by Pamela Rose
Though angel on the outward side!
-Measure for Measure, III, ii
Pain. Fear. Rage.
There was nothing else. No existence or thought beyond that trio of most primitive response. No room for more, all else swallowed whole by their voracious power.
The three emotions entwined and spiraled and jostled for priority, each coldly polite but sharply insistent of their own eminence, like scheduled partners in some intricate dance, circling, interweaving and secure of place.
Interlopers inched in -- fawning, unwanted guests at the party. Tapping genteelly on his shoulder for permission to take their turn: resentment, helplessness, despair, shame. Not as violent, not as cleanly self-righteous, but horridly, insidiously valid.
"Please..." he whispered, voice hoarse and dry, foreign. "Let me wake up. Let me--"
He felt a hand, gentle, efficient, and oddly untouching even as it touched. Removed, separate. Even in this twilight, half-world, he recognized it as a nurse's hand.
"Shhhh. You're awake. It's okay."
But it wasn't okay. And he couldn't be awake. Awareness meant the end of nightmares and he sensed this was no more than a beginning.
The pain was bad . . . so very bad. He wanted to scream with the searing agony and knew that he probably already had.
Now he was facing something else; something that caught the screams in his throat, sensing he might well need them more later. There was something worse lurking, anticipating acknowledgment. A truth he knew he didn't want to discover.
"It's time for your medicine," the voice told him.
He didn't like the voice. Didn't like the smell. Perfume. It wasn't strong but it was there, obscured beyond the antiseptics and starch and bitter smell of medicine. It was a warm scent, musky and dark. Like a humid starless night. Like Africa.
He felt the cold prick of a needle.
The main dancers slid away -- pain and anger and fear. But the quiet ones remained and cuddled close as he slid into blackness, making him cry in his sleep, whimpering like a child. And so, beckoned from his childhood like a whiff of dank air escaping a long-sealed crypt, came a voice:
"Pretty is as pretty does..."
He woke up crying. At least his eyes were burning and stinging. Burning like frozen fire; colder and sharper than pins -- maddening. He tried to bring his hands up to rub them, but found he was tied. He sucked in a deep breath, fighting back an animal wail of panic.
Another hand touched him and this one he knew and welcomed with a deepfelt sigh. It curled tightly, almost painfully, over his own hand. It was strong, calloused and blissfully familiar in its intensity; in the very fact that it wasn't gentle in its demand for attention.
"Bodie? Bodie? Are you awake?"
"Ray?" He was shocked at the weakness of his voice, but he clearly heard the relieved exhale of the other man's breath.
"Yeah, it's me, mate. I'm here."
He tried to turn his hand to touch the other's, but again found himself restrained. It puzzled him. If Ray was here, he shouldn't be tied. Not unless Ray was restrained as well, and Ray was free to hold his hand.
He tried to move and felt the resistance of fuzzy cloth against his wrists. "Wha... Why...?"
"It's all right, mate," Doyle assured him while everything about him said otherwise, the gruff voice torn, the atmosphere taut and edged with tension and distress.
"Ray...?" He could manage to say no more, but they were attuned enough that Doyle knew what he was asking.
"They told me you'll be fine. They told me everything would be fine."
Everything? Bodie wondered, fighting a larger panic.
Sensing it, Doyle's hand tightened and he leaned close, so close Bodie could feel the warmth of his breath on his forehead. But only there. An alarm bell went off in his mind as he realized why. Bandages. His face was covered with bandages. His eyes were covered.
The panic increased tenfold and he jerked against the restraints, his questioning sound embarrassingly like a sob.
"No, Bodie . . . no! You're not blind. They're sure you're not blind. They told me that much."
But the doubt was there, in Ray's voice, in the too-tight grip on his hand. Doyle was afraid, too. They were known to lie. They lied a lot when it suited them. Ray knew that as well as he.
Oddly enough, Doyle's obvious qualms calmed him a little. Out of habit, possibly. In their line of work they could never afford to be terrified at the same time. Perhaps it wasn't his turn.
Besides, he'd already had his ration of panic, hadn't he? Dimly he remembered waking up once and trying to rip the bandages from his face, clawing blindly like an animal to get to the pain and horror beneath. The memory of how he came to be here was wrapped in fog, but that was a blessing of sorts. Who would want to remember?
Who could remember and stay sane?
"You know Janet, don't you? Janet Bright?"
He recalled his own voice, cool as always -- oh, yes, always so cool -- answering the stranger. A little diverted because the man was wearing checked pants. He clearly remembered meeting Ray's eye and sharing the joke. Poor geek, they'd thought, secure in their own coolness. Yes, Doyle had been there, hadn't he? Walking along the pavement toward their car. They'd been laughing even before the interruption, sharing a joke at Cowley's expense. They'd always laughed a lot, he and Doyle. Silly, pointless jokes, the kind no one else could ever understand, or would want to. A shared giggle that meant nothing except to themselves. This time it was something about the Cow going dry since they'd had nothing but milk runs for ages . . .
"I love Janet."
"Good for you, mate."
"But she loves you."
"Sorry, mate, but I haven't a clue what you're--"
"It's all your fault, you see. I don't want to do it. I have to do it. I have to make her understand it's only skin deep."
"Listen, I don't--"
"It's all on the outside. You have nothing inside. I see you're handsome. I'm not blind. I know what she likes, why she likes you. But that's not enough, is it? It's only skin deep. You didn't do anything to earn it. I can't help what I am either, can I? I'm sorry, but I must show her the truth."
"What the hell are you--?"
Something wet splashed on his face, liquid, cool for a second, then a ravening, hungry heat that paralyzed him with a sudden flash of brilliant, searing, unbelievable agony. He fell to his knees, screaming as it ate at his flesh, hands drawing up to his face but afraid to touch the fire there.
The one eye still able to see witnessed Doyle's horror, the expression on Ray's face arrested for all time, then he fell over until his forehead touched the pavement, still screaming, distantly feeling Doyle's hands bruising his shoulders, trying to force him upright, dragging him bodily along the pavement .... water burning his eyes and jerking his face away at the force of it, and Doyle's voice furious and broken with sobs.... And years later the haunting sound of sirens echoing his own wailing screams....
Still half-conscious, Bodie listened to the doctor talking about him in sotto-voice.
"He's really quite fortunate. His eyes should be fine. He may have some temporary problem with vision, primarily from the irritating effects of the fumes, which were damaging enough. The acid was extremely potent, but luckily the fluid didn't contact the eye itself. It should -- with luck -- heal well."
"And the rest?" Doyle's voice, tight, pained.
"That's problematical. The right side of his face and his ear were directly exposed to the chemical. There is a large degree of tissue damage. If Mr. Doyle had not acted so swiftly in flushing the caustic agent from the skin with the fire hydrant, it would have been far more serious, perhaps fatal through shock and inhalation of the acid vapor. Fortunately the lungs seem clear. As it is, well, the best I can state is that he is out of danger."
Cowley brusque, impatient as always, "When will we be able to talk to him?"
"That's difficult to say. He should regain awareness any time now. An injury of this kind is . . . difficult. We don't have a great deal of research on the effects of acid being thrown in people's faces. Thankfully, it's not very common."
"Thankful for who?" Doyle muttered.
"What type of acid was it?" Cowley's intense voice cut through Doyle's grumbles.
"That's impossible to pinpoint at the moment except to say the compound was unusual and complex, a combination of particularly caustic acids I would imagine -- and it really doesn't matter in practicality of treatment since the damage was done in the first sixty seconds. It's not a case of finding an antidote or fixing anything, only minimizing the injury by guarding against infection in the already burned tissue, and praying for the best."
There was a sound between an angry snort and a moan that came from Doyle. He knew it was Doyle because he could feel it in his gut. The outrage, the fury, the helpless hurting. Good ol' Doyle blamed himself for everything; silly bugger probably blamed himself for this, too. It wasn't Doyle's fault. Even lying flat on his back half out of skull, he knew that much. So who's fault was it? Who did this? What exactly did they do?
What did they do??
Terror struck again, sinking in its teeth and shaking him until he trembled. Exactly what was wrong with him? Acid? His face? What did that mean?
He could feel Doyle standing close beside him, but he made no move to indicate he was awake. He didn't want to know. Not yet. Please, god, it would go away. It was a bad dream. A nightmare. It wasn't real. He didn't dare ask Doyle. Doyle would tell him. Doyle always told him the truth, damn him.
The hand that held his was as intimate as his own. But the grip was tentative this time. It didn't feel like Doyle. He'd been hurt before -- a knife in his back -- and Doyle's hand hadn't felt like this; this reeked of . . . pity. This was how you touched an invalid. Not ever how Doyle touched him. He grabbed the hand and squeezed tightly, punishing it. Yes, it's me. It's me! Stop pissin' around, Doyle!
"Bodie! Are you awake?"
His eyes, still bandaged, couldn't open. His lips were dry.
He didn't want to answer, didn't want to face Doyle's obvious pain which forced him to accept his own. But ignoring Doyle had never been his forte. Useless anyway, since the bugger never let up. "Ray...."
"I'm here. Bodie, it's okay. Are you really awake this time? Are you yourself?"
Bodie felt like laughing. No, I'm the Phantom of the bloody Opera he wanted to say, but the words wouldn't come. Just wait till I take off the mask an' we'll all get a fright. He jerked his hand away as far as the restraints permitted, anger swamping him.
"Go away..." he croaked, finding it difficult to form the words.
"Mr. Doyle, the patient needs his rest." The nurse's voice shot through the air like lethal slivers of glass. Bodie flinched.
NO, RAY, DON'T LEAVE ME!
"Please, I'd like to stay--"
"He really needs quiet. And Mr. -- Cowley, isn't it? -- He wants to speak with you outside."
Bodie could feel Doyle's presence; could feel the way he was torn between orders and the need to stay by his side, almost a physical swaying of indecision. Cowley naturally won. "All right." He touched Bodie's shoulder, squeezing lightly. "I'll be back, sunshine."
Blind, helpless, tied to the rails of the bed, Bodie mentally screamed at Doyle. Don't leave me like this!!
Doyle hesitated, answering the silent plea. Bodie could still hear his breathing from the doorway. "Untie him first," he told the nurse.
"I said untie him."
"But the doctor's orders are to keep him restrained because he might damage himself--"
"He's awake now. He doesn't need the restraints."
"I'm sorry, sir, but without orders to the contrary--"
Doyle's thin veneer of patience snapped, and Bodie silently cheered him.
"I don't give rat's arse about doctor's orders! Untie him. He's awake enough so he won't do that again."
Good ol' Doyle. Never let a mate down.
"You can't know--"
"Oh, fuck off." Doyle's anger was sweet and Bodie sucked it in like oxygen as he felt his partner return to the bed and loosen the restraints on his hands, dismissing her squawks of protest. He touched Bodie's hair briefly, stroking it. "It's okay, mate. I'll be back soon. I promise."
"I'll have to report this!"
"Fine!" Doyle snarled at her on his way out of the room. He paused and Bodie could picture the scene in his mind's eye. Nobody could look quite as aggressive or intimidating as Doyle when he put his mind to it; a border collie on steroids. "But if I find him trussed up when I get back, I'll tie you up, sweetheart, an' you'll wish it was to bed rails."
A part of Bodie relaxed, confident Doyle was still watching his back, as always.
Having his hands free was blissful. He still wanted to rip off the bandages, to tear at the searing pain of his face, but he knew better now. Knew it wouldn't help. It wasn't something one could fight. Not that way. Perhaps not at all.
It was night. He could sense it -- the muffled sounds, the hushed voices. Even the moister scent of the air, as if night had crept in through the window to show him the difference between unnatural blackness and the safe normality of night. Blackness could last forever; night was temporary.
It might be a wise thing to learn the difference if he was fated to live in this pit forever. They kept telling him he wouldn't, that the light would return when the bandages were removed. But he didn't trust them. He only trusted Doyle, and Doyle was scared. Doyle didn't mouth the platitudes they had shoveled on him with any kind of conviction. He was terrified for Bodie, and he was a rotten liar.
Bodie had never loved him more. Misery loved company.
The pain had eased a little in his face. Not that he admitted it. He wanted the drugs. Needed them. Fuck the pain, it was the least of his hurt. Nothing compared to the reality of what-might-be. It was very important that he push it back far enough that it didn't matter. He didn't have the strength to deal with it yet. The drugs cushioned and blurred the dread . . .
"Pretty is as pretty does--"
He jerked, feeling like he had come out of free-fall with the sudden opening of a parachute, and he realized he had dozed off in mid-thought. He could only remember bits of the dream that had started to suck him under, sharp, ugly shards that made him grateful he woken himself up. He certainly remembered that dream voice -- thin and old and sour. Grannie Bodie. Christ, he had been sure he'd forgotten the old bitch years ago. He'd been -- what? -- six or seven the last time he'd seen her. Funny what the mind could dredge up. Just when you thought things were just too awful to bear, the ol' subconscious dragged out a real chart-topping blast from the past. Couldn't you die laughing?
Shortly after the adrenaline had slowed and his breath was under control, the night nurse came in, quietly on soft feet; a hushed talent acquired over years of experience. She wasn't one of the crude ones that thought waking up the patient proved her devotion to duty. He felt her presence as she moved around his bed, checking his chart, the IVs; he could almost taste her efficiency. A solid, reliable nurse.
He hated her with an immediate and profound hatred.
Her smell made him grit his teeth, remembering. She smelled like Africa. He remembered now. The night nurse. Quick, competent, even considerate with her patients -- but reminding him of Africa. He had no idea why. There was something in her scent and her voice that took him to another time. Not a happy time.
Whenever she came near he felt a ripple of apprehension. Not precisely fear -- that was an old acquaintance -- just an creeping anxiety as if waiting for the second shoe to drop . . . or the axe to fall.
She scared him. Amongst all his other larger fears -- even compared to the almost-nightmare he'd just escaped -- it seemed trivial. Yet the feeling persisted, increasing the weight of the other horrors, piggybacking on them like a parasite, chipping away just that one more little fragment of his shaky courage.
"How are you feeling, Mr. Bodie?"
He tensed at the sound of her voice. "How did you know I was awake?"
"Well, your pulse is going like clappers. Bad dream, was it?"
"No!" He swallowed, his throat feeling raw and disused, voice still rusty. "I need something."
"Are you in pain?"
"What do you think?" he snarled.
"It's nearly a quarter to six. The morning shift will be on soon. Perhaps you should wait until then. It's not good to--"
"Hi, is it okay if I come in?" another voice intruded, and he unconsciously relaxed the muscles he hadn't realized had tensed. He was safe. With Doyle here, he was safe.
The tone of her voice changed slightly, lilting, on the edge of perky. "My, aren't we the early bird?"
"I know it's hardly visiting hours, sister, but my job -- well, it's hard to get in on any kind of regular schedule." Doyle's voice changed, too, from embarrassed wheedling to the husky purr of a cat certain of being stroked the right way. "This is really the only time I can be fairly sure of getting in, before I go to the office, I mean. Bodie's a mate of mine an' I--"
"And do exterminators always have such demanding schedules?"
Bodie could almost feel Doyle's cheeky grin. "Actually, I think I said I was in pest control."
"No, actually you said you and Mr. Bodie were 'vermin control officers'."
"Ah well, a rose is a rose is a..."
