A Lover in Captivity


Written for Discovered in the Mistletoe, on the discoveredinalj livejournal community.

If you intend thus to disdain,
It does the more enrapture me,
And even so, I still remain
A lover in captivity.


The hunched figure strode through the night, curly head bowed, shoulders curved inward, long legs eating up the ice-rimmed sidewalk beneath booted feet. Around him, Chelsea was wrapped in darkness, the revelry of Christmas Eve having faded into slumbering anticipation of Christmas morning.

But for Ray Doyle, walking alone through a bone-chilling mist, there could be no Christmas cheer, no holiday goodwill, and no expectation of seasonal joy. The one thing he wanted for Christmas, much to his dismay, was Bodie--the one thing he couldn't possibly have.

It still surprised him, even after all these months. And if he had to admit it, he was angry with himself. Bodie was by far the most important person in his life and certainly wasn't deserving to be the target of Ray's lovesick yearnings. He'd made it a priority to disguise those feelings ever since that summer day that he'd seen Bodie with new eyes. It was a day he'd never forget.

On the surface, it'd been a normal, if harrowing, episode in their lives. They'd stopped yet another terrorist plot to bomb innocents, and Bodie'd come out of it with a dislocated shoulder. A minor injury compared to so many others, but painful nonetheless. Bodie had joked all the way to the casualty department, but when he thought Ray wasn't looking, the handsome face had sagged into lines of discomfort, eyes drifting shut in a rare moment of vulnerability. Ray had turned back from his conversation with the doctor just in time, and that brief glimpse of Bodie in pain had been enough to inspire the sudden need for him to tug the solid body to his own, to have the dark head rest against his shoulder--to offer the kind of comfort that didn't exist in their world.

That concept had been shocking enough, but Ray's imagination had taken the image and run with it, and soon that supporting clinch had evolved into a lover's embrace. The sterile walls of the hospital room had melted into the dark, warm shadows of a bedroom, and while the body in his arms was still Bodie's, the air of comfort from the imagined moment had shifted to one of exquisite, post-lovemaking tenderness.

The sensation had hit him like a knife through his heart. He knew when Bodie looked up at him that he hadn't had time to scrape these new, raw emotions from his expression and as their gazes met, he'd sworn he'd seen recognition brightening the pain-hazed blue eyes. Thoroughly rattled, Ray had made an excuse of needing to call Cowley and had escaped from that discerning and much too speculative look.

He'd been running from it ever since.

Not long after, Bodie had begun to change. Oh, it had been subtle, at first. Bodie, known for his cheerful willingness to reveal everything about his romantic liaisons, had suddenly become coy when discussing his affairs. No matter how Ray teased and cajoled, Bodie kept mum, responding with sly grins and the occasional wag of an admonitory finger. He'd remained as accessible to Ray as he'd always been, both on the job and off; he never refused Ray's suggestion of sharing a pint or a meal, often inviting Ray first, and never seemed too busy when Ray asked for company on the odd day off.

But on the subject of women, Bodie remained firmly and tantalizingly silent.

That alone hadn't been enough to raise Ray's suspicions; the fact that Bodie was sometimes unreadable wasn't of much concern, as long as it didn't happen while they were working. Ray appreciated Bodie's need to have a life separate from his, and if he was jealous of something or someone else claiming Bodie's attention, he could hardly share that with his partner without a reasonable explanation that could somehow skirt around Ray's true feelings, feelings he'd begun to realize went far too deep to be labeled as merely friendship.

What added immensely to Ray's confusion on the matter was the simple truth that Bodie seemed happier than Ray could remember seeing him. His tongue was as sharp as ever, his sense of humor just as wickedly juvenile, but there was a shine in the blue eyes that Ray knew had not been there not six months past.

There could only be one explanation, Ray concluded as the heel of his boot skidded through a patch of muddy ice--Bodie was in love.

It was a development that Ray felt entirely unable to handle. He knew Bodie was capable of caring deeply, had never doubted his partner's ability to feel affection, even love. But he'd kept that knowledge tucked away, fervently believing it would never touch what he and Bodie had together--the camaraderie, the brotherhood, the unwavering sense of belonging. But try as hard as he might, Ray could find no other reason for the bewildering shift in Bodie's demeanor.

