That fact that Ray had come with him to the fracture clinic was a sign in itself of how things had changed.
And also a sign, unmissable, of what remained uncertain and uncharted.
Bodie shifted uncomfortably in his hard plastic, scoop-shaped, orange seat, and tried to resist the urge to look over to where Ray sat – in the chair next to him at a distance prescribed by the bar fixings of the ranks of seats, and apparently absorbed in the local paper: Tug-of-Love Housewife, 29, in High Speed Chase.
With a muffled grunt, Bodie managed to slide his right leg - entirely encased in thick plaster from the groin down - along the floor, and rearranged his elbow crutches where they rested beside him.
He and Ray had only been waiting in outpatients fifteen minutes, having come in and presented Bodie’s little card, and been gestured to the seating area by an uninterested looking receptionist in a green cardigan. Bodie was already bored out of his mind, and fast losing his hopes that this chance to get out of his flat and see something of the world would be exciting by itself after a week of bed rest.
It wasn’t just boredom, though. Boredom would have been frustrating, but not left him like this, not jittery and agitated as he now felt.
No, the boredom was on the surface, a placid skin on something roiling underneath. He was conscious of being unnecessarily alert for details – noticing the joins in the floor tiles where the brown linoleum rippled, the squeak of the nurses’ square-toed shoes, the sudden acceleration of a car outside - and he knew why. This alertness, this impatience, they were the symptoms that came from knowingly facing danger.
A danger here, now, coming upon him today, which was intangible, and which he couldn’t outgun.
After all, now that Bodie had decided what he was going to do, it could only be a matter of time until the confrontation. How much time, of course, he couldn’t know, and that only made things worse.
He shifted again, and sighed.
He’d not expected to have to deal with this so soon.
But Ray had been strange all that morning. Might as well come along, keep you company, all that, he’d said, like it was something they did usually. And perhaps indeed they had done so, once or twice - there had been a lot of broken bones between them over the years, a lot of outpatient check-ups, physicals, screenings to which they might have gone together for lack of anything better to do.
But that was not how they’d been lately. Not for a good eight months.
More and more, recently, they’d instead been careful, not casual, about it - about what level of intimacy was allowed between them.
‘More than friends’ was as a euphemism for it, for what had happened between them since February, but it would seem that for them it meant less than friends at the same time. Meant not doing things together as once they had done - neither suggesting nor reminiscing nor referring to it.
So what, then, was Ray doing here today? Ray who, to Bodie’s certain knowledge, had invented an appointment three weeks earlier just to have an excuse to walk away from him after a training session, and so as to avoid taking up Bodie’s offer of a lift. That offer, Bodie had made without expectations. It had simply seemed ridiculous to make Ray take the train back into London when Bodie’s car was right there – it hadn’t been like they had to talk about it, about anything. But no, Ray had to see a man about a dog in a pub down the ways from the training area, and Bodie wasn’t to wait for him.
So why, this morning, had Ray offered, quite spontaneously, to come with Bodie to the Princess Royal Hospital, and stew in existential boredom in a low-ceilinged claustrophobic room that might have been better suited to a Kafka novel, and wait to hear some quack pronounce on Bodie x-rays?
In Bodie’s peripheral vision, Ray turned over a page of his paper: Duckpond Drama for Tearaway Tot.
Impossible that Ray could have guessed what Bodie intended, and come here with a plan for that in mind. They hadn’t talked about anything meaningful, anything to do with feelings or futures or plans, in eight months.
Bodie’s intentions had to be more obscure from Ray than ever.
Although perhaps Bodie was blaming too much on what had changed. In some ways, they had never been close. Not even before physical intimacy had pushed the emotional stuff aside.
Before, though, Bodie had never really thought about that whole aspect of things very much. He’d had no reason to, after all. To be social with Ray, when they’d first met, that had been easy enough, and the amount of time they spent together had only increased as the years passed, and that had seemed merely natural. Going for a drink, going fishing, going to play tennis together, along with their respective girlfriends to make up mixed doubles, none of that required more than a veneer of amiability, even if Bodie had long known himself to feel more relaxed around Ray than around most people.
When they had solicited each other’s company in times that were darker, when there had been a choosing rather than a default, there had always had to be excuses, prevarications, conditions - I was just in the neighbourhood, I was just visiting someone else in this ward, I was just trying to get rid of these grapes anyway.
When Bodie had first wound up in his current plastered predicament, Ray had come to see him in that way – casual, offhand. He’d wandered in a bit after Bodie had returned to his A&E bed from the plaster room, and had been carrying two cups of coffee and offering one like he was surprised he’d got it in his hand at all, certainly as if it had appeared without purpose. They had been apart all of that day up till then, Bodie in the field, Ray co-ordinating some more junior agents in another sector, and Bodie hadn’t known until that moment whether Ray had even heard about his injury.
Ray had surveyed him quickly, head to toe, frowning slightly, and then said: “Watch it with the pies then, eh? And then maybe buildings will take your weight.”
So he must have discovered, or been told, that a rotten joist had given way under Bodie during the (ultimately successful) pursuit of a would-be terrorist through the Docklands. Bodie had winged his quarry after he’d fallen, managed one lucky shot through wincing eyes and gritted teeth, and had come out smelling of roses even as his leg tried to bleed out. Thus, Bodie had known, he was not to be punished with a prolonged stay in hospital - sometimes Cowley came and told the doctors sternly that his agents could be trusted to obey weight-bearing rules in their own homes, sometimes not, and it tended to have more to do with Cowley’s current level of affection for you than any medical rubric.
When arguing his own case to be discharged as soon as ever possible, Bodie had not gone so far as to claim that there was anyone who could come and look in on him at home. Not besides the agency nurses on the CI5 books, who were in any case adequate. Cowley wasn’t going to leave something as important as his agents’ health and fitness to the vagaries of said agents needing to form emotional bonds with normal people so that someone would make them soup and keep them in bog-roll.
When he had been discussing how soon he would be getting out of hospital with Ray, in answer to Ray’s polite question, neither of them elaborated on the topic of caretaking. Eight months earlier, Bodie hadn’t been able to keep from thinking, they would have done.
He’d visited Ray daily, and for months, after Ray had been seriously injured by a rogue shooter. That had been before, when nothing had to mean anything but what it was.
When Bodie had been allowed home, however, three days later, there was milk in the fridge and bread out and a homemade casserole to be heated up just sitting there in the fridge in one of his pots, with no note or greeting on it, simply there.
Then, on Bodie’s second day back in his flat, Ray had visited, looking tired but wearing freshly ironed slacks and with his face close shaved. He’d put another bottle of milk in the fridge without comment, and made them both some pasta - he had some tomatoes kicking about, he’d said, that needed using up. He suggested Bodie watch the television while he got on with it - they hadn’t talked, really, that evening, and they hadn’t messed about on the sofa though frankly Bodie wouldn’t have minded. Injuries always made him randy as hell, and Ray smelt of soap and aftershave and his own sweat in a way that made Bodie’s mouth fairly water.
The next day the agency nurse association had shown up in the form of an efficient and slightly nervous young man in a boring car. Bodie hadn’t, in the end, actually requested that anyone come, and was surprised and not entirely pleased to see him. After all, he’d not been quite sure if Ray intended to keep visiting, hadn’t - it seemed a bit pathetic - wanted to make him feel unwelcome if he did by having the nurse there. But there was the nurse anyway, and he had brought Bodie shopping in bags including TV dinners for the freezer in Bodie’s favourite varieties. He’d looked scared - perhaps he’d thought Bodie would tease him about his job, or worse, but they’d barely exchanged two words.
Over the next seventy-two hours, absent any other means of distraction, Bodie had discovered that his nurse was called David, was twenty-five, was from Manchester, was affiliated to Man City not United although he had no strong feelings about it and belonged to a jazz choir. During the course of this, David had even begun occasionally to look him in the eye.
It had been rather strange, in truth, to be able to ask personal questions so easily, and have them received well.
Then yesterday, Thursday night, as usual, what had become their fixed encounter (never ‘date’) if there wasn’t a job on, Ray had shown up at Bodie’s door and it had been once more like it had started to become, all touching, no talking. Bodie’s cast wasn’t exactly helpful to their cause, but Ray had seemed willing to work around that, to compromise on what they could do. He was careful - gentle wouldn’t be the word, never was, between them, but careful like a man well trained in combat trauma would always be around a broken bone. They’d fallen asleep in Bodie’s bed, side by side - Bodie’s leg had been aching, despite their mutual caution, but he’d drifted off more easily than he had in many days, hearing Ray’s gentle snores beside him, feeling slightly, pleasantly overheated from another body under the duvet.
Bodie knew he had a problem. He’d known that a long time. If not for the whole eight months then for nearly that.
This morning, then, he hadn’t been sure what he was expecting. Certainly hadn’t expected Ray offering to come to the hospital with him.
And that might have been a good time to start up a conversation about it, about everything, but the appointment was for an early slot that it wouldn’t be good to miss, and it had been so much easier just to nod and go with it, and get in the car and be driven, and now here they were, in the clinic for things that were broken.
And it was coming down to this, to today, he knew it. Everything, sooner or later, would be out there.
“You want some tea or something?”
Bodie turned sharply, startled. Ray was looking at him, face unreadable, paper now folded up and resting on his knee.
The pads of his fingers were smudged black with newsprint, showing the whorls of his fingerprints. The skin there was ridged, rough with exposure – at the times that Ray touched him, Bodie always thought he could feel each detail of those lines against his skin.
“Tea?” Ray asked again. He looked at his watch. “I know you were meant to be seen by the docs five minutes ago, but I reckon there’s time and more before anything’ll actually happen.”
Bodie looked at him, trying to conceal the intensity with which he wanted to study his expression and divine his mood. “Sure. Why not?”
“Great. I’ll look for the canteen. Think I remember the layout here, more or less.” Ray stood up and stretched, then laughed, brief and dry. “This place was where we were taken after the Kayso bust-up, wasn’t it?”