"And only God and perhaps a certain Mr. Cowley can make a CI5 agent." She chuckled. "I'm afraid the gossip has moved swifter than your imagination, Mr. Doyle. It's the talk of the nursing staff that you and Mr. Bodie are CI5. It's not exactly a secret. Mr. Cowley has made it very clear he wants the best possible care for his agent."
"Yes, oh. So your humble fabrication yesterday morning was wasted."
Yesterday morning? Bodie thought, I don't remember that. I don't think I even remember yesterday. It wasn't a comforting notion. How many days had he lost? Perhaps the drugs weren't such a great idea after all.
"Well, we're accustomed to keeping a low profile, you see. If you knew, why didn't you say something then?"
"Because it was amusing. And because you were obviously concerned for your friend."
"Do you forgive me?"
"I'll think about it. In the meantime, rules are still rules."
"Does that mean I have to leave?"
"It means, if you keep standing there in the doorway, the floor nurse is likely to spot you."
"Thank you. So you won't pitch me out on my ear then?"
"If you promise to be quiet and behave yourself--"
Bodie could clearly envision the charming, chip-toothed grin.
"You do seem to have a good reason . . ."
"I thought he could use some cheering up. I wasn't able to get in last evening and I felt rotten about it."
"Oh, I'm sure he understood."
Oh, Christ, Bodie thought sourly, I'll bet Doyle's wearing those bloody tight jeans with the patch on the arse. Brings out their maternal side every time, jammy sod.
"How's he been?"
"Well, he seems--"
"He seems bored with this interminable conversation," Bodie put in, unable to stomach any more.
"I thought you were asleep," Doyle replied, moving over to the bedside.
"No such luck. Not with you and Florence having a lovely chat."
"You're better." Doyle's voice cracked a little. "Christ, Bodie, you're--"
" --I did, however, note that my name was conspicuously absent until the end of the discussion. Don't worry about me, carry on with the chat-up, Doyle."
Doyle had his hand by this point, and the subliminal signals comforted him, giving lie to the flip words. "Ta, mate. Wait 'til you get the blindfold off and you'll see why my palms are sweaty."
"I see, lies didn't work so you're resorting to flattery now." She sounded diverted, and underneath the amusement, pleased and just a tad flustered.
Bodie felt the movement as Doyle stretched out his other hand -- still gripping his with the other. "Want to feel? Sweaty, see?"
"You're terrible. I must continue my rounds. Please keep quiet in here or we'll both get in trouble. Mr. Bodie, I'll be back in a short while with your pain medicine."
Doyle's hand tightened at that. "Bodie, are you hurting? I'm sorry--"
"Is she gone?"
"Yes. I didn't mean to--"
"It's okay, Ray. It doesn't matter." Then, although it was the last thing he wanted to say,"I'm glad you're here."
"If I had my choice, I'd be here all the time, mate." Doyle's tone was fierce, passionate. "I hate leaving you alone."
Bodie took in the words like nourishment. "Don't be a prat. I'm asleep most of the time. Fancy spending your time listening to me snore, do you?"
The unequivocal answer stunned him for a second. He had been joking, but Doyle was not. The warmth of it settled deep in his bones, and he felt truly safe, truly worth something for the first time since he'd entered the hospital. Doyle loved him. He had known that. Hadn't questioned it for months. But now it was engraved in the stone that was his heart and it would take a lot to wear it away.
"I guess the Cow has you in file room again, if you're that bored," he quipped lamely, unable to think of a better reply.
Doyle paused for a second. "No, he's been keeping us busy."
Sidestepping the answer, "You seem a lot better. I was . . . worried."
"About what, Ray? Having a blind partner? Or one that looks like a monster?"
"Don't be st--"
"I heard the doctor, Ray. I know about the acid."
Doyle released him and moved away, towards the window from the feel of the air currents.
"Answer the question, Ray."
There was a moment of total silence. Then, "Cowley wants us to check out the background of--"
"Not that question."
"You must have also heard that your eyes are okay. You'll see again."
"That's terrific. Can't wait to have a look in the mirror."
Doyle was silent.
Irritated, Bodie spat out, "What's wrong? Afraid to be honest?" His sarcasm was not wasted.
Doyle returned it with the anger he craved. "Honest? That's never been my problem, has it? What do you want to hear, Bodie? That I'll still love you blind, scarred -- bitter? I will, you know. You're the one that had the problem with it, remember?"
Bodie took the words in, basked in them. Then, "I wanted to keep the partnership, Ray. That was more important--"
"Don't! I've heard the spiel before, okay? Just a few kicks; keep it in perspective. You weren't queer then, and you won't be now. I read you loud and clear. But don't insult me by expecting me to change how I feel because of this or anything else. I'm not quite as shallow as you--" He cut off, drawing a deep breath.
Bodie could visualize Doyle's clenched jaw, the flushed face, the untidy curls, green eyes sparking. It was a lovely image and he held it close, cherishing it.
As predicted, Ray had caught himself, abashed. "I'm sorry, Bodie. This isn't the time to-- I didn't want--" Doyle's hand caught his again. "I didn't mean to drag all that stuff up again. This hasn't been an easy couple of days for me either. I just want you to know I'm here for you. Partners, right? That won't change, whatever happens."
Guilt caught Bodie with an unexpected left hook. Tell him! How much more proof did he need? An oath signed in blood at midnight? Hadn't he been pondering his own feelings for Doyle for weeks? As much as he dared ponder anything. Now, he needed Ray as he had never needed anybody. Pride be damned. Sexuality be damned.
"Here's your medicine, Mr. Bodie."
His body stiffened at the sound of her voice, like an electric shock.
All the good feelings were swallowed whole and vomited back ugly and misshapen. What had he been thinking? Total lunacy. Doyle was too close to him as it was. Encouragement was the last thing he needed.
Uneasiness smothered everything else as the nurse came near. Something wasn't right about her. Something . . .
"I don't nee--" The needle was in his flesh before he could finish the sentence.
"There now, you'll feel better in a minute."
Amazing how fast it worked. Within seconds a warmth invaded him, and he began to drift, feeling high. Lovely sensation; the anxiety and intense emotions about Doyle, about her, about life, wafting away.
"Bodie? Are you alright?"
"I'll stay until you go to sleep, okay?"
"I'll be back every chance I get, I promise."
He thought he replied, but perhaps he didn't.
"Bodie? Bodie?" The voice softened to a whisper. "You asleep, mate?"
"You really must go now, Mr. Doyle. The morning nurse will be in directly, and she might not be as gullible as I am."
"I think the word is sympathetic," Doyle said softly. "You are, you know. You've been very kind. I haven't thanked you properly."
The conversation was now entering a storage space in his brain. Mostly it was incomprehensible, but he retained it for later review. Oh yes, he would review every word when his mind was sharper; there was a chill in that mental compartment -- he didn't like her and he didn't like Doyle talking to her, whatever his motivation. It sent out quivering danger signals from his lower brain where instinct lived.
"Well, I can see how much you care."
"Yes, I do. Very much. So will you let me come back tomorrow morning? Please?"
"This is very irregular. I'm really not sure if it's a good idea, Mr. Doyle."
"Ray, please. Listen, I know I'm really out of line here, but will you toss me out if I come back tomorrow?"
"Do you mean you want me to look the other way again while you break the rules?"
"Yes. Will you?"
"I don't like being taken advantage of, Mr. Doyle."
"Ray. And yes, I would love to take advantage of you, but don't change the subject. We're talking about unscheduled visiting hours."
She laughed. "You're hopeless."
"Yes. Will you tell me your name?"
"Will you let me buy you breakfast, Bethany? I'm starving."
She laughed. "Is this a bribe?"
"Definitely. But I must remind you exterminators are poorly paid. You might have to suffer with an Egg Mcmuffin and tea."
"In that case . . ."
At that point, his last bit of consciousness faded and he was back to fighting other nightmares.
"We're going to remove the bandages from your eyes, Mr. Bodie. You may feel some discomfort. Especially in the right eye. The left eye is undamaged and should adapt easily. We will probably have to put a pad on the right eye for a few days until it heals properly; it could be overly sensitive for some time. However, we are confident that your eye is perfectly fine and will be normal as soon as it adjusts, it was weakened -- traumatized if you will -- by the acid fumes, but there was no overt physical damage. Do you understand?"
"Yes. Just get on with it."
"Very well. Here we go then."
The light hurt. His left eye watered but the pain drove in his right eye like a spike, and the doctor rapidly cleaned and flushed it with some fluid and quickly placed a dark patch over it.
"Yeah." Bodie took a deep breath and blinked his remaining eye. He could see, blurrily, but it didn't really hurt, only smarted a little, raining tears. It took several moments to focus his left eye, but the pain in his other eye soon subsided as well.
"Don't worry about the excessive watering. It's to be expected after the trauma suffered. That will pass soon enough."
The relief was tremendous. Almost exhilarating. He could actually see. They hadn't lied about that after all. The pain in his face remained, burning but slightly deadened by the drugs they had given him. He'd never been much of one for drugs until now. He'd been hurt before, more times than he cared to remember, and always preferred to tough it out. Now he wanted the drugs. Asked for them. Yearned for them. He couldn't deal with the pain -- not in his face. Every degree of pain was increased tenfold because of where it lived, and realizing that fact didn't change the reality of the agony. Or the knowledge he would have to face the cause of that pain once his mind was clear. For the first time in a life of dealing with reality, he wanted nothing more than to distance himself from it.
"I need a shot, doc."
The doctor looked at him consideringly, then nodded. "Very well. I'll send in the nurse. You have a visitor, by the way. Mr. Doyle is here."
Bodie dropped his head back on the pillow. "Great. Shot first, then Doyle, okay?"
When Doyle came in Bodie was feeling fine. The drug curling sweetly through his veins. Either they were lowering the dosage, or he was becoming inured to it, because it didn't knock him out as swiftly as it did a couple of days ago.
He blinked the tears from his eye and looked at his partner. It was the first time he had actually been able to see Doyle since the . . . incident, and he smiled at him wistfully, surveying him with one eye.
"How you feeling?" Doyle asked anxiously.
"Marvelous at the moment. How are you, Goldilocks?"
"Your eyes...they are okay, right?"
"So they tell me. Just a little tender at the moment. The right one's still too weak to be let out for walkies."
Doyle let out a breath. "Scared me, seeing the patch and all."
"No, I'll be ugly, but at least I'll be able to see how ugly. A mixed blessing, wouldn't you say?"
Doyle remained silent. Then, almost angrily, "Christ, Bodie, can't you just be happy for the luck you have? Why turn it into something rotten?"
Bodie regarded him with interest. "Luck? The whole side of my face is a mess from what they tell me. Raw meat. Face tartar."
Doyle looked down at the floor.
"Turn your stomach, does it?"
"Don't be stupid! You could have been blinded. Worse -- dead!"
"Worse? For whom? I suppose if I grow a beard and avoid mirrors for the remainder of my life, it'll only be the rest of the world that has to suffer.."
"You don't know how bad the scarring is yet. No one knows."
Bodie regarded him squarely. "You know. You saw. You were there when it happened. How pretty do you think they'll be able to make me, eh?" He snorted at Doyle's blank expression, seeing the distress that flickered in his eyes. "Yeah, right."
"Bodie, I thought you were dying. I was terrified your eyes were gone for sure. I was wrong about that. Do you think I care about--"
"Drop it, Doyle. Save the pep talk, okay? You're the idealist, I'm the realist, remember?"
"That's what you like to think anyway."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Christ, Bodie, you won't make this easy, will you?'
"Easy? Oh, bloody hell, I'm sorry it's so tough for you, Raymond. You think it's trying now, wait 'til the bandages come off. Then you can be a real Mother Theresa."
Doyle didn't reply, he only looked at him. Bodie wanted to knock him silly, shake him, enrage him. Something. Make all this easier to deal with. It was so much easier to be angry.
Fight with me, Doyle!
But Doyle merely shut his eyes for a second then straightened his shoulders. "We got the guy who . . . the fellow who . . ."
"Did it?" Bodie supplied helpfully. "Oh, lovely. That makes all the difference."
Doyle stared at him, a little confused at the flippancy. He'd obviously expected something different. "His name is Stanley Tofft. He was a chemist. No priors, no political affiliations more incriminating than belonging to a chess club. Apparently, he just snapped. His girlfriend dropped him and he couldn't take it so--"
Doyle was surprised. "Yes. How did you--?
"That's the name he mentioned before he gave me his little pressie. Don't you remember? You're slipping, Doyle."
Looking uncomfortable, Doyle squirmed a little in the plastic chair. "I wasn't sure you remembered what he said. From what we've discovered from questioning her, you dated her -- twice -- about six weeks ago."
"Did I? Did she come across?"
The green eyes darted up, startled. "Bodie--"
"What do you want from me, Doyle? Do you want to give you a list of birds I've screwed and forgot in the last six months?"
"I didn't mean--"
"What did you mean? That I'm to blame for this?"
"No! God, no! Bodie, I never thought--"
"Don't give me that, Mister bleeding heart. I bet you think I got just what I deserve. Well, what makes you so bloody different, eh? Trot out your list, Doyle. It may not be as long as mine, but--"
"Stop it!" There was a moist glitter in Doyle's eyes. Not that it meant a lot. He was prone to tears, as Bodie well knew. Still, even now Bodie was not immune to Doyle's misery.
"Okay, Ray, I'm sorry. Forget it."
"Bodie, nobody's saying it was your fault. What happened was a fluke, an accident. It couldn't be predicted. The bloke was unstable; if it hadn't been that, it probably would have been something else that set him off. It was bad luck. I never thought I was better than you or--"
"I know you didn't. I said I'm sorry, okay?" He wasn't sorry at all. But he knew from experience it was the best method of shutting Ray up, and he didn't want to talk about it any more. He was furious with Doyle and with Doyle's unspoken criticism. Even if Ray condemned himself in the same breath, he always contented himself with the idea that at least Bodie was worse. Bodie was colder, harder, less compassionate. Bodie was a cad with women. Doyle was the ill-fated sufferer. In Doyle's eternal martyrdom, Doyle comforted himself with the yardstick that whatever his sins, Bodie's sins must be blacker. He hated Doyle for that even while he accepted it as no more than truth.
"You really don't remember her?" Doyle asked gently, braving further wrath.
Bodie leaned back in the pillows, the drugs finally beginning to make him sleepy. "No, not really. Was she the blonde with--"
"She has red hair."
"Oh, really? Well, no, I don't remember her specifically. It was my month for redheads. I must've had three at least. Any distinguishing marks?"
"Stop it, Bodie. You're not that bad."
"No? You sure about that?"
"You're really determined to hate yourself now, aren't you?"
"Kate Ross you're not, Doyle. Stop playing psychoquack. Trust me, damaged as it is, I'm enormously fond of my own skin. That's why I'm still alive."
"No, I'm not a psychologist. But I know self-pity when I see it."
"I guess you would. I'm talking to the expert on it."
"That's it. I've had enough." Doyle pushed the chair back and stood.
Bodie felt a moment of alarm. Had he finally pushed too far?
"Listen, it's been a trying day," Doyle said with forced calm. "I'll be back tomorrow."
The fear ebbed like a subsiding wave, leaving only a froth of uneasiness that quickly dissapated when Doyle smiled at him. Of course Doyle wouldn't desert him. Like a rock, he would take the impact and let it wash away again. Meanwhile, the tide of drugs in Bodie's veins was pulling him down again, deep and irresistible.
