Trial Run


Amid the shriek of protesting tires, the gold Capri rocked to a halt, lurched forward once, angled back, then fell silent as its ignition was abruptly disengaged.

Raymond Doyle sat in the driver's seat, hands wrapped around the steering wheel, baleful gaze turned towards the entry to the apartment block that stood outside his right window.

The bastard.

Despite the almost overwhelming impetus to stalk up to Bodie's door and smash his handsome face in, Doyle held himself rigid, forcing himself to breathe normally, waiting for the fury-paced beat of his heart to gradually slow. It took a while, considering the state of his temper; but it allowed him the first real chance to think since Cowley had dropped his bomb.

The bastard had resigned. Bodie had resigned. Doyle had been suspended between disbelief and cold shock at the news, rational thought beyond him. The fact that Cowley knew and Doyle didn't was an immediate source of resentment. Life with Bodie had not been all that easy the last few months, and this was the topper, the icing on a cake of crumbs.

For more than five weeks, they had been stuck up in Norwich, in each other's company constantly, awaiting the moment when they could close the lid on one Franz Geus. Bad enough that during that time Bodie had been strangely out of kilter. One minute he was high as a kite, full of silly stories and distractions for Doyle's snappish impatience, the next withdrawn and morose, refusing all overtures of reciprocal amusement, determinedly hulking in the chair overlooking Geus' bolt-hole, as distant and impenetrable as the Berlin Wall their quarry was hoping to put between them, as soon as his assignment in the UK was finished. And then Geus had got away, clean away. They'd been set up, of course; and somehow, despite their best efforts, the foreign agent had twigged to their surveillance and managed to effect his escape. After all the dust had settled, CI5 had been left with a considerable quantity of egg on its collective face, and Bodie and Doyle had become the focus of one of Cowley's more impressive displays of frustrated fury.

Once all the facts had trickled in, however, even he had had to acknowledge that his two best agents had done all they were capable of, given the ham-stringing exigencies of the situation and the delicacy of operating within the local population. That Geus had been caught before reaching the border had gone a long way to mitigating the Scot's spleen and they had been given some much-needed time off.

Doyle had spent Monday firmly cocooned in his bed, trying to make up for the recent spate of sleepless nights. Thursday, he had tidied his long-neglected flat, emptied the unspeakable residents out of his refrigerator, hauled his redolent wardrobe to the cleaners, and restocked his pantry. Then, he had been ready for a little recreation.

He had spent the evening at his local, enjoying a warm, filling meal and liquid refreshment for the first time in seemingly ages. A lovely young women had settled beside him and supplied all the casual conversation two people could require. Nevertheless, Doyle ended her budding interest with a series of uncontrollable, impossible to conceal yawns. Mistaking his exhaustion for boredom, the women had quickly removed herself from his presence, almost before he was aware of what had happened.

Despite being randy as hell, Doyle had recognized that he was nowhere near his best and dragged himself home, collapsing into a surprisingly troubled sleep the instant his lanky frame folded onto the bed.

In the morning, considerably rested despite the worrying dreams that had plagued his night, Doyle had phoned his partner, determined that an early morning run would put him to rights; and since Bodie had been the featured, if ill-favoured, subject of his nightmares, it was only fair that Bodie should accompany him.

The phone call had been intercepted by HQ. Stupefied at the first, calming tones of-the dispatcher, Doyle had wondered if he had misdialled. But upon stumblingly admitting that he had been ringing Bodie, none other than Alpha One had come onto the line.

The conversation that had transpired was too galling for Doyle to replay in his mind's ear at any length. Cowley had been adamant, Doyle had been belligerently disrespectful, and the last words exchanged -- rather, shouted -- between them were ones he hoped some day to forget.

And here he sat, against Cowley's direct orders, gathering himself to -- what? Beat the obtuseness out of his partner for tendering his resignation without Doyle's permission? His expression briefly betrayed the magnitude of hurt caused by Bodie's defection as Doyle took in a long, rallying breath and clambered out of the car. Thinking had done no good; it was time to hear what Bodie had to say.

The day was still infant when Doyle mounted the last step leading to the front door of Bodie's block of flats. Purposefully, he rang the old lady who lived one floor up from Bodie and whom he knew with almost total certainty would be up already. She was and, delightedly recognizing him, was more than happy to release the latch so Doyle could come up and surprise his partner. He waved to her from the landing, then put a single finger to his lips, winking outrageously. She gave a soft giggle and bustled back inside. Feeling the slightest bit heartened by this display of camaraderie, Doyle unsheathed a pair of long, metal probes and proceeded to indulge in a bit of illegal entry.

He knew a flare of reflexive irritation when he noted that Bodie had not set the alarms -- even if it did make things easier for him. He stepped silently into the tiled foyer, listening intently for a hint of his partner's location. There were quiet sounds emanating from the first bedroom, the low monotone of the radio intermingled with the shuffle and rustle of movement.

Doyle moved onto the carpet that flowed from the central corridor to the bedroom, bringing himself to a stop just inside the doorway. Bodie stood with his back to him, bent over an open suitcase. Another leaned against the foot of the bed, already filled to capacity and strapped shut. Scored by this evidence of Bodie's betrayal, Doyle said tightly, "Anyone'd think you were moving out, mate."

He was rewarded by the shock of surprise that surged through Bodie's spine, the automatic grab for the gun holstered under his left arm. Yet, without turning, absorbing Doyle's unexpected presence as a fait accompli, Bodie let his hand relax and gave a grunt of greeting. "Doyle."

Doyle nodded to himself. Bodie was giving nothing away. He was grateful for that, for it simply fuelled the turmoil simmering in his gut, and he wanted Bodie to be completely responsible when it hit the boil. "An' hello to you, Bodie. Or should it be 'goodbye'?"

Bodie said nothing, his movements meticulous as he concentrated on the folding and placement of a blue shirt.

Doyle allowed him a full minute to answer, quite certain that he would not. Keeping his voice even with an effort, he stated, "Didn't it occur to you that I might want to know about this, partner, from you, that is, not Cowley."

Bodie's shoulders bunched beneath their tailored jacket. He was dressed for travel, from the beautifully cut wool coat to the gleaming black shoes. A couple of minutes later and Doyle would have been too late. He waited, arms compressed closely across his chest.

"Thought it'd be better this way." The words were empty of emotion, guarding their speaker with practised ease.

"For who? But that's obvious, isn't it, since nobody asked me," Doyle snapped.

Bodie picked up another shirt and set about blocking it before folding it neatly. With his back to him, Doyle could see nothing of his expression, but he could guess what that shuttered visage looked like. He went on witheringly, "But then, I suppose being partners -- and friends -- for eight years doesn't count for much these days."

Wearily, Bodie countered, "You lived with your family for 17 years, Ray. How much did that count for?"

Welcoming the opening, even as he recognized the intrinsic truth of the words, Doyle said, "They were never that important." The movement Bodie made was minimal, not quite a flinch; but Doyle took it as a score in his favour. "But you knew that."

Bodie wasn't playing. He went on with his methodical task, finally scooping the store-bought neat shirt into his hands and delivered it to the open mouth of the suitcase.

Goaded beyond sensibility, Doyle crossed the room in three great strides. He grabbed Bodie's arm with total disregard for his own safety and wrenched the heavier, slightly taller man around. Ignoring the overly composed face, Doyle demanded, "Damn it, the least you can do is tell me what this is all about!"

Bodie's eyes went to his upper arm, expressionlessly taking in the clawed fingers that gouged into his woolen sleeve. Then he raised his head, looking straight into his partner's face, cold blue ice meeting and holding roiling green torment. Stunned by that unyielding gaze, Doyle released him. Bodie turned away, conscious of the angry hurt gripping his friend, but seemingly unbothered. Doyle took a step back, then another, moving slowly until he came up against the door jamb. He had dealt with this Bodie very rarely, and never frequently enough to learn how best to handle him. Suddenly aware that this was the last opportunity he would ever have -- -and that this time, he must get it right -- Doyle forced himself to relax.

"All right," he said resolutely. "You've probably got a plane to catch, maybe a train. If you want to make it on time, start talking."

Doyle did not see the reluctant amusement that chased across Bodie's face, and when he came round, it had been eradicated by a heavy mask of indifference. "Novel tactics, mate. You really think you can stop me?"

Quietly, Doyle asked, "Is it worth hurting me to find out?"

Bodie's eyes fell closed and for a moment he made no effort to breathe. Cowley was to have seen that this didn't happen, knowing how hard it would be for him to confront Ray with his going. He lifted another shirt and held it before him, unwittingly like a shield.

"Look, Doyle, it's no big deal, okay? I-I've another job. No law says I have to spend the rest of my life in CI5."

Doyle gave way to a frown, this sudden capitulation and surrendering of information totally unexpected. "So, why all the secrecy? Did you think I'd try to talk you out if it, if that's what you wanted?"

Bodie shrugged, casting Doyle a brief, but eloquent look. "Don't like saying goodbye much."

With a single sentence, Bodie cut the heart out of Doyle's carefully nurtured rage. It left him more than a little bereft, swamped with feelings of abandonment that were more painful than he could comfortably admit to.

"You could have told me," he said, managing to keep his tone neutral.

Bodie bowed his head in acknowledgment of the mild rebuke.

"So, who is it, then? Who're you going to work for?"

Bodie hesitated the span of a single breath, then shrugged again. "Can't talk about it."

"Oh." Doyle glanced around dully. "Would you have written?" He didn't know why he asked that. Despite their closeness, neither had ever put constraints on the other, not in any way. And yet, Doyle simply could not accept that Bodie would walk away from CI5, from their partnering, which had always seemed eminently satisfactory, from him, without a far better reason than he offered.

"Didn't think you'd want to hear from me, once I'd done a bunk," Bodie answered honestly.

Doyle gave him a hollow look. "Nah. You're probably right." He turned away, intent on leaving before he could say or do anything that would haunt him later. But midstep toward the bedroom door, he was caught up on a thought that penetrated his misery. "When'd all this come up, then?" Brows drawn together, he pointed out logically, almost to himself, "You'd have to have given a full month's notice; that's in the large print."

Bodie shifted his attention back to the shirt held forgotten in his hands. There were two spots of moisture staining the material; with clammy fingers he wadded it together and jammed it onto its predecessor.

Doyle straightened, his whole demeanour altering as his brain began to function again. "We've been on the Geus thing for nearly six weeks, and you never said a word." The truth struck him all at once, rankling inside with equal parts confusion and renewed anger. "You'd've said something Bodie, I know you. You don't have another job, do you?! You just said that to get me out of your hair. Didn't you, Bodie!"

Mutinously, Bodie replied, "You're off your nut, Doyle."

But Doyle had seen a flicker of fear cross that forbidding countenance. "Must be something personal, then," he mused aloud. "Something bad enough that Cowley had to agree to let you out." Bodie was watching him, his face pale. With genuine concern, Doyle asked, "Are you in trouble, mate? If you are..."

"No." Bodie bit the word off. He met the troubled green eyes, wondering that the truth wasn't emblazoned on his swiftly crumbling facade. "And anyway, you missed the bleeding point, Doyle: if it was something I wanted to discuss, I wouldn't have been ready to skip out, now would I?"

The venomous statement, delivered in Bodie's coldest tones, did not go unfelt. "An' don't think I've forgotten that," Doyle shot back. "But I happen to...."

"Let it go, Doyle!"

"I can't, you selfish bastard. You think I like feeling like the clap, as though I've done something to make you...." With the same burst of clarity that had led him to this moment, Doyle asked painfully, "Is that it? Is it me? Something I've...."

Bodie shouted, "No!" His face went completely still, his eyes closed. "No," he repeated with terrible precision. "It's me."

"Bodie." Doyle waited until Bodie faced him. "Tell me?"


The single utterance held a wealth of unspoken emotion. Instinctively, Doyle said nothing, attempting through sheer physical presence to urge his confidence.

"All right, Ray. I haven't given you a really good laugh in ages." There was an air of resignation about the other man that Doyle found nothing less than staggering. Having seen Bodie in nearly every mood conceivable, Doyle was unprepared for this manifest defeatedness. For the first time since rushing heedlessly over here, Doyle wondered if he shouldn't have left well enough alone....

"I fell in love."

The words were rendered in a curious pastiche of chagrin, remorse and simple awe. Doyle could not have been more astounded had Bodie stated his intention of taking on the mantle of priesthood. Momentarily struck dumb, he could only stare, relief that Bodie wasn't about to tell him that he was under a death sentence -- or something equally appalling -- gushing into his system through wide open gates.

"Who?" Doyle's voice broke on a note of disbelief. "Christ, when? We've been in Norwich for bloody ever. You've never... Jesus, Bodie, we've spent 20 out of 24 hours together -- and that's just allowing time to take a shower or use the loo...." He stumbled to a halt. Bodie's reticence didn't disturb him so much as the sudden suspicion that he was being led down the wrong path again. Darkly reflective, he didn't notice the twinge of panic that whitened Bodie's already drawn face. Finally, Doyle demanded plaintively, Who, Bodie?"

It would have been very easy to lie at that moment, to protect himself -- and Doyle. But Bodie had come too far, said too much to take the easy way out now. And, for ill or good, Doyle deserved the truth.

"You, sunshine," he answered.

Bodie had imagined this moment, despite his determination that it should never take place, and he wanted, desperately, to watch Doyle's reaction. But the immediate widening of Doyle's eyes, the sudden draining of colour from his face weakened Bodie's resolve and he looked away, hands crushing the lapels of a shirt he did not remember picking up.

To Doyle's credit, there was only a fleeting instant when he feared that Bodie was having him on. The meaning of what Bodie had said had barely registered on his ears before that notion was considered and dispelled. A single glance at that wretched visage was more than enough to convince him that Bodie was serious. But he couldn't be! Doyle knew him, had known him too long for Bodie to spring something like this on him. And if he was....

Incapable of countenancing the thought, Doyle blurted, "But you're not -- you've never -- You haven't, Bodie?"

With a trace of truculence, Bodie said flatly. "No, I haven't."

Reassured and borne on a wave of something he didn't take time to identify, Doyle continued, "Then what the bleeding hell are you on about? You don't go bent all of a sudden, Bodie. We're mates, friends, not -- "

Bodie had no response for him, and made no effort to cobble one together.

He was perversely grateful when Doyle found his voice again.

"You really mean it, don't you? But I've never done anything..."

At the painful faltering, Bodie knew it was time to put an end to this. "Said it wasn't you, Doyle," he said firmly. "Look, Ray, I only told you because you wouldn't let it go -- and so you'd know why it wouldn't work for me to stay. Now, you know. And I'm sorry. I didn't plan this, believe me."

Doyle could see the truth of that in his partner's face. Yet Bodie's helpless acceptance suddenly triggered a rush of irritation. "You dumb sod, you don't go from wanting women to wanting men overnight -- unless you were that way to begin with." Involuntarily, Doyle considered that. "But you always did like to touch, didn't you, mate? Took a long time before you learned to keep your hands off my bum..."

"I don't want men, Doyle!" Bodie roared. "I only want...."

"" The word was spoken softly, and with bemused acceptance. "You want to fuck me don't you?"

Bodie blinked, trying hard to see through the haze of anger and self-reproach, not looking at Doyle, for that was impossible. He could hear the rage, the betrayal, the shattered comprehension in that overhusky voice.

Goaded, Doyle spat out, "You want to fuck me!"

Concealing the black despair generated by those words, Bodie raised his head and calmly faced his accuser. "Among other things," he agreed.

Shaken, his face pinched and waxen, Doyle tensed as if to deliver a blow. Bodie ached for him. He had never wanted this, knowing that Doyle could have reacted in no other way. And yet it tore him to shreds to be the subject of that mute contempt. "Listen, Ray," he pleaded softly, clutching the now-wrinkled shirt against his chest. "I can't really explain how it happened, but it did. And before, when I used to touch you -- it wasn't because of that. Not that it makes any difference." He moved a little away, aware on some level of his mind that inside, he was shivering violently, but powerless to control it. "Knew what you'd think, Ray; can you imagine that I wouldn't? But I never -- "

The door to his flat slammed shut. A quick, encompassing look told him that Doyle had gone, fled on cat-quiet feet. "Can't say that I blame you, mate," Bodie breathed, and then bit savagely into his lower lip at the break in his voice. Grief welled up inside him like a physical presence, oppressive within his chest, filling his throat until it threatened to burst. He flung the shirt aside and headed for the bathroom. Once inside, he pressed the door to, back braced against it, and let his head sink slowly forward.

Doyle launched into misty daylight like a man pursued. Not that anyone was following him, for he knew Bodie would not. At least, he didn't think he would, although that was something about Bodie that could change, too.

Momentum abandoned him as he reached the bottom step. Unsteadily reaching out in the chill morning air, he blindly found the wrought iron rail and let it take his weight. He eased himself down to the cold concrete and pulled his knees up close, resting his elbows upon them as he gazed across the street at nothing.

You want to fuck me.

Christ, of all the things he could have come up with to say, did it have to be that? And yet, the thought had shocked him as no other had done in a very long time. Bodie was not the first man to want him, and would never understand the revulsion that had gathered inside him at the realization that his partner felt that way, too.

It was just that he'd never -- No, that would be lying, for although he had not imagined the two of them making love, he had to admit that he was conscious of Bodie's sexuality in a way that he had never been of any other man. It was the way they operated, their shared needs and desires, and the very real bond between them that made virtually no topic taboo. Doyle knew his partner's taste in women, the positions he preferred, the sensitive places he liked to be touched, even the way he liked to set the stage when he set about conquest. There was little they had not discussed between them; Bodie knew as much about him.

So how the bloody hell had Bodie came to want him?

I fell in love. Doyle leaned his head against the railing, hands clasped together, fingers wrestling. He wished he hadn't thrown out the bit about Bodie touching him. He had never minded it, except rarely, when it got out of hand -- -or rather, too firmly into hand. That was just Bodie: affectionate, not bound by convention in that any more than he was in most other aspects of his life.

And he had resigned from CI5 to spare Doyle knowing this. Cowley knew, Doyle would lay odds on it. The thought made him flush, and then he sighed, heavy and long, half-wishing he had chosen to go for that run alone this morning. But that would only have made things easier for bin. Bodie had made no claims, after all: Knew what you'd think. If it was what Doyle wanted, he could walk away right now, let Bodie flee as he'd intended, and no one would know.

Doyle would know. "You bloody-minded bastard," he groaned. He recollected the rage he had flown into when Cowley had advised him of Bodie's resignation; could not erase the hasty, irretrievable words that he had snarled into the R/T as he had charged off to Bodie's rescue. No, to his own rescue. Bodie can't resign -- what about me?

I fell in love.

You want to fuck me.

Inwardly writhing with self-contempt, Doyle's eyes focussed on the gold Capri, parked across the street. He could drive off now; and he would be where he had been this morning: without a partner. Without Bodie. Bodie, who wanted to.... The words he had hurled in Bodie's face returned to grate inside his brain. But this time, he let the images that accompanied them take form. Bodie, holding him; the two of them kissing. Lying together, naked. Touching. Those big, square-cut hands gliding down his chest.

A wild laugh, more than a little edged with hysteria, bubbled from his mouth. Oh, came on, now, his chest, hairy as sin, flat as a washboard. What the hell could Bodie be thinking?

Did Bodie have any notion what it was he was thinking?

Rubbing a rough hand across his face, Doyle climbed to his feet. There was only one way to find out, and he certainly owed Bodie at least that much.

Doyle forced a grin of thanks for the woman upstairs, then withdrew his set of tools again. The door gave way to an empty flat, only the sound of the radio audible this time.

He went hesitantly into the bedroom. Bodie was not there. Bending to fetch the discarded shirt from the floor, he tossed it into the still-open suitcase and puzzled over his partner's whereabouts. After making a superficial recce, he realised that the only place Bodie could be was the closed bathroom. A little apprehensive, he went right up to it and placed his ear against the cool wood. At first he heard nothing, and then it came through: a soft, pained sound, rending in its quiet hopelessness.

Chastened, Doyle stepped away, and escaped to the bedroom. Glittering eyes took in the filled suitcase and the one half-full. With sudden purpose, Doyle loaded the full one wholesale into the wardrobe, and deftly began to empty the other. Gaping drawers quickly filled, and trousers and jackets found their way back onto hangers. He had just stowed the empty case under the bed when the bathroom door opened.

Standing motionless in a corner of the room, he was not immediately noticed. The subdued figure slowly crossing the floor made Doyle frown with dismay, guiltily aware that he was the cause of his partner's depression. He made a movement, which was swiftly abandoned; but Bodie caught it and started at his presence.

Covering himself at once, he asked caustically, "Forget something, Doyle?"

Doyle nodded. "Yeah." He pushed away from the wall. "Bodie, I want to talk."

"Thought you already did. Pretty well said it all, I thought." Finding Doyle in his flat was the last thing Bodie had expected -- or wanted. Having dealt with his immediate sense of loss, he was ready to move on. After all, twenty minutes ago, he had expected never to see Doyle again. It was difficult back-peddling, to try and regain his defences. But Doyle seemed oddly lost for words, his face a picture Bodie could not interpret, for he didn't know what that tensely determined look meant. Not conceding to anything so devastating as hope, Bodie covered his own expression with exasperation. "So, what'd you forget?"

Doyle shrugged, as though embarrassed to admit: "That I don't want you to go."

Bodie was noticeably unmoved. "Little late for that, Doyle. A minute ago, you'd've been happier if you'd never heard of me."

"Yeah," Doyle agreed wryly. "But you know me, Bodie. Didn't expect that did I?"

Taking in the affable features, the openly displayed desire for peace between them, Bodie gave a faint nod. "No," he said blandly. "Don't suppose you did."

Doyle leant forward ingratiatingly. "How about some tea? You've time for that, haven't you?"

Despite himself, Bodie accepted. "Yeah, all right."

"Good." Not giving him a chance to change his mind, Doyle strode into the kitchen where he rapidly filled the kettle and plugged it in, then reached up into the cupboard for the pot. An arm stretched past and fetched it down. Without a word, Bodie took it to the sink and let the hot water run.

Leaning back against the sink cupboard, Doyle said, "So how'd it happen, then?"

Bodie held the pot under the tap and watched it fill; he rarely waited for the kettle to boil before warming the pot. "Is it important?"

"Maybe not," Doyle acknowledged. "But I need...I'd like to know."

There was a chink of ceramic against tile as the pot settled hard on the counter. "Why?"

"I guess it's important to me."

Bodie set the lid in place and turned to face his partner. "Remember the Lin Fo thing -- 'course, you do. Bloke wouldn't forget that."

"Sure," Doyle said easily. "Still dream about it, sometimes."

"I know." They'd shared a room often enough since then for him to be well-acquainted with the broken pattern of Doyle's sleep. Bodie traced the curves of the handle with an unsteady fingertip. "After you got out of hospital, you stayed with me those first couple of weeks, while you were getting back on your feet...."

"Go on." As soon as the words spilled from his mouth, Doyle realised that Bodie was just ordering his thoughts.

"Was... Guess it started then, that's all. Got used to helping you do things. You were too weak to complain when I gave you a hand. I found that I wanted to take care of you. Didn't think anything of it when I wished I could hold you," he added defiantly. "You were pretty fragile, then."

"I remember." And he did. While Bodie had never hovered, he had always been on hand when Doyle needed anything. To Doyle's bemusement, they had got along very well together; so well in fact that Doyle had found it a little tedious being on his own again when he had finally returned to his own flat. Even then, Bodie had maintained the closeness, ringing him at odd times during the day, stopping by frequently in the evening on the pretext of dropping off a bottle of wine or takeaway. Mostly, he brought himself, and the thing Doyle craved most: his company.

"You were missing the women, too," Bodie murmured. "The crazy thought occurred to me that I could help you out; just make it easy for you to toss off, y'know. Nothing heavy. Knew how wearing everything was for you." He gave a slow sigh. "But it was harmless; just a part of taking care of you, I thought."

Doyle raised his brows, waiting for more.

Bodie flashed him a look formed of dislike and resignation. "I began to see you differently. Imagined the sorts of things that would please you. But I knew -- I'm not crazy, Ray -- that you'd want to thump me to a pulp if I tried anything on." His features twisted with disgust. "But it had already taken root in my stupid brain. Began to dream about you." For a statement of undying love, Doyle thought, this faintly nettled tone left a great deal to be desired.

"What about birds?"

Bodie raised his eyes to the ceiling, his face harshly illuminated by the brightness of the overhead lamp.

He was tired -- exhausted, Doyle amended; and he wondered when Bodie had slept last.

"Haven't given 'em too much thought of late," Bodie admitted. "When I found myself fantasizing about you to get it up -- well, it kinda put me off the whole idea."

"Bodie...." Doyle forced himself to speak without emotion. "You said you want to fuck me -- "

Bodie interrupted hotly. "You said that."

Doyle raised his hands placatingly. "You didn't deny it. 'Among other things,' you said. What other things, Bodie?"

Bodie's mouth formed a harsh line. "What's it matter? Just drop it, okay?"

"Huh-uh. You must've had something in mind. I'd like to know what."

For an instant their eyes met. Bodie found something in Doyle's face that reassured him, for he went on, very softly, "The usual -- the things you do with someone you... care about."


The floor came under intense blue scrutiny. "Y'know, holding hands. Hugging. Snogging on the sofa when the box gets boring. Cuddling in bed when it's cold."

"With me? "

Chagrined, Bodie could only nod.

The kettle began to whistle; both welcomed the interruption. They moved easily into the production of pouring boiling water over tea bags, and while it steeped, sloshed generous amounts of milk into empty mugs.

Apparently engrossed in tucking the cozy round the pot, Doyle queried, "Why didn't you try to talk this out with me, Bodie?"

Bodie laughed, not a pleasant sound. "Idiot. Told you why. No point, is there? I can't change the way I feel, Doyle. And I know you don't want any of it."

Doyle folded his arms across his chest, somewhat surprised at himself for handling this so calmly; for Christ's sake, they could be discussing an upcoming op for all their dispassion. "So, let me get this straight: because you love me, you're ready to feed me to the wolves, probably get me killed. Is that -- "

"What the hell does that mean?"

