King of the Playground


It had been a day of disasters: tangled communications; missed timings; information garbled and misinterpreted; culminating in Bodie's defiant confrontation, beyond heroism into insanity, that had saved the day for Cowley, England, and probably St. George as well.

Doyle was still shaking.

They'd be pinning a medal on the stupid bastard, offering him knighthoods, screaming his name and face across the cheaper tabloids if he was anyone but CI5--not piling him into a strait-jacket and carrying him off in a plain van as he fully deserved.

Tight-lipped, Doyle went about the messy business of clearing up; identifying bodies; soothing ruffled constabulary feelings and reassuring Joe Public his green and pleasant land still smelled, ever so faintly, of roses. He was good at P.R.--when it was politic--and only Bodie avoided meeting his eye directly or inhabiting the same twenty square yards of space if he could arrange to be elsewhere.

Even Cowley was smiling, a dour curl of the mouth that had nothing to do with mirth.

Back at the hotel where their for-once sympathetic boss had bade them spend several hours in much-needed sleep before the long drive back to London, they ate voraciously and in silence before ascending to the twin-bedded room beneath the eaves that had been home for the past three days.

Clothes sweat-soured, they stripped: Doyle icy-quiet, Bodie watchful; Bodie dropping soiled underwear in untidy disarray to await tomorrow's packing, Doyle almost savagely neat, shaking garments into snapping protest.

Out of the shower first Bodie waited, standing beside the open window to cool off after the steamy heat of the tiny, windowless bathroom, mopping the trickle of sweat tickling between his buttocks with an impatient tug at his pyjama trousers, hearing the not-quite slam of the door as Doyle emerged, damp hair curling with a ferocity that matched his mood and his pyjama trousers tied so tightly about him by angry fingers that his partner could see the skin beneath already reddening.

"Go on!" Resigned, Bodie invited the storm. "Say it! Get it off your chest and then we can maybe both get some sleep tonight."

About to pull back the covers on his bed nearest the window, Doyle paused and looked up, slit-eyed.

"Nothing to say. You know you behaved like a prat."

"It worked." Bodie offered the only possible expiation.


The monosyllable snapped out, Doyle bent and gripped the bedding in fists white-knuckled with need to control, to keep lethally-trained hands from lashing out at this imbecile who stood there so coolly indifferent to what was past as he was to that unknown time in the future when he would do it all over again.

"So what's got up that snotty little hooter?" Bodie enquired sweetly, one part of him wanting this over and done with, another wondering in abrupt astonishment whether he'd always had this death-wish. "All burned up because I had the guts to move out, is that it, while you stood there pickin' your nose an' peein' your pants with fright?"

Two eyes stared at him levelly, colourless in bleak over-head lighting. "If you think that," Doyle said passionlessly, "it's OK with me."

Bodie grinned. "Worrying I'm getting too like Shotgun Tommy then? Getting to enjoy it?"

"You've always enjoyed it," Doyle told him, not accusingly. "Wouldn't be in the job if it didn't do something for you."

"True," Bodie conceded, strolling away from the window, night air having cooled lately-warm flesh beyond comfort level now. As he reached Doyle he flung a companionable arm about shoulders hunched with tension. "Go on," he said affectionately, enjoying the feel of Doyle-warmth against his own chill, "bawl me out. Thump me if you want to," he added, always generous to a friend.

Frozen in that casual grip, Doyle ground out: "Thump you! I'd like to fuckin' kill you!"

"Try it," Bodie chuckled, bumping him with one hip. "Just give it a whirl, my son. Live dangerously!"

"Dangerously!" Anger, molten hot but previously contained, burst.

Incoherent with the need to express the tangled web of feelings that had choked him since that heart-stopping moment at precisely 2.17 p.m. Doyle turned, jabbing a fist at an unprotected stomach.

"Oof!" Bodie doubled, his grunt of pain not wholly feigned, the arm around Doyle involuntarily tightening, the other joining it in additional restraint.

Raging now, needing some final, unknown catharsis, Doyle struggled blindly, punching when he could get one. hand free enough, lashing out with bare feet when Bodie's arms regained a grip on him.

Half panicked now that he had finally unleashed that livid temper of Doyle's, Bodie fought back, more in an effort to avoid being damaged any further than he need be than in any anger of his own, endeavouring to contain the fire about to overwhelm them both.

