Boxing Day


This version has been re-edited: with many thanks to JM

It was hardly light when Bodie left Doyle's block of flats and stepped out into the soggy, east-wind-edged morning. There was no deep and crisp and even about this St Stephen's Day. He hunched his shoulders slightly, then defied the chill drizzle with a couple of deep breaths as he strode the short distance to the Capri. Doyle had left his lurid tartan scarf on the back seat a couple of days ago when the weather had turned briefly milder; Bodie retrieved it and slung it around his neck, grateful for the warmth.

The lock-up garage showed no signs of intrusion. The single hair he had trapped in the padlock was undisturbed. He unfastened the door and reached for the switch that brought a dim, harsh overhead illumination.

His heart accelerated, an echo of adrenaline-fired frenzy, as the dank smell triggered a deluge of recollection. He stood looking at the old trails of his own scuffed footprints. When the dust lay round about, deep and quite uneven: that might amuse Doyle if he remembered to tell him. He turned his head aside and tried to hold his breath as he lifted the tarpaulin off the car's boot but had to stop and sneeze a moment later.

The replacement rifle was on top. He lifted it out and took a routine minute to check that it was functional at a moment's notice, but that wasn't what he'd come for.

Doyle was wanting to know things. Perilous stuff, information. It gave people an edge on you. There were things Cowley knew, things old acquaintances knew, and things only he knew. There was the thing Doyle had whispered last night when he had hovered on the very brink of sleep, his head pillowed on Doyle's wide shoulder, feeling oddly safe in that bony embrace. Doyle had brought a deadly weapon into play, and he had to answer the challenge before he lost his nerve.

He fingered the end of the scarf, Doyle's warmth, and thought of lifting a silky handful of curls, exposing the nape of Doyle's neck to a fleeting kiss. Birds expected and bestowed those spontaneous caresses, sometimes even in public, which tended to make him feel exposed and uneasy. He had swept aside the luxuriant fall of Marikka's hair to find that remembered mole, braving any chance onlooker's gaze. She had been expensively scented, and when he'd come to her in that hotel she was freshly bathed and perfumed again. Doyle smelled of himself, sometimes faintly overlaid with remnants of soap and shampoo and aftershave, sometimes rank with sweat after exertion. He could never kiss Doyle in public, wasn't at all sure he could do it, would be allowed to do it, in private, except in the safe context of sex.

Doyle had trailed him the day she died. He had looked out of the hotel window and seen Doyle watching. Doyle had kept him safe. Doyle, all unwitting, had fetched Marikka to the killing ground. Her body had lain broken in the dirt, and into Doyle's hands he had thrust the rifle in furious surrender.

Deeper down in the little cache he found what he was looking for.

The stealthy sounds of Bodie's leaving had roused Doyle. He lay and looked at the dim early light, listening to the tiny sounds inside the building, to the occasional passing vehicle, to the lonely sound of his own breath aching in his chest.

Gone to earth, he thought, fleeing from the hound Doyle hunting him. Gone away.

Yesterday had been all right, Christmas day together.

He'd cooked a small turkey and various traditional trimmings, and Bodie had cleared up around and after him. They'd eaten and watched the box and gone to the local for a couple of pints. They'd returned and eaten more turkey, cold this time, and Bodie had devoured the remains of the stuffing and mince pies, and nibbled a token bite of fresh salad. More television: programmes neither of them would normally have bothered with.

The deliberate decision to spend the day and night together had brought constraint, the sense of undergoing some test for an undefined, problematic future. They would not pretend to be drunk when they went to bed. They were self-conscious, wary of missteps. They didn't laugh very much.

We know each other too well, and suddenly there's this whole dimension of strangeness. We're used to being together, partners and mates, and suddenly the sex thing has turned intense, thrown it all out of kilter. I want to touch him, kiss him, just offhandedly, but all the touching and kissing has been in bed. There were times I thought he would touch me, but he didn't. I didn't. Men don't.

He put his head on my shoulder last night, after the sex, and I wrapped my arms round him, but I couldn't keep my bloody mouth shut, could I?

Gone away, oh, gone away.

"It was more than you ever told me before, that about your uncle and the chocolates," Doyle had said into the darkness. "You don't tell me much."

"Tell you what?" Bodie's voice, wary, distancing.

"I don't know what's real about you. All those yarns you spin about Africa and Jordan and the perishin' merchant navy at fourteen..."

