Emerging from the Smoke


Unofficial sequel to Leap in the Dark, by Tarot

As usual the small print on his ID worked wonders and Doyle found himself waiting in the dubious comfort of the Visitor's Lounge off the private wing. At this time of night it was relatively quiet, sounds of activity muted: the clatter of a trolley; the clang of lift gates, and the groan and squeak of the hoist. There was another clang, a swing door closing and the purposeful, businesslike murmur of voices. All familiar, everyday sounds. In this setting they were reassuring and dehumanising in one, the inevitable response of a layman in the hands of professionals.

Doyle had never enjoyed feeling helpless, which was probably why he didn't like hospitals. There again, not many people did. Bodie hated them. It wasn't surprising: in their line of work they spent too much time visiting them, one way and another.

Bodie had been lucky the Casualty Department was still open: the small country hospital was due to close in six weeks and there were plenty of signs that the run-down had already begun. But it was only after the Casualty Officer had found time to see him that Doyle appreciated just how lucky Bodie had been: mild concussion, broken ribs, and bruises. Nothing major, nothing that wouldn't heal.

So much for CI5's ace driver, he thought, making his way back to the Lounge, where the dimly-lit shabbiness reflected his mood. He slumped on torn padded plastic. His relief was short-lived as, freed from anxiety, he remembered the moment when Bodie had recovered consciousness in the wreck of his car.

'Judas.' When Bodie said that, it had been no idle accusation made to a random stranger but aimed, with deliberation, at Doyle himself. Bodie had been lucid then, staring directly at him, his expression one of anger, confusion and - above all - pain. At the time Doyle had convinced himself that his partner's sense of betrayal stemmed from a mixture of shock and the drugs they had given him. Now he wasn't so sure. Nothing ever came from nothing. But what had he done, or not done?

Engrossed in circular thought, Doyle looked up to find a staff nurse smiling benignly down at him.

"Can I see him?" he asked. Standing, he discovered she was taller than he had thought.

He could see Mr Bodie, he was told. He stopped listening so intently after that, gathering only that he mustn't attempt to question his drowsy partner. She seemed to be waiting for something.

If Mr Doyle was sure - ?

Mr Doyle was positive, dredging up some spurious charm to confirm it as he followed her to Bodie's room. She had nice legs, but he didn't notice her leave.

Bodie was asleep, his face half-averted, one hand curled and relaxed on the pillow. Cynical disdain smoothed from his face, his hair ruffled, he looked different - vulnerable. Or maybe not. Doyle studied the sleeping face of his partner.

He'd always taken Bodie's good looks for granted, somehow believing their effect upon himself to be unique. Common sense told him he was kidding himself. All he had to do was think of the line of birds who'd come and gone, persevering in the face of Bodie's less-than-devoted attentions. Bodie's - what would you call it? - charm, sex-appeal? Doyle wrinkled his nose, dissatisfied. Whatever it was, Bodie looked very appealing at the moment.

He grinned. Bodie would love that description; he must remember to tell him, later. His eyes still on the sleeping man, Doyle's expression softened. Maybe he wouldn't. The poor sod looked exhausted, his eye lashes dark against seemingly bloodless skin. Still, his breathing sounded all right. Doyle took advantage of this rare opportunity to look at Bodie unchallenged.

The crazy, tender melting Bodie could inspire in him when he was least expecting it no longer disconcerted Doyle. He had long since accepted that where his partner was concerned he had few defences against the uncharacteristic marshmallow softness that sat so oddly in his otherwise detached persona. Sometimes the temptation to blurt out the truth was almost irresistible, even though he knew that by doing so he risked losing the effortless rapport he and Bodie shared. But how did you explain that Ray Doyle, well-known lover of ladies and all round stud, had fallen in love with his partner? Prepared to launch into speech he would catch that ironic gaze and his nerve would fail him.

Maybe one day, he thought, resigned to his own cowardice.

A wave a fatigue threatening to submerge him he sank onto the plastic chair at the bedside. Prepared for an uncomfortable night, he wasn't disappointed. Several hours later, sipping the tea that the night junior had found time to make for him, Doyle had to concede that the hospital staff had been reasonable about letting him stay. There again, he had that all important ID and nowhere else to go, not in this neck of the woods at this time of night.

Bodie was becoming increasingly restless, showing signs of waking from his drug-aided sleep. Obedient to the instructions he had been given, Doyle pressed the button that would summon one of the night staff. Leaning over the bed he studied the sleeping face, resting his hand in the warm hollow between neck and shoulder, his finger caressing the heavy vein.

"Come on, sunshine," he murmured encouragingly.

The sound of voices outside the door made him glance up. It was that staff nurse again, the pretty one with the smooth dark hair caught up at the back. He smiled at her through the glass in the top of the door.

There was a muffled sound from the man at his side. Before Doyle could glance down strong hands fastened themselves around his neck, dragging him, off-balance and choking, to his knees.

"Not this time, you treacherous bastard," Bodie promised in a savage-sounding whisper. He smiled, his fingers shifting to find the life-giving arteries; unhurried, his grip changed, encircling tender flesh, the pressure of his thumbs a brutal threat to the fragile cartilage of the larynx.

Frozen with disbelief Doyle made no attempt to defend himself, passive under that crushing grip, unable to realise what was happening. Then he tried to speak, to reassure Bodie everything was -

The pain approached the unbearable.

Blood thundering in his ears, his vision blurring as the inexorable pressure increased, Doyle had to believe the unbelievable. Bodie was trying to kill him. Was going to succeed at this rate.

For a split second the chilling purpose in those blazing eyes staring through him overrode even the imperative for survival. Then, ridiculously handicapped by his reluctance to hurt the man intent on killing him, Doyle locked his hands around Bodie's wrists, his long fingers seeking the nerve centres between the starkly defined tendons on the back of his hands. When there was no alternative he applied the numbing pressure, air whistling into his starved lungs as that crushing strength slackened, then fell away.

Gasping for air, his face livid, Doyle realised that the room was brilliant with light and they were surrounded by too calm voices. Slumped on the bed, a stranger supported him. Was he all right?

Trying to focus on his partner, ignoring the person trying to take his pulse, Doyle raised his head.

"Third time lucky, mate."

The white-coated figure was wrenched away, Bodie's blow slamming Doyle from bed to floor, skidding him out of the immediate circle of light. Converging white coats hid Bodie from sight then. Reeling from this new shock, Doyle was glad of the obscuring darkness.

When he was helped to his feet and escorted from the room, two burly porters accompanying the doctor at his side, Doyle thought they must be there for his own protection. He tried to explain it wasn't necessary, that Bodie hadn't meant to hurt him. Even swallowing was difficult, speech impossible, the blood still pounding dizzily in his ears. He had a crashing headache. But when he turned, correctly interpreting the wary belligerence of the porters guarding the door to the examination room in which he had been left, Doyle realised it was Bodie who was being protected. He was beyond reacting to the irony of that until he heard the police had been called. There would be publicity, adverse publicity for CI5, questions asked by the Home Secretary who had been looking for an excuse to close them down. At best Bodie would be thrown to the wolves.

With a sense of inevitability Doyle sent for George Cowley, having to scrawl out the phone number and terse message. They made the call for him without question or argument. That surprised him, but by then almost anything would have.

Distanced from his own body, Doyle watched his own reactions with clinical interest, recognising the symptoms of mild shock. They wanted to examine him. Disinclined to trust anyone at the moment, he refused treatment, his ferocious expression deterring the dogged adherents of the Hippocratic Oath for just long enough.

Cowley and the police patrol arrived together. Only later did Doyle appreciate that Cowley must have already been in the area.

"What in the name of - ?" Two sandy eyebrows rose as Cowley took in his bedraggled operative's appearance and the expression in Doyle's eyes. "Where's Bodie? No, don't you try and tell me," he added more gently. "Not yet, anyway." He turned, acknowledging the press of people behind him.

"Would someone be kind enough to explain what has been going on?"

As three people attempted to do so at the same time, Doyle crawled onto the examination couch, an arm over his eyes.

It took even Cowley an hour to sort out the mess.

Undressed, examined, treated and dressed once more, Doyle lived with the echo of that sibilant threat and the expression in Bodie's eyes.

It seemed very cold. Standing with his back to the wall, Doyle huddled deeper into his jacket.

The suavely apologetic medical staff would not let him see Bodie, even now. Drugs could play funny tricks on a man, they told him. The Casualty Officer, remarkably fresh after an unusually slack, if not uneventful, night even illustrated the point - twice. The porters murmured knowledgeably. Bringing him an unwanted cup of tea, his pretty staff nurse added her own reassurances, warming again to the man who had not, after all, tried to murder one of her patients.

Doyle silently agreed with them all. His severely bruised larynx gave him little alternative. It also provided a useful alibi. Drugs could play funny tricks on a man, even legally administered drugs. But Bodie's anguished rage at believing himself betrayed - to the point where he would try to kill - required more explanation than an adverse reaction to medication.

The cynical, self-sufficient exterior Bodie presented to the world was deceptive. Doyle had been the recipient of Bodie's affectionate trust for too long to take that facade at face value. Conversely, he could count on one hand the times Bodie had come close to venting his formidable temper upon himself, despite innumerable provocations in their early months together. Goaded to the verge of violence Bodie would either walk away or, shaking with the effort required, close himself off, visibly clamping down on the need to hurt Doyle as he himself had been hurt. Doyle's manner had undergone a subtle change as he recognised Bodie's blind spot. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Bodie persisted in regarding him as someone to be protected: his responsibility. Stunned, but unable to bring himself to disabuse Bodie of the fallacy, Doyle, resigned but irritated, had come to take for granted from his partner what he would have tolerated from no one else - the casual yet unceasing blanket of care Bodie gave him.

That pattern had been set long ago, any subtle changes going unnoticed by either man. Now, Doyle could think of only one explanation to reconcile Bodie's past behaviour with the present. Hidden deep in Bodie's subconscious was a sense of betrayal so acute it overrode those ingrained protective instincts.

His face a studied blank as he watched the bustle of activity around him, Doyle accepted that the blame must be his. The knowledge that he could have hurt Bodie so mortally kept him silent, locked in bewildered misery as he wondered what he had unwittingly done.

In due course the private ambulance arrived to transfer a sedated Bodie to the London hospital patronised by CI5. Doyle was not allowed to accompany it. Dull-eyed, he learnt that Cowley would be driving him home.

The Scotsman's own inclination, backed by medical advice, was that Doyle should spend twenty-four hours in hospital for observation. Appalled, but in no state to argue the point, Doyle had just turned and looked at him.

Studying the younger man's precarious facade of control, untypically Cowley permitted sentiment to prevail over judgment. Despite frequent complaints about his level of remuneration, Doyle rarely asked anyone for anything. Besides, Cowley intended to do a little observing of his own. Bodie and Doyle were his best team; he had no intention of permitting anything to disrupt or impair that dazzling, insubordinate efficiency.

The rain-driven motorway was almost deserted at this hour of the morning. Cocooned in the warmth of the car, distanced by pain-killers and shock, Doyle watched the hypnotic sweep of the windscreen wipers, grateful for the dim lighting as he listened to Cowley's dry tones.

" - tells me he thinks it eighty per cent unlikely that Bodie will ever remember what took place. If that is the case what do you propose to do about it?"

