The job had, for once these days, promised to end well. He'd got in there as planned and made it as far as the door into the garage with two very frightened kids. But then the R/T registered Doyle's voice, breaking the radio silence with panic in his voice.

"Bodie ... bastards are heading your way... get out of there!"

Speeding the kids up, Bodie had looked over his shoulder, and saw Doyle pelting down the entrance ramp at breakneck speed, pistol out. Then he'd registered the outline of the car heading towards him.

Shots cracked out as he pushed the kids in front of him, out of its path, and he felt two massive shocks to his collarbone and spine. He stumbled, and in the same second, looked over his shoulder to see the car hit Doyle and lift him into the air, tumbling sideways. Another two shots in that same split second... and then the crazily slewing car was suddenly past him, missing him by inches as it careened wildly once more and smashed into a wall. A split second later it exploded into a ball of flame, and the kids were suddenly sobbing with fear and shock.

He had to get them away from there. That was the first thing, because they were Joe Public and that had to take precedence. He forced himself to steer them up the exit ramp and outside, towards a grim, silent Cowley. All the time, his mind was screaming that he get back to the garage. To Doyle.

"Bodie," Cowley rapped out. "Get ambulance crews upstairs. Casualties. A lot of them."

Bodie ignored him. The kids were safe. He vaguely registered Jax approaching, blood on his sleeve: let him handle all that. Still reeling from the pain and shock of bullets thudding into the stiff, cumbersome vest, and above all from that frozen image of Doyle tossed aside by the car, he stumbled back into the garage.

At first, he saw nothing. It was dark in there after the strong sunlight outside and stank of burned rubber and smoke. Then he saw Doyle, crumpled against a wall, head down, the pistol still in his hand. Bodie ran.

He was terrified. Doyle didn't move. Afraid of broken bones, or worse, Bodie dropped to his knees, and reached out a suddenly shaking hand to touch him.

"Ray... "

The curly head jerked up, and green eyes were suddenly staring at him in shock and disbelief. And with a wrench to his stomach, Bodie realised there were tears on his face.

"Bodie". It was a half-sob and for a second Bodie thought he'd passed out as his eyes closed. Then he was speaking, barely audibly.

"Oh Christ, Bodie. Saw the car heading for the kids... you take those bullets in the back. Heard the crash..."

The head dropped again. Bodie got an arm around him, frantic to know the extent of his injuries, and deeply affected by his partner's distress.

"Vest." he said quickly. "And the car missed us. Which is more than it did you. C'mon, Ray. You hurt? Bad?"

Doyle was shaking his head, voice a strangled whisper. "Bruises. The kids... they okay?"

"They're fine. Car went into the wall - you must have got the driver. Nice work, Ray."

He could feel Doyle trembling, and knew the shock was hitting him hard this time. Hardly surprising - they'd both been dead on their feet before they even went in. It was kicking into his own battered senses, too. The pain in his back was starting to spread, and wearily he leaned back onto the wall.

"Okay now?" he said softly. "What happened?"

"Police went in too early," Doyle got out. "Bastards killed two coppers outright. Jax and Henries tried to hold 'em... Henries is dead. Jax took one." His voice was flat and husky, and Bodie could see him fighting for control. "Christ, what a cock-up."

"Jax is okay," he told his partner softly. "Looked like just a scratch." Then he looked up, hearing a familiar, limping gait coming towards them.

"Bodie. Doyle."

Finally, Doyle got his head up, stared at their chief, his eyes blazing with fury now.

"You need medical attention?" the Scots burr was not, as Bodie expected, abrupt but surprisingly soft.

"Car hit him," Bodie started, but Doyle cut him short.

"What we need," he said tightly, voice stronger now, "is to have enough manpower. To to get our fucking act together. Nobody listens to us these days. Now somebody's got to justify this bloody mess to the families of three people dead up there. There'd have been four if Bodie hadn't been wearing a vest. Or six if either the bullets or the car had hit those kids."

"Seven if Doyle hadn't been made of rubber," Bodie added curtly. "He got the driver."

Cowley didn't reply, continuing to look at the two men. With a grimace, Bodie struggled to his feet, reaching a hand out to Doyle and cursing at the growing fire in his back.

