Ben froze with his hands still in the air, envisioning what the two of them must look like—Bridgette straddling him, boyshorts riding up, her camisole ready to slide down at the slightest provocation, his own shirt spread open and his cock jutting out of his pants. As Dave let the door shut behind himself, Ben spent a detached moment marveling at the man's ability to waltz into other people's apartment buildings, sans buzz-in.

Then Dave's eyes caught his, stirring up waves of guilt and shame. Ben felt a blush creep from the tips of his ears to the back of his neck. While the idea of Dave had just been turning him on like crazy, the reality of this visibly stressed man in the room with them—chest heaving, face drawn, hair in a greasy tangle—was anything but arousing. For once, Dave didn't look so good. Ben had no idea what he'd been up to after storming down the sidewalk yesterday afternoon, but apparently sleeping and showering hadn't been high on the agenda.

Seeing him again inspired a flutter of appreciation nonetheless. Which was perhaps another reason to feel guilty.

Dave's attention darted from Ben's face to his chest, lingered for a second too long on his half-hard dick, then skimmed over Bridgette's body before tracking up to meet her eyes. "This is your emergency?"

The hurt in his voice cut through Ben's paralysis. He tucked himself back into his underwear and grabbed Bridgette's hips in an attempt to shift her off of him.

She resisted, locking her legs and covering his hands with her own.

Disbelieving, Ben goggled at her. She wasn't shy about her body and Dave had technically seen it all before, but this was obviously a time to disengage and cover up. Yet Bridgette didn't look the slightest bit embarrassed. She didn't even seem surprised.

"B-Bridgette?" He couldn't further articulate a question, but the way she ignored him while hungrily studying the other man was an answer in itself. She licked her lips in a gesture that was equal parts nervous and seductive.

It hit him then: the pinup girl pose, the outfit, the dirty talk. She'd orchestrated this little sexual ambush to perfection. But it hadn't really been for him.

No, Bridgette had set a trap. Ben was just the bait.

He wanted to be wrong about it, but even as doubt tried to emerge, she released one of his hands to spread his shirt open wider, putting him on display. Her lips twitched into a Mona Lisa smile as she leveled a challenging look at Dave that eliminated any uncertainty regarding her intentions. Under different circumstances, it would've had Ben aching to get fucked under the heat of her knowing gaze. Now, it made his cock want to crawl up into his body.

He'd been so goddamned stupid. Seen the signs and ignored them like he'd ignored so much else. Made excuses when, days ago, she'd practically told him this was what she wanted. And why wouldn't she? They fucked other people all the time, right? Never mind that this was miles away from the no-strings fun they usually indulged in together, that it was Dave she'd beckoned to walk in on them like some piece of ass there to roleplay a cheesy caught-in-the-act fantasy.

Except neither he nor Dave had volunteered to be part of this scenario.

It made him furious. Maybe Ben had been asking for this, allowing Bridgette to steer him, but Dave did not deserve to get dicked around after everything the two of them had already put him through.

He whipped his attention back to the other man, wanting to make him understand Ben's role in this was unwitting, but Dave was locked in a wordless argument with Bridgette, slowly shaking his head. The guy had every right to be pissed as hell, more so even than Ben. Whatever line she'd fed Dave to get him back in her apartment, it couldn't have had anything to do with this scene she'd engineered.

Dave didn't look angry, though. He hovered near the doorway, body language an echo of the slump he'd adopted when he'd first caught sight of Bridgette hunched over a wastebasket in Ben's flooded bathroom. He seemed tired. Sad. Disappointed.

Ben opened his mouth, gearing up to apologize, maybe try to explain himself, but the words evaporated when Dave shifted his focus back to him with a filthy scowl—all the anger Bridgette had earned plus interest. Which was fair, he supposed. Ben hadn't intentionally violated this particular boundary, but he'd elbowed his way through plenty of others. If Dave felt safer making him the target of his ire, it wasn't completely unjustified.

The acceptance and remorse must've registered—Ben's inability to keep everything he was thinking from marching across his face coming to the rescue—because Dave's expression quickly softened.

And melted into naked longing.

Jesus, Dave. The man was broadcasting pure, raw want so intense it went beyond vindication, triggering a stab of dismay. Dave looked like he was pining for a whole host of things Ben had only ever nebulously assumed he'd be ready to share with someone in the future, like Dave was shivering out in the dark while Ben had the keys to a warm, well-lit house in the suburbs stashed away in his back pocket. It was both terrifying and elating. He'd known Dave felt something, but he hadn't realized it was like that. Yesterday's glimpse under the mask had barely scratched the surface.

