Old Longings


Doyle was only gone for four hours, and the vicious irony of it was that nobody noticed that he was missing, not even Bodie, who was out arranging to have his beloved Lagonda treated for rust and resprayed. The event was over that fast, but the repercussions would ring like a bell for much longer. Bodie arrived back at Central at 4:30, annoyed by the battle with the early rush hour traffic, and he was looking for Doyle as he swung into the garage. Ray's gold Capri was not there, which meant that either he was late for work -- unusual in so punctual a soul as he -- or that he had already left. Bodie made a bet with himself that there was a job in the wind, something so important that his partner was unable to wait around for him. It was a bet he lost.

The office was a hum of activity: the bustle would go on supposing the sky came crashing down, but Bodie noticed that Cowley's private secretary was not smiling as she said, "Oh, there you are 3.7. The Major has been waiting for you."

"I'm not late," Bodie said defensively, checking his watch. "Something's come up, has it?"

The woman's mouth tightened and she cleared her throat uncomfortably. "Bodie.... We tried to reach you. We couldn't --"

"Reach me to tell me what?" Bodie demanded, his voice rising a tone.

"It's Ray," Betty said disjointedly, her cheeks flushing up. "He --"

But Bodie's raised voice had carried as far as George Cowley's office and the Scotsman's own voice was like a whipcrack over the secretary's head as he leaned out through the door: "Bodie, come in here."

Bodie was pleased to do as he was told; every nerve was on edge and the questions were piling up on his tongue, demanding to be answered. As the door closed behind him he said sharply, "If somebody doesn't tell me what's going on soon I'm going to blow my cork!"

"You'll blow it a damned sight harder when you've heard," Cowley said tensely. "Sit down, Bodie, and here--" handing him a glass, "drink this. You may need it."

The glass contained a generous double Scotch. Bodie gave it a sour look. "Betty said it's about Ray. He's dead, isn't he?" No fraction of emotion carried in his voice, he spoke in a monotone, the glass held before his eyes as if it were a crystal ball.

"He's not dead," Cowley said quietly, "but he's hurt."

The younger man's eyes closed for a moment. "How?"

"Uncertain, as yet," the Scot said carefully. "Some kind of vengeance, probably. In our business, you can make a lot of enemies."

"So, what happened?" Bodie's eyes were like live coals, burning into his superior with an intensity that was startling, even to Cowley, who had expected an emotional reaction. "Is he maimed, or crippled, or what? Shot? Run down--"

"Worked over, and not all that badly, at that," Cowley said carefully. "He's had a knock on the head, concussion, his right shoulder was out, he's chafed about the wrists, other ... minor injuries."

The frown on Bodie's face conveyed his confusion. "Jesus, I thought he'd been hit by a truck at least from the way everyone's been acting," he began, and then ran down into silence as he saw the look of distaste and anguish George Cowley allowed to show for a moment. It was a look he had seen only rarely before. "Sir? There's more?"

With a deep sigh, Cowley sat down on the edge of the desk, facing him. "Aye, lad. I wish to God there wasn't. He's been ... abused."

"Ab..." Bodie swallowed. "That's a euphemism, and guessing games were never my strong suit. You mean somebody's tortured him?"

"I mean somebody raped him," Cowley said, very quietly.

How Bodie did not drop the glass he would never know, because for a terrible second there was not a live nerve in his entire body. He blinked uncomprehendingly at the older man, then somehow transferred the glass to his lips and swallowed without tasting the burning alcohol. "Is he ... is he all right? I mean, he's not injured or anything? We're just talking about push and shove, not bottles or knives?"

"He's not badly hurt," Cowley told him. "Not physically, anyway. Push and shove, as you call it." He seemed to gag on the words. "Oh, I saw enough of it in the army, barrack games, cadet 'initiation', all the crude horseplay ... clumsy, sordid. It goes on in every army, it always has, it probably always will. But sex is sex and rape is rape." He passed a hand before his eyes. "Bodie, has Doyle ever shown any interest in other men, that you know of?"

Anger flared, reddening Bodie's cheeks. "That's a cruddy thing to say -- like saying a woman with a normal sex life can't get raped, because she's used to sex!"

Cowley shot a hard glance at him. "That isn't what I meant, you young hothead! Time to use your brains, laddie, he's going to need support, not hysterics, from either of us. What I asked -- politely -- is, is he gay? If he is, the psychological shock will still be enough to hurt him deeply; if he's not... Come on, Bodie, you don't need pictures drawn."

The younger man drew both hands over his face. "He's always been as straight as a die as long as I've known him," he said slowly. "Affectionate, you know -- with everyone he likes, including me.... Hugs, pet names, but I'd spot it from a mile away if he was really gay and trying not to show it. You know what mercs are like when they've been up to their eyeballs in mud for months, a thousand miles away from the nearest woman. All right, I'll confess to you, because you've been there before me, you know. I've transgressed myself on one or two occasions, when I got desperate enough and drunk enough and miserable enough to cuddle up to the pretty little sod with the big, soulful brown eyes. But Ray... Oh, God." He dragged in a breath. "His whole trouble is that he's too beautiful for his own good." Bodie did not notice the sharp look Cowley gave him. "I've watched the way people look at him, blokes as well as birds. He glides through life with his head in the clouds, painting, Mozart, kendo, esoterics, organic food... It's as if he's never looked in a mirror, never noticed the way the rest of the world's reacting to him. He's never short of women, but if he snapped his fingers I know half a dozen guys who'd be all over him like a rash." Bodie heaved himself to his feet. "How's he taking it -- and where the hell is he?"

"They took him to hospital," the Scot said quietly. "St. Andrew's. He's sedated, concussed, probably hurting." He forced himself to speak professionally, but it was not easy. Doyle could have been his son -- the age was right, the stature, the Celtic heritage. He shook himself hard. "Look, two jobs for you, Bodie. One: get him over this. He'll trust you, confide in you, as he'll not trust anyone else, me included. Two: go out and find the man who used him this way, and if you want to call it a personal vendetta, feel free to do so." There was a measure of solace in saying the words; it was as if the outrage had been foisted on a member of Cowley's family ... a close member, and much as he hated to admit it, the hunger for vengeance was there, a tight knot under his heart.

"Authorised revenge?" Bodie muttered.

Cowley's blue eyes were icy. "There's a time for vengeance; you know that as well as I do. You save vengeance up till there's nothing else you can do, then, when you cut loose you've got a bloody good excuse... On your way, Bodie. He's your partner, your friend, and he'll need you now as he's never needed you before."

It was an understatement and it ate at Bodie as he drove over to the hospital, pausing at the traffic lights to read and reread the scant report that had been filed. Betty had typed it, obviously, which is why she knew as well as Cowley what had happened, why she was angry, hurt and embarrassed. Doyle had gone off duty at 11:30, at the end of the morning shift, and the next anyone knew was the call from St. Andrew's, made to CI-5 direct when the doctors got the name of the victim. He had been dumped behind the bins at the back of an Italian restaurant, and found there by an employee who had gone out to dump the rubbish. He was naked, unconscious, and there was blood on his legs, but the injuries were surprisingly minor: concussion, dislocated shoulder, bruises and blood loss.

Those were the injuries you can see, Bodie thought darkly as he parked the silver Capri Ghia in the visitors' carpark and headed for the inquiries desk. They sent him up to the fourth floor and he strode toward a private room; at the door was a big, thick-set man in a blue jacket that hid a magnum .45. His name was Rollins, and he was as much a CI-5 'heavy' as Bodie was himself. He nodded a mute greeting to the man as he approached. "Why the guard duty, Alan?"

Rollins shrugged. "The Cow reckons they might finish the job... He can identify them, can't he?"

"I suppose he can at that," Bodie muttered, and pushed on through the half open door, shutting it behind him for the sake of privacy.

The room was cool and silent, and the still form in the bed breathed so shallowly that, if Ray had been dead he could have looked no less animate. He lay on his left side, facing the door, bandages immobilising the shoulder that had been out of joint, and he was so pale that his skin looked translucent. Bodie approached, light footed, frowning down at him with a growing sense of bitter anguish. He looked so young, unaccountably delicate, with those glorious curls and the long, dark eyelashes. No wonder they wanted you, Bodie thought feverishly, Christ, no wonder at all. But who, and why? Wanting to woo him, to coax the loving from him with soft words and subtle caresses, was one thing; wanting to hurt him was something else. What it was, was intolerable.

As he became aware of his partner's presence, Ray stirred, the lashes fluttering on his pale cheeks, and he looked up, focusing with an effort. As he made out Bodie's face, Bodie watched his green eyes fill with tears, and his heart rose up to choke him. He scraped a chair up to the bedside, reaching for Doyle's hand and squeezing it. "Hey, chin up, sunshine. You've had worse damage after a spell in the gym. Bump on your head, stiff shoulder, couple of bruises where you sit -- you'll be fighting fit in no time." That was it, make nothing of it.

The curls rustled on the pillow as Ray nodded, mutely agreeing, but the tears spilled, soaking the white linen under his cheek. "You want to talk about it?" Bodie prompted softly. "It helps if you talk it out. I know. So do you. You were a copper, you've seen enough of these cases -- girl, boy, what's the difference? Willing or not, that's what matters. Ray? Talk to me?"

Heaving in a breath, Doyle spoke quietly. "And say what? You want all the sordid details? I never figured you for a pervo."

"I'm only trying to help," Bodie said levelly, tightening his grip on Ray's hand. "I know the sordid details, sunshine, from years ago... Don't talk, if you don't want to."

But Ray barely heard. "They grabbed me off the street, I didn't have a chance. Three of them, and I took a belt across the back of the skull before I knew they were there. I woke later. They were ... taking the clothes off me." His face twisted and he closed his eyes. "They bent me over a table, and he took me." Bodie felt a shudder course through him, felt him fight to face it.

"Who? Come on, Ray, who was it?"

The green eyes opened, misted and blind. "Lupino. I put him away nine years ago -- no, ten. Charge of rape. What else?" His voice broke on the key word. "He stood in the cells under the Old Bailey and swore he'd 'get even' with me, swore he'd catch up with me, no matter how long it took. Christ, why should I be surprised when he was as good as his word?" He shivered, clutching convulsively at Bodie's hand. "It hurt, Bodie. He went into me like a hammer, till I couldn't breathe, and then I...." He gasped as the memory rolled into him.

"And then?" Bodie prompted very gently, though he already knew what Ray was going to say. The body was a mechanical device, after all. Give it the right kind of stimuli, and --

"I came," Doyle said almost inaudibly. "I turned on and I came. Jesus God, that was worse than the getting banged. My body enjoyed it, wanted it."

"Don't be tough on yourself," Bodie said quietly. "You know what that amount of friction on your prostate's going to do. It's involuntary. It's got nothing to do with what you want, or like, or need. It's just mechanical. Ray?" The green eyes met his and he saw the pain there.

