No Strings


Post Involvement

Sequel is Anticlimax

According to the poets April is supposed to be the cruellest month. I can't see me being too keen on October from now on; it's going to remind me of too many things I'd rather forget - like Ann Holly. As she isn't my type I suppose I'll never be completely unbiased about her. At first I was just grateful she'd come along to help take Ray's mind off things. I was even stupid enough to think she might do him some good; I was certainly glad to hear he had company the night Cowley told him Benny was dead. I should have been the one to break the news to him, but I couldn't. Too scared to do it if you want the truth - mainly of getting in too deep. Some joke. I'd been over my head for so long I'd almost got used to it.

It never pays to get over-confident, particularly not around Doyle. When he's in his right mind Ray's bloody sharp. He'd given me a few nasty moments in the couple of months before the Holly affair even blew up, his behaviour enough off-key to make me wonder if I might not have given myself away. He was a funny mixture that summer, one moment he would be so...considerate is the only way to describe him, to the point when he even told me he was going back to check up on Ann after the shooting, almost like he wanted to reassure me where he would be. But at the same time, amid all the sweetness - and Ray can be very sweet - he was spiky, temper on a short fuse, very quick to hold his own. Like he was trying to assert his independence or something.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it. Hope so, because I know I have this tendency to come on too strong sometimes but only where he's concerned. He commented on it once, a long time ago. He wasn't having a dig, more like he was trying to get something straight in his own mind. I can't remember what I said but whatever it was must have done the trick because most of the time he lets me get on with it.

I dunno, for all that I like to think I know him, about once a week he'll say something that takes me by surprise; nothing earth-shattering, just enough to make me realise all the things I don't know about him.

All his talk of the future has shaken me up. Maybe nothing has changed except my sensitivity to his moods.

Sensitivity, it's a good word that, especially for an ex-gunrunner.

All the same...

There's been this guarded, speculative look in his eyes when he's looked at me recently. And he's been looking at me a lot this summer, too much for my peace of mind. Of course, that all stopped when Ann appeared on the scene. Since she arrived I'd begun to wonder if he could still see the nose on his face - make that his feet, they're big enough.

There was nothing funny about Benny dying.

That kid was born a loser. At least he had someone to care when he died. It wasn't just his dying, but the manner of it that got to Ray. He's always been protective toward Benny - when he thought no one would notice. He took the trouble to find Benny a job he could hold down, things like that.

Benny isn't - wasn't - what you would call very bright. Oh, he was willing enough, but clumsy... For all that, he was the one person Ray never seemed to lose patience with, which isn't at all in character. He steered Benny through a lot, even bailing him out when he got himself hooked on space invaders.

As for Benny? He thought the sun shone out of Doyle's backside.

Have to laugh though, because Benny didn't take to me at all, not since the first time we met; he came into the café when I was in the middle of telling Ray a few home truths. Years ago, that was, but Benny didn't forget - if looks could have killed I would have been worms' meat long since.

Dunno why I'm reminiscing about some spic kid who hated my guts. Long and short of it was that Ray blamed himself for Benny snuffing it.

Not that he said as much to me; he didn't talk about Benny at all, just went round looking all bug-eyed and pasty-faced. And so bloody defenceless it almost broke my heart.

Listen to me. Doyle's about as fragile as a tank.

Bad simile that. I was nineteen when I learnt how to destroy one, six months older when I did it for real.

It took me a while to catch on to the fact that Ray was seeing a lot of Ann in the meantime, because he didn't talk about her either. I discovered he was spending every moment of his free time with her, and some other time when he should have been working. I've never had to cover for him like that. You'd have to know Ray as well as I do to realise how out of character that skiving off is, conscientious is the word for him usually.

Once I realised Ann had progressed beyond the one-night-stand status I eased off on the jokes. When he still didn't volunteer anything I took to asking after her. He started to open up a bit then before he frightened me witless.

Marriage? I tried not to think about it.

Besides, a blind man could see there was something wrong. While Doyle always sounded happy enough about the way things were shaping up, he didn't look it. Tense and strained, there was this lost look in the back of his eyes, as if he wasn't sure what was happening any more than I was.

All this was going on even before Cowley ordered me to check out Ann and Ray got himself suspended.

It was a funny thing though - well, not so much funny as ironic. I could have done with a few laughs around that time - but I could tell Cowley hadn't taken to what little he knew about Ann either, and I'd swear it had nothing to do with her security clearance.

He was good to me then, was Cowley, not like himself at all.

It didn't stop him sending me around to have a word with Ray though. Not that he actually ordered me to do it or anything. No point. It was obvious someone would have to have a word with the stupid sod once Ray started doing his own checking on Holly senior. I reckoned it was one occasion when I was better off volunteering. I thought I had a better chance of handling Doyle, you see.

Over-confidence has always been a fault of mine.

Yesterday taught me a lesson.

The moment I sauntered into Ray's flat I knew it was going to be even worse than I had imagined. It was one thing to tell Cowley I would get Doyle straightened out, quite another to do it.

I could have managed it easily at one time, when I'd been more detached about it all.

I never have been much of an actor.

He knew something was up the moment I walked in on him. Worse, he didn't even pretend to listen to all the small talk I was struggling to make, just stood there, waiting for me to get to the point.

I remember losing the thread of whatever I was saying around that time. It had never been like that between us before, not even in the beginning - uneasy, I mean. But that wasn't surprising, I'd already lied to him once while I was checking up on Ann.

He stood there, very straight, his head up and shoulders back, those wide unblinking eyes fixed on me the whole time; he looked like some martyr at the stake waiting for the first torch to be applied.

I gave him another would-be casual glance and damn nearly turned tail. I'd seen that look on Ray's face before, only this time I was the enemy.

I'm not given to panicking as a rule, but that look drove all the rational arguments I'd prepared clean out of my head. So when I launched into speech it came out all wrong.

Ray didn't exactly help matters. Listening to the way his voice changed, the intimate way he lingered over her bloody name - I couldn't take it, swamped by jealousy.


So was what it made me say.

Next thing I know I'm bouncing back on Doyle's sofa, nursing a throbbing jaw. For a skinny runt Ray can pack quite a punch when he wants to. He'd meant that one.

I managed to remember I hadn't gone round there to wipe the floor with him, so I took it. More than that, I lied through my teeth, said what he needed to hear. I couldn't do anything else. He was looking so bloody bewildered, those washboard ribs of his going like he'd been twice round the assault course.

So, yes, I'd always liked Ann. God. But she's too good for you, mind.

Perhaps she is too good for Ray at that; she's an expensive little package, witty, attractive and as cold as charity. Oh, she's bright and sparkling, intriguingly different, and sharp enough - to draw blood. There's no question about it, she's got a lot going for her. That said, she isn't right for Ray. In fact she's so wrong for him I can't understand why he can't see it for himself. But then, I'm biassed. And love is blind. So I concentrated on the pep-talk I was giving him and bled a little where it wouldn't show.

Wasn't much else I could do.

It had been a long lonely night and miserable day, not improved by Bodie turning up on his doorstep sounding like a bad impersonation of Cowley. Worse, it was as if they were strangers and Doyle didn't know how to surmount the barrier that seemed to have formed between them.

Tight-locked with tension, standing amidst the ashes of his fine fury, he was bone-tired, confused and very unhappy. He rubbed a chill forearm in an unconscious betrayal of distress. It was all going wrong, sour on him when it should have been so simple. How could anything so easy get so complicated? He still didn't know what had happened, or why. There had been nothing to warn him that his life was about to be turned inside out.

