Joint Venture


Post Discovered in a Graveyard

They were in the middle of a blazing argument, sprung from nowhere, when Bodie gave a growl of frustrated disbelief, stalked forward, yanked Doyle close and kissed him.

Caught open-mouthed, mid-retort, Doyle was too astonished to think of crippling his partner in the first vital seconds. After that it was too late, Bodie's mouth and hands more persuasive than he could know. But it took more than technique to capture Ray Doyle, the expression glimpsed in Bodie's slitted navy eyes completing the circle - and Doyle was snared before he had recognised the baited trap.

Inexperience meeting hazy recollection in Doyle's hastily-made bed, it was as if their bodies had always known one another. Their ease together didn't surprise Bodie - all according to his solitary four a.m. fantasies in fact - what startled him, melting away the defences of a lifetime, was the tenderness in the sated green eyes smiling down at him. Tenderness and another expression he had never thought to want, never mind seek. Sustained coherence beyond him, knowing only a spreading contentment, he gently fingered away the sweat gleaming over the broken cheekbone and returned Doyle's smile, trusting in the same fate which had brought them to this to keep them safe.

Lying tangled in bedding and Bodie and holding contentedly to the latter, the future was gloriously simple to Doyle. But he did wonder, with a kind of dazed satisfaction, what the outcome would have been if the argument had taken place anywhere other than his flat - his kitchen to be precise. A night in the cells probably, he mused. He fell asleep before he could share the thought.

It was something of an anticlimax to be called in at twenty to five in the morning but it set the tenor of the days that followed. Harried from pillar to post and thriving on the pressure, they found their ability to work together unimpaired, perhaps even improved. Neither man was confident of his own impartiality on that point, knowing only that life had taken on an undeniable lustre. Both men avoided giving it name.

Whenever possible their free hours were spent together, sexual heat their excuse even when their exhaustion was such that their only desire and ability was to collapse into bed and sleep, waking a few short hours later happy to find a stubbled face scrunched on the adjoining pillow. It became easy to believe that such halcyon days could last forever.

Their first argument after becoming lovers shook them both badly. Short and vitriolic, the breach was swiftly patched over, cause and effect ignored, but it made them unnaturally careful with each other, unwilling to place any demands on the fragile tissue of this achingly new relationship.

It was for that reason, two days later, when they found themselves with an unexpectedly free afternoon, that Doyle returned to his flat alone, having convinced himself they could both do with some time to themselves; time in which to take stock.

As Bodie's current flat was nearer to headquarters than Doyle's they had taken to living there. Doyle found his own flat to be cheerless and musty. It seemed empty, music doing nothing to fill the silence. Able to stand it for no more than a few moments he went out to restock his food store, absently selecting food with his partner's taste in mind.

All this misery over a pretty pair of almond eyes - a passing fancy he had no intention of pursuing. He'd just needed to test Bodie's reaction like some bloody teenage girl with her first boyfriend.

That had been his first mistake, Doyle conceded tiredly. This avoidance of the issue was his second. He might not get the opportunity to make a third.

But he'd wanted Bodie to recognise the truth without having to be told. He wanted them to defy the fates and pattern of their lives to date and make a commitment to the future. Bodie had seen only the pretty pair of almond eyes.

So tell him the truth, Doyle commanded himself, resolute enough while the moment was safely distant.

Wandering out of the launderette, he tucked the receipt into a bulging carrier bag and hoisted it higher into his arms as he felt the plastic handles give.

Tell him.

Discovering he was heading in the wrong direction for his flat, Doyle retraced his steps. His mind on Bodie, he juggled with keys, bag and milk bottle, wondering what had become of all the others that should have been littering his doorstep by now. Pushing open the front door, he came to a decision. He would ring Bodie now, before he lost his nerve. No, sod it, he'd dump this lot and go straight round.

After driving to his own flat, Bodie found himself unwilling to enter it, knowing how empty it would seem. Having sat outside for longer than he carried to think about, he drove off with a grimace and no clear destination in mind before it occurred to him how ridiculous he was being. He'd have to get used to not living in Ray's pocket some time. Turning the car around, he stopped off at a newsagents for a paper.

Patiently waiting his turn to be served, he wondered how long it would be before he could think of an excuse to interrupt Ray in his unconvincing and untypical bout of domesticity.

If only they'd sat down and talked through a few essentials at the beginning he wouldn't need an excuse.

For chrissake, what was he thinking, moping around like some love-lorn kid. Anyway, since when had he and Ray not been able to talk to each other?

But he knew all too well, almost to the minute, beginning now to be afraid that unless one of them did something quickly the wall of silence would become unbreachable. On the other hand, if he said what he wanted to say, staked the claim he wanted to, it could cost him what little he had.

Take the risk, he decided briskly, suddenly light of heart as he picked up and paid for the only paper available at this time of day. It was worth any risk. Nothing good ever came easily.

He knew he had been right about that much when the emergency call came through on the car radio.

Car keys swinging from his fingers, having been conscious for the entirety of his talk with Jack Crane that he was going to be late, Doyle flowed down the steps and out into the late evening sunshine, nodding in response to the greetings of those he met. As he had anticipated, Bodie was propped against the side of the car, scowling.

"Sorry I'm late, I got nobbled by Jack about that course he's running on Sunday. How's your day been?"

"Terrible," growled Bodie, with a pointed look at the locked car.

Swallowing the suggestion that Bodie remember to check whether he had his keys on him next time, Doyle unlocked the car and slid inside to stretch across the seat to admit his frowning other half.

"Fancy a drink to help make all your troubles recede?" he asked.

"It'll take more than one. But back at our place. The pubs will be packed by now and if I never see one of those eager young faces again it will be too soon."

"No problem," said Doyle, equable in the interests of peace. "What was so bad about today then?" He wondered, with almost academic interest, how little Bodie would tell him this time.

As the car sped away with a spurt of gravel Bodie spared his partner a sour look and fastened his seat belt with pointed emphasis.

"That new intake you're so proud of. You don't want to hear about it."

"Try me," suggested Doyle, keeping his voice even only with some effort by this time.

Bodie had every intention of obliging him. He was still talking when they arrived home. Apart from a brief respite while they showered and changed his grumbling catalogue of grievances continued throughout the preparation and consumption of their evening meal. The remorseless recital rolled over Doyle, weighing him down. When he went into the kitchen Bodie followed him out there, still talking as Doyle started to wash up while waiting for the coffee to percolate. Absently picking up a tea towel Bodie proceeded to wipe up and put away. Still talking, he trailed back into the living room after Doyle without being conscious of what he had done.

