- - -
- - -
Bodie put the photo into the pocket of the small rucksack and then froze for a moment, staring down at it. Sighing with frustration, he reached to take the photo out again, removing it from the protective envelope he’d found and returning the print to its packet.
Squaring his shoulders, he swiftly crossed the open plan layout of the flat he was currently occupying, retrieved some wine from the kitchen counter and put that into the bag instead, having first paused to contemplate the bottle’s label before shrugging helplessly.
He located and pocketed his train tickets to Cambridge, and threw his battered paperback of The IPCRESS File into the rucksack with the wine.
With all this stowed, he paused, still contemplating the bag. He was aware of breathing too quickly, too raggedly, so many days’ worth of anticipating this evening threatening to crash through him all at once.
Moving with slow self-consciousness, though no one was there to judge him, he bent down to the floor and picked up the packet of photos once more, flicking through to the print he’d held, packed and discarded earlier.
The print trembled very slightly in his hand.
It was not as if it were a photograph of the two of them together.
At least, it wasn’t meant to be.
Staring down at the picture, he turned it in the light. He’d come across the photos the day before, the paper packet of them stuffed into the back of a drawer where no doubt he’d left it without a second glance after having the film developed. They’d been of little interest to him; he rarely used his camera for anything personal, and these shots had only existed because his camera had been commandeered by a girl – Karen – he’d been seeing briefly the previous summer. She’d wanted posed shots of herself in a nice setting for her modelling portfolio, and so they’d taken a picnic to Regent’s Park one sunny Sunday. They’d broken up soon after, and she’d either forgotten the photos or wanted to avoid him sufficiently enough not to call for them, and so there they’d languished since.
If he’d lived a normal sort of life, the kind where junk piled on junk piled on old newspapers, insulating itself in general mess, he might never have seen the pictures again. But the fact of his life was that he was, just now, in the midst of relocating to another CI5-screened flat, on the same six-monthly cycle he’d been living with for over five years. By this point he had his moving routine down to a ruthless efficiency; he didn’t collect much personal rubbish anyway, and when time came to move on he packed only what he could fit into two cases and dumped everything else in a refuse sack. The contents of the drawer had been headed the latter way when he’d succumbed to idle interest and opened the packet, barely recalling what was within.
The official reasoning for keeping the agents moving on as they did was that being in one place more than six months was a security risk and made targeting them more possible. But, “They don’t want us to have homes at all,” had been Ray’s understanding of it, usually on days when he’d been grumpy and grousing, and so naturally the whole world had been wrong. “They don’t want us to have places or people that aren’t the business. They don’t want us to belong anywhere else, or know what else to do with ourselves.” And then he’d sink back into the sofa – whichever sofa in whichever house or flat either of them were in that month – and sigh heavily and take another swig of beer or sip of wine, or even gulp of water, if they were in the middle of a job. Bodie, recognising such situations as times when he and Ray saw things from such differing angles as to see completely different pictures as a result, would keep quiet.
But times like those were memories, not expectations, now. As always, this recollection briefly froze Bodie in place. Waves, hot and cold, were washing through him; fear and anger and confusion, a strange kind of furious dread. His life, what he’d considered his life, was only a memory – he still had trouble believing it.
Ray had once hated change. Bodie remembered being nigh on addicted to it. But look at them now
Bodie sank onto a chair and flipped through the photos again from the beginning. The first few were shots of the outside of a building that he’d taken to illustrate the wall-scaling exercises he’d set some new cadets. Then, Karen’s agenda took over and there came several similar images of her posing in a sun-hat in Regent’s Park, sometimes alongside Jenny – who’d been Ray’s date, that day – both of the girls pulling faces next to some faux-Grecian statuary. There were two ruined exposures – someone had left the lens cap on, most likely – and then a staid group shot that one of the girls must have begged off a passer-by – the four of them sitting round the picnic rug, Karen leaning her head back against Bodie’s knees, Jenny and Ray holding their plastic wine glasses together in a cheesy fake toast.
He had no memory of the last shots in the pack being taken. He must have put the camera down and one of the girls must have seized her chance, because the apparent subject of the images was firstly a passing Yorkshire Terrier on a lead (this from a bad angle), and then an admittedly entertainingly coiffeured poodle.
It was in the background of this last one that he and Ray were seen together. Off away to the side of the footpath on a clear patch of lawn, playing Frisbee or something, and arguing about it and wrestling – it couldn’t have been anything else – but it looked, in that captured moment, as if Ray were just hugging him, close and laughing, and Bodie underneath it, smiling back.
Bodie cradled the picture in his hands, and stared at his own happiness. Then, with a soft, pained noise, he crumpled the picture up in his fist, and threw it over towards the wastepaper basket. Of course he wouldn’t take it to show Ray. What would the point of that be? How would sharing it change anything now?
Ray had lived all those years just as Bodie had. Ray knew full well how they’d been together, what they’d had, and had chosen to leave all the same, and if that made no sense to Bodie it could only mean that this was another time they’d seen the same world in totally different ways.
Ray could never have been as happy, or found it as good, as Bodie. And Bodie needed to come to terms with that somehow.
Bodie had sworn, at first, that if Ray ever did invite him to visit, he’d never go. That if Ray wanted to put distance between them, then fine, he could have all the distance he could bloody well get.
But to be that angry for more than a month or so was hard to sustain. And Ray had stayed in touch, more or less, postcards with brief cheery updates that kept arriving despite Bodie’s lack of reply, and never explicitly demanding one. Was that the action of someone who really didn’t give a toss?
Finally, an invitation had come, a casually phrased suggestion of a meeting and a meal at Ray’s new flat in Cambridge – I’ve got it just about habitable now! And Bodie had been scribbling back an acceptance (easier by far than contemplating speaking on the phone) before he could really think about it, unsure if his enthusiasm was motivated by the old anger, or curiosity, or loneliness, or some combination of the three.
He needed to see Ray again. That much was all he really knew.
- - -
Bodie had never given much thought to the idea of homes, not past sleeping with a roof over his head. He’d never aspired to live anywhere in particular, beyond having a convenient commute to CI5 HQ. Ray had used to tease him about it, in fact, about how without the pre-furnished flats he’d probably live with one chair, a meths-burning camping stove, one pan and a bedroll. Bodie had used to reply that he’d probably manage without the chair, cheers anyway. In his life, after all, he’d learnt to.
Perhaps it was the moving about, the glimpses of other people’s ideas of furnishing and nesting that had piqued his interest, eventually, but he’d grown more intrigued by and attuned to how other people – normal people - lived over the past few years. Now, catching the early evening train out of London, he pondered his fellow-travellers, and wondered about them; where they were going and what, and who, they were returning to.
That had been Ray’s point all along, he thought, that home was a place you returned to. A place that, eventually, you settled back down in again, no matter what changed around you. A hide-out, except also a kind of nest. A place of safety and a place of the personal - neither exactly concepts Bodie had ever been over-familiar with.
Thus, by Ray’s reasoning, the CI5 agency were, by denying them stability in where they spent their off time, making their work and the office more a home to them than anywhere else could be.
Truth was, in Bodie’s case, the squad was the most at home he’d felt in decades. He’d never, therefore, really been able to understand Ray’s issue with the set-up.
It had been only in the last week, as he prepared for the flat rotation – prepared to leave the last accommodations where memories of Ray as his partner remained, to move on to somewhere emotionally sterile, that some sort of inkling had started to come through.
Bodie pulled his jacket closer about his shoulders against the January chill and stared out of the carriage window, watching indifferent suburbs and frost-burned fields flashing past, and heard the woman in the seat in front of him talking to her neighbour about an impending Caesarean section, and the man across the aisle studiously and vociferously eating an apple.
A sense of being apart from ordinary civilians was something a lot of the agents felt, often purposefully. It did no good, after all, to get attached to collateral. Some of the others sometimes talked about having to make themselves readjust to go about their personal lives. Bodie himself had rarely felt any separation between the two.
Since Ray had moved away, there’d been more times alone. And somehow despite the freedom, less inclination to do anything with it. He and Ray had argued often enough when they had spent time together – like cinema trips, where Bodie favoured the Mad Max and Rocky end of the spectrum and Ray preferred more plot and fewer explosions. But somehow going alone was less satisfying even than being dragged off to Educating Rita. He’d started seeking more overtime shifts, just to have something to do. The CI5 Psych department had got a bit worked up about that, stamping warnings all over his file and recommending a maximal cap on his hours, but luckily national security was as dicey as it had ever been, and no one doing job assignments cared much what the shrinks were saying.
Then there was the question of assigning him a new partner. It would never work, he knew that much, but he was keen to try, fail and get it over with, give them the wreckage for evidence once and for all. Dr Ross, however, kept wanting to see him and ‘assess the situation’ and ‘explore your reaction’ and generally ask any number of questions he was never in any kind of mood to answer.
She, as much as the rest of the Psych department, wanted him to have more time at home, but the job had been his home, and until five months ago, the job had been Ray.
It had been a thundery day in August of 1984, the last time he and Ray had officially worked together, in an assignment that showcased all that was crap about what they did; poor information, untrustworthy so-called ‘allies’ and a lot of hours in stinking thick rain, waiting for a drop that never came. Even now, Bodie knew, Cowley was still untangling what had gone wrong, whose agenda had really been at play in the events that had seemed a pure nightmare of chaos at the time. And towards the end of it, with the situation more or less under control - generally safe at any rate - Ray had been trying to help move the cases of ammo which had been involved in the trade they were faking, and had bent wrong, and had done his back in.
Not dignified or impressive, as a way to go out. Ray could have wrought the same damage shifting sofas or lifting box files. But the damage was done, and the pain was bad, and they were told that even with intensive PT he would probably never be physically field-capable again. Bodie would have stuck with him through any attempt he might have tried, doctors be damned, but Ray hadn’t wanted to fight for those admittedly very slim odds.
Ray had said he didn’t want to drive a desk. That if he was going to be stuck doing paperwork anyway, he’d rather be trying at long last for a degree. Apparently he’d been thinking about social work for a while, from well before the accident, and apparently they had degrees in that, or at least something related – by that point Bodie hadn’t been able to give all that much attention to explanations.
Thinking about it, though, once the first shock of losing a partner at the job had worn off, Bodie had begun to feel increasingly pleased with Ray’s idea. After all, whilst Ray was injured from CI5’s perspective, from any other he was fit, he was whole. And more likely to stay that way safely ensconced in his studies than if he were spending any more years dodging bullets. The idea of him pottering about City of London Polytechnic or maybe South Bank, safe and relaxed, meeting Bodie for occasional lunches, still coming round at weekends, sharing stories of a new life – Bodie hadn’t found that bad at all.
He’d never thought for one minute that Ray might move away. Might really leave – leave the job and the city and Bodie all at once. What did the Cambridge College of Arts and Technology have that he couldn’t get in London, besides distance? Bodie had been round this track of reasoning in his mind too many times, but still it came, as fresh and fierce as when Ray had first told him his plans; Ray had had no good reason to uproot himself, not unless he’d actually been yearning the whole fucking time to get away.
Ray had left, and now Bodie was returning to him, and scared to death it might feel like a homecoming, because where would that leave him? And did it feel that way? Was that what the feeling, the pressure in his chest was as the miles flashed by outside the window and his destination grew closer?
Finally, after several noisy halts, the train drew in with a loud sighing whistle at Cambridge station and, through a gaggle of schoolchildren trying to board, Bodie made his way out into the cold air and looked about him, and shivered.
- - -
It was a normal enough house in a normal enough street. A tall, beige-bricked, terraced house; a family home at one time, no doubt, and now - it could be seen by the multiple doorbells - split into flats and starting to peel at the edges, apparently held together predominantly by Virginia Creeper.
Casting another glance up and down the street - just passers-by, just people, a few scraggly trees in the January early evening light, a view of other houses and the sound of the distant railway, nothing special at all - Bodie took a deep breath and walked up the path, passing two parked cars and a motorcycle, and pressed the second bell from the bottom.
Having rung it, Bodie took a deep, steadying breath.
This would be the first time they’d actually seen each other since the day when Ray had first declared his intention of leaving London. Ray had left it till the last minute to say anything, and in the few days between that happening and his moving date, Bodie had been too angry to be in the same room as him, not trusting himself not to say or do something he’d forever regret.
He had wondered, since, if Ray had understood that anger. Bodie had been shocked and deeply confused by the revelation of Ray’s plans, left reeling too dazedly to think until later of how Ray might have interpreted his reaction.
Bodie sighed and shifted on his feet, hearing the bell still jangling on the other side of the door. He must not show surprise or dislike, regardless of who answered. He might well hate anything and anyone who’d contributed to Ray’s being drawn away, but making Ray think he was some sort of bigot wouldn’t help.
Finally the noise of latches moving came, and then the door was being pulled open, and Bodie blinked in surprise.
The young woman pushed her glasses higher up her nose and smiled. "The salmon's at a critical juncture, or so I've been told. He asked me to let you in. You are Bodie, I suppose, and not a door-to-door axe-murderer?"
"Bodie," Bodie affirmed, and cleared his throat. She was not so especially attractive as to make him stumble in the normal way of things – oddly dressed in a lumpy off-purple batik smock, her feet bare and her wrists disappearing under wooden bangles - but he'd not expected this. Really not expected Ray to have a girlfriend.
"I'm Cozy," she told him, and laughed at his expression. "Yes, I know. It's 'Cosette', really. My parents are huge fans of Victor Hugo. But you can't be called Cosette unless you actually are the heroine of a French novel, or a small dog, and my friends did the rest. I'm studying for my PhD at Queens College - I live in the Ground Floor flat."
Bodie acknowledged all this with a nod. The garment she wore was a sort of wraparound cardigan, he noticed, which trailed behind her, and her hair was casually tied back into a barely restrained nest - either she had no interest in Ray, or had been with him long enough to stop making a particular effort, he guessed.
Following Cozy, Bodie climbed one flight of the wide, uncarpeted stairs leading up from a little way inside the hall. He noticed the edges of the stair-treads where they met the walls were obscured by piles of paperbacks, some of them looking to be at the point of fossilisation. One pile had an unhappy looking spider-plant balanced on the top, and another a rather full ashtray.
"That's all Gurdip," Cozy said, waving a hand at the stuff as she passed. "He's in Flat Number Three - he's coming to dinner too. Or at least he will if he's remembered to wake up. I think once I've deposited you there I'll go and shout at him. He's working shifts at his Uncle's restaurant and studying for his degree at the same time, and he tends to sleep any moment he gets to be still for more than five seconds. He likes to write his essays whilst sitting on the stairs, you see, and he has to have the library to hand. I like it – whenever I’m bored I go out and pick up something new."
Bodie, thinking of Ray passing to and fro, less agile than he had been since his injury, frowned, worried. The girl, misinterpreting, frowned too and looked back at him from the landing, arms folded. "Immigration is very important to our economy," she said, with the air of a rote speech. "It's people like you..."
