The explosion was a pyromaniac's wet-dream, lighting up the small underground car park before it began to rain fragments of hot metal and shreds of dead arms dealer.
Buffeted by the shock waves of noise which reverberated from pillar to low ceiling, bouncing off the graffiti-covered walls and cement floor, a furnace blast of heat seemed to lick over Doyle. His cheek pressed into the greasy residue left by innumerable cars, it was some time before he thought of moving, grateful for the solidity of the floor beneath him.
Gradually numbed senses twitched back to life. His sense of smell returned first and he swallowed a mouthful of saliva with determination, trying to breathe through his mouth. It would have been a relief to disperse with the necessity altogether, the stench disgustingly familiar.
His head ringing, other minor discomforts began to make their presence felt, the right side of his body and face smarting fiercely from his skidding impact with unyielding concrete. He tried to move and realised the weight grinding him against the floor and impeding his breathing was human. A rush of adrenalin kick-started before it dawned on him that the out-flung arm in his line of vision wore Bodie's jacket, not his own. The scraped, filthy fingers, shorter than his own, moved, and a heart was beating against his shoulder, the strong lub-dub echoing through his own body. Relief sweeping through him, Doyle remembered to breath again.
Through the echoing roar in his ears new sounds drew closer: sirens. Beneath their clarion call an achingly familiar voice sharpened to audibility as it repeated his name. Doyle mumbled a protest as the weight over him increased for a moment, before it vanished altogether and he was abruptly rolled onto his back.
"Doyle! Dammit, Ray, say something!" Streaked with greasy smuts, Bodie's expression was savage.
Pushing away the man filling his horizon, Doyle gave a grin of sheer relief. They had survived to fight another day - each other if they couldn't find worthier prey.
He covered the hand clenched over a portion of his ruined jacket. "No need to shout, mate. I presume you are shouting," Doyle added hoarsely, "only everything's ringing a bit." He gestured to his ears.
"I'll give you ringing." Crouched over his partner, Bodie sank back onto his heels, his wrists dangling over his knees, both of which were bloodied, before he made a swiping gesture in the direction of Doyle's head. "You scared the shit out of me lying doggo." As he rubbed his face, his hand visibly shook, a lingering horror in his eyes.
"I scared you. You could've given yourself a hernia grabbing me like that."
Doyle gestured beyond the pillar, which had protected them from the brunt of the blast, to the remnants of the BMW they had been only feet from. If Bodie hadn't stooped to pick up the packet of chewing gum he had dropped, he wouldn't have seen whatever it was that gave him scant seconds warning. Cooper had been opening the car as Bodie yelled and somehow propelled Doyle to safety before diving on top of him. In fact that's probably where most of my injuries came from, Doyle realised, rubbing a couple of sore spots.
"That was some explosion," he offered, one hand on Bodie's thigh because he needed physical proof that he was all right.
"Bang goes our lead," Bodie agreed, but the effort he made to achieve his usual black-humoured disregard for good-taste was perceptible, Bodie looking more shaken than Doyle could remember seeing him.
Even the stench of roasted meat could not quench Doyle's euphoria at being alive. Blast-induced trauma, recognised a detached portion of his brain. Another noticed how the oil-slick once white cotton shirt Bodie wore clung to his nipples, and Doyle felt a familiar tingling ache. He hugged his knees to his chest, in no hurry to get to his feet and advertise his hard-on to the world.
Have to start wearing black, he thought, bleakly amused by his timing, having seen too much violent death to regard it as the ultimate climax.
"I'm glad you can find something funny about this," said Bodie acidly, righting himself as the first police patrol car swept into view. "We're going to need all the laughs we can get. Cowley's bound to blame us."
"He wasn't keen on this meeting with Cooper," Doyle agreed, rubbing his ears in the hope that he would no longer feel as if he was listening to the world through a bucket of water.
"Nor were you. I hadn't forgotten." Bodie's voice was bitter.
Doyle's eyes widened. "Was Cooper an old mate of yours?" he asked carefully.
"Cooper was a scum-bag who deserved all he got." Bodie stalked off towards the patrol car which had screeched to a halt at the entrance to the car park. Sighing, Doyle went over to do his bit, and there was no more time to ponder the fear he had seen in Bodie's eyes.
Nervy as a whippet with the adrenalin yet to disperse, his minor injuries beginning to stiffen, Doyle looked up with open relief when he saw Cowley arrive. Between calming the police down and keeping Bodie off their backs, while sorting out the various emergency services, he was knackered, his one desire to get out of this hell-hole and into some fresh air.
