Post Hunter Hunted
I'd expected Ray to be on a real downer by the time we finished interrogating Preston and his wife but he seemed to be bearing up well enough, although that hard glitter in his eyes told me not to make the mistake of leaving him alone with Preston. No one likes being set up, or made to feel a fool. Ray likes it less than most. And he and Preston hadn't exactly been best buddies before the corruption case.
Mr and Mrs Preston - representatives of Her Majesty's finest. Listening to Preston's case being rehashed made me appreciate that while I've had a lot of problems with Ray - and knowing him, I'll have plenty more to look forward to - one thing I'll never have to worry about is Ray being on the take. His integrity is one of the things I respect most about him. For god's sake, he's the only one on the squad who doesn't fiddle his expenses. Now, that's carrying virtue too far, but you get my drift.
They say everyone has his price, but I haven't been able to work out what Doyle's would be. It would have to be a cause, probably some impossible crusade, knowing him. Me, I'll stick with what I understand. When I've got Cowley - and Ray - sussed out, then maybe I'll move on again. Maybe.
The Prestons in custody, we made our reports to Cowley and escaped to the empty squad room. Perhaps I'd been a bit over-optimistic to expect him see the funny side of the business with the rifle. But I ask you, where did Cowley think I was going to find a convincing mock-up of a laser rifle at short notice? Still, it had made Ray smile when I fired a quick burst out across the water. Not that he was smiling now as he brooded over the mug of tea I'd made for him.
I concentrated on finishing the packet of crisps I was eating. When I glanced up, I found Ray studying me like he hadn't seen me before or something. It was a bit unnerving to be honest because I wasn't sure what was behind that intensity. Not that I'd ever let on to him, of course. He's got all the advantages he needs.
"All right," I said, "what's that glint in your beady eye in aid of?"
"Nothing," he said, looking a bit flustered.
I stared at him. I knew I was onto something when he started to fidget.
"It just dawned on me how close I came to getting my head blown off this afternoon, that's all. Thanks," he muttered.
"Are you feeling all right?" It may sound like an unfair question, but experience has taught me it's best to be cautious around Ray. I'm not saying he's devious, manipulative and prone to setting me up, but at least once a day I find myself fetching or carrying something that's his, not mine - to say nothing of the birds he's cost me with his deadly one-liners.
"You must be Claire," he says blandly, and then stands back and grins while I suffer the inevitable fall-out from Lisa, Deborah or Jane.
"One of these days you'll learn to accept thanks graciously," he said acidly, stalking down the corridor.
"Where are you off to?" I asked, having to step it out to keep up with him.
"Home. I'm off-duty. I'm going to enjoy myself." From the look of grim determination on his face, it was going to be a do or die night.
"Got anything special planned?" I asked, but cautiously. Ray sometimes gets stroppy when I ask what he's doing. When we were first teamed, I thought it was because he had some dark secret to hide, or a tasty bird he didn't want me making a move on. It took me a few months to realise it was his defence mechanism to disguise the fact he was going home to spend the evening alone - brooding.
"No," he snapped, shouldering his way through the last set of security doors.
"Then I'll buy you a drink," I said, putting my hand in the small of his back and steering him out into the car park.
"I'm not in the mood," he mumbled, fiddling with his car keys.
I relieved him of them. "Then you can buy me one. I'll drive."
He gave me an old-fashioned look but said only, "Don't scratch the paintwork."
I gave him a slap on the bum by way of encouragement. But I think he must have got resigned to me doing it over the years because the most reaction I've ever had from him is a look of exasperation, or him goosing me when he thinks it'll embarrass me the most.
"I'll stop off and get some wine, you can call in at the takeaway," I said, as I eased the car out into the rush hour traffic. "We can put our feet up at home and you can bore me with your plans for getting that rusting lump of metal you call a car fixed."
It occurred to me too late that maybe that was a bit tactless if I wanted to help Ray forget the last couple of days. It's no joke being stalked; city or bush the feeling's the same. A quick glance was enough to confirm my suspicions, the street lights offering enough of a glow to see the drawn mouth, the rest of Ray's face in the shadows. I've often wondered if he realises how revealing his body language is. Not that I always know exactly what's going on inside his head. I wish I did. Or maybe not. Right now I could read him like a book; his imagination was just starting to work overtime on what could have gone wrong. It takes a brave man to have an imagination and continue to work in our line of business.
When Ray still didn't say anything, I carried on, chatting like an idiot. "What d'you fancy: Indian, Chinese, chicken 'n' chips? That Chinese place down the road from you is pretty good. How about it?"
"Fine," he said listlessly, before he roused himself to make the effort. "You don't need to waste your evening. I won't be good company."
"What else is new? You'll do for me." It isn't often you catch me telling the unvarnished truth.
"I thought you'd fixed up another date with that singer from the pub?"
"Once was enough. I've never been one to pursue a lost cause," I lied. It had happened once, when Cowley, pointing to a dishevelled little scruff blaspheming as Macklin cut the rope bridge he was crossing, told me Doyle would be my partner - if he didn't kill himself finishing the course. Not only did Ray swing from that rope well enough to confirm a few of Darwin's theories, he also managed to give Brian a hefty kick in the goolies later that day. And even Brian thought it was accidental. But it made me a lot happier about the prospect of being teamed with him.
