I Won't Send Roses



Bodie had expected a storm of enormous proportions to break; he had been prepared for anger, grief, resentment, self-recrimination, bitterness. But Doyle merely closed his eyes to shut out the world, withdrew into the realm within his mind, and stood quite still for perhaps half a minute. They were in the middle of the street, half a mile from the office where Bodie had given Cowley his leave and gone after his partner, and they had not said so much as a word. Defining Doyle's mood had been difficult in these past few days, and Bodie was incongruously cautious. Say the wrong thing, and Ray WOULD blow up--or cave in.... And Bodie did not know which he feared most. A blazing argument at this stage, and a long friendship could be ended in half a second; but there was no more frightening and disturbing sight than Ray Doyle in tears, and Bodie feared that almost as much.

The traffic growled by, unnoticed, and Bodie simply waited. There had been a feral glitter in the green eyes while they walked, and Ray's mouth had been tight, pulled into a line that was savage, locking in all the things he wanted to say and could not bring himself to release. Bodie held his breath, waiting it out until Doyle had collected his thoughts and his feelings; and when the green eyes opened again they were shuttered, calm, misty, and infinitely sad.

There were no tears; the bitterness was gone, and the anger Bodie had expected was not in evidence. Instead, there was a deep, racking sorrow about Doyle, and when he found a smile it raked across Bodie like a fist full of claws. Seeing Doyle in pain had never been easy; and since he had woken one night, sliding out of an easy dream into a terrified reality, waking to the stunned realisation that the feelings Ray inspired in him were so much more than matey concern, friendship, being with his partner had been a cross between a blessing and a curse.

There were times when Bodie had been on the point of running--better to get away than betray what he felt and make an enemy of Ray; but leaving him was too hard. Leaving him to another partner, perhaps one who would get him killed, leaving him wondering what he had done to make Bodie so furious that he had gone.... Furious? Bodie choked back a cynical laugh. Fury had nothing to do with it. Frustration was nearer to the mark, but he could swallow that now as he always had.... Being with Doyle and being frustrated was a thousand times better than being without him and being alone. There was more than sex to life; there were so many things he COULD share with Ray that it made no sense at all to run and abandon him to another partner, because the final union between them was impossible.

So Bodie stayed, revelling in what Ray would give him: companionship, humour, shared dates and mutual concerns, like interests, loyalty. There was too much there to risk destroying it all for the sake of sex. But there was more, silently cherished, guarded carefully, lest the love show through and spoil everything. The irony of it was like a knife under his ribs: it was a strange, cruel world where love could SPOIL everything. Love was supposed to be a gift, a blessing, a joy--

But Ray Doyle was a man, and that was the end of it. The world at large and Doyle in particular would, Bodie was sure, see no further than that, and so love was a curse, a cross he tried to bear lightly. Often, when Doyle was happy, busy, preoccupied with the job and his social life, it was easy to be with him, sharing the bad jokes and drinking sessions, grabbing opportunities to hold him or touch him without him noticing it had happened, relishing sessions in the gym, where full-contact hand-to-hand sports were more of a game than a contest and wrestling with him was permitted....

There were harder times, too. And this was the hardest. Bodie could have wrung Ann Holly's elegant neck, if she had been within strangling distance; not because she had very nearly dragged Doyle to the altar, but because she had jammed a knife between his shoulder blades and given it a vicious twist. She represented the future to Ray: a settled home, family, someone to be there in the darkness, someone to count on if he was hurt or ill, a lover he could rely on to give him the affection he needed, so that he could get himself out of the casual dating circuit. It was painfully obvious to Bodie that Ray was desperate for these things.

He had flung himself into the affair with Ann so quickly that Bodie was dizzy. One moment he was Ray, free as a bird, looking forward to double-dating at the weekend, the next he was Ann's Intended, fettered, shackled and loving it, looking at houses and staring into space, dreaming about--family, home, whatever. Bodie did not know and was not sure he WANTED to know.

Yes, Ray was desperate to settle; how often had he invited Bodie to stay over with him? Or invited himself to Bodie's, claiming that he had had too much to drink, when he was clearly almost sober. He had no fondness for being alone, particularly at night, Bodie guessed; loneliness was an old friend, to both of them. Casual girlfriends and one-night stands did nothing to assuage the yearning for real companionship--in fact, the strings of girls with whom they had been amusing themselves for years were doing more to underscore the nagging dissatisfaction.

So Bodie had been expecting something like the Ann Holly affair for a long time, and was not surprised when it happened. What stunned him was that Ann would give Ray no second chance. She had slept with him twice, from what Bodie had guessed, and cared enough for him to be in tears when she walked away from him--but she walked. And she did not look back. Blind to his charms, oblivious to his one-of-a-kind personality, uncaring for his lovemaking, Bodie guessed; and he wondered what in Christ's name she DID want. If a man who was a success in his chosen field, who was slender and elegant, masculine without being brutish, muscular without being butch, and downright beautiful, in a Leonardo da Vinci kind of way, would not do her, what was she after?

Some paragon Bodie could not imagine. He stood watching Doyle get his thoughts together, envying him the techniques that brought calmness to his stormy mind and heart. Some kind of meditation, he knew; Doyle had been seeing a girl who was keen on esoterics, a year before, and though the girl had gone on to other men friends she had left behind a couple of books, and Ray had not chucked them out. Obviously he had learned something practical, but Bodie did not know whether to be pleased about that or not. It might be healthier if he let the anger and grief pour out; bottling it all up inside could be dangerous, could make him ill, or get at his nerves.

The green eyes were calm and level, and the full, sensual mouth was relaxed again; from somewhere Ray found the faintest of smiles and Bodie swallowed. The smile hurt him more than a dozen barbed remarks. Doyle took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "You're still with me.... Thought you'd have dropped out half a mile behind. I've just been walking, not seeing.... Take me home, Bodie?"

"Would be better to head for a pub and get a drink into you," Bodie said carefully, knowing he sounded choked and not caring.

"Nah. Want to go home. Got some good scotch there, if I want a drink." Ray turned back in the direction they had come, heading for the CI5 building, and the car. "Got things to do, Bodie. You might be able to help me, in fact. I could use a bit of help--not thinking too clearly."

"I'll bet," Bodie murmured, falling into step beside him. "Ray, she'll be back. She's not a complete lunatic. She'll be back on her knees, begging for you to forgive and forget."

But Ray shook his head. "No she won't. It wasn't so good between us that she'd forgive enough to want to go on with it."

Bodie frowned. "Wasn't good between you? How d'you mean?"

"It isn't really the kind of thing you talk about," Ray said quietly, slowly. "But I want to talk.... Suppose you can keep secrets, can't you? It's not--nice old-world term-- honourable, to talk about a lady, afterward, but...." He shrugged sadly. "She didn't care for me, you know? Didn't like the way I look, for a start. She didn't say anything, but I knew. She'd have wanted someone taller, and hairy chests turn her off." He forced a smile he did not feel. "I can't help the fact I stopped growing at five-ten, can I? And what did she want me to do, shave my chest?"

"Christ," Bodie muttered, stunned. If there was one fantasy he had had time and again, it was running his fingers through that peach- fuzz--

"She didn't like ME, either," Ray was saying, almost too softly for Bodie to hear him. "Not having Jewish parents, I never was circumcised as a kid, and I'm not about to rush out and have it done now!"