"Yes, come back, Ray. Maybe I'll be in a better mood."
Bodie shut his eyes and tried to slide into sleep that wouldn't quite come. His life had turned into a kaleidoscope of scents and sounds and blazing images. Everything had a new edge now, a sharper focus that he couldn't deny as much as he tried. He would like to blame it on the drugs, but he knew that wasn't the answer. Something inside him was awake now, and no amount of drugs or anger or denial would send it back to oblivion.
Pretty is as pretty does...
Oh yes, he remembered now. Odd how all the horrors of his life paled when weighed against an older memory. Good ol' Grannie Bodie, who could have been a poster portrait for child abuse -- physical, mental and emotional -- although thirty years ago it would have been called no more than being "strict." He'd never forgotten her or what happened. Funny, he'd been so sure he'd dealt with it all, had relegated it to its proper place in "life experience." He was an adult, strong, independent and more than able to defend himself. But the past had been with him all the time, like a parasite, an eternal flea on his psyche.
Pretty is as pretty does . . .
It was waiting for him again as he slipped into unconsciousness. This time he made himself face it, see it through. He remembered it always, but he'd never really let himself feel it. Denial was one thing, cowardice was another. After all, the dream was no more than a memory of truth.
"You know what she was, don't you? Your mum? A slut, a whore. And you'll be no better in your way. Too pretty for your own good, that's what. Just like your mum. Well, pretty is as pretty does, mister Billy boy. I've done my best. I wash my hands of the sin. You should pray, boy, pray to the Good Lord to take away your evil looks. They'll bring you nothing but wickedness, mark my words."
"But why, Grannie, why?"
"Because it encourages sin. You were born in sin, Billy. You'll have to suffer for it. Original sin. It's God's will."
"Just pray you grow up ugly, Billy. Pray the curse passes you by. Your mum's curse. It ruined her and it will ruin you if the Lord don't fix it."
He didn't understand. Ugly was the troll under the bridge. Ugly was the devil in the Sunday scriptures. The snake in the garden; Lon Chaney at the cinema. "But I don't want to be ugly--"
"Shut your evil mouth, child. You'll bring down the wrath of the Lord with your sinful thoughts."
"But I'm not ugly, am I?" He had seen himself in the looking glass and he knew he wasn't. And people kept saying he was "such a pretty boy."
She stared at him thoughtfully, an odd expression in her eyes. Blue eyes very like his own. "No, Billy. And that's your curse." She moaned and covered her face, rocking from side to side. "Oh my poor Billy."
Uneasy, he stepped back against the wall, almost crouching in a corner, although he didn't realize it, didn't accept his ever growing fear. "Where is mum? I want mum."
She took her hands from her face, suddenly serene. "She's in hell, Billy. Burning."
"But I'll help you, child. I'll keep you from that, because I love you. I see now that Satan put his curse on you. The evil is inside you. Your looks are the lure of the devil. Others must see this, too. They have to be warned of the wickedness, for your sake as well as theirs. It's fallen to my shoulders to mark you. To brand the evil."
He watched her plug in the iron, understanding little of what she was saying; watched the steam rise from the surface of the metal as she spat on it to test the heat. Her spit danced and bubbled with an audible hiss.
"You want to be a good boy, don't you?'
"You know I love you, don't you?"
"Yes, Grannie." And he did. He was terrified of her, but knew she loved him. Even when he was bad, she loved him. She said so.
"Because I love you the Lord has given me a thankless task. I have to save you from burning in the fires of hell. I must warn the others you will lead to darkness. You know that, don't you?"
He tried to pull back from her grip, but she held his arm like a vise. She had hurt him before, whipped him, slapped him, but something about her now horrified him as never before. He began to struggle in earnest.
"Be still. It'll be over soon. If the Lord had shown me the way sooner, your poor mum wouldn't be in the fires of hell. I could have taken her temptation. No man would have ever bothered her or been driven to evil lust. She would have stayed pure as the Lord willed. You must never sin, Billy. I have to protect you from that. You look so much like your mum. Sinful women will come to you if I don't protect you, maybe even men, for there is much wickedness in the world. They will not see the evil you carry inside you until it is too late. I must mark you as warning. It is my duty to help you--"
He could feel the blazing heat of the iron as it came near his face, all the few certainties of life shattering as he fought against the merciless grip of the one person in his life he could trust, could love. But she saw him for what he was . . . evil. He was bad, like his mother. If he believed she loved him, he had to believe that, too. She wouldn't do this otherwise . . . it wouldn't make sense. But as the intensity of heat closed in, he jerked back, the edge of the iron brushing his face, and he twisted away--
He woke up, the scream trapped in his mind, feeling the burning on the right side of his face. It took a second for him to realize it wasn't a lingering trace of the dream, it was real. The pain made him gasp and whimper -- his breath caught as he remembered where he was and why his face hurt. It wasn't the iron of his nightmare. That hadn't happened. He'd escaped from her, the small burn on his face had left no more than a small asymmetry in one eyebrow; not long after he had watched them take her away, screaming, wild, biting and scratching at the men who tried to soothe her.
There was no one here to soothe him now. He was trembling, tangled in the damp sheets, as afraid as if their hands were controlling him. He was the bad one, not her. He was the evil one . . .
He took a took breath, forcing the calmness back. He wasn't a child. He wasn't Billy anymore. He was in control. His heartbeat slowed by will power alone, using meditation techniques he'd learned a long time ago in a land far away. He centered himself -- the dark, hard center. He could escape the fear. It came from outside. Inside, he was safe. Safe in his secret. They could only hurt you when they knew.
Eventually, he was able to relax, to join his outside self, the physical being that was Bodie.
He couldn't judge the time. It was dark and as quiet as hospitals ever get.
There was a hushed sound at the door and he tensed a little, sensing the night nurse's approach. He had come to dread it without understanding the reason -- not that there had been much logic or reason in his life lately.
This was the first time, however, that he had been able to see, and the silhouette framed in the dim corridor light was reassuring. This wasn't the person he feared. The night nurse he feared was heavier -- fat. He knew that somehow, no matter how quietly she moved. This one was normal, however; of ordinary size.
But as the woman approached the bed the scent came to him and she spoke, "You're awake. Do you need something to help you sleep?"
Freezing, he stared up at her. It was her. But how? He'd been so sure . . . But the voice, the scent. He still couldn't place how or why he knew her, but he had had a positive certainty that she was heavy. The confusion was disturbing. He was someone who had always trusted his own senses -- lived or died by them. Had he lost that as well?
"Who are you?" he asked hoarsely.
"I'm your nurse, Mr. Bodie. Bethany. Don't you remember? I've been here every night. I'm so pleased to see they've removed some of your bandages. Your chart is very promising. A few more days and--"
"Leave me alone."
"Are you in pain? Would you like--?"
"Just leave me alone!"
"Of course. I'm sure Mr. Doyle will be here soon. He shows up about this time every morn--"
"Get the fuck out of here!"
As any nurse, she weathered his emotional violence serenely. "Very well, Mr. Bodie. But I will give you a little something to calm you down. It's on your chart and I think I will help you to relax."
He could hear the squeak of the needle going into the tubing on the IV.
Her face was still in shadows; her outline lush and curved, far from slender, but not heavy. It confused him more. The scent . . . the voice . . . But...
Her shadow wavered and a feeling of soft euphoria pushed back his confusion; his fear smothered by a frothy, insubstantial contentment as the drug began its work.
He could hear subdued voices by the door -- Doyle and the nurse. Whispering. About him. And then, not about him. About something else. A movie they'd seen the previous evening. He heard the girl's giggle and Doyle's chuckle, thick and rich as a pat of butter. Then he sank farther into darkness, and couldn't care....
The girls were jumping rope in front of the chemist. He knew the rhyme. He'd heard it before. They never let him forget; refused to let it rest. But he didn't think he could stand it again. Not again. Not today.
"Billy Philly is too pretty,
his grandmum she will fix it--
Billy Philly has a Gram that's silly,
his mum sure was a dilly."
He threw the ball with all his strength and the plate glass window shattered. One girl was cut, blood pouring from her forearm. He didn't care. He was glad. Let her bleed. He hated her. He hated all of them.
One of the mothers screamed at him as she tried to staunch the blood with her scarf. "You wicked, wicked boy! I'll see you're put away for this! You evil child!
At the sound of the sirens, he turned and ran and ran . . .
They released him from hospital three days later. The patch was off his right eye, but the bandage remained over the right side of his face. More for the protection of the public, Bodie thought, than for himself. The burns were pretty much scabbed over, and the pain was minimal, although he hoarded his cache of pain killers. He would acquire more when needed, but not from the medical profession. There were advantages to having a link with the underworld.
Doyle seemed to have moved into his flat. He didn't say as much as he settled Bodie into bed, but the patches were off both eyes now, and he was a trained observer. He saw Doyle's toothbrush and electric shaver in the bath, noted the crowded state of the closet, and the generally sloppy state of his flat. So Doyle was babysitting. He wasn't particularly surprised. It was very like Cowley. Certainly cheaper than a visiting nurse. Strangely enough, it didn't even irritate him. Nor did he bring the subject up for fear Doyle would leave if he pushed the issue. Doyle was doing a lot of uncharacteristic tiptoeing around him of late.
He wanted Ray.
Privately, it was a difficult thing to accept, but being a practical man, he dealt with it frankly. He needed Ray. He was important to him. He had to have him right now. The need for another person might have made him uncomfortable if it hadn't been for the person involved. This was Ray Doyle. His partner. And Ray loved him. Ray had told him so. Bodie believed him without question. After all, Ray's taste in lovers had always been abysmal.
Still, like the codeine, the fact that Ray loved him was a soft, muzzy comfort. And Ray's affection would outlast the opiate. As long as he didn't know the secret.
"I have to go out for groceries. Anything special you want?"
"Peppermint ice cream."
"You got it, mate. I'll be back in an hour. You'll be okay?"
Bodie grinned, "I just might be able to manage."
"Sorry, I just meant--"
"Ray, I'm joking. Stop being so antsy. I'm okay."
"See you later then."
Doyle left but there was a lot left unsaid lingering behind. Not surprising. Tact wasn't Doyle's forte, but avoiding the issue wasn't a problem. It was a habit. The more important the issue, the more creative ways they found to avoid facing it. And he recognized he was often more culpable of that than Doyle.
Like their sex life. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy fucking Ray Doyle. Christ, who wouldn't? The man was beautiful, sensual and willing. An ideal sexual partner. They had had some incredible nights together. Until Doyle made the inexcusable mistake of saying he loved him. It changed everything; infuriating Bodie with unspoken demands and expectations. He put a stop to that quick enough, making it clear that sex with Doyle was only aberration, pleasant, but irrelevant. He had been amazed at the pain in Doyle's eyes. Amazed and unbelieving. Doyle couldn't love him like that. It wasn't possible. Fortunately, he had witnessed Doyle's adolescent crushes before. They were passionate and violently sincere, just like the man -- but just like the man they were also unpredictable and threatening. That kind of love was dangerous. It sought to know too much. It demanded too much. And Ray Doyle always wanted to know more than was good for him. He was too good of a detective. In Bodie's experience the truth was fatal to love.
Bodie was a practical man, however. All his life he had done what was necessary to preserve self. (Or sanity?) And now he needed Doyle. He was the rock, the touchstone. He couldn't quite articulate his dread, but he feared without Ray something vital of himself would be lost.
It was an increasingly tricky game, -- having someone in a chokehold while keeping them at arm's length.
He got out of bed and went into the bath. The mirror was waiting for him and it was no longer a friend. Or perhaps it had simply stopped being an illusion.
He pulled off the tape holding the gauze over the right side of his face and stared at truth.
"You're going out?" Bodie asked.
Doyle paused, at a loss for a moment since his busy preparations for the previous half hour must have given at least a clue. "Yeah. I've a date. Promised Bethany I'd take her to see the new Sean Connery film--"
"You remember, the night nurse? I told you--"
"Seeing a lot of her lately."
Again, Doyle hesitated. He put down the hairbrush and turned to Bodie. "Are you okay, mate? I mean, I'll only be gone a couple of hours . . ."
"Don't you think I can manage on my own? I'm not an invalid you know." Bodie's voice was cold.
Confused, Doyle picked up the brush again. "Sorry."
"Do you like her?"
"Of course I like her. Why would I--?"
"I thought you were just buttering her up for illicit hospital visits. Well, I'm out now, so why the romancing?"
Doyle grinned sheepishly. "Actually, I was at first. It's different now."
"How different? So why are you still dating her?"
"I dunno. She's easy to talk to. Very genuine. That's pretty rare these days."
"So you're not screwing the cow?"
Startled, Doyle jerked back around. "Christ, Bodie, that's rotten, even from you."
'Even from you' The words reverberated in his head, stoking his fury. "Is that a yes?"
Doyle flushed, tossing the brush back on the dresser with a clatter. "Shut up, Bodie."
"So how is she? A little raver, eh? The fat ones usually are. Very grateful."
"Enough!" Doyle grabbed up his jacket. "She's a nice girl, Bodie."
"Oh, dear me, don't tell me I've hit a raw nerve."
Doyle jerked on the coat, green eyes glinting dangerously. "She's not fat, for one thing."
"Oh no, she's Twiggy."
"She's smart and funny and sincere. And, incredible as it might seem to you, I think she cares for me."
Bodie clutched his bosom dramatically. "It's true love at last."
Doyle met his eyes, the pain clear as it always was when Bodie hit below the belt. "Maybe it is," he said softly.
The chill around Bodie's heart froze solid. "God knows you can pick 'em. Remember Ann?"
Doyle shut his eyes tightly for a second, but even that wasn't enough to hold back his resentment. He took three steps forward and shoved Bodie hard; he fell back on the bed, bouncing with the force of it.
"That's it, Bodie. Never again. Don't you ever again throw Ann in my face. I made a mistake with her, I admit it, but I've made worse ones since. So just shut about it, understand?"
And I was the worst mistake of all, Bodie mused, feeling strangely aloof from Doyle's rage. It felt comfortable, right, almost a well deserved prize. He'd worked hard enough to earn it.
Doyle stared at him, obviously puzzled and uneasy by Bodie's lack of reaction. "Bodie--"
"You've made yourself clear as crystal, mate. Don't mind me. Your life is your business. Didn't mean to imply otherwise."
Doyle took a deep breath and ran his fingers through his carefully styled curls, messing them to their more natural state. Bodie silently approved. "Of course it's your business. I mean, what you think is important-- Damnit, I didn't mean to get into a row, Bodie. But you can't expect me to--"
"Won't you be late for your date?"
"What? Oh . . . yeah." Distracted, torn in two directions, Doyle looked on edge, divided, tense. The way Bodie liked him best. He was very good at this manipulation. There was a dark, smug thought that all he had to do was pull one more string and Doyle would be in his arms. But not now, not just yet. The time would come.
"Should I leave a nightlight burning?" Bodie asked, giving a dirty wink.
Doyle didn't bother to answer, too bewildered to respond, he just left.
Bodie listened to the lock clicking on the door and felt the oddest satisfaction. He was giving truth now. The darkest, blackest truth. Soon Ray would choke on it and he would be free.
He levered himself off the bed and walked to the dresser, staring in the glass above it, welcoming the horror he saw reflected. It matched. Inside and outside, he matched.
As soon as he made Doyle see that, Doyle would be free.
And he would be lost.