"...and then the chinless wonder goes and drops it," he complained. "It was just lucky I'd kept him on blanks. It missed me by that much." Subsiding onto a chair and drawing his mug of coffee to him, he glared at the subdued figure sitting at the opposite end of the table.

"You're perky tonight. Let me guess, you haven't heard a word I've said."

Avoiding the other man's gaze Doyle set down his mug without undue emphasis. "I heard you. It'd be difficult not to. You've had a disastrous day out on the range. Peterson's driving you nuts because he doesn't know his arse from his elbow and is hard-pressed to make it in from the car park without getting breathless."

Exhaling noisily at that neat encapsulation of his troubles, Bodie took a reviving swig of coffee. "Too bloody right. Why the powers-that-be should have decided to farm out their backroom boys on a course like this I'll never - "

It was clear he was but warming to his theme. He sounded like one of those Colonel Blimp figures Bodie had once despised and suddenly the change was to much for Doyle to bear.

"I'll make some more coffee," he mumbled. Abandoning his untouched mug, he retreated into the kitchen, where he resisted the urge to put his fist through the pine-veneered wall.

Sod it.

His fingers clamped over the edge of the sink unit hard enough to make them ache, Doyle stared blindly down at them while he struggled to calm his ragged breathing.

This wasn't Bodie's fault, it was his. It had been no one's fault but his from the beginning. Bodie, poor confused bastard, had turned his life inside out. He'd thrown up the job he loved to load himself down with an invalided-out crock and a load of Sandhurst twats - and in the countryside, which he hated. Small wonder he couldn't take it.

Oh christ.

He'd known within a week of being discharged from hospital that the dream was over. He hadn't been able to accept the idea of that loss then, but lying to himself didn't make the problem go away. Why couldn't he have found the guts to make it easy for Bodie? A clean break would been better than this slow strangulation of every feeling except resentment.

Guilt eating into him, the burp of the coffee percolator drew Doyle back to the present. Taking several deep breaths, he ran his hand over his face, as if to erase all the emotions he was trying to mask. When he was certain his control would hold, he unplugged the percolator and duly armed with his alibi he went back into the other room.

He'd left it too late for self-sacrifice. If someone finished it, it would have to be Bodie. He couldn't.

The tribulations of the day having receded the moment they were off his chest, Bodie surfaced from his preoccupation in time to see Doyle disappear. He frowned when he recognised the action for what it was, a retreat.

Jesus, what was he going to do? He'd take on ten Charlie Petersons if he could find a way to halt this insidious drifting apart. He could feel the rift between them widening day by day but had no idea how to stop it.

The locked muscles of his neck aching, Bodie put his head back. Perhaps it wasn't surprising they should have lost their way. In under a year their lives had been turned upside down. No sooner had they become lovers than he'd found Ray curled and quivering amidst shards of broken glass and spilt milk. Then there'd been the hospital, rehab and the lifelong sentence - retirement through disability. Oh, Cowley had been good about it. He'd even found Ray another job. And so it had started again. The interviews, retraining, finding a place to live. Bam, bam, bam. Every major step of their lives unplanned and undiscussed as they glossed over the cracks, pretending nothing had changed when everything had.

If there was blame for that self-deception it could be apportioned equally but Bodie was realistic enough to recognise that the seed had been sown during the days he had spent nerving himself to believe Ray wasn't going to die on him. That same seed had germinated during the long weeks of Ray's convalescence as he'd hid his emotional wounds while he watched Ray exhaust himself in his determination to rebuild his life. Even worse than that had been seeing Doyle's dawning realisation that this time determination and guts wouldn't be enough. And his own glib reassurances had been ashes on his tongue, the disillusion in Ray's eyes like a knife in his guts. But what was he supposed to have done, told Ray?

Sorry, mate, you can stop working yourself into the ground because you're gonna be kicked out of the job you love?

Even Cowley had chickened out of that one.

And so it had been Ray who'd seen to things.

Bodie could still remember the day Ray had come home from that interview he'd fixed with Cowley. The interview he'd kept a secret. He'd been very bright, very matter of fact and decisive as he announced that his days on the squad were over and that he planned to take things easily from now on. He'd even managed to sound as if he didn't mind, the lie quite convincing until you looked into his eyes.

Bodie swallowed hard.

As if he hadn't known the truth.

Guarding your back. Some joke that had been. I'm sorry, mate. For not being there all the times you needed me - that one time in particular.

Don't think about that. To think of what might have been was the road to madness.

Anyway, that was over. They were six months into their new life now, almost three of them spent down here. It seemed less, time contracting, the days running away from him, each with less to show for it.

They'd barely had a moment to themselves what with the medical boards, debriefings, the appointment board and retraining for this new job with its new responsibilities. Then there had been the mundane necessities of life which CI5 had sheltered them from. The need to buy transport, finding somewhere to live.

Which was how they'd become men of property.

Even more surreal, they even had a lawn to mow, even if it was a rented lawn. But they'd only rented this place for three months rather than six, and the renewal date was coming up fast.

Only now, in the closest he was likely to come to introspection, did it surprise Bodie how little he missed CI5. Perhaps he hadn't had time? No, that wasn't fair to the job. For all his initial - and private - misgivings he hadn't been bored yet. Chance would be a fine thing. The unprepossessing material he was supposed to shape into finely-honed fighting machines had given him, on average, one nasty surprise a day. He'd probably been safer working for Cowley.

In fact, while it went against the grain to admit as much, Bodie was enjoying himself, even if the role of instructor fitted ill with the image he had so successfully sold of himself over the years.

Those days were over. The hunter had come home from the hill.

There were unexpected rewards while working as an instructor at the same Training Centre which had pummelled him into shape so many times. He understood why they'd pushed so hard now, a fact always known hammered home now he was on the other side of the fence. The witless buggers he taught thought he was a hard bastard. They didn't know the half of it. It was his responsibility to see they stayed alive to curse him next year.

It was a challenge all right, he acknowledged, wryly amused by the irony of the situation. But he'd see them through, with or without their help. Mostly without.

His smile fading, he stared at his linked hands, his yellowing knuckles betraying the pressure he was exerting. He made a conscious effort to relax.

The job was the only thing that was working out, he and Ray foundering, everything in their rented garden far from rosy. The worst of it was, there was no definite cause, nothing to grasp hold of and say ‘that's it' and try to sort it out.

During the three weeks they'd been lovers they'd never referred to their suddenly mutually exclusive lifestyle, or talked about the future. Then Ray had been shot and invalided off the squad, his own resignation presenting Doyle with a fait accompli: See what I've done for you, mate. You can't get rid of me now.

