Tricks of the Trade
"Oh, that's a good one! Tell us another, Bodie, you've more imagination than the Brothers Grimm."
"S'the truth, so help me, Ray."
"Bodie, the Magnificent," Doyle chortled, high good humour and rich, sweet wine flushing cheeks pink and setting green eyes aglow. Giddy and weak with laughter, he struggled to free himself from an over-stuffed armchair. Triumphant at last, loftily ignoring both Bodie's snort of derision and his own asthmatic wheezing, he appropriated a gaily-hued afghan from the back of the couch, draping it about his shoulders and fancying himself clad in a magician's somber-cloaked eloquence. "Ladies and gentlemen," he intoned, twirling an imaginary moustache with fiendish glee. "Here, tonight, on this very stage -- to amuse, confuse and abuse you -- "
"Sod off," Bodie growled. His tumbler hit the end table with more force than intended and toppled to the floor. Amber liquid cascaded over tight-clenched fingers and polished wood. "That's not what I meant, and you know it." He scowled ferociously, spoiling this dramatic effect with the popping of a sticky thumb into his mouth, obviously mourning the sad waste of good Scotch.
A breathless, hastily stifled giggle sounded.
Bodie glanced up in time to see a boneless Raymond Doyle keel over backwards. More by chance than by planning, the limp figure was safely caught and cushioned by a loudly protesting chair.
"M'sorry, Bodie," Doyle hiccuped finally. "Just -- just can't picture you pullin' rabbits from a hat... or sawin' a bird in two." He sobered slightly, aware of the hurt behind his friend's disdainful glare. It would appear a bit of judicious placating was in order. Bodie's feelings were clearly ruffled. "Mind, black is your colour," he admitted, subduing hysteria to a fatuous smile. "Imagine you'd look pretty nifty in top hat and tails." Good intentions flew out the window as, once again, helpless laughter erupted. "Must – musta been hell tryin' to keep a crease in your trousers sloggin' through a swamp."
"That tears it!" Bodie roared. "Thanks ever so much for the vote of confidence." He was halfway to the door, one arm already in his jacket, before a sharp tug on the dangling sleeve spun him around.
Deadly silence ensued. Not even a murmur of traffic entered the dead zone Doyle's flat had become.
"Bodie..." Abruptly struck by the full extent of his partner's dark fury, the last faint traces of Doyle's levity died. Detailed descriptions of the ex-SAS, ex-mercenary's lurid past were rare. Bodie was an intensely private-minded individual. That Doyle had greeted tonight's hard won confession with unbridled amusement was an unforgivable breach of trust and friendship. "Bodie?" he repeated uncertainly.
"I am not," Bodie said, voice carefully neutral, "in the habit of assaulting drunks or fools... but there have been exceptions."
Doyle casually released the captured cloth. "M'not drunk," he protested wryly.
Bodie's lips twitched; white teeth clamped firmly down upon the traitorous response. "Nor am I accustomed to being called a liar."
"Never said you were one."
"It was strongly implied."
"It is strongly regretted."
This time, the grin broke through. "Over-reacted, did I?"
"A bit, perhaps."
"Yeah... well... that particular talent's not something I'd like nosed around CI5."
"Too bad. You'd be a big hit at the Christmas party."
"M'already a hit," Bodie preened.
"More of a miss," Doyle kindly deflated the ego trip. "You will recall Sally put paid to your fine plans for this evening."
"My loss," Bodie sighed. "How in hell does a skinny little bugger like you tuck away that much grub anyway?"
"No problem... when someone else foots the bill."
"And your taste in films is abominable."
"What's wrong with 'Dirty Harry'?"
"The man's IQ is definitely of lesser calibre than is his gun."
"No wonder Sally dumped you. You always this grumpy on a date?"
"Only when the bird doesn't come across."
"And didn't I invite you in for a nightcap?" Doyle fluttered his eyelashes, camping it up outrageously.
Bodie leered. "That you did, darlin'. What's next on the agenda?"
"Oh," Doyle pouted. "You men are all alike! One track minds--"
"And empty glasses." Shrugging free of his jacket, Bodie ambled back to his chair. Sinking into its welcoming depths, he leaned over to retrieve his runaway tumbler and held it out suggestively.
Doyle obliged in generous measure, refreshed his own drink, and eschewed his man-eating chair for the sterner comfort of the couch. "So," he mumbled, munching on an ice cube. "What's your specialty?"
Bodie raised an inquiring eyebrow.
"Get your mind out of the gutter," Doyle chuckled. "C'mon, Bodie. Tell Uncle Ray all about it. What can you really do? Card tricks? Sleight of hand?"
"Already told you, Ray. I'm a mesmerist, not a magician."
"S'along the same line of work though, isn't it? Hocus-pocus nonsense."
"Not at all. Hypnotism's a science."
"You trying to tell me some bead rattlin' witchdoctor bamboozled you into enrolling in the Royal Academy of Voodoo?"
"Merlin dropped by to entertain the troops, did he?"
"Well, then? Can't see how else the matter came to your attention."
There was no mistaking the bulldog set of Doyle's jaw, the spark of challenge in his green eyes. Bodie resigned himself to a full explanation of his tantalizing, indiscreet boast.
"Tight-knit lot, the mercs," he sighed. "They take care of their own... up to the point where a mate becomes a liability."
"Firsthand experience talking?"
"I went down with a touch of malaria the summer I was nineteen."
"To put it mildly. Medical supplies are dear in combat zones, old son. Demand outruns supply. Can't trot to the corner apothecary for extra aspirins and morphine when you're out on a delicate assignment in some god-forsaken jungle. You make do with what you have, or you go without... I went without." Bodie sipped his drink, continued dispassionately: "No way to get me back to civilization -- no time to mollycoddle an invalid when you're on the run. So, in one of my more lucid moments, I was pointed in the general direction of a squalid little village that played host to a crazy old coot by the name of Doc Jones."
"Yeah. Completely bonkers. To this day, I couldn't swear to his credentials as a bona fide doctor. Couldn't tell you if he was really a Jones -- or why the hell he was hiding out in the middle of nowhere. But the bastard had a heart of gold. A real humanitarian type. Nary a thing he wouldn't do for a man in need. Somehow, I staggered the two miles to his 'clinic'. He took me in with open arms, no questions asked. Woulda been strung up by his balls had word leaked that he was sheltering me..."
"Just think what they would've done to you."
Bodie nodded. "I was off my feet for three solid months. Had time between bouts of fever to watch Doc at work. May've been a quack, but he had a healer's hands. A magic touch. He also had a solid gold watch on a chain -- said his dear old dad gave it to him forty years past. He was never without it. Kept it polished so's you could see your face in it. He claimed it was the key to his success -- and his damnation. I believed him. Ray, I've seen him hypnotize a man, put him under neat as you please, and pull an abscessed tooth while the zapped bloke laughed his fool head off."
"S'truth! And post-hypnotic suggestion kept the pain at bay. Old Doc used his talent for everything from setting broken arms and legs to preventing the critically wounded from going into shock 'til proper medical care was possible. Was nothing he couldn't do -- but he had the morals of a saint. All give and no take -- 'less the taking was for the good of another. The locals called him shon'shii. 'Miracle man'. He was a father to them... almost a god."
"And you became this sorcerer's apprentice?"
Bodie shrugged. "Got tired of counting flies on the wall. Nothing to read, nowhere to go. Was bored out of my skull when I finally got me head together enough to know where -- and who -- I was."
"Practicing medicine without a license," Doyle tsk-tsked.
"Damned good at it, too. Caught on like I was born to it. Learned all the tricks of the trade he was willing to share. Helped him with his rounds in the village."
"Were you ever hypnotized?"
"He tried, but it didn't take. Natural superiority of the Bodie mind, don't you know."
"Too fond of yourself by half," Doyle muttered.
"You say something, Ray?"
"Uh... that glass isn't full by half. Fancy more?"
"Ta very much."
"Suppose no one in your squad was safe when you got back," Doyle prompted, resettling himself in his seat.
"Never told 'em."
"Not shy, Bodie?"
"Not stupid, either. I didn't have the reputation of a saint, now did I? Think my mates would've included me in their poker games? Trusted me with their birds? What few birds there were to be trusted with, that is."
"Mmmm... comes in handy with the birds, does it? For shame, Bodie. An' here I thought it was your natural grace and charm."
" 'Tis me natural grace and charm, you twit. We dark Irish beauties have no need to resort to cheap chicanery."
"So, if you don't use it... how do you know you've still got it?"
"Probably a bit rusty, but it's like riding a bike."
"Oh, sure, Bodie. Sure."
Devilish speculation danced in shrewd, blue eyes. "Why, Raymond," Bodie said, "do I see a volunteer in the audience?"
Bodie made elaborate scan of the otherwise empty room. "You," he acknowledged brightly.
"An' what of the superiority of the Doyle mind?"
The wave of an airy hand dismissed such a paltry thing as unworthy of mention.
The sheer, galling arrogance of the man! How I'd love to knock him down a peg or two... And what's to stop me, eh? Doyle smiled a wolfish smile. "Right," he said. "You're on."
"Huh?" Doyle's easy capitulation was clearly not in accordance with his partner's impulsive, madcap scheme. "I'm what?"
"But let's make it interesting, shall we?" Doyle continued, his enthusiasm for the venture mounting with Bodie's growing dismay. "Fifty quid says you can't put me under."
"That sure of yourself, are you?"
"That sure of you," Doyle smoothly replied. "What's the matter, Bodie? Sure I didn't catch you in a lie?"
"Fifty quid it is," Bodie snapped. "Name the place and time."
"Oh, here and now'll do."
"Not thinking of nipping off for a refresher course, were we?"
"Seem to have left me pocketwatch in me other trousers."
"You can borrow mine."
"That pock-marked, aluminum, Mickey Mouse reject?"
"Oi, it's shiny, innit? Thought it was the master, not 'is toy, that wove the spell."
"Then I'll just fetch it, shall I? Shan't be a moment."
As good as his word, Doyle was back before Bodie had completed his second circuit of the room. The watch plopped into an out-stretched, less-than-steady hand.
"How do you want me, then?" Doyle chirped, stretching himself flat out upon the couch, arms open invitingly.
"Drawn and quartered will do nicely. Shit, 4.5, your attitude stinks. Plant your ass in that chair and button your lip. Fair's fair, you have to try and let me hypnotize you. Get yourself in the proper mood. Keep an open mind. With a brain like a sieve that shouldn't be too hard to do."
"Yes, sir," Doyle humbly agreed, obediently shifting his locale. Spine straight and stiff, knees together, hands primly folded in his lap, he waited expectantly.
"Right, then," Bodie swallowed dryly. "Let's give it a go."
All too aware of the fascinated gaze following his every move, he quickly made a brief tour of the flat: turning off the overheads and positioning the sole remaining lamp so that the pool of its light spilled over Doyle's left shoulder, haloing a mop of unruly hair. Doyle's face sharply limned in light and shadow, his own concealed by darkness, the stage was set. A glistening watch abruptly dangled before intent, green eyes.
"Relax, Ray," a disembodied voice whispered near a curl-covered ear. "Relax."
Doyle started, grinned in shaky apology for his skittishness, and visibly forced knotted muscles to obey the soft-spoken command.
"That's better. Trust me, sunshine, this won't hurt a bit." Bodie set the watch in smooth and easy motion. Light struck the dented metal, emphasizing its sparkling spin and sway. "Empty your mind of conscious thought," he murmured. "Float with your feelings, Ray. No, don't move your head. Just follow the watch with your eyes. See how it moves? Back and forth, back and forth, round and round. Become the watch, Ray. Can you feel the motion? Back and forth..."
Bodie's words a senseless droning in his ears, the pleasant chant the most soothing of lullabies, Doyle felt himself slowly begin to unwind: delicious languor spreading from suddenly too-heavy head down to lazily flexing toes. Silver-tongued devil... He smiled dreamily, already more than half asleep. Could charm the leaves off the trees.
"That's right, Ray, go to sleep. I'll stand guard for you. You're safe and warm. Nothing can harm you -- I won't let it. Trust me. You know you can trust me."
Sooner trust a cat with a canary! Doyle heaved himself back to the centre of the chair, arresting his sideways slide. Rousing slightly with the effort, he blinked; heavy-lidded eyes peering past the watch's rhythmic swing, seeking the source of the siren's song.
"Keep your eyes on the watch, Ray," Bodie gently chided, leaning forward to accentuate the point. The spotlight revealed piercing eyes and furrowed brow; determined, firm-set jaw and narrowed lips.
"Bodie?" A hand reached for the familiar face, begging reassurance.
"The watch, Ray," Bodie snapped, retreating to the darkness, breaking the spell-threatening contact of their eyes.
Dazed, disoriented, the loss of the brilliant blue gaze a rending away of a part of his soul, Doyle's glance flicked back to the shimmering sphere. Bodie's instant, approving murmur was sweet balm to his hurt surprise at the sharp rebuke. He basked in the lavish praise; drifted with the sugared, dulcet tones... fighting, denying the sick awareness that, for the first time in this strange turn of events, his cocksure belief in himself was gone. Bodie was assuming control. He was being manipulated by an expert. He knew it, and yet he continued to accept his part in the play -- actually enjoyed having his partner in the dominant role. And that was wrong, not what he'd planned at all, but -- but, for the life of him, Raymond Doyle didn't care. He was warm. Safe. Happy. Bodie was there. Bodie would never leave him. Bodie was his world. Bodie was --
Bodie was right. He was damned good at this game. Except it wasn't a game anymore. Maybe it never had been. And maybe it was time to stop it -- if he could.
"Shhh, shhh, don't fight me, Ray. Let it happen. You're getting sleepy. Your eyes are heavy, so heavy."
" 'Course I'm sleepy. Who wouldn't be? Put in a long, hard day. S'after midnight, innit?"
"Yes, Ray, it's quarter to one. We've been at it almost an hour."
"S'not gonna take. M'not goin' under," Doyle grumbled, sleepily petulant. "Where's me fifty quid?" he yawned.
"Go to sleep, Ray. I'll give it to you in the morning, okay? Don't worry about it now, it's not important. You're tired, so tired. Wouldn't you like to go to sleep? Nice warm bed -- maybe a waterbed, eh? Mmmmm, wouldn't that be comfy? Just imagine the water cradling you, rocking you, moving you up and down, up and down. 'Member the weekend we went fishing? You fell asleep in the boat. Sun was glinting off the water -- see it sparkle, Ray? Feel the sun in your eyes... on your face..."
Doyle smiled at the memory; lashes drooping down, veiling his eyes; breath slowing, deepening.
Still no reply.
"Oh, God, I need a drink," Bodie moaned.
Throat parched from the ceaseless chatter, brain numb with disbelief at his apparent success, he reeled across the room and viciously raided Doyle's liquor cabinet, the purloined glass clattering against his teeth. Not until Dutch courage's fire burned through his veins, did he wander back to his too-quiescent partner's side.
"Now what?" he mused aloud. "What the hell do I do with you now?" He frowned, pondering the question; studying the slack-jawed somnolent figure; puzzled and more than a little bit frightened by Doyle's totally vulnerable state. "Never did it on me own before, did I?" he said. "Ol' Doc was always peerin' over me shoulder, yammerin' at me. An' me guinea pigs were strangers, you're my best friend -- I'd never forgive myself if I hurt you, Ray!"
"Whoa, whoa, slow down, young William. Don't panic. Take it one step at a time. Cover all the bases as you go. Don't leave your patient open to psychic scarring. Fill the vacuum you've created with your presence. Reassure him. Emphasize his safety and your mastery of the situation. If he's gone under, his trust -- his faith -- in you is complete. Build on that foundation. Shape his actions, his very thoughts, with your will. Be gentle, but be firm. Remember you command. And remember, too, that you hold an infinitely precious, human life helpless in your hands. God forgive you if you abuse your power. God forgive you, because I never will -- and, mark my words, the day'll come when you won't forgive yourself."
"Right." Bodie acknowledged his old mentor's timely, comforting advice. "I command."
And this is Ray, his conscience grumbled, more precious to you than any patient ol' Doc ever knew. Go slow. Be careful. He's one of a kind.
"Right," he said, his racing heartbeat calming. Step one: get a hold of yourself, Bodie. He drew a deep, shuddering breath, released it slowly and repeated the process until he finally considered himself as ready to continue as he'd ever be.
Step two: make sure he's really under.
An only slightly trembling hand placed on each slender shoulder, Bodie knelt in front of his partner and gently shook the smaller man, vaguely disappointed when the action provoked no sudden awakening.
"Ray?" he whispered hesitantly. "Ray, can you hear me?"
"Yes," came a quiet, peaceful murmur.
So he'll respond to direct questioning, will he? And to direct commands? Why not? Bodie's self-confidence mounted. "Ray, I want you to listen to me very carefully. This is important. Do you understand?"
"You will obey me without question, without reserve. You will answer truthfully whatever questions I might ask. Do you understand?"
"Good, very good, Ray." This promised to be interesting indeed. Bodie licked his lips, considering the possibilities. "Ray, in a few minutes I'm going to ask you to open your eyes. You will do so, but you will not be awake. You will remain in a deep trance, responsive solely to me." God, but that sounds trite! How else to word it, though? He shrugged, continued, "Do you understand?"
"Open your eyes, Ray."
Lashes fluttered and lifted; glazed, green eyes bored through Bodie as if he didn't exist.
"Look at me!" Bodie ordered, thoroughly disconcerted by the cold, dead stare.
Doyle blinked and focused on the worried face: but still no warmth, no recognition dawned.
"Do you know me? Who am I, Ray?"
Bodie grinned. No one, absolutely no one but his partner, could say his name in quite that way. "Bodie," he confirmed, abruptly, absurdly pleased with himself. Everything was going to be okay. This was proceeding splendidly.
"That's right, Ray, I'm Bodie and -- Oh!" The unadulterated affection and beatific smile turned upon him in response to his grin and condescending praise quite literally took his breath away. "Oh," he echoed helplessly.
Expression vacuous once more, Doyle patiently awaited further guidance. Several very long and very silent moments passed.
"Right, then." Bodie mumbled, more shaken by Doyle's unexpected ardour than he cared to admit. "Let's put you through a few paces, see what you can do," he blustered, determined to be ruthless in proving himself immune to his partner's charms.
One squawking chicken; one yowling tomcat; one swaybacked nag; one dog inspecting a lamppost; one kamikaze plane in flight; two headstands; and three rousing, pelvis-twitching, surprisingly good renditions of 'Jailhouse Rock' later... and the novelty was definitely wearing thin. Bodie yawned, glanced at the time, and decided to call it a night.
"Shut up, Ray."
Doyle instantly obliged, his song dying in mid "let's rock."
"Sure an' that's one trick I'd like to keep," Bodie sighed, recalling his partner's normal, colourful response to that particular directive. "Ah, well, all good things must end."
Must they? a little devil niggled in a dark corner of his brain.
Bodie grinned. "Nah," he said. "Wouldn't be fair to do that to my sunshine. I've proven my point, had my fun."
But the fun's barely started, a wistful voice wailed. Don't you want to see what else you can make him do -- what deep, dark secrets he'll tell? Don't you fancy a little something to liven up a dull stakeout?
"Ol' Doc'd turn over in his grave."
Scared of ghoulies and ghosties, Bodie? the demon taunted. Consider what you'll be losing. This chance will never come again. Think Doyle's apt to let you mess around in his head whenever you please?
"No, not Ray."
What harm in a wee post-hypnotic suggestion? A sweet little nothing whispered in his ear, and he's yours to command whenever you wish.
"He'd never forgive me."
He'd never know.
"True. The perfect crime."
Setting it up wouldn't mean you'd have to use it. And you can always excise the option later, you know.
Go for it, Bodie! You'll never regret it. Never!
Temptation-torn, Bodie felt his already slight chances of achieving sainthood slip a little further from his reach.
"Sit down, Ray," he invited silkily.
The object of his command, freed of the limbo where Bodie's inattention had left him standing stranded, gracefully crossed the flat to sit in the nearest chair.
"Close your eyes."
The eyes closed.
"Ray, on my command you will awaken. You will remember nothing of tonight's little session. You will remember only that we had dinner, caught a film, came home for a drink, and talked. You will forget the topic of hypnotism ever arose. You will forget the fifty quid bet." Bodie sighed, ruing the loss of money fairly won, but swiftly consoling himself with the thought of his unique consolation prize. "As to the future, whenever I have occasion to speak the word--"
Bodie paused, considering which watchword was best suited to his plan. Something out of the ordinary, of course. Couldn't have Doyle dozing off at the inopportune drop of a hat. And it couldn't be something someone else might stumble upon, placing his innocent Ray at the disposal of an unscrupulous mind. So what would it be? A foreign word, perhaps? Of an uncommon tongue, then. Definitely not European. Swahilian? Not much call for Swahili in Merry Old England, was there? Damned few Hausa strolling about Hyde Park. The Hausa? Memories surfaced of long ago, mercenary days. Yes, Hamitic would serve his purpose admirably; a complex, dialect-ridden language. And as to the magic word itself?
