Seven Swans a-Swimming


Chapter Seven

A crack of sunlight peeking through the curtains woke Doyle early. The temperature in the room was comfortable, since they'd built fires in the bedroom fireplaces last night. Ray stretched in pleasure, thinking of the lovely evening they'd had - not that they'd done anything special, even though it was New Year's Eve. He let his memory carry him back those few hours.

When Bodie returned from putting away the rings, they watched the news while they finished their tea, (since the Cow always expected them to keep up on current events), then discussed it desultorily - terrorists, murders, robberies, gangs - nothing new in the news. It was while they were talking about the latest gang activity that Doyle volunteered, "I almost got involved with a gang."

"You did?" Bodie sat upright from where he'd been slouched on the sofa and stared at his partner. "How did that happen?"

"My brother joined one, then thought I should, too. Mostly to run errands for him, I think. He used to bully me since he was a lot bigger than I was. I probably would have got mixed up with them eventually, just to keep him from thumping me about whenever he was home."

"What kept you from it, then?"

"Oh, that's when I went off to art school. I had a partial scholarship, but my mum thought it was a waste of money to send me. However, when all that happened, she decided it was worth it to get me away. One of my cousins was in a gang and got killed a year later. She didn't want that happening to both her sons. The art school was far enough way that my brother couldn't bother me. I roomed near the school with some other students."

Bodie was amazed that Ray had said so much about himself. He was a very private person, generally. Bodie knew he'd been to art school, because that was in his records, but not how or why. This was a much surer sign that Doyle felt close to him than anything else he'd said or done. He felt he should reciprocate even though he, also, rarely said much about his background.

"The reason I joined the merchant marine at minimum school leaving age," he said, "was that my mum remarried and my step-dad was gonna take me out of school anyway and have me work with him as a dustman. I hated it and him. M'mother never had any time for me any more after she remarried and I figured if I had to leave school, I might was well have some adventures. I got my wish," he finished ruefully.

Doyle had been as surprised as Bodie that he'd said anything to him about his brother. He hadn't ever mentioned it to anybody but Cowley. Even when he'd joined the police force he'd kept quiet about it. Once he'd informed him, though, he felt glad he had. It made him feel closer to him, knowing Bodie knew something about him almost no one else did. He knew Bodie would accept anything he told him uncritically. He was very pleased when Bodie said why he'd left school. As much as he wanted to jump Bodie's bones, he wanted their relationship (if they ever had one) to be more than just a physical one.

They talked on for a long while, sharing little tidbits about their early lives.

"I had a puppy, once," Bodie said. "Just a black and white ball of fur that followed me home from school. My mum didn't want to let me keep it, but she finally gave in. I named him 'Butch', hoping he'd get to be ferocious, but he never did. I bought his food out of my pocket money and brushed him and cleaned up after him every day. We'd go for long runs after school. One day, when I came home, he was dead. I never did figure out why. I buried him in the bottom of the garden. Mum said I hadn't taken care of him properly, so she never let me have another pet."

Doyle wished he could hold Bodie and comfort the child he had been for the loss of his pet. He did go so far as to squeeze his arm in sympathy.

"I had a cat, kinda," Ray said. "A mangy old tom used to hang around the back alley. I'd sneak scraps out to him when I could. He'd as likely scratch me as not. Never did give him a real name. He was just 'That old moggy'. He was around for several years and then he just stopped coming. I figured he probably got run over by a car or something. He probably fathered hundreds of litters of kittens in all that time. He was a real fighter," Doyle added admiringly, "Maybe he got taken out by a rival, in his old age. That would have been a fitting way to go."

"Sounds like the type of pet you'd have," Bodie said. Just then his stomach rumbled.

Doyle laughed. "Feeding time at the zoo, is it? What do you want for supper, then? We haven't begun to make a dent in the freezer."

"Nothing out of the freezer," Bodie said. "What I really want is fish and chips. There's a chippy just past the pub. Let's go."

Ray was in a mood to humor his partner, so he uncomplainingly went for his jacket and met Bodie at the car.

One at the chippy, Bodie went overboard. He bought savaloys, mushroom fritters and mushy peas, as well as fish and chips, (Doyle protested over the last, but Bodie insisted), finishing off with fried Mars bars and several cans of slightly warm shandy.

They nibbled on the chips on the way home, burning their fingers in the process. Bodie also ate one of the Mars bars, saying they tasted best hot, and anyway, you never knew when something might come up to keep you from eating dessert.

When they got back to the house, they put the newspaper parcels and shandy on trays and carried them in to eat in front of the telly.

"Put on an action/adventure video, Ray," Bodie said, mouth full of chips. Doyle complied, then joined Bodie on the sofa. They cheered the good guys while getting themselves thoroughly greasy. If their hands brushed a little oftener than necessary while reaching for chips, neither one objected. It was a cosy, casual evening like so many they'd spent together over the years but with a pleasurable tension that hadn't been there before.