"Find him," Doyle murmured. "Find Lupino, and fix him. For me?"

"You want to get him put away again?"

Doyle fought to sit up, wincing as he did so. It was not really comfortable to sit yet, and he propped himself on his left hip and the pillows. "Go into court? Have it get out that a big, tough, arrogant bastard CI-5 man was grabbed and raped till he was senseless? Have Lupino tell the judge how the CI-5 man turned on? How he came like a cheap tart--"

"Oh, Ray, don't," Bodie breathed; he could hear the bitter self-hatred in his friend's voice. "All right, I'll get Lupino. It doesn't go into court, but I'll find him, and when I do, he'll be singing in the descant next Christmas. Good enough?"

The green eyes cleared a little, as if the promise of justice took away a little of the hurt, the humiliation of being betrayed by his own body. He plucked at the sheet. "Get me out of here."

"But you're concussed--"

"I can be just as concussed at home in private," Doyle muttered. "Every ten minutes the bloody nurses come in and stand squinting at me. I can't stand them knowing what happened...." He gave Bodie a look that squeezed Bodie's heart. "How come I don't mind telling it all to you so much?"

Bodie forced a smile. "What's your best mate for? And I've heard it all, seen it all, done it all, sunshine. You can't shock me, you can't even surprise me. What about your clothes?"

Colour flushed up in Ray's cheeks. "I haven't got any."

"Then I'll get you a robe," Bodie said smoothly, "and a wheelchair, and take you down in the lift, the car's about ten yards away. On the way home we'll pick up something good to eat, beer, bubbly, and a couple of pictures for that video of yours. All right?"

Nodding mutely, Doyle watched him leave the room; when he was gone he heaved a heavy sigh, rubbing the back of his good hand across his eyes, the better to see. Bodie was right; it did feel better to share it, to talk it out. He had said a mere fraction of what he felt, but it was better. He felt used, filthy, as if he was an old toy, a football, something to be kicked about in the street and then discarded when it was soiled and broken. The way Bodie looked at him, it was as if he knew, and that was odd; he would never have taken Bodie for a --

A gay? The idea was ludicrous, laughable, and it was with an effort that he remembered the tales of his friend's past career. Mercenaries, mud, humidity, jungle, perversion.... How much did Bodie know? How much had Bodie done? Girl, boy, it doesn't make any difference, he had said, and Doyle wondered about it seriously as he swung his legs off the too-tall hospital bed and took his weight on his bare feet. Would it have been any better, any less painful or 'normal' to be used by a woman? He shivered, feeling his emotions locking up like clockwork left too long without gear oil. He let it happen, fostered it: if he felt nothing, it would not hurt any more than it had to, and all he had to contend with was a bunch of physical nuisances that would heal up, given a little time.

The wheelchair and robe arrived; Bodie helped him put the garment on and wheeled him out of the building, and half an hour later he was sitting in an armchair, picking at a takeaway lemon chicken he did not really want to please Bodie, and drinking too much wine while John Wayne and Dean Martin played out a celluloid cowboy fantasy on the TV. Take your mind off it, Bodie had said... Wise, was Bodie. Abruptly, frighteningly wise -- he had all the answers, prepackaged and ready to be rendered like Christmas gifts to a kid who's been waiting and waiting all year. Doyle gave his partner a curious glance: Bodie wasn't watching the TV, he was sitting watching him, with a worried, fond, anguished expression.

"Okay, Ray?" he asked quietly under the gunfire on the TV.

"Okay, Bodie," Ray murmured, holding his glass out to be refilled; he noticed that Bodie had eaten no more than he had.

He had drunk half the bottle already but Bodie was unconcerned; if he drank the other half he would sleep, possibly through till morning, and everything would look different on a new day. He filled the glass, filled it again when it was empty, and half carried his partner to bed. Ray fell into a deep, drugged sleep as the day grew dim with evening, and though he smelt of wine and wore a blue six o'clock shadow about his jaw, Bodie stood over him, transfixed now as always by the person he saw. It was all too easy to imagine how someone would want to possess him; it was more difficult to imagine how someone could be unmoved by his looks, and as Bodie stood watch over him the lust for vengeance began to make him ache. He had promised that he would find Lupino, and he would be as good as his word.

Dawn was flushing rosily across the sky when Ray woke with a sob; it sounded so young, so helpless and hurt that it frightened Bodie to hear it. He had slept in one chair with his feet on another and a stack of blankets on top of him, but before Doyle was fully awake he had him in a tight embrace, shutting out the pain and fear, and Ray clung blindly to him, fingers digging into his back for a time before he relaxed, little by little, reorienting and then pulling away.

"Dream," he muttered, the cold sweat pouring out of him, and Bodie was sure he passed out rather than falling asleep, the fingers of his left hand still clutching Bodie's right. Bodie sat on the side of the bed, watching him sleep, for a long time, wanting to find some way to undo it all or, if that was impossible, to put it all into the past tense where it would never trouble him again.

At six he crept away to shower, pull a razor across his face and change his shirt for one of Ray's; the other man's clothes were two sizes too small and he chose a yellow tee-shirt that would stretch to fit. He made coffee and toast, and loaded a tray with the breakfast and Ray's electric razor. As he put the tray down on the chest of drawers beside the bed Doyle woke. He gave Bodie a faint smile but said nothing as he sat up and was propped up with extra pillows. Drowsy and warm, he let Bodie play the Ronson electric over his jaw, then took the cup of coffee from him.

"Nice day out there," Bodie said abstractly. "Better?"

"Better," Ray nodded. "Shoulder's much better, and I don't ache so much between the legs." He coloured and looked away.

"Don't punish yourself," Bodie said softly, "it wasn't your fault you were raped."

"I was sodomised," Doyle said bitterly. "Let's get the term right."

Bodie frowned. "Does it matter? You didn't want it to happen, that makes it rape. Love and sex and rape are three different things. Give yourself a chance, sunshine."

"I'm not...." Doyle closed his eyes. "I'm not a faggot, am I? I mean, I came, I turned on. What does that make me?"

"Human, and a man," Bodie said forcefully. "Your machinery works the way it's supposed to --"

"Supposed to?" Doyle's eyes snapped open. "You mean nature intended me to turn on when I get a good, hard shove up the backside?" He sighed. "If it happened, it's natural, or it wouldn't have happened," he said, and Bodie watched him shudder. "I never touched a man that way before, no one ever touched me like that, Bodie. Why did it hurt?"

"Because you were scared and tense, and he was too rough with you. If it's any consolation, he probably hurt himself at the same time."

"He didn't seem to notice."

"At the time, he wouldn't, would he," Bodie shrugged. "He'd be too carried away. You're a big lad, and a bonny one, Raymond. It's not your fault you're so ... attractive."

"Attractive?" Ray frowned, drowsy, tousled and confused as he looked at Bodie, aware that he was looking at his friend for all the answers and praying that he had them to give. "To you? I mean, the way you said that --"

Bodie laughed nervously. "Of course I find you attractive! Why do you think I keep telling you have a face like the back of a bus? Look, what's bothering you? The fact you were raped, or the fact you were raped by a man? Jesus, Ray, rape is rape and sex is sex, and the gender doesn't matter that much. And love is love," he added pointedly. "Follow me?"

But the frown that tugged Doyle's brows together said he didn't. "When I was a kid, the parish priest, old Father Duffy, used to give it to us straight from the shoulder. Sex outside wedlock is a sin, sex in marriage without the yearning for a bloody baby is a sin, sex with your own sex is a sin, and so's playing with yourself, and reading erotic magazines, and gambling, and fighting, and drinking, and swearing, and forgetting to pray --"

"Five times a day, facing Rome?" Bodie quipped gently. "That's your parents' religion, Ray; you broke with the Papal edict when you were fourteen years old, when it dawned on you that it's just arbitrary human rules and regulations on a piece of paper -- the rule book that was written to organize human society two thousand years ago still being used to make prisoners out of people today. Don't tell me you attach any importance to the hellfire and brimstone jargon because you were raped?"

"By a man," Doyle sighed. "A man who turned me on and kept me going till I came like the Intercity express, and I can't forget it, and it's making me wonder if I'm as bloody gay as Lupino." He looked up, meeting Bodie's dark eyes with an anguished frown. "Do you think that's true?"

Bodie chose his words with care. "What does it matter, if you are? Lots of people are, nice people. It's not a sin to love someone. Even another man."

The last was said only painfully, and Doyle's frown deepened. "That sounded like the voice of experience. Are we talking about a tragic love affair in your past? A woman? God, a boy? I'd never have thought you were, well, you know." He watched Bodie's slight, sad smile. "Who was it? Anyone I know? Someone who left you?"

"No, just an old unrequited love I buried years ago," Bodie said slowly and quietly.

"And she left you, did she?"

Bodie stood up, hugging his arms about his chest. "It wasn't a she -- you're quite right. And he didn't leave.... He's still here, looking nice and smooth after his shave and letting his coffee go cold." Doyle choked on a mouthful of the bitter liquid and Bodie shrugged helplessly. "You know what's really bugging me? I could have loved you, so gentle, so fine, so smooth, but I swallowed it, made myself forget, because you were never like that; and now this animal jumps you, makes a mockery out of it, makes you hurt and hate yourself --Christ, I could kill him!" He seemed to snap back to the present with a jerk and met Ray's eyes with discomfort. "I shouldn't have said any of that, I suppose, but.... Look, don't let the turkeys get you down. Or the Father Duffys of this world. Love is love, and the day we start seeing sin in love is the day we ought to blow this bloody planet up and start again!" He paused and sighed. "Now, I expect you'll be leery of me and tell me to get lost, tell Cowley you want another partner from --"

"Bodie!" Ray said loudly. "Jesus, when you set off to talk you never know when to bloody well shut up, do you!" For the first time he smiled, lopsided and embarrassed. "Will you do something for me? Please?"

"Name it," Bodie said, wondering if he was going to be shown the door.

"Come here, and sit down," Doyle said softly, and when the bedsprings had squeaked into silence he cleared his throat, moistened his lips with the tip of his tongue and said, "kiss me."


"I said, kiss me. Damn you, you're the man I call my best friend, the bloke I stick my neck on the block for every day. If I'm prepared to go out and die for you, I must feel something special for you! If I'm as gay as my body seems to think it is, I'll light up like a Christmas tree if you kiss me." His voice was thick, his eyes half closed and his breathing short. "You terrify me, Bode. I keep looking at your crotch and seeing the size of you and wondering what it'd be like if you were inside me. I'm in a cold sweat -- I'm scared silly, if you haven't noticed."

I've noticed, Bodie thought, but, if anything, he was even more frightened than Ray. Petrified was a better word. He was so sure he had buried his feelings so deeply that they would never ever surface again -- he had not even dreamed about Ray in a year. Kiss him? Kiss him, and stir it all up again, then have Doyle decide there was nothing in it, shrug it off and go back to his adoring birds?