"It is a bit late in the day for me to be breaking in a new partner, mate. Knowing Cowley, he'll strap me with a young 'un, too -- a hotshot out to show me what an old veteran I am. Get me invalided, if not killed, in six months -- maybe a year."

Briefly, Bodie's tumbled emotions were clearly visible. "Didn't know you had so little faith in yourself, mate, " he said acidly.

Doyle was stoic. "Just being realistic. No one would bother to look after me like you do, that's all. "Have got used to it, haven't I."

This was something that had occurred to Bodie already, more than once and in terrible variations that left him sick and trembling in the middle of the night. Nevertheless, he growled, "And what if I'd taken a dive in the line of duty, Doyle? What would you have done, then?"

"Never thought about it much. Didn't like the way it felt. But after eight years... well, guess I'd have considered doing something else. Now...."


Stalling, Doyle removed the tea cozy, and held the pot out; ready to pour. "Just one more thing I need to know, Doyle Were you running away because of me -- or because of you?"

Uncertain of the meaning behind the question, Bodie chose to equivocate. "Seemed the best thing for both of us."

"Is that so?" Doyle turned to fill his own mug. "It never once occurred to you to talk it out?"

"Told you: no point. Knew how you'd feel. How you do feel."

Doyle blew on his tea, then slurped a scalding sip into his mouth. "Doesn't wash, mate; I know you. When you want something -- anything -- nothing'll stand in your way. If you really loved me, really wanted me, you'd have tried to bring me round. But you never did anything."

Bodie stared down into the milky-gold depths of his tea, Doyle's words filling his ears with the ring of finality. "Just forget it, Doyle, okay?"

"Can't. It isn't me you're afraid of. It's you. Have you ever loved anyone, Bodie -- anyone you didn't run out on, that is?"

Reeling inwardly under this unexpected attack, Bodie awkwardly set his mug down, slopping the contents onto the sideboard. Producing a dreadful imitation of his normal voice, he rasped, "Even if what you say is true, it doesn't change anything, because I can't change." He collected himself with quiet, hard-won dignity. "So maybe you were right, Doyle. I must be bent."

It was that half-broken statement that finally brought together Doyle's disordered thoughts and gave them purpose. Gone was the initial impulse to reject Bodie and this harebrained idiocy of his out of hand. Somehow, along the way, the unacceptable had lost its taint.

This was Bodie, the man who had done everything; who could handle almost any situation; who had guarded his partner's hide with a jealous intensity that had never gone unnoticed -- and one of the rare people about whom Raymond Doyle gave a damn. So much more than a damn, in fact.

He and Bodie had stood shoulder-to-shoulder against all the mayhem the world chose to offer, their own mortality at the whim of grisly-humoured Fate. They'd learnt to live with that, and to make do with the snatched comfort of faceless warm bodies and ephemeral affection, with the not inconsiderable support of their friendship underlying all else.

But Doyle had come to want more, even though he was pragmatic enough to see that he could never have it -- not and be who he was. He'd tried it once and failed humiliatingly. There was simply no one who could understand the demands of their job and the paradoxical emotions it gave birth to -- a need for absolution and approbation.

Except Bodie. Bodie, who was the wrong gender. And yet... I fell in love.

The images he had summoned while perched on the step outside the building flooded back, no longer outlandish or even remotely abhorrent. Only different. They shared their lives, why shouldn't they share each other, as well?

Why not, indeed.

Doyle said, gently mocking, "Never did like to do things easy, did you, sunshine."

Choked, Bodie did not answer. Doyle had taken this far better than he could have hoped; but it was murder having him so near, wanting him so badly the ache was like a hot stone lying in the pit of his being.

"Guess I'll have to, then."

Bodie frowned at him, derailed by this apparent non sequitur.

Doyle explained, "Said you can't change, didn't you? So that means I'll have to."

Bodie went utterly still, dark blue eyes revealing every dearly private emotion he harboured. When Doyle raised a hand and closed it around his fore-arm, he made no effort to move.

Doyle came a half-step nearer, fighting the urge to smile when Bodie visibly restrained himself from falling a half-step back. "But if you ever run out on me, Bodie, I shall have your balls. Never doubt it."

"Ray." Bodie cleared his throat. "Please, don't. You don't want me -- what I want."

Doyle lifted his head, eyes slanted and a little arrogant as he regarded his partner. "'M not letting you go."

Nothing in Bodie's life had prepared him for this moment. He had been offered the world, with no conditions -- well, none stated, anyway -- and he couldn't believe it. More than that, it frightened him. Did Doyle know what he was offering? Jesus, how could he?

"Don't, Ray."

"Don't what? Give you what you want? This is it, Bodie. You're not going anywhere. Unless you were lying, you haven't got any reason to, now."

The affectionate amusement in Doyle's glimmering eyes was more than Bodie could bear. "Fool!" he hissed. "You don't have any idea..." He snatched the half-full mug from Doyle's hand and slapped it onto the counter, curving one arm around the tightly muscled back. "D'you think you can live with this?"

With barely controlled savagery, Bodie caught Doyle's head between his hands, holding him immobile as his mouth fell onto lips poised partway open for protest. In that instant of contact, Bodie was lost, kissing Doyle with unbridled hunger, only barely conscious of his partner's first, shocked reaction. Then Doyle's hands were on his wrists, the fingers digging deeply into his tendons.

Bodie freed his mouth and tried to wrench away, bitterly aware that he must have killed any misbegotten feelings Doyle may have fostered for him. But he found himself securely held, flinching as the pain finally pierced his brain.

Breathing hard, Doyle stared at him, not trusting himself to speak. Anger and anguish shadowed Bodie's eyes, but he made no further attempt to extricate himself. For a moment they stood together, close enough that the rise and fall of each chest imposed upon the other, but their intimacy was not a comfortable sharing of space so much as a source of tested trust.

It took a moment, but gradually the outrage faded from Doyle's face. Still bowstring taut, his lips pressed tightly together, cramp reminded him that he yet pinioned Bodie's wrists. Without letting him go, he rolled their hands over, and this time used his thumbs to lightly rub the raw skin.

"Maybe," he said, finally. "Once in a while. But I think I'd prefer it with a little tenderness. Y'know, a touch of affection." Staring into bewildered eyes, silently daring Bodie to resist, Doyle leant forward until their mouths brushed together. "Like this," he said thickly. And then he was kissing him, a sweet, nuzzling pressure of lips. Having never kissed another man before -- and as far as he was concerned, the caveman tactic his partner had just employed did not qualify -- Doyle discovered just how little difference there really was. Since both had recently shaved, there was no hint of stubble, and Bodie's mouth was as soft and enticing as any he'd ever known. Doyle had tasted a lot of mouths, and this was simply a new one, fresh and clean and wholly enjoyable, with nothing intrinsically male about it that he could detect. Only the knowledge that this was Bodie, that and the startlingly unfamiliar contours of male physiology, were of any consequence.

Before it could deepen, Bodie turned a little to one side, recalled to himself by the frightening urge to melt against his partner. "Doesn't make you want to vomit?"

Doyle chuckled. A little self-consciously, he let his hands slide up and down Bodie's arms. "That's the last thing it makes me want to do."

Bodie gingerly brought his hands to rest upon Doyle's waist. "Yeah?"

"Promise you, mate, if there's anything puts me off, I'll be sure to let you know."

Tentatively, Bodie moved his nose into Doyle's hair, inhaling delicately. Doyle shivered, but didn't pull away. "Don't want this to be a one-off, Ray."

At that, Doyle stepped back, his eyes wide and glinting. "Maniac. D'you really think I'd consider something like this if it wasn't going to be permanent?"

"You mean that?"

Doyle tipped his head to one side. "You're a good-looking fella, blue eyes, but unless you're in for the long haul, we'll have to pack it in here and now."

"You never felt that way about any of your birds. Well, the one...."

"None of them would have cost me my job," Doyle replied seriously. "Or cock up any future ones."

Bodie let his palms move up Doyle's flanks, his fingers spread wide to glean as much contact as possible. "Why, Ray? You don't love me; I know that. Why are you willing -- "

"Bodie. " Doyle shook him just hard enough to assure his attention. "I'd die for you -- in or out of the job. And that isn't just because we're partners."

Bodie winced. "You saying...."

"Stop that. I'm not comparing dying to sleeping with you. I'm talking about why I'm willing to do either one." He added, with a straight face, "And knowing you, possibly both at the same time."

Ridiculously relieved, Bodie said a little uncertainly, "Isn't that a roundabout way of saying you do love me?"

"'S not my fault if you're too thick to see it on your own."

"But as a friend. I mean, you never thought of...." He waved an all-encompassing hand, "...this."

"You're not wrong. And I may be a little slow to pick things up. So, you'll have to be patient."

"Are you sure Ray?" Bodie's voice dropped a note.

"Are you? Said you've never been with a bloke before, either. Gotta be a whole new bag of tricks for you, too."

With vast temerity, Bodie moved closer and touched his mouth lightly to Doyle's. "I quite like Trick Number One," he confided a moment later. This time there had been no resistance; Doyle had accepted him immediately.

"An' you do it well," Doyle said fairly, not half expressing what kissing Bodie did to him. He didn't try to understand it; not yet. "With magic."

Bodie broke into a huge smile at that. "Yeah? God, Doyle. Can't believe this!" Impulsively, he hugged him, chaotic thoughts firing randomly through his mind. An obvious one took immediate ascendancy: "What about Cowley?"

"Aye, Doyle, what about him?"

They split apart at the familiar voice. The slight form of the head of CI5 stood within the frame of the bedroom door, greatcoat slung over one arm. Bodie dropped his hands and took another step away, his only thought for Doyle, who gave him a sharp look. Bodie's eyes widened at Doyle's suddenly hunted expression. He shook his head, letting Doyle read in his face the certainty of his feelings. Then he came round, fully prepared to do battle.

"'Lo, sir," Bodie said. "Didn't hear you knock."

"Doubt you would have heard a marching band, Bodie," Cowley observed dryly. His features hardened a little as he turned his gaze onto Doyle. "You were saying, Doyle...?"

Doyle ducked his head, then cast Bodie a look from under his lashes. "We're both going to be on the street, mate. I resigned on my way over here."

Two dark brows went up in consternation. "You resigned? Why?"

"Because I was ordered to stay away from you," Doyle replied sharply, directing himself to Cowley.

Bodie shrugged. "I'm almost packed, sir. I've already arranged with Central to send on the rest of my things. We'll clear Doyle's place and be on our way."

Cowley regarded them shrewdly. "You're both sure this is what you want?" Neither man had moved since that first distancing upon his appearance. Doyle's mouth came open, but before he could speak, Cowley went on, "Of course, Bodie, you and I have already discussed this. But what about you, Doyle? I know you are loyal to your partner, your friendship is very strong -- but do you fully comprehend what you are giving up? Never to hold a lovely woman -- an eager, soft woman -- in your arm again? You know Bodie: he would want to murder you if you were unfaithful to him. Don't make a terrible mistake, Doyle, one you'll both regret, just to hold him now."

Both agents stood mesmerized as Cowley's voice faded from the room. The extent of his interference was unconscionable, yet Doyle sensed the underlying concern. Not for him, he suspected, so much as for Bodie -- although he allowed that it might not be outside the realm of possibility that it could be for both of them.

"It isn't any of your business, Mr. Cowley." Yet, under that piercing gaze, and all too conscious of the debt he owed this man, Doyle felt compelled to comply, however ungraciously. "But I'll answer you, anyway, because I think Bodie'd like to hear it."

Bodie shook his head. "You don't have to."

"I know. But he probably deserves that much." With a twisted grin, he turned back toward Cowley. "Bodie ... is important to me. I guess I've just learnt how important. It's not as if anyone will be hurt by all of this -- and it'll solve a lot of things for both of us." He tried to gauge Cowley's reaction, but the old bastard was giving nothing away. "It's too bad, sir, if you find it offensive -- or funny, even -- but if Bodie thinks this can work, I'm willing to give it a try." He lifted his shoulders, his expression very serious. "Nothing you say or do is going to change that."

"Easy to say now, lad," Cowley warned him. "The step you're taking will alter how the rest of the world looks at you, and being called names you don't like will be the least of it."

"Agreed. But we're big boys, now. We'll manage."

Cowley slid unrevealing blue eyes fleetingly towards Bodie. "And if Bodie changes his mind?"

"He won't." Total certainty punctuated the calm statement. At the flicker of condescension that touched Cowley's face, Doyle went on, "But if he does, for whatever reason, we'll talk it through."

"You surprise me, Doyle," Cowley remarked. "I used to wonder why..." He cut himself off, then began again briskly, "So, public opinion doesn't worry you -- either of you?"

Doyle shook his head; Bodie gave a simple, "No."

"Good. Well, then: as to your working relationship, you will be kept under observation until we determine how well you can manage this new aspect of your private lives. And as to your personal concerns, I trust you to comport yourselves with the Department in mind at all times."

Bodie gave his partner a mute plea for confirmation of what his ears had just told him. "Sir?"

"It is in the contract, Bodie: a full month's notice."

"But I -- " He spread his arms to indicate the disarray around them. "I was moving home."

"Aye, you were. And if your partner had not contrived to obstruct your plans with his usual timeliness, you would have been shifted to a new flat and assigned new duties by the end of the week."

Doyle asked cautiously, "You... guessed that this would happen?"

"I thought it possible. In any case, if there was anyone who could talk sense into him, it was you. And just for your information, Doyle, I would not have accepted your resignation, either, despite your flagrant insubordination. Shall we say, you were under duress."

"Under duress! After the rotten..."

"Excuse me, Doyle?"

"He was clearing his throat, sir," Bodie said helpfully, wielding a jarring elbow against Doyle's shoulder, provoking a muffled yelp.

"I see. Once you have proved that have no effect on your working abilities, it will be forgotten as far as the Department is concerned -- except, of course, that it will have to be made common knowledge."

"Common... You mean, tell everyone?"

Cowley granted himself a small smile. "To eliminate the blackmail factor, Bodie. To acknowledge an emotional attachment is dangerous, certainly, but only a fool would discount that when attempting to undermine an established team. It is a risk that cannot be avoided -- only you and I know how you would perform if that attachment were used as a lever against you."

"Do we?" Doyle murmured.

"I do, Doyle, even if you don't. Your relationship has already been the topic of many a conversation. It has been argued before that you should be separated to preserve the integrity of the Squad. But no one on the outside can fully comprehend what men in your position must contend with. It was never my intention, I will confess, to pave the way for that eventuality, but I have pointed out before that your lack of conventionality works for the department in too many ways to dismiss you out of hand."

"Just one more aberration to explain away, sir?" Bodie asked, not a hint of a smile cracking his composure.

"Unfortunately, yes, Bodie. In any case, should you choose to terminate your association with CI5, you will have my support for whatever endeavours you decide to explore -- if not my thanks. That is, if you intend to make your resignations official."

Doyle brushed that aside. "How did you know?" The green eyes were shot through with wariness. "I didn't know; how could you guess that I would decide what I decided?"

Cowley eyed him consideringly for some time before choosing to answer. "I've never thought you stupid, Doyle. You've longed for a permanent relationship with someone who could tolerate not only you, but your chosen profession, as well. Bodie understands you better than anyone; despite that, he admits to being in love with you. Only a fool would pass up what he's offering. After all, you're not likely to find it elsewhere."

Doyle was rather sorry he had asked. "Come to the wedding, sir?" he asked sourly. "You can give me away to your big, butch hero here."

Cowley produced a plummy laugh. "I was talking about your intelligence, Doyle, not Bodie's. After all, it's you he wants."

Bodie took a step forward, not prepared to allow even Cowley such liberties. But Doyle's out thrust arm brought him up sharp. To his astonishment, Doyle began to grin. "Heaven help us if you ever decide to go into politics," he said fervently. "Machiavelli isn't in it."

"Why, thank you, Doyle. But don't count your blessings too soon, will you." Gratified by the goggle-eyed alarm prompted by this comment, Cowley turned away. "I expect you both in my office on Monday. Seven a .m. sharp."

"Sir." Bodie immediately moved to escort Cowley out, as much in observance of the niceties as to ensure that the locks were properly set this time.

At the door to the flat, the older man paused. "I didn't hear either of you rescind your resignations, or was that my hearing playing tricks?"

Glances were exchanged, silent accord achieved. "Did somebody say we wanted to resign?" Doyle asked innocently.

"Hm. Must have been my mistake. Good morning, gentlemen."

With that, he was gone. When the door was firmly closed and locked, Bodie gave an eloquent shudder. "Can you believe that?" he marvelled. "'S like having our banns read by the Pope."

"He's higher up than the Pope, mate. It's a good thing you didn't want to shack up with one of the Royals."

"What? Why?"

"Because it would have been a good deal harder than getting me to do it. Expect he'd have found a way, though," Doyle said in afterthought.

Bodie read unwarranted derision in what Doyle said. "You don't really feel he tried to manipulate you into this?"

Doyle frowned ferociously at him. "Nah, you dense bugger. Was a joke, Bodie." At the uncertainty playing about his partner's eyes and mouth, Doyle stepped forward and tentatively took hold of his arms, growing bolder when Bodie came without demur. "Have a lot to get used to, mate. But you and me are still the same. Only some of the...perks...have changed."

"Oh, yeah," Bodie agreed. The fingers of one hand slid into Doyle's hair, at long last free to touch and explore. He pressed a clump of curls to his lips, very conscious of the helpless ripple that moved down Doyle's spine. "Got a lot of work to do, y'know," he commented prosaically.

"Hm. Now?"

"Guess we should. Give us more time for later."

What Bodie did not say was that he had no intention of rushing Doyle in this. All too conscious of the reason for Doyle's cooperation, he feared ruining the friendship they shared by driving his partner into a relationship he did not really want.

Although, as Doyle unconcernedly rubbed his face against Bodie's cheek, he seemed to be more than willing enough.

Cynically noting to himself that, for the first time in his life, he was surely earning points toward a heaven he did not believe existed, Bodie gingerly unwound himself from his partner's arms. "C'mon, Doyle. Help me unpack all this stuff."

"What d'you mean unpack?"

"Pretty basic concept, that. Y'know, take all the stuff out of the cases I've already filled up."

Doyle licked his lips. "You're going to keep this flat?"

Bodie's thoughts stumbled together like clowns in a circus arena. "Don't you think we should?" he asked, at last. "I mean, won't you want your own space sometimes?"

"That what you want?"

Bodie spoke the truth. "Didn't even think about it, mate. Guess I reckoned we would maintain the status quo until we'd got used to things a bit."

Doyle turned this over, nodding vaguely, eyes cast downward. Just as Bodie was extending a hand toward him, he looked up and gave his head a definite, negative shake. "Huh-uh. For better or worse. No half measures and all that."

Uncompromising green eyes defied him to argue; Bodie was a more sensible man than that. "You're right," he yielded willingly. "Lucky for me you didn't wait till later in the day. Most of the work's yet to be done."

"That's all right," Doyle assured him. "Because you get to do most of it, anyway."

"And what are you going to be doing?"

"While you're getting this lot boxed and fit for moving, I'm going back to my place and make room for you."

"Your place?"

The full lips formed a crooked smile. "Our place." With a single step, he brought himself up against his partner. Before Bodie could move, Doyle had their mouths locked together, eliciting an instantaneous and wholly uncontrollable response. Doyle recognized the warm pressure nudging his abdomen and slowly broke the kiss, hands drifting down Bodie's back, stopping just shy of the swell of his buttocks.

Trying to recapture the ability to breathe normally, Bodie could only stand as Doyle moved just far enough away to gaze between their bodies unobstructed. "For me?" he asked whimsically, and gasped as Bodie jerked him into a suffocating embrace.

"Don't, Doyle. Don't laugh, please."

"'M not, sunshine," Doyle averred. He took Bodie's face between his hands and held him still while he applied the balm of another kiss. "'M not. It's just... All this is kinda crazy, at least for me. But good crazy, y'know? Didn't think I could do that to you."

"You've been doing it to me for months," Bodie informed him wistfully. "I'll probably go off like a rocket the first time you put your hands on me."

Doyle regarded him out of huge eyes. Insides tumbling, he offered, "D'you want me to do it now? Can, if you...."

"No." Bodie brushed his mouth against Doyle's forehead, then firmly pushed him away. "Not yet. We're going to do this right. A proper courtship."


"Until you're ready," Bodie said, letting his hands glide down Doyle's arms, and linking their fingers together. "Want this to be all the way right, mate."

Doyle curbed a smile. "Pretty slushy, Bodie. Not sure, but I think I like that."

"Good. So, get out of here and let me get to it."

Doyle touched him again, briefly, warming Bodie through to the depths of his terrified soul. As the unconsciously graceful form loped toward the door, Bodie called after him, "And leave me the left side of the bed."

A snorted "Ha!" came back to him and then Doyle was gone, the door silently, but conscientiously, locked in his wake.

Before he could think, before the fear that this was a dream and that indulgence of the fantasy would make it shatter, Bodie set to work, unaware that he was humming very softly to himself.

Doyle spent most of the morning reordering his household, grateful that, for once, he had a two-bedroom apartment. While spurious thoughts twitched through his brain, he cleaned out the spare room and valiantly attempted to share out the space in the main bedroom. Never having prepared to live with another person for more than a night or a week, he found the ordeal rather more harrowing than he'd imagined. Yet, he didn't falter, determined that Bodie would be made welcome when he arrived.

He had never before noticed how much he tended to sprawl. Bodie, on the other hand, was inherently neat to the point of obsessiveness. Yet that fastidiousness had never been overly offended by Doyle's more relaxed attitude toward life -- and Bodie could never argue that he hadn't known what he was getting into.

All the same, it was going to be a shock for both of them. Both fiercely private people, this alteration in their relationship would eventually become known; in fact, it would be important for them to broadcast the news to some extent, in order to protect the Department and Cowley. And Doyle -- no fool, according to their perceptive leader -- would not put it past him to spread the word himself, should they prove timid in doing so.

Never to hold a lovely woman in your arms again, Cowley had said. Bodie would want to murder you ff you were unfaithful to him. As he had before, Doyle pondered out of which well of knowledge Cowley had drawn that observation; even though he knew instinctively that it was true. Bodie would take a lot from him, had done for many years, but he would never tolerate that. And he truly wanted Doyle; Ray would have been backward not to see it. That desire, riveting in its newness and hitherto forbiddance, was disconcertingly mutual -- although Doyle had to acknowledge that his involuntary, prolonged abstinence was probably a factor, as well. In any case, Bodie had been too embarrassed and worried about his open arousal to realise that Doyle had been far from unaffected.

He loves me. The very idea brought a grin to his face. Trust Bodie to turn their lives upside down. It would be a while before the novelty wore off, of course, but whatever they could forge between them, for as long as they could nurture it, would be more than they likely would have had otherwise. And this way, there would be another person who understood implicitly, who trusted without question, and who accepted all without complaint.

Well -- only a few complaints, anyway.

Borne along by stubbornly cheerful musings, Doyle completed his self-imposed nesting duties, standing a moment to view the evidence of his efforts when he was done. Satisfied that there was little more he could do, and what was left would require Bodie's involvement, he locked up the flat and headed for his car.

For the third time that day, Doyle relied on Bodie's elderly neighbour to give him access to the apartment building. Although he knew he would be greeted without reservation now, it gave him a certain satisfaction to let himself in -- even if, unfortunately, entry was accomplished without benefit of a key.

Doyle left their lunch on the lounge table and crept into the kitchen, guided by the sounds of industry being produced there. Delighted, he came upon his unsuspecting partner from behind, head deep in the bowels of the wide-open oven, employing a sodden towel to wipe away chemical cleaner.

"Second thoughts?" Doyle asked.

Bodie's reaction was all he could have hoped for, if a little overly violent for his tastes. Taken by surprise, and despite almost immediate recognition of Doyle's voice, Bodie tried to pull up and out, miscalculating the angle of clearance. A second later, he was holding the back of his head and cursing volubly, glaring with little success through pathetically swimming eyes.

"Couldn't face me and decided to end it all, eh?" Doyle remonstrated, tsking

"Was cleaning it, you berk."

"Why? You never use it."

Bodie bared his teeth. "Ha-bloody-ha."

"You all right?" Doyle asked solicitously, curving one hand behind Bodie's skull and massaging lightly. "Quite a bashing you gave yourself."

"Wouldn't've, if you'd used the bleeding intercom."


A moment spent shyly expressing the full measure of Doyle's regret ticked by, then Bodie said, mollified, "You taste like tandoori. Save any for me?"

"A bit. Ready for a break?"

"In a minute." And he drew Doyle's head toward his once more, quite certain that he would never weary of the heady pleasure found in Raymond Doyle's mouth.

"Slow down, mate," Bodie laughingly protested a little later, discovering in the face of Doyle's wholehearted enthusiasm that his resolve was fast deserting him. Nevertheless, it was Bodie's arms that were wound unyieldingly about his partner, as much out of necessity as choice.

"C'mon, then," Doyle agreed, but stole a final lick from Bodie's lower lip, before worming his way free. "Set the table, will you, I'll bring in the nosh."

"Tandoori nosh," Bodie muttered as he gathered the remnants of his will power. "Now there's something to reckon with."

Having made quite certain that he could break through Bodie's hastily-erected defences without difficulty, Doyle chose to respect them. He made no more overtures during their meal, keeping the conversation light and firmly away from personal considerations, other than those regarding the basic mechanics of the upcoming move. Bodie began to relax, and Doyle congratulated himself on his insight. It was obvious that Bodie was embarking upon this enterprise with more forethought than he accorded most ventures.

And he could see much more than that. "Haven't slept much lately, have you?" he said critically.

Bodie shrugged. "I've had a lot on my mind."

"Yeah." Doyle did not probe. He wiped his plate clean, then poured the remains of his lager down his throat in a wasted attempt to damp the flames licking at his guts. Bodie seemed to be mulling something over, and before he could put it into words, Doyle asked, "How many trips, then? To haul this lot over to m... our place?"

