Four Things Bodie Forgot
(And One He Didn't)

by


Written for "Discovered in the Brandy Butter," on the discoveredinalj livejournal community, to the prompts of "Champagne" and "Christmas Crackers



I.

"Billy! Supper is on the table. Get yourself home."

Young William Bodie startled, utterly surprised by the summons he could hear ringing through the council estate. He had lost track of the time. Where had the afternoon gone? It seemed like only minutes since he had dropped off his school bag and bolted free of his of gran's doilied parlour, shouting over his shoulder as he had cleared the doorway, "Goin' out for a bit."

"She sounds narked, Will," said his best mate Stevie from his place at Bodie's side. The two lads were sharing a Woodbine, bums on the cobbles, backs pressed against old man McReynold's garage.

Bodie sighed and squinted up at the slate coloured sky. Felt more like November than April. He tugged his jacket closed across his chest and folded his arms over it for good measure. "She always sounds narked."

"Ah, well. You can't blame her, can you," Stevie said with an almost Gaelic shrug of acceptance, the cigarette pinched between his fingers only enhancing the gesture. "If you were that old, you'd be narked too."

Bodie chuffed at that, glancing sideways at his friend, who grinned back at him, Stevie's urchin face making him look like one of Fagin's faithful. "Bastard," Bodie said without a lick of heat. He needed to say something to ease the guilt he felt as readily as amusement. His gran did the best she could. He knew that. It couldn't be easy feeding two mouths on a mill worker's pension, not when one of them was his.

"She means well," Bodie admitted, taking the tab-end from Stevie and pulling on it one last time before stubbing it out on the ground near his hip. "She just forgets I'm thirteen now. She thinks I'm still in short trousers."

"That's what grans do, don't they," Stevie said, his thin wrists balanced atop his raised knees, his fingers laced, loosely, like a child's shoe. "They like to keep the nippers young. Dunno...makes us cuddlier I guess, safer somehow. S'pose that's all she wants, when you get right down to it. To keep you safe."

"I can look after meself," Bodie insisted, the argument a familiar one between he and his gran.

"I know that," Stevie assured him. "She's the one you've got to convince."

"Don't think that's bloody possible," Bodie murmured with a frown, picking up a pebble and side-arming it so that it dinged against the garage door opposite. "We go round and round, her and me. It's gettin' so she's barely willin' to let me out of her sight. I'm tellin' you, I can't take much more. The harder she holds on, the more I want to pull away."

"Pull away where, do you think?"

Bodie smiled crookedly. "Dunno, do I? Just...away."

Stevie nodded. "Be nice, wouldn't it. Get out of this shite hole and see the world. Maybe hop a freighter down at the docks and sail away to India or China."

"Africa," Bodie said, getting caught up in the dream.

"Some place warm," Stevie agreed, nodding, hunched against the chill breeze lifting the hair from his brow. "Some place where you could have adventures, meet pretty girls, do something besides load crates or work at a mill 'til you drop."

"Billy! Where are you? Come home this instant!" The second call was louder than the first. Bodie couldn't decide if the additional volume came from anger or from fear.

"Fuckin' hell," Bodie grumbled, pushing to his feet and brushing the debris from his behind. "Next thing you know, she'll be callin' the coppers."

Stevie stood as well. "It's not a crime to be late for supper."

"It is in our house."

Stevie smiled. "Cheers then. See you later? Ralph and Joe said they were goin' to the arcade. We could meet up with them, lose some money on the games."

Much as he was tempted, Bodie knew his gran would never go for it. "Can't make any promises."

Stevie nodded, his expression sympathetic. "Yeah. I know. Call round if you can, though. All right?"

"Will do. See you, mate."

Turning, Bodie headed towards home, his heart heavy, his eyes on the pavement.

He wasn't sure how much longer he could go on being what his gran wanted him to be. He knew she worried about him, feared that he might turn out like his da, killed in a pub brawl turned ugly, or like his mum, flighty and irresponsible, and willing to cosy up to any bloke with an admiring eye and a bit of dosh to spend.

It might have been different if he could have stayed with his mum. She was young yet, only thirty. She would remember what it was like to be his age. But she had taken off with that salesman eight months back, and Bodie had only had two phone calls and a postcard since then. She hadn't even remembered his birthday.

Absurdly, he felt his eyes prickle at the thought. Bloody stupid, he told himself, blinking hard against the hurt. If the silly cow couldn't keep the date straight, he didn't give a toss. What did he care about birthdays at his age anyway? He was too old for such rubbish. Too old and too tough.

Yeah. Tough.

Which was why he had to talk sense into his gran. Talk sense or leave.

Before today, whenever he had daydreamed about getting out of Liverpool, he had always imagined going to London. He had been certain the lights of Piccadilly Circus, the press of people at Covent Garden, the majesty of Big Ben and the Tower would offer the kind of excitement he craved, would cure the unnamed restlessness he felt stirring inside him.

