A Game for Two Players


Dedication: For Christine...and she knows why!

The address was good, the neighbourhood quiet, the house itself elegant and well appointed, but the squad from CI-5 were not surprised to find this modest millionaire's mansion the target of George Cowley's suspicions. A London flat might easily be a terrorist base of operations or the hiding place for hostages; a house in upmarket Knightsbridge could just as easily be the base from which an international arms dealer did his business.

Guns and explosives, high-tech weapons systems and filched data--the stuff of modern activism. Gone were the days when private wars were fought out on remote battlefields. Perhaps it was a last, fading legacy of Empire that Britain should become a chessboard, its city streets peopled by pawns of many nations and creeds, each seemingly with a statement to make.

Interpol reports placed the Frenchman, Marcel Dupont, in Paris at the time of a Le Mercenaire convention just three months before, when a force of thirty long-time professionals were hired to make war in the tiny Third World republic of Kinshalla. BOSS reports placed Dupont in Nairobi four weeks later, when a shipment of "tractor parts" was intercepted on the dock and mysteriously metamorphed into a cache of the ubiquitous Fabrique National assault rifles. Kinshalla lay not three hundred miles south.

And as civil war blossomed in the pest-ridden hinterland, echoing in national daily papers with the hollow ring of half-felt woe, American Drug Enforcement Administration officers photographed Dupont in Rome with a man named Joshua Mazenze. Mazenze was rich, while Kinshalla endured its third famine in five years; connected with Thai and Malaysian couriers

The Golden Triangle. Heroin.

Five glossy 8x10 photographs littered Cowley's desk in the morning as the CI-5 Controller scanned the few sheets of computer printout, and by noon the squad was already assembled, armed and briefed. Bodie and Doyle, Murphy and Johnson, Lucas and McCabe.

Cowley himself sat in the back of the red Rover while Susan Fischer monitored the shortwave and watched the silver Capri and brown Escort draw up at the high wrought-iron gates of the mansion called Ogilvie House. Built by a Buckingham in the eighteenth century, it had passed into the hands of a landless European Count in the political chaos following the Second World War, and currently was leased to luminaries of the international variety, whose pedigree may have been short but whose Sterling fortunes were measured in eight and ten figures.

The trees of Hyde Park rustled in the early afternoon wind. Down the length of Enismore Gardens one caught a glimpse of the green beyond South Carriage Drive: Rotten Row and The Serpentine. The pleasant weather brought out the tourists, and Cowley's orders were specific: the raid on Dupont's property must be accomplished with tact and delicacy. Memories of another day, and the name of Coogan, would haunt CI-5, Cowley, and perhaps Doyle most of all for years to come.

The sun was warm. Sweat prickled Bodie's ribs as he slid out of the car and surveyed the iron gates. He wore a black leather jacket over brown cord slacks. The jacket concealed the Smith and Wesson automatic which pressed its bulk against his chest. Across the car, Doyle's green cloth jacket masked his Browning High power. Ray shifted sunglasses on his nose and watched Murphy and McCabe sorting Uzis from Ingrams.

A subtle rush of white noise issued from the R/T in Bodie's pocket He held it to his lips. "Bodie. Ready to move in, sir, any time."

"Then go in now," Cowley's voice was thinned by the tiny speaker.

Doyle had his own R/T in his hand. "Are they answering the phone, sir?"

"Someone is at home," Cowley told him. "Ten minutes ago we called them on some pretense, a man answered. A servant. Dupont is out, of course."

In fact, the Frenchman had been bugged since his arrival in England ten days before. At that moment he was giving his credit cards a beating. He would arrive home to the rude realisation that he had been under surveillance for months, and the game was up.

Ogilvie House must be a mine of incriminating evidence. Drugs, firearms, documents, even large amounts of cash in odd currencies. Enough to extradite the Frenchman, place Marcel Dupont behind bars in Paris for many years?

The gates were locked but bolt cutters remedied that. The electronic eye of a video camera panned to follow the cars as they drove discreetly through, off the street and up the long curve of the carriageway. The coach house had been converted into an enormous garage; a white Rolls Royce stood parked before the locked-down roller doors. The house itself was a vision of red brick, slate and climbing ivy, redolent of other centuries, an anachronism in the present.

Capri, Escort and Rover pulled up nose-to-tail before the mock-Roman entrance and Bodie turned off the motor. In the seat beside him Doyle stirred. Those long legs in faded blue denim flexed as he picked up and checked the Uzi he had signed out of Armoury fifty minutes before. Bodie watched the slender, nimble hands and looked into the face he knew better than his own after four years of partnership--

And three brief weeks as lovers. Even now they were still tiptoeing about each other, eager to safeguard fragile new emotions, wary of offending when the prize of intimacy was so priceless and its loss would wreak such emotional ruin. Doyle's feelings were still a mystery to Bodie, hidden behind a smile or a flush of lust, masked by veiled silver-green eyes or an offhand endearment that might have mocked or might have offered a glimpse of the affection behind the irresistible rush of passion. Bodie was never sure, and the time had not yet come when he must ask, press for answers, needle Doyle into a scene where ardour was laid bare and a man's heart may be laid waste.

To Doyle, sex was a second language. He spoke it with relish, without accent. The smooth slide out of life-long heterosexuality into the arms of a man had been eager and filled with so boyish a sense of adventure that Bodie was seduced anew. If there was a prejudiced bone in Ray's body Bodie did not know of it, yet Ray swore he had had no other men, that Bodie was the first male lover with whom he had explored his newly awakened sexuality.

Bodie believed him without reservation. Ray was not ignorant of gay sex but he was certainly innocent, inexperienced, "green as grass" and impatient to try anything and everything that did not hurt. He was the hedonist Bodie had always suspected, and that boyish spirit of adventure had carried him through his initiation with a minimum of fuss.

First came the kisses, wild and biting; then the tangle of tight-clasped, sweated limbs, rumpled sheets and breathless cries. And then the final deed of fucking, the product of irrepressible curiosity, abandoned lust, unleashed yearning which cushioned him against fleeting, unavoidable pain and ushered him into a realm of sensual pleasure which most straight men could not even imagine.

Yet Doyle's heart was guarded more jealously than his body had been. Besieging the bastion of his body had been a matter of whispered coaxing and well-placed caresses. Simple to a lover of Bodie's consummate skill. What went on behind the wind-tossed curls and wide eyes which looked at the world like a mischievous angel? There was a world into which Bodie knew he had not yet glimpsed, and might never glimpse, but the scene was coming--it must come. Not a challenge but a confrontation: tell me what you feel, Ray. I have to know! Do you love me? Do you care for me? Or is it all a game, this summer's entertainment, and come autumn it'll be something, someone else? Such misgivings had haunted Bodie for weeks, since the wonderful and terrible awareness of his own deeper feelings had lanced into him, souldeep and shocking.

He was in love. Lust was part of it, to be sure, but beneath the lust was a great smouldering lode of feeling that went far beyond infatuation. How long had it simmered, like a kettle left neglected? How long could it continue to simmer before the lid must blow off and the demands to know Doyle's own feelings were poured out, willy-nilly, hapless and eager? Tell me, Ray, for Christ's sake, I have to know! Do you love me, or...

The green eyes were like pale gold in the sunlight as Doyle looked across the roof of the Capri at Bodie, and gestured with the machine pistol. The full lips quirked, a lopsided smile. "They saw us on the video cameras, they know we're here. Servants."

Bodie cocked the S&W.45 automatic. "Then we won't have to break the door down." He orbited the Capri and fell into place at Ray's right side and a pace before him. Lucas and McCabe, Murphy and Johnson were a few yards behind, while Cowley leaned on the open door of the Rover, at the rear of the rank of cars.

A face looked out through the gap between heavy green drapes, and the oiled walnut front door swung inward as they approached. At the head of the squad Bodie pinned on a smile, fished out his ID and displayed it to the elderly man who had opened the door. The old servant was pale and drawn, but he stood aside politely.

"We're in, sir, no arguments," Doyle told the R/T.

"Aye, Doyle. You know what you're looking for." Cowley sounded cool, almost resigned. How many times before had they done this? It was within their brief, they had no need of a formal search warrant, and yet after the Coogan debacle they often chose to obtain one, in the unlikely event that they must run the gauntlet of another crusader out of the same stable as Geraldine Mather.

Portraits and landscapes decorated the walnut panelled walls, the air smelt of mansion polish and the loudest sound in the hallway was the tick of the antique grandmother clock. It seemed every inch the citadel of elegance and gracious living. First impressions were often deceptive.

"Take the wine cellars, Murph," Doyle suggested. "Lucas, you and McCabe start at the back of the house, servants's quarters, kitchens, and work forward. We'll start at the top and work down. Bedrooms, Bodie?" One serpentine brow waggled, a suggestive little joke.

"Naughty," Bodie murmured as he went past Doyle, up the wide, curving stairs. The polished cherrywood bannister was cool under his hand; the emerald green carpet silenced his footfalls.

They began with the attic, where dust had accumulated for eons on the floor, and an intruder left a trail of boot prints a blind man could have followed. It was years since anyone had walked across these bare boards, and Bodie slammed the door as his sinuses began to prickle. Doyle was waiting for the predictable sneeze with a cheeky grin.

"Dust," Bodie said, not quite defensively.

"Gets right up your hooter, plays hell with your sinuses," Ray finished. "Still, saves us a job, doesn't it? The amount of junk in there, we'd have been a week trying to sort the Edwardian building bricks from the Victorian dolls' houses."

"Worth a fortune, that lot," Bodie said lucidly as he followed Doyle back down to the bedroom level.

"Antique toys?" Doyle swung open a bedroom door. The vast king-sized bed was stripped and dust covers had been flung over the furniture.

"Victorian and Edwardian objects d'art," Bodie corrected. "Anything from your grandfather's shaving mug to Great Aunt Mary's umbrella stand. Collectors'll pay a mint for anything like that."

"No accounting for taste, is there?" Doyle was looking under the dust covers and beneath the bed.

The wardrobe was empty, as was the chest of drawers; the mattress and wallpaper showed no signs of tampering. If Cowley wanted to tear out floorboards and rip into plaster and mattresses, as CI-5 had done in attempts to locate drugs on the Coogan premises, then the order to commit such vandalism must come down from the boss himself. Bodie and Doyle moved on to the next room and began again.

Ogilvie House had nine bedrooms of which only four were open, aired, beds made up, wardrobes filled. A thorough inspection of empty rooms was simple, and before Murphy and Johnson were out of the nether-depths of the wine cellars, Bodie swung open the door on a boudoir which had been used very recently. The night before?

The servants had not yet been in to change the bed, as if access to this room was restricted and they entered only when they were told to. Which was, Bodie decided with a delicious shiver as he surveyed the scene, hardly surprising.

A pace behind him in the doorway, Doyle gasped audibly. "What the hell is this?"

"A playroom." Bodie chuckled richly. "Never seen a playroom, Raymond? Your education is sadly lacking!"

"I've seen playrooms," Doyle said testily as he pushed past Bodie into the bedchamber. "Full of rocking horses and toy soldiers and--is that what I think it is?"

"That?" Bodie lifted the oddment on one delicate finger. "That, my son, is a chastity belt. And this is a playroom for big kids." He moved on about the double bed, which was rumpled and littered with toys, and cast a glance up into Doyle's flushed face. Ray's cheeks were apple-rosy, his eyes wide with some mixture of fascination and scandal. A bubble of laughter took Bodie by surprise, gently mocking. "Oh, come on, Ray, you must have seen this kind of thing before! You were a copper."

"Traffic, Drugs Squad and Serious Crime, in that order," Doyle muttered, preoccupied as he approached the bed. "I would have served on the Vice Squad a year later, but I transferred out to CI-5 instead."

The sheets were black silk, the bedspread was blood-red velvet, the headboard was brass, with railings and knobs. A handful of scarves were still tied around the brass rails, an obvious suggestion. Someone had been very gently restrained here last night.

And tossed casually on the rumpled black silk were the kind of items Bodie had not seen in years. Not since a weekend in Cherbourg with a girl called Francine, whose tastes ran to the definitely exotic. But he did not think a girl had been at play here. He stooped and lifted a piece of beautiful leatherwork, soft and supple, light and yet substantial, craftsman-made. He heard Doyle's gulp and turned to display it, suspended from his fingers.

"What is it?" Ray asked, hushed, as if they were up to something very wicked, and very exciting.

He exuded that boyish sense of adventure from every pore along with his pheromones, and Bodie's nerves caught alight as always. In this mood Ray was irresistible, perhaps because he was so completely unconscious of his own allure, so consumed by an unholy lust to know and experience that he was unaware of himself.

Bodie swung the set of slender leather straps from his fingers. "It's a body harness. Very chic. Play clothes, for the man who has everything. See? This strap buckles to the collar, this one buckles around the waist like a belt, this one buckles to the top of the cockring."

"Oh." Ray took a shaky breath. "Then, that'll be the neck collar and that'll be the cockring, on the bed there." He leaned over and gingerly lifted up the two soft but sturdy leather pieces. "The cockring's got two loops."

"Mmmm." Bodie set down the harness and took the other items from him. "First loop takes the strap down the front, the second takes the one up the back. Chastity strap, male style of chastity belt." He tilted his head at Doyle, saw the dilated pupils and high colour and choked back a chuckle. All this was getting to Ray, reaching down inside of him and stroking some wanton nerve that had sprung to life. A glance at his groin confirmed an astute guess: he was aroused, and the wash-faded denims were of a sudden much too tight. Bodie bit his lip and pressed on. "There's got to be a plug that goes with this."

"A what?" Doyle's fingers caressed the baby-soft leather.

"A butt plug," Bodie repeated. "Or a dildo. The back strap holds it inside."

An enormous shiver coursed through Ray's whole body, and his neck flushed to match his cheeks. "It's, uh, in the pillows there. Christ, Bodie, this is kinky."

"Is it?" Bodie tossed down the neck collar and cockring and rummaged among black silk pillows for the dildo. He found not one but four, and the case in which they had been packed. The smallest was not even an inch thick, and not four inches long. A hapless virgin would have enjoyed it without a second's discomfort. The next was an inch and a half by six inches long; the third got serious, two inches thick and eight inches from the imitation balls to the flared helmet of the crown. And the last one was for the very experienced man or woman, a monster, strictly for the passive partner who had done it all and needed a bit more to get that special thrill. The ten inch brown latex rod was almost three inches thick, and Bodie viewed it with a dubious look. Not even in his wild youth had he ever been inclined to try something like that. There was a point where one placed too high a value on one's own anatomy.

"That would hurt like hell," Doyle whispered hoarsely as he watched Bodie turn the huge toy over and over in his hands.

"You're not kidding." Bodie tossed it down. "It's probably never been used. Just as a tease."

"A what?" Doyle swallowed.

"Oh." Bodie shrugged and surveyed the bed. "Let's say you're getting teased with a nice, comfortable vibrator. But what's going through your head? Mind games, Ray. You're on your belly, vibrator's vibrating away inside you, comfy on pillows, not taking a scrap of harm, and he'll play that whopper over your face and mouth, maybe you'll suck the tip of it, and in your mind you're being fucked by a goliath!" He smiled at Ray's fidgeting. "Mind games. People get bored, takes a lot to turn 'em on when sex has become passe."

"But this," Doyle said breathlessly, waving at the bed. "This would hurt! Where's the fun in being hurt?"

Bodie's brows arched. "What would hurt?" He stroked the silk sheets and scarves about the headboard. "You're having me on. And as for the harness, that's soft as a little boy's bottom. Dildos don't hurt unless you want them to, and that's a whole new ballgame, my son."

The green eyes glared at him. "In English, Bodie!"

"Sadomasochism," Bodie elaborated. "Ever looked it up in a dictionary? Deriving pleasure from giving and receiving pain." He wrinkled his nose elegantly. "There's not a lot of people care for that! But all this? Never heard of bondage? Good old bondage and domination."

"I've heard of it," Doyle admitted. "Never seen it close up. Never, uh, had the chance to."

"Well, here's your chance!" Bodie picked up a bottle of baby oil in one hand and a handful of clothes pegs in the other. "Now, this is naughty!"

"Pegs?" Doyle was baffled.

"Pegs. See? Someone's half-broken the springs." Bodie displayed one, with his little finger caught between the rounded plastic ends. "Not enough tension left on them to really hurt. All they'll do is pinch just right."

"To hurt--pinch what?" Ray demanded in exasperation.

"Your nipples," Bodie said drily, and watched his partner's mouth drop open. "God, you're an innocent. Where have you been, Ray?"

Doyle closed his mouth. "My family's Catholic, and when I joined the Police I was in the section house under the eagle-eye of an old sergeant on the verge of retirement. Was worse than being chaperoned by maiden Aunt Maud. And then I--just never went looking for it, I suppose. Too busy with girls and work." He gave Bodie a shrewd look. "You seem to know a hell of a lot about this."

"I had a misspent youth," Bodie said drily as he threw down the pegs. "Oh, Ray, forget it. It's just a playroom for big kids. The old bondage games." He paused, teeth closing on his lip for a moment, before some personal devil made him add, "You look like a trout on a hook. All this gets your hormones going."

The beautiful rosy blush deepened by shades. Doyle lifted his chin defensively. "What if it does?"

"Nothing." Bodie held up his hands as if at gunpoint. "I'm not judge and jury, mate. I've played that game myself."

"I'll just bet you have." Doyle fingered a simple plastic peg, and for the first time in his life so mundane a household item inspired a visible shiver. "It doesn't hurt?"

"If it does, it's turned into sadism and masochism," Bodie said blandly. "What the hell would lovers want to hurt each other for?"

"Well, what do they want to play with toys like this for?" Doyle added sharply.

