by Brenda K
When I first met Doyle, I remember, I'd likened him to a cat, whether one that had swallowed the cream or an extremely dangerous one with its claws out. I'd forgotten about that until tonight, but the image that springs to mind right now is that he looks like a rather shaggy tomcat after a night on the tiles.
I like cats, I muse as he comes inside. If I retire to Australia I can have an entire zoo if I like rather than worrying about patients with phobias about felines coming face to face with whiskers and a tail.
Oh, cynical Hannah. Can't say I've improved on that score since the time Ray Doyle first rolled up on my doorstep: my professional life still revolves around shallow women with more money than sense. There are small compensations, however, such as this man with a chipped-tooth smile and a razor-sharp mind who visits me fairly regularly.
I know him a great deal better than I did twelve months ago, I reflect as I watch him slide into an armchair: we abandoned the consulting room a long time ago. He looks stiff and sore as he does so, and if I'm not mistaken he has bandaged wrists. This both intrigues me and concerns me.
"Drink?" I ask, frowning at the look of him. "Or should you be..."
"Please, doc." He grins. "And before you ask, no I'm not taking pills and stuff."
He's no fool. I bring out the whisky and pour, wondering if I'll be told any more about what happened to him this time.
This isn't a social visit like a few have been, I'm certain of that somehow. Call it instinct or whatever you will, but there's something about the drawn features that spells trouble.
He usually comes round when there's something on his mind, but not necessarily his own problems. Psychology fascinates him, he says, and he likes to learn.
Money no longer changes hands - I refuse it because I in turn have learned a fair amount about what it takes for anyone to do a job like his.
To tell the truth, I admire him tremendously for what he does. Naturally, I'm far too old to be personally attracted to the lithe body and unusual yet compelling features, although I'm not quite over the hill enough to realise that he's probably broken a heart or two.
Thirty years ago, if I'd had this man as a patient...
No, we won't go into that. I'm old enough to be his mother, and hardly into toy boys. Neither is 'maternal' on the menu of a certain Dr Hannah Nicolson, or at least for my son, who emigrated to the other side of the world several years ago.
Doyle raises his glass and says he's pleased to see me but he can't stay long this time. I ask him if he's got a hot date, and he chuckles.
"Not exactly. Just a starving Bodie."
"How's is he?" I ask Doyle now, as he's sitting there looking lost in thought.
"Oh, his usual self," Doyle grimaces. "Playing the nanny again at the moment, although I'm trying to handle that like we've talked about before. Mixture of tolerance and a few well-chosen words."
"Because of whatever happened to you this time?" I probe gently.
"Yeah. I gave him a bit of a scare, so I suppose I can understand it."
I wait it out a little, and he holds his wrists up ruefully.
"Nothing much. Got myself tied up and took a couple of punches. Trouble is, Bodie thought they'd offed me for a minute or two. Seemed to really get to him, although he's trying to hide it."
"Understandable," I murmur. "From what I've heard about Bodie."
"True," Doyle sighs. "Nearly got 'imself into major trouble for it, as well. Came blasting in like a one-man seventh cavalry and risked the whole bloody case. Silly bugger."
There's pride in his voice, but he's still frowning.
"To get you out? Putting your own safety before the job?"
"Yeah. And no, that's not the problem. We've been living with that for years. It's tricky, but that'll never change."
So what is the problem? He's reserved somehow, and seems to be having trouble getting to the point, a little like he did at first. I hope it's not the spectre of what happened last year that's weighing on his mind.
For a couple of months after I first met Doyle, I hardly expected to see him again and particularly once he'd sorted out his relationship with his partner a little. Then he called me to say he'd had a 'bit of an accident'. Nothing much, he said but he was stuck in hospital - did I do visits?
I did now, I told him, remembering I once said the same when he asked if I worked on Saturdays.
He told me it was just that the famous, or rather infamous, Dr. Ross was driving him nuts. Could I give him any tips about how to resist wringing her scrawny neck? Sort of off the record? And tell him how to stop Bodie acting like some sort of bloody nanny?
I went over there expecting he'd broken a leg or a few ribs. Instead, I'd found him recovering from heart surgery after a nearly fatal shooting. Some accident, I'd told him.
