How to Win Friends and Influence People


(sequel to: How to Improve Your Mind)

For E.T.

Shifting his weight unobtrusively from one protesting foot to the other, Doyle stifled a sigh, flicking a quick, uneasy look Bodie's way in case that all too observant young man had recognised his impatience; it'd be just like the irritating bugger to spend twice as long with his nose rammed against the glass of that display-case if he thought Doyle wanted to hurry on.

His own interest in Roman London long ago exhausted and the other visitors in this area being only two elderly American tourists and a party of noisy schoolkids, Doyle fell to watching his partner as his sole diversion.

Absorbed as he was in each exhibit -- it wouldn't be so bad if Bodie was the type to stroll through museums at a brisk pace, soaking up a general impression of the whole as he went but, maddeningly, he was one of those who couldn't bear to miss a thing and read every word on every card in every case -- Bodie for once presented an unguarded face to the world: hard lines softened; cynical mouth relaxed. In fact, Bodie was looking very good today, the heat having driven even him into shirt-sleeves, his cream jacket hung, one- fingered, over his shoulder; the diffuse light from the display lent his skin a golden glow on which the shadow of his lashes lay like fine dust as he stared in unmoving concentration at the objects laid out on show.

Bored after the first ten minutes (see one piece of broken pottery, Doyle reasoned, and you'd seen 'em all) an hour and more later he was fed-up, starving, knackered and longing for a cool, thirst-quenching pint; if it wasn't for Bodie's obvious enjoyment he'd have jacked it in ages ago and gone home. He hid a yawn, nostrils quivering with the effort it took to keep his mouth closed.

His gaze idled on down the powerful body; in good trim -- they'd only recently been freed from Macklin's tender clutches -- the pull of supple cotton jersey over the bent-up arm that held the jacket offered subtle hints of the muscles beneath its rich, soft blue, colour-matched (Doyle suspected of intent) to its owner's eyes. Cream polyester encased lean hips, threw into contrast the deepening tan on the hand resting upon an out-thrust hipbone, the thumb hooked comfortably into Bodie's belt. He looked sleek, alert and yet at ease like a resting panther; incongruous in this dry, self-importantly educational setting.

So just exactly what was he doing here? Doyle mused. Self- improvement was all very well; he himself was not averse to a spot of lightly-intellectual reading from time to time, but his thirst for knowledge did not lead him to spend the best part of a sunny afternoon trudging around the Museum of London inspecting its Roman past. Small wonder all Bodie's girl-friends had dug their smart high- heels in when offered the treat; he was still puzzling over why he'd been stupid enough to agree to come, especially straight after a night which had only included three hours snatched sleep, and a morning session in Cowley's office that had left him feeling less than energetic.

"Look!" Bodie was pointing at the display, alight with a little- boy pleasure. "That jar's almost complete still. Isn't that incredible!"

Doyle surveyed the battered terracotta with a jaundiced eye and resisted the urge to suggest that if Bodie honestly fancied a sag- bellied flower-pot there was a shop down the King's Road where he could buy one that didn't have a huge great chunk missing from its neck and a pattern of lines betraying where it had been stuck together like a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle.

"Unbelievable," he agreed, doing his best to inject the word with enthusiasm.

"'s fascinating, innit," Bodie said, gaze raptly pinned on the unexciting object, "all those hundreds of years buried down by the Thames, no one knowing it was there -- "

"Yeah." Doyle brightened. "Maybe one day someone'll dig up that pen I lost the other week and -- "

"And find you breathing down his neck demanding to have it back," Bodie put in.

Hurt, Doyle eyed him. "And put it in 'ere in a glass case, I was going to say," he stated with dignity.

"Mmm. Be pretty unique at that," Bodie conceded. "The only thing Ray Doyle didn't manage to take with him when he went."

Ignoring this sally with lofty disdain Doyle wandered on to the first exhibit that so far had held any interest for him: models were a great deal more in his line than all those tatty bits of broken pottery and amateurish jewellery, although he would have preferred a fort perhaps to this representation of London's mercantile life under Roman rule -- but even here Bodie's attention long outlasted his and he was itching to move on some considerable time before Bodie lifted his head from its fascinated absorption with the miniature jars and sacks and other loving details like the tiny pulley ropes. He shot a penetrating glance at his partner and grinned.

"You're getting bored," he diagnosed.

Getting! Doyle had long since passed the acquiring of tedium; it encompassed him wholly.

"No," he marvelled, "whatever makes you think that? But I am thirsty," he mentioned in plaintive addition, certain that in this unlooked-for heat Bodie must share that discomfort at least. "We've been here nearly two hours, you know."

"Is that all?" Bodie straightened fully and stared about him. "Only three more cases in the Roman section," he pointed out cheerfully.

But Doyle had had it; enough was enough and all that.

"I," he said, moving firmly in the direction of the exit, "am going to the nearest pub. You can do what you like, of course," he added politely over his shoulder.

Tempted to let the impatient so and so leave on his own, Bodie remembered just in time that they had come in Doyle's car and, conscious alike of a certain dryness in his own throat and a definite reluctance to submit himself to the rigours of London Transport during the afternoon rush hour, followed perforce, though not without a fluent expression of his dissatisfaction at being dragged away before he had seen everything on display.

Once Doyle had blunted the edge of his thirst with a long swallow of throat-reviving lager he turned a curious eye Bodie's way, determined to have an answer to the question that had been bugging him all afternoon.

"Why all this sudden interest in the Romans? You got a bird you're trying to impress or something?"

Bodie grinned to himself; he hadn't needed the suspicious note in Doyle's voice to tell him his partner would never believe he had no ulterior motive for any remotely cultural activity. Reckoned he had the lien on brains in the partnership, Doyle did, and it was more than high time he was disabused of this theory. He lifted his head from his own pint, unselfconsciously licking away the line of froth on his upper lip.

"Because the Ancient Greeks didn't conquer Britain."

"Huh?" Taken aback, Doyle eyed his partner in open puzzlement. Bodie could come up with some pretty weird reasoning at the best of times, but this didn't even make sense.

"Got interested in the Greeks, you see." Bodie patiently expanded his statement out of consideration for Doyle's more linear thought patterns. Apparently not far enough.

"So?" Doyle asked, bewildered.

"Well, it's not the same just reading about things in books, is it! 's more interesting if you have some form of contact with something historical. Makes it more, I dunno, more immediate somehow."

"But that was Roman London," Doyle expostulated, no nearer enlightenment.


Doyle took another pull at his glass, studying Bodie over its rim the while.

Guilelessness in summer-sky blue looked back.

"Try starting at the beginning," Doyle suggested, faint but pursuing.

Pondering his reply, Bodie drank also, his glance idly turning to his partner as he did so. The beginning, eh? Well, if Doyle did but know it his present interest in things Roman had all stemmed from one of Ray's own culture kicks when he'd gone around dropping classical quotations like abandoned Kleenex, clearly in the hope you'd be dumb enough to believe he could read them in the original, and offering sententious advice on how to improve one's mind. Stung, Bodie had applied himself to the shelves of a secondhand-book shop and acquired a little painless knowledge of Ancient Greece through the pages of a few well-written historical novels. He'd also broadened his horizons in other directions when one of the books had belied its title and turned out to be a tender love-story of a very unusual kind. Used to the casual dismissing of `poofters', it had never occurred to Bodie that men he thought of as ordinary blokes could fall honestly and hopelessly in love with one another, but by the end of the story he had genuinely cared that the `right' couple got together and lived happily ever after -- and one particular passage had made him realise with a sense of shock, for he prided himself on not succumbing to popular prejudices but thinking things out for himself, that he had been guilty of accepting the public image of homosexuals as limp- wristed transvestites without seeking to discover the true facts of the matter.

He'd come a long way since then, learnt to judge such people on different criteria and look at them through tolerant eyes. Most of all, it had helped him come to terms with his rapidly changing feelings for his partner.

