Assault and Battery


(Story 6 in the Building to Last universe)

"Be sure you change Raven's litter box once a day," I told Rita. "Also, he doesn't like being messed about while he's eating, but he appreciates a nice scratch behind the ears when he's got his tum full."

I knew I was being a berk, but I didn't like leaving Raven locked up in our flat and at the mercy of a thirteen-year-old cat sitter. Not that I didn't trust Rita - she was very responsible for a girl her age, and she'd gotten on beautifully with our cat the last few times we'd had to hire her pet sitting services.

The problem was me. I was still the neophyte pet owner, though I wasn't as overprotective now as I had been during the first few months after Ray and I had adopted Raven. In fact, the first time our tomcat had gone out on the tiles for a dirty weekend, I'd nearly done my nut. I'd even stopped speaking to Doyle. If Ray hadn't blown up at me and made me talk to him, I could have destroyed our relationship - and all for ten pounds of fur and bones. A few days later, the furry fiend waltzed home looking like a shagged-out satyr after an orgy. The only good thing to come out of the experience was the pledge Ray and I made never to shut one another out; to always talk out problems.

And I was doing better at letting Raven be a cat; at letting him go his own way. Of course, I still worried about the furry little sod, repeated myself on the care and feeding of tomcats, and felt like a berk.

It didn't help when Ray started exchanging amused glances with Rita. I could tell they were doing their humour poor Bodie bit. Couldn't blame them, as many times as I'd gone over the same instructions with the girl. But it did sting a bit, and it didn't do much for my image as a tough CI5 agent.

I finally ran out of things to say and Ray hustled me out of our flat. He had already packed the motor with all the gear we'd need for the next two weeks.

I wasn't looking forward to our annual fitness review - only a fool or a masochist would. First, Brian Macklin would bash us about and run us near to death; then Kate Ross would hit us with her battery of psychological tests. CI5 field agents called the process Assault and Battery (a little phrase we picked up off Yank police shows). Sometimes we used the more proper English version - GBH.

We had a lovely drive through the English countryside on our way to the CI5 training facilities. It had just gone autumn and some of the trees were turning. The days were still hot, but the nights were beginning to get a bit of a nip in them. I didn't really enjoy the drive as I was too busy worrying about Raven, as well as dreading the next couple of weeks.

It used to be much easier to get through the yearly testing. Now, every year it got harder to get up enough enthusiasm to make it. And each year, I ended up mentally and physically exhausted. Was dreading the year when either Ray or I failed. I'm getting a bit old for the military and I really don't have the training for much else. Ray might go back to the Met, but he's not really trained for much else, either. Neither of us particularly care for the idea of ending up in a desk job. On the other hand, even that's better than taking a bullet and ending up six feet under, as Murphy had nearly done a few months earlier.

I was surprised when we arrived at the training centre just as Murphy and his partner, Chris Atwood, finished checking in at the gate. "I didn't know Murph was scheduled for re-testing," I told Doyle.

"Neither did I," Ray replied. "Thought it'd be a few more months before the therapists would let Macklin try and undo all their work."

We hadn't seen much of Murphy since he'd been released from hospital. Doyle and I had been up north investigating a rumour that an archaeological dig was the cover for a ring of spies. (I still have dreams about having to dig ditches with a bloody teaspoon.)

"Hope Murph's up to this," I muttered. Ray murmured agreement.

We checked in at the gate and were given our assignment sheets for the next two weeks. After we dumped our gear, we joined Murphy and Atwood in the old warehouse where Macklin likes to hold freeform, unarmed combat drills.

Murph sat on a wooden packing crate contemplating the toes of his boots. Chris hovered over him, talking in low, intense tones. Atwood shut up as soon as he noticed us, so I don't know what he was saying. But I could guess. I'd have given odds he was trying to get Murphy to put off the tests for a bit until he'd had more time to recover. That's what I'd have done if it had been Doyle who'd been shot.

"Hallo, Murph. Chris," I said cheerfully.

"Hallo, Bodie. Doyle," Murph replied as he looked up.

Chris and Ray muttered appropriate greetings as I sat down on a packing crate near Murphy. "How are you, mate?" I asked 6.2.

Murph scowled and snapped at me. "I feel fine and I wish everyone would quit asking."

"Excuse me for living," I said sarcastically.

"Bodie's just worried about you, Murph..." Ray started.

The Smurph cut him off. "I wish that everyone would just get off my back!" He got up and stormed off towards the far corner of the warehouse. He didn't get far. Towser jumped him from behind a stack of crates and the free-for-all was on.

Chris ran towards Murphy and reached him just as Towser put 6.2 down with a kidney punch. I saw Atwood attack the larger man, but didn't see much else as Macklin made his appearance just then. Soon, Ray and I were fighting for our lives.

Twenty minutes later, all four of us were flat on our backs, panting in ragged unison. Macklin wasn't even breathing hard. He gave us Standard Lecture Number Three - the one about how out of shape and lazy we all were. The smug sod promised he'd have us all in perfect health - or dead - by the end of the refresher course.

Then the real work started. Macklin had each one of us face off against Towser. Brian watched and criticized our technique while his partner beat us to a pulp. Fortunately, he left Murphy for last. It gave 6.2 a bit of time to recover from his first encounter with Towser.

Murph needed it. Macklin's bully-boy had left the Smurph wheezing. Even I could tell that the mad bastard wasn't up to this sort of action. I swear that Towser went easy on Murph. Surprised the hell out of me - I wouldn't have thought there was a sentimental bone in his entire muscled body. Even so, Murphy was doubled over in crimson-faced distress by the end of the first five minutes. Macklin called off the bout and gave us all our instructions for the next day. Then he dismissed us for the evening.

Murph was still wheezing. When Ray and I started towards him, Chris warned us off with a slight shake of his head. We left him there in the warehouse trying to relieve Murphy's laboured breathing.

"Don't like the way Murph's reacting," Ray said when we were back in our cubicle.

"It's too soon. Don't think he's ready for this, yet," I replied.

"Should have waited a bit," Ray agreed.

"Yeah. But you know how hard it is to say no to the Cow."

"I don't think Cowley ordered him on this course," Ray told me. "Last I heard, Murphy was insisting that he was ready to go back on duty. Don't know how he persuaded the doctors to let him face Macklin."

"Probably found one that doesn't know about Assault and Battery."

"Yeah," Ray agreed. "Suspect Murph's perfectly fit for most things."

"Just not a week or two with the Wrecking Crew," I added.

"Don't know whether I'm up to this, either," Ray said with a sigh. He slid down the wall and sat on top of his sleeping bag.

"We're getting old, sunshine," I said as I joined him.

"I'm getting old. You're just getting sexier." Ray leaned over and I kissed me, his tongue confidently plundering my mouth.

I wrapped both my arms around my lover. Supple as a healthy cat, Ray gave a bit of a wriggle and his body landed in my lap. I could feel his roving hands inching their way under the camouflage jacket and olive-green t-shirt I was wearing.

Ray loves to kiss; and I love to kiss Ray. He puts so much concentration into it. Our snogging can turn into marathon sessions. More often than not, they end in bed or on the settee - or on the rug, if we're too desperate for it.

I'll admit it was stupid of us to start something right there. Damn near had heart failure when I heard the door bang open. If Ray hadn't been pinning me to the floor I'd have jumped a foot.

Fortunately, it was only Murphy and Chris, and they were too wrapped up in themselves to notice the hasty way Doyle scrambled off my lap. Doyle's look of assumed innocence was totally wasted as neither of them noticed a thing.

Murph was still having trouble breathing, but he wouldn't admit it. He batted Atwood's hands away when the other man tried to help him lower his body to the ground. If Murphy'd glared at me the way he glared at Chris, I'd have rearranged his face for him. Atwood just looked worried.

"I'm all right!" Murph said irritably.

"You don't look it," Ray remarked.

"Don't you start on me. One mother hen is bad enough," 6.2 snapped.

"C'mon, mate," I told my partner. "We've just time for a stroll before supper."

Doyle quit glaring at Murph long enough to cast a disbelieving eye in my direction. He knew how much I dislike gratuitous exercise (unless it's in bed with Ray). I glanced at Chris, looked back at Doyle, then jerked my head towards the door. My mate thought it over and decided my suggestion had merit. When he got to his feet, Ray walked over to Atwood and suggested, "Why don't you come with us, Chris. We'll give you the tuppenny tour."