It was, as he admitted himself, a strange twist of fate that he nearly got himself killed because he was too lazy to set his locks, particularly after passing me off to Bodie as a neighbour who was worried about hers.
He'd already handled the 'living or dying' bit before he really surfaced, he assured me. To a large extent I realised he had, just as I could see that his partner's concern plus the CI5 psychiatrist's probing were causing him more grief than all that by now. Ray Doyle did not appreciate 'fussing' or 'interfering' - that much I already knew from experience.
I met Bodie during one of my visits, trying hard to disguise his concern below a veneer of cheerful banter. He couldn't fool me, however. Neither could Doyle hide his affection for the man, despite his frequent exasperation with him.
I also recall Bodie staring at me reflectively while I was there. A neighbourly call, I'd volunteered. He hadn't commented, so I could only presume the subterfuge had worked yet again.
"So?" I ask, seeing Doyle staring down at his whisky. "It's not about keeping Bodie out of trouble or overdoing the protective side?"
"No. I've been thinking about quitting and wanted to sort of chew it over with you a bit."
This doesn't surprise me, really, I tell him. I'd imagined him, and others in similar jobs, thinking about that a great deal. Was there any particular reason for it coming up now?
"Oh, a lot. I've even drawn up some of the pros and cons. Want to hear them?"
"Right. In favour of staying is that I'm fit again after the shooting - wasn't that easy, but I did it. Second, I suppose I'm good at the job, most of the time. Third, we're short-handed as usual, as well."
"Fair enough. And against?"
"The corny stuff - I'm sick of the violence, the politics. I get a bit more tired than I used to. Haven't lost me nerve or anything, but I keep wondering when I'll finally be over the hill."
I nod, slowly.
"Apart from the ribs and wrists, though...?"
"Oh, I'm fine. We're coming up to the whole physical and psychological assessments next month," he adds. "I'll probably pass. It's just... I dunno, it's an idea that's creeping up on me."
I understand all the reasons he's given for both leaving and staying, I tell him, although he hasn't mentioned what he'd do if he did leave, or what Bodie would do, for that matter.
"Good question. The Met keep dropping hints that there'd be a place for me if they ever get some new crime unit they're planning up and running, but I really can't see me behind a desk, minding me Ps and Qs. Not after CI5 and even if it'd hardly be regular police work. As for Bodie... that would be even more tricky. That's another thing that bothers me."
"Leaving him on his own? Not watching his back any more?"
"Got it in one," Doyle nods. "On the other hand he wouldn't have me to worry about any more, but he seems to almost thrive on that, in a way."
That's very astute, from what I've seen and heard, and I tell him so. He gives me another of the tired grins.
"Have you mentioned it to him?"
"Not in as many words, no. He keeps on about how we're still fit, Cowley's finest - that sort of stuff. It's funny - I thought he'd be the one who quit first. For years I was expecting him to roll up one day and simply walk out. He never did."
"Just because of you, you think?"
Doyle's eyes widen.
"It'd be a bit big-headed to see it as only that."
"But it's part of it - you're admitted that yourself just before."
"Sometimes I know why you took up psychology and not gardening or plumbing, " he chuckles. "And God knows what he'd do once he left. The trouble with Bodie is that he's...
"... got some rather unusual friends and a chequered past, as you once put it," I remind him.
"You remembered," he nods.
"I did. Which makes you protective as well, if you're honest. You want to keep him on the straight and narrow."
"In a way. Probably why I came to the conclusion that I don't really have to decide anything yet - wait at least to see if I do pass the assessment."
"It's one alternative," I say thoughtfully. "As long as you think you can live with putting it off."
"I honestly don't know. That's partly why I asked Bodie round tonight - I wanted to talk about it. He doesn't know that was the idea, but he's between girlfriends and never turns the opportunity for a meal down."
"And you wanted my reaction?" I ask neutrally.
"In a way, although I also knew you wouldn't do more than tell me to weigh it all up, which is why I did me homework first," he grins. "And came up with the decision to avoid taking a decision."
"As I said, it's an option open to you," I tell him. "Although I presume you're still thinking about bringing the whole idea up with Bodie, to pave the way a little."
"Yeah," had admits thoughtfully. "Like I said, he was even more uptight about this..." he glances at the bandages again, "than usual. Much as he tried to pass it all off by playing the fool once he realised I wasn't dead after all. Near misses make you start thinking - look how I ended up coming to see you in the first place."