Bodie'd been keeping half an eye on the clock. "'S almost midnight, mate," he said. "What we need is a bit of champers." He picked up the trays, empty of all but greasy newspaper and headed off to the kitchen. He had brought up a couple bottles of champagne when he put the rings in the safe and put it in the fridge to chill. Now he brought the champagne and a pair of tulip glasses in and popped the corks, pouring the foaming liquid into the glasses with a flourish. He managed without spilling a drop.

Doyle applauded his finesse, as he reached for a brimming glass. The bubbles got up his nose as he took a sip to keep it from spilling, and he sneezed.

Meanwhile, Bodie had gone over to the video cabinet and picked up a parcel he had left there earlier. He dug into it and pulled out a pair of shiny hats, one of which he tossed to Ray. "There you go, sunshine," he said. "Put it on. Got to get in the party mood," he continued, putting on his own.

"You know what your trouble is?" Doyle said, laughing at his clown of a partner. "You've never grown up. Peter Bloody Pan is who you are." But he put on the hat without protest.

Bodie reached into the parcel again and took out two noisemakers and two bags of confetti. He gave one of each to Ray. "Here you go," he said, awkwardly trying to balance his noisemaker, the confetti, and a champagne glass all at the same time. He finally ended up with the noisemaker and confetti in one hand and the champagne in the other.

Standing up, Doyle somehow managed to wedge the bag of confetti into a pocket of his skin tight jeans, then picked up the noisemaker and champagne, one in each hand.

"Get ready," said Bodie, "there it goes. Ten...nine..."

Doyle joined in with him, " Happy New Year!"

They blew their noisemakers and toasted each other with champagne, smiling into each other's eyes.

'Maybe next year,' Bodie thought, 'If things go as I hope, we'll be sharing a lover's kiss as well as champagne.'

Doyle was thinking much the same thing as he stared, mesmerized, into Bodie's eyes.

Just then, however, Bodie broke the mood by throwing a large handful of confetti at Ray. Doyle retaliated and they proceeded to have a grand confetti fight - interspersed with large swigs of champagne. They'd managed to polish off both bottles of bubbly while they were fooling around and who minded if they'd swallowed a few bits of paper as well.

When they'd finally run out of ammunition, Bodie stood and laughed at Ray. Having lost his hat at some point, his curls were bedecked with multi-colored bits of paper. "You should see yourself, mate," he said, when he could finally talk. "If I had a camera handy, I'd take your picture."

Doyle shook his head vigorously, but dislodged only a few pieces. Bodie's sleek head, in contrast, had almost no confetti on it and a few brushes with his hands took care of those. He brushed off his clothes with Doyle's help, then went to get Ray's comb, so Doyle wouldn't spread confetti throughout the house.

When he returned, he waved Doyle to a chair and bowed, brandishing the comb. "Monsieur Bodie, at your service," he'd joked, "removing confetti from ratty curls, a speciality."

"That's great," Ray'd said, more than happy to let Bodie have his way. "Can you do a French accent?"

Bodie thumped Doyle (Hard enough to make him rub his head, dislodging a few more bits of paper) then proceeded to comb the curls free of confetti.

Ray half expected Bodie to go about it in his usual rough and ready style, so he was surprised at how gentle his partner was, untangling snarls with his fingers rather than just jerking the comb through them. A tingle went through him at the feel of Bodie's hands in his hair. 'Wish I had as good an excuse to touch Bodie's hair,' he thought. Doyle relaxed under Bodie's ministrations. If he'd been a cat, he would have purred. "Mmm, feels good," he said drowsily. When Bodie finally finished, Ray had to shake himself awake. He brushed the rest of the confetti off his clothes with Bodie's help, then stumbled off to bed where he slept dreamlessly, wrapped in the warm contentment of his partner's caring.

Now, bursting with energy and good will, he pushed back the duvet and bounced out of bed. He padded to the window and pushed back the drapes then blinked, momentarily blinded by the reflection of the sun off the new snow. When he could see again, he stood staring out at the picture-book scene. The snow was untouched except for a line of rabbit tracks stenciled across it.

He continued to stand in admiration until a thought crossed his mind that made him groan. New snow, mounds of it, carpeting everything - including the drive. No cleared drive meant no deliveries. Ray was now caught up in the game enough to want to see it through to the end. Bodie had been very ingenious so far. Doyle was curious as to how he would continue. Let's was the seventh day. Swans. They were royal beasts, protected by the crown. How was Bodie going to manage this? It would be interesting to see what he came up with, especially since delivery people generally didn't work on New Year's Day.

He turned from the window, got dressed and headed downstairs, taking an extra jumper with him. If he were going to be shoveling snow, he wanted to be warm. He went through the kitchen to the pantry to see what was on offer. The grocery van had arrived late yesterday evening, (they apparently had been the last stop on the route), and had delivered some interesting looking parcels. He looked through the shelves and found a medium-sized parcel wrapped in white butcher's paper. He read the label - kippers. Just what Bodie would like. He picked up the parcel and went back to the kitchen, closing the pantry door behind him. He put the parcel on the counter, then started the coffee and got out a loaf of bread for toast. He ran some water in the frying pan and put it on to heat. Now all, he needed was Bodie. He ran back upstairs and knocked on Bodie's door. "Rise and shine, sleepyhead," he called out. "Kippers in ten minutes. Be there or I'll eat them myself."

