes ran over Jeremy and flicked away, apparently in embarrassment, or in reflexive politeness: Jeremy really did look like shit. Simon took the headset from her and put it back on. "Okay, folks," he said with a sigh. "The first thing we've got to do is—" Abruptly the lights all flickered and snapped back on. "—get the lights back on," Simon said, shading his eyes against the sudden glare. "Never mind." He reached up and hit the button on his headset. "Thanks, whoever that was."

      "Uh," said the new guy, his voice crackling slightly. "You're welcome."

      Simon blinked twice and then looked away from Jeremy for the first time, frowning at the far side of the room. "Didn't I tell you to stay with the van?"

      "Well, um, yes," said the new guy, his voice a little uncertain, "but you also said that someone needed to get the lights on and you didn't care who it was, and I figured everybody already in the warehouse was kind of busy, so I called HQ and got someone I knew to look up the blueprints for this place—"

      "All right," Simon said, raising his voice to cut the new guy off. "Yes, I did say that. Congratulations, you're saved. Where are you now?"

      "In the overhead control booth," the new guy said. "There's an outside stairway that leads up to it if you know where to look. There's a lot of junk up here, too—I think this guy must have been sleeping up here—and I think I found Jeremy's wallet—"

      "All right," Simon said again, leaning on it this time. "That's fine. Thank you. I want you to head back to the van now, okay? Just... go back to the van and wait there for us. We'll be out in a little."

      "Okay," said the new guy, which Simon definitely liked better than his usual hapless yes, sir. "I'm heading back out there now."

      "Good," Simon said. "And for the record, over frequency you call him 'Shadow', all right?"

      "Shadow," the new guy repeated. "Got it."

      "Good," Simon said again, and let go of the button. His eyes had finished adjusting to the new light level by now, and he glanced over at what was left of Farraday and winced: Jesus, what a mess. He looked back at Jeremy and winced again: Jeremy was gazing off at a particular point of nothing that just so happened to include said mess, which couldn't be healthy. "Okay, quit that," Simon said as gently as he could, taking Jeremy's upper arm and pulling him away. Jeremy was now staring right through him, which was... preferable, anyway.

      "Templar, before you do anything else you need to know that Honda and I ran across Diana Fontaine while looking for Farraday," Sandra said quietly. "She... there was an altercation and she's been restrained, but she needs proper arresting."

      "Ha," Simon said, clamping his left arm down hard against his side and waiting for the pinched feeling to subside. So this was how you relapsed into a bullet wound. "I knew it. Bitch. Can it wait a few minutes, or is she liable to get away?"

      "She's not going anywhere," Sandra said.

      "Good," said Simon, and then he raised his voice a little. "Okay, folks. Before we do anything else, even call for the mop-up crew, I need you all to come back to the van with me, okay? We're going to have a little meet-up. We need to talk. Well, no, that's a lie: I need to talk and you guys need to listen up."

      "What about Farraday?" Nate said, his voice hushed and horrified. Something not unlike a wince rippled across Jeremy's thousand-yard stare and vanished, and Jeremy folded his arms across his chest, hugging himself like he was cold.

      "Leave him," Simon said. "He's not going anywhere in the next ten minutes." Turning away Simon got Jeremy moving, steering him bodily past the mess. After a moment Sandra came up on Jeremy's other side and put her arm around his shoulders, blocking his view of Farraday's body with her own; Simon nodded gratefully at her over the top of Jeremy's head, then devoted most of his remaining energy towards walking without hobbling like an invalid.

      He'd barely been back in the van for two minutes before his headphones came to life again. "Hello, the van," Sandra said in Dave's ear, making him jump and nearly drop Jeremy's watch onto the empty tech shelf in front of him. "This is Springheel, calling ahead to let you know that we are incoming now—we'll be there in a minute or so."

      Dave hesitated, then reached up and touched the button on his own headset. "I hear you," he said. No response seemed to be forthcoming, so he let go of the button again, carefully put Jeremy's watch back in his pocket, and shuffled out of the chair to go watch for them out of the back windows.

