Part Four: Chapters 18-22

      "I do not need babysitting," Simon informed Sandra, hobbling across the parking lot towards the stairs to his apartment. Checking him out of the hospital had taken the better part of an hour, despite everything, and the sun was already setting behind them. "I appreciate the ride and all, since they were being such assholes about letting me drive myself home, but I'm perfectly capable of taking care of myself. So piss off."

      "Nope." Sandra neatly slipped her arm through Simon's two steps from the stairs. "Hate to break it to you, Templar, but someone shot you in the chest."

      "I know that. I was there, remember?" Simon tugged grumpily at Sandra's grip on his arm.

      "So that earns you a whole raft of special privileges, a chauffeur and a maid and an escort and everything. Feel special, you big whiner."

      "Don't want 'em. Let go."

      "That would be a no, chief."

      "I'm not going to fall down the fucking stairs!" Simon grabbed for the railing with his free hand. His knuckles promptly went white. Sandra rolled her eyes and nudged Simon with her shoulder until he gave up and leaned on her, and together they made their way up the stairs to Simon's apartment.

      "No, all right, I agree, you are probably not going to fall down the stairs, fucking or otherwise. Maybe I just wanted an excuse to get close. Here we are!" Sandra knocked on the door to Simon's apartment.

      "What the hell are you knocking for? It's my place, I've got the keys right here..."

      The door opened. Simon stopped with his mouth open and his hand halfway in his jeans pocket.

      "Well! Aren't we looking chipper!" Jeremy smiled faintly and stood back, gesturing them both in. "You'd never know he was in the hospital an hour ago, except for the lovely plastic bracelet and the deathly pallor."

      "Yes, you would," Sandra told him, maneuvering the now thoroughly cranky Simon into his apartment. "He's never this bitchy unless he's been sidelined. Oh, and he hasn't had his precious morning coffee in about a week."

      Jeremy winced politely. "Ah, it all becomes so clear."

      "You broke into my apartment!" Simon broke in, outraged. "Goddammit, Archer, you broke into my apartment—"

      "Again," Jeremy finished for him, still entirely serene. "Yes, Simon, I broke into your flat. Your locks are—oh, how do you Americans put it—crap. Ms. Leone asked me to come make sure the place was habitable before she brought you home, which it mostly certainly was not, given that you are such a bachelor." By this point Simon had been reduced to infuriated glaring. "And I believe she asked me to do it because I have no morals whatsoever and a better set of lockpicks than anyone else she knows."

      "That's about right," Sandra said. "I guess I could have had Mike come kick your door down instead. You know Mike loves a little mayhem."

      "All right, all right, so instead of waiting five seconds for me to get out my keys you encouraged a known and wanted criminal to come break into my apartment, Sandy. That's really sweet and all. Now fuck off, both of you."

      "Still a no, chief."

      "Afraid not, Simon."

      "I hate you both. You're out of my will."

      "You have money?" Sandra asked.

      "If he had money," Jeremy said, "I think he'd probably dress better."

      Simon let go of Sandra's arm long enough to flip them both off.

      "So how bad was it?" Sandra was in the process of guiding Simon to the couch, more or less against his will, given how his sneakers dug into the carpet.

      "Not so bad." Jeremy closed and locked the front door, then brushed invisible lint off his shirt with both hands. "Some dishes which needed to be done, a bit of nigh-sentient garbage.... oh, and he has a tendency to miss his laundry hamper. Hardly anything out of the ordinary."

      "I'm right here, you know." Simon shook off Sandra's hands before she could make him sit down. "You could stop talking around me like I'm some kind of houseplant."

      Ignoring him, Jeremy continued, "I'm hardly the housework sort, but I think that I'm up to carting a few bags of garbage down to the tip. And he has a dishwasher, which I'm led to believe actually washes dishes for you? So clever, you Americans."

      "Still right here! Not dead!" Simon waved a hand. "Really!"

      "He has a dishwasher?" Sandra asked Jeremy. "In a place this small? I'm impressed. My place barely has a sink."

      "Perhaps you should have abandoned him in the hospital and moved in. Possession is nine-tenths of the law, I'm led to believe." Jeremy's smile was brilliant.

      "All right, that's it." Simon shot them both a glare and stomped off towards the back hallway, a bit wobbly. "I am going to go have a real shower for the first time in a week, and if you two are still here when I get out, I'll shoot you both."

      "He's so sweet," Sandra said to Jeremy.

      "I'm utterly charmed," said Jeremy. "So, what am I in for?"

      "He'll be a complete bitch, refuse any help even when he needs it, complain about everything, and possibly throw things at you. He nearly gave Johnny a concussion the time he broke his leg and couldn't get around. Threw a coffee mug at Johnny's head. Fortunately, it was empty." Sandra smiled a bit. "Simon doesn't waste coffee."


      "Oh, yeah, we all love him for his winning personality. Did I mention that he can't have caffeine for another week?"

      Jeremy eyed Sandra. "So what you're saying, Ms. Leone, is that you hate me?"


      "Archer!" Simon reappeared in the doorway, his face apoplectic with rage. "The beer cans in the guest room—?"

      "Threw them out with the rest of the garbage," said Jeremy.

      "You threw out my beer can collection?"

      "You collected empty beer cans? Whatever for?" said Jeremy.

      "You still had a beer can collection?" said Sandra.

      "Is this some sort of strange American thing I should be aware of?" Jeremy asked Sandra.

      "It's an American college boy thing," Sandra said, eyeing Simon narrowly. "He's thirty. That's not even cute any more. That's just sad."

      "I'm twenty-nine. And if you two don't stop mocking my beer cans," Simon said, "I am going to have a relapse just to spite you."

      "How, exactly, do you relapse into a gunshot wound?" asked Jeremy.

      "Because I will shoot myself rather than listen to any more of this abuse."


      "Those beer cans have been with me longer than either of you bastards. And, quite frankly, I like them better than either of you, too. You see, number one, beer loves me and doesn't treat me like a fucking invalid. And number two... uh... shut your stupid face."

      "Ms. Leone is right. That is just sad."

