The first time that Denny and Alan had sex was about what you would expect: one king-sized bed in a coastal fishing lodge during peak season (I'm sorry, sir, but we're completely booked), one half bottle of high-end single malt scotch, twelve channels of pornography, three (maybe four) minutes, two insuperably easy men, one-and-a-half morning stiffies, and one bottle of cherry-almond scented Jergen's lotion (Denny having discovered years ago that Skin-So-Soft wasn't as backwoods all-purpose as it was purported to be).

The end product was acute relief of body but not of mind. Instead, there was a vague sense that in their own perfect little world that they'd built for just themselves, this wasn't the way that things were meant to be.

Denny said Alan wasn't as much fun as he'd thought he would be, and that time, tide and biting bass at sunrise wait for no man--hurry up! He lumbered off to take a dump, only partially closing door behind him, leaving Alan to conclude he had been correct when he gave up on this whole consummation idea back during season two.

"It may not have been great," Denny called out, "but it does get rid of that lingering sexual tension that's been hanging over us."

I hadn't thought you'd noticed, was Alan's planned reply, but the idea was drowned out by a flush and the sound of running water. By the time Alan came in to urinate while Denny shaved, Denny was already on about something unrelated.

On the boat, the captain asked if that was a cherry yogurt protein bar he smelled, and if they'd brought enough that he could have one too.

Alan snorted (though the noise might have had more to do with his sea sickness than sense of humor) and Denny said no, but when they were done, he'd fly the captain in to Boston for steak and cheesecake at The Oak Room.

For the moment, that seemed to be the end of that.

"What makes a person gay," Denny wondered over scotch on the pier that night. "Is it who you love or what you do? Or what you think about doing, because either way...?"

"Is that what's got you all in a knot?" Alan's question was punctuated by the prodrome of a chuckle. "You've been out of sorts all day."

"That's not it. My hemorrhoids are flaring up." Denny shuffled in his seat in a manner that led to unpleasant deductions. "And you didn't answer the question."

"You're not gay," stated Alan. There was clearly no point in wasting breath addressing the other side of the coin. Any deep contemplation Denny bothered with these days was strictly limited to his own self.

In fact, no matter how dark and heavy the insights to his own nature that might roil in Alan's soul, no matter how heinous his last act or how conflicted and self-dissonant the confessions he left at Denny's ear, Denny unfailingly managed to make it entirely about himself.

Of all the rare and exhilarating qualities of Denny's companionship, that might be the one which Alan treasured most.

"I know that." Denny's words came out with the easy expediency of one professionally trained to lie. "And yet, when it's you and me--" No longer easy, Denny let the sentence hang in the air.

Alan stared off into the tree line like a dog fixated on the ghost of something imperceptible to mortal man. "You and I could copulate from now until Ted Williams is resurrected, and that still wouldn't make you anything but--"

"Denny Crane."

Now the chuckle did complete itself. Glasses raised, they toasted each other with miniscule movements, then each drank deeply and settled down in the well (or in one case, wading pool) of his own thoughts.

"'re saying…we could...copulate again?"

"We could." Alan was willing to agree to almost anything in the hypothetical. Considering Denny's tenuous grip on the line between reality and wishful thinking, that tended to keep the excitement factor turned up to eleven.

"After all, it's just sex."

"No, it isn't." Alan raised glass to lips. His tone, his body, his expression--everything about him remained as serene as the gentle lap of ripples against the pilings on which they sat.

For what seemed a long time, only the rhythm of the water and the chirp of cicadas filled the air.


As always when Denny spoke, a multitude of possibilities previously undetected seemed to hover in the air.

To someone with Alan's lock-jaw grip on that line between reality and Dennyland, none of those possibilities seemed any better than the one he was living in the here and now.

"Don't," said Alan. He raised one palm to the night as a barricade, perhaps between what he could bear and what he couldn't. In his expansive quest for solitude, Alan had never found any space nearly so lonely as that after sex with someone who wasn't in love with him.

He was well aware there would come a day when Denny must leave him lonely, but he saw no reason to hasten its coming.

"Really, just don't. Sit here with me and enjoy our special time." Alan dropped his palm and took Denny's hand.

Denny would not be dissuaded. He'd turned to face him now, fingers still locked in their spasmodic grip. "Alan, I love you. I do a lot of crazy things because they're fun. And I take you along on those crazy things because it's more fun that way, but don't ever confuse being along with being one of them. You've never been one of my stunts, and don't let anyone--not even me--convince you otherwise."

Alan cocked his head with an enigmatic look. It might have been a close-lipped smile, but it was too dark out there to be sure. "Don't worry," he said at last. "I see through you. I always do."

"Not always." Denny turned away.

Alan waited for further explanation, but apparently that was all there was, so they sat and watched the stars come out and emptied the bottle of scotch.

