Tell a Woman


(Story 8 in the Building to Last universe)

"Hallo, Ray."

I almost jumped out of my socks. Would have, too--only I wasn't wearing them. Didn't expect to meet my older sister while standing about in front of a bomb-blasted block of London flats in the wee hours of a Tuesday morning, did I?

"Hallo, Julia." I straightened up to my full height before I turned to face her. Not that that helped--Julia's two inches taller than I am, a stone or more heavier, and has a bust that would look more at home on a page three girl. Intimidating as hell, she is. At least, that's how I've always found her.

"Does CI5 have an interest in this case?" Julia demanded. The blue serge uniform of the Metro police only lent more authority to my sister--and she really didn't need it. Listening to Julia talk to men is a bit like hearing Barbara Woodhouse leading a dog obedience class. Firm just isn't in it; although ruthless comes pretty close.

"Major Cowley needed to talk to your director," I said, and gestured towards the cluster of people picking through the rubble. Our George, with Bodie one step off his right shoulder, was deeply involved in talking to the top man in the Met.

"Perhaps we'll be working together on this one," Julia commented.

I repressed a shudder. Working with my sister ranked just under root canal performed without benefit of anaesthesia on my list of least favoured activities.

"It's been a long time, Ray," Julia said.

I agreed. It just went to show how successful I'd been at avoiding any place or family activity where my older sister was likely to make an appearance.

"Why don't we get together for a drink later on?" she suggested.

I cringed at the thought. Then I got one of my wilder ideas.

"Half six at my flat suit you?" I asked. "I'll write down the address and phone number." I tore a page out of my pocket notebook.

"If I have to work over, I'll give you a ring," Julia replied as she took the scrap of paper. She returned to her job and I resumed my lounge against the fender of the Rover.

A few minutes later, Cowley returned to the motor with my partner in tow. Bodie drove us back to Headquarters. As he changed lanes and speeds, I was thrown about the backseat. I gave devout thanks that we were no longer using the old Capri. With the Rover, you don't have to amputate your legs at the knee in order to fit in the back.

Bodie and I spent the rest of the day either in Files or in the restroom. We never seemed to be alone, so I just put off mentioning that I'd invited one of his in-laws home for afternoon tea. Besides, I got caught up in trying to find information on the terrorist group that Cowley suspected in this morning's bombing. The group called itself "Der Herbstsonnenuntergang"--Autumn Sunset and not much else was known about it.

We were on our way home in the Rover when I finally told Bodie about the impending invasion of my oldest sib.



"That bird I was talking to at the bombed flats this morning...."

"The one who looked like Naggy Maggy in a blue suit?" Bodie asked flippantly.

"Yeah. That's the one," I replied. "She's my sister, Julia, and I've invited her over about half six for drinks."

Bodie's knuckles were white as his hands gripped the steering wheel. "D'you want me to disappear for a bit?" he asked casually.

"God, no!" I exclaimed. "If you try, I'll bash you one with my kitchen pinny...I need all the moral support I can get. Julia always makes me want to go 'walkies', reminds me of Barbara Woodhouse...and I'm sure she sees me as the ill-trained pup."

Bodie grinned and loosened his grip on the wheel.

"If it's that much of an ordeal, why'd you invite her?"

I sighed heavily. "Because, sunshine, it's time the rest of my family found out about us."

"Surely you haven't invited the entire Doyle clan to tea?" Bodie asked in mock shock.

"Nah," I replied. "Be a bit redundant, that would. You know that old chestnut about the three fastest forms of communication?"

"You mean, telegraph, telephone, tell a woman?"

"Yeah. Well when they wrote that, Julia was the woman they had in mind. Telling her anything is like taking a full-page advert in News of the World."

"So you invited her home by way of announcing our marriage?" Bodie asked with a smirk.

"Yeah," I replied. "'S'not like I've exactly been keeping our relationship a secret. I've just been putting off sending out the wedding announcements."

"I don't mind giving you moral support," Bodie said when it became obvious that I wasn't going to continue. "But if you expect me to tell her the news for you, I'd suggest that you don't hold your breath."

"Would I do that..." I started indignantly.

"In a minute," Bodie interrupted. "But she's your sister--you tell her."

I couldn't muster much indignation, especially as I had been trying to figure out how to manage things so that my partner got stuck with the dastardly deed.

"Oh, well," I sighed. "'S'likely neither of us will have to tell her." Bodie looked over at me and raised one interrogative eyebrow. "She's not exactly stupid," I explained. "I expect that all we'll have to do is sit next each other on the settee and she'll figure out the rest."

"Has a dirty mind, does she?"

"The dirtiest mind I've ever encountered," I said dryly. "And besides that, she's nosy. Julia never hesitates to ask you about absolutely anything. Doesn't know the meaning of the word discretion, and couldn't keep a secret to save her life."

"That's all right, sunshine," Bodie assured me. "But if she asks about what we get up to in bed, you're on your own."

"Ta, ever so," I said ironically. "She's likely to do it."

"No one is that gauche," William protested.

"You haven't met the Doyle clan," I told him. "Julia's the worst, but practically any of the others is almost as bad--with the possible exceptions of Cathy and myself."

"I'll believe that when I see it," my partner snorted.

"You will, love. Believe me, you will," I prophesied.

Julia arrived precisely at half six. She was wearing a powder blue twin-set that did nothing for her. When I escorted my sister into the lounge, my lover got up off the settee to greet her. I could see his dark blue eyes widening in surprise as Bodie realized that he had to look up to meet Julia's hazel orbs.

"Bodie, this is my sister, Julia Doyle. Julia, this is my partner, William Andrew Philip Bodie." Bodie spared me a withering look, but was all charm when he turned back to my sister.

"Just call me 'Bodie'," he said.

"Oh? Don't like any of your given names, do you?" Julia asked interestedly.

Bodie darted an appalled glance my way, but I wouldn't look at him. After all, I'd warned him, hadn't I?

"No," my partner replied firmly. "I don't."

"Can I get you something?" I asked my sister.

Her attention successfully diverted, Julia replied, "Scotch."

"Bodie?" My partner nodded his agreement.

After I handed round the drinks, the three of us sat down. Julia took the overstuffed chair to the right of the settee. William prudently waited 'til I'd taken a seat on the cushions before he sat down to my left--placing my body between him and my sister.

Julia has an unending supply of blue stories and filthy limericks. Soon she and Bodie were trying their best to top one another. I could feel Bodie start to relax and enjoy himself. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. As usual, it was Julia who dropped it.

My partner was still sniggering over a story that Julia had picked up from our sister Cathy (we all of us try and collect the type of story Julia loves so well). It was something to do with a bartender and a biker.

Julia looked across me to my partner and asked, "Bodie, are you having it off with Raymond?"

I felt Bodie tense up like a Derby winner before the starter's gun. "Yes, he is," I told my sister, the nosy old besom. "And he's very good at it--I'm thoroughly enjoying myself."

Julia grinned at the look of discomfiture on my lover's face. "Don't look like he's enjoying it just now. Embarrassed, are we?" she asked archly.

"As a matter of fact, I am," Bodie replied spiritedly. "Feel a bit like I'm being vetted by the family of the bride."

"You are," Julia said brightly. "But don't worry about it--we Doyles aren't that choosey. As long as you've got a good job, and you don't beat my brother, you're an acceptable candidate for sainthood, let alone admittance into the Doyle family circle."

"You're acting very casual about this," Bodie remarked with suspicion in his voice. "Doesn't it bother you that your brother is living with another man?"

"It surprises me," Julia admitted.

