Christmas in London


(The Continuation of a Dialogue)

A sequel to "Springtime in Paris"

"Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow," the singers chorused, their words echoing somewhat in the starkly styled, still sparsely furnished flat. Ray Doyle smiled in agreement as he heard himself join in, "Let it snow, let it ..."

Snowing was just what it was doing. From his window vantage, Doyle could see the large flakes falling, adding an eerie hush to the city at twilight. Struck by a rare December blizzard which had already deposited three inches, London had closed up early. A gust of winter wind tore around the corner of the building, sending the steadily cascading snowflakes into frantic flight down the narrow street beside the small park. Doyle shivered involuntarily as he imagined the chill outdoors. Glad he was inside, he took a sip of his hot buttered rum. Behind him, the crackling fire tried to lend a cosy sense of home to the flat they'd only just moved into. The wood's rich scent filled the air, making Doyle forget the unpacked crates stacked in the room's corners. Noting Bodie's reflection in the window, Doyle watched as the man diligently searched box after box for their scattered Christmas decorations, an unfortunate consequence of having someone else move them because they'd been too busy to do it themselves.

Doyle sighed deeply. As the singers on the stereo struck up "O Tannenbaum," he glanced at the mirrored image of the scraggly, little tree Bodie had brought home this year - not that this was any different from every other Christmas. Bodie unerringly found the homeliest tree available in London. And yet, when Doctor Bodie Doolittle was finished, the tree was as beautifully, as proudly, gaudy as any tree anywhere.

"You could help, you know. It is family comin' to visit tomorrow," Bodie pointed out from across the room as he opened still another unlabeled box. "I know the movers do this on purpose."

"It's a subtle form of revenge for the shit we give 'em," Doyle agreed, turning toward his lover.

Bodie looked up and smiled. "Two can play at this game."

Groaning, Doyle shook his head. "Leave 'em alone, Bodie. If you give 'em too much aggro, we'll never find anything the next time they move us.,'

"Be worth it," Bodie replied as he paused to sip his neglected mug of hot buttered rum.

"You don't have to decorate for my family," Doyle said, changing the subject. Bodie's cross-eyed expression made Doyle laugh. He knew as well as his partner that the place had to be decorated before his mother, Mary Doyle, arrived. She and Bodie were of one spirit in this regard; both were Santa's elves. If it were left up to him, Doyle wouldn't bother with the trappings of a season which had meant little to him in his adult years, especially as it was already December 23rd. But Bodie had brought back the joy of the holiday season, his enthusiasm infectious.

That was why Doyle had spent most of his first day off in two months baking; why weeks ago, he'd made the time to begin the plum pudding they'd eat on Christmas. That was why he'd been up half the night finding, arranging, and then hooking up their stereo so Christmas Carols could be played. That was why he'd risked life and limb earlier this afternoon and made his way across town to Harrods to buy the outrageously expensive, official Disney "Tinkerbell" watch for his lover. That was why, now, he could feel a childlike sense of excitement and anticipation.

Contentment and a special feeling of wholeness he'd known only since Bodie had come into his life also filled Doyle as he once again faced the window. There was something in the slow fall of snow, "Greensleeves" on the stereo, the smell of wood burning, the lingering traces of cinnamon as it mingled with the rum, that made him want to cry tears born of simple, overwhelming happiness.

Aware of Bodie's persistent aversion to such soppy displays of sentimentality despite the fact it was Christmas, despite the openness that had come from their springtime in Paris, Doyle continued to stare out the window rather than explain his mood. As the intensity of the storm increased, he found his thoughts returning to those special few days in the spring.

Oddly, what he recalled most clearly occurred on the morning after their uncharacteristically candid conversation. They had just begun to make love when Bodie stopped them before passion dominated to say, "I love you, Ray." In Doyle's mind, it was the first time Bodie had said those words in their marriage, which he officially dated to the night before when they'd pledged themselves to one another. The two years prior had been just "tryin' it on" as Bodie said when Doyle found the nerve to explain what those days in Paris meant to him. They had agreed that April 17th was their wedding day.

Marriage. It did best describe their personal relationship, even if only a few friends and relatives recognized it as such. As Doyle looked at the room, lit by the soft glow of the firelight, the candles burning and the multi-coloured lights Bodie had now carefully strung on the tree, Doyle realised why he was feeling so. soppy. This was their first flat together, Cowley's silent way of acknowledging the change in their status, the fact that the two were married.

Wondering how he could possibly explain his feelings to Bodie, Doyle was startled when the smooth voice of his lover cut through the raucous strains of "Jingle Bells", or "Jingle Balls" as Bodie was prone to sing.

"Are you doing something silly like crying over there?" Doyle shook his head as the tears slid silently down his cheeks.

When he saw Bodie come toward him, he tried to will away the salty moisture.

"What's wrong?" Bodie asked softly as he put his arms around Doyle. "What's wrong, sunshine? Aren't you happy?"

"Happy?" Doyle murmured. "Happy? I'm so bloody happy, Bodie. I...." He stopped and sniffed loudly before kissing the finger which had been gently placed against his lips.

