All These Years
dedicated to our Circuit Archivist
for getting me to wake up and think
and start writing again
Grip tight the knife
In the darkness
Till the cake is cut and passed around
In little pieces
In little pieces
The body and the flesh
And the fishing net
In the mesh...]
The Family and the Fishing Net
#4, Peter Gabriel, 1982
All these years I've kept them in my mind, flat and silent, like newspaper-cuttings in an old book, or fading petals that once scented folded linen in a chest. That is a childhood memory. I possess neither linen-chest, nor books of that sort, nor cuttings. We are moved from flat to flat too often to accumulate. You have a photo album – one, which you showed me with a mix of chagrin and disbelief, years ago. Your brother, an aunt and your parents, all dead. You said, it's okay. I can't believe they were ever alive. And you put the book away, quoted me the relevant lines from that Larkin poem, poured us both another drink. Don't worry, Ray. And you asked me about my lot, and they stirred in me, as even the driest leaf stirs, as petals and newspaper cuttings do, the whispering dead. They ached and hurt like nerve-ends still firing in an amputated limb, and you saw me go pale, and you said, you don't have to talk about it. And because of that I could, a little. I told you about Kath; as my only sibling, a sliver of the truth. She paints, she's an artist. Lives alone up in Scotland. I think she was married once but... We exchange Christmas cards, sometimes with a letter in them. Sometimes not. You might get to meet her one day, mate. You'd like Kath.
Summer, and the sycamores in full leaf in all the dusty squares. The heat of the air made a virtue, a pleasant change, of Doyle's shot-out windshield, and he tore grinning down the Southwark side street to the pickup point where his partner was waiting in the road, affectedly ignoring his approach. Doyle stopped the statutory three inches off his right kneecap. "Oh, it's you," Bodie said when the screech of brakes and tyres had died, examining the jagged hole. "Someone been shooting at you, old son?"
"Only a bit. Made shooting back at 'em easier, actually. Cow wants to think about giving us convertibles."
"Get the bastards, did you?"
"Oh, yeah. Murphy and Jax are mopping them up."
Bodie came smiling round to the passenger door. But once it was open he stopped, and the smile faded off like the sun behind clouds. "Ray – for godsakes. Get out of the fucking car."
Doyle complied, and sharply. What had he missed? Wiring? Their current targets would think nothing of a pound or two of gelly. But he'd checked the Capri clean out of the pool that morning, and hardly left it since. "What's the matter?"
"You, you cretin." Bodie slammed the door hard enough for Doyle to discard the car-bomb idea and stalked round the bonnet to confront him. He put out a hand, and Doyle forced himself not to flinch as it brushed his cheekbone with a sudden hot prickle. "You're driving on a load of broken glass. You're all cut up. What happened?"
Doyle had no idea. He was therefore surprised to hear himself respond, casually, "Oh, I had to take a dive. Must've landed in it."
"I'll say." Bodie turned his attention to his arm, bleeding through the cotton of its rolled-back shirt sleeve, then brushed him down carefully all over. "Jesus, Ray. Doesn't that hurt?"
"Since you started pokin' at it, yes." No point in hiding pain. He was stinging from a dozen small cuts, now that Bodie came to mention it. What he had to conceal was the fact that he didn't remember getting them, hadn't felt them until third-party witness made them real. His head spun slightly and he put out a hand, unobtrusively, to the car's warm roof. To his relief, Bodie ducked under it and began exasperatedly to sweep the fragments off the seats. His voice sounded distant to Ray in a way the layer of metal and glass between them couldn't account for. "Never thought I'd say it, but those scabby denims do serve a purpose, don't they?" He straightened up; studied his partner's bloodstained pallor for a moment. "You could use checking over. I'll run you into Guy's."
Doyle swallowed. In the dryness of his throat words crumbled to dust: nobody touches me nobody don't touch me don't.... For one dreadful moment he thought he would blow all the years of hard work by bursting into tears or dropping unconscious into Bodie's arms... and then the inner stranger was there again, smiling, talking. "I'll see your A&E and raise you my first-aid kit. Tweezers, cotton wool, all the TCP you can drink."
"You want me to – ?" Bodie was surprised. When Doyle was hurt, he would either sort it out himself or seem to prefer an impersonal touch; hospital staff or the HQ medic. "Alright," he said. "But I'm driving. Won't have to put the top down today, will I, sunshine?"
A couple of shards were deeply lodged in his arm: Bodie sat on the edge of the kitchen table and worked as quickly as he could. Looking for something to distract him, he glanced at the leaflets among the scatter of post and said, "God, those are amazing."
"Yeah. They're Kath's. It's for her first London exhibition."
"Kath's?" Bodie staunched a fresh flow of blood with cotton wool and took a proper look at the leaflet's front cover. A sea or skyscape, he couldn't tell which. A gold-streaked chaos was tearing apart five hundred shades of blue. Explosion, he thought, then, to his own astonishment: orgasm. He shook his head, blinked the retinal images away. "Your sister? Jesus, I thought she was painting sheep up there. She's really got something."
"A neurological disorder, she says. That's a... " He tailed off, glad to have the opportunity to wince as Bodie got the last of the glass from his wrist. "That's an invitation to her opening night."
"Oh? You gonna go?"
Ray sat in the sunlight pouring in through the kitchen window, one arm stretched across the table, the other as if forgotten on his partner's knee. It was a perfectly reasonable question. The reasonable answer would be, of course. I haven't seen her for years and I'm her brother. Of course I'll go along to marvel at the Doyle family's first success in generations. He willed the room and the world to stop their sickening yaw. "Yes. Yeah, probably."
"Okay. Now, are you going to throw up, or will you settle for just passing out?"
"You've gone the colour of old wallpaper glue, mate. Did that hurt very much?"
"No! Hardly felt it. I'm just – God, I'm so tired, Bodie!"
He meant to resist his partner's hands on him. Their duty-shift wasn't over: he had a report to turn in, grocery-shopping, laundry... But the short flight of stairs that connected the two levels of his flat had become the emergency staircase at Hampstead tube station, and the strong grip on his waist and shoulder all that held him in reality. "Sorry," he managed as Bodie steered him towards the bed. "Must be getting that summer flu or something." His t-shirt had untucked and ridden up and the duvet felt cool and pleasant on his stomach as he half-fell onto it.
Bodie finished the first-aid work sitting beside him on the bed. By the time he was done, Doyle was asleep, dropped straight into a REM cycle from the look of him. His hands flickered open and shut, one on the undersheet, one tugging the edge of the quilt. Bodie shifted the pillow to ease his ragged breathing, then checked his brow and pulse for signs of illness. Too warm, and too quick, but then for Doyle that was normal, as if his whole system was constantly revving against its limitations. The lean body was laid out in seeming abandonment, but tensions rippled through it, the muscle-shifts of a dreaming cat. Frowning, Bodie brushed strands of sweat-damp hair off his face. "Funny bugger," he said, and continued to stroke his hair until the restive movements ceased. Then he got up and went downstairs, leaving him a note that he would file the report himself and pick up his laundry later if he got the chance.
In the dream, Bodie did not leave. When he stood up beside the bed, it was only to undress, which he did swiftly and in silence. Then the weight of his body came warmly to rest on Doyle's back. To conjure the biology of it, the physical detail of penetration, would have twisted the dream into nightmare and woken him – he had been too used, too degraded, to bear much reality – so his mind simply delivered the upshot: Bodie inside him, comfortably deep. Doyle moaned against the pillow and pushed up. "Fuck me," he whispered, and felt a tidal movement. "Fuck me, Bodie."
He came hard and did not wake up straight away. By the time he did, he was lying in cooling semen and sweat, and the dream flapped brilliant butterfly-wings around him, then because he was on his sanity's knife-edge and could not afford it, folded itself to a two-dimensional greyness, flipped to a single plane and disappeared.
He was not at any of his usual haunts, which was why it took Bodie so long to find him. Bodie had come off duty early and gone to the laundrette via the supermarket, good deeds fuelled by the hope that if he provided the ingredients, Doyle might feel moved to cook for him. But the flat was empty, and something in the look of the stripped-down bed had triggered Bodie's alarms. Thursdays had become informal gay nights at the pub near HQ where they sometimes drank, so he'd given the place a skip, only putting his head round the door at 10:30 when all else had failed, and...
There, in the corner, across the table from a smartly-suited 50-year-old who looked as if he couldn't believe his luck. Not saying much: listening, with a good-natured half-smile, to the older man's feverish babble. To all appearances sober, but the grip of his Browning was just visible under the edge of his jacket, and the remains of the ice in his glass had more colour than he did. Bodie sauntered over to the table, said, "Evening, gentlemen," and extended a friendly shoulder-pat to a concealing twitch of his coat. "Anybody need a lift home?"
Looking up, Doyle bestowed on him an unsurprised and genuine grin. "Bodie? What are you doing here?"
"That, my friend, is a question I'll be asking you when I get you dried out."
Doyle gazed up unblinking at his partner for a moment, then seemed to accept the comment and remember his manners. "Bodie, this is – " But his conquest, after shooting a rueful glance at the handsome new arrival, had faded off into the crowd. "Oh, he went."
"He did. Shall we go, too – while you can still walk?"
A warm late-May night, the city breeze tired but sweet. The road to the car park was quiet, and Doyle walked contentedly at Bodie's side, trying to remember what he'd been so worried about earlier that he'd wanted to go out and get pissed. He smiled: the strategy had obviously worked. And he'd managed the trick of blanking his mind while retaining muscle-control; Bodie's occasional steadying touch to his elbow was more a social gesture than anything else. "And speaking of society, mate, I wish you wouldn't scare off me friends. You looked like a bloody big copper coming in there."
"I am a bloody big copper, is why. Mate of yours, was he?"
"Nah. Only met him tonight. Seemed a nice enough bloke, though."
"I'm sure he was."
"An' he liked me. Said so."
"Course he did, you twat. He was trying to get into your pants." Doyle came to a startled halt. His eyes met Bodie's in unfeigned wonder. "Well, what do you expect on a Thursday in the Buck and Flutter?"
"I was in the Buck?"
Bodie took his shoulders. Laughter surged up in him and he forced it back. "Ray, sunshine – do me a favour. Do yourself one. Don't ever drink, okay? Never again. Not even water."
Sound advice, Doyle thought. Everything inside his head today seemed set for chain-reaction. Kath's invitation, the prospect of meeting her, spiralling down to the last time he had. Bodie's remark that a man was putting moves on him inducing a flashback to rumpled sheets, to a dream he couldn't possibly have had, because that sucked him down to childhood, and...
..will it be me tonight or Kath? Cam's run away and he leaves David pretty much alone now. I think David's got too old for him. And Anna, Anna took a knife to him last time –
In a shadowy corner of the car park, Doyle took hold of the metal fence-rail in both hands. His back ached. He remembered that pushing up against his father's weight had occasionally saved him when he thought it was about to snap. Sweat skimmed his palms and he dropped his head, gasping.
"Sunshine, what's the matter?"
Distinctly he recalled sending Bodie ahead to the car with an instruction to leave him alone – better to be good and sick here than force Bodie to stop in the middle of Hammersmith Broadway. "Told you to let me be."
"Yeah, you did." Bodie caught him; held tight to shoulder and brow as he vomited onto the tarmac. "Sure you want me to?"
"No. Don't... Don't leave me!"
The words stung him with shame as soon as they were out, but Bodie did not seem repelled by them. His grip on Doyle became an embrace and he said, "You know I won't."
The drive home was tough for Doyle even after that: he could drink Bodie under the table when he put his mind to it but would probably still be in casualty when Bodie crawled out and shook his head clear of the hangover. Knowing his limitations, he normally respected them, and Bodie wondered what had made him forget, or cease to care, tonight. He was huddled in the passenger seat, an occasional dry-swallow and hand pressed to his lips the only sign of inward misery.
"Mate, I can stop for you if you want."
"Nn-nn. Just get me home."
Once there, he disappeared into the bathroom, the door slamming hard on Bodie's enquiry. So much for don't leave me, he thought wryly, and went to the kitchen to put coffee on.
But he thought he knew what Doyle did need tonight. Someone who would be there, but on his terms. Someone he could touch, hang onto, use as a punchbag, without comeback or a price. He was a tough sod but when his walls came down they crashed completely; left him utterly exposed...
Switching the percolator on, he listened. Muffled retching and flushing of the toilet stopped soon enough that he wasn't alarmed, and then he heard the shower begin to run. Alright. It had taken him years to figure it out, but yes, he could provide what Doyle wanted. Really it was only a case of standing or sitting still beneath the onslaught. As for his own responses – as for them, the devil take them, he decided, adding another scoop of Kenco into the machine for good measure and rattling mugs out of the cupboard. He had as much as he could hope for, more than most men could ever dream.
Doyle came into the living room cautiously, as if every inch of him hurt. His hair was in heavy wet curls and he was about the same shade of white as his dressing gown. Gratefully he took in the normality of the scene: Bodie on his couch, pouring out coffee, just like any other night. The man didn't look up at his approach, but flicked him a grin as he sat down beside him. "Jesus, Bodie. What was I doing out there?"
"Drinking for England, from the look of things. Not like you."
"Not by myself, anyway."
Bodie nodded, handing him a mug. The two of them had shared some riotous benders. Solitary pickling needed to be done at home, for safety reasons, which Doyle knew as well as anyone else. No point in reminding him: the damp, tousled head was ducked in shame at the lapse. "Yeah. Take me next time, you selfish git." He sighed. "Didn't know whether to sober you up a bit or just sling you into bed. I reckon if you can keep that down, it'll kill or cure."
"If it doesn't kill me, make it stronger," Doyle misquoted with a tired half-smile, and Bodie snorted and put an arm around him. "You poor sod," he said. "If I ask what's going on in there, would you tell me?"
Doyle considered. He looked all the way down the hallways and endless roads of the past, and really considered explaining to Bodie what it was that held back his mornings, shadowed noon and brought on the night like a hungry wolf to devour him. His no, when it came, was therefore gentle and sorry.
"Does that mean not now, or not ever?"
"I – I don't know."
"But there is something."
"Yes. Yes, there is."
Bodie sat back on the sofa and drew Doyle with him. It wasn't complicated, and he met with no resistance, just a relieved surrender of tension as the too-thin frame subsided against him. "Come here," he murmured, unnecessarily; Doyle was hungrily reaching for contact, for the surcease from pain and cold that his partner's warm bulk delivered. He closed his eyes on Bodie's shoulder, in the clean-smelling dark of his own wet hair, and slipped an arm tight around his ribs. "Oh, Christ."
"It's alright. You'll be alright."
"When you say that, I almost believe it." A large hand descended lightly on the back of his skull, protective, caressing. "You – you don't mind me here, like this?"
Bodie smiled. He could see the lamplit room before him, the plants and the books on their shelves against the far wall. But it was as if, in some specialised way, he had gone blind, without distress or sense of loss. The sensory input he required was under his hands, pressed to his thigh, his chest. He said, "I don't mind at all." A few minutes passed, silent but charged, and he extended the thought, blindly, lost to all consequence or thought of tomorrow. "I don't think I mind... anything you do, Ray." Silence again: Doyle had stopped breathing, and when his vision sparked red Bodie realised he had, too. Deliberately he restored the pattern, and when his voice would be quite steady, said, "Do whatever you want. It's okay. There's no price tag, I promise. Whatever you want."
He was crying, in utter silence, lower lip caught hard in his teeth. His face was quite still, a tearsoaked mask of concentration. All he had wanted to do, it seemed, was sit up a little, and after a while, unfasten the top buttons of Bodie's shirt – one, two, three, very slowly, fingers deft and careful – and slide his hand inside. Bodie drew a breath, making sure it was a silent one, directing it low to his gut so his chest would not heave up. All Doyle's attention seemed fixed on the movement of his fingers beneath the cotton, but Bodie closed his eyes just in case, and tipped his head back. The chilly palm skimmed his collar-bone and he felt his nipples come helplessly erect. "You're cold," he managed, lamely, as the palm planed down to brush one painfully-sensitised tip, thinking that by mutual consent they might both just get away with it as an excuse.
"Sorry." But even as Doyle apologised, the reason vanished, warmth rushing palpably down the veins of his arms, heating his fingers in a soft shockwave. His mouth opened and a low moan escaped before he could get it shut again. "Oh, I want to touch you."
"Bodie, I can't let you touch me back. I can't explain – "
"Don't have to. I won't touch you back."
"And – it never happened?"
"And tomorrow – "
"Tomorrow's just Friday, mate, long boring obbo and a few pints after."
"Oh God, no!"
"Sorry. Lucozade for you."
"How can you do this?"
"Because – because it never happened. And tomorrow's just Friday." And I love you. "Take what you need, sunshine. I won't touch back."
The skimming caress began again. Occasionally Bodie put out a hand and brushed fresh tears off his damaged cheekbone, out of the corner of his mouth, but otherwise remained still. Nipple to nipple, the caress that had started accidentally now making targets of the tight-drawn flesh. Flat-palm pressure, then a light sweep. Then Doyle closed his thumb and middle finger on one sensitised peak and Bodie swallowed convulsion. His back arched, hard and hidden amongst the sofa cushions, and his groan went down deep inside, burning and abrading en route. Not deep enough: Doyle froze, tipped his head to one side and whispered, "I can't do this to you."
"Yes you can." Bodie fought to produce a smile. "Ray, I've got reflexes. Carry on the way you're going and you'll probably meet a few more. It's nothing personal."
"I must still be pissed."
If looking at it that way helps. "Should think you are. You didn't drink your coffee."
"Gone cold now, hasn't it?" As if Bodie's doubt of his sobriety had been a final benediction, Doyle pushed the shirt's fabric right back, dipped his head and put his lips to one swollen nipple. "Christ," Bodie mouthed silently at the ceiling; put both hands firmly to the edge of a sofa-cushion and held on. Outlined in gold he could just see his partner's oddly-cut, exquisite profile, see how the sculpted lips parted to take him in. The wet glimmer of tongue, lapping across and across, cautious at first and then deliberate, a rhythmic flick. Bodie released a breath that would have been a yell in other circumstances and the sensation abruptly stopped. Was he relieved or desolate? Impossible to tell: his emotions were caught up in the maelstrom of physical response. Doyle lifted him with careful strength and eased him to lie almost flat on the sofa, which felt momentarily better as some blood made its way to his brain, but then the lean fine hands began work on his belt, his zip, and the reality of his raging hard-on could no longer be avoided. "I'm sorry," he gasped. "You're good at this. I'll go and – deal with that, if you want."
"You gave me fair warning about your reflexes. Bodie, can you ... If you close your eyes, can you imagine I'm a woman?"
Not without a very great leap of faith. Hell, I probably could, if I wanted to. That's the problem. No motive. Why would I want to imagine anything in creation other than what's here? Desperately Bodie cleared his mind, sought reason in the hot mist of arousal. "What for?"
"What do you think?"
"Ah... Ah, Ray, love. No. Stop right there."
Love? "You don't want – ?"
"You don't want. You can't."
"Oh – God, Bodie, how do you know?"
It wasn't denial. It was frustrated, wondering protest at Bodie's power to see through him. For a long moment they gazed at one another, Ray as flushed now as he had been stripped of colour before, kneeling over his partner's dishevelled body as if not quite able to believe the reactions he'd caused. Bodie was quite right: to touch the erection swelling the front of his black cotton pants was not within Doyle's parameters, the barbed-wire fence hammered into place around his childhood. To pull the garment's elastic down and take what was revealed into his mouth would have killed him, although every instinct howled at him to do so. And Bodie was so still, so sweetly observing the impossible rules Doyle had laid down, his hands motionless as if cuffed into place. Don't touch back. And he hadn't, though the dark cotton was damp with pre-ejaculate. And even within such limitations, even with so much uncomplainingly given and granted, Doyle could not love him.
Beyond tears, he stretched out and lay down close. He pressed his mouth to Bodie's shoulder and carefully shifted on top of him. "Go on," he whispered.
"Let it come."
Bodie shuddered. His hips were caught beneath the sharp-angled cage of Doyle's. "No," he choked. "I don't have to – "
But he did. The light, tense pressure on him, electric in its stillness, had taken him from arousal to inevitability, the borderline unnoticed. "Jesus," he ground out, and Doyle stroked the hair at his nape and pushed down a little harder. "Come on," he said, mouth hot against Bodie's ear. "I want it. I want to feel it. Just let go."
Bodie's head arched back. His wail was soundless, a small lost rasp of overload. Distantly he was aware of Doyle's tongue on his exposed throat – a brief, sharp bite. "Christ – ! Ah, Ray, Christ – !" Hands still locked at his sides, utterly motionless, untouched except for the press of Doyle's groin on his, he climaxed, gasping out the pain and intensity and weirdness of it to the living-room ceiling. Wet heat shot from him and his hips bucked up before he could stop himself. Broken rule? But then Doyle took the motion from him, thrust down with cautious fervour until Bodie's broken cries ceased.
Another pair of jeans soaked through, although not with his own come this time. Twice in 24 hours. Bitterly Doyle reflected that his life was in some disarray. And this – even lying an inch from Bodie, watching him while he came – hadn't stirred his cock, although his mind had drifted in fire and his heart was still pounding at assault-course speed. Twisted, he thought, mentally setting this label on himself. Broken. And – oh, God – what had he done tonight...?
"Angelfish, I'd lie here forever, but if we wake up tomorrow like this, it won't get our ordinary Friday off to much of a start, will it?"
A silence. Bodie lay listening to the fear and disbelief and weariness chasing one another through his friend's body. He could read every twitch, every breath, and wondered how long the strange empathy would last. A side-benefit of coming to orgasm in his arms? If so, he would have to accept its loss, when it faded, as final. Forcing down a hot lump of sorrow in his throat, he said, "Doyle, go shower. It never happened. I promised you that, and it's true." He smiled faintly, and pushed the mass of curls back far enough to expose one still-warm cheek, which he kissed, delicate and chaste as a priest. "Can I say I wish it had? But it didn't. Just... leave some hot water for me, will you?"
Not for the first time, the perils of their job were a perverse salvation. An emergency-call spilled them out onto the street at 5:00 the following morning, and in the life-and-death that followed, both perhaps genuinely forgot the little storm that had rattled their off-duty. For a week they were sleeping on army cots with half a dozen of Bodie's old mob, and although Doyle woke up one cold pre-dawn to the sound of cheerfully-indiscreet shagging from the barracks toilet, there was no room in this world for his own tortured approach.
In this world, an IRA splinter group held six TA volunteers hostage in the base canteen, and shot the eldest of them, a skinny 18-year-old, when an army negotiator was five minutes late in arriving. The situation held for three days, then four, and on the fifth came the edict from military echelons unknown that the deal and all bets were off. Cowley went to explain this to his men, who were on discreet watch with the commandos for opportunity. He explained that for the army's purposes, the TA boys were expendable, and the SAS gentlemen too must accept this, although Cowley was aware of how that would stick in their collective craw. He explained that his own employees, though encouraged to respect the generals and diplomats, were answerable only to himself, and should they have any thoughts on this apparently-hopeless situation, they were to keep them to themselves, but act on them and provide him with a report in due course. After a long silence, seven out the nine men in the office, Cowley included, got up quietly and left. The two remaining found themselves recipients of an odd touch, pat to the shoulder, fierce eloquent look, as they walked out.
"That clears that up, then."
Doyle made a small adjustment to the sighting of his rifle and looked up into dancing blue eyes. "Yeah," he said. "Always good to know where we stand."