Had he accomplished what Ray could not? Had he found his Ann, or at least the kind of relationship she'd once represented? For weeks, Ray had shied away from the thought but now he faced it head on, the frigid night air no colder than the chasm opening in the pit in his stomach. For if he had, if Bodie'd found someone that balanced the violent, savage life they lived, then he'd learned from Ray's mistakes and had decided to keep that part of his life separate, and do it all without neglecting his partner.

"Bastard," Ray muttered to an uncaring night. "Why'd you have to go and do a bloody stupid thing like that?"

Even as he said the words, he wasn't sure if they were for Bodie, for having the audacity to fall in love, or himself, who'd seemed to have done the very same thing.

Stopping at a corner, he lifted his head to assess his surroundings. When the walls of his flat had started to close in, he'd thrown on his jacket and scarf and stomped out, determined to walk off the nervous energy that had been building all day as he'd been forced to spend time with an ebullient--but still charmingly uncommunicative--Bodie. Now he realized he'd walked in an ever tightening circle, and the only thing between him and home was the small park carved between the row of mews opposite his own block of flats.

There was nothing else to do but go to bed, even though the prospect held no appeal. When Bodie had made it clear that he'd made significant plans for the holidays, Ray had done his best to console himself with any of several old girlfriends on whom he could normally rely to say yes, even though he'd neglected most forms of female companionship for weeks. And each one had, in their turn--but each one had also begged off for one mystifying reason or another, the last one early that very evening, claiming a forgotten engagement with a maiden aunt that couldn't be canceled.

With Bodie out of reach and the women of his acquaintance preferring even the elderly to his company, Ray couldn't feel any lower than he did on this Christmas eve. He didn't care about Vicky canceling as much as he regretted losing something to take his mind off Bodie. Ducking his head once more, he shoved his hands into his pockets and crossed the street to walk along the park's iron fence. A hot cup of tea with a shot of something medicinal was all he had to look forward to, he thought morosely--just as a soft whine caught his ear. He stopped and looked up and down the street, seeing nothing. Shrugging, he'd taken only two steps before he heard it again, louder this time. Glancing down, he saw a flash of movement on the other side of the iron fence. He bent down and peered through the bars, at first unable to see through the brambles of the overgrown hedge that paralleled the fence.

He waited, unwilling to move on until he found the source of the sound. He was rewarded by another whine, this time accompanied by a scrabbling sound that preceded a small, furry snub nose emerging from the hedge.

"Hello, there," Ray murmured. "Lost, are you? Come on out now."

The nose reached toward him until more of the small head could be seen, revealing big, soft eyes that looked up him beseechingly. Another whine and an aborted lunge told Ray that the dog may have wanted to come out from the hedge, but something was preventing it. He extended his hand, fingers curved downward, letting the dog getting a good sniff before sliding his palm over the delicately sloped head. He grimaced as his wrist was given an enthusiastic tongue wash, but he could tell by the cant of the dog's head that its collar was snagged on a jutting twig. He gave the twig a swift twist and it snapped easily, releasing the dog into a tumble that brought it hard against the iron fence. As Ray watched, the dog regained its feet and after giving a mighty shake from snout to feathery tail, wiggled its way through the bars to sit at Ray's side, muzzle resting on the curve of his knee.

Giving the animal's silky ear a rub with one hand, he ran his other lightly over the dog's compact body, searching for signs of injury. Ray had little knowledge of dogs and couldn't tell the dog's breed offhand; some kind of terrier was his best guess. Though the street was ill-lit, he could see a sparkle on the collar that peeked from longish white hair. There was a saddle-shaped expanse of darker hair across the dog's midsection and another perfectly placed patch framing its left eye.

Perceiving neither blood nor telling flinches, Ray ended his examination with a head pat and rose to his feet.

"All right then, off you go home." He waved his hand in the general direction of the mews, expecting the dog to run off. When the dog remained sitting, Ray backed up a few steps and repeated the gesture.

"Go on, now. I expect someone's going to be missing you soon. Go on!"

