The Henderson kids were having a fight over their new bike, rousing the whole neighbourhood with their noise. Doyle stirred awake with a groan, peering at the clock. It was 7:30, but the time meant little to him when compared with the date which was displayed at the top right of the digital display. May 21st. The year was of no consequence, but the date had the power to squeeze his heart; on May 21st he was useless to Cowley, and the CI5 Controller knew it; he booked the date as part of his regular leave, and although he was technically on standby, Ray knew he could ignore the phone and R/T on this day, though his life was never his own on anyother. Cowley would cut into his Christmas holiday, terminate his leave, deal out double shifts, without even asking if it was convenient... But May 21st was Doyle's; George Cowley did not question it.

Ray sat up, rubbing his face, fingernails raking through the accumulation of stubble; he shared his bed only with clean sheets, and there had been few visitors here in three years. He gazed at the white plaster of the ceiling, trying to count how many there had been. Perhaps half a dozen, special women whose gentleness and generosity had reached his heart after its long hibernation. He was fond of them, still keeping in touch with them all, though all but the latest of them had passed on to other men friends; it was easy to keep track of the women in his life now -- there were few of them, no one-night-stands. Casual one-offs made the morning seem emptier and colder, and Ray had learned how bitter that could be.

May 21st was a day off work, but he cancelled social engagements... It belonged to Bodie; and its rituals were already established. There was a sweet ache in his chest as he surrendered to the comfort of repetition, fluffing his pillows and reaching for the envelope that stood propped against the clock. It was an old letter, scrawled by hand and dated July 16, 1980. Five years had not even begun to yellow the paper, because it was kept away from the light and air. Ray took the pages from the envelope and smoothed them flat, fumbling for the reading glasses that lay on top of last night's paperback.

Blue fountain pen on white letter stock, torn off a pad... Bodie's handwriting, neat and small, betraying the time and thought that had gone into the letter. Ray knew the words by heart; reading them again brought him a curious blend of joy and pain, a feeling that was familiar now.

Dear Ray,

If you've got this letter in your hand, it's happened, so there's no point trying to pretend nothing's the matter. Everything's the matter, and there isn't one thing I can do to help you now...or ever. Whatever's happened must have been beyond stopping -- an accident or something... We don't take risks anymore, do we? So if it's happened, the first thing I want to say to you is -- don't start bloody blaming yourself! I know you, Ray Doyle, know you better than your Mum ever did. I know all about that guilt complex of yours, and I know how good you are on the job. Matchless. No one better. If anyone could have stopped it happening, you would have; and if you didn't... Some things are meant to be, mate. Kismet. Born to die, all of us.

Born to love too. And I'm just grateful that we got our chance -- better late than never! The only thing I regret is that we took so long to get around to it. We wasted years! I'm writing this while you're in the records department; it's about midnight and you'll be home soon: it's been a hard day and with the shooting match Cowley's set up for tomorrow on my mind -- I just want to get this written now. I'm not saying that anything's going to happen tomorrow, but if it does, I don't want to leave you without something on paper. Words get lost, memory plays you tricks, you know!

It's hard to write this... If you ever have to read it, you'll be hurting, and I'm going to make you feel a million times worse no matter what I say here. Christ, I'm sitting here trying to imagine me reading your letter after it's happened! (Short pause while I blow my nose. Must be hay fever).

I suppose, all I really want to say is that I love you. Sounds banal, I know, but it's the truth. Always remember that, Ray -- never look back on what we've done together with regret, please! There's been more love between us in the last three gorgeous months than I've ever had in my life. I can't bear the thought of being parted from you, but in our job you have to face it... If I tried to say all this to your face you'd tell me not to be a jerk, that it could be you that buys it as easily as me. You're right, it could be you; but I pray to God it won't be. Not you... Christ, you know you're in love when someone else's life starts to mean so much more to you than your own!

And your life means more to me than anything, Ray. Can you see what I'm saying? I'm telling you to go out and LIVE. Take your life and make something of it, or -- or it's over for both of us. I love you so much it hurts, but knowing I've wrecked your life will hurt worse. All I ever asked was to be allowed to love you; all I can do for you now is tell you to live. Find someone to make you happy, don't for God's sake start blaming yourself for whatever went wrong... And, Ray, don't forget me. Please?

You know me. I don't believe in anything much. Is there an afterlife? Who knows? If there is, I'll be right with you, all the way -- be your guardian angel, and that's a promise, love. Maybe you won't be able to see me, or feel me, but Old Nick himself won't be able to take me away! Problem is, I'm not sure if any of that's possible -- no one knows for sure. And if there isn't anything after death... Then it's up to you to keep me alive by remembering me. Everything we've shared, all the laughs, the hard times, all the loving -- it's all locked up in your memory, Ray, and as long as you think about me, I'm alive, and with you.

Nobody'd be happier than me to be wrong about this! Get shot one moment and then wake up again, dressed in a white suit, shadowing you, being with you all day; help you with little things till everyone says, 'Christ, Doyle, you must have a bloody guardian angel!' Hey, love, if that happens, you'll know it's me. You'll just know. (I'm getting weepy here; going to have red eyes by the time you get home and have to spin you a tale about having the sneezies.) Reminds me of that thing in telly -- 'Randal and Hopkirk Deceased.' Remember it? Hopkirk and his partner, detectives or something, partners, except one of them's dead! My famous black humour? Well, you'll have to forgive me, because I want to get this finished without howling my eyes out, and if I laugh a little I might even be able to do it.

I love you, Ray. That's the start and finish of it. If I died tomorrow, I couldn't say I've been short changed... I've had you. I've felt you sleeping in my arms, felt you moving inside me, I've buried myself inside you, and swallowed you as you come, and felt you swallow me as I come. I've held you while you wept, and washed your ruddy underwear for you, fetched and carried for you, and been waited on while I had 'flu. All in three months. Have I got three more? A year? Two years? Oh, to have years -- ten years, twenty, to watch you grow grey, and retire with you and live on a houseboat in Paris, like we planned... To be able to rip up this letter and forget it all...

I don't know if we're to have any of that, but I cherish the dreams, and I'm asking you to remember them, for both of us, if you do have to read this. Go out and live your life, Ray. Find someone to be there for you -- gorgeous little bugger like you, they'll be chucking themselves at you again the moment you're free! But remember us. Just in case that's all there is, the memories in your head. If I'm all wrong, and there is a whole life after this one, I'll be right behind you, can't think of what the angels'd have to offer me to bribe me away! Rather fancy myself in a white suit, being your shadow. I look a treat in white. Could be with you all the time. Only problem is, how would you know it? And how would I touch you? Damn. Reminds me of Wuthering Heights -- Heathcliff and that bird of his, Cathy.

Never really been in love before, you see, to know how to manage this; just know that I don't want to leave you without saying something. So I'll tell you I love you again, and how beautiful you are, and how I daydream about you, and what I'm going to do with you when you're with me again... Christ, when you get home from records and this silly looking sheaf of paper's hidden in the drawer, I'm going to grab you and screw your brains out. Send you to heaven. I love your body, every bit of it. Love the way your eyes darken when you get going, and the way you smile at me, afterwards. And the way you smell... Getting myself going, talking like this! It's one o'clock and I've given myself writer's cramp. Where the hell are you? Thought you'd have been home ages ago -- could throttle the Cow. You belong right here. Sheets are clean and everything. Changed 'em specially. Love you on clean sheets.

