A Little Learning


The music was too loud, the dance floor too small, and the room too hot and smokey. All things equal, Doyle thought cheerfully, stickily shrugging out of his bottle-green jacket and slinging it over the nearest chair, it was the best CI5 bash in many a year.

Even Bodie, whose saturnine darkness seemed to thrive on elegant little night spots with those damn tiny tables that wouldn't hold two decent size glasses, had, despite loud and laughing protest, allowed himself to be dragged out to dance by the new moppet in Files, and was doing a fairly credible boogie, sporting that lip-sucking grin that was cause for arrest.

Doyle foggily considered that for a moment, grabbed his drink, and rapidly scanned the room until he finally spotted the smooth, long fall of auburn hair at a table on the opposite side of the room. He elbowed his way through the crowd, cutting across the dance floor, and several excuse me's, a few near collisions, and one anonymous grope later, popped out the other side.

The auburn hair was right, as was everything else that went with it, but CI5 had more than its fair share of poachers. Murphy was already there, gazing soulfully into Tanya's eyes, chair hitched far closer than, in Doyle's opinion, proper.

He hooked a foot through the rung of an empty chair at the next table, dragged it over, and joined them.

"Tsk, tsk," he uttered virtuously. "Bodie wouldn't like it. Nor--" he continued, gingerly lifting Murphy's arm from around Tanya's shoulders and depositing it on the table like a long dead fish, "--would he like that."

"You're your Bodie's keeper, is it?" Murphy punned wildly, trying to pat himself on the back, "Or is it--" knowing smirk at the ready "--that you didn't get here first?"

"I would never," Ray began with righteous indignation, but the two pairs of disbelieving eyes that instantly swung his way made him giggle.

It was a good party.

"All this attention is very flattering," Tanya charmed her way into the conversation, "but I think you 'gentlemen' have forgotten ladies' choice."

"Nah." Ray took a drink, hastily swallowed, and snuggled closer to her left side, his arm sneakily sliding in to replace Murphy's. "Not at all. S'just that--" he stroked her cheek, stared deeply into her eyes. "--I can understand how you might want to try it once," he waved airily in the direction he'd last seen the dark, close-cropped head and broad shoulders.

"But--" Murphy chimed in instantly, catching the drift, "-- twice? More than once means you're lacking judgment--"

"Never had a real loving--"

"From a real man ... a man who can be tender, sensual, exciting--" Murphy leaned closer.

"None of the rough stuff," Doyle completed softly, brushing a knee along her silken and not too well-covered thigh. "Bull in china shop's not for the likes of you, is he, Murph?"

"Definitely not," Murphy said perfunctorily, his bleary attention suddenly shifting to a pair of impressive breasts slowly working their way to the bar. His eyes swung back to Doyle's proprietary grasp on Tanya. "I ... I. Excuse me. See someone I must talk...." He scrambed away from the table and disappeared into the crowd, leaving the game to Doyle.

Tanya turned amused cat's eyes, almost shade for shade the colour of Ray's own, on him. "Well, now that the audience is gone, you can drop the patter."

"S'not a chat up," Doyle protested, all sincerity and drunken chip-toothed charm. "Bodie's not good enough for you."

"He's not?" she asked with as much disbelief as if Doyle had just announced that he was really St. Nick.

"Should have thought one of his many conquests would have given you the word on our Bodie," Doyle whispered confidingly, delighting in the unexpected opportunity to drop his partner firmly in it.

"Oh, they did." A remote frown spasmed across her face. "I, unfortunately, chose to believe the locker room, not the ladies." Moisture shone briefly in the cool, green eyes, but it could have been the result of poor ventilation and drifting smoke.

The whole tone of the conversation had changed, and Ray felt a sense of beginning unease through his alcoholic haze. This was a party, and a much needed one at that. He'd come alone; hadn't been dating anyone lately, much less anyone special, so naturally he was chatting up Bodie's girl. Bodie would be doing the same if the shoe were on the other foot, but no one had ever taken the talk seriously ... until now.

The harried waitress supplied him with another scotch and handed Tanya a not-so-pink confection with the obligatory parasol and miscellaneous fruit.

Doyle was more than ready to return to his partying. His favourite dance record was blasting, and his whole body was twitching to the music, but Tanya didn't want to dance and he couldn't bring himself to leave her sitting alone. Now he knew why Murphy hadn't put up too much of a fight when he'd moved in. No wonder he wasn't dating. Women were so--.

Ah, well. He eased back, sprawling in the chair in loose- boned comfort, and nursed at his drink.

"Got it bad, have you?" he asked half-heartedly, unable to think of another innocuous topic of conversation. "Cowley wouldn't like that."

"Fuck Cowley," she hissed, the words ugly in the perfectly lip-sticked mouth. "Cowley doesn't matter." His startlement earned him a fleeting smile of apology/regret, but for a moment her heart was in her eyes. "It's Bodie. Bodie doesn't know, and when he realises, he'll drop me faster than if I had a social disease. That's his rule, the rule I agreed to play by. So--" she stabbed at a floating cherry with the parasol stick, "-- I would appreciate it if you would let me have whatever time I've got coming and not mention this conversation."

Fair enough. It was true, and Doyle knew it. Had seen it. Just hadn't thought about any bird mourning over the loss of Bodie.

"You'll find someone else in no time," he offered awkward comfort, wishing he were somewhere else. The idea of spending the evening in Files was beginning to look good. "You've got class."

"And Bodie doesn't?" she sniffed.

"Unless it's a gun or a car, the man's absolutely ham- fisted."

"That's interesting." The long, lush body shifted away from him without moving a muscle, a female ability he'd never been able to figure out. "I'd've thought his partner would know him better than the rest of the goon brigade--" suddenly her voice dropped to a whisper and she finished quickly, "I don't know how you imagine Bodie as a lover, but you've obviously got one lousy imagination!"

She turned to greet Bodie, whose open cuffs and collar and missing jacket and tie were the only signs that he was feeling the heat. The shimmer red shirt would have been sticking to anyone else, but there didn't seem to be a drop of sweat on Bodie's smooth skin. As a matter of fact, Ray allowed, Bodie looked ... pretty damn fantastic.

His partner dropped into Murph's abandoned chair, peered at them both from under long, concealing lashes, and then grinned broadly.

"Didn't make out, huh, Doyle. Perhaps I should give you lessons." Lips set firmly into the "pity the gollie" grin.

"Bodie, are you about ready to go?" Tanya interrupted, tone and posture a blatant invitation to rape. Bodie responded accordingly.

"Sure thing, love. Let me find my jacket, and we're off."

He set out across the room and Tanya stood to follow him. As she passed behind Doyle's chair, she leaned down and spat, "Maybe you should come and watch. He could give anybody lessons!"

A shockingly clear picture of Bodie draped over Tanya, deep within her, buttocks and thigh muscles clenched in orgasm, flashed through his mind and he was instantly hard, ready to take the first female who walked by. Shouldn't have been possible, as much scotch as was pouring through his veins, but Doyle was never one to look a gift horse in any part of the body.

"Where...?" he peered into the darker corners of the room. If he could get to her soon enough, Diana might be willing ... just for old times' sake.


It was the first word spoken since they'd arrived at the stake out three hours ago, not counting the check-in and other terse comments strictly in the line of business. Doyle, deciding that if his poisonous mood at having been called out of a warm bed to sit in a cold car had eased somewhat, Bodie's monosyllable sullenness would have also, spoke again.


Besides he was sick of staring at the bushes scraggling around the white clapboard house. The obviously empty white clapboard house, but Cowley wouldn't let them budge.


Bodie shifted, wriggling up from his slump-spined huddle against the door, and grunted. "What do you see?"

"Nothing," Ray said, diverted. "Do you expect to see something?"

"You have," Bodie replied, voice heavy with God-help-me patience, "been calling my name like my table's ready. I simply assumed you must have something to say -- or are you just practicing your pronunciation?"

"Didn't things go too well last night, then?" Sometimes Bodie's uncertain temper was very handy for broaching the tricky subjects. Of course, it was also quite adequate for stopping a conversation cold, but Doyle could handle that, especially with Bodie.

Bodie raised an uncurious eyebrow and hunched deeper into his anokrak. "It was better than the usual CI5 raver. Not much help for the 'mood,' though."

"You need that kind of help, do you?" Doyle baited, shivering slightly and eyeing Bodie's thick coat enviously.

The tip of Bodie's ear went red, and Doyle sat upright in amazement, wondering what on earth he'd said to the unflappable William Andrew.

"No, I don't, mate!" A moment's pause, and then, defensively, "Slap and tickle's okay, but I enjoy a bit of anticipation."

Quick flashes of Bodie gently stroking with his little finger, running his hand repeatedly through silken tresses just to watch them settle onto creamy shoulders, curled up in passionate yet curiously passionless embraces. All things Ray had seen on their double dates, but yet things he had never seen. Things he had never paid any attention to.

Bodie's sensuality wasn't hidden; it was just ... ignorable. Doyle settled for the word, not really caring what the proper definition was. Bodie was handsome, no denying that, even though the smooth, almost too-good, good looks had always seemed out of place on the aggressive ex-merc. Not that they ever stopped Bodie from putting the fear of god into any villain he ran in to. And a fair number of ordinary citizens, Doyle added to his mental catalogue, attempting to be unbiased.

Bodie, his face set in that implacable mask, black leathered and black mooded, was not the kind of person you wanted ringing your doorbell in the middle of the night. Nor was he, all suited and suave, the kind of person you wanted going out with your sister, little or big! Bodie was too arrogant. Too masculine. Too ... everything, good and bad.

And yet.

Yet, he was the only person always easy going Murphy wanted to work with. Fair enough. When something ugly was going down, only a blue-ribboned fool wouldn't want the skills of Bodie backing him up, and Cowley didn't train fools for CI5. S'all right, that was no major concession -- but Murphy liked Bodie. So did most of the typing pool, which ate out of his hand and fed him up to boot. Oh, they all talked about his crazy exploits, laughed at CI5's resident madman and took bets on how long he could survive in civilization, but they all liked him. Even chew-'em-up-and-spit-'em-out Cowley had a soft spot for the constantly insubordinate Bodie, took stuff off him he'd've roasted anybody else over a slow fire for. God help him, Doyle thought morosely, even he was genuinely fond of Bodie, and he knew better. Besides there were plenty of other lunatics on the squad, more than necessary, but nobody was asking him. Those nutters weren't singled out for special treatment; so why?

Why Cowley's soft spot for Bodie, and why all the rest? Why Tanya, and why had she fallen so hard? He knew Bodie's spiel with the birds -- just for fun, nothing serious, nothing heavy -- and yet the birds kept coming.

All the little bits and pieces that made up his partner had been Doyle's for the taking for years. Not the secretive past; Bodie almost never discussed his years as a mercenary or the years in the merchant service, but the few things he did mention occasionally were like diarrhetic babble compared to his closed- mouth response to any questions concerning his parents or early home life. Still, his present was an open book for Doyle, who had just never been all that interested. Good friends, partner ... whatever, but Bodie had never fascinated him ... before.

William Andrew Phillip Bodie, as familiar as an old pair of boots and just as comfortable, was going under the microscope and he wasn't coming out till--

"It's going down."

Doyle jerked his eyes up just in time to see the front door of the house close. Then he was out of the car, checking his gun as he pounded across the open street for the security of the nearest tree. He didn't look for Bodie, didn't have to. He knew exactly where his partner was, and when they would move.

Within minutes it was done -- smoothly and surely; and Cowley, damn his eyes, was right as usual. They had turned over enough guns and ammunition in that everyman little house to arm a small country or, as Bodie had so tactfully put it, every weirdo in America.

That, of course, was never the end of it.

Doyle pushed away from the small, paper-strewn desk and gathered their report. Seven o'clock and not a prayer of overtime! Five hours waiting for the deal to go down, ten minutes to take the house and all the surprised inhabitants, and then four bloody hours to gather up the weaponry, pull in the sodding idiots who had thought to start World War III in the heart of London, and then the report!

All he wanted now was to sneak down the hall, deposit the report in the old man's in-tray, and belt out of there before Cowley could find a reason to make them redo it. He tiptoed over to the couch where Bodie was sleeping the sleep of the righteous, the just, and the winner of the toss to see who would actually write the flamin' report, carefully balanced on one foot and delivered a solid kick to the cushion resting just beneath Bodie's slightly tipped up, classic little nose.

That thought, the unending refrain of the smitten in the typing pool, reminded him of his new program, and as he fended off his grumpy partner, Doyle turned into the innocent waif.

"How about a quick one, sleepy head?"

Bodie moaned and stretched, arms sweeping out to fill the small cubicle Cowley so laughingly called their office. Long lashes wavered on his cheeks as he swayed on his feet, looking as though he could easily nip back down for another few minutes. He looked little-boy rumpled and ..., no hope for it, sweet. Was that what the birds found so attractive about the moody, maniacal moron? Was that why Cowley accepted that constant cheek?

"Is my makeup smeared?" Bodie yawned hugely halfway through the sentence, spoiling the line.

"No, mate, I was just wonderin' whether you were quite old enough to drink," Doyle answered truthfully, knowing that the comment would irritate his younger and didn't care for it much partner.

Bodie rose to it beautifully. "Get off it, Doyle. It's experience that counts, and I've got enough to run rings around you."

"So long as you get your afternoon nappies, is it?" Doyle teased, easily avoiding the mock punch Bodie aimed at his stomach. "No time to play, 3/7." He shook an admonishing finger in Bodie's face and almost had it bitten off. "We need to get out of here before the Cow finds something else for us to do."

That threat had Bodie grabbing his jacket and out the door before Doyle could move. "Step on it, then. I'm not staying here."

"I've got to turn in the report."

"Okay." Bodie shrugged into his jacket, reached up and ineffectually brushed at his ruffled hair, trying to smooth it back to its usual neat cap. "I'll get the car and meet you out front. Be careful. If you get caught: name, rank, serial number, and --"

"And I don't know anything of your whereabouts."

