The Third Week in April


The glimmering gold neck chain moved like a tiny, sinuous serpent as it slithered between Ray Doyle's fingers, curled around his thumb, then dangled limply from his loosely folded hand. It caught Bodie's eye as he entered the rest room. He paused mid-step and regarded his partner, unnoticed. Never mind that it had been a painfully long two days, Doyle looked exhausted. The smattering of white at temples and sideburns lent emphasis to the grey, drawn face and the distant green eyes.

For an instant Bodie stood immobile, disturbed by his partner's empty expression, the look of strain that seldom left him these days. In the space of a heartbeat, he saw Doyle clearly: older, battered, worn down by a profession that sucked most men dry within a couple of years. They had been at it now for nearly eight years--eight years of wins and losses, lusty living and narrow escapes. The toll was being taken, however, the price being paid. Somewhere, for both of them, paintings of buoyant youth were decaying into suppurating travesties of manhood. For that matter, the originals were showing considerable strain and wear, as well.

Doyle glanced up and found Bodie watching him, a curiously troubled air about his usually composed face. Doyle smiled; Bodie saw the aura of tragic self-absorption and vulnerability fall away. The transformation did not fool him, but Bodie accepted the gesture for what it was--reassurance in the face of a world gone mad, acknowledgement of something good that remained untouched by the taint of their insane existence.

Bodie carried the two cups of tea to the table and handed one to Doyle as he settled himself in the nearest seat. It was going on 6:15 PM. An hour ago they had witnessed the death of another good man--so many good men lost in two short days. The rigged car had gone up in a writhing ball of flame and sound, raining down pieces of flesh and metal for several seconds, leaving black smoke to billow skyward until the fire was brought under control. They had come so close to undoing the damage little Ulrike and her trick dogs had wreaked--so close, but not quite close enough.

"Looking tired, mate," Doyle commented, sucking down a grateful swallow of nicely scalding tea.

"Me? Not likely."

Doyle's face lightened fractionally. Bodie's arrogance regarding his looks was an old subject of discussion for them, the most irritating aspect of it being that his self-appraisal was firmly rooted in substance. "You want to watch that," Doyle warned him quietly. "One of these days you'll find all your excesses have caught up with you. It'll be a wizened old man with the sexual inclination of a turtle gazing back from your mirror."

Bodie snorted, not very surprised that Doyle's thoughts should have so closely paralleled his own. "Dorian Grey, eh?"

Doyle nodded. "That's the bloke. Won't be such a pretty sight, then."

"And what about you? Getting kind of late for the frog prince to turn into a comely lad."

Doyle merely guffawed at this outrageous abuse. While he was reconciled to the fact that Bodie was the stunner of this team, he was also comfortably aware of his own attractions. "No such luck." The gold chain wriggled free of his hand; his fingers flicked out to retrieve it. Wadding the warmed links in his palm, he said bleakly, "We'll never get married, Bodie."

Bodie had seen the play of emotions as they altered the landscape of Doyle's face. There had been wistful humour, followed by a deep, unplumbed sadness. Determined to snatch him from this bout of depression as he had so many others, Bodie snickered, "Don't remember asking you to, Doyle."

Uncomprehending green eyes frowned at him--and then Doyle heard what Bodie had said. Amused despite himself, he echoed Bodie's rough laugh. "Yeah, well, maybe you and me together would work. But this job and women--"

A dark brow arched high. "You accusing Cowley of subverting the natural order of things?"

Doyle dropped his eyes to the foamy contents of his beaker; vending machine tea produced a killing appreciation for the real thing. "Maybe," he said softly. "But it can't work--marriage and slogging for our George. 'S not fair to either one, husband or wife."

Despite the slight smile, Doyle spoke from the heart, and Bodie felt a strange desolation. He knew Doyle was thinking of the words that had been flung at him by a woman who had just learned that her husband was dead. June Cook had verbally savaged him, blindly striking out in a vain attempt to repel the pain unwillingly rendered her by Doyle.

"Hate to tell you this, mate," Bodie murmured, "but you're bound to marry some day. You want all that: home, wifey, little buggerlugs cluttering the place."

Doyle could not repress a grin at Bodie's expression of distate. "The last bit I can do without. But a home would be nice, and having someone--the same someone--to share it with, would be very nice." His eyes settled on Bodie with affection. "You can't fancy spending the rest of your life bouncing from one busty, empty-headed bird to another--even though that's what you want everyone to think."

Bodie's mouth set in a straight line. He wasn't sure that this was the direction he would have chosen the conversation to take. "Oh, yes?"

"Yeah. It's the job, Bodie," Doyle said intuitively. "No loose ends for you. That's what a family would be if you didn't make it home one day. And that comes back to what I said, about the job."

Bodie met Doyle's gaze openly. "Maybe," he conceded. Then, consideringly, he added, "But it's more than that, y'know, Ray--'Ve never met a woman I'd want to trust the rest of my life with."

Startled out of his misery by this statement, Doyle briefly mulled the implications. "That's a queer way of putting it."

Bodie shrugged. He had regretted the words the instant they had escaped his lips. But he had Doyle's full attention now, and if a little soul-bearing would erase the grimness from that weary visage, he would count the cost acceptable. "I've spent the better part of my life with men. On ship, with the mercs, SAS-- You can be yourself with another fella; birds always expect you to be something you're not. Living with another bloke is easy--if it's the right bloke, of course. No demands, no trying to change you." He drew a rueful face. "But it does have obvious drawbacks. Like sex."

Fascinated by this revelation, Doyle nevertheless saw signs of discomfort etched in his partner's features and feared that he might try to retreat. He waggled his brows at him. "Depends on the fella, doesn't it?"

Bodie laughed out loud; Doyle had noticed a long time ago that Bodie rarely did that and revelled in the warm sound of it now.

"That an offer?" Bodie asked.

"Down, Rover. Could be that you're looking at the wrong marriage prospects." He wasn't serious--no more than Bodie. If there was anyone firmly established in his sexual identity, it was Bodie. So much so, in fact, that Doyle had once found it daunting being teamed with him. His own experience had embraced much more than the strictly heterosexual, and Bodie's undeniable physical attraction, coupled with a tendency to touch without reserve, had at first put Doyle on guard--especially since he had made the decision to abandon his bisexual tendencies when he had initially chosen a career with the Met. Doyle had been right not to test Bodie's orientation--his own words reinforced that. And if Doyle seemed to go to the same extreme himself--well, all to the better. Their friendship had turned into the one stable and permanent thing in Doyle's life; he would do virtually anything to preserve it.

Bodie dropped his face into his hands and rubbed his eyes tiredly. "Yeah. Maybe I am." He staggered as a firm fist thudded into his arm. Green eyes, soft with fondness, looked into his face.

"You just need a break, sunshine; must do, for you to talk like this."

The neck chain disappeared into a pants pocket. Bodie noticed; he would get his hands on it for permanent disposal at the earliest opportunity.

"Don't we all. Have any suggestions?"

Doyle nodded, "Next leave we get. Have just the place in mind, too."

"Where's that?"


Bodie stared at him. "Fishbourne?"

"Yeah, you know--near Portsmouth."

"What, where the Roman palace is?" At Doyle's grunt of affirmative, Bodie asked blankly, "Anything else there?"

"Pretty country, clean air, fewer villains per square mile."

Bodie made a rolling motion with his hand. "And...?"

"And?" Doyle sighed good-naturedly. "And me for company."

A patrician lip curled eloquently. "Got you for company all the time."

Doyle grinned winningly. "But not in Fishbourne."

Bodie seemed to consider this, as though it were an element which added weight to Doyle's persuasion. It was a ruse; the prospect of the two of them alone for a few days without the burden of the job and the risk of disaster looming over their shoulders, made the decision a very simple one. "Why not?" he said aloud, with just a hint of reluctance for effect. "Maybe we'll stir up some action while we're there."

Doyle knocked back the remainder of his tea. "But only the female variety, please. 'Ve had enough of the other to last a while."

"Hm." Bodie leaned forward, pushing the empty beaker out of the way, so he could rest his head on his forearms. "Me, too. Where the hell is Cowley? He told us to wait here for him over half an hour ago--"

"Right here, Bodie."

Both heads swivelled toward the door; it had glided open without a sound.

Cowley observed, "If that's an indication of your readiness, I suggest you both spend some time over the next few days getting in some sleep."


"You have ten days," Cowley said, rewarded by the relief that eased the two men's expressions immediately. He knew what strain they had been under, knew full well what lengths he had driven them to. But Doyle had taken Cook's death to heart and Bodie was obviously bearing the brunt of it--as he always did. "Finish your reports, then get out of here. Be back on the 22nd at 7:30, bright and early." Then, as Bodie rose with renewed energy, "After you finish your reports."

The door quietly shut before either man had the presence of mind to ask why they had been kept waiting in the first place. It did not matter. Doyle looked at Bodie, and Bodie acknowledged the questioning look with a nod. "Fishbourne," he said.

"After the reports," Doyle reminded him.

Bodie lifted his wrist and indicated his watch. "'S already after 6:30, Doyle. If you do the reports, I can nip round to both our places, throw a few things in a couple of hold-alls, and we can be on our way tonight."

At that faintly pleading look, conveyed by wide open blue eyes, Doyle yielded. He had, in fact, intended to all along. "All right. Be back in an hour. We'll leave my car here."

A quick, triumphant grin flashed his way. "You're on." Bodie squeezed Doyle's shoulder, then swiftly let go. "Anything special you want?"

Doyle shook his head. "Couple of extra pair of jeans, clean underwear, the basics--you know."

"Got it. Thanks, mate. See you in a tick."

The rest room door swung closed behind him, and Doyle was left alone. Knowing Bodie, it would be closer to an hour and half, so Doyle decided to take his time. In any case, the report was already partially done as he had spent several hours of a sleepless night composing it in his mind. Rubbing his face, Doyle tiredly gained his feet, and gave way to a fierce yawn. He'd let Bodie do the driving, if he was doomed to spend the better part of the evening doing his work for him. Mildly cheered, Doyle headed out of the room and turned down the corridor toward the pool offices. It would, however, be worth the effort to brew a decent cup of tea.

Bodie could not believe his luck as a car pulled away from the curb just outside the entry to Doyle's block of flats. He secured the Capri and bounded up the stairs into the building, finding the lift ready and waiting for him. His mood had improved considerably since leaving CI5 headquarters. He had gone to his flat first, taking a comfortable few minutes to throw together a sandwich and a quick cup of tea. It had not taken him long to gather the few items he wanted and he had been back in the car within twenty minutes. He knew Doyle expected him to dawdle, but he was anxious to be on the road. They both needed a holiday and he had every intention of making this one worth remembering. Why his partner had chosen Fishbourne, he could not imagine--and was of no consequence anyway. Bodie had been there himself, sometime during the last three years, dating an American who had been fascinated by that sort of thing. They had driven down one rainy afternoon and had spent the time viewing the remains of the palace and strolling the grounds. Doyle was right: it was lovely countryside, and the air was fresh. And, yes, he'd be more than happy with the ratty bugger's company for a few days.

He paused outside the door to Doyle's flat, flipping open the panel which gave access to the electronic lock. In an instant his complacent expression gave way to one of searing annoyance. The second lock had not been set; he could not believe that Doyle would be so foolish, after what had happened only a few painful months before. Doyle would get a rocket for this, personally delivered by one William Bodie.

Setting his jaw, Bodie slipped the key in to actuate the deadbolt and slowly pushed open the door. His hand was under the lapel of his jacket, fingers lightly curled round the butt of his pistol as he stepped into the entry. It was, after all, just possible that someone had broken in, although there were few skilled professionals who would dare breach CI5's security systems, fewer still who would attempt the doing in broad daylight.

Already convinced that Doyle, abstracted about Cook and rotten little Ulrike, had simply neglected to follow procedure, Bodie nevertheless made a perfunctory examination of the living room and kitchen before proceeding to the bedroom. There was no indication at all of anything being out of order. Relaxing with a long exhalation, Bodie shook his head and turned toward Doyle's wardrobe. "Stupid bugger," he muttered, and absently reached for the sweater Doyle had been wearing the day before, which had been discarded at the foot of the bed. Bodie raised the soft material to his face and breathed deeply. With a foolish grin, he dropped it back onto the bed. If Doyle only knew--

It was the last conscious thought Bodie had as a solid object impacted with the back of his skull. Only that, and the fleeting realization as he crumpled bonelessly to the floor, that he had been terribly, stupidly, wrong.

Doyle typed in the last punctuation mark and sat back in his chair. He read over the final paragraph again as he drained the remains of his cup. Last night's wakefulness had not been ill-spent, after all, allowing him to polish off the report in record time. In fact, he had already reread it for mistakes and thoroughness, and was satisfied that it would do. With a flourish he unreeled the paper from the machine and spread it flat to sign. He forged Bodie's signature, as well, and gave his watch a quick glance. Bodie had left over half an hour ago. Probably, it would be another forty-five minutes before he returned.

Doyle left the chair, and shrugged into his jacket. Silently bemoaning the fact that he had badly miscalculated, he carried the report down the hall to Cowley's office. He had no desire to spend the better part of another hour waiting for his partner.

The darkened room of his superior's inner chamber decided him. It was a rare thing that Cowley himself should have escaped the hallowed corridors of CI5 so early in the evening; the place was as still as a tomb.

Doyle dropped the typed sheet onto his desk and thrust his hands into his pockets, thinking. If he left right away, he could probably meet Bodie at his place; if not there, then at Doyle's. To that end, Doyle spent a moment ringing Bodie's flat, and then his own. He did not let it ring more than three times at either location, but Bodie would have guessed who it was and answered immediately. So Bodie was in transit--undoubtedly to Doyle's apartment. They could leave Doyle's car there; in the morning he'd give the pool a ring and have someone collect it.

Having settled all of this to his satisfaction, Doyle headed down the corridor to the lifts, his spirits rising as his long legs eliminated the distance to freedom.

It wasn't Doyle.

There had been a surge of disappointment to accompany this revelation, and because of it, and the fact that he had been taken by surprise in the act of resetting the electronic watchdogs from within, the hand that had delivered the blow to Bodie's head had been unnecessarily heavy. He recognized him, of course, having glimpsed Doyle's partner through the window that early morning so many months ago. He had not lingered, then, half-crippled though he was. Only a well-developed sense of survival and the desire for vengeance had got him out of the building and into the woods before anyone had thought to look for him.

The next few days had not been pleasant ones, spent constantly looking over his shoulder and seizing whatever opportunities came available. It had been essential that he keep a low profile, injured though he was, and luckily he had still had a few favors to call in, or he would never have made it out of the country. Once back in South Africa, he had taken the time to recuperate and to plot his next actions. Only when it had become obvious that the Ojuka cock-up had put his reputation as a first-rate hit-man down the toilet had he seriously begun to consider what it would take to recover his standing.

Raymond Doyle fit nicely into his scheme. It would be a brazen kill, a CI5 agent known to be the best. And only those who counted would know who had executed him--and why.

Parker stood a moment gazing down at Bodie's fallen form. No one outside this room would ever have known exactly what he had planned for Ray Doyle. CI5 would not have advertised that aspect of their agent's final moments. Considering the effect on Doyle of finding his partner under the circumstances he had intended for him, Parker smiled--a slow, curling of lips that had nothing to do with humor.

Bodie knew he was in trouble the instant awareness began to flow back into him. There were straps cutting into wrists and ankles, and cool air roamed freely over his body. Retaining enough sense not to give himself away, he tried to assimilate as much as he could from this less than advantageous position. As memory returned, he realized that he must still be in Doyle's flat--on Doyle's bed, apparently. Mouth filled with a soft cotton gag, his arms and legs spread painfully wide, he faced toward the curtained window. The room was dark, save for the lamp on the bedside table, which was turned to its lowest setting.

When the bed dipped behind him, Bodie stiffened reflexively, incapable of maintaining the pretense of unconsciousness. There was a soft chuckle, and a long-fingered hand made a slow sweeping caress of his lower back. Bodie tried to swallow, but could not; probably would not have been able to even if there had not been a gag stuffing his mouth.

"You might be wondering who has done this to you, and why." The voice came to him from the dark, strongly accented, unfamiliar. Bodie tried to keep his respiration steady as the hand continued to move. He would have been a fool not to guess what was about to happen. A flicker of eyes at the clock on the bedside table told him that only ten minutes had elapsed since he had entered Doyle's flat. Doyle would not even begin to look for him for another half hour--if then.

