Like a River to the Sea
by Kitty Fisher
As Bodie walked away from the house the noise of the party receded slowly into the distance, until the sound of his shoes on the pathway became the only disturbance of the still night. It was very late. The coloured lights strung from tree to tree around the old manor-house had lit part of his way, giving somehow the illusion of peace, of companionship. But out here there was only the sombre moon and a sky full of stars, their vastness belittling.
He shivered, the dark worm of depression eating further into his mind.
He was quite sober, despite an indulgence of champagne. Perhaps it had been the amount of indescribably good food he'd consumed that accounted for his clear-headedness, or maybe it was just that these days -- for various reasons -- he just couldn't get drunk when he was out with Raymond Doyle.
It was a pity, because he'd wanted to lose himself tonight and the impromptu party had seemed an ideal excuse. They'd been sitting in one of the smarter west-end pubs when, out of the blue, they'd been chatted up by an elegant blonde. Before Bodie'd had time to think, Doyle had picked up on her talk of this rich man's party way out by the river and that was that. Quite why he'd slipped behind the wheel, Bodie wasn't sure, unless it was that going along was better than imagining what was happening if he didn't.
Some party: caviar and champagne; enough finger-food to keep a regiment happy for a week. Bodie had licked his lips and tucked in with enthusiasm, only realising belatedly that Doyle had circumnavigated the food and headed straight for the alcohol. And that had been hours ago.
When he was about halfway down the long, impeccably tended garden, Bodie stopped and glared at it. If Doyle had really set his mind to it, he could stay lost out here for a week -- there were enough acres here to hide an army. Bodie looked slightly more favourably at the sky; at least the moonlight gave his hunt a greater chance and hopefully meant he wouldn't end up arse over tip in a goldfish pond.
He cursed his partner vigourously. Then he cursed the alcohol's lack of effect. Close to the end of their brief leave, he could have done with forgetting a few things. But even wound in the fond embrace of a luscious PR from Highgate, he'd been all too aware of Ray Doyle, or at least of his absence. Kissing her in farewell after a third slow, intimate dance, he'd begun a casual search of the house. Then, faintly disgusted with himself, he'd found himself in the garden, heading towards the bordering river, his frequently unwanted Ray-sense leading him into the night.
And right down the garden path, he thought bitterly. Tramping through the undergrowth in search of the source of at least half his troubles wasn't a sane idea. So, maybe I'm not that sober after all, he smiled at the thought, or maybe I've finally gone round the twist.
He turned and watched the distant party, the dancers were spilling from the french windows, taking the merriment out onto the lawn. Vaguely he wondered where the girl who'd brought them was, not that she needed looking after; the minute they'd arrived she'd gone off in search of more well-heeled talent.
God, Doyle had been so keen to get here. There had been something faintly disquieting about the wild humour that had powered him all evening, especially through the long journey out here from the city.
Bodie wondered just how drunk his partner would be by now. With any luck he'd be comatose, as that was infinitely preferable to the more common effect of drink these days -- that of making Doyle fighting drunk. No wonder, Bodie considered, that he stayed painfully sober: if they both lost their tempers that would probably be the end of everything he'd fought so hard to keep alive.
Bodie sighed at the sweep of stars, feeling the faint prickles of alarm ripple through his thoughts. The river glinted beguilingly through the trees and, with a heavy heart, he headed towards it. Not, he reassured himself, that there was any worry about Doyle throwing himself in -- he could swim too well for a start. But the last few weeks had been so strained, with Doyle's temper veering wildly between brittle humour and sullen silence, that Bodie no longer knew what to expect from his lover.
It wasn't as if Doyle was the most balanced person at the best of times. After three years of sharing work and a year of sharing his life, Bodie had considered himself an expert on all the degrees of Ray's instability. Well, he'd been wrong.
He frowned. This increasing volatility almost certainly stemmed from a letter Bodie had found Doyle reading over breakfast one morning. Unfortunately, by the time he'd dragged himself to the coffee machine and poured some caffeine into his sluggish system, the handwritten pages had disappeared and Doyle was enveloping him in such an enthusiastic hug that all thought of the letter had been knocked from his mind.
