I can--I'll swear it, always, no matter what--pinpoint the exact moment in eternity when I fell in love with Ray Doyle.
The day was perfect autumn; a mid-November afternoon with a robin's-egg-blue sky dotted with cotton-wool clouds. Picture-postcard perfect, it was; all the cliches rolled into one exquisite span of time. Birch leaves, strewn across the pavements like gold doubloons scattered by a careless hand, crunched into a sprinkling of fairy dust beneath our pounding feet. The world seemed a heady treasure-trove of colours and textures, with the sun glinting golden light off the very chimney pots themselves. I don't have the art in me to describe it; it was just...right.
When Markles took a right, Doyle took a left, heading down a barely seen path into the nether regions of the sprawling heath-like park. Trusting without thinking, I followed Doyle's slim, fleet figure, letting the others trail Markles. Adrenaline bubbled in my veins, a giddy cocktail of tension and burgeoning excitement, the run-run-run rhythm of my feet in concert with Doyle's trainer-shod speed an anthem of power and fitness and skill we sang together. That we would run down Markles wasn't in question; it was clear in that moment that the man's sprint served a single purpose: to showcase Doyle's thrilling competence and quickness. The dagger-thrust quickness of his mind as well as the perfect song that was his body.
I was content to follow, my longer stride yet exercised to its capacity by the churning speed of the more compact body racing familiarly ahead, setting the pace and marking the path, as Doyle naturally led in all things, those of the body and those of the mind. Doyle the independent, the skilled, the remote. The unique.
So we're all unique. Some, as we all know, are that much more unique; and finer, oh, so very much finer.
And so I followed, content, and more than content, to trail the broad-shouldered, narrow-hipped figure as he led me from sunshine into shadow. To follow blindly and willingly from the clearly marked, golden-glinting path to a weaving run through a formal garden of rhodos and laurel and beds of late-blooming roses. Spiny-armed pines stood sentinel around the edges of the garden while scabby-barked plane trees held aloft obscene globes of mistletoe as big as beehives, tangled cuckoo growths as unruly as the curly head that marked the beacon I gladly followed.
It was a day made for falling in love. The building of exhilaration took me step-by-step to the exuberance of the moment when Doyle led me unerringly back into the sun-glare and straight into a rugby tackle at the powerful but out-manoeuvred Markles. With a war-cry as pagan and guttural as the desires clamouring in my blood, I followed yet again, to the final victory. Launched myself at the burly form of our quarry, adding my weight and powered-up strength to Doyle's own. Together, we fused into an entity stronger than our individual selves, and far more potent than the twenty-stone behemoth with a nasty habit of using kiddies to flog his drugs in schoolyards across south London. What he did with the gun-buying proceeds from those transactions was even more to the point. Cowley wanted this man. This man would soon, thanks to Doyle, be privileged with a private introduction to the Controller of CI5, a force of nature that was a treat to experience--as long as someone else was the object in its cataclysmic path.
I struggled to wrestle the beefy arms into handcuffs while Doyle applied a vise-like headlock. As the snarling baboon's face ascended the red spectrum of the rainbow from pink right through to puce, Doyle's own gargoyle face watched with a professional's finely tuned eye for the exact moment of submission. It came with a relaxing of the entire heavy body, like the final death-twist of a flopping whale stranded on a beach. The arms lost their resistance, the bulldog body submitted to the terriers fastened on it, and Doyle's chipped tooth gleamed in an exhilarated grin of triumph as he released his hold on the neck now blotched with red.
I stared at the seeming delicacy of Doyle's fine-boned hands as he flexed them. The fingers were long and tapered, and the gleam of a silver bangle around one slim wrist offered a further deceptive indicator of fragility rather than power. I noticed blood on his left knuckles, possibly from a blow at the thick jaw, or possibly from scraping against the path during the take-down. I watched, mesmerised, my own hands lax now around our prisoner's limp arms, hearing only at a remove Markle's wheezing gasps and the pounding that heralded the nearing of the rest of the team. My sight taking predominance over the rest of my senses, I watched as Doyle raised his hand absently to his mouth and licked at the blood.
