Dancing Round the Truth
(Story 14 in the Building to Last Universe)
Bodie wasn't speaking to me. We'd had a fight, you see. My fault, of course. All Bodie'd done was ask me what was wrong. I'd told him, "Nothing's wrong."
Bodie'd said, "Don't give me that. I can tell when something's bothering you. What is it, Ray?"
And I'd lost me rag; stalked out and slammed the door behind me. When I'd walked enough to get a grip on myself, I came back. By then, Bodie'd stopped talking.
All in all, neither of us was in any mood for a party. But we'd promised Murphy we'd be at Jerry Davis' birthday celebration. I think Murph was feeling a bit self-conscious about hosting the do, particularly since he'd been avoiding most of the other gays and bisexuals in CI5 (it was a gay birthday party, you see). Even six months on, Murphy was having problems dealing with his lover's murder and all that came after it.
The drive to the party was almost silent. Bodie asked if I was ready. I said, "Yes." We drove to the private club. I suggested we leave about midnight. Bodie told me it was my turn to drive home. That was it.
Bodie abandoned me the moment we entered the doors. A few minutes later, I felt even worse. I saw my lover chatting up Cam McKenzie, CI5's resident Welshman and Murphy's latest partner. My throat filled with bile and it felt like a giant fist wrapped itself round my heart. And I was narked with it. Call it the green-eyed monster or call it by its proper name. Truth was, I felt so bloody jealous I was almost sick with it.
But I put my best face on it. Said hallo to the birthday boy and complimented Murphy on the party arrangements.
It really was an excellent party. 'S just I wasn't in the mood. As far as I could see, Murphy had nothing to worry about as far as the arrangements were concerned. In fact, he'd outdone himself. There was even live entertainment--a long-legged dancer name of Jester. Must've been a bit pricey, that. A head-liner in one of the better gay clubs, Jester was every gay bloke's walking wet dream. Not that I paid him that much attention, mind. I was too busy feeling sorry for meself. I found an empty settee in a relatively quiet corner of the room and sat down to brood into my lager.
I was so preoccupied that I didn't note when the live part of the entertainment finished.
At least, not 'til the entertainer asked me, "Is this seat taken?"
I looked up into warm velvet brown eyes framed by absurdly long, soot-coloured lashes. They were set into a face with sharp elfin features that would have been at home gracing the inside of a book by Tolkien. Beneath the face was the long-limbed, half-naked dancer's body, agleam with the sweat of exertion and surrounded by clouds of ebony hair.
"What?" I tried to retrieve my jaw from where I'd dropped it.
The face lit from within as the dancer smiled at me. "Is this seat taken?" he repeated.
I looked around, vaguely supposing that the vision before me must have been addressing his question to someone else. But all I saw was the settee--myself the only occupant. "No," I shook my head. "Not at all."
Jester sat. He was so close to me that I could feel the press of his hip and thigh. The lithe body turned partially in my direction, and the dancer braced himself by stretching his left arm along the back of the settee behind my neck.
"Hallo. I'm Jester." The voice was a husky tenor.
"Yes, I know. I've seen you dance at the Uranian Touch." It'd been Chris Atwood's idea to introduce Bodie and me to a few of the gay clubs. We hadn't been back since Atwood's death.
"Did you like it?"
Was it my imagination or was there a hint of shyness in the voice, a trace of blush round the cheeks? "Yes," I answered. "You're very good. At least half the audience was deep in lust by the end of your performance." Over Jester's shoulder I caught sight of Bodie. He was still sitting with McKenzie. But he was looking this way. And he was frowning.
"Did that include you?" The voice was warm enough to melt chocolate.
I felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck. My toes curled inside my trainers. Surely the dancer didn't mean that the way it sounded?
I shifted my attention back to Jester and got the shock of my not-so-young life. The brown eyes were dilated and I could feel waves of heat radiating from his body. For a moment, I quit breathing.
