< Previous

Next >



Part 2


Doyle woke screaming, fright and helplessness making his throat sore and aching, and it was some time before he realised that the hands on him were soothing, not hurting, that he could breathe, and that only his memory was hurting him.

It was hot and he was sweating heavily as he pried open his eyes and opened his sense to his surroundings. The sunlight came filtering down through dense green foliage, in his nose was the smell of humus and decay, and - Bodie. As his senses began to serve him better he heard Bodie's voice too, crooning into his hair, and he realised that he lay back against Bodie's chest, cushioned on him, wrapped around by the strong arms.

"Bodie?" He murmured, his throat still sore.

"Yeah, it's me, it's me, shush, pet, you're all right." Bodie's fingers brushed his cheek with wonderful gentleness. "What happened? What's wrong? I heard your voice and came runnin' - what were you screaming about, Ray?"

"What was I - " Doyle twisted around to look at Bodie. "Christ, you were trying to kill me, strangling the life out of me!"

"Shh, it's all over now," Bodie crooned. "Must've been one hell of a dream, but it's all over now. What I can't understand is what you're doing here. This is the last place I expected to find you!"

Doyle blinked owlishly at Bodie in the filtered sunlight, and at last the little details dawned on him. Bodie was clad in cammo fatigues, and a strip of black rag was tied about his head. There was a machine gun on the ground by his left leg, an FN, standard issue in many armies around the world. And they sat in what seemed to be a jungle clearing - he could hear the sounds of the forest all about.

"What the hell... Where is this?" Ray asked softly, all at sea and not liking the feeling. "Last I knew, I was at your place, in London, and..."

"Doesn't matter, love," Bodie said at once, seeing the confusion. "You must've come out here for something, maybe Cowley sent you. Yeah, that must be it. Did you get a knock on the head? Parachute insersion[?]? Look, it doesn't matter. It'll keep, till you remember why you're here. In the meantime... Jeez, it's good top see you, mate! Been missing you like hell."

"Have you?" For the moment Doyle let the struggle for orientation go, focusing on the smiling blue eyes, and on the hands that were stroking him.

"Yeah," Bodie affirmed. "You look wonderful, Ray, just the way I remember you from the last time."

Doyle glanced down at himself; he was wearing his old blue jeans, very tight, washed out, patched, his red tee shirt, the boots with the two inch heels, the silver chain. Odd; he had no recollection of dressing or going out on an overseas assignment, or making a jump... Maybe Bodie was right. A knock on the head could do funny things to a man. And in any case, the logistics could wait; right now, he wanted to be kissed, and that mattered a good deal more than geography.

"Oh, Ray," Bodie said, soft as a sigh, arms going about him, and as Doyle raised his lips he was rewarded with a long, deep kiss, sweet and gentle with affection. Arousal stirred in his nerve endings, and as Bodie began to stroke his legs he realised with a throaty chuckle that he was still waiting for 'it' to happen. The big 'it,' the forfeiture of his virginity. Funny place to lose your cherry, a jungle clearing, when you didn't even know what the hell you were doing here, Doyle thought, but it didn't seem to matter.

Bodie was kissing his throat, fingers teasing their way up under his tee shirt, and he wriggled around until he could send his own fingers exploring too, discovering Bodie's solidity, his heat. He was hard with arousal too, and his breathing was a little ragged already. "Just a tick," Ray muttered, and pulled away to shrug out of the tee shirt. "Better?"

His reply was a kiss that started at his lips and slid slowly down to his chest, centering on one nipple while attentive fingers rubbed the other until Doyle could hardly keep still. He found himself stretched out on the carpet of crisp, fallen leaves, Bodie's hand stroking between his legs, his eyes unfocused on the shifting canopy of the forest. When Bodie lifted his head to smile down at him Ray fought for breath, plucking at the cammo shirt his lover still wore, and when Bodie slipped it off he wound his arms about the broad, white torso, pulling him down.

There was Bodie's weight on him then, an unfamiliar sensation, one that was intoxicating; he was heavy, the heat of his erection burning, even through their clothes, and Doyle lifted his hips, trying to grind them together to ease the throb in his own groin. With a churring of unmeshing metal, the pressure of the washed out old denim loosened, and Ray yelped in surprise and delight as Bodie took hold of him, fingers cool about his shaft, stroking and pulling until his senses began to blur and he writhed away before it was too late.

"Damn it, Ray," Bodie said, sounding miffed, "why don't you let me -"

"Together," Doyle muttered, coming up to his knees and working the jeans off his hips, then sitting and pulling them off altogether.

"This isn't the place," Bodie chided fondly. "There's a million biting insects. They'll make a meal of us."

"We'll be quick," Ray said. "Please, Bodie?" The first time, he desperately wanted it to be together. "Please?"

"You're a fool, Raymond Doyle, but I love you anyway," Bodie sighed. "If I regret this later, you can scratch the bites for me!"

"Anything you like," Doyle grinned, and then held his breath as he watched Bodie stand, heel off his boots and drop the cammo pants, all in one fluid movement. He was still white; trust Bodie - he's in Africa, but will he take his clothes off and get a tan? Never. Ray chuckled, shaking his head fondly over the alabaster body that sat down beside him and pulled him into a close, intimate embrace.

There was a time when he would have said it was ridiculous that he could be aroused and tormented by the feel of another steel-hard erection pressed into his belly, by the slick, hot glide of a straining cock against his own, but now he could barely breathe, and Bodie's lips seemed to be everywhere as he lowered them down onto their sides in the crushed leaves and wrapped arms and legs about the captive prize. Ray gave up on the hopeless attempt to speak and let his hips do the talking, bucking hard against Bodie, matching his rhythm easily.

How very different was this Bodie from the man he had known for years. This Bodie was so tender, so sweetly affectionate, that an act that could have been rough and wild was made gentle and easy. Fingers clenched into Doyle's buttocks, pulling him closer, closer, and he reciprocated, sinking his own hands into Bodie's softness, trying to weld them so close that they were, for a time, one. There was a way to do that properly, to make them the same body for a brief while, and Doyle was going to invite it when the time was right. A soft bed, peace and quiet, a lot of fragrant oil, a bath within reach, and not out here in the wilds, just on the offchance that he got hurt a little.

Not that Bodie would hurt him deliberately; he knew that as surety as Bodie began to push them harder, climbing up toward climax, his hands tightening, his teeth beginning to graze on Ray's shoulder, his heartbeat quickening. Doyle moaned, could not have held in the sound if his life had depended on it, and worked his own hips hard, rotating them, vaguely registering the protests of his lower back as the muscles worked overtime. Bodie thrust harder yet against him, knocking the breath out of him, and, exhausted and overloaded by the strange new sensations, Doyle just hung on tight and let it happen.

No, Bodie would not hurt him. As he came he was muttering, endearments, words of love that Doyle's conscious mind soaked up like a dry sponge, storing them to be replayed, again and again, later. "Ah, God, Ray, I love you, pet... Ah, love, you're so warm, so beautiful... Ray - " Then he was coming, deep, racking spasms sending streams of wet heat between them, and Doyle couldn't hold back a moment longer, as if Bodie's release was the trigger for his own. He cried out as the tortured ecstasy peaked and burst, aware that Bodie was holding him while he shuddered, cradling him while the storm passed over, and while he lay trembling against the larger body.

Kisses feathered over his face, and Bodie's voice murmured into his ear, "first time?"

"First time with a man," Doyle admitted. "Be better next time."

"Was fantastic this time," Bodie shushed. "Always put yourself down, don't you? You were great, mate. Nice?"

"Understatement," Ray panted, burying his sweating face in Bodie's neck. "I love you, mate. Really do. Not just sayin' that."

"I know you do," Bodie whispered. "Every time you kiss me, you say it, and just now you put it in no uncertain terms! There's a difference between having sex and making love." Bodie leaned down and took Doyle's lips in a soft, undemanding kiss. "There. There's the difference. There's loving."

"Yeah, you're right," Doyle smiled, contented and exhausted, and sighed in delight as Bodie lay down beside him and drew him close again. "Where are we?" He muffled against the broad, white chest.

"It's called Samota; there's a river a mile or two east, and Van Hise's camp is up the road. I left the car there, took his four wheel drive to make the best of the trails. I'd just parked to brew up when I heard you yelling your head off like someone was trying to murder you."

"Someone was... I thought someone was," Ray murmured. "Must've been a dream. I mean, you wouldn't kill me, would you?"

Bodie chuckled, "There's a hell of a lot of things I'd like to do with you Raymond, but killing you's not one of them... Will you let me?"

"Let you screw me?" Ray breathed.

"Yeah. Inside you. You know."

A shiver surged along Doyle's nerves. "I want to, but - "

"Scares you a bit, I know," Bodie said.

"I'm not very big," Ray said carefully.

"Big enough, though." Bodie's hand feathered down over his lover's flank, and the fingers intruded between his buttocks, delicately exploring the tight clenched anus. "Plenty of oil, love," he whispered. "I won't hurt you. Well, no more than... It always hurts a bit the first time."

"So I've heard." Doyle stirred, settling his head on Bodie's shoulder. "I'm not scared of a bit of pain, mate, you know me better than that, but... Christ, you're a big lad, Bodie, when you're ready, and... This is the wrong place to be hurt. Infections galore, bugs everywhere. Could put me in hospital if it goes wrong."

"It won't, I won't let it," Bodie crooned. "Hurt you? I'd sooner shoot myself in the foot! If you don't trust me - "

"It isn't that, and you know it's not."

Bodie tilted up his chin to look at him. "Okay, so you trust me. And if you trust me, you can leave it all to me. Okay? Ray?"

Doyle smiled at last. "Why not? I mean, for a start, you were right about the insects... I'm getting eaten alive." He laughed and drew out of Bodie's embrace with a light kiss on his nose. "Got to get dressed before I'm skeeter bites from head to foot. And ants! God, they're everywhere. Funny, I didn't notice them while we were at it."

"You generally don't," Bodie agreed, reaching for his own clothes and watching Doyle dry himself off with a parchment-like leaves, and wriggle back into the jeans that, disreputable as they were, had always been his favorites. And that red tee shirt. Just the way Bodie liked to think of him.

Buckling up, Doyle gave Bodie a frown. "So what are you doing out here? I mean, they don't send us overseas much."

"Came over to make a hit," Bodie told him. "But the target's shoved off. He's only known by a codename - Thorkill. At least, I assume it's a codename. They said he was in these parts, but Intelligence has screwed things up as usual. He's long gone, as far as I've been able to find out. Gives me a long trip... I called London, told Cowley the news a couple of days ago. I asked for backup - I guess that's what you are doing here, right? I ask for backup and he sends the best he's got, you." Bodie smiled. "Glad it's you, Ray; I'd sooner work with you than anyone else. But it's a pity you can't remember the info. Got a bump on your head?"

"Not that I can feel," Ray said, "and I haven't got a headache... I'm not really dressed for the jungle, am I? Should've had the right gear."

"Unless you moved out in a devil of a hurry," Bodie shrugged. "In any case it doesn't matter. Anything you want, you can get here."

"Fine," Doyle nodded. "And you can fill me in on the info, can't you?"

"Sure. Ready to move now? The 4x4's over this way, up on the road. Well, what calls itself a road. If they didn't scrape it with dozers once a fortnight the jungle's overgrow it." As they turned in the direction of Bodie's pointing arm, Doyle noticed that the sun was slanting down toward the western horizon; it was late in the afternoon, but he was not wearing a watch, and the leather cover was over Bodie's chrono. "What's up, sunshine?" Bodie asked, seeing the frown pucker Doyle's brow.

"Just wondering what could have happened to my watch. I mean, I wouldn't have left home without one, would I?"

"Maybe you broke it on the jump," Bodie suggested helpfully.

"Maybe." Doyle sounded doubtful. "And where the hell's the chute, if I did jump in? And where's my pack? You never jump into the wilderness without your gear, even I know that!"

Bodie stopped and gave his partner a curious frown. "Hey, it sounds like you were rolled, Ray. These forests're full of bandits. They'll jump anyone who travels alone and on foot. Got hit myself once. They'll belt you on the head and take everything, sometimes even the clothes you stand up in. You're lucky if you get out of there without being mauled."

"I guess they were feeling generous," Doyle shrugged. "But all I've got's my clothes-not even a jacket. Damn! I wish I could remember... Oh, hell, it doesn't matter. You seem to know what's happening."

"Hey." Bodie held out his arms and invited Doyle into his embrace. "I do know what I'm doing. You just stick close to me. Come to think of it, you'd better stick closer than close, especially when we reach camp. Van Hise is an old lech, and his taste runs to lads like you."

"Gay?" Doyle asked against Bodie's neck.

"As God knows what," Bodie growled, arms tightening around him.

"Then I'll stick close. I don't much fancy being pawed about by other blokes, Bodie," Doyle admitted. Between us, I dunno, it's different. Not like something strange; just right, if I'm making sense."

"Course you're making sense," Bodie smiled fondly, chafing his cheek. "Difference is, you love me. Don't you?"

Doyle answered with a kiss, which said it all.

The four wheel drive was a Toyota, and it was parked on a deeply rutted trackways, caked with red ochre, one side of it patched up with beer cans that had been hammered flat and pop-rivetted into place. Bodie ignored the vehicle's shortcomings as if he did not even see them, sliding in under the wheel and starting the six cylinder engine.

"It goes," Doyle observed drily.

"Don't knock it," Bodie grinned. "It'll get us there... We'll have to shove off in a couple of days, Ray. Thorkill's gone to ground on a mountain on the other side of Rohan. Odinspeak. There's an old fortress there, so they tell me - it'll make him a tough nut to crack. Luckily, the Helway will take us most of the way there."

"The what?"

"The road into the west. The Helway. Good thing is, it's sealed most of the way, so we can take the car, do it in comfort if not in style!" He chuckled. "I daresay Van Hise'll be glad to see the back of me." Before he pulled out Bodie took Ray's hand, kissing his knuckles. "Jesus, I'm glad you're here. Been wanting you for so long."

"Well, now you've got me," Ray smiled. "Van Hise won't mind if we share a tent, will he, seeing as he's bent anyway."

"Bent," Bodie affirmed, "as an 'airpin. So you watch yourself around him. The way you're dressed is like waving a flag."

"Sorry," Doyle murmured. "I can't think why I'd have left England dressed like this... Hey, Bodie this Odinspeak place. That's not an African name, is it? Sound Viking to me."

Bodie just shrugged. "Who knows why people call places this or that? We just have to get out onto the Helway - "

"That's Viking too, isn't it?"

