AUTHOR NOTE: This story was written 15 years ago and appeared in a fanzine called No Holds Barred #6. It is the very last story that I set down on paper, and marked my departure from fan writing until the wonderful LOTR movies came along and gave me back my inspiration and enthusiasm.
"Circumspection is the key. It is vital that you keep a low profile. Sever ties with official connections wherever possible. It's all too apparent there's a security leak -- I'm presuming it's at their end, but we can't be sure. All I know is that four previous attempts have failed to net us the elusive Mr. McCain. And I want him, gentlemen. I want him! And this time he looks to be ours.
"May I inquire as to where we'll find our charge, sir?"
Two airline tickets joined the clutter on an already paper-littered desk.
"You will arrive in Athens at 18:25, local time," a typically dour George Cowley casually informed us. "I trust arrangements can be made to hire a small, private plane in which to travel to Paros? From there you will proceed by launch to Andiparos to assume custody of your prisoner. And none of your dilly-dallying along the way!"
"Yes, sir! I mean, no sir! You can count on us, sir!" Ray babbled, trying without any great degree of success to erase the beatific smile plastered across his face. For once, he wasn't arguing that escort duty was the province of a lesser department. My partner cottons on real quick: I've trained him right.
Cowley grunted his disbelief of this unlikely claim and glumly continued his spiel.
Water off a duck's back. Sure hope Ray was listening to him, 'cos I was too busy deciding what to pack. Talk about luck of the draw! Ray and I were currently the only free agents at CI5's disposal. So when good old Johnny McCain, terrorist, was stupid enough to get himself caught for pick-pocketing by the not-so-stupid coppers of a remote, one-Trojan-horse town, guess who got themselves an all expense paid trip to the land of blue skies and bluer seas to fetch him home?
Yep, us. It was to be a short trip, mind. A business trip. But surely we could contrive to sneak in a few hours of soaking up some sun. It'd been a long, wet, miserable spring. A foggy month in London town. It would gall the Cow to no end if we managed to nab a tan -- and got paid for getting it!
I'm surprised the old man didn't decide to go himself, or maybe just send poker-faced me. That would have knocked the smile off Ray's mug. But all he did was grimace and boot us on our way out the door, the final dos and don'ts of proper protocol bouncin' off our backs like so much bon voyage confetti.
The flight down was A-1 service all the way. No problem with Customs, either. 'Your papers are in order. Welcome to Athens, gentlemen.' And like that, we were off to rent ourselves a plane. Fortunate enough to get one too, thanks to a last minute cancellation at the second place we tried. A 10:00 am departure; pilot and plane ours for a fair price; and, icing on the cake, we'd struck upon what the Cow might buy as a 'reasonable' period of 'unavoidable' delay.
What more could we ask? It was all too good to be true.
Yeah, too good. Ain't hindsight grand? But being somewhat preoccupied with watching Ray Doyle's face all lit up like a Christmas tree, I wasn't too aware of anything else right then. Was Ray's first time off the Isle, you see. He had 'tourist' stamped across his forehead in letters three inches high. His eyes were huge, unblinking, darting about trying to take in everything there was to see.
God, it would've been funny if it hadn't've been so... shit, I dunno what. But any laughter I felt bubblin' died the moment those green peepers finally settled on me. And when a sweet, shy smile invited me to share in his happiness and wonder...
I ask you, what else could I do? I took my favourite golliwog out for a tour of the town. Made quite the night of it too. Got all of four hours sleep, I reckon. Was scarcely worth renting a room, checking in and out as we did. I know the desk clerk looked at us kinda funny. He must've thought we just... you know.
Well, anyway, we crawled back to the airport at precisely 9:59 the next morning. I was almost as far gone as my partner by that time. Firmly hooked on 'the glory that was Greece'. Don't know why. Had seen most of it before. I travelled far and wide in my misspent youth: saw it all, did it all. But looking at it now, through Ray's eyes, made everything seem all fresh and magic and new. It was like the first time, only better, and damned if I didn't discreetly bribe Nikolaos, our pilot, to detour out over the Parthenon rather than making a beeline straight for Paros.
'Oh, God!' I told myself disparagingly, 'You'll be buying postcards next.'
Nikolaos agreed to hang about while we chugged off to Andiparos to pick up McCain. I wondered if the little caf he chose to grace with his considerable presence had enough grub laid in, but I bit back the comment, eventually tore Doyle away from a rack of postcards, and purchased a launch from a weather-beaten old fisherman.
Well, I could have bought it for the exorbitant fee the wily old goat insisted upon as being a bargain. It wasn't the pleasure yacht of my dreams, either. This ark was open to the mercy of the elements. Crudely patched tarpaulin covered the hold, and the whole rickety crate reeked to high heaven of fish. But it floated, had a full tank of petrol (which cost us extra, naturally), and would probably get us there and back. Probably.
Oh what the hell, it was The Moira or nothing. 'Sides, Cowley was footin' the bill, and the fine print on our contracts does say we're paid to take risks. So I signed my name to the bottom of the postcard Doyle had dashed off to his Mum ("Waste of time and money, that," I told him. "We'll be home before it gets to her.") and slipped the old fisherman a few more drachmas to post it for us. And then it was off to... um...
Don't ask me. I never did catch the name of the bloody town. I just knew the course to steer to get us there. A two hour voyage that saw me do all the driving while Ray alternated between gawking from left to right and hanging over the rail staring into water so clear you could see sea bottom.
I almost tipped him over the rail for spite.
Changed my mind when he started to sing a more than passable rendition of Rod Stewart's Sailing. I've always had a fondness for that song. It seemed twice as nice now, given the sun, the sea, the sky, a salt-laden breeze... and Ray Doyle for company.
Would you believe that I unbent sufficiently to join in on the chorus? I know Ray looked surprised that I (1) knew the words, and (2) could carry a tune. I just grinned, looked three kinds of smug, and kept right on singing. We scared a few seagulls, but damned if we didn't sound good together. The Cow would've booked us as a music hall act for sure.
Shortest two hours of my life. Was no time before the local constabulary was meeting us at the dock with huge smiles of relief and welcome. They weren't used to playing with the rough boys in their sleepy corner of the world. Were more than glad to be shed of their political hot potato, I should guess. Too polite to just hand Johnny over and tell us to shove off, though. Their English was piss-poor, but their hospitality was top-rate. I thought they were going to adopt us. Think they would have Ray, had he been willing. Really went for auburn curls and a skinny little body, they did. Acted as if Apollo himself had dropped down from Mt. Olympus for a wee visit. And it wasn't just the birds givin' him the eye, neither.
Can't say I was overly pleased about that.
