A Falling Off
Bodie glanced across at the man swaying by his side. Doyle was drunk. Not falling-down-puking-over-your-shoes-in-the-gutter drunk, but definitely an unsteady three sheets to the wind. He paused as his partner seemed to fall up the kerb, if such a thing were possible.
Better make that three and a half sheets, thought Bodie with a grimace as Doyle misstepped and bounced off his shoulder. Something close to a giggle emerged as they came to a halt.
"What?" Bodie turned.
Doyle blinked slowly. Twice. "Never said a word, mate." A hiccup belied the gravity of his denial.
Bodie couldn't help it. His face hurt, his back was bruised, his lips were split, but something about an inebriated Ray Doyle got through. Against his better judgement he rested back on the doorframe of his building and grinned. The regret was instant.
"Ow! Bloody hell."
"What?" said Doyle, all slow concern as he leant forward.
"Nothing," Bodie sighed. Fuck, he was tired. "Don't make me laugh, you." He reached into his pocket and handed over his key. His wrists and fingers were still sore, and drunk or not, Doyle was Raffles with anything locked. "Just get us inside, Ray, and stop pratting about."
Once inside, Bodie focused on getting to his living room, and to a settee which had never looked quite so inviting. He bit his lip as he sat, but the groan of relief was unavoidable. He found the energy to glare at the man grinning at him from the doorjamb.
"No, no, quite all right, you slump away, Grandad. I'll put the kettle on and do the honours, shall I?"
Too tired to fear for his kitchen, Bodie sat as bonelessly as he could on his overstuffed settee and let his head fall back. He listened to the sounds of Doyle trying to make coffee in the kitchen, and even when a curse followed a crash, felt what he always did when his partner was here at this hour. It was an oddity, but not one Bodie chose to worry about, that in his own flat he needed Doyle banging around, breaking God knows what, to feel what he had recognised with a jolt one day as a sense of belonging. If memory served, on that particular day an FA-cup-final argument had become spirited, with Bodie gloating once too often and Doyle throwing half a can of lager at him for making him drop uncooked spaghetti all over the floor. Propelled backwards by his furious partner, he was in the process of being tossed out of his own kitchen when the word had suddenly come to him, explaining everything. Family.
The thought had left him grinning like a loon, even as Doyle threw a wet dishcloth after him and told him to bugger off and get some wine since they were now out of lager. Wary of giving it all too much importance, he had bought the wine, eaten the spaghetti and simply resigned himself to the fact that for some unfathomable reason, a scruffy ex-copper with an acid tongue and appalling habits meant home.
Another curse from the kitchen and Bodie closed his eyes, content to drowse. He should really turf Doyle out and get to bed, not drink a coffee he didn't need. His lips curved. And wouldn't get if the sounds from the kitchen were anything to go by. He opened his mouth to tell Doyle to stop, and promptly closed it. Doyle was not going to be sober enough to drive home and would have to crash on the settee, in which case Bodie would need the coffee to kick start him on his way to the bedroom. Another smile, this time a resigned one. Talk about lives intermingled; from coffee to keys to coffins...He opened his eyes. What the hell? He licked his lips, his mouth suddenly dry as his heart sped, enveloping him in its own loud and uneven rhythm. He breathed in, an off-key whistle sounded faintly over the thrum, and everything slowed again.
Just a bloody long day, he told himself as he shifted, and then winced when the labours of the afternoon made themselves felt anew.
All aching aside, the funny thing was the weight of it, which he could still feel. Fifteen pounds, they'd said. Not even a fraction of what Bodie bench-pressed one handed when he was showing off. But weighed out in high explosives strapped securely over his heart, those fifteen pounds had dragged like the Rock of Gibraltar in as many seconds. With his hands tied behind his back, the ungainly press of it had threatened his balance as he ran hell-for-leather away from the gunfire, away from the chaos of voices, and away from the maniac pounding after him through the smoke.
Bodie had rarely known such impotent fury as he had at the sight of Doyle casting his lot like that, defying Bodie's instinct to keep him safe and give some meaning to the death he was undoubtedly seconds away from. He couldn't even remember the words they had spat at each other across the rapidly shrinking distance. And it wasn't that Bodie hadn't saved lives before or been saved by others. On the streets of Belfast and in the jungles of Africa, a timely shot or a shove on the shoulder had made the difference many a time. Hell, he and Doyle had done it so often their alert system was down to the fine art of a raised eyebrow and a head tilt.
Still, he had never been the focus of such single-minded determination to be rescued or have someone die trying. It was burned onto his retina: the flash of that ridiculous burgundy shirt when Doyle had thundered out across the grass, arms pistoning, jaw set, decision made there and then, though the heavens would--
A loud slurp right in front of him brought his mind back and his eyes open to find an arm in that same shirt extending a mug out towards him.
"Not having you fall asleep after all my hard work in the kitchen."
Bodie wrapped a slow, cautious hand around the mug, grateful yet irritated that Doyle recognised the need to keep hold of it an extra moment.
"What suffered this time?" inquired Bodie dryly.
"I did, mate." Doyle let go and took a slightly unsteady step back. After a moment's hesitation he put his own mug on the side table and sank to the floor, anywhere else clearly too much effort. "That sugar bowl of yours jumped up and bit me." He waggled a clearly intact left hand as some kind of evidence, while his right reached for his coffee.
Bodie blew across the top of his rather full mug, thankful Doyle was at eye level.
"Get your own back, did you?"
"Absolutely. Broke it to pieces, it won't be doing that again."
They grinned, one at the other over the mugs, and split lip aside Bodie had to admit it felt damn good. Something was loosening, tilting off and away, and his breath suddenly came easier than it had all day. And all it had taken was Doyle sitting there, gloating over a broken sugar bowl. Momentarily overcome, he looked down and drank deep. Strong, and with the usual horse-dose of sugar, but coffee had never tasted so sweet or felt so good going down. He blinked, and his tired mind finally caught up to the fact that he was unwinding from the certainty of a death foretold and expected.
Feeling better, he paused from the coffee to contemplate the cross-legged picture of domesticity on his carpet. Doyle was currently slouched back against the armchair, mug tilting precariously while he sniffed and scratched absently under his holster. It was hard to reconcile this with the man who had bowled his legs from under him and brought him to the ground with a savagery that had knocked the air from both lungs. Knee in his back, Doyle had ripped it all off, shouting his defiance at Bodie, mad bombers, and whatever the fates thought they might have in store. The force of those hands had welted Bodie's neck as Doyle wrenched, spun and then flung, crashing to curl beside him. And with the earth vibrating through his ears and the smell of cordite filling his nostrils, Bodie had known the shock of finding himself in one living, breathing piece post-detonation.
The will of one Raymond Doyle. Quite a sight to behold. Bodie watched his partner take another noisy slurp and couldn't keep the warmth from his voice.
"I do have chairs y'know, Doyle."
Doyle flapped a hand dismissively, too busy draining his mug to reply.
Relaxed more than he'd thought possible, Bodie made the mistake of attempting to stretch out.
He looked up sharply; Doyle had sobered fast if he'd caught that. And indeed, the eyes on him were bright.
"Your fault if you must know, sunshine," said Bodie on a sigh. "A fella's knee in the small of your back'll bugger your posture something rotten."