“Nah, that was the St Margaret’s, out near Potters Bar.”
“Are you sure?”
“Well maybe you transferred here after a bit. I got out first that time, remember?”
“That’s right. Lucky son of a… gun.” Ray shot a look at the small children clustered round their mother a few seats away and cleared his throat. “Alright, tea. Will do.”
He strode away. As always, watching Ray walking from behind was quite a marvellous sight to behold.
Bodie dragged his eyes away. This was not the time or the place. He shifted in his seat again, using the burning ache of his leg this time to displace another.
Idly running his fingers over the point just below his hip where his cast began, he felt even through his partially cut-away trousers the rough texture of the bandages, hardened into place with plaster. It was warm, when they put it on, something to do with chemical reactions in the plaster itself as it made contact with water. It meant getting put in plaster felt like a hug, or being swallowed in a long thin mouth.
He’d thought of himself as a creature in a shell, more than once before this. Sometimes he’d wished for it, to be completely encased, safe, like a mummy at the heart of the layers of sarcophagi.
He could almost wish for that now.
It had been his first day out at the seaside, and he’d wiggled his toes in the warm sand with an ecstatic and confused delight.
“Will!” His mother, coming over to him, kneeling at his side. “Careful now.” She’d helped him stand, taken his hand to go down to where the waves were breaking at the shoreline. He wasn’t quite sure about the water. He knew, had been told, that his father had died at sea, during the war. What ‘the sea’ and ‘the war’ really meant beyond abstract concepts invoked in this way he wasn’t sure. But it meant he viewed the sea with suspicion, which seemed justified when it beat and pounded so close by, like a tongue racing out from a distant jaw and trying to catch and swallow him.
His mother was looking through the pebbles, exclaiming when she found anything in a pretty colour. He’d joined her, glad to help. She was so often tired and quiet, and it was lovely to see her so cheerful. Mostly he was looked after by his aunt, and to spend the whole day with his mother, and without Aunt Emma, was a treat.
“Look, darling, a seashell!” his mother had said, coming up to him, pressing a pearlescent spiral into his hand.
He’d only been about five.
“Yes, for the little creatures that live in shells at the bottom of the sea.”
“It a animal?”
“It was an animal’s house, carried on its back. And then wherever the animal goes it has that to run back into, and it’s safe. But the animal who lived in this shell moved out.”
“I can’t remember exactly. I think some of them grow new ones when the old ones get too small.”
“Well, everything changes, doesn’t it?”
He’d not thought so, at that age, but the sea and the sun and the shells were a more immediate distraction than philosophy, and then there was the picnic, and sandwiches in a box and a bottle of water, and the excitement of ice-cream purchased from a van and melting in long white dribbles all over his hands as he frantically tried to eat it before it dropped.
The beach was still scarred with old sea defences, there was a red-rusted coil of barbed wire sunk into a fallen concrete block and she wouldn’t let him play on it and he got cross. He’s never been quite sure whether that happened before or after Derek appeared.
Derek, he knows from logic and the stories of others, had been around quite a long time before the day at the beach, but he’d never seemed worth remembering before then, when he was allowed to intrude on them. He’d been walking around town, Derek said when he appeared, and had thought it would be nice to join them - all set up, of course, all planned, but Will had thought at the time that it was a terrible coincidence. He didn’t want to talk to a man he didn’t know. He didn’t want his mother to be drawn away from him. He didn’t want to share the rug or be taken to paddle.
“I want to live in a shell now,” he’d pronounced at one point in the walk back to the car, half asleep, sighing. “I want to be safe inside, and no visitors.”
It’s not a fair memory. Derek was a kind, generous and patient man and good to his mother for many years. They had some good days, later. Derek’s house was much bigger than their small apartment, and after they’d moved in there Bodie’s mother had stopped having to go out so much and so Bodie had been able to spend more time with her.
He’d kept the shell, though, in a private box. When he saw it he was aware of a private existence no one else knew about, a self that no one else would ever see.
As Bodie cast his eyes about, wanting anything at all to take his thoughts elsewhere, a nurse appeared at the doorway which led from the waiting area to - sanctum sanctorum – the corridor with the clinic rooms.
She was carrying a bundle of brown-card covered notes in her arms, and looked down at them before calling a name. Not Bodie’s name, of course. He sighed heavily and folded his arms.
After a second’s pause, on the other side of the bank of chairs from where Bodie sat, an elderly woman rose, her wrist thick with plaster. She was struggling for balance on a stick held in her other hand - probably the broken one had been dominant. With her, a middle-aged woman of similar appearance stood also, and began starting trying to assist, juggling shoulder bags and magazines and a sandwich box for endless seconds before the two of them progressed forward. The nurse was tapping the flat sole of her shoe on the floor as she waited for them, Bodie noticed. She was a noticeable nurse in many respects, in her tight, dark blue dress hugging round the curves of her body and her neat white cap, golden-blonde hair beneath it tied up tidy and controlled in a bun, the kind of hair that would probably fall long and loose around your fingers if she let you near.
Bodie leant back a little, observed within himself the brief rush of physical attraction.
And yes, certainly what had happened with Ray hadn’t stopped Bodie noticing other people - noticing women. And he’d done the obvious, predictable thing, of course, and gone after a girl soon after those first times with Ray, even marked as he’d still been with the prints of Ray’s fingers and teeth. That had been an observational trial, of a kind. Oh he’d known that he could get it up for blokes and birds without distinction, known that a long while. What he’d been testing was whether he could forget that he wasn’t with Ray, and since he’d kept thinking of the fact that he mustn’t think about it, as a pure experiment it hadn’t been up to much.
But the encounter had been decent enough as those things went, for him at least, and he’d tried to show her a good time - somehow he’d felt more gentle, more tender than usual, more concerned about someone else’s pleasure.
After that one occasion, however, he’d kept his impulses strictly to looking, except, of course, where Ray was concerned.
The thing that he had enjoyed with that girl, that time - Julie, had she been? Worked for an airline, wanted to live on a farm in South Africa, did her nails - hands and feet - in a zebra design - was that he’d been able to touch her how he’d recently discovered that he wanted, in that gentle, careful way. That sort of thing hadn’t mattered in the slightest, with her - that he wanted that or that he followed through on it. More than likely it was only what the average girl expected. And he didn’t know her or she him, so light, tender touches hadn’t been dangerous.
He’s dreamt of that, since, though not of her. Dreamt of soft caresses, of aimless, feasting kissing.
Bodie startled, and looked up.
It was Ray, back again, two polystyrene cups in hand. Taking his, Bodie winced at the colour of the brew inside, dark as toffee. It would hurt his stomach, and there was not enough distraction here to let him forget it, but turning the offer down might unbalance something – unbalance whatever this was keeping Ray here and so bizarrely normal with him.
With a long exhaled breath, Ray sat back down at Bodie’s side, cradling his own cup. Bodie wondered if he might be about to speak.
Behind them, someone cleared their throat.
“Excuse me, where did you get that tea from?”
Ray turned, and Bodie with him. It was another woman, this one quite young and with her forearm the visible injury that had brought her here, emerging in a cast covered in drawn-on peace signs from the edges of a brightly coloured poncho.
“The tea? Down the corridor there, first right, there’s a sort of atrium thing and there’s a machine.” Ray was grinning, Bodie could hear it in his voice. “I can show you if you like?”
“No that’s alright, cheers, I think I’ve got it.” She smiled politely, looked at her watch and stood up. “No way they’ll call to see me in the next ten minutes - anyway you’ll tell them where I went if they do?”
“Need your name then, love,” Bodie pointed out, and watched with surprise as she flushed, looking suddenly nonplussed.
“Never mind,” Ray interjected. “If someone’s called we’ll assume it was you, tell them, eh?”
With half a nod, and a deepening blush, she bolted down the corridor.
“Nothing wrong with her legs anyway,” Bodie remarked, with sincerity on several counts, and turned back to settle in his seat again. “What was all that about?”
“She didn’t want to give two strange men her name, and can you blame her?”
Bodie frowned. “What on Earth were we going to do with that, then? Go through the phone book?”
“Maybe someone did that to her, who knows?”
Narrowing his eyes, Bodie couldn’t help breaking into a slight grin. “You’re not the same about birds since your niece was born. It’s rewired your brain. Hey,” he raised his hand when Ray opened his mouth. “I didn’t say it was a bad thing, did I? I just never think of any of that. Good thing I’ve got you about.”
He bit his lip, but the words were out, too late to change them now.
Looking away, he took a sip of tea, trying not to wince at the bitterness of it.
“Sorry.” Ray said.
Bodie looked up at him.
“That’s a crap brew, isn’t it?” Ray pointed at the tea. “I ought to go and try and get some biscuits, take the taste away - there’s a little shop too, W.R.V.S.”
“Well if you go down that way right now that poor girl jolly well will think you’re after her, and then where will we be?” Bodie shrugged, trying to laugh. “Can’t say it’s the best I’ve had, but I dare say it won’t kill me. Thank you, “ he added, and then wished he hadn’t. It didn’t need thanks, not between them, not any more, and the formality sounded forced.
“Just wanted to…” Ray let the sentence tail off, and Bodie watched as he shifted his hand at his side, fist briefly clenching.
Bodie waited, but no more was forthcoming. Ray picked up his paper again. Council to Demolish 27 Homes, Resident Outrage.
Homes - now there was a thought. Bodie frowned, contemplating his brown stew of tea, and thought of all the things in his current flat that belonged to CI5, from the toaster to the tea-cups. It was a running joke that one of the skills their mob taught you was how to use every brand and variety of kettle, as they moved you from place to place to furnished place.
In the meantime, of course, you never bought anything of your own, no baggage at all, barely. And where did that leave you, in the end?
