"That reminds me," Doyle said as they waited for the traffic lights to change and his eye was caught by a window display of fluffy slippers--never seen for some strange reason at any other season of the year--"I haven't got anything for Auntie Vi yet."

Bodie cast his eyes to heaven and revved the engine impatiently when the car ahead of them did not move off promptly enough to suit him. "Can't you stop going on about your bloody relations for just one day? You've done nothing but rabbit on about ruddy Christmas all week and we're only just halfway through November."

"Like to get it all done early, don't I," Doyle said virtuously, "not leave things to the last minute and have to do them in a rush.. .or never get round to it at all like some people I could mention."

Bodie offered him a look compounded of irritation and condescension. "Why bother with all that rubbish anyway? Presents and cards and all that rot. It's all just a commercial rip-off."

"You mean you don't even send cards?" Doyle was faintly shocked at that.

"Damn silly idea--just puts money in the card companies' pockets."

"Not if you buy charity cards," Doyle argued.

"And they'd get more money if you gave 'em a straight donation. It's all a load of sentimental drivel."

"Scrooge!" Doyle grinned. "Bet you don't mind getting presents though, do you."

Bodie just shrugged.

"Bit off that," Doyle opined, "being too damn lazy to go to a bit of trouble for your family at Christmas. It's only once a year when all's said and done."

"Just as well too, considering the way they spin it out so it lasts two months and more."

"It's still not nice," Doyle argued, "taking presents from people and not giving one in return."

"Would be if I did," Bodie agreed, signalling left and turning into a side road that connected with the main one he wanted to join. "Hope to God they haven't got round to making this a No Through Road yet."

He was lucky for once, but it was getting increasingly difficult to find short cuts these days, the way they kept closing off roads to prevent motorists cutting through residential areas.

Doyle settled lower in his seat and bit back a yawn. Too many more days on this surveillance job and he'd be doing his nut from sheer boredom. Even Moira had complained last night that he was in a crazy mood; too much energy needed to be worked off, that was the trouble. She hadn't been any too happy with the methods he chose to do it though and it had taken some time to talk her round. Still, it had ended in a fairly athletic few hours and left him feeling (and looking) pleasantly drained, a fact his partner didn't hesitate to comment on.

"Bit of all right, is she, this Moira?"

Doyle opened a pained eye. "Bit of all right? What a way to describe a lady."

"Lady, is she? Didn't know you knew any of those. Most of the ones of yours I've met have been right little ravers."

Doyle chuckled. "Wouldn't let you near any of the other sort, would I!" he said unwarily.

"Ah!" Bodie shook a sympathetic head. "Must be awful spending your time being scared of the competition." He brushed a hand languidly through his hair.

"Valentino!" Doyle said, revolted.

"Just 'cause you look like a yak with all that hair over your face..

"Very well-bred animals, yaks," Doyle assured him.

Later, three hours into their terminally dull surveillance on a house where the most exciting events of the day were the arrival of the postman, an elderly housewife with a shopping trolley delivering leaflets advertising a sale of fire-damaged goods in the local church hall, and the quiet twitching of a net curtain by an unknown hand at 11.17 and 32 seconds precisely, Doyle handed the binoculars over to his partner, rubbed his eyes ruthlessly to ease the aching sensation produced by prolonged observation, and went to pour a cup of tea from the thermos they had brought with them. Sitting with one cheek propped on the cheap chest-ofdrawers that was the attic room's only furniture apart from the sagging bed and creaking upright chair that Bodie now occupied at the window, he surveyed the dark head thoughtfully.

"So why don't you buy Christmas presents then?" he asked eventually. Bodie's Scrooge-like attitude to the festive season was completely untypical, the man generous to a fault in his everyday dealings.

"What?" Bodie looked up briefly. "What are you on about now?"

"You said you never even bother with Christmas cards and I just wondered why, that's all."

Bodie's eye considered him for a second around the rim of the eyepiece. "Nobody to buy 'em for, have I?"

Doyle gaped at him. "What, nobody at all?"

"Not a soul," Bodie said, soulfully.

"You're pulling my leg. Aren't you?"

"No. Why should I? You know I've got no family."

"No immediate family, no," Doyle agreed. "But there must be somebody out there somewhere, surely."

"No one who gives a stuff whether I'm still in existence." Bodie let a mournful note invade his voice, careful not to overdo it. Doyle wasn't that gullible. "And it's silly sending cards to people you see every day. They don't need reminding, do they."