      "Fuck you," Simon said, pointing at Jeremy, "and fuck you," he said, pointing at Sandra, "and I am going to take that shower now, assuming Archer here hasn't thrown out the soap, too—"

      "I did get rid of that pathetic little sliver of soap and put in a new bar. I do hope that's acceptable to you."

      Simon stopped dead and glared daggers at Jeremy. "It better be some of the normal soap from under the sink. If it's some froofy kind of English faggot soap..."

      Jeremy glanced at Sandra. "You do hate me."

      "I plead the fifth."

      "Where's Sandra?" Simon asked, stalking barefoot and bare-chested back out into the living room forty-five minutes later, more or less clean and rebandaged.

      "She went home," Jeremy said, not bothering to look up from his magazine. He was lounging on the couch like he owned it. "It seems someone threatened to shoot her if she was still here when he got out of the shower, and for some reason she took that personally. Women. Can't fathom them."

      Simon just snorted and shrugged gingerly into the shirt he was carrying, hissing out a strangled little noise. "I notice you didn't have the sense to take it personally. I meant for you to."

      "I realize it's hard for you to remember this from day to day, Simon, but I'm not a woman." Jeremy laid his open magazine down on his chest and eyed Simon peacefully. "Well! You look better. There's some kind of monstrous overgrown sandwich in the kitchen that Sandra said you'd like, if you're hungry."

      Simon paused, smoothed his damp hair down over his forehead, and scratched the unbandaged part of his chest. "... okay, I forgive her. But not you."

      Jeremy picked up his magazine again. "And here I went down to the garbage tip and fetched all your silly cans back."

      "Still not with the forgiving you." Simon gingerly poked the bottommost button of the shirt through its hole, made that little strangled sound again, and gave up on the buttons.

      Jeremy eyed him over the top of the magazine. "That's quite the fashion statement, Simon. Taking the unbuttoned shirt to new lows?"

      "You—" Simon stabbed a finger in Jeremy's direction "—are getting on my very last nerve. I do not need a nursemaid, especially not a snotty English one. I don't know what Sandra was thinking. I don't know if Sandra was thinking. Get out of my apartment."

      Jeremy sighed, closed his magazine, and stood up, but instead of going to the front door and letting himself back out, he crossed to where Simon was looming and deftly did up the next button for him. "No."

      "Out." Simon glowered at Jeremy, although he didn't move to protest the buttoning.


      "... how about if I lower myself to say 'please'?"

      "Not even if you lowered yourself and said 'mind if I unzip this?'." Jeremy favored Simon with an arch little smile and did up the next two buttons. "Not that you could, I suppose, in this state."

      "Don't think I can't have you deported. ... and stop lingering."

      "I'm not lingering." Jeremy buttoned one last button and lightly patted an unbandaged bit of Simon's chest. "There. Quite fetching. Go eat some of that sandwich before it annexes the kitchen and starts squalling about sovereignty."

      "One last chance." Instead of swatting Jeremy's hand away from his chest, Simon swayed backwards slightly. "Out."

      "Hm. Let me think, what makes this time different from all the other times... ah, that's right. Nothing. No."

      "Fine." Simon scowled and shouldered past Jeremy, heading for the kitchen. "At least come keep me company while I eat, then."

      Jeremy raised an eyebrow at Simon's retreating back and followed him. "That seems like an abrupt change of heart."

      "Like hell. It's just because if I leave you alone in there, you'll steal something."

      "Oh, yes, I don't know how I ever lived without a fake tweed couch."

      "So shooting you. After I eat."

      The sandwich had the entire middle shelf of Simon's fridge all to itself, looking like a zeppelin wrapped in white paper. Simon fetched it out and dumped it on the kitchen table in passing, stopping in front of the coffee maker and arthritically grabbing for the can in the cabinet overhead.

      "Far be it from me to meddle in your little love affair, but I've been led to believe you're not allowed coffee yet," Jeremy said from the doorway.

      "I'm not going to drink it," Simon said, although it pained him to say so. "I just want to smell it in the air. Can't eat otherwise."

      "Addict." Jeremy sauntered over, dropping into the chair opposite the sandwich.

      "Ha. I prefer to think of it as a fulfilling relationship."

      "Call it what you will, but it's been my experience that genuinely fulfilling relationships involve more than oral gratification."

      "As if you would know anything about genuinely fulfilling relationships." Leaving the coffee to perk, Simon gingerly lowered himself into the chair opposite Jeremy and picked at the paper wrapped around his sandwich.

      Jeremy shrugged. "That is debatable. However, I do know a thing or two about oral gratification." As if to prove it, Jeremy fetched out his cigarettes and lit one.

      Simon stopped, gave Jeremy a singularly disgusted look, and then picked up half his sandwich in both hands and took a huge bite. Jeremy simply looked pleased with himself and dragged over the bowl-cum-ashtray that was always lurking on the corner of Simon's kitchen table these days.

      Silence fell. Simon kept his eyes on the rapidly-vanishing sandwich, and Jeremy watched Simon eat and burned his cigarette, occasionally remembering to take a mouthful of the smoke. When that was gone, Jeremy said, "Well, as long as it's there..." and went to pour himself some coffee.

      Simon waited until Jeremy was seated and bringing the mug to his lips to say, "Why, yes, you may have some of my coffee, thank you for asking."

      Jeremy eyed him over the rim of the mug, took a sip, and lowered it just enough to say, "Your generosity was never in doubt, Simon."

      Simon grunted and picked up the other half of his sandwich. This time, though, his eyes stayed firmly on Jeremy, or, rather, on the cup of coffee that hung steaming from Jeremy's hands. For a while Jeremy pretended he didn't notice. Finally, with the cup half empty and the last bite of Simon's sandwich disappearing, Jeremy said, "You do realize that if you choose to have a cup or four of coffee, I'm not going to stop you. It's your funeral."

      Torn, Simon eyed Jeremy's coffee mug while he wadded up the discarded white paper. Finally he mustered a scowl from somewhere and went to throw the paper away. "Some nurse you are."

