Author's Note: I know everyone's done a post-Slush Fund story, but here's my tuppence-ha'penny worth. Those well-versed in canon will notice an order-of-episodes event discrepancy (only one, I hope!) but I'd written the scene before I checked and liked it too well to take it out. So maybe it was a precognitive dream...
Bodie's state of high, fine temper with his boss carried him nicely through to the decisive termination of the Van Neikerk affair. It had flagged once Doyle was safely back at his side, but the car radio was beeping by the time they got out of the Express building, and the old man's instructions to get back to base and report revived it to full strength.
And Bodie needed it. After a day in which Doyle had been abducted, jolted miles over rough country in the boot of a drunk-driven car and spared death in the ensuing fireball by the skin of his teeth, it was Bodie's dumb joke that had put him over the edge. Yes, he was happy to stay pissed at somebody else. The sudden pain in Doyle's eyes as he horsed around with that stupid headband they'd found in the hotel room, the tired flash of temper, set up a strange ache near Bodie's heart. Ray had worked like well-oiled machinery by his side while they polished off the hunt, but he'd maxed out his credit in the process and was just about ready to drop by the time the ambulance doors closed on Van Neikerk.
It had been a rotten undercover for him: swinging from crisis to utter boredom and back, with not much in between, and he'd been edgy and tired even before the assassin slipped the net and went out after him like the dead-eyed shark he was. Scrawling out the last paragraph of his report - Doyle had commandeered the only typewriter currently living up to its name - Bodie glanced back through the pages and belatedly understood that the girl left strangled and discarded in the hotel bathroom had not died completely unmourned. "Oh, fuck," he murmured, and drew in a breath to ask.
But Doyle had stopped typing and was focussed on some point deep beneath the building's foundations, hands still resting lightly on the keys. He was so pale he'd gone slightly grey with it. Bodie closed his mouth and went to drag a chair up beside him. He turned it around, straddled it and folded his arms across its backrest. "You sign it off, 'Love from Ray'."
Doyle didn't react for a second, then the set of his profile softened slightly, and one corner of his mouth twitched up. "Cretin," he advised, and Bodie gathered that he was to some extent forgiven. "God, I just can't finish this."
Bodie looked over his shoulder, read in silence for a few moments, then said, "Take a memo, Miss Doyle," and dictated for him a brief but acceptable concluding paragraph.
Doyle typed obediently - unlike his friend, he hadn't been too macho to learn how to do it by touch - and actually got a few words into Bodie's final sentence before realising it was going to read as a request for a change of partner. On grounds of his current one's extreme insensitivity.... A snort of laughter escaped him and he reached for the correction fluid.
"What, just when I've got you housetrained?"
Satisfied, Bodie straightened up. "Right, that's it. You wait in the car. I'll go and flash me charms at the nightshift secretary until she agrees to process this lot."
"In sheer terror, I should think. Yeah, alright. You don't mind dropping me off? It's - " He consulted his watch. "Bloody hell. Half past eleven."
"Maybe we'd better just curl up under Cowley's desk ready for tomorrow."
Doyle grinned; ran a hand across tangled curls. "Nah. There's not room for three under there."
"So, are you going to tell me about her?"
They were nearly home. Doyle hadn't commented on Bodie's failure to make the right into Holland Park, and Bodie assumed he was either too tired or too used to the continuation of their route westbound into Hammersmith to notice. He'd been half asleep in the passenger seat by the time Bodie had got to the car, and remained silent since, head tipped back, eyelashes netting the streetlights' rainy glitter. But he responded promptly enough to the question, and Bodie was relieved he hadn't feigned a need to catch up. "Not much to tell. I thought she might be one of Van Neikerk's contacts but... she was just the hotel whore, I suppose."
"She looked a bit classy for that."
Bitterness touched Doyle's tone. "Well, it was a classy hotel. Nothing but the best for our visiting hitmen. And since I was getting his mail and his phone calls, I thought - " He stopped himself: Bodie had spared him a brief, speculative glance from his attention to the road. "Look, just don't."
"Don't what?" The question was genuine: did Doyle actually think he was going to tease him? "What did I say?"
"Oh, nothing," Doyle responded, wearily. "I was just - bored. And bloody lonely, if you want to know. And you're right, she was classy - smart, and - and nice." His voiced roughened over the last word, and he folded his arms over his chest and stared down at the Capri's litter-strewn floor.
Bodie drove on in silence. Muscle-memory took over the business of driving while his mind shot back into that well-appointed, bleak set of rooms. He had seen them in broad daylight, sweeping for a gunman and finding a corpse. All business. But now the lights were on in them, curtains drawn, and Ray Doyle sprawled on the sofa - lonely. His hands tightened on the wheel. Ray had never before admitted to anything of the kind, and the word, and the image, hurt Bodie obscurely. Then a door opened in the mind-rooms and a curly-haired girl came in smiling, and that hurt even worse.
"Bodie, you'd better pull over."
He flinched. "Oh, for God's sake, Ray! I didn't mean anything. You'll never get a cab at this time of - "
"Bodie, you prat." The interruption was succinct, but faint and a little desperate. "My head's killing me. I'm going to throw up."
"Oh!" Odd, to be so relieved, in the circumstances. "Oh, right. Just hang on a second, mate." Bodie made a quick mirror-check and swung the Capri briskly to the kerb. Doyle had the door open before they stopped and didn't even try for an exit: just twisted round and let go into the gutter. Bodie grabbed the waistband of his trousers to stop him falling out of the car. He patted his back sympathetically, heard him moan and retch. "Hey. Hey, sunshine, what's this?" Leaning across, he gripped his shoulder until he was done, then collected him, trembling and sweating, back into the passenger seat. Doyle folded limply forward and rested his face in his hands. "Oh, God. Sorry. You got a handkerchief or something - ?"
"Always, when travelling with kids," Bodie teased, but gently. Ray looked utterly defeated. Bodie passed him the handkerchief then reached into the back seat for a flask which contained the remains of some elderly coffee. "Here," he said, pouring some into the screw-on plastic beaker. "Just a fraction better than nothing."
"A fraction," Doyle agreed weakly after trying it. It was tepid, but Bodie's usual horse-dose of sugar took the scalding sourness from his throat. "Thanks."
"How's the head?"
"I dunno. Ask the guy with the triphammer. And tell 'im he can knock off now."
Bravely, Bodie laid a hand on the affected part, and when he was neither flinched away from nor slapped, let the touch become a tousling caress. "That son-of-a-bitch really clobbered you, didn't he?"
"So he should've, for letting him creep up on me like that. Christ, I must've been asleep on my feet. I've been off my game all - "
"Doyle, pack it in." Bodie replaced the caress with an admonitory grip on his shoulder. "All you are is dog-tired and concussed. C'mon, Charing Cross Hospital's just round the corner. Let's run you into the A & E."
"Oh, God, Bodie - "
"Don't argue. They'll fast-track you once you flash the badge." He started the engine, bearing down Doyle's continued protests. "You could have a bleed in the brain or - "
It was an uncensored yell and appeared to startle both of them slightly. Doyle blinked, cleared his throat, and clarified more softly, "Look, if I don't get a bath and some sleep soon I really will have a haemorrhage. I don't want to be prodded by some shagged-out intern for what's left of the night. Please, Bodie."
Vaguely Bodie wondered to what, if anything, that altered tone could not persuade him. Bloodshot and shadowed, the green eyes still compelled him to read and accept Doyle's ideas on how life should proceed, and Bodie caved, banging one palm off the wheel in frustration. "Alright. Alright. Home diagnosis, though, sunshine. Give 'em here."
Doyle reached out both hands promptly enough and took the best hold he could on Bodie's. Frowning, Bodie allowed that, although clammy, the near-ambidextrous grip had most of its usual force. He released him, said, "Chin up," and brought one upraised index finger from half a yard away to the tip of his nose. Doyle went obligingly cross-eyed in an effort to follow the movement, and Bodie couldn't repress a smile. "An' you always had one pupil bigger than the other, didn't you? Alright, you'll do. But tell me if you feel worse."
