Post No Stone
The weekend began much like any other when they were working on the mundane routine that made up seventy five per cent of their lives, Saturday starting with bad jokes and boredom as they tidied up after the abortive surveillance detail. Returning to HQ they lounged around the rest room waiting for some emergency to justify their being on duty.
By Sunday afternoon they had lost two men and learned that Robbie Allison would be months on the sick list. The complaints about working weekends had stopped when the first call came in from Kent. Thereafter their hours of duty blurred into one another, their sense of loss and outrage channelled into finding the terrorist cell before it was too late.
Perseverance brought its own reward in the small office within the airport complex; not only Ulrike and her gang in custody but the whereabouts of that last bomb tricked from her. Rejuvenated and jubilant, they arrived at Ryton Square in time to watch the Bomb Squad move into the cleared area. They were still there when the car bomb detonated, taking the flak-jacketed figure of the bomb disposal expert with it.
There seemed very little to say after that.
Dull-eyed, Doyle remained by the door to Cowley's Rover, watching the ensuing activity. While all this was going on someone from the Bomb Squad would be going off to break the news to that bloke's family. Have a nice day.
His hand clenched in the concealment of his jacket pocket, Doyle rediscovered the thin gold chain that did not belong to him.
Bodie was still waiting in the deserted rest room when his partner returned. One look at Doyle's pinched face told him it had been bad.
"You handed it over to her then?"
Doyle gave him a blank look, as though surprised to find him there. "In a manner of speaking."
"She was upset." Ready to listen, if Doyle was prepared to talk, Bodie posed it as a half-question.
"You could say that, yes," Doyle agreed, seemingly unable to move from the doorway. His tone was one of trance-like calm but his eyes flickered restlessly around the littered room, seeing everything and nothing, settling on the warm solidity of his partner with a kind of blind relief.
"Let's get away from here. I've had enough."
Ray should never have gone to see her again, not this soon; particularly not from Ryton Square.
"Come on, I'll buy you a drink," Bodie said with rough concern, pulling on his jacket.
He knew it would take more than a drink to help either of them. At times like this nothing much could; grieving families offered too sharp a reminder of what was missing from their own lives - how few people would even know, let alone care.
Bodie sucked in a disgusted breath at his own sentimentality. It was definitely, he decided, grim-faced, time to get out of here; time to discuss barmaids, Liverpool for the cup and a hundred other trivialities in the warmth and bustle and blessedly uncomplicated atmosphere that was to be found in a pub.
He got to his feet, his eyes narrowing in silent speculation as he saw the livid scratches down the back of Doyle's hand where it gripped the door frame.
Doyle followed the direction of his gaze.
"Like you said, June was a bit distraught. It only made it worse for her, me going back. Christ, I could use a drink," he added, under his breath.
Pushing himself away from the door with unexpected energy, Doyle took the stairs three at a time, Bodie right behind him. They covered the darkened forecourt at speed, as though trying to leave it all behind them.
"Incidentally," announced Doyle into the silence, "you needn't worry about finding Cookie's dog a new home. June had it put down this morning."
Glimpsing his partner's expression as they passed under a street light, Bodie bundled him into the car without a word. Winding his way through the narrow back streets, avoiding the bright night spots, he drove them to a part of London where there was little chance of running into anyone from HQ. Then he stopped at the first pub they saw.
The evening was a disaster.
The pub, clinging to the dingy illusion of respectability, was surrounded by accumulated rubbish and skips of rubble. Set on the corner of a road which housed a thriving street market, it was full of stall holders, tourists who lacked an A-Z and people with nowhere else to go. The lack of cheer seemed irrelevant; neither man was in the mood to be fussy or to make any effort. With each other for company no effort was necessary.
Drinks in hand, they silently found an unoccupied corner table. Sitting close together they watched and listened, willing themselves to absorb what little warmth there was to be found here.
The pub grew more crowded, their table engulfed by a party of salesmen preparing for a night of sin in Soho. The good-humoured group included the two strangers sitting apart from their banter and too-loud laughter as a matter of course.
Bodie was hardly aware of them save as a faint nuisance to be tolerated. His eyes darkened by the twist of fate which had robbed them of any vestige of satisfaction, Bodie was quiet. Still and intense, unconsciously he projected an air of brooding anger while on some automatic level he made all the correct responses to the tentative conversational gambits thrown his way.
In stark contrast Doyle's mood was now one of sparkling sociability; allowing himself to be drawn into the group, he seemed to welcome the company. But his eyes were hard and brilliant as diamonds, his humour sharp and spiked.
As the evening dragged on the salesmen began to plan their campaign, seeking advice and recommendations which Doyle offered with tart ribaldry. Eventually, their courage sufficiently lubricated for the forbidden pleasures awaiting them elsewhere, the group left, the table becoming an isolated corner of quiet once more. Bodie stared into his untouched glass; Doyle's smile switched off like a light.
Inevitably they still attracted attention: two good looking, unattached men, they were irresistible - particularly this late in the evening when the chances of finding a sober partner for the night were being reduced by pint by pint. It was not long before their table was invaded again, this time by two women; glittering, glossy and heavy-lashed, they seemed to take up an inordinate amount of room as they settled themselves, smiles fixed toothily in place.
With absent courtesy when the third plaintive reference penetrated his abstraction, Bodie made the tactical error of buying the newcomers a drink before he had surfaced long enough to take their measure. The women made their drinks last a very long time.
Staring with outraged disbelief from his partner to the brassy redhead now sitting next to him, sipping her port and lemon with pursed-lipped respectability, Doyle abandoned subtlety, talking with pointed inconsequence to his partner.
Undaunted, the younger of the two women - 'Call me Mo' - edged nearer, battling her way into the conversational stakes. She met with a surprising lack of resistance. By this time, Doyle's sense of malice made him ready to meet her halfway.
Bodie left him to get on with it, ignoring the badly-tinted brunette at his side as long as he could.
She was persistent. Eyeing her fatalistically, Bodie wondered if his partner could possibly be intending to carry this farce through to its natural conclusion and, if he did, whether Doyle expected him to play his part and take the inappropriately named Eve home. Not that it mattered; Bodie would do only so much, even for Ray Doyle.
Besides, all that tempted him sat on his other side, oblivious. A thin hand dangled scant inches from his shoulder along the back of the wooden bench, the warmth of Doyle's thigh brushing his own.
The lighting was dimmer than usual, half the dusty lamps placed along the wall lacking bulbs. Making that his excuse, Bodie relaxed, indulging himself in the rare luxury of watching Doyle. Turning the necessary few inches he watched the play of expressions across the maliciously amused, flawed face, the hard set of the mouth which could appear so deceptively soft at times - and he wondered again how it would feel against his own.
Only then, with all his attention focussed on the man at his side, did Bodie recognise the banked down rage beneath the perilous social camouflage Doyle had adopted. For one sentimental moment Bodie wanted to reach out, physically soothe away the troubled crease between the arched eyebrows - erase all the anger and hurt and misery Doyle was attempting to hide. But life was not like that.
Neither was Doyle.
Offer him anything while he was in this mood and you risked losing your hand - at the elbow, Bodie conceded wryly. There were times when even he moved with care around Ray Doyle: tonight was a prime example.
His patience expended, and with it the last vestige of his capricious good-humour, Doyle could tolerate the refined gentility of their unwanted companions no longer. Ignoring his scarcely touched drink, he rose to his feet with an abruptness that jarred the sturdy table.
"We off now then, love?" asked Maureen eagerly, speculating on their chances of getting a meal to supplement the scampi and chips bought for them at lunch time.
"We are, yes. It's been nice meeting you - er - ladies." Doyle turned his back on the perilously clad glory of her bust. "Bodie?"
"Absolutely," he agreed, with unflattering haste. "Duty calls and all that."
"But what about us?" demanded Eve as Bodie stepped over her to freedom.
"Good question that," said Doyle, his eyes flickering over her with an insulting lack of interest.
"Thanks a bundle." Bridling, she had no opportunity to continue.
"Wasting your time, love," advised Maureen, the more experienced of the team. "It's as clear as the nose on your face where these two are off to in such a hurry," she continued, watching the two men with hard-eyed contempt now.
"He - " she nodded contemptuously in Bodie's direction but spoke to Doyle alone, knowing she had succeeded in gaining his full attention for the first time that evening, " - you'd better have a word with your - friend. Couldn't take his eyes off you all evening, he couldn't. Pressin' himself up against you. Think I wouldn't notice? I'm not stupid, you know. I half thought he was goin' to - "
Her nerve, not usually a frail commodity, began to fail her under Doyle's wide, unblinking stare.
"Grope me in public?" he suggested, unperturbed, standing with the soft swelling of his crotch only inches from her face.
She flushed angrily. "You said it! And you'd love it too, wouldn't you? Bloody perverts. No one's as pretty as you without good reason. Knew there was something wrong with you two the moment you sat down together, we did. Virtually beggin' him for it, you were, flauntin' yourself. Like him on top, do you?"
Bodie's expression had yet to change throughout this exchange, even when Doyle's arm draped itself around his shoulders, lying heavy and warm against him, the back of the relaxed hand idly brushing his throat in a deliberate but unobtrusive caress.
"So you think that's what I'm after, do you. Well, in that case I'd better be off home to get down to it, hadn't I?" Smiling, Doyle assessed what was so obviously available around the table. "I've got to admit, it's the best offer I've had all night."
He turned to his silent partner, an engagingly earnest expression on his face. "How about you, sunshine? Shall we just bugger off home, or go home and bugger each other?"