I hadn't thought my heart could pound any harder than it already was, but it was an electric train now zooming past the steam locomotive it had been. I noticed the texture of the fine skin on the brown hand and the contrast with the thick callused pads on the finger tips and palm as the hand rotated so Doyle could lick at the cuts. My eyes moving inexorably from the hand to the full mouth touching it, I saw the movement of the very muscles under the skin pull the face into a grimace as Doyle tasted the iron-bitterness of his own blood, and spat out some bit of grit that had adhered to his tongue. A flick of pink over the shapely mouth offered an incongruous hint of fastidiousness even during the ghoulish task of cleaning his lips of blood.
Shapes approached at a trot in my peripheral vision, urgency put aside as the others saw the situation was under control. I remained aware of them only at a remove, fixed wholly on Doyle. Who looked up at me with a sudden bright smile that transmuted the goblin-grimace of concentration into a breath-catching sweetness comprising satiety and fulfillment and triumph.
And at that precise moment, that one moment in all eternity, I lost my heart. It exited my body with the purpose and speed of the Inter-City 125 and arrived in milliseconds at its ordained--or foreordained, perhaps--destination. One-way trip. No return. My heart lodged itself in Ray Doyle's essence, and I couldn't get it back.
Not even though it was, quite plainly and unequivocally, an unwanted lodger.
George Cowley died on the operating table at 1806 on the 23rd day of February. It was his second trip into the theatre since the explosion, and the third time his strained heart had stopped. This time, the inevitable became fact.
No D-Notice could stop the news from being reported. The controversial Controller of CI5 was dead, the victim of a car bomb planted by one of the very groups of home-grown terrorists that had prompted the organisation's original mandate.
Cowley's driver was maimed for life, her left leg amputated above the knee; trapped in the wreck of the car, she had suffered third-degree burns over her torso and face before the paramedics were able to cut her out--to cut out, at any rate, part of her. She had a fifty-fifty chance of survival. She looked like a half-bandaged mummy, the skinless flesh showing as brown and desiccated as a corpse's, the heavily bound stump marking the vile attenuation under the draped sheet. She moaned continuously, a piteous low throb of sound that the heavy drugs muted, but never stopped. I took the low, harsh sound into myself as a keening wail, feeling in it, with conscious fancifulness, an instinctual mourning for the lives shattered with her own.
The agent who had been assisting Cowley that day also had an even chance of recovery, or not. Thrown clear, he had suffered back and neck injuries. His body too swollen yet to determine the extent of the damage, he lay utterly still, unnaturally quiet, an unnerving contrast to Pettifer. Vocal and mute, they were the Janus faces of anguish, the absent but omnipresent representations of loss at the funeral.
I stood with the phalanx of my fellow agents at the graveside, black-coated, shoulders slumped with exhaustion I hadn't the will to disguise. My eyes were gritty with pain that had little to do with the Controller's passing and the driver's maiming, earth-shattering as those events were. All I was truly aware of as I stared at the polished ebony coffin and the shrouds and trappings of death, absorbed into the harsh solemnity of it all, was Doyle: Doyle's stillness, Doyle's silence, his absence. Most cutting of all, the warping of the aching perfection that had been Doyle alert and mobile.
Weeks passed, a doldrums of stasis in a world turned chaotic. Ruth Pettifer survived two bouts of pneumonia, an almost-fatal infection in the stump, and never-ending pain. Her sad, low keening tapered off into proud resignation, a stoic if angry submission to the inevitable, as the drugs were reduced and she regained the clarity of awareness. When she was transferred to a security forces' convalescent hospital, members of the Squad, harried as we were, rallied to send off one of our own in a last collective act of support. And relief followed, that one at least would survive, even as we scattered again to our new jobs, our new realities.