The only thing that surprised me was that she was acting so civilized about everything. Most of my memories of Julia were of her adolescent temper tantrums. Maybe she'd grown up a bit. She was certainly acting more human than I'd expected.

"Ray must have had a dozen girlfriends between the ages of 12 and 16," Julia continued. "But it doesn't shock me. Why should it? Now if you'd told me Ray'd developed a kink for being birched by a muscle man in a leather jockstrap, that would surprise me."

"Ta ever so!" I said wryly.

"Don't mention it," Julia replied. She turned back to Bodie. "Of course, I'm not saying that certain other members of the family won't be shocked when they find out." Julia turned an ironic eye towards me. "If you're very, very lucky, Jessica and Fiona will decide you're likely to molest their toddlers and you'll never have to attend a family event with their ravening hordes."

"Don't I wish!" I said fervently. "Last time, young Sean planted a bowl of pasta sauce upside down in my lap. Ruined a camel hair jacket and a brand new pair of white trous," I moaned. "Fiona thought it was 'cute'." I snorted in disgust.

Julia looked properly sympathetic. "It's gotten to the point where I refuse to have any of them shoved on my lap. If they aren't spilling something, they're wetting themselves and me with it. The twins think I'm a perfect bitch, especially as I've threatened to bring my billy club with me next time I attend a family function."

Bodie listened in fascinated silence as Julia and I exchanged horror stories about various family parties. All of it was utterly true, which just made it worse. The topper was Julia's story of the strawberry gelatine and sour cream spilled all over her best white summer dress just before she was called in to work with no time to change clothes.

"I looked like an accident casualty," she ended the story. "One that belonged on a slab in the morgue."

What Julia said then really surprised me.

"You're lucky, Ray," my sister sighed. "It looks like you've made a good choice in Bodie. At any rate, I'd rather claim him as a brother-in-law than I would either of the twins' spouses. Geoff is a bit fond of the bottle, and I wouldn't put it past Derek to raise his hand to Fi or the kids."

"He hits them?" I exclaimed in surprise.

"Fiona has never said, and I've never actually seen him do it, but she has too many convenient accidents. You know the type--'oh, I tripped over the kerb', or 'I slipped in the loo'. I've a friend in family services there in Leeds, and I've asked him to keep his eyes open. If Fi ever needs help and is too ashamed to call on one of us, my friend will see to it she gets it."

Sometimes it's good to have a snoop for a sister. I was beginning to like Julia more and more as the evening progressed. Of course, it helped to have Bodie sitting beside me. Compared to my macho CI5 mate, Julia wasn't near the intimidating presence I remembered from my childhood. But I hadn't really taken a good look at my oldest sister since I was 16 and she was 20. That was when she left home to take a job in London. Soon after that, she'd joined the Met. 'S'odd how we revert to childhood when we're trying to deal with our siblings--no matter how old we are, when we get together, we still act like we're all of five.

"I've never been able to understand how anyone can stay with someone who treats them that way," Bodie commented. "Violence, I mean. Especially if there are kids involved."

"Neither have I," Julia told him. "I'd probably castrate any bastard who tried raising his fist to me."

"I believe it," I told her. "God help the poor sod who ever tries. We Doyles were raised to be independent. But I think the twins spent too much time with the nuns...and believed everything they were told. Catholic Church is still stuck in the Middle Ages, at least when it comes to women and family."

"'S'why I quit going to services," Julia said with a sniff. "And you're right about the twins. At least, you're right about Fi. There was a time when she was thirteen or so that everyone was sure she was going to be a nun."

"I must have missed that," I said.

"It was just after you joined the Met," Julia replied. "I suspect you were a bit busy with other things." That last was said in a suggestive tone that intimated Julia wouldn't mind finding out exactly what those 'other' things were. I didn't want to get into that, so I turned the conversation back to war stories--CI5 versus the Met.

Half an hour later, Bodie caught my eyes and asked a question by raising his eyebrow. I nodded yes, so my mate invited Julia to stay to supper. I ordered takeaway Chinese over the phone, and Bodie picked it up in our motor. The three of us spent the rest of the evening eating and talking.

After Julia left, Bodie and I pottered about putting things away, and cleaning the kitchen. William kept giving me odd looks, but I was in too much of a funk to do anything about it.

"It's still bothering you, isn't it?" Bodie asked. "The thought that your sister might be married to a man who knocks her about, I mean."

"Yeah." I put my hands on my hips and stretched the muscles in my back.

Bodie walked up behind me and started to rub my shoulders. "You're all tensed up," he said softly. "Come into the bedroom and I'll give you a massage."

"Thanks, love." I turned round and kissed him. As I stood there afterwards and breathed the warm Bodie-scent, I could feel myself beginning to unwind. "Thanks for being there tonight," I told my lover. "Julia always intimidated me as a kid. Without you beside me, I don't think I would have felt comfortable enough to really take a good look at her."

"What did you see?" Bodie asked curiously.

"Saw a human being instead of the 'Wicked Bitch of the West'," I replied.

Bodie started to chuckle.

"Don't laugh," I told him. "She had all of us kids believing that one touch of her serpent tongue would turn us into toads. At least when she got done slanging us, we felt like toads--nasty, slimy toads who couldn't do anything right and would never amount to anything. Has a nasty mouth on her, does our Julia."

Bodie turned me round and pointed me towards the bedroom. "You still need that massage," he told me.

When my lover had me stretched out on the mattress, he straddled my body and began to kneed my back. My William gives a marvelous massage. He used an herbal oil that made me feel like he was basting my muscles. As the tension dissolved, I could feel myself begin to spread across the sheet. I almost fell asleep, but Bodie wanted to talk.

"Your sister didn't sound that bad tonight," he commented.

"Probably your restraining influence," I replied.

"Restraining?" William snorted. "If that's restrained, what is she like when she's in full swing?"

"You don't want to know, sunshine," I said dryly.

When Bodie finished smoothing the tension out of my body, he lay down on the bed and drew me into his arms.

"Don't worry, lover," he said. "We'll do a background check on Fiona's husband. If he's been terrorizing her and the kids, we'll make him sorry he was ever born."

I chuckled and snuggled closer. "Macho Bodie to the rescue?"

"Butch enough for you, aren't I?" Will asked pugnaciously.

"Yeah." I leaned in to kiss him. It might have developed into more than a snogging session, only I yawned into Bodie's mouth. That gave Bodie the giggles and his sniggering was so infectious, I soon joined him. You can't laugh and get (or keep) an erection. 'S'just not physically possible. Besides, the giggles brought on the hiccups, and by the time I got rid of them, all I wanted to do was sleep.

Next morning, Bodie was as good as his word. We spent half an hour in the computer room investigating Fiona's husband, Derek Rollins. He had one drunk in charge citation and an assault on his record. The GBH was on a girlfriend. It happened two years before he met Fi. Julia might just be right about him.

The rest of the day was fairly routine. Bodie and I were on standby, so we spent most of our time updating our paperwork or hanging about the restroom chatting with Michael Murphy and Chris Atwood.

Bodie was in one of his teasing moods. He regaled Chris and the Smurph with the story of cocktails with Julia. Will made my sister sound almost the snoop she is. When he'd got round to the part where she asked 'are you having it off with my brother?', the other agents were laughing so hard that Chris had turned scarlet and Murph had tears in his eyes.

Murphy finally recovered enough to speak. "'M bloody glad that my relatives already know I'm bi, and that they're not as nosy as Doyle's sister."

"Some of my relatives still haven't got the word," Atwood said dryly. "Fortunately, most of them are much too stiff-upper-lip to ever ask."