It had been a week later, stung by the bitterness of one of Doyle's tirades that Bodie had remembered and, in trying to change the subject, had asked what was in it. Doyle had clammed up immediately, retreating into a silence that had at first been confusing, then ultimately irritating. So much for trust, Bodie had thought as he furiously dialled Murphy's number to arrange a night out without Doyle.
Still, he knew it could have been worse. Doyle could simply have upped and gone -- a scenario that had held distinct possibilities for the entire year of their affair. Just when Bodie congratulated himself on finally getting their relationship on an even keel, proving that his own wanderings were over and that, yes, he did love Doyle, the idiot would do something that almost proved him wrong.
It was strange being the one to keep it all together -- not what he had ever imagined love and marriage would ever consist of -- but worth it. Though occasionally hard work, the good bits had always outweighed the bad. Ray was everything Bodie wanted in a lover. Trouble was, he was other things too. Bodie could have lived without the darkness of his moods, or the insecurity that made him push every situation to the limit, testing everything and everybody he came into contact with. Including Bodie. Even, on occassion, Cowley, and that could hardly be counted sane.
Yet for all the misery, not once had Bodie's love and need been thrown in his face. Nor had the cutting edge of Doyle's tongue been used to effect a serious rift.
It was as if the demons he battled came from inside himself, so that even at his most explosive, the keenest edge of his hatred was turned inwards. Almost as if he could not only see his demons, but name each one.
Occasionally, Bodie had wondered what was wrong with finding some nice, undemanding girl to settle down with. Then Doyle would smile in that soul-searching way he had, or he'd do something that made Bodie shiver with knowledge of the rightness of what they were and all the bitterness would fade away.
Until the next time.
Peering through the trees, Bodie saw he was almost upon the river and he called out: "Ray..."
There was no answer though he listened hard enough to hear the lap of hidden water against the bank. With a sigh he pushed on, taking the gravel path that led through the pines, stirring their scent as he brushed by the branches, through the gate in the ornate railings bordering the property, until he was staring at the expanse of river.
With a sigh, Bodie glanced around and there, sitting quite still on the grass bank, his clothing almost invisible, the moonlight catching on the disorder of his hair, was Doyle.
At least he wasn't humping some girl. Half ashamed of his un-named fears, Bodie slid his hands into his pockets and warily walked towards him. "You okay?"
Slowly, as if returning from another country, Doyle raised his head. His skin was very white, colourless in the strange, elusive light. Bodie could see the pull of skin over the ruined cheekbone, the tightness around his eyes, the darkening like bruises under narrowed eyes.
With a slight shake of his head that might or might not have been an answer to the enquiry, Doyle raised the bottle that swung from his fingers and took a deep pull of the vodka.
Bodie sighed silently to himself and turned to stare at the endless patterns the moonlight was weaving on the moving water. It was very beautiful here, the sweep of ancient river curving slowly away to the sea. Though Bodie saw little of it, his essence intent on the silence at his back.
"What's the matter?" The words spilled from Bodie's mouth, falling into the silence before he could evaluate them. But Doyle, oblivious, merely sketched a shrug.
The despair in the slight movement shouted aloud, tearing at Bodie. He finally saw why it had been so necessary to find Doyle; to confront him. As a question, it was one of the most difficult he'd ever asked, "D'you still want to live with me?"
"Yeah." Doyle's voice sounded creaky with alcohol and lack of use, but the answer came immediately, as if without need for thought.
"That's all right then." Letting go of the breath that was suffocating him, Bodie cautiously went to sit at Doyle's side, though he didn't sit close enough to touch, not even in accident.
"Ray?" He waited for the sharply etched profile to turn towards him. It took a while, then suddenly silver-green eyes were staring into his own. With a slight shrug, Bodie gave up and apologised for his presence. "I thought I could help."
Bodie swore softly as a single tear slipped from Doyle's eye, tracing a damp, shiny path down his face. "Ray!"
"Don't!" Doyle scrubbed at his face with hasty fingers. "Just don't...I'm fine."
