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'Of Necessity: Botanical and Otherwise'

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 Ray drained his beer in one swig and smacked it down onto the bar. “Same again, mate.”

The barman raised an eyebrow, “Anything you say, flower.” And then, grinning at his reaction, “Oh don’t let your face do that, the wind might change. Don’t worry, I can take a hint.”

Irritated with himself, and very much aware that his face was flushing, Ray counted the coins in his hand twice before pushing them over the sticky wood. He hadn’t come here to piss anyone off, and as much as the bloke in front of him probably dealt with far worse on a regular basis – a great deal worse, if he was that camp in his everyday life – he didn’t deserve to bear the brunt of his mood.

“Not seen you before,” the bartender commented, taking an opener to some bottles and passing them over to two men who’d just left the dance-floor, sweaty and draped over each other; Ray tried not to stare. “First time?”

Ray took a long sip of the soothingly cool beer and smacked his lips. “No. Just passing through the city.”

“Business trip? And I’m not going to say ‘or pleasure’, petal, so don’t frown like you’re bracing yourself for it.”

“Business, yeah.” Ray smiled despite himself, then sighed.

For a minute he imagined leaning forward and telling this man the whole story – the nearby killing of an important diplomat on a ‘fact gathering’ trip away from London, the deployment of half of Britain’s best anti-terrorism services to the North East and then the discovery, all too easily, of the killer, Bessie Smith, a young woman – frighteningly young, Doyle recalled – who barely knew right wing from left and had had any reason she’d possessed subsumed in raging grief for her sister.

They’d found that body easily too – the diplomat had made a poor job of hiding Mary Smith in a skip near the dockyards where he’d taken her to continue the fact-gathering, of a kind leading to her death from strangulation either during or after her rape – the pathologist had been uncertain.

An internationally respected man, with the ear of the UN President, against the word of a Tyneside prostitute with a history of drug use and no secondary education; he hadn’t even needed his diplomatic immunity to be safe from Bessie, until she’d bought the gun.

Just as now, despite the bodies and the murder weapons and the neat typed statements, which Doyle had written up late into the night, Bessie’s face contorting before his mind’s eye in a mess of tears and mascara, Cowley had informed them that the entire thing was being swept away under the premise of ‘a tragic case of mistaken identity.’

It was not Ray’s job to believe anything but what he was told. His job, however, had no remit on his feelings, and tonight he felt dirty, and sad and frustrated.

 Although the barman was dressed to fill every stereotype Ray had ever seen aped, and in stereotypes there is always little humanity - the tight t-shirt, the slender limbs, the scarf at his neck, the pierced ear - there was genuine interest and warmth in his eyes. Ray, aware he’d been staring into his own thoughts, smiled apologetically.

The man grinned back at him. “That’s better. Another glass? They seem to be working.” 

“Are you trying to get me drunk?” He remembered this, how it felt to flirt and have a man look back at you, a man watch your movements, a man study your body and smile, just slightly. Just like with a girl, but a man, and that made a kind of difference he didn’t fully understand but couldn’t deny. Not better, not necessarily, but different - sugar or salt, it would be hard to choose just one.

Strange, when you thought about it, that anyone might think you had to.

Glass re-filled, the barman handed it back to him: “I’m trying to get you to stop looking like you came in here to fumigate the place. Not that it couldn’t probably use it, mind you.”

Ray looked over his shoulder at the rest of the patrons of The Eagle, a dark mass of male bodies and cigarette smoke, the odd hint of perfume mixing unhappily with Old Spice and leather wax. Out on the dance floor a topless and beautiful young man was creating a certain space around him but the couples otherwise packed closely out of apparent choice, torso to torso, groin to groin, men kissing and kissing each other wherever one looked.  

Despite his mental exhaustion, there was a warm thrill building in Ray’s stomach.

It had been one of the informants in the case he and Bodie had just concluded who had told them about The Eagle, proving his lack of involvement in the gun transaction by handing over a ticket stub for the relevant date and time, defiantly willing to explain precisely what kind of place it was.

And then, with the operation ending earlier than expected after Bessie’s arrest, and Bodie disappearing without explanation on the first train, Ray had been left alone in a city where no one knew him, with the address of a gay bar and all the frustration to make him take a risk.

“You don’t get to our places much,” the barman commented – it was not a question. For a moment Ray resented the collective pronoun intensely – he was not like these... people, he was just a normal bloke who wasn’t blind to the appeal of his own gender.