The dog stood up and closed the space between them, sitting again near the toe of Ray's boot. Unwilling to abandon the dog on the street, Ray bent down into a crouch, determined to reason with the animal.

"Now listen. It's far too cold for either of us to be out and about. And it's Christmas Eve. We don't want your owner to wake up and find you gone, do we?" He wrapped his hands around the dog's middle and picked it up, turning it toward the other end of the park before setting it down. Giving it a little push for encouragement, he straightened up and stepped back. "Home!" he ordered.

Turning on his heel, Ray began walking toward his flat, increasingly aware of the chill that was quickly settling in his bones. A stray dog with a fancy collar was no concern of his; as far as he knew, the dog found its way out every night and only had the misfortune to get caught in the brambles tonight.

But he also couldn't dismiss the thought that the dog may be lost and unable to fend for itself. He'd gone less than ten steps when he paused and turned, relieved and rather amused to see the dog had followed him and was even now madly wagging its tail, as if Ray's attention was the most wonderful thing it'd ever experienced.

He'd obviously been too friendly, Ray decided. Maybe if he put a little fear into the dog, it'd shoot off to where it belonged. Figuring he could then follow the dog to make sure it arrived safely, Ray put on a thunderous scowl and took a heavy, menacing step toward the dog.

"I'm a very bad man," he said loudly. "You need to get away from me, do you hear?" Throwing in a sharp clap for effect, he waited for the dog to turn and run, tail tucked between its legs.

The dog had other ideas. Instead of falling into a morose droop, the tail began flailing from side to side as its owner dropped to its front paws in a playful bow.

"No, no, no," Ray muttered. "You've got the wrong end of the stick here. You're supposed to be frightened."

The dog emitted a happy yip and proceeded to dance around Ray's legs, showing every sign of being enamored with its new friend. Ray scrubbed a hand through his hair and looked around, praying to see a light on somewhere with the dim hope that someone had discovered a missing pet and was even now searching for it. But except for the street lamps, the block was dark.

Looking down into the expectant face of the dog, Ray knew he had no choice. Christmas Eve or not, he couldn't leave a defenceless animal out in the cold, especially one now shivering piteously in the icy breeze. Unwinding the thick scarf from around his neck, Ray went down on one knee and scooped up the dog.

"All right, my--" he paused and held the dog high to take a surreptitious glance "--lad, let's get you warm."

A few quick motions and the dog was swaddled in the scarf, then tucked neatly beneath Ray's arm. Having taken action, Ray turned toward home with new purpose, mind already turning over what he had in his cupboards for the dog to eat. He'd prepared a fairly extensive holiday meal for an evening he'd thought would at least have some companionship in it; now he expected his furry new friend would appreciate his efforts more than his last-minute date possibly could.

The thought was surprisingly gratifying. What had promised to be a miserable night followed by an equally miserable Christmas day now at least held some degree of distraction. He was reviewing his linen situation and wondering if there was an old blanket he could use as a dog bed as he neared the steps to his building. This was a new flat assignment and he'd been there less than a month, but already it was one of his favorites. Roomier than most of the boxes he was usually given, this one also had the benefit of being on the ground floor, something he'd quickly come to appreciate after a few long days on the job.

His attention fixed on his new companion, Ray wasn't prepared when a dark figure emerged from between two parked cars and set itself solidly in Ray's way. Ray leapt backward, clutching the dog to his chest with one arm as he dug beneath his jacket for a weapon that wasn't there. But even before he registered that he was unarmed, he'd realized it was Bodie now planted between him and his front door.

"Bodie!" He hitched the dog higher beneath his arm. "What the hell are you doing here?"

Bodie ignored his question. "'Bout time you returned. Been out here forever waiting for you. I was beginning to think you'd been snatched by elves."

Ray grinned, unsurprised to feel his spirits lifting. Bodie, wearing a knee-length black leather jacket over a black shirt and black trousers, was hardly more than a shadow, yet for Ray it felt as though the sun had come out after a long, hard winter. The straps of a large holdall were clutched in one black-gloved hand, a sight that added to Ray's curiosity. He had no idea why Bodie would be on his doorstep in the middle of the night and knew he'd find out soon enough, probably to the detriment of any nascent hope that Bodie had come merely for his company.