Love you, period. I think that's all I set off to say, and I've taken pages and pages to say it... This isn't supposed to be a love letter, but a farewell. Damn.

I want to be cremated, but don't scatter the ashes. Remember what we said? I want you to keep me, if you can. They give you a neat little copper pot-type thing these days; look decent on the mantlepiece! Cowley's holding my will -- but you get everything in any case, so there's nothing to that. There's that bank account I told you about, too, the one I called my retirement fund. If you're reading this, I won't be needing the money, so you'd better put it to some good use. Get out of CI5, if you reckon it's getting too dangerous. Buy that houseboat, go to Paris and paint. There's a short list of old army mates who might want to know I've snuffed it, too; in the back of my address book. Send a few postcards for me, there's a love.

That's about the lot; can't think of anything outstanding -- all paid up, and such.

Now, for Christ's sake, go and get drunk, drink to me in gin and tonic, and ask Cowley for a fortnight's leave. Get your act together, sweetheart... Don't make a muck of it -- for my sake. If you let me spoil your life -- I'll come back and haunt you!

I love you, Ray... Just remember that. That's the only thing that's important in the long run...


How many times had he read the letter, Doyle did not know; in the early days after the crash, he had committed it to memory, and his eyes simply followed the writing for the sake of looking at Bodie's scrawl. Page one, neat and small, page six, looping and getting untidy as his hand tired and the clock wound around to one.

He folded the letter and lay back, taking off his glasses and rubbing his eyes, which felt hot and sore. There were few tears; three years had made all his memories sweet and dear, and the only times it hurt were times like these, when he thought closely, deeply about it. But even now, there were memories that made him smile, and he preferred to think of those. Ray closed his eyes and replayed one of his favourites...

The jeans tangled about his ankles, tripping him, and he went down on his knees, presenting a nearly perfect target; Bodie was never slow to take advantage of life's little gifts, and Ray gave a startled yelp as he felt the large, warm hand intrude between his legs, stroking him teasingly. "Oh, Bodie, if you're not careful it's going to be over before it's started!"

An admonitory slap at one white buttock, and Bodie kissed the middle of his partner's back. "What happened to all that self-control you brag about?"

"Can't wait -- not today, not this time," Ray said, trying to sound brash, the effect ruined by his panting as he tried to turn over to get out of his jeans.

Bodie wouldn't let him move, and the caressing hand squeezed gently. The moan that passed Doyle's lips was eloquent, expressive, and Bodie smiled a little smugly at him. "Hot for it, are we, sunshine?"

"Yes, we bloody well are," Ray growled. "Oh, Bodie, let me undress!"

"You look pretty naked from where I'm kneeling," Bodie observed, his own voice a little breathless now. "All virginal and... tight." He swallowed. "Tight as... as..." Abruptly, he took his hands away, letting Doyle turn over, and sat back to watch the lithe tawny body wriggle out of its clothes.

It was some time before Ray noticed Bodie's hesitancy, and then he frowned. "Do I look that bad? Turn you right off?"

"No, but..." Bodie heaved a sigh. "I'm going to hurt you. I know I am! Don't want to hurt you. Sooner die of frustration."

Gentle hands cupped Bodie's face, and Doyle found a nervous smile. "Hey, I want it as much as you do. Want you in me. Just do it, will you? I know you'll be careful."

They had been lovers for all of a fortnight. Fourteen wild, exhausting nights in bed to their credit, learning what pleased, what drove each other to distraction, how good it could be to touch and kiss. But there was more; both of them wanted it, neither of them had any shred of practical experience, and Ray had volunteered to be "the victim" the first time around for the best and worst of all reasons... He was terrified of hurting his lover and preferred to be hurt a little than cause him pain. Bodie had the same fear, but he was becoming frustrated faster than the more patient Doyle, and Ray was counting on the frustration to provide the necessary motivation.

It did. At first Bodie was wonderfully gentle, but as he found himself swamped by the tide of tortured ecstasy there was no way he could hold back, and he was -- eager. Determined. Demanding. Anguished and contrite as he saw the little trickle of blood afterwards, he castigated himself for his roughness, and hurried away to fetch cloths and ointment. Ray was sore, there was no denying it, but he could not have cared less about the trace of blood among the baby oil; he watched with heavy lidded eyes as Bodie fussed and worried, and at last grabbed him bodily to him.

"Will you knock it off, you clown? It was fantastic!"

"But I hurt you," Bodie said stubbornly. "This is blood here, you know, not bloody strawberry jam!"

Doyle found a chuckle and pulled Bodie's head down to kiss him. "I'll live. Doesn't matter, sweetheart, honest. I feel fantastic, it was beyond belief, you hear! Will you do it again? Please?"

"What, now?" Bodie blinked.

"Give me a bit till the soreness eases up," Ray purred, rubbing his back on the sheets. "We'll be ready for more by then. Please?"

"Again?" Bodie demanded. "It was... that good?"

"You're asking me if it was 'that good' being part of you?" Ray snorted. "Stupid question. I'll do it to you one of these days, then you'll know."

"Do it to me in a hour's time," Bodie growled. "My turn."

"Taking it in turns, are we?" Doyle asked sultrily.

And Bodie nodded. "Share and share alike, that's our motto. Will you, Ray?"

"So long as you're sure," Ray murmured.

"I'm sure."

The first time had relieved much of the tension that had been in them all day, the nervous anticipation of the event, and Doyle was able to take Bodie with a little more restraint, coming in him with a throaty cry and withdrawing moments later, terrified that he would see blood, relieved when he did not. Exhausted, sticky, they lay down to sleep, rolled in a quilt that was headed for the launderette the following morning.

"Beautiful," Bodie murmured against Ray's left ear, kissing him there.

"I know you are. Not very modest, are you?"

"I mean you," Bodie corrected, nipping at the ear. "Beautiful."

"You need your eyes checked," Ray chuckled, "but thanks for the lie."

Bodie tousled the curls by his face. "My eyesight's perfect, mate. Now shurrup and lemme sleep, I'm knackered."

"Poor old soul. Methuselah's father, that's you." Ray turned to kiss Bodie's mouth, and pulled the quilt over their heads, shutting out the late afternoon sunlight, shutting in the musky smell, and the nearly tangible feel of love...

It was one of his favourite waking dreams, often indulged in, especially on this of all days, and Doyle relinquished it with a little regret, drifting back to consciousness to find that his body was alight, his groin throbbing with the memory. It was a five year old memory now; cherished; taken out and dusted off regularly, kept fresh by being relived.

He tossed back the quilt and looked down at himself: Bodie called him beautiful, and as if to prove it had tasted and bitten every square inch of him... Ray shivered, closing his eyes, feeling himself come up to full erection. He smiled, talking to the empty room, the empty bed. "What did you find, Bodie? Who was right? You? Me? Are you here right now, sitting beside me? Do you lie beside me every night, but I can't see you? Am I right -- life does go on?"