"Wasn't she up to your standard?" Ray asked with a knowing grin. He's never backward about coming forward, even though he moans whenever I show some slight interest in his sex life.
"Would you believe she lives with her mum and dad?" I said.
"Nothing wrong with that," he replied, but his mouth was twitching a bit.
"And three sisters and two brothers," I added with gloom, knowing it would cheer him up. I like watching him grin: the little crease in his cheek, that crooked front tooth.
"Julie let you down as well?"
"She'll keep," I said casually.
"She must be mad. The way you treat your women I don't know how you avoid all the aggro."
"No, I don't suppose you do," I told him with a condescension I knew would get right up his nose. "But we can't all be born tall, dark, handsome and engagingly modest like me."
"One inch you've got over me," he snorted.
The traffic jam we were stuck in gave me the chance to look him over, I lingered at his groin. "Ah, but it's what I do with it that slays 'em."
"Bodie, the phantom flasher of Hampstead Heath." He gave one of those throaty little chuckles of his, the kind that lifts you an inch or so before you've realised you're even interested.
"I'll let you borrow my rubber mac one night," I promised him, content to stay with the traffic until I was certain Ray had left the horrors behind. "Right, what tickles your taste buds, Indian or Chinese?"
"Italian," he decided, with his first spark of independence for some time. "Where are we? Why are we wasting time in this traffic jam? Turn left up here, take the third turning on the right and we're almost there. There's an off-licence a couple of doors away from the restaurant - and I don't want any of your Yugoslavian Riesling. I only like vinegar on chips."
Ray's got the kind of palate which grades paint strippers, but I let it pass. "I might have known I'd be the one going shopping," I sighed, surprised to find a parking space right outside the restaurant. I could tell from the exterior that this meal was going to cost me more than I'd anticipated.
"It's raining. You wouldn't want me to get wet, would you?"
Christ, but he can look appealing when he wants to. I went out into the rain without a murmur. It was that or kiss the aggravating little sod.
"...CI5's budget allowing for many laser-sighted rifles," said Ray sourly.
"While we're on the subject of money, you owe me £8.05," I said without much expectation of getting it. Nudging my plate onto the squat table in front of us, I propped my feet up and stopped myself from commenting on the fact Ray had done no more than push his food around his plate. "If I'd known how much being partnered with you was going to cost me, I would have taken out a bank loan."
Abruptly he refocused, pinning me to the spot. "How much did you have to pay Martell?"
"Eh?" I opened the third bottle of wine to gain myself some time.
"You heard me. How much did he charge for the use of the rifle?"
"A little charm," I dismissed as I refilled his glass.
He took the bottle away from me, grabbed my wrist and pushed back the sleeve of my sweater, automatically turning my arm to expose the veins on the underside - you can always tell someone who's been on the Drugs Squad by their wonderful technique, subtle as a brick.
"Where did these come from?" he demanded, jabbing at a bruise before he traced over it with the pad of his finger, slowly following the line of the vein.
"We haggled, he lost," I said, repossessing my arm and trying not to look flustered by the unexpected intimacy of Ray's touch. "There's no need to make a production out of it."
"No?" I swear a man could drown in his eyes. "You saved my hide this afternoon. Brownie's too. Though I shouldn't go looking for much gratitude there," Ray added realistically.
"Who needs it? The whole business was a farce. If Preston was so set on revenge he should have topped you on day one. He had enough chances. Lucky for us he wanted to play cat and mouse." It was beginning to dawn on me how close it had been; a melancholy Ray Doyle is preferable to dead meat on a mortuary slab any day of the week. I polished off my glass of wine.
"There's no need to sound so disappointed," snapped Doyle. "You're as bad as bloody Cowley. I swear he enjoyed watching me sweat."
"Come off it, Ray. The games Preston was playing - it's like he didn't want you dead. He gave us too much time to track him. He took a risk using Kathie though," I added thoughtfully.
Ray's face got that closed-in, pinched look. "It wasn't much of a game for Maurice. I can't say I found bits of it too amusing myself. Christ, Preston must hate me," he murmured, his introverted gaze on the middle distance before he gulped down his wine. "He must have brooded the whole time he was inside. What kind of bloke sets up his own wife?"
"Maybe that part was her idea," I said gently. I know from what little Ray's said about his mum that she used to put it about a lot. That's why I reckon he always steers clear of married birds. "You're not exactly repulsive," I pointed out, trying not to notice how bloody desirable he was, acutely aware of the warmth of him next to me and the faint smell of sweat overlaying his usual scent. After the sort of afternoon he'd had, he was entitled to sweat. Besides, it wasn't' unpleasant. Not on him.
"That's supposed to help, is it?" he snapped edgily.
He poured himself some more wine, then swallowed it in four angry gulps. It left a faint stain along his upper lip. I'll never know how I stopped myself from licking it away. I'm not a patient man as a rule - ask anyone on the squad - but for Ray I'll make the effort. He's worth it.
"One good thing's come from this affair. Cowley will see to it that screening procedures are tightened up. Someone's going to get a royal bollocking over the fuck up with Kathie Mason - Preston, I mean. C11 with any luck."
He gave an absent nod and abruptly left the sofa. Restless and obviously on edge, he was prowled around the room. He had the look of someone who doesn't know what he wants, except that he isn't getting it.