"Like I said," he began, conscious of having been silent rather too long and the mild surprise in Doyle's face, "I got interested in the Greeks, love to go to Greece one of these days 'n see some of the places you read about, but I couldn't see any prospect of being able to fix up to go there in the forseeable future, or Italy either, come to that, not with never knowing we're going to get time off until practically the day before it starts, and then it occurred to me that the Romans did actually come to Britain so I've been to several of the Roman sites lately, and then I heard about the Museum of London and thought it sounded worth a visit."

"Oh!" Light was dawning on Doyle at last. The cherubic face broke into a less-than-angelic smile. "Is that what Liz meant when she was moaning about being dragged over every archaeological dig in South- east England? I thought it sounded a bit kinky, 'avin' it away in the ruins!"

"I do not," Bodie enunciated with clarity, "'ave it away. I handle my birds with finesse and expertise."

"And then you 'ave it away with 'em," Doyle nodded, grinning at him. "But I'll bet you're pretty good at the seduction bit," he conceded, giving credit where it was clearly due.

"The best," Bodie opined.

Doyle looked thoughtful. "Better get you to give me a few tips one of these days," he mused, heavy lids flicking up and then down in amused denial that any such thing should be necessary.

Heart hammering, Bodie viewed the wanton provocation in that look, his eyes sliding past, unable to meet the silent challenge with equal nonchalance, lingering instead on the laxly sprawled frame on the bench beside him.

Christ, but he looked bloody appetising in hot weather. A small tug of arousal sang through Bodie's groin. Red highlights bleached into that mop of hair, it haloed the belligerent face that could, upon rare occasion, soften into a surprisingly mellow and disconcertingly intimate smile that always sent Bodie's guts churning helplessly. Today, the first really hot day of this year, he was typically clad in the barest minimum for decency: skin-tight jeans stretched taut over sinewy thighs, he sat with one ankle propped on the other leg, the bony knee pointed at Bodie as if in mute accusation; at his crotch the denim strained tighter still, wrinkles arrowing to its attractive centre; off-duty, not even on stand-by for the whole weekend, Doyle wore no gun and therefore no jacket, only a V-neck shirt, its pale-green sweat-darkened patchily, while at its neck his silver chain glinted in damply-tangled wisps of fine hair.

Bodie's breath caught in his throat and he came, recklessly, to a decision.

If Doyle really wanted to learn all about his seduction techniques he could; first hand!

It was way past time he seduced the little devil anyhow.

In the car he said unconcernedly: "You got any plans for the weekend?"

He didn't think it likely; up to lunchtime they'd been up to their ears in a debriefing session following the case they had finally wound up during the small hours of the morning; Doyle hadn't had time to draw breath, let alone contact one of his many girlfriends.

"The way I feel," Doyle said ruefully, full mouth parting in a yawn of gargantuan proportions, "I shall spend most of it asleep. Why?"

"D'you fancy a nice, restful weekend in the country?"

Doyle snorted. "No thanks. I know your idea of a restful weekend."

Bodie directed his grin to the side-window. "Haven't had time to fix up anything like that, have I!" he said, deeply hurt. "Thing is, Jack Harper and his wife have gone away for a couple of months and I promised to go down to his place whenever I can, give it an airing and so on. You know."

Drawing up at the traffic lights at the bottom of Ludgate Hill Doyle turned his head, eyeing him suspiciously.

"All right, where's the catch?"

"What d'you mean, where's the catch?"

"Got to be one somewhere." Doyle wasn't put out at the idea, merely resigned to a fact of life. "What do we have to do while we're there, for instance?"

You'll be surprised! Bodie thought, again carefully studying the traffic out of the nearside window.

"Nothing. I told you, he said I could use the house occasionally. Take someone with me if I wanted to. I took Liz a week or so ago. Ask her what it was like if you want to check up on me."

"So why aren't you taking Liz this time?" Doyle didn't trust that averted face one inch.

Bodie turned, letting the grin widen. "Well, you see, there's this pub down there, couple of right little ravers behind the bar. Course, having Liz with me cramped me style a bit, 'n I don't fancy rattling around in the cottage on me own -- "

"Aah! Scared the baddies might come and get 'im in the dark, is he!" Doyle sympathised. "Or that he might have to cook his own grub!"

Quirking his mouth in acknowledgement of a hit, Bodie said persuasively: "So how about it then, coming with me?"

"S'pose I might as well," Doyle said grudgingly. "Nothing better to do. Nothing that can't keep anyway," he amended.

"That's settled then. I'll pick you up at eight. OK?"

"In the morning?" Doyle said, startled, knowing Bodie's matutinal habits on his days off.

"No, tonight, you fool. Might get there before the pubs close if we're lucky. Meet the girls tonight."

"They'd be lucky if I could keep me eyes open long enough to see 'em," Doyle said. "I'd rather 'ave an early night here an' drive down tomorrow, if it's all the same to you, mate."

But Bodie looked so foolishly dejected at this alteration to his plans that Doyle hadn't the heart to persist and, after a few more token protests, gave in and agreed to be ready that evening, resigned to a second successive sleepless night and a little puzzled by his uncharacteristic lack of enthusiasm at the prospect.

Must be getting old, he decided gloomily, if he was only going just to please his mad idiot of a partner.

They might have got to their destination before the pub closed had Bodie not (ostensibly) lost his way and taken them miles off their route before Doyle noticed something was wrong.

"Bloody good thing one of us keeps his eyes open," he said crossly, staring at the map as if he hoped it would provide him with an arrow indicating `You are here'.

Bodie, who had breathed a silent sigh of relief when Doyle had failed to notice him take a left fork instead of a right some thirty or so miles back, merely acquiesced meekly and waited to be told how to get back upon the correct road.

In the end it was well gone half past eleven when the silver-grey Capri finally turned into the gravel drive at the end of its journey and Doyle had been yawning fit to break his jaw for an hour and more, and had long since abandoned any interest in his surroundings but was lying back with his eyes shut. Bodie knew he was not asleep because of the look of patient martyrdom limning his features.

Forgoing his first impulse to prod the aggravating sod, he settled instead for drawing up as gently as possible, applying the lightest of touches to the brake, then he set about getting the large garage open and the car put away, the house door unlocked and their holdalls carried in before he returned and opened the nearside door.

Far too decorously seated to be genuinely asleep, even his mouth was delicately shut, Doyle lay still.

Smothering a grin, Bodie paused, one hand on the roof as he bent looking in, the grin softening to indulgence as he took in the artistically slumped form and carefully deep breathing. Even knowing he was being conned didn't prevent the sudden rush of affection that filled him and, unknowing, his voice was laden with a new tenderness as he leaned in to run his thumb lightly down the side of Doyle's face.

"Wake up, sunshine, we're here."

Doyle stirred with consummate art, blinked, yawned and stretched. "Lemme alone! 's not time to get up."

Bodie's hand reached out again, patted the round cheek, fingers lingering. "If you don't wake up you can sleep out here in the car," he warned, "'cause I ain't breaking me back lugging you indoors."

But even as he said it a sudden, delectable vision assailed him of Doyle, held high on his heart, being carried over the threshold, and for a moment he was tempted to try it. Wiser counsels prevailed; not only would he have to haul his partner's not inconsiderable weight out of the car which was awkward to say the least, but he'd also have to negotiate the narrow space between car and garage wall -- all very well if your victim was cooperating, but Doyle would fight him every inch of the way, probably to the accompaniment of a barrage of obscenities. Not even mildly romantic, that, Bodie thought, abandoning the notion without regret.

And it wasn't until he'd shut the car door behind the reluctantly upright Doyle that he realised the oddity of his wanting to find the situation romantic; it wasn't a factor he commonly sought in his affairs.

Having failed to get the rise he'd confidently expected, Doyle was philosophical; he did raise a surprised eyebrow at the sight of his luggage parked at the foot of the stairs, but he was too busy looking around to spare more than a cursory thought as to what ulterior motive Bodie had had in carrying it in for him.

"Bloody hell, I thought you said this was a cottage! 's more like your average stately home, mate, this is."

