So Much for Wishes …
by Ellis Ward
It wasn't the kindest way to be awakened. Snug inside the cocooning, body-warm confines of his duvet, shielded from the crisp air that floated in through the half-open window, Ray Doyle should have been able to enjoy the rare indulgence of sleeping in for once. He couldn't. The pain was niggling, but also just maddening enough to make the skin pucker at the back of his neck--a nettlesome sensation hard to ignore when a bloke was in full command of his senses; even more so, when he craved sleep to the point of desperation.
It emanated from his left forearm where the small dark hairs were being delicately sifted through, herded alternately this way and that, back-stroked to make them stand almost upright, then ruthlessly wiped flat. The cool touch was rather annoying but not intolerable--until the fingers began to select individual strands and put them to the test, pulling until they went rigid, at which point the tensile strength either gave way and the hair snapped, or the mother follicle gave up the tug-of-war and the root broke free of its moorings.
Dopey with exhaustion, Doyle only slowly realized that his tormentor intended to pluck out all the hairs on his arm one by one, and that until he made his lack of consent known, his lovely state of somnolence would fast be going the way of his patience. "Bodie," he growled, voice muted by the clump of pillow under his mouth. "Stop it, you bastard."
That seemed to do the trick. The fingers stilled instantly. Prepared to be generous, Doyle resettled without further comment, overlooking the fact that his arm was still held captive on a clammy platform. "Bodie's knees?" Surely not; they were far too small for that. "Ankles, then?" No; couldn't be: no hair, and not enough bone. If he thought about it, which Doyle was determined not to do, there wasn't much about this bedmate that answered to Bodie at all. It probably wasn't Bodie. A toy, perhaps, manipulated by his partner; maybe some disgusting puppet, lifelike enough to get a rise out of him. Well, it wasn't going to work; not this time.
Today was the first of four days that had been granted to them to regroup their energies and sunny dispositions in the aftermath of a grueling stakeout and messy hostage complication. The action had ended badly; both the villains and the family taken for barter had suffered damage. A child had died, struck by a bullet that made no distinction between good and evil. Her parents and younger brother had survived: father wounded, mother shattered, boy pinched-faced and in shock. And the two aspiring terrorists were in hospital, one near death, the other likely to spend the rest of his ill-conceived life vegetating in an institution.
Doyle shifted; frustration, cold fury and the hollowness of regret were insinuating themselves into his warm haven. He welcomed the distraction when Bodie's hold on his arm tightened. They had both been exhibiting signs of strain long before clearing HQ sometime after midnight, when they had finally taken off for Doyle's flat. Bodie had asked to doss down for the night at his place since his own apartment was another three miles distant. Lacking the usual cutting come-back, Doyle had waved him inside without demur.
Shedding clothing on the way to the shower, he couldn't even find it in himself to object when Bodie breached his drinks cabinet. The liquor, conscientiously shared between them, was enough to take the edge off his misery. Doyle was standing under pelting water when the glass was handed to him; the shimmering, amber liquid went down in a single, searing gulp. Bodie saluted him before swallowing his while braced over the loo. It worked as an almost instantaneous soporific, and Doyle was well into the mists when Bodie climbed under the duvet, almost all of the incipient warmth he had generated fleeing into the night. Biting back his irritation, Doyle sought refuge in sleep, hoping to elude the images that danced obscenely on the inside surfaces of his eyelids.
Surprisingly, it was Bodie who broke the silence, his voice heavy with the weight of a child's death. "Sometimes, Ray, I think I'm getting too old for this."
For a moment, selfishly hoping Bodie would let it drop, Ray said nothing. He was strung out and the brandy was barely beginning to help; he didn't want to defeat its efforts. Unfortunately, he also knew how much children mattered to Bodie--not that he wanted any of his own; at least, so Bodie said. But they were vulnerable, like puppies or kittens, and he hated to see them hurt. That girl today--
"Know what you mean, mate," Doyle said wearily.
"Do you ever wish...?" The voice trailed away.
Doyle could feel Bodie's shrug through the stretching of the sheet beneath his own shoulders. "Go on, Bodie; spit it out."
A soft laugh, filled with mocking humor, brushed against Doyle's left ear. "Was just going to say that I wish I could be young again sometimes. To start over and do it right, y'know? To carry with me everything I've learned, but to...." He groaned. "Christ. Don't know what I'm nattering on about."
Commiseration overcame Doyle's reluctance to prolong the conversation. "I do. Feel it meself, once in a while. It's almost as though we were never really young." Doyle turned his head on the pillow, gazing at the shadowed form that was his partner. There was the faintest reflection of light from Bodie's eyes, giving Doyle something to focus on. "And if that's what you really want, sunshine, I wish you could have it." He gave an affectionate chuckle. "But I might just miss you."
Bodie snickered at the foolishness of it. "Must be time for us to get out of this line of work. We're both going soft."
"Can think of worse things," Doyle replied honestly, the last word hopelessly garbled as he was seized by a violent yawn.
"Go to sleep, Ray," Bodie said quietly. "Let's take the bikes out tomorrow, okay? Unless you've got something else on?"
"I don't. And that sounds good. Be nice to get out of town for a while." He curled up under the billowy duvet, his toes brushing Bodie's shin. When there was no sarcastic comment forthcoming, Doyle knew Bodie was feeling very done in indeed. "G'night, mate. Tomorrow'll be better; you'll see."
"Shouldn't say this, but you must be right. I don't see how it could get any worse." He gave Doyle's leg a shove with his knee. "Not to worry; we can handle it. 'Night."
For Doyle, the final vestiges of insensibility were scattered to the four winds when an entire clump of hair was summarily uprooted from his wrist, just above the watch line. "Jesus Christ, Bodie!" He struck out instinctively. The blow was negligible but elicited a gratifying "woof" of expelled air as it made contact. "Serves you right, you irritating bu...." He was in the process of rolling over, with every intention of following through with another equally--or more--devastating jab, when his mind suddenly registered what his eyes were reporting.
He squeaked, "Bodie?" It was--and it wasn't. There was no denying that the face of the person sitting in a breathless heap only a few inches away was that of his partner of eight and a half years. No question of that at all, despite the fact that the angles and shadows of adulthood had been replaced with the downy curves and big-eyed appeal of youth. Doyle stared stupidly at the child in his bed; for child it was, in features and in proportion--but "Bodie", so obviously Bodie.
"I'm dreaming," Doyle said sharply. "This is a dream." He closed his eyes, willing that it be so.
Two slender, agile fingers poked into his nostrils with unerring accuracy. Doyle jerked away, snorting noisily. "You little--"
The child merely stared at him, unfazed by Doyle's grimace of disbelief.
"This isn't possible," Doyle muttered desperately. "It must be a dream." His brows daggered down, drawing a deep line over the bridge of his nose. "Complete with pain."
The child bent double, its pale bottom pointing toward the ceiling as it commenced a search beneath the duvet. One hand came up at last and displayed its prize: Bodie's briefs. Man-sized. The arm reared back and the soft nylon fabric was lobbed in Doyle's direction.
He caught it with ease, glancing at the tag inside the elasticized waist, knowing before he found the description that this was Bodie's usual purchase. He let the warm nylon fall from limp fingers. "Not a dream," he breathed.
