"Bloody Christmas shoppers!" he added aloud thirty seconds later, barely avoiding having his eye put out by the corner of one of a pile of parcels clutched by a woman bound for the nearest Tube entrance with scant regard for anyone in her path.
Piccadilly Circus, mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve, was no place for a quiet life or for the faint hearted. A fine drizzle was soaking everything in sight, the traffic was snarled up at a virtual standstill, and every square inch of pavement was covered by humanity en masse. And not very good-tempered humanity, at that! Bodie very soon abandoned any inclination towards politeness or goodwill to his fellow man - or woman - and proceeded to fight his way through the surging crowd, using shoulders and elbows to best advantage. He'd seen better mannered rugby scrums - and the women were the worst!
By the time he had pushed and shoved his way along Piccadilly itself to Fortnum and Mason's he had developed a lot of fellow-feeling for Scrooge, and was seriously tempted to give up on the festival altogether and go home. Only trouble with that notion was that he'd have to fight the battle in reverse to get back to where he had left the car anyway, and all for nothing. The idea did not appeal.
Eyeing the milling throng within the narrow entrance to the store with a jaundiced expression, he sighed and dived in.
The things one did for love!
Why the hell couldn't his stupid, aggravating partner like ordinary coffee cream chocolates?
Why'd he have to acquire a consuming passion for Fortnum's, and no one else's?
There weren't many edibles that Doyle fancied with fervour. Spaghetti bolognaise was one, strawberry flavoured yoghurt was another; but apart from those two - and Fortnum's bloody chocolates, apparently - he would only nibble like an anorexic sparrow at most other things.
Except fried egg sandwiches. The little sod couldn't abide fried egg sarnies; couldn't even stand watching Bodie eat one. Whined on, like a record with the needle stuck, about cholesterol and heart attacks, until Bodie got fed up and gave him an earful about vitamin pills. That usually shut him up.
Shake Doyle and he'd rattle, sometimes. On the other hand, there must be something in the ruddy things, else where'd he get all his energy from, and the strength and startling amount of lean, whipcord muscle that always surprised the socks off anyone who came up against him in a fight? Certainly not from the amount of what Bodie considered normal food that he ate, that was for sure!
Having bored his way through the crush to the counter, Bodie planted himself in place and buttonholed the nearest harassed assistant as soon as she was free. He was immediately submerged in a flood of irritated mutterings about "queue-jumping so-and-sos..." and "...some people...!" from other frustrated customers who had not been so quickly off the mark. These subsided into mildly embarrassed silence as he extended his best Charming Little Boy smile No. 1 to include all around him, and said to the assistant, "I'm so sorry. Probably out of my turn, I know, but...it's my poor mother, you see. She's waiting for me in the car, and I worry so much about leaving her alone too long. It's the polio, I'm afraid...she had it years ago, and she's so frail now. Heart as well...! But she just adores your coffee creams, and I always try to get her some for Christmas especially. Keep thinking it might be her last... A couple of pounds, please, love, and would you do them up nicely for me?"
Pursued by an almost tangible wave of approval for being "...such a good son...!" and holding the 'done up nicely' box of chocolates against his chest with all the fervour of a medieval monk clutching a fragment of the True Cross, Bodie battled his way back to the open air. The drizzle had turned into a fully-fledged downpour, and when he got back to the Capri, parked on a double yellow line in an alley off Shaftesbury Avenue, there was a parking ticket tucked behind one of the windscreen wipers.
"Christmas!" Bodie said again, with even more annoyance than previously.
He added several other words, each of which would probably have horrified a Victorian gentleman like Scrooge while being very familiar indeed to any Anglo-Saxons lurking within earshot. They didn't make the ticket vanish in a puff smoke, nor its perpetrator drop dead several streets away, but they did relieve his feelings and express an opinion of Traffic Wardens in general and of one in particular.
Driving back to his flat at what seemed like a steady speed of one and a half car lengths per hour, Bodie came to the conclusion that, without a shadow of a doubt, he needed his head examining.