"I told you." Bodie swung open the wardrobe and took out a clothes hanger. "People get bored and ordinary sex doesn't turn them on anymore. It's time to play games. Like this, see?" On the hanger was a French housemaid's uniform. "Or this." Another hanger held a cassock; a third, a doctor's white coat; a fourth, a collection of male underwear from the classic white cotton jockstrap to the most outrageous knitted-string 'sling'. "It's dress-up-and-pretend," Bodie chuckled. "Little kids play cowboys and Indians, big kids play--lots of parts." He winked and began to dump clothes and costumes on the bed as he emptied the wardrobe.

No trace of anything narcotic or military was to be found in the cupboards and drawers, but a cache of the most ticklish toys were unearthed as they worked their way through the room. A dozen varieties of condoms and every kind of lube from commonplace KY to a gel that tasted of strawberries, and a mentholated oil which would arouse both partners to frenzy. Doyle was first astonished, then simply bemused.

At last, surrounded by a heap of costumes and raunchy magazines, a leather neck collar in one hand, a table tennis paddle in the other, Doyle gave Bodie a glare. "Tell me this isn't for spanking," he challenged, waving the paddle.

"All right, I'll tell you it isn't for spanking," Bodie responded. "But that wouldn't be the truth."

"And that's not going to hurt?" Doyle demanded. "I thought you said this bondage lark was a game!"

"Depends on where you draw the line and what you call pain," Bodie said offhandly. "I mean--" He took the paddle out of Doyle's hand and slapped it against his own palm, making a sharp smacking sound. "Any six year old's got a higher pain threshold."

Doyle shot him a sidelong look. "You've done that?"

"Been spanked?" Bodie grinned impishly. "Not since I was ten, and got caught using my Dad's razor to shave the cat."

"Oh, Christ, I give up." Doyle kicked the various costumes away from his feet. A Scottish sporran, sans kilt; a loincloth, Tarzan, or Spartacus? Tiger-striped lycra leotards.

"You give up?" Bodie cast a glance at his lover's groin. "That's not what he says. He says the idea of playing little sex games turns him on, hot as hell."

"Maybe," Doyle muttered, as if the very admission embarrassed him.

A vibrant chuckle echoed his words, and Bodie pointed an accusing finger at him. "I don't believe it! Deep down inside, there's a prude at the heart of the hedonist!"

"I'll give you 'prude'," Doyle said heatedly.

"Will you?" Bodie scooped up the cockring and pegs. "Was that a challenge?" He lifted one saturnine brow.

"I--" Doyle pulled up short, hesitated and swallowed, and a pageant of expressions chased across his mobile face before he schooled his features and drew himself up to his full height. "And what makes you think, mate, that it'd be me getting done-to in these bondage scenes of yours?"

The wicked thrill which rushed through every gland in Bodie's body was not wholly unexpected, but his fair Irish skin had never been known to flush and he took refuge behind a well practised poker face. "You want to top me?"

"I've topped you seven times in three weeks," Doyle said in a deep, husky rumble, low in his chest.

"It's not the same when you're playing this other game," Bodie said ominously, and twirled the studded neck collar on his thumb.

"You'd like me to 'top' you?" Ray whispered.

"Maybe." Bodie dropped the toys and thrust his hands into his pockets, eyes averted as suddenly ambivalent thoughts and feelings scudded through his mind and body. "Depends."

Doyle stepped closer across the littered floor. "On what?"

"You're inexperienced," Bodie said guardedly, and watched Doyle physically recoil. "How could I trust you to know where to leave off? It's not about sadism and masochism. It's not about hurting and being hurt."

"'You already told me that." Doyle stepped up close, his voice a bare murmur, almost accusing. "So what is it about?"

"Dominion," Bodie murmured. "A game as old as Man." He took a deep breath and summoned his courage to look Doyle in the eye. "Submission and domination of another."

A mist seemed to clear from Doyle's expressive eyes and he slumped onto the foot of the bed. "Oh God, Bodie, is that all?"

"Is--what?" Bodie was still trembling after his whispered confession, and Ray's reaction was the last he had expected. He sat on the bedside, his leg lying warmly along Ray's thigh.

"All this time, I've been thinking you were kidding me along, winding me up. I thought you meant it was all about finding out how much bloody pain a man can take before he screams enough! Not my style. But that's not it at all, is it?" His eyes were heavy, dark. "Submission to the dominion of another," he echoed in a sultry tone, deep in his breast, like the first far-off peal of summer thunder. "You're talking about trust, aren't you? Trust with a capital 'T'--the kind of total trust lovers have to learn if they're ever going to share--what the hell did the immoral bard call it?"

"You mean 'immortal bard'," Bodie groaned.

"No, I don't!" Doyle scoffed. "The marriage of two minds. Not hearts, Bodie. Minds." He lifted his hand and the backs of his knuckles traced the curve of Bodie's cheek. "Mind games you called it a while ago. Trust. You said just now, I've no experience outside common-or-garden, in-bed sex. Could you trust me to know when to leave off? I could see what was going through your mind."

"Could you?" It was Bodie's turn to be bemused.

The curly head nodded. "You were wondering if I'd be so ham-fisted that I'd hurt you, without intending to." He nodded at the dildo box. "Some of those are pretty lethal, by the looks of them. You weren't sure I'd know what not to do."

"I--yes," Bodie admitted, with the uncomfortable feeling of having his thoughts read, an unpardonable breach of privacy.

"What makes you think I'd want to hurt you, Bodie?" Doyle murmured. "Or that I'd be so careless, I'd hurt you by accident for the sake of playing a game?"

For the first time in his memory Bodie blushed, and knew his cheeks were warming, which made the blush deepen.

"See?" Doyle stood up and turned away from him. "No trust. Maybe--maybe that's why people play games like this. To show him how much you trust him, because it feels so bad when you find out he doesn't trust you."

And with that he was gone, marching from the room and leaving Bodie in a clutter of sensual toys and a muddle of hot, chaotic thoughts. He heard Cowley's voice on the stairs, calling up to Doyle, and then Ray: "No, sir, nothing up here. I reckon Murph'd have a better chance of turning up the goods. If they'd be anywhere, the wine cellar would be the place to look."

"Damned right, Doyle." Cowley sounded gleeful. "You and Bodie come on down. This house is sealed off as of now, and we're picking up Marcel Dupont."

Picking him up? Bodie forced his feet under him and left the adult's playroom with a bittersweet backward glance. What a painful can of worms had been teased open. Trust? Faith? Did he trust Ray that far--far enough to enter into such a game and play it out to the end, bitter or otherwise? He shuddered deep as his marrow.

In fact he did, but to find that blind faith in Doyle he had had to consciously dig for it; and he knew the reason for his reticence.

After four years of partnership and just twenty nights in bed, Ray Doyle was still a stranger, his most private thoughts unknown, all too adeptly masked by the angelic smile or the cheeky grin, the filthy laugh and swift earthy retort. At the last, in the final analysis, Bodie would trust Ray with his physical comfort and safety as he had trusted him countless times with his life.

But that faith was not instinctive, and the sudden realisation was sharply painful. 'The marriage of two minds,' Ray had called it. Mind-games, where reality and fantasy merged and interwove and a man was reliant on the sheer, blind faith that the dominion to which he submitted would be gentle, must be gentle, because love and respect were the weft to the weave of the game of power.

There was Ray, at the foot of the stairs, talking with Cowley as a squad of uniformed police arrived on the doorstep and startled servants melted into the shadows. The house and grounds were already sealed, a truck was backing up to the door, ready to load Dupont's illegal cargo. Murphy was jubilant. The arms cache had been expertly hidden behind dummy wine casks. He and Johnson had almost missed them before a scrap of torn paper had tipped them off: ammunition wrapping, heavy waxed paper, unmistakable. Then, they began to dig. Bodie absorbed all this without really listening, still intent on his own partner.

Beauty surrounded Doyle; he wore it like a second skin, but it was not merely skin-deep. Bodie knew him better than that. But beyond the physical allure, beyond the storm of lust that possessed them, behind the wicked-angel face Doyle showed the world was the man Bodie did not know, and yearned to know. Could he blindly trust, and play the game of submission?

Love would visor his eyes and entice him, he knew. Love would fetch him into Doyle's bondage, captive and willing, but surrender would be one part faith in Doyle, one part raw courage, one part yearning hope, because the instinctive devotion shared by old, old lovers was not yet there.

The word 'love' had never been spoken between them. As Bodie swung down the stairs to meet the others he wondered if it ever would be. Ray's face was shuttered now. Sad? Bodie wished he had kept his mouth shut, kicked aside the eccentric knickknacks and pretended ignorance. Life would have been more peaceful. Doyle was hurt, Bodie saw that plainly. The bruises were almost visible to the naked eye, smudges about the eyes and mouth, tautness about the lips, hands clenched at his sides as Cowley led them down the steps into the wine cellars where Murphy had struck the mother lode.

FN, Kalashnikov, Colt,- Enfield. Depleted uranium ammunition for the annihilation of tank armour. Laser guidance systems for man-portable anti-aircraft systems. LAWS rockets. Grenades: HE, smoke, tear gas.

"Good God," Cowley breathed as he looked over the goods. "They were arming for a war!"

"Who, sir?" Murphy asked as he tallied up a rough mental inventory of the contents of the cold, ringing cavern.

"Something called the People's Liberation Front," Cowley said acidly. "They operate out of England but most of their operations are directed at Europe. Their aim is to liberate us all from the yoke of capitalism."

"Oh, nice." Bodie lifted a LAWS rocket launcher over his shoulder, flipped up the sights and squinted through them at Lucas, who stood on the steps. "We could have been looking down the barrels of this lot."

"And GSG-9 will be," Cowley added. "This is the first shipment we've picked up at the source. The others got through. The targets were West German parliamentarians and judiciaries."

Bodie put the rocket launcher back into the box as two uniformed men came down and called Cowley's name. The old man turned his attention to them, and Bodie's eyes returned to Doyle. Ray was withdrawn, distant, aloof amid a crowd. Hurt. And the worst of it was, Bodie could say not a word to him before they commanded privacy, which would take hours.

First came the report, thorough and detailed, and the master list of the arms haul. The rest of the house was searched from attic to dustbins, but nothing more than a fraction of an ounce of cocaine and a handful of amyl nitrate 'poppers' were discovered, which came under the heading of recreational drugs. Dupont could still be nicked for possession, but he could not be charged as a dealer.

A two-ton flatbed carried the whole consignment back to base, and by that time Marcel Dupont was in custody. Bodie never saw the man's face, but heard his voice, shouting in the corridors leading to the cells. He wanted his solicitor, demanded his rights as if he thought CI-5 operated by the same rule book as the City Police. He would learn his error the hard way.

When Bodie had scouted up tea and biscuits, Doyle was already working. Keys pattered as he typed through his version of the report. The squad room was empty at that hour. Bodie put down the tray, kicked shut the door and stood behind him, hands on his shoulders, massaging as Doyle typed.

"You're tense," Bodie said softly. An understatement. His muscles were like cable. Doyle grunted. "Ray, talk to me." He threaded his fingers through the copper-brown curls he loved. "Something's wrong."

"Nothing's wrong," Ray said tersely. "I just want to get this finished." He looked at the time. "We can punch the clock and get out of here as soon as this is on Cowley's desk. You'd better get stuck into your own."

He was right. Bodie glanced at his watch, astonished to see that it was ten past five. Where had the afternoon gone? He pulled a chair up to the other side of the table, absently noticing that Ray had commandeered the Olivetti, the better of the two typewriters. The Remington had seen better days and its levers jammed.

Resolute, Bodie hammered keys, but his eyes strayed again and again to the bleak face across the desk. Doyle was intent on the paper. His mouth compressed and he swore beneath his breath as he mis-keyed. The sharp tang of correction fluid stung Bodie's sensitive sinuses, and while Doyle waited for it to dry he asked, "Come for a drink after work, Ray?"

Doyle did not look up. "If you like."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Bodie protested. "If I like? If you don't want to come for a drink, don't bloody come! Nobody's forcing you. What in Christ's name is wrong with you?"

Green eyes flashed a warning: don't push me! But Doyle's voice was incongruously soft. "Nothing's wrong with me. If you want to have a drink, we'll have a drink."

And some unspoken phrase alerted Bodie. A drink, and no more than that? No kisses, no shared bed? He swallowed hard, reached over the table and touched Doyle's slender hand. Even his fingers were tense. "Ray?"

A forced, fixed smile answered him, not at all Doyle's usual natural good humour. Not passion but sadness darkened his eyes. He breathed a long sigh. "All right, I said we'll have a drink. What else do you want me to say?"

Say you love me, Bodie thought feverishly. Let me in, Ray, don't shut me out the way you've been doing! What's gone wrong with us? And yet he could begin to guess. Doyle's eyes were open now, in a way they had not been before. The concept of faith, or the lack of it, had been born into his mind and nothing could be the same until this Gordian-knot of a question had been resolved. To love, or not. To give every part of the heart and mind to another, in total trust, complete and perfect faith.

Bodie's belly wrenched painfully as he watched Doyle take the paper out of the machine and scrawl his signature at the foot of it. He left the drab, companionable squad room without a word or a backward glance.

Alone, Bodie pounded keys with savage determination, finishing his own report with a brusqueness which would not go unnoticed when Cowley reviewed it prior to filing it. The ballpoint tore vengefully through the paper as he signed it but he was done, finished and on Ray's heels before Doyle had the chance to escape.

For Bodie had the strongest intuition that if he let Doyle slip through his fingers tonight he might never get a grip on him again.

They were in the carpark beside the building before Doyle spoke. The shadows were indigo, the sun dust-golden between the tall buildings which reared over the street like endless monoliths. Hands in jacket pockets, Doyle surveyed Bodie with a speculative look.

"Your car or mine?"

"Mine," Bodie decided arbitrarily, if only because his own was thirty yards closer than Doyle's. He dug for his keys, and when he had Ray safely in the silver Capri Ghia, relaxed by a notch or two. At least they were talking, and so long as they had communication working for them they could thrash it out. He had started the motor and dropped the car into gear before he thought to ask, "Where are we going?"

"The Hare and Hounds," Doyle said quietly. "You can buy me a cognac. I need it."

"You look a bit rough," Bodie said honestly. "You feeling all right?" Was he ill, was that the trouble?

For a moment Doyle looked less at him than through him, and then that forced smile returned "I'm fine." It was too obviously a lie. "Get going, Bodie. None of us is getting any younger."

So Bodie drove, threaded through the endless crush of traffic, jostled for a parking spot, bought him a large double brandy and slipped in with him, into the privacy of a dark little booth in the very back of the old fashioned pub. The early evening crowd had just started to gather. Later the place would be raucous and disorderly but for the moment a modicum of peace remained.

Bodie took a deep breath, a swig of his own whiskey, and plunged in at the deep end. "That stuff at the house really bothered you."

"Hm? Oh, that." Doyle shrugged. "Not much. Sexy, some of it. A lot of it was daft, though. Can you see yourself in a French housemaid's costume?"

"No," Bodie admitted drily, "but I can see you in the tiger striped leotards, or the loincloth." He gave Doyle a leer, hoping to woo him from his dark mood, but won only a faint smile for his trouble. He leaned over the table and dropped his voice. "You want to tell me what's wrong?" Ray shook his head slowly, and Bodie sighed for what seemed the tenth time in as many minutes. "Ray, you don't have to be ashamed."

"Ashamed?" Surprise jarred Ray into animation at last. "Ashamed of what?"

"Of being turned on by the thought of that old game," Bodie elaborated.

"I'm not!" Doyle scoffed at the idea. "What makes you think I'd be ashamed?"

"The way you're acting," Bodie suggested.

"And how's that?" Doyle cocked his head at the man who had shared his bed every night for three weeks.

"You're being a prima donna," Bodie told him flatly. "You are as uptight as a virgin spinster at a rugby club stag night, and you won't tell me what's wrong."

For a moment he thought he had cracked the turtle's shell, that the truth was about to spill out, but before his eyes the armour was laced back together like a breached mail coat. Doyle downed his cognac in one gulp. The spirit roughened his voice. "I could drink another one of those. You?"

"Too early," Bodie argued. "It's only six." He caught Doyle's hand as Ray made to slide out from the booth. "Come on, mate, you don't need to get pissed. Come back to my place. I've got dinner in the freezer."

"TV dinners?" Doyle turned up his nose.

"Then we'll go back to your gaff and you can cook me something," Bodie suggested glibly, and held his breath. There was such a thing as pushing luck too far.

But Doyle merely shook his head emphatically and slapped down his empty glass. "Fat chance. I'm not cooking tonight, Bodie. TV dinners? You got the chicken pie with peas and potatoes?"

"Bought a whole stack," Bodie affirmed as he pushed to his feet. "It's the best they do. Got a bottle of wine and a carton of chocolate ice cream. Interested?"

"I could be persuaded." Doyle knuckled his eyes, a tired and vulnerable gesture which aroused the protective and possessive streak in Bodie.

A welter of emotion assaulted him: tenderness and wanting, the defenseless adoration of a man in love who may mock himself for sentiment but has no shield against it. Sighing behind Doyle's artfully turned back, he steeled himself, sure of only one thing. It had only just begun.

But a crowded pub on a Thursday night was not the place for two CI-5 men to be seen having a heart-to-heart. Bodie jingled his keys to urge Doyle out into the street. The traffic was thickening as the nightly dash began: one half of the population heading home from work, the other half heading for the West End. Theatreland and restaurant country.

This year Cowley had allocated Bodie a ground floor flat in a quiet block filled with pensioners. The CI-5 security system rendered a man's home into a fortress. With both sets of deadlocks engaged it would take a battering ram to force entry, and behind that closed door privacy was guaranteed.

Routine had been established a fortnight before. The mere sound of a lock setting was enough to click Bodie's mind and glands into gear. His arms would be filled with Doyle not a second later, his palms diving into hastily discarded clothes to find hot, silken skin.

Tonight was the same; yet not. Doyle was in his arms, hot and hard, lean and sinuous as a panther...tense as a runner under the gun. Bodie pulled him in tight and crushed him in an embrace that tested his ribs.

