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Two Heroes

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Bud liked Bisbee so long as Bisbee consisted entirely of the little apartment he and Lynn shared, upstairs from the dress shop. Bisbee was endless sunny mornings spent drifting in and out of sleep in the double bed he shared with Lynn. Bisbee was Lynn's soft hand with its plain gold ring, changing his bandages gently as she chattered away about what was happening downstairs at the shop. Bisbee was Lynn's hair, cut short and dyed back to her natural dark brown, brushing against his face when she leaned down to kiss him.

Being in Bisbee meant healing from everything LA had done to him, bandages disappearing one at a time, skin closing into scars. Bisbee was the day he got up while Lynn was at the shop and made dinner so it was ready when she got home. Lynn stood at the stair door with a startled smile and then came and stood beside him at the stove. "I didn't know you could do this," she said, kissing his ear, and Bud ducked his head and smiled.

He didn't know if she meant meatloaf or standing on his own feet long enough to cook it, but he said, "I figured if you knew you'd expect me to do it all the time."

"Yeah, you're damn right I will," she whispered. "But I think I can make sure you're properly rewarded."

Bisbee was nothing but rewards for what he'd done right, and an escape from anything he'd ever done wrong, until the day he saw more of it than the apartment upstairs and the shop below.

He was still walking like an old man, still carrying his left arm close to his side, and the scar on the left side of his face was still a bright pink mess, but he was whole again. He could get around on his own, so he took the shopping list from the refrigerator and made his way down the stairs, through the shop with just a wink to Lynn, who was busy with a customer, out the door and down the bright and dusty street.

He stopped two doors down and caught his breath, making like he was looking around. Bisbee was a small town, but it wasn't as small as Bud, born and raised in LA, had imagined. No tumbleweeds, no single street giving way to desert at either end. Standing there, in the middle of it, he might as well have been back home, only Bisbee was brighter and dustier, with the noise of the mine at the edge of town replacing the big city clamor of LA. There was a ball park around somewhere, he knew; Lynn had told him they'd go to a game when he felt up to it.

For now, though, Bud just needed to get to the market, and that was on the corner. Easy as pie. He forced himself to start walking again and didn't stop again until he was standing in front of a shelf full of canned vegetables and could pretend to be reading the labels. When he'd caught his breath, he unclenched his left hand from its fist and unfolded the shopping list. Only four items, like he'd thought. Sugar, carrots, peas, eggs. He should've grabbed a basket, but he hated the thought of it, doing the shopping with a basket over his arm like a good little wife. Back in LA, he'd shopped at the Safeway whenever he ran out of food, piling things between one hand and his chin until he couldn't carry any more and then dumping it all on the counter.

It was only four things; he could manage it. Sugar first; he settled the bag into the crook of his arm and went to look for carrots. He didn't even notice the woman shopping beside him until they both reached for the same bunch. "Sorry," he muttered, ducking his head automatically as he turned to look, hating that he must look like a freak with that scar on his face.

She just blinked and twitched a half-smile, all she could probably manage with her lip cut like that. The blue-black bruise covered the corner of her mouth and most of her cheek, fading into a lighter brown one beside her eye. She looked away quickly, but Bud reached out with his good hand and caught hers over the carrots. "Hey," he said softly. "Are you all right? Do you--" and then he stopped short, because even if she needed help he had none to give her. He didn't have a badge here, didn't have a radio, couldn't do one god damn thing. He dropped her hand. "Sorry," he repeated. "Sorry." She took her carrots and darted away, and Bud picked up his own bunch with an unsteady hand, hardly seeing them.

Even if her husband had been right in front of him, there wasn't a thing he could do about it, not like this. He might as well be twelve years old again, tied to a radiator, for all he could stand and fight some mining town tough who'd been knocking his wife around.

He got everything on the list and took it to the counter, laying the eggs down carefully. The shop man looked him up and down, and Bud gritted his teeth and waited it out. "I'd be careful if I were you," the man said finally. "Anna Tracy's husband is the jealous type."