Doyle did not often think of his own physical gifts. Although he trained hard, his body was not of a type that demanded hard training to stay lean and agile. It was a source of some annoyance to Bodie, whose appetites and build cost him dearly in terms of maintenance. He often launched mocking complaint about his partner's improbable, cat-like ability to shift from place to place with no perceptible lapse of time nor intervening move. He was at the bottom of a flight of stairs – and at the top. Strolling along the deck of a boat, then over a rail to the wharfside, quite unconscious of his grace. He was not thinking consciously now of what it took to negotiate this steep-pitched rooftop with a cumbersome Armalite tucked under one arm. But it was pleasant to move, and to move in silence, when the prey was so close. When so much could be done, by the silence and quickness of a cat. Bodie was on ground level where he belonged, a wall through which Doyle's quarry would have to bulldozer their way, should things go wrong. He didn't intend that they should. Two shots from a good angle would save five lives – a fair bargain – and negate all danger to a sixth one whom Doyle held dearer.
The canteen had ventilation slats let into one perspex section of roofing. Their targets were not stupid; all the other vents had been stopped up or closed, but plans had shown that these were right above a set of freezer units and invisible from ground level. There was no possibility of shooting through them, but a good hard yank would bring the whole perspex unit out in one, and then there would be perhaps two seconds to drop down, take sight and finish matters. As anybody with a normal set of hinges to their joints would take three, Doyle was the candidate of choice.
He did it in one, but missed.
By his own standards anyway – the second gunman was only winged, not dead. The vents had been leaking and water had pooled and frozen on top of the refrigeration units. Succinctly breaking his wrist in the fall, Doyle rolled himself out into the open, self-appointed bait while the hostages ran. "Here! Here, you shithead; come an' get me!"
And he knew his viewpoint was a specialised one, but it seemed a hell of a long time, and the muzzle of an IRA assault rifle was bruising his forehead, before the deep voice broke across the morning: "Oh, I don't think so. Not today. Give it up now, there's a good lad."
No easing of the metal's bite, only small shifts as the balaclava'd head snapped back and forth in panic. Trying to decide. Bodie spared his partner a long, outrageous wink, and Doyle rolled his eyes in response. Oh, the tedium! "You alright down there?"
"Not so bad. Bust me wrist again."
"Oh, the right this time."
"Cowley will be pleased."
"Doesn't matter. Can shoot with either."
"Shut up!" the gunman bawled, nerve snapping, plainly unable to believe the casual exchange going on around and as if through him. Knowing when to quit a tactic, Bodie gave him his full attention and a cold vulpine smile. "Alright," he said. "Let's discuss it, then."
For 30 seconds, Doyle's future hung on the outcome of a mindgame between two dangerous and wilful men. Not much by way of a discussion, he thought, unless his captor's ragged breathing could be taken as response to Bodie's calm listing of their options. Yes, the gunman could kill Doyle, but would die immediately himself as a result. Bodie had orders on the subject of taking him alive, but would probably forget those in the trauma of losing his mate. If this was intended as a kamikaze mission, then so be it, but Bodie didn't think so. He thought the gunman probably envisaged being alive when the dust settled, and being alive in jail would be more pleasant for him without a cold-blooded cop killing to his name. Of course, there was hostage potential here, but Doyle would not be so comfy a detainee as the six boyscouts he'd be replacing – in fact, a spitting cobra would probably give the gentleman less trouble – and Bodie would kill him anyway, somehow, somewhere, at some point. "Now," he concluded, letting a little of his fury and revulsion reach his eyes, "while you can still step, step the fuck away from my partner."
He'd turned his ankle pretty badly, as he discovered when Bodie hoisted him upright. The strong grip fastened round him and they made their way together through dusty, army-issue sunlight to the canteen doors. "Sorry I screwed up, mate."
"What? We should all screw up so badly. They're having Ray-Doyle t-shirts run off out there."
"With 'He Missed' on them? There was a sheet of ice up there. I slipped and – "
"Killed one and immobilised the other before you hit the ground."
"Immobilised is generous."
"Well, that's what backup is for. I'm glad you left me a bit of the action. All the mums and sisters are here, you know. Could quite fancy being a sung hero for once."
Doyle groaned. "Oh, God. Here, as in – "
"Right outside that door, hugging their crewcut babies and waitin' for you."
"Bodie, go and get the car."
"Aw, c'mon. Not even a touch of adulation? To make up for all the times we get our arses kicked?"
"No!" They were almost at the doors, the cavernous space behind them still acrid with cordite. Leaning lightly into Bodie's support, Doyle realised that he was enjoying him as he had used to do, simply and without thought. His power, his skewed sense of humour. The plain fact of his presence. Perhaps, he thought. Just perhaps, everything will be alright. He smiled. "Well, maybe I'd like a quick look at it. On the way to car," he amended an instant later, and Bodie grinned and led him into the daylight.
They had dinner together that night, a time-honoured mission's-end takeout, with undemanding small talk followed by sofa, beer and TV. As each routine pleasure dropped into place, Doyle felt more and more reassured. Was there any chance that Bodie really had forgotten? The man's memory worked strangely, storing pain and difficulty deep, sealed off as irrelevant to his here and now. He'd admitted to Doyle, once the Richardson case was wrapped up, that he hadn't even remembered Keller's existence until the continuing fact of it began to cause him trouble. And there was his time in Angola, and Belfast... Perversely, once Doyle was half-convinced, he began to be sorry about it. Bodie did not need more memories to suppress. And some small, anguished scrap of the abused child that had got caught up in Doyle's adulthood, and had a taste of freedom on that night a week ago, did not want to be forgotten. He crumpled a beer can, stretched his legs out onto the coffee table in front of Bodie's sofa, and tried to return some attention to Mastermind.
"Oh, God, what a racket!"
Doyle jumped slightly. He turned to look at his partner, but Bodie had not shifted from his comfortable slouch beside him. "What?"
Sidelong glance, deep blue through long lashes. "Your thoughts!"
"What about 'em? I wasn't having any." He stopped and stared down at the tin he was still mangling, feeling a faint blush start. "Was just watching the telly."
"Oh, yeah? Then who did command the starship Enterprise before Captain Kirk?"
"Christopher Pike, of course."
Bodie grinned. "You know that because you're a sad git, not cos you were paying attention. Now, what's up? Your conscience hurting? Your arm?"
"Neither." Doyle flexed his fingers where they extended from beneath a light plaster. "I'm fine." But he wasn't meeting Bodie's eyes, nor returning his gaze to the screen in such a way as to terminate the exchange. Shut up!, a voice inside him howled. Just shut up, Ray! What the hell do you think you're doing? From a dry throat, feeling helpless as a programmed automaton, he said, "That night when nothing happened ... "
Oh. My God, I really thought you'd never – "Yeah? What about it?" Friendly and steady, apparently unconcerned. Bodie thought he was doing quite well. It was Doyle who seemed to be having the problem, blushing rosily and staring at the carpet as if he'd like to take it in for questioning. The evening was warm and he'd stripped off his overshirt, leaving only the sleeveless T that Bodie had trouble with because it exposed his upper arms and the sweet sculpted rise of his collar-bones. The plaster hadn't set enough for him to shower and he smelled deliciously of himself, earthy and deep and real. Bodie had never fantasised about him when he was right there, but the vision swept upon him now of how it would be if he turned just a little, lifted his chin, closed his eyes, and how it would be if the lovely mouth thus exposed was under Bodie's, quivering and opening –
Bodie sprang to his feet. Once there he took a moment to still himself, school the massive pounce coiled up in his muscles to three tame, careful strides to the TV. Business as usual. No problems. Just a programme ending and the owner-occupier going to switch off the set. Doing so, crouching down to pick up some of the scatter of books and papers beneath it, he said, "It's alright if you want to talk about it."
"Not really. I just ... "
Lifting a hand to his mouth, Bodie sat still, looking out at the evening sunlight. He was quite sure that neither the heave of his heart nor the throbbing at his groin were apparent. Casually, he said, "There's nothing to worry about, Ray. Not even – not even if you'd like it not to happen again."
It took Doyle a second to sort through. Sense, then implications. He didn't mean the faint chuckle that broke from him; would have slit his throat, rather, in a clearer-headed moment. But there it was, a husky edge of amusement to his words. "No. No, not that. I just wanted to thank you for being so patient, such a good mate, while it – while it wasn't happening."
Nevertheless, the rest of the evening passed off pleasantly enough. Doyle left no earlier than he would have done anyway, and both had such a vested interest in normality that between them they created it, maintained it by mutual effort, the process and the strain determinedly ignored. Bodie could even help him into his jacket with a mocking intimacy when the taxi-driver buzzed up, making sure the sleeve wouldn't tug at his arm. "There, darling. Have a good day at the office."
Grinning, checking for house keys, Doyle heard a rustle of paper and withdrew Kath's leaflet from his pocket. "Oh, this is tomorrow night. Would you like to come with me?"
"What – to the opening? Nah. I like her stuff, but you two haven't met in years. I'd be in the way."
Doyle sighed, ran a hand into his fringe. "I phrased that badly. I'm shit-scared of meeting her. I could really use moral support. I meant, will you come with me? Please?"
Exhausted, hopeless, torn to bits by unwitting, conflicting demands. Showing not one flicker of it. Hold the door open for him; that's it. Smile. You can manage. "In that case, of course."
"Pick you up at eight?"
"Yeah, fine. Night, Ray."
There are limits on what you can smash, in a rented house. Think at last // We have not reached conclusion, when I // Stiffen in a...
Where the hell did that come from? Bodie stood panting in the kitchen, propped on stiff arms against the counter-top. A glass was in fragments in the sink and across the window sill, but it didn't seem to have done him much good. The blood still burned in his veins, beat a savage rhythm through his mind. It was Eliot, wasn't it? Thomas Stearnes. That old bigot. Think at last // I have not made this show purposelessly // And it is not by any concitation // Of the backward devils. A sob roared up in Bodie's chest, blocking his throat: he crumpled up over it, pressing both hands to his face. "God, why did I ever – ever meet you?" But tears were Ray's province – somehow over all the years he had hung on to the ability to cry – and Bodie uncoiled violently and did the thing he did instead.
The cupboard door was only chipboard under the pine veneer and his fist smashed through with satisfying drama. Pain skyrocketed up from his knuckles through his wrist and shoulder, and he turned into it as he would a cold shower, for much the same purposes. He was furious and miserable and he still had a throbbing hard-on – what unique species of torture had the world devised for him? Gasping, he stumbled back into the living room, looking for more breakables.
Black-and-red caught his vision, the pattern so familiar it was like a kind of code to his brain. Doyle, the code translated. Doyle at the wheel of the Capri. Running ahead of him into some war zone or other. Doyle on his sofa three hours ago, well-fed and warm, shrugging lithely out of the checked overshirt and slinging it behind him. "Forgot that," Bodie said to the empty room. Probably on purpose, he reflected – it was torn, damp and dirty after the trials of the day. Probably hoped Bodie would get it washed for him. It wasn't a thing he could break, and he wasn't big on tearing things up, but he prowled across the room with his eyes blazing nonetheless and took hold of it in both hands. Filthy, yes. And rich with its owner's scent. Breathing harshly, he leaned over the back of the sofa; lifted the fabric to his nose. A fantasy surfaced, lured by his position and the sensory input. Bend over the couch, Bodie. Now, damn you! I can't wait any more. "Oh God," Bodie whispered into the cotton. Couldn't he be left a scrap of dignity? Couldn't he curl up round his bruises and try to sleep it off? A kicked dog could count on that much. He shuddered as his cock tried for full erection in the trap of his fitted black cords. Cursing, he unzipped and took hold of himself. Very well. So be it. If this was his dream, he would have it, all the way. A dream could be hounded to exhaustion and killed like anything else. Instead of pushing down his fantasies about Doyle, he would let them come, and let them do the same for him, until he was sickened, until he found surfeit, until he was just plain bloody bored. Roughly, bitterly, he began to masturbate, a conjured demon at his back. He tears down my pants and thrusts into me, both of us bone-dry. It's agony. I'm coming.
Gasping, he pushed upright. He'd shot hard, a pent-up week's worth, and the sofa would need attention before he hosted any coffee mornings. He let his mind run ahead, to catch the flaring skirts of the next scenario...
That night, Bodie knelt outside the open door of the Capri and sucked Doyle off, while seagulls from the wharfside wheeled and cried overhead, and little coltsfoots sprinkled the sunny expanse of hinterland. He pushed him backover onto Cowley's desk and drew up his legs to grip his waist. In the squad room, Doyle bade him look out the window, then slipped a wet finger down the back of his pants and teased at his anus until his whole body burned and the world exploded in rainbow fire. Surprising even Bodie, Murphy figured in that scene, jerking off appreciatively while he watched. That night, Doyle stripped naked in a secluded reach of Richmond Park, settled against a tree and stared at Bodie like a lynx while he pleasured himself. In top-to-toe motorbike leathers he knocked Bodie senseless and unceremoniously raped him, because he knew it could never be, but still he wanted him so much, and when Bodie came round he forgave him and they did it all again. Back in the hospital bed after he'd been shot, desperate for release but too weak to touch himself, Doyle blushed and stammered out a certain request, and Bodie drew down the sheet and leaned over him, took him in his mouth and tongued him with exquisite care until his seed spilled. That night, they rolled together naked on a beach, thrusting and yelling and coming again and again.
That night –
And again, and again. And he was too sore to touch himself any more, and he'd had enough, which was the best time to continue. Still half-dressed, he lay on his front in the bed and had Doyle really hurt him, without passion this time, without remorse. His legs were splayed wide, feet chained to the bedposts. The thing pumping inside him was a dildo, cold and large, because Ray was not even interested enough to get hard over him any more. He convulsed, and came in a dry spasm. He was raw now, spent, and the last thing he wanted to think about was –
...Ray, at the end of ten years or so of happy cohabitation, coming to their big double bed and asking, "Tired, love?" And Bodie murmured yes, and a warm, tender hand brushed down his belly, and down again. Because feeding these dreams made them hungrier. Because this having bred only yearning, huge and lonely as a winter sky. One hand still trapped beneath him, Bodie went very still and closed his eyes.
He awoke at seven on Saturday evening, and knew that he couldn't wash, get ready, and have the place presentable by eight. An attractive throw – not that he possessed such a thing – would neutralise the couch, and all his bedlinen – God, all, pillowcases included – could be binlinered for the launderette. But it would take more than that to clear the air. Not of the faint, heavy musk that had drifted to every corner, though that was bad enough. No. Doyle walked into houses and said the place felt wrong, bad, and they would hear later of a suicide or murder or the death of an old man by slow neglect. And that was when weeks or months had passed. No. He would come in cheerful and ordinary and a minute later freeze, transfixed, and he would know that part of Bodie had died in here last night.
Still nauseous with unaccustomed daytime sleep, Bodie dialled his number. He picked up on the second ring, his hello? apprehensive. "Hi, it's just me."
"Are you alright?"
Oh, for Christ's sake. Don't start doing it over the goddamn phone. "I'm fine. Why?"
"You sound husky. You getting a cold?"
"Nah. You've stressed me into picking up me 50-a-day habit. Anyway, isn't it sexy?"
"Extremely." A wry, relieved smile in the machine-filtered voice. Bodie knew why. If he could still flirt, certain things between them still were safe. "Is this just an obscene phone call, or did you want something?"
"Neither, you ingrate. I'm offering. If you're nervous about tonight, why not have a few drinks and let me drive?"
"I don't know. I'm still not recovered from last Thursday week."
That makes you an' me both, angelfish. "Well, at least you weren't buying that night, I shouldn't think."
"You sod, Bodie. I just forgot it was Thursday."
"Mate, you forgot it was the Buck. I'll come over and get you, okay?"
"Well – okay. Actually, it's a good idea. Thanks."
"Are you alright?"
"God, Doyle, you running out of pick-up lines or something?"
Hands on hips, Doyle surveyed his friend. He was beautifully turned out, in tailored black slacks and a long leather coat that breathed expense in every understated line. Underneath was a simple white t-shirt that set off to perfection the drama of everything else. "You look like the great immortal vampire, that's all."
"It's a compliment. But – I'm not sure you should be walking around in daylight. You sure you're not coming down with something?"
Only you. Years ago. Raymond bloody Doyle; emotional Black Death. "I'm fine," he said, hoping to God his partner's radar had not learned to pick up evidence of prolonged and desperate masturbation. "Didn't get much sleep last night, that's all." That was true enough, and might explain what looked like thumbprint bruises under his eyes. "Didn't know what to wear. I don't really do arty, unlike you bohemian types."
"Oh, yeah. I was real bohemian in that mess hall yesterday, wasn't I?"
Prickly bastard! Shields up, all the way, straight away. Well, he needs them. I sound like an attack. With no sardonic edge, Bodie said, "You look really nice, Ray."
"Oh." A big blush. God, he was nervous, wasn't he? And as vulnerable to compliment as insult. "Had problems myself. I wasn't going for arty. I think I was going for long-lost brother. Not too scary. Reasonably clean. You know."
"Far too mature to pull her pigtails, you mean?"
"Something like that. And I thought a beret and smock was going too far, so... " He tugged at the fawn silk shirt he had tucked into skin-tight cords a few shades darker. "So this is it." Abruptly he turned away, as if to stall any further observations. "Thanks for offering to drive. I am, in fact, going to have one huge bloody mary before we go. There's beer in the fridge for you, if you don't think it'll turn your head."
Kath had exhibition space in the RA. When Bodie expressed surprise at their destination, Doyle told him that the artist herself was just as astonished: after years of selling landscapes to the owners of the land concerned, one of her abstracts – a gift to a friend in London – had been noticed by a stray art critic during a party. In six months, she'd rocketed from rural obscurity to front-line talent, so completely that when her agent was planning a London show, he had not had to approach the RA, only graciously accept their offer. All these developments Doyle had learned of through occasional three-line notes, their importance played down with a self-mocking cynicism he knew well. No, Ray. I don't bloody believe it either!
Bodie managed to get parked in Mayfair and they walked down to Piccadilly through the rich summer night, air alive with passing perfumes and the spectrum of food-smells produced by hundreds of restaurants at their busiest time. Stepping out in their best, the two of them created a certain effect, and Bodie felt more than one admiring glance pass over his skin like a pleasant vibration. Doyle, his mind fixed on the evening to come, was oblivious to the attention they were getting. Pacing down the length of the Burlington Arcade, its opulent brightness making a small parade of the walk, Bodie wondered how the snatched looks might change if he reached out and put an arm around the lean, silk-clad shoulders or narrow waist. Touched just where his shirt disappeared beneath his soft leather belt. Or let his hand drop to the frankly-beautiful arse in its spray-on cords –
Sharply he thought of something else. The long leather coat could hide many sins, but it wasn't buttoned up in front. "How are you doing?" he asked, ashamed to have motive for enquiring other than genuine concern.
"Oh, you know. Cold sweat. Regretting the whole idea. Other than that, fine."
Bodie let out a low whistle as they entered the exhibition hall. "They don't really need the lights, do they?" All around the walls, somehow rendering the small crowd flat and lifeless, great panels of colour blazed. A star exploded in the mouth of a cave. A million fireflies shot over the surface of a lake, each one reflecting a different gold. The sun rose straight through the heart of a human figure racked out across the sky. For the first time in his life, Bodie understood how it was that otherwise-normal people could dedicate their lives to something so intangible as art. His breath had caught in his throat. But this isn't art, he thought, turning slowly to survey the room. This is reality on fire.
"I don't think she's here." Bodie started slightly and focussed on his partner. He realised with compassion and amusement that Doyle the artist had barely given the paintings a second glance: had been anxiously scanning the thirty or forty people clustered in front of them. "She doesn't always come to her opening nights; she gets stagefright. Let's go."
Having come out this evening with the intent of squiring Doyle through a painful family reunion and admiring what daubs he had to, Bodie was surprised to find he didn't want to leave, at least not without taking a closer look at these strange images. But Doyle had wrapped an eloquent grip round his wrist and was heading for the door. "Don't you want to wait for a few minutes, see if she turns up?"
"This is a message from fate. I listen to those, when they back up what I want to do anyway. Come on, let's go get something to eat..."
Shrugging, Bodie let himself be towed back through the crowd. He was still looking over his shoulder, though, and found his attention caught by a thin woman in a black dress near the far wall, talking animatedly to what looked like a group of students. Her hair was pulled austerely back, but thick curls were escaping, and its texture and shade of red-brown snagged oddly at his mind. Then, as he watched, one of the kids took a backward step into an old man rapt in contemplation of an adjacent starscape – and she moved with a catlike improbable grace to catch him before he could sway.
"Ray," he said, bringing him to a halt. "How long is it since you saw Kath?"
"Saw her – ? About ... 17 years, I think. Why? Oh, God." The woman had felt Bodie's gaze on her and turned. She held warily still for a moment, then she looked beyond him. Bodie saw her excuse herself from the group around her.
Her green eyes fixed on Ray were as remote from human concern as a mountain-lion's. Jesus, Bodie thought: no wonder he was nervous. This one's big trouble, and as she came stalking through the last of the crowd, he took an unconscious step forward and left to half-shield him with his shoulder. About a yard from where they stood, she halted as if registering his signal but not his presence: her gaze was burningly focused on Doyle.
Then she smiled, and while Bodie was trying to work out why he had thought her threatening, or in fact anything other than the loveliest woman he had ever seen, shot past him and into Doyle's stunned reflexive embrace. "Ray! My God!" A silver clasp clattered to the floor and her hair came down completely. "I never thought you'd come."
They clung together, motionless, for a second longer. Bodie heard her spine crackle; heard Doyle's squeezed gasp, then they both disengaged as if dropping hot coals. She was pink and flurried, evidently as unused to public demonstrations as her brother, whose face was blank with shock. Bodie, who had bent to pick up the silver clasp while this fierce meeting took place, extended it to her with one hand and put the other subtly to the back of Doyle's elbow. "Thanks," she said, her voice unsteady. "I was trying to look chic, but it keeps coming down... " For the first time, she looked properly at Bodie, and an awkward silence fell.
"Oh," Ray said, when it had become really uncomfortable. "I'm sorry. Bodie, this is my sister Kath. Kath, this handsome creature's my partner Bodie." He'd long since stopped worrying about a first name, and Kath didn't ask for one, simply putting out a slim hand to Bodie's ready grip. "Well," she said, gathering composure and flicking an amused glance at Ray. "He's almost as good-looking as you said."
Bodie turned on his partner. "What did you say?" Then, not giving him a chance to reply, flipping his attention back to Kath: "Almost?!"
They both laughed, and Bodie felt he had earned his keep for the evening. Doyle said, with much of the strain gone from his voice, "I didn't recognise you at first." He surveyed the slender figure in its silk-and-velvet dress. "What happened to the rest of you?" He immediately winced at the tactlessness of the question, but Kath only smiled uncertainly and rejoined, "Last time you saw me, I'd been comfort-eating for about five years."
"And you quit?" It was lightly asked, but Doyle would have liked to take her by the shoulders and shake from her the secret of any such recovery, such escape.
"Yeah, I just drink and do heroin now, hence – "
"Hence the pictures," they finished in unison, and broke into matching throaty chuckles.
Bodie rolled his eyes. Whatever he had been expecting from tonight, it hadn't been this. He understood from even this brief exposure that this was an established mode of communication between them, dry self-and-mutual mockery, and he wondered how afraid they were of any other kind. "Look," he said, feeling a sudden urgent need for distance, "I'll let you two catch up." He watched Doyle for any signal of distress, but only got a real if slightly too-brilliant smile. "Some of us did come here to look at these pictures, you know."
"Doesn't strike me as the artistic type. Not from your letters, anyway," Kath said musingly, watching his retreating back.
"Oh, he's a dark horse. I hope I haven't made him out as too much of a brainless hulk."
"No. Just as someone you admired physically, as well as in other ways. For a while I thought – " She broke off, her colour rising again. "Sorry. Inappropriate intimacy."