“Not recently,” Ray agreed, taking another gulp of beer and stifling the defensive protests that in his heart he knew were meaningless.

He continued his survey of the room. Off from the dance area was another space, slightly better lit with the low lamps over the pool tables. At one, a man was leaning forwards to take a shot, casually displaying an arse that was making more than one of his competitors forget to look at his game-play.

Ray’s trousers felt tighter; it was too good to be able to look and want and not to have to hide it.

“I agree with you,” the barman commented, following his gaze. “Oh I agree with you entirely. But it’s your night, isn’t it? You go for it, flower.”

Ray raised an eyebrow, covering his embarrassment. “Is the botany really necessary?”

“You’re in Newcastle now, pet.” The barman smirked, taking his glass away. “Now go on before I push you.”

Rolling his eyes, Ray slid off his barstool and headed across the floor. He could kill an hour or so with a game anyway, and hell, it hadn’t been so very long, and he was excellent at picking up women, he had no reason not to be confident of getting closer to the lovely body he’d just seen.

The body in question played his shot, expertly potting three balls. The two spectators groaned - it was clearly game over.

“You want a match with someone more your league, mate?” Ray began, touching the guy lightly on the shoulder.

The man turned to face him, and the face that looked up was Bodie’s.

Bodie.

Ray took a step back, heart pounding.

He couldn’t think what to say, how to stand, his panic had to be written on his face and that wouldn’t help any simple cover-up story, not that he could think of one. I came in here to get some matches. I got lost on the way to a restaurant. 

But Bodie’s eyes were blazing.

“What the hell, Doyle? Did you follow me? Did you fucking follow me?”

The look of pain and betrayal was what Ray couldn’t stand, what broke through his caution.

“Of course not! I just wanted to come here! It’s been such a fucking stupid day.” He kicked the leg of the pool table.

“That it has.” The anger in Bodie’s eyes was draining away, but not the intensity of his gaze.

Ray swallowed, looked away for a moment, collecting his thoughts, and realised they were accumulating an audience.

He studied Bodie’s face, trying to decipher his reaction, lowering his voice. “I thought you were going back to London this evening so I thought I’d...”

Bodie snorted. “Why do you think I told you I was leaving?”

Ray shook his head. “OK. OK. So, I suppose... Here we are.” And it didn’t seem that awful, that was the strangest part. He’d tried not to picture what might happen if Bodie was to find out about this part of his life, but he’d feared that the world would shift completely, whereas it was just.... slightly comic.

“Here we are indeed.” Bodie was starting to smile, just a little.

“What are you so happy about?”

Bodie raised an eyebrow. “You were coming on to me.”

“Was not.”

“Oh right, you were just desperate to play pool for once in a blue moon.”

“We could play pool.” Ray’s heart was still racing and his mouth had dried up again. His skin still felt warm, his clothes tight, the air close; the rush of adrenaline had done nothing to abate the prickling lust he’d begun to feel when he’d first spotted... well, Bodie. 

“You hate pool.” Bodie’s voice was low now. “We could do something else.”

Ray could imagine himself walking away right that second, buying them a drink or just leaving, leaving this right here in the annals of banter.

He’d never thought of this. Or maybe he’d always wanted it. Right then he could have sworn to either.

He didn’t drop Bodie’s gaze. “What did you have in mind? Darts?”

“You came here to hook up with someone, didn’t you? I know I did. So, I’m someone. And I happen to know where your hotel is.”

Adrenaline was rushing so fast now that Ray’s skin tingled: “You don’t think that would be a bad idea?”

“Why? This isn’t work. We aren’t being paid right now. What happens in the frozen North stays in the frozen North. Come on Doyle.” He was stepping closer, black jeans and polo neck showing every plane of his body. And yeah, Ray wanted, Ray hadn’t stopped wanting since he’d noticed his arse but...

“And tomorrow?”

Bodie brushed the words aside: “And tomorrow we begin a wonderful existence where neither of us has to lie in order to go to places like this. I don’t exactly have family; you were the only one I was lying to. I don’t like lying to you, Ray.”

He was coming nearer, predatory and Ray wasn’t about to give in to that. Stepping forwards himself, he made them closer than they’d ever stood before on purpose, legs interlocking, within a breath of touching.

“It’s just sex, Ray. Or it could be. Eh?”