Doyle glared at him, suspicious, but Bodie had schooled his face perfectly and Doyle's eyes slid away again, reluctant to seem to be prying into what was, after all, none of his business. Come to think of it, he'd never seen a Christmas card of any sort at Bodie's flat. If he'd thought about it at all, which he had to admit he hadn't, he'd have assumed Bodie couldn't be bothered to put them up. Being militarily neat Bodie had little tolerance for clutter of any sort in his life, emotional or physical. Never put any decorations up either; Doyle hadn't thought that anything particular until now, knowing his own enjoyment of Christmas and all the trimmings could sometimes border on the childish. Every year he vowed he wouldn't have a tree, and every year he succumbed the minute that piney essence filled his nostrils. Up to now he'd thought Bodie's failure to comment on his sentimentality had been an instance of rare forbearance. Now he found himself wondering whether perhaps his partner felt uncomfortable with the trappings of a family festival that excluded him.

He went on thinking about this, off and on, quite a lot over the next two or three weeks, trying by means both subtle and openly inquisitive to find out what Bodie was going to be doing over the holiday. They were both on stand-by this year, having done their stint of active duty last year, and though this meant they couldn't go far out of London it was unlikely to entail their being called in. Even villains often took a break over Christmas and stayed at home harassing their families instead of being out and about being a nuisance to the public at large and the law in particular. It seemed grossly unfair that even your average villain could enjoy the benefits of home and family at Christmas when Bodie had to sit in a C15 flat on his own with only the telly and a bottle of malt whisky for company, Bodie finally admitting that Selina was going to her family in Glasgow for a whole fortnight.

"Bloody long holidays these teachers get, don't they!" Doyle snorted. "Cushy job, if you ask me."

"I wouldn't let one of them hear you say that," Bodie advised him. "Give you an earful about all the stresses and strains they're under and how they put in extra hours every day on preparation and marking and how they spend all their holidays catching up on what they haven't had time to do during term."

"Huh!" Doyle said, by no means convinced, and began making plans to give Bodie a Christmas he would never forget no matter how old he lived to be: holly; big tree, the biggest he could fit into his flat; plenty of shiny red, green and gold ornaments on it; paper-chains; mistletoe (to give him a laugh); presents stacked under the tree; stocking for Christmas morning (have to get him over on Christmas Eve otherwise the lazy sod would just sleep in until lunchtime and miss half the fun of the day); turkey; pud; mince-pies; nuts; chocolate; and enough booze to float the QE2. That ought to make up for anything he'd missed in the past.

"What the hell's this?" Bodie demanded, glaring suspiciously at the small, gaily-wrapped package Doyle had just thrust into his hands.

"Don't open it now," Doyle said quickly. The last thing he needed was Bodie unwrapping the ruddy thing here on the steps at HQ where anyone might suddenly descend upon them. "Go on, take it home with you and open it there and then and...well, you'll see!" He grinned. "Tribute to your intelligence, that is. But I do want you to open it as soon as you get in. Don't wait until tomorrow."

Tut tut!" Bodie shook his head. "ft's not done to open pressies before Christmas Day. Even I know that."

"Specific dispensation you've got. Courtesy of the giver."

"Er.. .Ray," Bodie turned the little parcel over awkwardly, not looking at his partner. "I haven't got you anything..

Doyle chuckled. "You might surprise yourself, sunshine. If you find you have you can always bring it round later, special delivery."

Bodie frowned, uncomprehending. The shops had been shut for at least a couple of hours already.

"Humour me," Doyle suggested. "Go home and open that when you get in. Please?"

Startled by the uncharacteristic note of pleading in the rough-edged voice Bodie stared at his partner and was even more surprised to see his suddenly conscious look and the abrupt downsweep of thick lashes that veiled the green eyes.

"Spoil it if I explain," Doyle mumbled. He wanted it all to be a real surprise and was a bit annoyed with himself for saying as much as he had.

Still a little rattled Bodie gazed at him a moment or two longer before saying, as casually as he could, "OK, I'll open it as soon as f get home."

"You do that," Doyle said, relieved and made for his car leaving Bodie gazing after him in bewilderment.

Chuckling to himself at his success in spiking Bodie's curiosity Doyle drove home to make the final preparations, certain that Bodie would know exactly what he was expected to do once he opened the parcel. ft was going to be a corker of a Christmas.

