Picture This


NOTE: Nobody can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but these people came as close to it as humanly possible: thanks to Sally Fell, Slantedlight, PFL and Justacat, to whose incredibly generous encouragement, sound advice, rigorous error-detection and skilled incomprehensibility-elimination I am deeply indebted. The fact that this still has "first attempt" written right through it like "Brighton" through a stick of rock is of course entirely my fault.

Bodie and Doyle are definitely not mine -- believe me, I would have noticed – which clearly indicates that something is Seriously Wrong with the order of the universe.

The front door swung shut behind him as he entered, with the slight echo that somehow spoke unmistakeably of an empty flat. Silence reigned, where normally the air would have been full of sound -- the stereo or the radio blaring, pans clattering or the solid thump of the fridge door closing in the kitchen, water cascading and garbled singing in the bathroom, or an irritable shout from the bedroom demanding to know why Bodie -- Bodie! -- was making such a racket. But today the flat was silent as the grave, all sounds of occupation stilled and its occupant gone. Absent as if he had never been, had never roistered in, throwing the door roughly back on its hinges, filling the rooms with his presence and flinging jacket and shoes haphazardly in the vague direction of the couch or into a corner.

Bodie smiled. Because cold and empty though the flat was now, Ray was off the critical list -- yes, go on my son, you show 'em, you show the bastards! Bloody doctors acting like they knew everything, frowning as if they'd just received a Very Important Phone-Call from god himself to say frightfully sorry old chap, but this one's not coming back, nurses with that I'm ever so sympathetic but you really must move out of the way now, and Don't Bother Doctor look all over their bloody faces. Bodie knew perfectly well that the medical staff and their expertise hadn't put Ray in that hospital bed and were in fact largely responsible for ensuring that he was there at all rather than in the morgue, but since the individuals who had left his partner for dead were now in custody or in the morgue themselves, he'd had no-one else to take it out on; the rest of the squad were giving him a wide berth at the moment, and Ray himself -- who was usually the one to face down any uncustomarily explosive outbursts on Bodie's part -- was currently the subject of them, and very much not available.

But now, in Ray's flat, the door shut and locked behind him, Bodie smiled and relaxed a fraction for what felt like the first time in days. When Ray had been transferred from Intensive Care and, better yet, had actually opened his eyes and mumbled something barely intelligible -- which Bodie interpreted from long experience as a complaint about his being a bloody nuisance hovering about like that, fidgeting like something had crawled down the back of his neck -- before promptly falling asleep again, he'd barely been able to restrain himself from yelling his relief. Hugging Ray might have dislodged some vital bit of tubing so he'd grabbed the nearest nurse instead and hugged her so hard she protested, straightening her cap afterwards with a promising smile he hadn't the composure to return, and almost bolted out the door in a blind rush for fresh air and the chance to be doing something -- anything but sit still for a moment longer in that bloody dim-lit room with its vile leatherette chairs and the universal hospital miasma of disinfectant, sweat and pain.

Gritty-eyed and unshaven after 48 hours of action and then, worse, forced inaction while he waited for news of Ray's condition, Bodie nevertheless went mechanically through the usual routine of the uninjured -- or less severely injured -- partner. He gave the flat a quick once-over for anything burnt-out, boiled dry or so ripe it was about to evolve and walk out under its own steam, and drew up a mental list of essentials to get in for when Ray was discharged (bread, milk -- Ray would insist on a bit of fruit and veg even if he wasn't up to cooking anything and it would only sit in the rack while they both ate takeaways, but who cared -- and a few mags that Ray would look down his nose at until he admitted he was too tired for "proper" reading, by which time Bodie would have read all the best bits first). Pulling a holdall from the bottom of the wardrobe, he dug out Ray's tracksuit -- silly bugger'd complain 'cause he didn't fancy himself in anything that wasn't bloody painted on, but Bodie after all had had more than enough experience of post-operative recovery himself to know you didn't want skin-tight jeans on over your stitches -- followed by a t-shirt and trainers. Who the hell knew what had happened to the ones he was wearing when they brought him in; it wasn't exactly the kind of thing anyone'd been paying attention to at the time. Probably been chucked away. They'd been drenched in blood anyway.

Suddenly feeling every minute of the last two days' exhaustion, Bodie dumped Ray's half-ready going home bag on the floor. No point going back to his own place now -- he'd help himself to the shower and the bed, get a couple of hours' kip and head back to the hospital in the evening.

The water was hot and comforting, and in spite of his intention to get his head down as soon as possible Bodie lingered, allowing his mind to go blank at long last, running his hands over himself again and again, washing away the remembered smell and sticky feel of blood and grime. Ray's soap and shampoo -- he wouldn't miss a bit, after all -- not to mention his razor and that poncy aftershave. Didn't smell too bad, really. Bodie himself had long since jacked in Brut now that every spotty teenager who fancied himself was wearing it (Imperial Leather, now, that had more class) but he would never have dreamt of wasting valuable seconds picking and choosing more exotic varieties like this stuff of Ray's. Sort of a herby, woody smell. No, not bad at all.

