Edge of the Sky
The morning sky swept toward him, its vast blue emptying into the river gorge below his feet. The sky felt like a soft blue blanket, a promise of comfort and warmth.
He ached with the longing to be enfolded in its beauty and its tranquillity. His separateness speared through any peace contained in his heart; the pain of his aloneness was reflected in the pink-orange gashes lancing into the edge of the perfect blue dome. He knew they were clouds painted by the sun's brush, but that did not stop the tearing despair.
Existing that moment only as the sum of his needs, he leaned into the blue.
As he felt his body tilt forward, less and less weight remaining on solid ground, the comfort he clutched at vanished. His sole thought: he'd never see Ray again.
Muscle and bone jerked reflexively, plunging him away from the edge, slamming him to the ground. Still not sure of his safety, he scrabbled backwards, fingers twisting in the grass, heart slamming red through his vision.
Thirty long, shaky minutes later, he trusted his legs enough to begin the walk back to his bed and breakfast. He took the journey slowly, giving himself a chance to think and recover his composure before having to greet anyone at his lodgings. He didn't think he was capable of maintaining any type of social facade; his nerves were flayed raw.
Bodie had escaped the drone of the city for a few days' holiday, heeding an urge to lose himself in blue sky and rolling hills. He'd spent the days tromping about the countryside, setting no limits on his explorations.
This morning had felt no different than the previous two, except that he'd snapped awake before dawn. He rose, washed, and helped himself to tea and scones before leaving, pleased at having earlier charmed the landlady into giving him unlimited kitchen access.
The door clicked shut behind him, sealing the artificial light inside. He aimed for the darkness beyond the light circling the B&B. Remembering methods learned on long jungle nights, he sank into night's black obscurity. Blissfully alone, he allowed his facades to melt away.
He walked. Dawn broke as he crested a steep hill. Even while enraptured by the magnificent birth of day, he missed the secrecy of darkness. He smiled--out here alone, there was no need to erect his shields with the approach of daylight.
He rambled onward as morning continued its routine of redefining the world around him. The new light sparkled off the leaves of the trees wreathing him, while breezes hinting of hidden flowers drifted by him.
Just beyond the grove of trees, he'd stopped dead and stared at the space that spread out in front of him. The ground disappeared at his feet, dropping straight down into a river. Then his world had shifted and he'd stepped off the cliff.
As Bodie plodded onward toward the B&B, he fought to bring himself out of this bewildered daze. Despite the irrationality of his action, he was determined to think out the puzzle and assemble a coherent answer.
He'd been in the game of kill or be killed half his life. Stoic by necessity if not nature, he'd accepted a life where death hovered over his shoulder. He'd always vastly preferred to live than die, though, and he'd never been so miserable or desperate as to consider suicide. If someday he chose death, it would be because he was no longer capable of living life as he chose. Even then he wondered if he really would kill himself. He'd been through so many life-or-death confrontations that the fight to live against all odds had long ago become an inextricable part of him.
So why now? And why in this way?
The questions chased themselves around in his head. Needing a rest, he was drawn to a flat grey rock in the middle of a meadow. He trudged up to it and placed his hands on it as though they could conduct its warmth into his fear-chilled body. Unable to resist its lure, he climbed onto it and stretched, unlocking his rigid muscles. He lay back onto its hard heat and continued to think.
Life was good for him. He had a job which for the most part was interesting, and kept his mind occupied and the adrenaline flowing. He was pleased with his accomplishments, and had a hidden pride that he was on the side of the angels. Although he didn't fully embrace all the rules imposed on him, he was realistic about their occasional necessity. When he didn't trust his boss he usually managed to understand him, and he had for a partner the second best bloke on the squad.
But now that he was casting off his blinders, he admitted to a tension he'd been ignoring for months. He traced its origin to when Betsy showed signs of seriousness about their relationship. As always, he quickly broke off with her, but he hadn't realised until now that the knot had not unravelled with her departure.
The disquiet felt familiar; in fact, it had been one of the many emotions invading him as he'd teetered on the edge of the cliff. Was the root of the problem regret for abandoning a commitment to Betsy?
Feeling the urge to move, Bodie climbed down and again headed across the rolling hills, mind far from his physical journey.
Betsy was all a man could wish for; she had long, blonde hair, a nice figure, she cooked well, was fairly intelligent, and had a pleasant personality. Although she was generally more naive than his usual birds, she was adventurous enough in bed to keep him content.
Cataloguing her assets did nothing for him; it was clear he had no desire to settle down with her. He still was excited by the hunt and discovery of a new bird. How soft would her skin feel under his fingertips? How heavy would her breasts be when cupped in his hands and how hard would her nipples bud when teased by his tongue? Would she want to ride him or would she prefer he take control? What special touches would have her begging for his cock, and would she be daring enough to try to find the secret places that drove him wild? No, he was not ready to settle for just one girl.
Maybe it had nothing to do with a woman. Could it be he was ready to move on?