"I'll remember that the next..." He grimaced and Doyle was up and moving as soon as he saw it. Bodie's abused hand was cramping and about to send coffee southwards. "...time I'm saving your life." Even as he spoke he was clamping his own fingers around Bodie's on the mug, sliding down in front of him and saving his shagpile carpet.
For a heartbeat the tableau held its breath.
"You and a carpet in one day, I should get a medal."
Bodie said nothing, but he let his partner peel his fingers off the mug, nodding his thanks as the cramp eased and his face smoothed out. He shook his hand carefully, flexing the fingers, and sat back.
"Now that was a close shave."
He looked up, and his wry smile faded into something else. Doyle hadn't moved. He was still there in the space at his feet, left forearm now slung over Bodie's right knee for balance, mug already carefully set aside on the side table.
Another tableau held its breath. A pair of green eyes held Bodie in their steady gaze, and in one moment it was all there again: the whisper of something changed, a pulse in the air which beat its wings between them, and which in his heart of hearts Bodie could no longer ascribe to adrenaline.
At the airfield during the mop up they had barely spoken. Just stood at first, a shoulder's width apart, while they watched Cowley hold on to a dying Christina. After she breathed her last, an unmoved Bodie had turned on his heel, the slight race to his pulse having nothing to do with her.
When the ambulances, back-up crews and police arrived, Bodie had found himself caught up and only too willing to push his aches aside and focus. However, he had kept Doyle in his peripheral vision at all times, and not out of habit, ingrained though it was, but because some bizarre magnetic pull was keeping him maddeningly aware of the man's every step. Once he had lifted his eyes, helpless, and unerringly found his partner, half a football field away and looking up from an inspector's notebook. The nod he'd got, and the uncertain half smile, had done a lot for Bodie's sanity. At least he wasn't the only one experiencing this.
Whatever this was.
After the last police car pulled away, Doyle had arrived at his shoulder, grabbed his arm none too carefully, growled "We're done," and hustled him off the field into the Capri he had somehow conned Susan into bringing. Despite Doyle's moody silence as he slid behind the wheel, and the crackle of tension as he slammed the car into gear, Bodie'd had no qualms about where they were going. A wind-down in a pub somewhere was a given, particularly after an op like that, so he'd tipped his head back on the passenger seat and tried not to sulk about the fact that he wouldn't be able to numb any of the strangeness with alcohol. He had been tended to on site under Cowley's stern eye and force-fed painkillers in return for escaping a trip to Casualty.
Thus, when they got to the small country pub it had been up to Ray to drink fast and for two. A couple of speculative glances in Doyle's direction later and Bodie had relaxed an inch or two. His partner's mood, though quiet, hadn't seemed particularly desperate. Besides, Bodie had had other things to think about, one of them being how to sit comfortably; the thrum of his aches and bruises had returned in the car and his back had started to hurt. He'd bent his leg under the table and sworn softly at the stiffness. No response from the man on his left. So much for a magnetic pull, he had thought dryly, oddly cheered by the lack of reaction from the grumpy profile deep in its beer.
By the time he got through his second, sadly unspiked, orange juice the congenial ebb and flow of pub garden life around him--and the pills, probably--had been having an effect. Wanting to clear his mind, he'd taken a deep breath as unobtrusively as he could while studying the bent head of the incorrigible nutter next to him. He'd smiled, seeing it all suddenly for what it was, had been, and would be again between them--nothing more nor less than a megawatt adrenaline high from which they both now had to come down.
Clearly neither knew how to speak of what had taken place at the airfield, but that was okay, Bodie had realised, when Doyle suddenly looked up from his pint glass and filled an awkward pause with worry about a lost expense chit. From trying to blame Bodie for it, it had then been a short leap to almost tricking Bodie into paying for a round of sandwiches, to cackling at something off the cuff and bawdy Bodie said about the barmaid.
In other words, business and banter as usual.
Except that it wasn't. Because here he was in his flat, in his living room, with a carpetful of Ray Doyle, whose ridiculous burgundy shirt was pulling him forward, all aches be damned, and whose unhurried breath was already close enough to hear. A flicker of uncertainty crossed the face before him, and Bodie's forefinger rose unbidden to trace that outline, cheek to jaw, with the lightest touch of the flat of his fingernail.
"Can't believe what you did today, sunshine." Bodie spoke quietly, and with a reverence he felt to his toes.
Doyle swallowed. Bodie watched his throat move, barely resisting the temptation to smooth it with the continued brush of his finger.
"Funny you should say that, mate, because I can totally believe what you did."
And it was done, laid out between them in their usual succinct and uncomplicated fashion. In truth, the revelation was easy for Bodie, there in his lounge with his partner carelessly slung across his carpet and his knees. He had known surprisingly early on that he would do whatever it took to keep this man safe, including giving his own life. It was something he neither boasted of nor denied, unconcerned whether Doyle knew it or not; a fact of his life to be accepted with a shrug and filed away.
Not a man given to introspection, Bodie was smart enough to realise that he did not want recognition for it because he did not see it as anything particularly noble. His life had been a volatile one from the start, and no experience in it, from childhood to Africa to army, had ever taught him that his own hide was of exceptional value and worth preserving at all costs. It was a perception of himself and his place in the world that had kept him sane, earned him ribbons Doyle knew nothing of and made him incapable of planning so much as a week ahead his entire adult life. Only here it was, going to hell in a handcart because Ray Doyle said so.
With a slow smile of recognition and acknowledgement, Bodie found that there was nothing left to do but let the pet theory which he had walked with all his life fall and quietly shatter, taking with it as it did the last walls of an isolation he barely recognised any longer as his. A lick of warmth curled through in its place, deepening into an unexpected sense of ease as he sat back, his eyes never leaving his partner's.
And the pull was back, only this time it was Doyle who took himself forward, no doubt recognising Bodie's wary settling for the backache it was.
Doyle stretched up on his knees, never leaving the space between Bodie's. "You didn't really think I was going to let you run off and die while you still owe me four quid..." he said, shuffling his own knees apart, locking his centre of gravity. "Did you?" He let his hands fall loosely onto the settee, either side of Bodie's lap.
Mesmerised, it took a second or two for Bodie to find his tongue. "What four quid?"
But Doyle did not answer. Instead he leant up and forward, and Bodie felt the world around him drop away. Was Ray going to kiss him? Is that what a life offered and saved was now worth between them? Bodie stilled, the turn of his life once again in the hands of this scruffy ex-copper, while he took a second to realise that he had nowhere to go, no more settee to retreat into.
Whether Doyle changed his mind at the last second Bodie would always forget to ask, but it was not a kiss that his partner came forward to give. Rather, it was the press of a forehead against his, an act all the more shockingly tender and intimate somehow. He swallowed, bewildered and charmed in an instant.
"Bodie, Bodie, Bodie." A whispered incantation from Doyle, his eyes closed and his breath warm.
Bodie whispered his own right back, in a single heartfelt syllable.
He heard Ray's breath catch and felt the loss as the head on his snapped up. He braced himself, aware that however true a response on his part, it had probably not been the wisest thing to say.
He needn't have worried. There was nothing but amusement in the green eyes.
"That's you at your eloquent best then, is it?"
"'Fraid so, sunshine. Bloody hurts." He was referring to the bruising above his right eye, which Doyle had inadvertently aggravated.