"Do about it? Hope the percentages are with us. I don't want Bodie told - "

" - that he attempted to kill you?" finished Cowley, his voice drained of emotion. There had been too much of that. "Face facts, man. That's what happened, however unpalatable you may find it."

"I know, but - " Doyle put a hand to his throat. It didn't help and he let it fall again.

"So you don't want Bodie to know," mused Cowley. "Admirable, but unrealistic. I doubt whether you're capable of acting that well and Bodie is certain to wonder at the change in your relationship. Is that fair to either of you? Besides, how will you explain the state of your throat and lack of voice?"

"It was not," said Doyle, with a clarity that cost him dear, "Bodie's fault."

Cowley could feel his own throat straining in sympathy. Sensing the younger man's glare he gave a faint smile into the darkness. "I know it wasn't," he remarked placidly. "I just wanted to be sure you did."

There was an eloquent silence.

Answering as if the younger man had in fact spoken, Cowley said, "Aye, mebbe so, lad. But has it occurred to you that with the skills at his disposal Bodie could have broken your neck before you were even aware of his intent? Odd that he should choose strangulation as the method of execution - if he really wanted to kill you."

His attention on the road ahead, Cowley gave no indication that he had heard the shaky indrawn breath, the barely audible, "Do you think I don't know that?"

So when Doyle offered nothing else and went on to give a good impression of an exhausted man sinking into sleep, Cowley accepted the lie. He had a nebulous suspicion about what might lie at the root of this, and he wanted to probe no further. If he was correct it was something Bodie and Doyle would have to discover and resolve for themselves, he decided, grim-faced.

The rest of the journey back to Doyle's flat was completed in silence.

Bodie felt terrible. What made it worse was the lack of anyone to tell how awful he felt. Not that he wanted sympathy, of course. He stuck his tongue out at his mirrored reflection, grimaced, and looked away. His head pounded, his ribs hurt and he felt as if he had been racked. Apart from that, everything was fine. Knowing he had got off lightly in the accident didn't help; but then he was caught in the state of aggrieved depression where little could have done. The hospital had held onto him for three days: a lifetime. Especially when his visitors consisted of everyone but the one man he wanted - expected - to see.

When he was discharged from hospital it had been Murphy who had collected him. Bodie had covered his surprise well, but in the end had enquired as to Doyle's whereabouts because it would have been odd not to do so.

Murphy had looked uncomfortable. "Dunno," he said vaguely, offering a smile. "The Old Man didn't tell me. You know our George."

"Cowley sent you?"

"Yeah. Not that I minded. I'd just assumed that - " His voice trailed away in a belated show of tact.

" - Ray would take me home? So," Bodie said, grimly puzzled, "did I." Ray wasn't working then. If he had been, Bodie wouldn't have given his partner's absence a thought. As it was, he couldn't stop thinking about it. Because none of it was Murphy's fault, he had dropped the subject, but he was feeling too under the weather to put on much of an act and the drive back to his flat had been was an uncomfortable one, conversation strained as they avoided any possible reference to the man who wasn't there but who should have been.

Murphy saw him into the flat and, obviously under instructions, insisted on Bodie going to bed, providing unobtrusive assistance when it was needed. "You sure you'll be all right by yourself? I can easily doss down here for the night."

"You mean you haven't got a date set up?"

"Nothing I can't cancel. No hassle," Murphy said, more concerned by Bodie's subdued manner than by his lack of colour and awkward movements; cracked ribs were hell.

"No, thanks all the same." Silently Bodie willed him to go.

"Is there anything else you want?"

Quelling the impulse to ask for the one thing guaranteed to shake Murphy's urbane manner, Bodie shook his head. "This is fine, but - " What the hell. "If you should come across Ray - "

"He's probably on his way over right now."

Bodie's agreement held the same lack of conviction. As soon as Murphy left he got out of bed, pulling on a tracksuit which was - relatively - easy to get into. Lacking the energy to do much after that, he prowled around the flat.

It seemed different: quiet - and empty. It was some time before he would admit what was actually wrong. He was missing Doyle, missed having him around for so many stupid reasons: watching the untidy, open-legged sprawl; the way he rubbed his nose before conceding defeat in an argument; or way he opened his eyes wide when thinking - or trying to conceal something; the turn of his head; the quick gesture of a long-fingered hand; the uncertain temper; the irreverent, sharp-witted humour; the unexpected, softer side of the man; the throaty chuckle; the limpid stare when he did something particularly outrageous; the set scowl and angry hunch of his shoulders.

Ray Doyle, his partner and best mate. His other half - not necessarily his better half, but his other half for better or worse. They had known and survived both, together; when one was down, the other guarded his back . It was axiomatic.

So was he? Bodie wondered irritably as he stared sightlessly into the mirror. If Ray wasn't working, where else would he be? A heavy date? Bodie frowned, discarding the idea. For three days? Besides, unless Ray had found himself another Ann Holly in the last five days... The thought made his blood run cold. But even Ann wouldn't have been able to stop Ray from at least giving him a ring. Not work, or pleasure then. That left only one thing. Ray was injured and they were keeping it from him. Or -

Sweat clammy against his skin, Bodie was frozen in place, considering the possibility. He'd had concussion; they might think it for the best to keep it from him. A wave of giddiness overtook him then and he had to grasp the edge of the table. Bloody pills, he thought, furious with his own weakness. Now wasn't the time to black out. He took a deep, steadying breath, then another. After a while his legs started to feel as if they belonged to him again.

Sinking into the easy chair, he placed the telephone on the arm of the chair and stared at it for a moment. There was one way to find out, but first, just in case - Concentrating, he dialled Doyle's number. The phone rang eleven times: he counted.

"Doyle." The voice was barely recognisable.

"What the hell's wrong with you?" Bodie demanded with belligerent relief. He heard the indrawn breath, almost felt Ray's shock of surprise.

"Sore throat," Doyle replied, just as Bodie had begun to wonder at the ensuing silence. "Can't talk much."

"I can hear that for myself. That's one hell of a cold you've got there, mate." A cold. His hand relaxing around the receiver, Bodie's voice was warm with relief.

"Not a cold."

Even allowing for the state of Ray's throat, there was something Bodie could not immediately place in his partner's tone. Ray wary - Of him?

"Yeah, well you can skip the medical lecture. 'Flu, then."

There was another long pause. "Cowley hasn't told you?"

"Told me what?" Recognising this prickly mood, Bodie was beginning to lose patience.

"Nothing. It's not important."

His face devoid of expression, Bodie stared across the room. Nothing just about summed up this conversation. He and Ray had never been at a loss for anything to say in their lives. There again, Ray might have been asleep when he rang and he was always ratty until he woke up. Bodie persevered.

"That's why you sound like death warmed over, I suppose. C'mon, Ray. No wonder I haven't seen anything of you."

He waited, for a long time. There was no enquiry about his well-being or suggestion they meet up. There wasn't a stream of complaints about Cowley keeping him busy. Most telling of all, there weren't even any jeers about his driving. Nothing, except the harsh sound of erratic breathing.

"Have you gone and died on me?" demanded Bodie.

"No." This time Doyle's reluctance was unmistakable.

Bodie had never needed to be told anything twice. "That's all right then. Well, I'll see you sometime. Look after that throat." His own felt very tight.

"Wait!" Doyle broke off, coughing. "What did...doctor...say?"

"What about?"


"Wasn't much to say. I must be okay because they let me out this afternoon."

"What?" The rasping wheeze of Ray's breathing echoed down the wire. "Where...are you?"

"At the flat, of course. Where else would I be?"


"Except for the dancing girls. Of course I'm bloody alone." Bugger. He hadn't meant to sound so needy, as if he were asking Ray to come round. He was, of course.

"'m on my way."

"Ray, don't be so daft, you're in no state to - "

The line was dead.

Bodie carefully replaced the receiver and frowned into the middle distance, wondering what the hell that had been about. It was stupid to haul Ray out; he sounded rough. Still, it would be good to see him, even if he was in one of his moods. There couldn't be anything serious wrong with him or he would have heard about it in no uncertain terms. Neither of them went in for brooding silences when they were pissed off with each other.

Immensely cheered, Bodie was making his slow way into the kitchen when the front door bell rang. Knowing who it must be, he opened the door, giving the welcome sight a wide grin of delight.

Propped in the doorway, Doyle radiated disapproval. "How did you know...it was me? Use the bloody intercom. That's what...it's there for."

Bodie's grin widened. "It's great to see you, too. Always cheers me up to see your smiling face."

Doyle did not move.

"Are you going to come in or are you planning to stay there, propping up the door frame? I see you forgot to bring any grapes."

"I remembered. Ate 'em on the way over."

As Doyle entered the flat it seemed to Bodie that he was careful to avoid any possibility of body contact. Hypersensitive, that's what you are, mate. He grinned at the thought and went into the lounge.

Ignoring the vacant sofa, Doyle slumped onto a chair in the corner of the room. Bodie frowned. That wasn't like Ray either. He always hogged the sofa, head on one end, feet the other.

"Drink?" he offered.

"No, thanks."

Bodie could feel his own throat tensing as he listened to the effort required for Ray to speak. "Do your voice good," he urged hospitably. "You sound bloody awful."

Doyle's look conceded he felt the same way. "Milk?" he asked, with little expectation.

Bodie pulled a doubting face, then brightened. "No problem. You can thank Murphy for that," he added as he got labouriously to his feet.

Doyle caught up with him at the kitchen door, tried to speak and scowled at the hoarse croak that emerged. Pointing from himself to the kitchen, he turned Bodie back in the direction of the sofa.

"I'm not completely helpless, y'know," Bodie called, listening to the comfortable sounds of domesticity emanating from his kitchen.

Doyle's face appeared around the door, miming disbelief, then disappeared again.

Bodie grinned.

"Typical," he groused happily a few minutes later, his hands curving around the mug of tea Doyle had made for him. "My big moment to say what I like, uninterrupted, and I can't think of a single word."

Milk bottle in one hand, a half-empty glass in the other, Doyle re-entered the room, his expression mirroring his confidence that his partner would come up with something. Surprising Bodie with a smile of unfeigned sweetness, he settled down next to him. Sipping his milk, he grimaced after each swallow.

"As a conversationalist you've always lacked a certain flair but this is ridiculous," Bodie complained. Stretching his legs out in front of him, his shoulder and thigh brushed the warmth of Ray Doyle. He pulled a face on hearing the strained wheeze on his left. "No, don't start up again. It gives me a sore throat listening to you. How about sign language?" he suggested, without thinking.

Doyle's response was predictable but Bodie grinned all the same. Then Doyle gestured to his side, clearly enquiring as to the state of his health.

"It's just cracked ribs. Nothing a spot of rest won't cure," Bodie assured him.

Doyle frowned.

"It's true. Come on, you know it must be. They wouldn't have let me out otherwise. I'm still waiting to hear what's wrong with you." Bodie paused, trying to clarify the elusive, clouded strands of memory. "You were with me when they were cutting me out of the car. You were OK then, weren't you?"

Doyle gave a small nod and buried his nose in his glass of milk.

"I can't remember too much about that," Bodie said, struggling. He could see Ray's face, streaming with water, then nothing until he came round in hospital with the familiar roar of London traffic in the background.

