Pushbike Song


For Tammy

It was the cycling trip to Wales that did it.

And I realise that statement needs clarification. It had been a glorious July, the kind of summery weather you only dream about in England nine years out of ten. Ray and I had been working together for four years or so, since Cowley teamed us in '75, and we'd long since outgrown our initial--and somewhat juvenile--determination to dominate and prove the other bloke a dick-headed wimp. Not to say that we hadn't tried--we had. 1975 was a trial for us both, and that we didn't get to Christmas hating each other's guts was probably a pretty good indication of the way things would go eventually. I think we both had a little growing up to do, like mountain rams, bashing their heads together for the fun of it. Sooner or later it just starts to hurt, and you learn when to quit.

It was easier being friends than enemies, because Cowley sure as hell wasn't going to split us up. '76 was better. We still didn't see much of each other outside of working hours, but that was because of our conflicting interests. I was still enjoying social drinking with the old Paras crowd, and Ray was still friendly with half the London Met. But times and people change and the old friendships just drifted away, as they will, leaving us with a new generation of friends, and, much more importantly, each other.

You can only save a bloke's life, and have your own bacon saved by the same bloke, so many times, before the pair of you become more family than blood relations ever are. I must have seen it happen a hundred times, in the bush, in the ranks, at sea. To Ray, it must have been something new, him being a London lad, and the most dangerous episode in his life to that point being an altercation with criminal types in the middle of the night in Limehouse. I suppose it snuck up on him, but I could see it coming.

At first, I fought, and with every devious trick I knew--and although I was conscious of the way we were going, the actual struggle for freedom was largely unwitting. I chose birds that were the exact opposite of everything Ray was and did. Blondes, upper crust, never a hair out of place, who talked about "Daddy" and horses and fashion and wine. That was 1977 for you, and it cost me a fortune. I shudder to think how much of the money I'd salted away as a merc got lavished on birds who were, I admit, and still are, far out of my income bracket. CI5 pays well, but not that well. I was having a reaction, almost like an invisible rash. Ray was under my skin and I was scratching like a dog with fleas. I chose girls who made me forget for a few hours that Raymond Doyle existed; but always, when I woke up, my first thoughts revolved about my job, the day ahead, and my partner.

And there would be Ray, meeting me in the carpark, tousled and smiling, yawning at seven in the morning, all tight blue denim and tee shirts, sometimes like a waif, sometimes a leprechaun, sometimes the kind of sensual creature that drives women, and a lot of men too, wild. We were close by '77. He thought I was delirious after I'd been knifed, when they were wheeling me into the hospital, but I wasn't as delirious as all that. I saw him crying-- crying over me. It was only later that I remembered, when I was thinking clearly again; and the memory shook me. Ray cared, cared enough to cry. For me.

And what really shook me was that it was the first time in my life anyone had ever done that. I'm an orphan. I was adopted when I was nine, and it was a huge mistake for all concerned. The couple who took me were very nice--in retrospect, and from the vantage point of the extra years, I can see that; but at the time I hated them, and I made them hate me. So, when I was twelve, they "did the right thing" and packed me off to public school, which effectively got rid of me. I stuck it for a little under two years, learned bugger all-- except how to get buggered, if you weren't careful. There's a lot of clumsy groping goes on in a boys' school; even places like Cambridge. All very sordid, but it taught me a lot and helped me survive when I finally chucked it in and ran for it.

Southampton, and the sea. A Boys' Own Weekly fantasy that turned into a bloody nightmare, until I ran a second time, jumping ship on the cape. Women, booze, fighting--I was tall by seventeen. Nobody gave a toss whether I lived or died; least of all me. I was beyond caring by that time, which was why I enlisted in a merc outfit at eighteen. I'd been around the block a few times by then, thought I knew it all. Well, maybe I knew half of it--enough not to get killed, though it almost happened a dozen times. And yes, they played The Game; and yes, so did I. Thank Christ, I never lost. I'd learned how to fight dirty while working as a bouncer in Joeburg and Durban, and it paid off handsomely; if it hadn't, I'd have been face down in the muck getting the daylights screwed out of me... Wouldn't have been the first time, but you can get killed that way, and I had this notion about staying alive! They were after me more or less constantly for two years, and in the end I decided enough was enough and ran again--the Mid East; Germany. Finally, inevitably, England, and enlistment.