Bodie stared into the glittering eyes, desire warring with common sense. Heat prickling through him, he recognised the wild irresponsibility in his partner that made the unthinkable offer quite genuine, for now.
"Why not?" he heard himself say, wondering, dazed, just how far Ray Doyle's temper would carry him. It was obvious that this nonchalant display was no longer aimed only at their avidly listening audience - which had expanded to include everyone in the saloon bar - but himself. Why, he neither knew nor cared, knowing only that right now Doyle was serious.
Bodie had been for a very long time.
"Then why don't you two poofters fuck off and leave this place to decent people," Maureen hissed, with a sudden, shocking venom.
Supple as silk Doyle leant down, his mouth almost brushing her improbably coloured hair. "Not in public, sweetheart," he chided, "that would be illegal. But when we do, we'll think of you both. Promise."
Without turning, he reached back with supreme confidence, his hand finding and capturing Bodie's. His cold fingers locking them together, he led the way from the pub, sublimely unconscious of the attention they had attracted.
He released Bodie at their car but made no effort to speak until they had left the pub two roads behind them, driving with a vicious emphasis and untypical disregard for other road-users.
"Your place or mine?"
Roused from near stupor by the harsh tone, Bodie glanced at the set profile, then away again.
"I said - your place, or mine?"
Meeting the unyielding gaze that outstared him with ease, Bodie realised that his partner's intention had not changed. Doyle was also, quite clearly, not prepared to discuss the matter.
He almost stopped it then, knowing that one flippant sentence would be enough to relegate the whole incident to a sour joke. Mingled hope, longing and disbelief blinded him to reality.
It was the sum of communication between them until they reached Bodie's flat with its king-sized bed.
Sprawled boneless against the scattered pillows, sweat gleaming across his cheekbones and down the long line of his taut throat, Doyle stared sightlessly at the ceiling. The room was quiet now, save for Bodie's breathing - a warm, damp sharing against his shoulder.
It was his melting awareness of that treacherous quality which made Doyle turn his head with slow purpose, staring at the dark hair curling against the nape of Bodie's neck, eyes drifting down the broad back and away again. The echo of his own voice remained with him.
No one could be held responsible for what they might whisper while at the brink of climax, he convinced himself.
The evening had been a mistake - on both sides. Now all he had to do was make Bodie understand that.
His partner's breathing was deep and even, Bodie seeming untroubled by doubts, the relaxed body sprawled confidingly against him. Extending a finger, Doyle poked the drowsy figure in the ribs, refusing to accept the sentiment which said let him sleep.
"Don't go a bundle on your post-coital technique," he announced into the contented silence. "What happened to the hearts and flowers?"
Bodie stirred then, rolling onto his side, blinking, his face flushed and drowsy: he looked totally without defence. Then he smiled: weariness eradicated, suave assurance gone, his expression one of open tenderness.
"Well, you might at least let me know if I came up to your expectations."
The brittle note in Doyle's voice denied the sweetness between them, the sharp sunburst shock of climax that had obliterated every sense, all thought.
Bodie blew thoughtfully across the body lying next to him, his smile widening as he saw the silky chest hair stir under his breath, the shiver of a pectoral muscle and puckering dark flesh that rose to an inviting peak.
"Never been one for competitions," he told Doyle, lazily amused.
Doyle evaded the caressing finger. "So you're satisfied then?"
Drifting on a euphoric cloud of love and hope and sheer well-being, Bodie hardly heard the question, scarcely daring to believe he could have been so freely given what he had resigned himself to as being unobtainable - until tonight.
He offered silent, heartfelt thanks to the two scrubbers who had pushed so hard and, when rejected, had lashed out with the only accusation that would salvage their pride. It had been Doyle who had dragged innuendo out into the open, given it form and substance.
And so, Bodie thought, bemused, to bed.
His hand settling in tangled hair, he leant up to kiss the corner of the full unresponsive mouth.
"I'm satisfied," he murmured, inhaling the scent of Ray Doyle.
Eyes wide and unblinking, Doyle made no effort to resist or evade the caress, seeming resigned to it.
"Satisfied?" he echoed with soft derision, having considered the matter. "We'll have to see if we can't improve on that then, because me - I've always been very competitive."
His white-toothed smile lacked any emotion whatever, sending a trickle of apprehension through Bodie's warm contentment.
Ray had been increasingly unpredictable throughout the evening, Bodie acknowledged, hoping this might still be no more than his imagination.
"Yeah, I had noticed that," he agreed. "But not always, eh?"
He had not expected Doyle to be such a generous lover, so giving.
Doyle's gaze slid away from smiling blue eyes. He had tensed, as though afraid of what Bodie would say next.
Poised above the smaller man, studying him anxiously, Bodie saw the compressed mouth and veiled eyes. "What is it, Ray?"
He was answered by a surge of movement as warm hands tipped him, unresisting, back onto the mattress. A moment later Doyle was straddling his supine body, staring down at him with near-clinical interest.
"Nothing. Why should anything be wrong? It's been an interesting evening, one way and another. But there's no point in hanging about, is there?"
Bodie stared up in silent incomprehension, refusing to accept what his partner's every look and word confirmed.
"Don't start going coy on me now," Doyle said with hard-edged impatience. "This is what you've been after for so long, isn't it - to fuck me?" His weight settled solidly on Bodie. "It's nice to be wanted."
'Even by you'. Ray had always excelled in the art of the unvoiced innuendo.
All colour drained from his face, Bodie no longer knew who that soft derision intended to hurt. It hardly mattered, for he had no defence against this kind of attack.
Lying still under the confining warmth of Doyle's body he saw, not the familiar sensual lines, planes and curves or the face he knew better than his own, but a vicious stranger intent on wounding, even if in the process he himself was hurt.
"Yes," he acknowledged into the silence, "I've wanted you for a long time. I thought you would have guessed before now, other people have." His own voice hardened. "But that's not your style, is it? You've always been good at seeing only what suits you - pretend it's not there and it'll go away." He shook his head ruefully. "You miscalculated tonight, sunshine." His finger stroked down the cold, willful face in a brief caress free of mockery.
It was a truth he would never have voiced but for his need to offer some puny pittance to the choking misery that was making it so difficult to speak at all. He had never sought this level of involvement with anyone, caught before he recognised the trap. But he could not dissemble now, lacking Doyle's ability to advance and withdraw at seeming whim, his seeming compulsion to push to the limits - and beyond - of a relationship.
There had been a time when Bodie had tried to rationalise the contradiction between what Doyle said and what he did, between what he felt and what he revealed, then he had stopped; as principal victim, Bodie's own involvement was too great.
He could take very little more, not knowing whether he was on his head or his heels, responding to the sweetness beneath the acid only to find the door shut in his face, not understanding why or what he had done. Doyle could be brutal in retreat.
Staring now into the closed face above his own, Bodie recognised how little of the inner Ray Doyle he had ever been freely offered, being tossed crumbs from the rich man's table. He could not continue to survive on that beggar's mite, not even when it included the easy, oft-flaunted gift of Ray Doyle's sensuality: not when he had glimpsed how much was being kept from him.
"Why do you do this, Ray?"
"Thought this was what you wanted," Doyle replied, wilfully misunderstanding.
There had been a time when Bodie would have accepted the lie.
He nodded. "Nice try, that, but it isn't going to work. We've gone too far now. You can trust me - or not. But you're going to have to decide, now. This is truth time, sunshine."
"I suppose you know what you're talking about?"
Possessing a monumental patience when it came to this one man, Bodie tried once more.
"We both do. I've wanted you for a long time, longer than I've loved you - it took me a while to realise that, you see. But you know that too, don't you?"
Conscious of Doyle's sudden tension and in no state to notice Doyle's state of shock, Bodie rubbed along the clenched muscle of Doyle's thigh.
"I need more than a quick fuck and forget."
The heavy eyelids lifted then, Doyle giving him no opportunity to say more.
"Too bad, because that's all there is on offer. Going to tell me you don't want it?"
With a crooked smile that did no more than twist his mouth, Doyle leant back straight-armed, weight taken on his spread palms. His eyes travelled with lazy self-satisfaction down his own flaunted nakedness before they lifted to study Bodie's too-revealing expression.
"Going to tell me you aren't even tempted," he mocked, brushing a knowing hand down himself, fingers drifting to caress tiny nipples erect, palm stroking across them and down until he reached the sticky glistening trails trapped in the soft whorls of hair. Rubbing the pearly fluid between a curious finger and thumb, he tasted it, his expression thoughtful.
"Can't tell if it's yours or mine," he announced, sucking the pad of his finger clean again. "But maybe I'm still too drunk to know the difference."
Not as immune as he had thought to the fleeting pain he glimpsed in the blue eyes before Bodie looked away, Doyle sat up, the velvet weight of his genitals slack and heavy on his partner's belly; lightly he traced the same damp finger across the tensed mouth so close to his own.
"Choice is yours, sunshine. Take what you can get, or go without."
Bodie knew it was no choice he had been offered, but a challenge. With a few well-chosen sentences Doyle had denied the tenuous admissions forged in this bed by more than their mingled seed and shared lust.
Whatever Doyle wanted to pretend, neither of them had been the worse for drink, his anger the only threat and even that had been a sham to a degree. Offering himself - for christ only knows what reason - Ray had known that whatever else happened, he would not be rejected.
Who, Bodie thought, a helpless yearning ache in the pit of his belly, could have resisted him?