"I don't understand how he could let her do it," he burst out. "I mean - it was great, Bodie. Between us, I mean. She suckered me but good," he added bitterly.
I ask you, here's me ready to give him my hand and my heart and all Ray can do is agonise over a one night stand with a calculating bitch like Kathie Mason. But that's Ray for you.
"She fooled everyone, including Cowley. And I can't imagine Preston coercing her into doing anything she didn't want to." I tried not to sound too tart. "You wouldn't want a bird to do that for you?" I asked curiously.
"No, I bloody well wouldn't!" he exclaimed, swinging back to me.
I gave him a thoughtful look. "I hadn't taken you for the possessive sort. Be jealous, would you?"
I knew I was stepping on potentially dangerous ground, but it isn't often Ray opens up. Considering we've never stopped talking since the day we were teamed, I don't know that much about him - his past, I mean, or what he really feels about some things. Sometimes I wonder why I bother. I like to kid myself that my preoccupation with the inner workings of Ray's mind is just a habit I've fallen into - like breathing. Instead of taking offence, he seized on another problem to worry, still wearing a track in the carpet.
"I don't know," he said after a few minutes pacing. "I've never met anyone who mattered that much."
If there'd been a fly in the room, I would have swallowed it. I mean, I've seen Ray get involved with a bird quicker than Cowley can say Glenfiddich.
"You can take that look off your face," Ray added in a milder tone, a smile hovering. "If they had mattered, I'd hardly have shared them with you, now would I?"
"That's only because you haven't had a choice," I said, refilling our glasses with the full-blooded Burgundy I'd bought. Although, from the way he was knocking it back, I would have done better to buy a crate of Spanish plonk. "They know a good thing when they see it."
"That must be why they come back to me," he said, slumping down next to me again, his shoulder and thigh brushing mine, despite the fact there was an empty three feet of sofa on the other side of him.
"You wish," I said, ruffling his hair.
"Shit! That hurts," he protested, jerking away. As my fingers were caught in a tangle at the time, he left a few strands of hair behind him.
"Sorry, sunshine. Bit windy up on that hoist, was it?" looked at the hairs curled round my fingers: one was auburn, four were brown and two were grey. He's only thirty two.
"You could say that," he agreed, staring at his outstretched legs. "Brownie was damn near pissing himself and if I'd had time to panic, I'd've been in the same state."
"It's been a rough few days," I conceded after a moment. I could see the lines of strain around his eyes and mouth now that he'd stopped pretending to be super cool. But that's one of the good things about having a partner - you don't have to pretend all the time. "But they're over. Cheer yourself up by buying a decent car once you get the insurance sorted out." I admit it was deliberate provocation on my part, but it's never wise to let Ray brood.
"I already have," he said, brightening. He poured himself some more wine, sipping it this time. "This is a nice drop of stuff. What - ?" He turned one of the empty bottles around so he could read the label and whistled. "No wonder. What's all this red velvet in aid of - inherited a fortune, have you?"
"I thought we should celebrate," I said weakly.
He gave me a blank look. "Why? Is it your birthday?"
I gave him a light thump. "No, it's the fact I needn't go through the hassle of breaking in a new partner when I've only just got you house-trained."
"You wish," he retorted, although he looked pleased. "You could be right."
"I usually am," I agreed, pinned by his direct unblinking stare. It gets to me every time - and he knows it.
"Did Martell do any damage while you were 'haggling'?" he demanded out of the blue, a fierce, possessive look to him as he gestured back to my arm.
That's my Ray, I thought affectionately, knowing that in his book, he's the only one entitled to thump me. I'm not in the habit of beating up informants but I'd needed that rifle and there hadn't been time to haggle over the hire fee. Marty saw reason after I'd bounced him off the wall a couple of times. He was lucky; Ray would have left him in need of traction. He still would if I let Ray guess how close that fight had been; Marty's too useful to allow anyone but me loose on him.
"Do me a favour," I begged him scornfully. "Marty isn't used to unarmed combat."
"Then how did you get those bruises ?"
"I got careless. Now, how - ?"
"Yeah?" He gave me a sceptical look which didn't hide the hint of worry behind it.
"Give it a rest, mate. I'm more interested in how you managed to get the insurance on your car sorted out so fast."
Relaxing, he allowed himself to be side-tracked, tapping his nose in a knowing manner. I realised that he must have had a drop too much to drink when he almost missed.
"I quoted the small print back at the old man," he said contentedly.
"You're having me on?"
"Straight up. Personal transport used in pursuance of CI5 business is covered in Section 17D, sub-paragraph (A)(iii). Cowley wasn't too pleased when I drew it to his attention."
"I can imagine. I wonder about you sometimes, quoting the small print at the guy who wrote it. So CI5 will pay up?"
"You jammy sod. What are we going to spend it on then?"
"I dunno yet," said Ray dreamily. "
?" he echoed, coming back to life. "It was my car. Beautiful, she was. Will be again when I get her seen to. All she needs is - "
" - a miracle. Thank god."
"We've had some good times in her," Ray protested, all indignation, curling around on the sofa to glare at me.
"You might have done. I can't say Julie and I enjoyed clinging on for dear life in the back while you sped down the motorway. There wasn't a hell of a lot of room to manoeuvre."
"Lack of invention on your part, my son. You can't be a missionary all your life."
