Terms of Endearment


A woman screamed, and Ray Doyle's heart jumped against his ribs. The hand cradling the brandy glass of orange juice trembled, his throat clenched. Sweat sprang from every pore, leaving him chill and shaking despite the warmth of the summer Sunday morning. The woman raced down to the river's edge but it was too late. Her daughter had fallen headlong into the water as she over-reached, trying to play with the ducks she had been feeding with bits of bread. Was she three, four? Her white cotton dress and little white socks and shoes were drenched as her mother pulled her out. A quick smack, a wail of outrage, and the child was hauled off up to the car....Doyle passed a hand before his eyes and forced a calming breath into reluctant lungs.

The symptoms were classic. In wartime they called it "shell shock". In peacetime it was put down to stress, the inability to adequately cope with Life, whatever the hell that meant. Was there a difference between the trauma suffered by soldiers under fire and the high-pressure, overstressed lives lived by Cowley's men?

For thirty minutes Doyle had sat on the polished wood bench, watching rowing boats on the river, listening to the sounds of Sunday morning day-trippers, and pondering that point. The August morning was golden and calm, the sky was high and clear, the traffic no more than a buzz in the distance. It should have been perfect.

But Doyle was alone. The absence at his side created a partial vacuum, as if one could perceive the yawning chasm of emptiness inside. His senses were dulled, and he knew it--Cowley knew it. He was suspended. The old man was no fool when it came to the health, physical and mental, of his men. Once, Doyle might have kicked against the suspension, but not this time. He knew he needed the rest and respite as well as Cowley knew it. And Bodie?

Oh, Bodie needed the rest. A team of physicians had taken him apart, bone from bone, and handed in the same prognosis. Bodie was laid up, till further notice.

"Hello, Ray. Whatcha doing out there? God, you look rough, mate! What's wrong?"

The voice surprised Doyle, punctured the shroud of his dulled senses. He stirred, looked up over his shoulder and saw Jax a pace behind him. His gorgeous Jamaican wife was with the kids, buying ice creams all around, but Jax himself had opted for coffee and a hotdog. He was on a fortnight's holiday as of the previous day, Doyle remembered. Tee shirt, jeans, sneakers...Ruby, Aaron and Chloe crammed into the Mini, out for a day on the river. Nice family, Doyle thought as he shuffled along the bench and made space for Jax to sit.

"You look awful, Ray," Jax repeated in a low voice.

"I feel it," Doyle told him in a curdled tone.

"You coming down with something?" Jax took a bite out of his frankfurter and licked mustard from his lips. "I thought you were, uh, having a few days off."

"I'm bloody suspended, and you know it," Doyle retorted. He leaned back against the sun-warm wood planks and studied his knees. Rock-washed Levis, Nike trainers crossed, thrust out into the pathway before him. Everything looked green through the lenses of pilot's glasses. Green cloth jacket, fine shirt, white with a pale green stripe, made in Belgium, jewel-green tie loosened now after he escaped from Cowley's clutches. He had dressed to woo Cowley and Ross, whom he had met for twenty minutes, two hours before. A glance at Ross' face, and Doyle knew she was not fooled by a facia of elegance hiding deep turbulence. Her gimlet gaze pierced the mask at once, straight through to the tides of anxiety, dread, doubt that buffeted a man as a storm tosses a small boat.

"But Bodie'll be okay," Jax murmured confidentially. "I asked Cowley how bad it was. He said it could have been worse."

"Oh, sure, it could have been worse." Doyle took a swig of orange juice. It had been cold thirty minutes before and was now tepid, acidic. The Vitamin C content would have dwindled to nothing, too, in that time. Might as well have a Coke and get that sugar buzz. He needed some kind of a buzz, anything to jump-start his brain. He swallowed the fruit juice in one long draught and looked Jax in the eye. "It could have been much worse. Bodie could be dead."

The slender Barbadian grimaced. "What's got into you? Bodie made it. It was a tight scrape, but we all get into 'em. It's part of the job. I thought you'd have been 'round there, geeing him up. You and him being..."

"Being what?" Doyle's serpentine brows arched. He set the glass onto the white iron table at his elbow and thrust his hands into the pockets of his light, green cloth jacket. "Partners? Mates?"

"Something like that." Jax bit his lip. "It's just, I thought you and Bodie were...uh, in bed."

Doyle sighed. "We are. Or, we were. Now, who knows? He probably hates my guts by now."'

"Pull the other one," Jax said blithely, "it plays the Ride of the Valkyries. Bodie, hate you? I don't buy that."

"Maybe you don't." Doyle sighed, closed his eyes to shut out the view over the river. Watching people having fun while one was miserable only made for greater affliction. "You didn't see his face when they put him in the meat wagon. I was there. He looked at me, and--" Even now the memory evoked a shudder. It was never easy to see Bodie in pain, difficult to tell an expression of hurt from one of fury. Doyle got to his feet, needing just to move.

For some time Jax was silent, watchful. His kids were tugging the skirt of Ruby's pink sun frock, demanding money to hire a paddle boat. She was juggling an ice cream cornet in one hand and her handbag in the other. Like an automaton, Doyle smiled hello and waved. Ruby would never know he was miles down in a deep blue hole.

"'How long?" Jax asked quietly. "Since you talked to him."

"I haven't had the guts," Doyle sighed. "I talked to one of the doctors, had a word with Cowley and Macklin, then the Cow had the sense to suspend me."

"That's three days," Jax remonstrated. "It happened on Thursday. You mean, you haven't even phoned him?"

"I told you. I had a sudden attack of cowardice." Doyle watched the kids elbow for the attention of the elderly gent in charge of the canoes and paddle boats.

"Then you don't know what Bodie thinks," Jax said drily. "He might be angry all right--because you did one of your famous vanishing acts, right on cue, when he needed you most."

Doyle snorted with bitter humour. "You want me to go 'round and offer him my jaw to bust? Ceremonial punch, the parting of the ways." The words hurt as much as the punch he fully expected to collect as he walked through Bodie's door. "There's easier ways to get murdered, Jax."

"Still," Jax mused as he crumpled up the hotdog bag and sipped his coffee, "you're never going to know what he thinks till you beard the wolf in his lair."

"You mean the lion in his den." Doyle raked his fingers through his hair, worked his neck to and fro to ease the stiffness of sheer tension.

"D'you want me to phone him?" Jax offered. He crushed the styrofoam cup and tossed it into the bin a few metres from the bench. "You know the old saying, throw your hat in first."

The offer was surprising. Doyle's insides gave an uncomfortable jolt. "You'd do that?"