"Ray, for Godsakes, talk to me," he murmured into Doyle's hair. "What can't you talk to me about? Is it that bloody silly game I joked on about today? Then forget it! It's not everybody's cup of cha. If it isn't yours--"

"Shut up, Bodie," Doyle said in that raw silk tone of voice which betrayed deep emotion, and his mute lips spoke more eloquently than words ever did.

What truths were told in the lush silence of a kiss? Bodie as a rule kissed with his eyes open so that he could see the beauty he so spuriously possessed, but Doyle's ravenous, seducing tongue overwhelmed him now and his eyes closed blindly. He groaned into Ray's mouth and sucked him in deep, and when the slender strength of Doyle's arms circled his neck and shoulders he pressed his mate against the front door.

'Mate' was a curious word. Friend and ally; colleague and co-worker; consort and spouse. Bodie clasped tight to every definition of the word and wished he believed in a God to pray to. He was breathless, as if he had run and run, when Doyle released him.

And still Ray said nothing, though he licked sensuously at swollen lips and looked at Bodie out of passion-dark irises. "I thought you said you were going to feed me."

Bodie forced his thoughts to order, astonished to discover that his white business shirt was open to the waist, his belt loose, his shoulders scratched. His cock throbbed against the constriction of too-tight trousers, but the urgency of his erection had begun to subside as he concentrated on the immediacies of dinner...and building a bridge over troubled waters.

Breathing deeply, he buttoned his shirt and looked Doyle up and down. The yellow tee-shirt was rumpled, tugged out of belt and jeans, skewed about the lean torso. Ray slipped off his jacket and sidearm and hung both over a chair. Green eyes followed Bodie to the kitchen; he was never unaware of the weight of their scrutiny as he opened the freezer and took out the packets.

Dusky, were Ray's eyes, and not with lust tonight. Stormy. Bodie slid their dinners into the microwave and sorted through the cutlery drawer for a corkscrew. The Lambrusco Amabile was an Australian wine, cheap, sweet, suited to his palate and his pocket. He turned the label to Ray for his perusal and amusement. The ghost of a smile passed Ray's lips.

"Aussie wine?" He closed his eyes, tipped back his head. "They drink a lot of that in Hong Kong."

"Do they?" Bodie struggled to follow his abstruse train of thought. "It's close to Australia, I suppose."

"She said that."

"She?" Biceps and forearms corded as Bodie fought with the cork, which was jammed securely, swollen as the wine aged.

"Esther. DS Esther Chan, Hong Kong Special Branch." Doyle watched as the cork popped.

"Get the glasses." Bodie nodded at the wall cupboard where they were kept and inspected his palms, which were scarlet after the tussle with the corkscrew. The wine breathed vaporously through the open green glass neck. "You know," he added as he watched Doyle fetch down two Waterford crystal pieces, the last survivors of a set his long-dead mother had received as a wedding gift. "I thought you were well in there."

"Well in where?" The wary look was back. A wary Doyle was foxy; even his features seemed to sharpen.

"With Esther." Bodie held the cork under his nose, watched his nostrils flare as he sniffed. "I thought you and Esther were going to be a big thing. You know, a May wedding, six gorgeous little half-caste kids I'd have envied you and been godfather to."

The shutters slammed up again, and he knew he had said the wrong thing. Bodie bit his tongue and poured the wine. It was a full two minutes, and the table was set, before Doyle found his voice again.

"I might have loved her," he whispered, as if it was a terrible confession.

"Might have?" Bodie echoed as he waited through the last seconds for the microwave to beep. "Well, did you or didn't you?"

"I didn't know. Wasn't sure," Doyle said slowly. "What's love, Bodie? What does it feel like, how do you tell? How do you look at a person one day and say, 'I want to spend the rest of my life with you'?"

Bodie cocked his head at his lover with a deep frown. "Was that rhetorical?"

"Yes. No. I don't know." Doyle plunked himself down behind the polished dining table and cupped his chin in his right palm. With his left hand he toyed with the wine glass. "I let her down, didn't I?"

"You're asking me?" At a beep from the microwave Bodie withdrew their dinners. "I liked her. She loved you, mate. If you couldn't see that, you needed your eyes examined."

"I could see it," Doyle admitted. "I just wasn't ready."

"Wasn't ready for what?" Bodie peeled the foil off his meal and wondered where Ray's wayward mind was taking him. An hour before, he had been certain it was the last vestige of the old Catholic upbringing giving Ray hell after his traitorous body had responded so powerfully to the collection of wanton sex toys.

"Ready for..." Doyle hesitated, took a breath and fiddled with his food as if he was not hungry. At last he shrugged and offered the word almost apologetically. "Commitment."

Oh. So there it was. Bodie chewed mechanically, hardly tasting the chicken pie. "Well, that was hard to say. Dragged out of you with red hot pincers, was it?"

The expressive eyes flashed their warning again, and Doyle drank his glass to the bottom in one draught.

"Ray." Bodie put down his cutlery and leaned over the table. "When and if the day comes that you're ready to make a commitment to one person, a relationship that's going to last for years or for life, Christ knows, you won't have to waffle! It'll hit you like a ton of bricks. Wham! Right between the eyes. You'll know." The way it hit me, when it all came together for us, and I knew in a second what I wanted. But what do you want? Who the hell are you, Ray, inside? Do I even know the man hiding in there? And not knowing scares the willies out of me! He swallowed hard as Doyle' looked at him, probing, searching, and forced a smile. "If I've said too much just forget I spoke. Talking about Esther makes you unhappy."

"Not really." Doyle sighed and returned to his food. "I just can't drink Australian wine without thinking of her."

Item One on the check list for tomorrow: buy Italian, French, Spanish, anything but Australian. Bodie filed the note away on his mental clipboard and changed the subject. "Stay with me tonight. Please."

"You're asking? Makes a change. You've been taking that for granted for weeks."

"You think I've started taking you for granted?" Bodie recoiled. "Is that the problem?"

Doyle shook his head with an exasperated look. "Leave it, Bodie. No---stum! I mean it. Leave it out...for now. I don't want to talk about it."

Accepting the undeniable wisdom of the decision, Bodie raised his glass. "Then you'll sleep with me?"

A faint smile played about the corners of Doyle's mobile mouth, not enough to crinkle his eyes. "Don't I always?"

And yet part of him was aloof and distant even in bed, as if he was with Bodie in body, not in spirit. They made love slowly, with all the gentleness Doyle had been taught by his countless women, and the tenderness with which Bodie had ushered him into the vibrantly sensual realm of male loving. He sighed, moaned, his skin agleam in the lamplight as he spreadeagled himself for Bodie's hungry hands and mouth.

Looking down at him, crucified on crisp beige cotton, head tossing on the pillow, Bodie felt the familiar tug of a kind of love he had felt so rarely that he could not even recall the last time. His hands stilled, allowing Doyle to get back his breath and wits. The deep, soft-pelted chest heaved as Bodie slathered a palmful of cool gel onto the blood-hot lance below Ray's belly and straddled it. Musk wreathed them, sharp enough to sting the sinuses, like fresh mown hay. He would have known the tang of Ray's musk anywhere.

A moment of pain, a swift shaft of agony which dulled at once into mere discomfort and then blossomed into pleasure. Bodie cried out, high and wild, as he took Doyle into himself. The eight time? He had begun to lose count and wondered abstractly why he had even bothered to count, as he began to ride the thick, risen cock.

Somewhere close to the end he heard Ray's voice murmuring, and was sure it was his name being whispered over and over, but his mind had spun away into a rhapsody beyond coherence. Coming tore the heart out of him and it seemed that his deep, clenching contractions drew climax from Doyle also. The javelin-haft in him jerked, made him cry out again as Ray spent himself, bathing his insides with the rich essence of the man.

Slumped, leaden and vulnerable in the aftermath of loving, Bodie sprawled on the bed. The weight of Doyle's hand palming his buttock brought some measure of reassurance that all would be well--would be, because it must be. Life returned slowly to the mind and limbs, and Bodie roused with a grunt, a curse. He groped for a handful of tissues and hoisted the bedding into place. The time was only ten.

Doyle was wide awake now, sitting against the pillows, one arm behind his head, surveying the closed curtains with a distant expression. Bodie lay propped on one arm, looking up at him. The lamplight limned his face, glinted in the copper chest hair. "Ray?" This was the time they should talk. If The Scene was ever to happen, surely it must be now.

But Doyle was as mute as he had been for hours, withdrawn. And although lovemaking took place almost every night which followed, silent he remained for two endless, wearying and troubling weeks, while their working relationship went straight to hell.

Bodie's closed eyelids shut out the squad room, and he gratefully lapsed into a state of semi-consciousness. Double shifts were for kids--or the birds. But with CI-5 short staffed and half of the remaining agents on call at Repton for the hush-hush meeting of NATO top brass, everyone barring the tea lady was pulling double duty.

Besides, Bodie admitted as he settled on the leather couch and willed relaxation to seep back into aching sinews and muscles, his weariness had more to do with tension, sleepless nights and Ray Doyle than with overwork. Murphy and Jax were thriving on the overtime pay, Lucas, McCabe, Pettifer and Fischer were bearing up with aplomb, and Cowley had worked sixteen hours almost every day for so many years, he did not even notice the extra shifts.

Tiredness went right through to Bodie's marrow, and when he got the chance to catnap, he took it. He had not slept much at night since the day of the raid on Marcel Dupont's Knightsbridge mansion; and neither had Doyle, if his heavy eyes and nightly tossing were anything to go by. It was difficult to sleep well when sharing a bed with a threshing machine, difficult to do a demanding, dangerous job efficiently when partnered with a man whose mind seemed to be in the fifth dimension.

Yet their lovemaking remained feverish, the passion unquelled. Caresses seared Bodie's skin, kisses tore the breath from his lungs. Doyle was the male-succubus of his wildest dreams, that had not changed. Would never change. Wriggling to comfort on the couch he let loose his memory, and as it slipped the leash, smiled tiredly.

The First Time. Was there any other time like it? Ray was a virgin with men, eager but selfconscious, and yet proud of his body and responsive to the slightest caress or most guarded compliment. A comment on the silkiness of his chest hair, and he purred like a cat. A lick upon his nipple, and he arched, begging for more. A gentle bite there, and he clutched tight to Bodie as if he could not bear such pleasure.

It began at a party, after a big job. For Bodie the dream of years came true all at once, dizzyingly sudden. Doyle was hot, prowling like a young tiger on heat, needing sex as he needed air to breathe. His current girlfriend, Trina, was working nights at the taxi company where she operated the shortwave. So Doyle hunted at his leisure, stalked his prey, any half-way attractive woman under forty-five at McCabe's wedding anniversary party...and drew a blank.

They were all spoken for, married or otherwise engaged. By midnight Ray was half plastered and wild with some mix of sexual fury and anger which must have some release or burn him to cinders. Bodie thought he had never seen Doyle more magnificent, more incandescent, and yet the sight was more than a little frightening.

And the trigger for the release he must have was Bodie himself. All evening Bodie had watched him hunt and had stood back, out of his way. Ray had drunk a lot, but that was only to be expected after the terrible danger of the afternoon. Hostages were snatched from a KLM-747 passenger jet at Heathrow, and the bullets came close enough to comb his hair. After such a performance the mind and body could not just be turned off at the touch of a switch. If not the exhaustion of therapeutic sex, alcohol must calm the nerves.

But Doyle was much less than drunk when the last woman turned him down flat. She was twelve years his elder and should have been damned flattered to be propositioned by arguably the finest young stud on the premises...or had she too seen the wildness in Ray that night, and taken fright? Spurned for the final time and fuming, Doyle stalked out of McCabe's house, unaware that Bodie was on his heels until they were at the car, the white Escort.

Wordlessly, Ray unlocked it and stamped his foot to the floor on the accelerator as Bodie fastened his seat belt. The pubs had been shut for hours and the choice was between home and a nightclub. Bodie did not ask, and minutes later knew that Doyle was headed for his flat.

What happened in the next thirty minutes was burned into his brain cells. If he lived to be a hundred years old he would never forget. Doyle's mood was volcanic as frustrated sensuality turned to seething anger. He was going to drink in an attempt to quell it, and when Bodie remonstrated it became an argument in seconds.

What would Bodie know about it? What business of Bodie's was it if Ray got smashed? How the fuck would Bodie know what he wanted and needed anyway?

Oh, I know what you want, sunshine. I bloody know. Anger, lust and despair simmered in Bodie's blood, ignited his excitement, goaded him into action when the sensible, sane man would have backed off. But Ray was glorious that night, vibrant and luminous with life, and Bodie had drunk just enough to be fool and hero in one skin.

A ravenous mouth crushed Ray's, a hand grasped the swell of his groin hard enough to make him yelp as he was thrust back against the wall, and Bodie held him there while he plundered his mouth. The cock beneath his hand rose to erection in moments, leaving Doyle no word of outraged protest which could be believed.

Not that Ray protested. His arms circled the broader, sturdier body. They tumbled onto the couch, wrestling and heaving. The warm iron taste of blood filled Bodie's mouth, he heard the sound of fabric tearing, and then--

And then the heated wonder of bare skin on bare skin, two bodies exulting in primal masculinity. It was splendid, it was terrible, it was joyous, but it had to end; and when it did fear replaced ecstasy in Bodie's veins.

Now Doyle would flay him alive. Ray was a 'fallen Catholic' from a big midlands Irish clan. His sister was a nun, his younger brother was soon to be ordained in the Roman Catholic Church. Ray himself had drifted far from the old religion, seen too much that was barbaric on the city streets to believe in God or gods, but still the pitiless foundations of Irish Catholic scruples must hang on like a bed of thorns beneath the skin.

Bodie was due a surprise. Ray stretched like a pet cat, rubbed his back on the carpet, smiled sleepily up at the man who had stripped and pillaged him...pulled Bodie down onto the bony cushion of his body and solicited more. And more.

Somewhere at the back of Bodie's mind was the knowledge that many Catholics were gay, even many priests. So, despite the dictates of an unforgiving senior clergy, there were ways and means to be a Catholic, a practising gay and more or less happy. Bodie had no idea what those ways might be, but clearly Doyle had found some hallowed middle-ground where his subconscious mind had rationalised the brimstone instruction of adolescence with the love of a gentle God promised to the faithful. In his own way, Bodie gave thanks.

A booted foot kicked the end of the couch, rousing him rudely. He cracked open one eye and saw Murphy's face looming over him, wreathed in the steam from a fresh cup of tea. "You look terrible, Bodie," 6.2 told him mock-dolefully as he handed over the tea. "You not been sleeping? What is it, a lover's tiff?"

"Something like that." Bodie sat up and took a sip of the scalding liquid. Three sugars sweetened it, it had the colour and consistency of brown paint, but it was hot and hit the spot. He sipped again and waited for the sugar buzz in his blood.

"Ray's been looking like hell as well," Murphy added as he perched on the edge of the table by the typewriter. "You haven't had a falling out, have you?"

Alarm bells rang in Bodie's skull. For five weeks they had kept the relationship a secret even from their closest friends, but Murphy's expression was shrewd, the bluegrey eyes cautiously disapproving. "What makes you ask?" Bodie raked his fingers through his hair and looked anywhere but into Murphy's pale, handsome face.

"Cowley's noticed," Murphy added quietly. "Doyle yawned nine times during the briefing this morning, and you were sitting there with your eyes closed, like you weren't taking a bit of notice. You're up for the physicals, four weeks early. The Cow thinks you're going stale."

"He talked the whole thing over with you, did he?" Bodie snapped. "Took you into his confidence?"

Murphy grinned widely. "Not a chance, mate. I eavesdropped on him and Doc Fleishman. I was hanging around waiting for his signature on a requisition form, and Fleishman was juggling names and dates on his roster. Cowley's thinking of reteaming you and Doyle. You're not working together like you used to."

Cold sweat prickled down Bodie's sides. "That's rubbish, Murph, and you know it."

The younger man recoiled. "Don't tell me, tell Cowley!" He folded his arms and cocked his head curiously at Bodie. "But you've got to admit, you've screwed up twice in two weeks, and that's so far out of character for you two, the boss has got to notice. He's not blind."

"I know," Bodie admitted reluctantly. "We've got a lot on our minds."

"You almost got killed," Murphy added quietly. "What's your problem, Bodie?"

"What it is," Bodie said in a surprisingly mild tone, "is none of your goddamned business."

"Fair enough." Murphy stood. "But if you don't work it out PDQ it's going to get worked out for you. Physicals in four weeks' time, psych evaluation, Ross and her performing computer banks, and if the numbers come back one point under par, Cowley's reteaming you. I heard him tell the Doc."

"Oh, great. That's just great." Bodie slammed down the half-empty cup and marched from the squad room, leaving Murphy bewildered and disturbed.

At that moment Doyle was not in the building. It was his free afternoon and he had elected to spend a few hours in domesticity. Vacuum his flat, stock the fridge, visit the laundrette, wash windows, put a casserole in the oven for dinner. Bodie looked at the time, but it was only four and he would be working till eight.

So Cowley had noticed. How could he not? When a partnership began to come apart it was obvious to anyone who cared to notice. And the 3.7/4.5 partnership was starting to lose its stuffing from ruptured seams like a battered old golliwog.

Twice, they had miscalculated badly. The first time the cost of failure was an escaped terrorist, a wrecked car, cuts and bruises, irate civilians. The second time their failure was much more dire. Death had been a whisker away, and even the memory of that morning in Norfolk could make Bodie's marrow chill.

Where had their minds been as they swept the country house for the gunmen who had run inside? Neither he nor Doyle had seen the hatch which let into the coal shed, though the green-painted door had been clearly visible as they went through the kitchens. They were supposed to be trained, as Cowley quite rightly lectured them after the shambles had been straightened out. They were supposed to be on the alert for every aspect of every confrontation--the quality that made the difference between survival and damnation.

The gunmen had crawled through the hatch and, when the CI-5 men were deeper in the house, crawled out again and came up behind them. Both Bodie and Doyle almost died in the firefight which followed, and only the devil's own luck came between them and bodybags.