"Just my cover story," Bodie yawned. "I was really in the Drugs Squad. Surprised you never noticed me. Go to sleep, Ray."

Doyle had let it go: unreasonable to expect a few nights in bed to breach Bodie's habitual reticence.

A few nights during the course of a few years, always glossed over with the excuse of being a bit sozzled, no birds available. During the last couple of months it had started to happen more often, more urgently, more openly. Some awareness between them had shifted. The sex was nothing much if you looked at it that way: kid stuff, almost, hands, friction...

But we started kissing. Oh christ. Your mouth and mine, your tongue and mine...

"Anything," you muttered that first time, still devastated by Marikka's slaughter, hungry for physical comfort, but I was too shattered to think. Having sex with a man after all those arid years of denying it, and trying to hide that I was near as damn-it a virgin with men. Trying to hide that the touch of our lips and bodies and cocks together sent me reeling over the edge of friendship and desire into this bloody craving to claim you, soul and heart and body, knowing you can't stand possessiveness.

What did "anything" mean? Sex anything? I couldn't even tell how drunk you really were. We were both faking most of it. No brewer's droop, for sure. What we did felt so intensely
right somehow, the beginning of...

The first morning you kind of laughed and said, "Years since I was with a feller," and that was it. I thought of telling you about the roses, but you were already on your way to the bathroom. There was still all the shit with Willis being sorted out; days it took to get that squared away, Cowley like a swarm of angry hornets the whole time. The other mornings we never let on at all, just as if one of us had kipped on the sofa.

He sat up, nostrils dilating to catch the smell of sweat and semen that clung to the bed linen and his own skin. He shuddered with premonitions of nervous desire for the things they hadn't explored yet, never would if he had driven Bodie away with that ill-advised prodding.

It had been unexpected, this Christmas and Boxing Day off. One of the married men had suddenly volunteered, his wife having gone to attend to a family emergency and wanting the chance of a later celebration. Another couple had the last minute chance of a New Year trip to Bermuda, and--

"Fancy some turkey at my place?" Doyle had suggested tentatively. "Touch of the old sloth and gluttony?"

"Bit of lust too?" Bodie's grin was its usual arrogant self, but Doyle caught the uncertainty that lurked behind it.

"If your luck's in." He managed to conceal the throb of excitement that warmed his whole body at that declaration of intent. "You'll have to do the washing-up if I'm going to cook."

"I'll borrow your pinny and rubber gloves."

"Just keep your lunch-hooks off me curlers, all right?"

A hurried shopping trip amidst frantic last-minute crowds secured things he knew Bodie liked, wryly reminding him of Claire's teasing about his nesting instinct. Those few months of easy intimacy he and Claire had enjoyed were one of the warm memories he cherished, before her need for a family had taken her off with that nice safe chartered accountant.

He had bought a live Christmas tree in a pot, only twelve inches high. He'd set it on the windowsill among his forced bulbs and draped a string of tiny lights around it. He cut out the figure of Cowley from one of the photographs he and Bodie collected for various bits of foolery and fastened it to the tip of the tree, remembering the Christmas trees of childhood and the noisy squabbling excitement of siblings and cousins as they speculated about the presents stacked under and around.

Family. Not kids. Not for me. But family of a sort. I want that.

So I had to go and whisper "I love you" like a prat. I lay holding all your strength in my arms, heavier than I thought I could bear, a minute more, a minute more, letting my arm and shoulder go numb rather than disturb that slow, peaceful breathing. I touched that knife scar on your back. When I had to slide you off or risk gangrene, I kissed your hair and whispered my confession into your neatly shaped ear and fell asleep somehow. And now you've gone...

On Christmas morning Bodie had brought wine that demonstrated a recollection of Doyle's preferences and an elaborately wrapped box holding a dark green teeshirt emblazoned with "My Other Car Is A Harley". They'd laughed over it, and Doyle had worn it and wondered how carefully Bodie had chosen the colour that suited him so well.

"Didn't get you anything," Doyle said, but Bodie had discovered the two-pound box of Belgian chocolates casually open on the coffee table.

"These'll do," he said. "Funny. When I was a kid--"

"What?" Doyle asked after a silence in which Bodie stared at the chocolates as though hypnotized.

He didn't really expect an answer, but Bodie said: "Didn't get many sweets. My mother was diabetic and thought--well, there was this one birthday, eight I was, and my uncle from Australia who didn't know I wasn't supposed to have them came to see us, and he gave me this present and I opened it and it was a whole pound box of Milk Tray. I ate the lot in an hour, and that was making it last. Mum was furious when she found out, but I'd had them."