With footsteps almost silent, but enough to alert Bodie in his present state, back came the clinic nurse with her bundle. She called a man’s name this time, and Bodie saw another person of well past pensionable age slowly rise, his arm in a sling cradled to his chest. He was alone, and slightly unkempt, although that might have been the discombobulation of coming here today.
What did any of these people go home to? You couldn’t tell. Could guess, of course, based on experience or prejudice, but that could too often be wrong - he’d learnt that in his job if nothing else. And he’d lost his yardstick for normality a long time ago.
Ray, by contrast, had his sisters, his nephew and, now, his niece, had his friends at his weekly painting class. He had the compass points for understanding the way the world worked for that nebulous group of Other People, Everyone Else, which Bodie had protected all his life without being able to grasp.
He’d never felt that they’d seen him, either.
In his lifejacket, in the lifeboat, Bodie knew he was in as safe a place as he could be, at least given that he was stuck on a rickety boat in the middle of the Baltic and the fury of the storm was rising around them.
He knew this, and also knew how scared he was. He couldn’t feel his fingers, or much of his legs. His heart was pounding in chest and in the pulse point at his neck, fit to burst. He was cold, but a couple of hours ago that had stopped seeming to matter, and he’d had enough advice from the other men in the few months he’d been aboard to know that this wasn’t a good state of affairs.
Up until this point at least, he thought it had been a good choice, in the end, the ship he’d picked to join at the Ipswich docks, even though he’d made the decision from the basis of no knowledge at all. The Sarah Jane - that had sounded friendly enough, and so it had proved. Later, he’d know more of the perils that might strike a young boy run away to sea, and think even more highly of his own luck, but at the time he’d still appreciated that things had gone smoothly.
Up till now, and this storm, which he could easily have been convinced was the wrath of God.
For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart - he knew that, that text was on the wall at the church where they had gone, him and his mother and Derek, and baby Victoria. He’d found those words comforting, in a way. There was no point, he’d reckoned, lying to God, or saying he was feeling something he wasn’t. That made life simple.
His belief in God, as anything more than a grasp in the dark in times of crisis, was not to last much beyond the next year or so, but at the time of his first storm, he’d made that grasp in frantic hopefulness.
The other sailors couldn’t see him, couldn’t see how afraid he was, he knew that. They’d often congratulate him on his guts as he got through each new and daunting experience, rub his hair for luck even though he hated it - because he hated it, to tease him, that was the worst he suffered and he wasn’t even aware to be thankful that was all he got. Now, even though there was little to see in the driving rain and the cold anyway, he was singing with the rest of them, keeping his end up, and so no one could have any way of telling how he felt inside.
He’d not minded the idea of God seeing him, in a way, because it meant someone did. Someone knew. He’d given up trying to explain himself to his Mum and Derek – they had no interest in helping him go to University, didn’t think that made any practical sense, and he didn’t want to go to work on a factory floor and try to make foreman. Under the circumstances, the merchant navy had made as much sense as anything would to a teenage boy in terms of future plans. He’d not have left home the way he had – secretly, by night - if he’d thought they’d be truly, lastingly unhappy to see him leave. But perhaps they had been – right then in the maelstrom, in the crashing of the waves, such thoughts came easily - perhaps his mother had been struck by a broken heart at discovering him missing.
His lifeboat, and indeed all the others, came through the storm in the end. Later, he’d laugh at himself - and some of the crew - for having been scared of it, because compared to what gales he’d been through in later years in the tropics it had barely been a breeze. And on a boat posh enough to have lifejackets!
But at the time it had made a strong enough impression that he’d made a phone call from the port at Helsingborg soon after, and spoken to his mother. She was fine. She was hurt he’d gone, at least a little, but she understood, and said that maybe it was all for the best. She told him she loved him, and he put the receiver down quickly, afraid one of the crew nearby might overhear the exchange.
She didn’t seem to think he’d be scared, either. But then he hadn’t expected her to think of that.
“Did you see this?”
Clearly Ray had been genuinely reading the paper he was flicking through, because he lifted it to Bodie’s attention now, folded to a particular page.
Duly, Bodie looked at the article. “Sewage Smells Threaten School Dinners?”
“No, the advert.” Ray pointed.
Bodie took the paper from him, and studied the text inside the box with a border of badly drawn balloons.
“Olympic Street Party? Alright, what about it?”
“Yeah, it’s a community thing,” Ray said, as if that was a word that for Bodie had ever evoked more than scorn. “Says there’ll be a barbecue and stalls, look, and a book trading event - you’d like that.”
“You wouldn’t have to actually talk to anyone,” Ray sighed, taking the paper back. “Unless you thought they were worth your while of course.”
Bodie shot a glance at him, confused. “Thought you hated the Olympics. All capitalist exploitation and nationalism and drugs, you said.”
“That’s not the point!” And Ray turned away from him, clearly frustrated. That was Ray in his most natural form, mercurial and swift to ignite, and Bodie had to work hard to stifle the impulse to grab at him in that moment, to cling onto this proof of life and shake him till some kind of truth fell out. He wanted Ray on fire, unimpeded, talking to him, not hidden away in politeness and some strange imitation of what their friendship had never been.
Instead he made himself lean back on the unforgiving plastic of his chair and bite his tongue. Arguing with Ray, and where that might lead - anywhere that might lead - was not something that could happen right now, or in this place.
And was that, in the end, why Ray had come along today? Because here, in public, it was safe, constrained? Because he thought Bodie wouldn’t make a scene? But what scene would he be expecting?
“Might drop by,” Bodie made himself say, conciliatory, and was surprised to see another stiffening of Ray’s shoulders, a visibly suppressed sigh. “Look, if you have to be somewhere now, you can go, it’s fine, I’m fine here. Thanks for the tea.”
Ray did stand up then, in a violent, abrupt move.
“I’m going for a piss,” he announced, only somewhat under his breath, and stalked away.
Bodie stared into space after him, then, conscious of the curious glances of some of the others waiting in their rows - they must be bored too, and this was certainly the most interesting thing happening in view - picked up the discarded newspaper from the floor where Ray had cast it.
He looked once more at the street party advert, the lists of rather pathetic sounding activities, the promise of vegetarian options, the ugly balloon border and the blocky imitation of the ‘88 Seoul logo. It offered no more clue to Ray’s state of mind than it had before.
Shaking out the paper and turning back to the front page, Bodie determined that he would make himself interested in it and began again with the lead article - a rather breathless reporting of corruption charges against the local council. Nothing he hadn’t heard of before, and over and over again, all around the world and in places high and low. He’d never found a government that did what it claimed or promised. Of course some were a heck of a lot better than others to live under, but in his opinion they were all on the make, more or less. He’d met more than a handful of freedom fighters in his time, and they always believed that when their guy, their people, their flag made it to the top, everything would be different, everyone would be happy and no decision would ever be got wrong again. And then the longed-for change happened, and sure enough afterwards everything was always just the same. The new guy moved into the old guy’s shoes and started to look an awful lot like him. But then perhaps people needed to believe that by their efforts something else might come, just this one time, even if it got them killed in the process.
But do you believe in anything, my lad? Cowley had asked him, all those years ago back when he’d first been recruited, when CI5 as a discrete unit was in its infancy and still almost entirely under Cowley’s control – later, with success, had come growth, and then interference and middle management. But then, come the time, Cowley had been the one to move to let all of it in, had known perhaps before everything else that one man shouldn’t keep hold of all the power.
Cowley now, there was a man Bodie did believe in.
A pang of guilt shot through him, and he pushed it down.
But Cowley would understand the choices Bodie was going to make. Surely?
Better to think of the past, of back then. At that time, posed with Cowley’s question, Bodie could remember having laughed and said something stupid, like that he only believed in himself, in his own right hand holding a gun.
“You’ll need more than that,” Cowley had told him, and Bodie had been expecting a speech about ideals and justice. “You’ll need more than that if you hope to survive this life.”
That was the kind of problem Bodie had got used to contemplating; survival. Second by second stuff, minute by minute, short term that occasionally extended to days but barely ever beyond.
“People often describe the survival instinct as paramount, and entirely selfish,” Cowley had said then. And Bodie had thought the ideals and justice would come next. But, “You’ll find out that you keep yourself alive for other people, in the end, more than you will for yourself,” Cowley had pronounced.
Closing his eyes now, Bodie thought again of the evening before this dreadful day.
Thursday night - Thursday night had become their habitual meeting time in a swift, random, almost self-justifying way. After all, if that had become what they usually did on a Thursday, what more rationale beyond routine need be examined? There had been no logic to the choice of date, simply that on one Thursday, about a week after their first encounter, sitting together in Bodie’s car, Ray had stretched out slowly, cat-like and sensual. “Heck of a week we’ve had,” he’d said, meaningfully, and Bodie had almost skidded them off the road.
That had been, of course, when that kind of thing was still happening - him being allowed to drive Ray about, to hang about with each other like usual – all the camaraderie of what was then their normal life.
The Thursday following that, Bodie had been alone - a rare day off, and not one Ray had shared in any sense. With Cowley besieged by human resources managers, the syncing of regular working partners’ holidays had dropped off, and frankly Bodie agreed with a lot of their reasons for it on an objective level.
Didn’t mean he couldn’t resent the change as it affected him. Without Ray around and available, he was spending more and more time alone.
That night, though, there had been a knock at his door - he’d been assigned an entire house to himself on the accommodation rota at that time, in Pimlico – and when he’d gone to open the door there Ray had been, looking angry and ready to fight, breathing fast.
Bodie had wrestled him to the hall floor.
They hadn’t talked, barely spoken at all. And yet it had been late, very late, when there had come a pause and Bodie had actually looked at a clock. Too late, really, for Ray not to stay over – he’d been drinking, and caught the last bus on his way there.
And so it had happened, for the first time, an artefact of a London Transport timetable.