His fierce blue gaze travelling around the area, Cowley's taut facial muscles revealed the same disgust everyone felt at the reminder of the vulnerability of the human body. "Do you need immediate medical attention?" he demanded.
Doyle shook his head. "Though you might have to speak up a bit," he said, unaware that his voice was pitched louder than usual.
"I'll debrief you outside. I've some coffee in my car. You both look like you could do with some," remarked Cowley, limping away, after another glance at the so far silent Bodie.
Uncomfortably aware of the assessing clarity of Cowley's unwavering stare, Doyle gave their report while sipping coffee from Cowley's thermos, wondering how much oil he was leaving on the back seat of the Rover.
Tense and silent unless directly addressed, Bodie made no attempt to join in. Taking a cup of coffee, some slopped onto his filthy cords, but he gave no sign of noticing the heat of the liquid.
Continuing his report to Cowley, Doyle matter of factly edged closer, offering the reassurance of body heat and human contact.
"It was a near thing," he added to Cowley. "Sheer luck we're still here."
"I don't like relying on luck. I like mysteries even less." Cowley's gaze travelled from Bodie to Doyle and back again. "Get yourselves to Casualty. If they clear you take forty-eight hours off, if not, we'll speak again. Anson will follow up from here. The number of people wanting to get rid of Cooper are legion."
"Unless it was meant for one of us," said Bodie, his entrance into the conversation taking both men by surprise.
"Word is Cooper pulled on fast one on the Iranians with his last shipment of arms," pointed out Doyle. "Not a clever move." Worried by his partner's untypical behaviour, he wished Cowley would let them go so he could out whatever was bothering Bodie. It did not occur to him to question his certainty that he would be capable of doing so.
"Agreed," Cowley said. "Bodie?"
"Sorry, sir. I heard you, just. I'm still hearing heavenly bells right now."
The severity of Cowley's expression relaxed infinitesimally. "That must be a novelty." But his gaze remained on Bodie for a moment, before turning to Doyle.
He nodded, as if Cowley had voiced the question. "We'll be fine. Shaken but not stirred."
A look of mild pain crossed Cowley's face at the sort of pun he was resigned to hearing from Bodie but expected Doyle to resist, before he called over Ruth Pettifer. "Get them to hospital. If they get the all clear, take them home. They're no use to me like this."
"Thanks," said Doyle ironically, not caring for the way they were being talked over. Glancing to his right for some immoral support, he realised Bodie had not heard the interchange, still slumped in the back of Cowley's car. He had to walk round and open the door before he got Bodie's attention.
After an uncomfortable couple of hours in Casualty, most of which entailed sitting on hard plastic chairs, they were told that time would heal all wounds. The smell of antiseptic was almost strong enough to kill the other scents they carried as Ruth drove them back to Doyle's flat.
"I've got food in," Doyle said, to forestall whatever protest Bodie had been thinking of making.
"I'm not hungry," said Bodie tersely.
"Maybe you aren't at the moment, but you will be. I know you." Doyle pretended not to notice the trapped look on his partner's face.
Stranded on the sofa, Doyle stared at the empty doorway where Bodie had stood a few minutes ago. He hadn't been quite sure what Bodie had said before he left, nothing earth-shattering, he thought, but he was willing to swear he had heard the click of the door closing behind him.
That was the sound which kept re-playing in his head, the sound of the door closing.
Disbelief was slowly turning to anger. That Bodie should walk in, make the place his own, get his rocks off and then leave, as if nothing had happened.
Sinking his head back, rubbing absently at a throbbing scrape on his elbow, Doyle stared blindly at the ceiling as he tried to subdue a growing sense of loss for something which had never been his. The worst part was the confusion: not that he had let himself be submerged, but that he had allowed Bodie to walk out on him afterwards.
No one controls Bodie but Bodie. He goes his own way. It was my mistake to think we had the same destination in mind.
An arm resting on his belly, Doyle could feel the clamminess of skin on skin and his mouth twisted as he tried to wish the images out of his head. He didn't need a re-run. He wasn't likely to forget the sweet shock of skin on naked skin: man-to-man. But he wished he could remember how it had started. Not through him, he could be certain of that much. He had tucked himself inside the closet years ago and hadn't intended to come out, ever. Life was complicated enough as it was.
Gays thought they had it rough. At least they knew which of the fence they stood on, while he straddled it, caught between twin desires. A bisexual had no support groups, attracting flak from both sides. Stupid things labels: black, white, gay, bi, straight... Just people with needs. It would be nice if he could sort his out.
Not that it guaranteed he'd get what he wanted, as today had demonstrated.