"I don't want to..." Atwood started to say.

"C'mon, mate," I said. "Ray knows where all the bodies are buried, and believe me, there are a lot of them to bury after a session with Macklin, Towser and Company."

Between the two of us, we hustled the ex-MI6 agent out of the barracks.

"I should've stayed," Atwood said gloomily as we walked down a gravel pathway.

"No," Ray told him. "That's the worst thing you could have done. Murphy doesn't want your sympathy right now. I know. I've been there. When I was recovering from being shot I was a right bastard."

"You can say that again, mate," I said, with perhaps a bit more feeling than was prudent. Doyle glared at me, mostly for Chris' benefit - or so I hoped. "Used to snap my head off every time I tried to help the little sod."

"Not so much of the little," Doyle said indignantly. "'M only an inch shorter than you!"

"You're such a skinny runt, you look shorter," I told him as I slung an arm round his shoulders.

"Just because you eat like a horse..."

"Do not!" I protested.

"Don't worry, mate," Ray said with false sympathy. "There won't be quite as much to drag round after Macklin gets done with you."

Chris chuckled. "You sound like an old married couple."

Ray and I exchanged smug glances. Our doubles act had worked a treat. Atwood wasn't looking quite so much the whipped dog.

"How did you manage to get through Ray's recovery without breaking up the partnership?" Chris was still preoccupied with his and Murphy's relationship. But now he was thinking about it, not just reacting.

"Don't know how Bodie managed to get through it without killing me. I was a right bastard, just like Murphy's being now, and for the same reason. Was scared I'd never recover, never be fit enough to partner Bodie again. I worried about the silly sod. He was working two full- time jobs, one as Cowley's best agent, and another as my nanny. If it hadn't been for him pushing me to work on my exercises I would never have made it all the way back. That, and the fact I was afraid he'd get himself killed without me to cover his arse. Mind, there were some days I hurt so bad, it made me wonder if anything was worth the effort it took just to keep breathing."

Ray had his eyes on the ground. I could tell he was embarrassed about being so open with Chris. His recovery from Mai Li's bullets was one of the things we'd never really discussed since becoming lovers.

When I started talking I was really speaking more to Ray than I was to Atwood, even though Chris was the one I addressed. "He's right about being a bastard when he's sick. We're both in contention for the title of World's Worst Patient. Don't know how he managed to keep working at the physiotherapy. Sometimes, it hurt just to watch him. But Ray's a determined bugger. If he hadn't pushed harder and farther than the doctors thought possible, he'd never have made it back on the squad. No one believed he could do it at first - not Macklin, nor Cowley, nor Kate-bloody-Ross. Sometimes, I don't think Doyle believed it. I mean, you don't just bounce back from being shot, especially if it nicks the heart."

"You must have believed in him," Chris said quietly.

"Me? I was too bloody scared to even think about it. Did an ostrich imitation. Acted like I knew he'd come back, because that's what I wanted so bad."

"I'm not as good at playing ostrich as you are. I can't help seeing how far Michael is from being fit."

Sounded a bit strange hearing Chris use Murphy's first name. He was the only one on the squad who did.

"If Murphy survives the retesting, Cowley is going to pair him with me," Atwood revealed. "If he doesn't, he'll probably quit CI5."

"How do you feel about being teamed with 6.2?" Ray asked as we walked slowly along the path by the perimeter fence.

"I think I want that more than I've wanted anything in a very long time. We work well together. You do know about us, don't you?" Chris asked.

"Murph mentioned that you were lovers," Ray said. "But that's all he's said about your relationship."

"I don't know if I'd go as far as saying we're lovers. Sometimes we sleep together." Chris looked sad. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't burden you with my problems. It's just so frustrating... Before Michael took that bullet it seemed like we were starting a relationship, something with a future. But ever since he was shot, it's like he's just not interested."

"'E probably isn't. But it's not his fault, and it has nothing to do with how he feels about you," Ray said.

"Come again?" Chris asked.

"People who have body trauma - like being shot or losing a limb - often are impotent for a while. It's the body's way of conserving energy. Part of the healing process." Doyle looked a bit uncomfortable.

"It happened to you, didn't it?" Chris commented.

"Yeah," Ray said shortly. Then he sighed. "Must admit, I felt a whole lot better after I started noticing the birds again."

"Birds?" Chris sounded incredulous. "Not Bodie?"

I almost laughed at the look of surprise on Atwood's face. "It wasn't until after Ray recovered that we discovered that we were more than partners," I told him.

"If I get too personal, just tell me to naff off," Chris said, "but how long had you been partners before you became lovers?"

"About five years, or a bit more," Ray replied.

"Five years?"

"Yeah," I said. "Came as a bit of a shock to us. Neither of us knew we I were that way inclined."

"You didn't know you were bi?" Chris was still having a bit of trouble taking it all in.

"No, we didn't," Ray replied.

I could see that my lover wasn't really comfortable discussing our relationship with Atwood. Chris may have been Murphy's lover, but we didn't know the man that well. I tried to divert the conversation to Murphy and his relationship with Chris.

"How long had you and the Smurph known each other before you started sleeping together?" I asked him.

"About three weeks," Atwood replied.

I guess I must have looked shocked. Doyle certainly did.

Atwood looked a trifle embarrassed, but tried to explain. "Is it so very different from picking up a bird in a pub and taking her to bed? Gays are just a bit more up front about it. Murphy and I were attracted to each other from the first. But being in the kind of jobs we are, we have to be bloody careful about who we take to bed. There's AIDS, other sexually-transmitted diseases, the security angle. After we sounded one another out, we went to bed. It started out as a sometimes thing, no strings attached. And there it's stuck."

"D'you want it to go farther?" I asked him.

"Yes," he replied tersely.

"Then it's up to you to break out of your role-playing and go after what you want," Ray told him.

"Tell Murph what you want. He can only say no," I added.

"But what if I lose him altogether?" Chris asked.

"That depends on you," Doyle said. "How important is it to find out whether you've got a chance with him? Important enough to risk what you've got?"

"That's easier said than done," Chris sighed. "But I'll think about it."

The three of us had a desultory talk on what was coming up in the course, and we exchanged a few of the latest rumours flying about CI5. All three of us were a bit uncomfortable with the intimate revelations that had been made. We needed time to regroup and distance ourselves from the conversation.

Murphy was asleep when we returned to barracks. We woke him up to eat. At supper, we met the rest of the group that would be going through retesting with us. It was the usual mixture of older agents taking their annual review, new agents getting their last polish before being sent into the field, newly-partnered agents getting their first experience in working together, and agents being retested after an injury to see if they were ready to be put back on the active duty roster. Altogether, there were ten of us - four sets of partners, plus Murphy and Atwood.

We weren't the only group in the mess hall. CI5 was just one of the agencies that used the training facilities, so we often found ourselves sharing the compound with other groups. This time, it was a Special Branch unit. According to the schedule, we'd be running a practice op with them later in the session.

After supper, we all attended a sleep-inducing lecture/demonstration of the latest in Kevlar vests. I told Ray that all of the new models would ruin the fit of my jacket, and didn't they have anything that actually moulded to the human body. Ray glared at me, but I could tell he was trying not to laugh. Teasing my partner, at least, kept me awake.

Everyone went to bed early. Wasn't much else to do. The nearest pub was a good five-mile hike. After a session with the Wrecking Crew, bed looked more interesting than the ten-mile round trip.

Next morning, after breakfast and a brisk ten-mile run, the four of us (Murph, Atwood, Ray and me) were given over to Kate Ross and her computer simulations. Fortunately, the night's sleep had done Murphy a world of good. Even the morning run hadn't reduced him to yesterday's vision of the walking dead. It didn't look like he was doing too badly on his tests.

I was too busy trying to hold my own against the machine to pay too much attention to how anyone else was doing. Somehow the bloody computer sims were every bit as exhausting as an all-out with Towser - only the bruises were in places that didn't show.

