The lounge room had been cleaned and aired out the day before Ray got out of hospital; they had taken up the spoiled rugs: the blood stains were gone, for which Bodie was profoundly grateful. The sight of them, the sour taint of the spilled milk during the investigations of sundry CI-5 forensics men, had served as a constant reminder that Doyle lay in the hospital with tubes in his arms and no apparent will to live. It had been a surreal experience for both of them, and a bad one; Bodie had himself been on the receiving end of that kind of violence more than once, but once in recent years: he had distorted but still vivid memories of being wheeled into the same terrifyingly familiar hospital with a knife wound, fevered, delirious, recording data indiscriminately: the rumbling of the wheels under him, the sound of Doyle's voice, choked up with emotion as he walked at the side of the gurney, berating him as a half-Irish idiot.

Berating him? Hardly. Doyle hid his emotions that way: chew on people, snap at them, and maybe no one will notice how you're reacting, maybe hurting, maybe just feeling deeply. Too deeply. Bodie drifted back to the present, watching Ray's fingers work delicately with the fragile leaves of an African violet, repotting it. His fingers still shook a little, betraying his health's fragile state. It would be a long road back to fitness, and even then there was only so much that could be expected: anyone who had surgery on or near the heart stood a good chance of ending up with a heart condition.

It meant that his days as a field agent could be over: no one with a heart condition would pass the physical, Bodie knew that without being told. They were giving him Murphy as his new partner for now... New partner. The Smurph was a good man, a good friend, a good agent to have as back-up; but he was not Doyle, and that was that. He looked up at Doyle's face, seeing the delicate translucence of his skin, pale after so long spent indoors; his looks had fined down as he lost weight, his features becoming even more attractive in an ethereal sort of way, Bodie thought, noticing again how very green his eyes were in the sunlight from the open windows. There was more silver in his hair now too, showing at the temples, mingling among the reddish brown; the silver had been there for years, they had joked about it in the past, but now the sight of it almost hurt Bodie, for it underscored the fact that time slowed down for no man, and even now it was rolling by. Passing us by, he thought, and then corrected: no, passing you by. The thought made him sigh deeply and, hearing, Ray looked up. Bodie's expression was sober, regretful.

"You look cheerful."

"Huh?" Bodie stirred in his seat on the other side of the table. "I was just thinking. Thinking back; about us."

"Got to think forward," Doyle scolded, ever the pragmatist. "If I don't pass the physical, Cowley promised me a job in Administration -- promotion, better wages."

"I heard." Bodie nodded. "But it wouldn't be the same..." He met Doyle's eyes levelly. "You know what I mean."

"Yeah." Doyle pushed the little plant pots away and rubbed his hands clean on a scrap of rag. "You and me, together, old times..."

"Good times," Bodie added. He watched Doyle follow him into the mood of introspection, drawing his hands across the smooth contours of his jaw, rubbing at one temple. "Are you tired? Do you want to rest? You shouldn't tire yourself --"

"Bodie," Doyle remonstrated gently, "I'm okay, really. You're not a hen, and even if you were, I'm not your chick.... But," he added with an honest smile, "thanks for fussing. And thanks for all those times in the hospital; you didn't have to spend your life there. Your'near ones and dear ones' must have been waiting for you."

They looked evenly at one another then, each probing the other for the truth -- was it duty, was it brotherhood, or what? The kind of loyalty partners must learn for one another or else invite disaster, the kind of kinship that bloomed between warriors? Doyle knew he was waiting for Bodie's response, and on that response would pivot his understanding of what Bodie meant. There had been times, drifting between delirium and fleeting snatches of consciousness, that Bodie's face had been the only concrete thing he was sure of, the only 'real' element in a world gone suddenly haywire. In that time, Bodie had been friend, kin, saviour, lifeline, all he had -- and, he had learned to his surprise, all he had wanted or needed.

Bodie swallowed. "Near ones and dear ones? There was a nearer and dearer one in that hospital bed, wasn't there?" He smiled, and Doyle mirrored the expression. "I remember one day, you weren't conscious, you couldn't hear... I felt like a fool. I feel a bit of an idiot telling you... I held your hand." He shrugged almost apologetically.

Doyle's smile widened, warming a fraction more. "I wasn't that unconscious. I knew-- though I was a bit delirious. I could have sworn I was holding your hand! But then, I was imagining all sorts of things."

The unspoken inference tugged at Bodie's curiosity. "Like what?"

It was Doyle's turn to shrug, perhaps uncomfortably. "Oh, nothing, I don't know what made me say that."

"Maybe because it's true?"

