Dirty Nappies


(Story 7 in the Building to Last universe)

"Ray?" Bodie said softly, his breath warm on the back of my neck.

"Hmm?" I muttered sleepily.

"D'you ever miss not having kids?"

The quiet question jolted me awake. I rolled over in bed to look at my lover.

Bodie wouldn't look at me. His face changed expression a dozen times in as many seconds. That, more than anything, told me that my answer was important.

"No," I said honestly. "I don't miss having kids." I reached over and stroked the side of Bodie's face. "All I ever wanted was someone to love, who loved me. Now that I have you, I don't need anyone else."

Bodie finally looked at me. I could see the vulnerability--and the love--in his midnight eyes. Felt honoured, I did. William Andrew Philip doesn't show his soft side to many people.

I wrapped my arms round Bodie and drew him to me. Bodie tucked his dark head beneath my chin. His arms were a bit tight round my waist for comfort, but I knew he needed the reassurance. Anyway, he soon relaxed under my petting and loosened his grip.

Keeping my voice soft, but matter-of-fact, I asked him, "D'you ever regret falling in love with me?"

Startled blue eyes stared up at me. "Have you gone round the twist?" Bodie demanded. "Where'd you get a bloody daft idea like that?"

I gave him a wry look, then kissed him on the tip of his perfectly-shaped hooter. "It might have something to do with the fact that my lover just asked me if I wanted kids. And since neither of us is capable of getting preggers--"

Bodie covered my mouth with a rough kiss, rolled me over onto my back and pressed my body into the mattress. Taking my head between his hands, he arrogantly stared down his aristocratic nose. "I am perfectly happy in this relationship," he told me. "You are the best thing that ever happened to me and I'm not crazy enough to let you go, let alone give you the push."

Was nice hearing Bodie tell me he loved me. He's not very verbal with his feelings, so when he does open up, it tends to mean a lot.

"Love you, too, sunshine," I told him as I looked up through my eyelashes.

"Nice, that," Bodie said approvingly. "Very tidy as well, since I happen to love you."

When he kissed me, it was like being surrounded with pure essence of Bodie. I could feel his body pressing down on mine as I stroked his back and muscular arse. His mouth tasted wonderful--Bodie with a hint of mint tooth-powder. The smell was Bodie musk and oatmeal soap. Put it all together and it was enough to make a saint give up celibacy--and I'm no saint.

It was beginning to get interesting, but still not urgent. Just then the bloody alarm-clock went off. With a sigh of regret, Bodie quit ravishing my left nipple and rolled his body off mine.

I turned off the alarm, leaned over and licked the tip of his ear. "We could always finish this in the shower," I suggested.

"Who's the clever lad?" Bodie said, his face lighting up like a child on Christmas morning. He practically foot-raced me to the loo.

I prefer my sex in the comfort of a bed. Like to take my time, you see. But, when we don't have the time for long wet kisses and a slow build-up, a slippery romp in the shower gets my vote. It's better than rug-burns, anyway.

Bodie was all over me once we were under the warm jets of water. I was all over him as well. I knew we'd both have bruises, the way we clutched each other. Water and soap-suds provided enough lubrication to ease our frantic thrusts against each other. I tasted blood in our kiss--mine or Bodie's, I couldn't tell. Didn't care, either. I needed to be closer to my lover. Inside him would have been nice, but that was impractical in the cramped shower stall--uncomfortable as well, with only the soap and water to ease the way. Besides, Bodie's a bit taller than I am, so the angles are all wrong.

The friction of Bodie's cock against mine, and the feel of his hard hands kneading my bum had me flying high on pleasure. I came in jolting waves of pleasure. I growled deep in my throat at the knife-sharp sensations and bit down on Bodie's shoulder. I needed to leave my mark on him--needed to anchor myself in the present as well. Felt like my feet left the ground for a moment and that scared me.

I tightened my grip on my partner and stood panting while Bodie thrust frantically against me. It was my turn to support him as he poured his semen in a sticky stream between our groins.

It took us a few minutes to recover our breath. We hastily washed most of the evidence down the drain. All except the bruises and the teeth marks--they were a bit more permanent.

I dressed while Bodie retrieved the morning paper and looked for our wandering tomcat. Then Bodie dressed while I fed Raven and made toast and tea for the two of us. I was just sitting down to scan the headlines and eat breakfast when Bodie came into the kitchen. In his blue polo-neck and black trous, he looked so calm and collected that you'd never suspect he'd been having it off with me not fifteen minutes before.

I tilted my head for a kiss and Bodie leaned down to oblige me. I poured him a cuppa and handed over half of The Sun.

After breakfast, I had to hunt for my leather jacket. I'm not the neatest of flatmates--don't know how Bodie puts up with me. I finally remembered leaving it somewhere in the sitting room. While I was looking, I noticed Raven determinedly pawing at a small puddle of sunlight on the carpet at the foot of an overstuffed chair.

"What the hell...?" Bodie had come looking for me. He stood in the doorway staring open-mouthed at the antics of the family pet. "What's Raven trying to do?""

"'E's trying to pull that sunbeam out from under the chair," I replied.


"He was sunbathing, only the sun moved," I explained. "Now Raven's trying to drag it back out to where he can enjoy it."

"You're making this up as you go along, aren't you?" Bodie said.

I grinned at him while I put on my jacket--it had been hiding behind the settee. "Would I do that to you?"

"In a moment," my mate replied.

I saw the disgruntled feline give up his fruitless task and settle down on the settee for a morning wash.

"Straight up, I really think the moggy was trying to retrieve his sun-beam," I told Bodie.

"That's silly!" Bodie exclaimed.

"Not if you're a cat."

As we started for the motor, Bodie was still shaking his head at feline illogic--not to mention my ability to understand it. It was his turn to drive, so I got into the passenger seat.

Our old Capri had been made redundant. Its replacement was a gunmetal grey Rover with a lot more power under the bonnet.

Driving gave Bodie the excuse not to look at me when he abruptly asked, "Ray? This morning...did you really think I brought up the subject because I'd suddenly discovered I wanted to be a father?"

I paused a moment to collect my thoughts. That worried Bodie, so he darted a look at me.

"You'd make a terrific father," I told him. Could see that Bodie was startled at my answer, both his eyebrows tried to climb up under his hairline.

"You're good with kids...better than I'll ever be," I admitted. Bodie opened his mouth, but I cut him off before he could start to speak. "But, no, I didn't really think you'd suddenly decided you wanted kids--married the wrong person if you did, because I'll never give you any. Or if the thought did cross my mind, it was just a momentary fit of insecurity. Did you really think that I might be pining for the pitter-patter of little feet and the stink of dirty nappies?"

The hunch of Bodie's shoulders told me he was feeling uncomfortable. He darted another quick look at me, then studiously kept his eyes on the roadway as he answered my questions. "It did occur to me that we'd never mentioned the subject. Didn't know how you felt about kids."

"And that bothered you," I added. It was disconcerting to know so much about another person that you could predict which way they'd break when someone started to shoot at them, yet know nothing of how that person felt about a subject as basic as parenthood.

"Yes, it did bother me." Bodie shot another glance in my direction. I noticed his shoulders relaxing when he saw that I wasn't upset.

"We've never talked much about families and kids and such," I commented.

"No, we haven't," my partner replied.

I knew I'd grow old and grey while waiting for Bodie to start the discussion, so I launched myself right into it. "I'm the second of six children," I told him. "I helped raise my younger brother and sisters. I've got eleven nieces and nephews. That's as much of parenting as I ever want to do. As far as I'm concerned, the process is much overrated and if I never smell another dirty nappy, I'll die a happy man."

"How come I've never been privileged to meet any of the Doyle clan?" Bodie asked. I could tell that he really wanted to know whether I was ashamed of him and our relationship.

"I don't get on with my oldest sister and Julia's the only one who lives in London. Catherine married an American and lives somewhere on the American west coast--Seattle, I think the place is called. I don't see her more than once every two or three years. She can't afford to visit Britain more often. My brother Neil is in the army. He and his family are in West Germany right now. Before that, he was up in Scotland, and before that, he was over in Belfast. And as far as Fiona and Jessica are concerned--the farther away from their ravening hordes of brats I can stay, the better I like it."

"Oh." Bodie's voice was flat.

I looked across the car seat at him. "The next time Cathy makes a visit, I'll introduce you. I think the two of you would get on together. As for the rest of them--I might introduce you to Neil. But I don't know how he'll react to my changed domestic arrangements."

"You mean you don't know how he'll react when he finds out we're living together," Bodie said knowingly.

"Mmm. Neil's always been a live-and-let-live sort. But he's never understood homosexuality."

"And always before, he's seen you with girlfriends, but not with boyfriends," Bodie added.

"Yeah." I looked ruefully at him.

"You don't have to tell him that we're lovers," Bodie offered.

"You're important to me, Bodie. And I won't hide our relationship from my family. If they can't handle the fact that I'm in love with you, that's their problem."

"I wouldn't want to make trouble between you and your family, Ray," Bodie said quietly.

"You and that disreputable moggy of ours are my family now. I have more in common with the bloody cat than I do with most of my relatives. And you're certainly more important than someone I send holiday cards to because I'm related to them through accident of birth."

"Love you, too, sunshine," Bodie said. I caught a hint of laughter in his voice, probably caused by my rather disjointed comments.

I smiled at him. "How do you feel about children?" I asked him. It was my partner's turn to be on the hot seat.

Bodie shrugged. "They're okay, especially once they're walking, talking and developing a personality. Never really thought much about having any of my own, though. The kind of life I lead isn't really suited for fatherhood."

"D'you have any relatives I should be warned about?" I asked.

My partner darted yet another uneasy glance in my direction, so I answered his unspoken question. "No, I am not suggesting that I be introduced to them. Have quite enough of my own, thank you very much. Its just that forewarned is forearmed and all that nonsense."

Bodie grinned slightly. By this time, we were turning into the car park at CI5 headquarters. He quickly found one of the often elusive parking spots, then turned off the motor.

"My mother died when I was eight," Bodie started, his eyes still focused out the windscreen. "My father remarried. Maisie didn't like me much, reminded her that she wasn't Da's first wife, I expect. She never let me have much to do with my half-sister or half-brother after they were born. If it hadn't been for my Gram, I'd have run off earlier than I did. You see, I always knew she loved me and that she'd stick up for me." Bodie turned in his seat to look at me as he spoke. I could see a lingering sadness in his cerulean eyes. "After Gram died, I ran off to sea to become a merchant seaman," he finished.