Bodie's face eased into a grin. "Using your car, three, at least. Left mine at the pool," he explained in response to the enquiring arch of Doyle's brows. "Thought I wouldn't be needing it anymore."

Doyle picked his words with care. "I'd've found you, Bodie," he said, utilizing the same, even tone of voice as his partner. "And kicked your mulish head in, for trying it."

Bodie reached out and caught Doyle's free hand. "I really didn't think you'd want to know, Ray. Hurting you has always been the last thing on my list."

"Yeah, I know, mate. Should you get any pea-brained notions about sparing my feelings in future, stuff it, will you? Otherwise, you'll find out how fast hurting you will come to the top of mine."

"Noted." With practised deftness, save for the traitorous tremble of fingertips, Bodie rolled Doyle's palm onto its back and offered a velvet caress of lips for his sins. And then he blushed, a sight that produced the most curious effect on Doyle's insides. Before Bodie could release him, Doyle brought his hand up and marked the line from one corner of Bodie's mouth to the other.

His voice nothing more than a rough whisper, Doyle murmured, "My hand's burning. Is that you -- -or the Tandoori?"

He gave a squeak as the edge of sharp teeth left their indentation on his thumb.

Dusk had fallen by the time they set the locks on Bodie's flat for the final time. Once the last box had been carried into Doyle's place, they fell to the process in reverse, working tirelessly to settle Bodie in. A single comprehensive look had shown Bodie to what extremes Doyle had gone to make him at home. Yet, he insisted that they finish the dog-work today, so they would have the rest of the week -- and the weekend -- for themselves. Doyle was easily persuaded; he understood what Bodie was doing, and approved, even though he would have happily let everything slide to take in a few moments of idle abandonment on the sofa.

When Bodie was reduced to emptying the contents of his suitcases, Doyle deserted him to throw together a meal.

The beguiling scent of bacon and egg sandwiches lured Bodie into the lounge, where he found Doyle slouched on the sofa, a plate resting on his lap, legs extended before him and propped on the coffee table.

"Looks good," Bodie decided. "Good as it smells." His reaching hand was anticipated and adeptly avoided. "Yours is on the sideboard," Doyle informed him.

"That's all right, we can share."

Resigned, Doyle handed the plate to his partner and hauled himself to his feet. "Lazy sod," he muttered, lumbering into the kitchen. "I can see that's one thing not likely to change. Always feeding you, I am." He started as Bodie appeared at his shoulder.

"I know." Bodie wrapped Doyle in a bone-crushing hug. "And you're right. Go and put your feet back up. I'll get it."

"Don't be a pillock. 'N already up, aren't I."

"You cooked it. Don't want to take advantage of you."

"Stop that!" Doyle poked a hard finger into Bodie's chest. "The only thing changing between us is the sex, mate, and don't you forget it."

Stung, Bodie snapped, "Just wanted to do something nice."

"Yeah." Doyle's expression reflected his own pugnaciousness. "An' so do I. You've been slogging away all day, and you haven't slept properly in more than a month. So go put your bum down and eat the rest of that sandwich."

Amused, but trying very hard not to show it, Bodie said lightly, "So who's the big, butch hero, then?"

Doyle burst out laughing. "Dope. Guess we both are -- some of the time. Go on. You want a drink?"

The lager finished Bodie off. Emotionally spent after a rollercoaster day -- following a wearing six weeks -- he was content simply to lie, half asleep, against Doyle's chest as he watched the end of the late news. In all of his life, he had never known a moment to compare with this one. None of his fantasies had featured this quiet, restful companionship, unencumbered by passion. The desire for contact was undiminished, but it required no more than a wrist hooked around Doyle's neck, his cheek cushioned by the soft chest hair escaping Doyle's open shirt. Better still was the warm pressure of Doyle's arm slung across his back and flank, fingers and thumb lightly arcing back and forth, lulling in their unthinking repetition.

Bodie feasted on the sensations, taking in Doyle's signature scent with each breath, sharing the very warmth exuded by his body. If they never passed this border, Bodie thought he could be a happy man. He had not known how very much he craved this kind of physical closeness, unfettered by sexual significance, until he had it. He snuggled nearer, replete in every sense, yet impossibly pleased when Doyle tightened his hold and bestowed a kiss to the top of his head.

"Time for bed, Bodie," Doyle said quietly, appreciating the tenderness of the moment, if not fully aware of its import to his partner.

Bodie's head rocked back and he gazed up at Doyle, totally unconscious of the feelings written clearly on his face.

"God, mate," Doyle said helplessly. "Look at me like that and you won't be getting much sleep tonight."

Heavy lashes slowly hiked upward in disbelief. "You mean that?"

"Can't remember anyone ever looking at me like that," Doyle confessed. "Not ever."

A sweet smile drifted across Bodie's mouth. "Guess I'd better stop, then, eh? Much as I'd like to, don't think I'd be able to make it very interesting for you tonight. And I want it to be. Want to make it so good for you, you never think of looking anywhere else."

Doyle cricked his neck in order to kiss Bodie's mouth. "I'll hold you to that, old son. Come on, then, up you go."

With Doyle's unobtrusive assistance, Bodie found himself prepared for bed and tucked under the covers in no time at all. Despite his best efforts, he was more than half gone when Doyle climbed in beside him, retaining only enough strength to willingly mould himself to Doyle's curvature. He wasn't even sure that it wasn't the first echoes of a dream when Doyle's lips brushed his ear and a sleepy voice whispered, "Love you, too, mate."

The grey, flat light of an overcast morning was filling the room when Doyle awoke. It was quite early and he was still comfortably knackered, but something had brought him round, and it did not take long for him to determine the cause. Bodie was gone, his side of the bed still warm. Doyle sleepily peered out of the covers.

He sat up, keeping the duvet about his shoulders, his expression thoughtful. He had roused during the night to find Bodie lying beside him, very close, but not touching. He had sensed at once that Bodie was awake, although unmoving, and that he himself was apparently the subject of Bodie's intense scrutiny. Swaddled in clinging darkness, he had been loathe to break the silence. Yet there was something in his partner's nocturnal brooding that unsettled him. Shifting nearer, as though it were the most natural thing in the world, he had looped an arm around Bodie's ribs and pulled until they were pressed skin to skin. "Go back to sleep, mate," he had told him, placing a dry kiss on Bodie's forehead. "Keeping me awake with all that thinking."

He had not imagined the brief tension that gripped Bodie's muscles. But almost instantly, it was gone, leaving him pliant and unprotesting. Very gently, Doyle had smoothed the hair at the back of Bodie's head, matching the stroke of his movements to the rhythm of their breathing. "Shh, sunshine, everything will be all right." The words had seemed appropriate at the time, and important, somehow. That they were what Bodie had needed to hear was evidenced by his soft sigh and subsequent surrender to unconsciousness.

Even after Bodie obviously slept, Doyle had continued the gentling caresses and murmured words, inching closer until one leg was insinuated between both of Bodie's, the dark head manoeuvred until it was pillowed by his shoulder. Doyle was keenly aware of the trust Bodie had granted him, even as he calculated the burden he had taken on. Whatever had troubled Bodie's rest had been made harmless through Doyle's intuitive desire to comfort. Ludicrous thought, but it was almost as if Bodie had doubted his reality.

And now, barely awake, Doyle dragged a hand across his blackened jaw, rolling his shoulders forward to encourage the flow of circulation. Just as he was preparing to throw back the covers, the door swung inward and Bodie entered, bearing a tray arrayed with toast and fluffily scrambled eggs, a steaming cup of tea and, impressively, the paper.

"Good, you're up," he greeted cheerily. "Just in time to feed and shower and don your running togs."


Bodie took the incredulous tone in stride. "Certainly. Missed it yesterday, didn't you?" He set the tray on Doyle's lap; Doyle balanced it automatically. He glanced up as Bodie immobilized him with one hand bracing the back of his neck, leaning forward to secure a kiss. Without thought, Doyle responded, his mouth tasting Bodie's toothpaste-freshness with pleasure. When Bodie finally pulled away, however, Doyle wrinkled his face.

"Should've waited till I cleaned my teeth. I must taste awful."

Bodie snagged the paper off the tray and settled with one leg folded under him at the foot of the bed. "That's all right," he said generously. "I taste great, so it all balances out."

Doyle took a long, noisy pull at his tea. "Let me stir the sludge around, and we'll try that again."

A page was turned with conspicuous deliberateness. "Huh-uh. Time we were up and about."

"At five a.m.? You're usually pounding the pillow for another hour yet, mate. What's the rush, then?"

Bodie dropped his hauteur. "Want out, that's all. Been cooped up inside for too damned long."

"Way too long, if you're willing to start this early," Doyle agreed. He added softly, "Thought we might lie in a bit."

Bodie's gaze slid away, then returned, wide and guileless. "Can do that tomorrow, okay? Still have four more days, after all. It's just... There's things I'd like to do today."

"Such as?"

"A good, hard run, first of all. Then some shopping; y'know, pick up enough food for both of us. Maybe take in a movie later."

"Do we get to come home eventually?" Doyle asked plaintively. Bodie wasn't being evasive, precisely, nor did he seem to be trying to distance them. But it was clear that he wanted to postpone the moment of physical intimacy, at least for a while. Bodie's kiss had awakened Doyle's neglected libido with a vengeance, but he was hesitant to force the issue.

"Sure. This evening, just you and me."


"Yeah," Bodie conceded. Then, with an infuriating smile: "There's a match on, y'know. Can't miss that."

"Try and stop us," Doyle said mechanically, holding back confusion, anger and a killing case of frustration. He waved a hand over the tray and asked with a trace of pique, "Can expect this from now on, can I?"

"If you want," said Bodie.

Doyle groaned. Before his mouth could get away from him, he shoved a piece of toast into it, chewed furiously and with little decorum, then gulped down the mangled paste as he climbed out of bed. Bodie looked askance at him, but Doyle merely drained his cup as he headed for the bathroom. "Wouldn't want to slow the day's events, would we," he explained sardonically, then shut the door upon two very watchful blue eyes.

Doyle didn't know what Bodie was thinking; but for a man who claimed to crave his charms, he was playing awfully bloody hard to get. By the time Doyle had shaved, given himself a brusque scrubbing, scoured his teeth, and was raking a comb through his hair, he was a bit calmer. Nothing like a little personal abuse to put a bloke in the proper frame of mind, he thought mockingly, hissing as his scalp protested the callous treatment of a recalcitrant tangle.

The bed had been made and the room set to rights by the time Doyle stepped out amidst a cloud of humid air. He dressed quickly and was putting the finishing touches to his shoelaces when Bodie came to stand in the doorway. At once, and for no specific reason Doyle could put a name to, he was reminded of the stiff figure that had lain awake beside him in the middle of the night. Schooling his features to something more closely resembling welcome, he said matter-of-factly, "Almost ready. Where're we running?"

Bodie's arms, folded tightly across his chest, slowly came to hang loosely at his sides. "Your choice. Haven't done the Embankment for a while."

"Yeah. But that was closer to your flat. How about Brompton?"

"Cemetery? S'pose we could. Feeling ghoulish this morning?"

"Unsociable." Doyle dropped his foot to the floor. "Might feel like sneaking a grope; don't want an audience."

The corner of Bodie's mouth twitched. "Might set a few dear departeds spinning."

"They can use the diversion."

Luckily, there were no services being held, so they had the damp, solemnly quiet graveyard to themselves. For once, they ran the distance, falling into a familiar pace and keeping it for the next hour. Conversation was companionable, but inconsequential. Doyle did not question Bodie as he longed to do. He knew how to channel his frustrations and Bodie's suggested distraction had been a well-chosen one. Running was a way to alleviate the torments of both body and mind. Running with Bodie elevated it from mere exercise to shared enjoyment.

As they rounded the monument at the southeast corner of the cemetery, Doyle mulled the possible reasons for Bodie's behaviour. He narrowed the field to three very quickly: Bodie was afraid and had changed his mind; he was afraid that Doyle regretted his decision and would change his mind; or -- Bodie was just afraid. And maybe, he allowed, it was a combination of all three.

He didn't think it would help to assure Bodie that he himself wasn't frightened, as that would be a bit of a lie. Yet, after the first wave of disbelief, Doyle had found himself far more intrigued by the idea of sleeping and living with Bodie than put off by it. In fact, he had to wonder at himself be-cause of the ease and rapidity of his acceptance. Maybe I'm bent, too. The notion made him frown, not so much with dismay, but rather at the possible implications. After all, if he didn't know himself, who did?

Bodie, of course. Had Bodie seen that in him, then, and reacted to it? Doyle expelled a lungful of air that had nothing to do with exertion, letting his mind wander the cluttered attic of the past, recognizing almost at once that occasionally his demonstrations of affection might have been viewed as outright flirtation, although they were certainly never intended as such. Not knowingly, anyway.

And unknowingly? Well, being thought attractive -- by either sex -- -was no hardship, and being desired by another person was a well-known aphrodisiac -- so long as the one sending the messages was fanciable enough to warrant reciprocation, of course.

Doyle almost laughed out loud. Guess that answers my question, he thought, for obviously he did not find Bodie unattractive or he would never have agreed to this, partnership or no.

So what could he do to ease Bodie's mind? Unfortunately, as far as he could see, nothing overt. Give him breathing space and be ready when the wally got his head together.

Doyle could do that -- for a while. However, this wasn't simply a matter of intellectual speculation: his glands were as wholly committed to this undertaking as were his emotions. If Bodie couldn't see that -- -and that he was genuinely desired -- then he must be more of a loon than Doyle already sometimes thought him.

Still, despite his impatience, he knew it was only a matter of time. Bodie had in essence pledged himself -- and Bodie never, ever broke a vow.

Braced by these musings, Doyle maintained his equilibrium throughout the rest of the day. They followed the gameplan Bodie had originally proposed, save that they spent the tail-end of the afternoon at Doyle's local rather than trying to hunt up a film they both wanted to see. As the place filled up around them, Doyle found himself viewing the world through different eyes. Appealing women held his attention only briefly, categorized according to hair and shape and facial features, then were forgotten. Gone was the predatory gathering of confidence prior to initiating contact. In its place was a sense of something very like deliverance. No more for him the unending search for what he could never have. Content, he shot a glance at Bodie, packed close beside him because of the crowd, and gave his knee a shove with his thigh. Bodie carefully set down his mug and raised his brows. Doyle merely smiled and bent his nose into his own glass.

His mood lasted until they returned home. Bodie put his jacket away and went straight to the television set and switched on the station that was airing the match, then vanished into the bathroom. Forgoing comment, Doyle tossed his own coat onto the back of the sofa and went into the kitchen. He collected two beers and carried them to the living room. He set one for Bodie on the coffee table in front of the sofa, and took the other with him to the overstuffed chair. He was draped in it and back on page 73 of his novel when Bodie returned.

Blue eyes took in the arrangement and darkened with fleeting uncertainty. Silently, Bodie picked up his partner's jacket and hooked it on the coat-rack. Then he settled at the far end of the sofa, mutely leaving the open space an invitation for Doyle to join him.

Doyle let it be seen that he was unmoved, sipping at his drink while he studiously attended to the book.

Resigned, Bodie stared mindlessly at the tv until the game started, then allowed himself to be sucked into the action with resolute complicity.

At the break, Doyle stirred, yawning noisily as he stretched his legs and shoulders.

Bodie glanced over, his expression successfully concealing the shock of desire that jolted through him. The abstracted green eyes drew him like a lure, and the raw hunger filling his belly threatened to betray him in the intensity of his gaze. "What're you reading?" he asked mildly, reassured that he could sound so normal.

Doyle languidly flipped the book cover to face him, then dropped it on the table. "Who's winning?" he countered, reaching for the empty can as he rose to his feet.

"Manchester," Bodie replied with disgust.

"Want another?" The can was tipped in display.

"Yes, please."

Doyle ambled into the kitchen, reflexively rubbing his back as he went. He pottered about for a bit, downing a glass of water and staring out the window into the light-fractured darkness beyond. Returning at last to the lounge, he was not unconscious of the faintly anxious regard that followed his movements as he handed the fresh can to Bodie, then picked up his book. This time, he slouched onto the sofa beside his partner, extending sock-encased feet onto the table. At once, Bodie's arm came around him and he rocked his shoulders until they were both comfortably arranged. The game came back on and he resumed his reading.

Doyle was several pages deeper when Bodie's fingers began an idle caress of the hair curling behind his left ear. At first, he managed to compartmentalize it, a peripheral sensation that was pleasant but undemanding. Bodie's touch was very light, the tips of his fingers sifting through wayward tendrils, rolling individual strands between use-roughened pads to assess their softness. Eventually, Doyle sat forward to take a drink from his almost-forgotten can; Bodie's arm was waiting for him when he settled back.

This time, Doyle was anticipating him, and it was then he realised that the last pages of the novel had left no dent on his consciousness at all. Surreptitiously, he went back in search of familiar territory, finally latching onto a sentence he recalled. Bodie moved beside him, lifting his beer to his lips. Ridiculously, Doyle caught himself listening intently to the fluid sounds of Bodie's throat working. He could tell by the hollow last swallow that the can was empty. A slight shifting of muscles and it was lowered to the floor at the end of the sofa.

Yawning dramatically, Doyle made a great show of stretching, purposely involving contact all down Bodie's left shoulder and flank. With a grace of motion peculiarly all his own, he lowered himself onto one elbow, then lay on his side, legs tucked up behind him, just fitting into the length of the couch. Bodie turned a little to accommodate him, his palm cupping Doyle's cheek as soon as his head was resting against Bodie's thigh.

Heart thudding, Doyle stared blankly for a moment at the frenzied movements on the television screen. Then he raised the novel he had not put down and opened it back to the section tagged by forefinger and thumb.

"Comfy?" Bodie asked, his voice a lazy murmur.

"Yes, thank you," Doyle replied politely, he took hold of Bodie's hand and swiftly impressed a kiss in its centre, then laid it on his shoulder. There was a great creature forming within him, a primal, lust-feeding force that wanted to rage out of control. Making himself focus on the printed page, Doyle couldn't repress a shiver when Bodie's hand moved down to the curve of his throat, coming to rest where it met the swell of his shoulder. A large thumb detailed the ridge of collar bone, pressure easing as it followed the rigid tendons buttressing Doyle's neck.

Head swimming, Doyle seized the hand and bit it, not gently. Bodie gave a grunt of surprise and glared down at his partner. Doyle tossed the book on the floor and pitched himself over to lie on his other side.

"Will you settle down, for..." Bodie's incipient complaint ground to a halt, every muscle in his body locking into place as Doyle's right hand covered his crotch.

There was no denying the instant reaction that simple touch provoked. Yet Bodie moved immediately to dislodge it, only to have his efforts forcefully deflected.


"I'm not moving, so let go," Doyle said unsympathetically. His gaze was hard and set; short of hurting himself, Bodie recognized there was no way he could get free. Doyle demanded, "Why have you been holding back?"

Bodie looked down into that unyielding countenance and could only manage an unenlightening shrug.

Doyle's fingers tightened, not painfully, but carefully kneading, encouraging the independent growth uncomfortably filling Bodie's trousers. "I don't know what you've in mind, mate," Doyle said quietly, "but it's been six weeks for me and I'm ready now. So if you don't want to...."

Bodie waited, expecting rejection, almost relieved in a perverse way that Doyle would finally deliver it.

"...then I'll have to do meself."

Thinned lips fell apart, but Bodie's mouth worked to no effect. He was drowning in Doyle's compelling eyes. He glanced aside, temporarily breaking the enchantment, and forced a grin. "You don't lack inches, Doyle, but not even you can do that." At Doyle's expression of exasperation, he added desperately, "Didn't you get any, then, the other night?"

"Nope." Doyle rocked his cheek thoughtfully against Bodie's leg. "Yawned in her face; she was probably afraid of being bored to death." Green eyes narrowed with speculation. "Is that what you thought I was going to say just now? That I want a bird?"

Bodie shrugged again, that same uninformative gesture that told Doyle absolutely nothing.

"Is that why you've been putting this off? To test me?"

That jarred loose an immediate response. "No. No, don't think so. Told you, I want this to be right."

"So what is it, then?" Watching Bodie's expressive face, noting the pale flush that brightened his cheeks, Doyle stated smoothly, "Scares you, does it?"

Bodie considered that, then nodded, a single, tight movement. Then he gathered Doyle against his chest, squeezing him with devastating force. "Does scare me. 'M afraid I'll foul everything up. That things'll change between us, that we won't like each other the way we did before, that you'll come to resent me...."

Tickled by Bodie's hot breath pouring out against the nape of his neck, Doyle squirmed. Bodie eased his bearhug immediately, but did not let go altogether.

"What makes you think we can go back?" Doyle said meaningfully. "Even if we never make love, Bodie, things have already changed."

Sheer misery flowed across the already drawn features. "I know. It's just...." He heaved a painful sigh. "You asked me before if I'd ever loved anyone I hadn't run out on."

"Didn't really mean...."

Bodie gave his head a shake, stilling Doyle's guilty protest. "You were right, I haven't. But that's only because I don't think I've ever loved anyone before you."

Doyle felt a sudden twinge deep inside. "You mean that?"

"'S true," Bodie said simply. "I've cared about a few women; called it love, before -- until I came to feel this way about you." He ducked his head, hiding his face under Doyle's chin. Doyle crept up until they could hold one another with less contortion. "Puts the wind up me something awful," Bodie owned.

"Yeah," Doyle murmured soothingly, suddenly and totally at peace. "Can see how it might." He moved his lips slowly over Bodie's silken hair. "So what d'you want to do? Call it off? Pretend none of this ever happened?" He felt the chest pressed against his go still.

"Do you?"

Doyle bit his bottom lip hard, choosing his words with utmost care. "If it'll make you happy."

"As easy as that?"

"Ever since I agreed to this," Doyle said patiently, "you've been holding me off. Either we're in it, or we aren't."

With a helpless bewilderment that caught Doyle between lust and chivalry, Bodie declared, "I'm in it, mate. No choice. But you -- I... blackmailed you into this, Ray. Thought you should have some time to see what you're really getting into. Like today, at the pub; the pretty girl you were talking to when you got our drinks. Saw you watching 'em when we were eating, too. You're going to regret this; I know you are. And then you'll hate me, and I -- "

"Stop it, Bodie!" Doyle gave him a fierce shake. "You've got it all wrong -- as usual. I was sitting there, feeling like the smuggest bastard in the world. Wasn't comparing you to what I can't have anymore, mate. Just the opposite."

Absorbing Doyle's words almost as though they were blows, Bodie only slowly assimilated their meaning. On a rush of unadulterated exultation, Bodie whispered, "You're sure?"

Doyle bared his teeth, his expression dangerous. "Yeah," he growled. "And some people would consider it impolite to try and return the merchandise before sampling it, y'know."

"You're not merchandise, Doyle."

"Damn right, I'm not. I'm the man you married and I don't think much of you calling it quits before we've even consummated our vows."


But the words were lost in Doyle's mouth as, hot and impatient, it clamped onto Bodie's. At once, Bodie was dragged into the tempest of his partner's wanting, made dizzy by the animal intensity of it. He had held back for so long that this sudden plunge into raw passion took him unawares. Doyle's hands held his face, then began to hunt, baring his chest to the brief, but savage, assault of raking fingers, undoing Bodie's belt as Doyle rose up and straddled him, then breached the very thin barrier of Bodie's briefs. A fireball of sensation flared inside Bodie's abdomen, pouring heat into his veins, making his heart race out of control. His prediction held true, and it took very little, only Doyle's hand curling around him, fingers tightening once, twice; and he was clinging to Ray, Doyle's name spilling from his lips as he came, the utterance drowned in the kiss that had yet to end.

Doyle finally let him breathe, moving his face against the dark comfort of Bodie's throat, lapping up salt as his other hand fumbled with his own clothing. "God, Bodie, please," he breathed. "Help me!"

Sobered by that desperate voice, sanity quickly returned; and Bodie was more than willing to oblige. He had ached for this instant, and now the incredible reality of it fairly swamped him. Knowing that Doyle was beyond wanting finesse, Bodie jerked the t-shirt free of his half-undone jeans and braced one hand against the small of his back. The other advanced the job of disrobing that Doyle had begun and with him held close, Bodie reached into the snug confines of stretchy material and pulled him out, taking precious seconds to take his measure, delighted by the weight of him, the length, the velvet smoothness, even the delicate tracery of swollen, blue veins. Doyle groaned and raised his head, blindly searching for Bodie's lips. And, as in a dream, Bodie kissed him as Doyle surged into the tunnel formed by his hand.

At the instant of Doyle's release, Bodie knew why he had been so frightened before. The completeness of Doyle's surrender was terrifying, offered as it was with the trappings of unquestioning trust and freely rendered vulnerability. Never had Bodie dared accept such gifts and, now, he could not believe they were his to command. The weight of the lives he bore every day were as nothing compared to that of Doyle's well-being.

Exhausted, Doyle rolled limply forward, turning his cheek against Bodie's shoulder. He marvelled at their state, both of them wet and sticky, the shrunken remains of their ardour still cradled in loosely gripping hands, caught close between the press of their abdomens.

Doyle wriggled a little, trying to ease the stricture of his inconveniently hitched trousers. The zipper was just shy of doing serious damage. Bodie recognized the problem and immediately helped him to shed the hindrances without once letting go. Doyle chuckled weakly, cool air on his sweat-sheened body raising tiny hairs all over. Bodie's free hand moved firmly up and down his back.

"We're a mess," Bodie commented unnecessarily.

"Yeah. Be needing a shower, don't you think?"

"At the very least. Don't know if I ever want to wash this hand again, though."

Doyle threw his head back, smiling broadly. "Be hard to explain, that." He bent closer and planted a lingering kiss full on Bodie's mouth. "Tell you what, you can do that again sometime. Keep it fresh, like."

Bodie could not hide the happiness glowing within him. "Promise?"

"Yeah. Oh, yeah."