I spent my free hours at the bedside in the private room where the shell that held my heart lay unvaryingly still. The brown curls, kept shorn for ease of care, were no longer shot through with auburn strands, and the grey at the temples seemed more pronounced than I'd ever before noticed. The body itself was no longer the healthy honey-brown that had charmed me; the sore-marked skin seemed to grow more pallid in step with the lessening of the spirit within the thinned-down form.
He seemed to retreat from me in incremental steps, but I guarded jealously both my hope and my place at his side. I'd fought everyone, both officials and otherwise, who had attempted to deny me either the right to be with him or my conviction that I was the person he needed most, the one person who could heal him. No one could love him as much as I did; the thought simply wasn't conceivable. I kept doubts at bay with fierce single-mindedness, locking them away like hounds in a kennel, refusing to let them touch me.
Most of all, I fought Doyle for the right to keep my hope alive, and to guard my place at his side. I fought the knowledge in his blank eyes each time he looked at me. Time was all we needed, Doyle and I. Time would make him whole, again; and make him mine.
It was spring now, the days warming, the nights no longer crisp. The birch leaves weren't pirate's gold, but emerging green caterpillars, unfurling their soft newness with the promise of life's continuance. My thoughts, though, kept returning to that moment when time had briefly, for aeons, frozen, and I had surrendered my heart and my soul into the keeping of the man who lay before me, always in reach and yet even more untouchable now than he'd been on that magical November day.
Then it was summer, and the birch leaves fluttered like captive butterflies with pretty green wings whose serrated edges led to pointed tips. And another autumn followed and they scattered to the cooling earth, looking like fool's gold, a messy carpet of nature's detritus, awaiting in vain the strong, quick feet that would pound them into fairy dust. Winter came and showed the bleakness of bare branches, denuded lives.
Doyle was out of the convalescent hospital. No point in his staying longer, the doctors said. He could make a full recovery, they said, but he lacked the will. Something died that day in the blazing wreck of the car; something other, yet more crucial, than his body. There was neither green nor gold in him now; just twigs and silence, and a greyness over all.
I had dreamt often of Doyle's submitting to me. Not physically or sexually, not in the obvious ways. No, my cherished fantasy was that, one day, Doyle would recognise inside that remote, independent spirit of his a dependence on me, a need for me, an emotional thirst that could be quenched only by drinking at the fount of the love that flowed without cease from me to him. That Doyle would submit to that need and see in it desire--even love--so together we could triumph.
Doyle submitted now. He always submitted. Grey and yet waif-like, his eyes set always on an inner space--a place unshared, but hardly impenetrable--he lay calmly under my massaging hands as I strove to ease the stiffness from his scarred back. He made no demur, verbal or figurative, whatever my hands did to him. He submitted to being dressed and undressed at set times of the day, to being fed, to being given tablets, to being forced to perform rote exercises to keep his fragile body from losing all its elasticity, all hope of a return of strength and independence. He submitted to loving ministrations with a detached forbearance that hurt; that hurt too much to be borne.
I held in my hands the bare bleak twigs that were Doyle, and I mourned as I hadn't been able to mourn for Cowley or the demise of CI5 or the fracturing of my own life's course. Along with those other agents who had resisted being inducted into surviving departments of the restructured security forces, I had been pensioned off. Not a luxurious pension, but sufficient--along with Doyle's more generous disability pension, which he apathetically signed over to me each week with an unsteady hand--to free me to centre myself on the focal point of my existence. To nurture Doyle. To try, with a generosity and unselfishness that it astonished me to find in myself, to seek out and fan one single flame of life inside the broken, battered, weary shell that had once been so fine a man that the perfection of him took your breath away.
Of course, Doyle still had that effect on me. Couldn't help it, could I? A churning, insatiable fixation tied me to the beauty that once was and would always be Raymond Bloody Doyle. The beauty still shone for me despite the dull eyes and the quiet face that never showed a spark of animation. Despite even the pain of seeing the hopeless uncaring with which Doyle greeted each new day, each of my smiles, each new gambit to try to reach the curious, vibrant man who had once inhabited this body. Or a version of this body, at least; a less thin, less scarred, less stiff and helpless and fragile one. The seeming delicacy that had characterised the healthy Doyle was now the reality.