Bodie woke reluctantly at Ray's knock. He'd been in the middle of a lovely dream where he was running his hands through Doyle's hair - - all of Doyle's hair. Who knew where it might have led. He started to get up and dress, then lay back again, reminiscing about last night.

He had sat down for a few minutes after Doyle had gone to bed, to memorize the feel of Ray's hair curling softly around his fingers. He had been very tempted to go and give Doyle a scalp massage, as well, but had been afraid to push his luck. What he had done was more than he had hoped to be able to do. The trouble was, it had made him want his partner more than ever. It still did. He was encouraged, though, by the fact that Doyle had obviously liked what he had done. That boded well for the future.

He finally threw the covers back and got up. As lovely as thinking about Doyle was, it wasn't getting anything accomplished. He opened the curtains on the way to the bathroom and was stuck, as Ray had been, by the beauty of the scene. However, he realized much sooner than Doyle had that the weather had let him in for quite a job of work. He shrugged fatalistically and headed for the shower. After the extra money he'd paid the deliverymen to work on New Year's Day, he was going to be sure they could get through.

He washed and dressed in record time and was shutting the door behind him just as he heard Ray calling up the stairs. "Oy, lazybones, last call for brekkie."

"I'm here," he called back, taking the stairs three at a time and almost falling into the kitchen. "Mmmmm. It smells delicious." He looked around to see what needed doing, but Doyle had the table all set. There was a rack of toast by each plate with butter and marmalade and hot coffee with cream and sugar.

Doyle lifted a large kipper onto a plate and set it in front of Bodie, then took out the other one for himself.

Bodie barely waited until he was seated before digging in. The breakfast was up to Ray's usual high standards. He buttered a slice of toast while he was chewing the first mouthful and added a thick layer of marmalade. He took a large bite and chewed quickly, then washed it all down with a swallow of coffee. "Fantastic," he said. "My compliments to the chef."

"'S not bad, is it?" Doyle agreed, loading up his fork.

The two men concentrated on the food for the next few minutes. Soon there was nothing left on either plate but a pile of bones and a few toast crumbs and marmalade smears.

"Y'know," Doyle said, "if we keep eating like this, we're gonna be in Macklin's hands for the next year getting back in shape."

"Not me," replied Bodie, as he cleared away the dirty dishes, scraped them and put them in the dishwasher. I'm going out to work it all off right now - shoveling the bloody drive."

"I'll join you," Ray offered. "I could use the exercise," he added, patting his extremely flat stomach. With his painted on jeans, not an extra ounce of fat showed anywhere as far as Bodie could see. 'He must have arranged a delivery today somehow,' Doyle thought, 'or he wouldn't need to clear the drive.'

Since he was never adverse to time spent in Doyle's company, Bodie didn't contradict him. "That's great," he replied. "I'll get the wellies and the snow shovels."

By the time Bodie returned, looking rather rotund from all the extra layers of clothes he had added, Ray was waiting at the front door wearing his extra jumper and anarak and carrying woolly hats and gloves. "We'll probably need these," he said, handing a set to Bodie.

They pulled on the woollies and wellies and stepped out the front door then stopped, looking at the long expanse of drive covered with white, fluffy snow.

"Tell me," Doyle said, "with everything else Colin has, why doesn't he have a snow-blower?"

"He did," answered Bodie disgustedly. "Unfortunately, it broke down at the end of last season and he hasn't ordered a new one yet. He's going to do it when he gets back. It was supposed to be a mild winter, this year - no snow till well after Christmas and very little after that. So much for the weathermen." He went down the steps and started shoveling. "At least it's been calm, so there're no drifts."

"Great thanks for small favours," Doyle replied as he joined his partner.

They shoveled steadily for a long time - a very long time. Even Bodie's tendency towards friskiness was curbed each time he looked at the drive. For a time it seemed like climbing a glass mountain - they never seemed to get any forwarder. They didn't even do much talking, saving their breath for the work, though the did share frequent companionable smiles. By the time they got to the end of the drive, however, they had run out of smiles of any kind. They felt like they had ended up in the Norse version of hell and were stuck there permanently. Finally, the end was in sight.

"Why don't you go in and fix us something to eat and I'll finish up here?" Bodie suggested. "It should be about time for elevenses, shouldn't it?"

"All right," Ray agreed, more than happy to stop shoveling. "Ice cream?" he asked, innocently, naming one of Bodie's (normally) favourite dishes.

Bodie just glared at him and didn't deign to answer.

Doyle laughed like a drain and swung his shovel over his shoulder, getting the energy from somewhere to saunter jauntily back up the drive. Once back at the house, he put the snow shovel, his wellies, and his damp outer clothes in the mud room then went into the kitchen and put the kettle on for tea. Since they'd had a grocery delivery and they now had a lot of fresh veggies, he decided to make cream of mushroom soup. By the time Bodie got in, he had it bubbling away on the back of the cooker. He'd found a loaf of multi-grain bread and a Swiss roll in the freezer. He'd put several slices of bread in the oven to heat and had thawed the Swiss roll in the microwave.