"It's alright." He snagged a couple of champagne glasses from a passing tray and handed one to her, giving them both a momentary distraction. "The answer's no. I – I'm not surprised you wondered, though. I have gone on about him."
"Well, he is very striking. And I'm not the only artist in the family."
Ray glanced around the iridescent walls. "You might as well be," he said, not hiding the trace of wistfulness. He had learned some technique, and when rendering the subject under discussion – ironically, because those sketches, from memory and vivid imagination, would never see the light of day – produced really good work. But he did not have it inside him to make anything like this. He said as much, and there they were back on dangerous ground, the differences between them emphasising all that they had shared. Another difficult silence ensued, Kath turning her glass round by its stem and examining one neat black court-shoe. "How's your job?" she asked eventually, and gestured at the cast on his arm. "Still pen-pushing?"
"Yeah, I found one that pushed back." He smiled in relief: this was an old established joke between them, mitigating the newness of here and now. Like Bodie, he had got into the habit of using "civil servant" as an umbrella-term for what he did, and Kath had accepted it unquestioningly until the night her phone rang and a warm Scottish burr had informed her that the civil servant had been shot in the heart and lay near death, should she wish to come and say goodbye. To her everlasting shame, she had not been able to – at the time, she had not been able to leave the house – but when the crisis passed, they had been more open with one another, and she had come to understand a little of what his daily life involved. "It's alright. It's not a forever deal, though, and they start looking askance at you after 40." Unconsciously he scanned the room for confirmation that his world was in place. "We should think about the future, I know, but... "
Kath smiled at the soft, unconscious "we". This time when her brother tailed off, it felt easier, and neither cast round for the next topic. She found she could look at him properly, and did so, taking in the slender, tough build of him, the cheekbone that had healed to odd attractiveness, the white that was coming in among the russet and brown at his temples. "You look well, Ray," she said simply, at length. "I'm glad to see it."
After that, the conversation became just that, an ordinary exchange between relatives parted for some time. Somewhere in Ray's mind he knew what a charade it was, but neither he nor his sister could bear any part of the alternative. Polishing off a second glass of champagne too fast, feeling the boundaries begin to shift, he decided on tactical withdrawal, and gesturing at the crowd, said, "I'm getting some looks. Am I hogging you?"
"Only by my express and absolute consent; apart from the students these people are idiots. But I had better circulate. Don't go without saying goodbye, though, unless – " She paused, voice catching dryly, her hands looking for nonexistent pockets in the starkly-cut black dress. "Unless you want that to have been it. And I'd understand, Ray."
The boundary strained and tried to give. Doyle felt his heart heave in his chest, old scars hurting. "No," he responded casually, "I don't. In fact, we're going out to Richmond for Sunday lunch and a walk in the park tomorrow, if you'd like to come."
"Won't he mind?"
Doyle sighed. "Kath, we're not a couple. I'm sure we come across like one sometimes, but it's just fallout from the job. He'll probably be bringing a girlfriend, if that makes you feel better."
Ray wandered among the pictures, trying not to understand them. The violence of his own childhood was here, transformed into fierce joy somehow by a woman whose revealed strength terrified and shamed him. No such alchemy was possible for him. He did not process; he buried. Why was she so much stronger? What had she learned? To his relief, he was soon waylaid by a tipsy cluster of students who, deprived of the artist herself, were happy to settle for something that looked a bit like her. Neatly he flipped their questions about childhood influences back to a discussion of their own work, and thereafter had very little to do except listen. He did not notice the passage of time, but Kath was chuckling ruefully when she came up behind him and said, laying a hand to his shoulder, "You lot are a liability. You've been holding forth for nearly an hour, and I'm damn sure my brother hasn't said two words." There were a few sheepish smiles, and Kath steered him away. "You know," she said when they were out of earshot, "I knew I'd like that man from the moment I clapped eyes on him."
"Your lovely partner, that's who."
"Oh, God. He hasn't made a move on you already, has he?"
"Now, Ray, you know that's not how you win the affections of a starving artist. He's bought my third-most-expensive picture, that's all."
Doyle came to an astonished halt. "He never has. Bodie?"
"Yeah. I didn't think I was going to shift it. It's much more violent than my usual stuff and I stupidly called it Revelations, so everybody thinks it's biblical."
Doyle blushed: he had, too. "Well, you don't need worry about Bodie thinking that. He'd rather die than put a religious interpretation on anything. I – I'm really pleased."
"Me too; I was afraid some vicar was going to snap it up to frighten the Sunday-school kids. It's nice to sell to someone who gets it. I didn't believe it when my agent told me, so I went to talk to him. He just said, this looks like someone realising something about themselves. Something great or something terrible. And that's what it's about."
"My God. He is a dark, dark horse. Now I feel guilty."
She snorted. "Don't be daft. You can't afford me any more. I'm not sure why, but I'm pretty sure he can." Her tone gentled. "Anyway, you've got one of mine, and I'm sure that scares you quite enough. Did you ever even hang it up?" He flinched, and she laid a warm hand to the wrist not in plaster. "Don't answer. You're pale, and you look pretty tired. Here comes your mate; he's noticed too. You'd better go quietly before he beats me up."
It was much later than Doyle had realised, and once away from the unsleeping hub of town, the streets were quiet. He waited, letting the swish of the wipers and the thrum of sudden summer rain go soothingly through him, until Bodie had negotiated the worst of the traffic and was properly available. "I hear," he began, propping a foot on the dash and keeping his gaze on the road ahead, "that you committed an act of artistic patronage tonight."
"What?" Bodie demanded, with an instant's genuine distress, then a smile hitched a corner of his mouth. "I never." He sounded like an aggrieved Lambeth burglary suspect, and Doyle began to laugh. "Who says? Anyway, you can't prove it."
"Reckon I can, mate, since we're due at your flat at eleven tomorrow to deliver it and hang it up. Sorry, I believe place it is the correct term."
"Yes. Do try to learn the vocabulary."
"And is she gonna place it to the left or the right of your Samantha Fox centrefold?"
"If you're not careful, she's gonna place it, with my help, up your – " He broke off, satisfied: Doyle was racked with helpless laughter. He had resigned himself to a large amount of flak over this and was glad to see Ray off to a good start. He hadn't said a word between the gallery and the car, and Bodie knew he hadn't been aware of his silence, nor much of anything else.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Bodie!" Doyle wiped his eyes on the sleeve of the beautiful shirt and collapsed back in the passenger seat. "I – I think I'm tired."
"I know you are. Was that much better or worse than you'd been anticipating?"
"Oh, better, much. It went well. It'll be nice to have lunch tomorrow, after we've, er, hung your asset. I just – " A jaw-cracking yawn interrupted him. "God, sorry."
"What for? Go to sleep if you want." Glancing over a second later, Bodie saw that the permission was belated. He'd gone out with the same alarming thoroughness as he had the other week, the transition difficult to tell from a faint. "Ray?" Steadying the wheel with one hand, he reached out and touched his shoulder. Nothing, but when he lifted his wrist, a strong, too-emphatic pulse was there under the bone's fine arch, and he shook his head and concentrated on getting him home.
Parked outside Doyle's flat, Bodie sat watching him, hoping that the cessation of movement might trigger him awake. "Hey, we're home," he said softly.
Doyle took a couple of disturbed breaths. Then his whole body convulsed in an effort that would have flung him onto his feet running, had the windshield and dash not been in his way. He slammed off them, cracking his brow and plaster-clad wrist, and collapsed.
"Jesus fucking Christ, Doyle!" Bodie reached over and grabbed him. Whatever it was, he was still locked into it, and after a brief stunned stillness began to fight. "No. No, don't do this. C'mon, Ray, it's me." He dragged him over the handbrake and held him still by main force. "Look, I don't know what it was, but it's not happening now. Do you hear me?" A fist landed in his stomach by way of response. Coughing, not letting go, he rocked him, and slowly, grudgingly, the seizure dissolved. But the dream would not let him go: lifting his chin, Bodie saw that his gaze was focussed off down unknown vistas of remembered fear. "Ah, Ray," he said despairingly, "when have I ever let anyone hurt you?"
Somehow the question got through. Through time and repeated demonstration, it had filtered down even into the most damaged layers of Doyle's psyche that Bodie would fight, kill, surrender his own life's blood, before allowing harm to come to him. He was part of the upper world, the thin top layer of good days and times, but the effect of him went deeper. "Bodie, are you here?"
Bodie's heart lurched: the question was faint and flat, as if in terrible doubt. "Of course I am."
The other thing his partner did unfailingly was tell him the truth, and the two worlds could not co-exist. Accepting this, his mind let him wake up. "Oh, my God."
A low, relieved chuckle. "Yeah!"
"I was – having a nightmare."
Bodie pushed him back a bit, lifted his fringe and saw by streetlight a considerable bruise rising. "I'd say it was having you. Tell me?"
He didn't really expect an answer, but the green eyes went distant. A moment later, a kind of feline disgust touched every line of his face. "No. Not ever."
They sat in a silence at once tense and companionable. Bodie was used to these; they both were. Too much to think about, no words adequate, but a comrade on hand should anything surface. Bodie let it extend until Ray's breathing steadied and the tremor left his hands. "Want to go inside?"
"Yes, but not with you."
It was so prompt and succinct that Bodie laughed. "Oh, that's charmin', mate. Any reasons, or is it just a sudden irrational dislike?"
"No," Doyle responded seriously. He sat up, looked straight at him. "Reasons. I want you to come in. Bodie, I want you to come in, get into bed with me and hold me so tight I can't breathe."
Bodie tried to analyse the expression that had gathered on his colourless face during this speech. It took him a while, but he concluded that he was steeling himself not to flinch when slapped. Fury rose in him, but it had no function in this place and time and he let it pass through, a rose of dark fire blooming out into the night. Gently he said, "And the problem with this is... ?"
"That you can't!" Doyle replied at once, surprised into clarity. "You want something I don't, and being that close to me makes it harder for you."
"You're wrong." The words came easy, almost without emphasis, because they were true. Bodie felt as if a door had opened up in his mind. It was something to do with the pictures, and he had bought the one that gave him the feeling most strongly. And it was something to do with Kath. The rain was easing up; orange-cast London clouds parting to reveal the three great lights of the Summer Triangle. Something to do with the possibility that while Ray Doyle was unusual, perhaps he was not unique – or at least that the parts of him Bodie loved most were also to be found elsewhere. Perhaps there existed for him something he could want and actually have, in principle at least. "You're a terrible egomaniac, Ray, and you're wrong. Come on, we're going in."
It was four in the morning. In the hours they had lain together, Doyle had not stirred. The arm Bodie kept round his narrow waist was tight enough to impede his breathing by the pleasant fraction he had seemed to desire. Bodie lay behind him, nose buried in his shower-damp, clean-smelling hair, wide awake and knowing that wasn't going to change any time soon. But he had been right, and it wasn't frustrated desire that was keeping sleep at bay. He just had too much to think about. A profound change had taken place within him, and although he was curled up groin-to-backside with Ray Doyle, he could cope. Ray's face, as they prosaically stripped and settled into bed together, had been a picture. Smiling, pulling him closer, Bodie tried to analyse if apprehension or hope had formed the greater part of his expression. He believed Doyle when he said he did not want him in that way, but he also believed that the man took a great deal of unconscious satisfaction in the fact that Bodie did. "Sorry, angelfish," he murmured into his hair. "I'd die for you tomorrow, but I can't live like that any more."
A couple of hours later, when there was friendly daylight in the room and he was sure Doyle was sleeping too peacefully for further nightmares, he disentangled himself and got up. Perhaps he was no longer yearning to roll the sinewy body onto its front and accommodate his cock between its thighs, but he couldn't fall casually asleep beside him, not quite yet, and he was exhausted. He left Doyle a note saying that he needed to explain things to Samantha, set the alarm clock for nine and left. He had a cupboard door to fix – and a hell of a lot of housework.
He had wondered if he would find her less compelling in daylight, but from the moment the car door opened and she misjudged the Capri's low chassis and half-fell out, he was lost. The severe black dress had been replaced by a russet cotton shirt, and jeans that strangled an arse every bit as worthy of display as her brother's. Keying open the building's main doors, he handed her courteously in and they both stood back to enjoy Ray's struggle with the picture. "Morning, sunshine," Bodie called. "You carry on there. How's the arm?"
Only Kath was not surprised by how good the painting looked on Bodie's living-room wall. Without conscious thought, she had formed a mental image of the man's surroundings which was borne out by the fact, and the room's unfussy lines and plain furniture gave the work a perfect context. It was pretty wild, though. Standing in front of it, hands wedged into the back pockets of her jeans, Kath wondered if he'd be able to live with its ferocity, then decided he was a man who could withstand a bit of that. She stole a glance at him, and found one already being stolen from her. "Do you like it?"
"I'm not sure like is what you do with your work." They studied one another for a moment, allowing the sounds of Doyle making coffee in the kitchen to ease the silent mutual assessment. Then Bodie said, "Will you have dinner with me tomorrow?" It was the simplest and calmest approach he had ever made, and they both calmly waited for her response. But half a beat later Doyle came through balancing a tray, and caught her eye, and said, "My God, he just spent nine hundred quid – "
"On asking me out!" Kath finished, and both exploded with laughter.
Carefully Bodie lifted the tray away from Doyle. "Screw you both, very much," he commented without rancour when he thought he would be heard, and it set them off again. After that he settled for ignoring them and pouring out the coffee. Kath had collapsed by the sofa, eyes streaming, all dignity gone, and her laughter was as infectious as Ray's, but Bodie decided they would have more fun if he kept a straight face, and did so with an effort. Doyle was balled up in an armchair, quite helpless. "Pair of utter bastards," Bodie contributed when they seemed in danger of getting over it, and exited the room to leave them to it.
"Oh God – !" Kath choked eventually, "He isn't really – ?"
Doyle grinned, wiping away tears. "No, I can guarantee he really isn't."
"All the same, I – I'd like to square it with him. Give me a minute. In fact, I need you out of the flat completely if I'm going to be serious. Go sit on the wall outside until you're wanted, okay?"
He was in the kitchen, smiling at her with the affection of long acquaintance. It confused her, but if the sense of belonging it conveyed was undeserved, it was also very pleasant. Disturbed, flattered, she stood in the doorway and tugged a long curl straight; watched it bounce back. "I think the expression is, 'this is all a bit sudden'."
"For me, too. I'm sorry. I just couldn't see much point in waiting."
"That's fair enough. But – I'm not sure you'll like me, on closer acquaintance."
"Well, as I said about the painting, I'm not sure liking's what you do. And it's dinner, not a lifetime commitment. I can ditch you if you don't come up to scratch."
She smiled. He was a lot smarter than she had originally guessed. She did wonder if her brother quite understood his intelligence. "Alright," she said, and came to sit on the kitchen table. "I'm about to make a speech, at the end of which you can change your mind, okay?" He nodded, and she laced her fingers together for a moment, then looked straight at him. "First, I'm not, and never have been, anybody's bird." He blinked uncomfortably, and she said, "Sorry. Ray hasn't said much, but I know you both employ the term. I don't object to it, it's just that I don't qualify. So if that's what you prefer, don't waste your time. Second, I'm only in town for another week. That's presumptuous of me, but I think that – I think that if we did go out, we'd have fun, and we might even start liking each other. Having got all that off my chest – I'm really sorry we laughed at you, and the answer is yes, unless you've changed your mind."
He leaned against the sink, surveying her cautiously. "No. You make me think, which I admit I don't enjoy much off-duty, but I haven't thought better of that."
While Bodie collected car keys and wallet in preparation for their trip to Richmond, Kath joined her brother on the wall. She felt absurdly guilty; fraudulent in a way she couldn't begin to define. "I shall," she declared formally, bumping a thin shoulder off his, "be accepting Will's invitation to dinner."
She smiled. "Bloke you work with. Tall chap, dark hair. Built like a brick shed. You know the one."
"By his invitation." She frowned in amusement and concern: Ray looked genuinely shocked. "Well, I could hardly sit with him over the hors-d'oeuvres and call him Bodie, could I?"
"Kath, he made the vicar call him Bodie!"
To their mutual surprise, Bodie and Kath proceeded to enjoy a series of successful dates. A short discussion established that they had virtually nothing in common, and they therefore agreed to put up with each other's poor taste on alternate nights. So it was that Kath Doyle, respected avant-garde painter, found herself watching The Terminator at a very private advance viewing – her new friend had his contacts – on a huge Leicester Square screen, and to her astonishment loving every minute. Special effects had improved since her last taste of the genre in the back row of a tatty Belfast picture house in 1965, and it was pleasant to see clever, amoral people doing what they did best with no regrets. By way of revenge she took him to see Querelle at the tiny art-house Screen on the Hill, where he put up surprisingly gracefully with the hoots and cries of the mostly male, entirely gay audience packing the place out, only covering his eyes once or twice during the more unrestrained sex scenes. He took her drinking with six coolly gorgeous paratroopers; she took him to La Boheme...
..and the following Saturday morning sat chuckling at the breakfast table in Doyle's flat, relating their last escapade to her astonished brother. "I looked across at him during Mimi's aria and he had his eyes closed. I thought he must be really moved so I put my hand on his arm... and the bastard woke up!"
Doyle almost choked on his coffee. "Oh, God," he said when he could, "I was afraid you were going to tell me you'd found his sensitive side."
"Oh, hell, no. He doesn't have one. But he's fun in spite of."
"Probably because of." They grinned at one another: guilt, self-analysis and frequent post-mortems had cost them both too many easy good times. Then Doyle sobered. "Honestly, Kath, I'm surprised the two of you are hitting it off. You couldn't be further from his usual type."
"Which is?" Kath enquired cautiously.
"Well, it's polarised. Cheerful barmaids and rich daddy's girls he despises before he's got them out of their Knightsbridge flats. Come to think of it, I've no idea why he does that second one. The barmaids I can understand; he'd be the first to tell you he likes a nice simple lay." He heard himself and shut up in mortification. "I – I don't mean you, of course."
Kath gave him a wry smile; let him steep for a few seconds. "Would you like to engineer a subject-change, Ray?"
But she couldn't engineer them herself with Will, not indefinitely. He had treated her so gently on all their excursions, his most intimate touch a hand to her elbow on the theatre steps, that she wondered if he considered himself limited to an extension of Ray's brotherly regard. Enjoyable as that was, she knew a woman of her age had more to do than wait. She was staying at her friend Lara's flat – the flat and the friend that had accidentally launched her career – and when he stood with her outside, late, in the strange summer night-wind, she turned a dry, warm mouth to the kiss he had been aiming at her cheek. She felt a little electrical jump go through him and clutched tightly at his white cotton shirt, pressed briefly against his lips and backed off. "Come up for a coffee?" she suggested, one eyebrow signalling her amusement at the cliche. "Well, at least I didn't offer to show you my etchings."
"Only because you really have them."
She was still chuckling as she led him into the kitchen, and saw too late that a silent approach would have served her better. Lara's bedroom door swung open and her prettily-cropped head appeared, brown eyes enormous in the hall's dim light. "Hi, La," she said in resignation. "Sorry we disturbed you."
"Not at all," Lara returned brightly. She disappeared for a moment then emerged in a bright silk robe. "I've been lying awake every night for a week in the hope you'd be so indiscreet as to bring him in. You must be Kath's-brother's-partner-Will."
"The same," he agreed, amused but with a warning prickle at the back of his neck. She was reed-thin and barely came up to his shoulder, but when brown eyes were cold they did it more thoroughly than any other colour, and he instinctively did not like her. She examined him, lower lip caught between her teeth, while Kath introduced her, then put out a soft little paw to meet his gesture. "Well, I know I'm de trop. I just wanted to see what it took."
Kath ducked her head and fastened her attention on the carpet while Lara padded back to her room. Bodie watched her retreating spine with something close to a shudder in his own, then turned to his companion and saw her so pale she was almost green with it. "I thought only one person went that colour," he said, and took gentle hold of her arm. "Do you want to sit down?"
"No! No, I'm fine." She shook him off, then as if the reflex had been the very thing she wanted to avoid, deliberately reached for both his hands. "Too much culture, probably, and it's way past my bedtime." She had not meant it to sound seductive, but like her brother's, her voice took a sexy little rasp over some words when she was tired, and Bodie smiled. He disengaged his hands and put them to either side of her face; held it like a chalice. "You're very beautiful. Do you suppose Ray would mind if I kissed you?"
"Ray?" she echoed weakly. "What's he got to do with it?" But the warm mouth descended on hers, tasting of espresso and the aromatic liqueur they had had to follow and some animal thing else that made her heart bump raggedly, and she did not have time to worry that Ray did have some involvement, at least where his partner was concerned. The percussion shook her breastbone. Bodie felt it – it was new to him, not something he'd encountered with other, better-padded girlfriends – and after a few moments lost in the various sensations of kissing her, he drew back.
"What's the matter?" he demanded softly, horrified to see that her eyes were full of tears. "Did I do something you don't like?"
"Oh, what's not to like?" It was a frustrated wail, and if flattering, not much of an answer. Bodie held her by the shoulders, very lightly, ready to let go. "What is it, Kath?" he persisted. "Was I rushing you?"
"Rushing me – " She choked it off in a bitter little laugh. "Hardly. It's our third night out. We're way behind schedule as it is."
"Well, shouldn't I be a notch on your bedpost by now? Wincing when I walk? Isn't it normal policy for you to bed women you respect on the second date?"
"Kath," he protested faintly, as much dismayed by her sudden crudity as her apparent knowledge of his sexual MO. "Bloody hell. What has Doyle told you?"
"Nothing on purpose. He just – Christ, admires your style, I think, the way nothing's ever complicated for you – "
"Oh, is that what he thinks?" Bodie swallowed something that would have been rage if it had got loose. "Kath, your brother has – no idea. I don't have an agenda. I do what feels right, when a girl wants to do it. If she does. And as for nothing being complicated... " He shut up, quite unable to begin a discussion of that.
Kath supposed girl was one step up from bird. She smiled, unable to help it: he really was absolutely beautiful when he was cross. "Good God," she said. "Are we having a row?"
"What if we are? You bloody started it." The childishness was deliberate; Kath saw the glimmer deep in his eyes. "And what did your nice little friend mean about seeing what it took?"
"Nothing. And you're right, I did start it. I'm sorry. Look, if you don't have a timetable, I do: sex before the first fight. Let me start that too."
She moved like a cat beneath him, her clothes a pelt over fine warm skin. Somehow he found himself out of most of his own, divested of shirt and trousers by hands whose movements he could detect only by their result. "Mm, you're nice," she murmured, rolling him down onto the duvet and shifting lithely on top. Through his pants she felt his erection lift, pressing the heavy grey silk of her evening dress between her legs. He was large and hungry, and although he was smiling up at her, he was also sweating with the effort of control, as if it had been a long time for him, or as if he wanted her more strongly than she had thought. Kath was not afraid any more. She was on autopilot, in familiar skies. Carefully she sat back, drew the fabric of her skirts high on her thighs and eased his underwear down on his. His gasp at the sudden, almost scientific exposure of his flesh went by her unnoticed. All this, she knew, would be over very soon, and then she would breathe again, and then the gaping holes in the walls would heal up again, and the exercise surely worth it to relieve this nice man of his obvious distress. His cock came up to lie flat on his belly. "It's alright," she said, and put a hand to it, gently running a thumb up the throbbing vein. "You can let go."
Come on. I want it. I want to feel it. Just let go. Another time; another pair of upswept jade eyes interrogating his own, inflicting their idea of his pleasure upon him. "No!" he gasped. "Not like this. Let me – "
"Be quiet, love." Kath smiled, seraphic and a hundred miles away. Keeping her right hand just where it was, she popped the middle finger of her left into her mouth, withdrew it wet and plunged it deep between his legs. An instant later it slipped into his anus; fluttered and drew up and forward hard.