"N'derfi," he murmured, fond gaze falling upon his partner's serene, exotic-angel face. "N'derfi. 'Friend.' Despite what I'm planning for you, Sleeping Beauty, you're that and more to me." A gentle hand rested against a flawed cheek, thumb massaging the warm flesh. Was it his imagination, or did Doyle lean into the touch? Bodie shook his head, dismissing the unlikely notion.
"As to the future, Ray," he absently resumed his arrested monologue, "whenever you hear the word n'derfi, you will immediately, instantaneously, re-enter this entranced state. Do you understand?"
"You will remain in that trance -- utterly obedient -- until I say, 'Wake up, Ray.' Furthermore, when you awaken, you will still be unquestioningly loyal to whatever command I may have given -- but you will not remember being commanded. You will simply act upon my suggestion as if the idea were your very own. Is that clear?"
"Good." Bodie sighed and removed his hand. "I think that covers everything." Wearily, he seated himself, bounced up to snap on the overhead lights, and fell back into his chair. "We are discussing the Richmond case," he said, backtracking to their somewhat heated, early evening conversation. "I have just mentioned that Cowley could've let us know he knew Ainsley was MI5. Wake up, Ray!"
Green eyes flashed open wide. "Yeah, well, he always was a tight-lipped old bastard. Woulda served 'im right if we'd've--" Doyle paused, blinked uncertainly. "Am I repeating myself?" he wondered.
"No more than usual." Bodie yawned, trying to hide a gaping cavern behind a totally inadequate hand.
Doyle leaned forward to check the pocketwatch lying on his coffee table. "02:35," he said. "We'd best call it a night, Bodie. The Cow expects us in by 07:00."
"Mellowing in his old age, is he? Fifteen extra minutes to ourselves? Time for toast and tea. Charming."
"Yeah, talk about being generous to a fault... Stayin' the night, are you? What's left of it?"
"Suppose I might -- if you ask me nice."
Doyle grinned, rose, stretched, and waved towards the couch with royal magnanimity.
Laughter fled Doyle's eyes; blank-faced, he froze in mid-gesture.
"You were about to insist that I take your bed. Wake up, Ray."
"Perfect host that I am, I'll suffer the couch. Haul your creakin' bones off to bed, mate. And don't forget to set the alarm."
"Right," Bodie smiled. "Ta for the reminder. Night, Ray."
"G'nite." Doyle's gaze drifted back to the coffee table. "Bodie?"
"Hmmm?" Bodie paused and turned.
"What's this doing out here?" Doyle picked up the watch, dangling it by its chain. Musingly, he set it asway, head following its motion.
Consternation fluttered across a handsome face; n'derfi hovered on the tip of a tongue-tied tongue.
Doyle chuckled, blithely oblivious to Bodie's sad state. "Guess I'll have to ring up an exterminator in the morning. Can't have pack rats takin' over the place." The watch dropped back to the table. "Get the lights, would you, Bodie?"
"Yeah. Sure. G'nite." Bodie vanished through the doorway, the measure of his escape velocity marked by a quickly extinguished lamp.
"Me and my big mouth," Doyle muttered, stumbling blindly to the couch. "This is going to kill my back." Fluently cursing cramped space and the spring coiled against his right shoulder-blade in lieu of counting sheep, he flopped an itchy wool afghan up over his ears.
A blissfully contented Bodie sprawled in the decadent comfort of his partner's king-size bed; shamelessly wallowing in down-soft pillows, just-so mattress, and Raymond-scented sheets. The wicked smile plastered on his smug, self-satisfied face followed him into untroubled, dream-rich slumber.
And so began the winter of Doyle's discontent: the summer of Bodie's glory.
"Rates up again?" Doyle inquired, frowning over his itemized receipt.
"Not that I'd noticed," Bodie replied, surreptitiously pocketing his fifth pair of freshly laundered socks and fingering a sixth with eagle-eyed regard for unsightly wear and tear. Mine or his? he mused. Ah, well, when in doubt... Navy and baby-blue argyles vanished from a neatly stacked pile. Now then, where's me unmentionables?
"They can't count by half." Doyle grumbled. "Ten pairs of socks? I only sent in five." A quick check of the pile. "They only sent back four!"
Oops, Bodie thought, attempting without any great degree of success to appear innocently sympathetic.
A critical finger tapped down the offending list; a suspicious glance returned to the laundry on display. "Bodie," Doyle drawled.
Uh-oh, here it comes.
"Isn't that your shirt?"
"Uh, yeah. S'the one you borrowed last week, isn't it?"
"Nicked your trousers too, I suppose?" A contemptuous hand nudged beige cords aside. "And what have we here?" A pair of khaki boxer shorts dangled from an index finger. "Tore the drawers right off you, did I?" The voice rose a full octave; a clenched fist drew back, swung. "Bodie!"
"N'derfi!" Bodie yelped, beating a hasty retreat.
Momentum carried the vengeful punch through.
Bodie massaged his stinging arm. "N'derfi first, explain later," he murmured ruefully. "Forget the bloody laundry, let's go for a pint or two -- you're buying. Wake up, Ray."
Doyle crumpled the receipt, carelessly tossing it aside towards a wastepaper basket. "Bodie," he said...
A long day: a longer night. So much accomplished: so much left undone. One man's the responsibility. One man's the worry. One man's alone the loneliness and despair of a thousand such days.
George Cowley sighed and scrubbed a weary face with a weary hand. It's late. I'm tired. I'm getting too old for this.
The creak of leather as he shifted an aching leg to rest more comfortably in his chair; the tinkle of glass on glass as Scotch poured from bottle to tumbler; the tick of an antique clock on a white mantlepiece; the occasional whisper of footsteps passing by his office: these were the sounds that filled his nights, the only 'mates' that kept him company.
Self-pity now? His smile was twisted and wry. The strange humour lasted through the familiar, day's end routine of draining his drink, re-filing scattered folders, and selecting a few reports for study in the comfort of his own home den. A final glance at the clock: 02:25, it read. He quietly closed his office door.
In comparison to the never-ending bustle of the daylight hours, CI5 headquarters was silent and deserted: a few key personnel sequestered at their posts; superfluous lights extinguished in the interests of energy conservation.
A single phone call could transform the somnolent beehive to instant, furious activity...
This night, the soft padding of Cowley's slow, measured tread was the only indication of life in the ill-lit, ghost-haunted corridor. Tilting his hat at a rakish angle and tucking a paper-bulged briefcase a little tighter beneath his left arm, Cowley quickened his pace; some absurd, fey unease insisting his was not the only presence abroad at this ungodly hour.
Tommyrot, he snorted, self-consciously adjusting his hat brim to a more sober cant as Charley's watch post came into view. Felons may not quit the streets at 17:00 sharp, but this organization's members like to pretend they do. There's no one here who doesn't have to be here... except maybe me...
Charley glanced up as Cowley drew near and smiled in cheerful response to his superior's forced smile.
"All's well, Charley?" Cowley inquired, picking up the elderly agent's clipboard and leafing through the attached forms.
"Quiet night in, Major," Charley replied. "Rain must be dampenin' a few spirits, eh?"
Setting about the task of fastening up his overcoat for a brisk dash to the car park, Cowley nodded in absentminded agreement and mumbled a cursory 'good night'. His hand was on the street door's latch when the realization struck that an off-duty agent's name graced the list. He spun on his heels and plopped his briefcase down on Charley's desk. "Doyle?" he demanded.
Dark eyes met a puzzled stare. "Yes, sir," Charley said. "He's in the Ops Room. Has been since--" He consulted his notes. "18:00 hours."
Cowley's thoughtful study traversed a recessed passage: where all should be darkness, a narrow wedge of light coyly peered around a curve in the hall. Possible cause for his strange unrest had made itself known. Cowley directed wary steps towards the half-solved mystery, the curious eye he pressed to the ajar door widening with surprise, amusement and disbelief at the unlikely sight it saw.
Adrift in a sea of paper, a dejected figure sat cross-legged on the floor, head bent over the clipboard in his lap, pen moving across the page in a wild, illegible scrawl.
Cowley smothered a smile. "What, not still here, Doyle?" he barked, barging into the room, kicking discarded styrofoam cups and wadded-up chocolate bar wrappers from his path.
Doyle jumped. "Thought you'd left, sir," he said, turning a sheepish grin on the older man and blinking red-rimmed eyes. "It's getting on."
"Aye, that it is. Long past time the both of us were home and abed. You'll be dead on your feet come morning -- you're more than half-dead now. What's keeping you here so late? A special problem?" He selected a sheet at random, quickly scanned the terse account, and nodded his approval. "I take it Master Bodie does not share your enthusiasm for weekly reports."
"Ah, Bodie?" Doyle casually shuffled loose papers, unobtrusively concealing the sheaf of forms which only lacked Bodie's signature to make them complete. His fingers still ached from their typing. "He finished hours ago," he lied. "There were a few points I wanted to clear up before calling it a day."
"Dedication to duty. Attention to detail. I'm pleased to see someone's doing their job properly." Maybe old Don Quixote's not alone in his crusade after all, Cowley mused, the thought warming him inside, reaching places even fine whiskey could not reach. "Och, you're a good lad, 4.5," he said. "You and 3.7 both."
Goodness has nothing to do with it, Doyle grinned. "Thank you, sir," he replied. Damnit, Bodie, why'd I let you waltz off with Phyllis like that while I stay here and play the martyr with this mess?
He didn't care to ponder his motives too closely. CI5 had little tolerance for raving lunatics in its ranks. And if he turned out to be one...
"Murphy!" Doyle greeted happily. "Just the lad I wanted. Always a pleasure to see your smiling face."
"Top of the morning to you," Murphy faked a thick, Irish brogue. "Never mind the blarney, what is it you're after, Ray?"
"Uh... I don't suppose you could spare me a tenner by any chance?" Doyle wheedled, attempting to look pathetic and succeeding nicely in the act.
"Sure ten will do you this time?" Tender heart and soft head made honest offer of sarcastic intent. A twenty pound note appeared in a generous hand.
"Right, I'll put it on your tab." Murphy made swift, mental calculation of the latest addition to an already tidy sum.
"Thanks, Murph. I really appreciate this, mate."
"Mmm. I'd hate to see you starve to death. You're all skin and bones as it is." He fell into step with the grinning beggar, heading with him towards the car park to protect his investment from a possible mugging along the way. After all, money and Raymond Doyle were uneasy companions of late. The penny-pinching little sod appeared to have developed a sizable hole in his wallet. "Whatever happened to the Doyle of old?" he wondered aloud, thinking on the latest in a series of misfortunes. "Rumour has it you struck lucky the other night. Didn't Moonbeam's Fortune show in the Fifth?"
"Topped a hundred quid," Doyle admitted glumly.
"And you're already back on the dole?"
"Yeah. Bodie and the birds helped me celebrate the grand event."
"Thank God the bloody nag didn't win or place -- I'd've never survived the loss!"
Contrary to optimistic expectations, being an absolute despot wasn't all sunshine and roses. Practice might make perfect, but mistakes could still be made. Take today's imminent fiasco as a case in point...
Bodie gazed at the Doyle-nicked bottle of Cowley's best Scotch with a panic akin to despair.
Watch what you wish for, Will, his dear, old, grey-haired gran had all too frequently advised; the annoyingly sage counsel inevitably followed with a smug, You might just get it, me lad.
No doubt about it, he was going to get it all right.
"Bodie!" An irate Cowley burst through the Ops Room door.
An abandoned, half-full bottle sat on an empty desk; a hastily vacated swivel chair still swung to and fro; a stiff breeze blew in through an open window.
Bodie was nowhere in sight.
"Ah-ha, 'X' marks the spot," Bodie declared, gesturing towards a door virtually identical to the hundred others they'd passed in this futuristic building's maze of halls.
"High time you found the place," Doyle grumbled. "We've been wandering about in circles half an hour or more." He shouldered the larger man aside, stooping slightly to squint at a tiny, bronze plaque. Samuel J. Taylor, D.D.S., it read. "Taylor?" he exclaimed. "Isn't Havington your dentist?"
"Uh, yeah. He is. He was. Shit, Ray, I've backed out on him so many times, even I don't have the gall to ring him up again."
"Mmm, he might hold a grudge, eh?"
"Better safe than sorry."
"A new broom sweeps clean?"
"Something like that."
"Right. So in with you, then," Doyle prodded his dawdling partner. "It's 04:25. We don't want to be late, do we?"
"We?" Bodie glared. "No, mother." He shook a warm hand free of its firm grip on his wrist. "Look, I"m a big boy now. Honest! Go home, Ray. You don't have to stay and hold me bloody hand."
"Temper, temper. M'just following orders, you know. Cowley said--"
"Now's that any way to talk? 'e has your best interests at heart, 'e has. Wants them pearlies to shine forever. Can't have his lads wasting away with a toothache, now can he? And who was out sick with one all Tuesday afternoon, hmmm?"
"So sue me, I fibbed. Carolyn was in town. There's nothing wrong with me teeth! I don't need a dentist! Never have!"
"Then there's nothing to worry about, is there?"
Doyle's logic was inescapable. Bodie meekly followed his grinning partner through the gates of hell, the friendly, welcoming smile of a very pretty blonde bombshell failing to distract his butterfly tormented stomach.
"Good afternoon, gentlemen," a sweet voice chimed as they sauntered up to the 'please advise receptionist of arrival' sign. "May I help you?"
"Uh...it's 04:30," Bodie said vaguely and somewhat prematurely.
"And your name, sir?"
For the life of him, Bodie couldn't remember. "Uh..." he repeated brightly.
"William Bodie," the ever-helpful Raymond Doyle supplied.
A slim finger marked the name on the registry. "Yes, sir. Please be seated, the doctor'll be right with you."
"Thank you, miss." Doyle redirected an exit-bound Bodie to a distant couch. "Sit," he ordered, seating himself beside the restless figure, his curly head blocking the longing look his partner cast at the closed hallway door.
The cloying scent of Novocain filled the air. The relentless screech of high-speed drilling drowned a stereo's soft murmur. Bodie's fingers drummed an impatient tune on a cracked vinyl armrest. "What time is it, Ray?" he said.
"Shut up," Doyle replied, cheerfully burying his nose in an article which extolled the virtues of the Suzuki GT750 'superbike'. 3-cylinder, 738-cc, 2-stroke engine...65bhp (SAE) at 6500 rpm...230 kg...190 km/h... "Oh, yeah," he sighed.
A woman with a weeping child in tow fled the office's inner sanctum. She was obviously on the verge of tears herself.
Poor kid looks like a chipmunk with a mouthful of nuts, Bodie sympathized. He made to rise. Without glancing up from his magazine, Doyle ungently hauled him back down in place.
Hours crawled by. Bodie stared at his watch: 04:31, it teased. 04:32... 04:33...
Footsteps approached. "The doctor will see you now, Mr. Bodie," the curvacious blond informed a peacefully dozing man, lightly tapping his arm to ensure his full attention. "If you'd follow me, please." Taking compliance to this request for granted, she proceeded to lead the way.
Doyle jerked awake with a start. "Oh, but I'm not--"
Hallelujah! Bodie rejoiced, silencing his partner's protest with a swift elbow jab. "N'derfi," the whisper sounded hot and urgent in a curl-covered ear. "Raymond, dearest, from this moment until we leave this hell-hole you are William Bodie. So trot off to that damned chair like a good lad, and get me a clean bill of health."
"Sir?" The girl turned at the muffled outcry, curious gaze directed to the whispered, one-sided conversation occurring on the couch.
"Right!" Bodie gave Doyle's shoulder a hearty wallop. "Off with you, Billy," he commanded. "I'll hang about to give you a lift home."
"This way, Mr. Bodie."
Doyle obediently shuffled towards the white-coated, male figure impatiently waiting in the doorway. Bodie deigned to wave him 'cheerio' before making a beeline for the dismissed receptionist's nook.
"You'll have to excuse my friend," he said, flashing a brilliant smile and casually propping himself on a corner of her desk. "He's terrified of dentists, you know."
"You'd be surprised how many people feel that way," the girl confided.
Bodie nodded sagely.
Despite the unfortunate fact that 'Angela' turned out to be 'Mrs. Samuel Taylor', it was quite the most pleasant half hour Bodie could remember whiling away in a long time. He was in the process of regaling a spellbound audience of two with wild, improbable accounts of his adventures in deepest, darkest Africa, when Doyle ambled back into the waiting room. Swiftly concluding his tale by the simple expedient of saying all those involved and a goodly chunk of the continent became casualties of a massive explosion, Bodie bid a grateful mother and her no longer tearful but very wide-eyed lads a fond farewell and went to meet his curly-haired alter ego.
"How'd you get on?" he asked, resisting the urge to check Doyle's teeth in the manner of a vet inspecting a horse's mouth. "What'd he do to you? I didn't hear any screams."
"Just gave m'teeth a cleaning."
"Good lad! You have a sit down, and I'll fetch you a lollipop and George his proof I was here."
Doyle bonelessly flopped back down to his original spot on the couch.
"That's that," Bodie said a few moments later, patting the precious paper tucked in his breast pocket. "Say 'ah'," he ordered, squatting down to pop a toothpaste-masking peppermint into an obediently opened mouth, and tossing the biker's magazine to Doyle's lap. "Now, then, let's have you rejoin the land of the living at the point where you dozed off reading this rubbish." He stood up and backed off a few paces. "Wake up, Ray. Wake up! Hail the conquering hero, you lazy sod."
Doyle blinked and squinted at his watch. "Done so soon? How'd it go, then?" he inquired solicitously, clambering to his feet and tailing the fleet footed 'hero' out through the hallway door.
"Like I told you," Bodie smugly replied. "There's absolutely nothing wrong with my teeth. Perfect, aren't they?" He displayed them for critical acclaim.
"Mmm," Doyle grunted noncommittally, crunching on his sweet with great gusto. A thoughtful hand reached up to massage his chin. "That's funny..."
Bodie stopped dead in his tracks. "What's funny?" He slanted his partner a wary glance.
"My jaw's sore. Kinda lame."
"Christ," Doyle exclaimed disgustedly. "I've heard of expectant fathers havin' empathy pains, but this is bloody ridiculous!"
Goddamned bastard, Doyle groused, all spiffed up and sitting by his lonesome at the bar of the Royal Crown. Fiery emerald eyes ignored their own reflection in the behind-the-counter mirror, remaining intent on Bodie and a redhead's leisurely departure instead. Three different birds in a fortnight aren't enough for him, he has to go for--
"Another one, love?"
"Huh?" He stared at the 17th-century costumed barmaid, wondering whether she moonlighted as a mind reader, or if he was talking to himself again.
The girl tapped his Bodie-emptied beer stein questioningly.
"Yes. Please." Doyle absently watched her draw a pint of bitter, half-heartedly responding to her open flirtation as he paid, but wandering off to a dark, secluded corner without undue regret as she turned to serve another customer.
Doyle downed his drink and sat quietly, hands cupped about the cold mug, staring into its depths as if it were a crystal ball. Images of Bodie and Susan danced in his imagination: naked, sweat-sheened flesh in constant motion; passion-tangled limbs; gasping breaths and whispered endearments; hungry, burning kisses...
"So what?" he mumbled. "So Sue chose Bodie over me. Big deal. S'not the first time I've found myself at loose ends."
But it was the first time in a long time that he'd minded it quite this much. And that bothered him more than he cared to admit.
Left to his own devices, without his familiar shadow, he didn't quite know what to do with himself. Indeed, Bodie had become very much the permanent fixture in his life of late. What with work, pub crawling, theatre, films, wining and dining, telly and habitual sleep-overs at Doyle's flat over the past four months, they were spending an unprecedented amount of time in each other's company. The greater portion of each and every day. Day after day... night after night...
Bodie made frequent, joking reference to the prospect of subletting his flat and moving into Doyle's permanently. "Not until I get me diamond, you don't," Doyle countered, giving semi-serious consideration to contacting a good chiropractor to aid his couch-weary back.
Actually, aside from the fact that their unending whirl of festivities put a severe strain on his finances, Doyle had damned few complaints. On duty or off, Bodie was the perfect companion: witty, intelligent, charming. Silent when you needed silence. Childishly exuberant when noise served your need. He challenged and encouraged you to do your best: applauded your successes; was there to catch you if you failed or fell.
That he nicked prospective dates right out from under your nose, and left you feeling your oats with nowhere to sow them, seemed a small price to pay. A price that had always been accounted negligible... until tonight.
Bloody hell! Doyle stormed. What's the matter with me? What's one more quick one-off? It's not as if he's eloped with me own true love. She's only the new kid in the steno pool. Fair game. A fresh challenge...
In all truth, Susan Forsythe meant nothing to Ray Doyle. There were plenty of finer fish in the sea. Bodie was welcome to the chit. Hot-tempered, green-eyed Sue was little more than a walking mop of auburn curls, slender to the point of being skinny.