Ray had showered second, and idled in the bathroom whilst Bodie got to bed, and in the morning Bodie had woken to find Ray laid out with one pillow and a blanket on his sofa, all the sleek, lean length of him. Bodie had wanted to reach out, to wake Ray by stroking a hand over his chest and see where that led, but he’d gone over to the kitchenette and thrown a fairly stale bun at his head instead.
He’d never known what he was doing, half the time not even known what he intended.
Last night, now, he’d certainly not expected to see Ray, but there Ray had been again all the same, like all those Thursdays before, his voice gruff and taciturn on the door intercom, and then seconds later his hands on Bodie’s shoulders, guiding him down into the chair to be kissed.
And afterwards, in bed together, Bodie had lain with his arm flung semi-casually over Ray’s chest as Ray snored, and had reasoned that Ray had always been a randy old toad. So probably it could all be explained by Ray having become too used to getting his rocks off once a week to give it up easily.
Sleeping side by side had become by now something they did usually, and regularly, and it starting had, in retrospect, been what kicked their usual normal mates stuff – the lifts, the boozing, the double dates, the trips together – into increasing oblivion. All that had seemed awkward, impossible after even a short while of waking up together and breathing the same air. Soon, Ray had kept turning invitations down, and so Bodie stopped offering, not without some relief. Without the distraction of the job, he’d be touching Ray in public sooner or later, he knew he would, and then where would they be?
Had Ray kept on seeing girls in that free time? Not that he’d ever mentioned, and he could have mentioned it, as far as Bodie could see, in fact might have had good reason to. Talking about something like that would have laid a boundary, and that might have helped things, maybe.
Did Ray think, now or before, that Bodie slept around still? Probably. He’d never known Bodie to do anything else. Never seen Bodie care, never seen him love.
“Thing with blokes is, it’s different,” Chaklis had taken a drag on the foul-tasting, unfiltered cigarette and passed it on to Bodie, the end now marked by his teeth. They were smoking to keep the clouds of mosquitoes at bay, but on a ration, strict, as they weren’t likely to resupply any time soon, not out in the deep jungle. The roads had broken down again - the rainy season, more partisans and rebels, not to mention some unaffiliated bandits. Bodie had never imagined war could be so haphazard.
He was nearly twenty-one, and if asked at the time he would have said he’d only gained over his passing years, losing nothing. Except, perhaps that irritating suspicion that God might be looking at him and what he did.
“Blokes, see, it’s not a mental thing with us. Hindbrain, innit?” Chaklis continued. “Women, they want all this feelings crap, but men, they look and see what they like, or not, and they don’t need to go delving into more than that. It’s simple. Primal. Animal instinct.”
The whole day Bodie had been feeling queasy - the back end of a bad bout with a dodgy campfire stew - and whenever he looked up, the treeline was wavering. He didn’t want to keep smoking, but he wasn’t fool enough to be seen to refuse.
“Girls are on another planet, yeah,” he agreed, not that Chaklis really ever needed to hear agreement to keep on talking.
Bodie’s mother was getting a divorce - that was the last he’d heard from her, still the most prominent woman in his life. Derek had taken up with Mrs Coan, the vicar’s wife. Victoria was handling it badly, kept staying out late, had gone off and got her ears pierced without permission. All this, Bodie had listened to nearly three weeks earlier, the last time he’d been able to make an international phone call. He tried to keep in touch, perhaps fuelled by some lingering guilt about leaving as he had done. Seeing what he was seeing in the war here, though, he wasn’t sure he’d manage to talk to his mother again any time soon. What could he possibly say? And what was he supposed to do or suggest about her problems? She had said she didn’t feel she knew Derek any more, and he’d just found himself wondering how that was possible if you lived in the same house as someone, slept in the same bed. Marriage, as far as Bodie was concerned, was a concept as abstract, alien and unlikely to apply to his own situation as the finer points of dressage riding.
“But good to have the birds around all the same, eh?” Chaklis was saying, with a leer, and he shoved Bodie in the arm. “Next town we’re at, we’ll get you one, yeah?”
Bodie nodded - he knew he was supposed to. He didn’t like the way the group picked up women but turning it down would be even worse than turning down the cigarette. You did what the lads did, you fit in, that was how you survived - he knew that much already. It wasn’t like he’d ever felt in all his life that he was really doing what he wanted.
Some time back, they’d all been at a brothel, and the girl he’d had picked for him by the lads had looked so, so tired, and he’d told her to just go to sleep for an hour, that he’d pay her anyway, no problem. He hadn’t minded the idea of sleeping himself during the same time. But she’d looked nervous at the suggestion, insisted that they did the usual stuff, her eyes open wide and watchful.
He’d never quite got into the habit of thinking of women as in the same species as himself. He was attracted to them - and if he hadn’t been before, he would have had to learn, with Chaklis watching - but it was clear they weren’t the sort of people you could expect to really be friends with alongside the rest of it. And so were the rules of the adult world, which he must now try and follow.
One night, some time later, Chaklis got blind drunk and tried to kiss him. And that didn’t fit into the scheme of anything at all. He realised he must have misunderstood something vital, and altogether.
“They still not called you yet?” Ray muttered on his return to the waiting area, slipping back into his seat and falling bent in a slouch, arms crossed. He was frowning, obviously still preoccupied - what preoccupied him still not obvious at all.
Bodie shook his head. “Not as yet, no. Look, Ray…”
“Mr William Bodie?”
It was the clinic nurse calling, now of all times, standing in her vantage point, a slimmer volume of notes in her hands than on her last venture forth. That was misleading, of course, because it would only be his records for this establishment. Bodie reckoned that if you took all the notes of all the injuries and illnesses he’d had, at all the different hospitals he’d had them at, he’d outpace even the oldest people in the room by a couple of inches.
He started to stand up, intending to cross to the clinic corridor - thank goodness that he would finally get his time with the doctor, and then this whole situation would end, and he and Ray could have it all out - but she held her hand up in a gesture to halt him, and simultaneously made a sudden rapid progress towards him on her silent shoes.
“You’re to go to x-ray first, before Doctor sees you,” she said, and held out a slip of paper. With Bodie still only in the process of gripping the handles of his crutches, she made a swift assessment of Ray - who’d stood also - and, apparently satisfied of something, thrust the paper in the direction of his chest instead.
“Down that corridor there, then right, take the second lift, next floor up, first door on the left,” she said, without pausing for breath. She addressed this to Ray, Bodie noticed, as if his own impairments made him also incapable of hearing or comprehending.
And with her next breath the nurse was making an about turn and marching off again behind her door.
Bodie got himself balanced and looked up. “I can take that,” he said, reaching for the form with his hand half-shackled by the elbow ring of the crutches.
“Yeah, but why not let me?” Ray pointed out, with a tone Bodie couldn’t quite place. Not resentful, but not gentle either. “X-ray then,” Ray added, and stepped forward.
“You don’t have to come along.”
Ray sighed. “Let’s just get this done, argue later? You must want to get out of here.”
Bodie couldn’t fathom why Ray was making such a point of it, but equally he couldn’t dispute Ray’s logic. He strode forward as best he could with the crutches, and they made their way along the corridor labyrinth as per the directions.
They passed two porters walking in the other direction on their way, the men chuckling and leering merrily with each other, sharing a joke with casual ease. Then there came a nurse, Afro-Caribbean in appearance but in every other respect identical to her clinic counterpart, right down to the speed of her walk, and then a small gaggle of apparently related people escorting a heavily pregnant woman.
Bodie was conscious, again, of his own feeling of disconnection. He would have felt as much of commonly shared existence in passing fish in an aquarium.
“This one, yeah?” Ray was saying, touching his arm lightly, pointing at one of the lifts.
Bodie blinked, nodded.
The lift was old and creaking, shuddering as it arrived on their floor. Ray held the doors open as Bodie struggled to keep up with him - Bodie was an experienced and strong user of the crutches, but the full-leg cast really was holding him back, and he was breathing heavily when the doors shut again on the two of them and the dim interior, in which a fluorescent light bulb was flickering unpleasantly. A sticker near the lift’s buttons called for Workers’ Revolution, and a small sign asked people not to exit via A&E during the daytime.
It was only one floor up, but it felt like a long ride in which to pretend to be reading that sign with its torn edges, and that he was not tempted to look at Ray or start conversation.
“I can’t read this writing,” Ray commented, holding out the slip of paper for the x-ray like a talisman.
“Well, no, you wouldn’t, have to be able to read at all first, wouldn’t you?” Bodie joked, but it fell a bit flat. Ray bit his lip.
Bodie remembered times wrestling in and out of lifts together, hands going everywhere, easy and eager. All the times they’d danced on the edge of something it seemed now like they had never had a of hope of not falling into.
“Is there an appointment time on it, even?” Bodie asked, desperately, clearing his throat.
Ray studied it again. “Not that I can make out. Probably it’s first come first served.”
“Well let’s hope we’re the first to come then.” He could make a joke out of that, a filthy one, try and laugh like the men downstairs had, but that wouldn’t be right either. Teasing had been something that had worked in a time when he’d never kissed the nape of Ray’s neck as he moved in him, breathless and private and safe in the dark, sure Ray was too distracted to feel his gesture. Caught, held in Ray, by Ray, briefly aware of a sensation of being exactly where he was supposed to be.
Bodie went back to reading the sign, clenching the handle of his crutches, feeling the rub of the plastic on his chafed skin.
The imaging department was clearly signposted, and the woman behind the front desk took the slip of paper from the clinic, frowned at it like she’d never seen one before and highly doubted whether this specimen was real, and finally wrote something in a ledger and pointed them round a corner.
Here, when they made it - and Bodie’s leg and back were sore now for sure, and he was anxious to be seated and for Ray not to notice his anxiety - there were four chairs, actual freestanding chairs, plastic and bowlegged, arranged in a line. No one else was waiting.
Ray sighed with as much relief as Bodie might have liked also to display as he sank to sit down in one of them.
“How long you reckon we’ll be stuck here then, want a bet?”