Suddenly, he frowns and glances at his watch.
"Gotta go - I promised Bodie I'd be back to start toiling over a hot stove by now. Sorry I imposed on you at short notice, but I'll come back before long, if I can?"
"As long as I'm still here," I tell him. "I've got a few of my own decisions to take."
I tell him about Australia, briefly, and he greets the news with enthusiasm. He can just see me in khaki shorts and a hat with dangling corks, he adds, not to mention a steamy romance with some hunk from the outback.
I retort that he's a cheeky, disrespectful young tearaway and he finally laughs out loud - that rich belly laugh that makes him sound even more disreputable than he looks.
"Seriously, doc, I think it's a great idea, even if I'll miss you. Got a date set?"
"I haven't made my mind up, really, but I'll let you know. Not for another few months - I still have to fleece a few more well-heeled ladies first."
"As if you would," he says cheerfully. "Fleece 'em, I mean. Just let me know. Can't have you running off without saying goodbye, can I?"
"I'd be disappointed," I say honestly. "Are you still at the last address you gave me?"
"I am, yes. If I move again, I'll make sure I tell you. If you're ever in the area, come on over and I'll return the hospitality - drink my whisky for a change."
"I might take you upon that. Just try and stay out of trouble, and keep on the right side of Dr Ross during the assessment."
"Always," he says cheerfully. "You know me, doc. Charming and co-operative. And I'm irresistible, remember."
"She's not stupid," I scold him.
"Oh, I know that. She's got good legs, though."
I shake my head at him in mock exasperation as he waves a brief farewell.
I'm still mulling the previous night's conversation over the following morning when I hear a car outside and glance out of the window to see a silver Capri draw up. I don't make the connection at first, until I see who's driving it.
Damn. This could be extremely awkward.
The doorbell rings before I've even had time to think, and by the time I open up I'm somewhere between angry and downright worried. The fact that the secret's out about what I do for a living is one thing, but what if Doyle's had an accident on his way home?
No, it can't be that. I can't exactly see Bodie rushing to tell me if that was the case. So why is he here?
"Doctor Nicolson," Bodie says, with just the right amount of emphasis, his eyes flicking from my brass plate to my face.
I'm not going to be goaded from the very outset, so I just raise one eyebrow.
"I should probably have asked for an appointment," he says smoothly, although from the very rigidity of his expression I can see he'd never had the slightest intention of making one.
"Perhaps," I say calmly. "Although I wouldn't have given you one on a Saturday anyway. Is something wrong?"
"Wrong?" Bodie says, still studiedly neutral. "Oh, I haven't come to spill my guts. Just to ask a few questions."
"And were you intending doing so on my doorstep or would you like to come in?"
He shrugs and walks inside. I show him into my office - I most definitely need the formality of having him at the other side of my desk.
Bodie stares at the couch and suppresses a sneer.
"I've known who you are for a while," he says conversationally, refusing to take the seat opposite me.
"Have you indeed. And what was your reaction to that?"
"Don't try that sort of stuff on me," Bodie says, his voice suddenly cold. "That wasn't the idea."
"Fine. So what exactly is the idea?"
"Not going to ask me how I found out?"
"Either you made it your business to or it was quite by accident," I snap back. "I don't think that matters, except I have the feeling you want to tell me."
That shakes him just a little. He's obviously not getting the reactions he wants, which means he hesitates fractionally before he explains.
"At the hospital, after the shooting," he says laconically. "Somebody referred to you as 'Doctor' so I checked your nameplate when Doyle was still living opposite. Oh, and you missed your vocation judging by that first time we met, and the second. You should have been on the stage."
"It's called professional discretion," I shoot back. "Would you like to advertise you were seeing a psychologist? I hardly think so."
"I don't see shrinks out of choice. What Ray does is his business. Or at least usually."
Aha. Now we're getting somewhere.
"And what makes it anyone else's business? I presume we're talking about your business in particular, as it happens?"
Bodie folds his arms and leans on a filing cabinet. It's supposed to give me the impression that he's relaxed, but he isn't fooling me.