Me making love to her would be too bloody narcissistic by half, Doyle snorted, vastly amused by the thought and more than a little surprised that it hadn't occurred to him sooner. Don't know what 'e sees in her...
A casual shrug of his shoulders dismissed interest in this particular bird as justification for his blues.
But if Sue wasn't the problem, what was?
Miss him, do you? he taunted himself, more than somewhat disconcerted when an honest little voice replied 'Yes, I do.'
He silently contemplated this novel notion.
I suppose, given our recent joined-at-the-hip status, that it's inevitable that I feel... incomplete... without the great lug dogging my every step. But that's still no reason to sit here feeling sorry for myself... is it?
The answer to that question was most definitely 'no'.
Bodie's absenteeism was scarcely worth the mentioning. Logically, Doyle should be glad of some time alone -- the occasions were increasingly rare of late.
Make the most of it, Ray. Morning'll find him back on your doorstep bumming marmalade, toast and tea. You need this breathing space.
"Right!" He nodded, rather pleased with this line of reasoning.
But still the vision of Bodie and Sue together returned to haunt him: Susan's head flung back, feverishly tossing from side to side; her hips arching up to meet Bodie's powerful, rhythmic thrusts; her nails raking down his muscled shoulders and buttocks; her lips moving in a constant, moaning litany of 'Bodie... Bodie...'
"Bodie..." Doyle's tight-clenched fingers clenched a little tighter, snapping the handle free of the heavy-glass stein. He stared at the blood welling from his injured thumb, finding himself immune to that pain as the emptiness of the night wrapped itself about him.
Bodie moved with the cry: crouch to shoulder roll and back to crouch again, all three positions part and parcel of one smooth flex of muscles; the graceful maneuver depositing him in the dubious shelter of a reeking rubbish pile. A whisper of sound, and Ray Doyle was there beside him: stretched flat out on his stomach, dirt-encrusted clothing nicely camouflaged by the surrounding mess.
A curly head lifted, white teeth bared in a grimace of distaste and macabre humour. "Fancy meeting you here," he drawled.
Bodie brushed an unidentifiable smudge off the tip of his partner's nose. "What kept you?" he complained. "Take time out for tea?"
"Time out to clean off me shoe," Doyle grumbled. "Farmer Brown's cows ain't housebroken, mate."
"Ah, well, it makes the grass to grow." Bodie's backchat was automatic and absentminded. Full attention was directed to mapping out the lie of the land and determining their elusive quarry's current location.
"Where are they?" Doyle shifted to his knees, a warm hand resting on Bodie's shoulder as he leaned forward to enjoy the view. "You sure they came this way?"
A bullet whined close by: both dark-haired and auburn-curled man flopped prone.
"I'm sure," Bodie calmly replied. "They've scattered: there, there and there."
Doyle's gaze followed the stabbing finger: graveyard; opposing alcoves of a massive, ancient hall...
"Number four is anyone's guess. He's the one that worries me."
"Mmm." Doyle's vigilant glance swept to and fro. "I think this place has more than bats in its belfry," he noted finally.
Bodie's study turned to the decrepit tower in question: a shadow flickered across a rusting bell. "Wonderful," he growled. "Hell's acre to leap in a single bound, and us caught in a crossfire."
"Nasty. No man's land."
"Someone has to cross it."
"Isn't that what Tommy said?"
"Mmm," Bodie grunted noncommittally. For good or bad, beyond sorrow or relief for his passing, Tommy McKay was dead and buried. It was the present, the living that concerned Bodie now.
Narrowed eyes scanned the oblong courtyard framed by long-abandoned church to the west, monastery and various outbuildings to the north, stone wall protected, vault and monument littered cemetery to the south. Behind their smelly refuge was yet another bramble-covered wall, rocks tumbled from its high reaches. Beyond that barrier lay a twisting, dirt road and open fields.
"Lovely neighborhood, Ray."
"At least we've no nosy neighbors."
Bodie nodded. A hostage situation. That was all they needed to make a bad day worse.
Little chance of that, though. Their isolation was complete: the nearest town nine miles to the northwest; even the nearest farmhouse two miles distant. The abbey itself was centuries deep in ruin: the raging controversy regarding tearing it down or renovating it for museum purposes a mere ten years in duration. It was likely to be ten more before the dithering fools in council so much as agreed on what, precisely, the real issue was. Meanwhile, the locals blithely continued their illegal treatment of the 'historic site' as a refuse dump. Meanwhile, not all the rats attracted to Locksworth Abbey were of the four-legged variety. Terrorists and drug dealers considered it a home away from home. Exterminate one lot, and in another ran. CI5 had lost a good man here less than a month ago.
Bodie frowned. Had he a few hundred sticks of dynamite at hand, he would gladly put an end to silly, life-costing debates. But denied that attractive option, their requested back-up a good three-quarters of an hour away, outnumbered and outarmed by the gun runners they pursued, pinned down one hundred plus yards from the nearest door, there didn't appear to be a great deal they could do except dodge bullets and wait. That they might retreat and wait in comparative safety never crossed his mind.
"I've got an idea," Doyle declared.
"Thought I smelled rubber burning. Wasn't sure if it was you or this bed of roses."
"Who's in the most vulnerable position?"
"Besides us, you mean?" Bodie ignored the pained expression that flickered across his partner's face. "The graveyard groupie," he said.
"Right. And how would you like to change the odds in this little gamble? Three to two tickle your fancy? It does mine."
"Has a rather nice ring to it," Bodie admitted. "But will his mommy let us go over to play?"
"If we crawl along the fence to that crumbled bit," Doyle gestured, "we're home free. Doesn't matter what Frankenstein's mates have for artillery, the angle's all wrong to hit us there. By the time they shift about, Frankie'll be history."
"Unless he's lurking at the gap, hoping for us to poke our noses through."
"He's not. He's over by that crypt."
"Then what are we waiting for?"
It was almost too easy; their prey scarcely knew what hit him. One moment he was slinking from stone to stone, trying to edge himself closer to where he believed Bodie and Doyle still to be, and then a crunch of gravel sounded behind him: he spun, Sterling L2A3 sub machine gun's staccato outburst indiscriminately spraying an arc of death at two rapidly advancing shadows. A single shot cracked in reply. A crimson blossom unfolded on a white-shirted breast.
"R.I.P.," Bodie muttered, prodding the sprawled, lifeless body with an unsympathetic toe. Sightless eyes contemplated a marble angel's face. Somehow, Bodie doubted the two would ever have the occasion to meet in some celestial sphere. "Nice shot, Ray." He holstered his pistol, stooping to appropriate the dead man's heavier arms in its stead. "Nice," he mused, caressing a 9.2 kg Type D Browning automatic rifle with evident pleasure and approval, but passing it on for Doyle's use without hesitation or regret. The Sterling he retained for himself, efficiently inspecting its magazine to ensure it was fully loaded, and slinging the thoughtfully provided ammo belt across his left shoulder. "See you later," he said.
The angry shout froze him in midstep. He turned: defiant, unrepentant.
"Where the hell do you think you're going?"
"One down, three to go," he stated the obvious. "If we continue to travel down this wall to that gate, we'll come out less than fifteen yards from the church's main door. There's a connecting passage to the monastery, right? So you keep our friends occupied like a good lad, old son. I'll slip in behind and --"
"Why you?" Doyle demanded, shoving the rifle at his recalcitrant partner and making a determined grab for the sub-machine gun clenched in a white-knuckled hand.
Bodie backed away from the attempted coup.
"Why can't we both go in?"
"And who's to watch our three musketeers prance about, then? Who's to cry fair warning for a game of blind man's bluff? Procedure, Raymond. One goes in, one stays put. You know that, so let's press on with our advantage, hmm?" Bodie suggested reasonably. "With the power that baby packs -- an effective range of fourteen hundred meters -- you should be able to pick 'em off like they were sitting ducks."
"Or they might make a run for it and stampede all over you. I want the inside job. You back me."
"And who's the better shot, eh?"
"Not with this, I'm not. The bloody thing weighs more than I do. You try lugging it around."
"I have in my day. Builds character. Will do you the world of good. Now, come on, let's move."
"We don't have time to spare, Ray."
"Bodie..." The chin was set, the green eyes stubborn and coldly furious. "I'm going in. Give me the Sterling."
"No." Bodie's own anger bubbled to the surface. "It's my plan. We do it my way."
"No, I won't--"
"Oh, but you will. I insist. N'derfi," Bodie proclaimed.
Silence, utter silence, as the blaze of fury in Doyle's eyes slowly faded to a smouldering ember's glow...
A barrage of gunfire splattered chips of marble and granite: their presence was noted; their enemies' shift to more strategic posts completed. Rough hands dragged Doyle down, Bodie's greater weight rolling both men into the shelter of a sagging wall.
"I shouldn't have to tell you your job, Ray," Bodie scolded, wriggling free of their tangle of arms and legs. "We aren't children arguing over a new toy. We both know what has to be done -- we've both done it a hundred times."
Sensing a lull in enemy fire, he motioned towards the cemetery gate, snaking for the target on his stomach. A still silent Doyle crept in his wake, unwieldy Browning slung across his back. The dance of death went on: bob and weave, sprint and roll; machine gun blasts and rifles' bark the music which set their pace. Somehow, despite numerous gaps in the fence and several close calls, they achieved their goal unscathed: the church door lay but a few yards ahead.
"Right, I'll make a dash for it. Cover me, Ray."
Breath woofed from Bodie's lungs as Doyle's full weight plopped full length down upon him.
"What the hell?" he gasped. "Get off me, you damned fool! You trying to get us both killed?"
Bullet-shattered fragments of the gatepost flew. Bodie's sputters died as he found his face forced to the ground, his head held and protected by the cradle of Doyle's arms. In the hush that replaced the wild salvo, the blanketing figure retreated to the safety of the tilting wall. Spitting sand and mildewed leaves, Bodie quickly followed suit and propped himself up against the solid, reassuring, stone barricade. Blue eyes met his blank-faced companion's level stare.
"You're really fighting me on this one, aren't you, sunshine?" The observation was gentle-toned, in striking contrast to his earlier bristling exasperation. "Why?"
Silence and the unmistakable despair flooding widely dilated eyes provided the only answer to his question.
Popular theory stated that there were certain beliefs, certain deeply ingrained moral standards and taboos that a hypnotized subject would not break -- could not be made to break. Push too hard, too far, and a sudden snap to awareness would destroy the master's spell. Old Doc had maintained that theory to be true. All evidence suggested Ray Doyle was reaching such an impasse now. Control was slipping from Bodie's grasp. But why? Why did Doyle's feelings run so deep on this particular bone of contention?
There was one possible motive...
The steady rumble of man-made thunder faded from conscious thought. The gaze Bodie cast on the agitated figure opposing him was full of dawning wonderment; the need to know the truth of his mad flash of insight frightening in its intensity.
"Why?" he repeated, the word a bare whisper of sound. "Answer me, Ray," he commanded when stubborn silence remained his sole reply.
"I -- I don't want to see you hurt. Couldn't stand that, Bodie. Couldn't bear to lose you. I -- I --" The hesitant explanation faltered; lashes lowered, veiling tormented, overly bright eyes.
"And what makes you indestructible, eh?" Bodie countered shakily. "Think bullets won't slice you in two? Think I'd like to hang about and pick up your pieces in some god-forsaken hall? Do you really think decoy duty is that much safer? Those bastards are good. If I should come back and find you dead... well... dammit, Ray, I--"
Violent gunfire interrupted further heart-to-heart chitchat. Bodie abruptly assumed a no-nonsense, all-business persona. "Cover me. Let's do the job we're paid to do."
"I mean it, Ray! Please? It-- it's important to me."
Doyle nodded in reluctant agreement. He moved into position, rifle barrel braced against a tumbled section of the wall.
"Right, then, I'm off. Oh--" Bodie paused, grinned a brash grin. "I love you, too. But let's just forget that wee little idiosyncrasy, shall we? Wake up, Ray." He was gone before Doyle had time to fully assimilate the directive.
The man in the church tower was the first to fall, his incaution in moving himself about, and his ignorance of Doyle's borrowed armament resulting in a swift, relatively painless death. The two remaining opponents, smarter or luckier than their fallen comrades, put up more of a fight. A nerve wracking cat-and-mouse chase ensued; the periodic whine of rifle fire and angry shouts echoing within high-vaulted corridors.
Doyle took potshots at half-glimpsed targets: damning the awkward angle... damning his partner... damning himself...
And then the brisk chatter of Bodie's sub-machine gun finally revealed his presence. Confirmation of his mission's success was quick to follow: a screaming figure plummeted from a third storey window to the cobblestoned courtyard below. The immediate, curious poking of a blond head out of a second level aperture resulted in a warm corpse draped across the sill, courtesy of the Browning.
Doyle sighed, releasing a breath he didn't even know he'd been holding. It was over. "Chalk one up for the good guys," he muttered gratefully.
A wary Bodie appeared in the shattered third floor window. Doyle smiled, envisioning the familiar, questioningly crooked brow that distance did not permit him to actually see. Stiff and weary, he rose from concealment, perversely enjoying Bodie's start of dismay at his apparent indiscretion. A triumphant thumbs-up signal was answered with the impolite, jabbing gesture an upthrust finger made. Laughing like a fool, Doyle sauntered forward to meet his partner halfway.
By the time George Cowley arrived on the scene -- royally cursing slow traffic and flat tires, a sadly harassed Murphy and Jax in tow -- the war was long since ended. Only the aftermath of its passage remained: blood and bodies to be removed; an arms cache to impound and inventory; two missing agents to track down...
A reverent hush that spoke of the grave was his only reply -- or was it? An abrupt, inhuman caterwauling echoed through the ruins. Guns drawn and teeth set on edge, the three latecomers bravely traced the discord around to the monastery's northern side. Expecting a torture chamber scenario worthy of the Spanish Inquisition, Cowley peered through a propped-open root cellar door: 'My Buddy', in imperfect stereo, floated up from the clammy, dark abode of Farmer Brown's recently discovered moonshine still.
Above the ceaseless roar of multilingual conversations, the word rang bell-tone clear. Corresponding bells of dire warning jangled in a horrified, dark-haired agent's disbelieving mind.
Bodie emitted a tiny, squawking gurgle, George Cowley's verbose preoccupation with security measures abruptly falling upon deaf ears as Bodie's undivided attention spiralled down to focus on his unfortunately out-of-reach friend.
Midway down a large and ornate refreshments table, separated from his partner by a human tide's ebb and flow, Ray Doyle stood nose to nose with a turban- and caftan-clad figure. Glumly matching a fat and jolly face with memorized photographs and bios-in-brief, Bodie quickly established the tall, dark stranger to be none other than Amar Kyoliki Masaba: the extremely extroverted ambassador of a small Sudanese province.
Inevitably, the rumour that this particular gentleman would not be in attendance tonight had proven untrue.
Inevitably, the party's currents had swept the Hamitic-speaking, walking disaster zone and Doyle together.
Inevitably, the Hausa's brand of Hamitic was disconcertingly similar to that bastardized dialect Bodie had encountered in his mercenary days.
I might have known... I should have been prepared...
It was a little late for hindsight and self-recriminations now. The damage was done. The 'impossible' had happened. And all hell was very likely about to break loose.
I swear, sometimes I think Ray deliberately goes looking for trouble...
Briefly, Bodie toyed with the idea of silencing his partner's garrulous companion with a well-placed bullet. Equally briefly, he contemplated the advantages of suicide... or the possible murder of one Raymond Doyle...
"Is there a problem, 3.7?" Cowley inquired, sharp eyes tracing the line of the younger man's shell-shocked gaze.
Apart from the fact that Doyle was looking remarkably well attired and respectfully attentive, he saw nothing amiss in the situation. This final, scheduled event of the United Nations Peace Conference was proceeding 'quietly' on course -- in other words, organized bedlam was the order of the day. Differences temporarily set aside, Britain's oftentimes volatile guests were now happily engaged in that sort of gala affair that is so near and dear to the ambassadorial heart. Only a few hours remained before the seemingly innumerable representatives of sundry nations could be packed off to their respective destinations, and all Britain -- especially the coordinated CI5, MI5 and MI6 security contingent -- could breathe a collective sigh of relief for another potential crisis safely passed. Indeed, save for a schoolboy scuffle between two proponents of opposing ideologies, the conference had been exceptionally smooth running. He fervently prayed it would remain so. But Bodie's mysterious behavior brooked ill for that fond hope.
Cowley's cursory inspection of 3.7's curly-haired counterpart intensified by several degrees. "Is there a problem?" he repeated somewhat testily.
Bodie ignored the question and the speaker. Helpless to prevent it, he watched as Doyle adopted that blank-faced, glassy-eyed stare Bodie knew so very well. Oh God, he moaned, not now, Ray! Christ, this is no time for your brain to slip into neutral...
"Bodie? Are you all right, lad?"
Cowley's hand was on his arm; the dark blue eyes were overly curious and openly concerned. Bodie forced a wooden smile. "Yes, sir," he managed on the second attempt to get the words out. "I'm fine -- everything's under control. But if you'll excuse me, sir, I believe Ray would like a word with me."
Cowley nodded. Half of being a good team was the ability to read your partner's signals. The better the team, the more subtle their communion. That he had failed to pick up on Doyle's message was but one more indication that the 3.7/4.5 pairing rated amongst CI5's best.
"Off with you, then," he allowed. "Mind, keep me informed if..." His voice trailed into silence. He was talking to himself. Bodie was already moving off as quickly as possible.
"Ah, there you are, George." A deep, Scottish burr distracted Cowley from his disapproving study of Bodie's less than politic elbowing aside of elegantly clad obstructions. "They told me you were here. My God, man, how many years has it been?"
"Malcolm!" Genuine warmth coloured the greeting of his old friend. Bodie's antics temporarily forgotten, Cowley indulged in shared memories of 'the good old days', thus missing the further eccentricities of a very disturbed young man.
Bodie arrived at his destination in a breathless, panicky state. Beyond devising an elaborate ruse, time being of the essence, he simply stepped between Doyle and Masaba: bumping his partner to one side in the process, while simultaneously inserting his hand into the startled ambassador's, pumping that dignitary's arm up and down almost as vigorously as Masaba had been verbally manhandling Doyle.
"I can't begin to tell you how honoured I am to meet you, sir," Bodie babbled. "Spent some time in Khartoum a few years back. Lovely city. Lovely people. Lovely weather."
The frown disappeared from Masaba's brow. Not understanding a word of English, but recognizing the bonhomie of a kindred spirit, enthusiastically he returned Bodie's hearty handshake: a broad smile splitting his chubby face and a god-awful string of gibberish harmonizing with Bodie's desperate stream of social inanities.
Heads began to turn. Fingers were discreetly pointed, eyebrows raised.
Bodie smiled until he thought his face would crack from the strain. His colour was high, cheeks flushed scarlet with profound embarrassment at being the centre of such an awkward scene.
"N'derfi," he mumbled into a brief lull in the 'conversation', hoping to gain Doyle's attention.
Masaba chortled at this kind attempt to communicate in his native language. Drawing a deep breath, he launched himself back into a happy, Hamitic spiel.
"N'derfi," Bodie agreed unhappily. "Hands across the waters. Up periscope. Long live the queen." He risked a glance at his partner.
Doyle had pricked up his ears in response to the familiar n'derfi signal and was now concentrating on Bodie rather than the amiable instigator of this unpremeditated spell.
Not entirely certain it would improve matters, but wanting Doyle set free of his trance before Masaba could request that he dance on a tabletop, drop his pants, or steal the Crown Jewels, Bodie whispered a frantic, "Wake up, Ray!"
Doyle awoke to the strange vision of an obviously distraught Bodie and a puzzled but pleased black stranger shaking hands and gabbling away to each other in their separate and different tongues. The ambassador's prattle was totally incomprehensible -- not that Bodie was making too much sense, if the truth were told.
Doyle snickered, vastly amused by the odd tête-à-tête.
Less cause for amusement was found in the observation that an irate George Cowley was advancing on their little gathering with all the warm, welcome charm of a massive thunderhead looming on the horizon.
Doyle nudged Bodie's arm; Bodie's beet-red complexion abruptly paled to the colour of whey.
"Gentlemen," Cowley growled, "may I ask what you think you are doing? This is scarcely the circumspect surveillance I requested."
Bodie wrenched his fingers free of Masaba's tight clasp. "Ambassador Masaba," he said with the regal flourish of a trembling hand, "may I present George Cowley, head of CI5..."
Masaba cooperatively turned a toothy grin on the dour Scot, seized him by the hand, and recommenced his nonstop chatter with Cowley hard pressed to get a word in edgewise, never mind escaping the flow.
Bodie seized the moment to grab Doyle and make good his own escape. "I'd like a word with you, Ray," he muttered, forcibly dragging his bemused and bewildered partner from the scene of the crime. "In private, if you please."
"Bodie," Doyle protested. "What the hell--"
"N'derfi, dammit!" Bodie hissed. "Move your ass, 4.5."