Not that Ray had tried to get rid of him, but he could still see the stricken expression in his partner's eyes when he had told Ray what he had done. But whether for him, or because of him, Bodie still didn't know. And he was too damn scared to want to find out the truth.

It didn't always set you free.

That said, they couldn't go on living in this cautious vacuum; it was alien to them both. Sooner or later one of them would break and Bodie was increasingly afraid that it would be himself. His bow-taut nerves were already overspilling into his dealing with his classes. Even in the first week of their teaming he and Ray had been able to talk to each other. He had no precedent to help him deal with this wall of silence about all that mattered most, guilty of taking what he and Ray had for granted.

Until his love had been blasted halfway across his own living room.

Ancient history, Bodie reminded himself, firmly closing the door on old horrors. They'd come through that.

But to what he did not know and was afraid to find out.

Chilled, he looked up and jumped on finding Doyle standing in front of him, percolator in hand.

"I thought you'd dozed off," said Doyle.

"No, I was miles away," Bodie said hastily. He held out his mug, wondering when he had drunk his coffee.

"Dreaming about what you'd like to do to Charlie Peterson?"

There was a flat lack of expression in Doyle's voice that Bodie, for all his earlier resolve, was wary of investigating. He back-pedalled.

"Not exactly fantasy material, is he? Don't you worry about Charlie. I'll get him through the course if I have to carry him."

Recognising the determined jut to Bodie's chin Doyle relaxed to a degree. "Kill or cure, eh? He may surprise you yet."

"No surprise there, he already does."

Moving so he could sprawl out on the sofa, Bodie brooded into his mug. He supposed that talking about Charlie Peterson was better than not talking at all. Make the effort to pretend it was situation normal.

"What I would really like to know is who pushed a pathetic specimen like Charlie on the course in the first place. It's come close to killing him - not to mention me."

"That's easy enough. I did," said Doyle.

"You recommended Charlie for this?" Inadvertently inhaling at the same time that he swallowed, it was some time before Bodie was in any condition to continue the conversation.

Satisfied that his partner would survive to complain another day, Doyle slumped into an armchair, his mug precariously balanced on the ankle propped over his knee.

"That chinless jerk as you call him has a mind that makes Cowley seem naive. Sharp doesn't begin to describe Charlie. He's wasted in Linguistics. When it comes to tactics he's the best of an excellent bunch. I'd want him on my side, I can tell you. Willis came down today," Doyle added, a faint, reminiscent edge entering his voice. "He wants Peterson. I'm not surprised. Fifteen years from now, maybe less, the pair of us will be calling Charlie ‘sir'."


"Yeah, good old Charlie. Look, I know he's driving you crazy - that kid's got two left feet and ten thumbs. But don't let that fool you. There's more to him than meets the eye. If I know Charlie he's been trying it on, the same as you have. Drop your bull-headed routine, let him know you're wise to him and you'll both get on better. You've got to admit, you can't fault his guts."

"Not if he's been trying it on with me, I can't," Bodie agreed, frowning. "You could be right. He never makes the same mistake twice, you know. I just never appreciated the potential for mistakes until I got landed with him."

"Lack of anticipation on your part," Doyle told him unsympathetically. "Don't forget how young he is. Only twenty- five."

"Yes, Grandpa."

Suddenly restless, Bodie left the sofa to start prowling around the room. Eventually, inevitably, he homed in on Doyle, coming to rest on the broad arm of Doyle's chair, hungry for even the illusion of closeness. But it did little to help his concentration.

"I suppose you're right," he conceded at last. "I'd better start practising tugging my forelock." His unconscious sigh owed nothing to the absent Peterson. Close enough to share Doyle's body heat and wistfully conscious of the familiar Doyle-scent, he tried to close his senses to the distraction, wary of reaching out to tweak a fat brown curl. He didn't want to find his last bastion had crumbled, sex the one means of communication yet to let them down.

Or was it? Bodie frowned.

When was the last time Ray had initiated a little early morning loving, or turned to him with that old, fierce hunger blazing in his eyes. When he wanted him, Ray was there, and it was good, nothing faked, but -

Fuck this. It was time to admit what he wanted and go for it. If they pissed around like this for much longer they risked losing everything. Which meant they had to talk. More to the point, they had to communicate. His absent gaze on his lover's profile, Bodie gave a sardonic half-smile.

Easy to say. There were no half measures with Ray. If he wanted to talk you couldn't stop him, even Cowley had learnt that. If he didn't -

So it was up to him to make Ray want to talk, by whatever means necessary. It shouldn't be too hard for one of Cowley's best interrogators. Luckily one of the best places to talk was in bed.

Bodie's eyes widened. Was he talking seduction? Was he seriously suggesting he try to seduce Ray Doyle?

He'd never tried that. He'd never needed to.

The idea appealed beyond measure; it was certainly a better prospect than pouring out his heart, although he'd do that too - if he had to.

Anything was better than this.

He couldn't imagine a life where Doyle didn't share some part of it. Equally, he couldn't accustom himself to a Ray Doyle who was fast coming to seem a compliant, remote stranger, even if he did catch Ray watching him at times when Ray thought he wouldn't notice. It was those moments which led Bodie to hope things might not be as bad as he feared.

Perhaps it wasn't surprising Ray had quietened down since his collision with the Pearly Gates. For an ‘invalid' he was looking pretty healthy. It wasn't surprising; his physical fitness was good enough to give the average man of thirty-five a run for his money. But he would never get through the physical for a grade seven call-out again and everyone, including Ray, had known it. He'd healed fast, though. That scar tissue was surprisingly unobtrusive, except when he overdid it in the gym, or sometimes when it rained. They never spoke of those times either, Bodie learning to recognise the signs from Doyle's drawn-in mouth.

He would never have believed the day would come when he would miss Ray's sniping tongue. He'd even tried to provoke him into a fight - which was the road to certain disaster.

"Watch it, mate, you'll soak the pair of us," warned a familiar voice.

Having straightened the mug tilting in Bodie's grasp, Doyle's hand settled on his partner's thigh, their warmth separated only by soft grey corduroy.

"It wouldn't do to mess up the carpet," agreed Bodie, making the effort to respond in kind. "I've done enough housework recently."

Doyle's face tightened. "You're only thirty-three," he said with seeming inconsequence. The thread of suppressed anger in his voice gained him a glance of surprise.

"In me prime," Bodie agreed lightly. He willed Ray's hand to travel further up his thigh - for Ray to initiate something - anything. Instead it slid away, residual warmth lost with a disquieting rapidity.

"Yes, you are. So what the hell are you doing vegetating in domesticity down in the wilds of Hampshire?"

"Worrying about Charlie Peterson right now." And you, sunshine. And you.