      For a while all he could see was the moonlit expanse of the parking lot—then one by one the rest of the team emerged from the darkness like they were being created from nothingness at the limits of Dave's vision. Apparently the threat was past: they walked in a loose group, no longer checking over their shoulders or bothering to stay spread out. The clump in the middle finally resolved into Simon with one arm around Jeremy's shoulders; by that point Sandra had almost reached the van and Dave popped both back doors and pushed them open.

      "Scoot back," Sandra said briskly, making a shooing motion at Dave. Obligingly Dave started edging back; she kept shooing impatiently at him until he'd gone as far forward as he could, wedged into a corner and half-sitting on the back of the driver's seat to keep from whacking his head on the van's roof. Sandra crawled in after him and stationed herself in the opposite corner, perching on the back of the passenger seat.

      Mike hopped in after her, the van's springs creaking under him, and ape-walked the length of the van, hunched over and grabbing at things to keep his balance. He flashed Dave a completely insincere grin. "Yo, if it ain't Dave's-Fine," he said, wedging himself in between Dave and Sandra and nearly shouldering Dave into the van wall in the process. Sandra snorted and thumped Mike in the chest, making him grunt.

      The rest of them clumped up at the van's back doors, causing a bit of a traffic pileup. Simon said something too soft for Dave to hear, then patiently nudged Jeremy until Jeremy climbed into the van under his own (somewhat slow) steam. Like a man in a dream Jeremy settled onto the van's floor nearly at Mike's feet. The rest of the team piled in behind him and Johnny pulled the van's doors shut, plunging the van into near-darkness.

      "Okay," the dim outline of Simon said, scooting around so that he was sitting on the van's floor opposite Jeremy. "Specs, got a light?"

      The dim outline of Nate patted at his pockets. "Yeah," he said distractedly. "Hang on a sec—"

      "When you can," said Simon. He sounded a little strained, which didn't come as much of a surprise.

      After a moment Nate fished something out of one of his pockets and cupped a hand over it, dimming the sudden brilliant white light. An LED, Dave was pretty sure. "Thanks, Specs," said Simon, and then he fell silent, glancing first at Jeremy and then up at the members of his team, who loomed uncomfortably around the two of them like a ring of trees.

      Dave glanced down at Jeremy and couldn't help wincing. He didn't know what he'd been expecting, exactly, but the guy on the floor by Dave's foot—whom Dave recalled as a neatly-put-together fellow, if one maybe a little too fond of basic black—was now a mess worthy of a Jackson Pollock painting. He looked like he'd been through hell and hell was filled with dust, machine grease, dirt, blood, wood splinters, bird shit, and rust. A wide rivulet of dried blood had streaked the right side of his face with maroon and Dave couldn't quite stop looking at it, no matter how he tried. Of course, the guy was a kidnap victim; by all rights he ought to look worse than he did.

      "Okay," Simon said, his normal tone of voice strangely loud in the tense silence of the van. Dave jumped a little and looked back at Simon, who was looking at Jeremy: "Archer, I need you to listen to me now, okay?" Simon said. After a moment in which there was no response, Simon reached out and snapped his fingers under Jeremy's nose, making Jeremy twitch slightly. "Okay?" Simon repeated. "Say something."

      "Yes?" Jeremy said, faraway but polite, still gazing somewhere around Simon's chest.

      "Hey, okay, that's a start." Simon reached out and put a hand on Jeremy's shoulder. "I want you to listen to me very carefully, okay? This is really important. And you know I don't just say that."

      "All right," Jeremy said, not sounding all that interested.

      Apparently it was good enough for Simon, though. "Okay," he said, and then went quiet again. Dave wasn't sure what was going on but he was sure that he wasn't going to be the one to ask. Finally Simon spoke again, staring intently at Jeremy's face. "You'd managed to escape and hide yourself in the secondary storage area," he said.

      Jeremy nodded.

      "You don't know how long you were hiding there, but eventually, you heard us arrive. You heard a loud crash but at the time you didn't know what it was."

      Jeremy nodded again.

      "You didn't want to come out and announce yourself, though, because the guy who'd kidnapped you was still around. So you stayed hidden."