On all fours, the boy crawled up alongside a wary Ray Doyle's chest. He laid one arm across Doyle's ribcage, and the opposite hand came up and cupped his cheek. Nervously, Doyle obeyed when his head was directed toward the wall nearer the side where he slept.
Doyle frowned. "What? What am I looking for?" All that stood in his line of sight was the end table with its single lamp, and a small glass, still sticky with a thin coating of brandy from the night before. "I don't...." He tried to turn back, but the child stopped him, the well-shaped, but impossibly small palm cold against Doyle's stubbled jaw. Again Doyle's eyes swept the corner of the room, aided this time by the child's other hand, pointing at the lamp shade.
There was nothing of interest that Doyle could detect--except the small wooden carving that hung from a leather thong. "The juju?" he asked. That was Bodie's name for it. Doyle called it a knick-knack, an interesting piece of foreign culture to lend the place a cosmopolitan air. Dark blue eyes, predominant in the boy's face, conveyed their agreement.
"Bollocks," Doyle said succinctly. He had got the piece of African art at a street market some weeks before. His partner had tried to dissuade him from purchasing it at the time, first telling him that it was tatty and probably made from something Doyle wouldn't want besmirching his home. When that line of counsel had failed, he had revealed that the fetish signified strong magic and could be inconvenient, if not downright dangerous, in the wrong hands.
Doyle had laughed.
"I wish I could be young again sometimes".
He wasn't laughing now. Disentangling himself from the bedclothes, he scrabbled to the edge of the mattress and snagged the amulet off the lamp finial. He thrust it at the child. "All right. Wish it back." Contempt shone in the boy's face. "C'mon, Bodie! Wish it back." Doyle's face went taut with frustration. "Why won't you say anything?"
The silk-capped head moved slowly from side to side.
"Bodie! Damn you, talk to me!" The carving tumbled into the bedclothes as Doyle grabbed the child's arms and shook him.
Bodie had no defense against Doyle's superior strength, vainly shoving his hands against Doyle's chest in a useless attempt to keep him at bay. Feeling the tiny fists pounding against him, Doyle was shocked into realizing what he was doing. There was no point in badgering the boy, who was prickly-skinned with cold. It must be the magic, if magic there was, that kept Bodie from replying. For all that he could be a perverse sod when he wished, there was no denying the misery writ large in Bodie's face at that moment.
"Sorry, mate," Doyle whispered. "Got me in a right two-and-eight, haven't you. You're freezing. C'mere." He pulled the unresisting form to him and rubbed his hand up and down the compact back. "Let me get the covers round us," he murmured. "There, how's that?"
For a moment, he lay quietly, the child snuggled close beneath his chin, moist breath scudding across his collar-bone. This Bodie smelled new and fresh, without the adult's more concentrated essence. Not that Bodie's normal aroma had ever put him off; it was as much a part of Bodie as his smile or his arrogance, and Doyle knew it in all its forms. There was the stench of Bodie's fear, the warm scent of his concern, and the musk of his arousal--they'd had enough double-dates for Doyle to recognize that particular bouquet with his eyes shut. This, however, was different: the distillate of innocence, the very special fragrance of a child out of nappies but no more than three years old.
Utterly out of his depth--and despite finding an inordinate degree of pleasure in comforting this condensed version of his partner--Doyle stated aloud, "So what do we do now?"
The child backed out of Doyle's embrace and stared hard into beleaguered green turmoil. In those perplexed depths he searched, as if hoping to eke from the caverns of Doyle's mind the information that would rectify this appalling contravention of nature. Finally, apparently conceding the futility of the exercise, Bodie sighed. With elaborate gestures a simpleton would understand, he opened his mouth and pointed a finger inside.
Knowing which simpleton this communication was meant for, Doyle brought forth a genuine laugh, the infectious quality of which raised a miniscule smile from his equally miniscule partner.
"Silly me," Doyle said, and slithered off the bed. As he hitched his trousers over his hips, he watched the child-Bodie scoot off the mattress and start toward the kitchen. "Hang about," he called. "It's cold in here."
Bodie obediently hesitated, then came back into the room. His own skin forming gooseflesh, Doyle bent over the chest of drawers and began to hunt for something suitable. There was, of course, nothing to fit, but he finally chose a warm, wool sweater and a clean t-shirt. The boy stood patiently while Doyle pulled the cotton shirt on first, then topped it with the dark green sweater. It came down to the child's calves and dangled well past his hands. Doyle rolled each sleeve up to the wrist.
"That'll have to do you," he pronounced at last.
The child raised one arm, then the other, critically inspecting this new sartorial elegance and finding it pitifully lacking.
Grinning, Doyle said, "It's Sunday, y'know; the shops are closed. But don't worry. We'll come up with something." Bodie moved toward the door, but Doyle snaked an arm around him to sweep him up and deposit him onto the bed. "Not so fast, mate. Need something on those feet."
The long-suffering look was undisguised this time, and Doyle was filled with rare delight. He took his time dressing the child with his own, obviously too-large socks, which he secured with laces from a pair of old trainers. "There you go," he said, and was not surprised when the child scurried with unseemly haste out of his grip. As the boy disappeared round the corner, Doyle shook his head. "Gotta be a dream," he said softly.
The child's appetite was every bit as consuming as the adult's. Doyle served eggs, bacon, and fried bread, catering to his partner's tastes and excusing himself on the grounds that this Bodie's arteries were as yet unsullied and therefore of no concern. Also, it pleased him to make the child happy. Bodie had wished this on himself, but it was Doyle who had bought the damned fetish--if in fact this was not some incredibly realistic dream, or perhaps, only a manifestation heralding Doyle's loss of sanity.
Whatever the cause, this was Doyle's reality for the moment, and he could not ignore it, nor hope it would resolve itself, however much he might want things otherwise. He sat at the table long after Bodie had finished his meal, head propped up by one hand, staring broodingly at nothing.
The boy was watching him, the calm intelligence in the grave eyes belying his physical age. At some point Doyle felt the weight of that perusal and, without moving his head, dropped his gaze to meet it. The faintest hint of amusement lurked in the curve of Bodie's mouth; it found its reflection on Doyle's slowly relaxing lips. Blue eyes widened and dark brows formed exaggerated arches; Doyle attempted to mimic him with minimal success, lacking his partner's contortionistic talent. Bodie blinked, scrunching his whole face together.
Without a word, Doyle left the chair and gathered the boy into his arms. Hugging him gently, he said, "Let's see if we can rustle you up something decent to wear."
Doyle carried the child out of the flat and painstakingly locked the door behind them. He walked past two doors to the end of the corridor. Having been in the building only a few months, he had not really had the opportunity to make his neighbors' acquaintance. No special training had been needed, however, to note the ins and outs of the many children who frequented this particular residence.
After awkwardly shifting his burden to uncover his watch, he noted that it was nearly eleven in the morning; not too early, he hoped, to be a major nuisance. He rang the bell.
The man who answered the door was taller than Doyle, and balding. Noncommittally taking in the sight of the slighter man and the bundle prominently displayed in his arms, he prompted politely, "Yes?"
"Sorry to bother you," Doyle said ingenuously, bringing as much charm to bear as he could under the circumstances. "Might I have a word with your missus--if she's in?"
