by Maggie Hall
The silver Capri threaded its way through early morning traffic, heading as horses to stables toward CI-5's headquarters in Whitehall. Its driver wasn't quite so complacent.
Bodie drove automatically, the better part of his attention on Doyle beside him. This was his first opportunity in weeks to go to Brighton for more than an afternoon, and he wanted Ray with him. He was also becoming the slightest bit frustrated with his partner who he--happily and innocently--had followed on some of his most inane adventures in recent years. "Come on, Ray, what better have you got to do this weekend?"
Doyle snorted derisively. "You must be joking, mate. Cleanin' me cupboards comes to mind."
Bodie held firm grip on his rising anger. "It isn't as if I haven't done my fair bit, you know," he said, glaring sidelong at Doyle and trying to decide how best to get what he wanted. "What about that 'little walking trek' you dragged me on, back in May?"
Doyle failed badly trying not to grin. "Was just rock climbing, Bodie. Nothing wrong with that."
"Stop laughing," Bodie said sternly, smelling victory. "We didn't even have a bloody rope. No pitons, no gear, and me clinging to the side of a piece of rock like bloody Spiderman."
"Right," Doyle said, obviously warming up for an entertaining argument, "and climbing out of an airplane that's goin' a hundred miles an hour at ten thousand--"
"--thirteen thousand," Bodie interrupted.
"--feet, falling at a hundred miles per hour--"
"--hundred and ten--"
"--till you can read some bloody license plate on the ground--"
"--thirty-five hundred feet, for you--"
"--then pulling a piece of string and dangling under a square of canvas the size of a postage stamp--"
"--two hundred, thirty-eight feet of the strongest reinforced nylon fabric known to man--"
"--until I smack the ground which I never should have left in the first place and break my leg, if I'm lucky, is no safer than free climbing. Admit it."
Bodie would happily slit his wrists first. And Doyle's inelegant retelling of his attempts to describe the thrill of jumping made him want to embellish some of his wilder experiences. He resisted temptation. Getting Doyle down there with him was more important. "Ray, I've more than a thousand jumps and you know it. I'm still here, aren't I?"
"Have I, or have I not seen pictures of you with your legs in casts?" Doyle demanded reasonably.
Bodie grimaced, cursing himself for keeping that bloody photo album in the first place, cursing himself doubly for ever letting Doyle see it. "Yes, you saw the snaps and no, it wasn't as bad as it looked."
"Ah," Doyle said airily. "It looked like your bones were broken. They weren't, then?"
Bodie wanted to just bet the trip on a match in the gym, but knew it would weaken his position in the argument. "How many jumps have I had?"
Doyle shrugged. "A thousand, you say."
"How many broken bones have I had from it?"
Bodie frowned; he'd forgotten about one of them. "Yes, well, every one of those incidents was on a round canopy. We don't use 'em anymore. New equipment, modern technology. Safer sport."
"And when they find something better than whatever it is you use now, they'll all look back and talk about how dangerous this one was." Doyle's resolution sounded firm, but Bodie didn't worry. He had yet to hear the magic word, "no."
"I never asked you to jump."
"I said, I never asked you to jump. I just thought you might enjoy a relaxing weekend, as there's a boogie going on," he explained, attacking the weakness he had created. "Lots of people--friends of mine," he said, adding plenty of fodder for Doyle's curiosity. "Live band on Saturday, competitions. It's going to be fun."
"Bodie, you'll want to watch for pedestrians," was Doyle's only reply. "They'd like to get to work in one piece, I imagine."
Which was more than Doyle would manage, if he didn't stop trying Bodie's patience. Bodie held the silence, waiting for Doyle to give in. They crossed the bridge, an effort of nearly ten minutes at this time of day, and drove the remaining half-mile to CI-5 headquarters without a word. Finally, just as he was sliding into a too-small space in the carpark, Doyle touched his arm.
"When do we leave?"
Doyle arrived at Bodie's flat late that Thursday afternoon, locking his car up tight. He'd had every intention of going on this long weekend, if for no other reason than he wanted to be where Bodie was. It was silly, he knew, but he also knew infatuation when he felt it, and what he was feeling now wasn't it. No, this went far beyond infatuation and was fast overtaking even lust, for Bodie of all people. He'd been feeling it for so long, it didn't even bother him anymore. Doyle shook his head at himself, grabbed his gear and trudged up Bodie's steps, trying to stop smiling. Bodie, thick bastard, hadn't even noticed, but under the circumstances that was just fine with Doyle. He didn't need to break in a new partner, and he didn't need his old one to break him in two. But he wouldn't pass up a weekend spent in the south of England in the summer, surrounded by Bodie's friends from whom he could pry tales taller than those Bodie told, no doubt. "Oi, open up in there," he yelled, kicking the door.
When Bodie opened the door and froze in the doorway, mouth dropping open in surprise, Doyle glanced down at himself to see what was wrong. Knapsack slung over one shoulder, he held his sleeping bag in one hand, a small suitcase in the other and had a carrier bag stuffed inside the crook of one elbow. "Well take something, then," he growled, abandoning good humour.
His partner twitched and, finally, moved. "Yeh, right." Bodie unloaded most of the mess and backed into his sitting room with it. "What the hell is all this, then?"
"'S not that much, really," he said, shrugging off the knapsack. "Longjohns, decent pair of boots, coat and jacket, jeans, a sleeping bag, pillow, couple changes of clothes..." he stopped when his eyes lit on the tiny overnight bag resting daintily next to the black and gold parachute rig on the carpet. Then he looked to Bodie, who was biting his lip to keep from laughing.
"It isn't funny," he snarled, dropping the rest of his load.