"I expect mine to start asking almost immediately," I sighed. "The minute Julia got home, she probably did her best to fill the coffers at British Telecom. She's better than the 'News at 10' when it comes to family gossip."

Julia must have been a bit off her game, because it was next evening that the phone calls began. Most of my relatives rang up to ask if it was really true had I truly become a poof and taken up living with another male? For most of them, my reply was an unvarnished 'yes'. Reactions varied. My aunt Elizabeth invited the two of us over for tea. She's a dear old soul, so I accepted for myself and told her I'd ask Bodie. Jessica told me never to darken her doorstep. Fiona didn't call at all, but her husband, Derek, did. He became verbally abusive and threatened to beat me bloody should I try and see my niece or nephews. I lost me rag and told him he didn't have the bottle--that he was only man enough to bash helpless women and kids. Told him that I was surprised that the very thought of laying hands on another man didn't make him pee down his leg in fright. Derek cut the connection and left me shouting at the dial tone.

Bodie had heard all the yelling and came in to see if I was all right. He walked through the doorway just as I heaved the phone cross the floor. It didn't miss him by much.

"My, we are in a temper, aren't we?" he remarked.

"Don't you start!" I pointed my finger at him.

"Another of your relatives?" Will asked.

"Derek-bloody-Rollins," I snarled as I walked towards the window. "Fi's husband."

"Ah," Bodie said sagely. "That explains the slangs against his manhood. Though asking him if he'd peed down his leg might have been a bit much," he said judiciously.

"Didn't ask him," I said heavily. "Just marvelled that he hadn't."

"Of course, over the phone lines you couldn't really tell if he had or not," Bodie speculated. When I turned surprised eyes on him, Will continued. "Well, you've only his word whether he did or not. And I wouldn't take his word that water is wet." My lover's eyes were the guileless blue of the totally innocent.

I found myself smiling inanely at him. My temper was back under control and I was beginning to see the funny side of the encounter. I walked over to Bodie and took him in my arms.

"I love it when you play the fool," I told him. "'S'bloody nice being married to a bloke who knows when you need jollying and when you need a bit of a cuddle." I've never regretted pledging my troth to my best mate, though occasionally I've wondered why I was daft enough to take on his pet moggy.

Raven hadn't been home since the day before I'd met Julia in the bombed ruin. It wasn't the first time the furry bugger had spent several days out on the tiles. He was probably carousing and serenading his lady-friends on back area fences. But there's always the fear that this is the time your cat won't return home--that he's slipped under a bus or fallen afoul of some pimpled hooligan with no respect for human life, let alone animal. I knew that we really should have had the furry sod neutered, but the one time that I'd tried to raise the subject with Bodie, he turned green about the gills. Personally, I've always found it a bit odd that some men feel that you're threatening to geld them when you suggest that they sterilize the family pet.

Bodie was holding up fairly well over Raven's disappearance. We've both had a lot of practice the moggy has a bad habit of going walkabout every couple of months or so. But I could tell that Will was a bit worried about the furry bastard.

Worried or not, Bodie had to put his feelings aside for our next operation. It was part of the follow-up on the bombing of several residences, including the block of flats where I'd invited Julia home to meet my spouse. According to Cowley's sources, that bomb had been set by the West German terrorist gang that we'd been tracking. Our problem was that we didn't really know their goal or who was involved.

The worst part of this op was that George Cowley assigned Bodie and me to separate parts of the investigation. I was trotting about the countryside as liaison to some German bird from Interpol while Bodie was undercover as a merc, sniffing about his old arms contacts.

Leisel Schenk wasn't a bad sort. It was just that I was worried about my lover working alone. I never gave Leisel much of a chance. In fact, I was so kack-handed and curt with her that Murphy gave me a chewing out about it. He was quite stern with me until I confessed how scared I was about Bodie. He grew very paternal then, did Murph. Practically patted me on the head.

"The Cow may be a right bastard, but you know what a soft spot he's got for Bodie," Murphy told me. "Betty told Susan, who told Chris, that McKenzie's been assigned as backup for Bodie."

"Betty told Susan, who told Chris, who told you...." I rolled my eyes. "Nothing like having it straight from the Cow's mouth."

Murphy grinned at me. "You could always ask George."

"No, thanks," I shuddered. "I'm in his black books already for protesting when he split Bodie and me for this op. But who's this McKenzie?"

"Cameron McKenzie," Murph said. "Tall, blond, built like a boxer? The one in the intake just after Chris."

"The new squad darts champion," I said as I remembered the epic match where McCabe had lost his crown.

"That's the one," Murphy agreed. "It seems that he's had some experience working undercover for MI6. In fact, he would have been given Bodie's job except he's so new."

"I just hope he knows what he's doing," I muttered.

"Chris and I worked with him a few months back on the Rothstetter kidnapping," Murph replied. "He seems competent enough. Keeps a cool head in a tight situation."

"But you wouldn't trade Chris for McKenzie as your partner," I said with a knowing smile.

"No more than you'd trade Bodie," Murphy agreed.

"Thanks, Murph," I told him seriously. "It does make me feel better to know he has someone watching his back."

"You're welcome," Murphy replied. "Just remember to do the same for me some day when Chris is working undercover."

The terrorist investigation was stalled for the moment, so I was spending most of my time going over tons of records and old files with Ms Schenk. I'd loosened up a bit with the Interpol agent and we were starting to make a go of it as a working pair, though she'd never be an adequate substitute for my mate.

I was working fairly regular hours for once. Just after five, I dropped Leisel at her hotel, then I went round the shops.

I had just finished putting away the perishables and had started on the rest of the shopping when someone got a bit heavy-handed with the doorbell. It sounded as if the poor thing was taking quite a beating.

Naturally, I used the intercom. "Yeah?"

"Raymond Jeremy Doyle, this is your brother speaking," Neil's voice boomed over the electronic hiss. "Let me in!"

"Okay," I said. "Push." I released the locks and walked down the hall to meet my brother at the front door.

When I got there, I had to take a hasty step back as Neil exploded through the doorway like an avenging fury. For all that he's taller than I am and has straight brown hair, my brother still has the Doyle temper.

"Do you have any idea what Julia's putting about concerning your private life?" Neil demanded.

"Hello to you, too," I said as I closed the door and followed my brother as he stalked down the hallway to the sitting room. "When did you get back from Germany?"

Neil ignored my questions. "Julia's called practically the entire family to inform them that you've turned into a limp-wristed poofter "

"Is that how Julia put it?" I asked.

"She said that you were living with another man," Neil replied.

"That's not exactly the same thing as becoming limp-wristed," I said mildly. After all, I'd never expected Neil to take the news calmly. He's always been one for losing his rag first and getting his facts straight later.

"She said you were sleeping in the same bed," my brother protested. "Which amounts to the same thing."

"No," I said. "It doesn't." As I sat on the settee, I could feel my temperature rising.

"What the hell are you trying to say?" Neil demanded as he turned to pace back towards me. "You saying it's true you are a raving queen?"

"I'm saying that Julia is right I am living with a man. We do share a bed." I was more than a bit narked at having my baby brother lecture me, so I made the next remark as suggestive as possible; wanted to needle him, didn't I? "In fact, we do a lot more than just sleep together, if you know what I mean," I drawled.

"You what?" Neil yelped.

I got up and walked towards the kitchen. "I'm going to put on the kettle. Do you want a cuppa?" By now, I knew I had the stupid sod on a hook and that he couldn't leave off if it killed him.