"Just as well," said Doyle hoarsely into the silence. "You...weren't a pretty sight. Stupid sod." Desperate to change the subject, he took another sip of milk. "Cowley wasn't amused at you pranging...the car. 'specially after he got the bill for fixing it...when you broke down."

"Bloody typical," exclaimed Bodie, successfully sidetracked. "I'd like to have seen anyone else in similar weather conditions do any better."

When he went on to give a blow by blow account of what had happened, Doyle relaxed against him, grunting occasionally to prove he was still awake.

Glancing down at the head propped against him, Bodie recognised with a pang just how ill Ray looked. His face was gaunt and strained, his skin tone an unhealthy putty colour. An ugly bruise shadowed the previously undamaged side of his face, swollen flesh blurring the angled cheekbone. Not so much a dissolute cherub as a shagged out sprite today, Bodie decided, giving the oblivious profile an affectionate grin.

Then, eyebrows drawn together, he realised that Ray, who always wore the minimum of clothing, had kept his jacket on. Even more unusual, it was zipped to the throat, curls straggling over the upturned collar. He'd even resurrected that bloody awful tartan scarf.

"If you're cold, I can put the heating up," he offered.

Stirring, Doyle glanced at him with sleepy incomprehension.

Bodie tapped a leather clad arm. "If you're not cold what are all the wrappings for?"

Doyle tensed. "Keep...throat warm." He was getting the hang of his sparse conversational abilities, wanting to conserve what little voice he had at his disposal in case it should really be needed.

"Right." Vaguely dissatisfied, Bodie decided to drop the topic. "You mind shifting, I need to pee."

With a long suffering sigh Doyle obliged. When Bodie returned, it was to see the familiar sight of his partner sprawled the length of the sofa, engrossed in the crossword from one of the week old newspapers that had been lying around.

"Sure you're comfortable?" Bodie asked, all sweet concern.

Doyle just grinned around a corner of the paper. "Positive."

"Bloody typical. Walks in and takes the place over. You want any more milk?"

"Shut up, Bodie. Only got one more...clue to do. Mmm, 's better," Doyle approved as the hard-edged arm of the sofa, which was supporting his head, was replaced by a warm thigh. "Softer."

"Like your head." Bodie peered over his partner's shoulder. "I thought you said you'd only got one more clue to fill in?"

Doyle's expression was one of extreme sorrow. "I lied," he said, simply. A familiar hand ruffled his hair.

"What's new."

Pinching the sports pages, Bodie caught up with the doings of Liverpool, enjoying the warm weight against his leg and the elusive scent of his partner. The silence was far from total, broken by the odd squeaking noises Doyle made when he solved another cryptic clue and the heavy sighs and noisy sucks on the end of the pencil when he was stuck.

Throwing the sports pages down in disgust, deciding to follow the ladies' team next year, it dawned on Bodie that all extraneous sounds had died away.

"Ray?" He gently touched the shoulder nearest to him.

Waking with a start, Doyle tipped over the dregs of the glass he had propped on his stomach.

"That'll teach you," said Bodie, enjoying Doyle's look of distaste as the chill stickiness of the milk penetrated his jeans. He took the glass and the paper from his partner's unresisting hand. "You look worse than a week old corpse. You sure you should even be up?" he asked, worried by Doyle's look of large-eyed pallor.

"'Course I am," Doyle mumbled, finding himself to be ludicrously on the verge of tears. For the umpteenth time he wondered what he could have done to make Bodie believe he would ever hurt him that much. There had to be some way he could tell Bodie how - No, maybe it wouldn't do to go telling Bodie how he felt about him. He'd been waiting for the right moment for months but now definitely wasn't the time.

Discovering that Bodie, who had begun to frown, was still looking at him, Doyle dredged up a smile. "I'm fine. It's just...pills make me a bit dozy."

"What pills? What the hell's wrong with you, Ray? And don't try to snow me, I've known you too long."

Suddenly everything was back in perspective. Hearing the menace that imperfectly concealed his partner's very real concern, Doyle offered a brilliant smile. Curling around the edges under that assault, Bodie blinked, then returned the smile before slinging his arm over Doyle's shoulder. The weight of his hand was heavy against Doyle's chest and irrationally Doyle began to feel happier than he had for a long time. Whatever it was that had bothered Bodie couldn't be as important as he had thought. Nothing they couldn't solve.

He said only, "I love it when you're...masterful," and discovered how difficult it was to sound soulful with a voice which sounded rougher than gravel shifting in a cement mixer.

"Bet you say that to everyone." Bodie gave a handful of the abundant curls draped over his leg a gentle tug. "Stop trying to change the subject. What happened to you?"

Doyle's eyes flickered; he had been dreading this moment since he picked up the phone. To try and to avoid the subject would only make Bodie more determined to ferret out the truth. "Someone tried to strangle me." He tried to press all emotion from his voice.

"It's OK, you can see they didn't make it," he added, when he felt the muscles in the leg beneath him tense. He made no attempt to stop Bodie when he unwound the scarf and unzipped his jacket.

His eyes looking dark in a face blanched of colour, Bodie could not speak for a moment. "Yeah, I can see that," he said eventually. With a visible effort he lifted his gaze from the swollen flesh of Doyle's throat, the purple-black imprint of a stranger's fingers emblazoned on the Ray's skin.

"You stupid sod," he added savagely, his voice shaking. "What were you doing letting some nutter get that close to you?" He placed a gentle finger on the worst of the marks. "Who was it, Ray?"

Doyle covered the hand with his own, holding it in a light grasp. "Stop breathing fire, mate. It was a no one, a hyped-up kid. I...wasn't expecting it." That, at least, was the truth.

"Well you bloody should have been. Christ, Ray. No one should be able to take us that easily. No one."

"Yeah, well I was having an off-day. C'mon, Bodie, there's no need to make a production...out of it. Besides, now the bruising's out...it looks worse than it is." The longish speech made Doyle cough; the discomfort showed.

"Yes, I can see how well you are," Bodie said with heavy irony. "Why didn't you tell me, Ray?"

Pushing himself up until he was sitting next to his partner, Doyle slung his arm around the hunched shoulders in a rare display of demonstrativeness and gave Bodie a quick hug. "Nothing you could do, sunshine. No point in...worrying you."

Unappeased, Bodie glared at him. "Worry me?" he echoed, his tone scathing. "What did you suppose I did the three days when there was no word from you? We're partners, remember? I'm entitled to worry."

His face very close to Bodie's, Doyle's eyes were warm with affectionate amusement. "Yeah, you do it really well, too," he said admiringly. "Pack it in, mate. I'm fine. I didn't visit because Cowley thought you seeing me like this...would do more harm than good. Anyway, I couldn't have said much. No...real voice until today." His clenched fist nudged the stubborn set of Bodie's chin. "That headache come back?"

Bodie blinked. Ray was being very sweet to him tonight, and far too approachable. It made him even harder to resist, too easy to love. He risked looking at his partner again. "How did you know I've got a...? " The question trailed away. There wasn't much they didn't know about each other. "It'll go."

"Yeah, and so should I be. You...look awful. C'mon, let's put you to bed."

Bodie decided against even a token protest. His ribs were giving him hell and his headache had reached monumental proportions. No stress, the doctors had said. Somehow he didn't think discovering some maniac had tried to strangle his partner came under that heading.

"You're not working tomorrow, are you?" he asked at the door. Ray had switched off the lights, only the gleam of his eyes betraying him. Bodie flicked on the hall light, watching the familiar silhouette; trainers, narrow-legged jeans, burnt orange tee shirt and a scuffed brown leather jacket. He'd seen Ray in similar outfits for nearly five years; sometimes it felt like much longer.

"Nah. Cowley doesn't want me." Doyle sounded suitably doleful that anyone could fail to find him irresistible.

I do.

For one horror-stricken moment Bodie thought he had actually said it. Nothing ventured and all that. Cowardice kept him silent, as it had for so long. The risk of losing what he already had was too great. He would get over it. He'd coped all right up to now; there was no reason why he couldn't carry on the same way.

"Why don't you stay the night? It'll save you turning out again," he suggested casually. He'd shared a bed with Ray before. Tonight would be no more, or less, difficult.

"Fair enough." Doyle paused to give him a look of suspicion. "Have you got any food in this time?"

"Of course I have," said Bodie, stung.

"What?" Doyle challenged.

"All the usual things," Bodie prevaricated, losing confidence under that penetrating green glare.

Doyle gave a resigned sigh. "That means soggy cornflakes and dried milk for...breakfast again, I suppose? Still, that's more than I've got...back at my place. Thing is, about the bed - will you be all right, sharing with me?"

Bodie knew he must be flushing. Turning, he busied himself with yanking the zipped top of his tracksuit over his head, needing to hide.

That, as his broken ribs were quick to remind him, was a mistake.

"On the other hand, if you're this...cack-handed by yourself," a rasping voice whispered in his ear, "I needn't worry about jolting you. Stay still. I'll see to it."

Careful hands freed him from the confines of the top. Bodie gave up then, submitting to being undressed and helped into the bed with unwonted meekness. Tucking the duvet around him, Doyle viewed the untypical sight with approving disbelief.

"Stick with godliness tonight. Can try...cleanliness tomorrow," he promised. "Speaking of which, that milk'll be turning to...yoghurt on me soon. Is it all right if I have a shower?"

"I'd prefer it if you did, mate,"

"Oh, very amusing. You got any hot water?"

"Should have. Murphy said he'd seen to everything."

"Good old Murph."

Bodie's closing eyes opened at the bite in Doyle's voice. "What's up?"

Holding his jacket between his hands, Doyle scowled down at it. "Nothing. Just that it should've been me picking you up, not him, and bugger what Cowley said."

"Forget it, mate. When the old man gets a bee in his bonnet it's healthier to let him get on with it."

Unconvinced, Doyle watched him for a long moment, an indefinable expression in his eyes. Then he nodded, grinned and turned away to the bathroom, shedding clothes like confetti.

Bodie began to doze, content with his half a loaf. The headache was no more than a distant memory and the pain in his ribs had settled down. Relaxed and drowsy, a minor sensation gradually intruded. Muttering as the demands of his bladder grew more insistent, he dragged on a bathrobe and padded to the bathroom.

He hesitated outside the door. Tonight he was too aware of Ray Doyle, not just as his partner and best mate but a sparkling, obtrusive sexual awareness that could not be denied. That awareness made him stop and thump at the closed door. "Oy, you finished in there?"

The sound of the shower stopped. "Why, have you gone coy on me?"

"I need to take a leak." Bodie began to feel stupid as he stood, a bare-foot supplicant outside his own bathroom.

"So? You don't normally - " Doyle's voice faded, then strengthened in complaint. "Why you couldn't think of it earlier."

Taking this for an invitation to enter Bodie opened the door and was enfolded in clouds of billowing steam that had blurred the mirror and tiles, eddying warmth and dampness against his skin.

"Well, shut the door. I've just got it nice and - "

"It's like a sauna in here," Bodie complained.

" - warm," Doyle insisted, hauling a towel from the rail.

Bodie shrugged, averting his eyes from the sight of the water-slick skin. Doyle arched and stretched pleasurably back against the towel he held behind him, droplets of moisture outlining the contour of a wiry biceps.

"Water's boiling," Doyle announced unnecessarily. "Feel better now," he added to Bodie's unresponsive back. "Do you? Glad to hear it mate. Knew...you would be." Tiring of his monologue, he concentrated on drying himself, paying a sensual attention to detail.

