And when at last the Angel of the drink
Of Darkness finds you by the river brink,
And, proffering his Cup, invites your soul
Forth to your Lips to quaff it--do not shrink...
Strange, is it not? That of the myriad who
Before us passed the door of Darkness through,
Not one returns to tell us of the Road
Which, to discover, we must travel too...
We are no other than a moving row
Of visionary shapes that come and go
Round with this sun-illumined Lantern held
In Midnight by the Master of the show....
--Ohmar Khayyam/Fitzgerald, 2nd Edition (1868), 46-67-73.
The man was dealing in a dozen kinds of dope; there was no doubt about it and precious little surprise. Selling junk to pay for the arms to wage a street war in London was an old enterprise. Doyle had watched it happen a hundred times, first as a copper and then as a CI5 agent.
The silver Capri Ghia wheeled in under the coppery foliage of the beech trees, tires crunching on loose gravel, the late afternoon sun casting a haze over the road dirt on the windscreen. Up ahead was the brown Escort its driver's door open, its engine stalled out. Bodie killed the Capri's powerful little three- litre motor and gave Doyle a speculative look. They had tailed the Escort up from London on the motorway, followed it at a discreet distance as the driver, Charlie Fender himself, threaded through the damp autumn countryside.
Fender's destination was their primary concern, and Bodie was kicking himself. Ten miles out he had let the dope-dealing little moron see the Capri in his rear-view mirror, and from that point on it had been a chase, more reminiscent of a rally meeting than a drive in the country.
"Bloody hell," Doyle muttered as he saw the car. "He's taken off on foot. There's a house up there."
"His place?" Bodie wondered. "Did he run from home, go to earth?"
"We'd better hope he did," Doyle said tartly, "or we're going to have a great time explaining to the Cow how we dawdled a hundred miles from home then mucked it up." He swung the door open and slid out into the cool, open air, drawing the automatic from the holster beneath his tan sports jacket. "Come on, sunshine, while the light holds."
Bodie was in his black leather jacket and black slacks. In the shadows he looked very dark, sullen, dangerous. Doyle could feel the anger that was simmering just under the surface, and words of caution were on his lips before he could bite them back. "Loosen up, will you? I don't reckon this is the cutting shop, so it's him against us--and he won't be armed."
"Right," Bodie conceded as he drew his own gun and took out his RT. "3.7 to Central, over." There was no reply and he gave the SIS radio a cold look. "Out of range, you reckon?"
"Could be," Doyle nodded, "and there's the hills between us and home, and the airport radar." He stepped away from the car, taking a look about the property with eyes that were feral. They had driven a hundred yards from the main road along a deeply rutted access trail. The Escort had come to rest by a dilapidated fence on the other side of which was the remains of a kitchen garden and a tumbledown farmhouse.
The chill wind of autumn struck out of the north, its fingers cold and sharp with the promise of the inevitability of winter. Bodie turned up his collar as he stepped about the Capri's roasting bonnet, getting a whiff of the aromatic engine, and followed Doyle in the direction of the gate. It was only hanging by a thread, leaning drunkenly from the splintered wood. The whole property was no more than a wreck, and Doyle's expression tightened in displeasure: they had blown it. Charlie Fender had probably headed in the opposite direction the second he saw the Capri tailing him. Cowley would do two laps of the office without touching the floor, but it was irretrievable, and not really Bodie's fault in any case. The only chance they had was to take Fender in and pump him for the information, with an arm full of Pentothal.
The sun had dipped behind the hills moments before they inched across the weed-strangled garden and Doyle gave the house a hard look: glassless windows stared back, blind-eyed and forbidding. If Fender was armed, they were sitting ducks. There could be a million shoot- holes in there. He cocked the automatic, shifted its weight in his right palm, and shared a tense glance with Bodie.
"Whose turn is it?" Bodie asked softly.
"Yours," Doyle told him. They took it in turns to take the point in a sweep, the procedure in which a house was checked and cleared. He watched Bodie take his own weapon in both hands and suck in a breath.
They had done this so many times before that they barely had to think about it, it was enough to let instinct carry them through the ritualistic format. In through the front door, room on the left, room on the right, cupboard under the stairs, kitchen at the back, scullery- - -one covering the other. Slam the doors back, scan in a crescent from wall to wall, lightning fast--
And there was Charlie Fender. He was standing against the wall to the left of the door when Bodie burst in, desperation blazed in his eyes.
He grabbed for the CI5 man's issue automatic and several rounds ripped into the ceiling as it jerked upward and Bodie's right index finger squeezed back on the sensitive trigger.
The shots were deafening in the dusty confines of the old house and Doyle's heart was in his mouth as he sprang into the doorway, pulling his own gun down into line and trying to connect with the target. "Bodie! Get out of the way! Bodie!"
But Fender was grappling like a wild animal or madman. He was not as tall or heavy as Bodie but the desperation gave him a strength that wrenched Bodie's gun out of his hands, and sent it skittering away in the dust. Doyle held his own gun in both hands, watching them trip and fall heavily, Bodie on top, his right fist clenched and drawn back.
