Degrees of Separation


Thank you to Izzie, my insightful beta!

Liverpool went a goal up and caught in the moment Bodie forgot and stretched for the biscuits. The two ribs which had sprung and punctured his muscle remembered. But they were healing and inside heavy bandaging, so the reminder was quieter than it had been.

With a sigh he had recently perfected, Bodie cautiously pulled himself up those few extra inches until the plate was in easy reach. He helped himself to three biscuits before easing back down under one of Doyle's winter duvets. He knew he should wear more to keep warm, but the bandages already felt like ten layers of kevlar, and the most he could bear was a T-shirt. That and a pair of tracksuit bottoms which Doyle had forced him into because, as he had so eloquently put it. "It's March, mate, the heating's on the blink and I'm not having you wandering around in the altogether frightening the neighbours."

Still, things could be worse. He was insanely bored but healing nicely. The bandages were coming off on Monday, and here he was on a Saturday afternoon stretched out on a settee in front of Grandstand and digestives.


. . . with Doyle interrupting him.

Bodie turned his head and favoured his partner with an annoyed squint.

"Comfy?" asked Doyle. "Like me to fluff any pillows? Peel some grapes?"

Bodie decided on a winning smile.

"Could murder some tea."

"Oh, certainly, sir, absolutely, sir. Tugging me forelock all the way, sir."

"Hey, you offered, sunshine." Bodie tutted loudly, in no way put off by the tone, and turned his attention back to Frank Bough and the half-time scores.

It took him a few seconds to register the fact that Doyle hadn't moved. Was still standing there in the doorway, looking in his direction.


Bodie tried to remember anything he was about to get a lecture for. He was dressed, for fucks sake, and even as impaired as he was Doyle's kitchen was the cleanest it had ever been. He thought about the last bolshy thing he might have said or done, but gave up. There were just too many to choose from; his patience got short when he was laid up.

Like now. Grandstand was the first decent bit of telly in three long days, and the last thing he was in the mood for was having it messed about with by one of Doyle's strops. Bodie took his eyes off Chelsea's pitiful performance and prepared to attack first.

But something was off.

Standing there in a faded green shirt and jeans, Doyle looked - well, very Doyle-like. But he was biting the inside of his lip, and if Bodie didn't know him better, he'd have said a sudden awkwardness was causing his interest in the carpet pattern at his feet.

Curious, Bodie cleared his throat and waited until Doyle looked up. He decided to lift an eyebrow, rather than ask the belligerent 'now what?' he had originally intended.

"How're the ribs?"

Whatever Bodie had expected, this wasn't it. Hardly life threatening in the first place, Doyle's concern for them now was too odd to be touching.

"Fine, mate, just fine. Be kicking hells bells out of Towser in no time."

Another look down. Another shift. This time with an accompanying toe-scuff on the pattern.

Well and truly intrigued, Bodie decided Liverpool could live without him for a minute while he sorted out which way the wind was blowing.

"It's just that . . . uh, can't work on the bike in the rain. And it's too early to eat, so . . ." He rubbed his nose and gestured vaguely at the couch. "I thought I might . . . y'know."

So that was it. Bloody hell.

"No, I don't mate, haven't got a clue. But if you're after what I think you're after, you can sod off. I'm wrapped up like Tutan-bloody-khamun here, in case you hadn't noticed. I've got a Saturday afternoon to watch Grandstand, and all you can think about is getting your leg over because you can't work on your bike." The picture of aggrieved innocence, Bodie twisted his head on the cushion and gave his full attention back to the scores.

Another pause, but even Bodie could feel the difference. Doyle was collecting himself.


"Said it before, but I'll say it again, mate. You," Doyle jabbed a finger in Bodie's direction, all focus once more, "are a dumb crud." He toed off a trainer and kicked it to one side. "A dumb crud who has a one-track," he grunted as he toed off the other one, "priapismic," he tossed it after the first shoe, "mind." He looked up, apparently finished.

"Paint thinner again, Doyle?"

Ignoring the question, Doyle walked purposefully to the foot of the couch and put a knee up onto it, somewhere near Bodie's right foot. He then locked his arms, palms down, either side of lumps under the duvet that were probably Bodie's knees. He looked up to see a pair of grey eyes regarding him.

"You okay with this?" Doyle was quiet, unsure again.

Not entirely clear what the 'this' in question was, Bodie was too utterly charmed by what he now thought Ray wanted to reply. He marvelled again at the man before him and the effect he wrought. Doyle had taken him from wary to pissed off to soothed in under a minute. Hoping he was right, Bodie nodded, took a breath and eased over a little more.

