The Flat


Fifteen bloody hours chasing will o' the wisps and rumour had left Ray Doyle in a foul mood. He wanted nothing more than to get home and sleep, but hunger was also demanding his attention and so he stopped on the trip back for a late meal. The place he chose had only two virtues: it was open, and it was on the way home. He had never stopped there before, but there was parking, and it was just off the motorway. Outside, the faded paint and yellowed shades hinted of a less than successful enterprise; he had almost turned and left before he pulled open the heavy wooden door. A laughing couple had released marvellous scents of onion and fresh bread into the night air as they opened the door to go out, however, and his stomach had the final vote.

Inside it appeared no better than the outside, with uneven lighting and a jumble of assorted tables and chairs. Yet almost all the tables were filled, the food came promptly, and it was so good he forgave the white rings on the wood of the uncovered table. The woman who brought his food and drink was cheerful, the place was warm, and by the time he had inhaled the last bite, Doyle was feeling human again. He was just wondering to himself if he wanted something sweet to end with when a hand fell on his shoulder.

"Ray Doyle! I was thinking it might be you!"

Doyle's first impulse had been to react as a CI5 agent, but the sound of the golden tones froze the inclination and his hand moved away from his gun. He knew that voice!

"Topper!" Doyle rose out of his chair, turning to face a tall, heavyset man with a wide smile and a head with only a fringe of red hair left above his ears. "Topper?" he asked again, less certainly.

"You've not changed a bit, lad!"

The same could not be said of Walter Toppenham, who had doubled his weight and halved his hair. Doyle grinned and did not make the obvious comment, instead saying, "How have you been? It's been...."

"Fifteen years if it's a day! Have you time to talk?" Topper asked, eyeing the empty plate and glass at Doyle's place.

"Oh, yes, although if I fall asleep mid-sentence, don't take it personally. Long day. What brings you here?"

"Habit. Charla gets tired of me taking up space in front of the telly and sends me out for a bit of exercise." The man made an expressive face, and Doyle laughed.

"You're still with Charla, then?" Doyle asked, remembering a petite young lady with red nails who had dressed always in black skirts and t-shirts. Had she changed as much?

"Married her, dear boy, when the first baby came along."

"Which you vowed you'd never do," Doyle reminded him, and he meant both marriage and fatherhood.

"Don't remind me. There's three of them, now." Topper did not look at all distressed, and in fact there was a note of pride in his voice which caused Doyle to grin. "There now, no call to look like that! I suppose you're still fancy free, then?"

Doyle thought of Ann and waited for the still keen stab of regret which he was learning to live with. It didn't come, and he was able to say, "Almost got caught last year, but it fell through. I'm a bachelor still."

"And a policeman, I heard. Never would have thought it! Ray Doyle, upholding the law! You were the wildest of us all!"

"No, that was Tom!" Doyle said, avoiding the question of his profession and leading the discussion back to old times.

"Tom. He was a bit of a tearaway in his time, wasn't he?" Topper said, his lips turning down and his tone muted.

Doyle considered. "I take it Tom is no longer with us?" he said quietly.

"Wrapped his lorry around a bridge ten years ago. We had a lovely wake for him. He'd 'ave enjoyed it. Just his sort of do." Topper's eyes squinted as he looked back to the memory. "All the B's."

"Booze, babes, and breakfast at the end of it!" Doyle recalled with him. Images swirled in his head as he remembered.

"Don't forget the other B!" Topper said with a wink.

"Boys," Doyle said, with half a laugh.

"Specifically, butts, Doyle. The year we discovered sodomy, eh?" Topper gave an exaggerated wink.

"The same year half the group discovered hemp," Doyle added. He remembered the ugly flat, the broken down chairs and sprung sofas which decorated the place, the thick haze of smoke and the clink of bottles, and then someone turned up the music until the ancient walls vibrated and the windows rattled. He remembered dancing....

"The good old days." Topper smiled at some memory of his own. The flat had been Topper's idea in the beginning. A group of art students, all more or less poor, all wanting space to work, had scraped together the monthly rent on the place. It had nothing going for it except the bank of windows on two sides gave an enormous amount of natural light. Let in the cold as well, Doyle remembered. He could almost feel the stiffness in his fingers as he'd tried to paint. Tried. Even with warm fingers, it had been a frustrating experience. So much inside, wanting to be expressed, and so little talent. He'd felt real rage when, after days and days, he had no more to show for his time than if he'd simply poured the paint down the drain.

"Couldn't have been that bad," Topper commented, seeing his expression.

"Thinking about the art. I was so bad," he admitted, "I didn't even know how bad I was."

Topper laughed. "You weren't good," he agreed, "and you weren't the worst. There's not a working artist in the lot, you know. Salesmen and clerks and teachers, now, all of them. Bonnie was the only one to even come close to a career in art. She has an antique shop. Makes her money off tourists."

"Bonnie! Those damn cigarette holders she kept practicing with, and all the while her eyes watering because she couldn't bear the smell of tobacco!" Doyle laughed aloud at the memory.

"Bad as that idiot with the beret--him, the lad with the sharp nose, you remember?"

Doyle did. He had always had a memory for faces. The artist's eye, but none of the skill. "Trin something. Hung around with Tom."

"Trin Scott, I think it was. Knew his place, that one." Topper leered, then poked towards Doyle, his finger not quite touching his skin. "Not like some I could mention."

"Frustrated you, did I?" Doyle asked with a grin.

"Lord, yes. You were a beautiful lad, Doyle. All arse and eyes, under that mop of curls. Come to think of it, you still are. How'd you like to make me happy in my old age?"

"And bend over for you? Not likely, old son. And didn't you tell me you're married?" Doyle wanted to know.

"So? As long as I don't bring home anything catching, right?"

"Those your words, or hers?" Doyle asked.

"We have an agreement. Any privilege I have, she can have, and vice versa. She has an old boyfriend or two."

Doyle wondered how that worked. His own moral code had flexible spots, but married women were more trouble than they were worth, and he believed in fidelity within marriage. Why bother playing the game if you were going to cheat or change the rules?

"Whatever works," Doyle said casually, keeping his opinions to himself.

Topper laughed. Doyle looked at him in inquiry. "It's just that I'm getting old. Must be. The thrill of the chase is dimming, and it just seems like too much work. I'm no beauty, so what I manage to charm into my bed isn't much anyway. It's a sad thing, Doyle, when you realize you've taken to bed someone the age of your mum, just to have your end away that night." Doyle nodded solemnly. His own experiences with older women had been odd ones. Safer to stick to sweet young things who thought the little tricks you knew were fantastic. Although lately he hadn't even done much of that.

"I'm even considering giving up my share of the flat," Topper was saying.

Doyle focused on him. "You're never telling me that's still going!"

"The flat? Hell, yes! Not the one we had at first; they tore that down years ago. We transferred to a flat in the building just north--you remember it? We used to call it the palace!"

"Do I? Too rich for our blood, I remember. It had central heating!"

"And all other mod cons. We've the attic, now. Nice light for painting--not that many of us use it for that."

"Still the same arrangement? Seven members, one seventh of the expenses and obligations, and an assigned day?"

"The same," Topper nodded. "I've got," he paused for effect, "Monday."

"Would have killed for Monday, back when," Doyle admitted, memory making him smile.

"I had Friday, you had Saturday. Could only use the place to paint in the mornings because on the weekends, everyone expected to party there at night."

"I remember scraping up the money, taking odd jobs so I could pay my share of the rent. It's a wonder I ever had any time to paint!" Doyle shook his head. Just last month he had been undercover, working as a box maker while watching for smuggled guns, using skills he had learned while earning his extra rent money all those years ago.

"Yes, and in those days you only had to come up with a tenner. It's fifty a month, now. It went up last year. It hurts the budget now almost as much as it did then," Topper said. "That's why I'm thinking of getting out. I could put half that amount away and surprise Charla with a holiday next summer."

"She knew about the flat in the old days," Doyle recalled.

"She knows about it now, but not about the price increase. She'd be livid if she knew!"

There was a pause in the conversation as Doyle ordered them both fresh drinks. Then he asked, "Who shares the place? The old group?"

"Wally has Tuesdays. You remember him? Thought he could sculpt?"

"I remember." The man could make a huge mess without half trying, and the damn stone chips got everywhere. Stepping on them with bare feet was an unforgettable experience.

"He just uses the place to get away from his mother. Terrible old bitch. Man named Fillbeck has Saturdays. Says he wants to be a writer and this is the only way he can get a day of uninterrupted work done. He's produced two books. Can't say if they're any good or not, but I saw one in a shop once. Had a nasty cover, all dripping blood and fangs. He's a grocer's assistant, too, I think. Sandra has Wednesdays and her friend Mona has Thursdays. They're both in art school. Young things. Actually paint, I believe. Wish we'd had their dedication. Deadly dull about it, they are."

"Won't give you the time of day, eh?" Doyle laughed.

"Too right. Half think they must be...." He waggled his fingers suggestively.

"It would explain why they turned you down," Doyle said, but his pursed lips and laughing eyes told that he thought there was another reason.

"You don't leave an old man any illusions, Sugar Ray! You always were a hard lad."

Doyle didn't offer any sympathy, smiled at the old nick-name and only asked, "Who has the other days?"

"Friday is Zach Thomas, Sunday is Mark Lane. Lane is usually there with his squeeze of the week. The colour of hair changes, but not the empty space under it...Thomas has the same hobby and picks up the same types, but they're the opposite sex."

"Nothing changed there."

"I know. They're both late with the money half the time, too. Lane's on probation. We're tired of fronting the money for him. But having to vet new candidates is a pain in the arse."

"I remember." And Topper was ethical enough not to leave the group in the lurch. He probably wouldn't quit the group himself while there were two possible changes in the offing.

"Only thing worse is trying to find a new char. Have a good one now. Comes in every week day from 11 to 11:30 in the morning. Does for someone else in the building so it's no trouble."

"I remember when we didn't have help and we were each assigned jobs. Lattie went nuts trying to force us all to do our part."

"Gave up on us all and went to Australia!" Topper remembered. "He's a banker there, now, did you know?"

"The sort with double ulcers," Doyle predicted.

"No doubt. Another?" Topper asked, indicating Doyle's empty glass.

"No. I'm done for. I need twelve hours of sleep, one more glass and I'll be taking it right here, or face down in the gutter. I'd best be getting home." Doyle stood up slowly, frowning. Then he said, "Topper? Put my name down on the list, will you? I think I need a home away from home."

Topper looked a bit startled, but said, "You should see the place first."

"No, that's fine. Let me have your number. I'd give you mine, but I'm never home." Which was true, but not the only reason.

Topper produced a scrap of paper and a pencil, and provided the number, all the while a big smile on his face. "We wouldn't even have to look into you--there's enough of the old crowd who'd remember. Worth it not to have to go through that again. Call on the first."

"Or as soon after as I can."

"You married, Ray?"

"I told you...."

"Oh. Right. Sorry. I'm just used to blokes wanting to get away from the little woman."

Doyle grinned. It wasn't a little woman he was interested in getting away from, more like a little man. A sandy-haired, sharp-tongued old bastard.

Doyle shook hands with his old friend, said his good-bye and went back to his vehicle, forcing back yawns and old memories. Wonderful, the old days, but not the sort he wanted to live over again. He shook his head, focusing on the lines of the road, blinking his eyes to keep them functioning.

He'd actually asked for the next opening, the next occasion when a flat and a day came available. Furthermore, he experienced a sensation of wicked anticipation such as he hadn't felt in years, because he was quite sure he was going to break the rules if he actually got the place. He was not going to tell anyone about this bolthole, this secret room. Certainly not Cowley, and not his partner, either.

What made him think he wanted a place of his own? Bodie had confessed to having some boltholes, some secret stores, and he'd even shown Doyle two of them. Probably had a half dozen more, the paranoid sod. Bodie had become even more so since that affair with his East German girlfriend. Botched all the way around, that was, and it still stung. Bodie, Doyle--and Cowley. Cowley cooperated with the other agency, he had shared a big job with Willis and that mob only last month, but Doyle knew he did it with his eyes wide open, with all his moves backed up and checked. Wouldn't like to be Willis, for when the opportunity came, Cowley was going to drop his opposite number in it up to his scrawny neck. With any luck, Doyle and Bodie would be around to help.

His mind was not staying on the subject he had set for it. Sure sign of exhaustion. Still, a good night's sleep would set him up, and tomorrow he'd see Bodie again. He'd missed his partner. Bodie had been undercover for a week, playing the part of a taxi driver. Doyle spared a moment of pity for Bodie's paying customers, but none at all for the drug ring which CI5 had broken. His pity was all for himself, tracking down rumours about mysterious men and missing payrolls for days and days, and nothing to show for it, either. Cowley wouldn't be happy.

Doyle turned onto his block with a sense of intense relief, parked his car, locked it, got his bag from the boot, and forced himself to be alert, to go cautiously to his flat. He'd been away, and who knows what waited for him?

Cold rooms, nothing in the cupboards and nothing hiding under the bed. He set his locks, pulled a plastic bottle of milk from the freezer to leave on the counter to thaw--he'd learned that trick from Bodie--turned on the heat and crawled into bed, promising himself a hot shower in the morning. He recalled nothing else until his alarm went off six hours later.

He slapped the thing into silence and gave himself over to hot water and a shave, to the pleasures of tea and a hearty breakfast and fresh clothing. Energy filled him, and he whistled tunelessly as he strode out the door.

It was when he was in the car again that it came to him exactly why he was in such a good mood. It was because he would team up with Bodie again today.


The whistle faded. Doyle was well aware that Bodie was coming to represent a problem. All very well to become fond of your best mate, to depend on your partner for just about everything. Just fine if you liked him, enjoyed his jokes, appreciated his capabilities.

But admiring his arse was a bit over the line.

So was imagining what those lips would feel like under his.

Worst of all was imagining what Bodie would say if he ever found out about Doyle's little deviations.

It was all Topper's fault, Doyle thought unfairly, slowing down to join the stream of morning traffic at the intersection. Topper had been the first of their group to dare try it on with a member of his own sex. He'd winked and bragged and boasted until one by one, each of the others had tried it as well. Doyle had been one of the last, put off by the eagerness with which others had attempted his initiation. He'd finally given it a try. Topper had offered his arse with the understanding that Doyle would reciprocate in the reasonably near future.

Doyle had liked doing it to Topper. But he had been a kid, on fire most of the time, willing to fuck at the drop of a pair of pants and only moderately picky about what ended up in his bed. Doyle had followed Topper's directions and been satisfied. Keeping his own part of the bargain a week later had been hard, although he's never let anyone see how reluctant he had been. It had hurt--but he'd adjusted and after a few more trades, had started to spend his time equally between the boys and the girls. On some rather memorable nights, he'd had both in the same bed.

"Randy little toad," he said to the memory.

He'd given up the boys and the art and the friends for the police. It had been a good trade in most ways. A regular pay cheque, a sense of being of use in the world, the occasional victory in the war against crime, all had kept him from looking back. New friends, new goals, new lovers. It had all changed again when he joined CI5.

With CI5 had come Bodie. Bodie, the aggravating sod. Bodie, the tough man, the ex-merc, the soldier. The man.

The problem.

His problem met him as he entered the rest room door, met him with a lewd comment and a beaker of stewed tea. Doyle accepted both in the spirit in which they were offered and sat down to wait his master's call. Cowley, facing down audits and accountants for the third straight day, emerged in mid-morning for just long enough to bark out assignments.

"Cleaning house," Bodie sighed, as they climbed into Doyle's car. "Again."

"Has to be done." Doyle pulled out of the car park and into traffic.

"Poor damn Culbert. Can't even go for a pee ten years after you leave CI5, without George wanting to know."

"It's a little more serious than that. He's not been seen for days," Doyle said. "And he only left us last year."

"He's the smart one, if you ask me. Gateman at a posh development like that one, and all he has to do is peer out from his little brick box, and say, 'Ah, Mr Filthy Rich,' and punch the red button which opens the electronic gate."

"Bit more to it than that, surely," Doyle suggested.

"Not much. Easiest security job there is."

"If you call it easy to be cooped up for hours at a time."

"Bet he takes a book. Improves his mind. I would," Bodie said, virtuously.

"Yours needs it. Do I turn here?"

"Your own mind could use a bit of help, Raymond. Of course you don't turn here. Left at the pub."

Doyle followed Bodie's directions, allowing Bodie his smug nod of confirmation. He allowed Bodie a lot, these days. Not that it seemed to be harming anything.

"We might get off on time for once," Bodie commented later. "Want to try that new Chinese takeaway?"

"Fine," Doyle said, not letting his pleasure at the thought of spending the evening with Bodie show. "Are you paying?" he asked, with hope in his voice.

"Your turn," Bodie said at once.

"So it is." Doyle had known that all along. He always knew whose turn it was, just as Bodie always knew. When they didn't know, they together chose the path, playing children's games or simple lotteries to resolve the question.

Fairness had been the basis of the relationship they carved out during those first strained days as partners. Part of their ability to communicate with a minimum of words, to know what the other was going to do in any situation, was based on a sense of fair play and turn and turn about. Both kept the running total in their heads, tallying score automatically in a game which had been running for years.

The accounting had started from distrust, each keeping severe count of every point, taking turns being the one to dash first up a stair, to go first into a room where a killer lurked. Soon, it became just a shorthand, a way of easing the non-essentials from a discussion or an action. It had evolved into something so much a part of how they were that they were no longer even aware they did it.

Now, they did not always take things exactly in turns--and yet each always knew what the actions of the other would be. The complexities of a shared past had woven into their very personalities. They knew each other extremely well.

But Bodie didn't know how Doyle felt.

Wasn't going to know, either. Doyle had decided that a long time ago. To speak was to betray the fabric of their relationship. They had used women as a touchstone in their reactions to each other, had the pursuit of the fair sex as their shared hobby. To imagine Bodie turning from women was to think of him turning from food or air. He enjoyed his affairs, short honest things with no pretence about them. The young women who found Bodie in their beds knew he was there for a romp and a tickle, they knew he was allergic to the chimes of wedding bells.

No doubt Bodie thought Doyle's philosophy the same as his own, although Doyle had always been more serious about his birds than Bodie. Doyle had always had, in the back of his mind, a vision of eventual domesticity. Cozy flat, adoring woman, a baby or two--he'd never imagined specifically 'who,' but he had always just assumed a 'what.'

That changed.

After Ann, with the dream in tatters around him, he had picked up the pieces and went on. Bodie had been there, supporting him in a solid, matey way. Slowly, the dark had drifted away from the vision of "who," and Doyle had come to realize that his feelings for Ann had masked other feelings, feelings he had not been able to acknowledge. Feelings he half hated and half gloried in. Feelings he did not dare to put a real name to, for fear of saying the truth aloud.

"You're quiet."


"Kept you up last night, did she?" Bodie teased, with a wink and a waggle of the eyebrows on the "up."

"Was decently alone last night, as you probably well know. You try driving a hundred miles in the dark in the rain!"

Bodie snorted. "We've both done that before!"

"Not alone. I can usually count on your snores to keep me awake!"

"Nasty, dear boy. Who does the driving, nine times out of ten?"

"The one who needs the practice?" Doyle asked.

"The one who knows what he's doing. Way you drive, we'll die of old age before we get to Culbert's!"

"In a hurry, are you? Eager to see him again?"

Bodie made a rude sound. "You know very well I could never stand the bloody bastard."

Doyle nodded wisely. "Never got over the time he beat you over the obstacle course, have you?"

"He cheated."

"Did he?" Doyle said nothing else, but grinned.

"Besides, he took advantage of my good nature."

Doyle tossed him an inquiring look.

"Never paid back the whole of anything. He'd round it off--always in his favour!"

Doyle let his lips turn up again. "Maybe he just didn't have any change."

"He had it--always feeding it into the machines, wasn't he?"

"That's why he didn't have any," Doyle explained in the careful measured tones one used when talking to foreigners and persons of doubtful mental capacity.

"Never?" Bodie refused to agree, on general principles.

"Is this our turn?" Doyle asked, knowing perfectly well it was. Bodie was successfully distracted, and Doyle made sure the conversation for the rest of the drive stayed safely on the subject of the chances for Liverpool on the tenth.

Their ID's got them past the gate, a manager's key got them into Culbert's tiny bungalow on the grounds. It had been inhabited by a tidy man with no real secrets--after the CI5 agents were done, every inch of his home had been turned over. Everything from the Mayfair under the mattress to the stains in the coffee cups came under their scrutiny.

"Left his wad," Bodie said, showing the roll of cash he had discovered tucked into a mug in the back of the cupboard.

"All his papers seem to be here," Doyle added, closing a previously locked metal box which had been under the bed.

"So where did he go?" Bodie asked.

"You might talk to the bloke at the gate, while I annoy the residents?" Doyle suggested.

"Not too much, Doyle. Cowley won't like it if he starts getting those phone calls about you again."

"Cowley can...."

"Ah ah!" Bodie shook his finger in warning and ducked out the door. Doyle put on his best servant-of-the-public face and went to ask his questions of the neighbours.

The neighbours all had domestic help, most of which were not adverse to a bit of gossipy chat. They all knew of Culbert's status among the missing, all had something nice to say about him, but none knew even his first name. One of four men involved in security for the housing estate, Culbert had been the newest and the most nondescript. He had foiled a robbery his second day on the job, and was the most alert of the guards. He was also the one who followed the rules, who actually looked at the ID when he asked for it, the one who annoyed the residents at times when it seemed he was being overly cautious.

Doyle went to every house, and there were sixteen of them. When Bodie found him, Doyle was standing on the walk, staring at one of the four flower gardens which were tucked between each quad of houses.

"Don't like the colour?" Bodie asked.

Doyle said, "Nobody's seen him since he got off work that night. Is there something about this," he waved a hand, "which strikes you as not quite right?"

"It's ugly," Bodie offered.

"In addition to the obvious?" Doyle wanted to know.

Bodie looked it over, then glanced across at another of the cultivated plots for comparison. "No," he said.

"Did I ever mention that I went to art school?" Doyle asked casually as he walked around the small flower bed. There were raised brick planters, with urns of coloured cement holding cascades of greenery or glowing spots of colour.

"Once. Or twice. Flunked out, didn't you?"

"A complete failure," Doyle agreed with candour. "But some of it stuck between the grey cells. All the others," he pointed at the garden sections, "have the hues of the flowers change in a kind of circular pattern, moving from the outside to the middle. But this one doesn't."

"Offends your artistic soul, does it? Is there a reason you've decided to stop and critique the garden?" Bodie asked. There was no scorn in his voice, no implication that Doyle should stop wasting his time. He waited for more information.

"Does the earth look a trifle disturbed to you?" Doyle asked.

"You think somebody buried him here midst the daisies?" Bodie jeered.

"No, I think someone could see the gates from here--if they shifted a few of these cement pots temporarily."

"Lying down, hidden by the plants. Could do," Bodie agreed. "At night. During the day it would be taking a stupid chance."

"At night," Doyle agreed. "And in the dark they got the flowers back out of order."

"Leaving the question of--why?"

"I'm open to suggestions, Sherlock."

"He had just switched to the six to midnight shift. Each man was to walk the perimeter of the grounds after he got off his shift, look for anything suspicious. What did he see?"

"If he was here, he was watching his own station!" Doyle had moved the urns--not without some difficulty--and stretched out in the space. Facing away from the gate left him staring at a rhododendron. He switched again, fitting his body into the area. Head down, he had a perfect view between two bushy miniature mums.

"Or," Bodie said, "some person driving or walking in or out. But why settle down for a long obbo, then?"

"You think it was Culbert here? Not somebody watching him?" Doyle asked, scrambling up.

Bodie helped him pull the urns back into place, and then brushed at Doyle's leaf covered shirt and jeans. He didn't notice as Doyle turned slightly pale.

"Time to call Papa," Bodie intoned. "But you're the bright lad with the clue. You talk to him."


"I'm going to go over the log with the guard again. They only log visitors, not the coming and going of the people who live here. Then I'm going to walk around this place, same as the guards are supposed to do four times a day."

"Exercise. So good for the figure," Doyle agreed, automatically ducking out of the way of Bodie's mock punch.

Cowley listened to Doyle's report without commenting, and then said, "I've had a background check done on everyone who resides there, Doyle, and they're clean, they're all clean, twenty years back and more. But twenty one years ago...."