"She TOLD you that?" Bodie demanded, outraged to the point of an absurd kind of anger, and feeling the sting of it himself.

"No, of course not, but she wouldn't touch me, didn't even like to look at me," Ray said, little above a whisper. "I must look a sight, all told. Can't help it, though; what can't be cured must be endured and all that. I'll know better next time, won't I? Anyway, it didn't really matter too much, because it wasn't all that good. Not good enough to make little cosmetic things worth the worry." He took a breath and held it as they came to a halt at the kerb, waiting for the traffic. "I've been good with girls, mostly--know what they like, how to please them, you know. But she...I couldn't...I didn't...." He let the thought trail off, unable to finish it.

"Lump of ice in bed?" Bodie guessed.

"No; but she didn't like me that much. I guess that's why she didn't really turn on. Couldn't make it good for her."

"Couldn't make her come," Bodie said quietly.

"Mm. I tried. Spent an hour, the last time we were together, really tried. Did the lot for her, everything I know how to do. Kept going till I was really hurting, so it wasn't all that good for me either, in the end. She smiled. I felt like a selfish bastard for coming, using her. She said she'd enjoyed it, though, and I thought she'd get used to me slowly, a bit at a time, till she'd relax, and it'd be okay."

There was a downward curve to Ray's mouth and a stoop to his shoulders that told truths his words did not, and Bodie felt his heart turn painfully in his chest. "You really loved her," he said, a little awed.

"Thought I did," Doyle said, stirring and setting off across the road, Bodie on his heels. "But it's hard to give yourself, soul and all, to someone who can't stand the sight of you and doesn't like to touch you."

"That's not rational, Ray," Bodie said, trying to be logical and talk sense to him. "You're bloody attractive, you know that. Hairy chest and all. There's lots of women prefer hairy chests, and it's not as if you're like a doormat! It's just a matter of taste, I suppose."

They walked in silence until they reached the silver Capri, and Bodie unlocked it, watching Ray slide into the left side of it, without a word.

"Could have MADE it work, though," Ray said abruptly, betraying the route his thoughts had been taking. "She'd have got used to me, and since she liked me enough to think about trying it, she'd have relaxed. It would have been good, eventually, if it hadn't been for...." He bit his lip and nodded, affirming some decision Bodie was not privy to. "Home, Bodie."

"Pub," Bodie said, turning the key in the ignition.

"No, I don't want to get any fuzzier than I am now--got things to do." Doyle rubbed his face hard. "HOME."

They said nothing more, and Bodie was following him into his flat, closing the door behind them, before Ray spoke again, and that was just a murmured invitation to make tea, or pour scotch, or do whatever he wanted. He made a beeline for the writing desk, pulling out a jotter pad and biro, and Bodie helped himself to scotch, frowning at him as he took off his jacket and the curly head bowed over the paper.

The biro scratched for a few moments, and then Bodie HAD to ask. "What are you writing?"

"Hm?" Ray looked up; the green eyes were too bright and the mouth was not as steady as it had been outside. "Oh, I'm resigning. Got to go, Bodie. Got to get out. It's the job.... If I stay on, this is all I'm ever going to have. An empty flat, security locks on the doors and windows, people trying to kill me seven days a week, and casual girlfriends." He shrugged. "Call me a fool, call me selfish, but I want more."

"Family?" Bodie pulled up a chair and sat down on the other side of the desk. "Is it wife and kids you want, or a home?" He spoke in a soft voice, aware that Ray was in a hypersensitive mood, reflective, held calm by an effort of will rather than a genuine resolve.

"Kids aren't important," Doyle admitted. "I never liked children. But a home would be so nice. Someone in it, someone to be there when I need help or support. Oh yeah, sometimes I need help--stupid, isn't it? Big, tough CI5 bastard, needs help! It's an illusion, Bodie; big and tough out there, killing people, but not in here, inside of four walls, right?"

"Right." Bodie sipped at the scotch and reached for a pencil. "Give us a sheet of paper, mate."

"What for?" Doyle blinked.

"Got to do my own, haven't I?" Bodie shrugged almost indifferently. "You resign, I resign."

Doyle seemed to forget his own woes for a moment and gaped at him. "But why? YOU, Cowley's blue-eyed boy, resign?"

Bodie smiled. "Christ, am I a robot? I need the same things you need, Ray. I've needed them for a long time, and it's hurt me as much as you. This Ann Holly thing's just the last straw--shows you the writing on the wall.... Home, security, peace, love. We're never going to get any of that if we stay on with Cowley's mob, because nobody can live with the job. If you go, I go. I'll tell YOU a secret now." He took a breath, debating the wisdom of saying it at all, and took the plunge. "I've only been staying because of you. I would have gone years ago, but you were there."

"Me?" Doyle threw the biro down on top of the jotter and sat back; the chair creaked under his weight. "That's a hell of a sacrifice to make for the sake of friendship," he whispered, averting his eyes.

Bodie had taken a breath to speak, but the words dissolved unspoken as he saw the first of the tears. "Christ, what have I said?"

"Forget it," Doyle said, clearing his throat. "I'm being a berk, as bloody usual. It's not Ann I'm crying over, it's ME, and that's just sheer self-pity. You ought to belt me one."

Hitting him was the last thing Bodie wanted to do; he wanted to hold him, crush the breath out of him in expression of the pain in his own heart. Instead, he reached out, one hand on Ray's arm. "It's only me. You want to bawl your eyes out, go on. There's a shoulder here, if you want it."

"In self-pity?" Ray sniffed noisily and got his feet under him. "Can't. Never look myself in the face in the shaving mirror again. I ought to be crying because I made a woman unhappy, or because she's walked out on me, or because...." He sniffed and dug for a handkerchief from his back pocket. "You know what I'm weeping and wailing about?"

Bodie waited, his hands itching to apply themselves to Doyle's thin, trembling body, and soothe it. "What?" he asked softly.

"The bloody future. I've got years and years of being alone in front of me if I stay with Cowley's mob; and if I go, so that I can look for a wife and a home, I have to kiss goodbye to everything I've worked for. A career down the drain, and all the friends I have with it. There's YOU, staying on with CI5 because of me, and here's me, thinking about running out on you because I'm so sick of being alone!" He scrubbed savagely at his nose, but the tears would not stop. "Jesus, I hate crying!" The husky voice was angry now, and he headed for the kitchen to escape.

The kettle slammed onto the gas, but Bodie was already pouring scotch, and as Ray turned back from lighting the burner he saw the alcohol. "Go on, you need it. Write your resignation later," Bodie said quietly. "I'll write yours along with mine, all you have to do is sign it."

Doyle took the glass, swallowed the contents in one toss, and coughed. "You mean it, don't you? You'll quit with me."

"You heard." Bodie put the glass into the sink, leaning back against the chrome stripping around the unit. "I only stayed on because of you, and if you've gone, who the hell cares? I only stayed in ANY unit a year or so before this one, and I was ready to leave in '77, if you must know."

"But you never did." Doyle sounded hoarse after the whisky.

"And now it's '79 and I'm still here," Bodie said, finding a smile. "And it's you who's had enough.... It wasn't Ann, really, was it? It's the whole picture. Stay with Cowley and be Superman, and close the door at night on an empty flat, and count the days until you get injured and retired on a pension; you want self-pity, mate? I could buy and sell you in that market."