"It was your grave misfortune to be in the wrong place at the very wrongest time," the man went on quietly. "This was, of course, planned for the benefit of your partner, Ray Doyle. But I do not think he will like what I am going to do to you. Sexual murders are often disturbing to those who discover them. Especially if the victim is someone you are close to."

Bodie let his eyes fall shut as the hand on his hip was joined by another on the other side. The man carried on conversationally, "I would like to take my time with you, but I cannot. Still, it will be almost as good as it would have been with him. He is appealing, is he not?" Bodie felt movement behind him, then warmth all down his spine. His teeth clenched into agonizingly dry cloth.

"So you will understand why I cannot make it easy for you. He must know that you have suffered--so that he will suffer." Bodie felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up at the sharp edge that entered the man's voice. It would have been far better had he remained unconscious.

Doyle gave a relieved sigh as he spotted his partner's car. The rotten sod was probably taking his time, undoubtedly emptying his refrigerator. Not that there was much to despoil, since he hadn't been in much this past week. Or was it next week already? Doyle puzzled this out as he finally found a spot nearly a street farther away. Yes, it was Monday--a new week.

He locked the car and strolled back to the steps leading to the entryway. He was in no hurry now, savoring the moment, knowing that Bodie would have things well in hand. The lift was engaged, so he took the stairs. His pulse was moving a little faster, but he was not breathing markedly harder when he left the second floor landing and entered the corridor.

He grimaced at sight of the single engaged lock, the simplest to jigger of the lot. He'd give Bodie hell about that, Bodie who never failed to remind him to set all the locks, even if he was only home for a few minutes.

A wicked grin lifting his lips, Doyle eased the key into the narrow opening with exaggerated stealth. With any luck, Bodie was in the bedroom--or maybe even the bathroom--and would never hear him enter.

The door swung open without a squeak, and Doyle slipped inside. He came up sharp, his smile crumbling to dust at the sounds emanating from the bedroom, holding him stupid as he comprehended their source. For a moment he couldn't think, unwillingly absorbing the ragged breathing and rhythmic cadence of bedsprings. He couldn't believe that Bodie would-- And suddenly, sickeningly, he knew that Bodie would not.

A remarkably steady hand stole under his jacket and released the catch on the pistol. Doyle drew the Walther out and silently crept across the floor of the living room to the doorway leading to his bedroom. As he came nearer, he could make out softly muttered words, curses and obscenities. The voice, impossibly, sounded familiar--and all at once he actually recognized it. But then, the circumstances surrounding the hearing of that voice had not been so very long ago--and the barely veiled threat so lovingly delivered to him at that time had been menacing enough to recur occasionally in Doyle's less savory dreams.

With his back to the door jamb, he noiselessly swung round, the muzzle of the pistol entering the room a fraction of a second before him. Parker's back was to the door, and he was far too preoccupied to hear or sense Doyle's quiet approach. It was as well that he did not, for the steely purpose in the narrowed green eyes would have drenched his ardor more effectively than an icy bath. The first he knew of Doyle's presence was the solidly-muscled arm that curved round his throat and jerked him upright, and the cold, impersonal snout of the .9mm handgun that dug hard into his head behind his right ear.

"Take yourself out of him, very carefully," Doyle instructed, his even tone breaking harshly on the last word. He saw Bodie flinch, the dark head twisting at the sound of his voice; Doyle could imagine all too clearly how he would feel if it'd been Bodie finding him under these circumstances. He wanted to tell him it didn't matter, rather Bodie than anyone else, knowing with total certainty that it would be so. But he couldn't--not now, not yet.

Parker hissed, his movements made awkward by Doyle's unyielding grip. Doyle had a glimpse of blood, noted the shuddering breath that escaped Bodie's lungs as he was released. He dragged Parker backward off the bed until he stumbled to his knees at Doyle's feet. Doyle pressed the advantage, one hand cruelly hooked into the leanly muscled shoulder, the other holding the muzzle of the Walther steadily against his head.

Ice-cold fury raced through Doyle's mind like lightning across a blackened sky. With total comprehension he knew why Parker was here, in his flat, and could easily guess what else he had meant to do to Bodie--his Bodie. A vicious outrage quite unlike any he had ever known coursed through him. It was in his power--it was his duty--to hold the bastard until the proper authorities arrived. But Doyle knew what would follow, how the system would work. Charges must be filed--several charges, for Parker was a known felon--and a trial would be held; not even Cowley could prevent that. And Bodie would have to go through all of it--Bodie, who hated being exposed, who hated being ridiculed; Bodie, who would have been murdered in Doyle's place had Doyle arrived only a few minutes later.

There was no decision to make, after all.

A single gunshot shattered the quiet, the muzzle flash suppressed by the proximity of the target. Strapped to the bed, Bodie convulsed as though he had taken the bullet himself. Doyle heard his muffled cry and holstered the weapon. Letting the lifeless body collapse to the floor, he smoothly turned to his partner.

Bodie was preternaturally still until Doyle came into view. "Ray?" His eyes were dark with shock and confusion.

Doyle gently removed the cloth obstructing Bodie's mouth. A grimace curled his lips when he saw where the gag had come from; he threw the cotton briefs onto the floor beside their owner. It was unlikely Parker would have any further use for them.

"Ray, what--?" Bodie's voice was a hoarse whisper.

"'S all right, mate. He tried to do something stupid." Doyle extracted the multi-blade knife from his front pocket and began to cut Bodie free. Pain flowed across the handsome face as Doyle turned him onto his side. "Lie still, Bodie," he ordered, using mild restraint as his partner attempted to rise. Long fingers rubbed soothingly against his lower spine.

For a moment Bodie allowed the careful massage, feeling the fire in his nerve endings begin slowly to fade to a dull ache. And then he pulled away.

"Just stay where you are, will you?" Doyle grabbed one side of the duvet and draped it over his partner with a quick flick of the wrist.


The curly head came up at that; their eyes met. Bodie nodded, subsiding back onto the mattress. "Almost great timing, mate. How'd you know?"

"Didn't. Decided not to wait and guessed you'd be here." Doyle turned away, yanking the R/T out of his jacket.

Bodie continued to do as he had been told, grateful for the warmth of the billowy cover and the opportunity to work the kinks out of strained muscles. The stress in his back soon began to ease, and although it felt as though he had acquired a thousand tiny bellringers, all on the loose inside his head, he finally determinedly pulled himself upright, lips twisting at the pulsing discomfort radiating from abused flesh.

Doyle, speaking softly into the transmitter, heard movement behind him and gave his partner a disapproving look. "Send the meat cart," he finished flatly. "Better let Alpha One know, as well. 4.5 out."

Before Doyle could start in on him, Bodie raised a warning hand. "'M all right, Ray."

"You're not all right, sunshine. I saw the crack on the back of your head. You might have concussion."

"I've had worse. Leave it, Doyle." With an effort that brought a sheen of sweat to his forehead and upper lip, Bodie slowly brought himself to his feet.

Doyle's voice was raw. "What the hell d'you think you're doing?"

Breathing hard and trying not to show it, Bodie growled, "Going to the bathroom. You want to hold my hand?"

Doyle laid tense fingers on Bodie's arm, maintaining the contact when Bodie would have shrugged him off. "You can't. You need to see a doctor first."

With a terrible weariness, Bodie muttered, "Look, Doyle, it's no big deal, okay? I'll be fine."

"He hurt you."

"Yeah, and I'll live. Now get out of the way."

"No. " Doyle had to make him understand. "Bodie, he--"

Bodie exploded. "Damn it, Doyle, I've been through it before--done it myself, for that matter. Just let it go, will you!"

Doyle's face lost all expression, his lack of response notable in a room that seemed inordinately quiet following the roar of Bodie's voice. Then, firmly, betraying neither his thoughts nor his feelings by word or feature, he said, "Can't. He may have given you something. Fancy a bout of rectal gonorrhea, do you? Or syphilis? Maybe even worse?"

Never given to overreaction, Bodie paled slightly, but stood his ground. "He didn't come in me," he said, his voice as rough as crushed stone.

"No. But he did hurt you--I saw the blood. Great place for an infection, that is. I know how you feel, mate. Just...let the doctor check you out first."

It was on the tip of Bodie's tongue to challenge Doyle's statement, to point out the vacuousness of this claim of shared empathy in the crudest terms he knew. But he realized, just as the words were sharpened for the cut, that Doyle was shaking, a tiny tremor that no one but Bodie would ever have seen.

"Got something I can wear?" he asked gruffly. Turning away, he uncomfortably lowered himself back to the bed and there propped himself up on his left hip.

"Yeah." Doyle headed for the bathroom. "Get you my robe."

Less than fifteen minutes later, Doyle opened the door to the CI5 clean-up crew. Photographs were taken, Doyle's comments noted, and the lump on Bodie's head sketchily examined. Parker's corpse was loaded onto a stretcher and borne away, leaving a dark, wet stain on Doyle's carpet. He was staring at it when Cowley entered the bedroom. Doyle's eyes slowly rose to meet his--and instantly the agent felt as though the older man could see through the layers of tissue and bone to the truth laid bare in his mind.

Cowley glanced from Doyle to his partner, who had not left his place on the bed. Bodie's face gave nothing away, except barely acknowledged pain and dragging weariness. "What happened, Doyle?"

"Gave my report to Michaels, sir."

"Yes--I saw it on my way in. Perhaps I should have said, how did this happen?"

Doyle had no answer; it was not a question he had thought to ask.

The querying gaze moved to Bodie, who shifted uncomfortably. Cowley intercepted his aborted sidelong look at Doyle; Cowley fixed his own steely gaze on the strangely withdrawn Doyle.

"You did set all your locks, 4.5?"

There was no artifice in Doyle's reply. "Certainly. sir. Don't like hospitals much these days."


A slow flush crept into Bodie's face. He closed his eyes and shook his head. "Only one was set. Figured Doyle had been in a hurry. Stupid mistake to make."

"It was that," Cowley agreed gravely. From the corner of his eyes he saw that Doyle was watching Bodie, his features nakedly revealing. "And Parker, Doyle? You said he tried to get away. According to the report, he was on his knees, your gun at his head. Surely you could have controlled him with less permanent measures?"

There was a flicker of something indefinable in the green eyes. The full mouth tightened, then relaxed. "Judgment call, sir," he said evenly. "His welfare wasn't exactly my first concern when he made his move."

A moment passed--a long moment which Cowley allowed to stretch. "I see." With deceptive blandness, he asked, "And what kind of move was that?"

Doyle swallowed. "It's in my report," he said stiffly.

Cold eyes travelled over Doyle's face, easily reading past the defiance to the roiling emotion beneath. And then Cowley looked at Bodie, who seemed oblivious to their conversation.

"Aye, so it is," stated Cowley. Then, briskly: "Michaels said you need to see a doctor, Bodie, for lab tests. If you're ready, I can take you."

Bodie brought his head up at that, dark blue eyes suddenly alert. It would get him off the hook with Doyle, going with Cowley. He wouldn't have to explain the stupid remark that had jumped from his lips when he had been trying to brush Doyle off. And he knew, eventually, that Doyle would want an explanation. And what would his dedicatedly heterosexual partner think of him when he got it?

His decision must have appeared foregone to Doyle, who bowed his head, flicking at something on his white jacket that had just caught his eye. Bodie placed the source of the stain at about the same instant that Doyle did; the long fingers stilled, then slowly drew away.

"Thanks, sir. Already ruined Doyle's evening--and his flat. He can drive me."

"As you wish, Bodie." Cowley dispassionately regarded both men. Pain and death were as much a part of their existence as breathing. This, however, was outside their experience and neither was renowned for his ability to comfort or to be comforted. Nevertheless, it was their choice.

"Suppose you'll be wanting me in tomorrow?" Doyle's voice sounded no more than resigned.

Cowley frowned and turned away. "No. Your report seemed very complete--as usual. We have wanted Parker a long time; it is unfortunate we should have got him under such circumstances. In any case, I don't feel that there are any loose ends." He gave Doyle an all-encompassing look. "Do you, Doyle?"

The curly head moved in curt negation.

"Good. Have your lab results sent to me, Bodie. Check in tomorrow and I'll give you whatever news there is."


Before Cowley had disappeared out of the room, Doyle had already retrieved and handed over Bodie's trousers and the white shirt he had been wearing when he had come in. "Here you go, sunshine," he said quietly. "Expect you'll want to get this over with."

Feeding one leg into his trousers, Bodie countered, "Don't want to do this at all."

As Bodie dressed, Doyle silently stripped off his own blood-spattered jacket and selected another from the open wardrobe. Once Bodie was standing, one hand bracing himself on the footboard, Doyle held open Bodie's black leather jacket for him. Bodie did not argue as Doyle guided him into it, nor when he stayed close to hand as Bodie gingerly made his way to the door.

The attending physician was very thorough and gratifyingly professional. He did not mouth unctuous reassurances or condolences, and seemed well aware of the unpleasantness of his examination. Bodie withstood it without comment, responding only to direct questions, asking none of his own. A pained flinch and repressed curse were elicited when the rent skin on the back of his head was dealt with. The doctor washed the area out and applied an antibiotic ointment, declaring it unworthy of stitches or wraps. Since something else warranted two small stitches, Bodie counted himself reasonably lucky. Nevertheless, he fled the doctor's ministrations with relief, obeying his instructions to have an x-ray taken with all haste.

Doyle, who had been sitting with one leg crooked over the other in the corridor outside the examination room, rose dopily at his appearance and began to follow as Bodie started away. He had only taken a few steps when the door came open behind them, and the doctor who had seen Bodie called him back. When Bodie gave no indication of slowing, Doyle stopped and obeyed the doctor's summons. For his trouble, he was given two tiny containers of tablets, a tube of salve, and a small bottle of mineral oil.

"I gave him an injection to help the spasming," he told Doyle, frankly. "It'll make him a little drowsy, but I'm almost one hundred percent certain he does not have concussion. The x-ray is just a formality to verify that. The cream should be applied two or three times a day, the mineral oil taken orally in one or two doses to keep his bowel movements soft--that should make things a trifle more comfortable for him."

Doyle held up the small phials of tablets. "These?"

"Antibiotic to help avoid secondary bacterial infections. Nasty place to have a laceration. The other is a mild relaxant. While I've certainly seen worse, his attacker produced a fair amount of trauma. Your Mr. Bodie is probably in a considerable amount of pain right now."

The muscles in Doyle's jaws contracted, forming hollows beneath his cheekbones. "Anything else?" he asked, well aware that he was requesting confidential information. He shrugged. "Could you tell if he'd got anything from him?"

The doctor sighed. "Not with any certainty until the lab's had their hand in. There appeared to be no traces of semen, nor preseminal fluid, surprisingly enough. That's good. The blood tests will be run tonight. We'll know more tomorrow, once the cultures have had a chance to grow; but forty-eight hours is usually the minimum before we can state anything with certainty."

Doyle gave a nod of thanks. "I'll see that he uses this lot. Ta."

Bodie was awaiting the outcome of his x-rays outside the x-ray examination room; Doyle spied him instantly as Bodie was the only patient there. Wisely overcoming the urge to comment on Bodie's hospital pinny, Doyle slumped into the seat beside him.

"What'd he want?" Bodie asked. His head rested against the wall, eyelids firmly closed, dark lashes spread heavily upon his cheeks.

"Had some medicine for you. Said to be sure you took it all."

Bodie's face twisted with displeasure. "That'd be something for infection--both inside and out, I expect--and most likely a stool softener. Am I right?"

"Almost. You left out the pain-killer."

Bodie grinned mockingly. "With a blow to the head? Always said these guys are quacks."

Doyle summoned a strained chuckle. "Nah. 'S just easy to see that you've got a skull like a concrete wall."

Letting his head roll to the side, Bodie opened weary, jaded eyes. "Oh, yes? Then what's the x-ray for?"

"Insurance. In case you disprove his medical opinion."

"And keel over dead, eh? I'm feeling more assured by the minute. Well, anyway, you keep 'em, Doyle. Feel fine, meself."

Doyle leaned forward and dropped his chin into his hands. "That's because you're already shot full of something. Won't last, mate."

Very softly, Bodie whispered, "Nothing does, Doyle."

Before Doyle could frame a response, the door across the corridor from them opened a few inches, and an attractive face peered out. "You're through here, Mr. Bodie. Doctor Mason says there's no sign of fracture."

Bodie produced a wan smile and a muttered thanks. As the door silently swung shut again, he stoically climbed to his feet. "Only be a minute," he told Doyle.

