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by shalott

The thick glass doesn't hide the hollows under Stensland's eyes, the way the fat's melting off his face and leaving him with sagging jowls of empty skin. But he's putting on a good show, grinning and joking over the intercom phone, complaining about the food, and Bud keeps a smile on his own face even while his stomach's churning. They say goodbye, and Bud turns back at the door for a last look. Stens is getting up, slowly, and there are bruises on the back side of his arm: big ones, spaced like fingers.

Bud goes back to his car and puts his fist through the back window because he can't do anything else. It doesn't even cut him up, just breaks into small pieces that scatter over the asphalt and inside the back seat. He puts his head against the frame and just breathes in and out for a while, his throat thickened up with rage.

Then he gets in the car and drives to Exley's place: dispatch gives him the address. There's no car in the driveway. Maybe Exley's out at the movies, at a bar somewhere; maybe he's out with a girl, having a good time. Bud parks across from the house, a few doors down, and sits and watches. He doesn't know what he's going to do.

It's late on a Sunday. The sun goes down and the wind coming in the empty back window starts getting cool. Lights come on in the other houses: the dining rooms are in front, families gathering around tables, kids running, moms putting plates down. He dozes off until headlights hit his face and he sits up: Exley's pulling in.

Exley doesn't bother putting his car into the garage, just walks across his front lawn to the door, big box under one arm. Bud sees him walk into the dining room and spread papers out over the heavy, dark wood table: even through the window Bud can see the furniture is nice, solid expensive stuff, the kind of thing you can't afford on a policeman's salary, even if you do take a little clean graft here and there. Bud packed up Stens' furniture and took it to storage after they put him away: linoleum kitchen table, a couple of pine bookcases, the couch as ugly as sin and a coffee table with stain rings from the beer bottles they used to put on it.

Exley's drinking water, and he even puts down a coaster before he sets down the glass, little white circle on the dark table. Fucking cocksucker. He's taken off his jacket and tie, rolled up his sleeves; now he puts on glasses and starts working. Even busy, Exley's got a sleek, satisfied look, this little smile like he's congratulating himself on something. Bud watches him and his hands tighten on the steering wheel. Then he's up and out, across the street.

The back door is locked: trust fucking Exley to be careful. Bud looks around: there's a big metal trashcan by the side of the house; he knocks it over and kicks it into the house noisily a couple times. He's standing next to the door when Exley opens it to look out: in a second he's got one hand on Exley's wrist, twisting the gun out of it, and another covering his mouth, pushing him back into the house.

Exley flails at him, tries to kick and squirm, but Bud shrugs it all off; there's no power behind the blows. He slugs Exley in the gut just once and Exley folds, practically goes down on his knees. Bud leaves him gasping on the floor and picks up the gun, shoves it into his pants in back, then closes the door and locks it behind him.

They're in the laundry room, sorting table full of clean socks and shirts, smell of detergent and fabric softener. Exley's struggling to his feet, which just makes it easier to haul him the rest of the way up.

"Go ahead," Exley manages, before Bud can hit him again, his thin lips pulled back over clenched teeth, narrow eyes scared and glittering. "Breaking and entering, aggravated assault: get it over with, then you can join Stensland in jail, where you belong."

"So maybe I should just go all the way," Bud says, real quiet, right in Exley's face, backing him up against the table. "Funny, I don't think anyone's going to care if you don't show up for work tomorrow."

Exley swallows; his eyes go to the door. He doesn't make a break for it, though, and he says, "So what are you waiting for, if you're a murderer?"

For a second Bud actually thinks about it: wipe the doorknob, the gun, the trash can; hope no one in the neighborhood noticed his car, sitting around all day with the back window missing. Hope no one puts it together: visiting day at San Quentin, Wendell White to see Richard Stensland, and then Detective Lieutenant Edmund J. Exley found dead in his home later that evening, beaten to death. Flashbulb bright picture in his head: Exley's body huddled on the floor, blood spattered all over the white shirts, flies buzzing and the smell of rot. He feels sick.