"Promise. Can we go home now, Mum?"
That the home in question turned out to be Bodie's didn't raise so much as an eyebrow from Doyle. In fact, Bodie doubted he noticed: by the time the flat's locks were set behind them he was passive and shivering in the circle of Bodie's arm, his face bone-white once more. "That's it," Bodie commanded softly. "Enough for one day."
He steered him into the bathroom and set water running, then lent an unobtrusive hand or two in the process of undressing. As Doyle turned away from him to step into the bath, he let out a low whistle. "Jesus Christ, sunshine. Is that where you landed?"
Doyle stopped, and examined the bruises painting his backside and sacrum as best he could from an awkward angle. "Yeah," he said. "Good, aren't they?"
"Getting more lurid by the second." Only half-aware of his own movement, Bodie traced the lightest fingertip-brush across the damage. He trusted touch more than vision, to assess danger, to diagnose -
He jerked his head up. Doyle was looking at him oddly, from the corner of one exotically-upswept eye. How long had he been standing with one palm planted on the man's warm, naked backside?
"One o'clock half-struck," Doyle observed, without visible alarm, and eased himself unhurriedly into the water. "Close your mouth, mate. You look like a handsome fish."
Bodie snapped out of it. He folded his arms over his chest and took a decisive step away from the bath, his partner, the gently-steaming water. "Well," he said, brusquely, "some of that's over your kidneys. You better look out for blood when you have a piss."
The bathroom door shut smartly behind him. "Charmin'," Doyle informed the empty room, and sank wearily deep into the water.
There was a large scotch waiting for him on the table beside the chair he usually commandeered on visits to Bodie's flat. Wrapping his partner's bathrobe round himself - for some reason faintly annoyed that it was too big for him - he downed the generous double in one, only calling out, "Thanks!" after he had helped himself to another.
"'S alright," Bodie replied from the kitchen. "Reckon those bruises qualify you for the bed tonight, mate. Go on through."
"Yeah. Will in a minute," Doyle said vaguely, subsiding into the chair with the glass cradled between his hands. Bodie had evidently recovered his poise: was washing up long-abandoned breakfast dishes, from the sound of things, and echoing snatches of an early-hours radio jazz show in his pleasant, dead-on-key baritone. Sighing, Doyle tucked his knees up under himself and leaned his head back. He finished his refill, and felt the day's shocks and exertion begin their inevitable catch-up, reminding him that he wasn't a kid any more and never had been a machine. His head throbbed in time with a failing streetlight outside. Closing his eyes against its suggested rhythm, he tried to let the tensions go -
- and was back in the boot of the speeding Jaguar, sick with pain and the merciless pounding of its chassis over rutted singletrack. Desperately he twisted round, trying to find the catch, and rolled into the arms of the hotel whore, who smiled down on him from astride his aching cock and gave her warm, only slightly too-practised little laugh. And for her he could do what he could not if it were only his own sanity in question: visualise them both out of this pounding kamikaze ride and back to the safety of the hotel room, to the bed. "What's funny?"
"Will I regret asking why? You used to something more impressive in there?"
"Oh, no." She rocked in satisfaction to emphasise the point, burying him deeper. "Not at all. It's just - as if you're a really nice guy who keeps forgetting he's supposed to be a bit of a bastard."
Amused, alarmed, he shut his eyes against her perspicacity - and opened them to find her dead and bloated, still impaled upon him. Adrenaline exploded him out from under her, the dream's skewed physics allowing him to shove straight through her cold, wet flesh, and he was running down a corridor which became a road which became a vast abandoned railway station, high-arched Victorian ironwork echoing to the scream of tyres and gunshot.
Bodie lay face-down on the filthy concrete floor a few yards away. Doyle eased him onto his back, his universe contracting to the front of his partner's pullover, to that part of it beneath which he might hope to hear a heartbeat, if it wasn't over, if everything wasn't finally over forever, and Bodie grinned and murmured, "I never knew you cared" -
The remains of the scotch splashed onto his bare feet as he jolted awake. "Fuck," he breathed, willing down the nausea of shock. For a long minute, he sat unmoving, listening to the slowing thump of his heart. He couldn't have been out for long: Billie Holiday and William Bodie were together finishing off the song whose beginning had accompanied his slide into dream. Shaken with contradictory needs to see him alive and kill him with his own bare hands, Doyle got up and made an unsteady track to the kitchen.
Bodie whipped a towel over one last spotless surface, whirled it neatly over his wrist and dance-stepped to the fridge. Halfway through a smiling inspection of its contents, he froze, and looked up to identify the source of the tingling at the back of his neck. "Christ, Ray. I thought you'd gone to bed. You look like shit."
"Thanks," Doyle managed, lamely. He flopped into a chair by the kitchen table and ran a hand through his fringe. "God, I wish I was more like you."
Correctly reading bitterness behind the compliment, Bodie studied his expression. "Sorry, mate. You couldn't handle it." No smile softened the feline jade of Doyle's eyes, and he probed cautiously, "What do you mean?"
Doyle shrugged. "Well - look at you. It's after one in the morning. You've been running around knocking the crap out of people since nine AM yesterday and - you're fine, aren't you? Happy as a pig in shit."
"I see. You think to get around me with your flattery," Bodie said, letting go of the fridge door, still prepared to take this lightly, if there was any chance. "Yeah, I'm okay. Do we have a problem with that?"
"Oh, hell, no." Doyle put his elbows on the table and leaned forward to look at him. He tipped his head to one side and said, a little hoarsely, "It's all a game to you, isn't it? Oh, a difficult, elaborate one, but a game all the same. No matter what happens to you - or to me, for that matter - you've seen something bigger or badder in Africa. You just sail through."
"You little sod."
Bodie hardly recognised his own voice. His throat was hot and tight; trying to close. The pain, the reddening of his vision, were fresh in his memory. Down in the holding cells, the boy a discarded rag on Van Neikerk's bunk. George Cowley planted in front of him, eyes like steel, daring him to take one more physical or emotional step. Never in his life had Bodie come closer to outright hysteria. The suddenness and force of it had stunned him, and surprised the old man, too, for all he had faced him down. Bodie had heard worse news than that of the assassin's escape without turning a hair. Something was changing in him. Had changed. It was to do with the entity currently occupying a chair at his kitchen table, wide-eyed with astonishment. He repeated, barely audible, "You - you little sod, Doyle!"
Doyle felt as if a piece of junk mail he was irritably ripping open had suddenly proved to be wired and ticking. He stared at Bodie, at two red patches on skin that never flushed, bright warning flags. "Bodie, I - "
Bodie took a stride and was in front of him. Instinctively Doyle surged to his feet, but years of trust and protection delayed his defensive gesture, and anyway his partner stopped himself short. "Yeah, I'm happy! D'you want to know why?" he barked, gave him one second to fail to make a reply, and went on more quietly, "Did you notice much about that poor cow you fucked before Van Neikerk killed her? Did you look at her hair?" His hand snaked out and took an ungentle handful of Doyle's at his nape. "It was wet when I found her. Brown, wet, curly hair, just - just like this. He left a towel over her face, Ray! I thought it was you!" He let Doyle go as sharply as he had grabbed him, ignored his unbalanced grab for the edge of the table. "Damn right, I'm happy. I'm happy because the best mate I ever had is still alive. Sorry, sunshine! I should be with you, shouldn't I, weeping at the graveside of some cunt you met yesterday, screwed once and - "
A hand cracked across his mouth. White-faced, rigid, Doyle stood at the end of his action and gazed at him. Bodie took a step back, dabbed his knuckles to the corner of his lips and examined the blood for a moment. Some poor relation of a smile tried to twitch into existence. He turned on his heel and walked away.