They went to bed even before the moon arose. Tomorrow would be another early day. Alan waited until he thought Denny was asleep, then as silently as possible, beat off into his own hand then, right after, he went to sleep.

A few minutes later, Denny did the same.

The next night they skipped the pornography and went straight to bed--after the cigars, naturally. And after cracking a new bottle of Chivas.

"How were you murdered?" Denny asked.

"Pardon?" The vintage nightshirt fell below Alan's knees, and the pom-pom on his night-before-Christmas stocking cap lolled between his shoulder blades as he puttered around the room.

"You said you thought you were once murdered in your sleep. How did it happen?"

Alan paused mid pillow plump. "I didn't think you were listening."

"No one ever does. Sometimes, not even me. That's the secret of my legacy.

"So, how did it happen? I'd like to know who killed my friend."

"So you can get him off?" Alan snuggled down.

"Or shoot him."

"I don't know," Alan crimped the covers around his chin, "but I think it was sexual." It may have been a small evasion, but it was far more truth than lie. It wasn't that he didn't want to tell Denny, Alan just didn't want that stuff in his head own head right then.

"In dreams, violent death and sex are the same thing," said Denny.

"Your therapist?"

"Don't knock it. You should try it."

"I did once; I was expelled," Alan said and twisted the sleeping cap down over his brow. "Freud said that dreams of violent death are the ultimate expression of the merging Thanatos and Eros with in us all. The two opposing forces--the drive toward life and the drive toward death--deadlocked, horns together, battering at each other within our psyche for the entirety of our lives. "

Denny regarded him with a nonplussed stare. "I see why your shrink kicked you out."

"However, I believe she did get a publication out of me."

"Still," Denny turned off the light and rolled over on his side. "It's not a bad way to go. Going out in the saddle. Thanatos and Eros: together to the end."

Alan blinked into the gloom and waited for his eyes to accommodate, but all around was black. No, it wasn't such a bad way to go. Aloud he conceded, "I can certainly think of worse."

Of course they did not have sex on their wedding night. It was never a question, at least not for Denny. That would have been, too commonplace, too expected, too much like the rest of the world. A little pole-pleasure between two guys with nothing better to do: that, his self-image could absorb. But to be conventional, predictable, dull--that was an anathema.

One of the reasons they fit so well was that Alan tended to concur.

As for Alan, while he certainly had a history of letting the more dysfunctional of his passive-aggressive traits rebuff whatever it was he most desired, that wasn't it that night.

Things just seemed perfect exactly the way they were.

They strolled off their balcony arm in arm. By unspoken agreement, the destination was Alan's hotel. Not so much for the sleaze factor (although that was a definite plus) but it was much closer than Denny's home, the day had been very long and Alan was no longer as young as he used to be.

Denny wasn't either, although he was getting close to it again.

Most of Back Bay was deserted at that hour, and a heavy fog sagged down to the cobbles. As they perambulated the mist in their wedding finery, elbows linked, it spoke to Alan of the romantic London of Dickensian days. Holmes and Watson: dressed to the nines, making their way back to hearth and home, one day of adventure and success behind them, another one ahead.

Of course, that would mean that Alan was Watson. Denny would never tolerate second billing, not even in someone else's fantasy affairs. That was all right with Alan. He considered himself well suited to the role of the power behind the throne. Being in the spot-light would foul up his master plan.

Chicanery and misdirection don't thrive in the spotlight. They are habits for the shadows.

And there is no bigger shadow to be in than Denny Crane's.

They did take a moment to stop at the front desk and inquire about the honeymoon suite.

"We're newlyweds," Alan said.

Ever the master of timing, Denny took his hand for emphasis and raised it up.

The night clerk was a new kid. He'd been there about two weeks: just long enough to know that Alan was never serious, but not yet long enough to realize that he always meant exactly what he said.

He gave them an anemic smile to prove that he got the joke that wasn't, then he bade them a hotel protocol goodnight.

They shrugged it off. The fun was in the public spectacle, not the getting.

Alan flipped on the light with thoughts of a hot shower and his toothbrush, but something out of place caught his eye. Two identical boxes, both wrapped in heavy silver paper with oversized white bows, sat on the credenza. It had been bare when he had left that morning.

Denny had spotted them too. "Oh good, they came." He lifted the first and appeared to read something off a label. He passed the second to Alan. "It's not a ring, but I wanted to get us something," he said in what was apparently going to have to pass for explanation. "Open it."

Wondering how much weirder this day could get, Alan slid his index finger along the slit on the bottom and popped the tape.

Inside was a garment box. Inside that, layers of tissue wrap. Inside that, a pair of finely woven silk pajamas striped in cornflower and cerulean. Embroidered on the right cuff in an imperious all-capital font was the name 'Denny Crane.'

Someone less astute would have suspected a mix-up in the labels, but Alan just suppressed the reflexive chuckle that would not be appreciated.