"Not exactly." Ray held out his bundle, which promptly emitted a soft growl in Bodie's direction. "Seems I've been adopted."

Bodie stepped closer and the growl grew in volume. Ray turned the dog around until they were nose to nose.

"None of that, old son. This is Bodie, and you must be nice to him, d'you hear?"

"For God's sake, Doyle--is that a dog?" Bodie stripped off his gloves and extended his hand much the same way Ray had, receiving a tentative lick across his knuckles. "Where'd you find him?"

"Think he found me, actually. I was out walking--"

"Out walking? On Christmas Eve?" There was no mistaking the scoffing edge to Bodie's tone. "What happened to what's her name, Vicky something--thought she was here for dinner and other, er, festivities."

Ray scratched behind the dog's ear, uncomfortable both with Bodie's proximity and the confession he had to make. "She, uh, begged off. Family matters, you see."

Bodie nodded sagely. "Imagine you hear that a lot."

Ray gave Bodie a hard nudge with his shoulder as he walked past him, digging in his pocket for his keys. "What are you doing here, anyway?" he asked over his shoulder. "Run out of something vital at a delicate moment?"

Bodie fell into step beside him. "It's Christmas, Ray. I wanted to see you."

The simple phrasing startled Ray, but he refused to let Bodie see it. "You left your bird to come across town in the middle of the night and wish me happy Christmas? Not likely, mate. You've got something up that cow hide sleeve of yours."

He shoved the key into the lock and turned, opening the door to a welcome rush of heat. The dog began squirming and Ray quickly unwound him from the scarf and set him on his feet, allowing him to tear all over the flat to sniff every interesting surface he found.

Bodie pushed in behind him and set the locks before pulling off his jacket and folding it over the back of a chair. "Be careful he doesn't lift a leg and anoint your furniture."

"He won't," Ray said with pinpoint conviction, "because he's a good lad and knows how to behave inside."

The dog paused in his examination of a pile of books and gave Ray a look that clearly said he resented the implication that he'd forget his manners.

"Sorry," Ray heard himself saying. Shaking his head, he turned and eyed his partner, who'd set his bag on a small table and had unzipped it. "What've you got there?"

"Something suitably celebratory." Bodie held up a bottle of Champagne and set it aside.

"Bodie," Ray said with a warning in his tone, "don't you dare tell me you've brought her here. Is she waiting in your car? Am I supposed to clear out because you're heating's gone off or something?"

Moaning, Bodie clutched at his heart and closed his eyes, a picture of grievously wounded sensibilities. Then he bestowed upon Ray a smile that made him forget all about lost dogs and invisible girlfriends and partners who showed up after midnight on Christmas Eve with a bottle of Champagne and no explanation. It hurt to see it--the rare gentleness of it transformed Bodie but placed a vise around Ray's heart, as he was again confronted with desires that had no place in his life.

Then the sweet smile was gone, twisting into a more Bodie-like smirk. Ray blinked and willed his heart to slow to a comfortable pace. Bodie was doing it again--deflecting conversation about a woman Ray had yet to meet. He wanted to pursue it yet at the same time he dreaded it; to hear Bodie confirm his worst fears would be unbearable.

Bodie, blithely unaware of Ray's anxiety, took his carryall and his bottle wandered off to the kitchen, whistling Christmas carols amid curious clunking noises. Ray started to call after him but stopped; by now he was relatively sure that there was no girlfriend sitting shivering in a car, so he relaxed enough to remove his own jacket and toss it on the couch. A glance at his watch told him it was going on one a.m.; only an hour ago that he'd been alone and cold, trying to walk himself into a state of exhaustion that would let him sleep.

Instead, he was now wide awake with one stray dog and one stray Bodie in his flat and no clear idea what to do with either of them.