"That's very good, 4/5." Bodie rolled his eyes in wonder. "We'll make an agent out of you yet."

True to his word Bodie was waiting out front, racing the engine as though he had just been entered in the Grand Prix. Doyle hurried out to the car and jumped in, resenting the sudden cold snap that was making him shiver in his thin clothing.

"You ought to wear a little more," Bodie pontificated. "S'no good treatin' your body like dirt just to show off for the birds."

"That's good, coming from you," Ray retorted, sniffing huffily. "Junk you scarf up, your body must be bein' eaten away from the inside."

"So long as it's beautiful outside," Bodie smiled, obviously pleased with his answer and himself. Doyle smiled back, acknowledging that that round of barb and thrust was over.

"Where're we going?"

"Taking you home, right? Then I'm headed straight to my place; I'm knackered."

"Thought we were goin' to grab a pint," Doyle pressed, tired himself but ready to begin his investigation of what makes Bodie tick.

Bodie just groaned.

"Oh, come on, mate. You're the young one here. A quick pint won't kill you, will it?"

"It might," Bodie muttered, checking the rear view before he pushed his way in front of a fast-moving lorry. "What's up?"

"What do you mean?" Doyle countered, turning away so that Bodie couldn't see the irrepressible smile breaking across his face. It was so easy to get to his partner, it was pathetic, it was. If the big, bad boy of CI5 thought he didn't want to be alone, Bodie would spend the rest of his life in Doyle's company. Conning him into a quick drink .. or three or four ... was child's play.

"Nothin's up." He allowed a wistful note to enter his voice. "Forget I said anything." He turned away, stared moodily out the window, and watched Bodie's reflection in the glass.

"Where'd you want to go, then?"

"I said forget it," he repeated stonily, then waited. The minute Bodie took his eyes off the road and turned to him, he also turned and smiled apologetically. "Sorry. Why not the White Owl. It's close and it's quiet. I won't keep you long. Just a drink ... maybe a little dinner."

"Right. It's just ahead. S'nice place."

It was a nice restaurant/bar. Not too expensive, so Doyle could offer to pay for dinner -- putting it down to the cost of research -- and not be too chuffed if Bodie selfishly accepted. Not too fancy, so they could get in without suits and ties. It also had the advantage of not being a party place. Most of the clientele came in in groups or as couples, so neither he nor Bodie would be tempted to spend their time together checking out the available/accessible.

It was, however, a very attractive blonde, not too well occupied by her date for the evening who gave Doyle an opening.

"Nice, that," he said, nodding in the direction Bodie's eyes had already taken, noting the looks passing between the woman and his partner.

"Most definitely," Bodie smirked agreement, still busily playing the fool to a responsive audience.

"What'd'you see in her?"

"Oh, come off it, Doyle. That is definitely easy on the eyes ... even your poor, pop-eyed self can see that." Bodie turned back to the table with a fond "we should have met first" farewell smile for the blonde, who simpered in return.

"I'm serious," Doyle persisted. "Why are you attracted to her ... is it all just looks?"

"No," Bodie said from behind the menu. "But -- the scampi looks good -- it's a place to start, innit? What's wrong, Ray? Some bird giving you a little trouble?" he continued kindly.

"I don't follow." Doyle found that suddenly he too was very interested in the menu; the idiot grin he couldn't seem to supress would instantly alert Bodie to the fact that his partner was up to no good.

"Just meant that lately you don't seem to be your usual randy self. S'not good for you not to get about, you know." All smug wisdom, Bodie leaned across the table and blithely punched Doyle's shoulder. "You pining away for some fairy tale princess? You haven't had a date in months, unless," the dark eyes sharpened, "you've been keeping something from your Uncle Bodie?"

"Nah, it's true," Doyle allowed, easily sidetracking into this new discussion. It had strong possibilities. "I ... I've just gotten tired of the game. Time to take a breather and get back into it when I'm ... fresher." He left the line dangling for Bodie to hop on, and true to form, he did.

"Any fresher, mate, and they'll think you're still hanging on the vine."

Fine. Let Bodie get all the sarky remarks out of his system before Ray made his pitch. Bodie would have a hard time trying to be sympathetic when he was working at being witty.

The waiter scrambled over to take their order, and the conversation was lost in the process of getting food and drink to the table. Almost finished with his excellent vegetable linguine, Doyle tried again.

"Don't you ever get ... fed up with the same old spot 'em, seduce 'em, and screw 'em," he asked, pathetically sighing and keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the table cloth.

"Doesn't have to be like that." Bodie pushed his absolutely clean plate away from the edge of the table, and rubbed an appreciative hand over his stomach. "That's just the start, unless you want the one-night, scratch-an-itch kind of thing. As a matter of fact," he said, watching Doyle closely, "I'm surprised to hear you put it that way. Bluntness is more my style when you're not bein' ratty. I thought you were into woo 'em and win 'em. Nothing so crass as fucking." His lip lifted in a disdainful sneer as he daintily extended his little finger and lifted his wine glass for a miniscule sip.

Doyle's "we are not amused" was ruined by the laugh that escaped him, yet at the same time he was rather disconcerted by Bodie's image of him. Maybe they would both learn some lessons in the next few weeks.

"You great, daft clown," he hissed. "Pack it in before the waiter thinks he's serving an invasion of poofs!"

"Tough," Bodie's answering smile was vicious. "Even fags have to eat. Fags also like dessert," he hinted pointedly.

"What ever makes you happy, sweetheart," Doyle lisped, only to find his part of the joke falling absolutely flat as Bodie leaned toward him, all trace of humour gone.

"Come on, Ray. What's wrong?"

"It was a joke, Bodie," Ray said, exasperation in every line of his body. It wasn't like Bodie to be threatened by gay jokes. His macho mentality would survive bein' caught in a flamin' bathhouse! Besides, he had started it. "I don't have any plans for your body!"

"I know that, stupid!" The words came out louder than expected, and Bodie visibly calmed himself before the hostess could do more than look up from her reservations book. "But the rest of it ... buyin' me dinner when everyone knows you'd rather sell your mother than part with a quid. The way you've been ... I don't know ... out of things lately."

The awkward concern was rather touching. It was nice to know that people cared; it was nice to know that Bodie cared, but the opportunity was just too good to pass up.

"Oh, I don't know. Just feel at loose ends these days. Nothin' to do, and nobody to do it with." He signalled for the waiter.

"Well, for starters, why don't you join Tanya for the tennis meet on Sunday," Bodie offered. "It wouldn't be gooseberry," he quickly added, anticipating a protest that Doyle wasn't about to make. "Just a chance to get your head out of the sand and back into the real world."

"Thanks. I'd like that." Doyle made his smile as hesitatingly sweet as he judged Bodie could bear. "If you don't think Tanya would mind."

"Nah," Bodie said attention already turning to the dessert tray displayed so temptingly in front of his nose. "She won't care. Likes company, that girl does."

He was going to retire and become a prune.

No. Couldn't retire, not here. This was CI5's shower, available only by the grace of George Cowley's recognition of what could happen to a man after spending two days in the same clothes. The only way he could stay in the shower forever, which was exactly what he intended to do, was to see if he could have his classification changed from field agent to official shower tester.

You see, Mr. Cowley, sir, some villain could sneak in and put poison in the shower heads ... drugs in the water system ... broken glass on the shower stall floors. I could be the guinea pig, so to speak. Constantly testing the shower. An invaluable effort that could save the flower of CI5!

Eyes squeezed shut, shampoo suds bubbling down his face, the water temperature just right, and his fertile iamgination supplying the expression on Cowley's face should half of his top team request reassignment to the showers all combined to make Ray Doyle a very happy man ... until an accurately aimed towel, heavy with water, cracked across his defenseless behind.

"Bodie!" he howled, frantically trying to rinse the shampoo out of his thick hair. "Bodie, you stupid sod! I'll kill you!"

"In the interest of fair play and justice for all -- not, I might add, the charter of CI5 -- I cheerfully and willingly take full responsibility and much deserved credit for my crime."

It was Murphy.

By the time Doyle had finished rinsing and cursing, the lanky solo agent was undressed and under the next shower head, busily soaping up.

"Why are all you bastards so bloody childish?" Ray dripped out of the shower, wrapped one towel around his waist and, with another, began to squeeze the excess water out of his hair.

"We are high-spirited," Murphy corrected, burbling in the low-pitched, pedantic tones of Dr. Hedley, "because we face danger and death on a daily basis. We live and breathe on the razor's edge, and thusly find boisterous ways of relieving our tensions. And mentioning boisterous," Murphy dropped the imitation, "where is your strapping baby boy?"

"Bodie's processing the half-wit we just picked up. I'm the one who caught the contents of his rubbish bin, so...." His voice, already muffled by the towel, trailed off, and he stopped rubbing, watched Murphy thoughtfully. "What makes you think I know where Bodie is? According to the duty board, we're off."

A minute under the unwavering green, and Murphy hastily turned his face up into the shower spray, then almost drowned himself when he started to answer. "Uh, ... well, everybody knew you and Bodie were closer than most, but for the past few weeks, mate, you've been like his bloody shadow. Tanya'd like to string you up by your thumbs, not to mention less accessible parts."

Ah, yes. The sexy, silky, so very desperate Tanya. He'd finally managed to take her up on her instantly regretted invitation, even though it had taken almost a month to manoeuver Bodie into the proper frame of mind where his partner thought it was his idea. Doyle shifted, sliding the rough towelling against his suddenly fevered skin. The memories of that wild night, with the four of them crawling all over Bodie's king-size bed and each other, were enough to make his cock stir and lengthen of its own volition. Better not to think about that time, at least not when Murphy was hanging around watching with innocent, but trained eyes.

"Everybody noticed, did they?" Then what does everybody think?" Doyle grinned cheerfully, casual air encouraging the flow of information; but inside he was raging. It looked like his disinterest in the gossip grapevine flourishing in the office had finally caught up with him.

"Half the lot decided you've just now realised you have to keep a closer eye on our wld man. Bodie, god love him, does get into a fair amount of mischief."

"And the rest?"

"Uh... uh." Murphy seemed quite busy with the soap, with the shampoo, and then with the soap again, but Doyle waited him out. "Uh, there were ... some thought living in each other's pockets wasn't enough, so you're ... experimentin'. Working on getting into each other's skin. Can't function in the real world without your better half, and so forth."

That was a facer.

Couldn't live without him? Hell, Ray Doyle had managed just fine on his own long before Bodie had conned his way into CI5, and would always be able to manage without him. Certainly they worked well enough together, very well indeed sometimes; but he'd had good partners on the force and he'd also done all right with the other members of CI5 he'd been teamed with. If anyone needed the partnership, it was Bodie, Doyle decided, easily dismissing the numerous times Bodie had headed up one end of an operation while he'd taken the other. They were simply a team. A good team. They worked well together.

They also played well together, he realised. The last weeks were a blur of good times with Bodie, whose undemanding company never proved as tiresome as most people's. Bodie could be ... fascinating, a lot of fun. He was full of an unexpected zest for the simpler pleasures, and his wicked, irrepressible sense of humour enlivened the most routine of moments.

Still, he didn't need his partner outside of work, and he certainly couldn't have the world watching him while he was watching Bodie. Something would have to be done about that.

"It was an ... an experiment," he picked up on Murphy's wording. "In close living. One of Cowley's bloody ideas," he lied, blithely throwing his boss's reputation to the wolves. "But s'done now. And it didn't work." He dove back under the towel, extraordinarily irritated by the wet still dribbling down his neck. "How about a quick one when you get out? That is, if the length of time you've been hangin' about in there doesn't mean you've got a date?"

Murphy turned off the tap, sighed regretfully, and reached for his own towel. "Nah I'm on my own tonight. But how will Bodie know how to find us?"

"He won't!" Ray muttered under his breath, and jerked open the door to his locker.

Not true.

Before they were halfway down the hall, Murphy had spotted Bodie's broad back propped against the door to the typists' pool and, in Doyle's opinion, much like a baby chick spotting its mother, began warbling Bodie's name as he made a beeline for him, tugging Doyle along in his wake.

"We're going for a pint, Bodie," Murphy said, linking his arm through the leather-jacketed one so that he formed a centerpiece for the two partners.

"Comin' between a man and his mate?" Bodie stated dryly, shrugging free. "Not nice, Murph. There is such a thing as proper etiquette, even in this mob."

"Put it down to aberrant behaviour," Murphy camped. "Just can't resist you."

Doyle promptly stopped listening, and didn't even hear Bodie's reply. Jokes about homosexuals had really begun to pall on him lately, and watching his latest manoeuver go up in smoke because of Murphy's bonhommie had him ready to kill somebody. The only thing stopping him was he simply couldn't decide whether Bodie or Murphy was more deserving of his wrath, or whether he should just give up the whole thing and kill them both.

The group continued down the hall, growing in size as other off-duty agents and secretaries heard the noisy chatter and joined in. Before they reached the front door, Doyle's quick drink had turned into a party of twenty, all headed for the Green Man. He was tempted to leave, but unusually self-conscious, didn't want anyone to think he was miffed because he couldn't be alone with Bodie.

Drinks were ordered and handed out, and the decibel level was steadily rising before Doyle noticed that the very quiet person next to him was Tanya.

"Haven't seen you around lately."

"Well, he couldn't seem to handle us both," she said expressionlessly, but she seemed to be addressing his adam's apple, not quite able to look him in the eye.

"Maybe you just weren't enough for him." Intentionally cruel, but then she didn't much like him anyway and, after spending some time with her, he'd found he didn't care for her artificially sweet personality either.

"I misidentified the competition." This time she stared directly at him, a wry twist to her mouth. "I didn't realise you wanted him too. If I had, I'd've--"

"What the hell are you on about?" Doyle interrupted quickly, careful that his voice shouldn't carry to the people on either side. "If you can't hold him, that's your problem. It's got nothing to do with me!"