Their escape velocity mounted as the again somnolent Doyle ceased to drag his heels and meekly permitted himself to be towed out through a conveniently located patio door. Hand in hand, they strayed deeper into a blissfully deserted, dark-shadowed garden. Not until a cricket's cheerful chirping replaced the party's discord, did Bodie finally stumble to a halt.
"Bloody hell!" he breathed. That seemed to sum up the evening very nicely. He sighed a heartfelt, weary sigh.
A cool breeze fanned Bodie's heated cheeks. The scent of jasmine and roses was heavy on the air. A crescent moon was rising, framed by a sea of glittering stars. And, somehow.... somehow, the warm fingers he had gripped in a ruthless hand had managed to become entwined with his own in a loving clasp...
Bodie dropped the hand.
"I don't know what I'm going to do with you, Ray," he said. "And I don't even want to think about what The Cow will have to say to me."
He stared at his unresponsive partner. Face as tranquil and still as a marble statue's, Doyle's unblinking eyes neither met nor avoided his stare. Bodie grimaced frustratedly.
"It's all your fault, you know," he accused with a fine disregard for the truth. "Glassy eyes and barking dogs are all well and good, but there has to be more to life than that." He gave the thought a long moment's quiet contemplation. "I didn't expect tonight to happen... but it did. There's no guarantee it won't happen again... but I'm not sending you back into the fray unarmed this time, old son. You're my partner, and you're going to give me the back-up I need. I think it's high time for you to exercise a few social graces -- you know, the little niceties your poor Mum tried to teach you? If you're introduced to a bloke when you're in a trance, for Crissakes reach out and shake his hand. Give him a 'how do you do'. Smile. If he says it's a fine day, agree -- or maybe mention that the forecast is rain tomorrow, and today's good luck won't hold. Carry your own half of the bloody conversation. Make appropriate responses. Look alive. Don't just stand there like the village idiot! Do you know what I'm saying, Ray? Do you understand what it is I want you to do?"
"Right," Bodie said doubtfully. "Let's give it a trial run just to be sure, shall we? Did you catch Saturday's football match?"
"Wales at Belgium?"
A question??? Bodie's eyebrow rocketed in surprise. "Yes," he said warily, uncertain of the new path this game had taken and mistrustful of the lively glint in Doyle's eye.
"No," Doyle replied easily. "I had to work. Don't you remember, Bodie? Cowley sent me off to--"
"Shut up, Ray."
Doyle obediently shut his mouth and patiently awaited further instructions.
"Would you care for a glass of sherry?"
"No, thank you," Doyle politely refused. "But if you happen to have some--"
"Shut up, Ray!"
Personal preferences, for heaven's sake? I think I've created a monster! "Ray," Bodie said slowly, "I have a glass of sherry in my hand." He held up his empty hand. "Do you see it, Ray?"
"Good. I am now going to pass you that glass. It's sherry. You don't like sherry. But I want you to drink it." He brushed his hand against his partner's: Doyle's fingers curled around an invisible glass; he 'drank' the imaginary sherry, his face expressing a very real distaste for the too-sweet drink.
Doyle responded to that smile with a carefree urchin's grin.
Why the hell have I been wasting my time with clucking chickens? Bodie mused. I've been neglecting the full potential of this set-up. Never bothered to experiment with the 'tell me true' aspect. Was scared giving him too much leeway would break my power over the slippery sod. But control is still mine. I've simply removed an inhibiting factor. He's just as obedient -- and twice as entertaining. This new trick might prove to be the best one yet!
"Ray," he said, preening himself a little and deliberately courting trouble, "you haven't told me what you think of my sartorial elegance."
Green eyes travelled the self-assured figure from polished shoes to neatly barbered crown.
"Well?" Bodie demanded impatiently, a bit unnerved by the silent, intense scrutiny. "What's the verdict?"
"You've set all the birds to twittering tonight," Doyle said. "S'disgusting the way they go on about the tall, dark, handsome stranger."
"And what do you think?" Bodie pressed.
"I think I was right. You do look pretty nifty in evening togs."
Bodie swallowed, absurdly touched by this compliment. "You don't look half bad yourself," he offered shyly. "Your tie is crooked, mind." He fussed with the knot, clumsily setting things to rights. "C'mon, 4.5, let's get back in there before Cowley--"
"--finds you lallygagging about instead of being on the job," a droll, Scottish voice concluded.
"Lallygagging? Us, sir?" Bodie valiantly blustered, ruing the day he was born. "Uh no, not us. Never! We were just... ah... patrolling the outer perimeters. Right, Doyle?" He poked his silent companion, whispered in a quick aside, "Wake up, Ray."
Doyle blinked and nodded a hasty assent. "That's right, sir. I thought I saw movement down by that fence. Turned out to be a cat, though."
"Och, well, a cat! Then there's no further need to be standing out here, is there, 4.5?"
"Back inside with you, then. You're paid to chaperone our guests -- you can tryst with Bodie on your own time."
"Good lad. It pays to check out all the contingencies."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
"Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full!" Bodie chanted giddily as he began to sidle after his departing partner.
"Not so fast, 3.7," Cowley murmured in a deceptively mild tone. "I'd like a word with you. It would seem Ambassador Masaba has specifically requested that you be assigned to escort him to Heathrow Airport..."
Bodie stifled a moan.
Another late night session: another in the continuing series of private floor shows featuring the considerable, diverse talents of a totally uninhibited 'star'.
Have to give the devil his due, Bodie mused, comfortably sprawled in Ray's over-stuffed armchair. He's good, damned good. A bloody natural at it.
Doyle twisted, postured and gestured in easy synchronization to the music's raucous beat...
Should see if I can book him at the Liverpool Playhouse, the birds'd flip over him. He has Elvis down pat, especially the teddy bear bit -- looks as cuddly as a teddy himself. His Mick Jagger could use a little work, though. He has all the right moves -- and then some -- but something's missing. Something... Ah-ha, got it! "More lip," he shouted. "Give us more lip, me lad!"
Doyle obliged with an outrageous pout, all the while belting out his song in perfect harmony with his Rolling Stone back-up band:
"If you start me upGonna slip a disk or bust a seam in your britches, Bodie sighed, more than slightly mesmerized by Doyle's wildly gyrating hips. If I tried that, I'd put myself in traction for a month. The randy little bugger must be double-jointed.
If you start me up I'll never stop
If you start me up
If you start me up I'll never stop
I've been running hot
You got me tickin' gonna blow my top..."
In the rasping between-song pause which followed Bodie's hearty applause and earsplitting wolf whistles, a piercing trill finally established itself as the telephone's ring. Bodie leaned over to turn down the stereo.
"Take five," he directed his breathless host, hauling himself out of his chair. "God grant that ain't Cowley. But in case it is, we can't have you breathing heavy in his ear, can we?"
"Neighbours, most like," Doyle panted, gratefully dropping into the vacated seat.
"Keep your fingers crossed." Bodie picked up the phone, his eyes rolling ceiling-wards as Doyle obediently crossed his fingers. " 'Lo?" he said. The receiver retreated a cautious distance from his ear, a woman's angry cackle filling the room. Before his conciliatory "yes ma'am" died, the connection was severed. Doyle's phone clattered back to its hook. "What took the old bitch so long to complain?" he grumbled.
"Probably couldn't hear us over her own racket. She has three teen-aged boys, four cats and a schnauzer. Takes 'em awhile to settle down, you know."
"Ah..." Bodie nodded sympathetically. "I pity her husband."
" 'e skipped off for parts unknown seven years back."
"Yeah. Can't say I'll be sorry to shift about to a new flat come this term's end."
"Mmm... well... I hate to admit it, but the old biddy did make a good point just now: it's getting on." Bodie yawned, diligently returning records to sleeves and tucking the stereo away for the night. "S'almost one thirty." A second yawn split his face. "So convince me to crawl in your bed, will you, sunshine?" Yet a third yawn. "Wake up, Ray."
Silence claimed the space thoughtfully provided for the complacently anticipated invitation. Bodie's questioning glance sought out his friend, minor puzzlement transforming to open wonder. Bedroom eyes. He had been known to employ them on occasion. He had seen his partner make good use of that god-given ability. But he had never thought to find himself on the receiving end of Ray Doyle's full-force, come-hither stare.
'Convince me to crawl in your bed.' A liberal statement if he'd ever made one. Too liberal by half. Too literally taken. And too late to do much about it now.
'If you start me up', a ghostly echo taunted.
Blue eyes observed Doyle's smooth advance with the fine detachment of a rabbit transfixed by a cobra's glare.
"Rather late to send you packing," Doyle said, "but my couch is hell to sleep on. Neither of us would be worth tuppence after spending the night there -- and The Cow does want us bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for tomorrow's fitness run." A lingering, caressing sweep of green eyes down Bodie's trim form and back up to his face again; an approving tilt of the head; an angelic, paradise-promising smile...
Bodie felt his knees turn to water.
"Let's not pretend," Doyle whispered. "I could tell you the bed is wide and there's plenty of room for two. I could say I won't lay a finger on you, that your virtue is safe with me." Gentle hands settled on Bodie's shoulders, drawing the taller man a step nearer to temptation. "I could give any number of reasons, tell any number of lies," he continued, "but the simple truth of the matter is that I just want you in my bed. I want you, Bodie. I'd very much like to make love with you."
"N'derfi!" The word escaped the startled man without conscious volition. "Oh, God," Bodie moaned. He watched the fading glow in the bewitching eyes; found himself mourning the loss. "No lies? Ray, it's all a lie. A farce. But--"
With an armful of seductive, warm flesh pressed the full length of his body, there was damned little room for regret regarding his choice of wording. Surprise was equally swift to depart. And there was no denying the fact that he was responding to the unexpected offer he had just received: his breathing quickened; blood pounded through his veins; desperate longing, curiosity and excitement blended into a heady mixture more intoxicating by far than the sweetest wine.
"Oh, shit," he sighed, drawing his close-pressed partner closer still; damning the rights and wrongs of the situation, surrendering to his feelings. Hungry lips nuzzled the firm line of an upturned chin, strayed to a curl-covered ear. "What you have in mind is more than fine with me. Take me to bed. Make love to me, Ray. I think I've wanted you to do that for a long, long time. I think--"
Doyle's head turned, the quick press of his mouth to Bodie's preventing further speech, smothering further thought. The kiss deepened: lips parting, tongues wetly dueling. Hands explored familiar territory made new with the advent of desire: stroking, fondling, testing, teasing. Discarded clothing dropped to the floor; naked, passion-entwined bodies swiftly followed suit.
"Bed, Ray," Bodie gasped, tearing his hand free of caressing Doyle's bottom long enough to remove shoulder holsters and guns from the small of his back.
"Bed," he repeated more firmly some moments later, surfacing for air from the depths of a soul-deep kiss.
Doyle nodded in docile agreement; leaned in for a kiss to tide them over on their journey.
Somehow, it was well past three o'clock before they actually got around to stumbling off to bed...
"I can't fight this feeling any longer..."Curious eyes blinked open, seeking the pleasant-voiced intruder; swiftly re-closing as an overly zealous sunbeam peeked into bemused, blue depths.
"What started out as friendship has grown stronger..."Bodie smiled: approving of the sentiment and the song; floating with the music; letting random phrases fade in and out of focus as his own thoughts strayed from last night to new day. Fantasy and reality were one. A warm, heavy presence lay draped across his breast. Soft, curly hair tickled his cheek. Deep, even breaths puffed moistly upon his neck. Steady, measured heartbeats thumped against his rib cage. A slack-fingered hand rested possessively on his left thigh...
"Ray," Bodie whispered, heart brimming with a peace unlike any he had ever known. "Cover me, partner," he chuckled. Even in sleep you reach out to me... Don't know why that should come as a surprise, it's been the way of things for some time, hasn't it? What took us so long to come to this moment? It was inevitable... meant to be...
"Cause I feel so secureTruth. Words from his heart. How did the singer know? Was there a Raymond Doyle in his life too? Someone half as special? Someone whose trust and understanding had led a cynical, lonely man from self-sufficient solitude to friendship to love?
When we're together
You give my life direction
You make everything so clear
And even as I wander
I'm keeping you in sight
You're a candle in the window
On a cold, dark winter's night...'"
And that it was love, Bodie didn't doubt.
As wonderful -- as bloody fantastic -- as sex with you is, Ray, it isn't the half of it...
"Baby, I can't fight this feeling anymore.""Amen to that!" Bodie sighed contentedly. Insanely, deliriously happy. Bloody besotted. Aware that he'd finally attained the very heights of stupidity: he'd permitted himself to care for another above self. He was breaking a hard-learned rule; leaving himself open, totally vulnerable. And he didn't give a tinker's damn that the abrupt, turn-about change of status had occurred!
No one in the world I'd rather have in my arms. No place in the universe I'd rather be. Nothing more I'd ask of life than this.
A gentle hand brushed tumbled curls aside; smile-curved lips deposited a chaste kiss on Doyle's forehead.
"Mmmmm," Doyle murmured: stirring but not waking; nestling closer to his bedmate's reassuring warmth; instinctively responding to the touch with a delicious nuzzling of Bodie's throat.
Big Ben's somber tones replaced a bird's shrill reminder that Duracell batteries lasted longer. "Good morning," a bored voice intoned. "The time is six-oh-one, and this is David Ashby bringing you--"
Bodie's quick silencing of the radio put paid to whatever juicy tidbits of information ol' Dave might have on hand. Pap for the public, he snorted contemptuously. All too soon, he'd be privy to the painfully detailed facts. That moment could wait. Right now, he had better ideas to occupy his mind.
"Bodie?" Doyle mumbled. "Time to get up? The Cow'll be pissed if we're late again."
"Shh, shh," Bodie soothed, gently massaging hands encouraging a return to slumber. "Forget him for now, Ray. Forget everything. We set the alarm wrong. Go back to sleep, 4.5, you look knackered."
Easing free of a sleepily protesting Doyle, Bodie stole from bed and room, detouring to collect his trousers from the back of a chair, and hopping into them as he made a beeline for the far end of the flat.
It took the better part of twenty minutes, several slices of bread burnt beyond recognition, and a drawer-pinched thumb before he triumphantly emerged from a ransacked kitchen, but Bodie considered the time well spent, the effort and physical suffering well worth the end results.
"What?" he cried, barging back into the silent bedroom with scant regard for his earlier, tender solicitude. "Not still lazing about, are you?" Carefully balancing his burden, he kicked the bed.
Doyle's immediate response to this rude attack was truly impressive. Wild flailings sent covers flying, revealing a fascinating expanse of naked flesh. Wide, unfocused eyes bulged in a sleep-flushed face. A hand's automatic grope for the gun that should have been on the nightstand came up armed with a torch instead.
"Wake up, Ray," Bodie snickered, vastly amused and more than a wee bit turned on by the tempestuous display. "Lookie what I've brought you." He dipped the tray to Doyle's eye level, the maneuver coincidentally affording him an improved view of local attractions. "Mmmm, isn't that nice?" he enthused, not specifying what, precisely, he found worthy of the compliment.
A modest hand discreetly twitched artfully tossed sheets a little higher. "Hullo," Doyle greeted mildly, raising an inquiring brow. "Who are you?"
"What?" Bodie gasped. "Who am I?"
Of all the mornings after and strange awakenings in strange places that he'd ever known, this once idyllic morning was quite suddenly and most probably the worst of his life. Angry recriminations or sweet reaffirmations of love he could have handled with debonair wit and good grace. Doyle's amnesia was totally outside the realm of even his vast experience. What possible cause? What horrid jest of a jealous god?
"Cover all the bases as you go. Don't leave your patient open to psychic scarring. Fill the vacuum you've created--"
Oh, God, I left the link open. He's been in a trance all night. Christ, what's that -- what have I -- done to him?
"Who am I?" he repeated helplessly. "Ray--"
"Not the Bodie I know," Doyle continued, affectionate teasing -- no more and no less -- dancing in his eyes. "Breakfast in bed?" He peered at the tray. "An edible breakfast," he appended wonderingly. "Okay, Bodie, what gives? It's not me birthday, I'm not on me deathbed, and you ain't me mum... So what's the occasion? What did you break?"
My heart, Bodie admitted miserably. "Nothing," he said. Numb, aching with loss, he met his partner's innocent, friendly stare with a sickly smile. "Just felt like fixin' breakfast is all," he muttered, setting the tray on the bed before it crashed to the floor with all his broken hopes and dreams.
Not psychic scarring, then, he mused. Ray knows me -- he's his usual, obnoxious self. It's simply as if last night never happened. But how the hell could he possibly forget--
"The Cow'll be pissed if we're late again."
"Shh, shh... Forget him for now, Ray. Forget everything."
"Wake up, Ray."
Bodie's eyes squeezed shut; he swallowed dryly.
Forget the love, forget the loving. Forget the incredible pleasure they had shared. Forget... while he remembered. While he remained lost in the sweet memory: the taste of Doyle's semen lingering on his tongue; the scent of Doyle's body clinging to his flesh...
He had shouted his love aloud last night; had been granted an ardent reply.
Only silence answered now.
"God forgive you if you abuse your power. God forgive you, I never will -- and, mark my words, the day'll come when you won't forgive yourself."
That day had arrived with a vengeance.
It had all been a dream, not a moment of truth in the entire affair.
No. One irrevocable truth remained: William Andrew Philip Bodie loved Raymond Doyle. Somewhere between making love and being made love to, that fact had crystallized with a brilliance that could not be denied. And he had no wish to deny it! His sin was not in loving, but in pretending that Doyle loved him in the same way.
Ray likes me-- loves me as a brother. No more than that. Never more. He just picked up on my subconscious desire -- brought it out in the open. He didn't know what he was doing! He didn't really want me... but, dear god, how I wanted him! I still want him! But do I want him enough to continue to take advantage of his vulnerable state -- and damn the cost? Enough to fabricate a cotton-candy textured fantasy? Enough to live a lie?
A word could make the lie come true. A word could resurrect the magic. He could --
No! Take your loss like a man! Salvage what you can of your self-respect. Ray was yours for a night. That's more than you ever expected. It's more than you deserve. Be thankful your carelessness has only cost you your lover, not your friend. Next time might not see you that lucky.
True. What if Doyle had applied the same carte blanche to this morning's directive that he'd given last night's suggestion of bed? Bodie shivered at the thought. The game had gone too far. He was ending it here and now.
"Eat your breakfast, Ray," he ordered, sensing a worried gaze upon him. He forced open his eyes. "Eat up, it's getting cold." Face an expressionless mask, pace as dignified as possible given his impulse to flee the room posthaste, Bodie commenced a prudent retreat.
"Hey, aren't you going to join me?" Doyle waved a piece of toast and patted the edge of the bed invitingly.
"Not hungry. Get a move on, Ray, we'll be late."
The bathroom door slammed on whatever reply Doyle was about to make. Green eyes transferred their thoughtful study to the generously laden tray: two steaming mugs of coffee; two heaping platters of scrambled eggs; two neatly serrated grapefruit; two knives, two forks, two napkins, two spoons; a Leaning Tower of Pisa stack of toast...
Not hungry? Doyle mused. Like hell! What the fuck just happened here? Never thought I'd live to see the day that anything spoiled his appetite...
Bodie's record breaking, all-time low score in the fitness run went politely unremarked upon by those witnesses present at the inglorious affair. Cloaked in cavalier silence, he stalked off to the showers and shortly thereafter disappeared from CI5 domain. If he had his R/T with him, he did not answer his calls. George Cowley was not amused.
Aside from a half hour tirade on the subject of certain agents' callous disregard for rules in general and punctuality in particular, it was business as usual Tuesday. The wrap up of the Richmond case was handled with commendable efficiency. Bodie's typically brief, atypically neat report hit Cowley's desk at precisely 20:30 hours, shift's official end. Bodie vanished. Doyle and Murphy took themselves off to The Raven for a pint -- Murphy's treat.
Wednesday was spent in Records, researching the several dozen candidates that might be responsible for the bombing of a prominent Cabinet Minister's office. Thursday was wasted in chasing false leads down. A sudden turn of luck on Friday morning directed Bodie and Doyle to the culprits' lair: the resultant shoot-out, while messy in the extreme, was successfully resolved in time for an early start to a much needed two-day leave. Despite long-standing plans for a fishing trip, Bodie pulled a Houdini. Doyle spent his entire Saturday trying to track him down; Sunday was reserved for a solo bout with a bottle and the fervent cursing of his elusive partner.
Doyle's frequent, increasingly desperate suggestions that they were due for a serious chat were rebuffed with equal frequency and even greater despair all the following morning and afternoon -- just as similar pleas had been rejected all the previous week. Remarkable only for its lack of their usual banter and rapport, Monday stumbled to a close. Unbending sufficiently to offer curt explanation and grudging apology, yet again Bodie vanished. Doyle entertained himself with a massive home-cooked curry dinner, numerous follow-up snackings, and an evening of BBC's finest.
The new pattern of their days was set.
"Hang about, Murph!" Doyle's cheery cry desecrated the twilight-shadowed sanctity of a deserted CI5 corridor.
