His Reply
by
Rosemary


The door creaked open. Cheerful golden light spilled from the hallway across the darkened living room. Bodie sighed and shifted the grocery sack to his other arm as his right snaked along the wall to the overhead light switch. Almost a week since he'd been home; although returning to
the dark emptiness of his flat after a weekend away with his partner felt like no homecoming.

Quite unconsciously, he grinned at the memory. The Lake Country in January. Crazy idea from the start. Bare, ice-glazed trees trembling in the wind, frost brown reeds frozen as solid as the pond, snow so deep they could hardly find the cabin door, a bleak, bone chilling setting at best. Still, even as the utter loneliness of it had touched him, he'd found the lithe form trudging gamely at his side more than adequate recompense. After a while Bodie had even noticed how blue the sky blazed above, its brightness seeming to bounce off the stark snow vivid as blood, and the nights... moonlight caped the buried garden outside their window with such an eerie glow that even the innocuous mounds of snow-blanketed rose bushes took on a threatening aspect. His retreat to Doyle's arms then was motivated by more than mere passion, although there had been plenty of that.

Definitely one of Ray's better ideas. The place had been very much like his partner--on first sight cold and highly foreboding, but on closer investigation, warm and deliciously sensual. Returning to his empty flat affected Bodie emotionally the way crashing through the deceptively thin ice coating that damn pond had physically.

His fingertips finally made contact with the elusive switch. A flick produced nothing but uninterrupted darkness. "Bloody hell, bulb's gone again," he muttered, shoeing the door closed. The safety lock clicked securely behind him, oddly loud in the unlit room. Shaking off a peculiar sensation of being watched, Bodie started across the room. One blind step after another headed him towards the lamp somewhere to his left.

Halfway there, he froze, muscles instinctively braced for combat. It was only a slight stirring of air, nothing more. Nevertheless, it should not have been there at all. Suddenly, the burnt out bulb took on ominous significance.

Groceries dropped as his hand darted to his holster. Reaching fingers never connected. Bodie crashed to the floor almost the same instant the food did, his arrival there precipitated by a hard muscled body. He squirmed, attempting to dislodge his attacker's octopus hold. Giving the gun up as useless in the close tangle of arms and jacket, Bodie freed a fist, hauled back, and hesitated in the ultimate delivery.

Aside from knocking him off his feet, his assailant had made no moves to injure him, was, in fact, doing nothing more than cling to him as he attempted to liberate himself. Abruptly, Bodie noticed that the movement that the intruder was making was in no way related to his escape attempts. The thin hips rubbing against his thigh were downright provocative. Curious, he leaned fractionally closer and sniffed. The warm, heady scent that tickled his nostrils could belong to only one person. A nearby sound, suspiciously like a stifled chuckle, confirmed his suspicion.

"Doyle, you moron! You tryin' to get shot?" he demanded in exasperation. "What are you do-"

The last word was smothered as a hot mouth fastened over his own. A moist, Doyle flavored tongue risked amputation to thrust deep into his mouth. Despite intentions of using his hold on the riotous mane to enforce separation, Bodie found himself using the captured curls to lock his partner in place, relishing the plundering kiss until both were breathless.

Senses swimming as much from oxygen deprivation as arousal, Bodie reluctantly broke free. His vision was now adjusted to the near dark. He glared at his deranged friend, a very real anger hardening his facial muscles. He could have shot the idiot before ever identifying the intruder as Doyle.

The silver light seeping in from the window over the street cast a ghostly pallor over Ray's skin, an occasional flash of sparkling teeth or the gleam of his eyes being the only features definable through the gloom. The burgeoning reprimand was never voiced. He'd wanted Ray here, what did it matter how he'd gotten here? Almost of its own accord his right hand rose to cup the cool smoothness of his partner's uninjured left cheek. For an instant their gazes held. Bodie saw the cocky assurance give way to surprise and a fleeting emotion he couldn't define before Doyle turned to bury his face in the cupping hand.

All coherent thought fled as the full lips brushed a kiss, then parted to allow the roguish tongue access. The wet sensation should have been ticklish; as it was, Bodie was convulsed by shivers.

Without trying, Doyle somehow managed to touch the vulnerable part of him that no other lover ever suspected of existing. The sex, though fantastic, wasn't what put him so off kilter with his partner. There was nothing unique in what Doyle threw his way sexually that Bodie hadn't encountered before, though admittedly his friend was more intense. It was the unexpected thoughtfulness, extended to him at the oddest moments, that was breaking through his barriers, challenging a lifetime of habitual noninvolvement.

From the very first time the fantasy of Doyle as lover tempted his roving imagination, Bodie had instinctively drawn back from it as too dangerous a trap. The bitter lesson Marikka had taught him in youth was well learned: never, ever again would he allow his heart to fall thrall to a disinterested love. As close as the job had brought them over the years, Bodie had never deluded himself that the attraction was anything but one sided. Putting any kind of move on his partner would have set him up for rejection again, or worse still, manipulation.

Yet, he'd leaped at Ray's first overture, caught by the very casualness of it. Great sex, no commitment. To have what he wanted at Ray's request was more than he could have dreamed possible. As long as it didn't get too heavy, that Doyle never discovered what his partner truly felt for him, all would be fine. Or would have been, were it not for the change in Ray's character. This new gentleness was making him careless. Someday soon, he'd slip up and Doyle would have the upper hand.

"Got you good this time," Doyle whispered, audibly pleased by the success of his sneak attack. The declaration was accentuated by a meaningful thrust of the hips.

"Pretty sure of that, aren't you?" Bodie challenged, flipping them over so that the shorter man was pinned beneath him. The infuriating smile that greeted his action told him that that was what the curly haired bugger had planned all along.

He wiped the triumph away with another kiss, the sheer ferocity of which left his warm cushion breathing raggedly in sharp, almost harsh breaths. Satisfied, Bodie drew back and methodically stripped his companion. The white cotton shirt, soft, tan corduroys, briefs and socks, all heated and variously scented from their contact with Doyle's flesh landed in a tangled heap with his own quickly discarded attire. Bodie's movements as he bared them both were rapid and economical, in sharp contrast to this morning. Back at the cabin, he'd dallied over dressing, watching Ray don each garment with the depressing awareness that it could be another full week before he was again privileged with this carefree proximity.

Once finished, he sat back on his haunches. Hot blue eyes hungrily devoured his partner. Doyle's boneless sprawl was an irresistible invitation. Whether it was consciously so, Bodie couldn't decide. Doyle's eyes did seem too busy in their own investigation for the pose to be intentional. On some level the possibility of it being unfeigned disturbed him even more than were it planned for effect. That anyone could have such a hypnotically unbreakable hold over him without trying was mind boggling.

Hoping to find fault for once, Bodie's gaze followed the trail of irregular street light dappling the familiar body. Once, he'd called Doyle scrawny. Nothing could be further from the truth. Streamlined was more exact, Bodie decided. For such a lithe form, the pale skinned shoulders were surprisingly broad, almost as wide as his own. Finely muscled, the torso tapered from its nearly square top in an almost perfect V shape to the trim waist. A bony jut of hips gave way to the proud organ, that amazingly was now rising at Bodie's mere gaze. Then came the powerful legs, of which an athlete's muscles in thigh and calf could in no way constitute scrawny. The slender length of his partner's toes was perhaps a little too skinny for the width of Ray's foot, but it was an imperfection that Bodie found oddly endearing. Sad state, when the only thing found wanting was skinny toes.

"What's that, mate?" Bodie asked huskily, his appraisal interrupted by a muttered whisper.

"You're beautiful, you are," Doyle repeated.

It was not the first time his partner had complimented him; however, this time there was a difference. Beneath an uncharacteristically shy gaze, Ray's cheeks appeared flushed, in spite of the color-sapping light. The hushed tone, added to the way his normally confident partner was staring up at him from the carpet, made a quaking shambles of Bodie's controls.