"Yeah. The road to the afterworld." Bodie turned his attention to the trail. "All we have to do is get across Rohan, sort him out, and head for home." But his voice belied the simplicity; his tone was troubled, rough with uncertainty, foreboding.

"Bodie?" Doyle prompted. "What's wrong?"

Bodie sighed. "Well, there's more to it than a hit, for me. Cowley didn't send me over for nothing... I had to be me. You see, I was hit, by Thorkill's riders. They grabbed me, it wasn't nice." His voice fell away to a whisper. "I parked the car, got out of it and they hit me. Took me days to get loose, and by that time..."

For a moment Doyle just blinked at him. "This was in Hammersmith, wasn't it? They found you on the embankment and took you to hospital."

"Dunno," Bodie admitted. "It's a bit vague, actually, I don't remember too much. But they took it, and I have to get it back."

"Took it? Took what?"

"My soul, if you want to call it that," Bodie said softly. "It's a bad word, and I don't think it says what I mean anyway, but I don't know another word for it. The riders took it and if I don't get it back... That's why I'm going to Rohan. It's Thorkill or it's me, Ray. No other way."

There was silence for a long time as Doyle tried to digest it all. They ran out of dense forest quickly, and the grasslands opened up on both sides of the trail, reminding him of the stock footage from Daktari. So the men who had jumped Bodie in Hammersmith that night had been riders for the man whose codename was Thorkill, and he had made a run back into the bush, with something of Bodie's Id - his 'soul' - and retreated to a fortress on a mountain called Odinspeak, on the other side of Rohan, up the Helway. Cowley sent Bodie to make a hit, and to take back... Doyle shook his head. Take it one day at a time, he told himself. If was too weird to be taken in all at once, and made less than no sense at all.

They drove in silence, each engrossed in his own thoughts, and it was almost dark when they saw the lights of the mercenary encampment flickering through the trees. "That's it," Bodie murmured, "vehicles, tents, a cook wagon, latrines off to the left, showers set up under the barrels in the trees there - plenty of water here, it chucks it down every afternoon. Helicopter pad there, little fuel tanker. That's my tent on the end of the rank. It's a bit small, I'm afraid. But we won't be staying here long, just a day or so. I'm waiting for a map."

The four wheel drive pulled in out of the near darkness, and Bodie parked in the halogen wash from the headlights of the mechanics' truck; two men were working on one of the Jeeps, an engine stripped down all over a groundsheet in the glare of the headlights, and they waved as they saw the 4x4 pull back in. "That's Reece and Johnno," Bodie told Ray. "Good lads, not bad mechanics. We've a half way decent cook, Cookie - what else? - but I'd steer clear of Doc Morgan, he's a drunked half wit, doesn't know a bandaid from a butcher knife, wouldn't trust 'im with a hangnail."

"Thanks for the tip," Doyle nodded. "I'm hungry. We in time to eat?"

Bodie checked the time. "Yeah. There's no mess tent, you just stroll up to the wagon and get what you want. Cookie doesn't give a damn."

They were stiff as they swung out of the 4x4, and Doyle stretched his back, yawning, eyes on the fireflies that darted among the trees. It was almost silent beyond the camp, but the voices of a dozen men were noisy, close at hand. They were drinking, by the sounds of them, and he could hear the jingle of coins. Gambling. For the tenth time, Doyle checked his pockets, but they were as empty now as they had been all afternoon.

He followed Bodie toward the cook wagon, surprised to see that the cook was an old man, florid and white haired, stout belly straining at an apron that would once have been white. He grinned at Bodie, took a glance at Doyle and winked knowingly. Ray bit off an oath; Christ, was it that obvious? It couldn't be! Bodie just grinned back at the man, shoving two tin plates at him and collecting large servings of stew and mugs of tea. They took the food to the fire, sitting on a low bench, the smoke stinging their eyes as they ate. The food was half way decent.

"Waiting for a map," Bodie said, repeating what he had said earlier. "There's a guide, a Frenchman called Perrault, who's been on the other side of Rohan recently. Not many people have. The riders are a menace, bloody dangerous, and the mountains are treacherous. We'll end up driving dogs before we get as far as Whitehorse."

"Dog sleds?" Doyle paused, fork half way to his lips. "But we're sitting here in the bloody bush!"

"It's not the distance, it's the altitude," Bodie said. "Wait till the sun gets up tomorrow and look north. The mountains go straight up."

Doyle ate in silence for a moment, but his brow was furrowed with a deep frown. "Bodie, I don't get it. This is - what? central or west country in Africa? I mean, this is the bush, that's the rain forest. What is it, Tanzania, Zaire, Angola? Bodie, there are no mountains north of here - just the Congo!"

"There aren't...?" Bodie mirrored his frown, and in a moment put out a palm to check his forehead. "You sure you're feeling okay? Or were you always this rotten at geography? You'll see the mountains in the morning. High and capped with snow. Whitehorse is the last settlement on the Helway where we'll be able to get supplies. Have to leave the car there, too - won't take the conditions further on, even though we'll carry chains."

For a moment Doyle wondered if he was just hopeless at geography, but he knew full well that there were no mountains of the kind Bodie was talking about here. And how could there possibly be places called Odinspeak, and Whitehorse, in the middle of Africa? He sighed heavily, shrugging it off. Maybe Bodie was having him on - it wouldn't be the first time his partner had taken the Mickey out of him... Raymond Doyle had never been further than the south of France, and that on infrequent occasions. So, what did he know?

But he would have sworn that 'Whitehorse' was a place in Alaska, or the Yukon, or the Klondike, or somewhere like that... Hence, the dog sleds. "Oh to hell with it," he muttered as he finished the meal and washed it down with the last of his tea. He tossed the tin utensils aside and looked up at the stars. This far from a city, they were gleaming like diamonds, or chips of ice in the sky. The gamblers' noise had fallen away now; the whole camp was almost still and quiet, and the fire was starting to die down.

It was some time before he became aware of Bodie's eyes on him, and then he turned to look at his partner, his lover. "Tired?" Bodie asked, little above a whisper.

"Not really," Ray smiled. "Confused, mostly."

"Well, that's understandable. Everything'll look better after a good night's sleep. Come on, love, time to turn in. My tent's not all that vast, but it's comfortable. Too hot to use sleeping bags, so I've got some rugs and half an acre of mosquito netting. Keeps the bities out."

"You're on," Ray said huskily. "Lead on, McDuff!"

The inside of the tent was a well of darkness till Bodie turned on a lamp, and then Doyle made noises of appreciation. A blue groundsheet was soft under his feet, and the netting was slung at the tent's flap to keep the interior free of insects. Bodie, as usual, was making himself at home. "Nice," Ray said honestly. "Nice rugs - hey, I've got rugs like this at home myself. Stuart tartan, aren't they?"

"Dunno," Bodie shrugged. "I just liked them."

"Yeah, Stuart tartan. Same as mine. Nice and soft like mine, too. Bit strange, that they'd have things like this out here. I thought you'd be bedding down with olive drab Army blankets!"

"Oh, I can have what I like," Bodie grinned, and winked. "And what I'd like to have right now..."

"Is me," Doyle finished, chuckling.

"Will you let me have you?"

"All yours," Ray nodded wryly. "All you have to do is ask."

"I'm asking," Bodie purred. "Want you, Ray. Want that beautiful body all for my own... You hear me?"

"I hear you. All for your own," Doyle echoed. "Does that mean what I think it means?"

Bodie nodded. "I'm a jealous, possessive son of a bitch. If you love me, you're mine, Ray. Thought you should know that."

"Okay." Doyle nodded deeply. "S'okay, Bodie, 'cause I feel the same way. I don't want to share you, not at all." He smiled then, hooking his fingers into his tee shirt and pulling it off. "It's a deal, then."

"Deal," Bodie agreed, coming to pass his hands over Doyle's chest, catching him by the hips and pulling him forward into a punishing embrace. "Seal it with a kiss," he murmured, and bent his head to Ray's open mouth, tongue stroking tongue until Doyle groaned, and he felt the growing hardness of arousal inside the skin tight denim.

As the kiss broke Bodie slid down to one knee to undress him, sliding down the jeans' zip and tugging the denim off the narrow hips. "Always wanted to do this, you know. You're so bloody beautiful," he said wistfully. "Always wanted to tell you how nice you are... Skin like honey, legs like a racehorse." Doyle stepped out of the jeans, holding his breath, waiting, and Bodie looped his fingers into the scrap of yellow cotton he still wore, deftly removing that too. "And this," Bodie purred as his cock bobbed up, free and dark, throbbing with the need the hands and voice were generating. "You're a big lad yourself, Ray." Fingertips traced the outline of the swollen shaft, and Doyle bit his lip hard. "One day," Bodie murmured as he bent toward the heat and hardness, "one day I want this inside me. I want all of you, sweetheart. All of you."

And then Bodie's mouth engulfed the aching length of Ray's cock, and if anything else was said between them, he couldn't have heard. It was a minute later, and he was flat on his back with Bodie beside him, panting for breath, before he knew where he was again. He was close, already, and Bodie, guessing, had backed off to make it last. Ray got his breath back slowly, rousing himself with an effort to try to return the caresses, but the strength had gone from his arms and it was as much as he could do to cup Bodie's cheek and kiss his shoulder.

Bodie seemed to have more stamina, and the knowing, gentle fingers were on him again, discovering his chest, exploring his flanks, an inch at a time, before Bodie rolled him over to discover his back. Ray held back a moan as he felt the wet kisses the length of his spine, the fingers between his buttocks, stroking his balls, and he couldn't keep still; beneath him, the tartan rugs were soft and deep, and he arched his back, thrusting himself into them rhythmically, trying to ease the savage throb in his groin.

For a few moments Bodie let him move that way, and then, as he lifted up again he felt strong hands take him by the hips and coax him up to his knees. Still it did not occur to him what Bodie was doing, his mind was floating too far away, and it was not until he felt the pressure at his anus that he understood.

"No - Bodie, no," he gasped, "not here, for Christ's sake!"

"Ray," Bodie said, strung out and hoarse. "Please."

"Not here," Doyle pleaded, trying to turn over again. "Bodie, please, no - later, I promise, but not here. Please."

There was real fear in Doyle's husky voice, and it got through to Bodie before he had even tried to enter the incredibly tight, hot passage. He sat back, pulling his hands across his face. "Sorry, mate. It's not up to me to decide when. That's up to you. Sorry."

The fear was gone at once, and Doyle pulled Bodie into his arms, trying to ease the pain of frustration from him. "I want to, really, but just not here. Got a medic that's a drunken half wit and a CO that's gay. How'd you like to hurt me and leave me to their tender mercies while you go capering off to make the hit? Please, Bodie. Later, when we're out of here, then you can do it. I mean it. I want it, but I don't want to get left behind in this place. Bodie?"

"Should have more sense, shouldn't I?" Bodie said ruefully. "It's all your fault, anyway, for being such a gorgeous, sexy little bugger. There you were with your rump in the air, what was I suppose to think...?"

"Didn't realise," Doyle said sheepishly. "You got me going... Come on, Bodie. Lots of other ways to do it, aren't there? Show me some."

Bodie nodded, smiling into the green eyes in the lamplight. "You're on, love." He caught the curly head and captured Ray's lips in a kiss that was hard, repentant, and pulled Doyle around, back-to-chest, before letting them slide down onto the rugs. Doyle gave a gasp as he felt Bodie's cock slide into his cleft, the snub, slick head nudging at his balls, and instinctively he clenched his muscles about him, holding him as tightly as he could. Bodie's large hand reached around him, taking his own shaft into a satisfying grip, and Ray bucked into his lover's fist, feeling Bodie thrust forward as he arched back again. Wet kisses devoured his right ear and Doyle felt his senses swimming with heat.

"Don't - ah, Bodie, don't squeeze me like - like that - s'too much! Bodie - " But Bodie knew what he was doing, and Doyle came violently a moment later, shaking with the spasms pressing back into Bodie's embrace as he felt the bigger man tense with his own approaching climax. Thick, hot essences of Bodie pumped out between his legs, tricking down his thighs and into the rugs, and Bodie howled into his ear, like a wild thing, caught in that curious balance between anguish and delight.

Then they lay still; neither had the strength to move for minutes, and then it was Doyle who managed to turn over, pressing his face into Bodie's neck and accepting the other's knee between his thighs with a moan of inarticulate pleasure. "Bodie?"

"Still alive," Bodie murmured. "Love you, Ray."

"You don't say," Doyle whispered. "And I'm sorry."

"Sorry? What for?"

"For saying no."

"Oh, you're right," Bodie sighed. "It would have been rotten to have to get old Butcher Morgan to treat you. I mean, those are not the kinds of injuries you like to have prodded about by a good doctor, let alone one who's dangerous when he's got a spoon in his hand, never mind a knife." He slipped his hands down Doyle's flanks, and a little caress went feathering across the pucker of muscle, slick and sodden as it was with his own life's essences. Doyle shuddered at the touch and pressed closer. "Yeah, you'll like it, I know you will, but later, away from this place. Trust me?"

"Of course," Ray murmured. "How can I love you without trusting you?" He paused, wriggling. "Haven't got a towel or a rag, have you? I'm sticky as hell, and it's getting on the rugs."

"Just a sec." Bodie pried himself away and reached for an overnight bag that carried the logo of British Airways. He pulled a hand towel from it, and put it to good use, making his lover squirm and laugh. "Ticklish?"

"Right at this moment, yes," Doyle chuckled. "Not much, as a rule... Damn, I'm in a puddle. Can we turn the rugs over a bit?"

"Makes sense. Up with you, then, move your legs." Bodie tugged the tartan travelling rugs around, flicked a loose one over them, and pulled the pillows in under their heads. Then he pitched the towel away and reached out to turn off the lamp.

As he saw it, Doyle frowned. "Hey, that's the new lamp you just bought the other day - Dolphin, by Eveready, isn't it? Waterproof, floats and all that. You brought it with you?"

"Must have," Bodie yawned. "A lamp's a lamp, for Chrissake."

"Just like home," Doyle said, smiling into Bodie's throat. "Blankets like mine, lamp like yours. And out here in the bush. Mind you, this'd be like a home away from home to you."

"Spent a ridiculous amount of my life here," Bodie affirmed. "But we'll be gone, so don't get settled in. As soon as the Frenchman gets here with the map, away we go."

"Tomorrow, maybe," Ray wondered.

"You're keen to leave already," Bodie observed.

"Keen to get the job done and go home," Doyle admitted.

"No spirit of adventure, that's your problem," Bodie accused. "Go to sleep, love. They'll have us up with the sun, and I don't know about you, but I've had a rough day."