But the blow never landed. Instead, Bodie grunted, slipping sideways and allowing the rabid Fender to scramble to his feet. He dove toward the door where Doyle stood, two shots hammered into the thickening gloom, tossing him backwards and spinning him into the wall. Then there was silence.
Fender was dead. Doyle did not have to look at him to know that. He holstered the hot gun and was on his knees at Bodie's side in a moment more.
"What happened? Bodie, what--" His eyes finding the hypodermic in his partner's limp hand. "Oh, my God." He plucked up the hypo, squeezed one of the remaining drops on his finger and sampled the acidic taste of the hallucinogen and a strong mix at that. He returned his attention to Bodie then, his heart hammering painfully against his ribs.
Overdose? He saw the inflammation on the left of Bodie's neck--Fender had jammed the needle right into the carotid. No wonder Bodie had gone down as if he'd been hit with a sledge hammer. He felt for a pulse: fast but strong.
Bodie blinked up at him groggily. "Ray?" He slurred the name. "Ray, what is it?"
"A Psychedelic," Doyle told him. "Mescaline, maybe. Can you stand? Here take my hand." He took Bodie's hands in his and hauled him up, putting his back into the effort, and then Bodie collapsed into his arms, heavy and clinging to him with a hug that squeezed the breath from his lungs.
"Ray," Bodie murmured softly. "Oh, Jesus, Ray-- "
Anger and anguish twisted Doyle's heart in his chest. He pulled Bodie's head against his shoulder, slipping an arm about his waist. "Come on, mate, try and walk. There's a hospital in the town up the road. Try, Bodie."
But the real world had already begun to distort, waver, dance about Bodie; he was barely capable of seeing, could not feel the ground beneath his feet. He was only sure of the arm that held him up, the warmth of Doyle's body pressed against him. For a sickening moment the whole world was black, a featureless pit, and then oddly his mind seemed to clear and he took back possession of his senses with gratitude.
He blinked in surprise: the moonlight was silvery blue, shimmering on the still waters of a lake, and he could hear the wind among the branches of a thousand trees. The air was warm, smelling of night-blooming flowers. He had no notion of where he was, but it was as if he had wandered into a Mogul garden, designed centuries before to express the artist's concept of Paradise.
He turned slowly about, trying to remember why he was here, speechless at the perfection of the place. The breeze tossed at the surface of the water, shattering the moonlight; he saw the lotus dance there, and then as his eyes roamed on, he saw that he was not alone.
A figure reclined on the grassy bank, slender, breathtakingly beautiful, naked and gloriously male. He was sure that he was not entirely human. The skin was like velvet, jade green, and the eyes that turned to look at him were golden and glowing.
He swallowed, recognising the face, the figure, and the voice that spoke huskily to him. "What are you doing here?" Ray's voice said, tauntingly amused. "How did you find your way?" The apparition got to his feet and Bodie caught his breath. It was as if he had never seen Doyle before; every feature leapt out at him, the almond eyes, golden now, the perfect lips, the chiseled nose, and the moonlight shimmered about his limbs like stardust on emeralds.
"Ray?" Bodie whispered in disbelief, afraid to close his eyes lest the apparition vanish and rob him of a kind of beauty he had never even imagined before. "What are you doing here? What is this place?"
"I'm always here. Where are you?" The creature with Doyle's form stepped forward, graceful as a dancer, and drew his cool fingers over Bodie's own. "Here. Where your dreams begin, where your fantasies are born. I'm always here, I've been here for years, and it's always moonlight...I've been waiting for you. You keep me here, alone. That's not kind of you, but I could wait, I knew you'd come here one day."
Confusion milled in Bodie's mind as his eyes roved over the unearthly form with its crown of coppery curls and the golden eyes in which he felt himself drowning. In his nose was the musky scent of a man, and his fingers itched to discover the hot emerald velvet of that skin. He was not at all surprised to find himself powerfully aroused, to feel an electric thrill as the creature touched him with Doyle's fingers, opening his shirt and stroking his chest.
"What--" He caught his breath and began again. "What are you doing?"
Ray's voice chuckled throatily. "Seducing you. It's what you've always wanted from me, isn't it? It's why you're here. You never dared to ask, did you? Once you dreamed that you kissed me--oh yes, I know. I know everything. You dreamed I was in your bed and underneath you. Do you remember what you did with me? You--"
"I remember," Bodie growled, in an agony of embarrassment, but the golden eyes were not taunting, only teasing him gently, and the cool fingers had already taken his shirt from him. "But you're.... You're a feller," he said lamely.
"Don't be an old-fashioned prude," Doyle's voice said scornfully as he went to his knees in the grass at Bodie's feet.
"But Ray--" Bodie gasped as he felt the caresses about his aching erection, felt the restraints of his clothes deftly removed. "For God's sake, Ray!"