Bud just grunted. He wanted his groceries, not advice from strangers. The man started ringing things up, adding, "And you being married to Lynn don't exactly raise you above suspicion."

"Don't talk about my wife," Bud growled, even as he wondered if there was anywhere in he could go in a town this small and not be known by everyone who saw him. The old man just nodded, no more intimidated by Lynn Bracken's cripple husband than he would be by a hissing kitten.

Bud had struggled when his father tried to tie him down, even though he was already bleeding, and it had only gotten him punched in the head so hard he saw stars. He'd strained against the restraints as his father beat his mother, but only managed to burn himself on the radiator and cut his wrists on the rope. After his mother was dead he'd stopped trying to get free, figuring it was hopeless and he was going to die too--but the truant officer had gotten him loose in two minutes with a pocket knife.

Bud liked to think he'd learned a thing or two since he was twelve.

He had to heal, that was the first thing, so he set his mind to healing. For weeks he painstakingly climbed up and down the stairs, forced himself to use his left arm more, even ate left-handed under Lynn's silent gaze.

"What's your hurry?" she whispered one night, lying beside him as he struggled to catch his breath. "You're getting well, you're doing fine. Take it easy."

Bud just shook his head and kissed her. "Me, take it easy?" he said, and she laughed.

"Fair enough. I just don't want to see you hurt yourself." He shook his head. It wasn't himself he planned on hurting. He knew better than that now.

When the scar on his cheek was just a bother to shave around, when he could raise his left hand to shoulder height and hold it steady, when he'd relearned his old swaggering stride, Bud walked into the Bisbee sheriff's office and asked for a job. Jim Tracy smiled at him around a cigar and said Bud was a big city cop, not really suited to small town law enforcement, and anyway Bisbee didn't need any more officers than it had, but the mine was always hiring. "No hard feelings, though," he said with a smile, "Tell you what, you and Lynn should come and have dinner sometime. Anna makes a real fine carrot cake."

Bud blinked and smiled, and thanked the man through gritted teeth before he left, walking fast toward Bisbee's only bar. He had four drinks down when a Mexican waitress came on shift, her dark hair braided down her back, skin dusky against her dark dress and white apron. She smiled shyly at him, but the smile disappeared when a crew of miners came in and settled around a table. Bud watched the pinches and catcalls, watched her face growing more and more strained, until sometime around drink number six, when he decided he'd had just about enough.

 


It was a small town, so he had the drunk tank all to himself. He sat on the floor in the corner all night, and dawn was breaking through the high barred window when Lynn and a deputy walked up to the front of the cell. "You ready to go?" she asked, like he had a choice in the matter, but he guessed he knew what she meant; was he sobered up and done hitting people? No reason she'd want him out if he wasn't.

"Yeah," he said quietly, his eyes on his bruised knuckles. "Sorry."

Lynn walked him home, her hand on his arm. He watched the sidewalk, except to steal a glance at her, her head held high, her makeup more perfectly applied than he'd seen it since they'd left LA. It was near time to open the shop, but Lynn led him upstairs and he followed. There was coffee in the kitchen, and Lynn poured him a cup before she started making breakfast. Bud sat at the table and waited, because he knew this wasn't finished. Lynn set a plate of eggs and bacon down in front of him and settled in on the other side of the table. He started to eat, cautiously, and when he looked up to say thank you and tell her it was good, she said, "You can take the car. If you pack and go now you can be in LA by tonight."

Bud set his fork down, and Lynn squared her shoulders and held on to her coffee. "Are you kicking me out?" he asked finally, when she didn't say more.

Lynn smiled at him, but her eyes were shiny with tears and he could see the weariness in them. She hadn't slept last night anymore than he had. "No, Bud, I'm letting you go. Look, you're a hero, I've known that since the night I met you. You tried to save Sue, and you saved Inez, and you even saved me--" Bud looked away, but she went on, "but you can't save Anna Tracy, and you can't save Maria. You can't save anybody in Bisbee, Bud, because small towns don't work the way big cities do."