"Sorry 'bout that." Doyle grinned, clearly anything but. "Forgot. You banged your head."
"Bang yours in a minute."
The tension in the room eased at the note of something so familiar. With an exaggerated sigh, Doyle made to lever himself up off the floor. "C'mon. Way past bedtime for banged up Bodies. You've still got your jacket on, for crying--"
A sharp tug on his sleeve kept him in place as it threatened to unbalance him. "Bloody hell! Watch--"
"I can do better than 'ow', y'know."
And just like that the tension picked right back up.
Doyle licked his lips. "Yeah?"
Bodie nodded, more confident now. An unplanned reflex had made him grab at his partner, but he really did want to do better while pills, gratitude and this easy warmth had him in their grip. He felt the oddest catch in his heart at the way Doyle trustingly stilled. The words came to mind, seemingly out of nowhere, and just seemed to fit.
"What a falling off was there."
Doyle blinked, a quizzical look in his eye, and Bodie's mind drifted as he thought about it. He remembered and smiled. His peasant of a partner was going to choke.
"Hamlet," Bodie confirmed, enjoying the slight squeak in Doyle's voice.
"Smug bastard," Doyle said with a shake of his head, finally getting to his feet. "I say your name and you come up with Hamlet?"
"Pearls before swine, I know, mate, but someone's got to set the tone." He took the hand offered down to him, too sore to be bolshy about needing it.
Once on his feet, Bodie walked stiffly out of the lounge to the small entrance hall.
"Oi, where do you think you're off to?"
He opened the airing cupboard, then re-emerged with his arms full of a pillow, a duvet and a tatty tracksuit of his partner's that seemed to have taken up residence. He dumped them into Doyle's outstretched arms in way of an answer. "Don't care how much coffee you drank, you're blinking too slow to drive, so get yourself around that little lot. I'm off for a quick bath and a bit of oblivion for..." He looked down at his watch. "Will you look at that? All of a soul-restoring five hours."
It took Doyle a second, then he groaned.
"Forgot, didn't you?" said Bodie sweetly.
"Yeah." He dragged the word out with feeling. "Bloody Cowley and his loose bloody ends."
They would be back on library duty the following day. An unknown name on a scrap of paper deep in Dreisinger's pocket was all it had taken to trigger Cowley's demand that he would not call it wrapped up, 3.7 and 4.5, until every damn "i" had been dotted, every "t" crossed. This was, of course, after they went in bright and early to write, type and give their account of the airfield adventure, a report they had temporarily wangled out of by going to the pub instead.
"Look at it this way, mate, your mind needs all the improving it can get, and you'll be doing it on the Cow's time. Give you some reading tips, shall I?"
Doyle glared at him over the bedding he was still holding. "Bog off, Bodie."
"Bog off, Bodie? Charming, that is, sunshine. Well, goodnight to you'n'all, sweet Prince." He headed for the door.
He turned back at the soft call, half anticipating it. He knew his Doyle, and had not really expected a clean getaway to bed and bath without a little emotional nail-chewing first.
Doyle shuffled his feet. "You okay? I mean, is everything...? Oh, sod it, are we okay?"
Nothing charmed him quite like the rare sight of a tongue-tied and uncertain Ray Doyle. Tempted to stretch out such an enjoyable moment, he took pity--dozy sod was still holding the bedding--and walked back over to him.
He smiled, taking the pillow off the top and tossing it over Doyle's shoulder onto the settee. "We are okay." He reached for the duvet while Doyle stood there, seemingly transfixed and tracking his every movement. "Don't you worry your curly mutton head, we are better than okay." He turned back from smoothing out the duvet, hesitated a moment, then took a deliberate step closer.
"But not today, eh?" This time it was his whole hand that came up to rest on the side of his partner's face. "Not when we're both tired, sore, and you're a little drunk still..." His hand slipped as he realised he had no ending for his sentence. Nothing to explain this shift in perspective he was now feeling, his ease with the world and this man. It was almost euphoria, and truth be told, he was disquieted by it.
"...and we've just offered to die for each other?" There was a smile behind the intensity.
The safest thing seemed to be to nod, so Bodie did, grateful beyond words for such freely-given under-standing. His hand dropped to squeeze Doyle's shoulder.
"See you in the morning, then." He looked up and they acknowledged each other with small, tight nods. Bodie cleared his throat, finally stepping away. He turned at the door.
"By the way, I'm the wounded one here, mate, so I expect to be woken by the smell of a fresh brew, all right? You just set your alarm nice and early."
Doyle's response was both non-verbal and predictable.
The book did not land next to his elbow from a great height, but its arrival still made him flinch. Doyle had been busy keeping one eye on the counter and using the other to wade through the Vietnam war with a bunch of teen soldiers who, if Michael Herr was to be believed, had waged said war stoned out of their heads most of the time. Interesting, have to ask Bodie about--
It was red, slim and leather bound, and Bodie did not even break stride or pause when he dropped it next to him and passed on, muttering distractedly about ornithology as he appeared to scan the shelves and not find what he was looking for. Doyle watched the performance until he rounded the corner, then turned his bemused smile on the book. Probably some bodice-ripping Victorian porn, or an Enid Blyton just to take the piss, if he knew his partner.
Apparently he did not.
"Hamlet by William Shakespeare" was written in neat gothic-style curlicues on the cover he turned over. His smile faltered, then widened. Smug git. He looked up, wondering if Bodie was lurking somewhere to catch his reaction. But the aisle was bare, so after yet another scan of the counter, he cracked the spine and looked at the first page. Not the peasant his partner enjoyed dismissing him as, Doyle did have to admit to a bit of a blank spot as far as the bard was concerned. He had a vague memory of poncing about in something unsightly on a school stage, playing arrow fodder in one of Shakespeare's more bloodthirsty efforts, but that was about it.
Still, he was undercover--sort of--and while he was bored out of his mind with this waste of a day, he was not at home with a mug of something and his feet propped up. So he knew he was going to have to scan more than read. Didn't matter, he was going to unearth that bloody quote if it killed him.
Absorbed a little more than he should have been, he was just bending his head to the task when the library doors swung quietly open and a rather nervous young man entered and stopped in his tracks.
It was the faint tremor and the accent that brought Doyle's head up. Nothing more than an innocent inquiry about overdue fees, but the man's eyes were everywhere except on the librarian, and the bulge under his short coat looked decidedly more handgun than book to expert eyes. Pale, young, blond, and nervous, he shifted from foot to foot, pushed at wire-rimmed spectacles and generally looked every inch the terrorist apprentice. Straight from the fucking catalogue, thought Doyle in disgust as he rose smoothly out of his chair. Caught temporarily in the man's line of vision, he could do nothing untoward. But he had already seen Bodie, circling in behind the queue at the issue desk. A brief look passed between them, and Bodie put his hand under his jacket, nodding at Doyle as he did so.
The man was clearly scanning the library now and looking twitchier by the second. Doyle watched as his hand stole under his coat to rest on the bulge there, and he cursed Cowley for hunches that played out in public places. With a last check on Bodie, who was moving quietly up the queue, Doyle eased into the cover of an aisle, where he slid his own gun out, aware that this supposedly simple pickup could now get nasty.