But when Stevie had mentioned sailing away from Britain entirely--seeing the ocean crest from the bow of a ship; roaming unaccompanied through a market in Bombay, the scent of exotic spices lingering in the air...

...now that trumped the West End any day.



II.

He couldn't bloody remember Sven's address.

The brawny Swede had given it to Bodie just before Sven had boarded the plane in Luanda, his lovely new bride at his side.

"I go to London before you, English. When you come home, you see me."

Bodie hadn't taken the time or the energy to remind his friend not all Englishmen were Londoners. Sven had known that, even if he had pretended otherwise. What was important was that both men had survived that disastrous raid on the weapons stash just south of Huambo.

Though it had been touch and go there for awhile, especially for Sven.

Their intel had been all wrong. The mixed band of mercenaries and Nationalists with whom Bodie had served had been vastly outnumbered, the Portuguese-led army more than ready for them. Still, despite the odds, the rebels had fought hard that night, and casualties had been high on both sides. Bodie had escaped with a bullet crease on his left arm, but Sven hadn't gotten off so easily. A mortar round had exploded scant yards from his position, the resulting blast rendering him unconscious and bleeding, both within and without. It had taken all of Bodie's strength and cunning to get his fellow merc to safety. But he had succeeded, and unwittingly introduced Sven to the woman he would marry, a pretty Catholic relief worker named Marie.

"Marie and I will be angry if you do not visit us," Sven had warned when his flight had been called, pulling Bodie into his arms for a back-thumping hug. Bodie had hugged the larger man back every bit as hard, knowing even as they had embraced how sorely he would miss him. His relationship with the Swede had not been as intimate as some Bodie had forged with his compatriots, but it had proved no less fond. Sven was a good man. One of the best.

"You will come, yes?"

Bodie had laughed, pleased to see his friend happy and well, with only a rakish scar slanting across Sven's cheek as a souvenir of his injuries. "I will come, yes."

"Good. Here is the address for Marie's parents. Call on us there. We stay with them at first. Take care of yourself, Bodie."

Their goodbye had taken place fifteen months before, Bodie staying behind in Angola for one last campaign. His work finally finished, Bodie was back on British soil, money in his pocket, new clothes on his back. He should have been on top of the world.

But he was lonely instead.

Pitiful, that.

Though, Bodie supposed he shouldn't be surprised. After all, he had spent the last ten years with one group of men after another, first onboard ship, then later with the mercs. He was used to communal living, to having blokes around him all hours of the day and night. He hadn't ever lacked for company, but he had also enjoyed precious little privacy. That used to chafe, the idea that he could hardly swallow without someone knowing about it.

Now though, strolling down Regent Street, Bodie found he wouldn't mind having a mate alongside him to chat with about the birds and their miniskirts, or to mock the Beatle pretenders with hair longer than he would ever wear.

If only he hadn't lost that little scrap of paper.

If only he had memorized what was on it.

Oh, fuck it.

Grimacing at his own carelessness, Bodie headed towards the pub on the corner. It was early yet, but he could do with a pint. He had no trouble capturing the barmaid's eye. Lager in hand, he took his glass to a table near the front windows and, watching the world go by, contemplated his future.

He had only been in town for three days. The first, he had spent inside his luxurious hotel room, taking full advantage of the firm mattress, unlimited hot water, and ridiculously expensive room service. The second, he had done a bit of shopping, replenishing a wardrobe that hadn't contained much besides camos and khaki for years. The third, he had wandered the city, sightseeing, the capital more foreign to him than many places in Africa and the Middle East. Now, the day was coming to a close and Bodie had no idea what he would do tomorrow.

He wasn't used to being idle.

He didn't think he liked it much.

He had stashed enough money away to not have to work for awhile, months if he were careful. But what would he do with any leisure time? He hadn't been in England for more than ten years. His gran was dead. He had no idea where his mother might be. The boys he had been friends with in Liverpool were men now, like him and yet as unlike him as could be. Bodie could just imagine sitting down for a pint with Stevie. He'd be talking about the mountain forests of Cabinda in Angola or the ancient Jordanian city of Petra, and poor Stevie would chime in with the footy scores or who was shagging whose wife a couple streets over.

No. Bodie couldn't go back to his old life. There was nothing for him there. But he didn't want to continue being a mercenary. Angola had cured him of that.

Still, what other skills did he have?

Staring moodily out the window, a strangely familiar sight caught his eye.

A camouflage uniform. Two actually.

Bodie craned his neck, straining to see past the shoppers and the tourists and the mods with their geometric prints to discover why the hell two uniformed soldiers were walking the streets of London. As they came closer, he chuckled. They weren't armed. They were carrying briefcases instead. In town for some sort of official business, no doubt. Hmm. Red berets. That marked them as paratroopers.