Doyle's face smiled up at him. "Are you trying to tell me you don't want me? Your body says that's a lie." He got to his feet, taking Bodie's flushed face between his hands. "I've been here for so long, Bodie. You've kept me here so long, waiting...." He leaned forward and Bodie held his breath, his sealed lips quivering as Ray's warm tongue licked to and fro patiently insisting until Bodie groaned and surrendered his mouth to the kiss. He held back from it for a time, feeling the exploration of his lips and teeth, Ray's sweet breath intoxicating him until the desire to physically possess this sublime creature, masculine or not, was overpowering.
His arms were like steel bands about Doyle's slim body, he took over the kiss, pressing it until he tasted blood, and then the grass came up to meet his sweat-sheened skin and he had the other pinned spread-eagled beneath him, writhing and gasping under the onslaught of his demanding mouth and driving hips.
It began as a gentle seduction and ended as an act of violence that left them both stunned. Bodie heard a sound he had never heard before and longed to hear again: Doyle's voice screaming his name in the torture of ecstasy as they fought each other for the last second they could make it go on.
Then Bodie collapsed beside him, in the same moment bewildered by delight and mortified by what he had done to his best friend. He watched the other curl up on his side in the grass, panting and exhausted, and wanted to apologise until Ray's voice laughed quietly out of the moonlit face. "And you wanted me to stop! Do you know how long you've wanted that to happen?"
"A long time," Bodie admitted reluctantly. "Did I hurt you?"
"Yes," Doyle whispered. "Because you wanted to."
"Wanted to?" Bodie echoed, aghast. "You're my friend!"
"You didn't want a friend, you wanted a lover," Doyle said teasingly. "All these years. And you've blamed me, in your dreams, for not making a pass at you. Why?"
Bodie shrugged, defeated. "I've never consciously thought about it, but I've dreamt about it.... You're so bloody beautiful. The first day we met, I was unfriendly to you. You know why? My heart was going like a drum, I didn't dare let anyone see it. The last time I touched a man was when I was in Angola. I only ever did it once or twice--I was desperate, he was young and smooth and gay." He sighed, his eyes roaming over the tautly muscled body with its dusting of golden hair. "I won't hurt you anymore if you don't want me to touch you, I won't."
In answer the emerald-green fantasy he recognised as Doyle leaned forward, kissing him deeply and, incredibly, desire sparked in him again. This time he lay still and let himself be toyed with until he could barely breathe and begged for release, until he heard his own voice raised in the senselessness of passion. He came as he had never come before, clutching Doyle's head to his shoulder and sobbing before he plunged into sleep.
When he woke, he was alone. The lake was choppy and the wind gusted strongly; the shadows beneath the trees coiled with a menace he had not seen before. He got to his feet, his legs rubbery beneath him, hugging himself as the chill seeped into his bones. "Ray?" he called, and louder, "Ray!" But he was utterly alone, it was as if no other living creature existed in this world.
The wind roared in the trees, the lake tossed freezing spray at him. "Ray, for Christ's sake, where are you?" He invested the power of his lungs in the plea but there was no answer. Overhead, thunder-clouds billowed up, shutting out the moonlight, and the world became terrifyingly dark.
He was so cold that tactile sensation was gone, and it was too dark to see a hand before his face. The wind in the trees deafened him till he could hear nothing else, and it blasted the scents of the garden away. His senses were useless. He stumbled into the lee of a great, gnarled tree and huddled out of the wind, but the cold had crystallised his bones and he knew he would die here, and soon.
So that was the price of such loving as he had never known.... Bodie chafed at his arms, trying to hold off the inevitable a few moments longer, but his heart and mind were full of Doyle and in that moment, if he died, he counted the price fair. If the price of Ray's love was the death of him, so be it. He closed his eyes, trying to relax, to make the end easy; the ache in his limbs told him it would not be long.
"Ray, for Christ's sake, where are you!"
The words were shouted clearly as Bodie fought in the restraints, and Doyle bit his lip, closing his fingers tightly about Bodie's. "I'm right here, mate," he said softly, knowing he could not be heard.
On the other side of the bed, Dr. Rose Ingram shook her head. She was a woman of fifty with striking brown eyes and dark hair through which the strands of silver coiled almost like decorations. "He's away on cloud fourteen, I'm afraid," she said. "You got him here just in time, Mr. Doyle. Enough Mescaline to drop an elephant! He's going to have a rough time of it for the next few days. Why don't you go home? We'll call you when there's anything to tell."
But Doyle shook his head tiredly. "He keeps yelling for me--"
"He doesn't know you're here," she argued kindly.
"But I know," Doyle said heavily. "No. I'll stay. The boss knows where we are. He hasn't recalled me so he can't need me." He forced a smile he did not feel. "I'm going to be in the way, am I?"
Dr. Ingram shook her head. "Not at all. You can make yourself useful, in fact. Just watch him; if anything changes, push the panic button."
They had put Bodie in a private room so as not to disturb the other patients in this small, provincial hospital. Doyle hated hospitals, he had been in too many of them.