It was obviously on the tip of the man's tongue to question Doyle's reasons for seeing his wife, but either inherent civility--or curiosity--prevented him. "Gilly," he called over his shoulder. "Someone to see you."
From somewhere in the nether regions of the flat, a muffled voice shouted back, "Who is it, Mick?"
"A man," her husband replied evenly. "With a child."
"Oh!" The woman could be heard treading rather heavily on the linoleum floor. "Has the hospital taken to delivering, then?"
She was short and dark, and very, very pregnant. A bittersweet memory of June Cook flashed across Doyle's mind. "Hallo," the woman said brightly. Then: "I know you; you live across the hall."
"That's right," Doyle said. "I'm Ray Doyle. And I've a bit of a problem at the moment. We had a--"
But the woman's interest had passed on to Bodie, who, in Doyle's arms, was almost on a level with her. "What a beautiful child!" she exclaimed. "Mick!"--this to her husband, who at the first tones of motherly hyperbole had begun to slip away--"isn't he precious!"
The man made appreciative sounds and excused himself. Doyle kept tight rein on the mirth that threatened to wash over his features. "I'm minding him for the day," he said, as though he hadn't been interrupted. Tellingly, Bodie was holding himself very still, one arm wrapped around Doyle's throat in a stranglehold. "But we had an accident. His...um...mum didn't leave me a change of outfit and he's stuck with me until tomorrow. I really do hate to ask, but what with the shops closed and all, is there any chance you might have something he could borrow till then?"
"Every chance, Mr. Doyle." She reached out and stroked Bodie's cheek. He glowered at her. "Won't you be the ladies' man when you grow up," she said admiringly. "How old is he? Two? Three?"
"Ah...two and a half. I think. His mum doesn't visit very often, y'see...."
"And he's no relation of yours, that's certainly obvious," the woman remarked.
"You're in luck, Mr. Doyle. By the way, I'm Gillian Walters." She chucked Bodie gently under the chin. "Our John is five now, and I was just sorting out some of his things for Oxfam. Most of it's pretty threadbare, but some of it should get you through till this one's mum comes for him. Mick!"
Doyle flinched at the sudden increase in pitch and volume. His head was pounding a little; Bodie's grip had probably cut off the flow of blood above his shoulders.
"Mick, be a dear and fetch me the carry-bag on the floor of John's wardrobe, would you, love? Mr. Doyle needs some clothes for the child--" She turned toward Doyle with dizzying abruptness. "What is his name, Mr. Doyle?"
"Bo.... Will. His name's Will."
"Will needs the use of those things. Ah, there you are. Thank you, dear."
Mick plopped the bag on the floor at Doyle's feet and smartly removed himself. His wife cocked her head to one side, affectionately watching her husband's departure. "There's a game coming on, y'know." She bent over and began to rifle through the clothing, not bothering to mention that the match would not be on for four hours. "Everything you might need is in here," she said, straightening up. "I'll just give you the lot, shall I? When you've finished with it, you can drop it off at the nearest Oxfam, okay?"
"You're too kind, Mrs. Walters," Doyle said sincerely. "I'm very grateful."
"It's no trouble at all. And it will save me a trip. Oh, do let me hold him a minute, please." As she spoke, she was already extricating Bodie from Doyle's arms, gathering him to her very full bosom.
"Are...are you sure?" Doyle stuttered. "He's very heavy and you're...."
She smiled cheekily up at him. "You don't imagine I can stop lugging things around just because I'm in this condition, do you?" She ran her hand lovingly over Bodie's back, patted his bottom and gave his thigh a familiar squeeze. "He's a lovely child."
Bodie wriggled in her arms, stunned blue eyes imploring Doyle's assistance.
"Yes, isn't he," Doyle agreed. "And just a touch shy. Especially at the moment." He gave the woman a conspiratorial wink and regained possession of the child. "Likes to look smart, he does. Feels uncomfortable when he's not at his best."
Warm, friendly laughter filled Ray Doyle's ears. The woman tapped his arm. "Let me know if you need anything. I'll be happy to help."
"You're really too kind," Doyle said, collecting the handles of the bag. "Thanks, again."
He knew she would watch them until they were safely ensconced in his flat, so when he reached his door, he gave her another smile and worked the key into the lock. Once inside, he set the boy on the floor and took the bag to the table.
As he began to inventory the items, Bodie scrambled onto a chair so he could overview Doyle's actions. There were underclothes and socks, several shirts in varying degrees of deterioration, trousers of different lengths and colors, a couple of sweaters, a very battered jacket, and even a pair of trainers. "Jackpot!" Doyle said with satisfaction.
Little fingers reached out and chose a pair of dark grey corduroy trousers that were elasticized at the waist, a t-shirt and pants, a pair of black socks, and-- His attempt to withdraw a simple black polo-neck shirt from the pile was hampered by Doyle's swift movement.
"No-- This one, I think," Doyle announced grandly. He held out a blue jumper appliqued with Wellington Womble across its front. "Matches your eyes."
The caustic look he received was more disparaging than that accorded the shirt in question. Doyle waited, wondering if this might be the goad that spurred Bodie to speech. Instead, the child took the shirt daintily between forefinger and thumb and gave it a jaundiced once-over. Thick lashes swept up to reveal a set expression.
Suffering a twinge of conscience, Doyle caved in. "Oh, all right, mate. If you want the other one, it's yours."
But Bodie scooped the clothing into his arms, let himself drop so that his bottom cushioned his fall, then skidded off the chair and onto his feet. Doyle followed him into the bedroom. "Can you manage that lot alone?"
Bodie's insulted sniff was answer enough. "Right. I'll leave you to it."
Doyle strode out to the kitchen. Putting the kettle on to boil, he cleared the table of the morning's dishes and piled them into the sink. "Just a dream," he muttered to himself as hot water mixed with dish-washing liquid to produce sweet-scented bubbles. He scrubbed plates and cutlery clean and balanced them in the rack to dry while the tea steeped. Returning to the table with his cup, he dumped the rest of the clothing back into the carry-bag, one piece at a time. The black polo-neck made him pause, and he wondered how many of these outfits they would go through before Bodie--
Before Bodie what? Turned back into himself? A sudden sick fear clutched at Doyle's insides. What if this wasn't a dream? What if Bodie was stuck this way for the rest of his life? What if Doyle was stuck with him?
The problem was, he liked Bodie the way he was; liked him a great deal, in fact. More than anyone else he knew; more than anyone he had ever known. In the years since they had been partnered, Bodie had become his anchor--among other things. Whereas women failed him--or Doyle failed them; it didn't really matter which, did it?--Bodie never did. When Doyle needed someone, Bodie was there; no questions asked. And it worked the other way round, as well. That was the sort of friendship, or interdependency, a man was supposed to develop eventually with a woman--or so Doyle had always wistfully imagined. But, despite abortive attempts to prove the opposite, he knew, deep inside, that he would never be able to achieve that kind of relationship. And not because the women in his life didn't try.
It was he who was the problem. For all that he wanted someone to love, who could be his equal in all things, there was no one who could attain his ridiculously high standard. Except, stupidly enough, Bodie. And even though they virtually lived out of each other's pockets most of the time, that was an aspect of their relationship that had never been considered.