Straight into the edge of the open kitchen door. It caught his temple a solid thud and he crashed to his knees on the tiles, and stayed there, flattening both hands to the floor.
"Jesus, Bodie!" Doyle felt his mind awaken, his heart rush back to surface. The demon of shock, of love left to sour unexpressed, exited his body, leaving him free to move. But Bodie when he crouched by him was rigid under his hands, his gaze fixed and unseeing. Ducking his head to examine the usually-expressive profile, Doyle shivered: he was like an image caught on high-quality video, arrested between one frame and the next. "Bodie, I'm sorry! I didn't mean - a word of that. I drank too much too fast and then I fell asleep in your chair and had a stupid bloody dream about - " He shut himself up on the edge of panicked babble, seeing anyway that his friend was deaf to it.
Not for the first time, it occurred to him to wonder just what the hell he was doing, when he took it upon himself to push Bodie. Just because the man's ordinary weekday fires were friendly did not mean that playing with them was any the less playing with fire, even for Doyle. And Doyle sometimes forgot - Bodie helped him to forget - that if he was a tolerant, affectionate companion in Doyle's here and now, the bulk of his existence lay forever below the waterline of the past. Ex-merc, ex-SAS, closed-mouthed survivor of jungle warfare, Congo prison. And Doyle pushed him. Hit out at the very coping mechanisms that had preserved him, sane and functional, to walk at Doyle's side. "Fuck, I'm sorry," he repeated in a broken whisper, and put his arms around him, not caring that he was stiff and unresponsive. "Bodie, Bodie. Come back."
Bodie couldn't. He'd gone too far, too fast. With a distant fear, he realised that the last few minutes had blanked themselves whitely out of his memory. What had they been talking about? His mouth hurt and tasted of metallic salt. And his head - well, he'd walked into the door. He knew that much. For the first time in his adult life, when not clowning to bring Ray Doyle out of a mood, he'd been clumsy. The kitchen tiles blurred; re-meshed. Hazed out in red.
Gasping, Doyle caught him. He took his weight, letting the dark head drop to his shoulder and feeling for a pulse in his throat. No doubt of it: it was pounding away in there, visibly shaking the artery. But his limpness was oddly electric, and as Doyle held him, a series of small movements began, rapid, barely-perceptible, deep in the muscle. The long eyelashes twitched and through them Doyle saw a silvery flicker of white. "God. Bodie? Don't throw a fit on me!"
He wasn't breathing. Knowing he should probably be radioing in a priority, Doyle took the less scientific track of wrapping both arms tight around him and willing it to stop. And after almost a minute it did, violently, unleashing Bodie to oxygen-starved reality: he doubled over in Doyle's grip, coughing and gasping. When at last he returned a confused, "Yeah? What?" to the urgent repetition of his name, Doyle took a deep breath himself and sat up. "Thank God. Are you okay?"
"No - no idea, mate. What's going on?"
"You were - Well, I - Bodie, don't you remember?"
"Why'd I be asking you if I could, you twat?"
Infinitely reassured by this, Doyle gave him a bonecrushing hug before he could be shrugged off. "Never mind. Come on. We're going to bed."
"Oh. We are, are we?"
Standing up, Doyle put a hand into each of his armpits and lifted. "Yeah. For exactly - " He glanced at the kitchen clock and groaned. "Four hours. Bodie, we just don't have time to make it complicated." He steadied him, found midnight eyes rather intently on his, and grinned. "Ooh, you banged your head."
"I'll bang yours in a minute," Bodie had the grace to respond. "Just have to tell Cowley I walked into a door."
In the bedroom, he fielded slim, deft hands on their way to the edges and fastenings of his clothes and undressed himself, in about three economic moves. He was too exhausted for more. Doyle had pulled the duvet back and established himself on the side he knew perfectly well Bodie normally occupied, but if it was a ploy to make him object and feel less awkward as a consequence, it failed on both counts. Only the imminence of exhausted sleep kept Bodie moving toward the bed, to the pillow being invitingly patted, the lean, graceful body still thank Christ in its dressing gown. The fact of his own nakedness Bodie left Doyle to deal with unaided, folding stiffly into the bed beside him.
"Happy now?" he demanded gruffly into the dark, after Doyle had reached to flick off the bedside light.
"Ecstatic. You haven't had a wash in living memory, and I can feel how cold you are from here. How's your head?"
"Vacant and due for demolition."
"And - and your mouth?"
"You pack a punch," Bodie admitted, suddenly remembering it - and the provocation. "I had it coming, Ray."
"No. No, you didn't." Doyle released a shaky breath, and Bodie felt the little charge in the air that meant he was nerving himself for something. "Don't make a fuss, mate, okay?"
"About wh - ?" He snapped it off as warm hands settled on his hip and shoulder, turning him onto his side so his back was to Doyle. "About being warmed up," Doyle informed him tersely, and took him into an embrace as impartial as the relevant part of their hypothermia-survival training and yet somehow at the same time as loving as sunlight. "Go to sleep, you big prat."
Bodie tried. He needed, more than anything, to take the plunge down and away from what had just happened to him, from the immediacies of Ray Doyle's touch. He closed his eyes and saw faces, a gallery of them lost to him for years. A couple were surprised, concerned. The rest - mocking. Mildly disgusted. 'E's 'ad some kind of fit. You an epileptic, then? They were all looking down on him, the faces, as if he'd fallen and stayed there. He didn't know. Couldn't remember. The only part of it still accessible to him was the aftermath and perhaps a few moments before, the latter always scarlet with a passion he could neither repress nor allow himself to feel -
"Hey! It's all right. Ssh. Ssh, now."
Ray? He thought it but for some reason couldn't get the name out, and lay interrogating the darkness with wide-open eyes instead, wondering what the daft bastard was shushing him for. Then another big reactive twitch went through him, forcing a cry. He shuddered: it was the sort of thing that happened when you went to sleep too fast, wasn't it? Your body reminding you not to die. But Bodie wasn't asleep. He was quite aware of himself, and of Doyle behind him, pushed up onto one elbow to get a look at him in the curtain-filtered streetlight from outside. Another convulsion, small and hard this time as he tried to catch and kill it. Incredibly painful. It was - being twelve years old, violated, and forbidden on pain of death to cry. So he hadn't.
Doyle gasped in relief as the man finally turned over to find him.
5:45. The alarm was set to go off at 6:00. From the portion of his watch-face visible over Bodie's shoulder, Doyle rounded the number of seconds left them up to a generous thousand and let his eyes shut in the dark, close-cropped hair. He was numb from collarbone to fingertips in his left arm, but would not have moved for the world. Bodie was sleeping peacefully on his shoulder, the grip he had established round Doyle's ribs a couple of hours ago undiminished. What his reaction would be to waking so entangled, Doyle didn't care to worry about just yet. They still had a good 900 seconds. Experimentally, he stretched his free hand round Bodie's back to ease him closer, and was rewarded with a sigh and responsive squeeze.
Doyle smiled. Where was his restless, endlessly self-analytical brain? This embrace, the stages by which they had got here, should have engendered a hailstorm of questions and fears. There had been a moment - Bodie's first blind move into his arms - when Doyle had been ready for anything and all to happen, and that stunning sense of acceptance alone should have tied him up into knots. In the end Bodie had neither wept, nor reached up to kiss him - which, Doyle realised, would have astonished him rather less - but pushed his face into the folds of the dressing gown at Doyle's shoulder, held him hard round the waist, and lain in an electrical silence until whatever storm was raging in him wore itself out.
Then he had slept. Doyle had, too, when he could bear to lose the sight of him. He laid the image deep, entrusting it to that part of him capable of storing scenes and faces indefinitely, or until a time came when it might be safe to lay them to canvas. That he had opened his eyes on it ten minutes ago was a small miracle to him, and he ran imagination's fingers through the remaining time like gold dust. Sixty times ten. That was easy, and a good result. A drowsy interval later, sixty times five - well, he couldn't work it out, but it was still a lot. Riches.