Feeling considerably more human and satisfied with his reflection despite noticeably red-rimmed and sleep-deprived eyes, he wandered back into the bedroom and rummaged briskly through the chest of drawers for clean underwear for Ray and some to borrow for himself. There was no hope he could trade his own trousers down two sizes for a pair of Ray's (ought by rights to be no more'n a size and a bloody half) though he wished he could -- all that blood on the knees and more smeared around in scattered patches -- but surely the little toe-rag had at least one pair of Y-fronts old and stretchy enough for Bodie to squeeze into? He didn't feel like sleeping in the buff for some reason -- still a bit on edge, maybe -- and he certainly didn't much fancy getting back into days-old clothes now he was clean. Ray seemed to have pretty fancy taste in knickers; Bodie grinned when he came on a particularly skimpy leopard-print pair he wouldn't have been seen dead in himself, never mind how uncomfortable they looked -- probably a present from some bird ... and stopped dead when his hand touched something smooth and flat at the back of the drawer. Well if Ray had really wanted something to stay hidden, stands to reason it wouldn't be under his underpants now would it? That being the first place anyone with eyes in their head would look.

Bodie hesitated for only a moment before pulling the sketchbook out and opening it ... and came face to face with himself. Ray had drawn him mid-length, in three-quarters profile, looking out of a window with a serious expression on his face; he had clearly lavished all his attention on the face and hands -- beyond the edges of the window all the lines petered out -- and Bodie's breath caught for an instant as he found himself peering as if to see what the eyes in the picture were looking at. Instantly determined to demand this picture for himself, he turned the page to see what else Ray had come up with. Himself again, grinning this time, as he sat at what looked like a table in the break-room with a mug of tea in one hand and not one but three biscuits clutched triumphantly in the other. But -- but this was the time he'd put one over on Anson, when they'd had that running barney over whose turn was it to buy the next packet. Bodie chuckled as he turned the next page -- himself on the bike -- and the next, to find himself yet again, coolly sighting a rifle. Well this was all very nice, but hadn't Ray done any of anybody else? He always had a girl or two on the go -- maybe he'd persuaded one of them to pose for him, and mightn't that be tasty! Bodie flicked through the pages more quickly now, but only to find himself, himself, himself. Oh but there had to be fuel for some major wind-ups in this!

Bodie grinned delightedly as happy days -- no, weeks! -- of dropping references to Ray's supposed envy and his own now-conclusively-proven-to-be irresistibly handsome features into the long silences on obbos or even -- why not -- into briefings, if he could just make it subtle enough. That'd shake the bugger up a bit, not being able to say a word in retaliation if he didn't want Bodie to casually let half the squad in on his artistic endeavours. Still grinning, he turned another page. And paled in shock. This was one of Ray's more detailed efforts, and yet again the subject was himself -- but this time seen in a very different light. Unmistakeably his own face, and a pretty fair impression of his own body -- but he was bloody sure Ray had never seen him like this. Sprawled naked -- no, reclining nude. Even as his every nerve rebelled against what his eyes were telling him, Bodie was vaguely aware that there was a classical air to the picture somehow. Himself, lying back across a bed or some such -- a few lines suggested pillows or cushions, but they were barely sketched in and all the detail, all the concentration was focussed on the figure itself. His head tipped back a little, his eyes almost fully closed and his lips slightly parted, an expression of -- well it was a mixture of utter relaxation and sensual greed such as a thousand Swiss rolls could not inspire. This Bodie was clearly revelling in the perfect, delicious abandonment of pleasing himself. The tension in the neck, belly muscles and thighs that might have seemed at odds with the lazy pose and casually splayed legs spoke instead of imminent release, the moment when the body tenses and tenses again and seems almost to reach out for just-a-bit-just-a-bit-just-a-bit-more, the sharp pleasure of orgasm just within its grasp. And clearly drawing out the moment, too: the nearer hand was almost slack, only the fingertips barely caressing a shaft dark with arousal and so realistically rock-hard it generated a low, hot feeling in the beholder that might have been discomfort ... the further hand reaching, reaching as far as nature could allow, fingers curving around high, tight balls and two fingertips disappearing further back still, between open legs ...

A flash of something white hot boiled through him instantly, exploding like the pain from a kick in the balls, sucking all the breath right out of him until his lips and fingertips were numb and tingling, until just for a moment sheer rage had dark patches dancing around the edge of his field of vision. The world suddenly unrecognisable, a step too few or too many where you thought to put your foot on solid, familiar ground. It was being fourteen again, swearing blind he was old enough for the Merchant 'cause he couldn't fool the Army, and then miles off-shore beginning to feel eyes on him ...

Not fifteen yet, but he was only a few months off, right, and that's close enough ... not much of a stretch, really ... That bloke in the officer's uniform sitting behind the desk, now he looked like a real man -- not like these bloody dead-end job's-worths in all the shops and offices, too scared of the dole queue and their own shadows to get out and make something of themselves, but he wasn't going to end up like them, oh no ... No, he was going to be a real man too, the kind of bloke who could walk down the street and get nothing but respect from passers-by, mates all wantin' to be around him, an' the prettiest girl on his arm to show off to 'em. And he'd do well too, he was quick and strong for his age, he'd show 'em all what he could do, surprise 'em, and the officer'd be well impressed, prob'ly pick him out to show stuff to the others, give him extra training after ... like self-defence or summat, yeah, unarmed combat an' such for when they made port -- 'course he wouldn't be able to make that much of a show at fighting yet, he was no kid, right, but still he was just starting out an' this bloke was tall, held himself tall, broad through the shoulders, must be experienced, muscle under that uniform, eyes that had seen things, that knew things ... no, there'd be no shame even if he had to knuckle under, not with a bloke like that -- learn from him -- earn his respect ...

There was no recruiting officer onboard ship though, oh no. Just a bunch of mostly lard-faced, sweating, gap-toothed lumps of resentment, sizing him up like a piece of meat, calling him pretty boy and little girl, with an ugly laugh when he took exception ... having to make sure he was never found alone in some corner of the hold just in case there was more to it than talk ...