Half-dozing, they remained on the sofa for a while longer, until the discomfort of their respective positions and the less than delicate state of their persons drove them to the bathroom. They took their time showering, frequently losing sight of their purpose in favour of simply embracing beneath the tranquillizing water. At last, Bodie chivvied his partner into a wide, warm towel. Dripping on the linoleum floor, Bodie rubbed Doyle dry, then obediently held still while Doyle returned the service.

Reluctantly, they separated, Bodie to turn down the bed and permeate it with his body heat, Doyle to perform the evening routine of checking the locks and shutting off the television and the lights. They met again in the centre of the mattress, heads snuggling onto a single pillow.

"Reckon we'll last longer next time?" wondered Doyle, all wide-eyed innocence.

"Have to," Bodie replied, his snort of laughter muffled by Doyle's hair. "Any quicker than that and we'd probably break something."

"Think I already did," Doyle revealed. "Maybe you can fix it for me?"

"Do me best, sunshine." Bodie placed a tender kiss squarely between the lambent eyes. "But part of your treatment will require leaving off those tight jeans of yours for long spells at a time."

"Think I might be able to manage that," Doyle said breathlessly.

"Then we'll see what a little oral first aid will do for you."

There was an audible contraction of throat muscles. "Yeah?"

"Shh, settle down, lad. Can't expect to be cured if you rear up like that all the time."

"Might have to get used to that," Doyle said abstractedly. "You seem to be more in control of it than I am "

Bodie moved his lips to Doyle's ear, experimentally gnawing at the crescent of the inner flap. "Just the way I want it."

"Bodie...." Doyle's hips moved forward aggressively, his hands spread implacably around the base of his partner's spine. Bodie let him set the rhythm, concentrating on Doyle's face and neck. He laid down a trail of tiny kisses that employed both teeth and lips, eliciting mingled gasps of pain and helpless moans that had nothing to do with suffering. Doyle squirmed out of control, aware that the luscious friction and pressure of his movements were inciting a most gratifying response from his partner, but quite beyond the ability to cater to it. He needn't have worried. In this, as in most aspects of their lives, they functioned as a perfectly suited team. The breath froze in Bodie's chest at the same instant that Doyle sank his teeth into the nearest, impossibly taut shoulder.

Eternity was theirs for a moment, lifting them outside the normal constraints of time and bodily needs. Too soon, they were forced to gather air for starving lungs and to give relief to muscles singing with tension. Bodie slowly relaxed onto his back, bringing his boneless partner with him.

"Pitiful, mate," he mumbled mournfully, hardly capable of speech.

"Bad as the first time?" Doyle asked groggily.

"Bloody near. 's okay, I intend to keep track. Out of a thousand tries, we should manage to get it right eventually. Two down, nine hundred and ninety eight to go."

Doyle forced himself to shift up until he could view his partner's face properly. "By Monday?"

"Dreamer!" Bodie's scornful tone was subverted by a massive yawn. "Fast we may be, but it'd take at least a week to rack up that many."

Doyle tried to calculate the daily rate necessary to accomplish such a feat, but in his present condition even basic maths were beyond him. Letting his head drop down again, he sighed wearily. "Let me know when we get there. We'll celebrate."

"Deal. Ray?"

"Did I tell you I love you?"

Bodie felt a lazy grin spread against his chest. "Yeah. You even said it out loud a time or two."

"That's all right, then."

With nothing more than a vague hope that by lying close together they could avoid disaster to the sheets -- for neither had any intention of moving -- then sank heavily into a seemingly bottomless well of sleep.

By the following Monday, they had come nowhere near the thousandth event, but not for lack of trying. Having overcome his peculiar ethical considerations, Bodie suffered no inhibitions in testing the limits of his partner's sexual tolerances. And Doyle, matched for the first time in his adult life by a bedmate of equal fervour and endurance, was his willing confederate. In an idyll of lust and openly expressed affection, they spent hours exploring, charting one another's erotic landmarks and lesser, but notable, points of interest. Acts that might have repelled before came to them easily, their primary motivation to please as much as be pleasured. Yet neither was ready for the final -- and greatest -- intimacy, and discussion of it was tacitly avoided.

Other topics did come up: CI5, their future with the Squad, how they would 'come out,' and more pedestrian matters, such as combining their funds and the division of housekeeping labour.

Playing the devil's advocate, Doyle questioned the sense -- or even practicality -- of their remaining with the Squad. Bodie, however -- guessing that Doyle was just pushing buttons -- was sanguine.

"It's all I know, Ray. Sure, I could get into security, softer job, no weapons, but it wouldn't pay as much and I could get killed crossing the street just as easily, y'know."

"The way you cross the street, that's not surprising," Doyle said. There was no humour in his voice.

"You want us to get out?" Bodie asked.

Doyle gave a noncommittal gesture. "Be nice to have you around for a while."

"Will be, so long as you're there to cover me"

"Not that simple, Bodie, and you know it. What about me? What'll you do if I buy it first?"

"You won't." Bodie's expression was calm and serious. "Won't let you."

Doyle scowled at him, then pointed out, "Doesn't work that way, mate, just in case no one's bothered to tell you."

Dark lashes fell over unreadable blueness. When Bodie looked up, there was a chilling certainty etched into the set of his mouth and the line of his jaw. "You forget, Doyle: I've been living with this for almost a year now. You won't die; not while I'm there to prevent it."

Stunned, Doyle took a moment to collect his thoughts. Then: "Guess if you can handle it, so can I. 'Sides, didn't say I wanted to; just thought I should ask." He sensed that somehow this was a point of faith for Bodie and to discuss it further would be 'bad medicine.' They spoke no more about leaving CI5.

Despite Cowley's edict that their relationship become common knowledge, they decided a slow process of discreet dissemination would better suit their purposes.

Doyle playfully argued the matter: "Could have got a nice pressie out of it, y'know."

Bodie guffawed. "More likely a rude surprise in the post. Bis are not among that group's favourite subcultures." Darkly, he added, "Even if there are more than a couple that I've...." He hesitated until Doyle raised a brow at him. He shrugged and finished, too casually, "...That I've wondered about."

"Like who?"

"Malicious rumours, Doyle. Could ruin a bloke's career, that."

Rather than taunt his partner -- had someone made a pass at him? -- -Doyle allowed the subject to drop. Someday, he knew, it would come up again. Bodie would likely feel more inclined to discuss it then.

A rudimentary schedule of chores was drawn up; if they had time, Doyle would cook, Bodie would wash up, and when necessary, both would bend their backs to serious cleaning.

In the matter of their personal affairs -- and specifically the disbursement of their effects in the event of death -- Bodie was adamant that they collect all of the necessary paperwork and store it in an easily accessible location as soon as possible. It came as no great surprise to either of them to learn that each was the other's beneficiary. Bodie simply wanted the appropriate documents shifted out of Cowley's control, where he had placed them long ago, having no family to depend upon for this service. Doyle would rather have put it off. For all that he had argued that they must treat this like a marriage, or at the very least, a consensual agreement, he was taken aback by Bodie's assiduous -- and rather disconcerting -- persistence that it be done now.

It was the good soldier showing through, and he understood that in Bodie, had in fact, seen it before. But his immediate impulse was to balk, simply because he had never liked being manoeuvred into anything, even something as laudably sensible as this.

It might have become a source of contention between them, had Bodie not been so clearly dependent on his partner's good graces. Doyle knew an almost suffocating sense of responsibility for this man-child who had placed his heart and soul -- nothing more, nothing less -- at his feet. For Ray Doyle, who, despite delusions to the contrary, was terrified of wholesale commitment, it was an immense offering. But Cowley -- damn him! -- was right: Doyle had wanted someone to love for too many years, and Bodie, crazy as he was, was precisely what he needed. Doyle hoped he did not fail him, for a tiny, niggling voice questioned whether this was what Bodie needed. To salve his conscience, and to satisfy Bodie's protective instincts, he finally agreed.

Monday arrived far too soon. Bodie was apprehensive about what would befall them upon their return to work, but hid it expertly. Relief that things had gone so well with Cowley had made him incautious, and although he had not spoken of this to Doyle, he fretted over what the old bastard might yet have in store for them. That relatively uncritical assent had been very unlike their employer -- and Bodie himself could cite many of the possible repercussions their "liaison" could have. So he was a little more quiet than usual, and a little more aloof, as he and Doyle walked side-by-side through the corridors leading to the briefing room.

Doyle was too enmeshed in his own ruminations to even notice. He, perhaps more so than Bodie, harboured a deeply ingrained distrust of their boss; he expected the unexpected.

As it turned out, Cowley was his usual, dour self. He outlined their new assignment with familiar terseness, to all appearances forgetting their existence the instant he turned away.

Reprieved, they set about their business with unusual alacrity, grateful to escape so easily. Once settled together in the silver Capri that Bodie requisitioned from the motor pool, they were no longer lovers but brothers-in-arms. It was the way it should be, and for them, the only way it could be.

They were several days into the week before they began to see a pattern to the kinds of assignments they were being handed. Not that it was unusual to draw a spell in records or to occasionally waste an inordinate amount of time playing errand boys. All the same, they only had to make a quick survey of their fellow agents' current roster to perceive what had been done.

Over dinner, the subject was brought up again and they agreed to confront Cowley first thing the following day. And then they let it go, neither willing to mar the admittedly indulgent week they had enjoyed. They were both pleased with the ease with which they seemed to be adjusting. During the day, they were agents of CI5; they performed in the same manner they had always done and nothing in their behaviour or appearance argued otherwise. But at night, in the privacy of their flat, they were free to speak and touch as they wished.

And yet, for all that onlookers would label theirs a hugely altered relationship, in reality, it was not. Years of involvement and close friendship had laid the groundwork for the ways they spent their time together. More evenings than they could count had been passed in undemanding companionship. The greatest difference was the physical expression of affection: a quick kiss seized as they dressed in the morning, a quiet hug enjoyed in the kitchen following clean-up, a languid cuddle on the sofa during the adverts. And, of course, once they closed the door to their room, the passion witnessed by their bed was not that generally exchanged between good friends.

It made for an almost effortless transition, dependent on fine tuning of custom far more than major psychological overhaul.

So they were steeled for argument when they made their way into the briefing room on the Friday morning. Cowley outlined the day's major concerns, then dismissed all assembled save four teams, of which Bodie and Doyle were one.

"You're up for re-evaluation," he said, wasting no time. "Jack Craine is expecting all of you on the grounds by noon today. Doyle, Bodie, you'll have an extra week to make sure you're both fit, before testing begins. Pack a kit. That's all."

"Re-eval ..." Bodie blurted.

"You have a question, Bodie?"

"Well, we... Only six months ago..."

"Aye, and you've spent nearly two months on observation and light duties, since."

"But that's not why...." Catching himself before he could say something exceedingly stupid, Bodie clamped his jaws together, nostrils flaring as he controlled his fury.

Doyle contented himself with a slit-eyed glare, just as aware of Cowley's machinations as Bodie was.

"You were saying?" Cowley asked silkily.

"This isn't just a physical re-evaluation, is it, sir?" Doyle said.

"No, it isn't," Cowley agreed. "Following Craine's assessment, you'll be put through the usual battery of psychological and medical tests." Smoothly, he passed his eyes over everyone in the room. "Any other questions?"

The other victims, no happier than Bodie or Doyle, but far less keen on being singled out for Cowley's attention, said nothing.

Bodie fumed all the way back to the flat. Doyle saw no point in precipitating an argument, and so said nothing. He knew Bodie resented Cowley's heavy-handed tactics, but felt sorriest for the other blokes who had been dragged into this just to give the charade credence. Not that they -- and the other blokes -- couldn't use a bit of a work-out. Cowley rarely did anything that wouldn't provide some benefit for his Department. And for himself, there was a considerable degree of relief. This was the least offensive method of checking up on them that Doyle had thought of, himself. But then, perhaps it was only the first of many, until they reached the stage where CI5 forced them to resign. Doyle could not be sure, but he doubted that that was the rationale behind Cowley's actions. He could be a dangerous old bugger, but there were simpler means of eliminating troublemakers like Bodie and him.

In any case, angry or resigned, they were on their way to Jack Craine and his human proving grounds. Doyle tried to convince Bodie of that as they headed out on the M4 after throwing together a couple of hold-alls and preparing their flat for a week or two away.

"'S bloody stupid, that's all." Bodie's voice was acrid. "If he didn't trust us, why didn't he just bloody say so?"

Doyle spoke mildly in contrast. "We were due a spell in the mines, mate. Got soft sitting round on our bottoms for so long."

"That isn't what this is about, Doyle," Bodie shot back. "It's just so he has an excuse to bring out his pet trick cyclist,"

"That's what you're really worried about, isn't it?" Doyle surmised. "Ross."

Bodie sat back in the passenger seat, his hunched form fairly radiating frustration. "Don't like her. She wants to make us look stupid."

"Too bad we're so quick to give her a hand." This statement was met with a poisonous look. "Ah, c'mon Bodie," Doyle entreated. "What are you concerned about? Jack's fair, and he's a damn sight easier to please than Macklin. We'll do our bit there, then we'll see Miss Doctor Ross, who can bleeding well come up with whatever conclusions she pleases, and then we'll be back on duty. Maybe we should consider this a holiday, y'know."

"Will we?"

The bleak tone tore Doyle's eyes away from the rain-washed road. "What is that supposed to mean?"

Bodie's face was turned toward the farm racing past his window. "Maybe Cowley's decided this is the best way to get rid of us. Let Ross do a little excavating in our psyches, let her raise a stink about...about us sleeping together, and then he can show us the door."

Discomfited by the uncanny echo of his own thoughts, Doyle chose to focus on the equally disturbing undercurrents of Bodie's statement. "'Sleeping together,' eh?"

Bodie waved a negligent hand. "You know what I mean. That's how she'll see it, anyway."

"Maybe. What's it matter? If Cowley wants us out, we're out. Right?" There was a slight pause that made Doyle's heart advance a beat. "Right?"

"Hm?" Bodie glanced across at him, his face blank. "What'd you say?"

Doyle exhaled sharply through his nostrils. "I said, if Cowley wants us out, we'll go."

Bodie looked askance at him. "Of course. Why d'you ask?"

Seconds ticked by as Doyle silently recovered himself. "'S got you that nervous, has it?"

"Don't like it," Bodie agreed petulantly. "She gets her jollies from twisting goolies. She's going to have one hell of a laugh out of us."

"Because we love each other?"

Bodie turned and stared at him. A slight smile touched his sullen lower lip, before he came back, "Doesn't know what love is, does she. She'll just accuse us of having it off together, and produce some idiot explanation that harks back to how old we were when we gave up our nappies."

Doyle's thumbs thoughtfully rubbed the steering wheel. "Does it embarrass you, her knowing?"

Bodie leaned his head against the fogged window. "Nah. Knew that'd happen sometime. It's just...." He pursed his lips, then let a telling breath hiss out through his teeth. "Guess I wanted Cowley to accept it, y'know, the way he seemed to. Knew it was too good to be true...."

Understanding softened the hard set of Doyle's mouth. Bloody Cowley. He wondered if Bodie had any idea how much that fierce old wardog figured in his life. "He's got to cover the Squad, sunshine. You know that. An' us. Anyone tries to back him into a corner about you and me, he'll have expert opinions to support his decision for keeping us in."

"Think so? You really believe that's what this is for?"

"Yeah, I do. It'll be all right, Bodie," Doyle promised. "Cowley's a devious old bastard, but if he didn't want us anymore, he'd just tell us."

Bodie's expression lightened fractionally. "Yeah, you're right," he agreed finally.: And then a thought occurred to him that brought glinting malice to his eyes. "You don't suppose the others -- Lewis and McDonough, Partridge and the rest -- you don't reckon he chose them for the same reason as us?"

A slow smile stole its way across Ray Doyle's face. Enchanted with the idea, he began to laugh, and soon he and Bodie were describing battalions of bent CI5 agents, the very flower of mankind, dedicating themselves to the preservation of humanity, and George Cowley....

All in all, the week and a half spent under the auspices of Jack Craine proved more beneficial than otherwise. The weather was generally foul, the grounds soaked and muddy, and the accommodations were far from appealing. Given the incentive of escaping the place as soon as possible, everyone worked more diligently than the circumstances should have warranted. Although Cowley had accorded Bodie and Doyle an extra week in order to regain their usual standards, within three days they were topping the scales on everything. Rather than belabour the point, Craine began their formal testing on the fourth day and in short order, had rated them virtually faultless.

The enforced physical rigours eliminated the last of the lingering staleness acquired by seven weeks of stultifying boredom. Bodie in particular felt as though he had been freed from strictures he had not realised existed. With Doyle at his side, goading him through his part of the hurdles, he grew more at peace with himself and the prospect of the upcoming trials. And before long, ridiculously, he came to view their sojourn there as the holiday Doyle had suggested

It lacked certain refinements, however, and the spartan living quarters housing eight agents in barracks-style splendour, was a very sore point, indeed. Finding time alone was impossible. Although Bodie and Doyle bunked side-by-side, they dared not risk exposure, and so maintained strict observance of all appropriate behaviour -- except when it was very dark and all the lights were doused. Then they could span the thirty-six inches separating their beds, fingers linked silently together, no more physical contact than that reaffirming the bond between them.

At the end of eight days, Jack Craine sent them back to London, along with the three other teams.

A morning was spent at the mercies of doctors and lab technicians, who appropriated various bodily fluids and performed batteries of tests as though their persons were theirs to command at will. The psychological drills followed soon after, but by this time Bodie was more than ready for the ever-watchful Kate Ross. He loathed hospitals, even the CI5 infirmary, and facing her meant emancipation was at hand.

She demanded the remainder of the day with them, interviewing the two agents separately and together, in between judgement and reaction tests. Never once did she touch on their relationship, which led Bodie and Doyle to guess that she knew nothing at all about it. Which made sense, of course. If none of their evaluators were swayed by extraneous information, then the subsequent appraisals -- and presumed approvals -- would argue their ability to do the job, regardless of the nonfraternization rules. Whatever conclusions she came to, however, she kept to herself -- and Cowley.

"At last!" Doyle gasped dramatically, falling against the wall outside Ross' temporary offices in a bedraggled slump. "I can't believe it, mate, she did say she's through with us, didn't she?"

Bodie took a firm grip on Doyle's right earlobe and pulled. "That's right, Doyle, and standing about here when we could be miles away is the last thing I want to do."

"Yow. All right, let go, you bastard. That's attached, y'know -- or it was."

Bodie leaned close, his breath hot on Doyle's cheek. "Got a cure for that."

Tenderly kneading the stinging appendage, Doyle merely glared at him. "Think I'd let you at it with that gob of yours after what you just did?"

Perversely, Bodie displayed his teeth at him, then slowly, provocatively, traced the hard enamel surface with the tip of his tongue.

"Disgusting, that is," Doyle muttered, his wide luminous eyes repudiating the statement.

Bodie dropped the taunting expression, every molecule in his body responding to the entreaty Doyle could not disguise. "Let's go home, Ray?"

"Yes, please," Doyle said simply and started down the hall before his partner could even move.

"Doyle! Bodie!" The unforgettable bark sounded down the corridor, halting them mid-stride.

"Soddin' 'ell," Bodie moaned, only loudly enough to be heard by his partner.

They turned, faces wearing improbable smiles. Cowley stood at the end of the hall, one hand upraised in summons. Two chests rose as they mustered their strength, and they began to retrace their steps.


Scrutinized intently for several seconds, Doyle toyed with the idea that Cowley would next ask to see their teeth. Instead, the head of CI5 gave a little nod, as though satisfied with something he had done. Tickling his brain to guess what that might be -- other than the two of them standing before him like dimwitted clods and both of them certainly feeling as though they had been thoroughly done -- Doyle smiled again vaguely.

That seemed to decide the older man. With a slightly exasperated tone, Cowley announced, "Craine said you did well. You're on standby for the next seventy-two hours." He pivoted toward his office, then stopped himself. "You've an appointment, Bodie: Dr. Anthony, nine a.m., Thursday next."

Panic touched Bodie's blue eyes. "Appointment?"

"Dentist," Cowley informed him succinctly. "I expect you to keep it." Leaving Bodie with his mouth ajar, Cowley returned to his office and closed the door firmly behind him.

"Sir," Bodie managed, then jerked Doyle's arm before he could become rooted to the spot.

"Appointment!" Doyle snickered. He risked being left behind, however, and quickly fell into step beside his partner.

"Doesn't matter. We can go home, now. You wanted to go home before, didn't you?"

"'Home.' That used to mean something...."

"And will again, soon as we get you into a nice hot bath, scrub the crud out of your short and curlies, and wrap your neck around something warm and tasty."

As they thudded down the stairs heading toward the carpark, Doyle remembered, "Everything's in the freezer."

"Christ!" Bodie scowled furiously. "Pub, then. We'll clean you up later."

"What's this 'we,' then? Think I can't get at the nasty bits by myself?"

"It's more fun if you let an expert do it."

"Well, you let me know when we come across one, okay?"

"Sod off, Doyle. You'll make do with what you've got."

"If I must."

They reached the car and settled themselves inside. Guiding the key into the ignition by feel, Bodie turned his head and raked his partner with a long, scorching look. "You must. That's the arrangement, mate. Too late to back out now."

Doyle crooked a corner of his mouth at him. "Haven't backed in, yet," he said suggestively.

All at once, the inside of the car was very warm. Bodie opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again. An odd screaming sound dragged his attention away from sylvan glades encircling dark promise.

"Starter, that is," Doyle informed him helpfully. "Keep that up and you'll burn it right out."

Bodie produced an unintelligible retort. He manoeuvred the vehicle out of the carpark and into the flow of traffic, heading toward their current local.

An hour later, they huddled tiredly over a tiny table, the remains of their dinner staining two plates. The room was crowded almost to capacity. They had contrived to snag a table with four chairs upon arrival. A couple of passing drinkers had briefly shared it before moving on. Bodie was beginning to think he was too worn out even to finish his drink, when the light before them was blocked by two well-endowed female forms. The women were young, just out of their teens, he decided, and also fresh-faced and attractive in very different ways.

Doyle had raised his head at the same instant, his wide-spaced eyes cataloguing the same attributes as his partner.

"Can we sit down?" the auburn-haired one asked. "There aren't any other seats."

"Of course," Bodie said. As the woman parked their drinks and arranged themselves to their comfort, he gave Doyle a sidelong look. The slightest shrug rolled off Doyle's shoulders, an indication that he recognized the situation, but also his lack of concern. Bodie relaxed again and took a long sip of his beer.

The women talked quietly between themselves for a minute or two, before the one with soft brown eyes and red-gold hair gazed impartially at one man and then the other. "I'm not really familiar with this part of Town," she said, her voice a low, pleasant contralto. "Is there anywhere round here to dance?"

"Yeah," Bodie replied immediately. "The one off...." He elbowed his partner. "You know the place, Ray: Free Trade, something like that. You've been there."

"So've you," Doyle reminded him. "It's a nice place," he told the woman. She smiled brightly as he gave her directions.

"Thanks. You -- " she addressed herself to Bodie, "wouldn't be going there later?"

Bodie smiled. "Sorry, love. Married."

"Oh." She glanced at her friend, who grinned at Doyle. "Reckon you are, too?"

Caught mid-swallow, Doyle nodded, then tipped his head toward Bodie. "To him."

He was the very picture of innocence as Bodie choked on the remains of his lager, offering an unnecessarily exuberant pat to the middle of Bodie's back on the pretext of helping him regain his breath.

The women, however, took his comment to be a rather cruel brush-off. "Could've said," the auburn one commented, her face flushed, "if we were being a bother."

"You weren't," Doyle said quickly.

Bodie added wryly, "He's telling the truth."

Two doubting faces measured them for honesty, and clearly found them wanting.

A little embarrassed, Bodie assured them, "Got me at a weak moment, didn't he."

Doyle rolled his eyes. "Not hard to do, with him."

The woman with red-gold hair sat back in her chair. "You're really serious."

Doyle conjured up one of his most affecting smiles. "Yeah."

"How long have you been together?" the other asked.

Not certain why they were encouraging this conversation, Bodie answered, "Eight years. Give or take a little." He winced as a heavy trainer slowly squashed his instep.

"That's fantastic!" Brown Eyes exclaimed. "I was married for two years and the little rat had another girl on the side." Her mouth twisted with reminiscent pain. "That was two years ago."

Bodie blinked. The pretty child was older than he'd guessed.

"It's different for gays, Yvonne," her friend said knowledgeably. "They expect their lovers to screw around on them."

Yvonne turned to Doyle. Her dismay barely concealed, she demanded, "Don't you get narked when he spends the night with another fella?"

"I...That is...." Doyle stuttered.

"We don't do that," Bodie clarified.

"For eight years?!"

Bodie slid his feet out of harm's way before answering virtuously, "Can be done."

The woman with auburn hair gave them a look of respect mingled heavily with envy. "Too bad you guys are gay. It'd be awfully nice if there were more men looking for something other than a one-night stand."

Doyle pursed his lips, gaze fixed, while beside him, Bodie smothered a laugh.

It was late when they left the pub, having bought a round for the girls, who returned the favour before allowing them to escape. Doyle was quietly content as they walked out of the brightly lit building into the damp night, inhaling soft air into smoke-furred lungs.

Beside him, Bodie mused, "Strange, spending that much time with a bird and just... talking."

Doyle was amused by the touch of revelation in Bodie's voice. "Pretty ones, too," he agreed.

"If only they knew," Bodie chuckled.

"Yeah." He was driven into an oily-looking puddle when Bodie gave his arm a forceful nudge.

"Saw that guilty start when they started in on blokes of callous and promiscuous natures. Talking to you like you're some kind of paragon or something."

"Or something," Doyle laughed. "Weird, wasn't it?"

"Very." They reached the side of the car. It was dark and quiet, but still all too public. Bodie unlocked Doyle's door and pulled it open. He wanted nothing more than to pull his partner into his arms and hold him very tightly.

Sensing this, and well aware of their circumstances, Doyle brushed a feather-light finger across Bodie's cheek. "Get in, sunshine. Time you took me home."

"Yeah," Bodie whispered. He walked around to the driver's side of the car, whistling softly under his breath.