Left behind, Bodie turned the small parcel in his hands and lifted it gingerly, half expecting to hear it ticking. What the hell was the devious sod up to this time? Some stupid practical joke probably, something that would give Doyle fuel for teasing for the whole of next year. Oh well, better humour the idiot. It was Christmas after all, and though Bodie didn't believe in all the sickly claptrap that went with the season of goodwill that didn't mean lie couldn't play along with his best mate and let him enjoy his little joke. Doyle might not know it, and Bodie would take very good care he didn't find out, but he was one of the most important things in Bodie's life, a trust given to him that was accorded to very few.

Once inside his flat he parked the packet on his coffee table and headed for the bathroom and a much-needed shower, letting the warm water wash away the day's tedium along with the dust and sweat. He was mildly surprised that Doyle had made no suggestion of meeting somewhere later though he had no real reason for expecting he would. Doyle knew Selina was away and since he was probably going out with Moira he wouldn't want Bodie along playing gooseberry. Going out on his own, however, held little appeal and though sitting at home in solitary state watching the goggle-box was not especially attractive either, it was the better of the two options.

Shrugging into a bathrobe he gave his hair a last, impatient rub and hung his towel neatly over the rail before going to the kitchen and collecting a scratch meal together, strolling back into the sitting room with a large chunk of cheese and pickle sarnie iiedged in his mouth and a mug of coffee in his hand which he placed beside the small parcel.

Picking that up he weighted it.. .wasn' t very heavy, whatever it was. He began to pick at the sellotape.

Inside was a small jeweler's box. Bodie's eyes widened. What had the stupid idiot gone and done--bought him regimental cuff-links or a chain to match his or something equally naf? He removed the lid gingerly, eyes widening further still when a small Yale key was revealed.

What the ...

Bodie stared at it for a minute and a half before the penny dropped.

It was Doyle's front door key.

What on earth was he sending Bodie that for?

Bodie thought back over that brief conversation as they'd left HQ. Slowly, his jaw sagged.

I haven't anything for you.. .you might surprise yourself.. .brinq it over later...

Ray had been embarrassed about something too, all self-conscious and not meeting his eyes.

Bloody hell! Did that mean... Bodie swallowed hard.

And what the sweet hell was he going to do about it? And why did he have this feeling of not being terribly surprised? Or shocked? More a sense of inevitability, of having been moving this way over long years. But Ray wasn't... and neither was he.. .but Ray had that weird, androgynous quality sometimes and a tendency to recklessness that prepared you for anything he might suddenly do.

Even this!

Would it be that difficult to go along with it? Never a rigid thinker in matters sexual and having had the odd fling in the dim, distant past Bodie knew he could respond satisfactorily; the tiny coil of excitement in his gut added that he'd find it no hardship. But was it wise? If he just didn't turn up...

Hurt Ray badly, that would, Bodie knew that beyond doubt. And the last person on earth Bodie wanted to hurt was Ray Doyle. Almost without volition he was on his feet and into his bedroom to get dressed.

Doyle glanced at his watch for the fifth time in as many minutes and sighed impatiently. If the stupid sod hadn't understood or thought he might be a nuisance or something... Give him another quarter of an hour, he decided, and if he isn't here by then I'll get on the blower and explain in words of one syllable that we're celebrating Christmas together. A shame, though, to spoil the element of surprise...

Needing something to occupy him he subjected the tree to yet another scrutiny, shifting four or five ornaments that were not in precisely the right place. He was fiddling with one of the candles on the mantelpiece when the sound of a key in the lock made him jump and push the candlestick altogether off-line.

Nervy! he discovered, not only realising that he could have gone to all this trouble just to have Bodie burst into loud and impolite laughter and go straight back home. Or he could have a bird with him after all; it wasn't unheard of for Bodie to be dating more than one girl at a time. There was the beginnings of an anxious flutter in the pit of Doyle's stomach as he went to open the door that led into his small entrance hall, straining his ears to see if he could hear any evidence that Bodie was not alone. Even if all his partner did was laugh he would at least enjoy the joke of the over-the-top decorations, but a girlfriend was bound to think he was halfway to an idiot with the room looking this way.

Knowing his sudden ridiculous anxiety was probably written large on his face he opened the sitting-room door just wide enough to check who had arrived; offering a slightly wavering smile of relief on finding Bodie alone he stepped into the hall where Bodie was just straightening up after plonking a clinking carrier-bag under the row of coat pegs.

Bodie saw the anxiety and that, allied to the massive bunch of mistletoe now hanging directly above Doyle's new-washed, haloed head, melted the last, lingering traces of doubt.