He rarely spoke. He didn't share the thoughts that must have teemed behind his wide, blank eyes. There was no brain damage; on that point, the doctors were emphatic. They couldn't decide why Doyle wasn't getting better as he should have, could only speak vaguely of a lack of will, a loss of impetus, but they and all their tests agreed that, mentally, Doyle was the same man he had always been.
Any family? they continued to ask, as though the question would get a different answer this week or this month. Anyone special to him, a lover, a close friend? Anyone who could make a connection with him, make him want to live, make him care?
I hid the pain the questions gave me--I, as they all knew, Doyle's guardian, his caretaker, his constant, sole companion. "No," I said; repeating it patiently and guiltily. "No one. Just me."
Only me to provide the stimulus Doyle needed to make him want to live. But all my love couldn't put back together the Humpty-Dumpty that was Ray Doyle. My heart belonged to Doyle, but Doyle's--Doyle's heart was gone from him. Doyle had given away his heart just as surely as I had given mine to him.
My heart couldn't fill Doyle with the spirit he needed to live. Doyle needed his own heart back; he needed his own heart's desire. Guilty, I hid the knowledge from myself with all the tenacity that had once made me one of Cowley's finest.
Until the moment came, the one moment in eternity when I could deny it no longer. Only then, at last accepting it, and mourning all over again, would I set out on my quest to win back Doyle's heart for him.
"It's supposed to rain all day," I said, the usual inconsequential chatter to fill the silence as I carefully exercised the thin legs while Doyle lay in the warm jets of water in the bath. "Again. Bloody way to start the year."
The day after New Year's is a tawdry time. The dregs of the holiday still hanging in the shops and people's homes, looking seedy yet somehow disconcertingly warming in their familiarity, like a guest who has outstayed his welcome but has become insidiously like one of the family. The tree I'd brought home and carefully decorated, hoping to put a sparkle, however brief, into emotionless eyes, sat drooped and shedding on the table in the front room window. The angel on top was askew. Had been for days. I noticed it every time I glanced at the bloody thing, but Doyle never mentioned it. Doyle probably hadn't noticed it, askew or not. Doyle's eyes had no shine.
"Danced in the rain once."
The soft voice made me pause in startlement, so rarely was it heard.
"Yeah?" I managed, keeping my own voice quiet, Doyle's rare periods of reaching out like a wild bird alighting briefly on your knee. Crucial not to scare him off.
"A group of us from the art college shared digs. The landlady was a prim Tartar six days of the week, but, every Friday night, she got soused down the local. We had some good parties, those nights. Wild. And one night, it rained. It was late spring, warm, almost sultry, and we danced in the courtyard till we were soaked. I've never forgotten that. Always fancied doing it again."
When I was sure the voice would say no more, I reached out carefully and brushed back a curl from the blue-veined temple. I leaned forward and let my lips brush the slight pulse of the blood close under the skin there, one of the rare intimacies I allowed myself.
"I'll dance with you in the rain," I whispered, daring more than I had for weeks in cautious return for Doyle's sharing more than he had since before the bomb, "if you'll just get on your feet again, mate. Just help me help you, and we could dance all night."
The eyes, wide and candid, too clear in the pale January light, settled on me with a sad knowingness.
"Poor Stu," the husky voice murmured, utterly tender, as Doyle had never spoken to me before, and my heart pounded with surging hope.
But the limpid eyes closed and the voice fell still and Doyle was gone again, shut up inside his own fastness. Where perhaps it rained sultry drops as big as walnuts and his body was lithe and agile and potent, and he danced the dance of life in the nourishing medium of water with the owner of his heart, his missing heart. His aching, missing heart.