Bodie convulsed up off the duvet. Climax ripped through him like barbed wire through flesh, and it was better, and worse, and over more quickly, than anything he had felt in his life. He was aware that he had screamed because his throat hurt and the sound was still dying in the room, but what it was that had caused it, what it was that had preceded his fall and fall back down onto the bed – her arms now protectively around him, as if she knew how terrible was this fall – he did not know. He wanted to cry. For a moment he wanted to be sick; he had been as deprived of choice as a violated child, and yet somehow that dreadful touch had made him come, incandescently. Grey silk whispered around him. He buried his face in thick, soft hair. It smelled exactly like Ray's. Oh God, his mind said, and closed down in overload.
Kath dozed for a while, anchored in the grey-white nothing by the slowing beat of his heart. Then she opened her eyes, feeling their dilation, aware that she could see every detail in the room about her, though the only light was a pale yellow strip beneath the door. Lara, still awake? Listening? The thought didn't disturb her: she hadn't made a sound herself, and his climactic shout had been a good thing, uncomplicated and real. Yes, good; she had made it good for him and now he would sleep until morning and require nothing else. When he'd come, she'd made sure it was into her skirt, so the sensation of it drying would not disturb him and he wouldn't wake up feeling sticky or awkward. Amazing, what one little touch to an unsuspecting prostate would do. Slowly she disentangled herself, gathering up damp fabric as she went. It would dry-clean... probably. And if not, grey silk dresses were no longer for her a once-in-a-lifetime extravagance.
A large hand lifted and blindly sought the hair at the back of her neck. "Angelfish, don't go."
You're meant to be asleep. They always sleep after that. Paralysed, staring down at him, she realised that he still was, the move and the words just a reflex. "Angelfish?" she echoed in a wondering undertone, then replied for form's sake, "I have to take a shower. I won't be long." Padding from the room, she asked herself who had been the lucky fish.
Mid-morning sunlight woke him at last, and for a long while he lay still, catching up on the where and the sequence of events that had led up to it. His limbs felt heavy and slightly numb, as if he hadn't moved all night, and when he rolled over he became aware that the half of the duvet he wasn't lying on had been draped over him. He needed a shower, but not desperately so, and that was because...
"Kath?" He lunged up onto one elbow, feeling sick. She'd played his body like a teenage boy's; never in his adult life had he lost control like that. Shuddering, he remembered the helpless lurch to orgasm, the oblivion that followed on its heels. He hadn't had so much as a second to think about her pleasure, and she evidently hadn't slept with him –
A clear mezzo-soprano, cheerful as the sunlight, began to cut through the tangle of his thoughts. It was terribly familiar, and he gradually understood that this was what Ray would sound like, pitched up an octave or so. Unspectacular, on key, nice; picking a track through a manageable bit of Carmen. The sound came closer, and Kath opened the bedroom door. She had a tray balanced on the flat of one hand, and her curls were piled up in the teeth of a ludicrous dayglo plastic crocodile-grip. "J'irai danser la – Oh, you're awake. Here's some tea. D'you like fried bread?"
Bodie sat up. She was, he decided, one too many for him. Without her makeup she looked both younger and older and heartbreakingly beautiful, and her gaze was calm and unembarrassed. "As I'm sure Ray's told you," he growled, "I like fried everything. Kath, where did you sleep?"
"On the sofa," she responded promptly, handing him a mug and settling by him on the bed with her own. "Oh, God. This isn't going to be the about-last-night conversation, is it?"
"Shouldn't it be? Do you call what we did a satisfactory exchange?" He was blushing almost painfully, totally unused to putting his feelings on this subject into words. "I don't appreciate being – detonated, and left to – "
"Oh, Will!" She banged her mug down onto the bedside table and pounced into his arms. Her mouth found his with an urgency he knew was mainly based on a need to shut him up, and he cursed himself for finding it paralysingly erotic anyway. She kissed and kissed him, closed her eyes and opened up for the gentle ingress of his tongue, encouraging it with soft flickers of her own. Moaning, Bodie pulled her robe down off her shoulders and stroked the lovely, too-obvious arch of her collar-bones – and felt her slip away again, the same quick shutdown he had caught the shadow of last night. Not quite gently, he put both hands in her hair and drew her back. "You – you try to get it over with, don't you?"
The feline eyes crossed slightly as she tried to focus on him. Her mouth was a reddened, innocent O. "What?"
"Sex. At least – the awkward, messy male bit. How many other tricks have you got?"
"Christ," she said, after a moment. "You're an uncivil bastard, aren't you?"
"Yes. Honest, sometimes, too. Are you pissed off enough to be honest back?"
"Oh, and then some." She was shaking finely in his grip, and her skin's morning roses had blanched and vanished. "You weren't just horny last night. You were desperate. I don't know where it was all coming from but it scared me. I couldn't face it, not the way you think is proper, but I still wanted to make you feel better. So I did something just for you. So fucking shoot me."
Bodie stared at her. Honesty? She was verbal paintstripper. Suddenly he began to laugh, and she crumpled in relief and release of tension. He caught her as she rolled down into his arms, dispensed with the terrible hairgrip and let her curls spill across the duvet. "God, you're my worst nightmare."
"Nastily put, but accurate. Would your twisted little world end if I did something just for you?"
It did not, but nothing began for her, either. It never had, not with this half of the species. Resigned, wondering how long he would persist without at least a moan or two, Kath lay on her back and watched the effects of the sunlight on the plaster ceiling rose. An artist, she reflected, need never be bored. And there were pleasant side effects: the feel of his hair, for instance, abundant and silky but so close-cropped it spiked across his crown. She brushed it with her fingertips, smiling – and heard her own voice say, "Ohhh, yes – !"
Blinking, dry-mouthed, she stared down into summer-sea eyes. They were brilliant with laughter, and the unnerving conviction took her that he had read both her indifference and her surprise. A black eyebrow winged up calculatingly, and he bent to his task once more, his tongue seeking the good spot. There.
"Oh, there! God!" It was somewhere near to, something to do with, the right side of her clitoris, but she did not have a clitoris any more, she had a pulsating sun that wanted to go nova. His hands pushed into the small of her back and lifted strongly, getting a better angle. The knowledgeable tongue pushed at her again and again, an unbearable rhythm. She arched up to him, hands clamping tight on the undersheet, starting to come in volcanic surges. "Dear God – Will – I can't – " Her scream ripped the morning in two. To Bodie's surprise, he felt his own body leap and fly with her – well, the difficult ones were the most rewarding – and he got a hand to himself, barely needing it, just wanting the touch.
Some protracted interval later, Kath opened her eyes and studied her assailant. He was gracefully disposed beside her, propped on one elbow, and smug didn't even begin to describe it. "Hm," she managed, and lifted a shaky hand to brush the corners of his mouth. "Little yellow feathers."
His grin increased, a delicious curl. "Off a strange little bird."
"We've had this conversation, but... I give you a perfect ten, my son," she finished in a disconcerting echo of her brother's idiolect. "Who taught you that?"
"You keep your trade secrets, I'll keep mine."
"Pig," she said without rancour. She stretched, all ribs and legs and creamy skin in the sunlight, and smiled as Bodie's broad, warm hand found the place an inch below her navel where the post-orgasmic glow was strongest. "You're right. I do try to get it over with." Turning her head, she met his eyes. "I can't tell you why. But I will tell you it cost me a marriage. Now – " She rolled over and pinned him before he could react. "I have to work today. Paint. Make preliminaries, hundreds of 'em. There is no choice. I must. Will you take me somewhere?"
Bodie shrugged. He'd make a fool of himself if he tried to keep up. Accepting this – and it was not an unfamiliar sensation, not at all – he simply took hold of the last part and hung on. "Certainly. Name your cityscape."
Lara drifted through the kitchen once while Kath made good her promise on the fried-bread front, but her greeting was merely neutral, and Bodie decided to assume the flat was spectacularly well soundproofed. It was anyway not his habit to be embarrassed in front of flatmates the morning after, and he waved a piece of toast at her in friendly disregard. "D'you think she needs her spare room back any time soon?"
Kath glanced up enquiringly from the Sunday papers. "No. I'm her last and only friend. Why?"
"Well, your week's up, in case it's slipped your mind. And... things are just getting interesting."
"Interesting, eh?" She hitched a crooked smile at him and sat back, nursing a coffee. He was asking her to stay, to all intents and purposes. But if indirect was his pleasure, it suited Kath too, very well, and she hid her own. "Lara is happy to have me."
She let the innuendo wash over her, silently impressed that he'd got her little flatmate pegged on such short acquaintance. A comfortable silence followed, rich with shared amusement. Kath thought she could bear a lot of his companionship, the undramatic quickness of his mind. "Well," she asked after a while, "since that's sorted out, you can tour-guide me. Where do we start?"
"Greenwich," he answered promptly. "Market, observatory, best view of the city there is from Blackheath hill. It's an old plague pit but I know you won't let that put you off."
"Sounds perfect. Shall we take Ray?"
He chuckled in surprise. "That was a big-sister way of putting it."
"Oh." She looked down. "Well, it's no use me coming on like that, not now. I wasn't a very good one to him." Before Bodie could draw breath to ask, she got to her feet and turned her back, pouring more water into the percolator. "It's just," she said, too brightly, "that the two of you generally spend Sundays together, don't you?"
"No," Bodie began, but then thought about it. Last Sunday had been Richmond. The one before that – on duty, so together by default. Beyond that, things got blurry, but he did seem to recall a football match, a retirement party, a sunny afternoon on Ray's fire escape when neither of them could work up the energy to go elsewhere... "Well, not religiously," he amended. "He certainly wouldn't expect it, not when I'm – "
"Oh, go on. Say courting."
"Somewhere between that and shagging lies the word I want."
She snorted with laughter and kicked him under the table. "You really are repulsive. Ray deserves time off from you. By the way, is he... ?"
"No. He's between ballbreakers at the moment. Don't worry; he'll be back in the saddle as soon as he finds some beautiful, long-legged security risk who'll shove him through an emotional food-blender and dump him."
Quite a speech, Kath thought. And delivered with feeling. The weather changes fast around here. Bodie's eyes were bleak with anger above a sardonic smile. Soberly she asked, "Is that what he does?"
"That's what he doesn't try to stop getting done to him, yeah."
"Poor Ray, then."
They were silent for a couple of minutes. Kath was, Bodie suspected, as unwilling to hear more about her brother's painful attempts at a love-life as he was to give her further details. Folding up a newspaper, he shrugged. "I'll go and give him a ring, eh?"
He was back 30 seconds later, looking embarrassed and relieved. "Serves us both right for being so bloody patronising. Woke him up, didn't I? You never heard such language."
"And he can look so sweet, as well!"
Hanging up the receiver, Doyle returned his attention to the cracks in the ceiling that had held it since summer dawn had revealed them. His insomnia was of the intractable kind that stopped him just short of giving it up as a bad job and getting out of bed; held in a heavy, lethargic net of it he had lain and watched the cracks assume shapes borrowed from latent nightmare. Spiderwebs in the corner of an allotment shed. A child's bedroom door easing open two minutes after the telly ceased its yammer through the paper-thin walls. He always watched to the bitter end. God save the Queen... Lines in the palm of a grease-soiled hand.
His mind flew to Bodie and Kath, to the image of them together, with relief, a sense of sanctuary. The ordinary pleasures of a London Sunday existed still, and for the moment he knew he was better off out of it. He could just barely navigate his working day. Kath's presence in town, in his life, had corroded the last barricade, and past and present were finally, disastrously, united in his mind. If the week just elapsed had been the loneliest of his life, it couldn't have been better timed. He embraced the empty evenings, sank into them gratefully, exhausted. The door of his flat once shut behind him he let energy, the possibility of happiness, slip from him unprotesting: his partner and his sister were strong enough, alive enough, to hold his share of such things in trust.
Idly, downing vodka after vodka from a bottle that had sat untouched in his cupboard for a year, he wondered if Bodie had felt this sense of desolation when Doyle had been occupied with yet another woman who was supposed to be the one. If so, he had betrayed it by neither a word nor a look, and Doyle could not do so now, even had he wanted to. He couldn't have been more astonished at the turn events had taken. Since her divorce, Kath had studiously avoided male contacts more intimate than chess with the village doctor, and Bodie – well, Doyle thought, amused despite himself, perhaps finding someone as stroppy and high-maintenance as he is did the trick after all. And if either of them had the least chance of happiness from it, Doyle insisted on clear skies for their flight, especially from his own quarter.
And so he maintained the daylight world with Bodie, and thought that his partner detected no change. He seemed to accept Doyle's non-reaction with puzzled relief. Their current duty-shifts were too trying to admit of much soul-searching anyway, and he needed a steady companion as much as Doyle needed to be one. Mutual benefits, Doyle thought with a sense of bitter comfort. And the cracks in the ceiling were simply cracks. Bodie had called him from Kath's flat, and while he could have gone there that morning to pick her up, Doyle knew he hadn't. There had been a softness in his voice... Carefully, aching, he rolled onto his side. His wrist, fresh out of plaster and still strapped up, was nevertheless deft enough for this, and he welcomed the pain. It pierced the hangover-fog shrouding his responses. Like film on a repeating loop, the images came, a plain re-run of events played out in the room below this one just over two weeks ago. It had all been there for him, that night, if only he had known how to put out his hand.
Their duty-status dropped to standby, and suddenly Bodie had days as well as nights at his disposal. Well aware of how swiftly that might change, he addressed himself to Kath's purposes, ferrying her around the parts of the city she wanted to paint, and sunbathing, reading or contentedly distracting her with small talk as she worked. Being with her felt almost like cheating to him – as if he had been allowed to do all the groundwork before he even met her; as if he were only writing a story in the canon of someone else's well-developed character. There was no awkwardness, especially since by tacit mutual consent they had laid aside further physical lovemaking. Bodie told himself that this was temporary, when he allowed himself to think of it at all. It would sort itself out in time, and if it didn't... But that was where his speculations derailed. What did it matter, anyway? Her company was so good, her growing pleasure in his such a source of contentment and hope, that it seemed irrelevant.
He took her out to Kew, to the Heath and Primrose Hill, and watched her spin the familiar scenes to gold-streaked alien landscapes that still somehow sang of what they were. She was working fast and straight to canvas, and, sitting in unobtrusive guardianship a few yards away, Bodie came to enjoy the expressions on the faces of the little crowd that sometimes gathered to look over her shoulder. Curiosity, benign condescension, swiftly giving way to astonishment, disbelief, even fear – could this really be the world? Could this version of it be lurking, like the subatomic madness in the most prosaic of everyday objects, just a blink beyond their own perception, and, more crucially, would they be able to forget it once they turned away? Bodie experienced the same fear and wonder every time he looked at Revelations, but for him it was salutary, bracing, a universe that co-existed with his, rendered accessible by her vision and full of possibilities.
He was surprised, therefore, when on the Wednesday of that week, she surveyed the canvases on their stretching frames in Lara's big north-facing study and declared the lot of them redundant. "Green!" she clarified, when Bodie questioned the verdict. "Green as bloody grass. Why am I making like John Constable on LSD, in the middle of London?"
It was mostly a rhetorical question, Bodie knew, but he thought about it. Coming to sit beside her on the big Victorian radiator, he folded his arms on his chest and said, "Are you trying to pick up what you do in the country and just transplant it here?"
She'd been fidgeting with a thread come loose from her jumper, but now she stopped. She had Ray's trick of stillness at times; a complete suspension, even of breathing. This one lasted for some 15 seconds. Then she glanced up at him, her expression a peculiar mix of affection and annoyance. "You irritating, clever bastard. For that, you can take me out and show me somewhere ugly."
And that was easier. Bodie's time with CI5 had brought him far more often into the council estates, the barren wharfland, than the city's noble parks and tourist attractions. She was nervous of the new places but not afraid, and drew and painted with a focus not to be rocked by the smartmouthed kids that prowled around her, kept at bay as much by her calm dedication as the admonitory gaze of her companion. And then they got interested, too, just like the old men and the tourists, and she had no trouble.
But still she had no success, at least by her own lights. Bodie offered to sell everything she'd produced so far in consideration of a small percentage fee – comfortably aware it would make his fortune – and she grinned and informed him that he could take any he wanted as a gift, provided he showed no-one. They weren't right; they weren't the next step in an evolution of which she was only now becoming aware, and her efforts felt like trying to join up scraps of something that existed already whole, fully-realised, somewhere off in her mind. She explained this to Bodie, half-hoping he'd come up with another insight, but this time he just listened.
The next morning was Sunday, and she was less than pleased to be woken at six by Lara, standing naked by her bed with hangover-pale face. "Phone," she said, truculently. "Him again, you inconsiderate cow."
All he said was, "Can you be ready in half an hour? You need to see it from above, don't you?"
Will had assured her that the helicopter pilot was just an old mate who owed him a favour, but as outings went, this one had been spectacular beyond the bounds of Kath's powerful imagination. She could not decide what was burning hotter inside her – inspiration, because this had been what she needed, yes – or wondering gratitude. It was, officially, the nicest thing anyone had ever done for her. If the day had been filmed and she'd been choosing a name for the film, if it had been a short story in need of a title, she'd have had no difficulty. "The Seduction of Kath Doyle," she murmured to her reflection, liking it for once, in the mirror above Lara's mantelpiece, and smiled.
"I beg your pardon?"
She turned around. "Nothing. Have you finished your coffee?"
"Just about. Why?"
"Because as a reward for all your kindness, I want you to bugger off and let me paint. I've got it now, and if I don't let it out I'll explode."
"Like that extra-hot madras you insisted on last week?"
"Exactly like that, you silver-tongued devil." She padded over to the sofa where he sat and crouched down in front of him; put a slim hand on each of his knees. "But... I want you to come back, too, Will. Tonight."
Her mouth sought his with tender force, and Bodie felt all the yearning, all the hunger he had convinced himself was indefinitely repressible, light up his nervous system like a Christmas tree. "Alright," he gasped, pulling away, having to. "Does midnight suit you, your ladyship?"
"In a fairytale Capri drawn by six white mice in bulletproof vests. Go away. Now."
It had only happened to her five or six times before, and she reflected, on her knees in front of the huge completed work, that it was just as well. On the canvas blazed what should have been the result of a week's hard labour, and although she knew it was hers, she had no memory of laying down a single brushstroke. She was quivering all over and the muscles of her left arm and shoulder burned. Beyond that, she had no evidence that the picture had not simply walked through her body to get itself born. It painted itself, she thought, then glanced down at her clothes and lost the sense of awe in plain amusement. It painted me. Down the street St Martin's church began to toll out witness to this strange day's hours, including her lost ones, and the doorbell rang.
Bodie looked at her, and began to laugh, and felt invisible chains fall from off his limbs and heart. He'd spent the last four hours staring at the telephone in his own flat, wanting to call Ray and ask him out for a drink, quite unable to do it. Trying to analyse his paralysis had only scared him and given him a headache. To see Doyle off-duty, to revive the easy companionship they'd shared until three weeks ago, seemed so prosaic and natural an intention that the prospect of failure killed it in the bud. And because for a bad half hour he had wanted it more than anything, the sight of Kath was a tremendous relief to him. If his losses were incalculable, they at least had a reason, and she was good, and warm, and real. Her hair and clothes were gaudy with paint and the pungent sting of turps made his eyes water as she ran into his arms. "God, Will, come and see!"
The breath left his lungs as she pulled back the studio door, and until his vision hazed, he forgot to replace it. More accurately, he could not: the massive painting propped across four easels on the far side of the room briefly appropriated the energy from his every reflex. For the second time that night, cold fear touched him – who, what the hell was Kath Doyle? How did he ever dare touch her? The city – all of the city; all its lights and souls, its ecstasies and squalor – was here in the room with him, conjured by her hand, the same hand now impatiently turning him away from his awestruck contemplation by the collar of his shirt. "Alright, you've looked at it," she said softly. "Now for God's sake look at me and make me real too."
"It's finished. It – It's finished with me. Will, I'm... irrelevant now. Just the vessel."
There were tears in her eyes, and for a moment he came perilously close to agreeing with her, so vivid against her pallid skin were the smears of cerulean and gold. But then his bond with the everyday world asserted itself and his priorities snapped back into place. "Not to me, you're not," he informed her, almost harshly. He clasped both hands on her shoulders. "You're very, very real."
"And you can't fuck a painting, right?"
"Ah, Kath, do you have to – "
But she was smiling, her colour flooding back. In part it was sheer joy at having shocked the ex-merc with her language, but mostly it was simple arousal. "Sorry," she said insincerely. "That was by way of a hint."
The studio floor was bare polished wood, its coolness pleasant in the stifling June air. They divested one another of such clothing as was in the way, and Kath stretched out beneath him. She was more than ready for him – he touched her, as subtly as he could, to be sure – and when she moaned, smiled at herself and lifted her thighs to him, he was lost. Nevertheless he entered her carefully, forcing back shudders of pleasure and need, keeping eye contact and a good wide gap between this act and the scarcely-human rutting that something in him craved. "Kath," he breathed, lay still at full stretch in her for a moment, then drew back a little and gently thrust.
The eye-contact saved him and damned him at once. Her pupils constricted and he knew on the instant that it was over, knew it before the helpless clench of her vaginal muscles forced a pained gasp from both of them, before her hands could tighten on his shoulders. Swallowing dryly, he pulled out. "Kath, it's – "
"No!" she howled. "Don't – don't for God's sake say it's alright!" She clawed out of his attempt to gather her up, huddled away from him, clumsily dragging on up her jeans. Shock quickly taking care of his arousal, Bodie sat up, unconsciously pulling his own clothes together. He tried again to reach for her and found an outstretched palm planted flat on his chest. "Don't."
"Okay." He knelt motionless at arm's length. "Okay, love."
The word finished her. Somehow she knew how often in his life he had said it, and understood at the same time the breathtaking splendour of all she could not have. Tears came – a flash flood, saving her sanity even as they rocked its foundations. "You have to go."
"Kath, I'm not leaving you like – "
"Will!" A sob tore from her. "Please, if you – care anything about me at all... "
"Too much to ditch you when you're so unhappy. If you think what just happened matters to me – "
"Oh!" she wailed. "To you? God, you're all the same. It matters to me!" It was her last coherent effort: she curled up under her painting, knees to her chest, and threw an arm across the back of her head.
Earthquake victims, Bodie thought. That's how they sit. Balled up and rocking. In his more recent memories, there were the survivors of high-street bomb blasts. Stomach heaving, he got to his feet. The faint persistence of his erection was abruptly repulsive to him beyond endurance and he turned and stumbled away from her.
Lara was – oh, God, waiting? – in the corridor outside. In her absence he would have headed straight for the bathroom to throw up. But something about her, the cold little set of her head, her poise, forced him to find his own. "Lara," he managed. "Kath's... I... Christ, I don't know. Will you look after her?"
"Every time," she said, soft and cool as night breeze. "I always do. And if you'd asked me, Will, I could've told you this would fucking well happen. You can get out of my flat now."
Home. He wanted to go home. It was the only clear thought left to him as he pulled the car away from the kerb, and it was a first. Home? As a kid, he had spent most waking hours figuring out how best to get away from his, and he had never looked back. Home was where you hung up your gun harness. The newness of this feeling shook him to the bone. He had no idea what to do with it, and he therefore just drove, negotiating late-night traffic and the Capri's tricky gearbox without thought.
