by NN West
He was there again, standing under the streetlamp, his upturned collar scant protection against the icy rain. His car was parked just down the street, but he never availed himself of its shelter and warmth. He stood as he had stood through all the long weeks, his gaze fixed on the house, heedless of the weather.
He was not always there, of course. He would vanish for hours, days at a time; but he always returned, keeping his silent lonely vigil. He never spoke to her, and she had learned to hurry past with her head lowered, her eyes averted, avoiding his gaze, trying to deny the guilt she felt at his patient persistence.
She had considered calling the police, but it seemed petty to do so. He was no threat any more, never caused trouble. He simply waited.
Alex would be furious if he knew, but she had no intention of telling him. In the first storm of rage and grief Alex had forbidden him the house and would not relent. If he knew about the haunting he might take some drastic action, and she didn't want either of them hurt. There had been too much pain already.
Through the streaming glass she recognised her daughter hurrying along the rain-swept street. The watcher drew further back as she approached, but as soon as she had turned up the path he drifted back to his former position, his face a pale blur in the lamplight.
The door banged shut. "Mum, I'm home!"
"In here, Cathy. Kettle's on."
There was a few moments of silence, then the door opened behind her. She heard the rattle of crockery as a mug was set down on the coffee table. Her daughter joined her at the window, holding out another.
Sipping her own tea Cathy observed, "He's still there."
"Still. Again." Bewilderment clouded the tired eyes. "What does he want? Why doesn't he give up?"
"Perhaps he can't." There was speculation in the quiet voice. "Mum, do you think...?"
With a weary shake of her head, the mother turned into the room. "Ray, drink your tea."
Pain lanced through her at the mechanical obedience. Physically recovered from the grenade blast, there was no reason why Ray should not be completely whole. But his mind, his personality, remained sealed behind a barrier that no-one could breach. It was as though nothing held any meaning for him. He functioned on an automatic level, did as he was told, but there was no response, no awareness. Baffled, the doctors had allowed him to come home, hoping that the familiar environment, the stimulation of family life, would reach him. Nothing did. His mother, brother, sister - even the children - he looked through them all, unheeding. What he saw, what he thought, what he felt, she didn't care to speculate; almost she hoped that he was as unaware as he seemed.
Looking at him now, she felt her heart ache. The once-sparkling green eyes were clouded and dull; the riotous tumble of curls lank and straggling; the tense, vital body slumped. They'd tried everything...
Resolution already forming in her mind, she turned back to the window. "Cathy, I'm going to let him in."
"Should you, Mum? Alex blames him for Ray being... the way he is. Suppose he's right?"
"And suppose he's wrong. Did you ever think of that? You know how close they were. And... it might not help Ray - I'm beginning to think nothing can - but what about him?"
The younger woman nodded. "You're right. I looked at him on my way in - really looked at him. Call him, Mum."
Mrs Doyle set down her cup and walked slowly into the hall. With each step she was more sure that she was right. If nothing else, perhaps when he saw how hopeless it was, the haunting would stop.
Opening the front door, she peered out into the driving rain. "Bodie?"
The gate clicked. He was coming up the path , his eyes fixed beyond her on the pool of yellow light spilling from the house. Involuntarily, she gasped. He looked ill - more so than Ray. The pale skin was drawn tight over the bones, shadows like bruises lay beneath the blue eyes, so dark with pain they looked almost black. She caught his arm, pulling him into the light and warmth.
"You're soaked. Get that jacket off before you catch your death."
Unresisting, he allowed her to pull the sodden garment away; his flesh was chill where her fingers touched him. The anguished eyes came to rest on hers, asking a silent question, and she nodded.
"You can see him - for all the good it'll do."
Her hand on his arm, she drew him towards the inner rom, feeling his every nerve jerk tighter in the tense body as the opening door revealed the listless figure slumped on the couch. She pushed him forward, beckoning to Cathy. Her daughter joined her, and the two women watched his first jerky steps into the room.
"Ray?" She heard the agony in the hoarse whisper. "Oh Christ, Ray!"
With a stumbling, unco-ordinated rush he moved forward to kneel beside the couch, taking the unresponsive hands in his. Ray's blank gaze didn't flicker. Slowly she closed the door and looked at her daughter.