The frozen core of his heart began to crack.
It had to happen sometime, and he preferred that it happen alone. The last thing he wanted was Doyle's pity clinging to him like post-nasal drip after a bout of pneumonia.
He walked into the pub with his head up, no bandage concealing the vicious rawness of his scars. He knew so well what he looked like. The fresh pink and scarlet design that covered and screamed on the right side of his face.
He was prepared for disgust, for people looking sick and being unsettled at his appearance.
What he wasn't prepared for was something much more subtle.
People looked at him, occasionally surprised, startled, even sympathetic. But they seldom looked back. Not because they were embarrassed, but because it didn't matter.
He had drank one bitter and ordered another before the real difference occurred to him. All of his life when he walked into pubs, he was used to people looking at him. People had always looked at him. From early in life he had been aware that he was easy on the eye, and that both men and women tended to watch him, and not always for sexual reasons -- more generally because he was young, healthy, fit and his appearance was pleasing and worth at least a second glance. He had taken his attractiveness for granted, as people took for granted their ability with math or a natural sense of direction.
Now, they looked at him and looked away. He couldn't even content himself with the idea that his face was so hideous they couldn't deal with it. He knew that from his own experience; his impulse when seeing something repulsive was to look again and then sneak a third glance. This was not the case. Once was enough. He was merely ugly, not even grotesque.
What should have been reassuring, was strangely only irritating. Odd to discover that if he couldn't be attractive in one way, it was maddening not to be at least of interest. But in one sudden act his enemy had made him exactly what he had been, a nonentity. The only thing the scar had taken from him was being special.
He picked up his pint and sipped it, more for something to do than thirst. He felt lost, unsettled.
Someone levered themselves on the barstool to his left. He could smell her perfume, cheap and a little too generous in its application.
"'ullo, handsome. Lonely?"
He swallowed a gulp of beer, wondering which would give him more pleasure, kindness or cruelty. Deciding, he swung around to face her fully. He could feel the scars pull tight as he grinned wickedly at her. "What do you think, sweetheart?"
She gasp a little when she saw his face, but didn't back off. "What 'appened? Car wreck, was it?"
"Yeh, head-on collision. Puts you off, does it?"
She inched closer, squeezing his arm. "Listen, lovey, I've 'ad worse than you without the excuse of an accident. Don't let that worry you none."
"You're a whore, right?"
She blinked heavily made up eyes. "So? What if I am? Who're you, Billy Graham?"
He grinned blackly. "Nah, not even Billy anymore."
Encouraged, she snuggled closer. "That's nice. William, is it?"
"Listen, luv, I don't pay for it. I never have. You think I'm going to start with you?"
Angry now, she stood. "With a mug like that, darlin', you'd better get used to it. You're not gonna attract a bleedin' debutante."
He drained his beer and stood. "You're right about that. How much?"
Startled, she hesitated. "Twenty quid."
He reached in his pocket and tossed the money on the bar. "Cheap at that."
As he walked away, she called to him, "What's this for then? You want me to--"
"Truth, sweetheart. I just bought a bit of truth."
"Fantasy's more in my line."
He looked back and smiled. "I'll probably be back for that later."
He always felt naked in this room, even when wearing a polo and leather jacket. And chilled. Cold and exposed. Not that he would tell her that. It was just the kind of thing she would love to hear.
"We won't get very far if you just sit there, Bodie."
"Where do you want to go, sweetheart? I'm up for a dirty weekend in Brighton." He tossed her a glance, reading her unamused expression. The bitch never had a sense of humor.
Kate Ross stood and leaned one hip against her desk. "I think the question is where do you want to go? Back on the squad?"
Bodie's teeth clenched, wishing he could slap the pomposity out of her. "No, the real question is what do you want to hear? That I hated my mother and fucked my father? That I wet the bed until I was ten?"
Bodie smiled sweetly. "What gets me more points? Bedwetting or incest?"
Her frustration was apparent. Very unprofessional, he thought. But she'd never been able to deal with him well. A real personality conflict, as she might phrase it. He interpreted it as heavy sexual tension that apparently bothered her more than him. He wasn't surprised he wanted to fuck her, she wouldn't accept that she might be tempted. It was an aspect her "professionalism" wouldn't accept, but that he always felt lurked in the air.
She would practically coddle Doyle, sensing he was safe, tease him and give him tit for tat, but she put Bodie through the fuckin' wringer every time. She seldom joked with him -- he sensed she was afraid of him in some sense. Wary at the very least.
"This is a waste of time."
"That's what I told Cowley," Bodie agreed.
"You realize you won't be cleared for duty--"
"Don't threaten me!" Bodie stood only inches from her face, hardly remembering leaving the chair. He took a deep breath and backed away.
If she was shaken by his action, she didn't show it. He had to give her that -- she was no coward.
"I'm only telling you what you already know. I'm doing my job, Bodie. If you want to do yours again, you have to cooperate. That's how it works."
He sat down again, running his hands through his uncomfortably long hair. Hair that was intended to hide a multitude of sins. It helped, he supposed. No one could tell he was missing a good part of his ear. But he hated it and felt the urge to walk out of here and cut it off shorter than ever. Fuck them all. They could look and be damned.
He glanced up at the wall where a calendar hung. Today was the seventh of June. Nothing special about the date. But he knew he would never forget sitting here in this bleak office feeling like a fool; dependent on another person's whim whether he could ever do his job again. As if what he looked like mattered on how well he could kill people. And, oh, he was very good at that little thing, how could they ever doubt it?
He felt cold suddenly.
There were kittens on the calendar. They were tumbling around in balls of bright colored yarn. He wondered idly if they were chloroformed after the photo, or just stuffed in a bag and drowned.
"It's up to you, Bodie. Do you want to talk?"
Bodie shrugged. "What do you want me to say?"
"First of all, how do you feel about the man who did this to you?"
"Did what--oh. The scars." The question surprised him a little because he'd actually forgotten it, thinking thoughts so much ugler than something so superficial. But that's why he was here, wasn't it? He should've expected that kind of question. He straightened, forcing himself to pay attention.
"He was a loony, wasn't he? A sicko. I don't feel anything for him."
Bodie shrugged again. "No point, is there? He's locked up. They tell me he didn't know what he was doing."
"Do you feel sorry for him?"
"No." The answer was too abrupt, too definite. He knew it was a mistake when he felt her eyes on him, suddenly intense.
"But you said he was sick, not responsible for his actions. You're not sorry about that?"
"It's nothing to do with me, is it? He couldn't handle life. That's his tough luck."
"And yours. You have to live with what his madness did to you. How do you feel about that?"
"How am I supposed to feel?"
"That's not an answer."
"That's a goddamn stupid question. I don't like it, okay? But it happened and I can live with it. It's not like I have a lot of choice."
"Oh give me a break." Bodie stood again and walked to the window. Outside the clouds hung low over the city, heavy and grey. He waited until he could bring his voice to the acceptable level. "Do you think I really care that much? Do you think it really matters?"
"Don't you care?"
Bodie smiled, seeing the ghost of his reflection in the window pane. "Did you think I was handsome before, Dr. Ross?" he asked softly, almost viciously. "Did I make you hot? Is that why you've always given me so much stick?"
"What do you think?" she countered.
"I think my scars matter more to you than to me. I think everyone is appalled at how I look now; that it's such a fuckin' tragedy. That it wouldn't have been nearly so important if I hadn't been good looking before. Now that's an odd thing, don't you think? As if a plain person wouldn't feel as much or care as much."
"No one's said that."
"No?" He raised a skeptical eyebrow. "But that's what everyone's been thinking, hasn't it? Poor Bodie. He was such a beauty and now -- a monster. It must be dreadful for him."
"Are you saying it isn't?"
He turned around and looked at her, grinning blackly. "Maybe I like it. Maybe I'm tired of being a sex object."
"Is that what you think you were?"
He snorted. "Christ, you wouldn't know a joke if it bit you on the arse, would you?"
"This isn't a humorous situation. Okay, if you don't want to talk about what happened, tell me about your family. About your mother."
"We've been down this road before, haven't we? The ol' childhood trauma of my mother's death and my grandmum going batty." He faked a yawn. "What else do you want to know?"
"Was your mother beautiful? We haven't talked about that."
"Nah, she was a one-eyed hunchback with buck teeth. But she did leave me her charming smile and great legs."
She just looked at him calmly. After a few seconds, he shrugged. "Yeh, she was a beautiful woman. What of it? What's that got to do with any of this?"
"And your grandmother?"
Confused, Bodie hesitated. "What?"
"If you and your mother were both attractive people, did you inherit your looks from your grandmother?"
"I-- How the hell should I know? She was old."
"Not that old. She was what -- in her fifties?"
Surprised, Bodie forgot to be sarcastic or angry. "So you think she was jealous? That that's why she--" He broke off, shaking his head.
"What, Bodie? What did she do?"
"Nothing," he dismissed, the spark of hope smothered in a second. The answer wasn't that simple. No, she hadn't been jealous; she'd been afraid for him. She'd seen the darkness inside him. For a split second the room blurred and he was back in that kitchen, feeling the blistering heat of that iron. Reflexively, he turned his face away and down, evading the pain. He'd hurt enough. How much more did he deserve?
He looked up again, meeting Kate Ross' eyes squarely, realizing she had seen no more that a simple flinch from a painful question. She hadn't seen the truth. Whatever mysterious power or wisdom he had given her was false. She would be the last one to see his truth. "You don't have a clue, do you?" He asked, smiling ruefully. "How little these scars hurt me?"
She smiled back, reluctantly. "You don't want them acknowledged. Point taken. You don't want pity. That's understandable. That's always the worst."
Bodie laughed harshly, his skepticism realized. Give a psychoanalyst realism, they'll give you symbolism; give them a dream, and they'll give you reality. The scars were no more than symbols. Christ, even his Gran had known that much. This woman was a fool.
He relaxed in the chair. "I'll take all the pity I can get. I could use a good dose of it now, Dr. Ross. Or do you limit your sympathy to heads you've already shrunk?"
She remained silent for a long moment, then returned to sit in her chair behind the desk. "There's little point in pretending I can help you. I suppose I was hoping--" She shook her head. "You won't believe this, but I do feel sympathy for you. And it has very little to do with the scars on your face. It's the scars inside that I feel for. Until you let yourself feel those, or at least admit they exist, there's very little I or anyone else can do to help you."
A little surprised she had deceiphered that much, he replied sharply, "I didn't ask for your help."
"No, you didn't. So there's no reason to continue. You may go."
He felt a wintry chill rip up his spine. "So I'm off the squad? Just like that?"
"I doubt it."
He regarded her in confusion. "But I thought I had to have some kind of bloody seal of approval on my sanity from you or--"
"From past experience, we both know better than that. The decision is up to George Cowley. He has not taken my advice seriously in the past. He wants you in CI5. My job was to officially rubber stamp his decisions. I can't do that. I won't. But, honestly, I don't think it will make any difference. He'll do what he always intended to do. I can't say you're unfit, I can only say you have problems. That's hardly something that will keep you off the squad."
Bodie was surprised only that she would admit it. He had never truly believed he would be thrown out -- he was too useful to Cowley. But she underestimated the man. George Cowley knew more about him than anyone else living. Certainly more than she would ever guess. Or even Doyle. Cowley knew the blackness; used it to his advantage. And he would stop it when it went too far.
Not so long ago, Cowley held a gun to his head, threatening to do just that. And it was no threat, it was real. Bodie remembered the dampness of the dead leaves under his knees, the cold touch of a gun barrel against his temple. Cowley telling him without words to bring his beast back under control or suffer the consequences like any other rabid animal. Cowley would have put a bullet through his brain and lived with the act without guilt. Bodie never doubted that. Unlike Doyle, Cowley seldom gave himself the luxury of remorse and self-damnation. Very pragmatic was ol' Cowley.
Bodie stood, feeling relieved and a little giddy with his abrupt escape. He winked at her. "I appreciate your honesty, Doc. The weekend in Brighton is always open."
"Wait -- now that you know this will have no effect on your employment with CI5, how will it hurt for you to talk to me? You need to talk, Bodie. You need an outlet. Something is ripping at you. I can't help you unless you'll talk to me, but how can you know if you can be helped unless you try?"
Bodie hestitated, for the briefest second tempted to unveil the truth, to lance the boil in his soul.
"You're afraid, aren't you?" She said quickly, seeing the indecision and jumping on it like the carnivore that she was. "I'll help you, William . . . Billy . . ."
"Billy boy . . . pretty is . . . "
She could have made a worse mistake only if she'd been holding an iron in her hand.
He took a step back, bringing himself back in control. "Forget the weekend in Brighton. But I'll pencil you in for my first weekend in hell, sweetheart." He was careful to shut the door very quietly. No sense in giving her more fodder for her report on his unstable mental state.
He was scheduled to return to work on Monday. It was Friday night, and the tension had Bodie quivering like a tuning fork. He wanted to go back to work now. He wanted danger, a sniper, a hostage situation, a shootout. He needed something to dispel the backlog of adrenaline that had built up over the last few weeks.
Watching Doyle prepare for still another date with Bethany was more than enough to spark his short fuse.
"I can't believe you, Doyle."
Doyle stopped in the middle of putting on his jacket. He glared at the other man and finished shrugging on the coat. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"I can't believe you're still fucking that--"
Doyle's quick upper cut landed Bodie on the floor. He stared up at Doyle, rubbing his jaw and wincing over his bitten tongue.
"I warned you I've had enough," Doyle snarled. "Don't push it any more."
Bodie sat up and wrapped his arms around his knees. More than pleased at the reaction he had got. He was sick to death of a sweet-tempered Doyle. It wasn't natural and it made him increasingly uneasy, as if he were a terminal cancer patient.
"You haven't lost your touch, I see," Bodie commented. "And I didn't mention a word about Ann."
As predicted, Doyle was immediately sorry. His expression was torn between exasperation and anger. "What the hell's wrong with you, Bodie? I've seen you go through moods before, but you don't seem to know when to quit. If you want me to move back to my place, just say the word."
"No, you're right. I've been a bastard. I'm sorry."
Doyle hesitated, suddenly backpedaling. "God knows you've had reason enough. But you can't keep taking--"
"--it out on you," Bodie finished glumly. "Quite right. I deserved it."
"Yeh, you did, but--" Doyle reached his hand to help Bodie up. "I shouldn't have lost my temper."
Bodie was gratified to see Doyle's natural guilt race to the fore. He sighed deeply. "No, why should you care?"
"Care?" Like an Irish Setter on point, Doyle was dependably piqued by the correct stimulus. "Of course, I care. I just don't understand."
"Why should you?" Bodie replied tiredly.
Doyle pulled off his jacket and sat down, face intense. "What's going on, Bodie? What's wrong?"
Hansel and Gretel wouldn't have followed a bread trail so obvious. But Doyle had always been more of the Rip Van Winkle type.
Having got what he wanted so far -- Doyle's total and complete attention -- Bodie was willing to be gracious to the adversary. "We can talk about it later. You'll be late."
Doyle shrugged it off. "I want to talk now. Please tell me what's eating you?"
"There isn't any point in telling you; you'll only ignore me. And rightly so. But I can't help but thinking . . . she's not right for you, Ray."
"What do you know about her, anyway?"
Doyle shrugged. "She's a nurse. She's not squeamish. She already knows what I do for a living, and her hours are almost as screwy as mine. She understands."