"Yeah, that's about the only excitement left to you now, isn't it?" Unable to remain still any longer, Doyle launched himself from the chair only to come to a precipitate halt in the centre of the room as it occurred to him that there was nowhere else for him to go.

Bodie stared at the familiar back presented to him: the wiry legs in narrow-legged jeans, faded denim moulding itself to buttock and thigh; taupe silk shirt clinging to those wide, thin-fleshed shoulders, the fabric fluttering with the violence of Ray's breathing; the strands of colour in the curls trailing over his shirt collar. Nothing he couldn't see every day, Ray Doyle dressed to meet the world, but Bodie couldn't look away, knowing every plane and curve by heart - with every inch of himself. It was Ray's mind which had come to seem that of a stranger.

Take now, for instance. What the hell was Ray on about?

"I've got all the excitement I need, thank you very much," he replied placidly, as matter of fact as he could contrive.

Wheeling around to repudiate the lie, Doyle froze, his urgent gaze scouring Bodie's face.

Whatever he saw there must have been enough, Doyle moving fast as freed quicksilver. Still perched on the arm of the easy chair Bodie found himself caught in a fierce embrace, Doyle's mouth hard on his. Making an inarticulate sound of pleasure Bodie withheld nothing in the face of that desperate need.

"There, I told you I had enough excitement," he whispered as their mouths parted, came together again, then parted until they relearned the necessity of breathing. His hands slid up and down the silk-warmed spine. A moment later they stilled as he glimpsed the quickly veiled expression in the too bright eyes.

Relief? What the hell?

Then Ray leant forward, seeking out his mouth again.

Bodie leant back a fraction. "Hold on a minute," he said, indulgent but puzzled. "There's no rush, I'm not going anywhere."

The muscles beneath his hands tensed. As all trace of expression drained from Doyle's face Bodie realised he had inadvertently stumbled on something important - maybe even the root cause of their difficulties. That it should be anything so basic - so stupidly simple - left him incandescent with rage. His parted thighs closed around Doyle like a vise, his hands tightening their grip.

"Oh no, sunshine. You stay right where I can see you. Is that what the trouble's been? You thought I'd had enough of country life?" His anger precariously leashed, Bodie's voice had that softness it acquired when he was at his most dangerous.

Doyle gave a guilty start, his eyes widening with that deceptive look of candour which he used to mask moments of emotional stress.

"Is it?" repeated Bodie, with an edge to his voice that could have etched glass.

Doyle gave a reluctant nod. "Not just the country," he mumbled, looking everywhere but at Bodie. His sense of proportion had returned with a lurching abruptness which left him feeling disorientated, relief qualified only by the knowledge of his own stupidity.

"Me?" Bodie's voice cracked.

"Yes, you see I - "

"No, I don't see. But I will. By christ, I will. Don't say another word, Ray. Not yet. I might just knock you across the room. That's it, isn't it? That peabrain of yours decided I was going to walk and you've been paving the bloody way ever since, closing yourself off. Christ!" He took a shuddering breath, darkened eyes boring into Doyle's. "Did it occur to you to ask me what I was going to do? Fucking right it didn't! What the hell did I do to deserve this, eh? What?"

"I never meant to hurt you, I just - "

His hands tightening over the swell of Doyle's backside, Bodie was oblivious to the interruption or to Doyle's gasp of discomfort.

"You and I are going to have a long, productive chat," he said, in a silky tone which precluded argument. Then his control broke. "You stupid, insensitive prat! I could bloody kill you for being so fucking selfish. You frightened me senseless. Don't you even care?" He stopped, then shook his head. "No, we'll have to talk later. I don't trust myself right now. Just - get out of here before I do something I'll regret." But far from releasing Doyle his grip unconsciously tightened, forcing a grunt of pain from Doyle. Otherwise, except for Bodie's uneven breathing, the silence was complete.

Lit with dazed relief, Doyle was smiling, his hands smoothing along Bodie's shoulders, over and over again. "Oh god, if you only knew how much I love you. But d'you think you could - ? Christ, it hurts."

It was a moment before Bodie calmed enough to recognise that the warm, ragged exhalations scudding down his neck were those of laughter. For a few seconds the realisation was like oil on flames, but the sounds were contagious - and it had been a long, long time since he had heard Doyle laugh like this, as if he really meant it.

Little by little Bodie's scowl eased, tension draining from him; he was smiling himself a short time later, one hand cupping the bent head, the other unconsciously rubbing Doyle's back.

"I suppose I did come on a bit strong," he conceded.

Stirring, Doyle raised his head, his face flushed, eyes bright. "Strong?" he echoed, hiccupping. "You could say that. And I've never heard anything so wonderful in my life." There was an expression on his face which made Bodie catch his breath.

"Suppose you tell me what's so damn funny? But in words of one syllable. I'm as confused as hell. Happy though." He didn't pretend to understand what had been going on, but the look in Ray's eyes was enough for him, the relief so vast he was close to tears.

"Hysteria, I should think. It's just - You've been so careful with me, like I'd break or something, that I'd begun to think I'd never hear you let rip like that again. That I wasn't worth the bother."

Making a strangled sound eloquent of frustration, Bodie's hands tightened on his imbecilic other half, causing Doyle's face to scrunch.

"Bugger! OK, I've got the message, I'm stupid. But could you ease up on my bum? You're liable to wring it off in a minute and it must be black and blue from the last time you grabbed hold of me."

"It's no more than you deserve," Bodie told him unsympathetically, but his expression was remorseful as he offered a comforting rub to the abused area.

Making no attempt to move away, Doyle kissed him on the nose. "If it's a choice between all or nothing, you hang on tight. I'll just give up sitting down," he added bravely, making light of the discomfort to his severely bruised backside.

Undeceived, Bodie cradled the afflicted area with gentle palms, staring at his life partner with near disbelief at his luck. "Made to measure," he said with unsteady inconsequence. His emotional controls had been overturned by the open tenderness between them now - and the resumption of communication after months alone. His arms thrown around Doyle's waist, his face buried against his rib cage, his voice was muffled and unsteady. "It's been so long. I'd been imagining - all kinds of things while I waited for you to turf me out."

For a moment Doyle couldn't move or speak. It was the first time since he'd been shot that he'd felt of any use to Bodie, this the first time Bodie had sought comfort from his strength, or been prepared to admit to any weakness.

He drew Bodie's head up. "You great pillock. How am I going to do that, eh? It'd be like trying to get rid of a part of myself." Their breath mingling, he cradled the back of Bodie's head in his hand. "Take it easy. It's all right. It's over now. All over. It's been a funny few months, that's for sure." He never wanted to think of them again.