On seeing Ann the attraction had been instant - nothing new there. Shaken by another reminder of his own mortality he had needed some diversion, Ann seeming the perfect way to pass an evening or two. So it had been no hardship to do the gentlemanly thing and go back and make sure she was all right; shock affected people in different ways.

With Ann it had been anger, and she hadn't taken to him at all. For his own part Doyle had been hooked before she tried to shut the door in his face - the fall of her hair as she swung away from him, her vivid, pointed face, the spearing challenge of her eyes and the way she used them. But there must have been something for Ann even then, because when he had rung her she had agreed to go out with him that night, no coy evasions about needing to check her diary.

He liked that, and everything else about her.

It had taken off from there, fast. And one week later here he was, lost.

No, not lost. How could he be? He loved Ann, and by some bloody miracle he didn't dare question she seemed to feel the same way about him.

Since that first evening they had spent every available moment together; so few days to feel like forever, Ann an integral part of his very existence. The hours they spent together went by so quickly until the moment when she would send him away in the early hours of the morning, pleading pressure of work. Every night it became harder to leave her.

He needed her so much, wanted her so, and for more than one night, too. But her fingers burned by that broken engagement, it was too soon for her. He understood that.


Too late to wonder why; it had happened. Her sharp-witted intelligence and fine-boned elegance stirred in him the age-old need to have and to hold, to love and to cherish. And he would.

For the first time in his life Doyle had found someone who cared enough to look beneath the surface, who cared enough to want to understand him, everything about him, not just what suited them. In Ann he had found someone who made him think and question and argue, whose presence filled some of the lonely places within himself. With Ann he could see a future in which he could be happy. He thought of waking, ten years from now, to find her curled against him, smiling from beneath that ridiculous fringe: Mr and Mrs Ray Doyle.

But with wilful obstinacy the picture refused to form, the insubstantial dream dissolving as he found himself focussing on the warm solidity of his partner.

Why was Bodie slumped back on the sofa flexing his jaw?

Sod it.

He hadn't intended - or wanted - to take it out on Bodie. None of this was Bodie's fault. But after the suspension and suspicion and Benny - christ, Benny - and Bodie's face in Cowley's office and trying not to take his rage and guilt out on Ann afterwards...

He was a bit tense, that was all.

Yesterday had been the worst. He had needed her so badly yesterday, the taste of his surveillance of her father sour in his mouth, wanting to hold and to touch, assuage all the hurting, expend just a little of the love he had for her.

But that wasn't important. Not really. Ann had no way of knowing what he had felt because he hadn't told her, unable to face the possibility of rejection. Besides, Ann had already made plans for their evening, so he had changed and gone to meet her friends and business colleagues, watching them hide their blank incomprehension that Ann should have saddled herself with an illiterate security man.

The evening had been a disaster.

His breathing rate slowing, Doyle gave a soft sigh. Bodie would never believe he could have behaved so well, saying all the right things while he sipped sour wine and tried to understand what Ann found to like and admire in these people. The dinner party that had followed had dragged on until the early hours, leaving him time only to take her home, clinging to the conviction that she would be as hungry for time alone together as he was.

But driving through the quiet rain-soaked streets, listening to Ann rehashing the political argument she had been caught up in, Doyle had been oddly silent throughout the journey. Bodie was spying on him, Cowley had suspended him and he didn't know what the hell he wanted, except some refuge from the sense of isolation that was divorcing him from everything that had seemed familiar.

Once in the hallway outside her flat, his fingers laced in her hair, cradling her against him, he had tried to tell her of the dark misery within him, needing her understanding. She had moulded herself against him and that his undoing.

You had to go and kiss her, didn't you? he reminded himself savagely. Too bloody wrapped up in what you wanted to hide your hunger.

He knew he must have imagined her fleeting look of panic; it had been late, she was tired. But he had killed the evening, Ann briskly bundling him away with the key still in the door and himself on the outside, empty-handed and alone.

Maybe he was a fool to think he was ever going to be anything else.

But it still wasn't Bodie's fault he had said the wrong thing at the wrong time, Doyle conceded with weary justice. Any blame for last night must be his own for coming on like some over-sexed kid out on his first date. Be better tonight, he told himself, involuntarily closing his eyes, his skin prickling with bitter-sweet tension at the thought of seeing her again.

Every emotion perilously close to the surface, needing desperately to pour out his confused longings to someone, he heard Bodie's voice, then his own, remembering to apologise.

His every sense fine-tuned while he sought for some calm, Doyle's eyes opened momentarily wide as he watched the honesty of Bodie's emotions slide back behind a bland mask, conversation resuming with the blithe suggestion he spy on Ann.

Refusing, even while a small detached corner of his mind admitted the necessity, Doyle sought shelter in a flurry of irritation.

The timing was fortuitous, permitting his fledgling realisation to be stifled at birth, so that he was never conscious of the moment when he recognised the fleeting expression in his partner's eyes. Lost in his own tangled desires, Doyle was in no state to recognise those belonging to anyone else.

Doyle turned at the first touch, his eyes narrowed with a fury of rejection that seared through the warm, seemingly casual concern being offered to him, wanting no part of it.

"Fuck off." He gave the obscenity razor-edged clarity.

Without turning to acknowledge Bodie's presence he shrugged himself free and slouched on, his shoulders hunched, clutching his misery to him like a blanket against the cold. The one thing he didn't want was Bodie all over him, smothering him with concern. What he did want he couldn't have because it had never sodding well existed outside his imagination.

The unvoiced weight of his partner's concern like an albatross dragging at his neck brought Doyle to an unwilling halt only a few paces later. No one's imagination could be warped enough to conjure up anyone like Bodie, so he must be real.

"Well come on, if you're coming," he snapped, only half-turning. This time he made no attempt to shrug free of Bodie's arm. At least someone wanted him, even if it was only Bodie.

Only Bodie. Unfair that. Christ, he'd be turning into a bleeding heart next. Was it his fault that his ultra-cool partner had turned soft in the head?

The greater proportion of Doyle's black rage redirected itself, turning inevitably on the man walking at his side. If Bodie says 'I told you so', I'll kill him, he promised himself viciously.

Unasked, Bodie had removed his arm and was pacing along beside him. Doyle could sense the anxious half-glances being directed his way, beginning to feel stifled even by the silent partisan support.

Blind leading the sodding blind.

His rage so vast his muscles ached with the effort it took to contain the urge to lash out at anything - everything - Doyle came to an abrupt halt, swinging around to hold Bodie's eyes.

"I'm not fit company," he warned, his voice tight and flat with suppressed anger.

"You usually aren't," replied Bodie, unperturbed.

The scalding green gaze flicked over him with bleak calculation before Doyle gave an unconscious sigh, defeated by something in the steady blue gaze that did not flinch from him.

"So why do you put up with me?" he demanded, placing the blame on other shoulders.

Shivering a little in the cool breeze eddying around the shadowy side-street, Bodie studied the pavement for a brief moment. When he looked up again there was a rueful smile on his face. He drifted a light punch at the aggressively-jutting chin.

"For the sweetness of your smile? How the hell should I know? I thought you could do with someone around, someone you wouldn't have to pretend with." Faint hope you'd ever think me worth the bother of restraint, he added silently, with a flash of bitterness that surprised himself. Good old Bodie. Doyle whistled and he came running like some well-trained dog.

Strewth, that was a bit harsh. But undeniably true, so there was no point in getting uptight about it. Besides, while it might have been an unconscious plea for help, Ray had made it, and he could no more ignore the call than fly.

He realised Doyle was still glaring at him, the expression on his face causing an elderly passerby to quicken his step.

