by Fanny Adams
A companion piece to "And Love's Worn Circuit Re-Begun" and "Christmas" -- for my daughter on her birthday, because she asked so nicely and so often!
Story #2 in the Emma universe
Sex is a momentary itch,
Love never lets you go.
"Paperwork . . ." Bodie frowned at the sheaf of documents to be read and forms to be signed, then shoved them back into their envelope and filed it under his seat. Someone named Carstairs was bleating about insurance. Even Cowley looked bored.
Next up was Martin who informed the roomful of recruits that by the end of the day they'd wonder why they wanted to join CI5. Bodie thought again about the paperwork -- he already wondered. "I want you dressed and in the compound in fifteen minutes . . . move!"
The room was suddenly alive with men scrambling for the locker room. Bodie knew the drill. He waited until the crush had subsided, and began to undress on the way, winking at a pretty bird loitering in the hallway. It took him a few minutes to don his old fatigues, stow his suit and stroll out to the compound where a few men were already waiting.
Bodie'd been watching the others, always idly measuring them with his own yardstick. Some were good blokes and would make good partners. Others like Stryker, late of the Royal Navy, made his skin crawl. Stryker was small, fair and had the dead eyes of a shark.
Then there were the unknown quantities, he added as he watched one of them enter the compound and cross it with a casual swing of the hips. Doyle, it was, Ray Doyle, ex-copper. But apart from that bit of information, master Doyle remained elusive. He was on the small side as well, and agile as a cat. Cat-quiet too. But it was Doyle's face that caught and held Bodie's interest. It was the face of a renaissance angel, a little battered but beautiful nevertheless, with an unattractively short crop of red-brown curls and dark green eyes. He hadn't noticed Bodie yet -- not properly, not the way Bodie had been noticing him.
"All here? No? Hard cheese, then," Martin said unsympathetically. You didn't get marks for the way you looked in this mob, you got them for being where you were supposed to be when you were supposed to be there. Martin began to pair them off arbitrarily for a little hand to hand combat.
Bodie took the first two out with embarrassing ease. If this was Mother England's best, God help Mother! Stryker was his third opponent, and it was a matter of honour to take him. He was good too, Bodie admitted grudgingly. "Stryker, is it true what they say about sailors?" he asked, just low enough to be heard by Stryker alone. The man's face flushed a deeper red and Bodie grinned. "They get up to interestin' things on your ship, did they?" he continued. "Get you up, did they?" Stryker rushed at him and Bodie kneed him in the groin, dropping him like a sack of potatoes. The sight of Stryker rolling around on the ground gave him a sense of profound satisfaction.
"Sir?" He turned an innocent face to Martin.
"You didn't put the boot in?" He sounded more exasperated than angry. Did it happen often, Bodie wondered.
"Of course not."
"Good lad. Masetti's your next. Stryker, are you all right?"
"Bastard kneed me in the groin," he gasped.
"And he won the fight. Be more careful next time." Martin extended a hand and helped the smaller man up. "Enemy agents do not train on the playing fields of Eton . . ."
Bodie was still grinning when he found Masetti.
Cowley arrived and watched from the perimeter of the combat area.
Bodie's ears perked up and he watched out of the corner of his eye as Doyle approached Martin.
" . . . all mates here. Isn't that right, Bodie?"
"Some matey-er than others . . . sir." Drawn into the conversation even peripherally, he had the chance to study Doyle more closely. He liked what he saw. Oh let me get my hands on that impudent little arse just once, he prayed.
"Right, you and Doyle." Martin motioned him over. Thank you Lord, Bodie thought. Barry Martin, I owe you.
Their match was a little courtship dance -- advance, retreat, advance, Bodie baiting Doyle mercilessly, teasing suggestively as much to make him careless as to suss out his attitudes. But Bodie, concentrating on the weirdly lovely face and tempting body, grew careless in his turn and was put down by a flying kick delivered with a speed and grace that took his breath away -- metaphorically as well as physically.
"You're beautiful when you're angry," Bodie said with a leer as Doyle helped him to his feet. He was pushed away so hard he almost lost his balance again.
"I didn't expect to work with a nance!"