It was as if a dam broke, Bodie tumbling into speech, uncharacteristically incoherent. "Funny? They've been the worst months of my life. There was a time I was afraid to touch you at all. D'you have any idea what it was like, finding you? Waiting. Wondering each time they kicked me out your room whether you'd be alive when I got back. Then they let you out and it was - worse. I couldn't help you, Ray. I loved you more than - And I couldn't fucking well help you. I had to stand there and watch you, hurt and confused, trying to cope. I had to watch you putting yourself through the bloody mill until you were grey with exhaustion and all the time I knew - I knew, Ray - that you were never going to make it back. And I couldn't tell you. I had to leave you to find out the truth from Cowley."

"Don't. Ah, don't. It's over now," crooned Doyle.

Daring to look up, his heated face cupped in Ray's hands, Bodie felt pinned by the eyes searching his face and seeing to the very heart of him. For the first time he welcomed that exposure, at peace with the knowledge.

"You look so tired," murmured Doyle remorsefully, appalled by the betraying marks of stress which he had not noticed until now. "I did this to you. I'm so very sorry, mate. Me, I knew I'd make it. I'd discovered what was most important in my life and it wasn't the bloody job." He squeezed Bodie's shoulder as he collected disjointed memories of the period he had tried to block from his memory altogether.

"It came hard to let go of the job, I can't deny that. The trouble was, I thought I was invincible, you know? It wasn't the first time either of us had taken a bullet and there was no reason to think it would be any different once I healed up. It took me a while to recognise that things were never going to be the same again. Frightened the hell out of me, if you want the truth, because I didn't know how far the change would go, or what it would do to us."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

Doyle gave him an unsteady smile. "Because it wasn't something you could fix for me, though god knows you would if you could. And because - don't blow your top - I didn't want to worry you. I knew it must've been rough on you, I just never dared to stop and think how rough. I made a mistake there."

"You could say that," agreed Bodie, in more of his usual tone. But he had slumped against the chair back for some much-needed support, seeing all too clearly how the pattern had been forged.

Massaging the locked muscles at the base of Bodie's neck, Doyle was still busy with his own memories. "It's a pity Cowley will never know just how good an actor you can be. You put on a great act. Even convinced me. And it frightened me stupid because I couldn't reach you through it. No matter what I tried, however bloody-minded I was, you were so sodding understanding and cheerful. I tried to talk to you but all I got was variations of ‘Everything's fine, Ray' - or even worse, take your pills, do your exercises, eat your greens. I couldn't get through all that to you. Not your fault, I can see that now but at the time - I thought you felt trapped. Everything seemed to happen so fast - hospital, not having the chance to see you alone for more than five minutes at a time and then I was moved into your flat and I didn't even know if that was what you wanted, everyone just took it for granted it was where I'd go."

Bodie opened his mouth, then closed it when he saw Doyle hadn't finished.

"Don't get me wrong, I wanted that. But we hadn't been living together then, not all the time. I had too much time to wonder if you'd been railroaded into it. But by then it was too late to do anything because I'd been invalided out and you'd resigned and - I didn't mean to muck up your life, mate. I know what CI5 - Cowley - meant to you. I'm a selfish sod but I didn't mean you to find yourself lumbered with me - not like this." The spate of emotive words finally came to an end, mainly because Doyle had run out of breath again.

Bodie knew his face must be a picture. It took him two attempts before he could speak at all, and when he did it was slowly, as though to an idiot.

"I reckon whatever drugs the hospital had you on must have addled what few brains you ever had. Railroaded? You're forgetting. Nobody forces me to do anything I don't want to. Not Cowley, not even you. Bottom line, Ray."

"I know that, now," said Doyle. Needing physical intimacy, he leant against Bodie, where he sat perched on the chair arm. After months of being battened down, every emotion felt perilously close to the surface. "At the time it was an effort to decide when to clean my teeth, never mind anything more complicated. I missed you so bloody much," he added helplessly just as he was drawn against the strength and the warmth and the understanding that was Bodie.

"Bloody fool," Bodie said, some time later.

"I was ill, wasn't I," mumbled Doyle, feeling self-conscious about his stupidity now.

Muttering something indecipherable, Bodie rose to his feet and gave Doyle a push in the direction of the door. "Bed."

It was an unmistakable command.

Nothing loth, Doyle went without a word of argument. The one thing the months hadn't changed was that if Bodie did talk about himself it was likely to be when they were in bed. And if he had something else in mind -

Doyle turned to check.

"Keep going." - well, that was fine, too.

Once inside the bedroom Bodie gave him a lengthy, all-encompassing stare, shook his head as if in despair, before beginning to unfasten Doyle's shirt.

"It never occurred to me that anyone so bright could be so thick. If only I'd thumped you the first time you'd earned it," mused Bodie.

"No need to sound so wistful. I can undress myself, you know," added Doyle mildly. The brush of Bodie's fingers and the sense of purpose and power emanating from him was a powerful aphrodisiac, the blood pooling in his groin as he responded to nothing more than the brush of fingers as his jeans were unfastened.

"Bodie? It's more fun together, mate. Unwrapping presents is half the fun."

Duly reminded, Bodie stopped what he was doing and allowed his shirt to be peeled away. Busy trying to unfasten the belt buckle one-handed, Doyle pushed him back onto the bed. Co-operating, Bodie sprawled on the edge of the mattress, his cords already down to mid-thigh. Busy tugging Doyle's jeans off, Bodie paused and looked up, his expression a curious mixture of longing, hunger and puzzlement.

"I knew you still wanted me but it's been a long time since you've initiated anything. Why?"

"Uh." All activity stopping, Doyle stared at the carpet, failed to find any inspiration there and cleared his throat.

Continuing to ease down Doyle-warmed denim, Bodie tapped a leg. Doyle obediently raised one, then the other to stand in front of him in his shirt and briefs.

"Ray?" There was a hint of warning in Bodie's voice this time.

"Yes, well - " Doyle took a deep breath.

"Ray - "

"It got to the stage where the only thing we seemed to have going for us was the sex. It's always been special between us and - You're not going to credit this," Doyle broke in to add, as close to embarrassment as Bodie could remember seeing him.

"Try me," he invited.

"Well, I thought you wanted out of the relationship and I wanted you to be free to make your decision without me - You know?"

"Suppose you spell it out for me?" suggested Bodie unhelpfully.

"All right, if you must. I know how to turn you on. I was getting so desperate I would have played on that because I thought it was all we had left. I don't ever want to do that to you," Doyle finished almost inaudibly, unconsciously toeing the carpet. He looked up in time to meet a smouldering blue glare.