I don't think anyone ever shed a tear over me before Ray; and I can't think of a soul in the world who'd shed one now, except Ray. After I got well, and the knife wound was just another scar, I began to admit to myself how close we were becoming. Friends. Best of friends; blood brothers, if you want to be poetic. We still argued, could still irritate one another, but by and large it was plain sailing, and when things were bad we turned to each other before anyone else. It was Ray I turned to when MI6 were out after me; and I was a berk, I should have known he would stand by me. It took us an evening to patch that up, a few scotches, a long, supportive silence, and then silent understanding, agreement. We never spoke about Marikka again.

Just as we never spoke about Ann Holly after the terrible night she left him like that. He was in a heap, emotionally, and I was terrified he'd shut me out, the way he sometimes does. I had to go after him, and we did the same as we've always done. A few drinks, companionable silence. Just being together seems to make the world less of a chamber of horrors. It made us family, and it was the most family either of us had ever had, I think.

I snitched a look at Ray's file. He's not the only one with the Policeman's nose, though you'd never get me to admit I possess such an article. Ray was a runaway too, a runaway from home, and he ran five times between seven and fifteen. He was one of these battered children you hear about; never actually molested by his godawful parents, but close enough. He's still got scars. Pain is a substitute for sex in some people's warped minds, and they must have half- killed him at least twice. He would run, hide out with friends, the Police would find him, take him home, warn the parents to take better care of him. For a year it would be tolerable, then he'd run again. Finally, at fifteen, he made the last big run, and found a job in London.

He was working as a barrow boy--no bloody wonder he looked authentic in the part when Cowley sent him undercover doing that, years later! And he made his first real friend. Her name was Sylvie Shannon, and she was a young WPC, working his district. He had been listed as a missing person, and how could you mistake him? All those curls, and those eyes. She knew he'd take fright at the sight of a uniform stalking him, and she befriended him as a customer instead. I got the story out of him much later, when everything had changed between us, and there were no secrets anymore. He ended up in her bed; and at art school, lodging with her brother; and later, thanks to her influence, he joined the force. Best thing that ever happened to him, Sylvie Shannon recognising him that day.

So it was strange for both of us when we came to realise how close we had become. A little frightening, too, because for the first time neither of us was "an island," and there was someone else to think about. Then the strangeness faded and we forgot it had ever happened. It was very gradual; I got out of hospital after the knifing at the cockpit and Ray and Jax were there, wanting to go to a football match. I had a date already lined up with a gorgeous nurse from Trinidad, but Ray and I went to other matches; and boxing tournaments; and shows; anything, everything. We had started to share and, to our mutual astonishment, things were a hell of a lot more fun when we did them together than doing them alone.

That was a loaded statement, I know, but I promise you, sex had not entered the picture yet, by a long shot. I had had it up to the eyebrows with male sex, and only managed to escape being raped by the skin of my teeth. Public school, merchant navy, sleazy bars, mercs, army. Believe me, after that circus between twelve and twenty-five, I wanted women. And I wanted a friend I could trust, depend on. There were girls by the score--so many, it makes me guilty to look back on those years, now, but at the time I was having a whale of a time. Sowing my wild oats? Maybe.

If you discount Marikka's untimely demise, '78 was a good year. Neither Ray nor I was hurt more than the odd bruise, the jobs seemed to go like clockwork and on a personal basis, we were as thick as thieves, literally, spending as much time off work together as at work. And loving it. It was then that I snitched a look at Ray's personal file, because, whether I knew it or not, he was an inch under my skin, I cared deeply about him but could never get him to make any real comment about his background. A few glib remarks about art school, the force, evil jokes about parents and fathers in particular, but nothing I could use to hang a picture of his early life on. I read the file and could have wept for him; an orphanage is not a great place to grow up, but nobody laid a finger on me there, I was well fed and well cared for. Ray, by contrast, brought himself up, an only child, skinny and unwanted by parents too fond of their beer.