Bodie dismissed this with a careless: "Nah! 's only got about half a dozen bedrooms. Slumming it, we are really."

Doyle rotated on his heel, eyes widening at the over-stated opulence of his surroundings. "Lumme, ain't it a shame to have all this money and no taste!"

"You, of course, being the ultimate arbiter of such things," Bodie said blandly, shutting the front door and putting the chain up. "D'you want anything to eat before we turn in -- or a nightcap? Jack keeps a very good malt."

"Nah. All I want's to get me head down quick as possible," Doyle assured him.

"This way then." Bodie picked up his own holdall and led the way upstairs.

Opening the second door along the landing he said: "Oh!" in a disconcerted tone, closed it again and went on to the next, frowned and continued on to a third where the frown deepened. A fourth attempt produced no lightening of his expression, while a fifth merely caused him to grunt in heavy disapproval and jerk his head at Doyle in apparent disgruntlement, indicating the second room he'd inspected.

It was, had his partner but known it, a performance of masterly artistry, since Bodie had been very clear in his phoned instructions to the Harper's daily woman and knew exactly which room had been prepared for them both.

"I didn't think," he said apologetically to Doyle, "I just rang up'n told Mrs. Kintbury that I was coming down with a friend. I s'pose she assumed it was Liz again and she's only made up the one double bed in there."

Frankly, Doyle was too tired to care. He made for the door indicated.

"S'pose I could find some blankets from somewhere," Bodie said, looking about him rather vaguely.

"Why bother?" Doyle was ambushed by another yawn. "Bloody thing's big enough for six anyway."

Not quite, perhaps, but like the rest of the Harper residence the bed leaned towards opulence, being fully six feet wide, with a padded headboard covered in rich cream velvet to match the bedding.

"Satin sheets, no less," Doyle marvelled, twitching the coverlet back. "'ope I don't spill me early morning tea on 'em."

"You won't if you drink it in the kitchen when you go down to make it," Bodie told him, making for an inner door. "Our bathroom's in here, look."

"You mean Mrs. Whosit isn't gonna come swanning in with it in a silver pot?" Doyle said, disappointed.

"Kintbury. And she doesn't live in. Doesn't come at the weekends, either. We're on our own, mate."

Having snatched a quick shower while he was packing, Doyle's final preparations for the night were soon completed and he sank back onto the soft mattress, mouth mint-fresh from its last brushing of the day, adjuring Bodie not to forget to open the window before he got into bed.

"Teach your grandmother to suck eggs," Bodie told him rudely, and opened it wide.

Feet sinking almost to his ankles in the luxuriant pile of the cream carpet he stood by the side of the huge bed for several seconds, looking down at his partner, already asleep -- or very close to it -- thinking over his plans for the weekend. It was possible, of course, that by the end of it the partnership would be permanently broken and his life in ruins; messing Doyle around wasn't exactly safe at the best of times, but Bodie had no idea how he was likely to react to the plans he had in mind. Always uninhibited, the randy old toad's response could range anywhere between enthusiastic cooperation to kicking his seducer's teeth down the back of his throat, but Bodie wasn't going to let a little thing like that worry him. He'd got to the stage when he had to take action of one sort or another, and if he didn't at least make the attempt he'd either end up jumping on that delectable arse and raping his best mate, or leaving CI5 and probably England as well in order to avoid doing it; and he'd kick himself for ever after for not even trying to find out how Doyle might feel about sleeping with him.

He'd intended to make the first move this evening, as soon as they were in bed, but Doyle's knocked-out look and his own exhaustion told him this was not the moment; Doyle was dead to the world and he'd never had a fancy for necrophilia; liked a willing cooperation in the exquisite art of fucking, he did, and had a shrewd suspicion that with an expert like Doyle as the other half of the act they could produce something pretty earth-shattering. If he was really lucky Doyle could even want second helpings.

Or permanency.

The thought flickered in and out of his mind in a brief flare of hope.

He blinked it away, burying it back down where it belonged; in fantasy-land.

Couldn't afford sentimentality, could he. Just get the worst of the itch out of his system and settle back into normality with some happy memories to keep him going when the longing got too bad.

Giving his pyjama trousers a last hitch he slid into bed, eliciting a small grunt from his partner and a protesting grab at the satin sheet to pull it higher onto a hunched shoulder.

Bodie switched the bedside light out, turned his back on Doyle and closed his eyes.

Full of a strange peace now that decision had been reached he was quite relaxed beside the long-desired body, feeling no urgency. Lull before the storm, his sleepy mind suggested in sardonic amusement at his lack of concern. Bet when it breaks it'll be a lulu!

It was just getting light when he woke, the surprisingly loud screech of an owl outside their window jerking him upright out of a jumbled dream in which he was both pursuing and pursued by that bastard Krivas, his body ready to move before his brain registered present security, whipping branches and the sense of brooding menace fading to domestic reality.

Sweating heavily, he found Doyle had flung the blankets back so they were piled on him, and he spent a moment or two adjusting them, settling down with a sigh of relief with his back to the lightening window, warm and heavy with lassitude.

No need to surface properly, nowhere near time to get up. Go back to sleep!

But the awakening had been too abrupt, too complete to allow him simply to sink back into sleep, adrenalin still flooding. At least that ruddy bird hadn't woken Doyle, not if the deep, steady breathing was anything to go by. Bodie inched himself up onto an elbow to sneak a look.

Still lying on his left side, Doyle had now rolled slightly Bodie's way, left arm flung out over the edge of the bed in silent appeal; the other lay across the bared chest while the curly head was turned as if about to speak over his right shoulder to the man behind him; he was soundly, unmistakably asleep. Wasn't even dreaming just at present, lids quite still. In the gray light beginning to filter in he looked remote, impure and infinitely desirable.

Bodie's hand had reached out before he was aware of his own intent, sliding over the silky skin of upper arm. It was chill to his touch, alien somehow, making Bodie shiver in turn, a small, lost sensation creeping through him.

He wanted --

Taking the blankets he made to pull them up, protectiveness awakened -- and a tiny knot of yearning in the pit of his stomach. So sweet to need like this, but lonely. Unfulfilled.

His lips cherished the cold skin of a sharp shoulder, grazing it wistfully, the pad of his tongue pressing in soft supplication. Blanket forgotten, his arm curved about the trim waist and he inched closer, pressing himself to the warmth of Doyle's lower body, easing the ache in his own. Hazy with sleep still, his movements were slow, dream-like, akin more to his solitary fantasies than present reality, and he roamed without intent, in light, sweeping caresses, nose buried in a tumble of curls. Arousal was slow, undemanding, a certainty of pleasure to come. Warm, honey-sweet, seductive pleasure caged deep in his own body, in the warm bulk of Doyle under his now purposely moving hand, awaiting release. The slow jerk and throb beneath his fingers made him press closer, moaning softly as repletion flooded him, tingling out to his fingertips leaving him limp and beyond coherent thought.

Doyle had stilled too, lying heavily on him. The room was very quiet.

Then a warm, sinewy arm came up, entwined itself around Bodie's neck and a moist mouth nuzzled his temple briefly.

"Judy!" Doyle said, softly affectionate, and dropped back into the drowse he'd never really left.

Weariness overtaking him, Bodie snuggled up and let his own eyes close; he was smiling as he fell asleep.

A clatter of crockery brought Doyle's eyes reluctantly open; bright sunlight flooded the room, livening everything with a cheerful glow, even the waiting figure of his partner standing beside him clad in aging brown velour.

Eyes screwed up against the glare, Doyle stared in disbelief.

"What the hell -- is that tea on that tray?"

"Yep. And a few biscuits. Move that lamp a bit, will you, then I can put it down on the bedside table."

Uncoordinatedly struggling upright Doyle demanded: "You losing your grip or something, bringing me early morning tea? Where's the catch? And do you have to sit on me," he added plaintively as Bodie's full weight was plonked less than elegantly down on the edge of the bed.

"Gotta be able to reach the teapot, haven't I!" Bodie said reasonably. "Unless you're feeling compos enough to do the pouring out?"