Oh, please God, let me be right! So long as there was more, he could bear not being able to see and touch, but if Bodie was right, and there was nothing more --

But Doyle did not believe that, and never had. He reached out to caress the cool sheet beside him, closing his eyes. It was easy to pretend, and if he closed his eyes he could almost see... Sapphire blue, laughing down at him, milky, creamy skin, dark hair cropped so short. He could feel the feathery caresses too, sweet little touches that coaxed him up toward climax.

It was his own hands that touched him, but pretending was so easy and he did it to often. He teased and played the way Bodie always had; he knew all of Bodie's ways. At last he arched up off the bed and let himself come, hugging the cool cotton of a pillow against his chest. It was in these vulnerable moments that he would often swear he heard Bodie's voice, would often turn toward the sound, reach out to him. It was only imagination -- what else could it be? But dreaming was not a sin, and for a little while Bodie was there and he was not alone.

Cool and sticky with his own ejaculate, Ray let go the pillow and rolled out of bed. He looked back at the rumpled sheets with a grin. "Can just see you sitting there, watching... You used to like to watch me, didn't you? Sitting there, all glassy eyed, turned on yourself from watching me... Love you, Bodie, you hear me?"

It was 8:25 when he stepped under the shower, and he was wondering if sex existed in the other life, or if his guardian angle was simply bemused by his partner's carnal display. There was no answer to that, and it was one of those questions best left unasked. He basked under the hot water, flooded by memories, as if they were all free to escape now. Most of the time he kept them fastened up, lest they distract him at work, but May 21st was a day designed for replaying the past, and Ray invited the memories. Once, they had hurt beyond bearing, but time was a wonderful salve and now he revelled in all he could recall...

"I'm drunk," Bodie said suddenly, regarding his glass with a bland expression.

He looked as sober as a priest, but Ray knew how much liquor he could soak up without it showing. "Squiffy," he corrected with a smile. "Pleasantly tipsy. Enjoy it."

They were sitting in Doyle's lounge, listening to music, and a French crooner was currently inviting his listeners to 'dance, in the old fashioned way.' Bodie put down the whisky and stood up, finding his balance easily, for all that he knew he had had one or two too many. "Upsy-daisy, Ray," he cajoled, giving Doyle his hand. "Come on. Want to dance with you. Never danced with you before."

Doyle blinked up at him from the armchair. "Dance?"

"In the old fashioned way," Bodie smiled. "Cheek to cheek and all that. Come on, before the music's finished. Be great."

In six months as lovers, Ray was sure he had done everything that could be done with Bodie, but the invitation to dance with him was unexpected. He put down his own drink, found himself hauled to his feet and taken in a firm embrace, and chuckled. Bodie liked to dance and had a natural sense of rhythm, but he was floating on a slightly sozzled cloud of euphoria. "Don't flatten my feet, will you?" Doyle asked plaintively.

"I resent that," Bodie said indignantly, crushing his lover again.

Ray wound his arms about Bodie's neck and held on, swaying to the music; there was a lot to be said for dancing in the old fashioned way, he decided. Holding the person you loved, close enough to kiss when the fancy took you, which was often. All they could taste was the whisky, but the kisses were deep and probing, and they knew they would be on the floor or on the sofa soon, wriggling and giggling. Ray pressed hard against his partner, wondering why in the world they had refused to recognise the love they had felt for so long...

Too long, he thought as he towelled dry, glowing pink from the shower. He and Bodie had had five years as friends and partners, then two glorious years as lovers before the crash that ended it all. The two years had gone by like so many weeks, a haze of pleasure, of lust and love, patched up arguments, mutual woes, joy in the morning and feverish exhaustion by night. They had learned together how a man was pleasured, and women were relegated to unimportance overnight.

Cowley had hated it, but the old man knew enough to keep his own counsel. If he had pushed, 3.7 and 4.5 would have handed him their resignations, and the department would have been the poorer. Never one to cut off his nose to spite his face, Cowley had chosen, wisely, to look the other way, and when his two agents elected to live together, he simply extended his permission.

As he watched over the toaster, Ray was thinking back to the days of chaotic activity as they moved house, into this flat, together. Most of Bodie's possessions were still here -- Doyle would not part with them for a fortune. Not that Bodie had owned much at all before he started what he called his "new life" with Ray --

"Because I'm always moving around. Like a herring on a griddle," Bodie shrugged. "To collect heaps of stuff you have to have a home, somewhere to put it all. Never had that before, have I?"

"Well, you have now," Ray said a little crossly to cover the emotion that thickened his voice. "So stop chucking your stuff out, will you? Look at this. One envelope of photos to show for a whole lifetime of experience!"

"Never had anything worth remembering," Bodie said quietly, wanting to be cuddled and getting his wish. "Got you now, though, so there'll be things to keep, times to remember." He gave a stifled guffaw. "Tales to tell the kids when we're old and grey!"

"About how you seduced me one evening and made me love you?" Doyle smiled. "Oh, yeah, that'll thrill the six year olds, I'm sure! And whose kids are you talking about? Can't be ours... Unless you're keeping secrets from me!"

Bodie cuffed his ear. "Nieces and nephews, you dope. Wouldn't want to get you pregnant even if I could -- which I somehow doubt. Like you with this willowy figure."

"That a fact?" Ray asked softly. "Doesn't bother you, does it, that you'll never have a proper family to call your own?"

The question earned him another cuff. "Clot. You're all the family I want," Bodie had said, with conviction. Ray knew he meant it. He had the home he wanted and the life's partner he wanted: grow old along with me, the best is yet to be, that last of life for which the first was made...

Except that it had not happened that way.

Ray dumped the breakfast dishes into the sink, abandoning them to be attended to later. It was cool for May, and he hugged his red robe closer to him as he ambled into the lounge to bring out the albums and sprawl on the hearthrug with his toes by the gas heater. He smiled at the deep, shaggy carpet, trying to remember how many times love had been made on this rug. Winter afternoons off, too cold to go out... Summer mornings, heading off long, warm days of indolence and sensual pursuit... Bodie liked to do it on the floor -- better leverage, Ray guessed, remembering too keenly and feeling the prickles behind his lids that warned of the old grief.

He blinked them away; today was not for grieving but for celebrating. Today belonged to Bodie, and he was damned if he was going to waste it in unhappiness.

He opened the albums, lingering over the photographs and revelling in every memory --

"Come on, Bodie, it's freezing," Doyle pleaded. "The water's like ice and wind's enough to chop you in two. Let's go back to the house."

"Won't be long -- nearly finished," Bodie promised absently, still working on the absurd sand castle that had occupied him for an hour while Ray fossicked along the tidal zone and jogged to ward off the goose bumps.

"I came up here to breathe fresh air, go boating and get screwed through the floor as frequently as possible," Ray protested, "not to watch you mucking about in the sand with a ruddy bucket and spade! Come on, Bodie! I'm hungry, I want a cuppa and a bath, and after that if you don't take me to bed I'll take vows of celibacy, I'm warning you!"