"'s OK, sunshine," he grunted between jabbing kicks at one ankle, "break it if you like, I've got another--OW!"

Now that wasn't funny, or fair! A few bruises in the cause of friendship he could cheerfully accept but getting kneed in the groin was hitting below the belt! His simplest protection was to slide his powerful grip lower down Doyle's body, locking them together and not giving his blind-angry mate room to manoeuvre.

Writhing against him in his effort to get free, Doyle twisted and turned, the pair of them swaying backwards and forwards more closely entwined than Rodin statuary. Finally, inevitably, one foot--Bodie was never sure whose--caught in tumbled bedding and the pair of them went down, still interlocked, onto Doyle's bed.

"Fuckin' 'ell!" Bodie wheezed, "you weigh a bleedin' ton; mate. Gerroff me, will you! I give in! I surrender! You can nick me soddin' dinner-money; be King of the Playground for all I care!"

Doyle glared at him, eyes blazing a scant two inches from his own.

"You could have been killed!"

"I know."

"You could have been killed!"

"But I wasn't," Bodie pointed out, softly placatory.

"You could have been killed!"

Bodie sighed. "Record's got stuck, mate. You said that before and I said I know. What d'you want me to say--I'm sorry?"

Bodie's arms still maintaining their defensive clasp about Doyle's nether regions, Doyle's hands were free and they came up, taking Bodie's head in a fierce grip.

"You stupid, fuckin' idiot!"

"I know," Bodie acknowledged meekly. "I never stopped to think."

"You never do!" Doyle flared at him, lifting the cropped head and banging it down for emphasis.

Grateful for yielding interior-springing Bodie submitted to the indignity, still not trusting the bony knees enough to let go what control he had over the release of Doyle's anger with him and mildly bewildered by its absolute ferocity. Above his head, Doyle's tongue having finally been loosened, a litany of rage and pain rained down at him in fierce, brokenly-whispered fury.

"Rushin' out into the middle of things like that, forgetting everything you've ever been taught--and bloody Cowley pattin' you on the 'ead, telling you what a good goy you are. Ought to be stringin' you up by your bollocks, settin' that sort of example. Bloody rawest recruit in the mob'd've known better than to do what you did. You know that? You could have been killed, you bloody, fuckin' fool, you could have been killed!"

Throughout the tirade Bodie made soothing, noncommittal sounds in each harsh-breathing pause, his hold on Doyle's always-moving body imperceptibly changing from control to encouragement, never quite knowing when he knew Doyle's fury had turned to not-quite tears, his angry thrusts into sliding, urgent need.

When it was over and Doyle's body stilled above his, Bodie tried to gather jumbled reactions into some kind of sense and, finding none, fell into a silence as profound as Doyle's own, aware only of sensations: Doyle's not-inconsiderable weight pressing him down, inexplicably comfortable; a mop of hair across his face, tickling over his nose and dry across his tongue; harsh breath moistly insinuating its way around his throat and down his neck; and a thundering heart beginning to slow against his own.

Cocooned, he waited.

Eventually, in a small voice, Doyle said: "I...I've come all over you."

Roughly affectionate, Bodie said: "I know."

Mortified, Doyle muttered: "I didn't know...didn't... Oh shit! I don't know what to say."

Embarrassed also but determined not to show it by even the slightest tremor, Bodie shrugged. "Don't say anything then. 's OK."


"Oh fer chrissake!" Bodie was suddenly impatient. "Don't let's have a bloody post-mortem. You're knackered, I'm knackered--just get off me and let me get into my own ruddy bed and get some sleep. I've had enough for one day."

Eyes averted, mouth compressed, Doyle obediently did as he was told, clumsily, still uncoordinated. A spreading patch of wetness showed dark against the pale-green cotton of his pyjamas, sticky and uncomfortable as it cooled. He peeled them away, undoing the plaited tie-belt to strip them off, rubbing at his belly as if to erase all memory of what had happened.

Unwatchful but still aware of that angry scrubbing, Bodie rolled over and got to his feet, strolling around to his own bed with well-assumed nonchalance.

"Turn the light out soon's you're ready," he told his still-hovering partner, then he turned on his side, back to Doyle, and composed himself for sleep.

But to his extreme irritation sleep would not come. Insomnia no part of his scheme of things, Bodie was infuriated to find himself constantly gazing at the same area of sagging wallpaper, eyes relentlessly refusing to stay shut. He stretched angrily, abruptly, and found a moist, cold patch on the front of his pyjamas, adhering to his stomach.

