"Good god!" said Bodie blankly. Leaning against the front door he had just closed, his fascinated gaze remained fixed on the apparition in front of him. Doyle was almost unrecognisable in a well-cut, light grey suit, highly polished black shoes, a crisp white shirt and a sober claret-coloured tie; the latter was even impeccably knotted.
"Hello to you, too." Doyle's spontaneous smile faded under the disconcerting intensity of Bodie's stare.
"This is you, isn't it?" Bodie asked, finding a grin to cover his confusion.
As if the suit wasn't shock enough, Doyle had gone the whole hog and had a haircut; while not defeated, the normally riotous curls had a chastened look. In the month he had been away Bodie had accepted that absence made the heart grow fonder and the palm hairier but he had not expected such a transformation to the subject of his lust. He wasn't sure if he approved or, more accurately, if he liked the sense of alienation he was experiencing.
"Up yours," growled Doyle, offering a surly, if unconscious, reassurance that nothing of importance had changed.
"Now I know I'm home. You look very...smart," Bodie finished lamely. His stuffed-to-capacity holdall still in one hand, he felt unkempt, unwashed and slow-witted, insecurity stirring.
Doyle flicked the edge of his jacket with a trace of self-consciousness. "It's just the suit. I had to buy one. None of yours fitted properly."
That hadn't, Bodie remembered, ever stopped Doyle from making free with his dinner jacket in the past. He wondered what special event had prompted such untypical extravagance but knew better than to ask outright.
"It's the first time I've seen you in a proper suit, where everything matches."
"Make the most of it. I don't plan to make a habit of this. Cost me a bloody fortune." The complaint lacked heat, Doyle's mind obviously elsewhere.
When Doyle failed to volunteer a reason for his sartorial change Bodie did not press the point. Becoming aware that he was still carrying his holdall, he allowed it to drop to the floor. The thump it made on landing attracted Doyle's attention, halting the hand hovering at the knot of his tie, as if he had been about to unfasten the unfamiliar constriction.
"How long have you been back?" Doyle asked.
"A couple of hours. I had to report straight to the Old Man."
Doyle tensed. "What did Cowley have to say for himself?"
"Not a lot," replied Bodie absently, wondering why they were exchanging formal courtesies in the hall - or anywhere else for that matter. "He already knew the op. had literally blown up in our faces - that'll teach amateurs to mess with Semtex. But it didn't stop him from wasting a good five minutes moaning about the cost of the surveillance. Are you off out?" he added, having understood from the Duty Officer that Doyle was on leave today.
"Sorry. Yes, I am." What looked like genuine regret crossed Doyle's face. "I should be back in a couple of hours or so. Did the Cow give you a hard time?"
"So so. He didn't mellow to the point of giving me a drink, but I don't reckon my pension rights are threatened. Am I boring you?" Bodie added, when he saw the surreptitious glance Doyle flicked at his watch. The scowl he received was its own reassurance.
"A comedian yet. Look, I've got to go. I'm late already. I'll see you back here?"
While to all intents and purposes living together, as far as was possible given the demands of their job and security rating, they had been careful not to take anything for granted. There were times when Bodie thought his partner laboured the point more than was necessary.
"I don't have anything else planned." Something sensed rather than seen made Bodie add, "D'you fancy some company on your trip?"
Doyle paused, then gave a brief shake of his head. "No. But it's great to have you back. I missed you." Drifting a weightless punch to his partner's arm, he eased past him and out of the door. The sound of his rapid descent echoed up the stone stairwell, the bang of a door in the distance confirming he had gone.
"Then why aren't I coming with you?" Bodie asked the silence. Several possible answers occurred to him; because none of them were attractive he closed the door and tried to stop thinking as he went to shower and change. But for the first time in months he felt like an interloper in Doyle's flat.
Doyle had been back almost an hour, during which time he had rejected the idea of a meal, accepted the drink Bodie handed him, and sat hunched with his forearms resting on his thighs as he stared at the carpet.
The silence was neither hostile nor comfortable. While Doyle had lost his look of nervy tension, his unmoving abstraction was not reassuring. Even more worrying, his tie was still fastened, his suit jacket in place. While Bodie fought against burgeoning suspicion, recognising all the signs of depressed guilt when he saw them, Doyle seemed oblivious to his presence.
Turning his half-empty glass between his palms, Bodie alternated his attention between his warming scotch and what little he could see of his partner's pensive face.
"Everything all right, is it?" Bodie asked abruptly, his tone sharper than he knew because he could stand the silence no longer. Absence made or broke many a relationship and theirs was very much a makeshift affair, days sliding into weeks, weeks into months, with anything which might smack of a declaration of intent being avoided.
Looking up, seemingly surprised to find he had company, Doyle's expression was one of bleak unhappiness. "Fine. Everything's just marvellous."
The spell seemingly broken, he got to his feet and began to prowl around the room, shrugging out of his jacket and unbuttoning most of his shirt. Cuffs rolled back to his elbows, he coiled the supple silk of his tie around his fingers before tossing the looped ball onto a chair. The transformation made him a more recognisable figure, the impression heightened when, digging his hands into his trouser pockets, he came to an abrupt halt in front of Bodie, frowning down at him.
"No, everything isn't 'all right'," he said in a rush. "In fact the only thing that is OK is the fact you're back."
