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Bud shook his head when Lynn brought the wheelchair around. With his good arm over Ed's shoulders, he managed to limp all the way from the car on his own feet, but his face was white and sick by the time they got inside, and he crumpled onto the big bed like a tree falling, wheezing for breath through his wired-shut jaw. They got him undressed and between the silk sheets, trying not to move him too much; he sighed and fell asleep the minute they could let him lie still again.

It was pretty obvious he was just too heavy for Lynn to support. "Two long walks a day," she said, reading the instructions from the doctor. "And then there's getting him to the bathroom. I know he won't want to use the bedpan."

Ed spent the night on the couch. It was comfortable, plush and long enough he could stretch out. Sure enough, Bud tried to get up in the middle of the night, and knocked over one of the stupid Veronica Lake photographs that Lynn hadn't had a chance to take down. Ed woke up with a start and rolled off the couch, knocked against the coffee table, and sent candlesticks flying; he said, "Fuck!" for both of them.

Lynn crept downstairs to make sure everything was okay and found them laughing in sleep-drunkenness in the enormous marble-tiled bathroom, Ed's good arm around Bud's waist for support and Bud struggling to get his boxers down without bending over. Together they managed it and got him back to bed; he was out like a light again as soon as they got him flat, and Ed and Lynn had to work the covers out from under him.

Three weeks later the wires came out. Bud already looked a little farther from death's door, getting some healthy color again and putting the lost weight back on. He was still almost hanging on Ed by the time they came back from the regular walks, but that was mostly because he kept pushing the distance. The doctors had said he probably wouldn't ever be able to run again, or walk without a limp, but then the doctors had also said he wouldn't be able to manage more than a mile at a time, and he was already up to five.

They never talked about what they'd do when he was well again. Late at night, lying on the couch with Bud snoring only a little way off, Ed took out memories and played them back. Lynn's hands tugging so angry and fast at the collar of his shirt. The perfumed softness of her thighs beneath his mouth, salty slick under his tongue, her little choked-off gasps. Her kiss-bruised lips afterwards, her hair spread out over the pillow, her eyelashes dark against her cheek. Bud's big hand gripping his forearm, Bud's strength pulling him up off the ground. Bud's smile so close he could almost taste it, and the smell of smoke and ozone thick in the air.

Sometimes when he fell asleep he dreamed the memories he wished he had. Lynn opening her eyes and telling him softly to stay and hold her, afterwards. Or a longer silence in the Victory Motel, Bud leaning in across the space, turning him up against the wall. More often he dreamed them making love while he watched them through the one-way glass of the interrogation room: they didn't even know he was there. Once in a while he dreamed them in a car with Arizona license plates, driving away while he stood on the steps of the police department, watching the car go; sometimes he ran after it. He woke up from those gasping, heart pounding.

He wasn't used to losing, but this wasn't a game he knew how to win. It wasn't for lack of ideas: set up some kind of legal challenge to Pettice's estate, so Lynn couldn't sell the condo he'd left her; get Bud denied disability, so they wouldn't have his pension. He couldn't help thinking of a dozen different ways to keep them here. He was a little scared of what he might do if they actually told him they were leaving.

He came home from work a few weeks later, early for him, and found them having careful, lazy sex, lying on their sides in the big bed. They had their foreheads together; Bud was smiling with almost unbelievable sweetness, and Lynn was sighing and touching his face. Ed stammered some kind of apology and backed right out the door.

He ended up at a scenic overlook off the highway, forty miles outside the city limits. A winter rain was spattering his windshield; the city was a messy blur of lights in the distance. He wasn't sure how he'd gotten there. He didn't even remember getting in his car.

He drove back to his own apartment. A week's worth of mail was piled up in the front entryway, along with a notice from the superintendant about repairs to the gas lines. No one had noticed he was gone. He sat at the kitchen table with a bowl of soup out of a can, cold, and paid his bills. His balance was a little low; the department was being slow about reimbursing Bud's medical bills, so he'd snuck a few of them out of the pile. It didn't really matter; he had nothing else to spend it on anyway.

He watched television until the stations went off the air, and then he sat and watched the static. He knew he had no right to the place he wanted in their lives, the place he'd been clinging to. They'd needed him for a while, and they were grateful; they'd never push him away. But he had no fucking business hanging on around them, playing third wheel.

