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If I Ever Dared

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“Have you asked her yet?” Cosmo asked from the bed, while Don got himself dressed in front of the small, rust-spotted mirror in the corner.

Don looped the fabric of his tie around itself, focusing much more on that than on Cosmo. “Not yet; there’s no rush.”

Cosmo sat up, pulling the blankets up to his waist and huddling in them a little, since it was cold in his apartment. He probably could have afforded to light a fire, but saving money was still second-nature. If it wasn’t, he probably would have moved after his promotion, although he knew the roaches here would miss him.

“There isn’t? What are you waiting for, Christmas?”

Don picked his jacket up from where he’d left it hanging over the back of a chair, swung it on then turned back to Cosmo. “Come on, Cos.”

Cosmo felt his eyes widen at the conflicted look on Don’s face, but he forced himself to laugh, before he could do something stupid like believe it. “Ask Kathy to marry you, Don. You know you want to.”

Don’s expression creased into uncertainty. A look like that was going to give him wrinkles and the next time Cosmo was feeling catty, he might tell him so. “What about you?”

“Oh, I don’t want to marry Kathy.”

Don smiled at him, shaking his head. “I mean, what are you gonna do, if I get married?”

“Why, Don, you know I’m just a simple girl, waiting for a man of my own to sweep me off my feet,” Cosmo said, pouting his lips.

Don made a good stab at looking unimpressed, but his lips were definitely still twitching.

“I don’t know.” Don sighed. “It just doesn’t seem fair. What with - ” He waved a hand back and forth between them, at Cosmo’s clothes still scattered around Cosmo’s bedroom and Cosmo himself still naked in his sad little single bed.

Cosmo fiddled with the blankets, smoothing them across his lap until he could see the shape of his own thighs through them. “No, it wouldn’t be fair for me to marry some girl, but this isn’t some girl, this is Kathy and you could love her. Hell, you do love her. Why wouldn’t you want to marry someone you love?”

The moment he heard himself say that, he wished he hadn’t, because it hurt like a knife in the chest, but he pushed on past it.

Instead, he just looked up at Don and smiled blandly, waiting for an answer.

Don very clearly couldn’t find one. “Well,” he said at last, dragging it out like he wanted Cosmo to think that he was agreeing under sufferance. “If you think it’s a good idea.”

“Uh, of course it is, it’s my idea.” Cosmo kicked his feet under the blanket, just a little step-heel, heel-step to work off some energy.

Don took another minute, just standing there and letting the idea settle over him. Cosmo watched as he realised what Cosmo had already known, that the idea of marrying Kathy made him incandescent with joy.

As he always did when he realised he was happy, Don lit up like a Christmas tree.

“All right!” he said, bouncing on his heels. “All right, I’m gonna do it.”

“Right now?” Cosmo asked.

“Right now!” Don swung towards the door. Then he swung back, crossed the room in a couple of loping steps and smacked a hard kiss against Cosmo’s surprised mouth. “Wish me luck!”

He was gone before Cosmo could actually get the words out, but he muttered, “Yeah, good luck,” after him anyway, and tried to mean it.

The Lockwood-Selden wedding would have been the society event of the season, if Kathy hadn’t insisted on going home to El Paso for it. As it was, it was a sweet and homey little event, with pot luck for dinner and a pastor who everyone called ‘Grandpa Joe.’

Cosmo was there as best man, because Don didn’t see anything wrong with that, so Cosmo didn’t want to point it out to him. He had to rewrite his speech to make it suitable for the church crowd and no one here seemed aware of the concept of a speakeasy, but Cosmo lost count of the number of aunts and great-aunts and cousins who he danced with, and that always made for a good time.

“My turn,” Kathy said, dragging him out of the arms of a very insistent twelve year old and into hers. “I’m gonna get jealous, if everyone else gets to hog you.”

Cosmo laughed and slipped easily into hold with her. “Considering every time I’ve looked over, you’ve been drowning in Don’s muddy brown eyes, I doubt that.”

“Oh, come now, they’re not muddy,” Kathy said, nudging him until they were doing a waltz. He’d been aiming for a charleston, himself. “Swampy, maybe, but not muddy.”

“Like pond water,” Cosmo agreed.

“Or chocolate.”

Cosmo dipped her, deciding he could take dramatic licence with appropriate dance steps, since it was her wedding day. “I don’t want to know what chocolate you’ve been eating, Mrs Lockwood.”

Kathy gave a little gasp, so he righted her, just in case that was the problem. “Mrs Lockwood,” she echoed, smiling and not seeming to give a toss which way up she was. “Well now, that sounds fine.”

She looked fine too. Well, much more than fine. To Cosmo’s untrained eye, she was the prettiest girl he’d ever seen in her simple, white lace gown with sheer, flowing sleeves, and sparkly silver flowers in her hair.