Exley's straightening up, some of the tension easing out of him: he's figured out he's not going to die tonight. "This was pretty stupid of you, White," he says. "Leave now and maybe I won't call this in."

"It's my word against yours if you do, cocksucker," Bud says, hand on Exley's throat, but Exley's got that arrogant fucking little smile, not taking it seriously anymore.

"I'll be the one with the bruises," Exley says. "You might have a hard time explaining those in your version."

Bud lets go of him. "I bet you'd do it, wouldn't you. Go running to the Chief to whine about getting beaten up, make forensics take photographs of your belly, you little cowardly fuck." His fists are still clenching: helplessly.

"You can beat the shit out of me and I can't stop you," Exley says, cool and patrician. "That doesn't make you better. It just makes you a thug who uses muscle instead of brains. And if you do it, you'd damn well better believe I'll report you for it. You don't deserve to have a badge, and neither did Stensland."

He wants to throw Exley through the table, mark up that pretty face of his, beat him bloody into the floor. But he's not stupid, no matter what Exley thinks. He lost his temper on Christmas; if he'd just kept his fucking head, he could have stopped the whole goddamn thing. That's the worst of it: it's his fault, as much as Exley's. But Exley's riding high on Stensland's back and isn't even giving him a thought, while Stens is rotting in jail, getting beaten on or worse by guys juiced up to have a cop on the inside.

"You want to report this, I'll give you something to fucking report," Bud says. His cuffs are in his jacket pocket: he twists Exley's arms up behind his back and puts them around the meat of his forearms, shoves him face down over the table. Exley's making noise into the shirts; Bud ignores it. Exley's not wearing a belt, and the switchblade slices right through his nice wool pants, silk boxers.

He kidney-punches Exley to keep him quiet, leaves him coughing and retching into the laundry while he opens up his own pants. He's not hard, but a little spit and jerking-off take care of that. Exley actually does try to put up a fight now: makes it satisfying when he finally gets his dick inside and shoves it home. Exley's ass is smooth and almost hairless, his hips as slim as a girl's, and Bud pulls his head up so he can hear his gasping, sobbing breaths.

It doesn't take long for him to get off. He wipes his dick clean with one of Exley's shirts. There's a little bit of blood, but nothing worse than a hard dump. Exley's got his face pressed hard into the laundry pile, quiet now, and there's also some blood smearing his palms where he clenched his fists.

Bud leans down. "Tell anyone you want," he says, right into Exley's ear. "I won't even deny it. I'll give them a signed fucking confession, and I'll be sure and tell them just how tight you were, and the way you squealed when you took it up the ass."

He drops the handcuff keys on the floor and walks out, zipping his pants back up as he walks to the car. The dining room lights are still on, all the paperwork still there, the chair empty where Exley pushed it back to go check out the noise. He rubs his hands together, blows on them; he feels chilled through, but it's cold inside the car, that's probably why. He tells himself it's just too bad he can't tell Stens about this, make him feel better.

Two weeks later Exley drops a folder in front of him, walking by his desk. Bud stares after him then looks down at it: plain, brown, no markings. He takes it down to his car to read; he doesn't know what's inside, but he's already wound tight.

Photos, in crisp black and white, perfect focus. Stens in the prison yard, talking to another inmate, money and a packet of white powder changing hands, so many snapshots you could make a flip-book movie out of them. Carbon copy of a report, neat typing, trafficking charges. A copy of a piece out of the California penal code on trafficking: maximum security prison, twenty more years tacked on, forget about parole. And taped to the back cover, a note in Exley's elegant handwriting, unsigned. Come by tonight or the original goes to the Chief tomorrow.

He makes work, stays at his desk until the room empties out. Seven, eight, nine pm. The folder's right there, ready to wreck what's left of Stensland's life. If he doesn't go, he might as well take it over to Narco himself.

He parks in the same place. The blinds are closed, just the thinnest slice of light around the edges. No fucking clue what's waiting for him inside. He sits in the car for ten minutes before he finally gets out and goes to the back door. It's unlocked this time.

