The occasion of George Cowley's sixtieth birthday was a good enough reason for a CI5 bash, Bodie admitted as he surveyed the gathering from the angle of the pub's serving bar. The party had started in the office at two in the afternoon, but the jollifications went back earlier than that. There had been large, and lewd, birthday cards on Cowley's desk to greet him, and a giftwrapped present from the Squad at large which he approached as if it were a bomb. It was a Mickey Mouse alarm clock, and to everyone's surprise, Cowley had a sense of humour after all.

The old man had had a good laugh, perhaps recognising the affections that lay behind the gift, and the awful clock stood on top of the locker in his private bathroom, Mickey pointing out the time. Bodie smiled, remembering the pantomime there had been as Doyle snuck into the Squad room with the wrapping paper and Murphy hunted for scissors while Jax wound the thing up and Ruth and Susan tittered over what to write on the card. 'To George, with love from your secret admirers, Lolita and Marleine'. In fact, most of the senior Squad members had helped finance the enterprise, but that didn't stop Cowley looking hard at 3.7 and 4.5 as if he expected them to be Lolita and Marleine, to the exclusion of everyone else.

Bodie grinned to himself as he ordered another round of drinks and picked up the tray. He was buying for himself, Ray, Murph, Jax and Lucas, but as he pushed through the crowded pub he saw that Lucas had departed and Jax was on his feet, ready to go. Doyle and Murph were crammed into the corner, behind the table, sharing a private 'dirty' joke and guffawing loudly. Can't take them anywhere, Bodie thought happily, envying them the joke.

"Leaving?" He asked, nudging Jax with one elbow. "What about your drink?"

"Just this one," Jax consented, "but I've had one or two too many now, and I'm not a big fan of hangovers!" He picked up his whisky, savoured it in three long sips, and winked at Bodie. "Thanks, chum, I'll see you at work."

"Right." Bodie smiled, sliding in beside his partner and handing Ray's gin and tonic into his waiting hand. Ray was still clear headed, but he was several rounds behind Jax and Murphy and the rest of them. He had been to pick his bike up from the garage after work, Bodie knew.

Murphy considered the vodka and tonic with a jaundiced eye. "Y'know, this is the first of the silly ones." He drank it anyway. "One too many. Maybe."

"Trouble with you," Ray said with a leprechaun grin, "you can't hold it."

"Neither can you," Murphy retorted. "I remember last Christmas even if you don't, mate!"

"Last Christmas?" Doyle demanded, "What about last Christmas?"

Murph was on his feet. "Got to go, lads. Things to do that can't be did if I'm too smashed. See you tomorrow."

"What about last Christmas?" Doyle demanded indignantly.

"See you, Murph." Bodie called as the taller agent entered the crush and fought his way to the door.

"Bodie," Doyle said with soft menace, "what was that remark about?"

"Remark?" Bodie asked mildly, but his eyes were twinkling with mischief.

"About last bloody Christmas. What am I supposed to have done?"

"Oh, that," Bodie smile became positively seraphic. "You weren't all that drunk actually, but since you didn't get the sack ..."

"Bodie!" Doyle had begun to worry that he really had gone over the top with some hare-brained joke. Practical joking was basic to his nature - and to Bodie's, if it came to that. But there were limits to how far one could go in public, and one could easily overstep the mark after too much alcohol -

Bodie hid a grin. "You stood on Cowley's desk and sang When Irish Eyes Are Smiling. In the nude, of course."

Doyle didn't believe him for a second, and merely smiled.

3.7. sighed. It wasn't going to work. "Oh, calm down. The loonies had strung up the mistletoe right up over the phone in the hall, remember? I didn't notice that because I was too busy phoning my bookie, but just about everyone else must have noticed. Susan kissed me, Ruth kissed me, Julia kissed me, and then you wandered up, gurgled like hundred year old plumbing and kissed me too, right on the mouth. They gave me a peck on the cheek, but you"...

Now Doyle gave a delighted guffaw. "Oh, that. Of course I remember that, I wasn't drunk at all, hadn't had much more than half a pint of bitter."

"You." Bodie stopped his hand, glass halfway to his lips. "You were stone cold sober?"

"As a judge."

"You kissed me!"

"You were standing underneath a bloody great bunch of mistletoe," Doyle said, nose in the air, and finished his drink.

"I know," Bodie said, trying to think of a good reason to protest, "but I mean." What did he mean?

"What do you mean?"

"Dunno," he admitted with a shrug, "didn't exactly hurt."

"And I not that repulsive," Doyle grinned. Wickedly, he winked at his partner, and Bodie expected some ribald, ginger remark.

It never passed Doyle's lips because in the same tenth of a second, a gruff, heavily accented voice called Bodie's name. "Bloody hell, Bodie, are you still alive?"

From somewhere long, long in the past, Bodie knew that voice. The Strine was so thick you could have cut it with a knife - Sydney Rocks, or something, Bodie remember hazily as he turned about and saw the man. Yes, that was him, small, bow-legged with a pot belly and a crimson face, big bulb of a nose and a thick, down-dropping mustache.