I'll always cling to that moment in eternity when I fell in love with Ray Doyle--that time of mingled gold and blood, and adrenaline pulsing in my veins, and our shared strength singing a glorious anthem to life--but what I remember with secret clarity is the moment of Doyle's tender retreat that finally banished all hope of love ever being returned. The moment when I finally admitted the stark truth that I would never be the one who could bring Doyle back to life.
It took me three days to track down Bodie. I staked out the mews flat--not bad, private security work obviously paid well--and arranged our meeting in the privacy of an alley leading to a favoured club. He was puffy-eyed, a little dissipated-looking, a bit thicker in the girth, but he was aware of my presence before I showed myself, and reached a hand for some weapon or other with a speed that still impressed before he saw who I was, and stopped, and waited.
I spoke briefly, succinctly, the words rehearsed yet as bitter as aloes on my tongue nonetheless: "He needs you."
I turned and walked away, not waiting for a response, glad in a remote way of the lack of tremor in my step, of my straight stance, though I had to hide my hands in my pockets to muffle the giveaway twitches. I heard nothing behind me, no sound at all, and pictured the boots set and still on the pavement, neither moving away from nor following me. I walked back to my car and I didn't look back, yet the presence so well known of old was back in my life, crowding me out. I'd tried to banish it from both our lives; fool, what a fool, oh what fools....
When I got home, I moved quietly into the larger bedroom and crouched by the bed. Dull, sullen light came through the thin curtains; Doyle preferred not to sleep in a heavy blackout. I'd wondered often if Doyle had always been like that, or if it was an effect of the accident. Not that it mattered; in this, as in everything else possible, I gave Doyle what he wanted. The very few wishes Doyle expressed, I strove to fulfill. Every one. And spent the rest of my time struggling to answer those wishes that were never expressed. All except one, which I had ignored; until now.
I touched a curl that the light made even more silvery than it actually was. Just a touch, a bare taking for myself of something that Doyle wouldn't begrudge, but would never offer. Just a touch on clean soft springy hair, the most lively survivor of the old Doyle. Doyle didn't stir.
No touch of mine had ever stirred Doyle, nor ever could.
"He's coming," I whispered, to possibly unhearing ears, or possibly ears that would hear what Doyle needed to hear, and take it into the deepest part of himself where it had been long awaited.
Twelfth Night marked the end of the holiday season, and about bleeding time, too. I'd just finished dragging the ragged tree outside and was rubbing my hair dry when the summons came. It had taken him just one day to suss out the address. He always was the best--one of the two best. The finest of the Cow's finest.
Or maybe he'd always known where Doyle was. And waited, for the inevitable summons.
I opened the door and let the presence in. Vital, broad, dark, Bodie seemed to fill the hall. I realised I'd lived so long with a spectre of life that being close to a person who was truly alive was unsettling. Had I died, too, inside? But I didn't bother to follow the tendril of thought; not important, was it.
I looked at the closed, hard face. Bodie was always blankest when he felt the most. That was the way of it.
Bodie'd never been more granite-faced than the day he'd looked at Cowley dead in the morgue and then stared down at Doyle, still and helpless and not much like Doyle. Lying on his belly, arms in restraints to stop him from moving as the doctors had monitored the swelling up his spinal column, he'd really not been Doyle at all. A new Doyle, a Doyle in extremity of need.
Bodie had stood staring down, as still as Doyle himself, barely seeming to breathe, for a full quarter-hour. In my hovering vigil at the foot of the bed, the place to where I'd been exiled by Bodie's precipitous return from a conference in Durham he'd been overseeing, I'd felt in the very pit of me the marking of each of those excruciating moments like a tiny hammer blow on a sore spot. That my exile from Doyle's side would be permanent, I had no doubt, yet I refused to give ground without a struggle. I cached my despair under a passionate anger that it should be so, that I should have no right to bend my fierce devotion to Doyle's well-being, and flung my challenge mutely at Bodie. I was determined that this man, of all the people I was prepared to fight for Doyle, would know the strength of my devotion. My determination was unwavering; what I'd lacked was hope.