"You're right, it isn't," Bodie snickered. "We aren't going to the bloody moors you keep dragging me off to. All you need is a few clothes and your trainers; pair of slippers and a toweling robe to get to the shower and back, but the rest--it's all mod cons down there." While he spoke he started digging into Doyle's carefully packed bags, rejecting most of what Doyle had deemed imperative. When he was through rummaging, the knapsack was just over half full. "There you go, mate. All set."
Doyle eyed his long underwear, tossed like snow atop the mountain of rejected articles, and focused a skeptical eye on his partner. "If I get cold down there, I'll kick your arse while you stand still for it."
Bodie nodded and moved to retrieve their gear. "If you get cold, Raymond, I'll warm you up meself." Doyle tried to catch Bodie's eye at that, wanting to make something interesting of it, but Bodie wouldn't look at him.
"Where are we going to sleep, then?"
"I borrowed a friend's caravan. Come along, Ray. I want to get there before sunset."
Shrugging, unable to shake off the imbecilic feeling that had settled on seeing Bodie's bag, he picked up his knapsack and headed for the door while Bodie set the security locks in front.
This might have been a bad idea.
The afternoon was quite warm, the sun on Bodie's side of the car, and as Bodie's effervescence took its toll on him, Doyle started to enjoy the day in spite of himself. When they stopped at a petrol station, Bodie ducked into the store and returned with a lemonade.
"Lemonade?" Doyle demanded.
"No alcohol before I jump," Bodie explained, tipping his head back to empty the bottle in long swallows. Doyle watched his partner's throat, distracted by the bobbing adam's apple, until the words sank in.
"You drink on ops, Bodie. With a gun in your hand, you drink. And you won't have anything before you do this?"
Bodie grinned conspiratorially at him. "I don't have you there to watch my back at altitude, do I, sunshine?"
Doyle leaned against the car, sobered enough by that thought to leave off the subject. Besides, Bodie bouncing around like a four year old on speed was its own entertainment. He climbed back into the passenger seat and shook his head.
The sun was just settling down against the lip of the horizon when Bodie swore under his breath, reducing what had been a breakneck speed to something more closely resembling the posted limits. "Got yourself lost, then?" Doyle queried, breaking the traveling silence that had stretched comfortably between them for miles. He straightened up from his slouch in the seat, stretching a bit as he turned to look at Bodie for the first time in over an hour.
"There's no reason to hurry anymore. We're still a good twenty minutes out, and the last load'll already be in the air."
Doyle glanced out the window at lengthening twilight. "There'll be light for hours."
Bodie shrugged, relaxing back in his seat. "Doesn't matter. Last plane goes up while you can see the sun." He grinned. "It's the only way to keep us from jumping round the clock. No matter, Ray. I'll start tomorrow instead and we'll use tonight to unwind, right?"
Having never before done this with Bodie, Doyle had no idea of what unwinding in this place might be like. But he was in a good--if lazy--mood, so he said, "Fine, I suppose," and held all his questions. "If we're not in a hurry any longer, let's stop someplace for dinner. I'm famished."
Uncharacteristically when offered food, Bodie rejected the idea with a shake of his head. "We'll eat when we get there. There are a few blokes I want to catch up with so I can set up something for the morning."
Doyle tilted his head so he could watch Bodie's dusk-shadowed profile, enjoying the view and anticipating a pleasant weekend. He was feeling surprisingly indulgent.
Half an hour later they were bouncing along an unsealed road that led up to a huge airplane hangar. Doyle whistled under his breath. There were least a hundred other vehicles scattered about. Bodie hadn't been joking, then. While he stretched the kinks from his legs Bodie sighted along a row of buildings, assigning descriptions to each of several doors. "Pub, eatery--that thing next to it will open in the morning--it does breakfast and lunch. There's a makeshift gym back behind the airplane hangar, just through those bay doors there, and on past the hangar is the zone store. Tee shirts and skydiving accessories, and basics like toothpaste, biscuits, dispirin and the like. Stay away from it, Doyle; the prices will give you heart failure."
Doyle looked from the neat row of buildings to the grass, the tarmac, the milling people and the miles of absolutely nothing else around them. "You're joking." It was practically a small village.
"You expected them to just pop out to a shop twenty minutes away every time they got thirsty?"
Actually, Doyle had expected to rough it, despite what Bodie had told him in town. But no one was roughing it here. The people around him were smiling, eating, lounging on the lawn--people who looked not to have a care in the world. It made sense they'd cater to the customers, but why the customers wanted to spend their time in the middle of nowhere and jump out of airplanes was still a bit beyond him. In his head he heard Bodie's voice as clear as a bell, spending our time in the middle of nowhere and climbing over big rocks. Perhaps there was a point in there somewhere.
The pub was pleasant enough and reminded him of an old local in Kings Cross, with a long polished bar, darts along the far wall, simple food and various drink at vaguely reasonable prices. One wall was all glass, four sliding doors that offered a view of the close-clipped lawn and runway, while the other three walls served as some sort of pictorial history of flight-related sports. There were photos everywhere, of people frozen in the sky, holding onto each other and looking for all the world like flowers arranged in colorful bouquet. Other pictures, of airplanes in flight while people spilled out the door threatened to make his stomach queasy, so he turned his attention to the crowd.
"Not much for getting a leg over in here, is there?" he asided to Bodie. Most of the people in the room were healthy indeed, the heavy builds of boxers and weight lifters mixed almost equally with the more slender frames of distance runners. Most of them were male. If there was one woman for every ten men, Doyle would have been surprised.
Bodie just laughed. "Evil, Raymond. Can't do without it for three days?"
"Didn't say that, did I?" he defended, carefully measuring his partner's words. "I only meant there aren't many birds about."
