by O Yardley
"One thing, sir," Doyle tapped the plaster cast with his bandaged left hand as Cowley put down the small holdall he had carried in for him and turned to leave, "better make sure Bodie doesn't get to hear about this."
Ice-blue eyes inspected him minutely, seemingly searching out, inspecting and offering a resigned acceptance of every flaw.
"Why not, 4.5?"
Impossible question to answer - Doyle took a deep breath and wondered how Cowley would take it. "Might make him blow his cover, sir. You know Bodie, he...uh, he can get a bit stroppy sometimes."
No need to elaborate; the echoes of Bodie's expressions of dissatisfaction with the support his partner had received on the last couple of occasions he had not been there to guard his back were still reverberating around the gaunt building off Whitehall.
The blue gaze continued to hold him pinned, telling him nothing of what Cowley was thinking save for the tightening of one line beside the seamed mouth.
"Aye," Cowley nodded indifferently. "I'll see his contacts keep quiet about your recent act of heroism if it embarrasses you."
Doyle hid his grin. Cowley knew his fall off that roof had been his own stupid fault, and he was all too well aware of it himself; purely the result of a momentary lapse in concentration, that was all - but you would probably never get Bodie to concede that it had not occurred as a direct result of his prolonged absence, particularly as he had fought long and hard against going in the first place. The boy getting careless without his partner to keep him on his toes, would be his diagnosis... that Charlie McGovern had been directly underneath to break Doyle's unexpected fall, thereby enabling him to become the first CI5 agent recorded as making an arrest whilst simultaneously breaking one arm in three places and severely cutting the other hand was pure, undeserved luck. Lucky not to have broken his back, the hospital had said succinctly, releasing him into Cowley's care today. Pity it hadn't been his head, various assorted visiting colleagues had observed, always better to damage something you'd never miss!
"And I don't want to see you anywhere near CI5 for another two weeks," Cowley added curtly. "You can annoy these relations who're coming to pick you up, instead. When you get back, you can put in some useful work in Records until that plaster comes off."
Doyle watched his chief go, amused at the lengths Cowley would go to to keep up the facade of dour, Scots inexcitability once the crisis - whatever it was - was over. Any reference, however oblique, to their boss's occasional, brief expressions of his affection for them was productive only of a lofty disdain and a swift change of subject.
His smile fading as the front door clicked shut, Doyle assessed his current situation. Ridiculously, he had no desire or intent to get in touch with any of his relatives; he knew Cowley would be less than pleased if he learned that although Doyle had obeyed his instructions to the letter and arranged to visit his cousins he had cancelled the arrangements within twenty minutes of telling his boss everything was all fixed, but that was just too bad. Doyle was not bothered at the prospect of remaining on his own in his flat and had no intention of leaving it to travel to the West Country when there was even the remotest possibility Bodie might return to London unexpectedly early.
Christ, but he'd missed him over the last two months - stuck up in the godforsaken north among the Liverpool Irish community in the hope that CI5 could prevent another wave of pre-Christmas terrorist attacks by keeping their eyes and ears open for any rumour of movement, and working alone to be less conspicuous. Could be all for nothing as well, which would thrill Bodie no end.
There had not even been the consolation of an occasional phonecall to assuage Doyle's loneliness; Bodie's cover had to be complete, Doyle knew that and accepted it, but he had not expected to feel quite so abandoned as he did. The depth of the feeling puzzled and made him uneasy.
Going to the kitchen to make himself a much-needed coffee, Doyle cursed the complications of working one-handed as he juggled with kettle, tap, lid, coffee jar, drawer and spoon. Working at this speed, the days were not exactly going to drag; it would take him at least an hour to wash and dress each morning, even if he temporarily abandoned shaving. He opened a few cupboards, pulling a face at the lowness of his stocks. Have to call a mini-cab tomorrow and go on an expedition to bank and supermarket. He could do with the help the driver could give in carrying stuff into the flat as well. God alone knew what the bank would make of his signature, but that was their problem, not his... he hoped.
Baked beans tonight - if he could get the can open one- handed which he doubted. If not, then a lump of cheese and one of the rather wrinkled-looking apples reposing on the top of the fridge. He wasn't that hungry anyway and the cheese had a thick layer of mould, but maybe beneath the coat there was still some left edible. After all, you paid extra for the mould in Blue Cheshire so maybe he'd discovered a new delicacy, Blue Gruyere.
He glared at his stiffly-angled arm in disgust. Couldn't have been a simple fractured wrist, could it, with some mobility left to him. Oh no, he had to go and break the ruddy thing where it involved an above-elbow plaster, his arm permanently right- angled and needing a sling to support it in comfort. Still, he couldn't actually do it any harm by using it to the full extent of its limitations, they'd assured him of that, and now the initial bruising had worn off it no longer hurt, which was something.
His meagre supper finished he dismissed any idea of washing- up as pure make-work and went to bed.
By the end of the first week he was beginning to curse his own folly in staying on but a certain stubbornness in his nature would not let him admit it aloud even to himself. At least his left hand was now more usable and he left the bandages off it with relief, finding a simple pleasure in being able to immerse it wholly in water without the subsequent discomfort of soggy, slow-to-dry material encasing it.
There weren't that many simple pleasures left to him at the moment either, not even bathing; a stand-up wash of the type his mother used to call a lick and a promise was all he dared undertake alone in his flat. Ridiculous to be so nervous of attempting something, but a shower was out of the question because of the plaster and with the mass of small cuts on his left hand, supporting himself in and out of the bath proved so nerve-racking the only time he had tried it that he still did not feel up to trying it a second time. He'd lain in the empty bath, getting steadily colder and colder, for nearly three quarters of an hour before he'd finally succeeded in hauling himself out.
He was sick of frozen food as well, but preparing anything else and, more importantly, trying to wash up dishes afterwards was such a chore that after a couple of goes he abandoned any pretence of proper eating and lived on ready-prepared, pre- digested rubbish, nibbling constantly on indigestion tablets as a result. He was a mess, his flat was a mess, and as he climbed the stairs behind the cab-driver bearing his bags of provisions at the start of his second week of self-imposed solitary confinement he was beginning to wonder whether perhaps he hadn't slipped over the borderline from determination into sheer, bloody-minded idiocy.
Opening the front door he then fumbled for a note to hand the driver who laid the plastic carrier bags by the hall table and accepted the gratuity with a quick word of thanks and took his leave, having learnt earlier in the week not to offer to come any further in to the flat. Doyle was not precisely proud of its general air of mucky untidiness and preferred not to have anyone else see it until he felt fit and energetic enough to do something about cleaning it up and making it fit to live in. At the moment it looked as though a horde of homeless pigs had wandered in and taken up residence.
Getting the front door closed he leant against it, eyes shut and wanting nothing more than to find that while he was out some good fairy had waved her wand and made every mucky heap of dirty clothes, crockery, cutlery and dust disappear; at this rate he'd need a second sick leave to get over the exhaustion of clearing up after his first one. About to pull himself together and start the laborious process of carrying the bags through to the kitchen one at a time prior to unloading them into his fridge, a small sound from the sitting room beyond froze him into immobility and the shockingly panicked realisation that he was not only unarmed, but at present partially disabled also.
He was looking around frantically for something - anything - he could use as a weapon when a gloriously familiar, lazy voice called out, "That you, Ray?"
He stumbled along the hallway, half ran, half fell into the sitting room.
And he reached out for the warm solidity turning from his window to greet him, dragging the infuriatingly uncooperative arm from its sling so he could hold the marvellous reality close to him.
"Hey, Ray, old son, you'll have me over!" A gust of laughter in his ear, followed by a grunt of protest as his plastered arm tightened about the solid ribcage.
"And that hurt! What the hell are you... Ray?"
He was pushed away and held, a frowning blue gaze running quickly over him.
"What the hell have you been doing to yourself while I've been away?" Bodie demanded resignedly. "You look a total wreck quite apart from the offensive weapon that used to be a right arm."
Doyle tried to say something but having no idea what he wanted to say, nothing came out save for a kind of strangled half-sob expressive of his relief that Bodie was here at last.
"Hey!" Bodie said again, this time with the soft affection that only Bodie could give to such an ordinary utterance, "what's up, eh?" and he was pulled close into a comforting, rib-creaking, tender hug with Bodie's voice murmuring soothing nonsense ticklishly into his ear while his hands roamed with gentle, reassuring pats over his shoulders and back.