To buy time, Ray looked around for the dog, finding only a furry hind end sticking out from beneath the couch. Hoping it wasn't a mouse that had caught the dog's attention, Ray grasped him by his back legs and dragged him out. He was relieved to find only a long-missing sock clenched between the dog's teeth, but when he tried remove it, the dog resisted and a tug-of-war ensued. Ray knew he'd lost the battle before it'd begun but fought back anyway, amused by the dog's tenacity that was not unlike a certain Scot of his acquaintance. It also afforded him a view of the white collar where he could see the name "Toby" spelled out in bright pink rhinestones.

"Toby," he said, letting the sock go with a snap. "Well, that's a start. We need to find you something to sleep on before--"

He didn't bother finishing his thought. Toby, after a triumphant march around the lounge with the sock dangling from his mouth, had leapt onto the couch and had curled up inside the soft woolen lining of Ray's coat. One thump of his tail and a heartfelt sigh signaled Toby's complete satisfaction with the situation.

"Make yourself at home, why don't you," Ray said faintly. He gave brief thought to ordering the dog off his couch--and his clothing--but the brown eyes had already fallen shut, the furry head supported by the vanquished sock. Conceding defeat, Ray left Toby where he was.

That left Ray to deal with Bodie, who'd yet to emerge from the kitchen. Since the whistling had stopped and the strange noises as well, Ray made the assumption that Bodie had found the remnants of the dinner Ray had cooked for his canceled date and was even now tucking in to a plate of cold roast beef. Figuring there was nothing else to do but confront Bodie and then send him on his way, Ray rose to his feet and squared his shoulders.

"Bodie," he called as he made his way toward the kitchen, "look, mate, it's gone midnight and I'm tired. Tell me what you want and then--what the hell are you doing now?"

Bodie had emerged from the other room, dragging a chair behind him. In his mouth was a nail and in his other hand, a hammer.

"Don't think much of your holiday spirit," he mumbled around the nail. "Thought the place could use a bit of sprucing up."

Ray was forced to agree; his last minute dinner invitation hadn't left any time for filling his flat with Christmas decorations, even if he'd had any. But up until this very moment, he would've sworn that a lack of seasonal accoutrements was among the last things that would concern Bodie. Nevertheless, Bodie was intent on doing something--he'd positioned himself in the doorway that separated lounge from kitchen and after removing his shoes, proceeded to climb on to the chair.

There was nothing for Ray to do but watch. Some strange impulse was governing his partner and it was worth more to him to have Bodie nearby than to let his own impatience and insecurity drive him away. Taking a seat on the couch next to the slumbering Toby, Ray had a lovely view of Bodie's backside and contented himself with that while he waited the outcome of Bodie's endeavors.

A few loud thunks heralded the nail's introduction to the plaster, and then Bodie was rummaging in his trouser pocket. He withdrew something Ray couldn't see, but he imagined it was a bit of garland or a paper star Bodie had appropriated from somewhere. The whistling resumed as Bodie jumped off the chair, but Ray paid no attention, his gaze riveted to the small sprig of greenery impaled to his wall.

"Mistletoe?" he asked disbelievingly. His suspicion grew that Bodie had been taking the piss all along and had only shown up because his own plans had gone awry. It sparked a surge of anger in Ray that had little to do with the late hour and a lot to do with frustrated desires that revolved around the ridiculously good-looking man now grinning at him from across the room.

Ray's eyes narrowed and Bodie lost some of his good-natured swagger, as if he'd finally realized that Ray wasn't having nearly as much fun as he was. This kind of preparation indicated that Bodie had something very special planned and needed Ray's cooperation to accomplish it.

He wasn't going to get it.

"Mistletoe, yeah," Bodie replied warily. "Mistletoe, Champagne, some other surprises, too."

"Why?" Ray rubbed at his eyes, heartily tired of this game Bodie was intent on playing. "It's nearly one in the morning and you're setting up a bleedin' love nest--in my flat! Give me one good reason why I don't toss you out on your elegant arse right now!"

Bodie lifted his hands, palms forward in a gesture of conciliation. "Hang about, Ray, no need to get upset. Like I said, it's Christmas and I wanted to spend it with my best mate. That's why I'm here."