"Are any of the rest of them still around?" I asked.

"I heard later that my father had died in an accident on the docks. He was day-labour...when he was sober enough to hold a job. Don't know what happened to Maisie and the kids. Cheryl was four and Bobby was only eighteen months old when I left."

"Was it your mother or your step-mother who wouldn't let you have a pet?" I asked, remembering the time my partner had admitted that Raven was his first.

"My mum was the one allergic to animals. Maisie just thought they tracked dirt into the house," Bodie replied.

"One of these days, you'll have to tell me about your Gram," I said softly.

Bodie's smile was soft with remembrance. "Yeah," he said. "I'd like that."

I caught a glimpse of Bodie's watch. It was eight a.m. and we were almost late. A mad dash up the stairs allowed us to slip into the back of the briefing room just seconds before the Cow entered. It was so crowded that we had to hold up the wall in the back, but I knew, crowded or not, if we hadn't been there, Cowley would have noticed.

Corruption in government always gets to the Cow and because some fairly major civil servants had been recently implicated in a drugs ring, he was in a rare taking. Most of the briefing dealt with assigning agents to all levels of the major investigation.

"Bodie, Doyle," Cowley barked. We snapped to attention.

"You are to investigate the street distribution level. Our information is that Alfred Wilton is involved. Doyle's police contacts and familiarity with the East End should help."

Murphy and Atwood were to go undercover at the office where the suspected civil servants were employed. McCabe and Lucas drew stakeout on a ministry official. Susan and Jax each had assignments that would place them undercover with the local police. Most other Ops were put on hold as this investigation would involve the bulk of available CI5 personnel.

Bodie and I spent most of the morning in the computer room and in the dusty dossier department digging up background information on the Wilton Mob. I'd never met Alfie Wilton, though like most East End coppers, I at least knew of him. Wilton had been born some fifty years ago to a Cheapside tart named Wilts. When Alfie was thirteen, his mother's pimp caught her holding back money from him and, in a fit of rage, he cut her throat. By then, Alfie was well-versed in thievery, prostitution and the criminal society of the London slums. He managed to survive, to prosper and to work his way ever higher in the criminal ranks. By the time he'd started his own mob, Alfie'd changed his name to Wilton and had established a string of betting shops as a legitimate front to launder his illegal earnings.

"Nice fellow, this," Bodie commented.

"Umm?" I muttered absently.

"Suspected of ordering the murder of a buildings contractor--case not proven. Suspected of conspiring to commit arson--insufficient evidence for prosecution. Suspected in the disappearance of a Special Branch officer...and it goes on like that for three or four pages." Bodie was indignant.

"Yeah," I sighed explosively. "The Met's been watching 'im for years, but they haven't been able to get him for so much as a parking violation. At least, not since he set up the book-making shops ten years ago. He's smart, this one. But not smart enough."

"I hope you're right, sunshine. Don't like dope peddlers." Bodie looked grim.

"Neither do I," I told him. "C'mon, let's try the street."

We spent the next few days combing the East End of London. Bodie was not very happy about our assignment for several reasons. To begin with, he said, "It reminds me of the area of Liverpool where I grew up--poverty, booze and hopelessness." Also, my Beau Brummell partner resented having to dress down to fit in with the locals. But he knew that his usual sartorial elegance would stick out like a zebra in a paddock of Derby finalists, so out came a faded pair of jeans he usually used for housework or motor repair, a threadbare blue shirt and that awful black-and-white jacket with the mismatched plaids that I hated as much as my lover despised the multi-hued plaid I kept in me own wardrobe. Bodie keeps threatening to use my jacket as a dustcloth some day, but he never has--mainly because I keep telling him that his jacket would make a good lining for Raven's litter-box.

Anyway, we were instantly recognized as strangers to the East End establishments we visited, but most of them catered to a sizeable number of transient types. We fit in as out-of-town talent looking for a soft billet. That gave us an excuse to prowl the local pubs.

I did manage to locate some of my former snitches. In fact, I was talking to one of them--Davy Larkin, pick-pocket and sometime petty crook--when I first saw the mystery woman from Bodie's past.

My partner was drinking at the bar. Davy was a bit nervous and wouldn't talk while Bodie was with us, so I took Larkin back to one of the dark booths in the back of the pub called the Grim Reaper. The Reaper was a dirty, dark drinking hole not fit to be called a local. It was utterly unlike The Hoof and Claw--my and Bodie's favourite pub. Most of the clientele of the East End drinking establishment were loosely affiliated with the local criminal fraternity--mainly small-time career criminals like Larkin. Some of the Wilton mob frequented the place.

The drinkers were almost all male. The exception was a bird in a scarlet lace mini-skirt and stiletto heels. Her blouse was half-unbuttoned and from across the room, I could tell that her hair was blonde from a bottle--it had that brassy, brittle sheen to it. The way the bird had layered on the face powder and rouge, I couldn't tell her age, but I'd have put her somewhere in her late twenties. She looked a right tart, not at all the type of bird that Bodie would know. It shocked me a bit when she walked up to my partner and pulled on his sleeve.

"Will?" Her voice was a question. I lost all interest in Larkin as I tried to listen in on the conversation at the bar.

Bodie turned round. I saw both eyebrows rise in polite enquiry.

"Will Bodie?" the bird asked.


A smile almost cracked the heavy makeup. "I knew it was you!"

Bodie looked blank. The blonde grinned at him. It took years off her face. I revised my estimate of her age downwards to early twenties.

"S'me!" she exclaimed. "Cheryl!"

"Cheryl?" I could see Bodie frantically trying to place her.

"Your sister, you berk!" Cheryl threw her arms round a stunned Bodie.

"Cheryl?" His voice was incredulous, and at least an octave higher than normal.

"Y'look just like pictures of Da when he was younger," Cheryl exclaimed as she finally released her stranglehold on him. "S'how I knew it had to be you."

I felt like chucking the Cow's assignment and going to Bodie's rescue. The poor bastard looked like a salmon tossed up on the shingle and slowly suffocating. I also wanted to meet this bird. But CI5 agents learn early that their private life comes second to the job. With a scowl, I dragged my eyes away from the Bodie reunion and started putting the screws to Davy Larkin.

I don't know what Larkin saw on my face, but it scared the poor sod shitless. He didn't know much about Wilton and his lot, but what little he did know--and everything he'd heard or suspected--soon came tumbling out of his mouth. Three quarters of an hour later, I left the poor man trembling, sweaty, and richer by twenty pounds.

Bodie was sitting half-way across the pub in a high-backed booth. He was by himself and there was no sign of the blonde bird who'd claimed to be his sister.

"Bodie?" I said as I came up beside him.

Bemused blue eyes looked up. "Ready to go, are we?" he asked.


As I drove us back to headquarters, I kept hoping that Bodie would bring up the subject, but he didn't. In fact, he didn't say much of anything. We brought the files up-to-date and left the building about three a.m.

By the time we reached the flat, I was more than a bit narked. Bodie was playing clam and I have trouble dealing with the silly sod when he reverts to his bad old ways. I keep hoping that the security of our relationship will cure him of trying to do it all on his own and keep everything inside. Mostly it has.

I tried not to pounce on the dumb crud and bully it out of him. That always makes me feel like a bastard--Bodie looks so wounded and vulnerable afterwards. Instead, I concentrated on Raven.

The cat had been sleeping on the settee, but the sound of us arriving home had awakened him. Raven lay there on his side, blinking sleepy green eyes at us. Then he yawned, stretched and got to his feet. I scooped him off the cushions and sat down where he'd been lying. The seat was still warm from his body heat.

The furry beggar gave a throaty 'purrp' and tilted his chin so that I could scratch the itchy bits. When I did, his motor went into overdrive and I could feel his body rumble in time with his purrs.

There's something very soothing about petting a warm furry body. I could feel my muscles start to relax. It didn't even bother me that Bodie couldn't seem to settle. He kept pacing restlessly across the rug in front of the settee. I think he was expecting me to push him into telling me about the blonde bird at the Grim Reaper.

But I was tired of playing Grand Inquisitor. It always seemed to be me doing the talking and communicating in this relationship--using my training to pry words out of Bodie. This time, he was going to have to talk to me and he was going to do it on his own, without me dragging it out of him.

I know-- it sounds like a couple of kids squabbling--especially with me sitting there in a sulk. Mostly, we learn to get on with people when we're kids. And sometimes we revert and act like the tykes we once were. M'not proud of it, s'just a fact of life.

"Ray?" Bodie's voice was tentative.

"Yeah?" I said as neutrally as I could manage.

"You narked at me?"

I looked up into worried blue eyes. "A bit," I admitted.

"Because I talked to a bird?" he asked.

I scowled at him. "Because you're not talking about it."

Bodie sat down next to me. He smiled and replied, "But I am talking about it, sunshine."

I used my elbow to thump his ribs. "No, you're not. You're talking about how I feel about it. But you're not talking about it."

Bodie's eyes dropped to my lapful of tomcat. He reached out to pet the silky black fur. Since I was also petting Raven, our hands kept bumping into each other. The third time it happened, Bodie wrapped his hand round mine and wouldn't let go.

"Ray," he said. "D'you remember what I said about my family? About my stepmother and her two kids?"

"Yeah," I said and looked up into his face.

"That bird, she says that she's my sister Cheryl." The words came out in a rush.

"Is she?"

"Yeah." Bodie let his breath out in a sigh. I could feel his tense muscles relax. He put his free arm round me.

"Catching up on family news, were you?" I remarked.

"Yeah," Bodie replied. "Maisie's remarried and living in Yorkshire. Bobby joined the Navy. And Cheryl's married to a bloke named Michael Starrett. She's got a three-month-old son she calls William Andrew." Bodie looked sheepish but proud with it.

"You're an uncle!" I grinned.

The blue eyes blinked in amazement. "I am, aren't I?"

"When do you meet the nephew?"

"Dunno," Bodie replied. "Gave Cher our phone number, 'n she gave me hers."


"Yeah." Bodie grinned. "Like the American pop star. She thinks its more glamorous than just Cheryl."