      "I'm hardly your nurse, Simon. I'm simply going to keep you company until you're all tucked into bed and sleeping, and then I plan to break back out of your charming flat and go back to my hotel and have a decent dinner and perhaps a mouthful or two of good Scotch, and then I plan to sleep the sleep of the completely morally absolved." Jeremy paused and took another long sip of his coffee, watching Simon gingerly manipulate the cabinet door under the sink. "Of course, I'll come back tomorrow. Letting you abuse me for doing absolutely nothing wrong is such an excellent penance for my sins."

      "Ha. As if penance for your sins would be that painless. Getting your soul into a state of grace would require martyrdom."

      "What can I say? It's a start."

      "A start." Simon nudged the cabinet door closed with his toes, then crossed to where Jeremy was sitting, grabbed his face in both hands, and kissed him deeply. Jeremy put the coffee mug down, and quickly. After a long and breathless moment Simon pulled away, licking his lips. "Oh, God."

      "Mmn. Welcome home, Simon."

      "Oh, God, you taste like coffee."

      "... your priorities continue to alarm me."

      "Shut up. Have some more. I'm jonesing here."

      Jeremy's phone blared from the bedside table, startling him awake and nearly vibrating itself straight off onto the carpet in the process. Before it could ring again (or fall off the table) Jeremy shot an arm out from under the covers and grabbed it, dragging it under the blankets with him. He didn't bother opening his eyes. Instead he cleared his throat, flipped his phone open, and said, "Good morning, Simon."

      "Goddamn it, Archer," Simon said, dispensing with the pleasantries, as had always been his habit. "Where the hell did you put my keys?"

      Jeremy didn't answer right away. Instead he pushed the covers down and stretched luxuriously, making something of a point of yawning in Simon's ear; at the apex of his stretch his fingers groped along the bedside table, plucking a small metal key-ring from the little pile of things there. "I don't know where your keys are, Simon," Jeremy said once that was done, cracking his eyes open and smiling lazily up at the keys, dangling from his forefinger and catching the morning sunlight. "However, I'd be happy to come help you look, if you'd like."

      "Don't bother, I'll find 'em—" Simon hung up.

      Jeremy kicked the covers the rest of the way off and sat up, running a hand through his hair. A quick glance at the clock confirmed that it wasn't quite eight in the morning. In his opinion, an absolutely inhumane time of morning to be awake without a damned good reason. Letting Simon's keys drop to the bed in front of him, Jeremy brought up his call history and tapped redial.

      "What?" Simon snapped.

      "You weren't planning to try and go somewhere on your own, were you?" Jeremy asked pleasantly.

      "Maybe. What's it to you, anyway?"

      "Well, ordinarily it'd be nothing, except that Ms. Leone very specifically tasked me with keeping an eye on you and making certain that you spent as much of today as possible in bed—"

      "Yeah, well, she can go straight to hell and so can you," Simon said, interrupting what Jeremy thought had been a very promising line of conversation. "I'm sick of rotting in bed."

      Jeremy sighed. "If it's rotting in bed you're sick of, give me half an hour and I'll come fetch you for breakfast."

      "Don't want it," Simon promptly said.

      "Tell me, do you always regress to five years old when you're ill?" Jeremy asked, pinching the bridge of his nose. "I'll be there in half an hour, Simon."

      "Go to hell," Simon said, and hung up on him again. Jeremy rolled his eyes and slid out of bed, padding towards the bath.

      True to his word it was barely eight-thirty by the time Jeremy arrived at Simon's apartment. Humming under his breath, Jeremy knocked.

      After ten seconds in which no one answered the door, Jeremy was no longer humming. He was, however, smiling a bit. He knocked again, just to be certain, but after another ten seconds passed with no answer he simply let himself in with Simon's keys.

      Simon, flushed and grumpy, was lying in wait just behind the front door. "You did steal my keys!" he said, snatching them out of Jeremy's hand. The effort made him wheeze a little. "Christ, I should have known. Leave it to the fucking thief."

      "Good morning to you too, Simon." Jeremy shut the door behind himself and locked it, ignoring the pissed-off Simon as best he could. "And how are you this morning?"

      "I'm fine."

      "By which you mean..."

      "That I'm fine," Simon repeated irritably.

      "Mm," said Jeremy, studying Simon with a critical eye. "Well, I suppose you look all right, although I'd feel a bit better if I thought you could stand up straight."

      "I'm standing up straight!" Simon said, straightening up and promptly wincing. After a moment, with an effort, he rolled his shoulders back. "There. See?"

      "Much better," Jeremy said, internally starting to count the seconds. By the time he'd counted seven Simon's shoulders had rolled forward again, and by the time he hit eleven Simon had returned to his slouch, curling forward protectively over his chest. Simon made a little noise and looked away, gritting his teeth. "So!" Jeremy said brightly, not bothering to point out what was surely crystal-clear to both of them. "Shall we go somewhere and have a bit of breakfast?"

      "Yeah, okay," Simon said. "I'll drive if you pay."

      "Actually, I thought I'd drive and pay, if it's all the same to you," Jeremy said.

      Simon's hand closed hard around his keys. "I'll drive," he insisted, and then frowned and glanced down, letting his hand roll open. "... oh, God fucking damn it, Archer."

      Jeremy smiled and held up the key to the Jeep. "Is this what you're looking for?"

      Simon made a half-hearted lunge for it, but this time Jeremy twitched his hand back, the key vanishing into his fist. Simon pulled up short and hissed, one hand rising about halfway to his chest before he made it stop (with an effort of will that was visible) and drop to his side again. "Bastard," he said, suddenly breathless.

      "Yes, quite," Jeremy said. "Come on, then. Breakfast?"

      Simon closed his eyes. "Breakfast," he agreed. "Anything to get out. And there's nothing to eat in the apartment, so I need to hit the grocery store afterwards."

      "Or you can give me a list and I can go in your place while you rest," Jeremy said, still cheerful.

      "Or you can get the fuck off my back," Simon said, his eyes snapping open. "I don't need baby-sitting."

      "Actually, I'm of the opinion that you do," said Jeremy. "Honestly, Simon, it's like telling a five-year-old not to put a fork in the outlet: the moment my back is turned you're attempting to do exactly what you shouldn't, quite possibly just because someone told you not to."