"Oh, it's true," Doyle admitted, "but it's...silly."

"White rabbits with pocket watches, tea parties and shrinking houses --" Bodie lifted a brow at him. "That kind of silly?" He watched Doyle's sensitive, mobile face, a gentle face, expressive, rewarding to look at -- Bodie had grown accustomed to the pleasure of just looking during the days of woeful uncertainty as he wondered if Ray was even going to live.

He had sat in that room, listening to the beeping machines, watching the other man sleep, yearning to see the life return to him, the colour, the vitality, the inner beauty he had always been conscious of -- humour, compassion, sensitivity. The eyes were the windows of the soul, so went the old saying; Doyle looked up meeting Bodie's gaze thoughtfully, and his own eyes were -- haunted? Bodie wondered.

"White rabbits? I'm not a kid, Bodie, I don't have kids' fantasies, do I?"

Bodie studied his friend closely, suspecting that he knew already what he meant, why he was uncomfortable, why he would call it 'silly'. His heart quickened and he searched among his own reactions for a long moment before speaking. There had been times in the dead of night at that infernal hospital, with Ray's fingers limp and cold in his own, when it had seemed that the whole world had begun to revolve around Doyle, and if he were gone it would suddenly stop, or become a dark place, with all the light and fun gone out of it. He had ached to pour his own strength into the other's still limbs, and if that were impossible, to buoy him up while he healed himself -- to hold him as one would hold a child in need. But Ray was not a child, as he had said. On the verges of sleep one night, Bodie recalled with a clarity so vivid as to be disquieting, there had been a dream, or a fantasy, he was unsure what to call it properly; he could still feel the warm solidarity of the other in his arms, the relief of being able to offer the comforting support instead of sitting there, watching the clock ticking Ray's life away. Was that what Doyle had imagined, in his delirium?

The dark lashes brushed Ray's cheeks as he closed his eyes for a moment, and Bodie watched him colour, an attractive blush that spoke volumes. "Look I was stoned on the drugs," he said quietly, "that must have been it. Your mind does funny things when you..." And then he looked up and saw Bodie's quizzical, fondly humorous expression. "What?"

"I wasn't stoned," Bodie said, perhaps with a little cynicism, "and I, well, sort of dreamed... Oh hell." He cleared his throat, studying the table for a time. "I thought you were dead, Ray. They told me you had maybe one chance in five. It felt as if the lights were going out with you, I had this wanting -- if you were going to die, I wanted to hold you while it happened. I held a friend of mine that way in Angola, while he died, and he never meant as much to me as you." He looked up, meeting Doyle's eyes levelly. "Is that what you dreamed, what you wanted?"

"Like that," Doyle said softly. "Like I said, I was delirious, what I dreamed isn't important."

Still, he looked haunted, and Bodie swallowed. "If it isn't important, why does it still bother you?"

"Because I remember," Doyle said carefully, "I remember what it felt like to..."

"To hold me?" Bodie guessed.

Doyle nodded, closing his eyes to sharpen the memory when he suspected that he should have gone to some lengths to dispel it. It sharpened painfully, he felt the quivers of familiar sensation deep inside him, and was not surprised to feel them again.

"To..."Bodie took a breath and began again. "To love me?"

Doyle's green eyes snapped open. "I told you, the drugs." But they regarded each other more honestly in silence than words would permit.

"Was it?" Bodie murmured. "I dreamed I held you, Ray... But you weren't dying. You revived in my arms, you were warm and alive, and if I hadn't woken up, in another minute it would have happened." He paused and his shoulders lifted in a shrug of admission. "I wanted it to happen, in the dream. I woke up and for a while I was confused, shocked even, but then, as I watched you sleep there... Fragile, delicate." He forced a smile that was nervous. "I always thought you were good to touch. In the dream, I mean."

A frown tugged Doyle's brows together. "I'm not gay," he said slowly, "not usually... Or, I never was. Bisexual? Are we? I read an article in a magazine that said we all are, everyone; we have this 'anima' thing inside us, but it doesn't usually escape."

"Because it never can," Bodie said carefully, because most of us never meet the other person the 'anima' responds to."

"I guess." Doyle looked up at Bodie, enjoying the sight of his friend's face. "You know when I decided to live? When you were late one visit. When you weren't there one time, I realised how much I wanted to see you, had to see you, and if I died, that'd be the end of it. Then, when you came, I was so bloody relieved -- you looked like Prince Charming on a white horse! I was delirious... But I always did think you look like the character who rescues the princess in the pantomime. The handsome prince!" They laughed, partly in relief that it (was) said now, partly in nervousness, because now that it had been said, life would never again be as simple as it had been. There were decisions to be made.