"I wasn't trying to be difficult," she said with an earnestness that made him realise what a good agent she probably was. "I simply meant that if I had known that you two had something going, I wouldn't--"

"Somethin' going!" he exploded, voice rising enough to pull the room's attention to him. Bodie turned from the bar where he had been in deep conversation with McCabe, and the chatter at other tables stilled as the crowd prepared to be entertained by what looked to be a lover's quarrel.

"Sorry," he grinned at no one in particular and turned back to her, hunching a shoulder at the crowd so that they were to all intents private in the overflowing room. "Bodie and I do not have something going," he continued, each word carefully enunciated between clenched teeth.

"Oh." The cool emerald eyes offered him spurious sympathy. "Why don't you tell him how you feel. Bodie cares about you a lot. Perhaps--"

"I don't feel." Ray reached for a fortifying drink and found that his glass was empty. Again with the damn Bodie business. Maybe going out for a few with the other fellows wasn't going to be enough.

"Bullshit," she snapped, losing her finishing school tones. "I watched you that night ... almost as much as you watched him. You turned on to him."

Doyle struggled to contain his temper, felt his face hardening to a threatening mask that couldn't begin to indicate the depth of his rage. His stupid but seemingly harmless prying was proving to be anything but; and it looked as though the vengeful bitch's opinion of the relationship he had or wanted with Bodie was now common locker room gossip. Once, just once, he had considered trying it on with Bodie ... years ago when he first met the man. He had considered the same thing with others, with those few males whose physical appearance happened to attract him. But those were private considerations, fantasies really except for one late-adolescent fumbling reality. They were private, reactions that were a reflection of his very sensual nature -- not grist for those who hoped or needed to understand Ray Doyle. His life was not an open book. Had never been, and he wasn't about to change it now. Not for CI5, not for Cowley ... not even for his partner.

"I was feeling randy," he whispered, throat straining in an effort not to shout at her. "I would have turned on to anything I could fuck. I did you, didn't I?"

"As best you could manage, I suppose," she struck back.

"Considering what I was looking at," he began, but was interrupted by the appearance of two drinks on the table in front of them.

"I declare this round a tie," Bodie said sweetly. "All blows were below the belt, and no one insisted on being a gentleman or ... a lady."

Two angry red spots appeared on Tanya's cheeks, and her hands were shaking as she fumbled for her purse. "Thanks for the drink," she said to Bodie as she rose. "I ... to the victor belong the spoils." She pushed from the room, shoving into a couple of people in her haste, but the convivial crowd simply re- formed behind her and the party went on.

"Me thinks she doth not like you, Raymond, old son," Bodie twinkled. "You been trying to get her for a private replay?"

"Nah." Doyle sipped at his drink, trying not to let the anger show. "Too temperamental for me. Don't know how you stood it."

"She is that, right enough. However," Bodie cocked one suggestive eyebrow in the direction of the door, "she did have a way with ... words."

"Only if you're a deaf-mute."

"Nasty that is." Bodie's mouth worked, but the thin-lipped grin still escaped. "I reel 'em in with my beautiful body; I keep 'em with my brains."

"Oh. I was wondering where you kept them," Doyle grimaced, shoving up from the table just as Bodie made to sit down.

"Where're you off to, then?" Bodie said, surprise freezing him for a moment before he smoothly lowered himself into the vacant seat.

"Talk to somebody else," Doyle said, not having to fake the asperity in his voice. "Spent the whole bloody day with you, for god's sake. I wouldn't mind a little less of the buddy-buddy."

"They won't be as fascinatin' as yours truly," Bodie answered jocularly, but Ray could feel the puzzle and the worry in the clear blue eyes as they watched him join Dolan at the bar.

Some very long minutes of trying to pretend that he was the original hail fellow well met had him gulping scotches like water; neither good for his body nor his wallet but he couldn't leave. Needed to hang about long enough to let the world know he wasn't smarting from his altercation with Tanya. Besides Bodie had driven them to work today.

Just as he had made up his mind to drag his partner away from the group Bodie was so successfully entertaining judging from the shouts of laughter coming from that corner, even though he'd probably have to put up with another round of not so cute comments on the nature of friendship, Diana inserted herself in the tiny space between Ray and the stranger on his other side.

"It's been a while, Ray," she smiled, the softness of her arm brushing a trifle harder than necessary, even in the crush, against his.

"That it has," he agreed quickly, pressing back and eyeing her lush charms appreciatively. "Not since the party."

"Thought maybe you'd gone off me."

Or off girls? Was that how the sentence was to be completed?

Didn't matter. Doyle quickly finished his drink, and turned to pull her full against his own body, letting the insistent hardness of his erection answer for him. "I don't," he said huskily, resting his lips against her ear so that every word was a tiny, little kiss, "have my car."

"If that's for me," she replied, grinding heavily against him, "we can use my car ... and my flat."

"Fair enough." He winked at Dolan and ushered Diana out, not bothering to tell Bodie he was gone.

Somehow the knock was harder than it should have been, and by the time Cowley had shouted him in, Doyle was sucking on knuckles, feeling like a backward child who couldn't find his thumb.

"Well, finally!" Cowley's glare sharpened and focused on the empty doorway, then darted back to Doyle's face. "Where is he?"

"Where's who, sir?"

"Don't play the fool, 4/5," Cowley's voice softened to that dangerous Scots burr. "That's Bodie's forte, and I want to know where he is."

Doyle knew better than to budge, although he wanted nothing so much at that moment as to walk out and slam, not shut, the door in the old bastard's face.

"Dunno, sir. Did you send for him?" he said, cheeky grin pasted on just to annoy.

Cowley's face contorted, a sure sign of anger, and he limped from behind the big wooden desk, legal-sized folder pointed at Doyle like a gun. Ray noted the white-knuckled fist pressed to the bad leg and inwardly groaned. If he'd known Cowley's leg was playing havoc, he'd've carried Bodie into the office on his back.


"Sorry, sir. Just didn't realise. I'll get 'im. Right away."

"Close the door, Doyle."

He turned and carefully eased the door to, knowing better than to kick it shut from where he stood. Stupid! Bloody stupid! And all that damn Bodie's fault, as usual. Even in absentia, the man was a complete nuisance.

"Sit down, Doyle."

Quiet, patient voice, and the head of CI5 was on a plumb line for the malt scotch. He was going to be offered a wee dram instead of the blistering dressing down he deserved.

Cowley handed him a drink, slate washed eyes smiling, and Doyle wildly wondered whether the liquor was poisoned, but he lifted his glass in response to Cowley's and poured its content straight down. The glass was empty before his body or his mind accepted what he'd done, and suddenly he was coughing and desperately trying not to spew his precious malt back at his boss.

"Ach, man--" an iron hand slammed at his back, knocking him halfway out of the chair, "--have you forgotten how to drink, too!"

"No, sir," he wheezed, bracing himself for the next spine- breaking slap. "Down ... down the wrong pipe."

Eyes streaming, he forced himself to sit upright against the chair back before Cowley could thump him yet a third time. Already he was going to have healthy bruises on his back in the morning.

The old man propped a hip on the edge of his desk and rubbed at his game leg. Normally piercing eyes took on that far-away, don't bother me, I'm thinking look, and Doyle used the respite to pull himself together. As soon as he could breathe without gasping, he felt the warming heat of the liquor easing him into a form of relaxation he'd become more and more familiar with in the past few weeks.

The scotch bottle clicked against the glass he hadn't been aware he was still holding.

"Get it down properly this time," Cowley advised. "It's meant to be savoured."

"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir." Doyle immediately dropped his gaze to the smooth surface of liquor, hoping that the coming interrogation had been postponed. It was possible that Cowley would decide to wait and see if the team of 3/7 and 4/5 could get iself straightened out.


So much for hope.

"It would seem that you and Bodie have cut down on your after-hours shared activities."

It was not a question, but there was a clear requirement to answer.

"Yes, sir. It seemed like a good idea, ... give us something different to talk about on stakeouts." He was rather proud of the sincerity with which he delivered that absolutely meaningless answer, but Cowley wasn't buying.

"Whose idea was it, yours or Bodie's?"

"We agreed that--"

"Yours or Bodie's?"

Very uncomfortable under that allknowing gaze, Doyle didn't answer. Cowley pushed away from the desk and returned to his chair, each movement of his cripped leg appallingly slow.

"Never mind. It was yours, Doyle."

Naturally. But was it Cowley's impression that Bodie never had ideas, or was he trying to say that Bodie couldn't have done something so ... so arbitrary?

"How did he get up your nose this time?"

"He's not up my nose -- but we're not Siamese twins, either, are we?" Doyle snapped, and added a belated "Sir" at the instantly raised eyebrow.

"You are partners." Cowley was at his blandest and therefore, as Doyle full knew, his sneakiest.

"So are Davis and Holly, but they aren't treated as a matched set. Where's your other half? Where's your better half. Hey, organ grinder, where's the monkey?" He jammed impatient hands through thick curls, and angrily shook his head.

"No," Cowley agreed grudgingly. "Not too many men have what you and Bodie have."

For a moment, Doyle actually thought he heard the merest trace of a long suppressed wistfulness in the old man, but that idea was too fanciful to be up for serious consideration.

"Bodie and I are a team -- but only because you made us a team. You've told us that often enough."

Cowley sipped at his drink, pursed his lips as though he were drinking a particularly nasty medicine.

"You're a bright one, 4/5; sharp with it. But you've got a blind spot where Bodie is concerned."

"If I may disagree--" Body strung taut; jaw muscles twitching.

"No, you may not." Cowley poured himself another scant inch, pointedly recapped the bottle. "I could have partnered you with anyone, and Bodie was a fair shot to make it solo. Yes, I made you a team." His voice dropped away, distanced somehow as though he were talking to himself. "There was ... potential ... there. A once in a lifetime thing ... if you're lucky."

"And were you lucky, sir?" Doyle asked quietly, feeling very privileged at seeing this well hidden side of the almost enigmatic head of CI5.

Cowley frowned at the amber liquid, hesitated so long that Ray thought he wasn't going to answer.

"Very," he said finally. "Very, very lucky, but I was too blind to see." He cleared his throat, dismissing whatever emotions had thickened his voice. "But at least I was consistent about it, Doyle!" he barked. "You're as wishy washy as a vaporish female."

Right. That's probably what it looked like; maybe that's what it was. Still because it was Cowley Doyle tried to explain what he hadn't yet been able to explain to himself.

"Wasn't so bad at first. We had to learn each other and--" laugh of memory, "--that wasn't half a job with Bodie."

"Aye," Cowley said, "That was the challenge for you -- the puzzle of Bodie. You couldn't help but be fascinated, no matter how much he got on your nerves."

Involuntary protest, but--

"Don't deny it, man," Cowley continued crisply. "You'd have the brains out of him and sift through them with your bare hands if you could. You'd try it with anyone."

Ray sighed and retreated to the file cabinets, leaning against them for security. "You make me sound like a ghoul."

Cowley thought about that for a second, then nodded. "If you like. You've been called worse. You'll be called worse ... if you survive." Catching the expression on Doyle's face, Cowley slammed his hand against the desk and sat up, chair squeaking angrily at the sudden movement. "Don't come the wounded waif with me, 4/5! You know damn well your constant need to be poking and prying is one of the reasons I chose you for this operation."

"Me brains and Bodie's brawn, is it?"

"Our sleepy-eyed, forever tactless Bodie? He's no so big and a good deal brighter than most. He--" Cowley stopped abruptly and glared at Doyle, who responded with a look of perky interest laced with just a dash of puzzlement.

The old man chuckled and raised an admonishing finger. "Very good, Doyle, very good indeed ... but not good enough. I believe we were discussing your relationship with 3/7, not his somewhat unique personality."

"I don't have a relationship with Bodie," Ray blurted defensively, before he realised that he had overreacted to the word, but it was too late. He ran a finger around his suddenly too tight collar, and shrugged. Leaving half the cat out of the bag was hardly a sign of intelligence.

"Yeah, there's that."

"You find the ... uh ... uh--"

Cowley was so seldom at a loss for words that Doyle couldn't smother his grin. The smile faded rapidly, however. Dammit, it wasn't funny!

"Talk," he supplied.

"Talk, then. You find it distasteful?"

"No, sir, Mr. Cowley, sir. I find it bloody irritating!"

"It's nothing new, you know."

"I do!" he exploded, then meekly returned to his chair. "It's that...well, recently, it became ... accepted. 'What did you and Bodie do this weekend? What did you two do last night?' and I answer! 'We did this. We did that.' I'm sick to death of it."

"What does 3/7 say," Cowley prodded.

"You know Bodie," Ray smiled helplessly, with genuine warmth. "Just sits there while I rant on. Then finally I say something absolutely filthy to him or about him, apologise, and he says--"

"Forget it, mate."

"Yeah," Ray sighed. "Gets to be a habit though, and a little space..." He trailed off, not quite sure what a little space was supposed to accomplish since his uncertain temper was more mercurial than ever in these days of less togetherness.

"Your last full physical was?"

"Two weeks ago."


"The same." As if you didn't know, old fox.

"Well, then." Cowley shut the folder and sat for a moment, turning his glasses in his hands. "We'll let it go for a while."

"Thank you, sir." Doyle rose.


He sat again.

"If this doesn't work itself out, we -- myself, Dr. Ross, and all concerned -- will be seriously considering the dissolution of the partnership."

Doyle felt himself paling, not so much at Cowley's half threat, half promise as at the relief he felt at the words. A heady sense of freedom came with the idea. Another partner ... just a partner. No pub crawls, no bird hunts, no flip for who cooks dinner. No more Bodie keeping tabs on him, hovering around so that at times he felt as though he couldn't move, couldn't breathe for the closeness. No more--

"Doyle!" This time the pointing folder was blue. "We've wasted enough time." Cowley hit the intercom and demanded, "Find 3/7 and tell him to get in here immediately."

After that a briefing on a mad bomber threatening to blow up Whitehall would have been anticlimatic. Twenty minutes of Cowley giving rudimentary instructions on a baby-sitting job from Number 10 to Heathrow were maddening.

