"The trouble with you," the fairy said severely, "is you don't really know what you want."

Deep into the bottle of single malt at his elbow Bodie let the slur pass, it being too true for him to refute.

"Sitting there," she went on, " 'letting I dare not wait upon I would like the poor cat i' the adage...' " (she was, you understand, a very well-read fairy). "You'll never get an opportunity like this again, you know. Vast four-poster bed, big fire roaring in the grate, frost sparkling on the window-panes and him lying there all warm and sleepy and defenceless."

Bodie shivered responsively, wistfully allowing his mind to dwell on the picture it had been studiously avoiding ever since their apologetic hostess had shown them to the only room available. He wasn't about to argue with the sentiments expressed, even if vaguely surprised to hear them uttered from the top of the biggest Christmas tree he'd seen outside Trafalgar Square. He peered up into its branches, a dejected look on his face.

"He'll only thump me," he said thickly, "or else he'll laugh."

"Is your technique that bad?" The fairy sounded surprised, shocked even. "I thought you were supposed to be the Casanova of CI5." The tree rustled as if a wind moved its branches, but it was only the fairy trying to evade the needles which were pressing painfully through the thin gauze of her skirts. A flame spurted in the grate sending a myriad points of light scattering across the shiny surfaces of the swinging baubles.

Bodie close his eyes. "Makes me giddy, that," he confided. "And my technique works fine with women."

The fairy chuckled. "I've heard. So?"

Bodie waved a mournful glass. "So he's not a woman."

"I had," the fairy assured him throatily, "noticed. When he was walking upstairs this afternoon I thought it was the prettiest thing I'd seen in ages. And then some inconsiderate idiot went and shut the library door." She sighed, squirmed and winced. Really, these wretched needles got sharper every year. If only she could move up just half an inch, get away from the one digging into the small of her back; any lower and it would be a positive embarrassment. The tree rustled again, its tiny bells chiming and tinkling like ice in a well-filled glass.

"You'll have that ruddy thing over in a minute," Bodie told her. "Can't you stand still, for goodness' sake?"

"You'd be wriggling," she retorted tartly, "if you had a pine needle jabbing you in a tender spot. I don't know why they can't be more careful when they put me up. It's the same every year. Why don't you do something about it for me instead of sitting down there being critical?"

"Me?" Decorating trees was hardly man's work; on the other hand she did seem to have her heart in the right place even if her backside was being skewered by a pine needle. He drained his glass and got to his feet, fetched the library steps and climbed them, wavering rather and clutching onto their carved handrail until the room steadied. Taking great care -- it wouldn't do to slip and bring the thing crashing down when that was just what he was aiming to avoid -- he took hold of the fairy by her surprisingly plump waist and unwound the silver string tying her to the topmost branch.

"Just look at those eyes!" the fairy enthused. "Big and blue and beautiful." She gazed into them.

Bodie gazed back, startled to find her such a grandmotherly fairy: gray haired, (incipient) wrinkles, plump and comfortable. Clearly she'd been around a good few Christmases; perhaps it might be worth listening to her advice after all.

"You think I should make a move then?" he said doubtfully.

"Never get anywhere if you don't, will you!"

"But suppose he laughs?"

"Laugh with him."

"With him?"

"Share the joke. Getting your end away isn't exactly a dignified pastime. No reason why you can't join in a good giggle and then fuck him through the mattress."

Bodie stared at the middle-aged face severely. "There's no need to be coarse. I didn't know fairies knew language like that."

Chuckling fatly she said, "There's a good deal you don't know about fairies, my boy. Now, tie me back on the tree and then go upstairs. He's been on his own in that great big bed long enough to get thoroughly lonely, just ripe for a little sleepy loving."

Gulping, Bodie did as he was bidden, disposing her skirts modestly about her chubby calves.

"I promise he won't laugh," she whispered, swishing her wand once or twice to get it ticking over nicely -- it never worked well when it was cold -- and then waved it over him, its star narrowly missing his nose. "It's Christmas, remember, all sorts of magical things happen at Christmas, so run along and don't keep him waiting any longer or he might fall asleep again and that would be a shame. Off you go."

Keep him waiting...what did she mean? Lifting his bead sharply to ask Bodie found himself off balance, the steps tipping, made a vain grab for something to save himself and fell, down and down and down...

A log slipped in the fireplace showering the wide hearth with sparks; Bodie jerked awake and sat up in the armchair, disoriented and blinking and heard the grandfather clock in the hall softly chime midnight; it felt a lot later, the house silent and still, somehow expectant.