Bodie tuned her out automatically. He didn't especially disagree with her, and he was far too distracted by the sight, off the narrow first-floor landing, of the open door of Flat Number 2, Ray's flat, which revealed a view into a snug-looking room with a kitchen set-up at the far end and a figure standing at the hob, prodding something under kitchen foil.
"Ray," he called out, louder than he meant to, interrupting Cozy mid-flow. He'd come to a halt on the landing, standing and staring, and though Ray turned to look at the source of the noise, they were so far apart that Bodie couldn't quite read his expression.
But why would he need to? Of course Ray wanted him there. Why invite him if not?
"Ray," Bodie said again forcing himself out of the frozen contemplation to walk forward purposefully through the door, halting as Ray came to meet him. "It's good to see you."
"You too, mate." Ray grinned up at him, so easily, like they’d only been parted a few hours and were about to go off to the pub together. He looked almost exactly the same - same curling, salt-and-pepper hair, same long lean frame, same smile. And yet, compared to four months previously, there were differences; less darkness under his eyes, a better colour in his face, and his hair grown out longer than it had ever been.
Ray cast a glance back at his pots and pans, wiping his hands on a dishtowel, holding it up between them. "And hopefully you'll still think it’s good to be here after I've fed you."
"Shut it, you know you can cook the knobs off Delia any time you like." Despite all the confusion, Bodie couldn't stop himself grinning. The stress of preparation, the train journey, getting interrogated by strange women in kaftans - all of it was worth it for this.
Returning to this.
And yet, could one return? They were something different now, and the longer they stood there, staring at each other, the more acutely Bodie felt it. This was a new Ray, not the one Bodie knew.
Bodie searched for his anger, but it was gone. He was far from calm, but he’d never been all that able to categorise emotions, and all he knew was that this wasn’t hate, wasn’t anger at all.
It was Ray who broke the silence, clearing his throat. "I've, um, invited the rest of the house too, as I think you've seen." Ray looked at Cozy and smiled again. "I thought it would be nice for you to meet them all."
Bodie couldn't figure out why on earth Ray would think that, and without a suitable reply to offer he stepped back a little - he really was standing too close – swung his rucksack from his back and pulled out the bottle. 'Brought some plonk, seemed like a thing to do, and, um..." he rummaged in the bag again, feeling oddly protective of the small parcel he’d finally convinced himself to put in with the wine bottle, though the photo still languished in his wastepaper basket. "Just a thing. You can open it later, maybe."
He didn't really want Cozy watching them.
It wasn’t clear whether Ray had divined this or not - once, Bodie would have confidently said he could read most of Ray's reactions, but no longer, and in any case that’d clearly been mistaken. All Bodie could see now was that Ray nodded slightly and took the package and the wine over to the counter-top, muttering the appropriate appreciative noises about vintage and character, but leaving the package on the counter without another word.
None of that wine nonsense was stuff Bodie generally gave a toss about, but for tonight he'd begrudgingly asked the man at the shop to pick a good bottle for him. It was just something you did - something he'd learned to do, something he'd learned that people, normal people, did when they did... normal things. Inviting each other round for dinner parties. Scrubbing up and biting their tongues and making small talk about... something.
Once, he'd never have thought he'd ever need to behave normally for Ray. And he still didn't know now whether, if he’d turned up empty-handed, ignoring the conventions, Ray would have cared. But in preparing for the visit the weekend before in London, on his Saturday off, he'd panicked, and tried to alleviate his worries in the way he'd learnt, later in life, to do, which was to say by buying something rather than running away or setting something on fire.
He looked at Ray now, wondering quite what to say.
Wondering if Ray was wondering about anything. Whether he might be thinking Bodie had changed, and if so how. Or whether he might think Bodie hadn’t changed at all – and was that the problem?
The silence stretched out for a moment too long for comfort, before being rent in two by the sound of a loud shout of "Gurdip! Dinner time, Gurdip!" from somewhere in the region of the ceiling.
Ray chuckled and raised his eyebrows. "Cozy sings for her College choir. Got quite the set of lungs on her."
Bodie did not dispute it.
"And don't, by the way," Ray added, in a teasing voice.
"Set of lungs? Don't make the next joke and for fuck's sake don't shag her, please, Bodie. I've got to live with her."
Bodie frowned. "So you're not..."
Ray sighed. "Just leave it, please? For me? Because your break-ups are bad enough from a safe distance."
"Don't know what you mean, mate."
Ray grinned. Bodie was not sure, anymore, that it was quite the same grin. It seemed slightly forced. "You remember Bethany? I know you remember Bethany..."
The banter was forced too, and seemed to Bodie to make the elephant in the room only loom larger, but he tried to fall into the old pattern, sparring easily as he took in more of his surroundings. Ray had returned to the kitchen counter – a narrow workspace partitioning the kitchen area from the rest of the living room – and had gestured Bodie to one of the low, comfortably collapsed sofas. They just about managed to keep the light conversation going.
Bodie turned and looked round, even as he spoke. So this was what Ray had chosen. All this. Prints and fabrics and stereo systems and normality. Neat bookshelves of orange-jacketed penguin paperbacks, and woven rugs, and a cork notice-board with what looked like theatre tickets pinned to it.
There were no definitive signs of a second inhabitant, as far as Bodie could see. Only Ray’s taste in evidence, which he was surprised to find he recognised despite all those flat-moves and pre-issued furniture. Just the small personal touches and twists that, he’d learnt without really noticing, reflected Ray’s presence.
But there’d been so much of Ray’s inner life that he’d not been aware of. For all they’d faced death side by side, for all he’d seen Ray at his highest, his lowest and everywhere in between, there had still been secrets Bodie had had no way of even guessing at, because there were parts of life that Bodie had never really understood to exist, aspirations alien to him.
"I suppose you've got at least two on the go, at the moment, back in London," Ray was saying, continuing the conversation about girlfriends, dumping thereof.
Bodie was about to correct the statement when Ray's door opened again and Cozy entered, dragging a rumpled-looking young man behind her. Gurdip was tall and slender, silky black hair falling loose around his face, dressed in a heavy metal t-shirt and denim slacks, and not at all what Bodie had been expecting.
Bodie shot a quick glance at Ray, assessing. If not Cozy, then perhaps...?
"Good evening," Gurdip said, softly. "I am sorry, I fell asleep once more. I hope none of you have been waiting long?"
"Nothing to worry about, Gurdip," Ray said, smiling. A simple smile, nothing extra in it, or at least so Bodie thought. "I was just going to dish up now. Help me get the table out?"
Gurdip nodded and the two of them moved to where a table had been folded flat and placed against the wall behind the other sofa. Bodie tensed, ready to stand and help them but quickly perceiving that this was the sort of job where you had to be familiar with the equipment, and instructing a newcomer would only slow things.
This suggested that these group dinners in Ray’s house – in Ray’s flat, specifically - were a fairly common occurrence. Which was a new sort of habit for Ray. Unless Ray had been holding dinner parties with some other friends in London and simply not inviting Bodie to them, which was always possible.
For all that the rest of the agents had loved joking that Ray and Bodie lived in each other’s pockets, that had never really been true. People tended to forget the period at the start of their partnership when they barely spoke a civil word to each other outside of the necessaries, and even after that, when Ray had become the closest friend Bodie had ever had, even when they’d been cheek-by-jowl in their off days as well as at work, there had always been times they’d gone off alone.
It was different, though, being alone when you had no one to return to. Bodie knew that now.
With the table in place and the main course dished up, Ray and Cozy rapidly handed out cutlery as Gurdip introduced himself more properly to Bodie and they had a brief chat. Bodie noted, amused, Cozy's look of surprise. Gurdip, it emerged, was studying comparative theology and was a keen fan of cricket. When he found out that Bodie had very little to say on this latter topic, he looked rather sad.
"Five flats, but three of you lot - what's wrong with the others?" Bodie asked, as they were finally seated.
"Number Four's empty," Ray explained pouring out some of Bodie’s wine. "Was a couple looking round it the other week, but we've not seen them again. It's the smallest, easily, and there's something wrong with the bathroom - I viewed it when I looked at this one; I think they showed it to me to make this one look good by comparison as much as anything."
"And Number Five?"
Cozy leant forward over the table, grinning. “Yes, Ray, tell him about who’s in Number Five. ‘The Mystery Swimwear Model of Flat Five’ – sounds like a book or something, doesn’t it?”
Ray frowned at her. Bodie noticed a very slight flush rising in his cheeks. “There’s nothing mysterious about Qiao Jin. Just because none of the rest of you speaks Cantonese.”
Cozy raised her eyebrow, apparently still enjoying herself. “I don’t think he’s a model at all. I think you’ve just told us that to throw us off the scent, Ray. I think he’s an international super spy with all the atom secrets hidden in his guitar case!” And she giggled, rocking in her chair.
"Chinese?" Bodie prodded, feeling the hair at the back of his neck rise. Cozy sounded like she was just having fun, but he’d heard stupider leads before that... and Ray, here alone, injured, weaponless...
Ray pursed his lips. “Honestly, he’s just a young guy from Hong Kong, he’s studying English at one of the language schools here, hoping to move on to a degree at the university when he’s fluent enough, and he does a bit of fashion catalogue work or something – it’s not like I’m so fluent in his language myself.”
Cozy grinned in Ray’s direction. “The two of you seem to find enough to talk about,” she observed, laughing again. “He’s not half as friendly with me, you know. I went up to visit a few times, see if he had everything, knew how the meters worked – all of that, you know – and he didn’t even invite me in. I mean, you don’t need much English just to smile and offer someone a biscuit.”
Bodie reflected that he might welcome such an excuse as language not to invite Cozy into his flat. This, though, was clearly what living in a normal way - in one place for a long time, with neighbours one knew - was like. Gossip and idle speculation, without much meaning, relevance or the intention of it. He looked at Ray, and was surprised to see he was still frowning, almost anxiously.
"It's fine," was all Ray said, repeating himself yet more firmly, and Cozy rolled her eyes theatrically.
"You're never any fun, Ray. You never want to find things out about people."
"Some people want to be left alone," Ray told her, rather sharply. And was that intended to also refer to himself, Bodie wondered? Then, polite smile back in place on his face, Ray was standing up and offering to fetch them second helpings or more drinks.
“He spoke to me, on one occasion,” Gurdip offered, when the conversational necessities of food had dwindled away again.
"Who did?" Ray asked. He was uneasy, Bodie could tell, shifting in his chair. Had never really been relaxed all night, for all he’d taken some pains to affect being so.
"The Chinese gentleman from Flat Five." Gurdip sighed, shrugging. “One evening, as I returned to my own flat from work, with my cartons of leftovers, he met me on the stairs and made it clear he wanted some advice regarding books – he wanted a copy of Shakespeare! But he has so little English. I gave him ‘Lamb’s Tales’ and wished him well, though I doubt he made much of it. Well, perhaps it was for a friend.” He drew another deep, troubled breath. “He does have a friend, who visits. I think, perhaps...”
“What?” Bodie asked, after the silence stretched out, intrigued despite himself, and noticed that Gurdip was shooting a questioning sort of glance toward Ray, who gave his head an almost imperceptible shake.
“It is nothing,” Gurdip said, swiftly. “Nothing. Idleness. Now, Ray, you must tell me the recipe you are using for this salmon, it is quite delightful. Has he always been so excellent a chef, Mr Bodie?”
Bodie tried to laugh, to leave behind the strange tension of minutes earlier for this more conventional path Gurdip was attempting to lead them along. “Oh yeah. Lovely grub, this chap does. When you can get it out of him.”
“I fed you three times a week! More, often!” Ray was half-teasing, but frowning too. “I dread to think what you eat now. What do you eat now? Actually, no, don’t tell me, I can’t bear to hear it.”
“He looks pretty well on it, Ray,” Cozy observed, laughing.
Ray made a frustrated noise. “Yeah, you’ve not seen his idea of breakfast, lunch and tea – three helpings of the same leftover chips, sometimes. He’d eat something dead on the side of the road if you deep-fat fried it for him.”
“Yeah, well, no one to fry it, so you’re alright,” Bodie shot back.
Ray went red and bit his lip.
“Cozy,” Gurdip said, with some determination. “You have never told us how your second meeting with your PhD supervisor went.”
"Oh dear god, didn't I?" Cozy let out a theatrical groan and settled eagerly into the new topic. "I thought he was bonkers before, but this? Let me tell you..." and she did, at some length, as Gurdip smiled and nodded, and Ray and Bodie sat silently, not looking at each other.
Bodie couldn’t work out what Ray was thinking. Couldn’t work out quite what he was thinking himself, not any more. His gut instinct was lost here in the world of careful manners and voluble sociability – was that part of why Ray had set up the evening like this? To keep things off-kilter, to be a distraction?
Bodie’s gut itself was happy enough, though. He really hadn’t realised just how heavily his diet had come to rely on Ray's influence. Ray had indeed cooked for him several nights a week, in the latter part of their partnership, and the rest of the time Bodie had let sandwiches and the odd takeaway fill the gaps. Now that such stuff once more made the majority of his diet, he’d been forcibly re-familiarised with the old indigestion. And all but forgotten the pleasures of eating like this.
As long as Bodie had known him, food had been part of Ray’s way of interacting with the world. He used it to show friendship, but also as a way to manipulate or persuade, even sometimes as a way to ask forgiveness.
Had that been what that September evening had been about? The last time Bodie had seen Ray, the last time they’d eaten together. The day Ray had told him he was leaving.
A day nothing like this mire of January chill, a day back in an easy Indian summer, the sort of day when normal people did the normal sorts of things that get photographed for evocative lifestyle magazines. Women decked out in simple cotton-print sundresses and flat sandals, men in open-necked shirts and children running and screaming and finding water to splash. Such times usually left Bodie feeling edgy in his own skin, like an alien intruder. He felt that people must notice him, as he passed them, how he didn’t fit in with the casual gaiety, how he didn’t relax the way they did.
But that evening he’d been invited to Ray’s flat, given somewhere to go, someone to be with, and so he’d felt calm, somehow, like for once he and the world weren’t totally out of step.
“Hungry?” Ray had asked him, as Bodie got to his door. “I’ve done Bolognese tonight. This heat – didn’t want anything in the oven.”
Bodie had never exactly decided to start giving Ray grocery money. They’d been living in a constant state of owing small amounts to each other, and one week he’d offered up a larger note ahead of time, since Ray was already cooking for them both quite often, and they’d fallen into a habit. That was how so many things had been between them, woven up slow and complex and knotty over years, perhaps not strong so much as incredibly tangled.
Up in Ray’s flat, Bodie had found the balcony doors wedged open, some of the kitchen table protruding out onto the small deck, and the table already laid. There was a jug of lemonade and the salt and pepper and cloth napkins, because Ray was neat that way. Ray’s napkin ring was a carved wooden ouroboros snake, and Bodie had had his own too – the product of Ray’s weekends at flea markets – a flashy silver-plated Victorian thing with William engraved on it neatly. Bodie would always remember that table, and the feeling of helpless happiness it had provoked in him.
