Written for "Discovered in the Brandy Butter," on the discoveredinalj livejournal community, to the prompt "roast goose"
Poor old horse, let him die,
Poor old horse, let him die.
- from a traditional Mari Lwyd pwnco
It was nearly dark when they finally turned down the driveway to the cottage, still early afternoon, but clouded over so deeply grey that it already felt like ancient night. The girls in the back squeezed together into the gap between the seats so that they could see better, giggling as the final strains of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer died away on Bodie's lips, and they were all of them staring expectantly through the rain-slashed windscreen for the first glimpse of their holiday house, Doyle looking as hard as any of them, caught up in it all, wild and beautifully, finally free.
"There! There!" Sandy shouted in his ear, as they swung around the corner of the turn-around and then the blackness of the bushes was gone, and sure enough, there in front of them was a wonder of Christmas lights and olde worlde charm -- their home for an entire week's holiday. Doyle smiled and turned to give her a quick kiss, pleased that she was as excited about this as he was -- as they all were, he thought. It was never the same, having holidays that didn't match with everyone else's, and this year, Christmas miracle of all, it was their turn, his and Bodie's, to be a part of everyone else's world for seven whole days -- and nights.
"Oh, isn't it beautiful!" Frankie said, curling herself between the seats to kiss Bodie on the cheek as he turned off the engine, so that her long blonde hair brushed across Doyle's face in a waft of green apple. Bodie wrapped his arms around her and pulled her further through the gap, so that he could kiss her back, winking at Doyle just before he closed his eyes and gave himself up to it. One of Bodie's hands cradled Frankie's head, but the other was stretching under her arm, to the softness of her very round bosom, and Doyle remembered how much Frankie liked that, as if Bodie's hand was his, as if his hand was Bodie's, how she responded so very... fully to such a caress.
"Ray?" Sandy whispered, pulling his attention away, and nuzzling at his ear, her breath sliding warmly across his neck which was a particularly sensitive spot, so that he stretched back just a little further to let her do it again. She did, but just as he was about to twist around on the seat so that he could get at her properly, she pulled away, smiling gently. "The house is perfect. Thank you."
He smiled back, full of tenderness for her, full of lust for her, for Frankie, for... He looked obediently at the house again, knowing that soon enough they'd be inside, and that all that warmth and softness and excitement would be his for the asking. And it was a beautiful house -- cottage really, just like the brochure said -- all whitewashed stone and windows hung inside with fairy lights. There was a Christmas tree in a pot beside the door, with more lights coloured pink and green and yellow and blue, smudged and blurred through the streams of rain on the windscreen, and another blur of dark and red and gold that was a wreath on the door. That was more Christmas than they usually saw, right there, and they hadn't even ventured into its allegedly well-stocked interior yet.
"Oi, Bodie!" he said, loudly, rolling his eyes at the only half-inquisitive moan that drifted back to him. He reached over, grabbed a scant handful of hair, and gave it a pull, so that Bodie let out a muffled yell, releasing a hazy-eyed Frankie, and rubbing his head in protest.
"Sitting here in the rain when we could be warm inside? Yes I do, as a matter of fact."
"Oh I dunno," Bodie smirked at Frankie, pulled her closer again, "It's pretty warm out here..."
"Alright, alright, keep your hair on, Cinders. You shall go to the ball..." To a protesting giggle from Frankie, who had wriggled all the way onto Bodie's lap while Doyle was occupied with Sandy, Bodie stretched up off the seat so that he could reach into his pocket for keys, and then opened the car door, letting in gusts of rain and wind both.
With shrieks and more giggles from the girls they clambered stiff-legged into the weather, dashing to the brightly lit front door and huddling together under Doyle's coat, held up as an umbrella while Bodie fumbled with the lock.
"Get a move on, will you?" Doyle grumbled, heart not really in it, enjoying too much the press and promise of the girls against him as they tried to keep dry, to really mind the rain himself. There was just time for Bodie to glare at him mockingly -- Bodie knew how it was -- and then they were falling inside in a many-limbed lump, and he was laughing, and managing to cop a good couple of feels, and finding himself felt in return. It was going to be a good week.
He turned around and closed the door.
It'd been, Bodie thought, as he opened the door to the cottage and let the others tumble in ahead of him, one hell of a year. Fraught was a good word for it, but then so were total bastard and complete fuck up. Oh, it'd had its moments, but what with Claire, and then Marikka showing up, and... and Doyle, Doyle had been under attack over and over again, it seemed. And that bloody, bloody undercover job up north hadn't helped... Yeah, he'd definitely had better years. In Angola he'd had a better year, and that was saying something. Then again, it wasn't peace he'd been promised by CI5...
It was peace he wanted now, mind, just for a few days, and he still wasn't going to get it, because somehow his cosy Christmas with Frankie had turned into a cosy Christmas with Frankie and Sandy and Doyle, and as he let Frankie pull him into the tangle of arms and legs and coats by the door, and as he reached out his own hands and found flesh and breasts and hips and backsides, he felt the strange frisson that ran through them all, that ran through him as well, and he wasn't sure that he even wanted to deny it any more. No, no peace there...
He got his jacket off finally, hindered rather than helped by the amorous Frankie, losing sight of Doyle and Sandy as they disappeared into one of the rooms at the end of the hallway. He kissed Frankie when she demanded it, leaning her against the jumble of damp cloth now hanging from the row of coat hooks, thinking back to Doyle's eyes on him as he kissed her in the car, to the knowledge that Doyle was watching him feel her up, that they were both sitting in the car, beside each other like any other day, and they were both turned on, and hard. Doyle was somewhere nearby now and he was...
"Come on!" he said jovially, taking Frankie's hand and pulling her in her turn down the hall, "Let's take a look at our new home then..."
Doors opened into rooms that shone with Christmas, like something out of Victoriana, he thought, not sure whether to be impressed or appalled. But he managed to say the right things as Frankie wandered around entranced, gazing at the tinsel and the lights and the glass baubles on the tree in the front room. She sighed over the fairy with her gauzey pink wings and dress, and giggled when Bodie pretended to try and look up its skirt, and then up Frankie's, and he kissed her obligingly and with enthusiasm when she pulled him under the mistletoe. One thing Doyle had been right about, Frankie was a goer, no question there...
By the time they'd discovered the kitchen, the larder, the small back bathroom, and finally the second through door to the sitting room, Doyle and Sandy were oblivious to everything and everyone, tucked into a stone-clad corner under yet another bunch of hanging greenery, their every movement tucking them closer to each other, their every sound a loud breath, or a quiet moan, or a rustle of fabric. Bodie took one look at them and knew he'd never be able to - to what? What would he do? -- grasped Frankie's hand tighter, and pulled her back into the hallway and up the staircase, which smelled of Mr Sheen, and pine needles from more wreaths, and of pot pourri.
Somewhere outside he could hear bells ring hollowly above the wind and the rain, and above the pounding of his own heart, and then Frankie let out a gasp to raise the dead as she opened yet another Christmas be-wreathed door.
What with the chaos of the girls and the rain and unpacking, and the joy of discovering the cottage to be truly old and truly quaint and truly very well stocked with food and beer and wine - we'll have to pay for that lot you know, said Bodie - which was immediately breached and carried off to bedrooms, it was nearly seven before Doyle saw him for long enough to talk to him. They ran into each other in the kitchen, smirked broadly at the other's state of déshabillé, and leaned back against the heavy wooden counters, lazy and companionable.
"It's alright this, innit," Doyle waved an empty wine glass at the room, the cottage, and the village of Llanycedwyn in general. "Your mate's done us proud."
Bodie, who'd just opened another bottle of wine, grinned happily, reached out to hold Doyle's hand steady around the glass, and poured it full. The wine glistened, dark and red in the bright yellow kitchen light, and Bodie's fingers seemed slow to move away. I'm drunk, Doyle thought, just drunk enough, and not too drunk to do something about it. Perfect. Do something about what?
"Not bad for fifty quid," Bodie agreed, "The girls'll go mad over the village too. Very traditional and all that malarkey. Full of real Welsh people an' all!"
"No!" Doyle raised his eyebrows, "Real Welsh people? With real Welsh names who 'ave to spit a lot to say good morning?"
"Dai Y'bastard," Bodie suggested, so that Doyle had to look stern, frowning over a half-smile.
"Go out with that attitude and you'll find yourself at the bottom of a very deep mine, my son!"
Bodie crossed his eyes at him, and drank deeply of his wine, and Doyle watched his Adam's apple move down and up, strangely caught by it, until Bodie lowered his head again and saw him watching. He lifted an enquiring eyebrow, and Doyle remembered to start breathing once more.
"How're you getting on with Frankie then? Said you'd like 'er, didn't I?"
Bodie nodded above his own wine glass. "You weren't wrong - she's a bit of alright."
"Hope she appreciates that bed an' all," Doyle suggested meaningfully.
"What, the huge four-poster with the velvet curtains and the big soft pillows? Loves it mate..."
"Yeah, well... Sandy was nearly in tears when she saw our room after."
"Should've been quicker then, shouldn't you?" Bodie said, his eyes positively gleeful, "Not my fault you were lingering in the inglenook was it?"