Curious, he fingered it, expecting revulsion but oddly feeling none. Such an intrinsically personal part of someone too, something he'd never expect to come in contact with, not even from a mate as close, as free and easily intimate as Doyle. After all, you didn't, did you! Not another bloke's. Not unless you were a poof and into--

Was it like his own? Similar in texture? Taste?

He shifted again, restless.

So what did Doyle taste like?

Finger in mouth he could detect nothing save the tang of Lifebuoy and a faint saltiness that was most likely his own sweat. Disappointment filled him, a sense of melancholy.

The whole thing had happened so quickly. Not even time to...

Stunned, Bodie took stock of where his wayward thoughts had led.

Not even time to begin to respond, that's what was bugging him; not that it had happened at all but that it had been over before his unprepared body could react, meet the urgency enveloping him and match it, riding out his own ...

Bloody hell!

Heart racing, Bodie had moved before intent had consciously formed.

Peeling back the pulled-up bedclothes he prodded Doyle grimly.

"Shove over!"

"Wha'?" A solitary eye glinted in the glow of street-lighting, winked out a couple of times and then stared fixedly his way. "Wha' did you...?"

But Bodie was already climbing in, cool air rushing with him.

Doyle shivered.

"You cold? C'm'ere then, cuddle up to me."

Cold? Bodie could sometimes be an unimaginative sod. Doyle blinked again, wondering if he was dreaming as two strong arms wriggled painfully around his somehow accommodating body.

"What," Doyle asked, unimaginative in his turn, "are you doin'?"

"Getting in with you." Bodie patiently stated the obvious. "Or I would be," he added in plaintive parenthesis, "if you'd shove over a bit an' gimme some room. Go on. My arse is hanging over the edge and it's chilly."

Bemused, Doyle shifted for the unexpected (but not precisely unwelcome) visitor, gut lurching excitedly as his hip made contact with Bodie's groin and the impressive erection straining the material of his pyjamas. Physically already surrendering he made only a verbal objection.

"What the hell are you up to? What do you want?"

"Can't get to sleep," Bodie told him. Then with magnificent simplicity he said: "Got left behind, you see, earlier on. Was all over before I realised I wanted to join in the fun--and now I can't get to sleep."

"'m not surprised," Doyle mumbled, breath catching. "Hard as a bloody rock, you are."

"Yeah." Impossibly, Bodie inched closer. "Please, Ray--please!"

Even had he wanted to object Doyle would have gone under with the sensual onslaught of Bodie-warmth, endearingly shaky, coiled about him, pushing closer, needfully prodding his abdomen. Hearing a half- strangled grunt of response from somewhere without realising the sound came from him, he gathered Bodie to him, where he had wanted him for so long.

A warm gust of amusement feathered over his cheek.

"You too? Already? Come on, then, sunshine, together this time."

Coherence fled; Doyle clutched at the enveloping strength, willing it not to leave him, to give what he needed so much, wanted so long, only to find it holding him away, soothing him with gentle pats and murmurs.

"Slow down, sunshine. You're like a ruddy landslide, you are. Be all over in a couple of minutes if you carry on like that. Slow down!"

Rebelliously, for the last thing he wanted was to give Bodie time for second thoughts, he gathered forgotten control about him, stared blindly up at the pale face he could scarcely see, the dark hair haloed by yellow street-lighting.

Bodie stared back; said jerkily: "Christ--Ray! Where's your--where's your mouth?" and found it.

A slow nuzzle of lips, moist flavour of mint toothpaste, tongues meeting to stroke, feeding emptiness.

At last Doyle pulled away. "Can't feel you properly," he announced shakily. "Get those ruddy pyjamas off; I can't feel you." He reached for Bodie's waistband.

They fumbled, hindering one another; frustrating seconds ticked by until the tie-belt was undone and Bodie freed from the hampering folds, two warm hands roving over him, getting in his way, searching him out and finally centring on him, pressing perfectly, relieving and yet creating the growing ache in his loins.

With a growl of pure lust he rolled to pin the slighter man beneath him, melting to an unexpected tenderness when Doyle relaxed in unhesitating acceptance, arms and legs opening to enfold him, one hand cupping the back of his head to pull it close.

Hot and urgent, sweat-enveloped, they found their way to completion, jerky and unsure, strange, and yet strangely familiar.