"Pull the other one! I'm sorry, but I can't keep up this pretence any longer. If you think we can go back to work with you in this state and survive longer than a week, then you've gone clean round the bend."
"Good old Bodie, always there with the appropriate cliché." Despite his words, the awful tension in his face lightened. With a wry smile, he offered the half empty bottle of vodka to Bodie, apparently as a gesture of goodwill. "Sorry I've been such a bastard."
"Don't deny it, I know what I'm like. And you should accept the apology -- you know I'm not good at them either."
"Okay, apology accepted...but only if you tell what's up." Bodie picked with a fingernail at the smooth ridges on his cords. "Is it me?"
"No! Never." Doyle snapped his head back towards Bodie, glaring at him.
"Then was it that letter?"
Doyle shifted, tucking his legs tailor fashion under him, resting both elbows lightly on his knees as he examined his fingers. "How did you know?"
"Because it's the first letter you've ever hidden from me. Because you've been so bloody miserable since you got it."
"I'm know." Doyle's words were scarcely a breath, "I didn't want to make you miserable too, but I guess I failed. When I opened the damn thing I was so stunned that I'd had to read it twice before it sank in. Then you came downstairs and I couldn't bear to talk about it, not even think about it. Besides," he almost smiled, "you're a nosy bastard and you'd have picked at me until I told you everything. And at that moment I didn't think I could.
"Does that mean you can tell me now?"
There was an almost imperceptible nod of assent.
"Then who was it from?"
To Bodie, who had expected a consultant at the hospital, or maybe in a pinch Cowley, this reply only served to deepen his confusion. He raked through the memories of what Doyle had said about his family. "I thought he was dead?"
Doyle linked his fingers together, squeezing them tight, "You know, I think I wished it so much and so often that I came to believe he was."
Awkward and uneasy, still at sea in the waves of confused emotion that were coming off Doyle, Bodie went to say something then stopped himself. In the end he settled for, "Tell me?"
After about a minute, Doyle continued, his voice threaded with tension: "He wants to see me. I think he wants to pretend that I can forgive him."
Stilling his hands, Bodie pulled them into fists to stop himself from pulling Doyle to him. He needed Doyle to talk; comforting would have to wait. "What did he do?"
"Loved me, hated me, confused me until I almost forgot the difference between right and wrong."
He fell silent again, curved forwards as if bent under the weight of memory, his face half hidden.
"When did you last see him?"
"When I was fifteen and I almost killed him." Doyle turned his face to Bodie, he spoke very evenly, but a pulse flared erratically at the side of his throat. "I made him promise that he'd never come near me again. And he swore it, the bastard, he swore it." He wrapped his hands around his upper arms, shivering despite the warmth of the night. "I ought to have known he'd lie about that the way he did about everything else."
"If you last saw him twenty years ago, then surely he might have changed? Perhaps he really does want to make things all right between you."
"Don't make me laugh!" Doyle's face pulled into a travesty of a grin. "Him, care one iota about what I want, about what's right for me? Never. If he wants to see me it's because his conscience has finally begun to prick, nothing else. You don't know him, Bodie, you don't know what he's like -- I do."
"Then don't see him. Tear up the letter and forget all about him."
"I've tried." Doyle swallowed hard and pulled both knees tight to his chest. "For the last few weeks I've tried, but I can't."
"Can't you do anything the easy way?"
"I didn't choose this!" Wounded by the perceived contempt in Bodie's words, Doyle turned, his eyes wide with pain. "I didn't choose any of it. He made me what I am. Even when I was fighting him, hating him, part of me wanted a kind word, any sign that he cared for me even a little, anything to make it all right. You grew up in a children's home you outgrew when you were fourteen -- I would have given my right arm to be born parentless, or to be packed off into care." He shivered, honesty forcing him to continue. "Though I suppose all he would have done then was smile, shown a little of his need and I would have gone running to his feet like a bloody puppy."
"You were only a kid!"
"I stopped being a child when I was nine; the day the bastard took me into his bed."