"Fireplace," Doyle muttered, not convinced that Bodie wasn't making that particular word up. "Mind you," he added reminiscently, "It was very nearly worth it..."
"You can talk!" Doyle ran his eyes slowly and meaningfully down Bodie's half-clothed body. "Surprised you've come up for air this early in the game."
"You know, you could have a point there, Raymond," Bodie finished his wine in a mouthful, and gathered the bottle and a plate of cheese and biscuits to his arms, "And if you're very lucky..." He crossed to the door, took a step into the hallway, and looked back to raise one eyebrow at Doyle, "...I might invite you to join us tomorrow..."
He'd said it, he'd actually said it, Bodie thought, as he climbed the stairs back to the den of vice and iniquity that was Frankie's chosen bedroom. He paused to survey it from the doorway, lit golden and shadowed with the light from the lamp. Frankie was still asleep, all hair and tits and arse, amidst rumpled sheets, tangled blankets, and red satin counterpane that was going to have trouble staying the distance, if the last couple of hours were anything to go by. Pretty it might be, but the only reason it was still on the bed was because it had threaded its way between Frankie's legs, was caught and held just as Bodie had been earlier.
Caught and held ...
Not so sure after all that he wanted to wake Frankie and ply her with more wine and sex, he rummaged in his duffle bag for a jumper, and pulled it over his head. He'd go back downstairs, see what was on telly. Five minutes to himself. He'd said what he'd said, there was no taking it back, and it was up to Doyle now, wasn't it? There was something between them, a whisper of a hint of a possibility that they both wanted the same thing, and...
Stop thinking! It was peace he wanted, just a few minutes of it, his brain slowed all the way down. There was bound to be something on the box about the gazelles of the Sahara, or the giraffes of the Arctic, or some lovable bear family biting the heads off innocently swimming salmon.
And if Doyle was still down there, then...
But Doyle wasn't there, and Bodie'd left the wine and cheese upstairs in the end, so he settled for pottering about in the kitchen, making a cup of tea, wondering if he was hungry enough to bother making dinner and deciding that he was. Besides, if he got on with it tonight it'd be everyone else's turn until after Christmas day itself, and then all he'd have to do would be put out left-overs. Roast goose, Sandy had said they were having, and by the size of it they'd be having it well into the New Year.
He opened the door and peered into the larder, giving a shudder at the sudden drop in temperature. Why anyone had bothered to invent refrigerators if houses all had one of these was beyond him. The shelves though were piled with tins and packets and boxes, and with potatoes and carrots and onions, and he'd seen some stewing beef in the fridge, so he'd throw all that in a pot and let it cook on its own for a while. Peas in the freezer, do some mash. Easy.
He set his mind to concentrate on what he was doing as he moved around the kitchen, every step, every slice, everything he did as purposeful and conscious as his sensei could want. He listened to the cut of the knife, to the chop as it met the wooden board beneath, and to the sound of each piece that he swept into the pot as it jumped and popped on the heat. The rhythm of it all spread through him, and when he'd finished, and the stew and potatoes were simmering on the cooker, and the last of the dishes draining on the sink, he took a deep final breath and looked around.
They'd eat late tonight, and sleep long tomorrow probably, but there was only the museum that Sandy'd wanted to see in the village, and that wasn't open until the afternoon anyway. Yeah, this was better, he could relax... Deciding he couldn't wait after all until the others dragged themselves out of bed -- if they even did before morning -- Bodie made another plate of cheese and biscuits, and poured another glass of wine, balanced a jar of Branston pickle under his chin, and went through to the sitting room. He thought about lighting a fire, decided not to bother, and settled instead for spreading himself over the settee, television turned on low, halfway through "Mastermind". He could hear the rain outside, the wind, and the ticking of the clock. Somewhere those bells rang again, and...
...and he knew he had to find them. They were out there somewhere, but he wasn't quite sure where. Front of the house, back of the house? It was bright-lit inside, the riot of candles they'd bought for the party ablaze upon the mantelpiece, the windows heavily curtained to keep out threatening draughts. They flickered anyway, and so did the fire as the wind blew round about the chimney. They'd come to the front, surely they'd come to the front door, but it seemed that he could hear them ringing at the windows, and at the back of the house. That wasn't right, he thought, they should only be at the front, and he stepped back into the kitchen, left dark now that they'd finished their dinner. There -- there out the kitchen window he saw movement, and he pressed his face to the glass and... no... no... a nightmare in the dark, a true night-mare, a horse riding round and round the house, only it wasn't a horse because it's hooves had no sound, and it wasn't a horse because it's face was long gone, and there was a skull, just a skull, decked out in ribbons and bells, that flew in the wind and the storm above a white-clad body, and as he watched, the creature's head turned towards him, and with a clacking of its horrid jaw it wheeled and raced once more for the front door, and... and there were footsteps down the stairs, Doyle, Doyle was coming down and he was going to... a pounding at the front door... Don't open the front door!
Dishes crashed around him as Bodie sat up abruptly, heart pounding, breath in tags and tatters as he looked wildly about. Nothing moved except the light shining on broken glass and china, and on a long stretch of blood-red wine across the carpet, soaking itself to pinkness and then there was a thudding down the stairs, and the door opened.
The trouble was, he didn't know what it all meant. At least he did... and he didn't. Doyle lay back against the pillows - the perfectly good pillows on the perfectly good, perfectly large bed - and glowered into the dark. He should be falling asleep, in a cloud of sex-fuelled lethargy and satisfaction, Sandy a soft, warm weight against his side, and instead here he was thinking.
Because if he was honest - if he was very honest - he hadn't come away to sleep with Sandy. He hadn't even come away to sleep with Sandy and Frankie together, although that'd been a part of the plan, maybe even the whole plan, cooked up together with Bodie, anticipated now for weeks, amidst fears that one or the other of them would go too far and find themselves free and single again over Christmas. They'd treated the girls like queens, had managed to keep all but one date, and their reward was here, in this cottage, and in the persuasion and possibilities that lay in seven days away from town.
Frankie was up for it, he knew that because he'd managed it before, that time Bodie'd been... well, when he'd been seeing that Marikka bird. Him and Frankie and whatshername, and he actually had announced their ménage á trois, not meaning it as more than a bad, slightly wicked joke, only they had, in fact, taken him up on it. And it was good - how could it not be good? - but... There'd been something missing, he'd known it all along, and now that something was here, away on holiday with him, and making jokes about sharing beds.
Only he was pretty sure that they weren't jokes, and Doyle wasn't laughing, he was, in fact, wide awake and suddenly very, very sober.
He tried to concentrate on the noises of the house, on pinning each one down and identifying it. Central heating hissing through pipes, wind around the corner and under the eaves, and a spatter of rain against the windowpane. A thump from across the hall, either Bodie or Frankie, he thought, getting out of bed, and then the trickling of water in the sink. Bodie, perhaps, there in the bathroom, cleaning up after the first frenzy of holiday sex, soap and washcloth and... He frowned to himself. Discipline!
Bells, he could hear bells outside, not church bells, and not the jangly kind of Christmas bell. Strange... Kids? Except that they'd have to be mad to be out in this weather, instead of tucked up at home in front of the box... One of those wind chime things must be, he'd have to track it down tomorrow before it drove him around the twist.
Beside him Sandy snuffled into his shoulder, wiggled a little against him, and opened sleepy eyes. She was a pretty thing, dark hair and pale skin, a smattering of freckles across her nose... He kissed it, thought about watching Frankie kiss it, or even Bodie, thought about the two of them watching and...
"You hungry?" he asked, giving her a quick hug and then letting her go stretching starfish-like, across the bed, one arm flung playfully across her so that he pushed gently on her breasts. He turned onto his side then, bouncing them both on the bed, and watched, fascinated as ever, soft warm flesh and hard pink nipples, swaying from side to side. He kissed one of those too, smiled at her, and sat up to get dressed.
"You know, I don't think I've felt this decadent since I was a student," she said, pulling the sheet to tuck it under her arms, and watching him breathe in to do up his jeans, a gleam in her eye.
"Yeah? What did you study?
"English. I was going to be either a famous journalist, or a penniless but romantic author, whose first novel took the world by storm..."
"Instead, here you are, a penniless but romantic journalist, stuck in your first Welsh storm?"
"Ha-ha. Although," she lowered her lashes at him, "The romantic bit doesn't seem to be working out too badly!"
"You'll... " There was a crash from downstairs, followed by a curse, and Doyle paused to listen. "Sounds like Bodie's decided to cook. I'd better go see if I can save the food..."
"You are awful to each other," Sandy said, smiling nevertheless.
"Me? I'm kindness itself! Poor lad worships me, you know..." He ducked to avoid the pillow Sandy threw at him, sliding out the door with a grin in her direction. She was a sweet girl, she deserved... well, she deserved more than him, and she'd get it one day. Some toff, probably, what with her looks and education, and good luck to her. She'd sort him out in no time - down to earth was Sandy, for all her giggles and wide-eyed innocence. Yeah, she'd be alright.
He went to find Bodie.