Exley's in the dining room, papers spread out, working, just like he was the other night, except the handcuffs are sitting on the table next to him. He looks up when Bud walks in, no surprise at all on his face.

Bud drops the folder on the table in front of him. "I want the original. The negatives, everything."

Exley says, "You can take it all with you after."

After. Jesus. Bud swallows. "And you sign this," he says, flipping open the folder to his addition: a typed note confessing the evidence is fake. The photos are too fucking good, but it'll give Stensland's lawyer something to work with if Exley does try and pull a double-cross.

Exley reads it over and puts it aside, on top of the folder. "Yes. After," he says again.

Bud thinks about just beating the shit out him, ripping the house apart and finding whatever Exley's got. But knowing Exley, there's probably a safe, or another copy in a safe deposit box somewhere. "Fine," he says. He doesn't mean it to come out as quiet as it does, but at least his voice isn't cracking. If he's got to go through with this, fuck if he's going to whine and whimper through it the way Exley did.

Exley just nods. "Strip," he says. There's nothing smug or gloating about it: just an order, plain and simple.

Bud puts his shirt and pants over the back of a chair, drapes his jacket over them. He notices only when he's down to boxers that he's still warm: Exley has the heat on. He's stripped down in front of guys a thousand fucking times; Exley's probably seen him naked, in the lockers, the showers. Doesn't make it any easier.

Exley slides over the handcuffs when he's done. Bud picks them up, wondering what's next, trying to keep the tension off his face.

"The bedroom's on the right at the end of the hall," Exley says. "Cuff yourself through the headboard slats, on your back. Turn on the projector first. I'll be in shortly."

It's strange and uncomfortable as hell, walking down the hallway naked with the handcuffs in his hand. And Jesus fucking Christ; Exley's got a film projector set up to play on the back wall of the bedroom. The canister's tagged as evidence from Vice, and it's slick and expensive porn, full of girls who look like movie stars, guys with ten-inch dicks. Bud tries not to pay attention to it, counts the cracks in the ceiling instead, three times over. The volume's low and he can hear Exley down the hall, talking on the phone to Records. Business as usual, as if he didn't have a guy handcuffed to his bed just down the fucking hall.

Fifteen minutes of waiting and he can't help watching the porn; half an hour and he's mostly hard, dick lying stiff against his belly. Exley finally comes in and strips down to boxers, puts his clothes away. Bud goes back to staring at the ceiling, and his dick softens up. Exley goes into the bathroom and comes back with baby oil. He squirts it out over Bud's stomach and dick, strokes it in as if he jerks guys off every day.

"I didn't know you actually were a queer," Bud says, making it a sneer, because his dick's getting hard again in Exley's hand, and that's just fucking wrong.

Exley lifts his eyebrows and moves the other slick hand down between Bud's legs, pushes into him. "I'm not the one who's getting off on this," he says, which is a goddamn fucking lie, but what's not a lie is that it feels, Christ, fantastic; Exley's working his ass and his cock together, and what the fuck was he thinking, saying yes to this.

He tries to be glad when Exley lays off; he's panting like a fucking dog, and his mouth's so dry he can't work up enough spit to swallow. Exley stands up and takes off his boxers, then he climbs back on. "This shouldn't hurt," Exley says, dick already nudging in.

It doesn't, at all, even though Bud squeezes down hard as he can, trying to make it hurt; Exley's dick isn't that thick, and he slides right in. The porno is still running, a gorgeous blonde girl on the screen moaning softly as she gets fucked, and Exley gives it to him sweet and fast, right in time. His dick's still hard, hot and sliding over his own belly with every one of Exley's thrusts, and when Exley wraps his hand around it, Bud comes in three strokes. Exley slows down after that. Bud closes his eyes and tries to pretend it's not still good.

Exley finally climbs off him, a little shaky, and walks out of the room. The film's run through; it's quiet and dark, no distractions left. He's been so fucking stupid. Exley can just tell him to come back tomorrow, and the day after, and the one after that; make him come back here and take it every fucking night. What else can he do, with Stensland's life on the line and all the cards in Exley's hands? He feels his face getting red and hot. Maybe Exley's even just going to leave him cuffed up like this, make him break the slats to get loose, payback for the way he left Exley last time.

