…And Memories Die
by Ellis Ward
A sequel to Looking Glass World, by Felicity M Parkinson
It came to him through the night, muffled by velvet darkness, distorted by heavy, cloying layers of too-deep sleep. On one plane of his mind he struggled to identify the sound; waking, he could have put a name to it at once. On and off it intruded, faint yet imperative, something not uncommon, but at the moment, cause for concern. He twitched restlessly while time, measured by the convention of dreams, slid by. A quarter of an hour might have passed, or merely the span of a single, drowsy heartbeat. Unconsciousness beckoned, but as he yielded, it came again.
With the intent of shedding treacly restraints the sleeper shifted, rearranging arms and legs, head rolling irritably on battered pillow, prepared to pay attention when the disturbance was repeated. But he waited in vain as long moments crept by. The bedclothes were warm and seductively cozy, cradling a body limp with exhaustion. When the discordant symphony of spasmodic grunts and gasping breaths began again, Bodie's mind chose to short-circuit his reflexive concern by presenting the distant noises in the trappings of the past. It was Doyle, then as now. . .
. . .hand over his mouth, pretending to fill his palm at the suggestion Bodie had just made.
"Jesus, Doyle," Bodie complained, "do you have to be so bloody obnoxious?"
"Pardon me, I'm sure," Doyle replied, sourly. "Thought you wanted me to lose me lunch."
They were riding in the silver Capri, less than a mile, but at least twenty minutes away from headquarters, mired in morning traffic.
"And I thought we had gone over all of this last night. It's been six weeks, Ray! It's time he was told."
From the mercilessly tamed curls to the compactly hunched form, Doyle was a study in reluctance. "So you tell him."
"We're in this together," Bodie reminded him.
A long-fingered hand raked errantly through auburn hair. "Don't I damned well know it."
Bodie threw his associate a look composed equally of uncertainty and irritation. "Yeah, well you know what the alternative is, too. We pack it in, now. `S not fair to him."
There was an unnaturally drawn-out sigh. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Christ, Bodie." Doyle reached out, ignoring the press of cars and potentially curious drivers all around them, and laid a palm on a well- muscled thigh -- not his own. "Still getting used to it, that's all. Even after all this time." He arched back against the seat, angling one leg over the other, then hooked a shoe on the dash despite the confined space.
Bodie spared him a quick glance, not daring to let it linger, no more inclined to take for granted that the lanky form of his prickly partner was his to have and to hold, than that they could end every day unscathed.
Six weeks ago they had driven to an address in a nondescript part of Town -- 52 Staveley Avenue -- and there they had stepped into another world. Hell, Bodie hadn't known if it was another world, another universe, or a kink in their own time. A looking glass world. Everything had been the same -- but not. Both he and Doyle had been matched by identical opposite numbers who were gay. Not whimsical, not jocular, not humourously disposed -- the Bodie and Doyle of that London got it off with men. Even the Cowley who existed there occasionally entertained himself with his Bodie's favours.
Bodie laughed soundlessly, earning the jaundiced scrutiny of his partner. Not everything had gone into that report, despite Doyle's insistence on the truth. But then Doyle had forgotten about that.
His amusement faded. For a month in that hellish place Doyle had gone missing, lost amidst a host of human refuse more savage than their own London, please God, would ever boast. He had been chemically programmed to sell himself under the name of Forester, his scrambled sense of identity a gift of one Harry Walter, a very powerful man whose notion of humour could not have been called benign. It had been Bodie's double who had found Doyle; he, who had hired Doyle's services. The bastard had used Ray, knowing full well who he was and that Doyle belonged to him. Yet without that other Bodie's help, they might never have escaped.
The arrogant prick had called Doyle "Tiger," of all things.
Upon returning to their own world, borne by whatever anomaly had transported them out of it in the first place, Doyle had developed amnesia. The month he had spent whoring had become a complete blank. At first Bodie was relieved that his friend had been spared the knowledge of what he had done. Whereas he could have accepted such benighted doings with well-developed stoicism, Doyle would have castigated himself and wallowed in the ugliness -- never mind that it had been beyond his control - -- until he'd worked himself into a really black state. Caught up in the giddy elation of their newly established sexual relationship, which had come about shortly after their return, Bodie had been able to put aside his fears of what would happen if Doyle should ever remember -- for a while, anyway. But as the trees had gone bare and the days had grown shorter, Bodie had come to recognize how very important to him this love affair was; and he dreaded the possibility that someday Doyle's past would come back to torment him.
It hadn't -- yet. And if it were in Bodie's power, Doyle's memory of that time would never return.
Listening inattentively to Doyle's muttered imprecations as they mounted the steps to the undistinguished structure housing CI5, Bodie shoved sweating palms into his pockets, silently reviewing the speech he had prepared the night before. Doyle had scrubbed his hands of it, being of the opinion that anything he might say would only jeopardize their case rather than aid, it, simply because Cowley didn't "like" him as much as he "liked" Bodie. The childish statement had been refuted, of course, but Bodie had never been able to disabuse Doyle of that particular misconception, and certainly came no nearer to doing so now. Bodie admired the Old Man, was even fond of him in a way, and saw no reason to pretend otherwise. Consequently, he accorded him a degree of respect that pleased Cowley and irked Doyle, who resented authority in its more obdurate forms and refused to give any credit to the military mind which revered it.
In his office Cowley was waiting for them, the interview having been arranged a couple of days previously. They took chairs in front of the long, imposing desk, evincing a repose that was wholly fabricated. Bodie eyed the older man before beginning, trying to gauge his mood on this nippy, autumn morning.
Best to proceed boldly, he decided, and abandoning his prepared speech, said without preamble, "Thought you should know, sir, Doyle and I are sleeping together."
He had imagined a vast range of possible reactions, from apoplectic outrage to mild disbelief, even though he had counted the latter least likely of all. What they got was precisely nothing.
Unreadable, pale blue eyes skimmed over one man and then the other, sinking Doyle a little lower in his seat, while pervading Bodie with a disquiet that thoroughly dampened his resolve. "And why are you telling me this?" Cowley asked at last, with seemingly negligible interest.
Bodie stared at him, keenly aware of a malevolent green gaze burning into the side of his head. Rigidly composed, he murmured, "Thought you'd find it of interest, sir." Guilelessly meeting his employer's impassiveness, he added earnestly, "Security, y'know."
Cowley said coldly, "Do you really imagine I don't already know?"
Doyle fidgeted at that, a barely repressed grinding sound emanating from somewhere in the region of his back molars.
"Sir?" Bodie swallowed.
Cowley's head tipped to one side. Then he reached over and lifted a thick folder from the paper pile obscuring the surface of his desk. "Surveillance was begun on the pair of you three weeks ago. I have been apprised of all the salient facts as they have been gathered, and based my conclusions upon them. If, however, this is an indication of how your relationship is affecting your ability to assess a situation, perhaps a reevaluation is -- "
"Three weeks!" Doyle blurted out. "But we haven't -- "
"No? Your behaviour changed markedly nearly six weeks ago -- right after that bizarre episode when you lost a day here and gained a month somewhere else." He glowered at Doyle. "An alternate universe. I believe you compared it in your report to something you once saw in a television program -- STAR TREK, wasn't it?"
Doyle nodded with mute sullenness.
"Both of you lost all interest in the opposite sex upon your return. Unusual for any healthy male; remarkable for either of you. It came to my attention that you were spending a great deal of time together. Every night, in fact. More . . . intensive surveillance confirmed my suspicions."
A full ten seconds of stupefied silence followed this announcement.
"You bugged our bedrooms!" Doyle exclaimed.
"Of course. It is a security matter."
Bodie muttered grimly, "Hope you enjoyed yourself, sir. Must've made for some juicy entertainment."
Unfazed, Cowley commented, "Educational, certainly."
Despite an unparalleled degree of chagrin and unutterable embarrassment, Doyle managed to form coherent thought. "You're telling us you know, have known for God knows how long. Why haven't we been called up on it?"
Bodie gave his partner a sharp look, then turned eyes darkened with cunning upon their employer. "Because it was a test." He raised his brows. "Wasn't it? To see how long it would take us to spill our guts."
Cowley ignored the rebuke in Bodie's voice. He said, trenchantly, "And it's taken six weeks, gentlemen."
Doyle unfolded his legs and bent forward. "And now? If we're for the high jump, why wait?"
"Why, indeed? You have all the information; you tell me."
Not immediately registering the implication that they had not, as yet, forfeited their jobs, both Bodie and Doyle were too immersed in their boss' question to appreciate the unlikely possibility of reprieve. Searching for an answer, their gazes met and held. All of the wonderful intimacy, shared in the privacy of their bedrooms had been laid open to this man; every word, every pleasured sigh, every groan of completion had been duly noted and consigned to their files. And with the uncanny communication that they had shared within weeks of being partnered, they knew the answer: It was there, in those very beds, that they had discussed the future, their responsibilities to Cowley, and the importance of protecting him and the Squad from the repercussions that might stem from their unconventional love.
The hard line of his mouth softening, Bodie grinned ruefully at his partner. "Because this isn't a casual relationship."
Cowley, however, did not smile. "Aye. Your tapes imply a somewhat more stable involvement than that."
All innocence, Doyle asked, "The Department allows homosexual `marriages' then?"
"Marriages, yes. It could be argued -- " Cowley caught himself and began again " -- has been argued that long-lasting partnerships like yours are nothing less. Despite your previous track-records, you have been remarkably discreet in this undertaking. Should that change, or should you be incapable of maintaining the relationship in future, steps will be taken, I assure you."
Relief making him reckless, Bodie could not resist giving his partner a puritanical frown. "That means no snogging in the back seat, Doyle."
Doyle scorched him with a fulminating glare, and spoke directly to Cowley as though they were alone in the room. "So we . . . the way we're handling this . . . " He stumbled for words. "It's all right with you, sir?"
"Hardly." If the single word had been a chemical, it would have melted hardened steel. "And not because of the obvious sexual aspects; it's time Joe Public and the government bodies guiding him learned to accept that facet of life." He cast his anger over them impartially. "No, it's your flaunting of the nonfraternization policy that gets up my nose. If there had been less evidence of commitment between you, or the slightest implication that your working relationship might suffer, you'd both be on the streets by now."
Bodie broke the ensuing silence by asking the first thing that came to mind. "Who vetted us, sir?"
"None of your concern," Cowley replied tartly. He closed the file. Hands laid upon it with finality, he asked, "Anything else?"
Rising, Doyle muttered, "No -- oh." Expression guarded, he began, "If we wanted to share a flat -- "
Cowley interrupted, "It would be disapproved." Before either man could object, he added, "At this time. If, in six months you still wish to pursue it, bring it up again. Gentlemen."
The two agents, disconcerted but simultaneously reassured by the interview and Cowley's forthright manner, moved together toward the door. Bodie halted his partner as he reached for the handle. "The bugs, sir, they have been . . . "
"Removed? Yes, Bodie." Cowley consulted his watch. "All of them, by now."
Catching a glimpse of sharp, flawed teeth, and flaring green eyes, Bodie hustled Doyle through the doorway, leaving a "Thank you, sir," floating in the air behind them.
Once in the corridor, he said brusquely, "C'mon, trouble. Let's get out of here before you get us tossed off the Squad."
"Me!" Doyle squawked. "Who started this?"
"Yeah, well, who followed my leader? Don't remember you arguing much."
The corridor was treated to a light-hearted chortle. "Not polite to argue," Doyle said cheerfully. "My mum always says so." As they strode through the corridors toward the duty room, he announced, "He heard everything, Bodie, you know that."
Fascinated by Doyle's notable lack of animosity, Bodie prodded, "You don't mind?"
Thin shoulders moved under the brown bomber jacket. "Not as if he ever heard us -- you know. That'd've been worse. But, well, he couldn't've, could he?" Doyle rationalized, a touch defensively.
The skin curving over Bodie's spine prickled as if exposed to a cold draft. "Hardly the place to be discussing that, sunshine." He tried to keep his voice even, but dismissal sharpened the words.
"It's all right, mate," Doyle said, coolly. "I can be very persuasive."
Swinging too suddenly from relief to near-despair, Bodie preceded him stiff-leggedly into the duty room. He was conscious of a keen desire to gather Doyle close and give him what he wanted right here and now. Impossible, of course, and not simply because Cowley would have their guts for garters for committing sodomy in a public place. Six weeks ago, in that other Bodie's flat, there had been indications that his double had cold-bloodedly fucked Doyle, with a fine disregard for his compromised state of mind and future well-being. In all their time together, Bodie had never treated Doyle with anything less than warmth and affection; and while he was well aware that sodomy need never be brutal or one-sided, the apprehension remained that by indulging in that single act, Doyle might be induced to remember.
A light punch on Bodie's upper arm brought him back from his brooding. He came round to face clear green eyes that mirrored no demons.
Something in Bodie's expression made Doyle grin. He smirked, "All the time in the world, mate."
All the time in the world. . .
It echoed in Bodie's mind as he slowly surfaced to the present, vaguely aware that the detailed dream owed more to memory than sleep. Rubbing lazily at his prickly jaw, Bodie dredged up a faint smile at how they had ended that day: scouring both of their flats for any electronic devices that might have been overlooked, only settling down for the night when they were satisfied that not one remained.
He reached out and found Doyle gone, the empty spot reminding him that he had come close to waking earlier, although at the moment he could not think why. "Ray?" His leg slowly glided through cotton sheets to the cool place on the other side of the mattress. They'd learned so much about each other in the 18 months since that mad adventure, things they had not acknowledged to another living soul in many, many years. It had been surprising to discover how few specifics they were privy to, although perhaps it shouldn't have been, since their acquaintance had been forged out of necessity, rather than mutual interests. Personal history was superfluous if you knew the important things: whether your partner would be there when you needed him, for example. And as partners, they had come to accept the totality of the man, irrespective of philosophies formed by childhood.
Maybe it was inevitable that, as lovers, their intimacy should extend to their backgrounds, as well, a desire to go beyond acceptance to understanding. Bit by bit, they had opened up, revealing instances from their pasts, harrowing experiences and humiliating rites of passage than somehow, shared between them, lost the power to wound or even sting.
One such occasion came immediately to mind, another time when Bodie had woken to find Doyle missing. Lids heavy over eyes that saw only inward, Bodie remembered spring, a year ago . . .
. . . rousing dopily, fingers stretching out for Doyle, finding instead a slip of paper resting on his pillow.
Bodie plucked the note off its resting place and brought it close to gummy eyes.
I've gone to visit my mum. Should be home by 5. L. y. R.
Bodie sat up all at once, sleep-slackened features twisted with dismay as he lumbered from beneath the covers. Doyle mentioned his mother now and then; but in all the years Bodie had known him, he could not recall a single instance of his visiting her. Christ, he had no idea at all where the woman even lived.
More than a little miffed, he went about his morning ritual doggedly, slamming every door he encountered and taking inordinate pleasure from the unintended destruction of a cereal bowl that slipped from his grip into the porcelain basin. The ring of shattering crockery matched the tenor of his thoughts and he left the pieces to rue the error of their ways while he took his tea to the table. Cursing volubly when the first mouthful burned off a layer of tender inner tissue, he nevertheless welcomed the pain, and notched up another black mark in his partner's favor.
Ray's note lay flat on the table beside the marmalade.
L. v. R." Love you, Ray. A blunt fingertip skimmed over the ballpointed lettering, coming away with a streak of blue embedded in the calloused whorls.
Outside it was a bleak spring day, the steel grey sky extending in all directions. It might turn later, either to rain or sun. At the moment he didn't care if it even began to snow.
He and Doyle had been together for six months now. Not all of it had been smooth sailing, but a lot of it had been great, really . . . special. They'd experienced some wild do's with the Squad, a few adjustment ups and downs between them, and an occasional combination of the two. Still, Bodie wouldn't have missed those six months for the moon. Waking next to Doyle was one of the simplest but most gratifying joys in an otherwise too frequently dispiriting world. The sex was still spectacular -- something Bodie couldn't quite believe. For someone who had never seriously contemplated marriage, he had come to accept the rightness of their relationship with slowly growing contentment -- no matter how much it clashed with his carefully established self-image.