"She tell you anything about her husband and what he does?"

"No. Didn't have time. Got a glimpse of him when he came to the door to hurry her up." Bodie had a thoughtful expression on his face. "Didn't like the looks of him."

"Oh?" I said. "Why not?"

"Looked like a small-time hood....or a pimp."

I looked down at our joined hands. Didn't want to hurt Bodie's feelings by telling him I thought his sister had probably met her husband in his professional capacity. The way she dressed and looked she either was, or had been, on the game.

But Bodie knows me too well. Sometimes better than I do myself.

"I know," my partner said abruptly. "She looks like a tart. But I think she's retired."

"It often happens when they find a feller and get married," I assured him.

Bodie looked up at me with a wry smile. "Speak no ill of your relations?" he suggested.

I looked earnestly into his cerulean eyes and told him, "Slanging your in-laws is the second most frequent cause of marital breakups."

"Oh?" Bodie repressed a grin.

"Yeah. All the women's magazines say so." I gave him a melting look.

"'N where did you come across a woman's mag?" Bodie asked.

I sighed. "Dentist's office, when we got our teeth cleaned last."

Bodie snickered. "I remember. It was a choice between Woman's Weekly or an old copy of Beano."

"Yeah." I turned a severe eye on him. "Suppose you read the Beano."

"Of course," Bodie agreed. "Macho man like me, I wouldn't be caught dead using Woman's Weekly to wrap fish."

"Newspapers are better for wrapping fish," I sniffed.

Raven brought our banter to a close by jumping off my lap and walking towards the hallway. There, he paused to give an imperious summons before he continued to the front door.

Bodie went to let him out. I headed for the kitchen to make us a bite of supper.

We spent Thursday and Friday trying to track down another contact I'd made while on Drugs Squad. It was frustrating, tedious and boring. Anyone who thinks that being a CI5 agent is glamorous and exciting should have their head examined. Like most action professions, its 99% tedium and 1% sheer terror.

It was in the early hours of Saturday morning and we were sipping our tea on the settee. The remains of our late supper were scattered across the coffee table. I was trying to find the energy to proposition my better half. Had just decided to try it on anyway when the telephone rang.

Thank God it wasn't the direct line to CI5!

Bodie gave a tired grunt as he pulled himself to his feet. He balanced one hip on the sideboard while he picked up the telephone receiver. I was so busy ogling the way those cream cords moulded themselves across his crotch that I didn't catch much of the conversation. Wasn't until Bodie got a bit agitated that I managed to pull my attention away from lecherous visions of what I wanted to do to that cream-covered body.

"What?" Bodie exclaimed. "But, Cher... Where?... Don't hang up... Cher?... Cheryl?... Damn!" Bodie put the receiver down and turned dazed blue eyes in my direction. The stunned expression on his face made me forget how tired I was. In an instant, I was up on my feet and at Bodie's side.

"What's the matter, love?" My hand automatically began to knead the tight muscles in his neck.

"That was Cheryl," Bodie said. "She's in some kind of trouble. Said she's leaving her son in the kiosk across the road from the Grim Reaper." Bodie looked up at me. "She wants me to take care of him for her."

I should get a medal for duty above and beyond. Keeping a straight face at that moment was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. It was mostly the look on Bodie's face--a mixture of panic, confusion, pride and sheepishness.

"We'd best be on our bikes, then," I finally managed to say.

"Yeah," Bodie muttered vaguely.

I insisted on driving. My partner was in no condition to be behind the wheel.

But I let Bodie retrieve the little bundle of joy from the phone-kiosk. It was his nephew, wasn't it? Besides, I hate the smell of dirty nappies. Speaking of which, what the hell were we going to do about clean ones? This time of morning, all the shops were closed.

Turned out I needn't of worried. Bodie came back clutching a carry-cot complete with crying child, several bottles of formula, and half a box of industrial-strength paper nappies. The look of helpless appeal on his mug was almost worth the aggro in the offering. Almost, but not quite.

I could tell that my macho partner was having visions of dropping his nephew on his head. All the way back to our flat, he clutched the carry-cot like it was going to jump out of his arms.

"Oi! Bodie!" I said after a more refined attempt to gain his attention failed.

"Uhmmm?" Bodie muttered.

"What's Cheryl have to say in her note?"


"The note," I said. "The one pinned to the blanket. What's it say?"

Bodie pried one hand loose from his death grip on the carry-cot and unpinned the note. When we jolted over a bump in the tarmac, he dropped the envelope as he anxiously wrapped both arms round the child carrier.

"Never mind," I sighed. "Probably couldn't read it in this light, anyway. We'll sort it out when we get home."

Back at our flat, Bodie tried to thrust the kid into my hands, but I dodge rather faster than he does. I grabbed the now-grubby note off the floor of the motor and dashed up the front walk to open the door. Bodie, the poor sod, followed me in a gingerly creep, trying not to drop his young charge.

At that point, I wouldn't have cared much if he had. Young Starrett hadn't stopped screaming since Bodie had picked him up at the phone booth. One thing about it, you could certainly tell that there was nothing wrong with his lungs.

To be fair, I knew it wasn't the little tyke's fault. He was probably wet, hungry and scared. Abandoned by mum and da, left to the mercies of an uncle he'd never laid eyes on, the poor kid was expressing himself in the only way he knew.

"Why don't you take William Andrew into the kitchen," I suggested as Bodie passed me carrying his nephew.

My partner may have been rattled, but he wasn't so far out of it that he didn't glare at me as he tiptoed past. He never has liked any of his given names.

When I entered the kitchen, the carry-cot was sitting on the table and Bodie was hovering over it like a novice mother hen. He didn't notice my arrival, so I took a minute to look at him.

It amazes me how fast you can fluster your average male just by dumping an baby in his arms. Most of them haven't a clue. S'a pity, really.

"Are we ready for our first lesson on the care and feeding of infants?" I said in a false hearty tone.

Bodie turned round to face me. "Can you stop him crying?" he asked.

"I certainly hope so," I replied fervently. I proceeded to demonstrate the basic method of changing diapers.

Bodie went a bit green when he got a good whiff of the contents of the soiled nappy, but he manfully held the plastic trash bag while I dumped the used diaper. I'd just finished doing up the velcro ties on the fresh nappy when nature took its course. I had to start all over again.

"Do they always do that?" Bodie asked. "Soil their diapers just after you change them, I mean?"

I sighed in exasperation. "Seems to be a law of nature, like your bread always landing jam side down on the carpet."

The window in the sitting room rattled loudly.

"Best let Raven in, love," I told Bodie as I powdered little William's arse. Mentally, I compared it to Bodie's. Bodie came out well ahead, though I could see certain similarities--those two dimples just below the waist, for example.

Raven prowled into the kitchen with Bodie trailing behind him. I could tell the cat knew something was up, and that he wasn't sure that he liked it.

The half-empty box of paper nappies was sitting on the floor by my feet. Raven reared up and put his front paws on the edge of the box, trying to see what was inside. Unfortunately, his weight knocked the box over. Raven jumped back in surprise and laid his ears flat against his head. Like most cats, he doesn't like looking the fool.

Neither Bodie nor I laughed, but Raven felt affronted, anyway. So the moggy sat down and began to wash.

I finished changing William's diaper and put one of the bottles of formula to heat in a pan of water. While I was at it, I put the kettle on for a cuppa.

Bodie cut up some chicken and sprinkled it over a bowl of dry cat-food. By the time it was ready, Raven had smoothed his ruffled fur and was willing to accept friendly overtures. But he still kept a jaundiced eye turned towards Bodie's nephew, who lay grizzling in the carry-cot.

"Oi, Bodie!" I waited until I had my partner's attention. "I'll show you how to test the temperature on baby formula."

I took Bodie's wrist and sprinkled a few drops of formula over the inside. "How does that feel?" I asked him.

"Wet," Bodie replied.

"Does it feel hot? Does it feel cold? If it's the same temperature as your skin, it's just right."

"You sound like you're reciting 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears'," Bodie said plaintively.

I just grinned at him and sprinkled a few drops of formula over my own wrist. "S'just right," I said. "Snag the carrier and we'll feed William in the sitting room."

Bodie carried the baby over to the table in front of the settee and carefully set the carry-cot down. Once he sat down, I picked up William Andrew.

"Hold out your arms, mate."

Bodie looked a bit bomb-shocked. "Huh?" he said. "I'm not the expert on kids."

"Which is why I'm teaching you," I replied. "Hold out your arms." I gave Bodie instructions on holding babies and stressed the importance of supporting their heads. Once Bodie had his namesake secure in his arms, I handed him the bottle.

Young William stopped complaining and immediately latched on to the rubber nipple. I left Bodie feeding his sister's kid and went back to the kitchen to make tea.

While I was waiting for the leaves to steep, I sat down on the floor by Raven. He was still crunching dried cat-food, but he'd already finished the chicken. When he'd had enough, he wet his right paw and gave his face a cursory wipe.

The tea was ready, so I tucked Raven under one arm while I collected cups and teapot. The two of us joined Bodie and baby on the settee. When I sat next to Bodie, Raven settled comfortably on my lap and stubbornly stayed there while I poured tea. After I settled back against the cushions, curiosity got the best of him, and Raven walked across my lap towards the baby.

Bodie just about came unglued. "Catch him, Ray!" he yelled, holding his nephew away from the cat.

I picked Raven off the settee and held him in my lap. "He's just curious."

Raven gave an indignant Mrowr and struggled in my grip. When he started to growl deep in his throat, I released him. The cat leaped off of my lap and walked stiff-legged towards the hall. I could tell by the way his tail was jerking about that Raven was royally narked.

Since Bodie still had William Andrew to care for, I followed Raven down the hall to the front door. Before I opened up, I knelt down and scratched behind tattered black ears.

"He's just got the new baby jitters, mate. He'll be okay in a bit."

Raven just glared at me and demanded to be let Ooout! With a sigh, I got to my feet and opened the door. When I rejoined Bodie in the sitting room, he was still feeding his nephew.

"What did Cheryl's note say?" I asked him as I sat down.

"Dunno," he replied. "Where is it?"

I remembered stuffing it in my pocket and I stood up to retrieve it. Had to, didn't I? My jeans are too tight to do it sitting down. "D'you want to read it?" I offered as I sat down.