Then Exley's back with the keys. He bends down over the bed and unlocks him, both hands. Bud sits up warily and rubs the raw skin around his wrists. Exley hands him the cuffs and goes to the closet. Big fucking surprise: there really is a wall safe, six digit combination. Exley takes out a thick folder. "The negatives, the originals of my memo and the report," Exley says, handing it over. "The third carbons are in there too."

Bud flips slowly through the file. He doesn't know what to think. Exley's shrugging into a robe, looking tired and weirdly young with bits of his sleek hair flipping askew in front. "You know the way out," he adds, at the bathroom door.

The note's in the dining room, signed. Bud pulls his clothes back on fast; he wants to get the hell out before Exley finishes his shower. But he's still in his car with the engine running when Exley opens the blinds about fifteen minutes later and sits right back down at the table, like he's going back to work.

"Christ," Bud says out loud, disbelieving.

But Exley doesn't actually turn any of the pages, just sits there staring down at them. The glass of water shakes in his hand when he tries to take a drink, and suddenly he puts his head down and buries his face behind his arms.

Bud's stomach turns over, and the tires squeal as he pulls out.

Work is too fucking strange the next day, walking around with his ass sore and his goddamn dick still happy, bouncing up half-hard anytime he tries not to think about it. He burned most of the stuff in the folders this morning in his oven, after he spent the rest of the night showering Exley off his skin; the note and the copies of the photos went into his safe deposit box in the bank on his way to the station. The memory's harder to get rid of, the ache in his wrists and thighs.

A couple weeks go by. He keeps trying to hint Stens to lay off the dealing, but Stens bluffs it, acting like he doesn't know what Bud's talking about, and there's no way Bud can spell it out over the jail intercom. He's not worried about Exley, but Stens could get caught by somebody else just as easy.

He hasn't seen Exley since, hasn't even been thinking about turnabout. In a weird way, he feels like they're even. Nobody with an ounce of guts could've left it that way, being bent over and fucked; Exley had to get some of his own back, and he didn't escalate things when he could have. It's over, and that's fine with him.

Then Friday evening, Dudley calls him into his office, closes the door and sits him down. Bud eyes him warily; he doesn't like the look of sympathy that sits awkwardly on Dudley's hatchet face. "I'm most sorry to be the bearer of bad news, Wendell," Dudley says, "but Dick Stensland is dead."

It doesn't make sense, at first; Bud just blinks at him stupidly. Dudley sighs and stands up. He brings around a folder and hands it to Bud. "He hanged himself in his jail cell this afternoon," Dudley says. "I'm afraid Ed Exley has been keeping an eye on him, and -- well, your partner had been indiscreet, make no mistake. It seems he couldn't face the consequences."

Exley's photos: all of them, the same prison yard drug deal in flip-movie form. No report, no memo, just the photos, but apparently that's all it took to kill Stens. Bud sees Exley's dead, rotting body in front of him again, and this time it doesn't make him sick at all. He doesn't say a word to Dudley, just walks out, the photos scattering off his lap.

Exley's not in his office. Bud goes to his place. The blinds are open, Exley's deep in his fucking casefile again, like everything's normal, like everything's okay. Bud kicks in the back door, not even trying to be quiet. Exley's half up from his chair when Bud gets to the room, looking confused, like he has a right to be surprised, and Bud slugs him so hard the chair falls over and Exley goes rolling across the floor. Exley tries to hide under the table; Bud heaves it over and grabs him, teeth bared, blood running over his knuckles from Exley's split lip.

Bud doesn't care if the whole fucking world can see in, if Exley's neighbors are calling the station right the fuck now. He drags Exley to the bedroom by the hair and the collar and shoves him onto the bed. He's going to fuck Exley until he bleeds, and then he's going to kill him, and then he's going to call Hush-Hush magazine and walk out, leave them a spread that will knock Dick Stensland's suicide right off the fucking front page.