"I don't know about you, but I could do with another cup of tea. And Bodie looks as though he could use a hot meal. Remember how he used to eat?"
"Don't, Mum." Cathy's voice held tears.
"Ray? Oh Christ, Ray!" Somehow he was on his knees, the cold hands cradled in his. Slowly he bent his head to place a kiss in the palm, then looked up, despair filling him. It hurt worse than anything ever had, seeing the blank gaze pass over him without recognition. He'd been starved for news. The little Cowley had been able to tell him, odd scraps gleaned from neighbours who'd taken pity on him... But nothing had prepared him for the reality. Forbidden the house by Alex, he had not dared to intrude, fearful that the family were right, that he'd make things worse. Ray hadn't told them - there hadn't been time. So he, who had the best right to be with Ray, had been driven away, denied sight of his partner, flung scraps of second and third hand news which he'd devoured eagerly, but unable to see for himself. It couldn't have gone on. If they hadn't let him in tonight, he'd have forced his way in...
They said Ray knew nothing, responded to nothing. He wouldn't believe that. Couldn't. He reached up to touch the flawed cheekbone, aching with tenderness and grief.
"Ray, it's me, Bodie. Don't you know me, love? Won't you talk to me? At least look at me." His eyes searched the beloved face, savouring every detail. "Wake up, sunshine. Wake up and come back to me."
Unable to resist he wound both hands in the soft curls and pulled Ray's face down to his. Their lips met, Ray's warm but unresponsive under his. Slowly, Bodie's hands fell away and his head dropped to rest on Ray's knee. Nothing he could do. In a moment he'd have to get up and leave, go back to the emptiness that was his life now. In a few minutes. Perhaps it wouldn't hurt so much after a while...
Something touched his head, so lightly that he was scarcely sure he felt it. He froze, and the touch was repeated, more firmly this time.
"Your hair's all wet."
Not daring to breathe, he lifted his head. Ray was looking at him, seeing him. Their eyes locked, clouded green and pain-filled blue.
"Bodie?" There was a note of panic in the voice husky from disuse. "Bodie, it is you? You're here? Alive?"
"Yeah, it's me, Sunshine." An unsteady grin curved Bodie's lips. "What do you mean, 'alive'?" he demanded. "Someone tell you I wasn't?"
"The grenade... I thought..." Ray faltered.
"I was clear."
Bodie remembered that pursuit, Reynolds turning at bay, hand upflung. He'd been caught wrong-footed, stumbled; Ray had lifted his gun, and it had jammed. Then something dark spinning through the air, and an explosion leaping between them. He'd shot the crazy bastard and left him lying to search for Ray, finding him unconscious but alive.
"Thought you were dead." Doyle's voice held the memory of horror. "Thought the grenade landed on top of you. My fault... I should've shot him, but my gun jammed..."
"I know, I was there, remember?" Realisation struck Bodie, and he gripped the thin shoulders, wincing as he felt the bones beneath his hands - - always skinny, Ray had lost too much weight... "Is that what all this has been about?" he demanded. "You thought I was dead and blamed yourself, so you just shut yourself off?"
Ruefully, Doyle nodded, the green eyes clearing as life and laughter flowed back, possible and permitted now that his lover was safe.
"Stupid little sod," Bodie grumbled affectionately.
"I know. You keep telling me. Bodie..." A slim finger traced the pouting lips, then Ray's hands framed the pale face. "You don't mind if I... make sure?"
Bodie leaned into the kiss, his mouth opening to take the questing tongue.
Ray drew back, nodded solemnly. "Yeah, it's you. No-one tastes like you do, Bodie."
Their lips touched again, hunger flowing between them as the kiss deepened, urgent, demanding, all the old fire and need stark and clear. When they drew apart both were shaking and gasping for breath.
"Well, that's more like it!" Bodie exclaimed. "But if it's kisses you want, Sunshine...!"
He rose to his feet, his lips parted, laughter in the midnight eyes to answer the devil in Ray's flushed face. For a moment he waited, focussing on his prey; then, like the sleek jungle predator of his lover's fantasy, Bodie pounced.
In the kitchen, Cathy looked at the clock for the umpteenth time. "How long are you going to let him stay, Mum?"