My brother was right on my heels when I entered the kitchen. There was a baffled anger in his hazel eyes as he tried to regroup his thinking in light of what I'd just said.

"My own brother," Neil said hoarsely. "A bloody queer!"

"I prefer the word gay," I told him calmly as I filled the kettle and put it on the cooker. A certain malicious satisfaction helped offset my anger.

"This bloke you live with," Neil sneered. "I suppose he's some lisping ponce. Probably a woman's hairdresser...."

"For God's sake, Neil," I said slightingly. "This is the fucking Eighties! That old stereotype went out with Noel Coward lyrics and 'bright young things'."

Neil nudged the cat litter-box with the toe of his boot. "What's this?" My brother is very good at ignoring things when they aren't going his way. Except for his footwear, Neil was wearing civilian clothes probably because he didn't want the neighbours to think that anyone in the military was involved with a ponce like me, I thought cynically.

"A cat box."

"A cat box?" Neil echoed incredulously. "Your boyfriend bring his pet moggy with him? Probably some Angora queen with a picky appetite, shedding white hairs all over the sodding furniture."

I almost lost it then. The very thought of comparing Raven with some pedigreed, fluffy show-cat was just too ridiculous.

The window in the lounge rattled. I got a grip on myself.

"As a matter of fact, my lover did provide the cat," I told Neil solemnly, and hoped that he didn't notice the wobble to my lower lip. "And if you'll wait here, I'll introduce you to the 'Angora queen'."

I managed to make it out of the kitchen without collapsing into hysterics. As I opened the window, Raven gave me a polite 'mic' as he leapt down to the carpet. He was a pathetic sight, skinny as a rake, you could practically see his ribs through the matted fur. One ear hung in worse tatters than before. On top of it all, the furry bastard smelled like the bog of an East End pub after a particularly heavy weekend.

I followed the cat into the kitchen just in time to see Neil's jaw drop as he first set eyes on the bedraggled moggy. Raven ignored my brother as he walked over to his dish and demanded to be fed. While he was waiting, the cat shook his head and splattered a few drops of blood across the parquet floor. I also noticed him trying to remove tufts of bright yellow fur from between his toes. He'd had a busy few days, by the look of it.

"Neil, this is Raven," I said facetiously as I put down a full dish of cat food. "Raven, this is my brother, Neil."

The moggy ignored me as he practically inhaled the unappetizing mound of liver and egg sludge in his dish. "Looks like you've earned another trip to the vet," I sighed as I noticed the blood oozing from his shredded ear.

The tea was ready, so I poured us each a mug and took them into the lounge. I was enjoying the stunned silence that Raven's appearance had caused. Unfortunately, it didn't last.

Neil ignored his tea and started pacing again. "You always were a soft touch for any stray that crossed your path." Having explained Raven to his satisfaction, Neil again started in slanging me about my choice of lover.

"Is that how the little poofter caught you?" my brother demanded. "Did he act the stray for you? Soft-hearted as you are, you'd fall for something like that." Neil's voice dropped. He was practically talking to himself, trying to figure out why his previously straight brother would suddenly start living with another man. "What is he, some boy with big blue eyes?"

I was so narked, that I didn't even want to set my brother straight. Problem was, he was too straight by half, anyway. Instead, I wilfully misled the stupid sod. It wasn't that hard to do.

"His eyes are certainly blue," I said dreamily. I almost choked trying not to laugh at the outraged expression on Neil's face. Despite the fact that I was mad as hell at him, my brother was also providing a lot of entertainment.

"My God!" Neil roared. "Next thing you'll be telling me is that the bloody queer is under age!"

Neil reached down, grabbed me by my shirt collar and pulled me to my feet. Brother or no, I wouldn't have let the raving berk get away with it, only I was distracted by the sound of Bodie letting himself in the front door. As it was, I half-strangled as Neil shook me like a terrier shaking a rat.

"My own sodding brother, falling into bed with a teenage male whore...." Words failed Neil, at least temporarily. "I should break your sodding neck!"

I'd been trained by the best CI5 has to offer. It would have been easy enough to break Neil's hold (among other things his neck and ballocks immediately came to mind). But I wanted to see Bodie's reaction to this little scene.

I should have had better sense!

My partner burst into the lounge and crossed the floor in the crouched rush of a hunting cat. He jerked me out of Neil's hands and pushed me out of the way. I landed on me arse on the settee, which gave me a perfect view of the rest of it.

William was positively feral. A two-day stubble and a streak of dirt darkened his face. In his engineer's boots, camo-jacket, black t-shirt and torn blue jeans, he was every mother's nightmare vision of her daughter's first date.

After he pushed me out of danger, Bodie turned on Neil. I never saw my brother backpedal so fast in my life. Faced with William Andrew in his mad merc mode, most people back down, piss themselves or do both. I don't know if Neil's crotch was wet, but mine certainly was. Watching my lover protect my honour was a right turn-on.

Our flat isn't very large, so Neil soon backed into a wall. Immediately, Bodie had an arm across his throat and the largest hunting knife I've ever seen pointed at Neil's tum.

I was amazed. As tight as those jeans were on Bodie, I'd no idea where he'd been keeping the blade. There just didn't seem to be room.

"What the hell's going on here?" my lover demanded arrogantly.

I decided that I'd best speak up if I wanted to keep Neil intact. But it was too good an opportunity to twist the tails of both my lover and my brother. So I didn't resist the devilish impulse to act a bit camp.

"Hallo, lover," I purred as I got up off the settee. "My brother, Neil, is just back from Germany. We were having a family discussion." I walked up behind Bodie, slung an arm about his waist and nuzzled his left ear.

William twitched like a nervous horse. He never took his gaze off Neil, but I saw his eyes go a bit blank for a moment. Will must have increased his pressure on the hunting knife because I saw Neil's eyes open so wide I could see a white ring round each of them.

"Bodie-mate," I said soothingly. "If Neil promises to behave himself, will you put away the hardware?"

Will turned his head slightly to give me a look that would've burnt through granite. We Doyles are made of sterner stuff. I smiled sweetly and batted my eyes at my lover. The look on Bodie's face threatened dire retribution once we were alone, but the knife disappeared somewhere into Will's clothes. I still didn't see where there was any room for it.

William backed a few steps away from my brother. Bodie's face still had the hard non-expression that he uses to terrify the hardest of hard men. In the back of his eyes, I caught the wicked gleam that told me that Will knew exactly what I was doing, and that he was perfectly willing to help me yank my brother's chain.

"'E'd best behave 'imself," Bodie stated, his Liverpool accent and half-hooded eyes oozing a chill air of menace.

Neil was still pulling himself together. His army training hadn't included lessons on facing down toughs of Bodie's calibre, and his job as a translator hadn't given him much experience in handling himself in such situations.

I gave Bodie my sexiest come-hither look from underneath my lashes as I melted against him. "Hallo, lover," I said again breathlessly.

Bodie automatically folded both arms round me. When he tried to remove them, I reached back and firmly planted his right palm over the left cheek of my arse. William gave me an exasperated look, but left it there as he glared over my shoulder at Neil.

It was obvious that Bodie hadn't bathed in the last couple of days. Not that he was rank, but he did pong a bit.

"D'you want a nice cuppa, love?" I asked him, all wifely solicitude. "It's hot. Or would you prefer to shower first?" One of my hands strayed suggestively over my lover's arse.

I could feel Bodie twitch--he hates public displays but his face never lost the hard non-expression. In fact, he looked even more menacing when he hissed, "I'll get you for this," under his breath.