He had no idea what he could've done to prevent it, but he was bitterly sure that allowing Dave to walk away from that church without him had been a mistake. Perhaps the worst mistake he'd made in all of this.

A hard squeeze to his thigh reminded him that Bridgette was still in the room with them, and, impossibly, somehow still perched on top of him like she was ready to give him a lap dance. He didn't think there was space in his brain to handle her shit on top of the nervous breakdown Dave was currently provoking, but she wasn't giving him much of a choice. Reluctantly, he broke eye contact with the other man to look at her, attempting to fathom what was going through her head, aside from the obvious, misguided desire to get them all in bed together.

He'd known, of course he'd known, it wasn't all about sex for her. But her reaction to this unguarded version of Dave, stripped of the irony and detachment and goddamned stoicism, too worn down to hide—it crystalized a notion Ben had avoided examining too closely before.

It was like the other man had punched her. Bridgette's mouth was an "O" of betrayed surprise, her eyes wide and hurt. She might've known something was going on between Ben and Dave, but the depth of it had plainly blindsided her. Wounded her. Badly.

Ben surveyed the two of them like a rubbernecker crawling by a multi-car collision. The entirety of the whole miserable situation came into focus with stomach-churning clarity, so awful it was almost funny. God, how long had she been carrying this around? He couldn't have caused more damage if he'd been trying.

Empathy dulled the edge of his anger at being manipulated. "Bridgette?" he asked yet again, gently dislodging her from his lap.

It took a beat for her to register the change in position. When she did, she blinked at him almost as if she didn't recognize him. A shiver of jealousy warped her face, thinly veiled loathing sparking beneath the surface. Ben wondered if she might hit him, but before he could recoil, she'd pasted on a grimace that almost passed for a smile. Clearly dissatisfied with that, she shut her eyes and took a few deep breaths, wrestling her composure back. Slowly, she rolled her neck and opened her eyes to give him a much more convincing smile. Game face back on, she folded her legs, straightened her camisole, and fixed him with a coy look through lowered lashes.

It seemed her ability to pretend inconvenient problems didn't exist rivaled his own.

She leaned in to cup Ben's cheek. He couldn't help but shrink back, dodging a kiss intended for his lips. Unfazed, she moved to his neck like it had always been her target, teasing him with feathery touches no doubt meant to entice their audience of one, still watching grim-faced by the door, fists clenched at his sides.

Shit, she was really going to push ahead with this, wasn't she? Despite all available evidence that it was a terrible idea. As if the three of them hadn't sufficiently hurt each other already.

Ben took her by the shoulders, searching for a way to stop this train wreck without further sacrificing anyone's dignity. He shot Dave a helpless look, knowing it was unfair but hoping for some kind of rescue anyway. The other man's expression had shuttered, unreadable.

Okay, Ben could deal with it himself.

It only took a small nudge to ease Bridgette off his neck, but his relief was short-lived. She lifted her head to give him another brittle, megawatt smile, ignoring everything he was trying to tell her. Her eyes slid back to Dave. And then, in an act of iron-willed bravado, she extended a hand toward her erstwhile lover in invitation. "Please?"

The reality-denying moxie left Ben so flabbergasted he failed to intercept her other hand before it settled over his own dick. She squeezed lightly. "Don't you want to help us with this, Davey?"

Now it was Dave who looked like he'd been punched. The man vibrated with tension, mouth twisting in disgust. He shook his head. "Fuck you, Bridge," he whispered.

Then he crossed the room in half a dozen fierce strides, seized Ben by the ears, and kissed the everloving fuck out of him.

Ben gasped at the invasion of hot breath and too much tongue. His mind spun in stupid little circles, bleating about doing the right thing—Bridgette's recovery, Dave's hard-won self-containment. But he didn't have the fortitude to refuse him. Not after that look. He wanted to plunge in. Dive deep until the pressure burst him open and made him forget just how incredibly fucked the three of them were.

So he slung an arm around Dave's neck and kissed back hard. And honestly, it wasn't very good—all bumping noses and clashing teeth, awkward desperation, Bridgette drinking the two of them in like poison. Emotional whiplash and the panic of too much, too fast burned an acid taste in the back of Ben's throat.

It didn't matter. He still wanted this. Wanted Dave.