Despite his resilient good humour, Bodie deflated a bit. Why it mattered so much, he didn't like to think. He pressed the psychological advantage out of sheer bloody-mindedness. "I won't try to force my attentions on you . . . you'll ask for it." And Doyle walked away, stiff and correct; suppressing that tempting walk of his.
Some time and several opponents later, Martin released them to shower and dress, with instructions to eat and be out at the shooting range in seventy-five minutes.
Bodie noticed Doyle a few places down the line and, with an idiotic lift of his heart he realized that Doyle was watching him. Put on a good show, old son, he told himself as he soaped himself and stepped under the hot spray, turning slowly, enjoying the feel of the water running slick down his skin. Ever the sensualist, a hot shower and the fresh scent of the soap he used pleasured him in ways most people might not understand. He forgot Doyle in the sheer enjoyment of it, staying under the spray longer than he had intended.
When he shut off the water and turned, he found Doyle still there, now watching him openly. Despite himself he smiled and it was returned without guile or caution. Bodie moved forward, mesmerised by cat's eyes.
"Scrub my back and I'll scrub yours," he offered. Doyle took the soap from him. "Truce?"
The soap dropped and, a moment later, so did the penny. The dreamlike quality of the moment dissolved in wry laughter. "I shouldn't pick it up," Doyle observed as he turned off the tap. "Roving gangs of agents . . . " he walked away and Bodie observed that the swing was back in his walk. Doyle looked back over his shoulder, a malicious grin on his wicked cherub's face. "Just waiting for a comely lad like you to bend over."
Bodie threw back his head and roared.
He was last into the canteen and was forced to sit with several other recruits who were conducting an endless post mortem on the day's events. After the tenth "what I should have done" Bodie left his tray and went outside for a smoke.
It was damp and cold and overcast and Bodie felt a little overcast himself. He'd done well enough on all the practical tests they'd set him, and as for the psychological . . . he supposed that everyone assumed they'd pass and secretly feared they wouldn't. He knew he had his murky side, knew that he was, perhaps, more pragmatic than was comfortable for a man in the position a CI5 agent would occupy. He was realistic about his chances of being picked for this mob (better than most), about his chances of living long enough to collect his pension (might as well give the lot to charity for all the good it'll do me), and about his chances with the elusive Doyle (if I got him very drunk . . .). He shrugged philosophically and took a long drag off his cigarette. It was fortunate that his life had taught him early the folly of expectations. He didn't expect to find a soul-mate among his fellow recruits.
Cowley'd do his nut if he knew what Bodie was thinking. They'd discussed sexuality on the second interview, Cowley with the air of a man who's heard it all and is a little bored by it. He'd said that he preferred not to be surprised, but that he was not unsympathetic, and Bodie had said that he preferred women, but that he wasn't strict. At that, the old man had smiled then scowled at Bodie and told him to be careful. Bodie liked him; he reminded Bodie of Tadzio . . . just a bit.
"Och, that'll ruin your wind!" Bodie jumped at a voice behind him and choked on a mouthful of smoke. "You see? It's a filthy habit."
"Yessir, thank you, sir," Bodie gasped.
"You left this under your seat this morning." Cowley handed him the envelope he'd disposed of earlier. "Mind you have the forms done by tomorrow morning. Is everything going well, Bodie?"
"I think so." He stubbed out his cigarette and tucked the envelope under his arm, resisting the urge to salute.
"Good, good." Cowley walked down the steps. "I'm not ordering you to quit, mind," he added as he disappeared around the corner.
Bodie lit one last one and crumpled the rest in the pack. As good a time as any, he decided, chucking it and his matches into the trash. Though it was a mystery to him why he cared for Cowley's good opinion, he did care.
The rest of the day was given over to shooting -- pistol, at which he did well, though not so well as Doyle; and rifle, at which he topped the field. He felt Doyle watching him the whole time, though he refused to acknowledge the man.
But that night, alone in the little flat he'd soon vacate for CI5 digs, he thought a good deal about Doyle. Never before had Bodie been so disturbed by another human being. Oh, he'd loved -- Katia, now dead and Tadzio, lost to death as well; and Marikka, lost in another, more insidious way. But this disturbance went deeper than love, and it worried Bodie. Was it symptom rather than disease?
