Guilt Trip


For Pam Rush

I didn't mean to do it. Christ, I didn't mean it! But I did it. It's done. And now what can I do? I've thought and thought about it and there doesn't seem to be anything I can do to make it right.

I've always had this vile temper. When I was a kid I used to lash out . . . small as I was, I swear the neighbourhood bullies were afraid of me, and even me Mum learned to walk warily when I was in a mood. I'd be sorry afterwards, sometimes, but that didn't stop me when I was in a proper rage.

Christ, even Bodie isn't safe. Even my partner, who trusts me every day with his life, knows better than to push when I'm in a pet. He might end up slumped back on a sofa again, or on the floor, holding his jaw and trying to pretend it didn't really hurt.

I could make a lot of excuses for myself -- I know other blokes might do -- but when it comes right down to it I was wrong. I hurt another person. I did it because I wanted to, because I enjoyed it, and because at the time I didn't give a damn how she felt about it. She might as well not have been a person at all. She could have been one of those inflatable dolls, for all I cared about her feelings or her welfare.

It was after a tough day; we'd just wrapped up the Collins case after three solid weeks. I'd been running on pure adrenaline for hours. Bodie'd taken a bullet through his leg, just a flesh wound, not too bad -- but he'd lost a fair bit of blood from it, so he was spending the night in hospital. I'd no one to wind down or relax with. I tried calling up a few birds, but two of them weren't home and the third already had plans for the evening. So I went out alone for a pint or two to calm down.

My blood was up. I was still running high on the excitement, still thinking faster than normal, still on edge. I kept expecting danger around every corner, even though the case was over. I picked a seat at the back of the pub for maximum defensibility, automatically calculating lines of fire and escape routes. My back itched without a shoulder holster across it.

Naturally, my attention was attracted by the argument. Every time the man raised his voice or barked out a curse, my eyes flashed in their direction. And the woman was appealing enough to draw looks in her own right, the more so with her cheeks flushed and tears making her eyes overbright.

I've never been backward at answering the door when opportunity knocks. So when her feller stormed out and she was left there alone, nursing her drink and dabbing at her eyes with a sodden tissue, I moved right in. I went to the bar and ordered a brandy, then carried it to her table and slid into the still warm chair opposite.

"Here," I said, sliding the brandy across. "This is a bit stronger than what you've got, and you look like you could use it."

Her eyes barely flicked up at me first, but they came back for a second glance. My looks may not be the sort of thing poetry's written about, but they've always been good for attracting attention, and I've learned to make good use of it.

"Thanks," she sniffed, "but I really shouldn't. I'll have to drive --" Her voice broke; probably she had been expecting to go home with her boyfriend.

"You can take a taxi. Or I'd be happy to give you a ride. Besides," I urged, "one drink won't send you under the table." It'll just open your legs a little, was what I was thinking. God, I never realised I was so selfish before!

So she drank the brandy, and I bought her another. And a whisky the following round, and then another. If it had been Bodie, my best mate, I would have made him pay his share, but I figured she would pay me back in another coin. Hell, if it had been Bodie, I wouldn't have let him drink so much -- not unless I knew I'd be there to take care of him when he couldn't walk straight.

I was certainly planning to be with this girl, but I wasn't particularly thinking in terms of taking care of her. More taking advantage, I suppose, though I didn't think of it that way at the time.

We talked, of course. I can hardly remember what about. Her name was Amy something-or-other, and she mostly just wanted to complain about her boyfriend and how inconsiderate he was. This was not the most scintillating topic of conversation I might have wished for, but I tried to present a sympathetic front as she droned on about Steve. I guess I managed to hold up my end of things, 'cause she didn't send me packing or disappear during a visit to powder her nose or anything like that.

A bit before closing time we staggered out to the car park. "Not sure you should be driving, darlin'," I said as Amy bent over to peer at the lock of a tiny Volkswagen. I gently pulled the keys from her hand. "Cummon -- my car's just a few blocks down, I can give you a lift." But instead I led her to my flat.

It wasn't until we were inside that she twigged something was off. "Thought you were givin' me a lift," she said blearily as she leaned back against the door.

"Well, 'm not sure I should be driving, either," I said cheerfully. "Cup of coffee might do me some good. Would you like one?"

I got the coffees and settled down next to her on the settee, snuggling a little closer than was strictly necessary. She was half asleep, so I coaxed some coffee into her to wake her up. Then I offered a couple of chocolates that had somehow survived Bodie's last visit, probably because they had coconut in 'em -- he hates that. She got a dab of chocolate smeared at the corner of her mouth, so naturally I leaned forward to kiss it away.

We had a long, wet and very exciting clinch. I was hard in seconds. Truth to tell, I don't think I'd really calmed down since the bullets were flying in the afternoon. Danger always takes me that way; if I can't get a bird after a day like I'd just had, I would jack off a few times just to get calm enough to sleep. It hadn't bothered me since the first few times I felt that peculiar combination of fear and arousal, but now I wonder what it says about me, about the kind of things that turn me on, and how I get my kicks.

But I'd been through this before, and I knew how to make it good for a girl even when I was in a hurry. I held back as much as I could, nibbling and kissing my way down her neck and stroking her sides when all I really wanted was to plunge into her and lose myself.

Once we'd got to the stage where my shirt was gone (can't remember who took it off) and hers was all unbuttoned, and I was reaching inside that lacy bra to pinch her nipples, I figured it was time to move to the bedroom. I made the suggestion between kisses, and she nodded and stood up and followed me there.

It was a tactical error, though -- God, listen to me, I still sound like I'm discussing some sort of siege, a storm-the-barricades, overrun-the-opposition maneuver, even when I feel so lousy about the whole thing I can't sleep or eat! I never realised how deep those habits of thought can go.

Anyway, she balked at the door of the bedroom. Said something like "I really shouldn't . . ."

I wasn't listening. I nuzzled at her neck, trying to get her as hot for it as I was. "It's all right, sweetheart," I mumbled, "I'll make it good for you." And a bunch of other nonsense I can't remember. I coaxed her into the room.

She dug in her heels when we reached the foot of the bed. "No. I can't. Steve --"

"Forget Steve," I told her. "Who cares about Steve?" I picked her up and tipped her back on the bed, smothering her with kisses so she couldn't object anymore. My hands were busy at the buttons of her skirt -- a complicated arrangement, but nothing I hadn't encountered before. I didn't even need to sit back and see what I was doing; I had her naked in under a minute, and my clothes were gone almost as soon.

Her hands kept getting in the way, so I held them over her head. I was still kissing for all I was worth, using all the tricks I had ever learned to make it good for a woman, but really I was just going through the motions. I didn't hear what she said, if anything, and I probably wouldn't have cared if I did hear it. All her wriggling and heaving just made it more exciting for me.

Once I was inside her nothing short of World War III could have stopped me -- and maybe not even that. I let go of her hands and wrapped my arms around her body, trying to get closer, trying to embed myself in her flesh. And I thrust hard and fast until I exploded inside her like a cannon. That was what I thought at the moment: like a cannon, or a great Magnum gun. And I never would have pegged myself as the sex-and-violence type.

She pushed me off her afterwards and hit my chest, crying and babbling something I couldn't understand. For someone who's been beaten up by experts as many times as I have, her blows were like a butterfly's kiss. And she wasn't even aiming at vulnerable areas, so I figured it was just a show, a bit of play. I grabbed for her wrists again to stop her hitting me. I think I even slapped her back once, when one of her punches came close to my eye.

"Wassamatter?" I mumbled. "Too fast for you?" Between the alcohol and the sex, I wasn't exactly clearheaded myself, but that's hardly an excuse. The fact is, I didn't realise what she was saying because I didn't care. All I cared about was how I felt. "Make it better the second time," I promised, and started to kiss her again.

I really put some work into it this time, using all the technique that had endeared me to birds throughout London and environs. She stopped struggling and just lay there, so I took that for consent. But looking back I can remember that her face was blotched and salty, and I have a nasty feeling those sudden gasps and heaves for breath had more in common with sobs of misery than cries of passion.

I took it a lot slower this time, but she didn't seem to be getting any nearer to climax. Well, some birds don't. And it can be hard to tell, sometimes, whether she feels like she's gotten her fair share. So, since she wasn't giving any indication of what she wanted -- nothing I was willing to listen to, anyway -- I went ahead and finished by myself. Then I rolled off her and fell asleep.

The phone woke me up. I groaned and buried my head under the pillow. I wasn't on duty or on standby; there was no reason I had to answer it. But it kept ringing and I suddenly remembered Bodie. What if there'd been some sort of complication? They'd said he would be fine, but I've seen some weird things in my time: tough, fit guys who drop dead of an embolism the day they're supposed to go home after minor surgery; unexpected allergic reactions to drugs that gave one girl brain damage and had another bloke in the ICU for an extra week. So I picked up the receiver and tried to make a coherent noise into the business end.

"4.5?" said the night-duty dispatcher. "Is everything all right at your flat?"

"Eh?" I mumbled. I managed to pry my eyes open and look around the room blearily. It looked normal enough.

"We've had an alarm triggered at your flat. Has there been a break-in, or did you just set it wrong?"

"Oh. Dunno, I was asleep. I'll check. Two minutes, all right?"

I was awake now, ready for danger, and reaching for my gun. I found the holster slung on my bedpost as usual, but the gun wasn't in it. Alerted, I looked around the room. A dark shape on the bedside table drew my attention, and I found that the gun had somehow been moved there. It was possible I could have set it there without remembering, but the safety was off as well. I would never, no matter how drunk or stoned or exhausted or aroused, forget to put the safety on before setting a gun down. It's just a reflex.

Only then did it occur to me that something was wrong. There should have been someone else in my room, in my bed. She had been here a short while ago . . . Amy, that was the name. Where was she?

I crept out of the room, gun in hand. The bathroom was dark and silent. No one in the sitting-room or kitchen. The front door was closed and locked.

A draught of cool air eventually led me to the window which was open a crack. I couldn't have left it that way, or the alarms wouldn't have been set at all. I peered out onto the fire escape. No sign of forced entry from the outside, no running figures in the street. Mindful of fingerprints, I left the window standing two inches open and padded back to the bedroom to tell Control that I was in no danger but had to check if anything was missing.

It took me a while to come to the obvious conclusion. First I thought of burglary, but nothing was gone. Then I considered espionage, but a quick check turned up no bugs. I could have a proper electronic sweep done tomorrow, but it made no more sense for someone to bug my flat this way than for someone to try to rob me. Anyone who knew that I was an agent would have known I had an alarm system; anyone who didn't know I was an agent would see only an ordinary Joe, not rich enough or important enough to bother about.

Kidnapping, then? After all, Amy was gone. But surely I would have wakened if anyone had dragged her by force from my bed. . .

So maybe she left voluntarily.

And then I saw it. She wanted to leave. But this particular flat had an even tighter security arrangement than most I'd lived in; to open the front door, even from the inside, you needed the keys. Those would be in my jeans, lying on the bedroom floor, but perhaps she hadn't thought of that. So she had opened a window, slipped out onto the fire escape, and presumably walked back to her car.

I was bewildered at first. Why hadn't she simply wakened me and asked for the keys to the door, or even a ride home? For that matter, why was she so desperate to leave at two in the morning? Did she want to get back to her precious Steve and make up with him?

That was when I started remembering her objections once I had gotten her in the bedroom, and my memories slowly came into focus.

I tried to deny it at first. I made excuses for myself. She wasn't a virgin, she was beyond the age of consent, she knew what she was getting into. What did she think I wanted, buying her drinks, bringing her here? If she wanted to back out, she could have done it then. She didn't have to wait until I was hard as a rock and too excited to think straight . . .

Except that it wasn't her fault I'd gotten turned on so fast. That had more to do with the addictive, heady rush of danger I'd felt earlier that day; if it could be laid at anyone's door, it would be the bastard who shot Bodie. Amy had no way of knowing I would heat up like that. And I had urged her to accept those drinks, and I had half-tricked her into coming to my flat. I had bodily lifted her into my bed, held her down and forced her. And when she objected I did it again.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and this vision was merciless. I could see both sides so clearly, maybe because of the time I spent in the Met. I'd heard the same story so often: "I was crying, I told him to stop. . . " "I didn't think she really meant it . . . "

I had never thought those bastards were worth a second glance. I'd never trust or befriend a man who believed it was okay to force a woman. But now I'd done it myself without even realising it -- not because the clues weren't there for me to see, but because I didn't want to see them.

I went over the whole scene again and again, getting more and more sick of myself, until Control called me back after an hour to check on my status.

I don't even remember what I said on the phone; I suppose I made sense since they didn't send anyone out to my place. What I do recall is the discovery I made as I hung up. There was some sort of damp, sticky mess on the carpet near the bedside table. I flicked on the lamp and studied it: a stain spilling down the edge of the bed, stinking of alcohol, coffee and bile.

She had thrown up. She had been so disgusted and upset she had thrown up. It wasn't just the drink, I knew. She'd been pleasantly spliced, but not pissed to the point of sickness. No, it was what I'd done that had disgusted her to the point of turning her body inside out.

I remembered the gun that had been moved, and suddenly I could see the picture so clearly. Bodie always says my imagination's too vivid, as if he thought that was some sort of insult. Maybe he's right at that, because the vision that rose before my eyes was so detailed it made me feel sick.