      "Eventually you saw me enter the area through the big doorway to the north. I had drawn my gun and was carrying it."


      Simon exhaled and ran one hand through his hair, his other hand still on Jeremy's shoulder. "When I was about halfway along the left-hand wall, Farraday came out from between two boxes and ambushed me from behind, putting a gun to the back of my neck."

      Jeremy was still for a moment, but eventually he nodded. A faint ripple of reaction ran through the van like a breeze, but no one else said anything, all eyes intent on Simon and his performance.

      "He told me to drop my gun and kick it away. You saw me comply. The gun skittered over the concrete towards you. You picked it up, still without being seen."

      Jeremy nodded. In his lap, his hands flexed slightly.

      "Farraday was holding me at gunpoint. We talked for a while. He seemed to be getting angry and he couldn't hold still."


      "Eventually he twitched in such a way that his right arm moved and the gun was no longer pointed directly at me. At this point I charged him and we fought for a moment."

      Nod. A little deeper than before. Dave noticed a pair of round black marks on the back of Jeremy's neck that he hadn't seen before, but he couldn't tell if that was blood or not.

      Simon hesitated, then reached out and put both his hands on Jeremy's shoulders, squeezing them gently. "The fight was very short, but I managed to force Farraday to drop his gun. It hit the concrete and bounced, landing a short distance away."

      No nod. Jeremy hesitated, catching and holding his breath for a moment. Finally he looked up, focusing on Simon's face for the first time; Simon tried to smile, although to Dave's eye it looked kind of off. "There you are," he said quietly. "I knew you were in there somewhere. Want to hear that part again? The fight was very short—"

      "—Farraday dropped the gun," Jeremy repeated, faintly.

      "Good," said Simon. "Keep listening, this is where it gets important."

      Jeremy nodded and shifted, straightening up a little. Dave, confused now, glanced across the van at Nate, which wasn't helpful: Nate looked just about as confused as he did.

      "Farraday hit me in the chest," Simon said, still holding Jeremy's eyes. Somewhere off to Dave's left Sandra hissed in reflexive sympathy. "I crumpled and fell. You don't know why for certain, but if you had to guess—"

      "—I'd say that he hit the place where you'd been shot," Jeremy said, completing the sentence. His voice was still soft and faraway but he was starting to sound interested.

      "Right," said Simon, squeezing Jeremy's shoulders again. "Good. Can you say it just like that? You don't know why for certain, but if you had to guess, et cetera?"

      "Oh, I think I'm capable of that," Jeremy said.

      Something about the way he said it made Simon grin, for just a second. "Yeah, well, can't be too careful. Okay, ready to go on?"

      Jeremy nodded.

      "Good," Simon said. "Listen closely. Farraday got away from me and went after his gun. I got up and went after mine. I was coming towards you, so you put my gun on the ground and slid it to me."

      "Slid it to you," Jeremy repeated. Suddenly the van was so quiet that Dave could hear his own heartbeat.

      "I picked it up and turned to point it at Farraday just as Farraday picked up his gun and turned to point it at me."

      "I see," Jeremy said.

      Simon nodded. "He was aiming his gun at me when I shot him."

      Silence. Jeremy knotted his fingers together in his lap, unknotted them, then knotted them again. "He was aiming his gun at you when you shot him," Jeremy finally said. "I thought he was about to fire."

      Simon nodded encouragingly, still not letting go. "After I shot Farraday, I put my gun back in its holster and came over to see if you were all right," he prompted. "The rest of my team arrived shortly and found us there. My gun was already holstered at that point."

      Jeremy glanced away for a moment. In the dim and fractured light of the LED Dave saw him smile, just a bit. "Of course it was," he said. "Why on earth would you need to hold me at gunpoint?"

      Surprised, Simon snorted out a little laugh. "Can't imagine," he said. "Okay?" He left his hands on Jeremy's shoulders, but his eyes traveled in a slow, intent circuit around the ring of his teammates. "You got all that?"

      "I believe so," Jeremy said. "Would you like me to repeat it to you?"