"Kevin Casey," he said, smiling in greeting, "how long's it been?"

"Oh, ten years, I reckon," the Australian said. "Heard you'd got out of the mercs, joined the Army or something."

"Paras, SAS," Bodie affirmed, shaking the Australian by the hand. "Come and have a drink and meet my partner. Ray Doyle, Kevin Casey - Digger to one and all."

Doyle offered his hand, and the Australian crushed it for him. "Nice to meet you. Any mate of Bodie's and all that. Sit down."

"Can't." Casey said with a shake of his head. "Got a game goin' through in the back."

"Game?" Bodie asked. "Gambling? God, are you still at it?"

"Keeps you off the streets," Casey shrugged. "Make a fair bit of beer money with it. Why don't you come and toss a few yourself, for old times sake? 'Less you've gone and forgotten how."

Bodie seriously considered the offer. "How many's playing?"

"Six of us," the Australian told him.

"How much money's in it?"

"Thousand quid, maybe, if we get carried away."

Doyle blinked and caught Bodie's attention with a cough. "That's rich, Bodie, too rich for us."

"Unless we win," Bodie said mildly.

"Gambling's a mug's game," Doyle said scornfully. "Cards."

"Two up," Casey said smugly, "a proper man's game."

"Sounds vaguely obscene," Ray observed with delicate distaste.

Both Bodie and Casey snorted with laughter. "You wanna go?" the Australian offered again. "Say no now, or forever hold your peace."

"I'll have a go," Bodie said cautiously, digging into his pocket. It was, by sheer luck, pay day, and he had a little overtime pay too, which gave him enough to get into the game. Unless he lost it quickly, but that was doubtful, since he was sure he had not forgotten the trick of it.

"Coming Ray?"

"To gamble?" Ray shook his head. "Got too great a regard for me cash, mate - and I just paid seventy quid to get the bike out of the shop, don't forget. I'm skint as it is."

"You're just chicken," Bodie said smugly.

"Quack, quack," Doyle agreed gravely, getting to his feet. "Don't mind coming to watch you lose your shirt, though. This'll be good for laughs."

They followed the Australian through into a private rear lounge, and Bodie gave his partner a few unexpected insights on the past. Casey was a demolition man, and a good one. He had been a merc, and he had survived, going on to work for several European security services in the anti-terrorist line before quitting altogether, with a lot of money behind him.

The back room was populated by five beery looking characters, and as he saw them Bodie could not suppress a chuckle. "Look at them, they're half way stoned already - I'm going to clean up here."

Gambling was not in Doyle's style, and he leaned against the wall by the door to watch, half amused, half fascinated, as a couple of silver coins were produced. Something like heads and tails, or like pitch-and-toss, he saw. You chucked the two coins up into the air and let them land on the ground, and if they came down right, two heads or two tails, you won. If they came down wrong, your opponent won. Doyle shook his head cynically. It looked like a great way to lose your pay, your shirt, the keys to your car and your holiday savings, in one evening.

Still, Bodie was wearing that look of certainty on his face, so Ray was prepared to be impressed. If the men who were betting against him had known him better, that smug look would have warned them off. As it was, it just tipped off Doyle that there might be more to two-up than pure chance.

An area of the carpet was cleared, and the play started. They were wagering fivers, and Bodie lost the first three, causing Doyle to shudder, hiding an I-told-you-so grin. Bodie seemed unperturbed by the loss, and merely shrugged as he sat out for a few rounds to watch. "Just takes a while to get your eye back in," he said. "I've just about got it now. Haven't played this since I left the bush, remember - and ten years is a long time to go between tiddlywinks title fights."

"Except you don't play with fivers at tiddlywinks," growled Doyle.

"I've played Monopoly with real money before now," Bodie grinned, "you do all sorts of things in the middle of the bush, trying to stay sane."

"So I've heard," Doyle said drily.

With a cheer, Casey won the next round, and Bodie stepped back into the play. The coins spun in the air, and Casey groaned, forking over two fivers into Bodie's waiting hand. Bodie gave Doyle a triumphant wink, but Ray was not prepared to be impressed yet. There was such a thing as beginners' luck. Bodie winked at him indulgently and went back to the game.

Forty-five quid later, Doyle was starting to admit that perhaps Bodie knew what he was doing after all. Now and then he lost a fiver, but as a rule the coins did what he told them to, and the others were starting to groan in dismay. His face was a carefully constructed blank now - the poker face Ray had seen over the card table so often.

Just less than two hundred quid had changed hands, and two out of the six players had dropped out and left. Casey was cursing beneath his breath, and Bodie's eyes were glittering. He loved to win - at anything, games, athletics, living; it gave Ray pleasure to watch him win, and he was wearing a smile. He did not have to worry about his own expression, so let his real delight in Bodie's antics display itself.

When there were two hundred and fifty pounds stuffing Bodie's jacket pockets, and an hour had gone by, the game broke up with good natured bickering. The men were tipsy, not totally insane, they said, and with a thump on Bodie's back they filed out of the room poorer and wiser, leaving the victor counting the spoils. Bodie pulled up a chair to the circular card table and was leafing through the notes, sorting them into stacks of fifty pounds each. He was chuckling in glee about a holiday in Spain.