      Simon so dearly wanted to be infuriated by that—Jeremy could see it quite clearly—but it was equally clear that he didn't quite have the energy for actual fury. Simon's shoulders slumped further and he growled in exasperation, grabbing for the doorknob. "Fine," he said. "Whatever. Just buy me some fucking breakfast, Archer."

      "My pleasure," Jeremy said, following him out the door.

      Unsurprisingly for a Sunday morning, the little place that Simon grudgingly directed him to was packed to the gills with the elderly and the churchgoing, all enjoying a bit of breakfast before they went off to be preached at. Jeremy sighed and exercised his discretion appropriately; it required a quiet word with a manager, a subtle playing up of Simon's injury (which would doubtless have aggravated Simon immensely, had he known), and a discreet twenty-dollar bill, but five minutes after they arrived they were seated at a booth near the back. Jeremy internally decreed this a success before turning his attention to the horrifically cheery laminated menu in his hands.

      "Coffee," Simon absently told the waitress, refolding his menu.

      Jeremy glanced up sharply from his own. "No coffee."

      Simon gritted his teeth. "... decaf," he finally said, in much the same tone of voice he might have used to say carcinogenic.

      "And a regular coffee for me, please," Jeremy said pleasantly, picking up Simon's discarded menu and adding it to a little stack with his own. Simon scowled at him furiously enough to raise blisters; the waitress glanced from Simon to Jeremy and back, uneasily, and then nodded and moved off.

      "... it's just not the same," Simon said, clutching his coffee mug and staring with real greed at Jeremy's.

      Jeremy shut his eyes and drank some of his own coffee, feeling a bit like he was a performer in some kind of fetishistic peep show. "Well, you can certainly have real coffee if you insist, but I think Ms. Leone might be slightly put out with me if you died."

      "I know! Christ." Simon took another sip, wrinkling his nose. "At least it's... sort of like coffee. Kind of like how blow-up dolls are like real women."

      "I'm sure I wouldn't know," Jeremy said equably.

      By the time they had finished eating, Simon was visibly paler, his forehead damp with sweat. Jeremy prudently followed a step or two behind Simon as they made their way out to where the Jeep was parked, just in case he stumbled; he did not, although negotiating with the handle of the passenger side door took a bit longer than it should have. "Groceries," Simon said once they were both in the Jeep, fumbling with his seat-belt.

      "Home," Jeremy said in contradiction, starting the engine. "You look like you're just about all in. If you insist on fetching your own groceries, we can go this afternoon, after you've had a bit of a lie-down."

      Simon's head hit the headrest with a thump. "I suppose there's no point in arguing with you," he told the roof of the Jeep, ungraciously.

      "None at all."

      "Fine," Simon said irritably. "You can make me go home, but you can't make me lie down."

      Jeremy smiled, just a little. "Do you know, I rather think I could?"

      "... fine, but I bet you can't make me stay in bed."

      Despite the can of worms which it would undoubtedly open, Jeremy found it absolutely impossible to let that one pass him by un-remarked. "Oh, I rather think I could," he said, reaching over and laying a hand high up on Simon's thigh.

      Simon picked his head up (with an effort) and stared at Jeremy. After a moment, he groaned under his breath. "... are you trying to kill me?"

      "Bah, I seem to recall that you said that you were fine," Jeremy pointed out. Prudently he moved that hand back to the steering wheel, edging the Jeep towards the parking lot's exit. "If so, I don't see where the problem lies."

      "Bastard." Simon let his head fall back again. "Thought you were supposed to be my nurse and here you're trying to take advantage of my helpless state—what is this, bad seventies porn? Bom chicka wow?"

      "Oh, I don't know, I rather think I'm a better actor than that," Jeremy said. After a moment, Simon snorted out a tired little laugh.

      He was quiet for most of the rest of the drive back to his apartment, tapping his fingers on his leg; it was only when Jeremy was turning into the parking lot that Simon said, speculatively, "I'm definitely not up for anything athletic, buuuut..."

      Jeremy almost laughed. "I won't say I haven't had a few ideas about how to handle your, erm, handicap," he said, pulling the Jeep into its appointed spot and stopping the car, pocketing the key before Simon could grab it. "But perhaps today would be pushing it."

      "Bullshit," Simon said. He slid slowly out of the Jeep and steadied himself with a hand pressed to its side before heading, slowly, towards home. "Couple of hours' nap and I'll bet you I could handle you just fine."

      "I'll keep an open mind," Jeremy promised, hooking Simon's arm over his shoulders two steps before the stairs and ignoring the long-suffering glare that this act of preservation earned him.

      Simon headed slowly towards the small hallway that led to his bedroom, his fingers trailing along the back of the couch like he might need to lean on it at any second. Jeremy watched him go, blindly doing up the locks on the front door by feel. "Do you need any help with your shirt?" he asked, mostly just to watch the reaction.

      Simon paused in the doorway. "No," he said grumpily.

      "Mm." Jeremy picked up the chain and slotted it home. Simon vanished into the bedroom. "How about your pants?" Jeremy called after him.

      "No!" Simon yelled.

      Jeremy ducked his head to hide a little smile, even though no one was around to see it. Shrugging out of his jacket he tossed it across the back of the couch and followed Simon into the bedroom, pausing to lean against the doorjamb. "You're certain."

      "Yes, nurse, I'm certain," Simon said, gingerly kicking his way out of his jeans and letting them fall on top of his sneakers. He plucked at his t-shirt, scowling, then stopped and slowly lowered himself into the unmade bed just as he was. He was hissing air like a teakettle and had to stop no fewer than three times to suck in a breath and let his body catch up, but every time he gritted his teeth and kept going. Bandages crackled under his t-shirt.

      Jeremy prudently watched this production from the doorway, suspecting that his help would be both unwelcome and unnecessary. "D'you need a hand down?" he asked anyway, just in case.

      Simon paused, half in the bed and half out of it, and shot Jeremy a look. "No," he said.

      "Fair enough," Jeremy said, and watched the rest of the slow process. Once Simon was once again safely prone, he asked, "Anything else?" This nursemaid business was starting to amuse him, and he didn't bother hiding it. "Glass of water? Aspirin? Need me to tuck you in? Anything at all?"

      Simon rolled his eyes at the ceiling and pulled the covers over himself. "Yes," he said. "Come here."