Cut quite a figure, the two of them, Bodie thought. Both men were obviously in excellent shape--tall, well-muscled, their faces sun-bronzed and smooth-shaven. Bodie wouldn't have minded having either of them for bunkmates. They looked like they would know how to keep a bloke warm on a chilly desert night. Unknowing of his regard, they strode through the crowds like wolves winding through a pack of lapdogs. Bodie smiled.

I wonder what I'd look like in a uniform like that, he mused.



III.

Dropping to sit heavily on the middle of the bench, Bodie rubbed a frayed bit of towelling over his sweat damp hair. Looking out over the men cooling down on the mats after this latest round of callisthenics, Bodie frowned when his eyes lit on one particular individual. The bloke had his hands braced against the wall as he stretched out his calf muscles, a mop of curly brown hair falling forward to hide his ruined cheekbone. Bodie wished he could remember Curly's name. He thought it might begin with a D--Drew? Durham?--but he couldn't be sure.

Shaking his head, Bodie pressed the tattered terry-cloth to his cheeks and brow. The only reason he was interested, he told himself, was because they were supposed to pair up at the end of the conditioning session for a bit of hand-to-hand work, and he reckoned he'd look pretty stupid approaching the other man with an "Oi, you."

And Bodie had every intention of approaching Curly, had been working up to it for days. He knew why their evaluators were letting them select their own partners for some exercises. They were hoping to learn something about the candidates beyond their bodily conditioning. The week-long appraisal wasn't only about physical fitness, after all. CI5's leadership was also looking at things like intelligence, decision-making, and how the men being tested handled pressure. Bodie was aware of this, even if some of his cohorts seemingly weren't, and planned to rack up points wherever possible.

So, when it came time, and some men chose their opposite, thinking to complement their own skills, while others opted to pick a bloke less talented, knowing that pairings would be judged side-by-side, Bodie would simply select the best.

Well...second best.

Runner-up, yes. Bodie would give him that. The curly-haired man, whatever the hell he was called, was a scrappy fighter and a damned good shot, particularly with a handgun. Built lean and standing perhaps an inch or two shorter than Bodie, the man made up in speed and guile what he lacked in sheer bulk. Bodie had been watching him, as he had watched all the competition, since they had arrived at this rustic little boot camp in the Hampshire downs. Curly was well-trained and disciplined. Bodie thought he had heard someone mention the man was a London copper. If that were the case, Bodie felt certain the bloke had been assigned something a bit more taxing than directing traffic at Trafalgar Square.

"Shift yourself, mate." Bodie looked up from beneath his towel to see a bald, broad-shouldered man looming over him.

"Floor not good enough for you, Callow?"

The big man took no offense. He shrugged and draped his towel around the back of his neck. "Drafty, innit? Besides, sprawled as you are, you're taking up enough room for three, you greedy bastard. Now move it."

With a smile, Bodie complied. He liked Geoffrey Callow, former prize-fighter and, more recently, hired muscle for the rich and famous. Callow had told him he wanted out of the security racket, lucrative though it was, because he was tired of dealing with superstar egos. Bodie thought him na´ve if he truly believed working for bureaucrats would be any easier. Still, Callow was sharp, tough, and had seen enough of the world not to be surprised by it. If he had been a better shot or just a wee bit quicker at thinking on his feet, Callow might have edged out Curly Top for the number two slot. As it was, Bodie ranked him solidly in the top five.

"Scoping out your next victim?" Callow queried, bending to retie his shoe.

"Looking for someone who can give me a decent bout," Bodie said, his tone purposely bland.

Callow shot him a sideways glance, clearly amused and not at all convinced. "What utter shite. If all you wanted was a workout, you could pair up with me."

"Already have done," Bodie said, his smile widening into a grin. "Don't you remember? Or did that left to the jaw not only loosen a tooth but rattle your brainpan?"

"Lucky punch, and you know it," Callow said with a good-natured laugh. "I let my concentration slip and you took advantage. Wouldn't let that happen again."

"All the more reason to steer clear of you," Bodie replied with a chuckle of his own. "Besides, isn't smart to work with the same bloke more than once. Not if you're the one doing the choosing. Makes it look like you're afraid of the others."

"You're not afraid of nothing," Callow said before leaning in to murmur, "Though if you're really as canny as you claim, I'd stop eyeing that scrawny bloke and pick another pigeon." With a jab of his head, he indicated the man in question.

"What--Curly?" Bodie asked in surprise.

"Name's Doyle," Callow said with a scowl in the man's general direction. "Ray Doyle, I think. Him and me paired up yesterday while you and some of the lads were running the obstacle course. I must outweigh him by two or three stone, so I thought I'd have an easy time of it. I was wrong."

"Poor petal," Bodie said with sham sympathy. "What did the little blighter do to you?"