He never knew why I softened up toward him literally overnight, but that was the reason. He had given me a shoulder to lean on when Marikka died, and I literally ached to do him the same service, but there was nothing I could offer but friendship. '78 was the year we began to think like one person, and we were ripe for something to happen between us. Kate Ross would call it a "cusp," when you approach a precipice; a gust of wind can blow you in either direction. Love or hate. Close relationships are like that; the closer they get, the more brittle they seem to be, until it all comes together properly; and I don't think you could sever what we found with a bulldozer, probably because we were friends first, knew each other's secrets, foibles, the lot.

Still, we were content to let it rest there; fond of the ladies, both of us. Ray had never given much thought to the alternative permutations of sex, and as I was saying, circumstances had forced me to think about it way too much, so that neither of us was ready to even glance at the future, see where we were going. But we were simmering, emotionally. Looking back on those years, '78 and '79, we were close to the boil most of the time, wrapped around each other, even to the point at which I was dreaming about Ray, and thinking about him even when I was with a girl. Even when I was making love, sometimes. I put it down to preoccupation with the job--"information overload." But it wasn't anything like that, as convenient as that excuse was. I presume Ray was dreaming about me, and thinking about me while he was with his ladies; certainly, he was in a state of emotional awareness. Nice term. Emotional awareness. Aware of your feelings, and those of others.

He was ripe for the picking; and I was slow off the mark. If I had been a few months quicker, Ann Holly would never have hurt him as she did. But I was only four years out of the military and still chasing my tail like a young lad fascinated by women. There had been precious few women in my life before I got out of the SAS! You don't find too many people of the female persuasion in the mercs, the Paras, and what have you, and furloughs are short. So I let Ann Holly literally yank him out from under my nose, seduce him and dump him. I'm making her the scarlet woman, and that's unfair, but it's the impression of her I have. I never met her socially, as if Ray was careful to keep us well apart, I only ever saw her from a distance and got the stories at second hand. Ray really liked her; did he love her? I don't think so. But his feelings were raw as chopped liver right at that moment--that state of emotional awareness, like sore fingers feeling everything so much more keenly.

He was hurting when she walked out, and I was pleased to be there for him. We spent the night at his place, drinking, not saying much, and in the morning he was better. We were tiptoeing around each other; and we were touching a lot. I would put my arm around him, he would flop on the end of the settee beside me instead of sitting in an armchair; I'd tousle his hair and he would take my arm to catch my attention or emphasise a point. Close. So close we were sharing the same skin. And, even unconsciously, I started to notice things about Ray. He was going to a new barber, an Italian scissor man called Tony, who had real talent. Didn't cut his hair too short, but styled it so that it looked almost classical, the kind of look you see on Greek sculpture. And he was buying stylish clothes; he was the only man I knew in '79 to wear jogging shoes, jeans and a dinner jacket and get away with it. Now, you see lots of men dressing like that, but if anyone started it--Ray's responsible. It defies every rule in the book, fashion-wise; and it looks bloody marvellous on someone built like him. The whole Ray Doyle "look" was changing; I would have been blind not to see it.

It was deliberate, I think. He was--literally-- growing up, shedding the attitudes of the runaway that had followed him out of his childhood. He'd always had to fight, literally since the day he was born. The first time he was beaten, he was four, and a neighbour ran into the Doyle house telling the woman if she didn't stop she'd get the Police. Too bad the neighbour hadn't just phoned and finished it all there and then, because three years later, Ray ran and was found in Manchester six weeks later. Christ knows how he wasn't raped and strangled; because he must have been the most beautiful little boy imaginable. I've seen some old photos of his grandma's. He fought everything and everyone until Sylvie Shannon found him, and although he could stop fighting with his fists he was still locked away emotionally for years. He joined the force, following in her footsteps; and I know he worked with kids and young people a lot.

Even in '78 he still ran a club for underprivileged youth, teaching them karate skills. That bloody bitch, Geraldine Mather, used that to discredit him when she had CI5 on the rack, when in fact all Ray was teaching the kids was how to stay alive when there's people twice your size wanting to beat you to a pulp. Cowley knew the lot; it's one reason he turns purple with apoplexy at the mention of Mather's name even now. Ray was still fighting when I met him in '75, and his opponent, then, was me. Sometimes he won, sometimes I did, but, win or lose, there was always this streak of pugnacity about him, a sort of "me against the world" quality that was like a mask, hiding the real Ray Doyle.