“It suits you,” he said, meaning it. Impulsively, he kissed her on the corner of her mouth, just a little peck of a kiss the same way she’d kissed him that morning they’d decided to make the Dancing Cavalier.

Kathy’s hands tightened on his arms so hard that he pulled back hastily, worried he’d overstepped, but when he looked at her, she still looked radiant. “I’m going to miss you, Cosmo.”

“Why, where am I going?” he asked.

“While we’re on honeymoon, silly.” She lay her head on his shoulder, apparently unconcerned that they were getting some strange looks from some members of her family. “I’m sure Paris will be wonderful, but it is so very far away.”

“You’ll be back in a month,” Cosmo told her. “And I’m sure Don will keep you… distracted.”

She giggled and pinched his shoulder blade, where her hand was resting. “Be good.”

Cosmo rested his cheek against the top of her head and looked across the dance floor, where Don was dancing carefully and slowly with Kathy’s great-grandmother. “I’m always good,” he sighed.

The first person Cosmo saw who he knew at RF’s next party was Lina, sitting at the bar in a backless pink dress that was, in all honesty, to die for.

She very clearly knew how good she looked, since she was giving a satisfied little half-smile to every man who approached her, making them trip over their own tongues before they could get too close.

“Well, hello,” Cosmo said, sliding onto the empty seat next to her. “Fancy seeing you here.”

She looked at him coolly. “Get me a Fallen Angel.”

“Do I look like a waiter?” Cosmo asked, but nevertheless turned and flagged one down, adding an order for a highball for himself.

When he looked back at her, Lina was eyeing him slowly up and down. “You sure do look like somethin’.”

She ignored him until their drinks arrived, then continued to ignore him while they drank. It was impressive how quickly her face could switch from smiles for her public to glares for him and then back again. He could have made a quip about how her face was going to get stuck midway between the two, but he hadn’t been feeling quippy lately.

“Hello, you two,” RF said loudly from behind them. He clapped Cosmo on the shoulder, but didn’t dare touch Lina. “I can’t say I was expecting to see you here together.”

“We are not,” Lina enunciated clearly. “Here. Together. This… person sat down next to me and won’t go away.” She fluttered her eyelashes at RF. “Make him go away, RF?”

“Jeez,” Cosmo muttered. “Make a guy feel unwanted, why don’t you?”

“How was the wedding?” asked RF, probably not making a deliberate segue but still, ouch. “I was sorry not to be able to make it.”

“It was astounding, beautiful, charming,” Cosmo said, putting a spin on it. “Delightful. Euphoric. Fantastic.”

RF grinned. “Superb?” he asked, proving that either he hadn’t understood Cosmo’s joke or he didn’t know the alphabet. Cosmo might be losing his touch.

“Golly-hoololly,” Cosmo agreed, letting it go.

“I suppose Miss Selden looked divine?” Lina asked, after RF had left them with their drinks.

“She’s very pretty,” Cosmo agreed.

“And Don looked dashing, I guess?” She was stirring a little cocktail stick around in her glass as if her question didn’t matter to her in the slightest.

“He is also very pretty.” Cosmo tried to share a smile with her, but she just looked at him flatly.

“I’m not as dumb as people think I am, you know.”

“Well, you couldn’t be.” Cosmo said it automatically, but without any bite. He’d never minded Lina, just thought she was ridiculous and a lot of fun to rile, but Don had really disliked and that had made some small, petty part of Cosmo happy.

Lina, understandably, ignored him. “I know why Donny was never interested in me.” She started to smile, the calculating one that Cosmo didn’t like. “I wonder if Miss Selden knows.”

Cosmo felt a little prickle go down his spine. “Whatever reason Don had for not being interested in you has nothing to do with Kathy.”

The smile widened. He wondered if he were about to get eaten. “Not with Kathy, no.” She sat back abruptly and twisted a strand of blond hair around her finger. “Would you like to have sex with me?”

Cosmo spat out a mouthful of whiskey. It wasn’t even intentional for comedic effect. It just happened. “Excuse me.”

Lina looked at him as if he were simple. To be honest, he might be. “Would you - ” A dismissive flick of her fingers in his direction. “ - like to have sex. With me?”

“No,” Cosmo said, confused but very firm about that. “Thank you, but no.”

Lina sniffed. “I’d let you call me Don.”

Cosmo was up and out of his chair before he’d thought about it let alone finished processing what she’d said. He cursed himself internally; could he have been any more obvious? He forced himself to laugh long and loud, like she’d made a joke.

“Sorry, Lina, I’m not into that,” he said, still laughing and shaking his head. Then he went off to find another whiskey to gulp down and a girl to hang onto until the end of the night.

Cosmo was very busy with work. Cosmo was the head of an entire, brand new music studio, and that was a lot of work. So he was very busy.

He explained that to Don, when he came home from honeymoon and immediately invited Cosmo out for a drink.