"'Course." Jax stood, hands in pockets, looking skinny and healthy and measurelessly content as he watched his wife and kids. Doyle admitted to a moment of green-eyed, acid envy--not for the family but for the unadulterated happiness. Jax smiled, waved at Chloe. "Ray, for God's sake, mate. We've been friends a long time. How long is it, five years?"

"Six." Doyle puffed out his cheeks. "Drugs Squad. Night shift. Double duty. You were courting Ruby when we met."

"And you were undercover. The MacCarthy bust." Abruptly the trip down memory lane began to jolt painfully. Green eyes and brown met, locked, pierced. Jax's brows knitted. "You were undercover, and we all knew you were getting fucked. There was not one damned thing we could do to stop it happening, and you changed after that."

Defensive shields slammed up, like storm shutters locking on the windows of Doyle's soul. "Okay, I changed. We were partners, Jax. You knew me better than any man did in those days. You knew when I changed. And why."

"I knew." The ghost of a smile touched Jax's lips. "Because the rest of the squad thought you were getting raped in there, and I knew better. You were getting fucked. There's a difference. That dealer, Jon Pengelli, who got you into bed...he could have raped you."

"But he didn't," Doyle's lips compressed as he thought back on the scene. Big and dark, half Italian, was Jon, and although he dealt in cannabis because he despised people who were stupid enough and weak enough to dabble in drugs, he was otherwise a gentleman, and a very gentle man. An opera buff; a patron of the Sport of Kings; a specialist in Regency antiques; and a masculine homosexual to whom red-brown curls and slanted green eyes were the ultimate lure. Pengelli likened the young Ray Doyle to countless Renaissance paintings, and when he took the boy to bed it was to perform a gentle, undemanding and unimaginably pleasurable initiation which left Doyle changed forever. Pengelli was given fifteen years and would be in prison for a long time to come. At the end, he knew Doyle had been a plant, but he discovered the spy in his midst too late. When the two met face to face in an Old Bailey courtroom, Pengelli looked merely grief-torn...Doyle felt a twist of guilt. It had all been in the line of duty, he had gone into Pengelli's mansion only to bust him, and anything else that happened was purely incidental. Most of the CID knew he had "accommodated" the man; only Jax knew that rape had never been a part of it.

It was a young man's awakening to his own sexuality, and as Jax had observed, Doyle had changed. How could he not? He had always believed himself completely heterosexual until that job. Afterwards, he knew he was bi. The affairs began, then. While Jax and Ruby courted, married and made babies, Ray Doyle embarked on a risky, shadowy double-life.

On the surface, and as far as his bosses knew, he was as straight as a handful of rulers. By night, and far across Town where his face was unknown, in the enveloping steam of the baths or the murk of the bars, he was just Ray. No names, no pack drill. A hunter on the prowl, a predator looking for game. Maleness attracted him; masculinity fascinated. Hard bodies--smooth was his preference, though furry was fine if the guy had an irresistible personality...big blue eyes were his favourite, brunets his predilection, well-worked muscles a definite must.

In 1977 Jax married Ruby, and Doyle threw confetti. Two weeks later, when Ruby announced she was pregnant, Jax and Doyle were transferred from CID to CI5, back to the bottom of the ladder to start again. Doyle knew the days of wine and roses were over. With Cowley breathing down his neck he must be more careful than ever. The nocturnal forays into the gay subculture must stop of necessity. Pressure was to build under Doyle's cork, and Jax had teased him more than once in those early days that the explosion would be a whopper when it came...

Enter Bodie.

Tall and muscular, smooth and brunet, with the biggest, bluest eyes. He gave the word "masculine" a whole new dimension. Doyle took one look and fell like a load of bricks. He could never fool Jax and had never bothered to try to. The man who must be fooled was Bodie himself. Bodie was (or at the time gave the appearance of being) a rampant heterosexual with a voracious appetite for petite blondes with slender bodies and a notoriously short attention span. One after another he picked them up, enjoyed them and discarded them, leaving a trail of broken hearts behind him.

How long did it take the shields to lower and the truth to come out? Two years. Two long, frustrating, strenuous...wonderful years. And then one day it was Bodie's control that snapped, Bodie who grabbed Doyle, smothered him with a kiss that tasted of blood, slammed him onto the settee and held him down, gasping and protesting--protesting because the double layer of cotton and denim stopped sensation, and Doyle was desperate to feel skin on skin, cock on cock.

In the end he bit and kicked until Bodie released him, got up and stripped before Bodie's bemused eyes, and bent over the armchair for it. Two years of abstinence was too long, and it hurt. Bodie knew. Vegetable oil from the fridge; a long, slow massage; and then it still hurt but the pleasure had begun, and Doyle remembered the first time. With Pengelli. Relaxation and distraction were the keys. Concentrate on anything, get your mind off the agony ripping through your arse as that big, blunt cudgel forced its way inside.

Bodie cuddled him afterward, fussed over him. The early summer day was warm and they were on the hearth rug under an open window hours later, naked, drinking wine, listening to the radio. It was idyllic, and Doyle prayed it would last forever while at the bottom of him he knew it could not.

Early summer was late summer now. The trees along the riverbank opposite were sure it was autumn; here and there gold and russet had begun to replace green. Two months, sixty days and nights. Not a bad affair. Sixty nights of hot, feverish lovemaking as two long-frustrated and deprived men roved through their own sensuality and imagination, making up for lost time. Bisexuals, both, victims of self-deprivation as they put career first, pleasure second, and suppressed half their natural appetites to please Her Majesty's Government.

And now? Doyle watched the August sky. Now, he was suspended and Bodie would probably break his jaw the moment he walked through the door, and the worst of it was, it was largely his own fault. He had his reasons, some would have called them good reasons, but in the cold blue light of day they seemed trivial by comparison with the real truth: Bodie could have been in hospital.

Bodie could have been dead.

The thought was sobering, and Doyle felt a rush of heat to his face. He swallowed repeatedly as a wave of nausea rose, hot on his belly.

Jax laid a hand on his arm. "Ray? Are you okay?"

"No, I'm not okay." Even his voice sounded odd.

"Do you want me to give Bodie a ring?" Jax sighed. "I thought you'd finally found somebody. I thought you were going to settle down. You're getting too old to run with the rat-pack, you can't start that again, even if Cowley wouldn't kick your arse off the Squad for it--which he would."

"I know." Doyle swept off his sunglasses and knuckled his eyes. "I'm thirty-two."

"I'll phone Bodie," Jax said, a sudden unilateral decision which rocked Doyle.

He had taken two strides toward the nearby phonebox when Doyle caught his arm, held him back. "No. I'll go 'round. I've been avoiding it, but I can't avoid it much longer. Just staying away will make him more furious."