Trying to ignore Ray's sultry-eyed appraisal of my charms, I was almost resigned to the fact he didn't mean anything by it. He does it to everyone. I swear I've seen him assess Cowley once or twice - not that it took him long. It's funny, but I can't imagine Cowley having it away. I mean to say - Cowley? Too much wine, I realised muzzily, but I had another mouthful on the grounds it was too late to worry now.
"Lot you'd know about invention," I snorted, making a belated comeback to the accusation. Memory's a funny thing. I'd forgotten the night Julie and I stayed over with Ray and his last bird before Kathie - Penny, was it? They'd had the big double bed up in the gallery; Julie and I had to make do with the floor and sofa. Not that we saw much of Ray and Penny, except once - as shadows on the wall. I know the sight brought me back to attention faster than I'd been expecting. It didn't do Julie any harm either. But while we might not have seen much, we heard plenty.
Aware of constricting fabric hugging me where I least wanted to be hugged at the moment, I leaned forward to put my glass on the table, taking care not to spill any wine.
"It's late,. I'd better be off," I said, wanting to be gone before I got so turned on that even Ray noticed. While I got to my feet all right, I found myself back on the sofa without making a conscious decision about it. I gave the empty wine bottles a look of reproach.
"And maybe not," said Ray, viewing me with a tolerant eye. "You're plastered, mate."
"And you're not, I suppose?" This time I stayed on my feet. After a minute or so, the walls stopped undulating.
"I wasn't complaining," Ray hastened to explain, blinking up at me in surprise.
Maybe I had sounded a bit harsh. I gave him a smile. Anyone would think I never smiled at him by the way it shut him up. I could hear him swallow from where I stood. Then he smiled back.
"With tomorrow off, we can do what we want tonight," he murmured.
As what I wanted to do most wasn't likely to be on offer, I scowled. "Including getting pissed. Shift your arse, then. This sofa isn't the most comfortable bed in the world, but I suppose it will do."
"How would you know? Oh, you and what's-'er-name, Julie, spent the night on it last week, didn't you?" he remembered, with a spreading grin experience has taught me to mistrust. "Yeah, I'd forgotten that. The pair of you were well away when Penny and I took a look at you."
"You stood there watching us?" For a nasty moment I thought I might be blushing.
"That's right," he said, cheerfully unrepentant.
I don't think he knows the meaning of the word 'shame'.
"Though we weren't exactly passive, more like taking a much needed breather. Do you always make that much noise when you score? Turned Penny on something chronic, you did."
Not to mention what him calmly discussing it was doing to me now. I gave him a suspicious glare but his expression was innocence personified - until I saw the wicked glint in his eyes. There again, he couldn't know quite how much it was getting to me, and why.
"Go to bed, Ray," I sighed, feeling tired all of a sudden. "You're too smashed to be making much sense and you look knackered. And even if you aren't, I am."
"You're coming to bed with me," he announced. He extended his hand, knowing I'd pull him to his feet. He wasn't wrong. "Blimey, it's strong stuff, this wine," he mumbled ruefully, casting a surprised glance around him.
"Maybe you should have tried eating something to soak it up," I said unsympathetically. He wasn't even listening as he drained the dregs of both glasses, hooked a finger in each and tucked the bottle under one arm; he even remembered to put the cork in first.
"Come on," he commanded, turning to give me an impatient look.
"Bed, of course." He was standing at the foot of the stairs, one foot on the first step. The stance did wonders for his bum and legs. Not that he needed much help to look good.
"Why?" I know it was a stupid question, but all the blood had rushed south from my brain.
"Because," he said with infinite patience, "I can kick you awake when you start to snore. It's no good throwing things at you. I know, I've tried. Don't worry, you only snore when you drink too much. Do you want the shower first?"
My cock receiving an unwanted massage from my cords, I gave a fervent nod, knowing a few minutes behind closed doors would resolve the problem. Seven steps up the staircase I remembered why I'd deliberately lost the toss and opted for the sofa last time I stayed at this flat. I hate open plan stairs.
"Christ, Ray, these stairs are bloody awful." For one moment I wondered if I'd be reduced to crawling up them on all fours. All I could see was the gaps between the steps and the floor rushing to meet me. It didn't help that the only rail was fixed to the wall. As I tried to melt through the wall, I kept my hand locked around the rail.
"Stop pissing about." But Ray's expression changed when he turned round. I was beyond trying to look nonchalant.
"I'm not," I snapped irritably, clammy with sweat. Even Ray's crotch three steps above me didn't divert my thoughts.
"But you've been in the bloody paras," he protested, putting down the bottle and glasses and standing in front of me. "I've seen you leaping over roof tops, assailing. Are you feeling all right?" He was perched on the open edge of the staircase without a bloody qualm.
"Don't do that," I said, yanking him closer and keeping a grip of his shirt front.
"Wha - ? You're serious, aren't you," he discovered, his voice soft as he unlinked my hand from his shirt and took it in a warm, firm clasp.
"I'm having enough trouble without you playing silly buggers," I growled, in no mood for jokes.
"I'm not. Stay the wall side of me and don't look through the slats. That's probably what's making you giddy. I've seen you scaling enough heights to know it's not verti - vert - dizziness. Come on," he instructed, leading the way up, one arm behind him as he kept his grasp of my hand. "Just keep looking straight ahead of you."
That's where I made my big mistake.