When he heard Bodie in the mud room he poured a mug of tea and laced it with brandy, handing it to Bodie as he came in the kitchen. "Here you go, mate," Ray said, "wrap your tonsils around that."

Instead, Bodie wrapped his hands around the hot mug to warm them. He sipped the nearly scalding beverage carefully. Soon it had cooled enough that he could drink it down. "Mmmm, that hit the spot," he said. He walked over to the cooker and reached for the pot of soup. "What're you fixing?" he asked.

Doyle rapped him over the knuckles with a wooden spoon. "Sit down and behave yourself, young man," he said in his best nanny imitation. He filled two very large bowls with the soup and put them and the teapot on the table.

Bodie took a spoonful and blew on it to cool it enough to swallow. "Great," he said appreciatively when he could finally eat it. "It tastes as good as it smells."

"Not bad," Ray agreed with him.

They ate the first bowls hurriedly, then had seconds. They concentrated on eating as the hot soup and tea finally warmed them through. Doyle pushed his bowl away after his second helping, though he buttered another slice of bread and munched on it, alternating with slurps of tea. Bodie helped himself to some more soup, though he didn't fill the bowl. He emptied the tea pot into his cup.

"Shall I make another pot?" he asked.

"Not for me," Doyle replied, looking over at Bodie. His partner was sipping his soup considerably more slowly than he had done his first two. "Did you leave room for Swiss roll?" he asked.

Bodie looked at him indignantly. "I always have room for Swiss roll," he answered. He finished up his soup, went over and cut himself two thick slices to prove it. "D'you want some?"

"Yeah, I'll have a slice, thanks," said Ray, finishing his bread. "A thin one." He ate the chocolate slowly, savouring it. "I hope you don't have anything too energetic planned for us this afternoon," he said. "I'm knackered."

Bodie grinned, wickedly. "Well, I did think you might want to try a little cross-country skiing, with all this new snow..."

Doyle glared at him and didn't bother to answer.

"...but, on second thought, I think we've had enough snow for one day," he finished. "In fact," he yawned, "I think I might have a little kip. Someone woke me this morning before I had my sleep out - and after I was up all night, hoovering the lounge." He tried hard to look put upon, but wasn't noticeably successful; thinking, as he was, of running his fingers through Ray's curls.

Doyle guessed what he was thinking about, but didn't make any comment. "That sounds just my speed," was all he said as he got up and cleared away the dishes.

They then adjourned to the lounge. Bodie stretched out on the sofa and flaked out within minutes. Doyle put a CD of Beethoven's eighth symphony on the player, then went to the library to get a book. He had found a shelf of thrillers hidden in a corner and there were several he hadn't read. He returned shortly with a book and curled up in the big overstuffed chair to read.

The doorbell woke him. He shook his head to wake up more thoroughly and looked out the window. It didn't look that late. The doorbell pealed again. He glanced at his watch on his way to the door. No, the delivery was early today. He opened the door just as the deliveryman was reaching for the bell again.

"Happy New Year, Mr. Doyle," the man said, holding out the now familiar clipboard.

"Thank you," Doyle replied, signing and handing the clipboard back. "And the same to you." "Thank you, sir," the man said as he put the clipboard away and opened the back doors of the van. He normally wouldn't consider working on a holiday, but the amount he was being paid for this one delivery made it well worth while.

Doyle watched patiently while tree, doves, hens, and budgerigars were unloaded and deposited at his feet. He carried them up and into the house while the man was fastening the ramp to the bottom of the van body.

He was back to watch as the man dollied down the crate of very large geese - even larger geese than yesterday, it seemed to him. This time they weren't honking, they were hissing angrily.

The man unfastened the dolly and went back inside the van then came down, very slowly, with an even larger crate - an enormous crate - - filled, of course, with swans. Seven swans. Seven white swans with black markings. Doyle shook his head at the size of the crate. He didn't see how the man could possibly have got everything inside the one van. It must be a tardis. That was the only possibility.

The geese hissed even louder at the swans. The swans looked down their noses at the geese. Those little things were obviously beneath their notice. Little geese? Doyle looked again at the swans and then back to the geese. Yes, compared to the swans, the geese were little - or, at least, smaller.

The man, meanwhile, was putting the dolly and the ramp back inside the van. "Good-bye, Mr. Doyle," he called as he got into the driver's seat and started the van.

Doyle merely waved at him. He was still staring at the swans. Even knowing this was all a put-on, he was still amazed. Why would Bodie think he'd believe all this was for him. What would he do with forty-two swans in the city? He couldn't even cook them, since they were protected. Even if he parceled them out to all the parks in London, he'd still have swans left over. He shook his head again, in amazement, then went to see if he could get close enough to either crate to look for a label.