"What do you want to do?" Bodie added patiently, knowing better than to offer any suggestions of his own, mentally reviewing pubs in the area and how much cash he had on him. Enough, if Doyle wanted to go on a bender.

His hands curling into impotent fists, Doyle scowled down at a cracked paving stone. Gullible, that's what he was. Prize bloody patsy of all time.

Ann had never wanted him, he could see that now. What she had wanted he didn't have, had never had, was never likely to have. And when she had realised that she had used the first excuse she could find to end it, that pretty lying scene in the car park no more than a face-saving camouflage for the fact she knew she had made a mistake.

Well fuck you too, lady.

Except he never had.

Oh, he'd been allowed to look, sometimes even to touch by way of a good-conduct prize. Had she ever offered him one unpremeditated caress? He'd been as safe as a eunuch.

Oh christ. The prick-teasing bitch.

Only she wasn't, not intentionally, just as he wasn't a sex-obsessed lout, despite the fact that making love to Ann had become one of his main preoccupations.

Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder.

Not funny. His body ached from the wanting, needing her slim-boned frame, her narrow pale face and provocative smile, tiny dimple; her fragile wrists and tiny budded breasts. She'd been so slight against him; the way she would walk at his side, sometimes seeking his hand with her own, smiling up at him while her eyes promised him...


The lady had decided to branch out, go slumming. Their first evening together, shadowed with the pathetically optimistic ghost of Benny, had misled her. He didn't need mothering, or pity, or intellectual probing - not if they were for their own sake only, devoid of warmth. He needed his other half, thought he had found her, reaching out to draw her close while conversely holding back, some unconscious instinct for self-preservation making him wary.

Nine days. Mistakes were inevitable in nine days and a whirlwind courtship.

It had seemed far longer.

'You don't need me...'

How could you get so close to someone and be so blind? Or maybe not. His needs hadn't been hers, nor hers his. It wasn't just the sex - or lack of it - that the least of what was lacking in their relationship. They talked, non-stop, but she had heard only what she wanted to hear, moulding the facts to suit the image she was building of him, her plans for what she would make of him.

'You'll never change...'

Until then he hadn't realised she had expected him to, gutted by the realisation.

Unconscious of the worried blue eyes on him, Doyle's face twisted.

Came unglued this time, love. Fancy choosing a violent sex-maniac to experiment with. It was what she had made him feel like towards the end, flaunting him in her own world, held by a velvet leash. Maybe she was right about that too. Perhaps it was time to find out the truth about himself. Fuck 'em and forget. Why not?


His face pinched with the cold Doyle looked up, abrupt and unsmiling. "What?"

"What do you want to do?" Bodie repeated patiently, braced for almost anything by now, wary of the cold calculation apparent in his partner's eyes.

To fuck anything on two legs rigid, thought Doyle with a sudden savagery. "Squash," he announced, elucidating. "A game of squash." Hard, fast and violent; a safe outlet for the violence building in him.

"Squa - ? OK, leave it to me," said Bodie, making a smooth recovery.

He had the sinking presentiment it wasn't going to be quite that simple. From the moment he had left the small interrogation room he had known he had more than a case of lifting Doyle out of the doldrums on his hands, too aware of all that could go wrong.

Three minutes later, the backstreets behind them, Bodie hailed a taxi, bundling his walking time bomb inside it with relief.

Doyle was beyond caring where they went, staring icily at the back of the unsuspecting taxi driver's neck. It was, he promised himself, the last time anyone ever used him again.

It took Bodie only a short while to realise that his choice of venue was an unhappy one. They had both been members of this sports club since being teamed by Cowley - it had seemed the obvious place to use. Unfortunately it was popular with a good half of CI5.

Considering how busy Cowley claimed they were Bodie could not understand why they met so many familiar faces, all of whom were in a social mood. He needn't have worried. Doyle didn't notice them, oblivious to everything but the squash court he was marching towards, hoping only to exhaust himself before he did something he knew he might later regret.

Their objective achieved, time passed for Bodie in a ferocious blur of strenuous physical activity. Having suffered two resounding defeats on the squash court from an opponent who did not pause to take breath, he found himself back in the locker room, changing into his swimming trunks.

The lunch hour now over by anyone's standards, the pool was almost deserted, which meant he didn't have to worry about some innocent bystander detonating Doyle's banked rage. A tight rein on his own temper, Bodie had abandoned his attempts at small talk halfway through their first game of squash, Doyle's vitriolic replies piercing him too surely. Tomorrow Doyle would remember and be sorry; today he had thought for no one but himself. Sliding into the rippling blue of the water, Bodie aimed only at keeping his leaden limbs moving.

Thirty lengths of the pool later, cleaving through the water in his own personal battle, Doyle hauled himself out of the pool, fresh as the proverbial daisy.

Bodie patiently rose from the pool edge and padded after him. The glare he received confirmed that his presence was a small prickling annoyance, a thorn beneath Doyle's chlorinated skin.

His legs displaying a disconcerting tendency to tremble, droplets of water running like tears down his body, Bodie held his towel over his face for a moment. When he looked up again his expression was blandly uninformative.

"What now?"

Dressed in faded navy blue tracksuit bottoms, the contents of his locker scattered across the floor, Doyle's head emerged through the crumpled navy top. "You've not had enough then?"

"No." His face hidden from view Bodie rummaged in his locker, taking longer than was necessary to retrieve his own tracksuit. "Not yet."

"How come?"

"Look, mate, I can only do so much, reading minds is out. Do you want me to push off, is that it?"

"No." Doyle's reply, made by instinct rather than conviction, was nonetheless true. He wasn't in the mood to be sweetened by the knowledge.

Recognising that, Bodie just nodded. "Fair enough, then I'll stick around." It wasn't much; it was better than nothing.

"Will you?"

At the sneering bite behind the simple question Bodie's face tightened.

"I don't lie, Doyle, and certainly not to you. Yeah, I will. For chrissake, why do you have to make such a bloody performance about it?" He dragged on his tracksuit top, discovering that he was sweating heavily: tension.

"No, of course you don't. Bugging my bedroom's different, I suppose?"

"Judging everyone by what you'd do, are you?" There was a moment when he hoped Doyle would jump him, his own hand tightening into a fist before it uncurled. "You weren't bugged," he said with quiet desperation. "It was Ann and her links with her father I was checking out."

Over and over, Doyle throwing this back in his face for the next ten years.

"Yeah, I know," a tired voice conceded, when Bodie was least expecting capitulation. Doyle's expression was unreadable, his gaze on something lost to sight. "Wouldn't have mattered anyway, you wouldn't have heard much."

Bodie was given no time to ponder the significance of that cryptic utterance, strong fingers gripping his elbow.

"C'mon, there's no point in pratting around here. We'll go to the gym for a workout - a proper one," Doyle added, with an edge to his voice that warned Bodie not to make the obvious argument against the idea.

Convinced he would be able to handle Doyle - even a Doyle in this mood - because it was what he needed to believe, Bodie just nodded, leading the way.

It was, of course, pure bad luck that they should run into Macklin inside the otherwise deserted gym - Macklin, who had lost more than his overseas post out in Singapore.

His army training had helped Bodie to allow Macklin's style of training to wash over him. Macklin and Doyle had never got on, sharing a mutual unveiled contempt for each other; chalk and cheese, the professional's contempt for the amateur. Macklin thought Doyle lucky to have survived this long, under- equipped in every sense of the word for life in CI5. Doyle, listening with disbelief to a style of delivery beloved of sergeant-majors the world over, had dismissed Macklin as a sadistic bastard with an IQ of seventy-five. The fact that Bodie thought they were both partially correct in their assessments of each other had never done anything to make his task as a go-between any easier.