"Dirt?" Doyle suggested, knowing that tone.

"Aye, dirt, swept under the carpet, but dirt, non'th'less, and ours to deal with. Pay special attention to the occupants of #12, a family of four named Netherton. I want you to become familiar with the area, go to each house again. Show your ID, ask too many questions. At dark, I want you to watch who comes, who leaves. I'm sending Jax, Emery and DeLeon to follow any vehicle which departs from #12. Is this clear?"

"Very, sir."

"Cowley out."

Doyle signed off as well and went to tell Bodie his visions of an early evening off had just been blown to the moon.

It wasn't an exciting day, but the weather was good, and Bodie was in fine form, using his charm or his best official manner as the situation required. When they had been to each house, Doyle went for the meal, bringing back double portions of chicken and chips for Bodie.

Fingers shining with grease and chips disappearing at an amazing clip shouldn't have been erotic, but Doyle was forced to look away, to pretend diligence at the job. It annoyed him. He told himself it wasn't Bodie, but only old habits drifting up from his past to haunt him. Old dirt, he thought, and smiled. Bodie gave him an inquiring look over his well-gnawed bone, but Doyle just shook his head and gave a shrug. Bodie only tilted an eyebrow and went back to coaxing the last slivers of meat into his digestive system.

They left with noise and a proper thank-you-for-assistance at the gate, only to drive five blocks away, park the car in a quiet spot, and walk back to the area.

"We're actually lurking behind a tree," Bodie said in disgust later.

"Not exactly spoilt for choice, are we. These people designed their homes to discourage loitering by the under-classes, didn't they?" Doyle pointed out.

"Not as clever as they might have been, with only one exit out of that place."

"How are you at climbing trees? Bet we can see both the gate and #12 from halfway up."

Bodie looked up. "Too obvious in daylight. Have to wait for dark to use the tree, and then there will be easier ways to stay out of sight. Trees are damned uncomfortable after the first five minutes."

"Spent a lot of time in trees, have you? Darwin may have been right!"

"Berk. Get out your pen, Raymond, someone is pulling up at the gate." Bodie was the one reading off the numbers from the plates and describing the occupants of the vehicle, while Doyle noted it down in his neat crabbed handwriting. Jax and the others arrived at dusk, and they ate sandwiches Jax had brought, and waited.

Two cars parked in the drive of #12 left shortly after eleven, and were followed by CI5 vehicles. A sporty red number arrived there at midnight, and left at one, and that was followed as well. Bodie was up in the tree with the night glasses, whispering to Doyle perched below. Doyle leaned against the rough bark and tried to hear only the words, and not the rich sibilant sound, tried not to think of Bodie, whispering a different sort of message into the night.

They were relieved at two, sent to get some sleep and report to Cowley at ten. Bodie drove, and Doyle found he was watching Bodie's face through slitted eyes while pretending to doze, and he felt a growing annoyance with himself.

He always fell hard, when he fell, tumbling into near obsession with the object of his desires. His romance with Ann had been like that, an all-the-sudden total immersion into delightful enchantment. Be damned if he was going to fall for Bodie in the same way. He could imagine nothing more difficult to deal with--or more painful. Might as well just give up the job now. He could become gatekeeper to the upper middle class, maybe. There was a job open.

Dark humour. Bodie's sort of thing more than his. But then, he was well aware of the way he had picked up some of Bodie's tastes and habits, and Bodie's likes and prejudices, just as Bodie had adopted some of his. Running in the morning, for example, and writing the date first when filling out reports and....

"We're here."

Doyle roused. "Where's here?"

"My place. Pick me up in the morning?" Bodie asked as he opened the door.

"Right." Doyle yawned and got out to cross to the driver's side.

He drove away at once, resisting the urge to watch Bodie walk away.

He really ought to do something about Bodie, he thought when he was alone. He checked to see if he was being followed as he pulled out of the parking space, but as he could see nothing suspicious, he went back to his thoughts. Doing something about Bodie.

Not Bodie's fault, he reminded himself. What was there to do? Quit? Stupid thing to do, really. There would be questions, Bodie would take it wrong, and on top of everything, Doyle wasn't a quitter. He liked the job. It would have to become hell on earth before he gave it up. It was hard working with Bodie while he lusted after him, but Bodie was the best part of CI5.

The solution was to do something about the lust. Maybe it wasn't Bodie, exactly. Bodie was just the man he worked with most closely, and he was funny and good at the job and handsome. Of course Doyle had been attracted to him. Rather by default, when you thought of it that way. What he should do is find himself an outlet for those feelings. A man. Surely, if he looked, he could find a discreet man for a few hours here and there.

He'd have to approach it with the same caution an agent of CI5 approached anything. It was possible to do it. He had no illusions about that. For all the wide range of results that a good solid investigation could produce, there were always facts never discovered at the time. The trick was to never leave a money trail, and never share a secret.

He thought about it until he left the car. Putting thoughts on hold in favour of caution, he made his way to his door, and then inside. Automatically, as he hung up his coat, his mind started up again.

Topper. That was the first step. He could talk Topper into sharing his day at the flat, until a day opened up which he could have for his own. The harder task would be finding a man to take to the flat. Doyle had a preference for clean, muscular men, men without any feminine attributes, men who were not into dominance, leather or pain. He knew where such men were to be found, but there was a risk in being seen in such places. The risks in advertising were just as bad. Worse.

Topper again? The man could keep a secret, and he'd enjoy the assignment, enjoy having the excuse to go looking. But was there a better way to do this? He gave it thought all during his shower, and he was still thinking about the angles as he drifted off to sleep.

He called in the morning, but Topper had already left for work. Doyle declined to leave a message, and he was glad Charla did not recognize his voice. Morning brought second thoughts over his cereal and milk; he continued to mull over the subject until he pulled up in front of Bodie's. His partner met him at the door, jacket half on and a last piece of toast clutched between his teeth.

"Running late, are we?" Doyle asked, taking the toast from between Bodie's lips as the other checked both locks on the door. He tried not to think of the warmth of Bodie's breath on his fingers, of almost touching those lips.

"Mmmmph," Bodie said, having taken back the toast and disposed of half of it in one bite.

Sad, when a man could look that sexy with toast crumbs all over his face. "Eloquent bastard," Doyle said, with as much fondness as he allowed himself to voice.

"Cowley wants us to go directly out, now," Bodie reported, before disposing of the other half of the toast.

"Come on then, William. Don't dawdle," he advised, as Bodie slowed to watch an under-age but over-endowed young woman cross the street towards them.

"Not what I was thinking of doing," Bodie said, eyes still following her progress down the walk.

"Thoughts like that will get you a new residence, complete with bars and a clanging door, mate."

Bodie laughed. "Looking won't get me arrested. Do you want me to drive?"

"If you'll keep your eyes on the road, Romeo!" Doyle slid into the passenger seat and fastened his seatbelt, mindful of Cowley's latest campaign. Having recently lost an agent solely for the reason that the man had been unsecured during a high-speed chase, Cowley had taken to verbally harassing any agent who now neglected the basic safety precautions.

"Romeo? That's your way of telling me she's about fourteen, is it?"

"I thought Juliet was thirteen?" Doyle said, with a glance back. A crime, putting kids in high heels like that. Made them look older, and it was provocative, the way their rear ends swayed. And it made him feel old to realize he was reacting like a....

Like a man in his mid-thirties, old enough to be her father, old enough so that his first reaction wasn't lust, but concern for the little fool--and her family, letting her go out like that.

"It's not like I was thinking of asking her out, Doyle. You know, you've become very judgmental of late. I should watch that, if I were you."

Doyle said, "They're doing something to the road ahead. You'll want to turn left."

Bodie turned at once, but didn't let the subject drop. "I've a date with an air hostess tonight. Although if tonight is anything like last night I shall go to bed with my balls in knots. Again."

I could solve that little problem for you, Doyle thought, but what he said was, "Something wrong with your good right hand?"

"It can't kiss. Love a good snoggin' session. Osculation, Doyle, is something very difficult to do alone."

Doyle had to agree with that, although he tried not to dwell too long on the concept of kissing Bodie. It drove his blood pressure up. He should have resisted, but he gave in to his worst impulses and asked, "So besides kissing, what does your lordship require of his companions of the evening?"

"That makes 'em sound like tarts, Doyle. Have a bit more confidence in my abilities! The finest of young ladies, Doyle, that's what my birds are!"

Doyle snickered. Maybe some of them were, but all? Doyle knew better. "Osculating experts?"

"Undulating experts as well. All legs and arse behind, Doyle. I love the way a woman walks."

"A handicapped woman, you mean."

Bodie threw him a questioning glance as they finally hit the motorway. "Pardon?"

"You think that wiggling arse is natural? It's just the result of high heels, Bodie, toe squeezing, foot warping contraptions which take away a woman's ability to run."

"Naw. It slows a man down, Doyle, not a woman! He stops to admire the view, and she's got him within reach. She reaches out! She grabs him! She...." Bodie was playing out a small drama with the aid of waving hands. Most of the time at least one was on the wheel.

"Did you intend to hit that car? You missed by at least an inch," Doyle said critically.

"Two," Bodie declared, unperturbed.

Doyle took the conversation back. "What do you look for in a sex partner, Bodie?"

"Versatility. Legs down to there, tits out to here," Bodie said, taking his hands from the wheel again to demonstrate.

"Not intelligence, or good conversation, or...."

"That's just icing. Comes along with the basic package."

"So basically, what you want is a pair of legs that open."

"Got it in one, mate!" Bodie agreed cheerfully.

Something inside Doyle gave a little twist, but he ignored it.

Bodie looked over when he became aware of the silence. "It's what all men want. It's what you go after yourself."

"Don't judge me by your rule book, Bodie! Some of us look for something other than that. Good conversation. Kindness." He looked at Bodie. "Fun to be with. A sense of humour."

"I get those things. Just don't go looking for them. You make everything too hard, Doyle."

You make me crazy, Doyle sighed to himself. What was he looking for? It wasn't like Bodie was suddenly going to declare that what he really wanted was a sulking green-eyed man who could outshoot him with a pistol.

Cowley himself was at the gate when they arrived, a sheaf of papers in one hand, an r/t in the other. "Ah, there you are. Join Murphy. He'll fill you in," Cowley said brusquely, turning away to speak to an irate citizen who could not turn in at the gate because it was blocked by CI5 vehicles.

"Good morning to you, too," Bodie murmured, as he and Doyle went to meet the other agents in front of the house.

Murphy nodded as they stepped beside him. "We're to take the house apart, #12. Search it top to bottom. We're looking for papers, guns, and Culbert. We're to search wearing these," he held up pairs of surgical gloves. When Bodie caught his eye and lifted an eyebrow, Murphy shrugged in return. Orders. "I have the kit here, and I'll be in the kitchen if you need anything from the box. Evans, Jax, take the top floor, Branchcomb and Ford, this floor except the kitchen, where I'll be with Thompson." There were whistles at that, for Thompson was attractive and blonde. Murphy offered them a selection of fingers to choose from but then went on as if he had not been interrupted. "Bodie and Doyle will take the lower levels. We'll be doing the grounds eventually, too, no doubt. Let's go." He began handing out the gloves.

"The dungeon again," Bodie said sadly.

"They know your taste for low things," Doyle told him.

"Explains why I like you. Careful." They had reached the house and started down the stairs. "All that money, you'd think they could afford a hand rail."

Doyle was thinking how pitiful it was that his heart had thumped hard when Bodie said he liked him. He'd better get Bodie out of his system. Soon.

The rooms below were for storage, for a wine cellar, for a weight room. Doyle stood, pulling on the latex gloves and looking around. "Where shall we start? Wine cellar?" They had long ago worked out a pattern for searching a room, and they preferred to do it together. If they did it individually, they found they were continually asking each other about what had already been done. In the beginning, doing it together had eliminated any lingering doubts about the quality of the other's work. Now it was just a habit, another way of working together.

"Wine cellar," Bodie agreed. Bodie went left, and Doyle right.


They did the room with the exercise equipment next. Doyle could see that Bodie was aching to try out the devices--once he saw a gloved hand rest yearningly on the bright steel bar of a complicated machine designed to work the thigh and calf muscles.

They had to dismantle it all, to peer inside tubes and packets, open up whatever seemed to be closed. Bodie went for a hammer, and resolutely smashed open some of the weights. Sand was eventually everywhere, as were bits of stuffing from several of the cushions. They made an attempt to return everything to a reasonable state, due to Cowley's policy of not disturbing the citizenry any more than necessary, but there was no denying the room and its contents had suffered.

The storage rooms were last. Carton after carton, box after box, they delved into private lives. The detritus of years, packed away and forgotten. Bodie threw the dead mouse he found at Doyle, who ducked and cursed him and promised a suitable revenge, while imagining just what he'd like to do to Bodie to make him pay. Strange, strange thoughts, to weave between the hard practicality needed to paw through item after item in search of something not as it should be.

Jax arrived, measuring tape in hand, and working around them, he measured each of the walls, and then left.

"I thought so," Doyle said. "No railings."

"If you're under the impression you're making sense," Bodie told him, "give it up. You're not."

"I'll not bother to explain it," Doyle said. He'd spotted several violations of the building codes; in a home this new it could only mean that the builder had taken liberties for a reason--probably the folding kind. There had to be a motive behind it, and Jax measuring the rooms confirmed it. Secret room? Or just a safe the owner wanted well hidden?

They were invited to explore beyond the limits of the walls. Bodie went to work with enthusiasm, prying off panels with an iron bar and an exuberant willingness.

They found more than they expected.

Bodie, the iron bar slack in his hand, said in a low voice to Doyle, "D'you ever read that story by Poe?"

Doyle looked at the plastic wrapped bundle, held upright in its wooden niche by boards neatly nailed into place, and said, "Yes. You'd better go tell Cowley."

Bodie shook his head. "You go. I'll keep on here." He hefted his tool, looking at the space to the left speculatively.

Doyle shrugged and went. He returned with Cowley and three others, to find Bodie had the whole wall down. There were five other bundles exposed, but none of them had that rounded look which instinctively made them uneasy. These new ones had an angular look. Bodie had one of those open, and the dull metal of rifle barrels showed through.

Cowley knelt, tore away enough of the plastic of the first bundle to catch a glimpse of what was within. "Female," he said in a clipped voice. "Not recent," he added, and relief spread through the watchers as they realized it couldn't then be Culbert. "Notify the authorities. The rest of you, keep on looking. No doubt there'll be more to find." He showed little emotion, but there was a touch of offended fastidiousness there nonetheless.

Everyone scattered. Bodie attacked another wall. "What do you suppose that poor woman looks like after all this time?" he asked Doyle.

"Welcome to go look if you like," Doyle offered, making no move to do so himself.

"I didn't say I wanted to see it. Seen enough dead bodies, fresh and otherwise, in my time. Human nature, though, isn't it?"

"Yeah. Not going to be anyone we know, is it?"

Bodie lifted one shoulder in a partial shrug, and said, "Stand back." There were shouts behind him, and he stopped his swing. Jax appeared at the top of the stairs. "They've found Culbert, and the bastard is actually alive!"

"Can he talk?" Bodie wanted to know.

"Unconscious. Ambulance coming. Cowley says keep on with what you're doing, and he's going along to the hospital. Murph's in charge. I'm to start an inventory of what we have found. It's going to take more paper than I've got to list this lot, so I'll be back once I've found some." He popped back out.

"We'll be here awhile."

"I'll like it better when they take that away," Doyle looked over at the so-still plastic-wrapped body on the floor.

"We're going to miss another meal," Bodie said; by changing the subject he told his partner he didn't want to talk about the dead. Doyle didn't find food at all the thing for a new conversational subject and changed it again.

"We'll be working on this one for weeks. Fallen into the middle of something big, haven't we?"

"Funny how it works, sometimes," Bodie agreed, and then he was making too much noise to continue the discussion.

Doyle set to work, prying off the sections as Bodie loosened them. Teamwork, he thought, as he put his back into it. Imagine how it would be if they both quit CI5, if they worked at some job like other men. In construction, perhaps. Could imagine Bodie doing that sort of work. Driving big machinery, perhaps. Swinging a hammer. Imagine him with his shirt off, sweaty, muscles swelling....

No. Better not.

"Clever," Bodie said, pausing in his work. "Ammunition stacked up along the wood. Metal detector would assume it was part of the reinforcement--they thought. That trick's been tried before!"

Doyle said, "They all have. Which reminds me. Bash through, that wood behind. These blokes bring Trojan horses to mind."

"Your wish is my command," Bodie joked, but instead of using his crowbar, he let loose with a kick, stepping into it to gain all the power he could. Wallboard exploded out into the next room. "No, you're wrong," Bodie said, peering through the hole he had created. He wasn't even panting. Bloody show-off. Not that a certain part of Doyle hasn't appreciated seeing that sturdy body in action. Not poetry in motion, Bodie--not unless bulldozers were, as well--but eye-catching.

"The theory is still good. Got secrets beyond secrets, don't they?"

"Help me pull this down," Bodie ordered. Doyle loaned his strength, and the rest of the wall was down. "The little housewife is not going to be happy. We've made a right mess."

"Don't stop to admire your handiwork now. Too many more walls."

Bodie obediently went at it again. In two hours, they had indeed made a mess of monumental dimensions, and they wore the evidence from head to toe.

When the r/t sounded, they were glad enough to stop. "3.7," Bodie said briskly, hiding his breathlessness admirably.

"I want you and 4.5 in the kitchen." No need to ask who. The two agents headed for the stairs, Bodie still clutching the iron bar in a blistered hand.

They found Cowley seated on one side of a wide kitchen table, papers strung out before him, and several items wrapped in plastic besides. One was partially open, and they looked over the contents silently while they waited for Cowley to cease speaking into the r/t.

"Batteries, wire, timepiece, and..." Bodie began.

"Plastique," Doyle finished. "Nice little bomb, that."

"One of quadruplets, too," Bodie noted. "Looks like the other lads have been busy as well."

"Can't take all the glory, mate. Selfish."

Cowley could now give them his attention, and he started with a sour look to get theirs. "Bodie, Doyle, you'll stay with the house tonight. I'll have Thompson watching outside the walls. I'll want reports every hour. You found nothing else downstairs?"

"After the bullets? No." Bodie looked around the kitchen, his eyes lingering on the fridge. Doyle, hungry as well, was bold enough to ask Cowley if they could go out for a meal and was told food would be arriving soon, and meanwhile, they were to wash the dirt off.

"Do we look that bad?" Doyle asked as they found their way to a spacious bathroom. One look in the mirror assured him that he, at least, had chalky dust in his hair and streaks of it on his face and arms. They indulged freely in expensive soap and fresh towels, and emerged in time for the pizza Anson carried into the house.

By dusk, the last of the lads had left, and Bodie had long ago munched up the last crust of the pizza. Doyle joined him in the front room, glad of a chance to sit for a moment. "Have you seen this place?" he asked Bodie. "I've seen bombs that have left more standing."

"Yeah? Well, 'e shouldn't have had a finger in quite so many rotten pies, should he?"

"I heard the body turned out to be his wife. Who do you suppose has been playing the part all these years?" Doyle stretched. Outside, the lights along the drives had come on. When Bodie didn't answer, he said, "I feel filthy yet."

"So take a shower. I'll watch."

"You'll watch me take a shower? Petal, I didn't know!" Doyle joked.

Bodie made a rude noise. "You know what I meant!"

"Yeah, well, I wouldn't want to put on my dirty clothes again, so I'll have to pass."

"Wear some of Netherton's. Wash yours--there's the machines in the room beyond the pantry."

"Be something, wouldn't it? Chasing a man while wearing his clothes?" Doyle stood, stretching. "It should be quiet, though. I think I will."

"Don't take too long--I want to do the same."

The bath was huge, with shower heads at each end, so that one could stand, caught in spray from two different directions--or shower with a friend. Doyle soaped himself well, scrubbing the dirtier bits with an assortment of natural sponges. Odd sensations. His skin tingled, and he didn't think of Bodie. He thought of Topper, of making his phone call. Not from here, with the line tapped, but as soon as he could.

Clean and fresh, wearing silk boxer shorts he found in a drawer in the master bedroom, and a white shirt and black trousers from there as well, he emerged from the bathroom threading a belt through the belt loops. Bodie whistled as he saw him, and Doyle stopped to look at himself in the mirror. The cinched in trousers weren't his usual look, but--it wasn't bad. All he needed was a coat to sling over his shoulder by one finger, and he'd look like an advertisement.

Bodie was stripping off, throwing his clothing onto Doyle's. "Toss 'em all in together--be quicker," Bodie suggested, before disappearing into the bathroom. The image of those strong, powerful thighs, the broad muscled chest, the lax roll of Bodie's genitals stayed with Doyle as he quickly retreated, the armful of clothing swiftly snatched up as he went. The warmth of Bodie's body still clung to the underpants on the top of the pile, and Doyle was glad to find the laundry room, glad to thrust the garment clear to the bottom of the machine, as far away as he could get it. Soap powder, dials...he let the mechanics of getting the washing started distract him from the odd wishful thoughts.

Afterwards, he did a round of the house, checking windows and doors, although he knew Bodie had done so already. He would have been shocked to his core to find Bodie had missed anything, yet he had to do his own check. Like dogs, marking territory, one coming along after the other? Doyle grinned at the idea.

He took another tour, turning out lights so that they could best look out into the dark. Did he time his arrival so that he showed up just as Bodie stepped out of the bathroom? He watched his partner dress, and he admired the end result. Bodie, in a white shirt and black trousers from the same drawers and closet Doyle had borrowed from, was....

Doyle sighed. The slacks, too long and too loose on Doyle, were tight on Bodie, clinging to the curve of his buttocks when he turned. The shirt, adhering to his body in spots where Bodie had still been damp when dressing, was equally flattering. For once having to do without his high necked polo, Bodie had deigned to leave the top two buttons of the shirt undone. Doyle swallowed hard on the words which came to his lips and settled for a nod which said his partner looked acceptable. Bodie, knowing he looked wonderful, smirked. His hair was already almost dry, unlike Doyle's which was still damp. Doyle ran his fingers through the mass, turning an impulse to touch Bodie's hair into a re-arranging of his own, and said, "No problem below. I turned off the lights. How do you want to run this?"

"I don't anticipate trouble. Be a bloody fool to try to come in here, and what's left to come for? No reason for both of us to stay up all night. Let's take two hour watches. Flip you for it? Heads I go to bed first, tails you do."

"With my coin," Doyle agreed, digging into the strange pockets for his change. Tossing a coin to Bodie, he watched intently as it flashed into the air and then fell to the ground. Both of them leaned over it. Doyle thought of how close their heads were. Their bodies.

Bodie said, "I win!"

"Where will you be, then?" Doyle asked.

"I think I'll try here. Nighty night, Ray!" He made motions, pretending to urge him out with the gestures a farmer's wife used to chase hens.

"R/t by the bed," Doyle said, although it didn't need to be said. Bodie's gestures the second time were obscene and then threatening. Doyle grinned and left.

He went from window to window, making no motion to show a watcher that he was there, and pausing to study the scene out each pane of glass. Eventually he went to put the laundry into the dryer. He thought of his clothing and Bodie's, tumbling together, the legs of the trousers twisting among and between....

The ruined house was quiet. Time passed too slowly. Doyle stood in the door of the bedroom, looking at Bodie sprawled out on the bed asleep, for a full moment before he woke him. He brought their clean clothing, and put on his own while his eyes lingered on Bodie. Then he woke his partner and watched Bodie change as well. Bodie was observably reluctant to climb into his own clothing, to give up the expensive borrowed ones. White silk. Bodie's taste in clothing went towards the fashionable, but not always towards the classic styles. Bodie couldn't afford the sort of things he would like to have; he dressed well considering his budget, but seldom reached the highest sartorial peaks.

I'll buy you silk shirts, if you'll be mine, Doyle silently promised, and smiled because it was a throwback to his childhood, to innumerable bargains made with fate which he had outgrown years before. Hadn't he?

The bed was covered with fine sheets which smelled of lavender, but it was too soft. Doyle stretched out on it, disappointed to find it held no trace of Bodie's scent or warmth, but glad enough for the chance to sleep. His two hours were gone in a blink. Bodie was back, waking him up.

