Summary: At heart Lynn had always been a small town girl.
Fandom: LA Confidential
Pairing: Lynn Bracken/Bud White
Original story: Two Heroes by dsudis
The thing Lynn had forgotten about small towns was how they made everyone in them smaller too.
No wonder she'd forgotten, or maybe it was better to say she'd never truly known it. About as soon as she'd been able to leave she'd left Bisbee behind, shaking it off her sandals as she headed for the bigger and better things she'd known she was born for. She'd had dreams too big for Bisbee, but she'd been just a kid then, too young to know that some dreams were so big that the whole world dreamed them, a whole world of pretty young girls who looked a little like movie stars. In LA she'd seen hundreds of them, thousands, pretty young girls lined up in rows, eyes and mouths open wide in awe, in eagerness for whatever the city had to give them as they chased those dreams. In the end, Lynn had told herself, it had been a kind of relief when Pierce Patchett had found her and cut her dreams down to size.
She had told herself that, but it hadn't been true.
True relief was what she found in Bisbee, along with a small apartment and a dress shop, bought with dirty money maybe but she'd been in LA long enough to learn there wasn't any other kind. A small apartment and a dress shop and a safe harbor for the man she brought away with her, that was dream enough for her these days, dream enough for her and Bud, no matter what other images played out in their sleep, movie screens and sirens and women sliced up dead and alive to match some man's fantasy. When Bud woke up shouting and shaking Lynn soothed him back to sleep, telling him he was still hurt, that he'd be better soon, he'd be better and he'd forget. When she woke up with a start, her mouth open in a silent scream, she tucked herself back under Bud's arm and couldn't think of anything to tell herself except that it was over, it was over and she'd made the right choice, the only choice. She'd come home to Bisbee.
She'd come home to Bisbee and it was the right choice, she knew that, though it wasn't quite true to say it was the only one. A few weeks after they arrived, she was alone in the shop puzzling over some invoices when she heard the heavier sound of a man's step on the porch outside. She looked up only half-smiling, ready to scold; it was much too soon for Bud to be up and about for more than a few hours every day, much less managing the stairs. Then the door swung open, the chime she'd hung in it singing delicately and then fading away as she looked up at Edmund Exley.
"What's wrong?" was the first thing that came to her mind, and her lips. In LA she might have known how better to hide it, but even a few weeks in Bisbee had undone some of her graces, her defenses.
"Is that a greeting for a hero?" Exley said lightly, but his eyes narrowed behind his glasses and she knew he'd hoped for better. He was tall in his dark, well-cut suit, out of place among the bright cheap dresses the women of Bisbee loved. "I wanted to see – I wanted to know how you were doing. Both of you."
"They have telephones these days, you know," Lynn said. "Even here in little old Bisbee."
"I know," Exley said. He shifted a little, then walked closer to the counter, looking down at Lynn's hands on the smooth glass, where she'd placed them as if for support, or to keep them in his sight.
"We're fine," Lynn said. "And no need to ask about you – we get the papers here too."
"Even here in little old Bisbee?" Exley said. She didn't smile back at him.
"Why are you here?" she asked, and his eyes narrowed again.
"Like I said, just visiting. It was hard for me to picture you both here, before I saw the place, and now that I have, it's harder still."
Lynn said evenly, "We like it. It's a nice town, better for us than where we were."
"Cleaner?" Exley said, and just from the way he let the one word hang in the air, crisp and alone, she knew he'd changed. Once he'd been an arguer, a debater. Once he would have taken her by the hand to show her the drunk on the bench with his face hidden by his paper, Anna Tracy's bruised face, the pharmacist fiending for his own supplies in the little store on the corner. Instead he asked the question and waited for her answer. Even if she lied, she thought he might let her have her way. He'd changed.
"Smaller," she said, because it was true. She'd changed, too.
"I just can't imagine the two of you belonging here. Much too small for you, I would have thought."
"Oh, I hope not," she said lightly. He smiled politely and she looked him in the eye. "Why are you here?"
