Be It Ever So Humble



Empty, the flat had a hollow, ringing sound; the last time Doyle had heard that sound was the day he had moved in, a year before. And now he was moving out. There was a strange, disquieted feeling, almost like an itch he did not know how to scratch... A whole chapter of his life was closing, and another was about to open. Bodie felt it too: he was wearing a wary expression, guarded, cautious, but behind it Ray could see the excitement they both shared.

It had been a hectic fortnight, and much as he had enjoyed it, Doyle was grateful that it was over. He and Bodie, still recovering from their ordeal, indirectly at the hands of a German terrorist and his group, had done only light office duties, which left them plenty of time and energy to expend on other projects. House hunting; car hunting; tracking down a mortgage and a business loan; registering a business; talking their way into a franchise to sell Suzuki products; and so many little things that Doyle's head was still spinning with the details.

A furniture van had left the Chelsea flat an hour before, and Bodie was still sorting through the last of his own belongings, deciding what to keep and what to consign to the rubbish bags. Doyle leaned on the wall by the window, watching him tearing papers, with a smile. Old letters, bills, junk mail, a hundred memories discarded so as to make space for new ones. The green rubbish bag was almost full, and Bodie had filled two small suitcases and a carryall. As Ray watched, he zipped the bag and stood up, hand in the small of his back, easing a little ache.

"That the lot?" Doyle was honestly surprised. He knew that Bodie liked to travel light, but even for Bodie, the pile of personal baggage was small. His clothes, by comparison, had filled eight cases, and his books and music a tea chest.

"Yup, that's it," Bodie nodded, tying up the rubbish bag with a twist of wire. "Nothing else that's worth keeping. Not now."

"Keen to chuck your memories away," Ray observed quietly.

"Keen to put an end to the past, and get a start on the future," Bodie corrected with a lopsided grin. "Look at the time - it's only eleven, and we're running out of time already. Too much to do today."

Doyle glanced at his watch; the furniture van would be well on its way out of London. The driver had a key and would just shove everything inside and put the key in the letterbox. It would be a mess, but then the whole place was a mess still, so a little more chaos would not even show. "Got to get to the shop for the paint," he mused. "I ordered it up and paid for it, so all we have to do is pick it up. Oh - and the curtains. They're going to deliver, but they want the money first. If we don't get to the bank, a cheque will do."

"Got to go to the bank anyway," Bodie shrugged. "The car'll be out of the body shop tomorrow, and since you want the fancy paint job, they want to see the money up front first." He gave Doyle a wry look. -"You and your three hundred quid paint job!"

"I like gold," Ray said mildly. "Was lucky finding a Capri we could afford. Buy it and fix it. I'd love to know what lunatic had it - what kind of driver strips second gear and gets the side punched in?"

"You said it - a lunatic," Bodie chuckled. "It'll be great when the panel beaters have finished with it. New gear box, gold paint job. Perfect." He smiled a little wistfully. "Be like old times, climbing into that."

"Yeah," Doyle murmured, catching the wistful, retrospective mood, and for a long time they were silent, looking back over all that had been...

1975; a sergeant in the SAS and a Detective Constable from the Yard sent in their applications to join a fledgling department commanded by a crusty Scottish veteran, and were accepted. CI5. Three weeks later, they wished they had never bothered, as they were put through an assault course which they had never even imagined; but a month after that, they thanked the Fates for the break..... Fitter, tougher, stronger, than they had ever been before, with training in computers, high-tech weapons, anti-terrorist tactics. They had both been aware that a new chapter in their lives was beginning; and then George Cowley surprised them, teaming them.

Instant competition, immediate dislike; hard times, bad times. A growing respect, shared dangers, an appreciation of humour, laughter and luxury - friendship blossoming out of arid soil, deepening as time passed.

1977, and Ray found himself grieving as Bodie was knifed; odd, for two men who had begun by disliking one another... 1980, and Bodie's world crumbled into bits as he found Doyle, bleeding his life away on the carpet, two bullets in his heart. Friendship was no longer the right word for what they felt; they were closer than brothers, sharing almost everything.

Almost everything. The final detail belonged to 1981, and was still so new an event that it was a constant tingle in their veins, an exaggerated awareness of their feelings, and of each other. A month ago, after all that had been between them, they had begun at last, and Ray admitted that Bodie was right... Time to put an end to the past so as to get a start on tomorrow.

The green eyes were warm on Bodie as he looked up, withdrawing from his reverie, and it came as no surprise when Doyle's husky voice said, "Hold me?"

It was no imposition to oblige him, and they stood in the middle of the room, beside the luggage, enjoying the kind of closeness they had come to cherish above all else. A month, and the hunger was still sharp-edged, the wanting close under the surface, tenderness inspired by a word, lust ignited at a look or a touch. Bodie wanted to kiss, and Doyle offered his lips with pleasure, wanting Bodie's tongue in his mouth again.

The last night they had spent in this flat had been odd; they had taken the bed to pieces, ready to be shipped, and used sleeping bags, zipped together and spread out on the interior sprung mattress for comfort. They had been on the run all day, choosing curtains and paint, seeing to the thousand- odd little chores entailed in moving house and setting up a business, and by eleven they had been so tired that they had been asleep in moments and had slept soundly until seven in the morning.

The furniture van was due half an hour later, and they scrambled through dressing and breakfasting, packaging up the last of their gear. Bodie's flat was already occupied by other agents, and everything he wanted to take with him had been brought to Doyle's, so that the van had only one stop to make: they had been outraged at the cost of it, but shopping around produced no joy, and, outraged or not, they paid up. Doyle had much more to move than Bodie, being more naturally acquisitive; Bodie had teased him mercilessly, but Ray dug his toes in and went his own way - which was, in fact, one of the qualities Bodie loved most about him. The stubborn streak. He had souvenirs from holidays fifteen years before, old class reunion photos, snapshots of his brothers and sisters, oddments collected from his days in the Met. and with George Cowley's mob, artwork, books, a magazine collection that was bewildering, and potted plants by the score. Bodie would have heaved eighty percent of it all into the nearest bin, but Ray would not be dissuaded, and packed the lot. The furniture belonged to him, washer and all, which was fortunate; Bodie had never taken a look a the price of new furniture in his life, and had quietly had a cardiac arrest when he came to check out the cost of furnishing a house. The fact that Ray's family had had three deaths in one year, and had handed brand new furniture and white goods to all and sundry, was just luck. Everyone had expected Ray to marry Ann, and when his Aunt Edith had died, they didn't ask whether he wanted the washer, the sideboard, the three piece suite and the wardrobe or not - they just put them on a van and sent them.

Ann Holly departed forever, and the furniture stayed. Ray had bought the big double bed, the writing desk, the dressing table with the amber tone mirror and the dining suite himself; but they were short of a fridge, and Bodie had been assigned the task of going out and buying one. It was not unlike going out to buy a new car, except that one was rubbing shoulders with women with toddlers in prams, housewives with curlers in their hair, chocolate-fouled four- year-olds and all manner of middle-aged domestic types. He was like a fish out of water in the electricals department of a big furniture bazaar, and took refuge in the salesman's misconceptions. Harried husband sent out to do the business while the wife looked after the kids. Ray would have had hysterics, enjoying the joke, Bodie thought, and acted his way through the part, buying a fridge that looked like value for your quid and escaping to the nearest pub for a fortifying beer.

They had got the afternoon off work, a farewell gift from Cowley himself, and there had been an office party in their honour. They were toasted in pink champagne, and Murphy solemnly attached a painted sign to both of them when they were least expecting it. 'Just Shacked Up.' It was common knowledge that 3.7 and 4.5 had resigned in order to go into business together where there were less bullets flying around. It was not so common knowledge that they were, at long last, sharing everything in life. Murph knew; Cowley knew - of course; and the girls from the typing pool had been making shrewd guesses about the two men for months, even years, before Bodie and Doyle had realised what it was they felt and wanted for and from one another.

After a month's planning, it had come to this; an empty flat, a bag of discarded oddments ready to be thrown out, a couple of suit cases ready to be, strapped onto the backs of the bikes which stood at the kerb outside the building, because the silver Capri had gone back to the motor pool. A bunch of keys in Ray's pocket, ready to be handed to Murphy, who was due to seal the flat behind them, for security purposes. They were waiting for Murphy as they stood beside Bodie's baggage, kissing with a sense of relaxed luxury.

Free to kiss. Free to make love whenever they chose. Free to sleep in, if the weather was bad, or work long into the night, or go out for the day - free. It was little short of bewildering, especially to Bodie, who had spent almost his entire life living by clocks and schedules. Merchant Navy, Army, SAS, CI5, everything ran by the clock and the calendar. But all that was over now. They were quite literally free for the first time in their lives.

Bodie held Ray's head still, fingers laced into the wayward curls, licking his lips, exploring his teeth, feeling the first faint rasp of whiskers that had not been there at all when they had kissed after breakfast, just a few minutes after shaving. Ray tasted like Ray, a taste Bodie had come to treasure and crave, and the thought of being free to do this any time was exhilarating. Years and years of freedom stretched before them, beckoning them into a future that looked bright and busy. Bodie leaned forward, deepening the kiss again, and Ray pressed tight against him, inviting all he would give.

The rumble of a big bike from the street below caught their attention, and Ray withdrew at last. "That'll be Murph for the keys," he said, sucking at lips that were a little swollen. "Save it, love; we can indulge ourselves till we can't stand up at home." He paused and smiled. "At home. Sounds nice."

"Nice doesn't say the half of it," Bodie smiled. He took a last look around the flat and shrugged. "This place has been okay, but... I dunno. I've never had a home of my own."

"Makes two of us," Doyle agreed, stooping to lift the crash helmets that had stood against the skirting board and handing Bodie's to him. "Got a few stops to make, and we can run straight out there... Hullo, Murph, you're late."

The taller agent was grinning cheekily at them, and winked. "Surprised you in the middle of something, did I?"

"Only packing," Bodie said mildly. "And it's all finished."

"Oh, the postman was in the street," Murphy told them. "Here's your mail. One from the GPO --"

"About the phone book entry;" Bodie guessed. "Look for us in the commercial pages under Riverside Suzuki. Nice name. Also, under security, as Veteran Security Services - that's us. The stationery'll be back from the printers in a day or two. Write you a letter on it."

"Do that," Murphy chuckled. "You're organized, I'll give you that."

"Got to be," Ray said dryly, "because, between the house and the franchise we are in debt right over our heads. Still, it's only May; this is the right part of the year to go into business, and we've already got a job. Cowley put us onto a baronet up in Lincolnshire; he's just spent a couple of million quid on French antiques and art, and at the mention of the word 'burglar' he's fit to go straight through the roof. Plays golf with the Cow, apparently, and so George did us a favour. Ought to pay our mortgage for six months."

Murphy was impressed. "Pretty bloody good. You know, I envy you blokes. Freedom, being self-sufficient, your own bosses, out of the danger... One of these days I'll do it myself. Before I get sent home in a pine box. Keys, Ray?"

"Oh, right." Doyle dug into a pocket, producing them; he took them off his keyring and handed them over, standing back to watch Murphy go around the flat, checking windows and seals. The whole place was already secure, but an active agent had to sign the paper to certify it safe - and neither Doyle nor Bodie was active anymore.

"Right, that's all okay," Murphy said a moment later. "After you, gents." He followed them out, set the locks and brought out his R/T. "4.5's flat is closed up and I'm leaving. The time is 11:12 exactly." He shut down and put the radio away, and his face was sober as he offered his hand. "Well, I'll see you when I see you."

"Ride out any time," Bodie smiled, shaking his friend's hand. "You're always welcome - and we're throwing a party in a week's time, you know, as soon as we get the decorating done. Housewarmer BYO if you want anything stronger than wine, because we're counting pennies these days. Broke, and all that - ever seen the price of furniture?"

"Not actually, Duckie," Murphy quipped, taking Ray's hand and shaking it. "I'll be there for the party... Where is it, exactly?"

"South side of the river, just before you get to Aston," Doyle told him.

"And where in God's name is that?" Murphy demanded. "You're really getting into the sticks, aren't you?"

"Twit," Doyle said fondly. "Take the A4 as far as - wait for it - Maidenhead, and no, I'm not joking; turn right onto the A404, connect with the A423, and if you get as far as - I'm still not joking - Cockpole Green, you've gone too far."

"Through Maidenhead but not as far as Cockpole - " Murphy hooted in hysterics. "You must have searched the map for a place with these names!"

"We did not," Bodie said indignantly. "And it's a very nice place; boating on the river and what have you. Wait till you see it, you'll be green with envy."

"Roses around the door and little things growing in the garden," Murphy guffawed. "This I've got to see." He lifted his eyes to the ceiling. "If this is what advancing age does to you, save me from it."

They chased him down the stairs to the street, and indulged in a bout of mock wrestling before turning to the three big bikes. Ray took a look up and down the street, waving as Murphy pulled out. There was nothing here that he would miss, not when there was so much at home. He gave Bodie a grin. "First stop the bank; then pay the garage for the paint job - when can we pick the car up?"

"Oh, Sometime tomorrow," Bodie guessed.

"Then pay for the curtains. Pick up some groceries - when are they delivering the fridge?"

"Sometime this afternoon, I think," Bodie told him. "Couldn't give a firm time, but I should think we'd be the last call on the list, being so far out, so I wouldn't be looking for the van before about five or so."

"In which case we've got time to have a meal before we arrange to have the paint picked up. Which carrier are we using? Runabout was cheapest."