“Dunno,” Bodie looked up and down the corridor. “Doesn’t look like I’m waiting behind anyone. Ten minutes.”
“Twenty,” Ray countered. “They’ll be doing something in that room that means they can’t see you yet, just you wait and see, that’s our - your, luck today.”
He covered the change of pronoun well, but Bodie had noticed, and noticed the way it made Ray redden.
“Fiver on it?” Bodie shot back, trying to sound normal.
Ray nodded, and leant in his chair once again, re-folding his arms.
Bodie sat forwards, disentangling himself from the crutches so he could rest his arms on his knees. It hurt his hip a bit, the way that position made his cast dig in, but it took some weight and pressure off the bones that ached most. He was acutely aware that in this corridor, for now, they were alone and, unwitnessed. He could say something less guarded, try to gauge Ray’s mood. He was scared, though, as scared as he’d ever been. The thought made his gorge rise, sour with cheap tea.
He could hear Ray breathing. Smell him - it was a warm day, they were both sweating a little. These might be among the last hours they’d spend together in this way, if what he was planning came out, if Ray was dead set on some kind of confrontation. He ought to remember this time carefully, not foreshorten it further.
In Bodie’s peripheral vision, all the while, Ray’s hands. Ray generally had them manicured - not an affectation, or at least not really; you needed safe, clean, smooth nails to assemble a gun. One of the half-moons of his nails had been torn, though, whilst doing heaven knew what - Bodie had felt it, catching against his skin, the night before, that hitched, ragged edge, that small injury. There were a few tell-tale paint splatters too, a smudge of cerulean blue over the thumb joint. Ray getting back to painting tended to mean Ray thinking, and that didn’t necessarily mean anything good.
“Ray…” Bodie tried again, and stopped, spooked by the sound of a door opening down the corridor. The man in a dark jacket who’d emerged went immediately across and into another room, not even glancing in their direction.
“Mr Bodie?” someone said from the other end of the corridor, and he turned to see a young woman in a white uniform carrying the mystery slip of paper. “Come with me please.”
Self-conscious, he went through the processes involved with rising once more from the chair. Ray had got up at the call too, but the girl frowned when she saw him starting to follow Bodie, following her.
“Wait here, please, no relatives in the room. This is a radiation area, you see, we try to limit exposure.”
“Sorry, I didn’t…” Ray waved a hand. He was quite clearly embarrassed. “Force of habit.”
Bodie turned away, wincing, and allowed himself to be led through a door and to the room with the x-ray equipment.
The radiographer was curious about him, he could see that as she instructed him in removing his baggy trousers from over the cast, lying on the table and pulling the sheet up over his other half in a strange and mostly symbolic gesture towards modesty.
“Been in the wars, then?” she asked, fiddling with the overhead equipment as she spoke.
“You could say that,” he told her. He had a feeling this was just part of her usual patter, and wanted to answer her in the same spirit and move everything along, but at his words she looked at him, frowning perplexedly.
“That your brother is it? He in the army too?”
There was something in the question, Bodie divined, that suggested that she was hoping Ray was his brother. That she wouldn’t understand why any other level of relation would lead to the behaviour between them she’d seen. That she was seeking reassurance.
“We’re on the same squad, yeah,” he hedged, hoping she’d hear what she wanted to.
This, this was what they had been letting themselves in for since they started up together, the risk of a life of this, and worse.
Not that anyone had ever talked about a lifetime.
“Oh yeah, I thought so.” She smiled, relieved, and went behind her screen. “Stay still now please, this won’t be a moment.”
Bodie wondered what it would be like if she took images of his whole body, if she looked through every part of him. The plates and screws that held him together, the old scars and fractures. What she’d see, hero or monster. Whether it would make her understand more or less why Ray was there with him.
“You didn’t approve of what we did in Ireland - my unit, what we were involved in.”
As he spoke, Bodie turned around, putting the paperweight he’d been toying with back down on the wide, stately writing desk that separated him from the other man. Cowley’s passion for Victorian desks built on a Titanic scale would come to be a bugbear in time, but Bodie hadn’t known that then, any more than he’d known what to make of the man who was trying to employ him.
“Oh yes,” he added, still talking because Cowley hadn’t answered, had just stared at him impassively, owl-like. “I do read the papers. I do know how to read. Whole sentences and everything.”
They had just been talking about what Bodie believed in. About survival. Bodie considered that whether or not his boss thought he was evil incarnate was fairly germane to the topic.
Cowley sniffed and went to the cabinet on the other side of the room, the one with the glass doors where half the book spines were a fake front. Out came the whisky bottle and one cut crystal tumbler. Bodie watched him pour a drink and then hold it steady in his hand, considering the amber liquid swirling around the bottom of the glass like he might divine some omen from it.
Bodie had been so casual, that day, had been dressed up to go out on the pull, after, and vaguely thinking he was getting a job that would tide him over till one of the old crew called again, or his old unit got reformed, scandals swept away as soon as there was operational need again. He had only applied to join this new squad on a bored whim, had said as much at his first round interview, cocky as hell. Where Ray had studied and dreamed and hoped, Bodie had strolled in, put his feet up and waited to be welcomed.
He hadn’t even realised it was George Cowley, he of the opinion columns in the Guardian, who was running the whole show here until the point when the man had walked into this room and told Bodie he was hired. And then, only then had Bodie been suspicious.
In some of the places he’d been, a man might hire his enemies, his unacceptables, and they might disappear quietly at a training camp. It was hard to stop thinking in those terms.
“I didn’t approve of that Irish strategy, no.” Cowley was back across the room, taking down a folder of papers, apparently unconcerned, as though they knew each other already. A trick to make him relax, Bodie guessed, and stayed in place on that wedding cake of a desk, picking at the cornicing of the edges with his rough nails.
“But,” Cowley continued, meditatively, “I don’t suppose that you personally planned what ended up happening there. In the armed forces you do as you’re told. In my gang you’ll also do as you’re told, but,” he turned suddenly, glass raised as he pointed, “you’ll think for yourself too. You’ll have to be swift and smart, and ready to act in accordance with the principles of this organisation.” He stopped, took a look at his drink and sipped it at last, then smiled. “You’ll have to act in support of your partner.”
“Yes, like the American cops,” Cowley chuckled. “And I’ve a man waiting for you.”
“This would be a case when I have to do as I’m told, of course.” Bodie kept the sarcasm dry as dust. “I don’t get a say in something as vital as who has my back in the fight.”
“No you don’t. What you get is a chance.” Cowley was staring at him, eyes boring in. “You get a chance to prove that it wasn’t you who wanted to do what you did in Ireland, that it wasn’t you who wanted what happened at Kesivo. Oh yes, I know about that. I’ve got it all on file, I’d hardly be in an intelligence organisation long if I didn’t have the capacity to do my research. I know where you’ve been and what you’ve done, and I can’t say there’s any of it I much like, but most people with a history like that would be still at it, not here looking for a change. And here it is, Mr Bodie, here’s your chance.”
Bodie kept his tone absolutely level. “And you’re prepared to make this man, this partner, have to suffer the likes of me?”
“Don’t play offended, it doesn’t suit you.” Cowley took another sip, and came around to go behind the desk. “Get out of the way, please,” he said, gesturing, his voice like that of a tired schoolteacher.
“He’s called Ray Doyle, and he’s damn near the best,” Cowley continued. “But you have something he lacks. You can go through the other side of things and stay cold. Fire and ice, you need both, and my theory is the pair of you will make a team I can be proud of. But maybe I’m completely wrong. We’ll have to see, won’t we?” He waved his hand again. “You can go now.”
And before he knew it, Bodie was out in the corridor, and into a job.
He’d wondered what Cowley would tell this Doyle about him, whether it would include the grimmest details. But when he and Raymond Doyle had met for the first time, and Bodie had seen the way Ray looked at him, he’d realised that wasn’t remotely possible - Ray didn’t know the half of it. No one could know those things, and see Bodie, and smile.
Coming back out of the X-ray rooms, Bodie had a moment where he forgot all of the reasons why it was strange to find Ray waiting for him. It was pure pleasure, in that second, to see Ray, see him rise and smile wryly and say, “Back down to Funsville now, eh?”
Bodie was conscious then, as he got closer, of wanting to kiss him. And with that thought the uncertainty slammed back, the precipitous drop out of comfort leaving him winded with the sense of the world upside down.
Nodding - not feeling equal to speaking - Bodie set his crutches to the floor again, and they started the journey back to the lifts.
How odd, now, to think of meeting Ray for that first time all those years ago, and the suspicion that he’d felt. Bodie had been expecting a teacher’s pet, more or less, and had little faith in such a concept as a comrade. How odd too to think of how little he’d understood the depths of his own ignorance, or how badly his expectations might be mistaken. Stepping into the gym where he’d been told Agent 4.5 would be waiting for him, he could remember considering the man he was seeing to be on the scrawny side, and too nicely dressed.
He’d never wondered, really, what his new partner made of him, not past that initial fear that he might know too much. This was not least because Bodie had assumed that nonetheless the man expected and saw a thug. He wasn’t supposing that Ray would perceive him any more clearly than any other men he’d worked with had. And he’d planned to be telling the same lies about himself anyway.
And so when Ray had stared at him with those wide grey-green eyes and frowned - the chip on his shoulder twice the size then, of course - Bodie had been ready with insincerity.
“Pleased to meet you,” he’d said, mock-courtly.
“Well we’ll see about that, won’t we?” Ray had told him, all challenge, every line of his body tense.
Sparks had always flown, when they came close, right from the beginning.
And then, soon enough, they had indeed seen about that, both of them.
Seen how well they had fit together, a partnership adept at everything, the golden boys, the Bisto kids. It was very quickly that they had moved on to picking up girls together - they were a great double act at all that they set their hands too. Too well Bodie could remember dining in heavy, plush restaurants, pubs, beer gardens, bowling alleys, where they’d be with two birds beside them, teasing them and each other, and how he’d thought he must be getting a better grade of girl since meeting Ray because he felt it now, always, that spark, that rising heat under his skin. A need, sweet and aching, never quite sated, that always made him eager to go out like that again.