Well, it's not something that happens to me every day, having a walking wet dream go on heat just looking at me. That's more Bodie's line. Not that I haven't had my share of offers down the years. But my type of looks appeal more to women. Bodie's classic features are more appealing to your average gay male. I certainly hadn't expected to attract the attention of someone as exotic as Jester.
"Cat got your tongue?" Jester practically purred in my ear. A slender, surprisingly strong hand settled itself on my knee, then started drifting towards the inside of my thigh.
As if that weren't distraction enough, out of the corner of my eye, I caught sight of Bodie rising to his feet. The set of his shoulders and chin screamed pure aggression, and something told me my lover'd lost his rag. If I didn't do something, and quickly, someone was going to get hurt.
I gently removed Jester's hand from my thigh. "Sorry, mate." I gave him my best semi-sincere smile. "I'm already spoken for, and I'm the faithful sort."
Jester sighed and leaned back. "Just my luck." There was wry humour in his voice. "He's a lucky bloke."
"So am I." I left the vision sitting on the settee as I moved to intercept a murderous Bodie.
My lover tried to step round me, but I managed to stay between him and the younger dancer. I wrapped my hand partially round his right biceps and looked into eyes almost black with anger.
"Take me home, love?" I made it a question, not a demand.
Bodie shot a glower over my shoulder.
"Please, Bodie." I waited until those angry blue eyes focused on me. "We need to talk."
Bodie's nostrils flared. I almost expected smoke to stream out of them. "You do pick your times," he gritted past clenched teeth.
"Yeah." My eyes dropped to the carpet. "I know."
"Okay, Raymond." The words dripped with venom. "We'll leave. But you'd damn well better talk when we get home." Bodie shook my hand off his arm. Instead of stalking off as I expected, my partner put his arm round my waist and drew me so close that our hips bumped together as we walked. All the way to the car, I could feel that arm round me, shackling me to his side.
The drive home was silent. I could tell that Bodie was so narked he was about to go ballistic. Back at our flat, we reset the security devices and headed towards the lounge.
Our moggy was cat-napping on the settee. As Bodie entered the room, he slammed his key ring down on the maple table by the door. Maple is a hardwood, but the keys left a noticeable dent in the finish before they ricocheted onto the carpet. Raven leaped out of a sound sleep and scrambled for refuge under the settee. I was amazed that so much cat could squeeze into so little space; though, if I'd thought I'd a chance of succeeding, I'd've had a go at it myself.
Bodie turned round to pin me with a smouldering glare. "All right. Talk."
"Earlier this evening, when you asked me what was wrong...I should've talked to you then." At a loss as to what to do with my hands, I finally stuffed them in the back pockets of my brown corduroy trous.
"We'll take that as read. And you will tell me all about it." Bodie waited until I looked up at him. His eyes hardened. "But first you'll explain why you let that..." He groped for words. "...Pansy...put his hands all over you!"
I rubbed the bridge of my nose. "I didn't know he was going to do that...."
Bodie snorted impolitely. "He'd only been eyeing you for half the bloody evening!"
I looked over at him. "He had?" That was news to me.
"You saying you didn't notice?" There was frank disbelief in my lover's voice.
I shrugged. "I wasn't noticing much of anything except you and Cam getting on so well together." I couldn't keep a bit of an edge out of my voice.
"What?" Bodie sounded totally outraged. "You can't turn that round on me. Cam and I were just sitting there having a natter, not a bit of slap and tickle."
It was my turn to glare. "No. You probably save that for when you're in private. After all, you've never had any exhibitionist tendencies, not even when you were still dating birds."
Bodie looked no end the fool with his jaw somewhere round his knees. He hadn't expected the turn the conversation was taking. But it was time to air our dirty laundry. Past time, really.
"What are you going on about?" Bodie sounded plaintive. I almost had second thoughts about the whole thing. But keeping it all to myself wasn't working--this was the second fight we'd had in the last eight hours.
"I'm jealous," I said baldly.
"Jealous of what?"
"Cam?" My partner was having trouble keeping up with me, so I let him think about it for a moment while I sat down in the nearest chair.