"Why don't you read it aloud?" Bodie suggested.

"Okay." I opened the envelope and took out several sheets of paper. The first one started--

Dear Will,

Mickey's done something stupid and his governor has a couple of men looking for him. He says we have to disappear for a bit and he won't have a noisy kid along slowing him down. I had trouble enough trying to get him to take me along.

Already, I didn't like Bodie's brother-in-law. From his grimace, Bodie didn't care much for what he was hearing, either.

Please take care of little Willie for me.

I couldn't help myself. I cackled. "Little Willie!"

Bodie blushed and glared at me. It wasn't very effective since he was sitting there nursing a baby and all. When I quit chuckling, I went back to the letter.

I'll try and come back for him as soon as possible.

Love, Cher

The rest of the sheets were covered with instructions on preparing Willie's formula, how often to feed him, what else he ate and his daily schedule. Just looking at them made me depressed.

"We're going to have to call Special Services in the morning," I announced.

"Why?" Bodie sounded distracted.

"To put on someone to take care of Little Willie while we're at work," I replied.

"You think they'd do that?"

"They've got plumbers, electricians and tailors listed, and enough of our lot are married that child care's a problem. I'm sure they've someone on their list--someone who's already been checked out by security."

"Yeah. Makes sense," Bodie agreed.

Willie spat the nipple out of his mouth.

"I'll show you how to burp 'im." I put a towel over Bodie's shoulder and showed him how to drape his nephew across it and pat the kid's back. As I'd half-suspected would happen, Willie vomited down the back of Bodie's shirt. Fortunately, the towel caught most of it.

Even though Bodie's been a merc, a para and a soldier in the SAS, he's still a fastidious bastard. My partner wrinkled his nose and asked me, "Does that happen every time?"

"Nah," I assured him. "Poor beggar's just upset. He should settle down. Then it'll just be the odd occasion when he baptizes your backside."

Bodie gave me this disbelieving look. "You're having me on, aren't you?"

"No," I told him, "I'm not. Raising kids is bloody hard work, sunshine. Which is why I was always very careful never to get any of my birds pregnant."

We got Wee Willie squared away in his carry-cot. Poor kid went right to sleep. Bodie and I took turns doing a sketchy wash-up and fell into bed. I'd set the alarm clock for a couple hours earlier than usual. Not that I need to have bothered. The cry of a hungry baby had Bodie and me out of bed twice during the night and again about 45 minutes before the alarm.

After William Andrew was fed, burped and changed, I left Bodie with the task of calling up Special Services while I visited the local Tesco's. If we were going to leave Willie with a sitter, we needed to stock up on nappies, formula and the like. Just incidentally, it also gave me some time to myself, away from Bodie and the baby.

I've seen it before and recognized it instantly--it's not a pretty sight. My mate was showing all the signs of being baby-besotted. When he wasn't feeding, changing or cleaning little William, he was doing the'koochie-coo and marvelling over tiny fingers and toes. Less than twelve hours since the kid dropped into our lives and I was already feeling the neglected spouse.

When I brought the shopping back, Raven was waiting on the front steps. I let the two of us into the flat and the cat started down the hall towards the kitchen (his priorities remind me of Bodie). After I fed our furry flatmate, I sorted out the baby supplies from the rest of the shopping. All through this, I could hear Bodie in the bedroom talking nonsense to Little Willie. It made me feel depressed. So instead of joining Bodie in his child worship, I sat down on the floor next to Raven.

"I hope Bodie's sister turns up soon," I confided to the cat. "Don't know how much I can take of Bodie playing Mum."

Raven finished eating and began scrubbing up against my knees. I reached over to scratch behind his ears and the furry bastard flopped over on his side and began purring. Our cat can look perfectly silly sometimes. Bodie tells me that Raven's look of ecstasy at having his ears scratched reminds him of my expression when I'm coming. I don't think I like that comparison.

Finally, I decided I couldn't put it off any longer. I got to my feet and headed towards the bedroom. Raven decided to be sociable and came along.

"Hallo," I said when I reached the doorway. Bodie was sprawled on our bed next to Willie. I just hoped that the kid didn't have a nasty accident while lying on my side of the mattress.

Bodie looked up. "Hallo."

"Did you get any help from Special Services?"

"Yeah. Janine Jax is going to take care of William," Bodie replied.

"Didn't know she did child-minding," I remarked as I sat next to Bodie on the bed.

"Child-care," Bodie corrected. "She sometimes helps out when there's an emergency."

Raven hopped up on the bed next to Willie. Bodie made a wild grab for the cat and startled Raven into jumping backwards--right off the bed.

It's a myth that cats always land on their feet or that when they do, it's always a perfect landing. Raven landed hard and he landed awkwardly. Too much of his weight came down on one hind leg. The cat was on his feet almost immediately, but when he walked towards the door, he had a limp as bad as the Cow's on a bad day.

"You shouldn't have done that," I told Bodie as I got up to follow the cat out of the bedroom.

"But he might've hurt William!" Bodie protested.

"He's only curious," I said in exasperation. "After all, it's his flat as much as ours."

When I caught up to Raven, he was at the front door waiting to be let out. He wouldn't let me touch his legs--growled at me when I tried. I gave up and opened the door for him, making a mental note to call the veterinary if he was still limping tomorrow.

Bodie and I didn't talk about the scene in the bedroom. As we packed up Willie with all of his gear, my partner mentioned that he wanted his nephew checked over by a doctor.

"I think Browning will do it," he stated casually.

"Pamela?" I said in surprise. "But she's CI5's physician on call!"

"I know," Bodie replied.

"Don't you think the Cow will have something to say about that?""

"What he doesn't know..." my partner suggested.

I snorted. "You don't think he'll find out?"

"Not if we're careful, sunshine."

"A little less of the we," I said. Nevertheless, I helped Bodie smuggle Little Willie into the CI5 infirmary via the back-stairs.

Dr. Pamela Browning was forty-ish with a nice figure and good clothes sense. She looked up from her microscope as we entered. Pam's blue-grey eyes peered through her fly-away black fringe. "Which of you is injured... Is that a baby? What poor benighted mother would let the two of you run off with her progeny?"

"This is William Andrew Starrett," I said. "Bodie's nephew."

"We were hoping that you'd take a look at the little tyke." Bodie gave her his best smile--guaranteed to melt female hearts.

Browning snorted inelegantly, but took Willie from Bodie's arms. She gave the kid a full physical and had just pronounced him perfectly fit when our beloved leader popped into the infirmary.

"Where did that child come from?" Cowley demanded.

Bodie snapped to attention. "I brought him in, sir. He's my nephew."

"For what reason?" asked the Cow.

"I wanted to know that he was healthy, sir."

"That is inappropriate use of these facilities!" Cowley snapped. "I trust that there will be no repeat of this incident."

"Yes, sir!" Bodie stood even straighter. I kept my mouth shut and my arse to the wall.

Nevertheless, George sent a glare in my direction. "Do you have someone to take care of the child?" he asked.

"Yes, sir. We consulted Special Services..." Bodie started to say.

"Then place the child in their hands and return to headquarters immediately. There is a briefing scheduled for 8.45." Cowley exited as quickly as he'd come.

I'd noticed that Cowley hadn't said anything to Dr. Browning. The last time he'd had words with the good doctor, the honours had come out fairly even.

Bodie thanked Pamela for her time. The two of us left to take Willie to Janine Jax.

More than half the squad was at the briefing. If anything, the Cow looked even more grim than at the first meeting. He had reason.

Lucas and McCabe had gotten lucky. They'd tracked one of the suspected ministry officials to a meeting with the cultural attache from the Syrian embassy. It looked as if the rumour about foreign involvement was right.

After the meeting, Bodie and I went through some of the reports written by other teams. While I was skimming through Chris Atwood's paper-work, I ran across a name that sounded vaguely familiar.

"Bodie," I said.

My partner looked across the desk at me. "Yeah?"

"What's the name of Cheryl's husband?"

"Starrett," Bodie answered. "Michael Starrett."

"That note she pinned to Willie's blanket," I thought out loud. "She called him Mickey."

"Yeah? So?"

I looked down at the report in my hands. "Chris and Murphy are assigned to the Garland surveillance over at Inland Revenue. In one of Atwood's reports, he says that Garland met one of Wilton's men, a feller called Mickey Starr."

"Starr, Starrett. You think Mickey Starr may be Cher's husband?" Bodie asked.

"Let's check the computer and see if he's got an arrest record," I suggested.

We found a terminal that wasn't being used and I sat down to access the police files. There was a record for Michael Starrett. It listed Mickey Starr as one of his aliases.

"Jesus!" Bodie exclaimed. "What's Cheryl got herself into?"

Starrett was one of the Wilton mob. He'd been arrested for drunk in charge, procuring and GBH. For the last charge, he'd served six months in prison.

"We'd best tell the Cow," I said.

"Yeah," Bodie agreed reluctantly.

George Cowley was not pleased. "One of my own men tied to Alfred Wilton!"

"Bodie didn't know," I protested. "He hasn't seen his sister for over ten years."

"Don't you think I know that, man," Cowley said impatiently.

"Why didn't the CI5 background check on me turn up that information?" Bodie asked quietly.

"Why, indeed." The major was sounding very thoughtful. "I'll have a word with Records and Recruitment," he stated. "In the meantime, I want you to convince Cheryl Starrett and her husband that their safety lies with us."

"They've gone into hiding, sir," Bodie protested.

"A young mother, separated from her child, worried about him..." Cowley murmured suggestively.

"Will certainly try and find out how her child is doing," I nodded.

"And when she does, you will convince her that she and Starrett would be much safer in CI5 custody," Cowley finished. "I want you to pull all of the records on Starrett and his wife. You will also contact dispatch and have all your phone calls routed to your R/T."

"Yes, sir," Bodie replied. He was still subdued. My partner hates it when he thinks he's disappointed the Cow, even if it isn't his fault.

We spent the rest of the day in files. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about Bodie's sister. My gut feeling was right--she had been on the game. Young Cheryl Bodie had run away from home at age 16. A number of arrests for soliciting were listed, but none within the last two years.