"It is a bit of a miracle, when you think about it," Bodie agreed, tightening his hold on Doyle. "Who would have thought that after all we ye seen and done that there's enough of us left alive to find happiness."

As Bodie kissed away the tears, Doyle queried, "Are you happy?"

When Bodie nodded, Doyle recognized the superstitious response, don't talk about it lest it be taken away. Able to accept this reticence, he kissed Bodie instead of issuing his usual scolding.

"We can't do this yet," Bodie chided when they finally surfaced for air.

Puzzled, Doyle frowned and waited, none too patiently, for an explanation.

"The mistletoe isn't up."

"Well, get on with it, then," Doyle said, affecting a gruffness he didn't feel.

Winking, Bodie went off in search of the mistletoe he'd found in a Berwick Street flower stall several days ago. A few minutes later, he held up the parcel in triumph.

Doyle applauded and went to put on another of the Christmas tapes. While his partner fetched a step-stool so he could hang the mistletoe on the unusually high door jamb, Doyle examined the ornaments peeking over the tops of various boxes. Caught in a strange spell woven by firelight and Christmas carols, he imagined himself as one of the decorations, filled with joyous anticipation, jostling in the box to see when and where he would be allowed to shine forth.

The silliness of the notion made him walk over to peer into a carton he knew contained a few ornaments his mother had carefully preserved for the day when he would again be young enough to enjoy them. The sight of the two, hand-painted, wax balls and the battered, coloured tin angel brought back not only the ghosts of past Christmases when they'd hung on the Doyle family tree, but last Christmas when he'd given them to Bodie. In return, he received a small box bearing what was left of Bodie's childhood treasures. They'd carefully hung them on the tree together, an affirmation of love that then had yet to be openly expressed in words.

As he picked up a small, shining gold ball that was Bodie's, Doyle turned it over and over again, looking at it from a new perspective. Pleased that the ornaments had a history he was now privy to, he pictured them as they must have looked adorning the huge tree Bodie had said stood in the sitting room of the large house where he'd lived as a boy. The house itself came easily to mind, for Bodie had shown it to him once. His thoughts had just turned to the many unanswered questions about his partner's family when a jubilant voice interrupted.

"All ready," Bodie announced from atop the step-stool.

"Crooked," Doyle pointed out, enjoying the sight of Bodie's navel peeking out from beneath the black polo neck. Instead of detracting, it enhanced the sexiness of a Bodie dressed in the black sweater, worn black cords, and the gold garland which hung from his neck much like a metallic boa.

"Doyle, it's impossible for mistletoe to be crooked."

"Must be you, then," Doyle allowed with a wry smile as Bodie pulled his sweater back down over the exposed midriff. "Am I supposed to climb tip there, then?" he asked when Bodie remained on top of the stool.

"Wouldn't be under it, then, would we," Bodie replied, even as he continued to gaze at his partner.

"What are you doin', then?"

Smiling broadly, Bodie finally said, "Starin' at you, bathed in firelight."

Always one to welcome an admiring leer or two, Doyle inquired lewdly, "Anything special you'd like to see?"

"Yeah," Bodie answered without hesitation, "your naked body."

Knowing that his lack of inhibition still astounded and stimulated Bodie, Doyle quickly stripped. Leaving his clothes in a small heap, he scrambled up the step-stool to stand beside his lover.

"You're a wanton, little elf," Bodie said in a deep, paternal-sounding voice as he put his arms around Doyle.

"Just doin' what Father Christmas ordered. Don't want coal and switches in me stockin' this year," Doyle responded, playing the role he knew would evoke the most response.

"And just what would you like for Christmas, little boy?" questioned Bodie, his hands roaming over the soft skin of a muscular back and firm buttocks.

"Your cock up me arse," Doyle whispered suggestively into Bodie's ear, his tongue darting inside in the hope of eliciting goosebumps. Placing his hands on Bodie's waist, he pulled them even closer together and rubbed his firming cock against the growing bulge in the black cords. He was about to kiss the moist, slightly parted lips near his own, but Bodie stopped him.

"I love you, Ray, so very much."

Surprised, but thrilled by the declaration, one he had heard more often since Paris, yet not enough to satisfy him, Doyle swallowed noisily and started to respond, but this time Bodie silenced him with a kiss.

As the kiss was deepened and repeated again and again, Doyle, already feeling the giddy euphoria of his happiness well within him, let his world become one of sensation. Reeling from the effects of the faint heat cast off by the fire, the rough wool of the black sweater as it touched flesh, the rum-flavoured tongue that lustily explored his mouth, dancing with his own tongue, and the fingers tracing snowflake patterns on his back, Doyle let himself spin out of control. His cock was rock hard, and he was grinding against his lover when Bodie pulled back slightly and moved off the stool.

Quickly, Bodie, who was himself feeling the effects of their wantonness, closed the drapes on the snowfall and the park. His eyes warning the bemused Doyle to stay put, he went to the lambswool rug before the fireplace where he stripped, while Doyle, his eyes huge with amazement, watched. Having hoped to guide the evening in this direction, Bodie removed a small tube of KY jelly from the mantel. He squirted a liberal amount onto his right palm and held it near the flame to warm it. Turning, he slowly applied the cream to the crease between his buttocks, pausing to massage his anus. Aware of the heavy breathing coming from the stool and pleased that Doyle, for once, had obeyed, Bodie ogled his lover for a moment before lying down on the soft rug.