He held up the shirt. It was exactly his size.

"I got us matching ones," Denny said. He had. He already had his paper ripped open and the wrapping strewn across the floor. "But the tailor picked the colors especially for you. I told him I wanted something that would…complement your eyes."

Now a laugh did escape as Alan reexamined the blues. He had been told in the past that those tones suited him well.

"Dibs on the shower," Denny said. Somehow he was already naked but for his socks and their garters. His own pajama set draped over his arm, Denny flapped into the bathroom. He left the door wide open, and Alan listened for the shower.

Then he did undress.

The pajamas fit as if they had been custom-tailored, which, of course, they had been. Denny was likely unaware clothing worth wearing came any other way, and after four years palling around with him, Alan had come close to deciding that Denny was right about that as well.

The silk was heavy and felt delightful against his skin, and Alan slipped between the sheets with gratitude.

The shower would still be there in the morning.

There is something unique about that place between wake and sleep. Poets, philosophers and medical types have strived to describe and define it through the millennia, but to each person the experience is different, and so they all must fail in the specific if not the general. To Alan, the thought of sleeping alone for so long had brought such anxiety, that the contrast of falling into that surrealism safe in trusted company magnified the bliss ten-fold.

The day eased away: the Supreme Court, the air travel, avoiding being shot by Cheney, the vows, the Chinese, the several glasses of scotch. The rhythm of the water patter on the tiles was almost hypnotic and Denny's--erm, singing?--had its own comfortable charms as well. The steam billowing from the doorway tasted of Denny's own aroma, his choice of expensive scents, and his wet newly-married nakedness slicked with soap and perennially available, now tantalizingly few foot-lengths away.

And Alan found himself unexpectedly aroused. Physically yes, that too, and although that was inconvenient given the circumstances, it was nowhere near as uncomfortable as the unforeseen uproar going on inside his head.

It had been that way with his first marriage as well--feelings that just snuck up and blindsided him, feelings so alien to him that he was forced to question whether they were actually his. One moment he was standing in his new tuxedo in eager anticipation of contracting her to him in perpetuity. The next, tears were streaming down his face as the vows were read and repeated, and everything he used to be was sucked out of him by something huge and unseen (who had said that all the essentials of life were things unseen?) and replaced by the changeling realization that this woman before him could take anything from him, do anything to him, ask anything of him and he would let her because his love for her had spiraled that far out of control.

It was the most exhilarating and frightening moment of his entire life--clowns, night terrors and standing before his father awaiting punishment all included.

Some part of him had been questing to recreate that high ever since.

Isn't it one of the great ironies of life that you typically find what you've been seeking only when you stop looking? The distant focus of the quest is so often an insurmountable distraction from what lies casually at hand.

This was one of the few times Alan was prepared to believe there might be a God. It defied reason that a cosmic joke this funny should occur out of random chance.

God help him, he was actually in love with Denny Crane.

Fortunately, the acute ache in his penis temporarily distracted him from further thoughts along that line.

There was significant amusement in imagining the multitude of ways this scene might play out, but Alan took comfort in the bedrock certainty that regardless, Denny would allow him what he should need.

Therein lay the problem: Alan Shore didn't do 'need.'

Strong want, perhaps, but never need. Denny understood the difference.

Denny understood a lot of things, many for which he was no longer given proper credit. Alan began to get an inkling that he might have to add one more to that list.

They'd both had almost exactly the same day. Most of that had been Denny's idea, and they had both ended up here. As Alan touched himself through the polished silk of the ridiculously overpriced bottoms, he let himself wonder if Denny was as aroused as he was.

The leading evidence coming out of the bathroom was: yes.

"Shower's yours," Denny said. He moved his Denny Bear from pillow to night table and clambered in on the side he'd claimed as his the first time he'd slept over.

Alan rolled to his elbow and oozed through a bedroom leer. He placed a palm on the gloss of Denny's pajama lapel and followed a stripe down. "No thank you. I'm not entirely through being dirty yet."

His own words nauseated him slightly. He was never sure why he said things like that when what he really meant was of a different thrust and timbre entirely.

Perhaps that was part the transformative dilemma. The events of the day, the feelings they engendered were so foreign to the vocabulary of his standard emotional repertoire, that they could only find adequate expression in the physical.

And the pressure for physical expression was escalating rapidly.

Of course, it was exactly the wrong approach, but Alan had spent so long trying to get a reaction out of Denny instead of getting his way, that he sometimes forgot they were two disparate things. Like all rich and powerful men, Denny's greatest joys came from the conquest of what they are told they can't have.

Alan was all too patently…available.

Denny turned to him, his face close in that way that caught you off guard. "Alan, I can't." He removed Alan's palm from his abdomen and placed it on the mattress between them, patting it by way of apology as he did.