"Ye'll need that looking at." Cowley's voice registered concern as he noticed Bodie's torn jacket, then the grey eyes turned to Doyle again. "Well done, Doyle. I asked if you were injured?"

Bodie started to haul his partner to his feet.

"I'll live." Doyle's voice was cold as he got the familiar words out. However many times had he heard that, Bodie wondered. Then there was a stifled yelp as Doyle staggered, trying to get upright. Bodie grabbed him and yelled himself, without bothering to muffle it.

"Only my ankle... think I've sprained it."

"Lean on me, laddie. Bodie - can you manage under your own steam?" Cowley was eyeing them both with a frown, now, and offering an arm to Doyle.

"Leave me alone, Cowley" Doyle snapped, the anger still welling up. Bodie studied his partner, seeing more clearly in the gloom now. Doyle looked a mess - oil and concrete dust streaking his clothes and face, blood from an angry scrape on one hand, and face still bearing traces of tears. Tears of fury and desperation. Bodie saw that image of the car and the tumbling figure again and shuddered involuntarily.

For once, Cowley ignored Doyle's lack of respect. "Very well. I'll send somebody in. Get yourselves attended to. Report to my office tomorrow morning at nine."

Doyle was silent for a second, leaning on the wall.

"A regrettable business." Cowley said, turning to go, and Bodie felt Doyle tense.

"Regrettable?" Doyle snarled. "It was one huge, fucking disaster. We didn't have enough time, enough people, and the police go on in because they didn't take in what I was saying, or because their bloody stupid cretin of an inspector decided he knew better than me." He paused, staring Cowley straight in the face, shouting now. "So we simply say it was regrettable. No, it wasn't. It was criminal. But you can't say that to Henries' family, can you? Or are you going to send Bodie or me to do that?

"No." Cowley shook his head. "I'll do that myself. And Doyle -"

"Don't you understand?" Doyle couldn't be stopped now, despite Bodie's desperate signals for him shut up. "Don't you realise we're stretched to the limit? Nobody sleeps any more. Nobody gets time off any more. Nobody's up to par. Ask Macklin. Those kids and Bodie were inches from being hit. Inches, Cowley. And Henries just wasn't up to it... dammit, he was hardly out of training..." his voice broke suddenly and his shoulders dropped.

Amazingly, and uncharacteristically, Cowley had no icy reproof at the ready. Instead, awkwardly, he got an arm on Doyle's shoulder, flinching as it was angrily shrugged away. It crossed Bodie's mind that Cowley wasn't completely insensitive to the ex-copper's reaction to yet another mess.

"You're right, Doyle. Completely right," he said softly.

"Some consolation." Doyle was sagging against the wall, defeated, the anger gone from his voice as suddenly as it had come. The trembling had stopped, Bodie noticed, and sheer exhaustion was starting to take the upper hand. "Being right doesn't makes any difference now, or ever will. There's just no point in it all any more."

"That, Doyle, is where you're wrong." Cowley spoke calmly, eyes catching a medical crew heading towards them. "Get that ankle checked and get some sleep. We have a great deal to talk about tomorrow. Nine o'clock sharp. You too, Bodie."

Cowley limped away as Doyle reluctantly sank onto the stretcher, totally spent.

Doyle said little at the hospital, enduring x-rays and bandages with complete detachment. Bodie took the painkillers and the cream and felt the pain subside a little. All the time, though, the pale, empty look on Doyle's face and the virtual silence after the outburst was worrying him. Oh, he'd be busy with recriminations, but this time something told him that something more was brewing. He had a good idea what it was, too.

"You're not blaming yourself, Ray?" he asked quietly as they left casualty.

"No. Not any more than usual." Doyle offered him a pale imitation of a grin. "You get us a taxi?"

With that, there was hardly another word out of his partner until they drew up outside his flat. Doyle was in another world altogether and Bodie knew him well enough to wait a least a short while before trying to force it out of him.

"You'd better come in. We have to talk."

Anything would be an improvement on this tight, silent control, Bodie decided, and followed him.

Once inside, Doyle reached for a bottle of whisky, poured two generous measures and hobbled to the sofa.

"I'm quitting, Bodie. He'll probably want to fire me anyway. I've had enough. I'm dog tired and sick of it all."