He shook his head sadly. "Don't hurt me, Ray. You're just wanting to experiment on someone -- anyone will do. I know a couple of nice boys who are interested that way, I'll ask one of them to --"

"Oh, Bodie, don't be an idiot," Doyle sobbed. "Experiment? What with? With sex? The only thing I know is, it hurts to be banged up the rear, it hurts like hell and makes you bleed, makes you want to shoot yourself in the head.... Or find out if your body knows best. I was raped -- by a man. You say it makes no difference that it was a bloke, right? I want to believe you, but I don't know. I'm so confused I can't seem to think properly! You want me to go and ask a stranger to kiss me? And if I decide I don't like it, how do I get him to stop? Or do I get myself banged again, because I 'asked' for it, 'led him on' like a schoolgirl?" He paused, fighting for breath. "I'm not asking you to make love to me, just kiss me." He paused, trembling, "Please?".

The anguish in his voice, the confusion in his words, caught at Bodie's heart and there was no way he could deny him. He sighed heavily, studying his knees for a moment, feeling arousal begin to harden him. Then he looked into Ray's remarkable eyes and leaned forward. Doyle's lips remained sealed as he brushed them with a light kiss, but his eyes closed and stayed closed as Bodie drew back. "No good, eh?" he asked sadly, feeling the kick of the lightly brushing lips deep down under his heart.

But Ray swallowed and husked, "Do it again, Bodie". And this time as Bodie touched his mouth with a kiss the soft lips parted and the kiss clung, deepening so quickly it was frightening. Bodie's breath caught in his chest, it was pure torture, pure joy, and in the same moment he loved and hated Ray for making him do it. The fear that it was all for nothing tightened his throat, choking off a groan. And then he felt Ray's arms go around him, felt his own arms pull him into an embrace, and tried to remember that he was hurt and shocky. Be gentle, you idiot, he told himself, if you frighten him now it's all over!

They twisted on the messy bed, falling sideways, and when the kiss broke they were lying nose to nose on the rumpled sheets, clinging tightly together. Ray cleared his throat and somehow found his voice. "Well, I'll be damned."

"I lit you up?" Bodie asked hesitantly, hopefully.

"You lit up half of Chelsea, you ought to go on the National Grid," Doyle panted. "Jesus God, Lupino had me pegged from the word 'go'. He took one look at me and knew what I was even when I didn't know myself."

"Which gave him the right to make a pass at you and get his teeth knocked out," Bodie said, "not to force you. You didn't fancy him.... You fancy me instead, don't you?" And when Ray blushed darkly and averted his eyes Bodie heaved a sigh of relief. "I wish you hadn't had to get hurt to find out. I wish you weren't so sore and bruised now; I'd show you what loving's all about."

"So show me anyway," Doyle whispered.

But Bodie shook his head. "It'd hurt worse than you think, you'd only bleed again, it's too soon. You have to heal up, first.... Unless you want to take me, instead."

"Like--" Ray's eyes snapped up to meet Bodie's. "Like Lupino took me?"

"Well, not over a table," Bodie smiled, "but the principle's the same. You've read enough of the 'wrong' kid of literature in your time, Raymond, you must know half the tricks in the book. You can make the other half up."

Ray swallowed convulsively. "I couldn't do that to you. Why would I want to hurt you?"

"It wouldn't hurt. The difference is, I... I want you." Oh, God, how I want you, Bodie thought. The ache that had begun in his abdomen had spread right down to his toes and it was an effort to keep his voice level. "You just use a bit of oil or jelly -- the stuff the hospital gave you to put on your sore spots will do, or the apricot oil in the bathroom cabinet." He grave Ray a troubled frown. "Only if you want to. It'll keep, you don't have to do anything like that until you want to."

"More ways than one to skin your lover?" Doyle sighed. "Later, Bodie, when yesterday's half forgotten, and my rear portion and I are on speaking terms again. But I do want you. Your hands on me, and...." He coloured and looked away, unable to ask what he wanted.

Love, to bury the hurt and the lust, Bodie knew. Gentleness to put the pain into the past, tenderness to make him feel good about himself and what he wanted. Very slowly, Bodie levered himself to his feet and took off his clothes, aware of Ray's eyes following his every movement; then he began to touch and kiss, the delicate caresses of fingers and lips working lower on Ray's slight, tense body until he had slipped off the pyjama bottoms without Doyle noticing that they had gone. He took the swollen shaft in his hand, tickling, gently pulling, working carefully about his partner's bruised groin so as not to hurt him at all. Holding him in a firm embrace, skin to skin the whole length of them, he kissed his closed eyelids, his nose, his lips, until Ray moaned aloud and began to buck his hips, thrusting into Bodie's hand, so mentally relaxed, so physically excited, that the past did not exist and all he was aware of was the present and the indescribable pleasure.

He came, shuddering against Bodie, and a moment later Bodie let himself come also, rubbing himself discreetly against Ray's thigh so as not to alarm him, not to make demands of him before he was ready. Doyle cried out incoherently, collapsing against Bodie, his skin hot and damp with sweat, and Bodie pressed kisses to his lips until he lay quietly on his back, accepting the other's weight on him with delight.

Then Bodie propped himself up on both elbows, looking down at him. "That was nicer, wasn't it?"

"Nice," Doyle smiled drowsily, "is an understatement." Then he chuckled. "Father Duffy must be spinning in his grave! Kiss me, Bodie?"

"With the greatest of pleasure," Bodie murmured, bending to the task and covering Ray's mouth with a gentle, intimate expression of his feelings. Then he got to his feet again. "Will you be okay on your own today?"

"Why?" Ray yawned. "Where y'going?"

Bodie was retrieving his clothes. "Vengeance is mine, for both of us, sayeth the Cow. I'm going to find Lupino for you, and nail him to the floor. Today, if I can manage it, or tomorrow, I'll bring dinner in with me, and a film for the video; and then you and I will stand under the shower together, and I'll blow those lovely curls dry with the head toaster... And if you dream bad dreams tonight, you just hold on tight to me till the bogies go away." He watched Ray shiver visibly in anticipation, and smiled. "You've got a bad case of it, mate."

"A bad case of...?"

"It's called love," Bodie said softly. "And I've had a shocking case of it for years. Look, I have to go to work. Lupino's out there somewhere, let me find him and finish it. Alan Rollins will be parked right outside, you're as safe as a row of houses here. Rest yourself. Eat, sleep, forget all about what happened yesterday. Think about what happened here this morning instead, and think up something nice you'd like to happen tonight."

"Anything?" Doyle murmured breathlessly.

"Your wish," Bodie said, stooping to kiss him again, "is my command."

He was on his way out, car keys in one hand, comb running through his short cropped hair, when Ray came padding out of the bedroom, his red robe loose about his spare frame. "Bodie ... did you do that because you wanted to, or because you know I wanted it?"

The question caught Bodie squarely between the ribs. He gave Ray a probing look. "We did it because we wanted to," he said quietly. "Takes two to make love; you do it on your own, it's called masturbation. You still concussed or something, Ray? You can't tell when you're wanted?"

"Desired?" Doyle heaved in a breath. "It's all so new." He forced a smile. "Let me think about it while you get the bastard who hurt me."

Bodie swallowed. "Christ, don't change your mind now, not now after you've let me lie down with you once. That'd be sadistic."

But Doyle gave him a fond, exasperated look. "You are a silly bugger, aren't you, Bodie?" he said gently. "That's not what I meant. I have to get it all clear in my head. What I want, who I am, what it means to me, what I feel. It's going to change things, for both of us. Cowley is going to go straight through the roof."

"Cowley sort of knows," Bodie said uncomfortably. "'Go to him, get him over it,' he told me. If by that he meant paint enough love over the hurt to take it away, then he as good as gave us his blessings." He paused. "I like to think he did. It's not every day this happens, is it? It's on the cards for anyone, any time, but thank God it doesn't happen too often!" He cupped Doyle's smooth face in his hands. "Go back to bed, sunshine, and take it easy. I'll give you a ring when I can." In answer, to Bodie's intense gratification, Doyle lifted his lips to the taller man's mouth and kissed him. It was an awkward, hesitant gesture, a little immature and embarrassed, and Bodie helped him, moulding the kiss for him and inviting his tongue into his mouth for a moment. He was a little breathless when it broke, and shook his head ruefully. "I'd better get out of here before I go right back to bed with you and cuddle you like a big teddy bear till lunch time!"

With that, Bodie fled and Doyle stood looking at the closed door. He still hurt a lot more than he would have let on to Bodie; his head was buzzing and his buttocks felt as though he'd been through a wringer. But the confusion was worse, and he was aching from the waves of pleasure and guilt that fought for dominance in him as be remembered... Bodie, tenderness -- Lupino, bleeding -- coming in Bodie's strong, warm hand -- coming with his wrists wired together and his face pushed into the table while his body was being flayed alive... Lying with Bodie in the drowsy pleasure of afterglow and seeing the love written all over his friend's finely chiseled features. Bodie was probably the most handsome man he knew, he admitted -- it was an easy admission, one he had made unconsciously, years before.

Neither of them had come through life unscathed; Bodie had had his nose broken -- it showed in his profile, making it what it was, and Ray himself had come off worst in one fist fight too many, and sported a right cheekbone that was made of plastic. Battle scars, he thought, padding back to bed and stretching out carefully. He was still sore, and the bruises on the inside were winging sharply, reminding him constantly of the pain of the forced coupling and making him wonder, fretfully, what it would be like to spread his legs for Bodie... Bodie understood, for some odd reason -- Angola, the Congo. Of course. In a bush prison, you'd see everything there was to be seen. And more besides.

Tired, Doyle closed his eyes, trying to imagine what the old folk would say, and Father Duffy's face and voice returned to haunt him... Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women; and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death... What would old Paddy Duffy make of Mary Doyle's youngest son? And -- did he actually care what the creed-bound, celibate old priest would think? It was Bodie's words that made more sense by far: the day we start to see sin in love is the day we ought to blow this bloody planet up and start again!

Sometime before noon, he drifted back into sleep.

Alfred Lupino died late that afternoon, and technically, he killed himself. Bodie had not intended his death but neither did he mourn when the man he was chasing took a short cut across the lines at Clapham Junction and got in front of a goods train. Bodie would have hammered his front teeth out, one by one, redesigned one of his kneecaps so as to accommodate him with a life-long limp, and placed a kick where the pain Lupino would feel might approximate the pain he had put Ray through. He wanted to see the man's face, wanted to see the eyes of a person who would, or even could take beauty and violate it for the sake of revenge.