His side only pulled once, and Bodie scarcely noticed, so absorbed was he by his partner's careful settling on and around him. It took a moment or two, but the solution turned out to be Bodie where he was under the duvet, left arm out and curled up over Doyle who stretched lengthways on his right side, the back of the sofa against his back and his head on Bodie's left shoulder. He then stretched his left leg lightly over Bodie's padded ones for balance and gave a grunt of what Bodie assumed to be comfort and satisfaction. The duvet between them gave Bodie a cushioning layer from any discomfort the press of Doyle's weight might have caused around his middle.

A self-conscious moment of silence followed and it occurred to Bodie as he lay there with the cautious octopus that was now Doyle, that had it been sex his partner was after, there would have been none of that foot-scuffling at the door. Ribs or no ribs, he'd've been set upon and seduced away from the football in no uncertain terms.

But for a platonic Saturday afternoon cuddle on the couch, Doyle had suddenly turned into a spotty lad on his first date. Bodie found himself chuckling.

"'S funny?"

"You are, y'mad golly." Too content by half, Bodie didn't explain, he simply tugged a curl.

"Well, as long as you're entertained, mate." Doyle reached across to grab a biscuit, only to have his hand knocked away.

"Those are mine. Privilege of being poorly."

"My couch, my telly, my plate; ergo my sodding biscuits and dear-oh-dear, will you look at that? Do believe Liverpool have just let one in."

"Eh?" Bodie's head turned and Doyle swiped two off the plate.

"Oh, very sophisticated." Bodie felt the vibrations as Doyle munched the biscuits somewhere near his collarbone. "Have you know some things are sacred, not to be joked about for love nor money. And certainly not for biscuits." He fastidiously started brushing crumbs off the duvet.

His fingers froze mid-sweep.

Doyle stilled, too. "What? I was careful."

"Ergo, Ray? 'M impressed."

Doyle exhaled. "Prat." Said in that blend of venom and affection Bodie could identify at fifty paces as for him alone. "Thought I'd jarred you. Now shut up, I'm trying to watch."

Each then spent a contented ten minutes or so trading their own brand of expertise and opinion on all things football, including the obligatory rubbishing of the other's team and England's chances of managing anything that year in the European Cup.

"You," Doyle jabbed another finger, this time at the TV, probably because he couldn't jab one into Bodie, "put far too much faith in that mop-head Keegan." A picture of him had just come on screen. "Because he's from Liverpool. Got a blind spot you have."

"A blind spot for mop-headed gollies." Bodie was listening with his eyes closed, his head contentedly back on the arm rest, left arm full of his partner. He smiled. "Well, I never."

A weight came slowly off his shoulder and Bodie knew, as he always did, that he was being looked at. Opening a reluctant eye, something in his partner's face made him open the other one fast.


Such a strange, intent look on Doyle's face. Bodie swallowed, thrown as he always was when Doyle's eyes were this close and unblinking. And then Doyle flicked his focus from Bodie's eyes to his lips and Bodie was suddenly dry-mouthed.

If not for his ribs Bodie knew the kiss which followed would have had an intensity to match the stare preceding it. As it was, the angle meant Doyle broke the kiss quickly, but before his head went back on Bodie's shoulder, he pressed his forehead for a brief moment to his partner's temple.

"'M glad you're here, is all." A little husky, right in Bodie's ear.

Still puzzled, Bodie made his own response quiet. "Where else would I be, sunshine?"

"Oh, I dunno. Maybe in a ditch somewhere with your head bashed in."

Said matter-of-factly enough, but somewhere something clicked into place, a light came on, and Bodie finally realised what this odd intensity was all about. He let out a slow breath. He realised because he had been there, done that and thrown the tantrums to prove it. This stretch-out on the sofa had absolutely nothing to do with football on a Saturday afternoon and a bored Doyle. It had everything to do with worst-case scenarios playing out in your head in glorious technicolour when undercovers went pear-shaped and your partner wasn't where he was supposed to be.

By Bodie's reckoning it had been ten hours, give or take. Ten hours from missing his appointed check-in to being trussed up and tossed out the back of a mini-van just outside Leeds. In truth, the heavy boot which had sprung his ribs had wounded his pride more. And it hadn't done any further wonders for his ego to be collected by one PC Browning of the local Leeds constabulary. All of nineteen, he had handled Bodie with the bewilderment and awe due a captured terrorist, decidedly dubious of his superior's insistence that the grimy man in his patrol car was, in fact, some kind of top cop.

The fact that Bodie had been tied up, driven around and largely ignored until he was dumped was irrelevant. That had been more than enough time for Doyle to imagine and then get himself used to the worst possible outcome. Unseen, Bodie smiled wryly. No wonder he had been so bloody off at the hospital. Doyle had banged open the casualty doors and looked less thrilled than Bodie thought he should have done to see his partner alive, well and enjoying a cup of tea and a flirt with the sister.