I did like he said and was lost, my worries about vertigo forgotten along with everything else. Ray has the most exquisite arse I've ever seen and it was only a few inches in front of me. More than that, he had a small tear in the jeans hugging the curve of the undercheek of his left buttock. Typical Ray, he wasn't wearing any briefs. Every time he took a step, the frayed denim waggled at me, giving me a glimpse of the naked flesh inside. I let go of the rail and got one finger inside the tear, rubbing him gently.
He froze at the top of the steps, one foot still poised. "Do you mind?"
"Not at all," I assured him fervently. "You've got a nice arse. I've always thought so." There wasn't enough room for much manoeuvring, so I unhooked my finger and patted his bum, taking my time as I stroked the hard-muscled warmth of him. He twitched.
"I didn't know I'd torn these jeans in the first place. There's no need for you to make the hole any bigger," he said severely, hauling me up the last two steps.
I wasn't so far gone that I didn't notice him shooting me a quick glance when he thought I wasn't looking. He looked sort of - I dunno, worried and wistful all at the same time. As my cock was too busy playing tent poles again - not now, I told it irritably - I wasn't paying him too much attention. Bloody wine. I'd had enough to relax me without incapacitating anything except my brain. I wanted to go home.
"Never mind," he added gently, giving my shoulders a quick squeeze before shoving me in the direction of the bathroom. "Go and have a shower - and don't hog all the hot water."
I nearly fell through the door, and I didn't waste any time stripping. I can't describe the bliss of getting under the water, soapy hands settling where they would be most appreciated.
I dunno what made me look over my shoulder - I wouldn't have heard the Third World War start by that time. I saw a naked Ray Doyle amble past to pause at the toilet. Instinct saved me. I turned the controls to cold and gritted my teeth.
The shock bloody nearly killed me.
"Couldn't you have waited?" I said in outrage, trying not to stutter as the ache in my balls and the freezing water vied for my attention. Anyone who voluntarily takes a cold shower must have a screw loose.
"Nah. I've had too much wine," he replied sweetly. He was making almost as much noise as the shower, but he took so long peeing that my own problem subsided.
"Haven't you finished yet?" he asked.
By the time I dared to look up, he was leaning against the edge of the shower stall. I think some water must have splashed him because he jumped about a foot.
"Christ, are you training for the Spartans? That water's freezing."
Daring to peer down at myself, I saw that my cock had all but disappeared. I can't say I blamed it. Switching off the icy torrent, I grabbed a bath sheet and wrapped it around me, glaring at Ray, who hadn't moved. I swear I could feel the heat pouring from him. It was a near thing, but I resisted the temptation to wrap myself around him.
"It's invigorating," I lied, trying to control my chattering teeth.
"Crap," he said, taking my place. The shower spluttered back into life and within moments steam and singing began to drift through the room. I left, scrubbed myself with the towel until I regained sensation in my extremities, and hid myself in bed. With any luck I'd warm up within the next ten days.
I dunno why I bothered feigning sleep the way I used to when I was a kid - by peeking through my eyelashes - because Ray was still humming when he emerged from the bathroom. He ambled in and out of my restricted line of vision while he towel-dried his hair. His skin was faintly pink, the hair on his chest and legs all fluffy, and there was a long tear of water sliding down his back. I wanted to lick it away so badly I could almost feel the moisture on my tongue, and the living satin of his skin.
I tried to concentrate on something else. Closing my eyes I began a mental run-through of the routine for kit inspection but it didn't work because instead of my kit I kept seeing Ray in my mind's eye. I could still hear him puttering around the room, despite the effort he was making to be quiet now. The light clicked off, the mattress dipped, and I heard the whisper of the duvet as he slid in next to me. Then I heard him give a soft sigh as he slowly stretched out, his arm brushing my back.
"Bloody hell, Bodie, you're frozen! That'll teach you to drink so much you can't tell hot water from cold," he said, sounding indulgent now as his hand rubbed up and down my back. When it came to rest, all I could feel was his fingers splayed across my flesh. "Cuddle up and get warm before you turn purple," he added softly. His arm came over me.
A moment later the naked length of him was plastered down my back, his hands sweeping up my arm and flank.
"How did you know I wasn't asleep?" I demanded, resisting with ease the temptation to turn to face him.
"I heard your teeth chattering."
His voice was a warm, damp stirring in my ear, his half-dry hair brushing my shoulder. Aware of everything from the toothpaste scented breath wafting down my neck to the velvety warmth of his cock nestling intimately in the cleft of my buttocks, I heard myself give a shuddering sigh.
"Are you warmer now?"
"Oh, yes," I said hollow-voiced, wondering that the sweat wasn't pouring off me by this time.
"That's all right, then," he murmured, giving my belly a pat. Only it wasn't my stomach his hand settled over. "Ah," he said, after a pause. "So you're not that pissed."
"No," I agreed, amazed by the steadiness of my voice and the fact he made no effort to move his hand.
"Then why did you take a cold shower? You hate the cold."
All I could feel was his palm cupping me, me throbbing against him. "Why the fuck d'you think? Or do I have to spell it out?" I turned to glare at him. Wasted in the darkness, it was. But I'm glad I moved.
Before I could say anything else, he kissed me. Unpremeditated, it was no more than a light pressure of lip to lip, the flick of his tongue.
It was enough.