Gulping in air to slow his pulse, Doyle licked his lips. Unsure if he should move despite the mounting pressure in his testicles, he continued to stare at his lover. His intuitive hesitation was rewarded when Bodie, his eyes open, knowing and watching, reached for his own cock with one hand. The other began pulling at the rosebud pink nipples already hard with desire. Within moments, the blue eyes closed as Bodie lost himself in the sensations he was creating.

Unable to deny his response to the erotic scene being played out before him -- a fantasy he'd often mentioned to Bodie -- Doyle was about to reach for his own cock when one blue eye popped open, silently ordering him not to touch himself. Willing to cooperate, Doyle held his hands out, obviously away from his body. Bodie, Satisfied, closed his eye once more.

By the time Bodie was moaning with pleasure, the tension in Doyle's balls was palpable. "Bodie...," he whispered, his voice laced with the desperation he was beginning to feel. "Please, Bodie...," he said a bit louder after another moment. Wanting, needing to touch his seeping shaft, Doyle bit his lower lip nervously, certain that the moment he took hold of himself, Bodie would sense it and stop. So, Doyle watched his lover masturbate himself nearer and nearer to the brink. He was to the point of begging to be included when he noticed Bodie's trembling muscles, that silent, eloquent prelude to orgasm. Whimpering, he moved a step lower on the stool, but the hands stopped and the blue eyes opened, again silently commanding him to return to the top.

Squeezing his legs together to reduce the pressure, Doyle shivered with excitement and frustration. Licking his lips, he debated about obeying, but, after only a few seconds, he climbed back up.

Instantly, Bodie resumed his ministrations, his fingers pinching, his nipples red and even harder. The slow tease continued till finally, Doyle shouted, "Bodie!" There was again desperation in his voice, and his body was quivering with unfulfilled passion. "Bodie," Doyle yelled once more, silently cursing himself for being on a short fuse tonight. "Booodie...."

Bodie, judging the moment correctly, opened his eyes and smiled invitingly.

Doyle dropped right to the floor, ignoring the stairs. A few steps and he was standing over Bodie, who'd once more closed his eyes. One of Bodie's hands fingered a puckered right nipple while the other gently cupped and squeezed the big balls. Knowing from the way Bodie's muscles were quivering, from the way the thick prick twitched and the manner in which Bodie manipulated his own testicles that he was close, Doyle knelt beside his lover, fighting back his own readiness to climax. As he kissed the parted lips, Bodie's murmured sound of pleasure sent Doyle's lips to tease the neglected left nipple. Biting into the crowned flesh caused Bodie to writhe. Wise enough not to touch the engorged cock begging for attention, Doyle moved into position. Bodie smiled up with glazed eyes and lifted his legs so that the undersides of his thighs rested against Doyle's chest. Doyle's cockhead had barely touched the flesh of Bodie's buttocks when Doyle felt a small surge, warning of his impending orgasm. Pushing quickly into his lover, he watched in dazed fascination as the act of penetration sent Bodie over the brink. As the tight anal muscles constricted around his now deeply buried cock, Doyle yielded to the sensations and pumped furiously into Bodie, reaching his own climax seconds later.

Collapsing onto his partner, Doyle let the sweet feeling of release wash over him. Safe and securely held by Bodie's arms and legs, Doyle took several deep breaths and kissed the warm skin near his lips. "Love you," he murmured.

"If you really loved me, you'd move. Weigh a ton, you do," Bodie groused good-naturedly, in a voice that was soft and seductive despite the words themselves.

As if preparing to spend the night, Doyle nestled against Bodie's body. They shared a comfortable, warm silence for a few moments before Doyle raised his head so that he could see the peaceful face near his own. When Bodie opened his eyes in unvoiced question, Doyle smiled. "Should apologise for shootin' off like a rocket...."

It was Bodies turn to smile. "Why? We were actin' out one of your strongest, most persistent fantasies. Don't know how you lasted that long, sunshine."

"Thank you," Doyle whispered. Staring into the beautiful, blue eyes, he added softly, "If you ever leave my life, Bodie, I'll go on with it, but I won't be happy. I'd miss you and all you bring into my life too much. No one cares about me as much as you, and if you go away or die, a part of me that I've given to you will be lost and forever sad. I love you, Bodie." After a slight pause, he added, "If Father Christmas really wanted to grant my Christmas wish, he'd give me the power to make you understand how much I love you, how much joy you bring to me every day by just being you."

"And he'd give me the courage to tell you what you've really done for me, just how much you've restored to me."

Caught off guard because he'd expected Bodie to run from his statement, Doyle lifted himself up and sat back, facing both the fire and his lover. "I don't understand."

Pleased because he had surprised Doyle, yet nervous because he was now committed to revelation -- Doyle would not permit a retreat into silence -- Bodie replied, "I said, I would like to tell you the other reasons I love you, what I was afraid to tell you in Paris." But now that he had pushed himself to this moment, Bodie hesitated.