All that worry gone to waste.

Bodie thought back to the night before last, and a throwaway remark of Murphy's. Doyle had more or less paid Murph with a six-pack and a take-away to 'help with the babysitting' as he had mercilessly jibed. Doyle had been given an allnight stakeout and after only two days and as many arguments about what a housebound Bodie could and couldn't do, he was trying hard not to look relieved about it. Murphy had graciously stepped up to the plate and Bodie in turn had skipped his painkillers so that he could do the occasion justice.

"Oh, and Doyle?" Murphy's call had pulled Doyle's head back round the doorframe of the living-room as he was leaving. "Play nice tonight, will you? Gave Anson his own mug to take with him, a pretty one with flowers on, so no punching his teeth out when he gets up to make a cuppa. Alright?"

The answer was a two-fingered salute and the bang of a door.

"What was all that about?" asked Bodie once Doyle had left.

Murphy smiled. "Anson made himself a cup of tea in that 'orrible green mug of yours when you were missing. Your other half got twitchy about it and ended up clocking him one."

"What the hell for?"

"Dunno. But I will say this, mate. He's been human again since you and your bandages have been draped all over his sofa. So, Chinky or Indian?"

And that had been it. Bodie had woken up to a hangover and a tired but cheery Doyle bellowing in his ear and had thought no more about it. Until now.

Bodie squinted down the settee, but couldn't see much. However, he knew from the tense set of the shoulder under his hand and the controlled, even breaths that Doyle was most definitely waiting for him to say something. Horse-racing had now replaced the football on screen, and Bodie knew Doyle was not nearly as engrossed as he was pretending to be.


For a second Bodie was at a loss. It had already been too long since the pithy remark and Doyle was starting to fidget, clearly looking for an escape route, a way to untangle himself and get up with the minimum fuss. Instinctively Bodie reached down and attempted to prize out Doyle's left hand, which had bunched up uncomfortably between them.

"Gimme your hand, Ray. " He spoke quietly, but firmly, brooking no argument.

Doyle tensed, as if to resist, but he let Bodie bring out his hand, and hold it on top of the duvet. Nothing was said and Bodie wondered if this might be enough. Especially when a calloused thumb began a tentative back and forth across his skin. Bodie swallowed, undone as always by such gestures from his partner, especially when he knew what they signalled.

A man of immediacy, Bodie sometimes forgot that Doyle wasn't. True, Doyle could go from counting daisies to biting heads - frequently Bodie's - in a fingersnap. But the thaw from jaw-clenching worry to the milk and warmth of human kindness took longer. Three and a half days, this time.

It usually took Bodie three and a half seconds. His appreciation for an alive Doyle, no matter how battered and grumpy, was instant and total. It wiped out the hours of anger and worry in a heartbeat and re-energised his eyes and his smile to the point of idiocy.

Bodie turned his head into the curls and breathed deep. Such dissimilar creatures in so many ways, yet Doyle fit his life like no other ever had. He let the sounds and sensations from this surprising Saturday afternoon wash over him and suddenly he knew there was actually something he wanted to say. Before he could persuade himself not to, he curled his fingers a little more around the hand he held and heard the words come out of his mouth.

"I held her hand, y'know."


"May Li. When she died in the ambulance I held her hand, just like this."

It was something Bodie had always wanted to tell Doyle, but never had. It wasn't something he had ever been able to drop easily into an everyday conversation: "Remember the assassin, the one that shot you? Well, I held her hand while she died. Pass the salt, would you?" Much easier to do it this way, to tell the top of his head with the racing results in the background.

The caress had stopped as Bodie knew it would and the silence grew. He continued.

"She asked about you."

"Did she now." Calm enough, but wary.

Bodie nuzzled in close. "Don't you get it, sunshine?" He tightened his hold as much as he dared. "Cowley wouldn't let me hold your hand, so I held hers instead."

As Bodie pressed a long kiss through the curls, he felt Ray's breathing hitch, just the once, and knew as he had in that ambulance, that all would be well again. How he knew he couldn't say, but for Bodie it boiled down to some very simple truths at the end of the day. You did what you could to get yourself through those kind of separations. You stamped your feet and spat at your boss, you thumped someone for using the wrong mug, you held the hand of a dying assassin.

And when it was all over, you pressed your partner against the door before the locks had barely clicked, or you laid your head on his shoulder and listened to his heart, however muffled. And if it took you three and a half seconds or three and a half days to get there, it was of interest to no one but the person under your mouth or under your ear.

As long as you ended up separated by nothing more than a duvet on a drizzly Saturday afternoon, then absolutely none of how you got there mattered a damn.

-- THE END --

May 2006

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