After lunch, we were back in the warehouse, practicing the very un- genteel art of hand-to-hand combat. At the end of the day Murphy was again reduced to red-faced incoherence. But it had seemed to me (and Doyle agreed with me) that Towser hadn't been pulling any punches. Decided that it must mean that Murphy was doing better. As the week wore on, it was almost painful watching Murphy grit his way through the physical part of the course. I swear, sometimes he was running on will alone. Was almost as bad watching Atwood; he hurt right along with the Smurph.

I was doing quite a bit of suffering, myself. Lying alone in my sleeping bag, night after night, only a few feet away from my lover, was cruel and inhumane punishment. Doyle is such a sexy creature that just watching him breathe can be a turn-on. I'd grown used to having him in my bed at night. Hell! I'd grown used to having him, period .

Mid-way through the first week, I was beginning to feel like my balls were done up in knots. A furtive cuddle in a dark corner was no substitute for energetic and frequent sex.

What I missed even more than the sex (though that was bad enough) was the freedom to touch, to hold, to express my affection. Don't think that either Murphy or Atwood would have batted an eye if we'd had it off right in front of them. Don't think that Ray would have been bothered by a discreet audience - though I can't tell for certain, as the sexy sod has an unexpected puritanical streak running through him. But the problem was me and my inhibitions.

I don't like making an exhibition of myself in public. Never liked girls that hung onto me. Living with Ray was helping me overcome some of that conditioning - could even discreetly grope the bionic golli in public, as long as I thought no one was looking. But I couldn't quite get up the bottle to try something on with Chris and Murphy watching. So, I lay in my sleeping bag at night - and suffered.

But even that wasn't the worst part of Assault and Battery. The worst part came when Brian Macklin and Kate Ross collaborated on an exercise. Mid-way through our two-week session, we were scheduled for a Macklin/Ross special event. And, just for the sake of variety, our usual pairings had been scrambled about. I was partnered with Murphy and Doyle was teamed with Aaron Kincaid, an arrogant twerp Cowley'd seconded from 2nd Paras. From the look on Ray's face, it was doubtful Kincaid would survive the exercise without losing some of his arrogance - or several of his teeth. I don't think Doyle much cared which. The exercise was a terrorist/hostage situation. Doyle and Kincaid were the terrorists. Murphy and I were the hostages. The rest of the CI5 lads portrayed. the forces of law and order. It was their job to neutralize the terrorists, preferably before they killed the Smurph and me. I didn't expect them to rescue us any time this side of Boxing Day.

Ray and his temporary partner were in a good position. They had both access points covered. They also had an advantage the opposition didn't know about. Towser was playing a third terrorist and keeping a lookout from a high perch across the way.

Being a hostage was dead boring. We were tied hand and foot, then locked in a broom closet (very Freudian that - Murph and me in a closet together!). The Smurph did the sensible thing and nodded off to sleep.

I worked a bit at trying to get the ropes off my wrists, but had to give up. Doyle know most of my little tricks and he'd tied the ropes so that struggling with them only made them tighter, especially the loop strategically placed round the thumb. Had to content myself with thoughts of how I'd get my revenge on my better half. Strictly R-18 rated, they were. After a week of enforced celibacy, I was already having trouble keeping my hands (let alone my thoughts) off Ray's delectable little bum.

Was a good thing no one came in just then. My cock was doing its best imitation of a tent pole, just like it did any time I let my mind dwell on lewd and lascivious visions of my lover. By the time Murphy finally woke up, I'd calmed down. Not that 6.2 would have been able to see much - we were tied back to back.

Murphy was feeling better for the short kip. He wanted to talk.



"I'm sorry I've been acting the bastard lately."

"You have, that. But I forgive you."

"Is Ray narked at me?"

"Not really. He understands how you feel. Hasn't been that long since he was in your place. Seems to me, I remember Doyle almost taking your head off a few times during his recovery."

"Yeah. Now I know how he felt," Murphy said ruefully. "He ever try and take your head off for trying to help him?"

"Is the Pope Catholic?" I snorted.

"You forgave him?" Murphy's body was tense against my back.

"Nothing to forgive," I told him. "We've most of us been there and know how it feels to try and come back from an injury, with no guarantees that you'll ever be good enough to get back on the squad."

"I just hope Chris sees it that way," Murphy muttered.

"I think he will," I told him. "If not, Doyle and I will give him another talking to."

"What'd he say about us?" Murphy asked.

"Now, now, 6.2," I scolded. "You know I don't spread tales."

It was Murphy's turn to snort. "You're the biggest gossip on the squad, Bodie. And you start most of the worst stories yourself!"

Had to admit he was right. I do like to keep up on all the news, and I have been known to start some very scurrilous rumours.

"But I don't grass on friends," I told Murphy quietly. It hurt a bit that he thought I'd betray a confidence.

"I know," Murph apologized. "I'm just so bloody worried. Before I was shot, things were going so nicely. Now, I can't be around him more than five minutes without getting nasty. I don't want to give him the push, but for all that, I can't seem to stop doing and saying things that'll make him leave."

"Talk to him about it," I advised.

"That's easy for you to say," Murphy retorted. I was getting tired of people telling me that.

"You think it wasn't hard for me to talk to Ray?" I asked him, keeping my voice low so that it wouldn't travel very far. "You're wrong! It was bloody difficult! I've never been one to wear my heart on my sleeve, even with the few birds I thought I really cared about. Discovering that I was in love with another bloke - and that bloke my partner - was a terrific shock. If Ray hadn't been making the same discovery, I don't think I'd ever have gotten up the nerve to tell him. After all, I had thirty-some years of heterosexual conditioning to overcome. You, at least, have had some experience of whispering sweet nothings in male ears." I was surprised at how upset I was at Murphy's and Chris' assumptions that my and Ray's relationship had been all skittles and beer. That denied the pain I'D felt when I discovered that I was in love with Ray and when I thought I could never have him. It rated as insignificant the adjustments to our thinking that both Ray and I had been forced to make. It wasn't easy to go from a heterosexual wooer of birds to half of a homosexual marriage. I resented the way Murphy was ignoring the effort Ray and I had put into our relationship.

"I'm sorry, Bodie." Murphy sounded contrite. "I know I can't really understand how discovering you're bi affected the both of you, but neither of you really understand about Chris and me, either."

"What d'you mean?" I asked.

Murphy sighed, then tried to explain. "Chris and I, we've both always known we were bi. I always had more interest in birds, and Chris always preferred men, but we both knew we could feel good with either sex. We both learned how to work the gay scene. It's different from the heterosexual scene, but in both places, everyone's looking for something and usually settling for a dirty weekend. The gay mating dance is even worse about discouraging intimacy. There has been precious little whispering of sweet nothings in male ears. Instead of dinner, flowers and getting-to-know-you, it's usually a quick one-off and on to the next man. You and Doyle are lucky you never got into that. I It conditions you. I can tell a bird how much I like her, but I can't tell Chris that I love him. In the gay scene, you just can't do that with another fella. At least, not in the kind of crowd I've been running with. Anyway, I can't help feeling that one day, Chris will get bored and go back to the baths and the bars, looking for someone who can give him what I can't."

"Did you ever think that Chris might be feeling the same way?" I asked him. "Have either of you ever sat down and discussed exactly what you mean to each other, what you each want out of your relationship, and what your plans I for the future are?"

"," Murphy mumbled. "But how can I be sure he'd even be interested in talking?"

"Decisive as ever, 6.2," I said. "You berk! If he puts up with your sniping at him all of the time, he has to feel something for you! If he didn't, he'd have knocked you on your arse long since."

Murphy chuckled wetly. I pretended not to notice the tears in his voice.

"Sometimes I wish he would just knock me on my arse and lay down the law. Someone needs to take control of this relationship, and it looks like I'm too much the coward."

"Oh, you like the butch approach, do you, 6.2?" I said in my best camp voice.

Murphy sniggered. "That's one reason I had so much trouble believing you'd never known you were bi."

"What are you on about?" I asked him.

"The camp routine, Bodie. I didn't think anyone could do it as well as you do without being gay."

"You really thought I was gay?" I was disconcerted. Did my tendency to act camp as a tension-breaker indicate a latent homosexuality? Then my practical soul asserted itself. What difference did it make? I was living in a homosexual marriage. How much more gay could one get?