"How much this time?" the dark-haired agent sighed, hand reaching for hip pocket as he neatly sidestepped a 10 1/2 stone Charge of the Light Brigade. "I'm running low meself, old son." He held out his wallet for inspection. "Will a fiver do?"
Doyle's inquisitive head jerked back, nose narrowly avoiding entrapment in the swiftly snapped-to leather case. "Now's that any way to treat a mate?" He sniffed dramatically. "You've 'urt me feelings, you 'ave." A fistful of apparently legal tender appeared from behind his back to wave in Murphy's handsome face. "An' me all set to --"
Murphy appropriated the funds, quickly tallying the amount rendered and comparing it to accounts due. "Fifty-five quid? Payment in full!" he marvelled. "Your rich, old uncle died, did he? Or... Ah, Raymond, no! Cowley'll raise hell if you've nicked 'is mad money again."
"Not to worry, Murph," Doyle laughed. "S'all earned by the sweat of me brow. Seem to've regained the knack of managing me finances, I have."
"Seem to've lost Bodie in the process," Murphy noted dryly, recalling an abrupt end to dinners, pints and films at Doyle's expense. "Where's your better half keeping himself these days, 4.5? I haven't seen him to speak to in a fortnight or more."
"Dunno. He's off and about. Has a bird stashed away somewhere."
"Ahhh, that explains it. What's her name?"
"Where's she live?"
"Chock-full of information, aren't you? This bird's file marked 'confidential'?"
"Yeah, with a capital 'C'. Bodie claims she's a right raver."
"Wipe the drool off your chin, 6.2, 'e also said this one isn't for sharing. He's not bringing her within a mile of the lechers at CI5."
"Uh-oh," Murphy tsk-tsked, eyes sparkling with delight. "Our Bodie'd best watch his step if 'e doesn't want wedding bells to chime. This could be serious."
"It already is."
"Good God, Ray, you don't mean..."
"Bodie's in love," Doyle stated quietly. "And it's goddamned-bloody-well tearin' the team in two."
Cowley's decision to pack 3.7 and 4.5 off on separate undercover assignments was divinely inspired. Relatively unscathed from three solid weeks of frequenting mercenary bars, Bodie returned with fresh spring in his step, the old glint of steel in his eye. He was the life of the impromptu welcome back party Murphy hastily threw together. He answered Cowley's ill-tempered growlings about reports yet to be filed with a generous glass of pure malt Scotch and the unrepentant grin of a naughty schoolboy. Cowley deigned to grant the merrymakers an hour to sober themselves up for a return to duty. He disappeared with Scotch in hand and a smile loosely disguised as a scowl on his craggy face. The noise level in the Ops Room rose appreciably. Until a slender, silent shadow propped itself in the open doorway...
Murphy turned, his gaze tracing the line of Bodie's haunted stare. "Ray!" he exclaimed, starting towards the blood and grime covered figure.
Despite the younger agent's head start, Bodie won the race to Doyle with time to spare. "Ray?" Shaking hands made quick inspection of a minor scalp wound; slid torn shirt aside to investigate the tender, purpling flesh of a battered rib cage.
"M'okay. Don't fuss, Bodie," Doyle protested. "Christ, your hands are cold!"
Bodie persisted with his damage assessment, finding the totally unexpected, valid excuse to touch Ray Doyle satisfied a craving no other touch had been able to satisfy. The probing was anything but impersonal, less objective medical examination than lingering caress. Bodie's eyes slitted with pleasure; crowding onlookers faded from conscious thought, his partner's occasional gasps translating to well-remembered cries of passion.
"What happened, Ray?"
Murphy's worried voice rang in Bodie's ear, restoring him to his present surroundings. Casually, Bodie busied himself with the vigorous brushing of dust and cobwebs from Doyle's shoulder.
Doyle's rather vacuous expression turned rueful. "Me cover got blown sky-high," he said. "Happened the fifth man in the drug deal croaked of a bum ticker. His last minute replacement turned out to be an old acquaintance of mine. 'e took one look at me face an' hollered bloody murder."
"Tried to commit it too, didn't he?" Murphy observed.
Doyle shrugged, winced, and glanced at Bodie hopefully. "Fetch me a glass, mother?" he begged.
Bodie nodded, glad of the chance to escape and regain some measure of self-composure.
"Five against one," Murphy frowned. "Scarcely fair odds, were they, old son?"
"Yeah, well, that's why I went easy on 'em. Just banged a few heads together and baby-sat the lot till the coppers arrived. Caught me five little fishies, but the big one got away. Three weeks' work down the drain..."
"Look like the little ones put up a good fight," Murphy teased.
"Nothing a bit of liniment and a lot of sleep won't fix," Doyle grinned. "Ta, Bodie." He accepted the proffered glass, draining it in a single gulp. "Right, then, I'm off to see The Cow. May as well 'fess up and get it over with, I reckon. Cheerio."
Totally oblivious to the clamor of resumed festivities, Bodie's intent gaze followed the weary figure until it limped from view.
"Bodie?" An unkind elbow jostled his arm.
"Uh?" he grunted.
"I said, it's a good thing you buttered up the old man before young Daniel trucked off to the lion's den," Murphy repeated in that patient tone commonly reserved for children or the slow of mind.
"Wasn't Ray's fault," Bodie defended.
"Think Cowley'll see it that way?"
"Why not? He's a reasonable man."
"Are we talking about the same Cow? Do you remember the time--"
"Murphy?" a sweet voice called from the far side of the room.
Murphy's face assumed an asinine glow. "Excuse me, Bodie-me-lad," he said. Without waiting for reply, he was off in pursuit of the latest bird to catch his fancy.
Bodie scarcely noticed his departure. A thoughtful eye considered a convenient bottle. Scotch in hand, cat-light of tread, he stole from the Ops Room, up stairway and down corridor to press a shameless ear against a closed, oak door.
The argument within appeared to be reaching a sharp crescendo. Needless to say, Doyle was losing the uneven match. Without further hesitation, Bodie flung the office door wide open. "Thought you might care for a refill, sir," he carolled, cheerfully barging in on the scene. "Oh, I'm sorry. Should've knocked. Didn't realize you were in conference, sir." Carelessly dangling the purloined bottle as a matador wields his cape, he coyly backed towards the exit.
Inevitably, the bull charged.
"Get back in here with that! Oh for God's sake, Doyle, sit down before you fall down. Pour the lad a drink, Bodie. There's nothing like good, pure malt to cure whatever ails you."
"So rumour has it, sir," Bodie agreed, making sure all three glasses were levelled to the brim. "I remember one time I was out on patrol with Major Angus MacFarlane. It was the very height of summer, so damned hot that..."
Doyle's eyes glazed; Cowley professed polite interest. Ten minutes later, Bodie's convoluted story showing scant signs of drawing to a close, Cowley abruptly recalled a matter of grave concern which, naturally, required his immediate attention. Bodie and Doyle found themselves unceremoniously ejected from the room. Somehow, in the furore of their departure, the whiskey bottle was abandoned on Cowley's desk. A triumphant door slammed behind the wily, old Scot.
Doyle looked at Bodie; Bodie grinned.
"You never served with a Major MacFarlane," Doyle said.
"So does Cowley. And he still gave us till noon tomorrow to polish up our reports?"
"Lost half a bottle of damned-fine drinking in the process, mind."
"Suppose it's up to me to replace it?"
"Sounds only fair."
"Nothing. Grab your jacket while I change shirts and splash some water on me face. Then let's get out of here before someone finds out you nicked their Scotch and gave it to The Cow."
"Right! I have a certain image to maintain."
"And a tender tush to protect."
"Ten minutes later, still bickering amicably, they headed for the car park. Doyle's heart was soaring. Bodie was back. The old Bodie he knew and loved: his friend, his partner...
I've missed you, trembled on his tongue. Why have you been running from me? We have to talk, I have to tell you --
Questions and answers... confessions and accusations... ifs, ands and buts... Words that could destroy a fragile truce. Words better left unsaid. The moment was enough.
"Your car or mine?"
"You plan on getting sloshed?"
Bodie smirked. "You're buying, aren't you?"
"Mine," Doyle chuckled.
But it was he who did most of the drinking that night, Bodie who sat behind the wheel guiding the gold Capri home to Doyle's flat.
"Why the hell did you go along with my bright idea to play darts? Look at you now, scarcely able to lift your bloody arm. Are you sure you don't want a doctor to check you over?" Bodie nagged.
"No. I'm fine."
Bodie's glare pierced the thinly armoured lie: Doyle's wan face sported a tight-lipped smile, the anesthesia of alcohol unable to suppress the pain that dogged each move he made. The Capri pulled to an angry halt, the sudden jolt forcing a whimper from between clenched teeth.
"Right, that settles it!" Bodie had the car restarted, turned and underway before his partner's hand could reach to open the door. Doyle's flat disappeared from the rear view mirror.
"Bodie? What the hell--"
"Hospital. X-rays. Shut up."
Doyle's mouth closed on further protest. He might as well save his breath, there was little use arguing with Bodie in this frame of mind. Truth to tell, he had no real desire to argue. He hurt. It was nice to have someone take care of him... someone who cared...
"Ray?" A hand rested on his knee, shaking him ever so gently. "Ray?"
"I'm awake!" Funny, I don't remember falling asleep. Musta passed out. Drowsily, he blinked at the worried face but inches from his own. Bodie's cheeks were flushed with the red neon glare of an 'Emergency' sign.
"Wait here, I'll commandeer a set of wheels."
"I can walk."
"You can hardly stand."
"Can if you help me."
"Okay. Hang about." Bodie hopped from the car and trotted around to the passenger's side. "Come to papa," he invited, tugging open the too-heavy door and extending a helping hand.
Doyle slowly staggered erect... gasped... pitched forwards...
The arms that wrapped about him were warm, comfortable, reassuringly solid. He sagged into the embrace: head nestling on a shoulder that seemed built to receive him; breath panting against the strong, quick pulse at the base of Bodie's throat. His arms slid around his partner's waist: hands locking at the small of Bodie's back, drawing them closer together.
Bodie trembled, the tremors felt in every nerve and fiber of Doyle's close-pressed body.
"M'sorry," Doyle mumbled, loosening his death grip and shoving himself away. "Dizzy. Too much to drink on an empty stomach. C'mon, Bodie, let's get this over and done with so I can go home and sleep it off." Leaning heavily on his silent companion's arm, he shuffled for the Emergency Room entrance...
"Told you I was all right," Doyle took great relish in telling his pacing partner after an exhausting two hours of x-rays, tests, pokings, probings and boring questions. "I want to go home."
"Doctor?" Bodie wasn't about to accept the word of a proven liar. "How is he?"
"Lucky, that's how he is. He took a hell of a pounding. There's extensive bruising -- as you can see, he's quite the calico cat. No internal injuries, though. Not even a cracked rib. Still, he's apt to be a bit stiff and sore for a week or so, I should imagine." He scribbled an illegible message on a pad, ripped off the sheet and handed it to Doyle. "Start with the liniment tonight, the capsules will have to wait 'til morning -- they won't mix with the drinks you've had."
"Thank you, Doctor," Doyle said, dutifully tucking the prescription in his shirt pocket.
The doctor waved a cheerful farewell and disappeared through the curtained doorway.
"Hey!" Doyle aimed a belated slap at the hand expertly picking his pocket.
Bodie waggled an admonishing finger. "Ah-ah, kitty," he scolded. "Mustn't scratch, or I'll have you neutered while we're here."
Green eyes spat contemptuous fury.
Bodie grinned. "C'mon, sour puss, let's get out of here. There's a chemist's just around the corner. I'll pop in to get your stuff." Blue eyes sparkled mischievously. "And if you're a very good boy, my pet, I'll even pick up a wee catnip mousie with a little bell tied to its tail."
"Oooo, lovely," Doyle purred. "I know just what to do with it, too. We'll pretend it's a thermometer," he growled at his retreating partner's broad back. Head down, buttoning up his shirt, he hastily stumbled from the examination cubicle, his voice rising to a semi-shout as he concluded, "And I'll shove it up your -- Evening, Sister."
Fueled by the vision of the nun's disapproving frown, Bodie's rich laughter and Doyle's magnificent blush endured all the way back to the car. Still plagued by the occasional giggle, uncaring of the curious looks cast in their direction, Bodie insisted upon seeing his partner safely stowed on the passenger's side -- going so far as to fasten the seatbelt himself before carefully shutting the door on Doyle's resigned suffering of the mother hen act and scooting around to open his own door. From parking lot to late-closing chemist was the drive of but a few minutes.
"Won't be but two shakes," Bodie promised.
Doyle made no reply. His eyes were closed, curl-cushioned head tilted back against the headrest; mouth slightly open, breathing slow and deep.
Bodie smiled and stole as silently as possible from the car. The tough little bastard's not as tough as he thinks he is.
"You just squeezed in, sir," a male voice interrupted his fond musings. "We were just about to shut."
Bodie peered at his watch. 8:55? God, is that all? Feels like I aged a year tonight. "Right," he said. "Won't hang about. Could you fill this for me please?"
The chemist read the script and nodded reluctantly. So much for slipping out early. The liniment was premixed, but the capsules would take for-bloody-ever. "Certainly, sir," he sighed.
Bodie propped himself against the counter, angled so that he could view preparation of Doyle's medication and the car-bound, sleeping Doyle with equal ease.
Why have I been running from you? he wondered idly. How much of what happened to you was my fault? If I hadn't panicked, hadn't gone haring off... well... Cowley wouldn't have seen a need to split us up. You wouldn't've been mucking about in that district, dealing with those perverts. I would've been where I'm supposed to be: guarding your back...
Doyle's head tossed restlessly. His lips moved, framing a word... a name? Long, slender fingers combed through already tousled hair; green eyes blinked open, widening with bewilderment at his unfamiliar surroundings and solitude. A quick glance noted the chemist's shop; further study revealed Bodie's stalwart presence at the counter. Bodie waved. Doyle smiled; his head settling back, eyes re-closing, face again at peace.
How often over the past few weeks have you looked for me and I wasn't there? Bodie lamented. How could I be such a fool? How could I chance losing you completely? Don't we run enough risks on the job without me risking our personal lives as well? You need someone to rely on... I think the someone you need is me. Who knows you better than your partner? Who loves you more than I do? I claimed sex wasn't the half of it the other day... and that's true. It isn't. Icing on the cake... Our friendship is what counts above all else. I think I've got my head together enough to be your friend again, Ray. Just your friend. For now? Forever, if needs be. But, who knows, maybe someday you'll realize how much more we could be to one another. Stranger things have happened. Your bloody conscience didn't put up too much of a fight that one night, did it? The potential must be there. I've that much hope at least. And anything's better than the nothing this past month's been!
"Here you go, sir. That'll be two pounds."
"Two pounds," the chemist repeated patiently.
"Right." Bodie fished out his wallet, handed over a five pound note, and absentmindedly accepted his change and the bag containing Doyle's painkillers.
"Good night," the other man hinted politely.
Bodie's arrested gaze refused to waver from a sign proclaiming 'pet supplies'. You know, it might be interesting to test Ray's ability to carry out his threat. He grinned fiendishly.
"Sir?" Good God, I've a raving lunatic on my hands! There's never a copper in sight when you need one.
Oh, sure, Bodie. Him in his condition, you in yours. Wouldn't that be a pretty picture? Maintain a friendly distance, you ass. That's the only way you're going to keep your renowned 'supercool'. Get too close, and your fine resolutions will fly right out the window -- you'll be slavering all over him like a mad dog. Already had two close calls tonight: damned near jumped his bones in the Ops Room; damned near came in your jeans in the hospital car park. Amusement faded; his mouth twisted into a wry grimace of self-contempt.
"Sir?" Epileptic seizure? Dementia praecox? Oh, shit, I think he's going to barf. "Sir, are you all right?"
"Good night," Bodie said quietly. "Sorry to have kept you." Soberly, silently, he headed back for the car.
The chemist popped a tranquilizer in his mouth and made haste to lock up behind his departing customer.
Doyle was awake. His eyes were shut; soft, snuffly snores filled the Capri; but Bodie knew his partner too well to be fooled by his playing possum. Nonetheless, he allowed Doyle to think the ruse successful. He respected his friend's need for silent contemplation. He was grateful not to have to make small talk. But be damned if he was going to carry the lazy sod from car to flat!
"Wakey, wakey," he urged his 'sleeping' companion, bringing the Capri to a smooth halt and silencing the engine.
"Mmmmm?" Doyle yawned.
"Bedtime, sunshine," Bodie declared. "I'll see you to your door, shall I? Then I think I'll nick your car -- can stop by in the morning to see if you're fit for work."
"You aren't coming in?"
"Didn't plan on it. You may be knackered, but the night's still young."
"Mmm. Off to see what's 'er name, eh?"
"How soon they forget. Don't know who, do I? You haven't told me 'er name yet. Don't tell me you've ditched her already?"
"Oh, her." Bodie belatedly recalled his convenient lie of an imaginary sexpot. "No. She's still the apple of my eye. Not likely to let a raver like that slip away."
"Right. Won't keep you then."
"Was there something you wanted, Ray?"
"Mmm." Bodie grunted disbelievingly, but didn't press the matter further. As they headed for the duplex, Doyle shrugged off Bodie's guiding hand, making it to his front door under his own steam. Bodie held out his partner's neatly parcelled medication. "Can I trust you not to throw this lot in the dust bin?" he teased, semi-serious in the teasing.
Doyle forced an answering grin. "Scout's honor," he swore, lifting a hand in salute and loftily ignoring the proffered package. "I always wanted a grab bag of noxious potions for my very own."
"I think that's the wrong finger arrangement," Bodie said.
"Nope." This time the grin was an honest one. "S'the right message -- meant especially for you."
"In that case..." Bodie snatched the keys from Doyle's right hand, unlocked the door, and ushered his rude partner inside.
"Thought you had a hot date," Doyle protested.
"M'not forking out good money for you to flush down the loo."
"Now would I do a thing like that?"
"Sure you would. Aw c'mon, Ray, be a good sport and take your medicine like a man. It's only liniment, for Crissakes." He fished out the contents of the bag. "It's not as if you have to swallow one of these golf balls tonight."
"Oh. All. Right." Doyle disgustedly tore open his shirt. "Have it your way." Accepting the tube and flinging its cap aside, he cautiously sniffed at an olive-green ooze. "Not bad," he admitted grudgingly. "Spicy. Minty."
"You're supposed to rub it on, not eat it," Bodie reminded. "I don't care if it smells like the rear end of a rhino. Get to it, mate!"
"Easy enough for you to say," Doyle grumbled, gingerly dabbing a bit on a particularly nasty-hued bruise. "You don't have to smell it all night or -- uhhhh!" His face blanched, razor-sharp knives of white-hot pain lancing down his spine as he twisted to reach another spot. "S'no good, Bodie," he gasped. "I can't manage. You'll have to do for me, nursie."
"It's you or the loo. Take your pick, it's your money."
No choice. Sod the money. Ray needs me. "Okay," Bodie calmly agreed, somersaulting heart unbetrayed by his level voice. "C'mere."
Bodie swallowed dryly. "L-light's better out here, isn't it?"
"Don't need to see -- can feel your way around. C'mon, Bodie, I'm not having that gunk smeared all over my couch -- m'sheets are gonna get it anyway -- and I'm sore enough without that sadistic monster kinking me back. If I'm going through with this, I'm bloody well going to be comfortable doing it!"
"Okay, okay. Bed it is," Bodie capitulated, prying frozen feet from the floor and unwillingly following his triumphant partner into the bedroom.
"Here, I'll do that," he offered, nudging Doyle aside and taking over the turning back of the bed covers. "You take off your shirt."
Bodie busied himself with fluffing up pillows until the last rustle of cloth, a final murmur of pain, indicated Doyle's readiness. He turned...
Raymond Doyle stood unconcernedly naked at the foot of the bed. His head was bowed, lips moving soundlessly as he read the ingredients and directions printed on the side of the liniment tube.
Bodie's hungry gaze caressed each line and curve of his partner's innocently displayed, beautiful, lithe, sadly battered body. Oh God, I want you, Ray. I love you. Need you. Have to have you. Please? Now? No!!!
Doyle's left hand snagged Bodie as he shot past. "Hey, where are you going?"
The fingers burned through his jacket's sleeve, searing his flesh. Every nerve ending was raw, agonizingly sensitized to the touch.
"Loo. Gotta wash me hands."
"Good idea. I'll come too."
Is that a promise? Bodie shook with inward, hysterical laughter; a high-pitched giggle escaped.
"What's the joke?" his tag-along shadow inquired, cozying up to him as he leaned against the sink.
"Uh... you'd think we were surgeons, scrubbing for a major op."
Doyle laughed, sobered, pouted his lips consideringly. "Actually, that sounds rather tempting," he said.
"What, surgery? Thinking of getting that lobotomy you always wanted?"
"Prat. No, meant scrubbing up. I fancy a quick shower."