Habit had made him ask Ruth to drive them to his flat. They always came to his place to relax after an operation that went sour. Bodie always seemed to prefer it. They needed a bolt-hole; a safe place where they could tuck the fear back where it had to stay, gibbering in the darkness.
Not that they had talked much. Silently touching glasses, they had sat watching the ice melt in the humidity of the July day. One drink had become two, the silence spreading outward, like ripples on the surface of a pond, betraying the seething life within. Awareness had thickened the atmosphere until it seemed impossible that the silence could be safely broken.
Even with Bodie sitting on the armchair opposite, the loneliness had been too much, until Doyle had looked up and recognised the intensity of emotion in those fierce, frightened eyes.
Quite when the pain had become heat, Doyle couldn't be sure; his only certainty was that Bodie had made the first move.
It hadn't been at all like Doyle's fantasies. He hadn't been prepared for the care and tenderness of that first hesitant kiss, their breath mingling; or for Bodie's tongue on him long after they were still, remaining silent as if fearing to break the spell.
He could remember watching Bodie sink back in a boneless sprawl, and had presumed he was dozing until he felt the fingers which stroked the top of his thigh.
Like he was begging me not to say anything. Not that I could.
His ears and head echoing uncomfortably as his hearing slowly improved, Doyle cupped the top of his skull, as if physically trying to hold himself together. Bodie had hardly spoken at all, or not with words. There had been none of the wildness he might have expected, their loving oddly leisurely at first, as if they were lovers of long-standing, familiar in the ways of pleasing one another.
The nubbed fabric of the sofa pricking his naked buttocks Doyle shifted a little, until he sat with his hands flat on his thighs, knowing that they, like most of his body, carried Bodie's fingerprints. Rubbing his belly, he discovered the flaking residue of their passion clinging to his skin, proof that he had not been dreaming.
He had still been floating on cloud nine, all of it legal, when Bodie abruptly got up, dressed and left. He hadn't turned round once, not even when Doyle had abandoned pride and asked him to stay.
Fuck it. And fuck Bodie.
Oh sod. Can forget that one.
Stretching out his legs and stubbing his foot, Doyle looked down to see what he had caught his toe against. Not quite believing it, he picked up Bodie's loaded holster. Careless bastard. It seemed symbolic that this should be all Bodie had behind, except for a small, damp patch on one of the cushions. Staring at the stained silk cover, Doyle sank his face into it.
Why did you have to leave? And where do we go from here?
He already knew what would be expected of him, nothing. Situation normal, as they pushed the memories out of sight, if not out of mind. Put it down to too much tension, with too much alcohol on an empty stomach and not enough time for their girlfriends. Forget the blaze of need; the hunger for sweet man-flesh and the troubled spirit it housed. Forget the scent of him, the curve of his swelling cock, the taste of his sweat, the heady, leashed power of him, and the expression on his face when he came.
Raising his heated face, Doyle blindly smoothed the cushion cover, feeling the warmth it had retained from his skin. His index finger traced the small stain, lingering over the spot, as if in that way he could absorb something of his partner. Then he carefully set it back on the sofa.
Instead he remembered the moment when he had recognised the intensity with which Bodie was watching him. Hypnotised, he had just sat there, lost in the other man.
Unable to bear inactivity any more, Doyle stiffly got to his feet and stalked to the shower to wash away the day. The soap and water stung every small scrape and graze gained in the car park. Bodie, less scraped, had acquired numerous cuts and small burns on his legs and back where he had protected Doyle with his own body. It wasn't the first time, it wouldn't be the last: dodging death was a way of life for them. Life in the fast lane with the guarantee of a hell of a bang at the end.
Flexing his neck, Doyle let the water pound the knotted tension in the back of his neck and shoulders. He understood Bodie's fear, understood too well what the job did to him. It was time Bodie stopped pretending he was immune from the load that sometimes became too heavy to carry alone. Sometimes Bodie needed someone to be there for him. Not just in the heat of the action - that was the easy part - but afterwards, when there was nothing but the memory of fear and imagination stubbornly insisted on replaying all that could have gone wrong.
Switching off the water, the silence seemed acute. Water beading his body, trickling down the muscular plane of belly and thigh and dripping from the tip of his cock, Doyle padded, still wet, into the now dark living-room. Staring out of the window, listening to the distant growl of the city at night, his expression tightened as he absorbed his sense his loss, accepting it because he had no choice.
Bodie gave what he could. It wasn't his fault he couldn't give any more. But, christ, it hurt.
The sound of the doorbell woke Doyle from his uneasy sleep. Mumbling an incoherent protest he buried his face deeper in the pillow, conscious enough to know he did not want to wake up.