Bodie woke for the second time very late the following morning. He could hear Doyle in the other room, although his movements were difficult to track through the closed door. Allowing himself a moment to stretch long and achingly, he recalled the first awakening with pleasured contentment. Upon their return the previous night, they'd been too exhausted to glean much enjoyment from the abstinence-driven burst of passion that had flared between them. Nevertheless, as they lay tangled in one another's arms, being hauled forcibly into sleep, Bodie's last thoughts were that few women would have forgiven such thoughtlessness. They had been heedless of one another, driven by a single, mindless goal, not even bothering to fully undress until well after the fact.

In the morning, with dawn a wash of milky light weakly penetrating their rain-limed window, Doyle had woken first, still wrapped tightly in Bodie's possessive embrace.

Very gently, and with cherishing devotion to detail, Doyle had made love to him, letting Bodie wake naturally to the skilled efforts of hands and mouth that pleaded for nothing more than Bodie's willing response. Not unexpectedly, Bodie greeted this elaborate pampering prosaically: "God, Doyle, you're better than an alarm any day."

Unfazed, Doyle continued until Bodie's breath came in harsh, rhythmic gasps and his hands upon Doyle's shoulders were like vices, holding him centred upon his target. Afterward, Bodie looked down at his partner's complacent face, his own unguarded visage revealing the terrifyingly complex emotions that Doyle generated in him. And then Bodie had urged him up beside him and with intimate power and knowledge, wrought a similar state of devastation upon Doyle's more-than-willing person.

Suffused with the heat of memory, Bodie went to the door, cinching his robe, and peered out. Doyle was bent over the stereo, wielding an enthusiastic featherduster in time to the majestic tones pouring quietly from the speakers. He did not hear Bodie come up behind him, and was caught and held in the strength of Bodie's arms.

"Dangerous position, that," Bodie murmured, rubbing his nose against the smooth skin behind Doyle's right ear.

"Apparently," Doyle conceded. He casually slipped one foot between Bodie's legs, turning it slightly in mimicry of a caress, then hooked his ankle behind Bodie's knee. Bodie divined his intention too late and they went over together, barely missing the back of the sofa. They landed with a thud and Bodie lost the advantage as Doyle scrambled on top of him. With a deftly driving thigh, he forced Bodie's legs apart and positioned himself between them.

"And what do you call this?" Doyle asked, his breath rough upon Bodie's throat.

Not wanting to give away the shock of adrenalin pounding through him, Bodie whispered, "'S got possibilities."

Doyle pressed against him, careful of Bodie's near nakedness beneath the unyielding fabric of his jeans. "Yeah. That's one way of putting it." Doyle released him, conscious of the very real tension in both of their bodies. "'Bout time you woke up." He easily regained his feet, pulling an already moving Bodie up along with him. "Lots of work to do."

Standing quietly, Bodie looked around. "Seem to have it well in hand, Doyle."

"Thanks, mate. Left off hoovering so you could sleep." He stepped close and pressed a hard kiss to Bodie's mouth. "Tea's probably still hot. You can have some toast, too, before you get stuck in it."

A little off-balance, Bodie caught a strongly muscled forearm before Doyle could move away. "You can do that, y'know," he said quietly but with clear emphasis. "Whenever you're ready."

Clear green eyes widened with understanding. Bodie wondered what else was going on behind them, for seconds went by before Doyle gave a slight nod. "Been thinking on it," he admitted, curling the fingers of his free hand around Bodie's cheek. "Don't know that I'm ready for yet."

"'S all right," Bodie said tranquilly. He turned his face into Doyle's palm and kissed it. "Can't both be first, after all."

But Doyle shook his head, using the edge of his thumb to outline the curve of Bodie's lower lip. "Won't take anything I'm not willing to give meself." His eyes darkened perceptibly. "But it is all right, isn't it? What we've done so far: it's enough for you?"

"'Course it is," Bodie said promptly. He smiled lopsidedly. "I love you, idiot. The sex is just icing, y'know? Even if we wanted to, we're not built to do it like that all the time. But you, well, you don't give up a lifetime of fucking without...."

A less than pristine hand brutally dammed the flow of words. "But I have," Doyle said firmly. The faintest hint of a smile lightened the severity of his expression. "Make love, now, don't I? With you. And I do want to be in you, Bodie," Doyle said, with a calm huskiness that made Bodie break out in a sweat. "But not until I can return the favour. Okay?"

Bodie's voice eluded him. So he gave a brisk nod and held onto his partner until he could speak again. "Yeah," he managed finally. "Anything you want's okay with me." And he meant it: his life, his person, everything about him was Raymond Doyle's to do with as he wished.

"Good," Doyle said, satisfied. He leant nearer and blew softly into Bodie's ear. "'Cause what I want right now is for you to get dressed -- and help me finish cleaning."

"And then?" Bodie asked dreamily, tilting his ear toward the mouth that had not drawn away.

An impudent tongue dipped tantalizingly into a dark, sensitive hollow. "We'll visit the shops, pick up some perishables."

"Is that all?" Bodie grumbled, eyes half-closed under Doyle's continued ministrations.

"Then we'll do something for us. You'll be gone to the match all of tomorrow. See what you can think up."

"'Ve already thought of something," Bodie said abashedly. "But you might find it boringly repetitive."

"Not likely." One thin hand crept inside Bodie's robe, the other waved ticklish plumes beneath his nose. "Got anything in there needs dusting?"

"Nope," Bodie freed the duster from Doyle's hand and tossed it onto the floor. "But you look as though you could do with a good spit and polish."

"Skilled at that, are you?"

Bodie's robe fell open as a second burrower moved in against his flanks. "Years of practice, old son. Gets to be an art, almost. Could teach you a thing or...ah!" He dragged Doyle's head away from his chest, and up to meet his mouth. The discussion gave way to technical demonstrations and before long, a change of venue was unanimously agreed upon -- to allow more intensive instruction.

The flat was cleaned much later in the day.

The next morning, Bodie went to his game and Doyle headed for the shops. On the way, he mulled over Bodie's off-hand invitation to go with him to the match -- just to watch, as he was well acquainted with Doyle's view on most sports.

"Nah," Doyle had replied, shoving soiled sheets into a large plastic bag. "The only thing more numbing than being in a match is watching one. I'll pass, thanks."

"So what are you gonna do?" Bodie had asked, wiping an imagined speck of dirt from his left shoe.

"Told you earlier: drop off the laundry -- some of this stuff can almost move around on its own -- and pick up a few things I've been wanting."

"Oh, yeah. If you see that record I told you about ..."

"Haven't forgot. You'll pay me back, too."

"'Course." Bodie stood for a moment, just watching Doyle get the bag together. "Well, if you get bored, you know where we're playing."

"Yeah, I do," Doyle said patiently. "An' you better get out of here now or you'll be late and they'll leave you off the roster."

Bodie wasn't bothered. "Told everyone I'd be lucky to make it at all. And we are still on standby...."

Doyle lugged the carcass-heavy burden to the door. "You trying to get out of this, Bodie? Was you wanted to play, remember?"

"I'm not trying to get out of anything, Doyle," Bodie fired back testily. He hesitated and, despite his desire to get moving, Doyle sensed that Bodie wanted to say something. But Bodie ignored his encouraging look and picked up his kit.

"I'm ready," he announced. "What're you waiting for?"

"You, mate."

"Okay, okay."

Bodie's car was parked only a few yards from the entry to their building. He tossed his stuff into the boot and climbed in and started the engine as Doyle continued on down to his own vehicle, which was half a block farther on.

By the time Doyle had reached it and was stowing the bulky bag, Bodie had driven up alongside him on the one-way street and poked his head out of the window.

"Be good," he advised his partner dutifully. "You want me to bring home takeaway?"

Doyle stepped to the door and bent down to face him. "Nope. Time I cooked, I guess. Look, if I can't find anything else to do, maybe I'll stop by to watch the end of the game."

"Only if you want to," Bodie said fairly, but his eyes lit up and he banked down a smile.

"Good luck," Doyle said. He straightened up before the urge to do more than wave could take hold of him. Bodie gave him a salacious grin and gunned the engine; he had understood that look very well.

It was Saturday morning and the shops were teeming with humanity -- or what passed for it in this part of Town. Doyle finished his obligatory errands, left the car in an outlying carpark and took the tube to Tottenham Court. He spent a long time in the record store, browsing through the new arrivals before hunting down his own and Bodie's selections. Purchases dangling from his fingers, he drifted down Oxford Street, letting himself blend into the constantly marching crowd. He stopped in Boots and, reeking indifference, purchased a tube of lubricating gel. With that safely concealed in an inside jacket pocket, he strolled along, idly glancing at window displays and occasionally wandering into places with something of interest on offer. By the time he came to Marble Arch Station, the fingers of one hand going blue from the combined weight of several plastic packaged parcels, the other wrapped around a beaker of cola, it was nearly eleven.

He had lunch back at the flat at half past twelve, and an hour later was restless and vaguely out of sorts. He gave up on his book after the second of the two new LPs had played, and finished off the pot of tea he had brewed upon arriving home.

Doyle had never had trouble being alone; in fact, he preferred it as a rule. The fact that this was the first time in weeks that he'd had to himself merely seemed to underscore the extent to which his life had changed. Given the same day two months ago, he would have repeated the morning minute by minute, but now, would have settled in for a long, quiet read, accompanied by soothing music, at complete peace with himself, if not the world.

Bodie missed him, too. He had missed him even before leaving this morning. Bloody stupid, Doyle thought with annoyance. He hadn't begrudged Bodie his match, had thought it a good idea, lest they come to war on one another with so much enforced companionship. He should have seen the fallacy of that notion right off: after all, they had shared more hours together over the last eight years than most married couples. It had never grated before; why should it, now?

Because now, it was important. In truth, it had been important before, but there had been certain boundaries then and rarely had they transgressed them. The distance that had been maintained for propriety and their own protection had been eliminated. And now, used to being with Bodie, it was disconcerting not to be.

So why fight it? Doyle decided, shaking his head at himself that he should be willing to sit through an interminable cricket match, just to see his partner.

At least the day is fine, he consoled himself, as he left the car parked half on the pavement out of the narrow road. The earlier cloud cover had lifted and the late summer sun shone warmly onto the playing grounds. Doyle went straight to the milling group of spectators, his eyes scanning the field.

He spotted Bodie almost at once, bat in hand, standing a little away from the others. A man came up behind him and gave him a slap on the shoulder, his mouth moving. Bodie produced a perfunctory smile and turned back to the field, his face losing all expression.

If Doyle had doubted his motivation in coming here, he conceded to the rightness of it at that moment. Everything fell back into place; his sense of well-being was restored. Like we're attached, he thought uselessly, observing the lift of Bodie's head as dark, hooded eyes travelled over the families and friends that edged the field. Even from here, Doyle could see the slight tightening of lips and the dismissive toss of head before the unrewarded gaze fell to the grass.

There was a knotting in Doyle's stomach as he realised that Bodie was looking for him. He'd been passed over due to the cluster of people standing between them. Foolishly aware of his accelerated heartbeat, Doyle skirted the crowd, muttering inane apologies as he tried to avoid those who unintentionally blocked his passage, and finally, came to a place where he was in clear view of the players awaiting their turns.

Several minutes passed, notable for some feverish activity on the playing ground and the appreciative response of the watchers, before Bodie repeated his search. Doyle willed his partner to find him, standing with studied indifference, arms folded across his chest, the bulk of his weight borne by one leg. There was a thrill of gratification as Bodie's entire demeanour altered at sight of him; quiet pleasure suffused the handsome features and a tiny grin drew the corners of his mouth upward. Doyle smiled back, and then laughed out loud. Bodie grinned harder, as though they had exchanged some ridiculously inappropriate joke.

Before he could make himself overly conspicuous, Doyle found a reasonably dry patch of ground and settled cross-legged onto it. Having had the foresight to bring along his novel, he watched when Bodie was in the midst of action and buried his nose in the book the rest of the time, unaffected by the disapproving looks -- and sometimes comments -- of those around him.

Not surprisingly, Bodie's side eventually won. From all the back-pounding and enthusiastic hand-shaking, it was apparent that the victors would be gathering at a nearby pub for a play-by-play recounting. Catching Bodie's eye one last time, Doyle indicated that he was leaving and tried to convey that Bodie should take his time with his friends.

The sky was darkening as he let himself into the flat. He didn't expect Bodie soon, knowing that several rounds of drinks would be necessary to reward the players their efforts. He didn't mind. The out-of-synch feeling that had plagued him earlier in the day had quite vanished. Throwing together a lot of odds and ends, he set the cooker to simmer, activated the turntable and returned to the lounge with his book.

"Hey, sleepyhead!"

Doyle jolted awake, then relaxed back onto the couch as a warm, welcome mouth settled on his. "Didn't mean to fall asleep," he muttered, shifting sideways so Bodie could sit next to him. Yawning, he asked, "What time is it?"

"Just past seven."

"Is that all? Thought you'd be an hour or two, yet."

"Told 'em I had someone waiting for me. Something smells good; what're you cooking?"

"Plain old stew, mate. Didn't feel like anything fancy; wasn't sure you'd want anything, anyway."

"You do a good stew, Doyle." Bodie eased himself down until their mouths met again. The kiss was long and tender, a measure of abiding affection rather than a prelude to passion. "Didn't expect to see you there today."

"Then why were you looking for me?"

"What makes you think I was?" Bodie asked archly.

"Saw you do it."

"Hmm. Sharp-eyed little copper like you, shoulda realised I couldn't hide anything."

"Nope. Missed me, did you?"

Bodie worked open three more buttons on Doyle's shirt. "Yeah." He pulled the flaps apart and indolently brushed his cheek against Doyle's chest. "Was the best part of the day when I saw you over there posing for me."

"Wasn't posing, idiot." Doyle gave a sweat-stiff lock of hair a sharp pull. "Just wanted to be sure you saw me."

"Hmm." Bodie snaked his arms around the relaxed form, closing his eyes as he made himself comfortable on Doyle's bony ribcage. "Crazy, huh?"

"Yeah." Doyle breathed in his lover's tangy aroma, perfectly content to lie here like this for the rest of the evening. "And it's catching."

"You, too?"

"I hate cricket, Bodie."

A deep chortle, rich with immense satisfaction, resonated between them.

"Thought you did."

Early the following morning, they were summarily called in by Central. Being that it was Sunday, the traffic was considerably reduced and they made excellent time. At HQ, Cowley handed out their assignment and sent them, amidst grimaces and barely audible imprecations, on their way.

"Bloody minders!" Bodie exclaimed, hanging onto the overhead strap as Doyle wrenched the car into the far lane. "If he wants us out, all he has to do is say. Bloody-minded...."

"IRA too tame for you these days?" Doyle interrupted, not taking his eyes off the road.

Bodie sneered. "They might not mind having Radley's arse, but I doubt they'll go to any extremes to get it."

"If it suits them. They don't like losing wealthy supporters, especially those foolish enough to bad-mouth them in the press."

"You wait and see, Doyle," Bodie prophesied. "We'll spend the next two days with this American bastard, play proper little shadow, and nothing will happen."

Doyle flashed him a smile. "Ready for a little blood-letting, are you? Watch out, Bodie, you may get what you wish for."

"No such luck."

He was right. They hovered around Steven Radley for two days and nights, dogging his every move like well-trained Alsatians. But for all his notoriety, the IRA chose to turn a disdainful nose up and Radley left the UK late Tuesday afternoon as healthy as he had arrived.

Cowley was not in evidence as they turned in their reports, so Bodie missed the opportunity for a confrontation. Doyle understood his partner's resentment, but viewed the whole exercise with a more balanced perspective. They had been in the line of fire and had come out unscathed; he wouldn't ask for more than that.

The next morning only served to fuel Bodie's seething temper. Directed to records, he was a chore for everyone, including Doyle, to be around. On the surface, their task was legitimate. Cowley wanted information on local gunrunners who might be supplying explosives to a crank faction operating out of the heart of London. The group was dedicated to preserving the "purity" of the City's architectural splendour and opposed the new glassed-in "monsters" that threatened their beloved environs like a blight. Unfortunately, vandalism perpetrated on nightbound construction sites had recently been superseded by malicious -- and potentially fatal -- pranks which targeted not only the project workers, but designers and financial supporters and their establishments, as well.

With the increasing hint of terrorism, the group's activities now became Cowley's affair.

Bodie viewed it as a joke, and a backhanded one, at that. Doyle made no effort to argue him out of it, knowing that once his partner had reached this stage, there was no dealing with him until he got it out of his system, one way or another.

Yet, the silence was profound as they finally returned to the streets, having divulged as much information as they could for the computers to assess and assimilate. Given carte blanche to follow up on any leads they might consider useful, Bodie drove them to the centre of Town, planning to pay a visit to a contact of his who ran a tiny magazine shop off St. Giles Circle.

"So who's Garrick?" Doyle asked, nearly forty-five minutes later. They were back in the silver Ghia and Bodie's face was darkly occupied following his conversation with the pudgy little man who wore distortingly thick glasses which made his eyes enormously outsized. Something about him had made Doyle uncomfortable, the kind of amused revulsion he'd experienced not long ago when he'd found a pair of slithery bugs in the act of mating in his bath.

It had not taken much to persuade the man to talk. Why he should have such privileged information, Doyle could only guess, considering the line of "literature" he traded in: lists of mercenary postings, techniques for surviving the wilds that also just might be useful in holding off unprovoked martial overtures -- either legal or otherwise. As with most of his sources, Bodie commanded remarkable patience and respect.


"Derek Garrick," Bodie answered tersely. "His mum had a hell of a sense of humour, especially in springing that nasty little surprise on the world."

"You know 'im?"

"More by reputation than anything else. Ran afoul of the prick in Belfast; quite fancied himself the coming munitions star-turn."

"He worked with the IRA?"

"When it suited him. Mostly he worked for whoever offered the largest pay-off with a bit of bloody fun to keep him entertained."

Doyle let his eyes rove over the water-stained facades of patrician buildings. "So if he's doing this gig, it's for the money. There's got to be someone else behind it."

"Maybe," Bodie said gloomily. "Our Derek is not averse to doing something if job satisfaction is the only perk. Gets a lot of pleasure out of his work, does Derek."

"So what made you think of him? 'S why you went to Goggles, isn't it; expected him to know something about this bloke." Doyle twisted in his seat so he could watch Bodie's face. They were briefly stalled at a light and Bodie glanced across at him.

"Comment Garrick made after one of his kills; made the rounds the way those things do."


"He said that it wasn't as 'edifying' -- that was the word he supposedly used -- blowing up older buildings. He liked storefronts -- all the glass, y'see -- because of the spectacular effect." He shifted the car into gear and glided through the junction.

Doyle unhooked the transmitter and put a call through to Central. He relayed everything Bodie's contact had said, then held the device to Bodie's mouth so he could add a description of the suspect. Tossing the mike onto the dash, Doyle asked, "So where to, now?"

"Back to base, I guess. Probably take days to hunt Garrick down -- if he's the one. Kinda doubt it, really. Most of the devices that have gone off have been too tame for his mentality."

"Could argue that someone else is pulling the strings, that."

"Possibly. Jesus! Don't these idiots ever go home?"

Doyle let the mild complaint flow over him, watching dully dressed hordes plod along the streets. A cascade of long red hair caught his eye and he watched its owner turn into a store just as a woman with riotous blonde curls stepped out. Pretty, that one, despite her introspective expression. As they inched down Hormouth Street, Doyle picked out another lovely face, topped by black hair that shone improbably blue in the pale light.

Quietly appreciative of their beauty, Doyle's interest went no further. True, there were still days when he woke confused at the solid warmth surrounding him, held fast by hands larger than his own; but those days were less frequent now and had never been accompanied by any regrets for what he had given up. Women were wonderful creatures; but not one among them could give him what he had now: Bodie. And Bodie encompassed so much: companionship, acceptance, understanding, a penchant for mayhem and obstreperousness that occasionally heralded his imminent demise, and a vast tenderness that seemed reserved for Doyle alone.

"Can't have 'em, sunshine." Bodie's neutral voice scattered his wandering thoughts.

"Have what?"

"Any of those birds you've been ogling."

A little startled that his quiet musings had been so closely observed, and perceiving the ever so slight snap of frost in Bodie's voice, Doyle was spurred to aggravation. "Could always take one home for the pair of us," he said airily.

No one else would have noticed Bodie's reaction. But Doyle did, as apparent to him as a blob of colour on a virgin canvas. A faint movement too attenuated to be termed a flinch, the barest lift of chest as breath ceased its usual passage, a flicker of dark lashes that failed to conceal the dismay in his eyes: these comprised the involuntary evidence of Bodie's deepest fear.

"Is that what you...."

Before the painfully dry voice could finish, Doyle grabbed Bodie's shoulder and gripped it hard. "No! Not one more word. You can pound me into the wall when we get home. I don't want a bird, and if you ever suggest something like that -- and mean it, 'cause I didn't -- I'll pound you into the wall. I'm sorry, Bodie. Honestly."

Bodie took his eyes off the road long enough to scour Doyle's open face. Turning his hands loosely around the steering wheel, he asked, "Do you miss 'em, Ray?"

"Nope." Doyle relaxed back into the seat. He moved his hand to Bodie's thigh, where he let it rest for an instant, mindful of the bus lumbering in the lane beside them. "Give me a turn, you watching me like that, that's all. Bloody stupid thing to say."

"At least your taste hasn't gone bad," Bodie granted him. "Good lookers, they were."

"Yeah. One thing wrong with 'em, though."

Bodie gave him a look of inquiry.

"Ain't you, sunshine."

Any residual misgivings evaporated before that solemn statement. His eyes on the road ahead, Bodie smiled softly to himself. "Well, I did say your taste hasn't gone..."

The R/T crackled to life. "Five-nine to 3.7. Three-seven, do you read?"

Doyle collected the transmitter. "Five-nine, this is 4.5. Three-seven's with me. What d'you need?"

"Bodie's not going to believe this: that bloke he reported in has been spotted on Oxford Street near Regent, moving west."

"That's quick. Lake, you sure it's him?"

"You'll love this. Central passed on the official description just as work was quitting for the day at all the construction sites we've had under surveillance for the last week. He's one of the labourers. Goes by the name Thomas Wren now."

Bodie snatched the microphone from Doyle's hand. "Who's on him, 5.9?"

"Me and Stewart. Cowley wants a personal ID as Derek Garrick before we move in. You're it, 3.7."

"Be there in.... Better give us ten minutes, Lake. The traffic's a pig."

"Make it seven. He's not doing a lot of window shopping."

Bodie managed it in six. With the update that Garrick was just west of Selfridges, they dumped the car illegally on Gilbert Street and took to foot. For Doyle, it was a replay of the Saturday before, but with a nightmarish element that had been lacking then. There were simply too many people, too many cars, buses and lorries for them to afford an overt action.

His partner was not unduly beset by such qualms -- or any qualms, at all, for that matter -- plowing forward like an icebreaker into the Arctic Circle. Doyle remained in his wake until they reached the west end of the massive department store. Speaking softly into the R/T concealed in his jacket, Doyle was rewarded with the information that Garrick had passed Selfridges and was hovering outside Marks and Spencer.

"Better than Selfridges," was Bodie's laconic comment.

"He's going in," Lake announced.

Doyle gritted his teeth as Bodie surged ahead. Just outside the glassed display, he caught one leather-clad arm and dragged Bodie to a stop. "Is there any chance at all of him recognizing you?"

Bodie shook himself free. "No. We never met."

"You know what he looks like. Are you sure?"

"What's the matter with you, Doyle?" Bodie demanded. "Had him pointed out to me, all right?"

"Maybe you were pointed out to him, too. Happens," he added tartly, irritated by Bodie's unconcealed impatience. "I'll go in first, get in place. One minute, you follow."

Breathing hard, his body tensely prepared, Bodie looked as though he would argue. Then he nodded. "One minute."

Deceptively loose-limbed, Doyle wandered into the store. He glanced casually from left to right, as though pondering which department he wished to visit first. He gave thanks that "Marks and Sparks" was nowhere near the cavernous monstrosity that Selfridges was, and spied his prey almost immediately, rummaging through a table piled high with Aran sweaters.

Bodie's description was ten years out of date, but coupled with the information released by Central, he knew the man immediately. With the focussed disinterest of a Hereford out to pasture, he sidled through the tables and racks until he stood within a couple of yards of Derek Garrick. Only a few other people were in the immediate area, and only two did he count possibly in danger: a man and older boy, who was perhaps twelve or thirteen. With his head bent over a table littered with packaged underwear, he took note of Bodie's entry.

In that instant, there was a scuffle of movement to his left and a squawk of pained surprise. Garrick had scooped the boy up, his arm looped around his throat; against his ear he held a P-38. The boy's companion, apparently his father, made as if to lunge forward.

"Don't!" Doyle shouted, one hand thrust out in warning.

The terrorist smiled. "Doyle, isn't it?" At the startlement on Doyle's face, he nodded. "I know you. Of you, anyway. Doesn't pay to be in this business without finding out who'll try and put you under. Over there." With a jerk of his head he directed Doyle to the nearest wall. Watching the stricken parent, Doyle obeyed.

"Stupid place to try something like this, Garrick." Hands loosely raised, Doyle's arms tingled with the sharply increased flow of blood.

"Silly me, should've thought of that. Where's your partner, copper?"

"Here." Bodie seemed to materialize from nowhere, when in actuality he had crept behind merchandise platforms and ranks of clothing racks to get within a few feet of them.

Doyle's face tightened at sight of the .44 prominently displayed in Bodie's hand. Before the thought could fully develop that Bodie was going about this all wrong, Garrick reacted, He shoved the boy toward Bodie and swung his gun-hand in line with Doyle. The agent threw himself to the floor and rolled, the bark of the 9mm automatic coinciding with the sharp whack of his leg as it slammed hard against the corner of the nearest table. Doyle felt the bullet sear his hair as it streaked past, embedding itself in the wood frame of the display table beside his head. His left hand clawed for his own pistol as he tried to balance himself. Out of the corner of one eye, he saw Bodie ruthlessly disentangling himself from the boy, hampered by the father's terrified efforts to help.