Bodie gave a bellow of laughter, falling back in the cold sand to squint up at his lover against the brightness of the sky. They were on a stretch of private beach belonging to an old army mate who had made good as a merc and invested his money; if it had been warm enough they could have done as they pleased here, made love in the sun. But although the day was bright the wind was much too cold. Bodie looked from his sand castle to his lover and back again, pretending to deliberate over his decision; and then he took a kick at the sand castle, demolishing it. "All right, you win. I'll feed you and scrub your back, and then... What would you like?"

"Want to do it face to face," Ray said huskily, embracing Bodie, pressing against him for warmth. "Like to see you. Kneeling's fine, but I want to see your face."

There was an ancient Edwardian bed in their room, four posted and made up with stiff damask sheets that were ages old; the bathroom was next door, adjoining, and the lady who did the cooking was eighty, deaf and so innocent that in a million years she would never have suspected two men of being lovers. They were utterly safe here on Bobby Reynolds' property, and only Cowley could mess it up, calling them back early... Three weeks in Devon, each day stretched to make it seem like a month.

Ray was yelling blue murder as Bodie tortured him until the pleasure almost began to hurt, and he spread his legs pleadingly, vowing revenge. He would have Bodie this way, as soon as they were able -- before dinner. What was more, Bodie knew full well that vengeance in kind was coming; he invited such revenge, so Doyle knew he could inflict it with a clear conscience. It was lucky for them that the only person in the house was the deaf old lady, because Bodie thought he had never heard a noise like it as Ray let go at last and came --

The photos had been taken with Doyle's favourite Nikon, and as both he and Bodie were clever with cameras, they were good. There were rolls and rolls of them, and Ray knew he was fortunate to have them. Before they had become lovers, he had never had a photo of Bodie, and it would have been awful to have lost him and not had a picture. The human memory is a trickster, and over the years, less than accurate.

There were snaps from their holiday in Barcelona, and the priceless roll of "test shots" that had been done to try out the new pack of filters. Having nothing to test them out on, they had shot snaps of each other, laughing and posing outrageously in the kitchen. Those were the photos Ray liked best. Bodie at home, loving and natural.

They had shared the housework and grocery shopping, split their expenses and borrowed one another's clothes, so long as an item was a half-way decent fit. There had been no secrets between them, from the start, and they had learned more about each other in the first few weeks than they had ever known in the five years of their partnership. Bodie had always been bisexual, he said, admitting to it after he and Ray had been to a bike meet and Doyle had made the acquaintance of a few of Bodie's less "presentable" associates. Surprised to find gays among Bodie's friends, Ray pressed a few questions on his partner, learning about the niceties and necessities of merc work and the armed forces.

That had been the start of it. No sooner did Ray learn that Bodie had had experiences with other men than he began to look at his friend in a new light, and wonder. He surprised himself, discovering that he did not mind, that the idea was not so awful, and that he was nursing a powerful curiosity. He began to study Bodie overtly; and Bodie would catch Ray watching him, appraising what he saw, green eyes glittering with mischief and a yearning to know. The day was coming when Ray would ask, Bodie knew, and when it came, he was not surprised...

April was bright and promising a lovely summer; the trees were laden with blossom and the countryside lush. Bodie was ambling on ahead with the picnic basket while Doyle trailed behind with the fishing tackle and bait box. It was the first time they had been alone together in ten days, and Ray was bursting to start the conversation. This was the perfect time; he had Bodie to himself all day, they had privacy, and all he needed was the nerve and the right words.

They set up in the sun, baited the hooks, poured a cup of tea and sat back to admire the view. Ray gulped at the scalding liquid, fresh out of the thermos, and risked a glance at Bodie's profile... He looked like he was in a good mood, so --

"Bodie, will you level with me?"

"Sure, what about?" Bodie sipped at his tea, leaning back against the gnarled trunk of a young oak tree that grew at the bank of the river.

"You and other blokes," Doyle said carefully. "You told me you're bi. True?"

"Why would I tell fibs about a thing like that?"

Doyle digested that for a moment, frowning. "So, you actually fancy other blokes?"

"Not all of 'em, by a long shot. Same as you don't fancy all women."

"Right." Ray appreciated the candid replies; they gave him courage to ask more. "So, what kind of blokes do you fancy, then?"

The blue eyes turned to look at him, smouldering, intent. "What are you getting at, Doyle? Pushing me like this. What's it in aid of?"

"Just curious," Ray muttered. "Just wondered."

"I've got you fazed; you're wondering if I'm likely to jump you," Bodie guessed.

Ray's heart seemed to try to jump out of his chest. "Well... Maybe."

"Well... quit worrying, your precious virtue's safe with me!" Bodie said tartly, finished his tea in one swig and tossing the cup aside as if he was angry.

There was a long, pregnant silence in which Ray was conscious of a bruised feeling and it took several minutes for him to put his finger on the cause of it. "Why?" he demanded at last. "I'm just not your type, then? You like 'em big and dark, like Murphy? Or little and blond, maybe? Or big muscles? Or brown eyes, or something?"

Bodie forgot all about fishing in a quarter of a second. There was a single, electric glance between them, a split second of awkwardness, and then it was over and they knew where they were going: to bed, and into a love affair that would make all their other affairs look like childish games. They risked it, kissing in the lee of the young oak, suffocating each other for minutes at a stretch, learning; and that afternoon they went to bed, and Bodie confessed his secrets. He had always been bisexual, but he had very little practical experience. He had had two male lovers but had never gone any further than glorified masturbation, to ease the ferocious tensions that accumulated in the violent life of the professional soldier.

"You probably know more about it than I do," he grinned nervously. "I was a kid when I did it with another boy; on the ship, of course. I liked it, but I was scared to death of getting myself mauled, so Peter and I struck together. We didn't do it often, because if we'd drawn attention to ourselves, there were a mob of vultures waiting to pick us off! Then, I had a relationship with a medic called Johnny Pasco in Angola. Same sort of thing -- was terrified to let the vultures know I rather like men, because if I had, they'd have had me. Ten against one, and you can't win. I was out of Africa at twenty-one, and back in England... Well, let's put it this way. You'll get cashiered for being gay in this man's army, if they don't beat you to a pulp first. Oh, sure, there's a lot of mucking about, but it's all in-group stuff. You get in with a bunch of blokes who want it, and play their little games. Fair enough, but I didn't want to play. I'm still a virgin, technically -- nobody's ever been inside me, and I've never, um, fucked anyone. I wanted a career in the military and if you want to make good, you have to be pretty bloody careful."

Ray considered what he had been told with a delighted grin. "So we've got it all to learn, between us, have we? You're -- pardon the witticism -- gropin' in the dark here as much as I am!"

To Doyle, bisexuality was something new, but he soon found that the carnal fascination extended only as far as Bodie. The learning was a wonderful experience, punctuated by laughter and fuelled by the love that was growing like lightning between them. Their technique was clumsy at first, but a week's practise made them adept and skilled, and after that, they relaxed and wallowed in the kind of fulfillment they had never known existed before...

The throb of arousal was back, and as Ray floated back out of his memories it was to discover that his wanton body was busy humping the hearthrug. He was close already and shut his eyes, surrendering to the dreams and the eroticism. Bodie was there beneath him again, hard muscles, the sharp press of bone, and he could almost smell the other's musk as he let his body do as it liked. He cupped a hand over his cock as he came, saving the rug and his robe, and rolled over onto his back to look at the palm full of his seed. Bodie did silly things with it; he would dab it on Ray's nose, draw patterns with it... And sometimes just savour the taste of it. Doyle licked at the cooling milk; no, he didn't taste like Bodie, not at all, but he reminded himself of Bodie, and for a moment it was too much.