Exley spits blood onto the floor, coughing. "Why?" he says, voice hoarse. "Just tell me why -- "

Bud slugs him again. "You know why, you fucking asshole," he says. "You couldn't let it go, and now Stens is dead."

"Dead? I didn't -- " Exley says, partly muffled behind his hand, trying to wipe the blood from his mouth.

"He hung himself in his fucking jail cell," Bud says, switchblade ripping through Exley's clothes. "Happy now?" His dick's limp as a rag even though he's jerking on it; it won't come up.

"Jesus, White, I swear, I haven't -- " Exley's trying to hold him off, hands scrabbling at his shoulders; it's not going to do any good. The oil is in the nightstand; Bud slicks up his cock and finally it starts to get stiff. Exley's voice is shrill, desperate. "Wait, wait-- do you really think if I set Stensland up I'd be sitting alone at home waiting for you to find out about it?"

That stops him, clears some of the red haze out of his brain. Exley sees it and jumps right back in. "You've got the negatives. I only made one print, the one I sent you," he says. He's lying quiet and still now, not trying to get away; he's even dropped his hands to his sides. "Even if I wanted to set him up, I don't have another copy."

"Yeah?" Bud says. "Well, I burned the ones you gave me, so where else could they come from?"

Exley stares up at him. His teeth are outlined in red, lips stained with it. "It's the same photos? You're sure?"

"I saw them, you asshole," Bud says, but it hasn't got a lot of heat behind it. He's losing his grip on the anger. Maybe Exley's just pulling one fucking hell of an act, but he doesn't sound like he's putting it on.

"Where?" Exley asks. "Who gave them to you?"

"Dudley," Bud says, and it hits him even as he says the name, the feeling that something's fucked up, something's out of place. Why's Dudley giving him Exley, the department's goddamn golden boy? Exley's face is changing: Bud can actually see him working things out, putting pieces together. "What the fuck is going on?"

"This case I've been trying to put together," Exley says slowly. "Someone's taking over all of Mickey Cohen's rackets. Someone with contacts in the department. I've been looking at ex-cops, but -- "

"Dudley?" Bud says, except it's not really a question. Somehow he's not even surprised. "But why the fuck would Dudley go after Stens?"

Exley's silent. "The heroin," he says suddenly. "Where did Stens get it? Come on, I have to check something."

He lets Exley up. They're both half-naked, smeared with blood. Exley blots his mouth with a tissue and shrugs off what's left of his ripped clothes onto the floor, grabs a new pair of boxers. Bud follows him towards the dining room and catches his arm just outside the door. "Hey. Wait here a second."

Exley frowns at him, surprised, then nods. "Good thought." He steps out of the way.

Bud goes back into the room alone and walks right up to the windows. He can see his reflection in the glass: shirt pulled out of his pants, streaked with blood, tie gone, top button snapped off, face hard and set as granite. He stands there long enough for anyone watching outside to get a good view before he pulls the blinds shut. "Okay."

Exley comes in and starts pawing through the wreckage on the floor, collecting papers and photos. "I should've figured this out before. I was so busy trying to -- " he pauses, glances at Bud and skips over it. "Anyway, when I saw the photos, I didn't stop to think about where Stensland was getting the dope."

Bud crouches down with him and Exley hands him a photo: three dead men slumped over a coffee table, bullet wounds and black blood.

"That guy in the middle was Mickey Cohen's main supplier," Exley says. "They were killed with shotguns stolen from police lockup. Traces of heroin were found at the scene, but we never recovered any significant amount."

"You think Stensland was one of the shooters."

Exley nods. "On Dudley's orders."

Bud puts the photo down. "Dudley's been running an operation out of the Victory Motel. Pick up the out-of-town muscle that come into L.A., beat information about Mickey's rackets out of them, dump them outside city limits with a warning not to come back." He doesn't say he's part of it; he doesn't have to. "He's using cops to scare off his competition."

"Makes sense," Exley says. "And he's probably recruiting guys from the op and ex-cops like Stens for the hard-core work."