Bodie cursed, eyeing the mess, and stopped Frankie coming further into the room with an outstretched hand. "Hang on love, there's glass everywhere. Don't move..."
"Oh, I'll go around the other way and get the dustpan," Frankie said, with a practicality that surprised him. "Watch your own feet now!"
He busied himself picking up a nasty mixture of shards and cheese and biscuits, trying to toss off the dream before anyone else appeared -- anyone else, obviously, being Doyle. He hadn't succeeded though, by the time the door opened again and he looked up to see his partner's raised eyebrows and quirked lips as he surveyed the spill.
"Tut-tut. Surprised your mum didn't pack you off with a set of bibs."
Don't open the door ... "Oh yeah? Why don't you come over here and say that?"
Doyle, no fool, eyed the carpet dubiously. "No, I think I'll go see what's for supper, thanks all the same." He slipped out just as Frankie came through the back door. Perfect holiday farce, Bodie thought sourly, fun for all the family... He let Frankie fuss over the floor, since she'd pulled on her court shoes while she was out, and was doing something confident with - was it a bag of salt? - and the wine stain, managing to cross the floor safely in his stockinged feet, reaching out to the door handle...
"You alright, love?" Frankie asked, just as he was about to escape, stroking one hand down his arm "What happened?"
I dreamed Doyle was dead. "Clumsy," he said, "Walked into the table instead of around it. Thanks for..." he gestured generally around the room. "Just going to check the food..."
But Sandy had come downstairs and joined Doyle in the kitchen, and that wasn't what he wanted either. He felt restless suddenly, his mood darkened and irritable, and he clenched his jaw against Sandy's soft laugh at something Doyle had said. Committed to coming in since he'd opened the door, he strode over to the stove. He could give the stew a stir and then leave, that's what he could do, go upstairs for a moment and... Only then Sandy was being sent out to help Frankie, and to set the table that sat grandly at the kitchen end of the sitting room, and Doyle was standing beside him at the stove.
"Alright, mate?" he asked, in much the same tone as Frankie had used. It didn't seem so bad though, coming from Doyle. Sometimes, just sometimes, they each knew not to take the piss, knew what was real and what wasn't.
"Yeah. Bad dream," he said shortly. Doyle would know, they all had bad dreams from time to time, hazard of the job. He'd even dreamed of Doyle dead before now, had woken once with tears running down his face, and a hollowed out stomach, before remembering that it wasn't real.
Beside him, alive and giving off his Doyle-heat, his partner nodded. "All this time off, it's enough to turn anyone barmy."
"Too long driving too slowly in that bloody car," Bodie agreed. "Snow's all very pretty, but they can keep it up in the mountains where it belongs."
"Don't let the girls hear you say that," Doyle grinned, "They're still convinced we 'ad Wales cleared on purpose."
"Nah, that was Cowley - just in case he needs us to come haring back to town on a whim. He'll have cleared England as well by this time tomorrow, you'll see."
"He can't call," Doyle reminded him, "No phone."
"He'll send carrier pigeons," Bodie could almost picture it. "If you hear a tapping at your window, late at night..." He paused, wished he hadn't said it, and busied himself mashing the spuds. Doyle noticed, but he didn't say anything this time, just handed him the pepper and stayed standing there beside him, leaning one hip against the edge of the cooker, watching the peas bubble in their pan.
Doyle woke early the next morning, strangely restless after a night's broken sleep. The rain had kept him awake at first, gushing from the guttering at the back of the house, and that wind chime thing, which he swore he'd rip from whichever tree it hung upon, and finally the wind itself, creating strange half-whispers of sound to his not-quite-asleep self, making him toss and turn, and push away from Sandy, lying innocently and obliviously beside him.
Should go for a run really, he thought, now that the weather had seen fit to die down a little, and he slid from bed to gaze out the window. It was still dark, but there was a promise of light towards the east, and the world was dreadnought-deep grey rather than dead-of-night black. Maybe he'd see if Bodie was up for it, they could both use some exercise after the long drive yesterday, and with all the lounging they were likely to do over the next few days. The girls were great, but they were town girls, happy to wander the streets of London, from shop to restaurant to pub, but less likely to fancy a decent hike or a bit of hill scrambling.
He found his tracksuit and trainers, dressed quietly and tiptoed into the corridor - and there was Bodie, dressed in his best Adidas, practically jogging on the spot. They grinned at each other, caught in the moment, then Bodie gave him a shove towards the stairs, and they were out of the house and running, along the drive, through the gateway, and into the village itself. They passed a dozen or more curious locals, seven-thirty not too early, even in the school holidays, for setting in on the important gossip of the day, especially when it might rain again later and keep them indoors. They waved to the most sour-faced of them, earning themselves a place in the mid-morning gossip as well.
"'ow your mate thinks he's going to make a fortune renting out this place I don't know," Doyle said as they rounded a corner and found themselves on a stretch of open road. "It's not exactly on the tourist trail, is it?"
"That's why he made the effort decorating, he's after the honeymooners."
Well, that made sense, at least. "Nice of him to let us have the trial run of it."
"Yeah, well - you just mind you don't break anything..."
"Me?" Doyle rose before he could help himself, slanted a glance across just quickly enough to catch Bodie's grin. "Oh, well yeah, alright..." He looked back to the road unfolding in front of them, enjoying the rhythm of his feet against the tarmac, the feel of the wind on his face. This was more like it...
"What were we doing last Christmas, anyway?" he asked Bodie, unable to remember more than the year's blur of villains and cock-ups and girlfriends-past.
"We watched that film about the penguins. No, pelicans," Bodie said instantly, which made Doyle look at him again. Trust Bodie to remember something like that.
"Yeah, you remember - Anson and Lewis went off to chat up that redhead in the Sally Ally kitchen around the corner, and I said I wasn't going to end up..."
"... serving dinner to a bunch of layabouts who couldn't be bothered fetching it themselves. I remember." He did then. They'd spent the whole day on call, wandering mournfully around HQ, but in the afternoon they'd finally settled down in the rest room and watched the Queen, bitterly resentful of the fact that the rest of the country was doing it in the comfort of their own homes, preparatory to falling asleep from too much food and drink and fighting, and then they'd watched "The Wizard of Oz" and... yeah, something Australian about a boy and a pelican, just the two of them...
"Not that bad, actually," Bodie said, echoing his thoughts again.
Doyle just grinned sideways at him, kept running. Not bad at all, that, but he preferred this.
They looped around the village in a wide, ten-mile circuit of country lanes and farm roads, and through one field when they couldn't see any other way of cutting an extra five miles from their route. They startled a fox, not used to seeing their kind thundering so close to his den, and an entire rookery that took off from their trees in a gasp of wings and a scattering of twigs.
"Murder of crows," Doyle said, wisely.
Bodie looked at him and sniffed in disgust. "Not while we're on holiday, thanks all the same..."
It was, of course, too good to last, huge, slow drops of rain chasing them back home, but by the time they got there the girls were up and about and being efficient in mysterious ways with the cottage, and that was fine too. They'd also got the makings of a cooked breakfast out, having started with a pot of tea, and being perfectly happy to move on to bacon and eggs and toast now that their men were back. Doyle threw in sausages and tomatoes and mushrooms to keep Bodie happy, and even a fried slice at the last minute, feeling settled and cheerful again now that the day was begun.
A wander around the village, a bit of local culture, maybe a meal at the pub if it looked decent, and a few drinks. Then... well, then see what happened, he thought, as the girls huddled close together by the worktop, whispering seriously to each other, reminding him of his half-formed plans and hopes. He caught Bodie's eye for a moment, glad to see he looked more like himself again after last night - it got to you, their job, no matter how hard you were - and glad to see Bodie noticing the girls together too. Yeah, see what happened, the girls, and him and Bodie...
The museum, it turned out, was a dim and dusty place, of the sort which piled as much as it could find into glass cases and onto shelves labelled "Don't touch", and which counted African dolls and Eskimo carvings brought back by Welsh missionaries as "local culture".
"Oi, Doyle," Bodie said, staring at a row of what purported to be shrunken heads, "Doesn't that middle one remind you of someone?" Doyle wandered slowly over, one arm around Sandy's shoulder, and Bodie reached out to tug him more quickly to the case, to his joke, to his side. "Look, the one with the red hair..."
Doyle took one look and burst into laughter, the kind that sent warmth dawning through Bodie's own heart and face, the kind that made him want to confess everything. Send that laugh in on an interrogation, see what happened, he thought happily.
Sandy glanced at the heads and shuddered, pulling away from Doyle and going to join Frankie by a display of costumery, so Bodie took firmer hold of Doyle's wrist, as Doyle stood gazing enraptured into the case, shaking it slightly to emphasise his words as an excuse for holding on, as he began to weave plots and plans to steal the head and end Cowley's control of all the world. And Doyle let him, Doyle stood close enough that they touched, just two bodies overlapping as they examined a museum display, and Bodie felt every inch of it, his shoulder against Doyle's back, Doyle's arm stretched between them, held in place by Bodie's own hand, and held so near, so close to his cock that he was surprised Doyle didn't feel it stirring, and the swell of Doyle's arse against his hip, and their legs pressed together, thigh to thigh, and...