It had been in the fifth week of the six Ray had been told to take off following the injury in order to rest his back. Bodie had had the sense that soon everything would be back to normal.
And Ray had seemed to have a mood to match his own. Or perhaps Bodie had been tired, and not noticed enough, or perhaps he’d never really read Ray as well as he’d thought. Ray had switched the radio to the football, and they’d both listened quietly as Ray finished the last of the meal preparations and Bodie poured them both some drinks; gin and tonic for himself, red wine for Ray.
They’d eaten, chatting about nothing in particular. The food had been rich and delicious, and Bodie had savoured it, eating slowly, feeling the warm breeze and the outdoor scents; grass and barbecue and drying washing.
And then Ray had sat back, wiped his mouth, and said that as soon as his official CI5 resignation had finished processing, he’d be leaving London.
Never mind what else Ray had said, because that had been the point, Bodie reminded himself. Ray had already decided to move, and had told Bodie so, before he’d told Bodie anything else.
That meant that, whatever Bodie had said, Ray would have left anyway. The man had already made his choice.
That didn’t stop Bodie dreaming about taking the choice away from him. Sometimes, in his head, he replayed things so they went differently. Sometimes he went to move those sodding ammo cases in Ray’s stead, and prevented the accident, so that they could carry on exactly as they had been. And sometimes, in imagination, after Ray’s little speech, he gave a different answer – found words, the right words, rather than the incoherent indignation he’d sputtered through at the time - and Ray at least stayed around, and things... things would have changed, of course, that was a given, but perhaps...
No, Ray had made his choice. A series of choices. And all of them left Bodie behind.
Following the main course, Ray went to retrieve another dish from the bottom of his oven, wafting the aroma of apple crumble across the room.
“Do you want sugar or cream or both?” Ray was asking him, asking him politely rather than slapping both on the table in front of him with a hearty dose of opinions about his nutritional habits.
Did Ray feel like he had to be polite, had to be hospitable in this way? Was that all this invitation had been about? Did Ray feel he owed him something, somehow? Or feel fucking sorry for him, even?
Going back to the start of working with Ray, Ray had been many things Bodie wasn't exactly used to in his comrades: open-minded, not immediately hostile, fun and really quite patient, if Bodie was honest with himself.
But never anything close to fucking polite.
"So Bodie, Ray says you used to work together, right?" Cozy was talking, turning to face him and smiling enthusiastically. "In the Civil Service? What was that like? I can't imagine Ray in a suit!"
"We weren't... that visible," Bodie told her, looking at Ray, trying to figure out what he was supposed to be saying. Ray was looking anxious again, which - given how Cozy had been all evening - Bodie could understand. But why invite her - why any of them? Ray had to have known it would be awkward, which could only mean he’d assumed being alone with Bodie would be more awkward still.
Give him five minutes to confront Ray at last, and Bodie would be happy to prove that.
"So, you must miss him then?" Cozy was saying, in an encouraging tone, clearly trying to help him start more conversation. She missed Ray's wince at the words, but Bodie didn't.
"'Course I do," Bodie said, with icy calm. "Have to do all my own paperwork now, don't I?" And he looked at Ray again, a challenge in his glare and now so confused he was beginning to feel a little sick.
"Coffee, tea, anyone?" Ray asked, standing up.
Bodie sank back into his chair and sighed.
Gurdip started telling an amusing story about the restaurant's persistent curry challenge customers, young students determined to outdo each other with chilli intake and usually ending up regretting it.
"Well, if I'm going to catch my train..." Bodie said as soon as he reasonably could, putting his coffee cup down and pushing his chair back, stretching out. The food, delicious as it had been, now sat in an uncomfortable lump in his stomach. Ray hadn't wanted him here, not really, that much was obvious, and he wished now he hadn't come - he didn't want his last memories of Ray to be this horrendous evening.
As Bodie stood, Ray did also, looking - well, Bodie couldn't tell how he looked, not anymore. Not happy, not in the slightest, but what precisely was troubling him Bodie couldn't fathom, and couldn't really be bothered to try to anymore.
"If you..." Ray began to say, earnestly, but the end of the sentence was lost in a sudden noise from outside the house. A car had drawn up in front, and doors slammed shut, and now there was a loud shout in the night, words Bodie couldn't understand but which were clearly angry; a man’s voice, perhaps two, high-pitched and aggressive.
Instinctively, Bodie looked to Ray, and found Ray glancing back at him before, for some reason, flushing again and striding to the window with a look of anger. Cozy followed swiftly, her expression half fear, half glee, and Bodie came up to join them. Gurdip stayed back, arms folded, and Bodie had time to notice that he looked nothing so much as sad.
The car which had arrived, Bodie saw as he peered round the edge of the curtain, was a small blue Vauxhall Astra which appeared to be a minicab. Both its rear doors were standing open and the engine still running, lights on and making a misty path in the dark. The driver remained in his seat but both his passengers were out, and squared up to each other, shouting in something that Bodie didn’t think was English. From the driver’s seat, however, a distinctly English vocabulary with some quite earthy Anglo-Saxon phrases was cutting across their debate.
“Oh god, that’s Jin, isn’t it?” Cozy was turning to Ray. “I don’t know that other man though, do you?”
“One of his friends, perhaps?” Bodie suggested, shooting a glance at Gurdip, who narrowed his lips and sighed heavily.
Ray himself, concentrating anxiously on the scene, didn’t reply.
Of course, Ray spoke some Cantonese, Bodie remembered. Which was not to say he'd understand the conversation below, even if it was also in that dialect and even if he could hear it over the cabbie, but from the look on his face something was making sense to him which eluded Bodie entirely.
“Yeah, not very friendly actually,” Ray said abruptly after a few more moments. “I’m going down there, you lot stay here.”
“Like hell,” Bodie muttered, and ran after him, down the stairs and out into the cold air and onto the driveway.
Both men turned to look at them. Now closer, Bodie could see there was some difference in their ages, and it was the younger of the two who cried out Ray’s name and ran towards them, speaking very quickly. His companion, older but not, Bodie thought, much past thirty-five, stood still, blushing and seeming to be attempting to collect himself into a calmer state. He was well-dressed and Bodie noted the details of expensive tie-pin and a Rolex at his wrist.
Did that extend to a very stylish gun under his arm? Of course, not all Chinese men were connected to triads or rogue political groups, but broad-ranging paranoia had always kept Bodie alive. He stepped forwards, coming slightly between Ray and the man.
“What’s all this then?” Ray was asking. “We’re trying to hear ourselves think upstairs.”
“Ray! Listen, OK?” The younger man – Jin, Bodie supposed – launched into another lengthy speech. If the older man was fighting anger, this one was fighting tears. He did not, however, and to Bodie’s relief, look all that frightened per se.
Ray seemed to ask some more questions. Jin answered. Then, to Bodie’s alarm, Ray stepped forward to address the other man. Jin came up to interject and it seemed for a moment that the argument, whatever it was, might start again.
“Listen,” Ray said, suddenly breaking into English, though still addressing the older man. “You can’t keep him safe all the time, you know? I’ve told him, you’ve told him, but if he’s going to insist on learning the hard way then that’s that. Treating him like a child won’t help.”
The older man cast a glance at Bodie, and gave a slight, stiff bow. “I am sorry. This is a personal matter. I am sorry that we have disturbed you. I apologise for my friend’s behaviour. Good evening.” And he turned to step back into the minicab. Jin called a few words after him – it was so hard, Bodie had found, to recognise emotional intonation in another language – and then the car was pulling away and the three of them were left standing in the dark.
Jin started sobbing.
“Hey now,” Ray murmured, putting an arm round Jin’s neck. “Bedtime, eh? And I think you need a pint of water at least, first.”
Not understanding, but trusting Ray to have read the situation, Bodie followed a little way behind as Ray lead Jin inside, and then, passing them, went ahead to herd Cozy and Gurdip into Ray’s flat so Ray and Jin could pass by on the way up to Jin’s flat in privacy.
For a few minutes, Cozy extrapolated various theories, which Gurdip listened to, nodding politely, and Bodie tried his best to drown out in favour of attempting to overhear anything from the upper floors.
What the hell had been going on out there? If it was just some dispute, be it between friends or lovers, then he didn’t care, but what if there was more to it? What if some kind of gang was involved? Had Jin been trafficked into the country? Was that man a debt collector? Or could Jin be the son of some high-up official, and that man his bodyguard? What if Jin himself were armed and dangerous? Bodie had met enough beautiful, fragile young terrorists in his life to know better than to be deceived by appearances. What if Jin was plotting to hurt Ray, right now?
He tried to tell himself he was being irrational, that it was just the same as all the worries he’d had when Ray had first left London – that Ray was too far away for rapid CI5 response if an old foe with a grudge tracked him down, that Ray should still have an R/T, and other things Cowley had gently talked him out of. But the worry was thick and real, regardless of how unlikely the threat, and he knew he’d struggle to shake it off.
“Hey, wait a minute; you’ll have missed your train, won’t you?” Cozy had materialised at his elbow and Bodie, looking at his watch, wasn’t sure whether to be horrified or relieved to see – in view of the number of perilous scenarios for Ray alone in the night that his brain had now concocted - that she was right.
“I’m sure Ray’ll put you up,” she said, reassuringly. “If not, I’ve got a sort of settee thing that my friends from home sometimes clap out on. It’s a bit collapsed but they say it’s comfortable and I’ve got ever so many blankets and things.”
Bodie wondered whether he ought to take her up on the offer. The idea of being in the house to keep an eye on things was appealing, but actually staying in the same space as Ray, in this tiny flat? When he’d only barely managed it through the evening as it was?
“Oh, but I could...” he began, not even certain what he was intending to say. There must be a decent number of B&Bs in a tourist trap town like this, he supposed vaguely, or he could just kip on a bench at the station. He wished Gurdip would offer him a space – he’d feel more at ease with him than any of them – but he supposed that his flat might be as full of books as the stairs.
“What are we talking about?” Ray asked, reappearing in the doorway, scratching the back of his head as was his habit – Bodie knew – when he was tired and a bit pissed-off and generally wanted to be asleep.
“Bodie’s missed his train,” Cozy reported, not without some eagerness. She seemed to regard all the events of the evening as drama for her entertainment, and to be thrilled to have witnessed them. It was hard to resent, exactly, but Bodie suddenly felt certain he couldn’t spend the night with her, on a sofa or otherwise.
“Oh I see,” Ray scratched his head again, and looked away into some region of the corner of the room. “Well, you don’t mind the floor, do you, I mean...?” He swallowed – he looked perturbed, annoyed even.
Bodie was starting to feel sick again. He wished he’d never come, not if it meant having to be around Ray like this, experience this as what they’d come to. Perhaps Ray had had the right idea all along – make a clean break of it, not try sustain something between them without the job to keep them together.
But Ray had invited him, his poor confused brain remembered again. So what on Earth did Ray want?
“I mean, you can stay here, of course, mate.” Ray was continuing, and Bodie didn’t miss the look he darted across at Cozy – was Ray primarily worried about looking inhospitable in front of his new friends?
“I think that the hour of slumber should be upon us all,” Gurdip pronounced, getting up from the sofa where Bodie had noticed him fighting off a doze for the past few minutes. “Come, Cozy, if we are to attend the recital promptly we must have our rest tonight. Perhaps we shall have buns from that lovely shop for our breakfast, yes?”
This seemed adequate to encourage Cozy to bid her goodnights and leave, Gurdip pulling the door closed behind them.
And then Bodie and Ray were alone.
“I’m sorry about all this,” Bodie said, vaguely. And then stopped himself, because it wasn’t like he’d set out to stay, not like he’d wanted to. He’d understood easily enough that Ray didn’t want to have him there and Ray had to have seen that.
“No, I’m sorry, Bodie,” Ray replied, earnestly, like he was gearing up to say more. And then he stopped himself. “Look, I’ll get the sofa sorted out.”
They worked quietly side by side, and swiftly had the table put away and all the cushions from the sofa, including the thick base, moved onto the floor, a blanket slung over them to form a makeshift mattress. Ray fetched some sheets and a pillow and it ended up a bed as good as many Bodie had ever been sent to sleep in.
“Is this all your furniture, then?” Bodie asked, though he’d already figured it out, aiming to break the silence getting heavier and heavier between them.
“Oh, yeah,” Ray clearly understood what he meant. “Picked it all out myself. This place was let unfurnished – almost scary, how bare somewhere looks when you’re genuinely starting from scratch.”
Bodie looked around again, before saying, with deliberate sarcasm, hoping it would be taken as the attempt at banter it was intended for. “So all this is your taste. Good to know.”
Ray chuckled. It was a good sound. “Yeah, well, I dread to think what you’d do let loose on a property. One chair, a gas stove and half a toilet seat, that be about right? Actually, yeah,” he paused for a moment, clearly calculating something. “You’re coming due for a flat rotation this month, aren’t you?”
“Never did bother you, did it?” Ray continued. “Not having a place of your own.” He was in the act of tucking a sheet in more neatly, and Bodie thought for a moment how strangely normal it seemed, making up beds with Ray. It was a task reminiscent of stake outs and undercover jobs – he could feel a reflexive urge to take apart and oil a gun. He’d spent more nights in a room with Ray, when he thought about it, than just about anyone else on the planet.
Except maybe his brother, but packing that old hurt away was an easy reflex now, and he barely needed to register having the thought.
“Before CI5, it was the Army, and the barracks.” Bodie pointed out. “Before that the Mercs, and you don’t want to know. Before that the Merchant Navy, and they don’t leave a hell of a lot of space for sofas. Doesn’t exactly breed a domestic culture in a person.”
Across the bed, Ray looked at him. “And before that?” he asked, softly, like he knew that that was where Bodie’s mind, for once, had strayed.
Bodie felt the familiar surge of anxiety, pain and defensiveness. No. No, Ray did not get to do that, to ask now, to be curious now when there was so little left between them, when once he could have asked anything and Bodie might have told him, because he’d never trusted anyone like that before.
Part of trusting Ray had been expecting him not to leave, he realised. Because, he supposed – you’d didn’t need to be a fucking PhD Psychiatrist to figure it out – his idea of betrayal, ever since that past life he was never going to let himself remember, had always been people leaving him.
“If we’re sharing life stories all of a sudden, you could tell me what happened with your lover-boy – didn’t he share your excellent taste or what? Come on - tell me you didn’t break up over curtain patterns?”
It was cruel and clumsy and not very clever, but it redirected the conversation, and Bodie wasn’t sure if he felt better or twice as ill, seeing the pain flash over Ray’s face.
“That’s what you want to talk about?” Ray sounded disgusted. And tired.