"Promises, promises," I murmured as I gazed soulfully into his dark blue eyes.

About then, Bodie's sense of the ridiculous kicked in. With a masterful grip, he pulled me tight against his groin. Eyes smouldering with sensuality (and repressed laughter), Bodie unabashedly groped my bum. "I think I'll shower first," he stated. "When I get done, I expect him to be gone." My lover nodded imperiously in Neil's direction as he acted the jealous husband to the hilt. William released me with a proprietary slap on my arse. As he strode down the hallway, Will's face bore the patented Bodie smirk; the one that says 'I always get what I want'.

Aggravating sod! I'd wanted him to go along with my plans, not to take over and really drop me in it!

I turned back towards my brother. Neil was scared and angry with it.

"What...that...!" he spluttered.

"You'd best be leaving now," I told my sibling as I gripped one elbow and steered him towards the hall. "Bodie wouldn't like it if you're still here when he gets done bathing."

"Bodie wouldn't like-- My God, Ray! He's got you acting like a bloody...."

I swept Neil through the entry and shut the door firmly in his face. A little bit of his wild theatrics was more than enough for one day. It helped that my sibling had been pushed so far off base by Bodie's appearance. If he'd been more in command of himself, I'd have had more difficulty in getting him out of the flat.

As I set the locks and alarms, I ignored Neil's wild tattoo on the door chimes. Eventually, he went off to mull over the events of the afternoon. I didn't even want to think of what conclusions he'd draw.

As I walked towards the bedroom, I felt the itchy sensation that meant there was too much adrenaline in my system. Besides that, I was turned on something chronic. Part of it was deprivation. Bodie and I hadn't been in the same room, let alone the same bed, anytime in the last four days. The rest of it was a mixture of anger at my brother's Neanderthal sexual attitudes, fear for my lover's safety and the perverse thrill I'd gotten from Bodie's display of aggressive protection of me. 'S'not a very good mixture fear, anger and lust. In fact, it can be bloody well explosive if not handled right. At the moment, the only thing I wanted to handle was named William Andrew Philip.

The object of my desires was sitting on our bed, one towel wrapped round his hips, another briskly drying his hair. Bodie looked up as I entered the bedroom.

"Got rid of Neil," I said as I propped one hip and shoulder against the door-jamb. "Turfed him out on his ear, I did."

"What was that little scene in the sitting room in aid of?" Bodie asked idly.

I snorted. "Typical Neil. Julia called 'im up and couldn't resist putting bells on it. So my brother comes rushing over to tell me our Julia's putting it about that I've turned raving poofter and living with some limp-wristed queen."

Bodie dropped his towel in surprise. He looked up at me. "Is that what she's been telling everyone?" he asked.

"No," I replied. "That's not what she told Neil, either. 'S'just that he's very good at jumping to conclusions. And Julia's very good at showing my brother exactly where to jump."

"The way you were acting out there didn't help," Bodie said flatly.

"It helped me," I said defensively. "Kept me from belting him. Also, it kept Neil off balance. Neil gets into trouble when he jumps to quick conclusions. Give him enough time to calm down and start thinking instead of reacting, you can talk to him and he'll listen. Before then, it's just a waste of time."

"You are a manipulative bastard," Bodie observed coldly. "I thought you were being attacked. I could have killed your brother!"

"You're too good at what you do to kill him," I protested.

"Damn it, Ray!" Bodie said irritably. "When it comes to your safety, I sometimes don't think straight!"

"I'm sorry," I said softly. "I should have remembered how it feels when you're in danger. Unfortunately, Neil made me so mad...." I sighed. "He pushes all my buttons. When I argue with him, it's like we both revert to being kids. It's the same with Julia and the rest of my sibs. Seems I never outgrow it."

"Here I busted up a kid's fight with a knife," Bodie said in affectionate exasperation.

I blushed. "I know I try and manipulate you too often...."

"You certainly do!" William replied. "But it's partly my fault for letting you get away with it."

"'M'sorry," I said miserably.

Will sighed. "C'mere, you berk." He drew me down onto the bed next to him. "It's all right. Nobody got hurt. Just don't do it again."

He kissed me. Our lips were gentle as we nibbled each other. Even that limited contact set my already sensitized nerves ablaze. I felt my face flush and my breath came in short gasps.

Was a good thing I wasn't wearing any pants, because I'd have strangled in them as my cock stretched and pulsed against the scratchy fabric of my jeans. The jeans were doing a pretty good job of tying me up in knots. Not that a little discomfort was stopping me getting it off. I could feel a few drops of pre-ejaculation weep from the tip of my cock. Now not only were my jeans too tight, but the damp crotch was getting damper and beginning to chafe.

I drew back from the kiss and dropped my head against Bodie's neck. Reaching down, I loosened the towel round William's waist and uncovered his rampant prick.

I looked up at Bodie and saw the open affection on his face. Even though we've been lovers for almost two years, I still treasure the trust and the love that expression represents.

"Let me do the work this time, lover," I said as I petted the soft skin of his inner thighs. I felt like I had to make some sort of amends for having put Bodie through that little scene with Neil.

"How can I resist," Bodie gurgled. "T'isn't often you let me skive off and offer to do all the work." William flopped back on the bed and spread his downy thighs. They made a magnificent frame for his semi-tumescent cock.

I sat back on my heels and drank in the sight. "Actually, I had another location in mind," I mentioned tentatively as I unbuttoned my shirt and slid it off my arms onto the floor.

"Oh?" Bodie lowered his legs and propped himself up on his elbows. One crooked eyebrow rose in silent question.

"Yeah," I said absently as I stood up and unzipped the fly to my jeans. "But if you'd rather...."

"Whatever did you have in mind, Raymond, my lad?" Bodie asked.

"D'you remember the last story in Bondmates 6?" I asked my mate, knowing bloody well that he would. Star Trek slash fanzines are my and Bodie's secret vice in fact, it was a fanzine that brought us together. And if you have to ask what 'slash' means, you're too young to know about such things.

"You mean the PWP with the kinky sex scene?" Bodie was sitting upright on the bed.

"What's a PWP when it's at home?" I asked, my attention temporarily diverted.

"It means 'Plot?...What plot?'" Bodie explained. "Didn't you read the latest editorial in 'Blue Notes from the Fanzine Underground'?" William named a fanzine review newsletter we get. "It explained all about stories like that. Called them 'sex scenes in search of a story-line'. In America these days, they call them...."

"'PWP', " I finished. "No, I didn't read that one. But you've the right story in mind. D'you feel game?" I dropped my jeans to the floor.

"Since you've volunteered to do all the work, that makes me the one in the chair?" Bodie asked.

"Unless you've something more interesting in mind?" I flexed my hands behind my head and stretched my back muscles. Could almost feel Bodie gulp. His large blue eyes grew even bigger.

"No," he said vaguely. "Can't think of a thing."

I put down one hand to pull Bodie from the bed. He came willingly, so I gave him an approving kiss before I led my lover over to the only straight wooden chair in the bedroom. Had to chuckle over that.

"Just what is going on under that mop of curls, sunshine?" William asked indulgently.

"'S'just the thought of doing something kinky in such a straight chair," I replied.

Bodie rolled his eyes. "Where has all the romance gone? Instead of a lover, I'm sharing bed and board with a refugee from 'Benny Hill.'"

"You're a fine one to talk about bad jokes," I said as my fingers attacked the ticklish bits about my mate's waist. "Last time you delivered one of your black remarks, I heard Murph offer to drown you at birth...if only someone would lend him a time machine."

