by Pamela Rose
After spraying a generous portion of the dash and windscreen for the fourth time in as many miles, Doyle glanced apologetically at his companion.
"Bless you," Bodie obliged, though his heart obviously wasn't in it. "Do you have to keep doin' that? It's wet enough outside without you bringing it in 'ere as well."
"Can't 'elp it, can I?" Doyle sniffed. "I...I...aaachooooo!" he sneezed again, with more force than Bodie felt was strictly necessary.
"Bless you," Bodie repeated automatically.
"Nnnmmmmmmm," Doyle replied soggily, wiping his nose on his sleeve.
"Christ, Doyle, don't you own a handkerchief?" his partner asked with a fastidious shudder.
"T'rou 't away 't last 'top," Doyle answered between snuffles.
"I 'aid, I t'rou--"
Bodie interrupted the congested words by thrusting his own, pristine white, handkerchief under his street urchin partner's needy nose. "Here; might improve your diction. I've given up hope on your manners."
Doyle shot him a dirty look but blew his nose gratefully, the sound a cross between a fog horn and a diesel lorry in low gear. "Ta, mate."
Bodie declined its return. "Better?"
"Much. I can breathe through me nose again, at least."
"Must be a novelty."
The curly head dropped back against the seat. "I feel like bloody hell."
Bodie regarded him unsympathetically. "Never would've guessed in a million years, would I? You've only slept half the way. An' when you weren't sleepin', you were sneezin'. An' when you weren't sneezing, you were moanin' and groan--"
"Okay, I get the picture," Doyle cut in irritably. "Want me to drive, is that it?"
Bodie smiled fondly. He'd much rather see Ray snippy than pathetically miserable as he'd been for the last four hours. "Nah, you'd only sneeze again an' run us into a hedgerow. Listen, mate, I told you y' should've stayed home in bed."
"Waste a sick day?" Doyle looked shocked. "Couldn't do that, could I? Feel too bad."
Bodie, who habitually took every day he had coming and more (and had the blonde, brunette and redheaded memories to go with them), should have been more understanding of this logic. He was well aware, however, that Doyle usually chose to take the extra pay rather than the off time, miserly little bastard that he was.
"So you'd rather come along and give it to me, I suppose? Share and share alike."
Doyle dismissed the thought easily. "You never get sick."
That was true enough. Other than the occasional hangover, it took nothing less than a major injury to lay him low. The only sniffle Bodie was familiar with was his sinuses' reaction to a bit of dust. He'd always figured if he'd lived through the thousand and one fevers and diseases of Africa, there wasn't a self-respecting bug in Britain that would take him on.
"Owe it all to fried food," he said sagely. Then added conscientiously, "And plenty of vitamins, of course."
Blowing his nose again, Doyle demonstrated his opinion of that.
"Seriously, son, you do look pretty rough."
"Just noticed, did you?" Doyle snapped back.
"Well, you're not the type to suffer in silence, are you?"
"Oh, thanks very much." But he felt too low to put much sting in the sarcasm. He tugged his coat around him closer, closing his eyes and turning his cheek into the soft fur of the collar.
Bodie observed him with a touch of worry, becoming concerned at the flushed face and the damp ring of curls that clung to his forehead. Lord, but his Raymond could look bloody pitiful when he felt a bit off. There were shadow smudges under his eyes and the lashes were still spiked with sneeze-tears. Curled up there in the seat, the light muted by the gloomy day and the rivulets of rain on the glass, he looked about nine years old--and scruffy with it.
Obeying some deep instinct, Bodie reached over and brushed back the damp curls from where they lay plastered to the skin. While admitting his ignorance on anything beyond basic first aid, he knew a fever when he felt it. Doyle seemed impossibly hot against his palm. To his surprise, Ray didn't object to his touch, in fact, he seemed to appreciate it; his lips curling in a soft smile.
"I thought you fell asleep." Bodie hastily put his hand back on the steering wheel. "You're burning up, you know."
"Don't feel it. It's cold in 'ere. Turn up the heater."
"Are you taking anything for this?" Bodie asked seriously. "Aspirin or something?"
"No." Doyle sat up, rubbing his eyes. "Hate to take pills. Wasn't so bad earlier--" He broke off, coughing.
"Just hang on, sunshine," Bodie said encouragingly. "We'll be there soon enough. We'll pick up the ol' man's bad boy, hand him over to the local coppers 'til morning, and find you a nice, cozy inn. I'll have you tucked in a warm bed with lemon and brandy by nine."
Ray peered out at the bleak, wet landscape. "If he's there at all," he commented dismally. "And if there's an inn."
"Bound to be," Bodie returned confidently. "Cowley said he'd be there, didn't he? Who could doubt our fearless leader, eh?"
Doyle glared at him, feeling very put upon by the other man's bright-eyed optimism. Pink-cheeked and glowing with health, and--as he'd insisted often enough--beautiful to boot. It didn't bear thinking about; considering his partner's careless life style, it was patently unfair. "Not you, that's sure," Doyle grumbled, burrowing down further in the seat. "Too busy lickin' his bleedin' boots."
"You heard me," Doyle snarled, delighted to share some of his ill mood with a friend. When he felt rotten, he liked to be rotten all the way. "Should've heard yourself this morning. 'Yes, sir', 'No, sir', 'Three bags full, sir'," Doyle mimicked Bodie's butter-wouldn't-melt tone of earlier that day. "Haven't heard you spew out that much sweetness 'n light to the old man for ages. You bucking for a rise or somethin'?"
"It's just my naturally sunny disposition," Bodie protested cheerfully, realizing Ray's aches and pains were finding vent through his tongue. Nothing odd in that. Come to think of it, he had been laying it on a bit thick with the Cow this morning. He had a reason for that, but it wasn't anything he cared to explain to Doyle.
"Anyway," Bodie added, "don't knock it, mate. I kept the wrath of god from fallin' on your curly head, didn't I?"
"Oh, come on, Bodie. All I did was--"
"Refuse his offer of scotch," Bodie finished, clutching his heart dramatically. "Could've turned you into a pillar of salt, y'know."
Doyle chuckled in spite of himself. "Better to refuse it than upchuck it over his desk."
A crooked eyebrow lifted, amusement fading. "If you're that bad off, wish you'd said before we set out."
Doyle shrugged. "Reckoned it'd be better after I was up and around a bit." Catching the other man's disapproving expression, he added caustically, "If it's your back you're worried about, don't. I'll keep it well looked after."
"More likely to sneeze down it," Bodie replied placidly. "Just as well this is a job my granny could handle, or I'd bundle you back to town right now, sunshine."
"Sod off. When I need a mum, I'll find someone who's built for it, okay?"
"It's a keeper you need, mate."
"Listen, I'm all right, all right?"
"'Course you are. Never mind, looks like we're here at last." Bodie downshifted, slowing the car as they entered the narrow road running through the village. "Now, if we're really lucky.... Well, well, what d'ya know? There it is, just like the Cow said."
The Capri pulled up beside the brown van. It matched every detail right down to the rusted panel on the side.
"Trusting soul, isn't he?" Doyle observed. "Didn't even lock it." Like Bodie, his eyes searched over the empty street, checking the shuttered windows, seeking out possible traps.
"Maybe he's not expecting uninvited guests quite so quick. If that mate of his hadn't spilled his guts to Cowley, we'd still be crawlin' through half the dives in the East End, wouldn't we?" Bodie chewed his bottom lip thoughtfully, wondering how best to proceed. This job had seemed a regular piece of cake, but he suddenly didn't like it all, and he could sense from the tense figure beside him that Doyle didn't either. Other than the conspicuous van, theirs was the only vehicle in sight. For all he knew, however, that could be quite normal for a wet afternoon in a place as small as this. After the bustle of London, the contrast was enough to make anyone nervy.
"Well, his analyst'd be pleased," Doyle said lightly, "Not a bit paranoid, is he?"
Bodie looked over with a grin, knowing Doyle had been riding the same train of thought. "You implying we are?"
Doyle grinned back. "I've always said your head needed shrinking. I expect you ought to move out of the middle of the road, hadn't you? You're blockin' the flow of traffic."
"Oh, yes. I can see that." He backed up to park directly behind the van and shut off the motor. They sat there for several minutes, checking out the windows and doorways of the neighboring houses, knowing they'd be an open target the moment they stepped out of the car.
Although it wasn't quite six, it was nearly dark, the evening light stolen by the dismal roll of clouds. The rain was beginning to pour down in earnest now, and the only noise was the drumming of it on the metal roof of the car and the rumble of thunder.
"What d'you reckon?" Doyle asked at last. "Think he's in the pub?"
"Wish we were. I could use a pint about now." He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. "Y'know, even if he wasn't expecting us to be onto him so quick, he won't hang about long, will he?"
"You're not suggesting we wait for him to stroll out and toss us a friendly wave, are you? Come on, Bodie, if I sit here much longer--"
"It could be a set up."
"Jesus Christ," Doyle snapped, "You were the one complaining about this being such a bore. 'A friggin' milk run', you said."
Bodie didn't answer, but his gaze held the other's steadily. Doyle took a deep breath and let it out slowly, temper easing.
"Listen, mate, I'm okay," he said quietly. "It's only a lousy cold, and that's not Jack the Ripper in there, y'know." He smiled teasingly, "Let's go get the nasty villain, shall we?"
The other man seemed to come to a decision. "Okay. But watch yourself; it's more than a lousy cold, and you know it."
"Yes, mother," Doyle said with false meekness. "I'll take the front, right?"