He explained it to Kathy, when she dropped by the lot and tried to take him to lunch.

And he explained it to both of them the sixteen (sixteen!) times in three weeks that they invited him around for dinner.

He was busy. He was important. He would catch up with them later.

He was also right at this moment, lying on his threadbare sofa, staring morosely at his piano from under a blanket, but that was just part of his artistic process.

At first, he thought the knocking on his door was from his hangover, but then he remembered he’d been too sad even to drink last night, so he didn’t have a hangover. Then he worried it was a bill collector, before remembering he’d paid his bills. Landlady? Unlikely. Friends? Very doubtful. The Angel of Death? God, he hoped so.

He rolled off his sofa onto the floor and did a forward roll over to the door, in case that cheered him up. It did a little, actually.

“Well!” Kathy said, when he opened the door.

“Well?” Cosmo asked, stepping back to let her in. She looked fresh as a daisy and it made him wish he’d bathed today or, at least, changed his clothes since yesterday.

“Well.” She put her hands on her hips and gave him a long, not very flattering appraisal. “Don is convinced that you’re dying, or you’ve developed an alcohol problem, or you’re packing up and moving to New York and don’t know how to tell us, but it doesn’t look like any of those things are happening. So why are you avoiding us?”

“New York?” Cosmo asked, scratching his head.

Kathy shrugged. “It was the furthest place from here that he could think of that you might want to go.” She offered Cosmo a little smile, inviting him into their shared little alcove of teasing Don, but he couldn’t do it, not this time.

He turned away from her instead, and crossed to the kitchenette. “Coffee? Or I have…” He opened and closed some cupboards. “Coffee?”

“Coffee, please,” said Kathy, politely. He watched out of the corner of her eye as she wrinkled her nose and swept his blanket onto the floor with the corner of her hand. Cosmo thought that was overegging things a little; he’d only been wrapped in it for three days, it couldn’t be that dirty yet.

Then he remembered the soup that he’d spilled on it yesterday and been too depressed to mop up and all right, yes, maybe it could be.

“So,” Cosmo said, when they were sitting side by side, each holding a cup of coffee that he’d probably burnt. “How have you been?”

Because she was a good, kind girl, she let him distract her, launching into a description of her wonderful Paris honeymoon that left Cosmo feeling almost as if he’d been there. To be honest, that wasn’t a feeling that helped, right now.

“And how have things been here?” Kathy asked. She held up a hand before he could answer. “Don’t say ‘busy.’ You’ve already said that you’re busy many times.”

“Well, I’ve been busy many times.” Cosmo refused to look around his room, which looked more as if a bomb had hit it than any creative output.

“It seems to me,” Kathy said breezily, “that you getting busy coincided exactly with Don and I getting married.”

“Well, how about that?” Cosmo asked, affecting a startled air. “I guess you’re right! That’s useful.”

She tucked her hair behind her ear and looked up at him. “Is it?”

Gosh, but she was cute. He’d missed her pretty face and her sharp, no-nonsense ways. “Gives me something to do while you and Don are off staring into each other’s eyes or whatever it is that newlyweds do. I can’t say that I know about any such things myself, of course.”

Kathy didn’t so much as smile. He must be losing his touch, but he hadn’t wanted to make too much of an innuendo; it hadn’t felt right to do that with her. “Cosmo,” Kathy sighed.

He swivelled towards her, even though he wanted to swivel away. “Kathy.”

Kathy’s expression was soft and open, inviting his confidence. “I know I’m missing something, but Don either doesn’t know or won’t tell me what it is, so you’re going to have to.”

“Well, you’re missing a button on your blouse, but apart from that…” Cosmo spread his hands in confusion.

Kathy looked down, hand going to her breast. She glared at him when she found that her buttons were all present and accounted for.

“Cosmo Brown,” she scolded, then laughed. “As if you would know whether my shirt was missing any buttons, anyway.”

Cosmo felt a familiar cold creeping up his spine, the same sense of danger that he’d felt when Lina had insinuated what she had the other day. “What do you mean?”

“Well, just that.” Kathy took a sip of her coffee as if she hadn’t as good as announced that she could see right through him. “You never look.”

“I look!” Cosmo protested. His face felt frozen, but he forced it into some kind of smirk. “Maybe you just don’t catch me looking.” He did look. If he remembered. Which wasn’t all that often. But when he remembered, he made a point of looking.

Kathy didn’t seemed convinced. “I’ve worked a lot of floorshows and I’ve had a lot of men look. I’ve always felt safe with you, and all the other girls talk about how you flirt, but you never insist.” She frowned. “Why are you looking like that? It’s a compliment.”

“Oh, nothing,” Cosmo said faintly. “No reason!” Even he had to admit that he sounded more than a little hysterical right now.

“Ohh,” Kathy said suddenly, her big eyes getting bigger and softer and all the things that Cosmo could not stand. People could laugh with him or they could laugh at him, but they could not pity him.