"Made your day, did it?"
Recognising the wary expectation of rejection behind the acid rejoinder, Doyle's mouth twisted. "Yes," he said simply, crouching beside Bodie. Unsurprised, he watched his partner's gaze slide away to settle on the square-cut tumbler he was gripping. "Do you plan to finish that?"
"Why, do you want it?" At something of a loss, Bodie held out the glass and found himself caught in an unnerving survey as Doyle took the tumbler from him and set it on the floor, his gaze never wavering.
"All that northern rain must have rotted your brain. Yes, I want something. It isn't like you to be so slow on the uptake."
"No," agreed Bodie, tensing. Ray had found someone else and didn't know how to tell him. He should try and make it easy for him. Numb, he lost the capacity for thought, waiting for the ax to fall.
Giving a faint sigh, Doyle's expression relaxed as he soothingly rubbed Bodie's knees with his palms. "Want to talk about the op?"
"There's no point. There's nothing we could have done. What was it you wanted if it wasn't my drink?"
"You, of course."
"Are you sure?" Bodie blurted out.
Doyle gave a crooked grin, before he frowned. "I'm positive. But I'm beginning to wonder about you. How much scotch did you knock back while I was out?" he asked with suspicion.
"None," said Bodie indignantly, relief fizzing through his veins with a dangerous effervescence.
"Then what was that becoming display of modesty about? It's not at all in character."
Still recovering from how close he had come to making a fool of himself, Bodie pulled an abashed face. "Mental aberration," he said promptly in a more familiar tone. "And you're welcome to me." Doyle was close enough for him to watch the pupils of his eyes dilate.
"Now there's an offer," said Doyle, his voice a little deeper than usual. "But in case you've forgotten, that chair's not the ideal location."
"Nearly did myself a mischief last time," Bodie agreed.
Sliding a finger down the open edge of Doyle's shirt, Bodie tugged in gentle encouragement until Doyle rose to straddle him. Staring as if mesmerized at the mouth hovering a few inches from his own, Bodie leant forward to offer a whisper of a kiss. Then his arms went round Doyle-warmed cotton as he returned for more, exploratory forays lengthening and growing in urgency as Doyle responded, each man taking and giving the advantage to the other.
"If," Doyle murmured finally, his forehead resting against Bodie's, "I come in this new suit, you'll pay the dry-cleaning bill."
"Cheap at the price," dismissed Bodie, his hands slipping under the untucked shirt to span the arched rib cage. One thumb brushed Doyle's left nipple, increasing the pressure until the small nub hardened; a visible tremor rippled through Doyle, his lush mouth parting on a wordless sigh.
"Calm down," Bodie advised him indulgently. "We've got the rest of the evening and all night to catch up."
"Takes you that long to get into your stride, does it?" inquired Doyle solicitously, his nose nudging Bodie's. "Though you do look tired - and I haven't even got started on you yet." Sitting up, he flexed his back, his thigh muscles tightening before he slumped, boneless and elegant as a cat as he draped his forearms limply over Bodie's shoulders.
"I want you." The longing on Doyle's unguarded face as his fingertips stroked Bodie's temples was more eloquent than the barely audible confidence, which had the sound of a confession rather than a statement of intent.
Bodie's roving hands stilled for a moment, tightening over sinew and bone, but his tone was flippant. "Then have me. Preferably somewhere with a bit more room for manoeuvre."
"Feeling energetic, are we?" asked Doyle, sliding to his feet.
"Very," confirmed Bodie, outlining the definition of Doyle's tumescence with a careful finger because he didn't want the evening to end before it had begun. If this was all that was on offer, he would have to find a way of making it enough.
"You can play with that later," promised Doyle. "Just let me get out of these trousers before I strangle myself."
Staring at one another, flippant conversation was forgotten as their eyes said what they had taught themselves not to voice.
"Take them off," Bodie managed hoarsely.
Discarded clothing marked their passage to bed, even if they didn't make use of it, although Doyle had the presence of mind to drag a pillow on to the floor.
"Not down there - for your head," he chided. "I'll be your pillow."
Sprawled wide, half-balanced on Doyle's thighs, Bodie was already twitching in an agony of anticipation, revelling in his temporary passivity.
"You," said Doyle indulgently, recognising Bodie's mood, "were born to be a sultan - or a toyboy."
"Then start playing with me," commanded Bodie. Propping himself up on one elbow, his fingertips traced down the beautiful lines of Doyle's throat, sternum, belly and penis, drifting from root to glistening tip.
Shivering, Doyle held Bodie's wrist. "Time to lie back and think of England," he said huskily.
Bodie's memories of their loving were blurred, his senses on overload; swamped by sensation, he was ambushed by a wave of emotion he could no longer deny or keep locked away when Doyle finally slumped over him, murmuring his name over and over again.
His nerve-ends still vibrating with echoes of the passion which had racked them, Bodie's sense of loss was acute when Doyle finally eased from his body long after they were spent. Making an incoherent, instinctive sound of protest, Bodie locked his arms around Doyle tight enough to draw grunt from his partner.
"I was just going to get - "
"Leave it," commanded Bodie, unwilling to permit any interruption to his haze of pleasure. His hands drifted down the thin-fleshed back, revelling in the flex of muscle, warmth of skin and press of bone.