But while he had surrendered to domesticity with few objections, Doyle had done so without Qualm One. The little bugger was more affectionate and loving -- and bad-tempered -- than Bodie could have anticipated. When Doyle was low, Bodie could still jolly him out of it as he had always done. But if he were in any way responsible for Doyle's despondency, there was hell to pay. Bodie had not understood the intensity of his mate's reactions, so outsized compared to set-tos they'd muddled through before. It was only after they'd survived a few that Bodie came to recognize the very real insecurity lurking within his lover. It was that which caused Doyle to lash out, a deep-down fear that he had made himself too vulnerable and Bodie might one day use it against him. Exasperated at first, Bodie soon overcame any feelings of being hard-done- by and acknowledged that Doyle was as bemused by all of this as he was.
Funny that uncertainty had never been a factor when he'd first considered taking Doyle to bed. Of course, there was a lot they had not thought out beforehand, basic habits, both daily and nocturnal; living accommodations; the pooling of money. So many aspects of "marriage" neither had contemplated because the reality of it had been beyond them. Bodie wondered once if Doyle had ever seriously considered life with Ann Bloody Holly, whom he had proclaimed suitable for conjugal bliss. Had there been plans between them? A joining not only of flesh, but of minds, lifestyles, and households?
In Bodie's opinion that was doubtful; certainly not to the extent he and Doyle had carried it. And they were coming along nicely -- or so he had thought until this morning. Unaccountably full before he'd finished his unusually spartan breakfast, Bodie disposed of the remains. After binning the telltale carcass of the cereal bowl, he washed and stowed the glasses, dishes, and utensils. He drank coffee and prowled about the flat, unable even to sublimate in a fit of righteous housekeeping, since he and Doyle had spent part of yesterday morning doing just that -- at Doyle's insistence.
Ray had planned this; he had known he would be going away well before the event.
Ludicrously hurt, Bodie knew he would drive himself up the walls if he didn't find something constructive to do. And he had a whole day to do it in.
Was Doyle really visiting his mother?
The doubt was banished instantly. There was no reason for Doyle to lie to him; they'd talked that out long ago. When -- if -- one of them wanted out, all he had to do was say so.
Next question was: Would he mind company?
Sparked with purpose, Bodie paced the flat a moment longer, cogitating how he might find out where Doyle had gone. Several moments later, having riffled through Doyle's address book, the one he kept in the desk along with current due notices and important papers, Bodie was abruptly facing defeat. Maybe, like so many women of her time, Doyle's mother no longer carried his father's name, having divorced and remarried, or maybe widowed and remarried? And without any idea of her first name, the still-legible female names in that address book meant nothing -- although it did his heart a world of good to see that most of them had been obliterated with a heavy-handed X.
With a burst of inspiration, Bodie picked up the receiver and dialled a very familiar number before allowing himself time to think it through. The switchboard answered on the second ring, and Bodie asked for Cowley, all at once remembering that it was Sunday, and very early Sunday morning at that.
Yet, he was not at all surprised when that well-known voice gave a curt, "Yes, Bodie?"
"Good morning, sir, I -- " Blue eyes stared stupidly at the wall across the room as Bodie realized the idiocy of what he was doing. "That is -- "
"Bodie, is there a reason for this call?"
"I . . . " Snapping a breath into his lungs, Bodie machine-gunned the words out. "Do you know where Doyle's mum lives, sir?" He closed his eyes, holding the hand-piece a few inches from his ear as he waited for telephonic contumely to pour out of the receiver.
There was a telling pause, then Cowley said, "Whyever do you want to know?"
In for a penny . . . Bodie decided, his face brilliantly rosy. "He's gone to visit her. Left me a note. I thought . . . I thought I'd go and introduce myself." He bit his lip, knowing he would never live this conversation down if he prevailed to a ripe old age.
There was another long interval, during which Bodie was left with only the riotous pounding of his heart.
When Cowley spoke, it was with conspicuous constraint. "I can give you directions," he said. Then: "Are you sure Doyle will not mind?"
Bodie let out a sharp breath. "Don't intend to embarrass him, just . . . just want to say hallo."
"I . . . see."
Bodie wondered what sort of expression was gracing Cowley's face at that moment. Bravado slipping, he suffered a twinge of uneasiness.
"If you've a pen handy . . . " Briskly, George Cowley gave him specific directions: an hour's drive out of London, north an east, a turn off the main road, another five miles, then a left, just outside the village.
With his pen scribbling furiously on a scrap of paper, Bodie frowned. "Uh. . . Isn't there an address?"
"That'll get you there, if you took it down properly. Is that all, Bodie?"
"Yes, sir. And thank you."
"I hope Doyle will do the same," Cowley said cryptically and broke the connection.
Bodie wasted no time, despite a sense of foreboding which he stolidly put out of his mind. The newness of the day left the roads easily negotiable and he cleared London in record time. Driving had always been a joy and the exercise calmed and distracted him now, even more so once he left the major arteries behind and settled onto quiet country lanes.
Following Cowley's directions with military conscientiousness, Bodie at last came to a halt just short of the last turn he had been instructed to take. Leaving the engine running, he sat undecided as his perplexed blue gaze passed over open land to the right, and a headstone-covered hillside that sloped down and away from the road to the left.
. . . left, just outside the village.
Here the sky was patchy with a few low, scudding clouds; but the late March sun had begun to show surprising strength, especially for the hour, which had only gone eight. Birdsong trilled in through the window, unexpectedly loud, startling him. Bodie moved the gearstick forward and eased his left foot off the clutch while simultaneously coaxing the accelerator with his right. As the car neared the apex of the pronounced hill, he saw the gold Capri, parked off the lane. He nosed its silver cousin to a stop behind it and switched off the engine.
There could be no question why Doyle was here, and it explained Cowley's odd manner on the telephone. He could stay, brazen it out, bringing Doyle's certain wrath down on his head; or he could leave now, return home and wait for his partner.
But, somehow, this was important. A strong advocate of keeping one's own counsel, he nevertheless felt that Doyle owed him an explanation this time.
Responding to the same impulse that had moved him to ring Cowley, he stepped out of the car, gently pushing the door shut behind him, and started up the gravel path which led to the cemetery gate. Daffodils grew outside the stone wall, bright yellow trumpets ringed by short, burnt- orange collars and longer, lemon-yellow petals. He tore up a handful and, studiously casual, passed through the hanging-wide, wrought-iron gate, only his eyes betraying nervousness as they roved from one side of the grounds to the other.
It was an old graveyard, and large. Stone markers in a variety of shapes and sizes littered the lush lawn. It was very quiet and peacefully beautiful in an archaic way -- all, Bodie decided sardonically, that a dead man could want.
For someone who had seen death in far more gruesome forms, this place held no dread. Dead was dead. Because Cowley demanded it, Bodie had arranged for the disposition of his remains in the most efficient and inexpensive means possible. Realistically, however, should Doyle outlive him, it would be his choice how the deed was done. At that point, Bodie would no longer care, and did not waste pensive musings on it now.
On the other hand, if it were Ray first, would he want to visit him here, or somewhere like this? A well-tended, shady hillside, Queen Anne's lace sprouting beside a rain-washed headstone, pilfered flowers to brighten the lawn-shrouded reminder of unending loss . . . Stung by premature grief, Bodie shut the vision out. There were very few subjects too disquieting for consideration, but Doyle's death was one of them.
Bodie moved on.
There was no sign of his partner. Bodie systematically surveyed the grounds, then changed direction toward the older section simply because there was nowhere else Doyle could be. There was a low rise and the ground fell away, the view broken by several old, gnarled trees. As he went, walking with instinctively quiet steps, Bodie found himself listening keenly, head canted to one side. There was a low murmur that at first he mistook for the heavy rustle of soon-to-bud branches, jostled in the early morning breeze.
Before long, however, holding the dew-wet flowers behind his back, he was following a voice, one that he knew better than his own, until he was almost close enough to discern individual words. Rounding a large, half-dead willow, he spied Doyle at last, sitting tailor-fashion on a rounded berm, head bent over, single-mindedly stripping the petals from a wine-red rose. A bouquet of four or five others lay intact a hand's- breadth away: the offering made to a weather-beaten headstone.
Bodie stopped, ridiculously relieved and pleased to see him, relishing the sight of his partner with pride of possession. Dark reddish curls rose with the wind, clearing the high forehead, revealing gentle animation in a shining face. Doyle was speaking, mouth softened with an innocent smile when, alerted by some innate sense, his head jerked up and startled eyes fixed on Bodie, spearing him where he stood.
Bodie hesitated, unsure whether he should proceed or turn back. Nothing in Doyle's face welcomed him -- but neither was there anything that augured imminent annihilation. Dropping his head, ostensibly to watch his step, Bodie slowly closed the distance between them. When he was still a couple of yards away, however, he stopped.
Doyle had had time to collect himself. "How'd you get here, Bodie?"
"Drove." The flippant answer was a reflex, but the wrong thing to say. Doyle tensed, and Bodie hurriedly explained, "Cowley gave me directions."
That provided a shock. "You rang the Cow? At home?"
"'Course not. At Base. He was there, can you believe it?"
Doyle was not to be distracted. "That's bloody marvellous, mate. What the hell'd you tell him?"
Turning his attention to the sea of graves, Bodie wondered how desperate a case he had created for himself. "Just that you'd gone to see your mum. Asked him if he knew where I'd find you."
"And he told you. Just like that."
Miserable, and not quite successful at hiding it, Bodie nodded. "Maybe he thought I should know."
Doyle shredded the last petals from the hapless rose. "Was none of his business."
For a second, Doyle refused to look at him. Conscious of a gripping sensation within his ribcage, Bodie kept himself from shuffling his feet with an effort. This had been a mistake. It would be best for him to leave immediately. "Sorry, Ray," he began. "Shouldn't've. . . "
"Why did you come here?"
The remainder of what he'd intended to say died in Bodie's throat. "Wanted to meet your mum," he answered truthfully. Realizing how stupid that must sound, standing as he was at the woman's grave, Bodie began to feel awkward and then gallingly exposed. He said truculently, "Felt left behind. Pretty silly, eh?"
Doyle said nothing.
Acutely embarrassed, and more hurt that he would ever have admitted, Bodie pivoted with neat economy and started back the way he had come. He had taken no more than three steps when Doyle barked his name.
With his back to his partner, Bodie prompted coldly, "Yeah?"
"Didn't expect to see you here, did I. Don't like being sneaked up on."
The terrible tension filling Bodie's chest began to uncoil at that grudging concession. He looked at Doyle from over his shoulder then slowly returned to where he had been standing. "I thought she was alive, y'know. You always talk about her as if she is."
"Force of habit," Doyle muttered.
"Pretending she's alive. Been doing it for years." He waved a hand at the markings on the stone.
Noting the date and doing a rapid calculation in his head, Bodie said, "You were five when she died."
The skeletal remains of the rose joined the cluster of untouched ones. "She and my dad were having a row. She took a fall down the stairs. Died in hospital a couple of days later."
Bodie stepped nearer and crouched down to Doyle's level. "You remember her?"
A faint smile toyed with Doyle's mouth. "Vaguely. She smelled . . . soft." His wry expression acknowledged the foolishness. "Must've been talcum, or something." His eyes dropped to the roses lying by his hand, thumb tracing the satin curve of a bud. "Her cheeks were like velvet -- she'd rub `em against mine. They were as soft as she smelled."
Deeply touched and not daring to show it, Bodie asked, "You come here often?"
"Only sometimes." Green eyes glinted across at him defiantly. "Heard me talking to her, didn't you." Then he shrugged, picking up a single flower and twisting it between his fingers, mindful of the thorns. "It's been awhile. Thought it was time to bring her up to date."
A fascinated smile crept across Bodie's mobile mouth. Talking to dead people had never been on his list of things to do, and he would have sworn the same of his partner. But it was just as boggling that Doyle could have spent the last thirty-odd years missing a mother he had barely known. Coming from someone else that confession would have stirred derision, or at the very least, unwanted commiseration. In Bodie, it generated a profound sense of affection, as much because Doyle should suffer such a hold-over from his childhood as that he had entrusted Bodie with the knowledge of it. Doyle moved restlessly and Bodie realized he was staring. Taking pity on his partner, he turned aside, and immediately spied something he should have noticed before. He gestured with empty hand. "What happened to Raymond, Sr., then?"
The neighboring headstone did not even rate a glance. "Prison, four years. On the dole after that till he got busted up in a pub fight. Stayed with his sister until she couldn't stand it anymore. Died sometime later in an institution."
Bodie ruthlessly quelled the urge to console him. These were old tragedies, and Doyle had come to terms with them many years ago. "Who brought you up?"
"First couple of years I stayed with me mum's aunt." He frowned philosophically. "But she was a lot older than mum, and not very healthy. Always half-believed it was me that killed her. By then I had just turned fourteen and there wasn't any family would take me on. Can't blame `em," he admitted with a cheeky grin. "Was a right shit by then. Got put into care, in and out of foster homes for a year and a half. Nobody could handle me; totally unredeemable, I was."
Bodie concentrated on the man before him, the image of the neglected, unloved child at complete odds with this self-confident maturity. "Something happened. You're more moral than any ten men I know."
Doyle gave his partner a crooked smile -- unnecessary reassurance. "Someone -- not something. Bloke named Robert Eberley. Retired copper. Tried to nick his car." Making a grotesque face in response to Bodie's unabashed disbelief, he stressed, "Just to joyride. Wasn't into vandalism." Skewered by a penetrating blue glare, he conceded, "Well, not often -- He caught me on the hop." There was a reminiscent flush in Doyle's cheeks. "Showed me a few moves I hadn't come cross. Before I knew it, he'd hauled me down to the local nick. But he didn't turn me in. The duty crew were old mates of his and backed up anything -- and everything -- he said. Showed me some of the rubbish sleeping it off in the cells, then took me round to the back and gave me a helluva walloping. Y'know the kind: hurts like mad, but it's your pride more than your body that's suffering." A hint of wonder joined the nostalgic tone. "And then he took me to his home. By then he'd bullied some answers out of me: who I was, where I lived, who was taking care of me. Fed me and gave me a clean bed. For two days he gave me the Grand Tour, all the places I'd come bloody close to landing in. I was lucky, Bodie."
Doyle fell silent, his memories more real to him at that moment than the peaceful world surrounding them. His face cleared as he returned to the present. "If it hadn't been for him, I'd've been dead a long time ago."
"What happened to him?"
"Bob? Knifed by some hopped-up little bastard."
"Were you still with him then?"
Dark curls tumbled back and forth as Doyle's head jerked in negation. "Nah. Booted me out soon as I could make it on my own. Stayed close, visited now and then. I was in Art School when it happened. Guess that's what finally decided me to join the Met."
The sound of a motor reached them from the lane on the other side of the hill, dying to a fitful hum as it continued past. Not a bad place to spend a restful morning, Bodie decided. Not much in the way of activities, of course. Still hunkered low, he acknowledged the clamoring rebuke of several stretched muscles, and deftly redistributed the weight from one hip to the other. As he did so, using both hands to brace himself, he rediscovered the flowers that had been half-crushed in the doing. There was a low, husky gurgle and when he looked up, Doyle's face was lit with amusement. It would have been the most natural thing in the world to take him into his arms and kiss him at that moment -- if what he felt wasn't considered "unnatural" by those making the rules. He would, however, do nothing to compromise Doyle in public. Well, nothing categorical, anyway.
"Why today, Ray?" he asked diffidently.
"It's her birthday."
Bodie's mouth rounded into a silent O. With soft accusation, he said, "Could've told me."
Doyle examined the rose still carefully held in his hand. "Don't think I'll be coming again." The riot of curls lifted, unveiling his resolute expression. "Wanted to tell her about you. About us." He tapped the sweet-scented bud against Bodie's chin. "And tell her good- bye."
Bodie fought the urge to hug him, public place or no. He stood, grunting under the onslaught of cramping calves, then walked creakily toward the headstone. With polite formality he placed the tattered daffodils across Doyle's roses. "Thanks, Mrs. D., for giving `im to me," he said matter-of-factly. "Mind you, it's a pity you couldn't've stayed round long enough to improve his manners. But I reckon he'll do." He straightened, hands jammed into his pockets, very aware of Doyle's huge- eyed stare. "See you back at home, mate."
Without another word, Bodie strode away.
Drowsing, Bodie tried to shake off the vestiges of the half-dream. That Sunday, Doyle had returned to the flat within an hour of Bodie. He had been quiet and not very communicative for a while, but gave no argument when Bodie wrestled him into the bedroom. There Doyle had taken command. "Improve me manners?" he'd hissed, biting Bodie's earlobe with painful enthusiasm. Bodie had been unable to get away; and in a very vulnerable state, extreme measures had not been the deterrent of choice. It had taken him some time to realize that Doyle was laughing at him, had been for a bloody long time. The battle had begun in earnest, then, with the victor inconclusive, as both were more than pleased with the results.