Before CI5, he'd shed his past so regularly it became commonplace. One day he'd wake and know it was time to change course. But during the last five years he'd never seriously considered moving on, and, odder still, he'd never wondered why. He liked working for Cowley--at least most days--and working with Doyle; socialising with him, even trading birds with him was fun. It had become a natural part of his life, and he wasn't ready to leave it.
Neither was the problem with the blokes at work. There were a few prats who were afraid of him, a couple he'd call friends, and he wasn't concerned about the rest beyond their ability if he had to work with them.
If this morning's insanity didn't come from anything in the present, maybe it sprang from his past. As a rule he avoided thinking about his youth, but with all other avenues examined, he was going to have to wade though it in case the answer lay there.
The sun was well up and Bodie had gone from a fear-soaked sweat to a dampness due to the heat and exertion. Well, it was a progression. Wanting to drink a gallon of cool water and spend an hour in a bath, he slogged on physically and mentally, still determined to reach his goal.
He'd had to do some horrible things as a mercenary. Shelving his ethics too many times, his humanity had nearly been buried under a graveful of blood-soaked dirt. He'd never liked acting against his judgement, but he'd also seen that those inhabiting the countries caught in perpetual war and starvation were doomed by forces larger than he could control. Initially he'd done his best to fight for the more ethical side. Eventually, though, the sides became indistinguishable and the line between right and wrong deteriorated into the memory of a mark in the dirt, ground away by the unstoppable tread of soldiers.
Although most of his fellow mercenaries were regular blokes in it for the money, others were nutters, plain and simple. After witnessing a particularly nasty bit of personal revenge, Bodie hit bottom. Little sanity or self worth left, he looked for someone or something to give him hope, but all he found in the people around him was insanity or pain, and all he saw in the land was drought or rot.
He left southern Africa at the next opportunity and ascended into a life of arms dealing. This occupation had come as a blessed relief when he was fresh out of mercenary work, but years of exhaustion, filth, bitterness, and death caught up with him. One day he could no longer pretend his customers and suppliers were anything but lowlife thugs, despite their veneer of wealth and style. After that deal concluded he remembered it was his birthday. His first impulse was to get blind drunk, but he surprised himself by sitting down to a hard think. The next day he was on a plane to his homeland. A few days after that he surrendered to his conscience and joined the army.
He still held an armload of regrets that he had begun collecting during Angola's civil war. He had been too young to carry such a heavy burden; mistakes had been inevitable.
Chilled despite the sun beating down on him, he waded into the visions of Angola; they scattered in a frenzy like cockroaches in sudden, blinding light. Blowing up villages containing arms caches with scant regard for the civilians living among the rifles and the bullets. Arming and teaching tactics to one tribe so they could annihilate another. Trying to ignore the irrational hatred and religious insanity mirrored on the faces of the boys he fought with and against. And worst of all, walking among the scores of maimed, starving, diseased children, with no hope to give them. Populating his dreams, they lay scattered in all directions, broken like crimson-painted marionettes.
His debt to humanity was large, but he'd paid much of it through his time in the army and CI5. If he'd known then what he knew now, he'd have made different choices. But for an inexperienced boy in the midst of hell, his decisions had been as close to right as he could get.
His lodgings finally in view, he stepped up his pace, his only thought to assuage his thirst.
Entering the house through the kitchen door, he was relieved to find no one there. After drinking his fill of tap water, he made his way upstairs.
He did not linger in the bath, knowing he needed to sleep before putting further self examination into effect. Stripping to his skin, he crawled between the cool sheets, exhaustion leadening his limbs. The security of being safe in bed put him to sleep immediately.
Bodie woke as the sun was setting. He'd slept longer than he'd expected, but it didn't matter. He dressed and without fanfare packed his belongings. Even though supper was about to be served, he settled his bill and drove off.
Hunger claimed him soon enough, so after he'd put enough miles behind him, he stopped at a transport cafe for supper.
Rested and fed, Bodie continued mentally gnawing on yesterday's bizarre experience as he drove toward London. For a suicide attempt it was frighteningly impulsive; would he find himself stepping in front of a bullet tomorrow? He dismissed the idea; he could have done so any number of times before.
Of course he'd hate to be taken out by a bad guy; it would mean he and Ray had lost. If he was secretly suicidal, he couldn't believe he'd do it that way.
And, of course, infinitely worse would be Doyle believing he'd failed to watch Bodie's back; he'd carry the blame for his death unnecessarily and forever.
Even though Ray sometimes went over the top with remorse, driving Bodie crazy, Bodie would never want to hurt him like that. Perhaps that was why the urge overcame him while he was out of town--Doyle was far away and safely uninvolved.
Realistically, however, Doyle would still feel guilty even if Bodie were on another continent. He'd cook up something to allow the blame to be laid on his own shoulders.