The green eyes were quite pink now, but the tears had almost stopped. "You too?" Ray murmured. "I never thought...I mean, you're hard. Tough as nails--harder than me, where it counts. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we get creamed, and all that.... I wanted a future, wanted to live; I was never able to resign myself to being a young corpse like you."

"Bravado," Bodie sighed. "You keep telling yourself it's going to be the other feller, because if you stop running and gambling and screwing long enough to think three consecutive sober thoughts, you'll scare the daylights out of yourself, and quit. Bravado, Ray."

Doyle heaved in a long, unsteady breath, and closed his eyes. "So we quit, do we? The pair of us. And do what? If we're quitting to find a home and some security, we go wife hunting."

The notion twisted Bodie's insides and he shook his head. "Sorry. Not for me. I...I couldn't look for a wife right now."

"I know the prospect's not really appealing," Ray admitted, "but if you want a home, you've got bloody little choice. Bodie?"

"Can't go courting, sunshine," Bodie shrugged, trying for a cheeky grin and not managing it. "Not when I gave my heart somewhere else. Can't marry a woman and be in love with someone else, can I?"

Doyle rubbed his face, mulling that over. "A girl's walked out on you? Jesus, I never noticed. I MUST be insensitive--Ann was dead right."

"Insensitive?" Bodie echoed. "She told you that?"

He nodded. "Told me I was in love with the job, didn't need a wife, just needed a woman. Someone to come home and lay when the job's wound me up tight as a watch spring. She was right, wasn't she? Someone's walked out on you, ripped you into bits, and I didn't even notice!" The tears were back again and he turned away to hide them. "I didn't know! ME--the one who think's he...the one who's...."

"Hey, shush, don't," Bodie murmured, coming up behind him and taking the wide, thin shoulders in his hands. "There was nothing for anyone to see, least of all you. Just unrequited love, for years and years, doesn't matter a damn. But I couldn't get married, Ray; I just couldn't."

It was the first time Bodie had touched him properly in a long time, and the shock of it ran through Doyle's nerves like a jolt of electricity. Bodie almost took his hands away, wondering if Ray was going to be angry for the intrusion, but to his astonishment Ray took a half-step backward so that his back was pressed against Bodie's chest. Too surprised to be careful about what he was doing, Bodie slid his arms about him, holding him there. He was shaking like a leaf and incapable of speech, and Bodie murmured nonsense into his ear for a long time. Holding him for the sake of it--not on the judo mat, not for a joke or a bet--was acidly sweet and made him ache with hopeless longing. Take what you can get, Bodie told himself with a viciousness that held the pain at bay.

"I'm sorry," Ray murmured at last.

"Sorry? For what?" Bodie frowned, still holding him, terrified that, now he had found his voice, he would break away.

"For being a berk; for crying all over you; for not seeing when YOU were hurting. That's the worst of all. Christ, I should have known! This is ME."

"So it's you," Bodie said soothingly. "You've got more in your life than worrying about whether Bodie's going gooey over somebody."

"Should have seen it, though," Doyle said, "after all I've been telling myself all these years." He leaned back heavily against Bodie. "God, how I've wanted to.... Christ, listen to me! Let go, before I--let go, Bodie!"

Bodie tightened his arms. "No. Not until you finish it, say what you were going to say. Say it!" There was a clenched fist of dread under his heart, blocking his circulation, cutting off his breathing. GOD, HOW I'VE WANTED TO--LET ME GO BEFORE I-- "Go on, Ray, do what you've wanted to do, say it, do it." He was pleading, but his arms were like steel belts around Doyle's chest, imprisoning him.

"Let me go, Bodie--I CAN'T!" Ray began to wriggle, but he was weakened by the storm of emotion and thinking too blearily to wrestle properly. "I CAN'T--you'd bloody kill me for it."

"I wouldn't," Bodie breathed. "Please, just say it. Do it. I won't say a word, if you don't want me to, and as regards hitting you, forget it."

"Oh, let me go," Ray whispered, wriggling one last time before the unequal struggle became too much and he slumped back against Bodie's chest. "It's been so hard, so bloody hard, I don't want to have Ann wreck everything for me--not us as well. She can't be the cause of...of...." He sniffed and cleared his throat, shaking again. "You'd kill me, Bodie, you would."

The disjointed words and phrases went together into a jigsaw puzzle that Bodie could barely credit; euphoria and desperation mingled in his chest like two volatile cocktails about to tear him apart. If he was wrong, he would be finishing what they had forever, he knew; but if he was right, if he was adding the disjointed admissions up in the right order--

He tightened his grip on Doyle's trembling body and pressed his nose into the soft curls by his right ear. "Listen, Ray, then hit me if you want to, but hear me out. The unrequited love I was joking about. It isn't a joke, never was. It's been agony, absolute, bloody purgatory, for years, and the reason you never saw it is because I've never LET you see it. Are you listening to me? Sweetheart, are you listening? I love you, always have. I LOVE YOU, always will. I'm going to let you go now, and if you want to hit me, hit me."

He kept a grip on Doyle's frozen form for just a moment longer, then let his arms drop, every muscle tensing up until he was sure his back would cramp. Ray did not so much as twitch for a long time, and slowly Bodie's nerves began to relax. He extended his hand the last inch and placed his palm on Doyle's rigid shoulder blade, rubbing gently, little soothing circles, waiting. Then Ray found his wits, or his courage, and turned about.

Half a second later, they were pressed together, Bodie holding Doyle so tightly he knew he would be hurting him, and Ray shuddering with a mixture of relief and pure fright. How long they stood there, they did not know, but Bodie would have gladly stood there for six months, waiting for his partner, his love, to collect himself and say something, do something. Ray took his time, not daring to lift his head until he knew he was dry-eyed and commanding some approximation of sanity; and then he took a breath and tried to draw away.

Bodie gave him all of two inches and then stopped him again. "That's far enough, sweetheart. Now talk. Tell me what's hurting. It isn't Ann, is it? Not after the things she said, not after the way you said it'd been."

"No, not Ann," Ray said thickly. "She was-- last try. Last attempt. I wanted--love. Don't laugh at me."

"I'm not laughing," Bodie said softly. In fact, he was closer to tears than humour. "You wanted love."

Doyle nodded helplessly. "All my life, it's what I've wanted. I've fallen in love three times. There was Peggy, when I was seventeen, and there was a woman called Tansy Stuart, when I was in the Police. Might have told you about 'em, once or twice."

"I remember," Bodie murmured. "That's two. Then Ann?"

But Ray shook his head. "I liked Ann. She was different. Brain and a bit of breeding, well-educated, well-spoken, nice dresser, good family. It would have been an asset to my career, if...if.... Love her? Don't think 'love' is the right word. But I'd have married her, to get a home, someone to be there when I needed 'em. I'm sorry, Bodie, honestly."

"What the hell are you sorry for now?" Bodie demanded gently.

"For talking about marrying her." Doyle shrugged despondently. "It's you I fell in love with, the third time. But I've been too chicken to say it."

"Afraid of making me angry?" Bodie wondered; that would be typical. "You were afraid of driving me away?"

Unexpectedly, Doyle shook his head. "No.... I knew I could turn it into a joke if you weren't interested. I knew I could let you know, and then just laugh it off and go home and cry in private if you sloshed me for saying it."