He had suspected as much for a long time, ever since the proverbial penny had dropped with a loud clang, and he had realised that what he felt for Ray Doyle wasn't simply respect for the irritating little sod's ability with a handgun, or admiration for the way he could down a pint of beer. Nor was it just the surge of helpless lust he had felt the first time he had got a good look at that wet-dream of a body and the face that could appear devastatingly beautiful one minute and ugly as sin the next.
It was all of those together, and more. Much more.
And that discovery had scared Bodie half to death.
Not because the feelings were for another man - he had recognised and accepted his own bi-sexuality years ago - but because he could feel that way about Doyle! He had believed himself in love a couple of times before, but never with such frightening intensity, and the fact that the object of his emotion this time was his partner made it even more frightening. There was so much to lose!
Doyle, for all his androgynous appearance, never gave off any signals that he would welcome sexual attentions from another man. Sometimes the opposite, in fact. True, he allowed Bodie - and only Bodie! - into his personal space, and he hadn't yet broken the offending wrist when he was occasionally jokingly touched up. Indeed, recently he had begun retaliating in like manner, but Bodie had the impression that whereas his fooling about was serious, Doyle's was just fooling.
It couldn't go on.
Bodie's nerves were rapidly fraying past the point of self-destruction. He had to do something - anything! - to find out once and for all if there was a hope in hell of Doyle returning his feelings. Unfortunately, while he had decided that this Christmas leave was when he was going to do it, he still had not the foggiest idea of how to set about it. Only that Fortnum's coffee creams were going to be the start of it. Propositioning a touchy little toad like Doyle was likely to be a tricky operation, one that could end with a friendship and a partnership destroyed and Bodie nursing sundry contusions and a broken head.
Not to mention the proverbial broken heart!
Doyle stepped back, the better to view his handiwork, caught his heel in a rucked-up corner of the rug, and went sprawling backwards.
From his newly attained vantage point, draped untidily over Bodie's sofa, the Christmas tree in the corner of Bodie's living room looked infinitely more imposing than it had any right to do.
Bert Wicks had certainly seen him coming!
Christmas surprise for his partner or not, Ray Doyle had too much respect for the contents of his wallet to part with good money for a tree that was already shedding bits of itself as though there were no tomorrow, and had about as many branches as he had fingers. If it had not been too late for other measures, he would have told Bert exactly where to put his so-called tree and maybe even helped the little toe-rag to do it. Instead, he had threatened him with the Trades Descriptions Act and GBH, and finally got the wretched thing for half the original asking price. Then he'd spent the money he'd saved on extra decorations, lugged the lot up three flights of stairs to Bodie's current flat - the lift was out of order again! - let himself in with the spare key he had nicked when Bodie wasn't looking, and spent the past two hours trying to turn the sow's ear into a silk purse.
Even if he did say so himself, he hadn't done a bad job. Standing in the corner like some exotic, multi-hued jewel, the tree itself was almost invisible under the weight and variety of its glittering decorations. All it needed now was the installation of the angel on top and the ceremonial switching-on of its lights, and Bodie's surprise would be complete.
God! Whoever would've thought his hard-bitten partner had a thing about Christmas trees?
On the other hand, it really shouldn't have been such a surprise. Bodie could be such a big kid in so many ways despite the consciously macho, tough-guy image he projected. Witness that scruffy, one-eyed old teddy bear Doyle had discovered in the bottom of a box when he had helped him move flats last year. Christ, the great sod had been embarrassed! Even his ears had gone red! Doyle had felt so sorry for him that he had been moved to confess the hitherto well-hidden fact that his own dog-eared collection of BIGGLES books were still in his Mum's attic, and then to add on his passion for Fortnum's coffee cream chocolates just for good measure.
The things one did for love!