He felt more like himself. Downstairs, Bodie had made tea; it was hot and fresh and Doyle carried the cup with him as he hiked from room to room. He even went down to the basement. He thought of that poor damn woman, killed and sealed into the wall of her own house. No ghosts, here. Just silence. Too much time to think.

He was careful not to wake Bodie early. They had always played fair with each other. Doyle lay back down on Netherton's expensive, uncomfortable bed, watching Bodie check his gun before heading down the stairs.

The only way to be fair to Bodie was to never, ever let him have a clue about how he felt.

Morning came with Bodie's hand on his shoulder, giving him a shake while Bodie spoke into the r/t. "That's right, sir. Of course. Quiet as the grave here all night."

"The local police will be sending a man over to guard the place until an investigative team from New Scotland Yard arrives. Give them every consideration." Cowley's voice had that abstracted sound, as if he were doing two other things as well as speaking to them. Probably was. "We're turning the murder over to them, while following up on the weapons cache. We have numbers from the guns. Stolen, of course, but over four years ago. 3.7 will look into that theft. 4.5, I want you to report back to me at two, here. We have some calls to make."

"I'll be there," Doyle said unhappily, and signed off.

"Cheer up, I have tea and toast ready downstairs. Who is going to notice a loaf of bread gone missing when there's holes the size of elephants in the pantry? Better hurry, though. The men on the bicycles will be here by eight."

Doyle gave a scowl at Bodie's scurrilous description of a policeman--Bodie had a habit of tweaking him about his past--and hauled himself to the bathroom, where liberal applications of cold water to his face brought him in touch with reality. His mouth was like a peat bog.

Hot tea helped set him right, but the toast--what was left of it--was quite cold. He ate it anyway.

They had come in Doyle's car, and left that way as well, Doyle driving. He dropped Bodie off at his place and went on to a public phone, where at last he caught Topper. Mindful that his friend might have wife or children listening at that end, Doyle was careful to explain his proposition in words which did not require any answer except yes or no.

Topper was pleased with the idea of renting out some of his days until a slot opened up for Doyle, and glad to meet for lunch at the pub where he had last seen Doyle. The CI5 agent went home and went to bed. It was difficult sleeping during the day, and after only a few hours he was up, thinking about the report he would have to do on the Netherton case, while he showered and dressed in fresh clothing. He had discovered long ago that if he had a report all ready in his mind, it went much faster when he sat down to put it on paper. Sometimes, too, he recalled the events more clearly after this process. It was a great help when he was called to testify in court.

He was early, and sat with a coke in front of him, waiting for Topper, and wondering about the flat. When Topper arrived, the man thanked him for his brilliant idea, relieved him of thirty pounds. "For the rest of this month, and the fund," as he explained, and pressed into his hands a key. It was cold and solid in Doyle's hand. Then Topper asked if he wanted to skip the meal and spend the time at the flat. Doyle agreed.

They took Topper's car, Doyle not wanting to explain the radio in his, and soon they were walking up the stairs in a modest house which had been converted to flats thirty years ago.

"No lift. Keeps the rent down and the heart rate up," Topper said as they headed up the four flights of stairs. The dark wooden staircase was polished, the stairs clean. The door to the flat was number 10, and the solid wooden door had two good locks, which Doyle approved of heartily. This door opened up into a room which would have been huge, but it lost much of its space because of a steeply sloping ceiling. The flat plainly was a converted attic, as Topper had said. This white room featured a set of large wooden lockers along the wall and windows on the north and east. The curtains at the windows were faded but not dusty, and there was no covering on the paint splashed wooden floor. A tiny kitchen was tucked into one corner, with a sink and cooker and a table painted white, with two black plastic chairs and a wooden one which had long ago lost all varnish.

Doyle blinked.

Topper was showing him the lockers. There were eight, one for the cleaning lady which was unlocked, one for each of the seven co-renters, with a padlock or combination lock on each. Topper opened his, showing that there was considerable space inside, including a rack for a coat or other clothing, five small drawers, and a large empty space for an easel and art supplies. Topper had this area filled with glasses, bottles and a stone crock with a lid in the shape of a mouse. He offered the use of the closet to Doyle, who declined, to Topper's almost-well-hidden relief. He locked up and crooked a finger, telling Doyle to follow him.

"Ta da!" Topper opened the door to the bedroom with a flourish, watching for Doyle's reaction with eager anticipation. Doyle's response must have been satisfactory, because Topper laughed and ushered him in. The room was like something out of the Arabian nights. Lush ruby-red carpet covered the floor, and the walls were papered in blue, with a pattern of white and gold. Curtains of thick red, which matched the carpet, guarded the windows. The bed was king sized, covered by a black and white duvet, turned back to show sheets of red satin.

Two of the walls sloped here, as well, but the bed was under part of this slope and the wall featured bars and pulleys and ropes, with an actual swing or trapeze tied to one side with a velvet cord.

"Bloody hell," Doyle said quietly.

"And there's this," Topper said, opening the door to the bathroom. It was done in white enamel on which was painted original art--nudes, both male and female, sported on every wall. The old-fashioned claw-footed bathtub was huge, and had a shower as well. One wall held a shelf with a hundred bottles of shampoo and conditioner, bubble bath, bath crystals and lotions lined up. The toilet and sink were modern, and the cupboard featured thick towels of every size and colour.

"I can see why you're reluctant to give this up," Doyle said to Topper, while he struggled not to see a vision of Bodie, nude on that magnificent bed. The bed wasn't his idea of good taste, but he knew Bodie was drawn to the flamboyant in that area, and he knew Bodie would adore it.

Only Bodie would want to bring a woman here, make love to her amid all this decadent splendour.

"The next two Mondays are all yours," Topper announced, with a grand gesture. "By then a regular slot will probably be open. You did want your own day, right?"

"Yeah. I want it." Now, more than ever. He smiled. "Wish I could stay awhile longer, but duty calls. Thanks," he took Topper's hand firmly, "for letting me have some of your days."

"I should thank you," Topper said, patting his pocket where the money lay.

When they parted, Doyle had the unmarked keys on his ring, and he went a round-about way to work, stopping once for takeaway. Cowley grabbed him the moment he arrived, and Doyle found himself driving Cowley from place to place, playing secretary on the car phone while the boss was in meetings so that when he came out again Cowley was instantly in touch with all that was going on.

The last thing Cowley said that night was that Doyle was to arrive at nine the next morning, to assist Bodie. It gave Doyle a warm glow which lasted all the way home; it was better when he could work with his partner. Doyle found he was whistling as he settled in for a few relaxing hours at home. The box bored him, he soon discovered. Restless, he turned it off and sat thinking for a moment, and then he went to his closet and began to root around, finally unearthing a wooden box, which he took to the table to open.

Paints. Brushes. Papers and notebooks of drawings. More than ten years old, all of it. He'd lost the easel and the bulkier equipment about the third time CI5 had moved him, and he'd long ago destroyed almost every painting he had ever done. There was just this box left, and by now the half empty tubes of paint and the old brushes would be nearly useless. Best to throw it all out and start new. Being Doyle, his idea of throwing it out was to donate it to the centre where he sometimes taught self defence. They didn't expect him on a regular basis--CI5 did not operate on a schedule--so they wouldn't notice at first that he did not come around on Mondays.

He sat, one hand on the battered box which held the paints, and tried to decide if he was doing the right thing by taking a share of the artists' flat. Maybe it would be better to just give his extra time to the kids at the centre. Yet in the middle of the night the centre couldn't take his time, and the centre couldn't give him what he was looking for right now. He didn't have to keep his share of the flat for long, after all. Just as long as it took to get all this out of his system.

Whatever "this" was. Mid-life crisis? The same thing which sent happily married middle-aged men running off with chorus girls? Only he wasn't middle aged. Thirty three. Young, most people would say.

Bodie was younger. A couple of years, but it seemed more, sometimes. It was the perennial child which Bodie exhibited, especially to his partner. The sort of thing which caused him to wolf down Swiss roll on an op, or give a Tarzan yell before leaping. Bodie....

Doyle shook his head, driving the image of his partner away from him. He refused to think about Bodie. No. He needed to...he needed...he needed a good wank and an early night, he decided. Slowly, he began his evening rituals: checking the locks, bathing, brushing his teeth. Then, he turned back his bed and got out his collection of magazines. Naked, he lay on his bed, idly rubbing at his cock while he flipped pages. Some of the pictured women caused a moment of warmth, and he worked to excite himself. Slowly, however, he stopped paging through the magazine, letting it fall shut as he was caught up in mental visions from the far past. He remembered pumping an unknown man's cock at a party at the old flat, and how it had been to hold still while fingers poked lube up his arse, getting him ready for the cock.

It had never been great, being fucked. Good enough to get off on, good enough to do it again, but never great. Better to be doing the fucking, he remembered. Young. Too young to spend any time on your partner, intent only on hunting the elusive next fuck. He recalled the nights when he had fucked two or three an evening both men and women, and the one mad weekend when he'd been taken by five men, one after the other. Drunk. He'd been wild and drunk and a fool.

The memories weren't helping. Quite the opposite.

So he let his mind drift back only a few months ago, to a young woman who had shared herself with him and given him the most incredible blow job. Just thinking about it was enough to lift both his spirits and his flesh. The feel of her lips...watching the dark cap of her hair as she bobbed up and down for his pleasure, the skill of her fingers....

Doyle came, gasping, milking himself hard, and then falling back on the bed while he recovered, his hand rubbing at his abdomen, his body singing with the release of tension. He yawned, and forced himself to get up and go clean himself up. Ten minutes later he was asleep.

Bodie was in a mood the next day, one of those dark spells where he glowered at the world. The man needed exercise, Doyle decided, and after a morning of phones and files he enticed Bodie down to the gym. Two hours of the modified karate which CI5 currently favoured and the smile came back to Bodie's face.

What was coming to Doyle's face was a bruise. He had miscalculated once, and Bodie had gotten in a good one. Knowing that Bodie sported a few bruises himself, thanks to Doyle's fast feet and clever hands, made it bearable.

The bruise had some interesting side effects. Since it gave him a twinge to smile, he was a sombre back-up to Bodie when they went to haunt the haunts of the gun-running crowd. Surprising, how many people didn't mind talking about buys which must have occurred four or five years in the past. It was the current deals they were closed mouthed about. Memories were faulty and booze made them more so, and on top of that, there were deals which divided the results of other deals, and then combined them with yet other deals. Guns, bought at different times than ammunition, traded together and then sold separately again.

It was lucky they even came up with a name, but "Paulson" was mentioned on three different occasions, and so they did not go home empty handed.

Bodie had been all black leather that night, wearing one of those oddly pristine combinations that made Doyle look scruffy by comparison. Doyle had been content to play second fiddle to Bodie in this environment, to buy the drinks and keep his mouth shut while Bodie spoke to former friends and acquaintances. Bodie did the same for him when they spoke to one of Doyle's grasses.

Black leather.

It wasn't easy to get to sleep that night.

Monday was a relief. They spent the day getting certain visitors of importance safely from the airport to the hotel, from the hotel to the meeting, from the meeting back to hotel, and were off early. Doyle turned down an offer to join Bodie for a meal, picking up Chinese on the way to The Flat. He parked several blocks away, not only to be prudent but because parking was less plentiful than he had thought.

He ate sitting in utter silence in the strange kitchen, glad he had thought to bring his own beer, because while tea and a teapot was available, he could find no cups. He had his r/t with him, but he hoped it would stay silent.

After the meal, he set out to explore the place. He made a quick check for bugs, prodded by professionalism and paranoia, and was glad to find nothing obvious. He would bring a kit and do a proper job next time, he told himself. Today was reserved for breaking and entering. He had his kit, professional tools lifted off a second storey man back when he was a copper, fine steel tools in a purpose-built case of felt and leather.

He started with the locker reserved for the char. It was not locked, and considering the contents, there wasn't any need for it to be. Packets, bottles, rags, mops, brooms, and a sweeper. It was on the end, closest to the front door. The next in line was locked with a padlock. Doyle timed himself, and was holding it open in less than four minutes. He grinned. Nothing like keeping one's hand in, in a good cause. He could just imagine what George Cowley would say if one of his flatmates turned out to be a terrorist--or even a garden variety criminal.

This locker was crammed full. A man's coat, several years out of style, hung on the hook. Condoms, salves, lubricants plain and flavoured, filled one drawer. Coffee cups and other crockery, some packages of dried soups, and some canned food sat on the shelf. There was a wind-up alarm clock there as well. Another drawer of dildos and various odd devices which did not bear close scrutiny, but which Doyle looked over quite completely.

The next locker took even less time to get into, but that was because it was Topper's and Doyle had caught two numbers of the combination on the previous visit. No surprises. He left it open when he finished.

The third, which had a double lock, took more than a half hour of work, and he stopped twice to stretch cramped fingers and once to take a cup from Topper's locker and go and make himself some tea. It was a good thing he was in no hurry, he decided as he went back to the chore.

Inside was the biggest collection of porn magazines he had ever seen. The locker was stacked top to bottom with them. Some were common, some were like nothing he had come across before, even in his years with the vice squad. At least, Doyle discovered after he had pulled them all out and, one by one, replaced them in the same order, none of them were the really kinky things. No kiddie porn, or snuff mags, or any that featured scat or pissing. But there was one which featured people and animals--including a spread with actors made up to look like the court of Catherine of Russia, and which also featured horses--and one which had entirely too much contortion and manacles for his taste.

All the drawers had been removed from this locker except one, and in that was a bottle of lotion, glass, a cup and an alarm clock.

After he got all that back in place he had to stop and wash his hands--the magazines were dirty in more than one meaning of the word and some of them must have been decades old--and get another cup of tea. The next two lockers were a breeze in comparison. They were used by artists and actually contained art equipment, paint and small canvases. It was clear two people shared both compartments. There were several works in progress stored inside as well. Talent, Doyle decided, but one was untrained or unrestrained, and the other seemed to have a problem with perspective with which Doyle sympathized completely.

The next locker had an easy padlock and simple contents. An alarm clock, condoms, magazines, plates and silverware, tall candles in elegant glass holders, a selection of romantic cards with coloured envelopes, a stack of unpaid bills--Zach Thomas, Doyle noted, was at the end of his creditor's patience--and a scrapbook/diary with details of his sexual encounters and evaluations of his performance. The man thought a lot of himself.

The locker on the end, fastened with another small padlock, obviously belonged to the writer. There was an electric typewriter, a stack of ribbons, several reams of paper, at least one of every correction medium ever invented, and files and files of typed material. A single coffee cup and a single fork and a small travel alarm gave testimony to his solitary pursuits.

Unexceptional, Doyle decided as he closed the last locker and went back to the one after Topper's, the one with the world class collection of naughty magazines. Eighty-five percent of them were straight, and it took a little work to find one which had a segment in it which featured men. Doyle took the magazine and an alarm clock with him to the magnificent bedroom.

The bed was comfortable. He bounced on it, testing it out, while setting the clock. Then, he went to the bathroom and gave the shower a test run as well. Plenty of hot water and marvellous towels, huge thick ones made it a lovely experience. It was strange to dry off in the midst of the painted nudes on the bathroom walls. Clean, with the towel around his shoulders because his hair was not quite dry, Doyle climbed back onto the bed to peruse the magazine. Fuzzy pictures, most of them, and standard stuff, too. Big man in leather feeding cock to a smaller man on his knees. Big man spreading his arse for an even bigger man's horse-sized cock.

Here was one. Two bodies, entwined, lost in shadows. Highlights which were almost artistic, and faces anonymous. Yeah. Just enough fuel for his imagination. His hand started to move blindly searching for and finding his cock, and he became so caught up in his fantasy that he almost forgot to pull the towel over his spurting penis when he came.

He fell asleep a few minutes later, the towel pushed off onto the floor and his hand trailing off the edge of the bed after it. He woke up several times in the night to unusual sounds from other parts of the building, but he did that at home as well, and he only turned over and went back to sleep once he had identified what had roused him.

Well rested when the alarm went off at five, he spent a few minutes returning all his borrowed items and hiding all clues to his snooping. Next time, he decided, he would bring a track suit and go directly out to exercise. As it was, he was forced to drive home, change, run, come home and eat and be at work at nine.

Work was a complete contrast to the peace of the morning. Bodie was full of stories about his latest girl. Doyle listened with patience to a recital of how long and golden her hair was, how she was a natural blonde, wink wink, how she liked to lick--everything, wink, nod--and how she was insatiable--leer.

Doyle did his best to show interest, to respond as he always had, and fortunately, they were put to work immediately upon arrival and he did not have to pretend for long. Cowley had a new lead on the weapons from the Netherton case. Half the morning was expended in discovering the individual who had once been a partner of Netherton's was dead, the afternoon was spent finding and talking to the man's daughter.

Stelle Ackerson knew a few more names, associates of Netherton's, and she had known Mrs Netherton and spoke of how pretty she had been. Doyle had let Bodie handle the interview. He sat back and watched his partner pour on the charm. Doyle let his eye trace the shape of Bodie's body as the man leaned forward. Bodie brought his hands to the front, as well, and both actions made him look smaller, less threatening. And he smiled. Killer smile, that, and when he stopped smiling it pulled his mouth into a bit of a pout. He played her like a trout and she told all she knew.

"You didn't try for her," Doyle said when they were back in their car. "Could have, you know. She really fancied you."

"She did, didn't she?" Bodie responded, pleased. "Maybe after the case is closed and it's proved she had nothing to do with it, I'll look her up. Right now, I've got my hands--and other parts of my anatomy--full with Tammy."

Doyle snorted his laughter.

"She has," Bodie added, "a sister. Or so she tells me. Let's double, Friday. Assuming, as always, that our social secretary has nothing else planned for that night."

"What's wrong with her?"

Bodie cocked his head to one side. "Wrong with her?" he echoed.

"Yeah, the sister. If she was anything special, you'd have made a play for her yourself."

"Haven't met her, have I?" Bodie explained.

"Ah. So this is a blind date."

"Yeah, but judging by Tammy, you won't be unhappy."

"I," Doyle told him, "remember the last time you set me up with a blind date."

"When did I...oh."

Doyle bared his teeth at him and said, "I see you remember it as well as I do."

"How was I to know she had tattoos?" Bodie wanted to know.

"Over fifty percent of her body. You, of course, did not see the ones she had on her lower abdomen. Unless your fantasy is to stick it into a nest of snakes?"

"Can't say it is," Bodie admitted. "Snakes?" he repeated.

"A little twist on the Medusa story, she told me."


"Isn't it."

Bodie recalled himself to their current discussion and said, "But Tammy's sister won't be like that. Come on, mate. Live dangerously!"

Doyle made a rude sound.

"We'll make it just a movie and a meal. Can take her home early, if you like," Bodie said generously.

"You already set it up, didn't you?" Doyle said.

"Well, if you couldn't make it, I could always ask Anson or Pruett. I did tell her I had a good-looking mate, though, and are you sure either of them really qualifies?"

Doyle said, "In low lighting," but he was thinking, 'Does he think I'm good looking?' and his heart was beating just a little faster.

"Come on, Doyle. Only a few hours of your time," Bodie wheedled.

"I'll kill you if you're dropping me in it," Doyle warned.

"If she turns out to look like Godzilla, I will personally buy you a bottle...."

"Of whatever I choose?" Doyle interrupted him.

"Well--as long as it doesn't cost more than...."

Doyle interrupted him again. "Whatever I choose."

"You win." Bodie gave in, with a glance which showed he had noted the steel in Doyle's voice. "Friday," he said.

"Friday," Doyle agreed, even as he called himself fifty kinds of fool. Double dates with Bodie hurt now. Watching him all over some woman, and all the time Doyle was supposed to be doing the same to her friend. Hard to do when your instincts were to kick both the ladies out the door and....

Bodie was back on the subject of Tammy's charms, and Doyle didn't listen. They were home early enough so that after Bodie dropped him off, Doyle had time to hit a few of the shops. He bought tea mugs, two big ceramic ones with Neptune and mermaids chasing each other in a blue and green sea, fish tails creating the handles, and two plates to match. Flatware with black handles and squat modern shapes, and squared off glasses with heavy bases. Sets for two. He let his imagination conjure up a heavy-eyed young man with bedroom eyes who....

Blond. Make him a blond, and short. Shorter than Bodie, anyway. Make him young, and a little shy and serious. Opposite in every way of a certain blue-eyed partner. Yeah....

"Sir? May I help you?"

Doyle realized he was blocking the exit, apologized and left at once. He went home to a healthy dinner and an early night. It was just as well, for the next few days were full. Cowley kept them running from one transport company to another, checking invoices for a shipment which had taken a specific route on a specific day. In this case, bounty was the problem, rather than lack of information, for eighteen vehicles fit the description. As happened so often, Cowley took the information they provided and switched them to another assignment without explanation.

Friday night, they got off duty with only enough time to shower and dress before Bodie was around with the car. Doyle sat beside Bodie in the cart smelling the enticing scent of Bodie's aftershave and saying nothing as they drove to Tammy's flat. Tammy greeted Bodie with a squeal and a smack of her red lips, and Doyle took the opportunity to look at the sister.

The woman wore an odd look on her face, half apologetic, half resigned. She was very like her sister, and yet a perfect example of how arbitrary standards of beauty are. He face was only a trifle broader than her sister's, her eyes only slightly smaller, her mouth only a bit wider. Yet Tammy was beautiful and Terry very close to plain. Doyle introduced himself, polite and warm, and saw the uncertainty in her eyes fade away, replaced by gratitude and hope. It was the hope which scared him.

He drew her to one side and spun a story of a true love out of town, and he saw that she only half believed him. Men, he assumed, had told her a great many tales with the message that she was not what they were looking for. All kinds of lies, and several brands of the truth. "We'll have a good time," he promised her as Bodie and Tammy finished their physical greetings and finally turned their attention to the rest of the world.

The meal was fine, with lively four-way conversations which left nobody out. Terry had a fine sense of the absurd and a solid practicality. Doyle wondered how many frogs she would have to kiss to find a prince. He was a frog himself at the moment. Did her sister Tammy think she had found a prince in Bodie? Or did she know about his webbed feet and not care? Bodie, for all his handsome face and clever banter was no more on the market than Doyle was.

The movie was a comedy, and they laughed. Afterwards, Doyle dropped Bodie and Tammy off at her place and drove Terry home, and as he pulled up at the address she had given him, he surprised himself by asking her if she would like to go to bed.

"Not the faithful type?" she asked, one hand on the handle of the door. "Or do you think because I'm not pretty, I'm easy? Men think I should be ever so grateful for a one night stand, you know."

"No. Did you ever," he asked her, leaning on the wheel, his face turned towards her in the dim light, "love somebody desperately, somebody who couldn't see you at all, who didn't even care about you?"

Terry laughed. Doyle made a face. Of course she probably had crushes on men who didn't even know she was alive. He felt a growing bond of sympathy for her.

"Yeah, well, you understand." He tried a smile. "I wasn't really lying. I'm committed, even if...."

"What kind of woman," she wanted to know, "wouldn't find you attractive?"

Doyle shrugged. He actually knew quite a few who thought him common, and others who were willing to spend the night in bed with him, but wanted nothing besides the use of his mouth, his hands, his cock. Most men, Bodie included, never even looked at him romantically. Thank God.

"It's an intriguing offer, you know. I've never been to bed with a really good looking man. Not too many men at all, if you want to know the truth. Usually I get left off at the kerb with a handshake. It wouldn't be much fun for you."

"Negative thinking. Can't have that!" he told her. "It will be fun. It just won't be anything more serious. I wouldn't want to hurt you," he added.

"Do you use, I mean?" Even in the dark he could see her blush.

"Yeah." He turned to her, grinning. "Several somethings--if you want to make a night of it!"

She laughed, almost lightly. "There's something I've never had. Twice in one night." She seemed to make up her mind, saying, "If you really want to...."

He was out of the car and opening her door, handing her out as if she were a princess, and she laughed and gave him her arm. They went up three flights of stairs, and went into her flat. It was small, clean, and the bed was a double. He had her naked and in it in ten minutes. Her body surprised him with the curves her dress had hidden. She had skin like milk. Like Bodie's, he thought, but thrust that idea from him, refusing to think of Bodie now.