The geese were as aggressive as the previous day's were, so he didn't even try to get close to them. The swans, however, were fairly docile. He walked around the crate and, sure enough, on one side was the tag - To: Ray From: Bodie. The tag was pasted partially over a customs declaration, ('customs?' Doyle wondered); which, in turn, was pasted over a return address burned into the wood of the crate. He couldn't read the name of the city, but the rest of the address was 'Alabama, U.S.A.' Now Ray was really perplexed. Why would Bodie (or Colin) be importing swans from Alabama, of all places? Surely there were enough swans in England?

Admitting to himself that he'd never be able to figure this all out and would just have to wait until it was all over and Bodie filled in the blanks for him, he turned to go back into the house. 'No rings, today,' he was thinking as he climbed the stairs but, just as he put his hand on the door knob, he heard the familiar putt, putt, putt of the courier's motorbike. He went back down the stairs and waited for her to pull up. Out came the clipboard. He signed the paper on it and traded it back to the rider for the parcel. "Thank-you," he said. "Happy New Year."

"And to you, sir," she replied. 'It definitely was a happy start to the year,' she thought. 'Triple the usual fee would make anyone happy.'

Ray went back inside the house. Today he'd had the forethought to put a basket by the front door earlier. He picked it up along with the tree and headed off to the conservatory He put the tree with the others. 'Quite a nice little grove I've got going here,' he thought.

He took the quail out of the small cage, put it in the larger one with the previous six and checked their food and water. They were starting to look a little crowded with seven of them in there.

He took up the basket and made the rounds of the trees, picking ripe pears. The first couple trees were almost bare of fruit, but the more recent ones still had plenty on them. He carried the basket back to the entryway, got the budgerigar cage and the parcel of rings and returned to the lounge.

Bodie was sitting up, perusing Ray's book. Doyle put pears, parcel and cage on the table and sat down beside him. "Thank you, True Love of mine, for the pressies," he said sweetly. "I don't think I've ever seen nicer swans - or larger. It's going to be a bit of a squeeze getting them all in my flat, though, along with the geese and everything else."

Bodie wasn't too sure what to say in reply to this, so he wisely said nothing. He wasn't quite sure if Ray was serious or not. Surely, by now, he'd worked out that the 'gifts' weren't really for him but, if so, he'd never given Bodie so much as a hint that he had.

Ray reached over and pulled the cover off the budgies' cage. Today's four were all rainbow colored. They were sitting two by two, rubbing their bills together and making little chirruping sounds. He picked up the basket, helped himself to a pear, and held it out to Bodie. "Have a pear," he offered. "Have two, they're small."

"Thanks," Bodie said, taking a couple of pears and biting into one.

"By the way," Doyle continued, seriously. "The partridges are looking a little crowded. Are you sure they'll be all right in that cage?"

"I'll move 'em today," Bodie responded. "There's a big cage for them in one of the buildings, with bushes and trees and everything they need to be happy. It's just that they're sociable birds and I figured they'd be too lonely I such a large area if there were only one or two, but they'll be fine, now."

"Good," was all that Ray said, biting into a pear, not commenting on the fact that 'his' partridges seemed to have an ideal home all ready for them on Colin's property.

"I suppose I'd better go take care of them before it gets dark," he sighed, getting up from the sofa and finishing off the second pear as he reached for the budgies.

"D'you want some help?" Ray asked, unexpectedly - never before having helped with anything other than the pear trees and partridges.

Bodie hesitated. This was all his idea, at least the way the things were arriving was, and he'd told Colin he could handle it all by himself when Colin had offered to have some of the farm hands come over and help out, because he'd wanted to have Doyle all to himself with no one else around to inhibit them. However, it was turning out to be a lot more work than he'd anticipated and he really could use a hand. "Sure," he said, after a moment. "If you wouldn't mind. I'd appreciate that."

"Come on, then," said Doyle. "You take care of the budgies and get the partridges. I'll get the doves and hens and meet you out back." Suiting his actions to his words, he was soon at the back door with two cages of birds. He'd put on his jacket and gloves and, after one look at the still unmarked snow in back of the house, his wellies.

Bodie joined him shortly, dressed the same but carrying the cage of partridges.

"I refuse to lift another shovelful of snow," Ray warned.

"No, no, we don't have to shovel anything more," Bodie assured him. "We can just tramp out paths for ourselves and the lawn mower can navigate mud, so it should be able to handle snow. Bring the doves and follow me."

Each carrying a cage of birds, they stamped down the fluffy snow. Bodie left Ray at the dovecote and continued on to the small building set up for the partridges. He got them settled, then went back outside. Doyle was waiting for him back on the porch. He showed Doyle which building was the hen coop and left him to stamp out a path and take the hens there, while he went to the garage to get the lawn mower. He had left the lifting attachment on, knowing he would need it again - several times - so he only had to start it and drive it round to the front of the house.