"He came to see you last night, didn't he? I heard him tell somebody he was dropping in on an old neighbour. Then he came back and did all the mental masturbation stuff. Not hard to make the connection.
"I really don't think..."
"Credit me with a bit of common sense, love," he sighs.
"Fine, Mr. Bodie. You've made some startling deductions. But something's obviously worrying you or you wouldn't be here. Care to tell me what you want to accuse me of?"
"Well, I expect you'll be most anxious to tell him I've been here pestering you once I've gone."
It crosses my mind that he's a little like a petulant child, trying to provoke me and not answering my question, but I decide not to say so. He's also a little frightened about what he's actually done by coming here, I think. Maybe he was expecting the fragile old lady figure, but I'm damned if he'll see me even slightly ruffled.
"Who I see, and what we talk about, are confidential and will remain between myself and my..." I hesitate, deciding that calling Bodie a patient is most definitely not wise. "Whoever I'm seeing, including yourself."
"Sure. Although you certainly know how to put ideas into somebody's head."
So that's it.
"I don't think you quite understand. The role of a psychologist is nothing like that."
"Pull the other one," Bodie shakes his head. "Sure he's been a bit off colour and he's tired, but it doesn't mean he's lost it. But then he suddenly he starts talking about throwing it all in just after seeing you..."
"So you neatly put two and two together and made five," I say calmly. "And no, I am not exactly in the habit of suggesting what people should do with their lives as I've just informed you, and last night was no exception. Nor, would I add, am I used to people coming to intimidate me and making unfounded accusations."
Once again, this shakes his self-assurance a little.
"But he did mention leaving to you, right? And would it be breaking your vows to ask what brought it on?"
"It would. What I would suggest is that you ask him yourself, since you're so curious to know."
"I did. He wasn't very forthcoming. Just said it was something he was considering. I mean he throws a tantrum and threatens to resign now and then - we both do - but he's the specialist. Thinks too much, he does. But last night was different - like somebody had been trying to..."
"Manipulate him. And only you are allowed to do that."
Bodie doesn't like that insinuation at all.
"Like hell I do. He's my bloody partner - we watch out for each other. When he got into the heavy stuff last night I was wondering if he was trying out what he'd paid you for."
"I think that's enough," I tell him quietly. "And I have to say much as I appreciate that you're thinking of your partner's welfare by disapproving of interfering, money-grabbing shrinks, you're barking up the wrong tree altogether. And I really don't appreciate it."
I half-expect him to either loom over me as I sit at my desk, or to slam the door. This man has a temper, controlled though it is.
He does neither, and surprises me by suddenly sitting down in front of me, suddenly looking almost as weary and defeated as his partner did the night before.
"Oh, shit. I just..."
"Don't like the heavy stuff," I say quietly, softening a little. "But you do like keeping an eye on him, and you care about him. And that's not something he or you need to tell me, it's obvious."
"Yeah?" He thinks about this for a minute, and the pent-up anger seems to be dissolving rapidly now. "As long as we don't come across as a pair of poofters."
"Hardly. I think you just don't really like the idea of your partnership being over, particularly if it's Doyle who takes the initiative to finish it?"
"I didn't come here to be analysed."
"Fair enough. So why did you come? Curiosity? To compare me with this Dr Ross of yours?"
"Ouch," he chuckles, and his features unexpectedly dissolve into a tiny grin before he wipes that off again. "Yeah, maybe. You're not how I expected, I must say."
"My, my," I say coolly. "I'm flattered."
"You should be."
He looks most attractive when he really smiles, although I'm damned if I'm going to tell him that.
"Thanks," he says a little grudgingly. "For seeing me. What do I owe you, anyway?"
"Nothing at all. We'll discuss that if you decide to make a habit of it. And not Saturdays, please."
"Can't see that happening," he retorts, but not rudely.
He gets up, then pauses to look at the photographs on my desk and asks me if it's my family. I nod, remembering Doyle noticing them the first time he came. I tell him it's my son and family in Australia.
"Long way away," he says thoughtfully. "Bet you miss them."
That's more or less what Doyle said as well.
He's not quite as allergic to feelings as he tries to make out, this one. I wonder if I'll ever cross his path again.
Several weeks later, when my phone rings mid-consultation, I frown. It's my private line, and the family in Australia should be in bed by now - it's nearly three in the afternoon. Apart from them, very few people know this number. So who...?