Eventually Doyle stirred. Raising himself up over Bodie, his eyes were luminous and somehow softened. "Are you all right? Only you look - " He trailed off into silence in an unusual display of tact.
Discovering untapped reserves, Bodie kissed the mouth hovering above his own. "Tell me I'm wearing a goofy grin and I might thump you," he threatened, sliding his palms up and down the back curved over him, fingertips skimming the knobs of the spine.
"You might try, you mean. That was almost worth waiting a month for," Doyle added, all but purring with pleasure as fingertips began to massage his scalp in just the right way, experience having taught Bodie how easy it was to tangle his hair.
"Almost," Bodie agreed.
"Thanks a lot."
"You know what I meant," said Bodie with comfortable certainty.
"The worrying thing is, I do," replied Doyle with spurious gloom. "This carpet's making me itch," he announced, a little while later.
"Could always go to bed, I suppose. Though it seems too much effort right now."
"Struggle, because I'm not carrying you there."
"Believe it," said Doyle, extending a hand and pulling Bodie to his feet, brushing some fluff from his flank before they settled themselves in bed.
A faint tickling sensation made Bodie peer down at his chest, where Doyle was fingering the few hairs sprinkled sparingly between his nipples.
"It's no good you massaging them to see if they'll grow. I gave up hoping years ago," he said, no more than amused by something which had once seemed so important, hirsute bodies somehow linked to virility to his teenage self.
"I wouldn't want them to. I like your chest the way it is. It was weeks before I even knew these existed," murmured Doyle reminiscently.
"Well, you've made up for lost time since. What is it with you - have you got a hair fetish?"
"Only if it's yours." Rolling onto his back, Doyle smiled to himself when he saw Bodie's expression.
"You'll end up like the Cheshire Cat if you're not careful," Bodie warned. "What's that look for?"
"I didn't mean to embarrass you."
"Who's embarrassed?" Bodie's bluff faded under a knowing gaze. "You're so sharp it's a wonder you don't cut yourself," he grumbled half-heartedly.
"That's not necessarily a reassuring thought," pointed out Bodie with feeling as he mopped up some ticklish seepage with the corner of the sheet. Letting it fall back into place, he punched up his pillows and collapsed against them.
Doyle gave him a pained look. "Did you have to use the sheet?"
"It was that or move," said Bodie reasonably. "And at least I don't leave my clothes all over the floor - usually," he added in the interests of accuracy. "You should hang that suit up, it'll get wrinkled."
"Let it. I hope I never have to wear it again. You thirsty?"
Without waiting for a reply Doyle slid from the bed, his prowling stride taking him from the room before Bodie could reply.
Doyle returned with a couple of cans of lager. When he assumed the cross-legged pose at the foot of the bed which always presaged a lengthy chat - usually about subjects which Bodie had managed to avoid - Bodie abandoned hope that Doyle would do the decent thing and have a doze like any civilized man. Pushing himself up, he gestured for a can with resignation. Pulling off the tab, he tried to suck up all the froth spilling from the top. Inevitably some escaped, cold trickles running down his chest. Mildly disappointed when Doyle did not lean forward to lick the liquid away, Bodie wiped himself dry with another portion of sheet, on the grounds it already needed washing.
"I could do with something to eat," he remarked, without much expectation that his hint would be get a positive response.
"Me, too. We'll sort something out later. The evening's still young."
Recognising all the signs of a Doyle who wanted to talk but didn't know how or where to start, Bodie took a bracing mouthful of chilled lager to brace himself for the fray.
"Why were you wearing that suit earlier?" he asked, his tone would-be casual. "Job interview?"
"Don't be daft. Though if our next pay rise doesn't come through I might consider it."
Bodie gave him a tolerant look. "Do what the rest of us do - lie about your expenses."
"So Cowley can have the pleasure of rejecting them totally? No thanks. I got the suit for Benny's funeral," Doyle added, his tone flattening.
"Benny?" Bodie looked blank, before his expression changed when he remembered the Italian teenager who had been Doyle's informer until he was murdered during the Conroy operation. "But he was killed back in November. Why didn't they have the funeral after the inquest?"
"There was an administrative fuck-up. The morgue lost his body. It took a while to track it down. He's been in cold storage all this time."
"How could they lose a body?"
"You may well ask. But who was there to chase it up? It was sheer chance that I thought of it last week. That wasn't until I nicked Tony for dealing smack and the association jogged my memory. So I did some checking."
Bodie had no answer for the familiar note of self-recrimination in Doyle's voice. Benny had thought the world of Doyle, and Doyle had undoubtedly felt affection for the boy he had steered away from a life of petty crime. That was the reason Bodie had refused to break the news of Benny's death to his partner, leaving the task to Cowley. Anne had been there to comfort Doyle afterwards; their affair had begun around that time, gaining pace and intensity almost by the hour. It was no wonder Doyle had forgotten the small matter of Benny's funeral; he'd been knocked for six by Anne Holly last winter. Everything had gone by the board while she was around. Those few weeks had been some of the worst of Bodie's life; he had been certain Doyle was going to marry her, recognising too late what he would lose.