And now to see himself stretched out like that, so blissfully oblivious of Doyle's gaze -- it felt nightmarish, like being dream-naked in the classroom; he felt as horribly exposed as if Doyle were seeing him, here and now, instead of himself gazing at an unmoving picture on a page -- the sketchbook hit the wall and fell to the floor with the cover bent and the pages splayed, askew. He found his fist was clenched, ready to smash the bastard's face in. Who the fuck did he think he was, looking at Bodie like that! The filthy little queer! But then all at once the mental image -- of himself hitting, hard, with all his strength behind the blow, and Doyle's face as he went down, poleaxed -- repulsed him, and was gone as if it had never been; all he could see in his mind's eye now was himself holding Ray in the warehouse, looking down into his partner's face, waxy pale, terrified that Ray would bleed out before the ambulance arrived. Christ, how was there so much blood in him? Ray's eyes fixed on his own, fear in them and -- and something else, what was it? Did he feel himself dying? Then Ray in hospital as he had seen him last, still pale but breathing easily, his strength returning, able to raise a shadow of a smile for the nurses -- and a warmer smile for him. And now the memories came crowding in, of Ray laughing, fighting, poring over a file, outshooting every man on the squad save himself and that a close-run thing, a warm, solid strong presence at his side and at his back...

Ray was giving as good as he got, nearly, but there were three of the bastards and Bodie was too far away, no angle for a shot, the warehouse scattered with odds and ends of derelict machinery -- plenty of cover, but oh fuck no chance of a clear shot with them all lurching around like that, too likely he could miss and hit Ray himself, and it hurt, it always hurt to see Ray taking a beating, not to be able to get in and stop the fuckers, and Bodie was running in fast but still long seconds away, and Ray'd kicked the gun out of one bastard's hand but had no time to kick it out of reach, and another of 'em was scrambling for the gun now, and Bodie was going to be too late too late too late, and the other guy had got his hand on the gun and he was swinging round and his hand was coming up and still no clear shot and Bodie was going to take him if it was the last thing ... and both shots cracked and echoed off the distant walls at once, and the other guy was down and his mates were off and running now, but Ray was down too but he looked fine but he looked ... surprised, and his hand went to his leg and came away dark, his jeans turning black, and Bodie was on them at last, and the other guy was missing half the back of his head so no bother there, but Ray, Ray was bleeding ... Ray was ...

... no, anything but that, anything. He picked the book up again, an almost imperceptible tremor running through his fingers, smoothing the pages as if to heal the hurt he'd offered them. Ray was no queer, no bloody fairy, he was Bodie's mate, the best mate a bloke could have, the best friend Bodie had ever had, never mind they were so different ... and Ray was tough, too, hard as nails sometimes, hard on himself -- just showed or hid his feelings differently, Ray did -- and so what if he was ... even if he really was ... he'd never, never seriously hinted to Bodie with a word or a gesture, nothing; hell, Bodie had done more of that himself, the way he liked to clown around, muck up Ray's hair for him, touch him -- christ, touch his arse, even, and what could Ray have made of that? And besides, Ray was out with a different girl every other night, no, he was no pansy ... couldn't be. But -- and Bodie let his eyes focus on the picture once more -- but he wanted ... no denying that, no denying the sensuality that fairly blazed off the page. He wanted Bodie all right.

Bewildered, lost, Bodie flicked through a couple of the pages again -- all these painstaking drawings, all of himself in every mood and every state -- filthy after a bike ride, dressed to the nines, elated, angry, exhausted -- and he let the sketchbook droop from his hand. It was impossible to fit all these images together, impossible to fit the Ray he knew with this new Ray, the one who -- who it seemed had always, or for one hell of a long time at any rate, wanted ... Bodie shied away from the thought. And found himself looking at the last picture in the book now, the only one he had not yet seen. Himself, yet again, but for once Ray had not drawn him alone.

His own face gazed straight out of the page, looking -- relaxed, not smug for a change but simply happy, no other word for it, like a job well done and a day off in the sun. His arm was casually slung across Ray's shoulder, and Ray was looking not out of the picture but at Bodie. And an angry line scored almost through the paper, crossing Ray's own face out, the page crumpled at the outer edge and partly detached from the sketch pad as if the artist had begun to tear it out and then thought better of it. Ah, Ray. Lying in that hospital bed, after risking his life without blinking -- every other week it seemed like, sometimes -- as they both did, though, both ready to watch the other's back come hell or high water ... and he wouldn't even picture himself at Bodie's side? Deserved better than that, didn't he. He was better than that.

Better than that? So where was Ray's right 'n proper place, then? Right beside him, of course. Nowhere else, the pair of 'em. In the street, elbow to elbow, they were so much more than two -- they were one, and they were a multitude. Brothers in arms, all right, but he had always thought it was guns, before, never realised it might be limbs as well. Bodie wasn't sure if he felt chilled or flushed or both at once. Ray deserved nothing but good; good times with a good mate, good luck with -- ah but why the hell couldn't he just want some bird like he always had? Again Bodie felt anger sweep over him, and again it faded. He had always seemed to want the birds, anyway. Ray wanted ... what would he want? Almost squirming with discomfort, Bodie was still unable to keep himself from dwelling on the idea that drew him, fascinated, even as he shied away from it. Ray would want ...