      Raising an eyebrow, Jeremy pushed himself off the door-frame and crossed to Simon's side of the bed, perching by his hip. "Yes?"

      Simon promptly grabbed his wrist. "Stay," he said. "Christ, if I have to stay in bed all day you can at least keep me company. I want my obituary to say something more interesting than 'died of boredom'."

      "Oh, well, keeping you company in bed, now how can I say no to an offer like that?" Jeremy said, toeing off his shoes.

      "Yeah, I'm irresistible," Simon said. He still sounded a bit grumpy, and a bit tired, but some small measure of essential Simon-ness was coming back to him now, Jeremy was happy to note.

      Jeremy tugged lightly against Simon's grip on his wrist. "Since I suspect that climbing over you is a poor idea at the moment, and not for the usual reason, if I'm to get into bed with you I'm afraid you'll have to let me go."

      "Christ, you're so demanding," Simon said, and let go.

      Standing up, Jeremy emptied his pockets onto the bedside table and then flicked his belt loose, dropping it on top of his shoes. "I may doze off for a while myself," he said, rounding the foot of the bed and sliding in, moving slowly so as not to jostle Simon too much. "Someone saw fit to wake me at a perfectly ungodly hour of the morning with a phone call, you see."

      Simon snorted. "You know what time I went to bed last night? Seven PM. Seven. Like I was six years old and needed lots of sleep because tomorrow was a big day. You're lucky I didn't call you at five when I first woke up."

      "Mm." Jeremy settled in on top of the covers that Simon was under, wedging the pillow under his head. "Somehow, I think that might actually have been better. Phone calls that come at five in the morning promise some sort of excitement that phone calls at eight entirely lack."

      "Oh, well, sorry I'm not exciting enough for you any more," Simon said, tucking both hands behind his head and staring at the ceiling.

      "Besides, if you'd called me at five I'd have felt perfectly entitled to tell you to piss off before going back to sleep," Jeremy added. "I may have promised to look after you, but I have my limits."

      "I can't believe she called you," Simon said, picking up that train of thought. "I mean, what is the train of thought that runs through a woman's mind that somehow links fancy-ass English art thief—" one of Simon's hands pulled out from behind his head and gestured at Jeremy "—with in-home nursing care—" it flopped over to gesture vaguely in the direction of the bedroom window "—when you have absolutely nothing to do with anything in the first place?" Simon tucked that hand back behind his head.

      "Well, it wasn't quite that simple," said Jeremy. Guided by a vague impulse he reached up and put his hand on Simon's jutting elbow. "She only called to tell me that you'd been shot, and the rest sort of fell into place a bit at a time."

      "Yeah?" Simon twitched his elbow up out of Jeremy's hand. "How's that?"

      "Well, I was seized by a largely irrational desire to come to the States and make certain you were going to be all right, and so she caught me lurking in your hospital room—"

      "—you know, I thought I dreamed that?" Simon said. He let his arm fall back down into Jeremy's waiting hand. "I was so out of it I thought you were some kind of, of drug hallucination. Christ."

      "Oh, I'm flattered," said Jeremy, curling his fingers loosely about Simon's bicep. "I trust I was a good trip."

      "Eh, I've had worse." Simon shut his eyes. "Anyway, she caught you in my hospital room, go on."

      "Ah. Well. At any rate. She wasn't precisely thrilled to see me, but once I convinced her to put her gun away, we fell to talking—"

      "Wait," Simon said, rolling his head to one side and staring at Jeremy. "She drew on you?"

      Jeremy twitched out half a smile. "I'm afraid so."

      "She pointed a gun at you."

      "Most emphatically."

      "And I missed it?"

      "Well, technically you were there."

      "Christ!" Simon's head thunked back into the nest of his hands. "I would have paid cash money to see that. Double if there'd been pistol-whipping involved. I have fantasies about that kind of thing sometimes."

      "In that case, perhaps I'm not so sorry that you missed it."

      "You're just no goddamn fun, Archer."

      The conversation meandered on in that vein for another ten minutes or so, only coming to a halt when Simon squeezed his eyes shut and made an odd breathless sound. Jeremy levered himself up onto one elbow. "Are you all right?"

      "Fine," Simon wheezed, pressing his stiffened fingers against the skin of his chest. "Aches a little, is all."

      Jeremy looked around the room, frowning. "Did they give you any sort of pain pills?"

      "Yeah." Simon continued to prod gingerly at his chest, working in a large circle around what Jeremy could only assume was the actual bullet hole. "But I had one when I got up."

      "At five."


      "Simon, it's after ten."

      "Huh." Simon let his hand drop and started painfully rolling upright. "Guess I better go have another one."

      Jeremy sighed and put his hand on Simon's shoulder. "Stay," he said. "I'll fetch them for you. In the bath?"

      "I can get it," Simon said grumpily, but after that token protest he thumped back down and heaved in a breath. Jeremy patted his shoulder absently and slithered back out of bed, heading for the bathroom.

      The prescription bottles stood in a little row by the sink, next to a glass from the kitchen. Jeremy, curious, consulted the various labels, made a few calculations, rolled his eyes, and started palming open the childproof caps. Three pills in one hand and a full glass of water in the other, he went back to the bedroom. "I'm assuming you took all three pills when you woke up?"

      "Huh?" Simon's eyes drifted open. "Yeah."

      "Well, then, you're late for these two as well, so you may as well take them while you're at it," Jeremy said, putting both the pills and the water glass on the night-stand. "Do you need help sitting up?"

      "No," Simon said, a flash of irritation clearing the exhaustion from his face. "I do not need your help sitting up, or in fact at all. Piss off."

      "You really are a terrible patient, you realise," Jeremy said, already on his way back out the door. "I'll be right back." He went out into the main room and hung up his jacket, keeping half an ear on the little sounds coming from the bedroom; once he heard the pained noises stop and Simon's body hit the mattress again he whisked back in and claimed the glass, refilling it and bringing it back. "There," he said, putting the glass down at Simon's elbow and going to reclaim his spot on the bed.

      "You know what?" Simon said, rubbing a hand over his face to clear off the light sweat. "This sucks."

      "Really? I can't imagine why."