It wasn't the rejection so much that stung. At the rate Alan propositioned acquaintances, and random contacts, he'd been turned down more often than he'd changed his undershorts. What he couldn't bear was the indignity of having been caught wanting something--anything--that much. He wanted desperately to pretend it didn't matter, but he was too tired to make a convincing effort.

In an odd circular paradox, he was grateful that Denny knew him well enough to make the matter moot.

He rolled over onto his back and tried for a non-selective clean sweep of his brain, forcing any tender, budding thoughts back to the dark recesses from which they came.

He patted Denny's thigh high enough up not to count as chaste but low enough to seem more impudent than desperate. Just high enough to let Denny know a little pain was not going to sideline him from their game. "It's just as well," he mused in a way he liked to purport sounded philosophical. "A wedding night is supposed to be for first times. I suppose it's the first time you've ever said those words."

"I am sorry," Denny said.

To Alan's chagrin, the thoughts Denny didn't loose track of were invariably the ones you most wish he would. He was on the verge of making some smart-assed remark about two first times in one night.

"If when I asked you to marry me… If you thought--"

"I didn't," Alan interrupted. "I didn't." He repeated the phrase, more confident now. "I was content to let you do the thinking."

"Could be a mistake." Denny didn't do rueful often, but when he did, it could tug your heartstrings out.

"I don't believe so. I don't." Alan held Denny's eyes, imploring of their friendship that Denny believe it as well.

Denny took his hand, and they lay like that until they fell asleep.

The next time they had sex was the Saturday after that. It was at the Sam Adams Clinic for Reproductive Independence.

"A sperm deposit?" Alan echoed in response to the question he should have thought of before they left the house.

"It's tradition," Denny said. "I leave some Denny cream for all my wives so that they can have a little something of me after I'm gone. Or divorced. Or whatever."

"You're last wife was sixty-one. Aside from the fact that she wanted out before the cake was cut, the only good your sperm would do her was to make her hair shiny."

"Does that really work?" Denny's interest sounded unaffected.

"Pantene always did better for me."

"We're in the space age now," Denny said, "like Star Trek. We have cloned sheep, tomatoes made out of fish scale, grandmothers carrying their own grandchildren. My ex-wives could still have my children. One day maybe you could too."

"Denny, I don't want your sperm. I'd rather have your Priceline shares."

"Take both," Denny persisted. "You can't break tradition. It'll be bad luck for our marriage."

"Bad luck? You've had six divorces, the last one filed the same day as the wedding. How much worse can it get?"

Denny gave him a hard look, and the full weight of probability of how this one would end settled upon them.

"Never mind," said Alan. This was no longer any fun.

"Come do it with me," Denny prodded in that schoolyard voice that promised everything would soon be better again.

Alan actually barked a laugh out loud, more as release than at the idea. "Denny, of the many things this world does not need, more of my genetic family running around is fairly high on the list."

"Then don't donate; just come with me to..." Denny nodded at the row of doors marked 'Private' and made an unequivocal motion in front of his fly.

"Oh no! And while there are many things I remain concerned may have slipped beyond your capacities to manage unassisted, this, I am supremely confident, is not one of them."

"You've got to be in on it," Denny said. "It's for us. If you're not going to carry my baby, at least you can say you were there when it all began."

"This is too weird. Even for us."

"Come on." Now Denny nudged with his elbow, inching them both closer to the room. "They've got great magazines in there. There's even one with a horse."

Alan cocked his head. "Is she pretty?"

"The cowgirl or the stallion?" Denny grinned as if he had him now, although we all know there was no real question from the outset.

"Say I do go with you." Alan played coy in the way that never failed to turn Denny on. "What if in the exodus there's...splatter?" He nodded at the specimen cup clutched in Denny's fist.

Denny shrugged. "We're married. Community property. What's yours becomes mine. That's the beauty of it: two men, one cup."

"All right." Alan held the door open for him. "I'll go with you, but I get the cowgirl first."

"Fine, I can look over your elbow. Watch out for wet spots when you turn the pages."

"Sirs!" A nurse ran to stop them. "One to a room, please."

Denny transferred the cup to his other hand and clutched Alan's. "It's okay. We're married."

Alan held up their clasped hands and beamed.

They certainly didn't have sex the weekend Alan's mother came to visit. She had read about them in the paper, hopped a flight from Islip, and it was all downhill from there. Dinner was awkward--in retrospect they should have had cocktails before instead of nightcaps after, but who could have guessed in advance?

"So, you're not…living a homosexual lifestyle?" she asked while the soup was being cleared.

Alan remembered why he'd taken up smoking as a teenager: as a reason to excuse himself from the table.

"I'm not," Denny volunteered that straight away. He sipped from his stem glass with his chubby pinkie stuck straight out to the side and the conversation suddenly failed.

"More fruit?" Alan asked when the silence became too much. He offered her the melon and prosciutto platter.