The closest Ben had ever come to using hard drugs was the five doses of Percocet he'd taken in the days after he'd had his wisdom teeth out in college. He hadn't liked it; it'd made him feel spacey, flat and unreal, sick to his stomach. Yet he was beginning to understand how self-destructive addictions perpetuated themselves. Because he knew this, right now, was terrible for him—even worse for Bridgette and Dave, really—and he couldn't bring himself to care enough to stop.

Somewhere along the way, Bridgette's hand left his dick. He didn't miss it much. Not when the mattress dipped as Dave's knee settled between his own. When he could feel the heat coming off of the other man like a furnace and it started to get good again. It was easy to lose track of everything else with Dave's hands on him.

A choked off sound forced him back to the surface, reminding Ben that it wasn't just him and Dave in the room. He broke the kiss to find Bridgette watching them with a fist pressed to her mouth, eyes brimming. Misery was clear in every line of her body.

Because she was brilliant, but also kind of an idiot.

Unfortunately, she was stubborn too. So even though she could've been wearing a neon sign flashing Not Turned On! she papered over the despair to brush a perfunctory kiss of her own against Ben's mouth. Then, with a trembling hand, she reached for Dave.

Ben half expected her to slide her hands up Dave's thighs, tug the hair at the back of his neck, or pull one of the other dozen moves he'd seen her use on other men to wrap them around her finger. Instead, she gazed up at Dave, touching his cheek to turn him toward her. She slowly, deliberately planted her palm flat in the middle of his chest.

Over his heart.

Oh, honey. It hurt to watch, but probably not for the reason it should have.

For a moment, it seemed like Dave was going to allow it. He folded a hand over hers before raising her knuckles to his lips, weirdly chivalrous, unexpectedly tender. Not at all sexual. Still, it was enough encouragement to make Bridgette gulp out something between a sob and a moan. She twined around him like a vine, clutching up handfuls of his t-shirt. The sight of it—this diamond-bright woman's pitiful need—made Ben feel so shitty he wondered if he could summon the backbone to put a stop to it after all.

He didn't have to. Because, as Ben had known for some time, Dave was a stronger, more self-possessed man than he was. A better man. A man who wasn't afraid to be a bit of an asshole, for the right reasons. So when Bridgette unclenched just enough to make a play for Dave's mouth, pushing something Dave didn't—couldn't—want, he drew back. And then, inexorable as a glacier, he pulled her off of him, encircling her wrists to settle them on her lap. "No."

She focused on the point of contact before looking up at him. "No?" Her chin wobbled. "Come on, David."

"No," he said, letting go of her to run a hand through his hair. "I don't want…," he trailed off, glancing at Ben, face sick with longing again for a heartbeat. He thinned his lips instead of finishing the thought.

Ben didn't need to hear it to know how that would've ended: I don't want to share. Dave had said it himself—he didn't fuck around. Where Ben was concerned, it seemed he wasn't fucking around at all.

Of course, there were other ways to complete that sentence. As Bridgette's eyes darted between them, narrowing, he could tell she'd heard it differently: I don't want you.

Really, the two interpretations weren't so dissimilar. It was just a matter of emphasis.

That emphasis apparently made all the difference, though, because—finally—the sentiment seemed to breach the limits of her denial. She sat back on her heels. "No," she repeated. It wasn't a question this time.

"It's not gonna happen, princess." His voice was firm, but not unkind.

A flicker of outrage kindled behind her eyes. Ben could see the struggle, the force of will as she tried to master her reaction. But then she seemed to give up on smothering the pain and resentment and they crumpled her features. She heaved in a breath and spat, "Then what the fuck are you even doing here?"

Dave's eyebrows lifted in sympathy. He shook his head. "Bridge…"

"No," she said, shaking her head right back at him, the corners of her mouth turned down. "Answer the fucking question. Why are you here, David?"

He crossed his arms over his chest. "You're the one who called me," he said tightly.

"That's not what I mean and you know it. You came back. You stayed. Why the fuck are you here?"

Dave's eyes again snapped to Ben. No doubt he was thinking of how Ben had—god, pleaded with him to stick around, to stay and be a friend. But that wasn't what Bridgette was going to see. And—as the man had tried to tell him—she wasn't interested in Dave's friendship.

"Right," she said, making a face like she was chewing her tongue. "Get out."

Ben could see the other man's jaw ticking. "Bridgette..."

"You heard me, you miserable piece of shit. Get. Out."

Dave clenched his fists on his thighs, nostrils flaring as he worked to keep his own anger in check. Ben had seen enough in the last week to know that Bridgette's go-to move when she was hurting was to lash out, but it seemed Dave's ability to take it in stride had neared the breaking point. From between his teeth he said, "Princess...I'm worried about you."