Bodie shrugged. "It's a man's sport, Ray. But you wouldn't let that stop you, would you?" Bodie was toying with him, he knew, dropping innuendo that could have been a challenge to pull a bird regardless of the odds or, equally, could have suggested that he look elsewhere for his pleasures. Bodie teased him like that a lot more, lately, and Doyle liked to fancy there was a reason behind it. He let the taunt slip by, said, "So what do you do for fun when I'm not here to keep an eye on you?"
Bodie pursed his lips, looking secretive and sexy for it. "I don't want to shock you," he said, and picked up his glass.
"Who says you can?"
Bodie looked at him blankly for a moment, as if he didn't understand, then shrugged and looked away. Doyle grinned into his glass and peeked around the room. If these blokes were available, Doyle had no plans for them. If Bodie did, or had in the past, then perhaps that was a good thing. But he wasn't willing to ask, and their meal arrived in time to change the subject for him.
There was a bit of salad next to Bodie's steak and kidney pie. Bodie glanced around after the waiter left, and scraped it onto Doyle's plate. "Feel like the family dog, with you slipping me your rejects like that."
Bodie ruffled his curls. "Look like it, too."
Before he could even reach to swipe the offending hand away, a voice boomed "Bodie! You mad bastard!" from across the small room. Doyle jerked his head round to see a broad-shouldered bloke shoving his way through the three-deep crowd around the darts.
Bodie raised his glass as the stranger approached, saying aside to Doyle, "He's a lunatic, Ray, don't believe a word he says." When the man was close enough Bodie reached and clapped him on the back. "Bernie, pull up a seat and tell me you plan to be up early."
The stranger threw a mock-punch at Bodie's shoulder. "Earlier than you, you Scouse. I didn't expect to see you here."
"I didn't, either. Lucky break at the office. Bernie, this is my partner, Ray Doyle. Doyle--Bernie Dalton."
"Hello." Doyle offered his hand. The man's grip was firm, his eyes warm and friendly. Doyle dug into his pastie and relaxed as Bernie was joined by three other blokes, all of similar tall, broad builds. It was some minutes into the conversation before he realized they were all Paras, two active and two retired. They were chummy, none of the Old Boy crap that so got up his nose about Bodie's SAS mates. They were also far more civilised than he'd imagined military types and adrenalin junkies would be.
Bernie turned just then and attempted to drag him into the conversation. "So, Doyle, how many jumps do you have?"
Doyle opened his mouth to reply but Bodie beat him to it. "He's just along for a look-see, Bernie. He's got more sense than to try this on, hasn't he," Bodie said, patting Doyle's knee.
Bernie and the others were good-natured, nodding their heads. "You've a hell of a lot of fortitude, if you've resisted Bodie's arm-twisting for any length of time. The way he goes on, you can tell he thinks everybody's as crazy as he is."
Doyle was amused to have Bodie defending him, and when Bernie seemed to do so as well his estimation of all these men went up a notch. It surprised him a bit; he'd expected them all to be like Bodie. Here, though, not even Bodie acted the exclusionary type. It was a little hard to adjust. "Nobody's as crazy as Bodie is," he said neutrally, sipping at his lager.
"There's plenty who'd agree with you. And this isn't for everyone, anyway," Bernie added, picking up where Bodie had left off. "Hell, you have to be half-crazy to jump out of a perfectly good airplane." Bodie and the others answered in chorus, "But there's no such thing as a perfectly good airplane!" Doyle looked to Bodie, who was as relaxed as Doyle had ever seen him, and obviously content. No, it was more than that. Bodie was effusive, filled with an anticipatory excitement that was incredibly charming, and his hand still rested, forgotten, on Doyle's knee. Doyle smiled, and decided he liked Bodie's friends a great deal.
It was just after eleven when Bodie finally steered him out of the pub. "We'll be up early, Ray, and it's best to get a decent night's sleep."
Bodie looked first surprised, then amused. "Sorry, you can sleep in, if you want. I'm going to make the first load, though; plane takes off right at dawn. You come out when you're ready."
Doyle thought about it as they fetched the car and drove round behind the hangar, and as they pulled in by a surprisingly large caravan, he decided that he wanted to see Bodie do it. "Wake me," he said, enjoying the smile Bodie tried to swallow. "Though I don't know why I want to watch you do something as stupid as this," he added, for effect. It did nothing at all to dampen Bodie's spirits; after unlocking the caravan's door he opened the boot and retrieved the lion's share of their belongings, lugging everything in and dropping it on the floor by the breakfast table. This place had electric lights, a stove and tiny refrigerator, a chemical loo and a small telly on a shelf above the one, wide bed. "All mod cons," he said, approving.
"Didn't want you inconvenienced, Ray," Bodie mocked. "You're too much of a pain in the arse when I make you rough it. Unlike myself, of course," he added archly.
Doyle let the comment pass, unrolling the sleeping bags and spreading them, open, across the mattress. It was a warm night, and not a reason in the world to suffer mummied up in down batting. He took in details while he worked.
"You always manage accommodations this nice?"
"Here, I do," Bodie affirmed, "because I always use Johnny's place."
"This is Johnny's place?"
"Mmmhmm." Bodie was preoccupied, stashing lager in a cabinet.
"So what does Johnny do while you're borrowing his place?" And why hadn't Doyle ever heard of any of these people?
"He isn't here this weekend," Bodie said over his shoulder, stepping into the loo. "Over in Paris for some sort of sales convention."
Some few seconds later, Doyle noticed that Bodie hadn't answered his question. He shrugged it off. Everyone had secrets in their lives, and Bodie enjoyed having more than most. If Bodie also had friends who liked to throw themselves out of airplanes and loan him their things, Doyle was probably better off not knowing much more than he did.
"Want to watch the telly, Ray?" Bodie called through the open door. "Johnny's got quite a collection of videos."