His vision misted and he choked off a single racking sob. No! Not today. Today was for celebrations, not for grief -- for the good memories, not the ones that hurt.

Learning to work with Bodie again had been difficult in the extreme. Lust was a constant companion, and a suicidal distraction. The long, boring hours of a stakeout were as deadly as minefields -- alone in the car, miles from anywhere, with just each other for company and time to kill --

The tartan rug landed in Ray's lap, and Bodie spread it out over them; May was still cold, icy winds delaying summer, and the car was not exactly a boudoir. "There, how's that, pet? Tuck it in on the other side, don't want a frostbitten bum, do you?"

"You say the cutest things, sir," Ray giggled, batting his eyelashes as he wriggled his jeans off his hips. "Christ, you reckon we dare?"

Bodie heaved a resigned sigh. "It's six in the morning; we're parked in a meadow. The house we're watching is three quarters of a mile away on the other side of a wood, and the bloke we're supposed to be watching threw a dope-and-booze bash last night. If he's still alive this morning, not floatin' face down in the pool, he'll be lucky! There's no one to see us but the scarecrow in Gilles' field, and since we've got the rug 'round us, there won't be a hell of a lot to see, will there?"

He had a point. "You're on."

"Good lad." Bodie smiled. "Love you."

"Know you do," Ray said, nose wrinkling affectionately as he felt Bodie's hand take hold of him beneath the rug. Bodie knew exactly what pleased the most, and he closed his eyes, wanting it all.

The morning sunlight was still wan and the birds still carolling; they were sore after a night spent in the car, and their backs protested the activity, but still it was good; they made it last a long time, and came almost together, pressed into an embrace, kissing fiercely and bucking into skilled, loving hands.

"Christ," Bodie panted, minutes later. "Better open a window. If anyone takes a sniff at this car they'll tell exactly what's happened -- wouldn't have to see it to know."

"Need a leak anyway," Ray admitted, tussling with his clothes. "Clever little hands you've got there, Mister Bodie, sir."

"Just enthusiastic," Bodie shrugged. "Hurry back. Want to cuddle."

Working with Bodie had had -- Ray grinned -- its ups and downs; of course Cowley knew, the man was not completely mad. But he had kept his silence about it, and when the worst had come to the worst, had been supportive in a way Doyle would never have expected. When it had happened, Ray had been as good as alone; his family and friends could not support him through the death of his lover, because he and Bodie had always been too discreet for it to become general knowledge, and neither of them had had the guts to tell the Doyle clan.

There had only been Cowley, and Ray learned a great affection for the old man. There had been long, companionable silences, evenings spent in the office with tea and biscuits, or pure malt, going over files -- anything as an excuse for the silent companionship Ray was aching for. He did not want the words, even if Cowley had had them to give, which was uncertain; but he needed someone to know, to know why he was pale and drawn and shaking, visibly aching. Cowley had come through like a trooper, and Doyle acknowledged a great regard for the CI5 Controller. There had been a time, in the very early days after the crash, when he had seriously considered taking Bodie's "retirement fund" and leaving, buying a houseboat in Paris, and spending the rest of his life as a penniless artist...

But Cowley needed men who were good at a rotten job, and after the initial, tearing pain of separation subsided, Ray felt very much in the boss's debt. He stayed; at first he stayed on out of gratitude, but soon the job became his life again, as it had before Bodie had come to mean everything. "And I learned to live again," Doyle said to the photo albums. "Like you told me to, love, remember? In that silly letter of yours." He sat up, looking at the time, not surprised to see that it was almost one o'clock already. "I'm hungry," he told the albums. "Got to get lunch before I starve... You're still taking it out of me, Bodie. Christ, done it twice today already! Got to save something up for tonight."

He was indulging in hamburgers and cream cakes and Coke, Bodie's favourite fare. As a rule he never touched the stuff, but there was something about surrounding himself with Bodie on May 21st that got him through a day that might otherwise have killed him... There was no point in pretending it was an ordinary day -- it wasn't. It was a day when he could either laugh or cry, but indifference was absurd.

Lunch was a long, lingering affair, and he ate too much, feeling dopey as he washed the frying pan and opened a window to get rid of the oily smell of frying meat. There were chores to be done, but they could wait for another day. He made coffee and took it back into the living room, yawning as he went through the record rack in search of what he thought of as "music for dreaming to." Technically, "music for screwing to" would have been more accurate, because there was nothing Bodie loved loving to more than Mozart. The stylus set down on the D Major violin concerto, and Ray enjoyed a chuckle, remembering the time when, a little squiffy and very full of mischief, Raymond Doyle had performed to the slow movement of the Moonlight Sonata. It had been Bodie's birthday...

Bodie knew at once what his little monster of a lover was going to do, and his chin impacted with his knees. He sat propped against the pillows as the first, unmistakable bars wafted into the bedroom and Ray struck a pose, seductive but subtle. The metre of the music was superbly suited to the slow, languid movements as Ray turned around, one hand unbuttoning his shirt as he swayed from the hips to the triple-time. The shirt seemed to float off by itself, whispering over his shoulders and down his left arm to the floor. He was barefoot already, gazing dreamily, innocently at the ceiling as he stroked his chest, moving in the seductive rhythms... Christ, if Beethoven had had any idea --

He unbuckled as he stretched like a cat, and Bodie could see he was aroused through the tight denim. The stretch arched his back, and he stayed in that yoga-like pose, doubled backward, while he slid down the zip of his Blue Grass denims. When he straightened, it was to run his palms down his back to his buttocks, and Bodie groaned as he watched the sensual little animal sway to the music, turning slowly about until his back was to his audience. He bent forward then, knowing full well that he was presenting his rump shamelessly as he slowly slid the denim down and stepped lithely out of it. Bodie swallowed, fingers itching to reach out and touch.

Back still turned, Ray stretched both arms above his head, working his shoulders as if to loosen them, and slowly turned about, reckoning how long the music had to run and pacing himself. His eyes were sightless, almost closed, and he had become as turned on as he hoped Bodie must be. He feathered his fingertips over his belly, cupping his right hand about his groin, feeling heat and hardness under stretched blue cotton, and heard Bodie groan again. Ray collected the groan like an accolade; this was one of Bodie's birthday gifts, and he knew he had guessed right.

The key to the seductive display was in its innocence; Ray stubbornly ignored Bodie's presence, concentrating on the music and his own body. He slid his hands down into the back of the blue cotton and turned slowly away, bending forward as he slid the garment off, letting Bodie focus on the parting of his buttocks, presenting himself with innocent wantonness. Then he was naked, stretching muscles that were tingling, and as the music drew to its close he lowered himself to the carpet and folded up like a flower closing for the night, knees drawn up, arms about them, never letting Bodie see the aching erection that was for him. As the final bars played out he put his head down on his forearms and closed his eyes. Total innocence.