He clamped down on the thought. He was attracted to Doyle, attracted to a quirky beauty and an overt and teasing sexuality that demanded to be acknowledged. Doyle was a subtle and serious flirt, broadcasting his need for admiration without regard to age, sex or sexuality. Bodie was willing to bet that there were plenty of otherwise straight men who were thrown into fits by Doyle's walk. The thought made him itchy and he reached for a cigarette only to find that there were no more -- a fact that did not improve his humour. He toyed with the idea of fixing a snack, but he was too tired to be bothered. Exhaustion was a good way to kill the urge for a fag. Not long after, he lay down and slept.
The rest of the week followed the same pattern -- show us what you can do, show us what you know, how you think . . . impress us. Many of the recruits, dispirited by the hard work and the utter lack of glamour, quit before the week was over, but Bodie stuck it, though he often wondered why he bothered.
On Sunday each new recruit was paired with an experienced agent and sent out on the street to get the feel of the job. Bodie's partner -- a tall, skinny redhead called Collings -- informed him that he was working on his day off because Cowley had 'asked' it, but that he wasn't looking for trouble. "Comprenez?" he asked, lifting a red eyebrow and peering down his long nose at Bodie.
"You want me to look the other way if I see an MP being buggered in a back alley?"
"That's the spirit, lad. They stick it up us when they can, don't they?"
Bodie hummed a few bars of The Red Flag. There was a funny smell to this whole set-up, he decided. "Right. I understand. Je comprends."
They cruised for hours, stopping often for coffee, lunch, snacks and trips to the bog. Collings' appetite put Bodie's to shame, though by the look of him, he'd not had a decent meal in months. By late afternoon, Bodie was beginning to wonder if he hadn't been just a bit paranoid about today's exercise. Nothing was happening and the combination of car heater, boredom and undigested meat pie was making him sleepy.
"Cor, what a day!" Collings exclaimed. "You quite comfortable?"
"I'd rather be horizontal," Bodie confessed, "but this'll do."
"You could take off the holster, you know. Can't be comfortable -- I think they fit us with factory rejects to save money. The old man's tight." He rubbed his thumb and forefinger together.
"Mmmm." Bodie made no move to remove jacket or holster.
"I want to stop and get a sweetie. Want anything?"
"Collings, I didn't join this mob to blow up to Brobdingnagian proportions or ruin my teeth," Bodie grumbled. "I'll stay here." He watched as Collings disappeared into the shop, then sat back to watch and wait. A day like today was likely to discourage more men than all the obstacle courses and tests they could devise. The utter boredom of riding around in a car with someone you hardly knew, looking for trouble that didn't exist, was deflating in a way that Bodie had never felt before. If it was like this all the time, he didn't think he'd stick the job . . . if he got it at all.
Collings returned with a bag of truffles and offered one to Bodie. "Later, thanks," he said, queasy at the smell of the candy. "How much longer are we staying out?"
"About three quarters of an hour." Collings turned the car down a quiet street. "Bored, are we? Get used to it, lad."
Bodie was about to respond, when he saw something that seemed wrong somehow. A young woman wheeled a pram up to the door of a large house, fussed with the blankets and walked away from it . . . quickly.
"That can't be right," Bodie muttered. "Stop the car."
"Stop the car!" If he was wrong he was going to look damn silly. He sprinted across the road and saw a small, dark-haired child peering into the pram. Where the baby's face should have been was dull metal and a white clock face. He grabbed the girl and flung her into Collings' arms. "Get her out of here!" he shouted. The clock told him that he had roughly ten seconds left, so he hauled the pram across the lawn and flipped it into a pond about twenty yards west of the house. Then, counting all the while, "eight nine . . . " he threw himself to the ground, arms over his head, mildly surprised that he hadn't already been blown to bits. "Ten!"
A door opened.
"Get down!" he yelled.
"Very good, Bodie, Very good indeed."
He rolled over and groaned. "I don't believe it." Cowley stood over him with a clipboard. "Got me, sir."
"Aye, I did. I meant to. You get full marks for this one . . . you're winded?"
"Of course I'm bloody winded!" Bodie panted.
Cowley made a note. "It's the cigarettes, of course."