Stay cool, take it light, relish the pleasure but remain untrapped by the emotion behind it... all wise philosophies for survival, all vanquished by the aching need in a pair of green eyes. Christ, in this light he couldn't even tell that they were green, aware only of the twin pools of shimmering ink of the enormous pupils flashing his own reflection back at him and revealing a longing that matched his own yearning spirit.

A small sound was wrenched from Bodie's throat--a cry of defeat?--as he settled into Doyle's velvet embrace. He dared his conqueror's eyes, dreading the self-satisfied victory that would no doubt show there. It didn't take much, after all, for Ray to prove how thoroughly he had him wrapped around his finger. Instead, he found only the fire of helpless abandon and relief.

Ray clutched at him as though it had been months and not only this morning since they'd last touched. Their mouths locked together, tongues meeting in intimate caress as Bodie's hands roamed free. Doyle bucked beneath him as the soft glide of fingertips from armpit, over ribs, taut stomach and hips strayed across the fine hairs of the inner thigh. Bodie let his hand stray further and was rewarded by a slight whimper at first contact with the warm, moss-soft testes. He took his time there, feeling the effects of his ministrations ripple through the close held body. Seconds later, Ray's mouth pulled free of the kiss, lips parted in a gasp for air as the curly head tilted over Bodie's supporting forearm, the rest of Doyle arching up to his touch.

In another, such a response would herald orgasm, but with his partner, this was only the beginning. Witnessing the way pleasure ravaged Ray's body was intoxicating, and not just a little frightening. His first night in Ray's bed, Bodie hadn't known what hit when passion exploded between them, his normally remote partner almost demonically possessed by it. Uninhibited didn't begin to cover the reaction. Not that Ray wasn't a tender lover, he was almost heartbreakingly so at times. It was just that when Doyle decided to let go of his barriers, which he was doing more and more of late, ecstasy owned him and there was never any question of what was or wasn't proper or allowed. From the very first night, Doyle had been his for the taking. That Bodie hadn't done so immediately, that he'd waited until he knew Ray's pleasure even better than his own was a testament to his self control.

Still, even now after over five months of loving, the wild thing in his arms sometimes terrified him. Not that he was shocked or put off by Doyle. More the opposite, in fact. Seeing Doyle sizzle with want was an inimitable turn on. What bothered him was the fact that Ray hadn't set any restrictions. When his partner was aroused, as he was now, there didn't seem to be any limit to what he'd permit Bodie to do. The power so freely handed over to him was exhilarating, the trust behind it shocking. The fear of misusing that faith outweighed even his own insecurities of Doyle's hurting him.

Bodie's reverie was shattered as Doyle squirmed up to reach his face. The kiss he expected turned out to be an exploration of Ray's tongue around the perimeter of his mouth. Slowly, the moist swab circled, stopping at last to tickle his lips apart. Once he'd conceded, the lower lip was trapped between Doyle's and treated to one of the most delightfully prolonged nuzzling, sucking kisses he'd ever experienced.

A hand slipped down his back in a shiversome glide, halting at the curve of his buttocks. He gave a galvanized jerk at the gentle squeeze, its dizzying shockwaves of sensation rippling through him and finally coming to rest in the hot, demanding swell of needy flesh. Bodie gave an uncontrollable thrust against his partner's answering hardness, only to feel Doyle shift again. This time the lower body moved upwards, thighs spreading to tightly grapple his waist. He gasped at the abrupt friction, suede softness of sacs colliding with his aroused cock. The move was at once disappointing and exciting-- disappointing in that it robbed him of the immediate pleasure of sharing the climb to release with Ray's hardness tight pressed to his own, exciting in his anticipation of the aperture now tantalizingly just beyond reach.

Bodie leaned back onto his heels, still clutched in his partner's intimate hold, and brought a trembling hand along the coolness of a curvaceous cheek to the warm cleft between them. Doyle moaned as his searching finger probed its objective. There was no resistance in the firm ring of muscle, yet Bodie found the tract too dry for comfortable penetration. Even his finger had to be uncomfortable, although he'd never have suspected so from the way the surrounding wall of muscle kept squeezing and releasing him. Bodie withdrew his finger, wincing a little at its abrading exit.

"Don't stop," Doyle pleaded, wide eyes wild and unfocussed in a haze of arousal.

Temporarily frustrated, Bodie looked down at the sweat sheened face. A lump formed in his throat at the beseeching, passion racked features. He gulped it back, shaking at the strain caused by denying that plea. With anyone else, Bodie would have acceded and made do with saliva, but he knew his lover too well for that. Doyle was not a passive partner in anything. In some ways, Ray was even more abandoned in his surrender than in a more aggressive role where reluctance to injure restrained him, however so infinitesimally.

Bodie ripped his eyes from Doyle's face. He'd be capitulating in another moment if he didn't. There'd be no recriminations later from his partner if he did give in, but for the better part of six years protecting Ray had been his main purpose in life. Nothing that hurt the other man, no matter how slightly, could bring Bodie joy.

Desperate as he was to complete what they'd started, Bodie reluctantly conceded that he was going to have to make a trip to the bedroom to fetch the KY from the nightstand. Doyle must have read the decision in his face, or his thoughts, for all Bodie knew. The sprightly figure began to sway against his barely checked arousal with devilish determination.

"Ray..." The roar came out more as a whimper.

Stiff with tension, Bodie began to pull his way loose, his partner fighting him all the while. His panicked gaze swept from the irresistible face and beyond, stopping at the jumble of scattered
groceries haloing the crushed curls. Shocked, he recognized the round jar sticking out from beneath a celery stalk. Petroleum jelly. Not as good as the distant KY--the petroleum product had an annoying habit of hanging about far longer than desired--but it would do.

He lurched forward and grabbed for the jar at the same time Doyle hooked his ankles over each other behind his butt to keep him from escaping. The result was unavoidable. Bodie toppled like a giant redwood, crashing down on top of the irresponsible fool beneath him. Both of them grunted at the painful impact, Doyle recovering almost immediately.

"Christ, Ray, hold on a minute," Bodie begged of his unfazed friend. Rather than releasing him to rub at the banged portions of his anatomy, Doyle's arms and legs enfolded him like a tenacious starfish. A chuckle made its way through the mask of disapproval he was trying so valiantly to keep in place as Bodie struggled to his knees, his lover's not inconsiderable weight still pasted barnacle-like to his front.

The impossible grab for the jar might have been a total victory, had Doyle not chosen that particular moment to attack his left ear. Bodie yelped as a wet tongue and hot breathing found its target with unerring accuracy. His right hand did manage to close around the celery-hidden jar but the left one supporting most of their combined weight jolted in response, toppling them once again to the carpet.

Cushiony as the rug was, his knees and elbow stung as they scraped roughly along it. His worries for Doyle's back, which had taken the brunt of the fall, fled when the swollen lips claimed his mouth again.

Sensitized to every inch of contact with his fiery friend, Bodie moaned as the thighs, tight clamped around his legs since the fall, inched their way upward as Doyle's body folded over upon itself. He was released from the snug hold as bony knees gripping his waist were drawn to rest on Ray's shoulders. He looked down, swallowed hard.

Unnaturally pale in the half light, Doyle's flesh looked pure as the snow piled high around their cabin. Its beauty had much the same effect, a reluctance to defile. Yet at the same time there was no way to turn away from the offer, or desire to. The very pallor of the cheeks was compelling, the mystery of the shadows between promising delights that Bodie alone of all men had ever experienced.

Peripherally aware of motion, Bodie focused on the foot dangling beside his face. On impulse, he captured it, planting a wet kiss on the back of the ankle. Ray's body jerked again, a sound, more sob than sigh, piercing the darkness of the living room. Encouraged, he blazed a trail of kisses up the back of Ray's leg. He rather enjoyed the thicker growth of hair in the unfamiliar territory, discovering to his delight that if he left a slight bit of moisture in his kisses' wake and blew the barest stream of cool air across it, his partner's entire frame would tremble as though with fear.