Best friend, Bodie thought, sunbursts of pleasure peaking in him, flowing out through fingertips and toes to leave him limp, boneless in a languorous embrace.

"Sticky tum again," he murmured, satisfied.

"Minm? Whassay?" Doyle's enquiry lacked vim.

Smiling, Bodie said: "Doesn't matter. Go t' sleep." He fumbled around a while, getting them both comfortable, finding Doyle's trusting sprawl curiously touching. He laid a proprietorial thigh over Doyle's, tucked his head neatly onto a lax shoulder in the one spot where his nose would not be tickled by soft body-hair, and finally tumbled headlong into sleep.

Sunlight slid over ravelled limbs, lingered on a soft-curling mouth and dark-lashed lids, twitching the angled brows into a frown of protest.

It must be late, very late, and he was too comfortable, too peaceful to wake, to come properly to life...

The lids flew open as memory returned, delight flooding only to turn to rueful irritation.

Fuck it! Half past ruddy seven and they were picking up Cowley at 8.00; ten minutes drive away, too.

He'd thrown off the heavy arm weighing on his ribs before he'd acknowledged the pleasure of it, had shaken Ray awake while the sensation of tangled curls against his cheek was still vivid.

"Wha'?" Doyle scowled, not meeting his eyes. "Wha's the big hurry, for god's sake?"

"'s twenty-seven minutes to eight," Bodie said tersely, already in the bathroom. "Got to leave here by ten to. Shift yourself."

No time to talk, no time for anything but a perfunctory wash and shave, dressing at top speed, throwing garments all anyhow into holdalls. Bodie, ready first, left the luggage to his partner and shot downstairs to pay the bill, meeting Doyle in the car park, engine running.

"You OK?" he asked, sliding into the passenger seat.

"Will be when I wake up," Doyle said sourly.

Bodie stifled a sigh. Might have known Ray would be difficult. No point in getting up his nose by trying to discuss it now, in the brief ten minutes they had to themselves. Much better let him concentrate on his driving and save the arguments for later. Much later!

Prodding his smirk into submission, he sank deeper into his seat. "Well, don't close your eyes till we're off the main road," he advised, shutting his own and drifting off into a pleasant little haze of remembered sensation.

Not very sensible, he conceded, the slow beat of arousal prickling his skin. He sat up again.

"Here already? Could've had an extra three minutes in bed if I'd known you were going to drive like a maniac," he said, disapproving.

"How else?" Doyle grinned down at him as he prepared to close his door. "Some of us don't drive like your maiden aunt."

"My maiden aunt goes rallying, I'll have you know."

"She would," Doyle said obscurely, and set off across the forecourt, good temper apparently restored.

Bodie followed, amazed to find himself enjoying the view of sinewy thighs moving inside hip-hugging denim, and by the time they entered the lobby of Cowley's hotel knew that last night had been a beginning, a vista of evergrowing closeness opening up and looking more and more attractive the more he thought about it. Contentment deepened.

Catching Cowley's eye on him he banked it down to a dull glow, but the mood of inner glee lasted throughout the morning, feeding on the back of a curly head and an averted cheek in the driving seat next to Cowley as they sped back down the motorway to London. It was only after they'd re-entered the Victorian portal of H.Q. that euphoria finally took a dive once he was privileged to see more than Doyle's profile and realised his new awareness was unshared.

Shaken, he stared at his partner across the plastic beaker of coffee he'd accepted and could see--nothing. Just his old mate Doyle looking back at him out of cool, unruffled, friendly eyes. Ordinary eyes. Everyday look.

Shouldn't be like this; should be--different; new. Fresh and alive between them, sparking...

Doyle turned away, laughing at something Anson had said, a quick grin over his shoulder inviting Bodie to share the joke and it was suddenly unbearable, must get away, gotta go... find somewhere to breathe. Bloody room was stifling; windows never opened. Probably painted them shut sometime last century.

Behind him, Doyle watched him go.

A good night's sleep restored Bodie's normal confidence and he bounced into work next morning, ebullient and optimistic, sure he could talk Doyle round now that he knew just what he wanted himself.

Doyle was nowhere to be seen.

"No idea," Murphy shrugged. "Haven't seem him all week."

"Blimey, you lost your better half?" Lucas grinned. "Thought you two were inseparable."

"You safe to be out on your own, d'you think?" McCabe enquired dubiously.