"Now you're talking sense." Jax waved to his wife. "Give me a buzz, tell me how you go, mate."

"I will." Doyle slid the glasses back onto his nose and searched his pockets for his keys. "Thanks, Jax. For caring. There's nobody else who does."

"Bodie does," Jax corrected.

"I wonder." Doyle took a breath, held it, let it out slowly as a hiss through his teeth. "I wonder if he does."

A call from the water's edge, and Jax turned away. Ruby was waving and Chloe had begun to cry. What the trouble was, Doyle could not tell, but Jax was suddenly in demand and Doyle was alone again. He stood by the bench for some time, watching the family, envious of their happiness. Jax was right, he must settle soon. The "ratpack" in the baths and bars was much younger, though it was difficult to tell in the murk, through a haze of booze and amyl at two in the morning. If he danced his nights away in that fast, rough company Cowley, Macklin, Ross, the CI5 doctors, would see the mental and physical exhaustion setting in rather sooner than later.

He had prayed that home and peace and security were all wrapped up in one big, beautiful package called Bodie, and four days before he would have cautiously, tentatively, sworn it was true. Then, a key in a lock, a chance glimpse, and he knew what a fool he had been.

His car was parked under the trees, by the iron railings. The squeak, rattle and rumble of swings and roundabouts called through from the park. This was the wrong place to be depressed with Life in general and his own life in particular. With a sigh he buckled in and twisted the key. Have to have a word with Malcolm and the mechanics. The ignition system was dodgy.

Sunday morning traffic was thick. Every man and his dog were headed out of Town, while Doyle headed back in. Bodie was in Ealing this season, which made a change from Putney and Fulham. Cowley moved them around a lot. It made sense. The longer they were in any one area, the more likely they were to become targets. In this job, a man had a lot of enemies.

Uxbridge Road was congested. Doyle stood behind a lorry, breathing a cloud of carbon monoxide till his head was afire, and then pulled out with his foot to the floor, smoked his tyres with a scream of rubber on the road. Fists shook, someone yelled after him. He was not even aware of the ire of other drivers, and if he had been, he could hardly have cared.

Beechmount Road was quiet. A few trees lined the kerb, the neighbourhood was well-heeled. The building was not new but had recently been renovated. Bodie was on the fourth floor. Heart hammering, Doyle turned off the motor, locked up the silver Capri and stood on the pavement, looking up at the windows. A curtain twitched. His heart jumped and he swore. No chance to back out, then: Bodie must have seen the car.

He pressed the buzzer and waited. A minute seemed like an hour, but at last the voice he knew so well said, "Yeah?"

"It's me." Doyle swallowed. "Will you see me, Bodie?"

A pause--might have been hesitation, might have been breathless rage. "Come up." Bodie's voice was taut.

Oh, Christ, he's furious. The door released and Doyle stepped into the hall. In the sudden dimness he was almost blind, and he slipped the sunglasses into his pocket. His eyes were gritty, sore after several near-sleepless traw and closed the door behind him. Bodie was still in the bedroom as he slopped scotch into two glasses. The door was almost closed, he heard the rustle of sheets.

He's had company. In bed. Again. The thought was unbidden, unwelcome and sharply painful, yet Doyle would have been the first to point out the absurdity of possessive rancour. They did not own each other. If Bodie wanted to entertain a guest, even (or especially) in the sanctuary of his bed, he had the right. And God knew, the last three days had been tough enough on Doyle; on Bodie they must have been murder. Should never have left him alone, Doyle thought wearily as he sipped the scotch, felt it burn his gullet, warm his belly.

A thread of release unwound as the alcohol hit his blood. He closed his eyes, gazed inward at images he would never forget: a hundred feet of space under him, wide, cloud-swept sky above, sooty brick work, drain pipe, one hand clutched tight, fingers clenched into larger, stronger ones

"You look like hell." Bodie's voice was suddenly close, so close by Doyle's ear that he physically jumped. A drop of scotch spilled as he turned and set the glass into Bodie's hand. Bodie did not drink, but frowned deeply at him as Doyle ordered his thoughts with a visible effort.

"How've you been?" Doyle asked at last, quiet and hesitant, diffident for the first time in years.

"Not too bad." Bodie held the glass to his nose to savour the fine aroma of the Johnny Walker Red Label.

"That's a lie." Doyle lifted his chin. "I talked to one of the doctors. He said the muscles are badly torn."

"They are." Bodie took a sip. "I've had worse. I've had that kind of life."

"Don't patronise me!" Some tone in Bodie's voice set Doyle's teeth on edge, and a sliver of anger thrust in among the regret and anxiety. "That's not what I came here for."

The dark head cocked. "What did you come here for?" Bodie was stiff as a man of thrice his age. He turned away, walked to the settee and lowered his wide form onto one end of it. His brow creased as he sat and he arranged him self carefully on the cushions before looking up at Doyle.

"You're hurt." Doyle's mouth was dry, yet he should not have been surprised by what he saw. He had spoken for almost ten minutes with young Dr. Gregson, seen the x-rays. Bodie was going to be out of commission for weeks, off his top-form for months.

"Of course I'm bloody hurt!" For the first time Bodie snapped, voice rising in annoyance. "Where the hell were you? They kept me in hospital till morning and then Cowley brought me home. You vanished off the face of the earth! You didn't even bother to pick up the phone." He glared up at Doyle, challenging, defiant.

The assault might have been physical. Doyle felt every word as if it was a blow. "I'm suspended."

"You're...what?" The confession diverted Bodie's anger. Fury was still there, making his eyes glitter like sapphires, but for the moment he was distracted enough to set aside recrimination.

"Cowley suspended me for a few weeks." Doyle finished the scotch in one swallow. "He's no man's fool."

"But you're not hurt--are you?" Bodie demanded. "I caught you."

The glass clattered down by the bottle on the silver tray. "No, I'm not hurt," Doyle said, whisky-hoarse. "You caught me. You should have let me drop." Pain wrenched his chest. He turned his back on Bodie, unable to look into eyes filled with stormy accusation.

"Bull." Bodie's fists clenched. "You don't mean that. If you do, you want a boot up the backside. Say what you mean, Ray. What's Cowley suspended you for?"

The short speech was so rational, so matter-of-fact, it was almost surreal. Doyle felt the onset of a babble of irrational laughter. He choked it down as he folded his arms over his chest and looked over his shoulder at his partner. Ex-partner. "I'm as useless to him as I was to you three days ago."