“Another coffee?” he asked, bouncing up to his feet. “It’s after midday; I could make it Irish.”

“Cosmo,” Kathy chided. She reached out and took him by the hand, pulling him back down. He went, because of course he did, but he made it into a pratfall, because of course he did.

At least she did him a favour and laughed, this time.

Kathy’s hand slipped into the crook of his arm and she tucked himself against his side, laying her head on his shoulder. “Oh, Cos, is that why?”

“What?” he asked carefully. He was fairly certain that if she’d actually worked out why, then she wouldn’t be cosying up to him, she’d be slapping him and he’d deserve it.

“Are you in love with Don?” Kathy asked, sounding so, so sad for him.

Cosmo choked on nothing. “What?” he wheezed.

She tipped her face up to look at him. From six inches away, she looked like someone he could confide in, if only it wasn’t about this. “You are, aren’t you? Is it too hard to be around him now that we’re married?”

God, how could a person be so correct but also so wrong at the same time? She thought he was pining away for unrequited love, so of course she was sympathetic. He was pretty sure she’d change her tune, if she found it was actually previously fully requited… well, not love not on Don’s side, but it had felt close enough.

Cosmo opened his mouth to say, “No,” then realised that he couldn’t. The Sword of Damocles had been hanging over him for so long, he might as well jump up and impale himself on it. So to speak. “Yes.”

“Oh no, I’m so sorry. You must hate me!” She sounded a little as if she might cry.

That, at least, was easy to respond to. He kissed her forehead then lifted his arm so she could slide underneath it. “Never,” he promised her. “I could never hate you.”

She curled up against him. “Still,” she said. “Oh Cos. Don’t worry, I’m going to find a way to help.” She said it so firmly that he was genuinely afraid, because he knew she meant it.

“Well,” Don said three nights later, sitting on Cosmo’s kitchen counter and swinging his legs. “This is fun.”

“Shut up,” Cosmo told him, stirring soup around in the pan, even though some memory of his mother told him you weren’t supposed to do that. “Just… shut up.”

“You know,” Don said, ignoring him. “I think it’s swell of Kathy to want to give us some time alone.”

“Oh yeah,” Cosmo muttered. “It’s just swell.”

Don leaned back on his hands and blinked at him. He was wearing clothes that were far too nice for hanging around in Cosmo’s apartment, but that wasn’t Cosmo’s fault, he hadn’t invited him here. “Um, Cos?”

“Yes, Don?” Another stir.

“Are you, by any chance, less than delighted to have me here?”

Cosmo looked up at him and raised both eyebrows. “Gee, whatever gave you that idea?”

Don hopped down from the counter and put his hand on Cosmo’s arm. “Kathy said you missed spending time with me. Was she wrong?” He sounded sad and a little lost at the thought, which Cosmo really wanted to say made him feel angrier. In fact, it just made him feel sad and lost too.

“No,” he sighed. “Of course she wasn’t wrong.”

“Then what?”

Cosmo turned the soup down, even though it was probably already a lost cause and turned to face Don, his back to the stove. “Did she tell you her theory? About why I’ve been avoiding you both?”

“Aha, I knew you’d been avoiding us!” Don said, then, “No? What? What theory?”

“Your Kathy is a smart cookie, you know? She reckons I’ve got a pash on you and my heart’s broken because you’re married.” Cosmo didn’t bother to smile. Don was about the only person who he didn’t always feel the need to be cheerful around, although usually that was because he was just able to be quiet with him instead. Letting Don see that he was upset was a brand new departure and a frightening one.

Don froze. “You told her?” he asked Cosmo, sounding betrayed.

Cosmo spread his hands helplessly. “About me. Only about me. She worked it out and I never agreed to lie about me. I didn’t tell her anything about you.”

Don breathed out hard, shoulders sagging in what had to be relief. “Good, that’s good. Thank you.”

Cosmo turned away from him again. It wasn’t Don’s fault that he had to be careful who knew what about him, but that didn’t mean it didn’t smart to see.

Don put his hand on Cosmo’s waist, followed by his chin hooked over Cosmo’s shoulder. “Why are you avoiding us, then? I know it’s not the pash.” He laughed, as if they were in the middle of a shared joke.

Cosmo should drive an elbow or a heel into some part of Don to make him back off, but it was so nice to be able to feel him again that Cosmo didn’t have the moral fortitude.

“I’m not avoiding you,” Cosmo lied. “I’m just… I think we need a bit of space between us for a couple of months, that’s all.”

“A couple of months?” Don demanded. “Why?”

Because we’re over and you don’t seem to have noticed, Cosmo thought. Because I haven’t had to be around you without kissing you since I was twelve and I don’t remember how.

“Lina’s got some kind of clue about the two of us,” he said instead, since that was also true and also a concern.

Don blinked. “Lina? So what?”