Doyle hated terrorists. Not quite with the ice that Bodie did, but he still hated them. Give him a pumped-up junkie any day over these pale urchins who sold their humanity without ever knowing it. And he hated would-be terrorists even more, because like with Mr Twitchit over at the counter, you had to add an unhealthy dose of incompetence to the mix.
Doyle raised his ID and a finger to his lips to quieten any alarm from the startled woman suddenly sharing the aisle with him. "'S okay, love. Just a few too many overdue books, can't be too careful these days." Gun out, but back under his jacket, he gave what he hoped was a reassuring wink before moving to peer round the shelving.
The next half minute or so played out for Doyle at somewhere between five seconds and eternity. Five seconds because that's how long it took for a little girl's "Look, Mummy! That man's got a gun!" to be heard loud and clear and for him to realise that "nasty" was going to be an understatement. Eternity because he saw the aforementioned gun come up and swing out on a hair-trigger reflex to where the voice had come from, and he knew, without being able to do a single thing about it, that his partner was going to move towards the frozen child but was going to be impossibly late to prevent tragedy. Mr Twitchit was clearly too trigger-happy for Bodie to have a chance of getting there in time.
As fast as he saw this, Doyle's reactions were still that crucial split-second behind the finger now squeezing the trigger. He heard the bang--deafeningly loud in the confined space--saw his partner and the girl fall in a mess of limbs and a spray of blood, registered the chaos of screams that lit up from all around; all as he took a calm professional aim through a flurry of scattering people. He fired three rounds, spinning and dropping Mr Twitchit where he stood, ignoring the bewildered look on the dying face that turned towards him.
Doyle scrambled. Past a frightened Joe Public who clawed at his clothes and who he would have kicked aside if any had impeded his path, past overturned tables and chairs, and past a corpse he barely glanced at. He rounded the corner to the counter, heart pounding.
The child was covered in blood and bawling. It was that hiccupy scream-cry that children did, pausing to gulp in as much as air as they could before they went rigid and let rip. But she was upright, in the arms of her distraught mother, and Doyle knew instinctively it wasn't her blood. Which meant...
Which meant that Bodie was in trouble.
Ignoring the gore-speckled mother and child, Doyle scrambled the last few feet to the groaning figure sprawled on his back behind them. He slithered, quite literally, into his partner's side, and his stomach fought momentarily to overcome the sight and smell of so much blood; Jesus, of Bodie's fucking blood.
"R-Ray?" Bodie's lips were bloodless as he struggled to raise his head and clamp his hands around his right thigh.
And that was all Doyle needed for training to take over with an efficiency Cowley would have recognised as CI5 to the core.
"Here, mate, right here." Spoken almost with distraction as Doyle assessed at lightning speed. The bullet had gone through the back of Bodie's right thigh. Hence the blood loss from both an entry and an exit wound. No expert, Doyle knew enough to offer a quick prayer of thanks that the blood was too dark to be arterial. He also knew enough to know there was still far too much of it leaving his partner's body.
"You! At the desk!" The startled head of the young librarian came round. "Yeah, you, love. Call an ambulance!" Glancing around, he saw a scarf resting loosely over the shoulders of the mother still trying to calm her child and wasted neither time nor words in jerking it clear. He worked quickly, clenching his teeth when he began twisting the tourniquet high around Bodie's leg. Eyes never leaving Bodie's face, he raised his voice and continued. "When you get through, tell them it's a priority A3 call." He winced right along with his partner as the cloth bit in.
"Easy, mate." At least Bodie was still conscious. A final twist and Doyle took himself right in close as Bodie reacted, letting the smell of all that blood between them fill him, fill his senses with heat and hope rather than despair. Bodie's eyes flickered open and his breathing wavered. Doyle lowered in further, determined.
"You stay with me, sunshine. You hear? Bodie? You bloody stay." He heard his voice crack on the last and didn't care, if it kept Bodie's eyes open and on his. Bodie managed to nod, just once and barely, then his head turned left and stayed there. His breathing was shallow and shocky in its rhythm, but it was there. Doyle raised a blood smeared hand and patted Bodie's hair clumsily, swallowing before he whispered "Atta boy" for no one's ears but his own. At the sound of sirens, he turned towards the librarian.
"I...I'd already called them, sir, and the hospital's just down the road."
Young and pretty, the librarian was tentatively approaching them--everyone else, he now realised, had pulled back from their little blood-soaked circle, content to gawk from a distance. Feeling a measure of relief, but too preoccupied to thank her, he simply gestured for her to come nearer.
"What's your name, love?"
"Well, Sally, take your hand and keep pressure on this." The blood flow had slowed considerably, and with medical help imminent another priority had surfaced. Waiting until he was sure she had it securely, he eased himself back on his heels, wiped his hand on his jacket sleeve and reached for his R/T. As he spoke into it, he used his free hand to haul over a nearby toppled pamphlet stand. With a gesture to Sally to press down hard, he clicked his R/T off and eased Bodie's leg up to rest on it.
The shift elicited a groan, but just as he moved back to Bodie's head, he heard the doors burst open behind him. He waved his ID high above his head without turning. "Over here!" Knowing better than to get in their way, he contented himself with a brief hand press to his partner's forehead before he backed off. The skin was clammy and Bodie's eyes didn't open.
Doyle ran a hand through his hair, vaguely aware of the picture he presented. "Shock, bullet wound to the right thigh," he informed the ambulance men as they approached. As they went to work, one stepped out and away towards him. He blinked, then realised why.
"No!" The sting of over-reaction. He quietened his voice. "No, not mine. It's...it's all his."
Cowley and police arrived together just as Bodie was being loaded into the ambulance. With his usual abruptness, Cowley ordered Doyle out of the ambulance and back into the library. Recognising the need for post-op protocols--just--Doyle guided him around the crime scene, pausing here and there to give perhaps the tersest verbal report in the history of CI5. When they neared the front door again, he spun on his heel to leave, almost daring his boss to stop him again.
Which, of course, he did. But with a totally unexpected hand on his shoulder. Doyle froze, resisting with difficulty the urge to flinch. He knew that his hard-won composure would not survive an act of kindness right now.
"Och, they don't come any tougher, 4.5. Could have been a damn sight worse and you know it." That, for Cowley, qualified as an act of kindness. But the hand came off his shoulder, and the tone changed just in time. "Though why you felt the need for three rounds when one would've sufficed and perhaps left us with someone to question, I'll never know. A chance, Doyle! A chance to sew it up once and for all, and you go in--"
"Yeah, well, sometimes it's not dead enough, is it? Sir." His head came up on the last, caught up in a reason he himself had not known until it was out of his mouth. Something in his delivery changed the nature of Cowley's gaze on him. He kept his own eyes steady, bracing himself. But Cowley changed tack once again, the wind apparently gone from his sails, while he studied the man before him. Doyle took a breath and tried not to fidget.
"Aye," Cowley said simply, and moved to re-enter the fray of uniforms, witnesses and the occasional flashbulb.
Relieved, Doyle exhaled and took a step away.
"Oh, and Doyle?"
Doyle gritted his teeth as he turned back.
"Home first, 4.5."
"Your clothes, laddie. Good God, man, one look and they'll arrest you."
With that he was gone, and Doyle was left looking down at himself and wondering how he had forgotten that he was covered with Bodie's blood.
