by Kitty Fisher
The parcel was roughly the size of a shoe-box and, with a rush of blood, he knew immediately what it was and why it was addressed to him.
How it had got through the screening at HQ unopened, he wasn't so sure. If it had, of course -- just because the franking on the stamps looked genuine didn't mean that it actually was. He ran a careful finger across slightly textured brown paper, feeling the smoothness under the whorls of his finger-tip, pausing at rough string tied tight enough to indent the edges of the box. The string was cheap, shedding coarse fibres as he began to pick at it, the knot tight, precise. Military. Like the precise handwriting that spelled out his name and a very basic address -- Raymond Doyle, CI5 Headquarters, London.
Well, post reached Father Christmas, too.
Alone in the shabby office, he leant back into his chair, the old wood creaking with the movement, and, elbow on armrest, propped his chin on his hand.
Take the money or open the box, as Hughie would have said.
He sighed heavily, and cursed the fact that someone could know him well enough to force him to make this choice in cold blood, when he couldn't just rely on instinct to guide him through. In the heat of the moment he could make his mind up in an instant: shoot or not shoot, kill or be killed, baked beans or spaghetti hoops. This was different.
The wrong decision and he would be fucking up more than his dinner plans.
Reaching forward, he pulled the parcel into his lap, the weight of it heavy against his groin, pushing the softness of his old jeans against his cock, reminding him what part of this was all about.
With a deep breath and sudden decision he pulled at an end, unravelling the string, tugging it loose and tossing it away. The paper was taped down, too -- very thorough. Pushing under one end he ripped it away, letting the ragged strips fall untidily to the floor.
Under the paper was a shoe-box: Church's, size 8, welted brogues. Very huntin' shootin' and fishin'. Highly unlikely they'd been worn for any of the above. Well, not any of the traditional interpretations of those pursuits. And not that they were in the box, either.
It wasn't heavy enough. The lid lifted free and he tossed it onto the desk.
Frowning, Doyle picked at the shredded tissue that filled the box, excavating with all the care and concentration of Lord Caernarvon thinking of curses. He poked a finger deeper, hearing the rustle of dusty paper, hardly aware of anything but curiosity.
And the door opened.
Cowley stepped into the room, all efficiency, and closed the door firmly behind him. He raised a sandy eyebrow and nodded at the box. "I thought that arrived for you hours ago."
"Well, man! What's taken you so long?"
At the hesitation, Cowley straightened his shoulders and reached for the door-knob. "I see."
Doyle, hampered by the box, was half onto his feet as his controller turned. "No, you don't." He tripped slightly on the string, but made it in time to push the door closed before it had really opened. "I was just, " he shrugged, "enjoying it."
"Ah. Like a guessing game?"
Doyle grinned, all doubt gone. "Like Christmas..."
A slight blink and a nod that meant pleasure. When Cowley spoke again, it was with deep warmth in his voice, his accent somewhere north of Loch Lomond. "Well then, I'll go."
"No, wait. Please?"
"You were meant to decide alone."
"I know. But both of us know what the answer will be, don't we?"
George Cowley, the man who confronted ministers and ministers' private secretaries, the man who faced down the fiercest opposition without flinching, blinked. And Doyle knew why he had been sought out so impatiently.
Doyle shivered, and bending his head a little, smiled as a strong, callused hand cupped his face. He spoke into a warm palm. "Ay..." And a kiss planted his word.
"You still have to open the parcel."
Doyle straightened, eyes narrowing. "I've been trying to guess."
"The key to the executive wash-room?"
"Not for another five years, laddie!"
"The key to the handcuffs?"
"You can pick that lock with your eyes shut."
Doyle turned back, his smile met by a smile. "A new set, with a lock I can't get out of?"
"That'd be the day." Cowley laughed, the sound dry and, to Doyle, arousing and assuring all at the same time. "Go and open the bloody thing. I can't stand here all day -- the only reason Bodie isn't in here now is because they all think I'm wiping the floor with you."
"Okay." Doyle cracked his knuckles and went to sit on the edge of the desk, one leg swinging, the other braced. He reached delicately into the tissue and pulled out a small black velvet box. He darted a glower upwards, then snapped the lid open. Inside was an old-gold ring, a band formed of a twist of flowers, their shape worn by years of wear. He picked it from its cushion, overwhelmed.
Cowley was standing close by, his thigh against Doyle's knee. "It belonged to my family... "
"Are they roses?"
"The Stuart Rose..."
"You're a monarchist!"
"I am, and I like this Queen well enough. A couple of hundred years ago, it was all very different."
"So, Cowleys were at Prestonpans?"
"Ay, and at Culloden. The ring was made around then, probably in France, and for a man, but I've no idea who he was. It should fit..."
Doyle found the ring taken from his fingers. He looked up, seeing the age in his lover's face, the tiredness. It had been a bad week, then all this as well. "I would always have said yes, always have meant it. There was no need to doubt me."
"I didn't. Not really. But, old habits die hard, and it has been a long time since I asked a man to share anything of mine -- apart from a bottle of malt." He took Doyle's hand, wove their fingers together. "I don't think either of us have taken this lightly."
"No." Doyle sniffed. "I don't take anything of yours lightly."
Cowley bent and kissed the slight pout, the kiss a dry brush of lips against lips that lingered and deepened and brightened the day. Then, sure and certain, he took Doyle's left hand and without ceremony slipped the ring onto his third finger. "There."
"A perfect fit."
The gold was warm against the olive of Doyle's skin.
"Can we have tonight? I've the next few days off..."
Doyle shivered, and putting both arms around his lover pulled him close. "I never imagined this."
"But it is good."
"Oh, I think so."
-- THE END --