"Yeah, I did," Murphy replied. "Thought you could only pick it up by hanging about with other gays. Guess you're just naturally talented. Where did you learn the camp routine?"

I had to shuffle back through old memories. "The cook on the tramp steamer I ran away to sea on. I worked in the kitchen on that trip. Gerald could act as camp as a row of tents or as macho as Clint Eastwood. Always thought he was hilarious. I guess I picked it up from him, the way kids do. But I didn't really start doing it much until after I was on the squad. Wasn't really safe to act camp in most of the places I've been. Someone might have gotten the wrong idea - or the right idea, I guess. After all, I'm living in sin with Raymond."

Murphy laughed.

We were both quiet for a while.

"Thanks, Bodie." Murphy's voice was steady.

"What for?"

"For letting me talk. For the good advice. I'll talk to Chris. I meant to before I got shot. Afterwards, it never seemed to be the right time. I'm not sure that now is the right time, either. Haven't been interested in I sex since before I was hurt." Murphy sounded glum and depressed.

"I know," I told him aid felt him start in surprise. "Ray was the same way after he was shot." Then I told him what the doctors had said about people who'd been severely hurt often being impotent for a time.

"I hope that they're right," Murphy said fervently. "I feel like I've been living on a diet of saltpetre. Haven't had so much as a wet dream. How did Doyle manage to survive that? Would've thought it'd have driven him round the twist."

"Almost did," I admitted. "But mostly he was hurting too bad to care."

Murphy groaned in sympathy. "Know how that feels!"

"How are you holding up?" I asked tentatively. Must admit, I expected him to hand me my head.

Murphy just sighed and said, "A bit better than I thought I would. That first day, I thought I'd die. Would have, only Towser pulled his punches. But I seem to be getting better and Towser isn't going easy on me any more. Never thought I'd be glad to see the mad bastard go all out and try to kill me, but when he did it this week, it was the first time I was sure I'd survive this course and actually get back on the squad."

"When the four of us finish this torture test, we'll have to have a knees-up to celebrate."

"I'd like that."

"You and Chris are invited over to our flat for dinner, drinks and good conversation."

"I'll talk to Chris about it, but I'm sure we'll both be there," Murphy assured me.

About then, all hell broke loose in the room next to our closet. Shots, bangs and the sound of breaking glass filled the air. The cavalry had arrived! But they didn't accomplish much. At the end of a pitched battle, Murph and I were still hostages. Fortunately, that was the end of that particular exercise. Even more fortunate for us was the fact that someone remembered to release us before the whole team adjourned to the classroom for a prolonged post-mortem.

The first thing I saw as I limped in the door (one of my legs had gone to sleep while I was tied up) was Ray's evil grin as my partner stared across the aisle at Kincaid's limp, bruised body. I wondered what had happened to that partnership.

We all took our places as Kate Ross and Brian Macklin entered the room. They dissected the actions of both terrorists and anti- terrorists alike. Murph and I basically kept a low profile and listened to the other members of the squad being broiled alive.

Ray's performance got a grudging pass, but Kincaid was dressed down for allowing himself to be drawn out of position and killed by the anti-terrorists. Only Towser's unexpected appearance as third murderer had prevented the assault forces from rescuing the Smurph and me. That, and the mistakes that some of the attackers had made during their assault on the terrorist hide-out. Chief among these errors had been the widely-ignored fact that the briefing for the assault force had included the information that there were three terrorists and that one of them was unaccounted for. The anti- terrorists had discounted this information since they all knew that only Kincaid and Doyle had been tagged as terrorists. Towser's appearance as the missing terrorist had come as a large shock.

After the debriefing, a very subdued group of CI5 agents sat down to supper. Tomorrow, we were scheduled for another exercise. This one was coordinated with the Special Branch people. I wasn't really looking forward to working with the snooty bastards. They always seemed to be trying to prove how superior they were to the CI5 mob. Everyone at CI5 knew that Special Branch was just whistling in the dark, jealous of CI5's charter, which gave us more freedom in our investigations than any other domestic agency in the U.K.

I sat down opposite Ray at a table. Kincaid was two chairs down on my right. A couple of times during the meal, Ray glanced across and down at his former partner. I could see a tinge of malice and just the hint of cat-got-the-cream satisfaction on the bionic golli's face.

"Why are you looking so pleased with yourself?" I asked him.

"Tell you later."

I couldn't get another word out of him.

After supper, most of the other men went back to barracks. I caught a glimpse of Atwood and Murphy taking a westerly stroll. They seemed to be deep in a serious conversation, and I hoped that it wasn't just a discussion of their football pools.

Ray nudged my elbow to get my attention, then he nodded towards a nearby copse where jungle exercises were run. I could feel my cock give an eager twitch in response to the blatant invitation in those moss-green eyes.

The two of us started into the trees. As soon as I was sure we were deep enough into the brush that we were hidden from prying eyes, I pulled Doyle close and declaimed, "Me Tarzan, you Ray!"

Raymond hooted until he almost strangled. I had to hold him up or he'd have fallen on his delectable little bum - and I had plans for that portion of his anatomy; plans that didn't include Technicolor bruises.

Finally, Doyle drew back and looked into my eyes. "At least, you didn't call me Jane - and it's deeply appreciated, sunshine," he said with a grin.

"You're not the Jane type, Raymond-my-love," I told him.

His eyes got that hazy look as Ray leaned forward and kissed me. I could feel my pants get tight as I responded to the hot, hard press of my lover's body against mine and the warm, wet suction on my tongue as I explored his mouth. Felt so good that I didn't even notice when those long fingers started unbuttoning my shirt. But I did notice when capable hands brushed the cloth from my chest and rubbed across my nipples! I felt a jolt of pleasure go through my guts and echo in my cock. Knew it wouldn't take much to put me over the edge - I'd been celibate too long - so I released my hold on Ray's waist and took both those roving hands in mine.

"Not so fast, love," I told him when he raised his desire-flushed face in mute question.

"Would be better lying down," Doyle agreed as he tugged me towards a grassy hollow.

"Feel like a spotty-faced kid reduced to a fast grope in the bushes," I said ruefully as I lay down beside Doyle.

Ray gave me a flash of his urchin grin as he slid closer. "Could wait until we get back to barracks. Atwood and Murphy are broad-minded lads. They wouldn't mind us having it off in our sleeping bags."

I must have looked appalled because Ray's grin widened.

"Nah, didn't think so," Doyle commented.

"You actually want to try it on in the same room as a couple of other blokes?" I asked him.

Ray snorted. "You're not the only one with inhibitions, mate. Much as I want you, and as deprived as I've been feeling, I don't think I could get it up if I had an audience."

I smiled in relief. "'M bloody glad I didn't marry an exhibitionist. Y'know, some blokes get off on that sort of thing."

"No!" Ray exclaimed in mock surprise. "Kinky devils!"

"'S true, though," I assured him. "I'm just glad your kinks are in different places." I ran my hands up under Ray's shirt and explored the warm suede skin on his back.

"You calling me kinky?" Ray asked as he rolled me over onto my back. He straddled my body and applied his nimble fingers to all my most ticklish bits.

I'd been cooperating with Doyle because I expected him to retaliate by kissing me, but when he tickled instead, I started fighting back. I bucked like an untamed horse. Then I started lying like a carpet. "Of course, I'm not calling you kinky," I said in my most sincere tones. "I'm just saying you're sexy and inventive," meanwhile trying to evade his all-too-knowing hands. I was getting desperate - a bit more stimulation and Ray'd have me howling and squalling like a banshee. Nothing like totally blowing your image, is there?

But Ray took pity on m and stopped his attack. "That's all right then," he said as he stretched out on top of my body. "As long as you're not calling me kinky, I don't have to show you how kinky I can get." My lover nibbled gently across my jaw, then licked the corner of my mouth.

I took his head in both hands and turned it until I could reach his lips.

"How kinky can you get?" I murmured, just before I invaded his mouth.

"Do you want me to demonstrate?" Doyle was breathless from the after- effects of my oral exploration.

"Not right now," I assured him as I rolled him over to one side. "Think we'll save that for when we're home, in the comfort of our own bed."

Deftly, I unbuttoned his shirt and nuzzled first one nipple, then the other. The effect was immediate - soft tissue blossomed into hard, conical peaks. Ray moaned softly. Then I felt him reach out, unbuckle my belt and unzip my trousers.