Her attacker, oblivious, has dropped off to sleep and is snoring in the middle of the bed. She slips out the side, muffling her sobs so as not to wake him. She dresses quickly. Maybe she has trouble finding her things, so she turns on the light, frightened it might wake him. And she sees the gun by the bed. She takes it out of the holster, points it at the man who violated her. She thumbs off the safety with a loud click, and still he doesn't wake up -- just gives a disgusting little snort and rolls over. She aims the gun at his head, then at his groin, and her hand is trembling. She can hardly see for the tears in her eyes. Finally her stomach rebels and she drops the gun, spewing over the bed. She leaves shaking and terrified, so frightened of him that she doesn't even dare go back into the room to get the keys that will let her out.

Around this point, my own stomach decided to turn inside out, and I ran for the bathroom.

I don't remember much of the rest of that night. I know I didn't sleep; I couldn't stand to get near the bed, much less lie in it. Mostly I paced. Whenever I tried to sit or lie down my self-loathing just got worse. Food or drink was out of the question; I threw up three times altogether, and it wasn't alcohol in my case either. My mind was roiling with ugly thoughts. I half-expected the police to show up at my door, and I rehearsed what I would say to them. I couldn't deny what I'd done, but Cowley would be angry if I simply confessed -- that could leave CI5 open to all sorts of nasty accusations.

Maybe it wasn't so bad, I tried to reassure myself. Maybe she was just upset, and she would call tomorrow or drop by, and I could explain that I didn't mean any of it. I'm a nice feller, truly -- all my birds say so.

Except this one. Christ!

I wanted to call hospitals to see if she'd been admitted, call police stations to see if she was laying charges. But I couldn't even remember her name. Amy Wilson, or Winthrop, or something. Shows how much attention I was paying to her at the time, I suppose.

A little while after dawn I remembered her car, and I left the flat at a run to check for it near the pub. The car park was empty, but seeing it triggered my memory. I could remember the registration number of her Volkswagen, all carefully recorded in my copper's brain. I leaned back against the wall of the pub and laughed with tears streaming down my cheeks. Couldn't remember the girl's name, or her boyfriend's, or where she lived or what she worked at, but one glimpse of a car's number plates and the registration was burned into my memory. And what the hell does that say about my priorities?

I called Base and got them to run the registration number through the computers, without telling them what it was for. The car showed as belonging to one Amelia Winton, who lived in Fulham. The car had not been reported stolen, nor had it been involved in any accidents. I was outside the block of flats in a matter of minutes, and there was the Volkswagen parked outside.

I had my hand poised to knock when I realised I had no idea what I intended to say. What could I say? Sorry, didn't mean it? Won't happen again? Buy you dinner to make it up to you?

But I had to know if she was all right. I had to find out if she was really as upset as the stain on my bed seemed to imply. So I knocked.

She opened the door saying, "Oh, Ste --" and froze as she saw me on the landing.

I stared at her, really seeing her as a thinking, feeling person for the first time. Her eyes were red and puffy, shadowed by dark circles. Her hair was wet and her skin was pink from too much scrubbing. I could guess what that meant; God, she felt she had to wash the touch of me from her skin.

She was wearing a long towelling robe; when she saw me her hand rose at once to pull it closed at her neck. But I had already seen the bite marks on the collarbone, and her wrist showed angry bruises just beyond the edge of the sleeve. Christ, did I do that?

I swallowed. "Are you all right?"

Her eyes were enormous. Her mouth moved, but no sound came out at first. "What are you doing here? How did you find me?" she whispered at last.

"I, er -- just wanted to make sure you're okay."

"Okay?" she repeated, as if the word had no meaning for her.

"You weren't -- are you hurt? Look, I'm really sorry. I was -- I didn't mean to --"

"How did you find me?" she demanded on a rising note. "How did you get in here? Go away! I never want to see you again!"

She started to slam the door, but I got my foot up against it and blocked it. "Amy, I'm sorry. I didn't realise you were --"

"Didn't realise! I said no, and all you did was put your hand over my --" She gagged, covering her mouth with one hand.

"I'm so sorry," I whispered.

"Amy?" came a voice from the stairs behind me. "Is this man bothering you?"

"Steve!" she gasped. "No, I -- I don't know him. I just --" She trailed off, completely flustered.

She didn't seem to want him to know about it, so I followed her lead. "I just stopped by to ask for directions. Hell of an hour to get lost, innit?" My voice sounded shockingly normal, considering that I had turned to a block of ice inside. "I saw a light on in here, so I knocked. Thank you, miss, I think I know my way now."

Steve grabbed my elbow as I passed. "Just a minute. Amy, is this the man you told me about?"

Fingers pressed to her lips, Amy nodded.

"You bastard!" Steve snarled, and planted a fist squarely in my eye.

He was three inches taller and at least two stone heavier than me, but I'm accustomed to odds like that. After I bounced off the wall, I ducked his second blow and drove a punch into his soft belly. He folded over neatly, and I only just stopped myself from chopping him on the neck to knock him out. Instead I gave him a shove that tipped him onto the floor, then hurried down the stairs. I heard Amy's door slam above me.

I was a few blocks away before I realised I'd gone about it all wrong. Not hitting Steve; I'd had to defend myself against him. But I shouldn't have run. I should have tried to talk to them. Maybe Amy wouldn't have been so frightened with Steve there to support her. Maybe I could speak to her, let her know . . .

What? That I really wasn't the raping type?

Oh, Christ.

Definitely I shouldn't have tried to pretend I was someone else. That amounted to denying the whole thing -- and after all my plans of telling the bare truth to anyone who should ask.

But I thought she'd wanted it that way. I thought she was trying to keep the whole story from Steve.

I braked to a stop in the middle of the road as another thought occurred to me. Steve was a big, nasty bloke, as quick tempered as me if not more so. And he'd been arguing with her last night. What if he somehow blamed this all on her? What if he threw it in her face that she'd tossed him out and in the next breath agreed to come home with me? What if he decided to take his anger out on her?

I'd known it to happen. As many times as I'd seen weeping victims and slimy rapists claiming innocence, I'd also seen angry boyfriends who saw the act as an affront to themselves, and ended up punishing the woman for what she couldn't have controlled.

I was ready to turn round and fly back there, burst into the flat and tear Steve off her if necessary, but I had just enough sense not to do it. It was ridiculous, me acting all protective about a woman I'd just hurt in that particular way.

Or maybe protective wasn't the word. Maybe it was more like possessive.

That's right, Doyle. Fuck her once, whether she agrees or not, and she's yours for life. You go back there and tell Steve he can't have her. See if that makes her feel any better.

I pulled up to a public phone box and called in an anonymous tip to the police about a dispute at Amy's address. If Steve was putting the hard word on her, the coppers would put a stop to it. If he was just comforting her, they'd assume the neighbours had called because of the punch-up between Steve and me.

I knew, when I made the call, that it made it much more likely Amy would lay a complaint against me.

When the door chimed later that morning, I thought it must be the police come to question me. I buzzed them in without using the intercom.

But it wasn't the police; it was my partner. He stood on the threshold leaning on a cane and glared at me. "What the hell're you doing, opening the door to anyone who walks by?"

"Oh. It's you," I said dully. I went back to the sitting room and picked up the icepack I had left on the coffee table.

Bodie trailed after me. "And who'd you think it was, a professional assassin with a shooter and a silencer? I suppose you would've welcomed them with open arms?"

This is a sore point with Bodie, even more so than with me. Naturally I've been more careful about setting my locks and alarms since the time I was nearly killed in my own flat, but Bodie gets positively paranoid about my security. I suppose he must remember the incident even more vividly than I do, and I don't imagine it was much fun for him.

But there was nothing I could say to Bodie. At this point, I probably would have been relieved to meet up with an assassin. At least it would save me having to tell Cowley why I intended pleading guilty on a charge of rape.

Bodie stared as I pressed the ice to my aching eye. "What the hell happened to you?"

"Went to a pub last night," I said shortly. "Got into a bit of a punch-up." Two true statements, entirely misleading when they were put together. I'm a good liar when I want to be, and sometimes even when I don't.

"A CI5 agent in a pub brawl? Tell me Cowley hasn't heard about this," Bodie groaned.

"Not yet."

"And I suppose you're going to tell him? Doyle, that may be carrying your high ideals just a bit far." He paused, probably expecting me to rise to the bait.

I just slumped on the settee and stared at the carpet, pulling the ice away as my skin went numb.

"I trust the other guy looks worse?" Bodie said, in a deceptively light tone. He could tell something was wrong -- well, I wasn't exactly trying to hide it -- and he was probing cautiously, trying to find out what it was.

But he picked the wrong tack to take this time. The other guy in this case had probably come off somewhat better than I did, but the girl had certainly carried away her share of souvenirs. "Oh yeah," I drawled, leaning my head back against the cushions. "Much worse."

"That's something, then." Evidently oblivious to my misery, Bodie started to ease himself into a chair.

"Go away, Bodie," I moaned.

That startled him, and he dropped to the cushions a little too rapidly. I saw his wince and knew it was my fault, like everything else. Bodie had been leaning on that cane, really using it for support instead of treating it like a weapon or an extra hand. Coming from a man who can make a sling look like a fashion accessory, that meant he was really in pain.

I hadn't noticed, had I? Always paying attention to myself, I am.

I closed my eyes against a wave of black self-hatred, but sitting here on my duff wasn't going to help Bodie any. "Want some tea?" I got out, in a relatively normal voice.

Bodie was definitely on his guard now, not sure what to expect from me. "That'd be nice," he replied. "Three lumps. I can use the energy."

I brought back a mug for him and set my own cup untasted on the table as I reached again for the icepack.

"Ta. So where were you when I got out of hospital?"

I dropped the ice and knocked over my tea. It burned where it splashed my legs, but the pain hardly registered.

I had said I would pick Bodie up at the hospital. He was always scrupulous about taking me home and looking after me when I'd been knocked about. Not only was he invariably there when I was ready to leave, he always had my flat ready for me; heat turned up, fridge stocked, clean towels waiting and plenty of scotch, tea or fruit juice to hand depending on my condition. But I hadn't been there for him. I'd completely forgotten my partner.

Bodie was right in front of me when I opened my eyes, crouching in a position that had to be uncomfortable and mopping at my sodden jeans with a handkerchief -- his, of course; I don't own such a thing.

"Clumsy sod," he muttered affectionately as he swabbed my legs. "You're in a pitiful state today. You got a hangover on top of that black eye?"

I swallowed a lump in my throat that felt like a chestnut. "I'm sorry, Bodie. I forgot."

"Slept in, did you? I thought so. Was she worth it?"


"The bird you picked up last night. Don't try to tell me you didn't, there's an earring under your coffee table. Did you have a good night, then?"

I barely made it to the kitchen sink before throwing up again.

As I rinsed my mouth afterwards, a warm hand folded over my shoulder. "What's wrong, Ray?" Bodie asked gently. "This is more than a hangover."

I splashed my face with water and then hid it behind a washcloth. "I'm sorry, Bodie," I repeated. "Meant to be there when you got out. I really did. I just --"

My words sounded too much like the excuses I'd made to Amy.

"'S all right," Bodie said reassuringly. "I took a cab."

I pulled myself together with a monumental effort. "Suppose you could still use a hand though, eh? You haven't got any shopping in, have you?" I knew he hadn't, since he'd been just as busy on the Collins case as I was. I had only managed to restock my cupboards after I left Bodie at the hospital. It seemed a lifetime ago.

For the rest of the day, I applied myself to taking care of Bodie. I took him home, did his shopping, and made him a hearty dinner. I flatly rejected his suggestion of a bath and instead gave him a spongedown with a wet flannel while he clung to the handbasin and imperiously ordered me to return to every spot I'd missed. Later, when he started to look pale and tired, I changed the sheets on his bed and tucked him in, even though he insisted he was fine.

I managed to concentrate on what Bodie might want during this time, but I don't suppose I was very good company. I could hardly bring myself to say anything but monosyllables. Bodie didn't push, though, just nattered on at odd moments or let the silence sit undisturbed at others. I suppose my unexplained brooding might even have made him uncomfortable, but he never complained.

It made me feel a little better anyway. Kept me distracted, and gave me a chance to show I wasn't entirely a selfish bastard -- just ninety-nine percent of me, I decided glumly as I tossed pillows and blankets onto Bodie's sofa for the night.

The thought of sleeping in my own bed sickened me.

Sometime after two in the morning -- it's amazing how far away you can hear church bells in the dead of night, especially when you can't get to sleep -- Bodie came yawning out of his bedroom and limped toward the kitchen, pulling a robe about him as he went. He guzzled half a container of the juice I had bought to help him recover from the blood loss, then headed back to bed. He froze as he got his first good look at the sofa, then tried to walk more quietly -- ridiculous because he was lurching unsteadily on that stiff wounded leg.

I turned my head. "You needn't bother," I said. "I'm awake."

He paused. "What're you doing here, anyway?"

"Trying to sleep. Only someone keeps thumping round the flat like a bloody great elephant."

"Ha ha. I only got up for a drink. No, I meant, why are you still here at this hour?"

"Going to want breakfast in the morning, aren't you?"

"You volunteering to cook?" Bodie wondered, startled. Usually I take a little more persuading than that.

