Proving Ground


Third in the "Matchlight" series, following Matchlight and Turning Point. The sequel is Night Promises.

Thanks to Ancasta and PFL for betas above and beyond the call.

I should have known something was up. And not just because he was being nice. Doyle can be nice. Can be very nice when he wants. Wouldn't love the bastard otherwise, would I? But being nice when a job's blown up in our faces, like this one most definitely had? Time's like that he's a right misery to be around.

No, I should have known he had some scheme up his sleeve. Twisty-minded bastard could give the Cow a run for his money in the double think department some days. This day being one of them. But I wasn't thinking properly. I'd been on my own too much this op. Was raw with missing Doyle, which didn't stop me wanting to break his other cheekbone for getting a bit too close to Esther. Even though I knew that was just part of Doyle being Doyle. Can't help being a sexy bugger. Can't help having it off with every bird and bloke that falls under his spell. Can't help that it doesn't mean as much to him as it does to us. To me.

When you come under too much fire, you need to regroup, my old sergeant used to say, and that's what I needed to do. Hole up in my flat. Do some reading. Try not to think about the hold Doyle had over me. Rest. Relax. Recover my dignity.

Bastard couldn't give me that, though, could he? No, he bloody couldn't. At the end of it all, when Cowley gave us two days off for good behaviour, he drove Esther out to the airport, and then he turned up on my doorstep. Like a bad penny, my gran would have said. The very worst kind of penny, I'd say.

"Come over to my place," he said. "There's a match on," he said. "I'll make some nosh," he said. "You can stay over," he said.

If I had any self respect I'd have turned him down flat. No way I wanted him to talk me into a quick post-op shag that'd mean sweet F.A. to him in the long run. But I've no self respect at all where Doyle's concerned. Faithful Bodie, trailing after him like a loyal old dog, grateful for any careless pat on the head, any scraps that fall from the table.

So I ended up at his place. Didn't put up much of a fight, because I knew it was inevitable. Let him chivvy me into bringing a change of clothes and my toothbrush. Even let him give me a ride over, though it left me at his mercy for getting home. And I know how much mercy Doyle has, don't I? Not a fucking ounce.

He wasn't quite his usual, blithe self, though. He carried my bag in, for a start. Nearly gave me a heart attack, that did. Usually treats me as his own personal porter. Never gives a thought to carrying his own gear, let alone mine. But there he was, my duffel swinging in one hand, a cheerful whistle on his lips and an alarming twinkle in his eye.

As soon as we were inside, he poured me a drink. And not just any drink. The good stuff. The really good stuff. The bottle he keeps on hand for the rare occasions when the Cow darkens his door. Usually threatens my life if I even look at that bottle, but there he was, throwing a generous splash of it into a glass, with promise of more if I wanted.

Started to wonder then, didn't I? Looked for signs that Doyle'd been brainwashed. Or replaced with an evil twin. Or with a robot out of Doctor Who.

It got worse. He cooked my favourite meal - steak and chips, if you're wondering - and didn't make one comment about what all that animal fat was doing to my arteries, and how I was going to pop my clogs if I didn't start living on muesli and rabbit food like he does. He got in a chocolate gateau for afters when he usually complains if I so much as look at a swiss roll. He even sat through a whole football match without maligning Liverpool once. That must've hurt him. Can never resist that chance to take a dig at Liverpool, even if his team's utter crap. (I know Derby had a few good years last century, but they've been fucking relegated.)

I should have been mellow after the match. Liverpool won - though not by much, the tossers - I had good grub in my belly and Doyle was keeping the booze flowing: a nice red wine with dinner and more of the good scotch to follow. Couldn't relax, though. Was strung tight. So tight I reckoned I was going to snap if I didn't find out what Doyle had planned.

Didn't have too long to wait. As soon as the match was over, he turned off the telly and plopped on the sofa beside me. Turned to look at me with an expression I didn't recognize. Not lust, not friendship, not affection. Not even annoyance. I think I must have frowned at him, but he didn't let on he'd noticed. Instead, he moved one hand and brought it slowly toward my face. Before he came close to touching me, though, I did something I'd never done with Doyle before. I flinched.

A second later I saw something in his eyes I did recognize. Pain. Disappointment. All those emotions I'd seen in his face when Ann had left. "Ah, Bodie," he said. "'M not going to hurt you."

Didn't say anything to that. Couldn't tell him the truth. That he does hurt me. That he's the only one who can. That I've found I need him more than I'd like to admit. Couldn't tell him any of that. I'd come across like some pathetic clinging bird who doesn't know her place. So I didn't say anything. Just stared at him while a lethal mixture of hope and horror coiled in my gut.