He passed the damp cloth over Bodie's feverish brow and sighed, just beginning to get over the shock of it himself. Twice on the road back to town, he had been so sure that Bodie was dead that he had pulled the car over, searched for his pulse and tipped back his head for mouth to mouth.
He smiled faintly, realising that, in essence, he had kissed Bodie; and then the smile faded abruptly as another realisation hit home.
He had liked it. At the time, only the fear, and the dread had registered on his mind, but in retrospect he surprised and disquieted himself. Bodie's mouth was soft and hot, and cherished a thousand times more than any girlfriend's.
How many friends like Bodie did a person meet in a lifetime? One. Two, if he was incredibly lucky.
Doyle frowned at his partner, seeing the dark good looks, and remembering the taste of his mouth. Impulsively, he reached out to touch those soft, warm lips with his fingertips, and he wondered what it might be like to kiss him while he was awake and able to respond.
And then, what? Doyle swallowed. A kiss was the beginning, not the end. His eyes moved across Bodie's broad, bare torso and he imagined himself lying there. A shiver coursed through him and he shook himself hard.
If Bodie knew what he was thinking he would probably explode--
If he ever found out that he had been mouth to mouth with his partner it would be bad enough, Doyle thought. He snatched his hands away and began to pace, wondering if Dr. Ingram might be right, if he should return home.
But before he could make the decision Bodie cried out for him again, sobbing his name. Doyle returned to the bedside, taking his hand though he knew he was unconscious, and watching the bewildering display of expressions chase across his face. Only by chance did he look down and notice the truth as a disturbance beneath the single sheet. Bodie was calling his name out of whatever drugged dream.
And Bodie was aroused.
Doyle chewed his lip in thought, his fertile imagination working unbidden. He could still feel that innocent, platonic, life-giving kiss, and it was with a thrill of disquiet that he realised that he wanted very badly to taste it again.
Not because Bodie was a man, but because he was Bodie, because there was no one else like him and no one else in Ray's life who had ever meant half as much to him. Girlfriends came and went with almost monotonous regularity, but there was always Bodie, backing him up, buying his life, laughing with him, giving him a shoulder to lean on. If that wasn't love, what was it?
But not that kind of love, Doyle thought aridly. Do I want him? What do I want. To have him hold me, to feel his weight on me, to have him spread my legs apart and be inside of me? He shuddered, closing his eyes, but once more Doyle gave rein to his impulses. He bent his head towards Bodie's mouth. Soft, moist, and mobile. The kiss was fleeting, on Bodie's part unwitting, but Doyle drew back breathless and afraid.
The promise of Bodie's love, the kind of loving only Bodie could give was overwhelming, and he knew with one glance at his partner's lower body as he mumbled his name, that Bodie was probably dreaming the same thing. He stepped back from the bedside, pulling his fingers through his hair. "Get a hold of yourself, Ray, for God's sake," he muttered. "When he comes to he won't remember what tricks the bloody drug played on him, and if he knew what you just did he'd paralyse you!"
They eased the withdrawal with sedatives, vitamins, fluids, and Bodie rode it out with the kind of determination Doyle expected of him. Hovering on the brink of delirium as the fever went back, he clung desperately to Ray's hand and when at last he lapsed into a deep, natural sleep, Doyle was nearly as exhausted as he was.
Bodie was white, drawn, pounds lighter in weight, but it was over at last. Doyle sank into a chair, watching his partner sleep with eyes half-closed in drowsiness.
Rose Ingram pushed a cup of tea at him and he sipped at the scalding liquid gratefully. "You can take him home tomorrow," she said quietly. "Make him rest, and keep him warm. He'll be okay, now."
Keep him warm? Ray thought, feeling the jump of his pulse. It was not what she meant, but the suggestion made him tingle. He had sat watching Bodie sleep for hours, enjoying just looking at him. There was a great intimacy in being there with him, holding his hand tightly in the early hours of the morning, and it was a pleasure Doyle had not expected.
The drowsiness pulled at him. He let himself rest forward with a yawn, putting his head down on his forearm on the side of the bed. He had only meant to relax for a few moments, but in seconds he was asleep.
It was twenty minutes later when Bodie stirred awake and found himself looking at a mass of coppery curls just beside his shoulder. He smiled sleepily, reached out to tousle them gently as the warm sensations of memory flooded through him, before he reoriented with the real world and froze.
His muscles locked up as he caught his breath, but Doyle did not waken. The draught of his breath was a warm caress across Bodie's chest, so gently and so innocently seductive that Bodie could hardly tolerate it. He raised one knee to disguise the arousal and shook Doyle's shoulder softly.
Doyle woke with a moan, lifting his head and turning to look at his partner with an expression that was as delighted as it was guilty. "I dozed off, mate. I'm sorry," he muttered, forcing a smile.
"Sorry for what?" Bodie murmured, revelling in the look of his tousled and heavy-eyed friend. Doyle was flushed, confused, vulnerable and so beautiful in the room's soft lighting that Bodie was left breathless, remembering the creature of the moonlight and jade, remembering why he had taken him, forced him, spread him wide and consumed him with such senseless passion that he could not have been able to hear any cries of protest for the pounding of the blood in his ears.... But Ray had not protested, even when he was hurt, and he had taken his own revenge, torturing with pleasure--
No. Not Ray. It was a dream, only a dream, nothing more. Bodie closed his eyes to shut out the other's fey beauty.