"She doesn't understand," Bodie snapped. "How can she?"
"It's not what you think. She's seen worse things than here in a clean, British hospital. She worked in Africa years ago. She did some of her teaching in--"
"Africa?" Bodie came upright suddenly.
"Yeah. Something you have in common. She was only nineteen at the time -- about your age, when I think of it."
Every instinct in Bodie screamed alert. For a moment he was too paralyzed to speak or move.
"What's wrong?" Doyle asked, picking up on the tension.
Bodie knew. Suddenly he knew totally and without any doubt who Bethany was and why she had disturbed him from the very first, in the darkness with only her scent and the prickling of his skin to warn him. She had been nurse both times, he was a fool not to have realized, not to have remembered, no matter how different she looked now.
The question that remained was why she had not acknowledged him, and more importantly, why she had set her cap for Doyle.
"Bodie! What is it?"
"Nothing. Never mind."
"You're not making much sense here. What is it about Bethany that upsets you so much?"
Bodie stared at him silently, unable to answer. He hadn't had time to sort it out yet and didn't have a clue what to say to Doyle about it. Finally, he looked away and shrugged. "I'm tired; I'm going to bed. Good night."
Without waiting for a reply he got up and went into the bedroom. After a full two minutes of puzzled silence from the other room, he finally heard the front door close.
Sitting on the bed, Bodie could feel his heart thundering inside his chest. He felt like he was staring down the business end of a loaded Uzi. He was totally terrified, physically shaking.
It didn't make sense. But how many times had they dealt with bizarre retaliations that were seemingly misdirected. After all, to what else could he attribute his own situation? Who could have predicted a jealous lover would toss acid in his face? Hatred was an unpredictable emotion; it gained satisfaction from many sources. It was impossible to figure another person's actions. Only the past could give clues for the reason. And he knew Bethany's past very well for he had been part of it. It was not the ugliest memory he possessed, but one that still haunted him on occasion.
The ghost was real now. Alive and vengeful.
So the bitch was determined to punish him by hurting Ray? Incredible as it appeared, it made more sense than anything else. She could have killed him as he slept in hospital, or hurt him while he was blind and helpless. But perhaps that was not enough for her. Perhaps she wanted him to see and know what she did and why.
That would be the only true justice after all. Her aborted attempt at revenge the first time was hardly sufficient.
He lay back on the bed, letting himself -- no, forcing himself -- to remember . . .
"Go on, mate. Everyone knows she's got the hots for you. We need those supplies."
Reluctantly, Bodie pushed open the doors.
The girl glanced up from behind the desk, her chubby face brightening at his approach. She was very young and very heavy, her white uniform enveloping her like a tent. Only her eyes were attractive, hazel and glowing with pleasure as she greeted him.
"Hullo, Beth Anne. You're looking fetching today. New lipstick?"
She giggled. "You know we're not allowed to wear makeup."
"Well, your mouth looks so kissable, I didn't think it could be real. Or do you just want to be kissed?"
She blushed. "You're terrible. What are you doing here? I thought you said you wouldn't be back for weeks?"
"Luck of the draw, sweetie." He leaned over the desk so he was within inches of her face. "I'm a lucky guy."
Mesmerized, she met his gaze. "Why lucky?" she breathed.
"I get to see you again, don't I?"
She blushed impossibly redder. "You don't mean that."
"Why would I say it?"
She looked away. "Don't. Please."
"Don't what? Say I like you? I do, you know."
"No, you don't. I'm not stupid. You're the only one who's really kind to me. I don't want to lose that."
"Why should you?"
"Because I know what I look like. You don't need to make fun of me."
"I'm not," he replied honestly, surprised. "Why should I do that?"
"Because you've never ... flirted with me before. We've only talked. Now, you're different. I don't understand."
He grabbed her face before she could move away. "And what do you think I look like?"
Her eyes were hungry, admiring, and sad as they swept over his face. "You're very handsome. You know that. That's why you tease me."
"We've always teased each other. I've been coming in here every three or four weeks for almost a year. You're saying what I look like matters? That what you look like matters?"
"It does to you. It does to all men."
"And it doesn't to you? What if I was old and ugly and covered with warts? Would you talk to me as much as you do now? Be fair."
That surprised her. "No, maybe you're right. I'm as bad as you, I suppose."
"As bad? But I talk to you, don't I? Do you think it matters to me?"
She looked up, hopeful. "It doesn't?"
He gave her his killer smile. "Of course it does. And I think you're lovely."
"Even though I'm fa--"
He leaned forward and cut her off with a kiss. The touch deepened, and he realized he was enjoying it. She had a very sensuous mouth and he had been in the outlands for six weeks. Forgetting the reason for coming here, he went around the desk and took her in his arms, kissing her again. She was soft and pliable, her breasts pressing against his chest. She scent of her -- some light musk -- enveloped him, increasing his hunger. Her very overwhelming femaleness made his head swim. He wanted her.
"Stop..." she whispered, pulling away. "Don't."
"Please. I need you." He kissed her neck, the scent of her like an aphrodisiac, stealing away his common sense. "Please. . ."
She was helpless, wanting him, too. Somehow they ended up in the supply closet with the door shut and locked behind them.
It was only an impatient knock on the door sometime later when they were both exhausted and dozing that roused them.
"Oh, my god." She whispered. "It must be Sister Marie. She was suppose to take over at 6:00. She can't find you here!"
He sat up groggily. "Then go tell her you felt ill and came in here for a few minutes to rest."
She was finding her dress and pulling it on. "Just a minute, sister!" she called out loudly.
"Beth Anne? Are you all right?" The voice outside the door inquired.
"Yes, fine. I'll be right out." She stood up, straightening her hair and clothing. "Oh, Bodie, she'll know."
"No," he whispered back, standing up and touching her face. "Just get her away from the desk for a few minutes, so I can get out."
"But I can't leave you here," she pointed out, glancing at the shelves laden with drugs and supplies.
"Why not, don't you trust me?"
She stared at him, her eyes wide and full of love. "Oh yes, I trust you. I love you, Andy."
Unable to bear her look any longer, he kissed her and pushed her toward the door. "So go out and get her away from here for a few minutes. Tell her you're ill and need help to your room. Give me five minutes to get out of here--"
"When will I see you again?"
"Soon," impatient, he pushed her forward.
"Do you love me, Andy?"
"What do you think?"
Stubbornly, she held back, staring into his face. The look in her eyes told him he was beautiful to her, so beautiful. There was a radiance about her as if she felt she had been touched by something sublime. "Tell me, say it, please. How do you feel about me?"
"You're beautiful, Beth Anne." The words spilled like acid, his throat closing and burning. But then he remembered the men he had shot two days ago, and this was nothing. What was a lie compared to blowing a man's brains out? If she was too blind to see past his surface, was that his fault?
"Thank you," she whispered and kissed his cheek.
He almost called her back as she went to the door and slipped out with a smile.
But what could he have said? I lied. I don't love you? I was horny and you were available, but you're fat and ugly and I don't want you on a bet? I'm using you? She was rather pretty anyway, wasn't she? It wasn't a total lie.
No, it was too late, and it didn't matter now. He got what he wanted. Coldly, he began surveying the shelves, pulling out what they needed, filling the mercenary shopping list. Drugs, antiseptics, bandages, syringes . . .
. . . Bodie twisted on the bed, pulling a pillow close to his chest as if to ward off the next memory. But whether it was a pillow or a bullet-proof vest, it couldn't protect him from the blow to his heart. And he did have a heart -- or he had then. When he had been too young to know better . . .
"--thought you should know. She slashed her wrists. They found out the supply cabinet was emptied and blamed her. It was her watch."
"But she didn't--"
"It's not like she didn't know what you were after, right?" Frenchy winked knowingly. "She couldn't expect you to do it for nothing, right?"
Bodie felt sick. "Is she--?"
"Don't worry. She's in the hospital; she's being shipped back to England soon. She's a volunteer; they can't do much to her legally about the missing drugs and such. And the charity is worried about bad publicity -- suicide attempt from a young nursing sister, an' all. They're willing to hush it up." He grinned. "And she didn't give you away. Not a peep. You'll have to tell me how you manage it, old son."
"I didn't promise her anything," Bodie said weakly. "I didn't--"
"Not that you had to. With a angel face like yours, you could get the Virgin Mary to cough up. Lucky devil." Behind Frenchy's dirty laugh he could hear his grandmum's raspy voice: pretty is as pretty does. . .
Bodie came to himself leaning over the toilet, feeling empty inside and a sour taste in his mouth. He had been sick then, too. Not that he'd let anyone else see it. Or maybe he was rewriting history. Maybe hindsight was playing tricks with his memory, prettying up his callousness. Had it really bothered him at the time, or was it only later with some maturity that he had remembered the incident with regret? What should it matter to him that a fat girl had slashed her wrists open because he had betrayed her? He'd only passed the time of day with her after all. That's what he'd told Cowley once, trying to make a point on culpability. He wasn't responsible for her mental state, or that she was lax in her responsibility because she'd wanted to get laid. He didn't ask her to love him. He didn't have to feel guilty for that. She had wanted him because he was good looking; how could she blame him for not wanting her because she wasn't? It was all the same. It was the way of the world. The surface was all important. Beauty was in the eye of the beholder and all that.
But he couldn't forget her other words, "You've been kind to me." He shook his head, pushing the thought to one side. No, it was his looks, his charm that had seduced her.
She had been deceived by the surface as had so many others.
Saturday night. Doyle had another date set with the African Queen. The knowledge that Doyle was ignorant of her true past still troubled Bodie. But he wasn't sure what to do about it. He couldn't be sure of what she meant by the secrecy, but in his heart he sensed it could not be good. He knew only that she frightened him in a way he hadn't been frightened in years. Some way, some how he had to protect Doyle.
They had talked very little during the day, but Bodie kept a close eye on Doyle, trying to figure out what was going on in that lovely curly head.
And Doyle was rather beautiful, although Bodie would never have given that compliment to him openly. As he watched Doyle move around the flat, Bodie could think of no better description. He certainly wasn't handsome in the conventional sense, and handsome was a more accessible word. Bodie, himself, had been handsome. Beauty was more esoteric, more . . . in the mind of the beholder. And sometimes only time and familiarity revealed true beauty.
Pretty is as pretty does . . .
He fought a shiver at the thought. Well, there was no problem in that aspect as far as Ray was concerned. For all the petty surface snits and occasional vicious bursts, Bodie knew Ray's soul was good.
Doyle had no hidden agenda. Doyle's feelings and thoughts were transparent and vividly intense. There was always a passionate aura around Ray; a sunburst of feeling. No macho, cool exterior for him. Unless undercover, what he felt was obvious -- whether fury or despair or joy.
Beautiful, yes. There was something very beautiful about the bald truth of him, even disregarding the sensuality and exotic green eyes. There was an intrinsic moral purity about Ray Doyle.
But it was his blindness that was perhaps even more appealing. Bodie had never met anyone so purposely myopic. Doyle might be a terrific detective, but when it came to emotional decisions, Doyle couldn't see three inches in front of his nose. Ann Holly was only the more blatant of his mistakes.
Bodie loved the virtue of his blindness. There was something so willingly, stubbornly accepting about it. Doyle would project his own decency and goodness on the person he cared for right up to the moment they kicked him in the face.
So the afternoon passed with Bodie watching Doyle, at first cautiously and then openly. Making sure that Doyle was aware of the scrutiny.
Doyle pretended to ignore it, continuing his usual routine. Washing dishes, vacuuming, cleaning his gun, listening to music. But Bodie knew that Doyle was aware of being watched; was playing to it instinctively, as he sometimes did. Some part of Ray enjoyed playing to Bodie's voyeurism and amplified the allure of his movements accordingly.
Bodie, obligingly, turned up the heat.
He brushed tightly against Doyle as he leaned over to pick a magazine. He would smile with utter, serene sweetness when he caught Doyle's eye. And once, after Doyle passed him a beer, Bodie held him close, tracing one finger over his cheek and jaw, pretending to liberate a fallen eyelash.
Ray Doyle was not a man easily spooked, but by nightfall, he was jittery and Bodie could almost see how close the nerve ends were to the surface.
Doyle went to take a shower to prepare for his date and Bodie paced the room outside, trying to decide a course of action. It didn't take long.
He was in the bathroom waiting to hand Doyle a towel. The green eyes flickered at him warily, pausing, catching the light like a deer startled by headbeams. He wasn't comfortable being naked in front of Bodie, was dismayed by the situation. He grabbed at the towel, wrapped it around his waist and stood facing the mirror, reaching for the razor.
Bodie's hand caught his. "Let me."
With both arms surrounding Doyle, Bodie squirted shaving foam onto his palm. Watching in the mirror, he applied it to Doyle's face.
Doyle stood very still as Bodie began to shave him in the mirror, but his eyes were wide and uncertain.
Bodie kissed the nape of his neck to calm him. "Shhh, let me. I worked as a barber for six weeks in Tripoli."
Doyle snorted. "Between running guns and being an exotic dancer, I suppose?"
"That's right. Don't believe me?"
"Not for a second."
"Be careful, you'll hurt my feelings. Just stand still." With the scarred side of his face hidden against Doyle's hair, he proceeded to glide the razor over the other man's cheek, their eyes intent in the looking glass -- torn between the delicate maneuver of the razor and the other's eyes. Even the rasping hiss of the razor across the lathered jaw caused a viseral reaction in Bodie. In the thousands of times he had shaved himself, he'd never found the sound so erotic. It sounded like the inching release of a zipper.
"Why are you doing this?" Doyle's voice was almost a whisper, mesmerized. It was obvious he found the act unbearably sensual, just as Bodie intended.
"You like it, don't you?"
"I'm not sure."
"Do you want me to stop?"
Doyle took a quick, quivery breath and his eyes fluttered closed. "No."
Bodie inhaled the damp smell of expensive shampoo and Doyle. "You like it. The loss of control excites you. You have an erection, don't you?"
The green eyes flew open, startled. The beginning of denial died on Doyle's lips as he met Bodie's gaze in the mirror.
"Yes." The bluntness of the reply was probably meant to be defiant; it came out breathy and choked. Doyle flushed.
"Be still, let me finish." Bodie hid his self-satisfied smile in Doyle's curls as he made the last few swipes, then grabbed a damp towel and wiped away the remaining shaving cream. "There, perfect." He pressed the side of his face against Doyle's hair again and stared at their reflections. "We're both perfect now. For this tiny moment."
"No. You're not looking closely enough." Doyle's voice was calm but certain. "You never have. I have a scar, too."
Bodie caressed the dented cheekbone. "This?" He didn't try to keep the incredulity from his voice.
"It doesn't look like much to you now, but to me it's very large. I've never been able to forget what it looked like when I was seventeen. It took years before it was halfway normal. Years. You think I don't understand what you're going through, but you're wrong, Bodie. I do know. People wonder why I'm such a loner. It wasn't by choice. It hurts to be different."
For a second Bodie did believe him. Seventeen? Christ, it couldn't have happened at a worse age, when self-doubts bloomed more stubbornly than crabgrass. He tightened his arms around Ray, hurting for the young boy he had been, wishing he'd been there to protect him. But then the sense of empathy faded. It was different. It wasn't the same for Doyle. It could never be the same. Doyle's scar had healed because it was only of the flesh.
He remembered his original purpose was seduction and ran his hands under Doyle's wet curls, fingernails barely scraping the scalp. He felt Doyle's shiver of response.