His mother opted for more wine instead.

Further table talk consisted of her spraying hurt and guilt for his absence from the last twenty years of her life, and him doing the same for her absence for the first twenty years of his. Somehow, instead of evening out the equation, it multiplied or jumped exponentially or something along those lines. Math had never been Alan's forte. He left that to the geeks.

You know it's bad when the best plan anyone has to salvage the evening involves Denny taking point, but that's where they were at by dessert.

He started by pulling out the wedding photos. In other circumstances that might have been a good idea, but in this case it had the reverse effect.

Although it wasn't an unmitigated disaster. She did ask for a copy of the one with Dick walking across the background.

Then Alan poured digestivos. He chose the oversized glasses.

It was likely that the pathological part of Alan cried for twisted deviant sex that night. That part wanted his mother to see the full extent of what she had birthed, husbanded and nurtured him to become. But in a not-so-unexpected irony, even if Denny had agreed to play along, that plan was untenable. The castrating presence of his mother had reduced Alan to his pitiable pre-Joanna plight.

When the horror show was finally over for the night, Alan knocked on the casement of Denny's bedroom door. "May I?" He didn't wait for an answer, but closed the door behind him and began to strip for bed. "I don't want to be alone."

"Alone?" Engrossed in some iTouch game racing cars with his thumbs, Denny hadn't even looked up. "You've got your mother."

"Yes, it's much worse that way." Down to his boxers, Alan stepped beneath the covers. "She seems to bring out the worst in me."

"I thought I did that."

"You bring out the best of the worst. She, to the contrary…" Lost in the past, with a dismissive sniff, Alan let the remainder of the sentence slide.

Then he sniffed again.

And again.

It was coming from the sheets: the same Channel No. 5 that suffused each of his individually wrapped childhood memories.

His mother had always had an insufferably pedestrian idea of elegance.

He shot up in bed. "Denny! Tell me you didn't!"

"Okay. I didn't." It was the kind of calm that made people want to strangle Denny. Two ex-wives had tried.

Alan fairly stammered with rage. "She's my mother! How could you, for God's sake? I've slid through her birth canal!"

"Perfect! So have--"

Alan crammed fingers in both his ears posthaste.

"It makes perfect sense," Denny said. "She's the one woman you'll never want. No fighting over her."

"Denny, I implore you: do not court a relationship with my mother."

Denny set down the game. "If it means that much to you--"

"It does."

"Okay. I won't."

Alan breathed an audible sigh. "Thank you." He willed his neck and shoulder muscles to unbind.

"You know," Denny said. "I've never been sure how that baseball analogy works, but for the record--"

Alan pulled the pillow over his head and hoped he would either wake up to discover this was all a bad dream, or wake up dead having suffocated under two pounds of goose down. At this point, he had no particular preference. "I can not stress to you emphatically enough how I wish to hear no more about this, except for your promise that it will never--never happen again." The pillow compromised some of the clarity, but Alan chose to trust the gist made it through.

After a moment, Denny lifted a corner of the pillow. "I promise," he said.

Alan nodded but stayed right where he was.

The smell of Channel both disturbed and aroused him in a muddle he chose not to contemplate in more detail.

He felt more than either saw or heard Denny settle down and turn the lights out. Denny moved surprisingly close, and Alan allowed himself to be a little miffed at the unfairness of the universe. In any emotional crisis, even hurt and angry with him, the one Alan wanted would always be his best friend.

The impartial lawyer part of his brain that invariably argued for justice, even at times that were unspeakably inconvenient, pressed him over and over if he was sure who it was who had left him angry and hurt.

Alan placed the pillow aside and surrendered supine on his back. "I have…issues with my mother, Denny. The situation is complicated. I no longer claim to or try to understand it comprehensively, but I can say with surety that I don't want-- That I can't have her in my safe place.

"And that safe place would be with you.

"She'll be here until Tuesday. If you could somehow just… If we could just somehow…" Alan let the words peter out. Like usual around his mother, he was left paralyzed, impotent and utterly nonplussed.

Denny cleared his throat. "If you want…tomorrow we can take her skeet shooting. Pull! Chink-chink!" Denny made pantomime with his hands.

Despite himself, Alan began to laugh. The laugh took on life and transformed into wave after spasmodic wave of belly rumble, shaking him from head to toe. He laughed until his eyes watered, his nose ran, his stomach actually hurt. He laughed as he hadn't done in years, if ever. He rolled over to find Denny grinning only inches from his face.

Alan stopped laughing. For no reason at all and for all the reasons that had ever been known to humankind, he bent forward and kissed Denny on the nose. "Good night," he said.

Denny seemed unfazed. "Good night," he answered. He rolled over, clutching his Denny Bear to his chest.

In the guest room immediately below them, Alan's mother heard the disturbance and was absolutely certain they were having sex.