"As long as he wants," Mrs Doyle said firmly. "Oh, I know I agreed with Alex at the beginning. I was hurt and angry, wanting someone to blame - Bodie was just too convenient. He walked away from that grenade, while Ray... But I've been thinking, Cathy. He and Ray were very close - closer than Ray and Alex ever were. What if we were wrong? What if Bodie has the key? Brings him back? We've kept them apart all these weeks - maybe for nothing."
"Don't get your hopes up, Mum," Cathy warned, taking the older woman's hand. "But you're right. Bodie cares. Sometimes when I've walked past him I've wanted to bring him in myself. Even if there's nothing he can do, he's earned the right to see Ray. Still..."
The back door flew open, admitting a flurry of rain and a tall figure. Both women jumped up in delighted welcome.
"Alex! You should have let us know."
"Wasn't time - didn't know myself till the last minute. Good to see you, Mum. Cathy." Alex Doyle hugged his mother and sister, then glanced around the quiet kitchen.
"Mum, I don't want to worry you, but one of the neighbours told me he saw that bastard Bodie on the path. He hasn't been bothering you, has he?"
"He's been with Ray for over an hour," Mrs Doyle said calmly. "I called him in"
"You...? Well, he can leave again. I'm not having him upsetting Ray, stirring up old memories."
"I only wish he could," Cathy said bitterly. "Mum's right, Alex. Leave them alone."
"You're crazy, both of you." Alex stormed to the door, his mother and sister following. "Where are they? The front room?" Without any warning he threw the door open.
For a moment there was no movement. Ray was lying on the couch, Bodie sitting on the floor beside him, gripping his hand. With an inarticulate roar, Alex hurled himself across the room, pulled Bodie to his feet and felled him with a vicious punch to the jaw.
"Get the hell out of here, Bodie!" he snarled. "Haven't you hurt him enough?" He reached down, grabbing a fistful of Bodie's shirt, fist raised for another blow.
Cathy screamed in shock as an avenging whirlwind erupted from the couch, grabbed Alex by the neck and dumped him unceremoniously on the floor.
"Touch him again, you cretin, and I'll break your sodding neck!" Ray snarled, dropping to his knees beside his dazed partner. "Bodie, you okay?"
"He can count himself lucky he's your brother," Bodie muttered vengefully, tenderly feeling his bruised jaw. "But if he tries that again, I might not remember."
"Ray...Ray, you went for him,"Mrs Doyle stammered.
Ray shot a glance of dislike at his stupefied brother. "What the hell else was I supposed to do when this great clown starts thumping my feller?" he demanded. He rose lithely to his feet, extended a hand to pull Bodie up with him. "On your feet, Sunshine. You'll live."
"Your... feller?" Alex said faintly. "Bodie?"
Suddenly realising what he had said, Ray ran a hand distractedly though his hair. "Yeah, well. Didn't mean to blurt it out quite like that. Bodie and I... we belong. See, I thought he was dead. Thought it was my fault. I was asleep, caught in a nightmare. Didn't want to wake up 'cos then I'd have to face the fact that it was true. But it wasn't. He walked in here tonight - and woke me." He turned a brooding gaze on his brother. "Like it or lump it, Alex, Bodie's in my life to stay."
"Strewth." The older man scrambled hastily to his feet, eyeing Bodie warily. Shaking his head, Alex continued, "You're old enough to make up your own mind. You want him, you got him. But a nutter like that... Don't do things by halves, do you, Ray Doyle?"
An hour later in the kitchen Cathy and Mrs Doyle were watching in some awe as Bodie made rapid inroads into his third plate of stew. Ray was gazing at him with what Alex - before taking himself off to the pub - had described with some revulsion as moon-faced adoration. The two women had not come fully to terms with the depth of Ray's commitment to this blue-eyed enigma, but he was back, he was happy, and that was all that mattered.
It was Cathy who put her foot in it. "Ray, you said that Bodie woke you up."
"Yeah." Bodie gestured with his fork. "Just like that fairy tale. You know - the Sleeping Princess. Ray was giving his interpretation of the Sleeping Prince."
"So how did you wake him?" Cathy demanded.
Suddenly seeing the pit yawning at his feet, Bodie coloured and looked pleadingly at his partner. But there was no mercy - a devil of mischief sparkled in the green eyes.
"How else? He kissed me," Ray Doyle said solemnly.
-- THE END --