"'lo, Brian," he said unenthusiastically.

Tension more than physical exertion had taken their toll on Bodie before they had arrived at the Sports Centre. The last thing he wanted was a workout with Doyle in this mood, particularly as he could see Macklin's surveillance undoing the small amount of good he had managed to achieve. Doyle was a danger to himself and anyone who crossed him at the moment, rage blinkering him to the normal social niceties.


Ambling to a halt in front of them, his hands on his hips, balanced on the balls of his feet, Macklin cocked his head, still staring at Doyle, quick to sense something amiss.

"Doyle. Don't tell me you're actually planning to take a little exercise?"

Bodie slid himself into the conversation, his expression bland, voice low and easy. "Why not? After a couple of nights sleeping in the car we thought we'd work out a few kinks. Don't let us keep you," he added, standing at Doyle's shoulder, his stance making it clear he would not be easily moved.

"Work out with me," Macklin invited, his hands outspread in invitation.

Glimpsing Doyle's disquieting smile, Bodie felt the hair on the back of his neck prickle. "Another time," he dismissed. "Anyway, don't you have a class Fridays? Cowley's idea of setting people up for the weekend."

Macklin spared him an impatient glance before his gaze returned to the silent Doyle. "Another time then," he said softly. His eyes raked the smaller man with contempt. "Got him right where you want him, haven't you, 4.5? Playing it safe again?" His smile dismissed Doyle as one for whom there was no hope.

"Bodie, try and remember he isn't as dainty as he looks. When I get the pair of you for reassessment next month Doyle isn't going to have you around to hold his hand - or anything else that takes his fancy. Try to remember that." He walked out, the squeaking hinge of the sprung door obscuring whatever it was he said next.

Correctly interpreting the signals offered by the tension bunching Doyle's muscles Bodie launched into the attack a split second later, bearing Doyle down before his anger erupted in a manner that would get him - at best - suspended again. If Doyle went after Macklin he'd be out on his ear. Exerting only a token show of strength, having used the advantage of surprise, Bodie was thrown clear with ease.

Staring through Bodie to the closed door, Doyle's gaze refocused onto his partner.

Watching Doyle's expression mutate into something cold and ugly, Bodie knew he had diverted the danger to himself, Doyle's malevolent temper unleashed. Taking a deep breath he concentrated solely on the stalking figure in front of him.

Doyle had never enjoyed more than a limited success in Macklin's training sessions, some inner block seeming to hold him back. Perhaps the knowledge of what he was capable of doing: killing with his bare hands. Doyle the moralist, a child of street fights in the grey areas of many cities - five at least to Bodie's knowledge. Sometimes, in his more profound moments, Bodie thought that rootless, unsettled childhood and adolescence explained a lot about his partner.

Macklin should see him now though, he thought sardonically, countering a chop that left his forearm reverberating with its force. Doyle had built a life for himself away from his past, had found a discipline, even a security of sorts. All the blocks had been removed with a vengeance. But then Macklin had never seen Doyle out on the streets, fighting for his life where the adrenalin worked for him. Always fast, relying on agility and speed to wear down what were, inevitably, heavier opponents, Doyle was more than capable of holding his own. Right now he was threatening to wipe the floor with his partner.

Finding it almost impossible to pull out all the stops against Doyle, even now, Bodie was down thirty seconds later, his leg having given way after riding a kick that would have hospitalised him had he been any slower. Rolling and twisting clear Bodie moved with crab-like caution until he had put one of the boxes that rested squatly in one corner of the gym between Doyle and himself, willing his half-numb leg to hold him upright.

"Bloody hell, Doyle - you could've fucking de-balled me," he croaked, dragging down a lungful of air.

"Yeah, better luck next time," agreed Doyle, stalking him with cold purpose.

"Doyle, this is me, remember? For chrissake, Ray, you trying to kill me?"

That elicited a white-toothed smile, Doyle seeming to consider it. His beautiful, lethal hands parted. "Like the man said, sunshine - no holds barred on the streets. Or don't you think you can take me? You wanna piss around, I'll fetch Brian back, show him a little realism."

Bodie's instinctive negative was the signal for open warfare, self-preservation forcing him to adopt counter-moves which, if successful, risked getting them both kicked off the squad once they came out of hospital. Tired and below strength, Bodie lacked his partner's savage single-mindedness. While Doyle had replied to him, there had been a blank lack of recognition on his face that Bodie had no idea how to combat. This was the murderous fury Doyle had only once admitted to, and that Bodie had seen only three times in their years together. He no longer wondered if Doyle would have sent Tony off that roof, although at the time he had mentally dismissed the scene as no more than Doyle, unsettled by Benny's death, going over the top; Doyle was prone to the occasional moment of melodrama. That one had been all too real, it wouldn't do to forget that.

The gym was fortuitously empty save for themselves, although within moments of Macklin's leaving neither man would have noticed an audience. Knowing himself to be tiring quickly, Bodie pressed his attack, edging Doyle imperceptibly backwards until he succeeded in trapping him on the far side of the matted area where Doyle eventually lost his footing, stumbling on the edge of the mat. On the brink of success, with Doyle safely pinned beneath him, Bodie made the fatal and elementary mistake of assuming the worst to be over. Recognising the bunching surge of power too late to save himself, he heard the grunt of effort, felt the intolerable pressure when he was levered, spinning, away to crash into the wallbars, his right arm taking the brunt of the impact.

Sick with pain and winded, Bodie heard the pad of feet and rasping breaths fade into the distance as the buzzing in his ears grew louder.

Only half-dry from his shower Doyle hauled on his jeans, fastening them with a force that threatened the sturdy zip, his every action jerky and fast as he laced up trainers and dragged on his shirt, thrusting it under the waistband of his jeans. If he slowed down he would have to start thinking, be forced to recognise the gaping void within himself.

'You don't need me...'

Fucking right he didn't.

' hold his hand - or anything else that takes your fancy...'

Not Ann, not Bodie, nor anyone else.

Scooping up the contents of his jacket pockets which had emptied when he upended it, Doyle's busy fingers stilled. Bodie? Why the hell did Bodie intrude on every sodding thing he did or thought about? It had got to the point where he couldn't move without falling over the interfering git.

Gathering up his damp clothes and thrusting them into his locker, Doyle banged the door shut with a force that left the key shivering in the lock and turned to leave. Only then did it dawn on him that Bodie wasn't in sight, his locker still closed. Doyle thrust aside the memory of Bodie wincing beneath him, tight-lipped under the barrage of verbal and physical abuse.

It was his own bloody fault, no one had asked him to tag along.

His shoulders defensively hunched, hands rammed into his pockets, Doyle kicked the bottom of his locker and stubbed his toe.

They'd arrived together, might as well leave that way.

With no great enthusiasm he stalked off to check on the other half of the locker room. Finding it empty, his pace quickening as his search continued, he checked the courts, pool, weight-training rooms, treatment rooms, storage and equipment rooms, the open coffee bar and closed bar and restaurant - all drew an equal blank. It wasn't until then that it occurred to him to return to the gym, his pace increasing when he remembered the force with which Bodie had spun into those wallbars.

The gymnasium was packed, taken up with a keep-fit class. Doyle's gaze flicked over the middle-aged matrons in too-small leotards. Where the hell had the stupid bastard got to?

Swinging back into the corridor he found himself nose to nose with the subject of his thoughts. Dressed for the street once more, an overflowing sports bag in his left hand, Bodie studied him in unsmiling silence.