At first I only breathe a tiny sigh of relief when I realise it isn't my son but a polite, unknown voice asking for 'Doctor Nicolson'. Then I recognise it and my heart nearly misses a beat. Call it intuition, but I know something's wrong. It's Bodie.
Doyle's a 'bit laid up', he says tightly. He thought I might want to know.
I think my sharp intake of breath reaches him, and he quickly reassures me it's nothing like the shooting, although...
So what is it? I can't help asking, ignoring my rather irritated-looking patient.
Nothing much, he insists. Just got a bit overtired. Well, maybe a bit more than that...
If Bodie was standing in front of me, I'd shake him. I push him for more details, and find out Doyle collapsed and ended up in hospital for 48 hours.
"Collapsed?" I don't like the sound of this, to put it mildly.
"Yeah," Bodie says quietly. "We've had some pretty rough cases just after the assessment, and that took it out of him to start with."
"I see," I say grimly. So he passed it then. "Go on."
Bodie continues, voice strained. One of Doyle's friends was killed a few weeks before and he took it badly, worrying about the man's wife and even, to quote him, trying to find a home for their bloody dog. What's bothering him, he adds, is that Doyle's suddenly started saying the job's all he's good for and has been driving himself into the ground.
I like the sound of that even less. My patient is fidgeting, so I throw my usual courtesy to the winds and simply tell her, rather sharply, to bear with me.
"So tell me more - what happened exactly?"
"He scared me shitless - passed out on me as we were leaving HQ. Just went out like a light for a minute or two - "
Bodie pauses, and tries to collect himself.
"He's kna- exhausted, I knew that, and I couldn't get through to him to ease up - I even told him to go and see somebody, and he said there was no point. I didn't like to mention your name, but... "
Bodie sounds frightened. He must be to call for help like this.
"I'll call him," I say. "He's out of hospital, you said?"
"Yeah, and shouldn't be if you ask me but you know how stubborn he is. He's got to check back with the doc at half past four, but he'll be there now, if..."
I think for a minute, pretending not to see the long, red nails tapping on my desk.
"I'll find an excuse for calling in, then, if I can."
"Appreciate that, doc. Maybe you can talk some sense into him - somebody's got to. Look, I know this is asking a big favour..."
"I'll see what I can do."
"Thanks," he says dully. "I've got to run... just don't tell him I called, right? Do that actress thing of yours?"
Before I have time to find a suitable retort, he hangs up.
I then dispatch my patient as rapidly as I dare and find Doyle's number.
He sounds tired when he answers, and rather surprised to hear from me. I say I'd expected to get his answering machine and would have left a message - I have to see a patient near his new flat and had thought of dropping in.
I deserve an Oscar.
Sure, he says. He's got to go out but will be back by six. Of course he remembered he'd said he owed me a whisky. And he's at home because he's been a 'bit off colour'. No, nothing serious and he'll be back at work tomorrow.
He answers the door to me, and from being a shaggy, tired tomcat he looks like a thin, even shaggier and absolutely exhausted one. I can see why Bodie's worried.
I make no comment at first, but observe him as he puts the kettle on after I've told him it's a little early for the hard stuff and tea will be fine. Something is very, very wrong here. He's tense, holding something back quite apart from looking ready to drop.
"About to tell me I look like death warmed up?" he asks with a wry grin.
"Do you need telling? But yes you do - I'd call this a bit more than off colour, personally."
He runs a hand through his hair.
"Now you sound like Bodie."
"Been playing nursemaid, has he?"
"Course. Although he's been pretty reasonable, really."
"So what led to all this? What happened?"
We're getting nowhere. Doyle's definitely not acting normally. His face is pinched and pale, and he sinks into a chair, sighing.
"Sorry, doc. Not very conversational, am I."
"No. Had I better leave if this isn't a good time?"
"What is a good time?" he says bitterly. "If I didn't know better I'd say Bodie put you up to this. Although he could hardly know when you called."
"Why would he do that? And know what?"
"Just an impression," he says miserably, not elaborating on what Bodie can't know. "The way he's been spouting psychology these days I'd almost say he'd been spilling his guts to somebody, as he calls it, but then he wouldn't. Not his style."