"I quit, sir."
"Fine, fine." Cowley turned away. "Collings, fetch the car and take it around to the back. It's nearly time for the next lot."
Bodie wondered idly if he'd just resigned. He crawled to his feet and followed Cowley. "Sir . . ."
"The lavatory is upstairs. Mind the terrorists and hostages on the way." He patted the little girl's head. "Very good, Melanie. Looking in the pram is a good touch." She dimpled and ran off to talk to a man in a balaclava.
"That's not . . . I mean . . ."
"Yes?" Cowley was almost purring.
"It's a good set-up."
"Why, thank you, Bodie. We do our best."
"Am I doing mine?"
He consulted the clipboard. "I think I can safely say that we've all been quite pleased with you." He stopped and looked at Bodie's muddy suit and ruined shirt. "You might consider more functional clothing, though. My men get dirty."
Too bloody right, Bodie said to himself.
"Sir!" Collings was leaning against the gate. "Someone nicked the car while we were saving the world."
Cowley rolled his eyes.
"So what did you do?"
"Radioed the bomb squad. Got a rocket for that, I can tell you." There was some general laughter.
"I was playing with the mechanism when the thing in the bushes went off and began playing 'Rule Britannia' and belching red smoke. That's when I knew I'd failed." The speaker, Huw Jenkins, looked as though he hadn't slept well since the experience. "Anyway, I'm here to tell him I don't want the job. I don't think I can do it."
There was a murmur of sympathy for the young man, but the others were too concerned with their own futures to care much. They were gathered in the common room on Tuesday morning, awaiting the final word on their acceptance . . . or rejection. Bodie gathered from the conversations that not all of them had been sent into the same situation. Those who had succumbed to discomfort and the urging of their partners, and had removed their holsters, allowed their partners to surreptitiously exchange blanks for live ammunition. Careless, Bodie thought. Bad way to begin. These men had been given a terrorist/hostage situation to solve. Doyle was not among them. He'd grabbed the bomb from the pram and flung it into the pond, blanket and all.
One by one they were called into The Cow's office, each interview taking no more than ten minutes. Ten minutes to settle your future! As they waited, they talked and joked and studied each other wondering, will he make it? Will I? Some were casual in the concern and some were dejected, having already adjusted to failure. Some like Bodie, and like Doyle who sat alone by the window, waited silently for the word.
Stryker, who had also faced the bomb and had acted quite correctly, was telling anyone who'd listen that he considered his recruitment the chance he'd been waiting for. Though Bodie tried not to listen since Stryker depressed him, he had the impression that the man considered himself a one-man SAS. He caught Doyle's eye, saw him silently mouth the word 'megalomaniac,' and smiled. He and Doyle thought alike -- they'd be perfect partners. Then, the realist reasserted itself. There was no reason why Cowley'd team them. Even assuming they were both accepted, they'd likely be paired elsewhere. That was the way the world worked. Best not to hope. No expectations.
Still, sexual attraction notwithstanding, Bodie liked the chancy little sod. Ray Doyle was a rough-tongued, temperamental, bad-tempered little bugger (this gleaned from a week's acquaintance -- what would a year bring?), but he was also going to be a damn fine agent. Doyle'd make it.
Bodie watched as Doyle left the room for Cowley's office.
An eternity later, his own name was called and he entered the lion's den.
"Sit down, Bodie." Cowley was poring over a stack of papers. "You're arrogant, difficult, inclined to laziness, opinionated and your morals are questionable . . . "
"Who told you that?"
"Why should I hire you?"
Bodie considered the question and the man who'd asked it. This was a sort of test too. "Because I'm good at what I do, which is what you need. And I don't think any of those things will affect my work."
"Not in light of my few good qualities."
Cowley's mouth twisted as though he was trying to avoid a smile. "Fortunately for you, Bodie, I happen to agree with you. You're hired. Report to Jones in personnel -- she'll see you through the paperwork. And tomorrow morning at eight sharp you're to report to Kelson to begin training with your partner. You and Doyle will be working together. You do know him?"
Their eyes met and for a terrible second Bodie thought he saw his darkest secrets in Cowley's eyes. "I know who he is."
"That's all, then. Oh, and congratulations, Bodie. You've done well."