Outwardly cool and wholly wary, he had followed Doyle's lead, determined to give nothing away: it had been a recipe for potential disaster.
Instead, the competitive need to dominate and enforce had dissolved within seconds of the first consciously sexual touch they had shared - that first fierce, yet strangely tender kiss.
By the time they sought his bed Bodie had thought they needed no excuse.
But then what did he know? Twenty minutes ago he thought he had been given all that he had come to need from the world - until Ray denied every word he had whispered: words that Bodie had never been meant to hear.
Ray often said things he didn't mean.
"Take what I can get?" he echoed, his voice very low, very soft. "You imagine I can't take you?"
There was no curiosity in the query. Bodie knew he could - determined now that he would. His eyes narrowed in speculation, he assessed Doyle's slighter frame and known ability.
"Dunno." Doyle smiled with no detectable warmth. "But if you can't maybe you'll find out how good I am."
Through his anger Bodie knew a sudden slither of fear. There was a shocking, irresponsible wildness about Doyle he had never seen before, a coldness to his rage. The clear eyes offering their challenge held no recognition, let alone warmth.
There had been a wildness in their loving, too. But, sweet and addictive, it had demonstrated only what they could be capable of - together. Ray, quite clearly, wanted no part of it.
He tried, one last time.
"Ray - "
Doyle's sharp-boned weight pinned him against the mattress, ruthless hands clamping his head still. The contemptuous assurance in the mouth that assumed its mastery opened the floodgates of Bodie's rage.
Wrenching himself free he rose to one knee, the blistering fury in his eyes in stark contrast to the soft control of his voice.
"If this is how you want it - let's find out how good we both are," he agreed.
His straight-armed blow caught Doyle beneath the heart.
The outcome of the fight could never have been in serious doubt given Bodie's advantage of weight, skill and cold purpose. Fury stripped him of all but fine-honed skills perfected over the years - how to disarm without crippling, to hurt without disfiguring. Applying those skills with a merciless efficiency, he demonstrated the full range of his formidable abilities.
Time and again Bodie had taken from his partner what he would tolerate from no other person: his tolerance had just been ripped from him, with every pathetic dream of continuity and commitment.
At first Doyle knew only the fierce, joyous pleasure of finding a release for the immensity of his anger - until he barely evaded a blow that would have broken bone had it made contact. Only then did he realise what he had done to them both, pushing the knowledge aside as he began a grim struggle to keep Bodie and himself from any serious hurt.
Gaining his first, momentary advantage Doyle released Bodie without following through and, rolling to his feet, called his partner's name.
Watching the blank dark eyes for any hint of recognition, Doyle never saw the blow that sent him to the floor for the last time.
His weight savagely behind the knee grinding into the small of Doyle's spine, his arm locked around the taut-stretched throat, Bodie's grip tightened with cruel purpose, forcing the smaller man back into a bone-cracking arch.
For a split second his unfocussed expression was that of the hunter poised for the kill.
The desperate rasping breaths and pain-contorted profile eased through his consciousness, slackening his grip even as he realised what he had been about to do. Releasing Doyle he rose to his feet, stepping back a pace, watching the slumped body as it shuddered for air, face down on the carpet.
"Well, that didn't take long, did it?" he panted contemptuously, eyeing the splayed figure, trying to distance himself from the hurt growing in him that had nothing to do with newly acquired bruises.
"What did you have planned for an encore - or is this where I'm supposed to get the payoff?" He had begun to shiver now, the heat of his rage abated, leaving a cold sickness, his body throbbing and sore.
It was a while before Doyle moved at all, pushing himself up into a sitting position with care, one hand pressed to the small of his back: he, too, was in retreat.
"I expect you know what that's supposed to mean?" Huge-eyed and battered, he looked the picture of injured innocence.
With deliberation, Bodie crouched down so that their faces were on a level, eyeing his damaged love with distinct distaste.
"Oh, I do. At long last I've been allowed in on the secret. You perverted bastard - and you would have let me do it, too. Anything rather than admit you could need anyone. Relegate this evening to the level of a quick fuck and forget - make it nasty enough so we'll both be glad to forget." Unmoving, he watched the unnatural control on Doyle's face. "So that busy little mind got to work - and you know just how to get me insane enough to do it, don't you. Rape - I dunno why you should find the prospect so attractive - but tell me, Ray, what did I do to deserve this?" Bodie was long past caring what his own expression revealed.
His anguish was too real, too immediate to be ignored. But that was a further cruelty beyond Doyle now anyway. With an incoherent murmur of contrition he reached out, stilling the gesture only when Bodie flinched away.
"I didn't mean to - I'm sorry."
The note of defeat in his voice betrayed a hopelessness that caught at Bodie even as he guarded against it. Wiping his face with an angry hand he rose to his feet.
"You never do mean it, do you. But it hasn't stopped you yet. What was it this time - the fact I made the mistake of taking you seriously? That was your fault, you know. You gave yourself away the first time you touched me." Bodie's voice changed from mockery to a confused need to know. "We've heard a lot about me, about what I want. But what about you? What do you need, Ray?"
Wiping a smear of blood from a cut on his hand, Doyle muttered something unintelligible and did not look up.
Sinking down onto his haunches again, Bodie waited - prepared to wait for as long as it took.
When Doyle eventually looked up, the expression in his eyes was desperate, haunted.
"I want you," he said, his voice harsh and shaking. "That's what you wanted to hear, isn't it? OK, you're right. I want you. Satisfied?"
Bodie studied the suddenly unfamiliar face, his expression undergoing no great change. Then he nodded and rose to his feet with a smooth disregard for stiffening muscles; he had reached the doorway before Doyle spoke.
"Where are you going?"
His back to the room Bodie closed his eyes for a brief moment. He had never heard that note of uncertainty in his partner's voice before and never wanted to hear it again. But until he understood what the hell was going on he refused to soften, dared not.
"To get a drink, I could use one," he replied unemotionally. "It must be the shock of hearing your touching declaration. I'd give it a bit of a polish before you use it again if I were you." He left the room without a backward glance.
When Bodie returned, a bottle of whisky and two glasses in his hands, Doyle was still huddled on the floor, his arms locked around himself, as though he were cold.
"No point you staying down there," Bodie pointed out, not ungently. "We may as well talk in bed - it'll be warmer. Be something of a novelty, too."
Not expecting any response, he slid into bed, drawing up the duvet and rearranging the pillows before he poured himself a drink. Anger and bitterness having drained from him, he was suspended in a curious limbo of calm, his own emotional needs relegated to second place after the belated realisation that for his partner to have behaved as he had, this was something more fundamental than a Doyle mood manifesting itself.
The stakes were important enough for Bodie to try again - and again - forced to concede he had little option. His life was too interwoven with the complex figure in front of him to give up.
Sipping slowly from his glass, gaining an illusory warmth from the amber liquid, Bodie lay watching the tense lines of Doyle's back, the sharp definition of the spinal column when Doyle curved forward to hug his knees, chin resting upon them, head bowed. Seeing the goose bumps raised on the smooth skin Bodie wondered how long Doyle would stay there, obstinately shivering, and what he would say when he moved; he was careful to think no further than that.
Before Bodie had finished his drink, Doyle seemed to have reached some decision for he uncurled, rising stiffly to his feet. Turning, he faltered on meeting Bodie's steady gaze before moving to stand at the side of the bed, unconsciously rubbing a smarting friction burn down his left flank. Uncertain and lost, he looked far removed from the insouciant figure Bodie was accustomed to seeing.
He lifted the duvet aside in silent invitation; Doyle slid into bed next to him, as far removed from Bodie as was possible. He was still shivering.
"Sometimes I just don't understand you," he said wearily, his gaze fixed on the foot of the bed.
"I shouldn't let it worry you. I've got quite used to not knowing what goes on inside your head - this is quite a novelty for me," Bodie added caustically and handed over a generous measure of whisky, nudging a tense arm to gain his partner's attention.
Startled, Doyle jumped, took the glass and drank the measure straight down, holding the empty tumbler between his hands, turning it.
"We wouldn't be in this mess if it wasn't for those two scrubbers."
Unyielding, Bodie gave him a sceptical look. "I thought they just gave you the excuse you wanted?"
Startled, Doyle looked up, his expression a guarded blank.
"I told you earlier," continued Bodie, unperturbed. "Tonight is truth time. You've been wanting to go to bed with me for quite a while, haven't you?"
Leaning over to place his empty glass on the floor, Doyle made no attempt to reply.
Unsurprised at the evasion, Bodie disposed of his own glass. "OK, have it your own way."
Switching off the light he settled down with every appearance of ease, a meticulous distance from the man lying next to him.
"You going to sleep?"
The disbelief in Doyle's voice made Bodie give a faint, wry smile into the darkness.
"Nah," he dismissed with heavy irony, "thought I'd lie here and consider Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Of course I'm going to bloody sleep. You don't want to talk to me, I've had all the sex I can cope with for one night - it gets too complicated for me - so where's the point in just lying here?" The bitterness, despite himself, crept through.
The silence stretched on without seeming end, every breath and rustle of bed linen accentuated.
Unable to ignore the confusion in that soft whisper Bodie sat up, flicking the light back on.
He was caught the moment he glimpsed the bewildered unhappiness in Doyle's face.
Knowing himself to be a fool, Bodie slid an arm around the hunched shoulders, helpless against the stupid sentimental melting in his gut when his undemonstrative partner wriggled closer, face turning to rest in the curve of his arm. Once within that shelter Doyle made no attempt to say anything else.