Briefing finally over, Bodie opened the door and ushered Doyle out with a grandiose gesture befitting a four-star maitre d', Cowley's "On your bikes, boys" still ringing in their ears.

The hallway was quiet, a distant typewriter tapping and faraway voices announcing that CI5 was still about its business, but the two agents found themselves alone in the long hall. Doyle had stormed a good ten feet before he realised that Bodie wasn't beside him, was, indeed, draped against the wall outside Cowley's office, arms folded across his chest, one leg crossed in front of the other as though he were waiting for a tardy date.

"Let's step on it, shall we?" Doyle's voice echoed in the emptiness.

"Let's not," Bodie responded with an ingratiating smile and a school-boy prankishness dancing in the indigo eyes. "Don't have to be there for a while yet. Let's grab a pint first."

"No." And as an afterthought, "Thanks. If we're not going on now, you can pick me up at my place when you're ready to go. I've got some things to do." Doyle spun and headed for his car. He could hear Bodie pounding after him, but he expected his partner to simply catch up and join him for the walk to the car park, not the strong fingers biting into his shoulder, viciously jerking him to a halt.

"What the--" He whirled, glared furiously, only to be met by Bodie's bland expression. Not quite blank enough, however. Flared nostrils and thin, white lines beside the compressed lips meant a royally pissed 3/7. Yet the voice and the words were easy, soft.

"Don't you think it's time to get whatever's bugging you off your chest, Ray?"

"Nothing's bugging me ... unless I can count partners."

Bodie's eyes narrowed. "Just how long is this particular snit going to last?"

"Snit, is it, Bodie?" He glanced down at the floor, then looked consideringly at the hand still clamped to his shoulder.

Bodie flushed slightly and, dropping his hand, stepped back.

"Sorry. I...."

"Well? You're not usually quite this thick. I suppose you need me to go over it again?" Doyle said with condescending patience.

"No, I think I've heard more than enough," Bodie muttered.

"I don't think you have," Ray insisted, welcoming the opportunity to vent some of his unfocused anger, the now constant irritability that he couldn't blame on anyone. "We're just partners, Bodie. Created by Cowley for the sake of CI5. We don't have to spend all our free time together, too, and I for one could do with a little less of your company. I should think you'd welcome a little less of mine!"

Bodie's face began to set in a sullen, mutinous expression, and Doyle sneered, "For god's sake! Surely you can find someone else to have a drink with!"

Instantly, Bodie's face went blank, wiped of all feeling. Navy dark, almost pupilless eyes stared sightlessly at the exit door at the far end of the hall. Then something seemed to click, and he nodded sharply. "Right. Pick you up here in two hours. You've got plenty of time to get home and back on your own." He pushed past Doyle and quickly walked away.

Ray, feeling deprived of what had promised to be one hell of an argument and a little guilty at taking out his confusion on Bodie yet again, gave a harsh, low curse and headed for the Rest Room. Setting the proper parameters for their partnership was proving damn near impossible; why couldn't they be as they were before he started his stupid "investigation." He glowered at the firmly closed office doors as he continued on his way, wondering whether, after this last go, there was ever any way they could get back on an even keel.

"What about here?"

Doyle glanced around and shrugged his consent. Here was as good a place as any. He grunted in agreement and flung out the blanket, snapping out its folds with unnecessary emphasis so that the great whoofing noise filled the quiet meadow.

Jolene turned from unloading the picnic basket, pushing her long, baby-fine hair away from her face.

"What's wrong, Ray?"

Wrong? What could be wrong?

The day was perfect; crisp blue sky with only the whitest, fluffiest of clouds. The air was clean; the temperature was just right, and the company was beautiful, intelligent, and fun to be with.

How about, I don't want to be with you. I want to be with my partner. He's beautiful, intelligent and more fun to be around.

There was no way he could say that, so he dropped to his knees beside her and grinned. "The constant tensions of Civil Service paper pushing," he evaded, busily investigating the contents of the hamper. "What's this?"

"Pate." She attempted to wink at him, her small features screwing up into a charming monkey's face. "And there's caviar."

"And a very good one," Ray smiled his approval of the neat paste, sniffing at the dollop he'd scooped out with a finger, before licking it off. "And Jarlsberg and butterkase ... ham, turkey, beef ... black bread, white bread ... apples, pears, grapes, and good god, bananas!" he recited the contents of the lunch as they finished unpacking together. "Butter ... pickles ... everything for a proper picnic," he wound down, catching sight of the two bottles of soave Jolene was carefully unwrapping.

"All the comforts of home," she agreed cheerfully, putting the bottles to one side.

"Not my home." She slid closer to Ray and took his face in both hands, tousling his curls before settling a hand on either cheek. "We are here, Mr. Doyle, to enjoy a little peace and quiet." Her cool hands stroked gently, and his tension ebbed. "We are very old and very good friends, and you don't have to entertain me." He smiled back at her, kissed the tip of her nose in thanks.

"Just takes me a while to relax," he apologised.

"There are no time limits in Arcadia." One final pat, and she stood up and picked up the wine. "The bottles and I are going to cool our feet in the brook. Why don't you rest a bit. That tree looks like it needs a strong back to hold it up." She wandered off, his own little Alice in Wonderland.

Green grass, chirping birds, and a very exotic picnic basket all should have made for a happy man, Doyle thought dourly, as he watched Jolene under lowered lashes. She was splashing her feet in the brook, which had the gall to actually be babbling. So why was he propped up against a tree, pretending to be asleep, and praying for his R/T to sound off? Why wasn't he curled up on the blanket with Jolena, taking advantage of this rare free weekend and the charming company.

He plucked aimlessly at the grass, carefully piling the torn blades into a little mound.

It was going to be a long day.

A very long day.

Jolene, unless she'd changed considerably from their art school days, wasn't the type to need constant attention and lots of ego strokes; but even she wouldn't be pleased to discover why he'd accepted her invitation for a day in the country. He wasn't very pleased with his reasons himself.

You see, Jolene, dear, I've taken to lusting after my partner, and I figure you can screw me out of it.

You see, George ... Mr. Cowley, sir ... I've gone the deep end over 3/7, and now I'm tryin' to reorient my sexuality.

You see, Bodie, I want you. I don't know why I want you, but before I'll even admit it, I'm going to work my way through the entire female population of London ... and if necessary the British Isles.

There was no decent way to say it. So far, he was so oddly disbelieving of the revelation himself that he even found it difficult to think it.

Not dream it.

His hand clutched so convulsively at the green that the grass broke free, dirt clumps still clinging to the slender white roots. The stiff blades made paper-fine cuts on his fingers and palm, but he didn't notice.

He had had Bodie so many times in his dreams lately that the same reality would qualify him for the Guinness book of Records.

Doyle felt the beginning tightness in his jeans and flopped onto his stomach. He didn't want Jolene to notice his arousal, a phenomenon that now seemed solely to consideration of Bodie as sex object. A role, Doyle despaired, that Bodie would relish, but not coming from his partner. Not that he couldn't imagine Bodie trying it on for size; perhaps he already had in the military or the mercs. Bodie was ... adventurous. He was also unyieldingly angry at his partner. Ray couldn't get anything but job talk out of him. There was no point in trying to get the man into bed.

On blue sheets ... preferably dark blue, just the colour of Bodie's eyes. All that beautiful cream coloured skin sprawling in loose-limbed splendour on blue sheets. Or perhaps silky bronze ... or black satin ... or on mattress ticking, with no sheets. Anywhere! Doyle thought wildly. In Cowley's office, across his flamin' antique desk, if it'll unscramble my balls.

He groaned and pressed himself harder into the soil, the rich scent of earth ignored for the heady, remembered scent of Bodie in sexual heat. How would it be to see that face soften, to see those features suffuse with passion for him? How would it be to--

Obsession. Impossible obsession.

A wonderful woman not more than thirty feet away, and he was humping grass, day dreaming about a man who would barely speak to him. Perhaps it was some sort of mental regression, premature senility with a vengeance -- he had had a fleeting crush on his shop teacher. Or perhaps it was just a result of all the guilt tripping he'd been doing.

Bodie, after that last set-to, had taken the break up well. He didn't seem to care that they were no longer friendly, but Doyle knew better. Knew that the bland face hid confusion and a hurt that Bodie would never admit.

It had all gone so wrong.

All the little lies his conscious mind had told to his subconscious and to everyone else. Tired of the hassles of dating, hah! Just curious about what turned women on to Bodie, double hah! Didn't want to be known as the Bobbsey twins was the worst of all. What would have happened if he'd only known that he wanted Bodie then? Could he have admitted his feelings, or would he have carried on in the same way, unwilling to compromise his independence?


Yeah, there had been Ann. Ann of the lame and the halt he took such great care with, the care he couldn't give Bodie. Not such a strong willed, bloody minded person as Bodie. Bodie might've turned him down, and he couldn't deal with that. Bodie might've even done it out of friendship or simply because Ray wanted it -- both forms of pity that had no place in the self- sufficient world Ray had created.

Doyle eased up gradually, the ache fading from his body. Maybe there was something to this business about getting back to the earth. At least that last thought had made some sense to him, if there was any sense to be had from his bollexed up mind. If this was all about being turned down, a massive attack of pride protection, then there was only one way to handle it. Bodie would have to be approached, and devil take the hindmost.

He stretched freely, feeling more in control of his life. There was no payoff in getting in an uproar over a basic case of hot pants. He needed to have Bodie; therefore, being Raymond Doyle, he would have him. In the interim--

His eyes narrowed as he watched Jolene thoughtfully. In the interim, there were other pleasures.

The slate grey car streaked along the M4, weaving in and out of the heavy traffic as though they were on their way to a drug bust. That nasty piece of business was finished, however; and they were rushing to no more than a free thirty-six hours. Had anyone else been behind the wheel, Doyle would have insisted that he be let out at the nearest exit, but Bodie's driving was up to par with the rest of the man's skills. Even the nervous housewife who didn't leave Auntie Helen's in time to beat the rush hour was in no danger.

So, how long had it been then?

Three weeks? No. Five weeks since he'd informed Bodie they wouldn't be spending so much of their free time together ... and three very long ones since Bodie'd even asked him to lift one before they headed for their respective homes. The hell of it was, he was just as unhappy as before. He wasn't as sexually frustrated; knowing what the problem was went a long way toward easing it. But he was ... missing his partner's company. Hearing about Bodie's coups, real or imagined, from the locker- room louts, knowing that his partner had finally managed to pull off that long-desired century and he hadn't been there to see that narrow lip curl in victory, was driving him crazy. And worse yet was not knowing what Bodie was doing with his off- duty time.

Tired of being around him. Tired of not being around him.

The childish complaint sounded vaguely vamiliar, but he was also quite tired of the company of his own thoughts. Much more of this and he'd be volunteering to plant his own arse in Dr. Ross's chair. He'd--



Their voices sounded as one, but as the silence lengthened, Ray understood that Bodie wasn't going to continue.

"How about a quick one before you drop me at my car?"


"Got a bird in your nest tonight?"

"No, not a bird. Just got something on." Bodie flicked his eyes at the rearview, crossed three lanes of traffic, and shot down the exit.

Irrational stab of jealousy, and Doyle quickly changed the subject.

"Townsley tells me you're floggin' your sound system?"

"That's right."

"Got a better one, did you?"


It was like talking to a stone, but it was more conversation than they'd managed in weeks, except for discussing the job. How could he get Bodie into his bed, when he couldn't even get him into a dialogue? Doyle plowed on doggedly, ready to babble about anything just to keep those grunted syllables coming.

"Didn't think you'd ever part with that, way you carried on when Cowley made you pawn it. That that was your pride 'n joy."

The fine mouth curled into a harsh, feral smile, but Bodie's eyes never left the road. "It's just a thing, Doyle. Never let yourself get trapped by things."

Or people.

The unspoken words were clear, heard by both of them. Doyle slumped in his seat, tilting hard against the car door.

This wasn't right. The action was over, they were both still full of the lightning energy that comes only from survival, and they both knew how to burn it off. A prowl of the streets, easy drinks in pubs while the body tried to assimilate that adrenalin that pumped so strongly. Tonight should be a night to make his dreams come true ... together. He pressed his face against the chilly glass, cooling his skin. Almost back to headquarters, and nothing.

"I guess I was a bit of a bastard a while back," he offered.

"You had your reasons." Bodie's fingers drummed nervously on the wheel. Impatient; waiting for the light to change. All too ready to get him back to his car and then take off to where ever.

"Did ... did you understand them?" And how could you? I still don't.

"Didn't have to, did I?" Bodie pulled up behind Doyle's car, left his motor running. He ran a hand beneath the cowl of the thick Irish knit he was wearing, ruffling the short black curls, and rubbed at his shoulder, the one he had landed on when the machine gun suddenly sprayed across the lot.

"Why don't you follow me back to my place?" Ray asked, feeling rather ashamed of the note of desperation he could hear in his voice. "I've got some stuff in the fridge, a bottle we could break open, and I could rub that out for you."

Bodie sighed, a deep, gusting, obvious sigh. "Gone deaf, have you? Told you I was busy."

"Bodie! Bodie, look at me." A commanding bark, not intentional but effective.

Bodie turned to him, dark eyes surrounded by those unbelievable eyelashes plastered firmly on his face. There was nothing there. No anger, no interest ... nothing.

There had to be something left. They worked too well together still. Still could read each other ... knew what the other would do, when. Impossible that they could still be a team and yet be so estranged. But it was Bodie. Therefore, possible.

The man had retreated deep, hidden himself in the layers and layers of self-protection that so very few were allowed to penetrate. Doyle had lost that privilege and it couldn't be regained, not in a car park with a two-minute time limit.

Doyle opened the door in defeat, slung one leg on the pavement, then sat back in rememberance.

"You started to ask me something earlier."

Bodie frowned, then nodded. "Right. Wanted to know if you were still interested in that painting?"

"The one in your bedroom? The blues?" There was only one picture he'd ever seen at Bodie's that he could possibly be interested in, but the question was so unexpected he found himself dithering.

"It's yours, if you want it." Bodie shifted into first. "Step on it, Doyle. I've got to go."