Bodie hesitated, but couldn't see it made all that much difference. "Least you'll be out of the weather," he grunted, not liking any of this. He turned the collar up on his plaid coat. "Give me a few minutes."
Doyle nodded, hand on his gun in preparation to covering Bodie's naked walk down the pavement. But nothing moved except the sheets of rain, whipped by the wind. Bodie disappeared into the alley on the other side of the pub. Doyle did a mental countdown and blew his nose again while he waited. He felt slightly better than he had; the adrenalin granting the necessary boost to his flagging energy. As he had said to his partner, J.J. Morrison wasn't exactly public enemy number one by a long chalk. But he did have a few nasty bits on his sheet that made it clear he wasn't Little Lord Fauntleroy either. What was more, they had him cornered, and that in itself was enough to make him dangerous. Doyle had learned that the hard way as a young copper, still wet behind the ears and far too cocky for his own good. Smiling, he recalled the sweet little old mother he'd nicked for pinching a pocket watch on Fleet Street. He'd hardly had time to do more than take her arm and say "Come along, Mad'm" before she'd kicked him in the groin and produced a shooter from her shopping bag.
Yeah, even a milk run like this could turn sour. Maybe Bodie would appreciate the pun later.
Judging Bodie'd had enough time to get into position around the back, he took a deep breath to steel himself for the run through the cold rain, then discovered it was a mistake when he fell into a bout of coughing.
Bodie was right, he thought with a twinge of guilt. He was way off par and that could be a liability if this turned nasty. Too late to worry about it now.
He got out and made a dash through the downpour. Inside the pub, it was quiet; the rain muffled, the thunder a vague rumbling. The taproom was empty. Cautiously, he approached the bar.
"Hullo? Anyone about?"
A girl bustled out from the back room. She was plump and blonde and comfortably pretty, no more than nineteen, but a scrubby little chit for all that. Her apron was stained, and she looked annoyed at the interruption. "Didn't know anyone was about," she said in a bored voice. "No one comes in at supper time, usually."
She got a better look at him, and her interest perked. "Been waiting long, have you?"
"No, just stepped in, actually." It wasn't until she was quite close that he noticed her eyes were nearly the same color blue as Bodie's. For a second, his smile was unconsciously genuine. "Slow day, is it?"
"Beastly slow, what with the rain an' all. What can I get for you then?"
"No one else dropped in then, have they?" he asked mildly.
"Don't get many strangers this far from the main road, unless he's sellin' something. You a peddler? Cause, if you are, we don't--"
"No, not me, love. I was just wondering who belonged to the van outside."
"How should I know? Free street, innit?"
"You nervous about something, love?" While he was holding her attention, he was listening for any sound of movement from the back, already positive Morrison was here, wondering if he would make a break for it or try to brazen it out.
"You a copper?" she demanded outright, surprising him. If she knew Morrison was here, she was a very cool bird, indeed.
"Why, sweetheart? You hiding something?"
She shrugged. "Like I said, nobody much comes through here unless they're selling something--or looking for something. What are you looking for then?"
"Don't know 'til I find it, do I? Maybe I should start with your kitchen, what do'y think?"
A scramble of footsteps at the back indicated his success at flushing their quarry. He sprinted in that direction, confident that Bodie would block escape at the rear. Doyle had barely made it around the corner of the bar, however, when instinct pulled him up short, his wet boots sliding on the floor as he tried to dodge the trouble he sensed at his back. As quick as he was, he wasn't quick enough.
Pain slashed his side the same instant he heard the report of the gun. He fell back, stunned, clutching at the door frame to keep from falling, willing back the growing haze that blurred his vision.
The girl had moved closer, hands very steady on the weapon, eyes cold and determined. "J.J.?" she called out.
Doyle thought again of the little old lady of years back and nearly chuckled at the irony of it--sometimes you never learned your lesson.
The girl saw his gaze move to his dropped gun. "Oh no, you don't." She kicked it around behind the bar and shoved him back against the wall before backing up a few steps to cover him better.
Doyle gasped, pressing his hand to his side and feeling the blood on his jacket. After a second, he caught his breath and mastered the urge to slide gently to the floor. It's not that bad, he told himself, and realized with something akin to surprise, that it wasn't.
The girl stared at him hatefully. "You bastard," she hissed. "Why'd you follow him all the way out here? He never done nuthin' to you. Wanted to go straight, didn't he? No, says your lot. Not unless you twig on the whole lot of 'em. Couldn't do that, could he? You lousy bastards!" Her finger tightened on the trigger, and for a moment he expected a bullet through the brain. Bizarre as it seemed, all he could think was that her eyes weren't at all like Bodie's after all; his were so much nicer...
"J.J.!" she yelled again. "I've got him."
Doyle's mouth felt too dry to swallow, let alone speak, but he licked his lips and tried. "Not good enough, love. Your boyfriend's busy right now. My partner's--"
There was a sudden roar of a motor at the front, startling both of them. The squeal of tires on wet pavement caused the girl to half turn to the window, and Doyle jumped for her. Knocking the gun from her hand, a quick punch to the chin put her out.
Anxious to find out what was happening, he jerked his cuffs from his pocket and fastened her securely to the brass footrail. He just couldn't believe Morrison had got past Bodie; a two-bit punk like Morrison?
Locating his gun, he used the bar to pull himself to his feet, feeling shaky. The door opened just as he'd managed to steady himself. He lowered his gun. "Where the bloody hell have you been, you dumb sod!"
"Ray? You okay?" Bodie, very pale, lowered his own gun and leaned back against the door, looking slightly sick himself.
"Where's Morrison?" Doyle demanded bluntly.
Bodie took in the unconscious girl and the empty room, then closed his eyes and drew in a quick breath. "Got away, didn't he?"
"What!" Doyle exploded, fighting the pain in his side and the rubbery feel in his knees. "How the hell? What were you doin', taking a fast kip out there?"
The blue eyes snapped open and he straightened, holding back his own temper by a thin thread. "No. I heard the shot and--"
"Oh, very nice," Doyle broke in furiously. "Let him walk right past you--"
The thread snapped. "And what were you doing in here then? Playing kinky games with the barmaid?! I thought you were dead, dammit!!"
Bodie didn't yell often, but when he did, Doyle listened. Usually. This time he heard all the things not said.
He looked down. "Sorry." Then in a different voice, "We'd better get after him then, hadn't we?" He jerked his head toward the handcuffed girl. "She'll keep. Let's go."
Bodie was still staring at his partner, unable to shake the clear vision of Ray lying face down with a bullet in his back. Morrison's escape didn't seem to matter worth a damn at the moment.
It was then he saw something else--the darkening stain on Doyle's jacket.
"You're bleeding," he said hoarsely.
Doyle shook off the offered hand as he came toward the door. "It's nothing. Just a graze. If we get a move on, we can still catch up with the bastard. Cowley'll kill us if we don't."
"I told you, it's nothing. You can handle all the rough stuff from here on; I'll just ride shotgun. Now will you move it, Bodie?"
Mouth set in a grim line, Bodie agreed. Two minutes later they were back on the road, Bodie's foot hard on the pedal--or as hard as the narrow winding road would permit. It occurred to Bodie that, whatever it seemed like, it had hardly been more than a few minutes since he'd first heard that gunshot. Doyle was right; they had a good chance of catching up with Morrison in that van. The Capri handled better on this kind of road for one thing. Needing an outlet for the turbulent rush of emotions, he put all the fury and terror he'd felt earlier into his driving, pushing the car and himself.
Unable to tear his eyes from the road at this speed to check, he asked tersely, "How bad is it? Truth."
Doyle knew he was still bleeding; could feel the stickiness spreading over his shirt. But the bullet wasn't in him, he was sure of that much. "Not bad. Flesh wound. The bitch was a lousy shot." He could see little of Bodie's face in the blackness of the car, but he could feel the wire-taut tension of him. "Truth," he added softly.
"Okay. So why'd you turn your back on her? You knew Morrison had a bird down here. You should've--"
"That's nerve," Doyle ripped back. "After you letting him waltz right by you--" He broke off, not feeling up to another round. "Let's not start again. We both fucked up, right?"
"Right," Bodie conceded. Another pause while he navigated a nasty curve, wheels biting into the soft edge at the side and spinning before finding new traction. "If Cowley finds out, we'll be dog meat."
"You planning on confessing?"
"On my death bed maybe." He concentrated on the road.
"Any sign of him yet?" Doyle asked after a minute.
Bodie snorted. "In this mess I'm lucky to see three yards in front of the bonnet. We'll run into the back of 'im at this rate. Check the map, will you?"
Doyle pulled it out and read it with his pin light. "Well, he's got nowhere else to go. Only one turnoff before the main road, and that's a dead end. You've still got room to catch him- -"
"Where's that turn off?"
"Uh...looks close around here, must be... But that's a dead end. He knows this area, knows he'd be trapped."
"Yeah, but he might also reckon we'll think just that, mightn't he?"
"Then again, he might count on out-running us."
"In that van?" Bodie asked skeptically. "Would you?"
"Which way does that road turn?"
"To the right, but--"
"And that must be it." Bodie jammed on the brakes and skidded around to turn in the lane.
"Oh, do let's discuss it," Doyle said mockingly.
"Blow your nose and stuff it, Doyle," Bodie shot back, instinct telling him he was right.
Unsurprisingly, this road was even worse than the other, rutted and muddy. Bodie was forced to slow down, but they still clipped along at a deadly pace. The storm, if anything, had doubled its fury. Doyle wondered how the hell Bodie was seeing the road at all.