All this aside, there was a sticking point he couldn't get around. He hadn't been feeling at all suicidal yesterday morning. He'd never admit it aloud, but he loved England's countryside and he'd been thoroughly engrossed in its beauty until he got to the cliff. Even as he stood on the edge he loved it all. But suddenly he'd felt utterly bereft, then sensed that the one thing he needed was just beyond the cliff. Not even sure he could capture it, he'd stepped forward to try. It had not been a destructive impulse; he'd been grasping for something positive, something to assuage a need. His reaching out signified a beginning, not an ending. And since he'd never believed the hogwash about heaven and hell, it wasn't the beginning of a descent to heaven either.
If it wasn't a suicide attempt, then what was it?
Bodie had always enjoyed driving. Many of his favourite desires were satisfied at one time while controlling a powerful vehicle: risk, skill, speed, style, and motion. He sped toward the city, his senses particularly acute.
He was especially aware of the paradox of his motion: the car seat cradled his stationary weight; at the same time the car sliced through space, hurling him forward. Time and distance became tangible; he felt the car wheels gulp lengths of pavement and spray out time behind them. Then the sensations fused and he was simply gliding through space, smooth and rapid, tranquil and thrilling.
His calm excitement, however, was soon pierced by a shard of memory and sorrow flooded him; he'd gone through this at the edge of the cliff.
First he'd felt a devastating loss and need, then a hopefulness that his goal, the antidote to the pain, was out there in the beauty of the morning sky, just beyond his fingertips. If he managed to catch it, he'd be transported on this joyous sliding momentum to what he blindly and desperately sought.
Suddenly exhausted and aware he was approaching London, he directed all his attention to the traffic. He'd never thought he'd be unable to respond fully if called to action, but right now he was not quite sure. Today surpassed his previous strangest experiences, and he had limited knowledge on how to cope with it.
At least he had this evening to be alone and try to relax, maybe manage to put another piece into the puzzle. Ordinarily he'd give Doyle a call, but not now. A frisson of nervousness prickled along his skin. He did not want to see Doyle. Taken aback by his reaction--Doyle the one person he felt comfortable with in almost every circumstance--he concluded he was afraid Doyle would notice something was wrong. And this was not something he planned on sharing with his too perceptive partner.
"You? Went to the countryside? Voluntarily? Whatever for?"
"Can't a fellow just get away for a few days?"
"A fellow, sure, but you?"
"Why not?" Bodie's shoulder blades contracted in irritation. "Don't I deserve some rest and solitude?"
"'Course. But I thought you thrived on action. So much so that you'd stay in the city for holiday and take advantage of the time off to add to your list of conquests."
"Well, not this time."
"What about you? Did I hear that Cowley pulled you in?"
"Yeah, but only for a few hours. McCabe sicked up in the buggy boo and he didn't have anyone nearby to cover. Mac managed to get to the waste bin in time, though, so it wasn't too disgusting. Food poisoning. So where exactly did you go?"
Bodie's need to answer was cut off as they arrived at their first stop. They'd met that morning at headquarters and had been assigned one part of a complex case. They were to follow several leads and report back at the end of the day.
Bodie counted the hours by tallying the number of seedy pubs and tatty warehouses they visited as well as the number of times he distracted Doyle from asking him about his holiday. The boredom was interrupted by a call from HQ ordering them to an abandoned warehouse to meet a grass. They circled the warehouse cautiously. Bodie was investigating a shed to the side of the building when he heard Doyle calling, "Bo-day!"
That pronunciation was rare; Doyle slid into it only when there was urgency but no danger.
Running to find his partner, Bodie tried to connect a memory to Doyle's pronunciation. He rounded the corner to see their grass on the ground looking dazed, stuttering his story to Doyle. Not sure who they were, he'd run. But he'd tripped and hit his head on a pile of bricks. They helped him into the back seat of the car and Doyle continued to question the man. Bodie turned away, knees weak. His mind had retrieved the memory: Toby.
Bodie hid his surprise and managed to pay attention to Doyle's interrogation. Unfortunately, he had nothing worthwhile, so they continued on their way after taking the still disoriented man to hospital.
Finally the day was finished. Declining an invitation for takeaway at Doyle's, Bodie escaped home.
Hungry, but unable to gather enough enthusiasm to eat, he poured himself a scotch as soon as he got home. The memory of Toby had plagued him until the end of the day. Liquid comfort firmly in hand, he sank onto the sofa and let his mind travel back.
Toby, who used to call his name the way Doyle had that morning. Who encompassed a regret that had lingered within Bodie long after he'd forgotten its origin.
A pathetic little kid, Toby had been puny and picked-on, and had depended on Bodie for survival until he was turned away for a crime Bodie should have known Toby would never commit.
Bodie would never admit to another soul how much he'd grieved about the incident. He'd rejected Toby to maintain his social standing and to give him some control over some of his more dubious "mates." Too, it was safe; not caring meant not hurting.
However, the times he'd spent talking with Toby had been satisfying, more than he'd believed possible. He had liked him; liked his company, intelligence, and humour. But never having felt a closeness like that with anyone before, and unsure whether it was real or a trap, he never admitted his feelings to himself or to Toby. He forced distance between them and when he finally lost his friend, his disappointment in himself had burned like a gaping wound.