"You're really in a state, aren't you," Bodie marvelled. "I don't know, mate, I can't take my eye off you for five minutes without you're in trouble, can I!"
Ashamed of his abrupt lapse into second-childhood, Doyle hid his face against the soft leather covering the broad shoulder. He felt ridiculously happy and while one tiny, sane part of him told him he was going to regret being this open about his relieved delight to see Bodie, he could no more hide his reaction than he could at present straighten his right arm. Finding the bloody thing hanging at an uncomfortable angle beside him so that the top edge of the plaster dug into his upper arm, he got it hooked over Bodie's shoulder for support and moved in closer still.
"'s OK," Bodie murmured. "I'm here now, sunshine, 's gonna be OK."
"Yeah." Doyle nodded vigorously and got his head up at last. "Christ, what a fool... sorry. I've been a bit down the last week or so."
"C'n see that," Bodie agreed looking about him. When Doyle got depressed he always let things slide first on the domestic front; the quantity of dust on his furniture was one of the best barometers to indicate his mood. "Mind you," he took hold of the ton-weight pressing painfully onto his collarbone and lifted it away, "I can see why. What happened to you?"
"Fell off a roof," Doyle said sheepishly.
"Fell off..." Bodie stepped back and eyed his sharply. "And that's all you did to yourself - the devil looking after his own again?"
"Nice soft landing," Doyle explained. "Charlie McGovern."
"Charlie... well, well, well, you have been busy getting yourself in the Old Man's good books," Bodie grinned. "At least - I suppose you didn't let him get away."
"Knocked him out cold," Doyle told him. "Cowley actually said, 'Well done', and shook my hand."
Bodie looked duly respectful. "That how you broke your arm, was it, too powerful for you, the Old Man?"
Feeling better all the time, Doyle said reflectively, "It seemed a pity I had to go and faint at his feet just when he was in the mood to give me a substantial pay rise."
"Faint?" Blue eyes widened into incredulous astonishment.
"Like a Victorian virgin, gracefully and quietly right into his arms, they tell me."
Bodie let out a shout of laughter. "An' me not there to see it - there just ain't no justice in this world."
Grinning widely, Doyle asked, "How about you, all finished up in the wilds of Lancashire?"
Bodie nodded. "Yeah. Reckon we should both ask for a rise, we've been such good boys."
"Cup of coffee or something while you tell me all about it?" Doyle suggested. "Er - that's if I've got any clean mugs, of course."
Bodie stared pointedly at the four he could see alongside the sofa. "Doubt it. I'll go and wash some up, shall I?"
"Mmm, thanks. Er - the kitchen's in a bit of a mess, I'm afraid," Doyle said quickly.
Looking around it, Bodie thought that was the understatement of the year. Washing two mugs up for now, he piled the rest into the sink along with plates, glasses, cutlery and pans and left it to soak in hot, soapy water while they had their coffee. The contents of Doyle's waste basket surprised him; not like the fastidious Doyle to be eating frozen food at this sort of rate, usually a packet of frozen peas was the extent of his flirtations with freezer cabinets, and maybe the odd pizza, but these packets declared themselves as 'complete meals' and that was just not his Doyle at all.
Setting Doyle's coffee down on the table beside him he said, "What's the matter with everyone at HQ then?"
Doyle stared at him. "What d'you mean?"
"All this lot," Bodie waved an expansive arm, "wouldn't anyone come and give you a hand?"
Doyle's eyes slid away, coming to rest on his plaster-cast lying along the sofa arm. "They don't know I'm here," he said uncomfortably, aware how stupid this was going to sound.
"Don't know you're here?" Bodie echoed. "But..."
"I told Cowley I'd fixed up to go and stay with my cousins in Dorset." Doyle studied his thumb, idly wriggling it around in its plaster setting. "But I decided I didn't feel up to coping with their kids so I cancelled it again and stayed here. Didn't fancy a convalescent home either."
Bodie shuddered visibly, sympathising with that point of view. "But surely one of the girls at HQ would have come in if you'd asked?"
"And told the Cow I was still here after he'd made sure I was going away? I don't beg trouble, you know," Doyle said pointedly.
"Any number of girlfriends'd be willing to lend a hand surely?" Bodie grinned at him suggestively.
"Oh give it a rest," Doyle snapped irritably. "I didn't want anyone, that's all."
"OK, OK," Bodie said mildly, hiding his surprise at the over-emphatic way Doyle had jumped down his throat. "You don't want anyone, you don't have to have 'em, mate. I just thought it looked as though you need looking after, that's all."
Doyle turned his upper body away, reaching awkwardly across himself with his left hand to get at the mug of coffee. "I can cope," he began, "no need for..."
"Soddin' hell!" The expletive made Doyle jump. "What've you done to that hand?"
"Cut it. Just superficial cuts, that's all. No stitches. Well, only a couple," Doyle amended as Bodie glared at him. "Or six."
"So you can cope, can you," Bodie said grimly. "Both hands out of commission, one arm immobilised, and Mr. Ray stubborn Doyle can cope. I s'pose that's why your kitchen bucket's full of frozen food packets!"
"Oh shit!" Doyle got to his feet.
"Shopping - out in the hall. Stuff needs to go in the freezer," Doyle said shortly, going to the door.
Bodie followed him, eyeing the three, loaded bags. "'n how the heck did you carry that lot back?"
"Mini-cab. Driver brought 'em upstairs for me."
"I see." A ferocious stare held him pinned. "What makes him so privileged?"
Doyle stared back, uncomprehending.
Bodie shrugged. "He's allowed to help apparently." He let the hurt show.
Doyle's face slowly broke into a smile of unashamed affection. "I didn't mean you, you fool. 's why I didn't want to go away, 'cause I hoped you'd be home and I could get you to do things for me."
Bodie smiled back, absurdly pleased that his prickly little partner should be so open with him for once. Unable to think of anything to say that didn't smack of sentimentality he settled for seizing the carrier bags and bore them off to the kitchen where he speedily unpacked them, stowing their contents away with a brisk competency that belied his ignorance of their proper places.
That done, he turned to find Doyle leaning against the door jamb, watching him.
Forestalling any sarcastic comment he said the first thing that came into his head. Eyeing the limp and notably unwashed curls he asked, "When was the last time you had a bath, for god's sake?"
"That obvious?" Doyle said, taken aback.
Bodie came close to him and sniffed ostentatiously. "No, actually," he admitted, feigning surprise. "It was the rat's- tail coiffure I was looking at."
"Could do with a wash," Doyle agreed lugubriously. "Trouble is, I can't get under the shower, not with this." He indicated his arm.
"Good job your shower is over a bath," Bodie said. "Be in dead trouble at my place, wouldn't you." He eyed his partner's suddenly selfconscious look with some surprise. "D'you really mean you haven't had a bath recently?"
"Yeah - well, I had one after I got here, couldn't get out for ages one-handed," Doyle told him, recalling his panicked feeling of temporary helplessness. "Sort of flopped out over the side in the end. Been making do with stand-up jobs since then."
"Knee-tremblin' washes, eh? Sounds kinda kinky to me," Bodie said severely. "It's high time someone took you in hand, old son. Well, maybe I could have phrased that better," he added, with a tolerant eye on Doyle's quivering lip, "but you get the general drift."
"No," Doyle said, shaking his head in wide-eyed innocence.
Bodie mock-punched his right arm and mimed agony as his knuckles hit the plaster. "More coffee?"
"No thanks." Doyle looked about him. "I ought to tidy some of this lot up."
"Later," Bodie suggested. "After lunch. Tell you what, you go and have a bath while I do some washing up. Think the hot water will last out or shall I boil a kettle?"
"Should be plenty," Doyle said, brightening at the prospect of a comfortable, warm wallow.
"OK then, buzz off and get undressed. I'll go and run the bath," Bodie said, disappearing down the hall, pausing to call back, "You can manage to get undressed on your own, I suppose?"
"Yeah. It just takes longer. Course," Doyle said, bravely facing the inescapable, "it means I can't wear a tie."
Bodie's snort of derision followed him into the bedroom.
"Tested the water with me elbow," Bodie told him, holding out a supportive arm for Doyle to cling to as he climbed into the bath. "Which way are you going to turn - back to the taps or the other way round?"