"Nah. You can be mother." Doyle stretched, yawning hugely, flexing lax, sleep-soaked muscles. His eye caught the darkened, still-sticky patch on the front of his pyjamas and he looked away hurriedly, abruptly self-conscious, pulling the blanket up to cover it; a vague memory of the dream that had accompanied this nocturnal outpouring came back -- being perfectly, exquisitely pleasured by a warm, capable hand anticipating his every need -- and he wondered if he was blushing. Not usually embarrassed by anything he experienced in Bodie's company, he felt an odd and unaccountable shyness at the idea of something so personal and intimate happening only inches away from him, no matter how deeply unconscious they'd both been at the time.

Bodie noticed that brief, downwards glance and did not betray awareness by even a curl of his lip.

"So what is the idea then?" Doyle said again, taking his teacup and stirring its contents vigorously. "What do you want?"

"Don't want anything," Bodie told him in pained if mendacious rebuttal. "Thought you might like a run before breakfast, that's all. Over the common, I thought. 's nice out that way."

Molars awash with a pensive mouthful of tea Doyle nodded. "Sounds OK. You cookin' breakfast for us afterwards?"

"Dinner as well if you like. Want some more tea?" He took Doyle's cup from him and filled it, adding sugar before he handed it back.

Suspicion unabated Doyle said: "Getting the full treatment, aren't I! Anyone'd think you were planning on seducing me!"

Too old a hand to show dismay at being caught out, Bodie grinned at him, shamelessly lecherous. "You'd better believe it, sweetheart. Better keep your legs crossed if you're worried."

Doyle snorted, finished his tea and made for the bathroom.

By the time they reached the house once more Doyle was beginning to feel distinctly put upon. Normally quite unfazed by Bodie's relentless teasing he'd ended the run feeling that if the blue gaze didn't detach itself from his bum forthwith he was going to have to do something drastic to make it. He could practically feel Bodie's eyes burning him but, short of a direct and pithy request to his partner to pack it in, he didn't know what to do about it. Mentioning it at all would show Bodie how conscious he was of the devout attention and that was exactly what the rotten sod wanted, of course. It'd be a relief to escape to the privacy of the bathroom and shower in blissful solitude.

Surprised to see Bodie turn left across the entrance hall but hopeful this might mean there was yet another bathroom down here so that Doyle could have the bedroom all to himself, Doyle made for the stairs.

"This way." Bodie jerked his head.

Foot on the bottom step, Doyle paused. "What?"

"This way. Pool's through here," Bodie elaborated.

"Pool?" Doyle repeated the word stupidly.

"Pool. As in swimmin'. You know, where the `p' is silent," Bodie said kindly. "Through here, your lordship. I'll have your lordship's Times ironed for you when you're dressed." He opened the door with a flourish and bowed Doyle through.

"Nice being here on our own," he said, pausing at the pool's edge to strip off damp brown velour and peel away the sweat-soaked jockstrap that was his only undergarment. "Means we don't have to bother with refinements like bathers. You coming in or not?" His face expressed only a mild surprise that Doyle was still fully clad, showing no sign of his inward, gleeful recognition that he'd got his partner off-balance, not quite sure what to expect; he watched the dishevelled emergence of the scrawny but surprisingly muscular body with open approval, running a lustful tongue over his lips when Doyle was fully nude.

"Come on, then. Last one in's a cissie." He turned and dived as he spoke, showering Doyle liberally as he followed a split second astern.

In the water he was playful as a St. Bernard pup, swimming round and under and over his partner until Doyle threatened to duck him permanently if he persisted, laughing despite himself at the look of put-upon innocence he was offered in reply. Bodie chuckled richly.

"'s nice swimmin' starkers, innit?" he remarked chattily, treading water.

"Yeah." Doyle began a slow, reflective breaststroke, concentrating on technical perfection.

"Did you and Liz swim while you were down here?" he asked, coming to the end of the pool and finding Bodie still devotedly at his side.

"Of course."

"In the altogether?"

Bodie flicked him a cheeky grin. "What d'you think, mate?"

Doyle nodded. "In the nude."

"That's right. 'ere, you know those Romans we were talking about."

"What Romans?" Yesterday was forever ago in Doyle's mind.

"Ancient Romans, you berk! They went in for some funny things in swimming pools. Well," Bodie amended, sometimes a stickler for precision, "the Emperor Tiberius did by all accounts."

"What did he do?" Doyle was curious in spite of guessing he'd wish he hadn't asked.

Again that rich, lecherous chuckle. "Used to have little boys swimmin' with him, sucking him under the water."

To his eternal chagrin Doyle felt himself blushing. "What, you mean -- ?"

"Yeah, tha's right. Dirty old devil, wasn't he!" Bodie sounded almost admiring.

"Filthy old pervert more like," Doyle snorted, selecting a fast crawl as his stroke this time.

Once again Bodie was right alongside as he reached the shallow end. About to stand up, Doyle thought better of it, finding he could kneel and still have his head well above water level.

"Wonder what it feels like," Bodie said pensively.

Doyle looked warily at him, opened his mouth to say tartly that he neither knew nor wanted to find out, but instead let out a yelp of dismay as Bodie disappeared beneath the surface.

Several water-laden minutes later Doyle was out of the pool, choking and giggling and gasping for breath as he knelt upon the tiled surround, droplets flying liberally from his vigorously shaken head.

"You -- you bastard!"

But that sleek, warm head had felt incredibly erotic sliding around his bared groin, the open mouth hot to his heat.

Arms propped on the bar below the pool's rim, only Bodie's head was visible, a slyly amused and very sexy Cheshire cat.

Doyle reached out, flat-palmed on the top of the dark hair, and pushed, ducking him; then he scrambled to his feet and made for the door, but he was too out of synch to move quickly and instead of escaping to the security of the house he was caught, grabbed and lifted, carried struggling back to the pool and unceremoniously thrown into the water, accompanied by his none-too-gentle attacker.

In the end it was Doyle who called a halt to the uninhibited horseplay; puce in the face and weak from his almost hysterical response to Bodie's relentless tickling, his helpless pleas for mercy eventually were acceded to, Bodie offering a necessary assistance to the side of the pool.

Lying in a soggy, heaving heap Doyle was aware of a most ridiculous happiness flooding him.

Catching his breath at last he said affectionately: "You are a fool, you know," and opened his eyes to find his partner much nearer than he'd thought, bending over him lit with laughter and something more; indefinable. The arrogant face leant down and Doyle's jaw dropped.

Christ, he's going to kiss me! was his first, incredulous thought, but equally swiftly the moment was passed and his mouth, unravished, closed again. Bodie's palm cupped his cheek, eyes teasing him.

"Perhaps you'd care to rephrase that, sunshine," he suggested silkily.

Doyle thought about it. "No, I don't think so."

"Or cook your own breakfast and dinner?"

Drowning in subtle blue Doyle struggled manfully for normality, jeering: "You can't cook anyway."

"Can't I?" The long mouth quivered and curved, rivetting Doyle's gaze.

Long lashes veiling his inner amusement Bodie pulled back; subtlety mattered now, this too important to be ruined by impulsive approaches. He patted the stubbled cheek twice, allowing his thumb to graze one corner of that sensual mouth. He added softly: "You might be surprised to find out what I can do, Ray Doyle. Could learn a lot about me this weekend if you hang about." Then he got up, straddled his taken-aback partner and reached a hand down to help him up.

Bemused, Doyle came to his feet, expecting anything except his swift release and a matter-of-fact: "Towels are in the cupboard over here," as Bodie strolled that way without a backward glance.

Selfconscious as never before Doyle was grateful for the respite, towelling down with undue heartiness to cover his embarrassment. He'd willingly have worn a towel to go upstairs and fetch his clothes but pride foolishly would not permit it while Bodie strolled around bollock-naked, so he put on a nonchalant air as he accompanied his partner to the door. He was not prepared for the playful tap on his backside as Bodie stood back to let him exit first and it brought him around, fists lifting, features twisting into a belligerent snarl.