Tonight, he didn't care about the consequences, he'd have Doyle and Sandy in his bed, and if all he was able to do was be that close to Doyle, then he didn't care. He'd look, he'd touch, and Doyle could pretend it was all for the girls, but Bodie didn't care, he would have it.
Too soon they'd read all the placards in the case, commenting irreverently on what Cowley had likely done to each item, until the museum attendants - an elderly man and woman - seemed to be eyeing them strangely. Bodie let go Doyle's arm reluctantly, and turned to find Frankie who was starting to look bored as she stared down at the skeleton of some unfortunate woman, apparently doomed thousands of years ago to have her naked bones displayed to the tourists of a small Welsh town.
Sandy was in the tiny corner that was the gift shop, a pile of books tucked under one arm, flicking slowly through another, engrossed, and Doyle went to join her, sliding an arm around her waist. Bodie felt himself tighten, his whole body clench together in jealousy, but he behaved well for the watching attendants, going to do the same to Frankie, giving her a quick hug and holding her hand dutifully. He walked with her over to the shop; the sooner they got out and got to the pub, the sooner they could go home...
Trouble was, Doyle had made the fatal mistake of being friendly to the old woman at the till, and she had just begun the process of being nosy back.
"...the old Evans place? Well now, they moved long years ago, it's been empty... oh, since they left and that was not long after the war, now, was it, cariad?" she turned to her husband, who nodded. "We were all surprised someone was doing it up. The council's been trying to have it demolished for years."
"Going to let it out," Doyle said, taking the carrier bag of books that Sandy'd bought, "Honeymooners, that sort of thing."
"Ah, is it now..." the woman said, but she glanced sideways again at her husband as she did so. "That'll be nice for them."
Her husband muttered something, and she frowned at him. "Merry Christmas, then."
They let her see them out of the museum, and when Bodie looked back she'd turned around the sign in the doorway to read "Closed", and was looking after them with her hands on her hips. Ah, the friendly locals...
"Pub then?" he asked, rubbing his hands together and grinning at Doyle across the girls' heads. Doyle nodded, and Bodie picked up Frankie and spun her around as they walked up the street, setting her down so that she was walking on the outside, and there was only Sandy then between him and Doyle. He held Frankie's hand tightly so that she wouldn't feel the loss of her friend, decided that whatever else happened he was going to sit in the pub with Doyle's body pressed up against his, and that was just for a start.
The Llanycedwyn Arms catered optimistically to the tourist trade, and even in the gloom of winter put on evening meals, so they settled themselves in a corner, himself and Bodie on the wooden bench against the wall, the girls comfortable in cushioned chairs across the table, and looked out on yet more tinselled cheer and Christmas tat. There were a few groups of young locals scattered among the tables, a thin haze of blue smoke rising through the air, and just far enough away that they could hear themselves talk over it, the jukebox was playing pop songs. "I lost my heart to a starship trooper..."
Sandy took her books out again as they waited for the food, and Doyle listened half-heartedly as she read Welsh legends out loud for them all, dragons and cauldrons and kings, the stuff of fairy tales. His attention drifted to the feel of Bodie against his side as he leaned across the table to whisper something to Frankie, rising slightly in his seat, sitting back just a little closer to Doyle so that their thighs were pressed together, just so, just so that he knew it, and Bodie knew it, and... "If you're very lucky..." He found himself drifting further, imagining the same press of flesh together, as they lay side by side, the girls moving above them, imagined looking over to watch Bodie's prick, hard and gleaming as it vanished and was revealed again, only somehow the pictures changed, and it was his own mouth that covered Bodie, and his hands were on Bodie's arse, and...
"... you know our house is haunted!" Sandy was saying excitedly, clutching at his hands to stop him playing with the bar mat and pay her more attention. "'Villagers have seen strange creatures and heard strange noises coming from Ty-Gwyn'..."
"That'll be Gwyn trying to get away," Bodie interrupted, "The things some people get up to!"
Sandy stuck her tongue out at him, "It means white house, clever clogs. Listen - '...these are rumoured to be the result of a murder in 1860, when Gareth Griffiths, a local of Llanycedwyn, vanished without trace while playing the Mari Lwyd'..."
"Marie's lewd? Well no wonder, her father was probably," Bodie put on his best upper class nob, "Most upset!"
"Bo-die," Sandy reached across the table and cuffed him with the book she was holding, and Bodie ducked closer to Doyle, pretending to try and hide behind him, his hands on Doyle's arms, his shoulders, his waist. Doyle wriggled, and Bodie gripped him more tightly for a minute, before subsiding back into his seat, grin plastered across his face as the girls laughed at him. Christ...
"The Mari Lwyd," Sandy was reading again, "Is an old Welsh custom, which has now almost totally died out, in which a horse's skull, decked with ribbons and held on the end of a pole..."
Doyle felt Bodie stiffen beside him, looked around sharply. He'd gone pale and still, though his faded smile was still plastered to his face, every appearance to the outside world that nothing was wrong. Doyle looked back to the pub, scanned every face there, saw nothing out of place. Someone he'd recognised? Someone who'd just left, maybe?
"... after the Virgin Mary, but the origin of the tradition is most likely rooted much further back in history, in the pagan cycles of birth and death and rebirth..."
"Oh, but what about the ghost?" Frankie wanted to know, "Why was he murdered? Who murdered him?" She shivered theatrically, "Does his lost soul wander the hallways in eternal torment?"
Sandy laughed, "No, it says here they wouldn't let him into the house..."
"Oh, he's eternally sitting on the doorstep with his nose pressed against the glass?"
"There wouldn't 'ave been any glass in the door back then," Doyle said absently, still wondering what it was had got Bodie so worried, "It would have been one of those old jobs, all wood and iron hinges."
"Ooh, how sad, he couldn't even see in, just tap-tap-tapping for them to let him in..."
"But who murdered him?" Frankie asked again, eyes agleam with the thrill of it. "Did they catch the murderer, or is his spirit still seeking revenge..."
"Load of rubbish," Bodie interrupted her, "Can't believe you go for all that, smart girl like you!"
"Well," Frankie smiled winningly at him, "As long as I have someone big and brave to - protect me all through the long, dark night..."
"Oh, in that case..."
He was interrupted as their food arrived, roast lamb with all the trimmings, and the girls turned their attention to swapping carrots for Brussels sprouts, and asking for more wine. Bodie, beside him, fell quiet, and Doyle took the moment to nudge him and get his attention.
"Everything alright?" he muttered, flicking a look out to the rest of the pub. "Seen someone unexpected?"
Bodie stared at him.
"Thought you'd..." Apparently not. "Oh, never mind."
Bodie went back to his meal, and Doyle lifted his own knife and fork. He could have sworn... Too touchy, too much imagination, and he was starting to see things that weren't there.
Things that weren't there... God, was he imagining everything else as well? Surely not, Bodie had said they'd share that huge bed tonight, and they'd been working in that direction for weeks, a foursome at last, the two girls and them, together...
"Not enjoying that?" Bodie asked him, nudging him in his turn, pushing slightly against his thigh at the same time to get his attention, and nodding at his plate still piled high with food. Was it to get his attention? Doyle looked at him, and Bodie pursed his lips together in a grin, looking right back into his eyes, and as Doyle managed to say something about gannets and rubbish bins, Bodie did it again, that wonderful warm press against him, and everything was alright.
It was still early when they left the pub, though the winter's night was close and wet and windy around them, so that they were all eager to get home to their own walls and comforts and... beds. It would be alright, Bodie thought, determinedly calm, it was just a stupid coincidence, he'd heard one of Magnus Magnusson's questions before he'd dropped off, that was all, and his subconscious immediately got busy unwinding him from the year they'd just had, ready to start fresh. And it was no wonder he was dreaming about Doyle in danger, that was a constant in his life, and now that he was supposed to be taking a break from it all - well, his brain just hadn't caught up with it yet, that was all. That was all.
The girls were still rabbitting on about ghosts and ghouls and things that went bump in the night - white ladies, and black dogs and everything in between. It was getting on his nerves, but there was nothing he could do without drawing attention to himself, at least not until they got home. One good thing about Christmas, there wasn't likely to be anything on the box to encourage that, even if they were reduced to watching George and Mildred, or Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em, or whatever rot was on this year. Tonight though, tonight he had something different in mind.
Doyle was on good form as they walked home, teasing Frankie and Sandy equally, pretending to tip the umbrella so that the biggest drops would fall on Bodie, letting the girls laugh at him when they missed, and eventually Bodie joined in, the old double act that annoyed Cowley and amused just about everybody else. Back and forth, perfect timing, perfect teasing, perfectly them. By the time they reached the house everything had been forgotten except how close he felt to Doyle, and how tonight Bodie was going to have him in his own bed, no matter who else was there.
Frankie, to his great pleasure, threw the front door wide open and walked straight through to the kitchen, announcing that she was going to open another bottle of wine, and did everyone want some? He caught Doyle's eye, grinned again, and decided on the spot that it would be worth lighting the fire, and maybe even some candles tonight, to get the mood just right.