“So what?! So, I don’t want to go to prison!” Cosmo threw up his hands before Don could promise him that he wouldn’t let that happen. “So, if Lina has even a scrap of evidence, she’ll tell Kathy, you know she will.”

“Tell her what? Nothing’s even happening anymore.” Oh, so he had noticed.

“No, but it could still cause trouble for the two of you. I don’t…” He actually looked Don in the eye, which he thought was very brave of him. “I don’t wanna cause trouble for the two of you.”

“Oh,,” Don said then rubbed the back of his neck, head drooping. “Oh, hell.”

“Exactly!” Cosmo made a ding, ding noise like he’d won something, even though he’d definitely lost it. “Don’t worry, we’ll still be pals. We’ll be seen in public together, we just need to cut down on some of the private stuff, that’s all. And that’s easy, since you’ve got a wife to be spending your free time with, now.”

Don didn’t look happy. He also didn’t try to argue with anything that Cosmo had said.

Cosmo nudged him over to the ricketty little table and set down two bowls. “Eat your soup then we’ll have a beer and talk shit and you can go home and tell your wife what a lovely evening you’ve had.”

He didn’t even sound bitter. Probably because it was impossible to be bitter about anything involving Kathy. She hadn’t done anything wrong.

Things didn’t go back to normal. They were better, sure, now that Cosmo didn’t have to make excuses to spend less time with Don. But there was still a huge Don-shaped hole in Cosmo’s heart and, yes, in his bed, and Don obviously felt it too. He’d flit between being the confident, showy Don who Cosmo and Kathy loved, then kind of shrink in on himself, when he thought no one was looking.

He was sad. Cosmo was sad. Kathy was probably sad, but Cosmo still knew that a clean break was the only solution so he was sticking to it.

Then late one evening, he got a message at his office at the studios that Mrs Lockwood was on the telephone.

“Cosmo?” she said, sounding like she was about to snap. “Can you come to our house? Now?”

Cosmo went.

She met him on the lawn, standing there in slacks and bare feet even though it was the middle of winter and she must have been freezing.

“Kathy?” Cosmo asked, tumbling out of his car, which thank god had decided against breaking down on him for once. “What is it?”

“Don told me,” she said. There was mascara on her cheeks as if she’d been crying, but she wasn’t crying now. “He told me about you and him.” She stepped forward and thumped him once, in the chest, with the side of her fist. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Oh god,” Cosmo stood stock still, mind and body both rebelling against him. “Kathy.”

She hit him again, definitely not with all her might, more a little gnat bite that he barely felt.

“Hit me harder,” he told her. “You’ve every right to be angry.”

“I am angry,” she agreed. “I’m not angry with you, but I am angry.” In the lights spilling from the front of Don’s - her and Don’s - mansion, she didn’t look angry, she looked as if she was about to cry.

Cosmo felt sick with guilt. She was so young and she’d trusted Don, sure, but she’d trusted him too to be her friend and he’d pushed for this marriage without thinking anything through.

Just because that was how he did everything was no excuse.

“You should be angry with me,” he said. “I’m sorry.” He put his hand on her shoulder and Kathy, lovely, sweet Kathy, curled into his chest and started to cry.

Cosmo put both arms around her, holding her tight and hopefully keeping her a little bit warm as well. He looked towards the house and saw Don standing in the living room window, looking out at them.

Cosmo looked away, because if Don was shattered too, Cosmo’s heart was going to crack all the way along the lines where Kathy’s tears had already fractured it.

“Why didn’t he tell me?” Kathy asked, quietly. “He could have told me, I wouldn’t have gone to the papers or anything, he didn’t need to make me think that he loved me or, or.” She sniffed miserably.

“He does love you,” Cosmo said, panicked. “I promise. As for the rest, I can’t answer any of that, you need to ask Don, not me.”

“Yeah.” Kathy stepped back and used her palm to smear some of the tears across her cheek. Cosmo handed her a handkerchief with a little flourish. “Will you come inside with me?”

Cosmo glanced back at Don. He’d pressed one hand to the window, because he was an actor through and through and he knew what would look good to his audience. No, wait, that was mean. He probably didn’t know that was why he was doing it. “It’s probably better if you two talk alone.”

“No,” Kathy said firmly. “That doesn’t sound better at all.”

She took Cosmo’s hand and dragged him into the house. Since he had previously been screwing her husband, he didn’t think he was in much of a position to argue with her.

“Kathy!” Don said, running into the hallway as soon as they came in through the front door. “Kathy, will you let me explain now?”

Kathy shook her head. She walked into the living room and sat down, pulling her bare feet up onto the sofa and wrapping her arms around her legs.

Don folded down onto his knees in front of her, expression creased with concern. “Kathy? Honey?” He reached out to touch the dried tears on her cheeks. His hand was shaking because, Cosmo realised, because she was upset and that upset Don, because Don really did love her.