‘Situational homosexuality’, he knew from his reading, described what he’d got up to in his travels - or what he thought it had been; convenience, release. Turned out Ray was a situation all in his own right, and of course, Bodie should have predicted that, once he’d started to know him, to see that Ray could be everything.
“Alright Dolly Daydream?”
Looking up, Bodie saw that Ray had paused in the corridor a little way ahead, and was turning, waiting for him to catch up. The angle of Ray’s twisted neck put the tendons of his throat on display, strong hard cords.
The hollow of Ray’s throat flushed, sometimes. You had to be close to see, and had to be doing just the right thing to get that effect.
Bodie put one foot in front of the other, labouring.
Ray couldn’t have wanted or planned for any of what had happened either. Indeed, Ray might have chosen differently, even about his dream of CI5, if he’d known what it would bring him.
That it would bring him Bodie, and this.
That was the worst of it all, really.
“Lunch time soon,” Bodie observed, which wasn’t really true - only half past eleven on the clock - but it was something to say, and saying something might keep the other words down as he drew closer to Ray.
“Always thinking with your stomach,” Ray told him, giving him the tiniest of shoves.
It never would have been possible for Bodie to push back in response, even if had been practicable with his leg – he told himself this against the pang of want in his chest. Never would have been a good idea, under any circumstances, to push Ray against the wall and kiss him here and now, and that was that.
Didn’t make him want it less, though, somehow.
Knowing what he couldn’t have had never made him want any of it any less.
Now, Bodie cleared his throat, tried to adopt the same teasing mien. “Nutrition’s important, you’ve said so yourself. And the hospital canteen might have sunflower seeds and curly kale, you never know.”
Ray folded his arms. “I try and improve your digestion and this is the thanks I get?”
“I’ve told you, it’s just not a food for human beings, it’s a thing they give cows. In the winter. And the cows don’t like it.”
There was a febrile quality to the teasing. They weren’t relaxed, they both knew that - knew that this was a strategy to get them through this.
And yet it was a kind of way of touching, too, and Bodie felt slightly less sick than he had as they descended and returned once more to the Clinic 2A waiting area, where the seats they had previously occupied had been appropriated by a woman with one small child in pushchair and another squirming on the seat next to her, tearfully demanding a chocolate bar now.
Bodie selected new seats at the farthest possible position from this negotiation. He didn’t understand why people ever wanted to have children. This, he was pretty sure, made it harder for him to judge whether Ray was sincere when he said he had no wish for them either. It was funny, that had seemed such an irrelevant question for so long - they were young, and male which made them younger in terms of this question - and now somehow time had passed and Ray would be an older parent at the school gate, if it ever came to it.
Unless he married in, of course, found a bird with a few of her own, became some other kid’s Derek.
Bodie had seen Derek again at his mum’s funeral, two years back. Victoria hadn’t wanted Derek there but there were clear instructions in the will - his mum and Derek had, it seemed, got onto better terms in later life. Derek’s second wife had died, and whilst there was no suggestion he and Bodie’s mum had revived their relationship, they’d apparently had a few years of meeting for lunches in the British Home Stores cafés and sometimes gone round a stately home together and split a pot of tea after.
Victoria had come and gone again, back to Australia within the week.
Bodie had never intended Ray to know any of it was happening. He took annual leave, as if on a sudden whim, and claimed to the secretaries that he was going fishing, implied to Ray that there was a bird involved.
But then – he inferred later – some kind of a crisis had come up, because Ray had called on the number Bodie had left the squad with as per protocol – on this occasion his mother’s landline - and Victoria had answered it. Bodie was never quite sure what they’d said to each other, but the crisis got covered without him. Ray didn’t bring the topic up, afterwards, and there was just Victoria’s scribbled note – Ray Foyle called, work, not important – to prove that connection had happened at all.
And yet, again in retrospect, it made a link in the chain of events that had got them from that initial incomprehension in the CI5 gym to this, now, here.
Bodie hoped that Ray had understood that the lie about his whereabouts had been because he’d not known how to tell Ray, not necessarily because he didn’t want Ray to know. That he had been cautious with his revelations because he himself found most people’s personal problems tedious, and didn’t want Ray to draw away from him in the wake of unwanted intimacy.
And yet, afterwards, he’d found himself bringing up for the first time some of the things he’d hoped, in the beginning, that Cowley would keep from Ray altogether. Things about his past that he’d never imagined voluntarily telling anyone.
Ray had listened. He hadn’t approved, and Bodie hadn’t expected him to, but he’d listened, and it hadn’t broken anything. Perhaps it had been part of the building, in fact.
Bodie had known by then, one way or another - certainly during that awful week with his family, when he’d wanted Ray to be next to him so acutely it had hurt - that he loved Ray. And he’d thought that what they had at time – friendship, a certain thing you might call ‘brotherhood’ more than any more complex feeling - would be all he’d get, and all he’d need. He’d never expected more.
That first time, it had probably mostly happened because Ray had been hurting.
Bodie had known it bothered him when that happened, had been almost bewildered - frankly irritated - by how much Ray’s mood had come to affect his own over their years together, by how if he was conscious of Ray suffering he would fret, anxious, unable to settle, and yearn for violent exercise or mindless sex, anything to keep his mind clear.
Reaching out to Ray and specifically offering comfort was something that he had up till then generally resisted. Sometimes he’d let himself work the feelings out by dragging Ray off on a jollying trip to the pub, or shouting at him, or getting in a fight, or some mixture of the all the above, and sometimes clowning about could bring a smile to Ray’s face, but nothing more, nothing deeper. Silent support was the only safe way, and sometimes not even that, not since he’d figured out how he felt.
But that day it had been a bad one. A case where Bodie had asked himself questions, questions like the ones Cowley had asked him at the start of the job, about belief, about justice, about values. Fourteen people had ended the day dead who had been alive at the start of it, and Bodie, wiping blood spatter from his face in the ridiculous executive bathroom in the tower block office they’d commandeered as an HQ for the siege across the street, had struggled to see what any of them had gained by any of it.
He’d not experienced such a doubt in some years, but Ray, he suspected, had even less experience of the darker depths, of the blood you might need to wash off at the end of a day, literal and figurative, and Ray had been practically shaking with it, skin pale and with a greenish tinge. It had been that way all the time they’d been washing down, both stripped to the waist, and Bodie had been able to see Ray’s pulse hammering in his neck, see the slow heaving of his chest, the way he paused now and then, bracing his hands on the basin edges, struggling not to vomit.
Nothing hot in the feelings Bodie had about Ray then, it was nothing like that kind of moment. If he’d been conscious of desire, he might have policed himself more effectively.
Ray took a shaking breath. “What is the point of any of it?” he said at last, gasping, winded.
“Next time, we’ll do better,” Bodie had told him, impotent.
“Next time?” Ray, angry, eyes flashing, threw down the soap so it clattered round the basin and fell to rest blocking the drain, lavender-scented water rising, scummy, over it. “Next time? Better if I’d died in there!”
He was speaking purely of and in the moment, Bodie had known that. But there had been a blankness, a hopelessness in his eyes that had made Bodie’s stomach clench and cramp. Ray looked like he didn’t think it would matter, and that was unthinkable, more painful than a bullet.
And so Bodie had reached out.
Hands to Ray’s shoulders, turning him and then drawing him in, hugging him close, skin to skin, giving him his own body heat, the earnestness of his own relief that they lived, and were together.
“You can’t die,” Bodie had told him, simply, stupidly. His arms had tightened around Ray, holding him as if it might transmit the conviction, nerve to nerve, skin to skin, that he was needed. Bodie had been shaking too by then, perhaps it had got to him more than he’d realised - afterwards he’d know it absolutely had, that he’d been riding the adrenaline crash without realising and not capable of making decisions, not capable of looking to his own safety and keeping those hands and arms at his sides.
Adrenaline affected different people different ways - probably it was the reason why the next thing Ray did was kiss him.
It was slow at first, like it was too unthinkable, too much against probability to happen fast. Rearranging the universe would naturally need to take a while.
Ray’s mouth was hot, sour, against his own, and the taste of blood was still somewhere between them.
Then speed, heat, fierce sharp movement, rubbing against each other almost in attack, in desperation. They’d got sweat and worse on the clean white walls of that poncey executive bathroom, crashing to and fro from one side of the room to the other, finally slumping on the floor, panting, looking at each other.
There had been a silence. Bodie could have said something else. But he was out of courage for the day, and didn’t, just stood and started wiping himself down all over again.
In the Clinic 2A waiting area, the small child who wanted a chocolate bar started to scream, gulping angry tears and falling to the linoleum to drum its feet. No one was paying attention to Bodie and Ray any more.
Bodie took the opportunity to make a quick, furtive study of Ray, of the planes and angles of his face, the fine lines around his eyes, and the slight, dark bruises beneath them. Now just as much as before, Ray in pain made Bodie ache.
But Ray had his family, Bodie reminded himself. Ray would be alright, whatever happened. And Ray’s family were good people – Bodie had met them twice, slightly different groups on the two different occasions. They had been friendly, had claimed Ray spoke well of him – Ray had frowned and made them change the subject. Bodie had found that they had an ease with each other that he had been somewhat mystified by, and not a little jealous of when it extended to Ray, and the way they could connect with him and light him up on subjects Bodie had no knowledge of, referencing old jokes that flew over his head.
But, “Thank goodness that’s over,” Ray had said when they’d driven away from his sister’s wedding, and had appeared to be only half joking. “And thank goodness you were there, I’d have gone mad!”