When Bodie turned back into the centre of the room it was to see his partner smoothing a talcum powdered hand down a lean flank with an unselfconscious pleasure, his eyes half-closed under the touch of his own stroking fingers. Then, as if becoming aware of obtrusive dampness, he picked up the towel again and bent to dry his calf and foot. Propped against the wall, Bodie watched every small movement his partner made with an almost aesthetic pleasure.

"Can tell Murphy's used to the good things in...life," Doyle announced with idle approval, drying his other leg. "He even remembered put the towel rail on. You need some more talc."

"I'm not surprised, the way you use it." Bodie spared the coated carpet and tiles a brief glance. More compelling was the honey-tinted flank and the curve of spine and buttock as Doyle bent and straightened, the glide of muscle and taut press of bone; shadowing drift of soft body hair downing legs and forearms, patterning predictable at underarm and groin, highlighting chest and abdomen in an idiosyncratic symmetry, arrowing down the flat belly. His fingers curled into his palm, Bodie resisted temptation to caress the flank so close to where he stood.

"I couldn't find that toothbrush...I left here, so I used yours," Doyle announced as he hung up the damp towel. "Knew you wouldn't mind."

"Terrific," Bodie sighed automatically, disconcerted to find Doyle standing directly in front of him.

"Let's get you to bed again," urged Doyle gently. "You're almost out on your feet. You've gone all glassy-eyed."

The warm, damp atmosphere seemed to have helped Ray's voice, Bodie noted. Probably just got soggy vocal cords, along with the rest of him, he decided morosely. His expression one of wry resignation, he trailed after his still naked partner.

Life would have remained a relatively uncomplicated affair if he hadn't looked at the narrow-hipped aggravation that was Ray Doyle one day and known a jolt of desire that had left him speechless, his skin prickling with surprised awareness. It had taken far longer to accept his new scope of reference as anything but a mental aberration. It wasn't the sort of thing he'd expected to happen, not when he was enjoying a comfortable, uncomplicated heterosexual lifestyle and hadn't even noticed another bloke's potential desirability in his life. And then he found his bones turning to bloody water just because his partner turned and smiled at him.


That had been the easiest thing to accept. Bodie's angry astonishment had turned to bemused panic when it finally dawned on him that he wanted more than an experimental night or two with Doyle. Still unaccustomed to his unwanted desire, this new realisation had thrown him completely. He had found emotional ties on anything but a superficial level easy to avoid; until now he hadn't been in one place long enough to form any of importance, choosing his partners with unconscious care, making his own lack of commitment plain. Then he had been teamed with Ray Doyle.

"You're quiet. Headache worse?" asked Doyle at his shoulder.

Surprised to find himself sitting on the edge of the bed, Bodie shook his head. "Just tired."

"I can't think why," snapped Doyle with sudden asperity. "Cowley must have a screw loose...letting you out and about this early."

Ray's main fault had always been his tendency to harp on about inessentials. Bodie moved into the attack. "You coming to bed like that?" he asked with disapproval.

"Like what?" Doyle's look of affront disappeared and he shivered as a trickle of water from his damp hair slid between his shoulder blades.

"Wet hair," said Bodie. "I'm don't fancy waking up to find that dripping all over me."

"I wasn't planning on you having to." Doyle made for the wardrobe and began to search with little regard to putting things back where he found them. "All right, where is it?" he said irritably.


"That hair dryer you had."

"Carol took it with her last time she was here."

"Terrific. Fan heater then?" Distinctly chilly by this time, Doyle could feel goose bumps running across his skin as another chill trickle of water slipped down his back.

"I don't need one. I've got central heating," Bodie pointed out, unhelpfully. "Why? A big tough lad like you can't be feeling the cold," he added, with a trace of malice. Ray was the hot-blooded member of this team, favouring open windows and rolled up shirt sleeves even in the middle of winter. Bodie had given up pleading for the car windows to be kept closed.

Giving him a speaking look, Doyle disappeared to re-emerge with a dry towel. "If you got into bed...I could have your bathrobe," he pointed out, visibly shuddering with the cold.

"Marvellous," Bodie complained, but after eyeing the pathetic figure in front of him, he awkwardly complied. "Nothing else you want, is there?" he demanded, crawling back under the duvet.

Doyle bundled himself into the soft towelling with more haste than was strictly necessary, aware of the lingering body-warmth adhering to the robe - Bodie's warmth. He shivered again and busied himself in towel-drying his hair. The one thing he wanted wasn't on offer; and it was a fine time to be reminded of his own cowardice.

"If I think of anything, I'll let you know," he promised, mendaciously, sparing his partner an enigmatic glance from under his lashes before disappearing back into the folds of the towel.

Bodie found himself speculating about that look. With a sense of inevitability he sat up and twitched the towel from Doyle's hands. "Come here. You'll be patting it all night at that rate."

"It's only - " Doyle cast a gloomy look at his watch and sighed. "Now I know...we're getting old. Ten o'clock and we're both shagged out."

"Speak for yourself," said Bodie, with a dignity that was ruined as he stifled a yawn. "Well come on then, or don't you trust me with the Doyle coiffeur?" he enquired, sitting on the edge of the bed.

"'Course I trust you."

The towel draped over his hands, Bodie paused, one eyebrow raised. "Sounded like you were making your last will and testament." Puzzled by Doyle's unwonted gravity but sensing that he was making his partner uneasy, Bodie relented and gestured to the floor. "You're the wrong height, you mind?"

"I knew it," moaned Doyle. "Power mad, that's your trouble."

Bodie used the towel to smother anything else the kneeling figure might have wanted to say with the towel, his fingers moving with a sure competence over wet ringlets, in a slow steady rhythm that did nothing to jar the swollen throat. His head sinking down almost into Bodie's duvet covered lap, Doyle gave an unconscious murmur of appreciation, relaxing under the gentle motion of Bodie's hands.

A damp weight being draped around his bent neck some time later made him open drowsy eyes, indignant at being brought back to reality.

"That's your lot, sunshine," announced Bodie, ruffling the almost dry hair. "You look like an old English sheepdog." The hair, thick and soft and smelling of green apples, slid between his fingers. He hadn't realised his shampoo smelt that good.

"Time for you to complain is when...I wake you up in the middle of the night, wanting to go out." Doyle removed the towel, swatted Bodie with it and frowned as he saw the state of the hand thrown up to block his move. "Hey, what have you been wrestling with?" he demanded. Bodie's wrist and the backs of his hands were mottled with small spiteful looking bruises, as if intense pressure had been applied. Abruptly all traces of drowsy pleasure vanished from his face, his stomach lurching as he remembered.

"I dunno," said Bodie, unconcerned. "I was probably just one of the nurses overcome by the sight of my manly charms." He grinned. "We make a great pair, what with your throat and my hands."

His voice faded, then died altogether as he stared through the heavy curls half hiding the livid marks on Doyle's neck, seeing the small, half-moon indentations of clipped nails among them.

The fog in his brain shivered, releasing one jolting mental image after another. Within seconds every unwanted memory had returned to him in brutal clarity, highlighting in microscopic detail exactly what he had done, his conscious mind able now even to add the why. The detailed and convoluted dream had been an unnecessary embellishment. Enfolded in a cold sickness, Bodie ruthlessly examined the memories. Even in his dream he had tried to deny the truth, blaming Ray for his own inability to accept what he saw as a major flaw in the inviolate, super-cool persona he had lived with until it became a part of him. So much so that he had forgotten the fallacy upon which it was founded.

"Oh, no. Not me."

Unaware of his whispered plea, Bodie tipped his partner's unresisting head back to expose the marred line of the long throat. He saw Doyle swallow, try to speak, and slowly encircled the warm flesh with a touch so hesitant it was barely a touch, his fingers exactly matching the ugly marks.

His hands then.

But at least he understood Ray's self-conscious awkwardness for those first few minutes. 'I wasn't expecting it.' No, you wouldn't have been, sunshine.

With no hint of the dramatic he freed the warm flesh, returning his clenched and shaking hands to rest in his lap. 'A hyped-up kid'. Nice try, Ray. Did you really think I wouldn't remember?" Very detached, he sounded no more than politely interested.

Warm hands found and held his cold, cramped ones. "They drugged you up to the...eyeballs. It wasn't your fault, Bodie."

Icy calm, he stared into worried green eyes. "No," he agreed tonelessly. "Of course it wasn't. It's perfectly natural for me to try and strangle you." He made no attempt to move away, but it was clear he did not welcome the physical contact.

Stroking a corded wrist, Doyle edged closer, offering silent reassurance. Recognising the signs of withdrawal, he could see all too clearly what Bodie was doing. Bodie's face was wiped clean of expression, inner concentration focussed on everything but the pain tearing him apart. Sweat gleamed high on the smooth skin of his temple, a muscle moved in his jaw, then was still.

Furious with himself, Doyle took a calming breath. If Bodie had to remember what had happened, he had wanted it to be later, when the physical manifestations of the attack were long gone. Bugger it, he thought, savagely. But his voice was soft when he spoke and matter-of-fact as he tried to make Bodie see sense.

"Listen, it's a lousy thing to discover. You're feeling...as guilty as hell. But there's no need, mate. It wasn't your fault."

There was chill silence.

Doyle persevered. "Look, I wouldn't lie to you. That's something we've never...done with each other." And that in itself was a lie. He carried on quickly. "You came round to find...someone leaning over you, hand on your throat. Was dark...you were drugged, thought you were being...attacked. Defended yourself. Only natural. My fault for...being so stupid."

"Did I hit you before or after I tried to strangle you." It was a reminder, not a question, the self-accusation implicit and unquestioning.

Doyle took a shuddering breath, willing himself to find the patience to deal with this. So bloody withdrawn. This palpable chill, so different from Bodie's usual warmth, was beginning to worry him. Bodie wasn't even listening to him, let alone accepting what he said. He'd made his own judgment of his own behaviour. Pointless to try to deny the severity of the attack.

Oh, bugger it, he thought with helpless fury. How the hell do I get through to him if he won't even listen to me. That bloody soldier's mentality. 'No excuses, sir.' How often had he heard Bodie say that to the Old Man? And then, often as not, Bodie would stand there and let Cowley crucify him for something that had had to be done. Well, not this time, mate, Doyle promised the silent figure. Not over this.

The trouble was, he knew how he would feel if their positions had been reversed. Oh Christ, that didn't help with anything. He couldn't afford to go soft on Bodie, not until he'd broken through that unnatural calm. He didn't need to be told how superficial Bodie's control was.

Stupid great - He felt things too much, did Bodie, keeping all the hurt locked away. He'd camouflage it with a dose of flippant, throwaway black humour before slinking away to lick his wounds in private. Even when Marika had died -

Doyle leant forward, taking those icy hands between his own again. "Bodie, listen mate, don't you think...you're overreacting a bit?" As soon as he spoke, he realised his mistake.

"Quite probably. It's obviously something I'm prone to do," Bodie agreed, after a long pause.

"Oh, for chai - "

Smothering his impatience, Doyle got to his feet, staring at the bowed head. He sat down abruptly, deliberately close, sliding an arm around the hunched shoulders. "No it isn't," he contradicted flatly. "You can...scrap that idea right now. You are not cracking up, going...mad or harboring homicidal...tendencies towards me. You had an adverse reaction to...some medication. Drugs are out of your system - hospital wouldn't have let...you go otherwise. It's gone into your...medical file, so you won't be given that...combination again. Use your common sense, mate."