"Well, we've established that you want me. Is that so terrible?" Bodie asked, picking up on their earlier conversation as though there had been no interruption. Too tired for either hope or despair, he was left with only a dogged determination to see this through.
Doyle's answer, when it came, seemed another evasion as he stirred and moved away, closing himself off again.
"I'm thirty four years old, Bodie. "I had my first girl at fourteen, I've been chasing after it ever since. Not always sure why. 'Had.' That just about sums me up, that does."
"Is this some convoluted way of saying I'm too good for you?" Bodie interrupted.
All his attention concentrated on what he was trying to make Bodie understand, Doyle seemed not to have heard him, his fatigue-flattened voice drifting into the silence.
"I knew I could enjoy making it with you, thought that was all you wanted. But - It seemed better not to do anything about it. See, I didn't want to complicate things," Doyle added, his voice full of self-mockery. "But Cookie dying made me realise - scared me. Could've been either of us." Green eyes flickered over Bodie's attentive face, then away again, as thought afraid of what they might see there.
"You were right of course. Those tarts gave me the perfect excuse - get you into my bed and out of my system." His mouth twisted. "Only it wasn't that simple so I tried to finish it quickly."
Doyle looked up in open disbelief.
"What d'you mean 'why'? I'm telling you the only reason we're here now is because I didn't want to die wondering what you'd be like in bed!"
He had, in fact, revealed considerably more: Bodie heard only the surface repudiation.
"And now you know." His eyes were dark, smouldering with anger, fledgling understanding lost.
Clumsy and inept because it mattered too much, afraid of the power Bodie, all unknowing, had over him, Doyle made the final mistake of keeping quiet.
"So you took it on yourself to decide once was enough. I'm surprised you managed to spare me so much thought in all this. Bit unfair, even by your standards, isn't it? What about me, about what I might want?" asked Bodie, in a conscious attempt to wound. "As you pointed out with such charm, I want to fuck you."
Doyle met that hard-eyed appraisal without surprise or anger; it was, after all, only what he had come to expect. But not from Bodie.
There was an expression on Doyle's face that Bodie did not understand.
"If you want it so much, take what the hell you want," Doyle said, with a vast weariness.
Bodie's hand moved too late to check Doyle's move onto his stomach. "Thanks, but no thanks," he said in harsh rebuttal, fighting his urge to do just that. "There's enough martyrs in the world without you rushing to join their ranks. I've never fancied necrophilia myself."
Not knowing what else he should do, Doyle lay motionless, caught in Bodie's grasp. His voice was muffled in the pillow. "Then what is it you do want from me?"
His guts turned to water, Bodie's hand eased its unconsciously punishing grip and slid down a taut-muscled biceps, then away.
"Thought you must know by now," he said after a moment, struggling to explain what seemed so simple to him. "This isn't a trade-off - your body for me pretending that's all that interests me. Me, I'm stupid - I love your mind, lousy temper, rotten sense of humour and - Can't you understand even now? I bloody love you."
Outmanoeuvred, he had no hope of being able to pretend to misunderstand this time. Doyle's hand clenched under the concealment of the pillow.
"Yes, I thought you must," he conceded finally, his voice devoid of all expression. "I'm sorry." That, at least, was the truth.
Bodie lay very still, a leaden lump in his throat.
No point in whining about it; at least Ray had finally been honest with him.
It wasn't something you could lie about.
Dull-eyed, he stared at the body so close to him, unconsciously memorising every plane and contour; the satiny skin of the bowed neck, half-concealed by drooping curls; curve of a tensed biceps and the long line of the thin-fleshed spine; the sharp jut of a narrow shoulder blade; curve of rib, sinew and muscle; the tender hollows above the intriguing rise of the small clenched buttocks, the dark-shadowed cleft half-hidden by the crumpled duvet. So sweetly fleshed and his - just for the asking, because it would mean nothing to Doyle beyond a few minutes of sensation.
Heavy with misery Bodie closed his eyes, a dull ache in his loins, mind helplessly caught in replaying the wild, warm sweep of Ray Doyle that had seduced him into seeing what wasn't there - not for him.
It had been different from, yet so like, Bodie's lonely four a.m. fantasies, the only surprise the open tenderness of each generous touch, the oddly softened green gaze devouring him, feeding from his pleasure.
Then the door had been slammed in his face, Doyle retreating into anger.
'I want you...'
Ray hadn't explained one damn thing. Odd, now he thought about it, that Doyle, never at a loss, should have been so clumsy and tongue-tied.
'Out of my system...'
The flat acknowledgment that the experiment hadn't been a success; they'd been more than good together, whatever Doyle chose to pretend.
He had been talking in riddles all evening.
So he was thirty four years old. You would think he'd just discovered something momentous.
His eyes wide, it was a moment before Bodie remembered to breathe.
Bloody hell, he thought, staggered by his discovery, it wasn't the sex Ray couldn't accept but the feeling that had accompanied it, highlighting it beyond hope of concealment. Every touch Ray had offered him had been a betrayal of the emotion that yearned for some expression.
At thirty four you were expected to have got it together.
Oh, that anger made sense if you knew Ray Doyle. And Bodie did, better than anyone, living or dead.
No wonder the poor bugger had backed away, Bodie thought, Doyle unconsciously convinced that the bubble would burst, as it had done so consistently in the past.
Ray hadn't been what you could call lucky in love - whatever that meant, Ann Holly but the last in a long, unsuitable line.
Got it wrong this time, sunshine, Bodie silently told the averted head, resisting the urge to tweak one of the limp brown curls. This time it's no bubble.
All outward sociability, Doyle was harder to get to know - and more worthwhile - than anyone Bodie had ever known. His own feelings were not based on the simple possessive need for that exotic face and cool provocative sexuality - he had lived with them for too long. Bodie had known for a long time what he wanted: to see Ray Doyle happy.
He had seen it once, briefly - thanks to Ann Holly. Three lousy days was all it had taken, Doyle displaying never a doubt or qualm about the level or intensity of his involvement. He had been so certain, alight with happiness; there had been a serenity about him that Bodie had never seen before or since. Ann had killed what she had created in one short, public scene: Doyle, calm, remote, had told him that Ann had finished it.
Bodie never knew why. He had never understood what could have attracted those two opposites in the first place, knowing only that there had been a disquieting acceptance about Ray, as though he had somehow been expecting the rejection.
Ray had tumbled into love with what, in retrospect, seemed frenetic speed, as though seeking some permanent anchor against the storm. The job could do that to you, until you snapped out of it. So could discovering you were in love with your partner, Bodie reminded himself wryly. That was probably why he liked to kid himself that Ann hadn't been that important to Doyle, succeeding where he had failed.
But it hurt to think Ray could be so certain with someone he had known for only three days and mistrust his own partner to the extent that he would refuse to consider the idea that Bodie could be sincere. Unless it mattered that much to Doyle. Caught on a surge of hope, Bodie took a steadying breath, prepared to try anything.
Now all he had to do was find out if he was right. At their present level of communication, 1995 seemed a likely date.
Not one given to accepting defeat, particularly when he had nothing left to lose, Bodie gave the matter some thought. He could talk until he was blue in the face: undying declarations of commitment were not going to impress a man who had heard it all before - usually just before the lady in question walked out on him. Besides, it would solve only half the problem: Doyle needed to work out what he needed for himself or any future they might have risked being ruined by resentment.
On the other hand, Bodie couldn't see why he shouldn't help Doyle's learning process along. His voice drifting into the silence a short while later held a deceptive casualness.
"You're not asleep, are you?"
He could almost hear Doyle considering the lie.
"Not very likely, is it," Doyle replied, unmoving.
"No, I suppose not," Bodie conceded, drawing the duvet up over his partner's naked shoulders, taking care there should be no physical contact, accidental or otherwise, between them.
"Do you want me to leave?"
For some reason the question took Bodie by surprise. "Not unless you want to," he said.
Doyle remained where he was.
Needing all the encouragement he could get, Bodie took hope from that, settling himself back against the pillows once more. "I can understand you wanting to know what it would be like with a fella, you know," he remarked. "Just thought I should let you know - I didn't need that excuse. Already found out."
Announcement made, he reached out and poured himself another, much needed drink, aware that he had succeeded in gaining his partner's total attention.
"Are you trying to tell me you've been bi all these years?" Narrow-eyed with suspicion, Doyle had turned, his pinched face stark with disbelief.
Bodie remembered not to smile, concealing his growing elation. "I must be, mustn't I? I mean, you're a fella, and I fancy you. Why should you assume you're the first?"
"Who?" Doyle sat up in a flurry of movement.
Studying the suddenly belligerent face, Bodie shook his head. "Why should it matter? I haven't noticed you worrying about how many birds I've had."
"Only one of them ever mattered to you," Doyle retorted, unthinking.
Bodie's eyes lit with a reluctant, wry amusement. "Why I do believe - You're bloody jealous. Oh, that's typical, that is. You don't want me but I can't have anyone else."
Every emotion perilously near the surface, Doyle glared at him in impotent fury, shaking with the force of it.
"That's it," he grated. "Get out, Bodie. Get out now."
Bodie took an untroubled mouthful of whisky, savouring it. "'s my flat, Ray," he reminded him with gentle derision.
Doyle moved so fast that he had dragged on his jeans by the time Bodie came up behind him.
"You've never liked being laughed at, have you?" he remarked quietly. "Or being reminded how bloody dictatorial you can be. Flouncing off in a tantrum - what's that going to solve, eh? We'll still have to work together tomorrow. And I expect we'd do all right, until one of us got his head blown off. Me, I'm the simple type, I need to know where we stand. So just tell me what it is you want."