“Why you left, wasn’t it? Your fine old queer romance? Or part of why you left – you were sick of me, anyway, I know that. Sick of Cowley, I dare say – not that I can blame you on that one.”
He had to keep going. Twisting the knife. Because Ray had hurt him, fucking well hurt him and he wanted to give it back. You had to. He’d learnt that long ago, and often enough.
“But yeah, what I remember mostly about why you left, Doyle, is you feeding me up with fucking pasta and sitting there all quiet and saying you were leaving and oh, by the way, you were shagging your physiotherapist and I said ‘Really, what’s her name?’ and you said ‘David’.”
Bodie was aware that his voice had picked up in pitch and intensity towards the end of his speech, and his fists were clenched at his sides. He made himself steady, tried to relax.
Ray drew himself up. For a moment Bodie thought Ray might try to hit him, and found he welcomed the idea. Fighting, at least, he understood, and the idea just now of grabbing Ray, holding him, seemed perfect, right.
But, “Why’d you come here, then?” Ray was asking, keeping his distance, eyes flashing fire. “If you hate me so bloody much?”
“Fucked if I know.” Bodie stared, holding his gaze a moment longer. “Not staying another bloody minute, that’s for sure.” And he turned on his heel, grabbing up his bag as he went and made for the door, wrenching it open and stepping out onto the dark landing.
He couldn’t remember where the staircase light switches were and wasn’t about to ask. He could navigate fine by the thin street lighting coming in through the front door’s fanlight, one level down though it was. Still boiling with anger, he set off and began rapidly descending the stairs. It was only as he felt his foot catch, his balance shift and the ground disappear beneath him that he remembered how the stair treads were narrow with books, and about the trailing fronds of the spider plant.
He fell forwards, head first, in a kind of somersault, careering into space for a long moment before landing hard on the hall floor, hitting his shoulder, side and back all at once, the impact so painful that he might for a moment have blacked out.
- - -
“Bodie!” Ray was saying, hissing the words urgently in his ear. “Come on, Bodie!”
Bodie blinked and then winced, aware of the pain in his side, shooting fire along his back. Had he even cracked a rib? He took a cautious breath and gritted his teeth as the muscles pulled. He was lying at the foot of the stairs on the scrappy, filthy hall carpet and Ray was crouched over him, silhouetted against the dim light which had now come on, hissing at him insistently. Bodie looked up and round and saw that, miraculously, no one else appeared to have been roused by the noise, at least not sufficiently to have come onto the scene.
His eye caught the spider plant, also on the floor, its china pot shattered into many fragments and with earth scattered all over the place.
“Bodie,” Ray said again, exasperated – relieved too? But then of course he would be relieved – he would have been the one that would have had to drive to hospital. He was holding Bodie’s shoulder, Bodie realised, supporting him as he sat up.
Funny how you could miss that - miss having someone who, after you fell, would help you up again. He let himself lean into Ray for a brief second, into the warmth and strength of him – his head was still groggy and he didn’t need to think too hard about it. About anything. Not just yet.
“Serves me right, I suppose,” Bodie said ruefully, pulling back after he’d waited as long as he felt he could, “For worrying so much about you falling over all that mess.”
Ray tensed, looking surprised for a moment. “I’m really OK now,” he said, softly. “I can keep my balance. I can walk fine. David was good for that much at least.” He took a breath and stood up, bending down again to help Bodie to his feet. “Not that we can say the same for your mobility skills, of course. You’re lucky you didn’t break your fat head open. Would have been hell to get out of the carpet.”
“This carpet?” Bodie raised his eyebrows and shrugged. It only hurt a little to do so. “Like anyone would have noticed.”
“Get back upstairs, I’ve got some ice. I might not put it down your neck.”
Bodie looked at him.
“You’re staying, you idiot. Come on, I’m not having you dying of concussion on a waiting room bench at the station.”
Bodie hadn’t hit his head, but he didn’t say anything, just let Ray herd him upstairs, Ray walking carefully, close behind, as if afraid that Bodie might even fall again. In truth, he did have to side-step a water-damaged Dostoyevsky.
Back in the flat, Ray deposited Bodie on the denuded sofa and went to his bathroom, returning with a bottle of aspirin. He assembled a pack of ice-cubes wrapped in a tea-towel and handed it over, then put the kettle on, quickly producing two cups of tea, remembering to treat Bodie to a generous spoonful of sugar in his.
As Ray carried the full mugs over, Bodie felt a wave of guilt, and something else, something acutely sad and even despairing. He’d got it wrong, again. Misunderstood something and even then said not what he meant, not quite. And now, no doubt, he’d get the apology wrong too.
“David slept with Jin,” Ray said matter-of-factly, cutting him off.
Bodie stared, open-mouthed. “He cheated on you?” Part of him was aware of how strange it was to be sitting discussing a queer relationship like it was normal, but then when it involved someone you knew, it sort of was normal. And all he could really feel just now was incredulous anger at the stupid bastard David clearly was. “He did that to you?”
Ray shrugged. “I’ve had plenty of non-exclusive relationships in my time, haven’t I? We didn’t make any promises.” He was trying to sound casual, but Bodie wasn’t sure. This would be a weird conversation for Ray too, he couldn’t naturally be as off-hand as this.
“So explain how that ends up with you and Jin living in the same house, and you being his friend?”
Ray looked at him quizzically for a moment, narrowing his eyes. Then, satisfied of something, he shrugged and looked away. “I knew Jin before David did, and Jin didn’t know about me and David. Jin and I met at this Tai Chi class at the gym where David worked. David wasn’t out...out of the closet at work, so I didn’t, you know, if you saw us together there you’d not have known what was going on.”
“So David did work – works – in Cambridge? So you did move to be near him?”
Ray took a sip of his tea. “Nah, not as simple as that.” And then, anticipating Bodie’s questions: “Look, fast version, OK? David was working on a temporary placement in London when he treated me. We... hit it off. He moved back to his old job here in Cambridge, I came to visit once or twice and I loved it here. I’d never intended to always live in London. I moved here because I knew this was where I wanted to be, and since he was here too, we didn’t break it off. Not that it was... Anyway, like I say, we were both free to see other people. One person he saw was Jin. Soon after, I broke up with David for good, but when Jin was looking for a place to live David remembered there was a flat spare here and recommended it. Jin doesn’t know about the connection.”
“Bare-faced cheek, I’d call it.” Bodie said, when he could finally find words. “What a twat! Talk about keeping your eggs in one basket!”
Ray looked surprised, almost dumbfounded, staring at Bodie again like he’d said something totally unexpected. Bodie, who’d not meant to offend, was going to ask what was wrong, but Ray held his hand up and spoke again, quickly. “David’s not important,” he said, firmly, still with that very studied casualness. “That’s the point I’m making.”
Since Ray had moved house, moved city for the man, Bodie couldn’t quite believe that, but it was good to hear. Bodie felt something inside him unwind, ever so slightly.
Ray was standing up, stretching and looking at his watch. “Right, it has to be bedtime now. I’ve got deadlines to be working for tomorrow and a date with the library. You can stay as long as you need, I’ll leave you a key.”
“Cheers,” Bodie said, faintly, and took another sip of the tea made just how he liked it. “Ray?” he continued softly.
In the doorway of his bedroom, Ray turned.
“Thing is,” Bodie drew a deep breath. He had to at least try to explain. He still somewhat wanted to accuse. “Thing is, I missed you. You see?”
Ray looked at him for a long moment, something like confusion still running over his face. Then he bit his lip, nodded once, and closed his door behind him.
Bodie couldn’t understand what Ray was finding so hard to grasp about the situation. But he knew he was unlikely, exhausted as he was, to solve the problem that night. He changed into borrowed pyjamas and tried to get to sleep.
It was not entirely easy to forget everything. The room, the bedding and now even his clothes all smelt of Ray. Of that peculiar mixture of human sweat and choice of washing powder and something else, indefinable but distinct, that personal scent we know with those we know best, instantly.
But it was like the first hit of hot coffee on a cold, early morning or the first hot shower after a week out in the rainy woods, or the first food on a march-empty stomach; that was the reflexive disseminating warmth which the scent provoked in him, in all its soothing goodness. Bodie's head was still a mess inside, but he could feel his body settling and easing down, and all just from a smell.
A place of safety, a place of the personal. Home. This was Ray's home. A place Ray had chosen, a place where he was trying to put down roots. A place he’d presumably imagined – whatever his denials – sharing with someone else.
People did that, of course. Bodie had just never thought it was something two men could do, could try for. Houses and mortgages and matching cushions were something packaged up with women, with nice suits and children and sensible cars, pensions and carriage clocks and roses, catalogue shopping and everything else meant for normal people. Men together couldn’t be normal that way.
But this David character – oh, if Bodie ever met him he’d land him one alright. To have had Ray, to have had Ray’s trust and to... Ray didn’t mess about when he was seeing someone steadily, no matter what he was trying to protest to himself or anyone else, and Bodie was prepared to bet Ray wouldn’t have even looked at another man whilst he was with David. And David hadn’t cared. Had had all that, all this with Ray, this shot at something wonderful, and hadn’t cared. Oh yeah, Bodie would deck him for sure.
Bodie turned over again, wrestling his shoulders around to lie on his other side, drawing the covers back up around his neck. He needed to go to sleep, needed today to be over. Too many new thoughts and old feelings were jumbling up inside him, confusing and worse as his brain got foggy.
Despite his protestations about needing an early night, the light was still on in Ray’s room, spilling under the door. Bodie wondered what Ray was thinking about. Ray the enigma, always had been.
But Bodie was close to him tonight, closer than he’d been in months, and the light was a reassuring background as he finally drifted off.
- - -
Eating breakfast with Ray was a peculiar mixture of the familiar – Ray yawning expansively, wearing a blurry frown, his coffee hot strong and sweet and Ray’s stupid huge vitamin pills – and the strangeness of being round an ordinary table doing so. They’d only ever overnighted together on jobs, which had meant taking breakfast in stakeouts in ruins, squats, tents, or even just sleeping in the car.
Ray that morning seemed too occupied to be much unsettled. He was eating toast with one hand and reading over lecture notes with the other – Diametrics of Social Position, was the title of the textbook he intermittently referred to, and Bodie wished him joy of it.
When Ray did move – seemingly on a mission for a jar of peanut butter – he stopped suddenly at the kitchen counter, letting out a small cry of surprise. Bodie looked up from his cereal (bran flakes, but it was Ray’s larder), to see what had given him pause.
Ray walked back to the table, holding the small package Bodie had given him the night before.
Bodie tensed. “It’s nothing, really, I just...”
Ray pulled the wrapper off, slowly. He opened the box, rustled the tissue paper, then held up the horse-shoe, grinning. “What’s this then, an instalment plan in the Derby winner?”
Bodie felt himself blushing. “Thing is. It’s just... When you move house, where I was brought up, you always get one. Keep the luck in, keep the devil out, whatever. Nonsense. But I found it in a shop and I thought of you and...”
“Thank you,” Ray twisted the shoe. “Really, thank you. How come I’ve never seen you with one, though?”
Bodie shook his head. “Never had a home, have I? Accommodations don’t count.”
Ray was biting his lip again.
There was a knock at the door and they both startled slightly from a silence which had been lasting too long. Bodie looked back down at his food, and heard Jin’s voice before he saw him.
Jin, on examination, looked horribly hung-over, wincing against the light. He was giving a short speech to Ray in what was presumably Cantonese and sounded like an apology, ending it with a small bow. When he saw Bodie watching, he made a gesture towards him too, and Bodie raised his hand in awkward reply.
Ray said a few quiet words and then, to Bodie’s surprise, went swiftly to his bathroom, returning to hand over some items to Jin – a bottle of aspirin, Bodie thought, and something else, something in silver wrapping. Ray patted the young man on the shoulder and Jin sighed, reached out and hugged him, gave a sort of half-nod to Bodie and went away again, still looking queasy.
Bodie sighed. “He really doesn’t seem like an assassin. But then, those are the ones to watch out for, as you should damn well know by now.”
“Is that it?” Ray was almost laughing. “Is that what that face is for? I thought...”
“I don’t know,” Ray gave a short laugh, moving back to sit at the table. “I suppose I more or less assumed that if you ever saw me giving out condoms and life advice to a man as camp as Christmas, you’d have something more to say about it.”
Bodie was nonplussed for a moment, and then froze, a slick of ice crawling over him as a thought occurred, connecting two ideas:
“He’s not...not upset because he’s sick, is he?”
“AIDS? No,” Ray shook his head at once, but frowned too. “Not as far as I know, though more from luck than judgement, I’ll say that much. He... That man, yesterday? That’s his cousin. Helped him get out here to the West, away from his parents, supported him in various ways, doesn’t judge. But Jin’s determined to catch up on twenty years of repression as fast as possible, it seems, and he’s not nearly safe enough. Last night apparently Qiao Han tried going out with him to a bar to keep some sort of eye on him, and I think it freaked them both out a bit.”
Ray looked confused for a moment, then his face cleared and his smile was almost soft. “I’m not sick, Bodie. And I am always very, very careful. About assassins and everything else.” Then he stopped, blinked and gave a full body shake, laughing, “No, this really isn’t how I ever expected this conversation to go.” He shook his head again, “You really thought Jin could be some kind of agent?”
Bodie shrugged. He had not, yet, totally ruled it out.
“Would be easier, I suppose, if all life was actually like that.” Ray stood up, and started clearing the table.
“How do you mean?”
“If it was all the job. All like the job. Allies and enemies, all in their own boxes and clearly defined. People who want to kill you or people who’ll protect you. Trust or not trust, and relationships end there. When there’s danger, communication is straightforward, simple. You don’t have to think further than the next hour.”
Bodie went over to the sink and started running the taps. The dishes from the night before had been left out with all the confusion going on, and so Bodie started by tackling them, handing them over to Ray who wiped and put away.
“Look, when do you need to catch a train?” Ray asked after a period of silence not quite relaxed and yet somehow not awkward either. “Do you need to phone in?”
Drying his hands, Bodie looked at his watch. “Not really. Just... just an assessment this morning, easy to skip. But I’m training the thickest bunch of cadets in Christendom this afternoon, so I’ll get the... well, any train that leaves before eleven should do it. I’ll get out of the flat when you’re going, wander the streets a bit, get some lunch stuff.”
He’d kept talking, but since the start of his explanation, Ray had been studying him closely, a strange look on his face. It occurred to Bodie that if Ray’s appointment with the library wasn’t totally pressing they might even go on together a while longer – was Ray thinking that too?
But: “Assessment?” Ray asked. “Since when do you have assessments?”
Bodie swore under his breath. He’d forgotten that Ray would still remember how ‘assessment’ was the universal euphemism for a meeting with Kate Ross or her minions.
There was another silence, this more laden, and finally Ray looked away, sighing. “Come on, let’s get moving, you can’t miss it. And she’d only find out it was to do with me and hunt me down.”