Bodie opened his mouth to make some snappy rejoinder, but closed it once more. His brow furrowed. "You made a mistake. We all make mistakes now and again, Ray. If you were perfect every time you wouldn't be human. Cowley's not going to throw the book at you for that."

The room was warm but Doyle was chill. He sank slowly down onto the foot stool by the end of the settee and folded his arms about his knees. "I could have got you killed."

"Could have got yourself killed," Bodie retorted. "Your mind was a bloody mile away! You were away with the pixies, mate. That's the best recipe for committing suicide."

The truth of the words bit like a snake. "S'what Cowley said. My mind wasn't even on the same planet. It should have been easy. I've always had a decent head for heights." He rubbed his eyes viciously, leaving them red. "I screwed up like a rank amateur, and I was supposed to be backing you up. Backing you up? Ha! That's a laugh. If you hadn't..."

If Bodie had not turned back, let the gunmen escape across the roof, and reached over the fifth storey eaves with one desperate hand, Raymond Doyle could have been at the crematorium by now, wept over by his family, puzzled over by his boss. Cowley knew his man was under par. Ross' early judgment was less sanguine. Suspension was the best short term option he had. What became of him next, God alone knew.

How long was he silent, withdrawn, reliving the horror again? The chase, his own wandering concentration, the dizzy drop on his left hand as Bodie scrambled on ahead. Thoughts that should have been focused and which wandered at the crucial instant. All it took was a bad step. He should have been wearing rubber-soled trainers but he had on the boots, beautiful red leather boots Bodie had loved. The soles were not made for climbing and chasing over rooftops. A foot wrong, his ankle turned, his foot slithered. The roof went out from under him, and he was falling, flailing--

His hand caught the gutter but his fingertips could never keep a grip on it. A paint-peeled drainpipe thrust against his leg, he caught it on one hand, clutched tight to it, felt the ancient, corroded brackets break away. Screws fell, the whole pipe bent out from the wall

Is this what it feels like to die? Surprise rather than shock, wildfire sensations rather than fear, dizziness, time stretching like elastic...and then Bodie's face above him, a hand reaching over. It was too far down for Bodie to get a good hold on him, and if Bodie had used both hands they would have gone over together.

Tenacious as a bulldog, Bodie would not let go. He was strong, stronger than even Doyle had realised after sixty nights of mock-wrestling and play-struggling between the sheets. Ever lifted ten and a half stone on one arm, Ray? The thought ricocheted in his skull as Bodie lifted him up, inch by inexorable inch.

And then Bodie was slithering over, losing his hold on the guttering, and for a blind split second it seemed they were both going over. He threshed, grabbed, produced that burst of herculean strength that is inexplicable in purely physical terms, and which carries a high price to be paid later.

He was paying the price now. The x-rays showed clouds of inflammation about his right shoulder and the vertebrae in the upper part of his back. The muscles were torn, tendons wrenched. Chances were, Gregson said, he would feel the minor burn of those pulled tendons five and ten years later, long after they were healed enough for him to go back to work and forget the actual injury.

A price to be paid? Doyle swallowed on a dry throat and wished he had not drunk the whisky. His senses were already dulled, and a single shot of malt left him feeling dislocated. He jumped as he felt Bodie's hand on his arm.

"Ray, are you all right?" Anger was spent now-or shelved, put on the back burner. Bodie leaned over, down the length of the settee. "What is it, mate?"

He took a deep breath to steady his voice. "Cowley's right. I'm no good to either of you. Rank bloody amateur."

"That's bull as well," Bodie remonstrated. "One mistake doesn't make you an amateur. If it did, we'd all be out of a job, Cowley included."

"It's not the mistake," Doyle whispered hoarsely. "It's why I made it."

Bodie skipped a beat, two beats. "And why was that?"

Doyle shook his head slowly, declining to answer. What was the point? Where was the need to lay bare his soul, expose its bruises, when everything ended here? In a way, it was a relief that it was over. If you never tried, you didn't run the risk of failure...if you didn't climb, you couldn't fall.

"Ray." Bodie's hand tightened on his arm. "Get up here, will you? Leaning over like this is hurting me." He patted the settee. "And tell me what's the matter with you. If you just spit it out, I might be able to help you."

With an effort Doyle hoisted himself onto the settee and positioned himself as far from Bodie as he could manage. "I'm going to resign. You won't have to carry an albatross about."

For a long, pregnant moment the loudest sound in the room was Bodie's breathing, a taut rasp which Doyle knew from long experience meant he was nearing the end of his tether. He tried to get to his feet, to put distance between them before Bodie could react physically, perhaps lash out, but it was already too late. The hand which had lifted him back up onto the roof closed like a manacle about his left wrist and pulled him back, hard.

He came up against Bodie's solid body with a gasp and squeezed his eyes shut, waiting. But when it came, Bodie's voice was a mere whisper. "I'm going to have the truth out of you," he said, words scudding moistly over Doyle's neck, "supposing I have to tie you down over my knee and take my slipper to your bare bum until you give it to me."

A shudder, soul deep. "You want to hit me? Go ahead. God knows, I've earned it," Doyle murmured.

"Oh, for Christ's sake!" Bodie released him, almost shoved him away, and then snaked his arm about Doyle's waist to hold him before he could escape. "I don't want to hit you! Why would I want to hit you?"

"I almost got you killed," Doyle rasped, and fought the nightmare images of falling back into the cellar of his mind. Coming here was a mistake--he had known it would be. He'd had the memories secure under some kind of trap door, and Bodie had opened it, let them loose all over again.

"You slipped," Bodie said reasonably. "It could have been me who put a foot wrong. You're not perfect."

Doyle shivered and mocked himself as the press of Bodie down his left side warmed him with a tingle of animal delight. Thought unraveled as it always did. He should have been trying to put distance between them, and instead his willful muscles pressed him tight against Bodie.

"It's not the fact I fell," he said, slurred, as if his tongue was hard to control. "It's why I fell."

The arm about him hugged in encouragement. "Okay, I'll accept that." Bodie caught his hand, pulled back the cuff of the green jacket to expose his wrist. The skin was friction-burned, sore. "So, tell me why. Do you want to feel my slipper on your bare bum?"

Would it matter if Bodie did that? Doyle closed his eyes. In that moment he felt that he would have lain there, accepting, acquiescent, until smart became sting became fire, and if Bodie broke him in two he would not have lifted a finger or made a sound of protest.

In fact, Bodie shook him gently. "How long is it since you slept, Ray?"

"The night before...it happened." Doyle took a breath. "I can't sleep. Every time I close my eyes I see you falling."