"What the hell took you so long?" snapped Doyle, instantly on the defensive. But Bodie was always pale, and never inclined to say much when his temper had reached its limits - it was about the only advance warning you got as a rule.

"Collecting your gear - and mine - before it starts to stink the place out," replied Bodie brusquely, gesturing down to the bag he held.

"Mother's bleeding helper, you are."

But some impulse made Doyle take the bag from him before he nudged Bodie's shoulder with his own and started off down the corridor, resentful anger still paramount in him.

The silence began to tell on him within a very few minutes.

"Why do you put up with me?" he demanded abruptly, banging through a set of fire doors.

"Why do you think?"

It had been some moments before Bodie had opened his eyes, uncertain whether or not he had lost consciousness, to find himself alone except for a fresh-faced stranger asking if he was all right.

The bag weighed a ton. Hoisting it a little higher Doyle directed a speaking look at Bodie. "Would I be asking if I knew?"

Pausing, Bodie went through the motions of appearing to think about it. "No, I suppose not."

"So why?" repeated Doyle with a persistence that was shredding Bodie's exposed nerve-ends.

"Work it out for yourself," he suggested, giving the insistent, scrubbed face next to him a look of impatient dislike. To one who was unshowered, sweaty and aching fiercely all over, Doyle still looked appallingly fresh, seeming untouched by the events of the day - until you looked into his eyes.

"Oh great. Do you have any idea of how aggravating you can be?" One of the glass front doors swung back in Bodie's face as Doyle stalked out into the street.

Following him and finding it brighter than he had anticipated outside, Bodie's sense of outrage faded as he stared at the expressive line of Doyle's back. Only Ray, he acknowledged with wry acceptance, would have the gall to come out with a line like that.

"All right," he murmured, leaning forward so that his mouth was almost brushing damp corkscrewed curls, "say I do it for love." The instant he said it, he knew his flippancy had been a mistake.

Seeing Doyle's scowl deepen, his lips part, Bodie thrust out his arm, hailing a providentially passing taxi. He left it to Doyle to give their destination.

Doyle thumped down on the seat next to him, question poised.

"Forget it," Bodie advised him.

"Listen, I've had all the aggravation I can handle today. If you don't want to tell me why you - "

" - I don't," said Bodie, interrupting the tirade full-flood.

The remainder of the taxi ride was conducted in silence, Doyle flicking the odd, unseen glance over to the oblivious man at his side, his attention caught now between Bodie and himself in equal measure, Ann receding further and further away.

Bone-weary, Bodie had neither the energy nor the inclination for small-talk, unwilling to say anything that might start Doyle off again. A thump on his kneecap recalled him to the present, that and the fact the taxi had stopped, the driver having turned to stare at him, impatient to get home after his shift.

"Come on, Sleeping Beauty, or d'you want to go back and do it all over again?" inquired Doyle.

Fumbling one-handed for his wallet Bodie spared him a glance. "No thanks, once was enough. There you go, mate." Thrusting a ten pound note at the driver and waving away the change he succeeded in making one person out of three very happy.

It was only when he was standing on the pavement, wincing from the force with which Doyle had slammed the door shut that Bodie realised they were outside his own flat rather than Doyle's.

"You coming in?" he asked vaguely, above the sound of the departing taxi.

"Nah, thought I'd camp out here for the night. Of course I'm bloody well coming in," snapped Doyle, shouldering past him to bound up the stairs, his energy levels still way above what Bodie considered decent in anyone who had spent the kind of day they had.

Feeling an arthritic ninety, he slowly followed, choosing to use the lift; it was all he could do to open the manual gate leading into it. With no great joy he found Doyle posed against the wall outside his flat, a look of scorn on his face.

"Stairs too much for you?"

Finding it increasingly difficult to hold on to his temper, Bodie gave him a level look. "Yes. Want to make something of it?" Wanting Doyle would go, leaving him in peace to rebuild his battered defences, the front door key was snatched from his hand.

"Here, gimme that. We'll be standing out here for bloody hours if we wait for you."

"Didn't realise you were in a hurry."

Leaving it to Doyle to attend to the double lock and alarm Bodie went straight into the lounge, poured himself a large drink and drained it in three large gulps. The slamming door followed by muttered imprecations informed him that Doyle, inside rather than out, was having his usual struggle with the alarm. The air in the flat was stale. Bodie refilled the tumbler, warmth from the first drink spreading through him as he drained the second, without pausing to savour the malt. He moved to open the window, sipping his third drink.

No wonder the place stank. How long had it been since he'd been here long enough to do anything but crash out for a few hours' sleep? He couldn't remember. Even when Cowley hadn't been keeping him on the hop he had avoided spending any more time here than he must, catching up on long-neglected paperwork rather than attempting to fill the current gap in his social life.

Doyle's arrival in the room was less than silent. His restlessness obvious, his impatience was almost a separate entity at his shoulder as he paced around.

"Right, now you're here, what do you want to do?" Bodie asked with care, surprised by the speed with which the whisky had hit his empty stomach. Standing by the open window, he shivered before his absent gaze swept around the dusty room. Have to start thinking about doing some housework, he recognised unenthusiastically.

"To talk." Doyle was still prowling around the room, looking at everything and nothing, fidgeting with a book or a glass before replacing it.

"What about, Ann?"

Doyle turned to look at him then. "That's over." He sounded chillingly certain.

Wishing it was as obvious to him, Bodie struggled to focus on the beginning-to-blur figure. "What then?"

"Don't give me that, Bodie. D'you think I'm deaf as well as stupid?"

"Dunno, but I'm not. Expect they enjoyed hearing that across the road, too."

In four paces Doyle had bounded past him, slamming the window with a force that threatened the glass. Reaching out he caught hold of the arm nearest to him. "Don't give me that crap."

Bodie flinched, then his face losing any expression, remained still, waiting.

Experiencing an inexplicable sensation of loneliness, Doyle's grip unconsciously tightened. "What the hell's wrong with you now? Anyone would think I was going to belt you one."

"And are you?"

The force with which Bodie was released was almost as painful as the grip over his injured arm.

"Christ almighty! Sometimes I just don't understand you at all." Doyle dragged a hand back through his hair before he stilled the movement, his expression suddenly intent as he studied the man in front of him, only now attuned to the fact that something was wrong.

"You hurt?" he asked unexpectedly, having just realised he hadn't seen Bodie use his right arm since they had left the sports centre - since their time in the gym in fact.

"Oh, beautiful. Why should you think that, Ray? You know me, bounce off walls I do. I'm OK," Bodie added flatly. The final insult would be Doyle's remorse. God, he could just picture the scene, and he wasn't up to ministering to the needs of Doyle's bruised psyche any more, not today.

"Yeah?" Jolted out of his self-preoccupation, all Doyle's attention was on Bodie, his narrowed eyes making a comprehensive survey. Something about the way Bodie was standing struck a chord - themselves, another time and place ago, a woodyard.

"Come on, take that jacket off," he ordered, his voice gentle now as he stepped forward.

"Butt out, Doyle. You're not the only one who's had a bad day." Bodie fended him off one-handed, his expression dangerous. "D'you always go this over the top when a bird gives you the elbow?" Then the whisky took over and he sagged back against the wall, wondering hazily what had hit him.

Ten minutes ago the same question would have sent Doyle up like a rocket. Now, his attention wholly on his partner, he hardly heard it, trailing after Bodie who was looking paler by the minute.