Cowley called it negligence. Bodie called it terminal preoccupation with personal problems...it amounted to the same thing. The result at the end of the day would have been the same. The old man was right. If they did not sort it out, and soon, they were finished as a working unit.

The tragedy of it was, the sex was not the root of their problem. For weeks their sex had been sublime, heightening their awareness of one another until at work Bodie was so aware of Doyle, he would not take his eyes off him, fretted for his welfare, safeguarded him in every way he could think of. And then--

The afternoon at Ogilvie House haunted Bodie. The trouble had begun there, when Doyle woke to some private distress which he could not or would not speak of, and which had preyed on him--and through him, on Bodie--every moment since. Twice, Bodie tried to question him about it, and twice the shutters slammed up and locked. The message was plain: Doyle would speak when the time came, and he would choose that time himself.

So Bodie resigned himself to ride out the storm, and beseeched any god who was listening that it would not take too long. Two weeks was too long. Disaster was imminent as they both became stressed beyond their limits, and it came as no real surprise to realise Cowley was onto them.

The hands of his watch crawled through the hours as Bodie waded through a week's paperwork and sat out his watch on standby. They were waiting for a case to break but it could take a day, a week, a month. Jax and Anson were running surveillance on an IRA cell; it could get dangerous in a hurry but until it did their backup, of which Bodie and Doyle were chief components, were on the infuriating hurry-up-and-wait routine. Nothing taxed the nerves more.

Reteaming. Bodie rubbed his eyes as he watched the office clock show seven. Physicals a month early. Ross's psych tests. Christ, she was going to suss it out, balance the numbers like an accountant juggling the books. She would put two and two together, and then she would hand Cowley a single sheet of paper which spelled doom. Two careers pruned at the knees.

If they lived that long. Memory replayed the percussion of gunfire, deafening in the confines of the farmhouse. The gunmen came up behind them, startled them on the stairs as they tried to sweep as per the traditional pattern. Doyle went down heavily and for an instant Bodie was sure he had been hit. But no, he was just diving for cover and the Browning HP barked in his hand a moment later. Bodie rushed to place himself between Doyle and the gunfire; Doyle's voice yelled at him to clear his line of fire. They were in each other's way and Ray had been furious as soon as healthy fear died down.

The truth was, they may not live long enough to endure Kate Ross's tests and the subsequent carpeting in Cowley's office. Realisation of that fact sobered Bodie. Preoccupation was insidious. His own mind had been on anything but the job, and he knew Doyle's thoughts had been just as nomadic.

How long would it be before he should be concentrating on the details of the job, and instead was going over the mental minefield a fiftieth time, trying to find some way to entrap Doyle into speaking the truth, without making an enemy of the man he loved for the rest of their lives?

Cowley was right, as usual. Reteaming might spell doom for a love affair which had gone wrong before it had even begun to spread its wings, but at least they would come out of it with their hides intact. When it came down to the bottom line, survival was the first concern of any living creature.

At ten to eight Jax called in by R/T and Bodie's raw nerves came alive. Was this it? He scooped up the R/T, but Jax seemed to be merely reporting on another dull day's surveillance. The IRA group was waiting for the arrival of someone or something. Unless or until he or it arrived, they were inert. Bodie relaxed a fraction.

"But at least we know what they're waiting for now," Jax added with a yawn.

"Which is?" Bodie shrugged into his coat as the clock showed eight. Home beckoned.

"His name is Dunphy," Jax said, and spelled it out for the computer. "Charles Dunphy. Run that, will you, and get back to me, soon as you can."

Bodie groaned. "Will do. Sit tight, Jax. Out." He switched channels. "3.7 to 4.5."

Half a minute later Doyle answered. "Bodie, where are you?"

"Still at Central. I'm going to be late. Take the casserole out. I'll get there as soon as I can."

"Trouble?" Doyle asked quickly.

"Got to do a file search on a suspect for Jax. It could take five minutes, could take an hour. Don't wait up for me, Ray."

A pause, then, "Okay. 4.5 out."

The line returned to the normal buzz of white noise, the carrier signal, and Bodie sighed as he shut down and returned the

R/T to his pocket. The name of Charles Dunphy was written in capitals on the notepad, and he tore off the top sheet as he left the office. Cowley might be in later, on his way home from the Repton conference, but for the moment the whole office was on automatics. The night staff were in, the day staffers gone. The computer facility was still working but only a few input terminals were on. A stream of incoming data cycled through the screens unnoticed, and a girl called Angela Cameron sat filing her nails and yawning over a coffee.

"Run that, love," Bodie said by way of greeting as he handed her the paper. He scraped up a chair and helped himself to a sip from her cup. It was black and sugarless...the way Doyle drank coffee. Bodie made a face and put it down.

Long, red-nailed fingers tapped keys. The screen cleared, the computer chattered to itself for some time as it searched the enormous capacity of a dozen Memorex disks. Then there it was: DUNPHY, CHARLES EDWARD, born 1944, Dublin, educated at Southampton University where he read political science, worked as a steward on Airlingus between Ireland and Europe; implicated in IRA activities through his brother who was currently surviving fourteen years in The Maze for the bombing of an RUC convoy, and his sister-in-law, Mary Channon, currently on the run for harbouring IRA fugitives. Dunphy was apparently a liaison between IRA and the Red Brigade, and they were arming, planning something big which would be launched out of England. Accompanying the file was an image, a wirepicture of a passably handsome man just out of his youth. His hairline receded above a strong nose and chin, and he had the blazing eyes of an idealist.

Bodie brought the R/T to his lips. "3.7 to 4.9."

"4.9," Jax responded. He had been waiting.

"Dunphy's your man," Bodie told him. "He'll be the key, bet your pension on it. How did you get his name? Phone tap?"

"Long range directional mic, straight through the living room window. They left it open this afternoon; it's been warm. Bodie, better get a squad together. They said Dunphy's coming in tonight, by train. He's been 'up north', Glasgow maybe. We heard Glasgow mentioned three or four times. You might try to pick him up when the Intercity puts in."

"I'll see what I can do," Bodie promised. "But it's gone eight already, we'll never get it into gear in time. Where are you now?"

"Right where I've been for so long my bum's putting down roots!" Jax said tartly. "Sitting in a laundry van, parked across the road from the house. You want to snatch them tonight? What's Cowley say?"

"Let me buzz him." Bodie switched channels once more. "3.7 to Alpha."

It took five minutes to find Cowley, and the signal was weak: he was on the road back to Town, heading in from the Repton centre after the day's NATO talks were complete. The SIS-issue R/T was on the very edge of its operating maximum. Bodie gave him the details in a few choice phrases, and Cowley concurred at once.

"Aye, Bodie. Snatch him at the house. We've not enough time to stake out the station, and if we let the man see us there he'll go to ground and it'll all have been for nothing. Charles Dunphy, you say? Well, well. We've been watching him since the conviction of his brother. I'll be with you in an hour or so, Bodie, but you'd better assemble a squad. We won't get a second crack at this and we've no time to lose."

A squad? Bodie read down the roster and dialled the extension of the ready room, where Murphy, Lucas and McCabe were playing cards, whiling away the monotony of an uneventful nightshift. They crowed with glee at the promise of a little action. Bodie was not so cheerful.

The last name he would have added to the squad was Doyle's. The last face he expected to see coming through the lift door was Doyle's, but Ray appeared just as he and Murphy called down to the garages for the cars to be run out. And Ray was annoyed.

"I thought I'd come in, in case you needed a hand," he said tersely. "You're on assignment." He nodded at Murphy who was checking and holstering his sidearm.

Bodie took a deep breath and counted to five. "Jax called in. His obbo comes together tonight or not at all. They're waiting for a man--"

"You didn't call me." Doyle watched the other three agents step past him into the lift.

"You were on an afternoon off," Bodie remonstrated.

Doyle's eyes widened, more silver than green. His breathing was harsh and rapid. "You were going to go in without me?"

"I..." Bodie swallowed. "Ray, for godsake, not here."

"Then, where?" Doyle flung a glance about the quiet, almost lifeless offices. They were neither watched nor overheard. "Bodie!"

"Yes, I was going to go in alone," Bodie said grimly. "The squad is Murphy, Lucas, McCabe and myself."

"Oh, I see. You didn't even roster me." Doyle stepped back and turned his face away.

Bodie dropped his voice. "Ray, it's going to be dangerous."

"They're all dangerous," Doyle snarled.

"I won't roster the two of us, not now," Bodie hissed. "We don't go in together. We're bad magic, sunshine. You know that,

I know that. We've lost it--please God, we'll get it back, but we're going to get each other killed if we go on like this."

"Go on like--?" Doyle spun, looked up at him with such hurt and accusation that Bodie physically recoiled. "You don't trust me to do my job right?"

"I didn't say that," Bodie said carefully.

"Then what the hell did you say?"

"That you don't work well with me," Bodie said flatly. "Any more than I work well with you. And you won't tell me why. What's the matter with you, Ray? Are you trying to tear me apart as well as yourself?" He thumped the lift switch. "Go home, for Christ's sake. I'll get out of here as soon as I can, and then maybe, maybe, you'll think about opening that welded-shut mouth of yours and telling me the truth!"

"The truth about what?" Doyle called after him as Bodie stepped into the lift, praying for sanctuary.

A clenched fist punched between the doors, stopping them before they could close. His nemesis was with him, a wildcat on two legs, spitting furious. Bodie clenched his teeth tight. A muscle twitched in his jaw.

"The truth," Doyle growled, "about what?"

"Go home, Ray," Bodie whispered. "I haven't got time for this now. It's going to be bloody damned dangerous, and I don't want you around."

"Don't want me around, so I can cock it up?" Doyle demanded.

"Yes!" Bodie's voice rose startlingly in the confines. Anger shortened his breath. "Did you know Cowley's onto us? We're up for reteaming, mate, as soon as we get through the physicals and psych evaluation, a month ahead of schedule. Oh, he's got us all sussed out."

Colour leapt in Doyle's cheeks. "He knows about--us?"

"You mean, that we're fucking each other?" Bodie said brutally. The phrase made a mockery of his feelings, and the arrow seemed to unerringly find its mark in Doyle's chest. Ray flinched. "No, he doesn't know about that. But he thinks we're going stale. It happens to the best of partnerships. He's going to split us unless we come out of the tests and evaluations smelling of roses...and we won't. Will we?"

"No." Doyle was pale now. "We won't. Last time...."

"Last time we nearly got each other killed." The lift opened and Bodie stepped out into the cold, windy garage. "Ray, for the love of God, will you just go home? This isn't the time or the place to thrash it out."

Without waiting for an answer he strode away to the cars, and for some moments he was sure Doyle had done as he was told. But as he buckled into the seat beside Murphy he caught a glimpse in the lopsided rear view mirror: Doyle was getting into the other car, with Lucas and McCabe.

"Shit," Bodie hissed fiercely. "Shitshitshit!"

"What?" Murphy flicked on the headlights and adjusted the mirror as the motor came to life with a throaty cough.

"Doyle," Bodie breathed. "Bloody Doyle's with us!"

"Well, he's your partner," Murphy said bemusedly.

Which said it all. Or should have. In fact, Murphy had innocently put his finger on the crux of the whole dilemma. Doyle was Bodie's lover, eager and ardent in bed...out of it, aloof, mute and stormy with turbulent, unvoiced emotions. Partners? Bodie was no longer sure, and Cowley was right. The parting of the ways was at hand.

Grief clenched Bodie in a mailed fist as Murphy drove them over the river. Southwark was busy, depressed, chaotic: unemployed kids, unmarried mums, pensioners and constables nudged elbows.

Coloured youths clustered at street corners, 'woodentop' constables kept an eagle eye on them. Patrol cars purred into sidestreets; a bottle-fight erupted in the Knight's Tavern and spilled out into the pavement.

The wail of sirens echoed behind them as Murphy turned into Lowther Street. Forty yards away was a pale blue Ford van painted up in the livery of a Hammersmith laundry service, but it was no laundry van.

The rear windows were dark but Bodie glimpsed Jax's face peering out as Murphy hailed him by R/T. The two cars from Central parked in the dim space beneath a deceased streetlamp, well away from the target house, and Murphy turned off the motor.

"No sign of Dunphy yet," Jax told them. "No sign of life from the house either. They're all in there. The phone rang a few minutes ago. Could have been Dunphy calling. Wait there, Murph. You'll know when to come in. Where's Alpha?"

The R/T blasted static and the voice answering belonged to Cowley--louder now, since the range was so much shorter. "I'm twenty minutes from you, 4.9. Don't wait for me. If Dunphy appears, move straight in. Who's in charge there?"

"I am," Bodie responded.

"And your squad?" Cowley asked.

Bodie took a breath. Doyle would be monitoring, getting every word. "Murphy, Lucas, McCabe, and me. There's a small group in the house and Dunphy on his way. We ought to be able to handle it."

"Aye, all right," Cowley agreed. "Be careful, Bodie. They'll be armed. You've got surprise with you, but that'll not last long."

Understatement. Bodie drew the S&W automatic and checked it methodically. He flicked a glance over his shoulder and caught sight of Doyle's shadowy face in the car behind. The R/T lifted to his lips. "Doyle."


"Back up Jax and Anson," Bodie told him flatly, in full earshot of the squad. Since Bodie had been the agent on duty, the one handing out assignments that night, he was in charge by any rule in the book. "Got that?"

"Got it," Doyle said sourly.

Bodie's nerve endings crawled uncomfortably and it took some moments for him to track down the sensation. Foreboding was an uneasy itch that could never be scratched. Premonition made the heart race and the skin quiver, a primitive animal response. How many times had his life depended on it, in jungles half the world away? Intuition. Sixth sense. Tonight Bodie gritted his teeth and clamped down on the tide of foreboding as if he hoped to strangle animal intuition out of existence.

Seconds dragged into minutes. Murphy's fingers drumming on the dashboard set Bodie's belly churning, but before he could snap at his partner of the moment McCabe's voice interrupted over the R/T.

"Man just turned into the street. Heads up, kiddies. You get a photo of the man, Bodie?"

"Yes." Bodie's teeth worried at his lip as he watched the figure stride toward them. He wore slacks and a jacket, carried a sports bag in one hand, an overcoat folded over his other arm. As he passed under the brilliant mauve arc of a streetlight Bodie saw the gleam of a receding forehead and keyed the R/T. "That's him. That's Dunphy. Stand by."

As one they ducked down into the concealment of dashboards. Charles Edward Dunphy was no fool. If he saw cars in the street he would be looking for faces, and five young men sitting waiting in two middling-expensive cars would to him have the aspect of five spiders in a web.

But Dunphy saw nothing, and Bodie's keen ears heard the sharp, staccato raps of knuckles on wood, the squeal of a hinge, the bang of the door as it closed. He lifted the R/T once more, his voice harsh: "Go!"

The rear doors of the van opened and Jax stepped down into the street. He and Anson would not go in with them. After so long in the cramped confines of the vehicle they would be stiff and stale. They would plug the leaks, cover the back of the house to mop up escapees. They took to their heels as Bodie watched, going fast about the block. He lost sight of them at the corner, and they would be in the backstreet seconds later.

A glance over the shoulder, and Bodie saw Doyle, crouched in the lee of Lucas's Escort, gun in hand. What the hell was he doing? He should have been with Jax and Anson! Bodie waved, a negative, warning gesture: stay where you are! Did Doyle even see? If he did, he gave no sign. He was intent on the house.

Number nineteen was a terraced rabbit hutch with a paint-peeled front door, dingy drapes, a window box in which the pansies seemed to have wilted out of neglect. On cat-silent feet Bodie crossed the road and pressed against the coarse brickwork beside the window.

Voices murmured within; the television was on and a kettle whistled in the back. A woman laughed, brittle-sharp, a man made some undertone remark which produced noises of agreement.

On the other side of the door, Lucas and McCabe took their cues from Bodie. Murphy was a pace behind him, and Bodie took a final breath before he nodded, the signal which set the machine in motion.

Side by side, he and Murphy kicked the door. Hardboard panels splintered inward, the lock broke away from the jamb and a hinge wrenched off. Bodie was through the door first. Before him were the stairs to the second story. To the left, the tiny living room; beyond that, the kitchen and yard.

Split seconds elongated into minutes as adrenalin pumped through his body. Three men and a woman had already dived for cover by the time the door slumped off its hinges. He saw the muzzle of a machine pistol, a head of frizzy permed hair, a pale, shocked face behind the table. He fired, fired again, and a super-fast volley from the Ingram thundered between four close walls. Murphy fired as he flung himself in through the door and hit the stairs, in the scant cover of the bannister. Bodie hit the floor hard and pulled the S&W into line for a shot. He fired not at the face, nor the gun, but through the furniture. His .45 calibre rounds had the 'knock-down' to punch through wood and keep going.

A scream, a bellow of outrage and fear. Lucas was inside, McCabe on his heels, firing over Bodie's head as Murphy yelled about movement upstairs. Bodie rolled, fired again as shots zinged over him and smacked into the wall beside the stairs.

A door opened in the back, and he saw a man's broad back going through it in a dive. "Lucas! Stop him!" It was Dunphy, unarmed, probably trying to get to a weapon. "I'll cover you!"

The room was small and full of earsplitting fire. Murphy hugged the wall, slithered toward the kitchen as fast as he knew how as Bodie emptied a full clip into the corner of the room, where two men were flat on the floor behind the sofa.

And then shots erupted from the kitchen, not one or two but a volley from something heavy. Armalite? Colt AR15? The din echoed and re-echoed until even Bodie's practised ear could not tell. But he knew the throaty bark of the Browning HP, and only one of the CI-5 group was using that gun.

Doyle! Bloody Doyle was in there! Swearing, Bodie rolled into cover, changed clips with blistering speed and rolled out again. Murphy was shouldering the door, which seemed wedged fast. Bodie levered to his feet. "Lucas, cover me!"