"Blue movies, by any chance?" Doyle asked, poring over the equipment now that Bodie had called his attention to it. Not just anyone could afford a VTR, and certainly not one as nice as this. "Johnny" must be a well-off bloke.
Bodie's laughter startled him. "Jump video, mate."
"Oh." Doyle considered, and realized he'd never seen people skydive before and that further, since that was the case, he'd rather wait and watch Bodie. Besides, the long drive, good food and lager were taking their toll. "No, I'll wait," he said, stifling a yawn. "Let's get some shut-eye."
And, ten minutes later sidled up shoulder to shoulder with his already dozing partner, he was only mildly annoyed when sleep eluded him. He should have expected nothing else, lying there and resisting the heat Bodie's body radiated; more tempting than an electric blanket, it was, and more dangerous than taking one into the bath with you. He rolled onto his side and counted sheep.
When he woke the next morning, pre-dawn light flooded the caravan and Bodie was crawling over him to get out of bed. He stretched, yawning, and watched his partner slide back into blue jeans and leave the caravan for a minute. He returned carrying The Bag, grinning at Doyle when he saw he was awake. Unzipping a side pocket of the carrier, Bodie dragged out myriad clothes obviously associated with the sport. The only things that surprised Doyle were the sandals. Bodie? Another zipper bisecting the bag rasped loudly in the pre-dawn quiet, and Bodie was hefting out his parachute rig. Mild curiosity fought and lost the battle between getting up to see or keeping warm under the covers for a few more precious minutes; he'd examine it later. "Come on, Doyle, get dressed if you're going with me," Bodie said, removing his jeans again and rummaging about in the bag. Doyle stretched, making the moment last, while Bodie dragged on a pair of shorts and a rude tee-shirt.
"Short pants? You?" he snickered, digging in his own bag for the pair that made Bodie's cutoffs look like his grandmum's long skirts.
Bodie shrugged. "Hate the bloody things, but there's nothing else comfortable under a tony suit." That said, he slithered into a jumpsuit with odd piping on it, leaving it hanging about his hips.
"So, have you and Tony always been this close?" Doyle asked, nodding drily toward the jumpsuit Bodie half-wore.
"Oh, very funny," Bodie said, grinning and posh. "I must have you share that with my mates."
Doyle laughed outright. "Yeh, Bodie, make me the football in an impromptu game. I don't think so."
"I'd never let them hurt you overmuch, petal," Bodie said, grin broadening.
Doyle's concern was the miles-wide difference between his and Bodie's definition of the word "overmuch." He concentrated on dressing, grabbing a sweatshirt against the early morning chill and trainers for a run once Bodie got distracted with his play, and had his toilet kit tucked under his arm before Bodie could get impatient waiting for him. "I'll play native bearer, shall I?" he offered, grabbing up the rig from where Bodie had left it on the table. It was bloody heavy. "What the hell is in this thing?"
"Not much," Bodie said, holding the door for him. Doyle breathed in fresh, damp air while Bodie locked the caravan. The ground was covered with dew, lights in about half the caravans looking like friendly campfires in the early light. Some few other people were already awake, milling about near airplanes parked in the open, a hundred yards away. Doyle shook his head. "Lovely morning."
Bodie breathed deeply, noisily, only just really waking up. "Yeh. Turn around, I'll help you get the straps on. It's easier to carry that way."
Doyle did as he was bid, sliding the rig on as he would a backpack while Bodie began detailing its function, all in the familiar, authoritative monotone of a man who had learned a long time ago and was used to teaching it to other people. As they walked across wet grass toward the end of the hangar, Doyle decided that Bodie reminded him irritatingly of his first handgun trainer in the police special services academy. Bodie finished much later with, "Fifty pounds is light, for everything you're holding, Ray."
Doyle supposed it was. "Didn't forget a parachute, did you?" he asked drily.
Bodie just grinned and shook his head, and Doyle steeled himself for textbook responses and superhuman patience the rest of the weekend. Bodie was in his element, doing one of the things he'd been trained to teach in the Paras, and it was showing badly. He volunteered completely useless information about unfixed wing aerodynamics, talking without a pause until they reached the little walkup restaurant, where Doyle smelled coffee. "Understand?" Bodie asked as Doyle started shrugging out of the parachute rig.
"Uh huh," he muttered, unwilling to let lengthy explanation stand between him and his first cuppa.
Bodie laughed aloud, holding the rig while he wriggled out of it. "You've no fucking clue what I'm talking about, but as soon as you see one in flight, it will make perfect sense. Trust me."
"That's easy enough to do, Bodie," he said amiably. "I'm the one staying on the ground. Where will you be for the next ten minutes? I want a cup of coffee and for you to point me to the showers." Bodie pointed first toward the airplanes, then toward a brick outbuilding. "Ta. See you."
"Don't talk to any strange men," Bodie quipped, too cheerful for his own good.
Doyle grinned, leering a bit for effect. "Too late for that, innit, sunshine?" He turned for the canteen while Bodie wandered away.
Some minutes later, shaved, showered and coffee-laden, he was beginning to look forward to the day. He refilled his cup and ordered breakfast, taking a moment to look about and see the goings-on of the place. Numbered receipt in hand, he knelt beneath a stubby ash tree and looked his fill.
The morning was crisp and sharp, bright for the fact the sun still hadn't appeared. Birds and insects were making more noise than the thirty or so people who milled quietly about. The people talked amongst themselves, waved and nodded at passersby and were, in general, self-contained. Happy-looking. Doyle found that in the cool early breeze their casual excitement was contagious. It was familiar, but he couldn't place it.
A hundred feet away at the other end of the hangar, three aircraft were parked on the tarmac; a DC-3, and two airbuses he didn't recognize. The number of people last night had surprised him, and now the planes did as well. He had expected five or six ragged looking blokes, maybe a few military maniacs and a rusty Cessna, but certainly not this production.