He tried not to look at his watch. The badge had helped, as it always did. Bodie was going to be down the hall in a private room when he came out of recovery, and even though visiting hours were long since over and Doyle had no right to be sitting where he was, no one questioned a thing. The occasional nurse smiled brightly at him, but that was all. Helluva fucking privilege. He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Leaning his head back against the wall, he willed himself to sit still and just wait. His hands went to his jacket pockets, and against the odds he relaxed a little. He had just found something which would pass the time quite nicely.
The first thing he noticed when he was finally allowed into Bodie's room about twenty minutes later was how white everything was. It almost hurt his eyes. The walls, the bedding, the bandages, even the chair he hooked his foot round and pulled in. The only colour in the room seemed to be the yellow of yesterday's bruises on Bodie's face. That and Bodie's hair, which looked shockingly dark amongst all that white.
Never at his best in hospital rooms, Doyle watched the rise and fall of his partner's chest for a few unsteady seconds and wondered what he would say to him when he woke. When Bodie was knifed that time, he had cried, for Christ's sake, scaring the crap out of both of them. To give Bodie his due, he had never teased him about it, had never even mentioned it, in fact. Doyle swallowed, suddenly unsure of his emotions yet again as he studied the face on the pillow. He took in the IV, the heavy swathe of white Bodie's right leg was buried under, and the paper-thin hospital gown which did absolutely nothing for him. He let his eyes wander more, up and down both bare arms, which in true hospital style were laid out neatly, palms down, on top of the bedsheets. He slowly took in the faint marks here and there, scars he had never really had the chance to see before, and which were from a lifetime of other battles he knew nothing of. More noble gestures, Bodie? Any of them for partners and small children, mate, or is that just since CI5? He found himself looking for the ones from the previous day, the ones he knew were his. Theirs. There they were, on his wrists, hands, face and neck. The only thing missing was the blood from today. Also ours, thought Doyle before he could stop himself, and without warning the terrible stink and heat of it filled him again.
It was too much. Aware that he was on the verge of becoming undone once again beside his partner's hospital bed, he did the only thing he could think of. He put his head down and waited for it all to pass. His forehead came to rest lightly on Bodie's forearm and his hands anchored him there, one either side of his bowed head, fingers curled lightly round his partner's cool skin.
If there was a better medicine for the storm in his heart, he didn't know it.
If there was anything worse than waking up in a hospital bed with a mouthful of stale breath gumming your lips together while your brain threw off the last of the anaesthetic with a flair for the dramatic, Bodie didn't know it. Resisting the urge to grip his head with two uncoordinated hands and groan, he settled instead for a hesitant squint down the bed.
Nothing rushed back; he already knew not to move his leg, that the itch in his left hand was from an IV and that he had taken a bullet in his thigh because that was head level for the child he had saved. It was only pain and discomfort that Bodie felt in hospitals, never disorientation.
Which brought him to the pressure in his bladder. He squinted around, looking for the call button and offering a silent prayer for someone other than the Nurse Ratchets he usually ended up with. He moved his right hand, and heard and felt the crinkle of something decidedly un-hospital-like. Intrigued, he curled his fingers slowly in and brought it up towards his face. It was a thin piece of paper, folded neatly. Mindful of the IV, he brought his left hand over to open it up. He caught sight of just the first type-written word and immediately knew what it was. Discomfort forgotten, he took in the empty chair pulled in close to his right side, and a grin cracked its way through all the soreness and irritations of hospital life.
Ray Doyle, as I live and breathe you will be the bloody death of me...
A bang, a muffled curse and Bodie shook his head. Not again...
He tried to squint round behind him, but Doyle hadn't moved from the kitchen, merely shouted out above the clatter. About to sigh dramatically, Bodie realised the waste of it and closed his mouth. He had just got his leg organised on a cushion on the coffee table and did not feel like moving to make a point. Trying to settle, he willed himself to relax, but his leg throbbed from the brief walk from car to door, and the skin under the bandaging was starting to itch again. He looked around. Typical, nothing to scratch it with. In the hospital he had sneaked a plastic fork under the bandaging until it had slipped all the way in and stayed there. Sister had not been impressed, and it was a state of affairs Bodie's subsequent charm had failed to rectify. For six very long days. Nearly a week of irritations and bog-awful food before his partner had finally swung by to liberate him a little over an hour ago, with the promise of CI5 gossip and something home cooked. Bodie had curtly informed him that it had better be nothing less than Cowley's long-lost love child and stuffed veal, an irrational sense of abandonment still rankling at having to endure all that hospital time alone.
No sooner had Bodie come to in the hospital and unglued his brain and mouth, than Doyle had stuck his head round the door with a "Sorry, mate", an "All right?" and a "Can't stay. Bloody Cowley!" He had huffed and puffed his way round the small room until Bodie's head hurt and dropped a couple of packets of Jaffa cakes on him with a hasty shrug before disappearing in a flurry of spits and curses to the wintry wilds of Northumberland for a short-handed stakeout. Left to recover one mind-numbing day at a time, Bodie had done just that, albeit with a spectacular lack of grace and good humour.
Of the two, Bodie knew he was the worse patient. Not for him his partner's compliance with the "rest and be thankful" bit. Instead he had a suspicion of hospitals--born in part from a revolting experience in Africa--which tended to wear down even the strongest will to give care. Unless the nurse was busty and blonde he scowled a lot, and to Doyle's disbelief, he occasionally spat pills out when no one was looking. "You never know, my son," was all he would say, finger to his nose.
Still, he was out of hospital now, and as he took in his surroundings, the dragging emptiness of the last few days receded with surprising speed. He tried a cautious stretch and grunted with satisfaction when he managed it. Another clatter interrupted the quiet, and he turned his head towards the kitchen in frustration. What the bloody hell was Doyle doing in there? He opened his mouth to yell, and then he caught the whiff of something tomatoey, heard some loud off-key whistling, and found himself unable to say a word.
Here it all was again. His life, just as it should be.
He eased himself back and settled onto the settee. Best to simply resign himself to the usual state of affairs concerning Doyle and his kitchen.
Another bang, another curse. Bodie squinted round as a head appeared in the doorway.
"A tray, y'majesty? Or will you hobble in and eat with the help?"
"I'll let you know, Jeeves." Doyle's head disappeared again, drawn by something boiling over, no doubt. Bodie's voice followed him. "And ease up on the pots and pans, you."
Whistling was all he heard back. He glanced around the empty living room and tried to get comfortable again. Another waft of something drifted out, and his stomach growled in response. He opened his mouth to shout and realised he was being foolish. Bum leg or not, he had been deprived of conversation too long; he was going to have to enter the fray.
The sight that met him stopped him at the doorframe. Doyle was at the cooker, faded blue shirt serving as a hanky while he stood, up to his armpits in chopped onions and whistling along to something impossible on the radio.
Doyle turned, sniffed outrageously, gave him a watery smile, and Bodie could think of nothing to say. The small kitchen was wreathed in steam and warmth, only part of which he knew came from the pot bubbling on the cooker.
He limped over to the nearest chair and dragged it out. He pulled another out for his leg, made a show of settling in, then laced his hands around the back of his head and looked at his partner, grinning.
"Spaghetti. Now. Then gossip."