"Have you given any more thought to leaving? Did you talk to him about it?"
"Yeah. He was reasonable about that as well - we said we'd do the assessments and if we passed we'd think again. Maybe come to an arrangement with Cowley about some sort of notice period while he got some other poor buggers trained up - we're still short of people. Then something came up."
"Let's say I decided this isn't a job for people with families. I thought it would be better for me to carry on doing it than leaving some other woman as a widow."
"What brought that idea on?" I have an inkling because of what Bodie said, but want to hear Doyle's reasoning.
"Long story," he says gruffly. "Been doing the guilt stuff since a mate of mine was killed, I suppose, as well as overdoing it a bit. Then I went and blacked out on Bodie and scared the wits out of him."
"I see. Considering the way you look at this moment, I'm not surprised he was worried."
"He said last night he'd quit himself if I didn't so he doesn't have to see me kill myself." Doyle chuckles bitterly. "Daft sod."
Yes, from how I read Bodie, he probably would - both say just that and do it, too. But there's something more than I've put my finger on yet that's bothering Doyle right now.
I come to some sort of decision, and look him straight in the eyes.
"I don't give personal opinions, you know that. But I'm going to give you one now. You're not doing yourself any good, driving yourself like this. Don't you think you should think about stopping this - this crusade?"
Suddenly, he's a defeated, beaten cat, forced into a corner, knowing there's no way out and not even pretending to put up a fight. I don't like this one little bit, no more than I like the strain on his face.
"That's just it," he says quietly. "I'll have to. Physically. I just found out this afternoon, so I'll beat him to leaving after all."
"Tell me," I say gently, as he takes a long, ragged sigh.
He'd only just got back from seeing his doctors when I arrived, he tells me, so what they said is only just sinking in.
I can imagine, I reassure him, not pushing. He manages to collect himself a little and continues.
They've told him he's not exactly over the hill for 'normal life', he says defensively, nor is he about to turn his toes up. He just won't be passed for fieldwork again after this.
'This' being what, I prompt, resisting the temptation to reach out and comfort him. He's shaking a little too, very close to falling apart. However, he's also a man and trying extraordinarily hard to be stoic.
He isn't exactly a candidate for a heart transplant, he goes on, although he'd been warned during the assessment - he'd just scraped through the physical - to keep an eye out for dizziness or shortness of breath. When he'd started feeling off colour for the last couple of weeks he hadn't admitted it or rather chosen to ignore it because he'd had other things on his mind. His friend's wife, for instance: the fact she's pregnant and the kid won't have a father. This labrador of theirs...
"Go on, tell me I'm daft," he breaks off.
"And what would saying that achieve?"
"Not much," he says quietly. "Bit late now, isn't it. Oh, it'd have happened eventually - I just made it happen sooner, probably, by being a fool."
"And that's what Bodie doesn't know yet? What they told you?"
"He will do any time now - or at least once Cowley tells him. They were sending the reports over to CI5. Jesus," Doyle shudders slightly. "Never thought it'd be this hard. Finding out, I mean. Having the decision made for me."
He tips his head back, obviously fighting emotion.
"Sorry," he sighs after a minute. "It's weird, you turning up just at this moment. Not that I'm not pleased to see you... just wish I wasn't such a mess. I need a whisky, I think."
"I don't think..."
"Don't moralise, doc. You could use one as well, right?" There's a tiny gleam of rebellion in his eyes. "Like I said, I'm not about to snuff it quite yet, so it can't hurt."
I accept gratefully.
"So when are you leaving?" he asks abruptly, passing me a glass with a slightly unsteady hand and changing the subject. "Got yourself all fixed up? You coming to say goodbye or something?"
"In a few months. But as a matter of fact I did want tell you personally that I'd made up my mind definitely and being in the area sounded like a good chance to do so. And to drink your whisky, of course."
I hope I'm lying convincingly.
"Glad you came," he says. "Somehow I think I'm going to be drinking yours on and off until you leave. If you don't mind."
"Whenever you like," I assure him.
"Thanks. Got a couple of weeks off, and after that Cowley'll probably have me doing paperwork or something until my notice's up so I won't be working all hours and missing appointments like I used to."
"And the Met? This new unit?"