Doyle pulled a chair up to the other side of the table. "You know, that can't be a game of chance."

"It isn't," Bodie said smugly, "It's a skill, a real skill."

"Which means anyone can learn, if they've got talented fingers," Doyle concluded. "Show me?"

Bodie glanced up with a frown over the piles of money. "Not your style, is it? Gambling?"

"Games of skill aren't like games of chance," Doyle argued. "So show me how. I don't mind playing darts, and target shooting and such, so why not play - what's it called? Two Up?"

"Okay," Bodie nodded. "You balance the coins on your fingers like so. See? Up they go. Watch them in the air you've got to toss them so that they turn over exactly the right number of times, so that they land the right way up. It's just judgement, like juggling. You've got to toss 'em up dead straight, too, or they can bounce when they hit a floor, and wreck it all."

"Oh, right." Doyle said, smiling. "Let's have a go."

The long, artist's fingers took the coins, tossed them exactly as shown, and the green eyes looked down at the result.

"Try it again," Bodie smiled. "Takes a few times to get it. I lost a week's money the first time. Made it back a week later, though. Want a drink?"

"Hmmm? Yeah," Ray said absently, getting the feel of the coins. "Bring it in here, will you? S'too crowded out front."

Bodie pushed through into the bar for a whisky and a gin, and by the time he returned, he was in time to hear Ray's crow of triumph. "Got it?"

"Think so," Ray nodded, pleased with himself.

"Here's your drink," Bodie sipped at his whisky and watched Ray toss the coins again. "Pretty good. You ready to play, you reckon?"

Doyle shot him a surprisingly sober look. "Not for money, sunshine - I'm not that stupid."

"Okay .. play for the next round," Bodie suggested, lifting his half empty glass. "Loser buys the next drinks."

"Oh." Ray shrugged. "Why not?"

Bodie won, and two empty glasses joined the original ones on the poker table beside the stacks of money. The coins seemed to have a fatal lure, and neither of them could resist playing again. Bodie won again, and Doyle gave a resigned sigh, going out to the bar and bringing back two half pints of beer. "I've have enough spirits for one night," he said, pushing a beer to his partner.

To be honest with himself, Bodie was also feeling mellow and at one with creating, and he recognised that as the sign that enough was enough. He gave the rim of Doyle's glass a tap with his own. "Cheers. Want to play again?"

"Not for beer," Ray smiled, "or we'll spend all night in the bathroom."

"Loose change?" Bodie suggested. "50p a throw?"

They turned out their pockets and played for ten minutes, the change going back and forth, slowly finding its way into Bodie's hands, as his greater experience showed itself, but Doyle was quick to make use of his new skills and won quite often.

"That's me out of change," Ray yawned at last and checked his watch. "God, is that the time? Time to shove off home, I reckon. Want some supper?"

"Mmm, sounds good," Bodie affirmed, pocketing his winnings. "You know, that wasn't bad for an hour's work. Might give this job away and turn into a hustler. Cowley'd love it."

Doyle laughed, appreciating the sentiment as he led Bodie out to the car, and on the journey home they joked about card sharping, and river boats, and shootouts in Western casinos. They were still laughing as they took the lift up to Doyle's flat and Ray ushered his partner in through the door. In the kitchen, Ray set about toast and cocoa, and Bodie raided the fridge for last night's leftovers.

The sounds of enthusiastic eating drew Doyle's attention from the toaster and he turned to see Bodie with a sandwich in one hand and the coins in the other. "Put those things away, it's getting too late for that, and I'm too near squiffy," he said sternly. "I'm too near broke, too!"

"So we play for something else," Bodie shrugged, "Um, how about - who gets to write our reports for next week?"

"You're on," Doyle agreed, "I'd give anything to get out of that!"

To Bodie's surprise, Ray won, and was still chortling in glee as he dished up the cocoa. "How about who writes the reports for the week after?"

"Gimme the coins," Doyle said, and tossed them again.

This time he was not so lucky and sighed. "You win some, you lose some."

"Toss you for who fetches the lunch next week," Bodie suggested. Ray had begun to doubt the wisdom of continuing, but he had just enough alcohol in him to make him reckless, and he agreed and won, which made him confident to toss for the week after that - which he also won.

"Damn," Bodie muttered, sipping the cocoa. "I'm starting to think it was a mistake teaching you to play this." Ray just chuckled into his mug, and Bodie studied the coins with a frown.

"Still, at least we're not playing for money, are we?" He laughed aloud then.

"What? Share the joke?" Ray asked, looking up with a mellow smile.

"Was just thinking about something daft," Bodie admitted. "About not playing for money .. Strip Two Up."

"Now that is daft," Ray chuckled.

"Yeah," Bodie agreed. "You .. wanna play?"

They dissolved into a gale of mirth, and couldn't have resisted the challenge if their jobs had depended on it. Bodie won the first toss, and Doyle conceded his shirt with a cheeky grin, claiming the right of Bodie's shirt if he lost the next toss - which he did. They stood in the kitchen with the last of the cocoa, laughing delightedly, confessing that they were having absurd fun, and tossed again.