The next not-time was when Alan discovered the email from Sunny. He was logged into Denny's accounts one Saturday morning tightening up business ends over a granola bar and banana smoothie when the mail came in. He knew it was wrong to look, but he had always considered 'wrong' to be more of a relative term than an absolute.

And he was dreadfully curious about the one who had turned down Denny Crane.

Until he opened and read the message and discovered that she hadn't.

So many things came together for him then. He closed the email and marked it unread.

At that moment he would have done anything Denny wanted of him, anything at all. But he was supposed to be the adult in this relationship, the pragmatic and responsible one. That was the implicit contract they had reached.

So he sat there in front of the computer screen until the feeling went away.

Denny was in the rec room growing his Spore carnivores to tremendous proportions.

"There's no way to shoot these things," Denny griped as Alan meandered in behind him.

"I don't think it’s that kind of a game." Alan let gravity suck him down into a chair.

"It's always that kind of a game," Denny said. "It's just a matter of who holds the gun."

Like too often recently, Alan found that that inanity made a phenomenal amount of sense.

"Speaking of the wild west, how's that woman you were going to marry instead of me?"

"Sunny." Denny's creature ate something huge and burped. "Don’t know. They only get one bite at the apple, and she let me get away."

"I got two bites," Alan observed. "You proposed to me twice." He even found comfort in watching the back of Denny's head.

"You're different," Denny said. He turned off the game. "Special. Even if you do get crumbs all over my good keyboard. How is she?"

Alan wondered what else he had been missing all this time.

"Stay out of my head, Alan. It's not a pretty place."

"I can't. I promised for better or for worse, and I take my oaths seriously. Except on those occasions when I don't. " He would have expanded, except he was trying to remember the last occasion on which someone else had changed their life for him and he was coming up blank.

"See this is why I didn't tell you. I knew you'd make a big deal. "

"It is a big deal. If you'd have married her, we wouldn't be here now."

"What do you mean 'if?' That was never an option. If you don't know that, maybe you’re the one who's slipping."

"Maybe I am," said Alan, knowing he had already fallen as far as he could go.

Likewise, they didn't have sex on Alan's anniversary, although it was the best idea that came to Denny's mind.

He came home in the middle of a work day to find Alan naked on the carpet with three empty champagne bottles and a silver framed photograph sticking to the sweat of his thigh.

"She would have been forty today," Alan forced the words with the exaggerated precision of the shamefully drunk. "I thought I'd be all right, but I wasn't."

With some difficulty, Denny wrestled him to his feet--briefly--and onto the bed. He clung to the photo like a lifeline.

"Playboy once did a survey asking at which age a woman's beauty is at its peak. The result wasn't the eighteen or twenty-two that had been hypothesized, but forty. But she's dead, and for all I knew of her, I will never have seen her, touched her at her peak." Alan closed his eyes and ceded to the bed-spins.

"If you two want to be alone--"

"No." Alan's eyes flew open. "No." He sort of slapped at the empty bed space beside his him, but his eyes were closed before the hand hit the duvet.

Denny found the TV remote in the nightstand, then propped up against the headboard and clicked the TV on. Alan's snoring was loud enough that he had to crank the volume, but there was nothing good on mid-day anyway. Although Judge Judy was kind of hot, she wouldn't be on for an hour.

Alan made that deep-in-the-throat strangling sound, and Denny turned to check on him. He once sued a college for the wrongful death of a twenty-one year-old frat boy who smothered on vomit and his own tongue after a homecoming bash. He'd won, of course, although there had been no precedented cause of action. He'd won on emotion. The first time he'd seen the autopsy photos--including the damage from the equally drunken friends who tried to help him--he'd known he would.

He stuffed a pillow under Alan's shoulder blade to keep him on his side and decided he'd stay at least until Judy was over. Maybe she'd humiliate and yell at some schmuck today. She was really hot when she treated men like naughty little boys.

Alan shuffled in restless discomfort, and again Denny looked at him. Naked, he seemed less like a best friend or husband and more like a--

Well, more like something Denny couldn't--or wouldn't--find expression for. He stroked his shoulder, his neck, his chest--in sleep it was safe--and he wished he could take all the pain away.

The easiest way to do that, of course, was sex. The mindless oblivion that made men the luckier gender that they are to be able to go to a place where there is nothing in the universe that matters more than the next thrust, the next stoke, the next step closer to orgasm. It would be so easy to give Alan that.

As Denny caressed, he felt groin stirrings (well more like powerful paddlings actually) that would have disquieted him in their significance if he hadn't already been to busy thinking about wanting sex.

Men really were lucky bastards.

His hand made a wider circle, down Alan's ribs, his nipple, his chest. Then he hit metal, the picture frame.

Staring up from the bed was the picture of Alan's wife. Jealousy required insecurity, so it was something Denny had seldom encountered. He didn't think that was it. It was something far more primal than that. He didn't want her here--in their bed, in Alan's head--while they made love.