Oh, by all means! Anything to prolong the agony. Bodie risked a sideways glance at his sweat-sheened companion. He is a tad grubby, I suppose. "Go on, then," he sighed. "You're dressed for it." He started for the bathroom door. "I'll fix us some tea, shall I?"
"Hold on, not so fast. Soap me back, 3.7?"
"Soap me back. Can't reach, can I?"
"I'll get all wet."
"Ray..." God, oh God, stop teasing me, you rotten bastard. You're messin' with fire -- I can't take much more of this!
"I'll let you play with my rubber duckie."
"C'mon, Bodie, don't be shy. I've seen you starkers before."
"Not in the same shower, you haven't," Bodie muttered darkly. A finger worried the top button of his shirt.
"Da-da-da, de-da-da-da," Doyle hummed in a sexy, raspy tone.
"Take 'em off!" Doyle roared. "Take 'em all off!" Warily lowering himself to the only available seat, he clapped and whistled demandingly.
"You daft bugger!" Damned hard to feel the fool when a naked man sitting on the loo hasn't an ounce of shame. Bodie undid one button... two...
"Attaboy!" Doyle encouraged, resuming his burlesque song with enthusiastic glee.
Bodie's tentative grin widened. An exhibitionist at heart, he let himself go: the slow, sensuous strip proceeding to its logical conclusion; the increasingly provocative act punctuated by Doyle's growled drum rolls at appropriate moments. They were both giddy and weak with laughter by the time Bodie's briefs made several wild circuits of his head and sailed with enviable ease out a high-set, half-open bathroom window.
"Oh, shit," Bodie said, eyeing the aperture with active dislike.
Doyle wiped tear-streaming eyes. "C'mon, Gypsy Rose Lee," he coaxed, tugging his distracted partner into the shower stall and slyly triggering the faucet.
Bodie choked on his protest, water cascading into his gaping mouth. Bowing to the inevitable, he quickly lathered Doyle's back. As expected, the slippery feel of the soft skin was superb. So lost was he to his enjoyment of the touch, that he didn't think to argue when Doyle insisted upon returning the favour. The gentle, massaging hands on his back felt every bit as good as had the warm flesh under his tender ministrations.
Nice, Bodie sighed, eyes closed, face tilted up to meet the shower's heavy spray.
It went beyond mere sexual stimulation, he decided. That was a part of it, true. But there was a refreshing, contradictory innocence about it, too -- a childlike sense of play that he had no words to describe. There'd been very little in the line of carefree play in his childhood...
The erection he had feared might betray him never happened. Warm, relaxed, happy, he gave himself over to an aspect of his personality, a facet of his and Doyle's relationship, he hadn't known existed. It was a glorious shower... He even managed to nip out of the stall before Doyle noticed that he'd turned off the hot water.
"Bo-die!!!" Doyle yelped, dashing from beneath an icy cascade. "I'll get you for that, you son-of-a-bitch," he spat through chattering teeth, fiercely wrenching the tap closed.
"Promises, promises," Bodie whispered, holding ready a large, fluffy towel.
Doyle permitted his partner to approach and wrap the peace offering around his trembling shoulders before tossing his head and splattering him with cold, fly-away droplets from his hair. "And that's only the down-payment," he warned, blue lips curved in a smug, self-satisfied smile.
He looked exceedingly kissable at that moment: cheeks flushed; eyes sparkling; macho defenses cast aside, unveiling a Ray Doyle few people got to see.
What would you do if I kissed you? Bodie wondered. Hit me? Kiss me back? Only one way to find out...
He quickly glanced away; engaged himself with the vigorous towelling of his own lean, muscular body.
Coward, a little voice taunted.
Cautious, he corrected with great dignity.
"Dry my back, Bodie?"
Dear God, what next? Guess it's learn the rules as you go, play the game the way he wants it played. Just stay within the boundaries set, old son. Don't risk a cry of 'foul'."
"Sure. Why not?"
If Doyle noticed that he lingered over the assignment longer than was strictly necessary, he made no mention of the fact.
"Go crawl in bed, Ray," Bodie ordered huskily. "You'll catch your death. I'll dress and be right there."
"And dry your hair!" Bodie shouted. A well-aimed towel caught his partner squarely in the back of the head.
"Nag, nag, nag," Doyle muttered, plopping himself down cross-legged in the center of his bed and half-heartedly swiping the towel through sopping wet curls.
Yet again, Bodie forced his eyes away from the alluring sight. Dressing took conscious effort. Over and over, his mind replayed the last time he'd seen Doyle in that bed... relived the sequence of events leading up to that unforgettable moment...
"Shit," he mumbled, unfastening and redoing his crookedly buttoned shirt. Socks? Check. Briefs? Uh... Oh, yeah, old lady whosit's schnauzer probably has 'em buried in the backyard by now. "Ray--"
"Chest of drawers. Middle one. Left hand side."
"You taking up mind reading?"
"No, just voyeurism. You always put your right sock on first? I usually start with the left. Put my right shoe on first, though. Do me arm in me right sleeve first too."
An open, unabashed stare followed Bodie's self-conscious progress across the room. Bodie ignored it as best he could -- which meant not at all. His flesh tingled as if tormented by a physical touch. Only the foreknowledge of Doyle's delighted laughter should he reveal his discomfort prevented him from tugging his shirt tail more firmly down over his haunches. Instead, backside bare to the breeze, he bent over to rummage in the indicated drawer.
"Hmph," he grunted. "Where have I seen these before?" A familiar pair of khaki boxer shorts were held up for general inspection.
Doyle shrugged. "They turned up in my laundry a few weeks back. Figured if Cinderella wanted 'em, she'd show up to try 'em on for size." Unblinking eyes waited expectantly.
"Didn't your mum ever tell you it ain't polite to stare?" Bodie barked, thoroughly unnerved by the unwavering, predatory gaze -- and beyond caring who knew it. "Well? Didn't she?"
"Yep... You have nice knees, Bodie. Not all knobby like mine."
Jesus! At a complete loss for a witty rejoinder, Bodie stepped into the shorts and angrily jerked them up over his hips.
"Right leg first," Doyle sighed. "I knew it."
"Raymond, do you know how very, very sorry I am that those bastards knocked you black and blue?"
"I'll bet. Chokes you all up, does it?"
"No, really. I mean it, sunshine."
"Yeah... the pleasure should have been mine." Bodie defiantly donned his pants, deliberately starting off with the left leg to add a little spice and variety to his life. Unfortunately, he had to shed the jeans and try again, having pulled them on back to front. Unthinkingly, he led with his right...
Bodie rolled up his sleeves, advancing on the bed with fire in his eyes.
"Ohhhh..." Doyle moaned pathetically. Feeble fingers massaged a bruised shoulder.
"Lie down, Ray." Bodie picked up the liniment, apparently unmoved by the misfortune of his fellow man.
Doyle abandoned his gambit for pity: clearly, stronger tactics were in order. "Give me your hand," he said.
"What? Why?" The diversion worked. Quest for revenge temporarily forgotten, wide, blue eyes stared into fathomless green pools.
"Give me your hand," Doyle repeated, brooking no room for questions or debate.
Numbly, Bodie obliged.
"Mmmm, that's what I thought." Doyle cupped the hand in both of his, briskly chafing the cold flesh between his palms. "Warm heart?" he wondered aloud, leaning forward, mouth parted to blow a steady stream of humid air on their joined hands. His lips grazed Bodie's knuckles. "Left hand," he breathed.
Puppet on a string, Bodie's left hand rose in dazed obedience to the command.
"Brrrr," Doyle shivered. "Worser and worser." He tucked Bodie's right hand under his left arm for warm safekeeping while he turned full attention to resurrecting its frigid mate. "Sit down, you're putting a crick in me neck."
Bodie sat. Long, silent moments passed: each moment longer than the last, the silence deeper, Bodie's heartbeats faster...
Doyle brought both of his partner's hands together, slender fingers bestowing a final, approving pat on the now properly prepared flesh. Smiling slightly as he set Bodie free, Doyle slowly eased himself down flat on the mattress. "Okay, doc," he said, "I'm all yours."
Don't I wish! In attempting to pick up the liniment, Bodie dropped the tube and found himself forced to chase it under the edge of the bed. He didn't remember setting it aside on the nightstand in the first place...
Are you trying to seduce me, Ray? the crazy thought tumbled through his mind. Or are you just waiting to laugh in my face when I try to take you up on your 'invitation'? Is it for real, or all part and parcel of some huge, cruel 'gotcha'? I thought I knew you inside out, but you're sure-as-hell a stranger to me tonight. I don't know what to think... what to do...
Bodie squeezed a gob of the ointment into his left palm and briskly rubbed his hands together. "Tell me where it hurts," he jested, advancing on his patient to begin what he hoped would remain an impersonal massage. If I err, let it be on the side of caution, he prayed. Lotion-slicked fingers slid with gentle thoroughness across Doyle's breast, lightly brushing nipples in passing, slipping down bruised ribs to tapered waist, trailing back up sides to breast to throat to shoulders...
Doyle closed his eyes: wincing occasionally; a silly/sweet semi-smile never entirely leaving his lips. "Don't stop," he begged, shifting restlessly as the skillful hands abandoned him. "Feels good." He opened his eyes, prepared to further plead his case.
Bodie held up the liniment tube.
"Oh. Okay. Carry on."
Liniment replenished, the hands returned to their task.
"Mmmmmm," Doyle sighed contentedly.
Bodie's face was a study of intent concern. Frowning slightly, eyes narrowed to better gauge action and reaction, pink tongue peering from the corner of an unsmiling mouth, he freely surrendered himself to the service and pleasure of his friend-in-need.
"Roll over, Ray."
"Yeah... sure... whatever you say..."
Considerate hands assisted Doyle in the painful roll-over process. Waves of nausea subsided as liniment-saturated, fever-hot palms mapped the bruised terrain of lower back and shoulder blades. Face buried in a pillow, Doyle re-closed widely dilated eyes; felt body and soul melt into complete relaxation, complete trust. He never did remember the exact moment that the persuasive hands lulled him into deep, much-needed slumber.
Bodie sighed -- in disappointment or relief, he didn't know. A final, deliberate caress swept from nape of neck to small of back... hesitated... slowly continued downward, coming to rest with his fingers closely molded about the curve of Doyle's buttocks. A second sigh -- no doubt of this one's roots in longing. Bodie withdrew his hands and sadly veiled his favourite work of art with the blankets he'd set aside.
Time to go...
But still he lingered, watching his partner sleep. As if with a will of its own, his hand moved to his groin: eased the zipper down; fumbled his clothing aside. He arched into the understanding fingers: almost sobbing with his need for release; pretending the stroking, soothing touch belonged to Doyle...
Doyle twitched and abruptly curled into a tight, fetal ball, his dream-troubled brow crinkling unhappily. A whimper disturbed the silence of the night, the muffled outcry rising to a steady, keening wail.
"Shhh, shhh," a reassuring whisper rustled through freshly-laundered curls, tickled against Doyle's ear. A warm hand, redolent of liniment and Bodie, stroked a hesitant finger down his cheek; butterfly-light, lips fluttered against his mouth. He responded to their touch: eager for the contact, hungry for the taste, determinedly deepening the kiss...
Doyle's low, frustrated growl protested his companion's adamant drawing away.
"I love you," a familiar voice murmured helplessly, hopelessly.
A quick, furtive press of lips to lips... soft, fading footsteps... the distant 'click' of a closing door...
"I love you, Bodie!" Doyle cried.
But when he finally forced open sleep-heavy, alcohol-clouded eyes, the room was dark and deserted, silent and still. Dream or reality, Bodie was gone. Doyle stared up at the ceiling, desperately trying to determine which of the two realms laid valid claim to the kiss.
CI5's staff physician concurring with the jovial Emergency Room doctor's diagnosis, a furiously protesting Doyle was sentenced to a week's leave. Bodie found himself temporarily partnered with Murphy, his anticipated vacation postponed due to a shortage of able-bodied agents. Logically, he had no basis for complaint. Their case load was remarkably light -- apparently Britain's criminal element was prone to the same bout of influenza that was sweeping CI5's halls -- and Murphy was a good workmate: efficient, reliable, friendly.
But logic wasn't uppermost in Bodie's mind.
However good Murphy was, he wasn't Ray Doyle. And that's where Bodie longed to be: with Doyle. There were questions to be asked, an issue that had to be settled one way or the other if Bodie was to keep his sanity. Light duty meant too much time to think; each thought focused on his absent partner, their uncertain future as a viable team, as lovers...
He kissed me, his heart rejoiced.
He was drunk -- more than half asleep. He didn't know what he was doing, the voice of reason replied. It meant nothing.
It meant everything to me!
Wild hope alternated with bleak despair. Bodie's manic-depressive mood swings had Murphy ready to climb the wall by noon of their first day together. By day's end, they were scarcely speaking.
Not that Bodie seemed to notice or care.
His silver Capri tore from the car park almost the instant Murphy's feet touched pavement, leaving a bemused and frustrated partner choking on exhaust fumes and pithy comments regarding Bodie's probable ancestry.
The twenty minute drive to his inevitable destination took only eleven; trees, signs, buildings, people, other cars were a blur of kaleidoscopic motion. It was a wonder some conscientious constable didn't haul his speed-demoned ass curb-side for ticketing; it was a miracle he made it to Doyle's flat both alive himself and without killing someone else along the way.
Doyle was home. Soft light peered through a chink in the drawn curtains, its narrow beam crooked along the tree-lined walk like a beckoning finger.
Bodie sat in the car, white-knuckled hands clamped about the steering wheel, for a solid hour. And then he started up the engine and slowly drove away.
But the next evening he was back... and the next... and the next...
Each time his vigil lasted longer. Each time the ritual of wanting, needing, denying his wants and needs tossed fresh fuel on the fire of his burning love and desire for Ray Doyle. He couldn't eat, couldn't sleep, couldn't concentrate. Nor could he break free of this self-destructive web of his own weaving -- he wasn't sure he even wanted to try.
By the close of their sixth day apart, Bodie's decision was made. Tonight was the night. Tonight he'd face his partner with the truth -- and damned be the consequences.
Doyle would understand.
Doyle would kill him.
Whichever. It didn't matter anymore. Anything was better than an eternal limbo of indecision.
But there was no rule stating he had to rush into heaven or hell unfortified. There was a friendly pub a few blocks east of Doyle's flat. He'd just drop in for a pint or two.
Three at the most.
"Mmmph." Doyle grumbled his way free of warm bed and pleasant dreams, awakening to the shocking reality of a cold, tiled floor. "04:35?" he moaned. "Bloody hell, it'd better be a call to arms for World War III, or I'll strangle the bastard, whoever he is."
Impatient at his sleepy lack of haste, the relentless pounding on his front door increased its demanding tempo.
"I'm coming!" Doyle bellowed, shivering his way into a terry-cloth bathrobe and stumbling towards the noise. A light switch triggered to life in passing revealed his robe to be inside out. He paused bemusedly, considering his disarray. Thundering blows alternated with the letter box's rattling and the doorbell's strident ring. Doyle shrugged, sighed, and opened his door the crack a safety chain permitted.
"Bodie?" he said disbelievingly, quick glance taking in his partner's uncharacteristic, slovenly appearance: mussed hair, rumpled clothing, beard-stubbled chin, bloodshot eyes.
A three-quarters empty bottle tightly clenched in his left fist, Bodie's free hand shoved at the door.
"Hold on," Doyle ordered, literally forcing his unexpected visitor to retreat until he could unbar his barricades.
The door imploded, crashing heavily against a wall. As if they were two strangers, they stood staring into each other's eyes, abruptly uncertain of what to say, how to act...
"May I come in?" Bodie muttered finally.
"Yeah. Sure." Doyle stepped aside, hitching the belt of his robe a little tighter about his waist. Playing for time, he fumbled 'stubborn' locks back into place.
"Ray..." A firm hand settled on his shoulder, turning him around. Eyes locked: Doyle's narrowed in wary assessment; Bodie's wide and feverishly over-bright.
"You're drunk, Bodie," Doyle said mildly, the observation unaccusing, a simple statement of fact.
"I'm not that lucky," Bodie replied. The bottle thumped to a tabletop. "I'm stone-cold sober, more's the pity." A second hand sought Doyle's other shoulder.
"Bodie?" Doyle shifted uncomfortably beneath the touch, Bodie's fingers unconsciously clawing into his unresisting, still-healing flesh.
"Oh, hell!" The hands were snatched away as if singed by the brief contact. "Goddammit, I had it all thought out. Knew word for word what I wanted to, had to, say. But--" Haunted blue eyes, stripped naked by hurt confusion dropped to the chest-revealing V of Doyle's robe; hastily lifted back up to meet an unfathomable, bewitching, green stare. "Shit," he whispered. "What's the use? I've tried, Ray, but it won't go away. I can't stop. I can't expect you to understand. I can't--"
"Bodie, it might help if I knew what we were talking about. What won't I understand?"
Bodie's head tossed back and forth in hopeless, weary negation. "I'm sorry, Ray. I'm sorry. But there's no other option left open to me. I can't take it anymore. I wish things could be different, but we're the way we are. Can't change that. Don't want to change you. Even thought of leaving, but there's no place for me to run. Couldn't leave if there was, I'm not that strong."
"Bodie!" Doyle's hands shot to his babbling partner's trembling shoulders. "Bodie, stop it! Dammit, you're scaring the hell out of me!"
A final, gasping shudder... Bodie subsided to corpse-wan, tight-lipped silence. Doyle's punishing grip loosened; gentle fingers slid up and down Bodie's arms.
"That's better," Doyle approved, leading the temporarily quiescent man over to his couch and resolutely easing Bodie down when he gave no indication of seating himself on his own initiative. "Now then," he coaxed, slinging a comforting arm around his tension-knotted friend; sitting hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder. "Talk to me, Bodie. What in God's name has brought you to this sorry state?"
"Ray... have you... have you ever wanted...?" The quavering voice fell to a whisper; blue eyes focused on a distant horizon as the damning words escaped in a breathless rush: "Have you ever wanted to make love to a man? Would you make love with me?"
"Would I what?"
"That's what I thought," Bodie snapped, blindly mistaking genuine astonishment at the forthright question for outraged disgust. He wrenched himself free of Doyle's embrace; sat holding the shell-shocked figure at full arm's length.
"That's why I'm sorry, Ray. That's why I'm begging you to forgive me. I want you. I love you."
"N'derfi!" Bodie screamed, hating himself in that instant more than he'd ever hated another living soul. "N'derfi," he whispered, caressing Doyle's cheeks with palsied hands. "Make love to me, Ray," he pleaded. "Please?"
"No." Stern fingers pressed against parting lips. "Don't talk. I don't deserve the lies I want to hear you say. I've sold myself to the devil for a future of stolen moments with you, so let me pay the price. Just... take me. Take me to bed and fuck me for the whore I am." He leaned forward, replacing a silencing palm with the equally effective seal of a kiss; voicelessly communicating the true depths of his emotions, his need...
Doyle's immediate, ardent response to the kiss sent reality and self-recriminations flying. Bodie never did remember the actual journey to Doyle's bed. Couldn't recall disrobing or the dousing of the lights.
Despite the inelegant locale of the floor, their first time had been a superbly crafted ballet: each move made in a dream; precision touch and counter touch; gentle kisses, lingering caresses and whispered endearments; magical enticements that slowly built glowing embers to a raging fire. Give and take equally divided, repeatedly they had floated to the heaven Bodie laughingly dubbed 'Cloud Sixty-nine'.
This time the balance shifted. This time the universe contracted to emerald eyes, demanding hands and a hungry mouth. Raymond Doyle was insatiable... unmerciful. He preyed upon his writhing victim with ravenous delight: sharp teeth nipping and bruising tender flesh; hands instinctively knowing where to touch, just as a maestro knows which note to call upon. And the song he played was sweet beyond belief.
Willing instrument in the master's hands, Bodie convulsed ecstatically: time and time again brought to the brink of orgasm; his release denied; the exquisite torture of Doyle's lips, hands and tongue impossibly arousing him to new heights, supplying in superabundance the thorough, selfless loving Bodie had so desperately required. Minutes, hours, days -- all time sped by, finding center in a single, endless moment of savage rapture.
And still the sweet-tormenting incubus he had invoked showed no signs of discontinuing his amorous assault. Still Doyle's hands stroked and petted; still his tongue laved sweat-sheened flesh, his lips caressed and teased...
"Enough," Bodie managed weakly, sated in both body and soul. "Stop... please... have mercy on me, Ray."
A low, protesting moan rumbled in his lover's throat; hands stilled, compliantly drew away.
Bodie's gaze trailed from Doyle's agonized expression to his neglected member: sweat beaded Doyle's brow; his blood-engorged organ throbbed pitiably. Regret for his unthinking, cruel disregard of his friend's need widened Bodie's eyes, darkening blue irises to a midnight hue. A sympathetic hand stretched out to offer relief... hesitated... withdrew...
"Make love to me, Ray," Bodie said.
Dazed eyes focused on a serious face, indecision and inquiry clear to read in the lambent, green pools.