"Yeah?" she asked mockingly. "You can stop."

"Dammit, Bridge…"

She cut him off with a slice of her hand, drawing herself up in righteous indignation. "I know you're not that bright, and I've tried to use small words, but let's see if I can dumb it down for you even more, you simple fucking ox: You don't want me? Leave."

Dave's face reddened. Ben was reminded of their encounter on the sidewalk, the way the man radiated barely restrained violence, the way his body had seemed to grow when Ben scored a cheap shot. This time, without his own anger to bolster him, Ben shrank in response. He told himself he should step in, stop this before they ripped each other to shreds, but he couldn't get his throat to work.

"Want you, you manipulative little bitch?" Dave snarled. "I never wanted you. Never."

Bridgette bared her teeth at him. "Fuck you!"

"Oh, believe me sweetheart, I wish I never had," he said. "I wish like hell I'd been-" he paused to snort "-smart enough to have told you to go fuck yourself right off the bat. You want me gone?" he asked, holding up his hands. "I'm gone."

"Then go, you worthless fucking faggot!" The slur was shocking coming from her, but even more upsetting was Dave's visible flinch upon hearing it. It was something Ben got called now and again—not all that often or by anyone who mattered, for the most part—but it still made his belly feel cold every time he heard it, turned part of him back into a zitty fifteen-year-old trying to avoid the showers after gym class. Dave, though, it hit more viscerally; this wasn't the first time someone he'd loved called him that.

Dave's eyes glittered dangerously. "Okay, princess," he said, and Jesus, Dave was scary. "Have it your way," he said. "I'm done. End up like your fucking mother for all I care. Maybe after they put you in the ground I can finally move on with my own damn life."

Ben gaped in speechless horror—her mother?—eyes bouncing between Bridgette and Dave. She'd gone eerily still, while Dave at least had the decency to appear stunned at his own viciousness. He clapped a hand over his mouth like he was going to be sick. Ben's gorge was rising too, and not just because he couldn't stomach the conflict. The handful of times Bridgette had blown off his questions about her family played through his mind like a slideshow.

He'd never pressed her on it. Not once. He could try to justify it with some bullshit about respecting her privacy, but he suspected he just hadn't cared enough to bother. And now the one person she'd trusted with her past—what were the chances Dave was the only person who even knew?—had weaponized it.

Bridgette pulled her knees up to her chest. "Get the fuck out of my house, motherfucker," she said, flat and deadly as tears rolled down her cheeks.

Dave gave him a pleading look. Ben had nothing to offer him but a tiny shake of his head; he couldn't help with this—might not have wanted to, even if he'd known how. Some things couldn't be unsaid. It really was time for Dave to leave.

Stricken, the other man took a shuddering breath and reached out for Bridgette's hair. "Bridge-"

"GET OUT!" she roared, now incandescent with rage as she smacked him away and scrambled up the bed. She grabbed the digital clock from the nightstand and yanked its cord out of the wall before chucking it at Dave's head. It whizzed past his ear to clatter across the floor, startling a yowl out of Sweet Pea. Wishing he could go hide in the bathroom with the cat, Ben cowered against the wall. Dave kept making a target of himself at the foot of the bed, wearing an expression that said he wished her aim was better. And that she'd thrown a brick. "Cocksucker! Motherfucker!" she cried, hurling whatever she could get her hands on—tissues, a strip of condoms, her bottle of lube. Dave flinched as the latter bounced harmlessly off his chest. "GET OUT GET OUT GET OUUUUT!" The last degenerated into a wail as she threw one of the pillows. She buried her face in another, still screaming.

Dave surveyed the sad little mess. He looked gutted, but finally, he nodded at her—not that she was in a position to notice—and dropped his gaze to the floor. For a moment, he just stood there chewing at his lip. His eyes sought out Ben's once more, this time with an unspoken question. Ben swallowed back his nausea and darted a glance to where Bridgette was sobbing. He forced himself to shake his head again: I can't. Dave shut his eyes and tightened his jaw, but tucked his chin down in acceptance. Then he straightened his shoulders, gave Ben one last sharp nod, and left.

It took a few minutes for Bridgette to calm down enough to notice Dave had gone, but when she did, she devolved right back into horrible, wrenching sobs that shook her whole body. Ben gathered up a blanket from the foot of the bed and draped it over her. She pulled it tight around herself but otherwise ignored his continued presence, so he decided to give her some space and straightened up his clothes. Sweet Pea emerged from hiding, creakily leapt onto the bed, and, trilling, headbutted Bridgette until she dragged him onto her lap and hugged him against her chest, crying into his fur. Ben left her to it and went to make some tea.