They sat for several moments, surrounded by a tense silence that had settled over them, bringing a chill with it. Doyle was afraid of what he would hear; Bodie was too afraid to speak.

"It's getting cold," Bodie did say. "Your robe in the loo or the closet?"

"Closet," Doyle answered, his teeth chattering, more from sudden anxiety than a drop in room temperature.

Standing beside his lover, Bodie reached down for a handful of curls. Using his hold, he tilted the downcast head back so he could see the saucer-sized green eyes. "It's okay, sunshine. It's just that we're headed for a long talk, and I want us to be comfortable." Without giving Doyle a chance to respond, he leaned over and kissed the parted, full lips.

As he watched Bodie walk away, Doyle shivered. He put his arms around himself, wondering why he suddenly felt so cold. Struck by the irony of it being him who always craved such candid conversation on the subject of love, who was ready to run from the room now that what he wanted was being offered, Doyle delved into the why of his reaction. So lost in thought was he that he didn't realise Bodie had returned till a cold foot tried to find warmth under his left buttock.

When he looked up to chastise, the smile that greeted him was so sweet, he could only smile in reply. That and the tenderness unique to post- coital moments still lingering in the twinkling, blue eyes made Doyle realise how foolish his nervousness was. Whatever he had to say, one fact was very clearly stated in the eyes which watched him: Bodie loved him. Swallowing the trepidation which rose from his knotted stomach, Doyle held up his arms, allowing Bodie to drape an olive green, silk kimono over him. As soon as he was settled in its soft folds, he was handed a mug of steaming, hot buttered rum. After taking a wonderfully warming sip, he glanced up to thank his thoughtful lover. It was then that he noticed the Christmas cookie in Bodie's hand. "Where's mine?" he demanded.

Carefully, Bodie broke the Doyle-baked treat in two and handed his partner the smaller half. "Well, I carried it in here, didn't I?" he said indignantly when Doyle gave him an exasperated look. "Besides, I'm a growing boy.

"I'll say. Keep this up," Doyle allowed, chewing noisily, "and you'll grow two stone before the holidays are over."

Making a face in reply, Bodie sat down beside Doyle.

This time, they sat for a few moments in a comfortable silence as the fire crackled and the strains of "Silent Night" filled the space between them. As they sipped their rum, Doyle placed a reassuring hand on his lover's thigh.

With a soft sigh, Bodie began, "When I joined CI5, I was out of control. SAS was glad to get rid of me; I know they were worried I'd go over the top on a mission."

"Why did they keep sending you out, then, if they were so concerned? Cowley wouldn't..."

His mind's eye focussed on the past as he stared into the fire, Bodie replied, "They always send you out if you're one of their best, even Cowley."

"Yeah," Doyle agreed quietly, well aware of just how many times Cowley had dispatched them, no matter how tired they felt. Deciding he wanted to be able to see Bodie's face, he shifted so that his head was pillowed on his partner's left thigh.

Bodie smiled down at his lover before continuing. "The job I did go over the top on was one where we were working with CI5, with Cowley, before either of us had joined the squad." He paused, shaking his head in wonder. "He's a wily one. Shrewdest bastard I've ever met, and he has the balls to back it up."

Doyle sighed in agreement. Though he kept it to himself, he wondered whether the seemingly omnipotent Cowley had somehow arranged to be there to catch Bodie as he fell. Neither he nor Bodie had any idea how long Cowley had been observing them before seconding them to his fledgling organization.

"When I needed help on the op but couldn't admit it, or turn to anyone for it, he stepped in, gave me the solution to our problem. Later, he told Major Nairn it was my idea. I was grateful enough to let him. For reasons I'm still not sure of, I trusted him from the beginning. I was able to accept that he could tell me what to do. We pulled off that job together. Before I could rest on my laurels - and there were plenty after that mission, I was asked to join CI5. I guess the Cow saw the potential...just as every one of my superiors had..."

Frowning because he knew so much had been left out that he couldn't, wouldn't - ask Bodie to reveal, Doyle nonetheless cut right to the heart of the matter with the question he did ask. "So Cowley was the only one who figured out how to hold you accountable?"

Bodie, who'd continued to watch the flames as he spoke, glanced down into the green eyes. "Yeah. I was on the edge, maybe even over the edge. I didn't believe anyone could tell me anything. And the sad truth was, until I met Cowley, I was right."

Bemused because the Bodie he knew was good, but certainly not infallible nor vested with a superiority complex, Doyle considered the past. He couldn't begin to count the number of occasions on which Bodie had been receptive to, had even courted, the lessons he and Cowley had to give.

The insight that helped them function as a team asserted itself when Bodie said, his voice barely audible and laced with pain and regret, "Just before I left the SAS, Cowley asked for me alone to do another job, a test I suppose. It was a simple pick up, but I fucked it up. A kid, a messenger really, was killed. He died because of a small mistake I made. There was no culpability on my part, but it brought me back to earth - fast. For some time after that, I didn't want any part of any organization. Still, when I finally joined up with CI5, I resolved to never let that sort of thing happen again."

