Doyle balanced the two cardboard boxes he was carrying on his hip as he carefully nudged the front door open with his shoulder. The movement made the boxes wobble precariously and for a few seconds they threatened to spill their contents all over the front steps but with a grunt of effort and an ungainly little shuffle to settle the equilibrium, he was able to make it safely into the living room and deposit them rapidly onto the floor next to the others. He heard the distinctive sound of rattling crockery as the boxes hit the ground and winced, hoping nothing was actually broken.
He turned round as Bodie appeared in the doorway, hands empty but with a small and decidedly un-heavy table lamp tucked under his arm. He tutted loudly and placed the lamp slowly and carefully on top of the desk which Doyle had lugged into the flat earlier in the day.
"Careful with those boxes, mate. That's my best china, you know."
Bodie studied the lamp and the desk for a few moments and then moved the lamp a few centimetres to the right. "That's better. Hard work, this moving house business."
He waltzed past Doyle and flashed him a lopsided grin as he made his way back out. The grin made Doyle smile in spite of himself, but he still gave the box of crockery a mean little kick as he followed him towards the car. Aggravating little bugger. Best china, my arse.
Doyle tucked himself in to the hallway as Bodie sailed past him again, this time carrying the kettle. Even from the front steps, Doyle could see the last and largest box of Bodie's belongings still sitting in the car. He closed his eyes and counted to ten. "Tell you what, Bodie mate, you take it easy, I'll get the last one..."
The final box was the heaviest of all and the flimsy cardboard struggled to hold the weight of the books that had been crammed inside it. Doyle carried the box up the steps and let it drop as soon as he was inside the flat. He propped himself against the wall and took a few deep gasps as he tried to get his breath back. In the living room he could hear Bodie trying to find BBC1 on the television set, the soft crackle of the signal giving way to the sound of Manchester United versus Arsenal on Match of the Day.
"Oi, your lordship. What the hell did your last slave die of? I hope you've at least got that kettle boiled, I'm bloody parched. "
Launching himself off the wall, Doyle looked down in order to kick the box out of his path when he noticed the edge of a black and white photograph sticking out from the pages of one of the paperbacks. He plucked the picture from the book and peered closely at it. It was a school photograph showing a bunch of grey faced children aged about eight or nine lined up neatly, their teacher sitting straight backed on a bench at the front. On either side of the teacher were four or five little girls sitting primly in a row, their knees together and their hands clasped politely in their laps. Behind them stood three more rows of boys and girls, hands held rigidly by their sides, all wearing the same school uniform in varying stages of disarray. A few of the children had dared to smile for the camera, although the stout and middle aged female teacher was scowling from the front of the photograph, obviously taking the yearly ritual of the school photo very seriously indeed.
Doyle wandered into the living room, where Bodie was sprawled on the sofa in front of the football. He picked up the cup of tea that was already waiting for him, and took a sip before waving the picture casually in front of Bodie's face.
"Found this. I presume you're in amongst this shabby looking lot somewhere?"
Bodie eyed the photo briefly and turned his attention back to the football. "Can't you find me?" His mouth turned upwards in a small grin. "I'm hurt Doyle. Are you saying you can't pick me out from the crowd?" He gave a small wink. "Just look for the handsomest little devil in the class."
Doyle raised an eyebrow and looked at the photo again properly. He scanned the picture from the front row to the back and stopped when his eyes came to rest on two boys standing in the third row, one fair haired and the other dark. Unlike the rest of the children, these two lads weren't standing compliantly to attention with their hands at their sides, but had their arms draped around each other's shoulders. They were leaning into each other slightly, their heads almost touching and grinning at the camera with cheeky delight. And even though the dark haired boy was no more than nine years old and the photograph was small and slightly dog eared, the tiny black and white face smiling up at him was undeniably Bodie.
Ray grinned. Gotcha. He poked Bodie in the ribs. "Who's your friend?" His finger jabbed at the boy standing next to Bodie in the picture. Bodie took the photo out of his hands for a moment and gave a small chuckle.
"That's Eddie Kidd. My best mate when I was a kid. He lived a couple of doors down the lane from us. Our mams used to go to bingo together every Thursday night."
Bodie smiled down at the boy in the photograph. "Haven't seen this picture for years, didn't even know I still had it. Inseparable, me and Eddie were." There was a pause and another low chuckle. "We were a right couple of ratbags, mind you. Used to drive old battleaxe Hodges round the bend, the pair of us did." He indicated the sour faced teacher in the photograph.
Ray tugged at the picture, wanting to see the face of Eddie Kidd again, and Bodie relinquished it without protest.
Bodie nodded, his eyes now back on the television set. "Absolutely. Us against the world it was. We were even blood brothers, you know."
That remark made Doyle look up from the battered photo. "Blood brothers? That's a bit dramatic, isn't it?"
Bodie smiled, apparently in indulgent amusement at his nine year old self. "Hey, don't knock it, meant a lot that did. We did it properly, as well. Took the oath and everything. We used his dad's old penknife. S'a bloody miracle we didn't both get tetanus." He tore his eyes away from the television screen and looked down at the palm of his right hand as if searching for the mark that Eddie Kidd had left behind.
