by O Yardley
Part One - November
When the door buzzer shrilled insistently for a sixth time Doyle sighed, wiped his floury hands on a tea-towel and went to the intercom.
"What do you want, Bodie?"
"How did you know it was me?"
"No one else is this persistent. What do you want?"
"What do you think I want--I wanna come in! Hurry up, it's flippin' freezing out here."
It was pathos personified. Doyle's heart--never a very tough organ where his big partner was concerned--melted in spite of every resolution.
"Oh, all right, come on in then. It's open."
Pausing in the doorway Bodie sniffed, long and ecstatically. "Blimey, mate, something smells good. Who's coming to lunch--me? Is it something new you're trying out?"
It had become established routine that any new culinary venture should be tested on Bodie's ever-ready appetite, Doyle having realised long ago that the way to 3.7's carefully-guarded heart was via his freely available digestive tract.
"Something new--yes. For lunch--no. D'you want a cup of tea?"
"You know something," Bodie said, following him into the kitchen with alacrity, "I reckon the entire British police force'd go into cold turkey if you stopped 'em drinking tea every five minutes."
Doyle just nodded absently, constant tea-drinking part of his life since he'd joined the cadets. "Get on and make it then, I'm busy." He went back to his interrupted task.
The kettle filled, Bodie came to peer over his shoulder. "What are you up to? And what on earth are those? They look disgusting. Like rabbit droppings." Their appearance notwithstanding he reached out to pick one up and sample it. "Mmm! 's nice!" He reached for another, drawing back hastily as Doyle's hand grabbed for the wooden spoon, knowing from experience how much the ruddy thing stung when it caught your knuckles.
"They're raisins. And I'm picking 'em over to make sure they haven't got bits of stalk in amongst 'em."
"What's that white stuff then?"
"Flour, to stop them sticking together. Will you get your hand out of there!"
"OK, OK. Keep your pinny on," Bodie snickered. He eyed the impressive array of packets, jars, bottles, plastic tubs, and peered into the large mixing bowl in which the raisins being tossed into it one by one reposed on top of a biggish pile of other dried fruit. He sneaked a handful which he poured indelicately into an upturned mouth to leave both hands free to empty the teapot of its last brew and set out the mugs.
"What you makin' then?" he asked thickly, chewing with enormous pleasure.
"You what?" Bodie stared at the kitchen calendar. "It's a bit early to start celebrating Christmas, innit?"
"You have to make 'em early so they mature," Doyle said, wielding a wristy spoon as Bodie chanced his luck a second time.
"Ow!" Sucking a bruised knuckle, two pained blue eyes declaring their hurt over the top of it, Bodie said: "What d'you wanna do that for?"
"So there'll be something left to eat on Christmas Day," Doyle told him, throwing in the last raisin. Being of an evil turn of mind he added the contents of a blue, orange and yellow striped packet and swiftly chucked the empty box into the bin saying: "And you can leave that alone as well."
"Why--what is it?"
"Never you mind. Get on and make the tea. Kettle's boiling."
Casting a longing look at the bowl and promising himself a return visit to it while Doyle was occupied with his tea, Bodie went to do as he was told.
"You got any milk?" he asked, head buried fruitlessly in the fridge.
"Yeah--on the table here." Doyle pointed a floury finger in the general direction.
"Have you got anything at all left in your cupboards?" Bodie demanded, locating the milk eventually behind the pile of empty dried-fruit boxes. "Are you really going to put this lot in the pud?"
"Think I'll give the Vim a miss," Doyle said after a moment's thought, grinning as Bodie glared suspiciously about him.
"Just checkin'," Bodie said airily, stirring tea with vigour before handing a mugful to Doyle.
Sucking it down luxuriously, Doyle watched out of the corner of his eye as Bodie snitched a healthy pinch out of the bowl, breaking into a noisy laughter as his partner choked, gurgled and headed for the sink where he spat copiously.
"What the... Ugh! that's disgusting. What the hell is it?"
"S.s.s..." Doyle spluttered, "s.s.suet!"
"In Christmas pudding?" Bodie demanded, shuddering as he cleared a last, lingering lump adhering to a back molar. "You sure you've got that right?"
"You wanna do the cooking?" Doyle queried, meticulously polite. He passed over the recipe book.
He was on a safe bet there, Bodie always content to let someone else slave over a hot stove. Purely for the look of it Bodie took the book, brushing away white fingerprints with a 'tch' of disapproval, and made a show of checking through the items on the table--a performance watched by a cynical green eye. Having regained possession of Mrs. Beeton Doyle put his empty mug aside and got on with measuring out the rest of the dry ingredients to add to the bowl.