They had bought gallons of paint - and they needed it. It was quite impossible to carry it in an ordinary car, much less when they were on their bikes, and a taxi van was the next best option; they shuddered at the cost, but there was an old saying - you can't save time and money. Bodie nodded in assent to Ray's choice of carrier: anything that was cheap would suffice. Time to start painting and decorating in the morning, he thought with a sense of wry amusement, trying to imagine what his old Army mates would think of him.

Domesticated? Were they? He watched Ray pull on helmet and gloves, swing his leg over the big bike and start it, revving it hard to warm it through... Domesticated? Hardly. Just sick and tired of being alone, of going from casual relationship to one night stand and back again, never having a home, living out of a bunch of suitcases, never having roots or ties or a past. He put on his own helmet and started his BMW, kicking back the stand and pulling out behind Ray's bike. Domesticated? If that meant being happy at home, then perhaps the word was fitting.

The bank manager smiled and waved as he saw them appear, but there was a look of apprehension on his face... They were heavily into the bank, but two CI5 men were not to be questioned, and as far as security went, they were a hundred percent watertight. They withdrew enough to pay for the car, the curtains, paint, groceries and the dozen items they knew they had forgotten, and strolled out into the fresh May sunshine. The curtain shop was not a long walk from the Giro office, and they elected to walk it, window shopping as they went, luxuriating in the opportunity to do this.

Prices were a scandal, and Bodie said so. Doyle just laughed: listening to Bodie was like listening to his domesticated family. They all had the same complaints and observations: I remember the time when such-and-such was half the price. Look at the price of that, it isn't worth half that much. "Seen the price of eggs lately?" Doyle quipped fondly, nudging his lover in the direction of the textiles emporium where their bales of fabric were ready to be paid for. The shop would deliver the next morning, tracks and fittings, everything just ready to be hung.

They rode over to Oedipus Wrecks next; and stood in the aromatic front workshop, watching the men working in the adjacent spray bay. The Capri had been little more than a write off when they had seen it; it had been involved in a bad accident, its left side pinched in, and it had stood through the spring, rusting. The brakes were bad, the gear box a disaster, the tyres almost square from the standing, and the seats a little split. Then the panel beaters had knocked the dents out, a new gear box had been put in, new tyres all around, new hub caps, and the seats sent out to be re-covered. It was being sprayed up in gold, and as it emerged from the spray bay and was left under the blistering lamps to dry, Bodie admitted that it was hard to tell it apart from the vehicle that had been Ray's favourite motor pool checkout for the last couple of years. The full engine tune-up had got it right back into condition, and even before it was made nice to look at, it had sounded sweet.

Ray peeled off the notes and handed them to the foreman, getting a pink receipt, and was told to come back the next afternoon and collect it. He was grumbling about the cost when he and Bodie were taking off their helmets outside a curry house where they would eat. "Money's like water," he said with a philosophical sigh. "The more of it you get hold of, the faster it runs out through your fingers!"

"You've noticed," Bodie said dryly. "No more eating out for a while... At least we can pay the ruddy mortgage out of the job Cowley's got us."

"Which reminds me - paying bills, that is - the power isn't on yet."

"Why not?" Bodie demanded. "We rang the bloody people days ago."

"Oh, they're understaffed, overworked and on a tight schedule," Doyle grinned. "You know the story. They phoned late yesterday when you were out looking for the fridge... Reckon they'll get the power on by tomorrow."

"So what do we do tonight - freeze?" Bodie muttered.

"No, we don't," Doyle said throatily. "We go to bed early when it gets cold, and drink cocoa, and cuddle up and such. I guarantee you'll be warm as toast... Or I'm losing my touch."

Bodie beamed from ear to ear. "There's a lot to be said for ingenuity."

The curry was blazing and they followed it with ice- cream and lemonade, and still burned their mouths. "Never mind," Ray said, mock-soothing, "it's an aphro, so it wasn't all in vain."

"Don't need an aphro," Bodie complained. "Not when you're around... Where are we going now?"

"Groceries," Doyle suggested. "Then home. Home. Think of that."

"I am," Bodie said, smiling as he watched Ray swing his leg over the black vinyl saddle, the lively May breeze tossing at his hair, and somehow resisted the impulse to reach out and tousle those curls. "Groceries, then."

"And paraffin," Doyle added as he put on his helmet, "because we're going to be cooking over a Primus and running hurricane lamps until we've got the power on, remember."

They bought soups, bacon, bread and butter, powdered milk and tins of tomatoes, beans and fruit. Time to stock up later, when there was the car to carry enough stuff to shop properly. For now, convenience foods would have to do. They were riding west at two, threading between the slower traffic on the A4, heading out of London, the sun in their faces, the breeze cool, the sky brilliant blue, promising a good summer... They were terrifyingly dependent on that continued good weather: a bad summer, rainy and cold, would kill business, and in their first year, that would wipe them out. Selling bikes and outboards, and repairing bikes, cars and boats, depended on the tourist trade. There was boating on the river, woodland, and a few tourist traps around the village of Aston, quite enough to attract passing trade and secure them enough to make Riverside Suzuki a going concern. If they got sick and tired of it, once it was set up and running, it could be sold as an existing business - but they both doubted that they would get tired of it so soon... There was a deep and real satisfaction in making something out of nothing, and they were revelling in both the challenge and the freedom they had engineered for themselves.

The motorway led them out of the city, through Cranford and Langley and Slough, and just westward of Maidenhead they turned right onto the A404, which fed them onto the A423, and the by-road to Aston and home. It was almost four when they saw the village, and the sunlight was dappling through the trees, warm and welcoming. They rode side by side, sitting on no more than thirty miles per hour as they followed the winding byroad, little more than a lane; it was a shortcut they had learned well already, and it led to their own bottom gate.

The hedge was six feet high, ensuring utter anonymity; it ran down to the river with a public right of way at the water's edge that was lined by beech trees and tangled shrubs; inside it was a paddock, the grass deep and lush and begging for horses, and on the other side of the paddock, a white fenced, overgrown garden, and the cottage.

It had been looked after initially, but not lived in for two years, and had become very run down; it had gone for a song, and the agent had been only too delighted to get it off his books. Bodie and Doyle knew they'd been given a bargain; a little paint and plaster, curtains and soap and water, and the whole place would come to life. The woodwork was sound, the floor had been tiled in quarry slates and only needed cleaning, the outside needed doing with snowsem, and everything needed painting, but the structure itself was in the same good condition as it had been when the previous owner died, leaving it to a family in London who had no use for it.

There were five rooms; a single bedroom, a modern kitchen, a parlour with an open hearth, a semi-modern bathroom, and a box room which had been used for storing home-made wine. They had enough furniture to fill it without needing any more, but there was no shelving for the books and records, and they had resolved to store everything in the box room until they had knocked together what they needed.

The way up to the main road was a gravelled drive on a slight angle, and Ray gave it a shrewd look, wondering how many flat tyres they were going to get with that gravel. But having access to the main road was the main thing, because it made business easy. On the other side of the garden was an ancient building that had been a stable at some past time, before a resident had knocked the stalls out and put in a roller door, making a garage out of it. It was perfect for a bike workshop, and even had an area at the front that would make a lovely glassed-in office and showroom. They could sell outboards as well as bikes, with as much success, because when the doors were open at front and back of the garage you could stand at the front and see the river at the bottom of the paddock.

The bikes growled up the slope of the paddock, holding to a swathe already cut through the grass, and they parked the machines in the lee of the garage building, swinging off them and stretching. There was privacy here; to the east, the enormous hedge, to the south, the cottage, to the west, the river, and the garage closing off the northern side. The kind of place where two men could do pretty much as they wanted to, and no one be the wiser.

Ray wanted to be hugged and kissed in celebration, and he wanted to do that right now, where it was sunny and warm; he grabbed Bodie, taking him by surprise as he took off his helmet and straightened his hair, and they were laughing, wrestling for the fun of it a moment later. Breathless and happy, they found themselves in the grass beneath the gnarled old pear tree, and Bodie tousled the curly hair affectionately.

"You're a love," he told Doyle, "and you're crazy."

"Thanks ever so," Ray chuckled. "Want a cuppa? We can open the chocolate biscuits, if you like."

"Sounds good," Bodie agreed, getting to his feet and pulling Doyle up with him. "I'll bet the furniture people just shoved the stuff anywhere."

They had. There was a tangle of chairs and tables and boxes that almost barred their entry, and Ray gave a sigh of resignation. "You put the Primus on, without blowin' us up, if you can, and I'll push the stuff around."

"It's your back," Bodie said sweetly, and departed for the kitchen. As he filled and lit the camp stove he could hear the sounds of industry, a few muttered curses, the scrape of wooden chair legs on stone, and ten minutes later when he carried two mugs and a packet of biscuits out of the dust thickened kitchen into the front room, he blinked. The sofa had gone onto the wall opposite the window, with the hearth on the right; the chairs stood facing the chimney, the hi-fi was in the corner between window and hearth, and Doyle was stretched out on the settee with his head on a pillow, looking asleep. Bodie dumped the packet of biscuits onto his stomach.

"Your cuppa, milud," he said, handing over the mug. "Only going to have to move everything again, you know, to put the vacuum cleaner 'round."

"I know," Ray agreed, "but we've got to have room to move in here, or we'll never find the Hoover." He ripped the wrapping paper off the biscuits. "Want to do the bedroom first? Sleep in a real bed tonight?"

Bodie nodded deeply. "Oh, yeah. Sleeping bags are fine, but there's something about clean sheets and being in bed --"

"That makes you twice as randy," Ray finished, sipping the tea. "Yeah, I know." He leaned back into the cushions and patted the sofa beside him. "Take a seat, or are you going somewhere?"

"Not going anywhere," Bodie said, yawning and parking himself beside Ray, one arm going about Doyle's wide, bony shoulders. "This place has got real potential, you know. Get the dust out and polish up the windows, get some curtains up, potted plants on the mantle, rug in front of the fire... speaking of which, I'd better see the chimney's okay before we light it. Could be birds nesting in it for all we know."

"No, the agent said it had been looked at before it was listed in the trade paper," Ray yawned, echoing Bodie's growing torpor. "Safety regulations or something. Like, they had do redo the wiring and put in a damp course... We could light the fire tonight, couldn't we? Keep the place warm. Mind you, wouldn't be much good if we were sleeping in the bedroom."

"Mm," Bodie mused. "So what about if we brought the mattress and bags through here in front of the fire?"

Doyle made appreciative noises, settling his head on Bodie's shoulder. "Sounds nice." The words were soft and slurred.

Bodie nudged him' hard with one finger. "Oy, not going to sleep are you?"

"Yeah," Doyle said ruefully. "Could have something to do with being tired!" He stirred with an effort, sipping at his tea. "Too much to do to sleep now, anyway. Can you find the Hoover?"

"It's in the bottom of that chest," Bodie said, indicating a tea chest with a nod of his head. "One of us could get 'round most of the house while the other whips up something to eat. I'm starved - that curry didn't seem to fill a corner."

"Fair enough." Doyle turned his head to nibble Bodie's left ear, and rummaged for a chocolate biscuit. "You cook; you can't stand dust."

"Can't stand cooking either," Bodie muttered, "but. I'd sooner be a galley slave than stuffed up... Unless it's stuffed up that other way. With you. That I could go a bundle on."

"No way, mate," Doyle said seraphically. "Other way round tonight."

Bodie bit into a chocolate biscuit. "Thought it was my turn."

"Turn?" Ray gave his lover a sultry look. "We're taking turns, are we?"

"Seemed like a good idea," Bodie smiled, dispatching the biscuit in one more bite and reaching for another. "And I'm sure it's my turn."

"Maybe it is," Ray admitted, "but oblige me."

"Oblige you." Bodie wriggled his hand under his lover's legs and tickle, making Ray wriggle and upset the biscuits. "You've got crumbs going everywhere, watch out!"

"Well keep your bloody hands to yourself, then," Doyle said in mock outrage. Then he let the laughter escape and leaned heavily against Bodie. "Seriously, I do want you that way, so oblige me?" He fluttered his eyelashes and made a hopeful pout.

"You're begging to get yourself ravished on the floor, Raymond."

"Too dusty," Ray said philosophically. "I'd probably sneeze at the wrong moment and the whole thing'd take five seconds. Might as well do pushups for all the satisfaction we'd get." He gave Bodie's ribs a tickle and pushed away at last, getting to his feet and stretching. "Where's that bloody fridge?"

"Has to arrive in the next half hour," Bodie judged, "or the van won't get back to London by shutting up time. Look, you get stuck into the dust and I'll get a meal together, and we'll shove the furniture around later.

"I get the feeling I'm being turned into a drudge," Doyle complained, but there was a sparkle of mischief in his eyes.

"Drudge?" Bodie echoed, aghast. "Never!" He was on his feet, his cup on the mantle, his lover in his arms, a moment later, and Doyle collected a kiss that was long and breathless. Then Bodie let him go and winked. "Dust, mate. Go on: If I'm slaving over a hot Primus, the least you can do is push the vacuum cleaner about!"

It took five bags, filled and emptied, to get the dust of ages out of the parlour, bedroom, kitchen and bathroom, and by that time Ray was nearly as dusty as the house had been. He was coughing enthusiastically as he came back in through the kitchen door with the emptied bag in his hand, and Bodie clucked disapprovingly. "Look at the state of you. What you could do with is a bath. How d'you manage to get yourself so mucky?"

"You try handling this much dust!" Doyle retorted, his nose wrinkling on the scents of frying bacon and tomatoes. Bodie had carried the dining table and chairs into the kitchen and thrown the red checked tablecloth onto it. There were no built-ins in the cottage, and if they were not going to build them in, they needed a kitchen table, while the dining table would have to go into the parlour. For now, the one table had to serve as work bench and serving surface. "Give me a tick to wash up," Ray said, inspecting his hands, "I'm starving."