Couldn't blame the blokes, though. I myself had been havin' some strange yearnings along the same line of thought of late.
No two ways about it, Ray Doyle is a sexy little so and so. Can't be too many this side of the grave that are immune to his feisty brand of charm. Leastways I know I'm not. Not that I'd dream of making a move on him...
Well, okay, maybe I do dream about it. Hot and sweet and wet and sticky dreams they are, too. But that's the extent of it! I value me teeth too much to chance offending my macho, highly volatile partner. Beyond that, I value our friendship. No romp in the sack is going to risk losing me the best friend and partner a man could have!
So what if I have to wear long jackets in case he moseys too close and ties my balls in a knot? So what if I'm forever stuffin' my hands in my pockets so I don't give in to the temptation of raping him some dark, drunken night?
Anyway, what with one thing and another it was well past 16:00 when we finally set sail back for Paros. With McCain sulking and griping and being a champion snotty-nosed brat, neither Ray nor I felt much like singing. So Ray concentrated on the scenery and our prisoner, and I concentrated on my navigating... and Ray.
The first shot didn't register on my ears as being anything more than a funny 'whoosh' of air. Think I subconsciously decided it was some weird Mediterranean insect, or maybe a seagull taking potty shots at us. You see, Ray was leaning way over the side, jabbering on about this honest-to-god shark that was cruisin' alongside us. His voice was up a full octave with excitement, and the way those jeans of his were bobbing about and moulded to his fanny... Well, lordy, sometimes I wonder if he spray paints 'em on. They sure don't leave much to the imagination: whether he's coming or going, the view is n-i-c-e!
The second bullet left me in no doubt whatsoever as to its being anything but a bullet. Not too many bugs travel at 850 metres/second. Not too many bird turds drill a neat hole through three quarter inch planking when they hit.
It gave me a nasty few moments when Ray suddenly flopped to the bottom of the boat, but the way he slithered around, drawing his Browning from its holster soon convinced me he was okay. McCain, the idiot, was standing up in full view, wavin' his handcuffed hands over his head and screamin' some god-awful victory cry. I presume it was in Greek. Was Greek to me, anyway.
Throttle in one hand, gun in the other, I hunkered down behind the steering console as best as I could, circlin' our craft about and trying to spot our attackers while Ray kicked McCain's feet out from under him and sat on the cacklin' moron.
Didn't take us long to find 'em. Their motorboat came speeding out from behind a rock cluster, hell bent on bringing us down. There was no mistaking the less-than-picturesque figurehead adorning their bow: Nikolaos, the fat swine! The two-faced, double-dealing, back-stabbing son-of-a-whore! Two almost as heavy heavies flanked our 'friend', a third manned the tiller.
They were good, I'll give the bastards that. They had us outnumbered, out maneuvered and out armed. They knew exactly what they were doing. This was no half-assed, spur of the moment operation. This was planned. This was an ambush. And Ray and I had stumbled into it blind.
Maybe we'd been careless. Maybe it was fate. Maybe we didn't stand a chance with the odds we had stacked against us. But, by the hell, we weren't going to go down without a fight.
I pushed that goddamned fisherman's nightmare for every smidgen of horsepower it could command: feinting, dodging, flat out running, 'til smoke poured from the superheated engine in a thick, black, choking pall. I didn't have a clue where I was going. Didn't have a clue where I was. The Cyclades are one of the most underdeveloped areas of Greece: twenty-four large and two-hundred-odd small islands in an area close to ten thousand square miles; a handful of rocks carelessly scattered by the gods, much as a small boy might toss pebbles in a puddle. The waters between Andiparos and Sikinos are well off the major car-ferry and cruise-ship routes. We had miles of open spaces and tons of barren rock all to ourselves. No witnesses to the battle. No cavalry coming over the hill.
Forty-five minutes into the war, our boat gave up the ghost. Round about the same time, Ray and I loaded in our final clips of ammunition. The odds were a little less uneven number-wise by then: they don't call my partner the crack hands-weapons expert of CI5 for nothing, you know. One of Nikolaos' goons was down. I'd make book that he was dead. McCain was still hollerin' bloody murder, probably begging his mates to finish us off and come and get him. Whatever he said goaded 'em into attempting just that. The wary respect they'd learned to give us came to an abrupt end: the bull charged.
Couldn't get the engine to cough, let alone turn over.
Custer's last stand.
Before I could stop him, or join him, Ray jumped to his feet: gun clenched in both hands; a grim 'do or die' look frozen on his face; his aim as level and steady as I've ever seen it on the CI5 practice range.
I began a mad dash through a hailstorm of bullets, tryin' to cover the suicidal fool. Never even got close. His Browning cracked once... and all hell broke loose.
Ray's bullet caught their petrol tank dead centre on. What didn't go up in a cloud of shrapnel and smoke kept right on fire-balling towards our craft, catching us square amidships. I think I screamed. Got a bellyful of the briny deep when I was chucked overboard by the force of the blast, so my mouth must've been open. Thought I'd never surface. Choked and sputtered when I finally did, tryin' to clear my lungs. Salt was stinging my eyes so bad that I could scarcely see.
Nikolaos and company were nowhere in sight. McCain was kicking and splashing, just barely keepin' his head above water, and still squawking -- this time in English -- for me to get the bleeding cuffs the fuck off him before he drowned. Ray was floating face down fifteen or so yards away. I didn't spare John-boy a second glance. I'd lost my gun, my boat and my wits. If I'd lost my partner too...
I swear I don't remember swimming to Ray's side. He was alive. Definitely the worse for the wear, but still very much alive.
Recalling his sighting of a shark in these waters, and noting the ugly crimson gash on his forehead, I decided to make for the nearest shore: a tiny islet approximately a quarter of a mile southeast of our disaster zone.
I gave passing thought to the sad waste of a good set of handcuffs as Johnny went down for the third time and stayed down, but there was no sense of regret for the loss of the man. Ol' Poseidon had dealt out fair and just punishment for McCain's crimes against humanity. Cowley might not agree with this callous reasoning, but that was too bad for the Cow. I'd argue moral issues with him at a later date, should the occasion arise. Right now, nothing mattered but Ray. The will to see him to safety was an all-consuming fire that drove me those final few yards that logic and my poor, aching body insisted were impossible to achieve.
Sun-baked rock and blistering-hot sand; flotsam scattering with the ebb and flow of the tide; utter silence save for the keening of a distant gull, the lap of a wave, my ragged gasps of exhaustion, Doyle's too-rapid heartbeats as he retched and remembered how to breathe...
We had survived. We were together. I'd emerged from the wreckage a rich man: in my arms was all the wealth I'd ever want or need. I closed my eyes and drew that priceless treasure closer to my breast.