"Grabbed me by the goolies!" Callow growled, seemingly not yet over the experience. "And threatened to twist them off! Now, I could understand that sort of thing in the field. But it was a bloody training session. I'll tell you something, Bodie. That would never have happened in the ring."

Bodie roared with laughter, delighted with what Callow had revealed. Now, he not only knew Curly's name, but more about his fighting style. It sounded like Doyle and he might be even more fairly matched than Bodie had imagined. "Ah, but you're not in the ring--are you, old son? You're out in the big, bad world. Best keep your distance from those mean, smaller types. Stick with your own kind."

"Which is what, according to you?" Callow asked, seemingly resigned to Bodie's teasing.

"Large and mild-mannered," Bodie told him. "With his legs permanently crossed."

Callow shook his head, his sense of humour still holding, and gave Bodie a friendly yet solid shove. The impact was enough to nearly send Bodie to the floor. He took that as his cue to stand.

"Best of luck to you, mate," Bodie said, tossing his used towel in a nearby bin. "Grab some poor sod by the goolies for me."

Callow's response was silent but eloquent, two fingers conveying all he needed to say. Bodie was still chuckling to himself when he sidled up to Doyle, who was bent over one of the room's two drinking fountains, slurping noisily. Bodie took a moment to simply admire the view before speaking.

"You Doyle?"

Straightening, the other man turned to regard him with curiosity. Doyle's cheeks were flushed and the hair closest to his face dark and limp from his exertions. "That's right. Who's askin'?"

"Name's Bodie," Bodie said, extending his hand. Doyle took it in his and shook briefly, yet firmly. "You got a partner then for hand-to-hand?"

Doyle cocked his head, and looked Bodie up and down, his expression suggesting he found Bodie wanting. "Why? You volunteering?"

Unused to being dismissed so readily, Bodie wondered if perhaps he were making a mistake. Maybe the other man wasn't worth the bother. "Unless you're afraid you can't handle me, sunshine."

Doyle chuckled. "You don't half think highly of yourself, do you?"

"Know me worth," Bodie said with a nonchalant shrug. Wouldn't do to overplay this. "If you're not interested, you have only to say."

"Nah. It's not that," Doyle allowed, blotting the side of his face with the shoulder of his t-shirt. "I'm just wondering why is all."

It was a fair question. Why had Bodie singled him out of the crowd? Was it simply because Doyle was good at what he did? Or was it because he was just Bodie's type, a type Bodie hadn't let himself indulge in since signing up with the paras?

"Must be because I like you," Bodie said, telling the truth, though not all of it.

"You like me?" Doyle echoed with a scowl, reacting as if the words had been spoken in Sanskrit.

"Don't hear that very often, eh?" Bodie said with a mocking smile. Doyle was making it almost too easy. "Poor pet. How dreadfully lonely you must be."

Shaking his head, Doyle chuffed with amusement. "Christ. Don't know whether to be flattered or concerned. You're a bit mad, aren't you?"

Bodie nodded. "Only a bit." His smile widening, he waggled his eyebrows for effect. Doyle chuckled again. "So what do you say? Loser buys drinks."

Lips pursed as if in consideration, Doyle at last inclined his head and started towards the mats. Bodie lagged a step behind. The view was, after all, inspiring.

"All right. Only you should know goin' in--I feel a fancy coming on for an aged single malt."

"You've got excellent taste, Doyle," Bodie said, wondering if he would enjoy the sparring to come as much as he was relishing their verbal jousting. "Later, when you catch the barkeep's eye, why don't you just order two? It'll make things ever so much simpler that way."

Doyle glanced back at him. Bodie would have sworn there was a touch of the 'come hither' in his eyes. "With the size of your ego, it's amazing there's room enough in here for the rest of us. God help the man who winds up your partner."

Giving in at last to temptation, Bodie patted the other man on the bum before stepping past him onto the mats. "God won't need to lift a finger, mate. I'll be help enough for the both of us."



IV.

Fingering his jaw with the lightest of touches, Bodie winced just the same.

He'd forgotten how hard Ray could punch.

It had been years since Doyle's fists had been used against him in any way other than matey rough-housing. That night though, after what Bodie had said and done, Doyle had put every ounce of his whipcord strength into a wicked right cross. More surprised than he probably should have been by his partner's reaction, Bodie had been just a fraction too slow to avoid the blow. Upon impact, he had tumbled from his place at the end of the sofa to the space between that piece of furniture and his coffee table.

"You dumb fuck!" Doyle had railed at him afterwards, standing over Bodie from the opposite side of the table, his chest expanding and collapsing like high-powered bellows, his eyes flashing, his mouth wet. "Where do you get off?"

"Clearly not with you," Bodie had murmured lightly, his gaze sliding away from Doyle's to focus somewhere on the carpet. Humiliated in ways he hadn't even considered, he had tried for humour, but had fallen pitifully short of the mark.