Bodie retired into one of the small changing chambers under Doyle's watchful gaze. Slouching back, Doyle jammed his hands into his pants pockets, and discovered the gold chain he had taken off Cook's body. He didn't bother taking it out, his fingers blindly encircling it, and carefully tracing the links. For a brief time things had begun to look up. He and Bodie should have been in Fishbourne by now--or within a mile or two of it at least.

Instead the promise of the evening had been well and truly shattered. God, but he wished he had taken Parker out of action six months ago!

For both their sakes.

Bodie fell into a shallow doze almost the minute he slumped into the passenger seat of his own car, taken for its convenience when Doyle had led him out of the apartment building. Doyle wondered if it was a ploy to avoid conversation, having already determined that he would not try to breach his partner's defenses tonight--if ever. He knew better than anyone that Bodie would dole out information as he saw fit. And it was all too obvious that Bodie had never intended to make that unguarded admission.

As Doyle drove through the brightly lit streets of London, Bodie's words returned to him again and again. I've been through it before--done it myself, for that matter. Done what? Surely not rape--he refused to believe Bodie capable of that. Then what? Was it possible that Bodie had been involved in a homosexual relationship sometime in his murky past?

The likelihood of that both intrigued and terrified Doyle. For eight years he had slammed the door on his attraction for his partner, set the lock, and damn near thrown away the key. While it was true that he had suspected that Bodie might respond to something considerably more risque than heavy double dating, Doyle had never dared suggest it, knowing his own yearnings to be too near the surface to allow them exposure. And there had always been the possibility that he was unutterably wrong, that Bodie would have considered any overtures--even with a woman between them--verboten--or, if agreeable, might have come to regret the experience to the point of splitting the partnership altogether.

Nothing was worth that.

To be brutally honest, more than the simple fear of rejection had held Doyle back. Bodie was a part of him, the complementary side of his being that made him whole. If they ever transgressed that boundary between friends and lovers, he suspected that the days of his independence would be lost forever. He had not lied when he had told Bodie that home was a beacon reaching for him with ever greater brilliance--and he doubted that Bodie would ever want the same thing. Certainly not with him, a man Bodie knew far too well, both for his strengths and weaknesses. Doyle would have been stupid not to see how easily he could get up Bodie's nose--nor, conversely, to observe how well Bodie dealt with him. But his partner's unquestioning acceptance and toleration were rooted in friendship--a kind of love, true, but not the only kind that Doyle wanted.

All too soon, he brought the car to a stop outside Bodie's flat. Despite the cessation of motion and sudden quiet, Bodie did not stir, slumped against the passenger door, his left temple pressed against the glass.

He looked very young and all too vulnerable, although Doyle knew that that facade was as false as the unfeeling tough-man persona he showed the world.

In eight years Doyle had learned a great deal about Bodie, virtually all of it through deeds, for Bodie was not one to put his innermost secrets into words. When he gave his affections, however, he gave them unstintingly; and when he hated, he was a man to beware. Somehow Doyle had earned his trust and loyalty almost from the first. He had occasionally ruminated over just what it would take to destroy that commitment--and had concluded that he did not want to know the answer, so long as he managed never to do any of the things that might hurt Bodie.

Laying a hand on Bodie's shoulder, Doyle gave him a gentle shake. "Wake up, mate."

Bodie's chest lifted; he gave up a long, heavy breath. "We there already?" he murmured.

"Yeah. 'S only across town, sunshine."

At that Bodie's eyelids peeled apart; he forced them wider through sheer strength of will. The drugs had finally taken effect and he was bonelessly relaxed, not a molecule in his body composed of any substance. He turned his head to survey the street beyond Doyle's head and gave a dismayed frown. "What are we doing here?"

Doyle grinned softly. "You live here, remember?"

Bodie's expression was quizzical. "But I already have my stuff." At Doyle's suddenly blank expression, Bodie belatedly understood. "You don't want to go anymore?"

"To Fishbourne?" It had not occurred to Doyle to ask. Clamping a tight lid on a surge of hope, he asked casually, "Do you?"

The big shoulders rolled in a loose shrug. "No reason to hang about here. But if you don't--"

The starting engine drowned out the remainder of Bodie's words. A slow smile crossed his lips; he folded his arms across his chest and lay back in his seat. By the time they turned onto the A3, he was sound asleep, half on his side facing Doyle, snoring lightly.

Disproportionately pleased, Doyle was undeterred by the two hour drive in pitch darkness through an intermittently driving and gentle spring rain. He stopped to tank up Bodie's car and to buy himself an egg sandwich and a beaker of tea. Bodie mumbled unintelligibly when Doyle pulled the driver's door closed, and then continued undisturbed, soothed by the renewed motion of the car and the quiet swish-swish of the wiper blades streaking across the windscreen.

Doyle recognized the tribute for what it was: With no one else did Bodie ever so totally lower his guard. Smiling to himself, Doyle played the radio just loudly enough to be heard over the engine, needing the random noises to counter the lulling spell of the darkness and his own weariness.

Slowed by the rain and the roads, they arrived on the outskirts of Fishbourne just after 11:00. Doyle's entire body was thrumming with tension and exhaustion as he pulled up in front of the inn he had stayed in nearly a year before. He had not allowed himself to worry about their chances of getting a room. Too tired to give it undue consideration even now, he locked Bodie in the car and went into the reception area to try his luck. It held, and a few minutes later he had parked the Capri and was jarring Bodie awake once more.

"C'mon, sleepyhead. Now we're here."

Despite being drugged with fatigue and the vestiges of the chemicals in his system, Bodie came conscious all at once, immediately regretting his lack of prudence: pain lurked just below the surface and was quick to make itself known.

At his partner's bitten-off grunt of surprise, Doyle regarded him closely, but said nothing. He hauled Bodie's hold-all from the boot, then led the way into the vestibule. The sloe-eyed receptionist working the counter signed them in with interest, her bright gaze lingering as they went round the corner to the stairs.

Doyle found their room and wearily unlocked the door. He was reminded very briefly of the door to his own flat, and what he had found on the other side of it mere hours before. There were no horrors here, however, simply a well-kept room with twin beds, both of which were draped with homey, quilted spreads. Doyle set Bodie's bag on the floor beside the first bed and went to the second, which was nearer the window. His partner had gone straight through the foyer to the adjoining toilet. Following a spell of water splashing and loo flushing, Bodie emerged. Doyle gave him a quick overall look.

"How're you feeling, mate?"

Their eyes met and held. Bodie's response was casual. "Sore. Tired. Head hurts, me bum hurts. Reckon that about covers it all."

"Top to bottom," Doyle agreed.

Dark blue eyes smiled ruefully. "If I didn't say it before, Doyle, thanks. Was awfully glad--"

"Forget it. Just wish--"

"Yeah. Me, too." He took note of where Doyle had parked his hold-all. "What's this, then? You know I like the window."

"Well, so do I. 'Sides, I drove down here while you slept like a babe in his mother's arms--and anyway you had the window last time."

Bodie's bottom lip twisted to one side. "Did I? When was that?"

Fingers working sluggishly at his shirt, Doyle gave his head a shake. "God knows. Anyway, first come, first served." With a massive yawn, he rolled back onto the bed and closed his eyes, a hand gliding over his half-exposed chest.

Bodie watched him for a while, certain that Doyle was innocently unaware of the wantonness of that loose-limbed sprawl. The fingers idly moving through the hair beneath his shirt began to slow, then stilled. Was that dark pelt as silken as it looked? Swallowing, Bodie began the weary ritual of emptying his hold-all. When he had finally reached his pajama bottoms, brought along expressly for this trip, he raised his head, puzzled.

"Doyle. Hey, Doyle!"


"Where're your things, then? Did you leave them in the car?"

Tousled curls moved in slow negation on the patterned quilt; heavy eyelids never stirred. "Uh uh."

"Didn't bring anything, did you?" Bodie cocked a brow at his partner, eying him curiously. For all that he could look a right urchin, Doyle was finicky about what he wore, and he liked his things clean. "You'll look undernourished wearing my stuff, mate."

"Uh huh."

"And you'll want to use my shaving kit as well, won't you?"

"Uh huh."

For some reason Doyle's unbelabored acceptance gave Bodie a smug, comfortable feeling. It had been important to Doyle to get them both out of town. The green eyes had flared with energy when Bodie had indicated his desire to continue with their plans. And Bodie had certainly not intended that: on the way out of hospital he had no more entertained the thought of spending the next week with Doyle than of leaping off Waterloo Bridge. Not after today; not after what Doyle had seen.

Especially not after what Bodie had said.

Flooded with chagrin all over again, Bodie closed the bag and dumped it on the floor at the foot of the bed. Too late he anticipated the solid thunk of metal stops impacting on hard oak floor. Doyle startled and jerked half-upright, his eyes circles of green surrounded by widely spread lashes.

Bodie gestured his apology. "Sorry, mate. Anyway, now you're up, you might as well have a wash. Don't want to sleep all mucky, do you?"

"Heaven forbid," Doyle muttered sourly. He dragged himself to his feet, peeling clothing open as he went, and bore himself to the bathroom. Amused, Bodie changed, himself comfortably ensconced in the bed closest to the window by the time Doyle returned, bearing a glass of water in one hand.

Doyle took Bodie's usurpation of his bed almost in stride, stating his opinion with a quick baring of teeth and one or two muttered imprecations before halting a few inches away. "Expected that of you, didn't I? Here." He thrust the glass into Bodie's hand, rejecting the urge to dump it on his dark head.

To avoid a spill, Bodie climbed, at once, into a sitting position, his eyes askance.

Collecting his own jacket from the back of the chair, Doyle rummaged through a pocket and came up with the small supply of medicines. He sorted out the two under Bodie's cynical gaze, then extended his hand, the tablets nestled in his palm. "Take 'em."

Contemplating resistance, Bodie registered the barely lucid aspect and decided to show pity instead. As soon as he had downed the pills, however, Doyle held out the tube of antibiotic cream. "Need to rub some of that in, too, mate," he said, with just a suggestion of challenge.

Bodie's eyes sparked, blue fire glowing out of an impossibly pale face. "Sure you don't want to do it for me, Doyle?"

Doyle bit his bottom lip. "Will if you can't reckon where it goes."

At the goggle-eyed expression, Bodie surrendered a laugh. "You would, too. That's all right; thank you, mum. I can take care of that, myself."

Relieved, Doyle smiled with unconscious charm.

Feeling the weight of Doyle's affection, Bodie fought the urge to respond in kind. He reached for the lamp switch and snorted, "Go to sleep, Doyle."

In the darkness, Bodie listened as his partner finished disrobing and made himself at home on the next bed. It was very quiet and every movement was etched into the night like splashes of color on canvas. Despite Bodie's stolid manner, Doyle's smile had touched him, just as it always did. In fact, he had never learned to guard against the infectious quality of Doyle's pleasure, especially when he was the cause of it. For it made him feel cared for. In a curious way, almost cherished. Put at ease despite himself, Bodie smiled, too. Ta, mate, he thought.

Night and velvet silence surrounded him. He had not feared the dark for a very long time, and quiet could be a formidable ally. But Bodie's heart was bruising his ribs and adrenalin seared the insides of his arteries, conveying alarm to every cell in his body. Briefly baffled, he lay motionless while extending every sense to its limit in an attempt to conjure up the source of his disturbance.

It was a while before he pinned it down, tedious minutes of patient waiting before the ragged gasp that still echoed in his inner ear came to be repeated. Noiselessly, Bodie shifted onto his side, picking out Doyle's huddled form in the next bed. His partner was dreaming, entrapped in the chaotic corridors of uncontrolled realms. His breath came in uneven snatches bordering on sound, lodged low in his throat.

Bodie considered reaching out to him, but the slight displacement from back to flank had informed him that every bruise and tormented muscle and ligament in his body was fully cognizant again and very keen on communicating displeasure.

The hesitation gave him a chance to think before he acted, to weigh the benefit of jolting the sleeper into premature awareness. Bodie understood nightmares, being subject to them himself on occasion--and much as he disliked bad dreams, he had always viewed them as a necessary, if unwanted, cleansing process. In this business, one could not afford to absorb too much of the ugliness they were required to deal with on a daily basis. Nightmares were an atonement and an eradication--a purge of the system before it could become fouled beyond repair.

Doyle moaned, a helpless, choppy river of turbulent emotion that sorely tested Bodie's resolve. He steeled himself to act; Doyle's chest gave a sharp heave and on a gasping breath, he grunted a single word. Paralyzed, Bodie took it in: not a word; a name.


Sickened, Bodie bit down hard on his bottom lip. The bastard. Somehow, given this evidence of Doyle's horror, Bodie's own acceptance of what had happened was undermined. And out of his vexation grew anger: if he could take it, why couldn't Doyle? But it was fear that gave his skin a beading of sweat: had Parker lessened him in Doyle's eyes? Would he have to prove to Doyle that he was no different from the man he had been this morning?

Bodie's unhappy thoughts were interrupted when Doyle released a quavering breath, one hand coursing over the covers until it reached his chest, there to pluck fretfully at the wash-softened material half-covering him. He was awake, if still suspended on the borderline. Bodie tried to find words that might reassure him, but turned coward before they could reach his lips. What, after all, could he say? "Everything's all right, mate; you killed the bastard?" How to make Doyle understand that, for him, that was indeed the case. Parker had hurt him, both in body and self-esteem, but while it was true that his misjudgment of the door locks still smarted, the rest of it was history as far as Bodie was concerned. It would be useless to moan about might-have-beens--especially since Doyle had done the only thing that would have given Bodie any satisfaction: Parker was dead.

His ears pricked at the quiet rustle of shifting bedclothes. A tall, lean shadow, Doyle disengaged himself from the rest of the night and padded softly into the bathroom. The door whispered shut, and there soon came the mild complaint of old plumbing as water ran into the basin. Listening intently, Bodie cocked his head to one side, waiting until he registered the squeak of faucets shutting off the flow. The door gave a token creak and the wraithlike shadow reemerged, picking its way cautiously through the unfamiliar room.

Through slitted eyes, Bodie watched him, puzzled when Doyle paused at the nightstand that separated the twin beds, his back to him so that his actions went unseen. A heartbeat later the edge of Bodie's bed went down, depressed by Doyle's weight. "Here," Doyle said wearily. "Time you took a couple more of these."

Not really surprised that Doyle knew he was awake, Bodie rocked up onto his elbow. "A little midnight malpractice?" he asked sardonically.

"Well past midnight, mate. Be dawn soon. Best if you keep this stuff in your system all the time, y'know."

"So says Dr. Doyle?"

That elicited an unoffended growl. "Yeah."

Working with one hand, Bodie downed the tablets then reached out for the glass shining wetly in Doyle's hand. Their fingers briefly met, strikingly warm against the chill surface.

"Woke you, did I?" Doyle muttered.

Bodie concentrated on swallowing. "Nah. Pain killers wore off." With a final gulp, he stretched out his hand and waited expectantly until Doyle took the glass back.

"And you just thought you'd amuse yourself in a bout of silent suffering?"

"Hm. 'Sides, you needed your sleep."

"Still do." Doyle raked his other hand through his hair, staring across the room at nothing. Bodie thought he would continue, but Doyle simply sat there, either content to stay where he was, or too exhausted to move. Silence between them had never been uncomfortable, and Bodie took it in stride now, very conscious of Doyle's closeness and warmth. Acting on impulse, he sent a seeking hand out across the covers until it encountered one bare, cold thigh. He patted it firmly, a solid touch that would not be misconstrued. "Okay, mate?"

Doyle's head came round. "Yeah. You?"

There was a quick flash of teeth. "Yeah. Ta, mum."

A not-so-motherly rack of knuckles thudded against his shoulder. "Go back to sleep, Bodie. You're confused."

With that Doyle left him, taking away the almost palpable aura of his presence, something comprised of far more than body heat. Faintly bereft, Bodie wondered what Doyle would do if he asked him to return--and then grinned contemptuously at himself. He knew exactly what Doyle would say, and it wouldn't be something heard in polite company.

Or would it?

Bodie had not been the only victim of Parker's cruelty. For the time being, both he and Doyle were walking wounded: Doyle, bearing the psychic brunt of Bodie's trauma; Bodie, feeling as though there were a poker up his bottom and a small, but deadly brass band in full swing at the back of his head. As always, he and Doyle balanced one another in the oddest ways.

Strangely lulled by these thoughts, Bodie yielded to the drugs and his own weariness, comforted as much by the fresh-smelling bed as by the continued presence of his partner only a few feet away.

It was well past noon before either man began to rouse again. Doyle was first to waken, yawning and stretching as he kicked the covers from his legs. With nothing else at hand, he had spent the night in only his briefs. Hearing snuffling sounds from the next bed and a little self-conscious of his morning erection, Doyle moved with sudden purpose, scooping up his jeans as he headed for the bathroom.