Again constrained by the Official Secrets Act and a respect for Bodie's privacy, Doyle could ask no other questions, ones that by being answered would allow his partner to share this still burdensome experience. So, he did what he could to offer silent comfort; he took Bodie's left hand and kissed its palm. "Thanks," Bodie whispered, leaning down for a kiss.

To steer the conversation to less painful territory, Doyle asked, "So how did Cowley tame the wild you?"

Very matter of factly, Bodie replied, "Gave me to you."

"What?" Doyle blurted out.

"Hadn't been with the mob long before you were hauled in and immediately given the job of corralling me. If you hadn't succeeded after that first assignment, we'd have both been out on our arses."

Not ready to deal with the implications of Bodie's statement, Doyle demanded, "Wait, back up, back up. Let's go back to why you respected Cowley."

Smiling at the hunger and curiosity in the green eyes, Bodie, who had decided it was time he gave Doyle this gift of his past, obliged. He had been building up to this since Paris, since the realisation that Doyle would not use this information against him. Now that he'd begun, he was committed to telling Doyle as much as possible. He ignored a little- voiced fear that once he revealed this much of himself, there would be no mystery left to hold Doyle.

"On that first job with Cowley, he showed me the fallacy of my plan, something no one else had the balls or brains to do. And he did it...well...tactfully." He grinned at the wide-eyed expression of disbelief on Doyle's face. "I have no idea why, so don't ask. Besides, as we've often talked about, the bastard had probably already decided to recruit me for CI5."

Silently, Doyle nodded, his earlier, unvoiced notion confirmed. He was certain the CI5 controller had his eye on Bodie long before Bodie had been aware of the scrutiny. Often after he and Bodie had become agents, they had been sent to watch potential CI5 candidates and report on them.

After a few swallows of his now cool drink, Bodie went on, his voice reflective, as if he was still analysing the situation, "The most important thing about it was that he respected me. He didn't fear me; he didn't, if you'll pardon the expression, let me cow him. He said what he had to say and, when he was finished, it was clear that he was right. I know it doesn't seem like much, but I was lookin' for a lifeline, something, someone to hold on to, to believe in. I didn't believe in the SAS, God or country anymore. I couldn't, having seen, having done what I'd done, and," Bodie's words came in a rush now, for he could see how brightly the light of curiosity shone in his partner's eyes, "before you ask, the past, from SAS backward is a closed door, both because of the Secrets Act and because I don't ever want to talk about it." He ended on a questioning note, his inflection asking Doyle to respect this limit.

"Okay," Doyle said quietly, smiling up at his lover. "So you respected Cowley..." he led.

"Yeah. Ross keeps trying to make me buy all this bullshit about needin' a father image and the like, but it's as simple as needing someone to believe in, and Cowley was it. He's the rare man who can always back up what he says or does."

Wondering where he, himself, fit into this, Doyle decided to follow the direction Bodie was headed in rather than shift just yet. "And your bosses at the SAS couldn't?"

Bodie took a deep breath before answering, "I don't know...maybe... no.. .all I can say is that I was left hangin' once too often." He stared silently at the flames for a moment, still considering the question. Finally, he added, "The bottom line was I didn't have any faith in them any more. And, for whatever reason, I liked Cowley."

"I know."

"What do you mean?"

Reaching up to trace the frown on his partner's face, Doyle began hesitantly, "You treat him the way -- " The slight constriction of the blue eyes, a signal that Bodie was suspicious, made Doyle stop. He was reluctant to express a commonly held perception at CI5, one that corroborated Kate Ross' theory.

"Go on," Bodie suggested, his tone steely.

Doyle, chewing his lip for a moment, eventually replied, "I just mean, it shows, that you like, genuinely like him...."

"That I treat him like a 'petulant, but beloved father'?" Bodie finished, quoting the staff psychiatrist in words as well as voice.

"Well...," Doyle shrugged helplessly, "yes."

"You think Ross is right?" Bodie asked, incredulity obvious in his tone.

Aware of just how much Bodie's eyes had narrowed, aware of the need for caution, Doyle was tentative in his responses. "Sort of. I don't know if you needed a father figure or if he became one after you signed on, but the result is the same. He treats you as if you are the favoured son." Sorry he hadn't changed the subject earlier, Doyle could only wait while Bodie digested this information. They often joked about Bodie being the "blue-eyed boy," but this was the first time they'd seriously discussed it. There were occasions when Bodie's blissful ignorance was for the better; this was one such, Doyle decided, watching the play of reactions as Bodie considered what had just been said.

"You don't think he acts that way just because he respects my ability?"

Doyle bit his lip to keep from laughing. He could see that his partner had asked the question in earnest. Before he could decide how best to reply, for the arrogance behind the inquiry had saved him more than once or twice, Bodie went on in that light, whimsical tone of voice which always signalled mischief.

"You know, if Ross is right, maybe I should be callin' him Dad, instead of sir."

This time, Doyle could not restrain his laughter. He could picture the expression on their boss' face when Bodie addressed him as "Dad."

"If he gets upset, I'll just tell him that that's what our resident shrink has been trying to get me to acknowledge since I joined up."