Then, slowly, imperceptibly, it all changed. And I like to think the reason for it was--and is--me. He stopped fighting so hard, he opened up, relaxed, let me in, let me share everything. And as he stopped fighting he seemed to grow up. The cocky little ragamuffin was outgrown, discarded, the way a snake sheds its skin; and in its place was someone new. '79 was our year, no doubt about it. Ann Holly left him, and I was waking up, noticing Ray a feature at a time without being aware I was doing it. We were together twenty hours out of the day, and when it came to holidays, it was inconceivable to go anywhere alone.

Ann dumped him back into my waiting lap in the May of '79. I picked up the pieces and worried about him, fended Cowley off, cursed Holly, mollycoddled him, I suppose. He grumbled, the way he will, but he was grateful. And the cycling trip to Wales was his idea. His grandmother lives there, in a tiny little town, not much more than a village, north of Swansea, and I had my doubts as to the wisdom of pushbiking among all those mountains. I had done some SAS training there and my impression of Wales was one of roads that start to look like the north face of the Eiger after the first five miles. He knew better; once you get up into the valleys it's relatively flat and not too bad for cycling.

His grandmother was his only living relative by that time. The parents had been totalled in a road accident in the midlands when he was a copper, and his distaff grandparents had died of natural causes about the time he was born. Old Mrs. Doyle was eighty, still living in the cottage into which she had moved when she and her long-dead husband retired. She still had the midlands accent, not a trace of Welsh in it; and she made us welcome the day we got in on the train. I didn't see much of her; Ray seemed to be doing his duty by making the visit, and I learned that he did it once a year as a gesture of thanks for all she had done for him as a child. Every August she would take him for a fortnight's holiday, at the cottage, and that got him out of the way of the parents, which did all concerned a huge favour.

We hired pushbikes at a shop in the village. Don't ask me to spell it--I can't even pronounce it--and Ray was eager to show me all the places he remembered from those summer holidays that must have been blessed liberation. I only knew the major roads and one small part of Wales, where the SAS had done their torture course; so when we got on the bikes, on those narrow roads which had to be shared with traffic, we had to ride single file, and I had to let him lead.

Which is where I began.

It was the cycling trip that did it. I spent four days behind him, with my eyes drawn irresistibly to a sight which I had to admit was beautiful. His behind, on a pushbike seat, departing, is a sight worthy of printing on postcards. I don't think I had ever really considered the concept of finding another man beautiful; powerful, yes, and reassuring-- concepts left over from the days of my wild and wooly youth. Even familiar and pleasant. Sometimes, in the bush or at sea, it had been nice. There was an officer who liked to cuddle after lights out, a lot of slushy kissing, and then rubbing together, and in the dark, Christ, a kiss is a kiss, and what does it matter which gender the person rubbing you is? It's what you feel, then. Tom Casey was okay, a good officer and a good mate, and I didn't mind when he slipped into my bed. But, beautiful?

Looking back on it, yes, you would say Tom was beautiful. With yellow hair and blue eyes, and nice skin. Gay, but so discreet the skipper never knew. I spotted him watching me, and I'd been in boys' school long enough to know that look. Cocky little bastard that I was, I winked at him. Gave him the come-on royally, I suppose. Woke up with a yell when he slid into my bed that night. I was thinking about Tom, and some of the others I had known, as I pushed that bike up the road behind Ray, all the while gazing at his gorgeous little bottom on that seat.

Like two grapefruit, wrapped in denim. Firm. White, I imagined, smooth, with a wonderful symmetry, absolutely equal on either side of a dividing cleft. Dark downed, the graceful curve of his spine feeding downward toward that peach- like form. When he pushed the bike hard, I could see his muscles working, watch those delectable buttocks spread. My blood pressure went up and I started to sweat. I shook myself hard but the arousal wasn't going to go away. I looked anywhere but his backside on that seat, but there it was, waiting for me, every time I looked back, and nothing was changing, not the way it looked, not the way I was looking at it.