The man's face was Mediterranean, swarthy, fleshily good looking, lined about the eyes, and the black hair was just beginning to recede from his forehead. He thought he looked like a film star: gold chains about his neck caught the sun where they lay atop the mat of black hair that showed where his shirt was open. Bodie caught up with him on the strip of common land by the rails, steered to him by one of Doyle's old informants, and when he saw the .45 automatic in the big CI-5 man's fist, Lupino ran.

The foot chase took them two hundred yards from human habitation, and Bodie was within an inch of grabbing him by the collar when the goods train came thundering down on them and Lupino just didn't make it out of the way. The big diesel loco plucked him up like a rag doll and carried him away, and Bodie shoved the gun back into its holster without ever having used it.

Back at the car, he called Central, and Cowley himself answered. "The man who did Ray up was Alfred Lupino," he began.

"The Chelsea rapist," Cowley said sharply. "Damn! He got out three days ago -- I'm getting slow, I should have guessed. Pick him up, Bodie --"

"I just tried to, sir," Bodie said quickly. "He took to his heels when he saw me and tried to duck across the railway... He didn't make it, sir."

The line was silent for a moment, then Cowley's voice was back. "What a shame," he said caustically. "Ah, well, if people will insist on using the railway as a footpath they can hardly complain of the consequences, can they? Leave it to me, 3.7. We wanted to question him in connection with the bashing of one of our agents, he took flight for some odd, unaccountable reason, and came to grief on the railway. It's all true enough."

"It's true," Bodie agreed. "All you had to do was change the one little word. 'Bashing' is a nicer word, anyway."

"I think so," Cowley said, and Bodie could hear the satisfaction in his tone. "Is Doyle all right, Bodie? Physically, mentally?"

"He will be, sir," Bodie said, smiling at the radio. "It'll do him the world of good to hear how Lupino ended his day."

An hour later Bodie was telling the story and watching Doyle's grim smile, not a particularly pleasant expression, but a satisfied one. He wore his baggy white slacks and a loose smock shirt over them. He was barefoot, and he was hungry. Bodie had brought in Dover sole, chips, Guinness, cheesecake, apple Danish and Raise The Titanic!, and they watched the film as they ate, sitting at the table with a comfortable clutter of chip papers and beer bottles. Then they transferred to the couch and Bodie felt Ray tense up as he offered him the comfort of his arms.

"Ray? What's the matter?"

Doyle shrugged. "I don't trust myself. If you touch me I'll want you to keep on touching me."

"So, what's wrong with that? I've been thinking about you all day. I had one eye peeled for Lupino and the other on my watch, wanting to come home!"

Dirk Pitt was putting a crowbar to the crates after the Titanic tied up at the dock in New York, but Doyle was no longer looking at the screen. He had seen the film at the cinema, two years before, and knew how it ended. He sighed, dragging a hand across his face and sagging against Bodie. "I've thought so much about it today, my brain feels like spaghetti."

"Give me the short version," Bodie said against his hair, and held his breath.

"The bottom line?" Doyle turned his face to Bodie's neck. "You said it yourself. I've got a pretty bad case of it... You're going to make me love you, you realise that," he warned.

Bodie groaned his relief. "Realise it? I'm counting on it!"

They left the papers and bottles on the table as the film ended, and Doyle held Bodie to his promise. It was wonderful to stand under the hot water with the steel-strong arms about him, and Bodie pampered him shamelessly, shaving him, washing his hair for him, getting the shower stall into a mountain of suds until they were playing like a couple of kids.

Or like young lovers. The hot water made both of them pink, and they scrubbed at one another with Ray's blue and green, yacht-pattern towels. Bodie's cropped hair dried as he shaved, but Doyle's wayward curls were still limp and damp, and he sat indulgently, swathed in the last of the towels, while Bodie blew hot air at him from the Gilette dryer. The curls became fluffy, smelling sweetly of the herbal shampoo, and as he turned off the dryer Bodie buried his face in them, inhaling deeply.

They tumbled onto the bed, warm, dry and laughing, but Bodie sobered first. "How do you feel, mate? The shoulder looks okay."

"It's just a bit stiff," Doyle said, shrugging it carefully in demonstration.

"And your other end?"

"It's okay."

"So turn over and let me see." Doyle shot a startled glance at him but silently did as he was asked, holding his breath as the gentle fingers parted his buttocks and examined him. "Oh, you'll live." Bodie's voice was husky as he watched Doyle roll over again. "Just let yourself heal up." He bent to kiss him, felt Ray's long legs wrap about him and choked back an involuntary moan.

"And then you'll take me, I suppose," Ray murmured.

"Only if you want to organise it that way," Bodie shrugged, trying to make it sound as if it was of no consequence. "Take me instead, or do it another way."

"Like what?" Doyle watched Bodie's colour deepen. "Show me."

Bodie hid a grin, pulling him over onto his side and locking his legs tightly about him so that their groins ground agonisingly together each time they moved. "This'll do for as long as it takes; the last thing I want to do is hurt you. Take it slow, take it easy, there's no hurry. No hurt, no hurry, no worry."

Ray closed his eyes. "Damn you, Bodie, if I fall in love with you it's your own bloody fault!" He had opened his mouth to speak again when Bodie claimed his lips with a triumphant kiss and began to move his hips in a slow, driving rhythm that was irresistible.

Somewhere amid the strange new kind of loving, the outrage of being forced faded away with the knowledge that Lupino had paid the ultimate price for his cruelty -- his life -- and that Bodie was gasping with the tormented effort of holding back long enough to make Ray come first -- an act of love that was entirely selfless. Somewhere amid the tangle of confused, overwhelming sensations, Ray fell hopelessly in love, and when he said as much, muffled against Bodie's chest as they drifted back to reality, Bodie whooped like a renegade Apache, clutching him in a punishing embrace.

"Old longings' nomadic leap," he breathed into Ray's sweet-smelling hair," chafing at custom's chain... Jesus Christ, he loves me, I thought I'd be a hundred and sixty before I heard him say it, if he ever said it at all!" He sobered. "God, what a shame you had to get hurt to realise it," he added, and grinned wickedly. "You want your Uncle Bodie to kiss it all better?"

Doyle lifted his head, about to protest, then surrendered. "Kiss whatever you like, it's all me. If you're going to love me, you might as well love the lot." He curled his tongue about Bodie's right nipple, felt it harden in his mouth. "Do whatever you want with me, anything, everything; and then I'll do it all to you." He looked down into Bodie's crackling blue eyes. "How's that for a proposition?"

"Could take a lifetime to get through everything," Bodie warned happily.

And Doyle cuddled closer. "Yeah. I hope it does."

It was a week later when the CI-5 medical officer, Peter Cooper, looked at Ray's shoulder and certified it fully recovered, returning him to work. They buried Lupino the same day and his family mourned at the grave side. Cowley stood in the squad room with his hands about a cup of tea, watching the live-eyenews bulletin at 10:45, and listening to the plummy BBC voice reading over what scant details had been made available to the media... The name of CI-5 was mentioned, twice, but Bodie's name had been withheld. Cowley was pleased that 4.5 had just left the room in search of Bodie, to tell him that he was indeed back on the job. It would have been vicious for Ray to have to watch the news broadcast.

A muttered oath from behind him announced Bodie's presence and he turned to see the agent's sour expression. "Look at that. Jesus, what I think of what that bastard did to Ray, I could kill him if he wasn't already dead!"

He lived up to his name with that 'Irish' remark and, despite himself, Cowley hid a faint smile. "Speaking of Doyle," he said quietly, "how is he?"

"Physically?" Bodie shrugged. "He's okay. Bruising's gone down, shoulder's fine."

"Mentally, emotionally?" Cowley added. "He seems happy. In fact, he seems rather too happy, when one considers what happened to him. And he talks about you all the time, Bodie... And when he does, his eyes shine. You'd better tell him. Warn him. To cover it up, draw a blind over it, or other people will begin to notice it."

"It?" Bodie growled. "Don't hint, sir, come out and say what you mean."

Cowley gave him a stern glance. "Don't play word games with an older warhorse than yourself. I was in the army a devil of a lot longer than you were, in three wars and eight countries. I've seen it all, from the rough, brutal stuff, to the kind of tenderness that'd break your heart."

"Sir." Bodie swallowed, colouring and averting his eyes. "He needed it. He needed me."

"Aye, so he did," George sighed. "Look, it's against every rule in the book, but the book doesn't have a chapter that deals with this sort of trauma, and God forbid that we should ever have to write one in! Keep it discreet Bodie, and it's your business. Happy agents, like happy little Christmas elves, do nice work."

The relief washed down through every nerve and Bodie looked the boss in the eye. "Thanks, sir... But if you ever say a word, just one, to Ray about it, I'll resign faster than you can quote my contract at me. He's not up to it yet. It's that bloody Irish Catholic morality out of his childhood. He doesn't even believe in the orthodox view of God anymore -- in this job, who could? -- but it's there in his subconscious and it haunts him. Between the two of us, it doesn't matter a damn, but he's not up to anybody else knowing."

The Scotsman nodded in agreement. "Wise, Bodie. So you're a backyard psychologist too, are you?"

"Just Ray's lover," Bodie corrected quietly, "for as long as he wants it to go on." He smiled. "It's going to be interesting working with him."

"You want a new partner? Murphy, Johnson, Brock, Alex --"

"Not on your life," Bodie said, the smile widening. "Take the sunshine out of my day, no thanks."

"Well, keep your hands off him while you're at work," Cowley said, shrugging, "and after that your time's your own. It's got nothing to do with me... But stick to him like glue for a while, Bodie. I've got a feeling, a bad feeling... The Lupinos are a big, violent, angry family, and they know we're involved. The BBC just told them how Alfredo died -- and that ties his death right back to Doyle."

"Reprisals?" Bodie frowned.

Cowley shrugged expansively. "It wouldn't be the first time... I don't know, Bodie, but you can't be too careful when you've enemies under every flat rock." Footsteps clattered in the hall outside and they turned to see Doyle's curly haired head appear through the door. At once Cowley was all business. "Ah, there you are, Doyle. You two have drawn bodyguard duty. Sheik Abdul Kabir of Ohman is here -- the Opec talks. He has his own guards with him, but there have been threats on his life and we'll take no chances. To have Kabir killed on British soil would be embarrassing. The Armoury have Ingrams for you, and you're to meet his aircraft at Heathrow at 3:00. He's coming in on the Concord from Bahrain."

"Pick him up and take him where?" Doyle asked, already on his way back out of the room.

"The Regency Hotel; then, tomorrow, he'll be at the Wembley Convention Centre from ten till four. A show in the evening, British hospitality and so forth, then back to his hotel for paperwork and long distance phone calls back to the Persian Gulf. Repeat daily for three days, and then wave him goodbye on the 10:45 Concord to Bahrain, on Thursday morning. It's a simple itinerary."