The noise persisted, intensifying when a fist began to thump on the door.
Dragging himself from the bed and collecting up the damp sheet as it threatened to trip him up, Doyle stumbled to the door. Less than alert, he wrenched it open, careless of who might be calling.
Bodie stood into the doorway, his clenched fist still raised, before it slowly fell to his side. His hair lank and filthy, his eyes were bloodshot, his expression strained. His ruined jacket, shirt and cords were those he had left in, although they looked even more crumpled, as if he had been sitting in too small a space for a long time.
Still sluggish, Doyle just stared at him, not alert enough to feel surprise, too depressed to pretend anger or a welcome he was beyond feeling.
A muscle in Bodie's jaw began to twitch when the silence stretched onwards. "Left my gun and holster behind," he mumbled, with a helpless gesture of his hand, seemingly unaware that his departure had taken place more than four hours before.
"I know. Didn't think you'd need it tonight." Doyle turned away. It was twenty-past-three and he felt like hell. He was too tired to care if the two facts were related.
"Mind if I get it?"
Doyle would have called the tone hesitant in anyone else, but this was Bodie and he felt too emotionally bruised to make any assumptions. "Help yourself. Only do it quietly. I'm knackered." Ignoring the man frozen in the doorway, he turned back to the bedroom and willed himself to stop listening for any signs of what Bodie might be doing.
Trying to regulate his breathing, Doyle centred his consciousness on himself: his body on the mattress, the pillow bunched uncomfortably under his sore ear, and the sheet tangled around his hips. He could hear the shower head dripping in the bathroom and the distant hum of the refrigerator in the kitchen. Accepting those familiar domestic sounds, he still could not sink beneath them, his muscles bunching rather than relaxing. He told himself it was the heat which was making him sweat.
A whisper of sound told him that Bodie must be standing in the doorway. Feeling vulnerable under the microscope, Doyle stubbornly closed his eyes tighter, forgetting that the tense muscles of his back would betray his wakeful state.
"I found my holster," Bodie volunteered, his weight shifting from one foot to the other.
"Good. Close the door on your way out," mumbled Doyle, unmoving.
"Ray." There was naked despair in Bodie's voice.
"Damn it!" Doyle turned, sat up abruptly, and all anger drained from him as he recognised the confusion on his partner's face. "It's OK," he said, wishing he believed it. "It'll all make more sense in the morning."
Back lit from the light spilling in from the hall, the hand Bodie had clenched around the soft leather of his holster tightened before it relaxed. "Can I stay?"
"Course. You know where everything is." Aching with longing, Doyle forced himself to look away. Discipline was supposed to be good for you.
The soft sound of Bodie's holster being hooked over the headboard shot his head up. He watched with disbelief as Bodie slowly began to strip. Pulling off his shoes, his jacket dropped to the floor. Taking off his shirt, he held it absently between his hands, a flicker of uncertainty in his eyes before he dropped it to the floor and unfastened his cords. As Bodie wriggled out of them, Doyle realised he must have left something else behind, because Bodie was naked beneath them. His mouth softened, belatedly realising how shaken Bodie must have been to leave his holster behind.
"It looks like you forgot your knickers as well," he remarked, colour and tone returned to his voice. "Lucky it's a warm night."
Bodie froze. "I shouldn't have gone," he said awkwardly.
"No," agreed Doyle, offering nothing more. If this was to have any chance of working, Bodie had to make his own decisions.
"I lost my nerve. Cut and ran."
"I noticed," said Doyle without bitterness, shifting over on the mattress so that there would be room if Bodie wanted it.
"It's what I do best." It was a clear warning.
"Not on the job you don't. What made you suppose this would be any different? We're the same people."
Bodie made a soft winded sound and sank onto the edge of the bed. He smelt faintly of sweat, oil and fire, and still he made Doyle's mouth water.
"Are we?" Bodie asked.
Bodie's mouth relaxed. "That's certainly true. Then I suppose I must be. Thought you'd show me the door." His voice shook slightly.
"So did I a couple of hours ago. Was royally pissed with you." Doyle made no mention of the hurt, it was irrelevant now.
"I'm not surprised."
"But there are more important things," added Doyle, willing Bodie to look up.
When he did there was resigned affection on his face. "Yes. I didn't think at all," he muttered. "Not when I... I know to hear me talk you'd think I've done it all, but I've got no experience of this, you see." He looked up with a kind of bleak courage, inviting Doyle to share the joke.
"You trying to break it to me that you were a virgin?" teased Doyle gently, unaware of the warmth of his smile, or the fact his hand was lightly circling Bodie's wrist.