"Ray..." Bodie breathed the word in horror; pity taking away his words. The revelation explained a lot -- too much.
"I know I should have told you." Ray's voice was muffled by the curve of his naked arm. "Didn't you ever wonder why I was so...skilled, in bed?"
"Thought it was natural aptitude." He lifted his face to the moonlight. "I told you a lie when I said you were the first -- though you were the first to matter, the first of my adult life, the first I've ever loved." Ray closed his eyes for a moment, then faced Bodie again. "We don't talk about this sort of thing much do we, Bodie? We sleep together, then we go to work, but we don't really talk about what makes us tick. Oh, I know about your past -- the whole bit from mercs to CI5. I know about your girlfriends, your boyfriends, what you like to eat, which way you curl up in bed, but I don't really know about you, the real you."
"You know me better than anyone else." Ill at ease with any sort of confession, Bodie never the less tried. "And I do try to understand you. Sometimes...sometimes I even think I can make you happy."
"Oh, Bodie..." Doyle reached for the vodka, his hand almost steady as he took a deep swallow. When he went on it was in a whisper, "I'm not sure that's possible. I'm sorry."
"For...I don't know, for everything."
"Self pity'll get you nowhere."
"Yes you are and you can stop it. You can't have been that fucked up by your father, or how come you're living with me, being fucked by me and, unless you're a very good actor, enjoying it. Ray, whatever he did to you is in the past -- you must have sorted yourself out?"
"Did I? I don't know. I thought I had, I saw enough experts at one time. But sometimes I think all I did was bury it all so deep that the light of day could never reach it." He shook his head and hesitantly reached out, brushing Bodie's cheek with the back of chill fingers. "Besides, if anyone really healed me, it was you. If I ever forgive him it will be because of you." Bodie started with surprise and would have reached for Doyle's hand except it was immediately tucked away safely. He almost smiled, but Doyle asked a question: "Bodie, you ever done something you knew was wrong, but still gone ahead and done it anyway?"
"Killed people, I suppose that counts?"
"But you always tried to kill the bad guys, yeah?"
Bodie nodded, conceding the point. "It's still killing though -- what did you do that was worse than that?" Bodie watched his lover's face, seeing the strain and the misery etched onto the fine contours. Wanting very much to make all this all right, he waited, for he didn't know how to begin.
When Doyle began to answer, Bodie thought he was changing the subject. "I think I was born with a sense of right and wrong. Even as a kid I knew that pulling the wings off butterflies was a crime; that lying was wrong; that doing the right thing was often to walk a fine line."
"You still know that."
Doyle shook his head, but otherwise ignored the interruption. "When I was very small the kindest thing my father ever did for me was to wallop me with his hand rather than his belt. I think that in his eyes I was always in the wrong, especially after Mum died. I must've been hyperactive or something and his cure was to bash me, shut me in cupboards, that sort of thing. I never blamed him, not really, because I knew that what I was doing was wrong -- even though I couldn't stop myself." He smiled ruefully, "I still haven't learnt the knack."
"But that didn't give him the right to treat you like that."
"Maybe not. Maybe he thought he was doing the right thing, maybe he loved me a little bit -- at least I always thought his love was within reach if only I could find a way to it."
"Yeah." Doyle slid his eyes to meet Bodie's for a brief contact, then the gaze skittered away as if afraid. "An' anyway, then I found a way he could love me."
"Let me guess, he saw you growing up and realised that what he'd got in the house wasn't just an irritating kid, it was a potential fuck."
"'s'pose so. But at the time I really thought the idea was mine." Ray ignored the snort of disgust. "I can remember the first time he sat me on his knee -- strange really as so much of what came later I can't remember at all. Anyway I was scared he was going to hit me, but instead he just talked, held me still. It was almost nice. Then I realised what he wanted. So I did it."
"And you were nine." Bodie closed his eyes, but the pathetic picture followed him. He wished that Doyle's father was here to listen to this, to be made accountable for the years of misery he'd inflicted on his son. No wonder Doyle had an uncertain temper. It was more strange that he was even half-way sane.