Mrs. Doyle's birthday had gone unobserved this year -- except in bed.
Bodie stretched and rolled onto his stomach, one hand flat upon the mattress where Doyle should have been. "Ray?"
There was movement at the far end of the window. Through narrowed eyes, Bodie made the monumental effort of focussing, and picked out the reedlike shadow of his partner without difficulty. "You all right, mate?"
There was no reply, but Doyle padded across the floor to the bed and slid under the duvet. "Ray?"
"'S okay, Bodie." Doyle allowed Bodie to tug him close.
"Christ, mate!" Bodie grumbled. "You're like ice!"
"So warm me up, then." The words came easily enough, but Bodie imagined he heard an underlying note of desperation.
With vast tenderness, Bodie positioned them so that Doyle was snuggled comfortably against his side. Broad hands rubbed up and down the cool, thin skin of Doyle's back, willing sluggish blood to rise to the surface. The tension radiating from Doyle's body was all but tangible, but he seemed to find relief in Bodie's undemanding embrace. "Love you, Ray," Bodie murmured sleepily. "Tell me what's wrong?"
There was an attenuated shake of head, limp curls snagging on Bodie's stubbled jaw. "Is it me?" Bodie persisted. "Something I've done?"
He felt the velvety chest give pause. Then the gesture of denial came again, accompanied by a ragged inhalation that nearly undid Bodie's patience. He tightened the embrace, taking his reward in the shivering press of Doyle, who attempted to move closer still.
Bodie wasn't sure what was going on with his partner, but he would wager it had something to do with this latest op. As he continued his gentling caresses, unaware that he was lulling himself as well, Bodie's mind began to drift again.
He'd often wondered about the advisability of separating established teams. It happened to him and Doyle often enough; and, sometimes, it was beneficial. If nothing else, it made them both appreciate working with someone who operated on the same wavelength. And sometimes it was demanded by the job: either there weren't enough agents, or particular skills or areas of expertise required an individual rather than a cooperative effort.
The badger op had been set up over a week ago. CI5's classy prostitute, Anna, who had assisted them in bringing a diplomatic assassin to ruin, had been called in to help again. Cowley was after a too- powerful earl with access to the PM's ear. A very faint whiff of something nasty had settled round him, following the unexplained suicide of a young clerk from his office. There was no evidence that the earl had been in any way involved, but to Cowley it was significant that his young employee had gabbled noisily to a friend that his situation would be looking up very shortly. Graft? Blackmail? Murder? None were worthy of the attention of CI5 unless the final ingredient of subversion was stirred in. Acting on information he would not divulge, Cowley had chosen the set-up as a last resort, for the earl was extremely cautious, even if there were indications he could be tripped up if the appropriate bait, under the right circumstances, was utilized.
Cowley, in his infinite wisdom, had decided that Bodie would work with a young hustler Anna had supplied to them, acting as his protector and pimp. The boy could be under no delusions of what was expected of him, and in fact reputedly made a quite comfortable income from his "talents." Clients were clients. Doyle had not cheered at the prospect of Bodie being involved with this action, but could bring no arguments to bear that would satisfy Cowley -- or Bodie. After all, either they trusted one another or they didn't, even if Bodie would be required to share a room with this comely lad for however long the operation took.
The night before it began, they lay close together, Doyle unhappy but attempting to conceal it, Bodie relaxed, and pondering how best to reassure his mate. He wanted to point out to Doyle that there was nothing to prevent either of them from committing "adultery" -- nothing except the very real bond between them that seemed to grow stronger with every passing day. They had never made any promises between them, not of the everlasting love and faithfulness variety, anyway. Intoxicated by the first flowering of love and lust, there had seemed to be no need. And, as far as Bodie was concerned, never would be. Silly as it sounded, Doyle was all he wanted, everything he had ever wanted. He could only hope that Ray felt the same about him.
Bodie was even tempted to bring up his own fears of a month or so previous; but before the words had formed on his lips, he knew he couldn't because he didn't know if his doubts had been founded or not.
That time Doyle had been playing nursemaid to the estranged wife and lovely young daughter of one of Cowley's friends, a retired minister, while Bodie had been seconded to the SAS for a weapons/strategies interchange.
After a week's separation, Bodie had come back to London, weary, lonely, and aching for his lover, only to discover that Doyle was still working the case, running down leads and playing bodyguard late into the day. The night of Bodie's return, Doyle had not come home at all.
The next day had been spent preparing reports on all that Bodie had learned, while Doyle's job ended when the minister's wife, driving back from an overnight stay with friends, was beset with would-be kidnappers, who discovered too late that they had targeted the wrong minister's wife.
That eight-hour spell had been one of the longest of Bodie's life, almost as long as the night that had preceded it. His mood had not improved when he learned that Doyle had filed his report earlier that morning and had been given the remainder of the day off.
Upon arriving home late that afternoon, Bodie had been irritated -- and a little unnerved -- to find the flat empty, with nothing, not even a note, to indicate Doyle's whereabouts.
Calming himself with a large whisky and a very long shower, he had been in the process of towelling dry when the bathroom door had unceremoniously swung open, effecting the escape of warm, humid air while permitting the entry of a formidably affectionate Ray Doyle. Given no opportunity to voice what until that moment had been uppermost on his mind, Bodie had been too pleased to see his partner -- and to be mauled by him -- to protest. Cuddled close in the aftermath of their near-frenzied lovemaking, Doyle's continued endearments and drowsy complaints against Cowley's perversity in separating them had proved a welcome balm to Bodie's doubts. If Doyle had slept with that girl, she had meant absolutely nothing to him; and the fact that Bodie obviously meant a great deal outweighed all other considerations. Whether Doyle's enthusiasm had been the result of missing Bodie or because he had gone over a week without sex ultimately made no difference. It had been Bodie who assuaged his need, Bodie to whom he came home.
So he never asked why Doyle had spent the night at the minister's daughter's flat, or what had gone on there. But neither did he offer up his reflections as an example of the silly thoughts lovers entertain when parted, to try and placate Doyle on the eve of the badger operation -- just in case. Instead he told him he loved him, assured him solemnly that Anna's hustler would not turn his head, and proved his devotion with every worshipful touch and adoring caress accumulated in his vast experience.
The morning the badger operation was to begin, Cowley pulled Bodie off the case, requiring him in Stockholm as his assistant that very afternoon. It was deemed that Doyle would take Bodie's place after being briefed on all the pertinent details. Riveted by the sardonic green gaze of his partner, Bodie struggled to overcome his misgivings, very aware that Doyle misinterpreted his horrified expression.
Once on their own, Doyle teased, "Don't you trust me with our bonny boy, then, mate?"
Bodie said too quickly, "Of course I do. I . . . "
"Bodie?" Doyle studied him with real concern then, withdrawing his hand from his partner's arm before it could linger -- they were, after all, in the public domain.
How to tell Doyle what he was thinking? The specter of that month had never left him, even if Doyle's amnesia, so far as Bodie could tell, continued to hold. He had made concessions, however: no rough stuff, no fucking, nothing that might conceivably jar Doyle's memory. Of course, any sexual act between them could have caused a chink in Doyle's subliminally imposed armor; but Bodie had been very careful always, always to be loving with him, no matter how long they had been apart, no matter how much he needed him. But that . . . Until they became proficient, it would be a painful act, Bodie's readings and his self- explorations having convinced him of that. Doyle had more or less given up trying to change his mind, outwardly reconciled to what they already had. And Bodie had taken the burden onto himself, offering fear, the exigencies of the job, even a hint of disgust as excuses to keep his partner forestalled.
And what would happen when Doyle was thrown into a situation where his forgotten past would echo the realities of the present?
Bodie forced a smile. "I promised you," he said with wry petulance. "You promise me."
Upper lip curled to great effect, Doyle played along. "'E's not me type, mate. Like `em tall, dark, and perfect."
Bodie was forced to make do with an all encompassing look that began at the top of Doyle's tousled head and slowly, wistfully, made its way down to the mostly white, scuffed trainers. "Remember that, eh?"
Seven days had passed since then. Bodie had spent five of those in Stockholm with Cowley, imparting his new, SAS-supplied expertise to the emergency anti-terrorist conference Cowley had dragged him off to.
Throughout, Bodie had been prohibited from making contact with Doyle, consoled only by the occasional fillip of information that Cowley deigned to pass on, mainly that the operation was proceeding without complication. Bodie's concerns for his partner's state of mind had been kept well hidden, as he was well aware that Cowley would know if Doyle were acting in any way out of the ordinary.
They had returned to London two days ago. Bodie had spent that first wretched afternoon composing his reports, approving their transcribed form, and then finally dumping them into Cowley's in-basket. Afterward, he had bolted for home, donned his running togs, and gone for a blistering run along the Embankment. The work-out had beaten the tension out of a hundred overwound muscles, but left his head worriedly preoccupied.
That night he had been alone, thoughts focussed so intensely on Doyle that he had wondered if his partner, wherever he was -- with hired boy-toy curled up beside him -- was aware of it.
The badger operation came to an ignominious conclusion the next day, when the earl keeled over of a massive heart attack during lunch at Odin's. Later that afternoon, while Bodie was finishing a quick review of available information for the case he was assigned to work with Murphy, Doyle and a slightly built man with long, carefully tended blonde hair came into the rest room. Bodie had not met Anna's hustler and bestowed on him now only the sketchiest of glances, all of his attention drawn to his partner. A very strange display of emotions paraded across Doyle's worn features as their eyes met, coalescing at last into what Bodie could only describe as bittersweet welcome. Held immobile by that scrutiny, he hesitated in responding.
With a glance for the boy at his side, and a gesture that he accompany him, Doyle wove a path through the half-filled tables.
Mindful of security, Bodie closed the file and waited, unaware that he was giving off waves of uneasy caution. "Doyle."
His partner nodded briefly by way of greeting. Indicating the silent, watchful figure beside him, he announced, "Bodie, this is Trevor Daine. Trevor, my partner Bodie."
Trevor extended his hand, wavered for a split-second when Bodie did not immediately meet the gesture, then watched as his fingers were swallowed whole into a firm, and somewhat aggressive grip.
"Trevor. Any reason why I should shorten your lease on life?" The bald statement rattled even Bodie, although nothing in his demeanor gave him away. It was highly unlikely that Doyle would have commented to this boy about their relationship; hell, it wasn't even common knowledge on the Squad, despite the fact that they had been sharing a flat for nearly eight months now.
The hustler went quite still, looking for all the world like a rabbit caught in the ruins of a cabbage patch. Then he smiled, a very handsome softening of lips on an entirely too attractive face, as he smoothly freed his hand from Bodie's clasp. "I should be so lucky. So you're the reason. Thought he must have a good one."
Doyle remained quietly removed throughout, only the sparking glint in his eyes and the slight compression of his lips evidence of his reaction. "Missed me, did you?" he inquired, sweetly acid.
Bodie's hands returned to the folder. "You know I did." The room seemed to recede from about them, the link of their gazes creating a false sense of intimacy.
Doyle tolerantly brushed his fingers across the broad width of Bodie's left wrist, a fleeting gesture that, seen those unknowing, appeared no more than matey. "Me, too." Then he drew away, burying his hands in his pockets. "What's Cowley got you on?"
"Delivery job with Murph." He tapped the file. "Just checking to avoid surprises. We'll be ferrying a certain little number to Heathrow at five. What about you?"
"Trev and I are scheduled to see the boss in . . . " he squinted at the display of his watch, ". . . two and a half minutes. Wants a quick run-down. Then I'm taking him back to Anna to square things with her, and I'm off home." Doyle's voice fell to a guarded whisper. "We do still have the same address?"
At the plaintive query, Bodie conjured up a genuine smile. He replied in the same muted tones. "Yeah. Catch up on your sleep. I'll bring something to eat. What d'you want?"
"Surprise me." Doyle started away, his stride lacking its usual bounce. "Take care, mate."
Bodie watched them out of the room, aware of the interested looks that trailed after them, even of the curious few that were aimed his way. Insides too knotted for comfort, Bodie picked up the file and headed for the door. He entered the corridor in time to see Doyle and Trevor Daine disappear into Cowley's office, observing the way Doyle ushered the young man in without touching him.
That had been yesterday - - a hundred years ago. Feeling as though his head were a cement mixer and his brains pulverized aggregate, Bodie struggled to take stock of his situation. He was alone again. Doyle must have slipped away when Bodie was on the very precipice of sleep, or he would certainly have noticed. He bleakly checked the LED-numbers on the bedside clock. It was after one.
With no real expectation of a reply, he called out quietly, "Ray?"
Feeling abandoned, he rolled onto his back, one forearm across his eyes. Doyle had probably got too much rest earlier in the day and, now wide-awake, had chosen to leave the room rather than disturb his partner.
When Bodie had come home, bearing chicken and chips, he had found Doyle curled up sound asleep, precariously close to the edge of the bed, only half-undressed, apparently having lacked the energy to finish the job.
For a while Bodie had stood watching the fluid rise and fall of respiration in contrast to the utter stillness of Doyle's pale face. There was pronounced purpling beneath heavy lashes, lines sharply drawn from his nose to the outside corners of his mouth. The dark stubble on his jaw contrasted sharply with the fair skin, a fine sheen of body oil glistening over all.
Aching to slide in beside the lithe form, to match its curves with his own and hold it safe and close, Bodie had instead nudged the unprotesting form nearer the center of the mattress, and then retreated to the kitchen. He pottered around for a while, storing Doyle's portion of their supper in the refrigerator. After wolfing down his meal, he collapsed in front of the television with a cup of tea. It was nearly ten when he returned to the bedroom.
Doyle was still on his side, knees flexed, a small, lonely-looking figure in the vastness of their bed. Bodie went over and sat on the edge closer to him. With a hand resting on one sharply defined hip, he gave him a gentle shake. "Ray, Sunshine. You hungry?"
Doyle roused slowly, making noncommittal sounds low in his throat.
"Ray, have you had anything to eat today?" Bodie tried again.
"Just . . . sleepy," Doyle mumbled. "So tired."
Bodie forced a grin. "Trevor hard to keep up with?"
A grimace of almost pure agony flickered across the pale features.
Shaken, Bodie demanded, "You all right, mate?"
Doyle's eyes came open all at once. "'M fine. Did you say there's something to eat?"
Holding himself in check by main force, Bodie waited as Doyle crawled carefully out of bed. His partially unbuttoned shirt broke into a wide V, revealing colourful bruising low on his chest, under his ribs. Bodie's sharp hiss brought Doyle's head up with a start. He accurately read his partner's expression and gave him a shrug as he glanced down at the damage. "Worse than it looks. Honest."
"Did you see the quack?' Bodie asked tightly.
"I've had broken ribs, mate. These aren't. Souvenirs of a job well-done: guarding Trevor's virtue -- such as it is. Had to duff up a bloke who wouldn't take no for an answer." He started to brush past the large, overly composed figure of his partner; but confronted by Bodie's unnatural restraint, he stopped in front of him and leaned forward, resting his forehead against Bodie's temple. "You should've woken me. Feel like I've been dredged out of the river."
Wrapping a tentative arm around Doyle's shoulders, Bodie spoke into a thick clump of curls. "You looked all in. Needed a good long kip, didn't you."
There was no sarcasm in the statement, but Doyle pulled back, raw uncertainty apparent in haunted eyes.
"Ray, what is it?" Bodie demanded.
Sighing raggedly, Doyle relaxed against him, taking Bodie's mouth in a slow, yearning kiss. "Needed that," he said convincingly. "That's all."
Bodie trailed his unkempt partner down the hall, waiting at the door while Doyle went into the bathroom. Flicking on the light, Doyle caught sight of himself in the mirror. "God. I look like day-old shit."
This statement more like his partner of old, Bodie allowed a dark brow to quirk upwards. "I'm sure I wouldn't know," he lisped with disdain. "I've never saved mine."
The looking glass was treated to a distracted grin. "No, you're right. Can't see you doing that at all." Slowly Doyle's eyes refocussed on his worn image and he said soberly, "Just like trash off the street."