Bodie offered no resistance and soon they were out of the flat and moving downstairs. Gurdip and Cozy must already have headed out, Bodie deduced, because the mess of broken spider plant and pottery had been collected into a plastic bag and the books had been haphazardly re-piled. With hazard being the operative word, he thought darkly.
They parted ways on the street, Bodie heading out to the station, Ray towards the centre of town and the library.
“Well, thanks,” Bodie heard himself saying, awkwardly. He didn’t know how to step forward, or whether he should.
“It was good to see you,” Ray said, as if by reflex, and perhaps he heard it in his tone as well, because he followed it very strongly with “Really, it was. It was great... Look, anyway, we shouldn’t let it go so long again, eh?”
Bodie had rehearsed this moment in his head so often over the past months. The ways he’d tell Ray to go to hell. The vigour he’d put into telling him that he wasn’t wanted.
“I’m free Saturday after next,” Bodie told him. “Fancy a trip to the metropolis?”
- - -
It was the kind of Wednesday that made weekends seem never to have happened.
Bodie had been sitting on his arse, jittery and uncomfortable, in a van that smelt persistently of wet dog, for six solid hours. Outside the two-way glass windows a rainy side street in the Angel Islington went about its various affairs, and in particular a discreet basement-flat brothel in the houses opposite.
These were the kind of assignments, Bodie reflected as he munched down a very dry oblong purporting to be a tuna sandwich, when he was reminded just how much Ray had brought to the job they’d shared. Besides all the man’s competence in the skills most agents attempted, Ray’s years with the Metropolitan Police had given him knowledge of London street life unrivalled on the squad – he could perceive things on these sorts of stakeouts that others missed.
Added to that, he’d always known how to fill a silence easily, or indeed how to be quiet.
“But I told him our turnover rate was very low, all things considered. Come to think of it, how is Ray, anyway? What’s he up to now?” Jax, sitting in the driver’s seat, had been keeping up a steady flow of musings which Bodie had been trying to tune out, but this made him suddenly focus, afraid for a moment that he might even have voiced some of his recent thoughts aloud.
“Ray? Ray Doyle? Any of this ringing a bell? Someone told me he’d gone to Oxford or something – he left so suddenly I never got a chance to ask – but you know about it, right?” Jax sighed, picked up a sandwich of his own, made a face at it and put it down again. “Surely you’ve kept in touch? Or did you two..?”
Bodie gave him a long, cold look.
“OK, OK, you never discuss your personal life, we all know that,” Jax held his hands up in mock surrender. “Just, you know, thought he’d actually got through to you.”
“I thought you guys were friends. Like, proper friends.”
“He was my bloody partner, Jax,” Bodie snapped, as if that would clarify everything. In some ways - in his own head - it did. When Ray had been his partner, that had encapsulated and defined all that they were to each other. So what if they had stuck together, watched each other’s backs, would have died for each other – nearly did, more than a few times? It was what they had to do. What they were bloody paid to do.
“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t know what that’s like, excuse me for my ignorance.” And Jax sighed again, leaning back in his seat, clearly pissed off.
Jax had never been assigned a partner, Bodie recalled now. When the man had first come to the squad, the guy who’d been planned to be paired with him had been invalided out, and then he’d been awaiting someone coming up spare for months, then laid up with an injury of his own and finally stuck on an undercover that had ended up lasting nearly a year.
They sat in rain-battered silence. The clock on the car dashboard ticked over. Down the road, another mild-looking businessman scurried furtively down the area steps.
“I don’t get why they have to bother at all,” Jax remarked now, from his slumped position. “Rent boys, I mean, what’s that about? I can understand having to pay a girl to get with her, but blokes? Surely every bloke is pretty much always up for it? Wouldn’t have thought they’d need somewhere like that ratty joint.”
Bodie stared at him. He’d always pegged Jax as too world-wise for such stupid generalisations. That assessment was part of why he’d accepted this one-off mission with him.
After a period of this stunned silence, Jax curled his lip in disgust. “Oh wait, don’t tell me, you don’t want to think about queers at all? Want to do this job at the end of a bargepole?”
There was something about the way he said it, something over-casual, easy words matched oddly with a tensed jaw and piercing gaze, which made Bodie suddenly suspicious that Jax might not have segued from discussing Ray to discussing this purely by accident. That the man might have somehow discovered more about Ray’s exit than he’d let on. That his previous words might have been more calculated than genuine.
“Shakespeare was queer,” Bodie said, keeping his voice cold and neutral. “And Byron, more or less, and Auden. And Michelangelo.”
There was another pause, and then, slowly, Jax gave him a small nod. His frown had gone. “You have changed,” he commented, like he was pleasantly surprised but surprised nonetheless. Bodie supposed he deserved that one.
“You don’t know the half of it, mate,” Bodie muttered, looking away to scan the street again.
In the Navy after all, where, at the age of fourteen, he’d learnt a lot of new things very quickly, he’d swiftly picked up that being labelled a ‘poof’ or a ‘queer’ or a ‘faggot’ was a terrible thing. But also that those terms were used to brand people who slacked at work or betrayed friends and deals or told tales – behaviour that had nothing to do with sex. And having sex with other men was something everyone on the ship did, sooner or later, and it was treated rather like a digestive function, universal and understandable and not really to be mentioned. Not real, somehow. Not needing a name of its own. Not like when a bunch of the older sailors had taken him ashore in some backwater Scandinavian port and sent him stumbling in with a whore to ‘lose his cherry’ – as though all the times in the forward hold with the third mate, which everyone was at least theoretically aware of, had never really counted. If you could get it up for a woman, you were straight, it seemed. Normal men, good men, were always straight.
Though even back then, Bodie hadn’t been sure that he and normal were that closely allied.
What had Ray’s formative experiences been? David couldn’t have been the first, could he? How far back did it go? Since Ray’s revelations back in September, Bodie had thought more than once about the police corruption case they’d worked back in 1978, the one where they’d had to pretend to be queer youth workers – to pretend to be queer, essentially, though everyone had shied squeamishly away from saying as much. Had they both, in fact, actually only been pretending they were only pretending? Could they have pushed the boat out a lot further on that case, when it came to convincing undercover work and plausible activities?
“Oi? Hello? Thermos please?”
Jax’s voice, its irritation mostly teasing but still insistent, drew Bodie from his reverie. He blinked for a moment, flustered, and handed the flask over, shaking his head to clear it and scanning the operational area again.
“Hey, wait a minute,” he said, reaching out to grab Jax’s elbow.
“Fuck, Bodie! I’m holding boiling water here!”
“Never mind that, look at that guy, the one by the tree? See? Isn’t that...?”
“Sorenson, oh yeah,” Jax gave a leonine grin and reached to open his door, patting his jacket reflexively to check the position of his side-arm. Bodie did likewise.
“On three?” Jax asked, and, at Bodie’s nod, began. “One, two...” and they leapt out onto the road together, bearing the arms dealer to the ground.
- - -
“It’s nothing I can’t handle,” Bodie repeated, folding his arms.
Dr Ross gave a slow sigh and shook her head with theatrical exaggeration. “No, 3.7, we’ve discussed this. I’m the one who assesses your status. You tell me how you feel, what sort of things you’re doing – and how they make you feel. How you feel about your feelings.”
She was over-emphasising this too, teasing him a little and he had to laugh. She knew just how much he hated this, and wasn’t afraid to let him know, but wasn’t going to back down either. If you were talking about adjustment, she’d adjusted well over the past few years to life as a CI5 shrink, toning down her aggressiveness just enough, learning ever better how to cope with a bunch of agents with personal walls the scale of Troy.
Bodie didn’t have to like it, though.
“Can you tell me more about these symptoms you’ve been having?” she prodded now, voice back to the gentle, non-combative therapy norm that grated on him. He looked away, around the wide room, the sunlight streaming in through the half-drawn curtains and creating strange patterns of shade and light on the brown carpet. This house, now the headquarters of CI5 human resources, had once been someone’s home, someone’s family retreat. Maybe small children had run over this floor to reach the windows and look out at a snowfall, or a young person paced the length of the room, waiting for answers, unlucky in love...
“You were feeling a lot of anger for these last few months,” she told him, her voice cutting across his thoughts. “But you functioned well. When I saw you last Saturday, something seemed to have changed. Less fury, more uncertainty, even anxiety. And now a week later it’s the same, and you’re telling me about trouble sleeping and I can see your concentration’s drifting. That’s not necessarily safe.”
“I’ve had this problem before, when I was first in the squad,” he reassured her. “Before your time, doctor. It passed then and it’ll pass now.”
She raised an eyebrow at him, and scribbled something on her notes.
Bodie had thought he was past his days of waking up afraid and tense, of having to spend hours in hunched watchfulness, snapping at flies. It was something that had dogged him since his childhood, best suppressed – or so he’d always found – by action, violence, clear missions and success at them. He’d still been struggling with it when he and Ray had started working together, but then, gradually, the intensity and frequency of the problem had reduced and it became longer and longer since he’d last felt that way. He’d started to hope it was gone for good. Within a few days of Ray’s departure from London, however, he’d had a bad run of it, spending a night unable to quite convince himself the noises in the street were only happy revellers, fingers itching to twitch towards his gun.
He couldn’t figure out if the prolonged lull had been because he’d felt safer with Ray around, or because when Ray had been around he’d swiftly started worrying far more about Ray than himself.
Or maybe because, sometimes, when they were together, he’d felt like he could tell Ray about it. About the nerves. About the nightmares. About his father, his brother. About everything. He’d never actually wanted to speak of it, but had felt all the same that if that ever changed, speaking would have been possible, and that Ray would have - could have - listened. That meant something.
Despite all the problems it could bring, Bodie had always loved being in CI5 and it had always felt to him all those things that perhaps did mean home – stability, comfort, protection, sympathy.
But so much of that, of the things over and above being good at a job he liked, had been all thanks to Ray. He knew that now.
And so Ray leaving had been like half that home caving in, and that, he supposed, made it all make sense. How awful it had been, how much it had seemed to hurt. After all, if your home was half knocked-through then, no matter how decent what came afterwards was, it would feel odd. That was really very normal. He didn’t have to try and understand it beyond that.
But it had to mean something, didn’t it, when another person started feeling like ‘home’ to you?
Dr Ross tended to couch references to Ray in generalities, which usually he was grateful for. Then sometimes, like today, he almost wanted to shout at her that all his mess was to do with Ray, not himself.
Then sometimes he wondered if that was what she was waiting to hear.
“I want to talk about you being assigned another partner,” she was saying now, sitting up in her chair, leaning a little towards him. “Whether that’s the right call at the moment or not.”
Usually, he would have protested against a new partner at once, but he didn’t like her intimation that he himself might not right now be fit for someone.
“I’m telling you,” he said, earnestly. “It’ll be fine. It’ll be a good week.”
- - -
But by the time Ray’s visit rolled around that weekend, it had not been a good week at all. Since his Monday ‘assessment’ with Dr Ross, Bodie had continued to wake up with the slow icy creep of anxiety making its way along his spine, feeling his muscles tightening and coiling with every heartbeat. He’d been unable to keep from checking the exits and the sightlines in every room he entered, unable to stroll with any comfort outside in his lunch break – he’d been put on office and training work only for a fortnight, at Dr Ross’ insistence.
He’d tried to get his head down and push through it all, to ignore the problem, had tried to look forward to Ray coming instead, but he’d not slept particularly well for several nights and now, Saturday morning, going to meet Ray off the train, he was at least in control of himself but horribly aware that he was unlikely to make good company.
Not that he made very good company at the best of times, he couldn’t help suspecting. When he felt like this his self-confidence leeched away, and all the layers he’d built over old feelings fell apart. He could have been sixteen again – able to get angry (a last line of defence) – but with happiness seeming like something other people did, something he couldn’t penetrate.
He’d begun to try and think, the night before, of some way to put Ray off. Had thought he didn’t want to see Ray at all, that it could only make things worse.
But when he first spotted Ray coming along the platform at Kings Cross, easily visible in his white Arran sweater, canvas knapsack over his shoulder, it was like a loosening of steel bands around his chest, a moment of incredible relief.
Ray again struck him as looking incredibly well. Almost ten years had passed since they’d first met, but Ray looked younger now, somehow, than he ever had. Still fit and lean, but less hollow. Less pale. More inclined to smile than frown. His new life was clearly doing him good.
“Thought it’d be a nice day to walk to the river,” Ray said, by way of a greeting. He didn’t reach out or attempt a hug, and Bodie was grateful for that. He still felt tender all over from the five days of high tension. He was aware of Ray casting an appraising gaze over him and he wondered what Ray made of him, what changes there were in his own face. Probably nothing nice.
“If you like,” he agreed, grateful to have a plan and they fell into step, walking out of the station and along the Euston Road. Traffic noise and the difficulty of crossing safely made conversation challenging until they broke left and along the relative quiet of Argyle Street, heading towards Bloomsbury and southwards. Bodie was glad Ray had favoured walking over the bus – there was space on the pavement, an endless track to walk in tandem and whilst he couldn’t help but spot the sight-lines still, there were myriad exits, side streets, buildings and even Tube entrances for cover and he didn’t feel confined.
And Ray was beside him, which was reassuring beyond all reason.
“Got a job on?” Ray was asking, rather intently.
“Nothing in particular,” Bodie shrugged. “Briefings. Training.”
“Oh, OK. I see.” They paced a few more steps together. “I’ve been writing essays this week,” Ray continued, “if you can believe that. I should have remembered before I started this course how much I hate essays.” And he was smiling, laughing at himself, and Bodie managed a smile in return. “We can turn them in hand-written, thank goodness – makes the tippex-ing a lot easier - but my handwriting’s gone down the pan since I left the police, I tell you...”
In this vein he carried on chatting, light but interesting – Ray’s rants were always charming, Bodie thought, though he’d never dream of saying as much – and as they wandered on Bodie felt gradually better, but still oddly out-of-sync, disconnected as he’d been for days, like he was following everything in subtitles, a stranger in other people’s normal lives, nodding along automatically to a description of Ray’s.
“Hey! Over here!”
Ray was hissing at him, Bodie suddenly realised, and he blinked and saw that they had come to a halt on the Strand, next to where the north wing of Somerset House abutted the road and made an entrance to the wide, white neoclassical courtyard within.
“What? Oh, was it the Courtauld Gallery you wanted to go to?” Bodie tried to remember Ray’s earlier explanations. “I thought we were heading for the Festival Hall?”
“We were,” Ray replied, grinning. “But this is better.” And with that, he walked through the arches, onwards past the gallery block entirely and into the main courtyard. He then veered immediately off to the side, going towards the east wing, which ran perpendicular to the block they’d entered through. Here a small archway granted access round to the other side of the building, away from the courtyard and the eyes of the general passing public.
Bodie strode after him as quickly as he dared. “Ray? What on earth...?”