Yet, even as weak as Bodie's attempt had been, Doyle had recognized his intent. "You think this is funny, mate? You think jumpin' your best friend, treatin' him like some sort of hire by the hour tart is comical?"

Leaning back against the sofa, Bodie had frantically tried to get his scrambled brain to function. He had always known his partner might react unfavourably should Bodie chance his hand, but had deemed the risk acceptable. He had seen interest in Ray's eyes before, he was sure of it. Had more than once glimpsed what Bodie was positive had been speculation in the other man's sea green gaze. That night, both of them well lubricated by an excellent bottle of Scotch, looking forward to an all but unheard of two consecutive days off, and ever so easy in each other's company, Bodie had finally taken the step he had contemplated for years.

And had been decisively flattened for it.

"Don't be ridiculous, Doyle," he had said at last, looking anywhere and everywhere but at his partner. "I don't find slapstick the least bit amusing."

That second admittedly feeble stab at breezy repartee had been more than Doyle had been willing to stomach. Saying not another word, the curly-haired man had turned on his heel and marched out the door, slamming it behind him with enough force to rattle the windows in Bodie's flat, and goad the foul-tempered pensioner next door to bellow his displeasure.

For a moment or two, Bodie had simply sat there, unmoving and saying nothing, endeavouring to understand how he could have miscalculated so tragically. Life as a statue hadn't suited, however. So, it wasn't long before he had climbed awkwardly from the floor, his aching face cradled in the palm of his hand. "Well. Can't say that went according to plan."

Now, nearly three hours later, Bodie had thrown out the cardboard containers that had once held vindaloo and rice, washed the dishes from the takeaway dinner Doyle and he had shared, finished off what little remained of the Scotch that had accompanied their meal, and opened another bottle of single malt when thirst and consciousness still remained. This second one had been intended as a birthday gift for the Cow. It looked like Bodie would need to hit the shops again before the old man was being called on to blow out candles.

Busy work complete, Bodie found he had little else to occupy his mind, yet wasn't the least bit tired. Sighing in resignation, he returned to the scene of the crime, tea towel wrapped ice clutched in one hand, a glass of amber liquid in the other. Settling gingerly in the corner of the sofa, he put his feet on the coffee table, tipped back his head and pressed the ice to his throbbing jaw. Well on his way to being spectacularly drunk, he closed his eyes, sipped his drink, and listened to the radio, which had been playing softly in the background all evening long. Sting was urging some sweet young trollop not to stand too close.

Wouldn't have minded getting close to Ray, Bodie admitted to himself with a touch of well-earned melancholy. If Doyle had reacted more positively to his overture, they would be in the bedroom by now, learning how best to please and be pleased.

"Had to go and ruin it. Didn't you, Doyle?" he said softly, putting the increasingly sodden towel on the carpet, and turning all his attention instead to the Scotch, which he swirled gently in the lamplight, hypnotised ever so slightly by its journey round the glass. "Couldn't trust I knew what I was doing. Couldn't take a chance and see where it all might lead."

As if in answer, the doorbell rang. Bodie glanced at the clock on the wall. It was quarter past two.

"Who the fuck...?" he mumbled, setting his glass on the side table and pushing unsteadily to his feet. "Don't you know what time it is?" he asked the empty lounge. "I could have been asleep."

Crossing to the intercom, he stabbed at the button. "What?"

A tinny voice responded. "We need to talk. Let me in."

Doyle.

"Don't know that I'm in the mood," Bodie said peevishly, yet at the same time, with certain vague concern. He had been drinking steadily now for hours. Doyle was difficult enough to manage stone cold sober.

The bell ding-donged again, and again Bodie pressed the intercom.

"Don't be a prat, Bodie. Either let me in or I'll start picking the bloody lock."

Bodie swallowed the urge to laugh. This wasn't funny. "Well, seeing as you asked so nicely..."

Not knowing what else to do, he buzzed Doyle into the building. It wasn't long before a knock sounded on his door. Bodie disengaged the alarm and locks, and let his partner in before Mr. Pruitt next door could take a renewed interest in the proceedings.

Once everything was sealed up tight again, the two men stood just inside the door, eyeing each other warily, Doyle's face pinked with cold, Bodie's rosy with drink.

"Where you been?" Bodie asked at last, doing everything in his power to keep from swaying.

"Walking," Doyle replied shortly, pulling open his leather jacket.

Ray must plan on staying awhile, Bodie thought with some surprise. He wished he could decide if that was promising or merely sign of a bollocking waiting to happen.

"If you'd kept in a straight line, you'd be halfway to Scotland by now," Bodie said, turning carefully, arm braced against the archway, so as to make his way back to the sofa. He had a feeling things would feel more stable if he could just sit down again.

"'Straight' doesn't seem to be the theme this evening," Doyle said from somewhere behind him.

