Bodie lay on his back in bed, his head pillowed on one arm. Next to him, a woman slept on her stomach, head turned away from him. Faceless. He couldn’t remember her name. He barely remembered she was there at all. He was thinking of the moment, only hours ago, when two sanctuaries had turned to prisons.
One, the forest, so different from the jungles where he’d once fought for his life and his living, next to men with whom he had those motives, and nothing else, in common. The beauty and quietude of the English wood had calmed him, its trees had sheltered him, and the man at his side, his partner, was as committed to Bodie’s life as he was to his own. Bodie, too, lived as much for Doyle as for himself. That certainty had become the cornerstone of his existence. The pair of them were inextricably bound, without rank, without obligation.
How dreadful, then, that the second sanctuary had been Doyle’s arms, and that it had been Doyle’s words that had broken it. Bodie remembered the sudden need to get away, when the embrace in which he’d revelled had started to choke him. And with that realisation, the wood was too quiet, its ethereal light sinister rather than beautiful, the scent of pine, moss and bark a miasma, and the trees began to loom, the canopy to oppress.
God, but he’d been glad to get home that afternoon. He’d been happy for hours, congratulating himself on his dual escape. The assignment hadn’t killed him, he’d stopped both himself and Doyle from making a terrible mistake regarding their personal relationship, and he had a day’s leave to look forward to tomorrow. He’d relaxed alone for a while, then consulted his little black book, and given Claudia — yes, that was her name, Claudia — a ring. He’d dressed in his best and taken her somewhere expensive for dinner, all soft light, highbrow music and other assorted decadence. As far from what he considered “real” life as he could get. And he’d been at his absolute suave, charming best. So Claudia was in his bed, and Bodie was ...
Not happy any longer.
With all the fervour of a devotion he’d given up denying, Bodie remembered everything Doyle had ever said to him. What he’d said that afternoon was the most vivid of all, being the most recent, and by far their most important conversation. Or rather, Doyle had talked, and Bodie had listened. Listened, and balked, and run.
But it had only been a stupid simile, clumsily uttered. Surely it was harmless. Surely Bodie had overreacted ...
Strangler fig, though? Christ. Of all the trees he could have chosen.
It had been clear enough, from Doyle’s puzzled and hurt expression, that he hadn’t realised what he’d said. Bodie wasn’t quite sure what he’d meant to say, but it wasn’t I will strangle the life out of you. He knew Doyle too well to believe that of him. It might just have been a metaphor for an embrace. They’d had their arms around each other at the time. But spoken alongside the other things he’d said, the idea had been frightening. Bodie hadn’t realised that Doyle could be so possessive. In a way it was flattering, and, if he thought about it, rather sweet. He’d been prepared to take it that way at first.
I’m never going to let you go, Doyle had said, and Bodie’s heart had soared, because that, combined with the look on his partner’s face before their first kiss, told him that it wasn’t mere lust, or fear, or adrenaline that brought them together. He wasn’t sure what had made him choose that moment to confess his feelings to Doyle, but he’d been so happy that he had. He had been expecting rejection, only to discover that Doyle felt the same. Perhaps Doyle’d had the same fears, and that was why he’d come over all proprietorial.
But no, it wasn’t just that. Bodie had taken the lead earlier on, deciding that they would run rather than fight. It had been the right decision, but it had obviously rankled Doyle. He’d been in a hell of a mood before Bodie had said he wanted him. The whole afternoon could probably be written off as a struggle for dominance. Natural enough — two strong-willed men, forced to work closely together. Oneupmanship was just part of that. It reared its head from time to time, but they always sorted it out. Overall there was no rank between them; it was, truly, a partnership, and they were bloody fantastic together.
So far, so good, but Ray Doyle was Ray Doyle, and that mood of his was not a rarity. And while Bodie could live with it in their working life, in a permanent relationship it would be intolerable. Even being charitable, considering that Doyle probably hadn’t known what he was saying, Bodie wondered if he had, inadvertently, described himself well. Doyle might leach the life out of him if they weren’t careful. He’d do it by the sheer strength of his feelings, and the liberties he’d take. Not that Bodie wouldn’t take liberties of his own — he’d said it himself, they treated each other like no one else would dare to, and that was good. But they had to stay equals. Bodie was happy to belong to Doyle, as long as Doyle was happy to belong to him in turn. If it became a battle, in which one of them was induced to surrender to the other, it would be a disaster.
Strangler fig. Could he compare Doyle to that?
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day ...
Shall I compare thee to a strangler fig? Bodie thought. Thou art more gorgeous ... and more dangerous.
But in this relationship, the tree in the middle would squeeze back. See how Doyle liked that. Bodie allowed himself a little smile of satisfaction. He was as strong as his partner, so why worry about the effect of being loved by him?
Why worry at all? In this relationship, the strangler fig might have been prone to moments of possessiveness, but it didn’t want to kill its host.
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun ...
Useful bloke, Shakespeare. He could use similes and metaphors with the best of them, but he’d also known how daft they were, how they could get in the way of true meaning. And what a useful thing was memory — how useful, in the end, was that swine Mr Jenkins, Bodie’s second-year English teacher, who’d made his pupils learn those bloody sonnets by heart and caned them if they forgot a line. Useful because Bodie still remembered how that particular sonnet resolved itself.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
Take that, strangler fig. Bodie’s decision was made. Not that he regretted his earlier misgivings. Doyle deserved to squirm for a while after the way he’d behaved, whether he’d really meant to or not. He had to see that Bodie wouldn’t be strangled, nor would he be owned unconditionally.
It would have to be done properly. Not in a desperate, adrenaline-fuelled moment after an assignment, when relief at being alive clouded any other issue. Nor could it be a moment like that one in the woods, when the next people they met could have been either friend or foe. Tomorrow they had a day’s leave. It would have to be then.
One way or another, Bodie was going to fix this. Or rather, he was going to see to it that he and Doyle fixed it together, as partners. That was the way it should be, the only way it could ever work. But if Bodie was certain of anything that night, it was that they loved each other enough to try.