Bodie raised both hands, palm out, in apology, saying nothing.

About to break into forcible speech, something in the look on Bodie's face made Doyle pause, swallowing angry words. Puzzled by his own restraint, he nonetheless relaxed, shrugged and grinned.

"Shouldn't have such a sweet arse, should you, sunshine," Bodie muttered as he let Doyle go two or three steps ahead of him up the wide stairway, enjoying the view.

Doyle turned a startled look on him, uncertain he'd heard aright; the cherubic aspect convinced him that he had.

Once in the bedroom he dived for the bathroom, locking the door firmly and making a good deal of noise over lowering the loo seat.

"Have you taken up residence in there?" Bodie called some ten minutes later. "How about letting someone else in to shave?"

In a goaded voice Doyle yelled back a request to be allowed to crap in peace and ignored Bodie's facetious offer to come in and squeeze his head for him to hurry things along. Sooner or later though, he had to emerge, and before his partner realised he was taking refuge, too.

By the time he did unlock the door, shaved closer than he'd been for years, Bodie was dressed, standing by the window and looking out across the sunny garden to the fields and woods beyond.

"Look at that," he said, pointing. "Most villainous things out there're probably the local foxes. Not a terrorist or drug smuggler in sight. Makes you realise what it's all about, doesn't it -- all the blood and aggro. Shows you what you're fighting for."

Having zipped his fly, Doyle reached for a T-shirt. "You've been listening to Cowley again," he said, but he came to stand by his partner, sharing his enjoyment.

Time to let up a bit, Bodie decided ruefully, not succumbing to the temptation to lay a friendly arm over Doyle's shoulder as he stood beside him. If the look he'd been given earlier was anything to go by Doyle was in no mood yet for a more open approach.

"Oy, you've shaved!" Doyle studied his face accusingly. "Thought you wanted to be let in the bathroom to do it."

"Got fed up with waiting and used my electric razor. Have to do it again before we go out this evening anyway, so it'll do for now. Come on, then, I'll get us some breakfast."

As luck would have it he managed to produce some of the best scrambled eggs he'd ever cooked, and with a reliable toaster to prevent him making his usual charcoal offering and a machine to make freshly-ground, superbly flavoured coffee a successful breakfast was pretty well ensured; not even a hypercritical Doyle could find fault. Bodie ate his with an expression of barely controlled ecstasy.

"You know your problem -- " Doyle pointed an accusing fork at him across polished pine, "you're a hedonist."

Bodie was affronted. "That's not a problem."

"It is for other people," his partner said dryly.

Dismissing this with a careless gesture, Bodie poured himself a fourth cup of coffee. "So what do you want to do today -- spot of fishing? game of tennis? Can even make it croquet if you like that."

"No badminton or squash?" Doyle said, heavily sarcastic, shaking his head at the offered coffee pot.

"No -- but there is a riding stables about two miles down the road."

Bodie spoke with all the anxious solicitude of a host eager for his guest's enjoyment and Doyle, against his will, began to laugh.

Eyes twinkling Bodie said: "I expect there's even a golf course somewhere if you wanna try that."

"No thanks! Isn't there something restful to do? I've expended all the energy I want to for one morning, if it's all the same to you. Got to keep something in reserve for tonight, haven't we!"

Bodie's reply to the innocently spoken remark was a lecherous wink.

"Pub lunch?" he asked.

"Do we need it?" Doyle was dubious, a pleasant lassitude already stealing over him from his exertions: one of those garden loungers from beside the pool set out on the patio beyond the sliding doors; maybe a radio quietly providing the sensual throb of a decent group; a paperback to read even, if there were any about -- these seemed ideal ingredients to fill in the hours until evening opening time. If Bodie really wanted lunch after a massive breakfast eaten at -- Doyle consulted his watch -- after 11.00am then the greedy hog could go and eat on his own; Doyle fully intended putting in the time working on his suntan.

"Sounds OK to me," Bodie conceded when the bare bones of this programme were laid before him.

Breakfast crockery having been piled into the dishwasher by Doyle while Bodie washed and put away the few items that could not be done mechanically, the pair of them made for the pool once more, sliding the doors wide to carry the chairs outside.

It was going to be another real scorcher, Doyle thought with satisfaction, kicking his shoes off and hauling his T-shirt over his head before he lay down. Conscious of a shadow over his face he opened a frowning eye to see Bodie divesting himself of his trousers as well.

"S'pose somebody comes," he said, scandalised.

Bodie's eyes slid to his partner's groin in mild surprise. "You plannin' on it?" He clicked a disapproving tongue. "Prefer a bit of privacy meself. Still, each to his own. But hadn't you better take your trousers off? 's a lot sexier that way. Less messy, too," he added in pensive parenthesis.

"You know your trouble, you've got a one-track mind!"

"Thought I was a hedonist." Bodie settled cushions to his satisfaction.

"Same thing."

Too lazy to get up again, Doyle unbuckled his belt, undid his zip and lifted his hips to slide his trousers down, uttering a yelp of dismay as the lounger, not designed to sustain that particular distribution of weight, began to tip backwards, pitching him towards the flagstones. Just in time to prevent the curly head from a painful fate Bodie made a lunge for him, grabbing him into a firm hold; the lounger slid away on the wheels at its head end and with Doyle's full weight to bear at an impossible angle Bodie went down as well, Doyle clasped tightly to his chest.

Surprise held them both still once they had landed. Nose buried in a flurry of curls Bodie savoured the moment, letting his hands drift in dreamy pleasure.

Doyle raised his head and surveyed him owlishly. "We mustn't keep meeting like this," he intoned.

"Bad for our reputations," Bodie agreed, but he did not move until Doyle tried to wriggle free, hampered by the trousers that still clung slavishly about his thighs. Bodie helped remove them, demeanour suitably grave.

"Now," he said severely, pulling Doyle's lounger into place once more a foot or so away from his own, "are you going to lie down and behave yourself or are you going to keep practisin' your yoga?"

"Please, sir, I'll be good," Doyle said with unwonted meekness.

As he settled he added: "You know what -- you've got beautiful skin. Feels like warm velvet."

Well, it was time he got a little of his own back in all this relentless teasing; so far Bodie had had the upper hand, keeping him off-balance and uneasy.

"Copped a quick grope while I was cuddling you, did you?" Bodie answered him cheerfully. "Can't blame you. I've been telling you for years, I've got what it takes, mate; don't you forget it."

"Chance'd be a fine thing," Doyle muttered; but he did so very quietly. He turned on his front, burrowing into the soft, foam-filled cushions, soaking up the heat of late-spring sunshine and the peace pervading the garden. The only sounds were birdsong, the quick whirring flight of passing insects and the creak of Bodie's lounger as his partner changed position. He turned his head that way and, finding Bodie lying on his back with his eyes safely closed, let his own gaze linger, wandering.

Still winter-pale, Bodie's skin had none of the slug-like quality so often seen on fair-skinned people; instead, it bore a translucent look, fine-grained, laid thin over bone and muscle. Almost hairless, his chest was solid without being over-developed, the pectorals flat planes that bore a fine dusting of hair, visible only because of its dark colouring, and it arrowed down the centre of his belly to disappear beneath the waistband of his single, extraordinarily brief garment. Doyle chuckled in silent amusement; outwardly a sober dresser, Bodie's uninhibited underwear always came as a shock to anyone who saw him strip for the first time. God alone knew where he bought his pants but Doyle suspected Soho. These were even briefer than usual, bright scarlet with narrow white piping and cut high at the top of his thighs so that each side was merely a strap which held the centres together. Downright bloody obscene, they were; probably give Mary Whitehouse a heart attack if she was ever privileged to view them in situ, with that generous bundle barely covered, dark hair curling crisply up over the white edging at his groin.

"'avin' a good look, are you?" Bodie said, interested.

"If it's on offer," Doyle retorted. "Thought you were showing it off, didn't I!"

"OK by me." Bodie stretched out further, blatantly on display. "If you've got it, I always say -- Just hope it doesn't make you feel too inadequate though."