"I dunno. Maybe. I mentioned it to the doctor and he didn't see why not. Just have to digest this a bit first, though. Then get used to the idea of going back there if they really do want me - can't say I'm thrilled about it."
"I can imagine," I say softly.
"I'll be all right though," he says with a trace of defiance. "Can't sit here and wallow, right?"
I don't know what to tell him, really. The maternal side has definitely taken over from the psychologist.
"As I said, you can come over any time, Ray."
"Thanks." He tries for a grin as the doorbell rings.
From the expression on his face as Bodie comes in without waiting for Doyle to open up, he knows: it's written all over his face. He barely acknowledges me, but stands there looking at his partner and groping for words. He can't find them.
"I'll go," I say quietly, watching Doyle get to his feet and seeing him shaking more visibly now.
"You don't have to, doc," Doyle starts, but his voice is suddenly thick and he's lost what little colour he had.
Bodie reaches him in a couple of swift strides, still unable to speak, and takes hold of him in a clumsy hug. Doyle sags against his partner like he did for a second or two on that evening a year ago, but this time he stays there, head against the other man's shoulder, the weariness and shock taking over. He's fighting hard not to break down, but I think he needs to.
"Steady," Bodie says softly. I catch his troubled eyes and meet them, only just finding enough composure to speak.
"Keep in touch, Ray, and take it easy. I'm glad you're here, Bodie. Look after him won't you?"
Bodie gives me a faint nod.
"Always did, love. No reason to change now."
He pulls Doyle closer. "C'mon, sunshine, let it loose."
I'm intruding, so I leave rapidly. There are tears in my own eyes as I leave.
It's all I can do to stop myself from dialling Doyle's number for the next two days, and I jump every time my phone rings.
When I hear Bodie on the other end, I feel myself flinching.
"He's all right, love. Don't panic." Bodie's calm and reassuring. "And don't you go and faint, but can I come over? See you?"
I swallow my surprise and tell him of course he can.
"Tonight? Ray wants to see you as well, and he'll be in touch, but I - well - let's say I'm not quite ready for couple counselling quite yet."
"How is he? Really?"
"Okay," Bodie says. "Handling it bit by bit. I just hope they don't throw him to Ross any time soon."
"Or you'll go and sort her out like you did me?" I say without thinking. He chuckles, a little embarrassed at the reminder.
"Nah. I think you're the one that did the sorting. Was wondering if you could give me a couple of tips on - well - on not driving Ray round the bend. That sort of thing."
"I think that's quite possible. About seven?"
To my absolute astonishment, Bodie arrives with a bunch of flowers. It's just in recognition of my latest command performance, he adds with a grin as I thank him.
"Drink?" I ask, and his eyebrows shoot up as I steer him into my lounge.
"Thanks. This the deluxe treatment?"
"Seems like it. Although the first time you mention the word 'shrink' you're back in front of my desk and I'll even make you pay."
He chuckles, and takes the glass.
"I told him I was coming. And that I knew who you were. And... er... that we'd met briefly a bit back."
"He told me I was a stubborn, stupid, devious bastard, if you want me to quote him. And that he hoped you'd given me the bollocking I deserved."
"That sounds like he's feeling better."
"He's all right. You want some good news?"
"Cowley doesn't want to lose him. Got some sort of job lined up where he won't have to have his hair cut after all. He's even halfway enthusiastic about it - he'll take it, even if he's pretending to think it over just to keep Cowley on his toes."
"That's excellent news. And his approach sounds... in character."
"Isn't it," Bodie takes an enthusiastic gulp. "There's a downside, though. The delightful Dr. Ross will still be preying on him. But like I told him, nothing's perfect."
"Apparently she has good legs, or so he says."
"He said that? Needs his eyes tested, although I suppose her legs are better than the rest of her. Got strange taste in women, Ray does. There was this bird... no, I'd better not start giving his secrets away."
Bodie hesitates for a moment.
"So look... dammit how are you supposed to start all this?"
"Try telling me what you want to know, maybe."
"I don't want him to think I pity him. Don't want to keep on at him about taking it easy. It just scares me. I mean what if he'd passed out at the wheel? On a job?"
"He didn't. And from what he says he's not exactly an invalid."
"I know. I bullied him into giving me all the details. I just think it'll take me a while to get over seeing him just keel over like that. Stupid, right?"