For the first time in years he recollected Toby's face as Bodie turned away from him. It was the same expression Bodie would wear if Doyle walked away from him. He broke into a cold sweat. The warm friendship he could have had with Toby was what he now had with Doyle. He regretted nothing about his friendship with his partner; it was satisfying and kept him sane at times. But for some reason his image of Doyle was tinted with a sadness, from what he had no idea.
The ache that had settled in his chest when he'd stood on the cliff top haunted him again. Longing, wistfulness--they came back to him like a never-forgotten perfume, wreathing both friendships; the one with Toby he'd lost, the one with Ray, solid and secure. Cloaked by the scent of memory, Bodie recalled more of what he'd experienced on the cliff. He had almost sensed Doyle's presence; his partner's scent had drifted around him, easing away the taste of impossibility and defeat, the fear of regret. His lean, strong arms had opened to him, beckoning him. At that moment his version of heaven had been being enveloped by Ray Doyle.
Bodie started, awakening from his musings with his heart pounding. The understanding presented itself to him whole and perfect. But it was so absurd he laughed out loud, the noise sharp, then gone.
I want to fuck Doyle.
Momentarily he felt the sense of motion that had captivated him yesterday while driving home. Another puzzle piece grudgingly revealed itself: fucking Doyle was not spot on.
Like a shower of rain, the pictures cascaded down in front of his eyes, pooling into clear blue understanding: Doyle after Ann Holly left him, alone and bereft. Toby alone in the street, bewildered by Bodie's betrayal. Doyle defeated by his inability to protect another innocent, never admitting he needed understanding and protection. Bodie, himself, a free night ahead of him, feeling unaccountably lonely, wondering what Doyle was up to. And himself again, trying to escape the impossible by drowning his senses in the green sweetness of the countryside.
The physical effects of his non-understanding were gone. Even as the right answer had slapped him in the face, he'd pretended he wanted no involvement, no risk to himself. Shaking his head at his own self-delusion, he looked into the pool of truth and saw it clearly: he was in love with Doyle.
A shiver rippled over his skin while icy panic flowed through his veins. Muscles bunched, nerves sparked, every part of him screamed at him to run; it was too dangerous to sit still and calmly consider the implications. Chest deep in need for someone else, he was in immediate danger of suffocation. The painful review of his past had shown him he'd grown beyond it--he was not going to give in to his habit of running away from emotional danger. He forced himself to think. Should he even consider doing something about his revelation? If he did, he might ruin everything between him and Doyle; even the memories of past good times might be tainted with distaste. He didn't know if he could survive that. And was it only his risk to take?
If he did reveal himself to Doyle, how would Doyle cope? He checked the time, too tired to be surprised that midnight was upon him. He stood with his drink, and wandered to the window. He wanted the balm of the countryside again, wished he could walk out his door and indulge in the freedom it gave him. But look what price he'd paid for that morning of freedom. He'd let down his guard under its guise of safety, and now his barriers to the outside world were erect but steadily weakening. Feeling as if he could sleep forever, he turned his back to the falsely dark night outside, and took himself to bed.
Bodie arrived at HQ wondering how he was to act naturally around his partner. To his surprise and relief, the moment was postponed as he was whisked off to act as Cowley's chauffeur. A cautious inquiry provided him with Doyle's whereabouts--he was following up a lead handed them by the Met. Bodie spent all day on autopilot, his instincts aware of any danger, his mind stewing on the problem of Doyle.
By noon he had answered one question. A distinct stirring of interest in his nether regions as he pictured his partner confirmed that sex was a part of this; he did want to bed Doyle.
Would sex put too much strain on their working relationship? If Doyle rejected his proposition, would Doyle want to maintain their friendship? Could Bodie put away his own feelings and continue to be Doyle's friend and partner if Doyle rejected him?
Perhaps he could simply have sex with his partner, and avoid the more dangerous underlying emotions? This sounded viable, until he wondered what he might give away. When he visualised Doyle in his bed, he saw himself kissing his lips, watching his mutable green eyes glaze with passion, tasting every inch of his skin, overwhelming Doyle with his passion and love. Uncomfortable in his trousers for the tenth time that day, the lure of Doyle was irresistible. Whether his mask slipped and he gave away his feelings or not, he had to get Doyle into his bed.
Instead of providing a solution, this brought up a new set of unanswerable questions. Should I seduce Doyle? Or just tell him I want him? Should I drop a few hints and see if Doyle figures it out? He and Doyle played gay on occasion; maybe this would be the way to bring up the subject. And be laughed at. He scowled. The best tack was to wait for an opportunity that would allow him to bring up the idea of them sleeping together in a way that would not be humiliating. He didn't usually care what people thought of him, but he cared desperately that Doyle not laugh at him.
He rather liked the idea of waiting for a good opportunity; it grew more appealing the closer he got to headquarters. By the time he'd parked the car and followed Cowley inside, he was certain that was the answer.