Ray was gazing up the three storeys of the building, along the length of a no-doubt venerable metal drainpipe, and still grinning. The devilish, teasing grin Bodie knew so well, and hadn’t realised how much he’d missed.
“I haven’t forgotten everything, you know,” Ray told him, and then without further warning he was swarming up the pipe and therefore up the side of the building, ignoring Bodie’s hissed calls and the drop behind him until he was over the parapet and on the roof. There he stood, hands on hips, triumphant and savouring his moment, before tilting his head to the side expectantly as if to say: You coming or what?
Bodie looked around. None of the security at the building or any of the other tourists seemed to have spotted them. If they did he could always wave his CI5 badge and murmur some bollocks about route scouting or unannounced inspections. He wanted to shout at Ray for endangering himself, but after all the man was already up there, and had ascended with the kind of proficiency Bodie only wished he could instil into his latest batch of CI5 recruits.
He moved forward, assessing the pipe, and swiftly shimmied upwards.
Ray had moved along a bit by the time Bodie reached the top, hugging the side away from the courtyard, balancing easily in the gap between the high edge of the parapet and the sloping face of the roof tiles.
“Fancy meeting you here,” was Ray’s greeting. His grin was plastered from ear to ear.
“You could have broken your fucking neck!” Bodie was exasperated, exhausted, half-terrified and utterly delighted. The misty barrier that had seemed to hover between him and reality was entirely gone now, and he was present and warm and slightly out of breath, and trying not to laugh with glee.
“Not bad, is it?” Ray gestured at the view, the winding Thames in sight beyond the Embankment. He led the way a little further along until they reached the southernmost edge, as close to the water as they could get at this elevation. Sighing happily, Ray sank to his knees and started making himself comfortable, opening up his knapsack. “Cheese and pickle, or ham?”
Bodie was still looking out at the river, the way it was sparkling in the midday sun, curving away in both directions like an invitation to fly out and join it.
“Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples lie, Open unto the fields and to the sky,” Bodie quoted.
“All bright and glittering in the smokeless air,” Ray continued for him, looking up. “I do know that one. Now – cheese and pickle or ham?”
“You brought sandwiches? Of course you did,” Bodie was smiling now, couldn’t help himself.
“I’m not buying lunch at bloody London prices, are you daft?” Ray sniffed, outraged. “Got flapjacks too, if you’d like some. Why am I even asking? I know whose stomach I’m dealing with here.”
Bodie sank down onto the roof next to him and held out his hand. “Ham, please. And when did you and Mr Wordsworth get so cosy?”
“Thank Gurdip for that, him and his collapsing library,” Ray handed over a wrapped package and a bottle of pop, and then tore open his own food rapidly. “Mmm, I’d forgotten how much energy that kind of climbing takes. Fuck, I’ll be feeling that in my thighs later.”
“As the actress said to the bishop?”
Ray reached over and flicked his ear; Bodie laughed and looked up at the sky. The brightness kept it cold, but not too chilly to enjoy with his thick jacket on, and the clouds were the fascinating, impressionist-art kind.
He did dart some glances at Ray, though, thinking of under-prepared muscles and the perils of explosive movement and the injured back, until finally Ray, as if reading his mind, shoved him again. “I’m fine, Bodie.”
“You’re a total head case, is what you are,” Bodie retorted, relieved. “But at least you make good sandwiches.”
“And I was thinking of you,” Ray said, after a pause, and then, no doubt seeing the confusion in Bodie’s face. “With the poetry. You were always quoting something. And it seemed... I dunno, it seemed like that helped you. Or something.”
“Help?” Bodie frowned. “What were you needing help for?”
Ray looked away from him, took another sip of his drink. “Makes you realise it’s all happened before, doesn’t it? Romantic poetry? That all the feelings have been someone else’s, one time or another. That it’s not just you - that it’s people, it’s how people... Anyhow, it makes it less lonely.”
Bodie bit his lip. “Do you still miss him, then?”
Ray’s head whipped round, “Not...” He paused, swallowed, then drank again and swallowed that before speaking. “No, I don’t. I mean generally, I mean...” He closed his eyes, and sighed. “I keep hoping I’ve made the right decisions. I did think about it, a lot. Leaving, I mean. I wasn’t sure, at first, but in hospital, in all that time off, I kept thinking how all I’d ever wanted to do was help people, and how we’d spent that whole day trying to trick one lot of evil bastards off against another lot.”
But that was going to help people, somehow, in the end, Bodie wanted to retort. He could see Ray’s point, though, and wasn’t going to be so obtuse as to pretend otherwise. “You’d thought about social work before?” he asked instead.
Ray nodded. “Back when I was at Art School. We went on a sketching tour round some of the London estates – nowhere too bad, I mean, it was a group of art students, we weren’t suicidal. But I kept seeing kids with just... nothing, you know? I could have got onto a course, with my results, but... well, then my Mum got the cancer and had to pack her job in, and Kathleen was at home looking after her, and they needed money. Much more money than the spare ends of an undergraduate grant.”
“So you joined the police?” Bodie had heard parts of the story before, but it was starting to make a new kind of sense to him.
“Yeah. And I liked it. There were ways to help people in that job, even if it wasn’t exactly how I’d pictured myself. And I turned out not to be half bad at it – youthful delinquency prepares you well in some ways for law enforcement, I suppose. And then George Cowley came calling and before I knew it, there I was, in CI5 six years and counting.” Ray had reached into his knapsack again and was holding out the flapjacks, neatly stacked and wrapped in greaseproof paper. “Here, take two since you’ll have two anyway.”
“Thanks,” Bodie took them; they were dense with syrup and scarcely crumbled in his hand. “So, all those years, you didn’t really want to..?”
“I liked doing the job well enough,” Ray said firmly. “You know that. But I came to see that what I liked was the stuff around the job, not... I mean, I liked working for Cowley, he’s a good man, I doubt I’ll ever work for a better. And I liked working with you.”
Bodie’s mouth was unaccountably dry. He looked back at the view, kept his eyes on the glittering river. He couldn’t understand why he suddenly felt he was floating, again, lifted and with his heart pounding at the same time. He wanted to say: If you liked working with me, then why leave me? But the only answer there could be for that was that, OK, maybe Ray had liked it, but had not liked it enough, and that wasn’t something he needed to hear.
“So, how’s the new place?” Ray was sitting up, tone gone brisk, absently licking the last stickiness from his fingers, sucking each one into his mouth as he went.
Bodie looked away quickly. “The new flat assignment? Nothing special. Like you always say, give me a roof and a bed and something to reheat a takeaway on and I’m sorted.”
“I shouldn’t say that, though,” Ray’s voice was sincere, and Bodie turned to look at him in surprise, meeting a steady, wistful gaze. “I shouldn’t joke like you don’t feel things,” Ray continued, “just because you never admit otherwise.”
“You take more care of my feelings than anyone else ever has, mate, I wouldn’t lose sleep over it.” Bodie meant it as a light reassurance, banter, but it came out heavily.
Ray had drawn one knee up under him, and now rested his chin on it. He looked up at Bodie and spoke so quietly that the roar of the traffic down on the Embankment almost drowned it out. “You can’t have thought that last September.”
Bodie didn’t want to lie. He picked up his sandwich paper, smoothing it out over his thigh and trying to fold it neatly.
“It was – is – what I wanted to do,” Ray continued, still soft. “But I shouldn’t have done it like that. I’m sorry, Bodie.”
“God, why? You don’t owe me anything!” Bodie was starting to feel too hot altogether, despite the breeze. He peeled off his jacket, but still felt flushed. “Either of us could always have walked away.”
“Thing is – this isn’t an excuse, but I thought, I really thought, that when I’d told you about... about David and all of that, that you’d tell me to get the hell out anyway. I never planned for anything else.”
“You really thought I’d be like that?” Anger and hurt twisted in his gut, along with a sense of guilty regret – he’d never given Ray any reason to think otherwise, and all it would have taken would have been the slightest amount of disclosure.
“Couldn’t dare to think anything else, could I?” Ray bit his lip. Bodie wondered if his chest also felt tight, his heart too big and too heavy, the moment closing in around them, a chance of something, maybe. “But you didn’t quite...” Ray sighed, shaking his head. “I couldn’t be sure. Sent all those postcards, waiting for you to tell me to go boil my head, invited you over and expected you to say you’d never darken my door again, but you... Bodie, do you..?”
Bodie startled – they both did – at a third voice, suddenly piercing into their bubble:
‘3.7? 3.7 come in please, this is Alpha.’
It’s was Bodie’s R/T, going off in his jacket where it lay on the roof between them.
‘3.7, Code 10 call, this is a Code 10 call, over,’ the tinny, demanding tones persisted.
Bodie shot Ray a helpless, apologetic look and scrambled in his pocket to get at the stupid thing and flick the switch, holding it up to his mouth. “Alpha, this is 3.7 receiving. It’s my day off, I’ll have you know.”
‘Tell her you’ve got to go and save the world and leave her the bill, then. Bound to help your chances,’ the voice on the other end suggested.
“Ha ha, you’re a comedian, Mason, what the hell is it?”
Ray, meanwhile, was continuing to tidy up their small amount of rubbish, standing, brushing his hands idly over the seat of his jeans.
“Mason?” Bodie barked again, pouring all his frustration into his voice.
It worked: ‘Security briefing, Cowley, 17.00 hours,’ Mason told him quickly, scared into line. Well, served him right. Bodie looked at his watch and did a double-take at the time – where had the hours gone? It had been barely one o’clock when they’d scaled the roof, and now he was going to have to leave almost at once to make the meeting on time. And no doubt Ray had a train to catch.
‘3.7? Can I tabulate your attendance?’
“I’ll tell you exactly what you can tabulate, mate,” Bodie growled, “But I’ll be there, 3.7 out.”
When he looked up, Ray was raising an eyebrow at him. “Mason’s only a kid, Bodie.”
“Yeah, well, since you’ve left he’s taken up a fondness for Kraftwerk and form-filling, it’s hard to love.”
Ray made a strange face. “I never really think of it all, going on without me. Well, of course I do, but it’s odd.” He started walking towards the drainpipe. “Who’s your new partner, then?”
“No one just yet.” Bodie fought an urge to offer to take Ray’s knapsack, to reduce in any way the weight that would be pulling him down as he descended.
Ray frowned, but said nothing, and he might only have been considering how best to begin his climb.
Carefully, they made their way back down the pipe and to the cobbled walkway below and then out onto the street with nobody else the wiser. Back on the pavement, they stood for a moment, as if each were waiting for the other to speak.
Bodie was feeling like a new man since the morning, so much better as to scarcely believe – it was always this way, afterwards – that he’d ever been so low. And he saw now that Ray had perceived it all along, had deliberately taken him up to a safe position, a place with good sightlines, easily defensible, somewhere he could begin to relax. A nest.
And it had been twice as good, he knew, because Ray had been there.
But now he had to walk one way to get to the right bus, and he knew Ray would probably head the other for the nearest Tube and back to Kings Cross, and as much as they’d seemed near to the right words earlier, now, back in the bustling world, it was all out of reach again.
“Look,” Ray said eventually, “with the job, and everything. Make them give you a partner. Someone who’ll stop you eating your way to primary arteriosclerosis at any rate. And be careful, OK?” He reached out, touching Bodie’s arm for a brief moment before pulling back again, leaving a small, bright, warm patch, then set off up the street, leaving Bodie standing and watching him.
Having reached the briefing, Bodie kept getting told he wasn’t paying attention. He begged to differ – it just wasn’t the briefing he was paying attention to.
He did gather that a high-profile radical politician from one of the Balkan states had arrived into the country and need to be monitored, possibly protected and/or possibly neutralised. Bodie was tasked to the strategic planning aspect of the job, but when it came to field work Dr Ross had apparently continued to put her foot down and he was time-tabled for the rest of the week solely with the recruits.
- - -
- - -
“As direct recruits,” Bodie was saying, turning away from the lecture theatre’s blackboard to face his audience, “you may find that undercover work is something your colleagues who’ve already worked in other squads have more experience with – the police and CID ones, anyway. Those of us with army or marines experience have rarely been called on to ponce about in a mackintosh and a fake moustache.”
There was a ripple of laughter through the small group listening. There were only fifteen of them in the class, the first batch of Cowley’s new guinea pigs. Although CI5 had been formed initially by drawing men – and now, increasingly, women – from pre-existing forces and services, Cowley’s dream all along had been to recruit at the age of eighteen and then do all the training on the job. This class were the first intake, now in their third year, and Bodie had been teaching them, on and off, for nearly eighteen months.
Experience is vital, I agree, Cowley had said, when he’d been discussing the whole concept with Bodie some time before that, trying to convince him to sign up as an instructor. But when we take on men from other services, we also have to deprogram what those other services have taught them, be that expecting to operate independently or expecting to be in much larger groups than two. No, I want them here, learning our methodology as soon as possible, and not subject to the governmental vagaries that sweep through other departments. We can assign them a more limited role and they can train on the job as nurses or doctors do.
“The first principle of undercover work,” Bodie continued now, “is never to take on more than you can chew. If you’ve not got the first fucking clue how a Russian arms dealer pretending to be a pesticides magnate would behave, don’t think about attempting it. And keep the lies to a minimum. Truth is easier, and more flexible than you might think.”
He drew a deep breath and glanced round the room. His audience were all fixed on him, rapt. He wondered, sometimes, what sort of horror stories some of the other instructors told about him – when he’d started teaching, half the class had arrived looking like they thought he might draw his weapon and take pot shots at those who didn’t please him – but he got the feeling a lot of this lot were genuinely interested. “On one of my earlier undercovers,” he said, stepping away from his lectern, “I was staking out a bowling alley and I asked my partner if there was anyone there acting suspiciously. He said yes there was: Us.”
Laughter again, but Bodie was making a serious point now, even as the thought of Ray, and all they’d left unsaid at the weekend threatened to derail his concentration.
“Sticking out can get you killed, is what I’m saying, and it’s hard to be natural and unnoticeable when you’re not yourself. Your partner can help you there – you can be yourself with them, always, and the rest will follow. We were lucky that night. Lucky enough to only have to defuse a dirty bomb.”
One of the front row – Thomas – sat forward eagerly. “Can you tell us about that, sir?”
“Let’s see how you do on the essays, eh?” Bodie went back behind his lectern and gathered his notes. “Pick one of the scenarios from the list I’ve written on the board, give me details of the cover you would attempt for infiltration and assess the five greatest risks to that cover, at least three thousand words, into the pigeonhole by Monday.”
That brought groans, but Bodie was used enough to his classes’ reactions by now, and he finished packing up, letting the recruits file out ahead of him.
Cowley was waiting in the corridor, holding the door open. Bodie wondered if he’d been listening in.
“You seem to have a natural flair, 3.7,” was Cowley’s greeting, not without a smile.
“Sir,” Bodie nodded. “I enjoy it, I suppose. Funny, never liked school much. Never finished it.”