Closing the door firmly Bodie smiled, a strange new tenderness suffusing him, making his eyes glow. "Pillock!" he said softly. "Why on earth didn't you say something before now? I wouldn't have raised any objections," and he stepped forward the one pace necessary, set a hand each side of the dear, worried face and kissed him, long, devotedly, and with the expertise of years.

Numb with shock Doyle cold not move, only his lips responding from sheer force of habit.

How come the mad bastard was the only person he knew who could consistently get the better of him in the matter of practical jokes? By the time he'd collected himself to feel the first surge or resentment Bodie had released his mouth and was licking tenderly all over his face, nibbling at his ears and throat and muttering in between whiles, "You're a gutsy sod, aren't you! Don't know's I'd've had the courage to come out and say anything but I'm bloody glad you have.. bloody glad... might take a bit of getting used to, mind.. .don't suppose you'll object though.. .just so long as f do.. .Mminm?"

Bloody hell! Doyle's brain shrieked. He means this. He's bloody serious. He thinks I asked him round here for a dirty weekend or something and he's thrilled to bits about it.

Eyes popping he gathered his wits to repudiate the monumental error his partner had fallen into but his mouth was ambushed again, a firmer touch this time, Bodie's tongue sliding over his lips, demanding admittance. Unable to help himself Doyle opened his mouth and was lost.

By the time they broke apart Doyle was frankly clutching his partner, bereft of words.

"Don't believe in subtlety, do you?" Bodie said fondly, casting his eyes up at the mistletoe directly overhead.

"Mmmm? Oh, that!" Doyle had a lowering suspicion he was turning red; he hadn't even known until that moment that he could blush. "Well, I thought.. ." He shrugged helplessly. "Oh, come 'ere!"

If this was what Bodie wanted then Bodie could have it. No matter that the only time he'd ever experimented with another bloke had been a total disaster; the way he was tingling from the effects of a couple of kisses he already knew he could respond the way Bodie needed. This time the kiss was under his control and it was notably satisfactory. He let go at last, breathing heavily.

"You going to ravish me in the 'all?" Bodie enquired mildly when he was released. "I just feel I should mention there's a hell of a draught coming under the door. I can feel my ankles going numb. Still, I suppose we can always plug the gap with our underpants."

His blush, if anything, deepening, Doyle led the way in and waited.

There was a long, long silence.

Bodie blinked, closed his eyes and reopened them slowly, opened his mouth and shut it again, then revolved with great deliberation on one foot until he had taken the whole room in.

"The grotto's empty," he said weakly, "where's Santa? I can only see one of his elves."

Wishing he'd not pulled on his comfortable old green track-suit top, Doyle managed a sickly grin.

"A bloody tree an' all," Bodie marvelled. "Stacks of presents. You expecting the local orphanage or what?"

"Only one orphan. A rather special one." Doyle was distinctly ashamed of the wobble in his voice but there wasn't a damned thing he could do about it.

"For me?" Bodie's eyes felt oddly hot and prickly. "You've laid this lot on just for me?"

"Just for you," Doyle agreed gravely.

Bodie's smile widened, his expression soft. "All this and Ray Doyle, too," he said wonderingly, and opened his arms.

Doyle did not move immediately, collecting his thoughts. "Couple of nights' passion.. .whatever you want," he said finally. Knowing Bodie he'd likely want everything up to and including a rattling good fuck. He wondered if there was a streak of insanity in his family that no one had ever thought to mention, if he ought to send for the plain van and men in white coats right now because he had to be off his trolley if he was even contemplating letting Bodie have that much power over him. But knowing Bodie, he'd almost certainly expect to give in return, scrupulously fair, was Bodie, and the idea was by no means as repulsive as Doyle might have thought before he'd been so ruthlessly, devastatingly kissed. In fact he was fast revising his ideas about a lot of things including himself.

You never know what you can do unless you try it all.

"Couple of nights, eh?" Bodie's lower lip protruded pensively. It made him look about seven years old.

"Longer if you want," Doyle said recklessly. After all, five minutes ago he hadn't known he wanted any of this but that didn't appear to matter. lie was getting used to the notion with amazing speed and spectacular lack of reluctance.

Bodie's brain was whirling. Initially turning up simply because he didn't want to hurt Doyle's feelings he'd expected this to be no more than a sexual romp to tide them over a Christmas without their respective girlfriends, but Doyle's uncharacteristic lack of poise had quickly shown there was a great deal more to it than that. Best mate I ever had, Bodie reminded himself. Already know it'll tear you apart if he pops his clogs in the line of duty; don't even like it when he's all upset and moody over some cow of a girlfriend chucking him over...