Didn't just want him, though, did he? Years of sheer bloody hard work, of shared pain and fear and dearly-won celebration -- all said this was so much more than just wanting. So Ray ... loved him, most likely. Liked him, no question, cared a hell of a lot about him -- evidence for that -- and most probably loved him. A warm feeling blossomed inside Bodie at the thought, and in spite of himself he felt his lips twitch into an almost-smile. Would want ... might just enjoy making him feel good. Might just want to be allowed to hold and be held -- and suddenly Bodie felt again the almost-ache of longing to hold Ray, pale and hollow-eyed in that bloody hospital bed, hold him as if he could pour all his own strength and love into him, hold him the way blokes didn't because you just didn't ... He let out a long, shuddering breath. Maybe this didn't have to be a total disaster. He couldn't un-know what he knew -- but maybe he and Ray could work out a new way of being themselves and still work together. Maybe ... would it have to feel so awful, knowing Ray wanted him? Deliberately, Bodie imagined Ray's face, looking at him. Looking up at him from a pillow, not troubling to hide all the love he'd been pouring into these pictures for months at least, maybe even years. He imagined ... Bodie shook his head. Too much, this. He thrust the sketchbook back into the drawer, set the alarm and resolutely lay down under the covers and closed his eyes, determined to leave this -- this bloody ludicrous insanity well alone for the present, even if that required he bury his own head deep in the sand.

In retrospect, of course, it was hardly surprising that he dreamed. Straight from a bloody shootout to A&E and now here in Ray's flat, between Ray's sheets (which naturally he hadn't bothered to change), completely surrounded by the infinitely comforting smell of him yet grimly determined not to think about that sodding sketchbook. How could he fail to see again that pale face, so bloody pale, green eyes fixed on his own, and how could he fail, in dreams, to take Ray in his arms and save him? The overwhelming joy of knowing Ray safe, warm, alive, the urge to hold him closer still and closer, to pour life and strength into him -- how easily, in dreams, the wish was father to the deed. How vividly the green eyes shone with life, with loving warmth, with heat answering his own; how very real, how strong the solid, much-loved body in his arms; how warm the skin of cheek, neck, shoulder, of lips beneath his lips. Here could be no doubts, no hesitations, no thought of retribution, no fear of sneering faces that once had held respect, no worry that he might succumb to his own gut-clenching panic, no dread of Ray turning his gaze and his HB pencils on someone else tomorrow. Here was only the heady, unaccustomed pleasure of loving and being loved, of being welcomed and held with all the strength he needed as he suddenly found himself falling into wakefulness again with Ray's name on his lips and wet heat sticky on his skin and on the sheets.

With waking -- even before the shame and the fear of what this made him, even before the recollection that the real Ray was laid up in a hospital ward and that he had better get a shift on if he was going to make visiting hours -- came the sense of loss, the loss of Ray's dream presence in the empty bed, and the loss of how things used to be between them. He wouldn't see Ray as just a mate any more, would he, not now he knew. Wouldn't ever be able to touch him again without knowing... How could they even chat about birds or footy without this new awareness flowing in, filling up the room between them? Still, Bodie dressed without taking a second shower, and without changing the sheets -- where was the harm in that anyway? Why should he bother, after all, when Ray wouldn't be back for days yet? And in any case it wasn't as if he were ever going to know or care about Bodie sleeping in his bed, now was it? Bodie most certainly wasn't going to tell him ...

He was ridiculously grateful to find Ray asleep when he got back to the hospital that evening, after catching himself almost hesitating on the way up to the ward as if he were fifteen and about to go round a girl's house to ask her out. When he realised images of flowers and chocolates -- which Ray always pretended to despise -- had somehow insinuated themselves into his brain, he thanked god that there was no chance of anyone reading his mind and made sure to scowl a little just in case this insanity was written all over his face. Much, much better to find him asleep, grab the chance just to look at him for a bit and see if this bout of lunacy might ease up when confronted with the less-than-loveliness of an unshaven, exhausted and recently-recovered from damn-nearly-bleeding-out Ray Doyle. Unfortunately, the sight of Ray in uneasy sleep failed utterly to have the desired effect; instead Bodie felt a rush of such tenderness that for want of any other outlet he almost succumbed to the urge to go and apologise to the hospital staff for his own somewhat terse manner of the night before.

Drawing a deep breath, he forced himself to sit calmly at the bedside and go over, once again, all the reasons why he shouldn't tell Ray everything the moment he woke. For one thing, this was a public place with any private conversation liable to be interrupted every other minute by hospital business. For another, it might come as something of a shock to Ray to discover his oeuvre was no longer secret -- and he was in no shape to deal with shocks. And Ray might not, in any case -- whatever the sketches suggested -- actually want anything to do with ... with whatever the sketches suggested. Not that Bodie did, of course. Except that it was rapidly becoming intolerable that he didn't know what Ray wanted. Would want. Might do.

What Ray made it blindingly clear he wanted, when he finally deigned to wake -- quite forcefully, in fact, and at some considerable length -- was out of the damn hospital, of course, and for everything from toenails to eyebrows to bloody well stop hurting. Bodie knew full well that all Ray was going to get in the immediate future was kept in bed and pumped full of as many painkillers as he could beg or bully out of the nursing staff, so he was not surprised to find his partner distinctly ratty nor that he spent most of the brief visit complaining about Cowley's insistence on keeping him awake all bloody afternoon to debrief him. The duty Staff Nurse had assured Bodie that there had in fact been no more than ten minutes quiet conversation, but to hear Ray tell it he'd been subjected to a full-blown interrogation; Bodie was quietly relieved to note that Ray was back on form at least as far as creative eloquence was concerned. Bodie cut him off in mid-flow by showing him the holdall of clean clothes, which he stowed away in the bedside locker, catching a suspiciously bright-eyed look on Ray's face for a moment as he straightened up again.

