Down to the Waterline


I had been visiting my daughter in London at Christmas and left by coach in darkness, travelling through the streets still busy with shoppers, lit by Christmas lights. Weary, I laid my head against the coach window as we swept around by the Chelsea Veteran's Hospital and moved slowly along the Embankment in rush-hour traffic, giving ample time to peer curiously into the houseboats, lit up, each window framing a little scene of teatime domesticity. Christmas, cosiness, the stark chill of cold and a strange, alien world out there with people in it I would never know, who lived lives very different to mine, but who still put the kettle on at teatime... The sparkle of the dark, wide, mysterious Thames... little snatches of children's rhymes half-understood but ripe with atmosphere, with imagery... the story was written by the time the coach rolled up at home, 100 miles away.

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'Your hands are cold -- but your lips are warm.' My very good friend Felicity M. Parkinson finally got tired of hearing me going on about the story, since I never actually got down to writing it, and wrote it for me -- a beautiful little piece entitled 'Sweet Surrender'. Here, ten -- or is it twelve! -- years later, is my version -- a Christmas Eve delivery.


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It was seasonably cold, the sky black and clear, the stars bright and chill, a stark forecast of frost. In the darkness Doyle walked along the embankment, hands in pockets, briskly; it was not the weather to dawdle. Bodie strode along at his side, keeping up without effort. Terse white puffs of conversation smoked in the air.

"Christmas Eve. Believe that?"

"Done your Christmas shopping?"

"Two days off!" Doyle shook his head, unable to believe it.

"Unless--" Bodie sucked in a breath, adopted the accent of a Thunderbirds villain, "--Our Country Needs Us."

Doyle rolled his eyes. He stopped by the coping for a moment, slapping his hands gently together to warm them, looking out at the view. Behind them, across the wide road, were the old and venerable almshouses given to Chelsea pensioners for services rendered in the war; almost every window glowed with golden light, and behind it, no doubt, a veteran pottering, making cocoa perhaps, ready to watch the News at Ten. Cosy: Doyle looked out, instead, across the width of the Thames to the other bank. A narrow bridge spanned the river at this point, white skeletal struts rearing to the sky, and beneath it the water was dark and rippling, its little waves catching and reflecting the bitter moonlight. London had its unsung glories, a moment to be captured every now and then.

Bodie, beside him, looked out too, a little frown on his face, keeping his thoughts to himself. Doyle kicked the base of the wall as he leaned out and looked across as things, impressions rather than thoughts, raced across the surface of his mind -- Christmas -- carol singers, little Victorian girls, narrow streets and alleys behind him almost unchanged from Dickens' time. And the river before him: less wide now than in Roman times when this old city had been founded. The houseboats in front of him, beached on tidal mud, rode atop, no doubt, many a hidden treasure of antiquity.

The houseboats. Some in darkness, others ablaze with light, and intriguing little glimpses on view within of ordinary domestic life, a bar, a TV picture, a man with a kettle in his hand, his mouth moving, speaking to some unseen partner. Idly following his partner's gaze Bodie nudged him and pointed:

"That one's a pub. Fancy a wassail cup?"

A good idea, one of his best that day. Warmed by whisky, Doyle gazed upon the sleek dark head of his partner and wondered. About Bodie. A man he knew so very well. Or then again, perhaps hardly at all. Bodie seemed quiet tonight: melancholy, possibly, Christmas was not the best of times perhaps for a man whose life seemed structured by his job of work rather than anything he had at home. What, after all, did he have at home? Like Doyle himself: nothing. He supped the fiery stuff and let it flow warmly through his heart and his mind and his blood. Bodie's knee knocked his beneath the small round table and Bodie made a routine apology.

"You've done worse to me and survived," Doyle answered, also routine: in fact, his inner soul seemed detached from his brain, the words he spoke startling him as if they were someone else's. Drunk. Already. Nothing to eat since a cheese sandwich at noon and endless cups of machine coffee; the whisky had happily set up home alone and whizzed around his bloodstream intoxicating him.

Close by, some merry ruddy businessmen began a drunken chorus -- Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer... Surely the lone extra reindeer, however bright his nose, would have unbalanced the sleigh a bit...? Doyle considered the problem and wondered whether to share it with Bodie. He looked over the table at him. Bodie's eyes were dark as the night outside the windows and as dark as his soul within. All of a sudden Doyle felt exhilarated, excited, full of dread: though why he didn't know. Christmas... he supposed: Santa's sleigh due tonight, the mysterious ting of a bell to freeze you with horror and delight, the brief sweet visit of the reindeer to the roof, the presents like a treasurehouse of glory in a wrap of red and green and silvergilt. You've been a good boy all year...

"Have I?" Bodie answered another question, eyes and voice hollow, and Doyle woke up from the past, and looked into the eyes of a man who expected nothing at all.

He stood up. "Let's go."

Down by the waterline the river tides lapped the landing stages. The air smelt dank, rotting wood and dark water: fleeting stenches blasted pure by frosty night air. Doyle leaned in a hooker's pose against the rough bricks of the wall behind him and opened his jacket and fingered his silver chain and looked into the blackest depths of Bodie's eyes. No moonlight there, though it shone across the water. Something light brushed against his face; he turned his eyes up to the sky, saw, unbelievably, that it was starting to snow. White flakes whirling out of the blackness. A White Christmas: that famous and fabled beast!