Drove, and eventually stopped. A grudging little breeze was stirring the air in the street. He hauled up the handbrake, letting it ratchet noisily, and watched an empty paper bag catch the wind and drift in the lamplight. At length he realised the double shadows cast by branches overhead were puzzling him because there weren't any trees in the street outside his current flat.
Home is not a place. He switched off the engine and closed his eyes. Lights were on in Doyle's window, but it was after one in the morning and he couldn't –
The car's R/T went off. Automatically he picked up; thumbed the send button. "3.7."
"3.7? 4.5," an amused voice responded. "Kerb-crawling, are we?"
"It's one step up on curtain-twitching," Bodie returned, not opening his eyes.
"Like I need to. None of my nice neighbours arrive with a ten-yard tyre screech. Anyway, we're quits. I'm staring out the window in the small hours, and you're sat there in your car. Do you want to come up?"
Doyle opened the door to him, and they exchanged a look, but neither spoke. Bodie felt a glass pressed into his hand, and allowed himself to be steered down the dim hallway and into the kitchen, where Ray pulled out a chair for him by the table.
"Ah," he tried, in pale echo of his normally-perfect rendition of their boss. "A pure malt Scotch, eh, laddie?"
"Actually, it's a crappy blend I picked up in the Co-op for anaesthetic purposes." Doyle sat down opposite to him; smiled wryly. "Try it. It works."
Bodie obeyed, asking a little roughly afterwards, "Do I look as if I need anaesthetic?"
"Afraid so." Taking his glass, Doyle poured him another. Then he sat back, folded his arms over his chest and looked at him in silence. Bodie did not mind the inspection. Somehow it felt like warm light, and he was very used to it. He could look back, look straight into the tired green eyes. Home is not a place. He leaned forward, put his elbows on the table and buried his face in his hands.
He heard Doyle's chair scrape back softly, heard the soft barefoot tread across lino. Fingertips brushed down the back of his neck, then strong thumbs found locked muscle and began a gentle rub. "Oh God, don't." But he let his hands fall; let a shudder that had been waiting under his gut for an hour come up and rattle his frame. Through new, tearstung clarity of vision, he noted the empty bottle of vodka on the table, and realised with a little shock that Doyle, articulate, co-ordinated and perfectly composed, was probably as drunk as he had ever seen him. "Ray... Ray, what the fuck's going on?"
The careful, beautiful massage dropped and expanded to his shoulders. "With me? Nothing important. With you, though... Bodie, you've got to believe it wasn't your fault."
He stiffened. Even allowing for Doyle-ESP, this was a little too much, and he wondered if Ray could possibly mean something else, and if so, what. "Where's the... hidden camera, then, you sick voyeur?"
"In ze carnation in your buttonhole; vhere else?"
"Ah. I always forget to check me buttonhole."
Neither really had the energy to laugh, but amusement rippled between them. Doyle felt his skin prickle in its long-missed pulse and was grateful Bodie could not see the tears that gathered. "Will you listen to something, you idiot? I can only tell you because I'm pissed and because – you really, really need to hear it."
After a short pause, not questioning the need but damn sure he didn't want to, Bodie whispered, "Alright."
"Whatever's gone wrong between you and Kath, it's nothing you've done to her." Doyle's hands ceased their soothing motion and settled, firm and warm, on each of Bodie's shoulders. "When we were kids, home was... Well, the makers of The Waltons weren't losing any sleep. And when Kath was 12, our mum took her and left. From Derby to Belfast where she came from. She took her away – away from my dad, Bodie. She had to. But... But in a way it was too late. Do you understand?"
"Oh, God. Oh, God, no."
Doyle held onto his shoulders, shock-absorbing. His touch slowly drew Bodie back from the blizzard of grief and comprehension sweeping through him. Bodie sat up and let his weight rest against the lean stomach and chest. Under the thin blue cotton of his t-shirt, he could feel him breathe.
"I'm sorry, Bodie. I thought maybe she'd be alright this time. And it wasn't my business to tell you, if she hadn't chosen to. I never would have, if – if – "
A large hand closed tenderly on his bandaged wrist. "Ssh. You had to. You're right, I... I thought it was me."
"Was she okay when you left her?"
"No. But Lara was there, and... "
"Only too glad to pick up the bits?"
"It – it looked that way, yes." Bodie leaned his head back, let his eyes close in the relief of a lifting headache. "What's the deal there, then, Ray?"
"One-sided," was Doyle's only response, and he nodded, suddenly too tired to take that or anything else any further. As if reading the surrender in the muscles under his hands, Doyle touched what might in some alternate universe have been a kiss to the dark hair at his crown, and said, "It's late. Stay here tonight, if you like." When Bodie didn't reply – as if the casual offer had been in some way barbed and painful to him – he went on, "I was bored enough to take the clothes you keep here to the laundry on Thursday, and bored enough on Friday to pick them up."
"Bored? You don't get bored," Bodie protested vaguely, realising it was true as he said it. Doyle's scarce free time strained at the seams with unread books and papers, judo classes for underprivileged kids, and of course his endless quest to justify a high-pitched sexual appetite by clothing his encounters in relationships. Even sleep was somehow an active process with him: he enjoyed it like a cat and gave it a cat's concentration, sprawled across whatever bed or sofa or back seat was available. His own shock beginning to fade, Bodie recalled other incongruities, and turned round in the chair to look at him. "You don't get this drunk either, not on a work night. And not on – " He glanced across the table to the empty Stolichnaya bottle. "Not on that paintstripper. Why?"
"Cos it's a work night," Doyle returned, with listless grace and no effort at denial. "Fragrance-free version, innit?"
"What's going on?" Now that Bodie had finally started noticing, he couldn't stop, and alarm built as he surveyed him. Hollowed eyes, half a stone at least stripped from a frame that couldn't afford to lose a pound. "You look pretty rough, Ray."
"Whereas you're band-box fresh yourself," Doyle said. It was hoarse, through an aching throat. Bodie was getting to his feet, and the sudden reappearance in his life of that solid, concerned half-inch the man had on him, forcing him to look up, made the tears spill. He didn't compound the error by trying to wipe them away; realised he'd made worse a one when Bodie reached to do it for him, face blank with surprise. "Ray..."
"No. No, don't. I'm just – bone-tired, Bodie, that's all, and you're right, I have been on a quiet binge. Again. I'm sorry. I've stopped now." He edged back from Bodie's hands, from the comfortable warmth he exuded. "Come on, mate. We're early-shift tomorrow, and – we've got to keep it going, haven't we?" His voice faded, rasped. "The job, and... you know. Everything. Haven't we?" When Bodie didn't reply, he added, almost frantically, "Please?"
"Alright," Bodie conceded quietly – doing it for both of them, suddenly terribly clear that he had to. "You in the bed, me on the sofa, right?"
"No. You get the bed, for bein' such a gentleman. Apart from that – exactly, and now."
By eleven that morning, Doyle was able to face the coffee and toast that had turned him green at seven. He glanced away from the building they were watching as Bodie approached the Capri's driver's door, hands full of plastic cups and white paper bags.
"Well bloody open it for me, then!"
Smiling at the familiar, exasperated snarl, Doyle obeyed. His head hurt, but otherwise he had got off lightly, and he knew it. Taking his share of their breakfast out of Bodie's hands and propping it on the dash, he drank in the normality of it all – the busy high street bisecting the road where they were parked, the overcast sky, the sense of working day. Of being still, somehow, functional.
"Just what are you grinning about?"
"Wasn't a grin."
No, Bodie knew that. It was a sweet, haunted smile that got hold of something deep in his guts and yanked. "Alright. The Mona-Lisa-the-morning-after look. What's it for?"
"Oh, you know. Toast in a paper bag. Wanting to live."
"I'm glad to hear it," Bodie told him, aware there was more to the remark than the dispersal of his hangover. They ate in companionable silence for a while, both keeping a duty-eye on the tall white terrace opposite. Then Bodie tossed his empty cup into the backseat collection and said, "I gave Kath a ring, while I was over getting this lot. She, er... She's okay this morning. Says you've got to come out with us next time we have dinner, stop us tying ourselves into tedious little psychosexual knots."
That sounded like Kath. "So, everything's still on, then?" Doyle enquired, keeping the complicated mix of his reaction carefully veiled.
"Yeah. Why wouldn't it be?"
"Well – whatever did or didn't happen last night, and I don't want to know, it could... it could always be like that, Bodie."
Bodie shifted his attention from the second-floor windows, satisfied that Doyle's was still on them. It gave him a chance to examine his partner's carefully-neutral expression. Eventually he said, "It wouldn't make any difference."
If the targets of their surveillance operation had chosen that moment to open their door to an arms dealer or drugs baron, a good many weeks of deadly-boring work would have gone to waste unmourned. Doyle gazed at Bodie in frank astonishment and Bodie, in the interests of perfect understanding and truth, could not at that moment break the look. "You wouldn't want – "
"Not at the cost of everything else, no."
They stood down simultaneously, each letting the other off the hook in order to process urgent thoughts of their own. For Bodie, the strongest feeling was annoyance. Surely Doyle was literate enough in the huge and complex sub-text of their relationship to know that Bodie didn't select long-term partners of any sort on the grounds of whether or not they would sleep with him? Doyle's own reflections were simpler – amazement, at first, and then a painful chagrin at having held Bodie and his motives so cheap. "I'm sorry," he said.
"Don't. No reason you'd think any different, is there?"
"Bodie, stop. There is. I'm sorry I assumed, alright?"
"Alright," Bodie said, easily. Fighting with Doyle was one of the more miserable activities he could think of, and looking inside himself, he really couldn't find grounds for a row. Doyle saw him as a sexual predator because most of the time he acted like one, and if he'd been making an honourable exception for several years, the mechanics of it had been deep and very subtle. Ray could be forgiven for reacting with surprise. "Keep your eyes on that bloody flat, will you? Half the PLO could've danced in there disguised as the corps de ballet from Swan Lake while we've been woolgathering."
"Yes, Mr Cowley," Doyle said submissively. He finished the dishwater coffee in silence. "She's really okay, then?"
"Yeah. Don't worry. Look, she said something a while back... about having lost a marriage to... what we were talking about last night."
"Oh. Yeah, that was Jed. Complete prick, from what I gather."
"Well, she never said anything more about it, and if it's family business, fair enough, but... "
Doyle smiled. "It is, but if you're going to live your life hip-deep in Doyles, it's yours, too, isn't it? There's not much to tell. She got hitched when she was about 20, to a bloke called Jed Ferranti. That was the last time I saw her, at – at the wedding."
"Oh?" Hearing the hesitation, the little note of pain, Bodie kept his eyes forward. "Disgrace yourself at the reception, did you?"
"No more than usual. But – we hadn't seen each other since mam shipped out, and when we talked, she... Well, we both decided it was gonna be easier if we took a swing at life without all the family history."
"Which you're going to tell me some day."
"No. Just this need-to-know bit. Jesus, Bodie, haven't you heard enough?" Still not looking at him, Bodie extended a hand and laid it with blind accuracy on top of both of Doyle's where they were twisting in his lap. He rubbed and disentangled, gentle and firm, until Ray took a deep breath. "Sorry. This is hard."
"Yeah. I know."
"Anyway, Jed – came from a big Italian family in Belfast, wanted loads of kids, went about it as directly as possible, for five years. It nearly killed Kath. We weren't in direct contact, but she started writing to me about then. I mean, she was at the end of her rope, and I was the only one who'd – understand, why she was having... "
"Okay, angelfish, I get it," Bodie said quietly. "Did you write back?"
"She asked me not to. He opened her mail. He wasn't very imaginative, Bodie; he assumed that she didn't like it with him because there was someone else she did like it with. But at last she got pregnant. He transformed into the husband of her dreams overnight, and it lasted for three whole weeks, until she had a miscarriage. He was gone the next day. He said... " Doyle swallowed, then went on as if quoting directly words he would carry in memory to his grave. "Frigid is one thing, but frigid and barren is too much."
"Ah, Jesus." He felt his fist lock down tight over Doyle's hands. One disentangled itself and clamped over his, bruisingly hard. "Jesus, didn't either of you ever get any breaks?"
Doyle hesitated, considering the question. Then he said, softly, "I did."
The best Bodie could manage was immobility. His voice was not to be trusted – nor any one of the set of muscles clamouring to turn Doyle's profile full-front, hold his jaw and kiss the bitter pain from around his mouth. At last it was Doyle who broke stasis; chuckled and pointed out that they were holding hands in broad daylight in the front seat of the car, and shouldn't Bodie be putting that unsuspected romantic streak to better use?
And it opened a door for Bodie he had thought he would have to force. He said, "Well, I'd like to." Doyle let him go, propped a knee against the dashboard and looked at him enquiringly. "I don't know, Ray. I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but... I was thinking of asking her to marry me."
Doyle's pallor, the wingshadow of real shock, was banished an instant later by a theatrical gape, a hand laid flat across his heart, banging lightly as if to restart it. "Who are you? What have you done with my Bodie?"
"Give over. I'm serious. How would you feel about it?"
Doyle snorted. "What difference does that make? She's my older sister, and I'm older than you, so... Bodie, are you asking my permission?"
Thrown, irritated by Doyle's sudden defensive humour, Bodie made a mistake. "Well, I can hardly ask her dad, can I?"
Doyle went white as a cod. Dry-mouthed, Bodie stared at him. "Ray, I did – not mean to say that."
"No. No, I know. Sorry."
"You're sorry? Christ. I should be shot. Do you need some air?"
"I... Yeah, I do."
"Come on, then."
"What about the obbo?"
"Screw it. This whole exercise is make-work so the old man can justify his existence to the Ministry."
"Oh. Wish I'd known." Doyle found Bodie on the kerb, hands outstretched to help him out of the car. He wasn't sure how his partner had got there, nor why he thought Doyle needed it, but for some reason Ray did; the air seemed prickly-hot and unbreathable and his heart was banging off the underside of his left collarbone.
"Come on." Bodie banged the passenger door shut with a heel and steered Doyle off down a back lane. It was empty apart from three cats and a skip, and when he had ascertained as much, he handed him down to sit on the kerb and settled beside him. The cats promptly recognised kin and began to home in on him. Bodie kept an arm slung loosely round his shoulders. "Bit better?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." Tugging at the ears of a princely ginger tom, Doyle looked at it and then at his partner as if noticing them for the first time. "I – yeah. What happened? What's wrong with me at the moment?"
"Oh," Bodie offered, "drinking too much, off your feed, worrying yourself to a ghost over a whole load of shit you won't talk to me about. How's that sound?"
Doyle grinned ruefully. "About right."
"Then I wait until you're really on the ropes, tell you I want to marry your sister, and make the most tactless remark in human history. How you doing?"
Laughing in spite of myself. In spite of everything. God, what am I going to do without – Doyle stopped himself short on the projection of events. Suddenly he was revolted at his own self-pity, determined to make an end of it. The two people he cared about most in the world were going to secure a happy future with each other. Why was he acting like a slapped three-year-old? "Bodie, I'm fine," he said, with conviction and a smile that lit his eyes. "My God, you and Kath... Wonderful. Go for it. I'll have to institute a national day of mourning on behalf of our womenfolk, but – "
"International," Bodie reminded him succinctly.
"Oh, yeah. Sorry." A thin little tabby was coiling itself round his left ankle: not seeming aware of what his hands did, he picked it up and cradled it against his chest, rubbing under its chin. "Anyway," he said, "like they say, I'm not losing a sister, I'm gaining a – "
He stopped. Bodie was staring at him, wide-eyed. After a moment he said, "Bloody 'ell!", and they both sat in silence, absorbing the implications of the union, the relationship it would create.
Then Ray said, quietly, "A brother. Well, I couldn't want a better one. We, er... We better get back to the car, mate."
Standing first, Bodie hoisted him up by one hand. The other was still wrapped around the lushly-purring tabby, whose presence he seemed to have forgotten. "Taking that home with us, are we?"
"Oh! No, better not. Probably some kid's adored pet." Smiling, he released the cat, and straightening up, found himself pulled into a brief, ferocious hug.
At 1 o'clock the following morning, Kath let herself quietly out of Lara's flat and set about walking off her insomnia. Bodie had left her a couple of hours ago, his parting kiss their only physical contact of the evening. In her favourite Italian restaurant on Baker Street that night, he had paled and gone quiet and stayed that way until and after their waiter's last visit to the table, and she had taken pity on him, heart beating in a mix of misery and relief. "Will, love, don't be scared to tell me if it's over."
"It isn't going to kill me – except maybe if you drag it out."
"Over? Kath, for God's sake – I'm trying to tell you just the opposite."
It took her nearly 20 seconds to work out what was the opposite of over. By then he had recovered his poise and was holding out to her a crimson velvet box. "Must I do the one-knee thing? It's a nice restaurant, but I'm not sure about the carpet."
Smiling, she repressed a shudder. "Christ, don't. You're not a man who looks good on his knees. And I don't suit being knelt to. Will! What the hell is this?"
But she had known, although the beauty of it had come as a surprise. The ring was an antique, emeralds set in rose gold, the working of it subtle beyond the grasp of 20th-century imagination. Her fingertips traced it now, deep in the pocket of her worn woollen coat, as she made her way from New Oxford Street and onto Tottenham Court Road. Of course she'd put it on for him, and worn it for the rest of the evening, and confirmed to her reflection in the ladies'-room mirror that he had studied and remembered and sought out a match for the gold-shadowed green of her eyes.
Kath wanted an ordinary life. Her art, her gift, burned her and left her exhausted as often as it gave her any pleasure, and as for the dreams of loving other women... She shivered in the warm, lamplit air. Other women! She wouldn't know where to start, although Lara kept trying to show her. As if to taunt her, the pavement was suddenly crowded with talking, laughing females, and she recalled that it was Monday, dyke-night at the Drill Hall just around the corner. Eyes averted, she navigated the home-bound clusters. Young, they were all so young! Things were easier for them now, she knew, although the lifestyle was still a minefield. No – it was too late to begin. She was too tired, too old...
A couple were kissing in a doorway, oblivious to her, to the late-night traffic, to potential nuclear strike, from the look of them. Both of them were beautiful, female, and 50 if they were a day.
"But I can't do it!" Kath whispered to the cracks in the paving stones as they blurred. A life of honesty and challenge in defiance of society appealed to her like a slap around the head. Already thrust into one minority group – they were beginning to call themselves survivors rather than victims, though that didn't make it hurt less – she craved the mainstream, the secure mediocrity of a heterosexual life. And what she had been offered was so much more: nothing mediocre about Will. Life with him, in the comfortable quarters CI5 provided for marrieds – the acquisition of which, he had assured her, was the sole reason for his proposal – would be dreadful and wonderful in the extreme. They would fight, and suffer blinding insights into one another's nature. Their sex-life would always be treacherous ground, though Kath had sworn to herself that she would learn to accept him if it took Valium or a lobotomy. She would be jealous, until the end of time, of the way her husband looked at her brother. But they would be there – her husband and her brother – and she would be safe.
So she said had yes to Will. Pacing the London streets, head bowed among the unfrightened young, Kath heard her father's laughter ringing in her ears.
Ray arranged an engagement party, which he intended should be spectacular in direct contrast to the desolation gnawing at his heart. He hosted it at his own flat, so that Bodie and Kath could, in due course, step gracefully away from the broken glass and peanut-encrusted carpeting. Finding guests was no problem – the first shockwave of incredulity past, everyone from Cowley to the janitor wanted to give his partner a good send-off, and, Doyle knew, scope out Kath to ascertain just what the hell had happened to him. After toying with logistics of floorspace and numbers, Doyle gave up and invited everyone. They could always spill out onto the street. He took on the daunting business of supplies with equal bravado, turning Bodie down flat on his offers to split expenses. After all – not that he pointed this out – since Kath's arrival in town, the cost of his own socialising had dropped to virtually zero, and he foresaw no changes. Not for a lifetime...
Shuddering, he backed off from the sorrow as if it were a snake coiled and waiting to strike. Too much to do! And all of it imperative. Credit card in hand, he leaned over the counter in his local off-licence and delighted the management with a record-breaking order for beer, lager, decent wine and very good champagne (a surprise for later), and hired glassware to hold it all. As for food, after a brief insane dalliance with the idea of cooking, he phoned a caterer. Cowley – who had promised, like the Queen, to make an appearance between other pressing engagements – might appreciate his canapes, but Anson, Lucas, McCabe et al required standard beer-monster fare, and lots of it.
The preparations were blessedly exhausting. Doyle had headed up week-long hostage negotiations and walked away less tired. For the three nights prior to the party, he actually slept – and since his conversation with Bodie, the vodka-bottle had returned to its dust-gathering duties in the cupboard. On Saturday, therefore, he was clear-eyed and hopeful about the night to come. Mid-morning, HQ phoned to tell him that the old man had come through on his promise to try and get them stood-down status until Monday. The off-licence and caterers delivered – prolifically – half an hour later, and at midday Doyle collapsed onto his sofa with a sense of being more or less cleared for takeoff. His head ached a bit, and he let his eyes close...
The buzz of the intercom woke him, and he bolted upright, chiding himself for the violence of his response. Nerves raw, no matter how hard he tried to convince himself he was merely alert... Murphy was due at about five that afternoon, to help shift furniture and roll rugs and see what he could do about Doyle's ailing stereo system, but until then... "Yeah?" he asked the intercom, stifling a yawn.
"Furniture humped, tables laid, your hostess stuffed and mounted," came the cheerful response.
"M-Murph? What time is it?"
"You dragged me across London to ask me that? Sorry I'm late, your lordship; the traffic's a bitch tonight. Lemme in, then!"
By the time his colleague had pounded up the stairs, Doyle had run a hand through his hair, pulled his shirt straight, and almost stopped shivering. It was 5:15. He had thought these bizarre, semi-narcoleptic episodes had finished for good. Over five hours, and from the chilly weakness in his limbs, he hadn't moved a muscle... But there was no time to worry about it. Deeply grateful, finding a smile, he opened the door.
Murphy looked him up and down. The only man in their department who could make Bodie look a tad fragile, and clear-eyed and smart with it, a onceover from him was not something to be taken lightly, and Doyle braced up as best he could.
"I hope it's not contagious, Ray, or we'll all have it by tomorrow."
Not well enough, apparently. He gestured Murphy in, planted a hand between his shoulders and steered him toward the living room. "If I look sick, it's because I've been working my poor fingers to the bone waiting for you. D'you think you can fix the speakers?"
Murphy had scarcely got the first set of wires unhitched before the buzzer went again. Doyle stopped unpacking glasses in the kitchen and strode through to the front window. "Murph, I swear, if you've invited Lucas and Mac to make an early start on the beer... "
"Nice of you to offer," Murphy said hopefully, but Doyle's attention was fixed on the street below, where a slender female figure waited under a large umbrella. "Who is it?"
"Kath, I think." He groaned. "God, that's worse! She'll be down like a plague of locusts on the bloody olives." He thumbed the button. "Come on up, but you're not getting any."
The door to his flat was half-glazed, in an unpleasant '50s-style frost that gave him some prior warning of his visitors' identity, but no detail. On this occasion, assuming he knew, Doyle thought only: God, why's she dyed her hair? It was fine the colour it –
Murphy got up slowly, wondering if Doyle's visitor had pulled a gun on him. Then he recognised her – their affair, and its catastrophic termination, had more or less happened on the doorstep of HQ – and figured that Mayli had probably startled him a good deal less. He came to stand quietly behind him. "Shall I make myself scarce, Ray?"
Doyle's frozen stillness broke. With a wrenching effort, he turned to look at Murphy. "Wh... What?"
"Would you like me," Murph clarified, with a kindness he reserved for children and idiots, "to go away?"
"No!" It sounded desperate. Ashamed, Doyle levelled his voice; got a grip. "No, it's okay."