"Other way, of course, don't like sitting with my arse over the plug'ole. Can do yourself a real mischief like that." Bodie's grip was reassuringly firm and he sank down into the water with a sigh of relief, draping his plastered arm over the side out of harm's way. "Bit more hot, please, this'll get cold too soon."
Bodie obediently turned the hot tap to run slowly and then half disappeared into the bathroom cupboard, head and shoulders hidden from view.
"What're you doing?" Doyle demanded suspiciously.
"Looking for your... ah, got it." Bodie emerged triumphantly holding up a bottle of shampoo.
"Oh no," Doyle shook his head vehemently, "I'm not letting you loose on my head!"
"Do it one-handed then," Bodie said indifferently, "but do it, because you look ruddy awful the way it is now. Go on, dunk your head and I'll put the shampoo on for you."
Doyle continued to eye him warily for a moment and then gave in; he was getting fed up with the way it itched all the time in any case, and he'd only have to raise a hand to it once to have Bodie start in with the wisecracks about livestock.
He wasn't precisely adept washing it one-handed but he had plenty of time, no hurry, no worries either now that Bodie was here, and he lay back, eyes closed, rubbing his fingers soothingly over his scalp, seeking out each tiny irritation and dealing with it until his head felt halfway human again. Adjusting his arm carefully, he slid down the bath and tipped his head back, leaving just his nose out of the water while he rinsed the suds away. Opening a lazy eye as he shook the drops from his face he found Bodie seated on the lowered lavatory lid, watching him with an amused look.
"You still here then? Thought you were going to do some washing up."
"Waiting to rinse your hair for you, aren't I," Bodie told him perkily, picking up the mug from the shelf and filling it at the basin. "Can't have Goldilocks looking as though all the three bears've been at 'er, can we?"
"What, Mummy Bear too?" Doyle said, deeply shocked. "Oy, watch what you're doing with that, mate, you... Bodie, you bastard!"
"Ah!" Bodie surveyed his dripping victim with false sympathy. "Get it too cold, did I?"
"Any warm at all'd've been nice," Doyle spluttered, drops flying from his furiously shaken head.
"Didn't want to risk burning you, did I," Bodie told him, all innocence. He filled the mug again.
"Oh no, you don't. Once was enough." Doyle held up his hand in laughing protest, too late to prevent the second, freezing cascade over his head and shoulders. "Bodie, I'll get you for that," he promised silkily, his attempt at menace marred by the huge shivers rippling through him. He slid back down into the increasingly hot bath and turned off the trickling hot water tap with his toe, glaring balefully Bodiewards all the while.
"You be OK if I leave you?" Bodie enquired solicitously.
"I'd be delighted if you would," Doyle responded shortly.
Just as the door was closing he added, "Bodie, 's nice to have you home."
Bodie's head reappeared round the door, its best, beaming smile adorning it. "'s nice to be back mate."
Doyle's instinct for devilment made him add, "To do the washing up 'n cleaning 'n so on, of course."
Bodie's face seemed to close. "Of course."
Doyle laid his head back on the end of the bath and hated himself.
So bloody easy to hurt Bodie sometimes. Not that most people would see it, but he had learnt to read that closed-off look very early on in their teaming. Not for the first time, he wished he couldn't.
He reached out, plucking the soap from its rack and beginning to wash the exposed portions of his anatomy with crisp, angry movements.
The water was cooling uncomfortably when Bodie came back to haul him from the bath and unselfconsciously help pat him dry; then, wrapping his still-wet head in a dry towel he led the way to the bedroom and stood by to give help, where needed, with dressing.
"Makes me feel like a small kid again," Doyle grumbled, allowing Bodie to straighten out the T-shirt he had somehow managed to get twisted while hauling it on, so that it trapped his plastered arm uncomfortably up by his towelled ear.
"Don't worry, mate, never thought you should be in long trousers anyway," Bodie grinned, watching the head-towel finally give up trying to defy gravity and descend about Doyle's face, effectively muffling his reply. "Yeah, you look good in a yashmak, suits your style of beauty. C'm'ere, sit down on the bed."
Doyle found himself sitting, yanked there by Bodie's large and capable hands which took the towel and began rubbing his hair with more enthusiasm than expertise.
"You cryin'?" Bodie asked, staring in surprise at the reddened eyes that finally emerged from his ministrations.
"Bloody nearly," Doyle told him, sniffling long and lushly. "Take me an hour to brush this lot out... and no thanks," he dived for the hairbrush, "I'll do it myself. I say," he sniffed again, "something smells good. You been cooking?"
"Just a little something for lunch," Bodie said airily. "I'd better go and see how it's getting on."
Doyle tested the air again, trying to decide which of the packets he'd brought home Bodie had decided to open, but distracted by the number of knots his partner's over-vigorous towelling had produced in his always too-ready to tangle hair.
Bodie was dishing up onto a couple of plates when Doyle arrived in the kitchen, a savoury smelling mound of rice.
"Risotto--I don't remember buying that," Doyle said, sliding onto a chair.
Bodie passed him a fork with an affronted air. "You didn't."
"You mean you cooked it?" Doyle poked at it dubiously. "Thought you couldn't cook, mate."
"I know you did." Bodie began on his portion, smacking his lips with relish. "Ah, the old hand has not lost its skill."
"D'you mean to tell me," Doyle demanded, "that you've sat around all these years letting me do the cooking an' all the time you can do it yourself!"
"Not telling you anything." Bodie stuffed a huge mouthful in and chewed it with an air of blissful appreciation. "'s good, innit!"
Doyle made a great play of approaching his first mouthful with the nervous care of the Emperor Nero's food-taster, but the smell alone was making his mouth water so much it was impossible to maintain the pose and he was soon eating greedily.
"Wha's in it?" he demanded thickly.
"Rice, onions, tin of tomatoes, cold ham," Bodie said succinctly. "Bit of this, bit of that."
"None of the other?"
"Didn't know I'd got any onions," Doyle admitted. "Where did you find 'em?"
"In the freezer compartment," Bodie said surprised. "They were in that lot you brought home this morning."
"Don't remember buying those."
Bodie stared at him. "You losin' your grip, mate?"
Doyle raised a lofty eyebrow. "Any peas in there?"
"Not that I noticed, no."
"Then I suppose I must have picked up the wrong bag somehow. Probably some idiot put one in the wrong spot."
"Should be grateful--even a culinary genius like me can't make a good risotto with peas instead of onions. You gonna finish that or play with it?"
"Finish it," Doyle said, chasing the last elusive bits of rice awkwardly with his left hand. "Thanks, that was great." He sat back feeling replete. "You can make that again sometime."
"Why, is that all you can cook?"
"Minute ago you were grateful I could do that much, now you're complaining."
"No, no." Doyle shook his head airily. "You've done a marvellous job in here." He gazed around approvingly--work surfaces cleared of their unpleasant piles of dirty crockery, bright and shining once more, the floor swept clean of all the bits and pieces he'd dropped there in the course of the last week and felt too disheartened to make any attempt to pick up...
"Buy you a pint later on," he offered softly.
"After the housework's done--you can have the duster. 's no good pulling that face at me, Ray Doyle, I'm not going on livin' in a pigsty like this, not if you want me to stay and look after you."
"Will you!" Doyle didn't even try to hide his relief and pleasure. "What about Cowley, isn't he expecting you?"
"Nope. I haven't seen him since I got back. Gather he's up to his ears in something. He sent various fond messages including that I could have a week off. I think he thought I might want to stay up north or something," Bodie grinned. "Perhaps someone'd been talking about the bird I'd been working on for the last six weeks."
"Bird?" Of course, where Bodie was there inevitably would also be a bird.
"Yeah. Made Towser look like Marilyn Monroe," Bodie said thoughtfully.
Doyle maintained a judiciously sober front. "The things we do for our country."
"Didn't even shave her legs," Bodie said, shaking his head sadly. "Think she thought it would emasculate her."
Doyle's mouth quivered but did not break. "How about her moustache?"
"Only on Fridays," Bodie said gloomily.
"Why Fridays particularly?"
Bodie's face took on a look of mild surprise. "Bath night, of course."
"Ah!" Doyle nodded his understanding. "Just saw her Saturdays, did you?"
"Unfortunately for me, no!"
Doyle finally gave up even trying to keep a straight face. He didn't believe a word of this but it was always fun listening to Bodie in full, fanciful flight. "But you got her to talk in the end, no doubt."