The water was on, but it was running muddy brown, and he let it run for ten minutes, listening to the cantata from old, old plumbing, before it was clean enough to even think about using it for washing. He had gone through the cardboard boxes, finding their shaving gear, soap, shampoo and towels, and the bathroom was looking half way civilized by the time he had finished a quick wash up. Net curtains at the windows, and it would be fine, otherwise there would be a beautiful view to be had from the driveway... Two blokes sharing a bath and getting up to all sorts of mischief. Curtains, Doyle decided as he made his way back to the kitchen.

The food was ladled onto plates already, Bodie-sized helpings, with half a loaf of bread on the side and a tea pot on the table between them. He had found the jam and marmalade along with the crockery, and they were intent on the meal, almost at the point of wielding knives and forks, when they heard the growl of a big van engine, and the scrabbling of tyres on gravel.

"Oh, no,'' Bodie wailed, "the ruddy fridge!"

Ray heaved a sigh. "Look, stick mine back in the pan to keep hot, and I'll show them in. You eat yours. Got to keep your strength up." He turned toward the door, then turned back and gave Bodie a wink. "For tonight."

There was a time when Bodie would have blushed, but he had become too hardened to these little remarks to even notice. He scraped Ray's bacon and tomatoes back onto the pan and turned the Primus down low so that they would just simmer instead of crisping, and gave the meal his full attention. There were slamming doors from outside, a raucous bellow from the radio, and the driver and his mate shouting to each other over the music. Ray's voice joined in, calling the men around to the kitchen door, and then the van's doors were squealing open on hinges that could have used a little oil. A trolley rattled over the gravel, and Bodie looked expectantly at the back door.

Ray was out there, he could see him beyond the unwashed window over the sink, and he was shaking his head over some display of ineptitude. Bodie wolfed down the bacon and tomatoes while the men were trying to get the fridge onto the trolley to move it, and was on his feet with a doorstep of bread and jam when Ray opened the kitchen door and said, "Right in this way. The power point's down there."

The fridge was in a huge cardboard box, pushed along by two beetroot-faced men in overalls, and with Doyle's signature on a slip of paper they were gone. Ray left the box right where it was, going to rescue the food from the Primus, and he was sitting behind the table, eating, as Bodie took a pen knife to the box, cutting away the industrial card.

"Nice, eh?" Bodie said as he threw the card outside. "Makes icecubes and everything. Vegetable crispers in the bottom."

"Except you don't like vegetables," Doyle said dryly.

"The way you cook, I could learn," Bodie admitted. "What about another cuppa?" He ran the tap until the water cleared and filled the kettle.

Full to the point of discomfort, Doyle leaned back in the chair and considered the naked light bulk in the center of the ceiling. "And that's another thing we have to go shopping for. Light fittings."

"Tomorrow," Bodie agreed. "Or the next day. Leave it a bit - got a big day tomorrow. Look, if the lads are coming up to see the garage I'll have to be here to meet them. You want to take the bus into Town and bring the car back? Maybe you could see some light fittings while you're there, get them to deliver.

"Why not?" Doyle nodded. He got up, stretching. "Right now, I'm going to see what I can find to light the fire - it's getting cold in here."

"I took a peek up the chimney," Bodie sang after him, "and I saw some daylight, so it ought to be okay!"

There was an ancient pile of firewood behind the garage, and it still smelt of creosote; Doyle yanked the weeds from around it, surprising a family of roaches and uncovering a colony of orange peel fungus. He made a face over the unwelcome invaders and picked the wood up gingerly, scanning everything for spiders. Roaches were one thing - spiders something else again... Bodie teased him unmercifully about his revulsion for the arachnids, but no amount of teasing would make him pretend affection for them.

There was enough wood to run the fire for a few days, and he made a note to order in coal and kindling, and buy firelighters. For now, there was the box in which the fridge had come packed to be used as kindling, and lighting the fire was no hardship. A rug for in front of the hearth would have been nice, but neither he nor Bodie owned any such thing - another item for the list. Perhaps he could find one in London in the morning, and bring it home with him, since he'd be collecting the car.

The fire was burning brightly and he was pulling a pink feather duster across the mantle when Bodie appeared with more tea, and as they drank it they arranged the pot plants and mementoes of a dozen long-forgotten holidays. With the record racks and hi-fi in place, and the portable television standing on an occasional table under the window, there was already a feeling of belonging. It was getting dark and they were tired as they flopped down onto the couch to listen to the radio news on Bodie's transistor.

Killings, bombings, an aircraft hijacking, the road toll, party politics and the oil crisis... Last week's stories revamped and reworded. Bodie gave the radio a smile. "You know something... This is the first time the news has absolutely nothing to do with us. Those bombings, for a start. The IRA are on the rampage. It'd be you and me, running about like scalded cats, trying to get between them and the public, if we were back there!"

"Yeah," Doyle agreed quietly, eyes on the fire, head on Bodie's shoulder. "Not sad to be out of it, to tell you the truth."

"No, me neither," Bodie admitted, pressing a kiss to the crown of Ray's head. "Could do with a shower, but there's no hot water."

"Suffer," Ray suggested. "Could always use cold."

Bodie shuddered. "I'll stay dirty, thanks. I'm not that mucky in any case - showered this morning at the flat. Can shower again tomorrow, when the electricity's on."

"Right." Doyle stretched out along the couch, pillowed on Bodie. "If everything works out, we can get the workshop set up in a week, and get a truckload of stuff in from Suzie... Open up shop in what, ten days?"

"Should be about it," Bodie nodded, finger-combing through the red-brown curls. "Bobby and Jon will be able to sort out what they need, and we'll get the workshop set up. They're good lads; Army mechanics are well trained - work on anything from bikes to trucks or even tanks. Going to need a compressor, and a welding set, and cutting torches, oxy-acetalene gear, maybe argon-arc, and frame- straightening gear. A lift would be nice, but they're too expensive, so we'll make do with ramps for a while. Not that we'll get much work on cars, not around here." He yawned, drawing tickling caresses about Ray's face. "Two good mechanics, and the place ought to run itself. Might get a young lass in to look after the office side of it - Jon's got a sister, about twenty-five, I think. She'll do fine."

"Um, how's she feel about... Well, about two men being together the way we are?" Ray asked softly.

"Dunno," Bodie said. "But it would he wise to ask Jon, save red faces later, if she's a real prude. I doubt it, though... They're a Liverpool family, big and brawling, and Jon was a sergeant in a tank regiment. They're a tough lot, seen the whole show before, you know? Jon isn't as pure as the driven slush, neither is Bobby, which is why they won't give a damn about us. They've been around the block."

"Bi's?" Ray asked sleepily.

"Oh, at one time or another. There are times when it's convenient." Bodie yawned, smiling as Ray wriggled around, head in his lap, eyes closed. "No sense going to sleep yet, love. Got heaps of things to do."

"It's dark," Doyle said meaningfully, plaintively.

"And we've got two hurricane lamps. Let's get the furniture put in place, and the boxes shoved into the box room, and the plants watered before they turn into brown things. Thought you were the one with the green thumb."

"I am," Ray sighed. "Okay, you talked me into it. Pity we can't get the books out of the boxes... Might buy some book cases tomorrow. Get them to send them out on a van. Here, give us a kiss and let's get busy, because if I stay here a second longer I'll nod off."

The bedroom had one built in cupboard, but it was suspect to say the least, and they decided to clean it thoroughly before storing the bedding in it. The washer went into place in the corner of the kitchen, and they put the frame of the big double bed together in the bedroom, but carried the mattress through into the lounge for the night. The fire was burning low, and Bodie threw more wood into the grate, watching the sparks flutter up into the darkness of the chimney. The hurricane lamps were burning on the mantle, and Ray had a hammer in his hand and a mouth full of tacks.

"A pat on the back; and you'd be history, mate," Bodie grinned as he unrolled the sleeping bags and watched his lover tack up his collection of horse brasses and miniature pictures, surrounding the fireplace.

"These tiles could do with washing," Ray observed, rubbing at the hearth tiles with his sleeve. "They'll come up jewel green, I think."

"And the floor could do with washing, not just vacuuming," Bodie added. "Oh, time for that tomorrow. Wash the windows too."

"Yeah, you can do that while you're waiting for the mechanics," Doyle suggested. "It's a bloody long bus ride into London from here."

"And I don't envy you the trip," Bodie admitted. "I hate buses."

They stood back to admire the decorations; plants, brasses, ornaments and the fire, and the place had begun to look like home. "There, now you see why I didn't chuck all the stuff out," Ray said dryly. "Makes the difference between a house and a home." He tossed the hammer back into a cardboard box of rags and tools and turned into Bodie's arms. "What time is it?"

Bodie consulted his watch. "Just gone eight, believe it or not."

"Time flies when you're having fun," Ray smiled. He raked his fingers through the blue stubble on Bodie's chin. "We shave, then you take me to bed and ravish me. Deal?"

"Deal," Bodie agreed solemnly, picking up a lamp and shepherding his lover toward the bathroom. "Good thing the razors run on batteries, or we'd be getting-going with the lather and blades!"

"In cold water," Doyle added, shuddering. "No, ta. Not for me. I like to shave without that kind of pain. Don't take kindly to facing the world with bits of tissue stuck all over my chin."

Bodie chuckled, rummaging for the battery powered Ronson and handing it ceremoniously to his life's partner. "So we take turns at this."

Ray's eyes were soft, dark and laughing. "Oh, yes. Turns. But not at that. Not tonight. Tonight, we want you in me. Call it a celebration."

"Housewarming?" Bodie guessed. "Hurry up and shave, I'm dying to kiss you, and I can do without whisker burns!"

"Motion seconded," Ray said, his smile warming and widening, and turned on the razor. It churred across his chin, leaving him as smooth as a child, and then Bodie claimed it, repeating the performance. The Ronson went back into the cabinet, forgotten the moment it was silent, and Bodie swooped on his lover with unabashed glee, nibbling around his jaw to enjoy the too-smooth-to-be- credited feel that was only there for an hour or so after shaving. There were times when he remembered the soft smoothness of women nostalgically, and he made the most of Ray in the morning and after a session with the Ronson... In the morning his muscles were totally relaxed; he was still thin and bony, but he felt - Bodie grappled for a word. Yielding. It was an illusion, he knew, but it was a nice one.

No, Raymond Doyle was a man, every inch of him from head to foot, for all the hair and features that had landed him in more fights than enough as a youth., Bodie smothered him with a kiss before picking up the lamp and steering him back toward the parlour. The fire was blazing in the hearth and the rugs and sleeping bags were a comfortable scatter on the interior sprung mattress. Bodie gave Doyle a push, chuckling as he sprawled out, bouncing the springing. Ray gave him a pained look.

"What it is to be shacked up with a juvenile."

"Juvenile?" Bodie snorted. "I'll show you how juvenile I am, mate."

"Juvenile," Doyle repeated, pillowing his head on his hands and looking up with lazy eyes, savouring the sight of Bodie undressing in the firelight. "When are you going to show your bod a bit of sun, and get a decent tan?"

"Some of us know the meaning of the word modesty," Bodie said primly, but the effect was ruined, as he was taking off his slacks at that moment.

"Oh, sure, I can see that," Doyle laughed, his gaze roaming over his lover's muscular form. Bodie was aroused, too, which made his prim voice all the more absurd. He sat on the side of the mattress to discard boots and socks, and Doyle rolled toward him, kissing his back, counting the knots of his spine with a teasing, pampering tongue.

"Mm, like that," Bodie purred, stretching luxuriously under the favours.

"I know you do," Ray said between lick-kisses. "S'why I do it." He got an elbow under himself and slid his arms about Bodie, giving him a hard hug. "Love you. Have I told you that today?"

"Can't say for sure," Bodie mused, turning about and pinning Ray to the mattress with his weight. "Might have muttered it in your sleep last night - that's when I like to hear it best. Comes out of your subconscious."

"Suppose it does," Doyle smiled, rubbing his back against the rug on which he lay. Bodie took his weight on his hands, looking down at him, not moving a muscle for a long time. "Bodie?"

"Just looking," Bodie admitted. He had not even begun to undress Ray yet, and there was something wonderful about lying on top of him, naked, feeling the rasp of denim against his own bare skin while Ray became excited, wanting all that sensation against his unfettered nerve-endings. Doyle gave a wriggle, lifting his hips, and Bodie tucked a hand into his groin, kneading him through the jeans, watching the green eyes close. "Like that?"

"You bloody know I do. Going to strip me or not?"

"Nah. Thought it might add a bit of variety if one of us keeps his togs on... Make things a bit difficult though, wouldn't it?" He bit off a laugh as Ray pried open one accusing eye: "All right. Hold still."

He did away with belt and zip, and pulled the red tee shirt upward to expose Doyle's warm, furry chest, bending to pamper his nipples and tickle his ribs. Ray writhed out of the tee shirt with a muttered curse, throwing it across the room to be rid of it. "Either you strip me, or I do it myself," he threatened. "Had enough teasing, love - this is a celebration not an S&M session!" He grabbed Bodie's head and kissed him deeply to make his point.

"Sorry," Bodie grinned, "couldn't resist." He had Doyle naked minutes later, and stood beside the mattress to enjoy the sight of him, rubbing his back on the rugs and stretching like a big, tawny cat. "You're smashing to look at, you know," he admitted wryly. "Almost a pity to put clothes on you at all. Almost. There are," he added, "times when it could be a bit awkward going around like that."

"No - you don't say," Doyle said, all wide-eyed disbelief. "When?"