They'd get married, have kids, and get a house and a dog in Bisbee, Arizona. He was going to stay in L.A., be chief of detectives by the time he was thirty-two. He'd leave work at two in the morning, be back at his desk by seven, and keep this same cheap one-bedroom the rest of his life. Maybe he'd get killed in the line of duty and be buried with a twenty-one gun salute, only cops at his grave; if he didn't, he'd probably get to be commissioner some day. Two months ago he'd have said there was nothing more he wanted in the world. It occurred to him then that he'd gotten what he wished for, and he sat there on his couch and laughed at himself.


Lynn called him at work the next day; she sounded determinedly unembarrassed. "I tried to call you at your place after you left, but you didn't pick up. I'm sorry, we didn't expect you back so soon." She hesitated, then she said, tentatively, "Are you okay?"

He sat with the phone at his ear. He knew exactly what to say, how to carry it off, let it all blow over. He'd go back to living at his own place, and have dinner over with them once a week, their single pal. If the two of them moved to Arizona, they'd all promise to write and would even do it every so often. Eventually Bud would call him up and ask him to be the best man. The kids would cut down on the letters, and so would his job; he'd lose them slowly, one little piece at a time.

"I can't," he whispered. "I'm sorry, I can't. I can't," and hung up on her. He felt sick and cold the second he'd done it. That was it; it was over. No way to pretend anymore that it wasn't there, that they were all just good friends, that he didn't want a lot more than they wanted to give.

He spent a few hours making work for himself, wishing somebody would kill somebody else already. The noise from the front got pretty loud before it caught his attention: Bud had walked into the office and all the other guys were slapping him on the back, shaking his hand. Miller was asking him something, and Ed heard him answer, "Yeah, the doctor told me yesterday I'll be able to pass the physical and get back to work in a couple more weeks. Just filled out the forms down in Records."

Ed dropped his head and stared blindly at the paperwork under his hands. He didn't trust himself to get up. He was suddenly so hungry he felt sick: he hadn't eaten all day.

Bud came around his desk and put his big, warm hand on the back of Ed's neck; he leaned over to look at the open casefile. "Lynn dropped me off; I need a ride home," he said; his thumb slid all the way along the curve of Ed's neck, ending just a little below the edge of the suddenly tight collar. "Take the rest of the day?"

"Yeah," Ed managed; his mouth was watering so fast he had to keep swallowing. He tidied up his desk, put his pens away, closed his folders and put them back into his filing cabinet. Bud was standing there waiting, close enough that Ed could feel the heat from his body; he wondered if everyone else in the office could see everything spelled-out on his face.

They stopped by a Chinese place and got take-out on the way. Bud fed him crispy noodles while they crept along in the traffic on the Santa Monica freeway; Ed kept both hands tight on the wheel, glad they had an unmarked car; duck sauce tasted salty on Bud's skin.

Lynn opened the door for them when they got home; he could tell she wasn't wearing anything under the robe. "You could've asked, you know," she said, taking his chin in her hand; she kissed him on the mouth. Bud's hand was in the small of his back; between them and the smell of the sweet and sour chicken, he was dazed, almost light-headed.

They ate at the kitchen table off the paper plates the restaurant had stuck in the bag; Lynn licked her fingers clean and pulled Ed's tie open while Bud stood up and took off his shirt, white undershirt making his big shoulders and barrel chest even more impressive. "Oh, fuck," Ed said, without thinking; the satin tie was coming loose under his fingers, and he was staring over Lynn's shoulder even as he slid his hands under the robe and onto her skin.

Bud looked a little shy and embarrassed for a second, then he suddenly grinned like a kid getting away with something and pulled the undershirt off over his head, one smooth pull like in a blue boy movie. "See something you like, Exley?" he said, almost growling; he started unbuckling his belt.

"God," Ed said, closing his eyes and kissing Lynn; her smiling mouth tasted like plums, and she was in his lap, getting his shirt off.

They got to the bed mostly naked. Bud manhandled him onto the bed, turned him on his side and pushed him into Lynn's welcoming arms. "Oh," she said, while he slid into her, drawing her long white thigh up over his leg. She was already wet and breathing fast; she hadn't been, last time, and he'd had to lick and suck for a long time, getting her ready. Maybe Bud had seen a photo of that. He gave a little whimper; Bud's cock felt fucking huge, and his hands were gripping Ed's hips so tight he couldn't even edge away.

"Jesus Christ, you're tight," Bud said, panting, into his ear.

"You're telling me?" Ed said; it came out a little high, because Bud got the rest of the way into him just then. Lynn giggled at both of them and kissed him again, reaching up to stroke the back of Bud's neck at the same time. Bud started driving them, nice and slow, and Ed half-groaned, half-laughed, breathless, into Lynn's mouth; he wasn't going to make commissioner after all.

= End =

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