By the time he reached the exposed buttocks, Doyle was whimpering. Funny, Ray was never at all inhibited when it came to demonstrating how much he enjoyed something. Bodie had only to look at him to know how close he was to fever pitch or that something new he was trying out on him wasn't having its desired effect, but he could never tell just by listening. When it came to vocally expressing his joy, even the tiniest sounds were practically wrenched from Doyle. It was an unexpected enigma, but one Bodie had become accustomed to. For Ray to be making this much noise, he had to be really enjoying this.

Bodie paused to catch his breath and slow down his racing heart. Sweat was pouring off him almost as heavily as it was from his pleasure racked partner. He licked a light sheen of perspiration from above his upper lip, unsure if the moisture was from his own skin or picked up in his contact with Doyle.

Aware that he was being watched again, his eyes rose to Ray's face. No longer was it twisted solely with pleasure. Large beads of perspiration dotted and streaked the strained features. Doyle's lower lip was trapped firmly between his teeth as if to prevent his crying out, the huge, hungry gaze fixed upon Bodie with almost tangible desperation.

Without further hesitation, he eased Ray even further up until Doyle's knees rested almost on the floor on either side of his head. His fingers fumbled with the lid of the jar, finally releasing it and sinking into the gooey slickness of the grease. A healthy amount was withdrawn and the jar cast aside.

With painstaking care, Bodie parted the exposed cheeks, achingly conscious of the other man's vulnerability. In this position, having Bodie's weight pressed down on him and his legs folded so awkwardly, Doyle was virtually powerless.

Wishing for more light, Bodie's gel covered finger probed the dark entrance to Doyle's body. Breath caught audibly in Ray's throat at the first penetration of the tight ring of muscle. Because it was Ray, Bodie turned the mundane task of lubrication into its own particular form of worship. After liberally coating the opening, his finger began a steady circular caress around the clenched pucker of flesh gripping his digit in place. Gradually, his gentle coaxing relaxed the tense guardian until he found he could fit a second finger in. Once the passageway was adequately prepared, Bodie withdrew his hand.

A breathless pause, then his throbbing shaft replaced his fingers. Easing into the tight heat of the slick channel was almost enough to bring him to orgasm in itself. Gathering his controls, Bodie drew a deep, shuddering breath, took hold of Ray's straining cock and gave in to the bursts of longing that had been tingling through his nerves since Ray first jumped him.

From the first an instinctive rhythm existed between them. For years it had manifested itself in the almost psychic awareness they possessed of each other's position and intention in action situations. Now it had expanded to encompass these unforeseen delights. Bodie knew what effect each thrust was having on his slender companion, could feel the ecstasy ripping through the sleek form with each pump of his gripping hand along the rock hard shaft almost as clearly as he could the dizzying shocks of pleasure rampaging through his own defenseless body.

Bodie grunted in surprise as his friend shifted again, the sudden downward plunge impaling Doyle more fully than Bodie would ever attempt. For a passion blind instant Bodie remained still, paralyzed by the overwhelming sensation of the living sheath encasing his engorged flesh. Then Doyle's heels connected with his backside, spurring him into motion.

It wasn't long after that. His conscious mind lost awareness of the frantic thrusts and withdrawals, the quickening movement of his hand. The thrashing body beneath him was only a dimly perceived extension of himself. All that was real in those moments was the exquisite anguish ravaging his nerves, the beloved torment so fierce in its mastery of the senses that he feared they would never return to sanity.

An eternity later, the sweat slickened form beneath him convulsed in a shudder. A milky spurt of liquid sprayed over Bodie's hand and Doyle's belly. The tossing head stilled, wild eyes staring blindly up at his face as Ray's body arched upwards in ecstatic release.

As though that were the signal, his own passion peaked. One last wave of joyous agony ripped through his overloaded system, and then he too was spasming, shooting his seed deep into the secret places of Ray's body. Sobbing, he collapsed onto his partner, burying his face in the crook of Doyle's neck.

Doyle cradled his shaking form, rubbing his sweat covered back while their rasping breathing stilled.

Feeling a cool stream of perspiration collide with his nose, Bodie's tongue slipped out and experimentally lapped it off. Pleased, he felt a shiver course through his sated lover. "Taste good all over, you do," he observed contentedly, enjoying the throaty chuckle that answered his compliment.

"Then you don't mind?"

"Mind?" Bodie asked, puzzled by the uncertainty. "That you taste good?"

"No," Doyle corrected with infinite patience and then gestured at their entwined forms. "This. Thought that after this past week it might be a little like... overkill."

Bodie digested that quietly. With anyone else he would have called it insecurity, but that was the one thing Ray never was. "Only thing likely to get killed is me. You really wipe me out, mate," he admitted, lightly kissing the tip of Ray's nose.

A sunny smile rewarded him, but the telling crinkle in Doyle's brow returned almost immediately. "Ray, what is it?"

The unreadable eyes searched his face. Then Doyle's hands locked in his hair and guided him down into a surprisingly fierce kiss, almost brutal in its desperation. After he was at last released to draw a much needed breath, Bodie was once again subjected to the intense scrutiny. Whatever Doyle found there seemed to satisfy him.

"Ray?"

"'s drafty down here," Doyle announced.

Hurt by the evasion and confused by the mood shift, Bodie nevertheless respected his partner's wishes. "Best move inside then," he conceded, climbing shakily to his feet and offering a hand up. He escorted Ray to the huge duvet draped bed and settled him gently beneath its heavy folds. "Hang about a minute, mate. I'll be right back."

Doyle's gaze burned a hot trail down his back as he left the room.

The living room seemed even emptier on his return than it had when he'd first stepped into the flat. Bodie knelt beside the couch, hunting up the scattered groceries. He shoved them all into the paper sack and then put the bag, petroleum jelly and all, on to the first shelf in the refrigerator, vowing to sort them tomorrow.

His next stop was the loo for a quick washup. He rinsed a cloth with warm water and soap and brought it back to his room with him.

"What's that?" Doyle asked guardedly upon his return.

"Personal service." Bodie lifted the duvet, blushing furiously. He'd never done this before. He felt the perfect fool as he carefully swabbed the drying flakes of semen from Ray's flat belly. "Lift up," he ordered, then cleansed the sticky gel and traces of his own seeping seed from the more intimate region.

Distinctly ill at ease, Bodie started to stand, ready to flee to the bathroom rather than brave comment upon his atypical gesture.

Doyle's hand clamped around his wrist in an unbreakable grip. The cloth was removed, placed on the spotless ashtray that had stood on his nightstand since chain-smoking Cloe's last stay.

"Come here," Doyle ordered, the deep, sonorous tone shivering right through him. Fears lulled by the scent and feel of his friend, Bodie relaxed into the embrace. Once again Doyle's arms and legs clamped around him, anchoring him in place. Lush curls tickled his chest as Ray pillowed his head there. "Got a knack for making me feel good," Doyle murmured, then, without further fanfare, fell promptly to sleep.

Clutched tight as a child's favorite stuffed toy, Bodie drifted after his partner, imagining how wonderful it would feel to end every night so close, free of the shadow of Ray's leaving the next morn.

*~*~*

Nineteen hours later that same thought was still with Bodie, had been all day on the uneventful stakeout. Beside him, Doyle had been equally preoccupied, gazing out the window at the no doubt empty house in moody silence.

Now, heading back towards his flat, Doyle suddenly perked up.

"You hungry?" Before Bodie could reply, Doyle answered his own question. "You're always hungry. Want to stop by?"

"'kay." He swung the Capri towards Doyle's.