"It's a pity you didn't get shot in the head. It wouldn't have hurt a thing," Bodie told him, his tone scathing. He stripped away his few remaining clothes, revealing himself to be half-hard, despite the distraction. He tossed a shoe across the room in a sudden burst of energy. "It didn't occur to you that I might be an interested party? That I could get just as bloody paranoid?"

Hauling off his second sock, Doyle rolled it into a ball, giving the simple task unprecedented care. "No, it didn't. I was too busy feeling sorry for myself - chucked out on the scrapheap of life and dragging you down with me - to think of anything else."

Sinking onto the foot of the mattress, Bodie stared up at him, jaw slack. "You what?" he said inelegantly.

With a dogged determination to set the record straight Doyle crouched down in front of him, his hands on Bodie's thighs as an aid to both his balance and his courage. A trace of colour stained his mismatched cheekbones.

"Now can you understand why I didn't say anything? When I told you I got paranoid I was serious. It was all very juvenile, I can see the stupidity of it now. But at the time I couldn't see beyond self-pity. It just swept over me and took over everything else. I felt - " He exhaled noisily. "I dunno. Unmanned, if you like. It's a bit simplistic, but once I heard I was being invalided out I had this vision of me in a chair with you having to wheel me around, wasting your whole life when you could have been - " Doyle stopped dead. It was too close for him to be able to laugh at it even now.

Bodie was lying on his back staring up at the ceiling. "How," he pleaded to a drifting cobweb, "can anyone be so stupid?"

"It must just come easily to me," offered Doyle at his most humble. He rose to his feet before leaning over Bodie's sprawled length.

"That's true," agreed Bodie tartly. Hooking Doyle to him, his arms went around him almost absent-mindedly as he rubbed his cheek against the nearest portion of warm flesh. "How did we go so wrong? Us not being able to communicate, I mean. I could feel us drifting further and further apart. It scared the shit out of me but I couldn't see a way out of it."

"Me, neither. Tonight, when you kept moaning about Peterson, I thought you couldn't take any more." Propping himself up on one elbow, Doyle made an inarticulate sound of disgust.

"What have you done now?" sighed Bodie, resigned.

"Gone and forgotten that the only time you moan like that is when you're enjoying yourself but you don't want anyone to realise."

"I don't."

"You reckon? I've got news for you, mate. Besides, what about the first time we had it away, then? First you rushed off to the bog for about fifteen minutes and when you came out you were limping bravely. You winced every time you sat down and even suggested walking to walk the next day. You nearly had me dialling 999 at one point."

"I'd forgotten that," said Bodie with a reminiscent grin. "Not that you were any real challenge. It was your fault for being so gullible."

"I might have known I'd be the one in the wrong. You're never going to let me live this down, are you?"

"Would you in my place?"

"Course. But then I have a truly noble character."

"Delusional as well as dumb," noted Bodie.

Nuzzling his throat, unconscious of the small noises of appreciation he was making, Doyle wondered when the ache in his backside would ease up; it felt as if he had been caught in a vise. Cushioned on Bodie, he began to drift. His eyes snapped open as what Bodie was saying penetrated his contented haze.

"Now we've established you were braced for the day when I packed my bags and walked off into the sunset, will you tell me something?"

"Anything," Doyle said simply.

He meant it, too, Bodie realised, momentarily sidetracked. That last door had been opened to him. He gave Doyle an approving pat.

"What were you planning to do when I upped and left - wave me off with a cheery smile?"

"Not fucking likely," growled Doyle, leaning up over him. "You leave over my dead body. Oh." His instinctive response having taken him by surprise, he blinked. "I thought I could let you go," he explained, just before he licked Bodie's stubble-darkened chin, unabashed by the nature of his mistake.

"You would," agreed Bodie indulgently. He rocked Doyle in exuberant delight. "Honest to god, Ray. What am I going to do with you? You've always been a possessive little sod. What made you think you were going to change?"

"Oh, and you're not possessive, I suppose?"

Satisfied that Doyle wasn't totally crushed by this hammering home of his stupidity, Bodie hugged him. "That's more like the Ray Doyle I shacked up with," he said with approval, "always ready to kick a bloke when he's down." His hands moved in lengthy swathes up and down Doyle's spine, finger tips testing the muscle tone.

Doyle yelped and flinched when pressure was applied to his backside.

Leaning up as best he could for the weight blanketing him, it didn't take Bodie long to identify the injured area. "You're a bit bruised."

"No kidding?" marvelled Doyle.

"Alcohol rub, that's what you need."

Recognising that note in his partner's voice, Doyle's eyes mirrored open mistrust.

"Trust me," promised the velvety voice of a seducer, "the alcohol goes inside, the rub outside."

Doyle gave a slow smile, shaking his head, as if in despair. "Nice try, but this is me, remember? If you want a drink and a cuddle, why not say so?"

"I want a drink and a cuddle," said Bodie obediently. "But not necessarily in that order."

Giving an approving grunt, Doyle kissed him on the nose before leaving the bed. "Brandy?"

"Have we got any champagne?"

"Not even any fizzy lemonade. It's just as well, I don't want you getting hiccups at the wrong moment."

Sitting naked in the middle of the bed, there was a flare of hunger in Bodie's eyes, before he veiled them. "You won't be up to it."

"Don't bet on it," said Doyle, with the look of slumbering sensuality Bodie remembered of old. "Tonight we're gonna celebrate - and I can't think of any nicer way."

"Celebrate?" echoed Bodie, wanting to hear his own thoughts verbalised.

"Yeah, celebrate. The fact that I've got you and you've got me, till death do us. So let's reaffirm life. Have a nice long celebratory fuck." Doyle turned at the door, his light eyes seeming very bright in the gloom. "I dunno if I ever thought to mention it before but I've had enough of pissing about. I love you, mate. I have done for a very long time. Think I always will." Enveloped in Bodie's gaze, he felt scalded by heat - and very, very cherished.

With this body, I thee...

He could manage a bit of worship himself, come to that.

Before Bodie could try to reply, Doyle had left the room. When he reappeared with a bottle of brandy and two glasses, it was to see Bodie sitting with one hand outstretched.


"It's all right," he said quickly, feeling suddenly, stupidly shy. "It's just that I've gone all a-tremble. Look. My hand's shaking. It must be love."

"Senility, more like," said Doyle, setting down the bottle and glasses. "Shift your arse, I'm not planning on walking any further than I have to with my bruised bum."

"Try using your feet instead," suggested Bodie predictably. "Though that might explain why you're moving like a constipated crab. Turn around."


"So I can kiss it better."

"Is that all you're going to do to it?"

"Turn around and find out."

Doyle turned around.