"Something like that. This isn't funny, Ray." There was more plaintiveness than hurt in Bodie's voice, before he gave his first grin in a number of hours. "You bastard, you know what I'm trying to say."
"That you never had sex with a bloke until tonight. Is that what's bothering you?" The pulse of Doyle's thumb beat against the pulse of Bodie's wrist.
"Hardly," dismissed Bodie with impatience.
Doyle took comfort from the fact that at least that was not the problem, or at least not yet.
"God knows we've had enough close calls. You'd think I'd be used to it. But today... I came that close to seeing you blown away. This time I was certain our luck was going to run out."
"But it didn't," said Doyle, his grip on Bodie's wrist tightening.
Bodie drew free with a force which must have been painful. "Don't! Don't even joke... Today made me realise."
A thin hand ran up his arm to the curve of his shoulder, gripping and releasing the warm flesh as if Doyle needed to reaffirm his existence. Obscurely comforted, Bodie tried again. "Wasn't thinking about much at all until we got back here. Only how close I'd come to losing you. Then I saw how down you were. And I couldn't reach you. Even with me sitting opposite you, you looked so damn lonely that I... But that's no excuse. I'm old enough to know better."
"You do. Equally you've always had good instincts, and not just for danger. I'm bisexual."
His legs tucked up on the bed by this time, Bodie's fingers traced delicately across Doyle's collar bone, making the links of the silver chain he wore shiver as it resettled, the metal warm and gleaming from its constant contact with Doyle's skin. "That's hardly news considering what happened. So am I, it seems. Thinking about loving you isn't exactly a new thought, you know." Intense concentration on his face, his other hand cupped Doyle's lax penis.
"Bodie?" Feeling himself stir to meet the damp palm, Doyle fell silent and tried to control his breathing, willing his growing erection away because now was not the time.
Astonishment, then sheer pleasure lit Bodie's face as his hand circled what he held more firmly, one finger tracing upwards, learning, before he looked up from his prize. "Anyone would think I'd never held my own cock, wouldn't they," he said, sounding amused. "But knowing I can make this happen... You feel beautiful. Look it too. D'you like - ? Oh yeah, you do."
"Don't!" The protest was dragged out of Doyle, desperation on his face.
Bodie snatched his hand away.
"Don't," Doyle repeated, "it isn't fair." Misery flooding him, he felt an empathy with laboratory animals.
"Sorry, I wasn't thinking," muttered Bodie. "I didn't mean to tease." Unsteady hands cupped Doyle's face, fingers caressing his temples, thumbs his mouth, before Bodie kissed him, taking it slow, giving Doyle plenty of advance warning.
"I'm not looking on you as my personal copy of 'The Joys of Gay Sex'," Bodie said eventually, his fingers massaging the base of Doyle's scalp. "It's just that I want more. Everything. But I don't know how much I can offer. Or for how long. I don't want to hurt you," he added flatly. "You know my track record."
Doyle traced Bodie's profile without touching him. "The same way you know mine. We'll just have to do the best we can, while we can. Tonight we need this. Tomorrow, or next week, or next month we may need something different. When that happens we sort it out, we don't just walk away. Clear?"
Nodding, Bodie's eyes were soft and dark as velvet. "Christ, you do love me, don't you." The wonder of it was in his voice.
Longing for somewhere to hide, Doyle gave an audible swallow. "As you've been telling me for years, what's not to love," he said gruffly, but his wide, unblinking eyes betrayed his fear of rejection.
"Why do you think I came back here tonight? Didn't have any choice, did I. Was nowhere to go without you. I've never felt like this before, so I don't know if it's love or not." Blunt and matter of fact, Bodie said nothing more, waiting.
"Don't look at me, mate. What would I know. We'll work something out, I suppose," Doyle said weakly before he gasped as Bodie encircled him again. "Don't, I can't think," he protested.
"That's what I hoped." Pausing, Bodie met still troubled eyes and was lost. "I know," he repeated softly. "And it's the same for me. Has been for a long time. I just never expected to do anything about it. Wasn't going to risk what we already had. World blowing up in our faces changed my priorities. So neither of us was expecting this. It'll take some adjusting to. I'm a very adaptable bloke." His hand was busy proving that, already moving.
"That's one word for you," Doyle agreed, his hand settling on the dark head bent to him. "You don't have to."
"Don't you believe it," Bodie assured him, just before he kissed Doyle, not on the mouth.
-- THE END --
Completed 29th January 1993
Originally published in No Holds Barred 4, Kathleen Resch, May 1993