His face was almost brushing Bodie's. "I know you're blaming yourself, but all you're doing is making it...worse." His grip on the tense shoulders tightened. "You think I like seeing you like this? It's over, won't happen again. Accept it, talk it out. No point in brooding...over what can't be changed."

"Nothing to talk about," said Bodie, avoiding his eyes.

Doyle took heart from the new edge to his partner's voice. So that was it, Bodie didn't want - was afraid - to talk because then he'd have to explain what lay behind the attack. It was pretty damn obvious he'd remembered that, too.

"All right, we won't talk about it." His voice hardened. "Once you can prove to me this isn't going to screw up...the best partnership I've ever had. Am ever likely to have. You're right, let's forget it. Wallowing in guilt's my scene, not yours. Who's going to make me...feel better if you're down there with me?"

"Forget it?" Bodie looked at him in dull surprise. It was as if he spoke against his will - as if he had forgotten how the action was performed.

Doyle could feel his patience slipping away. None of this should be happening.

He dragged an angry hand back through his hair. Bit late to worry about that, it was happening - and what the hell could he do if Bodie wouldn't even talk to him. He'd tried rational explanation, tried sympathy - but Bodie had rejected gentleness and understanding. Maybe he was using the wrong approach.

"Yeah, forget it," he repeated, forcing a bite into his too soft voice, refusing to let it fail him. "I mean, if you think I've got nothing...better to do than watch you wallowing in guilt..." Rising to his feet, he caught hold of Bodie's naked shoulders, his fingers hard over the cold flesh.

"Or maybe you want us both to wallow. You tried to...kill me - and I didn't like that. Not one bit. It hurt. Still hurts, because you won't... bloody talk to me. But if you think - Do you really expect me to take it out on you? You think we're gonna have a punch-up? That I'm gonna...fight you, is that it?"

Horror crawling through him, Doyle saw the bleak acceptance in his partner's face. His counterfeit rage dropped away. Releasing Bodie, he rose to stand with his back to the bed, his eyes closing for a moment. He wasn't reaching Bodie, the man he'd worked with all these years and who he knew - who he thought he knew - better than anyone else. Was that what Bodie expected from him? Worry about that later. He had to get through to him, somehow, but he was beginning to suspect what it would take to achieve the shattering of Bodie's impregnable walls and he emphatically did not want to start baring his soul - not even to Bodie.

"No, I don't want to fight you," said Bodie from behind him, his voice much too calm. "This isn't easy for you; I can see that. I'm surprised you came over after I rang. I'm surprised Cowley let you."

"Cowley?" Doyle spun around. "What's Cowley got to do with this?"

Bodie looked through him with lightless eyes. "Everything. It can't be every day he gets one agent trying to kill his partner."

Staring down at his bare feet, Doyle's voice was weary. "You think I'm...lying when I say I trust you...that nothing's changed?"

"No," acknowledged Bodie, considering the point, "you do. That's the trouble. I don't trust me. How do you know I won't try and kill you again?"

This time when Doyle grabbed him there was nothing feigned about his anger.

"Right, let's get this straight once and for all. You did not try to...kill me. Can't you see that? Christ, an ex-mercenary, paras and SAS sergeant using strangulation? Come off it, mate. If...if you'd wanted me dead, I would have...died before I knew what had hit me. You...forget, I know how good you are."

Bodie's gaze flicked over his face, then away again. Doyle tightened his grip, no longer caring that he must be hurting Bodie, who winced but made no attempt to protect himself.

"I'm getting tired of saying this," Doyle whispered savagely, his voice no more than an ugly rasp. "You want to go...on a guilt trip - fine. Terrific. But what's it going to solve, eh?. Fuck all, that's what. We both know the...dope made you a little crazy. There's more to it than that. You think...I can't work it out for myself. The dope didn't give you the reason... something I've done did that." And having voiced that fear, Doyle's rage dissipated. What was so bad that Bodie couldn't even tell him?

Hands sliding down the braced tension of Bodie's biceps, Doyle crouched in front of him, compelling the blue eyes to meet his own. "What was it I did, Bodie? How did I hurt you this much?"

This time there was a hint of wariness in Bodie's eyes, a conscious defence mechanism springing into life. "You?"


He and Bodie had never gone in for self-searching exchanges, taking the growing strength of their relationship for granted. Maybe that was where he had gone wrong.

"You called me 'Judas'. Made it...clear you thought I'd tried...to kill you. So something I've done was as bad - worse - to you than if I'd actually tried to." Doyle took a shuddering breath. "So your subconscious...made it real for you. I've had three...days to think about this but I can't - Won't you tell me? Just tell me what I've done? I know I can be a...vicious bastard at times, I don't always think. And sometimes I mean it. But...not with you. I just take advantage, when...you let me. And...you do let me, sunshine. You put up with a lot from me." He was too involved to know his voice was shaking, or to appreciate how revealing his expression was.

"You're important to me. Very. Not just...as a partner but as the best bloody friend I've ever had. Love you, Bodie." Reaching out and taking Bodie's unresisting fists in his hands, Doyle uncurled the clenched fingers to lace their flesh together.

"Tell me. Whatever the problem is there must be a way...we can sort it out."

"You did that very well," said Bodie dispassionately. "Still, you always were a good actor." A tiny part of himself noted, with satisfaction, when Doyle flinched.

Accepting the rejection, Doyle let Bodie's fingers slip from his own. "I can't help then." He bit his bottom lip. How did you apologise for something you didn't know you'd done? "I wasn't acting, Bodie. Not this time. But I'm sorry. Never meant to...hurt you like this. Not you. Ever."

Waste of breath, he recognised. He'd been closed out again. His eyes too bright, Doyle continued: "You need to...talk about this to someone, and soon. Be...ill otherwise. Doctor Ross? No - " He dismissed her without waiting for any response, placing no faith in her abilities. "Could you talk to Cowley?"

Bodie looked up then. "Would you leave if I did?"

"You want me to?" He thought he was braced for Bodie's reply.

"Hoped I'd already made that obvious. I don't want you here, or anywhere else in my life."

Hearing Bodie finish it, Doyle was filled only with a sense of unreality. He reached out, stilling the gesture when cold eyes rested on his outstretched hand. "You want me to leave - to walk out...on our partnership, us?"

"That's right."

The room seemed very quiet. Too stunned to feel anything much, Doyle said dully, "I'll ring Cowley now." Pain clawed its way up through his belly, chest and throat. He tried hard to focus his thoughts, eventually remembering Cowley's telephone number. For some reason he couldn't seem to think any further than that.

"Tomorrow will do," said Bodie.

Alerted by something in that calm voice Doyle stopped in his tracks, then slowly turned around, his suspicions roused. "Now. And I'm staying until...he arrives." His expression made it clear that wasn't a point he was prepared to debate or concede.

"Why? Don't you trust me?" And superficially Bodie was back, but the mocking black humour did nothing to disguise the yawning pit beneath it.

"I've already told...you I do," replied Doyle, calm now. "But I'm not leaving you to...run out on this. It's about time you actually...faced up to one emotional scene, isn't it?"

Making no reply, Bodie left the bed. Crossing the room, he hauled on a pair of cords but was forced to slow down when his cracked ribs protested with force enough to make him sweat.

"Where do you think...you're going?"

"No need to drag this out,. I'll go into HQ now." Shrugging into a shirt, only the fire in his side gave Bodie's voice any expression.

"To resign?"

"Butt out, Doyle."

"You think I'm going to stand...by and watch you do it?" And suddenly Doyle knew that far from being over, it hadn't even begun. "Bit melodramatic, innit?" he said provocatively.

Seating himself with care, Bodie pulled on socks and slipped on his shoes, reaching for his jacket. All thought centred on his physical actions, he was withdrawing again, distancing himself from everything, his own thoughts in particular.

Gaining no response, Doyle went over to the closed bedroom door. It had no lock. Typical. His hands at his sides, he leant back against the door, watching through unblinking eyes as Bodie approached, coming to a halt only when he noticed the obstruction in his path.

"I don't know what's...going through your head. Don't suppose you do at the moment. For someone with...a declared policy of non-involvement I've never met anyone so good....about worrying about other...people. All this has been a big show, hasn't it. Nearly worked too, because..." Doyle coughed, caught his breath and carried on doggedly. "You matter that much to me. Too much for our safety. Talk about that later. First thing is, you're not leaving. 'specially not to resign."

"Yes, I am." It was as if Bodie hadn't heard him.

"Make it plain then. Only way out is...through this door. You get out of that through me." He offered only a statement of fact, not a challenge. Straining his abused vocal cords, he made himself audible more by effort of will than by physical ability.

Bodie stared at him for a moment with that same half-blind stare. But Doyle's rasping voice creeping beneath his calm, he did not move.

Doyle's eyes had never left the too still figure. "But you won't do that, will you, sunshine. Because...you won't hurt me, will you." His voice had a vicious bite to it now. "That's the difference between us that you've never accepted, because I'll do...whatever's necessary. You're not leaving. Not from this...room, or from my life. Not until we've talked...about it, properly."

"You can't stay awake forever," Bodie pointed out tranquilly, untouched by his partner's vehemence.

Doyle felt the small hairs at the back of his neck begin to prickle. Come on, Bodie, he pleaded silently. React. Get mad. Anything would be better than this.

"It'll be finished before I flake out," he promised grimly. "One way, or another."

Bodie just stood there, block-like.

Doyle ignored the pain in his throat, his greatest fear that of pushing Bodie so far over the edge that he couldn't pull him back.. "I've often wondered...what it would take to really get you...mad - with me," he added conversationally. "You don't often...let go. I've seen you sinister - works a treat, that does, on young girls. Seen you bluster, or get...a bit hot under the collar. You don't...like losing control, do you. What's wrong?" he taunted, "scared to...let go, are you? Is that it, Bodie. Is it?" His whiplash contempt stung.

Bodie shook his head. "It won't work, Ray." But his eyes were veiled now.

Doyle smiled. "Oh, yes, it will, because...I know you. That rough, tough image. Mister self-sufficiency. We both know there's more...to you than that. You're a...soft hearted bugger when...it comes down to it. Your trouble is...you think I'm the same. If I...have to break you, I will."

His expression all hard aggression, eyes bright with malice, Doyle moved lazily forward until he was close enough to feel Bodie's body warmth and to see the pulse at temple and throat. He stepped closer, forcing Bodie to retreat before him or take on the role of aggressor.

Backed against the far wall, Bodie tried to block out the hurtful mockery, unable to remember any more why he mustn't respond.

"How long have we been partners and you won't even...talk to me? Thought we were mates. Wonder if you...even know what that means. Not surprised to see you...like this. Quit while you're losing. That's your answer to everything. Isn't it? Isn't it?"

Doyle could feel his voice cracking and fading on him, fear for Bodie only making it harder to speak. Hating himself, he resorted to the one weapon he hadn't used yet.

"My voice is starting to give up...on me. I'm not surprised. Doctor said I was lucky to...have a voice box left. You haven't even...said you're sorry," he added when he saw the first change in Bodie's expression. "But then...maybe you aren't."

Bodie's eyes closed, every muscle in his face starkly defined.