There was a slight contretemps when Bodie tried to drink the brandy before Doyle could mix it with the eggs but some subtle sleight of hand prevented this shameless rape.
"Since you're here you'd better help stir it, I suppose," Doyle said, licking off a spicy globule from the tip of his index finger and plying his largest wooden spoon with a verve that threatened to deposit half the pudding on the rush matting.
"Why--getting too much for you, is it?" Bodie enquired, taking up a position at a safe distance, perched against the fridge. "You wanna take up weight-lifting--put a bit of beef on that pipe-cleaner body." He smirked.
"'cause you make a wish while you're stirring," Doyle said.
"Yeah. For something you want at Christmas." Doyle was no longer surprised when Bodie displayed ignorance of basic family folklore and customs, and he had long abandoned any attempt to discover the reason. He simply filled in the lacking information and went on hoping that one day Bodie would open up and talk to him about his past. "You can wish for anything you really want."
"What, you mean like plenty of booze'n grub'n a bit of nookie, or a pair of new socks?" Bodie asked, needing to get this absolutely clear.
"For whatever you want the most," Doyle told him in total solemnity.
"The most..." Bodie said, voice abruptly serious and far away.
Doyle's head turned in surprise.
"The most," Bodie repeated hurriedly, clearing his throat and smiling in an odd kind of way.
Inexplicably the room was full of tension and all of it emanating from Bodie, despite his air of deliberate relaxation.
He was embarrassed, Doyle realised, puzzled and not a little amazed. What on earth had he said to make Bodie embarrassed? His spoon, momentarily stilled, set to work once more.
"Come on then," he suggested, covering the strangely awkward moment with action, "come and have a stir and make your wish."
"Do you get a wish?" Bodie asked suspiciously, unmoving.
"Of course I do."
"Well you wish first," Bodie said. "Go on then."
"I just did," Doyle assured him, having wished that Bodie's latest bird would want to spend Christmas with her family and not with Bodie.
"I didn't hear you."
"You're not supposed to wish out loud. Doesn't come true if you wish out loud."
"What did you wish for?"
"It won't come true if you tell, either."
"Secretive little sod, aren't you," Bodie grumbled. "Come on then, give us the spoon. Blimey! this is harder than it looks," he added, heaving at the mixture and almost sending it over the bowl's rim. "You know, you can hire a concrete mixer for a day for just a few quid!"
"Get on and wish," Doyle said shortly. "I want to get these on to boil this morning, not next week."
"All right, Mrs. Bridges, I'm wishing." Face suddenly a study in concentration, Bodie stirred slowly and with enormous care. There, I've wished." He looked up, caught Doyle staring at him and hesitated in a manner so uncharacteristically self- conscious that Doyle stared all the harder.
Dropping the spoon as though its handle burned him Bodie said: "What now?"
"What?" Miles away, Doyle attempted to shake himself back to reality. "Oh! it goes in these two basins. We fill 'em about two-thirds full and put a bit of greaseproof paper on the top and then the lids go on and some of that string round them so I can lift them out of the water when they're cooked."
He was burbling, chattering to cover the enormity of his hopeful comprehension. Had he really guessed the cause of Bodie's lapse from his usual urbanity? They were so attuned, so used to working in harmony and with the minimum of verbal communication, was it possible they were both coming to want the same thing, that Doyle's lonely dark-night fantasies were echoed in Bodie's equally lonely bed?
He opened his mouth.
"...coming round tonight," Bodie was saying.
"What?" Disconcerted, Doyle realised he'd missed the beginning of that. "Who's coming round tonight?"
Bodie sighed. "I dunno, sometimes I wonder about you. I said, don't forget Caroline and Gill are coming round tonight. My place, eight o'clock. Table booked for 8.30 at Franco's."
"Oh! Yeah!" Doyle nodded.
"You changed your mind or something?" Bodie asked, frowning.
"What? No, of course I haven't. 8.00. I'll be there."
It hardly seemed the moment to declare undying affection. Lonely bed? What a hope!
Part Two - December
The table set for two, classy Christmas paper tablecloth and matching napkins from Harrods, red candles encircled by holly and red and gold tinsel looped around the place mats, Doyle surveyed his arrangements with satisfaction. A healthy smell of garlic- laden stuffing and cooking turkey filled the tiny flat. He glanced at his watch--6.30 p.m. Bodie should be here any minute now, his latest bird having refused all his blandishments and gone up north to spend Christmas with her parents leaving Bodie at a loose end just as Doyle had wished.