"So WHY?" Bodie demanded, his voice rising a note. "I've been panting after you for years, you clown! I'd have been on my knees if you'd given me a word's come-on!"

"Would you?" Ray asked throatily. "Why?"

"Because I bloody love you," Bodie said, exasperated. "I fancy you, you twit. Jeez, you can be thick at times."

"But why?" Ray wondered, honestly puzzled. "Why would you fancy me? I mean, I turned HER off good and proper with this chest. You're so smooth and all your girls would be smooth and soft and nice, how could you want to touch me? And I'm ME, Bodie, I'm a bloke. She didn't like the smell of me when I got going, and like I told you, I'm not even circumcised, so I'm not even as neat and pretty as a lot of blokes would be. Why would you want me?"

Bodie's jaw dropped. Christ, how it must have hurt to go to bed with her, Miss Goody- Perfect, wrinkling her nose delicately at a man's musk as he got aroused, avoiding him because the way a man looks before he's been butchered isn't good enough, and because soft, downy peach-fuzz atop golden brown skin isn't smooth and girlish enough. Ray was a man; and that seemed to be the one thing Ann didn't really want.... Bodie made a shrewd guess and had to swallow the anger as he saw the confusion and hurt in Ray's eyes.

"Why would I want you?" he echoed. "Pull up a chair, and listen, mate. I'll be here for ten minutes spelling it out for you.... Okay, the short version. You're the most gorgeous creature I've seen since I can't remember when. The chest, incidentally, is nearly fatal; every time you wear your shirt unbuttoned I don't know how I can keep my fingers off it. Your backside is worse-- haven't dared look at it in public in months, and I'm not kidding you. It's too embarrassing to be caught like THAT in a crowd! The legs.... Well, Nijinski should be so lucky, and Holly's blind as a bat. And as for YOU, Ray; as for YOU...I don't dare look at you, naked. If I looked, I'd want you, all of you, want to do everything to you, want you to do everything with me. And as for not being circumcised.... Oi, I'm a bloke, remember. Women can be funny about that, I know.... But I'm not a woman, so stop worrying."

The green eyes were blinking in astonishment. "You really--I mean, you like the way I am? You're not gay--you never were."

"Africa taught me a few things," Bodie said evasively, "and no, I'm not ready to talk about that. Don't know if I ever will want to tell you about that, but if I ever feel like it, you'll hear it all. No, I'm not gay; never had a bloke here in England, if that's what you're wondering. And after I met you, even if I'd wanted one I couldn't have gone and done it. I'd have wanted you, and that would've been the end of it." He tightened his grip again, pulling Doyle against him, and Ray pressed his face into the hollow of Bodie's shoulder. "Now, how about you telling me the truth? Why did you keep your mouth shut so long?"

"Why did you?" Doyle could be just as evasive.

"Thought I'd scare you, make you run for it. There. Simple answer."

"Truthful one," Ray muffled.

"So where's your excuse?"

"I...." Doyle raised his head but would not look Bodie in the eye. "I'm not sure I want to tell you, now or ever. It's not that nice, and it's very personal."

He would say no more, and Bodie frowned. "A physical problem? You're as fit as a ruddy fiddle, and I've seen you in the raw enough times to know there isn't a damn thing wrong with you. You're not gay either--never seen you with a bloke, never seen you looking at boys. So, what is it?"

But Ray shook his head. "Not now. Maybe later, when you know me."

"I do know you."

"No, not as a friend," Ray murmured. "I'll try...I'm going to try."

Bodie frowned. "Try? Try what?"

"To--" Doyle swallowed, closed his eyes and began again. "I'm GOING to sleep with you. I'm going to."

"Trying to convince yourself of something?" Bodie's heart was pounding in his chest, and he forcibly slackened his arms, letting Doyle go if he wanted to; by some effort, Ray stayed.

"Doesn't concern you," he said vaguely. "Let it go, Bodie. I'm going to try, that's good enough. I've been wondering how I'd try, if I ever...if we ever got around to it. But I'm GOING to. Christ, love has got to make a bit of difference, hasn't it?"

Bodie was quite aware that the words were not intended for him, that Ray, in confusion, was thinking out loud, and he wisely chose to let it go. He brought his hands up to cradle the face he loved, fingers exploring the fine bone-structure, the chiselled nose, the broken cheekbone. The full, sensitive lips parted as Ray sighed, and Bodie bent his head toward them. Ray let his eyes fall closed at the first brush of their mouths, and groaned deep in his chest as Bodie licked the shape of his lips, moistening them. The tip of his tongue extended, searching for Bodie's, and a moment later it was a kiss, deep and searching. Bodie's tongue in his mouth was at once terrifying and reassuring, and Doyle gave a moan, both arms going about his partner's neck as he pressed forward.

The kick of arousal was there at once and Bodie sucked Ray's tongue into his mouth, loving it with little caresses and gentle raking of his teeth. Ray wanted him, there was no doubt about that, and already Ann Holly and the tears of despair were little more than a memory that was fading fast. They stood pressed together in the kitchen for a long time, emerging breathless and flushed from the kiss, and Bodie found that his fingers were tangled in the coppery curls, holding Ray tightly. Doyle stood with his eyes closed, lips parted, head tipped back, still savouring the kiss, and gently Bodie relaxed his hands, stroking the shape of jaw, throat and collar bones.

The peach-fuzz was soft, silky, fascinating and delightful, and he stooped to watch what his fingers were doing, arranging it into one pattern and then another. At last Ray spoke, throatily, a rumble in his chest, "You DO like that, don't you? That's a bloody relief. Had me worried."

"Love it," Bodie murmured. "Like silk skeins.... Little nipples are hard already. Brown skin, so soft.... Feel your ribs and muscles. Christ, I want you. Want all of you."

With the last words, Ray became stiff, rigid from head to foot under Bodie's hands, and Bodie looked up, watching the bewildering play of emotions chasing across his face. The dominant one was resolve, and Doyle's mouth grew into a determined line. "I'm GOING to," he said, almost to himself, and took Bodie's hand tightly. "Bedroom, before I fall over."

Bodie wanted to undress him, but Ray was already stripping on the way, and there was little left to do when they were standing on the rug at the bedside; so Bodie just stood back to look, instead, and saw the wary expression on his partner's face. "What's the matter, Ray? I'm not kidding you, you know."

"Just take a good look," Doyle said seriously. "See what you're getting. Too late to decide you don't like it later."

"Don't like it--?" Bodie echoed. "Because you're furry, and they didn't send you out to be manicured as a baby? Christ, I could throttle that bitch! She's really made you confident, hasn't she?"

"Yeah," Doyle admitted. "She didn't do the old self-esteem much good.... Started to feel like a social reject who didn't know one end of a woman from the other, by the end of it. It wasn't HER I was weeping and wailing for, just--oh, I dunno. The last straw. She was the end. I knew, if I ever wanted a proper life, I'd have to leave and take up with strangers.... And that meant leaving you, and I've loved you for so long I've almost forgotten what it was like not loving you." He coloured up. "I'd have married her, though. I was getting desperate for a home and SOME kind of love, and she was the best I'd found, up to then. Now...." He looked down at himself. "Just be bloody sure."