Able to see this moment as well, Doyle had to wipe away the tears as he laughed even harder. He also knew Bodie would be innocence personified as he delivered this line.

"It is good, isn't it?" Bodie asked with a self-satisfied smirk.

"Yeah," Doyle finally managed, sobering quickly when he saw a strange look cross Bodie's face. "Damn," he muttered, afraid Bodie would no longer be able to ignore the association with his own father if he were forced to take Ross' observation seriously. "Bodie..."

"It's all right, Ray. I buried my father several months ago."

"I wish you had let me go with you," Doyle said wistfully. He knew that Bodie had taken those days off in September to visit Liverpool, to finally come to terms with the death of his parents, to lay their ghosts to rest.

"I needed to be alone."

"I understand that, but I still wish I could have been there with you.

"You were.. .in my heart."

Bodie's eyes grew misty as he stared at some invisible image dancing in the dying flames of the fire. Doyle was relieved, actually, because it meant his lover couldn't see the tears in his own eyes, a response to one of the most romantic statements Bodie had ever made to him. Wondering what he could say next, how to deal with this matter, he suddenly found himself staring at the anatomically correct gingerbread man Bodie had absentmindedly pulled from his pocket. His mouth was hanging open when the blue eyes focused on him. "So why did we have to share earlier?" Doyle asked.

"Had to save something for later, didn't we?" Bodie answered smugly, even though there was sadness in his eyes.

"How many more are in there?" Doyle demanded to know, tensing to pounce on his partner.

"Doyle, don't - DON'T!. You'll crunch 'em." Bodie tried halfheartedly to move away, but he needed to divert himself, and he wanted to forestall comment from his lover on all that had been said, especially the last remark which had slipped out.

The wrestling match soon became erotic, and they made love again. This time the emphasis was on tenderness as they both spent a great deal of time and effort kissing and touching, accompanied by much laughter and even some giggling when they lay together afterward, marvelling at the fact they'd had both the time and energy.

A chill swept through Bodie, waking him with a start. For a few seconds, he was disoriented, the light from the bulbs on the tree giving the room an eerie glow. As the events of the evening came back, Bodie carefully moved his numb arm, trying not to rouse his sleeping lover. He liked to look at Doyle when the man was asleep. There was an elfin air of wantonness in the way the tangled mane of curls surrounded his face. The creases and wrinkles etched by a hard life were smoothed out, revealing none of the cynical, sharp-tongued man, but instead proving the existence of the bit of innocent boy still living in Doyle's heart.

Unable to resist, Bodie reached out to brush a curl off the irregular cheekbone that added such an exotic flare to Doyle's features. As he lightly touched the skin, Doyle stirred. Enormous, sleepy, green eyes gazed at him, love and that innocence only Bodie was privy to evident in their depths. His heart aching with unexpressed love for the man he held, the person who had changed him, redeemed him, saved him, Bodie was about to try to coax his lover back to sleep when Doyle sat up.

Only half-awake, his left arm stiff and bloodless from the way he'd scrunched his shoulder up under Bodie's, Doyle yawned, then sighed. He woke most days to the soppy smile now on Bodie's lips and in his eyes. It was the emotion behind that expression which he wished Bodie would speak of more often.

"What's wrong, sunshine?"

"Time?" Doyle asked, running a hand through his curls. For a moment, as he glanced around the room, he was uncertain of where they were. He also wanted to distract Bodie from posing more questions about his unguarded sigh.

"Eleven p.m.," Bodie supplied as he sat up. He chuckled softly as he noted the continued confusion registering on Doyle's face.

Defensive because he knew his partner was laughing at him, Doyle did the snarkiest thing he could think of under the circumstances; he stuck his tongue out at Bodie. This only made matters worse as Bodie's chuckle became a belly laugh. "Thanks," Doyle said petulantly as he stood and stormed out of the room, having finally remembered what and where the room was.

Recovering quickly, for hurting Doyle had not been his intent, Bodie followed his upset partner into the bathroom. The shower was already running, and Doyle was peeing when Bodie entered. Accepting the sour look he received, he silently shed his robe and stepped into the stall. He stood there alone under the spray for a few moments before he realised Doyle had not joined him.

Concerned, he opened the shower door and peeked around the edge. Doyle was brushing his teeth.

"Sugar," he mumbled around the toothbrush.

Bodie immediately returned to the jet of hot water. He didn't dare let Doyle see the smile on his lips. It was too ridiculous to admit to anyone but himself how much he treasured Doyle's small idiosyncrasies. The confusion on the rare occasions when the man woke without benefit of an alarm, the way he tried to squeeze in a moment to brush his teeth after eating anything, the way he insisted on always sleeping on the left side of a bed, the way....

"What are you on about?" Doyle asked, standing next to his partner in the stall.

"I... uh... I...," Bodie stopped, frowning, unable to explain.

"Now I see why you have a reputation as a smooth talker."

"Wait," Bodie said, holding up his hands to ward off the cutting sarcasm. In the effort to defend himself, he spoke without weighing his words, "I was just thinking about how good it makes me feel that I'm the one who gets to see how confused you can be when you wake up, how you have to rush about to brush your teeth, how...I wasn't laughing at you, Ray, was just laughing because I'm happy and in love with the most wonderful man in the whole world." Embarrassed by his confession, he blushed and turned away, unable to face the scrutiny of the wide green eyes.