"Ta, mate. Least somebody thinks I'm getting out of here sometime this decade."

"You rest up, petal, and have a nice little holiday with all mod cons an' hot and cold running nurses while the rest of us poor sods out there actually have to earn a crust. I'll pop by and see you when I can get away, all right?"

"What's the Cow goin' to have you doing then, all on yer lonesome? Just mind you don't let him get carried away and order you out playin' Lone Ranger, all right, or I'll be kickin' heads startin' with yours just as soon as I can actually stand up."

"Don't you worry, I'll make sure to keep a corner of the file room all toasty warm for you."

Bodie rose, and turned to go but paused in the doorway.

"Take it easy, mate. Today, sittin' up in bed -- tomorrow, the world". He flashed Ray a grin and left hurriedly, grimly aware that his carefully-schooled poker face was close to betraying him. He negotiated the maze of corridors automatically, wondering how the hell he was going to get through a conversation with the ratty little bastard ever again when every inch of skin, every thought, every last nerve from face to fingertips was buzzing dizzily and running over with secret knowledge too explosive to be concealed: Ray, it seemed -- surely, despite all appearances -- must love him.

It was dark and the air was distinctly chilly when Bodie emerged onto the hospital esplanade; he shivered, regretting the thin leather jacket that had seemed just the thing for late spring -- christ, was it only two days ago all this had started? -- and determined to head back to his own place for a proper meal and a change of clothes. A nice tikka masala, a couple of pints and the footy highlights, all with Ray well on the road to recovery, was just what he needed to get his head straight; he'd be firing on all cylinders by tomorrow for sure. But midnight found him unable to settle; after closedown on all channels, except some mind-numbing programme about statistics for the Open University maths course that not even the most desperate non-statistician could watch, Bodie eventually gave up in disgust and drove back to Ray's flat, refusing all the way to think about why he reckoned he was going to sleep any better there.

Pulling Ray's covers over himself, though, was sheer bliss and Bodie let the comfort of it sweep over him -- most birds, Bodie reckoned, turned their noses up at anything other than freshly-laundered sheets, but in truth he loved the smell of a few-days-unmade bed, whether his own or a bedmate's. And this smell was Ray alive, was a pale shade of the sweat-and-cordite that meant Ray's presence around him every day, now since that afternoon mixed with the spicy emanation of his own body. Bodie knew instantly that sleep would not be so elusive here, and as he felt himself relax he let his thoughts turn once more to that sketchbook, those pictures -- that picture. What had Ray thought about as he drew it, Bodie wondered. Had he imagined himself watching unseen, invisible, while Bodie indulged unaware of his presence, or had he dreamed of Bodie performing willingly for him, for the pleasure of both? Not bloody likely; Ray was the exhibitionist in this partnership! A tendril of tension coiled in his gut at the idea, not unpleasantly, but there was something in the rapt, inward-turned expression on his own face in the picture that told him Ray was absent from the scene. Sort of -- sad, really, in a way; didn't look like they got together even in Ray's imagination. Had it turned him on, though? Bodie almost laughed, picturing Ray sitting at his kitchen table, caressing the image of the naked body on the page with the pencil held in one hand while adjusting himself or rubbing comfortably at a hardening erection with the other. Randy little toad! But that was Ray all over, wasn't it, always ready to eat the peach, that lad -- fairly loved the feeling of his own body, it looked like, judging by the way he moved, the way he held himself, leaning up against a wall or the car like he was giving a come-on to the world ... Grinning, Bodie stretched languorously and cupped his own genitals, feeling a faint glow of arousal. What would Ray say or do now, if he were to walk in and find Bodie making free with his bed? Would he give that dirty laugh of his, would he feign indignation, would he ... Bodie knew what he would do. Stand there in the doorway for a moment, struck dumb, then try in vain to mask the heat flooding through him ... and just for once, Bodie would be the one playing the wanton, the one to stretch and let the covers slip just a little, revealing the pale skin of chest and abdomen, to let Ray see by the movement beneath the covers where his hand lay, where it touched, slowly, tantalisingly ... oh, this was a bad idea, the worst, the most irresistibly dangerous. With closed eyes, Bodie deliberately embraced the danger, let go and indulged.

He slept deeply and woke with a feeling of utter well-being, which lasted about as long as it took to get his eyes fully open and remember where he was and what he had done the night before. And all through the week, Bodie was ... restless, not at all his usual cool calm and collected self; the still centre he had worked bloody hard to achieve was off-kilter, and he found his fingers itching for something to keep them busy in quiet moments. Work was less frenetic than usual, after the loose ends of their own op had been interrogated -- with some considerable vigour on Bodie's part -- and despatched to await trial, and Cowley seemed to have altogether too much paperwork to send his way at present. His short fuse with just about everyone else on the squad may have had something to do with that ... but Cowley really wasn't being reasonable: the damn breakroom coffee machine hadn't ever worked properly in the first place and it wouldn't really be missed. Losing patience with it had only hastened the inevitable.

It was quiet at Ray's flat, at least -- his own current dive was over a chippie on a busy main road, something he ordinarily considered a bonus point in its favour but which irritated the hell out of him just now for some reason, so he went on spending the odd evening at Ray's. By the third time, he began putting a bit of order into Ray's usual chaos just to have something to do ...