Sandy sashayed upstairs, and so he slammed the door shut behind them all, and waved Doyle towards the sitting room with his best hoity-toity bow. The fire was already laid, and he held matches to firelighters and kindling, letting Doyle handle the music, trusting him enough to know that he'd root out the best of Evans' ancient collection, cast-offs that were still good enough to leave in a holiday cottage. After a few minutes, the room was filled with the happy crackling of twigs as the flames caught and began to settle, and the strains of something classical and romantic drifted onto the air. Bodie felt the mood swell into something new, something slow and languid, and still heavier with promise.
Sandy came in then and arranged herself carefully on one of the settees, long legs elegantly crossed. Bodie watched as she eyed Doyle from under her lashes, then smiled as she unexpectedly turned the same look on him. It was going to be a very good night...
"Oh, very funny Bodie, I don't think!" the kitchen door opened with a bang, and a dangerous tinkling of wine glasses.
"What? What did I do?" he managed, torn from the mood, Frankie's glare enough to freeze summer.
"You think tapping on the window like that's going to get me going, do you? Well I think it's just childish, and you made me spill wine on my blouse, and I hope you're happy!"
"Frankie love, I was in here the whole time, wasn't I Doyle?" he glanced back to ensure that Doyle nodded, then took the glasses and bottle from her, and steered her to the other settee by the fire. "It must have been a tree - that'll teach you to listen to ghost stories after dark."
She looked back at him doubtfully, only half appeased, and he lowered his gaze to the few drops of red spattered on her shirt. "Tell you what," he punctuated it with a kiss, "Why don't I see what I can do," he kissed her neck, "To get it cleaned," her collarbone, "Off your... blouse..." and he bent his face to the stain, just to the right of her cleavage, where the material began to stretch its way across breast towards nipple, and he sucked gently at the cloth, and at what was underneath it.
She sighed, her breasts rising and pushing into his face, soft and firm at the same time, and as he looked up to smile at her, he caught sight of Doyle and Sandy, watching them, and the music stretched around the air, enveloping them all four together, and the mood was suddenly, beautifully, back with them. Holding Doyle's gaze, he moved his head backwards just a little, and nuzzled Frankie's nipple through her blouse with his lips.
Doyle dipped his head over Sandy, and as Bodie watched, he copied the movement.
There it was, there was the game, and they were all playing it, Bodie watching Doyle watching Bodie, the girls watching them both and each other and letting it all happen. Slowly, no rush, no haste, time for a mouthful of wine here, a button loosened there, a more chaste kiss and another long look. Bodie slid to the floor at last, brought Frankie to the edge of the settee so that he could kiss his way between her thighs, and when he'd done that he pulled her down with him, and Doyle, graceful echo in the firelight, did the same with Sandy, and they were all lying on the rug in the warmth, and close enough now that it was nothing at all that the girls were shoulder to shoulder, that he could reach over to touch Doyle, and he watched, entranced, as Frankie and Sandy turned to touch each other with the lightest of kisses, the game becoming more tangled, more what he wanted, more...
"Ow! Ray, don't pinch, I don't like it..."
"Eh? I didn't pinch you..." Doyle looked away from Bodie to Sandy again, leaned down to kiss her, "I'm sorry..."
" Was it you pinched me too?" Frankie asked, and Doyle looked appraisingly at her.
"No, but I'm just as sorry," he said, and he leaned over Sandy, and kissed Frankie as well, right there, so that his hair brushed Bodie's chest where Frankie had undone his shirt, and when he lifted his head again, it was a slow, sinuous movement that followed the line of Bodie's own skin, ending bare inches from Bodie's face, close enough for Bodie to have leaned forward, to have kissed him in his turn, if only Doyle hadn't pulled away and back to Sandy.
Christ, but he was hard. He wanted Frankie, and he wanted Sandy, and god help him but he wanted Doyle, and he wanted it all now.
"Why don't we," he suggested, hearing his own voice low and husky with that wanting, "Take this upstairs to that very big," he kissed Frankie again, "Very soft," he leaned over and kissed Sandy, "Bed..." and he raised his head, Doyle's echo this time, feeling the heat from Doyle's body, smelling Doyle, and then he too pulled away, and met Doyle's eyes, unsmiling, unable to smile.
And yet somehow Doyle could and did, just a quirk of his lips, before he looked down to Sandy again. "Shall we?" he asked her, getting to his feet in one smooth motion, something Bodie knew he couldn't do without damaging something he very much wanted to use intact.
Sandy looked at Frankie once, then nodded and let herself be pulled up, giving an extra shimmy to straighten her own open blouse and her rucked up skirt, and preceding them all from the room. Doyle followed, and it was him that Bodie watched as he pulled Frankie to her feet, as he gave her a final kiss and tugged her along behind him. It was Doyle's promise that he chased, climbing the staircase, aching to put out a hand, as he had so often before at work, in jest, and hurry him up to the room.
Sandy turned left to the bathroom at the top of the stairs, with a coy look back at him and a kiss blown from her hand, so Doyle turned right into Bodie's bedroom, before he changed his mind, before he lost his nerve. One thing to think about it, something completely different to do it, to do it with Bodie right there, so close to him, barely touchable with the girls wanting attention, the only thing that he really, truly wanted to touch.
Bodie was right behind him through the doorway though, Frankie laughing as she tumbled in, towed along and more than willing. He remembered that laugh, that up-for-anything laugh of hers, and he remembered her boldness too, when she twisted her way around Bodie and pressed herself against him instead, all hot, soft breasts, her free hand reaching for his arse as it always had, her other hand still holding tight to Bodie's hand, so that they all three stood close together while she kissed him, and he felt her shudder as Bodie slid his arm around from behind her, up to caress her breasts, his fingers sliding against Doyle's own chest at the same time, across his bare skin, his nipples. He moaned into Frankie's mouth, and she gave an encouraging wiggle to them both, liking it.
Greatly daring, Doyle reached behind Bodie, put his own hand, finally, on cloth-covered backside, and pulled them all even closer together, sandwiching Frankie more firmly between them, all he could do not to thrust hard against her.
There was a scream from the bathroom.
After the first frozen second he wasn't sure who moved first, himself or Bodie, but they left a shocked Frankie in their wake, out the door and into the corridor, both reaching for guns that weren't there, automatically each looking out for the other, for whatever the threat was, from whatever direction.
There was a pounding on the bathroom door, and it rattled on its hinges, and frightened sobs from behind it, calling his name.
"Stand back!" he shouted, and when the pounding stopped he threw himself at it, all his force behind it, so that the door shuddered and gave way, lock torn from the wood of the door jamb, and he was inside, and Sandy was alone, and then she was in his arms and gasping and sobbing into his chest, too scared to be making any sense at all. Nothing else moved in the room, though he spun them both around when Bodie appeared at the door, a stunned Frankie behind him.
"Come on, it's alright..." he soothed automatically, head still buzzing with the adrenaline of it all, looking to Bodie over the top of Sandy's head. Bodie shrugged his shoulders and shook his own head, then went through to check the rooms again, clutching a vase from the hallway windowsill, its flowers straggling sadly across the carpet. Doyle steered Sandy into the hallway and into Frankie's arms, and bedroom, then followed Bodie downstairs.
Bodie shrugged again when he found him in the kitchen, looking uneasily out the window. "What did she say it was?"
Doyle shook his head, "She wasn't making any sense when I left her, just there's someone here, I couldn't get out. Poor kid's terrified, though."
"Everything's fine down here. We didn't lock the front door when we came in, but nothing looked disturbed, and they couldn't have got into the bathroom without us seeing anyway."
"Bathroom window doesn't even open," Doyle agreed, "It's all double-glazed, sealed shut."
They tested the door locks one more time, made sure the fire was dying safely behind its screen, and headed back upstairs. He was still hard, he noted absently, as he watched Bodie climbing in front of him, and he breathed deeply to get over the disappointment of that, feeling under everything else as if he was six years old again, the year that Christmas hadn't come.
Sandy and Frankie were sitting, properly clothed once more, on the edge of the four poster bed, and Doyle went to sit beside Sandy, put an arm around her waist. She leaned into him, calmer and quieter, though she still trembled now and then, and rubbed at her eyes.
"You think I'm mad, I think I'm mad, but I swear there was someone in there!" she said forcefully. She shook her head as Bodie started to speak. "I heard those bells first, you know the ones, and then there was this sort of... whispering, only it wasn't English, I don't know what it was, and then... then something touched me, and I couldn't open the door..."
"Touched you?" Doyle pulled her closer. "What do you mean, touched you?"
"Well... just that, it was as if someone touched me, all the way from my... well from my knee up," she finished, half-defiantly.
"It was the wind, love, it must have been," Doyle said, not sure whether to be relieved or furious that their night had been spoiled for this. "Set those bells off again and spooked you, it makes all sorts of odd noises in these old places..."
"I know wind when I hear it!" she snapped, pulling away from him, to Frankie, who gave her a quick squeeze. "This wasn't wind, it was... it was Welsh, that's what it was!"
Doyle looked at Bodie, wanting to believe her, knowing, really, that he couldn't. "Secret room? Be the right era, maybe, the house..."