That toss cost Doyle his left shoe, and he lost the next as well, which cost him the right. But Bodie lost the one after that, and they were in hysterics again, leaning on each other to prop each other up. Bodie was laughing so hard, when he tossed again, that he knew he'd spoilt the toss, and then he too was standing in his socks and giving Doyle a speculative look.

"I'll have those jeans next, sunshine."

"You'll have my left sock, and like it," Ray retorted.

Bodie got it. "Nice and cold, is it?" He asked sweetly.

"Yes, it bloody is," Doyle admitted. "Let's take this into the lounge, before my feet freeze - and yours. I'll have your left sock next."

And he got it. They were laughing hard enough to pull a muscle, and kept laughing until Bodie claimed Ray's right sock and gave a leer. "Right, I get the jeans next, mate, and no arguments."

Doyle tried to frown. "Got a fascination with my jeans, have you?" he demanded. "Or is it anyone's jeans in general?"

"Oh yours, only ever yours," Bodie camped, "and I want 'em. And I want what's under 'em too."

"By which, I assume you mean my purple underwear," Doyle retorted.

"Purple?" Bodie blinked. "Now, that I have got to see." And he tossed the coins with more care than usual, to make sure of the sight.

With a resigned sigh, Doyle unbuckled, unzipped and stepped out of the denim, tossing the Levis over the back of a chair. "Satisfied?"

In fact, Bodie was a little miffed. "They're mauve," he complained.

"And you were expecting Royal Purple, like a funeral shroud?" Doyle bit off a chuckle and struck a pose. "You'll have to be satisfied with what you get, won't you?"

Bodie gave him a long, hard look. "Hmm. Skinny, but you're a nice shape, all told. Nice colour, too."

"You mean that?" Doyle batted his eyelashes. "Oh, damn."

"What?" Bodie asked, preoccupied with his visual exploration of his partner's body; in the lamplight Ray was positively golden, and furry, and slender as a boy, much, much more attractive than Bodie had noticed before. Or had bothered to notice. Or had allowed himself to notice.

"I just realised something." Ray choked off what would have been a giggle, and hooked his thumbs into the scrap of mauve fabric. "Next time I lose the toss, you get the whole show."

For some absolutely inexplicable reason, Bodie felt his temperature go up a notch, and he covered it with humour. "Now, there's a thrill," he said, deep and throaty, and transferred his gaze to Doyle's groin. "Not that what you've got on conceals much, mate. That's practically indecent, that is."

"You mean you're wearing boxer shorts?" Doyle snapped the elastic in his skimpy apparel and folded his arms on his chest. "This I gotta see. Let's toss again."

"And if I win, off they come," Bodie smirked, giving the mauve underwear a raised eyebrow.

"And if I win, I get your slacks," Doyle grinned, "and I get to see this oh-so-decent stuff you've got on under there. Long johns, I expect."

Bodie looked wounded. "It's summertime!"

The coins tossed again, and Bodie lost. Doyle let out an enormous chuckle and flopped down into the armchair, whistling 'The Stripper' as Bodie unbuckled, but Bodie wouldn't budge again until there was a chaste silence. The look on Doyle's face was disgusted. "You're worse than my Aunt Maud, honestly - next you'll be asking me to close me eyes."

"Close your eyes, Ray," Bodie said, in patently mock shy tones, then he pinned on a grin and dropped his pants.

There was a second of wry acceptance, and then Doyle laughed. "Y-fronts, I should have known."

"Practical." Bodie shrugged.

"Old fashioned," Ray teased.

"So maybe I'm old fashioned." Bodie flopped down on the end of the couch and glared at the innocent coins, where they lay on the rug.

Another second of silence, and then Doyle's wicked voice said, "So, what have you stopped for?"

"What have I - ?" Bodie blinked at him. "You want to go, um, all the way?"

"Don't be a prude, I've seen you in the raw hundreds of times. Go on, toss you for it - one of us has to lose."

It didn't seem to bother Ray a bit when it was he who lost the toss, and he handed the mauve underwear to Bodie ceremoniously. Bodie took it from him, running it between his fingers. It was warm. And soft. And Doyle was naked about a foot and a half away. Bodie knew he was pink, but the lamplight covered a multitude of sins, he hid behind a grin and stood back to take a good, long look at what he'd won - the right to look. Doyle put his hands on his hips and slowly turned around.

"Okay, you won," he said with a smile. "Like what you see, do you?"

And Bodie had to admit, with a strange thrill of terror, that he did. If he had seen Ray naked once, he'd seen him a hundred times, but this was the first time he'd actually bothered to take a good, long look, and critically at that. Doyle was, he conceded generously, absolutely, bloody beautiful. There was no other word for it. Honey brown skin, the hint of bone and muscle, the pelt of fur, the unconscious grace of dancer or athlete, the cheek of a born exhibitionist that made him stand there with his weight on his left leg and his hips tilted, flaunting himself at him. Damn.