Bodie was sure. Doyle was standing at the foot of the bed, naked and half-aroused, endearingly insecure, the sunlight from the open window making him over into gold, making his hair red, curls on his chest, and at his groin, redder than those which capped his head. Bodie smiled, for the first time knowing that he could relax, surrender to the tide of arousal as he looked his partner over from head to foot. Long, tapered legs, hips that barely existed at all, and the personalised signature of his masculinity, the feature that had turned Miss Holly off, because it looked and smelt like a MAN. Ray's cock was long and slender, nested in copper curls, dark as he became aroused, and Bodie's nose could just catch the faintest whiff of his musk, which was like pagan promises from some land of forbidden delight.

"Be sure?" Bodie echoed, and stifled a chuckle. "If there's an inch of you, anywhere on that gorgeous little body, that isn't beautiful, I can't see it. So relax, and come and sit down before you fall down. You're shaking! Christ, you're not frightened of me, are you? I know it's your first time."

"Not--not exactly." Doyle curled up in the middle of the bed, arms about his drawn-up knees, chin on his forearms. I KNOW you're not going to--it'll be okay. I know."

But he sounded a good deal less than certain, and Bodie was frowning deeply as he undressed. Ray's eyes followed his every movement, and he let him see the erection he was sporting at once. That at least should tell him how much he was desired, if words would not suffice. Doyle's eyes darkened by shades as they fixed on Bodie's groin, and his throat twitched as he swallowed. Bodie sat on the edge of the bed and inched toward him, reaching out to stroke his shoulder.

"Hey, you're tensed up--d'you want me or not? SAY so, Ray. I'm not here to force you into anything."

"But look at you." Ray had gasped in a breath, becoming aware that he had not done so for too long. "You WANT me."

"Course I want you. I love you." Bodie took the shoulder in a firm grip and drew Doyle toward him. "You're scared--why? You were a copper, working a rough patch. You MUST know what men get up to together."

"I do," Ray admitted, "it's just--" He coughed and lay down on the pale-blue quilt. "Go on. I know what it's all about, I'll be fine, really."

But he was as tense as a virgin at a stag night, and his half-erection was dwindling. Bodie took his hands away and lay down beside him, not touching him anywhere. "You said you loved me."

"I do, have for years." Doyle's eyes were closed.

"How can you love me and not want me?"

"I DO want you, but...."

"So look at me." Bodie watched the green eyes flutter open; the whites were less pink now, the lids less swollen. "Don't you like MY body?"

Doyle blinked in surprise. "Don't be daft, it's beautiful, always did like looking at it, every chance I got. Smells like YOU. Bet it would taste...."

"So taste it," Bodie said throatily. "Go on. I wish you would."

But Doyle did not move a muscle. Nerves, Bodie thought, and sighed. Ray Doyle never could manage to react like ordinary people, and he wondered how the hell he had managed with a girl, the first time. Maybe he had had someone to help then.... Maybe he needed someone to help now. So Bodie shuffled over and began to kiss him, licking and pampering, teasing him mercilessly, watching his cock fill out, thicken, lengthen, hearing the little panted groans that let him know that he was getting there. It was like a fantasy come true for Bodie.

Until he slipped one hand between Ray's legs, cradling his balls and stroking behind them, finding the puckered anal muscle, and then Doyle grew rigid again, eyes snapping open, wide and dark. "What is it?" Bodie asked huskily. "You can't possibly be afraid of ME."

"No, I'm not--and I'm s--" Doyle began, and sighed heavily. "Bodie, you're not going to like this, and if you hit me and walk away, I'll let you go. It's my own stupid fault. It's not my first time."

"It isn't?" Bodie was thunderstruck for a moment, trying to place some face, some name, that could belong to the man who had Ray's virginity. No one in recent years, surely? Couldn't be. Then he saw the twisted expression on the face he had come to love, and thought again. "Hey, what happened to you? Jesus Christ, you weren't--you weren't attacked, were you?"

The euphemism made Doyle smile in spite of himself. "Not exactly. You could call it 'simple rape,' if you like. It's a long story."

"So I'm listening." Bodie left one hand resting on Ray's chest for the sake of reassurance, and settled to wait.

"I...I was seventeen, and a student. Art school," Doyle began, clearly awkward about telling anyone about this. "There was a boy, a year or two older than me, and twice the size, Peter Selby. Name's not important. I liked him--a lot. Was a time I thought I loved him; would have reckoned I was gay, if I hadn't been really stuck on Peggy, the first woman I loved. I was sleeping with her regularly, and loving it, and she was good to me. She worked at one of the galleries, we used to meet when I was sketching, and it went on from there. I was always welcome at her house, in her bed--she was about eight years older than me. Older women, you know! Anyway, at school there was Peter, and.... He fascinated me. Big and muscular, dark and broody. Bit like you. Always found you fascinating that way. He knew I was watching him, and he gave me the come-on; wish I'd had more sense but at seventeen you never have the sense you were born with, do you?

"Anyway, he invited me back to his place, a flat he was sharing with one of his mates, another bloke from the school. Sculptor. Dennis something or other." Doyle closed his eyes, swallowing hard. "I went. I was a virgin, of course, and they knew that.... At first it was nice enough. Dennis stayed in the background, I didn't mind him being there, and Peter undressed me and kissed me and made me feel quite good. Then he sucked me off, and that made me feel really good, made me trust him. Then he invited Dennis to touch me, and like a fool I stayed still, thought it was going to be okay because of what he'd done for me. It was okay for a while; they got me going again--I was a kid, it wasn't hard to get me steamed up. But it changed--all of a sudden. One moment there were two of them kissing me and stroking me, and the next I was on my knees, and Pete was holding me down while Dennis.... He rammed his fingers into me, with grease or something, and I suppose I ought to be grateful for that, or they'd have killed me. Don't know how many times they took me between them. How many times can an eighteen-year-old do it? A LOT. I lost count. I think I passed out eventually, what they did after that I don't know.

"It was about three in the morning when I came to, and they were drunk, or stoned. Maybe exhausted after what they'd done to me. I remember--crying and yelling and pleading didn't help, so I ended up just keeping still and trying to endure it, hoping they'd let me go when they were finished, and telling myself, never again. Never again. I was a mess, Bodie. And I hurt. Was bruised inside, and full of it, everything they could pump into me.... I used the bathroom, tried to clean up, but I could hardly walk and I was sick as a dog. Christ, I hurt." He shuddered; after all the years the memory was still enough to make him cringe.

"I called a taxi from the lobby of their block of flats; knew I needed help, but who the hell could I go to? I only had Peggy, and I was scared stiff. Christ, two-time her and then go and ask for help! I didn't dare tell her how it'd happened, so I let her think I'd been gang-banged in the dark." He was hugging himself, no longer aware of Bodie. "I had to have help, you see. Dragged myself to her place, let her look at me. Was bleeding a bit, and sore like you wouldn't believe. She cleaned me up, put me to bed and called me in sick the next few days at school. As a matter of fact, I never went back there.

"Ever wondered why an art student became a copper? That's why. I wanted to get onto the Force to see if I could make a bit of difference, see if I could maybe stop this sort of thing happening to just a few kids, like me. I couldn't tell anyone about what had happened to me, because I'd gone over there on an invitation and invited them to have me."