Doyle snorted loudly. "At least I'm not fat."

"Neither," Bodie replied indignantly, "am I! Well, not at the moment anyway," he amended sheepishly.

"No, you're never fat," Doyle agreed fairly. "Solid, maybe, but not fat."

The point settled, he shut his eyes again, drifting off into a peaceful doze.

Light, sweeping motions over his back wakened him and he stirred, mumbling a protest, and found Bodie kneeling beside him.

"'s OK, lie still. I'm just putting some suntan lotion on you before you get burnt," Bodie said softly, smearing a large dollop on his left shoulder-blade and soothing it in with gentle strokes.

Damn good thing Doyle couldn't see what this was doing to his supposedly strictly heterosexual partner; never before been so turned on by something so simple, everyday. Each downward sweep was destroying Bodie, each upward glide painstaking renewal.

But Doyle could feel the silent worship in that touch; uncomprehending at first he slid onto his back to look at Bodie properly, seeing arousal in the flushed and heavy-lidded face.

He took the moving wrist in a firm grip.

"Bodie, what are you doing?"

For once with no ready answer, Bodie just stared back numbly, awaiting retribution.

Doyle asked him again, more gently this time. "What are you trying to do, Bodie, turn me on? Is that it?"

Trapped, Bodie looked away.

Over; and he'd lost. Hopeless to go on wanting, just as he ought to have known it would be from the start.

"'cause if you are," the soft, expressionless voice went on remorselessly, unaware of Bodie's desperate pleas for mercy uttered in the silence of his heart, "you're doing a damn good job!"

He waited, watching the closed-off face intently.

Guilty eyes opened slowly, stared unblinkingly at him, unreadable.

"So," Doyle said, softer still, "you've got me turned on. What are you going to do with me now?"

Unbelieving, certain that reality had gone and he was dreaming and yet at the same time desperately aware that he must savour every second to remember for ever, Bodie leaned forward and with infinite care slid his arms about his love and laid his head upon the warm, sweat-moist breast.

Homecoming. A sigh escaped him. If only perfection could last, become real --

A hand covered his hair, fingers sliding through it to curve about his skull.

"What do you want, Bodie?"

The words penetrated, burning into him. He had only one answer he could give.

"You. I want you."

"In that case -- " the hand slid away again, "we'd better go upstairs, hadn't we."

"What?" Bodie blinked, bemused.

"It's a lot more private up there," Doyle explained. "Can't do it in the garden, might frighten the gnomes. Come on, shift up. I can't move with you draped over me like a wet sack."

Inside the house Doyle reached out and took Bodie's hand, leading him towards the stairs. At their foot Bodie paused.

"You sure about this? 'cause if not -- "

"I'm sure." Doyle thought his voice was shaking but decided it didn't matter. If he was nervous, Bodie was scared witless, poor bugger, usual poise quite gone. "I'm sure, Bodie. Stop questioning it, will you. Come on!"

The bedroom was cool after the heat of the garden, their bed still unmade. Doyle stripped the tumbled covers off completely, patting Bodie's arm in gentle reassurance before pausing to take off his last remaining garment.

"Let me look at you," Bodie said suddenly; hungrily. Beginning to come alive at last, his eyes raked over Doyle in sensual appreciation of what they saw, lingering at the semi-tumescent organ that declared Doyle's genuine response. He reached out a hand.

"Do you know how beautiful you are?" he whispered helplessly, instantly ashamed of uttering such sentimental drivel and certain his cynical, hard-nosed bastard of a partner must be fit to bust himself laughing at his descent into banality.

But although his mouth quirked upwards in response to the unexpected compliment Doyle was very far from laughing, Bodie's sincerity so convincing in its simplicity; besides which, his big, handsome partner was so unconscious, for all his big talk, of his own attraction that such open admiration quite disarmed Doyle. Arrogance he could have met with arrogance, certainty with assurance; sincerity begged its own response and was given it, full measure.

"You're the good looker around here, sweetheart -- " the endearment slipped from him unnoticed by either man, "me, I'm just less inhibited about paradin' what I've got."

A lift of the versatile eyebrow acknowledged this truth. "The effect's beautiful anyhow," Bodie was quite firm about that, "so don't argue. And come 'ere will you!"

Gentle hands belied the belligerent demand, branding Doyle's nakedness; the flash of arousal made him gasp and step closer, and with an inarticulate sound perilously close to a sob, Bodie fastened himself hungrily about the smaller frame and held Doyle tightly for a moment, quite still, feeding the lonely ache in arms and chest.

Doyle wasn't sure what he'd expected: fumbling crudity perhaps; levity to cover this lapse from accepted masculine behaviour; arrogance certainly, seeking to set him at a disadvantage -- but this sweet yet powerful seduction was beyond his experience, the sheer, controlled urgency and banked-down hunger bearing away all barriers of reticence or pride. Beyond coherent thought within the first few seconds of Bodie's expert loving, he stumbled willingly to the bed at his urging, to lie limply on cool satin, accepting the worship of his body with gentle hands and mouth almost as his due as they swept him ever higher and on, and when Bodie's heavier body covered his he arched up to meet it, arms and legs curling about the solid frame to draw it into him and make it his.

For a long while it was enough to touch, to stroke and explore, seeking to learn each other's needs and fill them, but eventually Bodie's longing for more drove out any other consideration, made him forget the promises he'd made himself and seek blindly for the inevitable conclusion to their loving.

And Doyle let him do it, aware even as he did so that this could destroy what they had so carefully built up between them over the years, that it was crazy, unnecessary, potentially unacceptable.

He made one, brief attempt at denial, a fervently whispered: "No, Bodie, oh christ, no, not this," as Bodie urged him over, heavy prick jabbing almost in desperation at Doyle's buttocks, but mind and body were not in agreement and even as he spoke the words his limbs were threshing uncoordinatedly, doing their best to cooperate with Bodie's unspoken commands.

Afterwards, with his own semen puddling coldly on the cream satin undersheet and Bodie's already trickling stickily between his thighs as his partner's rapidly softening organ shrank within his body, Doyle wondered dully what they had done, how they were going to cope now it was over.

At first it was with practical needs: withdrawal and its attendant problems, concern for sheets that were not theirs and which showed every mark with embarrassing clarity. Bodie brought damp towels, mopped up with customary efficiency.

His hands were shaking.

Curtly ordered to lie still and try not to spread it all about any more than he had to, Doyle had time to study his partner, seeing the slight, unhappy droop to the always expressive mouth, the narrowing of Bodie's eyes as they failed to meet Doyle's fully.

"That's better." Bodie gave a last careful wipe to the crease at the top of Doyle's thigh. "It's OK now, you can move."

"Good." Doyle lowered his legs cautiously and held out his hand. "Come here, will you."

"What for?"

"What for, you suspicious bugger! I want a cuddle, that's what for! Haven't your birds taught you it's nice being cuddled up to when you've just been fucked through the mattress?"

Such natural acceptance was Bodie's undoing; expecting recriminations, anger, bitter accusations, this rough affection shattered the last brittle remains of his control and drove him to Doyle, shaking and inclined to be tearful, bruising him with frantically clutching hands.

"Oh christ, Ray, I never meant to do that. Wasn't going to ask you to -- Knew I shouldn't ask -- "

"Sh! Hush now!" Doyle soothed him comfortably, muttering inanities with his lips against a smooth temple. "It's OK. Really OK. I wanted to, you know. Wanted it as well."

"But you said no and I didn't listen -- Christ, Ray, I never meant to be such a bastard -- "

"Oh, come on, lover, be sensible. You've heard `no, no, stop it I like it' before now, surely! That's all it was, honest. Plus I wasn't sure what it would do to us, that's all."

"I know. That's why I shouldn't've -- "

"Bodie, shut up!"

"But -- "

"I said `shut up' and I meant it. Guilt trips are my speciality, mate, not yours, so just shut up, for god's sake. You're becoming boring."