"Except Stens decided to double-cross him, and Dudley set him up. How does Dudley get a hold of your photos?"

"They were Dudley's photos all along," Exley says. "When you -- after that, I did some sniffing around Stensland, asked Dudley some questions about him. He must have thought I was on his trail. Next thing I know, a San Quentin guard calls me and says he's got dirt on Stensland, how much will I pay for it. I didn't make the connection before, but Dudley's probably been paying the guy all along to watch Stensland and find out where he was keeping the dope. Dudley must have gotten a copy of the photos before he had the negatives handed over to me."

"Stens didn't hang himself," Bud says, abruptly sure. "That fucker Dudley figured you'd rat Stens out, and then he'd have a cover for killing him."

"And then he sends you to take me out for revenge, and puts you in jail for it," Exley finishes. "No loose ends. And when I didn't rat Stensland out after all, Dudley decided to push things along himself."

"Son of a bitch." Bud says, standing up. He wants to hit something, preferably Dudley.

"Hey," Exley says, putting a hand on his arm. "Hold on a second. Here, help me with this." Bud lets Exley put him to work: they get the table and chairs back upright, put the papers back into some kind of order, or at least into piles instead of spread out everywhere. There's blood on some of them, and the left side of Exley's face is puffing up into red and purple. Bud feels almost like he should apologize.

"Now what?" he says instead.

They stare at each other and then Exley says, "Now we take Dudley down."

"So fucking hard he'll never get up again," Bud agrees.

Exley packs up all the important papers and leaves the ones that don't matter, along with all his spare copies, extra photos. Bud gets the ripped and stained clothes from the bedroom and leaves them in the dining room, and they knock the table and chairs over again. Exley puts on some old clothes from a box in his basement, stuff his maid hasn't ever seen, and Bud swaps his stained shirt for one in the front of the closet. It's too tight across the chest, but he manages to get it mostly buttoned up.

"How many guys you think he has out there?" Exley asks.

"A couple, maybe?" Bud says. "You think they're waiting to arrest me when I come out?"

"No," Exley says. "Dudley won't want this to be a crime scene right away. He's going to want time to poke around, clean up any evidence I had lying around, see how far I got. He has to let you get away. Me, though -- that's a different story. Dudley's worst-case scenario is you and me doing just this, figuring it all out. If they see us coming out together, they'll blow us away -- "

"Unless you're already dead," Bud says.

Exley takes off his shirt and holds the papers against his chest; Bud puts his own belt around him and buckles it tight, then Exley buttons his shirt back up over it. He paints a convincing smear of red across his forehead with ketchup, and his face is looking pretty bad for real anyway.

"You okay?" Bud asks, without really meaning to.

Exley glances at him, about as surprised as Bud is himself. "Yeah," he says. He turns back to the mirror and goes back to work. After a minute he adds, quietly, "I'm sorry about Stensland."

Bud swallows, looks away. "He got me out of a tight spot," he says. It's not the time, but suddenly he thinks that he'd like to tell Exley the whole story, someday, if they make it out of this.

"This good enough?" Exley asks.

Bud looks at him and can't help grinning. "Yeah, you look like a corpse all right," he says. They head to the back, and Bud heaves Exley up, grunting. "Fuck, you're heavier than you look."

"Careful, just don't drop me," Exley says, grabbing onto his shoulders.

"Quit moving around," Bud says, hitching him up a little closer. "All right, I'm set. Drop dead."

"Yeah, ha ha," Exley says, rolling his eyes; he lets his body go limp, head lolling back, mouth going slack. He's even heavier as dead weight. Bud shoulders out the door; it slams shut behind him. He carries Exley back to the car, the fake red streak lurid against Exley's pale skin, and pops the trunk open, careful not to look too long at the car parked right across, the orange glow of a cigarette flaring for just a second in the dark.

Bud puts Exley down inside the trunk and waits until he's grabbed the jack and the flashlight to hang on to. Exley nods up at him. Bud closes the lid on him and goes around to the front seat. His back itches while he unlocks the door and gets in, but the guys in the other car don't move, even when he pulls out and drives away.