Ray got out, slammed the door, and leaned toward the half- open window. "I thought you liked that one?"

The cold blue eyes, dead stones in a marble face, gazed through him again. "It's just a thing, init?" The motor roared and Doyle stepped back from the car. It leapt away as though his weight alone had been holding it in place.

Home, with all his things about him, drink in hands, he examined his walls. Where would he put his new acquisition, because as sure as he was going to get drunk tonight, Bodie would show up with the bloody thing bright and early Monday morning.

He wandered to the window, pushed back the heavy curtain to let some of the crisp night air in. There was nothing to look at but the street lights and his own pale reflection in the glass. And a darkly fascinating ghost who should have been there, had no right to be anywhere but with him.

"Bodie." Half whisper in the night, and he angrily shook off his depression. Bodie would come round. He always did, once you knew how to handle him. Imitation Mr. Cool shrugged off everything except outrage ... and clearly Bodie wasn't furious. That he didn't hide, not from anybody -- god, Cowley, or the world.

So -- Doyle smiled, played with the pull of the drapes -- so Bodie could be brought round. And Bodie knew it!

He snapped the curtains shut and headed for the stereo in sudden relief. That was why his partner had taken to avoiding him like a pile of rubbish. Didn't want to be brought to heel; wanted Doyle to suffer a little. Sauce for the goose.

And that's fair, init? The turntable spun slowly, moving faster and faster, as the arm lifted and glided over to gently drop onto the record.

Big, bad Bodie's got his feelings hurt, so now he wants his due. Not so big says Cowley, but Cowley's daft. Bodie'd beat the shit out of me if he didn't know he could kill me.

The cadenced notes filled the room, but Doyle couldn't relax and get into the music. Something was nagging at him, something wasn't quite right.

Probably the picture. As much as he'd fussed over it when he'd first seen it, how was he going to find a place for it in his overcrowded flat? So like Bodie to dump his stuff all over creation before--

Before he runs, his mind finished as the brandy sloshed over his suddenly shaking hand. Somehow he was on the sofa, must have backed his way across the room without knowing that he was moving. "It's just a thing, init?"

His new certainty made everything fit. Bodie wasn't going to come around. He was never going to come around; he was going to leave. He was stripping himself of all the bits and pieces he'd collected since joining CI5. Clearing up the debris before he disappeared from Doyle's life as abruptly as he'd appeared.

Cowley, his mind clutched at the name. Cowley will never let him go. But even as he thought it, he knew Cowley would. Bodie, for whatever the reasons, was special to Cowley, and Cowley would set him free. Cowley ... took care of Bodie, protected him. It was funny ... odd to think of Bodie as needing protecting, but he did. Bodie was like a cactus, all prickly outside and pulpy, smooshy inside, frantically denying any emotional hurts for fear someone might hurt him even more.

Someone. Doyle liked that, loved that even in the privacy of his own thoughts he couldn't admit that "someone" was himself. He shivered and poured himself another drink. "I'm sorry; let's go to bed" had just lost all charm as a line. The question was it too late for "I'm sorry; let's still be friends?"

The room was cold.

He shivered again and realised that it wasn't the room. He was cold. He got up to get a sweater. Then he changed his mind, turned off the light and picked his way over to the stereo to shut off the comfortless music. Bodie was going to leave.

Doyle wrapped his arms around his shaking body and, like an old man, fumbled his way to bed.

"Charlie said he bought your telly," Doyle hissed in the darkness. Bodie turned to him, his mouth so close to Doyle's ear, Ray could feel the breath that accompanied each word.

"Chrissake, Doyle. If I'd known it was such a major concern to you, I would have given you the damn thing! Do you really want to talk about it now?"

Bodie shifted away, gingerly inching to the edge of the packing crate that was providing very skimpy cover, and peered into the darkness. Doyle twisted restlessly, unable to find a position that would suit his throbbing leg. Bodie whirled at the scraping noise, and sharply told Doyle to keep his hands off the tourniquet.

"Where the hell did you get this tip?" he dmanded angrily. "I've seen looser traps at the zoo!"

"There is a way out," Ray said calmly, hoping that Bodie would finally listen to reason and give their pursuers what they wanted.

The anonymous voice rang out again in support. "Come on out, Doyle. It's you we want. Your partner can walk away a very healthy man."

He took a breath to answer, and a heavy hand slapped ungently over his mouth.

Then the voice again. "Bodie. Bodie, be sensible. Word has it you're thinking of getting out anyhow. You and Doyle aren't a team anymore. Send him out and stay alive."

"God," Bodie muttered. "They probably know what colour shorts I'm wearing today. The Cow's going to be a wee bit unhappy about them gettin' this close and us not knowing it. Did you get a bead on the voice?"

"What she said, about us not being a team anymore--"

Bodie's eyes glittered in the night, voice sounding ready to kill. "Analyse it later, Doyle," he snapped. "Did you make the voice?"

"But--" Steel-hard fingers bit into his arm, shook him viciously. He inhaled deeply. "Right. I figure her plus two more for the left and up, but I don't ... I should know, but I don't recognise her."

"Neither do I, there's something ...." Bodie settled next to Doyle, wiped the sweat off his forehead and left a smudge of warehouse grime in its palce. "Fair enough. There's at least two more on the right, and I think there's just a few runnin' loose."

"And Cowley's maybe gettin' antsy 'cause we're three hours late--"

"--and maybe not."


"Someday," Bodie said lightly, "I'm going to have an R/T sewn to me chest."

He was easing them away from the precipice of emotion that could get them killed. Not an olive branch, just a way to stick with the familiar working patterns, the barb and thrust that kept them cool, kept them alive. But.....

But they were going to die in this dust-furnished warehouse, for god only knew what reason, and he wanted Bodie to--

"Here it is, then."

"You've got an idea."

"Idea, Ray, old son? This is a masterpiece."

"Bodie, I hate your plans."

"You'll like this one."


"It's the only one we've got."

"That does give it a certain questionable merit." He could feel himself grinning, matching the insanely joyous smile that always meant Bodie was about to do something unreal. "Go on."

"They're squeezing us like an orange. Movin' in, checkin' all the places we could grab a little cover. And it's only a question of time 'til they take us. You, mate, have got a bloody great hole in your leg, so your broken field running is not up to its usual standards. In addition, we are very short on ammunition. I mean, one clip does not make for a long-term stand." Bodie grinned wolfishly, teeth gleaming in the shadows.

"Very good, Watson," Doyle nodded approvingly. "What's the plan?"


Bodie's hand chopped and a sharp blow to the juncture of the shoulder and neck sent Doyle tumbling across Bodie's lap, stunned. He wasn't out but he was dazed, unable to move as Bodie roughly bundled him deep into the shadows of the crate. "Sorry," his partner whispered as he pushed up and dashed away, deliberately racketting into barrels and boxes as he ran.

Ray heard the pursuers as they pounded past his hiding place, the cries of "There they go," shouted and echoing in the emptiness. A minute's silence and then guns spat and spat again. In his confusion it sounded as though shots were coming from everywhere, but that couldn't be.

He had to get himself up. Had to make enough noise to pull them off Bodie. They couldn't kill the bloody bastard. He would do that himself, beat him to a pulp and make him see that they were a team. Had always been a team.

Suddenly it was quiet. Dead quiet in the night. He scrabbled harder, trying to push himself hard enough against the side of the crate to get some purchase. He cried out as he landed on his wounded leg, but there was no sound, nothing but the weak scraping of his fingernails as they clawed at the wood.

"Doyle! 4/5, where are you?"

"Cowley." Still voiceless, like the mewling of a new-born kitten. "Cowley!" he suddenly heard himself screaming. "Bodie!"

Halting, rapid footsteps, and the old man was there. He instantly dropped to his knees onto the filthy cement floor, heedless of his immaculate three-piece suit. He grabbed Doyle by the shoulders, shook him slightly, then propped the rag-doll limp body against him.

"Where's Bodie, Doyle? Where is 3/7?"

Oh, god. Oh, dear god.

His head snapped back, tendons in his neck straining as though they could break free of his skin. "Boooodie!"

"Spread out," Cowley barked at the shadows milling around behind him. "Find him. Find him fast. And get an ambulance. Now!"

In the first instant of consciousness, he could feel the drugs working in him, pulling him back to the mind-numbing darkness, and he fought to wake up. Pushed harder and harder until, with a slight grunt, he was awake, body raised half off the bed as though the struggle had been a physical one.

It was hospital.

Nothing so unusual in that, so why did he feel so panicky? He let himself fall back against the pillows and searched out the damages.

So dry. Felt like his tongue was permanently attached to the roof of his mouth, but that was the inevitable result of sedation. So was the nauseous sensation that his stomach was on its own personal roller coaster.

He shifted, and the fire stabbing up through his hip and into his guts said it was the leg. Not bad; he'd taken a bullet there before. Same leg, if the cotton in his brain wasn't smothering his responses.

Assorted aches and pains -- IV needle, stiff neck, bruised side, and sore shoulder -- but nothing major. Yet, he couldn't stop his heart from pounding, had a frantic need to hop out of bed and--

The door eased open and Cowley peered around furtively before he slipped through and quickly shut the door behind him. He marched over to the high bed, juggling several very official looking files under one arm and a still bulging briefcase under the other.

"You've came back to us, then?"

A decided lack of sympathy, but then Cowley was not famed for his manner, bedside or otherwise, with his men.

"Yes, sir," Doyle croaked.

The testy gaze shifted to the bedside table and, putting the briefcase and folders down on the bed, Cowley poured him a glass of water. He handed the glass to Doyle with a perfunctory, "Can you manage?", found himself a chair, and sat.

"Yes, sir." Doyle drank thirstily, enjoying the cool, refreshing taste of the liquid.

"Well?" Cowley pointedly checked his watch, clearly anxious to be off.


"Report, 4/5," Cowley said harshly. "It's obvious from last night's fiasco that you and 3/7 have forgotten everything I've tried to teach you, but even so, surely--"


He jerked upright, unaware of the water spilling.

Oh, dear god, Bodie. The scream was forming, rushing up his throat from his stomach, his lips already soundlessly mouthing the name. Two steps and Cowley was at his side, pushing him back down with one hand and fumbling for his pulse with the other."

"Bodie's all right, 4/5. Do you hear me? Bodie's all right."

Ice-cold sweat of relief, and he was shaking, chills racing through him.

"Ach. I'll get a sister."

Doyle's hand flashed out, grabbed Cowley by the wrist, and then dropped just as quickly at the older man's disbelieving stare.

"No. Thank you, sir. No more dope," he insisted through chattering teeth. "Just takes me like that some times."

"Aye." Cowley studied his face and, seemingly satisfied by what he saw, returned to his chair. "Aye, I remember the feeling well."

"Bodie, sir?"

"He'll be out of your hair for quite some time," Cowley said bluntly, reaching for a file.

"How ... how bad?"

"One through the body and out the back quite nicely, nothing vital. One through the shoulder, bounced off a rib and lodged against the collar bone, messy but not permanent. A broken arm and a quite spectacular black eye."

"Broken arm?" It was an odd thing to focus on, but it didn't make any sense. Neither did the black eye. "Did he ... fall off something?"

"They were looking for a quick way to make him talk." Cowley reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his glasses. "Foolish." He began to polish the lenses with his handkerchief. "Take more than that to break one of my men." He slid the glasses on his nose with an air of justified satisfaction while Doyle watched, torn between anger and amusement.

The unfeeling old bastard was actually pleased that Bodie, lying there ... wherever ... in bits and pieces, had kept his mouth shut.

That's what they pay us for, init, Doyle? The sardonic voice danced through his mind and was gone. Amusement was it, then.

"Can I see him?" he smiled at his boss, hoping his voice hadn't sounded as plaintive to Cowley as it had to him.

"That's a question better put to the doctors. I'd really appreciate it if you could focus your mind on this Hadley incident. I do have other things to do."

Jill Hadley. "Bill Hadley's daughter," he realised, astonished. "She's supposed to be in prison. You know that. You helped put her there."

"That I did," Cowley allowed grudgingly. "But, except for your hyperactive sense of fair play, none of us would have been involved."


"What?" Cowley's eyes brightened with interest.

"Nothing, sir." But it hadn't been his conscience that had embroiled them with the mad woman. It was Bodie's soft heart. Jill Hadley was a dangerous, psychopathic, murdering bitch, but she was frail with it, all huge eyes and heavy mane of hair. A sure thing for bringin' out Bodie's marshmallow insides. Was the trap just another crazy plan for getting her father out of prison, or was it to have been a final revenge on the man who had put him there? And how the hell had she gotten out?

When he finally looked up, Cowley was at the door, files clutched firmly in hand, patience completely used up.

"We'll try this again tomorrow, Doyle, when, I trust, you'll be in your right mind. Since Miss Hadley was killed in the shootout, I don't expect you'll be seeing anymore trouble from that direction."

"Tomorrow will be fine, sir. S'the drugs, you know," Doyle placated, too wary of Cowley's infamous temper to do any probing about how they'd been rescued. Sooner or later, they were going to have to do some explaining about being out of touch with Headquarters, but as Bodie was so fond of pointing out, later was always better for certain things.

Cowley opened the door.


"Yes, Doyle?" Not quite breathing fire ... yet, and there was something he had to know.

"Could you send the doctor?"



"For the love of heaven, Doyle, what?"

"Bodie's doctor?"

"Doyle." Cowley's voice was too gentle, too sympathetic. Ray would have preferred the exasperation. "You may have lost him. He's already asked to go solo."

No. Never. His and only his ... forever. The desperate need to hold on to, to possess was shocking in its continuing strength, but it was no longer unexpected.

He didn't answer, couldn't meet that knowing gaze. He squirmed down into the covers and mulishly shut his eyes. It was Cowley's truth. He didn't have to see it.

He hitched his way down the corridor, sweaty palms and armpits helping to blister his skin where the crutches rubbed at him. Only halfway there, and he already knew he should have taken the chair instead, but he was fed up with sitting in the rubber-wheeled trap while Bodie gazed distantly over his head and answered all his conversational gambits with monosyllables or not at all.