      Simon finally let his hands drop and sat back. "Maybe you'd better," he said. "Let me hear it."

      Jeremy took a breath and ran one dirty hand through his equally dirty hair. The rest of the team was silent, watching Jeremy like he was some kind of trained performing animal as he launched into his recital. "I'd managed to escape and hide myself in the secondary storage area," he said, then stopped. "Should I elaborate on that?" He lifted his hands out of his lap and held them out, palms up, displaying his bare wrists crusted with blood.

      Simon winced and pushed those hands gently away. "It's best that you don't elaborate unless someone pushes you to," he said. "In any case, I think the cuts will speak for themselves, right?"

      "I suppose so," said Jeremy. "Let's see. I don't know how long I was in hiding, but eventually I heard you all arrive. There was a loud crash, although I didn't know what it was at the time. I elected to remain hidden, though, because the man who'd kidnapped me might still be around, and I didn't want to announce myself until it was safe." Simon shifted restlessly, but nodded. "After a while—I don't know how long—I saw you arrive through the big doorway. You had your gun drawn at that point. You started to walk along the left-hand wall, next to the stacks of boxes. When you were about halfway along, Farraday stepped out from between two boxes behind you and put his gun to the back of your neck."

      "Templar," Sandra said, her voice a little strained. Simon glanced at her, raising one finger and shaking his head; she fell still.

      Once the interruption was over, Jeremy picked up the thread of his narrative from where he'd left it. "He told you to drop your gun and kick it away. You did so. The gun came in my general direction, so I picked it up. I don't think either of you saw me do it, but I couldn't say. Farraday held you at gunpoint for a while and the two of you spoke. He seemed angry about something and he couldn't keep himself still. Eventually he twitched in such a way that his right arm moved, which pulled the gun away from you for a moment. You charged him and the two of you fought." He paused again. "I shouldn't elaborate on that point either, should I?"

      "Only if asked," Simon said.

      "Fair enough," said Jeremy. He shifted again and swallowed, closing his eyes for a moment. "You forced his arm up and he dropped the gun. The gun bounced off the concrete and landed a short distance away from the two of you. Shortly thereafter Farraday hit you in the chest and you crumpled and fell. I don't know for certain why, but if I had to guess, I'd say it was because he hit the place where you'd been shot." Jeremy paused again.

      "What?" Simon said after a moment.

      "Ah," said Jeremy. "He knew just where you'd been wounded, didn't he? He knew where to hit you because he was the one who shot you in the first place. QED, I suppose."

      Simon simultaneously winced and laughed under his breath. "Yes," he said, still laughing a little, "but let them think of that part themselves, please. Stick to the facts and don't elaborate."

      "I'm only pointing it out, Simon," Jeremy said. Absently he fiddled with one of his ruined cuffs.

      "And your point is noted," Simon said. "Go on, now. We don't have much longer."

      "Of course," Jeremy said. "Where was I—ah. Once you fell Farraday ran for his gun. You got up and ran for yours. When I saw you coming I put the gun on the ground—" Jeremy hesitated, then shut his eyes "—and I pushed it towards you. You picked it up and turned to point it at Farraday at the same time that Farraday retrieved his gun and turned to point it at you. Farraday was pointing his gun at you when you shot him—for a moment I wasn't sure which one of you had fired. Then Farraday dropped his gun and fell. After a moment you put your gun away and came to see if I was all right, and that's when the rest of your team arrived and found us there."

      "And my gun was already holstered at that point," Simon prompted.

      "Yes," said Jeremy, opening his eyes.

      Simon nodded, slowly. "Okay," he said. "Sounds good." He glanced around again; Dave figured that it was probably just his imagination that led him to believe that Simon looked at him longer than anyone. "Everyone get that? Any questions?"

      After a long moment, Sandra sighed and shifted. "No questions, Templar."

      "Good," said Simon, as if she'd answered for all of them. "Okay, here's what we're going to do now. Archer and I are hurt and could use a little medical attention. Honda, I want you to drive us back to base and the infirmary there. Specs, you look a little peaky, I want you to come with us. Spring, I'm leaving you in charge here. Take Texas and, and, uh—" Simon broke off there and snapped his fingers in Dave's direction.