Bodie cautiously neared the stairway, congratulating himself on slipping out without Doyle finding him. His luck lasted five more seconds. Turning the next corner he cannoned into his partner, instinctively grabbing Doyle by his upper arms. They stood chest to chest for what seemed like hours. Apparently Doyle had been running; his face was slightly flushed and Bodie caught the scent of his sweat. Soft curls brushed Bodie's face and a hard nipple glanced over his chest before he pushed Doyle away.
"'Lo, mate. You ready to go?"
Bodie sensed he was missing something. Doyle was in too jolly a mood for no reason. "I was off home."
"You forgot? Bodie, how could you forget Jerry's party?"
"Doesn't matter that you forgot--we still have time to get to the off license before they close."
"Aw, you're not gonna tell me you don't want to go? You've been looking forward to it just like the rest of us." Doyle leant against the wall.
They had to attend the party and Bodie knew it. Jerry had had a rough time of it. He'd lost his partner and was severely injured almost two years ago. Since then he'd got himself back on the squad, met a nice girl, got married, and got a new job with his father-in-law. Tonight was his CI5 retirement party, and everyone was looking forward to a celebration with no taint of sadness. Not many men left CI5 under such happy circumstances. Bodie had worked with Jerry occasionally and had liked him. He was pleased the man had finally had good fortune and had wanted to celebrate. But all he wanted to do right now was go home. He was uncomfortably aroused from brushing up against Doyle, and he'd prefer to deal with that in private. But Doyle was looking at him thoughtfully, and Bodie didn't want to give those perceptive eyes any more ammo.
"Let's go then." Bodie lead the way down the stairs, feeling Doyle's eyes bore into his back.
Even though they were almost on time, the party was in full swing. The rented hall was large enough to accommodate everyone and their dates, and dancing had begun, Horton showing a new talent as DJ. Bodie zeroed in on the bar, opening the bottle he and Doyle had brought and half-filling a tumbler, adding ice cubes as an afterthought. Letting Doyle cope with his own drink, Bodie found an uncrowded section of the wall and rested against it.
Doyle took off for the dance area without a glance in Bodie's direction, a sure sign he was irritated. Bodie sighed. On the ride over, he'd ignored Doyle, his partner's presence a painful pleasure and a deep frustration. Captivated by Doyle's scent, Bodie had stared out the car window and tried not to think about kissing his partner. Thank god he was wearing dark trousers and a long jacket.
Bodie observed Doyle's progress around the party. He danced for a while with one of the typists--it never ceased to amaze him how Doyle could half-inch a bird from under the nose of her date--then got involved in a couple of discussions. Doyle was looking for distraction, but not finding it, attested to by his restless wandering. Even though he was being pointedly ignored, Bodie wished Doyle luck in finding some fun. He certainly wasn't good company and didn't expect to be in the near future. As Doyle skirted the dance floor, unselfconsciously incorporating the beat in his stride, Bodie was reminded of how he'd looked at the last CI5 party, escorting a trail of birds onto the dance floor. The last dance had been a slow one and Doyle had held the girl so close they seemed to be velcroed together.
Suddenly he wanted to dance with Doyle--in front of everyone, he didn't care--he needed to feel that heat and strength moulded against him, to rub himself against those full, tight jeans, to kiss those sexy, dangerous lips.
Doyle was coming back toward him, and although he wanted his company, he thought he actually might lose control and drag him onto the dance floor. He headed to the food table in self-defence. Full plate in one hand, half empty tumbler in the other, Bodie got caught up in a new group of people spreading into the hall. The second best limerick creator was in this group and Bodie found himself laughing along with the crowd. Feeling the kick of the booze, he didn't protest when one of the secretaries pulled him into a dance line sweeping through the hall. The line snaked around the entire room, half of the line singing along with the record, loudly and out of tune.
Passing the food table again, they bounded off in a new direction, towards where Bodie had taken residence earlier. Doyle was standing there as though waiting for Bodie. He caught the hurt and bewilderment in Doyle's eyes before he glanced away. These emotions, so fleeting only Bodie could see them, reminded him how much he belonged next to Doyle, wayward urges or no. Doyle had abandoned his own search for entertainment to be with Bodie, only to have Bodie desert him. It wasn't right.
He detached himself from the line, and walked to where Doyle stood, eyes fixed on his drink, not acknowledging Bodie's presence. Bodie remained in front of him, and eventually Doyle looked up. Bodie saw loss, not quite concealed by bravado, and he was compelled to speak.
"Have you ever been reminded of one person by another? You know there's a connection between two people, but you can't place it? When you do remember, you wish you'd never thought about it, even though you know it was inevitable?"
Doyle's eyebrows climbed as he took in Bodie's seriousness, then frowned as he considered the question. "Not exactly. But I've sometimes smelt something that takes me back to another place, usually to my childhood. Very vivid, that is."