"No justice in the world," a lugubrious voice announced to the room at large.

Caught at the door, Doyle cast a wary look over his shoulder. "Eh?"

Surveying him from under heavy lids, Bodie said evilly, "Supposed to give big fellas the big ones, not the other way around."

Doyle's face creased into a wide smile. "You saying you were--erm--shorted, mate?"

Bodie gave a dismissive laugh. "Talking about the other big fellas."

"Sure. Want to prove that?" With four simple words the atmosphere in the room went from playful mischief to charged interest.

Unprepared for the intensity that flowed between them, Bodie was temporarily incapable of speech. The spell passed, measured only in seconds. He cocked his head rakishly. "Seen me before, Doyle."

"But attention," Doyle responded delicately.

Accepting the challenge, Bodie fixed his grin and threw off the covers. Feeling Doyle's eyes on his groin, he knew a fierce desire to impress him, and rose--slowly, out of respect for his head--his hips rolled slightly forward, so that he stood clearly outlined by the soft cotton of his pajama bottoms.

Something sparked in the wide-set green eyes, but was swiftly cloaked by a half-turn of the head. Doyle sniggered, "Not bad, mate, but one of the little fellas would probably have sent it back." Exercising educated caution, Doyle slipped around the door and pulled it smartly shut behind him; a pillow smacked into the wood only inches from where he had stood a few seconds before.

"You're just jealous, Doyle," Bodie yelled, not so loudly that he might disturb the neighbors--if neighbors there were. But he was smiling, wondering at himself for having been suckered into the idiotic contest. Nevertheless, it had made him forget his assorted pains for the moment and had been worth the instant that Doyle had seen him, eyes turning a fathomless shade of jade. There had been humour, but unfeigned admiration, as well. Bodie had had only a glimpse of his partner, but Doyle's stretch briefs had been filled to capacity. His fingers itched to measure him properly, both as to bulk and length, and the very thought began to threaten the integrity of his own pants.

He ran a thumb along himself to ease the constriction and climbed back into bed. Being on his feet had set his head throbbing again and there was a dull ache at the base of his spine. "When do we take the next batch, mum?" he called quietly.

There was a pause, and Doyle answered, "Now. You're overdue."

"Yes, mum."

A tousled head, notable for fierce green eyes, briefly appeared. "Bodie."

Bodie gave him a look of affronted dignity. "I'm taking them, see?" The instant the door was closed again, he added clearly, "Mum."

"You'll be taking those up your nose, if you keep that up," Doyle warned, his voice carrying distinctly through the door.

Bodie spent a moment considering the merits of continuing the campaign of bedevilment and decided to let it drop. "What's on the agenda for today?" he asked instead.

His partner reappeared, patting his face dry with a large white towel. "'S up to you, isn't it. And the day's half over, in case you hadn't noticed."

Something tart was poised on Bodie's lips, but sight of Doyle quelled it. The round face was unaccustomedly pale and lined with shadows, and the green eyes were darkly smudged with pronounced circles. It wasn't often that Doyle looked quite so unattractive, but when he did, it was as if he pulled out all the stops. And yet, Bodie thought fairly, overall there was something about him that defied the composite parts, that gave him an air not of a dissolute caught in the damning rays of dawn, but of a waif, abandoned by its mother at the side of the road.


Shaken out of his moss-gathering by Doyle's half-amused, and not in the least bit waifish, tones, Bodie shrugged. "'M hungry. Let's take it from there, okay? But, let's go out--leave the restaurant downstairs for later."

The tablets were taking effect by the time Bodie climbed into the passenger seat of the Capri. He arranged himself with care--taking pains to be unobtrusive--yet feeling the almost tangible weight of Doyle discreet attention, and both intrigued and irritated at being so closely overseen. Doyle rarely hovered, having learned long ago that overt concern was something Bodie would not tolerate--even though Bodie was not unaware of the double-standard of his attitude, for he was incapable of shutting down his own protective instincts where Doyle was concerned.

They drove away from the inn, heading out on a narrow country road. Bodie gazed round with mild interest. The day was fine, sunshine mixed with pregnant clouds, and the air smelt fresh and clean, just as Doyle had promised. With all the rain they'd had this winter, the fields were verdant and lush, and very appealing to the eye.

They didn't go far before Doyle guided the car into a car park outside a sleepy looking pub. Bodie glanced at his watch; there should be plenty of time for a healthy meal. And telling Doyle he was hungry had been an understatement; "famished" was much nearer the mark.

They had their pick of tables as most of the noon traffic had already cleared out. Bodie chose a booth with a window, but out of direct sunlight; his head wasn't up to that yet.

He grimaced at the ginger beer Doyle brought back to the table, receiving a blessedly succinct lecture about drugs, head wounds and alcohol. Shortly afterward a pleasant-faced, friendly brunette delivered their meals to the table. She stood a moment and indulged in a bit of conversation. But although they were amiable and amusing, she soon discerned that neither man was interested in carrying the exchange beyond the point of badinage.

"She likes you, mate," Bodie remarked softly as the barmaid drifted back to the preparation table.

"Me? Took one look at those lethal baby blues and nearly swooned, didn't she."

Bodie crowed under his breath with delight; since the trend of their conversations regarding women usually went completely counter to this, he couldn't help but be amused. And warmed. For she had shown Doyle a little special interest and he had gently but firmly put her off.

"You coulda had her," Bodie insisted.

"And what would I have done with her?" Doyle was grinning but there was a slight edge to his voice. "Care to sit around the lobby while I shag her upstairs?"

Bodie was mildly taken aback; Doyle was rarely so crude where women were concerned. "Could've watched, I reckon. Make sure your technique is up to par, y'know."

Doyle guffawed. "When I need advice from you, I'll be sure to ask. Eat your lunch, Bodie," Doyle instructed, determinedly putting an end to the conversation.

Before they were halfway through, Bodie excused himself to visit the men's room. Doyle had finished his meal, pushed aside his plate and fetched a second round of drinks before realizing that Bodie had been gone a very long time. He was considering a recce of the toilet when his partner returned at last, ashen-faced and moving stiffly.

"Let's go back to the inn, Doyle."

No questions were asked. They were on the road within minutes, after tossing the barmaid a quick, "Thanks, love," and a mumbled excuse for the abandoned meal.

In their brief absence, the room had been cleaned and the beds remade. Bodie disappeared into the toilet at once, leaving Doyle feeling useless in the middle of the room. Deciding there was nothing he could do to ease his partner's discomfort, Doyle thought his absence might be appreciated, at least for a while. He announced his intentions through the door. As soon as Bodie replied in relieved agreement, Doyle quit the room, stonily quelling the desire to stay and offer comfort.

The room was in darkness despite the fact that the hour had only gone four. Doyle entered quietly, his eyes zeroing in on the figure curled on its side in the bed beside the open, but draped window. A cool breeze sifted through the heavy folds of damask, the whisper of cloth the only sound to be heard.

Then, quietly, Bodie asked, "Was she good?"

Doyle dropped his packages on the foot of his bed, and followed them down, facing his partner. "Who?"

"Tessa. The girl at the pub."

"Good for what?" Doyle said blankly.

Bodie shifted from one side to the other, his bent arm supporting his head. "Reckoned you'd tried your luck after all. Afternoon closing time, and all that."

Doyle shook his head with slow emphasis. "Nah. Thought you could use a break from me scintillating company. Picked up a few things, too." He wanted to ask Bodie how he was feeling, but having guessed the source of his problem, he wondered whether his partner would be offended if he broached the topic.

But Bodie gave him a stolid smile and answered his unspoken question. "Should've had the mineral oil last night," he said wryly. "Think I popped me stitches."

"Do you want to go back?" Doyle asked, at once.

But Bodie shook his head. "Feeling better now. It's all right, Doyle, don't look like that. I've--"

"I know--you've had worse." Doyle had not intended to say that, the words springing from his lips completely unvetted. He cringed inside at sight of Bodie's face, which had lost all expression. Speaking briskly, Doyle went on, "Bought you some things to take your mind off--everything else." Furious at his lameness, Doyle began to peel the purchases out of the plastic carry bags, strewing candy bars, two bags of salt and vinegar crisps, two cans of ginger beer, several paperback books, and the latest issue of Mayfair magazine across the bedcover.

And then he cautiously raised his head, expecting reproach for his ill-spoken words. Instead he found himself the subject of an indulgent gaze that bore no traces of anger.

"I suppose this lot"--Bodie waved a hand over the candy and crisps--"is our dinner?"

Doyle smiled with relief. "There's a nosh house a few miles away. Thought I'd pick up something there after a while--if you're still not ready to try the cafe here."

"Nah. Rather go out. And we certainly couldn't move an army on this paltry fare. Even one that's been routed." He cocked an eye at Doyle, noting his uncertain expression. "'S all right, Ray. Don't worry, okay?"

Doyle snagged a bag of crisps and made a minor production of wresting it open. "Rang Cowley," he said brightly. "Parker was cleaner and healthier than he had any right to be. No diseases. The culture won't be done growing for another 24 hours, but everything else tested negative."

Bodie's reaction was non-existent. He took a can of pop and peeled it open. "Anything else?"

Long fingers drew forth a perfectly golden crisp, then turned it slowly round and round. "June Cook went into early labor. The baby was stillborn."

Blue eyes rested heavily on Doyle's bowed head. "What about Allison?"

"Getting better. He's still pretty shaken by the whole thing."

"And Ulrike?"

"Charges have been filed. She's being held, pending a trial date."

Bodie drained his can, then crushed it in a fist. "Life goes on."

Green eyes rose and studied Bodie's pallid, drawn face. "Yeah." Doyle's teeth crunched noisily on the hapless crisp. He tossed Bodie the Mayfair and sifted through the paperbacks for an anthology of lurid horror stories for himself.

With idle disinterest, Bodie turned the pages of the magazine, his eyes hardly registering the nubile forms displayed therein. He protracted the looking for a long time, his thoughts straying across to his partner who was still working his way through the bag of crisps, sucking the salt and vinegar out of each one before consigning the leeched remains to his digestive tract. Morbidly fascinated, Bodie watched him from under his lashes. Doyle's mouth had long been of interest to him. Full, with a slightly wider and heavier upper lip, it could appear swollen with unconscious sensuality, or snarl unattractively, displaying that less than winsome chipped tooth. And when he laughed, the fullness disappeared--but a rich, uninhibited Doyle laugh was rendered infrequently enough to mark it a sight and sound worth appreciating. Well worth appreciating.

Not for the first time, Bodie wondered what his partner would do if he came on to him. And repressed a smile as--not for the first time--he pictured the results of such an ill-considered action. For Doyle would feel compelled to deck him to honor his manhood and its assertedly heterosexual orientation. But while it was true that Doyle had never openly solicited male attentions, there had been times when he had been almost overtly flirtatious with Bodie, using his body as calculatedly as a beautiful woman. Bodie had always put it down to Doyle's lack of selfconsciousness; for the little bugger was fully aware not only of his assets but his debits as well--and he simply did not care how others reacted. But sometimes, Bodie was goaded almost to the point of reaching out and capturing that quicksilver form. He could imagine the shiver of apprehension that would course down Doyle's spine when he realized that the challenge had been taken. The struggle would be brief because it wouldn't be a battle of strength, but of desire. And there, Bodie suspected, they would be more than evenly matched.


Bodie's vision cleared and he froze as he discovered somnolent green eyes upon him. "Hm?" was all he could manage, and that just barely.

"You ready for something to eat, then? 'S nearly six."

Nearly six! Bodie must have been half-drowsing to have lost so much time. "Yeah. Guess I am."

Doyle gave him a head-shaking grin. "Well, you can quit eying me like that; I'm not on the menu."

"Oughta be," Bodie muttered, his throat dry. "You'd be about right for a spaghetti noodle."

The long body stretched and worked its way inch-by-sinuous-inch onto its backside. "Well, in that case, you're lucky, because one noodle would never be enough for that mouth of yours."

Bodie cocked his head to one side, having recovered sufficiently to return the banter with his usual aplomb. "Dunno, Doyle. Depends on how we prepared you. I think you'd fit better in the sweets category, though. I'd layer you with lots of chocolate goo and heaps and heaps of hundreds and thousands."

Doyle snickered. "And a cherry on top, of course." He arched a suggestive brow at his partner, wiggling it leeringly. "Whose?"

"Mine, mate," Bodie said innocently, "which I got from the store, of course. A little red one, very sweet and tart." He snapped his teeth. "What else do you top a sundae with?"

"Hm. What are you doing?" This as Bodie pulled himself to his feet and began to tidy his rumpled clothes.

"Might as well come along. Not an invalid, Doyle."

"Physically, maybe." Doyle sidestepped neatly on the way to the toilet as a threatened blow just missed his head. "When was the last time you took your pills, Bodie?"

Blue eyes rolled upward. "Just before we went to eat."

"You're slacking off, mate." Doyle came back out of the small bathroom with a half-full glass, and pointed insistently at the phials standing on the bedstand.

"Jesus, Doyle," Bodie complained mildly, "You ever consider a career as a nanny?"

"Why should I," asked Doyle, archly, "when I already have you to take care of?"

Bodie bared his teeth then silently knocked back the pills. He took the glass and had almost emptied it when a look of intense consternation flooded his face. "What the bloody--" He gasped and held the container at arm's length. "What'd you put in here?"

Doyle's expression was not contrite. "Mineral oil. Don't want a repeat of this afternoon, do you?"

"God almighty, Doyle, it's like drinking snot!"

Fighting hard to conceal his amusement, Doyle gave a jerky nod. "So drink it down. 'S already half gone. Come on, Bodie, be a big lad and take your medicine."

"Damn you, Doyle, you're enjoying this, aren't you! Rotten little sadist. Hope the day comes when you--" Bodie's eyes cleared and he gave his head a sharp shake. "Didn't mean it that way."

Doyle's unintentionally tender gaze was almost Bodie's undoing. "'Course you didn't. Go on. You'll be glad of it tomorrow."

"Huh." Bodie obeyed without further argument, then carried the glass into the bathroom himself. "Won't make any difference. Don't intend to use the toilet ever again." Then, as unmistakable sounds travelled from the toilet bowl into the room behind him, he amended, "Not that way, anyhow."

The rest of the evening passed uneventfully. They decided on takeaway and brought their dinner back to the room. The meal was leisurely enjoyed, followed by a pot of tea ordered from room service. Replete, they prepared for an early night. For the first time in days--or was it weeks?--they were completely relaxed, a state of existence so very different from their norm. Both had long ago cultivated the ability to snatch sleep and to take advantage of moments of stillness when they became available, but those were temporary measures that could not balance the energy drain of being on guard for long spells at a time.

Doyle switched off the bedside lamp just after ten. Bodie had already fallen asleep, one of the racy novels which Doyle had picked out for him forgotten beside his pillow. In the dark, Doyle removed it, his fingers so close to Bodie's face that the soft current of his breathing flowed over Doyle's knuckles.

"G'night, Bodie," he whispered and lowered the book to the floor. Minutes later, lying comfortably on his side, turned toward his partner, Doyle was oblivious to the world, as well.

It was well past midnight when Bodie was plunged into awareness, drenched by the icy wash of startlement, his own name resounding in the otherwise silent room. Collecting his unfocussed awareness with admirable speed, he was still too late to spare his partner a tortured awakening. Bodie's face twisted as his ears absorbed the other name, yielded up with a broken sound of despair.


The lean body rolled forward at once, a shaking hand rubbing the remnants of unwanted images from his eyes. "Yeah. I'm awake. Sorry, Bodie."

Before Bodie could reply, Doyle wrenched himself out of the covers and stalked into the bathroom. Guilty and frustrated that his partner should be suffering because of him, Bodie threw his pillow back against the headboard and hoisted himself up to sit against it.

The flow of water shut off, and Doyle returned. As he had the night before, he brought with him a glass of water. This time Bodie was waiting, the two tablets already in hand when Doyle passed over the glass. He dispensed with the ritual with quick efficiency, slamming the empty container onto the bedstand with unintentional force.

Doyle's head swung up at the clatter, wide, still-haunted eyes focussing on Bodie's face uneasily.

With the tone of a man offering his kneecaps up for target practice, Bodie asked, "Do we need to talk, Doyle?"

Not understanding the reason for Bodie's abruptness, Doyle countered woodenly, "No." Then, because it was his fault that Bodie's sleep had been broken, he added, "Just a dream, mate. Sorry I woke you."