He turned his eyes back to Bodie. And caught what he was not meant to see.

Bodie kept his head up. Looked at him, angry, tempted. Tossing his car keys up and down, undecided.

"Go on," Doyle said, closing his eyes.

"Go on -- what?"

"-- Whatever."

Bodie's breath, light and quick, fell on his face. "Why?"

"It's Christmas, dammit. Gotta live a bit, at Christmas..."

Bodie's hands were cold, but his lips were warm as fire on Doyle's cheek, his throat, taking his mouth softly, then suddenly, fiercely.

The kiss was far the sweeter for the knowledge that they should not do it, must not do it, that tomorrow they would wish they never had. It was so dark here, so unreal, a little corner out of time; they were not in the real world at all. And it was Christmas Eve. There had to be magic abroad on Christmas Eve, waiting to paint stolen kisses with the tincture of enchantment as the reindeer arched in the sky across the face of the moon.

As they struggled, Doyle unzipped his own jeans, then Bodie's, easy as fantasy. Their skin seemed hot, electric, wherever it touched. His hips thrust neatly, elegantly, as he slipped his arms around Bodie's waist and urged an answering thrust, steering the movements of Bodie's body with his fingertips as he opened his mouth thirstily to Bodie's stalking tongue, tipping his head back in abandon as he felt a lion's desire lift his loins. Wherever he turned his head Bodie's mouth chased his and caught it. Months of wanting, wishing whipped up into the fiercest of fires:

"Go to the car, shall we?" Bodie's voice touched his ear, the slightest of caresses, and it made him shiver. Somewhere a mournful foghorn blew, long and sad, as some trawler dredged its weary way along the Thames' bottom. And between the hard magnetism of their bodies Bodie's hand made entry, gripped them both tightly together, rigid, while his thumb slid slowly, sweetly, over the tip of Doyle's cock.

Doyle closed his eyes, a long deep shudder raking him from top to toe, not from the bitter cold chasing him around his neck and his ears and his jaw, but sheer delight. And inside he was not cold, but warm, lighting up with a long slow burn of bliss.

"Not the car. Here." As romantic a setting as he had any right to expect.

And, as romantic the dialogue: "Want me to suck you?" Bodie murmured against his ear.

He squeezed his eyes shut and grinned, or grimaced, the very idea a violent turn-on: "Now that just might get us arrested." He wrapped his own hand around Bodie's and squeezed them both tight, tighter almost to the point of pain. Bodie bent his head to kiss him again, eager, hungry. The foghorn sounded again, closer this time, a melancholy boom reaching out into the night. This time Doyle did not hear it.

And it was Bodie who saw the trawler's lights play across his face to highlight the expression there, rapt, the length of Doyle's lashes wavering up and down as he listened to the inner music; Bodie had it now, the right key to play him with, and he employed his skills almost ruthlessly, jerking him off as swiftly and expertly as if Doyle's precious flesh and blood was his own.

As it was, in a way.

They owned each other.

Even though Doyle would never admit it.

And he watched Doyle to the last, his own expression detached, almost cruel as Doyle convulsed and spilled a secret bliss into his hand. Bodie closed his fingers on it, tight, protective.

The foghorn blew one final time, quieter, more plaintive, going away from them into the darkness. The cold wind blew around them, and the snow danced on their faces, and the cosy glow of lights across the road seemed very far away, as if they had gone beyond the edge of civilisation, passed on out into the chilly wilderness without a backwards look at comfort and shelter, a long journey ahead of them: how many miles to Babylon? Threescore miles and ten...

Doyle pulled away from him. Began to rearrange his clothing, head down. This brief encounter, thrilling, shocking, short: not yet over, but now he wished that it was, for one disloyal moment he knew that someday he would pay for. And the moment came sooner than he expected.

"Lemme fuck you, Doyle," Bodie said tensely, tightly. Eyes searching out his, dark, desperate.

"Okay," Doyle said after a moment, and he turned and braced himself against the wall, obedient. Bodie slid two hands around his waist, fumbled at his jeans and dragged them down beyond his thighs, found the dark crevice with his finger, rubbed it with spit. Doyle made no sound, except at the first, most violent, thrust: and then again at the last. He couldn't help it, any more than Bodie could help this desperate roughness, too hungry for too long.

The night was still young, despite the dark and the cold, the traffic -- late Christmas shoppers going home with the boot full of carrier-bags -- a steady sweep along the road. Snow was coming down thick and fast now, a whirling white blizzard. Doyle's swagger as he nonchalantly crossed between the hooting cars was irritating Bodie, but he said nothing about it.

"Christmas day tomorrow," Doyle yawned; he leaned upon the car, and winced, and shifted his position, watching Bodie search in his pockets of the keys.

"Yeah, can't believe it, can you? Comes round so fast."

"Got any plans?"

Time stopped: the chill wind blew around them as the paths of probability diverged. In an infinite universe, all things were possible.

And in this one -- ?

Bodie unlocked the car door. They drove off together.

-- THE END --

Christmas Eve, 1995