Shots spat down from the stairs, McCabe returned them and a body fell heavily, tumbling to the ground. Two down, three to go. As Lucas reloaded Bodie dove after Murphy. Their combined weight hurled against the wedged-shut door, burst it in, and Bodie dragged the big Smith and Wesson into line.

But the target defeated him, and he put up his gun before he had even taken a breath.

Dunphy was a big man, built like a rugby player and tall. His forearm was across Doyle's windpipe, cutting off his air, and Ray was already blue, wheezing, choking for breath while the barrel of an Ingram machine pistol thrust into his left ear. Dunphy had him off the ground in the merciless lift. Only Ray's toes touched down, scrabbling for purchase on fissured old lino. His hands grasped feebly as he weakened, swiftly suffocating.

"I'm going to walk out of here," Dunphy panted. "You've got two goons out there, and you're going to tell them to let me walk out, or I'll cut his head off his body. Tell them!" The Dublin accent was thick and menacing.

The scene could have been drawn from Bodie's most virulent nightmare. He opened his mouth, searching for his voice for one numbed second before he yelled harshly, "Jax! Anson! Can you hear me?"

"Yeah! What's happening, Bodie?" Jax's light voice shouted from beyond the backyard wall.

"He's coming out!" Bodie paused. "Let him go."

"What? Bodie, say that again!" Anson.

"I said, let him go! He's got a hostage!" Bodie's heart thudded at his ribs. He took a shaky breath. "All right, Dunphy. They won't stop you. For Godsake let him breathe!"

The big man's grip released for a moment. Doyle's face was a patchwork of blue and scarlet as he whooped for air. There was not a mark on him but asphyxiation cut even a giant down to size. Two breaths, three, and Dunphy retightened his grip.

"How far do you think you're going to get?" Bodie growled as he watched Doyle choke again. "You've done him in. He'll slow you down."

"You let me worry about that." Dunphy edged to the door into the yard, and out toward the back gate which stood ajar.

Bodie was never more than a pace behind, Murphy on his heels. He saw Jax and Anson in the backstreet, shadowy shapes looming against rough brick walls and dustbins. Dunphy backed out of the gate and Doyle's feet hardly touched the ground. He was close to blackout, Bodie guessed, and when he did pass out he would be so much dead weight on the man's arm.

The near corner was ten yards away. They all knew Dunphy would make for it, and Bodie knew what the man would want: "You stay right where you are. No closer! Stand still, or he's dead. Still, I said!"

Like statues, impotent and fuming, Bodie, Murphy, Jax and Anson stood beside the gate as Dunphy moved into the deep well of darkness, becoming like a shadow on the walls as he carried his hostage toward the corner. One wrench on that muscular arm, Bodie thought, and Doyle was dead. His mouth dried, his heart skipped like a frightened rabbit in his chest.

As suddenly as it had begun, it was over. A pace about the corner they heard the muffled thud of a body hitting the pavement and the patter of fast retreating boots. Bodie swallowed the acid-hot surge of fear and ran.

He was ahead of the others by a pace at the corner, but Murphy went by him, jumping Doyle's prone body like a steeplechaser while Bodie pulled up short. Jax and Anson were after Murphy like greyhounds, and Bodie heard the bellow of gunshots in the darkness ahead. As he knelt, Doyle stirred, both hands holding his gullet.

Relief swamped Bodie, coursed over him like a bucket of icewater, but as Doyle hoisted himself to his knees the emotion was swiftly replaced by anger. He took Doyle by the shoulders, fingers digging painfully into muscle and sinew.

"I'm all right, Bodie," Doyle rasped over his sore throat. "I said, I'm all right!"

"I can see you are." Bodie released him and forced his mind into gear. Coherence was difficult in the confused aftermath of fear. "You satisfied, Ray? What the hell were you doing in there?"

Haunted eyes turned to him, catching a glimmer of light from the streetlamp on the road. Doyle's voice was hoarse. "I heard the shooting."

"I should bloody well think you did! There was enough of it," Bodie seethed. "I told you to cover the back!"

"I did cover the back, damn you." Doyle hauled himself to his feet with a grunted moan. He flinched as Bodie's fingers touched his gullet.

"If you'd covered the back like you were told," Bodie growled furiously as he turned Doyle to the meagre light and examined his throat, "you could have dropped him as he came out."

"I...know." Doyle swallowed, coughed, swallowed again.

"Then why didn't you just do as you were fucking told!" Bodie's voice bounced back off close brick walls.

"I heard the shooting," Doyle rasped. "I thought you...." He said no more, turned and took a step away.

"You thought what?" Bodie strode after him, one hand on his arm to stop him before he could escape.

Doyle turned back, his face lost in the shadows. "Don't you know? Oh, Christ, Bodie, have we come to this?"

His voice shook with emotion. Fear? Grief? Seldom had Bodie heard that sound and he hesitated, some nerve inside him responding almost against his will. "You're a stranger, Ray. Who are you these days? I don't understand you anymore."

"No, you don't, do you?" Doyle coughed, shrugged his collar up about his neck and seemed to hunch into the garment, the image of misery. "Oh, Bodie. Don't let it be over."

It was the naked anguish that reached Bodie. His hand was heavy on Doyle's arm, holding him back when he tried to turn away again. "Don't let what be over?"

"Us," Doyle said woundedly. "You and me."

His heart wrenched and Bodie schooled his voice with difficulty. "Maybe it's already over. We've screwed it up, Ray. Cowley's going to reteam us. We're no good as partners. And no good in bed, are we? We don't...communicate. And if you take the communication out of it, all you've got left is fucking."

Once before Doyle had flinched at the callous use of that word, and the flinch was repeated now. He drew his shoulders square with an effort. "Sounds like you've written us off."

Sorrow warred with annoyance, sharpening Bodie's voice. "What else can I do? I don't know you anymore. You won't speak your mind to me, you shut me out. And oh God, you don't trust me to know what's best--for you, for me, for us. You won't even do what I tell you for five minutes! Look at that scene back there. Cover the back, I told you, just cover the back, and what do you do? You rush in where bloody damned maniacs would fear to tread!"

"Because I thought you were dead!" Doyle's voice rose unexpectedly, a hoarse roar, broken by unshed tears and bleak with despair. "Don't you understand, Bodie? I thought you were dead!"

They drew apart then, and Bodie knew he was gaping. "I didn't...I wasn't...."

"Obviously you weren't dead," Doyle muttered. "And I've been a fool, as usual. I had to go in there. Had to."

"You couldn't trust met, could you?" Bodie whispered. "You just couldn't trust me to do my job, or to know what was best for you, for us both." Doyle did not answer for a moment that stretched into a painful eternity. Bodie felt the weight of ice in his chest. "Oh, Ray." He spoke softly now. The fight seemed over. "Where's the future for us?" He sighed. "Come on, I'll get you a doctor."

"I don't need a doctor," Doyle rasped. "He just cut off my windpipe. I'll probably bruise a bit, nothing much. I've had worse." But he accepted Bodie's arm for a prop as they walked slowly to the streetcorner where the cars were parked. "Bodie."

"What, sunshine?" Bodie's voice caught. Pain lanced through him. The old, affectionate pet name hurt.

"That's what this is all about, isn't it? You just don't trust me to use my own judgement."

"That's a..." Bodie stopped. Was it a lie?

"You dropped me from your squad," Doyle murmured. "You should have seen the look on your face. Bad magic, you said. You and me, bad magic. Going to get each other killed."

Bodie nodded slowly. "This pantomime proves it."

"Proves nothing," Doyle retorted. "Except, maybe, that I'm as big a fool as you are. You ready to wash your hands of us?"

"Might be for the best," Bodie said sadly. "Cowley thinks so. He's usually right."

"He doesn't know we're lovers," Doyle added pointedly. As his gullet gradually relaxed his voice was levelling out.

"He'll know soon, when Ross is finished with us," Bodie added. "She won't leave us a secret between us."

Silence for a pregnant moment, and then Doyle asked, "Do you care?"

The question took Bodie unawares. "About what?"

"About Ross sussing us, about Cowley reading her report and hauling us onto the carpet," Doyle said lucidly.

"I don't know." Bodie shrugged. "Once, I'd have said you and me were the most important thing in the world."

"And now?" Doyle tilted his head at the taller man, worked his shoulders to and fro to ease their aches and cramps.

"I wish I knew." All at once Bodie was tired to the bone. "I really wish I knew, Ray. We've been bad medicine ever since that day at Dupont's place, and I don't know why, and every time I try to ask you clam up on me so tight I'd need a crowbar to open you up. It's over, isn't it?" And he was walking away as he spoke, head low, feet shuffling.

"Bodie." Doyle's hand cupped his elbow. "You're an idiot, you know that?"

"I've had cause to think so from time to time," Bodie admitted. "Usually when I let you leave boot prints on my scalp." Gently, filled with regret, he removed Doyle's hand from his arm. "Let go, Ray. Time to let go."

Doyle's answer rocketed though him like a bolt of lightning. In a voice still hoarse, like a tiger purr, he said vehemently, "No." Bodie swung back toward him. "I'm not ready to wash my hands of us even if you are. I admit, I haven't told you what's been eating at me, but that's not as important as...this." He gestured over his shoulder at the house. "Trust. We lost it. Or did we never have it?"

"Ray?" A pulse beat hard and fast in Bodie's temple.

"We lost it when we became lovers," Doyle went on. "When we were mates it was easy to trust. What did we have to lose? A friend. That's bad enough, I'll grant you, but not to be compared with losing your lover. Losing the man you're in love with is like having the heart cut out of you."

"In love?" It was Bodie suffocated now, though Doyle had not set a finger on him.

"And I'm supposed to trust you to know what's best for both of us, while you wouldn't even trust me to walk across the road on my own, as if you thought I'd get run over!" He lifted his chin to ease his throat. "I was flattered at first. Made me feel cherished. I liked you being possessive, liked to be the object of all that bloody-minded protectiveness." He looked Bodie up and down in the mauve neon illumination of the lamp across the street. "And then I realised it's not reciprocal, and it wasn't so nice." He shook his head slowly. "You don't even know what I'm talking about, do you?"

"No." Bodie was unashamedly lost. "And I wish we could work this out once and for all, but that's Cowley's car and I've got a lot of explaining to do."

"Later, Bodie," Doyle murmured.

"Count on it." Bodie took his arm to usher him into the street as the scarlet Rover approached and pulled in behind the two other CI5 cars.

McCabe and Lucas were in the middle of the road, uninjured, and the small war seemed to be over. Cowley stepped stiffly frorn his vehicle. The leg was troubling him tonight, the limp just a little more noticeable than usual as he came toward them. Bodie pushed Doyle toward the cars with a quiet word to rest, and faced the old man with a resigned look. "Three, could be four dead in the house, sir. Dunphy took off, used Doyle as a hostage to get out the back way. But Murphy, Jax and Anson are behind him and I wouldn't give much for his chances. Doyle was a bit hurt, I stayed to pick the pieces up."

Pale blue eyes flickered toward the Escort where Doyle sat with his head against the rest, eyes closed. "Does he need a doctor?"

"I don't think so. He was just caught in a choke hold. Dunphy must have jumped him when he came in the back way to give backup." Bodie lifted the R/T from his pocket. "Murphy?"

A crackle, and Murphy was there at once. "6.2. We've got him pinned down, 3.7., he's not going anywhere. We've put two or three rounds into him. If he doesn't give himself up in an hour or two he's going to keel over anyway."

Satisfied, Cowley nodded. "I'll get a uniform squad to seal off the street. Call an ambulance, Bodie, and get the forensic squad in before we move the bodies."

"Sir." Bodie switched up several frequencies and called Central for a patch to the City Police. But his eyes never left Doyle, and Ray's words echoed, re-echoed, about his wayward mind. I am not ready to wash my hands of us, even if you are. Losing the man you're in love with is like having the heart cut out of you.

The man you're in love with?

It was the first time the word "love" had been spoken, and Bodie floundered like a stranded fish. At last, all messages relayed, he paced to the car where Doyle sat while Cowley took verbal reports from Lucas and McCabe. Doyle looked up at him through the windscreen: watchful, wary, shrewd, and something more. Determined? Bodie shivered. Ray had that pugnacious look that meant he was resigned to a fight, yet his lips curved into an incongruously tender smile as Bodie came closer. He swung open the door, and Bodie squatted on the kerb beside him.

"You okay? You look rough, Ray."

"I feel rough," Doyle admitted huskily.

"You ought to see a doctor. There's an ambulance coming if you want to check with one of the medics."

"My gullet's just bruised," Ray said softly. "But you always feel like hell when you've had a shock."

"It'd be a shock, all right, getting throttled by a rugby halfback," Bodie said drily.

"That's not what I'm talking about." Doyle's eyes darkened. "I thought you'd bought it, Bodie. S'why I went in. Where maniacs fear to tread? What makes you think I was sane when I thought you were dead?"

Bodie tussled with it. "But how did you think that?"

Doyle sighed heavily. "A feeling." He rubbed his chest. "In here. A picture I couldn't get out of my mind. I saw you lying in a pool of blood. They used to say my Mum had second sight. A lot of Irish women have. So I...

"Dove off the deep end and came in after me." Bodie's eyes prickled. "Jesus, Ray, you little fool. You could have got yourself killed!"

"Wouldn't have mattered if you'd been dead, would it?" Doyle leaned back wearily. "It's time, Bodie."

"Time? For what?" In the concealment of the car, and with a hasty glance about, Bodie took his hand. Absurdly, after the two hellish weeks they had just lived through he felt closer to Ray than ever.

"Tell me what you want from me," Doyle whispered, as much a challenge as an invitation. He did not open his eyes. "I'm prepared to fight."

"I don't want to fight with you," Bodie said quickly.

"Twit. I meant, I'm prepared to fight to save what we had. Save our--what do they call it? Our relationship. Sounds melodramatic." The ghost of a smile passed his lips. "So tell me what you want of me, straight out."

"Straight?" Even now, Bodie could not resist the joke.

"You know what I mean!" Doyle opened his eyes a crack. "Don't play silly buggers."

"All right." Bodie studied their hands; his broad fingers were laced into Ray's smaller ones. "I want what we had before. Trust. And I don't know how to get it back. "

"I do." Doyle took a deep breath. "There's a game people play, isn't there? I'll play it with you."

For an instant Bodie struggled to comprehend what he meant, and then it was there like a flash of lightning. "You're kidding me. You? You're a prideful, stubborn, belligerent little hellcat. If I even suggested a bondage scene you'd run a mile!"

"Would I?" Doyle shook his head minutely, conscious of his bruised throat. "It's you who'd run, Bodie. I saw that at the house, Dupont's place. I knew in half a second, I'd trust you to the end, and I could see it written all over your face, you didn't have the same faith in me. And that...hurt."

Intuition was a blinding sunflare, dazzling Bodie for a moment. "Your mother had second sight, did she? You've inherited more than her nose and eyebrows, lover."

"Bodie, you weren't listening to me," Doyle said softly. "I said, I'll play it for you."

"I heard." Bodie swallowed hard as near painful pang of lust arrowed from his breast to his groin. "But why, Ray?"

"Because it's the first step," Ray murmured. "It's a long road back to where we were, but the Chinese are right. Journey of a thousand miles begin with...." His hand tightened on Bodie's. "I'm sick and tired of hearing you say I don't trust you. I'm going to convince you--I do, I always did. And when you've got that fact through your thick, concrete skull, we'll start all over again." He looked at Bodie out of heavy, almost hooded eyes. "And then, Bodiernate, we'll play it the other way around and you'll be mine, in the same old, old game. And we'll both know."

"Bondage?" Bodie whispered.

"There's a better name for it," Ray said softly as he drew his hand out of Bodie's. "Cowley's coming."

"What name?" Bodie stood, leaning into the car as the old man came closer.

Doyle smiled tiredly at him, wrung out now, sore. "Love, you great berk," he whispered. "I'll do it for you. I told you, I'll fight to keep what's mine, and you were mine once." He slid out of the car and spoke very softly indeed as Cowley limped toward them. "We've got a couple of days' leave due after this. Tell me when, Bodie. And I'll be there." Then he was turning away, his face becoming that mask of pure professionalism George Cowley knew.

"Doyle, are you all right?" The Scots burr thickened with concern. "Bodie said you were hurt."

"Just a bruise or two, sir." Doyle displayed his gullet.

"Aye, well, have a medic take a look at that back at base." Cowley rubbed his hands together, a conservative expression of delight. "A job well done, Bodie." He looked the younger men up and down. "Your...differences seem to be mended."

"Differences, sir?" Bodie echoed. Bluff was the best armour he had.

"Och, don't con me, man," Cowley scoffed. "You and Doyle have been like moon-struck calves for weeks."

"We had a misunderstanding, sir," Doyle said, with velvet smoothness Bodie envied. "We'll sort it out. It's nothing we can't patch up." He looked up at Bodie with that, and his throat bobbed as he swallowed repeatedly.

"If you don't mind, sir," Bodie began, "I'd like to take him back to base. Dunphy half-strangled him. I think he should see the medic."

"Do that," Cowley agreed as soft V8 engine noise announced the arrival of the ambulance. The CI5 forensic van was right behind it. "I'll tie up the loose ends here," Cowley offered, already striding stiffly away toward the uniform police squad which had arrived to cordon off the area.

Commandeering the Escort, Bodie slid in under the wheel. Doyle was quiescent now, mute, limp as a dishrag, and Bodie had begun to worry. He had heard stories of damaged tissues swelling hours after a blow, and the victim of what had seemed a minor accident or assault choking to death in his or her sleep. He put his foot down hard, heading fast for Central. Doyle seemed to doze and was curiously malleable as Bodie parked in the chill, aromatic under-building garage.

He stepped out of the car as Bodie opened his door for him, and did not lookup until Bodie took his shoulders in both hands. "You're feeling like hell," Bodie guessed. "You look dog-rough, Ray."

But Doyle shook his head in if in resignation. "No, I'm just thinking."