His R/T went off.
Doyle closed his eyes. "No," he mouthed at the brightening air, then, on a breath, "Oh, you bastards." Bodie had not stirred, and he glared in the direction of the bathroom where his jacket and the offending radio lay, willing HQ to have got their wires crossed and now be summoning some other poor sod out of bed. A flicker of hope - then the signal came again, insistent, and he groaned and extracted himself as gently as he could from Bodie's embrace. "Sodding, bloody-minded, son-of-a-bitch bastards." He hauled himself out of bed and descanted Bodie's waking moan with a yelp as yesterday's damage made itself felt down his spine. "Damn you. I wanted five minutes!"
"Five minutes!" he repeated into the transmitter, kneeling on the bathroom floor with one hand jammed against his lumbar region. "Couldn't even let me have that, could you?"
"On the contrary, 4.5," came back the amused response from the switchboard. "Mr Cowley has read your report and says that in light of your misadventures yesterday, you and 3.7 had better take today off." The bathroom door flew wide while Doyle was absorbing this, and he put out a hand to stop Bodie en route to the shower. Bodie, asleep on his feet but nevertheless committed to up-and-out mode, side-stepped him easily and disappeared into the cubicle with a muttered, "Yeah, alright, on me way!" Giving it up, Doyle turned his attention back to the R/T. "Hang on." He looked at his watch. 6:03. "He's read my report? When?"
"When he came into the office this morning, of course, 4.5."
"Of course," Doyle said weakly. His head pounded as the adrenaline-rush that would have carried him out into the fray realised it was not needed and dissolved. "Er - alright. Tell him thanks."
"Mr Cowley also says that if he'd known the extent of your injuries, he'd have taken you off duty last night, 4.5." Doyle thought - my God, that was an apology - and almost broke into laughter. "4.5, will you be able to contact 3.7 and let him know?"
Subsiding against the bathroom wall, Doyle eyed the shapely outline of his partner through rapidly-steaming glass. "I should think I can track him down, yeah."
Banging lightly on the glass partition, Doyle raised his voice over the pounding of water. "Hoi, gorgeous! You can slow down." Bodie snapped off the flow and pushed the door back, treating Doyle to one of his better not-quite-all-there looks. Doyle returned a cheeky once-over, as was tradition upon such occasions of full-frontal. He particularly did not want Bodie to notice it missing this morning. "Very nice. And you can rinse the suds off it all now, as well. I've got you a day off."
Bodie blinked water out of his eyelashes. "What?"
"On account of me injuries," Doyle elaborated, pushing hair out of the way of what was now a truly spectacular bruise. "And everyone knows you're helpless out there without me." He gathered up his discarded clothing, neatly evading a slap from a broad, wet hand.
In the kitchen, he reviewed the contents of Bodie's cupboards with distaste. Nothing here that could be cobbled into breakfast. There were times when he thought Cowley should employ a courtesy-shopper, to stock their shelves when their off-duty was too short for anything more than wash-and-crash. "Christ, Bodie. Not even coffee?" Too little material, even for a creative soul like Ray Doyle, and he was considering a defeated return to bed when inspiration struck. The new bakery a couple of streets away - they'd driven past it at ungodly hours of the morning and it seemed to be functional. He headed back into the bedroom and started turning his shirt the right way out, but found the clammy feel of it disheartening even before a cautious armpit-sniff. Oh, no. Not after the range of pheromones his body had been coerced into producing yesterday. Blithely raiding his partner's wardrobe, he found a sweatshirt and a pair of running pants, shoved bare feet into trainers and set off.
The flat was empty and cold. Bodie stood in the middle of the living-room, feeling the unpleasantness of both, on his skin, in his spirit. He supposed the former could be remedied, and went without enthusiasm to turn on the central heating he'd forgotten last night. As for the sense of utter vacancy, it was past mending and therefore past grief. There was no reason in the world why Ray Doyle should not respond to news of unexpected leave in the way he obviously had done, especially after the performance Bodie had laid on last night. In his place, Bodie too would have made the leap for freedom, for the simplicity of his own flat and his own company.
He was dripping on the carpet. Suddenly irate with himself from twenty different angles at once, he pulled on the dressing gown his untidy partner had left dumped by the shower and stalked off towards the bedroom. He was just awake enough to make getting back to sleep difficult, and just about too tired to stay awake, but -
"Well, open the bloody door for me, then!"
He spun, heart pounding. He'd thought the scuffling in the corridor was his elderly neighbour checking her bags for the key she invariably forgot anyway. (God help her when the service moved him on and she no longer had an experienced lockpick next door.) Quickly he flipped back the catches to admit his partner, flushed from the cold outside, laden to the eyes with paper bags, polystyrene cups and newspapers. Doyle hustled the whole lot, and him, through to the kitchen, where he unloaded what turned out to be an array of danish pastries, croissants and intensely-fragrant coffee onto the table. "Breakfast," he informed Bodie helpfully. "It's all hot, so don't hang about."
As usual, Bodie failed to disperse his shadows quickly enough. The feline eyes widened in dismay. "Oh, shit, he didn't change his mind, did he?"
"What? Uh, no. I just - "
"Are you okay? I'm getting that fish-look again, mate."
"Thought you said it was attractive."
"Is. Just doesn't tell me much." He uncapped a coffee cup and handed it to Bodie. "Here, let that percolate through to your brains." He sobered, examining the dark eyes that had never left him since he fell through the door, and after a moment said tentatively, "You - you thought I'd run out on you."
Not much point in denying it. Comfortably opaque to the world, Bodie nevertheless knew that when his defences were down, Ray Doyle could see through him like a plate of virgin glass. The best he could hope for was damage control. "Hardly run out. Thought you'd just gone home. So what?"
"So - bullshit, Bodie," Doyle responded slowly. It was there again - that snap in the air between them, a charge looking to ground. It had no business there. They were as used to one another as earth to sunlight, the awkwardness and excitements of their fledgling partnership long since eroded to easy camaraderie. "Some detective. Do I generally leave my gun hung on the back of your bathroom door? You're upset. You were last night and you are now."
"Oh, Doyle!" Irritably Bodie set his coffee down. "Don't start. If I want this on my day off I'll go spend it with Ross."
"I'm sorry." Bodie blinked in surprise, and searched his partner's face for sarcasm. But there was only a wry half-smile there, and what looked like genuine apology. "I'm a pain in the arse, and I keep pushing, don't I?"
"Yeah. Both." Frowning at him, Bodie tried to maintain something like annoyance. It was hard. Ten minutes out of bed, unbrushed and slightly lost in borrowed clothes too big for him, Doyle looked uncommonly fetching, and Bodie found himself disarmed. "Not all the time, though," he allowed. "Thanks for breakfast. Where'd you scare this lot up?"
"Bakery that's opened round the corner. Coffee and buns for the graveyard shift." He shivered suddenly. "Bodie, it's freezing in here."
"I know. Should've put the heating on last night, but - " He shut up, remembering why he'd forgotten. Warmed to the fingertips with the miracle of Ray Doyle alive and well in his flat, at first. Then they'd fought, which generated its own fires. Then - then he'd been wrapped in his arms, breathing the scent of his skin and hair, and even the concept of cold had fled away, as if forbidden to exist by some very local and unique laws of physics. He had slept there, on Doyle's shoulder, and the couple of hours allowed him had felt like ten: deep, refreshing, utterly peaceful. "Anyway, it's on now. It won't take long."
"I know where I'm going to wait for it." Doyle gave him a quick grin and gathered up the bags and boxes, then headed for the bedroom without a backward glance.