By the end of the week the flat was spotless and the unidentified bike parts Ray had been cleaning on the kitchen table were rust-free and gleaming. And still Bodie's arms would suddenly ache sometimes, whenever he thought about the dirty concrete floor and the blood and Ray looking up at him -- would ache to hold him, the feeling so close to actual physical sensation that Bodie took to working out in an attempt to work it out of his bones. Floor exercises in Ray's bedroom late at night, endless pushups, situps, hell, he even tried some of Macklin's less sadistic drills one night, and long hot showers, and still it wasn't enough; nothing would ever dull the ache for long. Only the haven of Ray's bed brought him any peace. He visited Ray in hospital almost daily, but could never sit still for more than a few minutes -- he was over-cheerful and irritable by turns and he knew it, and he started cutting the visits short. Ray was nothing if not observant and tenacious with it, so he was bound to start asking what the hell was the matter with him ...

And all that time, at work and at home, at Ray's flat and at the hospital, Bodie's secret sat warm and heavy in his stomach, sending tingling forays of adrenaline buzzing through him at seemingly random intervals. The secret only he knew -- that Ray was in love with him. Almost certainly. Surely -- surely he would never have worked so long on so many sketches, never have filled them with such intensity, if he didn't feel ... something, something big, something important. And keeping this newfound knowledge from Ray himself made it all the more powerful, gave it a kind of magnetism such that there were times he consciously had to force himself to concentrate on the job. He hugged it to himself at night, neglecting a perfectly good chance to ask out one of the nurses on Ray's ward -- not the prettiest, but one whose sure movements and steady gaze informed him that she would have no qualms about thoroughly enjoying him -- and wondered instead whether he actually wanted Ray, or whether he just couldn't resist the thought of having that stroppy little bastard at his mercy; he imagined Ray wanting him, begging him for the release that he would withhold, withhold, withhold ... and then grant. It was on that thought, more than once that week, that Bodie found his own sweetest pleasure. He knew he wasn't going to keep it from Ray indefinitely -- too much depended on their being perfectly attuned -- but he was only too aware that this could all go pear-shaped when it came down to it. Bodie dreaded Ray's coming home almost as much as he longed for it.

But Bodie had never made a habit of putting off something he dreaded -- especially not something he dreaded. The past ten years and more had made sure of that. So when Ray was discharged, after ushering him in and making him tea -- other thoughts forgotten for a moment in the pleasure of seeing him, safe and alive, leaning back on the arm-rest with his feet tucked up on his own sofa once again -- Bodie sat on the coffee table trying so hard to seem the picture of relaxation that Ray, being a suspicious little bastard, was pretty much bound to suss he was about to hear something significant. Sod it. He glanced casually at his hands and noted, almost absently, that they were not entirely steady.

"Got something I ought to tell you, mate." Bodie ducked his head for a moment, then took a breath and looked straight at Ray. He essayed something resembling a smile. "Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin."

"Going to tell me a story, then, Mum?"

Ray smiled for real, and just for a moment Bodie felt his own tension ease as he imagined a five-year-old Ray glued to Listen with Mother on the BBC Home Service.

It was the briefest of respites. Bodie opened his mouth, closed it again, swallowed. "Last week. I was here, wasn't I. Dead chuffed you were gettin' released from solitary an' back into general population, had enough of the bloody ICU to last me a lifetime, so I came haring on over here to sort your place out an' I thought, I'll just chuck a few bits in a bag for you, for when you got discharged."

"Bit optimistic, weren't you? Must've been obvious I was stuck on the ward for a week at least, couldn't even take meself to the bog for three more days."

"Know that. I was just -- just pleased, that's all. So -- " Bodie stopped again and looked down; vaguely hoping that inspiration would be forthcoming from somewhere -- anywhere -- he gazed intently at the pattern in the carpet, only to find the carpet relentlessly indifferent to his struggle to find the right words or indeed any words at all.

Ray groaned, theatrically feigning despair -- "What did you do, you mad bastard, go on, you cleaned me out of whisky, trashed me record collection, what?"

"Was goin' to sort you out some clothes, wasn't I, clean knickers an' all, had to get into your knicker drawer -- "

He saw every reaction as it played out on Ray's face. The impact of real shock, almost nausea, then a look of such sadness, such utter misery that Bodie almost reached out to him only to see the shutters come down and Ray turn a deliberately blank gaze back towards him. Waiting -- for the axe to fall, most likely. Bodie forgot any thought he'd had of bothering with apologies for prying -- stuff that -- stupid berk was hurting, and that was not to be allowed. Before he'd consciously formed the decision to move, he found he'd crossed the vast divide between them, all twelve inches separating sofa from coffee table, and as Ray shrank back against one end of the sofa Bodie collected him into his arms as if he'd been waiting all his life to do it. Ray gave a sort of strangled gasp and his hands came up to Bodie's shoulders, pushing him away, but Bodie was having none of it -- not bloody likely, not now -- and held him, held him, held him, breathing in Ray alive.

" ... the fuck -- " Ray pushed at his shoulders for a moment more, struggling away from him, but Bodie tightened his grip and shook his head almost imperceptibly against Ray's cheek, murmuring;

"Shut up. Just -- just this, all right, just let me, just -- " He shook his head again. Just let me have this, just got to hold on to you for a moment, just fucking be here and be alive and let me have this ...

A long time seemed to pass and Bodie realised that he was holding Ray in a close embrace and Ray was breathing harshly, radiating tension but letting it happen, one hand still resting lightly on Bodie's shoulder while the other fell away as if even maintaining that cursory line between them were too great an effort. Bodie's face was buried in clean hair smelling faintly of hospital shampoo, the neck beneath smelling deliciously Doyleish. He turned his face in towards the source of everything intoxicating, everything that he could not be without for a moment longer, everything that was, just in that instant, the breath of life to him. His lips were almost brushing Ray's skin. He was holding Ray so close he felt almost short of breath himself, and the better to breathe he parted his lips unthinkingly, almost kissing him, and god, Ray's hand -- his fingers had moved, scant fractions of an inch but they were touching him now, barely brushing his neck, finding their way into his hair, from the little finger near the nape of his neck to the forefinger behind his ear, and that hint of a caress was more than enough, was too much, was everything.