This time they were going to talk, and what's more Bodie was going to listen. He pushed at the door with his shoulder, grateful for its easy swing, but wondering how the hell the two of them were going to manage at home unless he could get rid of the crutches before the doctors threw Bodie out for disrupting the entire hospital.

His leg throbbed a little and he welcomed the ache, grateful for the dirt-infected wound that had kept him in hospital longer than necessary, allowed him to con Cowley into two week's sick leave and possibly a week of his heavily backlogged vacation time.

Once in, he swallowed his boisterous greeting and made his way quietly to the sleeping figure in the bed. Hung there on the crutches. Somehow, when looking down at him, Bodie did seem small.

Not frail. Despite weight loss, Bodie would never look frail, but he was thin with it. And god-awful pale, even for Bodie. Small blue veins showing at the temple, in the hollow of the throat. Dense black lashes making wide scars over the jutting cheekbones. Hair too long. Beautiful, like a rippling black silk snood, but too long. Wasn't Bodie, and the man hated it. Close shaven -- the orderly took care of that every morning at Bodie's insistence -- but that just showed the sunken cheeks.

"You look pathetic, mate," Doyle whispered, hot tears burning behind his eyes. "Nobody could love you now. But I do." The words hurt him, didn't want to be said, for all their honesty. "I really do love you, Bodie. Think I have for a long time, a very long time."

The heavily bandaged body was still, chest rising and falling in easy, rhythmic breathing.

"You love me too, Bodie." You have to. "That's why we show off for each other, compete with each other. That's why Ann never would've worked, why no one else ever works. Cowley knew, mate. Everybody knew but us."

"I knew."

His heart stopped. For an instant, everything stopped. Then life began again, and the impossible confession was done. He wouldn't have to get Bodie into the proper frame of mind, didn't need to straighten out the confusions and complications of the last pain-filled months.

Bodie knew.

Heavy curls bobbled with his enthusiastic nod, and he smiled shyly at this man he had loved so long without knowing it. He waited, but the silence went on, leaving him nervously tense. He hitched closer to the bed, metal ringing loudly as the crutches knocked against the railing.

"Bodie," he coaxed softly. "Bodie, look at me." Like a teenager again, so anxious to see his lover's -- soon to be lover's -- eyes.

Emptiness. Cold blue stones.

Blankness to his face and through him, and he cried out, almost incoherent with the shock.

"Why? You love me too! Why?"

"I've got my reasons."

"I ... I don't understand." But he did, all too well.

"That's all right," Bodie said glacially. "Don't have to, do you?"

"All right," Doyle accepted the rejection, steel-spined against the hurt, even now intrigued by how to make it work out. "But you're mine, Bodie," he said firmly, convinced that this was only temporary. "You're mine, and I'll see us both in hell before I give you up!"

"Could use some company," Bodie rejoined flatly.


The perfectly sculpted lips set in a familiar, obstinate line. "Let's not talk it to death, Doyle."

A half step closer, and he could let one crutch fall. Leaned over the bed, and brushed the sweat-damp hair from Bodie's forehead.

"Please." Bodie squirmed restlessly, gave a hurting little sigh. "I'm tired."

"I know. Shhhhhh. Shhhh. It's all right."

The dark lashes wavered, struggled to rise again, then fell, defeated. "Feels good," he murmured sleepily.

"Too right, mate. Get you well, take you home, feed you up, and ... and make you want me again."

An inarticulate sound of protest from Bodie as he hovered on the edge of sleep.

Doyle leaned closer, drawn by the half parted lips. So easy to brush them with his own, to press his mouth lightly against each closed eye, and then back to that mouth. Soft. So soft. Who'd have thought a man's mouth could be so soft. The hand that had been stroking Bodie's forehead had, unattended, made its way to his throat, wayward thumb caressing the smooth skin, dipping under the flimsy pajama covering.

Too easy to slip his tongue between the parted lips; too easy to take what he wanted.

He straightened, looked at the fallen crutch and let the other one drop to join it. "You're mine, Bodie." He limped to the door, turned to look back at the sleeping man -- the only thing in the world that seemed to mean anything to him right now -- "and I'll be back to get you."

A week later, and he was back, juggling Bodie out of hospital and home like an oversized baby who'd lost his pram.

The place was ready. Well, as ready as he could make it given that Bodie had practically stripped the flat bare in his attempt to get rid of "things."

They should have gone to his place, Doyle thought resentfully, but since Bodie had absolutely refused, he'd wound up moving most of his stuff halfway cross London just to try and make Bodie's place habitable.

Bloody insane, that's what it was, but there was no choice. Bodie was winning the skirmishes, but he had to win the war.

"Go on, will you!"

Bodie was waiting impatiently behind him, both arms neatly bound up in hospital's finest, unable to push Doyle aside and open his front door himself.

"Hang on a sec, okay?" Ray jiggled the key again. "It's your own fault for not getting this lock taken care of." The tumblers gave way, and he stepped aside to let Bodie go in first. His partner smiled sweetly, and Doyle found the door closing rapidly in his face, assisted by Bodie's shoulder. Doyle shoved hard against the door, got a sort of perverse gratification from the muffled grunt of pain that issued from the flat, and went in.

"Forgot you had company, heh, mate?"

"No," Bodie said, weaving on shaky legs like a puppet without its strings. "I'm just not up to entertaining at the moment. Why don't you run along, and I'll give you a call when I'm receiving."

"Don't mess with the status quo, Bodie. You're not up to it yet." Doyle slipped an arm around him and steered them in the direction of the bedroom. Once there, he toppled Bodie onto the bed and busied himself removing his partner's shoes and belt, considered the difficulties of getting the shirt off, and decided to leave it for now. He fetched a cover from the airing closet and spread it over Bodie, covering him up to the chin. Bodie turned away, trying to hide his face in the pillow, but Doyle captured his chin in remorseless fingers, tilted his face up, and kissed him quite thoroughly.

"Go to sleep, love."

"When I get a hand free, I'm going to kill you, Doyle," Bodie sputtered.

"Yes, you probably will," Doyle said thoughtfully. "Wouldn't be the least surprised. But," he cheered up, "I'll die a happy man, won't I, sweetheart?"



"It was," Bodie explained sarcastically, "an expression of complete frustration."

"In that case, just think how I feel." He bent over, kissed Bodie on the forehead. "Get some sleep, love. It's been a long morning." He left the room quickly, pleased with the way things were going, and not willing to give Bodie the opportunity to work himself into a mood.

He flopped onto the couch, tired, too, and unconsciously rubbed at his aching leg. He'd pried some free time out of Cowley at the cost of some icy words and a rather stringent admonition to get his feet on the ground and the partnership up to par, or be prepared to be reassigned upon his return. Now that he had Bodie home, he hwas under a time limit -- two weeks. Not much time, but in reality it had only taken him about 20 minutes to fuck things up to a fare-thee-well. Two weeks ought to do it.

It was working ... all was going well, and the strangest thing was it wasn't a plan. Bodie had fought him off again and again in hospital, refusing to talk, refusing to hear anything but the siren song of freedom. All Ray's ranting and raving had accomplished nothing. Staying away had accomplished ... nothing; when he had finally returned, Bodie had been just as viciously uncommunicative. Nothing had worked until he had decided that he would just take what ever little parts of Bodie he could get. With time running out and no manoeuvering room, he had nothing left but his own desperation.

That worked.

For all the plans and schemes, pure, simple loving was working.

Wasn't the way he had planned it, but every time he woke the man with a kiss, felt those lashes brush against his face in startled wonder, it was worth it. Even at the first when Bodie had lashed out at him verbally, each bitter word meant to hurt, to rip at all the unhealed places of the scabbed over past, it had been worth it. Even when Bodie had tried to fight him physically, tried to worm away, wriggling and squirming in a vain attempt to escape, it had been worth it.

Once, just once, the sleeping mouth had moved against his own, accepted him with a dazed sweetness that had almost ripped his heart from his body. Only once, but what was once had could be had again.

His head slipped sideways on the cushions as he day-dreamed his way toward sleep.




By the time he realised the voice of his dreams was real, Bodie was really shouting at him.

He half-fell, half-scrambled off the couch, dashing into the bedroom, ready to take on any number of dangers.

He looked at Bodie, still as straight and neat on the bed as he'd left him.

He stayed in the doorway, eyes checking around the room, body in an unconscious crouch as he searched for the trouble.

"I can't get up."

"What?" He stared, uncomprehending.

"There's nothing to catch on to," Bodie said queriously. "I can't get up."

"Oh." Ray walked to the bed, offered a hand.

"Thanks," Bodie muttered, turned his head away.

"Sorry." He crouched down, pulled his partner up against his shoulder, brush-kissed the ear closest to him. "I forgot."

He eased Bodie's legs over the edge of the bed, rested his arms on the lap of his practically armless love, and stared up at him. "Why'd you want to get up?"

"The loo," Bodie ground out, his voice caught somewhere between embarrassment and outrage.

Ray leaned back, balancing on his heels, and looked consideringly at one firmly casted arm, then at the other, which was slung tightly against Bodie's chest.

"If you undo it, I can manage."

His gaze immediately went to the soft contours of Bodie's well-filled crotch, and his irritated partner kicked him away. "Not that, you pervert. If you unpin the sling, I can manage."

"I'd be more than willing to give you a hand."

"The sling, Ray, the sling." But Bodie smiled. A real, honest to God, almost forgotten Bodie special, and it was all worth it.

After twenty minutes, Doyle was threatening to break in the door, despite Bodie's shouted assurances that he was okay and couldn't he be allowed to go to the bathroom in peace.

Finally Bodie came out, somewhat zipped and snapped, and a credible attempt had been made to retuck the shirt, sort of like a kid who had done his best to dress himself. His left arm was free, sling defiantly crumpled in his hand.

Ray stared at the flagrant disobeyal of the doctor's orders, started to protest, and then simply shook his head.

"Right," Bodie grinned tightly. "Don't need it anyhow."

"Doctor seemed to think you did." Doyle tugged the discarded sling from the loose grasp and folded it neatly. "But it's your arm." He put the cloth on the dresser top, found it looked out of place next to the pristine neatness of Bodie's brushes and combs despite the layer of dust covering the wood, and moved it to the top drawer, where it could keep company with the regimented rows of cufflinks.

Bodie nodded and wobbled over to the bed. A few breath-held minutes later, he'd finally got himself safely down and slumped against the pillows, a gesture of independence that had nothing to do with intelligent thinking.

"Do you plan to spend the rest of your life starin' at me?"

"Your eyes are closed," Ray retorted, comfortably draped against the tall bureau. "How'd you know what I'm doing?"

"Sod off, Doyle. I can feel, can't I?"

I just bet you can, sunshine. Feel good, too.

He almost said it, but Bodie looked too wiped out to deal with innuendo. He racked his brain, trying to think of something to say that would keep him in the room without starting another of their now-frequent arguments. He could try and get Bodie into pajamas and into bed, but his partner didn't look ready to face that either. The loose shirt cuffs, however, reminded him of something else.

"You need to get some weight on you. You look like a damn skeleton."

"Not hungry." The bloodless lips barely moved in the pale face.

That was a lie. Bodie was always hungry; after hospital, he was ravenous, insisting that hospital food was never meant for human beings.

"There's ice cream ... chocolate," he enticed, quickly understanding that his partner didn't want to be fed by him, no matter how much he might like to eat.

"Yeah?" Bodie half-interested despite himself, struggled to sit up.

"Stay there. I'll get it."

Mad dash to the kitchen, with a quick, voiceless prayer that Murph had come through with the requested shopping; a hasty battle with the rock-hard stuff; and then back to the bedroom, hurrying so that Bodie wouldn't have a chance to fall asleep on him.

"Open for mother." He knelt at the bedside and held out a spoonful.

Bodie raised one weary eyelid, then rolled both eyes. "Lord, Doyle, there's enough there to feed an army."

"S'for me, too," he mumbled around an icy mouthful. He filled the spoon again and presented it to Bodie, who opened automatically, seemingly fascinated by the mounds of ice cream they were going to eat.

"Can feed myself, you know," Bodie said, mouth just as full as Doyle's had been, but they continued to share the spoon, Doyle scrupulously alternating mouthsful until Bodie refused to take another bite. Ray scraped up the last spoonful, intensely aware of the sleepy blue eyes watching him.

Finished, he pushed to his feet, looked down at his partner and laughed.

"You've got a moustache, mate."

"Uh-huh." Pink tip of tongue popped out, scrubbed ineffectually at the upper lip.

Bodie looked so hopelessly adorable, he couldn't resist leaning over and helping the proceedings with his own tongue. Bodie's left arm came up slowly and weakly pushed at him, but Ray didn't even notice. One final lick, and he stood again.

"I warn you, William Andrew, if you even start to pout, I shall have to kiss you," he said seriously, hoping to forestall Bodie's favourite facial expression and what he knew would be his own reaction to it.

"Bloody hell, Doyle," Bodie swore helplessly.

"Yeah." Doyle scrambed over his partner and joined him on the other side of the bed, making no attempt to cuddle up to Bodie. "But even hell can have its bennies," he said, a wicked gleam in his eyes. "Get some rest."

I am not tired," Bodie insisted, unsuccessfully trying to stifle a yawn.

"Now, look, Bodie; I don't want as much trouble from you as they had in hospital."

"I was not trouble. They loved me there!"

"Oh, yeah? Then why'd doctor say they were lettin' you out because they couldn't stand it any longer? And why'd the sisters tell me you were the worst patient they'd ever had?"

"Don't like hospital," Bodie said sheepishly. "And I don't need them pumping me full of drugs every time I turn around."

"Mentioning which," Doyle warmed up to his theme, "I don't want to have to fight with you every time you have to take a pill."

"I don't need--"

"I've got you a surprise." Doyle hitched a bit closer to his partner, lowering his voice to a soothing whisper. "But you can't have it for a day or so, and then only if you've been ... cooperative."