"Thank you, sir. Um, may I ask . . . did Stryker make it?"
"Good lord, no!"
"Yes, Jenkins made it. He seemed surprised."
"Thank you, sir," he repeated as he left the office. God's in his heaven, Bodie told himself, and all's right with Bodie.
By the time he'd finished the paperwork, the interviews were over. About ten percent of the original group had been hired. Bodie strolled back to the common room through quiet corridors, intent on a cup of tea and a little rest and reflection before he picked up his I.D. Doyle was there, working a crossword. He looked up at Bodie but said nothing.
"Nothing unexpected," Bodie observed as he fixed the tea, carrying two mugs to the table and setting one down before Ray. "I knew we'd be good together." The colour rose in Doyle's face and Bodie cursed his subconscious. "I didn't mean like that. We'll be a good team. The best," he added, knowing it was true.
They fell into an easy banter, testing the limits of this new relationship. Partners by courtesy, they needed a common ground and found it in the opposite sex. Bodie suggested that they hunt up a pair of pretty barmaids to celebrate with.
"I wouldn't mind," Doyle admitted.
They left together that night.
That evening set the tone. They hunted in a pack of two on nights when one or the other needed comfort or companionship or just release. Sometimes they split up, taking their dates back to their respective flats, and sometimes they all went back to one flat where, when things progressed to the sex stage, they were separated only by a room, a few feet of carpet or a few inches of mattress.
At first it was enough -- all good fun, and if a girl ever objected, the practice stopped for as long as the girl lasted. But one night they both tried to chat up the same bird and instead of choosing, she suggested a troy.
They were pleasantly tipsy by that time and Bodie, painfully excited by the idea, nevertheless questioned its wisdom. All his carefully constructed walls might just cave in on him if he had to watch Ray loving Linda, had to endure the smell of Ray on her flesh, the sound of Ray's pleasure, the shared touches. But in the end, he hadn't the will to refuse. He wanted Doyle, and each thing that brought his quarry closer, he embraced wholeheartedly.
Blessedly it was a light-hearted romp. Linda was demanding and talented, leaving Bodie little opportunity for wanting his partner. But there were moments -- a hand stroking his back and shoulders, a three-way kiss that ended in a deep and affectionate kiss between himself and Ray with Linda watching approvingly, the smile they shared before they slept.
They did not discuss that night, taking refuge in the excuse of being wild and drunk and not quite recalling all they'd done . . . but wasn't Linda a little cracker? It was curious, though, that neither of them saw her again.
Professionally they were somewhere between training and active duty, being used as back-up on routine jobs, or for surveillance, or research in the computer or file rooms. While they grew used to the routine and absorbed the methods, they grew used to each other as well, and absorbed the other's personality, quirks and all. Ray was all Bodie had thought him, but he was also capable of fierce loyalty and a pleasant, though detached affection.
Then one day, on what was supposed to be a routine exchange -- guests of Her Majesty for visitors delayed by the People's Government of Somewhere-or-Other -- things went wildly awry. One of the officials there to make the exchange decided that he wanted to become a bloated capitalist and tried to defect at the worst possible moment -- just as the two prisoners were being exchanged. He ran at Williams, waving his arms and shouting "sanctuary, sanctuary!" For a moment Bodie flashed on the hunchback of Notre Dame. Then the other official drew his gun and shot the man in the back, pitching him forward into Williams who went down under the dead weight.
All hell broke loose, leaving one of the prisoners and one of the other back-up men dead. Unexpected danger . . . dangerous exhilaration. Doyle watched the clean-up with angry eyes, but all the signs of high excitement were there, including the tell-tale bulge in his tight cords.
"Bloody barbarians!" he snapped, and Bodie wasn't sure who he meant.
"Cummon, Sunshine, we'll get back and make our reports and then I'll stand the first round . . . all right?"
For just a moment he was one of them, the enemy, but then Doyle relaxed and gave him that little smile that Bodie had learned to cherish for it meant 'it's us against the world.' "Yeah, I'd like that," he said, sliding into the passenger seat.
Later, when they'd found their way to Ray's local and were relaxing over a pint, Bodie turned to him and said -- though he never quite knew why -- "come to bed with me, Ray."