Oh, very funny.

"He left the country early this morning," Betty reported crisply. "Won't be back for at least a week. He's on escort duty."

"Escort duty?" Bodie echoed stupidly. "Escorting who? And where?"

"Escorting a certain Lebanese gentleman back to the loving arms of his family and friends," Cowley said drily from behind him.

But that was...

Bodie swung around. "On his own, sir? Why wasn't I...?"

"Because I asked for a volunteer to go alone," Cowley told him, stemming the incipient flood of words with the ease of one who had known Bodie for some years. "This has to be as low-key as possible. We don't want to attract any attention. If the press get to hear a certain prisoner is being--shall we say repatriated?--then a certain Government department will lose credibility and that would be unfortunate to say the least. Doyle has gone to make sure that news of this does not leak out."


Bodie bit down the protest. Doyle had a perfect right to volunteer for any job the Cow had on hand. Bodie wasn't his keeper, for god's sake. All the same it hurt, finding he'd gone off without a word. Hurt a lot.

He had a lot of time for thinking that week, being first on stand-by and then on the most boring stakeout he'd ever endured. He wasn't sure he liked his thoughts all that much either. Missing Doyle more than he would ever have considered possible--worried enough about him to scan the press daily in dread of finding a hint something had gone badly wrong and his partner in any kind of danger--Bodie found his thoughts leading inexorably in one direction.

Like dry tinder he'd been, firing at one tiny spark, defences going down unrecognised and unregretted, the resultant blaze overwhelming both of them.

Not just a one-off; he'd known that from the first morning after. Not just a passing lust for previously untried, forbidden passion to be slaked and then forgotten. This had made him look properly at the way he felt for his partner, acknowledging the need that had grown in him, unrealised, over the years together.

This was forever. Words new in Bodie's vocabulary, hitherto unneeded. With Doyle it could be nothing else, not without wrecking the best partnership he'd ever known, denying his best friend. But knowing what he felt, what he wanted, did not tell him what Doyle's reaction would be and doubt gnawed him, destroying certainty. Seated in his car, eyes fixed on the blank windows and firmly closed door of the house he had under surveillance, Bodie went over and over that night in his memory-- and recalled the pain in Doyle's voice when he'd finally got round to talking to his partner again after the crazy way he'd walked out into the line of fire.

You could have been killed!

He'd said it over and over, horror and hurt almost too much to bear, expressing it first in anger and then in passion.

Doyle loved him; he was certain of it.

So why had he gone away, rushing out of Bodie's life as if he was scared?

And wouldn't you be scared, Bodie asked himself severely, if you'd just given yourself away like that? Giving us time to cool off, settle back to normal again, that's all he's doing. Silly prat!

But then he remembered those casual, offhand eyes and was afraid all over again.

"I see Doyle's here," Marriot told him, meeting him in the rest room late one afternoon the following week. "Maybe we'll get a civil word out of you now your Siamese twin's back."

Back? And he not the first to know! Seething inwardly, Bodie pushed past his fellow-agent without a word.

Tired beyond anything he'd previously experienced Doyle fumbled for the key to his flat, trying to ignore the dragging sense of loss he'd felt ever since he'd encountered Marriot. Searched the whole ruddy building for Bodie, he had, in spite of having had not more than two hours sleep in three days and no food since half past six yesterday evening, only to be cheerfully told Bodie already knew he'd returned. Didn't want to see him, that much was obvious. Doyle didn't want to think about why not in case exhaustion betrayed him and he started bawling like a two year old.

Key about an inch from the lock, Doyle froze as the door opened.

Bodie surveyed the dishevelled figure with resignation. Never seen Doyle so ruddy knackered.

Pushing down the instinct to grab the swaying body to him and never let it go again he stood back, inviting his partner in.

"What're you doing here?" Doyle growled ungraciously, throwing his bag vaguely in the direction of a chair which it missed by a yard and more.

"Thought you might need something to eat," Bodie told him gravely. "I've got a meal in the oven waiting. You want a bath first." This was not a question.

Vividly aware of a week's dirt and sweat Doyle nodded dumbly and made for the bathroom, heeling off his shoes as he went, stripping off his filthy shirt and dropping it carelessly. Bodie followed, picking up discarded garments between a fastidious thumb and finger to drop them in Doyle's laundry basket. His partner was already under the shower, its curtain pulled firmly across.