Too simple, Bodie thought, wondering what could go wrong this time. They drew the Ingram machine pistols and went home to change into clothes more fitting for the job. Doyle dressed in tight new pale blue denims, a loose cream shirt and a tan sports jacket; the gold of the chain about his neck nestled among the soft hair on his chest, and he was wearing the gold bracelet Bodie had given him only two days before, an identity plate which was engraved on one side only with his first name and on the other with the innocent catch phrase, 'bring me sunshine'. He remembered the look in Ray's green eyes as he took it out of the box; he had covered his emotion by doing several bars of the song, which had been the theme number of the old Morcambe and Wise Show for years, and then gave up the attempt at levity and buried his face in Bodie's warm shoulder, wanting to be held and kissed, and Bodie also remembered the old song. Eric and Ernie had made a hilarious routine of it but, divorced from their antics, the words were actually painfully poignant... bring me sunshine through the years, never bring me any tears, let your arms be as warm as the sun from up above, bring me fun, bring me sunshine, bring me love. Obviously, Ray had watched the two TV comics, in their top-hat-and-tails costume, dancing their way across the end title with the song often enough to know the lyrics as well as Bodie knew it himself, and the words choked him up. Refreshingly wanton as his inhibitions began to ease away, he had actually asked to be loved right there on the couch, and Bodie had complied with an absurd sense of joy, kissing every inch of him and reveling in the smell and taste and heat of him, so alive, so vital.

As he finished dressing for the bodyguard job he looked stunning; Bodie felt a pang of jealousy as it occurred to him that Ray was going to go out and strut his stuff for one and all to see, and his expression clouded. Ray looked up, saw the frown and mirrored it. "What's wrong?" He looked down at himself, wondering if he looked odd. "Bodie?"

In answer, Bodie smiled ruefully. "If anyone else -- bloke or bird -- so much as winks at you, I'll break teeth," he growled. "Jesus, if you wore a bag on your head the rest of you would draw a crowd!"

"Well, what about you?" Doyle demanded with a delighted grin. "Ever caught the sight of yourself in a shop window, sauntering down the street like the king of the barnyard? Come on, Bodie, let's get going before we're late... And I need a haircut. Damn!"

"Don't you dare," Bodie said fiercely. "It isn't long enough yet... I like it, well, long. You know."

"Let it grow, so you can do your 'bionic golly' routine?" Doyle said with a mock-frown.

Bodie gave him an exasperated smile. "Why do you think I used to call you that, you beautiful idiot? To annoy you in self defence. The longer you let your hair grow, the more ... passionate it makes you look. You used to frighten the life out of me, but now I can have you, you don't scare me -- so I'll tell you when you need a haircut, love. Deal?"

"Deal," Ray laughed, unable to hide his delight.

The British Airways Concord was right on schedule. Sheik Kabir was a short, rotund man with a Yasser Arafat checkered 'tea towel' and a Charles Bronson moustache. Bodie was amazed to discover that he liked the man at once -- he was no threat to his masculinity and he had two of his wives with him in addition to three big, thick set bodyguards. It was one of the bodyguards who at once annoyed Bodie: Jamil Abbas sported diamond earrings, was meticulously clean shaven, and wore his pants almost as tight as Ray. And he was looking at Ray from beneath lowered lids before Kabir and his wives were installed in their plush suite at the Regency. Trying to figure out if the tight denim, the sculptured curls and the jewellery were a form of sign language, one living nature to another?

Bless Ray's heart, Bodie thought bitterly, he had not even noticed the looks he was getting; but what could he do about the way he looked and behaved? If he shaved his head and wore a cassock he might disguise what he had to offer, but the way he walked, with his back so straight and swinging shoulders, and the poise of a dancer, was enough to turn heads. Bodie stuck close to him, when possible putting himself between Ray and Abbas, and it came to the minor confrontation between them when Doyle had gone ahead into the rooms he would share with Bodie and the door clicked into place behind him.

The CI-5 man and the bodyguard stepped up, eye to eye, and Bodie wondered how far Jamil would be prepared to push it. "You speak English?"

"Also French, Greek and Italian," Jamil said silkily. "We are about to discuss your associate, are we not?"

"Nothing to discuss," Bodie said coldly.

"Your friend is very beautiful, this I have seen."

"Yeah," Bodie agreed bluffly, "he is. Full marks for observation. He belongs to me, you hear me, Abbas? We're going to be working together for three days, and I'm telling you before we start: you so much as embarrass my friend and I'll take a delight in ruining your holiday prospects. Don't even bat your eyelashes his way."

Unexpectedly, Jamil smiled, an astonishing expression of good humour in response to Bodie's threats and promises. He raised his hands as if at gunpoint. "You British are so uncivilised. In my country we are much more cultured. I was about to ask if your friend desired my company, or if he has no need of it. It is dishonourable to covet another's bedmate, Mister Bodie, and I am an honourable man. Neither you nor your lover need be concerned. Give him my compliments; he is quite the most exquisite creature I have seen in many years."

"Yeah," Bodie said, startled, "he is, isn't he?" It was weird to hear it from another man's lips, but he began to relax. If Jamil fancied Ray it was monumentally unlikely that he would fancy Bodie at the same time, because the two were so vastly dissimilar. "You, er, like them leggy and redheaded, I see." He cleared his throat. "Just call me Bodie; so long as you don't bother Ray I don't see why we can't be friendly."

In the en suite bathroom, Doyle was pulling the Ronson over his face to beat the five o'clock shadow. Bodie leaned on the door, watching him, amused, wondering if he should relay Jamil's compliments, and deciding not to: Doyle was not up to that yet. He glanced once around the expensive room and grunted. "Twin beds, I'm afraid."

"Nice big ones, though," Ray said, tossing the razor to him. "You look a bit blue around the gills yourself. Jeez, I get sick of shaving."

"But that face is too beautiful to surrender to the fungus," Bodie grinned. He glanced at the beds... "Room in one of those for two, do you reckon? Be a tight squeeze."

Ray's cheeks became quite pink beneath his tan. "Sounds, um, nice, actually."

It was. Much later, Bodie enjoyed the gentle ritual of undressing him, but he did not remove the jewellery. Doyle did not notice what he had done and the yellow gold shimmered on his skin while they made one of the beds into a nest and slid into it, pressed together out of necessity, the musky scent of masculinity strong between them. Bodie had not realised how close to the edge Doyle had been until he shifted position, drawing an involuntary caress across his partner's hardness, and felt the spurt of dampness on his thigh as Ray gasped. He tipped Doyle's face up to look at him. "That was quick. When you want me, say so!" He rolled Ray onto his back and kissed his throat.

"I want you all the time," Doyle admitted apologetically.

"I can keep up with you," Bodie smiled. "I do my exercises and take all my vitamins." He paused as Doyle caught his head, drawing it down to his mouth, and the kiss was fiery. "You're still on the simmer, aren't you?" As he spoke he felt his lover rise against him and watched Doyle swallow.

They clung together, Ray on his right side, Bodie on his left, and Bodie took it so slowly that Doyle left finger-bruises on his shoulders and was sobbing helplessly before he was nudged over the peak and convulsed deeply, triggering the exhausting spasms in Bodie's own abdomen. It was so good to please him that Bodie barely bothered to notice that Ray had been taking and taking and had yet to actively give in return.

That might take time, he knew; the hurt had to bury itself in the past and the inhibitions of the faith of his forefathers had to find some wary truce with his tormented subconscious before he would be able to do that. As it was, the way they made love, with a thousand hot, exquisite caresses, driving in between gripping thigh muscles, belly to belly and mouth to mouth, was more than enough, and Ray had enough staying power to exhaust Bodie as his women never had.

They slept soundly, and Bodie had the prudence to thoroughly mess up the other bed before they shared the shower and departed about the day's business. The tedium of this kind of duty was beyond description. The day's sole high point was the bomb scare at the Empire Stadium, the world famous Wembley Stadium itself, where the FA Cup was battled for at the close of the soccer calendar each year, in May. There was never a moment to themselves and they were tired from sheer boredom when they went out to The Mouse Trap that evening, then accompanied Kabir, his wives and his bodyguards to a nearby restaurant for supper.

Five pancakes and three cups of coffee later, Bodie was falling asleep listening to the gossip, his chin on his hand, when the sounds of upturning tables and shattering glass set his nerves on edge. He woke fast, but Doyle was there first, shoving him out of the line of fire at the last possible moment before a dozen 9mm rounds ripped out of a Russian machine pistol, impacting with the wall against which Bodie had been sitting. Kabir dove to the ground, taking the women down with him, and Doyle had clawed his automatic from the holster beneath his jacket, snapping off three quick shots before Jamil, who was the fastest of the Arabs, had got his own weapon loose.

The shots were dead on target -- since when did Ray ever miss? Bodie grinned mirthlessly at the gunman, who had gone down in a heap in the doorway. But Doyle was not smiling. Reholstering his gun, he went to his knees at Bodie's side. "Christ, are you all right? You nearly bought it, Bodie!"

"Not today," Bodie said as he levered his way to his feet, and he managed to squeeze Ray's hand tightly without anyone noticing. "Not any day when you're there, right? Jeez, you were like greased bloody lightning!"

They reported to Central by RT and Cowley's after hours understudy dispatched the forensic squad while the assortment of bodyguards ferried Kabir and his family back to the hotel. Doyle's legs were still trembling under him when Bodie shut their door, and his eyes were feverishly bright. Bodie looked at him and frowned, tossing his jacket and shoulder harness at a chair. "Ray? What's wrong?"

Doyle shook his head mutely for a time. "I'm a fool. An idiot. It's just really occurred to me... One of these days one of us is going to buy it, and... And it'll all be over."

"Not healthy to think that way," Bodie murmured. "If it happens, it happens when it happens. No sense brooding about it. You live for the now,the today. You probably saved my life, I'll save yours next week, and then we can go back to the beginning and do it all over again."

"For how long?" Doyle whispered.

"For as long as we can." Bodie took him by the shoulders. "Come to bed, love. It's late, I'm tired, I want you and I've been waiting all day to kiss you." He caught Ray's head, exploring the perfect lips, the slightly imperfect teeth that made Ray's smile heart-catchingly human; and then he checked in surprise as he felt Doyle take over the kiss, pressing it to him with a ferocity that was startling. It was the first time Ray had ever done that.

And it was only the beginning. He drew Bodie to the foot of the bed and made him sit down, his thin, nimble hands deftly undressing him before he tumbled him back onto the quilted coverlet, quickly shed his own clothes, and knelt astride the taller man's thighs. Bodie watched breathlessly as Ray bent his beautiful head, kissing the satin skin of his chest, teasing at his nipples with lips and teeth, and he knew even then where it would end. Bodie's body was burning when Doyle took his weight on his palms, one on either side of him, and looked down into his partner's flushed face. "You want to take me now?" he asked, brave words betrayed by their hesitant tone. He was still afraid of the pain and the bleeding, Bodie knew.