She'd tapered down to sniffles by the time he pressed a warm mug into her hands. Wrung out, she sipped her drink and stared glassy eyed at the wall. Ben settled on the edge of the bed with his own mug. He felt strangely calm, scoured clean; this was the most comfortable he'd been around Bridgette since the entire mess had started. It was—nice to know where they stood.

After some time, she thrust her emptied mug in his direction without really looking at him. "Another?" he asked. She nodded.

When he set the refill down on the nightstand, she ran the back of her hand across her nose and finally met his eyes. No heat, no contempt, she was just dull. "What are you even still doing here?"

He shrugged and sat down facing her at the foot of the bed. She didn't raise any objections, just kept stroking between Sweet Pea's ears. They sat in semi-companionable silence for a while before Ben took a fortifying breath and stated, matter-of-factly, "Calling both of us over here like that was a really fucked up thing to do, Bridgette." He didn't want to bully her, but he was done walking on eggshells. It needed saying.

She lifted her head to glare at him. "You fucked him behind my back."

He wasn't going to argue on the technicality that they'd never gotten around to actual fucking—he would've done it with gusto. The lack of consummation didn't make it any less of a betrayal. But he also couldn't bring himself to apologize. Not for Dave. Instead, he just acknowledged it with another shrug. When she didn't go off on him for it, he continued. "Those things he said…"

"Yeah?" she asked, raising her chin. Ben was almost relieved to see her getting defensive about it.

"Your mother? Did she really…?"

Bridgette made a sour face and turned away to reach for her tea. She gave a grudging nod.

Shit. "When?"

"Why do you care?" she asked, giving him a penetrating look. "You think I want to trot out my sordid family history just to satisfy your curiosity?"

Curiosity wasn't a fair characterization for what he was feeling; mostly he wanted to pretend he'd never heard a thing about it. But he also didn't think Dave should've been the only one to know, so he forced a casual tone and said, "Might help to talk it through with someone you're not actually in love with." Her upper lip curled, but she didn't deny it. "If it helps," he said, "I'm not in love with you, either."

She snorted, which was better than her being devastated, he supposed. Assessing, she stared him down—trying to decide if he was worth telling, perhaps—before she heaved a sigh and said, "I was eighteen. Bad batch of something or other on top of too much booze." She rubbed one foot over the other. "Carmen...was a big drinker."

Maybe he shouldn't have asked, because he had no idea what to say to that. "I'm sorry," was his inadequate but heartfelt response.

She shrugged. "Not like you had anything to do with it. Not your fault." She paused for a beat and then volunteered, "It was about half a year before I found Dave."

Found, not met. Ben hesitated, because the next part was really none of his business and could invite questions about Dave he was in no shape to answer, but then he remembered he was done tiptoeing around her. "And you kept—with him—I mean, do you—you've wanted him all this time?"

"If you're insinuating that I keep using because of a fucking boy, you can fuck right off too," she said witheringly. "Rest assured, I'm fucked up about a hell of a lot more than Dave McLaren."

Ben wasn't going to argue that one either. "I get that, but—Bridgette, it's awful. Why do you keep coming back to it?"

"Because I'm a fucking addict," she said, rolling her eyes and miming incomprehension, reminding him that he did still like her, even if everything else was completely shot to hell. "If I knew why, I'd stop."

"Fair enough," he said, "but…" He hesitated again, and this time she narrowed her eyes at him in warning. He continued anyway. "But it sounds like you've never even really tried."

She gave a bitter laugh. "Christ, you really do know how to insult a girl. 'Oh, gee, Bridgette,'" she mocked, batting her eyelashes, "'have you considered just not destroying your life? Maybe try not being an addict?'" she said. "Fuck off with that. You'd be running the firm by now if you put half as much effort into your caseload as I have on staying clean."

He could concede that hadn't been the best way to put it, but she was also missing his point. "Fine," he said, "but with all the effort you're putting in, you should've noticed you're not seeing good results. How can you be like the most ruthlessly competent person I've ever met but keep doing the same thing over and over on this?"

"Hello? Addict!"