Bodie's voice was surprisingly hard. "It wasn't just a dream, Doyle. It was about me--and Parker." At Doyle's sharp movement, he went on, "I wish you hadn't seen that. But I'm selfish, too, and I'm glad you got there before he got round to murdering me."

"Bodie, it's not--"

"Yes, it is. Look, Ray, I know you. And you've been grinding your teeth over what I said for the last two days, probably somehow mixing it all up together, making more of it than it was."

That earned him a befuddled stare. "What you said-- Oh." Doyle's expression changed completely, making Bodie tense with skin-crawling disquiet. "That." He accorded Bodie a long, searching look. "Yeah, I'd like to hear more about that."

Confused and more than a little embarrassed, Bodie sought a way to defend himself from the treacherous turn the conversation had taken. He wasn't ready to explain that remark to Doyle; especially not now, not half-addled, with his body still tightly wound with nervous tension. If he ever told Doyle, the moment would be chosen very carefully--as would his words. Looking hard into the expectant face, Bodie forced his brain to kick into full function. "So, if it wasn't me--" He elaborated bluntly, "--Parker fucking me--then what was it?"

Doyle blanched, his face so exposed that Bodie felt a twist of fear, himself.

All at once, Doyle took to his feet, moving with a speed and purpose that Bodie wondered if his partner meant to leave altogether. But Doyle only went as far as the window. There he pulled the curtains wide, his hair lifted up and off his forehead by the wilful breeze that invaded the room. Filtered light from beclouded stars and three-quarter moon gave his features a satanic cast and betrayed a faint tremor in the hands that rested on the sill.

Frowning, Bodie said huskily, "Ray?" At the lack of response, he knew he must pick his way carefully. "You did what you had to do. You've killed for me before." Bodie's voice died on the last word. Now why had he phrased it quite like that?

Doyle smiled, but there was ice in it--that, and a trace of self-disgust. "And will again, I expect."

All at once, Bodie knew--or thought he knew. It was one of those intuitive flashes that had occurred between them from the very beginning, an instantaneous communication that transcended empathy. "Parker wasn't resisting, was he, when you shot him?"

Doyle keyed on the sound of Bodie's voice. There was no recrimination, nor condemnation. Nor, thankfully, amusement. But Doyle could not face him, could not cope with the magnitude of his actions being reduced to flippancy, as was Bodie's way. "No." There was more to say, but Doyle was too tired and too self-absorbed to summon the words.

Stupefied, Bodie stared at him, knowing, as if it were his own burden, what it was that Doyle was feeling. His statement had been perfectly accurate; Doyle had indeed killed for him before. But not in anger, and not in vengeance. Somehow the idea frightened him, for while Doyle was a man of fierce passions, he had never allowed those feelings to interfere with their job. So, outraged at what Parker had done to Bodie, Doyle had executed him?

No. Doyle wouldn't do that. It wasn't in him to kill that way. But Parker was dead, and Doyle must have succumbed to some motivation stronger than his usual sense of justice.


And, again, Bodie understood. Killing Parker to avenge Bodie's assault was something Doyle could never have justified. Putting a mad dog down--one already accountable for several innocent deaths--now, that Ray could do. More than that, Bodie saw clearly for the first time that Doyle had been driven to this convoluted reasoning because of him. Rocked to the depths of his soul by this revelation, Bodie was beset with an unholy satisfaction. "I didn't realize," he said in a deep, contained voice. "Thanks, mate."

Doyle, who had not been privy to Bodie's thoughts, felt as though he had been slapped. He turned slowly, muscles knotted with the need to retain a semblance of self-possession. "Thanks? I murdered that perverted bastard, and you say 'thanks'?"

Not crediting the outburst overmuch, Bodie said evenly, "Know why you did it. Would've done the same."

"Yeah, well, you probably would have, but I've never wanted to kill before." Doyle spat the words out. "But that's not true, is it--I've just never given in to it before."

Bodie took a deep breath and then another. "Is that it, Doyle?" he asked tightly. "Or the fact that this time it was personal?"

Feeling raw, Doyle snapped, "Meaning what?"

Bodie's voice was low and savage. "If it'd been me, Ray, if I'd caught Parker doing that to you--" But the very thought was intolerable. "Killing him like you did would have been a kindness."

Doyle shivered. Bodie's words, delivered with stunning intensity, lifted the small hairs all over his body. And, perversely, the strength of his feelings, stated without embellishment, also took away the edge of Doyle's anger, and calmed him as sympathy and concern would never have done. "I don't regret what I did, Bodie," he said quietly. "I think that's what bothers me. And I'd do it again, God help me. In an instant. Just--well, you'll understand if I ruin your sleep yelling my head off, eh?"

The broad shoulders lifted in a shrug. "Always have before; don't see why I shouldn't now."

"Smug bastard."

Bodie beamed back at him, his smile as arrogant and self-assured as ever. To preserve that smile, Doyle realized, he would do almost anything.

Turning to conceal his own expression--which Doyle suspected gave away far too much--he began to fuss with the curtains, closing out the night and its icy mist. Then he returned to his own bed, and slid under the covers, suddenly greedy for warmth.

Bodie repositioned his pillow and hunkered down until he was comfortably cocooned once more. They had talked long enough for the relaxant to be weaving its chemical spell, gently guiding him back into the labyrinthine tunnels of sleep. He was slipping into darkness when Doyle spoke.



Doyle hesitated for so long that Bodie shifted his cheek on the pillow and forced his eyelids apart. Eyes devoid of all color stared back at him. Ridiculously, Bodie felt pinioned under that wide, purposeful gaze. "Yeah, Doyle?" he prompted.

There was a flicker of white as Doyle's teeth claimed his lower lip. But before Bodie's nascent sense of apprehension could overwhelm him, Doyle said, "About what you said before-- I know you don't want to talk about it, but just answer me one thing, will you?"

"What?" The single word was curt, unencouraging.

"Said you'd done it yourself. You...didn't mean rape, did you?"


Bodie expected more, despite Doyle's promise. A sigh was all he heard, and he could hear relief in it. He was compelled to ask, "Would it have bothered you so much?"

Doyle's covers rustled and shifted, possibly concealing a shrug. "Dunno. Kids do crazy things. But I expect if you had, I'd feel that I don't really know you."

"Are you so sure that you do?" Bodie asked.

"Most of the time. Like now. You don't want to talk about it because you think I might...hold it against you, be disappointed in you. But I already know about it, don't I? That much of it, anyway. And it doesn't make any difference, y'know?"

Drawing the bedclothes up to his nose, Bodie secured himself from Doyle's knowing gaze. "Yeah, okay, mate," Bodie whispered. Strangely enough, it would be easy to tell Doyle what he clearly wanted to know at this moment, to let the words flow out into the nightbound room. But what would be served by telling him the rest? Nothing, really, nothing at all. And yet--

"G'night, Bodie,"

The breath caught in Bodie's throat--he had been that close to speaking. He grunted a reply, heart beating hard and fast. Doyle didn't intend to push him on this--Bodie comprehended that much. And the moment had slipped past, never to be resummoned--or had it?

Feeling as though some terrible pressure were building inside him, Bodie rolled onto his back, eyes clenched tightly shut. Taking the night into himself, and shaping it into words, Bodie began: "Derek was a sniper, hired on for a one-shot--literally. And he was young, still in his teens--and very, very good looking. The night he arrived the dogs were in full cry. Meet some very friendly sorts in the bush, and they all wanted to be friendly with Derek in the worst way." Bodie hesitated, his mouth dry. Doyle had not made a sound, but Bodie could sense that he was listening. "But he was a smart lad, was Derek, for all that he was young, and he'd been around. He looked us over and made a shrewd guess he'd be safe with me. Why, I can't say. He came round and asked if we could double up for the night; made some excuse about needing to repair his kit. Just because I knew it would get up a lot of noses, I agreed." Bodie let his voice trail away. That much of it was easy. And, bloody hell, did Doyle give a damn anyway?

Surreptitious movement from the next bed indicated Doyle was definitely interested. Bodie turned his head just far enough to see his partner.

Doyle had rolled onto his side and was watching him with head propped up on the heel of his hand. He said nothing, waiting for Bodie to continue.

"Derek was okay. A quiet boy, knew his job, bit of an amoral little bastard. Turned out he was gay, too." Bodie chuckled very softly at the irony of it, remembering the way he had laughed at Derek's admission. "He offered himself to me in exchange for protection. By then I'd decided it was worth the satisfaction of bashing a few heads just to have him around. Told him I wasn't keen on it, and he didn't push."

Dark blue eyes turned toward the window, but saw another time and place. There the land was barren and inhospitable, lacking the cool, rain-laden scent of April in England. "We did the job and Derek decided to stay on. To avoid reprisal, we went deeper into the bush. We were out a long time, and by then it had been months since I'd had a woman. One night, Derek heard me--y'know--and offered his services again." Bodie's voice dropped a note. "I didn't refuse."

There was a long silence, during which Doyle began to wonder if he should say something, yet instinctively loathe to speak. Finally, Bodie said, "We took care of each other for nearly four months. He was good, was Derek. Until he bought what he sold. Sniper got him."

This time the silence stretched, bearing down on Bodie like some oppressive weight. Doyle had not spoken, had not moved since that single change in position. Bodie's eyes were heavy, and he wanted to sleep; but the long, wordless moment made him believe that he had made a horrible mistake. To hide his rankling disappointment, he stated roughly, "You wanted to know."

He didn't see the slight, accepting nod of Doyle's head, the panoply of emotions that fought for supremacy of the taut features. He didn't even know he was holding his breath until Doyle spoke.

"And what did you do for Derek?"

The question took him by surprise. Warily, Bodie said, "What d'you mean?"

"He let you fuck him," Doyle said, without inflection. "What'd you do for him?"

It was as if a monstrous fist had reached inside Bodie's chest and squeezed the life out of his heart. For a long while, he just lay there, counting the dying beats.

Doyle persevered. "Give him a wank, did you?"

"Doyle." He did not dare turn toward that smug face, knowing that he would want to destroy it if he did. The mistake he made was in assuming that Doyle found his tale amusing, when in fact, Doyle was coiled even tighter than he, and was aware, as Bodie was not, of how much hinged on Bodie's response.

Doyle said, "Well?"

That brought Bodie round, eyes blazing, as the eyes of an animal cornered by its enemy blaze--with fear, with fury, with hatred. "Sometimes," he said sneeringly. "Sometimes I sucked him. But what you really want to know is if I let him fuck me. Isn't it, Doyle?" He swallowed hard, so caught up in the agony of his own emotions that Doyle's frozen expression did not register. "Isn't it? Well, you got it in one, Doyle. I let a man fuck me, okay?"

With a violent heave, he showed Doyle his back, biting his lip viciously to still its traitorous tremble, willing the helpless sting behind his eyelids to subside before he shamed himself further. A cool hand between the shoulder blades was the last thing he expected. He flinched involuntarily, then jerked away in an effort to dislodge Doyle's touch.

"Sorry, Bodie," Doyle whispered. "But I had to know."

Rage poured into Bodie's veins. "You had to know. What is it, Doyle, are you worried about your back? D'you think I'll--"

"Don't." The hand pressed harder against him. "Don't." Doyle's voice broke harshly. He forced himself to speak very carefully. "Had to know, Bodie--because I don't think I could be a bottom man for the rest of my life. Not even for you, sunshine."

Too stunned to believe the evidence of his ears, Bodie jerked himself upright, and precipitously switched on the light. "What?"

Blinking up at him out of tortured eyes, Doyle said wryly, "You heard me. That is, of course, if you want me."

"If--" A hand moved forward, as if of its own volition, only to be called back at the last instant. "You can't mean that."

His face twisted against the light, Doyle disagreed. "I can. I do." He reached out and brought one finger down the side of Bodie's face.

Still incapable of assimilating what Doyle was offering, swamped with the astonishing totality of it, Bodie looked for traps. "Why now?" His eyes darkened, then widened. "Because of Parker?"

"No!" Doyle sat up straight and swung his legs over the edge of the bed, separated from Bodie by mere inches. "Sort of. Ah, damn-- I mean, if he hadn't raped you, you'd never have said what you did to get me off your back."


"And if you hadn't admitted to having done it with a bloke before, I never would have thought you might want to do it again. With me."

At that instant, Bodie's bewilderment was complete. "You're gay?" he asked weakly.

"Bi. Have been for years."

Impossibly, Bodie's eyes widened. "Since we--"

"No. Haven't had a fella since before joining the Met."

That produced a touchstone of normality amid Bodie's disjointed thoughts. "More than ten years." He tsked softly. "By-the-book Doyle. You love to make yourself crazy, don't you?" Licking unexpectedly dry lips, Bodie demanded, "Why offer now?"

It was Doyle's turn to lower his eyes, to fidget under an attentive gaze. "Because it wouldn't have been worth chucking my career for a one-night stand. Because I think you'd be worth the risk. Because--if you let this Derek bloke fuck you, you must've cared for him. And if you cared for him, then maybe you can care for me." He lifted his head and studied his partner. "Well, Bodie?" Doyle asked.

Hearing that quietly ragged voice, Bodie's chaotic thoughts fused into one distinct certainty. He repeated the motion he had abandoned before, thumb and forefinger going out to stroke against Doyle's cheeks, drawing closer until they measured the distance from one corner of his mouth to the other. "Dunno, Doyle. Soiled goods. Always thought I'd marry a virgin."

Half-mesmerized by that devouring scrutiny, Doyle said stupidly, "Who's talking marriage?"

Bodie smiled, cutting off the drowning man's lifeline with a single look. "You are. For the rest of your life, you said. Trying to wriggle out of it now, are you?"

Clinging to rational thought with little success, Doyle said, "Doesn't make much difference, if it's a virgin you want."

Bodie disentangled himself from the bedclothes and went to his knees in front of his partner. He curved his arms around the thin form, taking his time to savor the friction of warm skin beneath his hands. This was the first taste of a longed-for intimacy he had never hoped to realize, and he concentrated on it, on the freely granted reality of Ray Doyle, close held. Cushioned by Doyle's bare, smoothly furred chest, lulled by the reassuring cadence of Doyle's steadily beating heart beneath his ear, Bodie said calmly, "Love you, Ray. Guess that means I want you any way at all."

Making no effort to fight a sudden prickle of tears, Doyle bent forward until Bodie was surrounded, knowing with total insight that of all the moments they would come to share, this would remain best remembered of all, forever.

Bodie stirred, finally, and Doyle could tell that he was almost asleep on his knees. "C'mon, mate," he urged, and gave Bodie's arms a tug. He went willingly, crawling under the covers beside Doyle and going limp all along one side.

"Sorry, Ray," Bodie murmured. "Can hardly keep me eyes open."

"Shh," Doyle soothed. "'S all right. This is nice, too."

Bodie smiled; curving lips pressed against Doyle's collarbone. "Hm. Very."

The combined effects of the drug and the emotional release overcame even Bodie's considerable strength of will. Doyle held his soon slumbering partner with infinite care, taking in every detail of Bodie's presence. The scent of hair mingled with the soap and sweat odor of his body musk: Doyle inhaled it all, letting it linger in his nostrils until it was engraved in his brain cells. On the narrow bed they were mostly skin to skin, Bodie's arm heavy across Doyle's hips, one pajama-clad leg hooked over Doyle's thigh. Supple fingers roved over Bodie's shoulders and back, as far as they could reach, marking the flow of muscle and bone, and varying degrees of warmth.

At peace, Doyle felt himself dispersing into the nether regions of his own consciousness, his entire being defined by a sense of well-being that rivalled any he had ever known. In the end it had been very simple: Bodie loved him, and had found the words without difficulty--Bodie, his strong, aloof, take-no-relationship-seriously partner.

Perhaps, Doyle thought with painful irony, he should be grateful to that bastard, Parker. Without him, he and Bodie might never have reached this point. But the image of Bodie held helpless beneath the other man returned to him unbidden, sending fresh fury pounding into Doyle's head. Bodie had been hurt--Bodie who could fool the keenest mind into believing he never suffered as other men did, no matter the injury.

The thought was disquieting; Doyle moved uncomfortably as it took substance, sprouting other, equally unwelcome considerations, like a hydra. Was that why Bodie had been so quick to turn to him, to admit his feelings? Or was his need new-born, given life by Parker's brutality?

A prickly chin crept across Doyle's chest and soft lips parted to release a quiet sigh.