"Sorry, I'm sure." Bodie sounded thoroughly offended, but Doyle chuckled, pleased.

"That's better. Can't stand these people who stand around moaning it was all their fault. Besides, it wasn't your fault, wasn't anyone's fault. It was going to happen sooner or later, just happened sooner than expected, that's all. No big deal."

Bodie lifted his head, scrubbed childishly at the ticklish, betraying dampness around his eyes with a fretful fist and scowled at his partner.

"No big deal? Just something we can shrug off, pretend it never happened? Is that what you want?"

In spite of his very real inner seriousness Doyle couldn't help grinning at the show of belligerence covering Bodie's uncertainty.

"Oh no, mate, I don't want to do that," he assured him, wide-eyed with solemnity. "Not before I've shown you what it's like when the earth moves!" His hand slid from its clasp around Bodie's shoulders down to the firm-muscled rump, gliding flat-palmed over its centre.

"Always knew there had to be something special about it for blokes to keep on doing it all through history," he said reflectively. "Stands to reason it can't be that bad, doesn't it."

"Is it really all right?" Bodie asked naively.

Doyle considered teasing but abandoned the idea without regret.

"It's beautiful. You'll see."

They lay quiet after that, both wanting to talk things out but neither quite knowing how to set about it, what to say, and put off by the other's silence.

It was Doyle who eventually moved first, saying tentatively: "Are you OK lying here, or would you rather go back out in the garden now?"

If Bodie had made any demur Doyle would instantly have confessed himself quite content to forgo the sunshine for the unlooked-for pleasure to be found lying in a sticky bundle with his new-found love, but as Bodie's instant reaction was to think that Doyle had changed his mind and found being cuddled by him unpleasant and embarrassing and had only put up with it this long out of a sense of duty to the partnership, he let go as if he'd been stung, springing from the bed with a false heartiness and professing his own relief that Doyle saw things the same way he did.

"Better make the bed before we go." Underwear replaced, Doyle viewed the crumpled heap of hastily discarded bedding with a distasteful glare.

"S'pose so." Bodie sounded equally enthusiastic.

They set to work.

Plumping up the pillows with more vigour than finesse Doyle discovered his partner's pyjama trousers stuffed beneath one in an untidy bundle; tutting loudly he shook them out prior to folding them neatly for him and saw, upon the pale blue material, a darkened patch precisely similar to that which adorned his own nightwear.

Bit late to blush over that now, he thought, a reminiscent smile overtaking him. Besides, if it had happened to Bodie too there was obviously no need to be selfconscious about his own wet dream during the night --

Hang about! If it had happened to Bodie too -- ?

He had a vague idea he'd been dreaming about Judy, but he hadn't been fucking her. It had been a hand holding him perfectly that he remembered, a large, warm, eminently capable hand --

His eye fell to the eminently capable hand adjusting the coverlet, tweaking it straight, its owner's attention set on that and not on Doyle, who unhurriedly finished folding the pyjamas and tucked them away, before walking around the bed, calm now and a little more sure of himself; he picked up that hand, rubbing it with fingers and thumb, enjoying the feel of bone and tendon beneath the skin and the startled, wary look in Bodie's eye.

"Got nice hands, you have," he said conversationally. "Big 'n graceful. Not clumsy."

Bodie shrugged. "They're just hands. Stop my arms fraying at the ends, I s'pose."

Softer still Doyle said: "Good with 'em too, aren't you!"

"What d'you mean?" Bodie sounded guarded.

Guileless as he could be, Doyle met his eyes and, still holding tightly with his own right hand, turned so that his back was to his partner, pulling that right arm around him; uncurling the lax fingers he laid the palm over the warm swelling at his crotch, pressing it onto him.

"That's what I mean. What you did last night. Or was it this morning?"

Clearing his throat Bodie said gruffly: "I thought you were asleep."

"'n I thought you were Judy. Dunno why. You haven't got fingernails like talons, thank god!"

"I know what you mean," Bodie agreed feelingly. "Gives you the shivers just thinking what it'd be like if they dug their claws in, dunnit!"

Doyle shuddered his agreement, laying his hand tightly over Bodie's and moving his hips sensuously against the pressure; Bodie's fingers curled perfectly to cup him.

"You sexy -- little -- devil!"

A gentle squeeze accompanied each word.

Bodie felt very content; holding Doyle like this with almost casual intimacy made him feel --

At home?

Something very simple, anyway; close and comfortable. He rocked them both gently, a rhythmic statement of love.

"What did you mean when you said it was going to happen sooner or later?" he asked, craning his neck to get at Doyle's, nuzzling gently.

Doyle took his time answering, thinking about it.

"Dunno. Not sure. Don't think I felt it coming or anything like that, but I wasn't surprised. Were you?"

"Er -- no, but the idea wasn't new to me." Bodie's tone was sheepish. "Only surprised me it was so -- easy!"

"Had you been thinking about it before this weekend then? I s'pose that means you brought me down here on purpose and there aren't any little ravers down the local." Doyle let disgust filter through.

"Been wanting it -- you -- for months," Bodie confessed. "And there's one bird works there that's OK. The other blond bombshell's a feller."

"Should be just your type, ducky! And what d'you mean, `so easy'?" Doyle demanded in high indignation. "You telling me I'm an easy lay?"

"Just the best," Bodie assured him, blowing in his ear and eliciting a delectable wriggle.

"Oh well, that goes without saying," Doyle retorted, mollified. "Hope I'll be able to say the same thing about you before long."

"You will," Bodie promised him. "You will."

"So you'd been wanting this for months, had you?" Doyle queried, pushing his lounger tight up against Bodie's before lying down and accepting a can from the six-pack his partner had produced from somewhere.

Bodie nodded, popping his own can. Doyle was being so incredibly reasonable about everything it gave him a feeling almost of uneasiness, rather like waiting for the second shoe to drop.

"And what precisely -- " Doyle took a pull at the lager, eyes fixed on Bodie the while, "is `this'?"

"What do you mean?" Bodie asked uneasily.

"Just what am I getting into? Or don't you know yourself yet? What do you want, Bodie? A quick fling, bit of an experiment -- is that it?"

Bodie would really have preferred not to face up to this just yet, still too unsure to be able to think rationally. He considered evasion, delaying tactics, but abandoned that straight away; Doyle knew him far too well, was too experienced at listening to witnesses lying their way out of trouble not so know when his best mate was trying it on. Honesty was the only policy that would work, but it was the last thing Bodie wanted to try. Some of the things he wanted he hadn't even admitted to himself yet, except in the deepest recesses of his heart, and there -- in spite of what the world in general might think, or even Doyle in particular -- he was too vulnerable for comfort, and if he got hurt, as he feared he would, it'd be no consolation to know it was entirely his own, damn-fool fault.

He waved the can vaguely. "What does anybody want? Perfection. Understanding. Permanency."

"With me?"

Well, at least Doyle hadn't burst out laughing which was something.

"Of course with you," he said, offended. "How many people d'you reckon I aim to seduce in the course of a week?"

"To hear you talk sometimes, about fifty." But Doyle's smile was friendly enough despite the tartness of his comment.

"Oh well," Bodie shrugged awkwardly. "You know how it is -- everyone exaggerates a bit now and then."

"Sure. Do it myself," Doyle acknowledged unnecessarily. "Permanency?"

Christ, did he want it in black and white? Bodie stirred uneasily, wanting to run but having nowhere to go.

"Yeah. `Till death us do' 'n all that," he agreed flippantly.

"Are you asking me to marry you? Is that it?"

If there'd been even a suspicion of amusement behind the rough tones it would have finished Bodie, driving him away in painful disillusion; but if there was no laughter there was small comfort either, the even voice giving very little away. Doyle, after all, was someone else who feared vulnerability.

"Do we have to dot all the `i's and cross all the `t's?" Bodie said crossly. "Take it as it comes, Ray, for god's sake!"

"Oh no, not with you, mate," Doyle responded flatly. "I want to know where I stand, what I mean to you. Is that so hard to tell me?"