There was silence for some time, and then Ray heard a sniff and opened one eye, wondering if it was an expression of disdain, but Bodie was about to blow his nose, and there was a suspicious dampness about his eyes. And he had come. There was a trickle of his seed on his belly and he was limp. "Sorry," he said apologetically, "couldn't help it. Too beautiful. Christ, the Moonlight's Sonata's never going to sound the same after this -- I'll get a hard-on every time I hear it!" He held out one hand. "Come here and do me. I want you."

He was right. That piece of music had never been simply a piece of music ever again, and they were in imminent danger of disgracing themselves whenever they heard it. No one else would ever understand why it was a thousand times more erotic to them than an Electric Blue video. Ray stretched out on the couch, drifting with the Mozart, feeling the tendrils of sleep tug at his mind. How many afternoons had they whiled away in winter like this, curled up on the couch, listening to music? "Nice, this," he said to the empty room. "Should do it more often. Makes me feel like you're so close again. Like you've been away for a long time, and you've come home... Oh, Bodie, what I wouldn't give for one kiss. Sell my soul for an hour with you. Half an hour." It hurt keenly, as he so seldom allowed it to hurt now, and he closed his eyes, courting sleep, hoping for dreams.

He dozed, and the dreams were confused, disjointed, like the dreams he had had the autumn he got the 'flu. Bodie had looked after him like his nanny, fetching and carrying for him, cuddling him while he had suffered through it and came back to life. It was the first time in years he had had anyone to be there when he was ill, and Ray sat back, bemused, revelling in it. He got his chance to return all the favours a few months later when Bodie fell from a ladder and fractured his ankle; for a few days it made his life a misery, and he was pleased to be indolent, waited on like royalty.

The Mozart had long since finished and the room was too hot and stuffy when Ray woke; he felt hung over as he sat up and peered at the time. It was five already; he had slept the afternoon away, catching up on a little of the sleep the job had cost him in these last few weeks. His partner was a good girl, he had come to respect and trust her, and when she got into trouble he worried. Mary Ingram was twenty-six, twelve years his junior, and she looked at him as much for guidance and tuition as for back-up and companionship. She had worked with him for eighteen months of the three years since Bodie had been killed, and had proved herself time and again. As a driver, she excelled, and she was the best with hand guns. She dressed much the same as he did himself, in jeans or slacks and running shoes -- for which he was grateful: on their kind of job, climbing and running were par for the course, and fashionable skirts and high heels would have been sheer suicide.

Mary Ingram was his friend; he had never slept with her, nor did he want to, but he was fond of her, and he was sure Bodie would have approved of her. Ray rolled off the settee and went to open a window, looking out over the view. The trees wore their new green proudly... Spring turning into summer. Bodie's favourite time of the year. He sighed, sliding the Mozart record back into its sleeve as the cool breeze invaded the room. Time to set about preparing dinner. He cleared away the photo albums, flipping through them one last time before returning them to their place on the bookshelf.

There was the last photo of Bodie he had, taken a few days before the accident. The May of 1983. A few threads of silver had just begun to show among the raven-dark hair, and he teased Bodie about them as much as Bodie had ever teased him about being older...

"Going to start dyin' your hair, love?"

"Hark at who's talking!" Bodie retorted, sparing Doyle a glance as he drew the razor over his lathered chin. "You've got ten times more silver than I have... I like it on you, though. Looks nice. Distinguished. Sexy."

"Sexy?" Doyle was cleaning the bath and peered over his shoulder. "Signs of advancin' age, sexy?"

"On you anything looks good. Though nothing looks better," Bodie said with a leer, and gave Ray's uplifted rump a fond pat. "Going to be ready for your wheel chair soon, in any case, aren't you? Be thirty-six next birthday. Old, Raymond, old!"

"Knickers," Ray said acidly. "You're as young as you feel, and as old as your genes say you are. I've got Doyle genes; we age slowly, mate."

"Yeah, I know you do," Bodie said honestly, wiping away the last of the soap. "Lately, I've been thinkin' you look younger than me... Mind you, I like that too. Always did feel -- I dunno. Protective of you, you know? Was absurd, when you were the eldest, but if you and your Doyle genes have got me fixed good and proper, that makes me the eldest now, so I'm in charge. You do as you're told, my lad!"

"Bodie, that's ridiculous," Ray laughed, straightening, one hand in the small of his back, taps running to wash the bath clean. "Do as I'm told?"

"S'right. Age before beauty... So you follow orders."

"Sir!" Doyle snapped to attention and gave a sketchy salute. "Orders, sir?"

"Oh..." Bodie's brow creased in a frown. "Well... Kiss me?"

"Sir!" Ray leaned forward and pecked his lover's chin.

"On the lips, idiot."

"Is that an order?" The green eyes were gleaming.

"My bloody oath," Bodie nodded, and collected his kiss.

"There, what else?"

"Could use a hug," Bodie admitted, breathless after the invasion of Doyle's tongue, and when the thin, strong arms circled him he whispered into one curl-covered ear, "you know, this is getting interesting. How about a cuppa?"

"What the bleedin' hell's interesting about a cuppa?" Doyle demanded indignantly.

"Nothing, except that I'm issuing orders to put the kettle on, and --"

"Orders? Stuff that!" Ray snorted.

"--if it works I may never lift a finger again," Bodie finished thoughtfully. "T'isn't going to work, though, is it?"

Ray shook his head. "We share and share alike, mate -- in bed and out. Work and all. Ask all you like -- I'll probably make your ruddy tea for you anyway; but givin' out orders isn't on. Not unless we take it in turns, and I get to give you my orders too."

"Sir!" Bodie snapped to attention. "Orders?"

"Mmm... Kiss me," Ray smiled, and savoured his kiss. "Nice, Sergeant. Very. Now... stick your lovely tongue in my ear, will you?"

"Certainly, General. Which ear?"

"This one'll do." Ray presented his left ear and held his breath as he was obliged.

"Now... go and get the vacuum cleaner out, it's your turn to clean the place!"

"Bugger the vacuum cleaner," Bodie said succinctly.

"Don't fancy it," Ray said airily. "Kinky like that, are you?"

"No I bloody well am not," Bodie said hotly. "Sooner bugger you any day; all day, if it comes to that. And speaking of coming -- you've got me going." He grabbed for Doyle's wide, bony shoulders and nuzzled the very silver temples that had begun the scene. Ray was getting very silver now, and suiting it. There would come a day when, maybe at forty or forty-five, the silver would show everywhere, and Bodie was looking forward to being there to see it --

"I wish," Ray whispered, catching sight of himself in the mirror tiles at the east end of the kitchen as he washed up the dinner dishes. "God, how I wish." His hair was getting obviously silver now, and Bodie would have been showing a few more threads, too. Bodie would have been thirty-five now, but in Ray's memory he was just the same, would never change, ever. They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old. "Maudlin, Ray" That's not the way, is it?" He chided himself. "Bodie'd give you a good boot up the backside for that!"

No. Bodie would cuddle him, love him, take him to bed and make him forget all the hurt... Except that Bodie was the hurt, and there was no escaping it.