But Bodie's granite face had grown harder, and he'd turned, and he'd walked away. To pause next to me, midnight-cold eyes measuring--and warning, I'd long reckoned. I'd faced him with all the passion and commitment and strength of purpose in me, flinging it at him, a gauntlet of power and will. He'd stared at me, his face unreadable, then nodded, once, before turning and striding from the room. Why Bodie had left that day had never been clear to me, but I'd hidden deep in my cache of secret guilts and resentments the inkling that Doyle was a trust I was being offered, not the gift I had convinced myself he was.
To Doyle...well. To Doyle, the fact of Bodie's desertion was a fissure into which he'd fallen and never managed to climb back out again.
"Anyone?" the doctors had persisted in asking. "Anyone at all who could connect with him...."
And: "No," I'd said, every time. "No one. No one but me."
I felt the rawness of what I'd done revealed on my face, emotions naked and exposed, for Bodie to see and judge. Watched the dark eyes narrow, gauging, grasping the truth. That I'd betrayed Doyle, abused him, really, by denying him what he needed months before. That I'd betrayed Bodie's implicit trust that I could be what Doyle needed, that I would know how to look after him.
Cocked it up, that was the truth. I thought I loved Doyle, but loved myself more. Hurt him, that's all. That's all.
Bodie turned on his heel away from me as though I were of no consequence. I stood bereft and lost in the centre of the home I'd tried to make for Doyle, watching as the strong figure walked with surety towards the bed that I still and always approached tentatively. Saw the way Bodie sat on the bed as if he belonged, bending over the motionless figure, one square hand threading through curls grown long again to cradle the precious skull.
I watched as Doyle's eyes opened at the touch, blinking to focus, the way they always did, then widening until they seemed overwhelmingly large in his thin face. Set on Bodie, those eyes were, with a wonderment as though he were staring at the Wizard of Oz himself. Bodie said nothing, just touched Doyle's face, stroking a finger down his cheek while maintaining that strong, gentling connection with his partner's head, fingers lost amongst the curls.
"You're wet," Doyle said, in a voice that was a croak of sound, weak and dazed.
"It's raining," Bodie murmured, bent close, both hands touching, his body a shield so all I could see was the broad, leather-clad back.
I couldn't see Doyle's face. Couldn't hear the forced small voice, either, as Bodie bent even closer, more encompassing, blanketing Doyle with protectiveness. All my straining senses caught was a whisper of sound that was given to Bodie alone.
I could hear Bodie's broken murmur of response, though, fractures in the deep voice like shrapnel thudding into flesh: "We'll dance in the rain, Ray. C'mere."
Bodie gathered up the too-slender body in strong, careful arms, pushing down the warm covers, then pausing and looking about.
I forced myself to move, fetching the warm robe and reaching to help Bodie wrap it around Doyle. Bodie, however, warned me off with a look from narrowed eyes and a hand raised, flat-palmed, adamant. I backed off, watching as he carefully, though awkwardly, fit Doyle's helplessness into the folds and drew the ties closed. There were already thick socks on Doyle's feet; always had cold feet, Doyle did.
Bodie lifted his partner, arms sliding under knees and around the scarred, stiff back with unthinking ease.
I watched, morbidly, helplessly distant. I'd lifted Doyle that way hundreds of times in the past months. Lifted him from the bed, to the bed, into the bath and out, onto the sofa or, on the very good days, into a chair. Lifted him, gauging the decline, the increasing lightness, the bones themselves seeming to thin like a bird's. I knew what it felt like when Bodie eased himself to his feet, pushing with his knees to lift the weight, relatively slight as it now was.
Doyle slowly raised and slid an arm around Bodie's neck. Doyle'd never done that before. Not once. He'd never reached out in any way at all. Never answered a touch, or initiated one.
Never called any name in his sleep; except one.