And then Ray was looking for the coins, bending to retrieve them, and Bodie's eyes were drawn to his buttocks. He felt his temperature rise again and suppressed a giggled at what he was thinking. Stupid really, but.

"Toss you again," Doyle said, juggling the coins deftly.

"Again?" Bodie muttered. Did Doyle sound breathless? No, couldn't be.

Could he?


"Again," Doyle said sternly. "I want them," he added, stabbing an accusing finger at the too-modest underwear.

"Ah, but you've nothing to lose," Bodie protested. "Who says you'll win?"

"Um" Ray agreed, frowning. "Okay, I'll put up the two bottles of beer left in the kitchen."

"Okay," Bodie agreed and won the toss. He gave Ray a smirk. "What else d'you feel like losing?"

"My patience," Ray said throatily, his eyes on the carpet, glittering green. Aware of his own nakedness, Bodie thought, and hoped he was even half as aware of his condition as his partner was. Bodie could feel the body heat radiating off Doyle every time they stood close enough to toss. It was very, very hard to keep his mind on the game, when what Bodie wanted to do was - "Go on then," Ray prompted. "What do you want?"

"Want?" Bodie echoed absently, his eyes somewhere around the region of Doyle's chest and going down.

"Want." Ray repeated, as if speaking to a slightly backward six year old. "As in, what do you want if you win?"

Bodie giggled. The sound nearly knocked Doyle over and he blinked at the bigger, heavier man, knowing that a practical joke was coming, and resolving not to get set up for anything too stupid at work.

"If I win the toss, kiss me," Bodie giggled outrageously.

"And if I win, I get the underwear," Doyle said with malicious glee.

"Deal?" Bodie blinked. Never in a year had he imagined Ray would agree to it, but then it wouldn't be the first time. He thought back to last Christmas, and the place the idiots had put the mistletoe, and the way he had been pecked on the cheek by a procession of girls before his partner had smacked him full on the lips nicely, too.

"Deal," Doyle agreed. "Oi, you look scandalised - it's your idea!"

"You agreed!"

"Well, I mean I ..." Doyle shrugged eloquently. "You're not repulsive, neither am I, s'just a kiss. Toss, will you, the suspense is killing me."

Bodie tossed and held his breath, letting it out again a second later in relief. He kept his underwear - for a few more minutes, anyway. It was hard not to give in to the giggling, and it seemed to be infectious. He gave Doyle a stern look. "Come on then, let's have it."

In answer, Doyle pecked him chastely on the chin.

"Don't give me that," Bodie retorted. "That's not a kiss. Let's have a proper one - or it's no pay-up."

"You want?" Doyle's mobile brows were in his unruly fringe, and he watched Bodie nod solemnly. "Okay, I suppose you know what you're doing. Go on then, pucker up."

Bodie shook his head slowly, smugly, wickedly, and opened his mouth.

Doyle's eyes transferred to his lips, and Bodie watched his partner's throat move in a swallow. A real kiss. This was the time to back out of it, make a joke of it, toss for anything - the last of the scotch, lunch or dinner tomorrow - anything, and Bodie held his breath, hoping against all common sense that Ray wouldn't relinquish the dare.

For a moment they were silent and still, and then Doyle stepped forward, put his hands on Bodie's shoulders and leaned towards him. The hands were light as feathers but they burned into him, and he only barely held back a moan. He could smell Ray, a lovely, clean scent, a mixture of cologne and perspiration and soap and musk, and he basked in the wash of body heat, offering his lips and daring to hope that it wasn't just a joke.

It was a joke, of course, the whole game was a joke - but it was a kiss, too. Ray's parted lips touched his and clung, pressing for just a moment, before he tried to draw back again, but Bodie leaned forward, prolonging the contact, catching Doyle by the upper arms, and was rewarded by a minute flick from Ray's tongue.

They froze as the tips of their tongues brushed, standing lip-to-lip, not moving, not breathing, not thinking, and then it was Doyle who finally surrendered to bind instinct and pressed the kiss all the way home. Bodie gave a moan of disbelief, Ray's tongue in his mouth was like some pagan intruder, not at all like the caress of a girl, and Ray tasted like Ray. Forbidden, glorious, promising a thousand delights he had never dared to imagine. Bodie accepted the plundering for a long time, then coaxed Doyle to accept it in return, and Ray offered no resistance, opening to him and pressing against him, arms sliding around his neck.

It was beyond Bodie's wildest imaginings, here they were, in Ray's lounge, Doyle naked as a jaybird, Bodie as near naked as damnit, plastered against one another, clinging on for dear life, suffocating each other with one of the most avid, luxurious kisses Bodie had ever enjoyed. They were out of air and scant seconds from dizziness when Bodie felt Ray break it, and in a tenth of a second there was a kind of awkwardness between them that Bodie had never felt before, and came to dread in less than a heartbeat.

"Ray he began, "Ray - I ..." Doyle was pulling away, trying to escape. "Ray, no! Don't go!"

"Let go, Bodie," Doyle murmured, pulling at Bodie's gripping hands half-heartedly. "S'bloody silly, this is. Enough's enough."

