Exley’s eyes had the same sharpness, the same piercing judgement as Lynn’s. It set Bud’s teeth on edge when he finally realized it.
Maybe the red of her lips or the flutter of her eyelashes softened Lynn’s pointed stares, the ones that made him feel like a small dog trying to bark itself bigger. He knew she was smarter than him, more cunning, but he didn’t mind it. It made his heart ache with affection when she saw right through him.
Exley was a small dog, but behind those wire-rimmed glasses lurked something stronger. That same look from Exley—calculating, knowing—made Bud itch with the need to punch his face in. The impulse helped nothing; even when his fists were flying Exley had never been afraid of him. Bloodied and bruised face be damned, that gaze of stony superiority never wavered.
Lynn’s unyielding composure made him proud. That same resolve in Exley made him sick. So why did Bud finally have to notice the similarity? The knowledge only ratcheted him up further, frustration mounting in hot skin and clenched fists as he watched Exley stare back at him in the stuffy office.
“Bud,” Exley said, prodding, contained annoyance. “Did you hear me.”
Bud grunted in response. Exley’s eyes flicked from Bud’s wound fists and back to his face, considering.
“I need you here to think, not fight. Can you do that.” Exley’s questions were always more statement than asking. When Bud didn’t respond fast enough, Exley closed the distance between them with a sigh, set a hand on his shoulder. “I know how you get with cases involving women. Breathe.”
It wasn’t the case that had Bud worked up, it was Exley’s damn eyes. They didn’t stop roving over him, discerning, dissecting. He tried to turn away from that electric stare but Exley only advanced, pushing Bud’s back to the line of file cabinets.
“I won’t let you go until you cool off,” Exley pressed, still so damn confident. Bud bristled further, cornered, confused by his own thoughts, circling mad dog now. Noticing, Exley’s fingers slipped back and he licked his lips, the barest of nervous cracks. “Take a minute. Please.” Not a real request, but a calculation. Just like Lynn, Exley knew when to play coy or weak, to make someone else feel confident or foolhardy. He knew it was bait, yet it snapped Bud’s reigns.
He grabbed Exley by the front of his expensive tweet jacket and shook him, enough to jostle his glasses down his nose. Exley’s eyebrows displayed shock that didn’t reach his eyes.
“You think you can tell me the fuck to do?!” Bud’s words growled between his teeth.
“I could pull rank if—” He didn’t give Exley a chance to finish, and flipped their positions roughly. Stacked file folders spilled off the cabinet from the force. Exley didn't even try to fight back, didn't even look surprised.
“You don’t know anything about me,” Bud said to those eyes. That seemed to garner him more understanding.
“If it makes you feel better to take it out on me, by all means,” Exley said, low and confident. “Whatever it takes.” Exley was daring him then. “Work out that aggression first.”
Though he knew it wouldn’t help, Bud was sorely tempted. He leaned in close, huffing out breaths inches from Exley’s face, hands shaking. Exley watched him all the while. When tension and frustration with Lynn got to be too much, when she had too many easy answers that made him feel small and stupid, Bud pulled her into bed where they felt equal—where he could admire her from an angle that he didn’t feel lesser. Could he get Exley’s eyes to look at him like that, too? As equals, side by side? While he struggled Bud took those deep breaths that Exley wanted and his pulse slowed to normal, damn him. His grip slackened and he dropped his arms.
“There, see.” Exley adjusted his glasses back into place. “Keep your head, Bud. We have work to do.” He tapped Bud’s shoulder genially and slid past him towards the door.
Bud wondered if Exley thought the whole exchange was funny, and wondered if Exley’s laugh was charming like Lynn’s, too.