Bodie sniggered and tried to defend himself, but only managed to back himself into a corner. "The Smurph reads too much science fiction. It rots the brain, you know."

"No?" I said incredulously. "Does it really? That explains Murphy, then. But how do you account for yourself?"

"You saying I've got brain rot?" Bodie asked indignantly as he tried a counterattack on my tum. Never learns, does he? I'm not the one ticklish about the ribs.

"Worst case I've ever seen," I assured him solemnly as I pressed myself against William.

Bodie closed my mouth with a kiss. When we finally surfaced for air, I could feel our mood slipping back into lazy eroticism.

"We going to try it up against the wall?" Will's voice was breathless with arousal. "Not that I'm averse to it," he assured me. "But you did promise me a kinky bit in a very straight chair."

"You fancy that, do you?" I asked, as I lazily explored his collarbones.

"Yeah," William admitted. "That Trek story turned me on something chronic."

I raised my head to look speculatively at my lover. "Was that what you were reading last week when I was out picking up the takeaway..."

"That got me so hot that when you came home, I attacked you instead of the Chinese..." Bodie continued.

"...And we had to reheat everything," I concluded.

"Yeah," Bodie admitted with just the hint of a blush (not to mention the beginnings of a smirk).

"If just reading about it can get you hot, we'll have to see what a little participation can do for you." I tugged William towards the chair.

"Plant your bum there, lover," I said arrogantly.

"What? On that cold wood?" Bodie protested with a laugh in his eyes.

I picked William's discarded towel off of the mattress and spread it over the seat of the chair. "Your slightest whim...."

"Don't I wish," Bodie responded. But he did seat himself on the cloth covered seat. "Now, how d'you want me?"

"Just relax and think of England, love," I told him as I kneaded his shoulders.

"I'd do better with a pillow between me and the back of this chair." The hopeful look in those dark blue eyes reminded me of a child trying it on with his parents, seeing just how long he could put off going to bed by asking for one last drink of water or a visit to the loo. Though, in this case, it was more a matter of prolonging our foreplay to give us both greater pleasure.

I made another trek to the bed and got both pillows. After placing them to Will's satisfaction, I asked him, "Does Sir require any other personal service?"

William looked up at me with his most seductive pout. "I'm sure you'll improvise brilliantly."

"Sir will not be disappointed," I assured him, still acting the upper class servant (the celluloid variety out of Thirties movies and old episodes of 'Upstairs, Downstairs').

Bodie just grinned, leaned back against the pillows and relaxed. I continued the interrupted massage of his shoulders. My hands slowly drifted lower, mapping collarbones and the soft skin beneath his throat. As I explored Bodie's warm, smooth chest, I noticed my lover's cock begin to stir especially after my thumbs grazed the soft peaks of the sensitive nipples.

Bodie opened his eyes as I came round the chair. I spread his thighs so that I could kneel between them. One of my lover's hands tangled itself in my hair as I bent forward to lick one conical peak. I heard William sigh in pleasure as my mouth suckled the tightening bud of flesh and my thumb drew lazy circles round the other.

I love touching Bodie. His skin is warm and smooth like the finest butter-soft leather. It bothers my lover that his skin is so fair he doesn't tan easily. I find it a real turn-on.

When I transferred my mouth from left nipple to right, I felt Will's hand tighten its grip on my curls. A few feet lower down, I felt his prick nudge my tum.

After I'd thoroughly explored his breast, I laid a path of kisses, caresses and delicate fleshy nibbles the length of William's torso. When I came to his navel, I thrust my tongue into the tiny depression.

Bodie cursed and his hips bucked up off the seat of the chair. His skin was damp and radiating heat. Beneath my hands, I felt his ribs heave in time with his panted breathing.

Carefully avoiding the swollen, sweat-damp club of flesh standing rampant from his groin, I transferred my attention to the smooth, moist flesh between Bodie's thighs. I could feel it ripple under my touch. The flavour on my tongue was clean sweat and male desire. It was almost good enough to eat. My mind said, 'Why not?' and I gave a gentle nip to the soft flesh of his inner thigh not enough to leave a bruise, let alone break the skin.

But it did make Bodie jump. "Christ, Ray!" he yelped. Strong hands dragged my head up 'til William could bend over far enough to kiss me. It was almost an assault on my mouth, for all that my lover's hands were so gentle on the rest of my body. When Will finally loosened his grip and let me have my lips back, I was as turned on as my mate.

One thumb gave an apologetic caress to my swollen lips. "Do that again," Bodie said in a husky voice, "and you're like to finish me."

I kissed the tip of the digit, then brushed my face against my lover's hand. "We can't have that, love. Haven't got to the best part yet."

I had to get up off my knees and retrieve the small jar of herbal-scented oil standing on the table by the bed. I walked back to Bodie, opened the jar and handed it to him. He sat there in the chair, looking like a bemused baby, as I dipped a finger into the viscous fluid.

William says I'm an exhibitionist at heart. He's bloody right about that, at least as far as my lover is concerned. I love the way Bodie watches me and the way I can sometimes get him on heat just looking at me. So I made the whole thing into as lascivious an exhibition as you'd ever see in a blue movie.

First, I stood turned almost three-quarters round from my lover, so he'd have a good view of what I was doing. I used the fingers of my left hand to separate the globes of me bum. The oil-slick fingers were on my right hand, and I used them to tease down the cleft in me arse, rimming the tight bud of muscle hidden there. The index finger pressed against the tight opening. My anus relaxed slightly and I eased the oily digit into the tight channel. I swayed slightly back and forth as I slid first one, and then two fingers in and out of my body mimicking the possession that I craved. I was roused, even more than I'd been by teasing my lover.

Someone else was also getting turned on by my performance. I heard Bodie mutter a curse as he shifted in the chair.

"C'mere, you sexy bugger, you," my lover said hoarsely. "Let me do that for you."

I turned to look at Will. Through my love-fogged eyes, he was the most desirable thing I'd ever seen. Hazy blue orbs were half-hooded by absurdly long lashes. The china white skin was turned blushing rose with arousal. Small beads of moisture clung to Will's upper lip. I wanted desperately to be close enough to lick them off. Bodie's compact body was sprawled in the chair, his sex so hard and erect that it curved towards his tum.

I licked my suddenly dry lips, then sauntered towards William. As I did I gave an extra swing to my hips. I know what that sort of thing does to him.

Bodie drew in a gasping breath. He sat a bit straighter in the chair.

"How do you want me, lover?" I purred.

William drew his legs together and opened his arms. "Straddle me, please, Ray?"

I moved closer to him, parted my legs and passed them along the outside of Bodie's knees. When I stopped moving, I was so close to Will that my cock nudged his tum.

"That's it, sweetheart," William crooned. One of his hands circled my waist. The other, slick with the herbal oil, slid sensuously down between the globes of my arse. Two fingers burrowed into my dilated anus. Will had a better angle than I'd been able to achieve in my auto-erotic exercise--he soon found my prostate. The caress sent tendrils of pleasure through my guts. I gripped both of my lover's shoulders and arched backwards as I moaned my excitement. Wet heat engulfed one of my nipples as my mate suckled at my breast. My knees shook as I rebounded between sensations. Bodie's burrowing fingers in my arse, his hot lips on my nipples and my swollen prick trapped between our tums; all three sent me higher and higher. Soon it would be too late and I did want to see this little scene out.

"Will, love," I said softly as I framed his flushed face in my hands. "Do it, lover. Do it now!"

I saw Bodie pull himself together. He was near the edge. Both his hands moved to my bum. Bodie murmured encouragement as he positioned me precisely. His strong hands slowly lowered me onto his cock.