Their most special time would and must always be just for them. He'd whack off to Judge Judy if Alan didn't wake up first. Or maybe to that red-head on The People's Court.

He was so busy deciding that it would be wrong to have sex with Alan, that it slipped past his conscious awareness that that very verdict implied a presumption that it would be otherwise right.

The first time Denny and Alan made love was about what you would expect. Some scotch, some pornography, nothing decent on TV, too much time spent emotionally and sexually alone, and no hookers within grabbing range.

You see, there's something about marriage that people grow to fit, like the roots of a plant to a pot or a pet fish to the size of its bowl.

"So what do you want to do?" Alan had asked without thinking as he tossed down the remote.

With Denny, there was one perpetual answer.

Denny got that gleam in his eye--the one where you have absolutely no idea what will happen next but you're fairly sure it will shock and alarm, and Alan went willingly, wondering what it would be like after all those years to be that close to another person again.

Alan had overlooked the obvious, as was usual with Denny--since Denny's obvious was never usual. It should be a given that sex with Denny was going to be fun!

What wasn't?

Armed with crushed ice, clothes pins, Astroglide, and of course the proverbial feather, they challenged each other as to who could be the more outrageous, the more licentious, the greater quintessential sybarite.

Trying to figure those odds would have given a bookmaker apoplexy.

Whatever advantage Denny may have had in lateral thinking, he had a big handicap in stamina. Like all rich men, what he had was never enough.

He often said, "When you're over seventy-five you can't afford to pass up any dessert or orgasm."

Scrunched up against a pillow, it was he who finally called for the coup-de-grace. "More, Alan. In me."

Like the good friend he was, Alan didn't need to be asked twice.

He fumbled in the drawer for a condom. They had bought a pack of 144 to split. Denny had used up all the cherry and all the glow-in-the dark. Alan was partial to banana and the one's with the French tickler ends, but at the moment he would have used a bread bag if it had been the closest thing at hand. By the time he pushed in, Denny was face down in the pillow, ass waving in air.

Alan thought it was the most erotic thing he had ever seen.

Alan kept his eyes wide, determined to take it all in, the look, the feel, the seat the smell, the sounds. He had rendered Denny incapable of speech, not even his own name, yet he slapped the mattress with his the heel of his left hand in a two-note staccato beat. The beat sped up, and Alan did too, and Denny yelled something that would have been laughable on a porn video screen.

But Alan had always contended that real sex must always be objectively funny. He argued they were almost directly proportional. At that moment, laughter was the furthest thing from his mind. He collapsed over Denny's back, rocking his hips with uneven thrusts. His right hand he reached around to Denny's nipples and tweaked.

Denny came almost at once, pulsing into his own fist.

Alan clung on, molded over Denny's back, and reflected on the sudden revelation of how very much he loved life.

"Finish it," Denny said.

"Perhaps in bit." Alan wanted nothing more than to stay right where he was.

"Your problem is that you're afraid of commitment," Denny said. "Finish it."

Although doubtless true, the first was an odd non-sequitur until Alan was forced to admit it wasn't.

He despised having people inside his head during sex--especially when they were right. He slammed his pelvis against Denny's rear with renewed ferocity if for no other reason than to prove Denny wrong.

He felt himself grow ramrod stiff again, his body perhaps in a more serviceable state than his mind.

He built up with maddingly slow acceleration until he was on edge again, but still it wasn't enough.

He closed his eyes and went to his nasty place, and yet Alan couldn't climax. Their copulation wasn't dirty--filthy, twisted--enough to get him off.

That was one of the reasons he had so long eschewed mixing sex and love.

Also, the last person he had done that with had died.

He tried to imagine all manner of disgusting thoughts, spraying fluids all over Denny's face, his hair, his mouth. His balls throbbed heavy and swollen--so much more than ready it actually hurt, but still he couldn't come. He was missing some critical little piece.

Denny reached a hand back to him. It was still sticky and warm and smelled of Denny's expended spunk. Alan took the hand then pressed it around his balls. Denny grumbled something about shoulder bursitis but grabbed hold with an accidental tug and Alan came.

What came next was feeling so powerful, Alan feared his aging heart might burst. It came out of no where--before he had a chance or capacity to stop it. It flooded over him opened up his soul in places he thought had had been closed, barricaded and cemented in long ago. It flooded over memories of people dead, hurt, gone, moved on.

Mustering enough thought to keep the condom from making a mess, he pulled out and collapsed to his back. That was all he could manage. That and breathing. He had nothing else left. He lay on his back and trying desperately not to let himself be lost--transformed forever--and knowing he had failed.

"When I'm with you is the only time I feel like me--the old me--again."

It took several seconds for Alan to process the words.

He rolled over and pulled Denny to him, expecting some kind of protest, but prepared to fight for what they might one day have.