We stopped for lunch on a hillside, among the bracken. Everything was orange and crisp, and the air was so clean it was enough to make you drunk. But it was Ray intoxicating me, and by that time I knew it. I was noticing all sorts of things about him as if for the first time; like, the way his eyelashes curl, and the way he has of dimpling in one cheek when he smiles. The way his upper lip is sculpted, like a perfect cupid's bow. That nose of his, larger than mine, and straighter too; mine is broken, which sort of flattened it, but luckily no one ever managed to break his nose, so it's still got that classical shape about it. The cheekbone, dented; smashed and replaced with a piece of plastic. It hurts in cold weather, I know. I've seen him take Paracetamol when there's an icy wind blowing, but he just shrugs about it--he's lucky to be alive and he knows it. It was broken when he was thirteen, and as I began to study him, really study him, I noticed that his right eye is not quite the same shape as his left, either. It's one of those irregularities that make him so--

So bloody beautiful. Never the same from two angles, or two moods, or expressions. Like a chameleon, constantly changing. Fascinated, I could barely drag my eyes off him, but I was happy just to look at that point. He must have known I was looking at him like an infatuated fifteen-year-old. I'm not that good an actor. We got back on the bikes for the afternoon's ride, and I couldn't vouch for where we went or what the scenery was like. I was watching him; the shape of his back, his legs, and that bum. If only I had had a camera, or could draw, to capture the way it sat on the pushbike seat, like melon in a basket. Enticing, maddening. My blood was on the simmer, and for the first time, I really wanted a man. Before, I had simply not minded when advances were made, or had known better than to complain, or had quite enjoyed a bit of humping and rubbing for fun, but I had never actually made advances. Never wanted to--there were always plenty of offers coming my way to begin with, and girls, occasionally. Sex had always been fun, something you indulged in like good food and good wine, always available when I wanted it, in one form or another. It's nice with a bloke who's not out to hurt you; it's nice with girls- - -when it comes down to the bottom line (pun intended), there isn't that much difference.

Except that now I wanted something and didn't know whether I could have it or not. I wanted Ray. Ray, beautiful Ray, sunning himself like a tourist, full of lunch, with the pushbike collapsed in the bracken beside him and a tin of Coke balanced on his flat belly. I wanted to lean over and kiss him, and didn't dare. I wanted to take his clothes off and look at him, and racked my brains to recall the details about his body, everything I could remember from the times we had showered together or changed or been swimming. I had never shared a bed with him, except for one New Year when I'd been thoroughly overcome, and there had been too much whisky in me for me to remember a thing about it. Now, I wanted to share a pillow; wanted to lie on him, feel his chest heave with his breathing, tickling mine, feel his cock, full and hard, rubbing mine, and his legs, spreading and holding me while he kissed me.

But would he? I shoved sunglasses onto my nose, buried my sorrows under a burger, and kept my mouth shut. We retired to different rooms, but they were adjoining and shared the same bathroom. It got very difficult that evening when he padded out of the shower into my room, going through my bag for a bar of soap and his razor. He was naked, and I didn't know where to look. As luck would have it I was in bed already, and although my body went up like an Atlas missile he was none the wiser. I managed to feast my eyes over the top of a magazine, squirreling away the details; the way the hair on his belly is so soft, and arrows down in a fine line to the curls at his groin, curls which are so red, he must have been a blinding redhead as a little boy. There's nothing little about him now. His cock is long and slim, like the rest of him, pale, and for some reason they had him circumcised; his balls would fill my palm, fragile, tender, stirring slightly beneath that thin, warm skin.

He stood there, for all the world as if he was teasing me, waiting to see what I would do or say. I said and did nothing. Till he was gone; then I wanked, diligently, and repeatedly. It was either that or a freezing shower and sleeping pills. Bright and early, we were up and on the road, and there was his behind on that pushbike seat.

Wriggling now and then; almost taunting. I endured, learning the trick of it. The only thing I could do was take an active interest in the scenery and I became inordinately interested in the local colour, making it through the day with my dignity more or less intact. A cool shower and a lot of indulgence in that solitary sin, and I survived. The next day was very much the same, save that Ray was wearing this strange little frown and kept looking at me from behind the green lenses of his sunglasses.