He made it a night for her, accepting what she gave but making her pleasure his focus. His mouth between her legs was new to her, and she adored having her breasts sucked. She touched his penis as if it were made of gold, she was wide-eyed as he taught her the proper way to encase a hard cock in rubber, and she cried, "It's so big, so big!" as he pushed into her, so that he wondered for a moment if she were a virgin.

She knew what to do, however, and she did it moderately well, and he taught her a few tricks. An excellent pupil, in fact, he acknowledged when they joined a second time an hour later, and the third time at dawn.

"She's a fool," Terry told Doyle as he dressed. She didn't have to say to whom she referred.

Doyle paused and smiled at her, holding back a yawn. "We're all fools," he told her. "A man with any sense would stay with you instead of chasing impossible dreams."

"It was a wonderful night," she told him, and he kissed her before heading out to his car. He went home, changed into running gear and jogged for an hour before cleaning up and picking up Bodie.

Bodie was red-eyed and lazy with satisfaction and he was glad to let Doyle drive. "So, what brand do you want?" Bodie asked when they were underway.

Doyle glanced over at his sprawled form and lifted an eyebrow. Bodie understood him perfectly and said, "I owe you a bottle, mate."

"Nah," Doyle replied, watching the traffic.

"I suppose you'll want the same as Cowley. Pure malt?"

"Nothing, Bodie. It's okay. She was a nice girl."

"Anything closer to a dog and she would have barked," Bodie said with careless cruelty. "Name your poison."

No way to win this one, and he wasn't in the mood to go into details about his night. To explain any of it would be to explain too much. "Yeah. Pure malt. What Cowley gets." He could always save it and present it to their boss on some future occasion.

"Next pay packet," Bodie promised. "Unless you want to loan me a bit?"

Doyle grinned. "Not a chance."

"I know you've got it," Bodie said.

Doyle shook his head. "I've got plans for my money, mate."

"Retiring to the south of France?" Bodie asked.

"That's a thought." He decided to change the subject. "Wonder what the old man will have us chasing today."

"Paperwork. According to rumour yesterday," Bodie amended.

Doyle made an unhappy sound. Paperwork, and on a Saturday.


But they didn't. Bodie was sent to test fire new pistols, stoppages having recently hit an all time high, and Doyle went to back up Jax in an investigation of a car bomb which had taken out part of the wall of a residence only a few houses from Safe House Four. Coincidence bothered Cowley.

They got Sunday off. Not that it was a regular thing--most CI5 agents worked at least one Sunday a month and two was more common. Sunday was not a popular day to have off. Few of the agents were of a religious nature and Sunday was not the best day to have free if you needed to shop, or if you were looking for anything other than a chance to catch up with your sleep.

They worked Monday, and that evening Doyle turned down a chance to go out to eat with Bodie and several others, in order to go to The Flat. He took the kit--an assemblage the size of a small suitcase--and checked the flat for bugs. Nothing. He also traced the phone line through the walls. There was no phone in the apartment, but there had been once, and he made sure the ends of the line were sealed off properly. He ate fruit he had brought, "borrowed" Topper's tea cup again, and spent the night in exotic comfort.

The first of the month brought a long-awaited pay rise and, when he phoned Topper to inquire about sharing another month, the news that Friday's Zach Thomas had thrown in the towel and would be vacating that week. None of the others had objected when Doyle's name was suggested; being a charter member was in his favour. Was Doyle interested?

Yes. Doyle told him at once that he was interested, and offered, with the joy of the rise still in him, to bring the first month's rent and the deposit by at once. Topper, unused to such promptness, laughed and took him up on it.


His own day!

Unsure of why it meant so much to him to finally have a "day", Doyle went about setting up his one-seventh of a house. He bought a fine lock. His first Friday was spent reinforcing the door of his new locker with steel, adding new hinges and installing the lock. After scrubbing down the inside of the locker and painting it, he impatiently waited for it to dry and then put in his place settings for two.

Place settings for two, he thought as he rested with a cup of hot tea. Two.

He had given some thought to the problem of finding a man. He did not want to find a gay bar and just pick up someone. He knew gay pubs were traps for someone in his profession. He wanted what anonymity he could have, as well as the maximum amount of control.

Before he left on Saturday morning, he had slid a note under the door of the first locker, which most probably belonged to Mark Lane.

Bodie and Doyle were to take over from Miller and Ford Saturday morning. It was a standard stakeout. They were loitering in a pub, keeping an eye on the building across the street. Drugs, Cowley thought, but those who slithered in and out were much older than expected, and other forms of vice remained a possibility.

"Had a good night, did you?" Bodie asked, when the other topics of conversation had dwindled and they had been reduced to talking about Liverpool's chances for entirely too long.

"Eh? Oh, very quiet. Caught up on my reading," Doyle told him, partly truthfully. He had ended the evening with yet another of the magazines from Tuesday's collection, and his good right hand.

"Is that what it's called now?" Bodie asked, lifting his eyebrow in that suggestive way he had. "You weren't home, confess it. I know, because I tried to call."


"I was going to honour you with my presence," Bodie said, assuming an air of offended dignity. "Or is it that you just aren't answering your phone? Dangerous, that, if Father wants you."

"Tammy stood you up, did she?" Doyle said, shrewdly guessing what caused his partner to consider spending the evening.

"No. But she did have to go the airport to pick up some cousin."

"You could have gone with her," Doyle suggested.

"It's against my principles to show too much interests in a bird's relatives. They get the wrong idea."

"The faint clang of wedding bells?" Doyle asked.

"Not this one. But, she does fancy the idea of moving into my flat. It's ever so much nicer than hers," Bodie added, doing a credible imitation of a female falsetto.

Yet another middle-aged man entered the building across the street. The next two were beyond middle age, frankly old. Doyle frowned. It would be too obvious to sit here all day taking notes, but according to his mental abacus that made thirty.

"So, where were you?" Bodie wanted to know.

"Out," Doyle said, his attention more on the scene across the street. The man who had just come out was walking swiftly, his head up, his movements abrupt. High?

"Come on. You can tell me her name," Bodie wheedled.

"Sorry. Not a girl," Doyle said.

"It's me, your partner, your dearest...."

"Somebody's going to have to go in there, see what's going on," Doyle said. "Have we got anyone over fifty on the squad?"

"Couple men and women on the support staff. Jerome down in records must be almost sixty."

Doyle shook his head. "He can barely walk. It has to be somebody who can handle himself in a tight spot. It almost has to be...."

"Cowley!" Bodie caught his thought, and laughed out loud.

"Yeah, Cowley," Doyle grinned. "Do you suppose he yearns for active status occasionally?"

"All I know is you get to be the one who suggests it to him!"

Doyle cut his eyes at him. "Coward!"

Bodie didn't deny it, but he didn't like the idea, even as a joke. "Hungry?" he asked. "I'm going to order."

They had been sitting there long enough to know what looked good, and both of them chose quickly. Doyle took advantage of the change in subject to excuse himself. It wasn't so much that he needed to relieve his bladder--although that turned out to be a necessity as well--as that he needed to get away from Bodie. When he came back to the table, Doyle decided, it had better be with a whole new subject of conversation. He racked his brain.

All for nothing. A new waitress had come on duty for the lunch crowd, a tall redhead with outstanding...ah, attributes. Almost too many to mention, which did not keep Bodie's admiring voice from mentioning them as soon as she was out of earshot. Doyle sat, half annoyed, half relieved. He was safe from further prying questions from Bodie. At the same time, he couldn't help feeling a slow burn of resentment against the woman, the stranger, who so totally had captured his partner's attention.

Sheer jealousy, he told himself. The sooner he found a man to focus all his passion on, the better. At the moment, however, he was forced to give all his attention to the job. It was clear enough that Bodie's mind was elsewhere!

The food was good. Doyle ate more than he usually would, and after the meal he left Bodie to do the job--and flirt with the waitress over coffee--while he went for a walk. Pretending to window-shop gave him an opportunity to cross to the other side of the street, to look more closely at the gentlemen who entered the door marked 14 and climbed the stairs. They all seemed to have a furtive air. He waited to see what they looked like coming out.

Number 16 sold art supplies, and from the window he had a good view. He watched long enough to see that the men emerged with various positive expressions on their faces and...shaved? Definitely shaved. Doyle stood, perplexed, and at first did not hear the saleslady as she asked him if she could help him find something.

When he emerged from the shop he had both hands full and two wrapped packages under his arm. He'd also made his pay rise redundant and was, in fact, shocked at the amount he'd spent. Dazed, he went around the corner to put his purchases in the car before he went back to Bodie.

"Where the hell have you been?" Bodie wanted to know.

"She turn you down, then?" Doyle asked kindly.

"Have a date for Friday," Bodie countered, patting his pocket where his little black book--in his case, brown--resided.

"Of course," Doyle said, having expected nothing else. "Bodie, why would those men come out of there," he inclined his head towards number 14, "shaved?"

"My god, we're watching a barber shop?" Bodie said, feigning shock. "Dens of iniquity, those are. Some of them have," he leaned forward, "naughty magazines!"

"No!" Doyle responded with proper horror.

Bodie nodded, maintaining his air of morality. "And bay rum!"

"Rum?" Doyle asked, puzzled.

"Bay rum, you ignorant toad. What some old men get doused with after a trip to the barber. You've smelled it."

"Oh," Doyle said, recalling the scent.

"Always seemed a waste of rum to me, splashing it about."

"I'm going to call in," Doyle said.

"Ah-ah, Raymond. Your just had your stroll. My turn!" Bodie said, and left to go to the car.

Doyle was left alone. He ordered tea, and it came and he had almost drained it before Bodie came ambling back.

"We're to go. Cowley wants us back in. Something's on for tonight."

"Good." Doyle tossed back the last of his tea and stood up.

"What have you got back there?" Bodie pointed to the back seat as they settled into the car, strapping in as per Cowley's latest instructions. Both of them hated the feeling of being restrained, of reduced mobility, but after losing two agents whom doctors said could have been saved if they had been wearing seat belts, Cowley had laid down the law.

"That? Painting supplies," Doyle said.

"The walls in that flea-trap they moved you into could use a touch-up," Bodie agreed, deliberately misunderstanding.


Bodie grinned and pulled out into traffic. Fortunately, from Doyle's point of view, a little old lady cut him off at the corner and all Bodie's attention went to avoiding an accident and finding the exact words to describe her actions and ancestry.

Every minute from that point on was full. The "something" on that night was the bust of an industrialist who had been exporting more than pipe to the oil countries. A day to get in place, then a carefully orchestrated raid, and two full days of mop-up.

And Friday off.

Doyle and his painting supplies arrived before nine in the morning, and as he was unloading his car he saw two young women who were probably Mona and Sandra, Wednesday and Thursday, coming out the door. Healthy looking young women, athletic, with hair cropped short and arms full. He waited until they were gone to go up. Right now he didn't want to think about the others who were sharing the flat. Reality had no place in a fantasy.

A whole day. A whole Friday. Gathering clouds said it would be chilly and wet later in the day. Doyle went early to the shops, buying a bit of cheese, bread and fruit for his dinner, and a bottle of red wine. Once back, he put the items which needed refrigeration away and went to unpack his art supplies.

The easel unfolded, and he tried it out, adjusting the screws until the height was right. The three already stretched and primed canvases he set aside and he began to assemble his own, his fingers remembering instructions which were fifteen years old without any prodding from his memory. Soon the astringent chemical smells were making him light-headed, the results were scattered everywhere, and Doyle was investigating the tubes of paint he had bought.

A rattle at the door surprised him, but it was only the char, a leathery lady of late middle-age with impossibly brassy hair who waited while he slid the chain off the lock, and after a mumbled greeting went in and cleaned the bathroom. She was gone almost at once, and he recalled that she only came in for half an hour a day.

He painted Bodie. He knew the moment he put a brush into paint what the picture would be. It wasn't a portrait. It was a series of shapes, blocky, powerful, camouflage greens and browns, hidden touches of blue and the long rust and red phallic shape which might have been a gun and might have been something else. Everything which wasn't Bodie was jungle; he played with the trailing vines and aggressive vegetation, spending much more time on them than he did on the shape which said to him "Bodie," and had no physical resemblance to his partner at all.

Only when a knock came at the door did Doyle suddenly realize that it was getting dark in the room, that he was stiff and his fingers hurt.

"Who is it?" he called out, putting his brush down as if it had suddenly grown heavy and then wiping his hands on the rag which had been a face cloth that morning.

"Mark Lane," came the masculine voice, and Doyle frowned. Mark Lane. Sunday. He went and opened the door the length of the chain, one hand on the gun he had scooped up from where it lay on his jacket on the wooden chair. What he saw caused him to go put the gun away and then come back to open the door.

The man was not threatening. His hands were empty. Doyle studied his visitor as the man walked in. He was an inch or two shorter than Doyle, with a plain face under thinning brown hair. His big hands seemed uncertain of what to do with themselves, and the brown eyes gave the impression of someone who was nervous and shy.

"I think I remember you. At a party, years ago." Doyle's memory didn't provide anything else except the mental image of a young man wearing plaid bell-bottoms.

"I wondered if you would remember," Lane said, a smile warming his face as he reached out a hand to shake Doyle's.

"Sorry about the paint," Doyle said. His hand still wore several colours, but at least the paint wasn't wet. Lane's handshake was firm, Doyle noted, and lasted just the right length of time.

"No problem. Nice to see somebody in the old group actually still paints," Lane said. He was looking at the picture, studying it.

"Just taken it up again. Stress reducer," Doyle said. He had the impulse to cover the painting, to put it away, but he managed to subdue his instincts, not wanting to draw even more attention to the canvas. "It's not finished," he added, when Lane kept looking at it.

"I would have said so," Lane said mildly. "The secret of painting is knowing when to stop," he added.

"Some of us shouldn't even begin," Doyle said with a smile. "I was just about to make some tea. Would you like some?"

"Yes. Lovely," Lane added, when he saw the cups Doyle produced. As Doyle filled the kettle, he said, "I was surprised when I got your note."

"It wasn't an easy one to write," Doyle admitted.

"I must confess, I don't remember quite all I would like to remember. Are to...ah, to...."

"It's like the painting. I'm coming back to it after a very long time away. I thought you might know somebody to recommend to me."

"Yes, I understood that from the note. Frankly, I came to look at you, Ray. I wished to know what type you were before I risked both my reputation and someone else's well-being. But you're not a raving queen or a leather boy, are you? be quite honest, you don't have the look of a man who needs any help finding his bed partners!"

"I hate the bars," Doyle said. It was partly true, after all. He poured the water into the tea pot. "Do you take milk? I hope not. I forgot to get any."

Lane shook his head. "This will be quite nice as it is, thank you, although I do like...." He paused, looking around, and then pointed to a cupboard. "Sugar, in the blue jar." He got up to get it himself.

Doyle poured the tea, handing the fuller cup to his guest and then taking a cautious sip of his own. He only realized as it slid down his throat how parched he had become.

"What...precisely...have you in mind?" Lane asked, after tasting his own tea and setting the cup down.

"Looking for your cast-offs," Doyle said, flashing a grin when Lane gave a start. "Topper said you had a few."

"Topper...." It was obvious that Lane had been going to say something unkind, but had bit back the words.

Doyle lifted an eyebrow, silently asking a question.

"A man doesn't like to admit to his failures," Lane said, self-depreciatingly. "Or, it could be said there was something wrong about each of them. I'm not sure my cast-offs are what you need."

"But failures or not, you'd know something about the men. Know which ones might be interested in a short term relationship. Just a bit of fun," Doyle said. "Nothing serious."

"Easy enough. That's all they were for me," Lane said, his eyes reflecting a sadness, "short term. Nothing serious."

"Are you looking for something serious?" Doyle wanted to know.

"It comes of getting old, I suppose." Since Lane was only a few years older than Doyle, Doyle made a depreciating gesture to indicate the man was not old.

"Oh, you, you handsome types, it doesn't happen for you," Lane told him, smiling faintly. "Have anything you want, for as long as you want!"

Doyle thought of Bodie, and gave a sour smile.

Lane noticed. "Your lips are smiling, but not your eyes. Some man break your heart, Sugar Ray?"

"Oh hell. You remember that old name too?" Doyle laughed and shook his head.

"If I remember, you were rather belligerent. It did fit." Lane stated. He didn't let Doyle change the subject. "What's his name?"

"No names. Let's just say that I'm trying to forget Mr Tall-dark-handsome-and-straight."

"So anybody will do?" Lane inquired, very casually.

"If he's clean, discreet, healthy and not looking for anything more than a roll in the hay, yeah. Do you have somebody in mind?"

Lane sipped his tea, as if taking in courage before he spoke. "Well...I volunteer."

Doyle, who had brought his cup up to his mouth, paused, and slowly put it down again.

"I'm sorry," Lane apologized at once. "It was just a thought. Of course you'll want someone younger. More exciting. It's just that, well, I am clean, and moderately healthy--though I've an allergy to cigarette smoke, I'm afraid--and I am discreet." He laughed, dryly, and said, "You needn't worry about expectations. I never have any."

Doyle looked at him, thinking furiously. It's true that he'd had in mind a few handsome young men. This plain faced man with the quiet air wasn't what he had imagined at all. He was, however, as different from Bodie as could be found.

"We could try it," Doyle heard himself saying. "For awhile."

Lane looked absolutely stunned. He recovered himself almost at once, but an animated look stayed in his brown eyes. "Decent of you, old boy," he joked.

"You never expected me to agree, did you?" Doyle asked.

"I wasn't joking, you know," Lane said apologetically. "About handsome men. If they're straight, they go for the prettiest girls. How often do you see a plain girl with a handsome man? Oh, yes, occasionally, but," he shrugged, "it's not the rule, is it? It's the same with gays. You go to the bars and there are all these handsome studs, cruising. Looking for their match--or better. Some of them are even looking for mirrors, you know. Their own doubles. It's very Narcissus. Oh, sometimes a man like me gets lucky. Bobby has a fight with Vince and storms out with the first man he sees, or Tony comes too late to the Garden, and makes do with the second string. Usually, though, it's two types who go for those of us in the middle rank who stand between the gods and the mud at the bottom of the pond. One sort is looking for what he can get. A meal, a sugar daddy, a favour, a loan, perhaps even a place to sleep. They learn quickly if there's little to be milked from this particular cow. The other type is," he smiled, "like me. Always looking. Never quite successful at it."

Doyle said, "What are you looking for?"

Lane smiled. "An excellent question. At first, when we were young, it was for thrills, for notches on the bed post. Then it was for grand romances, for meaning in it all. I've passed that, now. I just don't want to end up a lonely old queen buying, one way or the other, the time of young men." Lane shuddered theatrically.

"Have a few years to go before then, surely?" Doyle assured him with a bit of a smile.

"It's closer than I like." Lane took another sip of his tea. "Are you looking for a bottom?"

Doyle blinked for a moment, then understood. Was he? Slowly, he said, "I never liked it much. Being fucked."

"No one of the old crowd knew how to do it," Lane said. "The young are impatient."

"Going to teach me how to do it right?" Doyle asked.

"If you like." Lane showed no emotion, no carnal eagerness, only a calm practicality.

"I think so," Doyle said. He couldn't really imagine going to bed with Lane. It was like considering bedding a woman who didn't attract him. Yet there was something in Lane's very calmness, in his quiet practicality, which appealed. Doyle knew instinctively that Lane was experienced, and kind. Too, there was the knowledge that however calm his outward demeanour, Lane was pleased at the prospect of bedding him. Doyle was in the mood to do a kindness.

"Tonight?" Lane asked, apparently more interested in his tea than in the answer.

"If you've nothing else on." Doyle was equally as casual about it.

"My calendar is completely clear," Lane answered.

"I want to clean up first," Doyle said, waving at his painting endeavours. He took the last swallow of his tea too quickly, making that sound Bodie teased him about, the one he usually compared to drains. Lane was too polite to have even appeared to notice, much less comment on it.

"Do you need help?" Lane asked, standing as well.

"No, thanks anyway," Doyle said, with a wave that asked Lane to sit down again and finish his tea. Doyle began to clean brushes and cap paints. He left the picture out to dry on the easel, but he placed it in the corner, turned so that it couldn't be seen. "I'll need a shower, " he added as he was finishing up.

Lane, who was clearing away the tea things, said, "Yes, of course."

Doyle entered the warm water of the shower with mixed feelings. A few coals were warming his belly at the thought of having sex, and a few butterflies were doing loops a bit higher up as he contemplated the type of sex. It had been so long.

But it was something he had planned, something he had decided he wanted. He dried himself, concluded that to put on clothing again would be redundant, and emerged from the bathroom naked and still towelling his curls. Lane was there, putting something on the small wooden stand beside the bed. He straightened up, his eyes wide. He swallowed.

"I think I'll take up painting again, too," Lane said in a raspy voice.

Doyle laughed. "Only if you were better at it than I was--or am!"

"I was told I was technically correct, but that my paintings had no life. Perhaps I just didn't have enough life in my subjects." It was a compliment, but not an offensive one, and Doyle's lips turned up. Lane was letting his eyes take the scenic route from the top of Doyle's artless curls to the bottom of his long-toed feet. His eyes widened as he noted scars, but he made no reference to them.

"You're underdressed for the occasion," Doyle said, and stood watching as Lane stripped. The man was too seasoned to be embarrassed by his nakedness, but Doyle could see he was keenly aware that his body didn't have the muscles and his face didn't have the beauty that he saw in Doyle.

He did have a cock that was of a size with Doyle's, and when erect it would be a trifle longer. Doyle stared down at it, watching its growing tumescence and thinking about taking cock up the arse. His own genitals gave an inquiring twitch. He didn't react when Lane came close and touched his chest, running an exploratory hand over the curve until it settled over the small brown nub of his nipple.

"What do you like?" Lane asked. "What do you like best?"

"I don't remember," Doyle said, half-truthfully.

"This?" Lane went to his knees, and his mouth closed over the end of Doyle's penis. Doyle's hands went at once to Lane's shoulders as he braced himself. Good. Better than good. Doyle's head went back as the pleasure gathered in his abdomen, spreading out, lifting his cock up hard into the hot, wet mouth.

Lane changed the angle of his head, allowing more of Doyle's cock to slide in, and for a few seconds Doyle fucked the willing mouth--until Lane pulled away. Doyle felt the loss keenly, but he saw that Lane only wanted to move them to the bed, and he agreed with the idea; his legs weren't holding up well.

He was flat on his back on satin sheets, and the mouth was on his cock, sucking, and slick fingers were at his arse, rubbing, opening him, and he came when two fingers, buried deep, stroked him inside and the mouth around him began an effort to swallow down all which he poured out.

Panting, Doyle lay unprotesting as Lane climbed on top of him, and began humping into the hollows of his closed thighs. By the time Doyle was thinking enough to wonder if he should do more, there was wetness there and Lane collapsed on him, panting even harder than Doyle had.

"We didn't get very far," Doyle observed a few minutes later.

"Far enough," Lane told him, wryly adding, "One of us thinks he's died and gone to heaven."

"We barely got started!" Doyle laughingly protested.

"Exactly. So far to go. So much to look forward to!"

"Tonight?" Doyle grinned.

"I have an idea. You go paint another picture. I'll just take a few hours to recharge my batteries!"

"I have a better idea. You recharge, and I bring back a meal. Chinese? Chicken?"

"Chinese. Two streets north, three east."

Doyle patted his shoulder and went to clean up. Normally he, too, rested after sex, but now he was wide awake, too filled with a nervous energy to relax. He welcomed the idea of a walk in brisk air.

He used the time to think. It was going to work, he told himself as he strode along, head down because of the steady cold wind. He hadn't once thought of Bodie as Lane sucked him off. It was good. The man he made love to didn't have to be Bodie. It wasn't anything like the way Bodie would do it. Smells, actions, words, all different, he told himself, with satisfaction.

Waiting for his order in the small shop, inhaling the blended scents of a hundred exotic spices, knowing they were permeating his clothing and hair and probably his very skin, he found it easy to think of going back, eating, and then heading for bed again. This time.... His imagination toyed with possible variations as he returned.