"The most wonderful man in the whole world, the whole bleedin', fuckin', world?" Doyle asked, stepping around in front of his partner. "The whole wide world?"

Bodie nodded and turned away from Doyle.

Unilaterally deciding it was time Bodie stopped being embarrassed, Doyle confronted his lover once more. "You're actin' like a three year old, Bodie. Why is it so hard for you to say these things? We've been together over five years now. Do you trust me so little?"

"No," Bodie said emphatically, "that's not it."

"Then what is?" Doyle picked up the soap and began lathering the soft skin of Bodie's chest and arms.

Grabbing hold of Doyle's shoulders, Bodie held his partner still as he explained, "I've killed so many people, broken so many of the rules I respect, destroyed so many lives, been so cruel...," his voice trailed off, and he looked at the water swirling toward the drain on the floor.

Though burning with curiosity, Doyle was wise enough to remain quiet. His patience was rewarded when Bodie finally looked up once more.

"When I joined CI5, I didn't care about anything or anyone, including myself. When I looked in the mirror, I had no idea who was staring back at me. My eyes were so cold, so empty."

"I know. That's why I told Cowley the day he sent us down to training camp together that I didn't want to be your partner." Bodie's expression of disbelief made Doyle stop. He wasn't sure if he should say this, but it was obvious Bodie was waiting for him to continue. "I told him you wanted to die, but you didn't have the balls to kill yourself."

"What did he say?"

"He sat there for a few minutes, makin' me squirm. Then he poured me a scotch and told me that a partner's job was to make sure the other didn't die, that if I let you die, he'd have my balls." Pausing, Doyle leaned over to kiss Bodie's forehead. "It wasn't easy, those first months."

"I was yours that third day at camp, when you bought me a strawberry ice cream," Bodie allowed, turning the dial to make the water warmer.


"Yeah. Such a small kindness, it made me look past the cynical attitude, the acerbic tongue, the 'keep out' signs you had posted. Water's changing, better hurry."

In silence, they washed off quickly, each reliving those early days of their partnership. As they were drying off, Bodie resumed the conversation.

"I had a hard time concentrating that first week, because I kept thinkin' about your lips, curled around my cock."

"Are you serious?" Doyle, who'd been facing the mirror, turned to look at Bodie.

"Yeah," Bodie admitted with a wide grin, "when I found out you could shoot better than I could, I stopped."

"That why you stopped calling me golliwog, for a while at least?"

Bodie nodded, slowly, solemnly before reaching up to ruffle the damp curls. He followed that up with a towel smack on Doyle's exposed rear.

The scuffle carried them into the bedroom where the two were soon tumbling over the bed as they attempted to elude one another. Eventually, Doyle managed to get a handful of cock and a testicle which stopped Bodie cold.

Deciding that this was his opportunity to return to the point with which Bodie had originated tonight's discussion, Doyle snuggled up beside Bodie and led with, "So what did you mean by telling me this, by saying you would like to tell me just what I've done for you."

Aware of the fact that the moment of truth was at hand, Bodie swallowed nervously. "That day you bought me the ice really smiled at me that day. I don't know why, but I think I fell in love with you right then. I spent a lot of time and energy those first months trying to earn those smiles, finding out what would make you laugh."

"And I spent those same months thinkin' you were a right prat," Doyle allowed, rolling onto his side so he could look at his lover.

"I know," Bodie replied with a small sigh. "You didn't change your mind about us being a team till Christmas that year."

A bit taken aback by his partner's perceptiveness, but not truly surprised by it, Doyle nodded in agreement.

"What happened then? I never have figured out what I did or didn't do to win that second chance."

Remembering quite clearly, Doyle replied, "Christmas itself. I was amazed at how much you seemed to care about all the shit that goes with the holiday. You organized the annual dinner, passed the hat for the Cow's scotch fund, got us to donate pressies to the orphanage. Singlehandedly, that year, you gave CI5 traditions, things we never skip now when the season rolls around. What turned me that first Christmas was your response that day in the squad room when I told some of the boys that you were doing it so you could get pressies. The look in your eyes when I accused you of such a mercenary stopped me cold, Bodie. It made me realise that those blue eyes weren't so empty after all."

Doyle paused and ran his fingers over Bodie's left cheek. "You know it wasn't till last week when we took the Old Man home after the big bash and we sat by his fire getting further blasted that I understood just what it was you'd done that year. 'Course, that exemplary bit of deduction, years in the making, is why I'm such a hot shot detective." Biting back his own smile, Doyle disdainfully ignored Bodie's laughter, returning as soon as the man could restrain himself, to that first Christmas. "But that wasn't all. I was beginning to wonder about you, when you did the unheard of. You volunteered to play Father Christmas at the orphanage. I was knocked out when I saw you with those kids. The tenderness, the joy in your gestures, your eyes, your smile gave me a glimpse of who 'Bodie' was protecting. A few days later when we heard McCabe and Lucas making cracks about the snaps of you and the kids I'd put up on the bulletin board... I saw the pain in your eyes, and I knew I was wrong about you. You did care. Once I'd stopped feeling sorry for myself because I had to work with you, that's when I saw who you were and what you'd already given to me to protect. You were trying to be my partner, to make us a team. I wasn't. Did a lot of thinking while I was at me Mum's those few days before Christmas. When I saw the smile on your face as I invited you for Christmas dinner...."