      "Dave," Dave said, just about as loudly as he dared.

      Simon heaved out a sigh and bowed his head in resignation, then looked back up. "Dave," Simon agreed. "Take Texas and Dave there, secure the scene, call the techies and the mop-up crew, go arrest Diana Fontaine properly and have her taken away, all that stuff. Honda, after you drop us off, take Specs either home or to the hotel depending on what he wants, and then I want you to come back here—the three of you do whatever Spring tells you to. Once you're done here, I want you all to go home and get some sleep. Don't bother coming in before noon tomorrow, at which point you'll probably all have to make statements. I'm sure the opportunity thrills you all. We'll make as short a day out of tomorrow as is possible and then catch up on our sleep over the weekend. Okay?"

      "Got it," Sandra said. The spell of stillness cast over the group broke on the instant. Dave belatedly became aware that he had a crick in his neck and he winced, digging his fingers into it.

      "Good," Simon said, patting gingerly at his chest, which squelched alarmingly; his fingers came away bloody and he winced, letting his hand drop back into his lap. "Awesome job tonight, all of you. I'm so proud I could burst. Heck, I did burst a little. Off with you."

      Johnny popped open the back doors and hopped out, followed by Nate. "Oh," said Dave, digging in his pockets and producing the little pile of Jeremy's things. "Um, here."

      Jeremy's little smile, calm as anything, was an incongruous note in the filthy mess of his face as he accepted them. "Thank you, Mr. Brassoff," he said.

      "You wanna move up front, boss?" Mike asked, swinging his legs over the seat back (nearly kicking Dave in the face in the process) and thumping into the driver's seat. He snapped his fingers impatiently until Dave handed him the keys.

      "That's okay," Simon said, still watching Jeremy. "I'll stay back here just in case Archer faints or something." Incredibly, Jeremy laughed under his breath.

      Edging past Jeremy and Simon, Dave clambered out of the back of the van. He straightened up, the vertebrae in his spine all crackling like crumpling paper; closing his eyes Dave put one hand on the back of his neck and cracked it with two loud pops. "Hell of a night," he ventured, testing the waters.

      "Trust me," Johnny told him, "you ain't seen nothin' yet." He did thump Dave on the shoulder, though, which Dave chose to interpret as a good sign.

      What with one thing and another—it was, after all, always one thing or another—they didn't let Simon go until nearly four in the morning. The good news was that he hadn't been hurt nearly as badly as he'd thought: Farraday's fingers hadn't actually reopened his wound, just snapped the forming muscle adhesion apart. Simon could even stand up straight now, without the muscle in his chest pulling taut. In a weird, roundabout way the asshole had done him a favor.

      The bad news was that he still hurt like hell and he'd probably have to go through another round of questioning tomorrow. But for now he was free, vindicated, full of Advil, and running on his very last reserves of manic energy, and thus, he silently decreed, it was time to go the hell home and get some sleep.

      Jeremy was waiting in the saferoom when Simon turned up with a hapless field agent in tow. Someone had done a half-assed job of cleaning him up and bandaging the worst of his wounds, but Jeremy still looked pretty rough and exhausted to boot. "Come on," Simon said, jabbing a thumb over his shoulder at the field agent and the hallway behind him. "This guy's going to take us home."

      "Oh, is he driving to England, then?" Jeremy asked, his voice thin and tired. "How nice."

      "Yeah, you're a funny, funny man," Simon told him. "You're going to sleep on my couch tonight so that I can wake you up every two hours and make sure that your concussion doesn't kill you. Doesn't that sound great?"

      "Oh, well, I'm always open to new experiences," Jeremy said, drifting to his feet like he hurt. Which he probably did. "By all means, then, let us go."

      "Okay!" Simon said, pretty much the instant that the door to his apartment had been closed and locked behind him. "Here's what's going to happen now, and you are not allowed to argue with me, because I am an expert or something." He darted into the kitchen and came back out with a big black trash bag and one of the two kitchen chairs. "You are going to go have a nice, long shower. I'm sure my toiletries aren't nearly as froofy as what you're used to, but suffer. There's a first-aid kit under the sink for rebandaging yourself when you're done, and you can even steal one of my painkillers if you want it."