"It's either that or let you feed yourself. Prob'ly have burnt toast and a Swiss roll for breakfast," I grumbled. Bodie isn't really as incapable in a kitchen as he likes to pretend. Well, it stands to reason; anyone with an appetite like his could never manage to get through life without learning something about food preparation. It's his choice of diet that appalls me. Anyway, he doesn't know I know he can cook, so I went on: "Didn't fancy driving home and then all the way back here just to cook for you."

Puzzling over my apparent altruism, Bodie tried to shift his weight for comfort and nearly toppled over.

I grabbed his elbow and steadied him as he flailed for balance. "I'm also here to make sure you don't rip all your bloody stitches out!" I snapped, getting up and worming my shoulder under his arm. "Why aren't you using the stick?"

"Forgot," he mumbled and yawned hugely.

"Cummon, Wee Willie Winkie, back to bed with you." I supported him towards the bedroom.

"Watch who you're calling 'wee,'" Bodie muttered as I helped him into bed. Then: "Why you using the sofa anyway?"

"Because you haven't got a spare bed, why do you think?"

"This one's big enough for two."

"Didn't want to disturb you."

"What? Come off it, Ray, we've bunked together often enough on the job. You won't keep me awake."

"Your leg," I protested vaguely. "If I roll over and bump you--"

"So, sleep on the other side. No wonder you weren't getting any sleep, folded up on that bloody lumpy excuse for a sofa." Bodie moved a pillow to the other side of the bed and plumped it invitingly.

So I slid in next to him and stared at the bedroom ceiling instead of the one in the sitting room. The warm, solid bulk of him next to me was reassuring. Decidedly un-fragile. I never needed to worry about hurting Bodie, and if I did he'd soon let me know. Thump me for it, most likely. Eventually, the sound of his peaceful breathing calmed me and I relaxed into sleep.

I dreamt that I was watching myself commit unspeakable crimes, and I was powerless to stop it. In the middle of a particularly ugly scene where I was carving Paul Coogan into small chunks, I jerked awake. I was covered in sweat and breathing hard.

Before I could slip away quietly, Bodie rolled toward me and patted my arm. "Sshh, 'salright, jus' a dream," he slurred sleepily. He snuggled contentedly against my side and draped his arm across my chest. There was something so sweet and trusting about it, in contrast with the dream I'd been having, that I wanted to cry. I held still to keep from disturbing him, and I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew it was morning.

I had that day off as well -- the usual two days that Cowley gives us after a successful operation concludes -- and I had planned to spend it with Bodie. The sleep had done me some good and I wasn't so sick and shaky inside. But my mood had swung over to anger. More than that -- rage.

I didn't go quite so far as deluding myself that it was really all Amy's fault, but I resented her like hell. I was angry at her for being in that pub at just that moment, for being vulnerable, for changing her mind, for looking so hurt when I went to her flat. I was angry at Steve for leaving her in that pub looking like fair game for any man who came along, angry at Kelly and Peg and Daphne for not being there yesterday when I needed them, angry at Bodie for being in the hospital instead of keeping me in line.

I got myself out of Bodie's flat shortly after breakfast on the excuse of having errands to run, and I spent the entire day stalking around in a state of fury. I never quite settled on an appropriate target for my temper, and I didn't feel like thinking logically long enough to find one, but the emotion was so real I could feel it burning in my chest: blind, choking rage and hatred at the world in general, and in particular anyone who walked into my line of vision.

At the end of the afternoon, when those with normal work schedules would just be getting home, I pulled out my address book to plan my evening. I felt I deserved a little fun -- the world owed it to me, somehow. But with the number almost dialled I froze, flashing on a visual and tactile memory of Amy struggling beneath me. She pushed at my chest, tried to twist out from under me, but I pinned her down so easily I hardly realised I was doing it. Amy's face was replaced by Daphne's, by Kelly's, by a succession of other ladies of my acquaintance . . . by Ann Holly. I had managed to eat a solid lunch that day despite the lump of fury in my throat, but I lost it all before I could finish dialling.

I spent the night on my settee, which was even more uncomfortable than Bodie's sofa.

The next day I was back to feeling guilty again, the more so because of my self-righteous bout of temper. Cowley assigned me a week of back-filing, claiming I was little use to him with Bodie on the sick list, which we both know isn't true. In fact, I think he was annoyed that I refused to explain the black eye, and he suspected that he wouldn't like the way I had acquired it. He looked surprised and even a little worried when I accepted the assignment without complaint. It seemed just punishment, after all -- and there was no way I could concentrate well enough for a stakeout or a solo operation.

I didn't tell him what I had done. For the last two days I had wavered between telling him and not telling him, but once I was there in his office the prospect of his cold disgust and tight-lipped disapproval seemed too much to bear. The police had never come looking for me, so I assumed Amy was not pressing charges and there was no real need for Cowley to know. Let him go on believing his ace operatives were fine, upstanding lads.

I should have told him at once, of course. The morning after, as soon as I realised what I'd done. But I'd put it off; I'd waited for the accusations to start, and when they never came I kept my mouth shut.

It occurred to me, sometime around the middle of the week, that I was reacting more like a victim of rape than a perpetrator. The cycles of anger and self loathing, the sense that I was dirty all over, the insomnia and loss of appetite -- all those are typical victim responses. I avoided my bedroom, I was shy of physical contact with anyone, especially women, and just the thought of having it off gave me the shakes. I kept having flashbacks to the event, as I often did after a really stressful op -- but these were worse in a way, because I saw the memories in a completely different light now than I had at the time.

Only, a real rape victim has people to tell her that it wasn't really her fault, however guilty or dirty she feels inside. I had no such consolation, and any shame I suffered was only a poor payment for what I had done. It wasn't like I could go to a rape crisis center for support: "Help me, I raped someone and I feel really bad about it" just isn't very convincing.

I drove past Amy's block of flats a few times. Once I even caught sight of her car out front. But I couldn't go in. The poor girl would just think I was hounding her. And anyway, what business did I have begging her for forgiveness? It wasn't like I deserved it. I wrote her letters explaining how ashamed I was, how totally out of character that night was for me, and how I hoped she could forgive me. Then I burnt them all within minutes of writing them. In the end I just sent her a brochure with a list of phone numbers for rape counseling services, people who could help her deal with the emotional and legal ramifications of being raped. I didn't put my name on the envelope.

By the time Bodie was back on light duty (meaning paperwork and low-priority obbos), I figured I was pretty much back to normal, at least as far as anyone else could tell. I was eating again in a mechanical sort of way, and I had even managed to chuckle at a couple of jokes the other day. I figured Bodie wouldn't realise anything was wrong; there was no way he could know I still didn't dare sleep in my own bed.

That's a laugh, that is. Bodie started worrying the minute I picked him up. Asked me what was wrong before he'd even closed the car door. I told him it was nothing, and he wouldn't buy it. Kept goading me until I nearly snapped his head off, which only made me feel worse. He spent the rest of the day alternating between tentative questions and attempts to cheer me up.

After I'd lost a third round of darts, ignored Bodie's outrageous stories about flight training and failed to give him the straight lines for his jokes, he was just about fed up with me.

"Come on, Ray, what's wrong? You've been in the dumps all day."

"Just leave it alone, will you, Bodie? Okay, I admit, something's wrong. But it's private, okay? I don't want to talk about it."

"It's a bird, then. Not one of the ones I know -- maybe the one you met after I got shot? Or . . . Ann Holly isn't back in town, is she?"

I burst out of the lounge and hurried to the loo before my stomach could rebel again. I washed my hands and splashed cold water on my face, trying to make myself calm down.

Bodie was there when I opened my eyes after ten deep breaths. "Not pregnant, are you?"

"Just leave it, Bodie, I'm warning you!"

"What, my partner turns green and runs out of the room every verse end, and I'm not supposed to ask why?"

"It's personal. Understand, personal? I don't have to share everything with you, do I?"

"Usually you want to share. And who could help you better than me, huh? Cummon Ray -- who loves ya, babe?" In one of his more atrocious impersonations.

"No one can help with this," I told him, not about to be swayed by his idea of humour. "So just pack it in, will you, before I tell the Cow I think you need another week's sick leave."

That shut him up right enough.

Everything was quiet after that. I was moved to a new flat a couple of weeks later, so I could sleep in a proper bed and I wasn't troubled so much by nightmares. I even went on a few dates, though I couldn't make myself follow through -- just mumbled some excuse and took the girl home. I thought everything was pretty much back to normal. Then I almost gave myself away when we went to ask Ernie Croyden about the Cavendish case. He wasn't even a suspect -- just a small-time thief and occasional fence, no form except a little B&E, possession of stolen goods, that sort of thing. He'd been seen in company with Cavendish over the last few weeks and might have some information, that was all. But when we were just about to knock on his door we heard noises from inside.

Bodie, who has very sharp hearing, grinned at me and said, "I think he's got a girl in there with him."

I listened more closely, and sure enough, I could make out murmurs and sighs from within. Then, as I stood with my ear very nearly pressed to the door, I heard a woman's voice rising sharply.

"No. Ernie, stop it. No, I said -- Ernie! Get off!"

Before Bodie's knuckles could touch the wood, I pushed him aside and kicked the door in. There was Ernie bending over the back of a battered old sofa, his hands creeping down the blouse of a woman who was trying to fend him off. I grabbed his collar, swung him round, and sent him crashing into the wall. The woman screamed as I laid into old Ernie. A knee in his gut before he could get his feet under him properly, then a fist right on the end of his bulbous nose. Enormously gratified by his squeak of pain, I reached for his throat. Then there were hands pulling me away -- my partner's familiar large ones and another pair tipped with daggers.

"You fucking bastard!" Red nails flashed in my face. "Don't you hurt my Ernie. Don't you even touch him!"

Bodie got her by the upper arms and hauled her away. He shoved her into the bathroom, slammed the door, and tipped a chair under the handle. Furious pounding ensued.

"Bloody hell!" said Ernie indistinctly from behind his hands. "I think you've broken me nose!"

"Let's see." Bodie pulled his hands away and examined the injury. "No, it's not broken," he concluded, handing Ernie a handkerchief for the bleeding. He paused a moment as if expecting something, then added in a nastier tone, "Just bent. Isn't that right, Croyden?"

Ernie cringed. "Dunno what you mean."

"Then you'd better figure it out, hadn't you?" Bodie said calmly. "'Cause my partner here is not a patient man."

Ernie tossed me a fearful look. "What d'ye want to know?" he whined.

Bodie handled the interrogation as smoothly as if we'd planned it with the old hard-and-soft routine. Only I was too dozy to play my part. Every once in a while Bodie would shoot me a significant look or move as if to give me a clear run at Croyden. But I wasn't even following the exchange well enough to pick up on my cues. I hardly heard a thing until Bodie clapped Ernie on the shoulder, issued a final vague warning, and led me out of the flat.

In the car Bodie gave me a very odd look, and I braced myself for questions. But he merely dug into the glove box for a fresh hankie -- I swear, the man probably carries one in the pocket of his tracksuit! -- and dabbed at my face. I hadn't noticed the stinging of my cheek, and I raised a hand to investigate.

Bodie batted it away. "Leave it!" he snapped. "Don't want to get cat scratch fever, now do you?"

I realised Ernie's girlfriend had marked me with her crimson nails. She had defended Ernie, who had apparently been pressing unwanted attentions on her. I shivered in miserable confusion.

"Right, then," Bodie said briskly, putting the stained cloth away. "What's up?"

I just stared at him.

"Cummon Ray, I know something's wrong. You tore into Ernie like he was some mass murderer, then when I was trying to get him to talk you just went shtum and didn't back me up. So what's wrong?"

I swallowed. Bodie really did deserve some explanation for the way I had acted. "That bird . . . " I managed.

"The one who would've scratched your eyes out if it hadn't been for me? Yeh, what about her?"

"I heard her yell at him before we came in. Thought he was--" I couldn't even pronounce the words.

"Putting the hard word on her?" Bodie's eyes lit up with amusement. "So you burst in like the seventh cavalry, defending her honour, and when she doesn't appreciate the service your poor ego gets bruised."

"It wasn't like that!" I yelled.

He held up a placating hand. "Easy, Raymond. You really are light on the trigger today, aren't you?"

I straightened myself angrily in the passenger seat. "Just drive, will you?" I snarled. "Did you get anything useful out of Ernie?"

"You mean you weren't even listening?" Bodie said in wonder as he started the car. "I thought you experienced coppers knew better than to get involved in domestic disputes."

He was right, though he meant it as a joke. In the Met, I'd been trained not to interfere unless the fight got physical and the right and wrong of it was truly glaring. Anything less, and it would be the well-intentioned copper who took the blame for butting in. Women are always reluctant to admit a boyfriend might have been in the wrong, even when they have the bruises to show for it. Maybe at some level they're afraid of more bruises down the line if they stand up for themselves.

The thing is, I'd thought it was a clear-cut matter when I was listening through the door. She told him no, she raised her voice, she sounded angry -- frightened? -- and I thought she needed help. When I laid into Ernie it was like I was defending Amy, punishing myself -- and redeeming myself at the same time. And then she screamed at me for hitting him, objected to me more violently than she had to Ernie. I felt as though my world had been turned upside-down. I spent the rest of the day pondering in circles about the nature of consent and blame, and making myself more confused than ever.

The whole thing came to a head in the evening. It was well after normal business hours, and the building was quiet. We left our reports on Cowley's desk -- slender things, they were, since Ernie's lead hadn't taken us very far.