Bodie grinned as he recalled that moment. Now it was clear to him why, when they'd returned to work the day after Christmas, their partnership had begun in earnest. It was then that they became a team. "When did you fall in love with me?"

Even though he knew Bodie was still side-stepping what he himself had begun, Doyle answered, "In retrospect, I realised that I fell for you that first Christmas, when you came to Mum's. I didn't know it, however, till those goons kidnapped me while we were guarding Ojuka. I knew you'd come after me. I was so fuckin' scared for you. That's when I knew." He finished by taking a deep breath, this last having been said quickly. Feeling that his confession had earned him a reciprocal one from his lover, Doyle looked expectantly at Bodie.

"I fell in love the day you bought me the ice cream. I'll never be able to tell you how that one act of kindness affected me, or why it affected me so intensely. When you've totally cut yourself off from feeling, the cold is a paralysing numbness. Any warmth cast into that sad world is so welcome, has such an effect...," he shrugged helplessly. Needing now to sense that warmth, he took Doyle's hand.

"You were that empty, then?" Doyle asked, nearly overwhelmed by what he was hearing, by the fact he was having this conversation with the reticent Bodie.

"Yeah. All the doors were closed and locked. What you did was the equivalent of kicking one of them in. In wanting to see you smile again, I came to need, to feel again. What you did for me, Ray, was bring me back from the edge with that one, little gesture. Since then, you've given me back my self-respect, you've made me care, made me trust, and made me love. I knew just how much I loved you when Mai Li shot you, although I really had begun to come to terms with it when I saw Keller again."

"Did you love him?" Doyle decided to risk asking.

"Sort of. As much as I could in those days. But he was a bastard. He was the one who made me close and lock the doors in the first place."

"Should have bashed him when I had the chance," Doyle commented, squeezing the hand that held his.

That bit of protectiveness touched Bodie. "The bottom line, the point of all this, is that I love you, Ray." Rather than say more, which he felt would be unnecessary, Bodie kissed his lover, or rather, tried to as Doyle did his best to stifle a yawn. "Tired, sunshine?"

"Sleepy," Doyle mumbled, lifting the flannel duvet and climbing into bed. Bodie followed. When they were warm and close, Bodie added, "Now, do you see why Christmas is so important to me? It always has been - it's the one time mercenaries generally don't fight - but that year it gave me you, well... ." He shrugged once more.

"Speaking of Christmas, they'll be here at ten, you know." This time, a huge yawn escaped Doyle's lips. Now that he was in bed, the pressure of the last few weeks dissipated by the wonderful evening they'd shared, he was very, very tired.

"I know. Won't take me long in the morning, now that I've found everything," Bodie returned, yawning as well.

"I hope you bought some mistletoe for the headboard," Doyle commented as he cuddled even nearer to Bodie's warm body. There was no place he felt safer, more ready to sleep than under the covers, this close to Bodie.

"Thought about it, but if we have any more excuses to kiss here we'll never get any sleep.

"Wise man," Doyle replied around still another yawn. The peace and contentment, wholeness and happiness Doyle had felt earlier returned as he glanced past Bodie to the snow still falling in big flakes. He was grateful for the winter storm; it added to the time out of time feeling he'd experienced all evening. It gave him a sense of being protected, isolated, shut off from the harsh world and alone with Bodie in this special place they'd created where two of the world's toughest men could cry, could speak openly, if shyly, of love. Unable to stop himself, he let his emotions well up.

"What's wrong?" Bodie queried, Doyle's hot tears sliding across and down his chest. He pulled back to look into the misty green eyes.

"Forgot to turn out the overhead," Doyle volunteered, sniffling and yawning.

"I'm happy, too, sunshine," Bodie replied, climbing out of bed to switch off the light. When he once again held Doyle, he added, "You see now why I resent Kate's assessment. Cowley gave me you. The man could be an orang-utan and I'd be grateful to him."

Doyle remained silent, hoping Bodie was in one of those moods where he didn't particularly need comment, just the knowledge that someone cared enough to listen. Besides, he was simply too tired to say much, let alone really think about all that had been spoken of this night.

"Do you see why I love you?" Bodie asked suddenly.

Caught a bit off guard, Doyle nonetheless replied, "Yeah." He knew that while he did not now understand, he would, with time and enough analysis.

Self-revelation being the exhausting work it was, Bodie accepted this laconic statement from his usually loquacious partner. He was already half asleep when Doyle kissed him lightly on the lips and mumbled something about it being too early for them to go to bed. "Happy Christmas," he murmured into the still damp, but clean smelling curls.

"Yeah, I'm happy," Doyle answered drowsily, "I'm so happy."

-- THE END --

Originally published in The Hatstand Express 18

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