Bodie walked over to lean against the mantle over the fireplace. His crooked eyebrows were drawn together in a frown as he faced me. "You have no reason to be jealous of McKenzie. He's a colleague, and he might turn into a good friend. But I'm not his type, and he's not mine."
Mentally, I disagreed with that last bit. I'd seen the way McKenzie looked at my lover.
"What brought all this on?" Bodie dropped into the chair opposite mine.
"What d'you want me to say?" I couldn't sit still any longer, so I got up and started pacing the carpet.
"How about the truth?"
"I don't know!" I turned to glare at my dark-haired lover.
"Ray?" Bodie started to get up.
I walked over and pushed him back into the chair. "No. You're the one wanted me to talk about it, so you can just belt up and listen."
Surprise, outrage and repressed laughter chased each other cross Bodie's face. Then he dredged up his best look of alert attention--the one he uses with government officials and at Cowley's private briefings.
I dragged my fingers through my hair as I resumed pacing. "That wasn't quite true, what I said about not knowing why I feel like I do. I do know the why behind parts of it. Just not all of it."
Bodie looked down to conceal a grin. "You always do try to analyse everything to death."
"'S a good thing one of us does!"
I was narked and Bodie heard it in my voice. The grin disappeared. "I'm sorry, Ray. Do go on."
"It won't be too much longer before Cowley pulls me off the streets. I'm getting too old for the Action Squad." I sat back down in my chair.
"You're not that old!" Bodie protested.
"No? Tell it to my body. It's started sending me messages to the contrary." I folded my hands together and rested my elbows on my knees.
"What'd you mean?" Bodie copied my posture and leaned closer.
"I used to love winter. Particularly when it was cold. But I bloody hate it now." I could see incomprehension on my lover's face. "When it's cold," I explained, "my whole body aches like an abscessed tooth--particularly the bits that have been shot, stabbed, broken or otherwise damaged. That cold snap we had last week damn near crippled me."
Bodie frowned. "You didn't say anything about it when I got back from Liverpool."
"Nah. Couldn't, could I? That'd be admitting what a crocked up mess I've become. Besides, you'd just spent two weeks up north with Cam McKenzie." Murphy and I had both been down with the flu at the time, so Cowley had sent our partners north on a drugs bust.
"The Lupton case. What does that have to do with anything?"
"He's younger than I am; bigger than I am; in a whole lot better condition; and he's bi. After you got back, the two of you spent an awful lot of time together."
"Finishing up reports...."
"Target shooting, pub-crawling...."
Bodie scowled. "Well, you can't say that you gave me a very warm welcome home. As I remember it, you kept pushing me away, making excuses not to touch me. I began wondering if you'd gone off me altogether."
"No, I was just having a few doubts of my own. I'd begun wondering when you'd realise what a poor bargain you made when you took me on. The easy way you have with McKenzie had me seeing him as my replacement--in bed and out."
"You. Bastard!" Bodie leapt to his feet and strode over to lean on the mantle, his back to me. "The only reason I spent so much time with McKenzie was that he was undemanding company. I was so busy trying to figure out what it was I'd done wrong...."
"I'm sorry, Bodie. I never meant to hurt you. 'S just, I wasn't thinking too straight.... And I'm an insecure bugger." They say that perfect hindsight has 20/20 vision. I'd just realised how badly I'd hurt Bodie with my doubts. You see, he's the steadfast type. And I'd done the unforgivable--I'd doubted his loyalty.
Bodie turned round to face me. His eyes were over-bright. It's the closest to tears that I'd ever seen him. "Is that why you were flirting with that...bloody fairy? Was it just an attempt to get back at me for something you'd fancied I'd done?"
I was caught short by Bodie dragging Jester back into our conversation. I'd almost forgotten about the incident at the party. "No! That wasn't it, at all! And I wasn't flirting with the young sod!" I couldn't prevent a querulous note creeping into my voice.
"What would you call it, then?" Bodie demanded harshly.
"A communications foul-up," I said dryly. "I was so busy looking at you and McKenzie that I didn't realise he fancied me. At least, not till he put his hand on my knee. Then, if you'll recall, I politely gave it back to him and told him I wasn't interested."