Oh Christ, I thought, he's noticed. But he didn't say anything, and certainly did not seem to have taken umbrage. Rather, the contrary. He wore that puzzled little frown all morning and then went out of his way to buy me lunch at a lovely little pub. It was hot, and when we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere and utterly alone, it was his idea that we swim. He stood right in front of me, gazing at the sky while he stripped, and then stood waiting. Waiting for me to make a fool of myself, take off my clothes and show him how aroused I was becoming? Fat chance of that. I still wanted to have a friend and partner when this pushbiking jaunt was over. I just smiled indulgently, told him to have fun, and went down the road for crisps, icecreams and a couple of lemonades.

He was silent all afternoon, and I knew he was depressed as we ate fish and chips. We talked, I don't know what about, all I remember of the evening is how unhappy he looked, so unhappy that at one point I asked if he wanted to call the whole thing off and go home. I leaned across the table to speak very quietly, because we were in the middle of a restaurant and hardly in private. He wouldn't look up, just shook his head and took himself off to bed soon after. I watched him go, making bets with myself that the little sod was coming down with something. 'Flu attacks you like that. Mood swings, and depression, irritability, then you get sick.

But the next day he was bright and breezy, dispelling that notion. It was lunchtime before I realised that he was far, far too bright and breezy for it to be natural, and began to look for signs of what was really wrong. It was the fourth day I'd spent ambling behind him, pushing the bike along the road with my eyes feasting on the portion of his anatomy that had begun to take on all the properties of the Golden Fleece. We ate a picnic lunch and started back, and he was silent, as usual. The mood he had sunk into was bleak and it was beginning to destroy the whole holiday for both of us. I knew I had to either shake him out of it or put an end to the holiday, before we started to fight, and ruined a lot more than a fortnight in Wales. Something was chewing at him, inside, I knew; and if he wasn't sickening for something, and if he didn't mind that I was watching him like a moon-struck kid, what could it be?

It was then that providence struck. Hand of God. Call it what you like. We were five miles from anywhere and I was a length behind him when his front tyre blew. A real blowout, must have gone over a piece of broken beer bottle. He went over the handlebars and straight into the gravel on the roadside, and he lay so still I thought for one terrible moment he'd broken his neck. I wasn't particularly coherent, not after the last few days I'd put in, and what I said I don't know. I was off the bike so fast he hadn't had time to moan, and going over him a bone at a time, looking for breaks, or sprains or blood. There was nothing, but I was having a nice time panicking and had checked everything twice, maybe three times, before I stopped fluttering around like a crazed canary. God, he could have been dead, and I hadn't even touched him, let alone kissed him, and--

Stupid? I suppose. But I was petrified, and not with any selfish streak. Ray--hurt. My Ray. My own Ray. Slowly, as I realised he wasn't hurt at all, I calmed down again; and there were two green eyes laughing up at me from the crook of my arm where he lay. Quiescent, watching, loving it. I froze. Now what did I do? I had him in my arms, he was lying across my lap, his weight on my right leg, my left hand cupped about his chest, my right on his shoulder. If his eyes had been laughing at me, I think I would have dropped him, turned my back and run. But they were laughing at himself, not me; they were warm, and bright, and inviting. I told myself I was imagining it all, that it was just my feverish imagination, that there was no way he could be looking at me like that.

How long we sat there like idiots on the roadside, just looking at each other, I don't know, but I think we might still have been there if he hadn't taken matters into his own hands. He kissed me. He looped his arm about my neck, pulled my head down and pressed his mouth over mine, hard, until I kissed him right back. We were just lucky; if a car had come along we could have been for the high jump--two men, kissing on the roadside in broad daylight? 1979 was liberated, but not that liberated. He suffocated me, rampaged through my mouth, crushed me till I could literally hear my ribs creaking and then sank his teeth into my neck like a bloody vampire.

Somehow, we unglued ourselves long enough to gape at each other, and then he started to laugh like a drain. Ray's laugh is a real, full- throated, dirty guffaw, and it's infectious. It made me see the funny side of the whole situation, and then I was laughing too, as we picked ourselves up out of the gravel and dusted our clothes off. He mopped at his eyes, leaning on my shoulder for support, weak with laughter, and the sight of the burst front tyre set us off again. If anyone had driven by at that stage, the men from the local loony bin would have been right behind us--with nets.