Halfway there an exasperated, "Oh, damn!" exploded from the passenger's seat.

"What's up?"

A sheepish flush spread across the mismatched cheeks. "I... uhh... never had a chance to get to the off hour last night. 's nothing in the place but some stale bread."

Knowing from experience just how hard Ray's bread was allowed to become before being decently chucked out, Bodie quickly offered, "Larder's full at my place. We could stop by your flat, pick up your stuff for tomorrow, and then go back to mine if you'd like."

Always, it was a carefully phrased suggestion. Never any assumptions or pressure, never any indication of just how much was hanging on the answer.

Doyle's ready acceptance heartened him to broach the subject that had been brewing in his mind all day.

His next action would perhaps be the hardest thing he'd ever do. Still afraid and unsure, Bodie did not know how to even begin. He was certain of only one thing--he wanted Ray beside him morning and night, always. The insecure part of him paraded previous rejections in front of his wavering confidence with sadistic glee. His heart braced the floundering resolve with the reminder that none of those hurts had come from Ray. Doyle was... different, important enough to take the chance for. Maybe it was a defeat of sorts, needing someone that desperately, but Bodie could no longer deny it.

Yet, the insecurity was still there. Which was probably why as the silver Capri pulled up in front of the red brick building that was Doyle's latest home, Bodie found himself resorting to humor. "Don't know why we don't just leave our mess in one place. Spend half our lives carting things back and forth across the whole of London like some bloody sight-seeing coach."

Just having exited the car, Doyle froze to look in through the window at him, his vibrant body momentarily stone still. Breath held, Bodie took in the rigid shoulders and too-straight back, and KNEW he'd failed, transgressed beyond the over-generous limits Ray had set for them, broken his word.

Unable to meet Doyle's eyes in his shame, he stared over the brown, leather clad shoulder. Bodie heard only the lilting laughter in the melodious voice which mocked him.

"Come live with me and be my love, ey?"

"Sorry, mate," he said stiffly, the shuttered dignity that was pride offering no balm to his torn heart. "Guess it is more like Her Reply."

With that, he jerked the little car ruthlessly back on to the road, oblivious to the screech of brakes and the hornblast from the mini behind him.

*~*~*

Mouth agape, Doyle watched Bodie's car roar around the street corner. His shock numbed mind struggled to make sense of what had just happened.

Bodie had asked him to move in with him. He recalled that much with perfect clarity. Wasn't the sort of thing he was likely to miss, he conceded wryly, not after how hard he'd worked for it. Five months of careful handling, of not pushing, of taking only what he was freely offered for fear of losing it all had finally paid off. His lover had at last asked for more of a commitment, and, almost in the same breath, left him standing alone on a kerb gaping down the deserted street like a solitary guppy at the front of a twenty gallon tank. When it became obvious that his friend had indeed left him here and not simply circled the block, Doyle slowly made his way into the flat.

He should have been angry at the desertion, but found himself only terribly confused. That look on Bodie's face....

Always, he more than anyone else had the power to hurt his partner. In the past, it was often done without thinking when the frustrations of a case got to be too much for him to handle and had to be directed at someone, Bodie, more often than not, tended to be their target, but this--Bodie had looked crushed.

All he had attempted to do was the same as always, match Bodie's lightness with his own. He couldn't even recall exactly what he'd said to so wound the other man. The first thing to come to mind had come out. Some quote, Shakespeare, he thought, a light hearted response barely able to contain his bubbling delight. "Come live with me and be my love," an expression of joy, nothing more. And then, WHAM! Bodie had frozen up as though he had just spat at him. His partner's parting remark had been even stranger than the original freeze-up. What was it Bodie had said? Something like it being more like her reply, whoever she was.

Still trying to fathom it, Doyle made himself a cup of tea. The rush of water from faucet to kettle echoed hollowly through the flat, the total absence of sound from the other rooms making each of his movements incongruously loud. For three months now he'd been living in this flat, but tonight the utter emptiness of the place gave him the absurd feeling that he was trespassing in some long abandoned dwelling, the ghosts of its former occupants intent upon letting him know that he was an unwelcome intruder.

Ignoring the ridiculous sensation, Doyle concentrated on making his tea. His open fridge revealed only the untempting bread heel he'd mentioned earlier, no milk. Doyle sat down at the kitchen table, vaguely waiting for the steaming mug to cool down and tried to pinpoint exactly what had gone wrong.

Somehow, his innocent remark had been misconstrued as a rejection. How and why was beyond him. He didn't even know where it came from.

With a start, Doyle realized that his partner would know. Keats, Shelley, Wordsworth, Blake, a slew of others Doyle couldn't even begin to keep track of, Bodie could quote them all, verbatim. Probably knew the bloody Bard's sonnet he'd drawn it from line for line.

Cursing his own ignorance on the subject, Doyle slammed the unwanted cup onto the table top. He briefly considered calling his partner or going after the fool, but knew from experience that he'd get no answers from him when Bodie was hurting. With his own uncertain temper, going in blind was out of the question.

If he only knew what meanings had been culled from his innocuous remark he'd at least have a basis for repairing the damage. The library flitted through his mind, but that had closed hours ago.

Doyle straightened at a sudden inspiration. Somewhere in this barely lived in flat was a huge poetry book his partner had carted over to his last apartment and promptly abandoned. Trying to recall where he'd stashed the ungainly tome, his thoughts strayed to the circumstances surrounding its arrival, his attention captured by the vivid memory.

Nine, perhaps ten, months back, Bodie had stayed the weekend with him. The flat was different from now as were his partner's reasons for staying, but for Doyle at least, that had been the beginning of their altered relations.

They'd been running down two separate leads on an arms smuggler. Depending on one's point of view, Doyle had gotten lucky and tracked the suspect to a deserted, riverside warehouse. That was as far as his luck had held. Upon entering, he'd been attacked from behind. He recalled little of the beating he'd received, only the agony of awakening and the awareness that he'd never been so thoroughly worked over, even Holton's goons could have learned from this lot.

The clawing scratch of smoke upon sensitive nostrils had awoken him. Bound amid crates whose markings declared them to be the highly explosive armory he'd been hunting, Doyle realized he'd been left to go up with the evidence. Shouting got him nothing but a raw throat. He'd tried to console himself with the idea that Bodie would eventually figure out where he was, but it would be hours before he'd be missed and the crackling sizzle coming from the lower story told him he didn't have that long.

Desperation sent him rolling to the smoke veiled stairwell. The rickety wooden flight hadn't held under his weight. His first roll downwards sent him crashing through the brittle lumber to the blazing lower level.

Dazed from his ungraceful landing, Doyle dimly registered the wail of sirens. His eyes kept fixing on the brilliant flames, now less than ten feet away as they licked at the broken banister. On the force, he'd seen fires like this. Water wouldn't quench the writhing walls of flame. The fire brigade would be forced to allow it to burn itself out, concentrating their efforts on keeping it isolated to the supposedly empty warehouse. At least Doyle hoped that would be their plan. He didn't want anyone else around when the fire reached that little surprise package upstairs. When the arms went off, half the building would doubtless follow.

Choking on the dry smoke, he'd huddled into a crawlspace beneath the half- standing stairs, praying that the fumes would thicken before the firestrip dancing his way reached him.

Half asleep, he fought for each breath, listening to the roar of the ravenous flames. Whatever else fire was, it was not quiet. Then, amazingly, a familiar shout pierced the inferno raging around him. A feeble, choking reply brought his smoke streaked savior immediately to his side.

At that moment, Bodie had looked insane. Eyes wild, lower lip smashed and bleeding, a grimy sheen of sweat glossing the rage twisted features, clothes scorched and smoke stained, his suave partner was transformed into a savage warrior from Britain's primitive past, dangerous and ultimately untamable. The primal stare fixed upon him had been unsettling, almost devouring.