As we were heading for the lift, a flash of light under the briefing room door caught our attention. It was a flickering, blue-grey light, and Bodie and I looked at each other in puzzlement; who would be using the movie projector at this hour of the night? We checked our guns and moved to opposite sides of the door without speaking.

A hearty laugh from within the room made the activity sound harmless enough, but Bodie stood back while I turned the handle, opened the door an inch, and peered inside. When I recognised Benny, I nodded to Bodie and walked right in.

Benny, Murphy, Stuart, and Pennington were lounging in various positions on the room's uncomfortable hard chairs. I couldn't get a clear view of the person behind the projector, but the reek of cigars told me it was Anson.

I should have clued in at once, soon's I saw the collection of people and the way they were sitting, but in fact it took me a few seconds. Bodie gave a little crow of delight and claimed a couple of chairs himself, planting his bum in one and his feet on the other. Finally I looked up at the screen to see what everyone thought was so interesting.

Blue movies. They were showing bloody porno flicks in the middle of the night -- in the CI5 briefing room, for Christ's sake! My sense of outrage warred with my appreciation of a bit of harmless fun and the spice of excitement in case Cowley should stop in. I had just settled on a resigned grin when the content of the movie really started to sink in at a physical level.

First it was the groans and disjointed images of flesh -- mostly jiggling female flesh -- that caught my attention. I hadn't taken a bird to bed in over a month, and that one attempt had been a humiliating experience all round. The only relief I'd had came in the form of a few quick wanks in the shower. Even those made me feel guilty, somehow, as if it really was 'self-abuse' like me Mum used to call it. I was even shy of indulging in fantasy because of what might crop up if I let my mind roam freely.

So this film started getting me going in a very short space of time, and I was soon glad that the room was dark and everyone was staring at the screen. But even during the first few minutes, when I couldn't see more than a few isolated body parts, I was aware that something felt wrong about the whole scene . . . so hard to tell if all that moaning was supposed to be pain or pleasure. Probably just a lousy actress, I told myself.

Then, after the noise and motion had reached a sloppy climax amid lewd comments from the audience, the camera pulled back and I could see what was going on. I don't know what the background was supposed to be -- what passes for 'plot' in these films -- but there were three men and one woman, and she was begging them to stop. She was tied hand and foot to a bed, wearing a charming studded collar and hood in addition to stockings with suspenders. As the man who had just finished backed off, another moved in, and the woman pleaded huskily for them to let her go. I suppose from the way her generous bosom was heaving that she was meant to be enjoying it despite her protests, but the scene left me cold. My arousal died within seconds, and that old churning was back in my stomach again.

The third man was done up all in leather and had a black whip, which he played over the woman and the second man who had mounted her. The smack of leather on flesh and the sharp cries, building swiftly to another climax, were nothing but disgusting to me. Yet it was obvious the others thought this was great fun.

"Yeh, let 'er have it!" Benny cried.

"Go to it, old son!" someone else said, and "She's askin' for it, the slut!" from the corner.

I stood rooted, afraid that if I moved I would collapse or spew all over me jacket or something similarly embarrassing. I could hardly believe this was happening. It was as if I was watching with two minds. Part of me remembered that I had always enjoyed such movies myself; only a show after all, all in good fun, the participants were paid to play a part and we weren't hurting anyone by watching. And I always did think a bird looked nice in a bit of strategically placed black leather. But the other part of me was remembering Amy, how easily I had deceived myself that she wanted me, how I had mistaken all her struggles and cries for participation. My fault, my willful blindness, I would never deny that; but I wondered how much that self-deception had been made easier by all the movies I'd watched over the years, all the actresses I'd seen portraying ecstasy in very unpleasant situations, all the joking comments I'd hurled at the screen just as my mates were doing now.

When there was another break in the action the watchers turned to each other and started laughing over something, the film or a joke, I didn't know. Bodie lounged back in his chair and announced, "I heard a good one the other day. Why do birds have two holes?"

"Dunno, why?" Benny demanded.

"So you can carry 'em home like a pack of tinned beer." My partner turned to share his grin with me.

I slammed the door on their laughter and pelted down the corridor.

At the foot of the stairs I bumped into Ruth Pettifer. Literally bumped into her; our heads nearly cracked together. I put out my hands to catch her shoulders and keep her from falling, then an instant later that soft feminine scent hit my nostrils and I jerked my hands away as if they'd been burned.

Pettifer's mouth crimped with disgust. "It won't work, Ray. You've tried that move before."

"I'm not -- I wasn't trying anything. Really."

"Oh? I suppose you always coming rushing down the stairs like that after a long day?"

"No, I -- listen, Ruth, are you leaving?"

She looked at me warily. "Yes, I'm just on my way out as soon as I've picked up some files. Why?"

"Could you drop me at my flat?"

Pencilled brows climbed to meet her blonde fringe. "Who do you think you are, Alpha One? Drive yourself."

"I would, only we came in Bodie's car, and . . . " I glanced up the stairs. "I'd rather not wait for him."

She shook her head as if I were a recalcitrant child. "Not very convincing, 4.5. You'll have to practice that line some more. Or better yet, come up with another one. Your flat's in the opposite direction to mine anyway." She tossed the hair from her eyes and strolled up the stairs, her heels clicking with each step.

Just as well, I suppose. Not sure I could have taken a ride in a car with that perfume all about me. Not that it was so strong or unpleasant, but I was sensitive just then, and I don't think our Ruth would be much impressed if I threw up all over her upholstery.

I had already shelled out a fair bit of cash that day on snitches, and I wasn't in the mood for a cab anyway. I decided to walk.

Naturally it decided to rain that night, so I was sopping wet by the time I got home, a couple of stops on the Underground having shortened my journey only a little. And I wasn't pleased to see a familiar silver-grey car sitting outside my building with a hunched silhouette inside.

I didn't turn at the sound of the footsteps that came up behind me as I unlocked the door -- just stood aside enough to let him in before I reset the locks. Then I headed for the bathroom to dry off. When I finally entered the sitting room with a robe on and a towel around my neck to catch the drips, Bodie had already found the Scotch and was taking up my more comfortable armchair, glowering at the world.

"Where the hell were you?" he demanded.

"Left CI5 and headed straight here."

"On foot?" his voice rose incredulously.

"Mostly." I reached for the whisky myself.


"Because my car was here, berk, not at HQ."

"I would've given you a lift. Was planning to."

I shrugged. "Didn't feel like waiting."

"Well, you might have said!" he exclaimed indignantly.

"Seemed like you were enjoying yourself. Why should I spoil your fun?"

"Dunno -- why should you? You could've stayed, y'know. Usually you like that sort of thing."

I swallowed carefully. "Not in the mood for it tonight, I guess."

"What is wrong with you, Ray?"

"Dunno what you mean." Damn. I sounded about as convincing as Ernie Croyden.

"'Course you do. We haven't been on a double date in months -- in fact I haven't seen you with a bird since last time I got shot. And now you go storming out of HQ because we're watching blue movies -- wassamatter? You gone off birds or something?"

That was too much. I was almost as sick of this interrogation as I was of myself and my shortcomings -- and I sure as hell wasn't going to tell Bodie what had really happened to change my outlook. So I said belligerently, "Yeh, that's right. I've had enough of birds. Decided to try my hand with blokes instead. In fact, I've had my eye on you for a while now. Was wondering when you'd notice." I don't know why I said that -- must have been angrier than I realised. But if it would get Bodie out of my flat, so much the better.

The effect on Bodie was telling, though I didn't have the sense to realise it at the time. He stiffened up in the chair and flushed bright red. Angry, I thought then, but later I wondered. We stared at each other long enough for me to begin to realise there was something odd in his reaction, then Bodie said in a tight, controlled voice, "You bastard. You're pulling my leg. Have it your way then; don't tell me anything." And he slammed out of the flat before I could say another word.

I stood there for a long while, just staring at the door. Bodie hadn't just been angry, but genuinely upset. Hurt, somehow, by what I had said and what I had refused to say. I could make no sense of it at all.

Mechanically I went through the motions of drying my hair and draping my wet clothes over the radiator, even while I tried to puzzle out Bodie's behaviour. The disappointment in his face, the tightness in his voice, the tension in every line of his body as he stalked out the door -- something more there than just frustration at my silence. What on earth could be wrong with my partner?

I had just poured myself some coffee with a generous dollop of brandy in it when the door buzzed in Bodie's brash tattoo. I let him in and he stood dripping on my carpet, soaked to the skin; he hadn't spent the last hour in his car, that much was clear. He stared at me with the strangest expression on his face: angry, worried -- almost haunted. His lips were pressed together whitely.

Taking my cue from that tight-closed mouth, I didn't say a word, just shoved him through the bedroom into the bath and tossed a towel in after him. He'd talk -- I would see to that -- but after he'd gotten dry and stopped shivering.

When he came out I pressed a mug of coffee-and-brandy into his hands and led him into the sitting room. Instead of joining me on the settee he lowered himself to the floor with his back against the armrest and his legs stretched under the coffee table. From where I sat I could see about half his face, drawn tight as a drum with hidden emotion.

"When I was in Africa," he began, and stopped.

That got my attention. I didn't know what to expect, but it certainly wasn't this. Bodie rarely talks about Africa at the best of times, and I'd thought he was brooding about something entirely different.

"In Biafra," he continued after a moment, his voice stone-hard. "There was a black man in our squad, Krivas' second in command. Not an African -- Krivas wouldn't make a partisan his lieutenant. No, Costa was a Frenchman, all suave and smooth-talking even in the middle of the jungle. He hated me. Probably thought I was a threat to his authority. Got nastier each time Krivas put me in charge of an operation. I figured he'd be happy to see me step on a mine, and the feeling was mutual."

I sat silent, baffled but also fascinated. I didn't know what Bodie was leading up to, but it had to be something big.

"Costa managed to get us assigned to the same op. Just a bit of sabo, a quick two-man job, in and out. And when we were done, on the way back to the squad, he jumped me." Bodie paused to take a slow sip from his cup. "Kept telling myself I should have expected it. I mean, there's no illusions about loyalty and trust in the mercs. We were fighting each other as often as the people we got paid to kill. But I was tired, distracted . . . I dunno, suppose I had to let my guard down sometime. Costa saw his moment and he took it. Had me half-unconscious before I knew what was happening.

"I thought this was it, thought he was about to kill me. I was fighting for my life, but I could hardly stand or see straight after the first knock he gave me. It was over before it started; he had me pinned to the ground in under thirty seconds.

"And then he raped me."

I jerked in my seat. I couldn't control my shock, couldn't believe those words had come from my partner's mouth, or that he was sitting there so calm and collected, just sipping his coffee.

"Afterwards --" There was just the hint of a tremor in Bodie's voice, and he paused a moment. "Afterwards he left me lying there, in the mud. I got up when I could, pulled myself together and went back to camp. Nowhere else to go. Costa was there before me. He'd given some story about how we were almost caught and had to split up and return separately. Everybody assumed the mud and bruises and the tears in my clothes came from fighting the other side. I didn't tell the truth. Never said a word against Costa, or to his face. Couldn't stand to look him in the eye or sit at the same fire with him. He just sat there with a fat grin on his mug and this knowing look in his eye. The black bastard! He knew I wouldn't say anything -- that's why he didn't bother to kill me."

Christ, I thought as I heard the first emotion break through. No wonder Bodie has trouble with blacks!

He took a deep breath and another careful sip of his coffee. "I went and curled up in my bedroll. I felt so ashamed, and so dirty. Could never get a proper wash in the jungle anyway, but I don't suppose a thousand showers would have made me feel clean that night.

"I went through it all in the next few weeks. All the classic reactions -- except I didn't exactly appreciate that at the time. Couldn't sleep, couldn't keep any food down for a few days. Couldn't tell anyone about it; I didn't want to. Christ, just the thought of anyone knowing! Bad enough to feel Costa's eyes on me, see him wink and grin whenever I looked at him. I couldn't stand the thought of the others knowing, and laughing about it behind my back."

I wanted to comfort him. God, I wanted to take him in my arms and smooth away all the hurt, wanted to tell him it was okay, I would keep him safe, no one would ever hurt him again, and a heap of other nonsense. As if words could undo what he had suffered! But he was still talking, so I just sat and listened.

"I don't think anyone even realised anything was wrong," he said reflectively. "They thought I had a stomach bug at first -- happens all the time, in the jungle. Then they joked about how wild I was in combat after that, said I was thirsty for blood. But they never twigged. Krivas knew, but I didn't find that out 'til later. He probably knew before it happened." Bodie's hands clenched convulsively, and he set the empty cup carefully aside. "But I got over it," he continued more calmly. "Survived and went on, and got myself back to normal after a while."

"Did you ever talk to anyone about it?" My voice sounded rusty, strange to my ears. "Ever get any help dealing with it?"

"Oh, no." He half-laughed. "Never told a soul until tonight."

I was speechless. I never guessed Bodie would trust me with something like that. I felt deeply honoured, even as I tried to figure out how best to help him.

"So you see," Bodie went on matter-of-factly, "I know just what you're going through. Been there myself."

"What?" I gasped -- but it was all coming sickeningly clear even before he answered. A chill horror descended over my shoulders where his confidence had warmed them.

"I know something happened to you," Bodie explained. "It was the night I spent in hospital, after I got shot, wasn't it? You had a black eye the next day. I guessed something was wrong when you didn't show to pick me up, but it took me a while to work it out. You didn't want to be alone that night, but you couldn't get to sleep at my place either."