I was coming back from the rest room with two cups of fresh tea when I met Bodie charging out of the cubicle we used as an office. He wasn't looking where he was going and I had to put in a fair bit of fancy footwork to keep the clumsy sod from slamming into me. As it was, I spilled hot liquid down the leg of my new fawn trousers.

"Where's the fire?" I asked plaintively as I surveyed the stain. It was probably set for life.

"Grab your jacket, Ray. Cher just called. Dispatch intercepted it at our flat and patched the call through. They got a partial trace... I think she's back at the Grim Reaper... or at the phone kiosk across the street."

I left the tea on the file cabinet and retrieved my leather jacket from the back of my chair. I had to run to catch up with my partner. As we left headquarters, I asked Bodie about his conversation with his sister.

"She asked about Willie. Then I told her that I knew someone who could help Mickey and her... She accused me of being a copper... or a grass. Tried to tell her I wasn't either, but she got upset and hung up on me." Bodie was acting very stiff upper lip, but I could tell that he was worried.

We didn't find Cheryl at the grotty East End pub. Nor was she visible on any of the streets surrounding it. Finally, we had to give up and return to HQ.

After work, we collected Young Willie from the Jax household. When we got back to our flat, I made up a dozen bottles of formula for the baby--some of them to be used this evening and some to be taken with him in the morning when we dropped him off with Janine.

Bodie had finished changing his nephew's diaper and was sitting at the kitchen table with Willie in his arms. I heard the sitting room window rattle.

"Best let Raven in, sunshine," I suggested as I poured baby formula into yet another bottle.

Bodie set William back in his carry-cot and went into the sitting room to open the window for the cat. When he came back, I could see that Raven was still narked at my partner. Bodie tried to make up to the angry feline, but the cat was having none of it. Finally, William the Elder gave up on wooing the family pet into a better humour. After he refilled Raven's water dish and put a mound of liver cat food into the other bowl, Bodie took William the Younger into the lounge.

I was relieved to see that Raven was no longer limping on his injured leg. At least I wouldn't have to escort him to the veterinary.

When I'd finished storing the last bottle of formula in the refrigerator, I sat down on the floor next to Raven. Truth to tell, I was feeling a bit sorry for myself. Ever since Cher had dumped her son in our laps, my lover didn't seem to have much time for me. Last evening, when I'd rolled over in bed to nuzzle his left shoulder, Bodie had pushed me away. "Not tonight, Ray," he'd said. "We might wake the baby." Even thinking about it made me feel cold inside.

I'd been four or five the first time I remember hearing my mum say that to my father. As usual, it had started a row. My da never hit any of us in anger, but I remember a lot of shouting and the sounds of doors being slammed. Worse than that was the silence that came after--my parents each going their own way. Da spent more and more time at his local. Mum immersed herself in raising her children.

I was an adult before I finally figured out what went wrong with my parents. My mum was a lot better mother than she was a wife, and my da resented all the time she spent with us kids. Their marriage was one reason I never wanted to reproduce myself. And yet, here I sat, thrown into the same situation.

I shoved the uncomfortable thought out of my mind and concentrated on Raven, instead. When he finished eating, the cat licked his chops, then groomed his whiskers. The green eyes briefly surveyed me. Then Raven crawled into my lap.

Was unusual, that. Raven is very much Bodie's cat. Oh, he doesn't mind the occasional scratch under the chin and he'll let me pick him up, but if the cat is going to hop onto someone's lap, that lap belongs to Bodie.

"You feeling insecure as well?" I asked the ball of fur. "It'll get worse before it gets better. Babies are a bloody nuisance."

As prophecies go, that was right on the mark. During the next few days, I could feel myself pulling further and further away from Bodie--emotionally and physically.

Friday afternoon, we were released from work early. I suggested we have a quick pint at The Hoof and Claw before we picked up Wee Willie. Bodie's response was like listening to my mother.

"Of all the irresponsible... We get little enough time with the kid.... If you need a drink that badly, we can stop at the off-licence."

"We need some time alone together," I told Bodie.

"We're together all day," Bodie replied.

"At work, taking care of William, but never just for ourselves!" I protested.

"You've got sex on the brain, mate," Bodie said in derision. "Can't you leave it alone for more than two minutes?"

That bloody well hurt. I hadn't meant sex at all.

"If not," I heard myself say, "I'm sure you'll teach me!" Rather than say something totally unforgivable, I opened the door of the Rover and stepped out onto the tarmac. "I'll see you at home. Later. Much later!" I barely stopped myself from slamming the door. As I strode away from the motor, I could hear Bodie calling my name. But I was much too angry to listen.

I walked for a long time. When I got my temper back under control, I looked around to find myself about ten blocks from my local. So I slogged to The Hoof and Claw.

The pub was about half-full. Most of the regulars were police or civil servants of some sort. I ordered a half pint, then looked around for an empty table.

Off in a corner I spotted Tim Blake, an old mate from my first days with the London Met. I didn't particularly want to be alone. When Tim waved an invitation to join him at his table, I accepted.

Blake was a burly, black Irish chap who would have made two of me. He dwarfed his partner--a slight, blond, extremely drunk young man in his early twenties.

"Ignore Dick," Tim boomed above the noisy pub chatter. "His wife just had their first, so he's got his mum, her mum, and both of his wife's sisters camped out on his doorstep."

"'N they won't even let me hold my own kid," Dick mumbled as his head dropped to the table. "Keep telling me I'm in the way, they do."

"Just wait 'til you have the next one," Blake grinned wickedly. "You'll be lucky if her mum comes round to help at all. Instead, it'll be yourself doing the 2 am feeding and changing the dirty nappies."

"Sounds like the voice of experience," I said curiously.

"Three girls and a boy," Tim said proudly.

"D'you spend a lot of time changing diapers and heating formula?" I asked.

"More than I ever wanted," Blake snorted. "But sharing the work is better than being shut out entirely."

"Shut out?" I repeated as I turned my half pint round between my hands. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Tim give me a shrewd look.

"Sometimes the women, God love them, spend so much time with the babes that they forget that they have a husband. Some men give up and take a back seat to their own children or go out to drown their sorrows in drink. Others raise their voice or their fist to their family. The worst are those who go forth seeking some sweet lady who will put them first in her affections." Blake's Liverpool-Irish accent was in full flow, which said a lot about the amount of alcohol he must have in his system. "All in all, my method is best. When I'm helping Maeve with the children, it keeps her mindful of my presence, and it makes her grateful to be married to such a fine man as takes an interest in his babes."

I knew that Tim thought that he was giving good advice to yet another first-time father. Of course, in some odd way, he was correct.

Acting on that advice was a bit beyond me, though. The whole situation was taking on all the trappings of a nightmare reliving of my own family life, with Bodie cast as my mum, and me going the same way as my father.

It had started with da staying out to all hours and drinking with his friends. But he hadn't stopped at that. There had been another woman--younger than mum and with no children pulling her attention away from the young copper that was my da. There had been a few scenes and angry words had been exchanged. My mother finally realized how thoroughly she had shut my father out of her life. Being a clever lady, she also discovered how much he still meant to her, and she did something about it. Mum set out to win back her husband--and she succeeded. From that time until my father died in a traffic accident when I was fourteen, my parents had a solid relationship.

Unfortunately, I was too much like my father. I hadn't a clue as to how to set my relationship with Bodie straight. And Bodie wasn't a bit like my mum. I couldn't depend on him to find the answer to our problem. What it all came down to was the fact that I couldn't bring myself to take a more active interest in Little Willie.

To be truthful, I couldn't make myself take any interest in William Andrew Starrett. He reminded me of things about my own family that I'd much rather forget. And he was taking Bodie away from me.

Stupid, that--thinking of a baby like it was a romantic rival, I mean. When you hear about that sort of thing, you tend to think that any man who could be jealous of his own child must be a berk. But it looks a bit different when you're the one sharing your lover's attention with a brat in dirty diapers. It gave me a whole different view of my da. Not that I'd ever do what he did. I didn't want to go looking for another lover. I just wanted my Bodie back.

But I wasn't going to get him back by sitting round The Hoof and Claw getting pissed. Nor was I going to get him back by abandoning him to Little Willie. I was going to have to fight for Bodie's attention. If that meant changing dirty nappies and washing squalling babes, I'd do it. Or at least I'd try.

Tim and his partner had kindly overlooked my abstraction. They didn't seem a bit surprised when I excused myself and said, "I have to be getting home." In fact, Blake looked well-satisfied that his paternally offered advice was bearing fruit--rather strange fruit, but Tim didn't know that (and I certainly wasn't going to tell him about it).

When I got back to our flat, I was still trying to convince myself that everything was going to be all right. The look on Bodie's face as I came through the door told me differently.

Bodie showed me the cold face of a stranger. I hadn't seen him look at me that way since the first few weeks after we were partnered. That rocked me to my foundations.

"So, we've finally decided to come home, have we?" William Andrew Philip's voice was chill with mockery.

"I'm sorry, sunshine," I told him. I didn't really expect a simple apology to be enough, so I wasn't surprised when it just seemed to fuel Bodie's icy rage.

"You're sorry." Sarcasm dripped from each syllable. "That's rich! D'you think that telling me you're 'sorry' puts everything to rights?" Bodie stood up. He seemed to loom over me, though he isn't that much taller than I am.

"No," I said wearily as I collapsed on the settee. It was still warm from Bodie's body heat.

Bodie waited for me to continue. When I didn't, he attacked. "That's all the explanation I get? Just 'no'...as in 'no excuse, sir'? That may do with the police or even for the Cow, but don't you think your lover deserves something better than that?"

"Yeah," I said softly. I felt defeated and totally exhausted with it. Good intentions just weren't enough. "You deserve better than that," I told Bodie. "You deserve better than me."

"Damn it, Ray! Don't you dare pull that guilt trip crap on me! You don't get off the hook that easily!" Bodie's voice was hoarse with anger as he yelled at me. Off in the distance, I could hear Willie start to cry.

Bodie began cursing in a low, vicious monotone. "That's all I bloody well need right now!" he said as he turned his back on me.

"I'll take care of him," I told him as I got up.

Bodie turned round and ran scornful eyes from my head to my toes. "That's a laugh! You haven't touched the kid in almost a week, but now you'll take care of him?"

"I'm sorry," I repeated. "I know I haven't been much help..."

"Except for the first few days, you haven't been any help at all!"