      "That." Simon reached out and blindly grabbed a handful of Jeremy's shirt, although he didn't bother pulling Jeremy closer or anything. "That's why."

      Jeremy glanced down at the hand fisted in his collar. "Because you can grab me all you like but you can't do anything with me once you've caught me? Oh, yes, that rather bothers me too—"

      "No!" Simon gave him a very half-hearted shaking. "What bugs me is having to listen to you be all snide about my situation when I'm like this and can't give you the beating you totally deserve. You think I can't tell when you're laughing at me?"

      Jeremy considered this, then carefully eeled over until he was leaning over the prone Simon. "Terribly sorry," he said. "Do you think you can thump me now, or should I lean in?"

      Simon glared up at him, then popped his open palm smartly against Jeremy's ear. It made a booming sound like a bass drum being broken over his head. Jeremy, who hadn't been expecting anything quite so effective and certainly nothing so loud, yelped and recoiled, only to be brought up short by Simon's grip on his collar. "There," Simon said. "Playground justice prevails again!" Jeremy could only dimly hear him over the roar of his offended eardrum, but he was reasonably sure that Simon sounded quite pleased with himself.

      "... ouch," Jeremy said, cupping his own hand over his throbbing ear and wincing. "Well, I trust you're satisfied now?"

      "Yeah, I think so." Simon let go of Jeremy's collar.

      "Well, that's wonderful news," Jeremy said thinly, scooting himself back out of easy punching range and rubbing at his ear until the throb in his eardrum subsided and he could hear out of both ears again. "I'd be angry, but I've known for ages now that doing you extraordinary favours only ends in pain, so it isn't as if this is some sort of surprise."

      Simon shrugged and tucked his hands behind his head again. "See, the thing is, I don't want your favours, Archer."

      "I'm aware of that," Jeremy said, also aware that despite his earlier statement to the contrary, he was starting to feel a bit angry. "Indeed, I was warned that you were a terrible, uncooperative, ungrateful prick of an invalid, but since I seem to be the only friend in the world that you have aside from your team-mates, who are rather busy, I'm afraid that it falls to me—"

      "Okay, let's get this straight: you? Are not my friend," Simon said, cutting in in a hurry, just as Jeremy had known he would. "You're just this guy—"

      Jeremy slammed one hand into the mattress by Simon's side and propelled himself up and over, looming over Simon. The motion of the bed made Simon grimace; Jeremy ignored it. "Yes I bloody well am," he said, nearly hissing it, his nose not half an inch from Simon's. "I know it kills you to admit it, Simon, but whatever else I may or may not be to you, I am your friend, and it is out of said friendship that I am allowing you to abuse me in this fashion! Because you need my help, whether or not you're willing to admit it, and the more you depend on me, the less strain you will put on yourself and the faster you will heal, you Christing fuck, and the faster you heal, the sooner I can get out of your life again, which I'm certain will make us both just ecstatic. Are we clear?"

      This little speech didn't precisely leave Simon gaping with awe, but he looked sullen and a little guilty, and Jeremy supposed that was the best he was going to get. They stared at each other, Jeremy's momentary flare of anger dissipating. "Yeah, okay, whatever," Simon finally muttered, glancing away. "Can you maybe scoot back some? You're denting the mattress."

      Jeremy sighed and rolled away, flopping out on his back on the other side of the bed. "Yes, of course," he said, rubbing his temples.

      Simon was silent for a while. "... I remember your little friend Lindsey said that too," he finally said.

      Jeremy left his hand tented over his eyes. "Said what?"

      "'Christing fuck'," Simon said. "That something the two of you pick up from your mentor-guy?"

      "Actually, I picked it up from Bran when we were still living together at Ethan's," Jeremy said, smiling just a bit at the memory. "Only he says 'yeh Christin' fahk', as you might recall."

      "Yeah, I remember." Simon pulled a hand out from behind his head and lightly knuckled Jeremy's shoulder. "Your ear okay?"

      "I believe so." Jeremy pulled his hand away from his eyes and blinked at the ceiling.

      Simon hesitated, then cleared his throat. "Uh."


      "So, uh, I'm not really sorry about that, and I'm not really grateful for your butting in or, or anything, but I'm kind of aware that I ought to be..."

      "Mm," Jeremy said noncommittally.

      Simon glanced at him, looking almost sheepish, for Simon. "Think that's enough to get me out of the doghouse?"

      Jeremy considered this. "Well, since it's you, I suppose it's the best I'm likely to get. Fair enough. Your non-apology is accepted, and I'll attempt to treat your delicate condition less lightly in the future."

      "Awesome," Simon said. "So where were we, anyway?"

      "I'm damned if I remember now," Jeremy said. "Pain does that to one. Actually, since I've both the opportunity and the opening, I'd rather like to ask you something."

      Simon grunted. "Ask away."

      Jeremy rolled onto his side and propped himself up on one elbow again. "Ms. Leone told me a bit about this fellow who shot you," he began.

      Simon rolled his eyes. "Farraday," he said, sheer loathing plain in his voice. "What about him?"

      "Well. Frankly, I was curious about why he's got this enormous grudge against you. Ms. Leone told me why you were looking for him originally, but she really didn't go into much detail..." Jeremy trailed off there expectantly.

      Simon thought for a moment, scrubbing his palm against his face with a scratchy little sound. "What all'd she tell you?"

      "Mostly just what he'd done to catch the FBI's attention and that you were supposed to find him and arrest him," Jeremy said.

      "Huh. Okay," Simon said. Tucking his hands behind his head again, Simon stared at the ceiling and chewed on his lower lip. "Well, anyway, we started trying to track him down, right, and so on about the third day I asked Specs Two if he had

      anything for me, or should I fuck off?" Simon asked cheerfully, banging into the saferoom with a new can of coffee stuck under his arm. Not that the old can was in any danger of being empty yet, but Simon believed in taking no chances where coffee was concerned, and hey, the stuff had been on sale.

      Rich grunted vaguely, eyes glued to the screen of his largest computer. The hair all along the right side of his head was mussed, slowly wilting back into place; apparently there'd been some hard thinking going on while Simon had been at lunch.