It was my turn to moan as Doyle reached inside my slacks to caress my aroused cock through the thin cotton of my y-fronts. My eyes closed and I almost forgot to breathe.

There was a rustling sound as Ray shifted himself about. I felt him push my trousers and pants down, so I obligingly raised my hips.

Warm breath gusted across my turn. My prick pulsed in anticipation just before a warm, wet tongue swirled the length of my swollen organ.

I knew it wouldn't take much to make me come and I wanted Doyle to share in the pleasure, so I grabbed Ray by the hips and drew him closer to me. The first time I tried to unbutton his trousers, I fumbled it. The second time, I managed, barely. I drew the zip down carefully, in case my lover had left off his pants as he sometimes did (sexy little bastard!). He hadn't, but the scrap of blue cotton he was almost wearing was hardly enough for a decent posing pouch! I couldn't resist the saucy invitation. After I pushed Doyle's trousers down about his knees, I leaned forward and sucked the engorged cock- head into my mouth - along with its thin cotton covering.

Ray gave a soft cry, then mirrored my actions. The only difference was that there was no layer of cotton between my swollen prick and Ray's luscious mouth.

For a while, our actions were almost languid. We lay and nursed on each other's flesh as a babe nurses its mother's breast. All too soon, the week's enforced celibacy - and the tension caused by having it off in such an exposed position (could almost imagine someone watching us in the brush) - combined to push us into a faster rhythm. I used my teeth to drag the soggy scrap of cotton off Ray's turgid cock. As I brushed my slightly-stubbled cheek over the swollen flesh, it twitched and oozed a pearl of pre-cum from the slit near the tip. I knew it wouldn't take much more to push Doyle over the edge.

The rounded globes of his arse were taut and supple beneath my hands as I took Ray's cock deep into my throat. My lover thrust once, twice, then his buttocks clenched and I felt my prick slip from his mouth as he wailed his release. Gently, I nursed his over-sensitive organ until Doyle drew it away.

I was so hard it hurt. My cock was so hot that Ray's mouth felt cool as he again suckled my hard flesh. I was desperate, but couldn't quite manage to come. One of Doyle's hands found my face and I eagerly suckled the finger he offered to me. Then, Ray drew his hand away from my mouth. I bucked in shocked pleasure when I felt him part my arse and push a saliva-slick digit slowly through the ring of muscle guarding my anus. The spit-lubricated finger spiralled in me and stroked across my prostate. I came in spasming spurts, then lay back on the grass in sated exhaustion.

Ray licked my cock clean, then lay with his head pillowed on my thigh. His breathing was so regular that I knew he was close to falling asleep.

So was I. And, since the last thing we needed was for someone to miss us at the bedtime roll-call and come looking for us, I reached down and touched Ray's face. "Wakey, wakey, sunshine. Don't go to sleep on me. You may be a scrawny, undernourished tyke, but I'd probably get a hernia packing you back to barracks."

"I'm not undernourished," Ray muttered. Then, he yawned. "You're just a bit more solid than I am."

Doyle sat up and began sorting out our scattered clothing. I picked a few odd leaves and bits of grass off my anatomy, then shook my head to make sure nothing was clinging in my hair. When Ray turned round and handed me my clothes, I noticed a yellow leaf (maple, I think) caught in his curls, so I reached over and plucked it out.

"Thanks, sunshine," Ray said. "I'm not up to jokes about elves, fairies and the joys of nature. You give me a butchers and I'll do you. That way, we'll be sure and get rid of the evidence."

"I've already done you once tonight, Raymond," I told him. "But I'd be happy to try it again." I gave him my best leer.

Ray grinned at me. "Wish we had the time, love. But this'll have to hold us for a while. It'll be lights out soon and Macklin'll be making his sweep through barracks to make sure we're all tucked into bed like good little lads."

"Yeah," I sighed. "But before we go, I want a bit of a cuddle."

Ray gave me one of his rare, sweet smiles that make him look like an underage choir boy. Always think of the line about the boy across the river with a bottom like a peach when I see that smile. Could feel myself starting to turn on again at just the thought of Ray's bum, so, to distract myself, I asked him again about why he'd been looking so smug at supper.

Doyle took me in his arms, chuckling at my question. I could feel his chest vibrate as I hugged him back. "Kept telling Kincaid to keep his arse down and his head under cover. Daft bastard didn't listen to me, did he? Chris shot him in the bum. Kincaid jumped straight up in the air and Hardy finished him with a head shot. Don't know how long it'll take to get the paint out of his hair." Doyle sniggered vulgarly.

I could just see it in my mind. Couldn't help joining Doyle in a snicker or two.

"Can see why Macklin's so narked," I said when I finally caught my breath. "That's a very green move. I expected more from a military bloke."

Ray just grinned, that chipped front tooth glinting in the dim light. Then, he kissed me.

As I opened my mouth to a wet tongue, I felt my hands naturally gravitate to the Doyle derriere. Ray started to turn on again, his cock hard against my thigh. I was perfectly willing to throw caution to the wind and engage in a bit more slap and tickle, but Doyle had better control and broke away from the kiss with a groan. As he lay panting on the grass, I indulged myself by ogling his aroused body. Of course, that didn't help me calm down, but I'm always one for immediate gratification (who knows what's going to happen five minutes from now - always eat dessert first). "Don't look at me that way, Bodie," Ray groaned.

"Why not, sunshine?"

"That look is evil, that is," Doyle said. "Keep it up and I'll come in me pants."

I grinned at him, though Ray'd call it a smirk. But I took pity on my mate (and on myself - my pants were altogether too tight across my erection) and turned to lie flat on my back so I wasn't staring at Doyle.

"Talked to Murph this afternoon," I remarked. "While we were playing hostage in the bloody broom closet."

"He say anything about Chris and him?" Ray asked.

"Yeah. He's as besotted by Chris as Chris is by him."

"And too bloody scared to do anything about it?" Ray guessed.

"You said it, sunshine."

"What'd you tell him?"

"Told him what we told Atwood - take a chance and talk to your lover."

Ray chuckled. "How does it feel, playing Cupid to our mates on the squad?"

I leaned up on one elbow and looked over at Doyle. He looked dishevelled, dissolute and well-loved. I could feel a fatuous grin steal over my face. "Wouldn't do it for anyone but the Smurph," I told Ray.

Doyle grinned up at me. "And here I was having visions of you starting up as an Agony Aunt.'

"Have better things to do with my off duty, don't I?" I told Ray as I leaned towards him with intent to snog.

Doyle leaped up and started dancing backwards towards barracks. The little tease exuded sex and laughter.

I lunged up at him. Ray twirled about and raced towards barracks with me half a jump behind. Had to admit, I wasn't really trying to catch my mate. I love watching the way his legs and bum move beneath the thin cloth of his trousers. It's better when he's wearing his skin- tight jeans, but even the olive-green fatigues were intriguing. Just as we reached the edge of the copse, Ray slowed down to a sedate stroll, confident I wouldn't pounce on him while he was in full view of half the dormitory barracks. He was right, too.

As I fell into step at his side, I gave Doyle a look that promised eventual retribution for the tease. He just grinned at me.

"Almost forgot to mention," I said. "I invited Chris and Murph over to our flat the evening we get back from this course. Thought we'd celebrate Murph passing the retesting - or commiserate with him if he doesn't."

"'S a nice idea," Ray said approvingly. "Though, if he doesn't pass, I don't expect he'll feel like company."

"Probably not," I agreed. "Thought we'd pick up takeaway Chinese and lay in a stock of lager."

"Knew you weren't just another pretty face," Ray beamed as he surreptitiously patted my bum.

I wasn't expecting that, so I jumped like a nun who'd just been goosed in church. Doyle tried to look innocent, but the devilish glint in his slanted eyes sabotaged the attempt.

"Wicked, wicked Raymond," I said. "Just wait until I get you home."

"Going to ravish me within an inch of my life?" he asked with an interested look.

"Something like that," I said.

Ray sighed. "Don't know if I can wait that long."

We exchanged rueful glances.

"They say the honeymoon syndrome eventually wears off," I told him. "Then you end up having sex once a week."