"Don't you hate that I'm ugly?"
"I hate that you've been hurt. But you haven't been changed. You're still you."
"Yes, that's the problem. I'm me. More than I've ever been. More than I ever wanted to be. What you see is what you get, as they say." How many more hints did it take? Doyle, whatever his blindness, wasn't stupid. Why couldn't he see the truth?
Doyle shook his head. "Did you really believe that I just loved your looks?"
"Yes. What the hell do you think I liked about you?"
Doyle sucked in a breath as if he'd been hit in the gut. "I guess that explains it then. No wonder you couldn't love me."
Before Bodie could respond Doyle pulled from his hold and left the bathroom. He was digging through the dresser drawers, looking for what he wanted to wear.
For her, Bodie thought blackly, fighting back his fear and anger at the idea.
"Why does that upset you, that I like the way you look?"
Doyle paused for a second. "No, I'm pleased you do."
"Then what's the problem?"
"Because if that's all there is to it, then I can't be surprised it wasn't enough. There are thousands better looking than me out there. Millions. Murph, for one."
Bodie leaned against the doorjamb, grinning. "Yeah, he is a looker."
Doyle slammed the drawer shut. "So go to him. He's got the hots for you. That's obvious enough. Or find a woman. You'll always prefer women."
"Sure. Don't you?"
"Probably. But we've already established that looks aren't the most important factor for me. Other things matter more. Like respect, trust, love-- Look, what's the point of this? We've been through it before. Go give Murph a ring. He's more your style; easy come, easy go. "
"But I like you," Bodie purred, swiftly coming up behind him before Doyle could react.
"Stop it, Bodie. I'm too complicated for you, remember? We're not queer, and only queers have feelings when their cocks are engaged. Isn't that what you told me?"
His hands slid up the bare chest, thumbnails flicking across Doyle's nipples. Doyle sucked in a quick breath in reaction.
"And you like that, don't you. Don't you?"
"Bodie, please. I have to get ready."
"What, for your date?"
"Yes." But he didn't pull away; in fact, he leaned back as if helplessly drawn to Bodie's heat.
"No date, sunshine. You won't leave me now, will you? I need you. You're not going anywhere when I need you." He was very proud of the mixture of arrogance and vulnerability. It kept Doyle off guard, uncertain how to respond. It tempered the instinctive anger but kept pity at bay.
"What the hell do you want, Bodie?" Doyle asked warily. He pulled away a little and turned to meet Bodie's eyes.
Bodie kissed him, hard and hungry, giving no quarter, accepting no half-hearted resistance. Within a few seconds, there was no question of resistance. Doyle's mouth had opened, just as hungry, and the moan deep in his throat had vibrated straight to Bodie's groin.
Christ, had he ever thought twice about taking Doyle as a lover? He was a fool.
Yet it terrified him as well, this certain knowledge of how much he wanted Doyle. It was opening a floodgate of other needs, primary of which was the need for Doyle to love him, too. He knew that wouldn't be possible, not if he knew the truth, so he pushed Doyle away, distancing him physically while he did the same emotionally, callously returning to his plan.
"You know I'm going to fuck you." He felt Doyle's quick intake of breath with satisfaction. "You won't try to stop me. It would mean a fight, and you don't want to fight me. You want it too damn much. You've always wanted it. The idea excites you. Me mounting you. Using you. All that public-school crap we've done is nothing. Not to what we're going to do now."
"Shhh. You're a whore, Ray. A slut -- for me, for right now. It's what I need, and it's what you need to give."
Doyle was stunned, confused and resentful of the crudity, but as a male he was noticeably aroused by it. Bodie knew it did excite him. What Doyle might feel later when passion cooled was something else -- right now the words were kerosine on an already blazing fire.
It wasn't difficult to drive the dazed man to his knees. Bodie tore off his shirt and tossed it aside, then unfastened his trousers. Doyle was looking up at him, eyes wide and gleaming with an excited, shamed heat.
Bodie stroked himself, watching as Doyle watched. It was an ironic reverse of the snake charmer and the snake. Doyle was the one mesmerized.
"You say you love me," Bodie growled, "prove it. Show me how much, Ray. You have such a lovely mouth. Use it."
Doyle made a sound in his throat, not quite a moan, more than a sob, and leaned forward, taking Bodie's hips in his hands, his lips covering the head of Bodie's cock. For a second Bodie's knees quavered as he felt the hungry tongue whip over the tip like a bee with a velvet sting. Then Doyle sank deeper on the phallus, taking in more and more. Bodie coiled his fingers in the heavy curls, gasping at the raw sensation. There was something dark and powerful here, with Doyle at his feet, serving him. It was like some secret fantasy of Ray as a Greek slave forced to please a demanding Roman master. It pandered to the blackness inside him.
His vision of total subservience was jarred when Doyle drew back and gracefully stood, eyes still burning, almost demanding now, holding a dignity that made Bodie wonder who exactly was compelling who.
"If you're going to fuck me, we'd better get on with it. You're not going to last much longer."
Irritated but amused, Bodie drawled, "Think not?"
They both finished undressing, and as Bodie watched from the corner of his eye he noted the fine trembling of Doyle's hands as he unbuckled his belt, and realized Ray wasn't as blase about all this as he pretended. His belated attempt at control of the situation was a bluff; one Bodie intended to call.
While Doyle was turned away, Bodie grabbed one of his ties that hung over the footboard of the bed.
Falling together on the mattress, Bodie on top and grasping Doyle's arms above his head, licking and nibbling on his chest. Biting down on a nipple, it wasn't hard to distract Doyle for long enough to entwine his wrists together with the silk tie. By the time Doyle fathomed what was happening, he was securely bound.
"Shhh." Bodie knelt, legs spread over the heaving chest, leaning forward to fasten the tie to the bedframe. The realization came too late. Doyle stiffened, jerking on the tie, only tightening the knot with his effort. His eyes widened as he began to understand his captivity, but he wasn't frightened. Yet.
Bodie smiled, unsurprised. Doyle wasn't easily intimidated.
"Now we'll play the game by my rules, sunshine. You've asked for this for a long time."
The green eyes were blazing. "Stop, Bodie, before we both do something we'll regret."
Bodie made a slow, careful survey of the trapped body. He didn't ordinarily turn on to men; but Ray was obviously the exception to the rule. Their previous sexual encounters had been brief, explosive rubbings against body or hands, in the dark, driven by proximity and horniness. Exciting, yes. Forbidden, exotic encounters were always exciting. It was only when Doyle had tried to kiss him and confessed a deeper feeling that Bodie had rebelled at their illicit couplings. To attribute more to their carnal graplings was dangerous and Bodie had called a halt.
Doyle had taken the rejection in good grace, although obviously hurt by it. As a matter of fact, he had been nicer to Bodie afterwards than in memory. But Bodie had known it was not forgotten. It was gratifying to know the passion had not dissapated.
Doyle shook the bed as he jerked powerfully against his bonds. "Bodie, let me go! This is stupid."
Belatedly, Bodie noticed that Doyle's cock was beginning to wilt a bit. He leaned down and engulfed it, sucking and using just the edge of his teeth to keep Doyle on edge. Doyle cried out and arched into the suction, trusting, teeth and all, the mouth devouring him.
Bodie found himself reacting helplessly to Doyle's pleasure and jerked back abruptly, surveying the nude body again, wondering what it was that made it so exciting to him. True, he was as slender as most of Bodie's women, but the shoulders were too wide. The chest was flat and slightly hairy, but the nipples were beautifully responsive as he nipped at them with his teeth and lips. But hard muscles were totally male, as was the more flawed and rougher feel of the skin, as was the undeniable scent of maleness from that skin. Odd that it wasn't his lack of breasts or vagina that made the difference. It was the smell, the sense of taut power, the texture of skin that made him so irrefutablely male. For the first time, Bodie could not pretend that his arousal was driven by anything more than this particular body. No more excuses, no easy, comfortable ideas of sudden horniness or any "port in a storm" was valid. He wanted this wiry, hairy, masculine body. And the soul that lived within it.
"Bodie, I'm warning you . . ." but Doyle's voice was strange, strangled, sexier than anything Bodie had ever heard.
Bodie cupped Doyle's testicles, tightening his grip right on the verge of pain. To Bodie's satisfaction, Doyle jerked and stiffened, immediately silenced by the implicit threat.
"Don't talk, Doyle. Both of us know you could probably get free, but we both know you'd have to fight me to do it. And you don't want to be free, do you? You don't want to fight me." He closed his grip infinitesimally. "Do you?"
Doyle winced. "Damn you.
Bodie squeezed and Doyle yelped. "Ah ah! I told you not to talk. Nodding is enough." He massaged the testicles soothingly then moved up to stroke the quivering penis, rubbing his blunt thumbnail across the weeping tip. Doyle moaned.
"That's better. Moaning is allowed. Even encouraged." He stroked harder and received a breathless gasp. "Yes, that's very good. That's very sexy, Ray. I like that." In fact, the sounds were like a drug, surging straight to his coursing bloodstream, pounding through his heart. He spent a few moments eliciting more of the same, until the sound was more a whimper than a moan, more agony than pleasure.
"You want to come, Ray? Are you that hot? You're right at the edge, aren't you?"
Doyle's head tossed on the pillow, his arms straining against the tie holding him, chest heaving. "Please, Bodie . . . please."
"Begging? I like that. That's nice. Too bad I've no heart. But you knew that, didn't you? That I have no heart. You've told me that. How cruel I am. How bad. How I have no conscience. No different that Mad Tommy, you said. I guess you were right." Bodie pinched Doyle's nipples, hard. "Did I tell you I fucked Mad Tommy? He was good. Hung better than you."
The green eyes glared up at him. "You liar."
"That's right, I'm lying. I wouldn't have touched Tommy on a bet. But I had you guessing for a moment, didn't I?"
"Why are you doing this? Why are you saying--?"
"Aren't you wondering what else I've lied about? Maybe everything I've ever told you is a lie. What about that?"
"It doesn't matter. Not any more." The green eyes with hot with passion and sincerity. "I don't care, Bodie. I know everything I need to know, and none of it is from what you've said."
"Really?" He leaned down and sucked in a nipple, nipping ruthlessly.
"Bodie--" Doyle cut off as Bodie ran the tips of his fingers up the inside of his thigh, stopping just before his groin and tracing down the other side. Doyle spread his legs wider, helpless in his reaction, open to anything Bodie did to him. "Please . . ."
The pleading inflamed Bodie even more. The power was intoxicating, freeing. Doyle would let him do anything now. Anything. And there was only one thing Bodie was interested in.
"Do you want to be fucked?"
Doyle stiffened again, his eyes flew open, emerald fire. "Not like this, no. You're pushing--"
Bodie slapped him sharply. Doyle blinked, startled as much by the blow as by the quick pain.
"I told you nodding was enough. You talk too much, Doyle. I'm in control here, remember?"
The green eyes begged to differ, but when Bodie's hand returned to clutch his balls, he wisely remained silent. "That's better." He raked Doyle over with his gaze, returning to his face. "You needn't worry about me going to Murphy, Ray. You're far more beautiful. You should see yourself. Like some wild animal." He ran his hand down the line of Doyle's body, watching it react in a wave of sensitive nerve ends, relishing every sinuous twitch of the form. He couldn't remember seeing a woman react so intensely or be so desperate. Then again, he'd never pushed a woman to this edge. As a man, he knew exactly what Doyle was feeling and reveled in it. He had the power and it was sweet.
"I'll let you speak one word," Bodie granted. "What do you want me to do to you? More than anything else. One word, Ray. I promise you, I'll do it." Considering the state of Doyle's cock he was expecting either suck or fuck, so the quiet answer stunned him for a second.
"What?" Bodie couldn't understand how Doyle expected to get himself off with that, and orgasm was bound to be the number one priority at the moment.
"Kiss me. Please."
"That's more than one word," Bodie snapped, raising his hand, uncertain how to respond. But his hand came down to caress Doyle's cheek. "You're a hopeless romantic, Doyle," he said softly.
Doyle, who had shut his eyes and flinched at the upraised hand, relaxed. He let out his breath in a sigh. "I know."
Bodie leaned down and put his mouth to Doyle's for the first time. Their lips touched and immediately he felt Doyle's tongue slipping out to wet his dry lips and tentatively invade Bodie's. Bodie pulled back, startled at how erotic it felt. Kissing was what you did on the road to a bird's crotch. Kissing had never been the sexy part. It was always the groping the went with the kissing that was sexy. But this was suddenly sexy in itself. He wasn't sure if it was because it was a man or because it was Doyle, but it was a hell of a turn on.
Eyeing Doyle's mouth, Bodie realized for the first time exactly how perfect it was, how beautifully shaped. He leaned down again, and this time it was his tongue intruding into Doyle's mouth. Not only did it feel more natural, it was exhilarating, invading Doyle in a different way, knowing him in a way he had never known him before.
Expecting something soppy, he was surprised. It wasn't soft, it wasn't tender; it was hungry, a little angry, voracious. It was Doyle in need. Doyle wanting every aspect of sex, of intimacy -- including kissing. And kissing had never seemed so carnal, so totally engulfing before. He could drown in a Doyle-style kiss and nearly did, forgetting his purpose.
To his amazement, it was Doyle who broke the kiss, panting and desperate. "Please . . . do it . . . fuck me! Now, Bodie!"
Once again, this wasn't going as he'd envisioned. Even tied to the bedpost, Doyle seemed to be calling the shots.
"Shut up," Bodie snarled. "I told you to shut up!"
Doyle jerked against his bonds and whimpered, but clenched his jaw tightly to keep from speaking.
Unfortunately, Bodie could think of nothing else to do at this point but to follow Doyle's suggestion. He was too aroused himself to play any more. It took all of his concentration to keep from spilling just from looking at the writhing, naked body. He'd never wanted anyone so much in his life.
Bodie fumbled for the lotion in the bedstand, made a mess of spreading it on himself and Doyle. Any gesture of help Doyle gave, by arching his hips or spreading his legs only infuriated and inflamed Bodie more.
He was not careful. He was brutal, animalistic as he mounted the man he had called friend for years. The sharp cry of pain registered in his brain but only spurred him on. Doyle's body was hot, tight, a sanctuary that promised incredible pleasure and delirious release. As he pounded into the giving flesh, he inhaled the warm living scent, rejoiced in the painful clutch of strong muscles around his thighs, felt the exquisite sting of Doyle's teeth sinking in his shoulder.
When he could finally think again, he drifted for a moment, feeling the lingering tingle of sensation in his groin, reluctant to relinquish the incredible gratification. But Doyle's deep moan brought him to reality. He rolled to one side, his slowed heartbeat picking up its pace again as he faced what had just happened.
He had raped Ray Doyle. His partner. His friend.
Finally, irrevocably, he had crossed that last tenuous line. Doyle would see him for what he was now. Doyle would see the black, irredeemable heart of him.
Doyle would see how ugly he was.
It was time to face the piper. Bodie reached up to loosen the tie binding Doyle's wrists, wondering whether he would kill him now or later. Wondering if he would even try to stop him.
Doyle stretched his freed hands, rubbing at the marks on his wrists, then turned to cuddle in close to Bodie, his breath hot on Bodie's chest.
"Ummmm, that was fantastic!" He wriggled even closer, his nose burrowing into Bodie's neck,"love you, Bodie," and fell asleep.