Distracted, Doyle canted his head to look down at Bodie's face, smooth and handsome, yet bearing the vestiges of strain beneath the heavily lashed eyes, even through the hazy veil of night. Maybe Doyle's fears were founded in fact. And if they were, what was he expected to do? He couldn't--wouldn't--give Bodie up, not now. He wanted Bodie; lying here with him warm and relaxed against him, helpless in the grip of sleep, Doyle could have taken him without hesitation--save that Bodie was not yet ready. And although Doyle was unaccustomed to holding himself at bay--especially where lust was involved--for Bodie, he could wait forever, if necessary.

But then, his feelings for Bodie encompassed much more than sex. Bodie had immediately seized on the slip Doyle had made, when he had stated that he could not be Bodie's bottom man for the rest of his life. The words had sprung from his heart, borne of an already fully formed commitment he had never expected to feel. No one would ever meet his needs the way Bodie could; no one would ever accept him as totally, nor love him as completely.

And, yes, he knew Bodie was ripe for the picking. If he took him now, vulnerable and hurting, was he any less cruel than Parker? Doyle would make their first time together good for Bodie; but the day might come when Bodie threw it back in his face--for, as in love as he was, Doyle knew himself and he knew Bodie, and their personalities would never be completely compatible. There would be fights, angry words--and they would make up, and love the anger and pain out of one another. But what if he was wrong, and Bodie was turning to him out of desperation? He might yet come to resent Doyle for taking advantage of him when he was weak, might even come to hate him, for Doyle doubted Bodie would ever be the one to walk out, and would endure an unhappy relationship before willingly hurting Doyle.

Racked, Doyle debated both sides, his only comfort the man who lay trusting and at peace in his arms. Hours passed and, exhausted, he finally yielded to his conscience. If what they had between them was more than a manifestation of protective concern on Doyle's part and an unvoiced desire for solace on Bodie's--and Doyle honestly believed that it was--they would win through.

But in the meantime, they would have to go slowly, take it one day at a time, and no more. Bodie wouldn't like that, might possibly take Doyle's hesitation as a kind of rejection. Or he might go to the other extreme and try to force them into irrevocable action. Doyle found the prospect of holding Bodie at arm's length more than daunting. But he must be prepared to fight for him, even if the opponent in this battle was Bodie himself.

Acting upon his decision, Doyle kissed Bodie very gently upon the forehead, reluctantly conceding that, if the devil's advocate's arguments were correct, it might be the last time he would ever do so. And then he crept away, cold through to his core as Bodie's warmth was lost to him, and returned to the other bed.

Rain was still in the air, the crisp, cleansing scent of it seeping through the folds of the heavy damask. A breeze rippled at the open window, through which the milky light of morning flickered in. Bodie turned his head toward it, inhaling the heady moistness that was redolent with blooming flowers, and smiled, waking with a sense of perfect contentment. He extended a hand, searching for the form that had given birth to this feeling, and encountered only empty mattress and tumbled covers. He lurched up onto his elbow, and surveyed the room. There was Doyle, in the next bed, curled on his side away from Bodie, tucked under the bedclothes up to his ears.

Banking down the tiny uncertainty that rose at sight of him, Bodie crept out of his own narrow bed and leaned over his partner. Careful fingertips edged the bed clothes down from Doyle's shoulders, then moved onto his smooth, wonderfully warm skin. He touched him lightly, not wanting to force Doyle into sudden awareness. But his heart was a heavy pulse in his throat as his palm navigated the contours of tight musculature, the pronounced ridge of spine, and the puckered traces of healing, where the flesh had been torn open by bullets.


Bodie took his hand away at once.

Doyle rocked onto his back, eyes faintly unfocussed. Bodie's expression came through despite his sleep-blurred vision; Doyle moved all the way over until he lay on his side.

"It was a dream," Bodie whispered.

Doyle shook his head in sharp negation. "No."

Bodie swallowed, his lips flattening to a thin line. "But you've changed your mind."

Again Doyle shook his head. "No. But we need to talk, Bodie."

"About what?" Just below the taut surface of fear lay anger. "We talked yesterday--last night. What do you want to talk about, Doyle?"

A nervous tongue tip slid out and flicked across Doyle's lips. "About you. About us. I was thinking last night--"

"You just have to go and ruin it, don't you, Ray? Have to make everything--"

"Listen to me." Doyle emphasized the command by reaching out and taking hold of Bodie's wrist, his fingers gripping it tightly. Half stretched out of the bed, bare to the waist, he was yet a presence to reckon with.

Bodie wanted to gather him against his chest, but was flayed by the certainty that he would be rebuffed if he tried.

The panic in Bodie's eyes was enough to galvanize Doyle into action, the resolve he had felt strongly in the early hours before dawn dissipating like wind-blown smoke before that terrible need. He struggled upright, taking both of Bodie's hands in his, giving his tousled head a shake to clear the clinging tendrils of sleep. "Just listen to me," he went on, his voice low and steady. "I realized after you went to sleep that I was being selfish about all this. That I was ignoring the fact that you've just been through a rotten experience, that you're still--how'd she put it?--'under the emotional cosh.' You are, Bodie, and I could take advantage of you right now, so easily."



"Who said that? Was she talking about me?"

Doyle's mouth came open as he floundered for words. "No. It was Gilpin's sister, she went on drugs after her mother died. Bodie, did you hear what I just said?"

Two hands were slowly working their way up Doyle's arms. "You think I don't know my own mind."

Something sheltered deep inside cracked at the disillusion in Bodie's voice. "No. Maybe." Doyle forced himself to meet blue eyes that were dark with misery. "It's just that I want you to be very sure that you understand what you're getting into. You said you love me last night. It's easy to say that when you want someone to love you back."

Bodie bent his head, staring down at Doyle's hands, resting now upon his knees. "You didn't say it."

Doyle moved closer until his forehead brushed against Bodie's. "Didn't I? Thought you must have guessed."

"Until I woke up. What are you really worried about, Ray?" Bodie's hands were on Doyle's shoulders now, fingers applying rhythmic pressure to the muscles that radiated from neck to trunk.

There was nothing for it but total honesty. "Losing this." Doyle pulled back against the massage, searching Bodie's eyes. "Having you find out that it wasn't what you really wanted. Losing you."

Wistfulness and reluctant understanding lent the handsome face a poignance that Doyle could hardly bear to witness. If Bodie demanded that he scrap every word spoken in the last few minutes, he would agree without argument. Instead, Bodie muttered, "So what do we do?"

Doyle smiled weakly. "Let you work this through. Go slow."

"And you'll tell me when I'm ready?"

"No." Doyle gritted his teeth, words hissed out like air escaping a puncture. "You'll tell me. And you'll be damn sure of what you're saying, because once you make that choice, mate, there won't be any going back, 'cause I don't intend to let you go."

In response to Doyle's fierce proclamation, Bodie simply nodded. "Okay, if that's how you want it." Almost off-handedly, he asked, "What if I said I was ready now?"

Doyle met the guileless blue eyes uneasily. "I'd want to thump the shit out of you later, if you were wrong."

Bodie considered this, hands easing around the sides of Doyle's neck, floating upward until they cupped stubbled cheeks in both palms. "I'm not as noble as you are, Doyle. It crossed my mind that, maybe, you were a little confused too--but I don't care. Told you: I want you any way I can get you. This way we'll both be sure." Inwardly gratified by Doyle's open-mouthed befuddlement, Bodie slid in beside him once more, and folded his arms around the bare-boned chest, nuzzling his face into sleep-warm curls and pulling an unresisting Doyle with him as he sank down into the mattress with a comfortable sigh.

After a moment, lulled almost to the point of somnolence by Bodie's gentle petting and all-encompassing hugs, Doyle said tartly, "Been called a first-rate bastard recently?"

"Not by my intended, no."

Doyle made a rude sound, drifting with the soothing touch. He was exhausted, having spent the remainder of the night brooding over their future--a future that Bodie unquestioningly accepted in its totality, risks and all. "First time for everything."

"Yeah," Bodie murmured, drawing the single word out until it became a husky whisper. "Looking forward to that, too."

"Easy, mate. Get your strength back, first." Doyle dragged himself up, chin digging sharply into Bodie's unprotected chest. "Take your medicine yet?"

"No, mum," Bodie said wearily. "Haven't had a chance, have I?"

Doyle turned his face, raking a hundred tiny, razor-sharp hairs across tender skin. Bodie snarled and caught Doyle's head between restraining hands. "All right, all right. Jesus, Doyle!" This outburst garnered no sympathy. Unrepentant, drowsy green eyes blinked up at him, and Bodie felt all the heat of anger disappear before a far greater one.

Doyle waited as Bodie's head moved closer, the anticipation knotted in his stomach making it difficult to breathe, much less think. At the last instant, Bodie abandoned his apparent intention and shoved Doyle down hard onto his chest. "Go back to sleep," he growled.

A little disconcerted, Doyle wondered if Bodie was one of those men who did not like to kiss other men. He would soon have to readjust his thinking, if that were the case, for Doyle ranked that particular activity quite high on his personal lists of to-dos. "Don't forget your pills," he said peevishly. "You can reach 'em from here, y'know."

"I won't forget."

Not completely arranged to his satisfaction, Doyle spent a moment sorting out limbs and trunk until his face was cradled in the hollow of Bodie's shoulder, his arms and legs possessively twined around his body. Bodie's expression was hidden from him, or he would have marvelled at the notable control his partner was bringing to bear.

Doyle's nearness was an exquisite torture. Having contemplated the prospect of being in precisely this situation more times than he could count, and now finding himself bound by freely given constraints, Bodie could only silently remark upon the cruelty of fate and its unkind treatment of men. Consoling himself with a gentle caress of Doyle's upper shoulders and back, he nevertheless envisioned how this particular scenario was supposed to conclude.

Despite the complaint of rapidly rousing flesh, Bodie ruthlessly put the brakes on his desire and concentrated on the uncomplicated pleasure of Doyle lying half on and half beside him, solid and real and no longer a dream, or a figure of fantasy. Those beguiling lips had nearly lured him to his doom, for he could never have honored their agreement had he kissed him under these circumstances. Bodie's arms tightened and Doyle pressed closer, the pattern of his respiration signalling sleep, his move reflexive.

But Bodie had agreed, and he would respect Doyle's wishes. Doyle's concerns could not be dismissed out of hand--by Doyle anyway; and Bodie well knew how single-minded his partner could be. But this way there would be never be a question of their real feelings for one another. It was how Doyle needed it, everything neatly secured, done up right and proper. And Bodie could live with that. If the anticipation--all the more intense for being held at bay--lent a filip of excitement to their courtship, all well and good. In fact, Bodie viewed this stage in their relationship as the equivalent of an engagement period, the announcing of bans. And like two virgins of old, they would contain their passions until the wedding. But the wedding would not be long in coming--Bodie would see to that. He would play the game--and if he played it right, it would be Doyle who was driven to consummate their vows.

It was just before noon when Bodie rousted Doyle out of bed. He was necessarily abrupt and scrupulous about maintaining his distance. Doyle, still sprawled across the mattress, clad only in the slip of nylon that betokened modesty, was entirely too tempting, and Bodie knew that far better men than he would have readily succumbed.

"C'mon, Doyle, shift your bum, I'm hungry."

Faintly frowning green eyes struggled open, yielding for long seconds at a time to the sweet haven of darkness.


"What you on about, Bodie?" he grumbled. "We're on holiday. Don't need to get up."

Doyle's eyes shot apart as a heavy form dropped onto the bed beside his head. He was lifted bodily into a tight clasp, oofing involuntarily as all the air was compressed out of his lungs.

"You do, if you're on holiday with me," Bodie countered. "I've had it with this room, mate. If I don't get out of here, you're going to have to scrape me off the bloody walls."

Doyle subsided familiarly into Bodie's arms. "Uh huh." He inhaled with slow pleasure; Bodie smelled clean and fresh.


The note of warning should have cut through the cottony wisps of indolence, but Doyle was floating too peacefully to worry about Bodie's mood. Only when he was yanked up and thrust unceremoniously--and painfully--onto Bodie's shoulder did he realize his error--and by then it was too late.

"Bodie, don't!" Doyle gasped, divining his partner's intention immediately. "I'm awake, you sod, don't--" Five great strides later, he was brought down onto his own feet, forced to cling to Bodie for support as his abductor straightened beside him. They were in the bathroom, which was small for one person, and very small for two. Doyle looked into dark blue eyes that were brilliant with suppressed amusement. "Rotten--" But the remainder of the epithet was rendered incomprehensible by the pressure of Bodie's mouth brought with precision and purpose onto his. Doyle's existence shrank to the impressions that swept through his mind: the silken soft feel of Bodie's lips, the tantalizing hint of tongue lurking behind barely separated teeth, the taste of breath and moist mouth. Doyle was reeling when Bodie stood back, desire sparking along his nerve endings like electricity through high tension wires. Bodie took two more steps away, holding out his hand to still Doyle's forward motion.

"I'll be waiting for you downstairs, just outside the dining room. Ten minutes." He pivoted on heel and was gone, leaving Doyle to stare dumbly at the closed door.

"You pluperfect bastard," Doyle breathed. Seldom, if ever, had he been brought to such a state with so little provocation. He ran the tip of his tongue over still sensitive lips, savoring the vestiges of the signature taste that was already mingling with his own. He did not need to glance down at his no longer adequate briefs to recognize that Bodie had brought him to full arousal in less than seconds. Smiling to himself and shaking his head, he peeled off his beleaguered pants and stepped into the shower. He let out a muted shout of sheer joy. "You bastard!"

Bodie was lounging against the wall facing the foyer to the dining room when Doyle appeared at the foot of the stairs, ten and a half minutes later. The dark head lifted at sight of him, and appreciative blue eyes swept from Doyle's head to foot appraisingly. A knowing quirk tugged at one corner of Bodie's mouth as he took in the oversized trousers and shirt. They gave the lean frame an air of Continental insouciance, dark corduroy belted tightly at the waist, the top three buttons of Bodie's red shirt undone so that a tasteful "V" of dark pelt showed through. Bodie's eyes told him he was cheating and Doyle answered with a fey grin. A passing couple restored them to their surroundings; they sobered at once. It was their first intimation of the subterfuge that their lives were to become. Yet neither was overly concerned and merely exchanged rueful smiles before proceeding to the entryway.

Lunch was a deceptively placid affair, their entirely appropriate behaviour masking an undercurrent of wicked indulgence. They were intoxicated with love and freedom. Doyle's eyes were completely clear of shadows for the first time in days and Bodie evinced no stigma of the ordeal he had suffered. Gazing at his straight-faced, but gleaming-eyed partner, Doyle knew they would come out of this all right--and if Bodie had his way, by all appearances, sooner than later.

Part of the reason for Bodie's resurgence of spirits was easily deduced. "You didn't take your medicine, did you?" Doyle stated.

"Not true, mate. Took the important stuff, anyway. Don't need the pain killers anymore."

"Everything working again?"

Bodie gave a theatrical shudder. "Never stopped, did it? But, Christ, Doyle, that mineral oil works a treat. If they don't have a proper sewage system, they'll be wondering where the oil slick came from."

Doyle covered his mouth to muffle a snort of laughter. "Idiot." He made no effort to conceal his respect, liberally mixed with tenderness. "It doesn't seem to bother you, Bodie, what happened. Don't think I could handle it as well. Would have made me feel...sick."

"Did a bit," Bodie admitted, eyes cast down, overtly studying the pattern in the tablecloth. "But I told you, Doyle, it happened before."

"Rape?" The word was barely a whisper.

Bodie nodded. "Fresh on the boat, still a lad, not that stupid, but a kid all the same. The first mate took an interest in me." He shrugged. "Thought he liked me--but not that way. Got me drunk one night and by the time I twigged to what he was doing, it was too late. Tried to kill him, all the while I was chundering my head off. The radioman--a nasty old geyser I'd avoided like plague--dragged me off him. Took me to his cabin and cleaned me up." Bodie's head, bent over his cup, moved in remembered wonderment.

"Gentle as a new mother, he was, even while he singed me ears with the most blood-curdling threats you ever heard, to make me lie still. It didn't matter that I'd been buggered, he told me, and it didn't make me any less a man. What did matter was that I'd been hurt. The damage done to my body could kill me, if it went septic; the damage done to my pride could only do as much harm as I let it." Hearing the words again, and recalling his own callow reaction to them, Bodie grinned. "Pretty stupid, huh?" He raised his lashes, expecting pity or horror, pained empathy at the very least.

But Doyle was chalking up silent thanks to the radioman who had shown Bodie kindness when it was needed most. "Don't know why we always say that about the things that are true," he commented softly. "Doubt that I would've had the brains to accept it at that age, meself."

