It had been a bastard of a week.
There were rumours of an IRA Christmas bombing campaign, so Cowley had every available agent on the streets, chasing leads, tracking down every grass who might have even a whisper of an Irish connection. And here it was, Christmas Eve, and we still had nothing. No information, no evidence. Not a sausage.
'Course, there hadn't been any bombs either, so it wasn't all bad news.
Long days with too little sleep and too much frustration had begun to catch up with me, though. We'd come back to headquarters after another frustrating day of no progress. Bodie had gone off to deliver our report to Father and I'd stretched out in a battered wing chair in the rest room, eyes closed, just beginning to drift off into pleasant dreams of laughing blue eyes and a pouting mouth.
And then I felt something tickling my face.
I cracked one eye open. Silver tinsel dangled in front of me, and the blue eyes from my dreams stared down at me in obvious amusement.
"Sleeping Beauty awakes."
"Piss off, Bodie." I batted the tinsel away and sat up straight in the chair. "Haven't had a proper night's sleep for days, have I?"
"Neither have I, mate, and you don't see me kipped out where God and Cowley can see."
"That's only because you haven't got the sense of a midge when it comes to looking after yourself. Must be all that military training." I stood and grabbed the tinsel from his hand. "Where'd you get this lot, anyway?"
"Betty put up a little tree on her desk. I thought a bit of tinsel might make you look more festive."
"The only thing that's going to make me more festive is a day off and twelve hours sleep."
"Well, you've got your wish, then. Cowley's just given us tomorrow off."
"Pull the other one. It's got bells on."
"Scout's honour, sunshine." Bodie's grin was wide. "Cowley's now sufficiently convinced that the bombing threat was a hoax, so we're off duty starting immediately. Have to be in first thing on Boxing Day, but otherwise our time is our own."
"Well, then I reckon we should scarper before the Old Man comes to his senses, shouldn't we?" I grabbed my jacket from where I'd thrown it.
"I reckon you're right."
We all but ran out of the building to where Bodie'd parked his car. The light was beginning to fade from the sky, and there was the promise of snow in the clouds that filled the sky.
"Where to?" Bodie asked as he stuck his key in the ignition.
"Just drop me off home. I'm going to sleep until Boxing Day."
"Sleep through Christmas Day? Where's your holiday spirit, Doyle?"
"Must have left it in me other trousers."
"Well, I'm not letting any partner of mine sleep through Christmas. Tell you what, you can come round to my place. Spend the night and then we can do a proper Christmas tomorrow."
"Aren't you spending the day with Donna and her family?"
"Delia," Bodie corrected me automatically. "And no I'm not. I went off her weeks ago. You'd know that if you'd been paying attention."
"I pay attention, Bodie." I wasn't going to tell him that I sometimes paid him too much attention. And I definitely wasn't going to tell him that I'd noticed when all mentions of Delia had stopped.
"Your powers of observation are sadly lacking, Doyle." Bodie ruffled my hair, his hand lingering at the back of my neck. I desperately wanted to lean back into his touch, but held back. The hand was removed too soon, and Bodie looked at his watch. "We've got just enough time to nip round to the shops. Tell you what. I'll pay for the groceries if you do the cooking."
"Booze, too?" I was never one to settle for an inch when I could take the whole bloody mile.
"Booze, too," Bodie agreed.
"Then you're on."
"I thought that would appeal," Bodie said, returning the smile I aimed at him as he pulled out of the parking lot with a squeal of tires.
We fought through the crowds in Sainsbury's, getting a roasting chicken in lieu of a more traditional goose or turkey. When we found all the Christmas puddings were gone, along with all the swiss rolls, Bodie talked me into a jam roll. He's going to start looking like a jam roll if he doesn't watch it, but I couldn't deprive him of his sweets at Christmas time. A visit to the off licence for lager and whisky and a nice bottle of French plonk and we were set.
Provisions dealt with, Bodie dropped me off at my flat so I could pick up a change of clothes for tomorrow. And one more thing.
I took the small wrapped package from my drawer and hefted it in my hand. If we bothered at all, our usual Christmas presents to each other usually ran to joke gifts from some dodgy Soho shop. But this one was different. I'd found it months ago while poking around in a Charing Cross bookshop and I hadn't been able to resist. I must be going soft.
But then I was soft when it came to Bodie. He stirred feelings in me like no one else. Certainly no birds could compete with him these days. I'd hidden it from him, but I hadn't pulled in a long time. Hadn't felt the need. Lately, there was nothing I liked better than spending an evening in his flat, eating takeaway from his local chippy and watching a football match on the telly.
Not that I didn't want more.
I had my fantasies. When he was pouting, I'd often wondered what it must be like to kiss that mouth, to run my tongue up his throat. I'd considered what it would be like to run a hand across the bare chest that he usually kept so jealously covered. Not that I was going to tell him any of this. Laughter was the most optimistic outcome I could imagine if I revealed to Bodie that I'd fallen for him. No, this was going to remain my secret.
Frowning, I jammed the package into the bottom of my hold-all and left my flat.