Now what am I supposed to do about that? Bodie leaned his backside on the edge of the kitchen table, picked up his coffee and stared into it as if for instruction. He supposed there was a clue to be had in the fact that Ray had taken the whole lot away with him. But it was a strange moment, and he felt he wanted something more conclusive -
"Come on, Bodie. It's gettin' cold."
He ambled into the bedroom, one hand in his dressing-gown pocket, elaborately casual. But Doyle was taking no notice of him anyway: had bounced back into the bed, hitched the duvet up over his lap, and was sitting cross-legged with The Guardian unfolded in front of him. Not looking up, he flapped a tabloid at his partner. "This one's yours, guttersnipe. I turned down the corner of page three so you could find it."
"Ta very much. Where would us guttersnipes be without guidance from you bleeding-heart socialist wannabes?"
Doyle tipped an eyebrow at him, in acknowledgement that, as ever, Bodie gave considerably better than he got, and offered him a danish. On top of the coffee cup and paper, it meant that Bodie had to put something down, which in turn meant he could no longer stand detachedly by the bed. Not quite ready to jump back in beside his partner, he compromised by perching on the edge of it. "Not sure I'm hungry," he said, tried the outer rim of the hot pastry, and downed the rest of it almost in one.
Doyle made no comment, but slipped an occasional amused glance in his direction as he ploughed contentedly through a good deal more than his share of the patisserie, then gave a great sigh and relaxed from shoulders to toes. Food usually did it for Bodie. "Better?" Doyle enquired.
"Mm. Any more coffee?"
Doyle rolled his eyes and surrendered the remains of his own. "Here. I'm too tired for the buzz." He skimmed a page of film reviews then yawned, a fraction too casually. "Was thinking about grabbing a bit more kip, actually. Want me to ship out?"
"After you've made yourself so comfortable?" Bodie smiled, and shook his head. "Nah. Reckon I can put up with you."
"What about you?"
Bodie looked him over suspiciously. He'd propped himself on two of Bodie's pillows, locked his hands behind his head, and was the picture of clear-eyed innocence. "What about me?"
"Well, you only got a couple of hours. Aren't you tired?"
"Yeah, a bit."
Those green eyes had more secrets than the sea. But it was all fair weather and plain sailing at the moment; just his mate looking out for him. Nevertheless, Bodie knew that if he came out with another "Yeah, a bit," he would blush. The best option seemed a challenge. "What are you up to, Raymond?"
"Me?" But it was Doyle who blushed, a sudden flow and ebb of colour in the fine skin. Then he spread his hands and spoke frankly. "I'm trying to get you back in here with me. We both need more sleep, and - it was nice, before. Didn't you like it?"
"I'm not that ungrateful," Bodie returned, low and quick, looking away.
"Ray, I - lost a bit of last night, but not that bit. I know you held me. I did like it. I - I needed it." He tailed off, and Doyle sat in silence for a while before realising he was waiting for the "but". It never came. Surprised, pleased, and aware that Bodie's shields could snap up as thoroughly as they seemed to have come down, he didn't try for a verbal response, but reached to tug the duvet back and patted the mattress lightly.
Bodie managed to settle into the bed beside him without meeting his eyes or letting their limbs come into contact. Doyle's look of unguarded affection could unsettle him at the best of times, and this was one of the worst. He couldn't analyse his tension. It wasn't even as if they had never shared a bed: circumstance had frequently thrown them together, on safe-house mattresses, in a shared sleeping bag when bad weather had turned a survival exercise into the real thing. He supposed that this time, they had all day and a whole range of nearby beds available to them, and the awkwardness stemmed from that. "Like an old Sunday-morning couple," he complained, surveying the newspaper-scattered quilt, and Doyle laughed out loud and settled a companionable shoulder against his.
It got easier after that. Doyle's interest in current affairs was genuine, and Bodie's in tabloid totty mostly feigned, so they both ended up with portions of The Guardian, exchanging comments on their struggling nation's political turmoil and planning an outing or two to the cinema. Doyle kept his shoulder pressed where it was, and its bony warmth was so familiar to Bodie that after a while he stopped thinking about it. He did think, however, that the Sunday-morning comment was not far off the mark. Girls never lasted long enough with either of them to get to this stage, and a few spare hours in bed would of necessity be spent in fucking - when else might they get the chance? - or become a purgatory of polite conversation and lack of shared interests. No, Bodie had no complaints. Ray was nice to be with. It was as simple as that. Very simply, therefore, he untangled his left arm and slipped it round the lean shoulders.
Doyle stopped reading. He lifted his head, and let his eyes close against the morning sunlight. Keeping them shut, he said, very softly, "Sorry you got a scare, back at the hotel."
"It's alright. Doesn't matter. It wasn't you." After a moment he added, "I'm sorry about the girl, though. She didn't deserve it."
Doyle's shoulders twitched under the sweatshirt cloth, a small accepting shrug. "Wrong place at the wrong time. I shouldn't have laid into you about it." He cleared his throat. "Look, if you don't want to talk about this, tell me, and it's history. But - after I'd had my tantrum last night, and you walked into the door - something happened to you, Bodie."
"I know," Bodie said mildly, and Doyle opened his eyes wide in surprise and eased round to look at him. "It was the first time in years. Thought I'd grown out of it. Had all the tests for epilepsy after the first couple, but it's not that. Nothing physical at all, just a stress reaction."
"Stress?" Doyle smiled; frowned. "I've sat and watched you snip the last wire on an unexploded bomb and not bat an eyelid."
"Not that sort of stress. Guns and bombs are fine. Busy then, aren't we, Ray? Fixing it. Making it go away. No. It only ever happens if the feeling's strong enough and there's - absolutely nothing I can do."
Urgently, Doyle wanted clarification of the exact nature of the feeling. But Bodie had come this far, told him this much, and suddenly it seemed crass to ask. Rude and unnecessary. Besides, it was about the longest speech Bodie had made on the subject of his inner life since Doyle had known him. A respectful silence seemed in order.
Painfully, with a twisting ache at his heart, Bodie took it the wrong way. He withdrew his arm from its comfortable loop around Doyle's shoulders and sat up straight. "It never happened on duty, Doyle. It's not the kind of thing that would. If it did, I'd quit."
Bodie turned to look at him. That note was new to him. And the weirdly-lovely face was bright with something he'd never seen before, either, some mix of pain and frustration and tenderness. Riveted, palms of his hands dampening, Bodie whispered past the lump in his throat, "I'm sorry. Paranoid bastard, aren't I?"
"Will you - " He paused, shaking his head at himself. It wasn't something you asked for like a cup of tea. "Ray, come here."
Doyle listened to his heart. Its beat was slow, but somehow emphatic, as if only his physical fitness was keeping it from an unseemly gallop. The skin of his left shoulder, of his chest, was fine as silk beneath Doyle's cheek. And it was like being at the beach: no matter what was on your mind, your thoughts tied themselves to the complex bass and roar of the surf, gradually accepted its rhythm. This deep, strong double beat. All the ramifications of being curled up in his partner's bed, in his partner's arms, on a weekday morning, all the nonsense of identity and what-happens-next, calmed and simplified to the sweet sound of life under his ear. Doyle moaned softly, buried his face against Bodie's shoulder and let his arm tighten hard around his waist.
Bodie ran his fingers through the thick brown hair, seeing gleams of russet and the amazing dead-white he was going just over his ears. By concentrating on loosening one tangle without hurting him, he managed his response to the brush of that warm mouth, the moan that was more a vibration than sound. The embrace was fine; Doyle had returned it instantly, companionably, left arm tightening strongly around Bodie's back to draw him in. For embrace, there was precedent: Doyle delivered fierce, angry hugs when they were alone after danger Bodie had courted and only half-deservedly survived, and then there was the night after Ann Holly dumped and broke him, when the poor bastard had forced it down and down and suddenly burst into racking tears where he stood by Bodie's kitchen sink, and Bodie had held him for an hour, rocking him while he wept like an abandoned child. Initial shynesses past, they had touched one another freely enough, the physical communication reinforcing their bond until, as Cowley knew to his advantage, they hardly knew where one left off and the other began, and their operation wrap-up rate soared.