To give himself time to think he said merely, "Yeah," and turned to make a closer inspection of the over-decorated room with its huge tree.

"That bloody thing's enormous," he said reverently.

"Oh, just the normal size really," Doyle said modestly. "Or did you mean the tree?"

Bodie eyed him severely and, not to encourage the idiot, bent to have a look at the parcels stacked under it. "Hey! some of these are for me." He picked one up; yes, it definitely said Bodie on the label. He ignored the bit about Father Christmas.

"You don't invite someone for Christmas and not give him presents," Doyle said, shocked.

"But I haven't..."

"Brought yourself, haven't you? Best present yet," Doyle said, and thought he probably meant it.

"But you must have spent a fortune on this lot," Bodie protested.

Doyle preened himself but then, being essentially an honest person, admitted, "Well, no, actually. Some of the decorations I already had but all the rest I've borrowed from one of my aunts who's going out to Australia for Christmas, so don't go breaking anything or my name will be mud."

"Talking of breaking things.. ." Bodie suddenly recalled his own contribution which he'd left in the hall and went out to get it, removing one bottle which he thrust into Doyle's hand saying, "Let's break open that and I'll put the rest here with this lot." He'd been lucky to catch the off-licence just before it closed. "Got any tonic to go with it? If not there's some in here." He laid the carrier bag carefully under the tree.

"Tonic, ice, lemon," Doyle told him. "Peanuts, crisps, pretzels, olives

"Blimey," Bodie followed him into the kitchen, "you have been going it a bit."

"Nothing's too much trouble for..." Doyle faltered, finding Bodie closer behind him than he was expecting.

Nibbling on the nape of a tasty neck Bodie hindered the process of pouring until Doyle was driven to thrust a handful of packets upon him with instructions to put a little of each into a bowl and leave him to get on with the job if he didn't want his vodka all over the floor.

"Worse than a bloody wife, you are sometimes," Bodie grumbled, but did as he was told.

"Only 'cause I've got you well-trained," Doyle grinned. "How much tonic?"

"That's plenty. Haven't got to drive anywhere tonight.. .have I?" Abruptly, Bodie was uncertain exactly what Doyle wanted.

"Barring bloody Cowley," Doyle told him, "you're expected to stay until Monday. If not a lot longer. And I'm not in the least like a wife," he added, eyes kindling.

Bodie chuckled and followed him into the sitting-room, guzzling pretzels as fast as he could. "Thought that'd get in amongst you."

"You can bloody well drop it here and now," Doyle said forcibly. "Whatever this is we're getting into, it isn't me being bottom man for you."

"Never thought it was," Bodie said honestly. Standing there with that look of aggression in his eyes and the stance of a predator poised to strike Doyle was nobody's idea of a sexual submissive. "Don't think of you like that. Never have. Well, not since that first week when you nearly 'ad me throat out in training. Treat you with respect these days, don't I!"

Doyle snorted at that but relaxed slightly. Even so he still looked dangerous, the glint in his eye showing that he meant what he said. They were equals, always had been, Bodie's slightly superior height and weight notwithstanding. Life with Doyle might be a struggle and a challenge but it would never be dull.

Suddenly realising where his thoughts were leading him Bodie contemplated the idea of spending the rest of his life with Ray Doyle and found the prospect not at all unpleasant.

"How about the future?" he said abruptly, finishing the last of the pretzels and his drink.

"The future?" Doyle paused with his glass halfway to his mouth.

Yeah, Bodie thought, I already spend more than half my life with him and that works a treat, so why not go the whole hog and settle down?

He had to be mad.

"Darby and Joan?" said his wayward mouth. "Forsaking all others?" "Might not live that long," Doyle said.

"All the more reason not to go wasting the time we're sure of," Bodie argued. Doyle tilted his head, considering that, finishing his drink the while and setting the glass aside. "We haven't even been to bed yet. We might not be compatible."

Bodie's gaze raked over him, his mouth slightly parted, breath rushing over his lips. "I'm compatible all right," he said huskily. "I can tell that from over here. You look bloody edible."

And that was true as well. And just why had he never noticed before? Terminal lack of observation probably. Good job Cowley'd never know how long it had taken him.

Doyle swallowed jerkily. "So do you."

They were both equally nervous, Bodie decided, touched all over again that Doyle should have had the nerve to make the first approach when he was this scared and uncertain, and so, instead of hauling Doyle roughly into his arms and getting down to the good stuff without preliminaries he settled for taking his hand and entwining their fingers and then leading him to the sofa where he could sit and cuddle him in comfort.