"At least I'll take one of you." Garrick's teeth shone triumphantly as his finger tightened on the trigger, the single black eye of the P38 staring down at a helpless Ray Doyle.

There was a loud click and Bodie gasped, "No!"

Garrick heard the hammer of Bodie's .44 come down harmlessly against an apparently empty cylinder. He cast Bodie a glance, a flush of anger bringing colour to his face, then quickly shifted, realigning his sights on Bodie. The instant's distraction was all that Doyle needed. A fraction of a microsecond before the terrorist could pull the trigger, Doyle's Browning spoke once, followed almost immediately by the thunderclap of Bodie's .44. Garrick shrieked as his hand was torn apart by Doyle's bullet, the terrible cry suddenly cut off as he flopped violently against the table behind him, driven there by the impact of the hollow point .44 slug. He crumpled heavily to the floor.

Doyle scrambled to his feet and hurried to the terrorist's still body. He picked up the man's pistol with thumb and forefinger hooked through the trigger guard, fastidiously avoiding most of the gore coating the heavy metal. Then he felt Garrick's clammy throat and raised his head to face his partner.

Two black eyes burned at him out of an impossibly white face. Taken aback, Doyle blinked to clear the image. He found his voice and spoke calmly. "He's still alive, mate. Shocky, though. Break open some of those undershirts, will you; need to slow the bleeding."

Bodie did as instructed, but his movements lacked fluidity and grace. "Did you dump that thing?" Doyle asked sharply, gesturing to the gun still held loosely in Bodie's hand.

The dark head gave a negative shake. "If it was going to blow, it would've done it by now."

"Suppose so," Doyle muttered. "Lucky for us misfires are even less common than stoppages." He accepted the bundle of soft cotton and jammed it under Garrick's warmly wet shirt. "Good shot, that," he added approvingly. "Under the circumstances and all." He leaned his head back to give Bodie a reassuring grin.

But Bodie had turned away. A crowd of people were gathering, including the frantic department manager, and shortly, a whole league of managers and store executives. While Bodie dealt with them, Doyle began to use his R/T, cancelling the call when he saw Lake and Stewart elbowing their way through the ring of curious watchers.

An ambulance arrived moments later, upon the heels of the police. The CI5 agents worked smoothly to explain the situation and to establish their authority. Cowley himself appeared as Garrick was being loaded into the vehicle for his trip to hospital. He took a verbal summary from Doyle, then directed all of them back to HQ while he remained to pour oil upon the local waters.

Night surrounded them as they left the car and walked to their apartment building. Doyle had begun to despair of ever getting clear of HQ, wanting more than anything to have Bodie alone so he could talk to him. His partner had been unnaturally silent during the trip back, responding when spoken to, but in monosyllabic words, or simple grunts when he could get away with it.

They had completed their reports and turned them in to Cowley, who demanded a thorough debriefing as well. He informed them that Garrick would survive, albeit with a shattered right hand. That led him to a diatribe upon Doyle's judgement in going for the villain's gunhand, rather than a body shot, the latter being the prescribed action, as it increased one's hit probability, while reducing the likelihood of over penetration. A civilian killed by a bullet that had passed through the hand of a terrorist would be no less dead for the route it had taken to reach him.

The agent sat in silence as he was upbraided, offering no excuses or arguments, for he had none. Cowley knew as well as he did the why of his actions, for a body shot might not have deflected Garrick's aim. That Bodie would have been at his mercy had Doyle's bullet missed, went without saying. The still-gurgling activity in Doyle's guts kept him fully cognizant of that fact.

When Cowley had questioned the wisdom of Bodie's action, for the first and only time during the session, Bodie had exploded, launching into a stinging invective against the reliability of their equipment, their backup and the Squad in general. Fascinated, Cowley let him rage for several minutes. Bodie had finally run out of words, concluding that he had acted as the situation warranted, that neither he nor Doyle could have guessed that Garrick would know who they were -- and what did Records have to say about that? -- and, anyway, Cowley had the little bastard alive to pursue his inquiries.

Heart racing, Doyle had finally turned from Bodie's glowering features, only to discover Cowley watching not Bodie, but him.

"Do you concur with Bodie's...evaluation?" the head of CI5 asked quietly.

Caught like a rabbit in the headlamps of a car, Doyle stared blankly at him for a long moment. Pulling his wayward thoughts together with difficulty, he finally mumbled, "In essence, yeah."

"I see." Cowley regarded them with cold dispassion. "Despite all the bluster and noise, I believe that you both realise what a colossal foul-up this could have been. I suggest you think on that between now and tomorrow morning when you report in. Eight o'clock, Doyle. Good night, gentlemen."

Doyle led the way into the flat. Having abandoned his earlier resolve to talk with his partner, he went straight into the bedroom and began to shed his trousers. Under the dim light from the bedside lamp, he inspected the section of abraded skin that ran from the outside base of his left knee to the bottom of the calf.

"When did you...."

Bodie stood framed in the doorway, staring at the red, oozing patch of flesh on Doyle's leg. "Table got in the way," Doyle replied wryly. He glanced up as Bodie pivoted smartly and walked away. Too tired to call him back, he slowly stretched the leg out and lay back on the cold bed, fingers easing the buttons of his shirt free.

Bodie returned in minutes, a warm, wet flannel in hand. He gently tended the raw area careful, dabbing touches. When he was satisfied the wound was clean, he applied a soothing ointment.

Doyle watched him from under his lashes, saying nothing while Bodie worked, afraid to speak lest he drive him further into the broodiness that had enveloped him since the afternoon's excitement.

"How's that feel?" Bodie asked, dropping the flannel and tube to the floor.

"Good," Doyle murmured. "The burning's stopped."

Bodie's hands came to rest on Doyle's ankles. He stared down at his partner with an intensity that made Doyle uneasy. Yet Doyle held his peace, waiting for Bodie to do something.

The hands began to move, riding the ridge of shins, moulding briefly over his kneecaps, then spreading vide as they left the injured area behind. Doyle stiffened as they glided up his thighs, then went limp again as they bypassed his genitals. Bodie bent forward as he measured the span of Doyle's chest, fingers drifting slowly through soft hair. As he moulded his palms around the balls of Doyle's shoulders, he closed the distance between them. Slowly, almost reverently, he matched his mouth to Doyle's Doyle accepted the cherishing kiss for what it was: a reaffirmation of their existence despite odds that should have seen them buried.

But it was much more than that for Bodie. What he had feared, what had motivated him to run before, had come to pass, and he knew there was no longer any going back -- if there ever had been. The pain inside him was more than enough to tear the heart out of any ordinary man, and, at the moment, he felt very ordinary, indeed. Love was not supposed to feel like this, this dreadful, deeply-buried agony that foretold his case should Doyle die before him.

Unable to bear the thought, but incapable of shaking off the lingering sick feeling, Bodie broke the kiss. Doyle lay beneath him, eyes closed, mouth a little open, lips gleaming. Bodie looked at him and knew a savage wanting unlike any he'd ever known.

"Ray...." he said raggedly, and gathered the willing body into his arms. Yielding to an imperative as old as time, but not consciously admitting what he was doing, Bodie set out to possess him. Lost in warm, urgent caresses, his mouth plundered and worshipped with exhilarating thoroughness, Doyle did not at first perceive Bodie's intention. Only when Bodie dragged off his own trousers after stripping away Doyle's briefs, and forced a knee between Doyle's thighs, did he gain an inkling of what his partner was about.

Instinctively, Doyle began to struggle, at first simply trying to escape the suffocating mouth.

"Need you," Bodie rasped out. "Let me...."

"Bodie, no, not..." ... like this! But Bodie devoured his protests with hungry kisses, manoeuvring himself between Doyle's legs, pulling them apart and raising them.

He felt Bodie press close and knew the moment had come. There was no time to relax, and it was going to hurt, really hurt, for Bodie had not prepared either one of them. And yet, aware of all of this, Doyle did nothing more than cling to Bodie's sweat-slick forearm, his throat crowded with the rapid fire presence of his heart.

In the instant before he took him, Bodie raised his head, passion clouding his vision, but wanting very much to see Doyle's face. It was turned away from him, brows gathered low over squeezed-shut eyes, lower lip pinched viciously between sharp teeth. The tendons in Doyle's neck were rigidly outlined beneath translucent skin and a film of perspiration dampened his hair and shone upon his face. It was a mask of dread.

Feeling as though every muscle in his body would come unstrung, Bodie carefully drew back. "Ray...." He lowered Doyle's legs to the bed and rubbed them with the flats of his palms. Doyle's head moved on the pillow and his eyes warily shuttered open. Bodie couldn't face him, but neither could he leave. He curled up along one flank, arm wrapped tightly around the rapidly moving chest.

"Sorry, Ray," he whispered. "God, I'm sorry."

Cheek cushioned by the damp ribcage, Bodie measured the slowing pace of Doyle's heart. From here, he could see the tops of the superbly muscled thighs and the pale genitals that lay upon them. Soft as a child's, they bore no trace of arousal. Face contorted with guilt, Bodie encompassed them with one big hand, his touch exquisitely gentle and in jarring contrast to the force he had wielded only minutes before

"What for?" Doyle almost managed to sound normal. Bodie was amazed that he deigned to speak at all.

"What do you mean, 'what for'?" Bodie's voice was pitched high. "For acting like a dog in rut, almost raping you...." He choked on the words. "Christ, Doyle, I would've hurt you -- and you would've let me!" This last statement was blurted out at the same instant that the knowledge registered in his brain.

Trembling fingers threaded their way into Bodie's hair. "Yeah?" Doyle produced a sound that might have been a chuckle. "Short of putting you out of commission, I don't know that I could've stopped you."

Bodie flinched as though he'd been struck. "You've got a mouth damn you! Never hesitated to say when you didn't like something before."

"Guess this was different. Knew what you were feeling, what it's like."

Bodie dared to raise his head. As he moved, Doyle's hand slid around to his cheek.

Doyle offered him a tentative smile. "After a day like this, what's the first thing you used to do? Either get blind-pissed or find a willing bird and shag her until you couldn't stand. Cowley'll sack you for the first choice -- and you don't have the second option anymore, do you? Not if you value your life."

Overwhelmed by Doyle's ungrudging appraisal of his actions, Bodie whispered harshly, "Didn't want the first time to be like that."

Doyle's expression mirrored his agreement. "Yeah, well, neither did I."

"But you would've let me."

"Entitled to your conjugals, Bodie." Ignoring the stunned look this statement produced, Doyle stretched out a long arm and pawed through the drawer of the bedside table. He displayed the unopened tube of lubricant and said, "Still are, come to that. But it'll be easier on both of us if you use this, okay?" He pressed it into Bodie's hand, recoiling a little as the cool plastic casing brushed against his abdomen when Bodie's limp fingers fumbled it.

"Doyle, I..." Forsaking the inadequacy of words, Bodie kissed him, his mouth willing Doyle's forgiveness, mutely attempting to communicate the depth of his remorse. "You terrify me, sometimes, d'you know that?"

"Ought to," Doyle said comfortably. "Work hard enough at it, don't I."

Bodie's eyes darkened. "If I thought you meant that, I'd beat you to a pulp."

"Yeah? You and whose army?"

There was no mistaking the challenge in Doyle's wide green eyes. "Just me," Bodie said staunchly, bouncing back quickly. "And, anyway, you told me I could."

"Not bloody likely. Why should I say something as harebrained as that?"

"'S like you to forget, Doyle. Told me I could pound you into the wall when we got home, after I caught you eyeing those birds. Remember?"

Doyle grimaced, then watched, unmoving, as Bodie began to remove the cap to the tube. "I might." The words were croaked out. Despite Doyle's seeming nonchalance, this next step was one that both tempted and unnerved him. "Just ...take it slow, mate, will you?"

Bodie saw the underlying fear and dropped the menacing facade. "Don't worry, Ray. That'll keep." He spread a thin coating of gel over Doyle's lower abdomen, then wrapped slick fingers around the thickening column of flesh that reared up into his hand as though independently sentient. Doyle let out a sharp breath, lifting his hips to aid the creature's efforts. Relieved that Doyle should respond so quickly, Bodie tightened his grip and pumped firmly until Doyle began to tense.

"Hang about," he whispered. "We'll do this together." Impatiently, Doyle waited while Bodie applied the gel to himself in the same manner and let his legs fall apart when Bodie moved to mount him.

"Jesus, Bodie, come on," Doyle urged, arching upwards to meet his partner's cautious descent.

"Slow down, mate," Bodie warned, "Don't want to crush your flowers and frolics." But this was a technique they'd virtually perfected in the past weeks and within minutes, their movements were in total accord, almost as though they had choreographed them beforehand.

Bodie controlled the dance this time and made Doyle follow his lead. He took Ray to the brink and held him there until Doyle moaned for release. And slowly, gently, Bodie granted it to him, resisting his own pleasure until Doyle lay drained beneath him, his quickened breath a chilling breeze on Bodie's torso.

"I love you," Bodie said, the quiet pronouncement almost wrenching in its simplicity.

Doyle smiled up at him. "C'mere, then, and let me do you." Bodie rolled to his side, one hard clamped on the sharply defined curve of Doyle's hip.

Kissing him with voluptuous lack of haste, Doyle guided Bodie onto his back and pampered him with the same meticulous lovemaking that Bodie had lavished on him.

He wiped off the excess lubricant and his own ejaculation from Bodie's penis and testicles and resumed his kisses there. "Hmm. Could improve the taste of that," he muttered.

"You don't have to, Ray," Bodie offered weakly, even as he availed himself of the satiny, wet warmth, sighing rapturously as a gentle sucking alternated with long, delicious licks all up the length of him, again and again.

"Shh, you slow down." Doyle carefully propped himself on Bodie's stomach and used his fingers for a while, employing feather-light touches and quick squeezes, enough to keep him interested, while withholding the pressure necessary to bring him to completion. With his left hand, he surrounded the loose sac containing Bodie's testicles, scratching very lightly. Bodie's pelvis began to work, demanding more. "All right, lie still," Doyle whispered huskily. He took him back into his mouth and began to move his head up and down.

"Ray! God, yes, oh, yes," Bodie groaned, his fingers carding roughly through Doyle's hair, barely restraining himself from driving hard into that compliant shelter. All at once, he came, his body racked with glorious spasms, his heart threatening to spring from his chest.

Doyle let his head relax onto Bodie's abdomen, the shrinking organ cushioned on the pad of his tongue. Bodie's breathing slowly calmed as his hands drifted amid thick curls. Finally, Doyle released him and went readily when Bodie tugged on his shoulders.

"Still love me?" asked Doyle, after a bit.

"Yeah. No."

Doyle pulled Bodie's head off his shoulder and tilted it back. "Better explain that, mate." He was only half-joking.

Bodie grinned and kissed him, then buried his nose in the soft hair fanning out from the base of Doyle's collarbone. "More than love you, my lad. Crazy is what I feel for you."

"And scary?" Doyle added intuitively.

A slow breath brushed across Doyle's chest. "Yeah. Ray, today...."

"Don't, Bodie. Not yet, anyway. We'll have to talk about it eventually, but not...after this."

Bodie subsided into silence -- for a few minutes. Then he said, very clearly, "But soon. Today...."

Doyle bent his head, brushing a kiss across Bodie's cheek. "Go to sleep, sunshine. Love you, too, y'know?"

A silly grin broke through Bodie's preoccupation. "Still can't believe it," he murmured.

Two illusorily thin arms closed tightly around him, lips pressed warmly against his temple. "Believe it," Doyle said.

The bed was empty. He remembered: Doyle had slipped away a bit ago, to go to the loo, Bodie'd thought. He stretched and rolled over, and heard the door open behind him.

"Morning," Doyle said. He was dressed for the day in cream shirt, green sweater, shoulder holster and pistol, and dark brown corduroy trousers. In the process of pulling on his fur-collared leather jacket, a rectangle of golden toast pinned between his teeth, he nodded toward his partner. "Sleep the morning away, you would, if you had the chance," he mumbled tucking a crumb back into his mouth before it could escape onto his jacket.

Bodie forced his eyes wider and glanced across at the clock on the bedside table. "Jesus, Ray, it's already half past seven! Why didn't you...."

"Because your appointment isn't until nine."

Blue eyes flared with surprise, then quickly slid away. "I...uh...cancelled..."

"And I rescheduled it." At the look of outrage that met this statement, Doyle popped the remainder of his breakfast into his mouth and fought a grin.

"Sorry, mate," he apologised between chews, "the Cow expected it. Checked with the dentist's office and told them to let me know if you contacted them."

"Bastard. I don't need to go, Ray, really, it's...."

"Time you went," Doyle told him sternly. "Past time, according to Anthony. Look, I'm off. See you at HQ. George'll probably stick me with files till you show up."

"Kiss?" Bodie asked hopefully.

Doyle hesitated, weighing the likelihood that his thwarted partner would attempt retribution. Considering Bodie's abhorrence of things dental, he pressed the tips of his fingers to his mouth, seductively moulded his lips against them and blew the insubstantial results Bodie's way.

"Mean little sod," Bodie grumbled, but an irrepressible flash of humour lurked behind the disconsolate blue gaze.

Doyle winked at him and was gone.

Bodie's morning went from bad to worse. He finally arrived at HQ a little past eleven, acknowledging Fred at the door with a curt nod. The left side of his face was numb from the cheekbone down to the inward curve of his throat. It would be hours yet before the anaesthetic wore off, a treat he didn't particularly look forward to; but this sloppy numbness was even worse.

At Betty's desk, he blocked his face with one hand, pretending to cover a cough. "D'you know where Ray's got off to?"

She tossed her head in the direction of Cowley's office. "Mr. Cowley's been waiting for you. Wants to see you right away."

"Doyle with him?"

Oblivious to his question, Betty accessed Cowley's intercom. "Bodie is here, sir."

Frowning to gargoylish effect, Bodie strode down the hall to the controller's office. He rapped once and pushed the door open without waiting for a reply.

For once, Cowley was obviously awaiting him, fingers steepled together on the wide desk, elbows planted unconcernedly upon the papers strewn across it.

Observing the faint puffiness of Bodie's jaw and the tense expression, Cowley could not repress a slight smile. "Good, I was just about to call Dr. Anthony and enquire whether you had kept your appointment."

Bodie was not amused. "As you ordered, sir."

"Good. Sit down, Bodie. This will take a couple of minutes."

Not quite concealing the alarm that welled up inside him, Bodie took the chair indicated and waited. "It's about Ray."

"Him, and your new assignment, yes. You're off the Garrick case, as of now. Doyle will be away for a few days, possibly a week or two. I've sent him to Edinburgh, undercover. There will be no contact with him, except through me."

"Edinbur..." Bodie clamped his mouth shut, absorbing this information even as he smothered the resentment and killing disappointment that grew from it. "Does he have backup, sir?"

"Of course. You are not to concern yourself, Bodie. He -- "

"Concern myself! Doyle's my partner! He has a right -- "

"And he is your lover," Cowley's brittle voice cut through Bodie's rage with razor-sharp precision. "And he is still an operative under my authority and will perform his duties as I require him to. As will you."

Cowley stood and stalked to the window, his back rigid. "You were both instructed to make your relationship known within the Squad," Cowley reminded him. "Why haven't you done so?"

This line of questioning was the last thing Bodie expected. Their involvement was still measured in weeks, rather than months, and the last time they had discussed this was in the earliest days. "'ll be hard for Ray," Bodie replied, at last. "Don't want him embarrassed."

"Are you afraid he'll change his mind?" Cowley turned toward him, his features barely discernible before the greater glare of light from the window.

"No, but I think he should have time...."

"Not surprising. After all, you did force him into this, didn't you, Bodie?"

"I...." Bodie's mouth went dry. How could he deny it when that was precisely what he believed, himself? Nevertheless, he snapped, "He agreed."

"Extortion. You were threatening to leave. And don't tell me it wasn't calculated on your part. You could've arranged your departure in any number of ways so that Doyle would not have known until it was too late. It was a wager, but not a terribly risky one; after all, it was never in question that Doyle cared far you."

Bodie held himself still by main force, discovering that he had bitten the inside of his lower lip by the taste of blood upon his tongue. "Maybe," he said stonily. "But you played a part in all of this too, After all, you could've made up a plausible excuse for my leaving. You never intended to let me resign. If it meant delivering Doyle to my bed, you didn't care, so long as you didn't lose your top team."

"Top, eh? After yesterday, are you so certain of that, boy?" He took a step closer to the desk. "And what about Doyle?"

Bodie took a deep breath. "I didn't hold a gun to his head."

"Didn't you? He was willing to do anything to keep you here. Perhaps now, he's decided the price is too high."

"What the hell are -- "

"Who arranged your appointment this morning, Bodie?" Cowley went on inexorably.

A fine sweat broke out over Bodie's body, and, all at once, he was breathing with half of his chest, fast and painfully. "If you have something to say, say it! You want me to believe that Ray's skipped out? That he couldn't take it anymore?" Bodie hated the words, hated more the likelihood that they were based in fact. Even as he spoke, though, something inside him fought the accusations. Doyle wouldn't do that, he couldn't! Last night....

Last night.

Bodie slowly straightened. The memory of what Doyle had offered him restored his sense of equilibrium. That hadn't been a going-away present; not from Ray-bloody-Doyle, who never hesitated to make his feelings known. The mouth that had pleasured him had been a willing -- an oh-so-willing-mouth. And although Doyle could be a fine little actor on occasion, not even he, no matter what the incentive, could have maintained such an impeccable facade for the last six weeks. Ray loved him, or was beginning to, and even if he'd never said so, Bodie would have known it.

"He wouldn't do that," Bodie said evenly. He left his chair and walked to within a few feet of Cowley. "He wouldn't. What are you trying to do, sir?"

"If I'd told you that Doyle had defected to the Soviets, you'd have been less likely to believe it than that he would desert you." The words were curiously undisparaging. "He had... concerns about accepting this assignment."


"For reasons I cannot tell you. It's important that you recognize that this emotional involvement could be used against you in this very way. You trusted Doyle before. Do you trust him now?"

He met Cowley's pale blue eyes, saw the single-minded obsession that directed his life, and came to a jarring decision. "Yes, Mr. Cowley," he answered truthfully. "He's the only one I do trust."

"Then trust him enough to do as we agreed." If Cowley heard the rebuke implicit in Bodie's reply, he chose to disregard it. "He's a big lad, Bodie. If he couldn't handle it, he would've said."

"Yes, sir." Bodie trailed his fingers along the back of the smooth leather chair. "This assignment he's on: were we separated because of...." he waved a hand, "...this?"

"No, Bodie, you would have been out of place, even as backup. To put your mind at ease, he has a pair of our finest agents at his beck and call."

Bodie sighed softly, accepting that, until he heard from Doyle, the situation was out of his hands. "And me, sir?"

Cowley stepped past him to reach the pile of papers on his desk. He sifted through several folders before finding the one he wanted. He held it out to Bodie. "Look through this. You and Stuart will be evaluating the possible implications suggested by this data."

"Stewart?" Bodie gave him a quizzical look. "Thought he was partnered with Lake."

"Jeremy Stuart, Bodie." His arched brow challenged Bodie to complain-out loud. "You can start with him."


"Tell him about you and Doyle."

Bodie's grimace came from the heart. Of all the tight-arsed know-it-alls to get stuck with, Stuart had to be the worst. "I'm sure it'll make his whole life worth living."

Cowley could almost hear the newly-cleaned teeth grinding all the way to the door.

Bodie sat hunched over his coffee, hands wrapped around the plastic beaker for warmth. The rest room was inordinately chill this morning, but then, it was still night as far as he was concerned. Opposite him, and just as wearily disposed, sat Stuart. Eight days had passed since they had struck a temporary truce, both accepting the need for cooperation, even when every other word out of either man's mouth produced an almost maniacal urge to maim. It didn't even help that they worked very well together and that they shared a rapport almost as unexplainable as Bodie's with Doyle. The two men simply grated on each other -- and no amount of professional respect could alter that.

It had been a wearing eight days. The assignment they had been developing had come to a head the previous morning, but the action and eventual mop-up had taken until almost midnight. Bodie had finally arrived at the empty flat just after one in the morning, his head pounding with exhaustion and the blow he had taken from a shockingly attractive transvestite who had also packed a faultless right hook. After a most unbecoming tussle, and whining complaints regarding the resultantly soiled frock, Bodie had turned the lovely "lady" over to the police, while informing them that "she" had simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time, but perhaps a night in the nick might improve "her" manners. Aid then Bodie had sat on the side of the curb and laughed and giggled until he got hiccups, at which point, Stuart had unceremoniously herded him into the car and driven, stonefaced, back to HQ.

There, they had cobbled together a summary of the day's events for Cowley's perusal the following morning, Afterward, on the pavement in front of the building, Bodie had stopped a moment to inhale the damp, cutting air. Stuart had come up alongside him and shook his head. And then he had counted obliquely, "Doyle was right about you."

Bodie had regarded him less than encouragingly. "Yeah?"

Stuart had smiled. "Yeah. G'night, Bodie."

Unenlightened, Bodie had paused another moment before reclaiming his motor from the carpark. Going home to a flat without Doyle was an inviting prospect at best. Tonight, at least, he had thought he would be too tired to fret over it.

But fret, Bodie did. He missed Doyle desperately. The unshared bed, the single place setting at breakfast and dinner, the hollow sound of the flat when he was home, were becoming more than he could bear. He ached for the press of the lean, angular body against his, the scent of Doyle's hair tickling his nose, the sound of his voice, sometimes gruff, sometimes fluid, but always quintessentially Doyle. It was never worse than at night, when dreams of longing and unremitting loneliness pervaded the darkened room until he would switch on the bedside light and simply stare at the ceiling. Eventually, sleep would return only to be shattered by the morning's alarm, just when he was finally getting some rest.