But, as he moved, Bodie caught a glimpse of what he'd been sure he'd felt against his hip. He pulled Doyle back against him. "What's this, then?" He asked, one gentle hand caressing an erection that was full and throbbing.

"What that is, is stupid," Doyle growled.

"Is it?" Bodie demanded. "Then explain to me why I'm the same!"

The green eyes leapt in startlement for a moment, and one feathery finger performed a chaste examination. "Oh, Christ. What are we going to do?"

"I dunno," Bodie admitted. "But I like it."

"So do I," Doyle admitted, "but Cowley's going to kill us."

"Bugger Cowley!"

"Couldn't," Doyle said heartbrokenly, "I don't fancy him."

With the levity, the awkwardness was gone, and Bodie grabbed Doyle, taking him down onto the sofa with him and knotting them up in a tangle of arms and legs, wanting to kiss him again and finding Ray just as eager. They suffocated each other with it, each wanting more and more, until neither could take it any longer, and they broke apart. Doyle's hands were everywhere, Bodie could only lie still and get his breath back, and then Ray muttered a soft curse. "These have got to go."

He was talking about the y-fronts, and Bodie chuckled. "Toss you."

Doyle groaned. "What for this time? You want the whisky, or the chocolates, or the shirt off my back?"

"You're not wearing a shirt, Bodie pointed out happily. "You're not wearing anything, which makes you pretty bloody accessible."

The green eyes met his warily. "And you want what?"

Bodie saw the wary look and soft pedaled, smiling gently. "Just to do nice things to you. If you win, you get the underwear, if I win, I get to kiss you where you're tenderest. Unless you want me to kiss you there anyway."

"Well, er, yeah, actually I do." Ray said slowly, "but I still want the underwear first. So I'll toss you."

Bodie hooted like a steam train when he won. "All right, you gorgeous little creature you, lie down and let me at you."

With a snort of laughter Doyle sprawled on the couch. "I'm going to get that bloody underwear one of these times," he said - and then couldn't spare the breath to speak. Bodie nuzzled across his belly, kissing and licking, and Ray felt his hips buck, felt his partner hold him down. A kiss dropped wetly on the head of his cock, then another, then a kiss on each of his balls. Then Bodie lifted his head and smiled.

"There you go, I've kissed you."

It wasn't kissing there Doyle wanted, and Bodie knew it just as well as Ray did. "Please," he hissed, "please don't stop."

"Oh, he wants more," Bodie said, trying to disguise the fact that he was panting, and that his mouth was watering with eagerness to learn the taste of Ray Doyle, the texture and the heat. "Toss you."

Eyes misty, Doyle groaned. "Oh, Bodie, stop playing and make love to me."

The compunction was to go to his doom, lured by those husky words, and Bodie held back with a hideous effort. "Toss you. If you win, you choose - the underwear, or I'll suck you."

"And if you win?" Doyle said, soft as a sigh.

"I .. I want to touch you everywhere," Bodie murmured. "Everywhere. You know what I mean." He met the green eyes levelly. "Just touch you, stroke you."

"Then stop talking about tossing and do it," Doyle smiled, "damn, I stopped playing ages ago. And take the ruddy underwear off!"

"Toss you," Bodie smiled back. "Let's finish the game once and for all. First and last time we ever play." He bought the coins and they tossed..

"Had to come a time," Doyle said gravely as he looked at the coins and held out his hand. "Now, for Pete's sake will you give me the bloody underwear?"

Bodie removed the garment with a giggled and a flourish, and Doyle bundled it up and threw it behind the sofa.

"Thank you very much," he said succinctly. "Now, I don't know about you, but I've had a hard day and I want to go to bed."

Bodie blinked at him, outraged. "You mean - you mean you only wanted to get the shorts off me, and - you're a bloody prick tease, Doyle!"

In answer, Ray grabbed him, used a Judo throw to dump him onto the couch and sat on him. "Don't you ever - ever - say that about me, do you hear?" Real anger was glittering in his eyes. "I've flattened men for less! I'm not gay, never was, don't intend to become gay, and the fact that I fancy you could have something to do with the fact that you're my best mate and you're just about the most beautiful physical specimen I've ever seen. Call me a fool, call me a clown, call me old and ugly if you like, but if you have the idea that I'm gay you're vastly mistaken and can go out through that front door and stay out. If you ever call me a prick tease again I'll - I'll hit you, Bodie, I promise you."

Sheer amazement made Bodie hold still while Doyle delivered the furious speech, and in the silence that followed all he could think of was to apologise, but couldn't for the life of him think of the words to do it with. At length, he stroked Ray's chest very lightly, finding his nipples and pinching them to bring them to tingling erection. "I just thought you'd been having me on, for a joke," he admitted, "and now it was finished and you were dumping me. Christ. You're so beautiful I haven't been able to keep my eyes off you since you took your jeans off. You were flaunting yourself, I thought maybe you knew how stupid I was being and were playing a huge joke. Get me going, get me naked with my own game, even if you had to get mauled to do it, and then dump me. Revenge, if you like, for me doing this to you."

"You doing what to me?" Doyle asked, surprised.

"Getting you to play Two Up for clothes," Bodie muttered. "Strip Two Up for God's sake!"