"Bodie? C'mon, Bodie, wake up. Please? Bodie..."
"Wha'izit? Wha'zamatta?" I moaned and pried open uncooperative eyelids. Ray was still wrapped in my arms. Nor did he struggle to escape as I possessively tightened my hold in automatic response to the worry creasing his battered brow, the fear widening his eyes. Dark pupils were rimmed with a narrow corona of green. His flesh was chilly to my touch, despite the heat of the day.
"Oh God, Bodie, I thought you were dead. I thought I was dead. When that tank exploded..."
Shock took him then. He sagged against me, his tremors shaking us both.
"Shhh, shhh," I soothed, running a gentle hand through tangled, matted hair, missing the usual silken feel of freshly laundered curls. "Takes more than a little salt water bath to kill an old toughie like me. You think you're made of sugar, sunshine? Gonna melt?" I shook him slightly; poked a finger in his ribs as if to test his consistency.
Despite himself, he laughed. The laughter sent my spirits soaring. Again, I tightened my clasp; all too briefly, he returned my warm embrace. As he let me go, I set him free. Companionably silent, we shifted up to sit shoulder brushing shoulder, staring at an empty stretch of sea.
"Wonder how long before they find us?"
Felt my heart give a funny little lurch at the tiny wobble in his voice. Wanted to hug him to me, kiss away all thoughts of tomorrow, promise him everything would be alright.
"What are our chances, Bodie?"
He turned a trusting, hopeful gaze upon me. Stillborn, a glib reply died on my tongue.
I sifted golden granules of sand from my left to my right hand: an hourglass ticking away eternity while I sought the proper words to speak.
Ray's glance lifted to watch a seagull's lazy flight, the glint of tears in his too-brilliant eyes. "Oh," he murmured. "That good, huh? Well, I always wanted to be marooned on a deserted isle. Mind, I fancied palm trees, and a bird in a grass skirt, and..." He trailed off into leaden silence.
Couldn't make the empty promises, couldn't tell the reassuring lies. But I just had to touch him, had to try and ease his bleak desperation with the only gift I had to offer: myself. Forgotten, the sand fell from my hand. Tentatively, I draped an arm around his slender shoulders and gave him a little squeeze.
Thought I'd curl up and die when he shrugged me off and moved away.
"I'm not a child! You don't have to paint me pretty pictures and hold my bloody hand!"
'He's scared, he's hurt, he's angry. He's just taking it out on the nearest target, he doesn't mean to hurt me,' I told myself. It still hurt, though. I swallowed that pain for his sake, bit back my bitter impulse to answer anger with anger, and answered lightly: "Didn't mean to, mate. That isn't part of the plan."
"Always pays to have a plan."
"And yours is?"
He snorted, held up a hand and started crooking fingers down in furious accompaniment to his flat-toned recital: "No food, no fresh water, no shelter, no flare gun, no guns period!" He started in on the other hand. "No boat, no first aid kit, no vegetation to speak of, no -- "
"Rule number one," I interrupted this unproductive lament. "Don't count what you don't have, count on what you do."
A mirthless smile. Five ready fingers. "Rocks, salt water, hot sun," he chanted. "The clothes on my back, a broken watch -- " He slipped the offending object from his wrist and hauled back his arm, all set to fling the timepiece into the timeless sea.
I caught his hand, cupping it in both of mine. "Rule number two," I said. "Always think twice before you decide to throw something away. And then think again before you actually do discard it. Everything you own -- everything you see -- has meaning and value. It's up to you to figure out how large a role each item plays in your bid for survival."
Again, Ray shook himself free, his 'you're having me on' look flickering from my sombre face to the watch still clenched in his hand. "What are we going to do?" he muttered finally. "Convert this piece of rubbish to a radio transmitter and signal the Coast Guard?"
"Who's a clever boy, then?" I crowed approvingly.
"Huh? Bodie, be serious."
"Mind, I'll have to coach you on a few minor details, but you should do just fine." I tilted my watch crystal to catch the sun and twinkled a merry 'SOS' in dazed, green eyes.
Like I said, my partner cottons on real quick. He began to flash a little message of his own: 'S'... 'O'...
"Shouldn't that last one be an 'S' not a 'D'?" I queried innocently.
"I know what I'm doing," he snapped.
I cultivated an aura of exaggerated doubt, but waited patiently enough while he concluded his Morse Code practice with a flourished: 'O'... 'F'... 'F'... 'B'... 'O'... 'D'... 'I'... 'E'...
He grinned and looked inordinately pleased with himself. I pretended a lofty disdain for such childish behaviour, concealing my elation at his sudden mood swing.
"Turn out your pockets, 4.5," I commanded, setting him a good example by turning out my own.
He meekly complied.
We wracked up quite a collection between us: lots of wet lint and fluff; my trusty multi-purpose Army knife; Ray's pen knife; a handful of change; two hankies; one pen; a water-logged, spiral-bound notebook; our wallets and the contents thereof (ID, driver's licenses, credit cards, and a combined cash flow of 125 pounds in soggy notes); a comb (which Ray pounced upon with such wild, ecstatic glee that he quite deafened me left ear); eight keys; a gummed up packet of Chicklets; and, finally, half a roll of now mushy breath mints. Add to this potpourri our clothing, watches and empty holsters.
Not an imposing lot, I suppose, but I've made do with less in my time. I sat and turned a few pros and cons over in my mind.
Ray, in the meantime, had temporarily given up on his hair as a lost cause and was idly sifting through our worldly possessions. "Bodie," he said, real quiet-like.
"Hmm?" I absentmindedly glanced his way.
CI5's second finest agent (modesty prevents me from naming the best) had picked up the handcuff key and was starin' at it as if he'd never seen a key before in his life.
"Bodie?" he repeated uncertainly.
I couldn't meet his eyes; went back to fiddling with the sand. There must be some ostrich in me the way I like to try and hide.
"Bodie, you knew your duty. You know what you should have done."
That brought my head up, let me tell you. And my eyes now had no trouble whatsoever in focusing on that grim little face. "My duty," I said slowly, clearly, furiously, "is to my partner."
God, I don't know what my face, my eyes, were revealing. Right about then I was past caring, past controlling it.
Ray was the first to look away. He didn't say a word for a couple of minutes, just played with that key like I'd played with the sand. Mulling it all over, I guess. Then he kinda nodded, half to himself, I think, and tossed the key back to the pile.
"So now we know what we have," he said finally, casually. "What do we do with it?"
I squinted at the sun, marking its position, letting it burn a peculiar mixture of anger and relief from my eyes. "For now, nothing," I replied, fighting to keep my voice as neutral as his had been. "Places to go, things to see. It'll be dark in a couple of hours. We've a little reconnaissance work to do. Have to dry our clothes, too. They're still sopping."