"Wonder if I'm going to make Bodie's wish come true as well," he mumbled, the sound of the door buzzer making him jump. Stomach beginning to churn, he went to the intercom.
"Oh come all ye faithful, have another plateful," Bodie's voice--more tuneful than one might expect--carolled happily. "We do want some figgy pudding..."
"You'll get it chucked out of the window on your head," Doyle told him, cheerfully ignoring the fact that he'd have to invade the Christmas privacy of the old couple in the front if he was to carry out his threat. "Come on in, you prat, me finger's tired of pressing this button."
The singing came to an abrupt halt and a few minutes later Bodie's immaculate black-clad figure stepped through the opened front door, eyes widening as they took in Doyle's appearance. He whistled.
"Blimey, mate, I know it's Christmas but I didn't expect you to come gift-wrapped." He walked round him, taking in the soft crimson brushed-cotton slacks, the toning silk shirt--Russian style, buttoned across one shoulder and with full, baggy sleeves. Fingering the heavy silk he said: "I'll bet Nureyev's chilly tonight! And you've washed your hair too. And had a shave. All for me, sweetie, or are we expecting company?"
"No. And the shirt was a present from me godmother," Doyle lied.
"And the matching trousers?" Bodie enquired. "Generous old girl, your godmother. Come on then, give us a twirl."
"How about pouring us a drink," Doyle retorted, retreating to the kitchen, already regretting the impulse that had made him buy the theatrical outfit and half tempted to spill something down it on purpose to give him an excuse to change. He took out his troubles on the sprouts, prodding them viciously.
"But she's got bloody good taste," Bodie's voice floated after him. "You look fantastic, all dressed up like a dog's dinner. Give some poor girl heart failure, you will, dressed like that."
"But not a hard-nosed CI5 agent," Doyle muttered, jumping about two feet in the air when Bodie, all too close behind him, said reprovingly: "You ought to be wearing an apron; you'll go spilling something down that and spoiling it if you're not careful. Here, have one of these." And having handed Doyle his drink he rummaged in the dresser drawer where Doyle kept his tea towels, coming out with one that bore the interesting legend: Old Golfers Never Die: They Only Lose Their Balls, which he proceeded to place around Doyle's middle, standing in front of him and peering over his shoulder to see what he was doing as he tucked it into the waistband of his trousers at the back.
It was so close to being held by him, so nearly what he wanted, that Doyle forgot sense, patience, British reserve or dignity and simply wrapped his arms around him and let his head rest against the well-shaved cheek brushing his.
Shock jolted through the warm body and he waited for retribution.
"You been at the cooking sherry or somethin'?" Bodie asked, a little breathless.
"Just wanted you to know," Doyle mumbled, rapidly losing his nerve and pulling away, "that in spite of what I thought at the time Cowley did the right thing partnering us."
"Well, of course," Bodie said, "Cowley's always right. At least, that's what he always says. And what did you think at the time?"
"That you're an arrogant bastard--and I haven't changed my mind about that. Come on, get out of the way--unless you're gonna help dish up."
Rather to his surprise, Bodie said: "OK, where do I start?"
"Turkey first--in the oven. Put it down on the table on that mat. The dish is in the warming drawer with the plates..."
"If we eat this lot," Bodie said when they'd finished, "we'll be too pogged to move for a month. You sure we've got enough chipolatas?" he added, picking up the two that had slipped from the top of the pile. "There's enough here to feed the whole bloody squad."
"Or you," Doyle told him, having learnt the hard way just how many cold sausages Bodie could consume once he got started. "Go on, start carrying it through."
Despite his protestations Bodie made hearty inroads into the food, clearing the last roast parsnip from the dish in direct opposition to Doyle's expressed request to leave it for the bubble and squeak he intended to make on Boxing Day.
"You don't put parsnip in bubble and squeak," Bodie said, diction impaired by a massive Brussels sprout.
"I do," Doyle retorted. "And sprouts too, so leave some of them."
"'s cabbage and mashed spud--not sprouts'n roast," Bodie protested, unwarily displaying a culinary expertise he claimed not to own.
"OK," Doyle agreed, "you can make it any way you want." He grinned.
"Am I asked for Boxing Day too?"
"You got anything better lined up?"