Well-- It had never been considered by Bodie, anyway; of that, Doyle was fairly certain. And for that matter, Doyle had not exactly dwelled upon it, either. Only occasionally. At night, mostly, when he and Bodie shared a bed or a room, and his partner's affection and genuine caring were so near that he could feel it warming him right through to the center of his being. And, perhaps strangely, it wasn't the sex that drew him so much as the promise of comfort, of knowing that this one person accepted him completely and would always be there when needed. Everyone wanted that, didn't they? With, or without, sex.
Doyle lifted the mug to his mouth and found that the heat had gone out of his tea. He felt a little foolish, having sat here so long, wallowing in the morass of his thoughts.
And what had become of Bodie?
He carried the mug to the sink, rinsed it out, and left it on the counter. On quiet feet he went to the bedroom, peering in before entering, more than half-expecting to find the child asleep on the bed.
But Bodie was standing in front of the full-length mirror which hung on the wardrobe door. He was fully dressed, from the Wellington Womble shirt right down to the scuffed trainers, which were neatly laced and tied. But the face that stared back at him from the looking glass was bleak with mute despair, made all the more poignant for the lack of overt expression. Doyle came into the room and walked up to the child. He held out his arms and Bodie came into them, pressing his face against Doyle's neck as he was lifted up.
"Hang in there, mate," Doyle whispered. "We'll figure out something. Have to, won't we? Otherwise the Cow'll have my hide."
Leaving Bodie perched in front of the TV, Doyle tried to occupy himself by cleaning the flat. It was long overdue, since they'd been involved in one op after another for the past three weeks, and he'd only spent the odd hour or two at home in all that time. Luckily there had been food in the freezer, and he had contrived to stock up on perishables only a few days before. After tidying the stray ends, he gave the place a thorough dusting. He spent half an hour scrubbing the bathroom, another thirty minutes in the kitchen. He mopped the linoleum and hauled out the hoover to do the carpet. Yet, as fast as he worked, his mind worked faster, giving him no respite just when he badly wanted to be free of it. The problem of Bodie simply would not leave him.
He slammed the cleaner into the cupboard and stalked back to his bedroom. After a moment's search he found the amulet amid the rumpled bedclothes. He snatched it up and strode into the lounge, coming to a halt in front of the television set which he abruptly switched off. Startled blue eyes sized him up but gave nothing away.
Doyle sat down on the sofa beside the child, depositing the juju on the corduroy-covered lap. "Talk to me, Bodie. There's no reason you can't. You do remember everything, don't you?" The boy regarded him warily. "How this happened, I mean. You wished it. So unwish it. Go on."
The child gingerly picked up the talisman by its leather thong and laid it back in Doyle's open hand. "I can't do it," Doyle said tightly. "Look, just say something, anything, you stubborn bugger."
A dark, closed-in look came over the child's features, and he tried to turn away. Doyle wouldn't let him. Cruelly bracketing the tender cheeks between hurtful fingers, he forced the boy's head up. "You can if you want to. Of course, you can. Why shouldn't you?" This tactic was met by baleful silence. Doyle released him and took command of one tightly clenched hand. He pried the trembling fingers open and pressed the talisman into it. "You do it!"
The boy wrenched free as if stung. Doyle's eyes narrowed to slits. "You want it this way, is that it? Well, ta a bunch, mate!" He stood and savagely flung the talisman against the wall. "If that's the way you want it--" His body singing with tension, Doyle put distance between himself and the child, stiff-legging his way to the window, arms folded hard across his chest. "--then that's how it'll be. I'll have to get a new partner, of course. And you--well, I don't know what'll happen to you. I can't take care of you, not like this. No room in my life for a child, anyway. Especially one that won't fucking well talk to me...."
He heard the door open and snapped his head about; the heel of a white trainer vanished round the corner, and Bodie was gone. "Bodie!" Doyle closed his eyes and took a deep, racking breath, his anger evaporating before a flush of scalding self-contempt. "Ah, mate, I'm sorry." The crack of the main entry door slamming shut came to him like the report of a bullet. "Bodie, damn it...."
Doyle was already through the entry and poised squint-eyed in bright sunlight on the front step when the squeal of tires rounding the corner impinged on his consciousness. "Bodie!" There was an impression of grey corduroy dodging between parked cars, and an instant later, a banshee's cry of brakes frantically being engaged.
The blood drained from Doyle's face at the dull thump that followed. Sheet-white, he bolted down the steps and through the parked cars fringing the street. A Citroen had come to a jarring halt at an acute angle with the road, the right front door swinging wide as the driver emerged, crying out, "I didn't see him; he jumped into the street right in front...."
Doyle ignored the man, loping past the front bumper, one tremulous hand stretched out to the bonnet for support. A single trainer came into view, inches from the left front wheel. The stark image of another child lying shattered on the ground, twitching helplessly as she bled to death from a large caliber hole in her chest, rose unbidden to his mind.
The child was on the road beside the car, half on his side, face down with arms over his head. Doyle crouched low beside him, swallowing hard before lightly touching a blue-clad shoulder. "Bodie...."
There was an electric moment as the shirt rose beneath his hand, lifted by a shivering breath as the child strove to roll over.
"Don't move, mate, you...." The boy paid him no mind, cautiously sitting upright. His palm was slowly oozing blood; he turned it over and held it up for Doyle's inspection. Accepting this as minor damage, the man pointed to the ripped pants leg. The boy obediently peeled the material off his right knee, revealing a dirty, red patch of raw skin.
Doyle's hand convulsively gripped the boy's shoulder. "You're all right? You weren't hit?"
An attenuated wag of the head and a chagrined grimace were his confirmation.
Through the rushing in Doyle's ears came the continued, but hitherto unheard, harangue of the driver. Words which had flowed around him like the buzzing of summer bees suddenly began to make sense: "The little git could've been killed. He's old enough to know better, surely! Just look at the front of my car! Someone will have to--"
Doyle surged to his full height, took a single step forward and backhanded the man. The driver gasped and landed hard atop the bonnet of his car. Before he could fall, Doyle caught his shirt front and hauled him back to his feet. "What the fuck d'you think you're doing racing round the corner like that?" His voice was vibrant with barely-leashed rage. "You could've killed him! This isn't a bloody race-track. Attempted vehicular homicide: how does that sound?" He shook the man violently, then threw him roughly against the side of the car, sending it rocking on its shock-absorbers. "Be good for about twenty years, that. You stupid, witless--" Hand balled into a white-knuckled fist, Doyle was winding up to deliver a vicious blow when something took hold of his leg and tugged at him insistently.
It was Bodie, face tilted upward, speechlessly pleading Doyle's restraint. Through a patch of sand on his cheek the skin could be seen to be reddening, and his lower lip trembled ever so slightly. Doyle collected himself with an effort, leaving the now cowering driver with a look that would have wilted dahlias. He bent over the boy. "You sure you're all right?"
The bruised face was eloquent of scorn. Smothering a relieved grin, Doyle pulled the boy into his arms.
"Mr. Doyle, is he hurt?"
Doyle straightened up with Bodie safe-held, and found Mrs. Walters and her husband hurrying into the street to meet him.