"What--how--why--?" I was spluttering. My lips were so bruised I could hardly speak. "I mean-- Ray!" My Ray. My own. Oh, my God.

"I couldn't understand why you started ignoring me," he was saying. "The first couple of days out, you were looking and looking, and then, when I wanted to make you look at me and touch me, I couldn't. You just acted like I wasn't there, even when I stripped bloody bollock naked. I thought I'd got your signals wrong, felt like a fool, didn't know how to apologise."

"You thought--?" I sat down on the grassy bank and pulled him down beside me in the bracken. >From the road we were invisible now. "I've been trying not to annoy you, I knew you must have noticed me looking." Lame excuse, but it was true, and so simple he knew he could believe me. He was on me then, lying on me, smothering me, knees getting in between mine, and I was dizzy with it all, so excited I thought I'd come before I could stop it happening. He was dry humping me, as excited as I was, and I somehow rolled him off and pinned him down to stop him before it was all over. "Wait, Ray--wait! When? When did you decide--?"

"After I woke up to you," he panted. "I noticed you looking at me, realised what it was about. Woke up like you'd thrown a bucket of water over me. I've been trying to turn you on for two bloody days."

"Got news for you, sunshine," I muttered shamefacedly, "you've been doing it. Royally." We lay in the bracken, panting and laughing at each other, but we were so aroused we were shaking, and if I was hurting, and I was wearing loose white slacks, what the hell those jeans were doing to him was probably torture. In the spirits of kindness, I unzipped him. He sucked in a breath, closed his eyes and shuddered from head to foot. How I didn't come I shall never know. "Ray? Tell me, Ray. You're ready for this? You want it? What do you want?"

"You," he croaked. "Make love to me. Show me how. I've never--that is, I don't--oh Christ, you know." His eyes were glassy. "Teach me how."

So I taught him. There were many lessons, each lovingly taught and well-learned, but they began in the bracken in Wales by a deserted road. I went over him inch by inch, kissed where my hands had been and sucked him; then he went over me in return, and by the time I had erupted, and he had sucked me hard again, he was ready for more, and I lay between his legs, pinning him to the turf, and he was mine. He's been mine ever since, and I've been his.

Cowley knows, he's always known. I think he could see where we were heading before we could, and wasn't in the slightest surprised when we told him what we'd decided. That we were in love, and intended to make a life together, with or without CI5, and the final decision was up to him. He gave us his blessing with one conditional paragraph that we were pleased to honour for the sake of the red tape and paperwork. "Give it a cooling-off period," he said--wisely, Scot that he is. "See if the way you feel changes. If you still feel the same in a year, we'll see about your moving into the same flat."

He rewrote the non-fraternisation rule for us, and, immodestly, we believe it's because he can't afford to lose us. 1980 was a bloody good year. Marvellous. Until Ray was shot. I was at my wits' end, and the old man was like a father, long-suffering, supportive and actually quite kind. All I wanted was to be with Ray, and every moment away from the hospital was like bamboo under the fingernails. That was the year we proved out Cowley's "cooling-off period," and it was actually only something like ten months before Ray came home from hospital and moved straight into my flat, with Cowley's consent.

I can't look at a pushbike without breaking up; the mere sight of one makes me cackle like a broody hen, and he'll give me this look, resigned and lusty and sheepish. It's twelve years since we were teamed, back in '75, and it's eight years since we became lovers. Cowley has retired, I'm going silver about the temples, Ray is very silver now, and we're as deeply in love as the day we began. Up for promotion soon, too, though we don't know if we want to accept; pushing pencils and paper across desks, and answering the phone eight hours a day, is not for us.

We've promised the boss we'll think about it, and he's given us a fortnight off to do so. It's August, the weather is beautiful for the first time in months, and we're going on holiday, make the most of the two weeks of glorious freedom. Ray arranged everything last week and sprung the whole trip on me last night.

We're going pushbiking in Wales. Only this time, we know what the hell we're doing before we start.

-- THE END --

December 1987

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