Exley took his glasses off and polished them against his sleeve, then held them up to the light. "There's a lot going on back home," he said, blinking at her. She was glad when he put his glasses back on. "A man could use people he trusts around him."
"Ah," she said. Then she said, "No."
"Lynn, you haven't even heard me –"
"No," she said. "Some things I don't have to hear." When he opened his mouth to argue – he hadn't changed that much – she said, "He needs to heal. He needs time, and he needs peace. He deserves that, at least, don't you think?" Exley paused and then inclined his head. "And could you offer him that?"
"No," Exley said. "If I had him back, I'd have him running after cases as soon as he was on his feet. I know myself."
"If you had him back, neither of us could stop him from running after cases," Lynn said gently. "I know him," and she smiled when Exley did.
"So you'll keep him here, then, till he's a whole man again?"
"Yes, I will," Lynn said. When he turned to go she put her hand on his sleeve. He was owed something, at the end, even if he owed Bud more. "Don't wait for him. It'll be a very long time before he's healed."
"Yes," Exley said. His mouth twisted in a strained smile. "I can only imagine what it takes to become a whole man."
Lynn tightened her hand around his wrist and he let her hold him like that for a moment. Then he eased her hand away and raised it to his lips in a strange, courtly gesture. She'd had a john once who'd liked to do that, acting out his perverse scenes of gallantry, nearly dripping with contempt for himself and for her. When Exley kissed her hand it was strange but not artificial or mocking. It was almost innocent. She thought they both wanted it to be.
"I leave him, then, in your very capable hands," he said, and walked out the door. The chime struck its note again and then fell still. Lynn stood there for a long time, until the chime sounded and Mrs. Hammond walked in.
"Do you have that blue striped dress I liked for Susan's engagement party?" she said. When Lynn brought it out Mrs. Hammond said, "Doctor was walking by, thought he saw a man in here earlier."
"Yes," Lynn said, smoothing the dress's skirt out. "He came in here looking for directions. He wasn't from around here."
"We've got trouble enough around here without strangers," Mrs. Hammond said. "Now did you tell me you had this in pink, too, dear?"
That night Lynn didn't mention Exley's visit to Bud. After all, Exley hadn't asked her to, and besides, their mealtime was full enough of conversation as it was. Bud was hungry to hear every scrap of her day, down to the funny striped hat Mrs. Hammond insisted on wearing. He was getting tired of being cooped up
"I'm damn near well already," he said. Looking at him, the scar still raw on his face, his hands still trembling when he held a dish for too long before putting it away, she thought it was much more of a lie than Bud intended. But then she looked longer at his blunt open face, his broken nose, his big shoulders hunched beneath the sweater she made him wear when he was out of bed. He wasn't well enough but maybe, maybe it would be all right. She'd been a risk-taker once and would not be again, given her choice, but Bud needed to remember the man he'd been once, the man he was building back up to being. She looked at him and tried not to think about why tonight of all nights she'd decided he was well enough to remember.
"Well, if that's the case," she said, roughening her voice in a way she hadn't since they'd been in Bisbee, since Bud had been so hurt. He looked up suddenly, caught by her voice the way he used to be back in the city, and then grinned, the sides of his scar stretching till he flinched. She wouldn't let him pick her up and carry her, but led him to the bed by the hand. She let him undress her, his fingers patient for once from necessity if nothing else, and she let him undress himself, not helping even when he turned his back to hide his face from her while he caught his breath. She knew enough tricks from her days in the city to take most of the effort on herself, and it was worth it when she laid her head on his chest afterwards and he said, "My God, I'm a lucky man," his voice hoarse and his breath still coming heavily.
"I'm glad you think so," she said, and he slid his hand around her cheek and tipped her face up to look at him. Even after these weeks in bed his hands were still callused and coarse against her skin. She smiled, rubbing her lips against his hand.
"Is that all you are, glad?" he said.