"Sometimes. Look, if you are hurt you'll need medical attention. If that arm's broken I'll have to tell Cowley. C'mon, let me check you out, sunshine."

Warm and relaxed, the abrupt switch of mood was too much for Bodie to absorb. Almost out on his feet, his back to the wall, he cradled his injured arm, staring with wide-eyed concentration at Doyle's blurred face.

"'S not broken," he insisted, his voice slurred.

"That's good, but let me take a look at it, eh? That's the way. If you can stay upright, I can manage the rest."

Doyle manoeuvred the jacket free, keeping his voice easy and low, his movements unhurried. He could not remember seeing Bodie this malleable before and wasn't sure he cared for it, not if the poor bastard was so wiped out he had nothing left. Beginning to worry in earnest about how badly Bodie might be injured, he slid the second arm of the jacket away. An empty glass caught his eye, Doyle close enough now to smell the spirit on Bodie's breath.

"Hey, have you been having a drink?" He tilted the downbent face up with a persuasive fingertip.

An owlish gaze met his worried eyes. "Forgot to give you one," recognised Bodie with sorrow, just before he hiccupped.

"That's all right, sunshine. Just the one was it?"

Bodie shook his head.

"Oh. Two?"

"'S right. Three."

"Three? Ah. Big ones were they?"

"You saying I'm mean with my drinks?"

"You," said Doyle indulgently, "are the soul of generosity." He uttered a silent prayer that Bodie's arm wasn't broken: the anaesthetist wouldn't be at all pleased. "Let's get that shirt off. Nah, it's all right, I can manage. Oh shit - " Soft fabric slid through his heedless fingers to drop unregarded to the floor when he saw the swollen wrist and livid bruising that extended from wrist to elbow to the biceps.

Following the line of Doyle's gaze Bodie glanced down and blinked in surprise. "Thought it was aching," he said.

"Yeah, it would. C'mon." Sliding Bodie's uninjured arm around his shoulders, Doyle put his free arm around Bodie's waist.


"It's OK. Just follow me, all right?"

"Make a nice change that," remarked Bodie with drink-sodden irony. Frowning a little with the effort involved, he allowed himself to be steered into the bedroom, remaining unsteadily upright while busy fingers removed boots and socks before tweaking at the waistband of his cords.

Bodie pushed the intrusive hands away. "What the hell are you doing?"

His face intent, Doyle looked up. "Putting you to bed. You're out on your feet, mate. Lift your leg up. No, not that one. Yeah, that's it."

Bodie wavered and steadied himself by gripping a thin shoulder, feeling the sinewy warmth and strength that was Doyle beneath his fingers.

"'S what I want to do to you," he confided.

"What?" asked Doyle absently, fighting recalcitrant cords and a partner who thought he could take both feet off the ground at the same time. Belatedly he thought to sit Bodie down on the edge of the bed while he edged the cords down.

"Put you to bed an' climb in after you." An unsteady finger slid down Doyle's nose, slipped onto his mouth and brushed it wistfully. "I'd like that."

"Yeah, me too, sunshine. After you've seen a doctor." Giving the knee nearest to him a pat, Doyle straightened and went in search of the telephone.

Having seen the doctor out and rung for a mini-cab, Doyle returned to the bedroom where Bodie had fallen asleep: too much alcohol on a long- empty stomach.

Sprains and bruises. He could have crippled Bodie for life; had tried to from what little he remembered, luck rather than judgement that he had failed.

Suddenly deathly tired, he remained at the foot of the bed, gripping the brass bed rail while he watched the sleeping face, as though seeing it for the first time. His breathing soft and unobtrusive, the dark crescent of lashes and beard shadow giving him his only colour, Bodie was deeply asleep; tension lines around his eyes and mouth were still very much in evidence.

Doyle frowned, only now recognising that the last couple of weeks had been rough on them both - he had seen to that. None of it was Bodie's fault.

Three years put at risk in one day. Three years, five months and... How many days was it?

The sound of a car pulling up in the otherwise silent street drew him from his abstraction - the minicab. He had to go. Scrawling a note of explanation, he stuck it to the inside of the bedroom door. There was no point in waking Bodie unless he had to, nothing to say except 'I'm sorry.'.

Less than adequate.

Remembering to take Bodie's front door key with him Doyle went downstairs, wondering what Cowley was going to say. He'd walked out on an interrogation, failed to report in, and then beaten up his partner. Only then did two facts dawn on Doyle: he didn't even know if his suspension had been officially lifted, and he hadn't given Ann a thought since they had left the sports centre. Staring out of the car window he waited for the loss to engulf him - then he remembered that Bodie was unlikely to have any food in and made a mental note to stop off at the twenty-four hour night supermarket on the corner on his way home.

At no point did it strike him as odd that he should think of Bodie's flat as home.

With Bodie ordered to remain off work for the next three days and likely to be off active duty for up to a week after that, Cowley proved to be more forbearing than Doyle might have expected, had he paused to think about it.

Having no wish to find himself being sent straight to Kate Ross, Doyle offered no more than a bald recital of the facts, laying the blame for everything squarely on his own shoulders while neglecting to explain how he and Bodie had come to be using the sports centre while still on duty.

His working day having already spanned twenty-one hours, and with no indication he would have the opportunity to do more than snatch some sleep on his cot, Cowley had been disinclined to be understanding - until Doyle walked into his office. Correctly attributing the subtle changes in Doyle's appearance to tension, having no difficulty placing its source, Cowley's lecture became very much a token affair upon realising the younger man was almost out on his feet. Ordering Doyle to take thirty-six hours leave so he would be of some use to the department on his return, and belatedly remembering to lift his suspension, Cowley ended up giving him a cash handout so that Bodie and Doyle could eat that weekend. He had forgotten the existence of both men before the door had closed behind Doyle.

The smell of bacon frying woke Bodie, salivating, to hear muted sounds from the kitchen. Disorientated, he wasted a moment wondering where he was and how he had got there. His alcohol-induced spell of death had left him with a disgusting taste in his mouth and the remnants of a headache. Gingerly leaving the bed, he discovered he was clad only in navy briefs and some spectacular bruises.

The scrawled note pinned to the door explained much of it, noises off telling him Doyle must have returned. Why Ray should have decided to start cooking at ten to one in the morning was a mystery Bodie decided to resolve later - after he had done something about the taste in his mouth.

While cleaning his teeth the face that greeted him in the mirror looked, to his reddened eyes, healthier than it deserved. Refusing to think any further than that he wandered out into the kitchen, propping his uninjured shoulder against the door jamb.

"You do know it's not breakfast time, I hope? God, you look horrible," he added frankly when Doyle turned from the mixed grill he was overseeing.

"I feel it. But hungry. I thought you might be as well. It'll be ready in a minute."

Hearing the unusual note of constraint Bodie gave an inward sigh. Incipient guilt trip here we come, he recognised unenthusiastically as he slid into a seat at the kitchen table.

"Great, I'm starving. I'm not surprised you're starting to fall apart, this is your second night up, in case you'd forgotten."

Sliding a heaping plate in front of him Doyle sat down and fiddled with his fork. "No, I hadn't forgotten. Look about - I forgot the salt." He got to his feet again, glad of the distraction.

"And pepper," said Bodie, finding it difficult to grip his fork with the sausage-like appendages that had once been the fingers of his right hand.

"Do you want me to cut that for you?" asked Doyle, watching his struggles, his own meal untouched.

"No," said Bodie unequivocally, "I do not. Any tomato sauce?" he added brightly.

"Dunno, it's your kitchen."

Bodie looked around. "Oh yeah. Well, have I got any tomato sauce then?" He chewed thoughtfully while Doyle searched through his cupboards.