I wish I knew, Doyle thought with a sigh, but he did as he was told, putting his head down on Bodie's shoulder and closing his eyes. Confusion was a hot, angry, jumble in his mind, but he tried to ignore it. Fretting about what he couldn't remember or understand would serve no purpose; at least Bodie seemed to know what he was doing.

He did not expect to sleep, but in fact he was out before Bodie, and did not stir until the revving of a big bike engine roused the camp. He sat up quickly, disoriented for one sickening moment, but it all came back as he felt his lover's warmth beside him, saw the blankets, smelt the musky, telltale odour that betrayed last night's sex. He wrinkled his nose, scratching at his stubbly jaw, and nudged Bodie.

"Can I borrow your shaving gear?"

Bodie just grunted in reply, and Ray chose to take that as an affirmative; guessing that the shaving tackle would be in the British Airways bag, he pulled it toward him, rummaging through the contents. Bodie had had brought an odd assortment of bits and pieces; his pig-sticker razor, a stick of shaving soap with the Bootes-The-Chemist label, Imperial Leather soap, pale blue face cloths, his tortoise-shell comb, Wrigleys spearmint chewing gum, his pocket calculator, a fountain pen, handkerchiefs with the letter 'B' embroidered in green in the corners, loose change, his Liverpool F.C. keyring, the Polaroids he had bought in Barcelona last summer... All items Doyle recognised well, and he just shrugged. So Bodie had packed in a hurry, stuffing things into the bag on intuition. Typical of Bodie, really, he thought, and gave him a fond smile: he was running true to form. The rest of the camp may have been up and moving, but he had turned over and pulled the tartan rug over his head. Doyle dressed quietly.

Morning sunlight streamed in through the slight crack in the flaps, and Ray blinked in the brightness as he ducked outside in search of water - warm if he could get it, cold if not. The mechanic, Johnno, was running the bike, and there was Cookie, scraping the grease out of his tins in preparation for breakfast. Ray headed for the cook wagon. "Morning, Cookie, got any hot water?"

"Tea's nice and 'ot," the old man sang. "Want some?"

"Yeah, please," Doyle nodded, and waved with the shaving gear. "And a pan of hot water; I'm trying to shave." Both were forthcoming in moments, and he sat down on the bench by the wagon to sip the scalding liquid and lather his face. It was then that he saw the mountains. "Bloody hell," he muttered, stunned, "I must be a wash out at geography!"

The alps rose up out of the rain forest, sheer, like pavilions on a distant battle field, snow capped and intimidating. One of them was called Odinspeak, and he guessed that he would get to know the topography like the back of his hand if Bodie was going to drag him there. He shook his head, trying to call to mind a map of Africa; funny, he would have been prepared to bet a month's wages that there was no such alps in this part of the world. Doyle had never doubted the evidence of his own eyes, however, and he shrugged it off as his own ignorance, going back to the task of shaving.

Bodie's pig-sticker straight razor was lethal, and he treated it with the respect it deserved, scraping lather and whiskers away with deft strokes until his face was as smooth as a boy's, then patting at his cheeks with the pale blue face cloths. He dragged the tortoise shell comb through his hair and was putting everything away when he heard a voice, thickly accented, probably Dutch.

It could only be Van Hise, he guessed as much before he turned in the direction of the words, but he had no idea what he expected to see. The mercenary commander was a big man, broad, muscular, but a little flabby around the waist; his blond hair was crew-cut about his skull, and his blue eyes were sunk in nests of wrinkles that made him seem, Ray guessed, older than he was. His mouth was wide and partially hidden by a straggling moustache, and he was clad in the same kind of gear Bodie wore here, cammo fatigues, hiking boots, a sidearm strapped down at his left hip.

"Strangers in camp?" He was saying. "Who the hell is this?"

"Doyle," Ray said quickly, offering his hand. "I came in with Bodie last night. I'm an old mate of his, came over to back him up on the hit."

"You've papers, of course?" Van Hise asked shrewdly, taking his hand and crushing it.

"No," Ray said carefully. "I must've been rolled, as far as I can tell. Bandits, Bodie says. I got away with my life, but they took everything I have. Got my clothes, and a whole skin, that's the lot."

Van Hise nodded, accepting this. He smiled, his grip relaxing about Ray's hand, and the blue eyes looked over the newcomer from head to foot. "You're with CI5 too, are you? One of Cowley's finest?"

"Right." Doyle took back his hand and stuffed both into his pockets.

The Dutchman's eyes had centered somewhere in the region of his middle, and were working downward. The smile widened. "You are hardly clad for the environment, but I must say I approve. Bodie knows how to pick them."

"Meaning what?" Doyle asked defensively.

"Meaning exactly that." Van Hise chuckled richly. "You mean you're not Bodie's lover? Unusual for Bodie to keep his hands to himself."

Doyle felt his cheeks redden. "So what if I am?"

"Nothing to do with me, kitten," Van Hise shrugged, "unless you get bored and want some excitement." He leaned around, taking a long look at the Englishman's shapely backside. "The offer's open, remember."

"I'll remember," Ray hissed. "But I'm not interested."

"Pairbonded with Bodie?" Van Hise crooked a brow at him."

"Something like that."

"Hm." The Dutchman shrugged. "Fine, but stay out of the way of a few of the boys, they'll flip a coin for you and seduce you while Bodie's not looking." He grinned toothily. "Or something like that."

Doyle blinked. "You mean jump me?"

"Something like that," Van Hise chuckled.

"Bodie'd kill 'em," Ray said quickly.

"Maybe," Van Hise conceded, "but Bodie has not been himself lately. Haven't you noticed? There are times when he's the same as always, the Bodie you know, and times when he's... Mad. Out of his head. He hasn't been right since the riders took him that night, it's why he's over here in the first place, isn't it?"

"Yeah," Doyle agreed. "Mad? Like how?"

The Dutchman seemed to search for words. "Irrational. Especially when he's angry... Don't anger him, kitten, you may not like him if you do. He's been up to strange things while he's been here. He killed Huff. A fair fight, I suppose, over the gambling, but he beat Huff to death with his hands." Van Hise shrugged eloquently. "The Bodie I knew once before would not have reacted so; I remember how he fought with an Italian over David - David Tessier, his lover then. The Italian was jealous and it was a great fight, but it ended when Pengelli went down, Bodie didn't kill. Now - he's irrational." The Dutchman folded his arms. "Be careful around him, kitten - "

"Doyle," Ray corrected, not much relishing the nickname. It was the kind that would stick.

"Doyle," Van Hise repeated. "You'll be shoving off with him, will you, when Perrault gets here with the map?

Ray nodded. "Yeah - can't go soon enough to suit me. Which of the men am I supposed to steer clear of, incidentally?"

"Oh, Hunter and the American, Sinclaire. They'll be back in camp later today. Sinclaire's a redhead, and Hunter has a scar on his face from an old knife fight, you can't miss them. Stick close to Bodie, if you can, but... Don't rely on him. You can't anymore."

"Thanks," Ray said thoughtfully. "I'll be careful."

Van Hise grinned again. "Course, if you wanted to hop into my bed, I'd beat them off with a stick. For you, kitten." It was an offer, but Ray shook his head, albeit smilingly. Van Hise just shrugged and wandered away.

In his wake, Doyle stood frowning at the mountains, trying to piece together the puzzle; Bodie was mad? And this from an old mate of his, a man who knew him well? Doyle ambled back to the tent and ducked inside, sinking to sit on the rugs, watching Bodie sleep for some time. It was still very early and the camp was just stirring awake; they were changing the guards and there was the smell of bacon frying on the air as the wind gusted from Cookie's vehicle.

"Bodie?" Ray leaned forward, shaking his shoulder. "Bodie?"

But Bodie was heavily, deeply asleep, and though he moaned, Doyle guessed that it was in response to some dream image. He spoke, but the words were nonsensical, disjointed, and Ray withdrew his hand; when he was ready to wake he would. It would be as well not to shock him. The riders from Rohan were the ones to blame for his madness, then? Ray sighed, wishing he understood. There was something terribly familiar about this - the names were all on the tip of his tongue. Rohan, and riders. He teased at it for some time, but the memory would not take form at length he let it go. Bodie was stirring at last.

The blue eyes fluttered open and he smiled. "Hi. You've shaved."

"You noticed," Ray smiled.

"Nice. Give us a kiss?" Bodie opened his arms in invitation.

"Why not?" Doyle slid down beside him and offered his lips, which Bodie took with relish. As his hands began to stroke, Ray climbed on top of him. "What's all this about? Having a randy dream, were you? Christ, you're half hard already."

"Your fault," Bodie accused. "Shouldn't be so delectable first thing in the morning. Going to be a problem when you've married me, isn't it? Waking up with you every morning - I'm going to spend half my day in an exhausted heap." He wound his fingers into the curly hair and pulled Doyle down to a deep kiss. "Mm, you're nice. Come on, then, get 'em off and let's have you."

"How could any bloke resist such a charming invitation," Doyle said drily, frowning at Bodie in mock irritation.

"Please? Pretty please? With cream and sugar on?"

Doyle laughed. "All right, all right. You're not always this horny in the morning, are you?"

"Horny? You call this horny?" Bodie snorted derisively. "You wait till I'm really in the mood!" He yanked the zipper on Doyle's jeans down without further ado. "I was dreaming about you."

"So I gathered." Ray wiggled out of the jeans and underwear and let Bodie roll him over onto his belly. "Something nice?"

"Oh, very." Bodie kissed his back and shoulders and lay heavily on him, face buried in his hair. "Oh, Ray, I'm sorry."

"Sorry for what?" Doyle twisted his shoulders about, trying to look back at Bodie, but Bodie held him down firmly, hardly letting him move.

"For dragging you over here. You're like a fish out of water, and I'm going to get you into trouble, I know it."

"Going to get me pregnant?" Doyle stifled a chuckle. "Don't want to disillusion you, mate, but I remember my biology lessons better than - " he broke off as he felt Bodie's rigid heat slip into the cleft between his buttocks, but only for a moment was there a thrill of fear that he was going to be forced. No, Bodie was just rubbing himself there, and it felt wonderful to Doyle too, so that he groaned in pleasure. A moment later a large, warm hand wriggled underneath and took hold of him, pumping him in the same irresistible rhythm, and he was happy just to float along with the sensations and let Bodie enjoy himself. "Going to make a mess of the rugs," he warned while he could still speak coherently.

"Hunph?" Bodie murmured into his hair, not really hearing.

"The rugs," Ray signed. "Going to mess up the... Oh, Christ..." He lost the ability to care as the fire ignited in his loins and he began to heave gently under Bodie's weight, co-operating as much as he was allowed. So the rugs would get into a mess. So, they would wash.

Teeth nipped sharply at his ear and he yelped, making Bodie play harder, nipping him again. Suddenly they were wrestling, giggling like kids, and the sweet ferocity of it drove the misgivings from Doyle's mind. Trapped under Bodie, he felt safe and warm, loved and at home, and for a while the whole confused mess seemed to fade away. They came powerfully, convulsing almost together, and then Bodie went limp, knocking the breath out of his lover.

"Oof, you're heavy love." Doyle panted. "Shift yourself. Bodie!"

"Shurrup, I'm asleep," Bodie said, muffled, into the back of his neck.

"You're squashing me," Ray protested.

"There's gratitude," Bodie chortled. "There's many a barmaid who'd appreciate a bit of squashing."

"I'm not a bloody barmaid." Doyle wriggled again, finally dislodging Bodie from his back. "That's better, I can breathe now. Happy?"

"As Larry," Bodie grinned, and kissed him to prove it.

"As who?" Doyle demanded when he was allowed to speak again.

"Character in a play," Bodie yawned.

"Not going to sleep again, are you?" Doyle asked incredulously.

"Your fault," Bodie said smugly. "You wear me out, pet."

"Fair enough," Ray sighed resignedly. "Think I'll go for a nice long, cool shower, requisition some clothes and get my breakfast. I met Van Hise a while ago. Seems a nice fella."

Abruptly Bodie was wide awake. "He's as gay as an Easter Parade."

"I know. He made a pass, I refused, he took it nicely. Warned me about two guys, Hunter and Sinclaire."

"Bad lots," Bodie affirmed. "But they won't make a move; you're mine, they know that, or they will as soon as word gets around. They'll leave you alone, so don't start fretting on their account."

Doyle grinned, fishing for last night's hand towel to swab the film of Bodie's semen from his back and shoulders before dressing again. "I told Van Hise you'd flatten them for me if they tried it on. He didn't seem so sure. Why, Bodie? Why did he think you'd let them try it on?"

Bodie's expression darkened. "He knew me a long time ago. He maybe doesn't know I'm in love with you. We swap and share our lovers around."

"We?" Ray frowned. "You mean you..."

"Just leave it alone, Ray," Bodie said, little above a whisper. "It doesn't involve you. Got nothing to do with you, okay?"

"But, Bodie - "

"Hey." Bodie caught him by the arm, fingers digging into the muscle, hurting. "I love you, that's all you need to know. Don't start getting paranoid about this place. It gets to us all, sooner or later, but you've no need to worry. Okay?"

"Okay," Doyle whispered. Anger transformed Bodie's face, sharpened its lines, drew it tight. And Bodie was angry right now - why? What had he done, or said, to anger him? "I'll go and take a shower," he said then, very quietly, eyes averted. "I'll bring breakfast back, if you want it?"

The anger seemed to dissipate, and Bodie's face gentled again. "Yeah, thanks. Lots. I'm famished." He let go of Doyle's arm, watched him get to his feet, and threw the bar of Imperial Leather at him. "Here, and don't forget to wash behind your eyes. I shall check."

Ray gave him a smile, but it was forced, and he was glad to escape, grateful to get out of the tent, into his own company, where he could stand back and try to look dispassionately at Bodie. In there, with him, his nose filled with the lingering odours of sex, his body blindly seeking the warm, hard embrace, the hot, demanding mouth, it was impossible to think straight, to see beyond the needs of the moment.

He ambled toward the showers, his eyes drawn to those mountains that should not have been there. Bodie was different: it was not an overwhelming difference, but it was there, and it was worrying. Ray sighed, coming to a halt in a patch of sunlight and finding a heap of coarse towels dumped on one end of a rotting log. The showers were no more than a cobbled space under a tree in which barrels were placed. They were filled with rainwater each afternoon, and if you pulled on a rope you got a shower of cold water. Hot and sticky already, Doyle found the prospect pleasant, and stripped quickly. His clothes were rumpled and unfresh, and he was wondering if the camp quartermaster could be sweet talked.