Bodie abandoned the doorway and yanked Doyle into his arms. "No. More like a bloke who's been stuck in it too long. A decent meal and a soak in a hot bath will ginger you right up." He parted his mouth upon the silky skin behind Doyle's right ear, rooting a little to get past all the hair.
The nascent resistance that flooded Doyle's body was not a product of Bodie's imagination. Saying nothing, however, he pretended not to notice, and unconcernedly turned for the door. "I'll go warm the nosh. Be ready in just a few minutes, okay?"
They made inconsequential conversation, bringing each other up to date on their separate weeks, while Bodie served his barely alert partner, nibbling a little himself to ease his nerves. Doyle's remarks were concise to the point of terseness. He answered all of Bodie's questions, but there was nothing in his narrative to explain the change in him. It wasn't precisely that he had closed Bodie off; it was almost as if a chasm had opened between them. Bodie heeded the warning alarms sounding in his head and concentrated on Doyle, instinctively certain that his partner was withholding something, even if Doyle was not conscious of doing it.
When at last they retired for the night, Bodie made it clear he wasn't going to make any demands on his mate. Pleading weariness, he affected ignorance of the penetrating look Doyle gave him, and of the reluctant acceptance that followed it.
Confused, Bodie didn't know if he had imagined that tacit rejection earlier. Regardless, he made a show of normality, meeting Doyle in the middle of the bed, kissing him warmly and without artifice before resting his head on the pillow that was already laced with freshly washed auburn hair.
Doyle's weariness was not counterfeit. He went slack beside his partner's larger form at once, to all appearances unbothered by their nakedness and intimacy.
But Bodie knew something was off kilter, even while he snuggled closer and gave in to his own body's demands for rest. It would wait until morning. There was nothing to be done until then.
A heavy sigh broke the quiet of the bedroom. Bodie rolled onto his side. He was cold without Doyle, a bone-chilling emptiness that went all the way to the heart of him. He painstakingly reviewed everything Doyle had said and done since returning home this evening. Superficially, Doyle had been exhausted, bruised and very distant. That wasn't uncommon for him following a difficult op. But --
Bodie suddenly remembered the retching sounds that had half-woken him earlier and guessed now that they had not been confined to the fabric of his dreams. Was Doyle so badly bruised that he'd been sick? Unlikely, from the lurid colours and characteristic patterning, those marks had been received several days before. Perhaps the chicken hadn't agreed with him, even though Bodie felt fine -- and Ray wasn't generally a restricted eater. For all that he liked to be picky about his meals, there were too many instances when they had to make do; and a temperamental stomach would get a field agent tossed off the Squad faster than fallen arches.
Something was preying on Doyle's mind: standing before the mirror, looking at himself as though confronted with a stranger; stiff in Bodie's arms but seeking reassurance when finally they had settled into bed; the remote figure shivering in front of the window which submitted itself, unresisting, to be warmed -- only to flee Bodie's heat a short while later.
How much longer would Doyle carry on before admitting that something was wrong? Forever, probably, if Bodie let him. After all, they'd both proven themselves to be experts in the art of pretense. Denial could carry a bloke a long way before he was forced to own up to something he didn't want to: Doyle pretending his mother was still alive; Bodie pretending his father was dead.
That Bodie'd even had a father had come as a revelation to Doyle. Not that he'd kept his existence a secret on purpose. It was a habit he'd fallen into, just as Doyle had never completely let go of his mother. And once it was all out in the open, every sordid detail made known, Doyle had been his stanchion, the only sane landmark in a world gone topsy-turvy.
Allowing himself to be diverted once more, Bodie remember, oh so clearly, the day Doyle had found out. . .
. . . Newly arrived in the rest room, they were looking for something to take the edge off their hunger and thirst, following an 18- hour hostage scenario that had ended with textbook perfection. The victims were alive and unharmed, the raiders only slightly damaged, and there had been minimal destruction of property. CI5 would come out of this one fairly redolent of roses and lavender.
Bodie and Doyle had headed up the operation, working smoothly together, capably directing the operatives placed at their disposal. Worn to the bone now, but still flying high before settling down to do their reports, they had been promised a day, possibly two, off, and both were plotting what they would do with the time.
Following an action like this, their first free hours would be reserved for a long, wild bout between the sheets so that they could unleash some of their residual tension. Bodie also knew that he would be the one to retain control throughout. They had gone through spells like this before, when the need for sex took precedence over all else. It was then that Bodie found it hardest to redirect Doyle -- and himself -- from the one intimacy he refused them. It had come to represent the ultimate goal, the greatest reward for a job well-done.
One day, Bodie knew, he would give in. If he was bottom man first, it signified nothing, for he knew Doyle would offer everything in turn. Their lovemaking had altered over the months, growing a little more sophisticated as they became more accustomed to each other. And the affection between them had increased beyond anything Bodie had ever dreamed of. Doyle loved him, had proved it a thousand times in a thousand ways, and seemed satisfied that he was equally well-loved.
It would work out, Bodie decided, smiling softly into tired, but pleased green eyes. Every hour they put between them and that lost month reduced his uneasiness a little more. Maybe today would be --
Cowley's voice cut through the pleasant landscape of his thoughts like a razor-edged scythe. "Bodie, my office."
Bodie swung round in time to see the Controller's stiff back disappear through the door to the corridor. With a quizzical look, he turned to face Doyle. "Just me?"
His partner shrugged good-naturedly. "Didn't hear me name included. Go ahead, I'll get started on the reports." He licked his lips meaningly. "Sooner started, sooner finished."
Bodie arched a brow at him. "Randy old sod," he whispered, mindful of the ears crowding the room. With a jaunty step, he made his way to Cowley's office and was directed through the door immediately by his long- suffering secretary.
The head of CI5 was waiting for him, making no pretense of being otherwise engaged, an unopened envelope held between both hands.
"Sit down, Bodie."
Chilled with foreboding, Bodie started, "Nothing's gone wrong, has it? The hostages are -- "
"No." Cowley waved him imperiously to silence. "I should've congratulated you and Doyle on your efforts. It was a sticky situation, excellently handled. I couldn't have done better myself."
"Then . . . ?"
Cowley held out the rectangle of paper to him. "Your father died the day before yesterday. I once promised him that you would be free to attend his funeral, regardless of the circumstances. Fortunately, I can keep that promise; it's this afternoon at three."
Having automatically taken the envelope, Bodie held it now as though it had begun to fester with boils. "I see." Long-suppressed resentment reared up inside him. "Well, I hope you didn't promise him that I would attend, as well."
"No. Not having read his letter to you, I don't know what it says. I can guess." Bodie's lowering gaze defied him to elaborate. Immune to that tactic, Cowley went on. "He came to me shortly after you were vetted, eight, eight-and-a-half years ago. He explained to me what had taken place between you and asked only to be kept informed of your well- being.
"He had no right."
"Your father was a powerful man in his own way, Bodie. While he made no threats, it was clear that he could have made things difficult for you, had he chosen to. He didn't. Your welfare came first with him. Read the letter. I've given you the next two days off to settle your affairs."
"How very generous of you," Bodie growled. With a curt nod and the barest semblance of courtesy, he let himself out. He went straight to the men's toilet and closed himself inside one of the unoccupied cubicles. Standing before the porcelain bowl, he spent a moment bringing his volatile emotions under control. Cowley's actions infuriated him. With shocking suddenness he had been wrenched back twenty years, suffused with a shame and rage that had nearly overwhelmed him then, but rarely since. Lips compressed against the hot emotions searing his veins, he glanced at the front of the envelope, eyes narrowing at the single name inscribed thereon: Andrew.
Bodie closed his eyes, willing his heartbeat to slow to something approaching its normal pace before dispatching his father's final missive to a watery grave. There was nothing here that should hurt him, nothing that should cause his hand to tremble nor his throat to constrict so annoyingly. Nothing at all. He took in a long, lung-stretching breath. Composed again, he tore the side off the envelope and pulled out a single sheet of paper.
He scanned the page, scarcely registering its contents. Then he read it through again. With great deliberation he crushed the paper in his palm. His face was unchanged, only his eyes disclosing an unexpected emptiness. "You fucking, old bastard."
He left the lavatory and turned down the corridor leading to the stairs. Half-way there he lurched to a halt, as though belatedly recalling something. Making an abrupt about-face, he side-stepped neatly to avoid collision with Mrs. Hamilton and her tea trolley and marched smartly back to the rest room.
Doyle was just finishing a cup of tea and a sweet bun as the door opened to reveal his partner. Dark brows rose at Bodie's expression, his mouth framing a query as Bodie approached him.
Bodie spoke first. "I'm going away for a day or so, Ray."
At this bald statement, Doyle froze. "Where to?" he asked, with the assurance of one who expects an answer.
"Things to take care of," Bodie replied flatly. "I'll ring you."
Given no choice, Doyle schooled his features to reflect nothing of his feelings. "Good-bye, then Bodie," he said.
Bodie saw his partner's bewilderment and hurt in the fractured second before Doyle could conceal it, but refused to concern himself. He couldn't, not just yet. Shoulders squared, he walked swiftly out of the room.
He was in their flat, putting the finishing touches to his hold-all, when it struck him what he had done. Not Ta ra, mate, but Good-bye, Bodie. It had taken him a long time to open up to Doyle, almost as long as it had taken Doyle to believe he could. He had undone that with a few words -- and for what? For a dead man who had meant nothing to him for more than half his life. Neither he nor Doyle liked being excluded, especially once they had acknowledged that without the other, they had precious little. Oh, sure, there were friends, casual acquaintances, a legion of women who now meant less than nothing to them, and a very few who had left their mark. But they were not enough, never had been. And especially not now, compared with what he and Doyle shared.
"Sorry, Ray," Bodie breathed to himself. He went into the kitchen and put the kettle on for tea. Having abandoned Doyle to their report, he could at least be ready for him when he came home to collapse -- if, in fact, he chose to come home.
Bodie did not allow the thought to take root. While the tea drew, he stripped bare and took a quick, reviving shower. With mug at hand, he shaved and dressed in clean clothing. Just as he was sitting down at the dining table with a second cup, the front door opened and Doyle entered.
"Still here?" Doyle asked quietly. "Thought you had things to do."
Bodie rose and filled his partner's mug, then carried it to him like a flag of truce. "I do. Sorry, mate. Had a shock," he said candidly.
Doyle slurped gratefully at the still hot liquid, raising an affectionate grin from his lover. The noisiest drinker this side of the Channel, was his Ray.
"What're you smiling at?" Doyle demanded, the edge in his voice conveying the fact that Bodie had gotten a foot in the door but had yet to win the household. "You." He leaned forward and kissed the full, moist lips, tasting tea and Ray Doyle with helpless pleasure. "Worse than a pig at a trough, you are."
Doyle made a face, peeved at himself for allowing the familiarity. "So what's up? Or aren't you going to tell me?"
Bodie reached into his pocket and took out the crumpled letter. He smoothed it on the table, then passed it to Doyle. "My father died. He left me this."
Understanding woke in the green eyes. Huskiness deepened his voice as he said, "Are you sure you want me to read it?"
A large palm, scented with fresh talcum, came to rest against Doyle's cheek. "If you want to."
Reflexively, Doyle curved his face into Bodie's hand, then lifted his shoulders. "I'm curious. But I can live without knowing. Unless you want me to."
"What I want," Bodie explained, "is for you to decide if you're coming with me. Need to leave soon, the funeral's this afternoon."
Doyle kissed his palm. "Do I have time for a shower?"
He did. Bodie packed a case for him while the water ran in the bathroom. He set the apartment to rights, grumbling half-heartedly as he surveyed the interior of the refrigerator; they wasted more money on food that went uneaten. As soon as he heard Doyle finish, he turned the boiler off and went to the bedroom to watch him dress, reflecting with disappointment that he had planned it the other way round.
Feeling his gaze, Doyle raised his head, tucking himself into tight jeans with the ease of long experience. Correctly reading Bodie's expression, he smiled. "Tonight. Promise."
Bodie scowled and didn't bother to comment.
Doyle read the letter on the way out of London. When he'd finished, he folded the wrinkled paper into a neat square and tucked it into Bodie's nearest jacket pocket. "Must've been a hell of a parting, twenty years ago."
Eyes on the road, Bodie merely nodded.
"I thought he was dead, your dad," Doyle mused. "All of your family. You never mentioned them."
"As far as I was concerned, they were," Bodie said. "No brothers, sisters, aunts or uncles. Both sets of grandparents died before I was four. There was only mum -- and dad -- and she bought it when I was fourteen."
With the road demanding the bulk of his concentration, Bodie was able to recount the times of his lonely childhood factually and with no overtones of emotion. Doyle heard him out, inserting the odd question when he wanted clarification. He offered no sympathy as Bodie's tale was unraveled and for that, Bodie was grateful.
"She was only a few years older than me," he said, referring to the woman his father had married a scant six months following the early death by heart disease of his mother. "She married Dad for his money, everyone knew that -- probably even he did. The summer I turned fifteen, she came on strong. I hated her, hated the fact that Dad had married such a cow. But she was pretty in a plump way, easy on the eyes; and she had Bristols that made a man's hand look tiny." He navigated the car through a busy roundabout that placed them on the motorway heading northwest. "He caught us at it."
A mile passed, and another. "Was all my fault, of course. Dad -- " He moved his shoulders dismissively. "I'd never seen him like that before. She accused me of raping her."
Bodie flinched. The outburst, coming from his hitherto mostly silent audience, was startling. "Yeah," he said mildly. He cast Doyle a long glance. "And it was twenty years ago."
Doyle acknowledged that with a rueful smile. "So you ran away?"
"When I could walk. Guess I can't blame him -- even if she was willing. I sneaked away that night, no message, nothing. Never saw either of them again."
"His loss," Doyle said succinctly.
A smile twitched at Bodie's lips. In the face of such unequivocal support, it was hard to remember the drama of that moment a couple of hours ago when Cowley had handed him his father's letter. "Didn't even think to ask: You have the rest of the day off?"
"Two days. Cowley called me in right after you left. Said we did a great job, told me to put together an outline of our report, and get out. I did. Why are you going to his funeral?"
The question took Bodie aback, despite its obviousness. "Dunno," he said finally. "I . . . stopped hating him a long time ago. It all worked out for the best, after all. Never would have been happy taking up the family trade."
"He owned a finance house."
That dropped-jaw skepticism raised Bodie's spirits immeasurably. "Yeah, owned."
"Pretty well off, were you?" Doyle remarked with newfound respect.
"And me thinking I was throwing in my lot with a penniless bounder."
"Don't imagine that's changed, sweetheart," Bodie advised him. "I'm only going back because . . . "
"I -- Maybe. Didn't think he ever would, never saw a point in giving him a chance to."
"You're right, though. Can't see you as a captain of finance."
They stopped at a service area to use the facilities and to pick up a few snacks. Once back on the motorway, Doyle made himself comfortable and resolutely fell asleep. Alone with his thoughts, Bodie found himself strangely content. This was a filial duty that would prove no hardship, and he'd met precious few of those since his abruptly curtailed childhood. Doyle was with him -- and that about said it all. He felt no regret for never having reconciled with his father. After all, a man chooses the people he cares for; being related by blood to someone is not a guarantee that love -- or even respect -- will develop as a result.
And the same applies to partners, Bodie observed, briefly letting his eyes touch the sleeping form beside him. He owed his father for Doyle, if nothing else, for if he had not embarked upon that adventure twenty years ago, there would have been no possibility of meeting this man, the man he loved more than anything or anyone in the world.
Maybe that was why he was driving sixty-odd miles to pay his last respects.
They took a room at a small hotel north of the city proper. Bodie knew which cemetery would be receiving his father's remains; there had been a plot waiting for him since his mother died. He rang his father's office and requested details, which only confirmed what he had already surmised. After a precipitate change to more appropriate dress, they made their way to the graveyard. A small, black-clad gathering signalled the location that Bodie still remembered and they crossed the sodden grounds until they reached the mourners.
It was a good turn-out, as graveside services went. Bodie assumed most of those in attendance were from his father's company, and all of them seemed genuinely dismayed at the old man's death. But then Bodie had once known his father to be a good man -- until he had allowed himself to be blind-sided by the young woman he had married. She had been part of his staff, too; perhaps they had even engaged in an affair before his mother died. That thought spurred an intense, but short-lived surge of betrayal on his mother's behalf, but he shrugged it off. It meant nothing to him, and she had been beyond suffering for many, many years.