Completely stunned, Bodie clung tight to the slumbering body. It was like holding something more precious than gold, more illusive than quicksilver. Doyle still loved him. Doyle did not see him as he really was. And maybe . . . just maybe . . . it would be possible to keep it that way. If he still refused to see the truth, even after what just happened, then . . . perhaps they did have a chance. He could let himself love this blind man. This willfully, purposely blind man.
And he did love him. So much, so dangerously, so overwhelmingly. And now, if he could trust that he would never see the truth, would never turn on him for that truth, then he might be able to tell him he loved him. As long as Doyle never knew, they could be happy.
It was such a new thought, Bodie's breath caught at the beauty of it. To love, to be close, to be happy. It could happen.
He pulled Doyle even closer, burying his nose in the soft curls.
It could happen to him. To them.
He fell asleep with a strange bubble of laughter and relief in the pit of his stomach.
Bodie woke up just as he was starting to reach out for the lost warmth. Some instinct froze him as he heard Doyle's low voice.
"Hi-- yeh, it's me. Sorry I didn't call sooner."
Bodie kept his breath even, his eyes closed. Suddenly it felt like hospital again, with his vision cut off and taking in reality through hearing and touch and smell. What he was hearing he didn't like. Ray was still laying on the bed, although it was the other side, only inches away from his outstretched arm. He was talking on the phone.
"No, I'm fine. I just-- No, truly, I'm okay. No, not tonight. I hope you don't-- I'm glad you understand. Thanks. I can't really explain right now."
Bodie squinted one eye open. No light was on in the bedroom, but from the digital clock he could see it was nearly 12:24 a.m. It wasn't difficult to guess whom Ray was talking to. Instinct made him shut his eyes again a second before Ray glanced over.
"It's hard to-- Yes, I know. He needs me right now, okay? I don't know. As soon as I can. No, I promise. Yes, me, too. 'Bye."
Doyle hung up the receiver with exagerated care that made Bodie want to hurt him.
But he didn't blame Doyle. He blamed her. That bitch. She was playing some sick game. Ray didn't deserve that. Whatever Bodie had done to her in the past, Ray hadn't been part of it. If she wanted to wound him, that was okay, but Ray was off limits. He would have to put a stop to this warped diversion of hers. Ray wasn't going to suffer for his sins, no matter what he had to do to prevent it.
Doyle slid back under the covers and turned to Bodie, his hand reaching out to slide around Bodie's back as if savoring the texture of the skin.
Bodie moaned sweetly, feigning a return to consciousness and reached out for Doyle in turn. It took only a second for the embrace to escalate in intensity. Their mouths met, hungry, voracious, as if both were starved.
Doyle broke away, breathing hard. "I guess I woke you up."
"I guess you did," Bodie responded, lapping at a nipple, then grazing it with his teeth.
"God, Bodie . . ."
"Fuck me," Bodie said bluntly, then waited out the shocked silence, suddenly determined. If Doyle thought he was missing anything by breaking his date with that bitch--
"Now?" Doyle asked, his tone and the leaping pulse of his erection against Bodie's stomach making it clear the idea was more than appealing.
"What, you want to make a reservation first? Of course, now."
"But--" Doyle hesitated, obviously feeling they were moving way too fast.
It wasn't fast enough for Bodie. He wanted everything settled, their relationship sealed and certain. He wanted Doyle to owe him as much as he owed Doyle. It had to be equal and it had to be now. Before Doyle saw Bethany again. In fact, by doing this, he hoped to make sure that Doyle never did see her again.
"Fuck me!" Bodie demanded. "What's the matter, don't you want to?"
"Yes . . . but, I don't think you're ready."
"What? Why do you say that? I'm the one asking, right? Why shouldn't I be ready?"
Doyle paused. He leaned down and kissed Bodie tenderly. "I'm not sure. There's something wrong. You're tense . . . upset--"
"I'm about to get a cock shoved up my arse, of course I'm tense! That doesn't mean--"
"Bodie, why are you so angry?"
"If you don't want to do it, just say so, Doyle!"
"Of course I want to. It's just--"
"You're not acting like it. In fact, you're acting like you'd like to shove it anywhere but up me. Turns you off, does it?"
Even in the dim light he could see that Doyle's eyes were wide and confused. "You're right. I don't want to do it. Not now. There's something wrong. Will you tell me what's wrong, Bodie?"
"Why does something have to be wrong? I want to get fucked. What's wrong with that? A little sodomy. What could possibly be wrong with that? Come on, Doyle, that's what you want, right?"
"You think it's wrong, don't you?" Doyle said slowly. "What we've done. What you did to me?" As if in sudden revelation, "You think it's a sin, don't you?"
"Of course it's a sin. We're damned, so what? It's too late, isn't it?"
"Oh my god." Doyle took a deep breath. "All this time, I thought you were . . . that you just didn't like it . . . or were just uncomfortable with the idea . . . or just liked women more. I never realized it was this. That you thought it was bad. Wrong. Immoral."
"Yeah, I've killed people. This should be nothing, right?" Bodie realized suddenly that he was shaking. He clasped his arms around himself to steady the trembling.
Doyle reached out to touch, but stopped. "I love you, Bodie. That's not a sin. That's not wicked or bad. I love you. Whether we ever--touch each other again, that's not going to change."
"But I want to touch you, don't you see? I want you to touch me. I always have." And you wouldn't love me if you knew the truth, Bodie thought.
This time, when Doyle reached out, he did touch. He caressed Bodie's cheek. "Then let's just hold each other tonight, shall we? Nothing else. Not yet. It's late. Let's just rest, sleep, okay? We'll work the rest of it out tomorrow."
Bodie let himself be coaxed back down on the bed, let himself be held in Doyle's arms. He couldn't believe Doyle was content with just this, but he didn't know how to explain that the sex was just a small part of the wrongness. Not even the important part really. The wrongness was in him. The evil was in him.
There was a chance that Doyle's goodness could cancel out that evil. If there was even that miniscule chance, he had to take it. Had to try to make this work.
But that meant he had to stop Bethany from bringing his evil to Doyle.
She opened the door wearing a rather fetching negligee. He ran his gaze over her well-curved figure, lingering on the full breasts, seeing very clearly what attracted Doyle. He could fancy this himself. Oh, but he'd already had it, hadn't he? When it had been in a slightly larger package.
"Bodie! What are you doing here?"
He leaned his shoulder against the door frame, grinning at her. "Aren't you going to ask me in, sweetheart?"
Confused and unwary, she stepped back. "Yes, come in. Where's Ray?" Then, looking worried, "Is he all right? He hasn't been hurt or--"
"Ray's fine. Ray's perfect. He was sleeping like an angel when I left him."
Even more bewildered, she watched him settle himself casually on the sofa, crossing his legs and staring at her boldly. "Then why-- Look, do you know what time it is?"
He considered it, then shook his head. "Haven't a clue. What's the matter, love? Do you have another date?"
She wrapped the thin silk closer around her nervously. "I don't understand. Why are you here? What do you want?"
"Just a little chat about old times. And old friends. Do you have many old friends, Beth Anne?"
"Beth Anne. How did you know that was my real name?"
"Why did you change it?"
"I didn't. Bethany is a pet name my father called me as a child. But everyone's called me that since--"
"Yes. Yes, I think so. Did Ray tell you I was there?"
"As a matter of fact, he did. He tells me everything, you know. Did he mention that I was in Africa, too?"
"No. No, I don't think so. Bodie, listen, I'm sorry but I really have to ask you to leave. It's late and I have to start day shift tomorrow--"
"For god's sakes, give it up will you!" Bodie uncrossed his legs and stood.
Startled, she jumped back. "What are you talking about?"
"Old friends, Beth Anne. Don't you remember Andrew Phillips?"
She stared at him. Suddenly her brow crinkled. "Andy?"
"Christ, stop the games. You tried to kill yourself over me, for god's sake. You expect me to think you've forgotten it?"
The expression on her face was more than stunned, it was lost -- in memory and amazement. "You're . . . Andy? How is that possible? I was told he died in Angola. You can't be."
"Oh, give it a rest. You know exactly--"
"My god! Andy! Yes, I see it now. You do look like him, but--"
"You bitch, who do you think you're kidding? Ray? Once I've told him what's going on, do you think he'll give you a second look?"
She came out of her shock only to stare at him blankly. "What's Ray got to do with--"
"Come on. Don't you think I've figured out what you're up to? You hate me."
She sat down limply on the couch. "Hate you? Why should I hate you?"
"You have a short memory, love. You tried to kill yourself over me, remember?"
She looked up at him, her pain written in brittle clarity over her face. "I've tried very hard to forget all that. Until today, I thought I had."
"You're trying to tell me you didn't know who I was in the hospital?"
"How could I? Your name is Bodie. Your face was covered with bandages!"
For some reason he had forgotten that. Still. "But you must have known--"
"How? You had a different name. I couldn't see your face. And, Jesus, it's been almost fifteen years! It's not exactly something I like to dwell on, okay? No, I didn't know it was you! How the hell could I?"
"How can you expect me to believe you didn't know? You tried to commit suicide over me once--"
"I was nineteen years old! I was a lonely, insecure girl. You led me on, made me think you liked me, wanted me. And then when I found out that you used me to steal the supplies . . . knew you were laughing at me with your friends . . . I couldn't deal with it then. I wasn't strong enough."
"So I was right; you do blame me?"
"I didn't say that. I blamed you for a long time. But I finally realized that the problem was with me -- my image of myself. So I worked on it. It wasn't easy and it took a long time; but I'm not the same person I was fifteen years ago."
Bodie leered. "So I see."
"You bastard. You think it was just the weight, don't you? That I went on a diet, lost some weight, and everything was all fixed. Well, you're wrong. That was just the outside, and there was nothing wrong with that -- it was inside that I was hurting. Losing weight was only a by-product of healing." Her eyes narrowed. "What about you? Do the scars mean that much to you? Does appearance still matter so much? It's true, you're not as handsome as you were fifteen years ago. Now, I wonder why I ever thought you were."
"I want you to stay away from Ray."
She laughed harshly. "This is too weird. You must be joking. What has Ray to do with any of this?"
"He's why I'm here. Keep clear of him from now on."
Her confusion was clearing and a cold anger was taking it's place. "Why should I? Is that really why you came here? Too bad. I like him, and he likes me. You tell him whatever you like. Or I will. Who do you think will come off looking better in the story?" She reached for the telephone.
Impulsively, he stepped forward and knocked the receiver from her hand. "Don't tell him."
"But I thought you wanted him to know. Don't you think he'd be on your side? The cold-blooded, butch mercenary who laughed at the fat girl laying in a pool of her own blood? Maybe he'll get a giggle out of it, too."
"I didn't laugh," Bodie's voice was a hoarse whisper.
"Didn't you? I could hear you. For years I could hear you laughing at me as you did after we made love -- excuse me -- fucked. Outside in the corridor, with your friends, the drugs you conned from me in your pockets -- laughing at the desperate fat girl. The grateful fat girl. Yes, I think we should tell Ray about this, don't you?"
"No." He backed away from her as if she was the dangerous one. "No. It wasn't like that. I didn't laugh at you. Not then, not ever."
"And your friends didn't laugh at the gullible fool you seduced?"
Bodie remained silent.
"Just as I thought. They sent you in to gain my confidence and they knew the perfect bait. You were very beautiful, you know. And very kind, very sincere. It was a lovely act. I believed every word."
"That's not how it started. It wasn't like that."
"But that's what it ended up, wasn't it? You ended up using me, my feelings for you."
"I didn't think I had a choice. We needed the supplies and we couldn't get them any other way. Not then. It was that or kill you and take them. I had my orders. At the time I didn't have the guts to go back to Krivas emptyhanded."
"Is that supposed to be an excuse? Am I suppose to thank you for not killing me?"
"I'm just telling you how it was."
"No, you're telling me how you'd like to be. You could have just left it at seduction. But you said you loved me. You said it, Andy. That was cruel. You could have put a gun to my head and stolen what you needed. You didn't need to steal my heart."
Bodie made a face. "Let's not be melodramatic."
"Heaven forbid. Let's not let emotions come into this. That cuts too close to the bone -- to the truth. How rude of me." She picked up a vase and smashed it against the wall. "You bastard!"
Bodie shut his eyes, clenching his jaw tightly. "I was sorry I hurt you. I was only nineteen--"
"So was I. And a virgin. Not that you cared."
"No, I won't stop it." She looked surprised. "I really believed I had stopped hating you. That I'd managed to put it all behind me. Obviously, I haven't. All this rage was still inside me, bottled up. Now listen to this. I'm glad -- delighted -- that man messed up your lovely face. I feel like sending him a thank you card. Your luck finally ran out, didn't it? Maybe now you can't deceive anyone else."
He jerked as if with an electric shock. Her words matched so closely what he had been thinking for weeks.
Seeing her advantage, she moved closer. "Since you've brought all this up, I think we should tell Ray. You came here to protect him from me, didn't you? Thought I was out to hurt him to get back at you. God, you're a self-centered fool. You really do believe the world revolves around you, don't you? That everything has to do with you? Well, I'm in love with Ray Doyle, and it has absolutely nothing to do with you. And there's nothing you can do to change it."
Bodie felt his world cracking around him, the very earth shifting under his feet. It was very hard to keep his balance with the world disintegrating. With an effort, he growled, "You think not? Doyle has been mine for years, and I'm not letting a cunt like you have him."
Eyes wide she stared at him, then her eyes narrowed dangerously. "It's you he needs protecting from. I don't think Ray even knows you. If he did, he'd run a mile. You're the real danger, because you've managed to fool him. Just like you fooled me."
"I think you should be quiet now. You've said enough."
"Quiet? Oh, no, it's too late for that. I'm going to tell him everything and then we'll see who--"
Bodie didn't even realize he'd struck her until he saw her stumble back, her hand darting up to her cheek. "You bastard! How dare you? You'll pay for that!"
"You won't tell Ray anything." His voice was very mild, and the words came from a place deep inside him, a dark, frightening place. "You won't."
"You're afraid for him to know the truth, aren't you? You've been trying to scare me off, but it's you who's afraid. You've always been afraid."
He stared at her, willing her to be silent, feeling the searing core of blackness inside him, knowing he would do something bad, something unforgivable, if she didn't stop talking.
"You love him, don't you? He told me all about you, you know. He cares for you, worries for you. He gives so much to you. I haven't wanted to face it, but he loves you, too. Poor Ray. He doesn't even know you."
He held up his hand, palm out. "Shut up. Just please shut up."
But she blathered on, oblivious to the darkness growing inside him, fooled by the deceptive coldness. "No. You're so afraid of letting him see you as you really are, you're willing to scare him off. Just in case he finds out."
"Finds out what?"
"Whatever it is you're hiding. Maybe even you don't know. I've spent a lot of my life figuring out why I've punished myself, so I've got a good view on the matter. Did you feel you were a bad person, Bodie? Hopeless? Evil? So did I. It made me gain weight. That's harmless enough. But what about you; did it make you kill people? If so, that must be a lot more difficult to escape. Christ, I can't imagine trying to live with that. Like me, you were trying to kill yourself, weren't you? All along, hoping for an end. I found a way out, but you never did, did you? You're still there, waiting for a way out, hoping no one catches on to what's inside you; that no one sees the blackness. Is that why you're afraid, Bodie? That he'll hate you if he ever knows? That your scars are a roadmap to the darkness inside you?"