Bodie let go of something cold and heavy he had been hanging on to for half a lifetime and let his own lips graze softly on Ray's neck. Ray uttered a sound between a gasp and a moan and clutched at Bodie convulsively, his fingers clenching and relaxing, the faintest of tremors running though every limb, and Bodie felt that moment of Ray's surrender, his helplessness, and rejoiced -- but together with the expected feeling of triumph, he felt again that irresistible, impossible longing to hold Ray safe from all harm, shield him, love him -- love him. Oh god. As well think of shielding a wounded tiger; but love him? Yes. He had always loved him. And suddenly Bodie felt sure, with horrible clarity, that Ray was merely fond of him and his pretty face and of what his body might be good for, while he himself had found his heart cracked wide open, unawares. Too late, too late to stop, to reconsider, no way of unknowing what he now knew. And Bodie's touch gentled even as the thoughts were forming in his mind, and he let his lips taste Ray at last, finding his blind way across the broken cheekbone and down to that beautiful mouth -- mine, you have to be, as much mine as I am yours ...

Helplessly he let himself fall into the kiss, nipping softly at Ray's lips with his own, determined that Ray would be as drunk on this as he himself, that he wouldn't have the chance to pull away, make light of it, tease Bodie with that sensual assurance he always flaunted. But Ray was showing no signs of wanting to draw back now; he had long since ceased any attempt to push Bodie away, was urging him closer, murmuring yes and Bodie, oh fuck, Bodie, what -- seemingly quite unaware of the half-moans and sounds of hunger he was making with an unselfconscious delight that filled Bodie with irresistible hope. Not alone in this, not alone ...

Ray was carding through his hair with one hand now, running the other over his shoulder and down his arm, and then he was slipping down against the arm and back of the sofa until he was nearly prone, and he was pulling Bodie towards him. Bodie almost went, would have been content to sprawl on top of him, but part of him wanted to savour this -- not to mention punish Ray a little for putting him through hell by damn near dying a week ago. He drew back just a fraction, ignoring Ray's incoherent murmur of protest, and made enough space between them to run his own right hand firmly down Ray's side. Ray twisted towards him, and Bodie lost no time in sliding his hand further back over that delectable arse -- Ray gasped -- and dipping his fingers unambiguously under the waist of the tracksuit trousers he'd picked out himself for convalescent wear.

Ray repaid his efforts by letting his head fall back helplessly, his legs moving apart seemingly of their own volition, and Bodie, exultant, kept up a relentless assault of kisses across his face and mouth while his hand teased and tormented, back and forth, shoving the tracksuit aside and sweeping down and then back up the soft skin of inner thigh, stroking firmly and then brushing with the lightest of fingertip touches across arse and balls until Ray was arching towards him, breathing raggedly, finally mouthing "please" against Bodie's lips; and then with a rush of triumph and tenderness at once grasping Ray's rigid prick and giving him one, two -- barely three firm strokes and Ray was coming, with a moan that sounded as if it had been wrenched out of him, jerking and clutching at Bodie's shoulders. Equally determined that Ray should have no doubts about his own feelings in this, no chance to fear that Bodie was playing him in his vulnerability, Bodie gathered him in once more and went on gently kissing and tasting Ray's neck and throat while he recovered his breath.

But it seemed that either he had succeeded in this or else Ray had no such fears. His eyes, when he opened them again, were alight with both mischief and contentment, and he moved a steady hand to grasp at Bodie through his cords. It was Bodie's turn to tense, to look a question at Ray, and Ray's to pull his head down for another kiss -- not so gentle this time. Bodie felt desire flare higher in response; undeniable, astonishing, wonderful, Ray wanted him, wanted him, wanted to -- . "I'm pretty much all healed up, y'know. Fancy moving this to the bed?" Bodie's breath caught; he was hard, burning, but he couldn't speak, for the first time in years he found himself unable to make a move. Ray's voice dropped all teasing as he added "It'll be all right, mate. You'll see."

Still Bodie hesitated, frozen. Ray's eyes were fixed on his own, and he had a momentary impulse to close his or look away because Ray was going to look inside, see right inside him and he would know ... But Ray went on, his voice low, soft, soothing. Bodie thought of wounded tigers, and tried to unlock the fingers clutching at Ray's shoulder.

"Thought you'd hand me my head, you know, if I ever let on, the sketches -- "

"Probably would have done if you'd been there when I found 'em, but -- " But last time I held you, you were dying. And now I know it would have killed me.

Their faces were close together, almost touching, hands unmoving, barely breathing, here in the small still centre of the world. Ray's voice was almost a murmur, but every word was as clear and clean as the soft click of a safety coming off. "You want to fuck me, don't you?"

White-hot, boiling through him instantly. To pin Ray down, to hold him, have him, fuck him, make him his. Because god help him, he was already Ray's. Dry-mouthed, Bodie still managed to choke out "Do you want that?"

"Almost nothing I'd like more, mate. But it has to go both ways, you know that. I can't be your -- "

"Don't want you to be." Bodie swallowed, and forced himself to speak the truth. "Goes both ways. Us."