"No -- it wasn't like that," I croaked.

"Come off it, Ray, I've been watching you. You hide it well, but I could tell -- something's been wrong ever since. You turn green whenever someone mentions sex, and you haven't been with a bird in months."

"I've been on dates," I objected automatically.

"But you packed them off home after dinner and a film, didn't you? Y'know, I had Daphne come round and ask me why you'd gone off her. Even the Cow asked if I knew what was bothering you."

"Bodie --" I swallowed hard. I didn't want to do this, but I couldn't let him go on thinking . . . "I wasn't raped."

"Call it what you like, Ray. Sexual assault, violation, rape -- it all comes down to the same thing."

"No, you don't understand." My voice cracked and I clamped my lips on hysterical laughter. There was nothing funny about this, nothing at all. Bodie was never going to trust me after tonight, but I owed him the truth. After he'd given me the gift of a piece of his closely-guarded past, I was going to have to tell him that I was one of the Users, the enemy, the other side. Anything less than the truth would be unpardonable. So I tried my voice again. "It was me. My doing. My fault."

"Ray . . . " God, his voice was so sweet and gentle. He twisted around to look up at me earnestly, compassion stamped all over his face. In a few minutes, as soon as he understood, all that would change. "Everyone feels that way at first. It's normal. But you can't blame yourself."

"Dammit, Bodie!" Torn between laughter and tears, I flung myself off the settee and started pacing. "Nobody raped me, okay? It was me, I did it. I'm a perpetrator, not a victim. I brought a woman home and I ra-- r-- I raped her. Forced myself on her. Wouldn't stop when she said no. Get the picture yet?" I was almost afraid to look at him. His face was triangular with worry, looking years younger and so vulnerable. "You knew I'd had a woman in that night," I reminded him. "You found her earring the next day." A distant corner of my mind reflected that I should've sent it back to her. No, I shouldn't -- it would only remind her of things she wanted to forget.

"What happened?" he asked in a tight voice, looking all pale and bewildered. "What was it? She lead you on? She get you going and then turn around and slap you in the face?" The silly bugger still wanted to believe in me, all evidence to the contrary!

"You know better than that, Bodie!" I shouted. "It doesn't make a bloody bit of difference how short her skirt was. She said no, and I didn't listen." Seeing him still about to protest, I laid it out in graphic detail. "I saw her fighting with her boyfriend, so I chatted her up. Bought her half a dozen drinks she didn't want. Offered her a lift, then brought her back to my flat instead. Got her into my bedroom, and when she tried to object, I held her down and forced her. Twice." I was shaking, and my cheeks were wet. "She ran out while I was asleep. I saw her the next day, Bodie -- God, she had bruises I never noticed giving her! She could hardly stand to look at me." I struggled to steady my breathing. "And now I guess you can't, either."

Bodie said nothing. He was white with shock.

"Look, I'll speak to Cowley tomorrow. Tell him the whole story, and he can kick me out if he wants. Either way, I'll make sure you won't have to work with me anymore. I know you wouldn't want to be teamed with a -- a rapist." I couldn't keep my voice level after that, and in any case there seemed little else to say. I stopped myself from reaching out to Bodie, gestured instead at the door, and made my own escape into the bedroom. There I let my tears soak into the uncaring pillows.

After a long time -- years, or perhaps only hours -- the spasms eased and air began to move regularly in and out of my lungs without volition. Tears dried on my face. I hadn't cried like that since I was a little boy. At that age, every hurt seems magnified, every change is the end of the world, every punishment is a sign that no one loves you.

Trouble is, that's how I felt. I was going to have to leave CI5. After I told him the truth, Cowley would despise me. He'd kick me out at once, without a recommendation. Bodie would never look me in the eye again. And I still had the spectre of criminal or civil action on Amy's part looming over my head.

But all that seemed very distant when I was done crying. I lay awhile feeling drained and disconnected. I almost fell asleep, but my face was stiff and uncomfortable where the tears had dried, and my eyes were gummy. So I went to the loo and dragged a wet flannel over my head and neck, letting the cool water dry on my temples to ease the pounding there.

When I came out of the bathroom, Bodie was sitting on the edge of my bed. I froze, staring at him.

"Thought you were long gone," I said at last. The words were casual, but my voice was hoarse and raspy, too rough to keep up the pretence.

"Didn't fancy climbing into those wet clothes," Bodie replied, watching me warily.

Oh. Of course -- he was still wearing my robe. And though he could borrow the rest from me, it would be hours before his slacks dried. "I'll make up the sofa, then," I husked, circling widely around him on my way to the door.

"Ray . . . "

"For me," I amended hastily. "You can have the bed."

"Ray, we need to talk."

I hesitated in the doorway. "Thought we already had."

"We weren't finished," he said, his jaw jutting stubbornly.

It was unlike him, I thought -- not the stubbornness so much as the determination to talk. Usually I'm the one who wants everything brought into the open and aired 'til the dust is gone. Bodie would cheerfully seal it all into a vault until the last trump sounds.

"I'd just as soon close the subject myself," said Bodie as if he'd read my mind, "but I know you, Ray. You'll keep picking at it 'til it bleeds. It's been four months now. When will you stop beating yourself over the head with this?"

Oh, Christ, I thought we'd gotten past this already. "Bodie, stop trying to make excuses for me. I told you, it was rape."

"Yes, I suppose it was," he said slowly.

"That's a crime. A serious one."

"Yes . . . so's murder."

I could feel the blood drain from my face. "If you're talking about Paul Coogan --" I began in a strangled voice.

"No!" Bodie's brows flew up. "Of course not, you idiot! That was an accident." He sighed abruptly, and the rigid set of his shoulders eased. "Come sit down, Ray. I can't talk properly with you looking like you're about to run out on me at the first wrong word."

"Why should I be the one to leave?" I growled. "It's my flat."

"Exactly. So will you sit down?"

I perched uncomfortably on the corner of the bed furthest from him.

Bodie swivelled to face me, tucking his legs under him as easily as if he'd never turned up his nose at Yoga. "We've both killed a lot of men, Ray," he said in the cadence of a prepared speech. "And I know it bothers you. For me, the ones over the past few years, since I've been in CI5 -- they don't trouble me. I killed them to keep other people alive -- sometimes you, sometimes me, sometimes total strangers who never knew what we'd done. But I always knew I was killing for the right reasons, to save life."

"Lucky you," I muttered, that being one of the questions that frequently haunts me on sleepless nights.

His eyes flashed, but he didn't respond directly. "It's the others that worry me," he went on, "the old ones, from years ago. When I first learned to fight -- to kill -- I did it for a lot of reasons, some not very good ones. For pay. Because stupid men ordered me. For revenge. Out of habit, even, towards the end. Never quite got to the point where I killed for fun, but I came close -- That's why I left Africa. I saw what was happening to me, and I didn't like it one bit. But there I was, a grown man, and I didn't know anything but fighting. Took me a while to work out what to do for the best. But I think I did the right thing, joining this mob. Since I came to CI5, I've saved more lives than ever I took in Africa.

"Anyway, there's my point. You can't just keep punishing yourself, Ray -- that doesn't help anyone. You did something wrong. What you have to do now is go out and do enough good to outweigh that."

"But I can't undo what I did!" I protested. "I can't even go to her and make her feel better. Soon as she saw me, she'd be terrified and miserable."

"And I can't bring back the people I killed for the wrong reasons. Sometimes there is no atonement. All you can do is try to put more on the other side of the scale."

I stared at him. "How am I supposed to forgive myself?" I whispered.

He shook his head, and there were lines around his mouth that didn't belong there. "You don't," he said flatly, and his bleak expression took my breath away. "Take your guilt and make it work for you. Use it like a compass. You never really understand what evil is until you've experienced it firsthand -- or committed it yourself."

It was then I remembered. "How can you forgive me?" I demanded. "How can you even stand to look at me? You've been on the other side of this -- you should hate me."

Slowly, incredibly, he grinned. "Not my job to judge you, sunshine. That's up to a higher power, if you believe in one, and your own overactive conscience. All I know is, you've been a good mate and never let me down, and that's what matters to me."

I felt tears prick my eyes again, which was silly because it looked like my world wasn't ending after all.

Bodie scooted closer to me and slung a comforting arm about my shoulders. "Cummon, Ray. Time to stop punishing yourself. Take all that bad feeling and turn it into something good."

"How?" I sniffed, leaning into his warmth.

"Gotta work that out for yourself, sunshine," he murmured into my hair. He had tucked my head under his chin, and I could hear his heart thumping away, steady and strong. "I tried to make up for killing by saving lives."

I smiled in spite of myself. "So I should bring home a couple of birds and raise them to untold heights of sexual pleasure, eh?"

He chuckled. "If anyone could do that, Raymond, it'd be you."

"Not anymore."

The arm about my shoulders tensed. "You've tried, then?"

"A couple times. Pretty embarrassing, really." I pulled myself straight and wiped at my eyes. Something about his silent stillness got to me, and I explained. "It's not physical, I know that. Just a mental thing. I'm fine on my own, and I have the usual dreams, but put a bird in my bed and . . . "

"You freeze up?" A curious finger touched my cheekbone.

"Like Siberia in January. I'll get over it, I suppose." When I decide I've suffered enough.

"Have you ever tried it with a man?" Such a simple question, in a perfectly casual tone.

I stiffened. There had to be some hidden reason why Bodie had asked that question. He couldn't be making a pass at me, not with his unpleasant past, so he must still be wondering on some level if he was safe with me, a confessed rapist.

"Not really," I replied eventually, trying to keep my voice as light as his. "Played around a bit when I was a teenager, but I've been straight since I joined the Force." I was acutely aware of the press of him down my side, waiting for him to pull away.

Instead he leaned closer and stroked my cheek again. "Yeah. Straight as a die, aren't you, Ray," he breathed in my ear. His voice was soft, gentle . . . affectionate.

"Why'd you ask?" I turned my head to get a better view of him.

This time the blunt-tipped finger outlined my mouth. "Should be able to guess that one for yourself, sunshine," he said, in a low tone that seemed to resonate right through me.

I caught my breath. "Bodie, you can't want --"

"Why not? Wouldn't be the first time for me. Nor," he added significantly, "the second." And before I could latch onto that serious topic, he went on: "Doubt it'd be the first time someone's fancied you either. Those looks of your must bring 'em running."

My head was spinning as he leaned forward in that unmistakable slow, yearning gesture with his eyes fixed on my mouth.

"Don't worry, Ray," he murmured with his lips nearly brushing mine. "I won't do anything you don't want."

I shivered at the reminder of my own sins, and in that instant I vowed that I would let Bodie do anything he wanted to me -- I wouldn't fight or ask him to stop.

A few moments later, as his lips massaged mine and his tongue smoothed a path inside, I forgot any notion of fighting. God, it had been so long for me! Not just the sex, which I was hurting too much to miss, most of the time, but the holding and touching and being with someone -- the loving, I guess, to give it its proper name. Blokes, especially tough ones like us, pretend that sort of thing doesn't really matter, that it's just a way of getting a bird into the sack. But as soon as Bodie touched me I realised how much I'd missed that side of things, too. I put my arms around him and pulled him close, opening my mouth to taste him better.

I lit up fast. My body had missed the sex, however confused my mind had been, and Bodie's caresses were so very knowing. He buried his hands in my hair first, stroking through the curls in the sexiest way, and then he traced my ears, very lightly, making me shiver. His mouth wandered down my jaw, and I felt stubble rasp my collarbone. Then he was doing the most amazing things with lips, tongue, teeth and breath over the sensitive skin of my throat, and I could hear someone moaning.

I let Bodie do most of the work, not just because he had the experience and the initiative, but because I needed it -- needed to feel I was with someone stronger, someone who could make the decisions and take the responsibility that was too much for me just then. But there was no way to keep my hands from moving, seeking him out, and the impressions my palms received of warm, smooth skin over rippling muscles made me want him all the more.

Our clothes disappeared at some point -- not surprising I didn't notice, I suppose, since we had on nothing but robes to begin with. Bodie was chewing gently at my nipples, making them respond in a way no woman ever had. I'd always thought I wasn't very sensitive there. Meanwhile, his hands were stroking over my belly and back right down to my bum, and I couldn't keep still for the feelings rising up in me.

Bodie pressed me down on the bed, and I cried out as a featherlight touch traced up my inner thigh to caress my balls. I kept jerking my hips upward, demanding more, but even so I was shocked when I felt warm lips enclose my shaft. Never thought Bodie would do that for me, never would have asked him to. I wanted to tell him he didn't have to, but I couldn't make my voice work.

He was good -- easily the best I'd ever had. It wasn't so much his technique, with one hand around the base and his mouth over the head, but the way he knew just how hard to squeeze and how to press his lips together, when to suck and when to swirl his tongue over the top. A minute of that and I could feel it building inside me, ready to blow with the force of a volcano. I yelled, trying to warn him, but he just sucked harder. When I came, it was as if gravity had let go and I was falling up into space, hundreds of miles without end.

When I was able to open my eyes again, Bodie was sitting back on his haunches with a cat-in-the-creampot grin which was only enhanced by the way his tongue kept swiping at the white droplets on his chin.

"Bodie, that was . . . " Words failed me.

"Not bad, eh?" he judged smugly. "Well, they say hunger makes the best sauce, and you really needed that."