Bodie's smile lost its edge. "Didn't. Wasn't till it happened again that I realized the important thing was surviving. Not very different from being shot or cut, after all. Pain's pain--hurts like hell and you could murder the bastard that does it to you. But Parker's dead. Makes a difference."

Doyle accepted this without reaction, apparently in control of the demons bequeathed to him by the dead man. But Bodie knew that he would have to watch his partner on that. Given a proper opportunity to brood, every Doyle instinct for self-condemnation would come to the fore; Bodie intended to be ready when--if--it did.

Doyle wiped his mouth and laid the napkin on the table. "What happened to the radioman?"

"Dunno. Jumped ship and never saw him again."

"And the mate?"

Feral satisfaction gave Bodie's features an unpleasant cast. "By the time we reached port, he wasn't quite the man he'd once been."

Expecting censure, he was surprised to see Doyle's mouth lift into a tight smile. "Good," he said equably. "Saves me hunting the bastard down and cutting off his goolies."

Bodie clucked reprovingly. "And you a public servant. What's the world coming to?"

"Sometimes I wonder," Doyle said, with perfect honesty.

Following their long, companionable lunch, they made for the car, Doyle tossing Bodie the keys to the Capri without a word. They roamed round the countryside, exploring narrow lanes hedged by tall grass, brambles and the odd tree. Eventually they ended up in Fishbourne proper again. As Bodie guided the vehicle into the car park outside the low, nondescript structure that housed the remains of the Roman palace, Doyle gave a hoot of laughter.

"Couldn't resist, eh?"

Bodie smiled back at him. "Have to pick up a souvenir for the Cow."

"What, one of those tatty pens that has FISHBOURNE printed on the side?"

"Why not? Show him we care."

"Oh, we care all right. Would've cared even more if he'd given us two weeks, instead of ten days."

"So we'll give him a little pen. You been here before?"

"Last spring. Debbie, remember? She was 'studying things Roman.' Made a day of it. We even spent a few minutes here."

Bodie gave him a prim look. "Then you're in for a proper viewing, old son." As they strolled up the sidewalk that ran along the front of the building, Bodie frowned, "Don't recall you seeing a classicist."

"She wasn't," Doyle said wryly. "Told you what she was interested in. Expect she thought there'd be a lot of nude statues, that sort of thing. She was pretty disappointed, until I got her back to the inn."

"And showed her a different sort of nude. Yeah, I get the picture, Doyle."

Auburn curls flew into the air as Doyle's head came sharply round. His partner glanced sidelong at him, then turned away. Doyle's heart beat a little faster as he registered what had just occurred between them. So much? he thought. Bodie had said nothing, really, but the tone of his voice, just a shade off its usual jaded flippancy was enough to signal storm warnings to Doyle.

Just then they came to the glass front doors. Doyle grabbed the handle and ushered his partner inside, stepping in neatly behind him, his left hand executing a deft grope of one hard-muscled buttock before the two men reached the admission kiosk. He heard Bodie's quick gasp and moved past him, drawing out his wallet, hoping to shield him from any chance observers. "Two, please," he told the white haired gentleman who greeted them with a smile--and an odd look for his partner.

A little tentatively, eyes roving from Bodie to Doyle, the man said, "The audio-visual presentation will be starting in about fifteen minutes, if you'd like to attend. It's just round the corner there to the right." He handed Doyle his change and nodded the way.

Doyle thanked him and joined his partner, who had entered the foyer, ostensibly to admire the model reproduction of the original palace. Without a shadow of expression, Bodie said under his breath, "Do that again, Doyle, and you'll be eating a slice of knuckle pie."

Doyle bent nearer, as if concentrating on some aspect of the display. "You can do it back to me, if you like," he said contritely. "I deserve it."

"Bastard," Bodie growled, but his face lit with unwilling humor. "C'mon, let's go out on the grounds."

With his partner following docilely, Bodie strode purposefully to the exit which led to the gardens. It began to rain lightly as they walked away from the building; neither man seemed to notice. Hands pressed deeply into his black leather jacket, Bodie risked a glance at his too-quiet partner. Doyle met the look with an enquiring lift of brows.

"Gonna have to split up, Doyle," Bodie announced casually.

Wary green eyes shot his way. "What d'you mean?"

"Just that. Never be able to think objectively with you around, y'know. How am I expected to know my own mind with you distracting me all the time?"

Thin shoulders rose and fell under the white jacket. "You're right; I shouldn't have done that."

Bodie's head slowly came round; he fastened disbelieving eyes on his chastened partner. "Are you serious?"

"Of course. Can't name the game and then try to change the rules." A slow flush started at Doyle's throat and coursed upward until it disappeared into his hairline. "Was trying to distract you. Debbie really bothered you, didn't she?"

Bodie gave a tiny laugh. "Not Debbie, mate."

"What, then?"

They had reached the eastern end of the pathway; as one, they turned north and continued their stroll. "'S not important, Doyle."

"Spill it, Bodie."

The black leather jacket creaked as Bodie hunkered into it; the wind was like the edge of a knife this far from the building, and the rain frigid. "It made me think of the ones before me--the other blokes." Bodie chanced a sidelong look at his partner; Doyle met it and gave him a comprehending smile.

"Tell you the lot, if you want."


Sensitive to Bodie's tangled emotions--he wanted to know, and yet he didn't--Doyle set out to make it brief. "First one was a friend in art school. Went into the wilds roughing it for a weekend. One thing led to another and I came home Sunday night with a new outlook on life--and myself. Numbers two through five were all one-nighters. The sixth and last one was a lad I met in a pub. He had got in with a bad crowd." Doyle sighed. "But he appealed to my crusading instincts--and, yeah, a few basic ones, as well. I tried to get him away from his mates, but they weren't ready to let go. One night they came after us. I got my face reshaped, and Brandon never came out of the coma."

"That was over ten years ago, Doyle. How've you managed--"

"To do without?" Green eyes raked speculatively over Bodie's face. "How've you?"

The flaps of Bodie's jacket came open as he spread his hands wide. "But I wasn't--" He hesitated, afraid that his next words would be misinterpreted.

It was too late. Doyle said flatly, "Gay?"

"You said you're bi; you like men. I...only ever had Derek. He was all right, but if I'd had the choice, he wouldn't have been it." Bodie's face contorted with frustration; he was putting this all wrong. "Until you came along, Ray, I could appreciate another fella as being attractive, okay; but women had all the equipment I needed." Bodie stopped and faced his partner. "You stood me on me head, mate, when I realized that I wanted to do with you the things I'd done with Derek. And all the things I hadn't done with Derek."

Doyle said lightly, "Yeah, well don't go looking to my vast background, Bodie. Didn't really have that much experience before I gave it up."

This, apparently, was what Bodie had hoped to hear. "So we'll learn together. You've got a good imagination, Doyle; you'll find a way to hold my attention."

"And a few other things. Hurry up, you lazy sod, or we'll miss the show."

They dutifully sat through the audio-visual presentation on the history of the Roman palace at Fishbourne, neither one paying as much attention to the film as each other. Sitting side by side in the dark amid a widely scattered crowd, they were allowed a latitude they wouldn't otherwise have enjoyed. Doyle was a little taken aback when a large, square-cut hand wended its way across his knee and surrounded the fingers of one hand. His first instinct was to shake it off, but a quick survey of their situation revealed that no one would notice and, consequently, no harm would be done. Nevertheless, all propriety was in full observance when the lights came up at the end of the short, instructional program. They filed out amongst the rest of the viewers and began to amble through the displays.

Eventually, having seen everything, they came to idle beside the railing that overlooked the remains of one of the palace's former inhabitants. Ensconced where it had been found in its shallow grave, the skeleton gave mute testimony to the ephemeral nature of mankind.

"That's me, mate," Bodie muttered, "if we don't get something to eat soon."

Doyle rolled hopeless eyes towards the ceiling. "Just ate a few hours ago, Bodie. Can't be that hungry already."

His partner conjured up a passable leer, sensibly hidden from stray eyes. "Must be feeling better, then."

Before Doyle could respond, an elderly couple came up behind them and stopped to share their view. The man and woman were speaking softly, but their accents were clearly audible: American tourists, taking in the sights.

"Poor guy," the man said feelingly. "Make sure you've got plenty of matches handy when I go. Don't want anyone digging my tired old bones up two thousand years from now."

The woman laughed, a low, earthy chuckle, that caught both agent's ears. "Don't worry, we've got bags and bags of charcoal ready and waiting."

An arm snaked around her well-rounded shoulders and squeezed. "Thanks, hon. Always knew I could count on you."

Doyle slanted twinkling eyes across at his partner. As he suspected, Bodie was completely sober-faced, only the minute tremor of his lower lip giving away his amusement.

"This is fantastic," the woman sighed. "There's nothing so old and beautiful like this at home. Imagine being able to see it anytime you like."

The arm tightened again. "Sure there is," he pointed out warmly. "Your grandkids come to see you all the time."

"Thanks a heap. Rat. You know what I mean." But her words held a wealth of humor and affection. She leaned against her husband as they walked away, their voices fading as they navigated the elevated ramps to the next display, fingers linked.

When they no longer risked being overhead, Bodie cast a raised brow at his partner. "That's you and me in twenty years, mate."

Doyle snorted impolitely. "They've been married for ages, Bodie. We won't live anywhere near that long, twenty years."

Bodie wagged his head. "We've already been together eight years--"

"Seven years, eleven months, and...ah...seventeen days--including leap years."

"--what you said. And with you and me together, nothing can touch us."

A somber silence came over Doyle and he raised still, luminous eyes to his partner's face. "Yeah, it can, Bodie, it's inev--"


"After all, we have got to tell Cowley sometime."

Derailed by the unexpected turn in the conversation, Bodie gawped. "You gonna do the telling?"

Doyle leaned back against the railing, forearms hanging limply in front of him.

"It'll have to be done someday."

"He may want us to resign."



Doyle regarded Bodie queryingly. "And what?"

"You don't mind?"

"Do you?"

Bodie's breath came out in a ragged rush. "I asked first."

Thin shoulders rolled in an elaborate shrug. "'Course I do. It's not the best of jobs, but it's important, and we're good at it." He frowned as he sought the necessary words. "But we can't go on indefinitely, either. Reflexes are already slowing down."

"Great, Doyle, I'll be sure to remember that in our next fire fight." He grunted as a sharp elbow made a painful foray into his ribs.

"You know what I mean, Bodie. It'll happen sooner or later, one way or another." He attacked again as Bodie snickered at this coupling of banal profundities. When that elicited an inelegant wriggle of evasion, Doyle said with complete sincerity, "But I'll go like a shot, if that's what Cowley wants."

Bodie straightened up, adjusting the smooth line of his shirt front. "Yeah. Me, too." He added dolefully, "And I hope, someday, you'll give me a good reason for abandoning such a salubrious occupation."

Doyle's elbow flashed again, but his target neatly sidestepped the attempted blow. "Berk," Doyle said without heat. "C'mon, Bodie, I'll buy you a cuppa and some bikkies, if you're nice."

"'M always nice, Doyle."

They spent a half hour in the adjoining refreshment area, sharing a packet of shortbread while they sipped their tea. The weather was clearing a little when they finally returned to the car park, minutes before closing time.

Silence lay easily between them as Bodie drove the Capri back toward the inn. And yet, throughout the minutes-long journey, he was plagued by the feeling that time was wearing thin for them. He could not say precisely what had gone wrong, nor what must be done to fix it. The slip he had made in the gardens figured fairly largely, even though Doyle had not seemed unduly disturbed at the time. But Bodie understood him, and suspected that if Doyle were given time to dwell upon it, he would decide that Bodie would be better off not expanding his homosexual experience.

If there had been any doubts in Bodie's mind--there hadn't, and there weren't--he could still say with all assurance that he knew what he wanted with Doyle; that the sex was important, but the honest caring and commitment they shared of equal, and probably greater, worth. He was clear now of the only drug that might have dulled his wits--and the ugly memory of Parker's assault retreated with each passing hour. He knew that; it was Doyle who required convincing, and the longer they put off consummating their relationship, the more likely they would meet with greater and more overwhelming obstacles to support Doyle's embryonic doubts.

So, it had to be tonight. And somehow, Doyle had to be the one to bring the issue to a head.

The sky had lightened considerably by the time they reached the inn. Bodie locked the car and followed Doyle up the front steps, happily enjoying the view thus presented to him. A slow current of arousal slithered through his abdomen, reinforcing his sense of purpose. He only wished he had a way to focus Doyle's feelings, to channel them so that he could see past the roadblocks that existed only in his mind.

In the end it was easier than he imagined.

They were given a table at the back of the restaurant, having a clear field as there were few other diners to restrict their choice so early in the evening.

Apparently apropos of nothing, Doyle commented, "Interesting, watching tourists."


"Like today. The American couple. Yanks show up everywhere. But you have a definite trend in other places."

Offering only token participation, his thoughts decidedly elsewhere, Bodie prompted, "For example?"

"The Victory. Lot of Frenchies there. And at the War Museum--hordes of Germans. Why, do you suppose?" Doyle finished whimsically.

"Maybe they're trying to figure out where they went wrong?" Bodie suggested.

Doyle was about to protest this when their waitress appeared, and they both took note. She was young and very attractive, blonde with long, flowing hair. She stopped before them and smiled sweetly, her blue eyes rich with interest. "What'll you gentlemen be having?" she asked, her voice clear and melodious.

Doyle gave her a friendly grin, and pointed at the omelette listed on the menu placard. "With cheese, please. And toast."

"It only comes with chips in the evening. Will that be all right?"

Doyle gave in gamely. "Yeah, my friend'll take care of 'em for me."

"And you?" She turned to Bodie and fairly tumbled into his eyes. Her youth betrayed her, and he took pity, gifting her with a warm, indulgent smile, casually conscious of the power he wielded.

"Cheese sandwich, please. And a tea."

She drew away from the hypnotic gaze with reluctance, remembering herself as she did so. "Something to drink for you, sir?" she asked Doyle, who had studiously ignored the exchange.

"Same for me, thanks."

With a last, charmed glance at Bodie, she left them, unselfconsciously exaggerating the sway of her hips. Dark blue eyes followed her progress, unthinkingly comparing her attractions to those of the man beside him. Doyle made an abrupt motion with his hand, and Bodie snapped out of his revery. The intensity he found in the green eyes startled him.

"What is it?" he asked, swinging a look back behind him, searching for the source of Doyle's unusual gesture.

But Doyle denied a purpose. "Just hungry."

"Oh." Bodie's brows flickered. "What were we talking about?"

"Doesn't matter," Doyle mumbled. He fidgeted with his fork. "I think, maybe, we should head back tomorrow, Bodie."

Here it comes. Bodie had no intention of pandering to him, however, and said stiffly, "Why?"

"You were right, what you said earlier, y'know. About me distracting you. Goes both ways. Not fair to either of us."

Giving away none of the fear fluttering deep inside him, Bodie said evenly, "Okay."

A swift capitulation was not what Doyle had anticipated. His eyes widened and he regarded Bodie with something akin to numb shock. "Okay," he echoed, and stared down at the empty table in front of him.

It took all Bodie's strength not to grab Doyle by the hand and drag him up the stairs. Furious that his partner could suffer such depths of uncertainty, he wondered what could possibly have triggered this sudden attack. It came to him upon the thought, a perfect vision of youth and beauty, and himself, paying what Doyle probably viewed as far too much attention.

All right, you bastard, he thought fiercely. This is it, we play it to the end.

They sat in stiff silence, enduring a brief interruption when their teas appeared. The girl was every bit as ingratiating as she had been before, and Bodie played her ruthlessly, aware as he had not been before, of the stricken audience seated next to him. He outdid himself for charm and wit; the bewitched object of his performance departed with the soles of her feet several inches above the floor.

Bewildered and hurt, Doyle kept his own council, cynically congratulating himself on his earlier intuition. He'd only been testing the water when he'd pushed Bodie about going back, his partner's instinctive responsiveness to the girl's flirting setting him off balance more than it should have done. But Bodie's brusque agreement to his suggestion had stung like acid, searing him to the essence of his being.

Their meal arrived, along with another unbearable interchange of mutual admiration. Doyle stared down at his plate without a twinge of appetite. Was Bodie aware of what had happened? Could he have changed his mind so quickly?

Doyle wanted to shake himself, to throw off the sourness of insecurity. Glances at Bodie's profile revealed a cold aloofness that had been totally absent the last few days. It wasn't something Bodie employed often, but when he did, Doyle always felt as though he had been consigned to the rubbish heap. He was there now, unwanted and unloved, and achingly afraid.