"Punning, Doyle?" Bodie questioned, gratefully returning to his seat. "Isn't it a little late in the evening for wordplay?"

"Jesus, Bodie. While I was walking, it looks like you were swimming." Jacket now removed and hung on the hall tree, Doyle followed Bodie into the lounge, his brow furrowed. Bodie couldn't tell if the wrinkles were caused by concern or annoyance. "Just how drunk are you?"

Unwilling to admit his folly, Bodie picked up his glass, toasted Doyle, and polished off what Scotch remained, before mumbling, "As I am still awake and aware, clearly not nearly enough."

His hands on his narrow hips, Doyle sighed. This time Bodie was certain exasperation was the cause.

Amused by Doyle's reaction, Bodie chuckled. At his partner. At himself. At the world. "Did you hear that? In the middle there, I rhymed."

Shaking his head, Doyle stalked across the room and threw himself into the chair opposite, looking at Bodie with consternation. "Christ. Everyone's a poet with as much Scotch as you've swallowed warming their belly."

Bodie returned his gaze, pleased despite himself at Doyle's return. He knew he might have a tongue lashing in the offing, but he wasn't willing to try and avoid it by going on the offensive. He was too tired and too heartsick to fight. "What are you doing here, Ray?"

Doyle's eyes dipped at the question, focusing instead somewhere around his knee. "Dunno exactly. Mostly I'm trying to figure you out."

One thing you could say for Scotch. It made a bloke fearless. "Am I so terribly complicated then?" Bodie asked, doing all he could to keep his voice gentle.

"Wouldn't have thought so," Doyle retorted, head upright once more. "Not before tonight."

"Were you really that surprised?" Bodie asked.

"You kissed me!"

"Yes," Bodie replied quietly, trying to keep it simple. "I know."

Sighing again, Doyle ran his hand roughly over his curls. "What do you want from me, Bodie?"

Up to this point, Bodie had been grateful for the numbness granted by the Scotch. It had kept the pain and embarrassment at bay, and loosened his tongue enough to allow him to say things he probably wouldn't have been able to manage under different circumstances. Now however, he was beginning to wish he had a mug of coffee at the ready. Doyle seemed to be looking for some sort of reconciliation, and finesse was suddenly required. Bodie feared he wouldn't be up to the task.

"I would have thought I'd made my desires obvious," he said, lobbing the ball back into Doyle's court.

Doyle was having none of it. "As mud, maybe. You want to tell me what that kiss meant?"

"It has to mean something?"

"Yes."

Bodie took a deep breath and tried to marshal his scattered reasoning. He needed to be honest, but he also needed to try and salvage their friendship. He wondered if it would be possible to do both. "I don't know what you want me to say, Doyle. I fancy you. I have done for awhile now. I thought maybe you felt the same. It seems I was mistaken."

Doyle had his interrogation face on. Bodie had no idea what he was thinking. "You say you've felt this way for awhile. What was different about tonight then? Why act on it now?"

Bodie shrugged. "Dunno. We were having a good night, the two of us. You seemed happy, like you were glad to be here with me."

"I was," Doyle admitted softly.

Bodie nodded. "Thought so. And you looked...like yourself."

Doyle's brows lifted. "What the hell does that mean?"

Now it was Bodie's turn to frown. "Oh come on, Doyle. You must know what you're like. All eyes and hair and boneless grace. You're decorative, petal. Always have been."

Doyle's eyes, never small, widened even more. Pushing to his feet, he wandered a few steps away before turning back to look at Bodie. "Bodie, where did you expect this all to lead?"

Bodie spread his arms wide and shook his head, easy answers beyond him. "I don't know, Doyle. Can't plan everything ahead, can I? Christ, the way we live, a bloke can't even plan one week to the next.

"Maybe that's why I finally decided to try it on. I've known you for years, wanted you for nearly all that time, and yet I'd waited. Waited for the right moment, the perfect instant. And you know what--it never comes. It probably never will.

"You or I could be dead tomorrow, mate. And I would've hated spending eternity with Old Nick, always wondering what might have been, if I'd only been just a touch more daring."

Running out of steam, he shrugged again and dropped his arms, a bit embarrassed by his outburst. "Now I know, don't I? It wasn't meant to be. I'd like to save the friendship, though, if you think you can manage it. Hate to break in a new partner at this late date. I promise I'll behave myself. I've plenty of experience at it, haven't I? You needn't worry."

His gaze trained on Bodie, Doyle came closer, a peculiar expression on his face. One Bodie was too soused to read clearly. "I've known you for more than eight years. And in all that time, you never said anything."

Bodie chuckled, the laughter coming out more bitter than he had intended. "I said plenty. You never took me seriously."

Doyle nodded and took a seat beside Bodie on the sofa. "True. But then, you'd chat up Cowley's arthritic grandmother if you thought it would get you anywhere."

"Only if she had some influence over that bastard grandson of hers."