Uncertainly, he'd whispered his partner's name, his sleepy mind almost convinced that he'd died and his partner had somehow preceded him to Hell. At the sound of his voice, the unleashed passion vanished. With one sweep of the translucent, long lashed eyelids, Bodie was himself again.

As his worried partner searched him for broken bones, Doyle had concentrated on the bruised face, looking for echoes of the other Bodie who had found him. While trying to ignore the pain the probing fingers inflicted, Doyle saw something in the unguarded, absorbed features, not a new look, but something that had always been there before but had gone unnoticed until that instant. No longer was it mere worry, the affection of a friend, protective instincts or the thousand other mislabels Doyle had tagged onto Bodie's attitude towards him over the years. It wasn't even anything as simple as possessiveness. In the sauna-like heat of their hellish surroundings a chill passed through Doyle as he recognized the naked longing in the orange tinted, fire-lit face of his closest friend.

Perhaps if it had been a new discovery rather than the identification of something that had been there all along, Doyle might have reacted to it immediately--in all probability adversely, for he was too well acquainted with the fate of abandonment that awaited all of Bodie's lovers to be rushing to join their ranks--but several things restrained him from squelching it there and then.

First, was the possibility that he'd read it wrong. After all, his partner was the last person he could imagine suffering from unrequited love. Had Bodie wanted him, he would have done something about it.

Unless that one time his drunken friend had brought up his experiences in the mercenaries had been some sort of attempt to broach the subject. Hardly a seduction, that. He'd ended up with the sobbing man clutched in his arms the entire night. Nothing had been born of that experience save Doyle's intense hatred of the sadistic, violence high freaks that had nearly destroyed his partner with their degrading games. But, then, Doyle figured that such a past might also keep a man silent about any unorthodox desires.

The fact that Bodie had never tried anything, if he did feel that way about him at all, revealed a consideration for his own feelings that quite frankly startled Doyle. As far as Bodie knew, he was straight. That that assumed fact had restrained his friend all this time--this was not a new development, Doyle could plainly recall a similar expression gentling his friend's face as little as a year into their partnership--made Doyle suspect that what Bodie felt for him was more than a passing fancy.

His own reaction to the possibility was unexpected. Perhaps it was the consideration behind those careful fingers as they searched his battered form for breaks that made him feel so treasured, or maybe it was merely his tired mind's response to being able to rely unconditionally upon the strength of another to keep him safe when his own was no longer sufficient, whatever the cause, as he lay in that blazing inferno, nothing had ever seemed more inviting than the idea of letting Bodie take care of him.

The ferocity of the yearning frightened him. Whether hate or love, his emotions were always highly intense. The affection he felt for his friend was enough to warn him that his heart could be forfeited in this encounter. Pure disaster, in view of Bodie's character. And yet, in his whole life, nobody had ever stayed beside him as long as the crazy ex-para.

Why Bodie out of all the others had remained, if not this new explanation, Doyle couldn't imagine. Lord knew, it wasn't the job. There were any number of ways, all more lucrative, that his partner could achieve that same excitement. Nor was it Doyle's warm welcome which kept Bodie around, for more than half the time his own biting comments were aimed at shaking that monumental self- confidence.

What compelled him to be so abrasive when it came to Bodie, Doyle could never understand. Though sometimes pigheaded, his partner was of a basically easy-going nature. Nine times out of ten he did nothing to deserve the anger Doyle dumped on him. Nevertheless, the self-sufficient Bodie took it all, sticking by him like a devoted setter.

In the past, most of his partners had wanted to have very little to do with him off-duty. Not that they disliked him, quite the opposite, in fact. But all had been seasoned veterans, with lives and families that had demanded their full attention during what little time they had off duty. Even Sid Parker, who'd been more of a father to him than his own biological parent, had had his sick wife to worry about. The loneliness he'd felt over those years was equally his own fault, Doyle knew. There were hundreds of other young rookies undergoing the same experiences, but he'd never encouraged friendship with them and none had ever gone to the trouble of seeking him out before Bodie.

Doyle could still recall his amazement during those first traumatic months in CI5 when the lunatic George Cowley had saddled him with as a partner, and whom he still utterly detested, persisted in inviting him out for a drink after a job. Tell him no six nights in a row, and inevitably there it would be again on the seventh--"Lucas, Murph, McCabe and I are goin' down to the Red Lion. Why don't you join us, mate?"

Bodie's steadfastness had always mystified him, until now. Doyle was in some ways satisfied by this new explanation. Sex had long been something he excelled at, always finding it easy to attract whatever partner he desired. That he'd attracted Bodie without consciously trying to proved it.

But, as he'd learned, hooking someone's interest was quite another thing from holding it. How often in the past had everything that existed between him and a lover been burned away with sated lust?

Amidst the smoke filled crawlspace, Doyle had resolved that it would not happen that way with Bodie. Their partnership was too important to jeopardize with a mere sexual fling. Bodie, too, had obviously recognized this danger and held back for that reason. But somehow Doyle suspected that it was more than a fling that his partner wanted. The concern and affection that characterized Bodie's attitude towards him betokened much more than that. But he had to be sure.

From the moment Bodie got them safely away from that would-be funeral pyre, Doyle had embarked upon a campaign to satisfy his suspicions. That weekend when Bodie stayed at his place to ensure that his roughed up mate got on all right Doyle initiated the flirtatious banter that had always been so much a part of their relationship. Curious, he'd noted how the other man would engage in it, up to a point. Then, as if sensing a sudden risk, Bodie would change the subject or bury himself in that daunting poetry anthology he'd lugged along with him.

Surreptitious observation over the next four months confirmed his beliefs. How for all those years he could have remained unaware of the hunger in the gaze that basked on his body whenever Bodie thought him not looking amazed him. His partner's feelings were admirably well concealed behind his usual bragging, hidden by a smokescreen of romances that would have put even the most successful of fictional Don Juans to shame.

During this period, Doyle paid special attention to these affairs, double dating as often as possible. He'd learned two things from these trying nights.

First, how easy it was for him to gain his partner's full attention. No matter how lovely the lady Bodie happened to be seeing at the time, Doyle found that all he had to do was glance at his partner a certain way or whisper some irrelevant comment in a lover's seductive tone to have Bodie's interest riveted on him the entire night.

The second lesson he learned was as disheartening as the first was flattering, pinpointing the death knell of Bodie's affairs. Surprisingly enough, it wasn't the girl's falling for him that put Bodie off. From the first, most were totally enchanted by Bodie's flawless charm. Two or three dates and he had them hooked for sure. Doyle saw that it was when his partner started to show some attachment in return that Bodie would cut the poor girl off cold. At first, Doyle thought that it was because of him, but only slowly did he realize that it was something more.

Commitment, that was what Bodie was out to avoid, probably why he'd never tried it on with him in the past. Going into any sort of sexual relationship with Doyle, there was already too strong of a existent bond to tangle with. The realization almost stopped Doyle there.

Except, he'd had a peculiar reaction to discovering that Bodie desired him. His body blazed at commonplace touches, his blood running wild while his partner continued on with whatever they were doing, oblivious to the fire he'd lit. Bodie mightn't have shown any interest in committed relationships in the past, but the sweet anguish Doyle endured during those four indecisive months made him hopeful that it could be different with him, that whatever sense of honor had kept Bodie silent all these years would safeguard their unlikely romance.

There was a chance, if he played the game right. With Bodie, the trick would be his approach. Talk commitment and Doyle knew he'd lose at the first gambit. His strategy had been simple. One rule only, that there be no rules or no strings involved. Lure his cage-shy mate with the freedom of the proposition, and make it so good for Bodie that he'd have no desire to stray. Doyle had been all too conscious of the risk inherent in such a gamble; the possibilities for rejection seemed endless.