"So you got no use for me, then," he said softly. When had he stopped expecting her to get tired of him? Why did it come as such a shock?

"Oh, Bud," she said, exasperated, like he was being dumb on purpose. "No. If you were happy here I'd be happy with you for good. But you're not. I'm rescued, I'm as rescued as I'm ever going to get, and now you need to get out and rescue someone else, that's all. So go. Go back to Exley, go back to the LAPD--" she reached out, her thumb brushing the scar on his cheek as she turned his face so that he had to meet her eyes. "Go do what you were born to do," she said softly.

Dudley had said once that Bud was born for the work he did at the Victory Motel--born to be a thug who asked no questions and told no tales. But Dudley was dead with Exley's bullet in his back, and in Lynn's shining blue eyes Bud had been born for something better. He couldn't let her down.

 


It was late when he got to LA, way past dark. He drove by the new LAPD headquarters, but now wasn't the time to go knocking on doors there. He found a phone booth instead, and looked up Edmund Exley. There was an address listed in about the kind of neighborhood a bachelor cop would live. Bud got back in the car and sat awhile, and then he started it up. It wasn't like he had anywhere else to go.

Exley was wearing his glasses when he answered the door, and Bud remembered that he'd thought they made him look like a sissy, once. Now when he saw Exley in glasses he thought of that night at the Victory, guns and blood and the end of it all. Exley smiled at him even as his eyebrows tried to frown, and he said, "White?"

Bud leaned against the doorframe and said, "It's Bud. Can I come in?"

"Yeah, sure, Bud. Come on in." Exley moved back from the door and Bud stepped through, walking into the living room where Exley had obviously been sitting, files spread over the coffee table. Exley followed him, and when Bud looked up from trying to read his notes upside down, Exley was standing there watching him, still with a little smile on his face. "Drink?"

"God, yeah," Bud said. "Scotch if you got it."

"Sure thing," Exley said, went over to the drinks cabinet and started pouring. Bud gave up on being subtle and sat down at the sofa, reading the typewritten interrogation transcript. He was just flipping up the page to read the next one when Exley said, "Here," and a drink moved between him and the page.

He took it, dropping the paper, and said, "Sorry."

Exley just smiled. He had another drink in hand, and he came around the coffee table and sat down right next to Bud. He took a swallow of his drink--Bud took one too, and the whisky burned his throat, reminding him that he hadn't eaten anything since two bites of breakfast, nor slept all last night. Exley set his drink down and frowned at the papers on the table and then said, "So I take it the honeymoon is over?"

Bud looked sideways at him looking sideways back, and exhaled a half-laugh. "Yeah, I guess. Lynn seems to think I'll be happier back in LA, at least if I can get my old job back."

"Ah," Exley said, his eyebrows raising, and then he looked back down at the files. "Hm. Your old job. There was a bit of a shakedown in Homicide..."

Bud winced. He knew Dudley was gone. He knew that without him there would be no one to change being a cop into the same thing as being a back alley enforcer. Still, he could wish for a cleaner slate than going back to Homicide, where everyone thought Dudley had been a hero and Bud had been his right hand man.

"Probably have to move you into the detective bureau," Exley said, still staring at his papers, all absentmindedly, like it was nothing. "Where I will of course pull rank in order to have you on my cases, and shamelessly use you to make myself look good."

Exley looked at him straight on then, and smiled, and Bud felt himself smiling back so easily it had to be the Scotch, and thinking that with his bright blue eyes and dark hair, Exley reminded him a little bit of Lynn. "I--seriously?"

"Seriously," Exley said. "Like this one, for instance." He tapped the page in front of him, and Bud tossed back the rest of his drink and leaned closer, their shoulders pressing together as his eyes skimmed down the page.