Long minutes passed during which both partners slipped from the vertical to the horizontal.

"It's a good thing," Bodie mumbled, blowing at an errant curl adhering to his chin, "that this sofa's as large as it is otherwise we'd both be on the floor by now."

"If you let go of me I will be," Doyle prophesied, edging even closer. Bodie was warm and solid and stain-smooth on the bits Doyle had managed to uncover so far. He wrestled with another button.

Bodie lifted his head. "Not bothered about my modesty, are you."

"Not a bit," Doyle agreed sunnily.

"That's good. Means I can get personal with you too." Bodie's hand slipped to the front of Doyle's jeans and pressed, flat-palmed, on the warm bulk they covered.

Doyle shivered.


"Bloody OK," Doyle agreed, having cleared his throat.

"Hey!" Bodie said a moment later, "that's my zip you're undoing."

"Yeah. 's OK, innit!"

"Sensational." Bodie's eyes were closed.

Doyle kissed each one reverently in turn. "D'you like blow jobs?" he said conversationally.

Bodie's eyes flew open. "D'you mean... Giving or getting?" he thought to enquire.

"Either. Both. Meant getting actually, but I suppose I have a vested interest in both."

Bodie licked the corner of the sensual mouth. "Love getting.. .never have given but if it's you.. ." he paused, "I like the way you taste up this end anyway."

"And I have had a shower since I came in," Doyle assured him solemnly.

"Me too. Well, before I came round here."

"Oh well, in that case.. .since you're clean.. ." Doyle levered himself upright with assistance and turned to wriggle Bodie's trousers and underpants down around his knees.

"Tell you something," Bodie gasped over the crazy rhythm of his heart, "This dralon's no end sexy under your backside."

"The front side's not bad either," Doyle said tonguing his lips nervously.

Biggest lolly he'd ever licked. But no ice about it. Without waiting for any second thoughts to have time to take root he got down to it in earnest.

When the roaring in his ears finally stopped, Bodie's fingers slowly relaxed and his eyes opened.

"That good?" Doyle said, fascinated.

"Best ever," Bodie promised him, mouth not yet fully co-ordinated. "I'll show you in a minute if you like."

"Oh, I like. When you're ready though. No rush." But the urgent upthrust of his sex gave him the lie.

"Come up here," Bodie suggested, still boneless, "and I'll do it while I'm lying down."

"I wouldn't want you to overtax yourself..."

"I shan't, don't worry."

With Bodie's fingers tucked intimately into the division of his buttocks Doyle's climb to the peak and was over scant seconds later.

"Bloody 'ell!" Doyle said as his buckling knees precipitated him into the waiting arms. "I see what you mean about best ever."

If there'd been any element of martyrdom in his compliance with Bodie's assumption it was long gone. Lying cocooned in the strong arms, offering his own strength in return was like coming home.

"You're looking very solemn," Bodie said, "Not having second thoughts are you?"

"Are you?" Doyle countered.

Bodie shook his head. "Dunno why we waited so long."

"Me neither," Doyle agreed, finding a piece of strong neck to nuzzle. A pulse beat under his lips, confirming Bodie's precious existence. "Tell you what though..."


"I was just thinking... No man should he this lucky!"

"You're wonderful," Bodie told him, and hugged even tighter. This one he would fight to keep for the rest of his life. Never wanted that before.

A long time later Doyle surfaced to find Bodie watching him intently, a smile of unaccustomed sweetness lighting his eyes.

"I'm sorry. Did I drop off?"

"You weren't alone. I've only just woken up myself."

"What's the time?" Being unable to remove his left arm from under his partner to look at his watch, Doyle craned his neck trying vainly to see the clock on the mantelpiece.

"I think it's five holly-berries past a little string of silver bells," Bodie said gravely.

OK, so maybe the mantelpiece was a bit over-crowded.

"You hungry?"

"Starving," Bodie admitted. The cheese and pickle sarnie was an eon ago, and pretzels just made you thirsty.

"Mince pies do you? My mum's home-made mincemeat. She always sends me a couple of jars when she sends the cake and pud. It's the best you'll ever taste."

"Nah." Bodie shook his head. "I've already had that, haven't I. Mince pies'll only be second best."

Gazing at him in profound astonishment Doyle said, "I think you just said you love me."

"Yeah," Bodie agreed, equally astonished. "I think I just did."

Christmas that year was the end of an era--and the beginning of something wonderful.

-- THE END --

Christmas 1992

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