"Later," Bodie smiled. "You take me instead, see what it's like from the other perspective. You know how?"

Doyle nodded, reaching down with one hand, brushing by Bodie's throbbing groin to lubricate both of them thoroughly with his early release. He took his weight on both palms again and Bodie watched him swallow as he spread his thighs wide apart and invited Ray between them.

"Slowly and gently does it, Ray," he said while he could still speak. "Just do what feels good, just -- aah..." He closed his eyes as a shaft of lightning thrilled upward through him, reaching up with his hips to help and clutching at Doyle's shoulders with fingers like steel. Ray sobbed aloud as he managed what, at one time, he was sure he would never be able to do, and for some time they lay still, not moving a muscle, until the pressure became intolerable and Bodie began to writhe beneath him, murmuring his name in a torment of wanting.

Courage bolstered by Bodie's breathless appreciation, Ray began to move, working his hips slowly and carefully, hot caresses that were beyond comprehension and quickly stole his mind away, plunging both of them into a wrestling match that was blind and frantic and ecstatic. They came in an explosion that seemed to tear them limb from limb, collapsing in a tangle of arms and legs, and it was minutes before they could think and speak again.

Bodie clutched Ray against him, proud of him, knowing the battle he had waged to beat the fear and the childhood brainwashing of religion, and Ray lay on his chest like a rag doll, spent, pulling air into his lungs. "Did I do it right?" he muffled at last.

"Course you did," Bodie told him. "Nothing to it, is there?"

They lay quietly in the ridiculously narrow bed, drowsing and thinking without saying a word for a long time before Ray lifted his head again and looked down into his lover's face. "You can take me, if you want to," he said huskily.

At that, Bodie came fully awake, the mere suggestion hardening him in moments. "You sure, mate? Absolutely sure?"

"It didn't seem to do you any harm," Doyle reasoned, "and I'm healed up. Look, it's bothering me, Bodie. I sleep with you, I turn on and wear myself ragged with you, but the only time anyone's been inside of me it was a bloke trying to hurt me. It shouldn't have been him, with hate... It should have been you. With love."

A smile crooked one corner of Bodie's expressive mouth, "Now, there's logic for you." He drew his fingers over Ray's full lips, stroking his soft inner thigh with his other hand. "Just lie down, it's easy, you'll see... No, the other way up, Ray, make it easier for yourself."

"Not the way he did it to me," Doyle said stubbornly, "the way we did it just now." He parted his thighs to accommodate Bodie's knees. "I want to feel it from you. He made me come when I didn't want to. Now... I want to."

Bodie nodded with a fond expression. "Yours to command, love. Just a tick." He was lubricating himself with Doyle's essences, caught and held by his own body as if it knew they would be needed, and he moved slowly and steadily, entering Ray's tense, quivering body and listening to the choking sobs of relief and arousal as Doyle realised that it didn't hurt and did feel incredible. Having made love once already they had a greater control, and with patience and effort they played each other up to the peak and hovered there for what seemed an eternity, until Ray was struggling for breath and Bodie's heart seemed to be trying to escape through his ribs. Climax racked them, and then Bodie withdrew, climbing off his partner with shaking muscles and ringing ears.

It was some time before he could look into Doyle's face; and then he saw the tears there. Alarm doused the glorious afterglow at once. "Ray -- what's the matter? Jesus, are you hurt? Why didn't you say something? I didn't mean to -- I tried to be --"

"Shush, Bodie," Doyle said, smiling gently at him, though the tears continued. "Some people cry when they're so happy they don't know what to do with themselves."

"Happy?" Bodie collapsed beside him in relief. "God, I thought I'd hurt you."

Doyle slipped his arms about him, cuddling him, holding his head against his shoulder and feeling Bodie's warm breath ruffle the fine, dark hair on his chest. "Hurt me? I thought maybe I wouldn't be big enough inside for you, but even that worked out. I'm just aching a bit... You're, well, a big lad, you know." Then he laughed.

"So what's so funny?"

"I'm just remembering a sermon of Father Duffy's. We'll burn, according to him, in Eternal Damnation. If I was still one of the faithful, I expect I'd get excommunicated. Not because I've made love to a man, but because I want to do it again, because I like it."

Bodie's tone was honestly curious. "I know the Bible says you're not supposed to make love to your own sex, but why can't you?"

"Probably the dumbest of all possible reasons," Doyle told him drily. "You're not supposed to make love with anyone -- not even your own wife -- at any time unless you're trying to make a baby." He paused. "Blokes don't get pregnant, thank God. That's your reason. Stupid, isn't it? That's why Catholics used to have sixteen kids and marry their women off at fourteen and go to prison for using rubbers. Rome rule. Be fruitful and multiply, says the Book -- and we've given ourselves a wonderful population problem that way, 'cause the only alternative to abstinence is to sin and sin and keep on sinning... And I don't reckon we're going to make many babies between us, Bodie."

"Going to make a lot of love, though," Bodie smiled. "I love you so much I think my heart's going to explode."

The tears welled up again and Ray shed them with a smile. "You can say that as often as you like! The loving's like an ache, in here." He tapped his chest. "It frightens me, makes me want to act like a fool."

"And do what?" Bodie grinned.

Ray laughed quietly. "Tell the world I'm in love. Bring you presents, spend my whole life with you, and when it's over, have them put my ashes in the same urn with yours."

The last suggestion, whispered huskily into his dark hair, broke Bodie's heart at last, and for the first time in years his vision misted and Doyle felt the cool tickle of tears on his chest. He said nothing, reaching out to put out the lamp, and they lay awake in the darkness, lost in the feel and smell and warmth of each other, and wondered how they ever survived without this.

"What about Father Duffy?" Bodie said quietly as last. "And what about Mary Doyle's youngest son, Raymond?"

"Yeah, what would Mum say?" Doyle sighed. "Out to Mass three times a week, fish and chips on Friday, Saint Peter on the wall beside the front door, candles and Saint Luke in her room. I feel like I've let her down, you know?" Then he laughed. "Bless me, Father, for I have sinned ... 'Yes, my son, what have you done?'... I've made love, Father ... 'An occasional transgression can be forgiven, my son' ... I've made love about forty times since my confession last month, Father ... 'Oh, dear. Well, your young lady is very beautiful, I'm sure--' ... I'm sleeping with a man, Father ... 'Jesus, Mary and Joseph! Nine thousand Hail Marys and come to Mass twice a day for the next six months!'" He was doing a Belfast burr in the old priest's part, and it was hilarious.

Bodie guffawed. "And that much praying's supposed to make you love me less, is it?"

"No," Doyle quipped glibly, "it's supposed to wear out my knees."

"So, roll over, underneath, and give 'em a rest," Bodie chuckled. He looked at Ray's dim profile, half-lit by the slight illumination from the street. "You don't regret it?"

"Because of what my mother might say?" He shook his head. "I'm a big boy. I've gone my own way for twenty years, why should I go back now? And Father Duffy died back in 1968, so I'm not a thorn in his side either. Besides ... I suppose you have to come from a Catholic background to understand who they are, but there's a couple of slogans that are pretty telling. They're not perfect, says one, just forgiven. So you can do what the hell you like and repent on your death bed and watch the pearly gates swing open to meet you. Carte blanche to be a dead wrong'un and still be a Catholic and get into Heaven. The other one rhymes: sex is evil, sex is sin, but sin is forgiven, so sex is in."

Again, Bodie guffawed, snuggling closer to Ray's warmth. "Bloody perceptive."

"Thought you'd like that one. Regrets? Just one. That we wasted so long. That the bloody brainwashing I had as a kid hid who I was even from me ... Which left you hiding your feelings like a martyr going to the stake and me mucking about with empty casual relationships I didn't really want. Lots of sex, no love... And it's not the same if you're not in love, is it?"

In answer Bodie kissed him, then kissed him again, told him he loved him, and Doyle tangled himself happily in Bodie's arms and legs, absurdly grateful that the bed was so narrow that the only way it would accommodate two was in such an embrace. "Sleep, my love," Bodie told him softly. "It's late, and --" He laughed. "I think we're going to be a bit stiff in the morning."

"A bit stiff?" Ray echoed. "I reckon I'm going to want about half a gallon of horse liniment!"

It was raining the day the 10:45 Concord took Sheik Abdul Kabir and his party back to Bahrain, but the Arabs smiled at the weather, enjoying it. British drizzle was something of a novelty to them. Kabir shook Bodie's hand, then Doyle's, at the exit gate. "I must thank you for your unobtrusive presence, gentlemen. You made me feel positively unhindered during my stay here."

"All part of the service," Doyle smiled, his green eyes transferring from Kabir to Jamil, and Bodie's narrowed eyes saw him lift his chin a little.

Damnation, he finally noticed! Bodie thought. His innocence was just beginning to vanish, to be replaced by something that was not vanity. It was dawning on him, last of all, how beautiful he was. Bodie smiled in spite of himself, looking forward to giving him Jamil's small surprise. Rain sluiced over the Capri's windows as they sat in the VIP carpark to watch the Concord depart, its droop-snoot and gorgeous delta wings drawing their gaze until it was no more than a white speck in the overcast.

Then Bodie leaned across to kiss his partner's responsive mouth in the seclusion of the rain storm, and pressed a small box into his palm. "What's this?" Ray muttered in surprise.

"Open it and see," said Bodie grinning, watching him do as he was told. The box held a single piece of ivory, delicately carved into the shape of a lotus, and it was suspended on a fine gold chain.

"Bodie, it's beautiful --"

"Before you thank the wrong person, it's Jamil's gift. A token of his admiration."

Doyle blushed and hid a smile. "Oh. It was only the other day I noticed. I was picking up the magazines Farrah dropped -- you know what her lumbago's been like in our weather --"

"And the incomparable little backside of yours went on display as a free art exhibition, and Jamil just happened to be there?"

"Yeah. He went sort of glassy eyed and asthmatic. He didn't say anything to me, though."

"Because," Bodie said flatly, "I'd already told him, two days before, that I'd duff him up if he did." He paused. "You, er, didn't fancy him, did you? He's kind of nice looking."

Doyle choked off a chuckle. "He's dark, like you, and built a lot like you, and a smooth talker, like you, but... Fancy him? Nah. I'm a one-horse cart, Bodie. I didn't use to date two girls at the same time, I wouldn't cheat on a lady I'd married, so why would I want to start looking around when I'm in love with you?" He grinned. "Pity you couldn't marry me, make an honest man of me, and we could settle down in domestic bliss."

The notion -- not of marriage, but of domesticity -- made Bodie laugh. "Jeez, I wouldn't go as far as curtains and carpets, pet... I'm useless at that. All my places are furnished when I rent 'em. But," he added impishly, "if you want a ring for one of those fingers, I'll get you one."

Trying to tell if he was joking, Doyle frowned at him. "You would, wouldn't you?"