"I can't," said Doyle tightly. "Can't you - ? That's why I'm going, because I'm too bloody gutless to stay." His voice was muffled as he hauled on his sweatshirt.
To have got this bloody close - Jerking Doyle round by his shoulders, Bodie discovered that his partner's eyes were wet, tears spilling down his face.
Probably rage, he reminded himself realistically, knowing Doyle too well to have many illusions. But by that time he had already taken the furious figure in a fierce embrace.
"Oh, fuck it!" Tense and shaking, Doyle shrugged himself free, stepping back a pace; he looked angry enough to spit but this time his fury was directed only towards himself.
"Look, I know what you're thinking but this - " his hand moved in a vague gesture, " - it can't work because - "
" - you don't want it to," Bodie anticipated, his new found certainty vanquished.
"No, I - " His unzipped jeans hitched precariously over the jut of his hip bones, sweatshirt still rumpled around his rib-cage, Doyle took an emphatic step forward, then stepped. "That isn't what I meant," he said lamely.
By that time Bodie hardly heard him. Caught on a wave of sheer lust he wanted that dishevelled figure so fiercely he could hardly bear it. Humiliated, he was forced to sink onto the edge of the bed, his legs leaden, every pulse hammering out the immediacy of his desire.
Inevitably Doyle noticed.
Well, you couldn't expect him not to, Bodie reminded himself with sardonic black humour, willing his inconvenient, painful erection to subside.
"Don't panic," he said dryly, shivering with banked down arousal, "I won't hold you to that offer you made. Door's that way."
Doyle crouched down beside him, his expression very changed. "And what about you?" he asked.
His new gentleness was the last straw.
"Oh, just go home, Ray. It's late." Weary to his bones, Bodie turned away, too battered to weather another emotional storm.
His hands clenched in the bedding. The ensuing silence forced him to look up. Doyle had not moved.
"I - I didn't mean to hurt you like this."
"Then christ help me when you do try," said Bodie with harsh bitterness, too strung out to know what he was saying. If Doyle didn't go soon Bodie knew he was going to come in front of the wide worried eyes that had no idea of the power they held over him.
His own eyes screwed shut Bodie heard a whisper of sound, comprehension lost as to its content as the mattress next to him dipped. Gentle hands encircled his burning flesh and involuntarily he cried out, hips arching upwards, offering their own plea.
"S'shh. It's all right."
His weight supported against the half-naked figure kneeling behind him, Bodie was given the warmth of Ray Doyle all around him. Then the experienced hands moved again, offering only an effortless release from the knotting tension. Beyond thought of refusal, he gave himself up to the touch that was so right for him, spasming under the fourth flowing movement.
Still shuddering, collapsed in a limp sprawl against Doyle's cradling body, Bodie felt the splattered warmth cooling against his chest and belly, achingly conscious of the strength of the arms still encircling him, the now motionless hands that had tended him with such sterile efficiency. His face scrunched against the joyless release so casually given to him, he opened angry eyes to meet the absorbed face bent over him.
"You're getting better at that," he announced, freezing whatever Doyle had been about to murmur.
Freeing himself, Bodie slid back under the bed covers, hiding the remainder of his helpless vulnerability. "The only thing is," he added with cutting contempt, "I could've got as much joy from a knot in a tree."
Something about Doyle's painfully still figure invited attack. Tonight he had left himself open to Doyle in every way and had been rejected or - worse - humoured, Doyle offering only the one thing he had always been prepared to peddle.
Well, no more, Bodie thought viciously, staring at the taut, interlocked fingers. He could see his own seed drying upon them.
"You soulless bastard, self-sufficient to the bloody end, humouring the sex-maniac you were unlucky enough to get lumbered with. Well, all power to you, mate. You've proved your point. I was wrong. You don't need anyone, least of all me."
Left without one defence, Doyle looked up then, a tearing hurt in his eyes. Nodding, he tried, haltingly, to explain again.
"I've heard that before, of course," he said, his breathing ragged. "All my life. You can't all be wrong." He was finding it unexpectedly difficult to steady his mouth.
Bodie slid down to the foot of the bed. He had wanted to pierce that fine detachment but not like this.
"Ray, look, I - "
"It's all right." Doyle even managed to smile. "I dunno why I'm being like this about it, god knows it's the truth. I'm not proud of it, but it's what I'm like, what I've been trying to tell you all bloody night. I - I'm not good at needing. Resent it. Didn't know how much I needed you until - It was seeing June that made me realise. It could've been you dead instead of Cookie. Don't think I could take that so - Christ, you know what I'm like, Bodie. Take it out on anyone, everyone. Any relationship has to be a two-way thing." His empty hands opened in self-dismissal. "What I've got - it wouldn't be enough. Better for you to know that now, before I hurt you even more."
Sorting through the jumble of half-finished sentences Bodie finally understood what Doyle had been struggling to tell him all evening.
Of all the times, he thought incredulously, to discover an altruistic streak in someone.
The thought that all of this had been for his own good left Bodie mentally reeling. But it made sense; it made sense if you knew the screwed-up insecurity that was so well concealed behind Doyle's easy assurance. That was why Ray pushed so hard, always testing every relationship, unconsciously unable to believe he could be wanted just for himself; being proved right too often.
Wiser now, Bodie waited until he was certain Doyle had finished.
"No," he agreed mildly, "you never have liked admitting that self-sufficient image is just so much crap. You're forgetting, sunshine, this isn't exactly some wild fling on my part. I've worked with you for over five years now, day in, day out. I know exactly what I'm getting." He drew an impatient breath. "You stupid sod, do you think I'd want you any different?"
Sliding from the bed he stared, exasperated, at his new found love.
Doyle looked terrible; his skin was putty-coloured, his hair a lank, bedraggled mess of curls. He seemed drained of all emotion, even misery, and Bodie had the eerie feeling that Doyle had not heard him.
But it was no wonder the poor bugger had these self-destroying periods of doubt. 'All my life...' Three words that filled in a lot of gaps, explained so much.
Bodie knew surprisingly little about his partner's background, except that - the youngest by some years of six children - Ray had not been back home since he was sixteen. He rarely referred to his childhood and had only mentioned his parents once - and that had been to complete some gaps in his personal file. Bodie suddenly remembered the phone call Cowley had made when Doyle had almost died, Notifying the relatives was standard procedure when an agent was critically ill. Mrs Doyle had hung up on the old man before Cowley was more than halfway through his explanation; when he had rung again the phone had remained unanswered.
Staring at the skinny, introvert lump of misery slumped on the foot of his bed, Bodie gave a resigned sigh.
Why he couldn't have fallen for some uncomplicated busty blonde.
Still, one thing in Ray's favour: life with him would never be boring. Could accuse him of a lot of things, but never that. A bit of emotional stability would work wonders for him - for them both. Ray was nothing if not single-minded.
Knowing that he still had a long, uphill struggle on his hands before then, Bodie opted for the tough approach. Seeming frozen to the spot Doyle looked in no fit state to decide anything. Bodie refused to permit that passivity to trouble him, understanding what was at its root. Ray, quite simply, had had enough.
Bodie knew just how he felt.
"Right," he announced with a brusqueness that made Doyle flinch. "I'm going to take a leak. By the time I get back I want you undressed and in bed. We're due in at eleven a.m. tomorrow, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed."
Then, because he could not stop himself, he leant down to give the drawn mouth a swift, hard kiss, withdrawing the moment he received the first tentative response. Cupping the flawed face firmly between his hands, he kissed Doyle again, this time with an aching yearning he made no attempt to conceal. But when he spoke, his voice was almost impersonal.
"You can tell yourself that was because you've got the face of a fallen angel and the body of a Greek god if you like. But while we're being so honest with each other maybe I should mention that it was over a year before I stopped feeling sorry for you - for being so ugly," he explained. "It wasn't until I heard two girls from the typing pool arguing over you that I stopped to take another look. They were both wrong."
He had left the room before Doyle could say anything.
Returning, he found Doyle's clothes neatly draped over a chair and their owner flat on his back in bed, with no indication that he had ever possessed an independent thought in his head.
"You look like a corpse that needs laying out properly," Bodie announced, sliding to lie next to the motionless figure, quashing all the protective instincts that Doyle's pinched-face look always inspired in him.
"Look, are you going to lie there wallowing in unworthiness all night or are you going to try and get some sleep?" he demanded with asperity moments later, finding himself almost as tense as the man at his side.
Doyle closed his eyes: in that moment he would have done anything Bodie told him.
Too tired to know if he was handling this in the right way, Bodie curled away on his own side of the bed and switched off the light.
The broad expanse of his back to his partner, quite unconscious of the hand that reached out to him before it curled and was still, Bodie was, contrary to his own expectations, asleep within minutes.
Dragged awake, still trying to place the noise that had disturbed him, Bodie lifted his sleep-blurred face from the pillow, too tired to feel anything but resentment. He glared around the dark and silent room, unable to place what the noise could have been.
Muttering with tired irritation, he let his lead-weighted eyelids slide to a close. Sensation intruded as he realised that the bed was shaking slightly.
What the hell - ?
Not the bed, his brain told him after a moment of confusion, the mattress.
And he wasn't moving.
That left -
What the hell was the stupid sod doing now?
Bodie could think of only one activity to account for the soft uneven breathing and the faint tremors that shook the mattress at irregular intervals.
The force of his anger snapped him awake.