"Five minutes, your lordship." Doyle turned his attentions back to the pot. "Ah, yes, the gossip. Well, no news on Cowley's love-child, but you'll never guess who Susan's gone and hooked up with."
"Not the bodyguard from that posh club? The one with no neck and a fake tan?"
The spoon stirring the pot froze. "No, but who the hell is that?"
"God, you're always so far behind, sunshine. Some bloke; pit bull to the rich and shameless. I forget his name, but he was sniffing around her for ages. Thought Jax was going to get himself beaten up and in the papers for that at one point." He chuckled at Doyle's expression. "Just as well I'm here, innit? Or you'd never know anything."
"True. Pathetic, mind. But true. Drink?"
Bodie winced and Doyle grinned. "Can't yet, can you?" He took a moment to rummage in the cupboard under the sink and came up with two cans of something soft and fizzy. Bodie opened his mouth to tell him not to be daft, and to take a lager for himself, but all that came out was "Ta," when Doyle handed it to him. It was a nice gesture, and he'd missed those the last six days.
And speaking of things he'd missed...
Bodie shifted in his chair and gestured expansively around the kitchen, caught in a rare moment of sentimentality.
"This. You. Here in my kitchen, breaking the furniture, and cooking a Doyle-special." Ray stopped to look at him, and Bodie couldn't resist. He took his voice up to falsetto. "Spaghetti bolognese? Why Raymond, I had no idea! What's that you say? My knickers? But, of course--" A tea towel landed on his head.
Bodie pulled himself free of the tea towel. "Not at all, mate. Love your spaghetti bolognese, just don't get a chance to eat it very often."
Doyle took a step away from the cooker and leant in close, catching his partner unawares. "That, Bodie, is because you are not a difficult bird." Purred, almost into Bodie's ear, he slowly took possession of the tea towel again before whistling his way back to the cooker.
Bodie shivered, in all that steam and warmth.
Two minutes later and all was ready. Doyle brought it to the table and took the lid off with a flourish. "Ta-da!"
Bodie leant over, inhaling the fragrant steam noisily. His exhale turned into a beam at his partner, and the shine in his eyes was quite genuine; six days without a proper meal could do that to a person.
Doyle looked back at Bodie, and the moment lengthened, Bodie reluctant to look away from the man he had missed so ridiculously much this last week. When he spoke, Doyle's eyes were not on the spaghetti. "Uh...why don't you get your laughing gear around this little lot, and don't say I never do anything for you."
Taking advantage of a distracted Doyle, Bodie did the only thing his hunger would allow at that point. He grabbed a string of melted cheese off the top, and earned himself a belated rap across the knuckles as he lowered it into his mouth with noisy precision.
"'Ot," was all he could say, still grinning.
Doyle shook his head, brought two plates over and spooned it out. He pulled out the chair opposite the one Bodie had his leg up on, and after a quick "cheers" and a clink of cans, the serious business of the evening began.
Silence reigned for approximately four large mouthfuls before Bodie made it back to the topic at hand.
Doyle paused to drink from his can, then said in a conspiratorial aside, "Fly-half for the England rugby team, no less."
Not a rugby fan as such, even Bodie reacted to that. "Impressive. And where did she find herself one of those? Pass the pepper, would you?"
Doyle did, and twirled another mouthful onto his spoon. "Picked him out of the team line-up, knowing Susan. It's been a while apparently, she kept it under wraps, which knowing our lot is completely understandable."
Bodie grunted agreement, his mouth too full for much else. Doyle carried on. "Then Anson catches her whispering sweet nothings over the phone after a changeover and that was it. She practically puts him in an armlock when she catches him eavesdropping, swears him to secrecy, and of course, it's all round the parish by morning." There was a brief lull while he scooped up another mouthful. He waved his empty fork at Bodie. "And he's taking her skiing in February."
Bodie's eyebrows went up to his hairline and his mouth visibly twitched. Doyle caught on instantly and swiped at him good-naturedly with his fork.
"Sod off, Bodie. What can I say? There was bugger all to do in Northumberland except gossip."
"Don't let Cowley hear about you honing those kinds of skills on his time." A clatter of cutlery on china, and Bodie pushed away an empty plate and patted his stomach approvingly.
"Not stuffed veal, mate, but Christ that hit the spot." Bodie leant back and belched. He caught Doyle's grin and head shake and chuckled himself, feeling better than he had in a very long time.
"Hey, height of appreciation, that is." His eyes tracked Doyle in the soft early evening light as his partner pushed away from the small kitchen table and moved some of their dishes over to the sink.
"I'll consider myself complimented then, shall I?"
"You do that. And while you're feeling all chuffed and chef-like, you might want to put the kettle on since you're over there." He grinned at the look Doyle sent him, aware that they had both been doing that an awful lot this evening. Pathetic really, two grown men this pleased to be in each other's company after a mere week apart.
Doyle turned round to face his seated partner and leant back on the kitchen counter as he waited for the kettle to boil. "You haven't heard the best bit, either. Jax is as down in the dumps about it as you've ever seen, which no one can quite figure out, but Murphy, ah...Murph, pillock that he is, thinks he should get free match tickets out of it."
Some of Bodie's drink went down the wrong way.
"Wait, it gets better. The idiot only goes up to her in the squad room and asks, doesn't he."
"Ahh, what? And me not there to see it?" Bodie's grin widened with an evil sense of regret. "God, I bet he's limping worse than I am."
"Oh, even the Cow was alarmed, mate. Never seen Murph as pale." Just then the kettle sang out. Still chuckling, Doyle turned to busy himself with preparing two mugs of tea, and Bodie wondered why something this mundane should hold his attention and keep his own smile from fading.
When Doyle turned round with the proffered mug, Bodie saw that he was not the only one, and for a second he knew the foolishness of staring and smiling for no reason he could think of. From the look on Doyle's face, he guessed he wasn't alone in this.
"Uh..." Doyle cleared his throat and gestured one of his mug-filled hands towards the lounge. "Here or there?"
"Tea, cloth-ears. Here. Or there."
"Oh, um...there. Bum's gone to sleep here." Bodie lifted his right arm up and out and left it there in space.
"What?" Doyle's turn to look puzzled.
"Help." Still a blank look. "Me. Get up and move. Bloody hell, Raymond, where the fuck were you when they were handing out merit badges?"
"At the back of the line, mate." Ignoring the outstretched hand, together with the pained look, Doyle began to take steps towards the living room. "Got me hands full, Bodie, with more important things. So you can just hobble yourself up and out." At the door he looked back, and Bodie could tell he was keeping his face straight with difficulty. "Teach you not to bring your stick, old fella."
If he'd had something to hand, he'd've thrown it, tea or no tea. The cane he'd been issued at the hospital was already a bone of contention. Bodie had tried to leave it behind in his room, the hospital foyer, the Capri and the lift. To no avail. Doyle was like a bloody golden retriever, forcing it back into his hand at each missed opportunity. Even, as they had exited the car, with a clip round the back of the head, as if Bodie were a trying two-year-old.