But there was no touching Doyle with merely friendly or businesslike hands. Bodie had seen doctors turn bandaging him up into a caress and double-take at their own lapse. It was like trying to be clinical with a good-natured, sleek-furred tabby: he didn't have to move or speak to communicate the responsiveness of his every inch. Bodie closed his eyes and swallowed dryly. He liked cats. Tactile, but zero-maintenance. It would help, he thought, if Ray didn't take leanness to the point of too-damn-thin, if he would only keep his nerve-endings decently clad in the layer of healthy flesh Bodie was careful to maintain about his own. There were places on Doyle where the bones crested surface with the grace of breaching dolphins: shoulder-blade, hip: and gave his skin a look of terrifying sensitivity. Grateful the sweatshirt was still there, Bodie ran a palm down the too-prominent ribs. "Need a few more fried breakfasts, you do," he murmured, chest feeling too tight for his own voice.
"You need a few less, if that heart-rate's anything to go by."
Little sod, Bodie thought once more, but this time kept it to himself. He felt Doyle's smile like a tiny flicker of fire against the skin of his chest. He was ideally situated to hear the thunder, damaged right cheekbone nestled comfortably into the pad of Bodie's pectoral muscle. Silent amusement was radiating off him. Desperately Bodie reached for the biofeedback technique that could keep him sanguine through a shootout and felt it rebound on him, felt the pounding soar. Ray sat up, alarmed. "Are you alright?"
"Never better," Bodie managed, unconvincingly, and watched with dismay Doyle's head dip, the green eyes come up in a feral and unblinking stare. Oh, no. Not the Ray-Doyle third degree. Bodie seldom fared better than any other hapless interrogation-subjects under its heat. "Don't worry, I'm not about to throw another fit on you."
"Bodie, I want to know what's going on."
The sparkle in the room's air stilled, concentrated to threat. He had stopped playing, as absolutely as a cat upon realising its mouse contained a flicker of life. "I want to know why you're so strung up at the moment. And why what happened to you last night came as a surprise to me, after we've practically lived together for three years."
Bodie groaned inwardly. Doyle had let it pass too easily earlier; Bodie knew he had the man's ready sense of guilt to thank for that. Fearing he'd triggered the seizure, he'd thought twice about slapping it on his inner dissecting-table. Learning he'd only fallen foul of a much older problem had obviously taken the edge off remorse, and discretion. "That's actually three huge questions, Doyle," he said, evasively.
"Three aspects of one little one," Doyle returned in a dry staccato. "What's bugging you? You can start anywhere you like."
You. Christ, it would have been so easy to say it! For one terrible instant Bodie thought he had. But Doyle's gaze remained demanding, predatory, and after a moment Bodie rubbed a hand over his own eyes to escape it and for some reason gave him a fragment of the truth. "It's - not as easy as it was, Ray."
A softening. Even when it was this vague, Doyle could not hear an admission of difficulty from his hard-arsed partner without empathy. "What isn't? Do you mean the - the job?"
"Partly. Stuff I hardly used to notice - gets to me, these days."
Doyle studied the lowered eyelashes, the heightened colour. Twice in 24 hours! He was doing well - or incredibly badly. "I'm sorry to need pictures painting, mate," he said, gently. "I don't understand."
"Why should you? I couldn't be much more obscure." Bodie found his throat was hurting him. Was his body trying to keep the words locked up, or force their release? "I used," he began, and had to stop for a moment. "I used to be able to let you go off on solo work."
Ray frowned. "Didn't exactly lie down under the wheels of me taxi this time, either." It was tentative, a verbal brush of his shoulder. "Did you?"
"No." And then Bodie smiled, suddenly gave it all up and looked straight at him. "But it was close. And when I found Van Neikerk had gone, I - pitched a scene at our noble leader such as he'll not forget in a while."
"You did, eh?" Doyle was smiling back, easily holding his gaze.
"Yeah. He nearly got a dose of what you did last night, but he called me a prima donna and dragged me halfway across the room by my shirt-collars, which took my mind off it."
"Oh, is that the cure?"
"Mm. You try it next time and see what happens to you."
"What was all that about, then?"
"I tried to throw my badge at him..." He paused; thought about it. "Because I thought Van Neikerk would kill you and I was scared out of my bloody wits."
"Oh, Bodie - " Doyle stopped, a responsive chuckle dying in his throat. His friend's world-weary grin was in place, but his eyes - his eyes were serious and earnest as a child's. "Oh."
Bodie thought, very distinctly, you are going to lean forward and kiss me, now. And I am going to let you. But when it came, the event nevertheless paralysed him with astonishment. Doyle felt a fervent relief that he'd deflected to his cheek at the last instant, that his gesture could just, with very good faith on both sides, be interpreted as friendly. He folded back down into Bodie's arms, not unaware that he was hiding his face. Almost in panic, he willed the lifeless embrace around him to tighten; gasped when it did and broke into reactive laughter.
"Jesus," Bodie commented. But Doyle's giggles communicated themselves as adroitly as bubonic plague, always had, and in a moment he was stifling his own against the back of his hand. "Jesus! You'll be the - the death of me."
Somehow, they slept. Doyle slipped away first: Bodie felt him quiet to the occasional chuckle, then silence. His breath came and went, warm against Bodie's skin. And the rhythm of it began to weave itself with other sounds, as the morning grew. The door-slams and voices of the school-run. BBC fanfare of early news, from his neighbour's flat. Vision began to get mixed with it, too: bird-shadow breaking the sunlight: and, lost in the sweet synaesthesia, Bodie closed his eyes.
"Is that morning glory, or are you just pleased to see me?"
A gasp. "Ray, it - it's three in the afternoon."
Just after 3:15, Doyle stopped certain attentions and laid his cheek to Bodie's thigh. "It's alright," he said, very softly. "It's alright, mate."
Bodie could not concur. He stared up at the ceiling, at the ghost of the rose that had been there. It struck him as sad, and indicative of the brutality with which these old houses were converted to flats, that the part remaining in his bedroom was not even a whole semicircle. Just a random section, where the partition-wall had been driven through. Blindly his hand sought the warm rough silk of Doyle's hair. He had never got so hard so fast, nor lost it so completely. Misery washed through him, concentrated to acid by the years of repression. He should have known. Should have known that when the one thing he wanted finally, miraculously presented itself, he would not be able to reach out and take it. Doyle was nestled between his legs, stroking his hip and stomach with careful affection. "Oh, Christ, Ray. I'm sorry."
Doyle gathered himself together, aware that it was taking him more emotional courage to leave his current position than it had to get down there in the first place, and at a complete loss to know where to begin reassuring his partner. The only thing more shattering than their taking this chance with one another was doing so and having it fail. But Bodie's voice was ragged with the edge of tears, and that wouldn't do, not at all. He scrambled awkwardly back up his body and wrapped him in the hardest, most thorough four-limb embrace he could manage. "Ah, Bodie," he whispered into the close-cropped hair at his nape. "D'you think I care? D'you think I mind?"
"I bloody do!" Bodie declared bitterly. "I've never wanted anything so much in my entire bloody life!"
Profoundly glad to hear it, confused, flattered, Doyle hauled him in until his ribs creaked. "What's stopping you, then, handsome? Any ideas?"
Oh, yes. "No."
"Back of your neck goes hot when you're lying."
"Does not," Bodie said, and felt it flare. Copped, he smiled painfully and took hold of one of Doyle's hands. "Must be why I never let you kiss me there before."
"As opposed to all the places you did."
Bodie gave a tired snort. "Alright. I'm nicked."
"Want to tell me?"
"Want's got nothing to do with it. Wanted to fuck you, too, didn't I?"