"It's almost the same. It happened this weekend. I was reminded of a kid I knew."
"Not a happy memory I take it."
Bodie shook his head.
Doyle remained silent, waiting.
"It was about my bicycle. It was nicked, and one of the kids blamed a pathetic little runt named Toby. I fell for it, accused Toby even though something didn't feel right about it. Found out later it had all been a set-up."
"So who was the little bastard that set you up and what did you do to him when you found out?"
Even though Doyle knew him well, he was surprised Doyle would guess his actions as a nine-year-old.
"Yeah, well, it was months till I found out I--we'd--been set up. Saw a friend of Eddy's with my bike around six months after." Bodie smiled, knowing Doyle would appreciate this part of the tale. "I watched Eddy, observed his routine. One day when he was alone, I taunted him and got him into an alley. I'd grown a bit by then, I'd just turned ten, so I figured I wouldn't need a weapon. But I'd hidden a big stick in case." Bodie caught the answering grin from his partner, understanding sliding between them. "I beat him. Bad. I didn't give him a chance to get me, I just lit into him. Knew he was in bad shape after a while, but I didn't want to stop hitting him. They found him hours later; he had to be hospitalised."
"Angry were you?"
He didn't want to face Doyle, knowing the satisfaction of revenge was clearly written on his face. But he didn't hear negative tones in the inquiry, so he met the clear green eyes. Steadfast and trustworthy as ever, Doyle's eyes told him their bond was unbroken.
"You could say that. Actually saw red. He left me alone after that. I was never sure why. I was still growing, but I hoped it was because he recognised my superior strategy."
"What happened to Toby?"
"Never found out. His family moved soon after Eddy set us up. Wish I had, though. Wanted to apologise. Felt terrible about it, I did." Bodie shivered. He hated dredging it all up, living through it again. Doyle's sympathetic presence was helping, though, and it did feel good to get it all out, despite how vulnerable it made him feel.
"I had an Eddy in my crowd. The ball-less bastard tortured only the weakest kids, the defenceless ones. We got him back, too."
"Yeah, Toby was one of those small boys, never learned how to take care of himself. Mostly he was invisible, hung around the edges of the crowd. But one day Toby showed up with brand new trainers. Bright red they were and he was so proud of them. Right away Eddy started picking on him. I usually stayed out of the way of trouble, but Eddy got out of hand. I got his attention away from Toby, but I picked up an extra appendage. Became Toby's hero after that, couldn't get away from him." Bodie paused for a sip of his drink.
"I didn't mind really, he didn't get in the way. Even though he was fairly pathetic; he was a nice kid, we could have got along good, if things had been different. Of course I didn't know Eddy was still pissed off at me. Then my bicycle went missing. Eddy accused Toby of nicking it and selling it for cash. He had all the evidence lined up. I knew something wasn't right, but figured it was because it felt so bad being betrayed by Toby. I believed every word that lying bastard told me. I never gave Toby a chance--I told him to get lost, never bother me again. Last time I saw him was when I told him that. His face--too shocked to cry, too bewildered to defend himself." Why did he get into this in a room full of CI5 agents? If he kept this up he'd get all weepy and disgusting.
"Too bad you never got to explain it to him."
"I was his protector and I turned against him in the face of dubious evidence. When I got Eddy alone, I thought I was going to kill him."
"Glad you didn't."
Warily he looked at Doyle. "Why's that?"
"It wouldn't have been good for you, to have killed him when you were so young."
It came together in Bodie's mind. "Was your Eddy the kid you cut up?" he asked softly.
Doyle looked more resigned than surprised. "Yeh. I was going after the baddies even then." He smiled sadly. "But it wasn't right, using a knife on him." Doyle didn't allow him the distraction. "What reminded you of Toby?"
Bodie deftly changed a fidget to a move toward the bar. "Another drink?"
Bodie walked to the bar in a daze. He couldn't believe everything had slipped out so easily, especially when it hurt so much to tell it. But Doyle understood everything, he should have expected that. Unfortunately the worst was yet to come; he knew Doyle wouldn't let up until he'd pried something satisfying out of him.
Almost at the bar, Bodie glanced around the room, only to focus again on Doyle. True to form, Doyle was alone against the crowd. He looked less sad, but still unsure, and Bodie was paralysed as a wave of yearning and hunger swept over him. He forced himself to paw through the remaining bottles until he found something drinkable, poured two drinks, and walked back to his partner on unsteady legs.
Handing a glass to Doyle, Bodie pretended to survey the crowd.
Doyle was having none of it. "Start talking, mate. What reminded you of Toby?"
"Why am I not surprised? Now tell me something I don't know."
"You're not going to like it."
"Stop puttin' it off."
Almost squirming with embarrassment, Bodie continued. "Well, sometimes, I kind of get protective of you. I don't know if you've noticed...."
Bodie looked up sharply at a soft snort. "Of course I noticed, you dumb crud." Doyle's words were balanced by the affection in his eyes.
"So what about it? You couldn't protect Toby so you protect me?"