Bodie looked at him suspiciously, fighting to stay awake.

"No," Doyle laughed. "Not that kind of cooperation; just want you to take your medicine and rest up like the doctor said. If you're good, then you can have your surprise."

"All right," Bodie said, yawning widely. He nestled down, surprising Ray with his relaxed acceptance of their proximity. "I like surprises."

"I'm glad," Ray whispered. "I hope you like this one."

But Bodie was already asleep, and it seemed the only reasonable thing to join him.

The macho remains of the Magnificent Seven thundered their way off into the sunset, accompanied by the sounds of his laughter and Bodie's nonstop grumbling. Doyle finally heaved himself up and switched off the machine -- the wonders of modern technology. A few left-over giggles, and he weakly gathered up the empty crisps bowl and several just as empty bottles.

A full day of lean, mean, six-gun toting, narrow-eyed nonactors had reduced him to the equivalent of a blithering idiot while the real blithering idiot had become sulkier and sulkier under the barrage of Ray's increasingly blistering, but unstoppable, criticisms.

"You ... you want to see another," Doyle offered, suddenly sobered by the true disappointment he could see in Bodie's eyes.

"No." The moody face looked at him sourly. "Not much point, is there?" He struggled up from the couch, Ray knowing better than to help him, and headed for the kitchen. "I just don't know why you bothered to get them in here."

"Hey," Ray called after the retreating back, then scampered after his partner, bottles and bowl clinking together noisily in his haste. "Hey, wait up."

By the time he got into the kitchen, Bodie was clumsily filling the kettle, so Ray addressed himself to the uncommunicative back. "I thought you'd be pleased to see some shoot 'em ups. You're always on and on about 'em."

Bodie whirled around, stormed to the refrigerator. He muttered something into its depths, and came out clutching the remains of dessert, kicking the refrigerator door shut behind him.

"How do you expect me to enjoy anything with you cackling away like a hen layin' an upsize egg!" Bodie dug a tablespoon into the pudding, clearly wishing it were Doyle's face.

"That's nor fair," Ray said, all quiet justification. "We - - both of us -- always had a laugh at those." He rinsed out the bowl, sat it bottom up in the drain. "Don't -- It's been okay these last few days, hasn't it?" He stared at the faucet with unseeing eyes, never noticing that the not-quite-shut-off tap was emitting a steady stream of water.

There was no way he could simply love Bodie into loving him again, if his partner was about to deny him that sense of the ridiculous that had seen them through many a rough moment.

"Here, you can wash my plate," Bodie ordered, handing him the well-scraped dish.

"Why should I?" he asked in half-hearted protest, even as he took it.

"Because you're the housewifely type, because I'm wounded, and because you might as well make some use of the water you're wasting," Bodie retorted, but the eyes that watched Ray were betraying concern.

"I'm sorry I spoilt your surprise." Ray turned the dish aimlessly in his hands.


"I ... I was just having it on a bit, you know."


He finally heard the exaggerated drawl, and looked up to find Bodie wearing the agonised expression his partner liked to fondly think of as his Clint Eastwood imitation. Blue eyes narrowed to mere slits, one nostril slightly flared, and his mouth set in a thin line, Bodie looked more like he'd just gotten a whiff of a bog than a steely-souled desperado, but Doyle would never tell him that. He did, however, grin.

Apology acknowledged and accepted.

Bodie nodded abruptly, and drawled on, "I think I'll mosey on back to the corral. What other tapes did you get?"

"I rented a couple of more Clint Eastwoods, a few Bruce Lees, and--"

"Did you get the one where they kill the house?"


"You know, the one where Eastwood drives the bus through the middle of town and everybody but God shoots at it. I love the part where they shoot down the house."

"I don't know," Ray answered blankly, unable to believe that anyone would kill a house, but definitely believing that his partner would want to see that done as many times as possible. "What's the title?" he shouted as Bodie "mosied" back to the living room.

Dunno, the eloquent back shrugged, but Bodie had a plan.

"We'll just watch every Eastwood flick left," he flung over his shoulder. "I'll recognise it when I see it."

Doyle shuddered and eagerly turned back to the sink. Sometimes love meant being very, very sorry; yet he wasn't really sorry about any of it. Some day, if ... when it had all worked out, he'd have a long talk with Bodie about his execrable taste in movies.

Doyle cut off the drip, drip, drip and lovingly smiled at the sink. There was nothing, he admitted, that he would change about Bodie, not his quick to flare, just as quickly extinguished temper, not his loose-limbed bed-hogging sprawl, not even his horribly childish sense of humour. The thought astonished him.

"Doyle, me boy, it must by lurv," he cracked, and strolled whistling out of the kitchen, prepared to suffer Eastwood, chicken and chips, and sick humour for the rest of his life ... if only he could have them!

"You know, I really hate that."


"That tacky dancin' girls print." Doyle (pointed) toward the wall and the offensive article in question.

"Take it down, then," Bodie said with complete disinterest. "Cowley doesn't care."

"Nah, but...."

"But what?"

"Why do you like it? I mean--"



"I was only going to say," Doyle began carefully.

"Don't like it," his partner elaborated.

"Then why'd you buy--"

"Didn't," mumbled around a mouthful of potatoes.

Doyle gently placed his knife and fork on either side of his plate. "Didn't what?"

"Wake up, Doyle, you're gettin' on my nerves! I didn't buy the damn thing. It's CI5 furnishing, see?"

"But...." He was totally adrift in the conversation. "But you've had it ever since--"

"Since you've known me," Bodie supplied helpfully.

"And you've never liked it," Ray wondered. "And you still keep moving it around?"

"It's just a thing, Ray," Bodie explained, not ungently. "A thing." He shrugged. "Didn't even think I'd be around that long. I'm a travellin' man," he finished, wicked gleam in his eyes.


Doyle shoved his plate away; steak and potatoes having lost all appeal. He gazed thoughtfully around the somewhat barren room, the only remaining touch of personality aside from what he brought over the books and the antique guns.

"Anything here but the poetry and the pistols belong to you?"

Bodie looked around briefly. "Just the books and the clothes ... and the records. Guns belong to CI5, too. Cowley pulled 'em out of safe house 2 when that Chinese guy ran amok a few years ago and tried to brain Murphy with the flintlock."

"The furniture, the drapes ... even the dishes?" Ray prodded.

"Not bad, huh." Bodie downed his last piece of steak. "Cost me a packet to buy all that stuff."

Doyle was offended to the depths of his pack-rattish soul. "You mean you'd rather live with someone else's stuff. Never have things of your own?"

"You learn to travel light," Bodie replied, eyeing Doyle's unfinished steak enviously. "You going to eat that?"

"Not hungry." He shoved his plate toward his partner, who looked at the meat and then glared at Doyle.

"Bloody hell, Ray, if I couldn't cut up mine, how do you expect--" He stopped, tirade abruptly forestalled by Doyle's instant slicing.

Ray forked a piece of steak and dangled it temptingly in front of Bodie's mouth.

"I should like a kiss for this, mate." The idea surprised him. Hadn't thought about it, but....

"I'd rather starve."

"No, you wouldn't. You've already eaten enough for a horse, and you're still hungry. What I can't understand," Doyle continued, distracted, "is why you're not putting the weight back on. Where's it going?"

"To healing me perfect body," Bodie leered, and promptly turned bright red.

"For that--"

"You shall have to kiss me," Bodie finished with complete resignation and, unconsciously obedient after 10 days' treatment, turned his face up.

The indecently handsome features were soft, open -- all the harshness gone. So beautiful. "Always so beautiful," Ray whispered, caressing the smooth cheek. "I need to take you to bed."

Bodie watched him gravely, not responding until it became clear that Ray didn't mean put him to bed. He paled.


"Yes, please, Bodie." Still caressing, still bemused by the man.

"I'm sorry," Ray said, unaware of the deepened husky tone of his voice. "You don't have to touch, but I need to touch you." The thought of it stabbed through him and his cock twitched, suddenly too tightly imprisoned by his jeans.

"You need to see a bird, mate," Boddie wheedled. "Been too long babysittin' me. Your balls are in an uproar. S'why you can't get your head on straight."

"No," Ray denied, putting all the openness and honesty he could muster into his voice. "It's love. I love you. When you get well," please god, don't let him cry now-- "you'll leave me. I can't stop you. Bastard that I am, I don't blame you. Let me love you while you're here," he begged. "Please let me love you."

For an eon, Bodie's mask stayed in place, then he nodded, not totally open but no longer closed off. He rose awkwardly, catching at the chair back with his one usable arm to steady himself.

"Why not. Get it out of your system, and move on to other things."

It would have been very nice to deny that, to protest that this was forever, but there was no reason. Bodie wouldn't believe him. He could barely believe it himself. Bodie had heard him dismiss a relationship in seconds. Even Ann, and he had cared about her, had been mourned for only a week. A very intense mourning, but an embarrassingly short one. And Bodie had seen it.

Why should Bodie trust him?

"Well?" Bodie asked.

His partner was at the bedroom door, watching him curiously; and Doyle was suddenly unsure of many things. Could he be doing exactly what Bodie had accused him of doing, merely trying to get the man out of his system? A hint of worry in the midnight sky eyes melted through him. Bodie, worried, concerned about him no matter what he did, no matter how beastly he was. Doyle felt a fierce urge to cuddle the man, to protect him from everything, including himself. That was love. Selfless determination carried him across the room. He would talk to Bodie once more, but in a different way -- this time he would talk to Bodie, not about himself.

"Not in there, love," he tugged gently at his partner's arm and steered the bewildered man to the couch. "Let's sit here."

"On the couch?" Bodie said faintly. "I'm ... I'm no teenager to get it on on the couch."

"Yes, here." Doyle settled into a corner cushion, and pulled Bodie's head against his chest, making sure Bodie was resting comfortably against him.


"Shhhhh." He stroked the rippling dark hair, pressing slightly harder occasionally because he knew Bodie liked the changing feeling. After a while he could feel the tension easing from the body he cradled so carefully, as Bodie's breathing fell into tandem with the rise and fall of his own chest.

"Not surprised you don't trust me," he began in easy, casual tones. Bodie immediately stiffened, but he patted and stroked until his partner relaxed again. "I've not done much to make you believe what I'm telling you. See, Bodie, I was so desperate to have you--" Bodie nodded abruptly, and Doyle went on quickly, anxious not to give the wrong impression. "I don't mean sexually. Well, yes, sexually," he admitted, cursing his own honesty, "but more than that. When I realised that I wanted you, that I had probably wanted you for a long time, I never thought about loving you. Don't think I could face that idea."

He looked down to see how his partner was responding to his confession, but Bodie had slithered around so that his face was hidden in Doyle's chest, leaving only an ear visible to Ray.

"I could give you a lot of reasons ... sound good, but worth bloody all."

And he could. Worry about Bodie's need to be free, worry about CI5 and Cowley, fear for his own sexuality ... the finest Doyle bullshit. "Now I think it was something else." He was probing at himself with the same painful intensity that he'd used to investigate what makes Bodie tick, and found that it was damn difficult. And very frightening.

"I think I knew that if ... that with you it'd be different. You wouldn't settle for just a part of me ... and I wouldn't settle for sharing just a part of me."

Bodie stirred restlessly, started to speak, but Ray laid a finger over his lips, stilling the unvoiced comment.

"Let me finish, now I've started." His voice wobbled, and Bodie pressed closer, offering a silent comfort that almost finished him.

"I'd like to say I was so scared I couldn't think about you, but it's not true. I never ... never thought about what you wanted. Never thought about you at all. Even when I brought you home, it was because I wanted to be with you."

"And...." Oh, god, the tears were coming now, no way to stop them. All he could do was turn his head to one side and hope that Bodie didn't notice. "And, this is what I call love. But, I do love you Bodie. I won't ... won't change; I'll always be selfish and stupid, but I do love you," he finished with an involuntary sniff, and his partner scrambled up to his knees, stared at him incredulously.

"Doyle. You're crying!"

"Am not." He sniffed hard, and dragged an arm across his face. He turned away but weakly gripping fingers tugged at his chin, and he gave Bodie what he wanted.

"You are too." Wide, luminous eyes watched him carefully, and Doyle was again lost in their depths.

"Yeah," he said shakily. "Want you to love me, Bodie."

"I do." His partner brushed away the betraying moisture.

"I know. Want you to want to love me."

The words seemed to make Bodie pull away from Ray's despairing grasp on his collar, and despite all promises to the contrary, Ray pulled him back, forced the half-parted lips against his own, bruising in his eagerness. It took him a while to realise that the quiescent mouth had come alive against his own, was demanding its own rights.

They slipped down on the couch, Bodie pressed tightly against him, the lower halves of their bodies grinding together, a cock as hard and throbbing as the one threatening to burst inside his own pants rubbing frantically against him. Ray could think only of the need that had waited so long to be satisfied, if the overwhelming, all-encompassing lust that had suddenly flared through him could be called any kind of thought. One of his lunges pushed at Bodie, and they tumbled off the couch, landing on the floor with a thud.

Bodie was underneath.

Ray instantly reached for him, but even in his madness he saw the imperfectly concealed wince, before Bodie's features took on the studiously blank look he used for most of Cowley's dressing downs. The look made Doyle pause, and looking closer he could see the shadowed disappointment and resignation hidden deep in Bodie's eyes.

With a shudder he sat up, carefully helped Bodie to a sitting position with an impersonal touch he couldn't have managed a minute before. Even with his brains in his balls, hanging on a line so taut that the touch of his own hand would send him over the edge, that faint expression of weary acceptance was enough to make him stop.

God, he had grabbed at Bodie like the man was nothing more than a piece of meat! He'd never treated a woman like that no matter how excited he might have been; not that Bodie was a woman...

He treated no one the way he treated Bodie. Yelled at no one that way; never said the unforgivable ... except to Bodie.

After those first months of scrambling around each other, trying for an ascendency that would have ensured the failure of their fledgling partnership, they had discovered that they were friends. Good friends.