Doyle paid Bodie no heed. He didn't even smile at his quip. But he seemed to shift closer. "You never let on you were queer."

"I'm not," Bodie said. "At least...not like you mean. I haven't been with a bloke in years."

"Since I've known you?"

"Since the paras."

Gnawing on the corner of his lip, Doyle bobbed his head again, his eyes narrowed as he leant in to study the man next to him. "So you do know what you're doing then."

The hour was late, Bodie's head was swimming in more ways than one, and he was beginning to have trouble following the conversation. "I know how to do a lot of things, mate. Narrow it down for me a bit, would you."

And suddenly Doyle was right there, less than arm's length away. He didn't say a word, just reached out and captured the uninjured side of Bodie's face in his hand. Pausing for a scant breath, as if to allow Bodie time to protest, Doyle pressed their lips together when his partner did nothing but close his eyes and sigh in anticipation.

When Bodie had kissed Doyle before, he had gone the 'all in' route. He hadn't hesitated and he hadn't taken it slow. This though--Doyle's gentle, achingly sweet approach--shamed the memory of that earlier attempt, making Bodie feel as if he had been one step away from banging Doyle over the head with his club and dragging the other man off to his cave.

Doyle's lips were tender against his and coaxing. Bodie felt as if his partner were speaking to him, though no words were uttered. Telling him something of infinite importance, if Bodie had only been sober enough to decipher the code.

Gradually, the kiss deepened, as their mouths parted and their tongues eased forth to tangle and tease. Bodie's one hand stole haltingly to settle on Doyle's side, the other slipped almost shyly into the man's soft curly hair. It wasn't like Bodie to be so timid, but he didn't yet fully understand the rules they were playing under and, at that stage, it would have absolutely gutted him to be rebuffed a second time.

After an interlude that was all too short, Doyle pulled slowly away. Bodie was pleased to see his partner's eyes were heated the warmest shade of green. Ray had been as moved by their kiss as Bodie had been.

"I won't let you play with me, Bodie," Doyle said, his voice coming out all gravel soft and low, his palm keeping its place against Bodie's cheek. "If you want me, it'll have to be me alone. No more sniffing around pretty girls. Or pretty boys, come to that."

"All right," Bodie said, not entirely sure what he was agreeing to, but getting the general gist. "No playing. Or sniffing."

"If we do this, we give it our best shot, and we don't let it muck up the job," Doyle said as if lecturing a child. Bodie tried not to take offence.

"Of course not," Bodie said with what he hoped was the proper measure of disdain. "Queen and country come first."

Doyle nodded. "Good. Now that's out of the way. We have two days off to try and get a handle on the rest of it."

Two days! Bodie had forgotten. How bloody perfect. Except for one small thing...

"Ray, I've a confession to make," Bodie said. "You may have noticed--I've indulged a bit tonight."

The corner of Doyle's mouth pulled up in a crooked grin, his hand slipped from Bodie's face to squeeze Bodie's shoulder instead. "Oh, I noticed all right. It was like kissing a distillery just now. I'm worried about you wandering too close to an open flame."

Bodie smiled sheepishly. "At this very instant, I'm afraid I couldn't get it up with a crane."

Doyle chuckled. Bodie found he didn't mind being laughed at. Not just then. "That's all right, mate. You can make it up to me in the next day or two."

"Or two?" Bodie echoed, a trifle dismayed at the notion.

Doyle stood and offered Bodie his hand. Bodie took it and let himself be pulled to his feet. "Or two, sunshine. You can hold your booze with the best of them. But this time you've outdone yourself. I've a feeling your hangover is going to be of epic proportions."

Bodie groaned and leaned forward to rest his forehead against Doyle's shoulder. Doyle wrapped an arm around him to hold him steady. "You needn't sound so pleased about it."

"I'm not," Doyle said, close to Bodie's ear, his other hand coming up to rub reassuringly on the nape of Bodie's neck. "Unlike you, I've never been good at waiting for what I want. But seeing as you've held off for eight years, I reckon I can hold on for a couple of days."

Bodie lifted his increasingly heavy head and met Doyle's amused, yet seemingly indulgent, gaze. "You better bloody be worth the aggro, Doyle."

"Oh, I am, mate. Trust me when I tell you--I'll definitely make it worth your wait."



V.

His partner was right.

Sinking his fingers deep into the clinging tangle of Doyle's hair, Bodie eased his hips forward and back. Repeated the glide. Once. Twice. Again. This was worth it all, he thought, head tipped back to thud lightly on the wall behind him, mouth open in wordless pleasure. Worth everything.