Exactly when he had realised what it was he felt for Bodie, Doyle wasn't quite sure. It was something that had sneaked up on him over the two years of their partnership, and the discovery of it had frightened him witless. If it had only been simple lust he would have known how to deal with it. That was nothing new, after all. It had happened before, at art school and occasionally since then, and he had long ago accepted that he could fancy another man in that way, although he seldom did anything about it any more.
But Bodie was different. His emotions where Bodie was concerned were too serious, too deep, and not to be treated casually. From the signals he was receiving, Doyle was reasonably certain that the slightest response on his part would have them in bed together, but while that would be wonderful it wasn't all that he wanted. He didn't want a one-night stand, a quick screw-and-forget-it. He wanted a permanent relationship because he loved the great cretin, and wanted to be loved by him in return.
Trouble was, he hadn't the faintest idea how much Bodie wanted. And until he found out...
Doyle picked himself up and took another gulp from the tumbler of whisky he had been steadily filling and emptying during his labours, before rummaging in a pile of plastic bags for the one containing the angel. It was the largest one he had been able to find and, ensconced on the topmost branch, it gazed up at the ceiling with prayerfully clasped hands and spread wings, and an expression of saccharine sweetness guaranteed to turn even the strongest stomach at any other time of year.
He switched off the standard lamp he had been working by and snapped on the tree lights, then picked his way carefully through the debris on the floor and around the sofa to the wall by the window, against which he propped himself to survey the finished effect. After several minutes' Glenfiddich-tinged contemplation, he sighed in satisfaction.
"Raymond, my son, you're a true genius. No one else could've done it! Always said there was an artist in there somewhere. If the Cow ever gives you the boot, you've got a whole new career ahead of you. Merry Christmas, tree! And a Happy New Year, too...if you manage to survive that long."
He toasted the vision in the corner with another mouthful of whisky, and was just straightening up when a change in the traffic sounds from street level registered: an all-too-familiar squeal of brakes, followed by the slamming of a car door. He peered through the curtains just in time to see the top of Bodie's head as it disappeared through the front entrance to the block of flats.
"Oh sod it! He's back already!"
Thank God the Escort was parked out of sight in the yard at the rear; Bodie wouldn't expect him to be here, so the surprise element of the plan should work okay. Thank God, too, for broken lifts; it would take his partner a few minutes to climb the stairs, long enough to clear away and get out of sight to see the fun. Doyle fired a scowl at the glittering tree, and scrabbled in the morass of wrapping paper on the floor, frantically stuffing it into plastic bags and flinging them through the open bedroom doorway, muttering all the while.
"You'd better like it, Bodie, that's all I'm sayin'...! After all this, if you say you were only 'aving me on... Retribution'll set in, I swear it!"
He tucked the whisky bottle under one arm, grabbed up the glass again, straightened the crumpled rug with a foot, and followed the plastic bags just as the rattle of Bodie's key sounded in the lock. Plastered up against the wall behind the bedroom door, he took a couple of deep breaths and peered between doorjamb and hinges, waiting for his partner's reaction.
The front door opened and slammed shut again, and then there was a startled exclamation. "What the hell...?"
The door to the small hallway was flung wide, and Bodie swept into the living room. In the flickering illumination of the tree lights Doyle noted the package in one hand as the other one reached automatically under the leather jacket for the gun there before it froze; noted, too, the expression of wary suspicion change to one of amazement as Bodie took in the sight before him.
Perfect! Just perfect!
There were several moments of immobility, and then Bodie reached out and snapped on the overhead light and stepped farther into the room. Doyle shifted position, trying and failing to keep him in view, and Bodie's voice said, "All right, sunshine, you can come out now."
Chagrined, Doyle emerged into the light, "How'd you know I was there?" he demanded.
"I've got this sixth sense where you're concerned. Besides, I saw your beady eye glinting through the gap when I switched on the light," Bodie told him. The amazement had been replaced by another expression Doyle found indecipherable.
"How'd you know that was me? Could've been anybody - some mad terrorist, even..."