If Ray had the bloody energy for a quick wank after the night they'd had, he could go and do it somewhere else, he thought with outraged fury.
Sitting up and flicking on the lamp, he found himself unable to see a thing for a moment, the brilliance of the light a physical pain to eyes that were gritty with fatigue. The shaking beside him seemed to be intensifying; then he heard a quivering indrawn breath.
Infuriated, Bodie grabbed a hunched shoulder, all he could see of his partner who was curled on the very edge of the bed.
"Just what the - ?"
His hand fell away.
Doyle was oblivious to the light, unconscious of the hand that had held him, curled in upon himself, his face more than half obscured by the bunched pillow. Bodie leant over the sleeping figure, fingers smoothing unnecessarily over hair that Doyle had had cut only the week before. While Bodie watched, a large fat tear slid from beneath one of the closed eyelids, joining the moisture already gleaming on the stubbled cheek.
His assured, self-contained partner was crying in his sleep.
His hand curving around the vulnerable nape of the neck exposed to him, rubbing the smooth skin in unthinking reassurance, Bodie had no idea what he should do next.
Aghast, he saw another tear well, heard the long shuddering breath as Doyle snuffled into the pillow. Then he noticed the patch of dampness stark against the milk-chocolate pillow case and the swollen eyelids, the two images reinforcing the knowledge that, far from being woken at the beginning, he was witnessing something that had gone on for a very long time.
These were not the tears of rage or self-pity, just the helpless, unconscious betrayal of utter despair.
Lost in troubled exhausted dreams of a loss his conscious mind could not bear to contemplate, Doyle did not stir.
The slow remorseless stream of tears continued, Doyle's breathing becoming more uneven with each jagged inhalation, tremors shuddering down the curve of his back, dragging at chest and belly, shaking the mattress.
Then he whimpered.
That tiny sound finished Bodie.
"Oh, sweetheart," he murmured helplessly. "Don't. S'ssh."
With infinite care he took hold of the tight-knotted body, turning and gathering it to him, wrapping his own warm limbs around the shivering tear-jerked frame. His hands soothed the tense back, smooth sides and muscled flanks, caressed the heated face and swollen eyes, wiping away the moisture as it formed.
In time the tears stopped. The terrible juddering breaths that replaced them revealed just how long they had been going on, the point of exhaustion having been long since passed.
Final proof, had any been needed, of what the previous day had cost Ray Doyle.
The stupid waste of it.
"You stubborn, loving fool," Bodie whispered to the curls tickling his chin, lost to a vast tenderness. "Care too much, that's your trouble."
Then, because his voice seemed to have a calming effect, Bodie continued to whisper soft endearments, cradling the half-curled, still-shuddering figure in his arms. Aching to spare Doyle this unnecessary grief, he was afraid to wake him lest it do more harm than good. The necessity of making any decision was taken from him.
His breath catching on a rib-pulling inhalation, Doyle shuddered awake, his reddened, too-brilliant eyes dilated, disorientated with panic.
Still in the grip of the recurring dream, June's voice shrill in his ears as he watched Bodie leave, Doyle knew that this time his partner would not return. His clutching hand settled on a warm shoulder, tightening before his desperate hold eased.
Only half-awake, he took a deep uneven breath and found his damp face tucked under a dark-stubbled chin, the beat of Bodie's life blood a steady reassuring drumming in his ears. Close-twined, he relaxed. The hard warmth of Bodie should not have felt so familiar - not after one night. It was if he had known it all his life.
Doyle tucked himself more tightly around the warm solidity cradling him. Rubbing his cheek against the smooth skin of Bodie's collar bone, he whispered his partner's name again, this time with a wealth of possessive contentment.
"You all right?"
Doyle froze as that whispered enquiry betrayed the fact that Bodie was awake.
He knew what had wakened him now, quite apart from the nightmare. His chest and stomach muscles ached, the skin of his face felt stiff and strangely tight. Clear-eyed and wide awake now Doyle slid out of the arms that made no effort to restrain him.
"I didn't mean to wake you." His nose was running, his voice thick and husky, unfamiliar. Then he noticed that the light was on. Six thirty seven.
"Christ, how long have I - ? I'm sorry," he added flatly.
The dark reality of his dream had returned, seeming so real that even with his partner only a handspan away Doyle could feel the void in a life where there was no Bodie.
Stretching away the small aches that had set in, Bodie sat up, studying the down bent face for a moment, seeing the pensive sweep of the spiky lashes, the effort Doyle was making to regulate his breathing, denying the force of the grief that had left him spent and without defence.
"You were sobbing your heart out," Bodie said, very quietly.
Doyle just nodded, purged now of grief, trying to find a way of making it easier for Bodie to end it.
Reaching out, Bodie cupped the side of the flawed face, wiping away a residual trace of moisture with a gentle thumb.
"Why?" he asked simply.
"Didn't know I was. Not surprised though. Kept dreaming you'd gone. And I knew I'd finally pushed you away once too often. I wouldn't blame you." Doyle looked up, his expression one of acceptance.
"I'd feel a damn sight better if you'd stop saying that," snapped Bodie. "I thought we settled everything last night." His asperity dissolved when he saw the compressed mouth give a fractional quiver before it steadied.
"C'mon, Ray. Start thinking straight. You're too strung out, blaming yourself for Cookie's death and all. Take things too hard, you do. Nightmare, that's all it was. Besides, you may have noticed, I'm not that easy to get rid of."
His voice was so matter-of-fact that the broadened parameters of their relationship suddenly slipped effortlessly into focus.
Moving on instinct alone, Doyle caught him in a fierce hug, smothering him with small kisses in the first moment. Desperation gave way to a yearning tenderness as, with a faint hesitance, he found the warm welcome of the responsive mouth that parted for him, the arms that held him close, the embrace less of passion than of affirmation.
"I'd noticed," Doyle confirmed eventually, a lilting note in his voice now, his forearms resting lightly on either side of Bodie's neck, fingers ruffling the thick dark hair. Warm with affection, his eyes studied the smiling face opposite him. "I think you must be the one certain thing in the whole bloody world." He shook his head, making no attempt to pretend he understood. "Dunno why it should be me for you. I don't even care anymore, if you're sure."
His forefinger traced along a crooked eyebrow, down the curve of Bodie's cheek. "I hurt you so much, said so much I didn't mean," he added with a sudden helplessness, knowing retraction could not atone, and that Bodie did not even expect it.
Then all thought stopped, guilt banished as Doyle went under for the second and final time at the expression in the rich luminosity of Bodie's eyes.
Sliding them both back against the comfort of the pillow with Doyle propped against him, Bodie took a relaxed hand between both of his own.
"Say this just once, then we forget what happened yesterday; been enough grief. We hurt each other, and ourselves. For all the mess we made of things, this - " he lifted their joined hands, feeling the long fingers tighten around his own, " - this didn't lie once. Every time you touched me, your hands said it would be all right."
The light in the smoke-green eyes watching him was answer enough. Needing flippancy to counteract the melting tenderness this one man could inspire in him, Bodie added, "Dunno why I didn't realise that straight away. I mean, you've always been a bit tongue-tied. Don't worry though," he added with kind condescension, "you'll soon get the hang of it with me to help you."
For the first time in too many hours Doyle smiled, a slow, infinitely sweet smile.
He nudged a gentle fist against Bodie's chin. "You always were a modest bugger," he remarked, leaving all that was important unspoken.
"That's me," Bodie agreed.
"Yeah." Doyle's widening smile was one of uncomplicated happiness.
Waking abruptly, Bodie reached out a hand and discovered only the empty space where Doyle had been. Before he could react he heard a quiet voice at his back.
"Yeah, I'll tell him. Eight tomorrow morning, then. Cheers, Betty." Doyle's voice was followed by the quiet click as he replaced the handset of the telephone.
"Did I fall asleep on you?" mumbled Bodie into the pillow, on the point of drifting back to sleep.
The mattress at his back dipped as Doyle sat down next to him. A warm palm rubbed the nape of his neck, the heel of his hand and fingers seeking potential tension and finding none.
"You could say that. I thought you'd died, until you started snoring." But Doyle's flippant reply was an obvious effort, a flat, tight note of anger apparent behind it. His fingers had stilled their movements.
"That was HQ letting us know we won't be needed until tomorrow. We needn't be in any rush to get our reports on the events of yesterday done either. The van transferring Ulrike and co to court was involved in a crash with an articulated lorry. There were three guards in the back, which took the brunt of the crash. There are four dead and Ulrike's not expected to recover consciousness. The driver lost a leg."
Bodie heard him out in silence. The bitch had brought nothing but grief to everyone she came into contact with.
"Ah, fuck it." Angry with himself for even caring, Bodie buried his face in the pillow, willing the man at his side to go away. This was one assignment he would be glad to forget.
Long fingers slid through the thick hair at the nape of his neck, finding the taut-locked muscle. Under the slow comfort offered by the gentle touch, Bodie was reminded that in all this there had been one triumph, something that would last.
His expression defensive, braced to ward off unwelcome comment, he rolled onto his back to find Doyle watching him, a trace of worry in the back of his eyes. But he said nothing, his hand motionless in the curve between neck and shoulder.
Sighing, Bodie's hand settled over the leg nearest to him. His partner was an unlikely looking anchor, he decided wryly. But Ray would do for him, by god he would.
"Like you said," he conceded, his blue gaze sombre, "not many certainties in the world. Except us," he added, and gave a sudden dazzling smile. "I'm glad you're here. It helps."
Awkward and slightly defensive, it was not the most eloquent declaration ever made but it banished the shadows from the wide slanting eyes watching him.