They were silent for a long moment, each remembering, wondering, and ultimately wanting to know, to assuage the curiosity and yearning. At last it was Bodie who made the first move. "Look, Ray, we've been honest with each other, that alone took guts; I'm your friend, you know that... And if that's all you want, say so and we'll let it drop. Neither of us was fruity before, there's probly nothing in it, just kind of fascination, right?"

"A passing fancy?" Doyle smiled. "We can't go back to the way it was before, Bodie: my heart won't let me, you know that. The future is going to be vastly different anyway; so I'm bisexual, isn't just about everyone? And it's us, Bodie, that's what makes the difference. I'm not bisexual enough to want another man. I just... I just want you. No one else." He scraped back the chair and stood up.

Bodie followed him to his feet and they stood looking at each other for some time before Ray extended one hand and waited for Bodie to take it.

They stepped together hesitantly; they had touched each other often over the years, and there had been constant physical contact with other men, but there had never been anything in it before -- nor, Bodie expected, would there ever be anything between them and others. It was only the two of them that made it happen: soul mates, more like lovers than brothers in spirit, from the beginning. The press of Bodie's solid frame against him made Doyle's spine tingle, and he raised his lips with eyes closed, waiting. Bodie looked down, aware again that Ray was smaller, lighter, much more delicate than he, with wayward curls and long, dark lashes, his lips parted slightly; waiting.

The arms that enfolded him were strong; Doyle felt immediately the oddness of it -- he had always been the stronger partner in all his past encounters; but he had grown accustomed to the physical weakness since the day the therapists had begun to work with him after the operation, and he merely accepted it, sliding his own arms about Bodie's broad back and feeling the light fingers that cupped his cheek, the warm draft of Bodie's breath as he bent his head, and then --

The kiss was hesitant, unsure, and they both gasped; but it was also warm,responsive, promising, and it deepened of its own volition. Bodie's arms tightened about him and Doyle felt him press his hips forward against his own hips, a gesture he instinctively returned, and as hard. They both gasped again, the kiss broke, and they were laughing, nervously but with such delight. "Great minds," Bodie said breathlessly, "think alike."

"Glands," Doyle murmured, leaning his forehead against Bodie's shoulder. "We're thinking with our glands, no doubt about it." He lifted his head and before he could speak again Bodie's lips sought his with an intimate lover's kiss, gentle. His mouth was soft as a girl's, Doyle thought, surprised, though he knew he shouldn't have been, and as warm.

But the arms that held him were stronger, and they drew him to the sofa; the cushions sank beneath them and for the first time he felt Bodie's considerable weight on him. It was weird but no part of him wanted to panic; this was Bodie, what was there to fear? In fact, he felt safer with Bodie than he might have with a good many of the women he had known.

They might have been rough, not understanding that his chest was still taut and painful after the operations, but Bodie was painstakingly gentle, taking off his own shirt and then helping Ray pull off his yellow t-shirt so as not to hurt himself. They well knew the look of each other's bodies, but to touch in this way was amazingly different; to feel skin on skin the whole length of them was a thrill in itself, but each was conscious that it was not because this was a man, but because this was who it was.

Doyle lay back, curling one long leg about Bodie's slim hips, pressed into the cushions by Bodie's oddly satisfying weight, his lips responding to the other's deepening kisses. Both very much aroused, they were at last grateful for their misspent hours, time spent reading the 'wrong' kind of literature out of wayward curiosity; or they might have floundered, seeking the right or best way to manage what, by all accounts, is still an unorthodox coupling. Bodie moaned and Doyle cried out as they came, explosively, inexplicably in unison, and they fell back, sated at last, arms and legs entwined.

Bodie pressed his lips to Doyle's forehead, tousling his hair tenderly, and Doyle admired the other's muscular legginess, drawing one palm over Bodie's still heaving chest. They did not speak for a long time, and then it was Doyle who crooked an elbow under him and looked down into Bodie's peaceful, drowsy face, and said: "I love you, Bodie. I realised that when I decided not to die."

A smile widened Bodie's mouth. "I'm glad. Because I love you, Ray. I realised that when I thought you were going to die on me." He reached up, catching Doyle's head and drawing it down to his own. The kiss was languorous, luxurious, and Bodie drew the smaller, lighter Doyle up onto his chest, enfolding him into a firm embrace.

The past was past. Doyle's days as a field agent were possibly over, and the future was uncertain; but, abruptly, it seemed a promising future -- different but rewarding, fulfilling. Satisfied, the two drowsed through the afternoon together, no further words needed and none said.

-- THE END --

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