      "And you thought I was going to argue with this?" Jeremy said, picking fastidiously at his grime-crusted sleeve.

      Simon ignored him. "What's left of your clothes can go in here—" he brandished the trash bag "—and you can pick them apart to reclaim your stuff in the morning. I'll get you something to sleep in here in a sec."

      "And the chair?" Jeremy asked, raising both eyebrows—a gesture which lost some of its impact when both his forehead and eyebrows were lost under a vast reddish shadow of rust.

      "Oh, the chair," said Simon, carrying it into the hallway and putting it down outside the bathroom door with a thump. "While you're in the shower I'm going to sit out here and stand guard."

      Jeremy went very still. "I'm sure that's not necessary, Simon," he said cautiously.

      "Nope," said Simon. He stepped into the bedroom and fetched a pair of pajama pants from their drawer—navy blue was the closest thing he had to black, so he supposed that it would just have to do. "It's not necessary at all. Farraday's dead. But you know what? As long as you're in there, I'm going to sit out here and stand guard. Because believe me, once you're in there alone, you'll appreciate knowing that." He put the trash bag and the pants on the bathroom counter.

      "Ah," said Jeremy, looking away. "Do you know, I suppose I might at that?"

      "Once you're all done in there I'm going to clean up, too, and you are going to sit in this chair and stand guard while I do, because I also will appreciate knowing that someone's got my naked and vulnerable back," Simon said. "We'll fetch you your arm thingies before I go in. After we're all cleaned up, there will be sleep! And just in case you're wondering, I do mean sleep."

      "I do hope the couch is comfortable," Jeremy said, his smile flickering on and back off.

      "Couch, my ass," said Simon. "If you think I'm going to get up every two hours to come poke you, you're nuts."

      Jeremy's smile flicked back on, and stayed this time. "Oh, good," he said. "I must admit, I had been wondering."

      "Yeah, yeah," said Simon, waving at the bathroom door. "Go on. Quicker you shower, the quicker we can get some sleep." He dropped into the kitchen chair and drew the borrowed gun from his holster—the Bureau had wanted to keep his overnight—laying it ostentatiously in his lap and resting one hand over its grip.

      Jeremy took a deep and not entirely even breath, then stepped past Simon and closed the bathroom door. A moment later, it locked. Simon smiled, just a little, and settled in to wait.

      Half an hour later the door clicked open again, belching steam out into the hallway. Jeremy looked approximately a thousand times better than he had, clean, neat, and wearing fresh pants, with his hair all slicked back wetly against his skull; he wore a flesh-colored patch on one temple, neat turns of white bandage about both his wrists, and a matching slim collar of bandage around his throat. "Nice," said Simon, looking this bare-chested apparition up and down. "You look just like a Chippendales dancer."

      Jeremy paused, the plastic bag dangling from one hand. "A what?" he said.

      "Never mind," Simon said, grinning. "Tell you later. Go on, put that bag in the kitchen and get your, your, uh, shooty thingies. I want to wash my face."

      "My shooty thingies," Jeremy said, amused, and vanished into the kitchen. Simon reholstered his borrowed gun and bent painfully down to untie his shoes.

      By the time Simon stumbled back out of the bathroom his reserves of energy were almost depleted—he was so exhausted that he was teetering on the verge of hysteria. Everything he saw threatened to make him laugh until he ran out of breath and fell over. Jeremy was sitting upright and alert in the chair, wearing his weapon harnesses over his bandages, and Simon bit back a snicker and patted him on the head. "You're just about the cutest little male stripper of a bodyguard I've ever had," Simon said. "Go put the chair back in the kitchen, or, if you're paranoid, under the doorknob."

      "Doorknob, I think," Jeremy said serenely, carrying the chair away. Simon heard it thunk into place a moment later, the knob on the front door rattling.