"You need it too. Let me --"

He leaned away from my hand, constraint showing at the back of his eyes. "You don't have to do that for me, Ray."

"Berk. I'll do what I want -- provided you want it too." In fact, I hadn't planned to suck him. Not just now, anyway. Tonight I knew exactly what I wanted to give Bodie. "Was going to say . . ." I rolled over and fumbled at the bedside cabinet. "I should have some stuff around here somewhe-- ah." I dropped a tube of lubricant into his hands.

The look on his face was priceless. The only other times I've seen Bodie that stunned, Cowley had a hand in it. Delightful to know that I could make him look so surprised.

He stammered, "Ray -- you can't -- you're not -- you don't mean --"

"Cummon, then," I teased. "If you're so experienced, why don't you show me what it's all about?"

He gulped. "Have you done this before?"

"No one but you for me, buttercup."

"Ray, it isn't always easy, the first time . . . "

"I know that." I met his eyes to let him know I was serious, and waved at the tube still clutched in his hand. "Go on, use it."

He looked down as if he'd never seen the stuff before, and then his face cleared suddenly. "Still punishing yourself?" he asked more calmly.

I opened my mouth to deny it, but the words wouldn't come.

Perversely, this seemed to make Bodie more confident. "It won't work, y'know. It may be uncomfortable at first, but I know how to make it good for you. Damn good. Not a suitable punishment at all."

"Talk," I said with a glare, "is cheap."

Ah, Bodie's so predictable; show him a challenge and he rises like a fish to a fly. His mouth settled into a determined line. "Right, then. On your knees, love."

Rocked by the endearment, I could only shake my head.

"Easier that way to start with," he insisted.

The position didn't exactly appeal, but that wasn't what I was objecting to. "Wanna get you ready first."

He licked his lips and sat back on his heels. I shivered as I got my first good look at him, fully erect. I know another bloke's cock always looks bigger than your own because of the angle, but in Bodie's case it wasn't all illusion.

I reached out a tentative finger and stroked along the length of the shaft. It twitched. I closed my hand over the silky warmth, alike and yet different. He seemed so solid and real against my palm, perhaps because I wasn't being distracted by other sensations at the same time.

Something cool was pressed into my free hand, and I pulled the cap off the tube of lubricant. Bodie sucked in a long breath as I smoothed the clear jelly on, his head craning back and his thighs tensing. I spread on more of the stuff, enjoying the slick feel of him under my fingers, and my free hand came up to cup velvety softness.

Bodie caught my wrist, stilling the quickening strokes. "Much more of that, sunshine, and you won't get what you're asking for."

I drew my hand away reluctantly and wiped it on a corner of the sheet. "Show me, then," I husked, turning over onto my belly.

Bodie caressed my back, outlining each muscle group, tracing the bullet and surgical scars from the time I almost died. Next he passed down to my cheeks, petting lightly at first and then massaging, kneading his fingers into my flesh. I was about to tell him the big build-up was unnecessary, until I heard a long sigh escape him as he cupped my buttocks. He was doing this for his own pleasure then, not to relax me. Strangely, that knowledge calmed me faster than anything else could have. Everything would be fine so long as Bodie enjoyed himself. Relaxing, I stretched and purred under his attentions.

I gasped when his thumb slid down between my cheeks and probed at the sensitive knot of flesh there. Had to admit it felt nice, though, and when the thumb returned after a few seconds, I pressed back against the touch.

Then there was a slick coolness, and suddenly his fingers were inside me, teasing the muscle open. I had an embarrassing few seconds where I thought I was about to shit, until I identified how this feeling was different. It was lovely, really. Can't think why I'd never tried it before. I relaxed further and Bodie slipped another finger inside, reaching deeper. Something twinged, and I grunted as my cock stiffened in the space of a few seconds. I wasn't expecting that; I had to lift my hips to free my erection.

"Push the right button, did I?" Bodie chuckled throatily, and he did it again. I moaned.

He tugged at my hips, raising me to my knees, and I felt a different, warmer pressure behind me. Bodie curled right over my back, his knees pressing between mine. His warm presence almost distracted me from his entry until the fullness inside became uncomfortable, and I gasped.

Bodie froze, stroking gently over my shoulders, ribs and flanks while he waited. Slowly the suffocating sensation receded, and Bodie began to press inward again without my needing to tell him I was ready.

Then he was all the way in, his tight-curled hairs tickling my cheeks. He let out a shuddery breath and I realised he was trembling with the effort of holding back. He nuzzled the back of my neck and stroked down to my cock, still unexpectedly erect. He folded his hands around it and began to move slowly out and in. When he reached the spot he had pressed with his fingers earlier, my cock jumped again. Bodie gave it a special squeeze and leaned forward to breathe in my ear.

It was glorious; my senses overloaded. Bodie was pressed against me from nape to knee, his scent and warmth and strength enveloping me. Having him inside me was doing the strangest things to my cock, and his right hand was as clever as you would expect. The other hand roamed freely, tweaking my nipples, teasing my balls, or just clasping me to him. Meanwhile, he was licking and nibbling all the most sensitive spots on my neck and ears.

I had my eyes shut and my mouth open, moaning with every thrust he made. Dimly I was aware that Bodie was making noise as well, though he wasn't nearly as loud. He was emitting these little strangled gasps and whimpers, as if they escaped against his will. Dunno why he bothered to keep quiet; I was announcing our business to the neighbours pretty clearly.

The pace increased as I pushed back against Bodie's thrusts. He returned his second hand to my groin, kneading my balls in rhythm with his pumping. I was going to come again, even after the massive orgasm I'd already had tonight, and I howled my pleasure into the room. Ecstasy poured out of me in swift spurts.

Bodie clutched my shoulders to keep me from collapsing and thrust harder. Once, twice, three times, slamming his hips against me with an audible smack. Then he groaned sweetly and his fingers dug into my collarbone as he quivered inside and around me.

He guided us into a controlled fall sideways and pulled out of me, drawing me back to lie spoon-fashion against his chest. "Ray? You okay?"

"Mmrrm," I mumbled. "You were right, Bodie -- damn good." A trickle of fluid between my thighs made me pry my eyes open. "Want some tissues?"

"Yeah." He wiped himself and then started on me while I was still busy with my front and the cooling wet patch on the sheets. I knew he was checking me out as he swabbed; I felt a bit raw back there and would probably be sore come morning, but for now I was lost in a rosy afterglow. "Feel all right, love?" Bodie asked again as he tossed the tissues away. "Not hurting?"

"Bit stiff," I said succinctly. "Back and hips. What about you -- was that okay for you?"

His arms wrapped around my ribs and pulled me hard against him. "Like you said, sweetheart," he assured me. "Untold heights of sexual pleasure."

I smiled sleepily. "Must've got it right, then," I mumbled into the pillow as I drifted into sleep with my partner wrapped around me.

The next day I spoke to George Cowley, and it was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I was allowed into his office right away, but then I had to wait fifteen minutes while he filled in forms and made calls. I tried not to fidget.

"Well, 4.5," he said at last, "what was it you wished to speak to me about?"

"A very serious matter, sir. I should have told you earlier. There's been . . . an unfortunate incident."

He set his reading glasses aside. "I've never known you to use euphemisms before, Doyle. What sort of incident?"

"Rape, sir."

He stared at me.

I drew a deep breath. Having chosen the words already didn't make it any easier to get them out. "A few months ago, I took a young lady home with me. I -- I believe she could make a good case that I raped her."

Cowley's eyes bored into me. "A good case . . . legally or morally?"

"Both, sir."

"In other words, you did rape her." He looked as if he'd bitten into a lemon.

"Yes, sir." I couldn't meet his eyes.

He levered himself up from his desk and began to pace the room. "You'd better tell me the whole story."

I listed the facts as straightly as I could, without attempting to justify my actions or describe my motivation -- in hindsight, I couldn't understand my motivation anyway. Likewise, when Cowley interrupted me with questions, they were all factual in nature, seeking to pin down the details: when did this happen, how many drinks had we each had, what exactly did I say when I led her up to my flat.

Just as I finished my account, the telephone chirped. Cowley grabbed the receiver and said without preamble, "No calls, Betty, except the red line." He settled back into his chair and looked at me penetratingly.

I tried Bodie's trick of fixing my eyes on a point straight ahead, but I'm no soldier; my shoulders and my gaze showed a definite tendency to droop.

"Why didn't you inform me of this earlier, 4.5?"

I considered the best answer, but only honesty would do. "I was afraid, sir." Hell of an admission for a CI5 man to make.

"Of punitive action?"

"Of disappointing you, sir."

His brows lifted at that. "You did that by your actions, Doyle. Postponing the reckoning only makes it worse."

"Yes, sir," I said miserably.

"Why did you elect to speak to me now?"

I had to think again. "Don't like lying, sir, by commission or omission. I couldn't stick it anymore. And there might be trouble for CI5 if she decides to press charges. She hasn't so far, but. . ." I shrugged. "I'll accept whatever punishment you think is appropriate."

"You're damned right, you will!" he snapped. "If she lays a charge that makes it a criminal matter, but whether it comes to that or not, this is a severe breach of your responsibilities as a member of this organisation."

"Yes, sir."

He ran a hand through his thinning hair, restraining himself visibly. "Is Bodie aware of this incident?"

"I told him just last night."

Dark eyes snapped up to mine. "And he advised you to speak to me?"

I blinked. "He didn't mention it, sir. Don't think he knows I'm here. He did tell me to try to atone in any way possible."

Cowley sighed. "That will be problematical."

"I realise that, sir."

"Aye, you would," he muttered cryptically. "Have you had any further contact with Miss, er, Winton since that night?"

"No, sir. Oh -- I did go to her flat the next day."

He looked harried. "Did you touch her, or make any move that might have been interpreted as an assault or a threat?"

"I don't think so. I stopped her slamming the door in my face, but I didn't actually enter the flat. I did punch her boyfriend, but only after he hit me."

Cowley made a disgusted noise. Well, I suppose I had been pretty stupid. "What was her state of mind at the time?"

"Very upset, sir, but not hysterical. She looked . . . worse than I expected. I don't recall being so rough."

He frowned. "Could she have had some other encounter between the time she left you and when you spoke to her at her place?"

I hadn't thought of that possibility. "I doubt it. Her boyfriend would be the likeliest candidate, and he only arrived after I did. She seemed glad to see him, not frightened."

"Why do you suppose she hasn't pressed charges?"

"Don't know, sir. She might feel too traumatised to face a trial."

"Aye, or she might be less upset than you think. In any case, I doubt it would go to trial."

"No, sir. I would confess."

His eyes flashed. "You'll do as I tell you, 4.5!"

"Yes, sir."

He got up and started to pace again. "I'll speak to Miss Winton myself --"


"-- And ascertain her view of the incident. Once I have determined what restitution, if any, would be appropriate, I will decide what to do with you."

"Sir, you can't just --"

He silenced me with a glare. "You should have come to me when this first happened. For concealing the truth, you will take a two week pay cut, and for the rest of this week you'll work twelve-hour shifts in the computer room."

I winced. "What about Bodie?"

"Why, does he have anything to do with this?"

"Well, no, sir, but you can't send him out without backup. He gets into trouble . . ."

"I will decide how best to employ my men, Doyle. I'm well aware of 3.7's propensity for trouble. 6.2 should be able to keep him busy on that arms-theft investigation."

I subsided reluctantly.

Cowley came and stood right in front of me, staring as if he could see into my soul. "Now tell me, Doyle, has this sort of thing ever happened before?"

It took me a moment to realise he meant the rape. "No! Never, nothing like that at all!"

He nodded slowly. "And is it likely to happen again?"

"Of course not, sir. I'm --" I realised what assumptions I was making about the future and brought myself up short.

"You what? What is it?"

"I was just going to say that I've learned my lesson."

"No, you were about to say something else. Come, Doyle, I'm in no mood for coy evasions."

"Well, I haven't been dating, sir."

"I was aware of that. What else? You'll have no secrets from me, man."

I shifted my weight uneasily. I hadn't planned to tell Cowley about this, certainly not without consulting Bodie first. But I suppose he would have to know sooner or later. "I . . . Bodie and I, we -- we're having a relationship."

That startled him. White appeared briefly around the edges of his eyes. "A sexual relationship?"

I nodded.

He turned away abruptly. "Last night." It wasn't a question.

"Yes, sir."

A long pause while he crossed the room. "Was that the first occasion?"

"Yes, sir."

He stopped at the window overlooking the carpark. "Well, at least you haven't delayed informing me this time." He faced me again, and his expression was normal if slightly sour. "This . . . liaison. How serious is it?"

"I don't know, sir. We haven't discussed it."

"Well, you had better do that then, hadn't you?" he growled. "Clarify your intentions and report to me, the two of you, tomorrow morning. I'll see you alone first about the Winton matter." He paused. "I trust you have no further crimes or misdemeanours to confess?"

I had an insane urge to tell him about stealing my brother's toys when we were small. "No, sir. That's the lot."

"Dismissed, then." Cowley was at his most military this morning.

I left his office feeling almost giddy with relief. It was absurd, because I hadn't gotten a reprieve -- only a brief stay of sentence. But however disgusted he was, Cowley hadn't condemned me out of hand. There was still a chance.