No, I think. Not considering I'd realised how strong the bond was long ago - in fact when Doyle had first come to see me because of his nightmares about losing Bodie.
"Are you having nightmares?" it prompts me to ask.
"A few, yeah. I keep wanting to call him in the middle of the night to see if he's all right, once I wake up. He'd just love that."
"I can imagine," I say dryly. "What are the dreams about?"
"Often about when I thought he'd been shot - just before he came round to see you the last time. Or when he really was shot last year. I don't get to him in time."
This is eerily similar to Doyle's own problems a year ago, but understandable.
"And what do you think it means, dreaming that?"
"I - well - maybe I'm scared of letting him down. Losing him. And I feel guilty because in a way I wish I'd tried to twist his arm to quit rather than be happy he stayed on. Does that sound right?"
"Very much so." I nod approvingly.
"Listen to me," he says, shaking his head. "Coming out with all this."
"Does it hurt?" I ask, a little unkindly.
"Terribly, doc. A refill might help." He flashes the smile that has no doubt broken as many hearts as Doyle's has.
I explain a little about guilt and he actually listens, sipping reflectively.
Then he starts to open up. It's still like history repeating himself: he's different from Doyle, but his appreciation of his partner, himself, and their relationship is as astute as Doyle's was.
He doesn't have family and Doyle's probably the closest thing he has to one. He hates 'emotional stuff' - well, they both do but him in particular. He's never seen his partner as a weakling or wanted him to be one, far from it, even if he is a skinny bastard an inch or so shorter than him - it's just that he gets protective, and cares. And he doesn't really know how to show it without turning it into a joke or fussing.
No, I assure him when he once again looks embarrassed, caring doesn't make him a weakling either. I'm sure he can find ways of being there for Doyle, looking out for him, without 'getting up his nose' as he puts it.
Well over an hour has slid by when I suggest we've covered a fair bit of ground and that we might call it a day. He's surprised when he sees the clock.
"So did I pass, doc?" he tries flippant again as I grant him a second refill.
"I don't hand out marks," I tell him with mock-severity. "But you did fine. There's just one thing we haven't covered, though."
"What are you going to do with yourself? Carry on as before?"
"No," he shakes his head. "I suppose I could - I just don't want to."
"Do you have any ideas?"
"I'm seeing Cowley again tomorrow. He's offering me something as well. Something I can do. Officially, I'm thinking about it."
"Also to make a point? Or also worried because you'll also still be in Dr. Ross' clutches?"
"How did you guess," he laughs. "No, I'll take it. For several reasons, including to keep an eye on Ray."
"At least you admit it."
"Yeah," he grins. "Y'know I can't believe I'm talking like this to a sh... a psychologist."
"Think of me as the twittery old lady from across the road then."
"Anybody told you that for a twittery old lady you're pretty bloody astute?"
"I'll take that as a compliment, shall I?"
"Yeah," he grins. "Oh, and something I didn't tell you yet. His Lordship says if there's any chance of you putting him through the wringer Friday evening at his place, he'll even cook you a meal. I'm even allowed to roll up for that part if you think I've behaved myself tonight."
"Tell him I'd be delighted, and that you were exemplary."
"Flattery'll get you everywhere," he smirks. "Look, I'd better get going. Don't want the daft sod to think I've been on that couch of yours too long, do I? Got a reputation to keep."
"Definitely," I chuckle. "I'll bring champagne, shall I? On the off chance that there's something to celebrate? Like a couple of new jobs and the fact that you won't be saying farewell to the good Dr. Ross?"
"Don't", he grimaces. "You couldn't persuade her to go to Australia and you stay here? Ray said you were going."
"Hardly," I chuckle.
"Shame. Lucky Aussies, though. Don't forget to set the locks, love, and I'll see you Friday."
I see him out, touched at his last words that say a great deal.
He whistles a few bars of "Waltzing Matilda" as he heads for his car, and drives off with a little more panache that is strictly necessary.
Then I glance over at the photograph of those I care about so much, glad to have witnessed the hope that lies ahead for both Bodie and Doyle before I leave. They'll be fine and so will I.
Although not having Kate Ross' legs, I'm not quite sure about khaki shorts and cork-festooned hat.
-- THE END --