      Limping a little, Simon made his way into the bedroom and set the alarm for seven. The very idea hurt him physically. "I think I could sleep the clock around," he muttered.

      "Mm," said Jeremy, startling him a little: Simon hadn't heard him come in. "Personally, I think that sounds like an excellent idea."

      "Pity it's not going to happen," Simon said, putting the borrowed gun down on the nightstand, within easy reach. "Come on, sleep now." He turned out the light and burrowed under the already-rumpled covers on his side of the bed, nearly groaning with relief. On the other side of the bed Jeremy peeled back the covers and slid in, moving carefully. Simon threw out an arm and wiggled his fingers; after a moment Jeremy slid across the bed and settled diffidently up against his side, putting his head on Simon's shoulder. His hair was still damp and clammy against Simon's bare skin. Simon made a face at the ceiling, but decided not to mention it. "You going to be okay?" he asked.

      "I think so," Jeremy said, laying his arm gingerly across Simon's waist. "I'm still a bit dizzy, but I expect that will pass."

      "Great," Simon said. "G'night."

      "Good night, Simon," Jeremy said, and fell silent. Simon closed his eyes.

      Five minutes later he opened them again. "This isn't working, is it," he said.

      "No," Jeremy said. "I'm exhausted but I can't seem to make my mind stop springing about."

      "Yeah, I know how that is," Simon said, rubbing a hand over his face. "You smell weird."

      Jeremy laughed silently, quivering against Simon's side. "I suspect that's because I smell like you. Or, at least, like your bath things."

      "Yeah, actually," Simon said. "And that's weird. It's way too manly a smell for you. I keep thinking there's a man in bed with me or something."

      "Oh, heaven forfend."

      Simon yawned. "Yeah, it's awakening my territorial urges over here."

      "Well, I could still go sleep on the couch, if that will satisfy the rampant male predator in you, Simon—"

      "You know what, when it comes down to a battle between my territorial urges and my personal convenience, my personal convenience wins every time. You stay right there."

      "Gladly," Jeremy said, pressing his face against Simon's shoulder for a moment. Simon absently looped his arm around Jeremy's shoulders and squeezed, staring at the ceiling and not really thinking about much. After a moment, he laughed a little. "Mm?" Jeremy said.

      "'Rampant male predator'," Simon said, shaking his head. "Blatant, Archer."

      "Would you prefer 'alpha male'?" Jeremy asked. "I do occasionally feel the urge to roll over and expose my belly in submission, after all—"

      "Christ, don't do it now, I'm wiped out." Simon yawned again. After a moment he felt Jeremy's jaw clench, resisting the same yawn. "Also, I nominate this as the stupidest conversation we've ever had."

      "Well, I do have a head injury," Jeremy pointed out. "I suppose we're both very lucky that I'm not actively hallucinating."

      "Oh, I dunno, I'd probably find that pretty funny, particularly if there was twitching involved."

      "Mm," Jeremy said, patting Simon's hip.

      Things got quieter after that. Jeremy eventually left off patting Simon's hip and hooked his thumb under the waistband of Simon's pajama pants instead, leaving it there. "Hey," Simon said in warning, not so much actively protesting as letting it be known that Jeremy hadn't actually gotten away with anything.

      "Hm?" Jeremy said, all innocence.

      Simon hesitated. "It hits everyone hard the first time, you know," he finally said.

      "I suppose it must," Jeremy said, after a slight hitch. "I think I might be quite a wreck if I were alone right now."

      "Yeah, that's kind of how it goes," Simon said. "You'd probably better stick around for a few more days. After all, the FBI might want to question you again, and I know how much you must relish that kind of opportunity."

      "Oh, yes, I certainly wouldn't want to hurt the FBI's feelings," Jeremy said.

      "Not that the FBI actually gives a damn about you or anything."

      "Of course not. I've always known I was merely the slave to the FBI's whims."

      "And don't you forget it," Simon said.

      Jeremy was quiet for a moment. "May I ask you something?"

      "Do you know how tempting it is to say 'no' when you say that, Archer?" Simon gestured wearily. "Ask."