Murph left it – one beat, two, three. Then he folded his arms, slouched, and looked directly at her. "Do you want me to pick her up by the seat of her silken pants and sling her back into the street?"
"Murph!" Doyle yelled, but there was a break of laughter in his consternation, and his sense of numbing shock receded. "Just – please, go and carry on with what you were doing." He met the narrow jade eyes that had not so much as flickered to acknowledge Murphy's presence, and spoke to her. "This won't take long."
"I'd rather speak to you on your own, Ray."
How could so cool, so cultured a voice contain such nuance? One brief sentence – and it was a plea, a demand, an outraged reminder to him of her femininity and his obligation to defend her and it against such uncouth monstrosities as Murphy. She had been like that from the very start. "Well," he said calmly, "he's not leaving, so it's the kitchen or right here."
"Ah," she said, dropping her gaze at last. She examined the toe of one delicate shoe. "You hate me. I did wonder if you might." He remained stonily silent. "Alright. The kitchen, then, please."
She surveyed the ordered chaos of the room around her, the half-unpacked boxes of glassware, the plates of food under clingfilm. "I've come at a bad time."
Doyle had followed her into the kitchen and was now leaning with both hands on the surface of the table, fighting a surge of weariness and nausea. "Ann," he said, not much caring about the answer, "Can you imagine a good one? Aren't you in New York? What the hell are you doing here?"
"Not being offered a cup of tea, for one thing," she responded with a shaky effort at laughter, but he didn't so much as blink, and she visibly decided to get on with it. "I'm on a short holiday. Stupidly, I thought I should come and see you when I heard your partner – what was his name? – was getting married."
"You know his name," Doyle said tiredly. "You met him a dozen times. He never pretends to forget yours."
"I'm sure," she said, bitter as winter. "Bodie, then."
"Well done. What does he have to do with anything?"
"Well – for you, I thought he had to do with everything. You know, when we first started going out together, I thought I was breaking the two of you up? And afterwards – when it was all over, I just assumed he'd pick up where he left off. That the waters would... close over my head."
"Ann," Doyle said, on a rough note of incredulity. "Bodie is – the best friend I've got. Certainly nothing less than that. But if you thought we were... " He tailed off, ran an unsteady hand into his fringe. "Why would you get involved with something like that?"
"Because... Because I thought you wanted to be set free of him. I thought you were trapped in something that was over and he couldn't let you go."
"Christ, woman, is that how either of us acted?"
She flinched slightly, and Doyle understood with sudden clarity that it was theatre. She wasn't scared. She was a damn sight harder to scare than she looked. It was simply don't you dare raise your voice to me, without deigning to speak the words. "He detested me," she said. "He tried not to, once he saw you were serious. But it was for your sake, not mine."
"Ann – " Doyle swallowed dryly. He was back there, instantly consumed by the past. She hadn't changed, not even her perfume, and he thought it was that which would finish him off, the perfect sensory recollection it invoked. He had to get her out of here. "Ann, what are we talking about?"
"Oh, Ray, about you and me!" she cried, taking a half-step toward him, freezing at his look. "When I heard about Bodie, I was sorry for you, worried about you. I know what a big part of your life he was and – "
"Wedding, not funeral," he interrupted her. "Okay. I get it. Big part of my life gone, and nature, or you in this case, abhors a vacuum." The kitchen light was harsh. Inconsequently, it came to Doyle that he had never seen her with her makeup off. That she wore a hell of a lot of it. What had she done – crept from their bed after lovemaking and repaired the damage? What had he been thinking? "I'm sorry," he said. "You were wrong about Bodie and me. But if you were the last woman left on the planet, and he'd have me, I'd be on his doorstep with a bag packed."
Her heels clicked, the sound receding. It was another memory; that light rhythmic tap. Delicate, so delicate. He had thought she was fragile. When he'd burst into the block of flats where she lived and conducted a gun-battle under her aristocratic nose, he thought he'd seared a wound across the face of innocence. And innocence – of children, of non-combatants generally, of anyone who experienced the violence of his world through no fault of their own – was dear to him. He would have spent the rest of his life trying to make amends...
"Doyle. Ground control to Doyle. Come in, Major Tom."
Murphy was holding him by the upper arms. He looked vaguely alarmed. "What? Are you alright, Murph?"
"Am I... ? Yeah. I was pulled into a lay-by when it happened, horrible head-on collision... What did you say to her?"
Doyle considered. "Something pretty lousy."
"Well, on behalf of everyone who's ever known you, I'd like to say that whatever it was, we're all pretty sure she deserved it."
"Appreciate the loyalty, but I'm not sure. It felt good, though. Like chucking a brick though glass when I was a kid." Murphy let him go and he subsided onto the edge of the table. "She said Bodie hated her. Murph, did he ever talk to you about that?"
"A bit. The bare minimum. Do you mind? You'd practically vanished up her perfectly-tailored skirt, and he needed a mate."
Doyle winced inwardly. "I know. No, I'm glad you were there."
"Well, he didn't hate her, no. He hated what she did to you, though. She thought you weren't good enough for her, and instead of telling her to screw herself, you tried to change. Turned yourself inside out trying to justify yourself to her. Didn't like that, did he? Doesn't think anybody in this world's too good for you, your Bodie." Doyle absorbed this in silence. "You're lucky he wasn't here. He'd have wrung her scrawny neck for her. What did she want, anyway?"
Doyle chuckled. "You'll never credit this, but when she heard Bodie was taken, she... she reckoned I might be on the market again."
Murphy lifted both eyebrows until they disappeared into his fringe. He started to laugh – and then Doyle's expression changed. It was as if he had heard himself. Already pale, he went grey to the lips and turned away. Murphy watched his hands clench on the edge of the sink. "Oh," he said, very softly, on a tone of surmise. "Oh, is that what's eating you? Poor Ray!"
Staring blindly out over the rooftops beyond his kitchen window, Doyle reached frantically for denial, laughter, any damn thing that would get him off this hook. But the hook was lodged in his throat and all he could do was stiffen under the warm hands that came down on both his shoulders, stiffen and hold his spine taut against the sympathy, until Murph got the message. He was a kind man, and far from stupid, and did so soon enough. The touch became a bracing grip, a brisk double pat, and was gone. "Well, well, come along, Raymond! Party face! Mustn't smudge our mascara, must we?"
As Doyle had hoped, once he'd put his shoulder to the wheel for an hour or so, the party began to roll under its own momentum, and by 11 o'clock that night was a roaring, unstoppable juggernaut he could only stand back and admire. To his relief, the objects of the exercise appeared to be having the night of their lives. Between animated, ribald discussions with everyone from his colleagues to the neighbours Doyle had invited to avoid police action, Bodie danced energetically with a flushed, bright-eyed Kath and made forays to Doyle's side to tell him, with increased fervour as the night got older, what a crackin' good party he laid on. Doyle took the sight of him, dazzling in close-cut black, as cheerfully as he could, and leaned into the friendly arm slung round his shoulders for a dozen photographs with every appearance of content. He'd tumbled delicately off his self-imposed wagon for the occasion, knowing that would help, until it stopped, by which time the worst would probably be over.
He was ashamed at having worried about how Kath would fare among the rough and ready of his acquaintance. Bodie had introduced her around HQ the week before, to lessen the shock, and she seemed quite unfazed by the night-time version of all those sober people, returning their humour with abrasive little swipes of her own, not waiting for Bodie to intercede for her if he wasn't on the spot. Betty and Susan soon arrived to provide her with backup against the testosterone brigade, and the last he saw of her, she was being shepherded into a corner – probably, Ray thought, for intensive questioning on the subject of her fiancé. She was doing fine. Retreating to the kitchen, pushing up the sash window and gasping the night air, Doyle reflected that she was doing a damn sight better than he was. Already – hours too soon – he was losing the alcohol high, and his exhaustion woke up and came trotting toward him in the darkness like a hungry wolf –
A hand on his arm. He jumped as if bitten, and Murphy neatly prevented him from finishing his evening on the pavement three storeys down. "Jesus, Doyle!"
"Murph! Don't – don't creep up on me like that."
"I was saying your name from halfway across the room. In retrospect, I see how those lightning reflexes got you shot all that time back. Are you alright?"
Doyle straightened his sleeve. The shirt, a pale-cream linen one, had been a present from Bodie after the incident Murphy took such tactless pleasure in referring to, an incentive to get out of hospital gowns and indeed out of hospital, as far a cry as possible from the plain white T they'd cut off him and dumped. "I'm fine," he said. "You've been watching me all night. It's making me nervous."
Murphy shrugged. "It shouldn't. I just – know this can't be easy for you. And you look uncommonly fetching tonight."
There was a lopsided grin on his colleague's rugged face. In a very small voice, Doyle enquired, "Murph?" – just an instant before the smile soft-landed against the side of his neck. He jerked back, emitting what he hoped in retrospect hadn't been an absolute squeak, and almost went out the window again. Murphy's arm snaked round his waist and tightened like cable. "Ah, Ray – "
"What?" Doyle demanded, flattening both hands on the other man's chest and pushing back. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Oh, shit. The wrong thing," Murphy groaned, and let him go. "Christ, I'm sorry. I've always liked you, Ray. I... Well, Ann Holly's not the only one who hoped you might be on the singles scene again. Look, I'm really, really sorry."
He turned away. Just as he was exiting arm's reach, Doyle stretched and caught him by the waistband of his jeans. Dangerously low, he asked, "Who put you up to it, Murph? Who bet you you could get Ray to queer his pitch? Anson? Lucas? Is one of 'em behind the door now? Don't you want to give him a show?" To his bewilderment, Murphy saw a slim, tanned fist wrap itself round his tie and pull, and an instant later he was where he had dreamed of being, on and off, for the past six years or so – kissing 4.5 smack on his beautiful mouth.
It felt dreadful.
"Ray," he gasped, dragging him back by a handful of hair. "Stop it. Nobody put me up to it. You look like a skinny angel tonight, and I fancy the pants off you, always have. That's all. But you don't want it. God, you really don't. You're freezing, and... you're terrified. What is it? What's the matter?"
Doyle leaned on his chest and thought about it. The arms around him now were merely kind; sheltering and concerned. God knew, there was nothing intrinsically wrong with Murphy. If he'd only been an inch or so shorter, a touch more stocky across the shoulders; if his spine had a panther's flex near the waist... If he only smelled like sunlight on freshly-turned earth...
Choking faintly, he disengaged, pushing Murphy away. Some idiot had got hold of one of his Peter Gabriel albums, the fourth one, released a couple of years back. Hardly party music, or at least not the track now thudding through the kitchen wall. Lay Your Hands On Me. He supposed he was lucky they hadn't picked The Family and the Fishing Net, which had disturbed him so much he'd only played it once. But this song – this was lying awake in the small hours with nothing in the world left to live on but a fantasy. But still the warmth goes through me / And I sense you know me well. "Murph," he managed. "Forget it, okay? It was a nice offer. I'm flattered. I don't feel so good, though. Need to lie down for a bit." Briefly he caressed the anxious face with the flat of his palm. "Can you keep everyone topped up? And – for God's sake, go and put something more cheerful on the stereo..."
When the receding tide of guests deposited her back at his side, Bodie found himself unwilling to let her go again. Only the party hardcore remained now – those of his colleagues who wouldn't shift until the beer ran out, and Murphy, pale around the gills, making feverish advances on a girl from the typing pool Bodie could've sworn he'd described as a prize terrier the week before. Cowley had been and gone, and upon introduction to Bodie's intended, had – smiled benevolently. Bodie could only assume that any necessary background checks on Kath had been accomplished along with her brother's security clearance.
To his eyes, she looked even nicer at the end of a party than she had done on arrival: her hair invariably in a tumble around her face, lipstick worn off and her expressive mouth rueing the fact. Slipping an arm around her waist – waiting, as he had learned to do, for the little relaxation that told him the touch was acceptable – he waltzed her through an accumulation of beer-cans and fallen bodies and up the stairs. Laughing at his degree of co-ordination even when drunk, having very little left of her own, Kath clung to him. "Your... blood's up, my son," she giggled as they spun to a halt outside Ray's bedroom door and she pressed close for a kiss.
He groaned, eloquently, dropped his head to her shoulder. "You got me bang to rights. Being hip-to-hip with you does nothing for my good intentions."
"To leave you alone, until you absolutely demanded molestation."
"Oh." It was the first time they had broached the subject since their disastrous Sunday, and Kath was relieved to find it on the table with so little drama. "Well," she murmured, feeling a glow start at the base of her throat. "I'm not sure about a full-on molestation, but we could, you know, harass one another a bit, if you like."
Eyes closed, fingers intertwined, mouth hotly questing against mouth, they stumbled across the darkened room. Kath was about to subside onto the duvet when he caught her by her shoulders, steadied her, and said on a note of hushed amusement, "Watch it. The cat's gone to sleep on the bed."
She twisted round – for a moment taking him literally. A rectangle of orange streetlight overlaid the quilt and the scatter of coats and jackets that remained on it, and she was more than slightly drunk. It was hard to piece together the human form camouflaged amongst the random shapes and shadows; much more so to recognise this limp rag-doll as her street-smart grown-up brother. "My God," she whispered, looking down. "Does he still do that?"
"Just... conk out in odd places, if he's under the weather or stressed?"
"Well, he hasn't done it on a shoot-out yet, but... over the past few weeks, yeah, he has. Why? Did he use to?"
"Yes." She suddenly glanced up; huddled against him as if chilled. "When Dad was being worse to him than usual. I think it was like an escape mechanism. He – "
Both Bodie and Kath started violently: the word had come from utter stillness, and neither quite recognised the voice. Then Doyle uncurled himself, sat up stiffly on the bed, and looked at her.
"God, love, you haven't called me that in years," she said, and letting go of Bodie, knelt beside him. "Not since we were kids. Are you alright?"
He stared at her, unblinking, eyes amber where the street-lamp caught the iris. And Kath felt something turn to ice with fear inside her. He wasn't awake. He wasn't there. He was trapped in a grim council tower-block 30 years ago... and so was she. "Kathie, how could you let her leave me behind?"
"Oh God." A sob died in her throat. "Baby, I – I was nine years old. I couldn't – and she had Anna, too – "
"How in the hell could you let her?!"
It was a howl. And with horrible swiftness he was on her: grabbing both arms and flinging her flat on the bed. Bodie caught him mid-pounce and hauled him upright. He said, calmly, "That's about enough, Ray," and slapped him to a heap on the floor.
"Will, leave him alone." Breaking paralysis, Kath darted off the bed and got herself between them. "Can't you see? He's not even with us. Come – come away for a second." Glancing at her brother, she saw that he was trying to get to his hands and knees, shaking his head. Between him and Will an electrical charge was building, huge and silent. She had no idea what would happen when it earthed but suspected she should try not to let it, for all of their sakes; not now. "He's okay. I'll take care of him in a minute. Just – come with me."
She got him as far as the corridor, where he stopped as if noticing for the first time the slender, wiry force that had been directing him. "Kath! Are you alright?"
"Fine," she said, ruining it with a sob. "I – I've been waiting for that question for years."
"About him being left behind? What did he mean?"
"Oh, Will, he must've told you – "
"That your mum took you and left? Yes. But what was the problem with him being left behind? And who the hell's Anna?"
Kath made one terrible effort to calm herself. But she understood that, in spite of the years of companionship these two men had shared, Ray had kept silence. That the sickening burden of revelation had just been laid on her shoulders. "Anna was our sister. There were brothers, too. Will, he loves you so much. He must have – "
"He told me about you!"
It was a shout, raw desperate temper, and it helped her by striking a spark off her own. "Come on, Will, I thought you were a smart lad – did you really believe it was just me?!" she yelled back. "It was all of us! But my mother had the imagination of a turnip. Of – a good Catholic. She thought the boys would be safe!"
Bodie went very pale. His anger dissolved, leaving him unsteady. Turning aside, he went back to the open bedroom door, and leaned one fist against the jamb. Looking in – Doyle was huddled at the foot of the bed, once more unmoving and barely visible in shadow – he said, "So, he hurt Ray, too."
"Hurt him?" Kath echoed. "He raped and abused him systematically for about ten years. Will, I thought you knew."
I did. I have done for a few weeks now, ever since he got your letter and started to come apart. Maybe I've known for much longer than that. But knowing something with your heart, with the marrow of your bones, is a different thing to a cold intellectual admission of the fact. "Kath," he said, very softly. "If you're okay, would you do me a favour?"
The incongruous normality of it pulled her back together. Clearing her vision of tears and dissolving mascara with the heel of one hand, she said, faintly, "Yes."
"Go let any stragglers know the party's over. Murphy'll help you bounce the ones that can still walk. Call taxis for the rest; there's a number by the phone and some cash in my inside coat pocket."
Murphy stood in the doorway of Doyle's flat and regarded the thin, pale woman – not nearly so young as he'd thought on first meeting her; perhaps even rising 40 – in front of him. He had Lucas and McCabe pretty much tucked one under each arm. "Is Ray alright?"
"Will's with him. Bodie," she elucidated with a faint smile, before his brow could furrow.
"Oh. Then they'll both be alright." He looked as if he was going to say something further, but then shook his head. "Good night, Kath."
In the silent, empty living room, Kath looked upon the devastation with something approaching grim pleasure. If there was one thing she was really, really good at, it was clean-up detail. Few veterans of military boot camps had more experience. Her father's eldest daughter, when spared from other duties, had a natural role about the house, and three brothers and one little sister kept it fresh and alive for her.
Although, she reflected, beginning to pick up empty glasses, it had not really been the kids that generated chaos. They were, if anything, tidier than the ordinary run of children, frightened out of spontaneity years ago. No, it had been him. Empty bottles, glasses, tins, cigarette-packs, newspapers. He was always to be found at the end of a trail of them, if any tracking-down had ever been required in their tiny, mean accommodations. He filled the rooms like a bear, with his bulk, his breath, his hot stink. He couldn't move, or didn't choose to, without knocking over a chair or a mug or an unwary child. Silently, in his wake, Kath picked everything up. Of course she'd have been beaten senseless for a failure to do so, but Kath had a motive beyond the old man's imagination. Everything he moved, she replaced, just exactly where it had been. Everything he dirtied, she cleaned. A mute, years-long, futile campaign to negate his very existence.
It had made her very efficient. Not that she wanted to erase the night she'd just spent here; most of its reverberations were happy and friendly, and anyway Murphy had said that she wasn't to touch it as he was coming back tomorrow to help Ray clear up. But the actions were soothing, and gave her something better to do than listen outside her brother's bedroom door.
Depositing a tray of glasses in the kitchen, she went back for another load. Half a dozen had collected under the coffee table, and ferreting them out, she saw that her silver clasp was there, too. So that was where it had landed this time... Kneeling amongst the debris, Kath twisted a handful of her curls back into it and remembered her opening night, her first proper look at Will Bodie. She smiled. Then her eyes darkened, and getting to her feet, she went silently to stand in the corridor upstairs.
She could hear, but not words. The wild, raw sobbing of a grown man in unbearable pain. That was her brother. Panic chilled Kath: he did not sound sane. The cries were scarcely human, certainly beyond the reach of human comfort or control. Her legs crumpled beneath her and she sagged down against the wall, raising clenched fists to her ears.
But another sound was there. It came through in the ragged silences when Ray drew breath. Deep and undemanding, it flowed under and around the chaos. It was Will, just talking to him. She couldn't pick out a sentence, but doubted he could, either. That was not the point. Ray's partner, his friend, was doing what he did every day. Insisting – in the teeth of madness – that Ray's world continue. This world, this world; today, not 30 years ago, sunshine. It was hell but it's all gone and I'm here now.
And incredibly, her brother began to respond. At first it was only a dulling of hysteria's edge as he quieted to listen to him. Then words began to scatter themselves, noises of affirmation or denial to Bodie's soft, insistent questions. Briefly, the sound of ordinary crying, such as Kath would have given worlds to be able to do for herself. That became muffled, and then it slowed, and stopped.
Will's voice again: pitching up at the end: a question. Her brother answered, calmly, and actually gave a low, tired laugh.
A perfect silence.
It prevailed, serene and inviolate, as the Saturday morning world went about its business. Curled up on her brother's sofa, Kath heard what passed for dawn chorus so deep in the city, and then some sleepless period later the first rumble of traffic. She heard car doors, house doors, some poor kid being advised that his mother was his chauffeur just now, not his sodding valet, and he could therefore go back in and fetch his own bloody football boots. But she heard nothing from Ray's bedroom. At 9:00 am, stiff and sore with the effort of lying in, she went and took a shower, stole a pair of running pants and a T-shirt from his laundry basket, and padded back down the corridor, the silence pulsating all round her, raising the hair in gooseflesh on her arms. Then, sick at herself, unable to bear it a second longer, she eased open the bedroom door.
They were both fully-dressed, down to their socks, from the night before. One hand to her mouth, clutching the door handle, Kath demanded of herself what she had expected. The answers came, searingly: her mind was trained to vivid image. Dishevelled clothing, or none at all. The duvet – which they hadn't got around to turning back – in tangles around close-pressed hips. A sense of completion, of union, as holy and unassailable as the silence.
Well, there was a touch of that. Otherwise, Ray in his party clothes was simply asleep on his partner's shoulder, draped over him like a big cat on its branch. Will lay on his back, smiling faintly, five o'clock shadow coming in jet black. He had one arm wrapped around Ray's waist, the other hand buried in his hair. They were breathing deep, quiet, and in synchrony. Kath turned and crept away.
Half an hour later, she stood gazing out of the kitchen window, mechanically squeezing the bag against the side of an already-stewed cup of tea and wondering abstractedly what illness it was that made London pigeons' toes fall off. She did not move at the sounds from behind her, nor when strong arms closed around her waist. But he was warm, and smelled even better unwashed, and when he squeezed she relaxed with a shiver. "Morning, love. Is Ray alright?"
"Doesn't remember a thing. Thinks he passed out drunk."
"Waking up with you in his bed must've come as a surprise, then."
Bodie tipped his head to one side a little and considered her tone. It was listless and flat. "Not really," he said. "We don't think much of bunking down together, not after all these years."
"I'm sorry. I looked in on you."
"What's to be sorry for? I might've killed him and dumped the body out the window. I was ready to, for a second. Are you okay?"
Pathetic stirrings of gratitude, that she still existed for him. Kath stiffened in self-disgust and felt him let her go, reading her quickly but wrong. She turned to face him – and grinned in spite of everything; he was the very picture of handsome debauchery. "Oh, I like this look. This is going to make a fine piece of semi-pornographic portraiture. Yes, I'm fine. He's got a grip on him but... well, it was just like old times, really. You know. Domestic violence."
"Glad you enjoyed."
Her humour was tough on him now that Ray was fully-established in that vanished domestic scene, she could see that. "It's different, though," she said softly, "when the fighting's about love."
"It's sure as shit more complicated." Moving past her, he took up her own contemplative position at the window. "Oh, Kath, I wish he'd told me."
"I do, too. But it's so obvious why he didn't."
"Will it be obvious to me after I've had a cuppa?"
"Absolutely. I'll even make you one." She reached to fill the kettle and find a cup amongst the rows and rows of beautifully-polished glasses she'd been unable to keep her hands off the night before. "You're his lifeboat. They work best on the surface, don't they? If he'd let in all that murky water you'd have been down there too, part of it."
Bodie groaned softly. "I am so much more... buoyant than either of you give me credit for. Did it never occur to him that I might be able to keep him up on the top with me?"
"Probably, but would you have dared risk it, in his place?" She watched him try to put himself there; close his eyes in sorrow. "In a way, I'm relieved he's forgotten. For him, you're still... unsullied by his past. Will you remind him?"
"Not if it won't help him. That's all I want to do, Kath. Is – is your father still alive?"