With each jolt and swerve of the car, Doyle's side hurt more, then--strangely enough--it didn't seem to hurt at all. He felt muzzy, very sleepy and tired. Sinking further down in the seat, he let himself roll with pitch and bumps of the road.
It seemed far too much effort to respond, easier to shut his eyes and recede from the demanding concern in the voice.
Doyle stirred and sat up, forcing himself to revive a bit. He'd told Bodie he was all right; wouldn't do to go passing out on him now, would it? Bodie'd never let him live it down. "Yeah, I'm with you."
"You sure about that?" Anxiety was clear in the tone. The car slowed a bit. "We can stop. It doesn't matter, y'know. Let someone else nab him. It's not worth--"
"No, keep on. Can't have too much a lead on us, can he?" This mess was his doing--underestimating his illness, overestimating his ability to cope with it, being swayed by a pair of familiar blue eyes--the least he could do was hold up as he'd promised.
"Hey, you see that?"
The thumping wipers barely held back the lash of rain long enough to get a glimpse of the road, let alone much else. But after a minute, Doyle thought he saw a flash of red.
"Tail light?" he wondered.
Thirty seconds later, as they rounded another sharp curve, there was something besides the van waiting.
"Watch out!" Doyle yelled as Bodie spun the wheel and slammed on the brakes. The car turned sideways, skidding in the muddy lane. Bodie nearly regained control but the rear of the car slid out onto the ruined bridge. The weakened supports gave way under the weight and the car started tipping toward the swollen stream.
"Jump!" Bodie shouted, "It's going over!"
Doyle fumbled for the door latch and shoved it open as the Capri tumbled into the water. The coldness of it hit him like a wall, knocking all air from his lungs at the pure shock of it against his fevered body. He'd gulped a mouthful before realizing this wasn't some kind of nasty dream, but all too real. Sputtering back to the surface, he was swept under again by the vicious current. Panic drove him to lash out and in the process he found something to cling to. It turned out to be one of the bridge supports, still anchored in the bank. He managed to pull himself out, fighting the tug of the flooding current, and collapsed on the bank, coughing and exhausted.
Blinded by the driving rain, shivering and soaked, he tried to sit up. "Bodie..." Unable to make it up yet, he rolled to his back, letting the freezing rain drench his face and bring him back to life.
"Bodie?" Irritated now by his partner's refusal to answer, he found the strength to sit up. There was a flash of lightning that caused him to flinch. It was followed by a deafening peal of thunder that almost masked the sound of tearing metal as the force of the water rolled the Capri over again.
Spurred by a sudden burst of terror, Doyle scrambled to his feet. "Bodie!" He screamed it out, all else paling at the growing horror that Bodie hadn't been able to jump free. He stood there, swaying in the beat of the wind and rain, unable to think, feeling numb--but not from cold. "No," he whispered, denying it. He was on the verge of leaping back into the torrent, uncaring of how futile it might be, only knowing that Bodie must be there...somewhere...and he had to find him.
It was faint over the sound of the storm, but he whipped around as if called by a ghost, wondering if he was only hearing what he wanted to hear.
"Bodie?" He took a step forward and almost fell over a tangled tree limb. Then he saw Bodie, as drenched as he, and considerably muddier, slogging along the bank toward him.
He grabbed hold of Bodie, telling himself he was too shaken to stand by himself, but he clung to the solid reality for more than physical support.
Bodie patted his back awkwardly, a little startled by the reception, resisting his own impulse to crush the smaller man against him and just hold him there, safe. "You all right, mate?" he said gruffly.
Doyle just nodded, face still pressed to the sodden coat. He said something, but Bodie couldn't catch it over the noise of the rain. Pulling back a little, he tried to see Doyle's face in the quick flashes of lightning. "What's that again?"
He just caught the beginning of a smile. "I said--you're born to be hanged."
"I'd prefer a heart attack hump," he shouted back over the roll of thunder.
Doyle leaned against him again, chuckling helplessly, relief making him giddy.
"You okay?" Bodie asked once more, hand tangled in the plastered curls.
Doyle laughed harder. "Just marvelous, mate. Nothing like a quiet drive in the country to perk a bloke up."
Getting about only one word in three, Bodie leaned closer. "What?"
"What happened to Morrison?" Doyle asked louder, getting control of himself.
"Must've drove straight in. The van's there; I doubt if he made it out."
"So what do we do now, then?" Doyle slumped dejectedly, shivering even harder and putting more of his weight against Bodie than he realized. The temporary burst of energy born of fear was draining now, and he didn't think he had many resources left.
Bodie was also shivering in the icy rain, but Doyle was trembling like a leaf in a high wind. Bodie slipped his arm around his waist, bracing him up. "First thing is to get you out of this mess to somewhere warm and dry."
"Keep talkin' like that, darlin', and I'll follow you anywhere."
"Good, c'mon then."
Bodie led him forward on the dark road, beginning to realize Doyle was worse off than he'd let on. The feel of his shirt under the jacket was more than just wet; there was a stickiness to it that spoke of something else. Didn't seem much benefit at the moment to make an issue of it, however. It was more vital they find someplace safe and dry--at this rate the exposure would kill Doyle as quick as his bullet wound.
Unfortunately, they'd ended up on a dead end road on the wrong side of the washed out bridge.
But even a dead end must necessarily lead somewhere. At least, Bodie hoped so. Doyle was faltering every few steps, and probably wasn't even consciously aware of it--he'd certainly never admit it. Bodie was worried about the seriousness of Doyle's wound, but even more worried about the heat he felt even through the jacket. It was hard going; the wind had picked up and it felt as though the rain was turning to sleet.
Doyle stumbled and would have fallen if Bodie hadn't held him.
"Ray, easy... Lean on me more--"
Jerking away from the possessive hold, Doyle snapped, "Leave off, will you? I'm all right."
But Bodie wasn't in the mood for heroics and was too tired and worried to be very patient. "Shut up. Let me help you or I'll sling you over my shoulder and carry you!" He took a firmer hold on the smaller man. "Dammit, don't be an ass!"
Doyle subsided weakly against him, coughing. "Sorry...my fault. I wish..."
"Shut up," Bodie repeated, but his grip on Doyle was wonderfully gentle, holding him close to block the worst of the tempest, lending his strength to the weakening man.
By the time Bodie finally spotted something that looked like shelter, Doyle was half out of it, shaking so violently that Bodie could hear his teeth chattering even over the incessant patter of the rain. The place appeared even less promising the closer they came. The house had burned and most of the front and one side had collapsed; it was little more than a jumble of sodden, charred beams. Their options being what they were, Bodie directed them into the gutted interior. The west wall was still standing and much of the rear of the structure was intact.
He led Doyle through the scorched debris, tripping and fumbling over the rubble in the dark, hoping the roof was steadier than it looked to be, and would hold up under the rising wind. As he'd hoped, one of the back rooms was in better condition. While in shambles, at least it was dry and the walls were sound enough to cut off the majority of the drafts. The room had probably been the master bedroom, although what little furniture that was left was broken and overturned. There was a fireplace, however, and it was probably the rock chimney that gave more support to the ceiling beams here than in the remainder of the house.
Bodie spotted a smoke-stained mattress, half hidden under and overturned chair. He pushed Doyle gently against the wall. "Hang on a minute, mate."
Dragging out the mattress, he was pleased to find it relatively dry, if more than a little rat-chewed. He positioned it near the hearth and returned to his partner. Doyle had slid down the wall to the floor and was sitting with his head tucked in his arms.
"Come on, sunshine. Stand up, son. I've got a better place for you. Have a bit of a lay down, all right? It's not the Hilton, but it'll have to do for now." Settling Doyle on the mattress, he dug into the jean pockets until he located the pin light.
Curled up in a trembling ball, knees near his chin, Doyle said through chattering teeth, "Bodie, I don't feel very good." There was a puzzled note in his voice, as if he were somehow detached from the situation and found it rather inexplicable.
"I know, angelfish." Bodie squeezed his arm comfortingly. "I'll have a look around and see if I can find something to warm you up, okay?"
It was difficult to find what he needed with nothing more than the thin beam of the torch and an occasional flicker of lightning to guide him, but he broke a wooden chair into fireplace size chunks, and with the aid of Doyle's lighter, managed to build a small blaze in the hearth. Once it was burning nicely, he foraged further. In the process of hauling a dresser in front of a broken window to block the incoming wind and rain, he discovered a large chest. It took a few minutes to break the rusting lock, but the treasures inside were well worth the time. It was filled with patchwork quilts, thick and dry and smelling faintly of cedar and ancient violet sachet. There were some other items as well, yellowed papers, what looked like baby clothes, and a variety of stuffed toys.
Levering Doyle up again brought on another fit of coughing.
"Sorry, sunshine, but you'll be warmer with these wet clothes off you. That's it, steady on, old son." He tugged off the clammy clothing with Doyle hindering the operation by trying to help. Bodie could see him clearly now in the firelight, and was far from encouraged by what he saw.
Doyle's eyes were glazed, his movements slightly uncoordinated. The shivering had lessened, but his face was flushed and his flesh burned against Bodie's chilled hands. Finally able to check the wound, Bodie was relieved to see it wasn't too serious; a bit more than the graze Doyle had termed it, but the bleeding had stopped and it looked clean enough. He bundled the quilts around the trembling form and added a chair leg to the blaze, wondering what the hell else he could do.
Belatedly realizing he was freezing himself, Bodie jerked off his sopping jacket and jumper and wrapped up in the last blanket. He observed his partner uncertainly, feeling helpless, his hands clenching and unclenching with need to do something for his partner.