"He didn't fuck me at first, there were lots of other ways I could be used, and I went to his bed almost willingly. Then it wasn't enough any more and he did it. I think I was eleven, though I might've been older or younger -- even now I can't really remember much of that time. I think I went along because it was love of some sort, proof that I mattered. Then one day I woke up and saw things as they really were, realised that I hated him, that he probably hated me, and I began to fight. I only wish I'd started earlier." There was a moment's silence. "Christ, I was pathetic!"
"Stop it! Don't hurt yourself like that." Bodie fought for the right words, feeling inept, clumsy, inarticulate. He wanted desperately to take the taut body in his arms and hold it until his love could heal all the hurt, but Doyle's every cell seemed to scream: don't touch me. Instead, with one finger, he stroked the patch of skin between elbow and t-shirt, willing all his feelings into the simple contact.
"Do you see now why the letter stirred up so much?"
"Yeah, and I can also see that the bastard should be castrated for attempting to reach you."
"The thought had occurred to me, too." Doyle drank from the bottle and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. "Do you realise, if he'd asked me, I would have laid a knife to my own wrists and cut. I would have done anything for him. Stupid, eh?"
"No, not stupid; manipulated, abused, but not stupid. We all want love, Ray, we all crave it -- anything to mean that we're not alone. You just had to give more to receive less." Bodie thought about how Doyle's sense of what was right must have made each night an ordeal. His father must've been clever; clever enough to keep the child, clever enough to re-aportion the blame. And clever enough to have traced that child twenty years later.
Giving in, Bodie edged closer, holding out his right arm, giving Ray the option of leaning in to him. When the weight of chilled body pressed against him, he sighed and wrapped his arm around the curve of shoulders, trying to transmit through touch the reassurance he found so difficult to describe in words.
"I know I'm an idiot, Bodie, I know I should've told you, but I was afraid. Ashamed, I suppose. I reckon you still wouldn't know if it hadn't been for this," he waved the bottle in the air and, for the first time, Bodie could hear the slight slur to his speech. "I love you, you know that don't you?"
"I know." Bodie fought with himself. "Though after him I don't know how you can put up with a man in your bed."
Immediately Bodie wished the words back, for the muscles tightened in a ripple down Doyle's back. "Bodie, I wanted you from the moment I saw you -- and I do mean you, not the apendage that dangles betwwen your legs. It was you I fell in love with, you just happen to be a man." He shifted slightly and took hold of Bodie's knee, gripping it tight. "You are everything that he wasn't, everything I've ever wanted. You know I've enjoyed women, almost imagined myself in love with one or two." He stopped and the grip on Bodie's leg pulled to the bone. "Please try and understand. Don't hate me for this, but you see I enjoyed a lot of what he did to me -- he taught me that. Taught me how to enjoy what a man can do for me in bed. He was very careful, made sure that at least some of the time I was more than just a convenient...object. He hurt me sometimes, yeah -- when he was really drunk -- but some of the other times were...good. I think in a way that was the worst, the day I realised that I wanted to be in his bed -- was looking forward to it. From that day I never went back willingly." He swallowed, tucking his head away as if to hide his despair, or to avoid the condemnation he expected.
"Ray." Bodie twisted, so close he could feel the erratic play of Doyle's breathing against his face. "Open your eyes." For a moment the thick lashes shivered, then slowly they lifted. "I'm...honoured that you can love me after all you've been through. More than that, I'm touched, amazed...but are you sure?"
"Bodie! If you talk about leaving me for my own good I think I'll bloody well strangle you!"
"I don't think I could, you've become a part of me, Ray Doyle." He stroked his hand up and down the curve of Doyle's back, feeling the slight shift of muscle and bone as he breathed. It was true: both of them had fallen in love with the person, not the gender. They were both far enough outside society not to care about its conventions, at least that was how Bodie had always seen it. Though now it was clear that Doyle had surrendered more in admitting his love than Bodie had imagined possible.
