(Karen's Birthday Story)

Story #3 in the Emma universe

Ray wished that it could always be like this. Across from him, curled up on the hearthrug like a great contented cat, Bodie slept, a serious-looking teddy bear clutched against his chest. Julie sat over the chessboard, a look of triumph on her face --- she had finally bested Cowley. All around the room were CI5 personnel, some talking quietly, some listening to the music on the radio, and some, like Murphy on the long leather couch, and Bodie, were frankly asleep. It was Christmas night and for many years now this gathering had been, if not a tradition, an instinctive journey that most of the personnel made at some time during the day. Some stopped by with presents and good cheer; some, like Bodie and himself, came early and shared a meal with Cowley and the others and stayed the day.

It was said there were no holidays in CI5, but this day was special to all of them. There had been years when they'd been interrupted, but nothing had ever prevented them from snatching a few moments with this special 'family'. Ray remembered very clearly the year it had begun.

It was his first year in The Squad and he and Bodie had settled into a fairly good working relationship. They had already been to bed together once, but neither of them seemed interested in pursuing the affair and Ray had assumed that it was going to be a one-shot, so to speak. Still, he'd come to like Bodie over the last months and fancied his friendship was reciprocated. They were sitting together in the common room, comparing notes with several other agents when the subject of the holidays came up.

"Going to visit me mum," Doyle told the group and rolled his eyes. "She's a terror. We have a fight every year about me going to Mass with her." Rafferty nodded sympathetically.

"There's never any fights about it at home -- we go and that's an end to it."

Collings, who was to die in a spectacular shoot-out with gunrunners two days after the new year began, remarked that if one had to go to church, at least the culinary rewards were great afterwards. He was demolishing a large slab of Christmas cake that someone had brought in and washing it down with scalding tea. Connors, a gorgeous redhead that Doyle and Bodie had been competing for, asked Collings where he kept all the food he took in. "Hollow leg," he confessed.

"What about you, Bodie?" Rafferty asked. "Going to visit that mysterious family of yours?" Bodie gave a characteristic shrug.

"I've got something lined up," he said with the famous Bodie leer. There were some hoots and laughter. "There are other sorts of rewards, apart from the culinary ones, Collings," he said, snatching a chunk of cake from under Collings long nose. "I'll bet my holidays are just as . . . meaningful as yours." He swaggered out of the common room with his teacup in one hand and a file folder in the other. Doyle followed.

"Hoi, half a mo', Bodie." His partner waited for him and they walked on shoulder-to-shoulder. "I was going to say, if you haven't got anything planned over the holiday, you can come along with me if you want. Course, Mum's not the jolly sort, y'know."

"I just said I was busy, Doyle." Bodie tapped Ray's nose with a finger sticky with frosting. "That is not good observation technique."

Doyle felt foolish. "I was just bein' nice, Bodie; you don't have to act so bloody superior. Y'know, some people think of Christmas as more than an opportunity to spend the day fucking." He turned and marched off, determined not to play at Father Christmas again.

"'oi, Goldilocks!" Ray turned and glared at Bodie. "It was nice. Thanks."

Christmas with his mother was all Ray had anticipated. They fought about the midnight services and she told him to go home, that she'd prefer to spend the day with her friends -- mostly widows or unmarried older women. Dismissed, he made his way back to Chelsea. It was almost midnight and he wondered how his partner was faring, so he swung past Bodie's flat on the way home. There was still a light in the window, so he gave in to the impulse to stop and ring the bell.

"Yeah, what?"

"S'me, Bodie -- Ray."

"What're you doing here?"

"Freezing. Can I come up for a few minutes?" There was a soft sigh from the other end of the intercom. "Well, Happy Christmas to you, too, mate." He turned to walk away and the door buzzed.

"Look, Bodie," Ray said as he entered the flat. "I didn't mean to interrupt, but I saw the light. Figured you hadn't, ah, gone to bed yet."

"No, not yet," Bodie agreed. He was wearing a pair of jeans and a bulky white sweater and he looked terribly attractive.

"Where is she, then?"


"Your girl. The one you had lined up for the holiday."

"Oh, her. She had a family thing to go to. Drink?"

"Yeh, thanks." Doyle had a funny feeling he was being lied to. He'd always read Bodie's body better than his words and Bodie was withdrawn, remote, and Ray was sure, a little embarrassed. "Mum chased me out. We fought . . . like always."

"Then why do you go?" Bodie asked, handing Ray a glass of Scotch.

"She's my mum." Bodie's shrug said that he didn't think that a valid reason. "Christmas is for families," Ray insisted. "Well, at least I bloody bothered to go!" He sipped his drink. "So did your girl . . . if there ever was one, which I doubt. Bodie . . ."

"Spare me the sermon, all right?"

"What's the matter?"