"Well, shopping for groceries," Bodie said thoughtfully as he lay down on the mattress and tried to organize the rugs. "And taking the car in for a service. And catching the bus to Town - ouch, gerrof, that hurts!"

Doyle was biting his shoulder, and a moment later they were wrestling, perilously close to the side of the mattress; Doyle was winning, not because he knew any superior holds, but because Bodie was laughing too hard to wrestle well. It ended when Ray's half erect cock collided with Bodie's, and the blood abruptly surged through him, bringing him up to painful arousal. He gave a groan, his whole body freezing, and threw his head back to savour the electric thrill of it.

Bodie caught his breath, both hands palming the small, muscular buttocks to hold them tight together, and lifted his hips, a long, slow thrust that very nearly finished them both. Ray was out on cloud nine, turning on with a bewildering speed and intensity, and he did not seem aware of the hands that took his weight, lifting him onto his back. He made inarticulate little purring sounds as he was pampered, spreading his legs for Bodie's hands and lifting his nipples in search of suckling, shoulders arching upward. Bodie dropped a kiss on each of them, and began to suck, lying between his lover's legs and revelling in the press of the steel hard and furnace hot cock that dug into him. He wriggled sideways, making Doyle yelp and buck, and to his delight Ray wrapped his legs about him and hugged.

As Bodie completed his pampering of Ray's chest, the green eyes opened, dark and smoky. Hungry, Bodie thought, and was not surprised to find himself on his back and treated to a like pampering. He pillowed his head on his arms, watching Ray's pink tongue licking patterns that tickled, across chest and belly, and spread his legs hopefully. Doyle chuckled, lifting his head and winking at him. "Impatient, are we?"

"Yes, we bloody well are," Bodie admitted. "So come on!"

There was something absolutely unique about Bodie's musk, Ray thought as he bent to kiss the swollen balls and lick up the throbbing shaft from base to crown. For a moment he yearned to suck Bodie to completion, to taste him, but his guts gave an involuntary quiver, and he knew what he wanted most. He took Bodie in his fingers, flicking his tongue about the ultra-sensitive head until he was wet, then blowing on the damp skin until it felt like ice and Bodie bit off an oath.

"Christ, Ray, don't, you'll have me off!"

"You're better than that," Ray said huskily, sitting back on his heels to admire his lover properly.

"Don't be so sure," Bodie panted. "Oh, suck me, will you, please."

"For a bit, but I want you in me," Ray told him throatily. "Can suck me too, if you feel like it. For a bit."

"Mm, like that, like the way you taste," Bodie said dreamily, watching through slitted eyes as Doyle bent to the task, that incredible mouth taking as much of him as it could. Skilled at this, Ray bobbed his head, slowly and carefully, pulling with his lips, tongue flicking and darting under the foreskin on each upstroke and lavishing pushing caresses on the underside on the down. At length, Bodie wound his fingers into the curly hair and lifted him away. "No more, pet, if you went me," he panted. "Give me a breather.''

Panting just as hard, Doyle lay on his side; he was glowing from head to foot, flushed from the fire and the heat of arousal, and his eyes were glittering like those of a cat on the prowl, stalking prey. Male, Bodie thought as he got his breath back. Gloriously male; a sensual creature almost without peer, was Doyle, and try as he might, he could think of no woman who had ever rivalled him in sheer, uninhibited sensuality.

And he tasted wonderful. His musk was strong in Bodie's nose as he bent to savour the taste of overheated skin and pearly pre-ejaculate. He tasted of Ray, and it was a flavour Bodie hungered for constantly. For every caress that had been offered him, Bodie gave one back, until Doyle was unable to keep still, poised on the edge of surrender to a climax that would be racking. The husky voice moaned for him to stop, and Bodie lifted his head, determining to have his own way later, and claim the long, hot streams of Bay's life's essences for his own.

"Celebration?" he asked, husky and panting.

A moan answered him, and Doyle tried to turn over but couldn't, too weak and boneless to manage it. He was floating, barely in command of his body at all, and Bodie helped him, wanting to explore his back and rump before the urgency overcame him too.

Smooth as silk, squirming and cursing, Doyle was a joy and Bodie revelled in him. Ray was bucking his hips to thrust himself into the rugs, his muscles working on their own, and Bodie lifted him to his knees to stop him, robbing him of the sensation and dragging a muttered oath from him. "Shhh, take it easy, you'll come in half a second like this," Bodie murmured, holding him and kissing his spine and buttocks to soothe him until he heard Doyle's ragged breathing come back into line. He was shivering, trembling like a leaf, and Bodie smiled. "Okay now?"

"Okay," Ray said, no more than a lush sigh as he pillowed his head on his folded forearms and settled to wait.

Warm, slick fingers, laden with Bodie's pre-ejac, caressed the bud of his anus and probed inward, and he purred, lifting up and back, wanting it all. Bodie was so good at this. He expected the large, warm hand between his legs, massaging his cock and balls, relaxing his muscles until he was open like a flower and quivering with desire, and then Bodie was nestling behind him, easing into him with gentle but firm deliberation, one long thrust that impaled him completely and filled him to the heart.

He was moaning, whimpering, but was not aware of it, and Bodie's hearing was none too acute as he tried to control, hold back. Sometimes it was quick and hard, almost violent, and sometimes it was long and slow and sweet; it all depended on the mood. Here, in their own home for the first time, in front of their own fire, under their own roof, quick and hard was not the way.

They held still by mutual agreement, getting their breath and finding a measure of control, and Bodie waited until Ray spoke to continue. "Go on, love, I'm okay now."

"Shh," Bodie crooned, kissing the back of his neck and burying his face in the soft curls. "Love you... love you..." He was moving in time to the whispered endearments, Ray undulating smoothly beneath him, and it took a long time. Sweat glistened brightly on them as they began to work hard, and Bodie was listening for the throaty little growl that would tell him when Ray was close and desperate. He knew every sound Doyle would make, every twist of that supple body, and when he heard it he began to thrust hard, deep, feeling his heart rate pick up. Holding back was an agony now; Doyle's body was a haven and a tormentor in one, storm-tossed, tortured with lust, exiting on the knife edge just this side of climax.

Bodie's fist tightened about Doyle's cock, squeezing and pulling, as if trying to drag climax out of him before Bodie himself had to come or die. Ray had the staying power of a ox - he had rapidly grown to respect the challenge presented to him along with the love and loyalty. Finding sheer joy in Ray's body was never difficult, no matter how tired he was, but to bring Ray that same rapture was, perhaps absurdly, more important. Bodie sank his teeth into his lip, regulating his breathing and concentrating on the man writhing beneath him; time to worry about himself when Ray was there.

And then Doyle was crying out hoarsely, rigid and taut, and the scalding streams of semen were filling Bodie's hand and splashing over. Bodie sucked in a breath and bucked into him, prolonging the racking pleasure for him before he sought his own release. Ray went down under the onslaught, but there was no need for Bodie to bring him back to his knees, as climax thundered through him a moment later. He collapsed, blanketing Doyle with his weight and heat, blind and struggling for breath, and it was some time before they could see and hear properly.

Then Doyle laughed hoarsely. "Christ, I thought I was a gonner for a bit. Thought I'd have a heart attack for sure this time... Was fantastic, love." He kissed Bodie's nose. "Thanks."

"You're thanking me?" Bodie pantomimed an exaggerated double take. "I was a bit rough at the end. You're not hurt, are you?"

Doyle wriggled around and shook his head. "Just tender and sensitive." He heaved a deep sigh and cuddled closer. "It tears the heart right out of me every time, you know."

"Does it?" A prickle of tears sprang to Bodie's lids. "Love you, Ray. How often have I said that?"

"Dunno," Doyle admitted, "wasn't counting... Ought to go and clean up, but I'm knackered. Go in a minute after I've had forty winks."

Bodie reached for one of the rugs, tossing it over them, but the room was warm and they were toasting in front of the fire. He yanked the pillows under their heads and released a huge yawn. "Housewarming," he murmured, both arms going around his lover and holding him closer. "Have a party later for everyone else, but this was the housewarming, right? Ray?" .

But Doyle was already asleep.

It was windy through the night; the gusts blasted at the cottage like banshees and they heard tiles moving on the roof. Bodie frowned at the ceiling as Doyle stirred awake in his arms, lifting his head in a moment's disorientation before realising where he was and what was wrong. "Going to have to look at the tiles," Bodie said softly. "Maybe need to fix some."

At least the roof did not leak; rain pelted down before dawn, lashing at the windows, but not a drop got through, and when they stretched fully awake at eight the sky was blue again and the wind no more than a fair sailing breeze. Ray sat up, stretching and rubbing his arms in the chill; the fire was out and it was still only May. He reached for a rug, wrapping himself in it and leaving Bodie to roll over and go back to sleep. A shower would have been nice, but he was less than eager to indulge in cold water sports on a chilly morning, and boiled a kettle instead, making do with an all-over wash and quick shave before pulling on jeans and a jersey and heading for the kitchen.

Rolled wheat porridge and honey cooked itself while he sorted out the fridge, storing the pre-packed groceries that had been shipped over by the furniture removalists, and he had his eye on the time when he took the breakfast into the parlour. "Wakey wakey, rise and shine." He pushed a bowl of steaming cereal at Bodie. "It's nearly half past eight, sleepy head, and I've got to catch the nine-thirty bus."

"There's one at eleven-thirty," Bodie yawned.

"Yeah, and it's hours to Town," Ray argued. "If I'm going to make a few calls, get some stuff, and make it out of London before the rush hour jams the whole place up tighter that a Scotchman's fist on a fiver, I'll have to get moving. Eat your breckie, and give me a lift up to the bus stop."

Bodie yawned deeply, propping himself on one elbow to watch Ray raking at the ashes in the hearth. "No point lighting it now; we'll be busy all day. Light it tonight and cuddle in front of it when we've got time to enjoy it - oh, they said the phone'll be on today, too."

"Great," Doyle said over his shoulder, "so, when you can, ring up and get us some coal and split logs. Hm, going to need some fire irons too -" he gave Bodie a grin of pure delight. "Never had to buy anything like that, don't even know where to go for them. Hey, what about Aunt Emma? She used to have a big, old fashioned kitchen range. They tore it out a few years back, but I'll bet the old dear kept the irons as a keepsake. I'll give her a ring from Town and see if she'll bequeath them in a good cause." He sat down on the mattress, cross legged, breakfast in his hands.

"What is this?" Bodie demanded, stirring at the pale brown mass in his bowl and frowning over the dubious consistency of it.

"Rolled wheat and honey," Ray told him, chewing on the porridge.

"You mean rolled oats?"

"Wheat," Ray corrected. "Try it, it's good for you."

"So's spinach and lettuce, but I don't like them either," Bodie said dryly. "This looks like glue."

"Try a spoonful," Ray offered, "and if you hate it, I'll make something else for diddums. Like stewed prunes or something."

"Oh, mummy's ever so kind today," Bodie grinned, and scooped up a spoonful of the cereal. He made a face and fed it into his mouth. "Hey, you can chew it."

"You catch on quick," Doyle said dryly. "And it tastes - "

"Okay," Bodie admitted. "In fact, it's not bad." He took another spoonful and chewed on it. "You know, that's pretty good."

Doyle rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "Give me strength."

Bodie ate the lot without another word, scraped the bowl clean and tossed it into Ray's hands. "You going to bring some groceries back with you for a proper dinner tonight?"

"Maybe," Ray said carefully. "You might be getting baked beans - depends what time I get back. I'm not spending half my life chained to a cooker, you know. And speaking of the time, we'd better get this place sorted out. You might have the electricity board or the curtains van on the doorstep at any moment, and here's the two of us mostly still in bed. Together, and all that, if you see what I mean."

"Oh, I see," Bodie admitted. "Tough. If they don't like it, they can ignore it. Give me a kiss?"

"You're like a wire brush," Ray observed wryly, but kissed him anyway.

All they could taste was the cereal, and they chuckled. "Was great last, night," Bodie murmured, nuzzling Doyle's neck and nipping at his ear lobe.

"Understatement," Ray told him. "Do it the other way around tonight, if you want to."

"If?" Bodie demanded. "What's this 'if' business?"

The rain had left the whole world fresh and damp, and the air smelt like champagne to their city-bred lungs. Doyle took a deep breath and savoured the unpolluted pleasure of it as Bodie ran up the roller doors and brought out his bike. The motorway, and the bus stop, were half a mile away, and he did not bother with his helmet. Ray had dressed in his white denim and a sports jacket, and was loaded with money, which gave him a look of smug unease. He had a list of things they needed and was juggling their budget carefully. So much they could afford, so much they could not.

As Bodie kicked the bike, swinging onto it, Doyle shouted over the noise, "When are your mechanic friends supposed to be here?"

"Sometime this morning," Bodie told him as he climbed on. "I'll see to the windows and maybe look at the roof, if I can find some ladders. When d'you reckon you'll be home?"

"Three o'clock, I expect," Doyle guessed.

"Should have some curtains up by that time," Bodie speculated, with an absurd sense of satisfaction before winding the throttle open and pulling out of the driveway onto the secondary road that ran by their weed-infested and overgrown front garden... Have to buy a lawnmower too, he thought.

The bus was a few minutes late and they sat on the bike, trading gossip and watching the traffic until it pulled in. It was almost empty, just a few shoppers, old ladies and young mothers with kids in tow. Doyle stepped toward the bus and Bodie called him back for a second. "Don't talk to any strange men, and keep your hand on the money," he advised soberly.

"Yes, Father, I'll be a good little lad," Ray said with a blinding smile.