"I think he's fine," he said quietly. Now that the adrenalin was draining out of him, he felt quite clear-headed and detached. "Perhaps you'd be so kind as to call the local nick." He indicated the man behind him with a jerk of his head. "This gentleman wants citing."
"Be happy to," Walters said. He cut a scathing look at the hapless driver, who sheepishly subsided into the front seat of his car.
"Oh, he is hurt!" Mrs. Walters said worriedly. She gestured towards Bodie's rapidly darkening cheek and the blood on his palm and knee.
"Don't worry, Mrs.... Sorry, almost forgot your name," Doyle said distractedly. "Mrs. Walters, isn't it? He'll be all right. I'll see to him."
She made a visible effort to refrain from fussing. "Such a little trooper. Not even a single tear. My Mick isn't so brave." Her fingers swept over Bodie's brow in a fleeting caress. They reached the steps and the woman was forced to concentrate on the cumbersome ascent. Doyle slowed his pace so that she could accompany them, appreciative of the unqualified support though it had not been necessary. This, he observed, was the camaraderie of parenthood--and it was not unlike that of combat veterans.
At the Walters' door, he paused and thanked her. "I'll keep close watch over him," he assured her. "But I do think he's only shaken."
Once inside his own apartment, however, he leaned back against the door, Bodie still clutched tightly against his chest, and simply stood there. The child seemed content where he was, arms loosely encircling Doyle's neck. Strangely enough, this was the total rapport, the same comprehension, they always shared at some point following a harrowing campaign.
Doyle finally recovered enough to make the trip to the bathroom. There he set the boy on the closed lid of the toilet basin, making him stand only long enough to remove the now ruined trousers. Hunched over, he commenced a thorough examination, checking for bruises, broken bones, and internal trauma.
While he probed and prodded, Bodie tolerantly obeyed his commands to turn, to lift and lower both arms and legs, to raise up his shirt so that cool hands could rove over ribs and belly, and to move his head from side to side, until Doyle was satisfied that he was indeed fit.
The man gave a sigh of relief, eyes sweeping over the child once more; absently he flicked away the pebbles clinging to the bruised cheek. Doyle managed a lopsided grin in response to the almost palpable patience exuded by this small person. The smile wavered at sight of Wellington Womble's less indestructible appearance. He extended a fingertip and traced the tattered remains of the creature's nose. All at once he crushed the boy close, absorbing the living warmth of him until Bodie struggled for breath.
"I know," Doyle acceded with an audible sniff. "Cut the crap, right? Sit there. I'll clean you up." Using a wet flannel, he wiped the child's face until it was pink. "I am sorry," he said quietly. "I shouldn't have said all that." He chanced a look upward. "Scared the life out of me, mate. Do that again, and I'll be the one stretched out on the road." He snapped his fingers; it sounded like a brittle twig broken in two. "My heart couldn't stand that twice."
Carefully, he soaked the debris out of Bodie's palm and knee. The hand had looked worse than it was; in a day or two it would be good as new, and a little antibiotic cream was all it required. The knee was rather worse, but Bodie had certainly suffered more memorable scrapes as a child. "The first time as a child," Doyle corrected himself.
Bodie stoically suffered his ministrations, offering no objections, neither verbal nor implied. Having nothing else to hold his interest, however, and with Doyle's head bent so near, he spent a lot of time contemplating unruly curls. Tentatively at first, as if leery of Doyle's reaction, he poked at a droopy ringlet hovering perilously near his nose. One thing led to another, and soon Bodie was engaged in serious empirical study of Doyle's hair. Coiling locks were rubbed between finger and thumb; stretched--carefully--to full extension before being allowed to spring back into place; twisted; sniffed; and exuberantly compressed inside one clenching hand.
"I expect it'll be snow white come morning," Doyle said ruefully, pressing the ends of an elastoplast onto Bodie's pale skin. Bringing a halt to the boy's diversion, he hoisted the lad up and, mindful of bruises and nicks, went into the kitchen where he had left the carry bag.
With Bodie's cooperation, Doyle gently stripped off the battered shirt. "That's the last of Wellington," he noted darkly. The black polo-neck that Bodie had chosen before was at the top of the carry bag. "Will this do?" Doyle asked.
The child smirked.
It took a moment to maneuver the shirt over Bodie's head and around his arms, giving Doyle a whole new respect for mothers who went through this on a daily basis. A clean pair of trousers came next, hitched up around the waist to hold the shirt in place. Smoothing the material, Doyle reminded Bodie, "We were supposed to ride our bikes today. Still want to go?"
A solemn bob of the small, well-rounded head denoted agreement.
"Good." Doyle lowered him to the floor. "We'll take something to eat, how's that sound?" Basking in the glow of approval that met this statement, Doyle handed him the jacket out of the bag. "Put this on then, while I make a quick bog stop and get some things together."
It was nearly two when they finally cleared London. Being that it was Sunday, there was not much traffic in Town, although the motorways were overflowing with it. Doyle left the well-traveled areas as quickly but safely as he could. Bodie was perched in front of him, zipped into Doyle's own loose-fitting leather jacket, as snug as a bandicoot in its pouch.
The man was ultra careful in his choice of roads, foregoing his usual stunts for a more sedate manner of driving. The child had been injured once today because of him; he had no intention of it happening again.
The autumn sun was wonderfully warm, its heat infrequently obscured by slowly drifting clouds. Doyle turned down a seldom used country lane they had ridden once before, and finally came to a turn-off marked PUBLIC PATH. Seeing no pedestrians to be disturbed, he urged the bike up a lazy incline toward a stand of yellow and gold trees in the midst of shedding their colorful beauty. The last cough of the engine ushered in an awe-inspiring silence. A leaf crashed to the dry grass and gave off a distinct "thup". Doyle freed Bodie from his zippered restraint and stood him on the ground.
"How's the knee?" he asked, fetching the small hold-all, which contained their lunch, from the back of the bike.
Bodie shrugged. Doyle let it go at that. Bodie as a child was apparently little different from Bodie as an adult.
Doyle led the way to a patch of ground directly beneath a tree that still afforded some shade. The quiet, coupled with the sun's healing warmth, was a soothing balm for overstressed nerves.
They ate without hurry, washing down sandwiches and fruit with bottled lemonade. Afterward, Doyle gave the child a few sips of his lager, dismissing with ease the resentful look that begged more. It wasn't long before the man was resting back against the great, weather-beaten bole of the tree, eyes closed, absorbing the comfort of this very strange day, more than half wishing that when he opened his eyes again, he would discover that he had had a nightmare of terrifying realism.
In fact, he woke to find himself half-buried beneath an ever-growing mound of dry, spicy-scented leaves. He sneezed and looked around groggily just as Bodie dropped an astoundingly large armful right onto his head. Snarling ferociously, he erupted out of the crinkling, crackling barrow and set off in howling pursuit of the rapidly fleeing culprit.
Bodie hadn't a hope in the world against Doyle's long, scissoring stride. Yet he squealed as if stuck when Doyle swooped down upon him and wriggled furiously when he was raised high and swung round and round. With breathless laughter to match high-pitched giggles, Doyle stopped and tossed the child into the air. Bodie gasped with pure delight, cheeks flushed and eyes bright as new pennies, as he was caught and sent sailing once more. This time, when he landed in Doyle's arms, he was hefted onto a bony shoulder and hauled back to the scene of the crime.