Shrugging away the chill the memory brought, Bodie refocused on his partner. Anne's loss was his gain, but sometimes doubt set in and he wondered how Doyle felt about the exchange. For his own part Bodie tried to keep something of himself back, trying to protect himself when this finished, as inevitably it must. Few relationships lasted long and their track record was abysmal by anyone's standards. Not that he had been looking for permanence in the past. Now he wanted nothing else. What he didn't know, and had been unable to find a way of asking, was what Doyle wanted.
Their partnership was fine; it probably always would be. Some mysterious alchemy Bodie had given up trying to analyse united them on the streets. But during the months they had been lovers some invisible wall seemed to block his sense of the man, making Doyle seem as remote as the moon.
"Benny would have appreciated your gesture in getting that suit," Bodie said finally into the silence.
Shrugging, Doyle took another gulp of lager.
"I would have come to the funeral with you," added Bodie with care, having learnt the hard way that it was less painful to wait for Doyle to invite him into the closed portions of his life.
Doyle's expression briefly cleared. "I know," he acknowledged. "And I could have done with some company. It's a bit difficult to look like a crowd all by yourself."
"There was no one else?"
"Benny didn't have anyone of his own. I know everyone comes into the world alone and leaves it the same way, but it would be nice if someone remembered you'd existed." It was the involuntary protest of someone facing up to the inevitable fate that awaited everyone.
"Leave it, Ray" commanded Bodie flatly. "We've had this conversation before, and it isn't worth repeating."
Doyle's eyes narrowed in warning.
Unimpressed, Bodie drank some more lager and nudged Doyle's upraised knee with one foot. "Leave it," he repeated in a different tone. "Getting maudlin has never changed the world yet. You fixed everything up, I suppose?"
"It was that or a pauper's funeral. And no one deserves that. I fixed up a cremation. I hate grave side eulogies."
Bodie didn't bother to point out that since the advent of television few people relied on funerals for their entertainment. "Why didn't you tell me where you were going?"
Doyle looked up, the taut lines around his mouth slowly relaxing. "Would you believe because I didn't want to put the mockers on your homecoming?" he offered wryly.
"That sounds stupid enough to be in character," Bodie allowed.
"Thanks." Uncurling his legs, Doyle stretched them out between Bodie's, warming his cold toes against what Bodie prized most. "It wasn't until you were stuck up in Manchester that I realised I'd got used to having you cluttering up my life."
"You should have been a poet," remarked Bodie, all admiration despite the threat of frostbitten balls.
Taking a deep breath, Doyle seemed to come to a decision. "I might have to be yet. I should have told you as soon as you got back - Cowley's on to us, and he's not happy."
"So we won't be getting a toaster or set of tea-towels."
"I'm glad you can see the funny side. Cowley couldn't."
"Is this your way of saying, 'I told you so'?"
"No, though I did. He had a chat with me last night."
"About what - exactly?"
"You - and me. Our options." Withdrawing his legs, Doyle tucked them under him; flinching when he discovered how cold his feet were, he crossed his legs instead.
"Options?" Bodie frowned. "He didn't mention any of this to me this morning."
"That doesn't surprise me. He seems to think I've been corrupting the morals of a minor." Pain was audible beneath Doyle's flippancy.
"Who the fuck does he think he is?" growled Bodie, protective on his partner's account because he knew Cowley's good opinion meant more to Doyle than Ray was comfortable to admit.
"George Cowley. That's enough."
"Not for me it isn't. No one tells me who I can and can't sleep with."
"Cowley can and does."
Abruptly leaving the bed, Bodie redirected his glare from the wall to the man opposite him. "You're taking it pretty bloody calmly."
Unblinking, Doyle stared at him, his expression offering no clue to what he felt. "I can afford to. I've had twenty-four hours to get used to the idea."
His brain sliding back into gear, Bodie frowned. "You said he gave us options. What kind of options?"
"Nothing complicated. We either split up - as partners as well as lovers - or we go." Doyle's voice betrayed no emotion whatsoever.
"Where d'you think? The labour exchange, of course. We'll be unemployed. Gays and bubonic plague are equally welcome in CI5."
"I can't believe... You accept that ultimatum?" Doyle's calm in the face of the unthinkable was the final betrayal, Bodie's certainty foundering.
"I don't have any choice. I don't have to like it," said Doyle colourlessly.
"This isn't your idea of a joke, is it? No, of course it's not," Bodie recognised immediately. "Why the hell didn't he say anything to me this morning?" he added, toeing the carpet and eyeing his partner obliquely, as if afraid what he might learn from Doyle's face.
If Doyle had any theories to account for the omission, he obviously didn't feel equal to discussing them. "Dunno," he said vaguely. "He was embarrassed enough discussing the subject with me."
"So he bloody well should be, poking into our private lives. How does he know we're - ?"
"The same way he always knows. He bugged our flats. Not just ours, of course. It must have been annual vetting time. I get the feeling a number of people got caught out, only we committed the cardinal sin and got caught with each other's cocks in our hands."
The heat of embarrassed anger prickled Bodie's skin, outrage informing his every line. "He listened while we - ?"
"He must have done."
Bodie began to get dressed.
"We have until Wednesday to decide what we're going to do," announced Doyle into the silence. "We're on leave until then. That's the other thing I had to tell you."
"I don't need two minutes, never mind two days," said Bodie with decision. Anger made him clumsy as he mis-buttoned his shirt. "But first I want a word with Cowley."
"What about what I want?"