Ray was ill, seriously ill. What had started as a rather nasty cold could easily be slipping into pneumonia. The shock of the bullet wound--minor or not--and the subsequent loss of blood had weakened him further. But it was the exposure to the cold and wet that had aggravated the problem to the point where the situation was truly dangerous.
Doyle stirred under the covers, mumbling fretfully. He tried to push the mound of quilts down, seeking relief from the scorching fever. Bodie pulled them firmly back up, shushing him gently, stroking the tangled, wet curls.
"Poor pet," Bodie murmured, strangely unembarrassed by the endearment, hardly realizing what he was saying.
Doyle's eyes flickered open, the green reflecting both the firelight and the fever. "I'm hot," he complained petulantly, pushing against the restraining hand. "Too hot..."
"I know, sunshine, but we don't want you to get chilled again, do we? Just lay still."
"Can't." Doyle squirmed. "Hurts..."
"Where's it hurt, Ray?"
"Don't know...just hurts. Hurts all over, Bodie." The expression in the delirious eyes produced an odd sensation in the other man's stomach, a melting. Ray looked so bloody trusting, as if Bodie must surely have the answer, could somehow stop the pain and make everything fine again.
Unable to think of anything else, Bodie slipped his hands beneath the quilt to rub the aching muscles, massaging the smaller man's neck and shoulders gently. "Better?"
"Ummmmm." Doyle arched into the wonderfully cool hands; the tender pressure easing the spasms, temporarily dissolving the pains. He uncurled slightly from his cramped ball of misery, giving a little whimper of pleasure. "Feels good..."
It felt good to Bodie, too.
Without quite knowing why, he abruptly pulled away and tucked the blankets back around the thin figure.
The loss of the comforting touch brought Doyle back around. "Bodie?"
"Right here, mate." He poked awkwardly at the fire, scattering sparks. "Needs more wood. Have to find something else to smash up."
Doyle jerked up, grabbing hold of the other man's arm, eyes wide and confused. "Don't go!"
Bodie's hand pressed over Ray's then slid down to circle the thin wrist. "Wasn't going far. Wouldn't leave you, would I?" Unable to meet those dazed, fever-seared eyes any longer, his gaze shifted to the arm he held, feeling the too fast, too light beat of the pulse. His own hand looked far too large and clumsy for the slender wrist it circled; he could snap it like a matchstick. And the hand; small, fine-boned--an artist's hand. Yet he'd seen that same hand, clenched to a fist, put down a six footer with one economical punch. Where did it come from, that spitfire fury that could explode with deadly results? What was the origin of that steel strength in this whip-thin body? Yes, the muscles were there, lean and wiry, superbly tuned and trained to precision--but it was a body built for grace and suppleness, not brute force. Somehow Doyle could manage that as well; Bodie had witnessed it often enough, had even experienced it first hand on occasion. There was some secret core of power in Ray Doyle that never ceased to startle. Now, seeing his partner so vulnerable and fragile, Bodie wondered at it anew, and found himself cherishing all the facets that made his Ray so special. And so beautiful.
Bodie's fingers entwined with Doyle's and his gaze moved back up to the waiting green eyes--and discovered he was falling, suddenly lost in long ago jungles. He knew now what he craved; why he'd had to stop touching Ray. And even more, he was finally aware of why he'd followed Doyle for years, put up with all the major and minor annoyances of having a partner. Bodie, the consummate lone wolf, had fallen in love.
"Bloody hell," he whispered in amazement. Certainly he'd recognized his fondness for his partner--Cowley had been giving him hell for it just the other day, as a matter of fact, far from amused at Bodie having gone over the top for Doyle on that Ojuka job a few weeks ago. Had brought up the inescapable fact that it was far from an isolated incident, reminding him of the Van Nee Kirk op and several other instances when Bodie reacted as if his sole interest was the protection of Ray Doyle rather than the job in question. It had taken some smooth talking and expert boot- licking (his stint in the army having taught him that useful art) to calm the old man down. He'd been so busy patting himself on the back for his supposed success, he'd not bothered to wonder if there was something to what Cowley was saying.
Now he knew. But what a bloody ironic time for the penny to drop. Devilish inconvenient as well, he thought wryly, with the object of his newly discovered affection suffering from about a 104 fever and a bullet wound.
"Wouldn't put up much of a fight at least, would you, sweet?" Bodie murmured with purposeful black humor, afraid to face all the softer things he felt. "Candy is dandy, and liquor is quicker--but pneumonia is a sure bet." His finger stroked down the flushed cheek with a tenderness that belied the crude words. "Christ knows I'd end up eating knuckles if I tried it on when you're perky."
Bodie could have been speaking a foreign language for all Doyle could fathom. But he wasn't understanding much of anything at present, except that he hurt, his lungs were beginning to ache, and he seemed to be burning up from inside.
But, in spite of that, he sensed some change in the other man, saw confusion in the blue eyes. "Bodie, what is it? What's wrong?" He looked around, bewildered, and only now becoming aware of their strange surroundings. "Where are we?"
Bodie let out a long held breath. "We're in a right mess, love; that's where we are." He smiled gently. "Don't worry; I'll get us out of it somehow, I promise."
Too fuzzy to question any further, and satisfied that Bodie was as good as his word, Doyle sank back down. But he began coughing again, and this time he couldn't seem to stop. Bodie held him, terrified by the deep, hoarse sound of it. When it finally eased, Doyle had trouble catching his breath, gulping in the air but lungs finding little benefit from it. It took some minutes before the panicky gasping slowed to normal. By that time, Bodie would have gladly traded his soul for one easy, painless chestful of air for Doyle. He'd thrown off his own blanket and crawled under the quilts to cradle Ray in his arms, rocking him while he struggled to find a way to breathe easier. He couldn't understand how it could be so bad so quickly. Doyle's breaths were short and shallow, and if he pulled in too much air, gave out a helpless whimper of distress.
When Doyle calmed at last and seemed more comfortable, Bodie tried to make sense out of the new symptoms. Doyle turned his face into the curve of the broad shoulder, clinging to him, exhausted.
"Better now?" Bodie asked, smoothing the palm of his hands over the naked back.
Doyle nodded. "It...hurt when I tried to inhale...like breathing broken glass..."
Frustrated at his inability to help, Bodie closed his eyes tightly in something very like a prayer, "God, Ray, I wish I could so something. I don't know what to do for you."
"It's okay, Bodie. Just...stay with me."
Bodie's lips brushed the damp forehead. "Always, sunshine."
Doyle dropped into a restless sleep, and Bodie held him close, afraid to let him move too much and perhaps start up another attack of coughing, unable to bear the thought of watching him go through that again.
An occasional drop of rain found its way down the chimney to die on the fire with a sizzle, there was a creak from a loose timber, and the low humming drone of the wind around the corner of the eaves. The thunder had long since moved away, and the storm had worked out most of its fury, leaving only a damp, bone- chilled cold. Looking at the rapidly dying fire, Bodie wondered if he'd be able to find enough dry wood to keep it going, and even if he did, if it would manage to make a dent in the cold hours of the night.
Laying there, holding Ray in his arms, Bodie began to realize that all of those protective instincts Cowley had been complaining about were worse than useless here. This was an enemy he didn't have the skill or weapons to fight. Doyle needed a doctor--or at least somewhere Bodie could tend to him properly. A few more hours in this damp, and increasingly cold rain, would push him past the edge. How would he bear that, watching Ray slip away by inches?
Desperation made Bodie angry. No! There had to be another way. Perhaps there was another house further down the road. He had to check it out; couldn't give up this easily.
"Ray? Ray, wake up..." There was no response. It might be better to simply leave while Doyle was out. Maybe he could make it back before--no, it was too risky. He couldn't bear the thought of Ray waking alone and thinking, if even for a second, that he had abandoned him.
Bodie took him by the shoulders and shook him. "Listen to me!"
Doyle moaned in protest. "Don't..."
"I'm sorry, love, but you have to snap out of it long enough to understand what I'm saying. Ray! I have to leave you alone for a bit."
The green eyes opened as that pierced the fog in his brain. "What? But you said--"
Bodie cupped the burning face in his hands. "I know what I said. But I have to. You need a doctor, sunshine. Or someplace I can take care of you. I can't do a damn thing for you here, and...you're getting worse. It's too damp here; it'll be freezing by morning. You're sick, Ray. I...I don't think you'll make it if I don't find some help. Do you understand me?"
Doyle tried to concentrate on what the other man was saying since it seemed so important to Bodie, but he was talking too fast, too intensely, and Doyle couldn't quite take it all in. Except the last part. He'd wondered about that himself.
"I'm dying?" he asked without much interest in the answer.
"No!" Bodie clutched him tightly, unable to face the thought aloud. "Of course not. I just meant...well, you'll never get better here. You know you're pretty bad off, mate. Gotta find someplace better for you, don't I?"
"You're leaving me? Bodie, please--"
"I won't be long. Just take a quick look around. There must be some more houses on this road somewhere. Maybe right around the next bend for all we know."
"Take me with you," Doyle pleaded, eyes panicky.
Bodie sighed, wanting very much to do just that, but knowing Doyle wouldn't make it ten steps in this state and much more exposure to the weather would finish him off. "Sorry, love, I can't."
"But you promised to stay..." Doyle curled to one side, coughing again.
"Please, Ray, don't." He dropped his forehead against the curls. "I have to take the chance. I'll be back quick as I can."