He hit her again, and this time she didn't get up. He stared down at her still form, feeling nothing.
"I told you to shut up," he chided her softly. "I really wanted you to be quiet." For a long moment he was very still, watching as if something apart as the insanity built inside him, creeping out of all those carefully levied streams of impulse, the barriers crumbling.
Looking down at the limp body at his feet, he picked up a heavy brass candlestick from the side table. He should kill her now, if she wasn't already dead. Stop her from telling Ray these dreadful truths. It would hurt Ray to hear them. And he didn't want to hurt Ray. Never. It wasn't fair to hurt Ray. Poor Ray had such horrible luck with people he loved. Ray's dad was dead, and his old partner, and Ann had left him, and his mate Cookie had died, and he'd been disappointed in his teacher, Barry Martin. Ray had been dealt so much pain and loss and disillusion. It wasn't fair. He didn't deserve more. He couldn't be told what his partner was really like. Didn't she understand that? Couldn't she see that it wasn't right to hurt Ray like this?
For years Bodie had protected him. This was no different. He couldn't let Ray know the truth about him. It wasn't for his sake, but for Ray's. Didn't anyone see that but him? Didn't anyone understand the stakes here? Doyle loved him. Truly loved him. And if he ever saw the truth of who it was he loved, it could destroy him.
Bodie reached up and felt his face, tracing over the rough scars that were still tender to his touch. It was clear now, obvious. Stupid to think Doyle didn't see it. But Doyle was so blind. To open his eyes to the truth was more cruel than even the darkness inside him could cope with. It was the ultimate betrayal, the ultimate ugliness.
Bodie blinked, coming to himself for a moment. The woman was moaning at his feet, stirring to consciousness. He looked at the candlestick in his hand and realized he would do anything to keep Doyle from being hurt by the ugliness.
He leaned over the rail and stared into the water. It was dark, but he could see the swift ripples of current reflecting from the streetlamp far above. The lights gleamed red and gold on the black water, deceptively beautiful, concealing the pollution beneath. Like the river, he could feel the darkness in himself flowing, strong, powerful. It could be dammed and diverted and calmed for a bit, but always it returned. The devil assumes a pleasing shape.
He could end it now. The black water looked like home. He smiled bleakly, realizing the dank waters even smelled a bit like Liverpool, choked with sewage and refuse and chemicals. Ah, home. Time to go home. No more games, no more pretense. He was what he was, and darkness goes to darkness. Pretty is as-- No! He wouldn't let her be part of this. Wouldn't let her have the satisfaction of knowing she was right. If he was a bad lot, she had helped make him that way. He knew that now and he hated her for it. For all the things he could have been if she hadn't blocked his way. It was too much power to give her. And what he did now would please her too much, and he wasn't doing it for her. No, not for her. Not for that crazy old bitch.
His fingers curled around the railing, clenching painfully. Wishing she were still alive that he could choke her himself, make her see what she had done to him, and probably to his mother before him. And, no, he didn't give a damn what had been done to her before to make her what she was. Someone had to stop it sometime; the viciousness, the acid. What was tossed in his face was nothing to what he'd imbibed in his crib. No matter. He could stop it now.
The voice startled him, and he jerked upright, staring wildly at the dapper man a few feet away.
"If you're thinkin' of jumping, I'd advise against it. You're a strong swimmer. It's not what I'd call a sure bet."
"What are you doing here?"
"I'm here to arrest you, lad."
Bodie looked back at the river. "Of course. Cleaning your own doorstop. I'm just surprised you got here this fast."
"Fast. It's been over twenty-four hours, 3.7. No one knew where you were."
Twenty-four hours? Odd, he remembered none of it. Not that he really cared. "How did you find me?"
"A man alone on a bridge at 2:00 in the morning is noticeable. A bobby approached you and you wouldn't speak to him. He called it in. He thought he recognized you from the photo we put on the wire."
Bodie smiled blackly. "Ah, a real manhunt."
"No, you were listed as missing."
"And presumed dangerous?"
"No. Just missing."
"You're slipping. I still have my gun, you know."
"No, you don't. You left it at Doyle's."
Bodie patted his coat. "Hmmm. You're right. Lax, very lax. Still, I'm a dangerous felon. Arrest, didn't you say?"
"Yes. For assault."
"Do you deny the charge?"
"Not at all. I'm only surprised it's not murder. I rather thought I might have killed her."
If he was shocked by Bodie's statement, Cowley made no indication of it. He only asked mildly, "Did you mean to kill her, lad?"
Bodie sighed. "I don't know. Yes, I think maybe I did." He glanced at Cowley. "Sorry, sir."
Cowley frowned. "Sorry?"
"I know this isn't pleasant for you. I've disappointed you. I'm sorry for that, sir."
There was a long silence. Then Cowley asked quietly, "Is that all you have to say, 3.7?"
Bodie stuck his hands in his pockets and gave Cowley a wistful look. "Only that you should've pulled the trigger when you had the chance." He glared at Cowley, suddenly furious. "Why didn't you pull the fuckin' trigger?!"
Cowley froze, but he didn't pretend he didn't understand the reference. His voice remained carefully neutral. "Are you saying I had poor judgment, 3.7?"
"Wouldn't dream of it, sir," Bodie replied automatically. Then something happened and his knees seemed to give. Collapsing onto the pavement, he knew he was crying but like the madness earlier, he felt apart from it, watching the sobbing, shaking figure from some tranquil, aloof height. "I'm sorry . . . sorry."
Despite his bum knee, Cowley was on the pavement beside him, clutching his shoulders and holding him tightly. "It's a'right, laddie, hush. The lassie's okay. She has a black eye and a broken jaw, but she'll mend. It's nae so bad it can't be mended. None of it is. Whatever you think. It can all be mended. It hasna gone so far as you think. You walked out, Bodie. You stopped yourself before you went further."
But Bodie couldn't think. He could do little but cry and cling to the damp overcoat. "It hurts . . . it hurts so much . . . please . . . stop it. Make it stop."
Cowley held him tighter. He patted his head awkwardly. "Shhh. I know, I know. Come now, laddie, let's go home."
Bodie looked back at the river; at the dark oblivion it promised him. If only he could go home. If only he could be free of this darkness inside him. But it was there on his face now, the ugliness, and he couldn't hide anymore and he couldn't bear for the people he loved to see it. Better to go home where they already knew the truth. Where they were all dead and beyond caring.
But Cowley tugged at him, making him stand, pushing him toward the waiting car. And he had obeyed the old man's orders for too long to resist him now. He was too weary in mind and body and spirit.
And there was only one horror left to face.
The ceiling of Cowley's bedroom was perfectly white, no water stains, no cracks. Just a pure, pristine blank.
Bodie lay on the bed staring at it, studying it with as much interest as if it were the Sistine Chapel. His mind was such a dark jumble of thoughts, the emptiness was a relief.
Part of him remembered coming here; his throat still burned a little from the scotch he'd been offered. But he didn't recall laying on the bed.
I'm in trouble, he thought calmly, and for once he wasn't thinking about CI5 or the law or the world at all. The trouble was here and now and he couldn't run from it or ignore it.
Playing catch-up, his mind reran the previous hours. Returning to Cowley's flat; the expensive crystal in his hand, his heart in his throat as he poured out his sins with his father confessor.
He spilled everything: the past, what he felt for Doyle, his horror of what he was, of what he could become.
It was like talking to God.
And God listened patiently, withholding final judgment. And when exhaustion took him, God put him to bed, tucking him in with tenderness and care.
But God made a mistake and became Cowley again. He left the door open a crack and Bodie overheard him on the telephone.
"Yes, it's okay. He's here, lad. No, don't come. Not yet. Yes, I know you're angry! What he did to your girl-- Listen to me! He's not-- This is an order, 4.5-- Doyle! Doyle! Ach!" Cowley slammed down the receiver with another curse. The phone rang again almost immediately. "Yes? No, he knows. No, when he gets here, let him up. You'd have to shoot him to stop him the mood he's in now. No, it's okay. I'll deal with it."
So Doyle was on his way. He knew about Bethany; he knew about Bodie. Chances were he was coming here to kill him. Bodie couldn't let that happen. Doyle would hate himself.
No, there was really only one thing he could do now. Something honorable and just and beautifully final.
It wasn't hard to find Cowley's hidden weapon. It was difficult to be silent as he moved around the bedroom searching, but he was trained for this kind of thing.
It felt sweet in his hand when he found it. He flexed his hand around the grip, enjoying the coolness of the metal, appreciating the gleam of light over the well-oiled steel, the smell of carefully applied gun oil. Cowley was a stickler about his weapons. It was a beautiful piece.
He put the gun to his head, savoring the feel of cold steel against his flushed temple. No, that wasn't certain enough. He put the barrel in his mouth. The taste was oily, bitter. Time had slowed so much he could judge the taste and smoothness of the metal. He didn't like it. But like so much unpleasantness in his life, he could put up with it. After all, it was only for a moment. Just the moment it took to pull the trigger.
He paused, not through indecision, but contemplation. This was a pivotal moment of his life, after all. Not so very different than birth--except that this was his own choice.
It was time to end it. The pain, the darkness, the blackness in his soul. He couldn't fight it any longer. Doyle knew it now. Everyone knew it. It was clear on his face. Pretty is...
As he started to pull the trigger, Doyle burst into the room. Doyle screamed, "No!" In the corner of Bodie's eye he saw him fighting off Cowley, trying desperately to get to him, to stop him. Bodie had time to regret it; to abhor the pain and terror on Doyle's face. He shouldn't have to see this.
All of this within the microsecond of pressure on the trigger, and the expression on Ray's face, the bleak horror and total despair -- would he really hurt this much? The pain wasn't surprising, the depth and truth of it was. He loves me. He knows me, and still loves me. Too late. Oh god, it's too late . . .
He had already pulled the trigger. Time was impossibly slowed, but he couldn't rerun it. It was done.
"How could you let him do this?" Doyle's voice was thick with tears and frustration.
"The gun was well hidden," Cowley responded coolly.
"For Bodie? You must have known! How dare you, when you knew what he was going through."
"Don't you understand, it was important he did find the gun."
"So he could kill himself?"
"You heartless bastard!"
"Doyle, think a minute. He was in pain."
"So he should put himself out of his misery, like some dumb animal? You bastard!"
"There was no other answer for him. Not as he was."
"There was nothing wrong--"
"He thought there was. Deep down, he thought it. He wanted to destroy that part of himself that was evil. Who are we to stop him from doing that?"
"George Cowley as God once again!"
"Did you have a better idea?" Cowley sighed, short on patience. "This has been coming for a long time, Doyle. Long before the attack. That only accelerated the process."
"What process? What are you talking about?"
"Kate Ross has been keeping a careful watch on Bodie since before the King Billy affair. Surely you remember that?"
"That was over six months ago--"
"She wanted him off the squad, and she was right. He was far from stable. But he was good at his job, and god help me, I needed him. I thought he could hold together. That he'd purged himself after what happened with--"
"You knew he was this sick and you used him?"
"It's not as cold as it sounds, lad. Taking him off the squad wouldn't have solved anything. It certainly wouldn't have helped him. All that would have accomplished would be to have a rogue agent on the loose. At least while he was in CI5, I had some degree of control. Think about it, 4.5! He was safer on the squad than off on his own. Even you must see that! As a civilian no one would have control of him, no one would watch him. The only alternatives were to have him locked up or twepped, and he hadn't done anything to warrant such extreme actions."
"So like Crazy Tommy, you let him run?"
Cowley paused. "There were similarities, yes."
"And you thought he'd die like Crazy Tommy, didn't you? In a suicide run? Is that what you were counting on?"
"The possibility was there. I hoped it wouldn't come to that. Bodie was never such an extreme case as Tommy."
"Because he had you. He wouldn't risk your life. Even in the King Billy affair, he made certain you were well away before he took them on."
"That's very comforting. Are you as mad as he is?"
Cowley sighed. "I very nearly demobbed him after that. But, he seemed to . . . change. Became calmer. More focused. Even Ross agreed that he had worked out most of his -- well, he was stable after that. It wasn't until the incident with the acid that he--"
"Went mad," Doyle cut in bitterly.
"No one could predict this. It was a mischance. Ross still believes that without this . . . unfortunate incident, Bodie would have coped well enough. It triggered something in his past that perhaps even Bodie wasn't aware of."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"You weren't blind, Doyle. You knew everything wasn't fine with 3.7. Didn't you?"
"Yes, but . . ."
"Ross anticipated this would happen. The breakdown. She felt he would turn all of his rage against himself eventually. Despite what he thinks of himself, Bodie is not a cold-blooded killer. That's the only reason she didn't go over my head to have him thrown off the squad. From the beginning, she always felt he was more a danger to himself than to anyone else."
"Death wish," Doyle whispered.
"Exactly. For himself alone. To kill that part of himself that he can no longer live with."
"He could have killed Bethany tonight."
"Yes, but he didn't." For the first time, Cowley's voice sounded shaky. "Still, I take responsibility for what happened. I should have had a closer watch on him."
"You didn't know about Bethany -- about Africa. It was just . . . mischance again. Isn't that what you called it?"
"Did you find out what was between them?"
"What little she could tell me . . . or wanted to tell me. It wasn't a pretty story." Doyle sighed. "So what do we do now?"
"Wait until he comes back."
"He's been like this for over an hour. What happens if he never comes back?"
"Then we turn him over to people who can take care of him."
Doyle took Bodie's hand and pulled it up until he could taste the skin over the knuckles; holding the hand so hard he could feel the grinding of the bones. "I can take care of him."
"Yes," Doyle snarled, inching closer to Bodie on the bed. "Just me. Only me. Don't even think any different. I'm not letting him go. I'm never letting him go."
Bodie sat there silently and listened to the words tossed around him. But all he could really hear was the echo of the empty click of the gun. Part of him was truly amused. How could he believe that Cowley would have been stupid enough to leave a loaded gun within reach of a potential suicide? Another part of him was chagrined at the idea that he, a professional, hadn't even bothered to check the chamber before he pulled the trigger. He had been sixteen the last time he had trusted another man's gun. But, to his credit, this had been Cowley's gun. And he had been ingrained in the George Cowley school of always make sure your gun is loaded. He had fallen for it.
When he had pulled the trigger he had been so confident of the bullet in the chamber, some part of him still believed it. He had meant to kill himself. Kill the dark part that he could not accept. The evil side he had run from since childhood. To escape it, he had been willing to destroy the good.
He was still in shock, but some part of him wasn't as numb as the rest. He could understand what was being said, had cautiously stored away the entire conversation for later evaluation. When he felt better. When he could do more than breathe in and out and stare at the ceiling. He could feel Ray's warmth near him, feel that lovely crushing grip on his hand. Ray wouldn't let go. Even now Ray wouldn't let go. Even knowing the truth.
It was, quite simply, worth coming back to life for.
Worth living for.
I love you, Ray, he said and knew he had a long way to go when he realized his lips hadn't moved.
Then Doyle kissed him on the mouth. Like the grip on his hand, the kiss was ungentle, determined; no pity, just certainty of what he felt, knowing as he always had what was in Bodie's heart without the treachery of words.
"I love you, too, Bodie. Believe it."
For the first time in his life, Bodie felt beautiful.
-- THE END --
Originally published in D-Notice, Katharine Scarritt, 1995