"Oh, I didn't mind that," Doyle said, relaxing. "I just thought, when you called me that, that you thought I was queer, and made a habit of this."

"I what?" Bodie demanded. "You nuts or something?"

He sounded outraged, and Ray had to grin sheepishly. "Maybe I am. What I meant was, I'm tired after a long day at work, and the sofa's too short, and if I'm going to get laid I want to do it comfortably. I was inviting you to come to bed with me. If you wanted to come."

"Oh, I want to come," Bodie growled. "In fact, you sitting on me the way you are, it's starting to get hard not doing just that. Want to move, before it's all over? Because after the amount we drank, I'm not sure I could get it up again tonight."

"Sorry," Doyle said, and moved. He gave Bodie his hands, pulling him to his feet. "You .. really know what you're doing?"

"Not really," Bodie said carefully, "but I've seen it done."

"Kinky movies?"

Bodie shook his head. "Nah, mercs. I used to see a lot of things, but I wasn't interested and they let me get away without horsing around because I slept with a rifle under my pillow. In the Merchant Navy there was a fair bit of it too, but we had a good First, I told him I wasn't interested and he had a word with the lads who were into it, and they just shrugged and left me alone. So I've seen a lot of it, but never actually, um, done it."

"Same here," Doyle admitted. "I was in the Met for long enough to have seen it all and heard it all, but I was never in the mood to try it. Well, no time like the present, is there?"

"Bed?" Bodie smiled.

"Why not?" Doyle led the way, turning off the lights as he went and setting the alarm clock. "Day off tomorrow - s'fortunate. If it's good, and if we really like it, we can have another bash in the morning."

If? Bodie wondered. If? He slid into bed, catching his breath; cool sheets, warm Doyle. "How do you want to do it then?"

"Well," Ray said breathlessly, "as I understand it, there's one or two ways to do it where neither of us has to be .. dominant. I'm not sure if that's a good word. We've always been equal, but in bed .. getting screwed ."

"Ouch, that word," Bodie said with feeling.

"The only other one's 'fucked'," Doyle grinned. "Choose."

"Made love to," Bodie said haughtily. "Doesn't really say it, though."

"Right." Doyle kissed Bodie's chest, licking a trail down to his nipples. "What I mean is, somebody's got to be inside of somebody, and the one of top is going to call the shots, and I don't want to do that first time out, because we've always been equals and it bothers me."

Bodie blinked. "You think that out all by yourself?"

"Yup." Doyle nodded. "Five minutes ago, when I was sitting on top of you."

"Oh." Bodie kissed Doyle's nose, displaying the affection that flooded through him. "And you're right. Well, how about a bit of logic? You're not as big as I am, in stature I mean. You weigh less. Because it is big enough to to.. It's nice, too. Slender, like the rest of you."

"Glad you like it," Doyle said drily. "So I'm skinnier than you - in stature, so what?"

"Lie on me?" Bodie asked hopefully. "I'll squash you if I lie on you."

Ray snorted with laughter. "No more than you'd squash a bird, and you don't give them a second's consideration . But I'll lie on you anyway."

"Oh, ta ever so," Bodie said drily, and then breath failed him as Ray squirmed over on top of him, wriggling and writhing until they were molded together. "Oh, my God," Bodie murmured, bucking his hips and feeling the heat and hardness of Ray's cock slithering against his own, slick and throbbing.

"Stop talking," Ray pleaded. "Do!"

They made a wreck of the bed, not content with being on top, Doyle had to roll over and pull Bodie over on top of him, and Bodie was only too happy to oblige, changing places again and again, until the whole exercise became urgent and desperate. It was clumsy, they were both aware of that, and at length Bodie pinned Doyle down and held him there, to catch his breath. "Just a second, mate, we're going to be all bruises - I just can't seem to get enough need it harder."

"I know," Ray panted, wriggling with the urgency of his loins. "Move down a bit, and fit in against me - ahhh, yeah, like that." He closed his eyes. "Oh, love, that's so good. Push. Again oh God .. harder!"

It was an exercise in physics and leverage from then on, and Bodie had to grin. They'd got the hang of it, and 'good' did not even begin to describe what it was like to wrap Ray Doyle up in a fierce embrace and buck into the unyielding heat of his groin, while Ray moaned and arched up and clung to him, scrambling towards release.

Ray came first, wet heat streaming from him, and the shudders that racked him were enough to send Bodie up over the edge too. Equals in everything, they just collapsed, still holding each other, sweaty, sticky, glazed and exhausted; and for a long time just lay facing each other, not wanting to let go. It was Bodie who broke the companionable silence with a soft curse, kissing Ray's nose.

"Damn. Oh, damn," he murmured.

"Bodie?" Doyle asked quietly. "What's wrong? You're sorry now, aren't you?"

But Bodie shook his head. "Sorry? You couldn't be more wrong. I'm just trying to figure out why I didn't seduce you years ago. We could have been doing this for years! Sleeping in the same bed, waking up with each other //// making love like it's going out of fashion."