Except for the girl Krivas killed, that's more than you've ever told me in your life, Doyle thought.

"Best present ever?" he teased.

Bodie shrugged. "Just about. Mostly I got useful stuff. Clothes. Books sometimes. Never anything I'd been excited about. But after that, I always had that sort of rush of hoping I'd unwrap something wonderful. There's still--"

The full intensity of his sapphire gaze was suddenly concentrated on Doyle, and then the oven timer startled them both with its raucous ping. Bodie picked up the television listings, and that was that.

Doyle showered and dressed. He wasn't hungry, but he fancied the traditional panacea of a nice hot cup of tea. As he took milk from the fridge he grimaced slightly at the packet of bacon. He'd assumed Bodie would stay for Boxing Day.

"Leave some turkey for Stephen," he'd protested last night, and when Bodie looked blank, had amplified, "Feast of, you prat. Good King Whatsisname looked out. It'll do for lunch."

He supposed he ought to be pissed off, probably would soon be furious; all he felt now was desolation. Through his mind drifted a reproachful procession of women from whose morning beds he'd retreated, but at least he'd always warned them that he'd have to leave ungodly early.

During that Parsali op he had felt the urge to tell Bodie things, vaguely hoping for reciprocation, and that mutual confession of fear had been like the hint of a door opening. But he had still been with Claire then, and he and Bodie never slept together when there was a remotely serious bird in either of their lives.

"Ready to hold back the chaos," Claire was wont to say when she'd downed her first cup of tea. Not glamorous, sound as the proverbial nut, she had been unperturbed by his work and erratic schedule. Nurses and coppers, they understood things about each other. If only she hadn't wanted kids so badly...

He set down his cup and went into the living room, drawing back the curtains to let in the grey morning. On the windowsill the little tree stood forlorn, and he thought about relieving it of its undignified burden of decoration. He'd have to sort out a place it could get enough light or find it a proper home in the earth, somewhere he could keep an eye on it while it got its roots dug in. He and Bodie could sneak it into a corner of the park--

"What are you staring at, you malevolent old sod?" he demanded of Cowley's picture. "Working on the next helping of chaos?"

Nurses and coppers. They got on with it.

The kitchen was fairly chaotic.

He shoved a tape of personal music-while-you-work favourites into the player, turned it as high as he knew the neighbours would tolerate, flipped two fingers at Cowley in farewell, and got on with it.

Bodie parked the Capri and sat staring at the block of flats.

It wasn't too late to back out. He could go to his own place, phone with an excuse about something he'd needed to take care of, and then this air hostess in from Karachi had rung him on the off-chance and see you tomorrow, mate, and...

...And back to the sterile safety of non-involvement. It would be permanent.

It wouldn't matter. They were good partners. Doyle didn't know he'd heard that whisper. It could be obliterated.

He let visions of women wash over him: being infatuated with one had never interfered with his attraction to another. Now the memory of Doyle possessed his hands, his mouth, his groin, his whole body, blotting up all his erotic energy and conjuring some need beyond the physical that only Doyle could assuage.

"Bloody hell." He stared at a pair of early dog-walkers, a couple who looked long married, gossiping and laughing with comfortable intimacy.

He sighed. Into Doyle's hands he would surrender his heart. They might tear each other to pieces, pair of pigheaded alpha males that they were, but risk was in their blood, and if they could make it work--if--

"All right, pack it in," he said aloud to the nascent heat in his crotch. "Down, boy."

Couldn't sit here chatting to his cock all day. He flicked at the head through his cords and winced: a painful trick of the trade an exasperated nurse had demonstrated years ago. "The things I do for you, Ray!"

He locked the car and glanced up at the top floor. There was a light in the kitchen. Shit! He'd thought he could be back before Doyle was even awake, but now he'd best be prepared to pre-empt the swing of Doyle's fist.

"Chagrin de bloody amour," he muttered as he approached the door of the flat. He could hear the thump of rock music as he turned the key, and he slipped inside as stealthily as he had left.

Doyle squawked and spun defensively, grabbing the closest makeshift weapon: being lassoed while scouring the sink was not a contingency Macklin had covered. Bodie ducked away from the imminent peril of a faceful of Vim.