He gets on and off the highway a few times until he's sure there's no tail. He doesn't stop until he finds a cheap, run-down motel on the other side of town, with only a couple of cars in the lot and a vacancy sign with half the letters broken. He pays cash for the room all the way at the end, and parks in the far corner of the lot under some low-hanging trees before he pops the trunk again. Exley's a little banged up and needs a hand getting out, but he's okay, and they get inside without anyone seeing them.

Bud goes out to fill up the ice bucket and makes up an ice pack for Exley's bruised jaw. There's only the one bed, saggy mattress that leaves them both sliding down into the middle, pressed together from shoulder to thigh. They've both stripped down to boxers to save their clothes, with no chance to pick up fresh for the next few days.

He tells himself he doesn't even like Exley. The guy's a prick, even if he is sharp as a knife. The only reason to fuck him was payback. But Bud's still sweating and hard. Next to him, Exley says to the ceiling, "It's just anxiety."

"Fuck it, then," Bud says, and rolls over onto him.

Three days later he's parked in front of Exley's place again. Dudley's dead, he's got a bullet hole in his shoulder to remember the asshole by, and Exley's going to make captain next week. He watches Exley move around his dining room, a little slow: they both took a pretty good beating in the final showdown at the Victory Motel. No box full of work this time; Exley's just sitting down with a book and a plate of dinner that he's barely picking at.

Bud's got a bag of Chinese food next to him, and finally he grabs it and gets out of the car. He goes to the front door this time. Exley opens it and stands there looking at him like he's what's on the menu. "Am I coming in or what?" Bud says, flush creeping up his neck, and Exley makes room.

They don't talk much while they're eating, just pass this or that. Their hands brush up against each other when Exley hands over the lo mein, and they both twitch away. "This is like being in a fucking goldfish bowl," Bud says, and gets up to close the blinds. Exley meets him halfway back to the table.

They leave the rest of the food to get cold. Exley's bed feels unbelievably good after two nights in the crap motel and another sitting in an interrogation room, dozing off on a chair when someone wasn't firing questions at him. They spend most of an hour necking like kids, hands going everywhere that isn't bruised or cut-up, taking their time with deep slow kisses. They don't actually fuck this time. Exley puts some oil in Bud's hands and wraps them around both their dicks, and that's more than good enough.

"This is the craziest thing I've ever done," Exley says into his shoulder afterwards. Neither one of them has the energy to clean up beyond using a corner of the sheet, so Exley's lying mostly on top of him to avoid the wet spot.

"I don't know, that thing with the movie was pretty fucking crazy," Bud says, corner of his mouth turning up; as much of a smile as he can manage. It's like being just drunk enough, sleepy and loose, and the bruises and aches aren't bothering him anymore.

"If anyone finds out about this, sees us together -- " Exley raises his head up enough to look over at the bedroom window, making sure the curtains are closed.

"Yeah," Bud says. A big lens aimed at those front windows, one night they forget the blinds are just a little open: that's all it would take. He can't help imagining what those photos would look like, in a blackmail envelope in the middle of a big case, or maybe plastered on the front page of Hush-Hush. Exley spread out on the table, his own head between Exley's legs, holding Exley's hips down; maybe Exley bent over and taking it, nice and slow this time; closeup shot of Bud's dick halfway inside.

His stupid dick jerks at the thought. But Exley's dick is twitching too, so at least he's not the only nutcase around here. Exley shakes with muffled laughter and says, "We're completely fucked."

"So we'll get a different place, more land," Bud says, rubbing a thumb over Exley's mouth to quiet him down. "Plant trees in front of the windows, something."

Exley doesn't say anything right away, but his lips curve, slowly, against Bud's fingers. "That could work," he says. He settles closer, mouth still warm and smiling on Bud's skin, and lays his arm across Bud's stomach, takes a hold of him, and Bud stretches out the arm that isn't full of Exley's body and turns off the light.

= End =

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