Bodie had then attended the party for the christening of Ray’s nephew, who was born rather sooner after said wedding than might have escaped comment some years ago, or with the kind of people who had gone to Bodie’s childhood church. No one in Ray’s extended family had seemed ill at ease, though, and several had come up to chat happily with Bodie, some even remembering what he’d told them at the meeting before and asking him how the martial arts were progressing, whether he was onto his next belt yet, if he still had never tried tofu, whether he’d liked Return of the Jedi any more than The Empire Strikes Back.
Standing on the small lawn of Ray’s parent’s house, a glass of sparkling wine in hand, his best suit and tie stiff and awkward around him, being offered cocktail sausages and gossip by elderly ladies who claimed to be thrilled to see him, Bodie had felt like he’d wandered into a play of someone else’s life.
And yet he’d been looking forward, oddly, to a repeat event when he heard that Ray’s sister had had her little girl.
But, “Of course you’re pretty busy in July,” Ray had said, not looking at him, blocking his own holiday onto the calendar. “So I said I thought you probably couldn’t, but of course I could get back to them, if…”
“Don’t worry about it,” Bodie had told him, and had put his head down again to his own work.
The difference, of course, had been that this had come after they’d started sleeping together. Bodie couldn’t come to eat hors d’oeuvres any more, but the next Thursday Ray had been at his door, fiercer perhaps even that usual, more ready to be rough, visibly frustrated in a way Bodie hadn’t been able to divine, and could only attempt to alleviate as best he could.
As Bodie watched now, Ray squared his shoulders and rose, and went over to where the chocolate-demanding child was still wailing away. He nodded to its mother, made some sort of gesture to which she nodded back, and then to Bodie’s total surprise and bewilderment picked the child up by it’s ankles and held it upside down for a few seconds before spinning it back upwards and depositing it once more in its seat. The shock of the motion rendered it silent, blinking wide-eyed at him and sniffing.
“That’s better, eh? Good lad,” Ray told it, and stepped back. The child buried its head in its mother’s side, and she stroked it’s back, mouthing thanks.
“Works with our Betty’s little Peter,” Ray explained, coming back to the chair at Bodie’s side. Once more, the attention of the room was on them as a few of the other women studied Ray’s progress appreciatively.
“I’ve been meaning to ask, how is…” Bodie began, but was interrupted by the swinging of the door and the voice of the clinic nurse.
“Mr William Bodie? The doctor will see you now.”
Again, the process of rising, securing his arms in the crutches, taking the first step. Bodie muttered a few things under his breath as he did so.
“Come on then,” he said to Ray, bracing himself, affecting casualness.
Ray blinked at him.
“Might as well,” Bodie pointed out, beckoning with an incline of his head. “Come on in. You’ve been with me this far, after all.”
There was nothing left to lose now, he reasoned, in demanding such an intimacy, and the more Ray heard directly, the faster the oncoming conversation could be over.
Slowly, frowning, Ray stood up. With the sense that if it were done then it were well it were done quickly, Bodie set off slightly ahead, and met the clinic nurse’s expression with a charming smile. “My colleague,” he explained, indicating Ray with a tilt of his head, and fairly dared her to object.
She, however, looked unperturbed. “There’s another chair in there already,” she said briskly, as though that was the only consideration at hand, and went to push open the door for him.
The room, when they reached it, that ultimate goal of so much waiting, was very small and rather cold, the window being wedged open with a piece of wood. There were indeed two more of the rickety plastic chairs in evidence, facing a desk behind which sat a bald man with thick-rimmed glasses who looked up over the frames and frowned at the sight of them.
“Mr William Bodie?” he asked, looking from one to the other.
“Yes, that’s me, clue’s in the leg.” Bodie manoeuvred himself over to take one of the seats. “This is my colleague, Ray Doyle, I wanted him to be here too.”
“Ah. Yes. I see,” said the man presumably the orthopaedic surgeon, rather as if it he didn’t. In fact, Bodie thought, looking more closely, he appeared rather nervous.
Nothing Bodie could do about that. He leant back in his latest chair, resting his arms on the top of the crutches and indicated that he was ready for the information he had been waiting two hours for.
“It’s a bad break, old man, I’m afraid,” the surgeon began, and took his glasses off, tutted, and put them on again. “Yes. Bad break. Could show you the x-rays again, but, ahem, very clear. No one would dispute it.”
“I don’t dispute it,” Bodie said calmly.
“What? Ah, yes.” The surgeon cleared his throat. “Good. Ah. That is to say, a bad break. Even with what we’ve done, can’t say I see it getting back on spec, not on spec at all. I’m not, I admit, entirely familiar with what it is you do, but, ahem, I think you might not find it quite so easy to do it.”
“I’ll be able to walk, though, to get back to running, eventually? Jogging at least?” This was the one point of real concern, thought Bodie tried to keep his voice level.
Give nothing away; the motto of his life.
The surgeon gave a rather ghastly grin. “Oh yes, yes, running certainly, almost certainly with the right therapy, but not, um. Your profile indicates some kind of special operations work with the, um…? That would imply an endurance, stamina, ahem, that with this… well, there were a lot of fragments, and the muscle, well, I think you’ll find anyone would agree.”
“I’m sure.” Bodie sighed. Here was the point of it, then. “So you’ll sign me out of it, then? You’d be prepared to sign a medical document to the effect that I’m no longer able to operate in the field? That I can start drawing my pension?”
The surgeon frowned, expectations of the situation before him apparently rearranging themselves in his head. “Most probably,” he allowed, and frowned again. “You seem to be taking this very calmly.”
All this time Bodie hadn’t dared to look at Ray. Had been aware, though, of the increasing tempo of Ray’s breathing, of how totally still he sat, frozen as he listened to what was being said.
“Yes, doctor,” Bodie drew in a breath. “In fact I’ve been intending to leave this line of work anyway. All this happening just pulled the timetable forward.”
Abruptly, Ray coughed, sharp, and stood up so fast his chair fell over backwards.
“You bastard,” he murmured.
For a moment, Bodie thought they were at the point of it, that he might even get hit.
He looked at Ray now. Ray was pale, eyes staring. Bodie both longed for and dreaded the explosion.
But Ray’s next movement was to turn, sharply, and leave the room.
And Bodie, again, was faced with a choice.
In the silence after the first time they had touched each other, in that ridiculous executive bathroom, Bodie could have spoken. Could have said some of what he’d discovered about his feelings, and Ray’s place in them.
But he’d gone back to cleaning himself – needed in any case to wash to get clean again, after what they’d just done – and hadn’t been able to think at all through the storm of awareness in his mind of what had happened.
Hanging over him had been the fear that he might just have destroyed everything. He’d been unable to hold himself back, unable to keep his emotions constrained, and God knew what Ray would make of them, of him, after that insight. This might be the end of the best part of Bodie’s life, this very moment.
At the same time, the strangely persistent fear that Ray might misinterpret this behaviour on Bodie’s part. That Ray might think Bodie had been lying somehow all the while about who he was – he hadn’t, not really, it had been true with all the girls, there wasn’t a hidden lifestyle here, he wasn’t about to burst from a closet with a hidden supply of hotpants or leather, he just…
There was Ray, and Ray was Ray, a force and situation and law unto himself, and it wouldn’t have mattered what form or gender Ray came in, Bodie was sure of that, Bodie would have needed him just the same.
Bodie could have said any of that, it was all sitting in his throat, half-formed, but Bodie had never given anything anyway.
Over on the other side of the bathroom, Ray had turned a tap on and drunk from it, sticking his mouth under the spout, fast loud gulps, gasping at the end.
“Bodie…” he said, voice flat.
And the door burst open, the tousled head of 9.3 poking in, plastered with a smile.
“You redecorating in here or what? You’ve been ages! Come on, pub!”
“You think now is a good time to go to the pub?” Ray exclaimed, stepping forward, all coiled tension, anger visible in every line of his still bare shoulders. Droplets of water fell from his curls to the ugly paisley-printed floor carpet. Bodie hoped it stained.
9.3, new and foolish – perhaps, in fact, having been set up by some other lads to come and convey this message as a prank, knowing the reaction he would likely get – drew back rapidly.
“The Lion and Eagle, over the way, when you’re ready,” he said defensively, and closed the door once more.
“Fuck, he could’ve…” Ray stayed staring at the door for a while after it had closed, clearly thinking of what innocent young 9.3 would have seen if he’d stuck nose in fifteen minutes earlier.
Bodie winced, put his shirt on, and straightened up, bracing himself.
“No pub for you then, eh?”
Ray blinked at him. The temporary rise in energy Bodie had managed to get from him was gone again, deflated by 9.3 – Bodie needed to find a plausible reason to track that young man down and sock him one – and now Ray looked almost lost once more.
“Wasn’t planning on it, no,” Ray said slowly – carefully, as though speaking a language he didn’t know. “Why? You are, then, are you? You don’t want to just get your head down?”
Had he sounded hopeful?
At the time, Bodie had been so sure Ray must want to get away from him, he hadn’t questioned it.
“Guess I might as well go, really. Wouldn’t mind a stiff drink at that.”
And Ray had just nodded briefly, and looked away.
They both finished changing, assembling their kit to leave.
“Never want to see this place again,” Ray remarked as they crossed the threshold of the offices and out onto the street. Bodie’s stomach had tightened. At the time, it had seemed entirely apparent that Ray wanted to forget everything that had happened in this awful building.
“It’ll be alright,” Bodie had said – couldn’t resist saying, unable not to offer some kind of comfort even if he was the source of Ray’s problems. He did resist putting out his hand or touching Ray again.
Ray stared at him.
“Ought to be going, if I’m going,” Bodie observed, and made himself turn around and walk away, heading over the road to the Lion and Eagle.
He drank hard that night – he had enough reasons to do so. And smoked too, which he hadn’t in years, not since CI5 fitness testing had required him to push every last envelope. The taste made him think of Chaklis, Chaklis of his mother and stepfather, and how he’d never understood how they couldn’t understand each other if they’d spent every day together for so long.