A pressure against his elbow broke his reverie, and he arched a querying brow toward his partner. Doyle inclined his head in the direction of a small, well-rounded woman, who stood near the brightly flowered casket. Bodie followed his gaze, regarding the veiled profile of the woman's face for several seconds before nodding.
She had aged well, considering that she was in her middle forties. Yet it was hard to picture this matronly woman as the temptress of his youth. As if feeling the weight of his interest, she turned her head, dully eyeing the chilled, patient crowd, until her eyes fell on Bodie. Recognition ran through her like a charge of electricity. Prickling beneath that bold stare, Bodie wished he could divine her expression, but was frustrated by the distance separating them and the gauzy protection of her mourning net. Less than seconds passed before she broke the tenuous contact and gave her full attention back to the minister, seemingly held rapt by his every utterance, right up to the final "amen."
When it was over, Bodie wiped his hands free of clinging, rain- softened soil and headed back to the lane where they had left the car.
"Mr. Bodie?" The voice was young and masculine, and totally unfamiliar. Bodie and Doyle swung round as one, Doyle stepping back so that Bodie was free to greet or dismiss the stranger walking toward them as he chose.
The man had been among the group gathered around the grave, dressed, as were they all, in black. Under closer inspection he was not young at all, with steel-grey threads in a healthy shock of hair, and a network of lines veining a pleasantly formed face. He extended his hand, and introduced himself. "I'm Barry Tate. I represent your father's estate. He hoped that you would come. So did I; it will save me a trip to London."
Bodie took his hand briefly. "Mr. Tate. Perhaps you could be more specific?"
"The reading of your father's will. At seven o'clock in my offices. Will you come?"
"Sure," Bodie agreed. "Why not?"
"Why not indeed," the solicitor agreed, and handed Bodie his business card. "I'll see you then." He gave them a nod and quickly moved away.
They were a few feet from the car when another voice addressed him. "Hullo, Andy," Bodie's step-mother said. He had, of course, taken note of her approach, closely trailed by another woman with a downbent head, but he had never in a million ice ages imagined that she would speak to him.
Bodie's stepmother was impervious to the warning wreathed in icy courtesy. "I'm pleased you could come. Bill hoped you would." When this elicited no reaction, the woman flushed just a little. Refusing to be intimidated, however, she stood straighter, and gestured at the woman beside her. "This is someone who's wanted to meet you for a long time: your sister, Sarah."
Sarah was small and slender, with fair skin made fairer yet by the lustrous darkness of her hair, half-hidden by a felt beret. She lifted her head and, through thick, black lashes, returned his gaze. Beneath the sheen of unshed tears, Bodie saw his mother's eyes, profoundly blue.
She could be no more than twenty, and certainly not much less. In all the years since that fleeting, unfortunate involvement, Bodie had never considered that this might have happened.
"Hello, Sarah. I'm Ray Doyle, Andy's partner."
Doyle's smooth intercession jarred Bodie from his paralysis. "Sorry," Bodie grunted, taking the woman's hand from his mate as she murmured a greeting. "Didn't know I had a sister, did I."
She smiled engagingly at him. "You don't look anything like the snaps Dad had of you either. Of course, you were only fifteen then, weren't you."
Bodie was spared the effort of making an intelligent rejoinder. Sarah's mother interposed quickly, "She's off to school this afternoon. Exams she mustn't miss."
The young woman took a deep breath. "It was important to Dad. He said I have the brains to get a proper education. He won't miss me now," she finished practically, but her eyes brimmed and grief overflowed onto creamy cheeks.
"But I will," her mother said firmly. "You're welcome to stay at the house, you know," she told Bodie. "Both of you. Bill wanted you to have some things, Andy. Please say you'll at least stop by before you leave."
Bodie had not felt this out of his depth since he and Doyle had been caught in that other universe, nearly a year ago. Standing here, making polite chat with his father's widow and his daughter, as though it were the most natural thing in the world -- Christ.
"We've taken a room already," Doyle informed her. "But we'll come by for a few minutes, if you like."
"Please. The house will be very empty when Sarah has gone -- and you must leave soon, mustn't you, dear?"
The girl nodded. "I've just enough time to change. Sorry, Mum. I'll be back as soon as I can." She blinked hard, and then stepped forward and put her arms around Bodie. "I'm so happy to finally meet you, Andy," she whispered.
Before he could overcome his surprise, she pulled away and turned to her mother. "Let's go, Mum."
Julie gave them a quick, somewhat awkward good-bye, and the two women disappeared into a black, gleaming, chauffeured limousine. Doyle gave his partner a shove. "C'mon, mate, you'll be catching flies in a minute."
This time Doyle drove. He stopped at the nearest pub and hustled his companion out of the car. When they were seated, both with a pint in their hands, he nudged his partner. "Bodie?"
Not certain how he'd expected Doyle to react, it was strangely disarming to find himself bathed in tender concern and patience. Stupidly shaken, he exhaled long and noisily. "He had to have known."
Doyle had no difficulty tracking the statement. "Your father?"
A mouthful of ale slid down Bodie's throat. "God, Ray! I feel so - - - "
"Arse over tits?" He clinked his glass against Bodie's. "Congratulations -- Dad."
Bodie stared at him, eyes like coals in a perfectly white face.
"Aw, Bodie, don't," Doyle pleaded. "Should've taken you straight back to the hotel and fucked you witless, shouldn't I?" It was a rhetorical question, but the stark nature of it brought Bodie round as platitudes and sympathy would never have done. He gave the almost empty pub a quick once-over, promising himself a moment of mayhem once he got Doyle alone.
"Idiot!" he snarled.
"Yeah," Doyle continued, as though there had been no interruption. "He must've known. And he still apologized. It wasn't worth losing a son over -- not without hearing his side of it, anyway."
But Bodie was filled with a vast remorse, and he wasn't even sure of its origin. "She's beautiful."
"Sarah? That's an understatement."
Something in Doyle's voice made Bodie regard him sharply. "You . . . fancy her?"
"Like mad." Doyle laughed. "But seeing her, and knowing who she is, puts things into perspective, doesn't it? A pair of randy old goats like us chasing after sweet young things like her." His expression invited Bodie to share his amusement. "It's a good thing I took you out of the game when I did."
A hesitant grin stole across Bodie's mouth. "Kind of obscene, is it?"
"That's as good a description as any."
"And if you could choose between us, who would you rather have?"
A collage of emotions cluttered Doyle's face: shock, dismay, consternation, speculation -- and lust. The last won out, responsible for the insolent green perusal that burned through Bodie's shirt and trousers like a sweating palm. "You, sunshine," he said throatily. "I love you."
The last words were so hushed that only Bodie could have heard them. To cover the heat rising in his cheeks, however, he growled, "Yeah, not to mention the fact that she's headed back to school, even as we speak."
Doyle merely laughed and thumped him on the shoulder. Before Bodie could retaliate, he had sprung from his chair and loped off to order them something to eat.
After murdering a couple of plates of sandwiches, they returned to the hotel and put on more comfortable clothing. Within an hour and a half of leaving the cemetery, they were driving through the neighborhood where Bodie had grown up.
"It's changed," he pronounced at last, parking the car in front of a three-story house at the end of a well-kept street. There were leaves in the front garden, yellow and red; and they kicked through them as they made their way up the path.
"Better or worse?" Doyle asked.
Bodie focussed on the slightly swollen state of Doyle's mouth, remembering with frustrated longing the stolen kisses they had managed before leaving the hotel again. "Not as big," Bodie decided, as his eyes raked down Doyle's frame. "But I was smaller then, too," he elucidated innocently.
Doyle granted the double entendre. "But not for much longer," he vowed.
The knocker on the heavy oak door was brass and ornately styled. Bodie lifted it slowly, his fingers gauging its weight, knowing there was no reason why this particular item should survive in his overpopulated memory as something worthy of recall -- but it did.
"Some things haven't changed," he said obliquely, and let the metal piece fall twice before standing back beside his companion.
It was clear that Julie Bodie had been waiting for them, for she appeared at the door within seconds. As she waved them into the foyer, they took note of her new outfit: a simple, red frock that minimized her plumpness and set off her dark, wavy hair.
"I'll put the kettle on," she said, leading them into the lounge. "Only be a tick." At the door she paused. "And, Andy, this is your home. Feel free to go wherever you like."
As soon as she was gone, Doyle grumbled, "'Andy.' Shouldn't it be `Billy'?"
"Was my dad's name," Bodie replied sourly. "I'd forgotten they called me that." He bent toward Doyle menacingly. "And don't you even think it, mate."
Doyle gave him a calculating smirk.
Only a few minutes passed before Julie returned with a tray bearing a silver tea service and a plate filled with rich biscuits and pastries. Despite the recentness of their lunch, Bodie's eyes lit up at the spread of sweets. The kettle must have been on simmer before their arrival for everything to be ready so quickly. He wondered what she would have done had they chosen not to show up.
She filled their cups, adding milk and sugar according to their instructions, then served them on the table in front of their knees. "I must say I am surprised you stopped by, Andy," she said, frankly.
"So is he," Doyle said wanly, when Bodie did not bother to reply.
Julie settled herself in an overstuffed rocking chair. "He's told you everything, Mr. Doyle?"
"Yeah. Everything that matters, anyway. Including Sarah."
Her eyes widened a little, but she took her time studying Doyle's face. "And that doesn't bother you?" she asked pointedly.
She smiled at him. More than buxom now, and bearing the weight of twenty years on top of once-youthful beauty, she nevertheless retained an aura of attraction that was impossible to define. Some people had it; others, very simply, did not. "Of course not. Relax, Mr. Doyle. I know about you and Andy. So did Bill."
Bodie stifled a cough and forced himself to down the remains of a cream-filled roll without choking on it.
Doyle shot back, "And did Bill know about Andy and Sarah?"
The woman swiftly looked down at her hands, letting out an audible breath. "Yes. Yes, of course he did." Long, white fingers plucked at her skirt. "He was angry with me for quite a while. Every time he looked at Sarah and saw those beautiful eyes, he remembered. He blamed me for everything. For Andy running away, for Sarah. At first, that is. She was like Andy, though, a lovely, affectionate child. Because of her, because of what I'd done to Andy, I finally grew up and became the wife he wanted."
Eyes shadowed with regret fell liquidly upon Bodie. "I am sorry, Andy, for what happened. You were too young to be able to cope with me. And I . . . I was too young, too. Your father realized that eventually. He didn't trust me for ever so long." She sniffed quietly. "I spent the rest of his life proving myself to him. He said he forgave me -- but I don't know -- How could he?"
Bodie finished his tea. Twenty years was a long time to pay for the infractions of youth. He said truthfully, "Doesn't matter anymore, Julie. Maybe Sarah made up for it."
Her eyes searched his face for sarcasm. Then she allowed herself a mother's beaming smile. "Isn't she lovely? Bill often thought of telling you, you know. But he thought it best to wait until you came home. He couldn't know that you never would."
"Perhaps," Bodie said evenly, "he didn't remember that night as well as I did."
"Don't be foolish." She seemed to bristle like a small bird fluffing its plumage. "He remembered every word he said -- and every blow. That morning, when he discovered you'd gone -- " she halted briefly, biting her lip, before forging on. "Sounds very dramatic, but I think something in him died." She faced the two men unflinchingly. "And I was the cause of it, not you."
She took a bolstering drink of her tea. "You came home once -- 14, almost 15 years ago."
Bodie nodded. "Yes. Just to see the place. Never intended to visit."
"You spoke with Robbie across the street. He made you promise to let him know where you were going -- in case Bill would have to be notified."
"Was surprised to find Robbie still here. We were in school together."
"He told Bill." She set her cup down and clasped her hands together. "Bill contacted your commanding officer -- and every commanding officer you've had since. He kept a close watch over you, Andy."
She clucked at him, shaking her head. "Don't sound like that. He never interfered. All he wanted was to be sure that you were well and happy."
Bodie said with studied casualness, "You said he knew about us -- me and Doyle. How?"
"He went to see you. About three months ago. Contacted your Mr. Cowley and asked for your address. He'd found out he was dying, you see." Her lower lip quivered; her grief seemed pathetically sincere. "Mr. Doyle answered the intercom and let Bill into the building. When Mr. Doyle opened the door to your flat, he was wearing a robe, even though it had only gone three in the afternoon. Just as Bill was going to ask for you, he heard your voice -- calling Mr. Doyle to come to bed. He apologized for intruding and left immediately."
Doyle inhaled sharply, lifting his eyes towards the plaster ceiling. "Yeah. I remember."
Bodie did, too. "God."
"He . . . was a bit shocked at first. You were always such a one for the girls, Andy, he didn't know what to think. He went back to see Mr. Cowley."
"He said it had come as a surprise to him, too, but that you were both very careful and seemed happy together. Bill was satisfied with that."
Curiously touched, Bodie asked softly, "Why didn't he come again?"
She shrugged expressively. "He never explained properly. I think he'd always believed you were alone because of him. It wasn't what he'd expected of you; but after that day, he didn't worry about you any more. When I asked him why, he said that there was someone looking after you now."
Doyle put his hand on Bodie's knee and gave him a crooked smile. "That's me, sunshine."
Bodie nodded, accepting his partner's touch as a measure of his concern. A hint of rose darkened Julie's cheeks, but she did not look away. "You said there were some things he wanted me to have," Bodie reminded her politely, unselfconsciously covering Ray's fingers with his own. It was time to make the break again, to give himself some distance from a past that was threatening to encroach entirely too closely for comfort.
That night, lying in Ray's arms in their hotel room, Bodie sleepily reviewed the day. He was now the possessor of a boxful of memories: some of his mother's jewelry, childhood snaps, a few items from a room that had gone essentially undisturbed since he had let it that night twenty years ago. They had visited his father's solicitor and been informed that Bodie was the inheritor of a very tidy sum of money. Numb, Bodie immediately made a hundred plans for spending it and as promptly discarded them all. Sarah was left the family business; William Bodie had proclaimed she had a head for it. And Julie was allotted a stipend that would keep her more than comfortable until she died or until she chose to remarry. There were other bequests, to employees who had served his father for years, a few friends, an old associate. None of the rest of it made an impression on Bodie; if there were anything further he needed to know, he relied on Doyle to tell him.
Too exhausted by the events of the last thirty hours to do more than fall into bed following their last meal of the day, Bodie was extremely conscious of the one secure thing in his life amidst this surrealistic turn of events: the man beside him.
"Never thought I'd tumble an heir," Doyle said consideringly into the darkened room.
"And the father of a twenty year old girl." Bodie winced at his own words.
"That's okay," Doyle said sanguinely. "At twenty they're well out of nappies."
Cotton whispered softly as Bodie's head swivelled on the pillow. "And if she hadn't been?"
Doyle's mixed emotions were visible even in the pale moonlight cast through the open window. Then he brightened. "We'd have used some of that considerable legacy of yours to hire a nanny."
He squeaked as Bodie's arms tightened stiflingly around him. "'S all right, mate," he said understandingly. "Everything looks a little crazy right now, but it'll be back to normal in the morning."
Bodie forced out a tiny, "Promise?"
"Yeah, promise. Cross my heart and -- " His mouth was rudely covered by a very large hand.
"I get the idea," Bodie said lightly. "Leave it at that, okay?"
They snuggled down together, drifting toward sleep, maintaining contact with drowsy touches. "Was supposed to have me wicked way with you tonight," Doyle reflected after a time.
"You go ahead," Bodie said generously. "Just don't wake me, please."
Doyle lifted his head and began an ardent inventory of his partner's face, neck and shoulders. After his efforts had raised nothing more than a pitifully somnolent response, he groused, "Could have as much fun doing it to the mattress."
"Pervert," Bodie mumbled.
"Hmmm." Doyle lowered his mouth to Bodie's again, cherishing the full lower lip before wetting it with his tongue. He persevered until Bodie could no longer feign indifference. It was slow, and gentle, and went a long way to setting Bodie's world back in its proper place in the scheme of things.
Afterward, cushioned against Doyle's body, Bodie whispered his thanks and his love, and was finally allowed to go to sleep.
It was nearly three in the morning, a morning just six months following the funeral of William Bodie, Sr. -- and Bodie had procrastinated long enough.
Doyle was hurting. Bodie had sensed that since yesterday morning, but his own insecurity had counselled him not to act. It was easier by far to lie here and review other rough patches they had already safely traversed than to face this new one -- whatever it was.