Mastering his breathing, Doyle turned his head to meet the tortured blue eyes. "S'Okay. Go on, Bodie. Do what you have to. I'll be all right."
"That's the spirit, son. Be back before you know it, won't I?" Bodie tried to sound hearty and confident, but the resigned expression on Doyle's face made him waver. How could he leave him alone like this? Clenching his jaw, Bodie cursed himself for being so bloody silly. Wasn't like he was doing the poor little bugger much good as it was, just sitting here watching him cough his lungs out.
Bodie built up the fire again, adding all the wood that was available, hoping it would last until he returned. He found his wet jacket and slipped it on, shivering. He looked down at the despondent figure that was so little like the Doyle he knew: too apathetic, the spirit burned out of him.
Suddenly he couldn't bear to leave until he saw some faint spark of his old Ray.
Remembering something he'd seen earlier, Bodie went to the chest and rummaged through it, looking for one particular item. Returning with the raggedy teddy bear, he tucked it in beside his partner.
"Here you go, sweetheart. 'E'll keep you company while I'm away."
Hoping for some stroppy comment or at least a weak grin of acknowledgement, Bodie was startled and strangely moved when Doyle simply clutched the bear to him gratefully and buried his cheek into the worn fur.
Swallowing the lump in his throat, Bodie knelt down and touched the face tenderly. "Oh, Ray..." But Doyle's eyes had closed and he had slipped back into a fever dream of another bear and someone else he loved going away.
"You hang on for me, mate," Bodie said hoarsely, "just hang on."
Twice Bodie nearly turned back, but knowing he had nothing to offer Ray if he did, spurred him on down the dark road. The rain had thinned to a freezing drizzle. As much as he wanted to pelt down the lane full speed, he was forced to move slowly or risk a broken ankle in the slick, muddy ruts. The pin light didn't help much in cutting through the blackness, but it helped him see his watch and keep track of the passing time. He gave himself a deadline, unwilling to leave Doyle alone for more than an hour.
When he finally found a house, he nearly walked by it without noticing. Probably would have if the road hadn't come to an abrupt end, closed off by a wooden gate with a pasture beyond. It was then he saw the house, set back from the road, half-hidden by a wall of overgrown hedge. He made his way to the front door, relief pouring through him like a shot of pure malt. Unsurprisingly, there were no lights on--it was after midnight, after all--but his pounding on the door brought a chorus of barks and a light snapped on at the side. Impatiently, Bodie banged again.
"Who's there?" a voice called without opening the door.
"Name's Bodie. Had an accident at the bridge. My mate...he's sick. Let me in, please!" Prepared for suspicion and unwilling to waste time on lengthy explanations, he contemplated shouldering the door open.
But the door swung wide readily enough. The woman was old, late seventies easily, but she didn't seem afraid of Bodie--when he saw the shotgun in her hands, he understood why. The dogs jumped up against the screen furiously. There was something in the woman's face that kept Bodie silent long enough to let her make her own decision. It only took a second.
"Get down, you pests!" she scolded the dogs, pushing them back. She propped the gun in the corner and unlatched the door. "You'd better come in. Mind the dogs; they won't bite, but they'll likely slobber you to death."
"Your phone," Bodie demanded, "where is it?"
"Listen, lady, I appreciate your lettin' a stranger in in the middle of the night, but I've got to make a call right now." Helicopter, he was thinking; the Cow could have one here within an hour...get Ray to a hospital...
"Young man, calm down and--"
He spotted a telephone in the next room and went for it, not even hearing her. It took a second for the fact to register. He stared at the silent receiver, hopes dashed. "It's dead."
She crossed her arms, amused. "That's what I was trying to tell you. The storm must've taken down the line. Happens a lot out here."
Bodie slumped back against the table. "Sorry, I..." Belatedly he remembered his I.D. She looked it over, unimpressed.
"You could've had ten of those, I wouldn't've let you in if you hadn't looked straight. Now why don't you get out of that wet coat and tell me what's going on."
"The bridge washed out; I didn't see in time and our car went in."
"Your friend is hurt?"
"He's sick...very sick. I left him in the house down the way, the one that's burned out. I have to get back to him. Is there anyone else around?"
She shook her head. "This and the Terrell farm are the only places on this road. An' the Terrell's burned out about a month ago. The bridge is out, you say? Odd that. That bridge has been there thirty years, if a day. Well, we won't be going anywhere in a hurry, not 'til the stream goes down."
"Terrific," Bodie said grimly. "Listen, I'll be back in an hour or so. Can you have--"
"Get out of that coat before you do anything," she ordered brusquely. "I'll find you a dry one."
He did as she bid, figuring it would be easier to go along with her than argue. She was back in a moment with the coat and a mackintosh. "You can cover your friend up with this. If he's sick, no sense in his getting wetter than need be. And drink this."
He took the glass gratefully, swallowing down the fiery liquid.
"Peach brandy. Made it myself." Then, as he moved purposefully toward the door, "An' where do you think you're going now?"
"Back out," he replied without slowing.
"Not so fast, sonny," she snapped. "Can your friend walk?"
Remembering how Ray looked when he left him, Bodie hesitated. "I'll carry him--" He broke off as he saw the keys dangling from her hand.
"Don't you think this'll be easier?"
"You've a car?" he said blankly.
"It's around back, if it starts up. Should; Jimmy takes care of it when he's home."
Feeling like a fool and worse, he took the keys. "Christ, I didn't even think to ask."
"Well, you look pretty done-up yourself, you know. I'll get a few things together while you're gone."
Bodie smiled at her humbly. "Yes, please. He's very sick. Do you have some aspirins or--"
"You run along, I'll manage here. I was a nurse back in the war."
With another grateful smile, Bodie made a bolt for the car.
Doyle was lost in a red-tinged world of heat and horror. Hell, he thought, and would've laughed if he could have found the breath. Bodie was wrong after all. Not up there with the Cow at all. Down here with you, mate. Good enough. Even Hell has its perks. Havin' Bodie here was--
But Bodie wasn't here.
So that was the horror of it. Alone with the heat and the pain that lanced through his lungs at every breath. Have to stop breathing, he told himself sternly, that's the worst of it--don't have to breathe in Hell anyway, do I? But it didn't take long to discover he most definitely did have to do, hurt or not.
He opened his eyes, gasping at the silver sharp reality of pain as his stubborn lungs drew in air. The inner vision of Hell vanished as he blearily took in the stone fireplace and the flickering shadows all around him. The blaze was burning merrily, eating up the last chunks of wood with hungry abandon. The brightness hurt his eyes, so he turned back to the dancing shadows.
"Bodie?" Tentative, a painful whisper of hope. He was answered only by the snap and hiss of a chunk of wood collapsing in the hearth.
He was scared then; he couldn't think, couldn't concentrate on what was happening around him. All he knew was that he was alone and the shadows were after him. Someone had wrapped him all up, couldn't get his arms free to fight. Why did they do that? He was so hot...didn't need covers...needed...
"Bodie!" Then he remembered Bodie had left him. A wisp of the haze that smothered his thoughts lifted. Had to leave...said he'd be back...he'll come back. And he remembered the bear Bodie had given him. It felt good to hold onto something. But as he clutched it, another memory came to taunt him. He began to shake, freezing now, no amount of quilts in the world able to ward off the chill that seemed to come from some hollow deep inside him. Even while the fever burned higher in his brain, his teeth chattered together, frozen with fear and the oh-so-very cold feeling of abandonment.
"Mum..." he whimpered, watching the shadows rise and fall menacingly.
There was a muffled roaring sound that shut off abruptly, and all the shadows gathered for one rush at him; he could see it now, coming straight to him. He buried his eyes in the teddy bear.
Gentle hands stroked his hair, turning his face up.
"It's okay, love. I've found us a place. Let's get you out o' this dump. Everything's fine now, you hear me?"
The green eyes were shining too brightly, hardly able to take in the worried face above him.
"Who else, sunshine?"
Suddenly Doyle smiled, his face lighting up with an incandescence that was a mixture of delirium, relief and-- strangely--pride. "Knew you'd be back. Not like her. Wasn't scared...really. Whatever she thinks, I wasn't. Knew you'd be back, y'see?"
Unable to comprehend most of this and realizing Doyle was totally out of his head with fever, Bodie patted him soothingly. "That's right, sunshine. 'Course I'm back. And we'll have you all cozy 'n safe in no time a'tol. Here, let's get this 'round you." He tucked the coat over the quilts, all the while feeling the huge green eyes fastened hungrily on his face. "Can you put your arms around my neck, mate? I'll carry you out to the car, okay?" Half expecting Doyle to protest that he could walk, he was pleased to feel the arms slip weakly up to clutch at him. "That's it, old son. You're feeling a bit rough for an over-the- shoulder carry; this'll be easier on you."
Lifting Doyle up into his arms, he saw something tumble form the quilts. The stuffed bear. Impulsively, he decided to bring it as well. Balancing precariously, he managed to hook his thumb through the tattered ribbon around the bear's scruffy neck.
Something was digging into his chin, making it slightly uncomfortable to remain asleep. He wakened willingly enough, however, sensing he'd had more than enough sleep for the present. In fact, he felt tired and sluggish as he sometimes did when he spent an off morning in bed. Turning his head, he searched out the cause of his discomfort, and was amused and puzzled to discover it was the dislocated button eye of a rather battered teddy bear. A raveling thread was all that held the connection. He absently pushed it back in place, wondering what on earth it was doing in his bed.