"So I made her up. It's my protection against all the heartiness of the season -- everyone getting so sodding sentimental about family just because some kid was born in a barn." He slouched down in a large, overstuffed chair and scowled into his whiskey.

"Do you want me to go?"

"Suit yourself," Bodie growled.

"I was sort of lonely, is all. Didn't mean to intrude." He swallowed the rest of the Scotch in one gulp and pulled his gloves out of his pocket. "Well, Happy Christmas, anyway, Bodie." He couldn't resist leaning down and kissing the top of his partner's bowed head. "Some day we'll both find someone special to spend the holiday with, right?"

Bodie captured his fingers and held on. "You're special, Sunshine," he said quietly.

Ray hardly remembered the first time they'd made love, so frenzied and fast it had been, but he knew he'd never forget this time. They took their time learning each other's bodies, Ray fascinated by the solid mass of muscle under the baby-smooth skin that covered every inch of Bodie's body, awed and aroused by the power there -- what he knew and what he only suspected. His artist's fingers learned the broad, smooth expanse of chest and the small rose-brown nipples that were so sensitive to his touch. He learned the touches that roused the heavy penis, learned that the head and the underside where the large vein pulsed were terribly sensitive to all sorts of stimuli. He learned that the tip of Bodie's cock tilted slightly to the left when it was fully erect and that all of his body hair was as soft and silky as the hair on his head.

He learned what Bodie liked about his body by watching his partner's progress across it. Possessed of an extraordinary sense of smell, Bodie used his nose in interesting ways -- ways that made Ray both laugh with delight and cry out with pleasure. Bodie tasted him, too; licked him all over, face, neck, chest, armpits, arms and legs (though these seemed less interesting to him than the nooks and crannies of the human body). Ray lay back against a mound of pillows and watched Bodie's dark head rising and falling above his groin and he wondered where his partner had picked up so many skills. Interesting ones.

Ray learned from his partner that night, and he passed on some tricks of his own. He taught Bodie how to touch almost without touching, taught him that a light, restless skimming of the fingertips could arouse the way firmer caresses could not. He taught Bodie the art of touches while he learned the pleasures of taste and smell, and he learned the smell of Bodie, one which he would be able to identify accurately for the rest of his life, but one whose analysis defied him. When asked what Bodie smelled like, he could only say, "Bodie".

He woke while it was still dark. The radio was playing softly and Bodie's arms were wrapped around him. He felt warm and safe and very far from trouble, and, he wished for a moment that they could stay this way forever. Then he dropped off to sleep again. Too fast; too fast. They were both frightened of what they'd learned that night -- what, apart from the sexual skills, they'd communicated in the long, sweet kisses after the lovemaking, and the next morning they were cooler toward each other than they should have been. Later, so much later, Bodie confessed to him that he had loved Ray then, but had been afraid to admit it.

They shared a near-silent breakfast and Ray prowled the flat while Bodie washed the dishes. He came to know Bodie's mind that day as well and found it a surprise. The man was well educated, though he couldn't say if it was self-education or an advantage of his background. He knew so little about Bodie.

"Don't you have a family, Bodie?" he asked as he dried the stacked cups and plates.

"Yeah, I have a family. Everyone has a family."

"So what are they like?"

"Not like me," was all he would say.

"I guess I think of CI5 as a sort of family," Ray admitted as they played Scrabble later that morning.

"George Cowley as benevolent old Dad? AH! I used all seven letters; that's nine million points."

"That's not a word, Bodie."

"Sure it is. Totiszue: that's the little thing that always breaks on Japanese cars."

"I don't buy that. I'm challenging."

"Spoilsport," Bodie grumbled as he raked the tiles off the board. "Just wait 'til you make up a great word."

"Already did," Doyle smirked.


"Bodie, does Cowley have anyone? Family, I mean?"

Bodie frowned. "Don't think so. I think his parents are gone. He's not married, so that's out." He laid down three tiles. "Zest," he said and counted up the points. "If he had anyone, it'd be a brother or a sister, I imagine."

"I wonder how he's spending today?" Ray said as Bodie drew the last of the tiles from the little felt bag. Bodie arranged them on his rack and got up from the table.

"One way to find out." He pulled the phone over and dialed Cowley's home number. "'S ringing . . . Hello, sir. Bodie here. Happy Christmas to you, too, sir. Yes. Ah, well, Doyle and I were wondering if you were going to be home later today. We thought we'd drop by and bring you a present. Oh, no, sir, not at all. We were just playing Scrabble. . . I am, but Doyle's putting up a good fight." Ray threw the 'z' at him. "About three, then? Right, sir. Bye." He hung up and smiled at Ray. "He was home."

"I gathered that. Bodie, I haven't got anything for him."