"Hm. Never noticed that before. Scar's gone now."
Doyle looked down at the face of the blond boy in the photo. "So what happened to Eddie then?"
Bodie shrugged. "Dunno. They moved down to the Midlands a couple of years after that picture was taken. Never saw him again after that." Bodie's attention returned to the television set as the ref blew the whistle for half time. "Fancy another cuppa?" He took the mug from Doyle's hand and made his way towards the kitchen, sighing theatrically as he picked his way through all the boxes Ray had carried into the flat. "Don't know about you, but I reckon I deserve one after all that heavy lifting today."
Doyle snorted under his breath and fixed his attention on the photograph again. Eddie Kidd was an unremarkable looking boy, his finer features impossible to make out in the small photograph. His hair was long and uncombed and very fair. His eyes looked light grey in the black and white image--probably pale blue in reality. His uniform was decidedly more dishevelled than Bodie's, his school tie hanging rather loosely around his neck and his shirt not quite tucked in to his trousers. His left hand clutched possessively at Bodie's shoulder, white fingers spread starkly across the dark grey of Bodie's school shirt. In contrast Bodie's arm was slung around Eddie's neck, his hand resting easily in the space around his friend but not actually touching him. Bodie's smile, however, matched Eddie's, and the two boys positively beamed out of the picture, enjoying whatever secret joke had passed between them seconds before the photograph was taken.
Doyle frowned at the two children in front of him. They were clearly best friends, that much was obvious from the affectionate pose and the laughing faces. They were standing close together, completely at ease in each other's space, so close that their heads were almost touching. Doyle couldn't help but marvel at the little piece of Bodie's childhood he held in his hands, a moment frozen in time when William Bodie and Eddie Kidd had been best mates, blood brothers, together forever. Only it hadn't stayed that way, had it?
Bodie had spoken fondly enough of the vanished Eddie Kidd when questioned, but there had been no regret in his voice. Never saw him again after that. His best mate, and Bodie had just let him drift away. The Midlands weren't even that far from Liverpool, it wasn't as if the poor little sod had left the country or emigrated, or as if they didn't have telephones and post boxes south of Birkenhead.
Doyle couldn't take his eyes off the smiling face of Eddie Kidd, the poor little bastard who'd been Bodie's best friend and then forgotten. Even the scar made by the penknife had faded without Bodie realising it, removing one of the last traces that Eddie had ever been around in the first place. Poor Eddie Kidd--gone, just like that.
And Bodie was his, now. Eddie Kidd might have had laid claim to the nine year old boy that Bodie was in the photo, but the living, breathing, grown up version of Bodie belonged to Doyle now. Or maybe Doyle belonged to Bodie, it didn't really matter which way round it went. He ran his thumb over Eddie Kidd's hopeful smile. Sorry, Eddie. Possession's nine tenths of the law, you know...
He was startled out of his reverie when Bodie reappeared beside him and placed a mug of steaming hot tea in his hand.
"Still gazing at that picture?" Bodie sat down next to him and leaned in close to peer at the photo, his breath puffing on Doyle's shoulder. "Told you I was born tall, dark and beautiful, didn't I?"
Doyle placed the photograph on the table in front of him and looked across at Bodie. As far as Doyle was concerned, the smug bastard sitting next to him was already nine of his tenths. But it wasn't easy to keep ownership of someone like Bodie. Eddie Kidd had tried it, and Bodie had still slipped away from him. Doyle wanted to make damn sure the same thing wasn't going to happen to him.
Doyle moved the photograph from the table when the takeaway arrived and propped it up safely on the mantelpiece, away from the food and the beer. Tucking in to the food, they ate in comfortable silence, the tv droning quietly in the background. Apparently Bodie had found ITV at some point during the day, as Doyle found himself vaguely watching Michael Parkinson interviewing some distinguished looking actor he didn't recognise while they guzzled their food and beer.
Bodie leaned over and plucked two more cans of lager from the sixpack Doyle had fetched from the off-licence. He passed one to Doyle and raised his own in salute. "Bottoms up, mate." Bodie belched and patted his stomach without apology, taking another long swig of lager and stretching his arm along the back of the sofa.
Doyle sniggered and let his head fall backwards towards the spot where Bodie's hand was resting, and immediately felt Bodie give his hair a gentle ruffle. He closed his eyes in tipsy contentment as Bodie's arm came to rest companionably on the edge of the sofa behind his head, almost but not quite touching him. Just like Bodie was almost but not quite holding on to Eddie Kidd in that photograph.
Eyes still shut, the black and white face of Eddie Kidd floated in and out of Doyle's mind. It seemed that with the benefit of three cans of lager, Eddie cut an even more tragic figure in Doyle's fond imagination. Eddie Kidd must have thought he'd have his place by Bodie's side forever, he probably never dreamed he could be forgotten so quickly and replaced so remorselessly. Doyle tried to imagine what it would feel like to have Bodie slip out of his life like that but it was just unthinkable. Leaning back on the sofa, he could feel the tingle at the back of his neck where Bodie was almost touching him, feel the warmth of the body sitting next to him. He'd die if he lost that.