      Simon rolled his eyes fondly and grabbed the can of coffee in both hands, swinging it up over the conference table and letting it go in midair. The can fell about three feet and bounced off the table with an ear-shattering boom that left it deeply dented all along one side; Rich yelped in shock and nearly catapulted over backwards. Mike, who'd been watching all this with an expectant grin, whooped out a hyena laugh and melted right out of his chair.

      "Funny," Rich said, recovering back to his usual irritability. "Yeah. That was really funny."

      "Damn, I sure thought so!" Mike cried from under the table. Simon glanced away, not bothering to hide his grin.

      Rich rolled his eyes and scooted his chair back into its usual position. "Hate you all," he muttered, slamming the heel of his hand against the bridge of his glasses and shoving them back into place. "Anyway, Templar, come take a look at this."

      "Oh, hey, have you got something for me?" Simon said, jogging over. Mike scrambled out from under the table again and joined him behind Rich's chair, elbowing Simon in passing. Simon elbowed him back.

      Rich hunched his shoulders slightly and attempted to draw away from the sudden commotion. "I think so," he said. "Anyway, see this here?" He tapped the screen, calling Simon's attention to what appeared to be a spreadsheet not unlike every other spreadsheet Rich had ever generated.

      "I see it!" Simon said. "Boy, I can sure see it. It's right there. So what the hell is it?"

      Rich snorted. "This is a record of a Winnebago crossing into New York State from Canada about two months ago. Little podunk border-crossing station; Winnebago had Georgia plates."

      "Okay," Simon said. "Is that him?"

      "Maybe," Rich said, grabbing the mouse and bringing up a different (yet equally incomprehensible) spreadsheet from behind the first one. "Now, see here, about two weeks later, we've got a Winnebago with the same Georgia plates involved in a pretty nasty collision in eastern Pennsylvania, aaaaaand the insurance company appears to have totaled the Winnebago out thanks to a snapped axle."

      "Okay," Simon said again. "So..."

      "... so if that Winnebago was totaled, how exactly did it manage to cross the border again a week later?" Rich brought up a third spreadsheet. Or possibly the first one again. Simon wasn't sure. "See, here are those Georgia plates again, in Maine..."

      Simon blinked. "That's him. That's gotta be him. Christ. So what—"

      "—and then an Airstream with those same Georgia plates came back across the border in Vermont two days after that," Rich said with an air of triumph. "We know it was an Airstream that time because it got stopped and searched, but the border-crossing guys didn't find anything."

      "On account of probably having their thumbs up their asses," Simon said, fired up. "You're the man, Specs Two. Now, knowing that, how do we find him?"

      "I don't know," Rich said, at the exact same moment that Mike said, "Insurance company." Both Simon and Rich turned to stare at him. Mike blinked. "Insurance company," he repeated. "They totaled out the Winnebago, right? So where'd they send the check? Made out to who?"

      Simon gaped at Mike for a moment, then abruptly grabbed him in a headlock and ruffled his hair. "Christ, Honda, you're not getting smart on me, are you?"

      "Hell no," said Mike, elbowing Simon again as he struggled away. "Smart's for losers. Uh. No offense, Specs Two."

      Simon whipped back around. "What insurance company?" he asked Rich.

      "I don't know," Rich said. "I don't have access to that data here, I just have a notation that it was totaled out."

      "We'll find it," Simon said. "Specs Two, get me a comprehensive list of automobile insurance providers for Georgia, order it largest to smallest, split it three ways." Rich dove for his other computer and woke it up; Simon rounded on Mike. "Honda! Go to the cafeteria and light a fire under the others! We've got calls to make!"

      It took almost three hours of calling, cajoling, and threatening before Sandra abruptly sat up straight and put the palm of her hand over the mouthpiece of her cell. "Walkins Property and Casualty," she said, her voice thrumming with controlled excitement. "Got the plates on record as belonging to a Mrs. C. Dallas." She rolled her eyes. "Chandra, apparently."

      "Thanks, but I think I've just found what I was looking for elsewhere," Mike said into his own phone before snapping it shut.

      The rest of the room fell silent. Sandra made little 'uh-huh' noises into her phone and scribbled notes on a piece of paper; when Simon leaned over her shoulder to try and read it for himself, she slapped his chest with the back of her hand. He snickered and fell back again, turning to pace across the room and back.

      "The check was sent to a post office box in some town named Waycross, Georgia," Sandra announced pretty much the moment she snapped her phone shut. "The funny thing is, the check was deposited in a bank in... Allentown, Pennsylvania."

      After a taut moment Mike threw up his hands and let loose with a war whoop that made someone from Team Hall bang on the wall and yell something that none of them understood. Mike ducked his head, abashed but grinning. "That's gotta be it!" he cried.

      "Yeah," Simon said, thinking fast. "Springheel. Call information, get the number of the post office in Waycross. Find out if the mail gets picked up by someone or if it gets forwarded to somewhere." Sandra spun back around and picked up her phone. Simon bit his thumbnail absently and kept pacing. "Honda, call the Allentown bank; we're probably going to have to sic some kind of court order on them to get them to cough up, but you can probably at least get them to confirm that there is a bank account there that they can't tell us anything about." Mike, still grinning, grabbed his own phone and the piece of paper that Sandra had been scribbling on. Simon threw up his hands. "Christ, okay, we need legal clearance to seize his mail. The rest of you do whatever the hell it is you do, I'm going to go call Upstairs and get him to let the lawyers off their leashes."

      "Right, Templar!" the rest of his team said, more or less in unison, but Simon didn't really hear it, already loping towards his office.

      By the middle of the next day events were damned near falling over each other in their hurry to resolve. The post office box in Waycross, Georgia (along with post office boxes in Jefferson, Ohio, Fairfax, Virginia, and Nashua, New Hampshire, incidentally) had its forwarding address set to a post office box in Allentown, Pennsylvania, less than five miles from the place where one Mrs. Chandra Dallas had had her checking account—for all of about two months. There was, however, no record of anyone named Chandra Dallas living in either Georgia or Pennsylvania, save for those few traces that they'd already dug up.

      The Allentown post office box was paid up, not forwarding its mail anywhere, and (at the time that Johnny actually called them) the box was empty. Like it was being checked regularly.