I found Bodie in the rest room. I couldn't repress a smile, remembering how he'd looked when I coaxed him out of bed this morning. He had grumbled about everything, from the absence of his toothbrush and favourite shaving lotion to the lack of sugar for his coffee and the stiffness of his rumpled clothes. I ignored the complaints for a while because I know how he hates mornings, but finally I asked him if he was regretting the night before. He gave me the most heartbreaking smile and a kiss that singed my toes before dashing off to his own flat for clean clothes.

There was an echo of that smile in his eyes as he looked up and saw me. "There you are! Was beginning to wonder if you'd washed down the drain with the shower water."

I grinned. "If I can survive your acid humour, mate, a little water isn't going to dissolve me."

He gulped the last of the sludge in his beaker and chucked it into the bin. "We'd best get on our bikes. Croyden's info didn't lead anywhere, but Billy has something. Going to meet him in Piccadilly at noon."

I didn't like that. Billy's the snitch we inherited from Matheson and King. He cleared himself of any involvement in the setup that killed them, but I still find it hard to trust him properly. "Sorry, mate, I've pulled time in the computer room. Take Murphy along to watch your back, won't you?"

Bodie stopped in mid-stride. "Computers? That wasn't on the duty roster."

"Change of assignment."

"Why? Not sick, are you?" He looked me over anxiously. "You said last night you were fine!"

"I am fine," I soothed. "It isn't sick-leave, it's punishment. I spoke to Cowley."

"You what?"

"Told him the whole story." More than I'd intended, in fact.

Bodie went pale. "What the hell'd you go and do that for?"

I was taken aback. "You said I should come clean, try to make up for what I've done."

"Yeh, but . . . Christ, Doyle, you could get kicked out of the mob!"

"Maybe. But I can't start a new life with a lie hanging over my head. Cowley'd find out anyway, if she decides to press charges."

"If. She hasn't, yet. Maybe never will!"

I shrugged. "The Cow's going to speak to her, try to get her to make some private agreement."

Bodie scrubbed at his face. "Dammit, Ray, I just wish you'd warned me before you did this. I suppose it's really none of my business --"

"No, it is your business. You made it that last night when you --" My face turned hot.

"When I screwed you?"

"Bodie!" I hissed, looking around to make sure no one was passing the door. "That's not what I meant and you know it. Look, I was in trouble last night. I didn't know what to do or where to turn. And you helped. I owe you for that, I always will."

His mouth twisted. "Oh, so you're grateful? How nice."

"Not just grateful, you idiot. Bodie --" I took the risk of putting a hand on his forearm. "Don't you know how I feel? How important you are to me?"

He looked straight at me for the first time, and something softened in his eyes.

"It is your business," I repeated. "You're my partner. And my friend. And --" I didn't know what word could describe what Bodie did for me. I released his arm, pushed the curls back from my forehead, and took a deep breath to calm myself. "Anyway, it's your business because I've dropped you in it as well."


"I told Cowley about us. About . . . last night."

I expected an angry explosion that would put to shame his reaction a minute earlier. Instead he sagged back against a desk, staring at me with enormous dark eyes in a pale face. "What did he say?"

"That we should . . . clarify our intentions and report to him in the morning."

Bodie passed a hand over his face, his eyes closed. "Christ, Ray. I can't believe you did that."

"He'd have to know sooner or later." I bit off the words if we intend going on with this. What were Bodie's intentions, anyway?

"I could've broken it to him a little more gently," Bodie said in a strange tone. Before I could ask what he meant by that, his eyes flew open. "And then he assigned me to work with Murphy?"

"No, that was before I told him. I'm sure it's just a temporary thing --" I was speaking to an empty room.

I hurried along to Cowley's office in time to hear Bodie giving it to him. " . . . work with Murphy. You can't split up me and Doyle!"

Then Cowley's voice, low and angry: "I can if I think best, Bodie. I make the decisions around here, not you."

"It's because Ray told you about us, isn't it? You're trying to break us up. Well, I won't let you!"

Face burning, I looked up and down the corridor to see if anyone else could hear this tirade.

"Now just a minute, man," Cowley started. "This has nothing to do with --"

But Bodie was just getting into his stride and wouldn't be interrupted. I could see him through the gap in the door, leaning with both hands on Cowley's desk as he shouted like a maniac. "Just because you're a jealous old man who's been disappointed in love, that doesn't give you the right to louse it up for the rest of us!"

Jealous? The implication floored me for a second -- so that was why Bodie had said I should've broken the news gently. But I had no time to be surprised, because Cowley's lips were pressed into a hard line and his face was starting to turn red. If I didn't do something soon, my partner would be out of a job.

I charged into the office and grabbed Bodie by the shoulders just as Cowley started around his desk. "Bodie, put a sock in it, mate; you got it all wrong. Sorry, sir -- just a little misunderstanding." I tried to propel Bodie back towards the door, but his feet were rooted solidly.

Cowley pulled up short at the corner of the desk, eyes glittering angrily. "You're right, it is a misunderstanding. Bodie appears to have forgotten that I'm in charge. I make the teams here, 3.7, and I break them when I see fit!"

"You're not breaking this team," Bodie growled, his voice much quieter but somehow more chilling. "I'll resign first."

That sent a shaft of fear through me, and I shook him by the shoulders. "Shut up, Bodie! You're not going to resign. No one's talking about breaking us up."

That got his attention for a moment. "But you said I was working with Murphy . . ."

"Just while I'm stuck in the computer room. I'm being punished, not us, you idiot."

Bodie's eyes flickered from me to Cowley and back. "You sure? How do you know he isn't planning to split us?"

"He assigned you to work with Murphy before I told him about . . . you know. One's got nothing to do with the other."

Bodie looked again at Cowley, who was just watching the two of us, standing his ground. "Oh."

I released his shoulders. "So just shut up about resigning, will you?"

Bodie closed his eyes briefly and relaxed from a fighting posture to stand at attention. "Sorry, sir," he said in clipped tones. "I was out of line."

"Aye, quite a ways out of line," Cowley growled.

"My mistake, sir. Won't happen again."

"Won't it?"

"No, sir. I misunderstood."

I was beginning to relax. When he puts his mind to it, no one can talk his way around Cowley better than Bodie. He just hadn't been thinking a moment ago.

Cowley turned away. "As it happens, 3.7, my decision to team you with Murphy was based entirely on convenience. But after the display you've just put on, I wonder if it shouldn't be permanent."

"Sir, you can't!" Bodie protested at once. I stepped hard on his foot.

"I can and I will, Bodie, if you continue to act in this irrational manner."

Bodie shut his mouth.

Cowley stood back and looked at us thoughtfully. "I meant to speak to the two of you about this tomorrow, but as you've brought the matter up now, Bodie, by all means let us have it out. Do I understand that you two are intimately involved?"

"Yes, sir." Bodie sounded subdued now.

"And you intend to continue in this relationship?"

We still hadn't had a chance to talk about that. I opened my mouth to explain, but Bodie was there before me: "Yes, sir."

"To the exclusion of other relationships?"

"Yes, sir."

I stared at my partner in surprise.

"Hmmph. As you both know, this department discourages fraternisation between agents, for precisely the reason you have just demonstrated, Bodie. Emotional involvement can lead to precipitate, inappropriate behaviour."

I ventured a word. "It could also make us a better team, sir. More . . . aware of each other."

Cowley gave me a jaundiced look. "The two of you are already an exceptional team. It's more likely that any interference with the status quo will have a detrimental effect on your teamwork. You could become too aware of each other."

"On the other hand," Bodie pointed out, "agents in exclusive relationships are less vulnerable to, er, certain kinds of distractions. Less of a security risk."

"Since neither of you makes a habit of discussing your work with your dates, that makes little difference."

"At least you wouldn't have to worry about us talking in our sleep. Sir."

I tensed, thinking it was too early for Bodie to be injecting humour into the conversation, however gently. But the corner of Cowley's mouth quirked.

"What about blackmail?" he went on, in the familiar tone he uses when trying to get us to think out the implications of a case.

"Not a risk, sir," I answered. "Not if you already know about us. They can't threaten to reveal what's already in the open."

"But they could threaten CI5 with a scandal by making it public," he suggested, playing devil's advocate.

"Wouldn't be much of a scandal, sir. We're not important enough for that, and we're both consenting adults. It's not illegal."

"Hmmm." Cowley settled behind his desk, thinking.

"You could save money, too," Bodie put in. "Put us both in the same flat. Much cheaper and more secure than two separate ones."

"All of this is immaterial until Doyle's punishment is determined, in any case."

I swallowed hard.

"You're not kicking him out -- are you, sir?" Bodie just barely made it a question, rather than a demand.

"I have discussed this with Doyle already. My final decision will be made tomorrow." He looked back and forth between us and seemed to come to a decision. "Very well. The two of you are on probation. While Doyle is off the streets, I will be watching you, Bodie. When and if he returns to active duty, the two of you will have three months to prove that this . . . new situation will not affect your work. If your efficiency remains good in those three months, you will remain teamed."

"Thank you, sir," said Bodie.

"Don't thank me yet. I'll expect you both to exercise the utmost discretion. Any hint of scandal involving either of you will be grounds for immediate discharge, do I make myself clear?"

I nodded.

"Does that mean we can't share a flat?" Bodie asked rather plaintively. I shot him a startled look.

Cowley made an irritated noise. "In six months you may request a two-bedroom flat -- if you haven't broken any other rules in the meantime. You will maintain the appearance of propriety at all times. Now, don't you have some work to get to, Bodie? Doyle, there are some files here that need to be entered into the computer."

I got Bodie to help me carry the stacks of forms to the computer room. A part of me was groaning inwardly at the thought of feeding cards and tickling a keyboard all day, but mostly I was too flustered to think about it. "You're daft, Bodie," I snarled. "You nearly messed that up good and proper. He was never planning to split us until you mentioned it!"

"I wouldn't count on that," Bodie said in a dark tone. "Never can tell what the old man is planning from one day to the next."

It was on the tip of my tongue to ask him what he'd meant by his accusation of jealousy and why he'd said the news should be broken to Cowley gently, but I held back. If there was some secret to be revealed, I would only get it out of Bodie after a good meal and plenty of whisky. And there was something else we had to discuss, anyway. "You might have asked me," I grumbled, "before you made all these decisions about us."

Bodie's stride faltered. "Eh?"

"'Yes, sir, we're planning to go on like this. Yes, sir, it's exclusive.' Don't I get anything to say about it?"

Bodie came to a full stop, looking genuinely bewildered. "But you did have your say."

I blinked.

"I thought that's how you wanted it."

"Well . . . yes, but when did I ever say so?"

"Just before we went in there. You said I was . . . important to you. Said I was your partner, and that what happens to you is my business . . ."

I wet lips that had gone suddenly dry. I had said all that, true, but what amazed me was that Bodie had heard the things I didn't say. He'd read all the feelings I couldn't put into words, and he'd acted on it with complete confidence in me. I was warmed by his faith, alarmed by his perception -- frightened and elated at once to think he knew me so well.

"Ray -- was I wrong? You don't want to live together?"

I shook my head. "You're not wrong, sunshine. I just hadn't thought it out clearly myself. You're way ahead of me, that's all."

"Oh." He started off for the computer room again.

Before we reached the door and the prying ears of others, I stopped him. "Bodie, wait!"


"Come to my place for dinner tonight? I'll make lasagne."

He gave me that same heart-stopping smile I had seen in the morning, and it was nearly a minute before I could follow him through the door.

Bodie was late getting off work, but it was just as well since I didn't start the lasagne on time. He arrived as I was turning the oven temperature down and fretting that the meal would dry out -- as if I didn't know that Bodie would happily eat lasagne even burnt to a crisp. While I set the table he slugged a few fingers of whisky and complained about a day full of legwork -- first a round of questioning witnesses about the arms theft, then an extended pub crawl in search of some yob Billy had seen "roundabout -- couldn't remember exactly where," who might have information on the Cavendish murder.

"Don't know why Cowley even wants us -- you -- investigating that one," I commented as I gave Bodie a hearty serving. "Seems to me like a matter for the police." But then I often thought so, and Cowley often disagreed.

"Yeh, well, the old man likes to play it close to his chest sometimes," Bodie conceded. "He wants us on it, and that's good enough for me." He dug into the food with appreciative comments, and I was absurdly pleased.

Cowley wasn't the only one who was close-mouthed, I thought, trying to figure out how to ask Bodie why he had gone over the top earlier. Was it possible Cowley fancied my partner? How would Bodie react to that? He held our boss in very high regard, but he hadn't taken well to the idea of the Cow interfering in his -- our -- love life. I couldn't seem to get my mouth around the questions, so in the end I decided to wait, and observe. It should be interesting, anyway.

It occurred to me as we cleaned up afterward that if I was going to share a flat with Bodie, I would have to take care not to get roped into all the cooking. I enjoy puttering in a kitchen from time to time, but not when it gets to be a daily drudgery, and I imagine keeping Bodie fed could become a full-time occupation. On the other hand, it might at least give me a chance to make a dent in his cholesterol intake, which is nothing short of appalling. And that would be in my best interests, since I don't want my partner keeling over of clogged arteries when he's supposed to be guarding my back.

Bodie would be a clean flatmate, too, I reflected as I watched him wash the dishes -- without being asked. That could make a pleasant change. Not that I didn't appreciate a tidy living environment, just that it always took so much effort to keep it that way. Not for Bodie, though; things seemed to pick themselves up and put themselves away whenever he visited my flat.

Bodie glanced up at me as I stood hipshot in the doorway watching him work. "What're you staring at?" he asked, suddenly belligerent.