There were whistles as he took off his clothes and he hid a grin, ignoring the young mechanics who lounged by the Jeeps, fifty yards away, watching him. It had been no different when he had been with the Met - their shower facilities were communal, and though it was never clear who had whistled, there were usually whistles. It was another reason Doyle had given up team sports in adolescence. There was nothing like a hard game as a precursor to casual group sex, and that had never been his style. He let the cold water run over him until he felt alive again, lathered up with Bodie's soap, and massaged his scalp, which was itching in the heat. There was little need to scrub himself dry, and ten minutes later he was wandering toward the supply van, a Ford Transit with a side door open.

The Quartermaster of this outfit was a Spaniard, dark, intense, with long black hair and the glimmer of gold at his throat. He was cleaning his chipped fingernails with the tip of a bayonet as Doyle approached, and the two men regarded each other for some time in silence. Mutual dislike, Ray decided - and that was much safer, around here, than a matey welcome. "Clothes," Doyle said simply. "What have you got?"

"That'd fit you?" The Spaniard stood up and Ray bit off a groan. He was much taller than Bodie. "Not much, but there's some stuff that was left here a while ago that might do."

Everyone seemed to be bigger than Ray, but that was hardly surprising; what did astonish him was the clothes he was offered. He had expected the clothing to be dog rough. The garments were old, but that improved leather, made it softer, comfortable. They were made of doe skin, and the leathers had gone velvety with age, bleaching in the sun until they were practically white. They were thonged together rather than being stitched, trousers and a shirt which laced down the front to navel-level, and a jacket made of heavier, darker but just as soft leather. There were two silk shirts also, and a pair of brown suede boots. Expensive, he thought, blinking at the clothes in fascination.

"This lot must've cost a fortune. Who'd walk away and leave these?"

"The guy lost his legs in a shoot up," the Spaniard told him. "They took him out by chopper to a hospital in Zaire, he died there. They've been in the van since then, don't fit nobody. Might fit you, though."

First, Ray tried the shirt, and it fit perfectly. He left it unlaced because of the heat of the day, slipping off his jeans and pulling on the soft doe skin; the pants also fit perfectly. Somebody had obviously made it as a merc among this bunch at his height and weight, so it was at least possible to survive if you weren't built like King Kong. He sat down to try the boots, and their only fault was that they were a fraction tight across the toes. They would stretch he guessed, and bundled up his own clothes, claiming the spare shirts, and gave the Spaniard a nod. "Thanks."

"There's a blackie comes in a couple of times a week, beats the dirty rags on a rock down the river," the man offered, going back to his manicure. "Cost you a few shotgun cartridges. They're worth more 'round here than money."

Not, Doyle thought drily, that I've got any shotgun cartridges either. In point of fact, he had nothing at all, and the knowledge that he was entirely dependent on Bodie was disquieting. He stopped off at the cook wagon, picked up enough breakfast to satisfy Bodie's notorious morning demands, and made his way back to the tent. His lover was shaving and smelt of cologne, and his hair was still wet.

"I showered while you were getting your clothes," Bodie grinned, and looked Doyle up and down appreciatively, "Nice, very nice. Nothing but the best for the Raymond Doyle's of this world, right?" He patted his face dry and put the shaving tackle away. "Ah, food. Bacon, eggs, tea. Great." He dropped a kiss on Ray's nose before turning his attention to his breakfast.

Doyle picked up a slice of bacon and nibbled at it. "This Frenchman who's bringing you the map, you expecting him soon?"

"Soon enough," Bodie nodded. "Relax, mate. I've already put the word out that they're to ignore you like you don't exist. They'll do as I say."

"Is that why the mechanics were standing around watching me put the leathers on?" Ray muttered.

"I've told you, they'll ignore you."

"Just because you tell 'em to?" Ray was not so sure.

"They do as they're told," Bodie growled.

There was a tense, electric silence, and then Doyle said quietly, "the way Huff did as he was told? You killed him, didn't you?

Anger glittered in Bodie's eyes, making them somehow bluer. "Who told you about that?"

"Van Hise, his morning."

"Huff was dealing off the bottom, he got what was coming to him," Bodie snarled.

"Bodie, you don't kill a man for cheating at cards!" Doyle remonstrated.

The anger redoubled. "One by one, they learn to do as they're told."

And the inference was plain; just as you'll learn. Ray didn't much like the sound of it - it wasn't the Bodie he knew. His Bodie would coax, cajole, argue, wheedle, get his own way in the end, but not kill and maim until people did what he wanted out of fear. "You can't kill a man for that, Bodie," he said quietly.

Bodie's eyes met his, locked and held. "You're arguing with me?"

"Stating my opinion. I think you did wrong."

"Oh, do you?" Bodie put his plate down with a clatter. "It's got nothing to do with you, Doyle. This is my world, you're a stranger in it, you hear? And if you want to stay alive in it you do as I tell you."

"Do I?" Anger glittered in Doyle's cat's eyes. "I do as you say, when you say, as you say, do I? All the time? You tell me to jump, I jump? You tell me to strip and get on my knees, and I just do it? Try it, Bodie, just try it. You can ask all you like - ask me to strip for you, ask me to suck you off, even ask me to spread my legs, and maybe I will. But you try telling me, you try making a slave out of me, and you'll get a fight you won't forget in a hurry!"

They were standing in the middle of the tent, breakfast abandoned and forgotten, and the anger was like arcs of electricity between them for a time that seemed to stretch into infinity. At last Bodie relaxed an erg at a time, his shoulders slouching, a reluctant smile playing about the corner of his mouth. "You're a tough nut, Doyle, maybe I forgot that. Ask? All right, you I'll ask. Them I've told to get out of your way and stay out of your way, and they know enough to jump when I say jump."

"And me?" Doyle breathed quietly.

"Oh, I'll ask." Bodie's fingers stroked Ray's gullet lightly. "Kiss me, Ray?" He bent his head forward and waited; for a time Doyle just looked at him, and then their lips met, open and working, and there was silence in the tent for almost a minute. When Bodie spoke again his voice was a deep husky rumble. "And I'll ask you for the rest that I want, soon. Will you let me have you?"

There was a curious weakness about Doyle's knees, and for the first time he felt unsure. There was something about Bodie, something selfish - I'll ask for what I want - that frightened him. "I don't know," he said honestly. "It would depend."

"On what? I won't force you here, I've already told you that," Bodie said shortly. "Later, when we're in some place nice."

"It might depend on you," Ray said softly. "I don't know what's the matter with you, Bodie, but something's wrong. Tell me?"

"Nothing to tell," Bodie shrugged dismissively.

"Yes, there is. You're... different, changed even from yesterday. Yesterday there was... us. Now there's just you, and I'm on the outside, like you don't really want me here, like you want to play with me for your own fun, doesn't matter what I want. Bodie?

"It's your imagination, Doyle." Bodie turned his back on his partner and went back to his breakfast.

But Doyle knew fact from fantasy, and real fear wormed through him. He had several choices: he could stay on, watch Bodie like a hawk, try to figure out what was beneath the trouble he was trying to hide, or he could get out. Find a shortwave, call Cowley and ask for extraction by chopper, Concord back to London, fast, get Bodie into a hospital and find out what was wrong. Van Hise would point him in the direction of a shortwave, but...

"Bodie, won't you tell me?" He padded silently up behind Bodie and put his flat palms on his back, stroking, massaging, feeling tension. "Is it something I did? Or didn't do? You wanted to screw me that badly, and when I said no - "

"For Chrissake," Bodie muttered, "leave it, Doyle!"

"You won't even use my first name now," Ray sighed. "Bodie, don't do this to me. I - I bloody love you, I've already told you that! Did it matter that much to you? Bodie?" There was such tension under his hands that he expected Bodie's muscles to cramp at any moment. Yes, obviously it did mean that much to him, Doyle could think of nothing else to explain the sudden withdrawal. He bit his lip, stepping back a pace, and still Bodie would not turn to look at him.

Words would take them no further. There was a lost, helpless feeling that hurt Doyle; intuitively he guessed that if he walked away now, if he used Van Hise's shortwave and left, he would never see Bodie again; yet, there was only pain between them now, and it had come about so suddenly that his head was still swimming from the shock of it.

It was past time for word, he thought bleakly; time to stop talking and start doing. He pulled the soft leather shirt over his head, coaxed the boots off and dropped the doeskin pants on top of them. There was a tube of oily burn cream in the British Airways bag, he remembered seeing it just that morning, and he walked past Bodie to fetch it, eyes cast down, not wanting, not daring to look up.

He put the tube on the side of Bodie's forgotten plate and went down to his knees. "Just don't hurt me. I don't want to get left behind with a bunch of loonies I don't know and don't trust." Then he waited.

There was a long, taut silence, and in it Bodie felt the cold wind of fury ebb away a little at a time. He stood looking down at the other man, struggling to understand what it was about his own heart that was so wrong, so strange, fighting to remember what should be; it was impossible to think back, as if his memory was locked away, and the future was not more than a jumble of impressions. He was as lost as Doyle looked, kneeling there on the tartan rugs, but he was at least in command of his situation, whereas Doyle... Ray was shaking, frightened, trusting him to do something that could hurt him, even injure him. He wasn't even aroused - the slender, tawny body was tense, hot, but not with the fever of desire. Confusion and hurt had sent him to his knees in an effort to patch up a love that was going wrong almost at once -

And it's my fault, Bodie thought, knowing that Doyle was right. There was so much wrong that it was easier to point out what was right about his life and his mind; it had been wrong since the night the riders had caught him in Hammersmith, and it would be wrong until he caught up with the man codenamed Thorkill, on Odinspeak. And in the meantime, here was his partner, shaking, offering complete surrender, out of love. The breath caught in Bodie's throat and he went to his own knees, scooping Doyle into his arms. "Why, Ray?"

"Why?" Doyle whispered into Bodie's neck. "I love you, you stupid crud. And now you're treating me like - like -"

"Shush," Bodie crooned. "I get angry. I get... Mad. I killed Huff because I got angry, he wouldn't do... Do as I said. God, Ray, do you think I'd tell you to do this? You don't tell a person to do this!"

"But you wanted to."

"Of course I wanted to! I've been wanting to have you for years - you think I can watch you, the way you look, the way you move, and not want you? Christ, you're thick. All those times I told you you were ugly, and you believed me!" He drew back to look at Ray's downcast face; he was flushed, bright eyed. Beautiful. Bodie caressed his broken cheekbone with one delicate finger. "The face that launched a thousand ships isn't in it, mate." He tipped up Doyle's chin and kissed his lips very softly. "Ray?"

"You want me now," Ray murmured. He reached for the tube of burn ointment. "Just don't hurt me, okay?" He lay down and turned on his side. "Come on, Bodie. Do it, and then stop treating me like an enemy, or a stranger, or a whore. I'm not any of those things. I love you, I only came here to help you, and what I'm offering here is only for you, not for anyone else. Because I love you, Christ knows why." He glared up at Bodie, who had not moved a muscle. "Come on, Bodie. Do me. Get it done and know that I'm saying what I mean."

Bodie slid down beside him, pulled him into a tight embrace, and kissed his throat and his ears. "No. Later, when you want it too, when we're out of here. You were right, I agreed then, I agree with you now."

"But, Bodie," Ray sobbed, "if you don't - "

A kiss silenced him, and then Bodie was wriggling out of his own clothes, and Doyle could only watch in confusion. Bodie was aroused, big, powerful, almost purple with the pressure of blood under the soft, thin skin, and Ray swallowed, trying to imagine himself stretching to accommodate the swollen shaft. Surely it would hurt the first time, no matter how careful Bodie was. He knew he was tight, guessed that the delicate glands and ducts would rebel at the pressure. How the hell did men ever manage this without killing each other? He shut his eyes, smothering the worries and waiting for Bodie's hands on him.

The caresses, when they came, were feathery, so gentle and knowing that after a time the little worries faded away, and Ray forgot about the prospect of pain, happy to lose himself in the kisses and licks that were patterning his belly while fingers probed and tickled his balls. A kiss fell on the head of his cock, he felt himself twitch in response and release a trickle of fluid which Bodie palmed, using it to lubricate his hand before he took his lover's hardness in his fist and slid a tight, bewildering caress the length of Doyle's burning cock. Ray cried out and Bodie put his free hand over his mouth to silence him. No sense in alerting the whole camp to what was transpiring. Ray bucked his hips, thrusting into Bodie's fist, and in a moment more Bodie took his hand away, replacing it with his mouth.

If the silencing palm had not been over his lips, Ray would have howled aloud as he felt Bodie's mouth close over him, cooler than his own heat, wet and sucking. He writhed helplessly, moaning as his heart rate soared and the blood pounded in his ears. He was whispering Bodie's name, but the sounds were not permitted to pass his lips, and he tried to tell Bodie to stop before he came, but there was no way he could. The heat and aching need for release peaked in a wrenching crescendo, and he let go at last, succumbing to the wonderful and terrible sensations of Bodie sucking his essences from him as fast as he could ejaculate them. He was blinking through a haze of tears as he felt Bodie's weight settle down on him, and he lifted his knees, wrapping his legs about his lover's waist, guessing that the moment had come and prepared to accept whatever happened. No one who would do for him what Bodie had just done would hurt him any more than was absolutely necessary, even the first time.

But there was no shaft of agony, no invasion of his body, just the press and rub of hard, overheated flesh at his groin and Bodie's voice murmuring his name as he ground into Ray's welcoming softness. As he realised that this would suffice, for now, Doyle relaxed, spread his legs, braced the soles of his feet and matched Bodie's rhythm, not yet strong enough to thrust hard against him, but recovering fast.

Then Bodie became rigid from head to foot and his teeth sank deeply into Doyle's left ear, not quite drawing blood as he came. Ray wrapped arms and legs about him, holding him tightly, wanting to fuse them together if only for a moment, wanting to be pierced, possessed, and to do the same to Bodie.

They were silent for a long time, until Bodie got his breath and strength back, and then he propped himself on one elbow and frowned down at Doyle. "You would have, wouldn't you? You'd have let me take you."

"Yes." Ray nodded once against the rugs. "I wasn't fooling you, I wasn't joking. Any time you want, Bodie, I trust you. Even here." He broke off and gasped as a hand threaded between his legs, seeking him out with probing fingers, and the pressure at his anus half blinded him.

"You are tight, aren't you?" Bodie observed softly.

"Everybody's got to be a virgin sometime," Doyle shrugged.

"And you were scared," Bodie added. "Of me."

"Of you ten minutes ago," Ray whispered. "You were... selfish, hard, angry. I didn't know you. It was as if... If you'd really wanted to, you'd have hit me, stunned me, raped me when I went down. Of course I was scared - it's called simple bloody self preservation!"