Bodie came walking back toward him through the throng of people, minus parachute rig and plus another gentleman, just as his breakfast order was called; he nodded and pointed, and his partner veered off toward the canteen's pick-up window. The bloke with him kept coming Doyle's way, smiling good-naturedly. Tall, well-muscled with longish blond hair and a lanky, rolling gait, he reminded Doyle somehow of Murphy. "Good morning," the stranger offered with his hand.
Doyle returned the firm grip. "Ray Doyle."
"Simmons. Peter Simmons." He sat, straddling the bench and withdrawing a pack of cigarettes from his shirt pocket. "Bodie there tells me you're out to have a look-see." Doyle nodded. "Well, my rig's hanging in the loft getting its checkup and a scheduled repack," he said, pausing to light the cigarette and inhale deeply, "so if you don't mind, Bodie thought you might like some company while he's up. Help you spot the jumpers, take you out to the landing area, that sort of thing."
At least half of what Simmons had said made absolutely no sense, but the bloke seemed pleasant enough, and company was welcome. "Appreciate it. So, you've been jumping awhile?"
"He's barely any better'n you would be, Doyle," Bodie smirked, setting Doyle's breakfast down and relieving the paper plate of a sausage.
"You're no doubt right, Master," Simmons replied, unoffended.
"You'll go far, my son, you show the proper respect," Bodie said regally. The effect was somewhat lost as he was talking through a mouthful of meat. Doyle just let his eyes travel from one man to the other, wondering whether to make Bodie get his own breakfast or simply kiss half of his goodbye. There was a witness, after all....
"Bodie's a bit of a skygod, Ray," he said. "You know, struts about on the ground, makes sure all his colors match--well, most of the time," he added, "and has quite a few more jumps than the next man. It has gone to his head, I'm sorry to say, and the best thing to do is humor him when he begins putting on airs."
Bodie, to Doyle's immense pleasure, ducked his head under the teasing. "I know what you mean, Peter," Doyle said long-sufferingly, and reached to drag his breakfast out of Bodie's reach, "we have to do the same with him at the office."
"Remind me to pack your rig for you sometime, Pete," Bodie grumbled, distracting Doyle by reaching for his fork. Doyle gave up, since Bodie had paid for the food anyway, and went to order something else.
Almost in synch with the first cough and sputter of wakening airplane engines came a truly lovely feminine voice over loudspeakers. "Otter number one, you are on five minute call. Good morning, ladies and gentlemen."
Bodie scraped his plate clean. "Right Pete, that's me. I'm with Riggs, Kelly and Halsten. Take Ray out to the landing area and set him up by the pea gravel, eh?" Doyle patted him on the back on rising.
"Break a leg, Bodie," he offered, toasting him with his coffee.
"Blue skies, that's what you wish to a skydiver." Bodie grinned cheekily. "No reason to bring up potential unpleasantness, now is there?"
No reason, indeed. He remembered Bodie's comment about having no one up there to watch his back, and felt a twinge of unease in spite of himself. He watched Bodie trot away and Simmons took up the slack in conversation.
"So, Ray, what do you do?"
"Same as Bodie," he offered carefully. "We work together in London."
"Ah, hush-hush, then. Queen's guard and all that," he said, nodding sagely, and Doyle was somewhat surprised that Bodie had offered even that much honesty here, when he avoided it everywhere else. "My line of work is a bit more mundane, I'm afraid; I'm an associate professor at London College."
"Really?" Doyle said, surprised again. "What do you teach?"
After some minutes of polite chit-chat, parachuting seemed the natural subject to which to return, and Doyle found himself with someone who was good-naturedly willing to answer any ignorant question Doyle threw at him. Due to the man's penchant for rhetoric, the answers Doyle received were occasionally confusing, but Simmons was very warm to the topic, and the amusing anecdotes about Bodie that he used as examples were well worth the rest of the lectures. Doyle was just opening his mouth to bully details out of Simmons when the lovely-voiced female spoke over the loudspeaker system, saying something that obviously made sense to Simmons.
Simmons leaned his elbows back on the table and glanced up, scanning the sky, and pointed up at nothing. "There's the plane," he said, tracking along with his forefinger. "D'you see it?"
It took a moment but he finally spotted a tiny-looking twig of metal with wings that was winking in the early dazzling light. "Yes."
"Let's trot on over to the landing area, it's just this side of the runway. Keep your head up and I'll show you what to look for."
Doyle did as he was bid, wondering how to finagle more stories about his partner and thinking of the other friends Bodie had introduced him to. They should be able to provide enough material to keep Bodie hopping from foot to foot for a month. Simmons led him down across the concrete and onto the lawn, threading his way over and between people who had parachutes lying about in various stages of disorganization. He followed wordlessly through a wooden gate and out onto the rough wild grasses along the tarmac.
They were crossing the taxiway before Simmons said anything more, and then, "There, she's cut her speed a bit. Watch the tail, you'll just be able to make them out when they exit." Doyle was too busy watching the taxiway for approaching aircraft; he was used to Heathrow, not disused military strips. "There goes the first lot, and... yes, that's Bodie and his mates, right behind them." Doyle, who hadn't yet managed to relocate the plane, nudged Simmons toward the edge of the taxiway.
"Let's look from over here, shall we?"
"Yes, right, but hurry up." He pointed as he walked. "The plane is there. Trace back along here, and you'll see what looks like a big dot right--there. You see it?" Doyle looked, finally found a speck of something against the empty sky. How far away did a man have to be, to look that small? The question was answering itself as the speck grew, turning from a hairwidth doughnut into a spider with human legs. Doyle kept watching and they kept growing, falling earthward so quickly it was a bit mind numbing. Not spiders now, but men whose speed was obvious against the backdrop of the sky. The knot separated, people speeding away from each other and suddenly the first started slowing, and fabric rained up and exploded above him... then the second, and the third, floating like feathers in the mild morning breeze and under each, suspended by the huge fabric wing, hung the sharp silhouette of a man.