Bodie looked up from buckling his belt. "How do you mean?"
"I mean I don't want to leave CI5," announced Doyle, with a calm only he knew what it cost him to maintain.
It was a full minute before the sense of what Doyle was not saying sank in. "I see," said Bodie tonelessly, as he shrugged into a leather jacket.
"No, you don't. You're too busy reacting. Look, what chance d'you think we'll have if we try and make a life together like this - forced into it by Cowley?"
His face a pale mask, giving no indication that his world was crumbling around him, Bodie stared blindly through Doyle. "I thought we'd already begun to make one," he said at last. "Not the first time I've been wrong." He stalked out of Doyle's line of vision.
Hearing the bedroom door slam behind Bodie, Doyle's eyes closed. "Fuck," he said tiredly to himself, his head bowing onto his raised knees.
"Or words to that effect."
Doyle's head shot up so fast that he caught Bodie, who had returned from the door to bend over him, full on the nose. Giving a muffled yelp, his eyes already watering with pain, Bodie cupped the area in question with his palms, mumbling something indistinguishable in his anguish.
"Oh shit! Come and sit down. Is it bleeding? Does it hurt?" asked Doyle, running a distracted hand back through his hair, his usual calm deserting him because Bodie was injured. Receiving a speaking look from watering eyes, he gave a wry grimace.
"Yeah, I know. I'm a prat. Here, let me take a look." Easing Bodie's hands away, he winced empathically before he went to get a towel and some ice.
"Don't look so tragic," said Bodie a little thickly, his nose feeling numb from the amount of ice Doyle had insisted on holding to it. "It isn't broken. Though I reckon I'm going to have a lovely shiner."
The announcement brought Doyle no visible joy. "Sorry," he muttered shamefaced, before he began to strip the blood-splattered sheets from the bed, his movements jerky and over-emphatic.
"Give over, Ray. It was an accident. It'll teach me to stalk off in a huff and then try sneaking up on you."
Doyle slumped onto the lid of the laundry basket, which creaked under his weight. "I thought - "
"It was more than I did," Bodie interrupted ruefully, collecting up the bloodied towels and the impromptu ice-pack Doyle had made. "I was too livid at the thought of Cowley listening to what was never meant for his ears. I don't want to leave CI5 either. But I've no intention of leaving you. If you want to get rid of me you'll have to kick me out - and even then I'm not promising I'd stay away."
Doyle just stared at him. "Oh," he said weakly at last, sounding as winded as if he'd been gut punched. "I need to dress. I can't think like this," he muttered.
Aware that Doyle would normally be unperturbed by the thought of walking naked down Whitehall - providing the weather was warm enough - Bodie watched him rummage in the wardrobe for clothes. Unaccustomed to an off-balance Ray Doyle he wasn't sure what to do for the best and so did nothing.
Zipping up a pair of ancient Levis with some difficulty, Doyle pulled on an oil-stained grey sweatshirt before rummaging through a drawer for a clean pair of socks. As the drawer contained only sweaters he didn't have much luck.
"It's not like Cowley to be this clumsy in his approach," mused Bodie out loud, resisting the temptation to probe his throbbing nose. "Think about it," he advised, when he received an angry scowl.
"What the hell do you think I've been doing for the last twenty-four hours?" snapped Doyle roughly, abandoning his search for socks to stalk from the room.
By the time Bodie tracked him to the kitchen, Doyle was sucking obviously sore knuckles. A glance established that all the wall cabinets were intact, although there was a smear of blood on the pale lemon wall above the waste bin.
"Don't say it," Doyle warned him, but without heat.
"All right, but you are," Bodie informed him, taking charge of Doyle's hand to ensure the damage was minimal. "Idiot's luck," he announced, softening the remark by nuzzling the scraped and reddened knuckles. "You used all the ice for my nose."
"I don't need any. The old bastard! He must have seen me coming."
"Ah, you've come round to my way of thinking."
"There's no need to sound so pleased with yourself. I'm not in the habit of trying to punch holes in walls. Wish I hadn't bothered this time. It bloody well hurts," Doyle complained ruefully.
"Serves you right," said Bodie without sympathy.
"You're probably right. I should have spotted what Cowley was up to myself," muttered Doyle moodily, prowling round the room to relieve his pent-up frustration.
"After the shock he gave you? That's what he was relying on, of course. Listen, if he was so set against gays on the Squad he wouldn't want us at any price. Only an idiot would believe that if we did split up it could work if we had to keep seeing each other week in, week out. Besides, we're mates as well as - " Breaking off what he had been saying, Bodie gave his surroundings an edgy look. "Is this place still bugged?"
"Not now it isn't," said Doyle with a grim satisfaction. "Though what he expected to hear with you and me at opposite ends of the country - I'll kill him," he said with conviction. "He obviously thought I'd be getting my leg over anything that moves while you were away. He must have. Why else would he leave the bugs in place?"
"Then he was disappointed - unless he enjoys listening to your wet dreams," said Bodie placidly. He had many doubts, but never that Doyle would lie to him about this. Doyle's honesty was an integral part of his character, if often of the uncomfortable kind.
"There were a few of them," Doyle conceded wryly. "I kept expecting this to sprout fur." He held up his right hand, then after a pause for thought, his left. "I'm ambidextrous," he reminded his puzzled partner.