Bodie looked down his nose at him, got up to put the kettle on. "Of course. Coffee?"
"Yes, please." Doyle watched him lazily, amusement lurking in his eyes. "Never took you for the Mata Hari type, somehow. Amazing what you learn about some people."
"Natural brilliance in bed, that's my forte." Bodie put on his best knock-'em-in-the-aisles look and plucked imaginary fluff from his sleeve. "Some of us have it, some of us don't."
"Haven't had it for ages," Doyle said.
Abruptly, the mood between them changed, became charged with tension.
Momentarily bemused, Doyle realised his semi-automatic response had been laden with the thousand puzzling emotions that had plagued him of late; not feeling ready to talk, even to Bodie, he clunked his arm loudly on the table in quick and easy explanation.
"Can just see a girl's face if I asked her while this is still on."
Bodie's eyes scanned his face. "Can't be the easiest thing to have in bed with you," he agreed. "How do you manage--never mind, I'll find out tonight, I daresay."
"Tonight?" Still off balance, Doyle frowned at Bodie's back as he turned away to pour boiling water onto their coffees.
"You want me to get your breakfast for you, you'll have to put me up. I'm not getting up at all hours just to come over here to nursemaid you. D'you want me to stay?"
"Yes, please," Doyle said meekly.
When turned back he was smiling. "Just as well you said that. You don't look fit to be on your own, to me." He handed Doyle his mug. "Get that down you and then we'll finish cleaning up. OK?"
"OK," Doyle agreed.
An hour later the place was immaculate enough to please even Bodie's fastidious eye; the only untidy thing about the place as he acidly commented, was Doyle sprawled in an exhausted heap on his sofa with the aerosol can of polish and a soggy duster parked on his middle.
"'s hard work dustin' with one hand," Doyle said plaintively. "That's the trouble with you military types--all spit'n polish. I'll bet you blanco the loo seat at home."
"'n that reminds me, you're nearly out of bog-roll--I'll go out in a minute and do some more shopping."
"Deserted!" Doyle flung out his left hand dramatically. "Worked until I drop and then abandoned!" He closed his eyes against a cruel world.
"And I'll stop off at my place to collect some clothes and take some washing to the launderette along with yours," Bodie added as though he had not spoken, coming over to relieve him of the duster and polish.
Aware of being watched, Doyle opened one eye and peered up at his partner.
"You look all in," Bodie said roughly. "Why don't you go and lie down properly. You look as though you haven't slept for a week."
Nearly true, Doyle thought, recalling the depression that had settled about him like a black cloud each night since he'd got home.
"I'll do that," he mumbled, settling further down.
"Come on, then." Bodie put both hands under his armpits and hauled him upright. "Not lying there, you'll end up feeling worse than ever, sleeping all twisted up like that."
"Hate going to bed during the day," Doyle sulked as he was led inexorably to his bedroom.
"Tough!" Bodie told him, rattling the curtains closed. "And take those trousers off unless you want them to look as though you've slept in 'em."
"But I will have done," Doyle protested reasonably. "OK, OK, I'm taking 'em off. Hey, you've put clean sheets on the bed as well."
"And not before time, too. Go on, lie down." Bodie pushed at his shoulder. "Now what're you doing, for god's sake?"
"Getting this pillow where I can rest my arm over it," Doyle said, lying well over on his left side with the plaster cast laid out on the pillow he had placed longways beside him.
"Thought it was your teddy-bear substitute for a minute," Bodie told him, a laugh obvious in his voice. "Go on, Bubbles, go to sleep!"
Doyle heard the door click shut; he wriggled, getting a little more comfortable, already beginning to float in a sleepy haze. Nice to have Bodie back. So restful, laying all his burdens on those broad, capable shoulders.
He shifted again, releasing a satisfied belch as he did so. Oh lord, was he going to have bloody heartburn again? And he'd left the bloody indigestion tablets over on the chest of drawers. Feeling too flaked out to want to move he lay still, waiting for the first, uncomfortable symptoms to make themselves felt. One thing, he could have a field day over what Bodie's cooking had done to his stomach! Typical bloody Bodie, that--all that pathos about living off junk foods because he couldn't cook and all the time he could produce one of the best risottos Doyle had eaten in a long time. If he lived off risotto all next week it'd be worth it just to see Bodie doing the work for once.
Bit unfair, that, after all the work Bodie had put in to making this place habitable. Sitting around in the untidy muck- heap of a flat had done little to make Doyle feel cheerful, and the more fed up he got, the less he'd felt like doing anything about it.
Good old Bodie! Doyle shifted again, his right arm bearing down tighter on the pillow beneath it, wishing he could hug it to him. Be nice to hug something. Been all too long since he'd done that. Somehow, over the last few months he'd felt less and less inclined to bother with all the hassle of girlfriends and dates. He'd shared several dates with Bodie when that worthy had organised them, enjoyed those all right--it was just that the effort of fixing it up himself seemed too great for too little reward.
Need a holiday, maybe. Bahamas'd be nice. Hot sun, beach to lie on, half-naked and willing birds... Bodie'd like that. Or one of those naturist clubs in the South of France--better still, that. Completely naked Bodie...uh, bird... much better than half naked.
He chuckled to himself. Too sleepy to think straight, that was his trouble. Naked Bodie indeed!
He tucked his face against the pillow supporting his arm.
"Like that, wouldn't you, Bodie," he mumbled, half aloud. "A beach somewhere--back to nature'n all that. Tannin' your balls to a crisp... be nice..."
He could hear the sea, faint, distant, soothing...
It was dark when he woke and for a second or two he was completely disoriented, not quite sure where he was, and then memory flooded back.
Bodie was home.
He heaved himself upright clumsily and padded towards his bedroom door to open it. Music was playing very softly in his sitting room, its half-open door spilling dim light down the hallway to his socked feet.
Yawning widely, he wandered along and peeked through the door.
"What time is it?"
Bodie was sitting in an arm chair, can of beer beside him, reading. He looked up, face breaking into a smile. "Woken up at last, have you. Wondered if I was going to have to dine alone."
Finally getting his eyes to focus, Doyle peered at his watch. "Bloody hell, it's half past eight."
"I know. Want a beer?"
"Thanks." Doyle perched on the end of the sofa and caught the carefully thrown can neatly in his left hand, hook his right index finger through the ring and pulled--rather harder than he needed. He set the can down on the floor.
"Good job I didn't get dressed," he said, licking the drops from his bared thighs.
"Good job you've had a bath, too. Blimey!" Bodie added, watched with awed amazement as his partner bent his spine into an impossible shape to gather the last drops, "you'll bust a gusset or something if you put that much strain on your body."
"Nah, stretch nylon," Doyle said happily, poking a demonstrative finger into the cheerfully purple but skimpy garment. "See!"
"Just about everything," Bodie nodded. "You ever heard the word modesty?"
Doyle put his head on one side, smiled engagingly. "Nope." He picked up his beer and drank thirstily.
"Didn't think you had. Well, you're not sitting down to supper with me looking like that," Bodie told him firmly. "Go and get dressed, it's nearly ready."
Sniffing delicately Doyle said, "Don't tell me, let me guess. Risotto and chips?"
"Risotto and baked beans?"
"Risotto and mushy peas?"
"Aw, you guessed," Bodie said, disappointed.
"I shall go and inspect the oven," Doyle told him. "Wanna see if this warrants putting on a dinner jacket for."
"Trousers'd be better," Bodie suggested meaningly, "or even shoes. You'll trip over those in a minute."
Doyle gravely inspected the flapping toes of each gone-to- sleep sock.
"What's the matter with 'em? Got no holes in 'em, have they," he said, aggrievedly slopping his way kitchenwards.
It was coq au vin.
"OK, where's the tin?"
"The one the sauce came in." Doyle pressed the foot pedal on his bin and peered down into its depths. "Potato peelings, plastic box with bits of compost stuck around the edges, couple of bacon rinds, onion peel... Who'd you get to come in and why isn't she staying to help us eat it?"
"Think I'd ask anyone to stay with you walking around like that? Will you go and cover up your arse!" Bodie swiped at it, catching him with an echoing smack which made him yelp loudly. Bodie shook his hand ruefully. "Stung, that did."
"Serves you right, shouldn't attack people like that," Doyle complained, rubbing his left hand as far as he could over the afflicted area.