"Oh yeah, sure! Just the sort of thing mad terrorists get up to this time of year, sneaking into my flat to leave an exploding Christmas tree and then hanging around to watch it go BANG! No, there's only one pillock I know who's daft enough for this carry on," Bodie said. "Come on then, what's it all in aid of? What the hell are you up to?"
"Not up to anything. I just wanted to give you a surprise. You don't like it!" Doyle said, sudden inexpressible disappointment swamping him. So much for the Grand Plan... Made a right prat of yourself this time, Doyle! he thought. He opened his mouth in preparation for a blast of the self-protective retribution he had promised himself only to have the intention diverted by a Bodie-special glare.
"Who said I don't like it? I never said I don't like it. Of course I like it, I lo...I like it, okay? All I'm asking, is why you did it?"
Doyle grinned, one of those wide, street-urchin efforts that made him look about twelve years old and mischievous with it.
"'Cause we're mates, that's why," he said, disappointment fading into sudden euphoric relief, which allied itself to the effects of the whisky and made him uncharacteristically careless. "Mates do things to make each other 'appy. And you told me that Christmas isn't really Christmas without a tree with all the trimmin's, so I got one for you. With the biggest, soppiest angel I could find for the top of it. It's a surprise," he finished confidingly.
"It's a bloody shock - but I like it," Bodie added hastily as Doyle's face showed signs of falling again. He retrieved the sliding whisky bottle from under Doyle's arm, and eyed the contents level with a raised eyebrow before setting it down on the coffee table out of harm's way. "However, just let me get one thing straight here, old son. I said what I said about Christmas trees this time last year when we were stuck on that awful obbo, eating rubber chicken sarnies without so much as a piece of goodwill in sight. D'you mean to tell me you've been carrying it around inside that curly noggin ever since then?"
Doyle nodded brightly. Bodie's second eyebrow climbed to join the first one.
"Do you always remember everything I say?"
"Only the important things," Doyle said.
"And my fancying a tree for Christmas with an angel on top is one of the important things?"
"Yeah - uh - well..."
Suddenly realising that his tongue was trying to run away from him - and succeeding! - Doyle regained belated control of it. Unfortunately, once he had it he didn't know quite what to do with it, so he ground to a halt and simply stared at his partner while his brain went into stasis.
Bodie stared back.
Drowning in that look, Doyle wondered who the idiot had been who'd decided that blue was a cold colour. Bodie's eyes burned into him, setting his blood alight with tendrils of fire arrowing down into his groin. His body stirred in response, swelling against his tight jeans. Suddenly panicking, he broke the eye contact and turned away, rushing back into speech.
"Yeah, well...you and Christmas trees... Bit daft, innit? Sort of thing that sticks in the mind." Remembering for the first time the glass of whisky in his hand, he took a hasty mouthful. "Want a drink?"
"I'll have some of yours." A long arm reached around him and filched the glass from his suddenly nerveless fingers. He turned in time to see Bodie deliberately set his mouth to where his had been and drain the glass, blue eyes trapping green again over its rim. "Speaking of surprises, I've got one for you, too."
Brain scrambling to assimilate what he had just seen, Doyle accepted the proffered package. His fingers tingled as they encountered Bodie's, which lingered, prolonging the contact. "What is it?"
"Open it and see."
Bodie let go, and Doyle dragged his eyes away from the warm blue ones for the second time and looked down. After a moment of incomprehension, he took in the familiar name and packaging and looked back up, a sparkle of pleasure beginning to dance in his eyes.
"Bodie? You never...? Not the only one who remembers things, am I, you daft bugger?"
"There's nothing daft about giving someone you love chocolates," said Bodie softly. "I'd've been embarrassed as hell handing you a bunch of roses - I wanted to surprise you, maybe if I got lucky sweep you off your feet as they say in Mills'n'Boon, not give you a fit of hysterics. So I thought choccies would be just the thing... Ray? Ray, are you listening to me?"