Ray stared at him, two intense emotions at war within him. He recognized the surge of pleasure from Bodie's easy definition of their relationship; it wasn't something they were used to saying aloud, although they breathed the truth of it every day. But right behind that pleasure was pain as Bodie confirmed that he saw Ray only as a friend.

But that didn't explain the mistletoe.

"Fine, then," Ray conceded. Mentally throwing up his hands, he gave in to the insanity of the moment, conceding that he wouldn't be allowed to sleep until Bodie's game was played out. Pinning Bodie with a hard look, he jerked his head toward the kitchen. "You can crack open that bottle for a start, but first tell me what happened to your own Christmas plans."

Bodie relaxed visibly, giving Ray his first clue that Bodie wasn't as insouciant as he'd seemed. He expected a tale fraught with salacious details that may or may not be true, but instead watched broad shoulders lift in a disarming shrug as Bodie set the hammer aside.

"Nothing," Bodie replied, then gave him a quick wink. "Yet."

He turned and disappeared once more into the kitchen, something in his manner wringing a shiver from Ray that had nothing of winter chill about it. It felt as though Bodie was flirting with him, a concept that Ray shied from simply because he didn't dare believe it was true. But as he glanced up at the stubby green foliage affixed to his wall, his viewpoint--along with his hopes--began to change.

A snuffling sound behind him caught his attention. He turned to see Toby had awakened and was now turning tight circles on top of his jacket. Three times clockwise, three times counter-clockwise before subsiding once again into a relaxed ball, he was the picture of contentment and obviously not inclined to move any time soon.

"Ray!" Bodie called from the kitchen. "Need a hand, mate--where're your wine glasses?"

Having recently moved in, Ray wasn't sure where he'd put them. He crossed to the kitchen threshold and paused, leaning a shoulder against the entryway as he folded his arms over his chest. His casual attitude hid a heart that beat swiftly once again, as he took in the extent of Bodie's holiday largess.

"Jesus, Bodie," he murmured. The slight prickle behind his eyes warned him that the remnants of his defences were crumbling fast, because spread out on his well-used kitchen table was a feast that made his own Christmas meal look like a Dickensian villain's cruelest repast. There were small, gold-wrapped boxes of several sizes, their lids removed to showcase the tantalizing contents of chocolate, nuts and fruits within; a ham wrapped in bright tinfoil; several bottles of wine; and one small cake, its glossy, fruit-studded surface glistening in the light.

Bodie turned from the cupboard, glass in hand and inhaling deeply in order to shout out at Ray again. He jumped when he saw Ray but recovered quickly, bowing from the waist as Ray applauded. Setting the glass aside, he opened the refrigerator to place the ham inside, giving Ray a glimpse of more covered dishes that hadn't been there before.

"Don't know what's got into you," Ray said, "but I approve."

"Do you?" Bodie turned, his eyes darkening as he raised his gaze above Ray's head. "Show me."

Too late, Ray realized he'd positioned himself beneath the straggling mistletoe. He straightened from the wall and held out his hand, unsure if he meant to push Bodie away or bring him near. Bodie's intent was clear but his motives remained unknown and so Ray took a step backward, needing space to sort out his whirling thoughts. One kiss stolen beneath the mistletoe would shatter the remnants of his heart if Bodie was just pratting about, but if he wasn't--Ray was sure he wasn't prepared for that, either.

"Listen, Bodie, whatever you're thinking, you can pack it in right now. I'm not--"

"Ray, look out--"

Bodie's warning came too late. Ray's next backward step brought his foot down on something soft and giving. If he wasn't sure what it was at first, the heartrending yelp that accompanied it told him quick enough he'd stepped on Toby's paw. Aghast, he leapt sideways to avoid any more contact, but Toby was tangling with his feet and throwing him off-balance. Reaching out blindly, Ray could only grasp at air as he began to tumble forward, his vision filled with the claw end of the hammer where it rested upon the table he was rapidly approaching.

He never connected. Strong arms caught him around the middle and yanked him back. Before he could catch his breath, his feet went out from beneath him and he was on the floor, cradled in Bodie's arms and looking up into black-fringed eyes that stared back, seemingly as amazed at the turn of events as he was.