Bodie reached up to pull his partner down: wriggling till he'd matched chest to chest, stomach to stomach, thigh to thigh; freezing as their cocks' light, brushing touch tore a strangled whimper from Doyle's lips. Body completely relaxed, Bodie spread his legs invitingly.
"Make love to me, Ray," he repeated. "I want you. All of you."
His living blanket slowly peeled itself away; Doyle rocked back on his haunches, regarded Bodie consideringly.
Powerless to do other than obey, Doyle responded to Bodie's will: long legs were lifted to the smaller man's shoulders; saliva-slicked fingers probed and tested, preparing the way, giving pleasure with their sensuous touch. Remnants of Bodie's spilled seed served to lubricate the swollen cock which nudged itself into place. Doyle was cautious, considerate, tender. He fought his sanity-stripping urgency; penetrated slowly, ever so slowly. But, inevitably, despite his infinite care, it hurt.
Bodie gasped, teeth clamping on his lower lip, drawing blood.
"Go on," Bodie ordered brusquely. "Do it."
Impalement continued. Completely sheathed, Doyle paused; gentle, compassionate fingers wiping away the tears that leaked from Bodie's tightly closed eyes. "Bodie?" he said, abruptly breaking his obedient silence; honouring a precedence set in their graveyard confrontation: questioning anything that might see Bodie endangered or in pain. "Bodie, are you okay?"
"Yes," Bodie lied. "I'm fine."
In evident disbelief of the claim, Doyle's weight shifted, preparatory to withdrawal.
Bodie's eyes flashed open. "Dammit," he spat, in no mood to cajole or con his partner back into acquiescence. "I've gone this far -- you're not quitting on me now!"
An angry arm swept Doyle's propped up elbows out from under him. Balance lost, his dead weight slammed full down upon Bodie, knocking breath from both men's straining lungs and forcing the invading cock deep into its tight sheath. Friction made short shrift of Doyle's careful concern; slave to the incredible sensation, wanting more, needing more, he commenced a rhythmical in and out glide.
"Bodie?" he panted helplessly. "Bodie... Bodie..."
"It's okay," Bodie sighed. "I'm fine."
And he really was, he realized. Pain merged with pleasure. Pleasure mounted, pain disappeared.
"Ohhhhhh," he groaned. "Yes, Ray... Yes!"
Warm hands cupped Doyle's face, drawing it down. Lips pressed to lips: the avid kiss was a benediction. Legs tightened their hold about Doyle's back: encouraging their locked bodies closer still; the trusting, loving response to Doyle's unrestrained passion sending both men over the edge; tumbling them into explosive, mutual climax. The scalding spurts of Doyle's release granted absolution, cleansed an aching soul of loneliness and pain. Sticky proof of Bodie's gratitude and devotion spilled upon the altar of Doyle's flesh: trickled back to Bodie blessed by the contact; the puddled fluid cementing two beings into one as Doyle again collapsed on Bodie's breast.
Through it all, their kiss had remained unbroken; now, impossibly, it deepened: Doyle drawing on unsuspected reserves to leave Bodie breathless, dizzy, anchored to reality only by his partner's kiss, his touch, his taste, his scent, his love.
Bells chimed... a heavenly choir sang...
It took the space of several dozen rapid heartbeats for Bodie to recognise the prosaic cause of the sweet symphony: a blaring clock-radio; a clamouring telephone...
"Oh, shit," he exclaimed, forcing open uncooperative eyes. A lethargic hand stretched out to silence the wake-up hue and cry, hovered above the phone, and decisively drew away. "Ray?" He prodded the limp figure still pinioning him to the mattress. "I think you'd better answer that."
"Mmmmm," Doyle agreed, gently easing himself free of his lover's body and rolling for the far edge of the bed.
Bodie ran approving fingers through ruffled curls, the tender gesture earning him a heartrendingly beautiful smile and a reciprocal caress before his partner finally rescued the receiver from its stand.
"Give 'em hell, Ray," Bodie mumbled, and sleepily closed his eyes.
" 'Lo?" Doyle growled. "Do you know what time it is?"
"06:31 and good morning to you, too," a disgustingly cheerful voice replied.
"Morning, Murph." Doyle yawned disinterestedly. "What's up? M'still on me bloody 'holiday', you know. This'd better be important."
"Moderately so. I seem to've lost my partner. He was due in an hour ago. Hasn't shown yet. Isn't home. Doesn't answer his R/T. The Cow is fit to be tied. Haven't seen our Bodie lately, have you? Jax saw his car heading out your way 'round 23:00 last night."
Ear pressed to the phone with Doyle's by this time, Bodie drew back and wagged his head from side to side. Help me, he mouthed frantically. Lie my way out of this mess, will you?
"Uh..." Quick thinking was a Doyle specialty. "No. He wasn't here. Phoned, though. Said something about going to see a bird. You know Bodie. S'probably still wrapped around her and dead to the world."
"Oh, great. Can see me now, Bodie's little black book in hand, waking up the female population of London alphabetically."
"Mmm... Murph, I think I know which one he's with. Should have her number somewheres about. I'll ring her up, see if he's there."
"I'd appreciate that, Ray. Sorry to get you out of bed."
"S'okay. Planned to go jogging anyway."
"Lucky I caught you in."
"Yeah. Lucky. Look, I'll have Romeo at HQ in... half an hour. Hold the fort. Tell the Cow he's on his way -- had a flat, got caught in traffic, whatever."
"Will do. Ta, Ray. Bye."
"Bye." Doyle recradled the phone, turned. "Bodie..."
Bodie was already up and about, diligently searching for his scattered clothes. But he froze at the wistful expression on his lover's face and returned to the bed, willingly losing precious moments to a deep and leisurely kiss.
"Keep the home fires burning," he whispered huskily. "I'll be back for more tonight."
"Later, sunshine. Promise. Help me find my shoe?" He bent to pull on his pants.
"Oi! Hang about!" Doyle's hands ran interference. "Can't go to work like that."
"Murphy won't appreciate your... um... telltale perfume. Sneezed 'is eyeballs out when 'e dropped by to see me yesterday."
Bodie sniffed. "Bloody hell!" he cried. "M'reeking of your horse liniment!"
"Shower. I'll fix breakfast."
"Join me? I can eat anytime."
"Only bought you thirty minutes. You've already wasted five. Move! There's always tonight... remember?"
"Not likely to forget." He moved...
Showered, shaved and dressed in borrowed T-shirt, socks and briefs, Bodie zipped up his cords; slid shoulder holster into place; snatched toast, coffee, car keys, jacket and a kiss from Doyle and went pounding down the sidewalk to his car.
Doyle grinned, consigned jogging to perdition and took himself back off to bed.
"My God, what happened to you?" Murphy greeted Bodie's self-conscious entry to the Ops Room. "Or should I say who?" A raised eyebrow registered the evidence of Bodie's swollen lips, the love-bites marring the otherwise cream-coloured flesh of his neck. Curious fingers hooked the top of a too-tight T-shirt; fascinated brown eyes followed the continuing trail passion had blazed. "Jesus, she ain't a raver, she's a nutter! Wouldn't happen to have a sister, would she?"
"Yeah." Bodie irritably slapped the hand away. "Almost as pretty, too. She's married, though."
"Just my luck. Ah well, no time for vain regrets: people to meet, places to visit, things to do... Shall we go?"
"If we must." Bodie's rapidly stiffening muscles protested every step of the long walk back to the car park. "You drive," he directed a surprised partner, casually abdicating his week-long, favoured position of control. I'm too sore to sit still behind the wheel. Chances are I'd twitch about and send us head-on into the wrong lane. Gingerly, he eased himself into the passenger's seat and leaned back against the headrest, eyes closing as Murphy smoothly set the car in motion.
"How much sleep did you get last night?"
"That's what I thought. You look--"
"Shut up and drive."
Murphy glanced at his uncommunicative companion and closed his mouth on an unkind suggestion. He drove: at least that gave him something to do besides watch the passing scenery and study Bodie's right ear.
Damn, I'm in worse shape than Doyle was after those bastards worked him over. Must be a trick to learnin' this kind of loving. Have to keep that in mind. Hold back. No way I can play rough with Ray and then give him rational explanation for his condition when he wakes up -- when he wakes up? Oh, shit!!!
"Murphy, stop the car!"
"What's wrong? What is it? Bodie, you're white as a ghost."
"Phone," Bodie mumbled, ignoring Murphy's alarmed and puzzled frown. He patted his clothing frantically. "No change," he moaned. "Turn out your pockets, Murph, I need 10p."
"Sure. Okay. Calm down, mate. What's the emergency?"
Bodie merely grabbed a handful of coins and tore from the Capri, risking life and limb jaywalking across the busy street to reach the blessed, red beacon of a telephone booth.
One ring... two...
"C'mon, c'mon!" An impatient hand beat against a metal shelf.
"Christ, where are you, Ray?"
"Hullo?" a sleepy Doyle sighed. "Now what, Murph? Haven't lost him again, have you?"
"Bodie?" All traces of drowsiness fled. "What's the matter, love? You okay?"
"I'm fine." Bodie sagged against the stand, his sweating forehead seeking the comfort of the cool glass. Doyle's warm concern enveloped him like a physical embrace.
He didn't deserve that love...
"Still here." The moment of truth: will this work over the phone? Testing, testing 1-2-3. Bodie smothered his quick-rising hysteria. "Your Elvis impersonation," he blurted. "Sing for me, Ray?"
Soft-crooned lyrics whispered in his ear: no questions asked; no hesitation; no snarky suggestion that he spring for a record or turn on the radio; no embarrassed murmurs of surprise; simply an immediate, willing response to Bodie's desire, his frightened need.
"Wise men say only fools rush in"Stop!" You aren't making this any easier for me, are you? Get it over with, Bodie. Do what you have to do. "Ray," he choked, "I want you to forget what happened between us this morning. I didn't barge in on you -- didn't say the things I said. We didn't -- we didn't make love. None of it happened. None of it! We haven't even seen each other since last Wednesday. Do you understand?"
But I can't help falling in love with you
Shall I stay
Would it be a sin
If I can't help falling in love with you..."
"Yes," a faraway voice replied.
"Good. I'll see you tonight. We'll... talk. Okay?"
"Have to go now, sunshine -- oh, wait! Let's say you'll remember this call as just one of the several dozen 'hello-how-are-you' calls I should have been making all week. Heaven knows, I owed you that much courtesy at least. Let's pretend I gave it to you, instead of being the miserable shit I really was. Okay?"
"Fine... and, Ray...?"
"I love you."
Bodie swallowed his disappointment. "Wake up, Ray," he concluded wearily.
"Ray?" a shocked drawl sounded from behind.
Bodie's hand slid to cover the mouthpiece. "Rachel," he smoothly supplied. His hand shifted up to sharply tap against Murphy's chest. "Wait in the car like a good lad. It's not nice to listen in on private conversations." He returned full attention to Doyle. "Gotta go. Murphy's chomping at the bit. See you later? Around six-ish?"
"If he can't make it, I'm free for the night," Murphy breathed seductively, rudely shouldering Bodie aside and commandeering the phone. "What do you say, sweetheart?"
A yelp of pain drowned out the greater portion of Doyle's reply.
"...hell is he on?" Bodie picked up the tail end of an amused tirade.
"Don't know. Ignore him. Gotta run."
"Right. Don't work too hard."
"Never do if I can help it. Enjoy your last day as a free man. It's back to CI5 with you bright and early tomorrow morning, old son. By the by, Cowley has a little training session with Macklin planned. S'his way of saying welcome back, don't you know."
"Mmm, thanks awfully for that happy news. You've made my day."
"Mission accomplished. Cheerio."
Instantaneous with the severing of the connection, Bodie's smile died. Resembling nothing more than a black thundercloud, the seething agent crossed the street and crawled back into the car.
"I'll tell you once and only once," he pleasantly informed his justifiably apprehensive partner, selecting each word with icy deliberation. "If you ever -- and I mean ever -- pull a stunt like that on me again, I'll break your bloody arm."
Came close to it this time, Murphy mused, ruefully massaging his injured limb. He's as friendly as a bear with a sore behind -- grumps about s'if there's a red-hot poker up 'is arse. This ain't the Bodie I used to know. Where's that infamous sense of humour? "Jesus, 3.7, I was only kidding around. Whatever happened to share and share alike?"
"Hands off, Ray--chel's mine!" Bodie snapped in a voice that would shatter diamonds.
The balance of the day passed in less-than-companionable silence.
"Hi, honey, I'm home," Bodie carolled, brazenly letting himself into Doyle's flat with his 'emergency' key. The best defense is a strong offense, he told himself, valiantly trying to conquer the knocking of his knees.
"Bodie!" Doyle trotted out of the kitchen: face flushed, eyes sparkling, a pleased grin spread from ear to ear. "Was beginning to think you stood me up."
"Murphy took a wrong turn. We were halfway to Croydon before he got straightened around... Mmmmm, something smells good!" Bodie's nose crinkled as he sniffed the air. "Lasagna?" His stomach gurgled hopefully.
"Yep. Haven't eaten yet, I trust? Made extra." Lord knows you look like you could stand a decent meal. When's the last time you ate?
"Might force down a bite or two just to be polite." For the first time in a long time, the thought of food was appealing. Bodie tossed his jacket aside. A wine bottle magically appeared from behind his back. "Brought me own. None of your cheap stuff for us tonight, me lad."
Doyle examined the label, whistled approvingly. "What are we celebrating?"
"Dunno. Spring? Life? The team reteamed?"
"S'going to be nice to get back to work," Doyle agreed, efficiently undertaking the allotment of generous drinks. "M'bloody sick and tired of sitting home watching me bruises fade." He handed Bodie a glass, their fingers brushing in the hand-over process. "Speaking of bruises, those are interesting trophies you're sporting."
Incredibly, Bodie blushed. Doyle pondered on this rarity as he loped off to answer the oven's buzzing demand for attention. In the chaos of last minute preparations, the subject was forgotten; Bodie didn't bother to remind his host of the memory lapse.
The meal was superb, the atmosphere light and relaxed: an evening like any of a hundred others they'd shared. Bodie felt the tight knot in the pit of his stomach slowly loosen. He joked, he teased, he even condescended to help wash up the dishes before sprawling himself out on the sofa: one eye on the broadcast of a football match, the other on the curled up figure of his partner. Somewhere between a young Pelé-in-the-making's spectacular free-kick goal and a seemingly endless commercial break, lounging about made the easy transition to peaceful slumber.
Considerable time elapsed before the furtive clink of glass on glass finally disturbed Bodie's 'nap'. The game was over, the television silent, the room considerately darkened save for a single pool of light. Doyle was still coiled in the same armchair: lamp tilted to shine over his shoulder; open book temporarily abandoned on his stomach; hands reaching to pour himself another drink.
Sensing Bodie's gaze, Doyle glanced towards the couch and spared his sleepy-eyed, rumpled friend a melting smile. "Hi."
"Hullo. Who won?"
"Rule Britannia," Bodie yawned. "Did I miss a riot or the stadium burning down?"
"No. S'a quiet match. Only took two ambulances to haul the injured away." Doyle uncurled from his chair, stretched, set book and tumbler aside. "Drink?"
"Left me some, did you?"
"Half a jigger."
"Generous to a fault."
"That's me." In proof of the claim, he deigned to carry the glass across the room. "Rough day?"
"Rough week." Rough month.
"Mmm." Doyle moved behind the couch. Slender fingers explored the tension-knotted muscles of Bodie's neck and shoulders and upper back. "Better?"
The touch grew firmer... surer...
"Nice. Magic fingers. You've missed your calling, my son."
"I keep in practice 'case Cowley ever gives me the boot."
"For what, sunshine?"
"For not coming by sooner."
"S'okay. I understood, Bodie. Really I did. And you phoned when you could... Like they say, it's the thought that counts."
"Yeah. Guess so." My thoughts were certainly with you...
"You worry too much. I'm the breast-beating martyr of this team, remember?"
"M'picking up your bad habits."
"Oh, God! Suppose that works both ways?"
Bodie chuckled. "How bad can perfect be?"
"Delusions of grandeur," Doyle scoffed.
"Mmmm." Bodie felt too lazy and content to argue. Eyelashes fluttered; drifted down to veil too-heavy eyes.
"Must be my stimulatin' company," Doyle sighed, his warm breath rustling in Bodie's left ear.
Bodie roused sufficiently to roll his head towards the voice and pry open a single, mildly curious eye. Doyle was kneeling at the end of the couch: elbows on the armrest; chin propped on laced fingers; amused gaze intent upon his drowsy partner; smile-curved lips but inches from Bodie's reach. Succumbing to the lure, not nearly awake enough to realize what he was doing, Bodie's hands stretched out to cup the dearly beloved face and his mouth claimed Doyle's in a tender, undemanding kiss.
There was a moment of shocked immobility before warm lips softened, parted, responded hesitantly...
Dreamily, Bodie drew away: smiled into bemused, green eyes; trailed loving fingertips across pink-flushed cheeks and brow.
"And all I expected was a thank you," Doyle murmured somewhat breathlessly.
Bodie frowned. "For what?" he said, sincerely puzzled.
"Dinner... the massage..."
"Bloody hell!!! N'derfi!" Bodie shouted belatedly. "Dammit, Ray, you aren't playing fair. No wonder I forget to wake you up -- it's bloody goddamned hard to tell when you're not 'asleep'!" He shook the smaller man furiously; followed up the final shake with a quick, tight hug and a mock-stern holding of his partner at arm's length away. "Don't suppose you'd care to tell me why that is, would you?"
Doyle's lips quivered; he nodded hesitantly, emerald eyes gleaming with the obvious desire to speak.
"Yeah," Bodie sighed. "Knew something was going on in that curly head of yours. Okay, I'll bite. Come on, spit it out. What are you bursting to say?"
"I love you, Bodie."
Bodie couldn't decide whether to laugh or cry. Wildly dilated, unblinking eyes stared at the speaker: reading the incredible truth of the quiet, heartfelt declaration; letting the fact of this dream-become-reality sink into his shell-shocked mind.
I love you, Bodie.
Bodie considered the beauty and wonder of each individual word; analyzed the sentence syllable by syllable; replayed the exact, sweet cadence of their over all harmony.
"Oh, Ray," he breathed. Tears spilled from too-bright eyes. It was over: all the hurting, all the longing, all the guilt and deception.
Or was it?
It couldn't be this easy. He couldn't risk believing -- couldn't risk having that belief shattered again.
Doyle loved him...
Of that much, he was sure.
But what limits would the independent cuss place on that love? Would he admit to it without the tongue-loosening 'truth serum' factor of the trance? Or would he keep silent, hide his 'secret'? How long had he been hiding it? And if he did admit to it openly, would that change their working relationship? For worse? For better?
Questions, questions, questions. Doubts and fears remained. So wouldn't it be sensible to test the waters? Maintain his nice, safe masquerade a little longer. Observe Doyle 'awake' and 'asleep'. Study his own reactions. Take it one day at a time.
For now, that would have to be enough. For now, for tonight, for as many tomorrows as might be, he'd accept Doyle's gift of love at face value. He'd wrap the moment's joy around him; pretend it was fated to last an eternity.
"Oh, Ray," he repeated, gathering the patiently waiting man into a warm embrace; molding their bodies together; rewarding the suggestive pout of an irresistible mouth with a hungry kiss; urging his willing lover towards the bedroom.
It was a slow and gentle loving: a perfect sharing, like their first time, with the added dimension of a second, better lubricated experience of Bodie feeling Ray sink into his eager flesh.
This time, there was no pain: the 'minor' aches of the day were eradicated with Doyle's first touch. This time, Bodie's eyes remained opened wide: fixated on Doyle's rapturously intent face; memorizing each fleeting nuance of emotion; harvesting the memories against a chance of famine should his fantasy world fall apart. This time, he didn't attempt to silence or deny Doyle's passionate avowals of love... nor did he hold back on his own...
It wasn't that hard to pretend 'eternity' really was within his grasp. Nevertheless, Bodie carefully deleted specific highlights of their evening and the entirety of their night-long cuddling and early morning loving from Doyle's impressionable mind, fostering the illusion that he'd kinked his back altruistically suffering the untender mercy of his still-healing partner's couch.
It had been -- undeniably -- the longest, most miserable week of his life, Murphy decided. Thank God, it's over, he sighed, greeting Ray Doyle's return to the CI5 fold with an enthusiastic hug that left the smaller man breathless and complaining of his still-tender flesh. Murphy immediately spouted effusive apologies and planted a hearty, smacking, wet kiss full on Doyle's lips in full view of a highly amused assembly. Chortling to himself about the pleasures of solitude in the Outer Hebrides, the dark-haired agent clasped his new assignment to his breast and scampered off through the Ops Room door before his dazed victim could so much as close a dangling jaw.
"I've serious doubts about that lad," Doyle mumbled, attempting to conceal his embarrassment by burying his nose in their assigned case file.
"Why? Because he kissed you?" Bodie inquired carelessly.