"Me? But it was you who fell," Bodie protested

The curly head nodded. "And when I dream, I'm still up there, clinging to the drainpipe, and you let me pull you off the roof and I look down and you hit the ground, and you're dead down there and I'm still hanging on, waiting to fall, and then the pipe breaks away and..."

A shudder racked him. Bodie touched his cheek with gentle fingertips. "You told anyone?"

"There's no one to tell," Doyle said with weary resignation. "Cowley had sense enough to suspend me, and how could I come here, after what I did to you?"

"Again--in English!" Bodie barked, and tightened his grip on Doyle as he felt the man trying to withdraw, as if he could slip out of the half-embrace and escape.

"You're on the sick list." Doyle fought his thoughts, fought the wonderful/dreadful sensation of Bodie pressed to his side, which taunted him with the promise of fruit which must surely be forbidden now. Confusion rocked him like a boat loose in the current.

"I've torn some muscles," Bodie said patiently. "Like I said before, Ray, I've had worse. Much worse. Do you think I was going to let you drop for the sake of a few torn muscles?"

"Could have killed you," Doyle whispered as his belly lurched again, with the phantom sensation of failing.

"Ray!" Bodie shook him harder. "Ray!" And now he did strike Doyle, a slap across the left cheek, just hard enough to fetch him back to the present. "What's the matter with you? Where's your mind?"

The light slap was more shocking than a closed-fisted punch. Doyle dragged in a breath and blinked his vision clear. The room seemed brighter, Bodie's eyes darker, his own heart was pounding frighteningly. "My mind? The same place it was when I went over the edge of that roof!" he rasped .

"On another planet?" Bodie caressed the cheek he had struck. "Mars, Venus? You mean, you lost your concentration?"

The curly head nodded. "Funny, isn't it? Years on the job, best in the profession. Then one day I come this close to getting the pair of us killed, because my feet are chasing you and two gunmen across a roof, and my mind's a mile away."

Bodie nodded slowly. "And all this--" he waved a hand vaguely about them "--is about guilt." He cocked his head at Doyle and frowned. "Where was your mind?"

"Doesn't matter." Doyle knuckled his eyes. "I guess I came here to make peace with you. Let sleeping dogs lie, Bodie. Like I said, I'm going to resign. We might as well split as friends."

"Like bloody hell," Bodie said fiercely. "You want me to do it, Ray? Belt the truth out of you?" Both hands tightened on Doyle's upper arms, turning him face-on. "What had you so preoccupied that you screwed up your job and got me hurt?"

There it was in so many words, and every one stung. Doyle flinched visibly. "Chris Gibson," he said between clenched teeth.

For a second the hands holding him tightened, and then Bodie's fingers relaxed, released him. The blue eyes narrowed a little, dark lashes swept pale cheeks. "Oh. I guessed as much. It had to be Chris. But you never said a word to me about that."

"Wasn't anything to say." Doyle leaned forward, elbows on his knees. Now it was out, he felt tired. "I don't own you."

"But..." Bodie paused. One hand fell on Doyle's back. "You wish you did."

The hand on his back rubbed lazily, soothingly. If Doyle had been a cat he might have purred. "Maybe. I could have broken Gibson's neck."

"I know. I saw your face that afternoon." Bodie kept up the slow, soothing rub. "It was just for old time's sake. No good telling you, I suppose, it was the big farewell scene."

"The...what?" Doyle's belly lurched and twisted, not unlike the feeling of falling, but hot and acid.

"Parting is such sweet sorrow," Bodie said quietly. "Chris hadn't known about you and me."

Doyle waited, shivered as Bodie's hand slid up inside his jacket and began to stroke again, through the thin, warm layer of cotton. What had he felt that afternoon, just four days ago, when he used his key to Bodie's flat, slipped in unaccounted with a bottle of wine...heard the rustle of sheets, the squeal of a bedspring...stood at the door and watched the two bodies entangled on the bed? The push and pull of muscle in Bodie's thighs and flanks as he fucked the young man, who was on his knees, legs splayed wide, face lost in the pillows, hands clenched on the bedhead. Blond hair, pale gold skin. Oh, Chris Gibson was beautiful: twenty-five, brown eyed, an old friend of Bodie's from the public school they had both loathed. Bodie ran away to sea, Chris ran away a year later, into London's tough, dangerous underground. He was in business now, and the trade was sex. Rent boys, a stable of seven thoroughbred colts of all persuasions. A black with a cock like a truncheon; a French kid who liked it rough and didn't mind taking a sound whipping for good money; a whey-faced Dutch boy, almost like a girl; a rawboned Scots kid with a cheerful smile, a willing arse and a heavy hand with 'discipline'. Something for everyone, and Chris Gibson creamed the lion's share. He was rich now. The Porsche at the kerb belonged to him--Doyle had wondered whose it could be when he parked the CI5 motor pool Capri behind it and let himself into the flat.

Just for old time's sake, one for the road? The farewell scene? The pain Doyle had felt was unreasoning, like the senseless agonies of laboratory animals without hope of escape. He slipped out of the flat unheard, returned an hour later and found the two men drinking wine, listening to the BBC news. Bodie made introductions; Gibson shook his hand, smiled, offered him 'an introductory special' with a smile and a chuckle. Doyle's expression was bleak as a winter wind...a glance at his face, and Bodie knew he knew.

When Gibson left they should have talked, but instead it was silence. Doyle was hurt and angry, Bodie seemed simply exasperated, as if he believed anything he could say would only cloud the issue. No proprietary word had ever been spoken between them; ownership had never been proclaimed. Not then.

Now, Bodie slid his arm about Doyle's waist and drew him back in tight. "Chris didn't mean to hurt you, and neither did I. You just arrived at the wrong time."

"How many?" Doyle asked suddenly, without thinking through the question before it escaped his lips.

"How many what?" Bodie echoed patiently.

"Lovers." Doyle looked up at the ceiling. "How many lovers have you had since you and I got into bed?"

"Just Chris. And that was just twice, two afternoons. The first time was two days after we started. I'd already promised a week before to meet him for dinner and a quickie...and I didn't know we were serious at the time. Then, four days ago when he came here asking for a favour. Wanted me to put some pressure on a client who's been frightening his boys and not paying up. I said I would, he set about seducing me. We spent most of the time talking about you, and then we said goodbye the way old lovers sometimes do. It was one for the road, Ray. A farewell fuck for auld lang syne. The last time. Chris won't be back."

Tears stung Doyle's eyes, blurred his vision. "Oh, Christ. I wish..."

"You wish you could get a ring through my nose," Bodie said drily. "Get a collar and lead on my neck. Label my bum with your name and address, in case you leave me on the bus by accident, 'if lost please return to R. Doyle, reward offered.'"