With sudden determination, he lurched towards the kitchen and began fumbling in the drawers until he found a small but sharp pocket knife. He sat back down next to Bodie, who watched him with a raised eyebrow and a wary smile playing about his lips. "Whassat for?"
Doyle perched at the edge of the sofa and fixed his gaze on Bodie. "We're gonna be blood brothers," he announced seriously. "You and me."
Bodie snorted inelegantly and rolled his eyes. "Come on Ray." He looked at Doyle pointedly "That's a bit dramatic, isn't it?"
Doyle shook his head and reached for Bodie's hand. "It's important. " He squinted at Bodie and raised his chin in challenge. "You're not chicken, are you?"
Another derisive snort from Bodie answered that question but he didn't pull his hand away from Ray's grasp. "You're mad, you know," he sniffed. "I dunno, I fling myself in front of bullets for you, save you from crazed terrorists and dodgy girlfriends, and you still reckon we need to do this." He wiggled their joined hands in front of Doyle and nodded his head towards the knife on the table.
Doyle wrapped his fingers tightly around Bodie's hand, willing him to understand and give in, to let Doyle stake his claim. "It's important." Doyle could feel the sticky sweat of their hands where their palms were touching, the warmth of the contact spreading through the rest of his body like it always did when Bodie was this close to him. There was a long pause and for a terrible moment Doyle thought Bodie was going to pull away, that he was going to take all that warmth away from him and leave him cold and empty handed. But then he felt Bodie's fingers clasp briefly around his in silent response. "Come on then." He nudged Doyle gently with his knee, and gave another small nod at the knife. "I suppose you always hurt the ones you love..."
Doyle smiled, relieved that Bodie saw things the way he did. He picked up the small blade and ran his fingers along the fleshy heel of Bodie's palm, hesitating. Should he go first, or should Bodie? He'd never done this before and he was suddenly unsure of the procedure. He ran his thumb over the pulse point on Bodie's wrist, pressing down so he could count the slow and steady beats. Beats which could so easily stop the next time an assignment went wrong, or if Doyle wasn't there to watch his back. Suddenly feeling very sober, Doyle looked up to find Bodie staring intently back at him, his blue eyes clear and serious.
"This is daft, you know." Bodie said softly.
"I know. But I want us to do it." Bodie nodded once and Doyle took a deep breath and pressed the sharp blade into his skin.
The knife was clean and sharp, so Doyle knew it wouldn't really hurt but as he saw the line of crimson that marked out the path of the blade across Bodie's palm, he found himself pressing the knife a little harder into the pale flesh. He wanted his mark to leave a permanent scar. He wasn't going to be erased as easily as Eddie Kidd had been. Bodie winced, but didn't pull away, and Doyle almost regretted the extra force he had used to make the wound. But then it was fitting, really. There had always been something slightly cruel about the way they needed each other.
Bodie sucked his hand to his mouth when Doyle was finished, and watched without comment whilst Doyle made a similar smooth cut across his own right palm. He offered his wounded hand back to Doyle who grasped it strongly. They both let out a small hiss of pain as their tender, bloodied palms met and Doyle found himself almost smiling in satisfaction. He looked up at Bodie attentively. See. Love hurts.
Bodie's eyes met Doyle's unblinkingly and he nodded slightly, as though he had read Doyle's mind. Doyle held the blue gaze for several long moments, the flickering lights and soft drone of the tv set the only sound and movement in the room. Doyle swallowed and opened his mouth to break the silence, but at the same time Bodie's fingers moved slightly under his. Seizing on the distraction, Doyle broke the gaze and then frowned as a new thought occurred to him. "Are we supposed to say something?" Bodie looked back at him blankly and gave a small shrug. "You said you took an oath before." Doyle pulled their joined hands towards him and leaned forward. If they were going to do this, they were going to do it right. "We should say something."
Bodie looked at their joined and bloodied hands and merely giggled.
"No, come on." Doyle wasn't having any of that. He gave Bodie's hand another tug, drawing him even closer. "You're the one who's good with words. Think of something proper to say, something fitting to the occasion."
Bodie shifted on the sofa and turned so that he was directly facing Doyle, their knees touching and their hands still clasped together. Doyle looked at him expectantly, watching the gears in Bodie's head turning as if he was searching for just the right words to seal their pact. Then Bodie gave a small but wicked grin and squeezed their hands more tightly together, shaking his head and pressing his forehead lightly against Doyle's. When he finally spoke, it was just to say one word.
Doyle blinked in surprise, then let out a loud bark of laughter and squeezed Bodie's hand back in response. "Tosser."
Bodie laughed out loud, the insult earning Doyle a sharp kick in the shins at the same time. Doyle grinned back at him, basking in the open affection behind the amusement he saw in Bodie's eyes. Neither of them attempted to let go of their joined hands.
Eddie Kidd be damned, thought Doyle. He had the last tenth now.
-- THE END --