"Bodie?" Doyle frowned. "What's wrong? Do you want a doctor?"
But Bodie shook his head. "No. I'm okay. It's just...I guess I'm not thinking too clearly just now. It'll pass." I hope, he added silently, or working with Ray, day in, day out, was going to be nearly impossible.
"What about a cup of tea, then?" Doyle asked quietly, getting to his feet. "Are you hungry? What about some of that horrifying nosh you call food?"
"Just the tea," Bodie said. "And Ray...thanks. For staying. You didn't have to."
Doyle's eyes locked tightly with his and darkened as his pupils dilated. For one terrible moment he wanted to sweep him up in his arms and kiss him till he was out of breath. He swallowed hard on the feeling. "I did...I wanted to. I called Cowley by phone; he's sent the Smurph and Alex out after Fender's boss. Murphy's a good lad, he'll bring 'em in."
"Fender. You killed him," Bodie whispered hoarsely.
"I killed him," Doyle affirmed. "I killed him for you." He stirred. "Look, take it easy, mate. They reckon you can go home--" He checked his watch. "Today. It's 2:00 a.m."
"On what day?" Bodie demanded ruefully.
Doyle chuckled. "It's Thursday, October 29th. Bonfire night in a week's time, Hallowe'en the day after tomorrow, and all the Scorpions are getting ready for their birthday bashes. Sit tight, I'll get you your cup of tea."
The last thing Bodie saw as Doyle departed was his friend's small, shapely rear, clad as it was in tight, faded blue denim, and he muttered an oath to the empty room, clamping down on the ferocious wave of desire.
The drive back to London was silent, strained, uncomfortable. They rarely spoke, suddenly disquieted by one another, trying not to notice the myriad tantalising details they had overlooked before--consciously overlooked, Bodie corrected silently and glumly. He had had that dream of Ray in his bed, warm and heaving gently beneath him: the moonlit apparition had not been wrong. Dreams were funny things, he reflected; did they reveal the truth about one's subconscious? If they did the sublime jade creature with Doyle's face and voice was doubly right, because his unbidden dream went back years. He shivered, trying not to watch Doyle's long, dancer's legs flexing as he ambled through the gear box, brake, clutch, accelerator, clutch, accelerator, and overtook slow traffic. How did I work with him for all those years and never see him?!
He walked quite steadily into his lounge room and plunked down on the sofa, watching Ray potter about in the kitchen, making tea and searching the refrigerator for something halfway edible. Their silence continued and it was then that Bodie began to suspect that Doyle was angry. He watched the other man's face curiously.
"You want to tell me what's chewing at you?"
Doyle's eyes leapt up and his pulse rate doubled, colouring his cheeks with a blush that was attractive. "What are you talking about?"
"About you. You haven't said a word to me since we left the hospital. What have I done? Something I said?"
The breath sighed softly over Doyle's lips. "No, nothing. It's just me. I'm being an idiot. As usual!" he added vehemently, gulping at his tea. "Look, it's late and I'd like to get home, get some sleep. Cowley wants me back down the salt mine tomorrow, bright and early." He crooked a brow at Bodie. "Do you want to come to the party? The club's having a Hallowe'en do."
"Club?" Bodie smiled. "You mean the Chelsea Fetish League?"
"The health club where I work out," Doyle chided. "You've been there yourself on a dozen occasions. They're having a party out at the Manor--Preston Manor, down by the river, you know the place. Elizabethan house, a Capability Brown garden and lake, very rustic, very old--"
"Haunted house?" Bodie grinned.
Doyle made a face. "I should have known better than to ask you."
"No, I'd love to come." Bodie laughed. "Better than being stuck indoors till this time next week. Sick leave is a bloody great nuisance."
"Listen, buster," Doyle remonstrated, "that little git shot you with enough Mescaline to light up the city of London. You want to go out on the job and faint in the line of duty and get me shot?"
"Get you hurt?" Bodie shivered again, knowing Doyle would have to see the expression of his feelings. He remembered all too well the way he had hurt him--or, hurt the creature of moonlight and emerald-velvet skin. He looked up, seeing the same jade colour in Doyle's haunted, haunting almond eyes. "Don't say that, Ray, don't even think it." He waved at the door. "Get out of here and let me get some peace, will you?"
Doyle nodded slowly. "Sure. I'll come over about seven, Saturday night. The party kicks off at eight. Bonfire, turnip lanterns, roasting chestnuts, fancy dress optional. What do you want to come as?"
"A satyr," Bodie growled. "What about you?"
"I thought I might come as an earthling, there won't be too many of them around on THAT night," Doyle smiled. "Okay, I'll see you later, Bodie. If you want me, pick up the phone, but the doctor reckoned you'll be fine now, just fatigued and light-headed.... Sleep tight, my son."