"Must be all that royal purple," Bodie leered. "Last time I saw a bum like that it was on a chorus girl. Only need a feather in your curls, don't you, ducky!"
Doyle drew himself up with dignity and tried to tuck his arm back into a sling that wasn't there.
"Enjoy bullying someone who can't hit back, you do!" He marched out, head erect, arm clasped to his chest with his undamaged hand so that it would not flap inelegantly as he walked and spoil his exit.
"You ever thought about takin' up bein' a chef full time?" he enquired, finishing the last of his supper with a contented sigh. "I'll give you a job. You're a sneaky bastard, aren't you, not letting on you can cook."
Bodie's mouth suppressed a smile but he said nothing except, "Thank your lucky stars you've got that arm in plaster or you'd be doing the washing up, same as I do for you."
"I'll see if I can struggle through the drying up and putting away," Doyle offered bravely.
"I know you will," Bodie agreed drily.
Stowing the last fork in its place, Doyle slung the tea- towel onto the cupboard with a sigh of relief. "Bit domesticated, all this," he said, watching Bodie wipe out the sink. "They'll be calling us the Odd Couple if we don't look out." He sniggered.
"Go and put the box on, I want to watch the late film," Bodie said, ignoring him.
Doyle did so then went off to the bathroom. When he returned, Bodie was curled up on one end of the sofa, can of beer near to hand, already deeply immersed in the thriller. Doyle settled on the other end, intending to read but getting as caught up in the foolish plot as Bodie was, watching it through to the end with him.
As the final credits began to roll, he stretched, yawning widely. "What a load of rubbish."
"Kept you watching though," Bodie pointed out, getting up to switch the television off. "'nother beer?"
"No thanks." Doyle held up his can. "I've only just started this one."
Bodie got himself another and sat down.
Doyle gazed his way through eyes that felt surprisingly heavy considering how long and how well he'd slept during the afternoon. He could scarcely believe he was the same person in the same place as he'd been twenty-four hours since, when he'd sat, glued to the box until the last, boring programme had flickered into oblivion, his eyes gritty but refusing to close and an empty, aching sensation in the pit of his stomach. Prone to moodiness he had never before felt quite so low as that and the memory of it frightened him; couldn't afford to let depression get the better of him, not in his job. Wouldn't be safe for him or for Bodie, if he was to get careless.
"Penny for them," Bodie said, tapping him on the knee.
"I said, penny for them," Bodie repeated. "You were miles away. What's up?"
"Nothing new," Doyle told him softly. "I feel a hundred percent better than I did this time yesterday."
"Good food, pleasant surroundings--do wonders for you," Bodie said lightly.
"And good company."
Bodie looked his way, an odd (for Bodie) expression of shy pleasure on his face.
"It is good to have you back--really good," Doyle added, remembering his earlier teasing. "Just the tonic I needed."
"Sanatogen Bodie," his partner agreed wryly. "Guaranteed to bring the rosy colour back to your cheeks." He curved his right hand reminiscently, smiling, and then before Doyle could speak added, "I dunno about you, mate, but I'm knackered. Didn't get to bed at all last night."
"Oh christ, I'm sorry--"
"What for, it wasn't your fault."
"All this--" Doyle waved an expressive hand around the clean, tidy room. "Last thing you must've wanted was to come home and start charring for me."
"Don't you think it might cut two ways?" Bodie asked him, a faint smile lighting the brooding eyes. "I'm glad to be back, you know. Hate working alone these days. Worth it if I do have to turn to and start valeting you, sunshine."
"You haven't told me about it yet," Doyle remembered guiltily. "We got sidetracked before lunch."
Bodie shrugged. "Not a lot to tell, really." He provided a typically laconic run-down of his activities, covering the last two months work in about five sentences.
"I'm not surprised the Cow's always complaining about your reports if you cut 'em down like that," Doyle said, grinning at him. "Come on then, let's go to bed if you're tired, shall we? You going to risk sleeping with this," he held his arm out, "or d'you want the sofa?"
"I'll take half the bed and risk it," Bodie said firmly. He'd tried Doyle's sofa before and it was too short by an infuriating six inches.
He hovered unobtrusively, waiting until Doyle was fully undressed and into his pyjama trousers before he completed his own preparations for bed.
"Better get another pillow to replace that," Doyle suggested, pointing to the one he'd annexed for use as an arm support. "There's one in the top of the wardrobe."
"OK." Bodie fetched it. "You need anything else?"
"No. Only to clean my teeth--go on, you get into bed, I'm OK."
"Of course I'm sure, Nanny!"
Doyle went out of the room studiously ignoring the call of, "Don't forget your prayers, Christopher Robin," that floated after him.
When he got back Bodie was snuggled down in the bed, with just his nose showing over the top of the duvet and his eyes firmly shut. Doyle slid in beside him, stretching out luxuriously, nearly jumping out of his skin when Bodie let out a yell of protest.
"Fuckin' 'ell, Doyle, what're you trying to do to me?"
Doyle stared, disconcerted, as Bodie came forcibly upright, whipping the duvet off them both, grabbed at his leg and inspected it minutely.
"Christ almighty, I thought you'd drawn blood and there's nothing to see at all. When was the last time you cut your flamin' toenails, mate?"
All too conscious of their undue length Doyle tried to hide his feet. "I'm sorry. I'll be more careful."
Bodie glared. "When?"
Doyle essayed a disarming smile. "Can't remember."
Making a swift grab, Bodie caught hold of an ankle and held the wriggling foot still for inspection.
"D'you only do it at Christmas, or something," he demanded, outraged. "I am not sleeping with those in the bed with me. One lethal weapon's quite enough for you without needing ten more!"
"I'd cut 'em if I could," Doyle reminded him, wondering on a sudden wave of inspiration whether it was possible to swing this on Bodie in revenge for his cold-water drenching earlier on, "but I'm not at my best with scissors left-handed. I'm sorry. I could put me socks back on," he offered, careful not to overdo the pathos and get Bodie suspicious.
The bigger man drew in a long, patient breath and started to get out of bed. "Where d'you keep 'em?"
"Put 'em in the dirty linen basket," Doyle said virtuously.
Bodie sighed again. "Your nail-scissors, clown."
"What d'you want my--oy! I'm not letting you loose on my delicate little--"
Bodie's eyes narrowed.
"Uh--top left-hand drawer," Doyle said meekly, hiding his elation; he could goad Bodie with this for years if he played it right.
But somehow, propped up against the bedhead, his foot laid in Bodie's lap and handled with a sure, unticklish touch by those strong, blunt fingers, Doyle lost his urge to make anything of the situation. Bodie's expression as he bent to his task was touchingly concentrated; he was frowning slightly, the tip of his tongue just visible at one corner of the parted mouth.
"Hell of a thing to do for someone," Doyle said, surprised to hear his voice shake.
Bodie paused and looked up, the frown clearing. "Yeah, well--I'd do a hell of a lot for you, mate, same as you would for me."
The slightly roughened tone of affection hit Doyle somewhere around his middle, robbing him of breath; as he could think of nothing to say at that immediate moment it seemed no great loss.
Bodie finished the last toe, dropped the parings into the bin beside him and carefully brushed the bed down before getting up to replace the bin by the wall.
"OK now? Anything else while I'm at it? Need the hair up your nose trimmed?" He clashed the scissors alarmingly close to it and pretended to peer up to check.
Two very bright eyes met his. "I missed you--terribly."
Doyle hadn't meant to say the words but they were out and could not be retracted. He stared at Bodie, afraid to look away or even lower his gaze in case the unshed tears spilled over.
Bodie looked back at him for several seconds, his face a carefully neutral mask. Then, just as Doyle was beginning to panic and wonder if he'd embarrassed Bodie just the once too often it would take, he put the scissors down with steady deliberation, walked around the bed to his own side, shook the duvet out and got in beside Doyle, sliding an arm about his shoulders in a friendly, undemanding hug.
"I missed you too, sunshine. No one to have fun with."
Doyle hardly heard him; he rushed into speech, wanting to get the words out while he still had the courage (or stupidity) to utter them.
"Wanted you dreadfully this last week too. Kept thinking it'd all be OK if only you'd get home--I wouldn't feel so fuckin' awful if you were here. Was marvellous seeing you this morning."
He turned into the embrace, pushing his left arm along the pillows behind Bodie's back, reached his over-heavy right arm across his own body so he could touch Bodie's forearm with his fingertips.