"What, a bit of the old roundheads and cavaliers? This place? A hundred years too late, mate!" Bodie said, and Doyle shrugged, unoffended. Not his thing, history. "Besides, it's got two outside walls, and two onto the hallway."
Bodie just looked at him, he knew he was stretching it.
"Yeah, alright, I know. See," he turned back to Sandy, "There can't have been anyone there, Bodie knows about these things. Right bookworm he is, when he puts his mind to it."
"Oi, mate, you'll blow my cover," Bodie said, out of the side of his mouth, raising a half-smile from Sandy, though Frankie just looked at him in surprise.
"I know what I heard... what I felt," Sandy said stubbornly. "And why couldn't I get the door open?"
"Someone pinched me, earlier," Frankie said suddenly, "You too, you said." Doyle found himself under a hard gaze. "You said it wasn't you."
"It wasn't!" Doyle protested, knowing his hands - and his mind - had been on other things.
Doyle eyed him. It must have been. "Bad joke, Bodie..."
Bodie eyed him steadily back. "Yeah, sorry." He turned to Frankie, kissed her on the cheek, but she pulled away.
"Come on, I think we could do with a cup of tea," she said, encouraging Sandy to her feet and walking with her to the door. She stopped though, when she got there, looking uncertainly back at them. "Coming?"
Doyle nodded. "It's those stories you were reading, you know," he said, somewhat less tactfully than he could have done. "Gets your imagination going."
The girls both turned to glare at him then, and he rolled his eyes when they'd gone, having hoped he'd been comforting. "What did I say?" he asked, spreading his arms imploringly to Bodie, who shook his head and rolled his eyes at him, and followed the girls back downstairs.
It turned out to be a long night, neither Sandy or Frankie wanting to be on their own, the earlier arrangement clearly no longer on the cards, and even a gentle alternative meeting with reproachful gaze and tight-locked legs. Sandy was awake for long hours in his arms, and Doyle awake long hours later, alert for anything unusual, but tonight even the bells were quiet, despite the wind that still skirted the eaves and the corners of the cottage.
"No, Ray, really," Sandy's voice was loud through the kitchen door, "I don't think I can stand another night like that here, and it's Christmas eve and I don't want it spoiled..."
Doyle's voice was too low to hear, but it clearly wasn't appeasing, because Sandy's was still more shrill when she spoke again. "Then we'll get a taxi all the way to Swansea if we have to, but I'm not staying here another night!"
"... slept like a baby most of the night!" Doyle was saying, as Bodie pushed the door open, "And I can tell you nothing happened because I was bloody awake for all that time!"
"Oh, don't swear at me, Ray, this is hard enough..." she stopped when she saw Bodie, and looked hopefully behind him for Frankie, her face falling when she saw he was alone.
"She'll be down in a minute," he said, taking pity on her partly because Doyle's face was a thunderclap waiting to burst across the room, and there were days when even Cowley stepped warily to avoid having to deal with that. "Do you really want to go home?"
She nodded mournfully. "I do. I'm sorry Bodie, there's just... there's something wrong in this house - can't you feel it?"
Don't open the front door ...
He shook his head. "I think you had a fright, but it's over now, and..."
"Oh, don't you start! I'm not a child and I'm not making it up!"
"Look, we didn't say that you were," Doyle said, trying to be appeasing, "Just that things like that aren't always what they seem, and..."
"And I'm making it up!"
"No, Sandy love..."
Deciding that discretion, this time, might be the better part of valour, and that a cup of tea could probably wait ten more minutes, since it was already nearly eleven o' clock, Bodie climbed back upstairs. It just might be a good idea to alert Frankie that Sandy was going to need some soothing when she was ready, they could have a good chat and calm down, ready to enjoy the rest of the week.
"...chicken or duck?"
Frankie, who'd been gazing out the window when he came in, brushing her hair, jumped and turned around. "Oh, don't tell me you weren't listening Bodie, it's too complicated to tell you all over again!"
"How could I be listening when I wasn't here? You saw me go down to get tea!" He was starting to feel that he really was in some French farce, people disappearing in all directions, conversations half-heard and surreal.
"But you came back, you came back and you... oh my god..."
"What?" Bodie spun around, but there was nothing there. "I just got up here, Doyle and Sandy are having words, and I wasn't helping so I thought I'd... What's wrong now?"
"So you haven't been up here listening to me while I was talking just now?"
"No, I told you..."
"Oh, that's the absolute end! I'm not staying here another day, Bodie!"
Not both of them... "Frankie love, I don't know what you're on about..."
"I heard you come back in, and I was talking to you, and I could hear you moving about Bodie, and... and even though I didn't turn around I was so sure it was you, and... No," she strode over to the wardrobe, pulled out the suitcase she'd unpacked barely two days before, and began throwing in clothes from the chest of drawers, bras, knickers, stockings, a jumble and riot of colour, Bodie's no more, "We're going home."
"Right." Bodie subsided onto the bed, lying back and closing his eyes.
"Is that all you can say? Do you want me to pack for you? We can go back to my flat, and..."
"Look," he opened his eyes, felt the satin cover against his cheek as he turned to look at her, "We can't go back to London, we only 'ave to set foot south of Watford and our boss has us back at work."
"You mean you'll let me go home on my own?"
"No... But I'm not going back to London. Oh come on Frankie," he turned over, put on a comically winning face, and was rewarded when she half-smiled at him.
"Don't think you'll get around me that way, William Bodie," she said, mock-sternly, "We're not staying here, and that's that... Wait, you said Sandy and Doyle are arguing?" she stopped what she was doing suddenly, and stared at him accusingly, hands on hips.
"No, I said they were having words, they..."
But it was too late, she was off downstairs.
Bodie rolled his eyes and got to his feet. "Frankie..."
The windscreen wipers gave a final, desultory flap and subsided, as Doyle turned off the engine. "Well, that's that then," he said, feeling his own voice low and depressed, fed up with the whole bloody lot of them.
"Women..." he said, wanting the reassurance of another bloke, of someone who knew how unreasonable they'd been, of how they'd ruined it all.
Bodie though, just shrugged. "They were frightened, it's a strange place..."
"Oh don't you start!" He couldn't believe it, Bodie was supposed to back him up, to be there, saying the right things. "You'll be telling me next someone pinched your bum an' all!"
"No chance of that now, is there?" Bodie snapped back, opening the door and heaving himself into the night. The car rocked as he slammed it shut again, and Doyle was on his own. He took a deep breath, covered his face with his hands for a moment, and breathed out again. He'd wanted so much, and it wasn't Bodie's fault, he had to stop taking things out on him...
With a final sigh, running his hands through his hair as if it would clear everything away as easily as an etch-a-sketch, he followed Bodie through the rain and the open front door and into the house.
The house felt strangely still and quiet with the girls gone, and Doyle had to listen hard for some sign of where Bodie'd vanished to. Finally he heard a quiet chinking in the kitchen, spoon on mug, perhaps, and so he shook the last of the raindrops from his hair, straightened his back, and pushed the door open. Get it over with.
Bodie looked up from where he was pouring water from the kettle into two mugs, nodded at him and looked down again. Milk, three spoons of sugar... Doyle took it as it was handed to him, slurped thoughtfully, and then tried to start again.
"I still don't understand why they had to go all the way back home."
"Something frightened 'em."
"Oh brilliant, Miss Marple, but what?"
Bodie shook his head, drank his tea.
"I mean, I've seen cosier places," though he wasn't entirely sure what he meant by that, it was, after all, all beams and fireplace and Christmas tinsel, "But it's not exactly The Exorcist, is it?"
Bodie shrugged again, and Doyle felt as if they were somehow further apart than they'd even been in the car. There had to be some way to save it, to save...
"Bugger this," Bodie said abruptly, slamming his mug down on the counter. "I'm off to the pub. He paused by Doyle on his way out the door, and said, more softly after all, "Start again, alright? Coming?"
Doyle looked at his watch, felt his heart lighten. It'd just be open. "Yeah, alright."
Back into the rain again, a fast tromp along the orange-lit high street, and they were at the Llanycedwyn Arms, a welcome blaze in the muck of the night. They pushed their way in, pausing at the doorway to the bar, choosing the snug instead, and Doyle tapped Bodie on the shoulder, gestured to a table. He'd get the round in, it was the least he could do.
Except that when he sat down again, pints of Buckley's safely in front of them, he found that something was still niggling at him, some...
"You don't think it was anything more than overactive imaginations?"
"Oh, give it a rest!"
He shrugged another apology, looked down at his beer, wishing he could let it go, wishing...
"No, of course it was their imagination," Bodie said, and then he paused. "But..."
"The bathroom door - I looked afterwards. It wasn't locked. If it'd been locked the whole thing would have been smashed, the way you went through it." He shook his head. "But it wasn't, and she couldn't get out."
"She was frightened, she got confused," he suggested, thinking back. He'd forgotten about the lock - another thing that didn't make sense.
"It's a new door handle, Doyle. You push it down, the door practically opens by itself."
"Maybe she was pushing instead of pulling!" Except that, frightened as she'd been, Sandy was smart enough to rattle the door in both directions in her panic. "So you think there's some..."