"Not to worry. We can come up with something. Look, Ray, don't you suppose that our spending a couple of hours with him is the best gift we can give?" He caught Ray's eye. "It was the nicest gift I got this year," he said, and Ray felt his skin flush.

They made love again before they left, showering together afterwards. Bodie found a couple of bottles of wine that he'd laid down several years before. "Should be just right to drink about now. If we play our cards right, Sunshine, we'll sample this tonight." He sighed. "I was saving this for me wedding." He wrapped them in red tissue and tied them with gold cord. "Does the artist approve?"

"Nice," Doyle announced. "Understated."

"Bloody right, mate. You ready, then?"

"As I'll ever be."

He could tell that George was pleased to see them. They were invited in and given large snifters of the MacAllan.

"Of course, you know that Christmas is not the grand holiday in Scotland that it is here," he explained as he opened the presents they'd brought him. "What a very good year. Thank you. They should be ready to drink, don't you think?"

"It's New Year's that's the big day in Scotland, isn't it?" Doyle asked.

"Hogmanay. Yes. I quite miss it." He smiled benevolently. "Never mind, never mind," he said. "This seems quite as good to me right now. And this," he said, brandishing the bottles, "will go well with the rack of lamb in the oven. Will you two consider staying to dinner?"

"Love to, sir," Bodie told him, winking at Doyle.

By the time dinner was ready, two more operatives and stopped by to say 'Happy Christmas' and had been asked to stay for the meal. Later, Betty brought a Christmas cake and they sliced it and had it with some old Madeira. Afterwards, there was coffee and Doyle played chess with Cowley while Bodie slept off the meal and the others talked.

After that first year, it had become a habit to ring up Cowley on Christmas day and invite themselves over on the pretext of exchanging gifts. As the years went by, more and more of the personnel found their way to George's on Christmas day. There was always a dinner and many of the group brought holiday treats. Gifts were exchanged, too.

This year, the serious-looking teddy had been George's gift to Bodie. What had possessed him to buy the thing for the ex-merc, Doyle would never understand, but the look on Bodie's face when he saw the bear said that Cowley's instincts had been accurate. "Hoi," he said, as he stood the bear upright in the wrappings that littered the fine dhurri, paws on hips and round tummy thrust forward, "looks like Doyle, doesn't it?" Doyle had been given a volume of Burns.

Ray watched Cowley concede defeat to Julie. The older man stretched out his leg and grimaced and Betty came to his side, sat beside the chair and began to massage it. "You're a good girl, Betty," Cowley said, closing his eyes.

Ray stood up and went over to the fireplace where Bodie lay. "Hogging all the heat?" he asked gently; then he knelt down beside Bodie and shook him a little. "Move over." Bodie rolled to one side with a little groan and Ray lay down beside him on the rug. Bodie tossed an arm over him.

It was nice, Ray reflected. Friends and family rolled into one. These were the people with whom he was most comfortable. He had no illusions that his affair with Bodie had gone unmarked and, in fact, Bodie had informed Cowley of it early in the year, though Cowley had probably already known. It had taken seven years for them to sort out their feelings for each other and during those years there had been many times when Ray wouldn't have given a tinker's dam for their future together. But now it seemed that they were more sure of each other and consequently less likely to need to hide what they felt -- from each other or from the people they cared about.

So many gone, Ray realized as he made a head count. Matheison and King had been regulars for three of four years, Williams, Martin . . . and Tony, who had never spent Christmas here, who had been looking forward to his first Christmas with CI5. He was surprised that these gatherings had never become wakes. Perhaps the thing that prevented that was the sense that what they had was too precious to blight with unhappy memories. When their dead were remembered, it was with the sense that they still, in some way, shared this day.

It was for Cowley that they were here, Ray realized as he watched Betty, obviously used to the task she'd taken on, rub away the discomfort. It was accepted -- he was their father and what they did, they did first for him and then for England. When George was gone, what would be left?

He looked at Bodie's face, serene and vulnerable in sleep. It was time, he thought, to consider their future. Soon time would become a luxury they couldn't afford and Doyle very much wanted a chance to grow old with someone he cared about. If that was Bodie, so be it. Love was too important to waste worrying about who was offering it.

Dr. Ross switched off the radio and in the sudden silence, the faraway sound of carolers drifted in to them. They gathered around one of the big bay windows and listened as the group emerged from the shadows into the yellow light from the street lamp. A light powder of snow was falling. Doyle slipped his arm around Bodie's waist and felt Bodie's arm heavy and reassuring across his shoulders. Bodie's hair was tousled and the other arm still clutched the bear. He was half-asleep.

They listened for a quarter of an hour, until the singers melted back into the shadows, the strains of "The Holly and the Ivy" hanging in the air. George was the first to speak.

"It's beautiful," he said, and Ray knew just what he meant.

-- THE END --

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