"You mean an awful lot to me, Bodie. I wanted you to know that."
Bodie's free hand settled on his upper arm, just above the plaster, gripped it lightly.
"You too, sunshine," he said steadily. "Thought you already knew, though."
"S'pose I did," Doyle agreed, his tension easing with Bodie's ready acceptance of his unaccustomed demonstrativeness, "but I thought maybe it needed saying out loud--just in case." He lifted his head. "Don't want you to think I take the things you do for me for granted."
Bodie grinned at him in friendly derision. "Wouldn't let you, would I! Soon start thumping you if you don't appreciate me properly."
"Thought you'd done that already." Doyle wriggled. "My bum's still sore."
"Liar," Bodie told him, amused. "It's time to go to sleep, sunshine. You look all in. Come on, lie down."
He helped Doyle slide down the bed and patted his pillows into place for him.
"There you are, anything else I can do for your Lordship before I retire to my attic for the night? Got your teddy bear all right?"
"'d rather 'ave you," Doyle said sleepily, holding the plaster up invitingly for Bodie to lie close.
His partner quirked a surprised eyebrow but went into the offered embrace willingly enough. He reached back to turn out the light.
"Mmmm!" A sleepy little murmur. "I was wishin' I'd got something to cuddle this afternoon. Never thought of invitin' you in."
Bodie chuckled. "What brought it on tonight then--me doin' my chiropodist routine?"
There was a brief pause before Doyle said reflectively, "You must have to be very fond of someone before you'd do that for them."
"Well, I am--bloody fond of you," Bodie said in a belligerent, make-something-of-that voice.
"Oh, Bodie!" Doyle turned nearly onto his stomach and put his arm even further over the sturdy frame. "I'm fond of you too. Best mate I've ever had, you are." He rubbed his cheek affectionately against Bodie's.
"Need a shave, you do, and don't look now but you're getting maudlin!"
But Bodie's face moved responsively on his and Doyle could feel him smiling.
"You comfortable?" Doyle enquired. "This damn thing not digging into you, is it?"
"'s no heavier than Bridie's arm was." Bodie stifled a yawn. "Clinging vine, she was, just like you."
"Bridie? She your bird up in Liverpool?"
"Yeah--for my sins."
"Really that bad, was she?" Doyle asked sympathetically. It wouldn't be the first time one of them had had to engage in the somewhat distasteful task of sleeping with someone purely as a means of extracting confidences that might not otherwise be offered. Not that Cowley ever issued a direct order for either of them to lay someone in the line of duty, but it was a reality that occasionally had to be faced.
"Not much fun, is it, when you have to string 'em along like that. Always makes me feel--I dunno, dirty some'ow, makin' it with a girl just to get information out of her."
"Know what you mean," Bodie agreed, "but she wasn't that bad actually. Just a bit intense."
"You ever had one you really couldn't make it with?" Doyle asked curiously.
"D'you mean couldn't or couldn't?"
"Couldn't because I couldn't or couldn't because I wouldn't," Bodie elaborated.
Doyle thought that one over for a minute and decided it was too late at night to work it out.
"Bit of both as it happens," Bodie said on a ghost of a laugh. "Went right off one bird when I found she had a cupboard full of whips. Nearly did me an injury when I told her I'd rather fuck a knot-hole in a fence than play her little games. 's all right for you to laugh," he added in response to the moist snort that tickled over his upper arm, "you didn't see the thing she produced while I was getting me trousers on!"
"Nasty, was it?"
"Covered in spikes," Bodie told him; he gave a little shudder. "I felt bloody sick when I got out of there, I can tell you."
Doyle offered a compassionate squeeze. "Poor old bugger," he murmured. "Why didn't you tell me about it at the time?"
"Dunno--felt a bit odd about it," Bodie admitted, "sort of dirty, like you said just now. In any case, it was ages ago. Didn't know you very well then. Might've come and cried on your shoulder if I had."
"'n I could've given you a cuddle," Doyle agreed gravely, finding a surprising pleasure in lying here in the dark exchanging whispered confidences with his partner. "Help you feel better."
"You always make me feel better," Bodie said, sleepily reaching up to brush back the heavy mop of curls by Doyle's temple, his fingers lingering in a caress. The two of them had worked a lot of things out together over the years. "Help each other through the bad times, don't we."
"Yeah." Doyle was equally sleepy; unguarded. "D'you know what I think?"
"It's the only way we have to say 'I love you' to each other," Doyle told him with owlish wisdom. "I mean, 's not the kind of thing you come out'n say, is it."
Bodie considered that, his thumb circling quietly on Doyle's cheek. "You just did," he pointed out.
"Embarrass you, have I?" Doyle turned his head and kissed the tip of Bodie's thumb. "Wouldn't want to do that, you're too important to me."
"Nah." Bodie dismissed the idea. "'n anyway, you're right, sometimes we do need a way to say it."
"P'raps we should just come right out with it," Doyle suggested, unable now to keep his eyes open. "I love you, Bodie."
"I love you, Ray," Bodie agreed, slightly amazed both at Doyle and himself and wondering if either of them would remember this conversation in the morning and what they would do if they did.
Doyle gave a huge, sleepy sigh of happiness. "Tha's OK then." He snuggled his right leg comfortably between Bodie's. "G'night, gorgeous."
"Mmmm," Bodie agreed, "g'night."
A bright eye greeted him in the morning, smiling at his less than enthusiastic awakening.
"Look like a tortoise coming out of hibernation, you do," Doyle told him solemnly. "'s ever so cute. I'll wash your little eyes for you, if you like."
Bodie mumbled something unintelligible even to himself and closed his eyes again, unwilling to leave the pleasant lassitude that still held him in its grip. He was aware of Doyle shifting about beside him, was mildly irritated by it and pleased when it ceased. He did not hear the quiet closing of the door.
"Oy!" A hand touched his shoulder. "Come on, Rip Van Winkle, wake up and drink your coffee."
Not only coffee, Bodie realised, recognising the appetising odour. Nothing for getting your taste buds going in the morning like the smell of fresh toast. He started to sit up.
"Careful--tray's on the bed beside you," Doyle warned him.
Bodie slowed down.
"I've put our coffee on the bedside table," Doyle said, parking himself on the bed as soon as Bodie came upright.
"How the hell did you carry that lot in?" Bodie demanded. "Don't go damaging that arm, you pillock."
"Shan't. And I didn't. Well, not all at once. Brought the tray first and then all the rest a bit at a time. Toast isn't very elegantly cut I'm afraid," Doyle acknowledged ruefully.
Bodie picked up one of the ragged doorsteps. "That's true. Still, daresay you haven't ruined the taste. Shall I butter it for you?"
"That's all right, I can manage."
Doyle looked up and caught the fleeting look in Bodie's eye. "Well, OK, might be nice to be waited on," he agreed, feeling a little breathless.
Bodie picked up the butter knife with a huge, Bodie-beam spread over his features.
By the time Doyle had been assisted in and out of the bath after an already late breakfast, the morning was nearly gone and only the question of how to fill in the rest of the day remained. One look at Bodie's dark-shadowed eyes was enough to convince Doyle that something unstrenuous and undemanding was required.
"You look like an undertaker's delight," he said candidly. "Been going it a bit the last few weeks, have you?"
"A bit," Bodie admitted. "Don't look much better yourself, sunshine--and skinnier than usual as well. How about a quiet day watching the telly or something? Don't fancy going out in that lot anyway."
A squall of driving rain had just begun lashing the windows as if in a frenzy to get in to escape the chill outside.
Doyle shivered agreement. "Suits me. I feel lazy."
"So--what's new?" Bodie ruffled his hair, laughing at his indignant expression. "'ve I ever told you 'ow much you look like a Pekinese?"
Eyeing him balefully Doyle said, "Lion dogs, they are."
"Miniature, of course," Bodie added soulfully. "Cute little lap dog."
"I said, sleeve."
"I know you did," Bodie said patiently, "what I want to know is why you said sleeve, then I'll know what sort of witty riposte to make, won't I, like gusset or something."
"Got gussets on the brain, you have. They kept them up their sleeves."
"Their bleedin' miniature Pekes, you pea-brained twit. They were sleeve dogs, not lap dogs."