"You mean it's not true?" Bodie snorted with the first sound of genuine humour that day. "You could have ripped poor Chris limb from limb, fed him his balls and stuck his cock in the blender!" He dealt Doyle a shake. "And, you being you, I'd have been stunned if you'd reacted any other way."

Dizzy, Doyle spun to look at him, needing to see into the depth of his eyes. "You mean--"

"I'd let you do it?" Bodie shrugged, and winced as his back pulled. "I wouldn't let you take it out on Chris. He did nothing to get you mad. Ring through the nose? Um...on the finger, maybe. Cowley might not like his agents going around looking like Hottentots. Collar and lead? Tell you what, when I wear a collar and tie you can hang onto the end. Label my bum? So long as you do it in indelible ink. I don't care for branding irons or tattoo needles. Pain ain't my scene."

Doyle took a deep gasp. "I thought you were having an affair behind my back."

"I was." Bodie threaded his fingers through the soft, red-brown curls. "Twice, I fucked Chris and I didn't tell you either time. The first time, I didn't think it mattered. The last time, I would never have told you because it did matter, and it was never going to happen again. But if you mean, was I having a love affair behind your back...you ought to know me better than that."

Heat stained Doyle's face. "I stood at the bedroom door, watching you in our bed." He closed his eyes. "Your bed. But I keep thinking of it as our bed."

"S'all right I think of yours as our bed too," Bodie said easily. "I like the sharing."

"I watched you making love," Doyle murmured.

"You watched me fucking," Bodie corrected. "It was four minute, quickie sex without the trimmings. Did you notice he still had his socks on?"

"He what?" Doyle's mouth twisted into a reluctant half smile. "I didn't notice. I was too busy watching you."

The blue eyes brightened. "I'm flattered." He gave Doyle's hair a tug. "We should have talked, but I didn't know what to say. I didn't want to paint you into a corner where you demanded to know the truth."

"The truth about you and Chris?" Doyle dragged a breath into the bottom of his lungs. Some nerve in the pit of his stomach began to unwind, like an overwound mainspring coming loose.

"The truth about me and Chris," Bodie sighed. "He's rich, he once earned his living as a hustler and now peddles flesh to rich Arabs; he gives the best head east of Castro Street...except for you. He owns a Porsche and he's having a wild affair with a Coldstream Guards officer who likes to fuck with his feet on an icepack, because it keeps him twice as erect for twice as long."

"It takes all kinds, I guess." Doyle rubbed his face ruefully. "True, Bodie?"

"Absolutely, try it one day," Bodie suggested. "Mind you, cold feet are not everybody's idea of--"

"I mean, about Chris," Doyle whispered.

"I know you do." Bodie pulled him closer. "I'm just trying to make you smile. You were thinking about me and Chris when we got up onto the roof?"

Doyle nodded miserably. "Wasn't even twenty-four hours after I saw what I saw in there." He nodded at the bedroom. "I couldn't get it out of my mind. Couldn't even think straight. And then I fell and..."

"And I caught you." Bodie pulled him across his lap, set him down on his back. "You think I'd let you fall, for the sake of some torn muscles? So I'm on the sick list. You like to imagine you put me there? Think again, mate."

The blood was starting to warm again; icicles Doyle had not even been aware of melted. His spine tingled. Nerves in his belly and thighs which had been numb for days began to return to life. Doyle looked up into the face he knew better than his own and yawned, which confounded Bodie.

"You haven't slept in days," Bodie guessed. "Well, that makes two of us. I kept waiting for you, but you never showed up. I kept ringing, and you weren't answering your phone."

"Was out," Doyle whispered. His fingertips traced Bodie's brows, nose, mouth.

"Where?" Bodie kissed the straying fingertips.

"I visited my sister. Went to the pictures. Hung around in a bar...gay bar. Cowley'll kill me for it if I was recognized but I don't think I was."

"Made a pickup?" Bodie was only teasing.

"Nah. Just talked to some men, went down to the back room and watched them all getting their rocks off."

"Watched enviously?" Bodie rested one fingertip on the end of Doyle's nose.

"Not really. Gang-bang isn't my style," Doyle admitted. "They were having a great time, but I couldn't stop thinking about you. Then I'd finally crash, try to sleep in the early hours. And I'd dream."

He shuddered, and Bodie felt the tremors. "Come on, then. You're going to bed," he said with exasperated amusement and affection.

"It's almost lunch time," Doyle groaned.

"Hungry?" Bodie let him up and held out his hands to be helped to his feet. "If you haven't been sleeping, when's the last time you had a decent meal?"

"Can't recall," Doyle admitted, and it was the truth. It was as if his body had been in limbo, anaesthetised. What Cowley had thought, he had no idea; but the day would come, and soon, when he would face the music. Dance to Ross' tune. For the first time in days he was stirring awake, aware of his own circadian rhythms, hunger, tiredness...desire.

Bodie opened his arms, and Doyle stepped into them gladly. "You're an idiot, Ray. Then again, we both are. That night after Chris left, we should have talked it out. But I didn't know what to say. I could just see a three act Greek tragedy starting if you once got going."

"If I got going?" Doyle echoed.

"If you put me on the spot, made me explain Chris." Bodie slipped his arms about Doyle's waist and drew him in. "I would never have breathed a word to you about him. I never wanted to hurt you. If you think I'd ever do anything to hurt you, you're crazy."

Heat stung Doyle's face once more and he set his head down on Bodie's shoulder, felt the hardness of muscle through the layer of terrycloth. "I love you, Bodie." There, the confession, for better or worse.

A pause, not of hesitation but of obvious and genuine pleasure, and then Bodie almost purred. "About half as much as I love you," he murmured, lips against Doyle's cheek, and felt Doyle's shudder of response. "Tell me something."

"Kiss me first."

"Tell me something first, and then I'll smother you," Bodie promised. Doyle nodded. "When you arrived here you looked scared to death."

"I thought you'd hate my guts," Doyle sighed. "I saw you with Chris. I thought I was just a passing fancy to you. We've only been lovers two months! Then the next day I go out and almost get you killed, and do get you badly hurt." He drew back and looked up that hand's span into Bodie's eyes. "Don't con me, you're in pain. I saw the x-rays."

"I'm...in pain," Bodie agreed. "I won't work for six or eight weeks, and before I do get back to work I'll have to go through Macklin's school of hard knocks. I hurt like hell, and those tendons I tore will remind of their presence years from now. And I'd do it all again."

"I thought-" Doyle sucked in a breath, swallowed hard and blinked on sudden stinging tears.

"Idiot," Bodie said throatily, tenderly, and set his mouth on Doyle's for the first time in days which seemed as long as years.