Our first time was a blur of heat and need, of clinging together in the darkness. We were still wrapped around each other when sleep ambushed us before a coherent word could be spoken.
It was Ray who woke me, licking very gently at the other bruises I'd collected in my fight with Martell, as if he knew that doing so would take away their sting. He made a soft contented sound when I stirred, his hands beginning a drifting survey of my body. It wasn't a time for speech.
I would have let him make love to me, but I was afraid. "I thought that in the stark, sober light of morning Ray would want to pretend this had never happened, and suddenly I couldn't bear that. If once was all we were going to have, I needed to make it unforgettable. So I took control. And because Ray let me set the pace, because he allowed me to take over, I didn't realise what waiting was costing him as I tasted and stroked every delicious inch of him - from temples to toes.
I made him scream that second time. He came so hard he almost lifted both of us off the bed, a look of near agony on his face. I licked the moisture from the corners of his eyes and the sweat from his cheekbones, soothing him with my hands until he stopped quivering.
"I'm sorry," I whispered, shaking myself. This close to morning, dawn-light was beginning to fill the room, just enough for me to see the exhaustion stamped on the planes and hollows of his face.
Still unsteady, he wiggled free to kneel over me, his palms against the pillow, framing my face. He looked at me for a very long time, the signs of stress easing away. I was glad then for the light, I wouldn't have wanted to miss his expression.
"Don't be," he murmured. His second kiss was one of exquisite deliberation.
Premeditated kisses are better.
When we drifted back to sleep, our mouths were still brushing.
Aware of signs of a stirring Doyle next to me, I continued to feign sleep; it helped that my face was buried in the pillow. I could feel the sun on my back - and Ray's eyes. I wasn't ready to face them yet. I needed time to regroup my defences, find my sanity. What should have been no more than a drunken romp had become something graver for me. I was terrified it might be addictive. I've seen too many addicts. Everything's a power game, but sex more than most. Love's the worst of the lot.
Braced to meet the aggressive, competitive edge to be found in most of our joint endeavours, however well-intentioned the beginnings, my preconceptions had been swept away, along with the rest of me. Ray's bloody gorgeous in bed. He doesn't say much. He doesn't need to. Instinct's a wonderful thing. And he wasn't ashamed to give - or to take - pleasure. God knows there had been pleasure, for both of us.
But I couldn't understand why some great sex had knocked me for six. I'd seen enough to realise Ray kept his women content between the sheets; it's when they're vertical he has trouble. I suppose it never dawned on me that I'd find the same combination of passion and tenderness turned on me. Or that he would let go so completely. If it hadn't been for his unequivocal rejections in the first few weeks we were teamed, I would have found it easier to believe he had been as hot for it as I was.
The end of a job usually found us in bed, but not with each other. A few hours loving is a sweet way to escape the horrors, a means of coping with the demands of the next day. But I could admit now that I wanted it to mean more than that to Ray, so I kept very still when the movements next to me grew more definite as he regained full consciousness.
"Mmm, morning," he said, rolling over. After a lengthy stretch he began to rub the small of my back. "You're quiet. Have you got a hangover?"
I gave a grunt of confirmation, although I hadn't.
"Soon fix that." A gentle hand patted my bottom and I felt the bed dip and the rush of cooler air as Ray got up. Ears pricked despite myself, I heard him pad into the bathroom and out again before I caught the slap of his bare feet on the wooden slats of the stairs. Domestic sounds from the kitchen area were accompanied by a soft humming. He sounded contented enough, but I fought against feeling too optimistic.
Instead of worrying about Ray's reaction to last night, I think I must have dozed off for a few minutes. When I rolled onto my back, yawning and rubbing my eyes, I found a vivacious-looking Ray Doyle in my line of vision, pick-me-up in one hand, mug of coffee in the other.
"There you go. Get these tablets inside you while I see to breakfast. I'm starving. Eggs and bacon, then toast, OK?"
Grimacing as one of the horse pills lodged in my throat, I buried my nose in the mug of coffee.
Breakfast was a quiet affair because he thought I was still hung over. I took full advantage of the alibi while I toyed with my unwanted meal. The congealing fried egg glistened reproachfully on my plate.
"I should have paid more attention to you when Cowley first teamed us," Ray said, crunching with unnecessary vigour through his third slice of toast and marmalade. "You were right, you can teach me a lot."
"Eh?" I abandoned my pretence of eating.
"Well, as far as I remember, there were only two of us in the bed last night. Just as well,. I reckon one of you is about all I could cope with," he added serenely, reaching for the last piece of toast.
Feeling a lot better, I beat him to it. "Are you sure you were a beginner?" He gave this cocky little grin but I let him get away with it. Natural talent is one thing; genius deserves recognition. Or maybe it's no more than the fact we fitted. Stupid to think we wouldn't really but -
"Gifted amateurs, that's us," he said, setting another four slices of bread in the toaster. "But it's nice to know that when we get to the difficult bits, you'll be able to show me the ropes."
I kept chewing, just to give myself time. "What difficult bits did you have in mind?" I asked, trying to sound nonchalant. It didn't even convince me.
"All the usual things." By the way Ray was fiddling with the toaster, I realised he was far from being as confident as he was trying to make out, which was a weight off my mind.
"I never thought of myself as a teacher before," I said. "But I wouldn't mind giving it a whirl."
"That's it, is it?" he snapped with a hint of belligerence.