"There's a first time for everything." Bodie waited for the snappy retort, but none came. "Hey, I thought we were on speaking terms."

"Always been on speaking terms," Doyle said with strange and incongruous gentleness. "Always, even when were fighting like cat and dog, we were speaking."

"Then talk to me," Bodie begged. The garage was empty, it was midnight, they were unlikely to be disturbed. He stepped forward and offered his arms. "I'm listening."

"Not yet." Ray pressed his face to Bodie's strong neck, snuffling quietly as he breathed. "It's not time for that yet. We'll both know when it is. The other thing comes first."

"Other...thing?" Bodie threaded his fingers through the soft mass of Doyle's hair. "You're really going to go through with it?" He shivered, head to foot. "Bondage is more than just a word, Ray."

"You said it was only a game."

"So is a heavyweight title fight," Bodie added. "It's a game all right, but dead serious. A lot of people wouldn't have the bottle for it." His voice was almost tremulous, with excitement or trepidation, even Bodie was not sure. "It could be dangerous. Not physically dangerous, but...I don't want us to screw it up the instant we get back together."

At last Doyle lifted his head. "Get back together? Bodie, we've never been apart. I've been in your bed, or you've been in mine, every bloody night!"

Bodie's thumb brushed the uneven old facial injury, cherished it, "And we've been a thousand miles apart, haven't we? A misunderstanding, you told Cowley."

"No trust." Doyle drew out of his arms with a shrug. "And yes, I'll go through with it. I've got a lot to prove to you. Prove you wrong...and then you've got a lot to prove to me.," Both brows rose, lost in his fringe. "Haven't you?"

"I...might have," Bodie admitted. "Ray, you don't have to do this."

"It excites you," Doyle purred. "The game gets to you, gets your gonads ticking over."

"And yours, sunshine," Bodie retorted. "I watched your face when you were unearthing all those toys. Watched your crotch. You were hot for it."

"And if I was?" Ray's hedgehog spines reappeared, a defensive mechanism Bodie was long familiar with.

"I told you, you don't have to be ashamed. It's an ancient game, older than Chinese Chequers."

"And I told you, I'm not ashamed," Doyle snorted. "I'm ready for you, Bodie. Anything you want, any time."

"Then why are you shaking?" Bodie slipped one arm about him and felt the trembling. "If you're not injured, and it's not that cold--"

"Anything you want to do to me, Bodie," Doyle whispered. "Tell me when, I'll be there." He looked up, neither teasing nor playing the siren. For the first time in weeks the green eyes were clear, wide and untroubled. "It may not look like it, but I'm fighting. I'll go fifteen to keep what's mine. Do anything I have to. Before you're done, you'll believe in me. And then...." He pressed one flat palm over Bodie's thudding heart. "Then you'll play the role for me. Won't you?"

Like a lamb to the slaughter, Bodie heard his own voice agreeing. Doyle was in the lift a pace ahead of him, leaning on the wall as they rode up, and ten minutes later was stripped to the waist in the infirmary under the cool, impersonal hands of a redhaired, blue-eyed young doctor called Woodside. Bodie stood back, watching the examination until the R/T beeped for attention.

The intrusion was annoying. "3.7."

"Alpha One. It's finished, Bodie. Dunphy just gave himself up. He's bleeding badly. He'll be in hospital soon, and he should make it. Let me have the short version of the report tonight, then come in and debrief in the morning."

"Sir. What about Doyle, sir? He ought to go straight home to bed, by the looks of him."

But Woodside shook his head and leaned over to speak to the R/T "Mister Cowley, I want to keep him in here under observation, just for tonight. His throat isn't badly bruised but you can never be too careful. We don't want secondary strangulation. That is to say, he could suffer an edema of the bruised tissues if he lies down, and if he's asleep--"

"I understand," Cowley agreed. "Very well, keep an eye on him tonight. Bodie, you two have got a couple of days' leave coming. Since Doyle seems to be under par, why not take them starting tomorrow? We can do without the walking wounded loitering on the premises, and half an operational squad is no good to me!"

"Thank you, sir," Bodie said drily. "Very kind of you." He slid away the R/T and frowned at Woodside. "He's going to be all right, isn't he?"

The young doctor waved Bodie away. "There's probably nothing to worry about, but I'd hate to be sending a wreath to the funeral for the sake of exercising a little caution! Go on, 3.7, let him rest." He thrust several pillows behind Doyle's shoulders to elevate him. "Why don't you stay right where you are, 4.5? I imagine you've got a painful throat. A cup of tea is the best remedy I know for that."

"Cheers," Doyle said tersely as Bodie withdrew to the glass-panelled doors. Woodside ducked out to the kitchenette to plug in the kettle, and Bodie loitered, reluctant to leave until Doyle gave him an exasperated glare. "For heaven's sake, Bodie, I'm all right! I got into the kitchen, found myself looking down the muzzle of an AR15. I got off a couple of shots but I didn't have a chance. I put down my gun, he said 'turn around and put your hands against the wall,' so I did, I thought he was going to frisk me. The next I knew I couldn't breathe. He swapped the Colt for the Ingram because you can handle the machine pistol easier with one hand, and a second later you appeared. Doesn't exactly constitute a workover."

"I'll put all that in the report," Bodie said dutifully. "I'll see you tomorrow, then. You'll go straight home, will you, when Woodside lets you out?"

"Unless you want me to meet you somewhere," Doyle offered.

But Bodie made negative noises. "I'll be busy in the morning. I've got to debrief, and...some things to arrange. You know."

To his intense gratification, Doyle's cheeks warmed with a visible blush. Bodie winked one blue eye and slipped out before Woodside returned. Reaction set in like a delayed high, as if he had popped the pills and waited an hour for the buzz.

His hands went through the motions of filling out the report but he was barely conscious of the keys, the mundane words processed mechanically by a brain which was running on automatics while the upper levels of his mind were far away.

The little sod was determined. The first step on the road back--back to trust and conviction? Doyle's mind had always worked in mysterious ways, but Bodie had caught a glimpse of his logic. Marcel Dupont's collection of French toys was the trigger for all this, though not the underlying cause; it was only fitting that such eccentric oddments should be the cure, or part of it.

Doyle was right. The trust that had once been instinctive was gone, and Bodie grappled to know why, and where it had gone. The answer percolated to the surface soon enough. Doubt was born out of fear: the fear of loss. To lose a friend was bad enough, but to lose the man he loved....

So he doubted, and his possessive, protective streak kicked into high gear. Had he tried to make both his own decisions and Doyle's, as if he must safeguard Ray and did not trust him to judge hazardous situations for himself? The worst of it was, if Bodie was indeed guilty as charged, the crime had been committed in complete innocence. Or ignorance. All that had mattered at the time was the mind-numbing fear of loss, the dread that he would lose something so precious as to be beyond price.

By one the report was signed and filed and he was back on the road, but he did not drive straight home. Clandestine shopping was best done in the dead of night. Bodie turned toward Soho, to browse, fill a curious shopping list, pay a handsome price for articles that may be used only once. From sundry advertisements in little known magazines, he knew just the shop: not the kind of establishment for a CI5 man to be seen in, in broad daylight.

"You're okay?" he asked when Doyle answered the phone at eleven, after the fifth ring.

"Just tired, Bodie. I didn't sleep much," Doyle told him offhandly. "I'm not even all that bruised. I've had worse falling off my bike. Woodside chased me out of there at seven, before you got in. Where are you?"

"Just escaped the Cow's clutches," Bodie said honestly. "Dunphy will make it. They dug three bullets out of him, pumped five pints of blood in and plugged the holes."

"Great. So he'll get out of there and go straight to jail without passing go or collecting two hundred knicker," Doyle said acidly. "We've got two days leave, so they told me. Two whole days." He smacked his lips audibly over the phone. "I thought I'd catch up on some old fashioned kip."

"You do that," Bodie purred. "But then I want you here, Ray. Be here at eight."

Silence, and a long intake of breath, and Doyle's voice was soft as crushed silk. "Yes. You were quick off the mark."

"I thought I'd better be," Bodie said, lightly but probingly. "You might change your mind." There it was: the escape clause. The ready made get-out.

"No chance," Doyle said in the same tone of undiminished sensuality. A voice which could have made a recipe sound like a love letter. "I'll be there. And then...we'll see."

The phone clicked down in that Chelsea flat, and Bodie sat on the end of the sofa in his own living room, staring mutely at his phone as he wondered what he had brought himself into. It could be the foundation on which their future was built; it could be the very gate of doom, waiting to slam shut on them. And there was no way to tell save to play out the hand Fate, and the unwitting Marcel Dupont, had dealt them.

The day was long and Bodie alternated between misgivings and euphoria. His odd shopping lay unpacked in the bedroom, the bed was made up with the new sheets and the treats lay on the table at the bedside. Excitement and foreboding battled in him, cost him his appetite and his composure.

Scenes he had not recalled in years taunted him: Francine in Cherbourg, who wanted to be bound and blindfolded and 'surprised' by his more inventive lovemaking; Peter in Frankfurt, who wanted to prance about in saucy costumes and be fucked on a motorbike saddle; Sharon in Liverpool who wanted to be 'made' to strip and masturbate for him; Simon in Kent who wanted to play the hustler-and-trade game. The scenes were wildly exciting even in memory. Dominion was a diversion a strong man always found thrilling, because it affirmed his strength, his power over others.

By six, when he suffered through the trite, mundane news broadcast, he had almost convinced himself that they should call the whole thing off, get drunk, go to bed and just talk like normal, ordinary people. He had no idea what Ray might want, need, or even what he could tolerate. And if it went wrong their chances of reconciliation were slim.

So, start slow and gently, and work upward, he reasoned, and watch his face, his body, read him like a book? But Doyle was shuttered lately, the book was closed. If Bodie was wrong it could become a disaster. A hundred times he damned Marcel Dupont and his French novelties. If Doyle had never seen them the can of worms would have remained sealed, perhaps forever. Bodie sighed, admitting the tragic wisdom of Khayyam: the moving finger writes, and having writ, is beyond recall.

At seven he showered, shaved and dressed in slacks and shirt. The heating warmed the whole flat to pleasant temperatures. He drew the curtains, making sure of privacy, and looked at the clock for the fifth time in as many minutes.

Doyle was early. Bodie let him in with a shiver of anticipation and paused in surprise as the saw the bottle of red wine. "I didn't know what you bring to these sorts of occasions," Doyle teased. "Will it do?"

"Wait till we've got something to celebrate," Bodie told him as his eyes raced over Ray from crown to toe. He had showered, washed his hair and shaved an hour before; the curls were fluffy, the jaw smooth as a boy's, the skin smelt of the woody, masculine scent Ray liked. Bodie swallowed hard. "We may not be celebrating later."

"Why not?" Doyle echoed, sultry and deliberately seductive. "What are you on about, Bodie?"

"You may hate my guts afterward." Bodie voiced the dread that had nagged at him all day. "I know you. Proud and stubborn and pugnacious."

"Among other things," Doyle agreed. "There's more sides to me than a woman's argument, loverboy. You know that."

Bodie took a breath. "You're determined." Doyle nodded. "You want a drink?"

"Dutch courage?" The green eyes closed for a second. "No. If I've got to be half pissed before I can trust you, you were dead right before, where's our future?" He pulled his shoulders square and looked Bodie in the eyes. "Teach me the rules. Every game has rules."

One by one Bodie snapped out the lights, plunging the living room into darkness. "You're mine," he said softly. "Mine to do with as I want."

"Is it a fantasy, then?" Ray asked, hushed.

"A kind of fantasy. But one where the role is so real, you forget you're playing." Bodie stepped carefully around him, never touching him. "When we start, you do what you're told, exactly as you're told. Nothing more or less, and you don't argue with me. Anything I want, I get."

"I'm a slave, am I?" Ray grinned, but it was a nervous expression.

"Love slave," Bodie corrected. "Not any old kind of slave. But oh, yes, you belong to me. And I'll use you." His voice was low, wooing, hypnotic.

"Use me?" Doyle faltered.

"I'll use you any way I want to," Bodie went on in the same mesmerising tone. As the last lamp clicked off the room was warm and dark. "And no matter what I want, you'll give it tome without question, without hesitation. I can punish and reward."

Doyle took an audible breath. "You want to hurt me?"

"Would you give me reason to?"

"That's not what I asked, damn it!"

"Then, that's what it's all about," Bodie said softly. "Do you trust me? If you don't, we'll open that bottle of wine and tomorrow we'll go out, try to pick up where we left off before we stumbled into this, and pretend nothing's wrong. Not that we're fooling anybody, least of all ourselves. Why the hell did you come here tonight, Ray? If you're trying to make a fool out of me--?"

"No." Doyle spoke out of the companionable darkness. "I came here to play that game of yours. Dominion, is it? I'm a stranger, am I? A thousand miles apart, are we? Yeah, I suppose I am, and we are." He paused and then stirred purposefully. "Okay, Tarzan, I'm buying. When do we start?"

"We already have." Bodie's hands on his shoulders propelled him toward the bedroom, where two lamps burned. As Doyle entered the room and set the bottle of wine on the table at his right hand, Bodie closed the door and leaned on it, which was the first of many psychological blows to come: the way out was barred. The bed was a vision of black silk sheets and Doyle whistled, but before he could make some glib remark Bodie said, "Take off your clothes. I want to see you."

Slowly, with the grace of a dancer and the downcast eyes of a courtesan, Doyle turned toward him, stood in the wash of the lamplight. and shed the white denim, white shirt, white underwear and socks. Had he realized he had dressed like a virgin bride? The subconscious choice of clothes told many a truth Ray was probably unaware of. Bodie looked him up and down with the eyes of a lover. He was stirring in arousal, there was no sign of aversion to the gentle subjection.

"Turn," Bodie whispered, and Doyle turned, immediately obedient. "How long is it since I told you, you're beautiful as a summer's afternoon?" Bodie asked, not quite teasing.

The slave looked over his shoulder. "Was that a reward?"

"An observation," Bodie corrected. "Don't be sassy. That's not what you're here for, is it?"

"No," Doyle sighed. "I'm sorry."

"You should be! Bend," Bodie instructed. "I want to see all of you. Turn this way, to the light. Splay your legs. You've got such beautiful legs. You should have been a dancer." Doyle had bent from the waist, supple, putting his flat hands on the floor, feet wide apart, which spread his buttocks to the light. The rosy bud of his anus was exposed and vulnerable. He did not move but merely waited, quite blind, as Bodie moved about behind him, fetching something. He could not guess what it was until a slick finger rimmed and entered him, and he knew Bodie had fetched a tube of gel.

The finger was swallowed to the knuckle and Bodie crooked it, teasing the tender prostate. Doyle moaned expressively and Bodie chuckled. "Oh, I know what you like. There'll be much more of that if you're good."

"I'll be good," Doyle said, a little breathless, since he was bent double.

"Straighten up a bit now," Bodie told him, and when he was half way up the weight of a hand on his back stopped him. He stood with palms on his thighs, waiting patiently while Bodie slipped a second finger into him. "Do you like that?"

"I always liked that," Ray confessed.

"Exciting, is it?" Bodie's fingers did not move in him. "Why don't you do yourself, inflame yourself? Go on, fuck yourself on my hand. I'll give you a third finger in a minute."

A groan, and Ray obeyed, swaying, bucking, flexing his legs as he moved on the intrusive fingers. Exhilaration must flare through him, Bodie knew. No man was proof against it. Not till the third finger pressed home did he pause and give a quiet yelp, but before Bodie could speak he was moving again...he was well aware he had not been told to stop. Sweat beaded his skin, making him gleam.

"Are you hurting?" Bodie asked softly as he caught the slave by the sharp hip bone.

"A bit," Ray sighed. "God knows, you've got half your hand in me, I've got a right to hurt a bit!"

Bodie withdrew two of the fingers and used the third to guide him. "Walk now. To the bed...lie down. On your belly! And close your eyes, beautiful." And as Ray stretched out Bodie rummaged on the bedside table for a small object. "Open your mouth. Wider. Wider, I said!" The lush mouth opened, the green eyes were squeezed shut. The finger buried in Ray's body pressed firmly into his prostate and Bodie let him shiver. He had no notion of what would happen to him next. The object was slipped into his mouth and he whimpered in surprise. Bodie chuckled. "Go on, bite!"

He bit, and groaned. "That's cherry brandy."

"Liqueur chocolates," Bodie informed him gently. "What did you think I was going to do, poison you?"

"No, but...." Doyle savoured the chocolate.

"Don't open your eyes," Bodie warned. "Open them, and I'll have to blindfold you. If you're good, you'll be rewarded." At last he withdrew his finger and reached for a tissue as he stood at the bedside to look down at his prize. Doyle lay still, eyes closed, mouth open to pant lightly as the simple tension of voluntary submission aroused him further.

Bodie moved about the room, adjusting this and that, but his eyes never left the captive. Doyle's eyes remained shut almost long enough, and then one opened to find Bodie, and Bodie clicked his tongue. "Bad boy, Raymond. I thought I gave you your orders."

"I wanted to see you," Ray confessed.

"Wanted to know what I've got planned for you," Bodie retorted.

"Wanted to look at you. You're very beautiful," Doyle corrected quietly. "I don't tell you that often enough."

Hiding his stunned reaction behind a bland mask, Bodie said offhandly, "You never told me at all! But bribery won't buy you off. Okay, sunshine, you'll pay for your transgressions soon enough. Hop up off that bed. No rest for the wicked, is there?"

Ray was on his feet a moment later, and Bodie saw his cock, full and erect, rich with the aroused scent of him. Slender and graceful was Ray's cock, like the rest of the man. Bodie nodded, satisfied. "Undress me."

"That will be a pleasure," Doyle growled, and undertook the task with relish.

He stripped Bodie delicately, with the finesse of a valet and the care of a father with his child, at last kneeling at Bodie's feet to remove even his socks. When he made to rise, the weight of Bodie's hands on his shoulders kept him there. "I think you ought to kneel for a while, don't you?"