Bodie shook his head. "I don't think anything." He toyed with his empty glass for a moment, then looked up to meet Doyle's gaze. "Might be worth finding out a bit more about the house."
"Oh yeah? And how're we going to do that on Christmas eve?" he asked, with an uneasy feeling that Bodie knew. Contrarily he wished he had dropped it now, that he'd left it alone, because it wasn't really the girls he cared about anyway, it was... It was Bodie. There, he'd said it again, loud in his head. He just wanted Bodie.
Bodie was nodding over his shoulder though, and Doyle turned around and scanned the pub. It was busier tonight, more of a mix too, young taking full advantage of two days off, men escaped to let their wives finish preparing for Christmas day, for a last bit of cheer before they succumbed to the obligations they felt this once-a-year. And there, in the corner of the bar, sitting on a stool and supping barley wine, was the old museum attendant.
Doyle went to the bar to get another round in, leaving it to Bodie to chat the old man up. By the time he got there, having waited impatiently to be served, they were already into the old stories.
"... was a bit of a contest, see you, and the prize was to be let into the houses, and plied with food and drink through the night. Each side would tease the other, taking it in turns, until one of them finally gave in, and the Mari Lwyd either gained entrance or went to try the next house along. Pwnco, it was called."
"Sounds like wassailing," Doyle said, as he put the drinks down. "Hello, sir."
"Something like," the old man said, "And yet not like. Perhaps they came about for the same purpose, renewal of crops, a new start as the sun came back, that sort of thing." He looked enquiringly at Doyle.
"This is Professor Bowen - Ray Doyle. He's a..." Bodie introduced them, pausing at the end.
"Folklorist," Bowen said patiently, "At the University. Retired now, of course."
"Pleased to meet you," Doyle held out his hand, shook the older, frailer hand he was offered. "We're staying at the old Evans' place..."
"So you told my Bertha," Bowen nodded, "She's right, we never expected to see people in there again."
"Why's that then?" Bodie asked, looking somehow serious under his bluff and good manners.
"Oh, I think you know it's said to be haunted," the old man said, looking from one to the other of them. "And I expect you think I might know the story."
"Well, yeah," Doyle admitted, shooting a glance at Bodie. "The girls were reading a book about it..."
"That'll be my book, then," Bowen said, somewhat proudly, "I'm the only one has mentioned it 'round yere."
"It said a man was killed during some sort of," Doyle shook his head, "Old tradition?"
"Gareth Griffiths. Playing the Mari Lwyd he was, that year, only things went a bit awry, and... well, he was never seen again."
"If he was never seen again, how do they know he was murdered?" Doyle asked reasonably. "Was there someone who wanted him dead?"
"They say he was...hoyw, he was," Bowen shifted uneasily in his seat, as they looked blankly at him. "Gay they call it now," he added finally, and Doyle felt his face grow warm. Stuffy in here, that's all it was...
"Well, they do say he was sweet on the Evans lad, and poor old Griffiths being a bit slack-minded, a bit simple mebbe wasn't as..." he took a breath. "The village knew, I think, that was the problem, so when the Mari Lwyd got a bit out of hand that year, they worried that mebbe it was Evans' father who'd been looking after his boy."
"The trouble with the Mari Lwyd back then was that it was ancient, see you, it wasn't Christian enough for chapel, no matter what they tried to call it. It was a... a thing in it's own right, something they said was a part of Llanycedwyn itself. The spirit, if you like. So the ministers preached hell on it, but that just set the younguns off, so that they played wilder as the yers went on, always trying to better the yer before. That yer... something went wrong, and the Griffiths boy was killed."
"Murdered, or an accident, it's hard to say which it was, now. This all came out yers later, see, in a death-bed confession to the priest, but either Tredegar died before he could tell the whole story, or he never said it all in the first place. All we know is, there was never any body found, and they said for yers that Griffiths had gone off to work in Swansea, though how a lad who was that simple could have got there..."
"And the Marie... what-d'you-call-it?" Doyle asked, "What happened to that?"
"Mari Lwyd," Bowen corrected absently, lost in his tale. "That was the last time in Llanycedwyn, and they never did find the Mari itself. A shame, now, it would have been nice to have for the museum. But there you are."
They sat for a moment in silence, the noise of the pub seeming strangely muted, and then the jukebox blared out suddenly: Out on the wiley, windy moors, we'd roll and fall in green, you had a temper...
Bowen drained his glass, and before they could offer him another, had jumped down from his stool, a small man, still spry despite his age. "I've Bertha waiting for me at home now," he said, "I hope you find what you're looking for..." And then he was gone.
Bodie looked at Doyle, and his eyes seemed dark, clouded. "Happy now?"
Well, he might be, if...
"There's no such thing as ghosts," he pointed out. "Even if some poor bugger was killed in the house."
"Explain what happened to Sandy then. And the..." he paused.
"Look." Bodie paused again, until Doyle thought he wasn't going to go on at all.
"Alright, but... you're not going to like it."
Doyle looked at him.
"The other night, when I had that dream." Pause. "It wasn't the usual sort of thing..." Pause. "I dreamed there was a horse outside, only it wasn't your regular Ascot horse, this thing was... just a skull. And ribbons. And a weird sheet-thing, like a winding-cloth."
Doyle was too confused to even ask what a winding-cloth was. "You mean you... you've heard of this before?"
Bodie shook his head. "No, like I said, it was just a dream. A bad dream."
"So you think this thing is real..."
"I didn't say that..."
Oh god... Suddenly it was too hot, too close inside the pub, and all he wanted was the fresh, wet rain on his face, the wind blowing it all away. How could Bodie believe something like that? Unless he was joking, unless he... He turned, pulling on his coat, and elbowing his way through the crowds that now filled the warm, fuggy room. He could hear Bodie apologising behind him, following him, well, he could just follow him all the way home...
He kept walking, head held high in what was now just drizzle, liking the cold, liking the freeze of it all, blinking droplets from his eyelashes, swiping at his cheeks. Stupid...
"Doyle!" Bodie was there beside him now, hunched into his jacket, collar up to keep the rain from trickling down his neck. Conversely Doyle shook his own coat to loosen it, felt the first of the drops dislodge themselves and slide their chill down his back, along his spine, until he shivered with it.
"Look, Doyle, will you listen? I've heard the bells myself..."
Bells... He stopped abruptly, realising they'd reached the driveway to the house, the last streetlight of the road. "Bells! Of course there are bloody bells, someone's got a wind chime out there, and..." And at that moment, he heard them ring out in the near distance, somewhere behind the house, he thought, and barked out a laugh in disbelief. "See! There's your bells, it's just..." Bodie was looking at him from under his lashes, face a mask. "Right, I'll prove it to you - they're just bloody bells, Bodie!" And he marched off into the dark of the driveway, and around the side of the cottage, determined to follow the sound and pull the things down for once and all. Maybe then, maybe then they would get some peace...
Heart in his mouth, Bodie followed Doyle as he strode along the path between the cottage and the row of trees by the fence, around to the garden at the back. It had been too wet to explore, though he'd looked out at it from the safety of indoors - safety? Stupid way to put it - from indoors, from the warm, the dry. It stretched back for nearly an acre, bound by the winter skeletons and ivy-clad limbs of trees, a tangle of bushes and branches and the odd flower bed.
He nearly lost sight of him as they emerged from the shadows of the cottage, it was almost too dark to see anything at all, and his eyes felt slow to adjust.
"Doyle?" he hissed into the night, not wanting to yell, feeling as though it would echo unnaturally, would call things to them... He cursed himself, raised his voice, and shouted more loudly. "Doyle!" He'd have felt better about it if only he'd heard the bells when Doyle said he had...
"Here," Doyle's voice was not far away, somewhere to the right, and then Bodie moved and saw him, half-hidden against the darkness of the shrubbery. "Listen, this is where they're loudest, they've got to be here..." He looked up, seemed to realise there was nothing from which they could hang above him, looked around again. "I swear they're loudest here." He looked to Bodie for confirmation, and Bodie shook his head.
"I can't hear them, Ray."
"You must hear them, they're..."
"They're here," Bodie said, "I know. Maybe we should look... down."
He saw Doyle lower his head automatically, looking at the ground they stood on, the rain-soaked grass, and the earth below.
"And that'll shut you up, will it?" he asked, and Bodie could hear something else behind the sarcasm and the nastiness, "If we dig in this spot and find nothing at all?"
"Yeah, that'll shut me up," Bodie agreed, not knowing what he wanted, just knowing that... there was something, and this might be an end to it.
"Fine!" Doyle marched off to the small shed at the end of the garden, and Bodie had to fight to stop himself following, especially when he heard the bells ring out quietly beside him, standing there alone.
Imagination, it's your imagination, he thought, knowing it wasn't. And he felt the Mari Lwyd at his shoulder, and for once in his life, just this time, he didn't look back.
When Doyle returned, a rustling through the grass and a swearing as he was caught in the tangle of bushes on the way, Bodie breathed more calmly, though he felt his eyes still wide. Just trying to see in the dark, he told himself, knowing it wasn't.