"No, but it's a beginning." I tried not to make it sound like a question.
The sound of the toaster made Ray jump, then scowl. "You're taking a lot for granted, aren't you?"
"I'm trying not to take anything for granted - or too fast."
"Why not?" he demanded.
"How come I don't get a chance to ask any questions?"
"Because I asked first. I'd rather we didn't have to wait till one of us nearly gets our head blown off before we can carry on where we left off, that's all."
'All' he says. "Last night was - "
" - fantastic?" Ray suggested, with more expectation than hope.
"Passable," I corrected. But I knew I hadn't fooled him. It wasn't very likely I would with a soppy grin spreading across my face.
"Then what's the problem?" he asked, eying me steadily. The fact he looked as if he was holding his breath gave me confidence.
"I dunno. I'm not sure how it will work out," I offered. Half the truth is better than none, I told myself. It might have helped if I knew what I was talking about, of course. All I knew was that I didn't want it to stop here - or anywhere else for that matter.
"We could play it by ear," he suggested, collecting up toast crumbs on the dampened pad of his finger.
"I've played it a lot of ways but never by ear. OK, you're on." I could feel another of those silly grins spreading across my face. It didn't seem to matter because he was grinning like an idiot as well.
"You can play with what you like, just so long as you let me play too," he said lazily.
"I stopped playing with myself years ago."
"Is that a fact? So when I came into the bathroom last night you weren't in the middle of - ?"
"You knew?" I spluttered.
"Be difficult to miss, mate." I could see he was trying not to laugh, but there was no malice in his amusement, just - happiness.
"You devious little sod," I accused him, relaxing. "You might have said something earlier."
"Couldn't," he muttered, poking at the toast crumbs again. "Needed to be certain I wasn't just seeing what I wanted to see."
"Prat." We sat there grinning at each other. I dunno which of us was looking more pleased with himself. "When did you change your mind about taking me up on my offer?" I thought to ask.
"I'm not sure. About the second week after we were teamed as far as I remember." This time Ray met my eyes.
"Why didn't you say something before now?" I asked with exasperation, thinking of all the time we'd wasted.
"And admit I was wrong?" he said with mock-affront.
There are times I could kill him. This might have been one of them but for the fact I knew he wasn't just being flippant. We hadn't been ready for any kind of commitment beyond staying alive when we were first teamed. "But you're sure now?"
"Oh, I'm positive. What's wrong? It isn't like you to want every i dotted," he added gently.
I often forget how good he is at noticing things about me that others miss because he doesn't usually bring whatever he's discovered out into the open. "If it's a choice between a few night's fucking and screwing up the team, I - "
"We won't," he interrupted with confidence. "Besides, we haven't."
"Haven't what?" I asked, having lost the conversational thread while I watched his mouth, remembering all the things it had done to me last night.
My lips were suddenly dry and I licked them, grateful that the table hid my leap of response. Just one word, and the look in those come-to-bed eyes, that's all it took. "You want to - um - " I forgot what I'd been about to ask, my mind locked on images of us - me tight-sheathed, or bent double beneath him, or on all fours, on top, on my side. On my back won out. I wanted to watch him come when he did me, so badly I could almost taste it.
"Is that a problem?" he inquired. That made me realise he must have been waiting some time for an answer.
"No." Appreciating that might have sounded a bit bald, I added, "When did you have in mind?"
Pulled by an invisible string, he rose to his feet, his fingertips on the table top, as if he needed some support. His face was flushed, his eyes bright, pupils dilated so wide I could have drowned in them. But it wasn't them which held my attention. Christ, he was beautiful.
"Have you got any lubricant?" I demanded harshly.
"Gun oil," he suggested without much thought.
"I'm thinking of something we can use on ourselves when we fuck, Ray," I explained as patiently as I could. "It's been a good few years since anyone - it'll be easier for you, too."
"Oh. Right." It was pitiful watching him try to concentrate. "Butter?"
"Not if this is all you've got - it's full of toast crumbs. Haven't you got any KY?" I couldn't take my eyes off his cock, which moved with each shaky inhalation he took, arching up that flat belly.
Ray shook his head.
"Hand cream?" I suggested.
"I don't use it. There's the grease I use to clean oil off my hands when I've been working on the bike."
I shuddered. "We're talking about a delicate mechanism, sunshine. Get your mind out of your balls for a minute and try to concentrate. You must have something we can use."
"Would Fairy Liquid do?" he asked, giving me a hopeful look.
"It might, I suppose," I sighed.
I was wary about moving in case I came. That's how close I was, just from watching him watching me. As it happened, Ray moved first. But I met him halfway.
We never did try the Fairy Liquid, though. I had the presence of mind to check the refrigerator - a virgin half-pound of unsalted butter did the trick.
I'd like to be able to say it was the most spectacular fuck in history. Come to that, I'd like to be able to say we fucked. Still, I'm not complaining, not at all.
It's not easy being subtle when the only lubricant you have is a half-pound of butter and you're both too hot for each other to think straight. We started off all right but within a short space of time the butter was an unappetising, oozing mess and we were both covered in it as Ray writhed and bucked beneath me. He came the moment my butter-slick fingers stroked across his prostate. Did I say he was quiet? That's what finished me, of course.