I moaned softly as the fleshy rod stretched my flesh. My impalement was a slow process. Bodie's cock slid inside me inch by inch almost withdrawing, only to return and push even deeper within my body. Finally, I sat astride my lover's lap, his cock buried within me and his soft balls resting against my bum. I leaned down to take William's lips with my own. My tongue ravished his mouth as Bodie's cock ravished my arse.

When I finally released my lover's lips, William panted for breath. "Ray, love," he murmured. "Can't hold on much longer."

I chuckled softly, despite the weak tremble in my own knees. Concentrating, I tightened my internal muscles around Bodie's cock.

Will gasped.

"Want me to ride you?" I asked him.

"Yes!" Bodie said fervently. "Yes!"

With William's help, I raised and lowered myself on my lover's cock. At first slow, then faster, and yet faster, the swollen organ pistoned in and out of my arse. Every third or fourth stroke brushed my prostate. I felt sweat break out all over my skin. A few drops of pre-ejaculation erupted from the end of my prick and provided a slick lubricant between my flesh and Bodie's skin. The sensation of my sensitized cock rubbing against the hard flesh over my lover's tum provided yet another point of pleasure.

All at once, it was too much to contain. I gasped, froze and felt my prick swell just that little bit more before it erupted between us, leaving a hot, sticky pool of semen between our tums.

Deep within my body, I could feel my muscles spasm around the bulk of Bodie's cock. Will groaned and his body moved upwards in a convulsive heave, thrusting his organ deeper into my arse. I felt myself being stretched even further as my lover's cock swelled. A hot liquid bathed my insides as Bodie cried out my name.

"Ray! Oh, God! Ray!"

I don't know why we didn't both land on our bums. Neither of us had enough strength to lift a finger and straight-backed chairs are not the most stable of perches. However, we were still upright when I finally began to stir.

The first thing I did was find Bodie's mouth. After-sex kisses are generally twice as sweet you can pay more attention to what you're doing once your bollocks are through doing your thinking for you. At first, Will was just a passive participant. As he revived, though, Bodie took a more active interest.

It was nice, sitting there astride my lover, exchanging deep, wet kisses, and feeling Bodie's cock soften and slip from my body. Unfortunately, once William's prick no longer filled my insides, other substances began to leak out of my dilated anus.

"Sorry, love," I murmured as I drew back from kissing Bodie. "I feel an urgent need to visit the loo."

Will laughed. "Is that your version of 'the earth moved'?" he teased.

I licked the tip of his perfectly-shaped hooter, then ruffled his hair as I stood up. "It bloody well did, you know," I said in a conversational tone of voice.

Bodie followed me to the loo. There was a totally fatuous expression on his face. It probably matched the one I knew decorated my own.

"That was definitely one of your better ideas, sweetheart," Bodie said approvingly. He washed up at the sink while I used the W.C.

I looked over at him and remarked, "That's the second time you've called me 'sweetheart'."

William looked embarrassed and his ears turned pink about the tips. "Bothers you, does it?"

"No," I assured him. "Not as long as we're in private." My voice became mock-stern as I continued, "But call me that in front of Murph or the Cow and I'll thump you a good one."

Will grinned and knelt on the floor beside me. "Promise," he said just before he kissed me. When he finished, William just stayed there, on his knees, holding me close.

The poor sod could barely keep his eyes open. After his second yawn, I gave Bodie a gentle shake.

"Oy! Bodie-mate. Go to bed."

Sleepy blue eyes blinked owlishly at me. I leaned in and kissed the drooping mouth.

"Go on, lover," I told him. "I'll be there in a minute."

Bodie gave me the sweet smile of a tired child before he obediently got to his feet. "Don't be long, Ray."

"I won't," I promised, and I didn't take but a few minutes doing a sketchy wash. Even so, William was fast asleep sprawled across his side of the bed. I crawled in beside him, wrapped my arms round my lover and immediately dropped off.

We weren't scheduled to work next day, so we divided our errands. Bodie went off to the laundrette and I took Raven to the veterinary.

Jean scolded Raven and me impartially as she lanced the swelling on the cat's ear, cleaned it out and put a drain in it. As we left Dr. Westbury's office, I repressed a sigh at the prospect of the coming battle of getting the whole packet of antibiotics down the furry sod one pill at a time.

When I parked the Rover back at the flat, I noticed Neil sitting on the steps in front of the door. I ignored my younger brother as I retrieved the cat carrier from the backseat of the motor. Neil got to his feet as I came up the steps and he met me at the door with a sheepish expression on his face.

"Hullo, Ray," he said. "I'm sorry I acted the berk yesterday. Could we start that conversation over again?"

"Come on in, then," I sighed and opened the door. I led the way into the lounge where I opened the carrier and let Raven out of durance vile. Ears held close to his head and tail lashing, our cat stomped out of the plastic container uttering a never-ending series of complaints. He stopped in the middle of the rug and firmly presented his furry backside to both of us Doyles.

"What's the matter with the moggy?" Neil asked.

"He's narked at me for taking him to the veterinary," I told my brother. "Do you want a cuppa?"

"Yes, thanks," Neil replied. He followed me into the kitchen. "Yesterday, that maniac with the knife. Is he really your lover?" My younger sibling inherited the Doyle tendency for direct and nosy questions. At least he was asking questions and not just leaping to conclusions.

"Yeah," I told him as I put the kettle on the cooker. I turned to face him. "That bother you?" I demanded aggressively.

"Why, Ray?" Neil sounded more bewildered than anything else. "I just don't understand. Has it always been men? Why couldn't you tell us? I mean, we're family."

"Don't be more of a berk than you have to," I told Neil. "It was always birds before and well you know it. After all, who was it burst in on Vivian and me that time I was trying to lose me cherry?"

Neil grinned at the memory of finding me trying to remove Viv's bra. His expression sobered. "If you're not queer, why are you living with another feller?"

"How many times have you heard some expert say that given the right circumstances, most men are capable of being bisexual? Well, I've news for you, they're right!"

"You're double-gaited?" Neil asked incredulously.

"Yeah," I told him. I thought it a bit dim of him not to have figured that out for himself.

"I suppose now you're going to do a course in fellas, the same way you did birds," my brother said sarcastically, sarcasm being my family's ultimate response to events that are beyond its control. "Get yourself arrested doing the cottages and I'll bloody well disown you!"

"You," I said, waving my finger in Neil's face, "have a nasty mouth on you! And if you don't belt up, I'll turf you out!"

"Is this some kind of experiment, Ray?" Neil asked. "And if it is, is it worth losing your job over? Is it worth alienating your family?"

"It's no experiment and I'm in no danger of losing my job. Bodie and I are a couple. We're...committed. It's a permanent, stable relationship and it's in both our personnel files. We're no more a security risk than any other married couple," I explained.

"Married?" Neil said. "Is that what you're playing at? Queers are promiscuous. How long do you think it'll be before your lover finds someone else he wants to bed? And have you thought about the risks to your health? My God, Ray! Do you have any idea what you could be exposed to?"

I poured tea and handed a mug to Neil. "Calm down, baby brother," I told him. "Bodie's no more gay than I am; he's bi like me. I'm his first and only fella and he's mine. As far as the future is concerned, we've no more guarantees than any married couple. But since we've been together for almost two years in a monogamous relationship, we're probably safer than most people."

"Two years?" Neil repeated. I was getting tired of him echoing my words. "You've been together for two years and you didn't tell anyone?"