Bodie snapped, grabbing my shoulders to prevent me from leaving. "Sit down! You aren't going anywhere until we get to the bottom of this!"

"But Willie..."

"...can bloody well wait!" Bodie replied. "It's good exercise for his lungs!"

I sat back down. Bodie sat next to me, rather as if he expected me to make a bolt. He wasn't far wrong.

My compliance took the edge off of my partner's anger. His voice was much quieter as he continued. "Talk to me, Ray. What's wrong? You've been acting like a sulky child ever since Willie got dropped on us. Why?"

"I told you," I mumbled. "I don't like kids much."

"You said you didn't want kids. Why don't you like them?" Bodie asked, one hand rubbing soothingly down my left arm.

"Remind me too much of my family," I muttered. I was still staring at the carpet.

"I thought you liked your family," Bodie said. "You said that you didn't get on with some of your siblings, but you always seemed to speak well of your family in general."

"I do like them... most of them, anyway. "S'just that babies always remind me of the bad times."

"What bad times, Ray?" Bodie asked softly.

So I told him about mum and da, and how us kids had almost destroyed their marriage. I told Bodie about having to help raise my brother and sisters after da died, and how Julia wouldn't have anything to do with the rest of us, and Catherine was too young to do more than help out a bit. Also told him about how the twins had been born and my da had died, all in the same week. S'funny, but I always remember the two events as if they were connected, which is stupid, because they hadn't anything to do with one another. But, somehow, the two events got all mixed up in my memory, along with the fact that I got stuck taking care of the twins when mum had to go back to work to support all of us.

"S'not stupid, love," Bodie told me, which meant I'd been saying all of that out loud. "It's only human to resent having your childhood taken away from you. Kids that age shouldn't have that much responsibility."

"I was fourteen years old," I protested. "You were only a year older when you left home. And I only had to take care of them after school until my mum got home."

"It's still too much to expect, and I was a berk to run off at that age," Bodie added.

"The worst of it was having to share my mum with the rest of the kids. She never seemed to have enough time for all of us, so she always spent more time with the younger kids. A new baby was just one more body to compete against. Now it's happening all over again with you and Willie."

"You can't feel jealous of that little baby?" Bodie said incredulously.

"Stupid, innit?" I replied, and lay my head against the back of the settee.

"Rather flattering, actually," Bodie said, and I felt one of his arms slip round my waist. "It says that at least you still want me."

I turned into Bodie's arms and buried my hot face in his neck. My arms clung desperately to his body. "Missed you a lot. Don't like sharing you with anyone, not even a little kid."

"Don't like sharing you, either," Bodie admitted. "I hope that Cher calls soon. I'd like to dump her son right back in her lap."

"Shouldn't one of us go take a look at 'im?" I asked Bodie.

"He's quit crying," Bodie replied. "Probably gone back to sleep. Be a shame to wake him." I could hear the yawn in his voice. It reminded me how sleepy I was. Angst tends to be bloody exhausting. The last thing I remembered was snuggling closer to Bodie's warm body.

Sometime in the middle of the night, one of us moved too much in our sleep and I ended up on my arse on the carpet. My muttered, sleepy curses elicited a quiet snigger from Bodie. He helped me up off the floor and we spent the rest of the night in our own bed. At least, I did. I heard Bodie get up to feed his nephew. I felt guilty about letting him do that. So when Willie woke me up next morning, I got up to give him his bottle and I let Bodie sleep the extra half hour til the alarm went off.

It was the last sleep that we were to get for a while. The Syrian drugs case was breaking and most of the pieces were coming together. CI5 had traced the way the drugs were brought into Britain and then distributed. The money trail had been followed and most of the major participants had been identified. We had enough evidence collected to take to court. Now all we needed was the perfect opportunity to arrest the largest number of participants while they were doing something illegal.

Unexpectedly, it was Davy Larkin who provided the perfect opportunity. He contacted me with information about a major drugs shipment--one that would require what amounted to a summit meeting of the major players in our little melodrama.

I hadn't expected anything more from Larkin. He'd given me everything that he knew during that meeting at the Grim Reaper. It turned out that Larkin's brother-in-law was involved with one of

Wilton's street-level distributors. When the Little Weasel, as Davy called his in-law, started boasting of his connections, Larkin saw the perfect opportunity to shop his wife's brother--and to get paid for it.

The information about the big shipment dovetailed neatly with information coming out of the Inland Revenue investigation and with observations done on the Syrian cultural attache. Since all the evidence corroborated the original information, George Cowley began laying on a major operation to arrest the entire cast of characters during their cocaine summit at 11 pm on the Fifth. That gave us eighteen hours to prepare.

Bodie and I were part of the team that set up a staging area in the warehouse across the street from the Grim Reaper. We helped the technical lads with the communications equipment. Finally, Miles Jensen from Records turned up the builder's plan for the pub. By then, Cowley had transferred his command centre to our warehouse. He took over briefing the assault teams on their objectives.

My partner and I were not assigned to any of the assault teams. Instead, we were told to coordinate communications from our temporary HQ. Bodie fretted. He felt he was being punished for his unwitting connection to the case. I understood the Cow's reasoning--he didn't want an emotionally involved ex-SAS sergeant storming a civilian pub while armed with an Armalite assault rifle. Actually, I was surprised that George was letting us participate in the raid at all. In his place, I think that I would have transferred the both of us to another investigation.

Bodie and I spent the evening relaying signals and monitoring the situation. The raid went off pretty much as planned. It was frustrating listening to our lads instead of being there to back them up. I don't know how the Cow does it.

The operation was winding down and most of the drugs ring had been transported to CI5 headquarters. A few agents were still in the Grim Reaper, checking the premises for contraband or fleeing felons.

Bodie and I had just been released and sent home. We weren't even out of the building when an urgent shout from Cowley sent us back to the communications centre.

"6.2, repeat that," Cowley barked into the microphone.

Murphy's voice was fuzzy with static. Somehow, the Cow made sense of what was said.

When he finished his conversation with Murph, Cowley put down the mike and turned to us. His voice was brusque and clipped, a sure sign that he was upset. "3.7," he said. "I've just been informed that 6.2 and 7.9 have located your sister and her husband locked up in a room on the top floor of the Grim Reaper. Mrs. Starrett is somewhat shaken, but physically unharmed. Her husband is in critical condition and is being taken to hospital. 6.2 and 7.9 are taking Mrs. Starrett there to join her husband. I suggest that you meet them."

Bodie seemed numb with shock. I could see that he was in no state to be making decisions. I took his elbow and steered him out to our motor. I don't think we exchanged a single word on our way to hospital, but Bodie sat as close to me as the bucket seats and gear shift would allow. My physical presence provided some sort of comfort.

After I parked the Rover in the hospital car park, I put a hand on Bodie's knee. When he looked up at me, I told him, "Just remember. I'm here for you, love."

Bodie nodded wordlessly. His hand almost crushed mine where it still rested on his leg.

The nursing sister at the desk directed us to a small waiting area near the surgical wing. We found Atwood and a young man in soiled surgical clothes looking on helplessly as Murphy tried to comfort a near-hysterical Cheryl Starrett. Everyone looked up as we entered. As soon as Bodie's sister spotted him, she was across the floor and in Bodie's arms.

I leaned against the wall beside Chris as he explained to me how he and Murph had found Cheryl and her husband Mickey locked in a small room on the top floor of the Grim Reaper.

"The door was locked, so we broke the catch. They were lying there on the floor, bound with packaging twine. Cheryl was all right--a few bruises is all. But Starrett was in shock," Atwood said. "It looked like someone had put the boot in, and not known when to stop. In the ambulance, they had to put him on oxygen--he was having trouble breathing. At hospital, they rushed him to the operating room. Just before you arrived, that young resident," Atwood gestured towards the lad in surgical green, "Came in to tell Mrs. Starrett that her husband had died--ruptured spleen, broken ribs, punctured lung... There was nothing they could do."

Murphy escorted the young doctor out of the waiting area. Very likely, this was the first time the poor sod had been responsible for breaking the sad news to the kin of the recently deceased--at least, he looked a lot more shaken than anyone except Cheryl. I'd had to inform too many people that their loved ones were dead. It was part of being a copper--or a CI5 agent. I felt sorry for the lad. He made me feel a century. His fresh young face looked like he still belonged in public school. Murphy joined Chris and me in our vigil holding up the wall. The three of us spoke in low tones about the operation just past. Since I'd been in communications, I had a better grasp of the over-all situation. Murph and Chris had been with one of the raiding parties, so they knew more of what had actually happened in the pub.

Eventually, Bodie managed to calm his sister. Cheryl lay exhausted in his arms.

"Ray." Bodie's voice was quiet, but it carried cross the room.

I walked over and sat down next to him. "What is it, mate?"

"Is Cher being charged with anything or can we take her home with us tonight?" he asked.

I looked over at Atwood and Murphy. They both shrugged their ignorance. "I haven't a clue, sunshine," I told Bodie. "But let's take her home tonight, anyway. If someone wants to charge her, we can always bring her in later."

"And besides," Bodie gave me the ghost of a grin, "She'll do better for having seen her child."

I nodded my agreement. "I'll get the Rover and bring it round front."

As I left, I stopped for a word with 6.2 and 7.9. "If the Cow wants Bodie's sister, he can find her at our flat. We're taking her home with us this evening." The two agents nodded their agreement and left for CI5 headquarters.

When I reached the front of hospital, Bodie and Cher were standing on the kerb. Bodie got into the back seat of the motor with his sister. As I pulled away from the building, I asked him, "D'you want me to drop you home before I pick up William Andrew or do you want to come with me?"

"I want my baby!" Cher said. These were the first words she had addressed to me. In the rearview mirror, I could see that she was sitting up and using one of Bodie's handkerchiefs to wipe the streaked make-up off her tear-swollen face.

"Okay," I said. "We'll pick him up first."

When we reached the Jax residence, Cher insisted on going in to personally pick up her child. Naturally, Bodie accompanied her.

I must admit, with a child in her arms and most of her make-up wiped off, Cheryl Bodie Starrett was not half bad to look at. But she still wasn't my type.