Couldn't put off going to bed much longer, they'd been warned to expect the children to be up and about well before it was light. Everyone else had gone up half an hour ago to well-earned rest, ready for the rigours of Christmas morning. Only Bodie, huddled with a bottle of malt, had put off the moment, afraid Doyle would see the longing he could not hide if he had to climb into bed under that bright, penetrating stare. Sighing, he picked up his glass to finish its contents, shrugging when he found it already empty; then, placing the guard in front of the fire he closed the library door and made his way up the wide oak staircase.

Their room was in darkness, only the glow of the fire lighting it. Their hostess had apologised too for the lack of central heating at this end of the house. Enchanted at the prospect of a real log fire, a luxury only dreamed of, they had hastened to assure her neither of them minded, that they were only too grateful for her cheerful acceptance of two extra guests wished on her by twitchy Government officials. Since they had managed to find their way through the freezing fog that had the country in its grip and the VIP guest they'd been sent to guard was still trapped up in Scotland they were neither of them averse to simply being house-guests for a change, and the prospect of spending the sort of family house party Christmas you read about in Victorian novels was not unattractive.

Only...as they'd left the bedroom to go downstairs Bodie had caught Doyle's eye upon him, watchful and wary, and his heart had sunk. Hence his cowardly skulking downstairs, waiting for Doyle to have dropped off before he had to get under the covers beside him.

Undressing quickly -- warm the fire might be but the draught whistling under the oak door was enough to cut you off at the ankles -- Bodie made his way to the bed. Of course, Doyle was on his preferred side, a mound of bedclothes with just a mop of curls visible. Lifting the lavender-scented linen Bodie crept in...and was whipped into an urgent press of warm bare flesh that for a moment was all knobbly knees and intrusive elbows and then seemed to subside into softness like the settling of a cat.

"What took you so long?" Doyle asked, eyes bright in the firelight. "And what've you got these ruddy things on for?" He tugged at Bodie's pyjama jacket. "Here we are, the first chance we've 'ad to get down to what we both want and first off you hang about downstairs like a tactful bridegroom and then you get into bed in an armour-plated nightie. There, now the button's come off."

"Fell asleep, didn't I," Bodie said humbly, doing his best to co- operate with this fervent stripping, only to have his hand slapped as it interfered with Doyle's.

"Not going to dog off again now, are you?" Doyle paused in his ministrations to gaze anxiously at his partner. "I mean, I wouldn't want my best effort at seduction to go to waste."

"It won't," Bodie promised him, helpfully popping another button.

Much later he removed a tangled curl from his lower lip and said thoughtfully, "I thought it was going to be me seducing you."

A rumble of laughter tickled across his breastbone. "I know you did. I was going to let you, too, only I had this dream."

"What dream?"

"Just now. I fell asleep waiting for you, felt as though I'd been zizzing for hours when I woke up but it was only just midnight. I heard the clock downstairs striking."

"What were you dreaming about?" Bodie said sleepily, not really interested but reluctant to sleep just yet, wanting this moment to last for ever.

"There was this fairy..." Doyle paused far Bodie's laugh, but Bodie was silent so long Doyle thought he must have fallen asleep until he said hollowly, "F-fairy? What fairy?"

"Came and perched on the bedpost," Doyle pointed to a carved lion's head, "on that thing's nose there, and read me a lecture about missing the perfect opportunity to 'ave me evil way with you; didn't mince her words either," he added appreciatively, "gave it to me straight and indelicate. She was quite a girl. Not exactly my idea of a fairy, too overweight, but her heart was in the right place. Anyway, she reminded me what a mushy old thing you are and said you were feeling just the same way I was only you were too scared to put it to the test. Got quite cross with me when I laughed. Fell right off the bedpost and onto my face and that's when I woke up. Bodie? Oy, 'ave you gone to sleep?"

A gentle snore answered him, Bodie having succumbed to the plural effects of whisky, warmth, wood-smoke and the mast spiritually and physically satisfying sex he'd ever experienced.

They were late down next morning, having slept through the multiple excitement of stocking opening and the playing of toy trumpets and drums down the ancient corridors. From her perch on top of the tree the fairy watched them arrive, nodding approval at their look of sleepy satiety: she had done well. As least her dear girls were assured once again of the Christmas story they had came to expect as their due but, and a wistful look briefly limned the classic features, it would be so nice if one year just one or two (or more, she wasn't proud) of the group reciprocated.

-- THE END --

Christmas 1989

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