Ray took a breath, blinked, broke the stillness with a smile so beautiful Bodie thought he might never look away. "Come on, then."

Once they'd made it to Ray's bedroom, however, Bodie's courage stuttered and threatened to desert him altogether. He wanted this -- god how he wanted it -- ah, but that was just it, wasn't it. For years he had known exactly what he was doing -- in bed as everywhere else -- the inner core of himself rigidly under control for so long the armour was fused to the skin and he scarcely knew he wore it. No-one was supposed to catch on a chink in it anywhere, no-one was supposed to drag at his heels -- it was seamless, nothing to crack wide open. People disappeared; friends, family, lovers, they left you or you left them and they never came after you. Why should they? What did he have that anyone could love, that anyone could want for more than a passing fancy? And he wouldn't want anyone to come after him anyway. Let someone in and you could crack open if you lost them, it would hurt, the quick exposed -- perhaps too much to bear. Perhaps it might be fatal.

But Ray was already inside, already meant too much. Bodie was terrified now of his own inexperience -- Ray mattered, and Ray knew what he was doing -- could he tell that Bodie didn't, would he be disappointed, would he... Hell, how could Bodie, how could anyone live up to the beauty and intensity of that damn drawing! But Ray, thank god, was not being reassuring now and clearly couldn't give a toss about Bodie's misgivings; he rummaged in the bedside drawer and shoved a tube into Bodie's hand with an urgency that Bodie paradoxically found calming, muttering "Come on, come on for fuck's sake, 'm dyin' here, just bloody get into me, will you!"

Bodie's hesitancy burned away in the face of Ray's so unashamedly, openly wanting him and for a moment all he knew, all he cared about was that he was hot and hard as a bar of new-forged iron; he was on fire with it and oh, he was going to bury himself in Ray, in Ray, oh christ ... He spooned up behind Ray, his right hand free to smooth the slick, silky stuff over himself, into the cleft of Ray's arse, around the rim and into the ring of muscle, slip-sliding away again through Ray's legs from behind to tease swiftly at his cock from root to tip and back, he found himself smearing it everywhere and Ray was writhing like an eel in a net ... but not helpless, no, not being forced because he wanted this, Ray would do, would let him do anything ... Bodie licked a wide swathe from shoulderblade to the lovely meeting of shoulder and neck, all open to him, all his, and held Ray fast with his teeth, gripping just so ... and Ray shuddered, and his voice was cracking and he wasn't asking, he was bloody well giving orders, "... now, you bastard, now!"

License my roving hands ... O my America!, Bodie wanted to laugh, this was so insanely good, and he was going to make Ray wait for it just a moment more ... the sensation of his hand gliding so easily over cock and balls and arse, dipping inside at random until Ray was cursing, demanding, almost begging, hard again, and oh the sound of his voice, husky and almost harsh with wanting ... Just one last time now, slick and slippery, over his own cock again, and suddenly he couldn't stay outside that gorgeous, glistening arse a moment longer and he was pushing forward, pushing slowly inside as if he were falling in slow motion, terrified and exhilarated, almost afraid to breathe. He eased forward in a tortuously slow advance, desperate to thrust home and yet somehow unable to move beyond a snail's pace, and all the while Ray swore at him and laughed, and urged him on to more, and harder, and faster, and what did he think Ray was, made of china?

Feeling Ray struggle to thrust back, Bodie realised belatedly that with his right arm between Ray's legs, holding the uppermost thigh in an unyielding grip, and the other pinning his shoulder to the bed, Ray was genuinely helpless, as much so as if Bodie had been using the wrestling hold this so resembled. Can't let go -- what if he -- A tiny part of Bodie's mind registered the fact that he was behaving as if he had a tiger by the tail, and that the hysterical laughter bubbling up inside him at the thought was as much the product of nervousness as of happiness. For a moment he was afraid that he might ruin everything, even now, if he lost control and fucked Ray too hard too soon. Or if he laughed. Or if he cried.

And again Ray saved him, almost as if he knew what Bodie needed better than Bodie did himself, relaxing so that his body seemed almost to draw Bodie in and telling him in broken fragments of words that this was good, that this was right, was what he wanted, that Bodie was who he wanted, who he loved. And Bodie slackened his iron grip at last, every movement becoming fluid and assured, suddenly full of the warm, beautiful knowledge that Ray trusted him to find his way across unknown ground, to know where Ray was and meet him there.

The front door shut swung behind them as they left, with the solid thump that somehow spoke unmistakeably of a flat left empty and at peace for the day. The normally silent corridor was suddenly full of the sound of stifled laughter, clattering shoes and scuffling trainers as Bodie struggled valiantly to half-inch Ray's car-keys out of a front jeans pocket he knew perfectly well had never held them (keys had a way of digging into the jewels at awkward moments) but that wasn't going to stop Bodie conducting a thorough search. They stopped for a moment just inside the street door, bright sunlight streaming into the hallway though the coloured diamonds of the fanlight and tiger-striping them both, and Bodie was left momentarily breathless by the blaze of love in green eyes looking unguardedly into his own.

Bodie smiled. Because long and hot though their working day promised to be, Ray was back on the active list -- yes, go on luv, you show 'em, you show the bastards! -- and they would be working together once more. And when work was over for the day they would be hitting the pubs together -- or maybe the men's Bathing Pond on the Heath, now that would be a treat on a hot summer's evening, Ray all pale gold in the slanting sunlight ... and then they would be heading back to the flat that Cowley, citing the economy (whatever his unspoken reasons) had no objection to their sharing -- and coming home. Together.

-- THE END --

September 2007

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