A minute later, the arrival of a family of three precipitated the return of their waitress, who allowed herself a quick smile in Bodie's direction before applying herself to her job.

Bodie turned toward Doyle and with a nod of the head that indicated the girl, said, "Not bad, eh?"

Doyle chewed his bottom lip. "Very nice," he agreed. Dark lashes drifted downward until his eyes were impenetrable. Summoning his strength from seemingly nowhere, Doyle said without reproach, "So--go ahead, Bodie." He raised his head, essaying a fair imitation of good-natured understanding. "Get it out of your system, mate."

Bodie refused to applaud the magnitude of Doyle's self-sacrifice. Keeping a sudden surge of panic well under control, and tautly aware that he could bugger the works with one ill-placed word, he said calmly, "'Get it out of my system.' You mean--sex?"

Doyle's jaws tightened. "Obviously."

The dark head bent forward, then tilted to one side so blue eyes could regard Doyle measuringly. "Now?"

This time Doyle did not even attempt speech, his knuckles white where they curled around the handle of his cup. At that instant, the sweet-faced blonde stopped beside their table.

"Is there anything else I can get for you?" she asked.

Bodie bit back his frustration; it wasn't her fault, and he had been less than honest with her. "Nothing, love. My friend here is picking up the tab. I've got to use the phone."

Without a backward look, he pushed away from the table and strode from the room, feeling the combined weight of two very different pairs of eyes heavy between his shoulder blades.

By the time Doyle appeared, bristling for a fight, Bodie was at the foot of the stairs beside the public phone, arms folded placidly across his chest.

He forestalled Doyle's flash-point temper by clamping a hold on one tense arm and wheeling him onto the first step, a hand planted firmly in the small of his back to keep him moving. "You're right," he informed him, lips inches away from Doyle's ear. "It's now."

"Fuck off, Bodie." Doyle jerked free. "Just tell me what you're playing at."

"We'd be better off having this conversation in our room," Bodie proposed sensibly, stepping a little to one side as two school girls and their mother passed between them, curious expressions turned their way. "Otherwise you might get me arrested."

Green eyes spat at him. "For what?"

"I intend shortly to engage in certain practices which are considered illegal when committed in public." Honeyed persuasion warred with undisguised entreaty for command of Bodie's voice. "I can think of a far better way to spend the remainder of our leave time, Doyle, than standing here on the stairs, arguing. Can't you?"

There was no period of transition; Doyle went from icy rage to helpless supplication in the blink of an eye. "I don't think I can handle this, mate." The tremor in the husky voice was genuine; it filled Bodie with equal parts aggravation and ungoverned tenderness.

He managed to be gently reassuring. "Sure you can, Ray. You've seen it before, it'll fit into your hand, easy." At the faintly apoplectic expression that contorted Doyle's face, Bodie added urgently, "Please, Ray. Don't ruin everything. I want this. Please?"

Glacial green seas slowly grew more temperate, still choppy with warning and treacherous enough for Bodie to fear drowning. "Finish your call?" Doyle asked shortly.


"Said you had to use the phone. Did you get your call through?"

Bodie swallowed, so giddy with the effort it took not to engulf the suddenly compliant Doyle in his arms that little was of comparable importance. "Yeah."

"Okay." Having made up his mind, for better or worse, Doyle was seized by the need to move. With a long, slanted glance at his partner, he began to climb the stairs, long legs mounting the steps two at a time.

He was already in the room when Bodie came up behind him. Doyle stood facing the window, arms loose at his sides.

With a quick twist, the security bolt was set, and Bodie took an unsteady step forward. He had wanted this for so long that now the moment was upon him, he didn't know if he could do it justice.

"Come on, Bodie."

The rough-voiced invitation made Bodie shiver. He reached out and curved his arms around Doyle's unresisting body, turning his face into the heat and softness of the sensitive skin behind Doyle's right ear. He blew into the ear lightly, inordinately pleased by the palpable response that travelled through the lean, tightly muscled form.

Breath left Doyle's lungs on an extended sigh; he curved back into his partner's nearness. So many sensations were generated by this close contact, and the most important of all was the delicious relief--no more constraints, no more internal warfare, no more doubts. Doyle readily complied when Bodie turned him round, the finger under his chin lifting his head so Bodie could look straight into his eyes.

And Doyle could see into Bodie's.

Other people had looked at him with such open desire, the color of their irises overtaken by lightless pupils hungry for visual input. But none of those eyes had ever been Bodie's, midnight blue blending into black, so full of wanting and love that Doyle was set aflame with a mere gaze. One of Bodie's hands came up, and fingers that were betrayingly unsteady stroked Doyle's jaw and cheek. Doyle let quivering lashes fall downward, concentrating on the magical sensations created by Bodie's hand, so big and capable, a killing instrument when wielding a gun, but an artisan of exquisite intuition when executing a caress.

"Doyle..." Bodie's left hand came up to cup the other side of Doyle's face.

Held gently, Doyle stood waiting as Bodie's mouth came down, sensing the barest hint of warmth and moisture as a tentative touch fell on his parted lips and was gone. Doyle cocked his head upward, encouraging more, and Bodie bent to meet him, going slowly to absorb every nuance of Doyle's distinctive taste. They fed lightly on one another, neither deepening the kiss, needing only this initial contact to satisfy the infant stirrings in their blood.

A moment later they broke apart, lungs working to overcome the absence of air. Doyle's hands trailed unhurriedly around Bodie's body, starting at his waist and meeting at the small of his back. Bodie arched slightly away from the kneading fingertips, relaxing again as they continued upward.

Doyle's hands were spread wide like a butterfly's wings, bypassing the fully flexed strap that secured the holster to Bodie's chest, recording the trivial bits of information that differentiated Bodie from all the others he had touched before.

"Nice," Bodie murmured, his voice rich with immense satisfaction.


"This," he explained, knuckles brushing against Doyle's cheek. "Touching you. Holding you." He bent slightly forward and kissed the full lips that welcomed him without demur. "Kissing you." He tickled Doyle with the movement of his mouth, finding that the pronouncement of the final word led nicely to the realization of that very activity.

Doyle was a little surprised by this luxurious, unhurried foreplay. He had seen his partner in action with women and well knew that Bodie usually tended to the more straightforward, get-down-to-business approach. But somehow Bodie must have sensed that Doyle needed this, maybe even wanted it himself. They were still a little fragile, both of them, and these earliest moments would lay the groundwork for whatever they managed to build between them later. "Rotten bastard," Doyle said, the lovingly uttered words turning the pejorative into an endearment. "Had me worried downstairs, y'know."

Bodie pulled him closer, suppressing a shiver at a current of humid breath against his ear. "Why'd you do that, Doyle?" he groused. "Told you how I feel. Thought you trusted me, mate."

"'Course I do," Doyle defended himself, his chin rasping against Bodie's jaw. "But I saw the way you looked at her, just your type and all. You've only ever been with one bloke, Bodie. Said it yourself, birds have--"

"Know what I said." Bodie tightened his arms, burying his face deeper in dark auburn hair that smelt of rain and and sea-salt and Ray Doyle. "And you were looking, too; saw you." Irony hardened his chuckle. "I was comparing her bum to yours--yours won, no contest--and there you were thinking I wanted to bonk her, after pouring my stupid heart out to you."

"Not stupid, Bodie, never that," Doyle said intensely. "It's just--I don't want this to go wrong, y'know?"

Bodie understood exactly what Doyle meant. Neither of them had ever developed a solid, long-term relationship with a woman. Since Bodie had determined years ago that marital bliss was the stuff of fiction, he had wilfully avoided the possibility of it, making it very clear to any female who chose to spend a few hours with him that nothing more than a good time would ever come of it. Doyle, on the hand, literally craved a solid commitment, wanted it with his whole heart and soul. In their business, it was a fantasy that would eventually acquire the tarnish of reality, either necessitating the whole process of ending a bad situation and starting over again or, as in Bodie's case, foregoing the futile exercise altogether.

So why was he ready to dump his convictions for this wild-haired, green-eyed madman who could exasperate him to the point of near-violence with a few well chosen words--and in fact made a habit of doing so with remarkable frequency for the sheer deviltry of it?

Simple enough, really: He loved Ray Doyle, had loved him forever, it seemed. And the root of this new undertaking was their friendship, something far more tangible and capable of withstanding the shocks of living than mere love.

He drew his head back until only their temples were pressed together. "No guarantees in this life, Ray. Don't know what'll happen to us, or how we'll feel about each other in five years. But I do know this: It kills me to see you hurt, and I don't ever want to be the cause of it. Love you, mate."

Doyle shifted forward, his body leaning against Bodie's with total trust and acquiescence. "Make love to me, then," he said thickly. "Now, Bodie."

The vibrant whisper was enough to send a tide of lust crashing through Bodie's body. He gently kissed a path down the side of Doyle's face, taking a long time to learn the precise feel and taste of his right ear lobe, descending with maddening patience to the pulse that beat at the base of his throat. Doyle was pliant to his touch, moaning softly at the delicate web of pleasure being woven around him.

Bodie's fingers were impressively deft, unbuttoning Doyle's shirt with nimble movements, hands fluidly coursing beneath the folds of material to bare his darkly-downed torso. He urged Doyle onto the bed beside the window.

Doyle lay back, highly conscious of the cool fabric beneath him in contrast to the heat of Bodie's presence crouched over him. He watched through slitted eyes as his trousers were efficiently removed; in a moment he was unencumbered and Bodie's hands were on him again, curving around the pronounced balls of his shoulders, sweeping down the length of his arms to briefly tangle with his own seeking fingers, and back up to rake through the fine hair on his chest. Doyle sighed, speaking in soft gasps, directing Bodie's explorations without reserve.

At last Bodie drew away, just long enough to divest himself of his own clothing. Then he was taken into Doyle's arms and it seemed perfectly natural that Doyle should move his thighs apart so Bodie could lie between them.

With Doyle's head trapped between his hands, Bodie kissed him, defining the outline of the full mouth with a warm, slick tongue. The lips fell apart, and Bodie searched inside, his pulse racing as he cherished the cool tongue that greeted him, examining the smooth surface of teeth, the sharp edge of one chipped tooth.

Doyle began to writhe, forced to move or go mad, pressing his hips upward to create the friction his body now demanded, goading Bodie to move in kind. Their bodies assumed a wonderful symmetry of purpose. Breath mingled, mouths clung together, hands stroked with feverish intention.

Their first night had only begun.

Heavy folds of damask rustled at the window, refusing entry to an inquisitive breeze. The room had darkened with the encroachment of night. Amidst the shadows, Ray Doyle lay cuddled close to Bodie's chest, patiently undergoing his partner's delicate inspection of a newly sensitized portion of his anatomy. A large dollop of antibiotic cream was employed before Doyle was allowed to rest unprodded.

"Love you so much, Ray."

"I noticed." Doyle drowsily turned his cheek against Bodie's shoulder. "Thanks, mate." His tongue was as limp as the rest of him and the words came out slurred and throaty. "We're sealed now."

Bodie slid a finger down the crevice separating Doyle's buttocks. "Just the opposite, sunshine," he contradicted. "Hell of a pair, aren't we? We've both got sore bums now."

Doyle laughed, the sound seemingly generated in the depths of his chest. "Was worth it. Next time won't hurt so much."

"Next time won't hurt you at all. My turn. So you'll have to be patient. Be a few days at least."

A wiry arm floated upward across Bodie's chest, finding a home around his neck, fingers buried deep in the hair at the base of his skull. The small knot from Parker's blow was still evident and Doyle took care to avoid it. "Thought you'd see it that way. Share and share alike. Which reminds me: you owe me 3, 37p."

Bodie twisted his head to give his partner a hard stare. "What for?"

"Left me with the tab in the restaurant, didn't you?" There was a miniscule twitch at the corner of the full mouth. "I'll knock off the 37p for acting thick, but the rest is yours."

Bodie smothered a laugh. "Generous to a fault, that's you, mate."

Doyle put his head back down, comfortably drifting amid his partner's warmth, when another thought occurred to him. "Who'd you ring?"


"Said you had to use the phone. Or was that just an excuse to clear out before you could do me a damage?"

Bodie was insulted. "Wouldn't thump you. Love you, remember?"

Doyle's voice softened. "Yeah. So who'd you ring, then?"


The narrow mattress squeaked and groaned symphonically as Doyle pulled himself onto his elbows. "Why? What'd you ring him for?"

"Had to, didn't I? The last test, the culture for gonorrhea: needed to know if it was positive or not."

"Oh." Doyle relaxed, a muscle at a time. When he had draped himself upon Bodie's shoulder again, he murmured, "And, of course, it was negative."

"Hm." Bodie played with a handful of curls that were trying to invade his nostrils. "Wants to see us tomorrow."

A thread of uneasiness banished Doyle's renewed downward spiral into sleep. "Why?"

Bodie shrugged, almost displacing the head on his shoulder with the exaggerated movement. "He wanted to know why I was in such a hurry to know. Insisted on speaking with him right away, y'see."

This time, Doyle pulled himself up with the liquid ease of a hunting cat, eyes wide, face very still. When he was crouched over his partner, he said, "You didn't."

A wry nod was his reply. "Had to. I've never lied to George. Not about the important things, anyway."

"Jesus God, Bodie, what did you tell him?"

Bodie noted the way Doyle's throat worked as it tried to accommodate a swallow hindered by barren dryness. "Just that I didn't want to pass anything nasty on to you."

Green eyes were briefly hidden by heavily shuttered eyelids. "And he said?"

"That we'd have to be more sensible about sharing birds."

The stunned look on Doyle's face was enough to satisfy Bodie's more evil tendencies toward baiting his partner for a long time to come.

"And?" Doyle prompted limply.

"And I said we weren't sharing any birds."

"Oh, God. Was he still breathing when you rang off?"

"Pretty loudly, in fact. Said he was going to have a word with you about taking advantage of me." At Doyle's unintelligible sputter, he added calmingly, "I assured him that we both know what we're doing. He said-- Well, the gist of it is, he wants us there by noon."

Doyle allowed his weight to collapse onto Bodie's unprepared body, not in the least repentant at the simultaneous grunt of discomfort and gasp for air which this action produced. "Bloody hell, Bodie, what'd you have to go and do that for?"

Big hands ran up and down Doyle's back. "It'll be okay, mate. What's the worst of it? He boots us out, we go. Didn't think you'd want to be the one to tell him, and this way he's got a little time to think about it."

"But you shouldn't have turned it into joke," Doyle protested. "He'll be convinced we're just out to have it off with each other."

Bodie hugged him closer, ready to relent. "No such luck, Doyle. Told him we're permanent. Told him I love you." He felt the words register in the thin frame, heard the catch in Doyle's breathing.

When Doyle spoke once more, his words were remarkably prosaic--but Bodie could hear the unmistakable underlying emotion. "Bet that made his day."

"Very probably."

Doyle aired a long, put-upon sigh. "God help me, but I do love you, Bodie."

"Goes both ways, old son," Bodie agreed placidly. "It'll be all right, Ray. You'll see."

With gentling touches and slow, swirling caresses, he urged Doyle to surrender to the mood they had created earlier. Doyle accepted without complaint, his cheek rubbing lazily against Bodie's shoulder. The repetitive motion gradually stilled, and finally, half-blanketing Bodie's chest, Doyle slept.

As exhausted as his partner, but reluctant to let the moment go, Bodie lay with his eyes open, nose half-hidden by riotous curls, making plans. First they would deal with Cowley. If he gave them the green light (and Bodie thought it highly likely that he would--at least until he could replace them), they would have the next few days to move in together. Doyle's place, probably, since Bodie had far less to move. And then it would be home, because Ray would be there.

Suddenly blinking hard, Bodie rolled his face deeper into Doyle's hair. It was terrifying to discover that, after all these years, his carefully built-up shields were gone, that the potential for agony lay tame here in his arms--and that he would do everything in his power to keep him there.

"Christ, Ray," he muttered petulantly, so quietly that Doyle did not even twitch. "See what you've done to me, mate."

He shifted a little, arranging his partner and the bedclothes--neither of which resisted--to his satisfaction, and put his own head down. Just before yielding to the darkness, however, he stole a final kiss from his new lover, who subconsciously rewarded him with a sleepy lift of head to facilitate Bodie's mouth. Bodie lay back with a sigh, his face wreathed with a contented smile, at peace with the world and himself, and sublimely unconcerned about the future, because he had now.

It was more than he had ever hoped for.

-- THE END --

Originally published in Chalk and Cheese 9, Whatever You Do, Don't Press!, 1991

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