At our flat, Cheryl immersed herself in caring for her child. I left Bodie putting on the kettle for a cuppa and went into the sitting room to open the window for Raven. The cat didn't want to settle down and eat. Instead, he prowled around the flat in my footsteps, complaining loudly in his most strident tones. He followed me into the spare room, where I dug out fresh linen and made up the bed that hadn't been changed since the last time Bodie and I had moved flats.

As I remade the bed, I wondered about sleeping arrangements. Cher and Willie would use the spare room. Bodie would use our room. But where was I to sleep tonight? Raven interrupted my thoughts with a demand to be let Out, so I followed him down the hallway and opened the front door for him.

When I went back into the kitchen, the tea was ready. As I sipped the hot liquid, I told Bodie that the extra bed was ready. Will, as Cheryl called him, waited until his sister was through feeding her child, then he showed her where she'd be sleeping.

Bodie joined me on the settee in the sitting room after he'd made his sister comfortable for the night. I could hear him give a tired sigh as he relaxed next to me.

"Bodie," I said tentatively.


"D'you want me to ask Murph and Chris for a bed tonight?"

"What?!" Bodie turned outraged blue eyes on me.

I couldn't meet that glare, so I stared into my tea mug as I explained. "I don't know whether your sister knows about us or not. And there's only one other bed in this flat. Of course, I could always use the settee..."

Bodie's hands were firm as he took my mug out of my hands and set it on the end table. "You are off your nut if you think I'm going to turf you out of our bed just because one of my not-so-near-and-dear relatives is suddenly dropped in our laps. I don't care what Cher thinks about us. Are you going to be sensible about this or am I going to have to persuade you?" Bodie leaned in and kissed me.

For a while there, I didn't think he'd ever let me up for air. His lips performed a slow, sensual assault on mine. It felt good--but it should have felt better. Though my partner was doing his all to arouse me, all I felt was a pleasant warmth. I was much too tense to let go and feel the passion that one of Bodie's snogging sessions usually elicited.

"What's the matter, Ray?" Bodie whispered in my ear as he held me in his arms.

"I'm sorry," I told him. "I just can't. Not knowing that your sister's here and all."

"I'm the one should be saying I'm sorry," Bodie said ruefully. "Here I am trying to start something and I don't think I could carry through myself. There's something passion-killing about knowing your relatives are under the same roof and liable to walk in on you at any time."

I chuckled weakly. "Yeah. The only thing worse is if the relative is your mother...or your father."

"Wouldn't know," Bodie admitted. "I never tried to have it off in the parental home."

"I did," I admitted, allowing myself to relax into my lover's arms now that I knew he wouldn't really try to get me going.

"Oh?" Bodie sounded intrigued.

"Yeah," I grinned over at him. "Was when I was sixteen. Mum had taken the twins off to see Grandmum. Julia and Cathy were at the flicks. And I thought that Neil was off playing rugger with his mob. Vivian, her name was. She was a blue-eyed brunette, a year or so older than me. We were in my room and I'd just managed to undo her bra...." I trailed off.

"Yeah?" Bodie said. He prodded my mid-section with an encouraging elbow. "Go on."

"Mum, Neil, Jessica and Fiona all came home at once, and Neil barged right in, it being his room as well as mine. Vivian screamed, Neil yelped, and the rest of the family descended upon us."

"What happened?" Bodie asked.

"I got a lecture on contraceptives and venereal disease from my mum. Neil teased me for years. The twins wouldn't speak to me for a week... And Vivian never spoke to me again."

"Contraceptives and venereal disease?" Bodie's voice was incredulous.

"Yeah," I grinned crookedly. "Don't know who was the most embarrassed--me or my mum. But she was determined that none of her brood would be forced into marriage because of an unwanted pregnancy. I always suspected that that might be the reason mum and da got married--he got her pregnant and was forced to do the right thing by her. I never got up the bottle to ask her."

"She did a good job with you. How'd she do with the rest of the Doyles?" Bodie asked lazily.

"S'far as I know, the only one who got caught in the baby trap was Fiona. And I rather suspect that she did it deliberately to get Derek to marry her. Not a very nice thing to say about your sister, is it?"

"Considering what you know about my sister, I wouldn't worry about it," Bodie said ruefully.

"Families are hell," I replied.

"Yeah," Bodie agreed. "Let's go to bed, Ray."

After we'd taken turns in the loo, we climbed into bed and turned out the light.

"Bodie?" I said as we settled down together. "D'you think we should dig out our pajamas?"

"Don't be a berk, Ray," Bodie snorted. "We never wear them at home."

"But we're usually alone, here. What if your sister needs something in the middle of the night?" I asked him.

"Then I'll put on my robe and go help her. In the meantime, I intend to be comfortable. That means you against my bare skin, love," Bodie whispered in my ear as his hands rubbed down my back.

"I'm sorry about the last few days," I told him.

"Where did that come from?" Bodie asked.

I sighed. "I'm feeling guilty again," I admitted.

"I wish you wouldn't do that," Bodie said quietly. "I hate it when you do that."

"I know," I sighed again. "I try not to. Sometimes I just can't help feeling that way. And this time, it was my fault. If I hadn't been so busy feeling sorry for myself, I could have been a lot more help to you."

"You can't help reacting to the way you were programmed when you were a kid," Bodie said understandingly.


"Ray," Bodie said. "You allowed me to act like an idiot when Raven pulled his first bunk on us. You let me go all gooey and paternal over Willie and you never said a thing. When I act like a juvenile twit, you go right along with me. Why is it that I'm allowed to act like a berk and you're not?"

"Because when you act like a berk, you don't almost ruin our relationship," I pointed out.

"That's only because you handle my childish side a lot better than I handle yours," Bodie replied. "I'll learn, sunshine. You don't always have to be the strong one in this relationship. Sometimes you can just let go and let me handle it. I know that I'm not very good at it..."

I closed Bodie's mouth with a kiss. "You are good at it, love. S'just that this one came out of the blue and surprised both of us."

"Now that we're both forgiven," Bodie said plaintively, "Can we get some sleep?"

"Only if you give us a cuddle first," I told him in my best little-boy voice. I was gratified to hear Bodie laugh as he hugged me close.

We weren't up to much. A few lazy kisses and a sleepy grope soon gave way to slumber. And for the first time since the whole mess began, we both slept through the night.

Next morning as I cooked breakfast for the three of us, Cheryl sat at the table feeding her son. She wasn't wearing any make-up. With her hair scraped back from her face and her body cocooned in one of Bodie's bathrobes, Cheryl Starrett looked about ten years old. Willie could have been her doll rather than her son. The only thing that ruined the illusion was the hard, direct look in Mrs. Starrett's blue eyes. S'a pity, really. They were almost the same distinctive shade of blue as Bodie's eyes.

When breakfast was ready, I offered to tend William S. while Cheryl ate. She politely declined. All the way through the meal I noticed her darting glances at Bodie and me. Whenever either of us caught her eye, she dropped her glance, guilty like.

After breakfast, I called Cowley to find out whether or not Cheryl was being charged. The Cow was busy with interrogations, but he'd left word with Murph that Mrs. Starrett was not wanted by CI5. Murphy went on to inform me that Bodie and I had been given two days' leave in which to settle our personal affairs. The three of us were more than happy to hear that.

When Bodie offered to mind the baby for a bit, Cheryl wouldn't hear of it. All morning, it was the same--Cher acting skittish whenever either Bodie or I went near her kid.

Bodie finally lost his rag. "Just what is it that has you leaping about like a scalded cat?" he demanded.

Cheryl's eyes darted about the room, but she finally firmed her chin up and looked my lover right in the eye. "The both of you, you're poofters, ain't you?"

Bodie got icily calm. His voice was cold and steady as he replied, "If you are asking if Ray and I are lovers, the answer is yes. If you are asking, do either of us molest children or small furry animals, the answer is no. And, anyway, isn't it a bit late to be worrying about our corrupting your son? We've only had him to ourselves for the last three days."

"If you've hurt him..." Cheryl started.

"If you were so bloody worried about your precious child, why did you abandon him in a bloody call-box where any passing pervert could have killed or got at him?"

"I was just round the corner, waiting for you to come and get him..." Cher blustered.

"How much time do you think it would take for some bastard to put a knife into your kid?" Bodie demanded. "And why leave him in the arms of a stranger? I didn't notice you bothering to ask about my sexual habits before you left me holding the baby."

"I didn't have time," Cheryl said weakly. "And anyway," she continued, her voice gathering decibels, "You're my brother!"

"Most children are abused in their own home and usually by a relative or close friend of the family," Bodie said coldly. "For all you knew, Ray and I were perverts of the worst type. But you didn't bother to check on that, did you?"

Cher was beginning to realize exactly what might have happened to her child. I felt unwilling sympathy for her as she stood there holding her baby.

"Most gay men have absolutely no sexual interest in children," I said quietly. "Neither Bodie nor I have any leanings in that direction. Willie was perfectly safe with us. But you took a great chance in leaving him alone with a strange man that you hadn't seen since you were four."

Bodie had his back to both of us. I could see that he was having trouble keeping his temper in check. It was quite a novelty--usually I'm the one doing the Mt. Vesuvius imitation.

"I know," Cheryl replied quietly. "It's just... everything happened so fast. And me meeting Will again... It seemed like the answer to my problem. I remembered him so well from before he ran off. He'd always had so many girls hanging about... I never thought that he was a p...." Her voice trailed off.

"Gay," I said softly. "That's the approved term now."

"Would it have made a difference, if you'd known that I was living with another man?" Bodie asked quietly. His back was still turned towards us. "Does it make a difference, now that you do know?"

"I don't know," Cheryl said. "I've never known anyone who wasn't... who was gay. It may take a bit of getting used to. But you're still my brother, if that's what you're asking. I knew that I could trust you, else I wouldn't have left Willie with you. And I guess that I'll learn to trust Ray as well."

When Bodie turned round to look at her, Cheryl thrust out her chin and stood upright. "It is a package deal, innit?" she said. "I can't get one of you without the other?"

"Yeah," Bodie said positively. His face was still grave, but it was no longer frozen. "Ray is my lover. We're as good as married--in all the ways that matter."

"Well, then," Cher said. "I guess that that means Willie has two uncles that he never knew anything about, instead of just the one."

Cheryl deciding to accept me for Bodie's sake was the turning point. Of course, it wasn't quite as easy as that--you don't completely discard all of your prejudices in just an instant. But it was a start.