The first group's parachutes had opened and he'd missed it staring at Bodie's group of four. Doyle ground his teeth in disgust, sure to his bones that the fourth man in Bodie's group, the one who still hadn't opened his parachute, was Bodie himself. "There, look sharp," Simmons said, but Doyle wasn't listening. Peripherally he saw other parachutes unfurl and finally, far too close to the ground when compared to the others, Bodie's own canopy opened.
Doyle was not amused. "Bloody bastard," he muttered under his breath.
He heard Simmons' laughter from just behind his right shoulder. "Inspiring, isn't it? I often wonder to what literary heights Shakespeare might have soared if he'd had the means to experience this pleasure on occasion."
Doyle nodded politely, ignoring him. Bodie's parachute was a motley collection of blues and purples, not at all the colors Doyle had expected of him. Black, or army green he'd supposed, but not this spectrum from dark violet to a blue that blended with the sky. It corkscrewed about, approaching fast, and Doyle could hear the crisp report of snapping fabric like distant rifle fire. All those people floating down, Bodie leading them because he was stupid enough to take the biggest risk just to show off.... Doyle wanted, suddenly, the feel of it, but he endured his tingling skin and the surge of excitement without letting it show.
When Doyle heard his partner's whoop of unadulterated pleasure, he felt his own laugher bubble up in reply. Bloody Bodie, didn't get enough of it on the job, had to go to extremes even in his leisure pleasures... and Doyle loved that in him.
Other parachutes were approaching as well, some not far behind Bodie's, and the noise of it! Doyle's heart was pounding. "Look out below!" Bodie yelled as he swooped down toward them, less than a hundred feet up--fifty, now, and Doyle resisted the urge to duck, and then somehow, just a few feet off the ground and not twenty feet from him, Bodie's speed dropped off and the parachute hovered in the air, while his partner put a foot out in front of himself, daintily stepping to the ground as the canopy began to fall away behind him.
Simmons trotted over to Bodie and began helping him with sheaves of nylon, while Doyle just stood there in amazement, watching as two, three, five other parachutists landed. By the time Bodie had gathered up his things there were only three left in the air. Bodie whistled through his teeth and Doyle, as bad as a schooled dog, jerked his head round. "Oi, Ray," Bodie said.
"What do I have to do to do it, Bodie?" he demanded bluntly.
Bodie didn't laugh, didn't thump him on the back and didn't taunt him. "Follow me, my son, and I'll get you taken care of," was all he said.
When Bodie dropped him at the students' training area, he offered only one piece of advice. "Treat the examination like one of Ross' tests, Ray; they only want one answer. If you miss a chance to write 'I will die' or 'death,' they'll flunk you and you won't get to go today."
It was a sobering thought.
Four hours later, Doyle figured he had signed away the rest of his life, his only hope that he hadn't somehow compromised his pre-existing indenture with George Cowley. Bodie assured him not, unless he sustained an injury, and Doyle contented himself with the knowledge that if that happened, Bodie would be the one who'd have to explain it.
Doyle heard a plane landing, distracting his eyes toward the sky where a cluster of canopies was raining down. Bodie's was among them. Doyle watched until they landed, wondering just how crazy all this really was, and why he was so willing to try it. Because Bodie did? Well of course, a rational voice sniped inside his head. You wouldn't even be here, but for Bodie. They were both crazy.
Bodie came jogging up a few minutes later wearing only his shorts and sandals, tee-shirt shockingly absent. The public display distracted Doyle when he needed distraction least. He would be going up soon, and he needed to focus to keep his stomach from tying itself in knots. Bodie either didn't notice, or noticed and pretended he didn't. "Ready, Ray?"
"Dunno," he said, feeling like a prat for not wanting to look at Bodie, "haven't gotten my test results back."
"Come on, mate, you've passed, surely." Doyle was sure he had. "Next training group goes up in about twenty minutes: that's you, sunshine." The back of Bodie's hand cracked against his shoulder, and he winced. "Excited?"
"Of course I'm bloody excited, Bodie," he growled. "Leave off."
"Ah. Right, then. I'll see you when you get to the plane."
That got his attention. He swung around, ignoring the weirdly bare skin to meet Bodie's eyes. "You're going on my jump?"
"Of course," Bodie said, as if Doyle should have known all along.
Bodie mock-frowned, and shook his head. "Got to watch your back, haven't I?"
The knots untied themselves and, slowly, Doyle smiled. "In that case, have a seat." He made room for his partner on the bench, and casually gave Bodie the once over. Bodie merely smiled, and appeared not to notice. Doyle sighed; for the unexpected view alone, he'd have to pop down here more often.
The lovely, disembodied voice interrupted his and Bodie's idle conversation, and his jump master appeared out of nowhere. "Come on, Doyle, let's get you kitted up." Bodie waggled his eyebrows at him, grinning like a maniac, and followed to watch him get ready.
The hardest part of all, Doyle decided, was the fifteen minutes he spent sitting on his hands in the airplane. The fear had banked down, turning into readiness just like on the job... and that was the feeling Doyle had unwittingly recognized in people this morning. It was a feeling that demanded action, adrenalin an ally to sharpen the wits and decrease reaction time. Sitting silently, surrounded by wind noise, was as bad as waiting for the "go" signal on an A-1 callout. No wonder these people were so happy to throw themselves like lemmings out of the plane.
He glanced out the window as the first group of people fell like scattered pebbles out the door. The ground was much farther away than he had imagined it would be....