Yet somehow, despite the disgust, the anger, the dismay he felt at Doyle's past, Bodie did wonder if Doyle would be the person he was if he hadn't had to fight so hard for his sense of self. Carefully, picking his way through the mine-field of words, he said, "Ray, I want you to know that I want you exactly as you are. If your past was what it took to make you, then I think you should try accepting it, living with it."
"You see, I thought I'd done all that, had therapy, talked myself dry -- yet it still comes back."
"That letter was bloody unfair." Bodie held his lover tight, breathing in his scent, eyes sightless as he considered everything that had been said. "I'm glad you told me."
"Yeah." Ray smiled and pulled Bodie flat on the grass, curling around him. "Bodie, I'm very good at hating myself sometimes, I'm sorry you get the fallout."
"Don't worry about it; I don't hate you at all and that should make up for it." He grinned, suddenly feeling that the future had more going for it than he'd imagined. "I'm glad you fell for me, apendages and all."
"Yeah, can't see you in a frock..."
"Nah, it'd be the high-heeled shoes I'd have the trouble with!"
They laughed, the sound fading to contentment as they lay still, listening to the lapping of water, the faint rustling of night creatures foraging. The moon had swept onwards, her light already beginning to fade with the approach of day.
Doyle gave an audible sigh of satisfaction. Lying still, his head tucked into the curve of solid shoulder he knew, with a springing sense of release, that it was good to feel alive again.
Bodie understood. It almost seemed beyond belief that Bodie had the patience, the love, to stay here, to care. But he did. And he was right, there was no need to be controlled by the past; it was gone, so why not let it go? He shifted, cramp tugging at one toe. He could do it, maybe even try and re-think the way the past was seen, the way he was affected by it. The thought was enlightening.
Bodie could feel the lethargy pulling at Doyle's body. It was getting chilly and all at once he desperately wanted to be at home; to take this new-found serenity to their bed and lock out the rest of the world. "Let's go home."
Stirring himself, Doyle lifted his head and looked at Bodie, who saw with a sense of relief his eyes were clear, the tension gone. "Yeah, whose idea was it to come to this bloody party, anyway?"
"Oh." Doyle was silent for a moment, then pressed a flat palm to the thin cotton over his lover's chest. "Bodie, will you make love to me when we get home?"
He held his breath as Bodie tensed, then answered, "If you're sure, if you want me to."
"Wouldn't ask if I wasn't." He sat up, wincing as he put a hand to his eyes. "Though I might need something for my head first."
"Did you finish the vodka?"
Doyle felt around him, finally holding the almost empty bottle it up to the sky, swirling the last few fingers. "No, besides, you had a swig."
"And that makes all the difference?"
Doyle considered, "I suppose it can't, considering the state of me."
Bodie stood up and reaching down, took hold of both Ray's hands, pulling him to his feet, holding him until he steadied. "You okay?"
"I'm fine." Doyle answered more than just the obvious question. "I'm just fine." Emotion naked on his face, he leaned towards the warmth of Bodie's mouth, letting his lips trace over it's softness, nibbling, waiting until it parted for him and Bodie took his offering with hunger, tasting not the sourness of the alcohol but the sweetness of Doyle that lined it. The kiss was very deep, soul deep, so they came out of it wrenched to the core, shaken by the bedrock of certainty they felt in each other. There was no one and nothing else in the world to matter as long as this...rightness, endured.
Each saw the slightly bemused recognition of this revelation echoed in the other. As if the world had turned on its axis and the future was no longer rooted in the past, but in this one immutable fact.
Shaken, Doyle pulled back and reached into the back pocket of his jeans, pulling out a crumpled letter. He stared at it then, walking stiffly down to where the water eddied against the shingle he looked back at Bodie, who came to stand close behind him, his arms linked around the slender waist, kissing the nape of Doyle's neck, whispering into the tangled curls, "Go on. If that's what you want, go on."
And Doyle took the paper between his lean fingers and tore it across. Then again, then again, before scattering the ragged scraps in the air where they were caught on the light breeze to be carried out onto the water. "There..." he breathed out.
They watched the ink blur and run, waiting until the tattered remains of the past caught on the tide and floated away before they turned. Then, with no need of further words, they walked away from the river.
-- END --