"We told the head of our department," I told him. "As far as the family is concerned...I knew it was going to be like this, so I just put off making the announcement. If I hadn't met Julia the other day, I'd still be making excuses."

"What am I going to tell Pamela and the kids?" Neil asked

"Best stick to the truth, as they're likely to hear about it from somebody else. Practically the entire family must have got the word." I sipped my tea as I leaned against the cabinets.

"Are you happy, Ray?" Neil sounded hesitant. "He's not rough with you, is he?"

I grinned wryly. "Yes, I'm happy, and, no, Bodie doesn't beat me. As far as what we get up to in bed it's none of your damned business. Don't ask you what you do in bed with Pam, do I?"

Neil gave me an unwilling grin. "I'm just worried about you. After I met your fella, I was so upset that I gave Julia a call...." My brother s voice trailed off and he blushed a bright red.

"Oh?" I said. "What did she have to say?"

Neil wouldn't meet my eyes. "Well.... That's what got me thinking that maybe I'd overreacted a bit."

"What did she say?" I insisted.

My brother slid a quick glance across my face, then studied the toes of his boots as he replied. "She said that there were places in London where you'd be safe...."

"What?!" I exploded as it dawned on me that Julia'd suggested I check into a shelter for battered women.

Neil gave me a shame-faced grin. "I may be a bit slow at times, but I did finally realize that she was having me on. 'S'what decided me that I should come back and talk to you about this."

"She actually suggested that I...." Words failed me.

My brother sniggered. "Yeah, I know. Comparing you to a battered wife put the whole thing in perspective. Knew you'd never sit still for that sort of thing."

"I should hope you do!" I retorted. Suddenly, I saw the funny side of the whole thing and snorted in amusement. "Typical Julia! She always did have a tendency to go over the top."

Neil grinned back. "Yeah. Sometimes it's the only way I can tell when she's trying it on."

I looked over at my brother. "I suppose that it never occurred to you that I'd only get that involved with someone I knew very well indeed? Bodie and I have been partners these last seven years...."

"I thought you said you'd only been together for two years?" Neil said in puzzlement.

"No," I corrected him. "I said we'd been lovers for two years. We've been partners for seven."

"Partners? As in CI5?" my brother asked.


"That's a relief!" Neil said wryly. "At least I was caught out by one of the best." He turned humorous hazel eyes on me. "It soothes my ego a bit to know it wasn't just some yobbo off the street that duffed me up."

I laughed. "You never had a chance. Before he joined CI5, Will was seconded from 2nd Paras by the SAS. He was involved with the siege at the Iranian embassy back in the Seventies."

"SAS?" I heard respectful astonishment in my brother's voice. "I never did have a chance, then!"

We talked a bit longer, mostly about family news. Neil isn't a bad sort if you can get him past his knee-jerk reactions. He left before Bodie returned with our laundry.

"Hallo, love," I told Will. I was stretched cross the settee with Raven sprawled on my tum.

"Hallo, Ray," Bodie replied. "I brought the mail in with me. Looks like you've a letter from the States."

I sat up, dislodging Raven, who grumbled, stretched, then walked over to say hello to our flatmate.

"Must be from Cathy," I said. "Give it here."

Bodie tossed me an airmail envelope, then knelt to scratch under Raven s chin. "What have we here?" my lover asked as he examined the moggy's ear.

"Jean put in a drain," I told him. "We go back next week to have it removed." I opened my sister's letter and began to read.

"D'you want to eat out tonight?" William asked as he sat next to me on the settee. Raven immediately settled in his lap.

"Yeah," I replied absently. "I feel like celebrating."

"What are we celebrating?" Bodie asked, just before he leaned over to kiss me.

I smiled into my lover's eyes. "We're celebrating the fact that never again will I have to tell my bloody relatives about my sex life. Also, Neil came back today and I think we understand each other a bit better now. And in her letter, all Cathy did was ask if it was true I was living with another male and was I happy." I handed Bodie the letter.

William read the short paragraph I pointed out, then handed the letter back. "That's important to you, innit? That Cathy understands and approves?"

"Yeah," I said. "She's the only one in the family that I really feel close to."

"'M'glad she seems to be taking it so well," Bodie replied.

"The two of you will get on well together," I predicted.

"Chance'd be a fine thing," Bodie snorted. "Not much hope of us visiting Seattle, is there."

"Nah," I said. "But Cathy and her husband will be here for Christmas. You'll get to meet her then." I could see by the look on Bodie's face that he wasn't sure how he felt about that. "I'd like to invite them to stay with us," I said softly.

Will's eyes widened in startlement. "How d'you think her husband will feel about that?"

I grinned at him. "Her husband lived in a commune before he married Cath, and at least one of the blokes he lived with was gay. Nick is very broad-minded about that sort of thing."

"Bloody hell!" Bodie said weakly. "A bit bent, is he?"

"No," I replied. "But not afraid of it, either."

"That's a relief," William said as he drew me into a hug.

"Oh?" I raised my eyebrows at him.

"Yeah," Will said with a sly grin. "The man had the good taste to fall for your sister. If he were bent, I'd have to worry he'd get a case on you as well. We've had enough melodrama round here, don't want to find myself fighting over your favours. Especially not with an in-law."

I sniggered at the thought. Bodie closed my mouth with a kiss. A few satisfying minutes later, my lover told me to shift myself.

"We've laundry to put away and reservations to make if we're eating out tonight."

"Yes, master," I said cheekily.

"I'll 'master' you," Bodie said menacingly.

"Chance would be a fine thing." I gave him my sexiest come-hither smile. Naturally, he kissed me again.

As we got up to finish our domestic chores, Bodie turned to me. "Ray?"


"Invite Cathy and her husband for Christmas," he said.

I know how much Christmas alone together means to Bodie. The only way I could let him know how much I appreciated his sacrificing his privacy was an inadequate, "Thanks, lover." He must have known how I was feeling because William gave me one of his sweetest smiles.

"You're welcome."

Now I've Christmas to look forward to and introducing my favourite sister and my favourite brother-in-law to my lover. It almost makes up for the aggro with the rest of the family though I do think Neil is coming round to my point of view. He and Pamela invited us over to dinner last week (Neil's been posted to a position here in the city). Pam and Will got on like a house on fire.

After dinner, Martin and Tamsin, my nephew and niece, cozened Bodie into playing Blind Man's Bluff with them. My brother could hardly believe his eyes. "It can't be the same man I met at your flat," Neil insisted. "That one looked like he ate push-pins for brekkies and slept rough from preference."

"It is, though," I assured Neil. "My William's a man of many parts."

"I wouldn't touch that line with a thirty-foot barge pole," Pamela assured both of us. "But he's wonderful with the children."

"There's a lot of the kid in Bodie," I agreed.

"Not exactly what you'd expect from an ex-SAS bastard, is it?" Neil commented.

Oddly enough, it was the shared military background that finally allowed my brother to accept Bodie as a member of our family. That, and the fact that Pamela took to my lover at once. She didn't need to hear about Bodie being ex-SAS; being good with the kids was enough for her. Fact is, sometimes Pamela treats William like he is one of her children. It's so affectionately done, though, that my lover sees it as the compliment it is. It probably helps that Pam tends to treat me the same way. I always did think that Pam had all the sense in that branch of the family. Way too good for my brother, she is.

All in all, I'm not sorry that I invited Julia home for drinks that day. But I'm bloody glad that I'll never again have to go through telling the whole family about my domestic arrangements. Once was more than enough to last a lifetime.

-- THE END --

Originally published in Chalk and Cheese 7, Whatever You Do, Don't Press! (Agent with Style), 1990

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