"Don't mince words, now, Bodie."
Squeezing round to look at him, Bodie saw that he was blushing, the amusement in his eyes very rueful. Ray had made himself so confidently at home between his thighs that Bodie had forgotten the man could be, on rare occasions, shy, and that this was a first time for him, too. Bodie was sorry, and said so, laying his palm to one heated cheek. He was conscious that he owed him, and so he tried. "Yeah, I think I know. Yes, I want to tell you. How's it done, though, Ray? How do people just - talk?"
"People like me, you mean?"
"If I do, all I'm saying is that you're - well, not scared of yourself."
"Not scared of you, either, for that," Doyle rumbled, but it was only noise. The odd tenderness that had caught Bodie's breath earlier had returned to his expression. "Would it help if I asked and you answered?"
"Emotional tin-opener, Raymond?"
"Interrogation technique, William," Doyle dared, and followed it up with, "Besides, I think you might contain something worthwhile," before Bodie could get a breath, or disentangle far enough to punch him. While he was still off-centre, Doyle began plainly, "Is it because I was doing something to you?"
"What? Of course not!" Bodie protested, and felt his nape catch fire. For the first time in many years, he paid attention to an awkward autonomic response; gave it house-room and a chance. After five long seconds, he shrugged and hitched a grin. "Well - I'll never be anyone's bottom man, will I?"
"You'll be mine, from time to time, in the unlikely event of this going anywhere," Ray informed him, not caring about the reaction. Bodie was talking, and telling him the truth. He was not about to let him divert. Not even - oh, and he had to still every nerve in his own body - if something in his words had sent a flicker of life to Bodie's groin, where it was pressed against his thigh. "Alright. You feel that way because people doing things to you hasn't been nice. Right?"
"Give that boy a coconut," Bodie murmured, but with very weak sarcasm. There was nothing standard about Doyle's technique. And he could do good-cop-bad-cop all by himself, too: a rush of loving indignation suddenly parting his lips, darkening his eyes. "Oh, you've been forced."
"Spot on, Ray."
"Was it - was it in the Congo? When you were in prison?"
"Oh, yeah. Plenty. But - they were fucking a corpse by then, or they might as well have been. My stepfather didn't think a weekend was a weekend unless he could screw me rigid while my ma got pissed and watched Z-Cars."
"Oh, Bodie. Oh, Bodie, Jesus, no!"
His tears were fierce, shocky and silent. Bodie held him in wondering stillness. "It's all right, Ray," he said, hoarsely. "It was a long time ago. It happens to thousands of kids. You were a copper, you must have seen that."
"Yeah, but - but not you - " A raw sob.
Touched, alarmed, Bodie rolled him gently down onto the mattress, brought his weight comfortingly to bear over the shuddering frame. "Ah, sunshine. I shouldn't have dropped it on you like that. You're so cagey about your childhood, I was afraid it had happened to you."
"What? No. He was a violent bastard, but he never - Oh, it's fucking ridiculous, you having to - wipe my nose - 'm sorry!"
Bodie leaned down and kissed salt from the side of his face, reflecting distractedly that they had come by strange fits and starts across their first times: the shared bed, Ray's abortive stab at going down on him, and now this first kiss, a desperate effort to reassure, about as erotic as a bear licking its cub. "Don't be daft. Any idea what it feels like, to have someone cry for you? I never could for myself, never will. That's why I throw fits." He pursued the wetness up and under Doyle's right ear and felt him stiffen, flinch and shudder hotly.
"Did you ever - " Doyle choked it off, grasped Bodie's shoulders and turned his head to accept more of these rough, soothing kisses. "Ever get any counselling, or - ?"
"Counselling? Not for me, mate. I did better than that. I got away. And I got you, didn't I? It took a few years, but you - you made it all better. I don't know how, but... Oh, God - " The silky, mobile mouth was under his, wide open, breath still ragged with sobs. Bodie felt the next one suck air up from his own lungs.
Doyle's eyes had squeezed shut. He writhed beneath the weight pinning him, tears suddenly forgotten as thoroughly as Bodie's touch of trauma-induced impotence. Bodie withdrew his tongue long enough to gasp, "For Chrissakes, let's get some of these clothes off you!" then plunged back in, Doyle meeting him halfway this time, ravenous, demanding. Their hands collided under Doyle's co-operatively-lifted hips and tussled for the privilege of shoving down the borrowed track-suit bottoms. The nothing he wore beneath them made Bodie chuckle.
"Off," Doyle commanded indistinctly against his mouth. "Not down. Off."
Another brief struggle, Doyle twisting with an otter's unlikely agility to be out of the garment, then the sweatshirt: a rough undoing of Bodie's dressing gown: and they were length to aching length at last. Doyle groaned, gave in without qualm to the urge to lift both thighs and clamp them round Bodie's hips, and did not question either the violent flashes of heat going through his body, faster and faster under Bodie's sweet punishment until they converged in the pit of his stomach and his balls and -
Bodie was lying over him, weight on his elbows, laughing softly into his hair. The room was rotating gently, dust motes catching the sun in bursts of green and gold. Swallowing dryly, Doyle whispered at length, "What the - hell was that?"
More laughter, affectionate and a bit shaken. "Zero to the ton in twenty seconds. You came, sunshine."
"No! I - It doesn't feel like that. And I wouldn't - "
"Well, you're still pretty hard. But we're both soaked down here, and it wasn't me. I think you were just - too excited."
"Oh, great," Doyle moaned, a huge blush daubing his face and neck. "Oh, we're terrific together, aren't we?"
Bodie nodded, still rocked with laughter. "First I can't get it up at all - "
"And then I go off like a teenager with his first copy of Mayfair."
They clung together, letting reaction rattle through them, each shock-absorbing for the other. They had gone too far, too fast, no matter how intensely either had wanted the journey. Eventually Bodie sat up, far enough to wipe his eyes and meet his partner's. "Sunshine, I think we will be terrific together, if we can just calm down."
"Okay. Yes." Deliberately Doyle shifted away from Bodie's heat: the strange climax had barely taken the edge off him, and he didn't want a repeat performance. "How d'you suggest we do that, then?" Bodie seemed at a loss for words, was nuzzling into the hair over his ear in a way Doyle found anything but tranquillising. He reached for distraction, murmured, "Feels better to be in the driver's seat, does it?"
"If I hadn't got busted for speeding." He kissed the corner of Doyle's grin. "Yeah, it does. D'you mind, Ray?"
"Take me handbrake off and see. Nah, I don't mind. We'll turn it all around - when you're ready. Oh, Jesus!"
That would be the handbrake, Bodie thought with satisfaction, lifting up from one taut rosebrown nipple. Spreading a large hand on either side of his heaving ribcage to still him, he transferred his attentions to the other, flicking a tonguetip until the explosive response came again. Not too much, not too quick this time. Up and off, a quick visit to the parted, seeking lips. "Having a problem here, Ray."
"Not the - one you were having before," Doyle informed him, rubbing stormily up against the evidence. "What can I do for you?"
"Well, you know I always drive 'em into the ground, don't I?"
Wide green eyes flickered to meet his. Aroused. Speculative. More than a little scared. "What do you want, lover?"
For you to call me that again. "Everything."
"Oh, God." Doyle swallowed what felt like a scalding ice-cube. He didn't know whether to be most bothered by the prospect, by his instant understanding of it, or by the hungry leap at his own groin. In his dreams, and looking back now he remembered plenty, there had been a sequence, of kisses, hands, mouths, and perhaps rather later that month or that year, a gentle turning onto his belly, and an ocean of lubricant. And that was a point. Not knowing whether to be relieved or miserable, he said, "Don't think I can make it on spit and goodwill, mate."
"As if I'd ask."
Course not, Doyle thought, head spinning. He'd never hurt me. "Then - I don't suppose a real man like you keeps olive oil in the house, does he?"