"In the dark, in the missionary position," Ray chanted softly. "Well, they are wrong where we're concerned, sunshine. 'S been over a year, now, and we're still going at it like minks in heat. A week of celibacy's got me tied up in knots."

"I know," I said lugubriously. "We must be oversexed, because I want you all the time."

"Nah," Ray said. "We're not oversexed. Everyone else is just undersexed. Or sleeping with the wrong person."

"Yeah," I agreed with a grin. I rubbed my hands together as I said, "Isn't lerv grand!"

Ray poked a sharp elbow into my exposed ribs and put on a scowl. "Leave off, you daft prat Don't want to tell the world, do you?"

I wasn't worried by Doyle's surly act. Could see the hint of laughter behind it. Besides, I know he's a bloody romantic at heart. So, I just leaned over and whispered in his ear, "No. Don't want to tell the world. Just want to tell you, sunshine."

Ray went red about the ears and couldn't look at me for a moment. "Love you, too, Bodie," he murmured back. We were almost back at barracks, so I couldn't act on my immediate impulse, which was to pull Ray into my arms and ravish his beautiful mouth. "Consider yourself kissed, Ray," I murmured.

Doyle grinned and replied, "I'll take a rain-check until we get back to our flat."

"Or until we can manage to steal off into the brush again," I added.

"Nah," Ray said softly. "'S too open. There are too many people about. We were daft to have done it this time. Don't think we could get away with an encore."

I sighed in regret. "You're right. But it's going to be sheer hell trying to keep my hands off you for another week."

We'd slowed to a crawl, reluctant to return to our overcrowded cubicle. Ray stopped and looked me in the eyes.

"D'you have any idea how hard it is to sleep in the same room with you every night and not be able to touch you?" His voice shook with intensity.

"Yeah. I'm having the same problem," I told him. "Even your snore is sexy."

"I do not snore!" Ray replied indignantly.

"No!" I said in feigned astonishment. "You mean I've been imagining it?"

Ray looked a bit taken aback. "Do I really snore?" he asked in a small voice.

I put an arm round his shoulders. "Everyone in this family snores, including the bloody cat. When we all tune up, it's a wonder the neighbours don't complain."

"You don't snore that much," Ray protested.

"Neither do you," I said. "But Raven is another matter altogether."

"Yeah. He's the first moggy I ever met that snored. Didn't know cats did," Doyle remarked.

"Live and learn," I said sententiously as I opened the barracks door. "After you."

The rest of the week went fairly smoothly, with the exception of the joint op with the Special Branch unit. To help foster the spirit of joint cooperation, each CI5 agent was partnered with an officer from the police. Personally, I think that Macklin was afraid that pitting us against them would have ended in a massacre of the Special Branch team. Pairing us with the men from the other service was Brian's effort to keep the other men alive and relatively intact.

Ray tells me I'm just prejudiced - that the coppers weren't all that bad. My reply was that his partner wasn't all that bad, but mine was bloody awful. Had to do everything but strangle the moron to keep him from giving away our position.

We were running an op called Urban Terrorist. Part of the compound contained a mock-up of an business district. You know the sort - small shops, office buildings and the like. Three mixed pairs, including myself and Sergeant Johnson of Special Branch, were hidden about the four-block area. We were terrorist snipers. The remainder of the operational groups were split into groups and each group was assigned a different sniper duo to eliminate.

My partner and I had found a nice bolt-hole on a roof. There were three exits and we had a clear field of fire over all of them. Johnson, the berk, kept popping his head up to track the progress of the squad assigned to track us down. I thought about shooting him myself and saving Murphy, Chesterton and their partners the trouble. But I knew how Ross would pounce on me if I did. Decided it wasn't worth the aggro and all the psychobabble. Tried reasoning with the wet-behind-the-ears twerp, but he wouldn't listen. Finally, I gave up and did what I should have done in the first place - I took Johnson by the lapels and told him I'd blow his head off if he didn't stay put.

Johnson damned near pissed himself. My impression of a half-mad merc had made him forget that our guns were only loaded with water-soluble paint. At least the stupid bugger quit popping up and down like a kid's toy. He was too busy trying to keep his eyes on his nutter of a partner.

Of course, with Johnson so busy watching me, Murphy and his lads had an easy time of it. I went down shooting and took half the opposition with me. Johnson didn't even get his gun clear of his holster.

Macklin was not amused. He tore great strips off my hide during the debriefing. At least, he did until Johnson complained about being partnered with a right nutter. I almost dropped dead of surprise when our Brian directed a commiserating glance in my direction. Never thought I'd see the day when Macklin would show sympathy and understanding. But you couldn't call it anything else. Best of all, It turned everyone's attention away from me. I sat down, but didn't hear much of the debriefing. Was too busy trying to digest the fact that Macklin had a heart!

Ray didn't believe a word of it when I told him about it later. Said I'd imagined the sympathy bit. The Doyle version was that Brian was as bad as the rest of us about thinking in terms of Us and Them, and since I was one of Us, he'd gone easy on me.

That made sense to me, and I said so. Then I added that it still proved Macklin was human, which was more than I'd ever believed before. Ray just looked exasperated, but he dropped the subject.

Eventually, all things pass - including annual evaluations. Murphy squeaked by and was told he'd be allowed to return to limited duty for the first six months. Then, he'd have to be retested. It wasn't the unqualified return to duty that the Smurph wanted, but it was better than collecting a disability pension, and it gave the promise of better things.

As the four of us packed our gear, I reminded Chris and Murphy that Ray and I were hosting the celebration bash at our flat. We made arrangements to get together about 8 pm. That would give me enough time to run a duster over the furniture while Ray ordered takeaway. If the traffic wasn't too bad on the M1, I might have enough time to trip Ray and beat him to the floor. At least, I hoped so!

Doyle must have been thinking along the same lines, because he ignored most of the speed laws as we drove back to London. Even so, I enjoyed the autumn countryside. The rich browns, golds and russets reminded me of Ray.

As we neared the Camden neighbourhood that contained our present flat, it seemed as if every cat in the North End was determined to commit suicide under the tyres of the Capri. As he swerved to avoid yet another feline body, Ray had a few comments to make. "Such language!" I exclaimed. "Wouldn't think a young lad like yourself would have such words in his vocabulary."

Ray darted a glance at me and sighed. "'S all those years with the Met. You'd be surprised at the things people say to coppers."

"Nah," I said. "I've heard what they say to us. Very broadening, it is."

"Yeah," Ray agreed. Then another cat dashed across the street in front of us. "Bloody moggies! Must be the mating season."

"Raven must be going round the twist, locked in our flat while all his mates are out howling at the moon," I remarked.

"Don't laugh, sunshine," Ray warned me. "'E's liable to sing under our window all night."

"Hopefully, we'll be much too busy to notice." I gave Ray my very best leer. He flashed me a cheeky grin, and then concentrated on his driving.

It was gone six by the time we parked in front of our flat. A worried- looking thirteen-year-old was camped on our doorstep.

"What's the matter, luv?" I asked Rita as I got out of the Capri.

"It's Raven," she said. "He's disappeared. Two days ago, when I let myself into the flat to change his water and the litter-box, he dashed out between my knees. I haven't seen him since."

"Don't worry about it, Rita," Doyle replied. "Every cat in London is out fighting and carrying on. Raven'll come home when it suits him."

It took us a quarter of an hour to convince our cat-sitter that she wasn't guilty of gross negligence. Rita tried to refuse the money we'd promised her for taking care of our roving tomcat, but in the end, we persuaded her that we'd be offended if she didn't accept payment.

Doyle made tea while I unpacked our kit. I felt a bit depressed by Raven's disappearance. Intellectually, I knew the furry sod was probably out chasing females. Emotionally, though, it was as if one of my nightmares had come true.

Doyle and I sat on the settee and drank our tea. Must admit, I felt better when Ray put down his empty mug and pulled me into his arms. It was a good thing that I'd finished my drink. Otherwise, I'd have spilled tea all over the both of us.

I wrapped my arms round my lover in an octopus grip. Heard him grunt when I held him too tight, so I loosened my hold. Feeling Ray rub soothing circles on my back helped ease the tight muscles there.

"You're taking this much better than you did the first time Raven did a bunk," Ray commented.