Bodie would have liked to make some snappy retort, but the smile was his undoing, and he found himself watching the bus depart with a fond reflection of Doyle's expression... The banter was a defence against the tenderness that was always there, just under the surface, waiting to ensnare them. There were times when that tenderness could be unleashed and times when it had to be kept under rein, and the banter was one way to control it. Which had been true Bodie realised as he turned the bike for home, for more years than either of them had filly realised.

Running a bucket of water and emptying Flash into it, he set about the windows, whistling and listening to the radio as he waited for the mechanics to show up, and for the van to deliver the curtains. They had measured the windows and bought drapes and tracks, and all that remained to be done was fit the things. He had got around most of the outside glass when there was a honk from the gateway and he looked around the corner of the house to see a red Mini with a ginger-headed man leaning out through the door.

"Round here, Jon!" Bodie called, and the Mini pulled into the drive, scattering gravel from its little tyres.

Jon Chapman was a bloody good mechanic and knew bikes inside out, not merely Suzuki but Honda, Yamaha and the British bikes too, Triumph and BSA. He had even worked on a few American machines, and knew his way around cars. His mate, Bobby McBride, was better with cars and marine engines, but he too was keen on bikes, and worked mainly on the off-road machines. Chapman was taller than Bodie, incredibly thin, with ginger hair and pale blue eyes, and he dressed in khaki fatigues, a left over of his days in 3 Para. McBride was smaller, ruddy faced, blond and bearded, with brown eyes that were nested in nets of wrinkles. He had been in the mercs along with Bodie, and they had met again in the SAS, years later.

Both of them were out of work, having just left a business in the north - rats deserting a sinking ship. Take the money and run, Bobby had said with a grin. And as both of them were married with tribes of kids, they were keen to find decent employment. They were looking over the garage as Bodie appeared, leaving behind the bucket and rags and offering his hand for shaking.

"Freedom suits you, Bodie," McBride grinned. "Where's your partner?"

"Gone up to London to collect the car," Bodie told him. "What do you think of the garage, then? It's big enough. We'll get a carpenter and glazier in to glass-in this bit here, and put a desk and typewriter here, and put some showroom stock in there. Space on the left for ramps - we'll get a hydraulic lift when we can afford it - and space on the right for benches. Cutting gear and what have you --"

"Spray bay?" Chapman asked. "I'll handle painting, if you like. I'm good with a gun, and I like that kind of work. It's just a compressor, gun and drying lamps. Pick 'em up second hand from a bloke I know, if you want."

"Sounds good," Bodie admitted. "Get a price and we'll see if we can run to it. The place'll be okay, I reckon."

"Should be," Chapman agreed. "It's big and you've got fresh air, that's the main thing. You can do without working among too many petrol fumes, you know - gives you cancer."

"Right," Bodie said wryly. "I read about that... So you can start when?"

"Whenever you're ready," McBride shrugged. "Be good to start soon as the machinery's installed. Got a sign writer to make you a notice for the front?"

"Got a partner who's a dab hand with a brush," Bodie smiled. "He'll do all the signs, made the stationery too. Now, we'll need a girl to handle the office side of things. Answer the phone, make up job sheets, keep files and such. I was thinking about your sister, Jon. You reckon Barbie'd have the job?"

"Like a shot," Jon said at once. "She's slaving away behind a cash register in a supermarket just now, and hating it. I'll give her a buzz."

"Right " Bodie smiled. "Oh, there's just one thing... My partner and I. We're... Well, we're shacked up, if you follow me."

The two men blinked, and McBride laughed out loud. "You've got yourself a cute little lad to tickle your fancy, or whatever?"

It was Bodie's turn to blink. "Cute little lad?" Well, one could refer to Doyle in those simplistic terms, if one wanted to. "Five foot ten and wearing his black belt and master marksman's certificate like flags, and trying to hang onto a temper like a Force 9 - cute little lad?" Bodie gave a guffaw. "If I were you, I'd shake his hand and try not to insult him. He's a nice bloke, one of the nicest you'll ever meet... But he's got a temper that can be vicious if you get on his wrong side. He's not very big - not that he's all that short, but just smaller than us, and skinny. He's ex-C15, he was my working partner for years before we - well, before we got into bed. You know how it is."

The two veterans knew all too well, and just grinned, nudged and winked. "Fair enough," McBride shrugged, "that's your business, not ours."

"What about Barbie?'' Bodie asked. "Would she mind?"

"Well, if you don't touch him up out here, it'd be about a year before she caught on," Jon chuckled, "and after that... Nah, she's not your fainting type. Been knocked about a lot has our Barbie. She's not your fashionable type, mind you - d'you care about your secretary's backside in a fashionable sense? Cuz she's built like the QE II."

"Bit on the stout side?" Bodie asked, smiling.

"Built like a battleship," Jon nodded, "with a heart of gold. Honestly. Fifty girls I could bring you, figures like movie stars, and half an inch under the skin, you get to the vinegar. Barbie? She's nothing to look at, but if you're sick or hurt, she'll back you up and be there till you don't want her around anymore. That's another thing... Barbie'll leave you alone. She knows she's not going to catch a good looking man and doesn't try to."

"She'll do," Bodie said. "Nah, doesn't matter what she looks like, so long as she can type and answer the phone and add up."

"Oh, she can do that all right," Jon assured him, "so I'll tell her to give her notice in at the supermarket, shall I? And when do you want us to start work?"

"Give it - till next Monday," Bodie decided, balancing times and budgets in his head. "The gear will be in by that time, and we'll have everything ship shape. We're in the phone book, and the phones and power will be on soon, and we'll be able to get a van out from Suzuki on Friday."

"Going to need a bit of security, too," Bobby advised. "Suzie put about fifty grand's worth of stock in here, and you get one vandal with a torch - woof, up she goes."

"How's Chubb locks and wired alarms sound?" Bodie smiled. "Quit worrying, mate; this is only half the enterprise, you know? We'll be paying your bloody wages out of what we make as Veteran Security Services. Got a baronet's house up in Lincolnshire to wire in a fortnight."

McBride whistled. "No kidding? What it is to have connections!"

"George Cowley," Bodie told him smugly. "He set it up."

As he spoke, there was a blast of horn noise from the road, and they turned to see a van with garish paint pulled up behind the red Mini, unable to get into the driveway, its driver leaning out with an irritated face.

"Better move the car," McBride said. "In fact, why don't we push off and let you get on with it - curtains, is it, lovey? My, my, but we're getting domesticated, aren't we?"

"You have curtains at home, I presume," Bodie said sweetly. "Can't remember what it was like being single, can you?"

"Never was," Chapman laughed. "I was married to the Army, then married the missus, never had to think about curtains and such. Well, I'll see you on Monday, Bodie. Eight o'clock do you?"

"Half past," Bodie said generously. "Won't be much to do at first but install the gear, mind the shop and watch the grass grow. People have to know we're here first, right? See you, Jon, Bobby."

As the Mini pulled out, the curtain van pulled in, and ten minutes later Bodie was standing in the parlour surrounded by bales of nets and drapes, trying to tell one set of curtains from another. They all seemed to be utterly identical, and he searched for an expanding rule to match their widths to the tracks and windows. He heaved a sigh, looking at the time. It was eleven, and he put the kettle on, sitting on the sofa with his feet up before tackling the job of cleaning the windows inside and hammering up the fixtures. It was at times like these when he wondered what the hell he was doing.

The bus dropped Doyle at the door of a coffee shop, and he made a bee-line for refreshments; breakfast seemed at least a century before, and there were miles to be hiked. He checked the time, trying to decide where to go for lunch and digging for the list of calls he had to make.

The first was Let There Be Light, which sold the kind of light fittings ordinary people could afford. Most of them looked like jelly fish, or French cathouse decorations, and he had despaired of finding something that would do when he came upon a Half Price area, where the shop was selling off last year's styles. Last year's styles were half way decent - but the shop did not deliver. Ray brought out the money and paid for the lights, telling the girl to put them in a box with his name of it, and they'd be collected.

"We close at half past five," the girl said. "If you or your wife can't get back by then, the boss lives about a mile from here, you could pick them up from his house."

"My wife?" Doyle echoed, and chuckled richly. "No, it's okay, I'll be back shortly. Have to pick the car up from the garage."

The paint job was dry, perfect, gleaming, and the Capri could have been brand new. He saw it, parked and waiting for him, as he walked into the garage under the furled roller doors, and the mechanics were watching for him with the keys. "There you go, squire. Good as new, ain't she?" The .man was forty, rotund and smug. They'd done a fine job, and they were proud of it.

The key twisted in the ignition and six cylinders growled under the long, gold bonnet. It was nice, very, very nice, and Doyle said so as he signed to accept the car, and made tracks for a petrol pump. Usually, their cars were filled on CI5 expense chits, and for the first time he really noticed the price of Esso Gold. Petrol was bloody expensive stuff.

He drove back to the light shop and took the box from the girl, stowing it in the back and slamming the hatch on it; it was lunch time and, since he was in the area, he chose to eat at the Rose And Crown, an old haunt. Many CI5 and Met people ate and drank there, and he was putting away cheese and pickle sandwiches and Guinness when he heard a voice he recognised and turned to see Jax entering the pub.

"Hello, Ray, what brings you home so soon?" The black agent smiled, taking the seat by Ray's own.

"Home is a cottage on the river," Doyle said with satisfaction, "I'm just up here doing some shopping and collecting the car."

"Two parked out the front," Jax said. "A VW bug and a flashy gold Capri. Yours is the bug, I expect."

"Not bloody likely." Doyle shuddered - the idea was enough to curl his toenails. "Last time I drove a bug I was a student, and I didn't like it much in those far off days! Nothing but the best for this little black duck." He chewed on. a bite of sandwich. "So how's business?"

"IRA's having a bombing spree, terrorists are in from Lebanon, there's a peace conference coming tip in Surrey and Cowley's reputed to have gall stones," Jax said without skipping a beat. "Same old stuff. How's your business?"

"Oh, thrills and spills," Doyle smiled. "Got the curtains and light fittings, picked up the car - going to buy a hearth rug next. Excitement'll probably see me off if I'm not careful."

Jax let out a hoot of mirth. "Watch the old ticker, Ray, you can't stand too much of this fast life!"

There was a hearthrug with a tiger woven into it, and it was going for 30% off at a furniture shop that was being put out of business by the rich competition. It was expensive; but Doyle bought it anyway - he had managed to pick up the light fittings cheaper than expected. Rolled, it went into the car, and he was looking at the time. If he stopped off for groceries he might be home by three, as promised.

Home. This time, when he said the word he meant it. He slid in under the wheel of the gold Capri and revved the pocket-rocket, three litre motor, heading - probably for the last time - for the shops where he had used to do his shopping when he had lived alone in Chelsea. The shopkeepers all knew him, and knew he had gone, leaving C15 and London itself, and they slapped him on the back and wished him well, asking what he was doing with himself now. Oh, going into partnership with Bodie, he told them; and didn't mention that he was setting up home, and sharing his life and his bed, for better or for worse...

He beat the rush hour traffic by the skin of his teeth, making a dive out of London on the wide, ruler-straight A4, and putting his foot to the floor. He had taken this car for a test drive, but this was the first time he had pushed her up to eighty-five, and he was surprised by the kick-in-the-back delivered by the newly tuned-up motor. The mechanics had really done a decent job on what had, a few weeks before, been little more than a wreck. There was a slight vibration through the steering wheel at sixty, but that went out again at seventy, and after that the ride was smooth and powerful.

He turned off onto the secondary road, driving under the beeches and alders and sycamores he already recognised with affection; they promised home - home and Bodie. There was the cottage, white walled and red roofed with a privet hedge that needed trimming and apple trees in the front garden; there were a thousand jobs to be done. Mow the lawn, strip the rust off the gate and repaint it, get the roses into shape, trim the hedge - but he noticed at once, as he crunched onto the gravel of the driveway, that there were green and brown curtains at the windows. Bodie had been busy. The windows shone, and tomorrow they would paint the outside of the cottage; the whole place would be a pleasure to look at before the CI5 gang arrived for the promised party.

Bodie had heard the motor and crunch of tyres on gravel, and appeared from the house with a can of beer in one hand. He tossed it to Ray as Doyle slid out of the car, and Ray cracked the top off it, drinking thirstily. "Oh, that's good. The car goes like a bat out of hell, if you're wondering. Take it for a spin up to Slough tomorrow, if you want to try it... The curtains look great. D'you get 'em all up?"

"Most of 'em," Bodie smiled. "Hey, you got light fittings."

"And a hearth rug," Doyle added. "Give us a hand into the house with 'em."

"Quick," Bodie growled. "Want to grab you and kiss you, and I might just do it right here if we don't get inside quick."

"In the garden?" Doyle pretended shock and rolled his eyes like a startled horse. "But, sir, what would the neighbours think?"

"Bugger the neighbours," Bodie muttered.

"Sooner bugger you," Doyle said wistfully, and then dodged out of Bodie's reach to put up the hatch and hand the cardboard box of light fittings to his lover. "I'll take the carpet, and the groceries - I've got milk and eggs, is the power on for the fridge?"

"Came on an hour ago," Bodie told him. "TV reception's bloody terrible with the rabbit ears. Have to get a big aerial."

"Not going to have much time to watch telly anyway," Ray said huskily as he led Bodie into the house, dumped the groceries and rug, and turned into his lover's waiting arms. "Hold me tight or I'll scream."

Bodie hugged him hard. "Mm, you feel good." They were silent for a long time, kissing deeply, before they drew slightly apart to smile at each other.