Doyle was getting too close.
"Look, I can't talk about this here." That should put it off for a while.
"Okay." Doyle walked through the kitchen door, expecting Bodie to follow. He should have known Doyle would find a way of making him talk.
The sight and smell of food scraps scattered over abandoned plates vaguely nauseated him. The kitchen was deserted, though. Bodie had noticed the party's organisers doing a short spurt of cleaning up earlier, but apparently all they'd managed was to dump the plates on the kitchen counters before the lure of the party called them.
Doyle pushed open a swinging door and flipped the light switch before beckoning Bodie inside. It was a large pantry, almost bare of food. Doyle immediately claimed most of the counter space, sitting with his feet on the counter, forearms wrapped around his bent knees. Bodie settled on the counter also, though he felt like a kid, sitting with his feet dangling, the counter too tall for him to reach the floor. The silence made Bodie's ears ring, but he didn't know how to begin.
"I hurt your feelings earlier, I'm sorry." That was not what he intended to say.
"'s all right. I've known something's been bothering you for a while now. I reckon maybe you're ready to tell me." His voice held a question.
"This holiday--it turned out a little strange." He shook his head. "That's an understatement. Spent all weekend walking. Covered miles. Yesterday I set off before dawn--I couldn't sleep. After sunrise, I'd walked miles by then, I came out of a grove of trees, and found myself on a cliff overlooking a river. It was beautiful, the sky almost awake, the hills rolling off to the horizon beyond the gorge. Then it all went wonky. Something came over me and, believe it or not, I found myself stepping off the edge.
"You know heights don't bother me either way. They don't frighten me and they don't call to me. But I had one foot over the edge and I was taking that step."
Doyle's brows were furrowed.
"Pretty weird, right? What was stranger was that I didn't feel the least bit suicidal. Not depressed or sad or anything.
"Obviously, I managed to pull myself back, and after I stopped shaking, I started thinking about what had come over me. I thought at first I was running away from something that bothered me but that I hadn't noticed. Like a bird had her claws in me." He took a long drink of his scotch, then frowned into his glass.
He knew he had to continue but felt as though he were again on a precipice. It could go either way with Doyle. Acceptance of any kind would put him back on the grass, safe and putting his life into some sort of order. Rejection would cast him to the bottom of the gorge, broken. He took a deep breath.
"I figured it out eventually. I wasn't running away from anything. I was running to something." His voice sank to a whisper. "To someone." Then he was transported into the need: the blue warmth and Ray's scent ribboning around him. But this time, with his eyes captivated by his partner sitting next to him, he was able to finish the fantasy, imagining Ray Doyle gathering him in, soothing him with his strength and his love. Then his vision went grey and disintegrated like ashes.
Doyle's rough voice prodded him. "Who was it, Bodie?"
Doyle knew, but wanted confirmation.
"You, of course." Who else?
"What did you want?"
"To be with you. Against you." Bodie sighed. "To be so close as to be inside you."
He raised his eyes to meet Doyle's. Full of affection, void of understanding, they twisted the knife of impossibility piercing Bodie's lungs. When Doyle understood, that sweet acceptance would dissolve with his dream.
Needing movement, he pushed off from the counter and paced the narrow room.
"You don't get it, Doyle. When I say inside--" He let go of the protective harshness. "I mean as close as I can get to you. But I also mean inside. Christ, I want you."
Doyle finally looked away. "You discovered this over the holiday?"
"Yeah. Not the entertainment I was expecting."
"No." Doyle answered but his mind was elsewhere.
Bodie wondered at Doyle's lack of response. He hadn't leapt away, or even flinched, which was what Bodie had expected. What was going on under those untidy curls?
"You were going to walk off a cliff for me?"
"I know it sounds daft. I think it's been with me for a long time. It's always come out in respectable ways, until now. I thought for a while I was sorry about breaking off with Betsy when she starting getting serious. I think I wanted to settle down then, I didn't know it was you I wanted, not her. On the cliff, it was perfect. You and me--we floated together, warm, secure, together." Bodie stopped suddenly, blushing at the drivel he'd let creep out.
But Doyle was standing in front of him, a tender smile lighting his face.
"I started to worry about you, you know, when Betsy was hearing bells. Something wasn't right--I actually wondered if she'd caught you. I should have known you wouldn't do anything by the book."
"You're not exactly a conventional thinker either, but this is so far from normal, from what you'd expect.... If it didn't feel so right, if it wasn't so important, I'd feel kind of sick."
Doyle looked at him, head tilted, trying to puzzle it out. "Ah--I see. You expected me to leave you. No, Bodie, I'm not leaving. You're still in shock, that's what it is. When you think about it, though, leaving you doesn't make sense. I've never been closer to anyone than I am with you. At work we're so close we hardly need to talk, when I think of you stepping off a cliff.... Bloody hell, Bodie, this has been coming for a while, hasn't it?"
All Bodie could do was nod, his world had started spinning anticlockwise, and his throat was all blocked up.