He came in to find Lane, freshly showered and in a robe, drinking tea. All of Doyle's new plates were set out and the wine was open and breathing. He'd left his locker open, Doyle realized, wondering if Lane had taken the opportunity to look through his things the way he had looked through everyone else's. If so, there had been little to see. His gun had been tucked into his jacket pocket, and now he left it there as he hung the jacket up in his locker and joined Lane at the table. He didn't have to carry an r/t unless he was on standby or on a job, and he wondered briefly how he would explain it if he had to bring one here some time. It would be smartest just to not come here when he was on standby. The thought did not appeal.

They passed the cartons back and forth, serving up the food, and then they ate, chatting about the past, about people they had both known and about the changes which had come about. Topper was discussed, and Zach Thomas, who had rented Friday before Doyle. According to Lane, Thomas had once passed out on Friday, slept through Saturday one day when Fillbeck hadn't come in, and had still been there on Sunday morning when Lane had arrived. He told it in a droll way, and Doyle found himself laughing aloud.

They put the kitchen to rights together, and went to the bedroom. It was late now. Doyle checked the doors and curtains again before he took off his clothing. The yellow lamplight on the reds, blacks and golds gave the place an Arabian Nights air. Too, it was a flattering light for Lane, who pulled Doyle down onto the sheets and began a gentle assault on his buttocks. His intentions were clear, and Doyle did not object. He cooperated, doing his part by letting Lane have the lead, by lifting his arse when asked, by holding quite still when, after a thorough preparation, Lane moved behind him, centred himself, and pushed in.

It did not hurt, as Doyle expected it to. He remembered the tight feeling, the fullness, but the slow care with which Lane began was new to him. Pleasure grew, and Doyle reacted, shifting that he might more easily be penetrated, spreading that Lane might drive in deeper and then deeper still.

It didn't take Bodie to enjoy this. It didn't take Bodie at all! Doyle's thoughts were wild as keen delight grew, as he felt his orgasm tumbling to the surface like oil in a cauldron which had finally come to a boil. Inside him, Lane pistoned to his own heights, plunging in hard as he came. Lane pulled out, rolling off the condom which Doyle had not even realized the man had put on, and then he lay beside Doyle, one hand laxly draped on Doyle's knee.

When Lane had caught his breath, he said, "I'll let you do that to me in the morning--if I'm invited to spend the night."

"Deal," Doyle said, and remembered nothing more until morning, when he woke to find he had not set his alarm, there was no time for him to discover the joys of Lane's body and if they did not hurry, Fillbeck would be setting up his typewriter before they had even had a morning shower.

Doyle was out the door, calling his thanks to Lane who had offered to lock up, and he shaved on his way to work with the electric razor he kept in the car.

He and Bodie were watching the extremely nice home of one of Cowley's suspect Whitehall Warriors. Cowley disliked it intensely when men in authority flaunted the laws of the land. The assignment was the usual one--they were to note the plates of the cars which brought visitors, and to photograph those visitors. Very dull work, done from within a dark van.

"Always bleedin' hot or fucking cold," Bodie complained as he joined Doyle inside the vehicle. Today was the latter variety. The small stove kept them well supplied with hot soup or tea, and a plastic jug served as a chamber pot, but it wasn't civilization at its finest. "Nothing to eat as well. Did you think to bring anything?" he asked Doyle. Doyle, who was watching the house as Bodie poked through the drawer which served as cupboard and pantry, grunted out what Bodie interpreted as a "no."

"At least you had breakfast," Bodie moaned.

"Sorry, no. Woke up late," Doyle explained.

"Me, too. In the wrong bed as well," Bodie admitted, with a pleased smirk. He was waiting for Doyle to ask for more details, but when he didn't, Bodie was willing to provide them anyway, and went on at length about a red-headed waitress, Lana.

Doyle was amused--Bodie with Lana, Doyle with Lane--he wished he could joke about the similarity of the names, but he was smart enough to keep his mouth shut. He was even more amused when Bodie began to hint about the exotic delights they had shared. It was a bit of sodomy he was describing at such length.

Doyle kept the glasses against his face, fighting his laughter and then, a heartbeat later, fighting tears. Just like Bodie to be willing to fuck an arse--if it was a female arse.

Don't think of him with his redhead, he said, trying to tune Bodie out. Think of Lane, and what he did last night. The sliding tight moment of penetration, the stretch of it, as if he were opening up the world, the throb of cock against the magic spot which multiplied the crystals of sensation he had felt in every part in the vicinity--and some that weren't!

Bodie had asked a question.

"What?" Doyle asked, glancing away from the glasses for a moment.

"You haven't heard a word I've said," Bodie said in disgust.

"Something about kinky sex with whats'er-name," Doyle said.

"That was before I asked you for your contribution to the general fund. I am going to go get food and the papers," Bodie said.

"Then you watch," Doyle said, thrusting the glasses at Bodie. His hand found his wallet. When he opened it, Bodie's hand snaked around, and he snatched up several notes while shoving the glasses back into Doyle's hand.

"Ta!" Bodie said on his way out the door, as he pulled on the knitted cap which gave him the appearance of a working man. Doyle offered him a salute with two available fingers and kept most of his attention on his job. Bodie was the one out there freezing his tush off, after all, and Doyle was willing to be the one who kept warm.

He was just recording the departure of the man of the house, off to slay dragons in his neat grey suit and monogrammed briefcase, when Bodie came back. "Where's my change?" Doyle wanted to know.

"Wasn't any," Bodie told him. "I bought everything in the shop. Do you want to start with the croissants, the Danish, the fresh bread and butter, the jam tarts, the fruit or the chocolate?"

"For the sake of your arteries, I hope you're joking!" Doyle said, but of course, Bodie wasn't. He started fresh coffee on the small stove and offered to take over the watch, as he could do it one handed and while chewing. He left Doyle to pour out the coffee when it was done. Doyle, meanwhile, had finished his croissant and was halfway through the apple before he poured the coffee.

There was enough food to last all day, but by the time they were relieved at seven it was dark and they were both ready for a real meal. Bodie may have been ready for even more, for he talked about giving Lana a call, but Doyle was tired--and sore from sitting on his abused arse all day, and so after they ate, Doyle went home. They were due to return the following morning, and all he wanted to do was sleep.

He woke up, whistled his way through a wonderful shower and a proper breakfast. When he arrived, he found that the van had changed colours and position during the night, but he found it easily enough. Fresh fruit in hand, he swung into the van to discover he would be sharing it with a prime example of the living dead.

"What happened to you?" Doyle asked kindly, biting into his apple. Bodie winced as if even that slight noise was too much for him, and did not answer. "Wild night, was it?"

"If you ever meet an old mate," Bodie began, pausing to cough and then blink, "and if he invites you 'round to try his homemade wine," Bodie paused again, took a tiny, tentative sip of tea, and managed to continue, "Don't go!"

"I won't," Doyle said, knowing he was entirely too rested and lively to get anything except a scowl from his partner. He nudged the sprawled form with his toe and said, "Go die in the corner there, would you? I'll watch."

"Yer a prince, Doyle," Bodie managed to say before rolling onto his back. His snores filled the van almost at once.

Hard to think of him as a sex object when he looked like that, Doyle thought as he made sure the camera was within reach and settled down to the job. Very interesting visitors today, if one could judge by the number of expensive cars which rolled up to the door. He was kept busy enough so that it wasn't until his bladder began to protest three hours later that he finally roused Bodie to take over.

Bodie yawned, scratching his jaw with one finger while peering through the glasses. Beside him, Doyle stretched, as much as he could in the confines of the van, and then went to find the makeshift chamber pot. He focused on the relief he felt, and when it impinged on his consciousness that he was a few feet from Bodie, hand on his penis, when his mind began to drift into dangerous waters, he clenched his buttocks, letting the soreness take his mind to memories of Lane, instead of fantasies of Bodie.

It worked; the memory spilled out, lush and fresh, and he had to force himself not to continue thinking about it. This was not the time to get hard! Food. He would think of food. Doyle washed his hands on the damp-with-antiseptic rag kept in a plastic bag for that purpose, and then found a peach to devour. It wasn't quite ripe enough, but he didn't mind the tartness and the texture. He ate it in small bites.

"Busy this morning," Bodie commented as Doyle sat down to gnaw on his snack.

"Yeah. We're going to run out of film if this keeps up."

"Good," Bodie said. "Then we can go home. There's a pillow calling my name. It's Sunday. Man was meant to lie in on Sunday."

"Not according to Cowley!"

"Cowley goes to church," Bodie said. "Very traditional, he is."

"D'you suppose he prays for us? CI5?" Doyle asked idly.

"What, Cowley? Humble doesn't suit him. I see him sitting down with God for long chats."

"Yeah?" Doyle said, around another nibbled bite of peach. "I can't imagine that. Not long chats. More like that old joke, 'God, grant me patience, and do it now!'"

"Not me--I have a vision of him flipping over a page of a huge diary and saying, 'Now, in the matter of 3.7, I suggest....' What?" he asked. Doyle had made a funny sound.

"You. Ego the size of an elephant. You imagine Cowley talking to God, and what are they discussing? You!"

"I probably worry them both," Bodie said without any modesty at all. He was still looking through the glasses, and didn't have much defence when Doyle punched him in the shoulder. "Ow! I shall tell them about you!"

"They probably both already know all there is to know," Doyle said, even while hoping that Cowley didn't know about the flat. It was quite possible to keep a secret from CI5. No one knew better than agents how thin the budget was stretched, how much had to be done on so little. On the other hand, their boss was a very canny man.

Bodie didn't reply, for he had taken up the camera to record the arrival of what looked like family members--kids. Damn hard to get proper pictures of the little buggers, they moved around so. He swore and mumbled and finally had to make do with several blurry shots. This was followed by four hours of--nothing. No one came, no one left, and the CI5 agents almost died of boredom.

Doyle managed to doze for awhile. In the half-awake state, he would sometimes find his thoughts drifting towards Bodie, but he learned to pull back and substitute Lane's image. Naked. Leaning over him, and sucking. He smiled.

"What's her name?"

"Whu?" Doyle asked muzzily, blinking his eyes open.

"You're wearing that sort of smile," Bodie pointed out.

"You are supposed to be watching the house. Not watching me," Doyle pointed out.

"I want to ask you to take over. Me bladder's near to bursting," Bodie said. It was probably true. They drank tea and coffee almost constantly on these jobs.

"Hand it over, then," Doyle said, in the tones of one long used to suffering. He was glad to keep his eyes on the house; it was bad enough listening to the sounds of Bodie relieving himself. He forced Bodie to take the glasses back at once so that he could also use the bottle.

Somebody somewhere had the job of taking one of these vans back after a job, cleaning them out, emptying and washing out bottles used for chamber pots, checking the equipment over for crumbs in the electronics or whatever depreciations agents were responsible for inflicting on innocent machinery. No doubt they aired the vans out as well, and recharged the special batteries which powered all the equipment. He wondered if he would be doing such a thing someday. It was one of the jobs for an agent who had been injured permanently. Cowley never threw expertise away, and agents who were no longer eligible for the two active squads sometimes found that they were not allowed to escape CI5.

When they left they drove the van, for it would be replaced by a different vehicle during the next shift. After leaving it in the garage, they took the film to the lab and went to check for messages before going home.

"You're to arrive at eight tomorrow. There's work being done on the plumbing and a crew of seven will be here. Mr Cowley wants each of the workmen to have a CI5 assistant. Last time...."

"We know what happened last time," Doyle said with a sigh. A blast had blown Mr Cowley's office up, turning the furniture to kindling and the pipes in the walls into time bombs, which took to springing leaks at unfortunate times and places. The men who had come to fix it had been cleared, vetted more than once, and yet one of them had managed to set some very sophisticated and dangerous bugs, which had required yet more time to identify and remove.

"Plumber's assistants," Bodie said, laughing, as they left.

"Guards would probably be a better word," Doyle said, throwing a black look Bodie's way.

"Whatever. We shall take some teasing for this," Bodie predicted.

"At least there will be seven of us to tease," Doyle said. "Safety in numbers."

"Not much safety, in this case. Fair game, we are. What are you doing tonight?"

"Tonight? It's Sunday, mate. Day of rest. I plan on going home and resting," Doyle told him firmly.

"We've done almost nothing all day. I know a place where there's dancing. Get your blood moving," Bodie suggested. The shuffling steps he took looked more like a boxer's warm-up than a dance, and Doyle told him so. Bodie ignored the criticism and urged Doyle to join him.

"Sorry, mate. Some other time," Doyle said, and headed for his own car. Sunday. Lane's day. He thought of going to the flat, but what if Lane weren't alone?

Could try a three-way, he told himself--but the idea didn't appeal and he went home, to spend the evening with chores, music and the box. A full night's sleep was wonderful, and he needed it to face the next morning.

Cowley called his seven men together and gave them complete instructions. Each was assigned to a plumber or workman. Each would check the tools, box and gear of each man, pat him down, check for certain substances, concealed weapons, and bugs. Then they would stick with their man all day, even escorting the man to the bathroom and on breaks.

Doyle was assigned a young man named Tom Allen. He was very tall and thin, with long delicate hands and a long, heavy-jawed face. Doyle spent some time speculating that the man had a long thin cock, a prediction which turned out to be quite true, as Doyle discovered in front of a urinal when they stopped for a break.

He wasn't obvious about looking, but it did give him pause. Too interested in cocks at the moment, he warned himself. Got to hide it, got to be careful. It was very important not to neglect his job, either, as boring as it might be. The meal, at least, was taken in the common cafeteria with the other men and their guards, and he got to listen to a prideful Bodie tell exaggerated stories about his prowess as a lover and a fighter to the only slightly sceptical crowd.

"That right? He took both of them to bed?" Tom Allen asked as he removed old pipe so that new could be put in its place.

"Maybe. Even if I believe him I never let him know it. That bit stuck?" he asked, as Allen strained.

"No. Would you move to the left, Mr Doyle?"

"I told you, just Ray. Or Doyle," the CI5 man said, finding a comfortable spot from which he could watch both the workman and his work. He could also see Ford and Thompson with their charges. They looked as bored as he was.

He thought about painting.

He thought about Lane.

He thought about Bodie, and forced himself to think of Lane.

By the end of the day, he had built up that thick feeling which begged for relief, sexual relief, and he went out with Bodie, and had a few drinks, and flirted with a blonde in the pub while Bodie did the same with yet another redhead, this one with thick auburn hair and a figure like a doll.

The blonde was Danielle, and Doyle went to her flat and into her bed. She was on heat, just as he was, and they tumbled onto the sofa and fucked like ferrets, and it was all over in ten minutes. He waited a decent interval, threw on his clothing, kissed her warmly and let himself out.

Mindless, he told himself. He should have gone to the flat to see Lane last night. Danielle was nice enough, but it was like having hamburgers when you had your heart set on Chinese. He knew instinctively that if he didn't keep himself busy with Lane, then he'd be once again paying too much attention to his partner.

So the next morning, before he joined the plumbers, he made sure he had Lane's phone numbers, both at work and at home. At noon he left Allen in Ford's charge and drove off to find a public telephone. Lane was glad to hear from him, although obviously he had not expected him to call at work. They arranged to meet Friday.

He felt better after the call. As if he had paid up his insurance. He had something definite to look forward to, and when he was ambushed by errant thoughts of Bodie, he had only to think of Friday, and he managed to distract himself.

A dull week of plumbers at the beginning and paperwork at the end was punctuated Friday morning with a terrorist kidnapping. Doyle had time to call Lane and say he couldn't make it and offering him the use of the day, and then all of CI5 were busier than a one-handed juggler for twenty-four hours. It came to a head Saturday evening, with Bodie leading an assault group on the disused factory where the terrorists had gone to ground.

Bodie had been unscathed except for a cut across his chin which required a stitch, and he was bemoaning the probable effect on his sex life when Doyle signed out at midnight.

Doyle went to the flat. He knew he might find Fillbeck in residence, and if so he was determined to go home, but he was wound up, upset, willing to take the chance. To his vast relief, the apartment was deserted. He set up his easel, dug out his paints and set to work with a single-minded intensity.

What he painted was a garden, all flowers and shrubs, with the hint of a house to one side. He made it ugly, with flowers in the shades of drying blood, from bright red to black-brown, flowers with open mouths, like crying children. Geraldine Mather, he thought, when he looked at it after coming back from the bathroom at dawn. He stopped before he was done and began another, this one broken bottles and the debris one found in doorways down in the depressed area where he had been that day. Broken bottles, scraps of newsprint, wrappings from fast food, and even a used condom, next to the splintered wood and twisted, wrenched nails which boarded up the door.

He cursed his lack of technique, wanting to do more than he was able, but he waded in again on a third painting, this one recreating the pattern, the look, of bullet holes across the front of a building, different in the way it destroyed wood and glass and metal. It was so clear in his mind that he found his fingers moving without direction from his brain, until all at once it wasn't there any more and it was mid-morning and he was standing, shivering, incapable of thought.

He must have gone to bed. Several hours later, he was wakened by a gentle hand on his shoulder, and he blinked up to see Lane's concerned face above him. Doyle roused enough to reach up and grab the other man, his mouth making a meal of his throat. They were both clothed, and Doyle pushed Lane away, stood, impatiently stripped and then helped Lane with the last scrap of underwear, and then Doyle began on him. He had his own way, giving no choices, except in the matter of a condom, and what did he care if the latex was rolled onto him, as long as he could stick it into Lane's up-turned, offered arse?

Hard. Deep. Lane didn't protest, and in fact was soon crying out and pushing back, demanding more. When Doyle had spurted into the depths of rubber and collapsed, he was rolled onto his back, and as he lay, sprawled and limp, Lane moved to fuck his mouth, using it for the last few strokes he needed to come himself. Doyle drank the fluid down, sucking too hard at the end and causing Lane to cry out and jerk the twitching flesh from between Doyle's lips. The last drops of semen landed on Doyle's neck and chest, and he fell asleep as Lane was cleaning him off with a clever pointed tongue.

He dreamed, nasty convoluted dreams involving work and shooting and Bodie with blood dripping from his chin. He woke in the dark, to the heavenly smell of food, only the need to use the bathroom kept him from heading directly towards it.

"Well. You live," Lane said, lowering the book he had been reading. The remains of a meal were on the plate in front of him.

"It's debatable. Did you save some for me?"

"I did. You look terrible," Lane said honestly.

"I painted half the night," Doyle said, filling his plate. There was a six bean salad and a stroganoff. It could have been anything, and he practically inhaled it.

"I saw," Lane said, waving at the paintings, which Doyle saw had been propped up so that they could be seen from the kitchen.

"I should have finished them," Doyle said, looking critically at the three while he continued to eat.

"You finished them. Although...this one needs paint out to the edge, rust up, blue down." Lane said, of the bullet holes. "And a plain frame. The flowers need an elaborate frame, to distract the eye just a little more from the...effect. The trash...just a band of black, and then white, then black again with a trace of steel on the outside. Modern."

"Never thought of framing them."

Lane raised an eyebrow. "What did you plan on doing with them?"


"You hadn't thought at all," Lane said, amused.


"I always liked framing. Let me frame those, and I'll take them down to Bonnie Dunn. You remember her, tall, thin, lots of teeth? She has a shop."

"Topper said. Tourists and antiques," he remembered.

"And a bit of art on one wall. We'll let the Americans and Germans cart home your pictures. Mementos of their trip. Much better than painted pottery and ashtrays with pictures of castles."

"You're serious!"

"Of course I'm serious. Unless you want to store them or paint over them, what are you going to do with them?" Lane asked bluntly. "Might as well make enough to buy new paint."

"They're not good enough."

"They are. Not saying they're Rembrandts, old boy. But they've got something."

" can have those two," Doyle said, pointing, "but I want the flowers. Have plans for them," he added, with a bit of a smile which was not pleasant.

"How about the one you did the first day?"

"That?" A picture which said "Bodie" to him. For a split second, he thought of keeping it, wanted to keep it, needed to keep it, but he rejected that idea at once. Why hold on to it? Yet it gave him a curious pang to say, "Yeah, take that, too."

"I," Lane said with regret, "have an obligation I can't get out of this evening. If I leave you here to paint, and happen to come back at, say, midnight, would you be...?"

"Here? Probably. Interested? Yeah," Doyle admitted. By that time he might even be capable. "It's your day," he reminded him.

"Something to look forward to," Lane murmured, and got up to take care of the dishes. Doyle helped, and within half an hour he had the flat to himself.

He began another canvas, this one long and narrow and full of muted colour, abstract, and when he put that aside he began an odd portrait. A pistol, held in a hand, in Bodie's hand. It was how Bodie looked when they were moving in on somebody. Bodie would hold it before his face, pointed up, two handed, ready to aim and fire. Behind it, Bodie's face would be intense, mouth held a certain way, eyes darting left and right. But Doyle did not put in the face, only the hand and the weapon, both sturdy, squared off shapes. Deadly.

"How very phallic," Lane said, when he arrived. Doyle had cleaned his paints and put them away, and showered himself, and was sitting, wearing only a towel, looking at the painting. It was phallic, Doyle realized. The roundness of the hand had the shape of balls, the gun barrel, due to the angle which he had drawn it, the right proportions. "It ought to appeal--to somebody," Lane added, taking off his coat and hanging it up in his locker.

"It doesn't appeal to you?" Doyle asked.

"Guns don't."

Inside, Doyle sighed. He knew that unless something happened to force it, he would never reveal the details of his work to Lane, and he knew it was stupid to wish that the other understood that part of him. His relationship with Lane wasn't an emotional one. No need for Lane to understand.

Maybe it was a mistake to look for just sex. Maybe he should be looking for Mr Right. Or Miss Right. Maybe he....


"Umm?" Doyle looked up.

"Come to bed, Sugar."

Doyle made a face at the nickname but stood up at once, his body agreeing to the idea. He was fairly sure he was going to get fucked again, and the idea was exciting.

He shed his clothing, he joined Lane in the bed, and he touched and rubbed and sucked, and received the same in equal measure. He was opened with fingers, and then with a tongue, and he knew he could not return that favour. It felt good, the tongue invading his body, but he could think of only one person, man or woman, with whom he could be that intimate. He forced Bodie from his mind, refusing to think about him as he was lubricated, turned onto his hands and knees and entered.

He braced himself. It was terrible. Oh, there was pleasure, and it was everything he remembered. The problem was that in this position, it was so easy to forget who it was back there, easy to imagine it was someone else.

He endured, his teeth clenched, and distracted himself by experimenting, by holding tight around the cock as it moved in and out, and finding the pattern and pace which caused Lane to moan and mumble.

"You may," Lane said, a few minutes after he had pumped Doyle full and withdrawn from his body, "have the very best arse in London."

"Oh, I might?" Doyle joked. He was still hard himself, and he tilted his eyebrow significantly in the direction of Lane's posterior.

"Flattery will get you--sucked off. Word of advice, Ray. Don't get yourself screwed too often in one day."

"Why?" Doyle asked, just to keep the other talking. He was sitting up against the wall, watching the head move into place above his groin.

"Tears, cuts, whatever. Infection down there is difficult to treat. Although I can give you the name of a good doctor," he added, before going to work on Doyle's more than interested penis.

How many cocks had the man sucked, Doyle wondered. How many men had plumbed his depths? What personal experiences did he have with the medical problems he spoke about?

And what the bloody hell am I doing here?

The answer came almost at once, when a warm mouth sucked him up. He forgot to think.

A few hours of sleep was all he allowed himself. He showered and left before dawn, needing to get out for a run, needing to go home and shower again and change in time to meet Bodie at eight. They were ordered to work on paperwork from their last assignment. They not only had their own, but were expected to do what work they could for agents who were in hospital. Branchcomb had managed to get knifed in the arm and would be out for a week. Prat. Yet he wasn't really resentful, for other agents had done Doyle's work in just this way, and for longer than a week. Like housework, it had to be done, no matter what the circumstances--unless you wanted a mess on your hands, and Cowley on your back.

About thirty minutes after he sat down at the typewriter, Doyle decided he was grateful for Lane's policy of only once-a-day fucking. He was decidedly sore, and sitting in one spot for long was rather uncomfortable. Bodie eventually noticed, making some snide comments about ants in the pants, and after that Doyle forced himself to be less obvious about it. It helped to get up and move around, and he went so often for tea that he was wearing a path in the floor--or so Miller, who was sharing their table, told him.