"What does that matter? We're in the sunny south now. You know, warm seas, warm sands, balmy nights."
"Balmy, my ass! S'only April, old son. It can go down to the low 40's nights. Add a good, stiff westerly breeze and us sitting around in wet togs, and --"
"Okay. Okay. 'Mother' knows best. What else is on our agenda? Supper by any chance?"
"Yeah. With a bit of luck."
"What's the main course? Or do I really want to know?"
I grinned as I finished unbuttoning my shirt and started to unzip my fly. "You don't want to know."
"That's what I thought."
Completely starkers by now, I wandered hither and thither draping my clothes over sun-baked boulders. Ignoring Ray's crooked eyebrow, I slipped back into soggy shoes and picked up my knife.
"Well?" I said. "You just going to stand there?"
Ray shows real talent as a stripper. Even moving double-quick time, it's quite a show. 'Specially when he wriggles free of those jeans...
"Right then," I carolled as he laced up his Adidas. "We're off."
He gazed at his scattered wardrobe doubtfully.
"C'mon, Friday, no one'll nick 'em," I teased, starting up the curve of our little beach.
His swift rejoinder that he thought I was Friday kept us bickering amicably for all of forty minutes. By which time, incidentally, we were back at point zero. Allowing for rock spills and cursory exploration of a few sandy beaches, I determined that our new home was the approximate dimensions of two football fields laid out side by side, with the corners knocked off making the contours roughly oval, rather than square.
Ray was right, there was no vegetation to speak of, just scraggly bits of underbrush -- 'garigue', I think it's called -- and a few stubborn tufts of grass. From gently sloping beaches, the isle rose to a rocky crown, limestone and slate outcroppings in equal measure. A quick climb to the highest point gave us a panoramic view of water, more water, another tiny isle maybe half a mile to our southwest, and a largish blur on the northern horizon which was probably a proper-sized, populated island and looked to be a million miles away.
He was right about the water too. Nary a drop to drink. Paradise, this rock most definitely was not.
But the news wasn't all bad. We found a seagull's nest: three eggs tucked in an untidy collection of dried grass and seaweed.
"Supper?" Ray sighed, not entirely thrilled with the idea of raw eggs, I gathered, but evidently resigned to his fate, judging by the gurgle/growl his stomach gave.
"Ah-ah-ah!" I slapped away his outstretched hand.
I looked him up and down. "Seem to have left your pockets in your other suit, mate," I observed.
Would you credit it, he actually blushed! In fact, his entire body slowly turned a lovely shade of pink. It was a truly impressive sight. Very... interesting.
I swiftly headed off down the hill before he could see just how interested I was.
By the time he trailed back into camp, I'd brought myself back under control and was diligently testing our clothes for dampness. They were almost dry; another half hour or so would do it. An hour from then would bring nightfall...
"Fancy a clam bake?" I said.
"Clams minus the baking, you mean."
"Yeah. C'mon." I picked up a hanky and headed for the local supermarket.
Knew without looking that he was right on my heels. Who else but Ray would be squawking, "Soo-oop of the e-e-evening, beautiful, beautiful soup!" like a gull with a fishbone caught in its craw? I reminded him we were after clams, not mock turtles. He didn't miss a beat, just started in on The Walrus and the Carpenter. I had to help him out by the third stanza, though. Ray never did have my genius with poetry.
We struck it rich down by the water's edge. Come what may, leastwise we wouldn't sleep hungry our first night in our new home. S'funny, wouldn't've thought we'd've been hungry to begin with, what with all the grub we'd tucked into at lunch time. But I guess it's true what they say: sea air gives a man a hearty appetite. Not that my appetite ever needs any prodding, as Ray is over-fond of pointing out.
He should talk! Despite vehement protests that he detested shellfish, he wound up only five clams behind me -- and I ate nineteen!
That's Ray for you.
And he couldn't give a man a moment's peace, could he? The aggravating little sod picked up the piece of driftwood we'd found to dig up our supper, and started poking me in the tummy with it when I lay back for a little post repast snooze.
"Oi, Bodie, what's the hanky for? Catching cold, mate?" He shifted about to jab at the white cloth I'd tucked between two stones for safekeeping.
No rest for the wicked. Nor for the weary, it would seem. "Nope." I stood up and held down a hand. He cautiously accepted my lift up and let me tow him over to a nearby tidal pool. "Sit down."
I dabbed the hanky in the water. "Now this may sting a little," I warned, plopping the dripping cloth on his forehead before he knew what I was about.
"Christ, Bodie!" he yelped, and jumped a good three feet. "What the hell?"
I forced him back down to his rock chair and persisted in cleaning his cut. The gash wasn't too bad, once I'd sponged the dried blood and dirt away. A chunk of wood must have caught him when the boat blew. Should heal with no trouble if he kept it clean, and I'd see to it that he did. Experience tells. It doesn't pay to let even blisters or scratches go untended when you're afield. Infection can easily set in, and without proper medical facilities, where the hell are you then?
"That hurt," he muttered plaintively as I finished my doctoring and rinsed out the hanky.
"Ocean water's chock full of good things," I cheerfully answered his petulant scowl. "Epsom salts and iodine. Me Mum swore by them -- didn't yours?"
"Yeah," he nodded grudgingly, coyly peeping up at me out from under those ridiculously long lashes of his. "She also used to kiss the boo-boo better. How far are you gonna carry the homespun philosophy?"
Never could resist a challenge.
Never was over-strong on common sense.
I lightly brushed my lips across his brow. Stepped back smartly before he could retaliate with the outraged punch I fully expected. Or before I could yield to the temptation of transforming the chaste kiss into a full-scale assault on his enticingly parted lips.
But Ray just sat there, looking adorably confused and totally dumbstruck at my audacity.
I stood there grinning cheekily, obviously savouring the moment. Knew it wouldn't last. No self-respecting cat'd keep his tongue. Would melt the whiskers right off its furry face! And, sure enough, Ray's mouth was soon flapping open and shut like a beached flounder. Before he could muster a voice to accompany all that jaw wagging. I decided to beat a strategic retreat. Even made it halfway up the beach and finished brushing sand from me bum before disparaging remarks about red-assed baboons began to taint the air.
Music to my ears...
But the rude comments had ceased by the time Ray trudged into camp. I cast a curious look his way, vaguely perturbed by his abrupt lapse into silence. It usually takes him hours to run out of invective, you see. I began to wonder if I'd pushed too hard and really pissed him off.