There was silence then, and in it Bodie became aware, with a thrill of shock, that there were tears on his face and that his vision was misted and indistinct. He passed his hand across his cheeks, blinking at his tears in the palm, and trying to remember when he had last wept. No wonder Ray had never said a word about it; the scars of one night would take years and years to heal. It must have haunted him, haunted his dreams when he came to realise that he loved a MAN. He KNEW Bodie would not hurt him, and yet when it came to getting into bed with a man, how could he do it? Bodie was just beginning to appreciate the effort Ray had made for him.

Still in silence, Bodie picked up the quilt, wrapped it around them both and drew Doyle against him. "Shh, it's okay. No need to fret now.... You're too tired, love. Too tired and strung up. Go to sleep."

"Bodie?" Ray murmured. "You're going to stay?"

"Until you tell me to get lost," Bodie whispered. "I might go for a little while, and track down a couple of artists, and beat the crap out of them, of course, but I'd be back before you woke up."

"Want you to stay," Ray slurred, nearly asleep.

He was exhausted; Bodie felt him getting heavier and heavier, and he let him drift away. Sleep was a great healer; even if he only slept for an hour or so, everything would look different, better. He had drunk only one glass of scotch, so he would be clear-headed; and when he woke, it would all have been said, and forgotten, and they could begin.

Bodie closed his own eyes, but knew he would not sleep. There was too much outrage in him for him to feel even faintly drowsy, and his head spun with the events that had been packed into a ridiculously small time. Cowley would still be waiting for him to go back to the office.... He would have a bloody long wait, because Bodie was staying right where he was, and would be shot before he'd move a muscle. He belonged where Ray was, he had known that for a long time. So perhaps George Cowley had to learn that small detail.... Too bad for him if he did not like it.

There was a great anger in Bodie's innards, twisting them up, and it was focused on Ann Holly. Perhaps it was unfair to vent his temper on her--she was no more than the straw that broke the camel's back: Ray had been on the way down for a long time. The fact that it was Ann who finally finished it for him was not really her fault at all. So she didn't like men with hairy chests--quite a lot of women preferred "smoothies," and Bodie would have been smug about that, once. So she preferred men who had, for whatever reason, been circumcised--a lot of women shared that preference, it wasn't her fault any more than it was Ray's that he had never been cut. Neither was it Ray's fault that he smelt the way he did, nor Ann's that she didn't like the smell of a man, close up, when he was excited....

Bodie took a deep breath; he could smell Ray, and the musky odour of a man, THIS man, was, to him, tantalising and wonderful. He yearned to TASTE him, too, to learn every part of this body, to make Ray happy. If making him happy meant his own submission, Bodie accepted that readily; but first, Doyle had to relax and WANT it. The experience, at seventeen, would have been enough to put him off any kind of sex for years, and if he had indeed been bisexual, to make him fiercely hetero. As he had been--until he met his partner; and fell in love.

Damn. Bodie cursed Fate, holding Ray against him and wishing to God he knew what to do. There was nothing he COULD do; just wait and watch, be careful and gentle, and hope that that old Doyle spirit would buoy him up and carry him through it. He had got into bed with a man--a man he trusted and swore he loved; what now? Bodie sighed, burying his face in the curls that were tickling his nose. He closed his eyes, feeling almost as weary as Ray must have been.

He had not expected to sleep, but the emotional strain of the past few hours had wrung him out too. Normally, after being aroused and denied, there would have been a pain in his balls that was wicked, but there was not a twinge of frustration as his whole attention was fixed on Doyle, and as he saw that Ray was safe, secure and at rest, he let himself relax, and surrendered to sleep.

He woke easily, somehow knowing that he had been out for over an hour without looking at the clock on the table by the bed; and as he opened his eyes he was looking at Doyle's face, quizzical green eyes looking down at him as Ray lay with his head propped on his right hand. The pinkness was gone from his eyes now, but the lids were still a little puffy; and he was smiling.

"'Ullo, Bodie...love," he whispered almost soundlessly.

"'Ullo, Ray. Sweetheart," Bodie murmured, and promptly choked up.

"Want to try again," Ray said levelly, honestly. "I feel better now--I think telling you about it might have been half the battle. I'm not gay, you know. Can't really figure out what made me fancy that idiot, in art school. Glands in a raffle with being so young, maybe. I know what makes me love YOU, though."

"Oh." Bodie reached up to trace the lines of nose and jaw. "What?"

"You're contrary and cussed, and smug and secretive, and...you. You're hard as nails with everyone else, and soft as butter with me. You've been looking out for me for years."

"You noticed." Bodie knew he was becoming quite pink. "I'm not a born romantic, Ray. I like sex, and I know love when I feel it, and I've never been afraid of going out after something I want and taking it. I'm an egocentric bastard; I'll forget your birthday; I'll never notice the clothes you wear--notice 'em a damned sight more if you DON'T wear 'em! Love words don't come easily to me, never did. I'll give you grey hair if you wait for me to be like something out of a novel! Just thought you ought to know. You deserve all the nice things, Ray; pretty words and flowers and somebody to run about after you. I...I don't know how to do that, never did. And I'm too old to start learning! I'm ME; warts and all, take me or leave me."

"I'll take you," Doyle said, wrinkling his nose affectionately at the odd stream of confessions. "Don't need flowers and gooey words and people waiting on me and opening doors, for God's sake. All I ever wanted was someone to love me.... You can manage that much, can't you?"

"If you'll let me," Bodie whispered. "LOVE you, not just lay you.... Though I'm aching to do that too."

"Are you?" Ray bent his head, kissing Bodie's throat, feeling the pulse jumping there against his tongue. "Go on, then."

"What--make love to you?" Bodie blinked. "Can you? Are you okay? I mean, are you ready to--"

"I'm going to give it a bloody good try," Doyle said, resolved, and lifted the quilt away from them. "Have a bash; I feel heaps better now."

Something about the prosaic way he spoke made Bodie laugh, and he leaned over to claim Doyle's mouth in a ravishing kiss which Ray was pleased to return measure for measure. "Not afraid of kissing me, at least," he observed when they broke apart.

"Always liked kissing," Ray said dreamily. "Had a lot of practise too."

"I can tell," Bodie said wryly. He stroked his fingers from nipple to nipple, enjoying the silky hair. "I can't believe she didn't like this."

"Some people have no taste," Ray said glibly.

THAT sounded like the Raymond Doyle Bodie knew and loved, and he met the green eyes with a grin. "Oh yes? I expect I have excellent taste, then."

"Superb," Ray said, mirroring the grin. "Go on, Bodie, do it."

"Takes two to make love," Bodie murmured against Ray's chest, licking one hard little nipple and tickling the other with teasing fingertips.

"Mm. What should I do?"

Bodie blinked. "Ray.... That time when you were mauled within an inch of your life. That was, um, the only time, was it?"

"First and only time with a man," Doyle nodded. "Never fancied a bloke before that, and never could stand the thought of it, after. So I don't really know THAT much about it. What would you like me to do?" He watched the bemused expression on Bodie's face and laughed. "All right, what would you like to do to me? D'you want to fuck me?"

The frank question made Bodie wince. "You can seriously lie there and ask that, after what happened to you?"

"Well, I dunno," Ray frowned. "I've heard that it's good, if someone does it right, but how the hell would I know? I expect you'll show me, one of these days. To be truthful, I'm not ready to do that just yet. Not unless you really NEED it, in which case.... Bodie, from now on, if it's going to be US, it's my job to look after you, give you what you need and want. If I start begging off and denying you things, it's not going to work, and I want it to work. I'm desperate for it to work, to be honest with you."