"This," Bodie said succinctly and with a lopsided grin, "is getting pathetic. I missed you like blazes. First time we've been apart for hours and hours since... Since... Since I came to, in the hospital, after being drugged, remember?"

"How can I forget?" Doyle demanded. "I thought you were dead. Was sure they'd be finding your body and asking me to go and identify it." He shrugged off the awful memories and pressed closer. "You missed me?"

"Yeah. Worked harder to fill in the long, lonely, empty hours..." He bit off a guffaw. "Seriously, there was heaps to do, and I got through a lot of it. Come and have a look at the bedroom."

The curtains were up, drapes and nets, and he had made up the bed; the dressing table and wardrobe were in place, and their clothes were organized in the latter. He had even put up the two framed prints that had hung in Ray's bedroom, an indeterminate landscape, and Landseer's 'Monarch Of The Glen'. The clock radio was on the bedside table, and two African violets were sunning themselves in the wash of light from the netted window.

"It's just lovely," Ray said, honestly delighted. "We can just push the stuff to and fro when we come to paint the walls, no need to shift everything out of here. Where's the power point?"

"Left side of the bed," Bodie supplied. "You and your ruddy electric blanket - creature of comfort, aren't you?"

"Hot house flower, you told me so," Doyle agreed. He caught Bodie's head to kiss him. "It's terrific. Wish I could have been here to help."

"Well, you can cook me dinner and screw me through the bed instead," Bodie suggested, taking Ray by the hips and pulling them together. "My turn."

"Mm," Ray said dreamily. "Nice hot shower - which reminds me, I've got to get the bathroom cleaner than it is. Bath's caked up with mineral deposits."

"Oh, my God -" Bodie yelped, and fled.

Ray blinked in surprise, following him at a more sedate pace and standing in the bathroom doorway to watch him peering into the gold enamelled bath. The taps were running a moment later, and Bodie breathed a sigh of relief. "What?" Ray demanded, stepping into the re-modernised room.

"I coated the whole thing up with that gunk remover stuff. You know - guaranteed to shift the muck off drives and rusty iron and hundred year old bath tubs. I took a whiff of it, smelt like acid. Was worried it'd have chewed right through the enamel by now; you arrived about the time I was supposed to wash it off! I forgot all about it!"

"Looks all right to me," Doyle judged. "Looks pretty good, in fact."

The shower was over the bath, an adjustable shower head designed as a daisy, and it was dripping a little. "Tried all the plumbing," Bodie told him. "Everything works. Floor could do with a bulldozer, though!"

"Oh, don't wash it, plant something," Ray quipped. "Want a cuppa?"

"Sounds good," Bodie agreed. "What did you get for dinner?"

"Steak and mushrooms," Doyle sang over his shoulder as he headed for the kitchen. "And chocolate pudding and cream. And red wine. And candles. Don't think we'll eat the candles, do you?"

There were tie-back curtains at the kitchen window, and a plant on the ledge, and he smiled; Bodie had been busy, taking loving care with all the little details... to make me happy, Ray thought, feeling the same old tender sentimentality rise up beneath his heart. It was for this that they had chosen to leave C15 and be together. The sex was wonderful, and they could have made a meal of each other anywhere, but this was the comfort, the security, the peace they had both come to crave.

As we grew up, Ray thought, setting about dinner as he drank his cup of tea and listened to Bodie hammering in the parlour, hanging pictures. The chocolate pudding took no whipping up, and he beat the cream stiff, keeping Bodie's plundering fingers out of it with stern words and a delicate two-step. "You want a job? You can slice the mushrooms."

"Got a job," Bodie sighed. "Got to have a look at the roof before it gets any later. Those tiles did a lot of bashing about last night, and it's going to chuck it down tonight, so says the weatherman. I found some long ladders on the beams in the garage. Better see if anything needs quick repairs."

"Watch yourself," Doyle told him sternly.

"Me?" Bodie demanded. "You're talking to a bloody Para!"

"Jump off a thirty foot wall without hurting yourself, I know," Ray admitted, attempting a pained expression. "Okay, I'll see to the mushrooms."

There was a cursing from outside as Bodie manhandled the ladders into place, and Doyle glanced at the kitchen ceiling as footsteps began to clatter on the shingles overhead, half expecting to see a large booted foot appear, but no such catastrophe took place. Rain clouds were billowing up as he turned on the radio to listen to the news, and Bodie was hunting for food, raiding the fridge as the smell of simmering mushrooms made him ravenous. "Roof's just a bit on the old side," he said, making a large cheese sandwich, "but it'll do for a bit. Tiles are chipped but they're sound enough."

"That's a relief," Ray said, stirring the mushrooms and tasting them.

"Hey, how come you get to sample the nosh and I don't?"

"I'm the cook," Doyle said smugly. "Cook's prerogative. What the hell are you eating?"

"Cheese and salad cream on brown bread," Bodie said innocently.

"But I'll be putting the steak on in five minutes!"

"And it'll be cooking for twenty, and then you'll mess about serving it, and I'll be dead of starvation by that time," Bodie said plaintively.

Ray shook his head in resignation. "You're going to start spreading around the waistline, my lad; maybe we'd better start running in the mornings, to help balance all this noshing of yours."

"Blame yourself," Bodie said offhandedly. "If you were a rotten cook, I'd never get into temptation, would I?"

"True," Ray admitted. "Set the table while you're there."

"Candles and wine in the kitchen," Bodie chuckled. "How romantic."

"Which reminds me - there's a hardware place in the village; if we get some timber we can put in a work bench right here, and that way the dining table can go into the parlour where it belongs."

"Money, money, money," Bodie grumbled. "That hearthrug cost a mint."

"But the light fixtures were cheaper," Ray argued. "Speaking of which, why don't we put 'em up for tonight? Beats naked bulbs."

"After dinner," Bodie said emphatically. "Where's the steak?"

"You just ate a cheese sandwich - with salad cream," Doyle remonstrated. "You can't still be hungry! What have I taken up with, a human garbage bin?"

"I resent that," Bodie said, trying to look affronted. "That's going to cost you a kiss, and it had better be a good one."

Doyle delivered the price for his remark with a grin; Bodie wanted to be kissed, rather than do the kissing, and he took his time, exploring the warm, dark contours of a mouth he loved... and which tasted of cheese sandwich. Which made him feel hungry.

"There, now shove off out of my way," he said fondly as they broke apart at last, "or I'll never get dinner on the table. Go and put some music on, I'll yell when it's ready. Light the fire too, if you like, it's getting a bit on the chilly side."

With the curtains drawn, it was dim in the kitchen by the time the mushrooms were pouring onto the steaks and the chocolate pudding was sending whiffs of promised ecstasy from the oven, and Bodie lit two red candles on the table, popping the cork out of a bottle of wine and pouring for them. Ray slid in on the other side of the table and they touched glasses.

"Us," Bodie suggested.

"The future," Ray smiled. "Cheers, love:"

The food was right up to Ray's usual standard and Bodie wolfed it, finishing off the wine while Doyle put coffee on to brew and produced a block of Dutch cheese, crackers and after dinner mints. They put the dishes into the sink and abandoned them, transferring to the parlour, where Bodie gave the fire a stir and Ray sought out a languid Vivaldi collection, mandolin concertos, feathery and inconsequential, suiting their mood.

Drowsy after the meal, wine and busy day, they sipped the coffee, curled around each other on the sofa, speaking in lazy murmurs and often kissing.

"Forgot to phone Aunt Emma about the fire irons," Doyle yawned.

"Remembered to order coal and split logs," Bodie said teasingly, "and they ought to be here in the morning. Nice having an open fire, innit? Oh, Jon and Bobby came over this morning. Everything starts on Monday, so we need a sign up out front. I told them - tactfully - about us."

"And?" Ray sipped at his coffee and reached for a mint, eating half of it and feeding the other half into Bodie's waiting lips.

"They don't give a damn - our business, not theirs, and all that. And Jon says that sister of his, Barbie, won't mind about us. She's not your fashionable type, but I don't reckon that matters, do you?"

"What, face like a tram smash or built like a steam roller?" Ray asked.

"Built like a battleship, according to Jon," Bodie yawned. "But she can type and add up, and knows one end of a phone from the other, and according to Jon she's a good friend. Doesn't flirt because she knows she's not the type, so she'll leave us alone, and she's got a good heart. Keen on stray dogs, and cats, and people, you know. Kiss me?"

Ray obliged with pleasure. "When does the equipment get here?"

"Ingersol-Rand have got a compressor for us, and the cutting gear ought to be here the day after tomorrow. Oxy-gear and stuff like that. Oh, we might get a cheap deal on gear for a spray bay, too, there some good stuff going second hand; be worth having, if we can afford it."

"Bank manager'll be having kittens," Doyle chuckled ruefully. "Mind you, it'll do him good," he added dryly. "Everyone should have a family... Wouldn't mind getting some cats and dogs - horses too. Like riding."

"So do I," Bodie said with a lecherous wink, pinching a swatch of Ray's denim-clad rump and earning himself a nipped ear.

"Horses, you loon," Ray said tartly. "And if I get a bruise -"

"I'll kiss it better."

"Bloody damned right you will. Every day till it's gone."

"Twice a day," Bodie promised dutifully.

There was it long, companionable silence, and then Ray began to stir with great reluctance. "Got to do the dishes now dinner's gone down. Come and dry?"

"You do the dishes, I'll put the light fittings up," Bodie offered. "I'm interested to see 'em in place, and - naked bulbs look awful from outside."

Whistling as he sloshed the crockery around in hot, soapy water, Ray listened to Bodie's muffled grunts and oaths as he climbed on chairs and got the lights into place - one in the parlour, rosy-amber, one in the bathroom, just a little gold globe, one outside the front door, pale amber, and one in the kitchen, opalescent and colourless. By the time the crockery was stacked away they were all up, and they wandered about the cottage to enjoy the effects of colour, which were pleasing. The hearthrug was down in front of the fire, and the amber light turned the tiger's eyes green- gold.

"Reminds me of someone I know," Bodie teased, kissing Ray's left ear. "Like to lay you on it, one day."

"Of course you would. What else are hearth rugs for?" Doyle said acidly.

Bodie deafened him with a yawn. "Oh, the paint arrived too. I stuck it all in the box room and shut the door on it. Can get a start painting tomorrow - what order d'you want to do it in? You're the artist."

"Artist as in painter, not painter-and-ruddy- decorator!" Ray retorted.

"Still makes you more of an expert than me," Bodie told him. "I've never painted a house in my entire life."

"Well, I helped redecorate for the family once or twice," Doyle mused. "Doesn't make me an expert, but... Start first thing in the morning with the bedroom, because that's where you'll be sleeping, and it'll take all day for the paint fumes to blow out again, right?"

"Mm," Bodie agreed. "There you go. I wouldn't have thought of that."

"You'll learn," Doyle grinned maliciously. "Then, you paint the outside while I whizz 'round the kitchen. I don't want to be cooking among chemical smells either. That just leaves the parlour, and I've got my doubts about doing that on the same day. See how time goes. That leaves the ceilings too, remember. You could have a bash at those while I see if I can sort the bathroom out. There's enough work in there to keep an army busy for a week."

They had chosen to paint the walls in neutral biscuit tones and the wood surrounds in dark ivory, which was more like pale gold than brown. The outside of the cottage would be redone in white, with brown woodwork and eaves, the original paint scheme. Luckily a new damp course had been put in by the agent's people, and the walls would stay dry, which was reassuring, since the river was at the bottom of the paddock.

"I was messing about in the garage earlier," Bodie said as they rummaged through the box room, searching out paint, brushes, rollers and turpentine. "There's timber in there - last occupant must have been a handyman before he took ill and died, and he's left a pile of cured wood, just what we could do with. Book cases." He indicated the boxes of book with one thumb. "Could shelve out the east wall in the parlour, maybe three feet high. Put your precious ornaments and plants on top, stick our books underneath. Records too, keep 'em out of the dust."

"Great," Ray said appreciatively. "And cheap. Maybe an omen - things'll start going our way?"

"Keep your cute little fingers crossed," Bodie said, watching Ray's hands as he examined the brushes and rollers. "And speaking of artistic fingers, we need signs up. I rang the glaziers earlier, when the phone came on, and they'll be here on Thursday to put in the glasswork for the office and showroom. Soon as we have our signs up, people will know who the hell we are."

Doyle gave him a wink. "You leave that to me. No sense paying another artist to do something I can do standing on my head." He tossed the brushes and rollers back into the box and stretched. "I'm tired. Who wants to try out the shower - water'll be lovely and hot by now."

Bodie's tan coloured shower mat went into the bottom of the bath, and the water was scalding. There was not much room to spare for playing, but there was space enough, and privacy guaranteed by the bales of nets and coppery drapes at the little window. Ray surrendered to Bodie's whims and sat on the side of the bath to let him wash his hair, muttering in mock outrage as the shampoo went everywhere. "Sure you used enough? You've got enough on me to wash the bloody car!"

"Shurrup and keep still, I'm enjoying myself," Bodie admonished. "Never have any fun."

"Ooooh, you rotten liar," Doyle breathed. "Never -? What about last night, then? He had a whale of a time." He reached out, stroking Bodie's quiescent cock as he spoke. "Maybe you've forgotten, but --" He chuckled in evil delight as Bodie stirred to life. "He hasn't. He loves me."

"We love you," Bodie corrected a little breathlessly, tipping up Ray's chin to kiss him and getting a mouth full of shampoo suds. "Okay, stand up and get under the water. You look like the abominable snowman."