“I never agreed to a lavender marriage,” Kathy whispered. Her voice was shaky but her tone was strong and Cosmo had no doubt that she meant it.

Cosmo hadn’t thought he could feel any sicker, but he did. He was well aware that he hadn’t handled any of this well. He should have made Don come clean to her about everything first. She was a swell girl, she would probably still have wanted to marry him; they shouldn’t have made her think she could trust them then kept such a big secret from her.

It was no real excuse to say that telling people had never even occurred to him, but that was the truth. Liking men, loving Don were secrets he kept from everyone. That was just how it was.

“No,” Don said urgently. “Of course not. That's not! We're not!” He looked helplessly at Cosmo. Cosmo shrugged back.

“I don’t understand why you’d lie to me,” Kathy said. “All of that with the lights and the stage and the movie. You could have… I believed you loved me.”

“I do!” Don said frantically.


Cosmo had made a lot of messes here, but he could at least clear up this one. He sat down cross legged on the rug next to Don, careful not to let their knees touch the way he usually would. “Sometimes men love men,” he started.

Kathy sniffed, not in a disdainful way but as if she might start crying again. “I know that. I work in Hollywood.”

Cosmo smiled. “I think the part you don’t know is that sometimes men love men and women. That’s Don. The fact that he and I have taken a tumble or two together doesn’t mean he can’t love you. He does love you.”

Her eyebrows drew together, as if she was thinking that through. “Is that true, Don?”

He nodded quickly, eagerly. “It’s true for me. I love you so much, Kathy. I should have told you so you had all the information before we got married, I can see that now, but I was scared.”

“Scared?” she repeated. Cosmo was surprised too; he didn’t think Don had admitted to something like that since he was three.

Don stared into Kathy’s eyes, as brave as he’d been as a stunt man and then a little braver still. “You might have turned away from me. I couldn’t have stood that.”

“Oh, Don. Don’t be silly.” She looked down at their joined hands, then she glanced at Cosmo and looked guilty and that was wonderful, just great, now Cosmo had made a woman feel bad about holding her own husband’s hands. “You really love me?”

“More than anything,” Don said then, for some reason, hesitated. He glanced Cosmo’s way for a split second. Maybe he was worried about hurting Cosmo’s feelings too, but he needn’t have worried, Cosmo knew where he stood here.

Kathy looked at Cosmo too, blushing slightly. “I’m sorry I called you over here. I guess I just, I guess I panicked a little? I couldn’t go to Don so I went to you, but that probably wasn’t the right thing to do, was it?”

“Of course it was.” Cosmo gave her a flourishing bow, which was difficult while sitting on a carpet, but not impossible. “If my lady ever needs a knight to come to her aid, she need only call.”

Kathy laughed. It rang around the room; Cosmo had missed hearing it so much.

Cosmo stood up, cleared his throat and took a step back. “And on that note, I’ll be leaving again, then.”

Don tore himself away from Kathy to turn to look at Cosmo. “Where are you going?”

“Home?” Cosmo said, confused.

Apparently, Don was also confused. “By yourself?”

“Well. Unless Douglas Fairbanks stops me on the way there to declare his undying love, yes.”

Kathy offered him a another laugh, which was nice of her, but Don just continued to look stricken.

“Are you going to disappear again?” he asked.

“Disappear? I see you every day on set! I made you dinner the other night!”

“You hide from me every day on set and dinner was weeks ago. Plus you were mad at me the whole time I was there.” Don glanced at Kathy who gave him an encouraging nod, so he turned back to Cosmo, looking bullishly stubborn.

“You’re imagining things,” Cosmo told him lightly. He hadn’t taken off his coat so he didn’t need to worry about putting it back on again. He could just make a clean getaway, if only he could make his feet move.

“I’m not. Cos, why do you think I told Kathy about us?

That was actually a very good question. Cosmo stopped trying to sneak towards the door inch by inch and hoping no one would notice. “Why did you tell Kathy?”

“Because of what you said.”

“What I said?” Cosmo was frankly horrified. He was sure he hadn’t said anything that would lead to a man declaring homosexual affairs to his wife, but if he had, he’d resolve never to speak again. Or, at least, not for a few days.

“You said that we had to cool our friendship so that no one suspected there’d ever been anything more between us. And I understood that, I did, but I hated it. I got tired of waiting and pretending. I thought if Kathy knew and there was no more pretending, things would get better between us.” He glanced up at Cosmo through his dark eyelashes. “I miss you.”

Don looked absolutely pathetic down there on his knees, looking up at Cosmo all beseechingly while holding his wife’s hands. It was that that made Cosmo hesitate.

“Yeah,” he sighed. “I miss you too.”

“You told me to get married,” Don reminded him. “But I feel like maybe you didn’t want me to.”

Kathy made a little noise at that.