There had been no word from Doyle in all the time he had been gone. Worried, but steadfastly believing that Cowley would inform him if anything went wrong, Bodie kept his concerns to himself. Five days into Doyle's absence, he had been surprised to find a note from Cowley among the mail he received at HQ. It stated simply that Doyle was well, that Bodie should not worry and that things were progressing. That was all, but it had raised Bodie's spirits enormously.

Since that single instance, there had been no communication at all and Bodie was suffering for it. Sitting there in the rest room, morosely gazing into his cooling coffee, with the day stretching out interminably before him, Bodie paid no attention when the door swung open. Stuart made a soft clucking sound. "Now, there's something that would brighten up your bedroom, Bodie."

Hackles rising in response to that insinuating tone, Bodie opened his mouth to hammer back a suitably malign retort when movement caught his eye and he turned to discover a thoroughly disreputable looking Ray Doyle leaning against the inside door frame. Untouched by a razor for at least two days, his hair uncombed and wildly asserting its authority, unkempt -- and probably unwashed -- Doyle presented the most appealing sight Bodie had seen since that Thursday morning a week and a half before.

Bodie smiled blindingly at Stuart. "You're right, it would." He left the table, hands jammed deeply into his pockets lest they stray, and sauntered up to the apparition of his partner. "You look familiar," Bodie said engagingly. "Do I know you?"

"Bet you say that to all the fellas," Doyle said reprovingly. He inclined his head toward the door. "C'mere, got something to show you."

He led Bodie out of the rest room and into the hall. Several steps away, he opened the door to the broom cupboard and waved him inside. Bodie went in, brow furrowed. "What d'you have in here?"

The door closed behind them and he was brought up hard against Doyle's scruffy leanness, his head gripped between two long-fingered hands, his mouth caught and lovingly savaged. "Me," Doyle whispered at last. "Jesus, mate, I've been thinking about that for ages."

"Haven't been gone for ages, Doyle," said Bodie, a little shakily. "Only eight days."

"One hour and..."

"Twenty-five minutes. But who's counting? Ah, Ray -- " They kissed for another long moment, untempered passion slowly yielding to tender, calming touches. Bodie surreptitiously made a quick inventory of Doyle's well-being, finding him whole, but obviously very tired.

"Cowley's not making you work today, is he?" Doyle's mere presence had him fully aroused, but Bodie ignored his untimely erection and simply held Doyle close, stroking his shoulders and back.

"Nah. He's the one brought me back from Edinburgh, y'know." Doyle rested quietly against him, eyes closed, soaking up Bodie's closeness. "Turned in me report," he went on after a bit. "Just wanted to see you before I went home. What happened to your cheek?"

"A gorgeous bloke wearing a D-cup wanted to rearrange my dentures," Bodie answered flippantly. "Glad you came by." The simple statement did not begin to describe what sight of Doyle had done for his state of mind. "There's plenty of food in, if you're hungry."

"Good." He kissed Bodie again, lingering over the smooth lips and welcoming tongue. "Better see if the way's clear. Be hard to explain, this."

"Yeah, all right. Just one more...."

Two minutes later, Bodie cracked the door and peered out. Walking smartly, he entered the hall, then flagged Doyle to follow him. They stopped on opposite sides and looked at one another. "Best go," Doyle murmured. "You got a full day?"

"Yeah. Reports to write, files to update, then a formal debriefing with Cowley."

"Hm. Look, if nothing else comes up, why don't you ring me this afternoon, and I'll meet you at the Red Lion. We'll have dinner."

Bodie nodded his assent. "You picking up the tab?"

"Sure. You can pay me back in kind later," Doyle suggested.

Quiet fire simmered in Bodie's eyes. "Done."

"Will be. See you then, mate."

Bodie waited until Doyle started down the corridor, watching the long, supple length of him amble away. Doyle paused once near the rim of the stair and cocked a come-hither look over his shoulder, then disappeared from view into the stairwell.

Laughing, Bodie returned to the rest room. Stuart eyed him expressionlessly. "Does this mean you'll be easier to get along with from now on?"

"Probably, especially seeing that you'll only have to put up with me for the rest of today."

"That's a relief. Let's get at it, then, shall we?"

"Stuart -- what you said last night, what'd you mean?"

He shook his head. "What did I say?"

"That Doyle was right about me."

Stuart fashioned his mouth into a smile. On him, it looked treacherous.

"He told me that you're okay."

Bodie regarded him ruefully. After a moment's reflection, he said, "Thanks, mate. Not so bad yourself."

"Neither is Doyle," Stuart commented speculatively. At the thunderclouds gathering in Bodie's eyes, he added, "Don't worry. Told you before, I don't trespass."

"Bloody right, you don't. Not with him, anyway."

"Ah, love, " Stuart muttered dreamily.

Bodie snorted in disgust. "C'mon, then." He applied a friendly thump to Stuart's shoulder. "Let's get these reports done."

He had chosen a table at the back of the pub, which was already swarming with evening revellers. With all the traffic crowding the floor, it was impossible to keep the door in clear view. Yet some internal sensor knew when Doyle came in, even before Bodie's eyes lit on the familiar form. Doyle had dressed in his natty best, ubiquitous jeans. hugging his legs and outlining the angles -- and curves -- of hips and groin; a dark blue, softly knit sweater which subtly revealed the deft lines of torso; and a dark wool sports jacket that broadened his shoulders and emphasized his spare construction. Bodie stood and caught his attention, smiling to himself as the green eyes warmed at sight of him. Freshly shaved and shampooed, Doyle bore little emphasized to the man who had threatened his virtue this morning. Not better, Bodie decided, simply appealing in an entirely different way.

"Was beginning to wonder if you'd got lost," Bodie chided softly.

Doyle pulled out a chair and sank into it. "Overslept. Had to use your kit to get cleaned up. Where's mine?" This, as Bodie took a pull on his beer. Bodie pushed the glass across to him and Doyle downed a quarter of it in a single gulp.

"What'll you have?" Bodie asked. "Or are you ready to eat?"

"Eat," Doyle replied immediately. "Haven't had anything since I got to the flat this morning. Before I forget, have you been living somewhere else?"

"'Course not. Why?"

"Just...the place looked empty. Untouched. Not a dirty dish or wrinkled sheet to be seen."

"Needed to keep busy," Bodie said a little defensively, accepting the glass Doyle nudged against his hand. "Missed you."

"Did you?" A soft summer breeze wouldn't have warmed Bodie as thoroughly as those two words, said precisely that way.

"Yeah," he admitted sheepishly. "What d'you want to eat?"

Doyle scanned the menu on the board behind the preparation bar and told him.

"Okay, you sit tight. I'll order the meals, get the drinks on the way back, okay?" Before Doyle could argue, Bodie was fending his way through the crowd.

A few minutes later, Bodie was back, bearing two brimming glasses. With ostentatious expertise, he set Doyle's before him without spilling a bubble, then planted himself in the chair and bent forward to suck the riskiest portion of his own off the top.

He smacked his lips for Doyle's amusement, then asked, "So what was in Edinburgh?"

Doyle lifted his glass, took a sip, and after swallowing, lapped at the edge with a dainty tongue. "Later."

"Okay." There was nothing of recrimination in Bodie's tone, but Doyle nudged him with a foot under the table.

Bodie looked up and was treated to one of Doyle's sultriest examinations. He aborted a laugh, then copied the under-table gesture with a none-too-gentle toe.

"Ow! You can tend to that when we get home," Doyle promised. Eyes gleaming with equal parts of affection and malice, he then said innocently, "That wasn't really Stuart I saw you with this morning?"

Somehow, Bodie had already managed to put that behind him. "Yeah. Unfortunately."

"How'd you two get on?"

Bodie nibbled at his lower lip. "We... uh... hit it right off."

"You and Stuart?" Doyle's brows crept up underneath his fringe. "I'm impressed."

"Hm." Bodie took a moment to attend to his beer. "Wanted to know what you're like in bed."

Doyle's expression was everything he could have hoped for: shock, dismay, a trace of embarrassment. It took every last ounce of will not to laugh.

"An' what'd you tell him?"

Bodie stared hard into his drink. "That's when we hit it off."

Doyle shook his head, responding despite himself to the chagrin Bodie displayed. "Bastard. Who told him?"

"I did. Cowley's orders, remember?"

"Is he gay?"

Bodie's eyes widened with not-entirely-feigned stupefaction. "Cowley?"

The tip of Doyle's trainer nicked his shin again. "Berk. Stuart."

"Gonna spend an awful lot of time making amends tonight, mate," Bodie growled, rubbing at his injured limb. "Yeah. Stuart, that is. Don't want to know about Cowley."

"Try it on with you?" Doyle asked with apparent indifference.

"Nah. Thinks you're just his type, however."

"Oh, yes?"

Dark blue eyes became dangerously alert. "Yes."

Doyle wrinkled his nose. "And after that promising beginning, how'd it go?"

"All right. Stuart's okay. Solid backup. Mostly knows when to keep his mouth shut." He turned the glass around in his hand. "Doesn't see you and me lasting very long."

"Said that, did he?"

Bodie's voice dropped until Doyle had to strain to hear him. "Said most gay relationships can be measured in months, some in single-digit years. Those that do stay together usually end up tricking on the side."

This information didn't seem to faze Doyle. "Can say the same for most straight couples."

"Yeah. Told him that."

"Bother you, did it, what he said?"

"Nah. If we stay with Cowley's mob, we'll be dead long before either of us considers infidelity."

Doyle refrained from comment while their food was delivered to the table. They offered the barmaid a drink, but she refused, too busy even to indulge in token flirtation.

"If?" he asked.

Bodie was already busily tucking into his chicken and chips. "Hm?"

"You said 'If we stay with Cowley's mob.' You thinking on leaving?"

Bodie pointed at his mouth, chewing industriously. He washed the pulverized remains down with a healthy gulp of beer and met Doyle's tolerant gaze. "I'm thinking all the time, Doyle."

"Are you?" Doyle's sandwich still occupied his plate, untouched. "What if we did get out, Bodie?"

"Then you'd find out how fragile your arms and legs are." Exasperated, Doyle began, "What the hell have my arms and legs...."

Bodie said seriously, "If you decide to test the bit about tricking on the side."

Doyle's face paraded his emotions, running the gamut from bewilderment through dawning awareness to pained amusement. "You are certifiable, d'you know that, mate?"

"Why's that?"

"Probably something out of your tortured childhood; how should I know?" As a large chip was ferried towards Bodie's half-open mouth, Doyle admonished him, "Don't eat too many of those."

Almost sidetracked, Bodie glowered at him. "Why not?"

"Just bear it in mind. And, Bodie, you'll understand better after we talk about it, but screwing around is the last thing I want to do."

Bodie smiled gently. "That's good. Hate to see you in a cast, Ray."

A rumbling growl and murderous look were his reward. Doyle was only halfway into his meal when Bodie finished his last bite. Beaming at his partner, Bodie asked, "Dessert?"

"No, thanks," Doyle said, then added darkly, "And you can do without, as well."

"Hardly had anything all day, Ray." Bodie glared at him, wondering why Doyle was being so irksome. "Why shouldn't I?"

Speaking softly, but very distinctly, Doyle replied, "Because I want you on your belly tonight. Oh -- hello, Murph." Hoping Bodie would recover himself before the tall agent questioned his state of confoundment, Doyle tried to distract Murphy with a winning smile.

A long, wool-covered arm gestured toward the empty chair at their table. "Mind if I join you?"

"Help yourself." Green eyes darted with concern toward Bodie. He looked normal enough, although the two fading traces of colour high on his cheekbones were still evident. "How's your week been going, mate?" Doyle asked, wondering on another level of his mind if he sounded quite as inane as he felt.

"Been a good one, Ray. Watching Bodie and Stuart circle round each other like dogs guarding their territory had the whole Squad going."

Bodie was the picture of affronted dignity. "You try spending eight days with that cocky bastard and you might not find it such a lark."

"'S okay, I've worked with him before. I think Cowley does it intentionally. Make sure everyone knows everyone else."

"Stuart's different," Doyle commented consideringly, still a little agog at Bodie's assertion that the other agent desired him. He had worked with Stuart, too, and had registered none of that at the time. Would he now?

"D'you mean different -- or different?"

There was nothing in Murphy's amiable expression that connoted challenge, but Doyle heard it in his question -- as clearly as Bodie, apparently, for he went watchfully still as well.

Doyle sketched a smile. "Just different, that's all."

Murphy lifted his glass and drained it. Then he fixed Bodie with a steady look. "Heard you two are sharing a flat."

So! Doyle finally understood the undercurrents of the conversation. "You heard right," he replied for his partner, unperturbed.

Murphy's blue eyes hardened, still locked on Bodie's face. "Some of the blokes are saying you're sharing more than a flat."

"Drop it, Murph." Bodie's voice was low and filled with caution. Doyle felt a tiny tremor at the base of his skull.

"And what if we are?" Doyle asked quietly.

Murphy shrugged, bending his head forward. "You must be bloody sure of each other, making it public like this."

Doyle turned to Bodie and was surprised to see a kind of regret on his partner's face. "We are," Bodie said. "Look, mate...."

But Murphy was climbing to his feet, a pleasant smile stitched back onto his face. "Forget it, Bodie. Glad I could be of use." Then, astonishingly, he winked at Doyle and strode away.

In the awkward silence that ensued, Doyle shoved the remains of his dinner into the middle of the table and picked up his glass. "Well, well, well," he murmured.

"Doyle ..."

Doyle held up a hand; this was obviously a topic that would be better discussed elsewhere. "It'll keep. You still want dessert?"

Bodie misinterpreted the question. "Changed your mind?"

"About what I said before?" Doyle shook his head. "Still on, mate, if you're willing."

"I'm willing; are you able?"

"That remains to be seen," Doyle said honestly. "Only one way to find out."

Since Bodie had cadged a ride from Stuart, having anticipated Doyle's arrival, they were able to drive home together. It was an uneventful trip, unmarred by the tiresome ordeal of day time traffic. They spoke little, both lost in their own thoughts. Once inside their flat, Doyle strode into the kitchen, instructing Bodie to get cleaned up while he had a glass of water.

With uncharacteristic docility, Bodie obeyed. He knew he would have to explain Murphy's curious comments, but he was diverted by the prospect of Doyle's intention.

While he certainly knew the mechanics of what they were about to do, he had by no means resolved the uncertainty that accompanied this step. This was the unknown, the giving of himself totally for his lover's pleasure. In everything else they had done, there had been enjoyment for both of them. And even knowing that Doyle would grant him the same intimacy, it held a measure of dread that could not be denied; after all, neither of them had ever willingly courted pain.

Having explored with his own fingers, Bodie had an intimation of the discomfort to come. Certainly not intolerable, but it was off-putting, all the same, as was the fear that by taking this step they might sour things irreversibly. They hadn't really discussed it, other than to say that it was there for the taking -- for both of them. But he had not forgotten Doyle's stunned reaction that first day, seemingly hundreds of years ago, now: You want to fuck me.

Surely, making love was not the same thing at all?

Bodie shut off the taps and stepped out of the shower into the steam-filled room. Doyle was waiting for him, wrapped in his red silk robe, holding open a large towel. Meeting the calm green eyes of the man he trusted more than himself, Bodie walked forward into Doyle's warmed-cotton embrace.

"So pale." Doyle brushed his cheek against Bodie's lips and began to rub him dry. Bodie stood passively, turning when directed, raising and lowering his arms, parting his legs so that Doyle could blot the moisture from every nook and cranny, all according to Doyle's whim. Despite Bodie's vulnerable state, Doyle merely performed as his very personal valet, without taking any advantage and finally guided Bodie into his towelling robe and opened the door to the corridor. Doyle led him out by the hand and took him straight into the bedroom.

It was warm there, the small electric fire beside the foot of the bed humming noisily. Doyle turned down the bedding and gestured Bodie in, then shed his own robe and followed him, neither breaking a silence that seemed wholly right and strangely enchanting.

With one thought, they came together and seconds later the kiss that forged their reacquaintance escalated into a purposeful movement. Legs interlocked, hands clutching at one another, bodies slick with newly formed sweat, they abandoned any previous ambitions and concentrated on the moment. It was too much after their spell apart and they could have been green boys for all their ability to postpone the greatly sought and inevitable cataclysm.

Doyle cried out, his voice snagging on a whimper, and held fast as he flared out of control. Caught in the nimbus of Doyle's rapture, Bodie tumbled after him, fingers moulded around the taut solidity of Doyle's buttocks as though they were his anchor to the world.

"Welcome home, Ray," he whispered eventually. His face was obscured by Doyle's sweet-smelling hair, his lips idly moving back and forth against the outer curve of an ear.

A satiated grin slowly lifted Doyle's mouth, accompanied by a wordless hum of approval.

Drifting, Bodie was brought fully awake when Doyle crept out of his arms and hitched himself up against the headboard. "Too early to go to sleep," Doyle muttered, unconvincingly punctuating this statement with an impressive yawn. Bodie attempted movement and ended up collapsing on Doyle's chest.

"Just a quick kip, Ray?" The tone was wryly beseeching and noticeably slurred.

"All right, mate," Doyle said softly. "I'll keep an eye on you."

Bodie snuggled closer. "Know you will. Can sleep now."

Doyle saw the truth of Bodie's unembroidered statement, wondering at himself that he had not seen the evidence of exhaustion before. Still incapable of comprehending the magnitude of his place in Bodie's life, it had not occurred to Doyle what his absence would do to him. Apparently that conscienceless ability to sleep at the most inappropriate moment while in the most incongruous place had failed the ex-mercenary during the last few days.

So Doyle contented himself with cradling his sleeping partner against his chest, relegating the need to hash things out with him for later.

Bodie woke a little at a time, a rare experience that he hardly knew how to appreciate. Smothering the inclination to seize consciousness all at once, Bodie let it creep in on tiptoe. First and foremost was the pleasure he gleaned from the presence half-beside and half-beneath him. His cheek was pillowed by soft fur and wonderfully warm flesh, moving ever so fluidly up and down in accompaniment to a steady respiration. Doyle. Although he had not got used to waking alone, Bodie had come to expect it. This was reward for his patience, confirmation of his trust, Christmas very early.

Quite incapable of stopping himself, Bodie began to touch, first the merest sweep of thumb against the curving crest of a rib. He then ventured a little higher, onto the smoother, yielding surface of one nipple, which contracted immediately beneath his fingers.

Bodie knew that Doyle was awake, even though the pattern of his breathing remained unchanged and he said and did nothing to indicate otherwise. It was part of his total knowledge of this man, something, blessedly, that had not been lost in the refocusing of their emotions.

It was nearly midnight, according to the clock on the bedside table. He'd slept for four hours, here, with Doyle beside him. The day came back to him:

Doyle's return, the uncomplicated hours spent with Stuart, their dinner at the pub. Murphy. I want you on your belly tonight.

Bodie slithered higher on the mattress until his head was resting on the pillow next to Doyle's. Very slowly, Doyle opened his eyes, lashes rising with the elegant sweep of a bird's wings. Bodie's face dissolved into a smile of greeting, wondering if Doyle would ever come to grasp what his presence here meant to him.

"You been up all this time?" He brought his mouth against Doyle's in a chaste kiss.

"No." Doyle's hips rolled forward, his erection pronounced upon Bodie's thigh. "Only for the last hour or so, actually.."

"As long as that? Isn't it painful?"

"Not yet." At Bodie's wide-eyed response to this solemn statement, Doyle dropped the teasing. "Won't be, either. Promise."

"Okay. I'll roll over, shall I?"

"Who says you're just another pretty face? Good idea, Batman. Come on, then." Doyle escorted him onto his abdomen, then adjusted the duvet about them. Half-propped up on his left elbow, he raised his free hand to Bodie's cheek, tracking the contours from temple to upper jaw until it dipped into the hollow at the corner of that haughty mouth. Bodie's eyes were closed, and he was breathing a little more shallowly than usual. Doyle sensed that he was nervous, if not really scared, and decided a bit of conversation might help.

"So what was Murphy going on about?" The question held no emotion other than curiosity; he could have been asking Bodie what he had eaten for breakfast.

Yet Bodie stiffened. "Nothing like he made it sound."

"You mean, as though there was something between you?" Doyle curled the fingertips of both hands around Bodie's shoulders and began to roll the muscles under his palms, gently but surely.

"There wasn't, Ray. Not the way...."

Doyle tightened his grip, then eased the pressure on the vulnerable site. "Know that, idiot. You told me, remember: no blokes before me. But something happened."

The tension left Bodie's body in a long, heavy exhalation. "Sort of." He melted under the steady rhythm of Doyle's massage. "Not too long before that Asian girl got you, Murph and me worked together on a couple of ops. We went out for drinks a few times. Once I got so silly drunk, he took me home. Didn't understand it at the time, but all evening long, he'd been asking a lot of questions about you and me. How we got along, what we did together when we double-dated, why you wear that silver bracelet and neck chain. Finally, he said some of the blokes wondered if you fooled around with the fellas...."

Doyle carried on without taking offence. When he realised that Bodie was expecting some sort of proxy retaliation on Murphy's behalf, he bent down and applied a reassuring kiss to the nape of his neck. "Not the first time I've encountered that one, mate," he said, unruffled. "First time I tangled with Macklin -- before you and me were partnered -- he informed me that my trousers were too tight and that the way I wear my hair makes me look a right nancy."

Bodie grinned into the pillow. "And he's still breathing!"

"'S okay," Doyle said with grim good-humour. "Just started wearing me jeans a size smaller and let it grow longer, didn't I."

Well aware of Doyle's penchant for vengeance, Bodie counted Macklin lucky to have got off so lightly. "You mean your hair, of course."

Ambient light reflected off Doyle's wicked smile. "Depended, didn't it. Go on; what did Murph say?"

"He wanted to know if we were having it off together, and if we were, was it exclusive, and if we weren't, would I be interested?"

Doyle was impressed. That was a sizable speech for their laconic Murphy. "All that at once?"

"Uh-huh. Didn't sink in, y'know? I was too stupid with whisky to understand, much less be offended. He took it for agreement."

"That we were having it off; that we were exclusive; that we weren't exclusive -- or that you were interested?"

Bodie made a rude noise. "Idiot. The last bit, of course. He kissed me. Or tried to. Landed on his bum on the far side of the room."

There was a second's hesitation before the kneading motions continued.

"The black eye he was sporting last fall."

Bodie twisted slightly as the pressure on his lower back found a tender spot. "Yeah. Told him he was wrong about everything. Apologised for shoving him over -- he knocked his eye on the arm of the sofa. And we parted, as they say, friends."

Doyle carefully worked around the bruised muscle. "I wondered. I've been hurt before."

Bodie struggled onto his side. "What does that mean?"

Long fingers glided down his flank from the base of his ribcage to the top of his thigh, carefully moving inland on the return journey to outline the rolling curve of a cool buttock. "Just that. I've been in hospital, damn near dead, a couple of times, but nothing ever got you wondering what I'd be like in bed before now, did it?"

"Oh. Yeah. I guess not. After Murph propositioned me, it did set me thinking. Not so much about us as about other blokes in CI5. What made them attractive, what didn't. It surprised me that Murph saw me that way."

"Sees you that way," Doyle quietly corrected.

Bodie's face flushed and he edged back over. "Yeah. Didn't know it would hurt him. Thought -- if I thought about it, at all -- that he was just looking for a quick hop in the sack."

"So when did you think about us?" Doyle whispered, moving forward so that his chest brushed against Bodie's back, his mouth open and nuzzling at the base of his skull.

Bodie attempted a shrug. "Dunno," he said hoarsely. "Kinda crept up on me. By the time they were poking round inside your chest, bringing you back from the dead, I was already wishing I'd said something to you."

"It's silly," Doyle commented a little breathlessly, tonguing his way down the knobs of Bodie's spine, "but I'm glad you didn't take him up on it. Not even for a one-nighter."

Bodie's arms were wrapped around his pillow; they closed convulsively as Doyle's mouth reached the outer tip of the crevice separating his buttocks. "Jealous, Ray?"

Unseen Doyle smiled at the squeak in Bodie's voice. "Yeah. Bad enough that you've fucked half the women in the world, mate. Would really feel at a disadvantage if you'd had to teach me about this, as well."

" be...doing pretty well," Bodie gasped. Doyle's mouth had moved lower, hands spreading around each curving cheek, forcing them apart.

"Got in a bit of theoretical instruction on the last assignment, didn't I," Doyle chuckled.

Bodie sighed, a creaking wind-sound of pleasure, then tensed as his partner's words got through. "You what?"

"Later, Bodie." Doyle's voice was heavy with preoccupation.

"Ray...." Bodie would never have guessed that that particular portion of his anatomy would be so resplendent with nerve endings, nor that each individual receptor could radiate as much shimmering pleasure as this. He had never anticipated Doyle's doing this to him, never countenanced the possibility that he might want to do it in return. And fleetingly, he fretted over the thoroughness of his ablutions. But Doyle's attentions drove every mundane consideration right out of his head and he concentrated on the velvet stroke of that extraordinarily adventurous tongue, instead.

Bodie wasn't even aware of the rolling motion of his hips until Doyle placed a hand on the small of his back to stop him and began to lick and bite both buttocks in succession. "God, Doyle...." He twisted around to peer over his shoulder. The shadowy outline of his partner's wild locks framed a face almost disturbing in its beauty. Face intent, a suggestion of teeth evident between still parted lips, Doyle's eyes were black, the fixed, penetrating scrutiny of a hunter about to fell its prey.

"The gel, Bodie." Even Doyle's voice was a rough whisper, as though it would erode into a growl were he to speak aloud.

Bodie nodded and turned away, finding it difficult beyond words to break from that familiar, yet awesome gaze. His hand was clumsy as it pulled open the drawer and scrambled around inside until it found the tube. Averting his eyes, he passed it back to his partner and subsided again onto the mattress.

Doyle urged Bodie's legs apart, then kissed the backs of his thighs, letting his tongue wander a little way inwards. Trembling now, Bodie hardly flinched when Doyle spread cold gel upon him. Breathing through his mouth, he forced himself to remain pliant even when a narrow finger slid inside.

"Won't hurt you, mate," Doyle assured him. "Won't hurt you. That's it, just like that; relax, relax." Doyle rambled on while he conscientiously dilated him, backing off the pressure the instant Bodie betrayed the slightest degree of discomfort.