The door closed behind him and Bodie stood hugging himself against the pain of trying to keep a bland, innocent face while he wanted to seize Ray bodily and have him, right then and there, on the deep pile rug in front of the gas heater, where the light of the lamp in the corner would touch him softly, taking years off him, making him look like a kid again.... There was an ache inside of him that was getting stronger and harder to ignore as time went by. That night, he hardly slept at all.
For himself, Doyle lay watching the clock, wondering how he would be able to go to work, day after day, as if it was all the same as it had been before, as if nothing had changed inside of him. He thought of Bodie and choked off an oath: if Bodie even suspected what was going on inside his head, he would go up in a blue light, surely! But his mind returned again and again to that single, fleeting kiss, and he felt his body stir in arousal. He chastised himself for a fool, lectured himself sternly and for the first time in years, resorted to analgesics to grab a few hours of sleep before dawn.
Preston Manor was draped in decorations and the Elizabethan house was bathed in coloured lighting. Turnip lanterns nodded amongst the hundreds of trees that were left of the original Capability Brown landscape, and on the common area they had built an enormous bonfire. Rightly, it should have been saved until 5th November, for Guy Fawkes' night, when "guys" would be burnt all over England, but the club had decided to combine the two celebrations into one for the sake of convenience.
The Manor belonged to the club's patron, a minor title without any money to back it up; he went by the name of Wally Cranshawe and made the estate pay for itself by taking guests--usually well-to-do Americans--in season. With October out this very night, the tourist season was well and truly over. The air was crisp and cold, and the celebrants from the gym clustered about the bonfire, drinking mulled ale, eating chestnuts and listening to the readings from some obscure Celtic work.
Samhain Eve, the night when the spirits were abroad, the Celtic New Year, Bodie remembered. A few celebrants were dressed as Druids; one a girlfriend of Doyle's. He watched the two of them laughing at some private joke, watched the girl take the circlet of oak leaves from her blonde head and slip it onto Ray's where it nestled among his curls as if it were made of molten gold. Doyle threw his head back and laughed, but Bodie was too transfixed by the image to see any humour in it.
He turned back to his drink, sipping morosely at it. He had already had too much to drink. The alcohol had begun to buzz in his ears and the fire was too hot. He was at odds with the witches, warlocks, zombies and gorillas, feeling left out of their humour, and he turned away from them, disappearing into the darkness beyond the firelight.
No one saw him go save Doyle, and his expression tightened. There was something wrong with Bodie, he was sure. Either he was ill or eating at himself over something; there was a lost, bewildered unhappiness about him that made Doyle want to grab him, hug the pain out of him, kiss away the confusion and torment; but that was impossible, it would only serve to make things a million times worse, complicate the already muddled state of affairs. He appropriated his third gin in twenty minutes and swallowed it quickly. He was drunk even then, though no one but he would know it till he had had a lot more to drink; just drunk enough to call a taxi home and then weep disconsolately for the hopelessness of what he felt and could never share.
The revelry of the party-goers began to annoy him and he stepped out of the firelight; no one saw him leave. Away from the brightness and heat, the night was chilly and blue in the moonlight. He walked with his hands thrust into the pockets of his sheepskin jacket, breathing deeply, feeling the air sting his sinuses, as the alcohol set in, making him a little dizzy. He ambled about the house into the man-made landscape, so very English, so elegantly civilised. The moon was gibbous, hanging like a great, yellow lamp in the sky, its light dancing on the water of Capability Brown's lake. He walked to the edge of the water, watching the glittering surface, and sat down with a heavy sigh, weary and overwrought.
The wind was gusting in the trees, blanketing sounds nearer at hand, but as it dropped away for a moment he was sure he heard the rustle of approaching footsteps. He turned curious, his head light and his senses dislocated, but he recognised Bodie, who stood quite still, watching him with eyes that shone in the moonlight. The sight of him was painful and Doyle turned away, getting to his feet.
Bodie's mouth was open as he searched vainly for words, unable to believe what he had seen-- there, the moonlit water, there, the graceful beautiful form, capped by its coppery tangle of curls. His heart seemed to be trying to get out through his ribs and when Doyle turned away from him, angrily, he thought, it was like a knife wound. "Ray?" he called softly.
"Go away," Doyle muttered. "Leave me alone, I'm drunk, I don't trust myself tonight."
"But, Ray," Bodie said breathlessly, and when Doyle made to walk away, "No, don't leave, Ray!"
"For Christ's sake, Bodie," Doyle sobbed, quickening his pace and knowing that his partner was right behind him, "I'm drunk, don't make me make a bloody fool of myself, please!"
If anything, Bodie was more inebriated than he was, though he could control his limbs just as well. He caught Doyle's shoulder desperately, spinning him around; for one moment he honestly thought Ray was going to hit him--the clenched fist was there, drawn back, ready to strike. Then Doyle seemed to lose his coordination, or his resolve, and stumbled. Bodie caught him before he could fall, hugging him tightly enough to suffocate him and murmuring his name repeatedly into the softness of his hair.