The refusal, spoken without thought, caused a moment of real pain, but then Ray's hand closed around his arm. "Yes," he said, very quietly.
And in the weeks since they'd met, Bodie had never quite allowed himself to conjure the moment when they would first touch in passion. It happened so fast that night, was over so quickly that he was left without even a memory. It was like losing your virginity all over again, he realized as he lay half under Ray's limp body. Too fast, too furtive and memorable only because it was so unmemorable.
"Our reputations are at stake, old son," he said, hoping to urge Ray into another, more leisurely encounter. And in touches less hurried, something was forged between them. They were bonded by blood shared as they had shared a kill that day. Bloodbrothers celebrating the hunt and the joy of being still alive in a whole body. Bodie was learning all over again that danger was a heady aphrodisiac.
He stayed with Ray until late the next morning, talking, making love and discovering that they liked each other. But beyond the pleasure of the moment loomed the knowledge that one day this could come to mean too much. And this Bodie knew about himself -- under the armour of flippancy and cool detachment, his heart was ripe to be plundered. It was this feeling he'd sought in those long hot nights in Africa, or aboard ship, or in foreign ports which names he'd forgotten, when he'd sold himself in hope of finding something warmer than kindness. A few times the gift had been given, but hadn't been enough after all for it was given by people with whom he shared nothing else. They had given him not rest but restlessness.
He looked at Ray, lying beside him, content to share silence, and knew that should the gift be given here it would mean everything, would bind Bodie for life, and he was afraid. If it was not given, though, how could he bear the disappointment? Ray moved across the sheet and pressed his body in playful intimacy against Bodie's. "Keep me warm," he ordered, tilting his face up for a kiss.
It was then that Bodie resolved that this would be the only time they came together in this way. He couldn't pay the price.
For a time they were careful with each other. Ray seemed occasionally to want to raise the subject, but thought better of it. It was best this way, Bodie told himself on the nights alone when the silence was heavy. Without the excuse of drunkenness, what they'd done was too real and too dangerous. But good intentions rarely last under the onslaught of human lust, and against his better judgment, though with the complicity of his treacherous heart, Bodie arranged another troy. It was a disaster. Fortunately they'd gone to Ray's flat, so Bodie bowed out gracefully, admitting his mistake and resolved not to repeat it.
He built his walls higher and stronger against his own weakness. And by autumn he began to feel as though he'd withdrawn successfully, leaving their working relationship intact while preserving his peace of mind.
It had been nearly a year since they'd joined the squad. Christmas loomed and the excitement and good cheer of the others only helped to remind Bodie of how alone he really was. Most of the time he didn't mind, but in this season, when most of the world put a premium on home and family, he felt the lack sharply. He could recall his earliest holidays when the force of his mother's personality transformed the great dark house into a place of light and laughter, when even his father forgot to detest Bodie and his sisters.
Inevitably the holidays were a subject of much interest for the others at work. Bodie managed to avoid most of the 'jollies' as he called them with practised scorn, but occasionally he was trapped in a conversation which led to Christmas. About a week before the holiday, when George had promised that unless London was under siege, CI5 would operate on a stand-by basis, a group gathered in the common room to share a Christmas cake and a pot of tea. The talk turned to holiday plans and Rafferty asked Bodie what his were.
Bodie told them he had a bird lined up and implied that she was the sort who made men merry not only at Christmas, but all year 'round. On that note he exited with his tea, to seek sanctuary.
Doyle followed him and invited him to spend the holiday with himself and his mother. Bodie covered his embarrassing excess of emotion by being sarky. "I just said I was busy, Doyle. That is not good observation technique." He would not be pitied.
"I was just being nice, Bodie. You don't have to act so bloody superior. Y'know, some people think of Christmas as more than an excuse to spend the day fucking."
Again there was a great confusion of emotions, but emerging from the jumble -- clearly now, and fragile -- was love for Doyle. It was what he'd feared and what he now welcomed with a kind of fatalistic good humour. Trapped. "It was nice," he said as Ray stormed off. "Thanks."
Of course there was no girl; he wanted none. He called Eliza early on Christmas Eve, and for a moment wished he was a child again with childish troubles.