But it wasn't his bed. Doyle took in this fact as he looked around the small room; sloping ceiling, dormer window fogged on the inside with rain pattering listly against it. He judged it to be around mid-morning, although the room was only dimly lit by the grey world outside.
It was coming back fast now; he and Bodie out on a pick up job, the scene in the pub, the car chase, the flooded stream... Some of the rest was a bit more fuzzy. He realized he'd been sick--the gunshot?--no, more than that. Funny, he felt pretty good now. It didn't hurt to breathe, his head seemed fairly clear. His nose wasn't even running.
But as he started to get up, he abruptly discovered his limitations. Head swimming dizzily, he felt weak as a new born kitten. Laying back, he rolled to his other side and saw Bodie.
His partner was slumped down in a chair in the corner, head resting on the crook of his elbow propped on the bedside table-- along with a pitcher, several glasses, a couple of spoons, bottles of unidentified medicines and a half empty bowl of cold soup--all very precariously sharing the same small space.
Doyle felt a sweet warmth curling in his stomach. His partner looked terrible, pale and exhausted, dark circles etched under the long-lashed eyes. His usually immaculate hair had developed a definite cowlick at the back. Nurse Bodie. He wondered idly where he'd stuck the thermometer, and smiled at the thought.
"Bodie?" He said it softly, but the other man came up with a jerk, the bowl flying off the table with a splat and a clatter, followed by both spoons and a cup.
"Shit!" The blue eyes blinked wearily. "Ray?" Taking a closer look at the man in the bed, the resulting smile was just about the dearest thing Ray could recall seeing. "You feelin' better then?" the voice was carefully off-hand. "Knew you couldn't sleep forever."
"Feel fine. Where are we?"
"Farm house. Belongs to an old mother named Perkins. She's a holy terror, let me tell you, mate. Cleaned my clock for me twice already this morning."
Doyle settled back against the pillows, content to take it all in a step at a time. "Okay, what's she onto you for then? Don't tell me she thinks you've got shifty eyes?"
Bodie considered. "She didn't say, actually. Wouldn't be surprised, though. 'Course I had her wrapped aroun' me finger until I lugged your pitiful carcass in. That set her off-- letting you out in the weather with such a nasty cold an' all. All my fault y'know. Should've taken better care of you, an' you such a little slip of a thing." Bodie grinned, enjoying the flicker of annoyance in the green eyes. "Hardly out of knee pants, as well. A young defenseless lad like you, hanging around with a rough lout like meself--"
"That's enough," Doyle cut him short. "I take the point." Bodie brushed it off. His hand lifted to feel Doyle's forehead. "You are feeling better, aren't you?"
"I don't even feel sick--'cept me knees are a bit shaky. What the hell was wrong with me, pneumonia?"
"According to the ol' lady--she used to be a nurse about a million years ago--you had pleurisy."
"Is that anythin' like gallopin' consumption?" Doyle retorted drily. "What the hell is it?"
"Comes on with a high fever sometimes. Fluid in the lungs, I guess. She didn't go into detail. Usually goes off when the fever does, but it's no fun while it lasts. Makes it hurt like the devil to breathe."
Remembering the razor sharp pains, Doyle said, "It does that all right. How long have I been here anyway?"
"Phone's out," Bodie explained. "Hasn't stopped raining either. Must be flooding all over the country."
"Cowley should've found us by now, shouldn't he?"
Bodie nodded. "You'd think so, wouldn't you? Unless Calamity Jane managed to get herself loose from the cuffs. No proof we were ever really there, y'know. Not to mention the car being at the bottom of the creek. For all the old man knew, we could've followed Morrison to the North Pole. He told us not to come back without him."
"No point in thinking about it; we'll find out eventually," Bodie broke in before Doyle could start worrying the puzzle and like as not put himself back into a fever.
Instead, Doyle started worrying about him. "You look terrible, mate. When'd you last get some sleep?"
Bodie busied himself mopping up the spilled soup. "In case you didn't notice, I was sleeping."
"Oh yes. An' it looked marvelously comfortable as well."
Gathering up the dirty dishes, Bodie changed the subject. "Think you're up to some tea and toast? Maybe a bit more soup? Didn't take much of this lot earlier."
"Don't remember takin' any at all."
"Well, you were still out of it more than not. I'll see if I can slip past the dragon lady and fix you up something."
Positive Bodie hadn't spared a thought for himself during the last two days, Doyle said, "Only if you'll eat as well. And something more solid than soup, you twit. Look as if you're about to drop."
"Now listen here, mate, don't confuse our roles. I'm Florence Nightingale; you're Camille."
Doyle looked stubborn. "An' have a shower an' shave while you're at it. Put me appetite right off staring at that prickly mug of yours, won't it?"
Bodie scowled, and Doyle had to admit to himself that even a two day beard shadow detracted nothing from the dark good looks, if anything it increased his appeal with a delicious scruffiness. But Bodie, being Bodie, wouldn't feel himself until he was immaculate again.
"Well, go on," Doyle said crossly. "If you expect I'll fade away before you get back, send the old bird up to watch me."
"She can't manage the steps. Has a bad hip or somethin'," Bodie answered, then added a fervent, "Thank god." He grinned wolfishly. "No joy; she won't be givin' you bed baths, flower."
It suddenly occurred to Ray that he felt a deal too comfortable for someone who'd thrashed and sweated about for two days. As a matter of fact, he felt quite clean and the bedclothes were relatively crisp. Instinctively, he rubbed his smooth chin. "Christ, you've shaved me, have you?"
The blue eyes sparkled wickedly. "Bathed you too, my sweet- smelling petal. Trust me, you needed it. Ruddy good job I made of it, too. Not a single nick on your boyish cheek."
Vaguely recalling the experience very early that morning, Doyle snorted, "Enjoy yourself, did you? Playing nursing sister?"
"It had its moments." Turning away, Bodie paused at the door. "You sure you'll be all right on your own for a bit?"
"Oh, get on." Doyle smiled. "I promise not to have a relapse." He stifled a yawn. "Take your time, mate. Think I'll take another kip, actually."
At Bodie's reluctant departure, Doyle stretched cautiously, testing his aching muscles and finding most of the soreness gone. There was a tape on his side holding a small strip of gauze over the bullet graze. It twinged a bit when he moved, but all in all, he felt amazingly well. Just very, very tired.
His lids drifted shut, recalling bits and pieces of that last two miserable days and his partner's care for him. And he remembered the teddy bear. Raising his head, he tried to locate it, unable to figure how he came by it. Finding the toy, he looked at it for a long time, trying to fit it into his unsteady memories. Gradually giving way to his heavy eyes and slipping into a light doze, the bear somehow wound up cuddled under his arm.
It was some time before Bodie returned carrying a well-laded tray, clean shaven with hair still damp from his bath. Seeing the other man was sleeping, he eased the tray down and closed the door softly. He sat down and poured out a mug of tea, his gaze drifting back to his partner. God, but Ray looked adorable snuggled up to that ancient teddy, hair a pigeon's nest of tangles. And most beautiful of all, he was breathing--deeply, easily, painlessly--breathing. Just that simple, ordinary action gave Bodie more happiness than he would have thought possible to feel.
Bodie added more sugar to his tea and stirred it, still watching his partner. The clink of spoon on crockery--plus the warm smell of food--brought Doyle back around in comfortable degrees.
The green eyes opened to meet softly glowing blue.
Doyle smiled sleepily. "Hullo. You look nearly human again." He opened his eyes wider, taking in the fact the other man was bare-chested except for a pair of red suspenders. They were holding up a remarkably baggy pair of trousers. "What the 'ell've you got on?"
Bodie grinned, snapping the elastic. "Like'em, do you? Belongs to the ol' lady's grandson. He's an accountant or something up in the city. Comes down every month or so to visit. Judgin' by the size, he's a hearty eater."
Doyle chuckled. "Suits you lovely, mate."
"Had to put something on, didn't I? My clothes dried stiff with mud. Didn't fancy crawling back into them." He paused. "How you feeling?"
"Pretty good...although the old lady could probably still take me four rounds out of five."
"Don't kid yourself, mate. She could take you on a good day. I must say, you do look disgustingly chipper. Wasn't that long ago I was ready to fit you with an iron lung."
"That bad, was I?"
Bodie's smile switched off; he looked down at his cup. "Yeah. Scared me, Ray."
Totally awake now, Doyle realized what he was seeing in his partner's face was more than weariness and lack of sleep. It was the strain of hours of worry, of hurting as Doyle hurt.
"I'm sorry," Doyle said simply.
Bodie shrugged. "S'okay. You'd do the same for me. You're better now, that's what matters." He looked up with a shy grin, and gestured at the bear Doyle still unconsciously held. "See you found your friend."
"Eh?" Doyle glanced down. "Oh, the bear. Where'd he come from?"
"I gave him to you back at the other house. You've been clutchin' 'im ever since."
"Yeah?" Doyle didn't appear at all embarrassed by the fact. He surveyed the stuffed animal fondly. "Had one like it when I was a kid."
Bodie looked surprised. "You did?"
"Sure. Didn't you?"
"Not by the wildest leap of imagination."
"Oh." Doyle mulled that over. "Reckoned everyone did."
Not for the first time, Bodie found himself regretting his own less than formative childhood. Ray looked so...comfortable holding that blasted bear--Bodie had felt more self-conscious hugging some of his birds. But then, Doyle had a knack of making everything he did seem totally natural. "Come on, sit up. Your toast's getting cold."
Doyle propped himself up willingly against the pillows as Bodie poured out some more tea.
"What happened to it, then?" Bodie asked suddenly.