"You and me both, sunshine. So you made your mind up today? Just like that?"

"Come on, Bodie. We've been at this game for twelve years. And we're still alive, which is a bloody miracle in itself."

"And you fancy staying that way?" Bodie sipped his drink, waiting for Doyle continue.

Yeah. No. Well it's not just that. For God's sake, I saw them mow three people down up there when it shouldn't have happened. Then those bullets hit you. Forgot the vest for a minute," he sighed abruptly. "Then I thought the car would hit the kids because I'd shot the driver and sent the car out of control."

"Guilt trip, then," Bodie said, mildly, but Doyle didn't take any notice, still looking vaguely into space, reliving it all.

"It's the whole bloody business. We're making too many mistakes because we don't have the people or the resources to handle everything they throw at us. So maybe it's guilt. Maybe it's self-preservation. But most of all, it's the sheer bloody frustration. We can't make a difference to much anymore and when we do we still find ourselves with three bodies on our hands. I thought you were the fourth," he looked straight at Bodie, suddenly. "And I just... couldn't handle that. Not any more."

"I thought the same," Bodie acknowledged. "Got to me as well, you know."

Doyle nodded slowly. "Maybe I'm scared I can't mind your back any longer. Or you can't mind mine. Simply because we're up against the wall out there now. So I'm getting out before there are any more monumental cock-ups that I'll have to live with somehow."

"And what's Cowley doing to say? He's not going to like it, Ray."

"You know, Bodie, I really don't give a damn."

"Somebody's already said that," Bodie managed a grin. "Gone with the Wind, wasn't it? You don't look a bit like Errol Flynn."

Doyle leaned back against the cushions.

"Stop fooling, Bodie."

"I'm not fooling, Ray. I know how you feel. I've seen the squad slowly lose its edge, and us with it. Everybody reaches their limits, and if you've reached yours, we'll tell Cowley tomorrow."

"I don't need you to hold my hand while I resign," Doyle snapped.

"I don't need you to hold mine while I do, either," Bodie sighed. "But we might as well give him the two for the price of one."

Doyle stared at him in disbelief. "I didn't ask you to quit."

"No, you didn't. But you don't have a monopoly on feelings, either. I've had enough as well, Ray."

Doyle fell silent, watching Bodie with those eyes that looked uncomfortably deep inside his soul. Yes, Bodie admitted to himself, he had certainly had a bellyful these last couple of years, and there was no way he was ready to keep on taking all they threw at him. Not without Doyle at his side.

"And if you do quit, what are you going to do?" Doyle was still looking at him. "You know we've never even discussed the possibility - not recently, anyway. We've just been ggoing in and doing the job like a pair of bloody robots."

"I'll think about that in good time. I could ask you the same thing."

Doyle was right, he admitted to himself. Many a time they'd thought about throwing it all in over the years - everybody in the squad did that - but since things had really got bad, nobody had raised the subject. Maybe finally calling it quits was a bit like committing suicide, Bodie thought grimly. The ones that did it weren't usually the ones who talked about it first.

"Come on, Ray. So what are you going to do?"

Doyle sighed, drank some more.

"Dunno. Sleep to start with. Without the phone ringing in the middle of the night. Take a couple of days off without being called back. Remember what it's like to walk around without wondering when the next shoot-out's gonna happen."

"Settle down with two kids and a mortgage?"

Doyle grimaced. "At least have half a chance of a relationship that doesn't come second to the job...." he broke off, sighing, and Bodie saw the signs of a brooding session coming on. Time to nip that one in the bud right now.

"Not to mention get roaring drunk once in a while and not worry about your trigger finger in the morning?"

Doyle ran a hand through his hair, grinning despite himself.

"Maybe that, too. But not yet. I want to be bright eyed and bushy-tailed when I face Cowley tomorrow morning."

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed might have been an exaggeration, Bodie reflected, as he picked up a limping, taciturn Doyle and delivered him to HQ tomorrow morning.

"Not changed your mind?" Bodie asked, conversationally.


Doyle stared through the windscreen for a few moments.


"Nope. But listen, Ray. Before you start laying into the old man about everything that's wrong with the place, remember a reference might come in handy."

"He can hardly refuse us that."

"No. But Cowley's having a bad time of it too. He feels it every time somebody dies. Remember all that concern and those dulcet tones yesterday?"