Ray poured a glass of whisky, Bodie's drink, and sat down in the armchair Bodie used to prefer, for some reason. He sipped at the amber spirit slowly, savouring it and watching the room grow dim with evening. This time of day always made him reflective, and the finality of it inspired memories of the end. Even these memories were welcome -- any thought of Bodie was never an intruder. He sat back, eyes closed, going back over the last days. There was a sweet, piercing pain and he held tight to it, needing it. It was his link with reality. In the early days only the pain had kept him sane, because fantasy and the refuge of withdrawal were all too near at hand...

Footsteps pounded into the computer facility and he turned from the terminal where he was working, wondering who was in such a hurry. It was Murph, pale, bright-eyed, and Ray knew without asking that something was terribly wrong.

"Christ, there you are," Murphy panted. "Been trying to find you -- where the hell's your R/T? Got it turned off again? Forget it, Ray -- move yourself. It's Bodie."

"Bodie?" Doyle was on his feet the same instant. "What happened?"

"Accident on the road just outside of Town. Drunk jumped the median strip and hit him, knocked him off his bike. They've taken him to hospital."

Cold seemed to seep into Ray's bones from outside and his stomach turned over; his sight dimmed for one awful moment and when it came back his arms felt oddly weak. "He's badly hurt? Murph, tell me!"

"Dunno," Murphy shrugged. "They just said the bike's a writeoff and they've taken him to hospital. Cowley's there, and he wants you quick."

If Cowley wanted Doyle there that fast, it was bad, they all knew that; only Ray refused to acknowledge how bad it could be as he drove over to the vast, loveless labyrinth and took the lift up to the fourth floor. Casualty. Intensive. Cowley was there waiting for him at the desk, filling out papers, and Ray knew with one look at the old man's face that it was already over. Cowley looked fifteen years older. Drawn, seamed and tired. The flouros over Doyle's head spun crazily and he clawed at the desk for support.

"Sir? Where is he?"

"In Intensive. He... There was nothing they could do for him, Doyle. I'm sorry."

The numbness spread to every nerve; ice water churned through his veins. "Can I see him, sir?"

"I don't think you should."

But Doyle had not waited for permission, pushing through in the direction of the knot of hospital staff who were taking care of the necessities. There was a shape strapped to a gurney, awfully familiar, awfully still, and without asking anyone's permission Ray drew the sheet back. White and immobile, perhaps a little blue, Bodie looked serene, at peace, all his struggles over... Ray's own were just beginning. The nurses allowed him to stand there for a full five minutes, leaving him in peace; he neither knew nor cared if anyone saw him stoop to kiss Bodie's cold lips one last time, and then a young orderly appeared to take the gurney down to the morgue, and there, in the middle of the bright, busy hospital, Ray was alone again.

It would have been easier to reconcile if Bodie had been killed at work; he could have blamed it on the job, cursed Cowley and CI5 to hell and left. But this way, killed by a drunk driver -- it was the way anyone could go, any day. Kids and old ladies and dogs. Cowley drove him home, and Ray was there before he realised he was at George's own flat, drinking the boss's whisky. It was not a time for being alone, and they would not leave him to himself. Sometimes Murphy kept him under surveillance, sometimes it was Susan, and when Cowley had the time he kept an eye on the younger man himself.

Ray stumbled through two days he would never remember, and persuaded them to leave him alone on the third. He had Bodie's letter to read, and his own letter to Bodie to dispose of... In the event of his death, there would be no one to read it. He was clear headed when he took the letter from the envelope, and it nearly killed him. Once, he had the gun in his hand, but Bodie's words echoed around and around in his head, pleading with him to live, to live his life for both of them.

They wanted him to take ten days off work, but he refused. Bodie was cremated in a private ceremony, and the next morning his will was read. Ray was, absurdly, almost wealthy, a man's whole retirement fund presented to him. He invested the money, all his attention focused on the future by day, and on the past by night. The nights were bad; the bed was big and empty, and he dreamed, hearing Bodie's voice, seeing his face, waking aroused and relieving himself with a few swift strokes. Slowly, bitterness and agony gave way to acceptance and the now familiar, sweet aches. Celibacy and wet dreams became a way of life, and as soon as he closed his eyes at night, Bodie was there. The fantasies were terrifyingly real and Doyle held onto the pain of grief, knowing that it was his only connection to the real world.

Days turned into weeks, and slowly into months; Cowley let him work alone, and although the wounds of separation never healed, time salved them until he could think and speak about Bodie without his heart tearing itself in two. The memories, then, were cherished, hoarded and treasured; and when it came to May 21st once more, the day's little rituals began. Christmas and birthdays were bad, and he spent them working; but May 21st was an anniversary, a day of celebration.

"Celebration of life," Ray said softly, raising his glass to the mantlepiece in toast. On it was a framed photograph, and beside it, a pot, brass and copper, lovingly polished. The inscription read simply "Bring Me Sunshine." And beneath it was printed: Bodie, 1950 - 1983. "Short life and a merry one, eh, love?" Ray whispered, reaching out to caress the cool metal. "You always said that. Better to have a fine time and go out young. Well, you got your wish, and I hope you're happy with it! Nah... I remember all the other times, too. Lying in the dark, talking about what we wanted to do together when we were old. Tour the world and such. Christ, don't I wish..."

The photo in the silver frame was a close up portrait he had shot himself; suntanned and laughing, Bodie was happy, young, the way Ray always thought of him. There was a distinctly lecherous look on his face, too; no one but the photographer knew that he was naked as the shutterbug, recovering from one round of loving, about to engage in a rematch. The silver chain and bracelet Bodie often wore were looped over the frame, and Ray fingered them delicately before pressing a kiss to his fingers and touching them to the photo. "Love you, you silly sod... And if I'm right, I'll kill you! If I'm right, and you're still around here, 'cause dyin' doesn't finish us off, and we're both alone because we could never agree on what we bloody believed -- damn! Had the gun in me hand, sweetheart. I just... wasn't sure. Can't be sure. Because if you're right... were right... and there isn't anything... Oh damn." He rubbed his knuckles over his eyes and looked at the time.

It was nine, and he was tired. His partner had been in strife for days, missing, a prisoner, and he and Murphy had turned half of London inside out. Mary was safe, a little battered and chafed about the wrists from being confined, but otherwise just badly scared. She had the fright beaten quickly, only allowing Ray to see it. Her partner. The man she trusted before all others. Murphy had been there on the fringes, watching, and after Mary had gone to have her cuts and bruises looked at he had leaned close to Ray. "You know she's in love with you, don't you?"

Ray knew. But he was not ready to start that again yet. Not yet. If Mary really loved him, with the kind of love there had been between him and Bodie, she would wait for him to be ready to give his heart again; and if he had to give it, Doyle could think of no one who deserved it more... Mary Ingram had earned it. She was not beautiful, but she was strong and intelligent and soft hearted, all the qualities he valued now. He did not love her, but he could learn how to love her, make her happy. As yet, they were only friends... He had no wish to sleep with her too soon and spoil it before it could begin properly.

And he would spoil it, he knew. He would make a ruin of it; because he was still in love with someone else. Ray yawned deeply and gave the photograph a wink. "Going to bed, love."