Bodie shook his head sadly. "Don't think I can get you up mine, you'll 'ave to settle for me lap. Sorry about that--I'll 'ave a word with me tailor."
"I'll make some coffee," Doyle told him shortly.
He went into the kitchen, smiling to himself as he filled the kettle. So damn good to have Bodie home, and just the tonic he'd needed. Difficult to believe he'd felt so low lately; must have been bottling all sorts of things up to have embarked on that extraordinary conversation with Bodie last night.
Waking this morning, flat on his back with his right arm up on the pillow by his head and both legs tangled with Bodie's he had inched himself over to look at his partner, deeply asleep in a similar position, and experienced a flood of unashamed and very sweet protectiveness towards him. Such a crazy mixture, his Bodie: a vicious streak that could touch his soft-voiced threats with a chilling credibility alongside a deep capacity for tenderness towards anyone genuinely hurt or troubled; a very real taste for the sophisticated life and a little-boy enjoyment of its simpler pleasures.
"It boils better if you plug it in," Bodie's voice suggested from the doorway. "You gone to sleep again or something?"
"Huh? Oh--yeah." Doyle found the flex and dealt with it. "I was thinking."
"You wanna watch that, could be habit-forming. What about?"
Doyle turned--jumped to find Bodie much closer than he expected--and said, "Last night."
Was it his imagination or was there a touch more colour in the light-skinned cheeks? He put out his hand.
"I meant what I said, you know. You're very important to me and I'm--I'm more than just fond of you. Sorry if it sounds sloppy, I don't know how else to say what I mean."
Bodie took the hand and used it to pull into a light hug. "I know." He drew back far enough to allow him to tap the plastered arm trapped between them. "Don't like you doing stupid things like this to yourself when I'm away." He closed in again. "Makes me realise--" He paused, shaking his head. "CI5's no picnic, Ray. It could happen any day."
Doyle leaned into the hug, feeling the need for it as well. Trust Bodie to understand: no one had ever understood him the way Bodie did. He told him so.
"Meeting of great minds," Bodie said with calm superiority. "Take on the world together, we could. An' the kettle's going to boil dry if you don't get on with making that coffee."
They carried it through to the sitting room and sat close together on the sofa, the mood between them easy, light, filling Doyle with a diffuse sense of optimism, as though something very good had happened to him and Bodie was part of it. He was so close to his partner that their arms brushed every time either of them lifted their mug. He approved of that, shifted to increase the sensation, finished his coffee and relaxed back just as Bodie did the same.
"Could go to sleep again already, couldn't you?" he said wryly.
Doyle let his head droop against the dark one. "Go on, then, I shan't tell anyone at HQ you've taken up having a nap in the afternoon again," he promised.
"You're only scared I'll tell 'em about your middle-aged little habit as well," Bodie jeered, his voice a deeper rumble than usual heard through bone like this.
"Haven't got a little habit any more," Doyle said sadly. "Had to give it up."
"Mmmm? What you on about?"
Doyle chuckled. "It won't reach now, will it, and 's never the same, somehow, left-handed." He walked the fingers of his right hand over Bodie's chest and flicked his chin. "'sides, even if I could straighten the elbow I might do meself an injury on the plaster."
Bodie opened an eye and looked at him. "Know what you are?"
"No." Doyle shook his head in soft-eyed innocence.
"Filthy-minded." Bodie's hand covered his protruding fingers, warm and comforting.
"Yeah, I know." Doyle did his best to sound sorrowful. "'s why we get on so well." He sniggered.
"You could be right." The eye closed again. "Stop talking, I'm asleep."
"OK," Doyle agreed, letting his own eyes drift shut. It was very quiet, the only sounds an occasional rattle of driven rain on the windows, the deeper rumble of the autumn gale and the soft rush of Bodie's breath.
He was sprawled all over Bodie when he woke, held tightly against his body by a warm arm; he heard the rustle of paper.
"What you doing?" he asked sleepily.
"Reading your book."
"Don't go losin' my place."
"You toe-rag!" Doyle sat up in annoyance. "Take me ages to find where I'd got to," he complained.
"Tough." Bodie grinned at him and closed the paperback. "It's a load of rubbish anyway. The cousin did it. I guessed that on page 60. Well, you shouldn't go fallin' asleep all over me if you don't want me to read your blasted book. It was the only thing I could reach." He laid it down. "Cup of tea?"
"That'd be nice." Doyle yawned broadly, not bothering to cover his mouth. "What you got planned for supper tonight?"
"Wait and see. Spoil the surprise if I tell you." Bodie got up and made for the kitchen.
Doyle picked up the paper from the coffee table and was immersed in the crossword when Bodie came back with two mugs of tea in one hand and a packet of chocolate digestives in the other. He set the mugs down, opened the packet widely for Doyle to help himself and sat down again, head beside Doyle's, reading through the clues, the silence broken only by the rain vying with Doyle's liquid intake.
"Can't you do any of 'em?" Bodie demanded, receiving a pained look in reply.
"I can do 'em," Doyle reminded him of his disability by tapping him on the thigh less than gently with his forearm.
"That's all right then, I'll fill 'em in for you," Bodie offered. He slid a hand into his jacket and got out a pencil. "Is that all?" he said when Doyle finished, his tone implying he thought poorly of his partner's performance.
"You do 'em then," Doyle suggested tartly, "'f you're so bleedin' clever."
Bodie swiftly filled in five answers.
"Just because you're thick there's no need to be rude," Bodie put the pencil down and picked up his mug.
Doyle twitched the paper away from him saying tartly, "Give it here, can't read what it says when you keep jiggling it about."
But although his eyes were fixed on the page, Doyle was taking none of it in, every sense instead concentrated on the man beside him, his closeness, the tiny movements as he drank, the brush of his thighs; unconsciously, he sighed deeply.
Bodie's arm came over his shoulders; lay there, heavy and seemingly poised, waiting. His fingers brushed the side of Doyle's neck in a gentle motion.
"No, I-- No, nothing, why?"
"You heaved such a great big sigh I thought you must be fed up about something."
The fingers brushed him again. Doyle shivered.
"You cold?" Bodie's voice, warm, concerned. "Want me to put the heating on?"
Not cold. On, not cold. Christ, Bodie, what are you doing to me?
Doyle hunched his shoulder, trapping the errant fingers. "That tickles."
"Sorry," Bodie said cheerfully, quite plainly not so at all. He did it again.
"Bodie! Stop it!"
Doyle spoke more harshly than he meant to and felt Bodie tense, then his arm slip away, knew his face would have that closed look.
"I'm sorry, didn't mean to snap at you." He looked around, eyes full of a rueful apology. "It's just that--well, it's been quite a time and if you go on doing that you're going to get me going, mate, and that could be very embarrassing."
Bodie's eyes met his, unblinking.
All of a sudden the rain outside seemed very loud.
"Turn you on, you mean?" Bodie said softly, checking.
As Doyle nodded, his hand came up and cupped his face, his little finger sliding down over the damaged cheekbone. "Could I really do that to you?"
Doyle's eyes flickered shut and opened once more. "Think you already are, sunshine."
The blue gaze held him. "Don't be embarrassed," Bodie whispered. "It's OK. It's only me."
"Only you!" Doyle swallowed.
Bodie let his hand trail downwards until his palm was curled around Doyle's neck, fingers tangling in the hair over his collar.
"You won't be on your own, you know."
Whispered words, taking time to sink in, make sense.
Doyle swallowed again.
"Christ, Bodie, you too?"
Wonderment mingled with fear; his heart was pounding, filling his ears with its impatient beat.
Time seemed to have slowed--there was all the time in the world--no time left at all, everything rushing to the one conclusion.
"Me too," Bodie confirmed.
His face came closer; Doyle could feel the hand on his skull shaking, knew his own body was trembling also.
He tried to reach out his hand, jerked to a stop by its unyielding covering.
Instead, he moved his head, taking his mouth to Bodie's cheek, grazing it softly dry-lipped.
Bodie made a small sound in his throat; his grip tightened, his free arm holding Doyle to him. Doyle was vaguely aware of being pulled forward and down, of yielding with total trust because it was Bodie. His mind was numbed, a vast surge taking him higher than he had ever been, of need and fright combined in a heady mixture.
Bodie's mouth touched his.
It was firm, warm, dry as Doyle's own. Scared as he was probably. Doyle gulped jerkily and parted his lips, inviting.