The anger in his voice, even schooled to quiet, was terrible. She never wanted him angry with her, not like that. "I haven't heard any different. But – that won't help, love, not unless you're a time-traveller, amongst your many other gifts."
"It'd help me, to kill him for both of you."
"Look, Will... when Ray was a kid, when he had those blackouts, those nightmares, there wasn't a soul who could reach him. I thought he'd lose his mind. He'd be virtually catatonic for hours, sometimes days. But you – last night, you just... God, I don't know. Opened his cage."
She was relieved he didn't ask how she knew, only shrugging slightly as she handed him a mug of tea. "Nah. I just got in with him for a bit. Helped him chuck peanuts at the keepers."
"No-one else could do that much." She said it to comfort him, but the truth of it hit her in the stomach a moment later. "God, how can I take you away from him?"
He chuckled. "Kath, I'm marrying you, not divorcing Ray. I'll always take care of him, just like he takes care of me."
"Till death us do part, eh?" Stiffly, Kath sat down at the table. She did not know why she felt so grim. On some level, did she want Will to choose? And even if he chose away from her, would that be better than his blithe and generous sharing, his conviction – well-founded, she knew, after a few weeks in his company – that there was enough of him to go round? Voice roughened with a threat of tears, she asked, "When did he tell you about me? Did you go to him, the other Sunday?"
"Yes," he said candidly. "Didn't have to break any confidences; he took one look at me and told me what the problem was."
"Makes me feel much better," Kath groused, poking a spoon into her stone-cold tea. "Will, are you off your head, or what? Doesn't the prospect of this-day-forward with an emotionally and sexually dysfunctional woman daunt you just a little, tiny bit?"
"It would, if you were." He took a seat, companionably, beside her. "Emotionally, you're a bit too functional for comfort, and as for the other... Love, if you'd been beaten up, I wouldn't blame you for having bruises, would I? As it is, you've got... this. Which we can fix, in time, if you want. And if not, it doesn't matter."
They were comfortably entangled when Doyle appeared in the kitchen doorway. He pushed his hands into his pockets and smiled diffidently when at length he was noticed.
"Oh, mate," his partner said admiringly. "You look horrible."
"Ta. Wish I could say the same of you, but it's never bloody true. Kath, you know you're gonna be competing with him for wardrobe and mirror space for the rest of your life, don't you."
"Nah. I turn 40, they're all his. It was a lovely party, Ray. Thanks."
"Very welcome. Can't for the life of me think what the two of you are still doing here, though." He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, looked at them with affection and a touch of fear. It felt like someone had parked a truck in his head around eight o'clock last night and only come back to move it half an hour ago. "Is everything... Are we okay?"
"It is," his sister responded, promptly, gently, and Bodie met his eyes smiling and said, "We are."
And Bodie thought he was. Something inside him heated dangerously when Doyle mentioned Ann Holly's visit, during their drive to work the following Monday morning, but he knew it was merely knee-jerk, a reflex established during those few horrible weeks when he had thought he would lose his partner to a high-gloss, contemptuous vixen whose life's work would be the destruction of his self-esteem.
Still, the stress was presumably there. Bodie did not think his ordinary response to what Murphy had just told him would be to knock his old friend halfway across the squad room. Red mists of adrenaline clearing, he was at a loss to understand why he hadn't fallen about laughing, at Murph's sorry tale. It was not as if the poor sod had wanted to tell him. He'd simply assumed that Ray would, or had, and wanted to get in there first with background or a heartfelt apology. And Bodie had listened in open-mouthed disbelief as he stammered and blushed his way through both. Then he had punched him in the face.
He couldn't for the life of him work out why. Skirting a breakdown or not, Ray was still capable of fighting his own battles, and evidently had done so here, giving Murphy – Murph! Bodie couldn't believe it – a brushoff he wouldn't soon forget. There was no call for Bodie to come on like the outraged lover... "I'm sorry," he growled, helping Murph up off the floor. "But what the hell were you thinking?"
Shaking free of Bodie's support, Murphy wiped blood off the corner of his mouth. "I wasn't," he said, bitterly. "I'd had too much to drink and I stopped."
"But you're not – I mean, you never – "
"No, not as rule! Not that that's any of your business... It – It's just him."
Bodie stared at him for a second longer, then turned away and slumped down on the motheaten sofa. Was he hypocrite enough to feign incomprehension? No – but he wasn't ready for open sympathy, either. Detachedly, he could see the funny side: Murph the mountaineer, launching hopeless assault on the north face of Doyle's Eiger. He could just picture the haughty astonishment, like a cat picked up by its tail... "You'd better leave him alone, Murph," was what came out of his mouth, the tone too weary for threat. "He's – not in the best state of mind at the moment."
"Not just his mind. People are starting to notice. What's wrong with him?" Murph thought he knew a good deal of what was, but over the weekend he had developed a morbid need to gauge the intractability of poor Ray's situation. Of Bodie's blindness, or stupidity, or sheer fucking ingratitude. He supposed that, in spite of everything, he hadn't quite given up hope. "Is he ill? Macklin's gonna take him apart if he doesn't glue some weight back on."
He'll have to go through me. And so will you, and so will any and all other comers. Resurgent adrenaline lit Bodie's system like a circuit board and he bounced to his feet, faintly satisfied when Murphy flinched. Doyle was down in Records. There was only one place in the world Bodie wanted to be. "Nice of you to confess," he told his colleague on his way out the door, "but you needn't have bothered. Ray can't remember a thing about Friday night."
Outside, he paused. Held in a breath: listened.
Sound of a mug going down hard on the surface of a table. Then a whispered, emphatic, "Fuck!"
Only when Bodie had stopped laughing, run down the stairs to Records and planned a whole week's worth of Doyle-related off-duties in his head, did he remember the fact of Kath's existence.
The answer was to keep them together. Bodie knew it was a desperate and temporary solution but he had no better ideas. The thought of Ray alone all night in his empty flat chilled his blood, because in Bodie's imagination the poor sod wasn't alone: was cornered and facing down with hopeless courage a besieging horde of nightmare memories. And – when he had time to think of her at all – Bodie remained profoundly attached to Kath. So he suggested they have a meal together that night, spinning it out as long as possible with coffee and amiable dispute over the bill while he tried to figure out how to explain to his fiancee that he was going home with her brother.
But in the end, chasteningly, they both turned him down, Kath because she wanted to work and Ray because he had slept dreamlessly for the past two nights and wanted to try for a third. He was still exhausted, but it was as if some demon had sneaked out of his body under the cover of Friday's lost hours. Smiling, shaking his head at himself, Bodie therefore offered taxi services instead and went to get the Capri.
They were halfway down the Fulham Road when Doyle leaned over, tipped the rearview mirror and confirmed his neck-tingling suspicions about the driver of the car behind. "Oh, shit," he groaned softly. "Not on a family outing!"
"Guy behind us. Been there since we left the restaurant. It's Jamie Regan's brother, I'm pretty sure."
The name didn't mean much to Bodie. But subtly checking the mirror himself, he found the face did, or at least its resemblance to one whose owner Doyle had shot dead in an army-base canteen four weeks ago. "That's a bit of a bugger. Sure he's following?"
"One way to find out." Turning round in the passenger seat, Doyle gave Kath a reassuring grin. "In a second, just duck down like you dropped something. Casual. But stay there, okay?"
Kath lifted an eyebrow. "One Oscar-winning duck coming up."
Bodie heard the soft chime of earrings; a rustle of silk. Then he took the Capri gently from fourth to third and jammed his foot to the floor. Halfway down North End Road, comfortably settled at about twice the speed limit, he enquired, "Still with us?"
"Like a tick on a dog's arse, mate," Doyle politely confirmed, and heard his sister's snort of laughter. "Enjoying yourself, sweetheart? Cos they'll cut you a new parting if you sit up."
"My, the Civil Service is more proactive these days," she murmured, unalarmed but staying put.
"Bodie, we have to ditch her."
Cutting a screaming left onto Talgarth Road, Bodie spared him a glance. "Don't be thick. Anything we care enough about to stop and drop, they'll go after."
Chills ran through Doyle as he realised the truth of it. Christ, why hadn't it occurred to him? "Yeah," he said. "Sorry. Can you outrun them?"
"Not indefinitely. Got an empty tank, for one thing, and – " He shut up in order to negotiate two lanes of traffic and an evasive swerve around a bus. "And they're good," he finished, finding their pursuers still firmly attached.
Doyle leaned to pick up the transmitter. Tersely he reported their situation and locale: there was no point in asking for backup, as one way or another matters would be resolved before it could get anywhere near them. Cutting transmission, he twisted and looked into the back seat. Wide green eyes met his – very aware of the problem, but somehow unafraid. "You alright?"
"Fine. Just do whatever you usually do. I'll keep my head low."
"What we usually do..." Doyle echoed, gripping the dash and looking into the sidestreets flashing by on his left. "Shake 'em off or stand 'em down, eh, Bodie?"
"Sounds good to me, mate, specially that first one. Don't much fancy a gunfight with passengers on board, either, you know."
"Yeah. Okay, next – no, next left but one. There. There's a bus depot – " Centrifugal forces almost deposited Kath on the floor behind the driver's seat as Will wrenched the Capri through 90 degrees. "Yes! In there, quick, before they make the turn."
Bodie had the engine and headlights off before they were through the depot gates. They coasted to a silent stop by the wall. Not one of them moved, nor took a breath, but Doyle found his partner's gaze and held it, waiting. A mute countdown... then tyres squealed, away off down the road, and the dying roar of their pursuer's car steadied – remained one instant in stasis – and took new life. Soft as a prayer, Bodie whispered, "Oh, fuck..."
The Rover skittered into the depot sideways, her driver less adept with the wheel than Bodie. A double-edged sword – they were unprepared, but also a fast-moving target. From the cover of the bonnet and the half-open driver's door, all Bodie and Doyle could take out were the rear tyres and windscreen respectively. She skidded to face them nose on, four burly figures spilling out onto the oil-stained concrete and instantly returning fire. The Capri's rear passenger-window exploded in shards and Doyle yelled, "Kathie, down!", but it was the sight of a bullet nicking cloth and a spray of blood from his partner's arm that gave him the wild, inhuman focus he needed to level the playing field. Astonished, unable to give more than covering fire, Bodie saw him roll out into the open, go belly-flat and get off two shots so fast he didn't think the Browning could handle it. Both went beautifully, horribly home. A face. A heart. With a scream, Jamie Regan broke cover and lunged at Doyle, weapon abandoned in favour of fists and fury.
The remaining gunman – guessing something, or a very poor shot – began to pump fire into the Capri's rear flank. Calmly – not the first time his life had been the only acceptable currency for buying back one that was dearer – Bodie launched himself in a flying roll across the space between the cars, fetching up at the feet of his opponent. "Hi."
Another brother, unfortunately. Another damn Regan, deadly with the passion of shared blood. Savagely Bodie countered it, barely dismayed when a chop to his injured arm sent his weapon flying. The quarters had been too close to use it. And in flashes he saw that Doyle had polished off his man anyway, so cue the cavalry, any second –
He deflected a haymaker, got a good dirty knee to Regan's groin – just couldn't pull back fast enough to block the descending gun barrel. A red-grey tank slammed into the side of his head.
Ray. Why the hell was Ray getting up so slowly? Ma Regan's last remaining son was making it pitifully easy. Even the good ones – and he was good – couldn't resist this: the moment of triumph over a helpless prey. His back was to Doyle. Making it easy. A clear shot. Doyle was levering up off hands and knees, slowly, too slow, too –
A weapon coughed once and Regan fell, in the wrong direction.
When he could, Bodie got to his feet, unconsciously brushing himself off. His attention was fixed on the woman poised a few yards from him. Her grip on Bodie's weapon was good, double-handed and steady, and her bare feet were firmly planted against kickback on the oil-stained concrete. Bodie didn't think she was breathing. "Kath," he said softly, and took a step towards her. "It's over, love."
She clung to him, shuddering, pushing the gun back into his shoulder harness with deft repulsion. Bodie stroked her hair, brushed bits of glass out of it, then just hung on to her. "Alright. Alright. Christ, where'd you learn to shoot like that?"
"M-My dad – "
"He taught you?"
"No. No. Said he'd come after me, hunt me down. I told Ray. He – told me what gun to buy, where to get lessons. I got a Browning b-but yours is nice, too."
"Nice, eh?" A chuckle, hysteria's thin edge, found lodging in Bodie's throat. Forcing it down, he attended to the approaching footsteps behind him and said, without turning, "Took your bloody time, didn't you, mate?"
"Yes," Doyle said. He came to a halt by the Capri's shot-pocked bonnet and rested one hand on it. "I'm sorry." His other hand was pressed in a fist to the juncture of his ribs and solar plexus. He said, with a touch of exasperated humour, "I think he... must've had a knife, mate."
Kath felt the warmth surrounding her – shielding her from the fact that she had just killed a man – disappear, and she forced herself fiercely upright. She wanted to collapse to her knees on the concrete. But something was terribly wrong. Will had her brother by the upper arms and was staring into his face with a burning intensity. She saw him ease Ray down to sit against the wing of the car, heard him say, "Let me see."
"Don't – don't think it's very nice." Ray's voice was calm; layer of ice over bone-deep shock.
"Okay. Alright, but let me see. Here; gently."
She watched Will take hold of her brother's clenched, dark-streaked fist and ease it away.
"Holy fucking Christ."
He moved in a blur to whip off the jacket he'd worn to dinner, bunch it up and press it hard to Ray's stomach. Its honey-coloured cotton went black. All of it, almost instantly. Still Kath's mind wouldn't let her understand the scene. Then it came to her: it was the problem she had when painting at night, under a pallid moon or streetlamps like these ones beyond the bus-depot walls. Different spectrum, different palette. Nuance bleached out or stained to jet. Red looked black in it, yes. "Oh – Will, oh God – !"
After one gut-punched little moan, Doyle had fallen silent. His brow was lightly pressed to Bodie's shoulder. Not sparing her a glance, Bodie said, "Kath, the transmitter in the car. Pick it up and press – "
"I've seen you. I know how. What do I say?"
"Location, Baron's Court bus depot. Priority A3, and bring blood, A-negative."
Like mine, Kath thought dazedly. Just rare enough to be awkward. She whirled and ran for the Capri.
When she got back, Bodie was easing her brother down to the ground. "Kath," he said, and didn't need to elucidate: she shot to his side and took over the business of holding the bloodsoaked jacket tight to Ray's stomach. "Alright," he said, cradling him, actually smiling. "Keep you flat, it'll ease the bleeding. Kath, I need something else to – yes." Kath's long silk shawl went down on top of the jacket. "Keep the pressure on, hard. Are they coming?"
"An ambulance is on its way from Charing Cross. They said five minutes."
"Okay. Hear that, mate?" Gathering him into his arms, Bodie stroked damp curls off his brow. "Five minutes, and I reckon we killed one of those already, and... " His voice roughened and he shut up.
"An' it flies, when you're... havin' a good time," Ray finished weakly. "I'm sorry, Bodie. I let my guard down. Why's it bleeding so hard?"
"Nicked an artery, I think, old son. Got it covered, though, haven't we?"
"Bodie, did my sister just... gun down an IRA thug?"
"Like a dog in the street," Bodie confirmed, smiling and flashing her a glance. "Calamity Kath. Glad she's on our side." Doyle tried to laugh. It turned into a rasp, and something glittered darkly at his lips and overflowed. Biting back a cry of fear, Bodie lifted him far enough to cough the blood out of the way of his breathing; wiped his face when the seizure passed. "Okay, it's okay," he said, with gentle urgency, then became silent and still. "Ah, Ray. Ray, no. Don't."
On her knees in a pool of her brother's blood, Kath watched Will plead. She hadn't known he could. Then he began to threaten, and was more like himself, or her image of him, but none of it brought a flicker of consciousness back to Ray's peaceful face. How utterly beautiful the two of them were! Ray's head was tipped back now, pale throat arched over Will's supporting arm. With a shock – realising it was shock – Kath found herself preparing the canvas in her mind. No figures; she seldom did that any more. Possibly the eye of a whirlwind, or the place where sky met sea in a storm. All the while she held her cramping hand tight to the pad of bloodsoaked cotton and silk, and she heard her brother's breathing start to rasp and lose its rhythm, just as the first sirens broached earshot.
Kath lifted her hands to her face, and smelled in her cupped palms the windswept street, the night. Perversely, she wanted to be back out there. The hospital corridor was stifling hot, and in that rainy bus depot she had enjoyed the last moments of self-deception. Never before prone to fostering her own delusions, she was now bemused at the persistence of this one air-castle she had allowed to form.
Down the corridor, she could just hear her fiance's voice. It was low, faintly amused, just what she would have liked to hear herself if dangerously ill: loving, but in no way concerned that she was going to die. Chiding her for getting her arse into so much trouble during a routine punch-up. Kath shuddered: she would not have pegged Will for much of a fantasist, either, but he was continuing to talk to Ray as if the dying man could hear him. Having bled out twice what they could pump into him, on the depot's cobbles and the short hellish trip to Charing Cross, he was now being prepped for no-option surgery he was probably too weak to survive. Kath had stumbled away from a scene where, despite her status as sister and lover, she had no place, and the castle had fallen, down to its last stone, all but a bloodcaked silk shawl and an emerald the colour of her eyes.
She had perhaps ten minutes, during which shock detached her from the normal processes of love and empathy and left her alone with her wounds. That self-pity was a desert she was painfully aware, but the winds that blew across it had a siren song to the weak and the tired, and her mind filled with the look on Will's face when he had proposed to her, set next to the harrowed blankness that had masked him in the ambulance, and she asked herself which meant love. Oh, not just that – the hundred ways he looked at Ray, or touched him or tried not to! What obtuseness had seized her brother, not to know...?! But that was easy answered, bitterly easy: Ray did know, of course. The irony of it, the balance, was almost beautiful. What their father had done to them had ensured that he could no more act on desire for a man than she could force herself to feel it. And now they were both of them destroyed. Kath put her face in the shawl handed back to her by a distracted medic and shamelessly sobbed for herself and her loss, which at that moment struck her as more terrible even than that which her brother was about to face –
It was barely audible. She snatched herself upright and saw Will there in front of her, grey with desolation, barely on his feet. "Jesus. Sweetheart. Sit down." Lurching to her feet, letting the shawl drop, she took hold of him as hard as she could, a grip that would hurt him and, she prayed, hold him together. Call him back – not to her; she knew the time for that was past – but to any reality. She felt the big muscles of his shoulders and arms shift and cramp beneath her hands. Then to her relief he took hold of her in return, crushing the breath from her, painfully twisting the hair at her nape. "Alright, love," she managed. "He'll be alright. He will."
"Not this time."
"Oh, God, don't you give up on him!"
"He's given up on himself. He won't fight, Kath, not this time."
"Why..." She closed her eyes, fought the hot closure of her throat. "Why do you say..." But abruptly she was disgusted with herself. If the air-castle was down, let it be so; let her not hide like a lizard in its ruins. "I'm sorry. Yes. I know."
He made a small noise of astonishment and let her go. Urgently, wryly, she helped him disengage. When there was enough space between them – when she only had hold of his hands like any friend – she repeated, "I know. It's because of me, because of us, although God – God knows neither of us ever wanted to hurt him... " She swallowed, forcing back tears. "He's been breaking his heart over you. You... Christ, Will, you do know, don't you?"
"Yes," he admitted, unhappily, unhesitating. Her truth was catching, like an avalanche starting others. Like a disease. His walls were falling, too. "Yes. I tried."
"Because you wanted him too."
"Yes. Jesus, so much! Kath – "
"Ssh. It's alright. Can you understand now why he couldn't give you anything back?" He nodded, past speech, and she braced and followed up while she still was able to, "Can you understand why I can't?"
And that was it – the eye of tornado, the epiphany between them when their disguised natures stood raw and revealed. They stared at each other, simultaneously seeing everything and blindly inturned, caught between picture and mirror. Kath almost laughed – was the sound of tumbling masonry as audible to him? Of constructs which had strained so long against gravity finally lapsing down and down into truth, so terrible, such an abysmal bloody relief... "You love him, not me, Will. And I'm not fit to love anyone at all. Not yet."
He didn't even try to argue. It became in time one of her dearest memories of him – his mercy on her, his stern compassionate rejection in this moment of the comforting lie. His dark eyes rested on hers, only calm now, seeking the essence of her to match and speak with his own. "I never meant to hurt you."
"You didn't. You did the very, very best you could with... poor materials and zero information. You did miracles. Is Ray in surgery yet? Miracles, Will... I'm sorry, but you have to manage one more."
The trolley was halfway through the double doors into theatre, Doyle barely conscious from bloodloss and pre-med. The medical staff in attendance were not impressed with Bodie's timing but they were ghosts to him, voiceless, barely visible. Those who dealt with repairs to Cowley's small army on a regular basis were not deeply surprised at the big, pale man's short and unequivocal declaration, nor that it somehow brought Ray Doyle smiling back from the brink.
He stood in Bodie's living room, in a patch of late July sun, silently gazing at the work of his sister's hands. He could stay on his feet for whole minutes now, even walk a short distance – breathe without a tube having to be shoved down his throat, get to the bathroom without assistance – small luxuries he had never taken for granted, but which were all the dearer to him now because their accomplishment had meant that Bodie could take him home. His holdall was on the sofa behind him, still packed, and in the kitchen his friend was making coffee. Everything was dear and clear to him now. The sun in the colours of Kath's Revelations, the scent of the chrysanthemums that had been waiting on Bodie's doorstep when they arrived, the sounds of ordinary human life, from the street outside, from the room next door, water pouring from a kettle... All were edged in crystal, as if somehow in his damaged tired body his senses had been reborn. Unconsciously he clasped the jacket he was holding. It was Bodie's; the man had taken it off and silently wrapped him in it as they left the hospital foyer. Even the mild summer breeze had chilled him, after that greenhouse warmth. But the air had been so sweet...
Bodie, in the doorway, a tray in his hands. It was very nearly where they had started from, positions reversed and one protagonist down, and Doyle smiled. "I'm fine. Just... looking at this."
Carefully Bodie set down the tray on the table. He had a delicious sense of not having to hurry any more, not over anything, and therefore made a slow and deliberate approach, stopping half an inch short of Ray's back. "Beautiful," he said, and Doyle heard all the layers and turned to him. The jacket fell from his grasp. Bodie's mouth sought his, stopped a skinswidth off and let him close the last gap by himself, which he did with a short relieved moan, as if finally letting go, as if falling, as if kissing Bodie was the thing that would be left when he stopped fighting everything else and came home. His eyes closed. The man's mouth was warmer than the sun. Strong and somehow infinitely kind... He didn't notice when his knees gave.
Bodie caught him carefully. "If I thought that was just my amazing style," he said, helping him straighten up, "I'd be flattered." But Doyle's rueful smile acknowledged it was a bit more than that, and he allowed himself to be helped across to the sofa, subsiding on it gratefully.
"Sorry. I wanted..."
"Shut up," Bodie advised him, smiling too. "Have some coffee and catch your breath." He went to fetch the tray, pausing for a minute to brush the tips of his fingers over the massive flowerheads. Some were dark gold, others russet. Some of a purple so deep it was almost black. Carefully he detached the envelope with his name on it from their rich paper wrapping, put it on the tray and brought the whole thing over to the coffee table. Ray was watching him, calmly enough, but his pupils were dilated and Bodie could see a pulse in his throat like the flick of a butterfly's wing.
"I take it those are from Kath."
"Mm." Bodie poured coffee, handed Doyle his black and sugar-free and polluted his own to his satisfaction before sitting back and opening the envelope. He read for a few seconds in silence. "Yes, they are."