Tongues touched, twisted, spun a web of delight, and the nostrils prickled on a swift waft of musk. Doyle clung tight, opened his mouth to Bodie's pillaging, welcomed it all. His hands slipped into the terrycloth, worked it back and up and off, leaving Bodie naked against the friction of his clothes. At last Bodie lifted his head to breathe, and smiled impishly.

"I thought you said you were hungry."

"I am," Doyle admitted. "You got anything to eat?"

"Not a lot." Bodie set a hand to his back. "I haven't been up to cooking, so I've been phoning out for stuff."

"Junk food?" Doyle wrinkled his nose in distaste...oh, how like ecstacy was the return to banter and gentle teasing.

"Skate and chips, pepperoni pizza, lemon chicken," Bodie said blithely. "Pick my robe up, will you? I can't bend."

Obedient, Doyle retrieved it and handed it to him. "Were you just getting up or going back to bed when I got here?"

"I was going to have a shower. Hot water makes me stop aching for awhile." Bodie folded the robe over his arm. "You look like you could use a little relaxation yourself."

Doyle groaned audibly. "In bed, cool sheets, and you? I'll rub your back. Baby oil, talented hands." He waggled one hopeful eyebrow. "Any takers?"

"You're on." Bodie leaned carefully toward him, smacked the corner of his mouth with a kiss and turned away toward the bathroom. Steam billowed out through the door as he set the shower taps. "You sharing the water with me, or what?"

"I'm hungry," Doyle said plaintively.

"What? Can't hear!" Bodie shouted as the water began to rush and the plumbing gurgled.

A sense of relief, peace, comfort, pervaded Doyle's every cell. Every atom shifted a degree in its orbit, every raw nerve was dealt a swathe of some blessed balm. Happiness was something that could endure for an indefinite time, but "bliss"--lauded by poets of old as an almost spiritual state of being--could only be sustained by a mortal human for a very brief time. Oh, but while it lasted...

The sunlight falling through the green drapes was molten gold; the motes hanging in those shafts could have been stardust. Over and over, he heard the three words, spoken deep and rumbly in Bodie's chest. I love you.

A smile teased the corners of his mouth, widened, stretched as if in some vain attempt to reach his ears. The tiredness which had dogged him receded. "I said, I'm hungry!" he bellowed in the general direction of the bathroom.

"Can't hear. Hang on." Bodie stepped out of the steam, not dripping yet, smiling at him as if something wonderful hung in the air like a drug. "C'm 'ere," he growled, and Doyle found himself stalked by a predator who made his skin prickle, his whole body catch alight.

He retreated, came up against the table and could go no further. Bodie's fingertips rested on his cheekbones, immobilising him as surely as if he had caught his prey in a net. Doyle's breath snagged in his throat, he wasn't breathing at all as Bodie's fingertips traced down his cheeks to his neck, deliberately pulled loose the jewel-green tie which so beautifully matched the jacket, and started on the buttons of his shirt.

"But I'm hungry," Doyle murmured as one muscular thigh slid between his legs.

Bodie caught the loose ends of the tie like a lasso about his lover's neck to hold him captive, and Doyle countered the playdominance with a romantic gesture. His right arm went about Bodie's neck and he looked up into the laughing blue eyes.

"If you're hungry," Bodie said glibly, "you can go out and get us a pizza, and beer, and cake."

"Junk food," Doyle teased.

"All goes down the same way, my son." Bodie planted a kiss between his eyes. "Go on, get some food in. We'll eat in bed. Ever eaten pizza in bed?"

"Not that I can remember." Doyle lifted his mouth for a kiss. "Christ, Bodie. I'm sorry."

A sigh escaped Bodie's lips. He rested his forehead on Doyle's and closed his eyes. "So am I. It's all been a mistake, Ray. A bad one. I just couldn't face up to the scene I saw coming last week. I chickened out, couldn't find a way to tell you about Chris, so I let you nearly kill yourself on that roof .. and then I got mad as hell with you when you stayed away from me, which only made matters worse. You're sorry? We both are. But it's finished now, isn't it?"

But Doyle shook his head slowly as he drew reluctantly out of Bodie's arms and refastened his tie. "It won't be over till we lay the ghosts to rest."

"You can lay me, if you feel like it," Bodie said glibly with a salacious lick of his lips.

"In bed, after we finish the pizza and beer?" Doyle dug out his keys. "You're on."

"I think you'd better be on," Bodie said with a frown of deep concern. "I don't think my back's going to be up to much pillage and plunder for awhile."

A flicker of the furious guilt which had tormented Doyle for days returned, and he bit his lips. "Oh, Bodie."

Bodie held up both hands as if at gunpoint. "Enough. Don't start again. You've said everything you can, or should. Comes a time, sugarplum, when you have to let it lie and start again."

"Sugarplum?" Doyle spluttered, affronted, delighted.

"Will you settle for sweetheart?" Bodie sang as he stepped back into the billows of steam.

And, Doyle decided, he probably would settle for "sweetheart." Gladly. He took a deep breath to clear his head and slow his heart before he stepped out of the flat, back into the real world where private lives, abstract passions, had no place. Pizza; beer; cherry brandy; chocolate cake; Quality Street. All the things Bodie liked best. Maybe it was time to spoil him, let him know deeply how he was cared for. Needed.

Such thoughts were still on Doyle's mind as he made it back to the flat an hour later, and this time used his key. The same key which had betrayed him. He gave it a glare, thrust it back into his pocket and juggled parcels as he waited for the lift.

A pace through the door he called, "S'only me, sunshine."

"In bed!" Bodie shouted. "What kept you?"

He was propped on pillows, bare to the hips, cheeks as smooth as a man can only be if he has shaved in the last twenty minutes.

Doyle appreciated the effort, leaned over and nuzzled his face, only to find himself caught by the tie once more.

"Bodie," he said patiently, "that is not a dog leash. That is a tie. Civilised gentlemen wear them."

"Make good collars and leads though don't they?" Bodie said smugly, and gave him a sharp tug which dumped him on the bed in a shower of parcels.

"Give me strength," Doyle groaned as he plucked beer cans from his ribs. "If I've sat on the pizza--"

But it was safe, Bodie already had a slice between his teeth. "Come to bed," he invited, as salaciously as was possible through a mouthful of food.

Doyle sighed, smiled, and stood in the sun by the bed to undress. Bodie watched every lithe, fluid move; the pizza was forgotten. His mood gentled, his eyes darkened. He rested his head back on the pillows and gave Doyle a look of such longing that something in Doyle's insides liquified.