He thought then, morose – the rest of the group had left him, told him he was bringing the mood down – of sea creatures safe in shifting sands, and wondered if it could possibly be the drink making him dizzy, or whether it was more likely the lack of food during the long, fraught day.
It was just getting on for last orders when he’d felt a gentle touch at his arm, and turned to find Ray had materialized next to him.
“Minicab, guv?” Ray said lightly, and thrust a brown paper bag into Bodie’s hands. It was very hot to touch – Bodie almost dropped it – and turned out to have chips inside. Bodie had blinked at Ray then, unsure, not entirely certain he wasn’t asleep already.
But Ray had started walking, dragging him by a light hold on his arm, and Bodie had followed him to his car.
It was now completely dark outside, and it had started raining, the street lights bleeding veins of gold and red and green over the drops of water on the car windows. Bodie thought vaguely that it was nice of Ray not to have drunk anything so he could drive them both, nice of Ray to have come back even after what Bodie had done. They were something together, in a car, a unit, one shell, one piece.
“Got to have you ready for tomorrow, work out the booze,” Ray had said conversationally. “Formal debrief after today? Not going to be pretty, going to need our wits about us. I’ve been speaking to Cowley tonight, he’s got the angle he wants to follow but we need to go through it.” His voice was tight.
“Wouldn’t want to let you down,” Bodie managed to mumble, and undid his seatbelt and laid himself out as fully as he could over the back seats, despite Ray’s protests.
He didn’t remember the rest, what had happened or not at his flat where, the next day, he had awakened to find himself in his bed, under the covers, Ray asleep next to him but on top of the covers and fully dressed still, just his shirt collar opened.
Bodie wanted to get his arms free and insinuate his fingers into the gap between cloth and skin there, could almost already feel where Ray would be warm, or where he would be cold and welcome contact.
At some point he had to have gone back to sleep. The next thing he knew his alarm was going off as usual, and it was the day of the debrief, and then the next day, then the next and the next, and then ultimately Thursday, Ray in the car, stretching, clearly wanting, and somehow on they had gone, and never spoken clearly of anything. Touched, but never touching.
Nothing in his life had prepared Bodie for any of this. In the eight months they’d been carrying on he had flickered, endlessly, from worrying that what he wanted was far too pathetically transparent and fearing that his feelings were not interpretable at all, even to himself.
In the end, of course, the easiest thing is to recourse back to what one knows and has done before.
He’d decided, in the fullness of time, that all he could really do about the situation was to leave. To unpick the part of his life built on the foundation of that day in Cowley’s office, and retreat again inside himself, sufficient and safe.
Ray was gone from the clinic room, and Bodie had a choice.
He could let Ray leave, and Ray could let him leave, and that would be the end of it.
Or… Bodie turned his head to look at the surgeon again. He was gazing at Bodie with rapt fascination under which seemed to sit mingled fear and distaste. Evidently he’d thought being the bearer of bad news in terms of Bodie’s prognosis might be met with hostility, and now found that what he’d seen instead wasn’t something he wanted to be in a room with either.
Bodie rose once more, grabbing at his crutches, barely conscious of the pain as the delayed reaction of emotion crashed through him. Now was the time in the eye of the storm, in the epicentre of the explosion, and it took a moment to know, always, what had hit you.
“Mr Bodie, please,” the surgeon protested without much effort as Bodie started moving. “We need to discuss your ongoing course of physiotherapy…”
Bodie grunted, dismissive. “Put it all in the letter to HQ, they’ll sort it out. Well this isn’t coming off any time soon, is it?” He gestured at his cast.
Ray had gone, Ray was going, and Bodie could let him, could let that be the conversation and indeed the end of it.
It wasn’t like he could catch him, not if Ray really wanted to disappear.
A jagged, incoherent hope ran through him, and he turned fully, not waiting to pay attention to what the surgeon said next. Swinging forward, he got as far as the door and had to fumble again, getting his arms in the right orientation to work the handle. Before he’d managed it, the door starting coming open from the other side, pushing him backwards until he almost overbalanced.
“I have the x-rays that you… Ah, Mr Bodie.” The nurse blinked at him as he righted himself. He struggled not to swear, and there was pain again, lancing through him, and yet unimportant.
“Your companion went that way, I believe, towards the cafeteria exit.” She pointed her hand, still holding a docket of x-ray films, and backed up in order to keep the door open for him to go through.
Moving as fast as he could, swinging his body between the planted crutches, Bodie went down the corridor that Ray had travelled earlier in search of tea. The newspaper they’d both been studying was abandoned in a corner of the waiting room now, bent in half, the child who’d been screaming deeply asleep across two seats, his mother carefully rocking her other child in the pushchair.
He ought to make the effort to talk to Victoria again, he found himself thinking. Try to make sense of what had happened to them, either of them, both of them, their family. It wasn’t a mystery, and yet it was, each person’s life was, and maybe she had questions too, or empty spaces.
Because no one was sufficient unto themselves, it wasn’t possible, he knew that now, as he should have done years ago.
Sweating a bit, he kept moving, on into the atrium area and to the heavy doors that a security guard had to rise to open for him, even as he tapped his toe in the cast and wondered where Ray had got to, whether this was getting beyond foolish.
Immediately he turned, too tired and too pained not to struggle for balance, and then Ray was at his side, catching his elbow awkwardly.
“Was going to get more tea,” Ray said vaguely, and then sighed, and looked away and then tried to step back. “Bodie, what the hell? Bodie…” He shook his head. “I ought to punch you.”
“You’re in the right place to do it.” Bodie couldn’t resist pointing out.
For a moment Ray breathed hard. Then he turned away, hands on his hips.
“I keep waiting for you to just… And then you think that that’s a good way to…” Ray sighed, heavily, and ran a hand through his hair. Then, looking up, he frowned a little, and cleared his throat.
“I’m sorry I left you in there. I wasn’t thinking”
“It isn’t…” Bodie felt too hot again, even though the first flush of exercise had cooled. Under the cast, his skin started itching horribly, it made him want to writhe and whine, to throw himself on the floor and scream, come to that. “I was just… I wanted to explain about… I’m sorry, Ray, I’m sorry I… I thought you knew.”
Slowly, Ray came closer again.
They stared at each other.
“This isn’t the right place for this,” Ray pointed out, voice low. He shot a glance either side of them, and then, on spotting the security guard who had just made it back to his table and his fishing magazine, went over to him.
“Good morning. Where’s the nearest park to here, mate?”
The guard said something, gesturing directions. Bodie could barely hear any of it, heart pounding as if he’d exercised far longer than he had.
Ray nodded at the guard, smiled, came back to Bodie’s side. They went through the doors together.
It felt refreshing, stepping outside and away from the stifling air of the hospital. The main road where it sat was busy, but as they crossed – Ray carefully stationing himself to ensure Bodie could cover the distance unchallenged – and then made their way into a side street, and through a footway, the lining either side of the pavement became greener, and then came railings, trees and the entrance to a park.
“I knew you weren’t happy,” Ray said, into the silence. “I knew you didn’t want to be around me. I never thought you’d quit the squad. And then, in there… you didn’t have to tell me, did you? You could have claimed it was all the injury. But you… and you never normally tell me anything. Didn’t really know what to make of it.”
“Oh. I see,” Bodie answered uselessly. He could see, and it made him wince.
He took a few more steps, trying to formulate what to say next, but he was abruptly conscious that his leg was hurting too much to be longer borne, and went perforce to sit on the next bench.
“We could just stop,” Ray said carefully, coming to sit next to him, a little distance away. “And then you could stay on with the squad, go managerial, do training, recruiting, high-level stuff, and we could stop, I would stop, and I’d never tell, I don’t think anyone’s guessed either. Not beyond the ones who always liked to joke about it. About us.”
“Is that what you want?” Bodie felt the oddness of it, of sitting here in this bright, pleasant day with such sick dread in his stomach. He’d thought he’d figured this out, that it held no more surprises, but the idea of what Ray had suggested, of being stuck on, endlessly unhappy, was worse than anything he’d imagined. And that Ray could think they could bear it!
Perhaps it would have been better to have let Ray leave him at the hospital, and then just to have left himself. Run away properly, like a young man did, break free violently and tear up the roots again.
“I don’t want…” Ray looked away. A dog ran past them on the footpath, bounding happily. After what felt like an age, the owner followed, and gave them a nod and an ‘afternoon’. It really must be lunchtime now, Bodie thought idly, and wondered if that could account for the ache in his middle.
Ray took another breath. “I don’t want this,” he said, and took a deep breath as about to make another ghastly suggestion.
“I want you,” he said, aloud, sudden, clear, letting the words smash out whole, bullets.
And there, it was all shattered now, all his pretence. He’d let that truth out, let it out clear into the open and so he might as well continue, even if he didn’t dare look to see how Ray had taken it.
“I’m leaving because of how I feel about you. This, Ray, you have to understand, this has been the first time in my life that I’ve been happy. Really happy. With you now, and before. Just being with you. But at the same time I’m miserable, and… you don’t deserve that. You don’t deserve to have someone with you, in any way, and not know who they are. I want you. I want everything with you. I won’t settle for less.”
Ray looked away, and back, and let out a noise that was half a laugh, half a strangled sob.
“And of course, you had to wait till this, till now out here in public, to tell me! Bodie, you…” He was frowning, smiling, laughing still, his eyes were moist. “In public in mid bloody daylight at…” he looked at his watch, “twelve seventeen in the afternoon.” He laughed a little, and smiled even as he rolled his eyes, and was the most beautiful thing in the world.
“Lunchtime,” Bodie pointed out, which seemed as sensible a thing to say as anything else.
Ray whacked him round the ear. Then, scooting closer on their shared bench, and despite all he’d just said, he leant in and kissed Bodie full on the mouth, hard and hot, and then short and tender.
“Oh,” said Bodie. “So that’s alright then?”
“That’s alright,” Ray confirmed, and nodded, and laughed happily again before leaning back in.
- FIN -