Doyle rubbed his nose with the back of his hand and admitted, "I'm glad, too."
"I suppose it was an accident?" queried Bodie with a frown.
"All the indications point to it. Cowley's got people working on it now," said Doyle.
Bodie had never been one to brood about spilt milk, particularly when there were pressing personal matters occupying ninety nine per cent of his attention. There was no point in wallowing in anguish about the final lousy break fate had thrown at them when there was absolutely nothing they could do about it.
His fingers idly caressed the warm flesh of Doyle's thigh, tickling. "Did I hear you say we've got the rest of the day off?" he asked, deliberately changing the subject.
Doyle nodded. "Until eight tomorrow morning."
"Cowley's getting considerate in his old age - unless maybe he's seen the size of the bags under your eyes. Be hard to miss 'em," Bodie added.
"Character lines," Doyle told him, getting to his feet. "You want any coffee?"
"Yeah, lots. I'm starving too." Bodie sounded faintly surprised, which was odd considering his last meal had been a snatched sandwich the previous afternoon.
"I thought you might be. I was in the middle of getting breakfast when the phone went."
"What time is it then?" asked Bodie, in no hurry to get up.
"Twenty past ten. It's a pity the phone woke you, you could've slept on."
Bodie blinked. "Getting me breakfast in bed, were you?"
His expression one of wry amusement, Doyle willingly presented his partner with the ammunition with which to shoot him down. "Yeah, thought it would give you a chance to catch up on some sleep," he explained.
Bodie's delighted retort died at the expression of comical dismay which crossed Doyle's face. "Oh, christ, I forgot to switch the grill down." He vanished out of the room.
Stretching lazily, Bodie grinned to himself as he heard the muttered imprecations drifting in from the kitchen, followed by a waft of charcoal-tainted air.
A sheepish face appeared around the door. "You need a new kettle," Doyle announced gravely. "Can't understand what happened but the element seems to be burnt out."
"Think I could hazard a guess," remarked Bodie untroubled. "Careless sod."
"Oh, and about breakfast - you want to have a shower before rather than after?"
"Got to start again, have you?"
Doyle gave him a look of reproof. "Nah, just going to scrape the worst of the burnt bits off your toast."
Ignoring the provocation of that remark, Bodie stared at his bright-eyed partner, noting the improvements in his appearance from the night before.
"You've washed your hair," he said in near-accusation.
Doyle gave a weighty sigh. "I've had a shower and shaved, too. Ready for work," he prompted.
"Oh, yeah. Well, in that case." Bodie left the bed with unlooked for energy.
Rubbing his stomach in a reflective fashion Doyle pushed himself away from the door jamb to trail after him. "What the hell are you talking about?" he demanded as Bodie disappeared into the shower stall with a purposeful air.
"Well it'll be nice if we're both clean." He let the remark trail away, confident that his normally perspicacious mate would pick up his meaning.
Light dawned and he received a look that was at once speculative, appraising and inviting.
"You that desperate for breakfast? We could always have a late lunch."
Doyle looked so ridiculously hopeful that Bodie's decision was even easier to make. Switching off the beginning-to-trickle shower head, he left the shower stall. Taking his partner firmly by the wrist he led the way back into the bedroom.
"You remember to switch the grill off this time?" he thought to ask.
All his attention on the smooth play of muscle down his partner's back, Doyle gave him a vacant look.
Bodie shook his head and tssked in reproof. "Stay here. I'll go and check," he sighed.
Returning, he remained in the doorway, transfixed by the sight of Doyle sprawled against the pillows in open invitation, forearm draped over a bent knee.
Raising heavy-lidded eyes, projecting a smouldering sensuality, Doyle found himself unable to take his eyes from Bodie's mouth, heat licking through him.
"I expect long distance loving's fine - I've never tried it myself," Bodie offered.
Hazed green eyes focussed on him, making a valiant effort to concentrate. "Wh - ? No, neither have - Oh, come here."
They met somewhere in the middle of the large rumpled bed, Doyle seeking the wilfully pouting mouth with a loving attention to detail, holding Bodie, stroking him with immense care.
"Is that it?" Bodie drawled, a trifle shakily, some time later.
"You in any hurry?" enquired Doyle, unabashed.
It was a moment before Bodie thought to reply, distracted by the lips nuzzling his left ear.
"No. Yes," he mumbled eventually, having obtained a satisfactory handful of responsive Ray Doyle.
"Well that was decisive enough in any event."
It was then that Bodie realised they had rediscovered laughter.
Engrossed in each other, they let the flow of inconsequential chatter cease. It was as if they were relearning the pleasure of touch with each other. All the frenetic urgency of the previous day was pushed aside as they shared the slow glide of skin upon skin, the smooth stretch and responsive flex of muscle, the slow gathering building within them both.
Kneeling, Doyle leant forward, seeking Bodie's mouth again, long languid kisses interspersed with small insubstantial caresses and the slide and thrust of tongue against tongue.
Seeking the support of the pillows, pale skin suffused with a rosy heat, Bodie drew the thin body astride his own, one hand tangled in the thick silky hair as he sought the swollen mouth, his tongue teasing over the full bottom lip.
Leisurely responses intensified as Bodie's hands tightened upon the shoulders bent to him, his flat-palmed hands skimming down Doyle's spine to cup the hard curve of the small buttocks.
Tasting all the dark sweetness of Bodie, his senses alight with him, Doyle opened his eyes as warm fingers slid down the cleft of his buttocks, stroking gently, teasing inwards. A ripple of response shivered through him and with a wordless sound he clung to Bodie's shoulders as one of the questing hands slid around, caressing his taut-drawn erection, a warm palm cupping him up against his own quivering belly muscles.
Then came a new stimulation as the pad of a moist fingertip drifted over the taut-clenched muscle, circling, pressing against him. Murmuring deep in his throat, Doyle thrust away from the warm palm, arching back in blind invitation.
"Thought you'd like that." Bodie's velvet-rough voice murmured in counterpart with his caressing finger as it teased and circled with tender care, his cupped palm sliding fractionally, increasing the sweet gentle friction.
With an inarticulate growl of sheer carnality Doyle thrust back, taking Bodie into himself for the first time, his eyes narrowing to slits of sensual disbelief, pleasure echoing through him, skin prickling with it.
"More," he demanded, his breath catching. "Oh god, more."
Then his head dropped onto Bodie's shoulder, his body caught between the twin sensations being offered to him. His breathing ragged, he gave a soft cry as the finger slid deeper within him, then turned, very slowly.
The sweet gathering within him near fruition, Doyle stared with luxurious anguish into the brilliance of Bodie's eyes, wanting this to be a time of sharing. But transfixed by the shattering sensations threatening to peak, he could neither move nor speak.
His thumb grazing the ultra-sensitive head of Doyle's pulsing cock, smoothing away the pearly seepage, Bodie paused, rubbing a sweat-damp cheek against Doyle's, attuned to his partner's every need.
"Hang on then, lover."
And Doyle did, surviving even the withdrawal, his teeth closing over the slick saltiness of Bodie's shoulder until the storm within him calmed and he could move again.
Sweat gleamed on them both; in a moment of utter stillness, their gazes held.
"Too fast," Bodie mumbled eventually, hands gentle on the jut of the hip bones, thumbs tucked into the convenient hollow, caressing the pale, blue-veined flesh.
Doyle freed himself before bending to nuzzle the tender flesh of his partner's lower belly, hair drifting over the beginning-to-ripple belly muscles.
"Too fast," he agreed throatily, tongue dipping to delve into the curl of a navel, lapping upwards, seemingly intent upon tasting and testing the man beneath him. "Won't leave you behind this time," he promised, hungry to know every pleasure spot. He explored with gently rubbing fingers, lips, tongue and teeth, knowing when he must stop from the uneven breathing and the hands that tightened upon him as Bodie gasped and twisted.
Framing the mute arch of Bodie's erection, he gave a languorous smile. "Soon," he promised, blowing delicately against the quivering flesh. His tongue traced the heavy-veined length, round and up, mouth parting to engulf Bodie for a too brief moment, feeling the response that rippled through Bodie as though it were his own - discovering that it could have been, so perfectly matched were they.
The hunger was too much.
"C'mon, then. Come, inside me."
And he drew Bodie after him as he settled himself, having no need to urge or coax now, no motive or thought beyond their mutual need for this.
His shoulders against the mattress, cheek pressed into the pillow, Doyle shivered with anticipation before Bodie even touched him.
Warm hands swept down his shoulders, back and flanks, the sure mouth nuzzling the nape of his neck, down over the sharp press of his spine to seek him out. Hearing the soft murmur of the voice caressing him, he knew the narcissistic need to see them both, the hunger to see Bodie's face when he came. By then it was too late to turn.
Whimpering, he arched up to meet the moist swathing tongue, the slight abrasive rub of a stubbled cheek in stark contrast to the questing tongue tip that teased and tantalised, melting away the body's last automatic resistance while a hand skimmed his inner thighs, brushing his testes, cupping him tenderly.
Then came the indrawn breath and a new touch; the slow and easy slide of Bodie parting him, the moment of stillness when he took Bodie fully into himself.
His eyes opened wide, absorbing the strangeness of it, the exquisite sensations stirring with each ragged inhalation they shared. Doyle reached back, his hand rubbing reassuringly against a tension-locked flank, feeling the effort this stillness was costing Bodie.
"C'mon, Bodie," he urged roughly, wanting to say more but too strung out on sensation. "Now. C'mon."