"Was good, wasn't it?" Ray agreed. "Once we got it figured out .. never guessed it could be that good with a fella. It's different, you know - you're big, and hard and full of muscles."

"And you're skinny and furry and full of muscles," Bodie added, "and I like it. Like kissing you knew I would." He reached forward to kiss the soft, open mouth again, licking Doyle's lips. "Going to be nice now, isn't it?" He asked dreamily. "Us."

"Could be, if we just relaxed and let it be good," Doyle agreed. "Lots of things to try - it's almost like starting out again! Like you've never made love before and have it all to try. I can think of dozens of things to do want to try 'em all, with you."

Bodie nodded, then frowned. "With me. You blew up like a hydrogen bomb, back there, didn't you? So you wouldn't want it with any other bloke, would you?"

To his surprise, he felt Doyle give a small shudder of revulsion. "Christ, what do you think I am, gay?"

In answer, Bodie scooped up a pearl of drying semen. "Some people would say we were."

"Some people'd be wrong." Doyle said wryly. "It's just us, Bodie this has always been there, or why else did I kiss you last Christmas? Okay, I was sort of joking, but the girls joked about by kissing your cheek. What the hell did I do? I had to kiss your mouth!"

"I didn't mind," Bodie said generously. "In fact, I wish you'd kiss me again, right now."

There was a long silence in which Ray complied, and they felt the impossible flutter of arousal again. Ray drew back with a lush sigh, eyes closed. "I blew up too fast, before," he added ruefully. "Live and let live, and all that . I shouldn't have had a tirade at the expense of gays, should I? I mean, a lot of people have accused me of being queer, because of the way I look."

"Which is why you were on the defensive," Bodie said in Ray's defense. "I called you .. well, you know what I called you. Like, I was not only accusing you of being gay, but of teasing blokes regularly into the bargain." His cheeks became more than a little pink. "I was calling you a promiscuous pervo with sadistic habits. And I'm sorry."

The words made Doyle chuckle. "Apology accepted, forget it. And it wasn't being called gay that hurt, Bodie. It was .. well, the idea that you maybe thought I went with other men. Instead of you." He shrugged. "I know it doesn't make a shred of sense, but that's what I was feeling, now I think back on it. I reacted like a twit and lashed out at the idea of being gay, when that wasn't what I meant at all, really."

"You were just on the defensive," Bodie shrugged. "After people have been calling you gay because of your hair and such .. Nice hair it is, too. Like to stroke it." He wound his fingers into the curls the tugged gently. "Soft. Like to stick my nose in it, too. Come here."

Doyle went willingly, cuddling close and feeling a great wave of tender affection lap about him as Bodie explored his right ear with his lips and sent both his hands to palm Ray's muscular backside.

"Oi, be careful, you'll get me going again," he warned.

"Want to," Bodie admitted. "I wanted to suck you, before, and I was too chicken to just do it, so I dragged the game back into it. Two Up .. Christ. Two Up!" He gave Ray's half erect cock and affectionate caress. "Bloody Two Up!" Doyle's gurgle of laughter was genuine and unabashed, and he arched up to push his hardening shaft into Bodie's palm. "Ray, you want that?"

"Not chicken now?" Ray teased. "You want to do that? Suck me?"

"Course I want to," Bodie retorted. "You're soggy and sticky and you're still beautiful."

"So are you," Doyle observed. "And you're not getting all the fun, either, so shift yourself."

"Uh?" Bodie blinked at the hands that took hold of his shoulders and tried to manhandle him around. "Whatcha doing?"

"Trying to move you, you big - muscular - lump. Move! Right around, go on. At least let me have a go of this, too."

At last Bodie caught on, and scrambled around until his head was propped on Doyle's lean thigh, looking down at the curly head that was considering his own throbbing groin. He saw Ray's pink tongue flick out, licking the sticky droplet from the tip of his cock, and felt the kick of it in every nerve. When Ray opened his mouth to explore it was almost too much, and Bodie lay in a boneless heap of agonized contentment until a sharp finger prodded him in the ribs and he opened one eye.

"Stop moaning and groaning and do something clever with those lips," Ray said sternly, before returning to the task he had set himself.

Bodie had not been aware he was moaning, but he was quite prepared to believe it. He sniffed at Ray's musk, considering the big, steel-hard shaft near his face, rubbed his cheek over it, and licked in experiment. The shudder ran through Ray's every nerve, and Bodie admitted satisfaction. If a lick would produce that much, then

There was nothing in their experience to prepare them for it, and as good as the first time had been, this exercise in tender loving was enough to wear them to tatters, send them back into a fierce, satiated embrace in which the word 'love' was murmured, first unwittingly, and then with a growing astonishment. If Bodie had had the energy, he would have whooped aloud, but as it was all he could manage was a minute cheer, wry and ironic, as he heard the dreamy confessions of Ray's wayward heart. Doyle couldn't even manage that much, and simply cuddled closer, asleep almost before he heard his partner's echoing admission.

Partner? Bodie thought as he slid into sleep. Lover. A lover was a partner too, but there was a world of difference... Wonderful difference.

And vive le difFrance!

-- THE END --

September 1986

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