She said, "I'm happy," and he dipped his head down and kissed her, his mouth closed, almost shy until she reached up and held him to her. When he'd fallen asleep she looked out the window at the empty night sky, at the stars she could see so much more clearly without the rivalry of the city's lights. They were still small and dim, faraway, but even so it was easy to believe that each one was its own world, its own dying sun. Out here away from the city lights it was easy to see why people wished on them. She closed her eyes, her face pillowed on Bud's big hand, and felt the familiar swell of her love inside her. She closed her eyes and wished that it would always be enough.
She wished it would be, and it was. It was enough when Bud healed enough to be out of bed the whole day, and it was enough when he was well enough to cook dinner for her himself. It was enough when he could manage the stairs with both hands on the railing, surprising her in the shop with flowers from the garden. It was enough until Bud left their home to go into Bisbee on his own.
Bisbee was her town, not his, and Lynn had never thought what it would mean to see it with Bud's eyes. When she saw him move warily down the street, eyeing each small shop front as if something dirty might lurk inside, she wondered that he could be so at home in the dangers of the city – and who knew those dangers better than he? – and yet so shaken by the petty give and take of life in a small town. Bisbee wasn't perfect, she knew, but then no town was. Any place on this earth was a bargain of one sort or another, and Lynn was willing to trade quite a bit for safety, for the security of her shop and their home and their room where alone and hidden the two of them could be bigger than anything in this life. She was willing to make the trade, and she willed Bud to feel the same.
When the policeman came to her door she was sitting up waiting for Bud, looking out the window at the stars. She'd done the same thing as a little girl, curled up in a chair wondering if any of her dreams would ever come true. There were worse things, she'd learned since then, than not getting what you dreamed.
The officer was polite and matter of fact, answering her questions and letting her know how much money she'd need for the fine. "Most men will do it, ma'am," he said before he left. "I wouldn't take it too much to heart," and she smiled and thanked him. She went down to the shop and opened the little safe, counting out the bills into an envelope. The money left dingy traces on her fingertips and she wiped them on her skirt. Then she put her head in her hands and wept in a way she hadn't since she left the city.
Bud would be sorry, she knew, sorry for the drinking and the fight, sorry for the way he couldn't stop trying to save people even when they were far beyond his power to help, even when it might kill him to keep trying. He would be sorry and he would promise not to do it again and the worst thing, Lynn thought, the saddest thing was that he might even keep that promise, eventually, if she helped him. If she kept him in Bisbee. He would try his best for her, he would try to make the trade she lived with, and Bud was a strong man, and stubborn. He might even succeed. Lynn might get what she wished for, and all she'd have to do in return was to turn a blind eye to the growing heaviness in his eyes, the slower step, the way he would shrink after each encounter with a woman he couldn't save from a brutal husband, each man whose contempt he wouldn't answer with a quick fist.
She went upstairs and changed her dress and washed her face, putting on her makeup with a steady hand. She wouldn't go meet him in the jail in front of the town looking like a slattern. She would go to him with her head held high, and she would bring him back home and make him breakfast and then she would send him back where he belonged, back to LA, back to Exley.
It wasn't easy, but easier than she'd thought it would be. Lynn was strong, too, and stubborn. The only moment when her courage threatened to flag was at the very end, outside the car, when Bud turned to her and said, "You won't come too, will you?"
The city didn't tempt her, though she'd been away long enough to remember its beauty and excitement, the bright pulse and throb that made the sidewalks of Bisbee seem dead. The city didn't tempt her because she knew what she'd been there, what she might be again when she went back, and the thought of that made her strong enough to smile and shake her head as Bud's eyes fell. "I'm better off here," she said.
Bud took her face in both his big hands and kissed her, on both cheeks and then on the lips, like a benediction. She wanted to give him her own blessing, but all she could think to say was to beg him to be safe, and that was never what he wanted. Instead she smiled and stepped back so he could get in the car.
Before he drove off Lynn walked away, up the sidewalk to the shop, the roar of the car building and then fading behind her as she unlocked the door. It took her longer than it usually did. When the door was finally open she went inside to the soft sudden song of the chime and stood behind the counter. She straightened the sachets and pin cushions and waited for her first customer, like a thousand other women in a thousand other shops in small towns, listening as the music of the door chime fell away and left her in silence.