"Then you're asked. Stay the night if you want," Doyle said breezily, masking any confusion by clattering dishes, piling them ready for clearing away. "And go steady, mate, or you won't have room for the pudding."
"I always have room for Christmas pudding," Bodie assured him truthfully, picking the last sliver of meat off his drumstick and laying it tidily down. He licked his fingers with precision.
"It's a lot colder today," Bodie said. "Shouldn't be surprised if we had a heavy frost tonight."
"Yeah?" Doyle responded absently, making for the kitchen with his mind on what he had planned next.
"Want any help?" Bodie called, not stirring.
Doyle's head came round the door. "No, I don't. You stay put for the moment."
"My pleasure." Leaning languidly back in his chair, Bodie grinned at him. He looked good enough to eat, Doyle thought hazily, the candlelight suiting the shuttered face that gave so little away to strangers. His fingers fumbled as he turned the pudding out and it landed off centre in the dish. He gazed at it, gathering his thoughts and failing resolution.
Last chance to change your mind, Doyle. D'you wanna risk it?
It was now or never.
He went to the drawer and got out the small packet he'd placed there earlier.
The flaming pudding having been received with due delight, Bodie's uncomplicated pleasure as rewarding as any child's, Doyle divided it at the mark he'd made out in the kitchen and spooned it onto the plates.
"Better be careful when you eat that," he said, handing the generous serving across the table. "Might have something in it you're not expecting."
"What?" Bodie glared suspiciously at his plate and then, angled brows flaring, at his partner. "What have you gone and put in it, you berk?"
"Laced it with LSD," Doyle retorted, deadpan. Then, relenting, added: "Nah--'s just traditional to put things in a pudding, innit. Don't want you to breaking a tooth, do I? Not at Christmas."
Bodie poked at his helping with his spoon. "Money?"
"You'll find out." Face embarrassingly hot, Doyle kept his eyes down as he shoved the brandy-butter Bodie's way. "'ere, 'ave some of this on it."
If Bodie didn't eat up soon he'd lose his nerve and snatch the plate away before he had a chance to begin. Shouldn't have mentioned anything, of course, but he hadn't wanted Bodie swallowing it by mistake. Put a right frost on things, that would.
"And don't go pushing it round the plate that way," he growled. "Spoil the surprise, that will."
A quick, flicking look came his way and Bodie's scowl lightened. "OK, OK, you nag worse than my Aunt Lil, you do."
"Aunt Lil?" Doyle asked, applying brandy-butter with a liberal hand. "She your favourite aunt, was she?"
"She was my only aunt..." Bodie let the sentence hang.
Doyle grinned. "Interferin', nosy...?"
"Knew her, did you?" Bodie steered in another spoon-load. "Ow! What the... some'hing 'ells 'e I've found 'e sur'rise."
Doyle's jaws stopped working; perhaps his heart had too.
Squinting cross-eyed down his nose Bodie tried to disentangle tongue, pudding and foreign object without abandoning dignity or elegance. He failed dismally. Laughter dissipated the worst of Doyle's panic but he was still regretting the whole thing as Bodie finally sorted out the food from the hardware and extracted a small circle of metal which he balanced on one finger.
"It's a ring," he said, puzzled. "A signet ring."
"Quick!" Doyle admired. "They'd've 'ad you in CI5 like a shot if you'd joined the Force."
"Why a ring?"
Doyle ate another mouthful, stalling.
"Come on," Bodie persisted, "why's there a ring in my Christmas pud?"
"It's a very old custom putting charms in Christmas pudding, that's all," Doyle said, chickening out completely.
Bodie pierced him with a look. "I know all about putting charms in Christmas pudding, what I want to know is..."
"You know about..." Blazing with indignation, Doyle's eyes threatened to outshine the candles.
"Well of course I know. Everyone does," Bodie said. "That's not important..."
"Not important!" Doyle barely restrained himself from leaping up and throttling Bodie where he sat. "You sit there, butter wouldn't melt in your mouth, and tell me I've been making a fool of myself all this time trying to explain..."
Bodie's hand came across the table and closed on a crimson- clad forearm. "Nah--I like it when you get all maternal. Makes me feel--wanted!"
"No one else wants me," Bodie said, his voice soft but very, very clear. "It makes me feel good, knowing you mind about me enough to worry over the silly little things you think I've missed out on. Makes me feel warm inside. Happy. No one else makes me feel happy."