Doyle didn't say anything else, just raised his hand again. This time I didn't flinch. This time I let him touch me. His fingers grazed my chin, my lips, my cheek. I could feel where his fingers had traced long after they moved on. Then he leaned forward and kissed me, and I couldn't hold back any longer. I went up like flash paper. Wrapped my arms around him and kissed him back. Let him grind against me till I was so hard it hurt, till I was scrambling with trousers and pants. Doyle wasn't having it, though. He slowed me down, undressed me with care instead of ripping off my clothes like I wanted. Gentled me, caressed me, had me, broke me, right there on that shabby green sofa.

If I was still capable, I might have wept. He'd done everything I'd ever hoped for, and it wasn't enough. It still felt as if he was just using me to scratch an itch. And I suspected that come tomorrow night he'd be pulling a bird in a pub and I'd have to either watch or leave.

Doyle stirred himself from where he lay sprawled on my chest and looked at me, his eyes narrowing as I watched.

"Don't do that, Bodie," he said sharply.

"Don't know what you mean." My reply was haughty. And it didn't fool Doyle one bit.

"Don't pull away from me."

"'M not."

"You are." He straddled my hips and grabbed my wrists, pinning me down. I could have thrown him off, but what would be the point? "You know you bloody are."

"Look, Doyle, you've had your fun. What more do you want from me?" I tried for quiet dignity, which is pretty fucking difficult when you're bollocks naked and your partner has you pinned to his tatty, CI5-issued sofa.

"I want everything from you, you stupid git." He gripped my wrists tighter and squeezed his thighs around me.

It was on my lips to make a sarcastic reply, when I notice the look I hadn't recognized earlier was back on Doyle's face. And this time I knew what it was. Saw it every time I looked in the mirror, didn't I?

"And what do I get in return?" I asked carefully, unwilling to offer too much, too soon. "If I give you everything."

He didn't even hesitate. "You can have it all. All of me. All the time."

"Liar," I said, suddenly angry. Doyle offering me everything I'd wanted without a fight? Not likely. Not bloody, fucking likely.

"'M not lying."

"Prove it."

"Right." He let go of my wrists and brought one finger to his chest. "Cross my heart and hope to die."

"Don't say that, Ray," I said, reaching up to shake him, too conscious of the scars on his body, the ones I'd seen him take and the ones I hadn't been there to stop. "Not even as a fucking joke."

"It's not a joke, Bodie." His hands gripped my forearm. "That's the point. It's never been a joke. I've always been bloody serious."

"Serious enough to shag every bird in sight."

"You've done the same," he said reasonably. And I couldn't argue with him. The last few weeks excepted, I've not exactly been a monk either.

"Maybe I won't give up the birds, then."

"You will if I ask you to," Doyle said with utter confidence. And he had me there. Do anything the bastard asks me to, won't I?

"And you'll do the same? Give up birds? For me?"

"Already have done."

"Tell that to Esther." I couldn't quite keep the bitterness out of my voice. Not that I tried too hard.

He didn't get mad or defensive or react in any of the half dozen ways I expected he might to that. Instead, he just laughed, that rich, dirty laugh that always travels right down my spine and straight to my cock.

"What's so fucking funny?"

"I think I did."

"Did what?"

"Tell Esther."

"What?" I sat up abruptly, finally throwing him off my lap. He landed on the rug with a thump, still chuckling. "What did you tell her, Doyle? Exactly?"

"Well, she asked me why you don't like her."

"Don't I like her?"

"No, you don't. And don't interrupt me." Doyle picked himself up off the floor and sat on the sofa beside me, his skin warm against mine. "I told her that I thought you were jealous." He paused and looked at me slyly. "Jealous that she got to sleep with me and you didn't."

"Fucking hell, Doyle." Here I'd been agonizing over what existed between us, and he not only knows, but he tells some bird. "What'd she say?"

"She said she thought that might be it." He grinned at me. "And that she thought we'd be very happy together."

"Fucking hell," I said again, unable to come up with a more coherent response.

"Esther's a good 'un," he said, a certain fondness in his smile.

"But not for you." It wasn't quite a question, more a need to confirm exactly where I stood. Where we both stood.

"No. Not for me." He stood and hauled me to my feet. "You're the only one for me, you daft git." Grabbing my wrist, he pulled me toward the bedroom. "And I'm going to prove it to you."

I let him, of course. Let him drag me to the bedroom and let him have his way with me. Let him prove what he felt. Always let Doyle do what he wants, don't I?

It might take him a while to persuade me thoroughly, though. It might take months of pampering, and years of loving for me to be completely convinced.

If I play my cards right.

After all, Doyle's not the only twisty-minded bastard in this partnership. And never mind the sex, I rather fancy seeing how long I can keep him carrying the luggage.

-- THE END --

March 2007

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