"I'm s-" Bodie stopped, took a gasp for air and buried his face in Ray's sweat-slick chest, tongue flicking out, tasting himself there, white streams tangled in Ray's fine body hair. "I'm sorry," he said soundlessly. "I didn't mean -"

It was with surprise that Doyle realised Bodie's shoulders were shaking. "Bodie? Love? Oh, love, don't, don't cry, it's not worth it! I've told you, I trust you, you can have me any time you want me, even here. I'm not scared anymore, not now." He fought up to a sitting position, wrapped his arms about the bigger man and rocked him slowly. "Come on, mate, it's okay now. Whatever it was, it's over."

But Bodie was shaking his head. "No. It comes and goes, Ray, and when it comes over me I don't know... Can't seem to tell what I'm doing." He clung tightly for just another moment, then pushed Doyle away. "It won't be safe for you to stay with me anymore. You'd better get on the blower, tell Cowley to send somebody else. Get out of here."

"What? You want me to go?" Ray frowned. "You want me to leave?"

"Before I do hurt you," Bodie said miserably. "Christ, Ray, I came that close to hitting you, and if you'd gone down I'd have been all over you. You come in here dressed in white leathers that hug your rump like velvet, smelling like you and looking at me with those eyes, and then I get wild with - I don't know what it is. Van Hise says it's madness, and maybe it is. One day, I'll do it, Ray. I'll take you."

"I'd let you," Ray whispered.

Bodie shook his head violently. "Don't. I'd hurt you. You're tight as a clenched fist, Ray, if I took you dry I'd tear you to shreds."

"You wouldn't do that," Doyle protested, shaking in reaction to the notion. "I know you wouldn't. Even if you were off your head, you'd know who you were with. You love me, goddamn it!"

Tears welled up in the blue eyes and spilled over. "Love you? Oh, God, so much it bloody hurts, in here." He rubbed his own chest. "So much it makes me sick to my guts when I think what I could do to you. Then I'd come out of it, and you'd be there, bleeding and hating me."

"No," Doyle said firmly, though it was an image he could picture all too easily. "Look, if it's any consolation to you, I've got a fairly good sense of self preservation myself, mate. I'd flatten you if you went that far, and don't think I couldn't do it."

"Could you?" Bodie didn't look so sure.

"Yeah. Box your ears till your brain's even more scrambled than it is already, grab you by the balls and squeeze."

"If you're on your knees, you can't use your hands," Bodie murmured.

"So I wouldn't let it go that far, would I? I may not be as big as the rest of you here, but I can kick the knees out from under a man just as easily as a woman can, even a kid, and when you go down, I can hit a bloody sight harder than a woman." He forced a smile. "Then you'd be coming to, with your front teeth missing, and wondering what'd hit you!"

At last Bodie smiled, and he reached for Ray blindly, crushing him in a desperate embrace. "Just see that you do that, if I start. Tie me up in the corner till it goes away." He put his head down on Doyle's shoulder and closed his eyes. "It happens several times a day, Ray. I'm sorry."

For a while Ray just held him, thinking hard, then he asked, "did you get a belt on the head when the riders took you?"

"No, but they shot me up with a lot of drugs. The medic here says I'm having a reaction to them - you can get this paranoid reaction to even a little bit of mescaline or LSD, and it can affect you for years."

"Christ," Doyle said, involuntarily. "You mean -"

"I'm going to be off my skull for years?" Bodie shrugged away, wiped his face and cleared his throat. "No, I don't think so. I think it's got more to do with... Thorkill took something belonging to me, you know. Call it my Id. My soul... My heart, even. Whatever it was he took, I can't seem to do without it, got to have it back. S'why we're getting out of here as soon as Perrault brings me the map. Got to get up into the mountains, beyond Whitehorse. I've got chains in the car, we'll switch to dogs when we get high enough, and then Odinspeak's right in front of you as you go." He paused and chanced a glance at Doyle. "You're going to come?"

"Frequently, if I know you," Doyle said drily. "Pass me a cloth or something - I need another shower!"

"Got some cologne here," Bodie told him. "Mop up, and use this instead. It's 4711, smells nice on me so it'll smell fantastic on you."

As Doyle mopped the last traces of stickiness away Bodie dumped a little cascade of the blue cologne onto his belly, and he yelped, first in shock at the coldness and then in outrage as the spirit got into his open pores and burned. Bodie stooped to kiss him. "Better now?"

"So long as you're you, not some stranger who calls me 'Doyle' and wants to beat me up and screw me into the ground, it's always good," Ray admitted. "Don't fret, sweet'eart, I'm a big lad, I can look out for myself. I just hope the Frenchman gets here before Hunter and Sinclaire... I can do without the hassle."

"I've put the word around," Bodie said, reiterating what he had stressed before. "They are afraid of me, Ray. After I killed Huff, most of them won't say two words in the wrong direction around me. I... I killed him with these hands, you know."

Ray nodded. "Van Hise told me." He picked up Bodie's hands and kissed the palms. "Doesn't matter. Out here, you have to do your own fighting, right? If Huff could have, he'd have killed you, so it was a fair fight, and that's the end of it. These hands have always been able to kill, Bodie, it's nothing new. They drive me wild, these fingers, so gentle on me. Think about that instead." He winked one green eye at his lover.

"I do think about that," Bodie admitted sheepishly. "All the bloody time, God help me." He rubbed at his temples then, eyes falling closed.

"Headache?" Doyle asked shrewdly.

"A bit of a throb," Bodie said, the words slurred. "Tightness, you know. It doesn't last long, but I get it afterwards. After I lose my grip on who I am." He jumped in surprise, then relaxed as Doyle's long fingers began to rub his neck. "Oh, that's good."

"Your breakfast's gone stone cold and greasy," Ray said quietly. "Why not come and see what a breath of fresh air will do? Cookie's got mountains left. I reckon he must be feeding half this nation with his leftovers."

"Don't feel like eating anymore," Bodie told him. "Not just now. But fresh air sounds good. It smells a bit strong in here. Got to work on the car, anyway. If we're ever going to get out of here the fan belt has got to be tightened up, and the distributor's so corroded it's arcing."

"Okay, I'll give you a hand," Doyle smiled, relieved to have Bodie, his Bodie, back. He reached for his clothes and pulled them on, luxuriating in the hugging caress of soft leathers. "These are beautiful, aren't they?"

Bodie cupped his lover's rounded buttocks in both hands. "You're telling me. I've been dreaming about you in something like this for years." He picked up the plate of ruined breakfast and kissed Ray's forehead. "Out, before I grab you and hug you tight till lunch time."

It was as if the sun had come out from behind the pall of an overcast: Bodie was back. Ray strolled with him beyond the motor pool into the shade of a vast, ancient baobab tree, and then checked in surprise as he saw the car Bodie had been referring to. It was on the tip of his tongue to say how unusual it was to be able to hire a Ford Capri Ghia out here, but a moment later he saw the licence plate and the words died unspoken.

"Christ, that's our car!"

"George Cowley would argue that point with you," Bodie said drily.

"Yeah, but how did you get it out here? Crated? It'd take weeks on a ship, wouldn't it?"

"Dunno," Bodie shrugged. "Anyway, what's it matter? Better the motor you know, right? Even if its fan belt is slipping." The Capri was locked up, and he went to open it, putting the bonnet up a moment later. "Right, now where were we yesterday? Ah yes, we were cursing about the ignition system."

For an hour Ray just lounged in the shade, passing tools to him and gazing about the landscape in which Van Hise's camp stood. To the south, the rain forest, to the north, grassland, and beyond that, the mountains. The morning heated up fast and sweat trickled down his back in rivers; he took off the soft leather shirt, tossing it into the car, and Bodie gave him a smile. "Take care you don't burn, you English lily. The sun here'd cook you if you let it." He dropped a spanner and wiped his hands. "Why don't you take an amble around? Meet some of the blokes. They're good mates when you get to know 'em. And stop worrying, they know to keep their hands off."

Doyle nodded. "Okay, I will. Reckon Van Hise's got any maps and things? Those mountains are driving me nuts. I can't have forgotten all of my geography lessons, can I?"

"You? That memory of yours has all the characteristics of a tea strainer," Bodie quipped. "Forget your own phone number, you would."

"Thanks a whole bunch," Doyle grinned. "I guess you love me for my body." He thrust his hands into the hip pockets of the soft leather pants and turned in the direction of the tents and vehicles. What he needed was an ordnance map, if the boss had one. Something that would show the Helway, the lie of the land, the height of those mountains, the sea coast. This was Africa, there was no doubt about it, but everything else was confusion.

He saw Cookie drinking tea by the supply van and wandered toward him. "Is Van Hise around anywhere?"

"Nah, he went out on patrol with some of the lads," the old man told him. "Took Spanish and Bell and shoved off as soon as Hunter and Sinclaire got in the news. Rebels have knocked over a convoy on the border and if we don't want to be starin' down the barrels of ten dozen Armalites, we better get 'em before they lay their grubby paws on enough ammo."

Doyle's nerves tensed against his will. "Hunter and Sinclaire're back?" Damn, that was all he needed.

The old man was nodding, but the voice that answered him belonged to an American. "Yeah, Sin and the Hun are back," it said, "who wants to talk to us?"

Carefully, Doyle turned around, wishing to God he'd put his shirt on before he started to wander around. He knew that, beside these men, he was built like a boy, that his skin was the colour of honey, so pale next to the locals, and that displaying what he had was stupid. There were bites on him, too, love bites on his shoulders and neck, Bodie's work, and as there were no women in the company, fresh love bites meant one thing only. He put on a neutral expression. "Name's Doyle. I'm over here with Bodie." He used Bodie's name specifically, eyes narrowed, waiting for the reaction.

Sinclaire's mouth twisted. Dislike - no, hatred. Oh, there was no love lost between Sin and Bodie, then, Doyle concluded. Hunter grinned. Both the newcomers looked him over from head to foot as if he was a piece of meat in a butcher's window, and Doyle felt his own temper ignite. "I'll see you around," he said acidly, and turned quickly away.

The hand on his arm held him back, and the initial reaction was to break it. Ray halted in mid-stride and turned back slowly. It was Hunter, and he was still grinning. "Don't run off so fast," he said. English, one of the northern dialects, probably Manchester, or Liverpool, overlayed by enough Cockney to thoroughly disguise it. Not dissimilar to Doyle's own accent, in fact. "You're the new boy in town, you want to make friends."

"Do I?" Doyle inquired mildly, looking pointedly at the restraining hand. "Bodie might have a word or two to say about that."

"Bodie's whore?" Sinclaire wondered aloud, crooking one brow at his partner in question. "What do they reckon, Cookie?

The cook got to his feet, already moving, wanting nothing to do with the scene. Doyle bit his lip: he was on his own. "Bodie reckons hands off or there'll be trouble," the old man offered, and then was gone.

Hunter frowned deeply at Doyle. "The big man owns you, does he?"

The notion made Doyle smart. "Nobody owns me."

"Then you're not Bodie's whore?" Sinclaire pressed.

"I'm nobody's whore!" Doyle spat.

"Then Bodie can keep his threats to himself," Hunter concluded. "And it's all up to you, sweet thing. You want to play?"

"Three of us," Sinclaire chuckled. "Nice and cozy. Yeah, you'd like that, wouldn't you? Sweet little ass like that, just waiting for a poke - me first, I saw you first. We take turns, Hun and me. Fair's fair."

Colour flushed up in Doyle's face, echoing the wave of nausea at the idea of it. Both of them, in turn, and the first time - Christ, if they knew he was a virgin it would make it that much more fun. He swallowed hard. "No thanks. Got my hands full with Bodie, haven't I?"

"Oh sure," Hunter laughed, "he'd fill you right up, no doubt about it. But he's not the only talent 'round here, sweets." He leered, winking. "I'll be keeping my eye on you, Doyle. Count on it."

Ray took a deep breath. "Look, Bodie won't like it."

"And he'll beat you if you fuck around with other people?" Sinclaire guessed. "Not that he's whipped you too much as yet; doesn't show, at least."

"Bodie wouldn't hurt me," Doyle hissed. "You worry about your own hide. He'll take a skinning knife to you if you don't stay right out of my way!"

The words made Sinclaire laugh. He produced his own knife, saw backed and honed like a razor. "Well, he's welcome to try, sweets. Might be worth it, anyway; screw your brains out for the main course, and have it out with big man Bodie for dessert. Been waiting my chance for years. Me and Bodie go way, way back. And Huff was my friend." He slid the knife away again. "I'll see you later, sweets."

With a suggestive wink, the two were gone and Doyle found himself alone in the hot mid-morning sunlight. He sat down on the bench by the Ford Transit, wrapping his arms about his chest. The impulse was to scurry back to Bodie's side, but he was damned if he was going to do that at once - he wasn't a kid, he was the best George Cowley could recruit, and trained as well as Brian Macklin could manage. There was nothing here to match the levels of fitness and finesse that CI5 demanded, and he was damned if he was going to let the paranoia get to him.

Still, he noticed the eyes on him. There was Hunter, cleaning a rifle, watching the newcomer out of slitted eyes; there was Sinclaire, drinking moonshine out of an unlabelled bottle, overtly watching him. He leaned back against the sun-hot side of the van and crossed his legs, making his body language say what he wanted it to say: I don't care, look all you like - and I'm not playing. The question was, were they listening?

He judged that it was gone ten when Cookie started on lunch; he smelt the reek of pungent vegetable curry and damper, and took himself back to the baobab where Bodie was still tinkering happily with the car. He did not look up as Doyle approached, and Ray said levelly, "Sinclaire and Hunter are back in camp." Bodie just grunted in answer, head stuck in under the bonnet as he worked with a strobe, the engine running, setting up the ignition timing. "Bodie, they're not taking any notice to you."

"Don't be ridiculous," Bodie said dismissively. "Get in and rev the motor, will you?

"Bodie, they don't give a cuss about -"

"You're overreacting," Bodie shrugged. "Stop your fretting. Get in and give the motor a kick, will you? Got to get the timing right."

Doyle's nerves tensed up. Again? "Bodie, I just had it out with them. They wouldn't take no for an answer."

"Got yourself shagged, did you?" Bodie demanded acidly. "No? Then they know when to do as they're told. Rev the bloody motor, will you, for Christ's sake? How often do I have to tell you?"

No more, Doyle thought bleakly, and slid in under the wheel, right foot going to the throttle. He punched it savagely to the floor. The best thing he could do now was keep his mouth shut. If Bodie was going into one of these phases, he would be better if unprovoked. It wouldn't last long, and when it was over he would listen. Ray hit the accelerator again, hard, taking the frustration out on the car.