Yet, to his astonishment, it had worked. His partner had turned away from nothing he had offered, accepting all intimacies without any hint that they were an infringement upon his independence. Bodie had even given him a key to his flat after the first month, which, in view of the way Bodie had once balked at Cowley's possessing one, Doyle had taken as a sign of definite progress. And, more than that, he was entirely certain that there had been no one else for Bodie since the first night he'd taken his partner to bed.

Doyle grinned at the memory, recalling his apprehensions. One fleeting affair with another art student at school, near forgotten over the intervening years, was hardly enough to prepare him for his partner. He imagined Bodie's approach to sex to be the same as to action, wild and reckless, a whirlwind of unrepressed want, knew his own desires would have to be equally fierce to survive that first storm intact.

Doyle's primary concern had been his own lack of experience. The success of his plan hinged entirely upon presenting a casual demeanor, make his partner think that this was just another of many sensual adventures, which would require a good deal of acting. The scene between Ashley and him had never been heavy. Although Doyle knew the basic mechanics of sex between two men, he'd never felt enough for his classmate to allow him to take him. Things would be different with his partner. Somehow, he didn't think Bodie was the type to wait for the offer.

Which led to his other fear. Competition was one of the major foundations of their friendship. His own personality was not keyed towards diminutiveness, any more than was his partner's. Mentally, he was ready to submit that first time, to bluff his way through it if the situation so required, but on some level he'd still worried that their loving would degenerate into the type of battle for dominance that Bodie had experienced in Africa. That brand of sadism Doyle was not, and hopefully never would be, interested in. Of course, he might not be given the chance to choose if things got out of hand.

So, such thoughts had left him shuddering as he'd sat naked on his bed watching Bodie complete his undressing. The quake that passed through him as lowering pants unveiled his partner's cock, bobbing up to full erection at the mere anticipation of what they were about to do, had had very little to do with desire. Bodie's beauty was that of power and strength, hard muscle and lean flesh. Right then the potency of the man threatened him. Seeing the way passion had darkened the brilliant blue of Bodie's eyes to near black, a reaction Doyle had only viewed in the past when his high-spirited mate was blind with rage, hadn't helped any. Rage, lust, according to Bodie the two had been the same when laying a man in Africa, might be the same here for all Ray knew.

Instinctively, he'd tensed as Bodie crossed to the bed, steeling himself to allow the other man to make the first move, half expecting it to be a pounce. Every iota of self discipline had been required to suppress the flinch his body wanted to make as the strong hands gripped his naked shoulders almost painfully tight. Looking up the hairless chest in the Bodie-scented closeness of the shadows, he'd braced himself as the dark head lowered. His anxieties had led him to expect anything, including rape, prepared him for everything... except tenderness.

A gasp of shock was ripped from him as a whisper soft kiss was delivered to his exposed neck. Always one of his most sensitive areas, the sheer sensuality of the unexpectedly gentle touch immediately quickened his pulse and respiratory rate, shooting a warm burst of yearning through his fear numbed system.

All too soon, Bodie withdrew his lips, stepping back to settle almost hesitantly on the bed's edge beside him. Uncertainty hazed the gaze regarding him, and an expression of utter vulnerability that seemed to invest Doyle with the same dreadful qualities his own overactive imagination had credited to his friend. "You're not afraid of me?" he'd asked, voice hushed with wonder.

"Not physically." Doyle read the honesty behind the strange answer, the level gaze also telling him that his own apprehensions had been observed and purposefully dispelled with that one brief touch.

If not physical, then what could Bodie fear of him?

Too overjoyed with his loss of fright to analyze the significance of Bodie's remark, Doyle had filed it away in his memory and hastened to reassure, reaching out to draw his friend into his arms. Bodie had felt wonderful in that first embrace, the touch of his sleek skin bringing to mind sun-warmed apricots. Bodie, too, must have found comfort in the closeness, for his hands began an exploration of Doyle's body that was more thorough than any he'd ever undergone.

The reckless rush to possess, the thoughtless climb to lust Ray had anticipated never materialized. Each touch, every caress, seemed designed to fuel Doyle's delight only. Never had anyone made him so aware of his own flesh, of the heights of feeling possible. When his
body burned with desire, cried for release, Bodie still somehow managed to wring more pleasure from him.

Whereas with another lover self-protective instincts would have demanded he withdraw to maintain his controls, with Bodie all such inhibitions were absent. Mentally, he'd known that his partner was in a position to take and use him as none had before, but the thought no longer frightened him. In fact, at one point while soaked with sweat and exerted from the savage pleasure shocks jolting through him, he'd craved more, all but begging to be taken with thighs spread wide apart and hot groin arching up at his so far obliging partner in unspoken invitation. Only there had Bodie drawn the line. Offering no outright rejection, he'd pushed the idea from Doyle's thoughts with a blaze of new stimulation. When they'd come that first time, it had been in each other's mouths, sharing each second of the experience.

Doyle's wonder at the overwhelming sense of completion in their initial joining was rivaled only by his relief that his previous experience was sufficient to prevent awkwardness from tainting their intimacy.

That hadn't caught up with him till almost a month later. Bodie hadn't been at all reluctant about Doyle's taking him. First time it happened it was done totally without Doyle's consent. One night following instructions to close his eyes, Doyle had found his pulsing cock entering a tight, hot channel of flesh as Bodie slowly lowered himself down onto him. The experience had been all- consuming, wilder and freer than any pleasure yet felt. Persuading his overprotective mate to return the favor had promised to be a new career there for a while.

The joy of success was overshadowed by his recollection of the confusion which had clouded Bodie's face at his body's reaction to a simple finger probe. The freezup had been instinctive, totally unanticipated. Try as he would, Doyle was unable to relax his sphincter muscle enough to allow even the entry of one slender forefinger. Half joking, Bodie had asked, "You've done this before, mate, haven't you?"

Perhaps he should have bluffed his way through it. So far, he'd been able to conceal how limited his experience was from his lover, and therefore, how important their relationship was to him. But, looking into those bewildered eyes, he hadn't been able to lie outright. Letting Bodie draw assumptions from his ability to give a decent blow job was quite another thing from conscious deceit. Besides, if he lied to Bodie now, he was sure to think that Doyle didn't like it or was permitting him to take him out of a sense of obligation.

Aware that either decision could destroy everything he'd labored for, all he could do was shake his head in mute denial. Bodie might be furious with him for his pretense, but Doyle would not allow him to be wounded by the possibility that he didn't really want him.

At first there was no reaction. Then, Bodie's face had gone blank with shock, his adam's apple jumping in a plainly audible gulp. A light, never so openly viewed before, warmed the bright blue eyes as Bodie spoke quietly to him. "Don't worry, Ray, 'm good at what I do. You're going to like this." The kiss that punctuated Bodie's words was filled with gentle promise.

And then, Bodie had... unleashed him. It was the only description that adequately fit the event. Starting at his mouth and working his way downwards, Bodie kissed, sucked, licked or caressed every square inch of him. Never had it been like that for Doyle before. His nerves screamed under the sweet torment of every touch. By the time his partner had reached the pebble hard buds of nipple, that involuntary fear of submission had been burned from him.

Sensation raged through his blood like wildfire, singeing every cell he possessed, but still Bodie held back, prolonging the inevitable, driving him to even higher, unbearable peaks of ecstasy and seeming to feed on his pleasure while he writhed there. Bodie could have carved him to pieces, slowly, during the intensity of those endless moments, he'd had no guards left at all, no conscious conception that he was in any way able to stop or alter the outcome. There was no other reality besides surviving the feeling and catching those few, impossible gulps of air that were permitted.

And, then, in the midst of that maelstrom of sensation, unbelievably, came the awareness of a new form of stimulation. A slender explorer inside, touching off a rarely indulged pleasure zone. This new breed of joy was fiercer than the others, the shockwaves merciless in their mastery of his overloaded system. Vaguely, Doyle had felt his body bucking, almost too excited to climax.