"Now," Bodie agreed, sounding as though he had run a great distance, the imperative to complete this union too great to be further denied.
Then he moved.
Sensation overtaking them both, it was over far too soon.
Crumpled against the mattress, uncomfortably aware of the knot of their clasped hands digging into his belly, caught by their joint weight, Doyle finally caught his breath, his face stirring on the damp pillow.
"Should've told me," he mumbled.
"Told you what?" Warm breath stirred his hair.
"Sodomy's fun. And you're beautiful. But you're breakin' my back, mate."
A lethargic tongue licked at his sweat-slicked neck. "You want me to move?"
"Mmm," assented Doyle with no urgency at all, despite the undoubted discomfort of his position.
"Dunno who said honesty was the best policy," Bodie complained, finding the energy to sprawl onto his back. He gave the ceiling a satisfied beam, his knuckles rubbing comfortingly in the small of Doyle's abused spine, eliciting a small, pleasured murmur and flex of muscle.
Straightening and stretching, Doyle rolled limply over to lie next to him, finding the energy to prop Bodie's head on his shoulder.
The light seemed much too bright; by mutual agreement they switched it off, leaving them in the friendly gloom cast by the drawn curtains and rain clouds outside. Hand in sticky hand they lay in the ruin of the bed, waiting for the world to right itself.
Doyle was the first to stir, chilled, his smoky eyes still brilliant with sated heat as he fumbled for the duvet. Feeling the cool stickiness seeping from him as he moved, very aware of his own body, he smiled and continued to tuck the warm bulk of the duvet around the contented sprawl that was Bodie, snuggling down next to him.
His hand smoothed down the curve of Bodie's flank. "You all right?"
The query met with a soft amused snort. "That would be one way of putting it," Bodie told him, opening drowsy eyes. "Anyway, it should be me asking you that."
Smiling, Doyle shook his head. "Only if you're thicker than I thought."
There was a long, contented silence: a hand moving in idle caress, then stilling.
"So you thought I was ugly, did you?" Doyle mused, some time later.
Momentarily disorientated, Bodie's jaw dropped before he recovered himself with admirable, if belated, aplomb.
"As sin," he said firmly. "Exotic as hell of course," he added, determined to be fair. Leaning up, his finger flicked across the damaged cheekbone that gave Doyle's face such a piquant charm. "Some people'll go to any lengths to make themselves interesting."
"Me hair's a wig too," Doyle offered, wishing to be helpful, unsurprised by the gentle tug it received. "SuperGlue," he explained.
"And worth every penny," Bodie told him.
Drawing their entwined hands to rest upon his flat stomach, Doyle brushed the back of Bodie's hand against his own soft body hair just for the pleasure of it, the movement slowing until finally it stopped. Raising their linked hands, he unselfconsciously kissed the knuckles of Bodie's hand.
"Know how long it took for me to realise I loved you?"
The sheer unexpectedness of the matter-of-fact announcement kept Bodie silent.
Sensing his mate's shock of surprise, Doyle's head turned. "You must've known." Warm and relaxed, his voice was the final, unnecessary reassurance.
Ruffling the already tousled hair tickling his shoulder, Bodie grinned. "Of course I knew, you misguided maniac. Guessed about halfway through yesterday evening. Didn't expect to hear you say it that's all. You aren't a great one for making declarations."
Curling onto his side, Doyle snuggled closer. "No, I know I'm not," he agreed. "I don't suppose that will change much either. I just didn't want you to be in any doubt," he added. His eyes searched Bodie's face. "And I wasn't so much misguided as scared shitless. Never felt like this about anyone before you see."
The arm around him tightened. "Me neither."
"Be a few adjustments to make," Doyle offered.
"You want to worry about them now or when they appear?" countered Bodie.
"Later will do." Doyle nudged his cheek against solid muscle, allowing his partner to feel that he was smiling. "Well don't you want to know when it was then?"
"Thought I was supposed to be the romantic one?" Bodie mocked gently.
"Just goes to show," said Doyle, his nose snuffling against a relaxed armpit. "Mmm, you smell good; high, but good. I'm goin' to tell you whether you're interested or not, you know."
"Rather gathered that," Bodie admitted, an absent hand massaging the hollow of a satiny back.
Arching his spine, Doyle stretched, his toes trailing down Bodie's calf. "'s nice that, don't stop. I'm a bit stiff there."
Bodie knew understatement when he heard it, having seen the marks he had inflicted during their fight of the day before speckled across Doyle's skin; for his own part, he was scarcely marked. He traced a remorseful finger across the beginning- to-become-apparent bruising down the length of Doyle's arm and opened his mouth.
Doyle's hand cut off whatever he had been about to say. "Don't even think it," he warned, only half joking.
The sombre light in the blue eyes disappeared. "Love it when you're masterful," Bodie capitulated.
Doyle's macho scowl of acknowledgment was ruined by his chip-toothed grin. "You ain't seen nothin' yet," he promised.
"All right, so when was this earth-shattering moment you were dying to reveal?" Bodie queried.
"Which one?" asked Doyle, all innocence.
A look of tender concern on his face, Bodie gave him a hard pinch.
"Ow!" Wriggling back, Doyle rubbed his abused buttock against the now open-palmed hand. "That hurt," he announced, trying to look soulful.
"It was meant to," Bodie told him with illusory severity, offering a comforting massage.
"Softest touch on two legs, you are," Doyle told him. "It was when you handed me that beaker of tea. All of a sudden I knew it was no good trying to kid myself any longer. I felt like it must be shining out of me."
Bodie gave an approving sigh. "Romantic that. Which beaker of tea?" he thought to add.
They spent half their lives collecting change for vending machines.
"The airport. You came in while I was with Ulrike and shared your tea with me." The cataclysmic simplicity of the moment that had shaken him to the foundations of his being seemed a long time ago, the adjustment from misery to contentment effortless.
"Oh, that beaker of tea. It took you long enough." The timing was so gloriously inappropriate that Bodie knew it had to be true.
"Yeah, that one. Not even a flash of lightning or anything," agreed Doyle, amused in retrospect by the vagaries of life. His smiled faded. "But that was only when I actually admitted it. I dunno how long it's been all told. I know it was before I met Ann."
Seeing Bodie's eyes flicker uncertainly, he tried to explain the relationship that no one, himself least of all, had ever understood.
"She meant a lot to me but - I used her, not that I saw it that way at the time. But I latched on to her like a drowning man to a life raft. I needed somebody to love and it never occurred to me that I could have you. I didn't know any other way of dealing with what was happening to me."
And listening to that soft explanation as Doyle voluntarily opened the first door, Bodie recognised the level of trust he had been freely given, heat prickling behind his eyes.
"Oh," he said, voice a little husky. Aware of the inadequacy of that response from the first, he realised that it was going to be a beautiful day.
He announced as much.
Doyle gave an indulgent sigh.
"Yeah, you're a romantic all right. Don't know how to break this to you, mate, but it's ten past twelve on a Wednesday morning and it's pissing down with rain."
"Like I said, beautiful," Bodie repeated unrepentantly.
"I feel drunk," Doyle announced as he emerged, dishevelled, from a lengthy embrace. "You feel like that?"
"I feel marvellous," said Bodie.
A caressing hand seemed intent on verifying the truth of that statement. "Yes, I have to admit," conceded Doyle generously.
Bodie felt the mattress dip, the warm brush of soft body hair against him followed by Doyle's not inconsiderable weight pressing him down as his partner stretched over him to switch the light back on. The room had grown very dark; outside he could hear rain hitting the windows with some force, the strength of the wind gusting around the flat. Bodie's present contentment was of the kind that knew it would have stopped raining by the time they had to go out.
Kissing a Doyle-scented armpit, he blinked owlishly in the light and locked his arms around the narrow waist, encouraging his partner to remain where he was.
"What d'you do that for?" he enquired. "It's more romantic in the dark."
Doyle's deceptively solemn face was approximately three inches away from his own.
"I wanted to see what you looked like in glorious technicolour," he explained, as though it should have been obvious.
"Forgotten had you?" asked Bodie sympathetically.
"And you look - " Caught on his own train of thought, Doyle was oblivious, cocking his head as he considered the change in his partner. "Smug," he announced at last.
Grinning, Bodie gave him an exuberant hug, making Doyle grunt in protest.
"Feel it," he confirmed unnecessarily, seeking his partner's ravaged mouth. Then, groping outwards, he switched the light back off.
"It's all right," he said, when Doyle would have protested. "I just wanted to check on something.
"Thought so," he announced mournfully, seconds later. "There's no justice. Last night the knacker's yard would've turned you down and look at you now. I could see to read by the light in your face."
It was true; there was a marked improvement in Doyle's appearance from that of the previous evening.
"Result of righteous living, that is," Doyle mumbled.
"Soon change all that," Bodie promised him with sleepy confidence.
"Yeah." Their future implicit in four short words. Doyle closed contented eyelids.
There was a rustle of bed linen, the brush of Bodie against him before the light came on again.
Bright-eyed, Doyle turned his head on the pillow he was sharing. "What is it now?" he asked, prepared for the worst.
Bodie studied the serene eyes for a long satisfied moment.
"Nothing really. Just wanted to see what you look like when you're happy," he said, and switched off the light for the final time.
He was almost asleep when the drowsy whisper reached him.
"Definitely romantic. You'll soon get used to seeing it."
Much to his surprise, Bodie did.
-- THE END --
Written March 1983
Published in HG Collected 1, Doghouse Press, 2000