They took a break in the middle of the afternoon, going down to the gym for a general workout, Bodie, Miller, Murphy and Doyle. He ended up partnered with Miller for the sparring, and quite enjoyed himself, despite an occasional twinge in his nether regions. Miller was skilled enough to be a challenge--and not quite as good as Doyle, which gave him a pleasant sense of superiority. It was easier to get back to work after the exercise, and at the end of the day the four of them went out for a meal. Bodie and Murphy were joking, engaging in a bit of rough-house over who was to drive. A cool pain, to see Bodie with his arm around a man, to see him give all his attention to someone--who wasn't Doyle. Doyle sat at the table at the pub, trading an occasional barb with Miller and forcing himself not to stare at Bodie. As soon as he decently could, he made his excuses and left.

Doyle went home and directly to bed, waking up the next morning to a vigorous knock on the door. It was Bodie, clad in his red track suit, bouncing and energetic. The enthusiasm was catching, and they went for a long run, striding along side by side at a slow, steady pace. After, Doyle made them a big breakfast of eggs and toast, and they arrived at work several minutes early for once. Not that this impressed Cowley, who had been at his desk for over an hour.

Cowley had a new lead on the Netherton case for them to track down, and they went to ask questions of two of the man's former business partners, who had just returned from abroad.

"You're quiet," Bodie said, after they had been driving for a few minutes. "Keeping busy, are you?" he asked, with a wink which gave a clue as to his meaning.

"Nah. But you've got that little twinkle," Doyle told him.

"Shouldn't have left so early--you too could twinkle," Bodie teased. "Did you ever meet a bird who pretended that sex wasn't much, that she could take it or leave it?" Bodie asked, and not waiting for an answer, he said, "Mona, her name was."

"Last night?"

"Yeah. Had to work hard to get into her knickers, but once we got started, it was great. Afterwards, I'm laying there, knackered and half asleep and she's telling me that it had never been like that, and that it was the best she'd ever...."

"Brag, brag," Doyle said, and punched him, hard. Bodie was driving and couldn't properly retaliate.

"No. Odd, the way she kept on about it."

"Angling for a second helping," Doyle decided. "If you were the best she ever had, maybe the poor girl just didn't know that it could be even better than...." He ducked as Bodie retaliated, one-handed.

"Berk. No, I may have been the best she ever had, but that didn't matter. I think it was all an act."

"Some would be flattered. Blue ribbon performance and the lady singing your praises. Must go right to a bloke's head. Both of them. Wanted round two out of you. Lots of men can't, you know. Once and they're done. Had a bird tell me once that the second time was better for her, for most women. Didn't always get off the first time--too fast. She said an amazing number of men were too selfish to make sure the bells rang for her, too."

"Not a problem I have," Bodie protested. "Bells both times, guaranteed!"

"But your bird last night didn't know that, did she?"

"Knows now," Bodie told him smugly.

"Not necessarily a good thing--if she's looking for a march down the aisle."

"Never did like forced marches. She'll give it up soon enough and go try the line on a new bloke."

"Give up a good thing?"

"She'll have to. I threw away her number." And, of course, had not given her his, due to the job. Doyle smiled grimly. Strange to think that he actually wanted this insensitive bastard. If you had him, he'd just lose your number after a few days, he reminded himself. Bodie wasn't the man for faithful-ever-after. Better to stick to Lane, for now, and when that was over, he'd see if he could find someone who shared his interests....

He laughed aloud, understanding a little better what he yearned for with Bodie. Sex. Fidelity. Love. Intangible, important things--which he yearned for from a heterosexual Don Juan. If you opened the dictionary and looked up "fool", the definition would say "Ray Doyle." Bodie poked him. "What're you laughing at?"

Doyle thought quickly. "Should have given me the number. Or are you afraid of the competition?"

Bodie gave him a look of pure pity and said, "Leftovers, Doyle?"

"Comparisons are so important, Bodie. She deserves a chance to see for herself."

"Then you'd be stuck with her," Bodie warned.

Doyle shrugged. "Settling down has always appealed to me."

"Even so, she's not your type. Tall, skinny, all brown hair and eyes."

Actually, that sounded a bit like Lane, which drew a sour smile from Doyle, and he changed the subject by making a comment about a restaurant they passed. Bodie could always be distracted by food.

Netherton's former partners were polite, helpful, warm and concerned. Slick, Doyle thought privately, and in dirt up to their eyeballs. Although they were interviewed separately, their accounts had a too-familiar feel, as if they'd rehearsed it. A thorough investigation of their businesses was in order, Doyle decided, listening to the smooth, believable account. At once.

The agents discussed it as they drove back to report to Cowley. They picked at the statements the men had made, taking them apart, looking for anything which would pry out a clue, a hint of where to investigate next.

They stopped for chicken, eating it quickly--and not in the car, a practice which Cowley had banned recently after an unfortunate incident involving Cowley's good grey trousers and some stale and greasy chips, which became acquainted one evening in Anson's car, to the detriment of all concerned.

They typed up their reports on the visit. Cowley wasn't available, but he had left instructions, and they went off to do a four hour stint in the file room. Belle Chenwynd, who knew them of old, separated them to different parts of the room and ruthlessly kept them on task until they were rescued by Cowley himself.

"Elizabeth Walsh has consented to give an explanation of her methods to CI5. A seminar, shall we say, which she will give three times." Cowley spoke abruptly, obviously in a hurry.

"Three times?" Bodie asked as he shouldered into his coat.

"She wouldn't agree to have it filmed or taped. You two will be in charge of acquiring the room--105 will suffice--and seeing that schedules are arranged so that as many as possible will be able to attend. You are also to provide any materials or papers Miss Walsh requires. See Betty about tea. You'll consult with Miss Walsh on all plans; I won't have her inconvenienced." For some reason, Doyle realized with a grin, Cowley was looking at Bodie as he said that last. "Should you have extra time, I shall expect you both to assist in the file room. Miss Chenwynd is short-handed and has expressed to me the belief that it is imperative that she have extra help before the situation becomes critical."

Doyle wondered what would constitute "critical" to the forceful Chenwynd, but was wise enough to keep the question inside. Cowley left, and Bodie went off to the phone to set up an appointment the next day with Miss Walsh. Doyle took care of the call of nature and stepped out just as Bodie returned.

"All on for tomorrow at nine, she'll meet us here. We need to be here by eight." Bodie straightened his jacket and said, "Let's double tonight. Lana has a friend. You'd like her. Legs up to here, hair down to there," he said, his gestures surely exaggerating.

"No thanks."

"What's her name?" Bodie demanded, obviously assuming that the reason Doyle was reluctant was because he had his own date. Then leering, he said, "Bring her along. Always wanted my own orgy. Three birds and the two of us."

"Sounds a bit off balanced. Like you. I," Doyle said, "will be at the shops." He wanted to visit an art store, a big one, and spend some time just looking--and then buying. He knew of several which stayed open late, catering to art students with odd work hours. He was in the mood to paint, his fingers were tingling with wanting it. Yet he didn't consider buying the supplies to take home, didn't want to paint in his CI5 flat. The painting was connected in his mind with escape and novelty, and not with the ordinary. It was anticipation, he thought, which put the edge on his interest.

"I'm starting to worry about you, Doyle," Bodie said. "You're slowing down."

"Not," Doyle said acidly, "where it counts." He nodded good-bye and headed for the door.

Bodie laughed and caught up with him, and after a short waltz at the door as each tried to go through first, they walked out to the car park together, neither saying anything, but without rancour between them. Bodie opened his mouth several times, as if to speak, but didn't. Doyle assumed he was still thinking of trying to change his mind about the evening's plans and was grateful when he didn't.

Doyle went directly to the art store. He tested brushes, he bought more colours. Viridian. French Ultramarine Blue. Rose Madder, Sap Green. Two new steel painting knives, a new set of badger hair brushes...he spent a lot of time and too much money, before going home to a simple meal and an early night.

The rest of the week was a pleasure. Doyle enjoyed their assignment. He enjoyed Elizabeth Walsh. It became his job to introduce her--delicate job, that, when he had to say she was an expert but be very careful not to provide too many details as to where and when she became so. He sat through her presentation all three times, and by the last he was beginning to have a feel for what she said, beginning to understand just how her mind worked. He and Bodie escorted her to wonderful, conversation-filled meals, except on one occasion where George Cowley cut in.

"He fancies her," Bodie said, as they stood waiting for the fish and chips which they were substituting for the fine restaurant which they had both been anticipating all day. That had been on expenses, of course, and they would not have had to hurry through the meal. Forced to pay for a meal out of their own pocket, they mutually decided fast, cheap and filling filled the requirements.

"He does not. You've got sex on the brain," Doyle criticized, stepping up to the counter as their turn came.

"He does. Goes all honey smooth around her," Bodie stated.

"It's respect, Bodie. Some men respect women."

"I respect women! Miss Walsh, especially. She's a cool one, she is. I remember when I first met her. Gun in my hand and she didn't turn a hair, did she?"

Doyle had heard this story more than once. He nodded, to show he was listening.

"It's the way he acts, around her," Bodie went on. "I can tell when a man's interested."

Oh, can you, Doyle thought, and grinned.

"You don't believe me?" Bodie asked, counting out his share of the bill and handing it to Doyle, who was closer to the till.

"No," said Doyle, and changed the subject by asking Bodie a question about Lana. Lana, it turned out, was yesterday's news, literally. Today, Bodie was rabbiting on about a girl he had met at the chemist's, a tiny blonde named Tibby.

While Bodie waxed eloquent about Tibby's charms, Doyle let his mind wander to thoughts of paint and passion. He had called Lane, who had agreed to meet him at nine at The Flat, and if he got off at five then he could be there by six and have three hours to paint, and then....

" you think?" Bodie asked.

"What?" Doyle blinked.

"About," Bodie said patiently, "the disco. Tonight. I was asking if you wanted to bring a date and come with Tibby and me to the disco tonight. Clean out your ears!"

"Sorry. Other plans already." Doyle nibbled on a chip. If his mouth was full, he didn't have to say anything more, did he?

Bodie didn't press the point, and they inhaled their food and went back to the job in relative silence. Doyle recognized that Bodie was getting a little tired of hearing "no."

"Saturday, if we're not on," Doyle said, by way of an olive branch. "There's a movie I want to see."

That was all that was needed. By the time they were back at their desks, Bodie had it all planned, a double dater dinner and the movie. No doubt he expected they would finish the evening in bed with their respective dates. Doyle was considering a chaste good night kiss at the door and an early descent on Lane's Sunday morning. He wanted to paint--and there was the other inducement as well.

He didn't get off early Friday. He did arrive before Lane, and stared at his painting supplies in frustration as he put away his jacket, because there was no time for the paint. And then, Lane was late, and he could have painted a bit if he had known! Doyle paced the room, working off his nervous energy, waiting. Lane worked in an office; he was the sort of assistant who did most of the work and got none of the credit. Why was he late?

Doyle didn't get the chance to find out. His r/t sounded. Even tucked away in the locker, he could hear it. He didn't want to hear it, but the thought of not responding was only a fleeting one. He had just plugged in the flex to make tea, and he jerked it out entirely too roughly as he gave vent to his frustration. After scrawling a note which he left on the table for Lane, he snatched up his jacket from the locker and was out the door, his thumb down on the r/t button, his mouth close to it as he swiftly ran down the stairs.

CI5 agent requesting assistance, shots fired. Doyle realized, as he unlocked his car that he was possibly the closest to the site. He reported his location--as soon as he reached an intersection--and brought his foot down hard, driving like Bodie.

He had the never-fading joy of flashing his ID at the policeman at the scene and being waved through at once. But then, discovering that he was the first CI5 man to arrive, he also had the responsibility of taking control of the situation. The ambulance made its noisy entrance as Doyle bent over the body in the alley, but he knew at once that there was no hurry. Burke was quite definitely dead, a bullet wound in his neck and another in his groin. As there was nothing to be done, Doyle ordered the policemen to hold back the growing crowd, checking the area for signs which would tell exactly what happened here. Nothing could be seen in the poor light except for a few drops of red blood. From the location, he was sure they weren't Burke's.

A squeal of brakes, and a rising query in a familiar accent told Doyle that Cowley had arrived, and he went to report. Cowley had obviously been roused from his home. His suit was as rumpled as Doyle had ever seen it get, and he was driving his own car. Doyle rattled off his observations in a few sentences and stood with Cowley as the ambulance crew loaded the body into the vehicle.

"He was coming off a job," Cowley said, not loud enough for anyone else to hear. "He was watching Thomas Cannon's flat. Aye," Cowley added as he saw Doyle lift his head, "a known associate of Coogan's." Cowley's face reflected his sour opinion of every one of Coogan's friends and relations. Ray's lips thinned as well.

"This alley is several blocks from the flat we were using for the observations. Why would Burke be here? I'm putting you in charge, Doyle. Find out if they tumbled him, or if this murder was unrelated to his assignment. You said you found blood. His assailant will be wounded, then. You know the procedures. Jax and Branchcomb will be here shortly. They'll report to you. Call in hourly. I...will be doing the notification of next of kin. A brother, I believe." Abruptly, angrily, Cowley stomped away to his car, pausing to speak to a police officer before getting in and driving away.

Doyle took charge. Jax, when he arrived, was assigned to locate Cannon's whereabouts at the time of the murder. Branchcomb was sent to check the area clinics and hospitals. Doyle was left to pry as much information out of the local constables as possible. They were reasonably helpful. Burke was shot from ambush, they decided, pointing out angles and the traces of blood. A bullet was dug from a wall. samples were taken. Neighbours questioned. Then, one by one, the men and women finished their jobs and left. Doyle was the last to go, driving slowly to HQ, where he dictated a short report.

Jax called in. Cannon was not at home, had left it an hour before the shooting. Branchcomb called in. He had located a man who had just arrived at the nearest hospital with a gunshot wound to the shoulder; as soon as the doctors had the man patched up he was bringing him in for questioning. The man had form and was a likely suspect.

Doyle went carefully, making sure his records were accurate, making sure the case had no holes. Upon advice of the doctor, the man Branchcomb brought was not questioned at once, but put in the infirmary under guard until his condition improved.

Which meant Cowley could have a crack at him first thing in the morning. Doyle finally returned home at just past two, holding back yawns and not even thinking of Lane and the flat and all he had missed that night--until he was undressed and in bed. He fell asleep thinking ahead to Sunday.

His alarm woke him at eight, he was at HQ at nine, Bodie showed up at ten, grumbling because his day off had once again been commandeered. Rather to Doyle's surprise and much to Bodie's, Cowley assigned Bodie to assist him. They both attended Cowley's grilling of the man, Allford. A doctor was also present--Cowley had no wish, should the matter entangle Ms Mather again, to be accused of cruel practices.

The man was guilty, although he admitted nothing, but clever questioning brought out far more than the man intended, or even realized he was providing. In the end, however, they determined that he was hired help, knowing few details of the intents and purposes of the men he served. Cowley sent him back to hospital under guard, and set Doyle to work to make what he could of the information they now had.

Doyle in turn gave instructions to Bodie, who showed no outside sign of whatever he felt about the unusual situation beyond an elaborate salute, and who went off as directed to check Allford's records. Doyle had the impression of a wild animal, held in check by his own whim and not because of any true domestication. When Bodie came back, Doyle was leaning over a table spread with files and papers. Together they compared, made notes, discussed possibilities.

Heads together, bodies side by side, Doyle fought the lure of Bodie's scent, the heady promise that eluded deodorant and tingled in Doyle's nose. He wondered if the smell of a person you wanted caused you to want them, or if wanting them caused you to be attracted to their odour?

Lane smelled okay, Doyle told himself, moving back a few inches to lay out a map. Don't think of Bodie. Think of Lane. He forced himself to give his attention to work. Once he made a phone call, checking with the police again. He wrote up the information, but his eyes would stray to Bodie; when he realized what he was doing, he clenched his jaw and looked away.

Late that afternoon, Doyle told Bodie he could go, saying he knew Bodie had a date that night. Bodie had given him a poisonous look and stayed to work as well. In the end, the result was minimal. Allford had been paid in small bills before he did the job, if one was to believe the implications of his bank deposit, and he did not know the man who had handed over the money. He didn't know the man he shot was CI5; he denied the shooting, but his pupils--captured on film--gave him away, and told the watchers that this information was unwelcome news.

Bodie threw his pen down and rubbed the back of his neck. "The case has to be about more than Thomas Cannon."

"Coogan. And drugs." Doyle gave his own opinion.

"Then we can't be involved."

Doyle looked up. "We, CI5, or we," he pointed at Bodie, and then himself, lifting his eyebrow expressively.

"Both. Turn this whole lot over to your old mob, Doyle. Drugs Squad."

"We're investigating a murder," Doyle said sharply.

"The suspect is under guard. Dead end. But we can't move against Coogan or any of his friends. Not unless we want to be on the hot spot again. Do you want to know what I think? I think Coogan has the stuff in his house, now. Knows we don't dare make another raid, no matter how good the information, because if we were wrong, it would be the end of us. The thing to do is feed any information we get to the police, let them do the work, make the raids, get the credit."

"And if rumours are true, and Coogan has more than one policeman in his pocket?" Doyle demanded.

"Then the old man can use the fact that they didn't use our information against them, and he pares out a rotten spot in that apple," Bodie replied swiftly.

"Why, Bodie," came Cowley's voice, rich with approval, "I believe there's hope for you yet." Both agents turned around as their boss came into the room. "Well, Doyle? Do you agree?"

Doyle flicked his wrist to indicate the piles of papers which littered the table and said, "Yeah. Might as well pass it on. There aren't too many clues in this lot. Jax and Branchcomb have come up with enough evidence to convict Allford. We didn't find the murder weapon yet, but there's ammunition in his flat identical to the bullet which was found in the alley, and the report says the blood found in the alley was his type. The doctor has stated the wound he treated was fresh, and the bullet he dug out of Allford will undoubtedly test as coming from Burke's gun."

"Then turn these papers over to Miss Eckards, make sure the charges have been filed, and return here Monday morning. We will discuss your suggestion at length, Bodie. Nine sharp, gentlemen." Cowley turned on his heel and headed for his office.

Doyle began to collect the papers, putting them in order before sliding them into their folders. He had mixed feelings. He'd done a good job running the investigation, but Bodie had gotten the praise. They were partners, but still competitive, and he felt the sting enough to snap when Bodie rubbed his hands together and exulted that they would still have time to make their date.

"Sorry," Doyle said, collecting up the folders under one arm and snagging his jacket with one finger. "I'm going home to bed."

"That's the general idea--eventually," Bodie replied. "Come on, Doyle, it's all planned."

"Unlike some people, I was up half the night," Doyle reminded him. "I'd fall asleep at the movie--or later. Wouldn't want to offend the bird, would I?"

"I'm sure you do it all the time," Bodie told him. "What's once more? Take a chance, live dangerously!"

"Danger enough in calling Kathy and telling her it's all off--unless you want to take them both? You're always telling me about your amazing capacity; go ahead. Do it."

"It doesn't matter what I'd fancy, it's what Tibby would like. She's not," he sighed with regret, "that sort of girl."

"Oh? Suggested it already, did you?"

"Suggested a dirty weekend, the four of us. It didn't fly. Doubt she'd be much fonder of three. She'd have to share," Bodie pointed out, "and she wants me all to herself."

Yeah. Lucky Tibby. She'll get what she wants, too. Doyle headed for the door. "Monday," he said. "We can run first. I'll pick you up."

"Yeah," Bodie said. He seemed abstracted as he left. Frowning. Disappointed, maybe. Doyle searched for a twinge of guilt, but could only feel relief that he did not have to go out that night. It was past five now, and all he wanted was ten hours horizontal with a meal on each end. He went home, made his call and his apologies to the girl he was to have taken out, and then ate a banana which was too brown, a boiled egg and a cheese sandwich, while he caught up on his newspapers.

The rest of the evening sported such moments of excitement as trimming his toenails and removing certain stray hairs. He was asleep before nine. Up before dawn, he went for a short run, confessing to himself that it was as much an effort to gather his courage as to exercise. He was not quite sure what his welcome would be when he went to the flat. After all, he had disappeared on Lane Friday, and Sunday was Lane's day. For all Doyle knew, Lane had made other plans, had another man there. The idea didn't make him jealous. Should it?

Doyle called Lane from a phone near the park, forgetting that not everyone would be up at seven on a Sunday morning. Lane sounded sleepily thrilled to hear from him, accepted his promise of a full explanation later in the day, and assured him that the flat was empty and he was free to use it. After showering and putting on some of his oldest, most comfortable clothes, Doyle loaded his car with his new painting supplies and an overnight bag. A stop for food and then he was on his way across town.

He arrived in record time, and had paintbrush in hand within minutes. He could feel the picture inside him, could almost feel it come through his blood and out onto the brush. He painted a dancing man, head thrown back, arms outflung, half lost in shadows which may have been fog or clouds, arms and feet deep in the mist so that there was only the powerful legs, the white-clad torso, the long smooth column of the neck, on which to focus. The body was too slim to be Bodie, but the neck...he was afraid the neck was created from certain sweet fantasies he had thought he had forgotten.

He stopped then to put away his groceries, to take a trip to the loo and to drink cold water. He could not stay away from the paint for long, though, and he painted a graveyard, cool and green, and two men jogging there, seen indistinctly through the trees. Red, and dark blue, the vibrant colours lost in the greys and greens, and yet impossible to ignore. The tombstones were harder than he expected, and he spent too much time on them, finding he had too many which he could recall in vivid detail. He could put names on all the stones, could personalize them, if he wanted to, listing friends and family and CI5 agents....

He stopped, exhausted, ate, and lay down on the bed, fully clothed, to rest. The next thing he knew, Lane was calling his name, was standing at the bedroom door, smiling at him.

"What a wanton vision," Lane said. "A hungry one, as well? I brought Indian, and wine." Doyle was springing up even as he spoke, his instant, hearty response causing them both to laugh.

During the meal, Doyle managed his apology--tricky stuff, explaining that he was on call sometimes, but not getting specific about what precisely he did.

"It must make your social life erratic," Lane commented.

"Erratic doesn't tell half," Doyle assured him.

"Why don't you find a different position?"

"Job satisfaction," Doyle told him. Strange, but it was true. For all the frustrations, something in him liked it, liked the idea of doing something real to keep the country safe.

"Speaking of satisfaction," Lane said suggestively, seeing they were both finished with the meal. Doyle grinned and began to clean up. Lane joined in, saying, "I've looked over your newest efforts. Very nice. You work quickly."

"Didn't used to." Doyle began running hot water. Two people clearing up after a meal made the job less of a chore. Sometimes he and Bodie....

"...should keep on doing it," Lane was saying. Doyle looked up to realize that he was washing dishes, but Lane was looking at his pictures. Lane was probably a right bastard--in an ever so nice way--to live with, Doyle thought. Then again, Lane would have to properly dry and put away these dishes before they left in the morning, if he didn't want them to become communal property. The problem was, Doyle was wanting Lane to do what Bodie would have done. Dangerous, that. Lane wasn't Bodie.

"Sorry, what?" Doyle said, looking over his shoulder. He'd missed yet more of Lane's evaluation.

"I said, there's something disturbing about this one, the green graveyard. Very effective, with the men moving away, leaving the dead behind."

Doyle stopped, dried his hands and went to look at his own painting. Yes, the picture said that. Odd, to think of what came out of one's unconscious mind, things you didn't even know were there. He looked critically at his work. The greens were not quite right, that was what made it disturbing. That and the subject matter, of course. Graveyards weren't universal favourites. Not everyone jogged in one. Running amid the dead. CI5 made one strange, he decided. He went back to the last of the dishes, while Lane went into the bedroom, and then in the bathroom. Doyle, drying his hands, went to see what he was up to.

Candles. Soft music. Lane, naked, waiting for him.

"Well! For me?" Doyle moved into the room, automatically checking to make sure the curtains were closed.

"I want to be fucked, Sugar. Hard." Lane stretched, rubbing his own genitals slowly while looking at Doyle out of hooded eyes. "And then I want to do it to you."

"I'm not ready, yet," Doyle said, teasing. "Need a shower."

"Not on my account," Lane told him. "I like you dirty. Earthy."

Did Lane dream of ravishment by tough street thugs? Rape fantasies? He-made-me-do-it? Doyle was unbuttoning and climbing out of his clothes as Lane watched with heavy-lidded appreciation. Doyle didn't shower. As soon as the last garment hit the floor, he was on the bed, and Lane was sucking him, getting him hard. The man paused to put a condom on Doyle, a thick one, heavily ribbed, and then cheek to pillow, arse in the air, Lane waited while he was lubricated with one quick efficient finger, and then entered.