"Okay, that's enough!" Bodie roared over the noise," and when he let the engine speed slow down it stalled out. Ray slid back out of the car, pulling his shirt on as he went, and walked around to the front of it to look closely at Bodie's face. It was drawn, hard, the mouth no more than a cruel gash, the eyes glittering. He was wiping his hands clean on a rag, and when the oil was gone he reached out, catching the smaller man against him, hands on his backside, pulling them together. Doyle stood silently, well aware that the mechanics could see them, and when Bodie took his mouth he tried to make a kiss of it. The most he could do was open his mouth and keep still, and then suck at his bruised lips, tasting blood, as Bodie let him go and went back to the car.

In that moment Doyle felt more alone than he had ever felt in his life before, and he walked away without another word, looking back at the man he knew he loved now and then to see that Bodie was not even aware of his existence. He walked out to the perimeter of the camp and sat down with his back against a tree, tears prickling at his eyes; it was an unreasonable grief. This wasn't Bodie; his Bodie would be back soon when the episode was over, and everything would be all right. But all the same it hurt; his mouth felt bruised, and he was still flushed at the embarrassment of being kissed - by a man - in public, and like that. Bodie's whore. The words still hurt, and even though they were not true he knew that word would get back to Sinclaire and Hunter, and he would have a hard time claiming that he was not a little whore who got off on domination.

He did not have long to wait: someone with a loose mouth, or an axe to grind, or points to score, must have run to Sinclaire as soon as the scene was over. Footfalls in the dry grass drew Doyle's attention and he opened his eyes, squinting in the bright sunlight to see the American approaching. He struggled up to his feet, poised on his toes, fight or flight, aware that he was skittish and looking it.

"Know what you're like?" Sinclaire said, coming to a halt in the patch of shade, "Like a horse I had once. Colt with real temper. The harder you rode him, the harder he bucked. More he liked it. That you, sweets? They reckon you like it hard." He winked. "So do I. Could ride you so hard you'd remember for a week." He chuckled richly. "Every time you sat down."

His cheeks burning, Doyle drew his expression tight. "No, I don't 'like it hard.' There's something wrong with Bodie, he's not like that, usually."

"News to me," Sinclaire observed, coming closer. "I knew him in '71, he was a hard boy then. Had more lovers in one year than you could count on your calculator. Used to wear 'em out." He extended one hand, finding Doyle's backside. "He wear you out? Hope you're not worn away yet, sweets. 'Cause I want some."

"Take your sodding hands off me!" Doyle snarled, knocking the hand away and moving himself. "I'm not interested, got it? Read my lips: stay away from me! I won't say it again!"

The American blinked. "Hey, you do have a temper, don't you! Ah, you're wasted on Bodie. Tell you what, sweet thing, I'll roll right over Bodie and then come for you. How's that?"

"You're welcome to try it," Doyle said bitterly. "The mood Bodie's in right now he'll carve you up for pork chops. Same way he managed Huff. He's out of his head, Sinclaire."

"Bodie was always out of his head," Sinclaire snorted. "We'll get around to him later, though. For now, it's you and me. Now come here and stop being a little shit. What's the matter with you anyway?" He had his hands on Doyle's shoulders before the smaller man could react, and the blow in the midriff caught him hard. He doubled up about it, only barely diving out of the way of the knee that was intended for his jaw. As he went down he caught Doyle's ankle and they both sprawled full length.

The bigger man's weight knocked the breath out of Doyle and for one split second he felt smothered; but his hands were free and he used them both, cupping them and hammering on the sides of his head, boxing his ears hard enough to concuss him. Sinclaire yelled in outrage and rolled aside, and Doyle was up on his knees again, aiming a side-handed chop at his throat; if it had landed the blow might have killed him, but Sinclaire got a forearm block under it, and Ray found his wrist seized in a vise-grip that threatened to break it. He wrenched at the imprisoning hand just once and a flare of pain chased up his arm; then he abandoned that struggle and used his knee, aiming a blow at Sinclaire's groin. It landed, but not as firmly as he had intended. Just enough to slacken the grip on his wrist.

He writhed loose and rolled away, making it to his feet before he saw the punch coming for his own middle; he folded up about it, stomach muscles tensing up like a steel wall just in time, and rode it out, his own fist lashing out like a striking snake, taking the American right under the heart. A smaller man would have gone down in a heap, but Sinclaire merely cursed and went to his knees. Ray's breath was shortening now, but the fury blazed brilliantly in him. He cracked his right fist full into Sinclaire's face, felt teeth rip his knuckles, and the American was pitching sideways, grabbing for him as he went down.

They rolled together, grappling; it was a deadly game, Ray knew: one so big as the American could break him in two, and he fought like a wildcat, every dirty move he knew. A hand closed over his groin, squeezing his balls into a knot of agony, and he stifled a yelp, replying the only way he knew how to get immediate results. It was a backstreet fighter's trick, and a nasty one. He took Sinclaire's left ear in his right hand, tightly, digging his fingers in as the pain from his groin began to blind him, and then he hammered his left hand on top of his right. It was nothing short of amazing that Sinclaire's ear did not tear right off; as it was, blood fanned over his hand and the grip on his genitals was gone at once. An open handed blow landed across the side of his head, he felt his own teeth rip into his mouth, and then there was freedom.

Doyle gasped in a breath, scrambling to his feet and peering at the American. Sinclaire was on his knees, clutching at the side of his head, and Doyle swung the final blow to put him away. It was a hammer blow with the side of his clenched fist, on the square inch right behind the bigger man's right ear, and there was enough strength and fury in him to render it almost lethal. A few pounds more in the impact, and Sinclaire would have been dead. He went down hard, face down in the dust, and stayed where he was, not a muscle twitching.

Pain lanced through Doyle's abdomen and he sagged back against the tree, one hand massaging between his legs while he whooped for air. Damn Bodie! What gave him the impression that he was in charge in this place, that he was king of this midden, that the order of everything was in the palm of his hand? Damn him!

Slowly, the agony eased away to a deep, dull throb, and Doyle found he could straighten, walk. He skirted the encampment, going down the rear of the rank of tents and crawling into Bodie's. The smell of sex was still noticeable in there, and he acknowledged the wave of bitterness that swept over him as he remembered the love there had been between them. He took off his clothes, going over his body a bone and joint at a time, searching out the pulls and strains.

There was a spreading bruise at his middle; his wrist felt sprained; his right knuckles were split and bleeding, and there was a trickle of blood from his nose and mouth. His genitals felt hot and sore, but there was not real damage. He lay down on his side, drawing his knees up about the aches, and closed his eyes; his head was buzzing as if a hive of hornets was nesting in it, and his sinuses were bleeding and blocked. He drew a careful breath and felt a bruised rib give a outraged twinge.

He did not expect to sleep, but he did, curled up in the tartan rugs that were so familiar, the same colour and texture to the ones he had at home, so comfortable that he felt a great wave of homesickness, and cursed himself for the softness. There was no room for that in this place.

The tent was sweltering with the midday heat and Bodie was still damp from a quick shower as he ducked inside. His head hurt; he knew vaguely that he had been out in the limbo for an hour, that he had thrashed through it alone, but for Ray's sudden appearance and disappearance... Had he kissed him? There was a memory of it, holding him in the sunlight, feeling the softness of his buttocks in both hands, tasting that mouth. Then Ray had gone again, without a word, and all Bodie remembered was the surge of anger as Doyle tried to tell him that the loonies, Sinclaire and Hunter, were taking no notice to him. That was absurd, he was sure, even now.

He had wondered where Doyle had gone - where could you go in a camp this size? - and was surprised to see him asleep. It was only as he drew closer that the surprise became shock. There was a large, blue bruise on the left side of his face, and blood had run from his mouth, soaking into the pillow under his cheek. He was curled up into a tight little ball, like a hibernating dormouse. Or like someone who was hurt. Bodie's mouth dried. "Christ, did I -?" He went down to one knee, his hand light on Doyle's shoulder, stirring him. "Ray? Ray? Love, wake up, what's wrong?"

The voice permeated the fog in which Ray's brain was enshrouded and he swam up to consciousness; his head was pounding and there was a foul taste in his mouth. Old blood. He pried his eyes open, grateful for the dimness inside the tent, and peered up at Bodie's worried face. As he saw the expression of concern he heaved a groan of relief. Thank Christ, he was Bodie again. He stretched out his right hand, caressing Bodie's cheek, then found his fingers taken in his lover's strong grasp. He yelped as his strained wrist was turned about. "Ouch, be careful, it's half sprained."

And the knuckles were split. "You've been fighting," Bodie said, an unnecessary observation, made blankly. "Christ, Ray, why? Who?"

"Sinclaire." Doyle rolled onto his back. "Told you. Tried to tell you, at least. They didn't give much of a cuss about what you had to say. They told me they wanted me, the pair of 'em, then, when you..." He let it go. There was no point in saying it. "Doesn't matter, Bodie. I put Sinclaire away. His bells'll be ringing for a week."

As Ray turned onto his back Bodie saw the bruises about his ribs. "It must've been quite a fight."

"Yeah." Ray smiled, felt the torn interior of his mouth stretch and break again. New blood.

"He hurt you?" Bodie murmured. "Where are you hurting?"

Doyle felt out his hurts and sighed. "Oh, wrist, ribs, jaw. And he got a fistful of me where it hurts most. Just about ruined my holiday prospects there." He held his breath as Bodie peeled the tartan rug away and put gentle hands to work, assessing the situation. "Bruised?"

"A bit. Not as bad as you might have thought," Bodie whispered. "Here, let me help, I can see what's wrong. Sit up, love." As Doyle sat, Bodie moved behind him, slipped both hands under his arms and lifted him slightly. Standard first aid for a solid kick in the balls, Doyle thought ruefully, well known to any bloke who went to Karate class. There was a sharp pain as his right testicle extended, and then just a dull throb that would fade away with time. Bodie let him back down to the rugs and reached for a box of Kleenex. "Better?" he asked, licking the tissue and swabbing the dried blood from his lover's cheek.

"Better," Ray sighed, cupping a hand over his groin and pressing gently to ease the throb there. "I tried to tell you."

Bodie's voice was almost soundless. "I know you did. I... Just wasn't listening. Christ, Ray, I'm sorry." He forced a smile. "I seem to be saying that at every verse end. Did I... Did I kiss you out there?"

"Yeah," Doyle nodded. "It's okay, Bodie, I understand." He shrugged, "It wasn't you. Doesn't matter."

"Was like kissing a stranger," Bodie guessed. "And I hurt you. So you walked away and ended up fighting." His fists clenched, knuckles bone white. "You stick to me from now on, you hear? Hunter might take me on, he might not, I don't know, and I'm not having him coming after you instead. You've done your bit, Ray, time to call it quits."

"You're telling me," Doyle murmured. "I'll be happier when we're out of here, Bodie."

"Yeah, so will I. Van Hise had an R/T message from Perrault a few minutes ago - he's on his way in. Should be in camp this afternoon. You feel up to eating lunch?"

Doyle shook his head. "Feel a bit sick, if you must know. Got a belt in the middle, and it's so goddamned hot. Headache too."

"Stay put, and I'll see what Butcher Morgan's got." Bodie stooped and kissed Doyle's mouth very gently, pushing him down onto the rugs again. He tasted blood in the kiss and his insides wrenched with guilt and regret. Van Hise called him mad, and he was starting to believe it. There was anger at the unwanted 'illness,' the longing to have it finished with. It all went back to that night in Hammersmith; it all ended on Odinspeak, down the Helway, and the sooner they were on the road and going the better he would like it. He brushed Ray's lips with another, even softer kiss, and got to his feet. "Aspirin or something, pet. Won't be a tick."

He was gone with that, and Doyle stared after him, bewildered and confused. There was a breathtaking gentleness about him when he was himself, as if he was trying to make up for the - schizophrenia? Could an adverse reaction to a narcotic cocktail cause split personalities? It was on the cards, and it went a long way toward explaining Bodie's predicament -

In which case, confronting the man called Thorkill on the mountain on the other side of Rohan was not the answer to Bodie's problem. Medical care was the answer - if there was an answer. Doyle closed his eyes, acknowledging the sickness of dread. Christ, it couldn't always be like this, could it? The prospect of being with Bodie through years and years of being alternately coddled and beaten was more than he could face. He was not even prepared to entertain the idea, and had shut it out of his mind by the time his lover was back. The throb in his groin was diminishing now, and the world looked better.

Bodie had brought Disprins, three of them, in the silver and blue foil, and a cup of hot, strong tea. Though Ray was pouring with perspiration the tea was welcome, and he drank it slowly, grateful for the arms that held him, the fingers that stroked his neck and chest. "Sin's got thirteen stitches in his ear," Bodie murmured, "and concussion. What did you hit him with, a brick?"

"This," Doyle told him, raising his right fist. "I told you, I'm a big lad, I can look out for myself."

"If there's one," Bodie agreed. "Maybe even two, if you get a really good hit in first. Three? Four? Oh, Ray." He tightened his arms. "When I think what could happen to you. I've seen it, you know. Years ago. They choose a boy, cut him out of the pack..." Doyle felt the shudder that ran through Bodie and cuddled closer. "Anyway, we'll be out of here about ten minutes after Perrault gets in, so you don't have to worry. I've got a shotgun, an FN and a couple of sidearms in the car, and half a ton of ammo, so we're well armed."

"How far is it?" Doyle asked. "To the mountain?"

"Depends on the weather when we get up around Whitehorse," Bodie said thoughtfully. "We'll make good time on the Helway till then, but after that it's dogs, or wait for a chopper. And these days pilots won't fly out over Rohan. Too dangerous. SAM missiles will make a mess of a Jet Ranger, and they wouldn't do a Huey much good either. I wanted to hire Van Hise's pilot, Mick Bell, but he wasn't having anything to do with it, and I can't say I blame him. Finished your tea, pet? You come and have a shower. There isn't much water left, but you can use the lot. It'll rain again soon, so they can't complain."

This time Bodie sat on the ant-eaten log beside the running water, and although Doyle stripped naked and stood under the water for a long time nobody even looked his way. Except Bodie, and he just made appreciative murmurs and told Ray he was beautiful until Doyle muttered at him to stop being silly. "Not being silly," Bodie said with a disarming grin. "Just making observations of the truth... Hello, here's Frenchie." He got to his feet, picking up a large, coarse towel, and patted at Ray's damp skin. "Get dressed, pet, and go'n pack our stuff while I get the map. Just roll everything up the way it is, we'll sort it out on the road."

"Okay," Doyle said, reaching for the white leathers. "You're keen to get out of here, aren't you?" He smiled. "Keener than I was, before!"