"No," Doyle reported eventually. "Do you - ?"

"Eat your food and tell me what Cowley had to say," Bodie said, wanting to steer the conversation to non-controversial lines.

A grilled tomato dangling from his fork, Doyle told him, his attention very obviously far away.

"You mean the old skinflint actually lent you cash - from his own pocket?" Bodie demanded, everything else paling into insignificance.

"He didn't even ask for an IOU," replied Doyle, eating the tomato in an absent-minded kind of way.

"How about the Holly interrogation, did - ?" Bodie realised his mistake too late.

Pushing away his plate Doyle buried his nose in his mug of coffee. "The only thing they got out of Holly, loud and often, was that he wanted his solicitor." There was a small silence. "I made my report while I was in. I'm off the case anyway. Emotional involvement," he explained in a colourless voice.

Bodie stared into his own half-empty mug. "You can't blame Cowley. He's paid not to trust anyone."

Doyle snorted. "He'd do it for free. I reckon he might have the right idea at that," he added, collecting up the plates and disposing of them with a force that made Bodie wince.

He studied the back presented to him. "You don't believe that."

"How the hell would you know what I believe?" yelled Doyle, his voice cracking as he swung around. "How could you? I don't even know myself." The harsh strip-lighting blanched him of what little colour remained in his face, exposing every tiny line of strain.

Slumped morosely at the table Bodie remained silent.

Rubbing a bruise on his thigh, Doyle glanced at the kitchen clock. "It's late, I'd better be going."

"Yeah, get some sleep, mate. Things will look clearer in the morning."

"Oh, that'll be nice," agreed Doyle. His eyes flicked around the disordered kitchen. Restless and confused, his gaze kept returning to Bodie as if the familiar sight of his partner grounded him.

"Will it be all right if I kip down here for the night?" he asked abruptly.

Bodie stared at him. What had once been a routine, taken-for-granted event was no longer so. The last thing he wanted was to share a bed with a man mourning his lost love while lying next to his never-toto-be-known love. About, unwillingly, to agree, he saw he had hesitated for too long, Doyle's face tightening as he slipped his jacket from the chair back.

"Forgot," Doyle mumbled awkwardly, looking at the floor.

"Forgot what?" asked Bodie, mystified, before he felt a chill as he heard the echo of his own voice.

'Say I do it for love...'

Doyle looked up then, his features seeming somehow blurred. "You'll have had enough of me for one day. Can't say I blame you. You put up with a lot. Thanks, I didn't mean to take it out on you." Shrugging into his jacket he turned to go, wanting nothing more than to stay.

"What the hell are you talking about now?" Leaden, Bodie accepted that their minds were moving on two totally different courses, and that they probably always would be. Perhaps it was just as well. There was a lot to be said for skimming the emotional shallows, keeping safe.

Meeting the dark eyes, aware of their wholly deceptive candour, Doyle realised that it was all to be pushed to one side and never spoken of. Close your eyes and it hasn't happened was Bodie's philosophy in any emotionally-charged situation. It seemed to work too, for the most part.

"Dunno," he mumbled, capitulating. "Too tired. I'm off to bed then." He hesitated at the doorway, but fiddling with the kettle, Bodie did not turn round.

"You know where it is. Think I'll have another coffee." Or three or four. Go home, Ray, he pleaded silently.

Instead he could hear the vague sounds of domesticity: the toilet flushing, water running, then a door closing. Doyle going into his bedroom and getting into his bed - the gift of his heart's desire. A lesson that sometimes it was wiser not to wish too hard.

Sleep a long way away, Bodie remained sitting at the kitchen table for a considerable time, thinking of absolutely nothing, until fatigue made him move.

When he returned to the bedroom he found it in darkness. Standing in the doorway he could just make out the luminous face of the clock: 3:30. A moment later his eyes found the slight mound that had appropriated his side of the bed.

But that was Doyle for you.

Sliding out of the bathrobe and into bed he lay a meticulous distance from his soft-breathing partner, conscious of Doyle's body heat, the elusive scent of him a nagging, unfulfilled ache.

One bloody awful day over, another awaiting him. Eventually he fell asleep, curled on the edge of the mattress.

Giving a grunt of protest as he was almost thrust out of bed, Bodie's eyes snapped open. The wiry arm banding his chest was no threat; the pulsing hardness snug in the cleft of his buttocks was quite another matter, the sliding rub and grind against him unmistakable.

Caught fast, and more wakeful by the second, horror, amusement and then lust began to vie for Bodie's attention, his aches diminishing until they were swept away by a far more basic need.

No one could be this bloody randy, he thought incredulously before he quivered as a breathy whimper scudded down his neck. The arch and thrust against him increasing in tempo, Bodie couldn't have moved even if he wanted to. It was impossible to be impervious to the tickling brush of body hair, unexpectedly soft against his shoulder, less so against his buttocks; the strength, unconsidered until now; sharp-press of bone and the fierce heat of the erection he couldn't even touch. Unfair, screamed his senses, as his hand curled under the concealment of the pillow.

His struggle with temptation was short-lived, Doyle's now frantically moving frame slamming into him, clawing him close, closer, spilling over him in hot pulses that slid down between his buttocks, that final sensation enough to cause Bodie to stifle his own whimper in the pillow. He froze when the arm circling him tensed, before releasing him.

"Oh christ, what have I done now?"

There was an instant chill when Doyle moved stickily away, the mattress dipping, bed linen rustling, then silence. Discovering himself to be holding his breath, Bodie remained where he was. His breathing shallow, flesh arched in mute plea, skin prickling with awareness, his control was a desperate thing.

Once a coward, always a coward. Let Doyle believe him a heavy sleeper.

"Christ, I'm sorry, Bodie." Doyle's voice was at normal pitch, even if it was shaking slightly.

Hasn't he ever heard of the social lie, thought Bodie with despair, taking a much-needed breath and staring out into the darkness. "It's all right, nothing to get steamed up over," he said, marvelling at the steadiness of his own voice. "That can't be the first wet dream you've ever had."

The mattress shifted.

"Maybe not," agreed a dry voice, "but it's the first one I've ever shared with a bloke."

"First time for everything."

Tempted to flick on the light, Bodie let sanity prevail. He wasn't ready to meet Doyle's eyes, caught between fantasy and reality, no longer convinced he could handle the latter even as his starved flesh cried out for just one touch.

"Do you want me to leave?"

"Bit late now, isn't it," remarked Bodie, his voice more tart than he had intended. His eyes scrunched shut with the blazing intensity of his need, his hand clenched on the edge of the mattress, recognising the unbridgeable gulf between Doyle and himself.

"I suppose it is." There was a worrying note in the disembodied voice now, Doyle's brain very obviously back in action.

The bedside light clicked on.

Bodie kept his eyes shut and his back averted, even when the bedclothes were peeled away and he felt the brush of flesh; Doyle was leaning over him.

"I thought so," said Doyle quietly. "You daft sod, lying there with your balls in knots. It's a bit late to be embarrassed with me, isn't it?" Gathering up a portion of the sheet, he began to wipe Bodie clean, taking great care over the simple task.

"Ray, leave it." The warning grated from between gritted teeth, Bodie could take no more. Turning, he found himself caught up against a body with a power that equalled his own. Lost the moment a wiry thigh hooked over him, holding him close, he thrust into the flat belly, grinding down, desperate for release and finding it too fast. His groan of near-pain was muffled by the shock of the warm mouth that parted for him, long fingers cradling his heated face for a kiss of shockingly familiar sweetness.