Which Bodie supposed was probably not too far off the mark. He wasted a sigh on the empty kitchen before he shook his head and set about moving his leg and getting himself up and out. No chance of Doyle getting all dewy-eyed over him, then. He grimaced as pins and needles made themselves felt, taking a second or two to find his equilibrium. And yet, he reflected, there truly was an odd comfort to be had in the way his partner never let him get away with anything. Kept him on his toes. He glanced around as he gingerly worked himself upright, looking for things to clutch so he wouldn't have to put all his weight on his right leg.
Seconds away from the indignity of hopping, a voice from the doorway cut through his predicament.
"'M tempted to let you, I really am. But it's just too cruel to watch."
Before his dignity had a moment to collect itself, Bodie found his right arm hauled across Ray's shoulders.
"Shall we?" Doyle's eyes were altogether too close and too full of mischief for a coherent response. He seemed to realise this, and his bemused smile disconcerted Bodie even further. "C'mon, hopalong, tea's getting cold." Bodie felt a hand settle on his waist, but he was unwilling to either blink or look away. The smile opposite slipped a little, though the green eyes stayed clear and focused.
"Ready?" Doyle's voice had suddenly gone soft.
And there in his kitchen amongst the dirty pots and pans, with his leg giving him grief, his partner calling him names, and with no great galloping of heartbeats, Bodie knew that he would never get it better than this. Lager stains on the walls, fantastic spaghetti, a cuff round the ear, something whiny and classical on the stereo, a helping hand on his hip...Christ, but he'd been blind.
Every moment in his life that he kept close at hand, however mundane; every trial and tribulation of risk and survival, every vague promise in the word "tomorrow" after every near miss, had all somehow wrapped themselves around this man and tied him to Bodie when he wasn't looking. He would have laughed at the irony, but for the fact that he wasn't ready to say any of it aloud just yet. So instead he lowered his head, taking a moment to gather his thoughts under the cover of a grunt of pain. Unfortunately, the only thing that came to mind was how warm Doyle's breath was on the side of his neck, and how ridiculously safe he felt.
If breath on his neck could do this, anything more was going to be icing on the proverbial...
"Oi! We moving or taking root here?" A slight uncertainty to the belligerence, and Bodie got his thoughts and mouth under control just before his head came back up.
"Ready and willing, sunshine," said Bodie, with a deliberate purr of intensity. He looked for the reaction.
Doyle increased the grip on his hip and his hand, inhaled, swallowed, and then met Bodie's eyes, his smile barely holding on.
Jesus. It was all right here. His for the asking.
If it was an epiphany, however, it was a Bodie-style epiphany. So when he hobbled his way forward, leaning on his partner perhaps a little more than was necessary and only half listening to whatever old-fella jibes were coming his way, his thoughts were singularly, and wholly, centred on how he could get his hands and his lips on the icing of one Raymond Doyle-flavoured cake.
Once in the living room, Doyle lowered him onto the settee and handed his tea to him before taking his own mug over to the armchair.
"Now, if it's all right with you, Grandad, I'll just sit over here and enjoy what's left of a stone cold cuppa--where you off to now?"
Bodie had the grace to look uncharacteristically sheepish as he got himself upright again.
Bodie felt Doyle's eyes on him as he set off, so he straightened and tried not to clutch too many pieces of furniture. He heard, as he was no doubt meant to, the exaggerated tutting that followed him all the way out the door and decided dignity lay in not falling over, rather than in taking a hand off something to whack the curly head as he passed by. Bloody cheek; anyone'd think he'd spent a week twiddling his thumbs by choice.
By the time he got back to the settee, he was actually wondering where he'd hidden his cane and hoping against hope that his partner had missed his last hop, skip and ungainly collapse onto the cushions.
"Use your fucking cane, Bodie! That's what it's there for."
"Just shut it, Ray." Bodie leaned back and closed his eyes, aware that he was being a prima donna, but too annoyed with how much his leg hurt to come anywhere near admitting either. He'd only gone to the bathroom and back, for Christ's sake. He heard his partner thump the arm of the armchair and swear none too softly, then get to his feet and head out to the kitchen again.
So much for his plans for something Doyle-flavoured...
He opened his eyes to find a glass of water and a couple of his pills being held out towards him. The protest was automatic, a well-worn reflex which never got further than an intake of breath, stopped in its tracks by the look on Doyle's face.
Resigned, he handed over an empty glass a few seconds later and tipped his head back, favouring his partner with an apologetic smile.
"Should think so." Doyle turned away to put the glass down. "I am not slinging you across me hip every time you--"
Bodie reached out and caught the cuff of a sleeve, knowing it was a now-or-never kind of moment.
"Not the armchair, mate. The floor. Where I can see you."
For a second he thought Doyle was going to come at him with something caustic--or worse, play dumb--and make it all impossible. Instead, he paused, then made a great production of settling, slowly, cross-legged on the carpet, lacing his fingers together and cracking them. He let them fall to rest loosely on either knee.
Despite himself, it brought Bodie up short. "What makes you think I have something to say?"
Doyle grinned. "Well, I don't see any coffee being thrown around, so I'm not here to save the shagpile."
Bodie seemed to consider it. "Fair enough."
Reaching into his pocket, he withdrew the piece of paper he'd been keeping warm and safe since the hospital, noticing that Doyle stilled the instant he saw it.
Here we go...
"You," he leaned forward, almost hearing the pick-up in Doyle's heart from there, "are a vandal and a thief, my son." He tutted softly, unfolded the thin piece of paper and held it aloft. "After all that mayhem we inflicted on the good people of Dulwich in their library, you think you can just go round swiping books and tearing pages out, sunshine?" Said in the mournful, scolding tone he loved to patronise his partner with.
"I...uh, slipped it into my pocket when I was giving Cowley the guided tour." Doyle rubbed his nose and pulled at a mark on the carpet. "Your fault, mate. Didn't seem right to leave it there after you'd taken the trouble to...y'know, say it to me, and everything." He glanced up, and this time Bodie held his gaze effortlessly.
"Besides." His voice was stronger now, and he began to move, uncurling his legs and taking himself up onto his knees. "Had to find it, didn't I?" Doyle came forward, and Bodie heard his own heart then. Eyes locked with his partner's, Bodie had the strangest sensation of reeling the man in. He swallowed, his knees falling open of their own accord. Doyle raised himself up between them and took the paper from Bodie with the utmost care.
"And?" Bodie resisted the temptation to clear the squeak in his voice and say it again.
"Well, quite what the hell you're doing comparing us to a ghost in chains and someone else's missus, I have no idea."
"You read it then?"
Doyle snorted. "Yes I bloody read it, as you knew I would. 'A falling off', not at all what it sounds, is it?"
He smiled, charmed by Doyle's indignation. "Forget the chains, sunshine, how does it sound?"
He saw Doyle's head go down, and Bodie held his breath. He wasn't about to tell Doyle that the only reason he remembered the phrase was because some bird had told him on a date at the pictures that it was the most romantic thing she'd ever heard. He couldn't remember the film, a weepie where Ali McGraw had whispered it before dying. His repetition of it later on that same date had tumbled them to the floor of her flat and he had never forgotten it. The phrase, naturally, not the girl. Let Doyle think it was the benefits of a literary education.
The devil in him had dropped the play on his partner at the library, wanting to tease, flirt, provoke a reaction. But the silent response, that torn blood-smeared page in his fist at the hospital, had stung his eyes. Doyle's gesture had made him take the words to heart, rolling the phrase over his lips as he'd fallen asleep in that darkened hospital room.