Cowley grinned, “Perhaps that’s the key to being a good teacher, then?”
They talked a little more about the program, Cowley leading the way back through the corridors to his latest office, which had, perforce, been decorated in a standard modern issue of grey-on-grey carpet with pink and luminous green flecks.
“How’s the progress with Dr Ross coming?” Cowley asked, as he shut the office door behind them. “I’m concerned about this suspension from frontline duties. She’s sending me so-called ‘updates’, but naturally they share very little detail. Do you even want to be back in the field full time?”
Bodie startled, looking up at him. “Of course, sir! I love this job.”
“There’s a lot of ‘this job’ that goes on. We could use you taking on more duties on the recruit training programme if you liked that idea. It’s not just fieldwork or leaving, you know.”
“I like fieldwork, sir. But I suppose... I suppose I can’t imagine ever finding another partner like Doyle.”
Cowley frowned at him for a long moment and then went over to where his antique oaken dresser sat, incongruously, in the corner of the room, made twice as ugly by its surroundings. Opening the bottom doors, he drew out a bottle of whisky and two glasses. Bodie went over to hold them as Cowley poured. He couldn’t help noticing the older man’s hands, more liver-spotted now than once before, veins thinner, a slight wasting in the muscles round the thumb which came with age.
“Cheers,” Cowley offered to him – his eyes were the same as ever, always that intense fire - and Bodie returned the salute. Cowley took a small sip and then paused before speaking again. “What you and Doyle had, Bodie, that wasn’t a good partnership, that was something else. Something rare. A connection. It’s never going to be quite like that again.”
Bodie licked his lips, feeling the alcohol burning deep inside him. “Sir? What did make you put us together? Me and him?”
“Yes, you were chalk and cheese, weren’t you?” Cowley grinned, gazing off into the middle distance. “I suppose I should say I evaluated you both with some novel psychometric model known only to myself, or followed some ancient Eastern philosophy. But I believe what I really thought was that whilst the two of you were both annoying me, you might as well be annoying each other at the same time.” He chuckled, then reached out to clap Bodie on the back. “And then you became the best advert for chalk-flavoured cheese I’ve ever found. You see, Bodie, 90% of good leadership is knowing how to take credit for happy accidents. Oh, excuse me,” and he moved away. There had been a short knock on the door.
“Ah, well, speak of the devil and he shall appear!”
Bodie’s head whipped round at the amusement in Cowley’s tone. He’d assumed the visitor was a secretary with a note, but there, hovering just outside the room and looking anxious, was Ray.
Bodie’s heart was in his mouth. He couldn’t figure out if he felt more pleased or agitated, delighted to have this opportunity but desperately afraid of getting it all wrong.
“You look to be in good fettle, at any rate,” Cowley was saying heartily, ushering Ray in. “What brings you here?”
“It’s just the pension fund stuff and the grant paperwork, sir.” Ray looked as flustered as Bodie had seen him in a while. “I phoned last week, I thought your secretary... anyway, I just need your signature, I didn’t realise...” his gaze flicked to Bodie and then away again. He’d gone slightly pink.
The last two times they’d met, Ray had seemed the more collected of the two of them, so what was this? Had Ray really had to prepare himself so much for the prospect of meeting Bodie in order to give that impression of its being no effort at all?
“Anyway, it’s not important,” Ray held out a bulging brown envelope, “I was just going to say hello and leave these with you.”
“I was just speaking with Bodie about the excellent work he’s doing with our teaching programme,” Cowley said, ignoring Ray’s discomfort completely. “We were sharing a dram, can I tempt you...?” He held up the bottle.
“Not for me, thanks all the same.” Ray hooked his thumbs into the loops of his jeans. He was wearing a leather jacket – maybe he’d biked into the city? - and had a tiny smear of grease on one cheekbone. He seemed now to be making a conscious effort to relax.
Cowley enquired about Ray’s university course, sounding genuinely interested. They talked for a little while, Ray explaining about his hours and his assessment methods and the commute from his house. “It’s what I’ve always wanted, sir, like I said when I turned in my resignation.”
“Aye, that’s the thing,” Cowley smiled and raised his glass. “Find that which you love and hold onto it.” He drained the dregs, and before anyone had to come up with anything else to say, Cowley’s desk phone rang, one of the green ones, angrily flashing a red light.
“Well, go on, get away with you both,” Cowley was still grinning, but gesturing them out of the room like flies. “I’ll get these to you soon,” he promised, briefly raising Ray’s envelope of papers. He was poised over the ringing phone, just waiting for them to pull the door closed behind them – Bodie slipped through into the corridor, and Ray did the honours.
“Well,” Bodie said.
“Thought you’d be out and about,” Ray was saying. “What with there having been a Code 10, not that I... I wasn’t trying to avoid you, I just meant...”
“I’m not in the field at the moment,” Bodie admitted, taking pity on him. “I think you saw why last Saturday.”
Ray licked his lips, gaze darting away. “Not like you to let them pull you out, though, even if you need it.”
For a moment, Bodie knew, they were seeing the same things. The squealing wheels and cold mud of the motocross dirt-bike course, Ray risking his neck and knowing it but heading blind into danger anyway, because Bodie had needed him to. Because Bodie hadn’t let himself be helped or comforted any other way, not until it was almost too late.
“You’re not the only one who can try and be more like he always wanted to be,” Bodie pointed out.
Ray inclined his head slightly, acknowledging this for the truth. He looked relieved, even pleased.
“Ray!” someone along the corridor exclaimed. It was Charlie Peterson, Bodie saw with a sinking heart, and he was now coming up to them, delighted, clapping Ray on the back and swapping stories – or at least telling his own – for quite a while. Bodie watched and saw Ray’s easiness, the way he slipped into pleasant like putting on a wetsuit, the easier to move through and yet stay apart. Perhaps keeping people out could be done as easily that way as by being spiky – Bodie had never thought of it like that before.
And Ray was nothing at all like most people – how had he forgotten that? Ray might suit it more, make a better pass at pretending, but he was as strange and spiky as Bodie in his way – as Cowley had so long ago perceived - and it was glorious.
“Bunch of us going to the pub, want to come?” Peterson kept spasmodically glancing down the hallway, clearly hoping someone would come along and admire his prize. “For old times? See the lads?”
“That’s very kind of you,” Ray said, smoothly, “but we’d made, um, dinner reservations,” and he flicked a glance at Bodie.
“Oh, I see, you old dogs!” Peterson smirked, and Bodie felt a sudden panic – he’d only just begun to think it himself, how could Peterson of all people see...? But then the man continued with, “And who are the two lucky ladies tonight? Except of course you won’t tell me. Oh, never would. Always knew how to keep the best to yourselves. Well, good luck, gentlemen.” And he was off again in a flurry of good humour. “I’ll tell the boys you’re here, eh?” he called back behind him.
Ray met Bodie’s eye, and without needing to exchange a word they made their way rapidly along the corridor in the other direction, rounded a corner and escaped through the Fire Exit.
“Sorry about that,” Ray said, once they’d made it a safe distance away and had slowed their pace to a normal walk. “I’ve never been able to stand him. I didn’t mean to leave you out of it all too though, was just the first thing that came into my head.”
“Trip to the pub with that lot? Wasn’t about to do that.”
“Got plans tonight, then, have you?”
Bodie took a deep breath. “Taking you to dinner, apparently.” He said it lightly, just lightly enough that it could be brushed off as a joke if Ray so wished. “Unless you’ve got a train to catch, or...”
“Nah, drove down on the bike,” Ray was smiling and waved away Bodie’s subsequent concerns. “It’s OK, I’ve a got a hotel room near Russell Square, I’ve some other stuff needs sorting out in this neck of the woods tomorrow so I thought I’d overnight it. I won’t turn into a pumpkin at midnight.”
“Well, alright,” Bodie rubbed his hands together eagerly. “What do you fancy, then? To eat, I mean.”
“Italian?” Ray gave him a serious gaze. “La Fontanella?”
They’d been there twice before, once on case and then back again for the food. It was deep in what the guidebooks called Theatreland, and the maps called Soho. It was opposite a gay pub.
“Sounds good,” Bodie said, as casually as he could. “I’ll meet you – where? Leicester Square Tube? Seven, half-seven?” He was trying to act like his skin wasn’t burning, like he didn’t feel drunk quite suddenly in ways that had nothing to do with half a dram of Scotch whisky.
- - -
Back in his flat for a quick shower and change of clothes, Bodie couldn’t seem to stop himself imagining how the place might look to Ray’s eyes.
Although he’d been moved in to the new accommodation nearly three weeks, and although he’d unpacked and organised with military self-discipline, there was still something cold and temporary about the space. There was one chair he liked to sit in to watch television or read, and the whole sofa was littered with old newspapers, bits of equipment and abandoned pieces of shopping as a result. He ate in the chair half the time too – his dining table (which was in any case too small and too round to be really useful) was disappearing under takeaway menus, groceries (the cupboards were full of empty Tupperware the previous inhabitant had left) and a stack of laundry delivered the week before.
There was nothing, despite the impression of overcrowding, that wasn’t purely practical. No ornaments, no mementos, no pictures on the wall except the cheaply framed print of a sunflower which was the wrong shape and size and colour for the room anyway. It was distinctly impersonal. Nothing home-like about it at all.
Ray could change a space like this, though. Ray could find ways to make the mismatched furniture work, would know what touches could make it cosy and how to find beauty in the hard, pragmatic design.
Ray could change this room simply by being here.
But Bodie had to stop himself thinking that way. He had no right to, nothing more concrete than hope. And the contrast of the idea, once imagined, would only make facing the reality harder.
Like the rescued, crumpled photograph languishing once more in the back of a drawer, it was something he ought not to let himself contemplate.
Dressed in chinos and a jacket, aftershave applied, Bodie stepped out into his dingy corridor and pulled his door closed behind him with relief.
- - -
“I seem to recall this place does a great Bolognese, but since the last time we ate it the night didn’t go that well, perhaps not?” Bodie smiled as he looked up from the La Fontanella menu, and was surprised to catch a deep wince from Ray in response to his teasing.
“Yeah, I’ve never wanted to cook that since.” Ray gave a short, bitter laugh and briefly closed his eyes. “God, what a horrible time that was.”
Bodie stared at him, thoughts racing. He had never really considered that evening from Ray’s perspective; what it must have been like to prepare the food and the setting, knowing all along what he was planning to say and fully expecting, apparently, to have that admission end their friendship. Ray could have lied, at least by omission, but for all his fears he’d wanted to give Bodie the truth.
At the time, Bodie might have assumed that was out of devotion to the erstwhile David, but then Ray had rated him ‘not important’, hadn’t he?
“Carbonara, then?” Ray was asking. “Puttanesca?”
“Was thinking the mint and basil ravioli, actually,” Bodie surveyed the selection once more, then put his menu down. “Yes, that’ll suit me nicely. Hey, do you remember that awful place in Southend?”
“The one with the green steaks? I try to forget.” Ray shook himself in an exaggerated shudder and the atmosphere lightened again. They launched comfortably into a series of restaurant reminiscences.
“What’s the night life like in Cambridge, then?” Bodie asked, once they’d had their orders taken and were tucking into bread and oil.
“Not bad. Not quite like here...” Ray tipped his head towards the view from the window, where out in the street two drag queens and their friends were wending a waving way along the pavement, “but nowhere’s quite like London, is it? I knew I’d give some things up, moving. On balance it was worth it.”
“I dare say,” Bodie looked away, took a quick drink of water.
“I missed you in different ways,” Ray’s voice was lower, now, but clear and determined. He was resting one hang on the table-top and Bodie saw the white strain in his knuckles, as if needing to brace to get the words out. “At first it was just like losing – like losing a coat. I kept looking round and expecting you to be there. And I thought I’d get used to that over time, like when you move house and you try and turn left for the kitchen until you eventually learn to turn right. And then I missed you to talk to. I missed hearing what you had to say – caught myself trying to imagine it, sometimes, trying to have a conversation with you in my head. And then I worried about you. I missed being able to see that you were OK on a regular basis. And then I just realised I wanted you around.”
Bodie had to drink again before he could speak. “Careful,” he said, when he was able. “You’ll pay me a compliment unless you watch out.”
“Would hate to do that,” Ray agreed, smiling softly, and the buzzing under Bodie’s skin was increasing. Had it always been there? This humming, simmering vibration between them? Something deeper and stronger than all those complex webs of shared moments, but permeating them also, illuminating the memories to show more than he’d ever realised at the time.
The food came and they ate in a comfortable mutual silence, talking briefly about the flavours, exchanging a few more recollections. Ray’s eyes were dark and sparkling in the candlelight, and Bodie wasn’t sure he could have noticed if he’d been served baby octopus with a caramel sauce.
Neither of them wanted pudding. They paid and made their way out into the street, and Bodie was still floating – a detachment from the world like the fear, and yet nothing like, because that made him feel alone, abandoned, and this cocooned him in a perfect centre, with all he needed, where nothing hurt.
Now, as they stood together, Ray raised an eyebrow and shot a glance at the Lion Rampant pub opposite, from the doors of which were spilling several people in dresses and teetering high-heels, not all of them female.
“You fancy another drink?” Ray asked, and Bodie imagined it, imagined going in there, going to the bar, standing and talking and maybe, finally, touching, and how it would be OK there, how no one would kick them out or kick them down.
He’d never been in a queer bar, not except a few times searching premises on the job - never properly. He found he liked the idea, the possibility of fitting in, and in the last way he’d ever supposed he would.
But the place was playing disco music, loudly, and the crowd were drunk and high-spirited and out to laugh and relax, casual and uncaring, unimportant, and this was too private, still, to share.
“If I’d asked you,” he said, looking intently at Ray. “If I’d asked you, then, back in September, to stay, to stay with me, rather than biting your head off like an idiot..?”
Ray put his hand out, resting it on Bodie’s arm. Bodie reached up to cover it with his own; Ray’s skin was warm. Touching made all the buzzing hum faster.
“In some ways,” Ray said quietly, “I’m glad it happened how it did. Because I needed to know, I needed... You were my whole life, Bodie, by the end, and I wasn’t sure any more if that was only because we’d got so tied up in each other’s... lives, work, houses, food, everything - that we couldn’t break free.”
Bodie couldn’t help the sharp breath he released. Ray met his gaze, smiled and shuffled a fraction closer. On this street, in this part of the city, they could stand like this, unremarkable under the stars.
“I missed you,” Ray repeated, earnestly, turning his hand over to grasp Bodie’s, gripping tight. “I think in some ways I knew I would. I felt like I was half married to you, and half wasn’t enough. I didn’t think I could be with you any longer unless I could... be with you.” Ray shrugged helplessly and licked his lips, obviously nervous, and Bodie wanted, needed, felt the pull of him with the intensity of magnetism, of gravity...