The fatalism seemed a little put-on, which pissed him off. "So that's it? It's just always going to be this way? You take pills because you're an addict and you're an addict because you take pills?" He was afraid of making her—god help him—screaming mad again; they were probably both too raw to be having this conversation, but to hell with it. "No options but to go it alone until you can't anymore and then beg a few days' attention off of Dave while you're at your worst?" he asked. "Think he'll actually come back again after what you pulled?"

She gathered the blanket around her shoulders, straightened her spine, and eyed him threateningly. "You volunteering for the job instead?" she asked. "Didn't you just get done telling me you don't love me?"

"I don't," he admitted—easier to do when he was sure it wasn't something she particularly wanted. "But, as you noted," he said, spreading his hands. "I am still here."

Bridgette snorted again. "So you are going to be my white knight now. Picking up the slack on the penance shift?"

"No," he said, frustrated because she still didn't see it. "If you were going to solve this on your own with someone occasionally dropping by to hold your hair back for you when things get really bad, you would have by now." Her eyes widened at that. He took a deep breath, plowing ahead. "You've been doing this for a decade, have a family history of substance abuse—god knows how many relapses—and you just tried to manipulate the one person you've never quite managed to fully alienate into sleeping with you even though he's-" Ben paused there because Dave was...a lot of things "-like a six on the Kinsey scale," he finished a little lamely. Rallying, he continued, "I'm saying it's time for another approach. Christ, take the opportunity before you get yourself fired from a job with good health benefits!"

"Aren't you just precious? Read a couple pamphlets and suddenly you know how to solve my problems?"

"Are you being dense on purpose so you don't have to think about this, trying to get me on the defensive so I'll drop it, or is your blind spot just that big? Because I know you're not stupid."

"Not stupid. Just a junkie," she said meanly.

Ben pressed his lips together in irritation. She was somehow doing a better job of making him angry than the other way around. Unbidden, Dave's voice echoed in his head: Ultimately, the only one who's responsible for Bridgette, is Bridgette. "You know what?" Ben said, standing up. "I didn't sign up for the penance shift. I'm not proud of some of the things I did and...I'm sorry," he said, meaning it, "but I'm not up for this anymore."

"Fine. Great," she spat, ducking her head to focus on Sweet Pea still curled in her lap. She let him make his way to the door before muttering, "Thanks for proving a point, asshole."

He paused with his hand on the knob, reminding himself he wasn't going to let guilt motivate him. He wasn't. "What point is that, Bridgette?" he sighed.

"That Dave's the only one who's ever going to accept me. The only one who really knows me." She lifted her chin, defiant, like it was a badge of honor instead of an incredibly sad state of affairs. Ben shook his head at her. She stared back—reading his pity, maybe—and frowned, unsure.

The genuine little crinkle on her forehead stopped him. It was a tiny toehold. And even though he knew he could walk away, what would it cost to give it one more try? He stepped over the stuff she'd thrown at Dave to perch on the edge of the bed. "Is acceptance really what you want to aim for here?" he asked. She set her jaw, stubborn, but didn't respond, so Ben continued. "And if he's the only one, then maybe it's time to think about giving someone else a chance to get to know you," he said quietly. "The real you."

"You said you weren't up for the penance shift."

"I'm definitely not," he said. "But," he added, letting the edge of his mouth curl, "I've recently noticed I'm not necessarily all that great at holding onto friends. Might be nice to try with somebody who has a track record of inspiring long-term loyalty." Bridgette's head jerked up at that. "I hear people can be friends with their exes, right?"

She barked out an appalled laugh. "Are you seriously asking me that question?"

"Why not?" he said, suddenly feeling lighter, like he could channel some of Dave's nonchalance. "It's worth a try, anyway."

"Sure," she huffed. "Because everybody wants to be friends with the junkie."

"God no." He shuddered theatrically. "But I think I could be friends with you."

She looked at him sharply. "And when I fuck everything up?"

He shrugged. "I know it'll be a challenge to stay out of my pants, but…" She rolled her eyes and tossed a crumpled tissue at him. Sobering, he said, "Honestly? I don't have it in me to go through another round of this with you—if you fuck up, I'll bail. But Bridgette," he said carefully, "maybe it's time to starting thinking about what could happen if you don't fuck it up."

AN: OMG drama! I've had a basic outline of the first scene of this chapter for years, but when it came down to finally writing the damned thing, it was like pulling teeth and I'm still feeling iffy about how it turned out. At least it's kind of long?

It's all denouement from here; two more chapters, probably. Thanks to Lurian for continued encouragement and to all of you for patiently sticking with me. After the long wait, what did you think of it? Feed(back) the needy writer, please?