Cosmo smiled at her. “He wanted to, trust me, and I wanted him to. I didn’t put the idea in his head, just told him to go for it.”

“Exactly!” Don looked as if he wanted to jump to his feet and shout gotcha! but he was hindered by not wanting to let go of Kathy. “You told me to go for it and I went for it but I didn’t realise that getting Kathy would mean losing you. I never wanted to lose you.”

There was nothing that Cosmo could say. Oh, he could probably manage a joke, but even the thought of that tasted like ashes.

Kathy squeezed Don’s hands and let go of them, standing up and crossing the room to Cosmo. “Do you need to go?” she asked softly.

God, Cosmo adored her. She was the greatest woman ever minted and that included his sainted grandmother. He nodded.

She smiled, full of gentle sympathy. “Go on, then. Don’t worry. I’ll look after him.”

Cosmo’s eyes smarted, his sinuses burning. “Thank you.”

“Wait,” said Don, but Cosmo had already turned away, heading for the door.

“Let him go,” he heard Kathy say. “He’ll come back, but he needs some time to himself.”

Don didn’t answer and Cosmo assumed he’d agreed, so it was a shock when a big, warm hand landed on Cosmo’s arm and spun him back around.

Cosmo teetered for a second, almost falling into Don’s broad chest, but he managed to stay balanced on his toes then fall back onto his heels.

“Why do you need time to yourself?” Don demanded.

“Don,” Kathy chided. “Come on, you’re being unfair.”

“Cosmo,” Don pressed. “Why?”

“Because,” Cosmo said faintly. Then he thought fuck it, and raised his voice. “Because you’re right: getting Kathy does mean losing me, so my broken heart and I must away to my lonely garret and write a song of sorrow.” He gave it a good try but it was a poor effort. It sounded much more genuine than he’d ever meant it to.

“How can you have a broken heart?” Don asked. He sounded as if he was actually asking.

Cosmo tried to pull his arm away but Don held fast. “Now you’re just being mean.”

“I’m not. I swear I’m not. I want to know how you can have a broken heart, when you don’t love me.”

Cosmo gaped at him. In a desperate bid of comedic effect, he lifted a hand and pushed his jaw shut again. Kathy, lovely girl that she was, awarded him half a smile for effort but she was mostly staring at Don, as was Cosmo.

“Who told you that?” Cosmo asked. “Was it Dora Bailey? You know you can’t believe everything you read in those fan magazines.”

Cos,” Don said, sounding wretched.

Cosmo sighed, giving in. “I’ve been in love with you since we were nine.” He smiled. “Idiot.”

Don stared at him. “Why didn’t you ever say?”

“I’ve spent my whole life following you around the country. I moved to California with you.” Cosmo made little tada motions with his hands because, really, Cosmo burned very easily so moving to California had definitely been the ultimate expression of love.

“But,” Don protested, “You never said.”

Cosmo knew he hadn’t and he knew that hadn’t been fair, because Don was smart, but he wasn’t fast like Cosmo was. Cosmo would always get somewhere first and usually he’d circle back and take Don with him, but in this he’d deliberately left him behind.

“I know I never said. I wanted you to have a chance at a normal life and then Kathy came along and look at her. She’s everything you need in a leading lady.”

“Sure she is, she’s perfect,” Don said, looking at Kathy with such naked fondness that Cosmo knew that at least he’d been right in one thing. Then he looked back at Cosmo, all melting brown eyes and soft smile. “But you’ve always been my leading man.”

Cosmo covered his face with both hands and groaned. “Why would you… Who said you could… This is why Roscoe won’t let you write your own lines anymore.”

“Cos,” Don said, a smile teasing at the edges of his voice and the corners of his mouth for the first time in a while. God, but Cosmo wanted to kiss that smile. Cosmo, it turned out, was a sucker for a cheesy line.

But Kathy was here, so Cosmo took a step back instead.

Don reached out for him then stopped, hand suspended in mid-air, like he was as out of ideas as Cosmo was.

"I'll, I'll see you, okay?" Cosmo said. He hoped it sounded like a promise, though whether it was to himself or Don, he wasn't sure. "I'll see you soon."

He walked out of the house and didn't let himself look back. In his car, he took two minutes to bang his head against his steering wheel, then drove home. Douglas Fairbanks didn't appear to declare his undying love but that was okay, he wasn't the movie star who Cosmo wanted, anyway.

"Thank you both for coming," Kathy said formally one week later. They were back in her and Don's living room, Don and Kathy on one sofa and Cosmo a careful distance away on another.

"Well, Don lives here," Cosmo reminded her. "Um, he still does, right?"

"Of course he does," Kathy said, with a smile at Don that said she was just as besotted as ever, thank god. "Are you going to shut up and let me be brilliant or not?"

Cosmo mimed zipping his lips. He'd been summoned here by an actual invitation on an actual card as though they were high class ladies from New York, not humble players from Nowhere in Particular.