Doyle pondered on that one for a minute.

"Yeah. I remember. Makes you wonder what's got into him."

It did indeed, Bodie reflected, allowing himself a little sympathy for the old man who was going to lose another team, but not - this time - from bullets.

Cowley's tones were, in fact, far from dulcet when they entered his office. They were clipped, matter-of fact and businesslike.

"First, gentlemen, I believe I owe you an apology."

Bodie knew he was staring. Couldn't help it.

"Yesterday was indeed a fiasco. You - and most of the others - are exhausted. I understand your frustration and your feelings about this, and a great deal of other cases recently. Given the circumstances," Cowley looked them both in the eye in turn.

"Your performance yesterday was nothing short of outstanding. If you had not been the best we have there would - as you rightly said - been even more casualties. And for the record I am grateful to you for making the situation less catastrophic than it may otherwise have been."

Bodie decided that if he needed a reference, this might be a good point get on with things and then ask for one. But Cowley was already continuing.

"I also rather imagine that you are ready to make your point about the present situation by resigning, Doyle, judging by your outburst yesterday. Am I right?"

"Both of us, sir." Bodie's reply was polite and firm and came even before Doyle had the time to open his mouth. "We discussed it last night."

"Accepted". Cowley said. They both kept on staring. Doyle gave a short, tight sigh and started reaching for his weapon.

"But I also have something to discuss with you both... hear me out for once, would you, Doyle, before you being too rash."

Doyle looked at him, hesitated, then shook his head.

"If it's about working our notice, I'm quite sure you have all the small print to back you up," he said coldly. "But with all the leave we have due..."

"Nothing of the sort, Doyle. There's no point sending either of you back into the field if your decision is made and it is final."

"It is, sir," Bodie said, and Doyle nodded.

"Fine. Then take a moment to listen to me. Then you may leave if you wish. Immediately."

"With references?" Bodie had to get it in somewhere. Doyle shot him a murderous glance.

"With extremely glowing references, if necessary. Now sit down and listen."

Cowley pointed to two chairs, and almost without thinking, Bodie sat down obediently. Old habits died hard.

Sighing, Doyle perched on one of them, still with that obstinate set to his jaw Bodie knew so well.

"We have to make damn sure that mistakes of the sort we saw yesterday become history. You're probably both well aware that upon my retirement, Murphy will take my place, or at least if the grapevine has been functioning as it usually does?"

Bodie had to admit that the grapevine was one of the few things that did still work efficiently.

"Yes, sir. And for the record, it's considered to be a good choice."

"Most kind of you, Bodie," Cowley retorted with a touch of sarcasm. "But if I'd wanted your approval I would have asked for it."

"Yes, sir," Bodie had the grace to look subdued.

"When he does, Doyle, he will also need good men behind him and I want you among them. You have the experience and the analytical capacity to develop the sort of co-ordination we need. To work with myself now, and later Murphy, and make sure the operations are run as they should be. And don't interrupt me until I've finished." Cowley warned him.

Bodie couldn't help but nod slowly at the logic behind Cowley's idea even as he spoke. But what would Doyle's reaction be? Somehow, he'd always imagined having Doyle around, whatever they did in the future. Would Doyle take this job? Where would that leave him?

"As for you, Bodie -"

His attention snapped back to the older man, wondering if it was time for at least one half of the partnership to join the ranks of the unemployed.

"Your talents would be put to excellent use on recruitment and training, as well as working alongside Murphy and Doyle on managing our people and their skills. Brian Macklin fully intends to take early retirement, but not for a couple of years yet, which will give you time to learn something from him - and from myself, I hope - before we leave. As this organisation grows and develops, our resources must grow with them, and above all in terms of its people."

He paused briefly. Bodie was staring at him, mesmerised. Hardly believing what he heard, but hearing it all the same. One level of his mind was already bubbling with excitement at the idea of working beside Doyle, not to mention making the squad what it should be. But knowing Doyle, he was bloody-minded enough to turn the offer down just for the hell of it. Please God he didn't.

"We need good, well-trained operatives. And people in charge of them who can teach them how to avoid getting killed." Cowley dropped his glasses onto his desk, a sure sign that this was the moment they were expected to respond.