"Not so good with my left hand," admitted Doyle.
"I've never noticed any lack. What did you do with the bugs?" Bodie thought to ask, making them both some tea.
Doyle rubbed the back of his neck. "I took them for a ride," he admitted.
"Where to?" asked Bodie with foreboding, recognising the expression Doyle was wearing.
"The gents at the Crown and Anchor in the King's Road."
Appreciation lightened Bodie's still stormy eyes. "Isn't that the pub where the Prime Minister's PPS cruises?"
"Given the chance he does more than cruise. Though rumour says he doesn't have much luck. Nature was less than kind - and not just with his personality."
"Yeah?" Bodie touched himself in an unconscious gesture of reassurance, caught Doyle's sardonic eye and touched him instead.
"After we've eaten," said Doyle. "And only if you can breathe through your nose by then. I don't want you dribbling over me more than usual."
Bodie ignored the insult. "Cowley's going to love you for that."
"He can consider himself lucky I didn't add his home phone number to those listed on the bog wall. Don't panic, I resisted temptation. No one deserves Cowley. Not even a wanker like Hamilton- Forbes. It was a bloody childish to do, wasn't it," recognised Doyle with a wry grimace.
"But in character," Bodie assured him.
Doyle took a moody swig of tea. "The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that you're right about Cowley setting me up," he announced with obvious chagrin.
"Blimey, I bet that hurt to admit. I'm starving. D'you fancy something to eat while we plan our campaign?"
"Confounding Cowley and keeping our jobs," explained Bodie with monumental patience.
"Concentrate on the first part," said Doyle vindictively. "We could go out," he added in a different tone. "Somewhere expensive. Good food, decent bottle of plonk, candlelight. We could even play footsie under the table."
"Like lovers do?"
"You mean we aren't?" returned Doyle.
Recognising a challenge when he heard one, Bodie picked up his mug, put it down again and drummed his fingers on the table top.
"Why not, we haven't had a night out for - Yes, of course we're lovers," he broke off to say. "Let's stay in. I'd rather have baked beans on toast and you to myself."
"OK," said Doyle equably. "I'll see what there is to eat."
Watching him potter around the kitchen, it occurred to Bodie that either Doyle was easily pleased, or he had got used to making do with crumbs. They had never discussed their new relationship after their first night as lovers. They rarely spoke of their feelings, even skirting around the admission that they might conceivably like one another. Of the view that actions spoke louder than words, the omission had never bothered Bodie until recently. It dawned on him that the lack of verbal reassurance might have been bothering Doyle for longer.
"I missed you something rotten," he announced baldly as he watched Doyle crack eggs into a bowl. "I don't enjoy things as much when you're not around to share them with. If it comes to it, I'll give up CI5 before I think of giving you up. I love you, Ray." The words came of their own volition but Bodie felt no unease at voicing them. All the petty subterfuges and self-protective devices seemed a childish nonsense in the face of this greater threat.
Turning to face him, Doyle opened his mouth, closed it and lightly cuffed Bodie's left ear. "That's for taking so long - and then having the guts to say it before me," he added gruffly, before he grabbed Bodie, wrapped his arms around him and gave him a hug fierce enough to make Bodie grunt before he returned it.
"I don't want to lose you," Doyle said as he finally drew away. "Not because of something I do, or don't do, but particularly not to suit Cowley's whim. I thought his ultimatum would finish us - one way or the other."
"I've already told you, no one dictates who I can love - let alone who I make my life with. If you keep whisking those eggs that hard we'll end up with meringue."
"Not with the yolks in you won't," said Doyle, reaching for a pan.
"What are we having? And if you say eggs..."
"Cheese omelette. There isn't much else. I forget to get any shopping on my way back."
"No afters?" Bodie looked tragic.
Doyle looked up from the cheese he was grating while the omelette cooked. "Only me," he said simply, checking on its progress.
"That'll do, even if you're not always as sweet as you might be," complained Bodie mildly, opening a bottle of wine with the merest whisper of sound. "Try this, it isn't bad."
Taking a sip from the glass Bodie held out to him, Doyle nodded his approval. "Remember that label. The last bottle I got could have doubled for vinegar." He sprinkled cheese over the huge omelette before sliding the pan under the red-hot grill.
Bodie handed him his glass and they leant against the work surface, savouring their wine and inhaling the scent of melting cheese.
"What did you say when Cowley gave you his ultimatum?" Bodie thought to ask.
Doyle switched off the heat and withdrew the pan. "Would you believe not much. I was too gob-smacked."
"I can understand that, but you must've said something. That smells fantastic."
"Yes, it does," agreed Doyle, meticulously halving the omelette oozing with bubbling cheese. "Here you go. I remember telling him that if I ever needed his help to arrange my private life I'd be sure to let him know."
"Is that word for word? Don't hog the brown sauce."
"More or less. I wasn't in the mood for anything fancy. It took me a while to realise he must have known about us when he took you off the O'Leary op. and sent you up north instead of Carlson. It never did make sense him doing that."
"If any of our lot were keeping an eye on me I didn't spot them at it. The devious old sod. He's been bloody well testing us. You were right. He thought we'd be getting our leg over at the earliest opportunity."
"A few months ago we would have been," Doyle pointed out, making an inelegant sound of anguish when he burnt his mouth on a too hot portion of cheese.