Lane moaned with delight. It wasn't easy to get in, Doyle had not spent enough time stretching the anus, but Lane wasn't complaining, he seemed to want it that way. He was humping back, wanting more. Doyle gave it to him, hot and hard. The condom's ridges affected Doyle as well, and he did not last long, coming with a sharp cry. He pulled out, falling back. Lane stripped the condom off Doyle, tossing it into the bin. Then, leaning over Doyle, who was laying on his back, panting, he began to play with Doyle's cock and balls, soothingly at first, and then he moved his attention to the tiny puckered place behind. With liberal dollops of the lubricant, he rubbed, stretching, making the tight hole ready for him. He rolled on one of the ribbed condoms one-handed, then crouched over Doyle, tilting his hips, easing the man's legs over his shoulders in a position which folded Doyle, allowing Lane to loom over him, to control. His slick cock prodded for the opening, finding it, pushing in.

Doyle groaned with the pleasure. The ribs of the condom felt odd, but they played a drum roll on his prostate and he responded. Lane had never been in him so deeply, and Doyle gasped and struggled for breath, bracing with one hand and encouraging Lane with the other.

"Oh, yes, oh, yes," Lane said, over and over. Doyle couldn't hear the music any more, only the wet sounds of their bodies together. Lane came at last, grunting as he hit his peak, thrust in deeply as Doyle, still desperate for stimulation, undulated beneath him. Doyle was hard again, standing tall, and he made a sound of relief when Lane pulled out and his abused legs could fall into a natural position. Lane made a half-hearted effort to pump the thick cock, keeping it interested while he took a few moments to recover. Then he rolled over and with one hand wrapped around the base, he licked the head like a lolly and then sucked it into his mouth.

Neither had the energy to hurry. Once Doyle sighed, and once he inhaled sharply, and then he let out a long "Ahhhhhh!" and was finished. They drowsed for several minutes. The music drifted over them, soft as the night. Lane stirred, fumbling the condom off his wilted organ, and then he struggled to a sitting position, patted Doyle on the thigh and went to the bathroom. Doyle drifted, half asleep.

A yelp and a clattering sound jerked him up. Doyle was instantly alert, rolling off the bed, heading towards the door, pulling on his robe as he went. It sounded as though Lane, padding out to make a post-coital cup of tea, had fallen over the easel; Doyle hoped the painting had not been ruined.

He saw Lane first, and Lane hissed, "Take care, Ray, he has a gun!" and then Doyle's searching eyes found....


All in black, as if he were on a night job, standing by the table with a face like granite, like thunder, like a bit of hell carved out of flesh. The cold anger stopped Doyle in his tracks, but he put on a calm facade and said, "It's all right," to Lane.

"He has a gun!" Lane repeated, his voice an octave high. Bodie did have a gun, held in his right hand, pointed down. White knuckles, like the white lines which bracketed Bodie's mouth. There was real danger here. The very idea that Bodie should point a gun at him sent a flash of cold through Doyle's blood.

"Yeah, I know. So do I," Doyle said, although his hands were obviously empty. Doyle was suddenly, painfully aware of what he had been doing, of the smell of sex which permeated the air around him. Forcing his voice to calmness, Doyle said, "I know him. It's...."

He was interrupted by Bodie, who pointed his gun at Lane and said, "Get dressed." Then, to Doyle, "Both of you."

Doyle gave a sharp glance. He didn't want to give the impression of jumping to Bodie's order, but he was practical. To Lane's obvious distress, Bodie followed them, standing in the doorway, watching every move. Doyle dressed quickly, watching Bodie watch the two of them. It was a very odd look on his partner's face. Bodie's hand went to his pocket, and Doyle tensed, wondering what Bodie was up to now.

"How much does he owe you?" Bodie asked insultingly to Lane, his wallet in his hand. Lane opened his mouth, anger overcoming any fear he felt, but before he could speak, Doyle's hand came down on Lane's arm, restraining him.

Doyle thought of answering by saying that Lane didn't owe him anything, that he owed Lane--but the humour wouldn't be appreciated. The situation, Doyle decided, needed altering. He knew Bodie, knew how he was in one of his vicious black moods. One wrong word and this would all blow up. He winced as he imagined trying to explain a cock-up of that magnitude to Cowley. Lane was the unknown factor in this. Best to get Lane away.

"Why don't you go home. I'll get this straightened out, and then give you a call tomorrow," Doyle told Lane in a quiet, civilized voice.

Lane, turned so that Bodie couldn't see his face, mouthed the word "police" at Doyle, and said, "Yes, very well. I'll get my coat."

That's all they needed, Lane calling in the coppers. He undoubtedly planned to call the minute he got down to the street. Brave of him, Doyle thought, studying the other man. He was white-faced, but determined. "Don't," he said.

"But..." Lane protested, glancing again at the gun still pointed in his direction.

"Believe it or not, that nutter is my partner. I'm safe enough with him," he said, hoping it was true. He'd seen Bodie in his wild moods, knew how hard it was to sway him then. He wondered how it would be if Bodie did shoot him. The idea that Bodie would do that hurt as much as bullets.

"Partner?" Lane said doubtfully, but he collected his coat. Pausing at the door, he fingered the remains of the chain, cut though, and doubt returned to his eyes. "He doesn't look like a policeman. Ray...?"

"I'm sorry about this, really. I'll ring you tomorrow," Doyle said again, following Lane to the door, and closing it after him. Lane had given him another look, this one filled with speculation. Lane no doubt thought Bodie a jealous lover. Doyle wondered if his arrangement with Lane was ruined. He turned to Bodie. "You bloody idiot! What the hell do you think you're doing! You...."

"What do I think I'm doing?" Bodie shouted. "I'm not the one who's lost his mind. I'm not the one fucking some man...letting him...damn you!"

Bodie was almost incoherent with rage. His face was flushed, his hands, even the one holding the gun, were clenched tight, and white.

With false calmness, Doyle said, "If you're not planning on using it, put the shooter away." He went to the kitchen area and began mechanically to make a pot of tea, scarcely knowing what he was doing, but needing to keep busy, keep moving, not let Bodie see how this was affecting him.

Three seconds. Five. Ten. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Bodie's fingers tighten, and for a moment he wondered if Bodie really wanted to shoot him, and if he would. But after a few more long seconds, Bodie slid the gun into his holster.

"How long have you been here?" Doyle asked.

"Long enough."

Doyle looked over at him, meeting his eyes. "How long?" he demanded.

"Long enough to see you fuck him. Long enough to see him fuck you." Bodie's voice was cold. Icy.

"What the hell were you doing here in the first place?" Doyle wanted to know. "Why did you break in? Why were you spying on me?"

"Not like you haven't done the same!" Bodie snapped back.

Doyle went still. "This was a job, then? Cowley ordered it?"

"The old man doesn't know a thing about it," Bodie said, and Doyle felt something uncoil in him, a relief he hid by pouring two cups of tea and pushing one over towards his partner. He sat down to drink his own, and after a long moment, Bodie sat as well, but he did not pull the cup towards him, did not drink. "Don't you have anything stronger?" Bodie demanded, watching Doyle take a cautious first sip.

"No," Doyle snapped at him. "So you followed me on your own? Broke in, on your own? Spied on me, on your own?" Doyle managed to keep most of his anger out of his tone. Most.

"How long did you think you could keep this hidden? How do you know Cowley doesn't know already! How could you be so stupid?" Bodie shouted.

"You didn't answer my question," Doyle said, and swallowed more of his tea, careful that his hand didn't shake.

"Yeah, on my own," Bodie told him. "I," he said bitterly, "was worried about you." He gave a snort, deriding his own concern.

Doyle kept his illusion of quiet control, and asked, "Why?"

"Why was I worried? God knows," Bodie said scornfully.

"No. Why were you worried? What made you think something was wrong?"

There was a pause. Then Bodie shrugged. "You were acting...." He shrugged again. Finally, he said, "I don't know. You were just different."

Doyle thought about it. Probably he had become so involved in his problems, in finding solutions, that he had been different. Only Bodie would have noticed. He rubbed his neck, only then realizing how tense he was, how it was making his neck stiff. He looked at Bodie, who was staring at him with an extremely difficult-to-interpret look in his dark eyes.

"I'm sorry I worried you. Didn't intend to," Doyle said.

Bodie didn't seem to hear his apology. He went on staring at Doyle in that odd, single-minded way, and then he spoke. "I thought you were in trouble. Or had a bird who was in trouble. I thought...." He made a sound, half sigh, half exasperation. "But what I saw when I came in was you...and then he...." Bodie shook his head, as if to clear it. It didn't seem to help much. He frowned, and then seemed to zero in on one thing. "You let him fuck you." His frown deepened. "You liked him to fuck you!"

There didn't seem to be much he could say to reply to that. Doyle finished his tea and poured himself another cup, one he didn't particularly want. He folded his hand around the cup, holding the warmth. Despite the tea he had swallowed, his throat seemed dry. "You watched," Doyle said, not quite making it an accusation. "Why did you watch?" Why did Bodie watch? Why didn't he interrupt at once, or leave, or....

Bodie didn't answer. Instead, he stood up and stripped off his jacket, and then his shoulder holster, and then his shirt. At that, Doyle sat up straight. "Here, now! What the bloody hell do you think you're doing?" he demanded of Bodie.

"Just take your clothes off, Doyle."

He wasn't that much of a bloody fool. "I'm not into rape, Bodie," he said, with as much calm as he could dredge up. Bodie continued to shed his clothing, until he was naked. Doyle couldn't help studying the long-desired body, his eyes lingering on the half-hard cock.

"I saw what you like, Doyle. Into fair play, turn and turn about. Fine. Come on."

"What are you playing at? This isn't your scene," Doyle said, irritated because the idea had appeal, and yet he knew it was stupid to even consider it. It would ruin the partnership, either sooner or later.

"How do you know? Maybe you don't know me any better than I knew you," Bodie said, his voice strained. "Get your clothing off, Doyle." The order was snapped out in his best SAS sergeant's voice. Doyle resented it. Did Bodie think all he had to do was snap his fingers and give an order, and Doyle would be on his knees?

"Oh, very charming. Your birds like that, do they? Sweeps them off their feet, does it?" Doyle moved as he spoke, putting the chair as well as the table between them, mentally mapping out what moves he could make if Bodie decided to make a fight out of it.

"We're not talkin' about birds now, are we?" Bodie said.

"Oh, so this is how you come on to men, is it?" Doyle asked sarcastically.

"Never thought a man needed subtlety," Bodie said smoothly, adjusting his position as well, kicking his trousers aside so that they would not foul his feet if he were forced to move quickly.

"Had men before, then?" Doyle asked, and because he was looking into Bodie's eyes at that moment, he saw the lie behind the words Bodie spoke.

"I've had men."

"And they had you?" Doyle countered, still watching those midnight eyes.

Flicker. "Yeah. They've had me."

Lie. That was a lie. What was Bodie up to?

"That what you want, then? Fair trade?" Doyle asked.

"Yeah. That's what I want, Doyle." Not quite a lie, this time. Strange folds of meaning, wanting and not wanting, all stirred in with fear and something else Doyle couldn't quite discern. "Just what he had. That's what I want."

"You trying to bugger me, or the partnership?" Doyle wanted to know. "You don't want me. You just want to even the score in some damn game you're playing! Count me out, Bodie. Go home. We'll talk about this tomorrow."

"Doyle. Take off your clothes." Bodie drifted closer, eyes on Doyle's. You could drown in eyes like that. "Please," Bodie nearly whispered, and Doyle understood then why Bodie scored so often. There was something in that begging tone which made him toss caution aside, to tell himself that it was all screwed up anyway, partnership and job, and so why not take whatever Bodie was going to offer. Make a memory of it to take with him. It didn't help that one part of him screamed for it; what was on offer was what he had wanted for so very long.

But he still had that cool centre, still had some control, and so he lifted a shoulder as if to say it was all the same to him and began to one-handedly unbutton his shirt. Bodie's eyes were on him every moment as he tossed the shirt over the back of a chair and then went on to remove the rest of his clothing piece by piece. When he was naked he stood and exchanged long looks with Bodie, and then he led the way to the bedroom.

Soft music still played on the radio. The rumpled bed gave mute testimony to the activity which had already occurred. At the sight of it, Bodie's jaw thrust out, and his erection firmed.

This, Doyle thought, isn't about sex at all. It's about territory. Lane was a lesser male who had trespassed on the dominant male's territory, and Bodie was going to re-establish his claim. All animals, under the veneer of civilization, Doyle told himself, and he was not surprised that there was no tenderness, no kisses, just hot limbs and a big body, and Doyle on his knees, waiting.

Bodie was big, but Doyle was still slick from before, and Bodie, he remembered, had taken women this way in the past and was not entirely without experience. Doyle was pierced, and the cock fed into his body inch by large inch. So big, and raw, too. Lane had worn condoms each time he had entered Doyle, but Bodie allowed no barrier between them and Doyle's skin flushed and he shivered because every inch of Bodie touched some part of him. Bodie's hot torso came down onto his back, and his arms wrapped around Doyle, and Doyle, bracing against the greater weight of Bodie, felt the cock inside him sink deep into him. He squeezed around it, trying to sense every endless inch of it, took a deep breath and sucked it in a fraction of an inch deeper. He paused there, knowing that real pain would come if he forced more, yet half inclined to just try, to see...but then Bodie moved, withdrawing until only the tip of his cock was inside Doyle's body.

Bodie pressed in again, with more speed this time, causing Doyle to grunt with the power of the thrust, and he braced himself and accepted it, letting the storm which was Bodie batter itself out on his shores until with one last lunge, Bodie emptied himself into Doyle with a grunt and a sigh.

Fastest fuck on record, Doyle told himself, as Bodie pulled free and collapsed beside him. Doyle groped, one-handed, for the towel kept beside the bed, and used it to mop himself up. His arse was sore, and he remembered he had just broken Lane's rule about getting fucked twice in one day.

Beside him, Bodie caught his breath, rolled over onto his back and stared up at the mirrored ceiling. Doyle looked up, drawn by Bodie's intensity, and their eyes met in the mirror.

"Your turn," Bodie said, breaking away first. He should have looked relaxed, sated, but instead there was a tenseness in his manner, an emotion he could not quite hide. Silly sod, Doyle thought, half in exasperation, half fondness. Still going to try to convince me you've done this before? What did Bodie think he had to prove?

Unfortunately, Doyle was too tired to try to work it out.

"Sorry. Don't have another round up the spout," Doyle said, trying to make a joke of it. Maybe, with a lot of coaxing, he could get hard again, but Bodie wasn't the only one with fears. Bodie hadn't thought this out, he was just reacting to the situation. Operating on instinct.

That was Bodie, stupid with bravery. Or, at least, stupid, Doyle amended, as Bodie's large square hand cupped his genitals and Bodie rolled on his side to better minister to Doyle.

"Bodie, don't!" he said sharply, shoving the hand away roughly.

"Yeah. I forgot. You came twice for him, didn't you?" Bodie said acidly. Bodie leaned over Doyle, this time putting his hand on Doyle's hip, rubbing there slowly. "Where'd you find that berk, anyway?"

It would be suicide to answer that line of questioning. Doyle changed the subject. "Look, mate, I'm tired. We have to clear out of here early, and I want to sleep. You can go or stay as you like, but if you stay, button it." Doyle rolled over to the other side of the bed, back towards Bodie, and burrowed under the covers.

Bodie got up, turned off the music and the lights, and climbed into bed with that fumbling caution one uses in a strange place in the dark. He didn't keep his distance. Bodie's head was on the same pillow, his body was a line of warmth along Doyle's back, and his groin curved along Doyle's buttocks and reminded him that Bodie had done it, Bodie had fucked him, and left something of himself inside. The heat of Bodie seemed to soak into him along the path the man's cock had taken, forcing him to remember every moment of it.

A fantasy come true, Doyle reminded himself. Behind him, he heard Bodie's breathing slow. The other man was not asleep, but drifting in that direction. Tired, not only from tracking Doyle, but from unusual activity. Trust Bodie to fall asleep as soon as he had his end away. Might explain the trouble he had keeping his birds. A treat in bed--until he got what he wanted?

Lying here in the dark, wondering about inconsequentials such as Bodie's post-coital technique was stupid. He should be asleep, and if sleep eluded him, then he could at least worry about more significant issues.

Like how Bodie would act in the morning? How this would affect the job? Perhaps he should turn his mind to the problem of being asked to serve as bottom man at regular intervals for an undetermined amount of time?

Behind him, Bodie took the last slide into true sleep, lax limbs falling away a bit. Eventually, he shifted onto his back, and a began a light snore.

Love's young dream.

With as much caution as he used on the job, Doyle eased out from under the covers. It took considerable skill to vacate the bed without waking the other, but Doyle managed it. Then he shrugged into Lane's robe and made his way silently to the other room, closing the door quite carefully behind. He wandered aimlessly for a few moments, putting a few things away, making the kitchen decent. But that wasn't what he wanted to do, and he gave into the impulse.

He painted. He spoiled a canvas attempting a cityscape, and then he rescued the effort. Onto the ruined buildings he built a montage of ghosts and ghouls. There was Murphy dancing with only his bones, and Cowley as a ghost, oozing out of a window to reign over wispy chaos. It was crude, it was frustrating. He didn't have the techniques he needed to produce the effects he saw in his mind, but it was ugly enough to satisfy some unhappy recess of his mind. Dawn came, and he stopped, stretched, and methodically cleaned up, finishing with a shower to wash away the signs of the various activities of his long night.

The sounds of the plumbing had roused Bodie. Naked, with disordered hair and narrowed eyes, Bodie came to stand in the doorway to watch Doyle towel dry.

"You're going to be hell to work with today. You should have slept," Bodie told him flatly.

"Not all like you SAS types, are we?" Doyle brushed by him to put on the change of clothing he had stashed in his locker. It all smelled of turpentine now. Bodie had followed him, but paused by the easel to look at the new canvas.

"All headed for hell, are we?" Bodie asked, after a lengthy perusal.

"Already there, mate. Better get dressed, if you want anything to eat this morning. Have to be out of here by eight."

"The owner comes home then, does he?"

"One way of putting it. I have my car, I assume you have yours. I'll meet you at work," Doyle told him, straightening up, putting away.

"I think I'd prefer to go in your car," Bodie said, in that bland tone he used to disguise exactly how he felt about something.

"Oh?" The tone implied it didn't matter what Bodie thought. Doyle was going to do it his own way.

"I'm going to buy you breakfast," Bodie explained. If Doyle had been more like Bodie, it would have been more of an inducement.

"You mean you want to keep an eye on me," Doyle interpreted. That wasn't Bodie's style, was it? He was usually glad enough to leave behind the person he had fucked the night before. Couldn't see him wanting to hold hands the next morning.

"You're worth looking at, sunshine," Bodie assured him, with a wink.

Doyle said nothing. There was Bodie, bantering in his usual way, throwing off flattering phrases with scarcely a thought. Gesturing Bodie out, he took up his hold-all and followed him, pausing only to lock up.

"Have your own key," Bodie noted.

Doyle didn't want to make explanations, but he knew Bodie would make his life difficult with his constant efforts to dig out the truth. It was what they did for a living, after all, and they were both good at it. He explained, "It's an artist's studio, Bodie. I paint there. I rent Friday."

"Yesterday was Sunday," Bodie said, without much inflection.

"So it was."

Bodie persisted. "Do you screw Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday as well?"

"You have a nasty tongue."

"I'm not the only one. Do you?" Bodie had a hint of steel behind his words. Jealousy?

"As a point of fact, no."

"Only Sunday?"

"Only Sunday."

"Gay by appointment, then?" They had reached Doyle's car. Automatically they made the usual checks before unlocking the door.

"Where's your car?" Before Bodie could give him argument, he said firmly, "You don't want to leave it here, Bodie, trust me. What's Cowley going to say if you can't produce your motor, eh? Or if you return it in pieces?"

"What's he going to say when he finds out you fancy the fellers?" Bodie countered.

Doyle sighed. "You planning to tell him?"

"Not at the moment." The implied threat hung between them. Doyle pursed his lips, thinking. Bodie stared at him. "Doyle?"

"Blackmail?" Doyle asked, showing his disappointment in Bodie even within one word.

"Do you think that of me?" Bodie demanded.

"I don't know what to expect of you," Doyle said sharply, starting the car. "Where's your vehicle, 3.7?"

"Two blocks north, one east." Bodie snapped out. "What I meant was, before you leaped so blindly to your conclusion, was that I think we should wait and tell him together."

"Tell him what?" Doyle wanted to know. "That you screwed me last night?"

"I doubt he'll want us to get that specific. All he needs to know is that we're lovers."

"We're not, " Doyle said through clenched teeth.

"Not my fault. Half-way there, though, aren't we? We can remedy that tonight." Bodie was so matter-of-fact about it, but his glance at Doyle was too brief. Bodie was going to force the issue, martyr himself on Doyle's sword. Doyle expressed his distaste at that thought.

"No need, Bodie." Doyle stopped beside Bodie's car. "We'll forget about it, won't we." It was not really a question, but Bodie answered it as such.

"No, we won't. And I won't get out of this car while you harbour that thought. We're going to do it, Doyle. Tonight."

Doyle looked at that stubborn expression of the face he knew so well, And sighed. Well, why not. Let Bodie get it out of his system. Not like fucking Bodie would be such a chore, and maybe with his virginity out of the way and his bum sore, Bodie would reckon them even and come to his senses.

"Tonight," Doyle repeated. Behind them, a horn sounded.

Bodie got out, but stuck his head back in to say, "Millie's."

One of Doyle's favourite places for a quick breakfast. He nodded, even though from this angle Bodie could no longer see him, and drove off, watching in his mirror as Bodie checked his own car over, got in, and pulled into traffic some distance behind him.

Doyle was glad to be alone, glad to have a chance to think. Tonight.


He could feel himself go on heat, just thinking about it. Even if it was just once, he was going to have what he wanted. Bodie was insisting on it. Yeah. Why? Was there ever a man less gay than Bodie? And even if he found the novelty of it diverting, how soon before he was back to his normal behaviour? He was changing his women in mid-week now; the poor things never even lasted until the next weekend. Why was Doyle worrying? Chances are, he would be old news by Friday. It would hurt, but at least it would be over and done with. He wouldn't have to live anymore with the wondering and wanting.

Or would he? Worse than Bodie dropping him casually would be Bodie coming to him casually. He tried to imagine a lifetime of Bodie showing up every time a bird didn't come through, wanting a little fuck to tide him over. Bodie was capable of doing that, too.

The idea didn't appeal. But Bodie would be hard to resist. Bodie would....

Millie's was crowded, and there was no chance to talk. Doyle was glad enough to eat his croissant and watch Bodie demolish a plate of them. He thought of what he would say to Lane when he called the man. After this farce, it was over between them. Lane was practical about such things, had said so from the beginning, but he deserved more than a brush-off. Doyle thought about what would be best to say. Then he thought about how long he should wait before finding a replacement. Probably best to give up the flat and find some place else to paint.

"You're quiet," Bodie said, wiping a bit of strawberry jam from his lips with care.

"It's time to go," Doyle said, truthfully.

"Wonder what the old man will have for us today? We've been getting all the odd bits lately," Bodie commented as they rose from the table. There was no opportunity for more speech as they paid, and returned to their separate cars, but Doyle was aware of several measuring looks from Bodie, which he managed to ignore. Bodie drove behind him all the way to HQ, his car a white shadow directed by a dark one--sometimes the other vehicle was close enough for Doyle to see Bodie's frowning face in the mirror.

Cowley met them promptly at nine and gave them the task of clearing out Burke's desk, lockers and files. It was not the simple job it would have been if Burke had worked in, say, an insurance office. At CI5, each item had to be inspected, each paper scrutinized. Certain items would be turned over to the family, but others would be evaluated for a connection to current or past cases before they were destroyed or filed. The task would take at least the morning. Cowley waved them off, glad to have that small matter attended to, his eyes already fastened on the files spread out on his desk as the door closed behind them.