"If you want me to." Doyle was intent on the thick rod of Bodie's cock.

"Do you want to suck him?" Bodie asked.

"I'd like that," Ray confessed. "I thought I was going to pay the price for opening my eyes."

"You are." Bodie stroked his face. "But suck him first, show me how much I've taught you. Kiss my balls. Lift them up, kiss behind them. You know what I like."

It was an art, as few women and even fewer men knew, and Ray was an avid student. Bodie gritted his teeth as pleasure surged through him, held himself on a tight rein while Ray tried to topple him over the edge of his control. Soon, too soon he could take no more and stepped away out of reach. Doyle's mouth was swollen now, his eyes fever-bright, his own cock throbbing. It would be neglected a while longer.

Getting his breath back with discreet gasps, Bodie laid one finger on the tip of Ray's nose. "I have something for you. Stand up." Ray stood, swaying a little as if he was giddy, and Bodie placed into his hand the tube of KY. "You'd better make yourself ready for it. No, kneel on the bed, let me watch."

The green eyes were hazy now, dark with a powerful eroticism. He knelt on the silk, thighs splayed, and Bodie stood behind him to watch as he spread the slickness about his opening, and inside. "Plenty of it, deep in you," Bodie cautioned. "Yes, like that...you're being good again."

"We aim to please," Ray murmured.

"Being sassy?" Bodie demanded.

"No. It's the truth," Ray said, soft as a sigh. "If I use any more I'll slip off the bed."

"Hmm. You might at that. Stand," Bodie instructed, and offered his hand to help him up. "On the table, there. I bought you some things. Fetch them."

The collar and cockring matched, two pieces of studded red leather, hand engraved, very expensive. Doyle shivered as he saw them, and again as Bodie buckled on the former, snapped on the latter. "Beautiful," Bodie admired. "Comfortable?"

"Yes." Doyle moved his neck to and fro.

"I left the collar loose. I know you're bruised," Bodie assured him.

"I know. Thank you." Doyle cast his eyes down, waiting.

Bodie leaned over and kissed his mouth, deep and hard and for a long time. "I've something else for you, but you've a price to pay first, do you remember?"

"I remember." Ray took a breath.

He was shivering now, despite the warmth of the room. Bodie watched him, marvelling at the acceptance. No matter what it was, he would accept. Faith? "Close your eyes," Bodie told him, "and this time, you damned well keep them closed!"

The wide eyes closed and Doyle stood, still as a statue, clad in collar and cockring. Bodie walked about him, touched him gently here, there, so that he never knew where he would be caressed next. He was expecting some form of chastisement, and even a stroke made him flinch visibly. He was so tense, he had begun to forget it was only a game, and his eyes remained tight shut.

At last Bodie went to the table by the door. Doyle tilted his head, listening but not looking. Bodie opened a wide-necked thermos flask, picked up a beautiful tanned leather belt, and returned to him.

The strap caressed his back. "Do you know what this is?"

"Yes." A faltering murmur, yet he did not move.

The leather caressed both his buttocks too, and then Bodie stepped away from him. Every nerve in Doyle body sang with tension, and the air rushed from his lungs a second later as he felt the strap slip gently about his waist, pull tight and buckle on. He groaned and shuddered as if he had been struck, when in fact he had been caressed, and Bodie kissed the middle of his back.

"Very fetching," he observed. "I thought of you the moment I saw it. Are you ready to pay the price now?"

His throat bobbed as he swallowed hard. If he was going to resist it would be now. Bodie's heart thudded but Doyle's voice whispered, "Yes."

"Then you'd better bend over," Bodie said gently, "hadn't you?" Ray bent over the bed, hands clenched into the black silk sheets. Bodie stroked the beautiful buttocks he had admired for so long, let him feel the firm press of the flat of his hand. Each buttock was dealt just the lightest of pats and he tensed, expecting genuine blows to begin.

But with his other hand Bodie reached into the wide-necked thermos and slipped the little icecube past the hot, quivering sphincter without preamble. It was gone without trace in an instant. Doyle yelped and went to his knees on the bed, shivering and fidgeting. Bodie stroked his flanks.

"How does it feel?" he asked.

"Like--like fire in me," Doyle panted.

He had no idea how many women loved this, a half-melted icecube slipped inside before lovemaking began. There was no pain, Bodie well knew, and no slightest danger, but the strangeness was an exquisite stress.

"You learned your lesson?" Bodie asked quietly. "Come on, stand up, I didn't tell you to get on the bed."

"S-sorry," Doyle gasped, and got to his feet, one hand held out for balance.

Bodie stepped back, caught his nipples between thumbs and forefingers, and stepped back again. "Come to me." He gave the captive nipples a tug and tightened his grip on them. Doyle moved forward, his stride uncertain. "Put your arms around me," Bodie purred, and tugged the responsive little nipples again, the slightest pain, enough to excite, to sting almost any man into an insatiable appetite for debauchery.

The slender arms circled Bodie's neck. "Kiss me, Ray," he invited, and let Doyle hunt blindly for his mouth. "Deep, as long as I want you to kiss me. Understand?"

"Yes." Fidgeting as the icecube melted and his nipples were rubbed and rolled and tweaked without pause, he pressed his mouth to Bodie's, accepted Bodie's tongue into his throat, groaned his aching desire and some small discomfort against Bodie's ravishing lips.

How long they kissed Bodie was not sure, but when at last he drew back his own lips felt bruised and Ray's were the colour of ripe strawberries. The green eyes were still closed, and Bodie shivered. Compliance was building, developing into total submission. Who needed a blindfold? Who wanted a willful bondsman who must be punished into obedience? Lust simmered in Bodie's veins, he was as light headed as Doyle. How far would Ray trust? How deep and unquestioning was his faith?

Love exploded along Bodie's nerves as he stroked Ray's musk-rich cock, found it throbbing with urgency, weeping salt tears which he collected and rubbed back along its length. "Your lovely little tits are like two ripe cherries! How do they feel?"

"Alive," Ray groaned. "Tingling after...."

"After what I did to them," Bodie chuckled. "And what about your arse?"

"Cold," Ray confessed shakily, flushing. "And my...my legs are wet."

"Turn and show me." Bodie stood back as Doyle pivoted and bent with total obedience. Rivulets trickled from him, since his anus was yielding after a massage and slick with KY. Bodie patted him fondly. "You're such a messy little bugger! Don't worry, I won't chastise you for that. You can open your eyes now. There's a towel on the dresser. Dry yourself off and bring me a drink. IT have a scotch."

Eyes open, blinking in the suddenly bright lamplight, Doyle padded away for the towel. His cheeks were bright and his shivers multiplying, the result of local coldness and the spiralling stress of uncertainty. He spilled the scotch as he poured it, and Bodie clicked his tongue again.

"I'm sorry," Ray murmured. "My hands are shaking."

"Why?" Bodie asked tenderly as he took the glass. "Are you as chilly as that? Let me feel." He turned and bent again, and Bodie slipped two fingers deep into him. The muscle was very cool indeed, and Bodie chuckled richly. "Well, we'll have to do something about that! Can't have you catching a chill, can we? You go and kneel on the bed, I've got something that'll fix you right up."

Doyle knelt and presented himself. The line of the cockring circling his balls drew Bodie's caressing finger, and he bent to brand each of the perfect buttocks with a sweetly stinging bite. "Close your eyes again." They closed without hesitation or question, and Doyle quivered in suspense as Bodie returned to the table by the door, set down the drink and opened a second wide-necked thermos.

The water inside was only a few degrees above body heat, he had made very certain of that. The slender latex rod was a careful beginner's toy, mild and innocuous; not the bulk but the temperature would surprise Ray now. It had been standing in the water until it was the same modest heat, but to Doyle's ice-chilled anus it would feel very much hotter. Bodie tried it against his own mouth to be sure as he returned to the bed, and then slipped it into his captive's body with as little warning as he had given him of the icecube.

A gasp, a shocked leap, and Ray sprawled flat on the bed. "Bodie!" High and sharp as a wild thing.

Bodie sat on the silk beside him and gathered him up, held him and stroked him. "What is it, my pet?"

"It's--hot!" Ray squirmed against him and panted.

But he did not try to withdraw the rod, and neither did his eyes open. Bodie was thrilled past bearing as he held him, rocked him. "That's your imagination, Ray. It's you that's cold. Be patient and feel it while you warm up. Do you know what I bought for you?"

"A dildo." Ray shuddered. His breath caught. "I've got a dildo in me."

"And it feels good," Bodie purred. "Warmer now?"

A pause to swallow. "Yes. Startled me."

"Of course it did." Bodie kissed his brow, nose and lips. "I've got other things for you too. When you're warm enough you can have another." He popped a liqueur chocolate into Ray's mouth and kissed him for long minutes on top of it. "I want to give you your next gift now," he said huskily at last. "Will you take it?"

Doyle's skin was beaded with bright sweat as he said, "Yes. But what about this thing in me?"

"I'll have to take it out, won't I, before I give you the next," Bodie said reasonably. "Lie on your belly and I'll do that for you now."

Obedient, gasping with some mix of desire, fear and yearning, Ray struggled over onto his belly. He could barely keep still now, close to the end of his tether...and Bodie was not far behind him. He worked the warm, slender rod to and fro, in and out, back and forth, rendering his captive a massage some men would pay an handsome fee to receive from a hustler. But Ray had never been used this way and tension snapped like electricity through him as he crawled helplessly over the black silk.

"Are you trying to escape from me?" Bodie asked in a tone of feigned astonishment.

At once Doyle stilled. "No. I'm sorry." A long, shuddering sigh, and to Bodie's immense gratification he actually spread his legs and tilted his pelvis to allow greater access. The rod was sheathed in him again, exciting him past bearing, and Bodie drew it out with a lick-kiss for his back.

"I've got something better than that for you." He reached under Ray, caressed his cock and testicles to discover the magnitude of his arousal. He was too close already. What Bodie was going to do with him would topple him over the edge before the final act, the coup de grace, the ultimate surrender of the whole complex mind-game.

So Bodie took a deep breath to steady himself and sat up. "Open your eyes, my pet, and turn over." As Ray obeyed, Bodie leaned into the plush pillows and wriggled down to just the right height. "Come here and put your nipple into my mouth. You're going to enjoy my teeth now, for as long as I want to have you. Either nipple will do to begin with; the choice is entirely yours."

A stifled gasp, and Doyle moved up. He took his weight on the wall, either side of Bodie's head, and manoeuvred his chest into position. The left nipple, still like a bright hard strawberry after previous attention, was set against Bodie's mouth. When he took the nub between his teeth and began to nibble, Ray groaned, rich, bass and eloquent.

It was another art, one Bodie had mastered years before. Here was teasing sensation...later, furious desire...and then faint discomfort...if the banquet continued too long, rawness and even pain. The trick was to gauge the captive's response to the last degree, and to stop when desire became craving, like an addict for the drug, and the love slave learned to tolerate a fraction's discomfort for the sake of his obedience. Little cries, gasps and squirms were Bodie's clues, and the sweat which slicked every inch of Doyle's fine body. Musk wafted like a halo about them both.

Bodie nibbled, bit down just hard enough, tugged and pulled, went back to the beginning and did it all again until Doyle was whimpering, on the thin edge. Then Bodie lifted him away and looked up into feral silver-green eyes. "I'll have the other one now, if you please."

Shaking like a leaf, swallowing hard, Doyle gave it to him, and Bodie began once more, until Ray was past coherence, fidgeting and wriggling on the pillows beside him. Enough? Bodie lifted him away once more, and Doyle gasped in what seemed to be sheer relief. He was about to move away when Bodie purred, "I want the first again."

Clouded in heat and musk, he sobbed, a shudder racked him, but Doyle moved over and pressed his chest to Bodie's mouth. This time Bodie merely licked and suckled, as if Doyle were a girl in milk, and took his whimpers like accolades. When Bodie paused Ray did not have to be prompted, but offered the right nipple for the soothing tongue.

Exhaustion had begun, Bodie knew. As tight-strung as his own body was, as plaintively as his own cock throbbed, Ray was on the rack of his own passions. Bodie kissed his brow and cheek. "Lie down. On your belly, sweetheart. Yes, like that." He stroked the taut back and legs. "Spreadeagled...yes, arms too. Grasp the headboard, wide as you can stretch. I won't tie you. I don't have to tie you, because you're going to hold on tight there, aren't you?"

"Yes." The answer was automatic now. Doyle was gone, lost in a world of sensuality, surrender, manipulated as if he was a puppet and his captor was a master puppeteer.

"Tell me about your breasts," Bodie invited.

"Hot and tingly," Doyle groaned.

"Did I hurt you?" Bodie held his breath, praying that he had read his man right.

A deep, lush sigh. "Noooooo." Doyle pressed his sweated face into the black silk pillows. His hands gripped the headboard tight. What need to tie him? Bonds were for the control of the unwilling. Who wanted an unwilling mate?

"I have something for you now," Bodie crooned against his hair. "You want me to give it to you, don't you?"

"Yes." Soft as a summer's breeze.

"Tell me about your arse." Bodie left him then, to return to the table.

"My--arse?" Ray groaned.

"Tell me how it feels," Bodie bid him.

"I don't...comfortable, slick, warm, empty," Doyle whispered.

He was concentrating on his centre now, and Bodie knew full well what was to come would be like a bolt of lightning. He turned on the vibrator, knelt between the wide spread legs and sheathed it in him in one swift thrust. It was of modest size, a man's toy, an illegal thrill when one was expecting it, an immeasurable shock when one was stressed out and unsuspecting.

He leapt like a startled doe and his hands clenched on the bed. Bodie stroked his back. "That feels so good, doesn't it? It's right inside. Ever used one?"

"No." Doyle threshed, trying to accommodate the new and strange sensation. His prostate must ignite in moments, and Bodie was cautions, watchful.

"Turn over," he invited. "Lie on your back." He held the battery cord out of the way and helped him over. His knees lifted, soles braced on the bed to angle his pelvis so as to accept the demanding presence of the toy. "Go on!" Bodie encouraged, "move around on it! You've been good, give yourself some pleasure. Fuck yourself on it!"

"Oh...Bodie, Bodie!" Doyle was writhing, and Bodie took his balls in a firm grip, held them down under the line of the cockring so that he had no hope of coming.

The sight before him was one of abandonment, and Bodie's every cell was alight. Doyle was sheened with sweat, his nipples like ripe cherries, his cock a red-hot poker, balls swollen. The red leather straps at neck, waist and groin bisected honeybrown skin with great beauty while he twisted and humped on the sensual trinket, courting elusive, evasive orgasm. He was forgetful of reality, Bodie knew. Now, he could not have recalled his own name, or that he had the rights of a free individual. He was a thrall, trusting, relying on perfect faith. Bodie was so stunned, he might have climaxed right there, as Doyle moaned and writhed and sweated on black silk. Bodie tugged hard on his own aching balls to stall his runaway glands, and let Ray go on until his delicate anal tissues must soon be sore.

"Stop now," he said softly, and he knew how difficult it would be to obey, yet Ray stopped. "Turn over," Bodie told him gently. "I'm going to take it out of you now."

Sobbing, Doyle turned and, unbidden, spread his arms and grasped the bedhead as if he were bound there. Bodie slipped out the expensive toy and turned it off. He looked quickly at the soft, swollen anus he had used already in so many ways, and dealt it a slather of cool, soothing gel.

Slowly Ray got his breath back. His body was quivering but his hands relaxed on the bed. The merest caress made him shiver. Bodie kissed his face. "Do you want to come now?" Bodie asked gently.

"Yes," Doyle gasped, blind and helpless.

"Tell me about your balls," Bodie commanded.

"Hot and tight," Ray moaned.

"Aching?" Bodie prompted. "Come on, I want to know!"

"A little bit." Ray whimpered and his hips humped as he began to thrust into the bed.

"Stop it," Bodie cautioned. "Did I tell you to do that?"

"No." Doyle stilled, quivering. Tormented on the edge of release, he was in the palm of Bodie's open hand, to pleasure, to hurt, to possess. Pride, stubbornness and pugnacity were a thousand miles away; trust and faith must race through his arteries like starlight. He was Bodie's, body and soul.

And Bodie would never doubt it again. "Tell me you love me," he purred.

"I love you," Doyle whispered woundedly. "I love you, Bodie...Bodie...love you."

"Then, you won't mind proving it to me," Bodie challenged. "There's a test, sweetheart. Will you take it?"

"Yes. Please. Please." Doyle was flying. This was no longer a fantasy, it was his world, his reality.

"Open your eyes now, and sit up." Bodie sat back and helped him, for he was hardly capable of moving unaided. His eyes were no more than a slender malachite rim about velvet black irises, limpid as a doe's. Bodie leaned over, embraced and kissed him, deep and hard. "You're so beautiful, sunshine. I love you. Do you hear me?"

"Yes." Tears traced across the broken cheekbone, and Bodie licked them away.

"The test," Bodie reminded him. "You want to take it?"

"Yes. Please yes," Ray murmured over and over.

Bodie's heart turned painfully in his chest. "Can you stand up?"

He scrambled to his feet His cock wept steadily now, his belly and thighs were slick. Bodie massaged the sticky, pearly pre-ejaculate into his feverish skin. "Can you walk?"

"Yes." Doyle fidgeted anxiously.

"Then go to the table," Bodie whispered. "There is a box. I want you to open it and bring me what is inside."

He stumbled a little, drunk on aching lust which had spun his mind into the abyss. He fumbled with the imitation rosewood box, got it open on the third try, though the catch was simple. He whimpered when he saw the object Bodie wanted, but returned with it between his palms and held it out.

Bodie took it from him. This dildo was enormous. Ray's eyes were slitted, his breath rasped in his throat as he looked from it to Bodie and back again. His shivers were uncontrollable. Bodie fingered the thing, rubbed its veined plastic over the skin of Ray's belly, slipped it around and caressed his buttocks and back with it.