"They're very her."
"Mm," Bodie said again, turned the page and grinned. "It's odd you should say that, because she thinks they're very us."
"Oh." That silenced Ray, and he was glad to have the mug in his hands as a prop while he considered the remark. Considered, for the first time, the concept of an us. Kath had come to see him in hospital the day before. She looked thin and tired, but not unhappy, and though neither of them had said as much, both had known it was farewell. "Is she," he began at length, and had to clear his throat. "Is she okay?"
"Well – she's sold City in Flight for a ludicrous price – to the Greek cultural attaché, of all people, and he's invited her out there to paint and think about exhibiting in Athens later in the year. She's well on her way to the Cyclades by now."
Bodie read on briefly, then gave a faint snort of laughter. "She says she was going to make her carry her bags then ditch the little vulture at Gatwick. " He sobered, and brushed the pad of one thumb across the page in what Doyle recognised as a caress. "She's not sure what she wants, but it isn't that. She says she needs time, a lot of it, and some sunshine, and three pounds of olives a day. She says she loves you."
He put the letter down. Doyle moved to him stiffly, but as if he went into Bodie's arms like this every day, and Bodie reached calmly back for him. "Come here," he said. "It's alright."
Another echo of a starting point, but Doyle was too tired to worry. The heat that had gathered down in the core of him was still there, but for now it was comforting, not urgent. In the hospital he had talked to Bodie, talked as never in his life before. Being full of morphine had helped the process, but finally of his own volition he had told his friend everything he needed and deserved to know. It was worth a decade of psychiatry, to look into the dark attentive eyes and speak, because when he was done, Bodie had not been dragged down into the undersea trench of his childhood. He was still in the sun and the air. They both were. Lying in the stuffy ward, a reproving nurse strapping the oxygen mask back into place, Ray could practically hear the seagulls. Could hear them now... "Sleep," Bodie told him, drawing him more comfortably against his shoulder. "Sleep."
He did, and when he woke the heat inside was not comforting, not at all. He didn't know what he'd dreamed about but his jeans were a painful constriction, his heart beating hard, and he didn't know what the hell they were going to do about it because even the increase of his respiration was pulling at his stitches, sending a sickening ache through his lungs. But Bodie seemed on top of the problem; was already clear of their tangle and kneeling across him, stroking his hair. "Easy," he said, whether an instruction or a promise that it would be Doyle wasn't sure. "Just sit back."
It was sunny still but the light had changed. Now it poured, long and bronzing, through the gap in the buildings over the road, almost due southwest, a glow that would last until dark, striking the sofa full on. It turned Bodie's crisp white shirt to a blaze that left shapes on Doyle's retina as the man moved to kneel on the floor in front of him, put such a shine on his hair that Ray could not keep his hands away, shifted with a small grunt of pain to caress him. Bodie looked up and smiled. "Touch me later," he said, pulling his wrist down, pressing a kiss to its palm. "For now let me. If you want." He didn't think there was much doubt – Ray's erection was trying to undo his jeans for him – but it had to be said, one last time. "I meant it with Kath and I do with you. Anything you want, including nothing at all. You have to believe that."
"I do," Doyle said wonderingly, ashamed of himself that there was still wonder left to be felt. He was bloody glad that his flesh had followed his mind into this new state of acceptance and rebirth. Bodie, kneeling between his thighs, hands reaching up, thank God, at last, for buttons and zip – oh, that would have been a criminal waste; a shame beyond endurance not to be able to say yes to him now. "Yes," Doyle said, answering his question and simultaneously reporting his response to the touch at his groin. "Yes. Jesus, yes, Bodie. Now."
"Circumcised!" Bodie commented, ten seconds later. They had shared some pretty close quarters, shared showers at the gym, and Bodie had suspected as much, but any closer scrutiny would not have been good manners.
"Uh-huh," Doyle managed. There was red around the gold in his vision now and he thought he was going to die. "There's some good... Irishy-Jewishy stock back there somewhere – on my mam's side, I hasten to add."
"Of course," Bodie said gently, acknowledging how far his friend had come, to be able to make the point smiling. "Looks very handsome, too."
"How... How handsome?"
"Oh, you know." Bodie let the corners of his mouth curl up. "Edible."
Doyle heard his own cry with astonishment. He didn't think he'd had such a sound in him – uncensored, animal, wild with need. So pornographic that he blushed but was unable to stifle the next and the next, and they were louder, worse – his hips jerked up in helpless response to the slow slide of Bodie's mouth down the length of his cock...
The next cry was pure pain. "Right," Bodie said, sitting up. He reached and brusquely unfastened Doyle's shirt, which caused Doyle to swallow and gasp until he realised that his partner was only checking his bandages for bleeding. The inspection over, he fixed Ray with a look of loving but real severity. "Either you sit dead still and let me do this, or I stop. Got it?"
"Don't stop." Doyle felt his shaft ache and fill, felt his whole self yearn after the inside of that hot and perfect mouth.
"Dead still. I promise. Don't stop."
"Good. Because I don't want to end up back at CHX explaining I bust your stitches giving you a blow-job."
Doyle burst out laughing, winced and clapped a hand to the affected area. "Ow! That didn't bloody help, did it? Christ, Bodie, don't stop. I won't move. Just – please, make me come. I'm so close. Don't stop."
He repeated it, raggedly, in between great gasps for air. Don't stop. Those words and the others; small lost prayers. Please. Make me come. So close. Bodie found the desire-roughened voice so erotic he almost lost himself; concentrated fiercely on technique. As Kath had discovered, he had a hell of a technique, and would have considered himself most remiss if he'd got to his advanced years without learning to pleasure both a woman and a man in this way. Indeed, his chances of sexual release, as a sailor, merc and paratrooper, would have been seriously compromised if he hadn't –
"Ah, Bodie – love – "
- ah, and yes, then there was love, the fact that it was Doyle here trembling under his hands with the effort to keep still, his Ray of a thousand tough days on the streets. The scent of him, the changing taste as he got near the brink, the damp silk of the skin in the hollows of his hip bones where Bodie's thumbs were pressed in order to immobilise him, all these things were Ray and conspired to make him lose control, here where control was most needed. To prove to this man who had suffered so much that another man could love him and not hurt -
Thank God he was not tested further. Suddenly Ray sat up – powerfully, spine straight, pushing his hips to the edge of the couch. Bodie went with him, tasting salt, feeling it start. Doyle said, almost calmly, "God, love. There. Yes."
For the rest of his life Doyle would associate blinding sunsets with a moment of ecstasy so pure it almost killed him. Pagan-hearted under a layer of shattered Catholic indoctrination, he looked into the face of the sun god and came, exalted, more than human, and because he had never known anything like it it went on forever, making him briefly and forever immortal...
Then he was himself, no more and – at last – no less. Human, exhausted, with an armful of suddenly desperate, equally human male. Bodie, who had honestly thought he could get away with this, on his knees and gasping at his feet. Shuddering, sobbing for breath, Doyle leaned over him and kissed traces of semen from around his swollen mouth, tears from his flushed cheekbones. "Come up here, gorgeous."
"No – I'm alright..."
"Hell you are. I want you. Come here." He hauled and Bodie obeyed him, telling himself it was to spare his stitches, and because he couldn't land on him went under.
It was almost a bucket of cold water. Doyle knelt over him, remembering too. Don't touch me back... But that was from a different world. He'd been a different man. "Sorry, lover," he said. "You can put those fine hands wherever you like."
Only on his waist, steadying him as he rocked over him, the movement as much a deep embrace, mutual comfort, as the mechanics of sex. A dance without music, the folding and folding of small waves up a beach, an antidote to shock. Doyle smiled, leaned over cautiously and sought his mouth, yielded with a moan as the tongue-tip parted his lips. It flickered against them then slipped deep, found Doyle's tongue and met it thrust for thrust in a rhythm Doyle dictated, hungry and quick at first, then slower, deliberately slower, until Bodie started to tremble and shoved his hips up hard. He pulled out of the kiss with a gasp. "Sunshine, I'm going to lose it."
"Can you hang on?"
"Don't know... Yes. No."
"That about covers it. Hang on anyway." Sitting back, Doyle straddled him for long enough to unfasten his belt, button, zip, then to Bodie's gasping disbelief got slowly off the couch and stood away. But it was only for long enough to peel his own jeans and underwear, leaving him naked but for his unbuttoned shirt and the tight-strapped bandages. "Sorry to make you wait," he said against Bodie's ear a few seconds later, pale, scared, but back in place and ready. "I know you need it. Just wanted to feel it, when you come."
The words were enough for Bodie. He cried out and arced his hips up off the sofa, felt his cock pulse for a moment against Doyle's, and then he was flying, higher and wilder than he could bear. It frightened him – he hadn't meant to do this, hadn't meant anything more than to pleasure his lover. He flashed back to his first night with Kath, her sudden cool manipulation of his body. But Doyle was right there with him, desperately involved, white with love and pain. Their eyes met and they finished together in a tight-clenched tangle, Doyle's astonished yell bouncing off the walls as his spent flesh abruptly delivered him again.
Bodie carried him to bed. Ray had nothing left inside him that could possibly argue when the strong grasp closed on him and gathered him up. He was asleep before they were halfway down the hall, softly-breathing deadweight in Bodie's arms. Setting him down – on fresh linen he'd set out as soon as the hospital had agreed to release Doyle to his care – Bodie thought vaguely about a shower, about fixing some dinner.
Then he sat down as if his strings had been cut and thought more clearly, finally allowing it, about Kath, and six weeks of seismic change. He saw her again in the lamplit rain, barefoot, the gun clasped in her artist's hands. Saving his life so that she could release him to go and save her brother's. Bodie reached a slightly unsteady caress to Doyle's face, to the corner of his mouth where he was smiling in his sleep. For three days he had lived at the end of a rope invisible to everyone except Bodie, who had sat by his bed and silently held the other end. He should have died. And Bodie knew – suspected Ray did, too – that although his recuperative powers were astounding, this latest return from the grave was likely the last he could risk. He had scar tissue round his heart from the MayLi shooting. He had an emergency prescription of digitalin – untouched so far, but Cowley knew about it. So did Macklin. Next January he would turn 40.
Suddenly cold to his bones, dry-throated, Bodie woke him up. "Ray. Angelfish!" Green eyes flicked instantly open, and under his hands the thin body snapped taut, ready to reach for a gun, ready for anything. He would keep doing this, wouldn't he? Up and out there, every time until the last?
"Bodie? What's the matter?"
"Ray... Love, for Christ's sake let's quit while we're ahead."
Doyle understood him, comprehensively, straight away. His plea was as simple as clear blue sky. He said, very calmly, "Alright."
Bodie sank into bed beside him. The relief was almost terrible. He put his arms around him and Ray reached back and held tight, kissed the side of his neck and said, "God, we are ahead, aren't we?"
"Far as we'll ever be. I don't know what the hell we'll do but – "
"I want to teach," Doyle said softly, unhesitating. "I want us to see more of Kath, once she's over the pair of us. I want to jump before I'm pushed. I want to fuck you, frequently, and I want us both to live. A long time. Alright?"
You have thought it through, then. Bodie found himself laughing. His own fate would fall into place. Doyle's hands were on his, pulling them down to all the places he wanted to be touched. Oh God – it would be alright. "Alright. Yes, love, yes."
Epilogue – Chanctonbury Ring, Sussex
On a tree-crowned hilltop once bright with bare chalk, on a blazing day in the last week of July, Ray Doyle stretched out in thrift-starred heath grass and reached behind him to touch the vast embankment of the iron-age hillfort in which he and his lover were majestically encircled. The zenith through the beech leaves was turquoise – in the southern distance, just visible beyond the earthworks, the Channel dissolved in a haze of lapis blue. His fingers brushed the moss and warm earth of the bank, pressed gently into it. "Wonder what this was for."
Not wondering anything very urgently, Bodie reflected, setting the guide book down in order to look at him. He was laid out on his back, white t-shirt riding up with the length of his languorous stretch to expose his tanned flat belly. His spine was arched and he'd hitched one knee up. Bodie could bear no more of it. "Well, defence, probably," he said, leaving his sprawl against the trunk of an elm and coming to kneel beside him. Doyle smiled lazily and stopped his inspection of the rampart; reached to pull him down. "Or maybe the remains," Bodie managed between kisses, "of a ritual site, but..." He stopped, Doyle having unbuttoned his shirt and jerked it off his shoulders, and glanced smiling down at the troop of walkers making their way slowly up the sundrenched track towards them. "But right now I'm employing it as bloody useful cover."
"South Downs ramblers' association."
"Oh." Doyle gazed up into the dark eyes whose lashes were filtering sun into rainbows; into the transformed face of his off-duty, unleashed Bodie. "How close?"
"Few hundred yards. They'll never see us if they stick to the track. Want to play it straight?"
It was a rhetorical question really, a courtesy. In London they were careful – their private life was private, and the pressure of other lives around them made a sanctuary out of their bedroom and the flat they now shared. Out here – on this long weekend stolen from the three months notice they'd agreed to work in order to appease their stricken boss – the whole earth seemed to welcome their exchanges. Doyle felt his breathing quicken, felt a surge of hot blood. "C'mere."
Carefully Bodie shifted to lie over him. He was much better, the bandages reduced to a dressing across the healing wound, but he still had to take it easy and not be screwed through to the bedrock by large and randy males. They'd invented a dozen ways around it but God knew Bodie found it tough on occasion, occasions like now when Ray chose to shift and thrust up underneath him, to clasp his lover's hips between his thighs... Taking his weight on one arm, he pulled the t-shirt right up and dived for a tightening nipple, making Doyle yell. "Shut up, you idiot!"
"Sorry. Hey, maybe they'll think we're the ghosts."
"Bloody banshees is more like," Bodie grumbled, dipping down again. Doyle's skin was tangy with salt from their walk on the beach, from the fresh onshore breeze. The guide book gave stories of campers who'd tried to spend the night on the hilltop and fled in the early hours, pursued by invisible presences, of UFO sightings, mysterious lights... And it was uncanny, here on the edge of the woods, even in bright sunshine, but all the restless energies swirling about the place seemed to be on their side, acting in their favour, pulling them into the dance. Ray had hardened on the instant, was suddenly damp with a fine sweat of urgency, writhing beneath him. "What do you want, love?"
"Something... Something more."
Bodie released a shaky breath. He didn't need a picture painting. For a month they'd done everything but fuck one another, finding plenty to try that didn't involve penetration. Last night in a creaky single bed in their hotel room it had come desperately close, Ray curled around his back, rigid cock sliding between Bodie's buttocks again and again until Bodie realised how scared the poor bastard was and took pity on him; clenched around him where he was and thrust back until he came like that, sobbing. Bodie hadn't known whether to be disappointed or relieved. He'd been ready – would have gone through with it – but he thought it might take Ray a long time, to believe he could enter his partner's body without the world coming to an end. And as for learning to be opened up in that way himself – Bodie thought maybe never. He was stunned, then, when Doyle three seconds later grabbed his shoulders and said, unsteadily, "Can we do it? Can you – do it to me, I mean?... Right here. I'm okay up here, I'm not afraid. Do it now, here in the sun. Where I can see the water and the – the hills, and – "
"Alright," Bodie interrupted him, very gently. " Don't talk it to death, sweetheart."
He knelt in the sunny grass and guided Doyle to come and kneel in front of him. The walkers had taken the path that would lead them around the hillfort, not through it, and were still a fair way off, but Bodie suspected their proximity was doing something for his mate. It definitely was for him. He'd brought them to a place where a dip in the earthworks opened up a view of the sea, and one incautious cry or violent move would certainly give them away. They'd never courted exposure – strange, that suddenly up here the risk of being seen was such an aphrodisiac... Shivering deep in his skin, Bodie wondered if he wanted an audience for his union with this beautiful man, for this primeval and triumphant fucking – and, oh, Christ, of course it couldn't be that. Doyle's damage – from deep in his past and from the street a month ago – demanded that it be gentle as silk. He reached forward and unfastened Ray's belt and jeans, relieved and aroused when the man moved to help him, rising up while Bodie pushed the warm tight denim down his thighs. "That's it. Oh, you're beautiful." Quickly Bodie opened his own trousers, slicked his swelling cock with the lube he'd discreetly tucked into his jacket's inner pocket before leaving the hotel that morning.
Doyle chuckled when he felt Bodie's fingers working the stuff into his arse. "You unbelievable bloody boyscout."
"Well, you never know, do you? I brought insect repellent, too."
"Christ, you – you did check the label before you – "
Bodie thought his shout of laughter might have alerted the tourists: quickly he checked downslope to see that their attention was still fixed on the glorious views of the Weald ahead. "Ray, you idiot... Listen, are you sure about this?"
"No. How could I be? But I do want us to try. Do want you inside."
Bodie swallowed hard. The pit of his stomach tightened in excitement and apprehension. It would be awkward, on their knees like this – and erotic as hell. "Alright," he whispered, and drew Doyle's hips back toward him with a feather touch. "Come here, then."
A short involuntary yelp of anguished pleasure. Not easy to tell – Bodie hoped – from the cries of the wheeling prey birds circling on the updraughts. He clamped a hand across Doyle's mouth and found his fingers being hungrily sucked. Well, whatever, as long as it shut him up... Ray's head was back, arched against Bodie's shoulder, twisting lithely to press hot kisses to the side of his neck. His hands tracked the progress of Bodie's touch across his chest and belly.
"Better than, actually... You don't have to be so gentle. I'm okay now."
Bodie was glad, because for the seconds it took for the head of his shaft to slip inside, Ray had been very far from it. Had tightened up so painfully Bodie couldn't withdraw; broken a cold sweat and grabbed at the mossy turf. They'd knelt in a fast-breathing stasis for seconds, then Doyle had made a despairing, surrendering effort, like a swimmer shoving off into water too cold to survive, and pushed down hard on Bodie's cock. Not daring envisage the nature of the barrier Ray had just breached inside himself, Bodie had held still for him, still and calm. Let him do the work, make the running, impaled but in control... Until the small shifts he was making in Bodie's lap, his half-shocked, half-pleasured cries, melted Bodie's self restraint and he'd begun to thrust back, softly, opening his eyes to the sun-dazzle. A moment later, in one swift move, Doyle had stripped off his t-shirt. That had finished Bodie's control. "God. I need to fuck you, Ray."
"Yes. Don't hold back." Blindly Doyle reached back to grasp at his thigh. "I love how strong you are. Give me that."
The walkers were long gone. But somehow the sense of presence remained – of being the focus of some vast inhuman thing's attention. In fragments Bodie recalled the guide book's other tales, of thundering hooves in the night, of the wild hunt, but the sound was only his blood in his ears. Thrusting hard now, he eased Doyle forward onto his hands so he could brace. Something watching. The charge of being watched, magnified a thousandfold now that he knew it was inhuman, old as the earth beneath them... It was neither benign nor malevolent. Yes, it would chase away the little campers, shake them off its flank as a bear shakes water. But lovers in the heat of it – in their passion's flood – it would hold in the palm of its hand. Scarcely human rutting, his mind echoed at him from Lara's flat six weeks ago. What he'd wanted from Kath because she was flesh of her brother's flesh. What her brother was suddenly, miraculously, demanding. "Harder, Bodie! Do it harder! Oh Christ, I can feel you under my heart..."
Doyle's head jerked up, as if he'd seen something in the sky or the leaves above them. Bodie went still inside him and they both held motionless, listening to silence. Then, slowly, deliberately, Doyle knelt up. He raised one arm and curled it round the back of Bodie's neck, drawing him close, pressing his spine against him. "Here we are," he said, and arched as if showing himself to something, exposing chest and belly and throat. He ground his hips down and Bodie heaved another impossible inch inside of him, stopping a scream against his shoulder. Lacing his fingers with Bodie's, Doyle drew his hand down and closed the double grip on his cock. Bodie bucked up into him, and he let orgasm take him, a silent inner thunderclap. His seed jetted over their joined hands but he stayed hard. "God, lover, what are you doing to me?" But Bodie was beyond a response. He pushed once more and when he could go no further, when he was so deep inside him another push would tear him open, he twisted to meet Ray's kiss, full on the mouth, let him suck a whole lungful of air from him and came with Ray's climactic shout raw in the back of his throat.
Doyle folded over and dropped, arms gone to water. Bodie followed, struggling to stay with him, to drive him as far as he could go and still pull out before he was done, knowing the spent muscles would flutter and close, satiation unable to accommodate what hunger had swallowed. He felt the last wave of climax surge through and began to withdraw in its backwash.
Huge inner movement. Doyle came back from the edge of consciousness with the sense that his bowels were suddenly and helplessly evacuating and jerked his head up with a snapped off howl. Bodie stroked his head, easing back, almost out but feeling the reactive clamp-down start. "It's all right. Nearly there. You've got to relax a bit now; I don't want to hurt you. Come on." If Doyle had had breath he would have asked how Bodie could expect him to assist at his own evisceration. The pain; the emptying sensation sickened him, and he fought not to vomit at the inner disturbance. Then it was over, and Bodie's warmth spread across his back, holding his weight off him but covering him, comforting, the hot mouth soothing on his neck and face. He tried to speak and couldn't. "I'm sorry," Bodie told him. "I'm so sorry. I shouldn't have gone so far with you. Are you all right?"
Doyle shook his head. He was not. The pounding at the bottom of his throat was tears: his head was spinning: but he could not for one moment have Bodie think he wished an instant of their lovemaking undone. Having to speak, he managed it. "You couldn't do to me – anything I didn't want." He let his brow rest on the fragrant turf; let his vertigo become the leisurely roll of the planet beneath him and went with it, collapsing into the grass. Bodie lay down beside him, still scared and breathless, still seeking out imagined hurt. Doyle took him firmly in his arms. "I'm fine," he said, and for the first time in his life it was true. He was whole.
On their return to the hotel, sunburned and almost asleep on their feet, a message awaited them at the desk. "A Mr Cowley in London," the receptionist said, bringing them both to a halt. Bodie, who had been vaguely planning dinner for them in the superb seafront restaurant Ray loved, followed (possibly) by the first uninterrupted night's sleep they'd shared in a month, could not quite take it in. Doyle looked up at him in pity and affection. "It's alright. Don't try to think. I'll call him. You just go up and run us a bath." The receptionist blinked but neither noticed.
"Probably wants us to turn in our keys to the executive men's room."
"Probably." Their eyes met for one amused second. "Go on."
Five minutes later, white beneath his tan, Doyle stood in their hotel room and relayed to his lover the old man's message. His call-to-arms. Christ, his plea. "This is going to start a war, Bodie. It... It's going to start the war."
Staring at him, Bodie tried not to understand the distinction.
They tore back up the A23 in westering ruby and amethyst light. Bodie had the hire car roaring beneath them, up in top gear, which freed his left hand to rest on his lover's thigh. The windows were open, admitting hot scents of wheatfield and petrol.
"What were you planning on teaching, anyway?"
"Basic counter-terrorism, looks like."
"Good. This can be the field trip."
A quiet held between them for a half a minute more, then Bodie said, "I'm glad Kath's not here," at the same time as Doyle began, "At least Kath's abroad," and they both dropped back into thoughtful silence. Glancing across at Bodie, Doyle saw his handsome profile fierce and set with joy, and suddenly knew that they would neither of them make old bones.
It didn't matter.
[..but still the warmth goes through me
And I sense you know me well...
No luck, no golden chances
No mitigating circumstances now...
It's only common sense
There are no accidents round here –
I am willing –
Lay your hands on me
I am ready –
Lay your hands on me
I believe –
Lay your hands on me
Over me, on me, over me...]
Lay Your Hands On Me
#4, Peter Gabriel, 1982
-- THE END --