But he was afraid it might have something to do with him. Had Doyle tired of their involvement and not yet found the words to tell him they were quits? Perhaps something had gone on with the boy-toy? There had been that sick look on Doyle's face when he had jokingly asked if he'd had a hard time keeping up with Trevor. Surely not bloody Trevor.
Before his thoughts could run away with him, however, the hustler's words came back to him. So you're the reason. Thought he must have a good one. The boy had tried, and failed. Doyle's outraged glare had confirmed that.
Something -- or someone else, perhaps?
Bodie did not want to lose him. It was as simple and as complex as that. With Doyle, life had become unexpectedly and addictively sweet. But loving him had left Bodie vulnerable -- to the world if it stole Doyle away from him, to Doyle, if he chose to walk out.
It had been worth the risk so far; but this relationship exacted a frightening price, one that Bodie had accepted intuitively, but only now fully comprehended: Without Doyle, he would have to relearn the sterile emptiness that had once defined his life. Without him, he had absolutely nothing of consequence. Trite, but damnably, unalterably true.
So he wouldn't lose him. He would help Doyle through whatever it was that was troubling him, just as Doyle had shepherded him through the joint trauma of fatherlessness and fatherhood.
Groggy with fatigue and a surfeit of apprehension, Bodie took himself unsteadily down the hall and into the bathroom. Slapping cold water on his face, he wrinkled his nose at the sour smell that hung in the air. So he had not imagined that. Doyle had been sick, more than once if his dream-influenced memory was accurate.
Cinching the belt of his terry cloth robe round his waist, he plodded into the corridor, following the light that glowed from the landing.
Stealing silently down the stairs, he made his way through the shadowed lounge to the dining area beyond. Clad in red silk, Doyle sat motionless in one of the hard-backed, wooden chairs, head bowed over an empty mug. To Bodie he was the embodiment of detachment -- and a heart- rendingly lonely figure.
Bodie came up behind him, no longer guarding his steps, and put his arms around the bent shoulders. "Ray."
Without moving, Doyle managed to make it very clear that he did not welcome Bodie's touch. He said: "You knew."
The two words echoed like a death knell amid the unnatural quiet of the room. It was more than an accusation; the terrible emptiness in Doyle's voice told him that. But what else it told him, Bodie wasn't entirely sure. He asked gingerly, "Knew what?"
"About me. About that month I could never remember."
Bodie contemplated outright denial. Doyle was so withdrawn, it was unlikely a bracing hug would prove the cure-all it often had in the past. In fact, he was so tense, Bodie was surprised he had not been thrown off altogether. Slowly straightening, he decided that he would not lie. But he needed to find out just how much Doyle knew. Best to go slowly. "Not details."
Doyle's hands curled into fists, knuckles whitely exposed. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Hoped you'd never remember."
"Too bad, mate, because I do. I remember all of it."
Not comprehending the bitterness directed toward him, Bodie countered, "And do you feel any better for it?"
He came round to the other side of the table and saw the cold set of Doyle's face for the first time. Deliberately keeping his own visage neutral despite the disquiet that niggled inside him, Bodie insisted, "Well, do you?"
"What d'you think?"
Bodie took a deep breath. This was going to be every bit as difficult as he had ever imagined it might be. "I think you're tied up in knots. I think you need to get some rest, allow yourself time to adjust, to get used to it."
The scornful taunt was like a slap in the face. Mustering patience, Bodie tried again. "Look, Ray, what happened during that month had nothing to do with you. You were made to do that, made to be a hustler."
Bodie spread his hands. "Whatever. But it wasn't you. Not something you ever wanted before. Or since."
"You sound very certain."
"I am. Damn it, Ray, listen to me," Bodie implored. "It's got to be rough having it come back all at one go like this, but put it in its place, will you? It was over a year and a half ago. There have been good things since then, a lot of good things. You and me, for one." He risked reaching out to lightly caress one frozen fist with his thumb. "Gone through a lot, we have; even so, it's been over a year now and we're still together. All we've needed is each other. Doesn't that count for something?"
Doyle slowly brought his head up and fixed Bodie with a mocking stare. "No doubts, Bodie? None at all?"
Chilled to the darkest recesses of his being, Bodie whispered, "Not about me." He knew instantly it was the wrong thing to say. Unfortunately, it was too late to swallow the words, far too late if Doyle's glass-shard scrutiny was anything to go by.
An ugly smile twisted the once-beguiling mouth. "Go ahead, Bodie," he urged softly. "You know when it happened. And who with. You tell me."
Bodie shivered. Half-blind, he bent his head forward to completely shut out that unfamiliar face. "When I was in Stockholm with Cowley. You were taking care of the minister's wife and daughter. You spent the night with the girl. Alone."
Incongruously, Doyle shuddered. Then he said, "Yes." His voice was as flat and hopeless as a straight-line EEG. "And what does that count for, Bodie?"
Bodie clamped his jaws together. A numbing coldness was sweeping through him, spreading relentlessly into every cell of his body. He rose stiffly, hands balled at his sides. He would hurt Doyle if he stayed here; he would hurt him and that was one thing he had sworn never to do. Not a sound came from Doyle as Bodie scraped back the chair and strode away.
He took the stairs two and three at a time, but once on the upper landing, he slowed to a walk. Gulping down an overdue breath, with one hand on the wall to balance himself, he made his way clumsily into the bedroom. "Bastard," he whispered harshly.
He wanted to shout his hatred to the world, to destroy everything within reach, to demolish this flat and all it had come to mean to him. But he would do none of that. Because of Ray. Because he loved him.
Tasting blood on his lower lip, Bodie also realized that he could not stay, not while he was in this state of mind. Willing himself a measure of control, he reached under the bed and pulled out the hold-all that was always half-filled with a change of clothing, fresh underwear, and an extra shaving kit. Methodically, he began to add to it, taking enough to last a week. He would come back for the rest of his things later, when he had cooled down.
Would he ever cool down?
He had known this could happen; Christ, didn't it always? Why should Doyle, just because Bodie loved him, be any different? Hadn't his father taught him young not to trust? And before him, his mother, who had left him when he still needed her -- even if it had not been her choice -- nonetheless showing him the folly of relying on someone else. How many others since then, who had lulled him into caring, few though they had been.
But this, this, would never happen again. Shouldn't have happened this time. In truth, he had known the risk he was taking the first time he'd held Doyle in his arms. But there had been no promises then, not in words anyway.
Had Doyle needed to hear the words?
He yanked the zip closed. So Doyle had fucked someone else. So bloody what? They'd both done their share of it, fucking. A little in- and-out and a bloke felt a million dollars. Jesus, they were both men; who should better understand what a man needed?
Yet, it hurt. The image of Doyle with a young woman, doing with her what Bodie had denied him, was as brutally painful as the killing thrust of a well-oiled blade.
Had he done that because Bodie had refused him?
He closed his eyes, fighting the emotions flooding his system. He hated this sick sensation, the ridiculous feeling of betrayal. He knew, if he gave himself time, it would go away. After all, it always had before.
But Doyle --
Where now the loyal man-child, perched on his mother's grave, there to share his latest news? Or the wild-eyed warrior primed to endure anything -- an enemy's bullets or Cowley's opprobrium -- in his partner's defense? Or the unswerving supporter, standing by Bodie's side at his father's funeral, accepting the pitiful travesty of his past without a second's hesitation?
Was Doyle's transgression so awful that he could pack in a year and a half of the greatest happiness he had ever known? Yes. Oh, yes, at this moment, learning that that happiness could turn to this bitter emptiness, he could go far, far away. So far, Doyle'd never find him. Not that he would want to.
But then, if were honest, wasn't he being just the slightest bit hypocritical, not to mention melodramatic, about all this? After all, hadn't he half-suspected Doyle all along? Why should it matter now that his suspicions were no longer supposition, but truth?
It was simple really: For a while, Bodie had been special. Doyle had given up variety and the thrill of novelty for him. Until the moment Doyle had bent to temptation, Bodie had been more important to him than anyone else.
Could he ever be special again?
He sank down onto the edge of the bed, totally drained. Preternaturally calm, he studied the bundled pair of socks that were clutched in his hands, vaguely curious as to how they had come to be there.
Light drenched the room from the wall sconces, adding to the illumination of the one small bedside lamp. Eyes narrowed against the brightness, it was the remnant of pride that lifted Bodie's head.
Doyle stood framed in the doorway, heavily anchored on both feet, defensiveness and hostility exuding from him in equal proportions. He started brusquely, "I'm sorry. I shouldn't've -- "
"What?" Bodie interrupted tiredly. "Told me? Yeah, you're right. I could've done without that."
Doyle's hand rose jerkily, then fell. "That wasn't -- "
"What you meant? Doesn't matter. Got what you wanted, didn't you; we both feel like shit now."
An exasperated sigh hissed between Doyle's teeth. "Quit putting words into my mouth!"
That hint of irritability sent the blood pounding to Bodie's temples. "Right again. How dare I presume? But then, there was no reason for all this tonight. I could've taken care of it over a year ago. Told you then. Silly me."
Doyle snapped, "I had a right to know!"
"Of course you did," Bodie agreed silkily. "But you've got it all know, all the juicy details. I couldn't've given you those. Should think it was worth the wait."
For the first time, Bodie saw that Doyle was trembling, a regular spasm that began at the top of his spine and coursed through every muscle in his body, leaving no portion of him unaffected. Caught up in his own disillusionment, Bodie had forgotten what Doyle must be suffering, what terrible self-truths he had uncovered.
"Yeah." Bodie said somberly, "Thought about it, y'know, how to tell you. At first I thought about it all the time." He gave a small shrug, watching his fingers slowly uncurl from their death grip around unprotesting knitted nylon. "Couldn't work out how to -- or when. Things . . . got away from us so fast."
"Yes, didn't they."
Bodie closed his eyes, sorely tested by Doyle's sarcasm. "Yeah. Imagined us lying in bed, following one of our better efforts -- mood set just right, the air reeking with sex, all tenderness, y'know. And then me saying, `By the way, Ray, if you think that was great, just wait'll you get your memory back.'"
"Bodie . . . "
Doyle had gone completely white, his eyes black cavernous holes amid a field of bloodless flesh.
Still raw from his last attempt at offering comfort, Bodie crushed an almost irresistible impulse to go to him. "What could I have said? `Ray, that month you can't remember -- don't know how to tell you this, mate, but you spent the whole time as a bum-boy.'" At the anguish that flowed across the already stricken features, Bodie added shortly, "Would you have believed me? None of it would have been real to you. So what would you have done? Gone to Ross and asked her to fill in the blanks for you? Bring it all back?"
Doyle's right hand was curled like a talon around the door jamb; yet for all the fierce strength of his grip, his fingers twitched with the intensity of each unrelenting tremor.
Bodie's anger vanished; Doyle had been hurt enough. He said quietly, "All I knew was what you told me while you still believed you were Forester. That, and what he -- my double -- said." Bodie peered closely at his partner, wondering if he were assimilating any of this. "I said you and I'd worked together and you said you didn't believe I was a hustler, too. Then, after I told you we were partners, you had it out with him in the kitchen. Heard what you told him, what he said to you. Only guessed the rest, but I'd have gladly murdered the bastard."
"Because he fucked me first." There was the faintest tinge of colour in Doyle's cheeks again.
"Probably," Bodie admitted. "Or at least partly. But also because he used you. Because he could've ruined everything we'd ever shared. Once I'd explained the situation to you, who I was, you said you trusted me. Me, not him." He snorted softly. "That was one thing we'd always had: trust."
Doyle stepped awkwardly away from the door. "Bodie, I . . . "
"'S all right, Doyle. Times change. I'm sorry you remembered. Maybe not as much as you, but I probably run a close second. I don't know what's going on in that twisty little mind of yours right now; but in case it hasn't already occurred to you, I didn't start sleeping with you because of what you'd done during that month -- or because of him. I wanted you in my bed long before he had you in his. But, then, I loved you."
"Bodie . . . "
He watched as Doyle came haltingly across the floor, stripped of his natural gracefulness. From defeated posture to shattered expression, Doyle had never appeared so vulnerable.
He stopped a few feet away, as though afraid to come too near. Slowly, perhaps unsure of his balance, he lowered himself to the rug, folding his bare legs in front of him, crimson silk hanging open, revealing a fine dusting of dark hair over green, yellow, and dusky coloured skin. He began, a little hesitantly, "Didn't you ever wonder . . . when we made love . . . if it was me -- or what I'd been taught?"
Doyle waited a moment, as though expecting more. He said bitingly, "No? Just no?"
"That's right. It mattered more to me that you were all right, safe. Can't change the past, sunshine."
"What if you'd caught something from me?" Turbulent green eyes widened. "Or is that why you would never let us -- "
"No. Think about it, Ray," Bodie pointed out unequivocally. "We've tried plenty of things that would've got me in the same fix."
"Then why . . . ?" All at once he grasped what Bodie had tried to do. "You were afraid I'd remember, is that it? Remember him doing it to me?"
Doyle looked down at the rug beneath him. He reached out with a single finger and traced the pattern woven into it, whispering, "He didn't hurt me. In fact, he went out of his way to make it good. But it wasn't . . . He wasn't . . . "
He pulled his hand back and let it drop upon its mate in his lap. "It started when Trevor and I began that badger job. He was wired, and I listened to everything that went on, everything he did -- every bleeding groan and sigh." One hand formed a fist, and was summarily engulfed by the other. "Was bloody weird. Never felt so bloody damned weird in my life. At first I thought -- I don't know -- that I was going off my nut, maybe. It was like I was taking in everything that Trevor did -- making it part of me, somehow." He spoke slowly, uncertainly, head cocked to one side as though hearing some inner voice that had worked it out for him. "Then the dreams began. Used to wake Trevor up out of a dead sleep -- and he was in the next bed! Said he was never sure if he should try to shake me out of it, or run like hell." Doyle frowned, darting a swift look up at Bodie, then away again, as if expecting no sympathy there. "Began to hope I was just having a loony reaction to the job. Y'know, you can do that sometimes, let it get under your skin. But it wasn't Trevor, and it wasn't the op. It was me. Just me. My memories coming up out of the scum, showing me things I'd done. Things I would have swore I'd never have done."
He returned to his study of the floor. "Tonight it all came back. I couldn't stop it. When I woke up, it wasn't a dream anymore. I remembered everything: going through the garden at Staveley Avenue getting shot, meeting up with you in that crazy other place. Him. Going away with that gang of thugs. Being drugged. Believing I was Forester for a month." Doyle was hugging himself, hands rubbing fretfully at his forearms.
Bodie guessed he wasn't even aware of it.
"There were so many of them, Bodie," the hollow voice began to stumble. "So many different men. Not always just one. Threesomes, foursomes . . . " A racking tremor jarred the too-thin frame. "Know how you feel about whores. How you despise them. Can understand it now. They paid me, so I did what they wanted. And I did everything. Anything that didn't hurt too much . . . Don't know how you could've wanted me knowing I'd -- "
Bodie couldn't bear to hear another word of that wretched confession. He moved without thought, the painful shock of knees impacting upon the floor not even registering as he hauled Doyle into his arms.
"I'm sorry," Doyle moaned. "Oh, Jesus, I'm so -- "
"Stop it." Bodie kissed the top of Doyle's head, pushing the contorted face into the curve of his shoulder. "Stop it, Ray, please."
Doyle wept violently, hopeless sobs purging him of rage, humiliation, and unforgivable self-betrayal as he burrowed against Bodie's solid reality.
And Bodie held him, stroking the sweat-damp hair, his other hand rubbing down the long, knobby spine. All the while he spoke to him, simple words and phrases, but important ones, of guilt and pain, and forgiveness and love. "Don't hate yourself, mate, it wasn't you," he said emphatically. "They made you do it, you must know that."
So immersed was he in lavishing comfort upon his partner, that Bodie's own aches began to recede, made insignificant before some emotional ruin. Ray needed him. He had poured out his confusion and grief to the one person who would understand. And he had done this fully cognizant of the blow he himself had dealt. He knew his partner well, did Doyle, for every protective instinct rose up in Bodie and overrode his own petty complaints. Some time later, still cradling his partner, Bodie finally noticed that the tears had stopped. Doyle lay limp in his embrace, breathing slowly and deeply, only the occasional wet snuffle and heaving catch-up breath giving away the fact that he was still awake.
After a time, Bodie whispered, "You all right?"
Doyle nodded. He made no effort to pull away, however, apparently content to remain where he was.