Or maybe I'd been rougher on him than I'd meant to be with my Florence Nightingale routine. Judging from the ratty scowl on his face, his head was doing a lot of pounding. Still, he gamely set to clearing the patch of sand I designated as the best location for our boudoir. Chucked the pebbles and shells and assorted nasties about with a right good will, he did, some of the debris 'accidentally' flying my way as I trotted around stowing our meagre supplies in a safe spot between two outcroppings.
It felt good to slip on my clothes. Twilight's cool was rapidly becoming night's chill. I gathered up Ray's gear and ambled over his way. He didn't look up as I approached, just kept sifting sand through his fingers like he was panning for gold. Our bed had reached king-sized proportions, and still the daft bugger showed no signs of stopping.
"Take it easy, Ray," I chuckled, ducking a saw-toothed lobster claw. "No need to vacuum the entire beach. That's fine."
He mumbled something I didn't catch. Decided it probably didn't bear repeating, so I ignored it and held out the peace offering of his clothes.
Put on your PJs, me lad. It's time to go beddy-bye."
"Yes, mommy," he answered sarkily.
I stretched out on my side of the bed, fingers laced behind my skull, eyes slitted, covertly watching Ray struggle into his jeans. It's every bit as entertaining a show as watching him peel them off, you know. He always takes such pleasure in ensuring they're fitted just so.
But the poor sod wasn't gathering much enjoyment out of the process tonight. Those ruddy jeans of his must've felt like sandpaper, all stiff with salt as they were, and shrunk up in the wrong places to boot. Sea water plays hell with denim. Didn't do my polyesters much good either. Black had bleached and run to all shades of grey and purple. I felt like one of those San Francisco freaks from the Sixties. All I needed was a flower in my hair. Still, I was a damned sight more comfortable than was old Ray.
"Bloody hell!" The jeans fell from half-mast to knobby ankles. Ray disgustedly kicked himself free.
"Shouldn't buy 'em so tight in the first place, mate," I counselled helpfully.
"Sod off!" Ray finished buttoning his shirt and plopped to his delectable brief-clad fanny with more force than intended, if the funny little grunt that squeaked out as he impacted with the sand was any indication.
"You're gong to freeze your balls off tonight," I warned. "Better have another go at those britches."
"What's the use?"
S'not like Ray to admit defeat so easily. I was beginning to wonder if I'd dragged the right man ashore. And then I saw his fingers sneak up to massage his temple. 'Course that melted me all up inside. I can't bear to see him hurting, however large or small the hurt may be.
"Hand 'em here, then," I offered quietly. "Let me try to stretch them for you."
"Be my guest."
Don't know my own strength, do I? Wasn't two minutes before a horrid ripping sound was serenading our ears.
Like I said, salt water plays hell with denim.
I silently handed Ray his trousers.
He silently held them up to the fading light of day; soberly peered at the fist-sized hole smack dab in the middle of the seat of his jeans.
I'm positive I would have managed to keep a straight face if he hadn't've wriggled his fingers at me through his new trap door.
Well, I'm fairly sure...
In any case, once the laughter started, I couldn't get it stopped. A few minutes into my acute attack of the giggles, Ray commenced to snorting too. What a pair of bloody, dumb cruds we made: stuck on a rock in the middle of nowhere, howlin' like a lovesick coyote and braying like a jackass.
"Well," I gasped eventually, dabbing at my tears and holding the other hand to my aching side. "Aren't you going to try 'em on?"
Of course, that set him off again. And he set me off. And...
And the sun was long gone and the stars were out before we quieted enough to draw a sober breath. Ray dusted himself off and stepped into the jeans. They fit like a charm. Mind, he did hang out a bit in the back...
A yawn cut my unkind snicker in two. I burrowed down into the sand, curled on my side like a hedgehog. "Remind me to admire my handiwork in the morning," I mumbled sleepily.
"Remind me to express proper appreciation for it," he countered, equally sleepily, settling himself a few feet behind me. "G'nite, Bodie."
"Nite, sunshine." I felt myself drifting off to sweet never-never land, visions of Raymond dancing in my head.
I rolled a weary eye to the heavens. "What is it now?" I sighed.
"There's a soddin' draft, that's what!"
A rustle of sand... a crab-like scuttle...
A cool butt planted itself in the small of my back.
"Ray?" I suddenly found myself far less sleepy than I'd believed myself to be.
"S'all your fault, so it's up to you to plug the hole."
I wouldn't touch a line like that for all the tea in China. I just laid there, as prim and proper as a schoolmarm, as nervous and excited as a bride on her wedding night. The silence was deafening, the atmosphere electric. The way my heart was knocking against my ribs, I swore an earthquake was shaking me.
"Yeah?" I managed on the second try.
"Why'd you drag me away from those eggs?"
So much for Ray sharing the 'magic moment'.
"Where do you think they came from, the Easter Bunny?" I snapped.
Shocked silence, then, "You mean..."
"That's right, Sherlock. Now shut up, will you? I gotta get me sleep. The early worm catches the bird, you know."
He gave a disgusted little sniff and snuggled a wee bit closer.
Within minutes he was snoring.
The sun was just caressing the horizon when I crawled out from under Ray, the human octopus, and headed off to fetch our breakfast. He grumbled a bit at my less than gentle flopping of him back over to his own side of the bed, but he didn't wake completely. Just as well. I figured the last thing I needed was a flat-footed copper 'helping' me. So off I stole on my lonesome: me little feet scarcely whispering in the sand, and me light tread utterly silent on the rocky stretches.
'You're getting old, mate,' I told myself, wincing at a few stray muscle twinges. 'Soft at the very least. It's been years since you sacked out on bare ground.'
Still, by the time I circled around to come up behind my prey, the kinks had worked out of my back and I was movin' as smooth as a jungle cat on the prowl.
Poor mama seagull never stood a chance. She no sooner untucked her head from beneath her wing, than I had her by her scrawny neck and silenced her squawk before it'd properly begun.
Doesn't pay to drag one's kill back to camp for dressing. It attracts flies, and flies spread all sorts of nasty germs and have all sorts of nasty habits. So I dressed her where she was after I... um...
S'no point in glossin' over the truth, is there? After I hacked off her head and drank down the blood, dammit. Okay? Shit, I know it was a beastly, soddin' disgusting thing to do, but it was necessary. A man can go a long time without food. There's no surviving without water. Any schoolboy can tell you the human body consists of two thirds water. And six to eight glasses are the normal requirements for replenishing the two quarts a day the body excretes. A 10% loss is considered serious business. 20% fatal. We didn't have water. We didn't have the luxury of being picky about its substitutes, if and when they became available.
And I was thirsty.
I knew Ray'd be thirsty too.
So how come I hogged it all down myself, and didn't save him a drop?