"Hey, shush," Bodie said fondly. "You should hear yourself! I've been in love with you for so long, I'm having a hard time not coming by just being this close to you, on a bed, in the raw, in case you haven't noticed!"

Ray hadn't, and stole a glance at Bodie's groin. He blinked. "Christ, you're not joking, are you? Well, if you don't want to put it in me, what do you want me to do?"

In fact, Bodie wanted more than anything he could imagine to sink himself hip-deep in his nervous, rosy-cheeked partner, but that belonged to the future. "Don't you fret, that's the first thing," he said sternly, "and quit worrying about 'looking after me,' as you put it. All I want is to be right here, and making you happy. What do YOU want?"

"Would you lie on me?" Ray whispered, his colour rising by another shade. "On top of me? And can I lie on my back?"

In answer, Bodie kissed him. "It's better if you DO lie on your back, if I'm going to just lie on you," he said, well aware that he was teaching a course in applied sensuality here. "Ray, how much do you know about this?"

Doyle settled on his back to wait, his fingers stroking his belly and chest absently. "Well, only what I've heard talked about in the cop shop, and from gays and such we brought in off the street. I'll be honest--there's no point in lying...I used to close my ears, didn't want to know. And I'd avoid literature that dealt with it, skip right over it. So I don't know a whole hell of a lot. It's been a subject I didn't like to think about for a long time. I'd like to suck you, though, I know that; and if you wanted to suck me, that'd be fantastic." He paused, and his brow crinkled in a frown. "YOU reckon I smell okay? Up close, when I'm turned on?"

The question was an honest one, and Bodie tousled his hair gently. "Twit. You smell of Ray Doyle, and one whiff of that musk and I could eat you whole. Forget the bloody woman, will you? Think about all the other girls who went ga-ga over you before her. She's not worth worrying about any more."

"Thank Christ for that," Doyle breathed. "Thought I'd developed some kind of a problem all of a sudden.... Touch me, Bodie? Please?"

Ray was half turned-on already, and stroking fingers pampered him for all of four seconds before there was a full, throbbing erection to show for Bodie's efforts. He smiled at the flushed face, capped by tangled curls; Ray had closed his eyes to savour it, and what was coming would be a surprise.... Bodie bent his head and dropped a wet lick-kiss on the head of his cock. The long, tawny body gave a start, and the green eyes were open again; Bodie had to laugh. "Jesus, you'd think you'd never been kissed there before!"

"Never been kissed by YOU there before," Doyle retorted. "Do it again, now that I'm not going to get a heart attack?"

"Aren't you?" Bodie smacked his lips wickedly. "Don't count on it, sunshine. I know a few tricks."

That was an understatement, Doyle thought dizzily, minutes later, when the perspiration was tickling his ribs, he was arched off the bed and panting like a steam loco attacking a hill. Bodie knew more tricks than he had any right to, and Raymond was thinking seriously about having the heart attack. Then Bodie lifted his head, and before Ray had gone down onto the quilt again he was blanketed by a hard, hot body and his mouth was being ravished.

As he settled, he felt Bodie squirm around until his cock was nestled against his own, and Ray let his breath pass his lips in a hissing sigh. "Oh, God, that's--you're-- Bodie!" He yelped the name as Bodie bucked his hips, drawing a caress along him that he didn't believe, and spread his legs, arching up hard, trying to find some kind of rhythm as he wound his arms about Bodie's neck. "Harder--oh, love--"

It did not take long, and Ray came with a soft, breathy curse into Bodie's hair. They collapsed, holding each other tightly, and when they could see and speak again, Bodie asked, "Okay? Didn't seem to do you any harm."

"Silly question," Ray panted. "BLOODY silly question. I nearly took off, didn't I?" He chuckled huskily. "Should I be thanking you?"

"No." Bodie kissed his nose. "I ought to be thanking you, I think. This morning I was sure I'd be throwing rice at your wedding, not loving you. I'm going to love you to bits, so be warned. I'm going to show you so many ways to do it, you won't believe it, and one day, when YOU want me to fuck you, and not before, I'll show you what that's about. And then you can do it to me and let me have a bit of the fun, too."

Doyle was caught between grin and frown. "Sounds like you've got a lot of experience," he observed. "Africa?"

"Prison," Bodie said softly, soberly. "You don't know, and you don't want to know, Ray. The Merchant was okay; if you wanted to play, fair enough, and if you didn't, that was okay too. The Mercs--well, everyone was doing it, and no one attached much importance to it. But prison made something filthy of it, and if you didn't improvise, you'd go nuts. You can't.... Oh, Christ, how to say this?"

"Just say it," Ray whispered. "I want to know who you are."

Very gently, Bodie cuffed him. "Okay. I'll tell you a bit. You get a hundred blokes together and throw a pretty young boy or two in among them, and there's going to be trouble, right? But they weren't animals-- don't run away with the idea they wanted to hurt us. There was me, and a lad called Billy Younger, and yes, we got used, a lot, but we didn't get hurt more than a couple of times, and when we DID get hurt, the guys who did it got punched out, and we were taken care of. You can get hurt, fucking and being fucked, as you well know, but there's lots of ways to do it without getting somebody's cock rammed into you. The blokes knew that, and they shared us around--quite fairly, to be truthful. We got fucked quite a lot, but they weren't out to make us ill, so most of the time it was done other ways. I'll show you the other ways, and you'll know when it's time to graduate to the heavy stuff."

Doyle leaned forward and kissed him. "I'm sorry.... For everything that's happened to you."

"Wasn't your fault," Bodie smiled. "They looked after us, really. Once or twice I got hurt...and once, a bloke was rough and I got a little nick we didn't notice, and came up with an infection. I was really ill, and they were so sorry; you should have seen 'em, five blokes babying me! Made me feel sort of loved, for some strange reason. Maybe there WAS some real affection there. I was pretty; nearly as pretty as you, and they didn't want to hurt either me or Billy, but they needed us. Sure, they used us, but, as I said, we got fucked through the floor, but not to death. Anyway, that's all water under the bridge, and I learned a lot. Going to show you now."

"You can do me, if you need to," Ray offered quietly.

"I'm trying to tell you, cloth-ears, I won't need to until you want it as much as I do. Now shurrup and kiss me, and be quick about it."

Doyle pantomimed a cringe. "Oh, how could any bloke resist such a romantic invitation?"

"He couldn't, if he had any sense," Bodie said smugly. "Come on, Ray.... It's going to be fine. I love you, and if you're telling me the truth, and you love me too, we've just wasted years and years, and been bawling our eyes out all over each other for nothing. Ann ruddy Holly didn't mean a goddamned thing, and all this pain and anguish garbage is over and done with." He grabbed Doyle in a fierce embrace. "I'm not letting you go now, so don't think it."

"Wasn't bloody considering it," Ray admitted, nibbling Bodie's ear. "I'm a light sleeper; I like wholemeal toast; I like Mozart and Sky and Elvis; I use Colgates and a Ronson razor; and if I don't get laid every night I get twitchy and end up doing it myself. Thought I'd warn you."