"God, Bodie, mate, I want you." The statement was thick with need, yet faintly lilting: a request for permission to proceed. Doyle was fully aroused and Bodie had not touched him; the press of his erection against Bodie's hip had been but one sensation among many.

"C'mon, then, Doyle," Bodie grated out.

Bodie suffered another application of lubricant, as chilling as the first, and Doyle was lifting his hips, his own thighs braced between Bodie's knees.

"Do you feel that?" Doyle asked. The head of his penis, smooth and round and very thick, was rubbed against him, over and around the still tingling opening to Bodie's body. He gave a tight grunt, finding that his vocal cords had failed. "Take a deep breath, Bodie," Doyle instructed. "Hold it a second and push -- not hard. Now breathe out and relax, let everything relax. D'you feel me?"

Bodie nodded, trying to swallow.

Doyle leaned forward.

It wasn't exactly pain, but a kind of intense pressure that knotted up his muscles, accompanied by a raw burning that shot up along the inward curve of his spinal cord. Bodie lurched forward, then savagely stifled the reflexive action, turning his cheekbone into the pillow to hide his face.

"Shh, shh, don't fight me," Doyle's voice was little more than a husky sob. One hand bit sharply into Bodie's left hip, checking that instinctive movement; the other cupped Bodie's testicles with cherishing tenderness. "Won't hurt you, lover, won't...." And, slowly, Doyle withdrew.

"Ray? Don't -- it's all right. Why...."

From chest to thigh, Doyle covered him, letting Bodie's back take his weight. "Step at a time, mate," said Doyle, the authority of the didactic tone undermined by an endearing quaver. His hands roamed over the broad chest, kisses interspersed with stinging bites scattered over every muscle within reach. As they moved lower, one palm returned to enclose the half-faded tumescence jutting between Bodie's legs. Bodie snapped out a breath and began to push into it immediately, realising at that instant just how strung out he was.

"C'mon, Ray," he said harshly. "Quit putting it off, will you!"

"Gonna do this right," Doyle snapped. "You stupid bastard, d'you have any idea what you're doing to me?"

Bodie laughed, high and wild, then curled back against his partner's warmth. "Can guess, if it's anything like what you're doing to me. Move it, Doyle, or I'll do meself."

Doyle encircled him with his arms, cuddling him shamelessly. "If that crumpled up tube is any indication, you've done a fair amount of that already. Hold still."

Bodie rolled his eyes as a third -- or fourth? -- smear of gel went on. "Again, Bodie," Doyle whispered. "Like we did before." Repetition made it easy, except that, this time, Doyle let him adjust for only a few heartbeats before pressing further. Bodie panted softly as Doyle slowly continued, prepared this time for his body's involuntary response to penetration. When he was completely sheathed, Doyle froze, the dusting of hair on his chest like silk on Bodie's back, his breath washing over Bodie's shoulders in a warm moist, erotic caress. "You're something, mate," Doyle told him, half-strangled with exhilaration and the killing strain of holding back. "Like nothing I've felt before. Couldn't think straight while I was away. Only wanted to think about you, Bodie - my Bodie. Love you so much...."

As he spoke, he began to work the hand surrounding Bodie's penis, and despite his impalement, Bodie attempted to move. The resulting friction, both inside his body and within Doyle's hand, was incredible. Bodie did it again, the hesitant thrusts totally disintegrating Doyle's fragile control. "Bodie," he hissed, and started to rock hard against him.

"God, yes," Bodie growled. With each stroke, Doyle seemed to scrape against something deep inside which craved more pressure, more abrasion. Bodie twisted forward and back, trying to force its stimulation, and simultaneously pulled on Doyle and drove himself into almost-lax fingers. At once, he heard and felt Doyle's reaction. With a final, desperate heave, Doyle buried himself inside him, groaning helplessly as blissfully violent contractions milked him dry.

For Bodie, there was no escape. The weird and magical experience of Doyle's orgasm ignited his own fierce response, sending currents of pleasure racing through him. A gathering storm, linked somehow to that spot where Doyle's cock still twitched, built with the fury and mindless immediacy of a wildfire. All at once, the molten sensations coalesced and Bodie was soaring, his consciousness scattering, his entire being dissolving into shattering release. As from a long way away, he heard Doyle orgasm, felt the convulsive grip of his hands, and understood, albeit vaguely, that Doyle was as much a victim to Bodie's passion as Bodie had been to his.

The muscles in Bodie's back and arms at last rebelled and he went down, bearing Doyle with him. They lay in a dissolute heap, sweaty and sticky, still joined.

"Bloody hell," Doyle whispered fervently at last.

"Second that." Bodie craned his neck around until he could almost reach Doyle's lips. "Kiss me, mate," he demanded softly.

Doyle forced open his eyes. "You deserve a kiss, sweetheart." Stretching to accommodate him, he added gravely, "And so much more."

Wanting nothing more than to stay there, plastered to Bodie's back, for the rest of the night, if not forever, Doyle nevertheless recognized the unfeasibility of the idea and mindfully began to disengage himself. Bodie produced an odd sound that bespoke both complaint and relief. "Be right back," Doyle murmured. "Lie still."

Doyle quietly padded out of the bedroom, allowing an influx of much cooler air from the corridor to invade their warm refuge. Bodie heard the thump of pipes as the faucets were turned on, then the quieter rush of water filling the basin. Head turned on the pillow, he waited drowsy-eyed for Doyle's return, gratified when only a minute or two passed and the lean, shadowy figure rematerialised inside the door.

Bodie began to roll over, but Doyle restrained him. A gratifyingly warm, wet flannel was gently swabbed between his buttocks, probing with especial care around the swollen and throbbing orifice. While Doyle tended to him, Bodie stretched out a hand and wriggled it between and under Doyle's legs, finding the object of his curiosity almost immediately. Awkwardly, he began to explore, keeping his inspection reserved to avoid causing discomfort.

"Next time, mate," Doyle told him and shifted away as he finished with his self-appointed duties. "No, don't try to move yet; need to rub some of this in."

"More of your theoretical instruction?"

"Suggested past-coital indulgence. Especially appropriate after the First Time."

Bodie stifled a snicker. "What in the hell were you doing up there in Edinburgh?"

"Personal job for Cowley," Doyle said. "The son of a mate of his was murdered. He was gay."

Bodie's ears pricked up. "What's that got to do with you?"

Doyle chose to elaborate before answering his question. "The boy was dying of AIDS. Had no enemies to speak of, was still in the early stages. No reason for anyone to hurry him out." He applied a little more soothing ointment to his fingertip. "This helping any?"

Bodie wiggled his hips. "Yeah, think it is. So why you?"

Recapping the tube prudently and returning to his task, Doyle replied, "Bait. I look the type, according to our George. With a bit of tastefully applied make-up, I could pass for a poster victim in the last months."

Bodie didn't know how to word his next question diplomatically. He didn't try. "No chance of you actually catching it, is there?"

"Nope. Told Cowley there'd be none of that; not now, not later. And it isn't as easy as all that to come by, really, unless you're stupid and haven't figured out how to operate a frog-skin yet."

"So who gave you all the personal information? If you showed him my picture, you're dead."

"Nah, just had your phone number tattooed on his arse: 'For a Good time, call....' Stop that!" He batted Bodie's poised thumb and forefinger away from his own bottom. "Bloke's name is Brian Marker. Runs a small coffee house, caters to the local gays. Nice enough. We had to spend a lot of time together, being that we were supposed to be old lovers."

"He knew the dead boy?"

"He loved him."

Bodie turned onto his side. "Ick. You get to sleep over here, Doyle."

"Not on your life. Move over; I brought a couple of towels."

They took a moment to repair some of the damage to the bedding. Doyle finally stretched out on his back and held his arms open for his partner. Bodie contentedly crawled up beside him. After twining his legs around two lanky, furry ones, he draped one arm across Doyle's chest and rubbed his chin in the hollow of his shoulder.

"So how did that make you bait?" Bodie wondered aloud. Doyle was nice and warm; the way he exuded heat, he constituted the perfect addition to a cold bed.

"Three other boys had been murdered within a month of Eric. They were all sick and all of them had been Brian's lover, at some point or other."

"Randy bastard. Good looking?"

Doyle nodded. "Tall, lots of muscle, black hair, blue eyes to die for."

Bodie fought back a yawn. "Could arrange it, you keep talking that way."

"Someone already tried." The comment was made without emphasis, but the implications reverberated throughout Bodie's system. Doyle patted his arm.

"Bloody amateur, mate. Another of Brian's former lovers -- they must number in the thousands -- he'd got AIDS, too. Wanted to get even, y'see. Never even got close. Mac took him out before he had a chance."

"Mac? And Lucas?"

"They pretended to be lovers. Did a fine job of it, too."

Bodie peered up at him. "Yeah?"

"The things we do for Queen and country."

"Lucas and McCabe, huh? Don't suppose they're...."

"Christ, who know, anymore? Murphy, Stuart. You and me."

Bodie considered the statement with the boggling sense of seeing himself as a stranger. "Are we queer, Ray?"

"As three quid notes. In fact, I'm beginning to think everyone is -- or could be -- if they weren't brainwashed as children."

Despite being the initiator of this relationship, Bodie found the idea faintly disturbing. "Yeah? What about kids? If everyone felt like this, there wouldn't be any now, would there?"

"No great loss to you -- or me. And the world'd probably be a better place if there were a whole lot fewer of us. People, I mean. I guess I think everyone's just basically bi. Sex feels good whether you're with a woman or a bloke."

"At least with this bloke, it does," Bodie mused. He was quiet for a moment, only the slow up-and-down sweep of his lashes against Doyle's throat giving away the fact that he was still awake. Then, his voice a shadow of sound in the dark room, he asked, "What was it like, being inside me?"

Doyle gave a sigh of pleasure, clutching Bodie tighter. "Can't describe it. The best sex I've ever had, but more than sex. It was...fantastic. You were mine, Bodie. For that little while, you were completely mine."

Bodie yawned again, the joints of his jaw cracking with the force of it. "I'm that, whether you're in me or not, y'know," he said with devastating candour, then smiled to himself at the soft grunt his partner tried to conceal. "By the way, does this mean I get to...."

"Whenever you're ready. Tomorrow evening, maybe -- give me overnight to recuperate."

"Morning," Bodie corrected. "Cowley gave us tomorrow off. Wants us in bright and early Saturday."

Doyle stretched happily. "Great. Yeah, tomorrow, then."

"Not worried, anymore?"

"Huh-uh. Brian described ways to make it easier. He offered to show me -- but I declined."

Bodie's stomach contracted sharply. "Were you tempted, Ray? To make it with another bloke?"

Doyle felt Bodie's uneasiness through the whole length of his body. He answered without hesitation. "God, no. Not that he wasn't attractive, you understand. I ... I don't want anyone else, mate." With brusque disregard, he shoved Bodie onto his back and reared up over him. "I got to know a lot of Brian's friends. There wasn't one of them wouldn't have given his soul for what you and I have. The sad thing is, they could have it, too; but a lot of them are caught up in trying to keep love and sex separate. Like Stuart told you, it's no different between gays and straights. When you've been married awhile, it's easy to get distracted -- if you want to. They're up there, fucking like rabbits, Bodie, and it could kill 'em. Some of them pay attention to that, others just grin and dance and think it won't happen to them."

Bodie raised a hand and gave Doyle's chin a tweak. "Really bothered you, didn't it?"

Doyle pursed his lips. "Yeah. And I can't explain exactly why. You and me, we're no different from them. Fucked our brains out every chance we had, before we got together, and so long as they were pretty and smelt good, we didn't give a shit."

"Hey -- don't know about you, but I always gave as good as I got."

"Yeah, so did I. But things are different now. If you're not careful, sex can kill you."

"For gays."

"For gays, sure. But who knows, maybe for straights, too."

"Saved me life, eh, Doyle?" Bodie was pleased when that drew a smile. "Although I suppose one or the other of us could have already got it; can't tell from looking, can you?"

"Nah. We're clean."

"We are? How d'you reckon that?"

Doyle lowered his head and took a long, gentle kiss. "The Cow said so, on the way back from Edinburgh. Remember those tests we had when we were re-evaluated? Yep. Sneaky as the day is long, is our George."

"Ha. Liked that, do it again, please."

Doyle obeyed, slowly collapsing onto his somnolent partner. During those eight days in Edinburgh, he had rarely spent a moment not thinking of Bodie, mulling over his own feelings or pondering their future together. Being a temporary member of the local gay community, with its "live for today" outlook -- so much a reflection of their own recent life-style -- had helped to order his thoughts as nothing else had; there were things they needed to discuss.

But for the moment, with Bodie trustingly drifting to sleep in his embrace, such considerations would wait. Nothing was as important as Bodie being here beside him, alive, whole, happy.... Doyle wanted to enjoy that for a long time to come; all he had to do now was persuade Bodie of that.

Saturday morning arrived on a wave of brilliant sunlight and fathomless blue skies. The silver Capri halted in the car park outside the building housing CI5's myriad offices. Doyle got out and slammed the door, stretching lazily, face turned toward the early October sun. On the other side, Bodie conscientiously applied his key to the lock, then leaned on the roof, arms folded before him. Doyle felt his gaze and raised his brows.

"Anyone ever tell you you're sinfully sexy?" Bodie drawled.

"Christ, no! Not in the habit of keeping company with liars, anyway, am I."

Bodie shook his head. They fell into step together, Doyle's bootheels crunching loudly on the asphalt. It was a trial not being able to reach out and gather that lithe form to him; it was a trial simply wanting to.

Yesterday had been.... Incredible, wonderful, a revelation, stupendous! Bodie, who could quote the great romantic poets with aplomb, did not have enough words for the depth of his feelings -- nothing came close to describing them.

Sex with Doyle had been good from the first. What he had shared with him yesterday had not, technically, been better. It was the symbolic as well as physical joining of their two bodies that had made him giddy with elation, and he had understood at that moment what Doyle had meant when he had said Bodie had been completely his.

He had been very careful not to hurt his mate, employing the techniques Doyle had used on him the day before, demanding assurance that Doyle was quite ready before doing the deed itself. Although he suspected nothing could prevent the resultant discomfort -- short of not doing it at all -- he was determined that Doyle should not be put off in any way.

In fact, when Bodie had finally entered him, Doyle had reacted much as Bodie had, his hypersensitive prostate sending him sky-high. He had tried to restrain himself, so that Bodie's pleasure would be prolonged, but each tentative thrust made him buck helplessly in response. With the merest touch of Bodie's fingers to aid him, Doyle had gone over the edge, gasping unintelligibly, only Bodie's name distinct amid the gabble. Despite new knowledge, Bodie was unprepared for the power of Doyle's muscles clamping so fiercely around him. With the exquisite torture of not being able to move lest he hurt his partner until the spasming passed, Bodie had found himself brought to climax with virtually no assistance on his part at all.

For same time, they had lain together, Doyle held almost suffocatingly against Bodie's chest, subjected to loving caresses and warm, sweet kisses. Not that Doyle objected, until, almost asleep, Bodie had finally left him to clean himself up and to see to Doyle as well. While Bodie washed and salved him, half-believing Doyle to be asleep, he had spoken words of love that he had never expected to say to anyone. Saying them to Doyle at that moment had been ridiculously easy.

They rounded a corner and entered the corridor which led to the controller's office -- and were nearly run over by Lucas and McCabe.

"Jesus!" Lucas snarled. "What did you say to him?"

With a beatific smile, McCabe merely shook his head. "'Morning, fellas," he said cordially, glancing from Doyle to Bodie. "Fill in your partner on the goings-on in Edinburgh?"

"Yeah. Told him how much you two enjoyed your assignment."

"Drop it, Doyle," Lucas said warningly. "You guys may like it just fine, but I'm getting very tired of fag jokes."

"What, Cowley forget to compliment you on your tie?" Bodie asked cheerily.

Mac slung an arm around Lucas' shoulders. "C'mon, sweetheart, I won't say what you did to me while we were on stakeout outside Ray's flat, if you won't." There was a flurry of movement and Lucas was stalking down the hall, muttering malignantly as he went.

"Ah, c'mon, Lucas," Mac called after him. "You could improve your style a bit, but I still love you!" He gave a theatrical shrug and started in his partner's wake. Only a few steps away, he stopped and turned back. "Oi! 403-0606, that's your phone number isn't it, Bodie?"

Bodie frowned. "Yeah. Why?"

Mac gave an eloquent shrug, "Just wondered why it was tattooed on Brian Marker's b...."

"Doyle! " Bodie bellowed.

Before the corridor could erupt in a fracas, Cowley's voice ripped the air, in actuality, moderately pitched, but as always, commanding attention. "Doyle, Bodie, haven't I a meeting arranged with you?"

McCabe waggled his brows. "See you, lads," said he blithely, and escaped round the corner.

Smothering his laughter at cost, Doyle hurried toward the controller's office. "Right here, sir."

Following a brief inspection, which took in Bodie's barely checked outrage and Doyle's overcomposed face, Cowley waved them past, into the room. As he settled into his chair, Cowley asked politely, "How is the jaw, Bodie?"

"Sir? Oh, fine, thanks. She -- he -- must have pulled his punch."

"That's lucky for you. And you, Doyle, have you quite recovered from your ordeal in Edinburgh?"

A pair of very keen blue eyes darted Doyle's way; the concentrated tenseness emanating from Bodie's body was like a physical presence. "Obviously," Doyle mumbled.

"What ordeal?" Bodie demanded. "What are you talking about?"

Cowley slipped off his glasses and levelled a cool, inescapable stare at Doyle. "You neglected to mention this to your partner?"

Doyle raised his hands, then let them drop. "Nothing happened. We caught the bastard. Nothing needed telling." But Bodie's raw look nearly brought him to panic. "Bodie, I just didn't like to upset you. Had a blow on the head, that's all."

Cowley said evenly, "The man who was murdering Brian Marker's lovers raped them before killing them. He attempted to do that to Doyle. He got in only a glancing blow; didn't even break the skin. Doyle was stunned for a few seconds. McCabe got to them before any damage was done."

The mask that guarded Bodie from exposure was firmly in place. "Thank you for telling me, sir. Even if it was none of my business."

Doyle shrank into himself. The bastard! As he raised furious eyes to Cowley, he found the controller watching Bodie. There was nothing of triumph in the older man's face, only a cunning speculation.

Terrified of what he might be plotting, Doyle knew he would have to air their personal feelings in front of him. "Bodie."

Nothing moved but Bodie's eyes, and there was nothing for Doyle in them. "I didn't tell you because it wasn't important. If I had been raped, I would have told you."

"Because you'd've had to."

Doyle thought about that, knowing he must be honest, however he replied. "I would have told you," he said firmly, "because I would have needed your help. Because you love me and because I'd have to know that it wouldn't make any difference to you."

Bodie heard him out in silence, the harshness of his expression slowly fading. When Doyle had finished, he met the concerned green eyes steadily, proffering a very small smile of apology. Then he turned to Cowley.

"You want us off the Squad, is that it, sir?"

"No. However, I think you must concede that your involvement has created problems that should not exist in a partnership. But as I have pointed out to both of you before, your services are mine until I say otherwise." He allowed that to sink in, casually glancing from one man to the other to gauge their reactions.

"You aim to split us," Doyle said flatly.

"We won't do that," Bodie added.

Cowley smiled. "Oh, I agree. While you are both excellent agents in your own right, you have been far superior as a team."

Doyle released a sudden breath. "You're sacking us?"

Cowley glowered at him. "Of course not, Doyle."


Cowley laid his glasses on the desk and picked up a pencil between both hands. "There is only one solution, as I see it: I'm taking you off the streets."

Doyle went very still, listening intently.

"To do what?" Bodie asked, his voice clear and cold.

"CI5 continues to grow -- changing ministers, lurid presses and a left-leaning Joe Public notwithstanding. I need more agents. Without sufficient training staff, I cannot have them. I propose to make you instructors."

Doyle held his breath, waiting for Bodie's explosion. Astoundingly, there wasn't one.

"You mean, like Macklin and Craine?"

"Yes. In another facility, with a continuous rollover of potential rookies. It would be intensive work, encompassing both live arms use and hand-to-hand combat. Your judgement would decide which recruits are worthy of CI5 agent status. As Macklin and Towser work together, so would you and Doyle."

Casting Bodie a curious glance, Doyle could not resist: "What about pay?"

Cowley set his lips primly. "You would, of course, be removed from hazard compensation; however, your hours would improve considerably."

"Macklin's hours always seemed pretty irregular," Bodie said under his breath.

As though he had been addressed directly, Cowley answered, "You would be working seven to five, five days a week -- most of the time."

"You haven't said how much," Doyle persisted.

Cowley named a figure and Doyle's eyes widened.

Cowley went on, "That would, of course, take into consideration your status as instructors."

For a moment, the room was utterly silent. Bodie lifted his eyes from their perusal of his thumbs. "We have no choice?"

"No, Bodie, you do not."

Bodie's face was drawn. "Would you mind very much, Ray?"

"Mind? Me?"

Bodie cocked his head to one side, regarding him perplexedly. "You worked so hard to get back on the Squad after the shooting. You practically killed yourself to pass the ratings!"

Doyle's mouth fell open. "I...I had to prove to myself that I could do it. And I couldn't leave you to another partner, now could I?"

Dawning understanding eased the set of Bodie's face. "This is all right with you?"

Doyle grinned. "Yeah. You?"

Bodie nodded slowly, his eyes glimmering with quiet amusement. "Chasing round after a gang of new boys with loaded fire arms should provide more than enough excitement for me."

As one, they looked across at Cowley. Doyle announced, "We accept."

If Cowley was pleased, only the mildly indulgent cast of his eyes betrayed it. "Good. On Monday you will begin a round of sessions with Brian and Jack." He held up a hand. "You will be allowed to utilize your own ideas; however, bear in mind throughout the next week or so that to train is not the same as being trained. See what they suggest, then plot your own courses accordingly."

For a moment, it was beyond them. With a few terse phrases, their lives had been completely altered. Neither man moved, even though it was evident that the interview was over.

Then Bodie said sincerely, "Thank you, sir."

Cowley lowered the pencil to the paper-crowded surface of his desk. "You've both done well. This way you may live to enjoy your pensions. Any questions?"

Doyle limbered to his feet. He extended his hand and waited until Cowley accepted it. "No, sir. Thank you."

"You're welcome, Doyle. You're due in Monday, at seven a.m. And now, if you don't mind, I have work to do."

Outside in the corridor, Bodie and Doyle exchanged lingering glances, their expressions defying classification.

"You really don't mind?" Doyle asked.

Biting his lip, Bodie shook his head. "Thought wanted it."

Doyle started toward the end of the hall, waiting for Bodie to catch him up before saying, "You said...."

"Didn't know he'd have something for us to do with the Squad," Bodie argued. He took a deep breath. "No more killing, Ray."

Bodie's face seemed strangely younger Doyle was touched in a way he would not have expected. It struck him that sometimes he knew Bodie not at all.

Bodie interrupted his thoughts. "Except one."

Dark brows flew up over suddenly wary green eyes. "Who d'you have in mind?" They reached the stairwell and began to clatter down.

"Good looking lad. About so high, really lean, nice tight muscles. Long legs, a bum to die for, and these very weird green eyes that occasionally make him look walleyed."


Oblivious to Doyle's protest, Bodie went on, "And he has a mouth that can do the most incredible things with my...."

At the ground floor landing, Bodie was brought up hard against the wall. A bristling Ray Doyle stood before him, narrowed eyes flecked with sparks. "Maniac! This place is probably bugged."

Bodie gave him a dangerous smile. Doyle fell back a step, but spoke determinedly, "Why him, anyway? What'd he ever do to you?"

"Oh, nothing much. Just had my phone -- your phone number -- tattooed on Brian Marker -- I don't even know Brian-bloody-Marker -- 's bum! Doyle!"

There was a brief, undignified struggle, and Doyle found himself cornered against the wall, Bodie's impressive bulk looming over him.

"Wouldn't do that." Doyle chattered the words out, trying to evade Bodie's tickling hands.


Drawing himself up to his full, bootheel-assisted height, Doyle defended himself against the assault as best he could. "And have some good-looking bloke knocking on your door? Not likely. 'Sides, it was McCabe, not to mention that Brian wouldn't deface his rear in a million years."

Effectively put off his task, Bodie canted a brow at him. "What about Mac?"

Doyle summoned a frazzled smile. "Gave him Lucas' phone number, didn't he? Told him he does a wizard blow job."

Bodie tried to choke back a laugh. "Christ. Lucas'll kill him when he finds out."

Satisfied that Bodie was no longer bent on vengeance, Doyle gave him a shove toward the door to the ground floor landing. "Mac must have wanted company and decided to drop me in it, too."

"Yeah, Mac's generous that way."

Doyle pushed the swinging door open and held it wide for Bodie to precede him.

"'Course, I expected that."

They left the landing and walked out into bright sunshine. "And?" Bodie dutifully prompted.

Doyle gave him a jaunty grin. "And I told Brian that Mac was the one who taught Lucas how."

Bodie bit his bottom lip to keep from laughing. "C'mon, vicious. Better take you home before one of CI5's finest tries to twep you."

"Wouldn't do that," Doyle said smugly. "Not with you around."

Side-by-side, they strolled toward the car park. "Protective services don't come cheap, y'know, Doyle," Bodie cautioned him.

Doyle cast him a sidelong look. "Once a mercenary always a mercenary," he sighed philosophically. "So what's it gonna cast me, eh?"

"Have to tot it up, won't I? And that might take a while, as maths were never me strong suit. So, in the meantime...."

"Yeah?" Doyle stopped at the passenger door of the silver Ghia. Unselfconsciously sprawled against it, with head propped up on his hand, he regarded Bodie suspiciously.

Bodie grinned sweetly. "You can start by showing me how wizard are."

Doyle duly mulled this over. Then: "Knock your socks off, mate."

Bodie unlocked the door and ushered him inside. "'M counting on it, sunshine."

-- THE END --

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