Wasn't the first time I'd had to play Dracula to survive. Was the first time in a long time. Took some nose pinching and hard swallowing to get it down... and keep it there.
I saved the eggs for Ray.
It took me longer than I'd expected to finish butchering the bird, but I was in no hurry. I needed time to get my stomach settled. Time to transform a highly unsavoury mess into the semblance of a sanitized, impersonal, pre-packaged deal. Something you'd pick up at the grocer's without a second thought for its origins.
Once the few unsuitable bits were buried, I stashed the eggs in my pockets, picked up my kill, and headed home to Ray. Only stopped once, down by the water's edge, to wash the gore off my face and hands. Felt a bit like Lady Macbeth: it takes more'n water to wash away some memories and make your conscience clean.
Ray was up and about; had even collected a few clams to add to the feast. He looked at the seagull dangling from my left hand, briefly glanced away, and returned a steady gaze to my level stare.
"I wish we had some matches," he said wistfully, adam's apple bobbing up and down reflexively.
"What would we burn if we did have 'em?" I softly replied.
"I know. Just wishin', is all."
"Yeah. Me too, sunshine. Me too. Ah well, we'll have to make due with what we have, right? Breakfast is served, m'sieur."
Ray settled down beside me in the sand, quietly observing as I cut off a drumstick and chewed on it reflectively.
I pulled a wry face. Mama seagull was a rank old bird: tough and stringy and decidedly pungent of fish. She'd have felt right at home on The Moira.
Ray's knife shaved off a sliver of flesh; he closed his eyes and warily popped the bit in his mouth. I'll give the lad credit, he did better than I did with my first rat -- and it was fried. Raw rat took some getting used to, let me tell you, but the Mercs and SAS survival training demand the impossible and you do it... or get out... or die.
Our choices were limited to do or die; there was no escape clause in the immediate future. But we had a ways to go before the dying began, so I didn't push Ray now. I let him have the eggs and the clams and as much meat as he could manage, while I tucked into the seagull as if it was the rarest of rare delicacies.
We had a breath mint each for dessert. Even made a game of it, sitting there by mama's bones, seeing who could make their sweet last the longest.
Killed ten or so minutes that way, then Ray won the contest when I felt the seagull take wing in my stomach and crunched down on my mint to keep the blasted bird from flying the coop. Wouldn't admit to it though. Told Ray it was inevitable that he'd win: the bloody mint got lost in his big mouth.
Might've known he'd see right through me. He usually does. The too-perceptive little bugger smiled his famous chip-toothed smile and rested a gentle hand against my cheek.
"Can see now why you fancy all those junk foods, mate," he said. "Sweetens the memory of the things you've had to eat in your time, eh?"
I nodded, lost to the innocent touch of his hand, the sound of his voice, the warmth of his green eyes.
"Yeah, I thought so." His thumb absentmindedly stroked my day and a half old beard. "You need a shave." His hand withdrew to massage his own rough-stubbled chin. "So do I."
This time it took me three tries to get my mouth back into working order. "You'd better get used to the scruffy look, 4.5. As far as we're concerned, it's in."
I tilted an inquiring brow, surprised at his sudden vehemence.
"Murphy's gonna laugh himself sick."
"Us. After we shave we'll look like raccoons: dark around the eyes, white patches where-- What's so funny?"
"Oh, Ray," I wheezed, collapsing against him, only the arm slung across his shoulders keeping me from falling flat on my face. Getting an even tan was the least of our worries. "I-I'll buy you a sun lamp for Christmas," I hiccupped cheerfully.
Laughter defused our tender moment from escalating into something Ray couldn't handle. I wisely decided further diversionary tactics were in order to keep my mind on survival and off what I'd really like to be doing with Ray.
"C'mon, you daft bugger," I carolled. "Let's get this bivouac shipshape."
"Just my bloody luck. Can take the boy out of the army, but you can't take the army out of the boy."
"Marooned with Captain Bligh. What are we going to do, Bodie? Spit polish our boots?"
"Close, but no cigar. Here." I rummaged in our meagre stockpile and tossed Ray a handful of keys. "Let's see a shine on those dogtags, soldier."
"Ours not the reason why," a doleful sigh greeted the order.
I didn't deign to oblige him with an answer, either. Simply accepted the gleaming, sand-burnished metal as my due, and carefully fastened the keys to the splintery end of our driftwood staff with a piece of the notebook's wire which I'd uncoiled and cut up into handy-sized chunks. The remaining bits could serve as hooks, should we manage to improvise a line.
"What do you think?" I said, as pleased with myself as I was with Ray's puzzled frown.
"I beg your pardon," he humbly replied. "I didn't recognize you without your sceptre, you majesty."
Ignoring his solemn-faced rendition of God Save the Queen, I loftily led our little procession to the crest of the hill, securely lodging the unadorned end of the staff at the highest point of the rocky mound.
"I claim this land in the name of-- "
"It's very nice, Bodie. Every home should have one."
"You bloody fool! No one can be that dense. Has your pea-brain already forgotten your watch?" Patience at last exhausted, I grabbed the grinning urchin by the scruff of his neck and the waistband of his tatty jeans and swung him about for a panoramic view of the surrounding area. The tour ended with the timely, much appreciated cooperation of the sun: as I brought Ray back around to face the key-decked pole, a sunbeam caught the metal and twinkled conspiratorially.
Appeased by this tiny mewl of dawning intelligence, I released my mischievous pupil, sternly ignoring the sexy wriggle he gave to resettle himself in his jeans, and resolutely remaining intent on his considering appraisal of our labour. He ran an approving finger across a glittering key.
"We'll attract every bloody crow within a ten mile radius."
"Hope to attract more than crows."
The admiring eye turned from my handiwork to me. "You're not just a pretty face, are you, sunshine?"
I grinned a cheeky grin and crossed my eyes. "Brains too," I agreed soberly. Two Rays were too much. I hastily blinked my vision clear.
Surviving, as Ray was to learn the hard way, and as I've always known, is a full-time occupation which sees you up before the birds, trying to beat the bloody little bastards in the race for worms. With our distress signals, such as they were, established and requiring little in the way of maintenance, we were free to devote the seemingly too-short daylight hours to the endless perusal of the sea, ever hopeful some fisherman would chug out our way, and to the never-ending battle of scrounging for food. Personally, I think we burnt up more calories in frustrated searching than was warranted by the reward of our meagre, and unpalatable food gleanings. But it kept us busy. Whiled away a little time. Kept me and the golliwog from dwelling too much on our chances for rescue.