While Bodie and I only knew Michael Starrett as an arrest record, he had been Cheryl's lover, husband and the father of her son. Even I could see that she was grieving over the man's death.

But we still had to think about Cheryl's future. Later that day, Bodie sat her down to talk about it.

"I think I'd like to live somewhere near my mum," Cheryl said. "But I haven't spoken to her since I left home. I'm scared to try and phone her. What if she doesn't want to talk to me?"

"I'm sure she'll want to speak with you," Bodie told her. "She's your mother..."

"I know!" Cher interrupted in discovery. "You talk to her. Find out if she wants to hear from me--if she's forgiven me for running off like that/"

"I don't think that's a very good idea," Bodie said doubtfully. "We never did get on..."

"But she'll listen to you," Cheryl said. "And I can't talk to her by myself. Please, Will?"

Bodie, of course, gave in and talked to his step-mum. Maisie was on the next train to London.

I made myself scarce. I didn't think Bodie needed the complication of trying to explain my presence to Cheryl's mother.

A call from Murphy gave me the perfect excuse. Cowley had assigned Chris Atwood and the Smurph to complete a case that Bodie and I had started before Syria-gate, as some would-be wit had dubbed it (too much American telly, in my opinion). Murph wanted to talk to one of us about the case.

Chris and Michael had me over to their flat. The two of them had moved in together a few days after surviving Assault and Battery for one more year. Bodie and I had been with them as they suffered through Kate Ross and her computer sims and Brian Macklin and his physical training. In fact, I think it might have been something we'd said that decided them on taking a chance on their relationship. Whatever it was brought them to it, living together certainly agreed with them. Atwood looked more relaxed than at any time since he'd joined CI5; and Murph, he glowed with well-being. Talking with them let me relax for a bit. I didn't envy Bodie his interview with Maisie.

When I got back to our flat, it seemed empty. I found Bodie collapsed on the settee, a cold cuppa in one hand and a shagged-out tomcat on his lap.

"Hallo, love," I said as I leaned down to kiss him. "Where is everyone?"

"What's the matter?" Bodie teased. "Aren't I enough for you?" His lips formed a slight pout.

I sat down beside him and said, "Sometimes you're too much for me, mate. But I rather expected to find you arse-deep in relatives."

Bodie grinned. "Hurricane Maisie blew through here and swept Cher and William Andrew off to Yorkshire. She still doesn't like me and would no more leave her grandchild with me than she would with Jack the Ripper."

"Why, that old cow!" I said indignantly. "How dare she..."

Bodie closed my mouth with a kiss. "I'm happy to see that my sarky, spitfire partner is back," he murmured when he finally let me breathe. "I was beginning to miss him."

"S'a wonder you don't find someone more compliant than me," I muttered.

"The little woman and 2.5 kids? Ta very much, mate, but I've seen what that's like and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy." Bodie gave a theatrical shudder. His voice became serious. "I hate it when you withdraw like that. Felt that you'd abandoned me. There I was, stuck with my sister's baby and you doing your best to disappear from sight. Made me bloody mad, it did."

"I noticed," I said dryly. "But I was having problems of me own at the time. It wasn't until you sorted me out that I realized how it looked from your point of view. And anyway, your imitation of the perfect mum had me feeling the neglected spouse. Almost took to strong drink, I did."

"Next time something like this comes up, we take our own advice and talk about it," Bodie said. "There for a bit, it looked like our relationship wouldn't survive Little Willie."

"Oh, I think the relationship would have survived," I told him. "M'just not sure that I would've

Bodie's arms tightened round me. "Don't even joke about that, Ray."

I rubbed soothing circles on his back. "It's either laugh at it, or cry. Neither of us made a good showing this time round."

Bodie's grip relaxed. "At least I'll no longer wonder if either of us secretly pines for the pitter-patter of little feet. After the last few days, I know that neither of us is fit father material."

"Or mother material, for that matter," I added. "Least now I have some-thing else to call you besides just Bodie."

"Don't you dare..." Bodie started.

"I think Will rather suits you. Will... Willful..."

Bodie sighed in resignation. "If you must. But call me Willie, even just the once, and I'll put you in traction."

"Always did think you had a kink about bondage," I told him. Bodie just glared at me. "I see that you've made it up with Raven." I stroked the black fur as the cat slept on my lover's lap.

Bodie snorted. "Cupboard love. I made an abject apology and backed it up with half a pound of liver... cut into small pieces and hand-fed, one at a time."

"Now you can start working on making it all up to me," I told him as I insinuated a hand underneath the cat's body and into Bodie's groin.

Bodie got a bit glassy-eyed. "D'you have anything particular in mind?" he said breathlessly.

"I'm sure that, between the two of us, we'll think of something." I picked Raven up and put him down on the seat of his favourite chair. His green eyes flicked open in a baleful glare, but blinked shut a moment later.

I put out one hand to pull Bodie off the settee. "Don't refuse me, love," I begged.

Bodie snorted and let me pull him off the cushions. "When have I ever refused you, Raymond?"

"Two nights ago," I said baldly. "And it scared the hell out of me."

"What?!" Bodie said in confusion.

I darted a glance at him and saw that he honestly didn't remember.

"All I wanted was a bit of a cuddle," I told him sadly. "You told me not tonight, we might wake the baby. I was beginning to wonder if you loved me anymore," I added in an attempt to lighten the mood. It didn't work. My William was altogether too aware that I wasn't really joking.

Bodie took me into his arms. "God, I'm sorry, Ray. I was all at sixes and sevens. I really don't remember saying that. And never, never believe I could ever stop loving and wanting you."

"I love you, too," I told him. "And if you'll let me get you into the bedroom, I'll prove it to you."

"I always enjoy your demonstrations," Bodie said approvingly. He turned me round and insisted on my walking ahead of him, the better to observe my bum.

When we reached the bedroom, Will started to remove his clothes. I stopped him.

"Boots only," I told Bodie. "I want to do the rest of it myself."

Bodie gave me a sultry look from under his absurdly long, dark lashes. Then he licked his dry lips and agreed. "But only if I get to do the same to you."

We removed our footwear. I finished first, waited until Bodie straightened up from taking off his boots, then backed him up against the nearest wall. My arms went round his waist. I inserted one knee between Bodie's thighs and sensuously rubbed my fully-clothed body against him, nibbling his lips as I did so.

Bodie stood passive for a moment, then wrapped his arms round me and returned my kiss... with interest. I was so involved in what the smooth bastard was doing to my mouth, that I didn't notice that he was backing me towards the bed. The first clue I had that it was happening was when the back of my knees hit the mattress. My desperate grip on Bodie was all that kept me upright.

"That's dirty pool!" I reproached my lover.

Bodie gave me an unrepentant grin and began unbuttoning my white shirt. I leaned in for another kiss. By the time I came up for air, my shirt was on the floor and Will had attacked the fly of my jeans. He had a bit of a struggle getting the denim to give up its grip on my arse, but I gave a bit of a wiggle at just the right moment and the jeans soon joined my shirt on the floor. I wasn't wearing pants, so that left me bare-arsed and Bodie still fully clothed.

"My turn, love," I told him. Don't know whether he heard me, though. Bodie was busy combing through the pelt on my chest. He had to give over doing that when I pulled his navy polo-neck over his head. That left his dark hair a bit mussed, so Will reached up to smooth it back into place, but I stopped him. In fact, I reached up and mussed it a bit more. When it hasn't been beaten into submission or cut to the point of almost disappearing, Bodie's hair tends to curl more than a bit.

"Wish you'd let this grow out," I said wistfully.

"Can't stand it down on my collar," Bodie blushed.

"Liar," I said affectionately. "You just don't want anyone to see the way it curls."

Bodie buried his face in my neck and hung on as if for dear life. "Was told I looked like a girl once when I was younger," he muttered.

"Must have been when you were very young," I told him as I unzipped his trous. "No one could mistake this bit of equipment as belonging to anyone but a man." I tenderly cradled his cock and balls through the thin cotton fabric of his red pants.

"You are very good for my ego," Bodie told me.

I was busy peeling the thin layer of cotton off his bum, so I didn't reply. When we were both in the altogether, I stripped the bed-clothes off the bed and lay down in the middle of the mattress. I held out one hand to invite my lover to join me on top of the cool linen sheet. When he did, I urged Bodie to lie on top of me. I parted my legs so he could lie between my thighs. Then I raised both knees to hug him closer.

Our mouths met in a long, wet kiss. I used both hands to explore William's delectable backside. It's nicely put together--firm and slightly rounded. And the skin is so soft and warm to the touch...

I drew the pleasure out as long as I could. It was all moist kisses and soft caresses. Neither of us was very quick to take fire. We'd both had shocks in the last few days, so our love-making was a relearning and an affirmation.

Finally, I went a bit far in fondling Bodie's arse. As I drew one saliva-wet finger down the fleshy divide and gently circled the tight muscle hidden there, Bodie bucked against my hips and groaned in pleasure. Was nice, that. William doesn't often get vocal in his pleasure. When he does, it makes the sex extra special.

Now that I'd lit Bodie's fire, there was only one way to put it out. He took me on a fast, frantic climb to the peak, plundering my mouth with his tongue as my fingers plundered his arse. Our pricks rubbed together in a frenzied rush to orgasm.

Bodie came first, spilling his seed in warm bursts against my groin. One hand gathered some of the warm liquid before wrapping itself round my throbbing cock. It only took Bodie a few slick strokes to drive me to the top. I cried out in pleasure and melted into a sated sprawl on the bed.

Bodie held me for a few minutes, then he murmured, "We'd best move, love, or we're going to leave an awful mess on the sheets."

"They'll wash," I assured him.

"Okay," Bodie agreed. "But it's your turn to do the laundry."

"It'll be worth it," I assured him.

"I just hope you feel the same when you're slaving over a hot washer at the laundrette."

"I will. Now, sharrup and let me get some kip," I ordered as I snuggled deeper into his arms.

"Why, Raymond!" I heard the laughter in Bodie's voice. "You say the most romantic things!"

I shut him up with a lazy kiss that almost turned into a yawn. The last thing I remember before falling asleep is hearing Bodie say, "Sweet dreams, sunshine."

-- THE END --

Originally published in Chalk and Cheese 6, Whatever You Do, Don't Press!, 1990

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