Bodie flashed him a smile. "You're not wrong." Then he caught Doyle's damp head, leaned forward and kissed him, long and gently. Ray knew that Johnno, the pilot, Bell, and probably Hunter, were watching from a distance away, and he pressed close, hoping Bodie would embrace him, and was not disappointed. This was his Bodie, and as much as it embarrassed him to be hugged and kissed in public, he wanted the hardcases to see it, to see that they were wrong, about Bodie, and about Ray Doyle himself. Bodie's whore? Bodie's lover, take it or leave it, he thought. Time to start getting used to this, because one day everything would be right again, and they could make a start on the rest of their lives.

When Bodie let him go at last he smiled, the blue eyes dancing as he guessed that Ray had been staging a performance. "Little devil," he accused fondly, and swatted the shapely little rear in the white leathers. "You go'n pack our stuff while I get the map, and we'll push off right now."

"You're on," Doyle grinned, and winked. He watched Bodie walk in the direction of a big Range Rover. There were bull bars on the front of it and jerry cans lashed down on the back, and a big dog sitting inside. It was a half bred St. Bernard, Ray saw, tongue lolling out, obviously suffering in the heat. A sled dog, designed by nature for working in the cold. Something stirred in his memory and he strained after it, almost but not quite making a connection he knew, unconsciously, was important. Perrault's dog stayed in the vehicle as the man himself came forward to meet Bodie. He was small, weather beaten, with a face the colour and texture of a pickled walnut, creased in a smile, and he wore the same kind of leathers Doyle himself had on, although older, stained with age and use, where Ray's were still like new. Bodie grasped the Frenchman's wrist, some kind of tribal grip, and then they were slapping each other's backs; Ray got moving, heading for the tent and the job of packing.

He rolled the tartan rugs, with their spare clothes inside of them, and tied them up with octopus straps; odd - those were the straps Bodie used to tie luggage down on his bike. Red and black, frayed at one end. Odd, that he should have brought them here. He stuffed the toiletries and shaving tackle into the British Airways bag, and found a haversack in the back of the tent into which everything else went.

He had buckled the haversack up when the oddity struck him, and he was frowning as Bodie appeared, moments later. "What's wrong, Ray?" Looks like you're stuck on the last clue of the Times crossword."

"The bag, Bodie. The haversack."

"Yeah, what about it?"

"It's... Bodie it's the same one you lost in Wales last year. You lost it on the train - somebody pinched it. I'd know it anywhere because of the tear in that corner. I did that with a piton."

"So?" Bodie shrugged. "I must have got it back."

"Bodie, don't you remember?" Doyle's frown deepened. "You don't seem to remember how you got our car over here either. You bring things like your new Dolphin lamp, and your octopus straps. And I could swear those are my tartan rugs -"

"Ray," Bodie said, coaxing, as if talking to a child. "It doesn't matter, does it? All that crap they shot into me probably did all sorts of damage. I expect I'll remember in time. If not, they're only little things, it's of no consequence."

"I suppose." Doyle sighed and stooped to pick up the roll of rugs and clothes, slinging it over his left shoulder. "You got the map?"

"Yup. Perrault's a good bloke, great at his job. D'you see that dog of his? That's the lead dog from his team. He'll sell the rest, but not that one, he's worth a fortune. Heart like a lion. He's going to meet up with us in Whitehorse. We'll beat him there, but he'll make it after he's done a job for Van Hise, and he'll buy the dogs for us. Don't know about you, but it's years since I ran a dog team."

"You've run a team before?" Doyle was honestly surprised. "When?"

"Oh, years before I met you. Before Thorkill's riders made a muck of things in Rohan. There's a race, you know - 'round the mountain' for all comers, takes about two days." He stirred, patting the packet in which the map was folded. "We'll make Whitehorse in three or four days - no sense pushing it, because Perrault won't get there before then. After that, well, given the weather it'll be three of four days more before we see the fortress." He dropped a kiss on Ray's nose. "Time to hit the road, mate."

It felt good to be moving; Doyle found that he could banish the unease better when they were doing. It felt weird but fine to slide back into the left side of the Capri and watch Bodie start it, swing it onto the dirt road and head for the feeder trail that would deliver them to the highway. They skirted the chopper pad on the way out; Van Hise was there, and waved, shouting something about Sinclaire that was plainly hilarious, through the gist of it was lost as the breeze tossed the words away.

Then the camp was behind them and for the first time Doyle began to relax. The windows were rolled down and the hot wind blew his hair into a tangle. Bodie glanced sidelong at him and smiled. "Sunglasses in the glove box, if you want 'em."

"Oh, ta. It is a bit bright." Doyle popped the glove box open and muttered in surprise. "Hey, these are mine."

"Must've left 'em in the car last time you used 'em," Bodie said, preoccupied, his eyes raking the uneven surface ahead as he tried to pick a line through the potholes that would not damage the car. The Capri was not designed for this kind of country. "Look there, up ahead. That's the Helway. We'll make good time now."

Doyle slid the sunglasses onto his nose and, with better vision afforded by the green lenses, could make out the shimmering surface of a sealed road. Tarmac cut a black swathe through the grassland, and he saw that the road led west. As Bodie swung up onto it the familiar rush of tyre noise began, and up ahead Ray saw the mountains. One of them was Odinspeak.

"Why do they call this the 'Helway?'" He asked, honestly curious. "I was looking through that book of yours, Hammer of the North, when I was at your flat, after you disappeared, and I saw that name in there. It's a Viking word."

"S'right," Bodie nodded. "The Helway is the road that leads to Hel. Simple as that. H - E - L, that is. The Viking afterworld, for those souls that don't make it to Valhallah. Mythology aside, Hel in this part of the world is a festering maze of swamp and jungle. Terrible place. The Helway leads there, through the mountain passes, but nobody in his right mind would want to go there. You'd have to go there, not want to."

"You've been there," Doyle guessed.

Again, Bodie nodded. "Yeah. It's a place where terrible things happen. The riders who work for Thorkill are from the swamp lands. People you just don't want to meet, Ray. Murder, rape, bondage, it's all the same to them. A good friend of mine was captured; we got him back eventually, but he was out of his mind. He'd been pit fighting - fighting for the crowd, you know? Victor gets to screw the vanquished for an encore. It's... not nice. They love a fighter, though, I'll say that for them. Often as not, if you fight like a tiger and go down hard, and take your screwing without complaining, they'll give you your life." He shrugged. "Some gift, right? Mark Tessier came out of there raving."

"Tessier?" Doyle echoed. "I remember you mentioning a David Tessier - your lover, if I've got it right."

"Yup. They were brothers. Demolition men, not bad in a scrap. We were fighting up on the border, the riders came in and cut us to bits. They left me for dead, or I'd have gone the same way as Mark." He glanced at Doyle, seeing the taut-drawn expression. "Just sick close to me, I know this place. We'll go as far as the village today, be there by dusk if we don't run into any problems. Then we'll push ahead tomorrow. There's no tearing hurry, as Perrault won't be at Whitehorse before the 25th, earliest. Van Hise has got him scouting for those Armalites from the convoy that was knocked over." He paused, putting a hand on Doyle's thigh and squeezing the long muscle there. "Put your head back and rest. Catch forty winks."

Doyle smiled. "Thanks, I will."

The tyre noise and the heat were enough to lull anyone to sleep, and Doyle was still aching and a little stunned for the morning's hand-to-hand. He slipped into and out of sleep as the afternoon wore on, at one point aware that Bodie was whistling tunelessly, which meant that he was happy, and at another aware that he was tense as piano wires, the look on his face murderous. It was happening again, and this time Ray chose to do and say nothing. He lay back in the seat, watching his partner and counting the minutes, wondering how long the episodes lasted. He was out in that limbo of his for the better part of an hour, and when it began to lift he pulled the car in at the side of the road to rub his head.

"I've been watching you," Ray murmured. "It's over now, and you've got a headache, haven't you?"

"Same thing every time," Bodie affirmed. "You want to drive for a bit, Ray? I don't feel all that well."

"Sure. Why don't we get a beer out of the back? I saw you put a box of tins in there." He brought two tins of beer, and slid in behind the wheel as Bodie orbited the car and got in on the left side, and they sat in silence to drink the warm, frothy liquid, throwing the empties into the back. "Bodie," Ray murmured at length, as he pulled out onto the road, "I'm worried about you. You ought to see a doctor, a good doctor."

"Seen one," Bodie muttered. "On the Cape. An old GP I knew years ago, Flynn. There's nothing wrong with me that a hospital could put right... I ought to see a witch doctor, maybe!"

"Don't joke about it," Ray pleaded, "it's too damned serious! Look, there ought to be a doctor in this village we're headed for."

"There is," Bodie nodded. "A decent one, but it's not me I'm thinking about, it's you."

"Me?" Doyle shot a glance at him. "What would I need a doctor for?"

"Well, maybe you won't. Probably you won't. But I told you we'd wait, just in case. Nice bed, bathroom, a quack if you need one." He smiled at the colour that flushed up in Ray's face. "Hey, you want it, don't you? If you don't -"

"I do," Doyle said quietly. "For us. I don't want you to be able to say I'm holding back on you, on anything. Even that."

Bodie frowned at him. "I wouldn't hold it against you. I wouldn't force you. Unless... Jesus, unless I was out of my head, and then..."

Heart fluttering too fast, Ray said, "look, I'm trying to be logical about this. The first time's the hard time, right?" At Bodie's nod he went on, "then, the first time has to be careful and gentle. After that, well, it'll be harder for you to hurt me, easier for you to - Christ - easier for you to fuck me. Less chance of you doing any damage. After the first couple of times, even if you did play rough, I wouldn't get hurt. Would I?"

"You could," Bodie mused, "but I'll grant you, you wouldn't get hurt as badly as a virgin... I don't like it, Ray. The thought of hurting you makes me want to throw up."

Doyle forced a smile. "Well, if you keep that in mind we won't go far wrong. Look, relax. I'm a big lad - if I put Sinclaire down, I can look after myself, I've proved that. I can tell from yards away when you're coming down with whatever it is. I'll just stay out of your way when it happens, and then..." He shrugged. "We'll sort it out. One way or the other, Bodie, we'll sort it out."

The optimism in the words was like balm on a sore, but Bodie was left doubtful. He did not speak again for a long time, until he was watching for the village to come up out of the distance. It was raining heavily, a torrent that sluiced across the road, and the wipers were having a hard time clearing the windscreen. Doyle had cut speed, picking his way through the downpour with as much care as he would have taken in a rain storm in London. Up ahead, a dayglo road sign appeared, and Bodie pointed it out.

"Coming up on the village."

The sign read 'Sutton Westcliff;' at the sight of it Doyle's brow furrowed in a frown. "Sutton - I don't get it. That's in England!"

"So British settlers called a village out here by the same name," Bodie shrugged. "It's common enough. There's lots of places with quaint, foreign names over here."

"But you took your holidays in Sutton Westcliff last year," Doyle said, braking down as they approached the village. "Nice little place, with a hotel and everything."

"Speaking of hotels, there's an inn on your right," Bodie said, pointing it out. "Pull in right there."

The rain eased away to a drizzle and then cleared completely as Ray wheeled the car in beside a building that could have been off the lid of a box of chocolates. Seventeenth Century England, he thought, and found it hard to understand why anyone in his right mind would want to build such a structure in the middle of Africa. Tourist trap? It had to be. He grunted in disgust as he turned off the motor, and they got out, locking the car. The tavern's sign was creaking over the door in the breeze and he looked up at it as Bodie led the way inside: The Prancing Pony.

There was something nigglingly familiar about it, and his frown grew deeper. They were the only patrons, he saw, but it was still early evening as yet: the serious drinkers would be arriving in an hour's time, as the sun set over the grassland. Doyle pocketed the sunglasses and stepped into the dimness of the tavern, a yard behind Bodie.

The taverner was round, flushed, smiling, and he introduced himself with a theatrical flourish. "Barliman Butterbur, at your service, gents."

English, Ray observed. Weren't there any African nationals in this place at all? Bodie didn't seem to notice; he was busy ordering ale and food, and ten minutes later they were seated in a corner of the dining room with plates of bread, cheese, mutton, and deep tankards, and Doyle was looking out through the quaint leaded windows at the village with the odd name of Sutton Westcliff. It was a nice settlement, very English, very familiar, and it made him feel the twinges of homesickness again. He ate without a word, watching the world grow dim with twilight, and as the tavern's regular customers began to file in and front up to the bar he noticed Bodie's eyes on him.

"Got us a room upstairs," Bodie said softly, jingling the keys. "Ray?"

It was not an invitation to rest. Ray swallowed, nodding. Bodie had his British Airways bag in his left hand as he slid out from behind the table, and he shepherded Doyle toward the crooked, narrow stairs. Ray went up the staircase first, feeling Bodie's hand caressing the tight, white leathers he wore with a shiver of anticipation. Here, it was safe. They were strangers, they would be left alone, there was a doctor up the street, and a bath. He held his breath as Bodie unlocked the door and shooed him inside, but as the light went on he muttered in amazement.

"Bodie, this place is - you had a flat, two, three years ago, that was laid out the same as this. Same floor plan, same decorations!"

"Interior designers get around," Bodie agreed. "S'nice, innit? The bathroom's through there."

And the tiles behind the bath and in the shower alcove were identical to the ones in Bodie's old flat. Doyle bit back words of protest at the impossibility of such of such coincidence, preferring not to incite his partner to anger. Bodie was too unstable as it was; pushing him was foolish. But then he saw the towels hanging at the rail, and grunted in disquiet. They were pale blue, with yachts worked in green and yellow. They were his towels, bought at Marks and Spencer's last year.

There was something wrong, something very wrong, but what it was he could not begin to imagine. He stood in the bathroom, numb and almost afraid to look further, until Bodie's voice called him, sweet and husky.

"Ray? Sweetheart? Come on, pet, it's a nice room, isn't it? That's all that matters."

Doyle swallowed hard. "Yeah, I guess that's all that matters. For now." He left the bathroom and saw that Bodie was sitting on the foot of the bed. His face was gentle and open, not a trace of anything hard or angry, and there was a hunger in his eyes that Doyle had rarely seen before. God, how Bodie wanted this, he saw, and heaved a sigh. Who could tell? Maybe the answer to Bodie's problem was in loving. The more he was loved, the better he would be? Maybe there was a way to heal him; maybe the healing was in Doyle's own hands. Maybe.

He moved slowly to the bed and lay down, one hand on Bodie's back, stroking, and when Bodie turned toward him and lay heavily on him he felt the kick of arousal at once. Bodie had only to touch him to bring his blood up to the boil now. He closed his eyes as the soft leathers were removed, feeling the coolness of the evening air, savouring the feathery kisses that fell everywhere on his chest. There was suckling at his nipples until he writhed, panting, and a hand between his legs, stroking and squeezing, and vaguely he remembered the dream he had had, that morning at the hospital... It seemed a thousand years ago now, and he put it from his mind, trying to engross himself in Bodie, give himself up totally to this act.