Nights were disproportionally long. Long and cold. I don't care what the bloody guidebooks say about the balmy weather! Exhausted, frequently nauseated and always still hungry, we literally collapsed into our little bed with the sinking of the sun. After Ray's uninhibited response our first night, there was little sense and less practicality in virtuously maintaining a respectable distance from each other. So we huddled for warmth, making desultory conversation, extravagant promises for a better tomorrow and feeble jokes until we achieved the sweet oblivion of sleep. Or at least until Ray did. In spite of my reputation for sneaking a crafty nap anytime, anywhere, it was always Ray who dropped off first, leaving me feeling more alone, despite his physical presence, than I'd ever thought it possible to be. A man can do a lot of thinking in those dark, lonely hours. And think I did. Think and worry and wonder. Not that sleep, when it finally came, was that much of a blessed relief. For then also came the dreams... Nightmares, rather. Death and chaos and destruction. And loss. The aching loss of somehow losing Ray. The means varied. My subconscious was very inventive, I'll give it that. But the outcome was always the same. Ray was gone... and my heart was breaking.
Had I the moisture left for tears, I'm sure I would have awakened weeping. As it was, I'd simply lay there, deeply shaken; shaking with the need to gather the sleeping Doyle close to me and disprove the cold horror of the dream with the warm reality of the man. Not daring to even stretch out a hand and touch him. Knowing it wouldn't stop with that simple gesture. That I wanted -- craved -- more than he could ever give. And so I'd lay awake, listening to him breathe. Needing sleep... but fearing it more.
And so life settled into a familiar routine, as life does whatever the circumstances, wherever one might be. By day four of our sojourn on the little isle, word had spread to the local fauna that this hellish rock was unsafe for fish and fowl alike. Clams sought safer shores. Seagulls were smarter too. They thumbed their beaks at us as they passed us by. We managed to snare a few minnows, using our shirts for nets, but that was it. So for two days we contended with even more empty bellies. But food was not the most immediate of our considerable list of concerns. Water was our blinding, driving need. Ray's droll Ancient Mariner recitation was no longer a joke. The passionate longing for a glass of the life-giving fluid was an omnipresent demon. Visions of a tap running, its water gurgling willy-nilly down the drain while I blithely brushed my teeth, tormented me. I could read the same anguish in Ray's eyes, knew thirst commanded his waking thoughts, tortured his uneasy sleep.
Our condition was further aggravated by our monotonous diet of salt-laden shellfish, salt-laden-flesh, salt-laden kelp, salt-laden etc., etc., etc. It was enough to drive a thirsty man right out of his head, wishing for a tall, cool, crystal-pure drink. But nary a dram was to be had.
Scant drops of early morning dew licked from prickly shrubbery came nowhere near to satisfying the liquid refreshment quota our bodies demanded and craved. The sun beat down, relentless, indifferent, drawing rivulets of sweat from systems that could ill afford to lose that precious moisture. Immersing ourselves in the sea helped. But all around was the bright glint of rainbows dancing in the up-flung spume; the siren lure promising the same relief to parched throats that fever hot skin was mockingly granted.
There was no escaping the dangling, deadly bait. Fleeing inland, the lap of waves caressing the shore followed. Demons of the deep chuckled and chortled amongst the boulders, proclaiming the taste of their wine was sweet.
Once upon a time, a long time ago, in my seafaring days as a lad, I saw our Old Man and his bully boys bring aboard a bloke who'd given in to temptation after six days adrift on an improvised raft. The poor sod was stark, ravin' mad. Completely bonkers. It would have been a kindness to put him out of his misery. He never was right in the head after...
I didn't want that for myself. Even less did I want it for Ray. So if I over-reacted when I saw Ray deliberately swallow a mouthful or two during our daily bath... well... no way was I going to let it pass unmarked. And I told him so in no uncertain terms. I'll leave it to your imagination as to what he had to say to me in return. Seldom at a loss for words is our silver-tongued lad. Suffice to say that after the tongue lashing came the cold shoulder. Not for the likes of me the comfort of his scrawny form cuddled spoon fashion round my back.
I slept mighty cold that night. Cold and lonely. To tell the truth, I didn't sleep at all. Kept tossing and turning, my mind darting one way and another, but always coming back into sharp focus on the same, damnably bleak fact: if we didn't find water soon, we were going to die. Dehydration is not a pretty way to go. Neither is starvation.
Now I've been called stocky in my time. And I'll admit there are times I could stand to lose a little weight. Cowley and Macklin have noted as much too, and I've had the merry hell to pay getting back in trim. In our brief sojourn on this godforsaken island, I'd dropped a few extra inches from my waist. I wasn't overly upset by the loss. I'm built for endurance. I could afford to live off me fat for awhile. But Ray... Ray scarcely has an ounce of spare flesh on him at the best of times. Long, hot hours in the sun were having a real toll on him.
So by the wee hours of our seventh day on 'The Rock', I was more than ready to give any alternative solution that presented itself a try. The only problem was that I had no plan in mind.
Just towards dawn. I finally managed to doze off. What with our argument, my exhaustion, and the worry over Ray's deteriorating condition, the dreams when they came were worse than ever before. One minute I was all alone, thrashing about and screaming my fool head off. The next thing I knew, Ray's arms were wrapped around me and he was murmuring soft reassurances in my ear.
What can I say? My defences were down. I guess Ray's were too. Because our sane selves abruptly stepped aside, giving in to the madness of emotion. What began as a simple offer of comfort soon escalated into mad, passionate sex. It seemed so natural. It felt so right. Would've thought all the deprivations we'd been suffering would have put a kibosh on our libidos, but as far as I was concerned, I'd never had it so good, not even in my wildest fantasies. Maybe it came from wanting Ray so much for so long. Whatever. Within moments of his first tentative caress I was far past considering the whys and wherefores. I was floating to heaven in the arms of a tousle-haired angel. From the contented noises Ray was making, he was darn happy about the whole affair too.
And when he came, gasping my name and gripping my shoulders with bruising force, I swallowed a nectar far sweeter than the sweetest wine; satisfying a thirst that went beyond any desire for water. If being stranded on this island was the price I had to pay for that moment in time, gladly would I pay. But at what cost to Ray? Oh my god, what had I pushed him into? And how much of what I felt had I betrayed?
The rising sun limned his flushed face with an auburn halo of curls. A knot the size of my fist formed in my throat. Lips shaped, but could not speak his name. Fighting with every ounce of control I possessed not to jump his bones or burst into tears, I numbly met his gaze, then glanced away. My throbbing tumescence was all too painfully obvious.
"Ah, Bodie, love. Cummere," he said, and wrapped his arms around me. Gentle as a kitten now, purring nonsense words of encouragement, rubbing sensuously against me, sliding down with nipping kisses till his warm mouth met my centre and... I melted, hot and gushing...