For Bodie, that had meant a protectiveness and an acceptance that were seemingly unalterable, for once Bodie had given his jealously guarded loyalty, almost nothing could make him take it back.

For Doyle, it had meant a person he could trust above all others and, he understood for the first time, a person he could be himself with, the person he could say anything to and Bodie would never leave him. He had never trusted Ann that way, and maybe it was because he'd never had to, but in the wake of her departure, Bodie had been the sufferer. Even then, Ann couldn't be because Bodie was already in that place; and without knowing why, he had known that it was all Bodie's fault.

Doyle smiled ruefully at his partner, too conscious of what an awkward, meaningless first time he had almost forced on him.

"I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I hurt you." It was an apology for now, for all the yesterdays, and, he hoped, for all the tomorrows, but there was no way he could explain that to Bodie, no reason why his love should be subjected to his guilt- born depression. He could spare him, just this once.

Bodie opened his mouth to speak, and Doyle interrupted him fiercely. "Don't you dare tell me it's okay!"

Bodie stiffened, swallowed whatever he was about to say, and settled back against the couch, stretching out his legs. He gazed limpidly, but silently, at Doyle, his mouth set in a funny, pouting little smile.

Ray scooted over to him, ignoring the thrusting erection that was only now beginning to subside. "I didn't mean to grab at you like that," he said, hoping that Bodie would believe him. "I ... I got greedy."

Bodie frowned and shrugged heavily, an uncomfortable movement that gave Doyle the courage to reach out and begin rubbing the shoulder nearest him. A gentle rubbing that slowly edged to stroking, while he tried to think of the best way to tell Bodie what he really wanted.

"I don't know why I did that," he told the still features. "I think I wanted to put a kind of brand on you, to make it so much a thing of my own doing that you couldn't take any part of it away from me."

Bodie was clearly puzzled, and the halting explanation sounded garbled even to him, so he tried again, still dreamily caressing Bodie, like one would stroke a pet cat or calm a fretful child. "Part of it is just that I can't seem to stop pushing at you, testing you to see how far I can go before you'll walk away from me. I guess I know what the limits are now," he said with a breathy little laugh, still trying to banish the fear that he had lived with ever since Bodie had turned away from him. "But it's more than that," he continued earnestly. "It's like when I'm pushin' at you, trying to make you react, one way or another, then I've got you. I've got you, and no one can take you away from me.

"Same time, I can't ... couldn't stand the thought of needin' somebody that much, giving you that kind of power over me. I wish it had been different, at least some of it."

Bodie didn't move, but Ray could sense his partner pulling away from him, a physical feat that everybody but him seemed to know how to do. He wasn't sure which part of his speech had caused it; wasn't even sure that it mattered. Whenever he tried to talk his feelings out, something went wrong. There had to be another way to get through to Bodie. After all, the man loved him.

The man loved him.

The words sang in his mind with a power all their own. There might ... just might be a way.

"Bodie?" he cleared his throat hesitantly. If he was wrong, he was about to precipitate the battle of the century, and Bodie's only partially healed wounds wouldn't stop the ex-merc from going for him.

"In hospital you said you loved me."

This time Bodie did move, shifted away from him and leaned back against the coffee table for balance. The long lashes swept down, concealing whatever reaction they might have betrayed, but the barest of flushes stained the averted face.

"Bodie?" Ray prompted softly, suddenly realising that they ... no, he, had never tried to find out what Bodie was thinking, what his partner had meant by that muttered statement just before he had fallen asleep. "Was it a lie?" he demanded, ignoring the icy fear that was paralysing his body.

"No," Bodie said, nostrils flaring. "I wouldn't lie about a thing like that."

"And I would?" Ray let it go, saving that particular discussion for later, if there was a later. "Maybe I would. But, if it wasn't a lie, then do you mind me askin' what you meant by it? I'm here now; I want to be loved by you and love you. We're together now, no matter what ... happened in the past, and we've got time for each other. Why can't--"

"S'just like you, Doyle," Bodie said scathingly. "Just like you. It's all over now, boys and girls, let's just move on to bigger and better thigns. People are like ... like disposals to you. You use 'em, and when you're finished, you just throw them away." His voice dropped to a whisper, but it was filled with certainty. "I can't live with that." He looked up, his heart in his face, and Doyle's stomach flipped over. "I won't live with that, Ray."

"But, I wouldn't--" He stopped, because he had. Time and time again. There was no way for Bodie to know that this was different, no way for him to convince his partner that this was the real thing.

"And if I wait?" he asked. "If I wait for you to learn that this is forever, that I love you in a way that's taught me that I never really loved anyone else? Then what? Then are you going to tell me I'm just hangin' around because I can't bear to see anyone get away from me?"

The impossible stillness of Bodie's entire body indicated how on target Ray had been, had him scrambling over to Bodie on hands and knees, grabbing at the strong shoulders with shaking hands.

"The ball's with you now, mate. If I'm to always be walking your line, we can pack it in right now. I don't mind payin' for my sins, but I'm not going to pay for the rest of my life."

"I don't know what you're on about," Bodie blustered, the lack of strength in the protest exposing the depth of the lie.

"I'm on about," Ray said relentless, "us. I want to know whether you hate me so much now that there's no way we can ever get free of this. I wanna know if I look at you cross-eyed tomorrow morning or a morning ten years from now, whether you'll still be around in the night."

"I want to know," he continued, lips shaking treacherously," whether you still love me, and damn you, Bodie, I want an answer ... now!"

"Don't, sunshine," Bodie soothed, a confused smiled breaking over his face. "Can't bear to see you hurtin' like this."

Then don't hurt me! But that wasn't the answer.

"Bodie, please!"

"All right then. Yes, I love you. Never thought about it being loving so much as wanting to see you happy. Like that ugly, little face of yours better when it's smilin'. This--" articulate fingers waved at their rumpled clothing, the abandoned couch, stroked over his misshapen cheekbone and dried his still damp eyes before returning to Bodie's lap, leaving him achingly bereft-- "this wasn't a part of it. I want it; I want all of it. It's ... I have to trust you, Ray."

"Out there," Bodie nodded toward the world that was so much a part of their lives, "it's not a problem. Out there, you watch my back. It's in here. In here, you...."

"What about in here?" Ray encouraged, moving to sit cross- legged in front of his partner, and Bodie crossed his legs so they could be closer.

"You ... I don't know how it happened," the words came reluctantly, Bodie's struggle to get them out painfully obvious. "You can hurt me." He finally peered up from under lowered lashes as though he was expecting Doyle to break into raucous laughter and fall about. Laughter was the farthest thing from Doyle's mind.

He hitched closer, awkwardly rested his head on Bodie's shoulder, and nip-kissed the tender skin at the base of Bodie's throat. He sat back up, and captured Bodie's face in his hand, demanding that his partner look directly at him.

The love was there, all the love he'd ever wanted and more, but the continuing silence was damning.

"You ... you still don't want this, do you?" He jerked his hands away from Bodie's face, palms actually stinging as though pressed to a block of ice. It was going to be hard enough to hear the words, there was absolutely no reason to have the expression of pity that would accompany them burned into his memory for all time.

"I don't know," Bodie said, innate honesty giving Ray the reprieve he so desperately needed. "I do know I can't make you any promises. You-- It's too easy for you to get to me."

"Then we're even," Ray said, idiotically cheerful, idiotically grateful for the unexpected delay in sentencing. He took Bodie's hands [fingers?], idly noted that those of the casted arm seemed the slightest bit cooler and reminded himself to ask the sisters about that. He pressed a kiss into each palm, then folded the hands together and clasped them tight between his own.

"You can trust me, sweetheart," he promised, light-hearted words concealing very real feelings. That endearment, for all its greeting card mush, was perfect for this man-child who had managed to burrow so deeply into his heart. "I said I was sorry," he reminded, and cursed himself as he watched Bodie's fading barriers slam back into place.

I'm sorry wasn't going to be enough. Had never been enough.

"And I believe you." Bodie stood up, clumsily stretched. "At least I believe that you believe it. But I need to think about it. Closer we get, the easier it seems to be for you to take out your moods and snits on me. Don't mind usually; I've done the same to you. But sometimes you get ... vicious."

"You've got your question. My question is whether or not I want to put up with the way you can be." He smiled humourlessly, mouth set in a grim line. "Don't want you to change for me. Mostly I like you for your irritatin', egocentric self, but sometimes I think I'd be better off bein' one of the great unwashed you're always sufferin' over! And mentioning unwashed," a flash of real humour danced through his eyes, "I could use a cold shower -- I know, I know. Be careful with the arm."

He headed for the bathroom, leaving Doyle planted on the living room carpet. "It's not your fault," he flung over his shoulder, never turning around, "it's just the way you are ... god help us all."

For a moment, Doyle just sat there, weighing and discarding options. Would have been nice to have a fairy tale ending, all is forgiven, preferably in Bodie's king-size bed; but happily ever after wasn't the hallmark of CI5 or anything else in his life. Even Bodie, with his ironic outlook and unfortunate tendency to rush headlong into disaster, simply fit in with the pattern. The dear fool was putterin' around in the bath, thinking he was safe for now; but Bodie had obviously not paid enough attention to how they got into this mess in the first place.

It wasn't over ... even for today.

Ray Doyle was a very stubborn man and, he thought, gazing down at his crotch, a very unsatisfied one.

He knew how it would be from watching Bodie and Tanya, and what he didn't know he was perfectly capable of imagining.

All that smooth, creamy skin, his for the taking. It would be good to the touch. Soft with it, Bodie was, almost like a baby's bottom, except for the bearded area of his face ... and maybe, just maybe where the thatch curls sprung so thickly around his groin.

He would find out, test every inch of the man with his fingers and mouth, find out if those little brown nipples would spring pleasingly to attention when he sucked at them ... sucked hard, pulling them up into his mouth where they could be maddeningly nipped and soothed till Bodie was begging for it, pushing at his shoulders until he finally slid down that hairless chest, pausing at the sunken belly button to give it its own share of loving before moving to where the veins ran blue beneath the taut skin of the hip bones.

Bodie would be wild for it by then, hips trying to thrust against Doyle's chest, cock ramrod stiff, balls tight against his body, all of him demanding the contact that would let him come.

Ah, no. That would be too fast. Too fast.

Time to go back up, to spend more time worshipping at that incredible mouth, sucking at each lip till it was passion swollen, plundering his way through the sweely accepting mouth until each tooth, every inch of tender, hidden flesh had had its own greeting. Then to visit the throat again, a few mooments to make sure his mark was there. Not permanently; he could never really mar that flawless skin, but enough so that Bodie was branded, perhaps a small, harmless nip so that his crook-toothed bite would be instantly identifiable.

Bodie was his.

Of course he was his. Wasn't the man pulling at him, clutching him tightly, so that they fitted together inch by sensitised inch! He was hard, too, ready to roll and tumble across the bed until they could find the perfect way to bring themselves off, shoving his hips into Bodie's as though if they only pressed together urgently enough, they could become one.

But that wasn't the way he wanted it.

It wasn't enough to touch, to feel. He wanted to taste. So he would squirm away, slick-sliding down, body heaving beneath his, until he reached his goal. He buried his face in Bodie, inhaling the musk-laden scent of the man, getting higher and higher on his new-found drug, mouth poised over the heavy, blood- ridden cock, watching its one pure tear that matched the cries Bodie was gasping out. He licked, one tentative flickering over the cockhead, and Bodie screamed, body bucking with the sensation.

It was time.

Now ... now! He slid his mouth over the slick skin, engulfing him with one swallow, throat easily expanding to accept Bodie's length because he wanted this ... needed this. God, it was good. Bodie tasted ... hot. Hot and acid sweet.

He could eat the man alive ... but this was life, the heart of life, throbbing in his mouth, knocking frantically against the back of his throat to the wild writhing of Bodie's hips. He clamped his hands on those thrusting hips, holding him in place, then urging him up in time to the rhythm Bodie had set. It was good. Do it, he wanted to say, give it to me. Fuck my mouth; but his mouth was busy ... full of Bodie.

A deeper, heavier throab, and smooth, hot richness was flowing into him, filling him with Bodie. He swallowed, but it was almost as though he didn't need to swallow, as though that precious essence was sliding into his flesh, becoming a part of him. He could hear far-away cries and he wanted to answer, to encourage the hoarse screams of pleasure, but there was no time, no more time.

He urged Bodie over, positioning the limp body with gentle hands.

He was close, so close; but he couldn't hurry, couldn't take the risk of hurting Bodie. He parted the perfect ass, blindly rimming the rosy opening, forcing the saliva from his dry mouth.

It was close ... so close. He gasped as he touched his cock, held it steady as he pressed against the soft mounds.

It was close ... so close ... it was ...

Doyle bucked against the carpet, bruising himself against the hard floor as he came. A weak, shuddering moment later he rolled over, gazed up at the blank ceiling and sighed. That little fantasy had gotten out of hand in a hurry, and if Bodie wasn't careful, he could find himself living with his back to the wall.

Doyle stared down at his pants distastefully, feeling the sticky wetness cooling against his skin. Bodie wasn't the only one who should have taken a cold shower.

Still, his unconscious humping of the carpet had told him something ... the same something he'd been trying to convince Bodie of for weeks now. They belonged together. No ifs, no maybes ... no reasons. They simply belonged together.

Sooner or later, Bodie would have to trust him again. It wasn't his mouth, with a tongue that could flay a man alive at 50 paces -- Bodie had lived with that, could live with that again. In an odd way, he even seemed to like it, as though that was his touchstone for love -- if you care enough to scream at me, you must love me?


No matter. It was the approach, withdrawal, approach foolishness that had made Bodie so leery of him. Since that was never going to happen again, it was just a question of time. And time, Doyle figured smugly but with a heart-felt prayer to whatever gods that be, was something he had plenty of. To hell with what Bodie had said. What is counted, not what might be.

He heard the water still running in the shower, and grinned as he bounced up off the floor and headed for the bathroom. All sorts of sins could be washed away ... if you worked at it.

-- THE END --

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