Ray was right. The swans were very large. He wasn't perfectly sure he could move them, even with the lifting attachment. 'Oh, well,' he shrugged mentally, 'start with what I know I can do and tackle the rest, later.' He loaded the crate of geese onto the lifter and headed for the barn. Doyle had finished with the hens and was watching for him. He followed him to the barn. With two of them, it was easier to get the geese out of the crate but they still needed their gloves to protect their hands from bites.

"D'you need any help with the swans?" Ray asked after the geese had been fed.

"I just might," Bodie answered. "Hop on the mower with me, and we'll see."

Doyle stood on the back of the mower and balanced by holding on to Bodie's shoulders. It was very tempting to let his arms slip around Bodie's neck and rest his head on Bodie's, but he managed to assert great self-control and restrain himself, only showing his effort through the tenseness of his hands on Bodie's shoulders.

Bodie started the mower and drove it back to the front of the house, concentrating very hard on what he was doing. He could feel Ray's hands on his shoulders as if they were burning in to him. The ride was over much too quickly.

When they arrived, Doyle hopped off and watched Bodie slide the lifter under the crate and try to pick it up. "Why don't you come and hold on to the front of the crate and try to balance it?" Bodie said, "And I'll drive as slowly as I can."

Ray did as he requested and the plan worked, more or less. Bodie kept having to stop every few yards to let the swans settle down since, obviously, every time they moved, the crate shifted.

"This would work a lot better with a third person," Ray commented.

"I know," agreed Bodie, "but unless you can clone yourself on the spot, we're stuck with just us."

"'Just us' can do anything we put our minds to," Doyle asserted, giving Bodie a cocky grin, then gripping the crate more tightly as Bodie went over a bump.

"Sure we can," agreed Bodie, "The impossible just takes a little longer."

Eventually they got the crate out to the field where the swans were to stay temporarily. Half of it had been planted with grain but not harvested, so the swans could help themselves as they would in the wild. It took both of them to get the crate open and the swans released - - luckily they weren't as aggressive as the geese had been.

"Won't they just fly away?" Ray asked, watching them stretch their wings.

"Nah. The feathers of one wing were clipped as soon as they grew in, so they would be lopsided if they tried to fly. They've already learned it won't work. By the time they moult and grow new feathers, they'll have raised a family here and it'll be home," Bodie replied. "Come on. Let's get this crate and the mower put away and get back to the house," he added, picking up the crate with the lifter again.

Doyle took hold of a front corner again to balance it. Without the shifting weight of the swans, they were able to move much faster. They put the crate behind the barn where Bodie had stacked the goose crates, and Ray noticed the markings again.

"Why did you get the swans from Alabama?" he couldn't resist asking. He really wanted to know and, besides, it was always fun watching Bodie squirm. "Aren't there enough here in England?"

"Well, uh," Bodie's mind scrabbled around trying to think of a good reason to give Doyle. He didn't know, himself, why Colin had decided on American swans. He hadn't thought to ask him. "Uh, well, they were having a special on them." He figured that sounded as good as anything. "Buy six, get one free." He was sure Ray wouldn't buy it, but it was all he could come up with.

"Oh," said Doyle, "that makes sense. Save money whenever you can is my motto. Just curious." He was sure that wasn't the reason, but decided not to torment Bodie any more just then. "I'll go in and put the water on for tea, shall I?" he continued.

"Sure. You do that and I'll put the mower away," Bodie agreed and drove the mower into the garage.

Ray went on into the house. He was quite peckish but decided that rather than make a large tea, they'd just have supper early. He perused the contents of the freezer and, after giving the matter much concentration, he finally decided on duck l'orange, wild rice and asparagus. He moved it to the fridge to wait until he was ready to microwave it.

When Bodie came in he agreed with Doyle's plans, however he grabbed a packet of chocolate bikkies just to tide him over until supper was ready. He carried the tea tray into the lounge and then was mother.

Meanwhile, Doyle sat down and picked up the parcel of rings. He wondered what they'd look like today. He took out his knife and slit the wrappings, then opened the lid. They were packed in layers of cotton wool.

The first ring was made of thin gold wire twisted into a fantastic never-ending knot. It was delicate looking, but wasn't a lady's ring as it was much too big for most women's fingers. It was, in fact, almost too big for Ray's fingers. It fit on his thumb pretty nearly, but it was still a little loose. He held out his hand to admire it. "I've never seen a ring like this before. When did you get all this time to search out these rings?" he asked, tormenting his partner again.

"Um," Bodie thought fast. Two off the cuff explanations in one afternoon. He was getting a cramp in his brain. "Well, some of them I ordered from catalogues," he said. "Most of them, in fact. Saved a lot of time that way."

"Good idea," Doyle said. Especially since you don't have a lot of extra time, anyway." He had to admire Bodie's quick wittedness. He hadn't managed to stump him yet. He lifted off the next layer of cotton wool and found a ring made of gold filigree. There was a lion rampant in the center. He put it on his little finger. It fit, but it was a little tight. 'Hope I can get it off again,' he thought. 'Bodie'll be pissed if I can't.'