Bodie stood, Doyle nestled in the crook of his arm, the long body draped over his other arm, white toweling robe pristine against damp dark leather. Bodie steadied his balance, then turned and strode to the door.
I opened it, stilling my instinctive protests against cold and the ever-present danger of pneumonia and the need always to protect. Not my right; not succeeded, anyway, had I? I hadn't protected Doyle from anything except the one person he had needed.
Bodie stood in the centre of the small garden, the figure in his arms a beacon to draw the eyes, catching and reflecting the diffused light of the street lamps. The stair-rod rain sliced down at them, sluicing over them, surrounding and embracing them. Bodie waited, eyes fixed on Doyle, whose face was hidden against his shoulder. Bodie waited, an impatient man who had always had a bottomless well of patience for his prickly, demanding, unpredictable partner.
The pale disk of the face lifted at last, glistening instantly with damp, wetness like tears soaking him. When the pretty, wide eyes, blinking in the torrent, meshed with the steady gaze above, Bodie moved. He turned slowly in a circle, sturdy legs wide set to steady himself and his burden. Turned slowly, so slowly, but steadily and gracefully and sweetly in the rain, dancing with his Doyle, because Doyle wanted it, and those who loved Doyle had to give him what he wanted, or, if that wasn't possible, then had to make sure he had what he needed.
Why had Bodie left Doyle to me? How could Bodie not have known? How could Bodie have given up what Doyle offered him, so patently offered to Bodie alone?
Guilty, both of us. Bodie of leaving Doyle, me of taking Doyle as a gift to which I'd had no right.
My eyes caught as Bodie's slow, stately turning gave me a view of Doyle's face. Shining with wet and awakening life, eyes fixed on the gaze fixed on him, Doyle smiled. The thin face, deceptively silvered into a semblance of glowing vitality, smiled up at Bodie. I hadn't seen Doyle smile, truly smile, since before the bomb. I hadn't seen any life in Doyle since that day. I ached with the beauty of that smile, the exhilaration of it, like that day in the park when he'd smiled at me, when I'd known, when I'd felt fulfilled and happy and excited at the prospect of loving this complicated but rewarding man, this unique man.
Thin-faced, now, thin all over, a wrist that had been slim now bony, the body stiff and scarred and nigh useless. And was it too late? The doctors' urgency had become a sounding brass, warnings timpanning into my brain.
"Find some way to get through to him, or someone who can connect with him, make him want to live, or it will be too late."
I felt the denial in myself even as I feared, truly feared, that it was indeed too late.
My attention shifted abruptly to Bodie's face. Ravaged in the pallid light, it suddenly crumpled, the granite melting away like limestone in acid. Stark and revealing in the brief glimpse I got, it rocked me into realisation of a truth I should have known before. I watched numbly as Doyle's arm tightened around his partner's neck, pulling the face down. How had I failed to understand that Bodie had never been the strong one of the pair? That Doyle's need for Bodie had never exceeded Bodie's for him. That, very possibly, Bodie was even more bereft without Doyle than Doyle was without Bodie. How had I failed to realise the magnitude of the sacrifice Bodie had made in trusting Doyle to the imagined power of my obsessive devotion?
We'd got it wrong, both of us. We'd both failed to understand that Doyle had never needed someone who could be strong for him. What Doyle had only and always needed, and needed now, was someone he could be strong for.
"'s all right now," I heard Doyle murmur, the sound threading like a lullaby through the pulse of the rain all around us, tender and strong with promise. "I'm here. I've got you."
I watched as the face as raw as fresh-cut steak hid itself in wet curls with a groan that shattered the quiet darkness as a thin arm offered the strength of love to the broad, virile body.
And I stood, watching the odd, perfect pair dance together the dance of life in a rain that presaged the unfurling of new life on bare-twig trees. And I felt my heart drop leaden and unwanted from within the thin silvered figure where it had uneasily lodged, respected but never wanted, and not needed, not ever needed.
Excluded and alone, I stood and I watched and I witnessed.