“I've had an idea," Kathy said then glanced at Don again. "Well, we both have, actually. We've discussed it and now we'd like to know what you think about it."

“Does it involve singing?” Cosmo asked her. “I hope it’s singing.”

Kathy shook her head. “It isn’t singing.”

Cosmo sighed.

“I think we should all be together.”

Cosmo felt his eyes bug out of his head. When he looked at Don, he was biting his lip anxiously but he didn't look surprised. Apparently they really had discussed that. What the hell?

“Kathy,” Cosmo said. “Kathy, my darling girl, I adore you but that’s not going to work, I’m not… made like that.”

Kathy smiled at him, shaking her head. “I’m not saying we should sleep together.”

“All right!" Cosmo heard his voice go up and octave and tried to bring in back down. "All right then. Good. Then what are you saying?”

“I’m saying we should be together. You should be here, with us. We both love you and it hasn’t been right with you missing anyway, has it Don?” She squeezed both their shoulders, expression fond.

“... no,” Don said, staring at her. Apparently they hadn't discussed that part. “I didn’t know you felt that way too.”

“Of course I do. Apart from the very first time we met, it’s always been the three of us. I fell for you, Don, because you’re the one that courted me, but if you both had, I don’t think I would have been able to pick between you.” She sounded so confident when she said that, their little girl from El Paso, all grown up and way better at being mature than Cosmo or Don were.

Cosmo felt himself blush and gave an embarrassed wiggle. “That’s. Um. Thank you.”

“Don’t fall down,” Kathy warned him, which showed she knew him too well. He had been considering pretending to faint, just to break the ice. “And Don is in love with you, aren’t you, Don?”

Don looked at her, looked at Cosmo, looked at her again. She gave him a nod as if to say it’s all right, but he still looked back at Cosmo.

“It’s all right,” Cosmo said, though he probably meant the opposite of what Kathy had meant. He meant, it’s okay if you’re not.

“Yes,” said Don and now Cosmo really did want to fall down.

Kathy clapped her hands, visibly delighted. “So. Cosmo. How do you feel about us?”

“Like I need to lie down,” he told her honestly. “Actually.” He walked over to the nearest sofa and flung himself down onto it. “Better.”

Kathy walked over and looked down at him. Don did the same thing from the other side so both their heads were just hovering over him. They both looked expectant.

Cosmo maybe panicked a little. “Could I have some time?”

“Of course,” Kathy said and reached out, taking Don’s hand. “Take all the time you need, we’ll be upstairs.”

Cosmo closed his eyes, listening to them whisper together as they made their way upstairs. This was good, Cosmo needed time to… well, time to panic and second-guess himself and panic a little more.

He thought about what being in love with Don meant. Putting aside the sex, it meant doing whatever it took to make him happy, it meant wanting to be with him all the time, feeling better when he was there and not-quite-whole when he wasn’t. It meant that making him laugh was the most vital part of Cosmo’s day.

Cosmo had missed him these last few weeks, but he’d missed Kathy too. He’d missed her separately from missing Don. He’d given up Don for her, not only because it was the right thing to do, but also because he couldn’t stand the thought of being involved in something that would make her unhappy. He loved it when she smiled, and when she smiled because of him, he felt like he was the king of the world.

Could you be in love with someone without wanting to sleep with them? The answer had to be yes, because if you couldn’t, he didn’t have a damn clue what he could possibly be feeling.

He stood up. Walked up the stairs. Their bedroom door was half open, like an invitation. He knocked anyway.

“Come in,” Don called.

When Cosmo pushed the door open, he found them sitting up in bed. They were both still fully dressed. Standing in their bedroom like they couldn't quite settle there. The lights low on either side of the bed. He should have felt like an intruder, but they both smiled at him so widely that that was impossible.

“Um,” Cosmo said, looking at Kathy, who he loved, and Don, who he loved. “I’m in. Whatever this is, I’m in.”

Don was out of bed in a second, closely followed by Kathy. He grabbed both of Cosmo’s biceps. “You mean it?”

Cosmo only managed half a nod, because then Don was kissing him. It was as big and sweeping a Hollywood kiss as belonged at the end of any movie.

“Wait,” Cosmo said, pulling away and looking at Kathy. “Is that, is this okay?”

Kathy was watching them both, rapt. She kissed Don on the mouth then did the same to Cosmo, giving them both exactly the same kiss.

“Was that okay?” she asked.

Cosmo smiled at her and kissed her back. “That was lovely,” he said. “I still don’t…”

“No, no,” she agreed quickly. “But I’d like to be able to kiss you sometimes, if you’re happy with that?”

Cosmo loved kisses. Getting kisses from two people could only be better than getting them from one.

“I’m happy,” he said. He looked at Kathy, who was flushed and pleased-looking and at Don, who was looking as if he were stunned by his own good luck. “I’m happy,” he repeated and meant it.