"See, here," Exley said, pointing to a line in the report, "but--"

"But he contradicts himself in the interrogation testimony," Bud agreed, grabbing the page he'd been looking at first, his blood racing like he was finally alive again for the first time since Dudley shot him. "He--here," Bud flipped through the pages. "Here." He laid them down side by side, "He mentions the brother-in-law and then changes the subject, he's trying to distract from it. He knows he screwed up."

"Right. And that's the only mention of the brother-in-law in all the testimony. He was trying really hard to keep the guy out of it--"

"Even though he'd ratted out everyone but his grandmother by then," Bud finished, and Exley smiled again. "So what's he scared of? You think the brother-in-law's the big fish?"

Exley shook his head, nearly grinning. "No idea. Guess we'll have to go ask him tomorrow, won't we?"

They were leaning so close over their work that their faces nearly touched. Bud knew he should stop looking--Exley's smile faltered and slipped away--but it was like he'd never left, like he'd been here all along, him and Exley working together just like this. Before he knew what he was doing, Bud leaned in and touched his mouth to Exley's.

Exley's lips parted under his and Bud just pushed, their lips joining as his tongue felt its way inside, and then his hand was clutching at Exley's shirt and Bud was kissing him, really kissing him. He pulled back to breathe, and then pulled back further, because Exley's eyes were wide and shocked and this was--stupid, Bud, stupid, and he had that same sick falling feeling he'd had sometimes back during the war, messing around with guys his life would depend on a few hours later. Exley cleared his throat and Bud finally remembered to let go of his shirt. "What did you go and do that for?" Exley asked, and his voice was strange and husky, and made Bud want more so badly that he had to look away.

Because I know you're not too good for me, he wanted to say. Because Lynn sent me to you. Because you shot Dudley in the back. Because you let me in when I showed up on your doorstep in the middle of the night. Because when I hit you it was the start of something, and not the beginning of the end. "Fucked if I know," Bud said finally, staring at his empty glass and wishing he'd had enough to drink so he could blame that. "I thought you were the brains of this operation."

"Ah," Exley said, "Well then, this calls for a whole different strategy." And then Exley was grabbing hold of Bud's shirt, and his fingers on Bud's face didn't flinch away from the scar on his cheek, and Exley was kissing him.

When Exley broke the kiss, Bud was gasping for breath, and Exley was grinning. "You know, I think you should stay here for a while," Exley said, "until you get a place of your own."

Bud nodded, blinking, trying to get his mouth to work, trying to figure out what he was supposed to say, but Exley stood up, tugging Bud along with him, and said, "Of course, there's only the one bedroom, but--I'll show you the amenities, and you can decide, all right?"

"Yeah," Bud said, because he liked the sound of one bedroom and amenities, "All right."

"Right this way," Exley said, and for tonight Bud was ready to follow wherever he wanted to lead.

 


Later, Bud slipped out onto Exley's little balcony. The place was on a rise, so you could see a fair bit of Los Angeles, spread out all glittering. Bud looked at the lights and the dark spaces and listened to the sound of the city--nothing like the sound of a small town next to a mine--and smiled. He was going to get his life back, only better. Detective bureau, Exley's right hand man. A hero just like Lynn had said, saving the ones he could save.

He'd never have come back where he belonged if she hadn't pushed him, and it wouldn't have meant a thing if Exley hadn't been waiting when he got here. He'd never have survived to become a cop in the first place if that truant officer hadn't found him and cut him loose. Couldn't be a hero without heroes of his own.

Exley stepped outside then, wearing an unbuttoned shirt, his hair all mussed and a pink patch of stubble burn marking one smooth cheek. He leaned in the doorway, looking out at the city, not at Bud--cool as you please, out here where they could be seen. "So," he said, "you think this will do for a while?"

Bud looked out at the city with Exley at his side, swallowing his smile. He could be cool as anybody. Inside, the sheets were all off the bed and a lamp was broken, but outside, he said, "Yeah, I think it'll do just fine."