"On the bed," he murmured gently.

The green eyes closed, squeezed shut. A volcanic shudder shook Doyle and his legs seemed wobbly as he went down on his belly, spread his arms and grasped the bedhead again. Bodie put the dildo onto his back, let him feel the considerable weight of it, and he whimpered brokenly. Bodie's own body was gripped by distressing tides: excitement, dawning sensual exhaustion, lust and power tempered by disbelieving love.

"I want you upon your knees, my pet," he whispered softly, hoarsely. "I'll help you." He lifted Ray by the hips and set him on his knees, nudged his thighs apart. "Do you love me?"

"I...love...you," Doyle sobbed.

"Do you trust me?" Bodie stroked his back, brought the immense latex object to Doyle's lips, so that he spoke against the daunting barrel of it.

"I trust you," Doyle rasped, and shook all the more as his sensitive mouth registered the cool, impersonal size of the thing. His body was racked, at the edge of its endurance.

"Then, the test" Bodie took the dildo from his lips and moved in between his legs. "Hold tight to the headboard, now." Levelling his voice was an immeasurable effort. "'Don't you dare move."

"Yes, yes," Doyle gasped, lost in surrender, teeth clenched, waiting for the lancing agony he believed he must endure to prove his love.

The absurd toy dropped soundlessly onto the sheepskin at the foot of the bed. Bodie held the slender, shaking thighs wide apart and positioned himself, his throbbing cockhead at the soft, moist unguarded entrance. "Are you ready?"

Doyle could barely speak, his voice broke. "Yes."

"Then push back, impale yourself," Bodie commanded as his own head spun giddily and his heart seemed to jump out of his chest. Was this trust? Would they share this timeless faith as long as they lived? He bit back a sob. "I want you to do it to yourself," he rasped, aware that his voice was coarse with emotion.

Ray wept brokenly, braced himself and cried out as he shoved back, as if he expected some unspeakable pain, and felt instead--

"Bodie! Bodie, that's--" His whole body gave a convulsive spasm. "Bodie!"

Bodie slid home fast, sheathed to the hilt in moments, warm flesh plunged into warm, welcoming flesh. A homecoming. He slid his arms about Ray's tortured body and lifted him up and back till he was astride the muscular thighs. "Of course it's me. Did you think I'd use that thing on you?"

"I thought...." Words failed Doyle.

"You would have taken it for me," Bodie said against his ear as he stroked the over-sensitive nipples, slipped his hands down and unsnapped the cockring. He took Doyle's aching genitals in both knowing, gentle hands. "You were ready to take it."

"But," Doyle sobbed, "you wanted me to."

"I didn't," Bodie crooned as tears burned his own eyes. "I wouldn't have hurt you, Ray. Have I hurt you tonight?"

"No...ah, God, God, no," Doyle groaned.

Bodie unbuckled the belt from his waist, slipped it off and cast it aside, and then his hands returned to Ray's groin and began a swift, hard beat, though he held the swollen balls down and away from his belly. "Would you like to come now?"

"Please," Ray panted. His head fell back onto Bodie's shoulder and he writhed his hips on the cock in him. "Please."

"Then...." Bodie released his balls and pushed him down onto all fours. "Let" s come together, eh?"

The rhythmic assault was hard but brief. Seconds stretched like elastic, musk and sweat prickled the senses as sounds and sensations drew together into a fiery knot in his groin. The only reality existed where he touched Doyle, and he plastered his skin over every inch of Ray's he could manage as musk and heat enveloped them, heady as a drug.

There! The last surge up, the acidsweet surrender to churning rapture that burst spangles of colour and brilliance behind closed eyelids then cast Bodie down and down, into a limbo of exhaustion. Thought was too complex, feeling too demanding. Bodie drifted for an eon, only semiconscious.

Ray's voice reached him at last. He was crying quietly, wearily, and Bodie forced open his eyes as the first tendrils of dread and fear wormed into his mind. Now the recriminations began. Doyle was curled on the rumpled black silk on the other side of the bed, balled in a foetal tangle of pale brown limbs, head on his arms, snuffling into a pillow. Bodie lifted a leaden hand and set it on his shoulder.

"Ray?" Doyle trembled with fatigue and reaction. "Ray, sweetheart, you're not hurt. I know you're all right. I wouldn't have hurt you." No answer. Bodie's heart turned to a lead brick. "What is it, sunshine?" He stroked the shuddering body tenderly. "Oh, Ray. Ten minutes ago you trusted me. You'd have let me do anything to you. I wish to God I'd never done any of it." Tears stung his own eyes. "I knew this would happen! I bloody knew it." A sigh whispered over his lips as he stroked Doyle's back. "Would it do any good to say I'm sorry? If you hadn't insisted...." He bit his lip. "You're not hurt, mate. Believe me. I'll run you a bath. You'll feel better in the morning. I'll call you a minicab, soon as you're ready to go. I'm so sorry."

Grief weakened his legs as surely as the powerful climax minutes before. Now it really was over, just as he had feared. His knees trembled under him as he swung his legs off the bed. But it was Doyle's voice which cut the heart out of him.

"'Bodie." Soft, hushed with exhaustion and submission.

"Love?" Bodie turned back, half blind as his eyes misted. "Let me get the collar off you, sweetheart. Lift your chin. There, that's it." He threw the strap down as if it was a snake. In his mind's eye, perhaps it was. He rubbed the faint red scar it left across Doyle's already bruised throat. "I should never have done any of it," Bodie whispered. "You're not injured, Ray, I swear it."

"Bodie." Slowly, like a flower opening to the morning sun, Doyle uncurled, relaxed, sighed and sprawled on the silk as if he had not the energy to move. Bodie sat beside him, stroking his soft-pelted breast with hands grown suddenly hesitant. The dark malachite eyes were heavy, puffy in the aftermath of overwhelming emotion.

The look of him was more than Bodie could bear. He buried his face in the warm hollow beneath Doyle's ribcage and muffled against the sweat-damp skin, "I'm so bloody sorry, mate. I wish--"

"Bodie, will you shut up?" Doyle got his tongue around the words with difficulty.

Bodie lifted his head warily. "Will I what?"

"Will you just shut up till I get my breath back?" Doyle's voice was strengthening by the second. "And get me a bloody whisky, I need it. And run me a bath, I need that as well. And then open that bottle of wine."

Bottle of wine? Bodie struggled with his memory. "I...the bottle?" Hope surged through him. "We're...celebrating?" He set both flat hands on Doyle's still-heaving chest, felt the slowly quietening thunder of his heart. "What are we celebrating?"

A deep, satisfying breath filled Ray's lungs. "You're sure now, aren't you?" he said, tranquil with exhaustion, lush with love. "If I trusted you here, I'd trust you anywhere."

A shiver ambushed Bodie and he swallowed hard. "Yes. Then you don't hate me?"

"Why should I hate you?" Doyle asked fatuously as he began to revive.

"For what I did to you." Bodie waved his hand vaguely at the room, the bed, the discarded toys.

"You hurt me twice," Doyle murmured.

Heat flushed Bodie's face. "I didn't mean to."

And a sleepy smile answered him. "I know you didn't, which is why I never said a word."

Bodie took a swift gulp of air, shocked by the sudden horror he felt, the quick rush of sickness in his belly as he realised he had hurt Ray after all. "When?" He pulled the small, hot body against him.

"When you put your fingers in me, at the beginning, when I was standing over there." Doyle accepted the caresses as his right. "And you hurt my nipples. Chewed me for too long."

"Oh, Christ." Bodie punched the mattress. "Why did you let me? That was stupid! "

"Part of the game, wasn't it?" Doyle stretched and found some faint, rueful chuckle as Bodie began to lick what he had hurt. "But you're sure now, aren't you? If I'd trust you with all this, I'd trust you anywhere."

Sheepish, chagrined, Bodie lifted his head. "I'm sorry."

"You said that." Doyle sat up and pressed one hand to his back. "What happened to my whisky and my bath? And you were going to open the wine while I soak."

"Yes." Bodie moved away, but his arm was caught and he turned back to find Ray's lips sealed tight to his, a kiss as possessive as his own had been. When he was released he was light headed again, and came to his feet cautiously.

Whisky slopped into two glasses, and by then Doyle had belted on a blue terrycloth robe and was gathering up the odd collection of toys. He took his drink, swallowed it in one gulp and handed back the empty glass. "Where did you get all the paraphernalia?"

"In a dark little Soho sex shop." Bodie opened a carrier bag and one by one Doyle dropped the assorted straps and rods into it. "I'll chuck them out."

"Not yet," Ray purred.

"You can't want to keep them?" Bodie protested. "You wouldn't want to go through that every night and twice on Saturdays!"

"True," Doyle agreed as the bag was thrust into the wardrobe and the door banged shut on it. "But it's your turn next, isn't it?"

"My turn?" Bodie's voice was embarrassingly close to a squeak. "You want to, uh, to...."

"I'm not your bottom, Bodie." Ray moved against him, held him tight. "I'm not your top either, come to that. I've proved to you once and for all, I've still got the trust you thought we'd lost. But have you got it?"

Bodie opened his mouth to protest but words eluded him.

Doyle stepped back and shook his head. "Where's my hot water?"

Obedient, Bodie moved through into the bathroom, set the taps and added a splash of aromatic oil to the tub. Doyle was behind him, both hands on his bare back, never out of touch with him.

"That's what half killed me, the day at the mansion when we stumbled into Dupont's playroom," Doyle went on. "I couldn't stop it going through my mind--the game we just played. I knew I'd do it for you; I had total, blind faith in you. And then I let you know it would go both ways if we ever got into sweet little perversions like this, because we're equals in or out of bed, and your face...." He sighed.

"What?" Bodie pressed, but he knew.

"You looked like you'd taken a bite out of a lemon when I said that," Doyle said drily. "Like you didn't trust me for one second! And then all the rest of it started to fall into place. Since we got into bed, the night of McCabe's party, you haven 't trusted me to do the job or cross the road or make a cup of tea without a committee meeting. Turn the taps off, that's enough water."

Bodie turned them off. "I've been possessive," he admitted reluctantly.

"Possessive? Protective, I thought it was," Doyle mused. "And I liked it, till that day at Dupont's. Then I saw the look on your face, and I knew what it was. It was doubt. Cowley's dead right, loverboy. Being intimately involved with your partner clouds your judgement. You didn't hesitate to trust me when we were just good mates, but as soon as we were in bed I couldn't make any decision for myself! I thought it was because you treasured me."

"It was." Bodie held out his hands to take the robe from him. "I didn't dare take my eyes off you, I was scared spitless you'd be hurt if I wasn't there."

"That's what I'm talking about!" Doyle stepped into the water and sank down with a sigh. "I'm a professional, Bodie, in the same goddamned trade as you. I'm as good as you are in the field, and don't you bloody forget it."

He spoke softly, but the words were sharp as razors. Bodie accepted every cut as his due. "I won't. But you weren't lily white yourself, Ray. You've done some things that are dead stupid in these last few weeks, gone off half-cocked, made a right balls-up of the job, defied me when I tried to talk sense to you, headed off on your own--"

"Done what?" Doyle erupted. "Bodie, we've always taken our own initiative! I don't take orders from you, I never did, I never will. I'm not yours to command, I have a mind of my own, I don't jump when you clap your hands and shout 'slave'! It's part of our work to act on initiative, and I've no intention of waiting around to get your damned approbation before I do my own sodding job!" His voice rose as he worked through his grievances, and ended as a shout which bounced back off the pale green bathroom tiles.

When he was done, Bodie recoiled. "Is that what I did?"

"You know it is," Doyle hissed. "And you cocked the job up yourself, as much as I did. We've been playing Laurel and Hardy since we got into bed, and it's got to stop. Either you learn to trust, and you prove to me that you trust me as much as I just proved it to you, or...." He looked away and began to soap his chest with short, annoyed strokes.

"But I do trust you," Bodie began, much too quickly.

"You had to stop and think about it," Doyle reminded him acidly. "That day at Dupont's, you had to stop and think it out. Would you trust me to own you, body and soul, for an hour, or even a minute? You know what you said to me? I didn't have the experience, I wouldn't know what not to do." He looked up at Bodie, eyes silver-green with annoyance. "Well, I've got news for you, mate. You hurt me tonight. And I let you. Experience doesn't count for everything. There's love and intuition, care and responsibility as well. And I've got those by the bucketful."

"I...oh." Bodie's fair cheeks flushed hotly. "Christ, Ray, I'm sorry. Let me look at your chest. Do you need something? I've got some ointment. Are you sore?"

"Oh, Bodie," Doyle groaned. "I'm raw, but stop worrying. I'm a grown man. Go and open that bottle of wine."

"We're still celebrating?" Bodie stepped back, lip caught between his teeth, an expression of naked anxiety.

Doyle looked up at him, brows knitted. "Provisionally. You're on probation."

"Probation, pending what?" But Bodie already knew.

A nod indicated the bedroom. "Your turn. Give me a while to plan the scene. I can't just put you through the same paces you ran me through, you'd guess every move, it wouldn't be a challenge. And...it's supposed to be a kind of ordeal, isn't it? Trial by ordeal." He sighed, and his voice softened. "And you still don't trust me. Your face is a picture."

"My face?" Bodie was winded, his heart thumped his ribs like a hammer. "You're wrong. Tell me when, Ray, and where, and I'll be there. Anything you want to do to me."

The curly head tilted. "Pure faith? I'm inexperienced."

"Experience doesn't count for that much," Bodie said, hushed. "What about love, intuition, care and responsibility? Oh, I'll do it for you. You can top me, any time you're ready. I'll show you what trust is, sunshine. And love."

At last Doyle smiled. "Make me believe it."

"Name the date." Bodie leaned over the bath, consumed him with a ravenous kiss and felt out his nipples with gently fingers. "Ointment for these?"

"Wine, two glasses, and get in this bath with me," Doyle corrected. "This is where we start. We've got a lot of talking to do that should have been done weeks ago."

"You clammed up like an oyster," Bodie observed as he straightened and swiped the wine off the table, where it had stood among the curious collection of knickknacks. The cap yielded to a corkscrew as he stood in the bathroom doorway.

"I had my reasons for clamming up," Doyle muttered.

"I'm listening." Bodie dropped cork and screw and fetched the glasses that still smelt of whisky.

"You wouldn't understand." Ray ran a little more hot water into the bath, but he knew Bodie was waiting. As he took his glass and made room for the other man he said, "My family. My brothers and sister. My job."

"Catholics and Cowley." Bodie nodded. "I should have known. They'd terrify you."

"Wrong again," Doyle said resignedly. "I terrified me. Do you remember the night after we raided Dupont's, we drank Australian wine and talked about Esther?"

"The way you let her slip through your fingers, waffled, didn't know if you loved her or not," Bodie mused, "and you just let her go. Lost her."

"Right." Doyle sipped the sweet red wine. "Until the raid on Dupont's I was doing the same with you. I knew I loved the sex, but I didn't know what I felt for you. I was waffling. Did I love you, or was it lust?"

For the moment Bodie was content to be waffled and follow him patiently through a labyrinth of abstract thought. "So?"

"It came to me like a flash," Ray said mildly. "When we were at the mansion. I had a slave collar in one hand and a bloody big dildo in the other, and a voice at the back of my mind said, 'how could you let someone do it all to you?' And the answer came back, 'Bodie would never hurt me.' I knew then, I'd let you do anything you wanted...because I loved you."

Bodie's mouth flapped like a fish out of water. "You never said one syllable to me!"

"I know. It was a shock," Doyle admitted. "Up to that point I hadn't realised my whole life was going to change. My Mum keeps asking me when I'm going to marry. She's promised to organise a white wedding at St. Mary's in Derby. My brother David will be Father David Doyle in a few months. My sister Eileen--you never met her, did you? She's Sister Michael now, in a convent on the Isle of Man. My brother Stephen has five kids and one on the way. He and Kathleen are very devout. How the hell am I going to tell them about me?" He closed his eyes with a groan.

All at once Bodie understood what had haunted Ray, preoccupied him. "And you thought you'd fallen in love with a bloody great berk who couldn't even trust you to do your own job properly, and you were going to screw up the job, lose your career, and if we stayed together because of the love, you'd even lose your family." He took a deep breath as Doyle nodded. "It's no wonder you've been away with the pixies."

"My mind's been on another planet," Doyle muttered, and finished his wine in a noisy gulp. "We've got to sweet-talk Cowley and Ross soon. That'll be fun," he said sourly. "We've both blotted our copybooks! I can put it down to family trouble, since I've got a family, and that wouldn't be so far from the truth. Mind, you haven't got the same excuse!"

"My mind's just been preoccupied with you," Bodie confessed. The thought of Cowley and Ross inspired trepidation in the breast of any agent, but he and Doyle would get around them. The personal problem was more immediate. "You've had me scared, Ray. Three times in two weeks I've thought you were dead, and every time you'd gone against everything I'd tried to tell you, and...." He realised what he was saying and ran down to silence.

Doyle's eyes glittered with some mix of affection and anger. "That," he said sharply, "is the job. I don't take your orders, I act on my own initiative the way I was trained, just the same as you. But it's got nothing to do with trust in you, or the lack of it." He reached over and caught Bodie's wrists in a tight grip. "You know that now"

"I know that." Bodie had the grace to duck his head. "Am I supposed to apologize?"

"Maybe." Doyle relaxed against the curved enamel. "But I'd rather you did it the way I just did. Show me. Make me believe. Deeds speak louder than words." One hand, under the water, toyed with Bodie's heavy balls. "I want from you what I gave you just now."

"Make you believe the trust is still there?" Bodie swallowed, nodded, and when Doyle offered his arms he accepted them. "I told you, Ray. Anything you want to do with me. Name the date and I'll be there."

His pulse soared along with his spirits as Ray kissed him, and he shivered inside as Doyle spoke moistly against his ear. "I will," Ray promised. "Oh, I promise you, Bodie, I will!"

-- THE END --

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