Bodie's mouth was hot on his, and the kiss was deep, soft, breathless. When he lifted his head, the blue eyes were dark with dilated pupils, and there was still a question in them. "Ray?" He was asking, and Ray knew that if he wanted to back out even now, Bodie would let him. But would Bodie let him say no tomorrow night? Or the night after? There was only one way, he knew; if he didn't want to leave Bodie and run, right now, there was only one thing he could do.

Ray turned over on the chocolate brown quilt and bent his knees, a smile on his lips. "Go on, Bodie. I won't bite you."

He saw Bodie's throat twitch as he swallowed, the blue eyes going down to rest on the parting of his buttocks, and then there were kisses on his back and legs, and caresses sweeping up into the center of him, teasing there, pressing. He bit his lip and closed his eyes, trying to evaluate what he was feeling clinically. Bodie was stroking behind his balls, where the tracery of nerves and ducts and glands was exquisitely sensitive, and every touch was like a thread of lightning through his groin. It felt so good; few girls had ever though to touch him there, and he guessed that if he was stroked on the inside in this area it would be even better.

He was not wrong. Bodie took his hands away for just a moment, and when they returned he felt an oily slickness rimming his anus, then pressure, and suddenly there was a finger inside of him, stroking in a way that took his breath and sent his heart rate through the ceiling. The finger twisted, withdrew, and then there were two fingers in him, and the pressure was almost enough to arrest his breathing. But breathing was of secondary importance; the shivers of delight that coursed through him as, slick and tingling, he began to open freely, were beyond anything he had imagined he could feel. Trust Bodie to know!

Bodie stroked him this way for some time, sliding his fingers in as far as he could, trying to get him used to the sensation of fullness before he removed them, checking that he was oily enough. Ray moaned inarticulately as the fingers were removed, and that wonderful little rump lifted in search of more. Bodie swallowed. He was ready for it now, asking for it. He lay down, the length of Doyle's fluid spine, kissing the nape of his neck, and murmured, "okay, Ray?" Beyond words, Doyle just moaned and tried to lift his hips. Bodie helped, taking him by the sharp pelvic bones and coaxing him up to his knees, pushing his legs wider to make it easier, and then knelt between his thighs, pausing to get his breath back and look down at the beautiful, the tawny body that was spreadeagled before him in surrender. Doyle's trust in him choked him up, and the wave of tenderness gave him back the control he needed to do this properly.

The pressure was back again, snub and hard, and Doyle held his breath, waiting. There was a stretching rather than soreness, because he was so oily, and he felt himself opened wide. To his surprise, his body did stretch out, and for a while the fullness was similar to the sensation of Bodie's fingers inside him. Then it was more, deeper, hotter, than anything he had ever known, and he cried out, less in anguish than amazement. There was pain, but nothing like the hurting he had imagined, and Bodie did not stop, pushing in slowly and firmly until the pain and fullness seemed to peak, and then the pain dwindled, leaving behind it just the incredible sensation of being filled with a shaft as hard as steel and as hot as hell. It did not hurt; far from it; he was hard pressed to breathe but his nerves were alive from head to foot, even his scalp was tingling, and he wished to God that Bodie would move. He tried to ask, tried to tell him to do something, to make it more, but all that left his throat was a whimper, and then Bodie's voice purred into his ear.

"Ray? Okay, love?"

There was Bodie's weight and heat all down his back, and Doyle couldn't have moved an inch in any direction if he'd wanted to. He nodded against the pillow, eyes open and blind, and his breath was short, panting. There was a helpless feeling too: at that moment his surrender was complete. He was an absolute prisoner, pain was no more than a whisker away, yet he was riding the knife edge of delight beyond bearing. Bodie stayed still long enough for both of them to get back control, and then Ray moaned as he felt the movement he had been waiting for, wanting.

Bodie moved with the greatest of care, lifting his lips and sliding down again; beneath him, Ray sucked in a breath and a huge shudder ran the length of his nervous system as his face twisted, but Bodie knew that he was flying, for he reached up with his hips, trying to take his weight on his knees, to find a rhythm. Bodie slipped his right hand around and under him, wiggling his fingers into the warmth of his groin in search of his cock. It was big and throbbing in his fist, slick with the stickiness of pre-ejaculate, a measure of how excited Doyle was, and Ray mewled like a kitten as Bodie's fingers squeezed and relaxed and began to rub.

A moment later, it was Bodie who moaned aloud; Doyle's muscles clenched about him, the powerful anal muscles pulling him deeper as if trying to drag orgasm from him by sheer force, and suddenly the urgency was on him and he could hold back no longer. He set up the rhythm, too quick and hard to last long, and Ray heaved gently under him, matching him, fingers clenching into the bedding as he got close.

A long, thin, high cry passed Ray's lips as he came, a wild sound, like nothing Bodie had ever heard before. Certainly no girl had ever howled like that, nor fought to please him until she was drenched in perspiration and like a limp rag. Ray had given it his all, and Bodie loved him for it. As he came, the anal muscles spasmed tightly about Bodie's demanding cock, and he let go too. Doyle cried out again as he felt the long streams of fire reaching into him, but by then his whole body was like rubber and he lay still under Bodie, sobbing quietly and aware that he was trembling.

Bodie recovered first, withdrawing easily, slick with his own essences and the oil, and Ray's limp body was turned over and picked up, cradled against Bodie's damp chest. He held on tight, his mind swimming, searching vainly for orientation. There was a warm trickle from between his legs but not for a moment did he think that there might be blood. His body was shaking, but not in pain. 'Joy' seemed an understatement, but he couldn't find his voice to allay Bodie's worries as he began to murmur into the damp curls.

"Ray? Sweetheart? I was careful, I didn't hurt you, did I? Christ, you're shaking. Love, if it hurt, you should have said!"

At last Doyle found his voice. "Didn't hurt, Bodie. Was fantastic. Should've told me it was like this. Should've told me how I'd feel."

"Oh?" Bodie breathed a sigh of relief. "And how did you feel?"

"Thought I was going to die of it," Ray murmured, weary to the bone. "Felt like I was part of you, so bloody lovely. So full, so hot." He gasped in a breath. "Will it be like that every time now? I won't hurt at all now, will I?"

Bodie slipped one hand between his lover's legs and probed with a gentle finger, meeting a trickle of his own essences. He smiled into the sweat damp curls. "Congratulations, love. You're not a virgin any more... Not so tight. Tight enough, though. Ah, God, I love you." he added as Doyle shivered at the intimate little examination. He could feel Ray getting heavier in his arms, limp, sated; he would be asleep soon. He lay him down flat and gathered him into his side, wanting his mouth and murmuring in delight as Doyle opened to him like a flower at once. Trust was absolute between them now, and Bodie felt better than he had felt in so long. Whole, happy, complete.

And all because of the sated, skinny, beautiful little bugger in his arms. It seemed absurd, but then, love is absurd. "Sleep, pet," he said softly. Catch forty winks, then we'll get you cleaned up."

"It's seeping out everywhere," Doyle chuckled, wriggling. "Ouch!"

"Sore?" Bodie guessed.

"Yeah. Not too bad, though. Thought I was going to be absolutely raw, but it's just smarting a bit."

"I've got some ointment," Bodie promised. "Sleep now, we'll get you sorted out later."

Doyle yawned expressively, cuddling closer, head on Bodie's chest. "Love you," he said, slurred, almost asleep already.

Bodie held him for half an hour, and when he began to stir he reached for the phone, calling room service for a bottle of wine; while they waited for it to arrive he padded into the bathroom, returning with one of the dreadfully familiar towels, and wrapped his love up in it. Doyle accepted the coddling with a grin; he could hear the bath running, and he was soaking in it when the wine arrived. The tub was big, deep, and Bodie slid in beside him, handing him a cut crystal glass, touching the rim of his own glass to it with a ringing 'chink.'

"Us," he toasted. "We're going to be okay. I know we are."

But Doyle was not so sure. He was sitting in Bodie's old bathroom, for a start, his own towels hanging on the rail, and the CI5 motor pool's silver Capri was parked outside in an English village that stood in the African bush under a range of mountains that he knew did not exist. It was useless questioning Bodie about it - and unwise to try. He sighed heavily, set to do the only thing he could. Wait and see. They finished the wine while the bath water grew tepid, and then Bodie insisted on patting him dry; he went for the British Airways overnight bag, producing a half crushed tube of Savlon cream, and Ray bit back a giggle as tickling fingers applied it where it was required.

"There you go. Doctor Bodie cures all ills." Bodie wiped his fingers on a corner of the towel and caught Ray's face in both hands, kissing him long and deeply. "Now I want to sleep in a real double bed with you. Been dreaming about this for ages, Ray."

"Have you?" Doyle wrinkled his nose, an affectionate expression. "Why ever did you wait so long? Looking back on it, I think we could have been together like this years ago. When Marikka was shot. When Ann left. When Cookie was killed. When I got shot, maybe even as long ago as the time you got knifed." He smiled, thinking back. "We're slow on the uptake, aren't we?"

"Couple of snails with sleeping sickness," Bodie agreed cheerfully, shepherding him back to the bed and folding the covers back. "Hop in, then, I'll get the lights."

Lying there in an embrace in the darkness was wonderful; it was for this that Ray hoped. The senseless passion, the brain-pulping arousal, was beyond anything he had ever imagined he would feel, but this meant more, in the long run. Hazily, he imagined that the novelty would wear off the passion in a few years, five, ten, but this could last forever. It was like being cocooned in safety.

It was an illusion, though; at two in the morning, that thought was driven home brutally. He woke as Bodie slid out of bed; for a moment he assumed his lover was on a pilgrimage to the bathroom, but Bodie pulled on his clothes and left. Downstairs, there were the muted sounds of revelry - drinking, gambling, dancing. And Bodie was obviously on his way to join it. Wide awake before the door closed, Doyle rolled over onto the warm place where Bodie had been lying, staring at the ceiling, trying to convince himself that his Bodie was still with him, that it was the other one, the stranger, who had walked through the door and left him on what was, in all practical terms, his wedding night. Bodie's leaving was better than staying and getting rough - perhaps something in Bodie's subconscious had made him get up and go before he could jump his track again. If so, that boded well for the future. It meant that some part of his mind remained sane even in the midst of the chaos of anger.

He rubbed his face hard, forcing his mind to work properly. There was a key to the confusion, and it was staring him in the face. Mentally, he arranged it all on a puzzle board, connecting this and that name or place with threads of meaning... Africa, the mercs, Van Hise, all that was central to who Bodie was. Right. But Sutton Westcliff was a recent scene, and then there was the car, and the little things like the Dolphin lamp, the tartan rugs, the octopus straps, Bodie's lost haversack. And this suite, in a Seventeenth Century hotel. Bodie's old flat, to the last tile, and his own towels, with the yachts -

Damn! Doyle had never believed much in coincidence, and he was not about to start now. They were on a road called the Helway, which was a Viking term, heading for a place called Odinspeak. He had read things similar to this a book, at Bodie's, only days before - Hammer Of The North. It made no sense; nothing had made sense since the riders of Rohan had -

And then it came to him in a flash of insight and he was sweating from every pore, sitting up in Bodie's own bed, and wanting to weep.

Rohan wasn't a real place. Like the Helway, it was out of a book. It was out of the Lord Of The Rings! The riders, too. He searched his memory and groaned... The Prancing Pony was an inn out of the same book; and the innkeeper, Barliman Butterbur. "Jesus," he murmured, "what's happening?" He drew both hands across his face, forcing himself to go on. Maybe if he saw Perrault's map he would have a better grasp of... Another piece of the jigsaw went into place. Perrault, the French dog sled man, with his prize lead dog, the big half bred St. Bernard. And they were heading for a place called Whitehorse. Bits and pieces from The Call Of The Wild, jumbled in among Lord Of The Rings, and Bodie's old memories, and his new ones: Ray's tartan rugs and towels, his new lamp, the car, the village where he'd taken a nice holiday, a merc encampment where he had spent a ridiculous amount of his young life. Old mates, old enemies. Books he was reading.

Fear raked its claws over Doyle and he hugged himself, shivering though the room was warm. He looked about at the darkened walls. "It's not real," he whispered. "None of it's real. It's a fantasy, it's probably a fantasy that he loves me. Oh, Christ, no. How? It's his fantasy, not mine - half the things he's making appear here I don't recognise. People, things. If it was my fantasy I'd know all the pieces..." He shuffled back against the pillows, still sore from the loving, knowing he wanted more, wanted to do it to Bodie too, but lost and bewildered. "How am I in his fantasy?" he murmured. "How? It's impossible!"

Perhaps he was wrong. He had never been further than France in his life, in any case - what did he know about Africa? He clutched at that straw for over an hour, propped against the pillows and wishing he was far, far away, and he jumped when the door opened again. "Bodie?"

"Yeah." Bodie sounded husky, ashamed. "I had to go, I'm sorry."

"You tripped out again?" Ray guessed.

"Must have. First I knew of what I was doing, I was down there rolling dice, fighting. Did you hear the racket? I've split my knuckles, nearly knocked a bloke's head off. Jesus, what's happening to me?"

"I don't know," Doyle admitted, "but I'm starting to work a bit of it out, love. Come back to bed?"

Bodie undressed and slid in under the covers, and Doyle took him in his arms. "Tell me?" Bodie murmured. "If you're figuring things out, tell me!"

"Not yet. I could be wrong." Ray stroked his hair gently. "Hey, you know that Frenchman, Perrault? That's a fantastic dog he's got there. What's his name?" Then closed his eyes and held his breath.

The answer was like the Sword of Damocles. "Buck," Bodie told him, and had no idea what he'd said to make Doyle go rigid from head to foot. "Ray? What's the matter?"

"Nothing, nothing, shush," Doyle crooned, rocking him. "Doesn't matter. It'll all work out. Here, give me a kiss, then get some sleep. We've got a long way to go tomorrow, haven't we?"

Bodie turned in his arms, searching for his lips, but waited to be kissed, and Ray sighed soundlessly. Whatever was wrong, Bodie was as much a victim as he was himself, and as they settled to sleep his tired, worried mind went at the problem like a terrier at a rat. Caught in a fantasy? But how?

And, more importantly, how did he get out? How did they both get out? Bodie's state of mind seemed to be deteriorating; if this was his fantasy, his madness would shape it. And more than anything else, that frightened Doyle.

...Continued in Part 3...

< Previous

Next >

Circuit Archive Logo Archive Home