Dragging his mouth away, his breath rasping, he snared and held Doyle's head; the next kiss seemed to last forever.

Caught in the powerful echo of Bodie's desire, there seemed nothing strange to Doyle in the impulse to reach out and share, Bodie's climax a joyless, solo effort that had excluded him totally. Without conscious thought his hands slid down the broad body covering him, offering a lover's caress, revelling in the smooth leashed strength beneath his fingertips, the unfamiliar contours that pressed him deep into the mattress; unaccustomed, but far from unpleasant.

Breathless and confused, distanced from everything that had once seemed familiar, Bodie's face was concealed by the pillow once more. His breathing ragged, he was achingly conscious of the fingers massaging the downy hollow of his spine, the palm possessively cradling his left buttock, Doyle's legs still entwined with his own. And he didn't understand, not any of it.

Raising himself, his weight taken on his elbows, he stared down into shockingly serene green eyes. "You've bloody flipped," he growled. Leaving with regret the sticky, semen-smeared body next to him, he bundled himself into the dubious protection of a towelling robe.

Cramped, his bruises from the day before making themselves felt now, Doyle sat up with caution. Leaning back and discovering in the process that the pillows were inexplicably missing, he flexed his cramped legs before drawing them up to his chest to sit hugging his knees.

"Maybe. You were fantastic," he announced, effectively depriving Bodie of breath again.

Doyle's chin tilted, as if he had in fact protested. "As for why - it was my fault you were lying there looking like a bad impersonation of Nelson's Column in the first place." Sexual heat gone from his skin, he was sallow under his beard shadow, his eyes wary.

"You're insane," Bodie reiterated, leaning over the bedrail the better to direct his glare. "Or d'you think it's quite usual for two blokes - two heterosexual blokes - to wake up screwing each other?" Doyle's mouth was heavy, lips a little swollen from the force with which... He could remember with uncomfortable clarity the sensation of them parting for him, offering quite freely; the taste of him.

"I'm sure of it if any bloke had spent the last nine days on the knife-edge," said Doyle, staring fixedly at the stained sheet. He shrugged. "Was just that you were warm an' close and - "

"Anyone would've done," completed Bodie, understanding perfectly. "Thanks."

"Shuddup, Bodie. It isn't that simple."

Doyle ran a distracted hand back through his hair, making it stand almost on end. The troubled-cherub look was back, a little more dissolute than usual maybe, but unmistakably there. Bodie felt his guts tighten.

"Well, is it?" Doyle added, and saw his own confusion mirrored on Bodie's face.

Relaxing, Bodie gave a sudden wry grin. "Not quite," he admitted. "Stay there, all right?"

Without waiting for a reply he vanished from the room. When he returned it was with an unopened bottle of brandy and two glasses.

"You buy this?" he asked, leaning back against the bedroom door to close it.

Doyle nodded, watching him warily, only now beginning to appreciate the magnitude of what they had done, what was at stake if it ruined the fine balance of what they shared. They were more than a good team or best mates, Bodie more a part of his life than he could hope to explain, even to himself.

"Thanks." Bodie knew it was ridiculous to stand out here freezing. The worst, or best, had happened and Doyle was looking as confused as he felt.

Getting back into bed Bodie poured out two generous measures and handed one over. "They say it's good for shock," he remarked dryly.

Seeking refuge in the glass Doyle took a hefty swallow, feeling the brandy hit him almost immediately. "Maybe they know what they're talking about." It was more than he did, he conceded dismally. He took another mouthful and waited for the miracle of comprehension.

Absently cradling his injured arm, which was aching rather badly, Bodie concentrated on his own drink, his body reliving the unabashed response which had just been given to him in free and generous measure.

"Why did you do it?" he demanded abruptly. His eyes pinned Doyle, demanding an answer.

"Wha -? Oh, that. I...couldn't help meself," mumbled Doyle with truth, draining his glass.

With no idea how to interpret that, Bodie pretended he hadn't heard. "What about Ann?"

The question took Doyle by surprise. "Ann?"

"As in Holly," Bodie reminded him flatly.

"Bodie, you don't want to hear - "

"Look, if anyone else had treated me the way you have recently I would have killed 'em, so tell me." The fiercely concentrated energy faded abruptly as Bodie became aware that Doyle was staring at him because of what he had inadvertently betrayed. "Tell me," he repeated more moderately. "I mean, how's she going to take this little development?"

Gazing across the room Doyle could almost see her framed in the doorway, her expression eloquent of fastidious distaste. His mouth gave an involuntary twitch. "Oh, she wouldn't approve of this at all," he said lugubriously.

He saw an answering flash of manic amusement light Bodie's face. No surprise there, Bodie a part of his world as he was of Bodie's. They lived in each other's pockets, relied on each other's skills and feasted off the unthinking support they gave and received. Black humour had always been as much a defence as a S & W or Magnum - more perhaps. The world they had created and inhabited left no room for anyone else. He didn't pretend to know the answer but with his own world back on an even keel he accepted that the quality of his life relied on one, very simple yardstick - where Bodie's place was in it.

His expression bland and unrevealing, Bodie toyed with his glass. "Is that all there is?" he said into the silence that had fallen. "All you can say about her?"

Off with the old... It was one of Doyle's least attractive characteristics. And it was far, far too late to be wary of it.

His hand locked in the bedding, pulling it up around him as if he was suddenly cold, all trace of animation fled from Doyle's face as he recognised Bodie's withdrawal. While they were physically close enough for him to feel Bodie's warmth he didn't have the remotest idea of what Bodie was thinking or what he wanted.

"For the moment," he said tiredly. "But it is over. Being realistic it never really started. We were both looking for something that wasn't there. It just takes me longer to realise these things." He pushed the bedding away again. Whatever warmth was here wasn't for him, not now anyway. Maybe someday. "This is your bed, shouldn't you be the only one in it?" It hadn't occurred to him to withdraw, this where he belonged, exchanging a brandy-soaked kiss before he curled up next to Bodie and slept for twenty-four hours. And maybe when he awoke it would be to find he had imagined the whole mess.

To lose the brief sensations, over before they could be shared? Bugger that, he wanted more, all there was, for as long as they had.

The simple truth overtook him in a heartbeat of time, feet barely on the floor. The realisation should, he supposed with stunned vacuity, have been shocking - instead it came almost as an anticlimax. His subconscious already knew - had known for months - and if it hadn't run scared why should the rest of him?

"Be better with both of us in it," Bodie told him carefully, having watched the mercurial changes of expression on Doyle's face with an interest that verged on the clinical.

Doyle twisted around then, entwined in the bedding. "Ah, but for how long?"

Retrieving the pillows, Bodie wedged one behind Doyle, leaning back against his own, noticing with some surprise that it was almost light. It looked like it was going to be a nice day.

"For however long we both want it like this," he said at last. "No strings."

"No strings?" Doyle echoed, his voice cracking a little on the last word, knowing it couldn't be that easy. "Bodie, I - "

A flicker of something that could have been panic in the blue eyes stilled what he had been about to say. But not just panic.

And he was meant to be the observant one. 'Say I do it for love...'

Relaxing, Doyle just nodded, brushing a stubbornly poised jaw with the back of his hand in a brief caress, feeling the unaccustomed rasp of stubble, inhaling the scent of sex and Bodie and brandy.

"No strings," he agreed gently. He was mentally planning a veritable cat's cradle of them when he saw the glint of white as Bodie smiled.

-- THE END --

Written 1983
Published in HG Collected 2, Doghouse Press, 2002

Circuit Archive Logo Archive Home