"What 'appened to wha'?" Doyle asked through a mouthful of bread.
Sipping tea to wash it down, Doyle looked blank. "Dunno. Must've left it somewhere. Moved around a lot when I was a kid. Besides, I traded it in for a flick at an early age. In most the neighborhoods I lived in, it was a hell of a lot safer." He glanced over at his partner's thoughtful expression. "Hey, thought you agreed to eat, too?"
Coming out of his reverie, Bodie unveiled a well-filled roast beef sandwich. "How's this then? Mrs. Perkins made it for me."
"Forgiven you, has she?"
Bodie having taken a huge bite of the sandwich, waited until it was safely chewed and swallowed before replying. "Charmed her around, of course. She boxed me ears anyway, though," he added sadly.
"Not sure. Think she just likes smacking me around. Probably considers it a sign of affection. Just be thankful you're up here, mate, out of the line of fire."
"Ah, but she thinks I'm poorly. Wouldn't abuse a sick man, would she?"
The conversation lagged as Doyle started on the broth and Bodie finished up the sandwich. When Bodie finally took the tray, he noticed Doyle's eyelids were drooping again. "Okay, son, time for sleepies. But take this glop first."
Doyle regarded the spoonful of liquid suspiciously. "What is it?"
"Got me stumped. But she says it'll help."
"Listen, I'm feelin' much better now. Don't need--"
"Raymond, open your mouth, or do I have to hold your nose?"
Reluctantly, Doyle swallowed the mixture, grimacing at the taste. "That's 'orrid. Probably rat poison. You've offended her an' she's gettin' her revenge on me."
"Oh stop acting like a baby. Here's your teddy, by the way. Now get some rest."
Doyle took the bear, chuckling. "Going to kiss me goodnight as well."
"Don't tempt me," Bodie said lightly. "You look about six. Exactly matching your mental age on a good day."
"Where y' goin'?"
"Just over here. I'll be here when you wake up."
"I know you will. But you need to get some sleep, too."
"I'll be fine in the chair."
"Don't be a twit. Get in bed. There's plenty of room."
Too exhausted to think of a logical reason to refuse, Bodie nodded. "Okay, shove over then." He slipped the suspenders over his shoulders and the trousers dropped easily.
Sinking into the soft mattress, he shut his eyes and released a sigh of pure bliss. He could feel Doyle's bare skin against his side, but the bed was too narrow to move apart. Seemed silly at the moment to worry about it. Besides that, it felt so damn good.
Something plopped down on his chest and he opened his eyes to find the bear four inches from his nose.
"You c'n borrow it, if you like," Doyle offered generously.
"Sod it," Bodie replied succinctly, rolling over to put his arm around Doyle instead.
"What time is it?" Bodie found it too much effort to search for his watch. The room was very dim; the rain was lashing harder against the window, pounding with a monotonous rumble on the roof.
"You awake? Around five probably. Still light out, if you can call it that. You much of a carpenter? We're going to be needing an ark soon, if that mess keeps up. You reckon that's why Cowley hasn't found us? Maybe the roads are all washed out."
Doyle obviously felt talkative. Bodie snuggled deeper into the pillow, breathing in the smell of Doyle's hair. He supposed it had smelled better, but he wasn't complaining. Mostly it just smelled of Doyle; and lately he preferred it over Chanel No. 9.
"Thought you were awake?" Doyle prodded him.
"Thought wrong, didn't you?"
"Come on, sleepy head. I've been layin' here for an hour. I'm bored."
"Go back to sleep then. Need lotta sleep, sick people do."
"I'm not that sick now. I wanna get up."
"Do that. You'll fall flat on your face after about six steps. Don't expect me to pick you up."
Knowing there might be some truth to that, even if a bit exaggerated, Doyle heaved a mournful sigh. "So talk to me then."
Bodie rolled over on his stomach, trying to ignore him. He'd almost managed to doze off when Doyle sighed again, loudly, twisting restlessly.
"Bodie, talk to me!"
"Oh, christ. Talk to the damn bear, mate."
Another woeful sigh.
"Do you mind?" Bodie said icily. "You're the one who insisted I needed sleep."
"You've had hours of sleep," Doyle pointed out eagerly. "Won't sleep tonight if you--"
"So I'll hit the nightspots. Will you, for christssakes, put a lid on it?"
Bodie was given the silence he asked for. Very much so. It was Bodie's turn to sigh, giving it up as a hopeless cause. He turned over to look at his hurt partner.
Doyle glared at him. "I'm not pouting."
"Okay, so what do y'want to talk about?"
"Don't," Doyle replied shortly.
Bodie gritted his teeth, counting to ten. "Did anyone ever mention what a pain in the rear you can be?"
"So go back to sleep. Wouldn't dream of disturbing you."
Bodie smiled, knowing if he did so, Ray would thump him within thirty seconds. God, he loved the moody little sod. Still smiling, Bodie traced a forefinger up the bare arm. "Nah, I'm awake now. Rain always makes me groggy. S'nice though, innit? Even if we are stuck here. It's peaceful."
Bad temper evaporating, Doyle smiled at him. "Yeah, it is."
"Except you're bored. Shall I go see if the ol' bird has a pack of cards?"
Doyle looked down at the hand on his arm, feeling a strange little tingle that was far from unpleasant. "No. Wasn't bored so much as...lonely, maybe."
Their eyes met.
"Shouldn't be," Bodie said quietly. "I'm here."
Doyle shrugged awkwardly, unable to explain the melancholy that had settled over him as he'd watched his partner sleep. "Rain makes you sleepy; makes me lonely. Silly, right? It's okay now."
"Not so silly." He squeezed Doyle's arm. "Ray?"
"When I got back to the house you were..." He hesitated, unsure if he should bring it up.
"Probably nothing. You were burning up with fever...didn't know what you were babbling on about. But...you were so glad to see me..."
"Reckon I would be, wouldn't I?"
"No, it was more than just that. You said, 'I knew you'd be back', and then you said, 'Not like her.' Who'd you mean, Ray?"
Doyle looked puzzled for a moment, then his eyes darkened. "Oh. Guess I was dreaming. Fever cookin' me brain. I remember thinking the shadows were after me; used to think the same thing when I was a kid. Used to spend half the night waitin' for 'em to grab me. Had a right imagination, I did."
"But who was she? Who were you dreaming about?"
Doyle was silent for a long time. He picked up the stuffed bear and absently fit the loose eye back in place. "She gave it to me, y'know. The bear I was tellin' you about before. Carried it for ages, it seemed. Ratty looking thing, it was; worse off than this one even. Must've been hers." He shrugged. "Or maybe not. Some bloke might've won it for her at the local fair for all I knew."
"She used to tell me he'd take care of me while she was gone. That I wouldn't be so scared, cause I wouldn't really be alone. But I was always scared anyway, y'know? Couldn't help it. Wasn't a very brave kid. Not 'til later, when I got so I just didn't give a damn."
"Who was she, Ray?" Bodie asked softly, sure he already knew.
"What? Oh, me mum...me real mum. She cut out on me when I was about five or six. Said she'd be back, but she never did."
"You told me your mother lived in Dorsett."
Another shrug. "One of 'em does. I've 'ad dozens. Which one you want to hear about?"
Bodie hesitated, ready to drop the whole subject, afraid of hurting him by stirring old memories. But Doyle seemed willing to talk about it. Maybe he needed to. "Tell me about her. Your real mum."
"Wasn't her fault, y'know. Not really. Now I realize she was hardly more than a kid herself--probably not more'n fifteen when she had me. Took guts to even try it, support a kid all by herself. She used to have to leave me on my own while she went out to work; on the game, I'd imagine. Doubt if she knew much else. She loved me though, I was always sure of that. Wouldn't have stuck it that long otherwise, would she?" He looked at Bodie for confirmation.
"No, I'm sure she wouldn't've. What happened then, Ray?"
"The usual. Charity homes, foster homes, the like. Never stayed long in orphanages, usually. Someone'd always come along and take me in for a while." He smiled ruefully. "I reckon I was such a pitiful, skinny little runt, they always figured I'd not be much trouble. Then they'd get me home and find out I had a nasty disposition and a worse temper. Went into regular rages, ripped up the bloody furniture. Christ, what a little terror I was."
Catching the expression on his partner's face, he shook his head. "No, you got it wrong. Most of 'em were decent folks, just didn't know how to handle me. Oh a few were bastards, not fit to take in a stray dog--but I never stayed long enough for them to do much damage. Mostly it was the others that got up me nose. The do-gooders, the ones that tried to be nice to me. The nerve of 'em. Wasn't havin' any of it, was I? Not Raymond Doyle; wasn't gettin' burned twice. I'd leave them before they ever got the chance to cut out on me."
He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Quite a sob story, eh? Don't take it to heart, mate. Wasn't all that bad, really. Could've been a hell of a lot worse. Finally figured out what I was doing when I was about fourteen. Can't even remember what it was snapped me out of it. Maybe just realizing if I went on like that I'd end up in the nick. I was smart enough to know that wouldn't suit at all."
Doyle put the bear to one side and turned back to Bodie. "Well, now that I've poured out my life history, what about you?"
"What?" Bodie was still caught up in his images of Ray as a child, abandoned, afraid, striking out to avoid getting hurt again. It explained a lot.
"You said you never had a teddy. Wondered why, is all." Doyle smiled teasingly. "Maybe that's the reason you ran away from home at fourteen. 'S about the only thing I know about you, come to think of it."
Bodie looked thoughtful. "Who knows? Maybe that was the reason."