Time faltered to a stop as Ray absorbed his changed circumstances. He was not at all uncomfortable, pressed tightly to Bodie whose back was supported by the wall behind him. Bodie's arms were wrapped firmly about his shoulders and chest, his knee bent so that Ray wasn't entirely supine. In fact, Ray's mouth was very near that pale skin he'd admired so long; he'd only have to turn slightly to press his lips to the edge of the firm jaw.

Instead, he tried to wriggle out of Bodie's hold. He knew he was beginning to flush from the unexpected embrace and he didn't want Bodie to see it. But Bodie wasn't giving an inch, tightening his grasp as he settled more comfortably against the wall. The moment of silence spun out, neither of them willing to breach it and break the spell that had captured them.

"Thanks," Ray finally whispered, trying once more to gain his release from Bodie's arms.

"Don't mention it," Bodie replied--and kissed him.

Ray Doyle had been kissed well and often since he'd first discovered the pastime, but not one of his many previous encounters had prepared him for the touch of Bodie's mouth to his. In all his fantasies, he'd never believed a kiss could carry so much significance, but this one surely did. The gentle brush of Bodie's lips was a revelation, the hesitant tenderness of it filling his senses with breathless joy. Then the kiss deepened and firmed, speaking to his heart of Bodie's own yearning, of time lost and a future that suddenly seemed incandescent. Finally, as Bodie's tongue delved into his mouth, Ray tasted a passion to match his own and he gave himself up to it, momentarily unconcerned with the whys and wherefores, his entire universe now centred on the man who held him with such possessive desperation.

The kiss finally broke and Ray looked up without apprehension, knowing that his Bodie wouldn't play him false now. Judging by the stunned happiness he saw in Bodie's face, Ray knew he was correct but more revealingly, he was looking over the past six months with new eyes. Now that he knew he'd been right about Bodie being in love with someone, he wanted answers.

He gave Bodie a poke in the ribs, followed by a swift kiss as he struggled to sit up. Bodie let him rise but immediately recaptured him, slinging his arms around Ray's hips as they maneuvered into manageable positions.

"What took you so long?" Ray asked. "And why didn't you tell me?"

"Tell you?" Bodie responded with some asperity. His fingers wound their way into the curls at the base of Ray's neck. "I've been trying to tell you for six months. Can't blame me if you're too thick to see it."

"Then why tonight?" Like Bodie, Ray couldn't stop his wandering hands, taking delight in stroking the patch of skin bared by Bodie's open collar.

"Because," he said, capturing Ray's fingers and bringing them to his lips, "it's six months to the day that I discovered that you felt the same way I did. Six months of hell while I watched you, hoping I wasn't wrong. I had to be sure, Ray. We'd lose everything if I was wrong."

"Why wait until midnight then?"

"I didn't 'wait' until midnight, you berk. Midnight was the earliest moment after the six months were up."

"My God," Ray said with a touch of wonder. "You're a romantic. Even for me."

"Only for you," Bodie corrected with a gentle kiss. "But I have to say," he added righteously, "you didn't make it very easy."

Ray's eyebrows rose. "What did I do?"

"Do you know how hard it was to come up with a last minute excuse for your birds tonight?" Bodie demanded. "Had to get creative."

"Bodie." Ray's voice was husky with burgeoning menace."What did you tell them?"

Bodie squirmed. "Said you only thought you had a social disease; the tests would come back--ow!"

A brief wrestling match ensued, but with their newborn physical awareness of each other, it soon descended into a competition of clothing removal that too often was itself waylaid by instances of sensual discovery. It was a few minutes before Ray raised his head from Bodie's newly revealed chest, looking around him with glazed eyes as he sought to form a clear thought.

"Toby? You okay, mate?"

Bodie frowned, jerking his thumb toward the couch. "'Course the ruddy dog's okay. Look at him."

It was true. Toby had returned to his spot on Ray's couch and was once again curled upon the jacket, looking down on the pair with what could only be described as an air of smug satisfaction.

"Well, that's all right then." That concern out of the way, Ray took Bodie's face between his hands and guided their lips together, intent on discovering every nuance of that stern mouth right there on the floor of his flat. Only a little while later did Bodie entice him to his feet; by that time, both of them were shirtless, their trouser fastenings undone and their expressions glassy with pleasure.