"Course. Rings for your fingers, rings for your toes. They fit on other parts of your anatomy too. Or is that a bit voyeur for you?"

"A bit," Ray admitted, slipping the gift's fine chain over his head. "Why didn't he give it to me?"

"Because he thought I'd kick his teeth in if he did," Bodie grinned, starting the car. "And he was right. I said your thank yous for you, sunshine, so if you want to thank anyone, you can climb up on top of me and do it properly later."

"Don't get me going," Ray muttered, colouring again. "It'll be hours before we're finished work."

They had the afternoon off, and after reporting back to Cowley they drove over to Bodie's in two separate cars and filled eight cardboard boxes with Bodie's personal effects. His lease was up in a week's time, and he had decided not to renew it. He had the keys in his hand as Doyle slammed the hatch on the last of the boxes, and they stopped off three miles away to hand them in at the agent's office. Doyle's home was more of a home, not just a place to eat and sleep and change clothes -- which was his Irish family background showing. Bodie had always been guardedly envious, but the envy dissipated as Ray shut the door behind them and he realised that it was his home now too. It was a nice flat, but any flat that had Ray in it would have been nice, and he said so, enjoying the opportunity to hold him and kiss him, feel his body heat and bury his face in the soft curls that still smelled of that morning's herbal shampoo.

"Love you, Ray," he whispered into his left ear, cupping Doyle's denim-clad buttocks and pulling their hips together.

"I know you do," Ray said, looping his arms about Bodie's neck.

"Love me too?" Bodie prompted in a mock-hopeful tone; he already knew.

"Ray sighed. "So much I couldn't even start to tell you what it feels like. Best I can do is show you, if you're in the mood."

"If?" Bodie demanded, propelling him toward the bedroom. "If?"

There was happiness the like of which Bodie had never really known. His life had been one enormous chaos as he grasshoppered about -- schoolboy, merchant seaman, gigolo on the Cape, mercenary, inmate of the brutalised Congo prison, then out of Africa by the time he was twenty-three. 2 Para, West German Division 9, into 3 Para, Belfast -- seconded to the SAS... CI-5. Sometimes he wondered how long his affiliation with the department would be, since he had already been with 'Cowley's mob' since 1975, years longer than he had lasted with any other outfit. Where else was there to go after one had run the course with CI-5? MI-5? BOSS -- the James Bond brigade, the British Overseas Secret Service? He admitted to a certain longing to travel again, and knew full well that when BOSS was recruiting these days, they looked at CI-5 first...

Vienna, Saltzburg, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Bodie thought dreamily as he lay back in the stern of the rowing boat, watching Doyle's sun-dappled face as he sculled leisurely with the current. And then he remembered Quinn... Two years as a 'guest' of the KGB -- and Igor Kodai, the late Igor Kodai, who had been George Cowley's personal nemesis. Yes, he could go overseas for BOSS, and take his chances about coming back; the thrill of the danger was indisputable, but as Bodie thought it over he admitted to himself that he had changed lately.

Now, for the first time, he had something to lose, something that mattered so much to him that if he was sent out with a 50/50 chance of not coming back, the thrill would be supplanted by terror, cold sweats and a rabid desire to think of any excuse not to go. The thought of being without Ray was terrible... The thought of Ray being without him was even worse. The spy business was for the unattached, the footloose, those who were addicted to their own adrenalin and who were hooked on the danger, the sex, the power politics.

Not for someone who looked forward to going home at night because it was so good to shut the door, collapse on one end of the sofa, kick off his shoes and balance a takeaway pizza on his left knee while the person he loved most in the world sprawled full length all over the rest of the sofa with his head on his right knee, feeding vegetarian pasta into himself and making cynical one line gags about the inane stories on the Six O'clock News that had them both laughing till it hurt.

Out in midstream, Doyle let the oars rest and levered himself into the bottom of the boat to curl up comfortably against Bodie, singing quietly as Bodie tousled his hair: "and then he'd row, row, row, right up the river he would row, row, row, row, row, then'd rest on his oars, take a round of applause --" Bodie kissed him to silence him.

"You're in good voice today, my lad. Take requests, do you? Like to perform for me, specially?"

The emphasis on the word 'perform' made Ray chuckle richly. "You're incorrigible, Bodie. What about all those people on the bank? If they saw you kiss me --"

"All they can see is your curls, love," Bodie grinned. "They'll just think my missus has had a nice new perm. Come on, Ray, it's our day off. Don't you want to play?"

"I've been playing since seven o'clock this morning," Doyle chided, "you've got me worn out already -- and you've got me rowing the bloody boat!"

"If I row it back, will you play?" Bodie wheedled.

Ray laughed aloud. "I'd play anyway, you know that. But you may have to push me home in a wheelbarrow if you take much more out of me!" He lay back comfortably, watching the branches of a midstream island tree drift by overhead while Bodie petted him as if he were a beloved kitten. They dozed, letting the boat drift with the current until Bodie looked at his watch and sat up reluctantly with a yawn. "Time to start back?" Doyle wondered, prising open one eye.

"If you want to get any tea before the dining room fills up," Bodie said, taking the oars and working one of them to pull the boat about.

On the way back to their hotel he would be pulling against the current, Doyle realised, and he sat back to watch with a smirk. "Don't wear yourself out too much, will you, mate?" he said, his tone wickedly and deliberately erotic while his expression was entirely innocent.

"Who, me? See these muscles?" Bodie grinned. "Plenty left, old son, don't you worry your head." He watched Ray stretch out in the stern with a deep yawn, crossing his long legs and drawing his palms across his chest where the gold chain shone in the sun, artlessly seductive as women just had no idea how to be.

It was forty-five minutes' journey back up the river to the landing on the bank by the Black Lion Hotel, and Bodie was tingling from the gentle exercise when Ray stepped up out of the boat and tied it up. He looked at his watch. "Time to go up and wash before they start serving."

Their room was at the back of the hotel's second storey; it was a Tudor building and booked sparsely at this point, late in the year when the tourist season was over. There were only two other couples there, but the dining room catered to passing trade. As they climbed the ancient, narrow and creaking staircase, Bodie brushed a hand over Ray's tight-packed buttocks, sure that they were alone already, and Doyle turned back to give him a look of mock-reproof. "Blame yourself, mate," Bodie said with a grin. "If you didn't wear your pants so tight --"

But Doyle was no longer listening. As they climbed to the landing he held up one hand, cautioning Bodie to silence, and hissed: "The room. There's somebody in there." As he spoke he reached in under the light canvas jacket he wore, bringing out his service issue automatic. Bodie's expression had darkened abruptly and he brought out his own weapon, charging it. They took station, one on either side of the door, and it was Bodie who took the point, stepping up to kick the door open, slamming it back on its protesting hinges.

What happened in the next four seconds was a blur. As Bodie appeared and the door smashed open there was the unmistakable blast of a shotgun in the same instant that several rounds spat out of the CI-5 man's gun. Blood fanned into the air, Doyle caught an impression of the gunman going down, tossed backward by the multiple impacts; but Bodie was going down also, with an annoyed curse through clenched teeth, and it was only Ray's feral instincts that dragged his attention to the room's other corner.

A second man was there, a big, burly Italian with a Rambo knife held in his right hand. Ray brought up the gun, steely-eyed. "Drop it! Right bloody now!" The man hesitated, Doyle could see the courage building up behind his sallow face, and a moment later he lunged forward. Two rounds snapped out of the automatic, tearing through the shoulder above the saw-backed knife and spinning the man about. He went down in a heap and Ray kicked the knife away as it fell from numbing fingers.

"Bodie? Bodie, how bad?" he called, the thin edge of panic in his voice as he turned toward his partner.

Bodie was sitting against the wall, flushed and bright eyed, his gun held loosely in his left hand, but his teeth were bared in a smile as Ray came to kneel beside him, peering at his right arm. "Bloody bird shot," he mattered. "I've picked up a few pieces. That stupid bugger couldn't hit the side of a barn."

"That stupid bugger's dead," Ray said, strung out by relief as he retrieved the Rambo knife and cut the shirt away from Bodie's arm. He tossed the knife down, counting the impacts. "Three shots," he said. "Deep, I'm afraid; you're going to want that seen to, fast." He looked back over his shoulder at the body and the wounded Italian knifeman. "Why?" he demanded of the glassy eyed man. "Who the hell are you? What do you want?"

There was something dreadfully familiar about the Italian's face, but something Ray had difficulty placing; he watched the glazed eyes fight for focus, and then the North London voice spat out of the man's twisted lips. "You don't know me -- Doyle? You're a bloody fool. Did you think your chicken-shit department could kill my brother and we'd do nothing?" he sniped at the CI-5 men. "You still don't know me? Angie Lupino --yeah, that's right, you heard, Alfie was my brother, my big brother. You took ten years out of his life, for what? For a little tart down the East End who yelled blue murder when he got the fucking he'd asked for. Ten years!"

Bodie shot a glance at Ray, watching the colour drain from his face, but the Lupino brother was still growling. "Oh, yeah, Alfie had you all figured out. You took the side of that faggot boy like he was family, you with your pretty hair and your friendly mouth, and the arse that's just begging to be banged. Don't try telling me you're not gay, pretty little Raymond. I held you down while Alfie shoved you --"

"Shut up!" The hiss was from Bodie, serpentine and dangerous. "Shut your mouth before I shut it for you the hard way!"

The younger Lupino leered at him. "Oh yeah, his better half. Like the way he handles, do you? Sweet as honey between the legs, ain't he? Tight as a clenched fist and twice as hot, and he bucks like a bronco if you ride him rough enough --"

"Shut your mouth, Lupino!" Bodie raised his voice, filling the room with noise and levering his way to his feet. Ray was silent, white as a sheet, his automatic held loosely in both hands, his breathing uneven. He was studying the floorboards, the confusion written plainly on his face. "Ray?" Bodie said softly. "Take no notice, he's trying to bait us."

"He's managing it," Ray said bitterly. "My hands want to kill him." He was trembling with the effort of denying them that right.

"You don't have to be baited," Bodie said as levelly as he could manage. "It was a crime, the one who did it's dead."

"And the one who held me down while he did it's still here." The shaking frightened the life out of Ray as he fought every instinct in his body. "Jesus Christ, Bodie, what am I going to do? If we take him in he's going to have to testify in court sooner or later. He'll stand up and tell the whole story to a jury. My family, Bodie. I've got two brothers and a sister. It'll kill my mother."

The agony in his voice raked at Bodie's nerves like the fingers of a musician on vibrating strings. He turned toward his partner, in that moment forgetting the younger Lupino brother, and taking Doyle by the left shoulder. "Cowley'll arrange it. We could keep him on ice for years before he sees the inside of a court; we could deal."