Bodie could feel his eyes, two green gimlets, boring into his skull. He gripped his can fiercely, soft metal buckling.

"Yes, it is. Bloody hard." The words were out; defiant.

Doyle put his can down on the flagstones, reached over and took Bodie's from him also, then twisted on his lounger to face his partner, one hand set either side of him on the flowered seat.

"Try me," he invited.

Eyes sliding away, Bodie said: "Careful, mate. You'll have us both over again."

"You'll catch me. Come on, Bodie, tell me what I mean to you."


Doyle was so quiet that for a while Bodie thought he'd only said the word inside his head, so he spoke again, louder.

"You mean everything, Ray. I mean that."

"Everything! Does that mean you love me?"

Knuckles whitening in his lap, Bodie's lids slid to a close, shutting Doyle out.

"Yeah, I s'pose it does," he whispered.

"Hey!" Unable to use his hands, Doyle leaned forward and nudged him confidingly with his nose. "It's nothing to be ashamed of, loving someone."

"I'm not ashamed. Just scared," Bodie admitted miserably, sure now that he'd gone too far, finally driven Doyle away by declaring anything so foolish.

"What of?"

"Losing you -- "

"Well you can't, so don't be," Doyle interrupted. "You and I are partners, always will be now. But I'm not going to be just a convenient bedmate when you've got no one else lined up. If we start sleeping together it's us and no one else. Exclusive. OK?"

OK? Bodie could scarcely credit the inadequacy of the phrase. It wasn't OK, it was a bloody miracle.

"OK," he agreed weakly. "Exclusive."

"So you do want to marry me!" Doyle said meltingly, finally daring to tease as Bodie's panic visibly began to fade.

"At St Paul's with Kiri te Kanawa singing `Oh Perfect Love' to a harp accompaniment," Bodie confirmed. "You'll look stunning in white crushed silk, my petal."

"You'll look better in nothing at all," Doyle told him throatily, "but maybe I'll let you wear those little red drawers; adds that touch of mystery."

He slewed around once more, settling back on his own seat and picking up their lager, offering Bodie his.

Feeling strangely bereft, Bodie took it. For a few, quite glorious seconds he'd thought Doyle was going to kiss him, something he'd not yet dared to ask for, too afraid of ridicule, but his partner had drawn away and the moment was gone. Doyle saw the look and smiled to himself.

"It isn't that I don't want to cuddle up," he confided, "just that it feels a bit exposed out here. That's all."

"But there's no one about within miles," Bodie protested.

"Can't be sure of that, can we? Never know who could turn up unexpectedly. And one thing we're going to have to learn's to be very, very discreet. Otherwise Cowley'll have our guts for garters."

"He will anyway if he ever finds out," Bodie prophesied gloomily.


"When," Bodie conceded.

"So let's avoid it as long as possible by behaving ourselves in public."

"S'pose you're right." Bodie didn't sound too thrilled at the prospect. "Oh well," he heaved a long-suffering sigh and then stared wistfully at Doyle. "We could always go back indoors," he suggested, ever hopeful.

"We will," Doyle promised him, "just as soon as I think you're up to it again!"

"Are you -- " Bodie cast a quick look over his shoulder, "going to get on with it or have you been turned into a pillar of salt or something?"

A little scared now that the actual moment was here Doyle grinned at him sheepishly. "Just nerving myself up to it, that's all."

"Look that unpleasant, do I?" Bodie enquired, interested.

"You look gorgeous. You sure you're OK like that -- don't want to try it some other way?"

Bodie pulled himself up onto his knees, sat back and twisted to get his arms around Doyle. "With you I wanna try it all the ways there are, lover. For now, I want you to have what you want, what you need. Only don't make me wait too long because I want it very much; to be yours, I mean. To feel you in me, loving me. OK?"

Shaken all over again by Bodie's simple sincerity, Doyle clung to him for a moment and then said: "OK, over you go, sweetheart."

So incredible, to be given Bodie's willing passivity like this, an offer of complete trust. He wouldn't spoil it by hurrying, taking it lightly; so, with gentle, detailed care he applied himself to the task of loving Bodie as he deserved to be loved, kissing his back with lingering mouth and tongue, pressing in to him slowly, painlessly, and fucking him with a leisurely sweetness that was the best ever.

"D'you want to go for a run again tomorrow morning?" Bodie asked, covering him tenderly with the blankets.

Doyle opened a lethargic eye. "How about a nice lie in and a late swim?" he suggested, facing reality. "We're gonna be stiff tomorrow, you know."

"Are we? The way I feel I'm not gonna be able to get it up again for about a year," Bodie said on the ghost of a laugh.

Doyle hugged him indulgently. "Poor old man."

"Can give you a year or two, don't forget."

"Ah, but you've packed so much into your short life," Doyle reminded him soulfully. "Shame to be burnt out so young, innit!"

"Go to sleep," Bodie told him, chuckling.

Doyle looked very sweet all sleepy and relaxed, waking belligerence tempered into pliancy; rousing first, Bodie was content simply to lie, watching him, thinking back over the events of yesterday with an inner content quite new to him.

In all his plans and hopes he'd never quite dared to believe there'd be any more than, at best, a laughing consent to share his bed for a night or two, a brief, amusing interlude that would demonstrate their cheerful participation in the permissive society -- in their job, anything went. Cowley didn't look too hard at the ways they chose to relax, accepting anything just this side of legal with dry resignation. In his most optimistic moments he'd thought just maybe they'd come together again from time to time, in between girls perhaps, or to help through the bad times.

But to have Doyle surrender, so to speak, without a fight was something he'd never expected, and it was a little hard, even now, to believe it was real, that it had actually happened that way.

And jesus! had he ever been right about what it could be like if Doyle was cooperative! Just too bloody wonderful to be true and he was surely the luckiest bloke alive to have found someone so fantastic, so sexy, so -- so perfect!

Maudlin, Bodie, very maudlin, he chided himself, the bubble of happiness in him so large that if he didn't move soon he'd explode.

Anyway, it was nearly 11.00am and if they were going to get back to London at a reasonable hour tonight they'd have to get up soon or they wouldn't have time to fit in a swim and sunbathing and lunch and all the loving he'd got planned for the day.

Full of a new exuberance he fell upon Doyle, rolling his drowsing mate over and scooping him up into a rib-cracking hug.

"Rise and shine, beautiful, there's a whole new day to enjoy!"

"Oh christ," Doyle moaned, slumping against him bonelessly, "where's the fire?"

"Come on!" Bodie shook him. "Up you get. Rosy-fingered dawn went off duty about eight hours ago and you're still lying in your smelly pit of a bed."

"Rosy-fingered who?"

"Dawn. Old friend of yours, remember."

Doyle had ungummed his eyes by this time. "Have you gone mad, 3,7, or are you going to be like this every morning? If so I want a divorce." He closed his eyes firmly once more.

"Don't go back to sleep," begged Bodie, absurdly disappointed, shifting Doyle's weight so he could hold him comfortably.

"Do you know something," Doyle said, eyes still closed tightly.

"No. What?"

"You haven't kissed me yet."

"Haven't -- " Bodie was disconcerted. "Yes, I have, I distinctly remember kissing you all over." He leered. "Was OK," he added in happy reminiscence.

"But you haven't kissed me on the lips, have you." Doyle opened his eyes, staring up.

"No -- well -- wasn't sure you'd want that," Bodie said, shamefaced, wanting it very badly.

"Do you want to?"

Bodie nodded.

"Well in that case -- "

Doyle put up an arm and drew him down.

"Oh christ!" Bodie said, shaken. His eyes were full of tears.

"Wasn't bad, was it," Doyle agreed gravely.

"No. Not bad at all." Bodie sniffed.

"Ah, lover -- " Doyle rubbed the wetness beneath the blue eye away with the ball of his thumb.

"Just happy," Bodie told him, sniffing again. "Only happy."

"Only? Isn't it enough?"

"Oh yes," Bodie said softly, "it's enough, sweetheart, it's enough."

-- THE END --

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