"Don't want to talk about it, eh?" Doyle asked gently. "Fair enough."
The blue eyes searched the other face, seeing only patience and endless trust. "No, I'll tell you, if you want. Not much to it, actually. I didn't so much run away as walk. They were so busy hating each other, didn't have time to notice I was missing. No--" he corrected, "not hating. Neither of those cold fish had enough feeling in them to hate."
Intrigued, Doyle leaned closer. "What d'you mean?"
"Like I said. They were cold, ice cold. Deadly polite, never raised their voices--then again, I don't remember them saying much of anything at all. Like living in a mausoleum, it was. All shiny marble and crystal. White lace at the windows. My mother wore these high collar blouses with a cameo at the throat. I used to think it was a picture of her--looked just the same, only the cameo was a hell of a lot more approachable."
"If they hated each other that much, why'd they stay together?"
"With my mother, it was religion. A staunch Calvinist, was my loving mom. Dad, too, I suppose, although he worshipped money more than any god. But it's hard to say with him since I doubt he spoke over a dozen words to me from the day I was born. As for mother, the last time she touched me was before I learned to zip me trousers for myself." Bodie smiled rather wistfully. "No, I never had a teddy bear, Doyle. I doubt either of them knew what one was."
"Sounds like you were well out of it," Doyle observed. Funny, he thought sadly, I couldn't accept love, and Bodie hadn't even been offered it. "Quite a pair, aren't we? Maybe we should sell our stories to one of the dailies. Make a mint."
"Nah, not enough sex and violence."
They fell silent, listening to the patter of rain, watching as the grey light faded from the window.
After a long while, Doyle spoke again, voice soft and low, as befitted the gathering darkness. "Are your parents still alive?"
"Don't know. Don't give a damn."
"Don't you ever wonder how they got the way they were? Closed themselves off? Couldn't have always been like that."
"Don't think about them at all."
Finding that difficult to believe, but willing to let it go, Doyle put in, "I wonder about me mum sometimes. Even now. Stupid I know, but I find myself lookin' at every whore I pass on the street, wonderin' if it might be her. 'Course she wouldn't be out there now, would she? But it's a hard habit to break. When I was a copper--"
"Never mind. Just thinkin' it was probably why I took to Ann Seaford."
'Whores can be nice' Bodie remembered, wishing he'd understood then what he did now. But back then he didn't love Ray--not like he did now anyway. He'd been fascinated by him, attracted, even been fond of him in an undemanding sort of way. Nothing like what he felt now. Or had felt for ages.
"I love you," Bodie said shyly, startling himself. Wasn't even sure he knew why he'd said it aloud, except that Ray was looking melancholy again.
Doyle turned to him. "I know."
Bodie's heart skipped a beat. "You know?" It took a minute for it to sink in. "What do you mean, 'you know'?"
Doyle's smile flashed in the gloom. "I've always known."
Bodie gulped, taken aback. "Always?"
Doyle chuckled. "You look like you swallowed a lemon. What'd you expect, shock?"
Feeling as if he'd missed something somewhere along the line, Bodie snapped on the bedside lamp and frowned at him. "Maybe I did. I didn't know, why should you?"
"Oh come on, Bodie, even you're not that thick. The way you used to look at me? You must be kidding."
Thoroughly irritated now, Bodie demanded, "And just how, exactly, was that?"
The smile was smugly sensual. "Like I was prime sirloin and you were a man with an appetite for meat."
Ten years ago, William Philip Andrew Bodie had forgotten how to blush. He rediscovered the affliction in a flash. Recovering from that bombshell took a second, but he managed to growl back, "That's lust, mate, not love."
"True. But it made me start lookin' for the rest, didn't it?" Doyle seemed totally unperturbed by the whole idea.
Feeling as if he'd been stripped bare by the chip-toothed smile, Bodie snapped, "Christ, Ray, you act as if your partners fall in love with you as a matter of course."
The green eyes acknowledged the sarcasm, but the smile didn't waver. "Not that I noticed," he replied calmly. "But I wouldn't have let them, would I?" He moved closer. "Why are you so upset, Bodie?"
Confused and a little hurt at how serene Doyle seemed about what, to him, was a major pronouncement, Bodie pondered the answer to that. It was a fair enough question; why was he so upset. More than that, embarrassed and even angry. So he'd said it--right out and straight up. Told Doyle he loved him. And so it wasn't the most earth-shattering news in the world. At least Doyle hadn't punched him out; that was something anyway.
Doyle continued in a softer tone, "All I said was that I knew; didn't say I didn't like it, did I?"
Bodie swallowed nervously.
"Bodie, look at me."
"I can't." He turned his face away, figuring his face was red as a tomato by now. Christ he was screwing this up royally.
Doyle was silent for a moment. "Are you sorry you told me, is that it?"
Bodie snorted. "The way you tell it, it was a waste of breath anyway."
"No...oh no, not at all."
The touch of a hand on his shoulder made Bodie close his eyes very tightly, praying Doyle would just drop it. But he wouldn't be Doyle if he did. Never let a thing die without a thorough autopsy.
"If you knew so bloody long, whyn't you ever say?" Bodie said fiercely. "Why let me go on makin' a fool of myself?"
Doyle sighed. "Haven't you heard a thing I've said? You weren't the fool, mate, I was. No, not a fool, a coward. I was afraid you'd run out on me, dammit. Like me mum did--like Ann did. I let my guard down with her and look what happened? She couldn't get shed of me fast enough. I could take it with her...but I couldn't stand it with you."
At last Bodie turned, beginning to understand what Ray was telling him. "You must've known I wasn't like her. You didn't trust me?"
"Bodie, I don't trust myself. Reckoned I'd end up driving you away like the rest. Wouldn't blame you. Besides, who was it told me straight off the first day we met 'stay cool' and 'don't get involved'. You said I was 'very uncool'. I'd be damned if I proved you right."
Bodie smiled wryly. "Did say that, didn't I? Meant it, too. Then."
"Yeah, well you weren't exactly the most stable person I'd ever met either. Hopping around the world like a flea on a hotplate. Movin' from one bird to another like you were working quality control."
They stared at each other.
"So what's changed now?" Bodie said at last, voice a little hoarse.
"You came back," Doyle replied simply.
Puzzled, "You couldn't've thought I'd leave you there."
"No. I knew you wouldn't. That's what's different. I knew you'd be back."
Sometime during the next minute Bodie wondered how long an invalid could do without oxygen. Doyle's interest in breathing had obviously waned, but Bodie chose to attribute his own sudden dizziness to lack of air. He finally pushed Doyle away--sheer self preservation, feeling as if the rest of the world had spun a couple of degrees. Doyle just looked happy. Very, very happy.
"Nice," he commented, more breathless than he looked. "Again?"
Bodie held him off warily. "Not so fast. What the hell are we doing?"
Doyle giggled--no other word for it. "And 'ere I thought you were a man of the world. 'S called kissing, mate. New experience, is it?"
"Kissing a madman, yes. Never tried that before."
"Fun, is it?"
"Rather collect glass door knobs."
A long moment later, Bodie rose up shakily. "Any one of your various mums let you know kissin' another bloke wasn't quite the thing? It's even frowned upon in some circles."
"Is it? Wonder why? I rather fancy it meself." He added thoughtfully, "'Course it'll get better once you get the hang of it."
A crooked eyebrow lifted scornfully. "Is that right?"
Two minutes later, Doyle had to concede, "Okay, so you're a quick study. I love you for your mind."
Suddenly Bodie sat back, face stony. "Don't joke, Ray."
"You were a couple of minutes ago," Doyle pointed out.
"That's different. It's the only way I know how to deal with things. I thought you were supposed to be the steady one-- the thinker."
"Good job one of us is."
"Damn it, Ray, I-- Let's slow it down for a bit, okay? Before we get in too deep."
Doyle retreated, cooling. "Thought we were already. You said you loved me."
"Say it to a lot of people don't I?" Bodie snapped.
Doyle just looked at him.
"Okay, so maybe I don't. And I do."
Not known for his patience or his sweet temper even when he was feeling fit, Doyle snarled, "Don't what and do what, dammit?"
"Say it, and love you."
"Well now, that makes loads of sense. What the hell are you talking about, Bodie?"
"I just don't want to do something now that you'll think to death later on. I love you, you dumb sod, and that's not going to change. But if we take it further, you'd damned well better not get cold feet a month from now!"
Doyle relaxed. "Is that all? I was beginning to think we had something to worry about. My feet aren't cold, mate--and neither's any of the rest of me." Seeing Bodie open his mouth to speak, he stopped him. "I'm sure, Bodie."
Bodie cupped his hands around the serious face. "Okay." He kissed him again, a tender brushing of lips. "It'll keep then, won't it?" He started to get out of the bed, but Doyle jerked him back.
"Where the 'ell you goin'!"
"Fix us up some supper. Aren't you hungry?"
"Oh no, you don't," Doyle said with grim determination, realizing if he let Bodie out of his bed without something a good deal more definite than a few kisses, it'd be a hell of a lot harder to talk him back into it--and he fully intended to keep him there. "Not just yet, sunshine."
"Ray, you're still sick--"
Bodie looked at him.
"Well, I'm not," Doyle repeated stubbornly.
"Ready to take on Macklin, are you? A plate of soggy pasta maybe. Face it, mate you're not fit enough to--"
Doyle leaned forward and licked Bodie's nipple. At the resultant gasp, he smiled and slipped his hand under the covers and between the muscular thighs.
He could always talk Bodie into anything.
-- THE END --