Bodie stole another glance at Doyle, then back to Cowley, suddenly sure that there was tiniest glimmer of self-satisfaction on the Scotsman's carefully impassive features. Doyle was frowning, but whether he was thinking in positive terms or ready to reject the whole idea he couldn't tell.

"Well, Bodie? Doyle? I've heard what you find wrong with CI5. I'm offering you a chance to work on putting it right. You may also like to know that after a great deal of effort, I have recently obtained all the necessary guarantees from the Ministry that we shall get both the funding and the resources we need for the future. That, however, should not have reached the grapevine yet. Am I right?"

Seeing two heads nod with some surprise, George Cowley continued.

"You are - were - outstanding field agents, but I also need those talents and that experience for what I am trying to build now. You may accept my offer or decline it. I only obtained the go-ahead to bring CI5 up to scratch a few days ago, but no doubt the grapevine will resist even my attempts to keep that under wraps for very much longer. For your information, I already had both of you in my mind for the positions I have just offered you, but I had intended to wait a short while longer given the lack of qualified people in the field. However, the matter can be expedited should you wish to accept."

Finally falling silent, Cowley sat back, observing them both.

Bodie tried to meet Doyle's eyes, but the stubborn bugger wasn't playing, and sat it out for a while. Somebody had to make a move, Bodie decided. So he did.

"We have to avoid sending kids like Henries out just because we have no-one else." he said, slowly, pleased to see Doyle nodding. "And if we're getting more funding, we can concentrate on better training. Better equipment and communications wouldn't come amiss, either. Maybe some decent offices..."

"No need to get carried away," Cowley stopped him. "But these are all things to be considered."

"If we could stop a little of the back-biting between us and the police... and with MI6," Doyle mused, suddenly breaking his silence. "Make sure we co-operate rather than step on each other's toes. Then we'd be getting somewhere. Particularly if we had the people and the resources to do it."

Bodie felt himself tensing, hoping this was a good sign. It certainly looked like it.

"You will, gentlemen."

"And you really think we're going to accept? Just like that?" Doyle asked, finally.

"That's up to you. You both have the choice. But you'd be doing a far better job here than wasting those talents of yours elsewhere."

Bodie chuckled. "But personally, I hate waste. Must have some Scottish blood in there somewhere."

Doyle rolled his eyes, then nodded, slowly, looking Cowley straight in the eye with less of that earlier rebellion on his face as he replied.

"Better idea than the dole queue, I suppose."

Bodie was probably closer to taking the temperamental little bugger in his arms than he'd ever been. Not that Doyle would have been too enthralled with the idea. So he allowed himself a grin thrown in his partner's direction.

Cowley finally allowed himself a smile, and the bottle and glasses were on his desk in one fluid movement.

"Little early for that, sir," Bodie's eyebrows shot upwards. Cowley ignored him and poured.

"You will start tomorrow. We have a lot to do, gentlemen. The contracts will be waiting for you before you leave today. Once your reports are completed you may take the rest of the day off."

Bodie groaned. "Couldn't we stretch that to a couple of days? All that small print you're sure to put in... gonna take time to digest. And we should be on sick leave."

Doyle grinned. "Don't really think this ankle can hold up quite yet, sir. How about Monday?"

"Definitely," Bodie chipped in. "These bruises on my back as well might have calmed down by then, too."

Cowley sat back and looked at them both with undisguised satisfaction. He'd won.

"Very well. I believe a small celebration might be in order, then. Pick me up here tonight at seven. Get a tie out of the mothballs, Doyle. Now on your way and finish those reports before I change my mind."

Bodie got to his feet, stole a glance at the smile on Doyle's face and sighed contentedly.

"Did you hear me? Somebody in the place has to do some work until you decide to grace us with your presence again." The impatience in his voice didn't ring particularly true for once, but appearances needed to be upheld somehow, Bodie decided.

He couldn't resist the last word, though, and Doyle couldn't even kick him thanks to the bandaged ankle and crutch.

"Running all the way, sir," he said brightly. "Oh, and have another couple of those," he jabbed a finger at the whisky bottle, "before you get to the part about salaries."

Cowley ignored that one as Doyle prodded a broadly-grinning Bodie out of the door.

-- THE END --

March 2000

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