It took a moment for the truth to sink in, but Doyle heard the painful desire in Bodie's husky voice and groaned with a mixture of relief and fright. Bodie's body heat warmed him and he could feel the other's intense arousal in the press of his hips. He lifted his head breathlessly, knowing that there was no way back now, and not caring.
The first kiss should have been gentle, but Bodie was beyond restraint and Doyle gasped as his mouth was claimed, ravished without mercy, the kind of kiss he had been trying to imagine while he castigated himself as an idiot. When it broke they were both panting, kneeling in the grass, oblivious to the chill of the night, aware only of the agonising yearning. Bodie's hands were cold inside Doyle's shirt, following the contours of his body, and Doyle somehow found his voice, knowing he sounded strange.
"What are you doing?"
The memory was sharp in his mind and Bodie responded quietly, almost without thinking, "Seducing you. Don't tell me you don't want me- - -your body makes a lie of that."
"I...I do want you," Doyle whispered. "But here, it's too bloody cold, isn't it?"
"Where, then?" Bodie asked, leaning back to look at the other's exquisite features, blued and fined by the moonlight.
"Come up to the house," Doyle said, getting to his feet with an effort. "They've opened up a bunch of rooms for the guys who are going to soak up the booze till they're stiff as a board."
"I'm stiff as a board myself," Bodie admitted pointedly, "but not with booze. With you." He gave Ray his hand, following him into the house by the servant's entrance at the rear, and chuckled as they climbed the back stairs. It was worth a wry chuckle; how many lovers had been smuggled up these same stairs while Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots had been dicing for the throne of England? Bodie had seen the film, with Glenda Jackson and Vanessa Redgrave, and as they entered the ancient house it was as if they were stepping back into the past, leaving the troubles and moralities of the present behind them.
The house was almost silent, its dark, walnut panelling and heavy framed portraits wreathed in impenetrable shadows. Doyle had visited here before and knew his way around; he led Bodie to a room on the upper floor in the open hearth, warming the air and lighting the room with the rosy glow only a live fire can give. The wind rattled at the leaded windows as they shut out the world outside; the bed was ancient, four- posted, with stiff damask sheets that must have been bought when Queen Victoria was alive.
Doyle stood quite still, letting Bodie undress him; when they both stood naked in the embrace of the firelight it was as if they had shed the Twentieth Century, stepping back into the past, into another life--perhaps a former life in which they had been lovers, like Alexander and his beloved Persian boy. And which am I? Doyle thought wryly as he sank down into the bed's deep feather mattress. Bodie's weight was welcome on him, Bodie's mouth kissing his chest, nibbling on one nipple while his hands made pleasure into torture and torture into pleasure, calculated caresses that made him ache and tingle and want to shout.
Conscious thought became disjointed and they were operating on instinct and impulse; Doyle was not certain at what point Bodie nudged his knees apart, kneeling between his thighs. He would have cried out as his body was impaled for the first time in its life, but the cry was blanketed by a kiss and instead he writhed mutely, frantic as sensations he had never felt before set his nerves aflame.
It was only later that he thought to wonder where Bodie had learned his technique, but he could not bring himself to ask. Jealous, Ray? he demanded of himself. And if not, why not? He learned fast himself, copying Bodie's tricks and improvising as he rolled his partner and lover onto his back and repeated the whole rapturous coupling with a determination and control he had not known he had. Bodie panted, straining against him, clawing at his back with fingers like steel until Doyle could hold back no longer, and then they came as one body, shuddering like leaves in the wind.
Slowly, imperceptibly, awareness trickled back. They lay in a comfortable, loose embrace, arms and legs entwined, Doyle's head on Bodie's chest and listening to the slow, steady rhythm of his heart. The passion was spent for the moment and they were drowsy with exhaustion, fulfillment, alcohol and raw relief.
"Ray?" Bodie murmured. "You're not hurt?"
Doyle lifted his tousled head with a smile. "I'm tougher than that, sunshine. I was a virgin in this type of thing, though."
"I bowled a maiden over," Bodie quipped, smiling fondly at him.
Doyle laughed, joining in the humour and continuing the joke. "Yeah, I was caught in the gully at deep fine leg; but--I knocked you for six first, right?"
"For six sixes in one over," Bodie admitted, cuddling him and chuckling. "So it was good?" The hopeful note in his voice was engaging.
"It was terrific," Doyle smiled. "Did I do all right? I mean, it was the first time I ever wanted to do that to...a man. Jesus, am I gay? Are we?"
Bodie's shoulders shrugged. "I dunno. I never fancied another man, well, not really. It's not like that, it's like.... Like I love you. I want to be with you, to look at you, listen to you; the sex is just the frosting on the cake. Lying here with you, tasting your mouth, being inside you, or having you inside of me--sex is just a little part of it. I'd love you if you had hit me, back there, and I'd never set a finger on you." He paused and added almost as an afterthought, "Forgive me?"