Ray stood, pressing tight to Bodie in a slippery embrace, and smiled as he felt his lover begin to rub his half-erection against a soapy hip. With his eyes closed to keep the soap out of them, his world was one of pure sensation, hot water, warm, hard Bodie, shampoo-scent, stroking fingers and nuzzling mouth. He purred dreamily, knowing he was becoming just as aroused. "Water's going to be cold soon. Geyser's not that capacious."

"We're done here anyway, aren't we?" Bodie whispered. "Just a tick." He turned off the water and reached for towels, draping one Arab-fashion on Ray's head. "There you go, the Sheik of Cockpole Green."

"I'll Cockpole Green you," Doyle muttered, trying not to laugh.

"I certainly hope so," Bodie said with a sultry look. "But get dry first. Don't want the bed drenched after I went to all that trouble to make it up... Put your favourite to sheets on, too. The silk ones."

Scenes of silk and sin, Doyle thought happily as he dried his hair; the gold silk sheets were typical of Bodie, extravagant and outrageous, and they reminded him of a scene out of a Robert Howard sword-and-sorcery, or sword- and-sandal epic. He finished his hair off with the Gillette dryer while Bodie was locking up, turning off the lights and setting the clocks, and was standing at the foot of the bed, considering the silks, when his lover returned.

Bodie stood in the doorway, revelling in the sight. Ray was still gleaming from the shower and brisk towelling, his hair was a fluffy halo, and he was backlit by the gold bedside lamp, which limned his long, lean body. Angel, Bodie thought, something out of a myth or legend, pagan, naked and aroused. When Ray turned to look at him the effect was doubled. Ganymede, Bodie decided. Zeus wouldn't have stood an earthly chance against this; little wonder that he had turned into an eagle and carried the lad off to Olympus to be the cup bearer of the gods by day and the joy of his bed by night... It was illusion, he knew; Doyle was a tough, hard nosed, hard bitten little hellcat, and a man in every sense of the word. But the illusion was none the less powerful for all Bodie knew to be the truth.

For a moment they looked at one another, and Ray was wondering whatever it could be that Bodie saw that made his expression soften, his eyes become smoky and dark, his mouth betray such wanting. He held out his arms, and Bodie stepped into them, kissing him with a curious mixture of feverish desire and cherishing gentleness. They turned the quilt back to the foot of the bed, and Ray produced a folded towel.

"What's that for?" Bodie asked curiously.

"Wakey wakey," Ray murmured. "Got to keep these sheets dry and clean,. haven't we? Too expensive to abuse 'em. And if I'm going to be screwing you through the bed, as you so charmingly put it - "

"Yes, please'' Bodie said coyly. "Ravish me, I'm yours."

"I know you are," Ray whispered as they lay down; and he began.

Bodie was in a sweet, submissive mood, stretching and growling, not about to lift a finger to aid in the seduction, and Doyle addressed himself to the task he had been set with a will, exercising every bit of the technique he had learned. He made Bodie wild and soothed him back to gentleness three times, until the white, supple body was quivering and sheened with perspiration, and Bodie was gasping like a goldfish, his cock almost purple with the pressure of blood beneath the fine, delicate skin, the big vein throbbing beneath Ray's palm, his balls swollen and stirring with a life of their own. Still, Bodie kept silent, not asking for anything, just waiting to see how much Ray would do... Doyle did everything, and at last, when he bent to kiss the distended, rosy crown of his tortured cock, Bodie caught his head to stop him.

"No, pet. One kiss and I'll be off. Give me a minute."

"All right," Ray panted, sitting back on his heels. His own balls were aching ferociously and he could use the time to get a grip on his control. He had swallowed Bodie's pre-ejaculate, and lost his own while writhing around to pleasure his lover outrageously, and he reached into the top drawer of the cabinet beside the bed in search of the tube of vitamin cream.

Slowly Bodie's eyes cleared, and he came to his knees with a delicious stretch, kissing Ray's shoulder on the way. The cream was cool and moist and Ray's fingers inside him made his mind spin. Silk sheets caressed his face as he waited, and he could hear the husky love-words, from far away, as Doyle took him, gently at first, then deep and hard as they left behind any kind of conscious control.

The folded towel beneath him kept the silk dry and clean, and Bodie gave a strangled yelp as Ray yanked it out from under him, still so sensitive that a caress of any description was as near to pain as pleasure. "Sorry," Ray said softly, kissing the middle of his back. "Ought to clean up before we settle down, oughtn't we...? These sheets, and all."

"Yes, we ought to," Bodie yawned, "so we will make a pilgrimage to the bathroom, and we will be back for a cuddle in five minutes." He reached up to kiss Ray's smiling mouth, somehow hauling himself to his feet as his arms and legs began to work again. He felt like lead, and his muscles shook; he gave his lover a rueful glance. "Christ, you take it out of me."

"You're putting years on me," Doyle admitted, tossing the damp, sticky towel to him and putting the vitamin cream away. "Hurry back, I miss you and you haven't even gone yet." Bodie winked at him and departed. "Love you," Ray called after him.

"And you," Bodie's voice sang back. "It's getting cold - put the damned blanket on."

Ray was still warm from the exertion and excitement of loving, but the air was chilly and the silk sheets very cool against his skin as he slid into them and stretched from shoulders to toes. Bodie was back in three minutes and smothering him, and Doyle took a glance at the time before putting out the lamp. It was just before ten, and he laughed. "Must be the country air or something - I've never gone to bed this early to sleep since I was eight!"

"Long, busy days, lots of loving," Bodie said. "Country air, too, maybe - you always sleep like a log on holidays, don't you?"

"Mm," Ray agreed, delighted when Bodie lifted him up onto his chest and putting his head down on his lover's shoulder. "Feels like we're on holiday, if you know what I mean."

"Will do for ages," Bodie yawned. "We'll get used to it slowly. Shush and go to sleep now. Got too much to do tomorrow."

"Go for a run in the morning," Ray murmured, half asleep already: "Get some fresh air into us before we start breathing in paint fumes."

"Run? I can barely walk, sunshine."

As the meaning of the words reached some part of Ray's mind that was still functioning lie lifted his head. "Christ, was I rough? I didn't mean to be."

Bodie tousled the soft, feathery curls that still smelt of shampoo. "No, not rough, just... Big and deep, you know what I mean. Leaves you a bit stiff for a while. Be okay in the morning, so stop worrying and sleep."

Doyle did as he was told with gratitude, worn to tatters and happy.

It rained overnight, and the sky was a mix of cloud and blue in the morning. They woke at seven without need of an alarm and stretched awake, half aroused and making for the shower to make the most of that condition so as to save the sheets. They were still not properly awake when they had come to a slow, languid climax and turned the water off, and Doyle shook off sleep with an effort as he shaved. Coffee livened them up, and Ray threw Bodie's tracksuit at him, tossing a bottle of multivitamins on top of the garment. "You'd better take two. Or three. You look a bit, um, wishy-washy."

"That surprises you, after this performance we've been staging lately?" Bodie demanded, opening the bottle and swallowing several toxic looking capsules with a swig of coffee as he rummaged for socks, vest and athletic support, Nike running shoes and sweat band. "We'd better start running, mate, or we're going to be next door to bloody invalids soon!"

It was the first time they had run in the morning for a week, and it was harder to face the exercise and get out into the sharp chill of morning than it was actually running once they were out there. They walked down to the river bank, admiring the view. On the other side were other properties, stretches of woodland, private moorings, a slip where a boat could be pulled up out of the water to be worked on. The river was wide, sluggish and almost slate grey, reflecting the partial overcast, but at least it was clean in these reaches, not the sink of pollution it became in the city.

Their paddock ran right down to the water's edge, but along the bank was a public right of way, a footpath or towpath. Their property was closed off from the right of way by a not-dense-enough shrubbery and rank of trees, and if they were going to buy horses, as Ray fully intended, they would need to invest in fences.

"There's a livestock sale in Maidenhead in a month's time," Ray was saying as they set off to jog eastward, away from the village and with the breeze at their backs.

"Livestock?" Bodie echoed. "What the hell are we buying now?"

"Thought we might get a couple of horses. Hacks. Saw a lovely hunter in a paddock up on the road the other day, was dead envious."

"Cost a fortune," Bodie said wisely. "Look, hang on and see how business does. We've got this job up In Lincolnshire, and that'll pay the mortgage for six months. Couple more jobs like it would pay the wage bill for the same length of time. The service pensions we've got between us buy the groceries and pay for domestic things like power and such... That just leaves overheads run up by the garage, and there'll be precious few of those, so whatever the garage makes is ours to spend. Works out nicely, doesn't it?"

It did, and the future looked decent; Ray gave Bodie a grin of shared satisfaction in what they had achieved in so short a space of time, and they jogged in silence, enjoying the crisp, fresh air. There were a few other joggers out, but the world was almost empty of people. Horses, dogs and a few cows gaped at them, and a couple of kids with fishing rods waved, but they saw no one else in two miles before they turned for home, a quick splash under the shower, and a large breakfast.

Bodie was connecting the washer to wall taps in the corner of the kitchen while bacon and eggs fried and Doyle brought out the paint and rollers, and Ray's sudden burst of laughter took him by surprise. Bodie gave him a glance of curiosity. "What's that cackling in aid of?"

"Just dawned on me, love... We've got a washer full of stuff, all the detergent we need, plenty of water, power's on... There's no clothes line!"

There was a post in the back garden and a bracket on the rear wall of the cottage, but no line; Bodie leaned back against the Hoover washer to share the cackling. "Well, it's gone nine, we can ride into the village and buy some rope or something. After breakfast, hop on that bike of yours while I get started on the outside walls."

The sky was clearing steadily as Ray rode into Aston; he took the time to introduce himself and tell the locals what the commotion at 'the old Hopkins place' was all about, and before he had paid for a length of rope he had been promised a few jobs. A lawn mower that was acting up, a car that was misfiring, a chain saw that had broken - little chores that he or Bodie could handle themselves, if not the mechanics. Changing the plug on a lawn mower and setting up the ignition timing on a car was child's play.

Bodie was clad in his old cords and an ancient plaid shirt of Ray's, clothes that could be spattered with paint and thrown away later, and he had finished the front of the cottage when Ray pulled the bike onto the center stand and brandished the clothes line. "There you go, fifty feet of rope. I'll go and put it up and make us a cuppa, if you like."

"Could use one," Bodie admitted. "Painting's thirsty work."

The day was warm for May, and the wind, high up, tore the clouds to shreds and scattered them, leaving the afternoon hot, if one stood in some sheltered nook out of the breeze. The outside of the cottage was finished by lunchtime, and Bodie was spattered with white. He gave the old clothes a look of disgruntlement and jerked one thumb at the interior of the cottage. "I'll see to the ceilings while I'm in this condition - no sense getting whitewashed two days running, is there?"

"More paint on you than on the walls," Doyle said cheekily, flaunting his own clothes, which were - so far - barely spotted, though he had done most of the bedroom and was about to commence operations on the kitchen.

The cottage was full of paint fumes and reeking, and by the time Bodie had rolled white all over the ceilings and Ray had half finished the parlour, they were ducking outside to breathe and wondering how the devil they were going to respirate inside until the chemical stink cleared. Then, as dusk fell, the wind got up, a strong breeze blasting at the rear of the house, and Bodie threw open every door and window in the building.

Paintings banged and clattered, so Doyle took them down, and they stood in the middle of a wind-blasted parlour, having tied the curtains back with loops of wire, drinking tea and laughing. It felt as if they were on the deck of a yacht with the wind in their faces, but the breeze blasted the paint fumes through and out, and by the time it started to rain the cottage smelt half way habitable again. Bodie closed the windows and stoked the fire as Ray tackled dinner.

"You're getting fish fingers and oven chips, and like it," Doyle said sternly, "because I'm knackered. And we've still got to paint the window surrounds and skirting boards, remember. Last job for this evening."

Bodie groaned. If anyone had told him that he would ache from head to foot and feel as if he had pulled every muscle in his right side, just by painting out a little house, he would have laughed scornfully. Must be getting old, he thought, choking off laughter, and wolfed down the humble repast with relish, emptying half a bottle of tomato sauce onto the fish and chips. Doyle watched him eat with slightly glazed eyes, but forbore comment... He was getting used to it by this time.

Neither of them would admit to the other that they were creaking and aching, but the last of the painting was executed in silence with the odd muffled grunt of discomfort; and then Bodie looked into the bathroom on his way out to the kitchen, caught sight of his partner and had to laugh. Doyle was leaning on the wall, rubbing his back and right shoulder, and the look on his face was one of agonized exhaustion.

"It's all right for you to laugh," Ray said irritably. "I hurt. Some of us aren't built like Eugene Sandow, you know."

Bodie shuddered. "If you were, I wouldn't fancy you... And if it's any consolation to you, I feel like one ruddy great bruise myself. How about this: I'll rub you down with Radian-B, then you rub me down. Then we'll have a cup of cocoa and a cuddle in front of the fire."

"Sounds wonderful," Doyle said longingly, and surrendered to Bodie's ministrations as he was shepherded into the parlour, stripped and worked over with the almost odourless aspirin liniment. In ten minutes he felt a thousand times better, and ten minutes later was ready to give Bodie the same treatment. He did not bother to dress again, slipping on his red robe as he went to fetch cocoa and biscuits, and they were in bed by ten.

"Getting old," Bodie moaned as he sank into the mattress and went limp. "Could have ravished you within an inch of your life this morning after we got back from the run, but now... Don't think I could get it up to save my life."

"Me neither," Ray admitted sorrowfully. "We're going to be sore tomorrow." He shuffled over. "Hold me instead."