There was no protest.

"Me too," Alan said at last.

The next time they made love was a few hours later. Denny nudged Alan awake. "I'm ready to go again," he said. However this time it was Denny who couldn't come.

Refractory period, he had explained, but dove in with full and accustomed gusto nonetheless.

He raised his bare ass in the air. "Alan, make me feel good," he said.

Always, Alan said or thought, and he reached for the condom drawer again.

Like the childproof caps on pain relievers, the state one is in when one needs it most generally precludes one from using getting the contents out intact. He mangled one condom in his unbridled haste. He reached for another.

This time he stayed his hand.

It was a conscious choice he made, binding Denny to none of it but recognizing that he himself was already bound. He pumped a handful of gel, kissed Denny's shoulder, and plunged ahead as he was as Denny grunted out his own name in a distinctly porcine accent.

Alan wanted it to be memorable. He wanted it to last. He wanted it to last forever--or at least double-digit minutes--but there was no way that was going to happen.

It had been too long (since his wife) since he had been inside another person skin to skin, and the exquisite detail of stimulation on every nerve, every micrometer, every nuance was too powerful to be ignored.

He'd forgotten the all-encompassing force that flesh encased in flesh could be.

Don't come, don't come he told himself, the internal rhythm only spurring the problem on but worse. He looked down to see them churning together, their various fluids blending together into one combined great sticky mush of all they were, and with that thought he gave it up, filling Denny with everything--and not just the physical--with everything he had.

Alan slipped out and tested his penis with a finger-tip. He winced, as it was really too sensitive for touch. Nonetheless, he needed to feel the tangible proof that there was no longer any closer they could become.

He laughed to the universe at joke that only he could hear. Like it or not, for better or worse, Alan Shore was married again.

The laughter petered out, and Alan prepared to face the music. For as much as they played around, they both had always played it safe. It was one of the handful of things they agreed on: they both loved Denny Crane too much to risk him to a virus.

"Don't worry," Alan said. "I've never-- " He hadn't before. Not since his wife. "And I won't with anyone else. Not while we're-- If we're--" He let that one dangle too. Partly because it seemed wiser than saying the words within Denny's earshot, and partly because the emotion was so great as to transcend words.

"I wasn't worried." His tone was utterly unconcerned. "I'm the one who proposed to you. For better or worse. Believe me, I know exactly what that means."

"You ought to. You've done it seven times."

"Only once that lasted." Denny took Alan's hand. "I did this because I trust you. Absolutely.

"I have to." Denny's inflection dropped a little.

Alan swallowed. "Denny, I have a confession to make. Our sham marriage has become a sham. At least for me. If that changes how you see the future of our relations, please tell me now." Alan waited for the verdict, although he was fairly sure Denny knew all that already. Probably before he had even proposed.

"It is what it is," Denny said with perfect composure. "It doesn't matter now. All we have is each other."

Alan shivered, and with unexpected ease Denny put his arms around him.

Of course they had to do it in the office. With the new owners making changes hourly and the restraining order in place, Alan pointed out that this might be their last chance.

"Right here, right now." Alan slapped the desk behind which Chang's ass would soon be parked.

"We can't," Denny said.

"Certainly we can. Just move the pencil cup. Or don't, if you prefer. Although at that diameter, I fear--"

"We can't!" Denny nodded to the glass wall behind which staff carried personal possessions up and down the halls. "Keeping them guessing is the best part."

Alan smoothed his tie and appeared to think. "Supply closet. No one will know for sure, and there's a case of liquid hand soap with a delightful jasmine scent. Take your trousers off here to add to the fun."

"You too." Denny's were already off.

"I don't undress," Alan said, although that was only true situationally. However, he stimulated himself to an unambiguous silhouette and tossed his jacket on the sofa.

"Ready?" Denny asked.

"Ready." Alan opened the door. "After you."

Denny took his hand as they navigated the stares in the hallway.

"I am so glad I married you."

"Me too." Alan flicked on the light and closed the closet door behind them.


The last time they made love was about fifteen minutes ago. They've been done for nine. Hey, they can't all be earth-shattering. Sometimes it just feels good to blow a load, and--like most things in life--it's even better with your best friend along to dissipate the loneliness and validate the fun.

They've had to be even more creative recently. Denny's new meds, though successful, have not been without side effects of the south of the navel variety. This works out fine for Alan as he's always been one to relish a challenge (cf. his most recent marriage certificate) and Denny has yet to meet a sex act he hasn't liked (sheep nips notwithstanding).

Alan is already machinating what they might do next time, but he won't tell Denny. Life runs much more smoothly when Denny's allowed to believe that it's all his idea.

Not that Alan likes things to go smoothly, you understand. But it the contrast makes for much more effective shock and awe with whatever outrageous scheme he'll be unleashing next.

And this one should be a doozy.