Bodie could tempt him into the worst things, always could, dodgy restaurants and dangerous sports and crazy women and insubordination, and now his lips were brushing the curve of Ray’s neck, his fingers just lightly brushing his arms, and the game had moved onto a different level entirely.

And wasn’t that what he’d come here for? A random encounter to sate the hunger inside him? Someone to make him feel there was something good in life, or at least let him push back at sensible choices and cover-ups?

And he trusted Bodie. With Bodie next to him, the fear and feeling of exclusion he’d felt since entering the bar was gone. It felt terribly easy, now.

Bodie was still toying with the edges of him, watching him under his eyelids, licking his lips.

And now Ray’s hands were on Bodie’s chest and he didn’t remember putting them there. Watching Bodie’s face, he slid his palms down the sides of Bodie’s torso, over the indentations of his ribs and the smoothness of his abdomen, round and down onto his arse; he gripped reflexively. Bodie hissed in his ear, pushing towards him and Ray could feel him, hear him, smell him.

They were both there and they were both hard and hot and a heartbeat away from kissing each other – what was there left to salvage? Ray heard his own breathing, ragged, and felt Bodie’s against his ear, mouth so close again, waiting, passing the burning scent of alcohol between them. He couldn’t think of one rational reason to stop now.

He closed his eyes and leant in the last inch, Bodie’s lips meeting his, and Ray was aware of the tension in his arm muscles as he pulled him still closer, the heat at his groin where they pressed together and Bodie’s mouth, his mouth consuming him.

A chorus of wolf-whistles and applause called him back to the moment. Pulling back and opening his eyes, he saw the pool players and a few others smiling at them. “Nice one, duckie,” a man murmured at him, whilst a few others mumbled something possibly less generous.

He was still entangled in Bodie – for a moment he wanted to hold him close and not let him move at all, to stay in the moment where everything had seemed simple.

Bodie took his hand, whether just for the benefit of the onlookers, Ray couldn’t tell. “Cheers,” he told the assembly, “now if you’ll excuse us.”

He began to lead the way across the floor to the club exit. Ray took a look back towards the bar - the barman was watching him, a smile on his face that was almost wistful. He mouthed some parting words that Ray couldn’t quite identify.

- - -

Their hotel – a tall sandstone building straddling the station – was barely a five minute walk away from the club, seedy bars and textile workshops transitioning abruptly round a corner to rows of grand Georgian buildings.

Early night-frost sparkled on the pavement, and the air was cold enough to turn their breath visible, cold enough to shock more awareness into Ray, as if the club had been every bit the dream it ought to have been and this was waking up again.

Bodie was walking slightly ahead of him, legs moving swiftly in those tight black trousers, those muscles that Ray had touched, had been touching. It was impossible, too impossible to be real – Ray felt strange in his skin, as if he was watching some other person follow Bodie along a street under the thick yellow lamplight, some other person struggling to think of something to say, moving a little oddly because of the way his clothes pinched and strained across his crotch.

How many times had Bodie done this? How recently? What were they like, the men he went with?

A brightly lit lobby, ferns in pots and a man in a red uniform who frowned at them. A tiny box of a lift, all polished wood and carpet, feeling smaller with Bodie locked into it with him, carefully not looking at him, seeming to have as much trouble keeping in control, clenched fists at his sides, breathing. Ray found it hard to be aware of anything but their proximity.

In the hotel room at last, Bodie pulled the door closed, turned and came towards him. Ray took a deep breath, feeling his body light up again, the visceral eagerness rising.

Bodie had been going to find someone, anyone, one of those other men, and go home with him and look at him like he was looking at Ray now, touch that other man and kiss that other man and let that other man touch him.

Ray collided with Bodie so hard he was almost biting before he was kissing, grabbing onto him and pushing his hands under his clothes, touching skin, fighting to keep moving where he wanted to as Bodie’s hands moved on his body, intent on their own paths.

As they drew back, panting, Bodie’s arms stayed round him.

“Ray...” Bodie said, softly. His eyes were wide, all pupil, his mouth open as he breathed.

Ray shook his head. “Not me, just some guy. Just a pick up.” He moved his hands to Bodie’s backside again, drawing their hips together into a slow, teasing rhythm, watching Bodie’s eyes flutter shut then open again. “Just sex, you said.”

Not replying, Bodie pushed him away.

Ray barely had time to be confused before Bodie’s hands were back on him, lifting his t-shirt over his head.