"As a strangler you aren't very good. Ever been strangled, by a friend?" continued Doyle conversationally. "I don't recommend it as an experience. It...hurts. It hurts one hell of a lot. Mind, it'll...look really good when...all the bruising comes out." He grasped Bodie's jaw, forcing him to look up and acknowledge his presence.

"Well, come on, mate. You're not scared to...look at the damage...are you?" he jeered. Taking Bodie's hands in his own, he forced them open, placing them around his throat, holding them there.

"May as well...finish what you started. They say it's easier...the second time round. I won't even...fight you this time. Not if you really...want to kill me." His hands dropped away, freeing Bodie's.

Placing each barb with exquisite care, he could feel the tremors rippling through Bodie and ached to stop this, to take Bodie in his arms, take the hurt away.

Remorselessly he held Bodie's eyes. "Well, come on then. We can't stand like this all...night. Or isn't this what you were...after? What you want?"

And from nowhere Doyle fitted the incomplete puzzle together. Taking an incredulous breath, his eyes lit up when he recognised his stupidity in missing the obvious. It was him. Bodie wanted -loved?-him.

His joyous recognition was quenched with grim promptitude. So Bodie loved him. Right now it wasn't quite that simple. If he obeyed his instinct to hug Bodie to him and tell him everything he'd been keeping to himself for so long, there was no guarantee that, in his present mood, Bodie would believe him in his present mood.

Glancing up through his lashes at the expressionless face opposite his own, Doyle felt his stomach twist. Of course Bodie wouldn't bloody believe him. Somehow he had convinced himself that his partner and new-made love would simply laugh like a drain and walk out on him. He was braced to receive the callous derision he expected.

Doyle killed the small inner voice that wished Bodie could have given him the benefit of the doubt, that Bodie could have trusted him to try to understand. But why should he, he conceded with tired recognition. With my tongue? He's always said it could flay a camel's arse at fifty paces. But only sometimes, Bodie. And not with you, not for a long, long time.

Irrelevant. The fact was he'd done it in the past and was more than capable of doing it in the future. When threatened he went straight for the jugular; he knew, too well, the things to say that would hurt most. Bodie knew that, too, and vulnerable to hurt... Small blame to him for keeping quiet.

Doyle's eyes scrunched to a close in his exasperation with himself. This wasn't helping anything. He still had to reach Bodie - somehow.

It sounded easy enough, if you said it quickly. So why was this turning into the worst day of his life?

Oh, great. This was no time for emotional extravagance. The last thing they needed was him going over the top as well.

Doyle's eyes snapped open. On the other hand, maybe that was the answer. What if he gave Bodie the reaction he was expecting, and more? Get him angry enough and he'd crack open fast enough? It was a dangerous game but no more dangerous than letting Bodie close himself off completely and resign while lost to guilt. Trapped in this dull torpidity he'd be dead within a week.

So, he'd try it. He'd try anything and everything if it meant he got Bodie back.

Raising his head Doyle watched his puppet-like partner and smiled a predator's smile. Full of cold purpose there was nothing engaging about him as he waited for the moment when the strength of his focussed will forced Bodie's shuttered gaze to meet his in flinching recognition.

The wary expectation of hurt on Bodie's face confirmed it. Doyle's smile widened. He would use his new-found knowledge mercilessly, if that was what it would take to shatter Bodie's dangerous, illusory calm. And if - when - it worked they would try and pick up the pieces and salvage what they could - if he hadn't destroyed everything Bodie had ever felt for him by then.

He'd worry about that later, too.

"Oh, so that's what you want," he breathed into the silence, his voice so soft it forced Bodie to listen to him. "You've got the...hots for me. Well, well... There's a thing. Turn you...on, do I?" His eyes were wide and deceptively innocent. "Is that what this...has all been about? Blame me for making you feel like this, do you?" He nodded wisely, answering, answering himself. "Yeah, of course you do."

Bodie stiffened the moment he began to speak. By now his eyes were dark and wide with shock.

Head tilted, eyes alight with malice, Doyle subjected him to a prolonged survey, making a frank appraisal of his partner's desirability. "I suppose I could...do worse," he conceded. His voice warmed. "I'm glad your attack of the moodies wasn't...over something I'd done. More...what I haven't done. Yet."

He slung his arm over rigid shoulders. "You should've said, flower. There's no need to...be shy. Not with me." He caressed the taut line of Bodie's jaw with the back of his hand. "Nice skin," he noted.

Bodie's face tightened.

"I bet you feel...good all over. Find out later," Doyle promised, smiling again. The attempt would have convinced no one but his partner.

Bodie was braced against the wall, staring impassively over Doyle's shoulder. Every inch of him prickled with the longing to reach out, to believe Doyle could need what he needed and want what he wanted.

Every sense fine-tuned, Doyle read his expression with ease. "Don't you even want...to sample the goods?" he murmured, his lips almost touching Bodie's ear, his hair a silky caress against the stark-angled face. "Or am I...going a bit fast...for you?"

Easing himself closer to the man trapped against the wall, he linked his hands behind the strong neck, his fingers teasing through Bodie's hair. His lips parting, he smiled invitingly into the unblinking eyes that could no longer pretend to ignore him. His bathrobe fell open.

Bodie's shifting gaze and increased tension acknowledged the fact.

"That's better," approved Doyle. "You can see...what you're getting now." Stretching a little, he flaunted his near nakedness, arching into his partner's body, his pelvis grazing the soft swelling at Bodie's trouser-covered groin.

Swallowing, Bodie tried to deny this assault on his senses. The scent, touch and sight of him; the breath warm on his cheek, mouth so temptingly close. All he had ever wanted.

Doyle gave a lazy smile of satisfaction, his expression softening. "It feels good, doesn't...it. Yeah. Knew you'd like it. I've got a...lot you'll like." Uncoiling, he rubbed himself against hardening flesh.

"Don't," croaked Bodie. All he had ever wanted. But never like this.

His hands flattened against the wall he shook his head, trying to deny his leaping physical response, the seductive half-promise in Doyle's voice tearing into him. He didn't attempt to deny the truth. What would be the point with his skin alive to every touch and his closely confined erection a dull misery. Any sweetness in the moment had been wiped out by Doyle's blatant provocation and malicious use of his own body.

He turned to escape and was restrained. Only the wall and press of Doyle's body holding him upright, Bodie was shaking beyond hope of concealment now.

"No? Why? Ah, not enough for you...is that it? That's all right. I can do...better than that. It's been a bit one-sided...so far. I hoped you'd - Never mind." The luminous eyes were lit with a sparkling malice. "I know you can be a bit slow off...the mark. Don't tell me you need a bloody diagram?" Doyle's hand snaked down, his fingers hard as they assessed the straining definition of Bodie's sex.

"Ah. So that's what you...want," he whispered, willing himself not to respond to the tearing hurt on Bodie's face. His hand slid between shirt and cords to unfasten the button at the waist, teasing the zip down, his fingertips brushing the tender skin of the belly. He could feel Bodie trembling.

"Oh, yeah, this is what you...want, all right."

Timing his moment to perfection, Doyle parted the cords. As he eased down the briefs, freeing Bodie's urgent flesh, his contemptuous gaze was as clear and cold as glass.

Lost beyond hope of redemption, Bodie's felt his pelvis thrust forward involuntarily to meet the warm hands so tantalisingly close. "Ray?"

Doyle's throat closed. No one should have to beg like that, should be made to look like this. "You want this?" he breathed.

"Ray, please."

That was it. Without warning, Doyle released him, stepping back a pace. "Sorry, mate. Not my scene," he explained with harsh unconcern, spurious warmth gone from his face.

Holding Bodie's stricken gaze, he slid the bathrobe open again, open-palmed hand moving in a sensuous sweep over his own warm flesh, pausing at nipple, navel, flank; sliding further, the knowing fingers pleasured his own quiescent flesh in a sensuous travesty of a caress.

Rousing heavy-eyed from his seeming absorption with self, Doyle met the anguished hunger in Bodie's face unmoved. "Thought this was...for you, did you? Not a chance, mate. You want it, you...go out and pay for it." Retying the robe, he turned away.

For one terrible moment he thought it had all been for nothing.

"You bastard!"

The side of Bodie's clenched fist caught him high on his already flawed cheekbone. Even braced for some reaction, the impact spun Doyle spun away into the wall at the impact.

Breathing in harsh bursts, blind with the pain of his loss, Bodie folded his arms around himself, trying to contain the hurt.

"You think it's down to a quick fuck? You think it's that simple? I wish you were right. You think I'm proud of the fact I could get so warped inside from loving you that I damn nearly killed you? You think it was my choice? Christ, do you?" His emotion-thickened voice was barely comprehensible.

Doyle tried to smile, his mouth wavering, his expression incredibly changed. "That's it. Let go."

The words in themselves made no sense to Bodie. The wealth of love in that warm, roughened voice slipped through his defensive rage, destroying it. Splayed fingers cramped against the wall, Bodie stared aghast from the newly marked face to the bruised throat.

"I - I did that?" he stammered.

"Oh yeah. Feel better now?"

That soft enquiry added the last intolerable straw.

"Oh, god."

Catapulted from sterile detachment to this, Bodie had neither defences nor controls left, no choice but to accept the grief clawing through him.

The release of tears had never been his before. Torn by conflicting passions which had but one source, they came of their own volition, drowning his burning eyes, scalding throat and nasal passages. But by that time, huddled on the floor, he was already held close against soft towelling, wrapped in the warmth of Doyle's arms.

"That's it. Let go. All the hurting...let it go."

Beyond denying anything now, Bodie burrowed unquestioningly into the offered sanctuary, his hands cramped over the robe and the reassuring solidity of warm flesh beneath. The tearing sounds of his grief shook their entwined figures.

His own face wet for what he'd had to do, taking the blame into himself for the storm tearing his partner apart, Doyle held onto Bodie with a fierce protectiveness. Rocking the grief-racked figure, he whispered husky reassurances. That it was all right to let go and release the years of buried hurts, forgotten until now. All right, all right. Everything was going to be all right.

One hand gentle at the nape of Bodie's neck, his other arm was still encircling Bodie's back when the last sound had died away, remained there even after the shuddering hiccuping gasps for air had ceased.

Bodie's breathing deepened as, limp with exhaustion, he relaxed, the weight of his head increased, his hot face still pressed into the hollow of Doyle's shoulder.

Only when he opened swollen eyelids did Bodie realise he must have fallen into an exhausted doze. The incongruity of it made him give a faint smile, eyes closing again as he soaked up the loving warmth enfolding him. For once he was content to draw on someone else's strength, recognising the pleasure in trusting himself totally to someone else.

To love and to cherish, he thought blankly, before he smiled. Maybe there was something to be said for the old cliches after all.

He stirred then, lifting his head from its comfortable resting place, his ravaged face revealing the toll the last few hours had taken. But his eyes were serene, a small smile of rueful amusement tugging at the corners of his mouth.

"I can't remember ever doing that before. Crying, I mean. I fell asleep," he added inconsequently, wanting to share his amusement at the strangeness of it all. Unconsciously his thumbs stroked along Doyle's collar bones.

So easy, he marvelled. So bloody easy.