"I don't feel much better," I told him. "Even though I know the little bastard can take care of himself."

"Worrying about them goes along with offering an animal a home."

"Yeah," I sighed. "And this time, I know batter than to try and keep a stiff upper lip."

Doyle chuckled. "That's not the part of you I want stiff."

"Intended to ambush you and ravish your sweet body when we got home," I said ruefully.

"The best laid plans..." Ray said in dismissal. "Can always ravish me this evening after Murph and Chris leave."

I kissed him. "That's a promise, mate. And speaking of Murph and Atwood, we'd best get on our bikes if we're going to be ready for them."

Fortunately, we still had enough time to do a bit of shopping, run a damp cloth over the furniture and order takeaway Chinese for four. Everything was ready by the time our guests arrived, bearing a couple of bottles of champagne.

"Very nice!" Ray commented after taking a butcher's at the label. "I'll pop these into the refrigerator. We'll open them after dinner."

I know a little bit about wine. Most of it, I picked up when I was stationed in West Germany. Some of it, Marikka taught me. But Doyle fancies himself a bit of a connoisseur, and I'll admit he does seem to know about vintages and the like. He says it comes from dating a better class of bird. Anyway, he picked a light rose that went well with the supper. Between the four of us, we managed to go through several bottles of it, plus a bottle of light dessert wine.

After dinner, we broke out the champagne and toasted our success in passing Assault and Battery for one more year. Ray put an eclectic assortment of music on the stereo and we sat down to talk.

We covered most of the usual topics: recent CI5 ops, gossip about fellow agents, current events, sports, sex... Felt a bit strange talking about the last subject. I'd never discussed homosexual sex with anyone but Ray. Yet, since we were all four in gay relationships, it seemed silly to go all over prudish and have the vapours like some Victorian maiden. Let's face it, when men get together - especially men that know one another - they talk about sex. Usually, it's wives and girlfriends, fantasies and pickups, and the latest page 3 girl.

I was fascinated, even if I was uncomfortable talking about the subject. But I wasn't as uncomfortable as I thought I would be. Over the last two weeks, I'd gotten to know Chris pretty well and I was beginning to consider him a friend in his own right, not just as someone to be included because he was Murphy's lover. And Murphy had been a friend for ages.

If I was fascinated by the subject, Ray was practically mesmerized. He asked questions that would've made me blush. He seemed particularly interested when the talk turned to gay bars and discos.

The record on the stereo was Toto's Toto IV, so Murphy invited Atwood to dance. Said he wanted to give Doyle an example of the latest step sweeping the discos.

"Chris is really good at this," Murph told us.

I'd never seen two men dance together. Don't know if Ray had or not, but he was interested. Doyle kept watching the dancers, then eyeing me. I tried to be inconspicuous.

"Would you dance with me?" Ray asked quietly.

"Doyle..." I started.

"Oh, not now," my lover assured me. "But, sometime. When you've adjusted to the idea. We could try it out here in the flat." Ray sounded wistful, but hopeful with it.

"You want to go out to the discos, don't you?" I asked him.

"Yeah." Ray turned pink about the ears. "It's one of the few things I miss about dating birds."

I did wonder what some of the other things were, but I didn't ask. "I'm a lousy dancer, Ray," I admitted. "'S why you rarely saw me dance with one of my dates."

"You're not that bad, mate," Doyle assured me. "Just a bit self- conscious."

"Can't promise you I'll ever be up to actually dancing in public," I told him.

Ray rubbed the tense muscles in my neck. "Doesn't matter," he assured me. "Just as long as you'll dance with me when we're alone. Don't think I could give it up entirely."

"You could give me a private performance," I said suggestively. It's one of my almost-never-fail tricks, using humour to get Ray off a subject.

Doyle gave me a shrewd look that said, I know exactly what you're doing. But he let me get away with it.

"Want me to play the geisha for you, do you?" he said. "Bit kinky, that."

"If you do, I'll play Scheherazade and entertain you with bedtime stories," I promised rashly.

"1001 Tales of a CI5 Agent?" Ray quipped.

"If you want," I told him. Felt like it was the least I could do after he let me off the hook so gently.

The Toto record finished playing and was replaced by Beethoven's Eroica (told you it was a mixed bag, didn't I?). Murph and Chris sat down and the conversation went back to gay discos, gay bars and the people who frequented both. I was still having a little bit of trouble with the fact that my relationship with Ray automatically branded me as homosexual - at least in the eyes of Joe Public. I hadn't been afraid of gays since I'd gotten big enough and experienced enough to tell pushy bastards to go to hell and be able to back it up. But in the back of my mind, when I thought of homosexuality, I always saw the sadistic first mate who'd tried to rape me when I was a kid just run off to sea.

I know - working with people like Murphy and Atwood, living with Ray, meeting other gays and bisexuals should have taught me that that twisted pederast was not the typical homosexual (is there any such thing?). But feelings aren't logical. Intellectually, I knew Murphy was closer to the average gay. Emotionally, I still equated the dark side of homosexuality with that bastard seaman. And that made it hard for me to identify myself as gay. It was a bit like claiming kinship with my would-be rapist.

I pushed those thoughts away. They were much too gloomy for now.

Both Murphy and Doyle were the worse f or strong drink and were acting like a couple of giggling teenagers. Ray has a tendency to get overly affectionate when he's drunk - and then to fall asleep at the absolute worst moment! The Smurph becomes an awful tease when he's had a skinful. He was teasing (or should I say, cockteasing?) Chris.

Atwood was giving almost as good as he got. It helped that he knew exactly where his Michael was ticklish.

Murph was in hysterics under his lover's roving hands when the sitting room window rattled like it was under attack. All eyes were on me as I got up to let in my wandering tomcat.

I was ever so glad to see Raven hop down from the windowsill and start stropping himself round my feet. Wasn't near as happy when I got a whiff of the little bugger. He'd been fighting again.

"Good God!" Murphy exclaimed when Raven transferred his attentions to him. "What on earth is that pong?"

"Cat piss," I said succinctly.

Murph blinked in surprise. "What?"

"Male cats piss on each other when they fight," Ray explained with a cherubic expression.

"Why?" Chris asked.

"Dunno," Ray admitted. "'S just something they do."

"Does he come home like this very often?" Atwood questioned. "Smelling like a bog, I mean?"

"Nah," Doyle replied. "Only when he's been fighting over some female."

"Which happens several times a year," I said gloomily as I joined Ray on the settee.

Raven started towards the kitchen, but stopped in the doorway to look over at me and yowl an imperious summons. With a sigh, I got up and followed him out of the room. Knew that if I didn't, the furry bastard would only raise the decibel level.

I opened a fresh tin of tuna catfood and put fresh water in Raven's drinking bowl. Tried to keep as far from the cat's smelly carcass as I could get while doing it. Then I returned to the sitting room.

Murphy was proposing that we wash the cat.

"Count me out, mate," I told him. "I'm too young for suicide."

"Don't took at me," Chris told his Lover. "I'm allergic to cats."

Murphy looked skeptical.

"I'm okay as long as I'm not around them too long," Atwood continued. "Took my antihistamine before we came."

"That leaves you and me," the Smurph told Ray.

Doyle got the giggles. "All right," he said from where he lay sprawled on the settee. "I'll probably regret this in the morning, but if we don't wash the pong out of his fur, Bodie'll never let Raven sleep with us."

"You let the cat sleep on your bed?" Murph said in surprise.

"Sometimes," Ray admitted. "But only after I've had me conjugals." Doyle smiled sensually as he looked up at me. "Bodie never performs in front of an audience."

Murphy cracked up. Chris looked embarrassed. I raised my eyes and asked for divine guidance. Like I said, Ray's an affectionate drunk. Only real problem is that I never know what the little sod'll say next.

Raven came wandering into the sitting room licking his chops in satisfaction. He gave an indignant, "Merrroowwww!" when Murphy and Doyle immediately pounced on him and dragged the reluctant feline off to the loo. As the conspirators left the room, cat in hands, I could hear Ray tell Murphy that we had some cat shampoo in the cabinet over the wash-basin.

Chris and I exchanged amused looks as our partners disappeared down the hall. "I hope that Raven's had all of his shots," Atwood commented.