When I got round to Bodie's, he'd picked up vindaloo and dosas from the Indian place down the road. We spent the evening eating and drinking and watching Christmas specials on the Beeb.
The lager and overtiredness took its toll, and we neither of us made it to the end of the last carol special. I fought the fatigue as valiantly as I could, but my eyes were closed long before 11 o'clock. I could hear the telly droning on in the background, could feel Bodie stirring on the sofa beside me, but I was too wrapped in a pleasant fog to respond to anything.
The next thing I knew, my legs were being lifted onto the sofa and a blanket was being draped over me. I opened my eyes and found Bodie bent over me, tucking the blanket around my shoulders.
"What're you doing?" I asked, struggling to free my arms.
"Go to sleep, you daft sod," Bodie said. "Or Father Christmas won't bring you any gifts."
"Never brought me anything before," I said, pulling the blankets around me and settling onto my side. "Why should this year be any different?"
"Oh ye of little faith." Bodie patted my shoulder and ruffled my hair.
And just before I dropped off, I could have sworn he kissed my forehead.
I woke up the next morning to soft light streaming in the window. My neck was stiff and I wished I'd had the energy to change into the track suit bottoms I'd brought with meĐI hate sleeping in my clothes--but I still felt better than I'd done in a week. In longer than that, truth be told.
I walked over to the window, and found the world wrapped in a blanket of white, yesterday's clouds having fulfilled their promise and released their gift of snow on the good old city of London. Even knowing that the pristine white mantle of snow was going to be a slushy grey mess by this time tomorrow, I still couldn't help smiling. The magic of a white Christmas is something I've apparently never escaped.
The flat was silent except for the tapping of a branch on the lounge window. I poked my head in Bodie's bedroom and found him asleep on his stomach, face turned toward me. A sliver of his bare back showed above the covers, his hair was stuck up in every direction, and his brow was drawn in a slight frown. I wanted nothing more than to smooth that frown from his face, but I didn't want to wake him. Not yet. So instead, I did what any good Englishman would do. I went to the kitchen and made us both a cuppa.
He was stirring by the time I returned to the bedroom, blinking at me like a great kid who hadn't quite had enough sleep.
I gave him his mug and sat on the side of the bed. We sat there in companionable silence, drinking our tea. I couldn't help but take pleasure in the thought of a day stretching out before us with nothing more strenuous than the cooking of a meal to look forward to.
When he was finished his tea, I took his mug, my fingers brushing his, and put it beside my own on the nightstand.
He gave me an inscrutable look, then reached over and pulled out a small, brightly wrapped package from the nightstand drawer.
"Merry Christmas, sunshine," he said, throwing it at me.
I eyed it suspiciously. "It's not going to spray water, is it?" I had a vivid memory of several presents from Christmases past.
"Nah, it's not that kind of gift. Open it up."
I tore open the paper, and found a sketchbook, its thick pages bound in leather, the whole thing small enough to fit in a jacket pocket.
"'S nice, Bodie," knowing the word was inadequate but not being able to find any better.
"Well, I noticed you've been sketching on odd scraps of paper when we're on obbo duty. Thought you should have something nicer to work in."
"It's perfect." And it really was. "Hang on a minute." I disappeared into the lounge and returned bearing Bodie's gift. I sat back on the bed and passed the small package to him. "Here you go."
Bodie was as meticulous in the opening of gifts as he was in all things. When he'd peeled the tape off and unfolded the paper with its silver bells and holly, the book lay revealed. He picked it up and looked at its spine.
"Yeah." When I'd found the slim volume in the cramped little bookshop, I'd known immediately that I had to buy it for Bodie. "All the poetry you have and not a bit of Auden. Criminal, that."
"You're welcome." I looked at him, and made to get up. "I should go take a shower. I've got a Christmas dinner to cook." Bodie grabbed my hand and pull me down again.
"Stay a minute, Doyle."
"I really should..."
"Stay," Bodie repeated, the single word an order I had to obey.
We sat there, looking at each other, the silence between us not quite so companionable but now fraught with unseen undercurrents that threatened to pull me under completely.
Bodie was the one who finally broke the silence.
"Well, aren't you going to ask?"
"Ask what, Bodie?"
"Ask why I went off Delia."
"Why'd you go off Delia?"
"Same reason you seem to have gone off birds in general."
"Have I gone off birds?"
"From what I've seen, yeah."
"And why is that, Bodie?"
"Because you fancy me."
"Then you've gone off Delia╔"
"Because I fancy you."
"Yeah." And then he smiled at me, that great, goofy grin he sometimes gets: the one that hides the fact that he's a trained killer. The one that stokes a warm feeling right in my middle.
Before I knew it, I was grinning myself.
He pulled me toward him and we put our mouths to better use than mere smiles. As he made short work of my clothes and I ran my hands across the chest that had played such a role in my fantasies of late, I sent up thanks to Father Christmas for the gift of one crazy bastard of a partner. The old geezer had come up trumps at last.
We eventually got 'round to Christmas dinner, but it was very late. And neither of us minded in the least.
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