Even if it's for the rest of the night, Bodie decided.
He wondered what Doyle was thinking; he was tempted to ask. Instead he continued to fondle him, gentling touches that would not be misconstrued.
There was a thick croak: Doyle was trying to speak. After clearing his throat twice, Doyle finally ground out, "You still love me, don't you?"
It wasn't really a question, but Bodie saw no reason not to confirm it. "Yeah."
"Even after what I said about the minister's daughter?" he insisted.
Quelling the resentment that started up like bile inside him, Bodie gave a heavy sigh. A little caustically, he said, "Don't seem to have a choice."
A thumb began to sketch small circles on Bodie's flank, under his left arm. "No?"
There was no point in pretending. Bodie shook his head, letting his cheek rest against Doyle's forehead. "Can't say I'm thrilled about it, but I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Couples have been screwing around on each other forever. No reason you shouldn't . . . "
Doyle lifted his face out of the warm shelter of Bodie's shoulder, unselfconsciously scrubbing the wetness from his eyes and cheeks, then repeated the undertaking on Bodie's neck. He shifted a little so he could look full at Bodie, tilting his head back so that his own features were ruthlessly exposed to the light. Lines, shadows, swollen tender skin: all were clearly visible. And all, Bodie thought grimly, accepted and loved.
Doyle pried himself free, putting a little space between them. He reached out and collected Bodie's hands in his, kneading them between nervous fingers.
"All this . . . It's been a shock, y'know. And I . . . I haven't been thinking very clearly."
"Can understand that," Bodie said dryly.
"It's just that -- I want to believe you're right -- that it wasn't me. I know it wasn't me, and it's stupid -- wrong -- to hate myself for it." He squeezed his eyes tightly shut. "If I say it often enough, it'll begin to sink in -- d'you think?"
Bodie opened his mouth to agree, but Doyle stopped him with a shake of his head, eyes wide open again and filled with purpose. "Let me finish." But then he faltered, looking down at the powerful, broad-cut hands that lay so trustingly in his. Very quietly, he declared, "It wasn't me -- but it wasn't you, either."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
Doyle lifted his shoulders dismissively. "That I was angry. He used me. He knew who I was and he bought me anyway. Just wanted to fuck me before he gave me back to you."
"Gave you . . . ?" Whatever had the bastard said to Doyle? Choosing his words with caution, Bodie said, "You said he made it good for you."
"Yeah." Green eyes swept up, took in Bodie's expression, and fell away again. "But it was only sex with him. Christ, that sounds bloody pathetic, doesn't it. But, Bodie, I don't like being messed about and that's what he did. You wanted to kill him for having me first, and I just wanted to murder him. To get even. I . . . got a bit confused."
Enchanted by the downsweep of Doyle's lashes, the soft, overripe swelling of his mouth, even the puffy bags under his eyes and the none- too-pristine state of his nose, Bodie knew he had been a fool to imagine he could escape this one's lure. "Don't know exactly what you're trying to tell me, sunshine, but it really doesn't matter. It's over, d'you understand? A year and a half over."
At that unquestioning acceptance, Doyle's head jerked up, his face betraying some terrible inner tumult. Before Bodie could reassure him, Doyle dove forward, and surrounded him with a crushing embrace. "Jesus, Bodie," he gasped, pressed so close that Bodie could feel Doyle's heartbeat where it pulsed against his own chest. Just as suddenly, Doyle said bluntly, "I've been a shit, mate. You deserve better."
"So what else is new?" Bodie said weakly.
The green eyes darkened with wariness. "Promise you won't thump me?"
All of the air evaporated from Bodie's lungs. "There's more?"
Doyle nodded shamefacedly, denying Bodie freedom when he would have pulled away. He blurted out, "I didn't lie to you about the minister's daughter. Not really. Just let you think something that wasn't true. I did stay the night with her, but not in her bed. We didn't do anything. I dossed down on the settee."
Bodie went completely still.
Carrying on before his courage could fail him, Doyle let the words tumble out. "She wanted to, but I told her I had someone important. It was a bit noticeable that I was tempted -- hadn't seen you for over a week by then -- and she said you'd never know. Told her I'd know. Told her I loved you." At Bodie's bleat of dismay, Doyle said swiftly, "Don't worry -- I didn't give her your name, idiot. Bodie -- nothing happened." He examined Bodie's face worriedly. "I'm sorry, mate. The way I was feeling when you came down a bit ago, reckoned you'd expect that from me."
An involuntary gasp was wrenched out of his throat as he found himself sprawled flat on his back, with Bodie hunched over him, knees straddling his hips. "You bloody-minded toe-rag!" Bodie snarled. "Christ, Ray, I wanted to kill you! D'you know how close I came to just leaving?"
"But you love me?" Doyle asked faintly, deprived of the breath necessary to say more.
Bodie gave his head a weary shake, not in denial. "Yeah."
A trembling hand came up and curved around his cheek. "You'd've forgiven me that," Doyle said wonderingly. "I wouldn't've, Bodie, if it'd been the other way round. Don't think I could deal with that."
Bodie lowered himself until his mouth hovered over Doyle's. "Not even for me?" he persuaded, closing the distance between them.
Doyle's eyes slowly opened as Bodie broke the kiss. "Everyone I've ever loved has left me, or chosen someone -- or something -- else. Except you. When we were trapped in that buggered place, you kept looking for me. You never even tried to find your way home alone."
"Don't be daft," Bodie said curtly.
"You'd do anything for me, wouldn't you?"
Doyle's hair stirred with the force of Bodie's sigh. "Think I already have."
Doyle gave him an uncomplicated smile. "Would you marry me?"
"In a heartbeat." Bodie helped himself to another kiss. "But we can't. Not legal, remember?"
With one hand flatted against Bodie's chest, Doyle said confidently, "We can. In here. Much more important than on a piece of paper."
"Then I already have," Bodie assured him.
"You won't ever leave me?" Doyle asked intensely. "Have to beat me away, you silly sod."
"And you'll forgive me when I do stupid things?"
With wry honesty, Bodie conceded, "Given time."
"And you won't ever want anyone else?"
Beginning to wonder if there was a purpose to this litany of questions, Bodie said gamely, "What d'you think? No, I won't."
Doyle's face relaxed into a warm smile. "Then I, Raymond Doyle," he whispered formally, "am yours. And only yours. Forever, Bodie."
Mouth half-open, Bodie felt the shock of moisture scalding his eyes. He dropped his head to hide his face on Doyle's chest. Long, gentle fingers lovingly wove themselves into his hair and held him there until the moment passed. Pulling himself up, he noted new tears creeping from beneath Doyle's lashes. To soothe them both, he took Doyle's face between his hands, let the wiry form bear his full weight, and kissed him hungrily.
When he finally gave his partner room to breathe, Doyle's face was flushed -- and Bodie didn't think it was from lack of air. Racking his brain, he replayed their conversation until he thought he had it right.
"Let's see . . . You won't ever leave me?" he asked ingenuously, rewarded by a quick, glittering smile.
Doyle solemnly shook his head.
"You'll always forgive me?"
"So long as you keep the first promise, yeah."
Bodie's voice was little more than a whisper, as he finished, "And you'll never want anyone else? Never?"
"I promise, Bodie."
Bodie bent low until his breath became indistinguishable from Doyle's. "Then I, William Bodie . . . " He faltered, knowing that once said, these words would bind him for the rest of his life. It surprised him that they came so easily. "Will be yours for as long as you want me."
Triumph and brilliant joy shone out of Doyle's face. "That'll be forever, mate."
The kiss that followed was slow and sweet, sealing their vows and salvaging battered trust. Bodie was aware that the lean body had relaxed completely beneath him, and noted the precise instant that Doyle's fingers stilled upon his ribs and slid to the floor. He waited, keeping watch, until Doyle was sleeping deeply, then left him long enough to turn off the lights in the kitchen and the bedroom. By the time he returned, Doyle was dreaming, hunched beneath the duvet Bodie had draped over him before departing, blindly seeking his missing partner.
"Uhn . . . Bodie . . . " Unnaturally drawn out, the name rose in volume as Doyle started awake, just as Bodie joined him on the floor.
"Hush. Go back to sleep."
"Where the hell -- "
"Put your head down -- here, on the pillow -- and quit complaining. You're the one always nagging about the electricity rates."
"Okay, okay. Just . . . " Doyle wrapped himself around his partner with intentional intricacy, not even easing his hold as a profound weariness began to reclaim him.
"Don't leave me again."
The slurred words dissipated in the darkness. Grinning, Bodie prepared himself for a night on the floor, not in the least bit distressed at the prospect. "Won't, sunshine," he whispered. In response, Doyle merely insinuated more of his weight onto Bodie's unresisting form and drowsily mouthed the skin at the base of Bodie's left ear.
It was the tantalizing odour of freshly prepared toast rather than the intrusion of light shining on his face that finally breached the armour of Doyle's heavy sleep. He moved sluggishly, inhaling luxuriously, his whole world comprised of warm, bread-scented air.
Looming over the edge of the bed, Bodie watched as heavy lids lifted clear of dazed green eyes. A crumb broke free from the golden triangle of toast dangling above Doyle's nose, and plummeted with unerring accuracy into flinching lashes. "Hold still," Bodie commanded, rather astonished when Doyle instantly obeyed. After the offending article had been safely removed, Bodie tapped the pointed edge against Doyle's mouth. "Open wide, sunshine."
As compliant as a marionette, Doyle did as he was told and took in the buttery morsel.
"You back among us, then?" Bodie queried.
Without bothering to swallow first, Doyle mumbled, "Maybe. Give me a minute." He savoured the morning's greeting with evident pleasure.
Bodie began to breathe again, reassured beyond measure by that prosaic response. He waited until Doyle had stopped chewing before prodding his chin with another piece of toast. The full lips parted and took it without demur. "Comfy down there?" he asked sweetly.
Dark, finely formed brows moved independently of the serene face, expressing puzzlement, then flat-out confusion. Blinking against the light, Doyle finally struggled against the restraints of his languor and stared querulously into eyes twinkling with anticipation. "Why am I down here on the floor -- and you up there on the mattress?"
"One of us appreciates his comforts?"
Amid a flurry of half-numb and very stiff limbs, Doyle rolled onto his side and then climbed to his knees. He shuffled forward to lean heavily against the side of the bed, forearms supporting him, and searched past his partner to the tray resting on the far nightstand. It was handsomely arrayed with cozy-covered teapot, sugar bowl and creamer, and a plate stacked high with fresh toast.
As he contemplated the culinary riches, making smacking noises at the prospect of delights to come, a mouth seeking to appease its own hunger swooped down to claim his. He yielded immediately to the moist warmth and fervour, discovering there were other appetites clamouring for his attention, and that they were equally imperative.
When Bodie finally released him, fingers entangled in warm, musk- scented hair, Doyle gave a pleased sigh and let his heavy head lay against Bodie's forearm. "More toast, please, then we can do that again."
"Take it in stages, you mean?" Bodie asked, amused. "To get your strength up?"
"Hm." He garbled a "thank you" as his request was granted, and was far more awake when that lot was consigned to his digestive tract. The next oral distraction was even more demanding than the first; afterward there was little likelihood of any lurking traces of toast going spare anywhere in his mouth.
The thought of food was abandoned by the time that exchange came to an end, and Bodie only had time to suck in a quick breath before his head was taken between two steel-strong hands and his mouth overrun by a sweetly enthusiastic kiss. It was what he had dreamt of for days, waking and sleeping, and he gave in to it at once.
Without breaking his hold, Doyle got his feet under him and climbed up onto the bed, trapping his partner between his knees. Bodie twisted his head free, breathing harshly as he grabbed Doyle's hips and shoved up against him. That elicited a startled gasp as an impressive heat and hardness slid into the crevice of Doyle's buttocks. He spread his legs further, leaning forward, offering himself for impalement.
"God!" Bodie hissed, heart-rate rocketing. With hurculean effort, he tensed and rolled, dumping Doyle onto the mattress beside him. "Slow down," he said firmly.
Unbothered, Doyle simply clung to him, undulating against the smoothly muscled body.
"That'll do," Bodie agreed. Encouraging Doyle's thrusts, he provided the support they needed, maneuvering when necessary to enhance the friction. Doyle's mouth found his again, and he let himself be savaged, all of the fine hairs on his body lifting as he reacted to his partner's swiftly rising passion. "Ray -- Christ, Ray, what. . . are. . . you. . . ?" But the words were lost in his throat as Doyle rocked him over onto his back again, and began to ride him, Bodie's abdomen taking the force of his lust. "Harder," Bodie urged, both hands spread wide to emcompass Doyle's buttocks, working with him to increase the strength of each downward lunge. "Ah, God, yes!"
Doyle's cry was feral as he emptied himself upon sweating skin, then broke into a soft whimper when ultra-sensitive tissues were held captive by Bodie's continued onslaught. He quivered when Bodie came, as much from the echo of his own achingly sweet release, as from the near-agony of prolonged stimulation.
"Okay?" Bodie whispered, relaxing his hold immediately.
"Oh, I think so," Doyle replied breathlessly, limply collapsing on his partner. "'S almost like . . ."
Bodie tenderly brushed heavy curls from Doyle's face. "Fucking?" He suggested.
An awkward nod answered him.
"That's what we'll do next, then," he said huskily. "After you've had the rest of your lunch."
A thread of tension coursed through Doyle's body. "Lunch? What d'you mean, `lunch'?"
Bodie cocked his head back to see the bedside clock. "'S a quarter past one, mate. That qualifies as lunch in my books."
The slender form poised above him coiled, preparatory to launching itself away. "One! Bodie, I was supposed to be at HQ by -- "
A solid arm folded across Doyle's lower back with all the brute strength and immediacy that self-interest could employ. "Don't! Jesus, Doyle, you trying to ruin me?" He let up a little when Doyle's muffled yelp and uncomfortable wriggle told him he was no longer capable of escape. "Called Cowley this morning while you were still dead to the world."
Doyle slumped upon him with such complete relief that Bodie almost suffered the very fate he had tried to avoid. "Sorry," Doyle wheezed a moment later, the air nearly crushed out of him by Bodie's involuntary reaction, ruefully massaging the spectacularly green, yellow, and purple bruises on his chest. "You all right?"
Bodie suffered bravely. "Don't think there are ever going to be any little me's running around, if that's what you mean. What about you? Did I hurt you?"
"Any more little you's, you mean. Better not be, anyway," Doyle informed him repressively. "I'm fine; told you it's only bruising. What did you say to Cowley?"
Bodie performed a serpentine squirm to ease his position; when Doyle made as if to move off him, however, Bodie held him inflexibly in place. "That's better; can breathe now." Then, grumpily, "Haven't you ever heard of cuddling after the fact? Sure know how to spoil the mood, don't you."
"You shouldn't scare me like that," Doyle replied unrepentantly. "For all I know, Cowley might have been outside the front door, wanting to know why we hadn't reported in."
"You have no faith in me."
Ignoring the doleful statement, Doyle said agreeably, "None at all. What'd you tell him?"
Perversely, Bodie began, "That you were out roaming the streets and I was going to -- oh, shit, Ray, don't . . . " Doyle's face had gone a trifle grey, eyes very wide as he searched Bodie's face. Bodie hugged him desperately. "Don't, Ray, I didn't mean . . . "
A cool hand crept up and purposefully covered his mouth. "No," Doyle commented smoothly, making himself at home on Bodie's chest. "I know you didn't."
Shaken despite Doyle's apparent indifference, Bodie felt the need to offer reassurance, and drew his lover around until he could have the taste of his mouth.
"Hm," Doyle murmured appreciatively as he took his weight on his elbows. Then, feeling the intensity of Bodie's probing gaze, he said with warm affection, "Don't be a prat, okay? I should be grateful that you really don't hold it against me."
Bodie was bewildered. "What's there to hold against you? You didn't do anything."
Doyle bent forward and breathed in the rich scent of Bodie's hair. "No, but my body did. You could've caught something from me. Told you, mate, I did it all."
"You were checked out," Bodie reminded him. "Because of this." He lightly rubbed the ball of his thumb against the pale scar on Doyle's upper arm, a very substantial reminder of their visit to that other universe. "Cowley ordered it, remember?"
The tousled head nodded abstractedly. "Yeah. Just a check up, I thought. Wait a minute -- that injection the doctor gave me; said it was a vitamin of some sort," He glared down into too-innocent blue eyes. "You? No wonder it hurt so much!"