"Very sloppy, 4.5," he chided in his best Cowley accent. "You couldn't hear a tank drive in through that racket."

"Trodden Vim all over my bloody scarf!" Doyle retrieved it, glowering. "Just been washed, too."

"Shouldn't leave it cluttering up my car. Happy Boxing Day. Isn't this when the boss is supposed to cough up a pressie?" He dropped Doyle's borrowed keys and a small oblong box wrapped in holly-patterned paper onto the kitchen table.

"Don't hold your breath." Doyle grabbed the tatters of his self-possession. "Where the hell have you been? Out mugging yonder peasants for theirs?" He switched off the tape, set his trampled, now Bodie-scented, woollen bundle tenderly on the windowsill, and returned to his interrupted scrubbing. Anything to hide his confusion, his resentment at the turmoil he'd suffered needlessly, his sudden, unjustified euphoria.

"Gathering winter fuel, more like." Bodie shrugged out of his jacket. "Parky out there. Any tea left?"

"Stewed by now."

Bodie refilled the kettle and started to brew up afresh. "Didn't mean to wake you up. Out like a light, I thought."

"Thought you..."

Oh, shut it! he ordered himself savagely. Don't start whining at him. He's here. That indisputable fact was a glimmer of warmth melting the ache in his chest. He's here. He loosened his grip on the residual anger and let it slide away. He's here. "There's some bacon if you fancy cooking it."

"Yeah?" Bodie moved behind him. Doyle didn't turn, tense but trusting. He felt chilled fingers brush his hair to the side and deliberately relaxed, bending his head slightly as warm lips grazed the back of his neck. Then Bodie was back at the counter, the ritual of tea-making resumed. "Eggs, too? Where's the frying pan?"

Doyle finished the sink and sat down, drinking fresh tea and eyeing the festive parcel curiously. Bodie cooked--bacon, eggs, and toast--and set food in front of Doyle who was suddenly ravenous.

"We'll get you eating proper grub full time," Bodie predicted, attacking his own piled plate. "Your turn for the washing-up. Look, I can't tell you everything at one go, all right?"

"Uh--all right." Doyle stared at him.

Bodie concentrated on his knife and fork. "There's things you've never told me, either, sunshine."

"Right." Doyle swallowed nervously. Unconsciously he brushed a finger over his damaged cheek.

"There's--boxes we won't open for a while yet. Things that hurt too much." Bodie put down his knife and pushed the little parcel across to Doyle. "But it is Boxing Day, so have a butcher's at that for a start."

"What is it?" There was a tiny folded card attached.

"A fountain pen's my guess. Want some more tea?"

"I'll do it." He busied himself with cups and milk and teapot, sugar for Bodie, glancing appraisingly at the package. "It looks--old. The sticky tape's gone yellow."

"I wanted one when I was thirteen. It was useful, so I thought I might get it. It was the week before Christmas--it was in her desk, wrapped like that... They said she got the insulin wrong. I came home from school and found her--I'd stopped on late to play football or I might have--"

Later would do to ask about the rest of the family and all the ramifications. Doyle knew there would be plenty of time. The last of the bitter anxiety he had scarcely recognized drained away.

He picked up the little box, unfolded the card, read Merry Christmas, Will, with much love from Mum.

"I thought it was my last chance of a wonderful thing," Bodie said, his voice unnaturally steady. "If I didn't open it, you see. Do it for me, Ray."

Doyle thought it weighed more than a fountain pen. He carefully detached the card and slit the bright paper.

"A fountain pen," he confirmed. "Parker. And a bar of Cadbury's Milk Tray." He looked up, smiling. "I'd forgotten them, all the squares with different fillings, like the box."

Bodie returned the smile, carefully controlled. "Must be a fossil by now. Surprised the mice never sussed it out. The pen should work, though."

Doyle pushed the whole collection towards him and left his hand where Bodie's hand could enfold it, strength into strength.

What was between them was like the little tree, he thought. It wanted to live and grow. It would take some patient nurturing, but if they could keep from trampling it while the roots took a firm hold in this new soil--if--

"I'll get you some keys made," he said.

Bodie nodded. "Me too." There was a look of peace in his eyes; silence embraced them.

In a little while they'd talk, discuss a few things, start their old laughing banter again, perhaps go back to bed. But for now they would just sit in the warm, bacon-scented kitchen, enjoying their wonderful thing.

-- THE END --

December 28, 1999 - January 29, 2000

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