"Aye, matey," Doyle drawled menacingly. "Now ye'll be paying for your mischief."
Bodie squirmed like a mad thing, but to no avail. He was dumped wholesale into the leafy heap he had constructed and then was assailed by handful after handful of crisp, dusty leaves. Answering the challenge with enthusiasm, he managed some surprisingly good hits, giving back almost as good as he got until he was whooping for breath. The child's body simply did not harbor the adult's stamina.
Immediately Doyle ceased his assault, and slumped down against the tree, slinging an arm around the boy. His husky laughter slowly died away, and stillness crept in around them. "I'm beginning to accept this," Doyle realized, automatically providing a supporting hand when Bodie decided to perch on his chest, there to lie with his ear over Doyle's heart. "At least he's housebroken," Doyle thought sardonically. He didn't know if he should weep or cheer.
They started back for London before the light had gone, since Doyle did not wish to court a traffic tie-up. It had only gone six when they pulled up to his block of flats. He garaged the bike in back and planted Bodie on his shoulders for the jaunt to the door of the building. Leaves drifted in their wake, removed one-by-one from his hair by tiny, dexterous fingers.
It had been a long day, but as they entered the darkened apartment, Doyle acknowledged to himself that it had been far from all bad. Not surprisingly, Bodie was an excellent companion in this form, as well. "But what about Thursday?" he wondered: that was the day they were due to return to work. What on earth would he tell Cowley? And what would happen to Bodie?
Relegating the thought to the back of his mind, Doyle went to the kitchen and started the kettle for tea. He poured Bodie some milk and left it on the table in front of the TV for him. From there he went to the bedroom and collected their guns, which still needed maintenance following yesterday's firefight. After covering the kitchen table with newspapers, he opened the cleaning kit and set to work.
It wasn't long before the top of a dark head appeared at the far side of the table. Balanced on tiptoes, Bodie cursorily surveyed Doyle's efforts before returning to the lounge. He was back in less than a minute bearing one of the sofa pillows, which he placed on a chair opposite Doyle's. Arranging this to his satisfaction, he then climbed up and leaned over the table until he could reach the heavy .44.
A trifle bemused, Doyle folded his arms and leaned back. Using both hands, the boy attempted to thumb open the cylinder latch, but while the knowledge was there, the necessary strength was lacking. Without comment, Doyle took the gun from him and shoved the release forward to allow the cylinder to swing out. He handed the big gun back, and was entranced by the meticulously precise movements that resulted in three unspent bullets lying neatly aligned on the table top.
It occurred to Doyle to ask, "Can you write, mate?"
Bodie's brows rose as he took up one of the cleaning wands and the wire brush that fit his pistol. Mouth twisted slightly in concentration, he screwed the ends together. That done, he regarded Doyle a little uneasily, before giving his head a definite shake, no.
"Too bad," Doyle said, keeping his disappointment well to himself.
He felt pretty thick in not having thought of that before. Not that it mattered, obviously. But why couldn't Bodie communicate more than basic emotions and "yes" and "no"? Because of the magic? Or because Doyle was inclined toward very perverse dreams?
Bodie remained standing so that he could avoid inhaling the fumes given off by the solvent as he worked the brush through the chambers and bore of the pistol, scouring them clean of cordite residue. His actions were adept and sure, but reflected the slow, carefully executed movements of a child still learning its motor skills.
Remembering the tea, Doyle poured cups for them both. Bodie flicked him a nod of thanks when a mug was placed a safe distance away but continued without breaking rhythm. As Doyle sipped the hot infusion, shamelessly neglecting his own pistol, he wondered if Bodie comprehended the seeming futility of such diligence. After all, the child's wrists could not wield the substantial weapon, much less compensate for the considerable recoil of firing it. To all appearances, however, Bodie was untroubled by such ruminations, all of his energy directed to this mundane activity.
Doyle was impressed despite himself. He thought back over the day and how he had related to this young creature who was also his partner. Had he done anything to offend Bodie's intelligence? No--nothing that he could remember, anyway. And since Doyle often viewed his partner as an overlarge child, his manner toward him had been much the same as always. In fact, there had been only one real difference in Doyle's treatment of his abbreviated partner: his overt familiarity. It was not Doyle's way to touch, at least not like Bodie did. But with this child it had been natural and spontaneous. And Bodie had not seemed to mind.
Doyle set down his cup just as Bodie laid aside the cleaning rod and fetched his own tea. Using both hands, he raised it to his mouth and drank deeply. Licking his lips, he stretched forward and took out an unopened packet of patches. Shaking his head to himself, Doyle took up the P-38 and resumed dismantling it. Half an hour fled by as they worked in companionable silence. Absorbed in his task, Doyle paid little attention to his quiet associate. It was only when Bodie fastidiously removed the still-white patch from the eye of the rod and placed it onto the tidy pile that had accumulated not far from his tea cup, that Doyle again paused to watch him.
With a grunt of accomplishment, Bodie restored each cartridge to a waiting chamber. Unable to close the cylinder one-handed, he rolled the gun onto its side, and enlisted the aid of gravity to supply the necessary force, but not before rotating the cylinder so that the hammer came to rest on an empty chamber.
Ambushed by a singular surge of pride, Doyle nevertheless controlled the impulse to offer lavish praise, and contented himself with a "Good job, mate," instead. A short while later, he fitted the barrel and slide assembly to the body of his automatic and locked it into place. How many times had he labored over his weapon with Bodie at his side? Cleaning their pistols, working out in the gym, driving the streets of London: would they ever know those simple pleasures as adults again?
He sensed Bodie's attention, and raised his head to meet a very grave regard. Was Bodie thinking the same thing? What must it be like, Doyle pondered, to retain one's memories, yet be trapped in a child's untried body? A shudder tickled down his spine. It must be dreadful. Maddening.
So much for wishes....
Doyle rounded up the cleaning materials and stowed them in the kit, nose wrinkling as he placed the soiled wipes in a bag for disposal. After all these years he still had not come to appreciate the smell of gun cleaning solvent. "Evil smelling, this is," he murmured, and waited for Bodie's moue of disdain. It was not long in coming; Bodie loved the stuff.
"Okay, mate," Doyle said tiredly. "Let's get cleaned up and we'll have something to eat." He smiled at the anticipation that lit Bodie's eyes. "Yeah, thought that'd appeal. Come on, then."
Later, Doyle put the last dishes in the sink to soak, too tired to face another wash-up. When reviewing the day's events, he could see that they had actually done very little, certainly not enough to account for this bone-crushing exhaustion. "Cumulative effect," he mused. But it was more than physical weariness, and he knew it. For the first time in more years than he could remember, Doyle felt as though his spirits had been stamped flat, along with his physical resilience. He didn't want to face the future like this. He wanted everything back the way it was.
It was beginning to look as though that was not to be.
Bodie fell asleep curled up on Doyle's lap, head slumped against the man's shirt. Only marginally more awake than the child, Doyle rose to his feet with the small burden safely cradled in his arms. He stopped at the television to switch it off, and from there made the rounds of the flat, glancing down often at the strange creature entrusted to his care.