"Deal -- with him? To keep it a secret that the CI-5 Alpha Squad leaders are sleeping together?" The bitterness nearly choked Ray and it chilled Bodie right through to the bone. "Bodie, what am I going to do?"

"We," Bodie whispered. "Don't make it sound like you're on your own, Ray, it's both of us or it's nothing. Cowley knows -- about everything. Let him fix it. He'll hang this foul-mouthed little basket case out to --"

"Bodie!" Doyle's voice cracked about the room like a whip, it had nothing at all to do with anything Bodie had been saying, and as the call of alarm was dragged out of him both the CI-5 men spun, two .45 automatics barking in unison. Angelo Lupino had the Rambo knife in his hand, had crawled for it while they spoke, and it left his hand in a scything arc in the same instant that the guns discharged. Ray pumped three rounds into him, right on target in the middle of his chest, and Bodie snapped off two.

Abruptly there was silence, blood and relief. The knife flew wide, missing Doyle by a foot and burying itself in the skirting board behind him.

The trembling sapped the strength out of Ray and he put out a hand; Bodie slipped his good arm about him. "Easy, easy. It's finished now. All over -- and the best way for all concerned. Jesus, they must have followed us up from London. What a family! Revenge is a way of life -- they're worse than the bloody Mafia!"

Feet came pounding up the stairs and the manageress appeared, florid and frightened. Bodie pushed his ID at her, waving her out of the way, and dug through his British Airways overnight bag for the RT, calling CI-5 Central with a thorough if terse report. The coroner's people would be out with a meat wagon, and the hotel could claim on its insurance to cover the damage costs -- bullets and blood.

As he put away the RT he sat on the foot of the bed beside Ray, taking his partner's chin in his good hand and gritting his teeth against the fiery pain from the imbedded fragments of birdshot in his right arm. "You okay, pet?"

"Yeah," Ray said softly, rubbing at his eyes, scrubbing away the scalding tears he did not dare let Bodie see. He forced a smile, looking up at Bodie. "You don't look so hot yourself, though. Come on, I'll drive you to the hospital, get you fixed up." He stood up, drawing himself away from Bodie as if it was painful to be touched now.

Fear clawed at Bodie as he watched him reflexively pull away. Oh, no, he thought feverishly, no, Ray, don't! The fright overrode the pain from the birdshot and he stood up. "Ray? Ray, look at me." Doyle was breathing shallowly, his face unreadable. "Ray, what is it? Say it, whatever it is."

But Doyle hugged his arms about his aching chest, mute, his mind brutally replaying the taunts back to him, and suddenly it was all ugly to him, hurtful and repugnant. He looked into Bodie's dark blue eyes only with difficulty. "What... What he said..."

"Words," Bodie hissed, "said to hurt us, to pay us out. Nothing more. Come on, Ray," he went on, coaxingly now, "use your brain, love, think your way out of it. He wanted revenge for Alfie, and he wanted you for himself, sweetheart, didn't he?"

Comprehension filtered into Doyle's spinning mind like cool water and the fog began to clear. "He wanted me?"

"Your pretty hair, your friendly mouth and your lovely little backside," Bodie murmured intensely, deliberately rephrasing the last. "Remember? He was so jealous he probably came up here with his mate to shoot me and make a grab for you. Right? Right?"

The green eyes began to clear and Ray dragged in a breath. "I'll buy it." He smiled faintly at the look on Bodie's face: pure fright. "You thought I was going to walk off, didn't you? Walk out on you?"

"It... crossed my mind," Bodie admitted tensely. "Would you have?"

But Doyle shook his head with a sigh. "I thought you'd chase me, love. The things he said made me sound so ... so cheap, like a ten bob scrubber. I didn't see how you could ever want to touch me again."

"Oh, Ray, you gorgeous idiot." Bodie groaned, and he caught his lover in an embrace so fierce it stunned them both, knotting his fingers into the wayward curls and pulling his head towards a kiss that was desperate. "Not want to touch you? You're mine, you belong to me, for good and all, and I'll knock the head off the first person who tries to come between us, bloke or bird. What in Christ's name do I have to do to make you understand?"

Ray caught his breath with a smile, part sad, part wistful, part celebratory; he slipped his right hand in between Bodie's thighs, stroking the tight fabric there. "You just did, love." He leaned forward to kiss Bodie's mouth again, licking his lips, and then slipped one arm about him as the bigger man began to sag against him.

"Great," Bodie murmured, his flushed face against Ray's shoulder. "He loves me. Now, would he please take me somewhere where I can get something for this? My arm's killing me."

They gave him a shot of crystomyacin and a local and picked out the birdshot at the provincial hospital a mile and a half up the winding lane from the hotel, stuck an adhesive bandage over the sutures and gave Bodie a foam rubber sling to take the weight off the abused limb. He threw the sling into a bin on his way out of the tiny cottage hospital and hunched down in the left side of the Capri, watching Ray's long legs work brake, clutch and throttle as he drove back up to the Black Lion.

The van from the morgue was already there, and so was George Cowley. He gave Doyle and Bodie a hard look, waiting for the story, and Bodie had inhaled to begin when Ray took the initiative. "It was Lupino's brother, sir. He was one of the men who assaulted me; he and his mate, the one with the shotgun, must have been watching us since Lupino was killed on the railway, and when we came out here we just made it easy for them. They were in the room when we came back from boating; they damned near killed Bodie -- the certainly intended to kill him... And, one way or another, I expect they'd have killed me. Eventually."

There was no doubt about what he meant; Cowley watched 4.5 shrewdly as he spoke. He saw the old confidence and pride back again, the belief in his own abilities, the self-respect. He had faced it and beaten it. George's pale blue eyes transferred to Bodie's dark ones, where 3.7 stood a little behind Ray wearing a small smile of utter triumph as he heard Doyle speak candidly for himself. Then Bodie winked at the boss and Cowley had to hide a smile. "That seems to be in order," he said bluffly. "You're not seriously incapacitated, I trust, Bodie."

"Just a couple of stitches, nothing really," Bodie shrugged.

"Then I suggest you make the most of what remains of your day off," Cowley advised, "Because as of noon tomorrow you're on call. I'll see you both back at the office."

It was mid-evening when they made it back to their room, and Bodie flopped onto the bed with a deep sigh. Doyle shut the door and stood looking at him, noticing everything about him, from his muscular legs to the breadth of his shoulders and the sultry, smouldery set of his features that was so seductive, even in repose. At length the other's silence made Bodie open his eyes and lookup, and at the expression on Ray's face he had the good grace to blush about the cheekbones. "That's a randy look, if ever I've seen one."

"Well," Doyle shrugged, "you did row the boat back, didn't you?" He came to sit on the edge of the bed, unbuttoning Bodie's ruined shirt and throwing it onto a chair. He peered at the bandages with a frown. "Damn, you're going to have a couple of new scars. You already have so many... I know them all."

"So've you, and I know all of yours," Bodie said quietly. "Look, Ray, it's a dangerous job, nobody ever said it wasn't. But we stick together -- you watch my back, love, and I'll watch yours."

"Except it wouldn't be my back you'd have your eye on," Ray said drily, hiding a grin.

"Damned right. If you wear your pants that tight, what else do you think you can expect?"

Ray laughed richly. "Why do you think I wear 'em that tight? Gets your blood going, doesn't it?"

"All the bloody time," Bodie admitted with a smile, and let his lids half drop. "Seduce me, will you? I was about to set about you when we got back here last time. This time, no interruptions."

"What about dinner? I'm hungry."

Bodie groaned. "Oh, Ray, have a heart!"

"All right," Doyle relented, fingers busy with Bodie's belt, "but if I'm going to miss my dinner for this and subsist on cheese and pickles when the dining room's shut down, this had better be absolutely bloody spectacular."

And he made sure that it was; he kept Bodie on the tortured brink of release until he had to clamp a hand tightly over his mouth to silence him as they came at last, and it was a long time before either of them could speak. Then Bodie whispered his love as if it was the sweetest thing in the world just to say it. "Even... Even after what Lupino's brother said about me?" Doyle muffled against his shoulder.

"Well... You are tight and hot, and you do buck," Bodie said very gently, ruffling his lover's soft hair, "that's all true, and not the point, is it? The point is, I'm just as tight and hot, and I buck just as hard --"

"Harder," Ray corrected, biting into his shoulder.

"All right, harder. The point is, it's none of their damned business what we're like or what we do, because... Jesus, I'm a jealous sod. If I could hide you away from every other bugger on this planet, maybe I'd be happy then."

At that suggestion Ray laughed drowsily, forgetting all about his dinner as he settled in Bodie's arms. "I could say the same about you, sunshine. The barmaid downstairs keeps giving me filthy looks. She fancies you something rotten, and she saw you blowing in my ear this morning. And we're sharing a room with one bed. You going to knock her head off?"

"If she tries to get between us, pet, she'd better duck," Bodie said vehemently.

"Because I'll take pot shot at her if she bats her eyelashes at you one more time," Ray finished, and then yawned expansively and set his head down on Bodie's chest. "Love you, Bodie," he murmured, already nearer asleep than awake.

Exhausted though he was, Bodie lay awake for some time, enjoying the shared body heat and the gentle rhythm of Ray's breathing... Enjoying being loved, honestly, without reservation or regret.

A week later, Murphy cottoned on to them and collapsed in gales of hysterics every time he saw them for days, until Bodie threatened mayhem on him and Doyle refused to acknowledge that the Smurph was even alive. The younger man bit off his hoots of mirth and solemnly shook their hands, asking when the wedding was set for; with that the overt merriment ceased, but there was a department store 'Home Maker Sale' catalogue in Bodie's locker the next day, and for Ray a paint and paper catalogue. Seeing the funny side of it and determined not to be outclassed, they giftwrapped a Health Board pamphlet for the Smurph --a small publication colloquially entitled, 'How Not To Get Your Girlfriend Pregnant'. Murphy subsided in mirth and shook his head at them.

"You two always were half way 'round the bend," he said, but his tone was conspiratorial and kind.

"So?" Doyle demanded, sobering at last. "But keep it under your hat, Murphy. Wouldn't do us or the department any good if it got about."

And Murphy nodded readily, watching Doyle shrewdly. He knew what had befallen 4.5, though Cowley had restricted the info to the very top rung of the ladder. He didn't underestimate the trauma, he felt the familiar pangs of sympathy, and silently decided that if Bodie was all Ray needed to rationalise his life, and if Bodie was as happy as a lark in complicity, then the department could take its rule book and jump off the roof.

Bodie was happy as a lark, happier than he had ever been since his first year as Ray's partner, when he realised the wonderful and terrible nature of his attraction to Doyle and somehow lived with it, morose, moody, mean, but entirely unable to ask for a new partner, because he knew he could not live without the sunshine. Ray blossomed like the little ivory lotus Jamil Abbas had given him; but the domesticity never quite happened.

-- THE END --

September 1981

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