A raucous cry sent them stumbling apart, more from reflex defensiveness than anything. At the other end of the street were massed a group of lads all out together, wandering round Soho and probably not looking for this street, calling out at each other and what they saw and their whole tipsy world.
“Not here,” Bodie said when the men had passed out of sight. “Not out in the cold, not in that bar either, not packed nineteen to the dozen. And look, my flat’s a fucking depressing hole and you’re in a hotel and I’d rather...”
“Yeah, OK, yeah,” Ray nodded, smiling a little. The adrenaline was probably still racing through him as much as it was Bodie, and that was another reason – Bodie had had his share of quick and desperate times with men, of snatched seconds heightened with the thrill of danger. Ray deserved something else. They both did.
“Tell you what,” Ray continued. “How about you come to mine again, next weekend?”
“Let you take me home? Who says I’m that sort of girl?” Bodie lisped, and laughed, and Ray with him. It was easier to move away from each other with the mirth still warm and easy between them, but they stayed closer than the wide pavement demanded as they made their way back to the Tube.
Once again in his flat, alone and revved up and still burning, Bodie wished for a long moment that he’d just bundled Ray back with him. Really, though, he knew that for once he’d got it right, for once found words that, if not precisely saying how he felt, would be enough for Ray to hear it all the same.
- - -
It was Jin, on the second occasion, who let Bodie into Ray’s house. He opened the main front door of the building dressed in a pair of drainpipe jeans so tight they left nothing to the imagination and a Madonna t-shirt which was cut off above his midriff. Seeing Bodie, he looked him up and down slowly and let out an appreciative whistle.
Bodie had put on one of his newer shirts, but what of it?
“Not gallivanting into the night today, eh?” Bodie observed.
“I am busy making my final presentation piece,” Jin enunciated carefully, with a strong accent. “Design School. Portfolio.”
“Right.” Bodie stepped inside and surveyed the hall. A large bike now occupied half the floor space and the book mountain was as tall as ever. He was almost pleased, at first, to see the spider plant he’d clouted re-potted and back in position, before realising that there were now three of them.
Jin caught the direction of his gaze. “That plant get everywhere,” he said, with distaste. “All the windowsills. Gurdip’s plant. Gurdip get everywhere. Nearly everywhere.” And he sighed heavily. Then, turning back and grinning; “Ray made pasta dumplings for you,” he said, in a tone of deep significance, and giggled.
“It’s called ravioli, Jin,” a voice called down the stairs. “Let the man up here to eat it, eh?”
The sound of Ray’s voice made Bodie shiver. He’d climbed these stairs once with a mixture of fear and anticipation and now it was almost as bad. He began carefully to pick his way forwards.
“Journey alright?” Ray yelled down.
“Not bad,” Bodie caught his trouser-leg on the bicycle’s spokes and swore under his breath. These were his best pair of trousers. “Who’s taken up cycling, then?”
“The bike is belong to Cozy’s boyfriend,” Jin explained, grinning still wider. “They are out for dinner. She cannot cook.” And he raised an eyebrow meaningfully.
“You’ve gained a lot more English vocabulary in four weeks, haven’t you?” Bodie remarked, darkly.
“Yeah, we, uh, don’t tell Cozy that,” Ray had the decency to blush a little as he said this, coming into Bodie’s view as he stood, arms folded, on the landing. He had a dish towel tucked into the waist of his jeans, which were almost as painted-on as Jin’s.
“Evening, then,” Bodie managed to say past his suddenly dry mouth, standing at the head of the stairs and not sure quite what to do next. Whether to brush past or put out his hand or try and hug, or...
“Evening,” Ray answered.
“Smells good,” Bodie offered.
“Yeah, mmmmmm, hungry now,” Jin was watching them, and, after darting a few more glances between them, ran swiftly past and up the next flight of stairs, returning moments later with a tasselled over-shoulder bag. “I think, you know, I’ll go say ‘Hi’ to Gurdip in his takeaway, OK? Let you have some space, huh? Bye bye!”
And he ran nimbly down the stairs and out, leaving only a hint of perfume behind.
“Do you want to come inside, then, or..?” Ray’s words came out oddly, like he was having trouble producing them.
“Yes, please.” Bodie’s mouth was watering and the food had only a little to do with it. He followed Ray into his flat, caught sight again of the warm, friendly interior and then had the breath knocked out of him as Ray pushed him back against the closed door.
“Bodie...” Ray said with a sigh, a long, heavy exhalation that ghosted across Bodie’s skin and sent him fizzing all over. It was new and wonderful and maybe even slightly terrifying, but it was safe too, safe and familiar and home.
For the past three days, since leaving Ray with no more than a long handshake at Leicester Square Tube, he’d been trying not to hope too much about this meeting. Trying to convince himself he’d misunderstood. But here they were.
Returning to each other.
He ran his hand up Ray’s side, feeling the heat of skin through Ray’s thin shirt. Muscles twitched and flexed under his touch, and Ray was still looking at him, still breathing hard as a runner at the end of a long race but not yet quite over the tape.
Bodie leant his weight back a little and drew Ray in towards him, widening his own stance, letting Ray move between his legs and come close, so close. They both groaned, shifting with little hitches against each other, but still everything was slow and careful, eking out the moment.
Ray lifted his hand now, stroking over Bodie’s face, fingers tracing the faint lines in the corners of his eyes and mouth. Bodie fought a strange rising ache in his chest, a heat in his eyes, an emotion that was so much of joy but which left him struggling to remain in control.
“Always wanted this,” Ray said, and ducked his head for a moment, clearing his throat and licking his lips. “God, Bodie...”
“I didn’t know,” Bodie apologised, and the whole of him was aching. “I didn’t know I could...”
“You can.” Ray pressed close again, warmth chasing the pain and stoking it all at the same time. “You can.”
Bodie kissed him. Ray tasted of citrus and tonic water and fresh berries, whilst he tasted of railway station tea and travel, but soon he forgot all that, forgot everything as they learnt each other, the last pieces left to be known.
“Your food,” Bodie gasped after a while, breaking to breathe.
“Food can wait,” Ray reassured him. “Come with me.” And he led him – they were both shirtless, how had that happened? – through across to his room and bore him down onto the bed.
- - -
Nothing got faster in the bedroom, at least not at first. What Bodie had known of intimacy between men had always been fast - fast and nearly if not actually violent. Wrestling, always, and a sense of something frantic, of fear stoking need.
But, after that first abrupt move towards him, Ray was being slow and steady. His hands were careful and thorough, exploring Bodie's skin with touches that left heat and humming in their wake. The tip of his finger traced whorls over Bodie's chest, slow but firm, and it was nothing, so little, but Bodie's breathing had gone fast and shallow and he was shaking under it. He pulled Ray down to lie close against him, kissed his mouth and his forehead and the hard protrusion of his cheekbones, sucked at the tendons of his neck, tasted his skin; salt and onion-steam. He'd wanted this. He'd wanted this the week before, and the week before that and the month and the year and the decade before too.
"Bodie...please! Oh, Bodie, you bastard, please..." It was Ray murmuring, Bodie began to realise, as they moved against each other, still slow and heavy as thunder. Ray over him, above him, on him but in his arms too, begging him, his chest red and flushed down the centre. Bodie licked a trail following the blush, and reached for the fly of Ray's jeans. This was taboo, sacrilege, transgression; this was not what they were, what they did, and that was the revelation of course, that this was exactly what they were and really what they always had been.
Tight denim and sweat and lying down are not conducive to disrobing with dignity, but the struggles and the laughter with it felt good too. Bodie worked himself down the bed and knelt trying to drag the jeans over Ray's bony ankles, hampered by the giggles making his hands shake and the sight of Ray, who was leaning back on his elbows and watching, all messy hair and joy, enough to make Bodie’s breath even harder to catch.
"You useless bastard," Ray chided affectionately when finally their clothes had been defeated. Bodie leant in to kiss him and twisted his nipple, hard, in revenge. But Ray's response was to gasp blissfully and fall backwards, blush spreading, and Bodie pursued this new information whole-heartedly.
If the times he'd been with men before had been like fighting, the times with women had been perhaps most like trying to remember a complicated yoga pattern, with a correct order and execution of each distinct step to be observed. But with Ray, now, trying to give with touch what he'd never been confident of communicating with words, everything flowed together. There was kissing and petting and during it all they both came - Ray was beautiful, arched and gasping, losing words into Bodie's mouth, so close against him - but all as one long sequence, unplanned and perfect.
"So, you made me ravioli?" Bodie asked at length. They were lying under the covers alongside each other, catching their breath. Bodie had dozed for an uncertain amount of time, and Ray had too from the sleepiness in his gaze, although Bodie rather hoped the man had other reasons also for looking a little unfocused. There were a scattering of purpling bruises forming over Ray's chest, and if Bodie looked at them much longer he'd be forgetting all about food all over again.
"Hungry, are we?" Ray asked him, not without a hint of pride in his voice. "Let me see..." he leant over to rest his ear on Bodie's abdomen, pretending to listen: "Oh yes, definite rumblings."
Bodie kissed him, quickly. It was hard not to kiss Ray's grin, especially once you'd learnt you were allowed to. "Got to keep my strength up."
"Yeah, you'll be needing it later," Ray raised his eyebrow.
"Yeah?" Bodie hadn't meant the question to come out too serious, hadn't meant to let any uncertainty into the moment; he'd been invited for this, for this night, for this meeting and a meal, no more.
Ray looked at him for a moment, his gaze steady. "You wouldn't have to sleep on the floor if you fancied staying tonight. Any night."
"Let's see how the food is first, eh?" Bodie told him, knowing the happiness would come through in his voice, and kissed him again, longer and deeper this time, even as Ray laughingly tried to slap him upside the head.
- - -
Following the main course – they’d come through half-dressed and still lingering together, settled in and made the most of slightly dried-out ravioli which were nonetheless delicious, especially with the accompanying cheese sauce – Ray went to retrieve a covered bowl from his fridge, unveiling it on the table. It was a summer pudding, one of Bodie's favourites.
Bodie took it in, the rich red of the fruit and the scent, and recalled the times over the years when Ray had made it before, usually after lengthy pleading on Bodie's side followed by Ray grinning and giving in. The sharp flavour of the fruit in the air, white wine or gin and tonic in their hands, sweet and tart pudding and sweet companionship, side by side. One summer, when Ray had been placed in a flat in Highgate with a garden, they'd eaten outside once in the late light of evening, and watched the sky change from orange to purple to dark blue. Ray had burnt a large candle, heavily fragranced with citronella to ward off mosquitoes. The garden smelt of it, and ozone, and quietly rotting undergrowth, Bodie remembered it all quite clearly. The house next door to Ray's had been having a small party, there was laughing and talking, and sighing drifting over the hedge, but Ray and Bodie had said nothing, just sat, listening a little but mostly silent, contented together.
It had felt, then, as though life might be good.
It was a memory that he hadn’t let himself touch in months. But one only had to fear memories of what was lost, and here he was sitting with Ray’s hands on his bare shoulders, in Ray’s flat, Ray’s food in front of him; he’d found Ray again, or maybe Ray had found him.
Home could be a place you returned to. Or perhaps, also, a person you knew would return to you. And for the first time in his entire life, he might just have that.
“You’ll have sugar and cream, I take it?” Ray was saying now, going over to the kitchen area to fetch both to the table. Seeing Bodie, he stopped, put the jug and bowl carefully down and went to his side once more. “Hey, Bodie? You OK?”
Bodie didn’t want to talk. Not yet. But Ray held him, kissed his face and pressed close enough that the tears made marks on both their faces, accusing no one individual. And Bodie gripped back, tight, and realised that at least for now, he was not going to have to let go.
- - -
- - -
Bodie took one more look round his flat, checking no stray mid-week takeaway containers or dirty plates had escaped his tidying. As he surveyed the living room, he was surprised by his vague sense of affection for the place. Now, as July approached and it was coming time to rotate onwards yet again, he thought he’d miss this one. It had come to him poorly furnished and scarcely decorated, and it still caught the sun at all the wrong times and the sofa remained uncomfortable, but there had been enough good times here to create a certain fondness.
And it was much more cheerful now that there were the bright fabrics draped over the fittings, and the old pokey table had been done away with, and with a bit more actual food in the kitchen.
He was going to attempt to cook Ray a chicken balti tonight. From scratch, or at least nearly – the chap in his corner shop had been very helpful in picking out the right curry paste and advising about vegetables and how to know when rice was done. Ray had been an encouraging if opinionated recipient of Bodie’s culinary experiments thus far, and trying to impress him certainly made for good motivation. This was going to be a step up from last time’s baked potatoes.
In many ways the place looked as though Ray had never left – some of his clothes in the cupboards, his own toothbrush in the bathroom, a few of his knick-knacks that had migrated to Bodie’s shelves and a large sociology textbook he’d forgotten and which Bodie had to remember to remind him about later. But Bodie’s stuff was equally well distributed at Ray’s place, and the truth was that they generally alternated weekends between the two, and there’d been five long nights alone since last they’d parted.
“It’s only a three year degree, nothing to say I can’t move to London and work there afterwards,” Ray had pointed out. “But I love it in Cambridge – I like being somewhere smaller, somewhere a bit more... human. Think about it, eh? Nothing to say you can’t move either.”
Bodie had been thinking about that. With Dr Ross long satisfied of his fitness to resume normal duties, he’d been back in the field of late. It was hard and cold and grim, but damn if he didn’t love it. It was a world he knew he fit into.
That said, he’d liked teaching, missed it now, even, and he wouldn’t be able to roll around shooting at things forever.
He looked down at his side table where the photo was, its creases pressed flat in a neat silver frame. It had never been meant to be a photo of the two of them, but it was all the same. Jax had taken a long look at it, when first Bodie had invited him over for an evening, early in their new partnership. Had taken a long look and had raised an eyebrow, and smiled, said nothing more. That was fine by Bodie. He didn’t like to discuss his personal life, never had, and that kind of trust took a while to build.
Things were going well with Jax, though. Well enough to be another reason to enjoy continuing the job, at least for now. He trusted Jax to keep him safe. It wasn’t how it had been with Ray, but it didn’t need to be. Cowley had been right – what Bodie had with Ray had always been about way more than just a job.
At the side of the photo, unmissable in its smart blue pot, the spider plant was thriving. Gurdip and Jin, who seemed to have paired off quietly but to very mutual satisfaction, had made it as a very earnest housewarming offer to him, and Bodie hadn’t wanted to turn it down, even though it continued to try to spawn all over the place.
When he went to Ray’s, Gurdip and Jin often came round for dinner, Cozy and her boyfriend joining in more often than not. Other people could be dull or irritating, it was true, but he could see that there was something in having a group to welcome you. They were all a bit odd, really, and they were apparently happy to have Bodie fit right in alongside them.
The doorbell rang, interrupting his thoughts. Smiling, Bodie went over to open up, and bring Ray into his home.
- - -
- - -