Bodie shrugged, running his hands roughly up and down Doyle's back, from the sharp contours of his shoulders to the pronounced curve of his buttocks and back again. "Told him you'd been experimenting a bit lately, trying . . . um . . . alternate sex practices. He didn't quite believe me, but I convinced him it wouldn't hurt to bring your shots up to date just the same."
Doyle let himself lie flat next to Bodie. "You're a mad bugger, you know that? You were afraid I'd get clap in me arse and begin to ask questions, didn't you?"
"Thought it was possible," Bodie admitted. "Didn't particularly want to share anything like that with you, either. Selfish, y'know."
"Uh huh." Doyle bestowed a tiny kiss on Bodie's collar-bone. "So what the bleeding hell did you tell the Old Man?"
"That you must've caught a bug of some kind, that you were up most of the night chundering, and I was playing nursemaid. He gave us the day to recuperate."
Doyle sniggered. "Probably thought I was rat-arsed. You too."
Bodie gave a fastidious stretch. "We're dripping here. Can you reach the tissues?"
A moment later, restored to some degree of tidiness, Doyle looked up soulfully and asked abjectly, "Can I have the rest of my lunch now, please?"
"Poor little diddums," Bodie cooed. "Is its tummy grumbling, then?"
"Idiot." Doyle clambered over his partner, batting tickling hands away before they could reach his most sensitive spots while he laboured to reach the other side of the bed.
Settled at last with the tray upon his lap, cheeks bulging with toast, he took notice of the morning's post partially hidden beneath a small pile of paper napkins. "What's this?" He waved an expensive bond envelope of which one end had been ripped off.
Bodie exaggeratedly raised his brows; what Doyle had intended to say bore little resemblance to what his too-full mouth had produced.
Not bothering to repeat himself, Doyle took the direct method of reopening the envelope. He extricated another, smaller envelope, and from it, a printed invitation which he skimmed with interest. "Sarah's getting married!"
"Uh huh." Bodie pulled himself up against the headboard and began to busy himself with the tea. "Wants us to come."
Bodie tipped milk into two cups, removed the cozy and poured. "You didn't read the inside envelope. Take a look."
On the front of the smaller one were written two names: Andy and Ray. Doyle contemplated it with a bemused expression. "Didn't think Julie had told her, as well."
"Does it matter?"
"Nope." The envelopes were returned to the tray. Doyle asked curiously, "How's it feel, Dad? Your daughter's getting married."
"Our daughter," Bodie corrected casually, then grinned when Doyle took pause. "Doesn't feel like much of anything, if you must know."
"But?" Doyle pressed.
Bodie gave him a look from under his brows. "Know-it-all. `S just that I've been wondering if she should be told who I really am. Not that I want to tell her. But, how would you feel if you found out your brother was really your father?"
Doyle paused mid-sip. "Why should Sarah ever find out?"
A cynical snort was his immediate reply. "That's the way of secrets, mate."
There was only a second's hesitation before Doyle conceded the point. "Too right. Guess it's up to you -- and Julie. How important is it?"
Bodie pinched a piece of toast from the plate and chewed thoughtfully. "Not very. To me, anyway. I . . . don't have room for more than one person in my life."
Doyle put down his tea cup. "You believed I'd gone to bed with that girl."
A large hand curled around the back of Doyle's neck and pulled him near, the heat of his forehead warming Bodie's cheek. "No. Well, it was only a thought. Until last night. Hell, Ray, I know what it's like. Saw her picture, didn't I. And we hadn't -- "
"Have you been with someone else since we started?" Doyle demanded. The words were spoken with asperity, but a glimmer of apprehension lurked at the backs of his eyes.
"What d'you think? No. N.O."
"Why?" Bodie repeated the question blankly. "Dunno." He grinned. "Yes, I do: because I haven't wanted anyone else, for one thing. And I . . . well, I thought it would hurt you, if I did."
"You've had offers," Doyle said knowingly.
"Mucky bastard," Doyle said, aggrieved, making a production of wiping off his neck and cheek.
"Your own fault. What in the hell made you -- "
"You forget," Doyle broke in. "I remember all of it, mate."
He had forgotten. That other Bodie boasted that he could keep things sweet with his Cowley because he slept with him. Doyle seemed so much his normal self this morning; it was easy to pretend that last night had only been a very bad dream. "Well, that isn't something I've done -- or would do. Don't think our Cowley would, either, come to that -- any more than you'd go out and start plying your trade on the street."
"No." Doyle drained his cup. He meticulously ordered everything on the tray, then stowed the whole works back on the nightstand. Bodie was waiting, and as soon as Doyle turned back, Bodie allowed himself to be taken in a long, fervent kiss.
They were lying flat on the mattress when it ended, heads sharing the same pillow. Reeling, Bodie murmured, "Wow. What was that in aid of?"
"Apology," Doyle answered thickly. "For last night. For being a berk. Thanks for giving me time to get my head together."
"You slept all right after." It wasn't a question. Bodie had spent the remainder of the early morning hours watching over his lover, prepared to jar him out of any loathsome reminders that might crawl into his slumbering brain.
"Like a stone." He stretched, sinuously rubbing against Bodie's long, firm length, pleased at the immediate reaction he provoked. "Seem to recall mention of a special treat for afters."
"Yeah." Bodie's throat went dry. "See how we go, eh?"
"Oh, yes," Bodie breathed. He cradled Bodie's head between his hands and holding him still, began to nuzzle -- cheeks, temples, eyelids, mouth, throat, and ears. The room was cool, but it wasn't long before their bodies were flushed with arousal and they kicked the restricting duvet to the foot of the bed. Doyle was on top, taking his time in the cherishing of his partner. Bodie passively encouraged him, content to let Doyle do most of the work, while he caressed the thin form draped over him.
Doyle played lips and tongue over Bodie's throat, arching his hips to bring their silken erections together. Bodie groaned and helplessly rose to meet him. With a single, fluid movement, he pulled Doyle to his side, then slid onto him. For a moment, he gave in to the urge to thrust, exulting in the smooth, softly furred skin that welcomed his exertions.
When he suddenly stopped, Doyle gave a growl of objection, but Bodie ignored him and reached into the bedside table to fish out the jar of rich moisturizing cream they had used before to ease other, less adventurous efforts.
Doyle went completely still as, eyes gleaming, Bodie held it out to him. There was another lingering kiss before Doyle took the proffered container, then drew away to get his knees under him. When his long, cream laden fingers curved toward his own arse, however, Bodie intercepted him.
"Whoa," he whispered. "Not you. Me."
More affected by his newly restored past than he knew, Doyle had simply assumed that he would be bottom man first. "Why?" he asked stupidly.
Bodie gave him a loving smile. "Because you're the only one here with any experience. You teach me, and we can both get it right."
Doyle's eyes fell to the lubricant melting into his palm. Sinking back onto his heels, he murmured, "Then we'd better carry on as we were. All whores do it on their backs, Bodie. The only time I was on top, I . . . " he trailed off. "And that doesn't count."
A warm hand cupped the drawn face. "You said it was all right with him . . . the other . . . me."
Doyle wasn't sure what he was getting at. "Yeah. So?"
"You didn't do him?"
The corners of the full mouth pulled downward. "Thought you knew that."
"But it was all right?"
"Yes." The utterance was clipped.
"Well, then," Bodie said grandly, "All the more reason for you to go first."
Baffled, Doyle simply stared at him. "You reckon?"
Bodie kissed him, lips exquisitely gentle. "Yep. No one knows better what doesn't feel good than you, eh?"
Doyle caught his breath. "That's certainly true."
"Then have a bash, mate." He lay on his back and placed one leg on either side of Doyle's kneeling form.
A smile of helpless affection broke out on Doyle's face. He set the pot of cream squarely on Bodie's navel, ignoring the rippling of stomach muscles as cold plastic met warm skin, and began to stroke Bodie's thighs. "It'll hurt, sunshine. Using a lot of gunk and taking it slow will make it a little easier, but it'll still hurt."
Bodie sighed as knowing touches infiltrated his nerve-endings with velvety pleasure. "Bad?" he asked indifferently. He had no intention of putting this off any longer.
"So we'll give it a few tries," Bodie decreed, floating comfortably. "If it's never any good -- well, I think we can manage without." He forced his eyes open, unaware of the effect his dazed absorption was having on his partner's libido. "You agree?"
Doyle gulped. "'Course."
"Well, then?" Bodie raised his brows hopefully.
"God, I love you, Bodie," Doyle declared. He kissed him lavishly, then drew back to observe the effect. "All right," he agreed hoarsely. "One Doyle Deluxe coming up."
Soaring from that heady show of expertise, Bodie yet managed to cast a dubious eye at Doyle's crotch. "That's the Deluxe?"
He was answered by a throaty cackle. "It likes encouragement."
"Yes?" Propped up on his elbows, Bodie reached forward and lightly patted Doyle's semi-erect penis. "How's that?"
"Lacks enthusiasm," Doyle said critically.
He sucked in an uneven breath as Bodie took him fully in hand and began to roll him between his fingers. "Better?" asked Bodie ingenuously.
"Tolerable," Doyle liked.
"Demanding little prick, isn't it," Bodie commented.
Moving his hips to facilitate Bodie's efforts, Doyle said, rather raggedly, "Not so much of the little, my son."
"No?" Bodie removed his hand to survey his work. "No, you're right. That's ever so much more impressive."
With an inarticulate groan of frustration, Doyle lurched forward, capturing Bodie beneath him. Passion sprang up between them, and they fueled it uninhibitedly. Their recent, enforced celibacy, however, allowed them a very short fuse.
"'M getting close, mate," Bodie warned him. "C'mon. Do it."
"Shh. All right. On your side or face-down -- your choice."
"What about on me back?"
"No. Can go too deep that way." Doyle rubbed gently against him, eyes half closed as he savoured the sweet fire pouring into his system.
"You tell me," Bodie invited. "How do you want me?"
"On your side," Doyle said immediately, and shifted over so Bodie could comply. "That's it, and bend your knee up. Yeah, like that."
Bodie began to breathe through his mouth as a finger smeared cold, slick cream onto him. He concentrated on that finger as it went inside, very slowly and very cautiously.
More followed and he began to coast, his entire being focussed on what Doyle was doing, obeying the simple instructions that encouraged him to relax, to open up, to overcome his body's instinctive resistance.
And then there was pressure, stretching -- and pain, stunning pain - - - but he clamped down ruthlessly on the gasp that surged onto his tongue. His body told its own story, however, for Doyle immediately stilled and began to reassure him.
"Give it a minute, mate," he croaked. "And ease up, if you can." While Bodie grew accustomed to the strangeness and discomfort of penetration, Doyle gentled him with generous hands and petitioning mouth, dotting kisses across wide, pale shoulders and the graceful curve of Bodie's long neck. "It's not so bad now," Bodie informed him, and began to push back against his lover experimentally.
"Okay?" Doyle whispered.
"Yeah. Jeez, mate, that feels . . . " Bodie squirmed a little, pulling forward at the same time, discovering that to some degree he could relieve the pressure while triggering a startlingly intense reaction deep inside.
"Better?" Doyle held himself motionless while Bodie twisted this way and that, his face reflecting the magnitude of self-discipline required to do nothing.
"Could . . . say . . . that," Bodie replied roughly. "Ray -- Could you push . . . ?" he slid back against Doyle's abdomen. "Just there . . . Yes!"
Freed at last to obey his most primal instinct, Doyle nevertheless moderated the depth and power of his movements, until it occurred to Bodie that he was holding back. "Ray, please," he moaned. "As hard as you like. It's okay. It's . . . oh, God!"
Doyle clung to him, fingers digging into the thin skin across Bodie's hips. Breathing harshly, he paused, shoving Bodie's hand away from the swollen column arching off his abdomen and replacing it with his own.
Bodie's mind spun before the storm of pleasure provided by the two sources of stimulation. He could no more hold still than he could sprout wings and fly, trying to force Doyle deeper into him, at the same time as he took full advantage of that agile hand's assiduous attentions. The gathering began, but it was unlike any he had ever known, and when it was unleashed, it tore him apart.
"Bodie. Bodie, mate." Doyle's voice, coming from miles away. Curious that he should feel the feather-soft touch of his breath upon his ear from so far. "Bodie!"
"Hm?" Bodie snuggled closer against the sweat-damp fur on his partner's chest. "Was nice."
Doyle choked off a laugh. "Thought you'd blown a gasket, you maniac. Never carried on like that before. You all right?"
"Perfectly," Bodie said with some surprise. He'd thought he was dead. "You?"
There was a pause. "Not bad," Doyle concluded.
Bodie twisted his head on the pillow -- only to have his mouth assaulted long and tenderly. "Bloody wonderful, if you must know," Doyle owned, his voice hushed.
"Good." Bodie sounded relieved. "That means we'll do it again sometime."
Their hearts slowed and breath came more evenly. Doyle's hands continued to move in idle patterns upon Bodie's groin, and every once in a while he placed a kiss on the nape of Bodie's neck.
"Bodie?" Close to sleep, the soft call almost did not penetrate his consciousness.
"Do you think they ever got together?"
Perplexed, Bodie made a token effort to make sense of this. "Who?"
"Them. Us. There. You know."
Amazingly, he did. "Dunno."
He grumbled as Doyle carefully withdrew then used a hand to wipe up the slickness from Bodie's belly. A moment later, he obligingly rolled onto his stomach as Doyle continued to clean him up. Head resting on folded arms, he murmured, "Hope we never find out."
Doyle kissed one buttock. "Me, too. How d'you feel?" He salvoed a handful of soiled tissues over the side of the bed.
"Good or bad?" Doyle specified.
Bodie sleepily took his measure. "Looking for compliments, are you?"
"No." Doyle's chipped tooth flashed at him in a contented smile. "Just want to be certain you're all right. There's no blood, and I can't feel any -- "
"Cool it, Dr. Doyle." Bodie grabbed his mate and dragged the lanky form down beside him, brushing his mouth against the high forehead through a tumble of curls. "My arse feels as though it's had a ruddy great prick shoved up it -- and so it should. I'm not complaining. You didn't hurt me. You couldn't have."
Doyle arranged himself more comfortably. "It can be good, can't it," he said smugly. "When it's done right."
"Yeah. Ray . . . " He bent his head forward to look straight into Doyle's eyes. "Hope I can make it as good for you as he did, as you just did for me. I'll try. You may have to be pa-- "
"Shut up, Bodie," Doyle ordered placidly. "That doesn't matter anymore. It happened. I can't change that. Wish I could, but I can't." His mouth formed a gentle crescent. "But I wouldn't change us for the world. You'll make it great; know you will. Love you, y'know?"
"That, sunshine," Bodie said with total disregard for the last, harrowing, 36 hours, "I never doubted."
In a place far away yet paradoxically near, a man sat before a cluttered table. His face was pale and haggard, his dark hair unkempt. In the shadows of intensely blue eyes a cold purpose waited. To his left lay a Walther P38, a worn leather ID holder, a few pound notes of varying denominations, and a scattering of coins. In a semi-circle to his right were a pile of papers, covered with notes and diagrams, a rudimentarily drawn map of southeast London, and a glass nearly topped-off with amber fluid.
In the man's faintly shaking hands was a diary. It was filled with information that no one else had ever noticed, probably because the booklet was so very like those found here. When its owner had disappeared, the diary had been stored away along with all of his other effects, and no further thought was given to them.
There were differences, bits of data that might account for the window that had opened between their two worlds -- knowledge that, used properly, might provide access to that window again.
Doggedly jotting down an apparent deviation between their lunar cycles, the man swallowed hard against the insidious ache that had not left him for weeks. Crazy that he should have fallen for that one, after so many years of carefully distancing himself. What they'd shared had been wild, filled with highs of unparalleled rapture -- and lows of discordancy generated by two savage personalities that were nonetheless drawn inexorably together. Brutal and tender, violent and loving, their relationship had inexplicably become the most important aspect of his life.
And then he'd lost him. Permanently.
Death never offers a second chance.
But perhaps, if he could find that window . . .
He took a long drink, breath burnt out of his throat by the alcohol. "I'm going to find you," he whispered harshly. Tormented blue eyes, glazed with obsession, stared emptily into the half-drained glass. "Someday, Tiger, I will."
-- THE END --
Originally published in Walking in the Moonlight (You and I), Friends Will Be Friends Press, 1989