So here in his living room, waiting for that head to lift and the turn of his life to be decided, he knew with utter certainty that come what may, he had been right to think it, say it, and make Doyle know it. Context be damned.
Doyle looked back up and smiled, answering him finally. "Sounds like the truth, mate."
In an instant Bodie knew what it was to feel restless and still at the same time. Some almost-forgotten instinct rose up, urging him to take flight before it was too late, before Doyle closed the gap, and the rules of engagement he was flirting with here changed for eternity. But something else, something far more unfamiliar, was urging him to stay where he was. No more ribbons for you, it whispered, for your hide and your soul finally matter this much...
Doyle's lips, pressing on his with an almost nervous tenderness, suddenly took the decision out of his hands, and he felt a clarity he had never expected. He closed his eyes to savour such a perfect sensation, still momentarily unsure from the trip in his heart which instinct would win: to flee or to stay. Then he knew. When Ray's hand came up to rest on his neck, keeping him in place with the lightest of touches, that last vestige of disquiet in his heart smoothed out, fell away, and he knew. He leaned in, bringing his hands to bear on Doyle, anything to deepen this kiss and keep it alive.
As Bodie breathed him in, he realised two things: that Doyle still smelled of oregano, and that he had never turned on so fast in his life. A hand landed on his cords, right where he was slowly strangling, and he thought he might literally jump out of his skin. He groaned deep and reached, but knocked Doyle's elbow into his bandage as he did so. The groan changed timbre and Doyle pulled back instantly.
Neither of them spoke.
Looked and breathed, loud and uneven onto each other's faces in the evening stillness of Bodie's flat.
"Ow," said Bodie.
He waited, watching Doyle's breathing even out a little.
And as Doyle leaned slowly forward, pressing his forehead to Bodie's and whispering the inevitable words in reply, the déjà vu hit home with a force that had Bodie closing his eyes before the first syllable of his name left Ray's lips. This intimacy repeated, this delicious sense of a pattern shared.
"Bodie?" Whispered. Ray's forehead was still pressed to his.
"Yeah?" Whispered back.
"Close to the truth, then?"
Bodie pushed back a little, keeping his partner near with a hand on the back of his neck.
"Nah, miles off, sunshine. Can't you tell?"
A slow smile stretched out between them. Ray licked his lips and Bodie leaned in to do it too. A hand on his chest stopped him.
He was scarcely concentrating, eyes fixed on their target.
"Mate? Not to break the spell, here, but you think I could get off me knees and drag you off to something a bit more comfortable?"
Bodie simply increased the weight on Doyle's splayed fingers until his mouth reached its target.
About to go under for the second time, Bodie felt himself being pushed back as Doyle separated them, a couple of panting inches apart.
He tried again. Doyle grabbed his jaw.
"Bodie. Bed. Now."
That he heard.
In the early hours of the morning Doyle knew a moment of panic. It wasn't the strange fact of being awake in Bodie's bed with an unfamiliar angle of light coming through curtains that weren't his. He had woken in enough unfamiliar beds in his lifetime, including his partner's on occasion. The difference, he knew, was the occasion. He was neither drunk nor wounded, the only conditions under which he had been given space in it previously. The arm banded across his chest as he lay there on his back was different, too. He turned his head, trying to see something of the face on the pillow near his shoulder, but the light wasn't good, so he turned it back and lay there, blinking at the ceiling.
On those previous occasions there had been an invisible line: left, right; your side, my side. As you would if you were sharing with a mate who'd had too many and was going to have rotten breath in the morning. But he had crossed that line, spectacularly, and without the excuse of alcohol, fear, relief, or any of the other things that Doyle often used to propel him into someone else's bed.
And it wasn't even a gender thing. So early on in the partnership that it should have split them wide open, somehow it had come up. Bodie had asked first, he did remember that. And Doyle had surveyed the taunting arrogance in front of him across the rim of a pint glass and wanted nothing more than to wipe it clean off. Ice in his veins, he had looked Bodie straight in the eye and told him. "I was an art student for a while. Went with the territory. You?" But the response had not been what he'd expected. "Army. Went with the territory, too." Each had taken the other's measure there in that pub, nodding coolly, refusing to smile. And then somehow that shared confidence had become precisely that. Never referred to, the knowledge of what each had spontaneously trusted the other with had come to matter.
Doyle glanced at the man beside him and knew that those experimental fumblings of long ago bore little resemblance to what had taken him from floor to sofa to bed in one stumbling, barely restrained tango with his partner.
But what the fuck did it resemble, then?
Unsure if he wanted to wake Bodie, Doyle laid a tentative hand on the forearm resting on him, and smiled in the darkness. Cool. As always. Like a sedative, it slowed his thoughts and he considered the ceiling again.
This night he had learned a whole new vocabulary for Bodie. There were sounds he knew, sounds that saved his life and kept him sane on an almost daily basis. He knew the sound Bodie's gun made when he slid it out of his holster and the safety came off. He knew the sound of a Bodie in full flight behind him, footsteps clipped and economical on tarmac, and he knew what it was to be yelled at to get his bloody head down, and then to be hauled to his feet afterwards and yelled at some more.
But now he knew the sound Bodie made when Doyle's hand had held his cock for the first time. A growl, somewhere in the back of his throat, it had vibrated into Doyle through lips which were pressed to Bodie's neck at the time. He knew the sound and rhythm of a Bodie about to come, slicked and moving against him, side by side, tongue deep and wet in his own mouth. And he knew what it was to hear his name loud, as if in a storm, and then again moments later on a sigh so quiet he had almost missed it.
He swallowed. He could never not know this now, any of it. He could--
"Mate, I can hear the gears grinding from here."
He turned his head to see Bodie still in place on the pillow, but the right side of his mouth had lifted in a curve. The arm over his ribs tightened a fraction.
Bodie's eyes opened. "Gonna tell your Uncle Bodie all about it then?" The tone was mild enough, but there was a thread of tension to it.
He turned in the circle of the arm across him and watched it slide off to rest between them as he took himself up on an elbow. He could do this in the dark.
"What are we doing, Bodie?" He heard Bodie's muffled snort into the pillow and started again. "Sod off! I mean, I know what we're...it's just...Christ, this is us, Bodie, you and me, and I don't..." Frustrated by his inarticulacy, he pulled on his hair with his free hand. Bodie turned slowly onto his back, mindful of his leg, and Doyle brought his hand down to rest hesitantly on his partner's chest. "I just need to know what we're doing, mate."
"Told you already."
"Told me what?"
"We're falling off, sunshine." Said with all the confidence and certainty that only Bodie was capable of, the smile that went with it was blinding, even in the dark, and Doyle wondered if his insecurities had a chance.
Git. Smug, self-satisfied git.
He took a breath and shook his head, but it was no use. Try as he might, he could only feel blessed by such arrogance.
"How far?" It had to be asked.
He increased the pressure of his hand on Bodie's chest, moved it slowly down and let Bodie feel the smile on his mouth when he kissed him.
"Hmm? How far, Bodie?" His own cock twitched and filled when he heard that throated sound again.
"Fucking China, Ray."
And that, thought Doyle, as his mouth followed his hand, sounded just about right.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Never Far Apart, Justazine Publications, April 2007