Correctly interpreting the reason for the rich, satisfied chuckle emanating from the adjacent pillow, Bodie summoned up the energy to roll onto his side, one arm remaining over Doyle. "Yeah, it was, wasn't it."

"Remind me to have a word with you about modesty one day," Doyle instructed him. "Besides, my bum's killing me."


"I knew you'd be distraught." Getting chilly, Doyle fumbled one-handed for the bedcovers, intending to use a corner of the sheet to mop up residual stickiness. Amazing how far a little went, he thought profoundly.

Bodie sighed and restrained him. "Nothing changes, does it? Hang on, I'll fetch a towel. I know you. I'll end up on that side of the bed otherwise." He discovered his legs still had a disconcerting tendency to shake.

"I hope so," said a lugubrious voice. "I'm lying in a puddle."

"Don't exaggerate."

Doyle labouriously raised himself back up onto his knees and peered down; he found a dark head at his shoulder.

"Lost anything important?" inquired Bodie solicitously.

"Forget the towel," commanded Doyle huskily, hooking an arm around him. "Let's have a cuddle instead."

When at last they settled down to sleep Bodie wasn't surprised to find himself lying on a damp, chilly portion of crumpled sheet. He fell asleep during some profound musings about the things you did for love.

"I cancelled my classes for the weekend," announced Doyle, apropos of nothing.

Bodie's head turned. "What reason did you give?" he asked, interested.

Serene green eyes smiled at him. "I didn't. We've put in enough overtime in the past few weeks. Let Jack worry about them this weekend. It'll be a nice rest for them." Doyle gave a contented sigh as he savoured another mouthful of wine, Bodie's head propped against his shoulder.

"Y'know, it's a funny thing," he continued, in a talkative mood tonight, "but we've been living here for almost three months and this is the first time I've noticed that mirror opposite the bed." He waved a languid hand at their reflection and saw Bodie's image smile at him.

"Have you been this laid back all day?" asked Bodie.

"Nah, but I think I shocked a couple of people, the way I kept smiling - until I sat down."

"Stop playing for sympathy. You know, I hate this wallpaper. While we're on the subject, the rent review on this house is due in a couple of weeks. What do you want to do?"

"Buy a place of our own," said Doyle without hesitation. "Start planting some vegetables and settle down to a life of sodomy."

"In the garden?" said Bodie, doing his best to sound shocked.

"Wherever you like, mate."

"Have you got any idea how smug you look when you're happy?"

"A fair idea. So what do you think of the idea?"

"We may as well go house hunting this weekend. Suppose we should sort out our mortgage prospects first though. I cancelled my classes too."

"Men of property," mused Doyle, turning to exchange several wine-soaked kisses.

"We're turning respectable." Bodie sounded undismayed at the prospect.

"You speak for yourself. Do you miss CI5?" There had been no warning in Doyle's face or voice but he was watching Bodie's face steadily, alert for any evasion.

Recognising the tried and tested technique, Bodie grinned and ruffled Doyle's hair.

"Never try to con an expert. Sometimes. It's hardly surprising. I've spent most of my life living on an adrenalin high. I never realised how sweet life can be without it."

He paused as Doyle wriggled closer, his arm encircling Bodie.

"Better now?" Bodie inquired, before he winced as his backside was pinched. "All right. I was just checking."

"Stop prevaricating and answer the question," Doyle commanded, unimpressed.

"I wasn't," said Bodie, serious now. "Not intentionally, anyhow. There's more about life with the squad that I don't miss. The boredom. The paperwork. Hanging around for twenty-three hours out of the twenty-four and being frightened witless for that one hour. The things that went wrong. I've lost too many mates. I've had enough of the killing, too," he added flatly, aware of Ray's palm, warmly comforting in the small of his back. "As for what I miss... The feeling of being at the hub of things, knowing the behind-the-news stories before they even break. The high when you're steaming and the job's paid off. Some of the blokes. Oh, and the expenses, of course."

"And Cowley," added a quiet voice.

"Him, too," Bodie agreed, knowing he needn't add or explain a thing.

"Do you want to go back"

"Not without you."

"That wasn't what I asked," said Doyle steadily. "Do you want to go back? You could, you know. Cowley would take you back like a shot."

Bodie ignored the outward signs of tranquillity. "I know he would. But let's be realistic. I'm not getting any younger. I'll only be good for field work for another five years at the most. After that - The options just don't appeal. Besides, how would I work? I've spent too many years relying on you to guard my back to be much good solo. And I'd be worse than useless with another partner. I'd resent them for not being you to start with and it'd be downhill from there. I've got used to the best. Anyway, I wouldn't be able to handle your reaction. You'd be certifiable in a week."

Doyle didn't attempt to deny it. "I had my physical yesterday," he said, with seeming inconsequence.

"And?" Bodie tensed.

"Everything's doing exactly what it should but there's no way I'll ever be fit enough for active duty again. I asked."

"You want it that much?"

"No. I couldn't go back now. Besides," Doyle gave a familiar wry grin. "I'm enjoying this too much. I never thought the day would come when I'd be doing this, never mind enjoying it, but I am and I do."

"I thought you might be," said Bodie, reassured that he had got that much right in the preceding months. "So did the old man. I thought he was crazy when he suggested it."

"I dunno why. I never have been able to resist telling people what to do."

"No, it's more than that. You're wasted on the small arms side. They'll be involving you more and more on the tactical side, you wait."

"I won't if Willis has a say in it," said Doyle with a trace of satisfaction.

"Memory like a bloody elephant, you have."

"True. And I've still got a score to settle with him."

"It's my score," Bodie reminded him. He had come to terms with Marika's death, and the part Willis had played in it, a long time ago.

Doyle poked him in the ribs. "Which makes it mine. Relax, I'm not about to encourage any of my lot to practise on him. It's tempting, mind."

"Resist," Bodie told him. "Besides, they might miss. That reminds me," he added, topping up their glasses and finishing off the bottle in the process. "Three of them are convinced you're not human. I heard Jack telling them that if they could survive you they could survive anything. Of course, Jack's never worked for the Cow. Now he's going to be a lovely surprise for them."

"Me?" said Doyle in surprise, before he grimaced. "Ironic, innit. I'm turning into a second Macklin - the bastard."

"Oh no you're not," Bodie assured him. "You're far worse because you don't look lethal. You're better than he ever was, too."

"You're biassed," said Doyle, but he looked pleased. Bodie in love might be blind to a lot of faults but incompetence on the job would never be one of them, his respect not lightly given.

"Now who's being modest?"

"OK, so I'm good. There's nothing to say any of this lot will end up in CI5, you know." The centre was utilised by several of the Intelligence services, the various instructors united only by their belief that theirs was the only department to serve any useful function. "Which three?" he thought to ask, side-tracked.