      "It's one of those little fly-by-night mailbox storefronts, too," Rich said, exultant. "They wouldn't give a shit if he was the Boston Strangler, as long as he paid on time."

      "So now what?" Johnny asked. He was cleaning his nails with his blunt little silver pocketknife, which was a sure sign that he was about as riled up as he ever got.

      Simon thumped his knuckles into the palm of his hand. "Road trip," he said. "We're going to Allentown, folks. Quick, nobody call Billy Joel."

      "Billy who?" Mike asked, probably just to be an ass, but he was already packing his stuff up.

      Eighteen hours later they were in Allentown, all checked into a motel on the east side of town and raring to go. Simon sent Sandra to badger the paperwork out of the poor properly-subpoena'd bank and Mike to go check out the little mailbox store.

      "Box's there, Templar," Mike said, once he got back. "Little stack of letters in it and everything, I could see 'em through the window."

      "Right," Simon said. "Right." The motel room smelled like ancient smoke and cheap cleaning products, but he didn't care. After thirty seconds of frantic pacing he stopped and slapped his hand on the listing wooden dresser. "Listen up, folks. Here's how we're going to handle this..."

      In the end, it went down as smooth as silk. A pretty woman with long blond hair—'Chandra', ostensibly—came in two days later and opened the box with a key, retrieving the little stack of letters. Nate, currently 'working' behind the counter (in his little blue uniform apron, which Mike had teased him about endlessly) saw her do it; before she even got the mailbox closed again he'd hit the alarm on his belt.

      Outside, things swung into motion. Sandra hit the door at the same time as the blond woman and managed to engineer a collision; in the midst of the confusion Sandra tossed one of their tiny radio trackers underhand into the blond woman's purse. By the time the woman left Mike and Johnny were waiting for her, Mike ducked down low behind the wheel of an idling car with Johnny slumped down in the passenger seat next to him. Radio transmitters sometimes failed. Chances were good that they wouldn't.

      The rest of them bunched up in Simon's motel room and waited, watching the little blip on Nate's laptop until it faded, too keyed up to even generate commotion. Mike and Johnny came back two hours later, fired with success, Mike so high on adrenalin that he hit the door running and had to be subdued via judicious punching. Johnny ambled in after him, just as Johnny as he ever was.

      "Right on the border!" Mike cried. "Right on the fucking border, they can run like half a mile and be in New Jersey, out of the jurisdiction of damned near everybody who's not in hot pursuit—"

      "—except us," Simon said. Success had him pumped to the point where he couldn't stop flexing his fingers. "What's it like? Where are we going?"

      "Oh, man, Templar, you are not going to believe this," Mike said, still bombing around the room and nearly tripping over people's legs. "It's a fucking abandoned apartment complex. Swear to God, a block of dead apartments like two miles from the nearest podunk town, I have no idea who'd build that shit there, I'm guessing it's some kind of tax writeoff thing—" he stopped and whooped in a breath and kept going "—gimme some paper and I'll sketch the place out for you, it's more secure than it looks, they can see for like a mile in all directions—"

      Simon snapped his fingers at Rich, who rolled his eyes and produced a legal pad. Nate scrabbled around by the side of his computer and dug up a pen; Simon snatched them both and spun on his heel, presenting them to Mike. Mike grabbed them from him and dropped to his knees with a thud, putting the legal pad down on the floor and rapidly sketching out a rough map. "Place looks deserted from the front," he said, blocking in a line of parking spots. "I couldn't stop long enough to see where she put the car, but I bet she pulled it around back or something." Mike added an arrow to one side and labeled it NEW JERSEY, then after some consideration added an exclamation point. NEW JERSEY! "Guess it might just be a place to garage a couple of vehicles, but I dunno, Templar, it feels like the real deal to me."

      "Yeah," Simon said. "Me too." He dropped to one knee opposite Mike and studied the rough map. "Okay, folks, here's the deal: we're going in—or at least by—tonight. Don't get too excited, just in case, but hell, if we find him, we'll take him down. Okay? Okay. Everybody shut the hell up and go back to your rooms, get some sleep if you can; we leave here

      at... midnight," Simon said, blinking lazily at the ceiling, his hands folded on his chest. His voice had become slower and slower the further into his story he got; now, just at what Jeremy judged to be the exciting part, he was fading in and out, pausing for seconds at a time.

      He stopped, his eyes drifting shut, and didn't continue. Jeremy waited for almost a minute before softly prompting, "And?"

      No answer. After a moment Simon snored out a thick sound, one hand slipping off his chest to thump laxly to the mattress between them. Jeremy glanced down at it, then smiled. "Honestly, Simon, your sense of timing is awful," he murmured, wedging his pillow up under his head and closing his own eyes.

      Simon was silent, save for the occasional snore. Jeremy reached out and laid his own hand lightly across Simon's, his fingers resting across Simon's palm; when even that failed to wake him, Jeremy mentally shrugged and let it go.

      He drifted off to sleep with his hand in Simon's, absently attending to the slow rumble of Simon's breathing, just in case it should change.

      He woke up two hours later, thanks to Simon poking him in the forehead and repeating his name over and over. "Archer. Archer. Archer."

      "Mm," Jeremy said, blinking a few times and automatically reaching up to smooth his hair back. "Yes, yes, Simon, I'm awake, thank you. What time is it?"

      "Little after one," Simon said. He paused, considering, and then poked Jeremy's forehead again.

      Jeremy reached up and caught his finger. "Enjoying yourself?"

      "Yeah, actually, I kind of am," Simon said, promptly poking him in the stomach with his other hand. "I mean, I know I'm totally acting like a five-year-old here, but like you keep telling me, I am one right now. Plus I'm on pain medication and can't be held responsible for anything I do. It's the law. And I ought to know."

      "Actually, I said that you were behaving like a five-year-old," Jeremy pointed out, grabbing Simon's other hand. "The difference between a metaphor and a simile and all that."

      "Christ, what is this, English class?" Simon shook his hands free and, mercifully, stopped poking Jeremy. "Anyway. I feel better. Let's go get some goddamned food before I realise how disgustingly domestic going to the grocery store with you is going to be."