Doyle had only brought one spade, though how he'd found even that in the dark shed in the cloud-dark night Bodie couldn't guess, but it was shoved at Bodie's chest with a growled "Here!" Doyle watching closely as he put his foot to the blade, pushed it deep into the earth.
The spade sank easily, levered easily too, as though the ground wanted to lift, wanted to turn inside out and empty itself... Job for a forensics team, he thought, not realising consciously that he was presuming there was something down there, not wondering at it when he did.
And eventually the spade hit something hard, and he set it down, and knelt to dig with his hands instead, and Doyle knelt down beside him, and they sank their fingers into the soil, and brought up, together, a horse's skull.
Bodie stared at it for a minute, as the rain slicked mud from the bone, and then he felt a little deeper in the ground, and loosened the earth a little bit more, and brought up the mandible, and... something round, the size of a walnut, fragile... He let the rain clean that too, wiping at it gently, and then he held it by the loop that rose from the top, and shook it, and a muffled clanking rang from within.
"Take it into the house, let's look at it properly," he suggested calmly, feeling strangely practical about it all, as though everything he'd thought he believed wasn't being turned on its head. But then there were peculiar things the world over, and he'd never been able to explain everything they did in Africa either.
"No! No, leave it out here. Wait a minute..." Doyle turned, loped back towards the house, nearly slipping on the rain-slick grass, catching himself and disappearing into the shadows, to emerge again a few minutes later from the kitchen door with something in his hand.
"Here - maybe this'll hold him until morning," he said, dropping the shape into the hole that they'd dug. "Bible from the bedside drawer..." he added, sounding sheepish but defiant, when Bodie looked at him.
Bodie felt laughter welling up inside him. "Bet Gideon's weren't expecting they'd be needed for an emergency like this," he said, shaking his head, his lips twisting in a smile as he looked up through the night at Doyle. "Where'd you get that idea?"
Doyle shrugged. "Well, if you're going to believe in this rubbish, you might as well go the whole hog and assume that the ground is unhallowed and that there's another body down there as well..."
"Simple as that, is it?"
"You call this simple?" Doyle asked, "Standing in the middle of the garden on Christmas eve with a shovel and a horse skull and a bible?"
"In the rain."
"In the rain," he agreed. "I'm not sure Father Christmas is going to look kindly on us."
"You could be right there," Bodie stood up, still feeling ridiculously... light somehow. "Be coal in our stockings for sure. Still, we can always set light to it - I dunno about you, but I'm a bit chilly out here just now. Any more bells?"
Doyle stood still, as if he was listening. "No more bells."
"Good. In that case, shall we go find our stockings?"
And Doyle grinned at him, a flash of white teeth in the dark, and they turned towards the cottage.
They stood, dripping, on the elegant black and white tiles of the kitchen, wet, covered in mud, and somewhat bemused. And yet, for some reason, Doyle felt more at peace than he had since they left London, not even three days ago.
"What just happened out there?" he asked, shrugging off the sopping mess that had been his best jacket, not sure he actually wanted to be told.
Bodie shook his head at him, lips pursed but smiling, mischief and confusion both clear in his eyes, in the set of his jaw, on the planes of his face. He's good-looking, Doyle thought suddenly, out loud in his own head, and wondered why he'd never consciously thought that before. No wonder the girls fell for him, head over heels - who wouldn't, when he looked at you like that?
He's looking at me like that...
"Does it matter? There are more things, Horatio..."
"Horatio? Where'd he come from?" Doyle asked, knowing very well, feeling the warmth of being able to rag Bodie again.
"Shall we give the girls a call," he suggested thoughtlessly, teasing, "Let 'em know what we've been up to?"
And just like that, Bodie was silent suddenly. "Do you really want to?" he asked at last, looking suddenly straight into Doyle's eyes - deeper even - with an intensity Doyle had barely known existed in him. It pulled at him, somehow, brought roiling to the surface everything he'd been wondering, everything he'd hoped, everything he'd worried at.
"Not really," he admitted at last, when he felt he could speak without the words catching. "Do you?"
Bodie shook his head again, still looking at him, into him, and the moment stretched.
Too much, too long, too stupid of them. It was far too dangerous, and it made no sense.
Oh, sod this, he thought suddenly, and he stepped forward so that he was standing right in front of Bodie, could feel the slight tremors through his body from the cold, the brush of his breath, in and out. He closed his eyes so that he didn't have to see it, and he leaned forward, and brought his hand to the back of Bodie's head, and he kissed him, almost chastely, on the lips.
Bodie's lips were cool, almost dry, Doyle felt their softness give a little as he pressed them, ever so gently, together to his own, but apart from that they were still as still, and he was glad he had his eyes shut, because he didn't want to see that Bodie'd changed his mind, that this thing, this one thing, he'd read wrongly from him, his heart racing as he began to pull back, to let go of rain-slick hair, and wants and desires and loves.
And then he felt himself held, his hand stopped as he began to lift it away, an arm slide itself around him, capturing him where he was, and then Bodie's lips were on his again, and he leaned into it, felt Bodie lean into him, opened his mouth, and gave himself up to it.
It was good, feeling the warmth of Bodie up against him, hard-muscled but soft, firmly planted, but yielding. And Bodie's skin felt good against his, where ever he could feel it, Bodie's hand on his, then on his neck, then through the fabric of his shirt, tracing a line down his back, and under his own hands as he felt his way from Bodie's head, around to his jaw, over his chest and then up again, pushing away jacket and shirt and vest, and...
Something niggled at him, something rubbed grittily against his hands, his lips as he took a moment to breathe air, his lips still wanting Bodie's skin, his cheeks, his throat his... Mud. It was mud, and in the haze of want and need and have he tasted it, grim in his mouth, and another idea came to him, and he began to push Bodie towards the door, stripping his jacket from his shoulders at the same time, fighting to claim Bodie's arms long enough to take it off completely.
Bodie nearly tripped at the stairs, walking backwards as he was, clutching blindly at Doyle to keep balance, opening his eyes to see where they were. "Doyle? What're we doing?"
"Gonna take a shower."
"Yeah?" Bodie leaned into his neck, bit him gently, and Doyle heard himself moan as electricity seemed to shoot through him, liquid sparks from Bodie's lips straight to his groin, and he forgot about the shower, reaching his arms around Bodie and sliding his hands down to cup his arse, pulling them hard together, kissing him again... What was a bit of mud after all?
If Bodie was speaking, he must have stopped kissing him, and Doyle realised he had, was just standing against him, moving with him, breathing in the smell of him.
"Doyle? That shower..."
They managed the stairs, slowly at first until Bodie lost patience and refused to kiss him again before they reached the top, and when they got there they paused, giggling against each other, drunk with the way it was so natural and so bizarre at the same time.
"Shower," Bodie said again, as he pressed Doyle to the wall and kissed him hard, and then he turned and led the way into the bathroom, where he set the water gushing over the tub, steam rising into the air, and began taking off his clothes, the way he always did, with quick, economical movements, and Doyle realised that he very much wanted to see Bodie wet -- they were already wet, but wet and warm and naked, and he stood, simply watching.
"Yeah?" Bodie was... well, he was as good-looking naked as he was fully-clothed, and even though Doyle had noticed that before, had imagined it so many ways, so many times before, this was different, because Bodie was here, and he was...
... he was taking hold of him and he was dragging Doyle under the water with him, fully-clothed still, so that they stood together, entwined again, only Bodie was fumbling with his jeans, opening them, stripping them down his legs, losing patience half way -- that was the trouble with tight jeans -- and tearing instead at Doyle's shirt until they were standing bare chest to bare chest, cock to cock, mouth to mouth, straining against each other.
Half-shackled by his jeans, Doyle slid on the enamel as he moved to give them better leverage, and Bodie caught him, turned him around, and grasped hold of his cock, so that liquid electricity was right there, and it was... as he felt Bodie's own slide between his thighs, against his balls, as he braced them both against the shower so that they could move... and they moved together, and...
"You don't walk under ladders either," he said suddenly to Bodie, as they lay, finally clean, mostly sleepy, and totally, absolutely at peace in the four poster bed.
"You don't... never mind." But it was true, now that he thought about it, and maybe there were more hidden depths to Bodie than just his poetry and his loyalty and his lo... No. Half said he unsaid it -- time enough for that sort of thing later, when they knew more about this.
Downstairs a clock began to chime the hour, midnight... no, two o clock in the morning. Christmas day.
"What did they say the Mari Lwyd was for, again?" he asked, half-remembering something he'd been told twice, and hadn't believed either time.
"Start of the new year," Bodie said sleepily, "Out with the old, in with the new, all that rubbish."
"In with the new, eh?" he slid suggestively, lasciviously, hopefully against Bodie. "You know, I think I'm all for that. Last year was..."
"A swine of a year?"
"... not as good as..." he pressed himself against Bodie again, felt him stir, felt the arms around him tighten, "... it could have been."
"True enough." Bodie moving now, setting up a rhythm between them again, their own rhythm for running, for teasing, for being them together. "But it didn't end too badly, did it? Happy Christmas, sunshine."
Doyle gasped contentedly, sank himself into the moment and the next and the next. "Yeah... Happy New Year, an' all..."
-- THE END --