Once standing, they clasped hands as a silent promise passed between them, an intimate use of their near telepathic communication. As Bodie turned to lead Ray toward the bedroom, Ray looked over his shoulder for one more check of his stray friend. Toby, though his eyes were closed and he was the picture of slumbering contentment, gave Ray a quick three thumps of his tail.

It felt like a blessing.

A soft paw brushing his bare arm woke Ray from a light sleep. He blinked into the darkness, drowsy enchantment with his newfound world heavy in his bones. He was on his stomach, the heat of Bodie's arm branding him where it lay across his hips and the soft, heated breaths that tickled the back of his neck making him feel treasured beyond measure.

But the paw would not be dismissed. Despite Bodie's sleepily growled disapproval, he rolled out of bed and reached for his jeans and trainers. Toby was already by the door as Ray dressed, grabbing his dog-warmed jacket and his keys before letting Toby precede him into the frigid morning air. The sun had risen, its sharp slant gilding the morning frost, the neighborhood utterly still and silent. Ray waited on the sidewalk, bouncing on his toes and blowing on his hands as he watched Toby investigate every tree in sight, his awakening mind playing over the last few hours.

It was amazing, he thought, what a difference real love made. Every touch, every caress had been drenched in it; the act itself was made transcendent by its presence. Bodie was a dozen different lovers in one, all of them bent on Ray's pleasure. And Ray had made sure to give as good as he got, much to Bodie's loud and gratifyingly constant approval. Their lovemaking had been revelatory, unexpectedly funny at times--and perfect.

"Toby? Is that you, boy?"

A quavering voice broke through Ray's reverie. He looked up to see Toby dashing down the sidewalk, his tail a blur of ecstasy. Two elderly men were coming toward him arm in arm, both of them wearing long wool coats and jaunty felt hats. One of them had a bright red scarf tied close to his neck; the other sported a cane that seemed more for show than any infirmity. As Toby reached them, the man in the scarf slowly lowered himself, the other clutching his arm to give him balance. Toby leapt onto the bended knee and bathed the man's face with an eager tongue, both men laughing and exclaiming over Toby's reappearance. Ray realized that he was witnessing a family reunion, and although he was glad Toby'd found his kin, he was slightly miffed at his new friend's apparent fickleness.

It was obviously time for introductions and farewells, so he approached the two men. "I take it Toby belongs to you?"

The red-scarfed gentleman rose to his feet, Toby tucked under his arm as the man with the cane answered in an American accent. "Oh, yes, he does. We thought he was lost for good. Oh, I'm Morty, by the way, and this is Anthony."

"Ray Doyle."

Handshakes were exchanged as Toby looked on, brown eyes watching all three men avidly.

"We just moved here from California six months ago," Morty explained, "and yesterday was Toby's first day out of quarantine. Did he spend the night with you?"

Ray nodded. "On my couch, as a matter a fact."

The two men exchanged amused glances before Morty continued. "That sounds like Toby. I hope he wasn't any trouble."

Ray thought back to the happy accident that Toby had caused and wondered if he and Bodie would still be dancing around each other if not for his timely canine intervention. And reminded of the night they'd spent, Ray was suddenly impatient to return to Bodie's side.

"No trouble at all. Glad he's found his mates." He inclined his head toward his front door. "Seeing he's in good hands, I'll be off. I've got me own family waiting for me. Happy Christmas, gentlemen."

"Merry Christmas, Mr. Doyle."

"Oh, Mr. Doyle." Ray turned as his name was called out. "We're in the habit of walking twice a day, weather permitting. You're more than welcome to join us and I'm sure Toby would love to see you again."

Ray gave little thought to his odd schedule and late hours and smiled back at the two men, immeasurably cheered by their invitation. But as the old men walked away, Ray could've sworn he heard one of the men asking Toby if he'd been successful, his tone clearly expecting an answer. Shaking his head over the vagaries of people and their pets, Ray ran up the steps and back to the warmth and love that awaited him.

-- THE END --

December 2006

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