They were in Doyle's flat, Doyle and him, alone after chasing everyone else away. Because he had recently been shifted into one of CI5's better accommodations ("It's twice the size of my bloody garret!" Murphy had cried upon entering. "And look at all the windows!"), Ray had gotten railroaded into hosting that year's New Year's Eve party, which had meant Bodie had been pressed into service as co-host. The first guest had arrived not long after sundown. The last had departed little more than an hour ago. Left behind were countless empty bottles of champagne and other spirits, trinkets and scraps from dozens of leftover Christmas crackers, and enough picked over finger food to keep the lot in the break room fed for a week.

But Bodie didn't see any of that, any more than he saw the filmy rings on the coffee table or the overflowing ashtrays scattered like smouldering signal fires throughout the place. His vision was taken up entirely by Ray Doyle, kneeling before him in the kitchen doorway, cloaked in shadow, one hand wrapped firmly and warmly around the base of Bodie's cock, the other gripping Bodie's hip to encourage his thrusts.

Bodie obliged him and picked up speed. Oh Christ, it was good. He watched himself sliding in and out of Doyle's wickedly wonderful mouth, the sensation hot and slippery and beyond him to describe with any greater accuracy. Doyle had a real talent for this particular activity. An accomplishment Bodie judged especially noteworthy seeing as Doyle had only recently mastered the skill.

"That's right," Doyle had said on their first night together, nearly a year in the past, "I'm new at all this. But so help me, if I hear one crack about virgins or cherries or wearing white, I'll knee you so hard your balls will pop out of your mouth."

Bodie hadn't doubted him for an instant, and had wisely kept it shut. To their shared credit, Doyle had proved an apt and eager pupil, and the urge to tease had soon disappeared.

The sweep of Doyle's soft moist tongue recalled Bodie to the present. Gazing up at his partner with glittering eyes, Doyle rubbed his tongue on the underside of Bodie's cock, just below the crown, the way Bodie liked it.

"Oh yeah," Bodie moaned, his eyes sliding shut, his hands pulling free to skate over the Doyle's curls in a shaky caress. "Just like that...like that."

Yet, despite Bodie's pleas, Doyle did the opposite of what was asked. Instead of continuing, he pulled away, releasing the taut, aching muscle from between his lips. Bodie whimpered his protest.

"Open your eyes, handsome," Doyle crooned, his voice compelling, like a snake charmer's song. Bodie could do nothing but obey. "Look at me, Bodie," he urged, his palm stroking delicately now, keeping Bodie stimulated, but not giving him enough to let him come. "Tell me what you see."

Bodie looked down at the other man. Dressed as Bodie was, in the remnants of his party clothes, Doyle's colour was high, even in the flat's half light, his mouth glistened with promise. "I see a bastard is what I see. A tease. And a terrible human being."

"All that?" Doyle mocked with gentle humour, his thumb tracing distracting patterns on the tip of Bodie's most sensitive flesh. "How unnerving. No wonder you had to shut your eyes."

"Afraid I was falling asleep on you, Doyle?" Bodie asked, reaching out to glide his knuckles lightly along the curve of Doyle's cheek.

"Nah," Doyle said, shaking his head, then leaning in to give Bodie a friendly lick. Bodie shuddered helplessly in response, but kept his eyes open and locked on the man at his feet. "Afraid you might forget who you were with."

"Not a chance," Bodie told him with a smile.

"See that you don't." Seemingly reassured, Doyle bowed his head and took Bodie inside once more.

"Ray!" Bodie gasped as Doyle stroked over him, and shoved forward with his hips. Doyle took it, like he took him. Like he accepted all of Bodie--his cynicism, his insecurities, his playfulness, his rage.

"Ray," Bodie repeated, meeting Doyle stare for stare, loving the way his partner worked him, his mouth pulling and sucking, relentlessly and utterly driving Bodie out of his mind.

"Ray!" Bodie cried, taking hold of Doyle's hair again. And Doyle let him, allowing Bodie to guide the motion, increase the tempo and the depth of his thrusts.

"Ray..." Powerless now with his finish upon him, Bodie's eyes slammed shut as wildfire raced from the base of his spine outward to ignite his nerve endings. Chanting his partner's name like a prayer, Bodie trembled and came, his body emptying into Doyle's exquisite mouth, giving him everything--everything he was, everything he had, everything he believed he would ever be.

Exhausted suddenly in the aftermath, Bodie's knees buckled and he began to fall. But Doyle caught him, and held him fast, lowering him carefully to the floor. Resting spent against his partner, Bodie could feel the other man's arousal pressing into his hip. But Doyle seemed in no hurry to do anything about it. He cradled Bodie with a kind of tenderness that would have surprised anyone but the man in his arms, cushioning Bodie's cheek with his shoulder, threading his fingers slowly and soothingly through Bodie's hair.

"Happy New Year," Bodie whispered with a smile.

"You certainly know how to celebrate," Doyle said, chuckling.

"What can I say, Doyle?" Bodie asked, stretching up to press a kiss just below the other man's ear. "You throw one hell of a party."

-- THE END --

December 2007

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