The nights were still cool and he put on the electric blanket to get warm, sliding in between the clean sheets and making himself comfortable. His body was alive with longing, and he pampered it without shame or reservation, surrendering to the dreams. There were times when he yearned to be filled, longed for the physical sensations of the loving only another man could give, but he had no desire for a male lover. If he could not have Bodie, he wanted no one -- the thought of letting another man have his body was unpleasant. In three years of abstinence from that kind of sex, he had become almost virginal. A few more years, and it would be as if it had never happened. Better to let sleeping dogs lie, he knew. It was not the sex, it was the love that mattered, and he reckoned he must be one of the luckiest men alive. Not only had he been in love, but he had been loved in return.

"Better to have loved and lost?" He smiled, stretching and arching his back to fill his fist and pretend again. It was easy to pretend, and Bodie would have approved...

"Reminds me of a peach," Bodie said dreamily, surveying Doyle's rump with real pleasure. "Can't look at a peach without thinking of you these days."

"Kinky for fruit," Ray observed, snickering at the joke and getting his knees under him to encourage his lover. "Come on, then, get on with it!"

"Not so fast," Bodie said sternly. "Turn over. Want to suck you first."

Ray rolled over and grabbed for Bodie, needing his mouth before his lover set about the task of pleasuring him. It was his birthday, his thirty-fifth, and this was one of his presents. "Going to fly you high as a kite," Bodie had promised. "Always wanted to know how high I could fly you."

The first time, it had been quick, just a clinging and rubbing under the shower; but as Ray softened and rested Bodie presented him with a little silver cockring and a wink. "Thought of you the minute I saw it. Ever used one?"

"No," Doyle admitted. "They, um, keep you hard, don't they?"

"Not forever," Bodie chuckled, sliding it into place. "Basically they just make everything slow down and take longer. Lets you get more out of it."

"Oh." Ray looked at the ring. "It's rather nice."

"Egyptian, and very old," Bodie told him. "Sit down and let me sort you out!"

He had sucked Ray hard again, and it had taken a long time because of the ring: Doyle was in a boneless heap of satiation before Bodie was finished, and yelped as Bodie blew on the moist skin, making him cold. "Bodie, for God's sake, don't! I'm gonna come an' that'll be the end of it!"

"No you won't," Bodie said breathlessly. "Got the ring on. You only think you'll come. Got miles left in you yet. Spread your legs, love... There."

He was using almond oil, fragrant and very expensive. The oil got everywhere; Ray was floating, it was minutes before he realised the oil was even on his knees, and a dab on each taut nipple, and Bodie had it on his chest and belly and was gliding both slick hands round and around the pampered genitals. The cockring was making him throb, and he was hotter than usual, and his balls had begun to ache. He bit his lip, lifting his hips to push against Bodie's oily palm. "Oh, Christ, put your fingers in me, please..."

"Turn over, then," Bodie coaxed, and had to almost lift his lover over. Ray's rump always had reminded him of a ripe peach, and he said so. Trust Ray to have enough breath left to make a joke! There was no exhausting him -- anyother bloke who had spent the last four minutes bucking back and forth to bury three of his lover's fingers deep in his body would be knackered, but not Doyle. Instead, when Bodie removed the fingers he lifted his rump again, wanting the rest of it.

But Bodie slowed him down; he had come off the incredible high now, planing off, and he could take more. Bodie wanted to taste the heat and hardness again before it was too late -- the ring made it different. Hotter. As Ray rolled over he lay between the long, slender legs and sucked avidly until Doyle began to buck, right on the edge again. Time. Bodie lifted the legs over his shoulders and at last assuaged the aches of his own desire. Ray was wild, but the ring slowed it down; it would feel odd to him, Bodie knew, and as Ray asked for it harder in husky, explicit words, he obliged, taking him roughly until his lover was exhausted and sobbing, and came at last.

A hoarse cry passed his lips -- sheer disbelief -- and the spasms seemed to go on and on, turning Doyle inside out while Bodie climaxed deep inside him. They went down, exhaustion almost plunging them into sleep at once. Ray was fighting for breath and Bodie belatedly remembered to move aside and give him space to respirate. As they caught their breath they laughed, at each other and at themselves, and Bodie slipped the oily ring off as Ray softened. He stooped to kiss the almost painfully sensitive cock and then collapsed beside his lover.

"Was good?" he asked, already knowing the answer.

"Was terrifying," Doyle said ruefully. "Thought I was gonna die! Since I didn't it was the best ever, but if I'd had a bloody heart attack you wouldn't have been so smug, would you, you bastard?"

"Don't suppose I would," Bodie snickered. "Would have had a hell of a time explainin' to the coroner how you died in bed, covered in oil, turned on like that, and wearing nothing but a little silver ring!" He bit off a guffaw and kissed Ray's protesting mouth.

"Next time, you get the ring," Doyle said menacingly, "and I'm going to suck you with a menthol cough drop too, and put me fingers in you while I'm sucking you, and drop ice cubes on your chest, and --"

"Better ring up the hospital first and book me a bed," Bodie said solemnly, "because I don't think me poor old heart'll take all that at once."

Ray stretched. "Oh, I'm sore. Was hard, wasn't it?" He brow crinkled. "Seem to remember yelling at you to do it harder."

"You did," Bodie said smugly. "Couldn't go hard enough to suit you at the time... Turn over and let me look at you... No, you're just a bit raw, pet. Bit more oil'll do the trick. Hold still... There. How's that feel?"

"Better." Ray yawned deeply. "I'm oil from head to foot! Need a bath, but I haven't got the energy.

"Tomorrow'll do," Bodie said, lifting the sheet up. "Never mind about the bedding, I'll take it to the launderette -- call it part of your pressie... Love you, Ray."

"Mmm. Love you, Bodie. C'mere and hold me." Ray snuggled close, burying his face against Bodie's chest and breathing in the mingling scents of almond oil and two men in love... Definitely erotic, he thought, but his body was so sated as to be beyond hope.

"Happy birthday," Bodie murmured into the tangled curls. "And dozens more like 'em."

"And dozens more like 'em," Ray echoed as he drifted back to the real world, curled into a squirrel-like ball, both hands cupped about his groin, oily and fragrant, and full of his cooling seed. "Dozens more, but none like that one," he sighed. "Oh, Bodie. Oh, love. I don't bloody believe all that guff about there not being anything about this -- couldn't be true. You wait for me -- you hear? If you don't I'll get cross and probably thump you! Not going to collect my pension, you know -- nearly got killed last week, and again yesterday. Maybe you won't have to wait as long as you think! Murph and Mary keep sayin' it... 'Christ, Doyle, you must 'ave a guardian angel!' They keep sayin' that... S'it you, Bodie? Is it? Guardian angel?" He uncurled, smiling into the pillow, throwing one arm out over the cool sheet where Bodie should have been. "Love you, you silly, soft-hearted clot... But if you're here, you'll know that -- look at the state of me. Need a shower... tomorrow. Too tired now. See what you do to me, still? Been a nice day, but I've got to work tomorrow, need me beauty sleep." He pulled up the quilt, in the friendly darkness refusing to believe that he was talking to himself. Time for absurd insecurities like that in the cold, cruel light of day; for now, he was certain, content and tired out.

He cocooned himself in the quilt, so like an embrace, and surrendered to sleep.

-- THE END --


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