"Hey, do you think any of the other partners at work...?"
Doyle chortled. "We can speculate later. I think it's time you kissed me." But when Bodie's paralysis continued, Doyle did the work, cupping Bodie's face in his hands, bringing their lips together.
It was as good as Bodie had dreamt, Ray's mouth-watering scent flooding his senses, lips soft, knowing, and searing him with their heat. His heart and groin pounding, the room spinning with his joy, he held Doyle tightly in his arms. The kiss went on long enough for him to fear he might lose consciousness. Wound around each other, they were in danger of tipping over. He gently pulled away from the temptation of Doyle's mouth and heard him moan. Caught in an uncomfortable position in his trousers, Doyle's long fingers scrabbled across his groin, trying to relieve the pressure. It was Bodie's last straw. He pushed Doyle against the counter and, despite shaking hands, swiftly released Doyle's cock from its prison.
One look at the hard cock had Bodie on his knees, face buried in Doyle's groin, inhaling the rich, clean musk.
It was all he needed. Regretfully putting aside his need to explore every inch of Doyle, he took his cock whole into his mouth. The awareness of the hard, silky length filling him brought him close to the edge. But he regained his concentration, doing his best to give Doyle the most pleasure he could.
Doyle's hands embraced his head, firmly but not harshly. The only sounds Bodie heard besides the slide of lips and tongue were the quiet gasps of Doyle's excitement. Bodie's tastebuds were treated to several drops of potent flavour as Doyle approached his limit. Doyle hardened and expanded further, and his hands pushed Bodie even deeper onto him. Then Doyle's silky wet heat pulsed into his mouth, down his throat, curling through his body.
After Doyle had softened, Bodie released him and stood. Lightly massaging Bodie's shoulders, Doyle drew them together for another long kiss, Bodie savouring the two new tastes the night had given him.
Reaching between them to caress Bodie's cock, Doyle murmured, "What do you want, love?"
Bodie cupped Doyle's bum, his fingers meeting in the cleft he knew now he'd wanted to explore for ages.
"Mmm, okay. Let me undo meself." Doyle, on the same wavelength as usual, lowered his jeans to his knees and leaned, palms against the wall.
Almost bent double with wanting, Bodie unzipped and released himself.
"If you want to be inside, we'll need something."
Bodie grunted a negative. He stepped forward, bringing himself in contact with Doyle's satin skin. He burrowed his cock into the furrow between the perfect buttocks and groaned with satisfaction. Squeezing Doyle's buttocks together to feel more flesh around him, he revelled in the sight of Ray in front of him, braced for whatever Bodie wanted. He wrapped both arms around the lean body and pressed his face into the clean curls. A deep breath brought it all together--the smooth skin, the light scent of his sweat, the slim taut body. He melted into Doyle, became a part of him. Swept by lust, he thrust against him, once, twice, and then he was gushing, his passion spilling out over both of them, sealing them together.
After he caught his breath, Bodie kissed Doyle's neck and reluctantly pulled back from him, mopping them up with his handkerchief. Still stunned, Bodie wasn't quite up to thinking as he tucked himself in, and watched Doyle do the same.
"And I thought my world had turned upside down over holiday." The strength of his need for Doyle overwhelmed him. He stepped up to Doyle again, and took his lips in a deep, loving kiss.
"You like this better?"
"Good. Look, I don't really want to stick around here. What say we go back to your place...or mine? If you kiss me like that again we won't be able to postpone round two."
"Ray, do you think we should leave through the back door?"
Doyle kissed him lightly on the lips. "Afraid we'll give ourselves away?"
"No, but some people might draw the wrong conclusion about why we've been gone."
"You mean the right conclusion."
"Look, Bodie, all we have to do is be low key about this and not worry about it. If they speculate about us, we'll cope. Those berks couldn't figure out their arse from their elbow, anyway, so let's not concern ourselves, all right?"
"Yeah. I just hope I can keep from touching you before I get you alone. The reason I was so shirty earlier was that I wanted to dance with you. I thought I might lose it and drag you on to the floor."
Doyle lay his palm on Bodie's cheek. "Better go to my place, then. I've got better dance music."
His lover's hand was steady on his cheek. In his mind, Bodie wondered if this was truly happening. Just moments ago each facet of his relationship with Doyle was in dire jeopardy. But remembering the glide of his chest against Doyle's back, the taste of his tongue, the scent of his hair convinced him that it was real. He'd never felt joy like this. His fear and regret were not completely washed away, but he'd found the answer to the puzzle; simple but complete, it was he and Doyle together.
Following Doyle through the throng in the hall, Bodie doubted they'd been missed. Neither did he care; Doyle was right. This perfection was beyond worry and speculation.
Doyle next to him, they stepped into the night. The peace and protection of two nights ago was back. And due to Doyle's presence he was finally gliding, warm and secure, through endless soft, blue warmth.
-- THE END --
Published in Roses and Lavender 2, Allamagoosa Press, February 1998