He pulled the next layer of cotton wool out of the box and took out the next ring. This one was made of white gold. It was made of gold wire again, this time criss-crossing within a large oval. Every place the wires crossed, there was a tiny diamond chip just large enough to catch the light and reflect back prismatic colors. 'It needs to be on a pendant,' he thought, his artist's eye caught by the design, 'suspended against black or midnight blue velvet.' It wouldn't fit on his left hand, but went easily on the first finger of his right.

Bodie was watching Ray with a more tender expression on his face than he realized. It was like a five-year-old digging into his Christmas stocking to see what Father Christmas had left him. He wished that he really could give Ray all the rings.

The next layer of cotton wool revealed a much plainer ring. It was just a simple band formed of ropes of pink and green gold twisted together. When he picked it up, Doyle found it was heavier than it looked. He put it on his middle finger, where it fit perfectly.

He glanced at Bodie while he was admiring it and was touched by his expression. He didn't let on that he had seen, but his heart was full of warmth by what he saw. He was tempted to reach for him and end this foolishness now but then his streak of perversity cut in, Bodie had started this and he'd let him finish it. He'd play the game out to the end - but he no longer had any doubt about Bodie's feelings. The questions now were, how long could he keep Bodie in the dark about his and could he keep from letting on to Bodie what he'd found out.

He kept his eyes on the box and uncovered the last ring. It was almost a twin of the white gold one, but it was yellow gold and was studded with emerald chips, slightly larger than the diamond chips had been. It fit on the middle finger of his right hand.

He held both hands out to look at them. "They're beautiful, Bodie," he said sincerely. "You really know how to choose great gifts," he added, twisting the knife a little.

"Glad you like 'em," Bodie said, voice a little muffled by the chocolate digestive he was eating. 'He sounds like he really thinks they're his,' Bodie worried. 'I was sure he'd catch on before this. He's got to be putting me on. 'Cause, if he's not, I'm gonna have a hell of a time explaining that they're not.' He washed the biscuit down with a mouthful of tea. "You haven't drunk your tea," he said suddenly realizing this fact.

"I know," Doyle said. "Too busy admiring my pressies, wasn't I? I'll drink it now." He picked up his cup and downed the now very cool tea, making a face as he did so. "I think I need some that's a bit hotter," he said.

Bodie fixed him another cup as Doyle continued to admire the rings. The gems glittered in the light as he reached for the tea and he smiled at their beauty. When he finished the second cup, he took the rings off, wrapped them carefully, and put them back in their box. He had to tug quite a bit to get the tight one off his little finger, which left it quite red and sore. "Ouch!" he exclaimed as it finally gave way.

"Ahh," Bodie was all fake sympathy. "Diddums hurt himself? Shall I kiss it and make it better?"

Ray couldn't resist. He put the last ring away and closed the box, then held the finger out to Bodie. "Yes, please," he said - butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.

At first, Bodie just sat there. He'd never expected Doyle to agree. However, never being one to resist a challenge, he took Ray's hand in his and pressed his lips softly against the damaged finger. He couldn't resist giving it the tiniest lick with the tip of his tongue, just barely touching it, actually. He held it to his lips longer than was necessary then, reluctantly, took it away and let it go. "Better now?" he asked breathlessly.

"Much," Ray gasped. It felt like an electric spark had traveled from his finger to his heart and left his whole body tingling. It was sheer stubbornness that kept him to his earlier resolution. He took a couple of deep breaths to calm himself down, than handed Bodie the box of rings. "You'd better put these away," he said. "And bring up some wine. I'll go put the dinner in the microwave." His voice almost back to normal but he couldn't quite look Bodie straight in the eye so he picked up the tea tray and the wrappings from the parcel and headed off to the kitchen, leaving Bodie to follow.

Bodie sat for a few minutes, holding the box, imprinting the whole incident in his mind. He didn't want to forget a single syllable, movement or feeling. Finally he got up and followed Ray to put the rings away and get the wine, as requested.

When Bodie'd returned from the cellars, he opened the wine to let it breathe. 'Gonna be hard goin' back to drinkin' plonk after all this good stuff,' he thought.

The dinner smelled so good while it was heating up, they decided it would be a shame to eat it while watching the box, so Doyle set the table in the kitchen while Bodie went into the lounge and put on a CD of Chopin nocturns. When he returned to the kitchen, Ray was just putting the food on the table. Bodie poured the wine and they sat down to eat. Conversation was desultory as they concentrated on the food.

"Whoever cooked this is a master chef," Doyle said, savouring the duck, done to a turn, and the wine, which complimented it perfect6ly.

"I believe their current chef is French," Bodie said. "Cordon bleu, of course."

"Must cost him and arm and a leg," Ray commented.

"Probably," Bodie agreed casually. "Only the best for Colin. Good thing he's got plenty of money. He always did have pricey tastes."

When they were done, Doyle managed to refrain from scraping the last succulent scraps from the plate, but only because he was stuffed. Bodie, however, pushed his chair back and headed back over to the freezer.

"What could you possibly want now?" Ray asked.

"Saw some ice cream and toppings in here the other day," Bodie replied. "Just the thing for afters."