"Which three what?"

"Which three were you talking about? I know two who've got the hots for you," Doyle offered, in the manner of one ready to trade.

"Only two?" But Bodie looked wary.

"Straight up. I expect the numbers will soon swell. When Jack moves on you'll be running this place."

"You what?"

"You heard me. You'll be good, too. Better with me beside you, of course," Doyle added casually.

Bodie began to take him seriously. "They'd never given the Centre to us to run. Not exactly a shining example, are we?" But he couldn't stop himself from grinning.

"Maybe it's part of that new, open-minded policy they're paying lip-service to. I don't suppose that will last, but we will. Jack's just submitted his resignation. Said he'd had word to tell us ‘unofficially'. Everyone but Willis has agreed our appointment already."

"We haven't even been here three months."

"Ah, but look at the difference we've made already. Because we're good."

"We must be," conceded Bodie, a thoughtful look on his face. "It's about time they split the job and took both sides seriously. You'll take the indoor stuff?"

"And you the outside," agreed Doyle.

"I dunno about you but I can think of a few changes straight off."

"Huggins goes and we do something about the demolitions course for starters."

Unsurprised, Bodie nodded. "We're going to be disgustingly good at this, you know."

"I believe you. When we're not fighting tooth and nail."

"Nothing we won't be able to sort out."

"No, I know."

"When is Jack going?"

"Give the poor bastard time. The end of the year."

"Which gives us plenty of time to get ourselves in shape for this. Who's got the hots for me?" Bodie added abruptly, in no mood to discuss work on a Friday night.

"You find out and I'll break both your arms," Doyle said with serenity certainty.

Fidelity was just one of the many topics they had never broached. For his part, Doyle hadn't lost the habit of looking, sometimes with a wistful yearning for feminine curves and hollows and scents. He hadn't been seriously tempted, and didn't think Bodie had either. Discovering he didn't want to think about that, he frowned and realised it was time he did.

Easily charting Doyle's thought processes, Bodie watched the absorbed face with open tenderness. "I haven't strayed yet," he said. "I can't speak for the future, of course. But I can tell you it'd take more than a hard-on for some tasty bird to make me risk mucking up what we've got."

There was a small silence.

"Fair enough," said Doyle gruffly. While the tone might be flippant he knew his Bodie.

Bodie with someone else. All that sure strength and loving dexterity unleashed on someone else. Bodie tangled in a silky mane of hair, his face buried in -

Who said it had to be a girl?

Some thoughts he could do without.

But the spectre refused to be banished. Both of them were new to active bisexuality, Bodie never having been tempted, his own experience limited to one solitary foray as a teenager out to try all life had to offer. He'd never thought to find anything this good, that was for sure.

"You might not be the first but I reckon you'll be the last," Bodie added in the same prosaic tone.

Doyle gave a defensive twitch. "Will you stop picking your way through my mind like you owned it." But his heart wasn't in the complaint. "I never thought about this until now," he allowed wryly.

"Me neither. I'm not surprised. It doesn't do to dwell on some things. Too much like tempting fate. It didn't dawn on me until I saw you eyeing the blonde bombshell this morning," Bodie admitting, referring to Mary Luke, one of the brightest of a bright intake. "Made me realise, it might not be your arms I'd break."

Hearing the grim note in his partner's voice, Doyle offered a comforting rub to tense shoulders. "Yeah. Me, too, truth be told. I can't promise, sunshine, but I can try. You matter to me so - " he shrugged " - we'll see how we go. I'm learning variety isn't the only thing in life."

"Bloody right," muttered Bodie. "How the hell did we get this bloody morbid?"

"We started talking things out and got sidetracked," Doyle reminded him, wondering if he looked as depressed as Bodie. He took a fortifying swig of wine. "In all this you never did get around to answering me. Do you want to go back to CI5?"

"What, with the little empire we're carving out for ourselves here?" joked Bodie, but his smile didn't reach his eyes. "I told you what I missed, good and bad. But there's been plenty to make up for it. Not just you," he added.

Doyle looked cast down.

"Besides," continued Bodie, ignoring him, "I've got used to the idea of growing old with you, making plans for the future rather than avoiding thinking about it. The idea quite appeals if you want the truth - two aging queens eking out their existence on their civil service pensions." He gave a sleek stretch of sheer animal power, subsiding when he received another poke in the ribs.

"Stop admiring your own reflection," Doyle told him with mock-severity. "The processes of your mind worry me sometimes. It gets you turned on, does it, the thought of all those wrinkles?" Pressing against the warmth of Bodie's flank he carefully removed the glass from his partner's lax hand.

While Bodie waited in confident expectation of a knee-trembling kiss at the very least, Doyle transferred the wine from Bodie's glass into his own, handing back the empty glass and resettling himself.

The effrontery of it deprived Bodie of breath, if not pathos. Wounded, he stared at his empty glass.

Doyle sighed. "Love is hell," he said. Leaning up, he poured half of the stolen wine back into Bodie's glass, pausing to lick up the tiny drop which had landed on the curve of a rib.

"To two aging queens," he agreed, touching his glass to Bodie's.

Oblivious to everything but the man next to him Bodie tried to be objective and was forced to abandon the attempt, Doyle's face more familiar to him than his own.

"I can't imagine you old," he mused, fingers stirring through soft body hair.

Doyle gave him an affectionate grin. "No, I know you can't. I'm half grey already. Anyone else would have stopped all the jokes months ago. You never even noticed."

"Of course I - " Bodie's voice trailed off, his hand brushing the curls above Doyle's right ear as he inhaled the familiar scents of shampoo and Ray Doyle. "There are a few silver threads" he acknowledged, surprised. "They make you look - "

" - distinguished?" suggested Doyle, his grin broadening. Disposing of Bodie's glass, he drew him into a one-armed hug and gave him a swift, hard kiss. "See? You better start paying closer attention, or you're going to have one hell of a shock when you wake up one morning to find my teeth grinning at you from a glass."

Bodie winced. Worried, he parted Doyle's lips to peer at the tooth enamel bared for his inspection. "You bite me and you'll be sorry," he warned, knowing his Ray.

The teeth closed over his index fingers, tongue tip teasing the sensitive pad.

Sensation prickling down his body to centre in his groin, Bodie shivered and hurriedly withdrew his finger.

"Come back here." Abandoning his glass, Doyle concentrated on essentials. "After all this time I thought I knew all your erogenous zones," he added with glee.

"Hark at you. No, gerroff, Ray. Please. Don't. Aah, shit. What's the use - "

-- THE END --

Written September 1985
Published in HG Collected 2, Doghouse Press, 2002

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