He wasn't the least surprised when Bodie roused as soon as Doyle began to ease him free of his clothing. But the child offered no resistance, watching Doyle from beneath ridiculously long and thick black lashes.
"All right, mate," Doyle said softly. "Now you can hie yourself off to the loo. Mind you wash your hands, too." Dark brows curved high over affronted blue eyes. "Don't give me that," Doyle countered. "I remember telling you that last night."
The boy conceded a grin; such a simple thing, but it brought intense pain to Doyle's heart. Covering it as well as he could, Doyle lifted the child down and planted him on the floor. "Get on with it, you blackguard. I'm knackered."
He took his turn as soon as Bodie was through. Although the day had been warm, it was cooling rapidly, and Doyle was feeling the chill by the time he returned to the bedroom. All that was visible of Bodie from beneath the heap of bedclothes was the top of his head. Doyle bent over, drew the cover down a little way, and flicked a finger against the child's cheek. "'Night, mate."
Bodie peered up at him. Baring one hand, he reached out and copied the gesture. Then, as though galvanized, he scrambled out from under the covers, his cotton-covered bottom disappearing into the corridor outside the door.
Doyle melted onto the mattress. He didn't have the energy nor desire to chase after the boy. He heard a scraping sound from the lounge, and a light went on. Just as Doyle was steeling himself to move, the flat went dark again and a moment later the child padded into the room, punctiliously shutting the door behind him. There was something in his hand, but Doyle couldn't make it out until Bodie came to a stop beside him, leaning against the edge of the bed. It was the talisman. Bodie held it out, entreaty bright in his eyes.
"Ah, Bodie," Doyle muttered. "You know I'd wish it undone for you, if I could." He took the fetish into his palm and regarded it helplessly. "I'd wish that we'd wake up in the morning, and you'd be back just the way you were. I do wish it. But it's not my...."
A hand covered Doyle's lips. Then the child stepped back, his face unreadable in the faint light from the window. With the exaggerated grace of small children everywhere, he retrieved the carving from Doyle's grasp and placed it on the nightstand. Arrogantly certain of his welcome, he pulled back the corner of the duvet and scrambled in alongside the man.
Amused at the cheek of the child, Doyle gave a wry chuckle. "Started young, didn't you?" He studied Bodie's face and saw sleep hovering over drooping lids and soft, relaxed mouth. Ruffling feathery hair very lightly, he whispered, "One thing, mate: no matter what happens, I'll take care of you. I'll adopt you. Quit the Squad, if I have to. Whatever is necessary."
The words took a moment to sink in, as though impossible to comprehend. But once they registered, a rose tinge blossomed in the child's fair skin and his eyes became very bright.
Doyle pressed a fond kiss to the broad forehead. "That's a promise."
The child huddled beside him, head heavy and warm on Doyle's shoulder. Comforted by his nearness, Doyle draped an arm around the small, sturdy body to ensure that it remained in close proximity. "Go to sleep, my lad," he said in a voice less than a sigh. "Everything will be all right."
Doyle woke to a sense of well-being that was totally contrary to everything he'd suffered the day before. Minutes passed as he lay quiet, fingers idly stroking through tousled hair. He wondered if Bodie had moved at all during the night, for his head was still in the crook of Doyle's shoulder. It felt right there.
It was very early, and Doyle vaguely mulled over what had roused him. He was still tired, absolutely leaden, despite having got more sleep in the last two days than he had had for weeks. But even his eyelids were reluctant to open, and he had to coax them apart, a little at a time.
Dawn was an indolent sprawl of mauve across a clear, but still mostly dark sky. Through his half-pulled drapes, Doyle beheld the pale promise of morning encroaching upon the weary night, and decided that false summer intended to linger for another day. He and Bodie could go back to the country--
There was a snuffling inhalation upon his chest. Doyle allowed himself a small grin and let his lashes creep downward with resigned acceptance. Bodie's cheek rubbed against Doyle's left nipple--and sent a shock of near-pain and surprise surging through him.
Eyes wide open, Doyle cupped Bodie's head between both hands and gently tilted it back. In the opalescent light slanting through the window, shapes and shadows, even colors, were fairly well defined. But had the darkness been absolute, he would have discerned that this was a man's head with its sculpted bone structure and taut musculature--and sandpaper rough beard.
"Hm?" Chin propped up on Doyle's ribs, Bodie sleepily responded to that tense summons.
"Oh, Christ," Doyle breathed. The glory of the reborn day paled in comparison to the azure blue of his partner's eyes blinking trustingly up at him. And then Bodie went utterly still, one crooked brow frozen into a quizzical arch--and Doyle held his breath. Bodie glanced from side to side and down at himself and Doyle, lying so very close together.
"Not your fault, sunshine," Doyle said weakly. "Just me. I had the daftest dream."
A skeptical smile tugged at Bodie's lips. "Is that so?"
"Yeah." Doyle combed Bodie's hair towards his face, smoothing the tufts that had formed during the nights. "Don't worry about this, okay?" He pressed his fingers into Bodie's scalp to clarify what he was referring to. "Me touching you, I mean. It'll pass. Just a carry-over from my dream."
"Must've been some dream, mate," Bodie said knowingly. His eyes sparkled with repressed amusement. "Was she nice?"
"Not a she."
Doyle gave a velvety rumble of laughter. "No. If you must know, it was you--about thirty years younger."
"Me! As a child? Really, Doyle!"
Doyle was swamped with an all-encompassing exhilaration that flooded him from the tips of his curls to the nails of his toes. "So glad it was only a dream," he mumbled thankfully and tweaked a thatch of Bodie's hair. "Much prefer you this way."
A snigger bubbled out of the depths of Bodie's chest. "Think I can say the same, mate."
Pinned beneath Bodie's bemused regard, Doyle grinned even wider and affectionately pulled his hair again. "You must think I've lost my mind."
Bodie hiked himself onto one elbow and boldly scanned Doyle's open features. "Don't mind that," he said imperturbably. "So long as you don't mind this." And Bodie leaned forward, one hand buried in thick, rambling curls, and held Doyle still while he kissed him.
There was no time for surprise or resistance. Without thought, Doyle went boneless beneath his partner, wordlessly offering Bodie anything he wanted. The kiss lasted only seconds, but Doyle reveled in it, savoring every facet of the simple act as though he had never experienced its like before.
Bodie broke the contact, his breath coming fast and shallow.
"No," Doyle said.
The whispered pronouncement, following in the wake of Doyle's clearly unfeigned cooperation, brought Bodie up sharp. Not daring to presume further, he immediately began to withdraw. Two strong arms enfolded him, however, and refused him escape when he would have fled.
"No," Doyle repeated emphatically, "I don't mind at all. Except--"
Simultaneously apprehensive and expectant, Bodie said hoarsely, "Yes?"
"Wasn't enough." Doyle shoved his partner over and slid on top of him in a single, fluid motion. Neither man spared a heartbeat agonizing over the hows or wherefores. All that mattered was this moment, dizzyingly kaleidoscopic with sensation: The taste of another man's mouth, hungry with desire; the intriguing scent of their bodies as friction unleashed their musk; the shockingly exciting fit of disparate but similar contours; the rough grasp of hands feverishly on the prowl; and the cataclysm of pleasure, violently exuberant, yet exquisitely gentle in its concordance. It was more clumsy and frantic than anything they had known in years, but sweeter and more special in a very strange way, as well.