When he'd got his breath back, Ray gave me a lecture about wasting myself down his back instead of inside him. I started by paying attention but I think I must have dozed off while he was in full flow because I came round to hear Ray mouthing obscenities as he tried to push me off him.
Suddenly all my doubts and uncertainties fell away, like a coat I no longer needed to protect me from the cold. Kneeling above him, I tried to look casual, as if we always ended up in a naked tangle under the breakfast bar on our days off.
"Well?" It wasn't that I was worried by this time, just that I wanted to hear some lyrical ramblings about how fantastic it had been. I should have known better, although he did give this endearingly dopey grin as he tugged me back down next to him.
"Not bad, considering. We could do with a bit more practice, mind. My knees are killing me."
He gave a lovely little wriggle which ended in a yelp. I swear my heart stopped. There hadn't been much time for finesse, I was scared I'd bruised him inside. Before I could say a word, he was off again.
"I'm lying in a sea of melted butter! What the - ? Christ, it's everywhere, including right up inside me," he added in outrage.
"I know," I said, giving him a reassuring pat. "I put it there, remember?"
"Oh, yeah." He gave another one of those soft grins which did funny things to my heart before he hid behind irritation again.
"Well, there's no need for you to look so pleased with yourself. It feels - " He grimaced.
Not without cause. You'd be amazed how far a melted half-pound of butter can go.
"I feel like an over-greased chip," he groused.
"At least you didn't slip out of my hands."
He licked my wrist, then pulled a face when he found it was slick with butter.
"I'll go shopping for something more suitable later," I promised him.
"Bloody right you will," he retorted, getting gingerly to his feet. His back and legs were glistening with oil. "It's lucky it's not a hot day. I'm going to have a shower." First he had to wipe his feet, then mine, on a tea towel.
I didn't give the stairs a thought that morning although I did stop halfway up them to mop him up a bit more.
"All right?" I asked, taking my time over some parts before drawing him back, his arse snug against me.
"I'll survive. But if I start smelling of rancid butter, I wouldn't give much for your chances of seeing the dawn," he said, turning in my embrace.
I wasn't too worried by the threat because by that time he had nudged me against the wall. One hand on my shoulder, the other caressing my bum, he was kissing me with a slow dedication.
"Nice," he murmured finally. Drawing back a little, he looked drunk on love.
"I am," I told him, though I wasn't quite sure my mouth belonged to me anymore.
From the cocky little grin he gave me as he took my hand in his, I think he recognised as much. I was so far gone I didn't even mind.
"Come on, let's have that shower before we track butter through the entire flat," he added authoritatively. Leading me up the last few steps, he pushed me into the bathroom.
It didn't seem fair, not only was the exhaustion I'd seen on Ray's face last night gone, but he looked as fresh as if he'd had an uninterrupted eight hours' sleep. I felt like I'd just run a marathon in Wellington boots. Leaving Ray having a pee, I staggered into the shower and, propping myself against the wall, fumbled for the soap. It shot out of my hands to land at his feet, just outside the cubicle.
"Butterfingers. It's lucky you don't let go of everything so easily," he remarked, tossing the bar of soap in one hand.
I yanked him in beside me, there was room for both of us - just.
"What I have, I hold," I told him, running my hands down his water-slick body just for the pleasure of touching him.
"Does that include me?" he inquired, standing motionless between my hands while he waited for my reply.
"Especially you. It's been that way for quite a while. I just didn't realise until last night how much - " Floundering, I fell silent and gave him a hopeful look.
"Getting a declaration out of you is like pulling teeth," Ray remarked dispassionately, but his expression told me all I wanted to know. "I've been waiting a long time for you to be ready for this. Too bloody long." He gave me a gentle prod with his finger to reinforce his point.
"A shower?" I asked, hoping he would put my blinking down to the flowing water streaming over my face; the sweet certainty in Ray's voice had choked me up because I'd never seen him look this content.
"If you like," he agreed placidly, beginning to soap my chest.
He was looking so innocent it was frightening. A nasty thought occurred to me. "Just how pissed were you last night?" I inquired with suspicion. I relieved him of the soap so I could return the compliment.
"Ah." He gave me this slanting look and I recognised the moment he decided to tell me the truth. "A little squiffy but not as far gone as I pretended. I thought you'd relax more that way. I was right," he added dreamily.
"Hold on. I saw how much you knocked back."
"Three of those glasses went into the pot of the cheese plant next to the sofa. Close your mouth, Bodie, this is no time to try and catch flies."
"D'you know how much I paid for that wine?" I asked, trying to sound indignant.
"I've got a shrewd idea. Stop complaining, it worked. We would have been old and grey by the time you got round to making a move. I'm worth it, aren't I?"
I pretended to think it over while I rimmed his navel with a soapy finger. "I suppose so."
"Silver tongue." His arms went around me, hugging me tight.
"Are you going to make a habit of deciding what's best for me?" I asked.
"Only if you look like you're taking too long over something," he said. "Are you really mad at me or are you just preserving your image?"
I held out for a good five seconds before hugging him back. He felt wonderful. I would have stayed under the water like that all day if the sneaky little sod hadn't turned the control to cold before leaping clear.
But I'm in no hurry to get my revenge. The one thing we've got plenty of is time.
-- THE END --
Written August 1989
Originally published in Walking in the Moonlight (You and I), Friends Will Be Friends Press, 1989
Republished in HG Collected 1, Doghouse Press, 2000