      "How..." Jeremy's voice faltered, an event so rare that Simon couldn't help but mark it. "How did you cope, the first time?"

      "Oh, shit," Simon said, putting a hand over his eyes and laughing a little. "The first time I shot a guy, I threw up."

      "Well, that isn't exactly what I meant, but... really?"

      "Mm-hmm." Simon let his hand fall to the pillow beside his head. "Well, see, I didn't actually pull the trigger until he grabbed me, so, uh, I... are you sure you want to hear this?"

      "I'm sure," Jeremy said firmly. "Particularly if it's embarrassing for you."

      "Bite me," Simon said. "Anyway, he was right there, so when I pulled the trigger I, uh, got him all over me, so to speak—" Jeremy made a face against the side of Simon's throat "—so after I shoved him off and got back up I managed to hold it together long enough to finish the raid—about five minutes—and then all of a sudden the smell got to me or something and I just horked. It was nasty. Lucky for me, though, no one saw me do it. Tough-guy reputation: maintained."

      "Mm," said Jeremy. "How old were you?"

      "Twenty-five," Simon said. "Year or two out of the academy."

      "Ah." Jeremy paused, squeezed Simon's hip again, and then said, "What I meant was, how did you cope afterwards?"

      "Oh. Uh. Camaraderie, mostly. Sharing war stories with people who had also been there. Also beer." Simon scratched his ear. "I guess I never really felt that bad about it, though. The guy was scum and he was trying to kill me. It didn't really... leave a dent, I guess you could say."

      "Mm," Jeremy said neutrally. "For my part, I do rather feel dented."

      "Yeah, well, you're kind of a sissy and all," Simon said. "But still... okay, look. You did the only thing you could have done, all right? If you hadn't shot him when you did, he'd have shot me. So I guess you sort of saved my life or something, not that you should let it go to your head."

      Jeremy was quiet for a long moment. "I 'sort of' saved your life?" he finally prompted.

      "Well, yeah," Simon said. "It was only a .22. There was a pretty good chance that even shooting me in the face wouldn't have killed me outright." Jeremy shivered. Simon squeezed his shoulder. "You did the right thing," he said softly.

      "I did the right thing?" Jeremy repeated, uncertainly.

      "Keep telling yourself that," Simon said. "It was the right thing to do. It was the only thing you could have done, especially in that condition. Okay?"

      "All right," Jeremy said. He still didn't sound certain, but it was, in Simon's expert opinion, close enough for government work.

      "Great," Simon said, yawning so hugely that his jaw cracked. "Oh, shit, okay, that's a sign," he said, still yawning. "A sign that says 'SLEEP' in big neon letters."

      "I'll give it my best shot. Er. To coin a particularly inappropriate phrase." Jeremy shifted against him—in other, less exhausted circumstances Simon might have found that little motion interesting—and settled back down. "Do you realize," Jeremy said, "we never did have dinner?"

      "Aw, Christ, you had to remind me, now I'm going to be hungry." Simon reached over and prodded Jeremy's shoulder, lightly. "Go to sleep, Archer."

      "I'll try," Jeremy said, his jaw clenching as he bit back another yawn. "Good night, Simon. Again."

      "Night," said Simon, and closed his eyes. Jeremy went quiet beside him, his breathing slowly evening out.

      Ten minutes later, without opening his eyes, Simon asked, "You were too far away to hear the things I was saying to Farraday, right?"

      "Oh, possibly," Jeremy said, his voice sleepy but oddly smug. "I can't guarantee it, of course, but I'd say that there's a very good chance that I heard nothing at all."

      Simon snorted. "'Very good chance'," he said. "Anyway, I just want you to know that whatever you may or may not have heard, I was only saying that shit to provoke him and you shouldn't believe a word of it."

      Jeremy smiled against Simon's shoulder. "Trust me, Simon," he murmured, "I don't believe most of what you say about me."

      "Good," Simon said. "... wait, what?"

      "Shh," Jeremy said, radiating an especially maddening sort of contentment, and Simon was still trying to get Jeremy to explain that one when sleep caught up with him and knocked him flat.