"I hate to think of you alone tonight, Will, and tomorrow."
"You put too much stock in Christmas. It's just another day."
A minute of silence. "This is 'liza. Don't kid a kidder."
He surrendered gracefully. "It's okay, though. You know I've been without Christmas almost longer than we celebrated it at home."
"It's not Christmas, Will, it's being alone."
"You know me too well," he admitted. "But I made my own choices."
"Would you be terribly put out if I said a prayer for you?" she asked and suddenly he could see her clearly, kneeling in her black habit asking God to care for her little brother.
"I never look a gift horse in the mouth," he said and she laughed her rich, infectious laugh.
"Then God bless you and keep you safe. Come visit me when you can. We'll have Christmas together then."
"All right. Night 'liza. Happy Christmas."
"Happy Christmas, Will. Goodnight."
He discarded the idea of drinking himself insensible, knowing that he didn't need to court depression, so he fixed himself a light supper and settled down to read a mystery that had been lying reproachfully unread on his desk for weeks.
It was almost midnight when the doorbell rang. "Yeah, what?" he snapped, hating to be interrupted in the final chapter.
"'s me, Bodie -- Ray."
Oh, Christ. "What're you doing here?"
"Freezing. Can I come up for a few minutes?"
Bodie almost said no, but he desperately wanted to see Ray, wanted to be with him for even a moment. He opened the door.
". . . I saw a light," Ray explained as he entered. He was looking for the bird, Bodie could tell. When Ray asked, he compounded the lie by telling him that the date had fallen through. Doyle didn't buy it and said so.
"Spare me a sermon, all right?" Bodie asked, feeling embarrassed. His only refuge was in boorish bad humour and he took it. He snapped and snarled until Ray decided to leave.
"I was sort of lonely . . . " Ray told him as he prepared to leave. Then he leaned over and kissed the top of Bodie's head. "Someday we'll both find someone special to spend the holiday with, right?" Bodie couldn't let him go. He couldn't bear the ache of loneliness any longer.
"You're special, Sunshine," he said quietly.
He said it all that night without speaking. He let Ray know that he was loved, that he was the centre of Bodie's world. Pretense abandoned now, perhaps forever, Bodie was the giver, realizing that it was this he sought . . . not to receive love but to be allowed to give it. He held Ray while Ray slept, and looked down the corridors of time to the end of his life. Always beside him was Ray. He'd carry this man in his heart for the rest of his life. He was oddly comforted by the thought.
The next morning was difficult. So much had changed between them, though none of it unexpected. By the time breakfast was eaten and the dishes cleared away, they were easier with each other. Ray unearthed an old Scrabble game and they played for several hours, cheating wildly.
Late in the game the conversation turned to Cowley, and Ray wondered aloud if Cowley had any family. The image of the old man, alone on Christmas, sent an unexpected pang through Bodie. "One way to find out," he said, dialing Cowley's number.
Cowley was home and he was alone. Bodie asked if it was convenient for them to drop off some Christmas gifts, and Cowley said yes, and would they care to share his supper. Ray wasn't displeased, but he pointed out that neither of them had bought a gift for Cowley.
"We can come up with something," Bodie told him. "Don't you suppose that spending a couple of hours with him is the best gift we can give? It was the nicest gift I had this year," he added with complete honesty.
Then they went back to bed for an hour or so, and showered together afterwards. Ray told him that the sight of Bodie under running water was the most erotic thing he'd ever seen.
Sometimes when Bodie thought back on that day, he thought that it was the happiest day of his life. The path they walked was rough and sometimes discouraging, but that night, after they returned from Cowley's house, full of lamb and wine and Christmas cheer, Bodie was conscious of a great happiness. They lay together on his bed and Ray's artist's hands explored first his body and then his face, as though he was memorizing the landscape.
"He looked happy, Bodie," Ray said, with little-child wonder in his voice. "He was glad to see us." And it seemed to Bodie that once you began to give love away, you had an infinite supply of it to bestow freely on the world.
"I feel rich," he said, and Ray raised himself up on one elbow and looked down into Bodie's eyes.
"It won't be easy," he said. "There are bits of me missing, Bodie."
"I'll find them," Bodie promised.
-- THE END --