Doyle glanced up, grinned happily. "Nah, he's a great kisser. It's a shame he fancies the Hebrides -- I'm a city boy, meself. Still, wouldn't mind packing it off for a week or two..."
Stolen kisses are the sweetest, Bodie sighed, reluctantly extracting himself from Doyle's octopus-like embrace as the clatter of footsteps up rickety stairs warned company was on its way.
"Bloody Matthews and Campbell," he growled. "They're already twenty minutes late. Might well have waited a little longer... things were just getting interesting."
"Wipe that silly grin off your face, 4.5. Look lively, now. Pretend this damned baby-sitting job isn't the biggest bore in town. Forget what we were doing and wake up, Ray."
A key fumbled in the freshly installed lock and the door squeaked open. Two figures stood framed in the doorway, blinking owlishly, blinded by the comparative brightness of a naked sixty watt bulb after the stygian darkness of the hall.
Two sharp clicks sounded: the unmistakable clicks of revolvers snapping off 'safety'. The newcomers froze, grabbed for their holsters, froze once more as eyes finally adjusted, revealing Bodie and Doyle's commanding stance.
"How the hell did you two manage to live this long?" Bodie asked their sheepish relief, the muzzle of his Browning unwavering from Campbell's breast.
"Sorry," Campbell panted. "Running late."
"Run into a room like that and you may never run out again," Doyle advised, reholstering his gun. "Your next reception might not be this warm and friendly."
"Yeah. Point taken. How's the baby?"
"Sleeping," Doyle smiled.
"Trying to sleep," came the grumpy correction. "Your old man promised me protection. Said he'd get me to the trial alive and well. With all the racket you four prats are making, I'll bloody-well keel over from exhaustion in the witness stand."
"But you'll be there in one piece to fall asleep." Cold, blue eyes swept up and down the pajama-clad speaker, not bothering to mask their contemptuous dislike. "Everything's under control, Mr. Hanley. Go back to your room."
Bodie's tone brooked no argument. The bedroom door slammed shut behind their spiteful charge.
"He's all yours, boys," Doyle drawled. "Mr. Public Relations and I are off to bed."
"Lucky you," Matthews sighed soulfully.
Lucky Bodie, Bodie told the closing door. Exhaustive research into all facets of his and Doyle's complex relationship was proving conclusively that he could chance admitting his love for his partner... could expect the declaration to be met with unconditional approval. His first confession had been prematurely aborted. He shouldn't have panicked. Should have listened to what Doyle was trying to say. Shouldn't have made a snap judgment. He'd been wrong, dead wrong, all around. The past fortnight had unearthed ample evidence supporting that hindsight. Work, play, Doyle: he could have it all.
It had been the happiest two weeks of his life. Little wonder that he could not suppress the bounce in his step as he and Doyle walked down a dingy, deserted street en route to their parked car.
Mind, there had been a few monkey wrenches thrown into the meticulous, secretive process of his research. Twice, he'd found himself hastily n'derfi-ing his way out of compromising situations. An after-workout shower in the locker room: impossible not to fondle that delectable derrière when Doyle bent over to retrieve a slippery bar of soap. An unset alarm clock: a sleepy-turned-horrified glance at the time; an unthinking "Oh my God, we're late! Wake up, Ray!"
Such were the risks less-than-objective scientific researchers ran. Tonight, he'd run another risk. Tonight, he'd tell Ray Doyle that he --
Just as a cheerfully scheming Bodie was slipping his keyring from his pocket, shots rang out behind them, individual reports blending into a barrage of rapid gunfire. As one man, CI5's finest team tore back towards the ramshackle building housing the key witness in the Witherly extortion ring trial. A shadow flickered around a corner: Doyle pursued the phantom down a narrow alleyway; Bodie leapt up the stairs, slowed to warily approach an ominously silent flat.
Matthews was dead, sprawled untidily by the front door. His gun was still in its holster, surprise etched on his too-young face. A face that would never grow old...
Bodie stepped inside; spared but a brief glance at the open bedroom door, the bullet-riddled corpse on the rumpled bed. His eyes scanned the outer room, discovered Campbell half-hidden behind an overturned armchair. No pulse, but the body was still warm, the barrel of a Browning cold to the touch as Bodie gently removed it from a limp hand. A quick check of the gun's chambers revealed a full complement of bullets yet remained; Bodie carefully replaced the weapon in its owner's hand.
Fingers twitched, tightened about the grip.
"Alex?" Again, Bodie sought a pulse... found one. "3.7 to control," he barked in his R/T. "Tell Cowley we've been hit. Matthews and Hanley are dead. Campbell's hurt. Needs an ambulance -- fast! Doyle's in pursuit of a suspect, heading north towards Charles Street. Send back-up. I'm--"
Bodie broke the connection without acknowledging Control's receipt of the message. "Easy, mate," he ordered. "Help's on the way."
"Knocked on door... called us by name... had... had to be... insider... tell Cowley..."
"Shh, shh. Take it easy, son. Here, let me have a look at you." He studied the injuries; frowned.
"Couldn't see... face... mask... red... white... ski mask... John's dead... isn't he?"
"Yes." Gentle hands attempted to staunch the bleeding; knew it for a hopeless task.
Tears flooded pain-filled eyes. "Always... knew... we'd go... together... Butch and Sundance... best way... to go..."
"Don't be daft, you're not dying. The Cow won't like it if you skip out of filing a full report in triplicate."
Weak laughter. Blood flecked pale lips. "Tell Cowley... he can..." A sharp gasp. A tiny sigh. "John?"
No need to check for a pulse this time.
Two good men dead, their only sin that of protecting a worthless son-of-a-bitch nobody who happened to carry -- had happened to carry -- a rotten bit of information. Something someone wanted left unsaid. A 'someone' other than the man Hanley would have testified against? Someone who could ill afford implication in the sordid affair?
'An inside man,' Campbell had guessed.
Bodie was inclined to agree.
Two good men dead, murdered by a brother agent. A 'brother' who could circle around, come up on the unsuspecting Doyle, pretend to offer back-up and when Doyle turned his back...
Bodie fumbled his R/T to trembling lips. "Ray?" he cried. "Ray"
Doyle's receiver hissed and crackled: the channel was open, but Doyle did not reply.
Bodie ran, his mind operating on two distinct levels: one self calmly switching frequencies, spilling details of the situation to HQ; the other silently pleading with a God he didn't believe existed that the death count wouldn't rise to three good men.
"Whoever... he is... he's fast... on his feet," Doyle panted, doggedly trailing his seemingly tireless prey; admiring of, but unfooled by, feints and dodges that would do a CI5 agent proud.
Bloody long-distance runner! Could be halfway to Dover by now. Wonder why he has us running in circles? Trying to get me dizzy?
He snorted in amusement, choked on the breath, lost precious ground and had to force protesting muscles to redouble their effort.
Wish I could get close enough to be sure of my mark. Fat chance of that. 'e knows the district. Knows all he has to do is outlast me... shake me... go to ground. Keeps coming back to that old warehouse. Focal point. His lair?
Doyle found his pace unconsciously slackening, giving his adversary the opportunity he appeared to crave. The man drew further ahead; zigzagged about a bit, then made a confident beeline for the warehouse and vanished inside.
Doyle stumbled to a halt and bent over double: hands braced on knees, head dangling, trembling with weariness and the inability to swallow sufficient quantities of lung-searing air. Gun clenched in his right fist, he wiped the back of the hand across a sweaty brow; cursed the fact that his jacket had been slung over his shoulder as he and Bodie headed for the car. He'd tossed it on the hood of the Capri. His R/T was in the left breast pocket.
He was on his own.
He'd give anything to have Bodie's reassuring presence at his side -- prayed the crazy sod was all right. There'd been no other shots fired. Chances were his partner was playing king of the castle while he pranced about like a bloody racehorse. Bodie would have hell's own time catching up -- wouldn't know where to begin to look for him.
No chance of back-up.
His quarry could slip away if he went back for reinforcements.
A choice that was no choice: he had to follow him in.
A whisper of sound behind him: he spun around, gun at the ready.
The gun barrel dipped slightly in recognition of a familiar voice. Doyle stared at the approaching figure with growing relief. "Bradshaw," he greeted. "Good to see you. Got a nasty situation going here." Narrowed eyes intensified their scrutiny of his fellow agent. "Bit out of breath, aren't you, mate?"
"Yeah. Caught sight of you five blocks back. Poor neighbourhood for jogging solo. Thought you could use some company."
"Mmm. Thought you were our top runner?"
"What's your nasty situation, Ray? Aside from your charming personality, that is."
"Suspect's holed up in that warehouse. Shot up our little hideaway."
"The Witherly case?"
"Yeah. Odds are Hanley's dead."
"Mmm. Tough break. Like some back-up, would you?"
"Glad to oblige. Lead the way, mon capitaine."
"Hang about. Lend me your R/T."
"Mother worries if I don't phone home. Gotta check on Bodie. C'mon, give." He snatched the communications device from a slow-moving hand, adjusted the dials. "Doyle to --"
"Ray! Where the hell are you? Are you okay?"
"M'fine. We're at an abandoned warehouse on the corner of Willow and King. We're --"
"We? Who's with you, Ray? Don't--"
"Look out! Behind you!" A leather-clad arm swept up, knocking the R/T from Doyle's hand. Bradshaw's revolver furiously assaulted a shadow-haunted alleyway.
"What the hell?" Doyle peered into the darkness. "I don't see --"
"Gone now. Street lamp caught his gun. Saw the glint and -- oh shit, Ray, I'm sorry. I think I've broken the R/T."
"S'okay. Bodie knows where I am -- 'e can tell Cowley. You sure it's our man?"
"Positive. Who else would be shooting at us?"
"Don't know how he got in there."
"Must've slipped the warehouse while we were talking. Easy enough to do. Lot of loopholes in that old wreck, lot of back streets for circling 'round-- it doesn't matter how, Ray, he's ducked in there. And he's outsmarted himself. That alley's a dead end."
"So what are we waiting for?"
Doyle regarded the tall blond doubtfully. Copper's instincts. The alley was empty, he'd stake his reputation on it. Why would a man who knew the city like the back of his hand suddenly box himself in? Still, he had no logical cause to mistrust his companion's word -- had worked with the man on occasion, knew Greg Bradshaw to be an outstanding agent. It wouldn't hurt to humour his silly suspicions... would it?"
"Right. In we go. After you," he gestured grandly. There were definite limits to the extent of his trust in a non-Bodie partner.
Bradshaw shrugged carelessly. "Okay."
They commenced a cautious, thorough search...
Doyle had advanced approximately a dozen yards -- Bradshaw, another ten further down, was poking about tumbled dust bins -- when wild footsteps pounded past the alley's mouth.
"In here, Bodie!"
Doyle turned to watch his partner careen into view. His welcoming smile died. Bodie's face was the face of a stranger. Blue eyes were cold, black, soulless pits; darker than the night. Bloodless lips were twisted in a snarl. Little of humanity -- less of sanity -- remained to the threatening presence effectively blocking the entrance to the alleyway. Bodie's gun was drawn and levelled, his aim sure, his apparent target his partner's curl-topped head.
"Bodie?" Doyle stepped forward, paused uncertainly.
"You fucking bastard!" Bodie roared. Judge, jury, executioner, he squeezed the trigger. An angry echo answered the doomsday blast.
Pain exploded in Doyle's left shoulder, the bullet's impact spinning him around to face the alley's far recess. In slow motion, he drifted earthwards: ears registering the rumbling thunder of a second shot; eyes widening with shocked amazement as a second gaping cavity joined the first in Bradshaw's breast. A smoking revolver dropped from the blond's uplifted hand...
Time regained its normal flow. Momentum carried Doyle's hapless body skittering across hard-packed earth to collide with a brick wall. Dazed, disoriented, he used his uninjured arm to forcibly drag himself up to a sitting position; sat numbly regarding Bradshaw's lifeless form.
Words penetrated the fog of shock. "I don't care if they planned to load the goddamned Royal Family in that wagon! Ray's hit! Get their asses over to this location, sir!"
Doyle smiled fondly. Bodie, the Diplomat, that's my partner. "Bo... die?" he croaked experimentally.
"Ray? Oh Jesus, Ray!" Warm arms wrapped about him, offering temporary haven from the mounting pain.
"Had me going for a minute, mate," Doyle wheezed. "Hell of a way to ask for the tenner I owe you... Why did Bradshaw shoot me?"
"Slow, Raymond, slow. Sure he didn't clip your head? He's our hitman. Killed Campbell, Matthews and Hanley. Don't know why. Mixed up in the extortion mess somehow. Let Cowley figure that out."
"Leastwise CI5's integrity's intact. You saved the old man the embarrassment of bringing an agent to public trial."
"More interested in saving you. Shut up. Let me see how good a shot he was." He eased a blood-saturated shirt aside; scowled. Shoulder wound. Bullet's still embedded -- must've hit bone instead of going straight through. Damn, he's lost a lot of blood. Wonder if it's nicked an artery?
Supporting Doyle with one arm, jarring him as little as possible, Bodie shrugged free of his jacket, deftly rolled it into an ungainly compress and pressed the pad against blood-welling flesh.
"Hold still, sunshine," he directed. "Don't try to move."
"How bad is it?" Doyle gasped, flinching away from the firm pressure.
No disguising the frightened worry behind that curt reply.
"That's what I thought. God, Bodie --" Fingers gouging into Bodie's arm, Doyle's entire body spasmed, arching with the pain.
Fear-numbed, beyond feeling the punishing grip, Bodie simply stared down at his partner's pallid, tormented face.
There's nothing I can do. Nothing! The Cow has the ambulance on its way: ETA ten minutes. Jesus, ten minutes? An eternity! A man can bleed to death in half that time. Ray's hurting... and there's not a bloody bit of comfort I can offer other than my presence and my arms. If only...
Inspiration struck: the inspiration that was almost second nature to him now.
"N'derfi," he said triumphantly.
"What?" Glazed, pain-filled eyes looked through him as if he wasn't there.
"N'derfi," Bodie begged in a louder tone. And, again, the plea more desperate: "N'derfi!"
"Ohhhhhh," Doyle moaned; head tossing, grip tightening.
"It's not working!" Bodie's disbelief was absolute. "It's not working," he repeated. "But it has to work! It has to, Ray! Can't take much more of this -- either of us." Bodie blinked angrily; a single tear trickled unnoticed down his cheek. The weary hopelessness of a disappointed child flooded his wide, blue eyes. "Why won't it work?" he cried. "Why not now when you need it most?"
Fever-bright, green eyes lifted; their gaze blindly seeking Bodie's. Doyle smiled at the white face hovering above him. Ice-cold fingers slid down a rigid arm, curled around Bodie's warm hand. "Never did work, you dumb crud," he whispered consolingly, and felt himself falling into darkness... welcomed the fall...
He floated through space and time, anchored to earth by the sharp talons of pain which claimed his left shoulder. Clumsy fingers fumbled to alien restraints, uncomprehending of their purpose or origin, instinctively fighting to be free of the relentless punishment...
"Ah-ah, mustn't touch, sunshine. Doctor's orders."
Bodie's voice... Bodie's hands...
Doyle forced open drug-clouded eyes, blinked furiously until he managed to focus on a smiling, concerned face. His gaze slipped to his bandage-swathed shoulder, slid back to his khaki-garbed guardian angel.
"Bo... die?" A whisper of sound: the name a strangled breath... a question... a plea...
"You're okay, just groggy from the anesthetic. The bullet's out. You'll be up and about in no time flat."
"I'm here." Bodie's hand tightened its hold. His mouth responded to the fear and longing in the green eyes: trailed chastely across Doyle's cheek; lightly brushed his brow; descended to parted lips for a kiss that was not chaste at all.
"Later, love," Bodie whispered shakily, reluctantly withdrawing from the kiss, defiantly maintaining his grip on Doyle's hand. "A nurse is bound to pop in soon. Can't risk giving her cardiac arrest, now can we?"
"Thought I'd lost you."
"You thought you'd lost me?"
"The look on your face when I told you -- didn't think you'd ever want to see me again. God, I've put you through hell... and... I'm sorry, Bodie... so sorry..."
Tears threatened to spill; lips trembled; Doyle swallowed convulsively, striving for self-control.
"Shh, shh," Bodie soothed. "It's okay. Everything's okay. I understand. We'll talk it all out tomorrow. You just get some rest, you're in no condition to --"
"No!" Doyle visibly fought the temptation to give in to the drugs still flooding his system. "We'll talk now." He closed his eyes, riding out a wave of vertigo, determined to remain conscious. The pain searing his flesh was less than the hurt wracking his soul. He reopened his eyes, stubbornly set on waging the physically difficult battle to speak of things too long left unsaid.
"You almost did it, you know," he admitted haltingly. "Almost had me hypnotized. I couldn't bear to let you win -- wanted to see what you'd do if you did. So I played along. Pretended to go under. Was all a lark. A big joke on my gullible, arrogant partner. But, somehow, the joke turned serious. Backfired on me. I fell in love."
"All those songs you sang... The words were true, weren't they? A plain message if I'd had the brains to read it."
"When we -- The first night we made love -- It was incredible, Bodie. Never felt like that before. Never. I was flying high, had it all. And then I realized I couldn't keep it. It was still just a game to you. A passing fancy, I thought. A heat of the moment one-off. So I played the clown to save myself the hurt I expected. Kept up my pretense... and wound up hurting you. That's when I finally realized it wasn't a game. Tried to tell you -- tried to make it right -- but you shut me out, ran away."
"Almost kept right on running, too."
"I know. Didn't blame you. My fault..."
A gentle finger captured the tear trickling down Doyle's cheek. "I couldn't leave you, sunshine. Couldn't stay away if I tried. Not ever. Kismet: you are my destiny."
"You deserve better. M'a selfish bastard."
"Right now, I'd be hard pressed to tell you who's the bigger bastard. We both should be ashamed of ourselves. I used you, Ray. Right from the start I used you shamelessly. All those juvenile pranks I pulled..."
"Didn't make me do anything I wouldn't've done for you anyway. Just like I'd do anything to keep you with me. Just like I took whatever I could of you -- whether it was mine to take or not."
"And didn't I do the same? Christ, we deserve each other! Who else would want us?"
"Should've been honest with you. Couldn't bring myself to tell you how I felt. You wouldn't have believed me-- wouldn't have forgiven me for the trick I'd played. Oh God, Bodie, I've been such a fool!"
"Been a bit of a fool myself. It's okay. S'over now. No more foolish lies. Truth, Ray: I love you."
"Love... you," Doyle echoed contentedly, a sleepy yawn interrupting the passionate declaration's smooth flow.
"What's so funny?"
"Go to sleep, Ray. I'll tell you later."
"Later... M'gonna hold you to that promise..."
Bodie settled back in his chair, still clinging to the sleeper's hand, prepared to wait however far away 'later' might be.
Doyle writhed: there was no eluding Bodie's hungry hands, lips, tongue and teeth. An eager cock began a careful entry, and he was floating... flying...
Inevitably, the phone rang.
"Ignore it," Doyle begged. "Could be a wrong number."
"Could be Cowley. Answer it. Put me on hold. I'll try and keep in mind where we left off."
Doyle grimaced, but obediently reached for the phone. "Hello?" he said warily.
"4.5," the unmistakable Scottish burr spilled into the room, "we've a hostage situation. Leave's cancelled. I want all available agents..."
Told you so, Doyle mouthed at Bodie disappointedly.
Bodie merely shrugged and busied himself with the slow nibbling of Doyle's free ear, the gentle continuation of his partner's impalement, the expert caressing of a fully erect cock.
"Is Bodie there?"
Almost... almost... A final thrust: the familiar presence of his lover filled him, completed him. "Yes!" Doyle's eyes glazed. At the last possible moment, he converted a lusty moan to a desperate cough.
"Bodie, sir," Bodie corrected, rescuing the phone from a helpless hand. "4.5 choked on his breakfast. Messy little bugger, is our Ray. I remember the time--"
"Never mind that," Cowley sighed impatiently. "Do you two require formal, written invitations, or are you coming?"
Doyle chose that exact moment to give a vengeful little wiggle which, unfortunately, toppled him as well as his partner over the edge. Bodie only just managed to retain enough common sense to clamp a hasty palm over the phone.
Ten on the Richter scale. "We're coming," Bodie answered truthfully, a long, shuddering sigh escaping into the mouthpiece. "Sir," he added somewhat belatedly, dropping the receiver back to its stand. "One of these days," he informed his grinning, unrepentant lover, "if the job doesn't kill us, Cowley will!"
The phone rang.
"Ignore it," Doyle ordered, lavishing kisses on Bodie's face. "Can't answer if we're not here, can we?"
An R/T beeped from the jacket slung over a chair...
"Running all the way, sir," they chorused merrily, Bodie cunningly flipping the channel open and shut.
Five minutes later, the claim was actually true.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Poems, Prayers & Promises, Darien Duck & Phoebe Entwhistle, 1986
Lightly revised by the author