"Would you mind dying quietly," Bodie requested smugly, having remembered to nibble round the edge, despite the temptation to plunge into the molten centre. "As that didn't work Cowley's either trying to blackmail us into splitting up, or he's giving us the final test. He knows we enjoy our jobs, so he knows what a choice like that would cost."
"Let's hope it's more than he's prepared to pay. What do we do to spike Cowley's guns?"
"Nothing. That will really worry him. While I can see he can't come out officially and announce he's got gays on the Squad, the law of averages says we can't be the first. We're just the first to want to shack up together."
"How does that help?" asked Doyle impatiently.
"What happened to the others?"
Doyle made a throat-cutting gesture, complete with sound effects.
"They say couples end up looking like each other after too long together," mused Bodie fastidiously.
"Not a chance. I've got some standards."
"Have I just been insulted?"
"I'll give you three guesses," said Doyle cheerfully.
"If Cowley's been testing us, we passed. If he wasn't, he should know us well enough by now to know no one's going to turn us - without his permission, of course. You say we've got a couple of days' leave. Did he give us a time to go in and see him on Wednesday?"
"First thing," said Doyle with gloom.
"Good, because I've got an idea."
Doyle looked suitably impressed but did not press his partner for details, having learnt that Bodie shared his thoughts when he was good and ready and not before.
"I wonder why he spoke to me and not you," mused Doyle, setting his fork down with a replete sigh. "I've eaten too much."
"Me, too," admitted Bodie, before he grinned.
"Spill it. And save the innocent look," Doyle advised him.
"I reckon he picked you because he knew he'd learn more from you blowing your top then me mumbling in embarrassment. Did you tell him you loved me?" Bodie asked with interest.
"Of course I bloody didn't. Well, I might have," Doyle conceded apologetically, having made a mental review of his meeting with Cowley.
"Wish I'd been a fly on the wall," said Bodie wistfully, getting up to clear the table. "You must have embarrassed the hell out of him."
"No more than he deserves."
Busy washing up, Bodie turned, wearing an approving grin. "That's my Ray. Have you got a current passport?"
"Of course I have. We're never going to skip the country?" exclaimed Doyle with a grin of delight. "Love on the run," he declaimed. "Two men against the world..."
Giving a patient sigh, Bodie flicked some suds in his direction. "Put a sock in it. Sometimes I wonder about you. I was thinking of us taking a couple of days holiday in Amsterdam. Very liberal city, Amsterdam. Pretty, too - in parts."
"You reckon we'll ever get outside the hotel room?" asked Doyle. Sliding his arms around Bodie, his skilful fingers were already busy.
"Careful with that zip. Maybe the trip would be a waste of time. I'd rather do my sightseeing round you. We'd better go to the supermarket tomorrow instead - to stock up on some food," added Bodie in a quelling tone as Doyle gave a filthy chuckle down his ear.
Looking up as the door to his office opened, Cowley's eyes widened before he controlled his surprise. Doyle was almost unrecognisable in an expensively-cut suit and silk tie, his shoes shined and his hair as neat as Cowley had ever seen it. By contrast, Bodie looked as if he should smell ripe, although a discreet sniff confirmed that he did not. Dishevelled, with two days growth of stubble increasing his disreputable look, he was sporting a fading black eye; he looked the sort of lout you would cross the road to avoid. He had adopted the posture Cowley recognised as the slouch Doyle had perfected for times such as these.
"Is there some point to this charade?" he inquired, his tone mild as he sat back in his chair.
"That's what we're here to find out," said Doyle, his tone clipped and uncompromising.
"Sir," added Bodie.
"Explain," demanded Cowley, learning little from either man's expression.
"Appearances can be deceptive," said Doyle. "I'm no gentleman and Bodie isn't my bit of rough."
"Or not often," interjected Bodie, but his eyes were as cold as his voice.
Not, Cowley thought, for the intrusion into his privacy, because Bodie had always accepted the necessity for positive vetting with a better grace than most on the Squad, but for the manner in which Doyle had been treated.
"Sit yourselves down," he instructed, his mouth thinning when they visibly thought about it before complying. The clumsy vulgarity of their reaction surprised him, and he told them so.
"We might say the same of you. I was inclined to, but Bodie suggested we give you the benefit of the doubt. Was this your idea or Kate Ross's?" asked Doyle.
While Cowley didn't care for the inference, in the circumstances, he had little option but to accept it. "I take your point. The question is, do you take mine?"
"Not if it means accepting you into my bedroom," said Doyle in the same unforgiving tone.
"Are we in or out, sir?" Bodie added briskly, sparing his partner a glance.
"That rather depends on you," returned Cowley, watching the small nod Doyle gave, as if reassuring Bodie that his temper would hold.
"No, sir. We've already made our decision. The rest is up to you. Either you trust us to carry on doing our jobs, or you don't. That's the only subject that's going to be under discussion now - or at any other time," added Bodie.
There was a mature certainty to his reply that Cowley had not expected to hear during a conversation of this kind. Bodie had never been comfortable parading his feelings in the past. It was the final confirmation, had he needed more after Doyle's outburst the other day.
"An ultimatum?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.
"That's right," confirmed Doyle. While he had his temper under control, there was a warning edge to his voice and an unconcealed challenge in his unflinching stare.