Bodie laughed out loud. "No more doin' it yourself, mate! I snore if I sleep on my back, sometimes; I can't stand wholemeal bread; I like music but can't tell classics from clog dancing, so anything'll do; I drink Campari and Guinness and Johnny Walker; and if I don't get to lay you every night I'll scream. Will you marry me?"

At last, Doyle dissolved into hysterics and had to mop his eyes with a loose corner of the sheet. "You're a loon, Bodie. And I love you. And if it was legal, I'd marry you like a shot. Since it isn't, what are we going to do?"

"Live together and love each other witless?" Bodie suggested. "Christ, I'm glad Ann Holly doesn't like hairy chests and such, or I'd have been waving you bye-bye and watching you make babies. Glad you don't like kids, too, because that way you won't be sad when you don't get any. Cuz I don't reckon there's much chance of you getting me preggers. Or me you, for that matter. Doesn't worry you, does it?"

"No, I'm on the pill," Doyle howled, and tried desperately to sober up. "Listen to me, will you, and I was going to resign and--and--Oh, God." He stilled at last, heaving in a breath. "I was crying because I thought I'd be saying goodbye to you, leaving the person I do love and looking for a woman who'd have me, to get a decent love life and a steady home."

"That's enough of THAT," Bodie said sternly. "No more looking back. I want to look forward. Home, and you in it, and me in it, and Cowley doing his nut. Tough for him, isn't it? And I don't give a damn. He needs us, so he won't sack us, and if he does sack us, so be it. He'd be cutting off his nose to spite his face. The old man's not that stupid."

"He's going to rip his hair out by the roots," Doyle said lucidly. "And I'm going to stand there with a saint-like smile and watch him do it."

"Should be a decent bit of entertainment at that," Bodie agreed, his attention on Ray's abdomen, where the trails of semen were drying and silvery. "I want you again," he said softly.

"Randy," Doyle observed fondly.

"Exceedingly," Bodie admitted. "I've wanted you for so long that now I've got you I can't seem to look at you without wanting to touch."

"So touch," Ray said invitingly. "Can I...."

"Can you what?" Bodie prompted, eyes dark as night, mouth smiling.

"Can I look at you? I mean, can I--oh, Jesus, I'll stop being so ruddy embarrassed one of these days." Doyle heaved a sigh and appealed to the ceiling for help.

Bodie laughed, grabbed him by the shoulders and manhandled him around, spreading his legs and dumping Ray down between his knees. "You want to look, look. The equipment's basically the same, you're not going to get a shock."

Occupied with his examinations, Ray forgot to be shy, and Bodie lay back on the pillows, watching the intent face, thrilling to the feathery fingers that discovered him, the draught of warm breath as Doyle bent to lick and taste and sniff. His voice was husky as he spoke at last. "Equipment's BASICALLY the same," he agreed, "but, God, aren't we different?"

"No two blokes are the same," Bodie whispered, carried aloft on the tiny, teasing caresses. "Do you like it? It's all yours, if you do."

"Is it?" Doyle smiled, bending to kiss the bobbing tip of Bodie's hopeful erection. "It's YOU, if you follow me."

"Oh, I'd like to follow you," Bodie admitted, sitting up and reaching around to cup Doyle's buttocks, fingertips teasing inward to stroke his tight clenched anus. "One day. For now.... Here, love, let me show you...."

He turned Ray onto his side, drew him backward until his chest was pressed against the sharp shoulder blades and his nose was pressed into the curly mass of his hair. Ray gave a wriggle as he felt the nudge of the hard, hot cock between his legs and instinctively clamped his muscles about it. It never occurred to him that he might be impaled, and he was ready to trust implicitly. Bodie's hand took hold of his own cock a moment later, and they began to wriggle together, finding a rhythm that was satisfying.

Semen gushed between his legs, and Doyle smiled as Bodie came, bucking his hips to screw himself into his lover's fist once, twice more, and come himself. This time they were exhausted, drowsy, and all either of them wanted to do was hold on tight and slide down into sleep.

The phone jangled on the table by the bed, and they jumped out of their skins, barely asleep and still short of breath. Doyle muttered an oath and clawed for it, dragging it off the table and pressing it to his ear. It thumped Bodie's head as he did so. "Doyle," he croaked reluctantly.

Bodie pressed his ear to the cold plastic to listen; it was Cowley. "You're at home, 4.5. I wondered where you'd got to. You're on duty, you know."

"Am I? Sorry sir." Doyle rubbed his face, trying to wake up. "I should have called in sick, sir, but I didn't think of it."

"Sick?" Cowley asked. "The last I saw, you were with Bodie."

"Yes, sir. Ann...Miss Holly. She's gone, for good. I...I'm not going to be much use to you today, sir; are you sure you need me?"

There was a long pause as Cowley weighed what had been said, sifted the words for the inferred meanings. He gave a long sigh, audible over the phone. "No, not today. You sort out your own house, 4.5. Come in in the morning, that'll be soon enough. We'll review the situation then. What happened to Bodie?"

"He's right here, sir. D'you need him?"

"No, I don't suppose I do," Cowley admitted. "Tell him I'll dock the afternoon off his leave," he added sharply. "I'll see you in the morning."

With a click, Cowley hung up, and Doyle dropped the phone back into its cradle, rolling over to look at Bodie. "You're sprung for the rest of the day, but you're getting it lopped off your leave. I'm on the sick."

"In that case," Bodie said with an elaborate yawn, "we might as well make the best of it. Forty winks, and a nice long, hot, exploratory shower, and a meal, and right back to bed."

"Optimistic," Ray smiled. "I feel like a limp rag. Emotionally chopped to bits and then physically minced. Don't reckon I'll be good for anything much till about nine o'clock tonight."

"That's soon enough," Bodie said fondly. "All I want to do's hang onto you and talk. And talk. And talk."

"I love you," Ray said softly. "Just so you know."

"And I'll try to make it nice for you," Bodie promised. "I love you, and you're beautiful, but I'm not your romantic kind of bloke, and you'll have to make allowances. I'm going to be a berk, and forget our anniversary, and criticise your clothes, and wolf your food and forget to say it was delicious, and never notice the roses you like so much, and never notice when you've washed your hair, and forget to tell you how much I adore you. I'll apologise in advance for all that."

"Taken as read," Ray smiled. "And I'll be just as bad, so stop worrying about it. Shurrup and go to sleep, anyway, I'm tired."

With that, he put his head down and closed his eyes, relaxing every bone and joint and leaving Bodie blinking in surprise. "Complacent little bugger," he muttered, putting his own head down beside the curly one. "Bloody good job I love you, isn't it?"

-- THE END --

I won't send roses or hold the door,
I won't remember which clothes you wore
My heart is so much in control, the lack of romance in my soul
Will turn you grey, kid, so stay away, kid...
Forget my shoulder when you're in need; forgetting birthdays is guaranteed,
And should I love you, you would be the last to know.
I won't send roses.... And roses suit you so.
My pace is frantic, my temper cross;
With words romantic, I'm at a loss--
I'd be the first one to agree that I'm preoccupied with me--
And it's ingrained, kid, so keep your head, kid...
In me you'll find things like grit and nerve
But not the kind things that you deserve- - -
And so while there's a fighting chance, just turn and go...
I won't send roses, and roses suit you so.

"I Won't Send Roses,"
from the musical, MACK AND MABEL.

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