Throwing it towards the chair, he realised Bodie was studying the scars that ran under his left arm and around his back, the place they’d cut open the year before to pull out the bullets that had broken Ray’s heart.

The tips of Bodie’s fingers were brushing over the ridges of tissue.

“How did you let yourself get those?” Bodie asked softly. And then, looking at Ray, all dark eyes and inscrutable mouth, “If I just picked you up from a bar, I’m seeing you for the first time. I’m curious.”

Ray felt the fingers moving over his skin. He took a deep breath and they moved, grazing his nipple. Bodie chuckled and drew back, taking off his own shirt and coming close again, pointing to a thin, pale line on his own upper arm.

“That was a machete blade. Just moved away in time to avoid a good cut to the brachial artery, not to mention the nerves. Bloke can’t get much fun in life without a functioning right hand.”

Ray sighed, raising an eyebrow as Bodie grinned gleefully at his reaction, which left Ray wanting to smack his head and hug him at the same time, which was far too much like this moment was normal.

Undoing the top button and zip on his trousers, Bodie pushed them just past his hipbones, showing another scar just above the right one, tethering the soft skin of his stomach; Ray felt a shiver at the sight of something he’d seen a hundred times without reaction. “That was an appendix. Not very exciting.”

“Depends where you need surgery,” Ray pointed out. “Friend of mine got appendicitis on a tanker in the middle of the North Sea in a storm and had to have the ship’s doctor pull it out with only whiskey as anaesthetic.”

“Sounds frightening.”

“He wasn’t afraid. He says he wasn’t afraid. He’s a mad bastard.” Ray was very aware of the lowness of Bodie’s jeans, of the hair visible at the top of his underwear, the plane of stomach leading away and down, the swelling there pushing out the cotton and the confusion of shadow and dampness.

Reaching out, Bodie took hold of Ray’s hand, but instead of placing it where Ray was expecting, he drew it up towards the scar high on his abdomen, near his ribcage, the one that apparently missed his spleen by half an inch, the one Ray tried not to look at on those other days when they were naked and next to each other and it was supposed to mean nothing.

As his fingers came down, Ray felt the muscles kick in response, Bodie taking a sharp breath.

“I was stabbed in the guts. That was fear. I got stabbed because I was afraid. But I was only afraid for myself, and now I know that’s nothing. But being afraid for a friend, for...”

“I was shot,” Ray heard himself saying, if only to stop Bodie saying anything else. He kept his hand on Bodie’s stomach, thumb stroking gently, seeing hospital corridors and despair. “I was shot twice, one bullet in the lung, one bullet in the heart. I don’t remember very much about it.”

“Lucky you didn’t die.”

“I did die. They tell me I did die, or at least my heart stopped. Whole three minutes.”

“But you don’t remember?”

“I was asleep, wasn’t I? The first I knew about it I was off the breathing machine and going to be fine, probably.” Ray swallowed, eyes fixed on his hand making shapes on Bodie’s skin. “I reckon it was a lot worse for the people who had to watch.”

“I reckon it was.” Bodie’s fingers were back at Ray’s scar, and the two of them had shifted back to the kind of shuffling half-dance, hands at each other’s waists, legs together. “Watching you die? That must have been pretty fucking awful.”

Ray rested his hand on Bodie’s neck, tilted his head in close and stroked it, swaying, trying not to hear the catch in Bodie’s voice. Bodie pressed close into him and Ray was looking at his mouth now, anything but his eyes.

“Yeah, well, I’m not dead now, am I?” Ray leaned in and kissed him, keeping at it, pressing in until he started to feel drunk again, his lips sore and swelling and wet and tingling.

Ray walked backwards until the back of his legs hit the bed and then lay down, Bodie following on top of him, scrabbling at his trousers. Ray peeled his own away.

Bodie whistled. “Always commando, sunshine, or just when you’re on the pull?”

“Makes it easier for people, you know. It’s the little things in life.”

“And what do you like ‘people’ to do for you?” The question came out a little vicious. Bodie had a hand on his thigh, fingers gripping down.

“Been a while,” Ray admitted, looking at the ceiling. “Not this lifetime, actually.”

“You mean since...”

“Since I died. Which makes you my first, sort of.” He smiled despite himself, he hadn’t even thought of it that way before.

“Should I have brought a card? Maybe a cake?”

“’Congratulations on Your Deflowering’? Um, yes, I only sleep with men who bring me cake – didn’t I explain that?”