"You're so beautiful, Ray," he said softly. Banter and taunts were discarded. He held out his arm. "Come here, sit here and see yourself." He nodded at the mirror, which was angled to show the bed, a little harmless voyeurism. Doyle slid down onto the mattress beside him, strong arms slid about him, and Bodie leaned against his back, chin on his shoulder. "See yourself?" Bodie's right fingers combed through the hair on his chest. "Do you know, you're like a yearling colt. Look at your legs. D'you know what I like?" Doyle made some small negative sound as his throat constricted. "I love your nipples." Bodie smiled. "I love the colour of them, not quite brown, not quite rosy. Remind me of Satsuma plums. Touch them with my tongue and they get up hard." Doyle moaned. "Long, gorgeous limbs," Bodie went on. "So smooth and slender...you're lucky. Mother Nature put all your body hair on your chest where it belongs! Well, most of it." His hand slid down into the nest between Doyle's legs. "And this is so beautiful. This is you." He palmed Doyle's cock, which had been half erect for minutes. "You're a siren, Ray. I never could resist you. I'd follow you barefoot, the rest of our lives, if you'd let me." He kissed the point of Doyle's shoulder.

"Bodie--" Doyle's vision was misted, his chest was tight.

"Shh. Not finished yet." Bodie's mouth slid up to his neck and fastened there, vampire fashion, for a moment. "Look at yourself. What do you see?"

"Just me," Doyle murmured hoarsely. "Plain, old ordinary Ray Doyle."

"Plain? Old? Ordinary?" Bodie's fingers moulded to the bones of his face. "Well, maybe it's just as well you can't see it, or you'd be the most vain man alive." He kissed Doyle's ear, tugged the lobe with his teeth. "Let's eat, and then you can fuck us both to death. I need it."

"So do I." As he was released Doyle slid into the bed, and Bodie pulled the food and parcels in between them. "Bodie?" Doyle asked through a mouthful of pizza. Bodie lifted a brow at him as he settled on the pillows and made himself comfortable, which was not easy. "No more of them," Doyle said with soft intensity which nonetheless probed like a scalpel.

"No more...?"

"Other lovers." He felt his cheeks flush brightly.

But Bodie was smiling. "That's what I told Chris. He offered me my pick of the stable, if I'd only go 'round and lean on this customer who's been coming on too strong. One of his poor little tykes got hurt. The bastard wanted a full-throttle leather scene, which is fine if the pain hits your pleasure button. But like most of us, when the kid got hurt all he felt was pain, and the customer didn't stop."

"That's cruel." Doyle caught his lip between his teeth. "You wouldn't have had the chance to put the frighteners on this berk before the...accident, would you?" Bodie shook his head. "And you're not in any fit condition to do it now," Doyle added. "I'll go."

"Will you?" Bodie leaned over for a kiss that tasted of tomato and anchovies. "Chris will be grateful. He'll offer you the pick of his stable."

"He can offer." Doyle popped a bite of pepperoni into Bodie's mouth. "I don't have to accept. No others, Bodie. Just you and me. Yes?"

"Yes." Bodie pressed his back into the pillows and cracked the top off a Carlsberg. "We're lucky. We managed to pick up the pieces. I had half an idea it was over for us."

Doyle swallowed a large bite half chewed. "As sure as I was, mate. S'why I was so bloody terrified to come 'round here today. I thought you'd break my jaw and throw me out for landing you in this mess."

Blue eyes studied him, dark, troubled, filled with affection. "You," Bodie said succinctly, "are a wally."

"I'm...a wally. Every now and again," Doyle agreed resignedly.

"But you're a beautiful wally," Bodie added, and silenced his partner with a slice of pizza before Doyle could speak. "Eat, will you? Then fuck us both within an inch of our lives, and we'll get some sleep. Then, we've got some heavy-duty planning to do."

"Planning?" Doyle ransacked the pizza box.

"Cowley. He's no mug, you know," Bodie said drily. "He saw through you in two seconds flat, whacked a suspension on you. You're going to have to do some fancy talking to get out of this one." He frowned. "You could put it down to personal problems.

Family trouble? Girlfriend trouble?"

"Or tell the truth." Doyle finished the food, swiped the Carlsberg out of Bodie's hands and took a deep draught. "My old mum used to say, honesty is the best policy."

"You old mum never worked for Uncle George." Bodie took back the beer and drained it to the bottom. "Anyway, first things first." He tossed the pillows onto the floor and very carefully stretched out flat on the mattress. "Let's have you, gorgeous. You know what I want."

In fact, Doyle knew everything Bodie wanted and needed, in the most intimate and minute of detail. He knew him as no other human had ever known him, or ever would. Secret things, like the ticklishness of his inner thighs, the sensitivity of the back of his neck, the slight bend to the right of his cock as it came erect, the responsiveness of his anus to the merest tickle, the swell of his balls as he grew excited, the throb of the big vein which pulsed along the top of his shaft, the slow, heavy beat of his heart, twist of his face as he became rapt, caught up in fierce pleasure.

All this, Doyle knew. A slather of lubricant, and he straddled Bodie, took his weight on his palms on the broad, white chest and made free with the tiny brown nipples which were sublimely sensitive. A lick made Bodie purr, a bite made him growl, and his musk wafted strongly, heady as joss.

Pleasure wreathed them, but Doyle was always careful. It would be weeks before Bodie could more freely or quickly, and until then the responsibility lay in his own hands to fetch his lover to pleasure the safest way.

His lover. The words were balm on half-healed sores. Doyle clung to them as climax burst through him, and Bodie cried out sharply beneath him. He was coming too, deep-buried, racked by a whirlwind of delight. The big, thick shaft thudded against Doyle's prostate, drew a cry from him also, and then it was down, down, into a sticky tangle of limbs, hazy thoughts, oncoming sleep.

Time to think later. Tell Cowley the truth, for better or for worse? Accept the old man's judgment--when had he ever been wrong, or unjust? Doyle's eyes were closed as he slid down onto the bed at Bodie's side, head on his chest. Thump-thump, deep and regular, the rhythm of a man's very life.

He knew the dream would be back as soon as he closed his eyes; he felt the hollow sensation of falling, looked up and saw Bodie above him...but this time Bodie's arm tightened around him, held him firmly. The dream dissolved, the dread slithered back into the basement of his mind. Perhaps, it would always be there, well buried beneath security, comfort, love.

Bodie was whispering to him. On the point of surrender to sleep Doyle made himself listen, and smiled. Gentle terms of endearment counterpointed stroking fingers. Bodie thought his bedmate was asleep and every soft, silly pet name escaped. Doyle sighed, wriggled closer and surrendered.

-- THE END --

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