"He has," I replied. "But I'm not sure whether Ray's up to date on his anti-tetanus."

Eroica had given way to The Moody Blues' Days of Future Past on the stereo. I got up to share out the last of the champagne.

"Thanks for your advice, Bodie," Chris said quietly as he looked into the champagne flute. "Michael and I had a long talk and I think everything is going to be all right." A wry grin twisted his lips as he looked up at me. "At least we both know where we stand. Was rather like a Monty Python skit - the two of us running about at cross purposes."

"I'm glad," I told him. "For the both of you." I sat down on the end of the settee nearest to Atwood's armchair. In the background, I could hear the rising wail of an angry tomcat, counterpointed by a series of human curses.

"You mean that, don't you?" Chris said. "I'm glad. I've been hoping that we could be friends - that you weren't just accepting me because I'm involved with Michael."

"Wouldn't invite you to our flat if you weren't a friend, too," I assured him. "Also, I wouldn't offer gratuitous advice to a perfect stranger."

"I wouldn't accept advice from a stranger, perfect or otherwise," Atwood replied. We grinned at each other. In the other room, a particularly loud splash was followed by a series of Doyle sniggers and a loud, "Shite!" from Murph.

Chris looked straight at me. "I was terribly jealous of you, at first," he admitted.

"Jealous? Of me?"

"Yes." Atwood gave me a rueful look, then stared down at his drink. "It was just after I'd realized how much I look like you...or you look like me. I saw how often Michael got this yearning look on his face when he looked at you."

"You mean, you thought Murph fancied me?" I asked. Then, I remembered that Doyle had once told me the same thing.

"Yeah." Chris sighed. "Thought he came on to me because I reminded him of you."

"We don't look that much alike," I protested.

"Tall, dark and amazingly handsome..." the other man quipped.

"And endearingly modest," I finished.

Atwood laughed. "Don't worry, Bodie. I soon realized my mistake."

"Oh?" Another series of loud splashes, two or three "Oys!" and a series of vulgar snickers floated in from the other room.

"Yes." Chris became quite serious and leaned forward in his chair. "It's not so much you that Murphy fancies - it's your relationship with Doyle."

"What?" I exclaimed. "You mean, it's really Ray that he fancies?"

"No," Atwood explained. "Michael is envious of the relationship that the two of you have. He went looking for someone that might turn into the kind of lover that you are with Doyle."

"And he found you," I said.

"Yeah. And I intend to keep him," Chris stated.

"Good luck, mate."

"We'll make our own luck." Atwood sounded confident. "In case you're wondering - I'm no longer jealous. Like Michael, I'm just envious of your relationship."

"Can't blame you for that." I knew my face wore what Doyle calls my smirk. Couldn't help it. What Ray and I have is special. Anyone in their right mind would envy us. It just shows good taste.

"You can look as smug as you like," Chris scolded gently. "But Michael and I are going to develop a relationship that rivals the one you have with Ray."

"Intend to make history, do you?" I teased. "Like Romeo and Juliet?"

Atwood snorted and leaned back in his chair. "More like Damon and Pythias. Or David and Jonathan."

I heard Raven hiss like a tea-kettle on the boil, then utter an outraged feline scream. Chris and I exchanged worried glances.

"Perhaps we should rescue the furry bugger?" I suggested.

"Rescue our lovers, more like," Chris snorted.

I led the way to the loo. When I opened the door, I got a quick glimpse of a water-soaked Doyle lying on the floor, limp with hysterical laughter. Then, my attention was focused on a sopping wet Smurph doing hand-to-paw combat with an enraged moggy.

It was an uneven battle. Raven saw the open door. He dug in his spikes and climbed Murphy like Hillary scaling Everest. Murph twisted round and tried to grab the furry bugger, but fell flat on his face. The air turned blue with comments concerning the animal's probable ancestry and unusual sexual habits.

One look at the furry fury with the blazing green eyes made me decide that discretion was the better part of valour. I stepped out of Raven's path. The cat breezed past me like a soggy storm cloud and disappeared down the hall, leaving a trail of water-drops.

Atwood was on his knees beside his lover. He had slipped the shirt off Murphy's shoulders and was examining the trail of claw marks across his lover's body. Murph just sat there blinking owlishly.

Ray was slumped on the floor. His giggles had given way to hiccups, a sure sign that Ray was close to falling asleep. If I didn't do something fast, I'd either have to leave him in the loo for the night or have to drag the drunken lump across the hall to our bed. For all his rake-thin build, Ray can be a heavy load - and I didn't dare leave him where he was.

"Chris?" I said.


"'S time we put these two to bed," I announced.

"Yeah." Atwood sighed. "Don't fancy trying to haul Michael back to our flat in his condition." Murphy had both arms round his lover's neck. He appeared to be only half-conscious.

"Don't, then," I told him. "We have a spare room and the two of you are welcome to it. Second door on the left as you go down the hall."

"Thanks, Bodie," Chris smiled at me. "Come along, Irish," he told the Smurph. "You're too bloody heavy to carry." Atwood helped Murphy to his feet, then guided his stumbling partner down the hallway to the guest-room.

"Raymond?" I shook my lover's shoulder. "Ray?"

"Whassup?" Doyle muttered sleepily.

"Time to go to bed."

"'M fine right here," Ray mumbled.

"But you'd hate yourself in the morn, love." I urged a sleepy, muttering Doyle to his feet, then had to make a fast grab to keep him from falling flat on his arse.

"C'mon, sunshine," I crooned. "Let Father Bodie put you to bed."

"Father Bodie!" Ray snickered as I led him out of the bath. "Thinking about a little incest, are we?"

"Nah," I assured him. "You're in no shape for it tonight."

I got Doyle into our bedroom, but had to lay him on the duvet. Otherwise, every time I let go long enough to try and take off his wet clothes, the dozy bastard started a boneless slide to the floor. By the time Ray was stripped, he was already breathing in the slow, steady rhythm of sleep. I sighed and abandoned all thoughts of ravishing his muscular body. Consoled myself with the thought that, very likely, I'd drunk so much, I couldn't get it up, anyway.

I put Ray's wet clothing and my own soiled laundry into the wash basket, visited the loo, then crawled into bed with my sleeping lover. Just before I snapped off the lights, a slightly damp Raven hopped up onto the bed. He smelled like lavender, so I knew that Ray hadn't been able to find the cat shampoo. Instead, he and Murph had used the scented guest soap a very young niece had given Ray for Christmas last year.

"Good-night, Raven," I murmured.

The green eyes looked me over with disdain. Then the big tomcat began making his toilet. I finished turning out the light and settled down to sleep. Ray turned over in bed to snuggle into my arms.

"Good-night, love," I whispered into the unruly mop beneath my chin.

"'Night, Bodie," my lover mumbled back. Then I felt his body brush mine as he stretched and yawned. "You have a good talk with Chris?" he asked. I could tell by the interest in his voice that Doyle was reviving. Booze hits him fast, but he metabolizes it fast, as well.

"Yeah," I told my lover. "Found out you were wrong about the Smurph fancying my gorgeous body."

"Oh?" Ray replied skeptically.

"Uh-huh. Chris tells me that Michael merely envies us our relationship."

Ray snorted moistly into the curve of my neck. "That's as may be, but you'll notice that he didn't pick a blond or a redhead for his lover. No, he picked a dead ringer for a certain W.A.P. Bodie, he did. Still say that Murph prefers his men tall, dark, handsome and engagingly immodest."

"But..." I protested.

"Go to sleep Bodie," Ray groaned. "We're back at the shop tomorrow and I, for one, need me beauty sleep." Doyle wriggled round until he was comfortable and promptly nodded off.

Irritating bugger! I'd welcomed Chris' explanation that Murphy wasn't really attracted to me. Didn't want any complications in my life - Ray was more than enough f or any one man to try to handle. Now, Doyle'd destroyed my complacency by insisting that Atwood didn't know what he was talking about - that Murphy did fancy me after all.

It was a long time before I fell asleep. In fact, I was still awake when Raven finished his bath, then stalked up the mattress to fit himself into the hollow of my back. When I did drift off, I was bracketed between the warm bodies of my lover and the family cat.

-- THE END--

Originally published in Chalk and Cheese 5, Whatever You Do, Don't Press!, 1990

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