But instead of laughing, Bodie was looking down at him with an expression of something so much like tenderness that Ray almost didn’t want to move, which meant he had to before that thought could continue.

Arching up, he brought his naked erection against Bodie’s underwear and groaned in pleasure. He flexed his body again and managed to bring Bodie down more completely on top of him, skin to skin all the way along. He realised he could tell from the change in texture where Bodie’s knife scar rubbed at his chest and closed his eyes against images of that corridor again, Bodie on the trolley; barely eighteen months into their partnership it had been, and that might so easily have been all there was.

Bodie gripped him back, thrusting his hips and nuzzling at his neck, breath hot. “Well,” he whispered in Ray’s ear. “What do you want your new first time to be?”

Looking up at him, Ray began to laugh.

“One night only, roll up, roll up,” Bodie was grinning again. Then he leaned forward, back with the whisper and the dark low voice that made Ray’s cock twitch: “Anything you want.”

Through the fuzz of arousal and confused emotion, Ray tried to think of what he’d say if it really was just some man he’d just met holding him and not Bodie. Funny how bizarre that idea seemed now, as if Bodie had been in his plans all along, impossible or otherwise. In that situation, probably he’d have taken the opportunity at once to get his cock sucked, likely being a little wary of attempting anything more complicated with a stranger. And then he’d have reciprocated quite happily, said a polite thank you and that would be that.

But this was Bodie.

Being in bed with Bodie, talking like this with Bodie... Sex would be neither the most intimate part of the night nor the most dangerous.

He’d stopped moving, and Bodie had stopped too.

For the second time that evening, Ray realised that they’d lost whatever window there might have been for retreat.

“I want to do what you want to do.”

“Me?” Bodie asked, expression giving nothing away.

“Bodie,” Ray said carefully and precisely, looking into his eyes. “I asked you, what do you want to do to me?”

Bodie stared at him for a moment, ragged breaths breaking through his mouth. He licked his lips, shaking his head. “You bastard,” he hissed, with a strange tenderness, falling forwards until their foreheads pressed together, and Ray met him with the most violent kiss he could, because he was already feeling half torn-apart.

As they twisted together, Ray freed his hands to push down Bodie’s underwear so that they were both naked, cocks slippery and hot as they slid against each other in glide after thrilling glide. It was unsophisticated and uninventive and yet it was more than Ray could do to pull away or change positions or halt the pace as they went on. Bodie was alternating between kissing and biting all over his face and neck, murmuring something that might not even have been words, as Ray clung tightly and they kept moving, rubbing and moaning like it was a real first time and they were easily overwhelmed teenagers rather than men who’d done more than many. Finally Ray felt the rush of wet heat as Bodie gasped and came over him, a sensation intense enough to be almost painful; biting his lip, Ray followed, consumed for a moment in splendour.

- - -

They lay close together afterwards, Ray’s muscles buzzing with a glorious, exhausted warmth.

The room was a mess. Clothes and shoes discarded haphazardly across the floor, Ray’s suitcase open and the case papers on the table awaiting completion, the remains of the sandwich dinner he’d ordered the night before. All the little things of life that didn’t go away, even if you managed to forget them for a few hours.

Somewhere outside two drunks were arguing, and a clock striking the half of some hour. Even now, if it was as late as Ray imagined, a mighty Great North Eastern train might be fuming out of Edinburgh, heading inexorably south to pick them up and take them back home.

“You’re frowning,” Bodie informed him.

Focussing, Ray met his glance. They were facing each other on the pillow, and Bodie seemed incredibly close and yet too far away, the room colder now in the dead of night, the skin on Ray’s legs prickling with chill.

Ray studied his expression, unsure what he was searching for. “I’m cold. And I’m thinking about tomorrow morning.”

“Never a sensible way to end an evening.” Bodie raised an eyebrow. “How about getting under the blankets and sleeping till noon? Talk about killing two birds with one stone.”

“I’m serious, Bodie.”

Leaning forwards, Bodie kissed him, as deeply as he had done minutes earlier but with much greater care, a slow, languorous meeting that Ray found his whole body trying to respond to. Hands were in his hair again, gentle and thorough, and Bodie’s feet tangling with his own, stroking his calves.

“I know you are.” Bodie whispered in his ear, before pulling the covers over them both and drawing Ray once more into the warmth of his body and melting away his questions.

- - -