Doyle sat, amazed, while Bodie built himself a super sundae made up of layers of chocolate ice cream, marshmallow crEme, hot fudge, whipping cream, and nuts with a maraschino cherry on top.

Ray hadn't planned to have any, as full as he was; but after Bodie got stuck into it, his sounds of delight enticed Doyle into picking up his spoon and nibbling away at the opposite side. He had to admit it was delicious. After making serious inroads into the ice cream and toppings, he noticed that the cherry was almost ready to topple down the side of the ravaged mini-mountain. Reaching out with his spoon, he scooped it up and had it almost to his mouth when Bodie saw what he was doing.

"Hey! That's my cherry!" he protested.

Ray gave him a mischievous look. "You don't want me to have your cherry?" he asked innocently, unable to resist another chance to torment him.

"No. I mean...," Bodie stopped mid-sentence, suddenly caught on the horns of a dilemma. What, exactly, was Doyle asking?

"Yes? What do you mean, 'True Love'? he asked, moving the fruit closer to his mouth, determined to keep Bodie off balance.

Bodie caught his breath and hesitated for a long moment. Did Ray really mean it or was this just a tease? He exhaled, then said quickly, before he lost his nerve, "Take it if you want it, then," and watched to see what Doyle would do.

Ray grinned and guided the spoon to his lips. He slowly and lasciviously licked the whipped cream off the cherry, then sucked it between his lips and carefully bit down on it. He closed his eyes and an expression of pure bliss appeared on his face as he sensuously ate the fruit while thinking of what he could do to Bodie, given the opportunity - - things involving much more licking and sucking and no chewing at all.

When he opened his eyes and saw Bodie staring at him open- mouthed, he turned scarlet and dropped his spoon on his plate. Even though he was sure he knew how Bodie, felt, this was more open than he'd intended to be. 'I'm going to give the game away for sure, if I'm not careful,' he thought.

"I've had sufficient," he said, "better clear thing up." He picked up his dishes and turned towards the dishwasher. On opening the door, however, he realized it was still full of clean dishes. He put his things down on the sink and began putting the clean dishes away., studiously avoiding looking at Bodie though he could feel his eyes boring holes in his back.

Bodie, meanwhile, was still trying to recover from Doyle's little display of sensuality. 'He can't be doing that just as a tease,' he thought, once he was capable of thinking again, 'or why would he have been embarrassed by it?' "I think I've had enough, too," he said, putting his spoon back in the nearly empty dish. 'Oh, damn!' he thought as Ray suddenly stopped what he was doing then ducked his head and continued putting the dishes away. 'Why did I phrase it like that? He thinks I meant what he did.'

That was exactly what Doyle did think. 'I knew it. He's furious - - and he has a right to be. Whyever did I do such a stupid thing? He doesn't know how I feel. He thinks I'm just making fun of him.' He concentrated even harder on putting away the dishes as he heard Bodie push back his chair and almost collapsed when he felt a large hand roughly tousle his hair then give him a punch on the shoulder.

"Relax, Ray, There's no deadline for getting the kitchen cleaned up." Bodie gently shoved Doyle aside and reached for the rest of the dishes, putting them away and closing the cupboard doors.

'Guess I didn't blow it, after all,' he thought with relief. He still couldn't cope with being around Bodie just then, though, he might just give in and kiss him. "Think I'll nip in and turn on the box, then," he said. "That programme you were interested in will be on any moment."

"Good show," Bodie replied. "I'll just finish up here and join you." 'We both need a few minutes by ourselves,' he thought. He shook his head in disgust at himself. 'Two grown men and we're pussyfooting around like adolescents. At this rate, we'll be back at work and no further along than we were when we got here.' He put the dirty dishes in the dishwasher and wiped off the table. He killed the light and was heading for the lounge when a thought struck him and he detoured by way of the study. Doyle sat on the sofa staring at the telly without really seeing it. 'I'm either going to have to be a lot more careful or just end this whole thing,' he berated himself. 'Make up your mind, Doyle.' He suddenly realized Bodie was standing in front of him holding two brandy glasses.

"Here you go, Ray," Bodie said, handing him a snifter of Courvoisier. "Just the thing for a post-prandial nip."

Doyle reached up and took it with a welcoming smile. As long as Bodie wasn't angry at him, all was well with his world. "Ta, mate," he said, taking a sip of the fiery liquor. 'I will control myself,' he vowed.

Bodie stood indecisively for a moment debating whether he should sit next to Ray as he had been all week or go sit in the easy chair instead. Doyle had seemed to shy away from him in the kitchen and he didn't want to upset him, but, then, if he didn't sit by him, Ray might think he was upset by what he had done. 'What the hell,' he thought, 'might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.' And he plonked himself down beside Doyle, nearly upsetting both their drinks.

Doyle was glad he hadn't scared Bodie off. He was getting to be quite fond of sitting with his partner plastered all down one side. 'As long as I don't get carried away, everything's going to be fine. He hugged his new-found knowledge to himself and let the programme wash over him as he scrunched a little closer to Bodie.

-- THE END --

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