Incredibly, the newcomer abandoned him there, alone and so close to the edge that he was whimpering at the sudden cessation of stimulus. Desolate, he'd lain there awaiting annihilation, too lost to realize that he had the ability to relieve his own need.

After an indeterminate period of solitary suffering, his legs were lifted, cold air assaulting his deserted, unnaturally slick anus as his buttocks were parted. Soon, a bulkier probe took the former's place. He'd gasped at the first, wide entry. It wasn't pain, being more of an uncomfortable stretching to accommodate Bodie's thickness. Although the penetration did court the idea of hurting him, it never succeeded. Just as his passion-dazed mind began to register the discomfort, Bodie rubbed against that internal point his finger had caused such havoc by touching and blasted all reason from him.

The madness hadn't lasted long after that. Bodie's thrusts were as effective at pleasuring him as the hand working his overburdened cock. Orgasm ripped through him, exploding his senses and the very life out of him in the too hasty oblivion seconds before Bodie's cry deafened his
left ear.

From the very first Bodie had been able to bypass his shields, but that night he eclipsed all previous gains. Long before that, Doyle had lost his heart, but that night delivered his soul to his partner.

Bodie never suspected the conquest he'd made. Keeping the secret was perhaps Doyle's hardest accomplishment. At all times his speech had to be carefully censored, lest he reveal too much with an unguarded comment.

Like today's little ditty.

Abruptly returned to the present reality of the deepening shadows in his unlit kitchen, Doyle abandoned the cold, milkless tea to search out Bodie's poetry book.

Forty minutes later the bottom of his bedroom closet disgorged a cardboard carton still packed from his last move. Within, amid a jumble of girlie magazines and gun collecting journals was the book. The brown leather binding was brittle and dry to the touch, the age-stained pages almost as dark as the cover. Heavier than most bibles, it required both hands to heave it out.

Curled in the middle of his bedroom floor, he thumbed through the anthology, dismayed to see that nothing was in alphabetical order. Chaucer brazenly preceded Sir Robert Ayton. Only after several minutes of frantic study did he realize that the poets were listed chronologically. He shifted through the tome to Shakespeare's selection and groaned at the size of it. If he had to read every one of the sonnets and play excerpts, it would be days before Bodie saw him.

On impulse, he turned to the table of contents, half expecting the answer to leap off the page at him. Not surprisingly, that didn't happen, but he did notice something else--an index of first lines. As a last hope, he rolled the book over, much the way one would a beached dolphin, and sorted through the C's.

There, below "Come away, come away, death", "Come live with me and be my love" was listed. Surprised, Doyle saw that he'd had the right period in mind. The poet was Elizabethan, but it wasn't Shakespeare. The line was drawn from Christopher Marlowe's PASSIONATE SHEPHERD TO HIS LOVE. Eagerly, he flipped to the given page and started reading the short poem.

Come live with me and be my love
And we will all the pleasures prove
That valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the rocks
Seeing the shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow rivers, to whose falls
Melodious birds sing madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of myrtle.

A gown made of the finest wool,
Which from our pretty lambs we pull,
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold.

A belt of straw and ivy buds
With coral clasps and amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me and be my love.

The shepherd swain shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my love.

More confused than ever, he reread the piece. What in it could have offended Bodie? The sentiment seemed harmless enough. Was, in fact, very close to the proposition Bodie'd made to him. Perhaps Bodie's approach hadn't been such outright bribery, but Bodie had phrased his offer to stress the convenience of the set-up rather than his true reasons.

So what now?

About to call a halt to his futile investigations, Doyle froze as his eyes automatically scanned the title on the opposite page. THE NYMPH'S REPLY TO THE SHEPHERD by Sir Walter Raleigh. According to the short introduction, it was the most widely accepted companion piece to Marlowe's poem. With a peculiar knot of dread twisting his empty stomach, Doyle read on:

If all the world and love were young
And truth in every shepherd's tongue
These pretty pictures might me move
To live with thee and be thy love.

Time drives the flocks from field to fold,
When rivers rage and rocks grow cold,
And Philomel becometh dumb;
The rest complains of cares to come.

The flowers do fade, and wanton fields
To wayward winter reckoning yields;
A honey tongue, a heart of gall
In fancy's spring, but sorrow's fall.

Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy bed of roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies,
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

Thy belt of straw and ivy buds,
Thy coral clasps and amber studs,
All these in me no means can move,
To come to thee and be thy love.

But could youth last and love still breed,
Had joys no date, nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might move
To live with thee and be thy love.

Shaken by the bleak dismissal of the joyous, love filled offer of the previous poem, Doyle reviewed the impossible conditions set down in the last quatrain, mystified as to how any of it pertained to them.

Forever? Was that what Bodie thought he'd been asking for? Could his partner believe that his light comment had been meant to lock him into an unwanted commitment? That seemed to be the only feasible possibility. The only other choice was an incredibly cryptic rejection--which was exactly how Bodie had taken it, right down to an apology for ever making the suggestion.

Doyle slammed the book shut, glaring at its aged facade as though it were personally responsible for the events of the last two hours.

Damn it, Bodie couldn't be that insecure! Not after all they'd shared. An aversion to commitment, Doyle could understand, having the same hang-up. But, when being brutally honest, wasn't that in itself motivated by a fear of rejection? Never let them get close, that way when they became disgusted with the demands of the job and dumped you, it didn't hurt. Theoretically.

Was it the same for Bodie? Could his partner possibly believe he'd dump him?

No great amount of effort was required to recall the tension tightening Bodie's powerful form, even through the happy haze that his partner's offer had caused, Doyle had noticed it. In retrospect, it almost seemed as if Bodie had expected nothing but a rejection from him.

Stifling a curse, Doyle leaped to his feet. The bloody idiot! How could anyone in CI5 be that dense?

His charge to the car faltered in the living room as he paused to consider. What was he going to do, race over to his partner's and make fools of them both? In this state, his temper was sure to get the better of him, and, reluctantly, it was occurring to Doyle that none of his rage was really directed at Bodie.

This was all his own fault, Doyle admitted, his brilliant no strings strategy. He'd given such an artful performance, covered his feelings for Bodie so well that his lover was unaware they existed.

Bodie knew that he wanted him, that he lusted after him. Doyle had shown up on his doorstep in the middle of the night or invited his partner back to his home enough for him to be sure of that much. But as for anything more... Doyle had been too careful. True, every move towards increased intimacy had been initiated by him--Bodie seeming to wait until Doyle suggested something first before chancing it himself—but even there it was always delivered along the line of `Do it for the experience,' not because he wanted to get closer to him.

How could Bodie be sure of him when not once had the word love been mentioned between them? He kept hearing his partner's voice as it sounded that first night, the hushed whisper telling him that he wasn't physically frightened of Doyle. But emotionally? Every action, every hesitation, even the gentleness that Doyle so loved in his mate all bespoke of deep uncertainty. Could it be that Bodie handled him like antique porcelain not because he thought he would break, but for fear he'd bolt?

Only one way to find out, Doyle thought, heading to his room to prepare for battle.

*~*~*

Suitcase in hand, Doyle stood before Bodie's door. The flat was one of CI5's classier Victorian numbers--all marble hallways, brass banisters and dark wood doors. Although he kidded his partner no end about the place being out of Bodie's league, privately he thought that its understated elegance suited his lover quite well.

But tonight such irrelevancies were far from his troubled mind. He noted the deep luster of the door's finish only because it served as an inadequate mirror. Nervously, he checked his appearance. The clinging white pullover shirt with its bright bands of color across the chest was one of Bodie's favorites. At home, he'd thought it complemented the tight black cords and new black leather jacket perfectly, but the distorted reflection in the dark mahogany made him out to be a twisted gnome, certainly not the sprite elf Bodie sometimes called him when in an especially mischievous mood. Ignoring the unflattering vision, he ran a hand through his disorderly hair. More than damp, the curls were still wet from his hasty shower, the waterlogged strands cold to the touch. So much for the clean, sweet smelling tempter he'd hoped to be. With a wry smile, he wondered if Bodie got off on clammy trolls.