"I like that!" Bodie snorted. "You were interested enough that time we saw him dance at the Uranian Touch!"
"So were you, as I remember. Or was that really a banana you had in your pocket?" I quoted the tagline of a very bad joke currently making the rounds at CI5.
Bodie rolled his eyes towards the ceiling in the classic Gawd 'elp us. Then he looked at me. "Did you really tell him you weren't interested?"
"Nah." Bodie looked disappointed, so I hurried into the rest of it. "Told him I was already spoken for, and that I was the faithful sort." I could feel myself blush at the soppiness of it all, but it was worth it to see Bodie light up like a kid with a Christmas pressie.
"Yeah." This time, the blush made it almost down to me toes.
Bodie came over and sat on the arm of my chair. "D'you think we can start this all over again? Forget all the misunderstandings and crossed purposes?"
"Be better if we went on from where we're at and learned from our mistakes, wouldn't it?" I suggested.
"Yeah." Bodie sighed. "But it'd be so much easier the other way."
"I figure you're worth the aggro," I told him.
I could tell that Bodie was getting uncomfortable with the tone of our conversation. For some reason it's easier to have a slanging match than it is to discuss our feelings. I suppose it's that way with most men. Stupid, but it's true.
"You still hurting?" Bodie asked me.
"A bit," I admitted. "Mostly from all the tension. It's bloody hard work having a row with you!"
"Yeah. I'm feeling knackered myself. What say you take a long hot soak and I'll give you a rub-down after?"
"Mmmm. Sounds like heaven."
"Did you mean that, about the Cow taking you off the streets?" Bodie asked hesitantly.
"Yeah. But not for a couple of years, yet. Haven't you noticed the way he keeps pushing us into the administrative end of things?"
"This last year we've done more liaison work and team-coordination than anything else, haven't we? D'you think 9 to 5 behind a desk is next?"
"Might be. Either that, or more of the same sort of stuff he's had us doing. Have you noticed that, more and more, we're doing the sort of thing that Cowley did when he first formed the squad?" I looked up at Bodie.
"Yeah. I bet it half kills him that he can't handle all of it any more. But the squad's getting too big for one man to handle all of the paperwork and coordinate the fieldwork."
"Do you mind?" I asked him.
"Mind what?" One of those crazy eyebrows lifted in a mild interrogative.
"Giving up the street," I said simply.
"Nah." Bodie grinned. "Not if it keeps us alive. I've long-range plans, I do. And they include ravaging a certain curly-haired golli on a regular basis, and long after we've both gone grey and wrinkled, or maybe lost our hair."
"Never happen," I said. "There's no baldness in my family, and you're too perfect for something like that."
Bodie just gave me another cheeky grin. Then he sobered. "About McKenzie...."
"Don't, love. I realise that it was just my imagination working overtime. That, and me feeling so rotten."
Bodie put his hand on my arm. "I want you to see a doctor about that. There might be something we can do when it gets cold like that. Exercise or vitamins...." Bodie ran out of inspiration.
"All right, love. I'll make an appointment with Dr. Browning." I settled down into the chair.
"Don't get too comfortable. As soon as I draw your bath, I want to see you in hot water." Bodie started to get up, but I snagged his closest arm.
"Thanks, Bodie-love. I know I've been a pain in the arse the last few weeks...."
"Nah." Bodie put one finger cross my lips. "That's been part of the problem. We've both been so busy feeling jealous, paranoid and generally ill-used, we haven't let ourselves touch, or cuddle...or anything."
"Yeah." I reached up to hug my lover. "I missed you."
"Missed you, too." Bodie's voice was so soft, I almost missed it. But the words made me feel better than I had any time in the last two weeks. For the first time since this whole mess began, I had the feeling that our relationship was going to survive this. I'm glad about that, because Bodie is the best thing that ever happened to me.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Chalk and Cheese 13, Whatever You Do, Don't Press! (Agent with Style), 1994