"Don't be long," Bodie called. "I'm just going to dish up'n the grub'll get cold if you hang about."

He went back to the kitchen, burying qualms in domesticity.

Half an hour went by with no sign of Doyle; no sound of shower water running either. Bodie went to look for him.

Sprawled half on, half off the bed, towel still wrapped about the thigh he'd been drying when fatigue had won, Doyle looked pale, dissolute and wholly desirable.

Love him, Bodie thought helplessly. Christ, how I love him.

The blue smudging under each fast-shut eye more apparent now that Doyle's face was clean, Bodie made no attempt to wake him. Instead, he slid the towel away carefully and turned the duvet back before hauling Doyle's legs up onto the mattress, straightening him out with hands that lingered pleasurably about their task. Light glinted on water trapped in body-hair.

"Haven't even dried yourself," Bodie scolded lovingly, and proceeded to do it for him, pushing the pillows aside to take Doyle's head on his lap as he towelled the dripping hair.

Doyle didn't even stir, too deeply asleep to wake for Armageddon itself.

I can resist anything, Bodie thought dizzily, except temptation, and he bent to cover the damp face in loving kisses, burying his nose in the tender curve of neck and shoulder to inhale the sweet scent of newly soaped skin before working his way further down the unconscious body. Soon he lifted his head to look at Doyle, seeing the perfectly shaped mouth, rounded chin and dented cheekbone as if for the first time. Weird. All those mismatched features added up to downright gorgeous and he was too far gone to care that he was getting maudlin in his old age, drooling over his partner this way. He could feast his eyes forever if only his mouth wasn't watering so hard. And just on the off-chance he'd guessed wrong about Doyle's feelings he wasn't going to waste this chance to look and touch his fill.

Heart pounding he ran his hands over Doyle, caressing him gently, exploring soft body-hair and softer nipples, the satin skin down his sides and inner arms; then, flushed and fearful but determined, he used his tongue, tasting him, lingering to learn by heart in case he must live on memory later, faintly surprised to find his skin as soft and sweet as a woman's and as delicious to his senses.

Finally, daring all, he set his lips to the tip of the quiescent Prick, nestling in still-damp hair, and licked tentatively--sweetly--

He pulled away, clambered off the bed and dragged the duvet up, settling it with extreme neatness under Doyle's chin and straightened his back.

Ought to be ashamed of yourself, taking advantage of him like that, he told himself fiercely. Not fair, not giving him a choice--or a chance to join in the fun.

He went into the kitchen, ate his share of the supper (rather dry from its long sojourn in the oven), washed up, showered and went back to the bedroom.

Still sound asleep, Doyle had not even moved. Tiptoeing cautiously, Bodie turned back the covers and got in beside him, switching off the light. Then he rolled close and hugged Doyle to him one-armed.

He didn't know how long he'd been awake, aware of the quick press of Doyle all down his left side, of warmth and complete comfort. No need to move; all he ever wanted was here with him, his for the brief hours of darkness.

Into that darkness came a quiet murmur, the soft-rough whisper of his name.


"Mmm?" Too lazy to articulate he leaned his head a little closer.

"'s nice to be home." Doyle sounded half asleep, unguarded.

"Missed me, have you?" Bodie asked, delighted.


"Good!" Then, in answer to the interrogative sound that eventually came, he said: "P'raps you won't be so quick to go rushing off without me another time in that case." After a pause he said: "Will you?"

His only reply was a soft snore, but there was a gentle nudge at his thigh, a brief, involuntary surge of blood already dissipating.

Bodie smiled to himself and slipped back into his own dreamworld.

Waking to a wriggle that sent responsive shivers all through him he tightened his arms.

"Mmm! 's nice. Do it again."

"Do what again?"

Doyle sounded wide-awake, as if he'd been so for some time. Bodie came wide-awake too. Well, he hadn't been kicked out yet and that was something. He chuckled, a rich sound covering uncertainty. Nothing in his life had prepared him for this moment and he had only instinct to guide him through it. Instinct and his own until-now-unrecognised wishes.

He answered the question. "Wriggle that way, 's good."

Tempted to do just that, washing away every doubt in surging lust, Doyle was suddenly wary, needing to understand, to have it all said aloud, even though Bodie would hardly be here, let alone holding onto him with such determination, if...

With unwelcome clarity he said: "What are you doing here? What do you want, Bodie? Tell me."