"Mmmmm, Bodie," he sighed, curling up against me as my weak knees dumped me to the sand.
And there it was, as easy as that; everything I'd ever dreamed of handed to me on a silver platter. Well, almost everything. And yet... God help me, I wanted more. I wanted all of Ray, his heart and body and soul. I wanted all the loving, in all the ways. I wanted to explore every inch of his perfect little body, every facet of his warped little mind. I wanted to have him lay equal claim to me. I wanted... more than was possible for him to give. More than our choice of careers would allow. Can you credit it? Footloose and fancy free, love 'em and leave 'em Bodie pining for some kind of a permanent arrangement. It was pitiful. It was painful beyond belief.
Even if we worked out the job angle, there was still my all too macho partner to consider. I knew Ray too well to give more than a fleeting thought to the dream world I was creating. I couldn't stand to expose myself to a temporary paradise, only to see him walk off hand in hand with some bird when we got back home. It was definitely time to come back to earth, face reality. And so I decided to play it safe, make light of the experience, nip it in the bud before Ray realized how vulnerable he'd left me. How much I cared. How much I... loved him.
"So, then," I chirped brightly, flopping over on my back and wearily closing my eyes so I wouldn't have to look him in the face. "What's for breakfast, then? Why don't you surprise me, like a good lad? Always did fancy breakfast in bed."
"Thought that's what you just had," Ray quipped wryly. "Tsk-tsk, Bodie. Shagged out? Thought you'd have more stamina. Should've known you were all talk and no action. Still, can't have you over-exerting yourself. Suppose I could scrounge up a tasty bit of seaweed. Or a clam or two. Or how about a nice raw fish?"
"Mmph. Ta, mate. If that's the best you can do. After all, I'm a growing boy. Need my nourishment, I do. And it's amazing the sodding, disgusting things a man'll eat or do to survive."
Without looking. I could feel Ray's face close as he mulled this over, assessed my too-flippant tone.
"Like what we just did?" he asked me quietly. Too quietly.
My eyes shot open. Oh, oh. That shuttered look meant he'd been pushed too far. He was hurt, and pretending not to be. Shit, what was I thinking? How could I be so self-centred? I'd never even paused to think that he might be feeling vulnerable too. That what we'd shared was something special to him too...
And even as I felt the dawning of that hope, I felt him slip further away from me.
"No!" I answered hastily. "That's not what I meant. Ray, I didn't mean this -- us. I was talking about, um... trapped miners drinking urine. Or -- "
"S'okay, Bodie. I get your drift. We do what we have to do to survive, right? Suck a cock for breakfast: rule number sixty-nine on your freakin' list."
"Fuck off, Bodie." And he simply turned around and walked away.
'It's your own fault, you dumb crud,' I told myself, numbly watching his hunch-shouldered figure kick its way down the beach. 'Thought you knew it all. Had it all figured out. Protected yourself from everything but yourself. And made a proper mess of things too.'
"What the hell do I do now?" I asked a passing gull.
Its keening cry echoed the sharp ache in my mind and, as if to underscore the point, it wheeled round to follow the path Ray'd taken.
"Right," I mumbled. "Follow him. Talk it out. No more hiding from the truth: I love him. And if he punches me out for admitting it, at least he'll have reached his decision knowing all the facts."
But finding Ray wasn't as simple a matter as one might think. In fact, if it weren't for my friend, the seagull, I might never have managed to spot him. Catching up with the damned fool was going to be even harder.
As it was, I lost precious minutes in gape-mouthed wonder, staring at his wooden noggin bobbing up and down a good three hundred feet from shore, apparently heading for our sister island, half a mile off to our southwest.
"Ray!" I screamed. "Ray!"
He didn't so much as cast me a glance back over his shoulder.
I thought of the sharks cruising these waters: the great blue, up to six metres long; the tiger, equal in size, and often seen near shore; the great white, twelve metres and three tons of aggression...
I thought of weaver fish and sting rays and moray eels and jelly fish: a nautical menagerie with spines and teeth and stingers and sometimes deadly toxins...
I thought of how weakened we were by our ordeal. How tiny Ray looked out there, a small fish in a very large sea. How likely it was that one island would pretty much mirror the other...
But the one thought that didn't occur to me was staying behind. He had a head start, but I was the better swimmer. I'd overtake him. Or I'd join him on the shore. Or in the belly of some sea monster. He wouldn't get away from me that easily.
Without further ado, I plunged into the water.
I won't kid you. It was a nightmare. At the very least, a surreal dream. Exotic shades of green and blue crested and shifted in restless waves, tossing up a spume so white and thick it looked like snow. Sometimes, my eyes were so sun-dazzled that I closed them and swam blind. Sometimes I lost sight of Ray, and my heart grew heavy in my breast until I caught sight of the daft bugger doggedly pursuing the elusive shore. Eventually, I lost all track of time: minutes, hours, days. Lift one arm and then the other; splash and kick, and kick and splash, and float and kick. It all blurred. Half the time, I couldn't remember who I was or where I was going with such grim determination. Nothing was real. Not the water, not the risk we were taking, not the creatures of the deep. Nothing but Ray. Ray: the curly-haired siren who had laid claim to my heart... who magically drew me on...
He was waiting for me on the beach when I finally dragged myself ashore an eternity later.
"I thought I told you to fuck off?" he greeted me mildly.
I staggered the few remaining feet across the sand to stand and face him eye to eye. And then I simply grabbed a handful of his salt-matted hair and pulled the beloved, bloody moron into a tight embrace.
"Bodie... I can't... breathe."
I eased off slightly. Tilted his face up to mine and stated slowly, clearly, calmly, "If you ever -- and I mean ever -- pull a stunt like that again, I'll bloody kill you." And then I kissed him. No chaste peck on the forehead, this. My tongue forced entry in his mouth, savouring the salt and the sweet. The sweet, unmistakable taste of Ray Doyle. The salt of the sea, I thought. Until I realized it was the salt of my own tears.
Took awhile for me to realize he wasn't struggling any longer. His arms were wrapped around me; his lips had parted, inviting further ravishment.
And that was how they found us, the old fisherman and his son, too wrapped up in the wonder of discovering each other to hear their discreet coughs requesting our attention.
Good thing we came up for air before things really got embarrassing. We stepped apart, walked smilingly towards our rescuers. It was over. Everything was going to be okay.
More than okay, if the look Ray gave me as we climbed into the launch was any indication. We'd work out the details later. Figure out the rules. In this new adventure too, we would survive. Together.
"Efharisto -- thank you," I said.
-- THE END --
Originally published in No Holds Barred 6, Kathleen Resch, 1994