Acceptance came at once, tentative but unhesitating. Bodie's tongue slid against his, pressing perfectly. Taste was-- Bodie! No other way it could have been. Hazily, Doyle contemplated the all-too-likely prospect that now he'd begun kissing Bodie he would not be able to stop, ever again.
"What're you grinning at?" Bodie asked, peering into his face.
"Was I grinning?" Doyle was still shaken, didn't care that Bodie could see it. "Was wondering how it'd be to spend the rest of my life doing that," he explained. "Once I'd got started it seemed such a good idea I didn't want to stop."
A smug look crept into the blue eyes. "Always told you I was good. Why's it taken you this long to check up on it?"
With a small grunt of protest at the unwanted change of mood, Doyle kissed him softly again, rocking his head in a gentle rhythm and then saying against the still-quivering lips: "Don't spoil it."
"I'm not going to spoil it," Bodie assured him. "Just want- -not to go over the top, spoil it that way. Don't know about you, but I ought to put the L-plates up if we're gonna carry on."
"You want to carry on?" Doyle wasn't sure he could bear it if Bodie said no.
But the smile that greeted his question was warm and full of understanding. "What d'you think, sweetheart!"
Relieved, Doyle sagged into the comforting hold. He mumbled: "Dunno what I'm doing either, but I expect we can improvise something between us. Always been good on the spur of the moment, 'aven't we! What's up with you?" he demanded, feeling Bodie squirming and trying to push him away. "Gone off me already?"
"No--but if you don't get that bloody thing out of my groin you're going to spoil a beautiful romance before it's even started," Bodie gasped out, finally getting his hand under Doyle's cast and lifting it away. "Cor, that's better!" He heaved them both upright.
"Damn arm!" Doyle scowled at it in sullen disappointment. "Nothing but a fucking nuisance. Why didn't you speak up sooner?"
"Wasn't digging into me before." Bodie's face softened as he eyed his partner. "Don't look like that, you sweet chump. Never 'ad any intention of making it a swift grapple on the sofa. Like to do these things with style and elegance, I do. Never use the sofa when there's plenty of floor, never use the floor when there's a perfectly good bed. Where're you going?"
On his feet, Doyle shook his head in astonished disbelief. "How about the perfectly good bed?"
Bodie caught his hand and pulled him back down. "Don't rush it--I'm not going anywhere'n neither are you, 'n we've got the rest of our lives, you know!"
"Rest of our lives?" Doyle was breathless again.
Bodie eyed him severely. "Seem to remember agreein' last night that I love you--you think I'm fickle or something?"
Doyle's gaze widened. "I didn't mean this, you know. I just--just meant..." he paused, floundering.
"Didn't you?" Bodie said, softly persistent.
"S'pose I did," Doyle said, feeling faintly guilty without quite knowing why, "but I didn't know I did!"
A deep chuckle answered him. "Me too. Just as well, or I'd've been out of that bed so fast you'd've thought there'd been an earthquake."
"That scared!" Bodie emphasised.
"And what makes it so different today then?"
Bodie laughed and slung an arm round him. "This, don't you think! Yesterday I hadn't spent half the day cuddling you, had I! Don't think I'm complaining, 's been getting better all the time. I thought I was doing quite a good job of being quietly encouraging about it."
Doyle's eyes grew mischievous. "Best bit of seduction I've ever been treated to."
He received a small shake. "Mutual, you little devil."
"I think so," Doyle agreed, all meekness. "Never realised either of us were this dumb before, but I don't think either of us really knew what we were leading up to, did we?"
Bodie shook his head, eyelids drooping in self-mocking deprecation. "Must be losing our grip. Don't think we'd better tell Cowley."
Doyle shuddered. "Don't think we'd better tell Cowley anything, do you?"
Bodie wasn't so sure, but either way this was not the moment to make an issue of it. "You going to drink that tea I went to all the trouble of making for you?"
"What? Oh, yeah." Doyle picked up his half-empty mug, drank its contents all down with a visible distaste.
"That bad?" Bodie said, hurt.
"Cold," Doyle said in succinct explanation.
"You do love me, don't you," Bodie commented, awed.
"Told you I do. Tell you something else."
"Wanna kiss you again," Doyle cleared his suddenly husky throat, "so how about coming here and being cooperative?"
Just as earth-shattering this time, perhaps more so as there was less uncertainty, more fire in the touch.
If he could feel like this, Doyle thought dazedly, from a simple kiss exchanged in chaste continence on his sofa, what the hell were they going to create between them once restraint was gone!
It took a while to contend with the problems of restricted space and Doyle's rigid right arm but they managed to get comfortable at last with Bodie propped into one corner and Doyle sitting curled against him, right arm trapped, left free to roam where it willed.
"What are you trying to do?" Bodie enquired, breathlessly coming up for air.
"Make sure I've kissed every bit of your face--come back, there's a bit I missed by your nose." Doyle attended to it and viewed the result with critical appreciation, head on one side. "Don't half look soppy like that. Oh ch--christ!"
He twisted, urgent for the hand that had slipped down his body and now rested on his thigh, one finger stroking at his trapped hardness.
"You," Bodie told him, "are a sexy little so and so."
"Mmm!" Doyle nodded in fervent agreement.
"And thoroughly self-satisfied with it."
Doyle shook his head in vigorous negation. "Nah. Told you- -I can't do that now, can I."
Bodie pulled him into another bruising kiss.
"It's starting to get dark," Bodie whispered into the ear by his mouth.
Doyle stirred, lifting a languorous head. "So it is. Thought it must be the moon rising but it's only your eyes shining away like a couple of Chinese lanterns," he chuckled, delighted with the visible results on his partner of their exquisitely sensuous and lingering caresses, their effect intensified by Bodie's refusal to rush headlong into passion.
Always good to look at, Bodie aroused was beautiful to Doyle, his mouth softened and swollen, eyes heavy and smoky with desire.
"What d'you expect when you get me as turned on as this?"
"Thought I was doing all right." It was Doyle's turn to sound smug. Whatever worries he might have had about what was going to happen later were all gone now, burned out in Bodie's uninhibited and yet restrained response to his love-making. Despite the urgency of his erection, given fleeting, feather- light attention by a gently teasing hand, he had held them both back, building a complete trust between them.
"'s gonna be OK, isn't it," Doyle said contentedly.
"Course it is." Bodie, monumentally confident as ever.
"And you really do love me?" Doyle checked anxiously.
Bodie twisted his head, grimacing, trying to focus on the too-close features. "Course I do. Why?"
Doyle heaved a huge sigh of relief. "That's good--'cause I'm starting to get hungry."
Bodie collapsed down, deflated. "OK," he agreed, resignation oozing from him, "I'll go and cook your ruddy supper." He disentangled himself with no little difficulty.
Doyle stretched out on the vacated seat with a cosy sigh. "Want any help?" he asked in afterthought.
"Yes--but not with supper," Bodie told him. "You have a little snooze, my flower, get your strength up for what I've got planned for later on." He let his gaze flow lewdly down Doyle's body.
"Hope I'll be up to it," Doyle said, worried.
"You will be, my son, I'll see to that," Bodie promised him.
Supper was sole provencale, exquisitely flavoured and cooked to perfection.
Doyle took one look, sniffed long and voluptuously and ceremonially produced a bottle of Riesling to accompany it.
"One of these days," he said, scraping the last tiny scraps from the edge of the serving dish and eating it with an expression of fatuous bliss, "you can tell me where you learned to cook like this."
"You sure you want to hear?" Bodie teased him. "It's a long story."
"We have," Doyle reminded him, "the rest of our lives. Coffee?"
"Wash up first. Don't want any mundane interruptions later," Bodie said firmly.
"OK." Doyle poured the last of the wine into their glasses and got up to begin clearing the table. He planted a kiss on the top of Bodie's head. "Thanks for a fantastic meal."
Bodie glanced up, managing to look demure and suggestive at one and the same time. "'The way to a man's heart is through his stomach'! I did the best I could for you."
"Do the same for you one of these days," Doyle agreed.
They drank their coffee slowly, drawing the moment out, both supremely conscious of the other and doing their best not to show it.
Finally, the moment would not be put off any longer.
Doyle set his cup down and put out his hand to take Bodie's.
"Bed now?" he asked, husky again.
Bodie stood and pulled him up also.
"Bed now," he agreed.
Side by side, they walked there together.
-- THE END --