Scoured clean of guilt, accepting that his strengths and weaknesses were no worse or better than anyone else's, his calm was one of contentment, happiness beginning to stir slowly to life. How could he have been so blind? Ray loved him. He didn't need to hear the conviction provided by words again, not when Ray could look at him like this. Not when he could do what he had done. For only love could have made anyone take the emotional risk Ray had taken. There was no point in wishing his own behaviour had could have been different. That was over, done with. Sometimes stupidity was its own reward.

All that cool independence given to his care.

His thoughts meandering in a contented daze, Bodie's eyes refocused his eyes as a hand touched his cheek, wiping away residual dampness with shaking fingers.

"I thought you...must have dozed off. Feel better now?"

His eyes crinkling at the corners as he smiled, Bodie nodded. "Better now," he agreed, a warm wave of love sweeping over him as he saw the tension drain from Doyle's face. "Wouldn't be, if you hadn't done what you did. Love you, Ray." His smile was unselfconsciously tender. Horrified, he watched the green eyes become too bright, Doyle's face crumple, child-like.

"What is it? Tell me. What did I say, Ray? Don't - Please don't cry." But it was too late, and this time it was Bodie who held his partner.

Trying to catch his breath, rubbing his tear wet face wordlessly against Bodie's, Doyle just shook his head. There was no place for self-hatred now. It had been necessary to break Bodie and he had done it. He had not dared to think beyond that.

He gave a determined sniff. He wouldn't wallow in guilt, reliving the sound of his own voice. Wouldn't. There'd been too much hurting, too much raw emotion. And he was so tired, wanting - craving - a time of quiet, a chance to share a little tenderness. Spent, there was he had no room in him for passion.

"It's nothing," he mumbled thickly, drying his face with the back of his hand. "Relief. Was so scared I wouldn't be able to reach you. Love you, Bodie. Should have...told you. Been so bloody long...loving you." Then he was hugging Bodie with a fierceness that disregarded cracked ribs and exhaustion.

A moment later Bodie's mouth found his.

The tenderness was no longer a surprise. Lost in the sweetness of Bodie's mouth, Doyle's last hazy thought was that he had been wrong. There was room for passion after all - and much, much more.

Bodie tangled his fingers in Doyle's hair, cradling the skull beneath between his palms, Bodie's mouth touched and tasted Doyle's face, missing nothing: the tender skin at the temple, damp and moist with sweat; a salty eyelid; a bruised cheek and the abrasive scrap of stubbled skin below the hollow of the cheekbone. His eyes impossibly blue, he smiled.

"The mess we've made of this, I don't see how we can go wrong now," he said. His unshakeable confidence was undented by the jaw-breaking yawn that overtook him.

Only half-convinced this new calm wasn't just some cruel dream come to mock him, Doyle nodded, needing to believe that.

Cramped in an uncomfortable knot of arms and legs, unsteady with fatigue, Bodie released him, offering a drowsy, uncomplicated smile of great sweetness.

"We're too tired to talk now. Let's go to bed, Ray."

Doyle nodded again, his fingers drifting up the smooth skin of Bodie's neck to rest over the large artery, smiling with approval as he felt the steady pulse affirming Bodie's existence beneath his hand. He stroked the warm flesh.

"Yeah, let's go to bed," he agreed, leaning forward to place his mouth to the corner of Bodie's, offering a fleeting, insubstantial caress before untangling his legs and rising stiffly to his feet.

They must have been sitting here for - But he wasn't going to think about that. Not now.

One hand on Doyle's shoulder, the other going to the spearing protest in his side, Bodie swayed as Doyle helped him up. Then he found Doyle's hand, holding it lightly, as if his question were of little importance.

"Will you come to bed with me tomorrow night, too?"

Recognising the untypical diffidence in Bodie's manner, Doyle's eyes softened, his fingers tightening around Bodie's. "No need to make it easy for me, sunshine. I'll come to bed with...you tomorrow, next day week, month - "

" - year," supplied Bodie, his face alight. "I get the picture. And it's not," he explained happily, "that I'm not enjoying hearing you say it. Just that I'll enjoy it even more when you sound like you again."

It was his first voluntary reference he had made to what had happened since he had regained his memory. He'd come to terms with it, and his face was unshadowed as he accepted what he had done. Knowing why made all the difference.

"It won't take long," Doyle confirmed, his answering smile equally uncomplicated, "so you'd better make the most of it." But his smile had faded by the time he had helped his partner to undress again.

In pain from his ribs Bodie was almost out on his feet. For all that, his eyes never left Doyle as he watched the robe being shrugged off. Unaware that he was being watched, Doyle rubbed a tired hand through his hair, stretching unselfconsciously in the pool of light cast by the bedside lamp.

Beautiful, Bodie thought and smiled again, finding it difficult to stop.

"I've no objections to you undressing me all the time," he complained sleepily as he eased further under the duvet, "but it'll be more fun when I can do the same for you."

"You'll be able to soon," Doyle comforted him, but he made no attempt to join Bodie in bed.

"You'll be more comfortable if you try sleeping lying down rather than standing up," Bodie said, when Ray showed no signs of getting into bed but just stood there, looking down at him. He extended a hand in open invitation.

Frowning a little, Doyle shook his head. "I'll take the sofa...tonight. Your ribs," he explained economically.

"Are fine now I'm lying down. Please, Ray. Want to feel you next to me when I wake up," he pleaded shamelessly. He gave a triumphant grin when Doyle's expression softened and he eased himself into the bed beside him.

Lying on his back, careful to remain on the edge of the bed, Doyle turned his head to give his partner a look of severity. "And you needn't think that...little trick's going to work every...time. You should've been a con man, you should."

"Buy a used car from me, would you?" enquired Bodie, unrepentant.

"I'd buy anything you were selling." A finger traced down the curve of Bodie's cheek. "Sleep tight, sunshine." The light was clicked off.

Sinking into sleep, feeling very safe and cared for, Bodie's weighted lids stirred as he became aware that something was wrong. It did not take long to place the source of his indefinable unease.

He stared drowsily out into the darkness, feeling the warmth so close yet so distant from him,. Doyle's tension was an almost palpable entity lying between them. Reluctantly Bodie's brain chugged back to life.

What was worrying him now? Ray always had been the broody one. In all fairness Bodie was prepared to concede that their problems weren't over yet; he just didn't have the energy to deal with them tonight. But Ray wasn't likely to get much sleep lying like that.

After their recent emotional excesses he defied anyone to have any libido left, so lover's nuts weren't the problem. Maybe Ray was just a bit nervous? Bodie gave a slow smile into the darkness. Nerves, from an uninhibited sensualist like Ray Doyle? Besides, he'd seen the drugged, hazy glow in Ray's eyes. He recognised that look and it had nothing to do with nerves. So what was the problem? He'd already told Ray his ribs were fine.

"You'll fall out of bed altogether if you don't come a bit closer," he announced sleepily. "There's loads of room."

Doyle moved all of an inch towards him.

Bodie watched the tense, shadowy profile, the taut line of the throat and the unnatural stillness of the rigid body beneath the duvet. Daft bugger, he thought with affectionate exasperation, having isolated what the trouble must be.

As Ray had said, he was the one who went in for the soul searching. If he knew his partner, Ray was lying there busily hating himself for something he had loathed doing. He had no reason to blame himself for anything.

Now all he had to do was convince Ray of that.

"No more guilt trips, Ray," he said quietly into the darkness, hearing Doyle's indrawn breath. "Yeah, I thought that might be it. You daft sod. Don't, not over what you had to do. There's been too much hurting. It'd be nice if we could have a cuddle instead," he added wistfully.

Tentatively reaching out, Bodie entwined his fingers with Doyle's but he made no attempt to do anything else, uncertain if his sometimes aloof partner would even want this. Before he could further debate the matter Bodie felt the mattress dip as Doyle slid closer, rolling onto his side to offer the warm press of his body.

"You...sure?" a shaky voice asked in his ear.

Bodie drew Doyle's arm high over his ribcage. He swallowed the ridiculous lump that formed in his throat when he realised his independent partner craved this reassurance even more than he did. It was then that Bodie's last preconceived notion slid away.

"I'm positive," he mumbled belatedly.

"I can feel that." The hoarse voice was threaded with amusement now. "No, stay...still."

There was a slither of bedclothes and Bodie found the length of his body cradled against a curving warmth that accommodated itself to his contours. It felt wonderful, the unaccustomed line of flesh, bone and muscle already seeming familiar. Giving a contented sound somewhere between a snort and a sigh, Bodie drifted on a drowsy wave of physical sensation - the soft brush of body hair tickling his spine, the tender press of genitals against the curve of his buttocks, even the sharp knee-cap and thin-fleshed ankle providing a welcome point of contact.

"That's better," he confirmed happily, knowing he must be lost to be made happy by the thought of Ray's knees. Inhaling the scent of apples from the hair brushing his neck Bodie fell asleep almost immediately.

Doyle gently rubbed his cheek against a relaxed shoulder. "Yeah, I know it...is, sunshine," he whispered to his sleeping partner. But he made no attempt to sleep himself.

The heat generated by their entwined bodies and the split second of shock at the unfamiliar contours beneath him woke Bodie. Blinking, he found the room brilliant with winter sunshine and himself cushioned almost entirely on his partner. Seeing the signs of consciousness, Doyle smiled.

"Morning," Bodie mumbled finally, his gaze sliding away from the wide open eyes only inches from his own. He felt ridiculously afraid that last night had been another dream and was terrified to move in case he woke up.

"I can see you're going to be...a real bundle of laughs first thing in the mornings," Doyle told him. His hand lightly brushed Bodie's sleep-flushed face, offering an undeniable proof that Bodie was awake.

No dream then. 'Mornings', continuity, Ray Doyle.

Bodie smiled.

"That's better," Doyle approved.

Bodie stirred but his sluggish attempt to move from his warm cushion was halted by the firm, warm pressure in the small of his back.

"Stay put. You want...pills for those ribs?" Doyle began to cough, the harsh spasm jolting them both. But he made no effort to release his partner.

"I can hardly feel them," said Bodie with truth, inhaling the warm sleepy scent of Ray Doyle. "Just don't want to squash you. You sound better. Your voice is stronger."

"I feel marvellous," Doyle announced hugging Bodie to him, his hands slowly learning the muscled contours of back and buttocks. "Comfortable?" he inquired, with a trace of mischief.

"Mmm. Don't stop."

The breathy request against his throat made Doyle smile again, forgetting the cramping discomfort that had set in soon after Bodie had wrapped himself over and around him.

As if picking up on the thought, Bodie stirred. "But you can't be. The way your hip bone's sticking into me I dread to think what I must be doing to you. Anyway, you shouldn't be talking."

A restraining hand cupped the nape of his neck.

"Stay put," Doyle repeated. "I'm fine. I like holding you, touching you." His hand swept extravagantly down Bodie's spine; starved of touch, Doyle couldn't stop touching him.

Bodie gave a sleek stretch, muscles rippling under Doyle's hand. "I would never have guessed. But I'm not getting chewed out by Cowley for letting you talk yourself hoarse just so you can tell me how marvellous I feel."

"But you do."

Off-guard, Bodie gaped at his partner.

Doyle just gave him a grin of confirmation.

"I'm looking forward to finding out if you do," Bodie announced, aplomb recovered.