"Extra virgin, for your information."
"How very - suitable!" Doyle gasped, writhing as the dark head dipped to kiss the base of his breastbone, the sensitive triangle formed by his ribs and solar plexus. "Margarine would feel like slumming it, somehow."
"I can do better for you than either of those." Landing one deep, noisy kiss just over his navel, Bodie reached out to pull a drawer open in the bedside cabinet. Smiling, he lifted out a tube, let Doyle see the packaging. "There you go. Ultimate social lubricant."
Doyle lifted a wry, mildly resentful eyebrow. "I bloody knew it. Had many through here, have you?"
"Many... What, men? You prat, Ray, I haven't laid hand on a man since they quit laying hand on me in Angola." Bodie leaned to kiss him, pinning him down. "Modesty should seal my lips, but if you must know, there's been a girl or two - found me a bit on the large side for comfort."
"Oh!" He swallowed dryly, reassessing the press of Bodie's cock between his thighs. "A bit on the large side?" Silence, then wide eyes seeking his. "Just - how in the hell do you think I'm going to find you?"
"A bit on the large side," Bodie said honestly, smiling. "But I'll treat you like china, Ray. I'll make it so sweet for you, I promise."
"My God." Lifting up, Doyle threw his arms round Bodie's neck and kissed him fiercely. "I'm sorry. I haven't done this before. An' I never had that problem with the girls, either, you bloody great beast, you."
"Sure you've had no complaints. Would you have minded if there had been?"
Bodie rolled his eyes. "Try and keep up. Other men." But Doyle had lost interest - was uncapping the KY without encouragement. Typical of Doyle, to display five seconds' circumspection instantly followed by limitless enthusiastic embrace of an idea. "All right. Slow down. Let me get you ready."
"I'm ready," Doyle announced. He knocked one cheekbone carefully against Bodie's, the gesture so feline that Bodie half-expected it to be followed by a fraught little purr. Instead he heard, "Get on with it. I trust you. Do what you want with me."
Bodie released a shuddering breath. "Oh, God. I will. I will." Getting to his knees, he shrugged out of the dressing gown, Doyle helping him then going still with a tiny smile of astonished pleasure at the sight of him. Bodie echoed the second's immobility. He never went voluntarily naked, transferring himself neatly from towel to street-clothes after the pool or the gym, unlike Ray, who would stroll around as nature intended until he had drip-dried. The hungry gaze was like sunlight on his skin.
"You should flaunt this more."
Bodie thought: if I'd been looked at with your loving appetite, not sized up like meat on the hoof, for all those years, I'd never wear a stitch. But Doyle had heard enough about his past for one day. Bodie wanted him aroused, not distraught. To this end, he moved slowly off to one side, silencing the ready protest by bending over him and driving his tongue down the line from his navel to the base of his cock. Doyle choked and grabbed at the undersheet and he did it again, harder, then suddenly put a hand to the back of Doyle's left knee and guided his pelvis over, spreading him wide enough to brush an exploratory lick up the cleft of his backside. Doyle convulsed: yelled, "No!" but spoiled the effect by rolling onto his front and parting his legs further. "Yes," he amended, weakly. "I don't believe it, but yes."
Pleased, Bodie slipped his fingers into the satiny skin at the crease of his groin and eased him up, just an inch or two, just enough so that he could kneel behind him and gently lap at the core of him, the quivering ring of muscle that guarded his interior. Doyle cried out sharply and he focused his efforts, flickering his tongue around the entrance then pushing in. At the same time he ran his hands across the concave, fluttering belly, up to find his nipples, and Doyle said distinctly, "Stop that right now or I'll come."
"Don't you dare. I haven't even got started on you." Letting go of him carefully, Bodie sat up, dispensed a generous amount of lubricant across his fingers, rubbed them together to spread it and pushed the middle one home where his tongue had been before Doyle had time to think about it. The tousled head went down, rather sharply. "Am I hurting?"
"A bit. No. It's - it's strange. Oh, don't stop. It's good, there, at the front where you're pushing, do it there - "
Obediently Bodie gave the newly-appreciated prostate a good ten seconds of brisk, gentle friction, then withdrew, leaving Ray shuddering with disappointment. "Just a second, love!" Only long enough to lace his fingers with more KY and get a second and a third inside him, carrying the lube up as far as it would go. Doyle pushed back at his hand, twisting for the pressure that took all the pain and strangeness away, and once more Bodie let the second joint of his buried fingers play across the gland. When Doyle's moans had pitched up to bitten-off yells, he stopped the motion and said, "All right. Come and lie on your side with your back to me."
"What? No! Just do it to me here, like this!"
"I can't control it as much for you, like this. It's gonna hurt you anyway. Will you for once just do what you're told?"
Suddenly, absolutely, Doyle acquiesced. He rolled down onto his side, pressing his fever-hot spine hard into Bodie's front. Entranced, Bodie watched him gather a pillow up against his chest and hang on to it, rubbing his face against it, closing his eyes. "I can't wait any more, Bodie. Come inside me. Do it."
All the care and all the lube in the world couldn't ease it. Bodie rocked him, willing the cramps to stop, aware that this was possibly something they were simply not going to be able to do. But he was more than halfway there, and the gutting sensation of withdrawal would probably be worse than full engagement. Doyle was gasping raggedly into the pillow, cold sweat sheening his shoulders and back. "Ahhh, Bodie," he moaned, "me eyes were bigger than me arse - I can't - "
"All right. Hold on, Ray, love." He began to ease back, and strong muscles seized around him. Doyle felt the tiniest relief and suddenly commanded, "No. Push into me now, all the way!" Bodie found he had no choice, thrust like a salmon straight upstream against the outward straining, and was there, crushed so tight he could feel the press of each vertebra against his skin.
After a protracted interval, Doyle stopped yelling and sobbing and lay utterly still, gazing rapt, unblinking, at some inner landscape that his mind had projected to the sunny air beyond the bedroom window. His cock was tight to his belly. When Bodie reached to caress the underside, the thrumming vein, he put down one finger and delicately mimicked the motion on the back of Bodie's hand. "God," he murmured. "That's it, isn't it?"
"Yes. How does it feel?"
"Like I'm gonna burst. Like I could fly. Take me up."
Carefully, carefully, Bodie began the launch process. The smallest move induced a cry of pain, but no request that he stop, and he repeated it, back and forth, until the ice and iron around him began to melt.
Doyle relaxed, throwing his head back against Bodie's shoulder. The moving pressure found his prostate, and pain dissolved to the shadow of a dream, a concept merely, in a universe he was no longer obliged to inhabit. Gasping, Bodie shed a measure of his rigid self-control: began a deep, cautious rhythm. Doyle grabbed the pillow and pushed it instinctively under his stomach as he rolled to let him in. Bodie caught his weight reflexively on hands and knees and bargained with gravity for the right stroke, the reach that would fill without hurting. He could hear himself, hear Doyle, but could not disentangle their sounds, which were coming in time now anyway, louder and faster. Doyle animated like a wildcat beneath him, thrust up gasping for ten, eleven, strokes, and went rigid, clawing at pillow and undersheet, and a moment later Bodie saw the sunlight incandesce like ground zero and fell with him into the day.
"Is that how you treat china, then?"
"Only the really good stuff. The sort that's beautiful, but you can live with it all your life and not worry if you - knock it off the shelf once in a while."
Now for Bodie, this was lyrical. Doyle struggled a little way upright to look at him. The dark head was pillowed on his stomach, and when it lifted, Doyle saw there were tears in his eyes. "All your - all your life, Bodie?"
"If life gives either of us half the bloody chance."
Doyle fell back against the pillows, smiling, lacing his fingers in silky hair. "I go through the dishwasher, too, you know."
"I know. Ray, d'you very much want to talk - ? Because I'm - "
"I know. No. Go to sleep, lover."
-- THE END --