Sore was an understatement. Ray creaked out of bed at seven to make tea and toast and tried yoga as a cure-all, only to abandon the effort when the pain reached terrific proportions. Being blessed by ambidexterity, he had been able to share the work around between his two hands, and he was guessing that Bodie felt much worse than he did himself, being only right handed. He left Bodie in bed until eleven, reading and cursing every time he moved, then teased him out of bed just before a lorry arrived to deliver coal and wood for the fire.

The cottage looked beautiful, complete inside and out, and Doyle was brushing rust stripper onto the gate when Bodie appeared and made soft, unsubtle remarks about the jean-clad rump held aloft while his lover worked.

"Wave your backside around like that, sweetheart, and somebody's going to lay claim to it... Then lay it, promptly thereafter."

"Somebody?" Doyle demanded with a smug grin. He straightened his back, working his shoulders. "Feeling better for moving around... Pity we can't do something about the grass, isn't it? We're knee deep in weeds here."

"Looks like a scene out of a Tarzan picture," Bodie agreed. "Nil desperandum - you see to the gate and I'll see if the neighbours are in."

Doyle frowned after him, watching Bodie disappear around the trees that lined the driveway. He was going to beg an hour's use of someone's mower? Trust Bodie. If it was a lady who answered the door, he couldn't fail. Ray hid a grin, going back to the rusting gate and searching for an oil can to tend the hinges. As yet, the neighbours had not come near them, which was hardly surprising. On one side, their paddock and the paddock next door separated them from the nearest human beings. An elderly couple lived there and they looked as if they would be terrified of two big 'rough' men who rode motorbikes and dressed in leather and denim. On the other side, the direction in which Bodie had departed, there was a newish house in which a young couple lived; he looked like an accountant or a banker, she looked like an Avon lady, and the twins were dressed in sailor suits - much too nose-in-the-air to make overtures of friendship to two men going into business on their doorstep. Across the road was a half built structure that was going to be big - a doctor's house, said the people in the village; on one side of it was another cottage with an art gallery full of pottery and painted plates in the front and a very pregnant young woman in charge; and on the other side was a half-new, half-ancient house inhabited by a tribe of children who played soccer and rode pushbikes through everyone's garden, with no such thing as an adult anywhere in sight.

If he told the truth, the locals had it in them to worry Doyle; the old, the very young, and the upstanding citizens. How long would it take them to notice that Mr. Bodie and Mr. Doyle did not entertain women friends? Or would they thank their lucky stars that 'the young rascals across the road' kept their elaborate courtship rituals far away from home and so did the neighbourhood a service? Ray hoped fervently that they would assume the latter, because the idea of bricks through the windows and fighting with hard cases at the pub in the village was not his idea of fun. What he shared with Bodie was too good, too beautiful, to be sullied by the disgust of others.

The rust had stripped and been wiped away and he was applying yellow gloss to the gate as Bodie reappeared, pushing a hand mower. Ray nodded in appreciation, allowing Bodie his smug expression. "Nice one. Don't fancy having a bash at the paddock with that, do you?"

"The paddock," Bodie said haughtily, "can look after itself. Might hire a goat or a donkey or something to crop it."

In the meantime, the front garden was a wilderness of weeds, and mowing it was not easy; Bodie worked up an honest sweat and thirst while Doyle saw to the gate and took the shears to the hedge, and by the time they reckoned they had earned lunch everything looked wonderful.

"Mandy says we can borrow it any time," Bodie said, leaning on the corner of the cottage to survey his handy-work.

"Mandy?'' Doyle echoed. "She's friendly."

"So she is. Lonely as God knows what. Husband's a teller at the Giro in Hampstead, travels hours and hours to work every day, best job he can get. They'd have said hello when we arrived but we've had 'em terrified - lots of people don't like bikes, you understand."

"Lots of people don't like blokes who sleep together, either," Ray growled. "She look the funny type - religious or moral?"

"Not especially," Bodie mused. "Anyway, that's a bridge we'll cross when we have to, my pet. No sense fretting before then. Come on, let's have lunch. There's a lorry coming out from Ingersol with a compressor sometime this afternoon, you know, and the cutting gear'll be here soon too."

"And we open for business on Monday," Ray said with satisfaction, preceding Bodie into the cottage. "This afternoon, for my next trick, I shall paint a sign, before your very eyes."

He had bought board, acrylics and shellac along with the house paint and brushes, and the sign would be in the same design as the letterheads that were being printed up in London. Bodie brought beers from the fridge and drew up a chair to watch, and Doyle organised everything on the dining table in the kitchen. Rulers, pencils, fine brushes, broad brushes, masking tape, pots of acrylics and the aerosol of lacquer to waterproof it all.

First he whited out the whole board, then ruled guide lines, measuring out and drawing their logo. With a razor knife, he masked it all up, and Bodie watched, fascinated, as he used a broad brush to block in the bodies of the letters; the acrylics dried while he watched, and then the masking tape was changed over, and Ray was painting the shadowing to make the letters three dimensional. The masking tape came off cleanly and he turned his attention to the background, painting it up in dark blue to throw the green and blue lettering into relief. With a fine brush, he switch to auto paints and went around highlighting in gold. Finally, he took the whole board out into the open air and hosed on coat after coat of shellac.

"There," he said, three hours after lunch had been cleared away. "It's finished - looks nice, doesn't it?"

In fact, it was a minor masterpiece, and Bodie said so, kissing him in the shade of the old pear tree. "Soon as the lacquer's dry, I can put it up. There'll be more signs, of course - "

"Bike repairs, outboards serviced, spare parts, and such," Doyle agreed, "but Suzuki will bring their own signs. Big plush affairs, cost a fortune... What the hell's the noise? Lorry coming?"

It was the wagon from Ingersol-Rand, and two men with a hydraulic tailgate truck offloaded a big industrial compressor. It was already paid for and Doyle merely signed the delivery slip while Bodie steered the men into place. The lorry pulled out again with a thunder of big diesel motor, spraying gravel around, and Bodie locked the roller doors on the compressor.

"One down, one to go. The cutting and welding gear next."

"Lacquer'll be dry," Ray said, testing the sign board with one finger. "Yup, dry as a bone. It's going up right over the top, is it? Won't be all that visible from the road, but don't worry about that. Suzuki will put up a sign you can see for a mile, right on the roadside."

"Worry? Who's worrying?" Bodie grinned. "Look on the bright side, pet; as soon as this place is open and trading, even if it goes bung, you've got a viable, marketable commodity. And it won't go bung. Will it?"

"I hope not," Doyle said honestly. "At least, not before it's all paid for. I'd like to get out of this venture with my shirt, if you follow me."

"Follow you anywhere," Bodie said generously. "Ends of the earth." He rooted out six inch nails, claw hammer and ladders, and they manhandled the sign board into place, taking turns at securing it, then standing back to admire it. "There, now we're official. Nice. Christ, where's this week gone?"

"Up in smoke," Doyle grinned. "You do know we've got the mob from CI5 coming over here for a party on Sunday night, don't you?"

"I'd just managed to forget about that," Bodie groaned. "Damn. Ah, well, one suffers for one's friends, doesn't one?"

"One does," Ray chuckled. "Maybe it'll rain and they won't come."

"Oh, they'll be here," Bodie said fatalistically. "Jax and Murph, and Anson and his bloody cigars; Sue and Ruth, and maybe the Cow, too."

"Jax was telling me he's got gall stones," Doyle said inconsequentially as they headed back into the cottage.

"Gall stones?" Bodie echoed, and laughed. "Could be why he's been so funny tempered all these years." He shut the door and opened his arms. "Come here, I want you." Doyle stepped into his embrace and hugged him, kissing him briefly. "Have to get some wine in for the party; beer too, but if they want the hard stuff they can bring their own."

"That's what I've been telling them," Ray agreed. "Wish the damned welding gear would get here."

"Why so impatient?" Bodie asked, glancing at the time.

"Feeling randy," Doyle admitted. "And I don't fancy getting caught in the middle of it, do you?" He kissed Bodie's nose and drew out of his arms. "I'd better make a list of stuff to get in for the party - get it all in tomorrow. How much beer d'you reckon we need?"

"Gallons," Bodie said philosophically.

The CI5 'gang' were not big drinkers - that would not be tolerated in their job, and hard drinking was not one of the characteristics common to men and women who had excelled in the Armed Forces and so come to Cowley's attention. Still, the kitchen was stocked up with beer, wine of all descriptions and softies for those who would be driving, and by five o'clock Ray and Bodie were doing a final tidy-up before they had to open their home to the world at large. There was not an item out of place, and nothing in the whole cottage to suggest that the two occupants were any more than good friends. Bodie had even gone to the trouble of moving the tube of oily vitamin cream out of the top drawer of the bedside cabinet and putting it in the bathroom cupboard - the less there was to gossip about, the better. His relationship with Doyle was still only he-say, she-say as far as the majority of CI5's people were concerned, and they knew that Cowley would be pleased if it remained so.

A few knew; Murphy, Cowley himself, Jax - close friends and long time colleagues. Murph was the first to arrive, and he had Susan and Anson in the car with him: Anson was smoking, but he stamped the cigar butt out on the doorstep, and Susan had brought a bottle of brandy. She gave Bodie a kiss on the cheek, and Ray a peck on the chin, and hit the sausage rolls as if she had never seen food before.

"Hey, this is nice," Murphy said appreciatively. "You do it all yourselves, or was it fixed up before you moved in?"

"I'll have you know we did the lot," Bodie said indignantly. "Wasn't much more than a ruin when we got it, which is why we got it cheap. Come and have a look at the garage. Glasses, Ray - they're wanting to drink already, boozy ruddy lot." As Doyle went in search of the tumblers they had bought for the occasion, Bodie led Murphy outside into the gathering dusk and put up the roller doors under the RIVERSIDE SUZUKI sign.

Inside, the garage was ready to function, complete with showroom stock, work benches, ramps, the lot. Murphy whistled, walking around the big Suzuki bikes and Johnson outboards. "You know, I envy you blokes."

"Do you?" Bodie leaned on the door of the glassed in office, on which was painted, 'W. Bodie and R. Doyle, Proprietors' and their number. "Haven't even started yet. mate; all we've got here is a building and some equipment, it has to work yet."

"It will," Murphy said with certainty. "You can't miss. And this is the best time of the year - all of summer in front of you." He gave Bodie a shrewd look. "You look happy as a lark. It's working out between you, is it?"

"You mean, um. me and Ray?" Bodie asked.

"Yeah. That side of life," Murph said tactfully.

Bodie smiled. "Yeah, it's working out fine. He's... my other half, and I care more about him that anything. He says the same thing. It's funny; I can't explain it."

"I can," Murphy teased, nudging Bodie with one sharp elbow and winking. "They call it love, Mr. Bodie, sir. And I envy you that, too. The loving... Not because you've got a man, or Ray specifically, but because you've got someone to love who loves you. That's nice. No, more than nice: terrific."

"Yeah, it is," Bodie agreed quietly. "Let's go and join the merry throng, shall we, before they knock off the food."

By eight the cottage was full of people, the hi-fi was blaring , the drinks and food were exhausted and Ray and Bodie had escaped into the back garden to get away from the noise and crush for a while.

"Bloody housewarming parties," Doyle muttered, shivering in the chill. "Have you heard 'em? The whole lot of 'em are talking shop, they've forgotten about us after they've drunk our booze and eaten our grub! And now they'll gossip and guffaw till midnight and keep us out of bed."

"It's the thought that counts, Raymond," Bodie said teasingly.

"They're not thinking about us!"

"That's true. Come on, let's take a walk by the river."

Away from the house, the night was cool and silent, and the full moon of May was shining from the choppy surface. Bomber's moon, Bodie thought vaguely as he drew Ray into the deep well of shade beneath a beech tree and drew him close to kiss him. Ray's tongue in his mouth was a welcome intruder and they leaned back against the tree, pressed together and revelling in the other's warmth, for the wind was too cool for comfort.

They necked beneath the beech tree for a long time, forgetting all about the crush in the cottage, and at last it was Doyle who said, "They'll be wondering what's become of us. Better get back before they send out the dogs and boy scouts." He laughed. "They'll be wondering if we're out screwing in the car!"

Bodie winced. "Nothing so juvenile, please. Haven't done it in a car since I was about seventeen. On the Cape. With a girl who owned a sports car, you know. She wanted to get laid in it for some reason - "

"And you obliged."

"I was seventeen, and I fancied the car as much as her," Bodie chuckled. "Got to start somewhere in this life, haven't you?" He drew Doyle against him and hugged. "The past's the past, love. It's the future that matters - what's done's done, and not worth a damn."

"Right," Ray agreed. "Kiss me?"

There was silence as Bodie complied, and in it they heard a car pull in onto the gravel. "Hullo, sounds like another guest," Bodie murmured. "It could be Cowley - he said he'd try to stop by for an hour or so after he got through with the paperwork." He dropped a last kiss on Ray's nose. "We'd better get back there now, before they do start yelling for us."

At the top of the gentle slope, the cottage was ablaze with light and life, and Doyle gave it a smile, Bodie holding his hand as they strolled back up the paddock from the riverbank to the garden. Housewarming, indeed! The last thing this place needed was warming up; all the love it needed had been there since the day they had moved in, and he was sure anyone who cared to look would see it. Would Cowley? Probably, as Murphy had. Doyle hoped the Scot would bother to look, and be able to see. He squeezed Bodie's hand at the back door and let it go. "Love you. Soon as this lot push off, I'll prove it."

"Promise?" Bodie smiled.

"Promise," Ray affirmed, and led the way back into the light and noise of a housewarming party their home did not need. It was, Doyle decided as Bodie patted his rump fondly as he stepped over the threshold, quite warm enough already.

-- THE END --

September 1986

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