His mouth found the unmarked hollow beneath the worst of Doyle's bruises and he licked the warm, salt-tasting flesh with lingering pleasure. Then, taking some of his weight onto his elbows, Bodie stared down into serene green eyes, half shy when he recognised the open tenderness in the usually cool mocking gaze.

"Am I getting as slushy as you, or did you catch it from me in the first place?" he asked eventually, cool deserting him.

"I expect it was your fault," Doyle told him, not troubling to refute the accusation.

Remembering the accommodating body that had moved with him every time he stirred and the pain from his ribs woke him in the night, the drifting caresses that had gentled him back to sleep, Bodie identified the clear signs of exhaustion on Doyle's stubble-shadowed face.

"Did you get any sleep last night?" he demanded, running a gentle finger around the bruised looking skin beneath one eye.

"Not a lot," Doyle conceded, realising it would be pointless to try and to pretend otherwise.

Bodie planted a light kiss on his nose. "Definitely slushy," he confirmed, rolling clear of his partner with reluctance. Doyle gave an unconscious grimace as he stretched and cramped muscles protested.

"Quite comfortable, eh? You're a rotten liar," Bodie accused, rubbing his hand over Doyle. The caresses did little to help the cramp but otherwise brought pleasure to them both. "What am I going to do with you?"

Lying on his side Doyle thrust gently against Bodie's palm. "I know what I'd like you to do," he said with a trace of wistfulness. He gave an impatient sigh and pushed the duvet back. "That's better," he said approvingly. "I like to see...what I'm doing."

"The way things are going, you'll be doing me any time now. You reckon we've got the strength?" Bodie added even as he felt the familiar tingling awareness tightening in the pit of his belly. "On the other hand, why should you have all the fun," he murmured. His ribs severely restricting his enthusiasm, he crooked a leg over a wiry thigh, locking them belly to belly, and moved infinitesimally.

A breathless chuckle echoed in his ear. "We're doing all...right so far." Doyle's hand spread to encompass a muscled buttock, pressing them tight against each other, fingertips teasing down the tautly defined cleft in tiny caresses that increased the slow pulse stirring against his thigh.

"You ever...done this before?" he asked idly.

Bodie raised heavy lidded eyes from the small rose-brown nipple he had been investigating and shook his head. "You?" he asked hopefully.

"Nah. Never mind." Doyle gave a philosophical sigh. "I expect we'll be able to work...something out between us."

Bodie was still smiling ten minutes later as he staggered leaden-limbed back from the bathroom, one hand pressed to his aching ribs. "'Work something out,'" he echoed, trying to sound scathing as he crawled back into bed. "Bloody 'ell, Ray."

Doyle's head turned lethargically on the pillow, his smoky eyes still looking dazed. "Yeah," he drawled with a complacency which Bodie might have found nauseating in other circumstances.

Easing himself back on to the ruin of the bed, Bodie slung a lazy possessive arm over the flat belly that was slick with sweat, the soft line of hair slightly sticky. He idly curled a strand of hair around his finger. "I wasn't expecting fireworks," he mused. "Suppose it was just natural talent."

Smoothing his partner's ruffled hair Doyle nodded. "Immodest bugger."

"Fireworks aren't the most important thing though," said Bodie, persevering.


There was a small pause.

His expression pensive Doyle withdrew his hand. "Listen, Bodie, I..." His voice trailed away.


Doyle pulled a face and shrugged. "Not important."

Bodie labouriously pushed himself up, prepared to humour his mate. "Come off it, Ray. I know that tone of voice. What's up?" The word 'now' hung unvoiced.

Sitting up beside to him, Doyle watched him gravely. "That's just it," he said with sudden impatience. "It drives you nuts when...I want to talk things out, doesn't it?"

Bodie's mouth quirked as he watched the averted profile. Here we go, he thought, resigned.

"The word is 'wallow', mate, and no it doesn't. Well, not any more. I've had years to get used to it. I can almost predict when you're going to start up, let alone what the topic will be. Shut up, I'm talking," he added firmly.

Doyle's indignantly opened mouth closed on a croak of sound.

"Blimey, this won't last," Bodie sighed, beginning to believe in miracles.

Doyle nudge him gently on the undamaged side of his rib cage.

Grinning, Bodie slung an arm around his partner's shoulders. "I've got used to your guilt trips over the years. I think I'd miss 'em," he admitted, his eyes crinkling as he smiled. "But if this one's about what you said and did yesterday, forget it. I don't want to hear it. I behaved like a prat and you came on like Ghengis Khan - which is why you're being so bloody humble now, I suppose. Well you can pack that in right now. It doesn't suit you. Besides, I like you just the way nature intended - arrogant, bloody-minded and irritating. Still, we won't get bored together," he added reflectively.

His forearms resting over his knees, Doyle stared at his hands. "I didn't mean what I said...yesterday, you know. Any of it." He needed to tell Bodie that, wanting there to be no possible doubt.

"I wonder about you sometimes, mate," Bodie said severely, just before he yanked Doyle unceremoniously closer, gave him a quick hard kiss and released him before enthusiasm got them sidetracked. "I know you didn't. Now will you just pack it in? If you start apologising I'll start feeling guilty all over again - seeing that it was my fault for being so bloody insecure I had that screwball dream. We'll end up going round in circles of guilt for months, probably end up at each other's jugulars. This time one of us might make a success of it," he added, one finger stroking Doyle's bruised throat.

"You want that?" he demanded of the down bent head. "Of course you don't," he answered himself. "Anyway, this works two ways."

"What does?" Having lost the thread of this conversation, Doyle studied his partner's face.

"Well, perfect as I am, I must do a lot of things that annoy you. You always have been an intolerant little sod," Bodie added mendaciously. If that didn't sidetrack Ray nothing would.

"Yeah, you - " Open surprise overtook righteous indignation. "You're not going...to believe this."

"No need to sound so mournful. What won't I believe?"

"I can't think of...anything you do that I can't put up with," Doyle said, gloomily surprised. "It must be love."

Bodie ruffled his hair. "We already knew that. Don't sound so happy about it."

Doyle gave an unexpected grin. "Oh, I'm happy about it," he confirmed with no hesitation at all. "It's just - It all this seems...a bit too easy. You and me and...unwedded bliss."

"I'd marry you if I could," Bodie told him, serious now.

"I would too," Doyle conceded flippantly, frowning immediately he'd said it. "See, that's my trouble. You and me, we're...different."

"Oh, you'd noticed?"

"Will you just - be serious...for a moment," demanded Doyle, exasperated with Bodie as well as with himself now. "I don't know if - I can't see us being able to make a go of it."

"Ah." Bodie's face revealed nothing of what he was feeling. Head bent, he picked at a loose thread on the duvet, giving it his undivided attention. "Why?"

"Because - What do you mean 'why'? Stop...burying your head in the sand. I can think of a hundred different things that could go wrong between us," said Doyle angrily.


"Like now," said Doyle with what patience he could find. "You wanting to take it for granted, pretend...it'll be easy. You live from day to day. I don't know if...I can do that, about us."

"You could try," Bodie pointed out gently, knowing what Ray was trying to tell him. "In our line of work we have to take each day as it comes. We can't predict what'll happen next week, never mind a year from now. We might both be dead by then, or just one of us."

Doyle's head shot up, eyes wide.

"We both know that could happen, any time," Bodie continued.

"Equally, we could...both live to be ninety," croaked Doyle, his glare that of a man defying the fates. "Right now you're...making the old age pension seem an attractive proposition." He laid one hand on the nape of Bodie's neck, his thumb absently caressing the soft skin behind the ear.

"Don't get me wrong, I want that. I just don't expect it. Which is why I try to live from day to day. And I'd like to spend them all with you, one way and another. I can't see that changing, I've felt like that for too long. I'm not saying it'll be easy but why try and make things more complicated?" Bodie gave a faint sigh. "You can leave that to other people."

Doyle turned. "What have other people...got to do with us?"

Bodie shook his head, resisting the impulse to hug his partner to him. Ray could be so -

"If we do start living together, people are going to notice. Cowley for one," Bodie pointed out.

Chilled by the qualification in the word 'if', Doyle was slow to respond.

"So?" he said, relying on belligerence to cover for him. "We can manage...Cowley. The rest of them will...get over the novelty."

"I know that. I thought you were the one having doubts." Bodie resolved to leave Cowley for Ray to cope with. "Are you sure you're awake? You're not making much sense at the moment. I mean, I know you've got doubts. You think I haven't? They just don't seem very important when I think about the alternative."

"What alternative?" Doyle said with suspicion.

"Well, if you don't think we can handle this, what do you suggest we do? I suppose we could try to pretend we're nothing but partners and watch each other try and find someone else to fill the gap that's left in our lives."

"Bugger that," snapped Doyle forcefully, his hands grasping Bodie's shoulders as he glared into guileless blue eyes. "We'll bloody make it," he insisted. "Unless you want to go back to the way things were?" Even as he spoke he was bearing Bodie down into the mattress.

Before Bodie could reply his opening mouth was invaded, the hard press of Ray Doyle all about him, disregarding broken ribs, doubts and any thoughts Bodie might wish to offer.

Seeing the determination in the slitted eyes Bodie subdued a smile. He'd always let Ray get away with murder and he couldn't see that changing - much. The best of it was that he knew that in years to come Ray would still be reminding him of the morning when he'd had to convince Bodie they could make a go of it.

His face flushed, his mouth looking swollen, Doyle lifted his head, a rueful smile in his eyes as he studied the man captive beneath him. "You're a manipulative...bugger, aren't you," he said conversationally, belatedly recognising what Bodie had done. "It worked too. Here's to tomorrow." He bent to tongue the sweat from Bodie's upper lip by way of a toast to the future.

"I thought I was being quite subtle," said Bodie, mildly disappointed that he wasn't going to be ravished on the spot.

"That's in character," said Doyle lovingly. He shifted with remorseful speed when Bodie yelped as his damaged ribs protested. "Sorry."

"You're forgiven. I dunno, what with my charm and your silver tongue, we make a lovely pair," said Bodie contentedly. "Hey, where are you going?" he asked, aggrieved.

"To take a leak, then to...make us breakfast. I'm starving," Doyle said, just before he disappeared into the bathroom.

"But what about me lying here full of unfulfilled longings?" Bodie asked with a touch of pathos when Doyle reappeared a few moments later.

"Ah." He received an unsympathetic grin as Doyle padded across the room to where he lay. Leaning over, Doyle planted a nuzzling caress on his quiescent cock, gave it a fond pat and then pulled the duvet firmly up to Bodie's shoulders.

"Longings is about all...we've got the strength for. Better make it eggs...and bacon for breakfast. You'll need...all the protein you can get."

"I'd rather have you," said Bodie, ever the optimist.

Kneeling on the mattress over him, Doyle captured Bodie's head between his palms. "I know. The trouble is sunshine, I...don't think either of us is up to it."

No one should taste that good before they'd cleaned their teeth, Bodie decided. His mouth reluctantly parted from Doyle's because kissing Ray seemed to require all his attention and he had run out of air.

"Bet me?" he challenged.

Doyle retreated to pull on jeans and a tee shirt. "If you're well enough...to bet, you can come and help...make breakfast."

Bodie was still offering half-hearted protests as he trailed after his partner. But he was sufficiently mellowed by their meal to start washing up without a word of argument.

-- THE END --

Written November 1983
Revised edition published in HG Collected 1, Doghouse Press, 2000

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