Although he had begun in the dominant position, Doyle came to his senses on the bottom, hands describing gentle circles on Bodie's warm back.
"It can't be this easy," Bodie said, a little shakily.
Sluggishly replete, Doyle queried, "What can't?"
"This." Bodie turned Doyle's hand over and linked their fingers together. "You and me."
Doyle was serenely unbothered. "Why not?"
Bodie groaned and raised Doyle's hand to his mouth. "Because I might want you again. I...might want you all the time. And then I'll probably...."
"Bodie." Doyle saw his partner's eyes fall shut, felt the uncertainly gaining strength within him. "You're not going to go all broody and possessive on me, are you?"
Harshly, Bodie replied, "Very likely."
Doyle bent his arm, perforce bringing Bodie nearer, and rubbed his cheek against the ridge formed by their knuckles. "That's all right, then. So long as it's mutual."
Yearning disbelief almost obscured the doubt that shadowed Bodie's eyes. "Is it, Ray? Mutual, I mean?"
"You bloody well better believe it is, mate." Doyle was deadly serious. "Mutual, exclusive, and permanent. Think you can handle that?"
Bodie slumped forward onto his partner's softly furred chest. "If you can, I can."
Jubilantly triumphant, Doyle's gurgle of laughter was deep and heartfelt. "Christ, Bodie, maybe I should've had that dream years ago. This would never have happened if you hadn't woken up with my hands all over you."
Bodie's bottom lip disappeared between sharp teeth. He shook his head. "That's only part of it. Actually, it was yesterday that did it for me. Found out I like being able to hold you without you coming over all twitchy; liked even more the way you held me. You're a very good cuddler, d'you know th...?"
"Yesterday?" Denial bristled loudly in the solitary word.
Bodie flinched. "Yeah." Before Doyle could argue, Bodie reached under the bedclothes and rooted around. Within seconds his hand reappeared; dangling from large, blunt fingertips were a very small pair of briefs. Child-sized. "No dream, mate."
Doyle stared with open-mouthed consternation at this evidence of his nightmare. Twenty-four hours ago it had been the child-Bodie, displaying a man's underwear. "But-- You wished-- And you wouldn't take it--"
"It wasn't me, you thick-headed pillock!" Bodie corrected him with exasperation. "Tried to tell you, tried to show you-- Soddin' hell, Doyle, I warned you that damn thing was dangerous."
"But...it was your wish," Doyle countered faintly.
"You seconded it, fool. Don't you remember? You said, 'If that's what you want, sunshine....' Jesus Christ, Doyle, that thing wouldn't work for me--it's your juju!"
Stricken, Doyle thought of the child he had harassed yesterday. What if Bodie hadn't cajoled him into making one last wish the previous night? To have been the cause of Bodie's suffering was bad enough; to have blundered endlessly on without ever undoing the spell was unthinkable! But even in the throes of the most severe bout of guilt he had known in years, Doyle's skewed sense of humor came to his rescue. Mouth clamped tightly shut, he felt paroxysms of laughter well up inside him, and produced an alarming array of snorts and moans before the struggle to keep everything safe inside utterly failed. He clung tightly to his partner in the dim hope that Bodie would postpone the very messy inevitable until the hysteria had run its course, and he could offer a credible attempt at self defense. "Know it's not funny," he chattered. "I just.... If you could've seen.... I could've had you back to normal any time I liked?" he gasped, burying another cluster of sniggers behind Bodie's left ear.
"Don't know," Bodie said grudgingly, well aware of Doyle's diversionary tactic. "African magic can be pretty perverse, in case you hadn't noticed. I didn't ask to be a bloody infant, after all."
Doyle managed a semblance of sobriety. "So why did it bring you back?"
Bodie indicated their still coupled hands. "This, maybe. Always heard it depended in large part on the sincerity of the wisher--and whether it was for himself or someone he cared about."
The shock of realizing how close he'd come to ruining both of their lives left Doyle with a decidedly queasy sensation in the pit of his stomach. "That was the most selfish wish I've ever made, sunshine, asking to have you back," he owned with total honesty. Catching sight of the seemingly innocent carving lying on the bedside stand, he added fervently, "If I'd only known, mate. Christ, I wish I'd never--"
In less than a second Doyle went from his cozy position wrapped around Bodie's accommodating length to lying flat on his back with his partner looming threateningly over him, Bodie's hand clapped brutally over his gaping mouth.
Bodie hissed, "Not one word, Ray. I mean it! Not-one-word!" Only when Doyle gestured his understanding did Bodie let him go. And even then Bodie tensely backed off of the bed, finger held to his lips. Repugnance evident in every strained muscle and the heightened pallor of already ashen features, he skittishly picked up the fetish by its leather thong, very careful to avoid contact with the carving itself.
Curiosity getting the better of him, Doyle trailed after his partner, out of the room, down the corridor, and into the kitchen. He frowned but held his silence when Bodie collected a pot from the cupboard and matches from the back of the cooker. These items were taken to the sink and, there, suspending the juju over the pot, Bodie fired the match with a flick of his thumbnail. The soft wood slowly ignited, sputtering sootily, then flared with startling ferocity, a huge tongue of multi-colored flame leaping upward to lap at Bodie's fingers. He bit off a curse but did not let go, his face a mask of obdurate determination.
Horrified, Doyle opened his mouth to intervene, but stopped instantly at the quelling, ice-cold glare directed his way. Impotently, he watched sweat break out on Bodie's forehead, expecting the skin of his hand to blacken with each endless second. Abruptly, the flame rose higher, snapping at Bodie's wrist--then just as suddenly fell, twisting about itself as the vivid colors gave way to normal yellows, oranges and blues. Releasing a ragged breath, Bodie let the small torch plummet to the bottom of the metal vessel, where it continued to burn with mesmeric intensity. Within moments all that remained of the talisman were ashes, a tiny pile of them, scorching the bottom of Doyle's spaghetti pot. He forbore to point this out, mindful that a spaghetti pot was cheaper to replace than his partner--and new lover. Bodie stirred the charred remains about, then soaked them with water, before finally dumping the lot down the drain.
Only then did Bodie suck in a much needed breath, raising eyes as black and unpredictable as the night to Doyle's face.
Doyle chuckled nervously. "Sorry," he offered inanely. The next instant he took to his heels, with Bodie in hot pursuit. It was foregone where they would end up, and Doyle didn't struggle over-much when he found himself tumbled onto the bed and spread-eagled beneath the greater strength and weight of his partner's body.
There were those who would have found the dangerous expression on Bodie's face daunting. The man held captive on the mattress was not among them. Whatever Bodie chose to do with him, Doyle reckoned it was owed. He had only one request, and although fear was not a part of it, a trace of apprehension caused his voice to fall a register: "Be gentle with me, mate."
Bodie shook his head helplessly, the menacing facade dissolving to one of ineffable tenderness. "Won't ever be any other way--unless that's what you want," he promised huskily.
As Bodie bent nearer, intentions unmistakable in smoky cobalt eyes, Doyle breathed, "Well, that's all right, then."
-- The End --
Originally published in British Takeaway 5, Kate Nuernberg, circa 1991