Taking a last breath, he inserted his key into the lock and brazenly strolled into Bodie's flat.

As on the previous night, the pitch blackness of the place was nearly impenetrable to the eye. Just as he'd known then that the flat was empty as soon as he'd stepped over the threshold, tonight he sensed its occupation. More than the subtle scent of scotch wafting through the air told him the rooms were inhabited: there was a certain feel to the place when his partner was here that he could never have explained to Cowley. Usually, it was a warm, bright feeling that immediately lifted his spirits, but tonight the mood was as unrelentingly dark as his surroundings.

That, at least, could be immediately remedied. Under different circumstances he would've smiled at the memory of the production Bodie had made over having to retighten the light bulb.

His groping hand stopped at a nearby movement. The living room couch. Bodie was closer than he'd thought.

"Ray?" An uncertain voice whispered from the dark.

Unable to distinguish more than a silhouette huddled in the sofa's shadows, he flicked on the overhead light.

Once he'd recovered from the vicious onslaught of light, his gaze fixed on his lover, who was still blinking blindly up at him. At that moment there was a look about Bodie that reminded him very much of a young child who'd been told that big boys don't cry and who was valiantly trying to imitate his elders, a little boy very much in need of a hug. His partner's pride forbade such a reaction, much as his own reticence once had, but at that instant Doyle ached to do it. He comforted himself with the thought that when this was all sorted out there would be no such foolish restrictions remaining between them.

Considering the near-empty scotch bottle on the end table, the piercing stare that finally settled upon him was surprisingly sober. The wariness in the depths of those vivid blue eyes was unsettling, used as he was to seeing them brighten at his arrival.

Steeling his nerves against the silent accusation, Doyle pasted a smile on his face. "Just like you it is, ask me to move in and then leave me to do all the work," he greeted with false cheer, plopping his suitcase noisily by the green armchair and shrugging his way out of his jacket before sinking down into its soft cushions. "So what's so important that you couldn't give me time to pack me nightie?"

There was no verbal response, but Bodie's gaze swiveled away, coming to rest upon the tan carpet between his dark socked feet.

"Bodie?" he prompted gently.

"Ray, before, what I said, didn't mean to..."

Midway through the pathetically transparent lie, Doyle shifted over to the settee. Bodie's last word faltered as he lifted the lightly stubbled chin, guiding the reluctant head around to face him. The stark misery he read there hurt.

"I think I know how you feel in here," Doyle admitted, tapping the left side of Bodie's chest with his forefinger. Amazingly, Bodie's left nipple gave immediate confirmation to his supposition by popping up to a firm peak under the tight black polo. Doyle gulped, humbled by the unwilled reaction. He continued, "But 've no idea of what's happening in here." His fingers softly settled on the center of his partner's forehead.

Bodie's eyes blinked closed, his features contorted with strain. Doyle couldn't tell if his partner were savoring the sensation or fighting against it. The latter, he thought. The tiny parting of the sensitive lips and rapid rise and fall of the chest beneath the midnight black of the shirt's material did bring to mind the helpless surrender Doyle often felt, but with Bodie it was different. Whereas Doyle reveled unashamedly in the sensation, his partner seemed to resist it, as if frightened of what it might bring. Many times Doyle had seen that same desperate expression, half ecstasy, half suffering, and realized that he was circumventing nearly unassailable barriers. But even in his vulnerability, there was an inapproachability to Bodie, a caution that kept his heart forever beyond reach.

Forever? Everything within Doyle rebelled against that bleak prophesy.

He stroked down the softness of Bodie's face, trying to soothe the tension away. "Let me know what's goin' on in here. Don't hide from me anymore, Bodie, please."

Scrunched eyelids snapped open. Cornered, trapped... Doyle read it all there, and knew that he could ask no more of his partner. If he pushed, Bodie would tell him what he needed to hear, but it would hurt the other man. Doyle decided that any risks now would be taken by him. "Be easier all around, it would, if I could touch your soul as easy as your body."

"Why?" Bodie questioned his wistful statement, the guarded narrowing of his eyes more appropriate to the Prince of Darkness asking for his soul than a lover for his heart.

Doyle tried not to respond to the mistrust behind it, but his good intentions melted in a blaze of irritation. " 'cause then you'd see how I felt about you, you dense blackguard."

A tiny smile lighted the pouting lips, but the wariness never left Bodie's gaze. "How's that, then? How you feel 'bou' me?"

Doyle caught the hand making its nerve-shattering way down his chest towards the bulge in his too tight cords, all anger killed by the resignation in the watching eyes. Was that all Bodie thought he felt for him, lust? "Not that," he moderated the sharpness of the denial, "leastways not now."

"Then why'd you come here?" Tiredness overrode Bodie's usual patience, the tone of voice one generally reserved for Cowley's machinations.

"You mean why, besides bein' invited?"

"I didn't mea..."

"I know. You didn't mean to invite me to live with you. Fine. Came so's I could tell you something."

"What?"

His partner was certainly not making this easy for him. Somehow his imagination had always assumed that Bodie would want to hear what he had to say to him. Doyle had had warmer reactions upon pulling his friend from some bird's bed on one of the Cow's midnight escapades in the past. "Our... arrangement," Doyle stumbled, disheartened by the lack of encouragement, "it's not working for me anymore."

A choked off gasp came from Bodie's throat, the lush lashed eyes snapping tightly shut. Confused, Doyle watched the play of emotion across the expressive features, not understanding what his words must have sounded like until they reopened and he saw the desolation and loss within. Bodie was steeled to accept his goodbye, Doyle realized. There were no tears, no surprise even, only a dismal sense of inevitability.

" 's not what I meant," Doyle quickly reassured, grabbing hold of a tight clenched fist. The locked muscles would not relax under his stroking hand. As he searched his mind for the words that would make this all better, he raised the powerful appendage that was capable of such destruction to his face and rubbed it against his skin. Long before the healing words were found, he felt the fist uncurl, the fingers clench in his still-damp curls. "Not the arrangement, just the no strings part of it."

That, at least, brought a reaction to the protective blankness of the mask guarding Bodie's features. Curiosity entered, but caution was still uppermost apparent.

"I broke the rule, mate," Doyle confessed. "Know we promised no commitment, no involvement. I just thought you should know that's changed for me."

"Changed?" Bodie asked, as if not understanding the word.

Reading the hope brightening Bodie's gaze to an unbearably vivid blue, Doyle continued. "It doesn't have to for you. I'm not asking you to let me move in, or for anything more than you already give me. Thought you should know that I... well, that 'm in love with you."

Bodie gasped, the fingers curled in his hair falling to grip his shoulder. The other hand rose to skim his facial features, the touch light as the brush of thistledown in a smooth autumn breeze. "Ray, you are really here, aren't you?"

Doyle pulled his partner close, gathering him into that hug he'd so wanted to give earlier. "For as long as you want me to be." He leaned forward to kiss the nearby, scotch flavored mouth.

When he pulled away breathless sometime later, Doyle could feel his partner trembling.

"Would always be too much to ask for?" Bodie whispered.

Doyle smiled, reading the uncertainty that was still in his friend, but knowing that it was now only a matter of time. Bodie would come to believe in him soon. It wouldn't happen overnight or through anything he could say to him in the next few hours, but through the steady demonstration of his own feelings. Bodie had asked him for forever. That was all he could ever ask for.

"Too much? Nah, not for all we've got to do, mate," Doyle declared, pulling Bodie down on top of him as he hooked their lower bodies onto the sofa.

The End

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