"Why don't you clear out his lockers while I begin here," Doyle suggested with the appearance of efficiency as they stopped beside the desk Burke used.

Bodie's expressive eyebrow rose. "I never noticed that yellow streak running down your back, mate," he said in a low voice.

"There were a lot of things you never noticed," Doyle replied acidly, and went to work at once. He was aware of Bodie as the other stood a moment in speculative silence before he strode away.

Burke was a packrat. He kept notes on small scraps of paper and his handwriting would have baffled cryptographists of any century. Bodie and Doyle were all day at the job, stopping only for a quick sandwich at noon. By staying an extra hour, they finished up, filled in the required forms, and left items at the file room, the mail room and the shredder before signing out.

The atmosphere was at once tense between them as they shrugged into their jackets. "Let's eat at the Gold Dragon," Bodie suggested at once. "We can take my car."

Macho, Doyle thought. Making all the decisions, taking the power positions for himself. Typical Bodie. He smiled slightly. "Let's take my car to Mario's."

Bodie grinned, obviously realizing exactly what he had done and what Doyle's response meant. "Your car, to the Gold Dragon?" he offered in compromise. They both knew the Chinese place was near his flat, the Italian one near Doyle's. What they were really discussing is where they would spend the night. It would be Bodie's apartment, but Doyle would have the car and could leave when he wished.

"I like Chinese," Doyle said, agreeing to it. Might as well let Bodie have home ground for his deflowering. He wondered if Bodie had something for lubricant, or if he should arrange for a detour past the chemists.

"Fine. Let's go." Nothing else was said as they went down to the car park, liberated the car and headed off for the restaurant. It was twilight. Doyle flicked on the radio and neither spoke until they were seated amid the red upholstery and gilded lanterns of Bodie's favourite Chinese place.

The waitresses were exotic and beautiful, the food good, the portions large. Doyle ate more than he usually did, and said less, while listening to Bodie rabbit on about Liverpool's chances. Nervous, he decided. He smiled, glad to know he was not the only one. He could feel the tensions between them tightening, feel them come closer to the moment Bodie was so clearly focused upon.

Doyle was trying not to think of it, afraid to dwell on how it would probably go wrong. He had dreamed of having Bodie for years, he knew a deep feeling that was more than anticipation at the thought of being the first, probably the only man, to get into Bodie's arse.

But he kept expecting it not to happen. Bodie would back out, or the world would end, or something would occur to prevent it. He was a little surprised when they paid the bill, and got into his car, and drove to Bodie's flat without incident. Bodie's rooms were chilly, and Bodie saw to the heat while Doyle was instructed to get them drinks. His hand trembled when he poured, and Cowley would have been severely disappointed in him, for he wasted the good malt, spilling it over his own hand.

Bodie returned, and Doyle watched him lift the glass to his lips and sip, then take a moment to pause in appreciation before taking another small drink. Bodie was so beautiful, with his hair, the shade between brown and black, a close cap for his head, a frame for eyes of a colour Doyle had never found in paint, his mouth a shape traced out more than once with pencil and paper, but never gotten completely right. After enough kisses would he know how to draw those lips? Would there be kisses? There had not been kisses with Lane, but Lane, as Doyle knew all too well, was not Bodie.

"You're thinking about doing me," Bodie said, in a whisky voice. For being so smooth and quiet, it produced an incredible impact in Doyle's gut.

"I'm thinking about not doing you. Or do you think the partnership can survive me shoving my cock up your arse?"

"It survived me shoving mine up yours," Bodie pointed out.

"Has it?"

"Yes," Bodie said firmly. "Look, Doyle, what's the big deal? I'm not innocent, you know. I know it will hurt a bit, but you took it, and I can do anything you can, mate."

The man hadn't a clue. Doyle forced a smile. "So let's get to it. Would you happen to have some lubricant? KY? Vaseline? Lotion?" Doyle hoped it wasn't lotion. Some of them had alcohol in them and could sting a bit.

Bodie winked. "Strawberry? Or banana?"

Trust Bodie to have it--in fruit flavours. A smile reluctantly formed on Doyle's lips. "Lead on," he said, although he knew well enough where Bodie's bedroom was. Instinctively he knew not to take over completely, to let Bodie have the illusion of control even when it was tenuous at best. He let Bodie check over the room, large but windowless, let Bodie suggest that Doyle have the shower first, let Bodie loan him a thick robe to wear while he waited, sitting cross-legged on the bed, for the sound of the water to stop and for Bodie to come out.

So casual, the way Bodie paused in the doorway, wearing a towel around his waist while he worked another vigorously over his short hair. He slung it around his shoulder, ducked back to use the comb, and then came back into the room with that Bodie swagger that Doyle was beginning to believe shielded more than one vulnerability.

He had the chest of a Roman warrior, Doyle decided. Solid, a bit stocky, well muscled. Neck like a Greek statue, and...Doyle drew in his breath sharply as Bodie flicked aside both towels and strode forward towards the bed.

Doyle looked up to Bodie's face and said, "Where's the...." Bodie was already opening the drawer of the bedside table and pulling out two garish tubes, one red, one yellow. He tossed them at Doyle, then turned out the light and slid into the bed. Doyle's eyes struggled to adapt, but there was almost no light. Not that he couldn't do it all by feel, but he felt a need to see, to know Bodie's reactions with all senses. He reached out, found the lamp on his side of the bed and turned it on. Bodie blinked at him, mouth opening to comment or protest, but then he closed it and said nothing.

Doyle tucked the tubes under the pillow and sat up to shrug out of the robe and toss it to the floor. Then he rolled over until they touched. The flinch Bodie made when Doyle's chest first brushed his was tiny, but it told Doyle that his partner was as nervous about it as he was. Doyle stretched, letting all of his body find a matching spot on Bodie's to rub against, and then with two fingers he turned Bodie's head towards him and brought their lips together.

Bodie could kiss. When Bodie pressed forward, intent on rolling them over so that Doyle was beneath him and Bodie was in control of the kiss, Doyle pulled his lips away and aggressively turned the tables, forcing Bodie onto his back and Doyle half over him.

Bodie did not fight him, and when Doyle's lips found his again, he participated whole-heartedly in the kiss. One big hand came up to Doyle's head, the fingers threading through the curls. It felt good. They kissed again.

Eventually, Bodie's lips broke away. "You always kiss this much? Or is there some reason you don't want to go to stage two?"

Because stage two led to three, to four, all eventually ending ending. Doyle lifted his head. "Giving you lots of chances to change your mind," he explained.

"Not exactly the way to go about it," Bodie informed him, shifting so that Doyle could feel the half hard evidence of his very real interest. "Get on with it, Doyle." Bodie spoke brusquely, but he did not sound annoyed or impatient. Nervous about it, surely? Doyle trailed a hand down Bodie's flank, then over the hard stomach, across the hip bone and then, quite slowly, he closed his hand around Bodie's cock. It felt good in his hand. Big, and alive. He thought about it being inside him, and flushed, moving restlessly. To be inside Bodie. It was near now. He was fighting the haze of lust building inside him, forcing himself to be slow enough and careful enough so that it could be done right.

He tugged, pulling Bodie half onto him, freeing an arm so that he could reach around and palm Bodie's buttocks. Just as solid as the rest of him. Powerful. He rubbed, feeling the tense clench which relaxed almost at once. Then, Bodie deliberately shifted one leg up, separating the mound under Doyle's hand into two hills with a valley between. Doyle's hand slid down at once, exploring the very warm crevice, taking inventory of stray hairs and measuring distances, fingers tracing the very edges of the anus. Finally, he let the pad of one finger brush over it. Bodie took a deep breath. Doyle took back his hand, reached under the pillow with his other, shifting them both in the process, so that when he had the cap off, he was sitting up beside a prone Bodie.

Strawberry. A sharp, artificial, but unmistakable scent. He put some on his fingers and brought it to Bodie's arse, finding the place unerringly, and rubbing there, testing the give, the resistance. More red goo, more rubbing, a finger in. Then two. Slowly, working at it, one part of his mind cool, amazed, careful, and another holding back the fire that was growing in his own groin. He was hard.

Bodie was hard as well, weeping a bit from the tip of his cock, and holding himself with one large hand. He wasn't pumping, wasn't stroking, only holding tight, making the smallest of movements now and again with his hips.

Doyle's own hand trembled as he brought the red slickness of the over-scented salve onto his cock, stroking to spread it. Without words, he then pulled and pushed Bodie into the position he wanted, with Bodie's arse in the air and his head on the pillow. But Bodie didn't want that, he brought himself up and braced on all fours, head down. Doyle let him have his way. Moving behind, he fingered Bodie again, stretching the opening and making his fingers a funnel through which he pushed himself, pulling back the fingers as he felt the head of his penis well inside.

"Should I stop?" Doyle was shocked when his voice came out a rough croak; he swallowed several times, and was going to withdraw because Bodie had not answered, but then something gave way a bit within Bodie, and Doyle slid in a few more inches. Instinctively, Bodie shifted, opening himself, and Doyle's own instincts bade him thrust, and there he was. In Bodie. Not quite all the way in, but Doyle began a withdrawal and a second thrust, and then another, working his way in deeper with each.

Felt good. Bodie, hot around him, different from Lane, not only in tightness, but in a dozen ways his mind was too inflamed to categorize. The lump of the prostate was more pronounced, and Doyle targeted it, wanting to make this a pleasure for Bodie which could never be forgotten.

He knew when he began to succeed. Bodie gave a bit of sound, a moan with an odd upturn at the end which made it sound like a question, and he lifted his arse and thrust back, unable to stay still. Doyle let loose, holding nothing in reserve, unable to control himself the way he had before. He was going to come, he was on the edge, he was....

He was emptying himself into Bodie, and yet his hand, reaching under, stoked the bow-taut hardness of Bodie's cock, pulling orgasm from Bodie as well, so that the convulsions of Bodie's coming milked the last of his own, prolonging it, giving him a strange delight.

Cock in Bodie, exhausted, feeling things he had never quite felt before, Doyle soaked in the essence of the moment, while the world settled around him and he waited. For what? What would Bodie...would Bodie....

Bodie stirred, gave a sighing sound, and Doyle rolled away. Bodie's long arm captured him and he was pulled close to Bodie's sweat-damp chest.

"Hell of a thing, mate," Bodie said, his words slightly muffled by Doyle's curls.

No answer to that, of course, no matter what he meant, but Doyle moved his head anyway.

"Not how I thought it would be," Bodie went on. Then, as if Doyle had asked, he added, "Better. It was better. I was afraid...."

Afraid? Bodie? A slight expulsion of air from Doyle's nose expressed his doubt about that.

"Was," Bodie insisted. "Was afraid I wouldn't be able to do it, and you'd have an excuse to go back to that whey-faced fool." Bodie turned on his side and ran a hand over the bits of back and arm he could reach. Bodie's hand felt very warm and solid. Good. A touch of moisture at the corner of his eye warned Doyle that his emotions were very much at the surface. He took firm control, and was going to pull out of the embrace when Bodie, as if reading his mind, tightened his grip and leaned over enough to place his lips on Doyle's forehead.

It meant too much. Doyle jerked out of the holding arms and rolled to the edge of the bed, coming to his feet in one smooth, continuous movement. He was only one stride away from the bed when Bodie caught him, a hand on his shoulder spinning him around with more force than Doyle appreciated--he shoved Bodie's hand away.

"Bloody hell, Doyle! What are you...." Bodie paused as if struck by a sudden thought, and then said, more quietly, "I did the best I could. There's tricks to it, of course. I'll learn."

"What are you on about?" Doyle demanded, letting the anger and confusion he felt out at Bodie.

"Look, I have only one question. Was it enough?"

"Enough what?" Doyle said, feeling particularly stupid. He rubbed at his head absently, the spot where Bodie's lips had touched.

Bodie rolled his eyes eloquently. "Enough to keep you home, berk. Enough to keep you out of his bed." It was clear he meant Lane.

Christ, what a competitive sod. "Already decided I wouldn't be going back."

"Good. Just you and me from now on," Bodie stated, his jaw jutting with his determination.

Yeah. Until Lola or Polly or Gina comes along.

"You're too quiet."

Doyle looked at him, then down at his own nudity, realizing he was cold. Glancing around, he located his clothing and after collecting up the scattered bits, he began to dress.

"Not going home, are you?" Bodie asked. "Come on, Doyle. Stay the night." He added in hesitant enticement, "Let you have my arse again in the morning."

"You'd never walk again," Doyle predicted, shaking his head. Then he said, "Slow's best, Bodie. Word to the wise. Never more than once a day." Lane's advice, though he couldn't tell Bodie that. "Wouldn't want it to affect the job."

"Still, no need to go rushing off. Uh...Doyle...." Bodie hesitated, and Doyle looked up from pulling up his zip. "Maybe that's the way gays do it. Have sex, and then off home or...but," he shrugged, a little self-consciously, "I like to spend the night. Have a little cuddle."

"Just so you can do it again in the morning," Doyle suggested.

"That," he said, with a swift grin. "But...don't go."

"You want me to spend the night."

Bodie nodded.

"Okay. I'm going to make some tea."

Bodie nodded.

It was too awkward.

Doyle reminded himself that affairs of the heart always had rough spots, had awkward moments to get through, no matter if they ended or went on to happy ever after. As he found the kettle and filled it, he thought about some of their current cases, he considered Netherton, because he did not want to think about this situation, about Bodie and....

"You think too much." Bodie had come up beside him. His partner's big hand came up, and Bodie ran his fingers through Doyle's hair slowly. "I can almost see the gears turning."

Doyle gave most of his attention to the tea. Or appeared to.

"You're thinking it won't work," Bodie said, studying Doyle's face. Doyle watched him do it, thinking of painting that chin, looking at Bodie's lips and tracing the line in his mind. "Always borrowing trouble, not willing to accept what's in front of your eyes."

"A good trait in a CI5 agent," Doyle said lightly, trying to draw the conversation away from the serious. He didn't want to hear from Bodie that this meant something, that it was special, because then it would hurt all the more later, when....

"You're not using your noggin, Doyle," Bodie said, and took his fingers from the curls so that he could mock-knock on Doyle's head.

Doyle pulled back instinctively, but Bodie had thrust a leg forward and slightly behind Doyle, to block any retreat.

"If you'd bother to think," Bodie said, "you'd understand."

Doyle gave him a look that implied that it was not Doyle who needed to think, or understand. It only made Bodie grin that infuriating grin he sometimes dredged up. Doyle was not in the mood for it. He moved a fraction of an inch, but Bodie blocked it once more, moving closer until they were touching. A bit of water at the edge of the sink was slowly wicking up Doyle's shirt, and he wiggled to avoid the discomfort. Bodie seemed to understand what was bothering Doyle and let him move a few inches further down, so that he was leaning against the counter.

"Do you think," Bodie began, in a too-reasonable and conversational tone, "that I would let just anybody do that to me? Shove their cock up my arse? Not my thing, is it?" Before Doyle could answer, he supplied his own. "No. Only one man I'd let do that, Doyle. And for only one reason."

Doyle waited for Bodie to go on, half afraid of what Bodie had to say.

"This is it, Doyle. This is the one." He brought his hand around, cupping Doyle's cheek, rubbing it lightly. "This is the one that means something. This is the one you can't run away from."

"Me!" Doyle squawked, goaded into it by the sheer unfairness of it. He wasn't the one who avoided commitment like the plague, who....

"You. Me, too." Bodie was fair about it. "It's going to take both of us to make this work."

"This?" Doyle repeated, looking inquiringly at his partner. What, precisely, was "this"?

"This private partnership," Bodie said quietly.

"Sleeping together," Doyle said, as if to clarify it, but genuinely curious to see if that was how Bodie saw it.

"It'll be more than that. Don't tell me otherwise, Doyle. I'm not going to put up with something lukewarm. With you running off to some other man every Friday. Or any other day of the week."

"This from the man whose pointed comments about a ball and chain went on for a quarter of an hour once, not that long ago!"

"But that's just it, Doyle. It's different with you. You won't tie me down. You'd let me be me."

"Wrong!" Doyle broke away, to stalk to the front room, flicking on the light as he went, and then to move restlessly around the room. The feelings inside wouldn't let him be still. He turned to face Bodie, who had stopped in the doorway, leaning there, watching him. Waiting.

"Wrong, Bodie. I wouldn't let you be...what you are. I'd be more demanding than any of your birds ever thought of being."

"Probably," Bodie replied. "But you wouldn't mind spending the day at the firing range, followed by three orders of chicken and a long night between the sheets."

"Your idea of the perfect date?" The thought drew a twisted grin from Doyle's lips.

"One of 'em. You can't deny it appeals to you, too. I know it does. I know you better than anyone, anywhere, Doyle." His eyes narrowed. "I knew exactly when you found Conversation, patterns, habits--there were enough changes so that I knew something was going on--and I had to find out what had happened."

"And you did," Doyle said. "Surprised to find you didn't know me as well as you thought?"

"No. Surprised I didn't know me as well as I thought."

Doyle was puzzled, but he didn't ask what Bodie meant. Bodie, however, was willing to give the explanation without being prodded. "Wanted to tear out his heart. I watched him shove his cock inside you, and I wanted to rip the damn thing off."

Jealousy. Doyle opened his mouth to comment on it, but Bodie waved him silent. "You'd done him first. I'd watched that, and I was angry, but when you let him...." Bodie shook his head, as if he still couldn't believe it. "I knew, all at once, everything. Now, I know exactly how it's going to be between us. Assuming you don't fuck it up."

"Me!" Doyle yelped yet again, and he strode forward, angry, stopping when he was nose to nose with Bodie.

"You. I won't stand for any other men in your bed, Doyle. It's just going to be me."

"Oh? Is there room for the two of us and all your women?" Doyle asked sarcastically.

"I won't need women. Neither will you."

"Easy to say," Doyle snapped.

"We can do it. We can do it because we're friends." Before Doyle could get in another sarky comment, he explained. "Not just your garden variety of friends. Favour or two, beer at the pub, bet on the match--can get that anywhere. Between us, there's something more than that. I trust you. I know you. We've got something besides the sex."

"The job," Doyle said.

Bodie shook his head. "It started with the job, but it's something more, now. Partnership. Thing is, we'd still have it even if we weren't partners, even if we worked at completely different jobs. What's that sound like to you?"

No way was Doyle going to touch that one. Bodie, however, was again perfectly willing to answer his own question. "More like a marriage, isn't it?"

"Not much," Doyle retorted, but even to his own ears it lacked force.

Bodie grinned. "I see some advantages to shacking up with you. We can make anything we want out of it, can't we? Don't have to be tied to the traditional," he added with satisfaction. "And no need to worry about kids, schools, all that. We can do whatever we want!"

"Not quite," Doyle said flatly.

"I wouldn't cheat on you," Bodie said, very seriously.

"Easy to say. Bodie, this sort of thing is harder than 'normal.' Not easier."

"Afraid of the work?" Bodie wanted to know.

"Afraid all the work will be mine," Doyle snapped. "The picture you're making of settling down--you casting me in the role of the wife? Do all the cooking and cleaning, waiting on the lord and master?" Doyle's tone warned that he wouldn't do it.

"You're a better cook," Bodie pointed out, but before Doyle could perform some type of mayhem upon his body, he added, "No, that's not what I had in mind! Look, I was just comparing it to marriage so you would know I'm serious. What else would you call living together, loving each other?"

Madness, said one part of Doyle. Heaven, said another. But he still didn't believe it could happen.

"We'll be fine," Bodie said. Was he repeating it to convince himself, or did he really believe it? Doyle stared at the familiar, handsome face, trying to see past all the emotion and problems to whatever truth might be beneath it. "You don't have to worry about being bottom man all the time. We know I can do my share, don't we?" Bodie grinned, inviting Doyle to remember.

As if being buried in Bodie, making love to him, was something Doyle would ever forget.

"It'll be like the job. Turn and turn about. We always know whose turn it is, don't we? Same in bed. It'll be fair, Ray. And it will be good...." Bodie bent his head, punctuating his sentence by pressing his lips onto the bit of Doyle neck he could reach.

Exactly then, Doyle knew what he would do. He'd try this madman's plan, do his best to make it work between them. Why was he fighting so hard? It was what he'd wanted, after all. He caught fire, pulled his wonderfully tortured neck away from the nibbling lips, and pulled Bodie into a proper kiss, full and deep and wildly exciting.

Strangely, as the kiss evolved into another, and then again another, he found himself thinking of paint, of exotic colours and blends, of a blank canvas, waiting for him. He did not want to give up painting, but knew that in some environments he couldn't do it. Would Bodie trust him enough to let him have a separate studio? Or, would it be possible to paint and live in the same place? Imagine being so comfortable with a person, trust them so much that you could work with them in the same room, trust them to take care around the paint, to not make comments which were off-putting or mocking, not to mind the smell and the muss.

Would it be that way with Bodie? Doyle found that he didn't have the slightest idea how this would all turn out. It didn't seem possible that it could work, he could have everything he wanted. But already it didn't seem possible that he could give Bodie up. Kisses like this....

Bodie was manoeuvring them both back to the bedroom, and Doyle knew by the press of Bodie's cock against his hip exactly what Bodie had in mind. There would be many occasions when hands and mouths would satisfy them, but the deep down truth was that Bodie liked to fuck, needed it, enjoyed it intensely. Doyle, who had no objections to being fucked, allowed Bodie to guide them to the bed.

He let Bodie make the running, do the touch-and-lick-and-kiss he did so well. Let Bodie explore and tease and indulge himself. Doyle returned enough of the caresses and kisses to keep Bodie interested, but not enough to hurry matters along. Doyle was cooperative when Bodie decanted the fruit-scented salve and began to rub it between his nether cheeks. Bodie's fingers felt big, and Doyle closed his eyes to better sense each touch. Hesitant, sometimes, and very sure at others, the fingers explored, found the way in, and discovered exactly how to make Doyle squirm and moan, to pant and then demand, with hoarse desperation, that Bodie get on with it. With one lunging thrust, Bodie obeyed.

Had a cock that was perfect, did Bodie, one he wielded with enthusiasm and a firmness of purpose. He breathed bits of words and promises, most of which were lost against Doyle's curls or skin, and he was wise enough to give loving attention to Doyle's cock and balls; in fact, he treated them as if they were his own.

Bodie, fucking him hard and deep. Bodie, wanting him. Bodie, willing to do this over and over again. Not just a one-night stand. Bodie was his. And, as Bodie hit the pleasure within him and burst it, throwing it out to every part of his body, Doyle cried out. The convulsions of his pleasure tore an equal reaction from Bodie, who thrust deep and held tight.

An eternity later, one of them groaned and stirred.

In his drowsing mind, Doyle was painting pictures, odd ones where the curve of Bodie's hip, which he knew was under his fingers, was repeated over and over, and the colour of Bodie's eyes lined the dark edge of storm clouds over a tossing sea.

"What are you thinking about?" Bodie's voice, a deep rumble, disturbed the picture. It didn't matter. Doyle moved until he could look at Bodie from sleep-slitted eyes, and he smiled.

"Everything. Nothing."

"Us?" Bodie wanted to know.

"Yes, us," Doyle admitted.

"Convinced you there is an us, did I?" Bodie wanted to know.

"Drove the point home with consummate skill," Doyle said, and smiled again. "And, Bodie?" Doyle beckoned his lover to bend close to him. With lips almost touching Bodie's ear, Doyle whispered, "It's your turn--to put out the light."

"Bastard," Bodie said lovingly, but he got up and did it. Doyle looked at him in surprise. Bodie shrugged, and to Doyle's delight, he flushed just a bit, a touch of rose on his cheek which faded at once, but still left Doyle's fingers itching for a paint brush.

He would have to go over and get his paints, and all the other things he had at the flat. Then later, he'd call Topper and tell him Friday was available again. Poor Topper would have the hassle of finding another person for Friday.

But meanwhile, there were a couple of Fridays left in the month and maybe Bodie wouldn't mind a night amid the velvet and lace. And there was always that trapeze he'd never had a chance to try out....

"Why are you grinning like that?" Bodie asked, with well-founded suspicion.

"Come give me a kiss," Doyle ordered, and Bodie did so at once. They traded long, lake kisses, turn and turn about, until, heavy-eyed, they crawled into bed and slept.

-- THE END --

Originally published in To Friends, Chained to the Typewriter Press, 1993

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