"Just admiring your magnificent physique," I said mildly. "And your work ethic."

"Hmmph. Just making sure the slave doesn't slack off is more like -- oh, bloody hell!" He brushed at the front of his cords where water had splashed.

I took a sip of my beer. "'S why I always do my washing-up in the raw."

Bodie paused briefly at the image, but he was not about to be amused. "Birds must love that, you getting greasy dishwater all down your front," he grumbled.

"Gives me an excuse for another shower," I shrugged.

"Well, you might as well grab a dishcloth and start drying-up!" he snapped.

So I stepped forward, picked up a towel and knelt in front of him, scrubbing vigorously at his crotch.

One thing led to another and I ended up with greasy dishwater in my hair and my first-ever mouthful of semen -- tasted okay in small quantities, I thought, but too rich for a regular diet. Bodie joined me in the shower and repaid the compliment.

I hardly thought about women all evening.

When I emerged from Cowley's office the next morning, Bodie was leaning against the opposite wall, his mouth jutting in a grim pout. He fell into step alongside me as I headed down the corridor. "Well?"

"Cowley talked to her. She's not pressing charges. She's getting married next month and just wants to forget the whole thing. CI5 is making a contribution to her honeymoon -- the Cow's idea."

Bodie's eyebrows flew up. "Cowley shelled out for a honeymoon? He's even tighter than you are!"

"Not when it's my money he's spending. It'll be coming out of me paycheck for the next two years," I grumbled.

"But you are getting a paycheck?"

"I'm still on the squad, if that's what you mean."

"I suppose he gave you a nice roasting?"

"My ears'll be burning for the rest of the week. He treated me to his opinion at length. Half an hour's lecture on the evils of drink --"

Bodie guffawed.

"Yeh, you can laugh, mate! I had to stand there with a straight face through the whole thing. And then he started in on responsibility and discretion and my disrespectful, rakish behaviour towards women."


"His word. Suppose I should be glad he didn't call me a cad and a bounder."

Bodie chuckled as we signed out of the building, no doubt picturing the scene. Having had the chance to discover just how sharp Cowley's tongue can be when he's been honing it for twenty-four hours, I was relieved to be in one piece.

We walked across the car park, heading vaguely in the direction of a pub which wouldn't be open at this hour anyway. When we were out of earshot of anyone else, Bodie ventured, "What about the girl, then? What did he say about her?"

"Said she was upset, but not unreasonable. I guess she's getting over it, if she's going to marry her boyfriend."

"You may have done them a favour there, mate. Sounds like they were about ready to split up when you walked on the scene."

I dug my hands in my pockets and hunched my shoulders. "Yeah, well, I'm not expecting any thank-you notes. I'm not to have any contact with her at all, actually. That's one of the conditions of the deal Cowley made."

"What else?" Bodie asked, knowing there had to be more.

"I'm suspended for a month. And when I get back there'll be retraining with Macklin. Don't laugh yet, you'll go through it with me."

"Me? I'm not the one who'll be lying about going soft over the next month!"

"No, but you insisted on staying teamed with me. That means retraining when I get back, and we'll both be stuck with the lousiest jobs on the squad, until we're out of the Cow's black books."

Bodie scowled. "That's not fair. I haven't done anything wrong."

I cast him a sidelong look. "Haven't you? That's not the impression I got yesterday, watching you square off with Cowley."

He sighed. "Well, I suppose we're both in for it. He'll probably have me working in Records the whole time you're on suspension."

"I think he wants you working with Murphy on the stolen weapons. All those friends of yours in low places."

Bodie gave me a companionable glare. "You should talk -- friend."

I put a hand on his arm and stopped him. "Listen, seriously. You be careful while I'm off. Don't want you getting shot to bits if I'm not there to pick up the pieces."

He nodded slowly. "I'll be all right with Murph."

"If you need backup, you know where I am, and to hell with the suspension!"

"Not going to spend the whole month hovering over the phone, are you, sunshine? I know you, you'll be stir crazy after two days."

He was right about that. I don't react as badly to enforced inaction as Bodie does, but I knew a month off would be frustrating even without the need to pinch pennies because I wasn't getting paid. "Thought I'd volunteer at a rape crisis center," I explained, not meeting Bodie's eyes. "Called 'em yesterday and they said they'd be glad of a hand."

Bodie's erratic eyebrows flew up. "What, they let a man work in those places?"

"Men can get raped too, y'know," I snapped, and then bit my tongue. Christ, what an idiotic thing to say! I hurried to cover the faux pas. "Anyway, it's not all dealing with victims. There's all sorts of stuff needs to be done. And I said I could teach a self-defense class, too. They liked that idea." I realised that I might be unwelcome as a man because, whatever the victim's gender, the perpetrators of sexual assault are almost invariably male. But I could put up with a few snubs; I deserved them anyway, even if I wasn't planning to tell anyone that.

Bodie just nodded. I was watching him closely for signs of distress after what I'd been so stupid as to say, but he was unreadable as ever. He opened his mouth to say something to me, and at that moment his RT went off.

I thumped his shoulder as he rolled his eyes. "You get to work, buttercup -- and mind you take care of yourself while I'm not around!"

He gave me a quick nod, then he was off back to HQ with the RT in his hand.

A few weeks later, we were lying in bed -- Bodie's bed, since it was bigger. He and Murphy had tracked down the stolen arms, and in the course of recovering the weapons Bodie had gotten a twisted ankle and some nasty bruises. After a pretty wild interlude to relieve the tension, Bodie had fallen into an exhausted sleep. I was curled up spoon-fashion behind him, stroking his ribs dreamily and picking out a few choice words to deliver to Murphy next time I saw him.

I was feeling enormously protective of Bodie, and it surprised me. I always worry, of course, when we get separated in the course of an op, but that night I was ready to go out and shred anyone who'd dared to lay a hand on him -- in addition to Cowley, for dropping him in it, and Murphy, for not keeping him safe. The intensity of the feeling was startling, even though I'd seen it coming for some time now. I wanted to beat into pulp anyone who'd ever hurt Bodie in his entire life.

Thinking of Bodie being hurt, I remembered the story of Costa and the night we first got together. My arm tightened unconsciously around his chest as I remembered how tight-strung Bodie had been that evening -- almost as miserable as I was, for all the wounds he was revealing were old and scarred-over. I still couldn't believe Bodie had the courage and generosity to forgive me when he learned that, in my own way, I'm as bad as that bastard who raped him. I'll always be grateful to him for reaching out to me that night; it's a very different sort of debt to saving each others' lives.

Costa -- now there was one character I would very happily take to pieces for what he'd done to Bodie. Not that I was ever likely to have the opportunity; I only knew the man's last name and that he'd been a mercenary with Krivas in Biafra. Chances were good he was dead, anyway.

I remembered what Bodie had said about killing and conscience, and why he left Africa, and I shivered. There had been a sort of husky growl in his voice when he admitted he'd killed for the wrong reasons, ". . . for revenge." Was it Costa he was talking about? Had he gotten over his fear and pain by turning against his tormentor?

I was clasping Bodie hard against me by this time, and it must have been uncomfortable because he murmured and stirred. "Ray? Wha's wrong?"

"Nothing, sunshine, go back to sleep."

He rolled over and placed a palm against my face. "You keepin' yourself awake worrying what might have happened? Told you, love, I'm fine. Just a few bruises."

"No . . . that's not it. It's nothing, Bodie, really."

"But you can't sleep."

I burrowed my head under his chin. Right there, in the junction of neck and shoulder, his scent is sweetest. Not too strong, but enough to intoxicate me in a few breaths. "What happened to Costa?" I asked softly.


"The man who -- Krivas' lieutenant. In Biafra." I pulled away to look at him; he had the strangest frown on his face. "Tell me he isn't still alive."

A ripple of tension passed through Bodie as he placed the name -- God, I never should have brought it up! Then his lips curved upward. "Ray. There never was any Costa."


"I made him up. You didn't really believe that story, did you?"

"But you said --"

His smile broadened. "I said what I thought you needed to hear, sunshine. I would have said anything to get through to you that night -- was worried about you."

"You mean you lied to me?"

"Oh, come off it, Ray!"

"You lied . . . you let me think . . . you told me you had been --" I trembled with rage. I had been grateful to him, concerned about him -- had treated him like spun glass because he told me he'd been raped!

Bodie's chuckle was like a bucket of ice water thrown over me. I pulled myself from his grasp and stormed out of the bedroom, ending up naked and shivering in his sitting-room. I couldn't turn the lights on without exposing myself to the neighbours. Not ready to go back into Bodie's presence for my clothes, I hunched on his sofa and pulled an afghan around my shoulders.

I couldn't believe Bodie had lied to me about something so important! No, on second thought, I shouldn't have been surprised about that -- what should be bothering me was the fact that I'd believed him at all. Since when did Bodie ever tell the truth about his time in Africa? I should've guessed he'd made the whole thing up, but instead I fell for it like a chump -- even down to sobbing into my pillow because I was afraid he'd never speak to me again.

It was a damn good act, too. He told me that pack of lies with his face frozen like stone and his voice level as if he couldn't even say it without exerting iron control -- except for a few key moments when his voice cracked, and my heart cracked along with it.

The pulse of fury slowed within me as I remembered, and realised it didn't make sense. I've seen Bodie telling lies before, seen him working undercover. He's calm and cool, delivers his lines very smoothly, but he isn't really that good an actor. When he told me that story about Biafra, he wasn't facing me, persuading me, trying to convince me it was true the way he does when he's lying -- no, he was wound up so tight he wouldn't even share the sofa with me. He was trying to control his emotions, hide them from me, but they crept into his face and voice in spite of him. Could he have faked the tremor in his voice when he talked about Costa? Was he dissembling when he told me what he'd learnt about conscience? Was he lying about why he gave up the mercenary life?

Certainly he hadn't lied about being with a man before. I wasn't exactly experienced myself, but I could tell Bodie knew what he was doing. Other parts of the story rang true as well: Bodie's bad reaction to blacks -- no, to black men -- even though he's normally as opposed to prejudice as I am. And his grudge with Krivas, which went far beyond the sketchy facts he'd told me so long ago.

I remembered the look on his face when he slammed out of my flat that night, the whiteness around his mouth when he returned, soaking wet as if he'd been too stunned to get out of the rain. I remembered the bleak acceptance in his eyes when he told me to make my guilt work for me. I remembered his sudden tension just a few minutes ago when he recognised Costa's name.

He hadn't lied to me. The whole story was true, I'd bet my reputation on it.

"Ray?" A soft voice from the bedroom doorway.

I turned my head, ready to smile, forgive him, tell him I knew it was all true. And then I froze. No, he hadn't lied to me that night. I was as sure of that as I could be, and I knew Bodie better than any man alive. But he was lying to me now. Oh, I understood; of course I understood. He was trying to protect himself, retreating into a shell, denying the gift he had given me when he thought that I, too, was a victim. But it was still a lie. And if I taxed him with it he'd deny everything, drive us even further apart.

"I'm sorry, Ray." He advanced a few steps, peering at me through the darkness. He wore a dressing-gown pulled close around him for protection against the cold, or against the truth.

I held my breath, wondering if he would come clean.

"I didn't realise it was that important to you, Ray. I should have told you earlier that I'd made it all up. But at the time, I thought it was what you needed to hear."

I bowed my head. Good old Bodie, always covering his tracks. Always keeping his escape route clear. He couldn't trust even me with the truth. My eyes burned as he settled gingerly next to me and placed a tentative hand on my shoulder.

I drew a deep breath. If Bodie was going to insist on this charade, at least I could use it to draw some concessions from him. "You were trying to help me out that night, I know," I said in a low voice. "And you did. I just -- you've turned some of my ideas upside down, that's all."

Bodie leaned closer as he heard that I wasn't angry anymore.

I turned my head and kissed him, gently at first and then more insistently. "I've been going slowly, y'see, because -- because I thought you needed it. But now I guess we can take turns, right?"

I was watching him closely. I saw the flinch and the apprehension he tried to hide. But he didn't pull away. "You mean that's why you didn't try --"

Actually, I had been going slowly as much for my sake as for his, but I nodded. "Didn't want to hurt you, love." I nuzzled his neck, finding that sweet scent again, and great tenderness welled up inside me. But I was merciless as I gave him the choice of admitting the lie or facing the consequences. "Now I know you weren't raped. . . " I traced a hand up his thigh, and he shivered.

"You want to try it tonight?" he whispered. If he had spoken aloud, I wondered, would his voice be shaking?

"Mmmm, sounds nice." I licked at the sensitive skin over his adam's apple.

"Thought I'd worn you out already." He gave a nervous chuckle.

"You did," I admitted, "but I recover fast. This way we can take it as slow as you like." I stood up. "Cummon, love, it's too cold to sit out here philosophising. Why don't we go to bed and do something about it?"

I was plotting against him, in a way, trying to get him to agree to something he didn't really want. I was perfectly aware of that; I guess I'll always be sensitive, now, to the ways that love can be turned into a struggle or even a battle. But I was doing this carefully, gently, with my eyes open -- and I was doing it for his own good. For our good. I had to bring us closer. I would make us like one person. And eventually, maybe, Bodie would trust me enough to tell the whole truth.

So, taking due care of his bruises, I led my partner to the bedroom and set about seducing him. And that, I guess, is when I really got over it.

-- THE END --

February 1997

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