"Forgive you for what?" Doyle demanded. "For giving me the loving of my life? I thought I was going to have a heart attack! I haven't had a high like that with a girl for years." He chuckled shakily. "I guess, being a bloke, you know exactly where to touch me, and how.... Am I gay? I never looked at another man that way, before, Bodie, I swear it."
"And will you, in future?"
"Will you?" Doyle asked drily, then sighed. "I don't know. I think it has more to do with being in love than having sex." He made an exasperated face. "Damn it, Bodie, I'm trying to tell you I bloody well love you!" Bodie exhaled hard and squeezed his eyes shut, which made Doyle frown. "What's wrong now?"
"I'm going to pinch myself and make sure I'm awake. I'm trying to convince myself that this house isn't haunted by a Celtic warrior with the face of a seraph who just happens to look like my partner. If I wake up in the morning with a hangover and realise I've been laid within an inch of my life by a randy old ghost who comes out every Hallowe'en and seduces good-looking blokes--"
He broke off as Doyle punched his shoulder. "I'm not a ghost, you clown, and I'm not old either."
"But you are randy," Bodie grinned. "Which makes two of us. Christ, Ray, how did we work together for so long and never see each other?"
"Oh, we saw each other," Doyle mused, "it just took a long time for us to wake up to it. I've always liked touching you, I always enjoyed it when you'd put your arm 'round me. I used to like the judo, because it was so nice to wrestle with you.... Was it just me, or did you notice it too?"
Bodie sighed. "Don't you remember when we used to play two falls out of three in the gym? Like a slow dance, then roll on the mat.... We used to take forever to get up. Jesus, we're slow on the up-take!"
"Better late than never," Doyle smiled, and kissed him deeply, glad that they had both shaved in the evening before leaving for the party. "Do you want to join the merry throng again? They're having fireworks at midnight."
"Too cold out there, too warm in here," Bodie yawned. "Who wants to get smashed with a bunch of loonies dressed up as witches and zombies?"
"So why did you come?" Doyle demanded.
"To the party, or are we speaking biologically?" Bodie asked blandly. He relented as Doyle snatched up a heavy feather pillow and made to smother him with it. "All right, all right! I came to the party to be with you. No other reason. Good enough?"
"Not by half." Doyle straddled him, licking his neck and chest teasingly. "But you can show me the other half, if you want."
Bodie caught his breath as his hips and Doyle's began to grind together. "I want," he muttered, watching the firelight shimmer on his lover's hair, bringing out its red tones. "I want to make you scream my name, and purr like a cat, and tell me you can't live without me. What do you want?"
Doyle smiled gently. "To see you so zonked out of your mind you don't know what day it is, because you want me so much.... To spend years with you, lots of years, maybe the rest of my life. Good enough?"
"By half," Bodie whispered. "What about the other half?"
And then he gasped, catching his breath sharply as Doyle growled, deep in his chest, and began the ancient ritual again, pleasure and pain, selfless and selfish, a ritual as old as time, and as primitive. In Bodie's mind were the images of moonlight, and jade and water, but the reality of the slight, hard body pressed against his banished the fantasy, replacing it with something better...Ray. Not a figment of his frustrated subconscious, but Ray, alive and panting, fierce with wanting, sobbing half- formed endearments as they punished each other to make it last every second it would.
Neither of them noticed the chimes as the old clock in the hall struck midnight.
-- THE END --
NOTE: For those who are curious to know what the "pillow talk" Bodie and Doyle used and are not familiar with the language of Cricket here are some of the footnotes that accompanied this story.
"Bowled a maiden over": an over is a set of six balls sent down the wicket to the batsman to be played. The balls aren't "thrown" or "pitched," they're BOWLED, which is entirely different. An over in which no runs are scored by the batsman is called--a maiden over, and the bowler is said to have--bowled a maiden over! Maidens are the best kind to bowl, as the opposing team isn't scoring runs.
"Caught...": if the batsman plays the ball straight into the hands of one of the 11 opposing fieldsmen, he's out--caught out. (His job is to beat the field placings and make runs while they chase the ball, a feat accomplished by scampering 22 yards between the wickets while his partnering batsman changes ends with him. Takes two batsmen to play, of course.)
"In the gully": the gully is a fielding position.
"At deep fine leg": it's an adjunct to the gully, a fielding position where a batsman can be caught out.
"Knocked for six": if the batsman plays the ball hard enough, he can knock it right over the boundary line (usually a 3 1/2' fence) without it once touching the ground. This is called "hitting a six," and six runs are awarded to his team--a black, black mark against the bowler who sent him the ball that was so loose it could be played for six. The bowler is said to have been "knocked for six!" (in everyday English [British English] it is used to mean "knocked flat by surprise").
"Six sixes in one over": an over is a set of balls. There are six in an over; and if every one of them was bowled so loosely--or the batsman is so good he's literally unplayable by the bowler--there's a million-to-one chance that he could "knock up a six" off every ball. It's been done, but it happens very, very rarely. It'd be like knocking the bowler for thirty-six, so Bodie's closing quip is actually a great compliment!