Lifting his head Doyle encountered a wide blue gaze that softened even as he stared. Anger drained away leaving a space, waiting...
"So why," Bodie asked again, unchallenging, releasing him, "is there a ring in my Christmas pudding?"
"Got one in my helping too," Doyle confessed, mining the contents of his plate with his left thumb and forefinger. "Look!"
Bodie studied it. "Just the same as mine, is it?"
"Just the same. Even the inscription."
"Yeah. On the inside. I thought it was better on the inside."
"Oh Christ! what have you had put on 'em...eighty-two?" he asked, bewildered. "Is that your age or your IQ?"
Doyle cleared his throat. "It's what you get if you add thirty-seven and forty-five."
Bodie's face held for brief seconds before creasing; then, body shaking, his hand came out again to take Doyle's in an almost painful clasp.
"Oh God! you idiot, you dear, bloody idiot!" he gasped out between snorts. "However did you think that one up, you wally?"
"Natural brilliance," Doyle told him airily. "So are you going to?"
"Am I going to what?"
"Marry me. Love, honour and obey me an' all that."
There was a moment's silence during which Doyle found himself wondering inconsequentially why blue was supposed to be a cold colour.
"Wouldn't mind worshipping you with my body," Bodie said huskily.
"That too," Doyle agreed, his own voice none too clear.
Their gaze held, questioning and uncertain yet offering reassurance.
"Better finish your pudding," Doyle advised, needing breathing space before venturing on, "or it'll get stone cold. You don't want to waste it."
"S'pose I don't," Bodie conceded. "'s too good for that."
Their plates cleared, Bodie said: "You did the cooking, I'll do the washing up. Make the coffee while I'm doing it, shall I?"
"Sounds like an offer I can't refuse."
Doyle made his way to the sofa, prepared to enjoy listening to Bodie grafting away in the kitchen while his own spine maintained a horizontal position, but to his surprise and chagrin found himself feeling lost and left out, missing Bodie's abrasive presence.
"Thought you were watching the telly," Bodie said, rinsing a glass off under the hot tap.
"I wanted to be with you," Doyle told him, eyes daring him to laugh. He picked up a tea towel.
The mobile mouth barely twitched.
Having polished the glasses and put them away Doyle turned back to the sink. The nape of Bodie's neck was looking particularly appealing, a few curls forming beneath the neat ears. Bodie'd been meaning to get a haircut for days now but Doyle was not sorry matters had intervened preventing him. He'd die rather than say it aloud but he loved those little curls that fluffed up around the strong neck as Bodie's hair grew--so endearingly incongruous. On impulse he bent forward and nuzzled them with gentle lips.
Bodie froze, so still that for a moment Doyle panicked, until he saw the look Bodie turned on him, at once hungry and satisfied.
"I didn't think you'd want to do that," Bodie said softly, eyes on Doyle's mouth.
"Your hands are wet," Doyle said several exquisite minutes later.
"Not any more," Bodie discovered. "Christ, Ray, that was..."
"Yeah," Doyle agreed. "It was. And the coffee's nearly ready. Better get a move on with the washing up."
"After what we just...you've got no soul!" Bodie said in disgust, applying himself to the suds once more.
"Oh yes I have--but I don't fancy doing a load of washing-up that's three days out," Doyle retorted.
"We don't have to be back at work until the 29th," Doyle reminded him, "and once I get you into bed I don't plan on letting you out much before that."
"Not even for a leak? Not sure I can last out that long," Bodie said dubiously. "Plus I'll get awfully peckish."
"Can make some sandwiches, can't we! Don't be so defeatist."
Washing up done, they sat side by side on the sofa, coffee and liqueur brandy to hand. Doyle took Bodie's hand, fingering the tendons.
Have to take this slowly, get used to being... intimate. Feels odd, but I like it.
From the look in Bodie's eyes he seemed to have no objections either, but he also seemed to be in no rush, content to let things develop as they would.
"Got the rest of our lives," Doyle said sleepily, "'aven't we."
Bodie cleared his throat.
Doyle's head rolled to take a look at him. "Something wrong?"
"Nah--was just you saying that. Got me all choked up. I must be more sentimental than I thought, wanting to settle down."
"Forsaking all others?" Doyle questioned softly. "How does that sound?"
"Essential--and..." Beautiful, marvellous... "...OK with me," Bodie confirmed. He lifted his glass. "No one else is gonna do this for us, so I'll say it for 'em. Here's to the two of us--for always."
The glasses clinked gently.
-- THE END --