"I don't respond well to threats," Cowley warned, his temper beginning to slip. Doyle often had that effect on him.
"Nor do we," said Bodie quietly. "Particularly not from you. If you don't know we're not blackmail material by now, we're better gone."
"Unless you're just homophobic, in which case we're still better gone," added Doyle.
"That's enough!" snapped Cowley in the tone which none of his agents argued with for long.
Doyle visibly exhaled. "Sorry, sir." He met Cowley's eyes without flinching. "We know that's not the problem."
"I'm sorry too," offered Cowley, satisfied when he saw his apology disconcert both men. "I mishandled this from the beginning. You're prepared to concede I have a problem?"
Doyle ruffled his hair into a more recognisable disorder and began to relax. "Only if the fact Bodie and I have been, are, and will remain lovers becomes a matter of record. If it doesn't you're free to throw us to the wolves if there's trouble."
"I can do that anyway," Cowley reminded him.
"True. If you keep our relationship off our files you'll have more chance of being believed."
"Would you be prepared to accept that state of affairs - knowing I could disown you at any time?"
"I thought we already had," said Bodie dryly. "Or have you forgotten the Operation Susies you've sent us on?"
"No. Do you have any idea of the strain working on the A Squad can impose on a relationship?"
Bodie's pained expression was one Cowley remembered from his army days when a senior officer said something more stupid than usual, but it was too late to retract the question.
Doyle's reply was surprisingly restrained. "An inkling. We haven't done badly during the five months we've been lovers."
"Three weeks and two days," added Bodie quietly.
The surprised pleasure Cowley glimpsed on Doyle's face made him move swiftly onwards, wary of any overt displays of affection in his office. He was disconcerted to learn to how long their affair had been going on: far longer than he had suspected.
"As I presume yours is not an - er - open relationship, your field of usefulness to this organisation will be limited," he said stiffly.
"That's right," confirmed Bodie with a speed which betrayed he wasn't sure what his partner's reaction would be.
Doyle's sideways glance demonstrated he had recognised as much, but he gave a faint smile before he loosened his tie, unfastened the top button of his shirt and slid down on his chair, hooking one ankle over his knee.
"Are we in or out, sir?" he asked patiently.
While neither he or Bodie moved or glanced at each other in the ensuing silence, Cowley was willing to swear they were touching.
"What do you think?" he retorted testily. "I've too much money invested in the pair of you to want to see it go to waste. The fact you're lovers will be noted on your files. You may apply to share accommodation if you wish."
"Is that it?" Bodie asked blankly.
"What were you expecting?" inquired Cowley dryly, before he took pity on their evident curiosity. "There's nothing in the small print to prevent known homosexuals from working for CI5," he announced.
"Isn't there?" Bodie recovered to ask.
"No. I made sure of that when I drafted CI5's remit," added Cowley urbanely.
Realising Doyle's inner speculations were all too apparent, and obviously fearing the worst, Bodie grabbed his partner's elbow and hauled him to his feet.
"Right, we'll be off then."
"Yeah, in a minute. Can I ask you something, sir?" Doyle offered a quick, untrustworthy smile.
Bodie's expression was priceless, causing Cowley's mouth to twitch. "Certainly, 4.5." Doyle did not disappoint him.
"When did you actually bug our - my - flat?"
"I ordered the bugs to be set in place approximately three minutes after you left my office on Saturday."
Doyle gave Bodie a resigned glance. "I owe you five quid. You'd think I'd learn, wouldn't you. You're a devious old sod. Sir."
"Less of the old," said Cowley automatically. "That reminds me. Those bugs..."
"Sir?" Innocent as a choirboy, Doyle was all attentiveness.
"How did you know the Crown and Anchor sometimes entertains members of the Bulgarian embassy and their informers?"
Bodie's eyes widened. "You're joking! Did we get anything useful?"
Cowley delivered the coup d'grace without a qualm. "That's for the pair of you to find out. You'll find the tapes in the basement. I want your report on my desk by Saturday morning."
"But there must be at least eighty-four hours' worth of material to get through!" protested Bodie. "Not to mention some of the sound effects we'll be listening to," he added, obviously remembering where Doyle had planted the bugs.
"You should have thought of that earlier," Cowley told him cheerfully. "On your bikes. You've got a lot to get through."
"Yes, sir." Wearing a dispirited 'why me?' expression, Bodie nudged Doyle towards the door, his rebellious mutterings just audible.
"Sir?" Still absorbing the full horror of the tedious task awaiting them, Doyle was an easy target.
"While I'll let it pass this once, I won't accept brawling between agents - whatever their relationship. Clear?"
"Sir?" Doyle shared his blank look between Bodie and Cowley.
Catching the direction of Cowley's gaze, an expression of unholy glee crossed Bodie's face before he began to laugh. He pointed from Doyle's obviously bruised knuckles to his own black eye.
Comprehension dawning, Doyle's mouth was opening in outraged denial as Bodie yanked him out the door. While he closed it quickly, from the sounds which filtered through it was obvious Doyle had found his tongue.
Giving a faint smile, Cowley wondered if it would ever occur to his agents that they gave him far more credit than he deserved.
-- THE END --
Written October 1993
Originally published in Unprofessional Conduct 3, Gryphon Press, 1994