"'Someone you love,' you said."
It was only too obvious that Doyle had not heard a single word after that first sentence. He stared at Bodie, green eyes huge and luminous and vulnerable, as Bodie had never seen them before. Revealing, too. The remnants of the fear that had shackled Bodie for so long dissolved into nothingness. He set down the empty glass with a thud and took the couple of steps forward that were necessary to enable him to wrap his arms around the lean, whipcord figure of his partner, and rested his cheek against riotous curls. The fresh smells of Doyle and lemon shampoo and malt whisky filled his nostrils. It was a heady brew.
"Someone I've loved for a very long time," he whispered into Doyle's ear. "Someone I've been too scared to tell how I feel about him, because I wasn't sure he'd want me to feel this way. Someone I've wanted to hold like this, and make love with, and..." The final step, Bodie, no going back after this!
"...spend the rest of my life with."
Doyle shut his eyes, tension he hadn't known was there draining out of him in one vast wave, and hugged back, rib-creakingly tight. "Me too," he said into the side of Bodie's neck.
"You too, what?"
"Me too, everything you said. No half measures." Doyle raised his head and stared again into the blue eyes only inches away, needing to make his position crystal clear right from the beginning. "Has to be permanent, this. And exclusive. I knew you fancied me a bit, 'ad a feeling you'd hop into bed if I gave you the nod, but... That's not good enough, Bodie. I want more. I want everything. It's too serious, what I feel about you. Too...too..."
"Oh, for Christ's sake! Will you shut up!" Bodie said fiercely.
And kissed him.
A very long time later, leaning back against the propped-up pillows with Bodie's arm draped around his shoulders and Bodie's free hand playing with the whorls of hair on his chest, Doyle said, "If you've been too scared to say anything for so long, what brought it on now? Where'd you get the courage from today?"
Bodie's roaming fingers stilled, and he looked up from his contemplation of what they'd been doing. He looked just as shagged out as Doyle felt - and just as content and happy.
"The ruddy Christmas tree," he answered, the corners of his mouth quirking up into a wry little smile. "I'd made up my mind that I was going to have to do or say something. Couldn't go on the way things were, you see, was getting to the point where I couldn't trust myself not to jump you. So, I'd decided it was make or break time, only I hadn't a clue how to go about it. Then I came home, and there was that stupid, beautiful tree, and you hiding behind the bedroom door, half pissed - "
Doyle sat up indignantly. "Was not! I'd had a few drinks, but I was not drunk!"
Bodie hauled him back down into his arms and continued, ignoring the interruption. "And scared stiff I wasn't going to like it. You ought to have seen how your face fell, and the way it lit up again when you realised I did." His arms tightened, and he nuzzled gently at Doyle's crooked cheekbone. "That's the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me Ray. And I knew then what a bloody coward I'd been, and how much time I'd wasted..."
"We'd wasted. You weren't the only coward, you know," Doyle said. "I've had a yellow streak a mile wide right down me back from shoulders to heels for weeks. Like I said, I had an idea you might go for just the sex, but I love you too much for that to be enough. I wanted a lot more than that."
"Should be careful what you wish for, mate. You might get more than you bargain for," Bodie told him, fingers moving again to tweak at a nipple, which hardened almost instantly at the touch.
Doyle sucked in a sharp breath. "I think I just did. Best Christmas pressie I've ever had!"
He wriggled and rolled over, trapping Bodie underneath him. The usually shuttered face gazed up at him, wide open and warmly loving and vulnerable as he had never seen it before.
So much power to hurt, Doyle thought. So much trust given into my keeping.
He bent and outlined Bodie's mouth very lightly with the tip of his tongue, and then drew back, feeling the heat of arousal begin to gather again, and Bodie's answering response.
"My turn now, I think," he said softly. "Merry Christmas, lover - and a Happy New Year."
"And all the years to come. To both of us," Bodie answered, before Doyle's mouth - anything but light and gentle this time - took his breath away completely.