Just in time Bodie heard the catch in the rough-warm voice; abandoned hilarity to bury his face in the security of cotton pillow, satin shoulder, remembering...

'And if I had fired from the door--and missed--who was standing in the window!'

"Want to make you happy, sunshine," he said, words coming to him out of nowhere to say what had to be said. "Don't want to upset you; 'specially not scare the living daylights out of you like I did the other day. Want to be close to you, any way that suits you. Be your lover if you'll have me; or just a cuddle now and then if that's what it takes. Didn't know you cared, you see," he added mournfully, sincerity robbing the cliche of mockery. "You do, don't you?"

Finding hesitancy oddly unnerving where arrogance sat so much at home, Doyle could only say baldly: "Yes."

"Well, as declarations go that was middling terrible," Bodie mused, "but it'll do me."

Doyle gathered courage. "I'll say any crazy thing you like if you're not going to laugh."

"Laugh!" Bodie was hurt. "After I came sneaking into your bed in the middle of the night like a kid frightened of the dark."

"That was my fault." Guilt flooding, Doyle make shamefaced confession. "Went up like a ruddy rocket. Don't think I could have stopped. Didn't even try."

Bodie ran an appreciative tongue over a convenient ear, finding his delighted reaction to the resultant squirm both pleasing and astounding, knowing he'd gone in over his head before he'd had any inkling he wanted to be involved with Doyle.

"Come on then, start in on the undying vows," he invited, growl-deep and right into Doyle's shuddering ear, narrowly escaping with his nose intact as his new-found love jerked violently away from him. His arms tightened, eliciting a yelp instantly and severely shushed.

"Talk, don't howl," he ordered. "Say some of these crazy things I'm not going to laugh at."

Doyle took a deep breath and laid every card on the table. "What, like I love you?" he enquired ingenuously.

"That too," Bodie agreed.

Annoyed at this casual acceptance of his long-hidden affection Doyle demanded:

"What more do you want?"

Full of a new wisdom Bodie said: "Love isn't everything. There's settling down for one thing. Cleaving only unto each other'n all that."

Twisting in the enveloping arms, Doyle tried to see his partner's face. Almost too much, hearing Bodie say everything he wanted to have said; he could scarcely take it in, much less believe his easy-come, easy-go mate really meant what he said.

"Are we the settling-down kind?" Doubt tinged his voice despite his care.

"With each other, yes," Bodie declared with certainty. "Never know, where we are if we muddle things up with girl-friends, will we. Besides, 's obvious, we're made for each other."

"What d'you mean?"

"Well, we've put up with each other for years, haven't we! Isn't anything about you I don't know by now-- 'cept what you get up to in bed! You nag me, take the piss out of me, put me right when I'm telling a joke--you're already more like a wife than a ruddy partner."

The cheek of it! Doyle lifted his head indignantly, ready to speak his mind freely; met Bodie's eye gleaming in early-morning light and saw the diffidence behind the ready flow of words. A small sound compounded of irritation, incredulity and affection escaped him and he closed the final inches between them to kiss away the tremble on that damn-you mouth.

"Never 'ad anyone scared of me before," he said. "Look, you daft bugger, it was me thought you were gonna do the laughing, not the other way round."

"Not scared," Bodie retorted with what dignity he could muster trapped under Doyle. "Bloody petrified, if you must know," he added, honesty overcoming prudence. "Mean a lot to me, you do."

Doyle laid a thumb beside that mouth; rubbed thoughtfully. "Do you love me?"

"You mean it isn't written all over me? Course I love you, you cretin."

"Oh, is that what it is? Thought it was just the sun shining out of your arse same as it always has."

"Been doing that long, has it?" Bodie asked, interested.

"Think so. something's been dazzlin' me anyway. Oh, Bodie," Doyle abandoned levity, "are you really serious?"

"I'm serious. Panic-stricken but serious," Bodie confirmed. "Had a lot of time to think this week. Think you went rushing off because you thought you'd cocked it all up, didn't you?"

"Well, yes, but..."

"And it was the stupidest thing you've ever done in a lifetime of damnfool stunts, wasn't it?" Bodie interrupted ruthlessly.


"Say 'Yes, Bodie'! You dumb crud, I was yours for the bloody asking-- couldn't you tell?"

"Were you?" Doyle said weakly.

"Why don't you ask and see?" Bodie invited, husky-voiced, and pulled him down.

-- THE END --

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