His reserve jump master tugged at his shoulder and they inched forward, while the next bunch ahead of him crowded into the aircraft door and disappeared. In front of him Bodie turned, grinning crazily, and abruptly there was only his partner between himself and absolutely nothing for thirteen thousand feet. The rush of wind and the engine noise roared and cheered like a crowd. He felt his chest heaving, felt the rough tug of hands at his shoulder and hip as his jumpmasters reaffirmed their grips on him. "First time's always the hardest, Ray!" Bodie shouted above the wind, while the sky and the earth stood frozen in the noise of air whipping by the fuselage. He spared a look for Bodie, trying to remember what the fuck he was doing standing in an open airplane door this far off the ground.
Tearing his fingers off their death-grip on the metal sheeting, he reached out to thump Bodie on the head. "It had better be, sunshine!" he yelled back, then abruptly, "One!" His jumpmasters' grips tightened on his coverall. "Two!" As one person they rocked forward, back-- "Three!" then Doyle dived headfirst into the stream of wind, disoriented until the world righted itself: sky above, clouds below, the distorting roar of wind at over a hundred miles an hour in his ears--the horizon curved away from him, he was so high. He forced himself to concentrate, to remember his drill, and turned his face back toward the horizon just as Bodie swooped into his line of sight, still smiling. Blood sang in Doyle's veins, the exhilaration like nothing he'd ever felt before. It was loud and fast, motorcross on the grandest of scales. Every cell in his body was alive, vibrating with energy as he watched Bodie move off a bit, backflip and hover. His jump-master tugged on his sleeve and he went back to the drill, feeling an idiot grin on his face and not caring. Nothing could be better than this.
Twenty seconds later, floating under a fabric wing with the breeze slipping quietly past him, Doyle stood corrected. Nylon fluttered infrequently above his head, snapping gently. Braking slowed him down, reduced the quiet murmur of air to a sensual, breathless whisper, and he rocked more gently under the canopy than a baby in its pram. Where only a moment ago life had been a pinpoint thrill, a hairy moment where risk and adrenalin made a man invulnerable and elated, this serene god-like floating was liberating, religious ecstasy.
He wasn't sure which he loved more.
He wasn't sure that it mattered.
The radio at his belt squawked, interrupting his communion; his jump master was ready to lead him down. Landing happened a bit quickly, and moments later the grassy landing area was rushing up at him and it was Bodie on the ground, waving maniacally. Contrary to the feather-like landings he had witnessed all morning, his reacqaintance with the earth was a bit more aggressive. He was on his belly before he knew it, the air-filled canopy dragging him slowly forward. Bodie, parachute already bundled over his arm, was laughing while Doyle picked himself up and tried to contain the energy crackling like electricity through his body.
"Ray!" Bodie was upon him, looking supremely pleased with himself. Doyle would have to listen to him crow for uncounted weeks about this little victory, but he couldn't be bothered to complain. Instead he said blandly, "So how fast can I get back up there?"
The day had been a bit hectic, overall, what with practicing new bits on the ground while Bodie jumped with friends, then jumping himself while Bodie hovered in front of him, always happily prepared to play Superman to Doyle's damsel in distress. Doyle had thought more than once that he shouldn't pull his ripcord, just so Bodie would have something to do....
He tipped his Guinness bottle back, shaking out the last drops of the strong stout and looking around for his partner. Bodie was weaving through a layer of other blokes with two fresh bottles in hand. Perhaps it was the rush of insanity for its own sake, or perhaps it was because the man looked so bloody reliable, but he made an excuse about not wanting a crowd, and made his partner escort him to the caravan.
Bodie collapsed back onto the bed, making himself comfortable and opening their beers with a Swiss army knife. Feeling reasonably sure that any man who could survive throwing himself out the door of an airplane five times in as many hours could survive a bit of forceful rejection, he steeled himself, mentally counted "One! Two! Three!" in his head, and turned with a calculated smile to his partner. "Bodie."
Bodie was propped on the mattress, one leg up, wrist on his knee and satisfied smirk on his face. "What do you do for afters around here?"
"What do you have in mind?" Bodie asked, leering for the joke--and Doyle was sure it was a joke. He didn't delude himself into misinterpreting empty innuendo, not tonight. But he raised his hand anyway, and dropped it gently, firmly to Bodie's groin. Well, you could've thought of something a bit more subtle than that, he chided himself, feeling the adrenalin kick through him just as it had earlier today. Of all the stupid....
"Bloody hell." It seemed all Bodie could manage; Doyle supposed he should be pleased his hand was still attached to his wrist.
"C'mon, Bodie," he urged, sliding his hand off his partner's groin and onto the safer, less threatening but no less interesting ground of his upper thigh, "First time's always the hardest."
Bodie looked from Doyle's face to Doyle's hand and back again, mouth opening like a fish's in dumb surprise. "Don't make me yell it as loudly as you had to in that airplane," he threatened with a smile, as panic teased the edges of his nerves. "Christ knows I don't want your mates out there to know what we're getting up to in here."
"Who says we're getting up to anything?" Bodie finally said, and Doyle was relieved his partner could still communicate. If Bodie could do that, he could get Doyle's hand off him. And he hadn't.
"C'mon, mate," he urged, squeezing thick muscle through taut denim, "You can't have not noticed."
"Of course I did," Bodie said derisively. "I just didn't think you were serious."
Doyle nodded, feeling a bit like a doctor breaking bad news. "You knew I was serious," he hazarded.
Bodie swallowed, fists clenching, the muscles along his arms tightening involuntarily. "All right," he said levelly, and Doyle knew he was lying, "Maybe I thought you might be. Still doesn't mean we should do anything about it."
Doyle glanced down his partner's body, as familiar to him as any woman's, probably, looked at his own hand there so close to Bodie's groin and said, "Yeh?"
"Yes." Vehement, this time, but Bodie still hadn't said the magic word, "no," and Bodie still hadn't removed his hand. In either sense. "If we got caught, Cowley would kill us for certain."
"Yes," Doyle agreed reasonably. "If we got caught."
"And we'd be bound to get caught," Bodie said. Doyle wondered if his partner realized who the words were meant to convince. Certainly not him. "Because if it was good, I'd want to do you at every verse end and you'd probably be as randy as I'll ever be."
"Yes," Doyle replied, "I probably would be. If we did it."
"So," Bodie said, eyelids drifting closed, hand rising now and dashing Doyle's hopes. Bodie grasped his wrist in a grip too firm to ignore, and tugged his hand up Bodie's thigh, leading it back to where it had started. "So we'd best not do it," Bodie muttered.
Doyle squeezed, fascinated by the response under his palm, by the look on Bodie's face and by the urgent necessity he felt toward finishing what he'd started. "You're right. We'd best not." He began to rub, feeling his whole body come alive, tingling with the same fear, the same adrenalin rush of frenzied anticipation, the same quantity of risk. "So I'll stop, yes?"
Bodie opened his eyes, pupils wide, the thin ring of blue iris like the band of an eclipse. "Yes," Bodie said, and licked his lips. He smiled, just a bit. "Stop."
Doyle slid that last inch closer, leaning until he felt his partner's chest with every inhale, until he could barely maintain focus on Bodie's parted lips. "All right, then," Doyle whispered, and kissed him.
Whatever paralysis had held Bodie shattered, and Doyle found himself on his back wondering how he'd got there. Bodie's mouth was hot on him, sucking air from his lungs like all that wind had in freefall. Hands tugged on his clothes, and the rush of skydiving paled in comparison to the rush of Bodie. He'd long suspected that most things would.
In the heat of the moment, difficult things became easy, and somehow they got out of their clothes. Doyle couldn't remember Bodie's weight lifting off him, nor the seal of their mouths breaking.
Funny, he had expected that a man--particularly Bodie--would feel stifling, pressing naked against him. He'd expected that a man--particularly Bodie--would want to dominate him. Oddest of all, he had expected to dislike it when either of those things happened. But Bodie's weight was solid and dependable on him, its shape and bulk well-known from too much sparring. Bodie's bid for dominance was single-minded, careful and unthreatening, and Doyle couldn't imagine why. Of course, he was having a bit of trouble thinking.... Bodie's tongue in his mouth was a shock, supplanted only slightly by the shock of their groins rubbing together. Bodie's cock was hard, sliding along his thigh, Bodie's hands demanding and assured as they slid down his ribs and squeezed his arse.
Tomorrow, Doyle would have to wonder whether Bodie had done this before. Tomorrow, he would have to wonder why either of them was doing it now. But all that supposition required thinking, and Doyle's mind simply wasn't up to the task. He shifted his weight and rolled, turning Bodie on the narrow bed and reversing their positions, straddling his partner's hips to dominate a little, himself. Bodie, arms spread wide on the mattress, just flashed his teeth in a wicked, pleasured smile, and thrust up against him. Somewhere between the flash of laughter in his partner's eyes and the thrust of arousal at his groin, Doyle lost track of everything else.
Individual actions melted together as easily, as smoothly as he and Bodie did. Each caress flowed into the next, and no touch he offered, no response he elicited from Bodie, seemed out of place. Some uncounted time later when he followed Bodie over the edge and orgasm ripped him apart, Bodie surprisingly, kindly, nuzzled him back together.
Doyle stretched languorously and peeked out under the bedside window's curtain. There was still a ribbon of pale light on the horizon; it must be gone midnight. Bodie was practically purring against him, making a pillow of Doyle's shoulder and outstretched arm. "Can't wait to get my skydiving license, Bodie," he said mildly, loathe to disturb this calm but desperate to mix something normal with it, so that it would still be here when the sun rose tomorrow. He tucked his chin and stared down at Bodie's face. "This might be my favorite way of spending a weekend."
Bodie laughed, the sound as relaxed and content as Doyle ever remembered hearing it. "We hardly need a license for this, mate," he scoffed.
Doyle mock-shuddered, lifting his arm to let Bodie roll away. "just imagine the forms we'd have to fill out."
Bodie climbed out of bed and filled a glass with water, pausing before the kitchenette's curtained window. "So why did you do it?" Bodie asked, voice so casual as he stood naked in front of the built-in sink.
The light over the bed cast long shadows, carving honey and mahogany into his partner's skin. "Because like you said, I wanted to," he said quietly, hoping it would be enough, realizing it wouldn't. "And I thought, if you could inspire me to jump out of a perfectly good airplane, I might inspire you to jump into a perfectly warm bed."
Bodie tilted his head sideways, staring back over his shoulder. Doyle had to concentrate to meet his eyes. "Still could be a mistake, Ray." Doyle nodded. "We still might get caught."
Doyle grinned, trying hard to give Bodie something better to think about than Cowley's wrath. So it really was instinct that had carried Bodie this last hour. The poor berk had probably never seriously considered the idea before Doyle had stirred it up tonight. "You're right. It could be. But I'll let you in on a secret, Bodie. I'm no more planning on telling Cowley about you and me than I am on telling him about this skydiving thing."
Bodie smirked, shook his head and strolled the three steps back to the bed. Very nonchalant, Doyle decided, refusing to notice. "Don't know which one he'd hate more," Bodie said placidly.
Doyle paled, abruptly recognizing the truth in his partner's words, feeling his heart pound with the same kind of terror a weapons stoppage afforded. Bodie, damn his rotten soul to hell, was serious. Cowley was going to kill them both....
-- THE END --
Originally published in Concupiscence 4, Manacles Press, 1995