The Other Side


There's something about the darkness of the room you walk into -- the outright loneliness of the baleful lamp-light, the only light on -- that alerts you, sets you on your toes with every hair on your head tingling with anxiety. The cold yellow light makes his face look angelic and terrible. It kisses his curls, and gracefully lingers on his chin and buckled cheekbone, filling the pools of his eyes. But there is no light there, only darkness.

And suddenly it hits you. He's not getting out of this on his own. You have to bring him back.

Bodie freezes as he sees Doyle, hunched into the armchair they had spent January -- that single bright month, a long time ago -- fighting over.

He who had the chair had the telly controller, and he who had the telly controller was the king of all kings in their household. After that stakeout night, the chair had become of key importance to them. There had been battles fought and won in that chair -- reckless takeaway chip ambushes, surprise kissing attacks, daring full-frontal assaults... All taking place right in that rotten old armchair.

Downright distracting, that.

Most of the time, Bodie hadn't really minded when Doyle got the chair -- it was ugly and battered, barely held together with robust amounts of 'leccy tape, and it was only about an inch closer to the television anyway, for Christ's sake... But he really enjoys the fact that Doyle does mind. That he did mind.

When Bodie had had the chair, Doyle really minded. His face went all hard and flushed and twitchy and it was just glorious. Sometimes, if he'd been feeling mischievous, Bodie had sat himself down with a book -- even though the light was better for reading over on the sofa -- just waiting for him to walk into the room and see him...

But that hasn't happened in a long time. Since everything buggered up, any time they do spend together is spent coddling, cajoling or cursing. Nothing's the same as it was, and Bodie doesn't like to think about what it was, what it could have been.

And tonight, Doyle doesn't look glorious, anyway. He looks really awful.

The head lifts, and Bodie is confronted with the empty look that has haunted that face ever since he came back to them. Doyle looks tired, so achingly tired, exhaustion clinging to the down-turned corners of his mouth. Beneath the numb, dumb look, Doyle just looks dangerous. Dangerous and viciously tired.

Bodie drops his keys onto the coffee table and waits, barely withstanding the thousand-yard stare Doyle is giving him. He ignores him -- it's the only thing he can bear to do, these days -- and walks through the dingy, dark flat without turning any of the lights on, practiced by now. He's learned in the past few weeks that Doyle doesn't like sitting in the light anymore. The bruise on his neck throbs in dim sympathy as he switches the kettle on.

He's got one lamp on, and that's progress -- or so he tries to tell himself. But he knows it's not enough.

If only it had always been like this. If only he hadn't had a glimpse of a sunnier life, a taste of the golden cup of happiness. Things would have been easier if what went before hadn't been so happy. For one month in his whole life, he'd begun to think that he might actually deserve to be happy, too. What a fool he'd been, daring to hope like that... What a fool he was for feeling so sad, now it had been taken from him.

Now, all he has are the fading memories of those short, bright weeks, but he knows that's not enough either.

"Of all the bloody luck... Trust us to get dropped in the arse-end of the Antarctic without so much as a by-your-leave or even a cup of hot cocoa... Where Cowley thinks he's getting off it a mystery to me, I'll tell you that... He's an absolute tink, and I don't mind telling you -- he reckons he can just click his fingers and we'll come running and do whatever he wants, even if what he wants is for us to freeze our bits off in an abandoned warehouse just so's he can sit at home in his lovely, warm cottage and think about how cold we are... It's a bloody disgrace, if you ask me- "

"Doyle." Bodie heard his own voice, muffled by the old grain sacking he was using as a cushion, but echoing just as Doyle's had been.


"Shut. The. Fuck. Up."

His tone booked no room for argument. Everyone knew that a sleepy Bodie was not a Bodie to trifle with... And a sleepy Bodie, firmly in the boss's doghouse, wasting time on a tedious, pointless stakeout on a cold Jamuary night in the arse-end of Sheffield at 4 in the morning, in a leaking warehouse with only cardboard and sacking separating his sleeping bag from the oily concrete floor... This was a Bodie certainly not to be whined at. No matter how disgruntled Doyle felt. For once, Bodie just couldn't be arsed.

Bodie put up with a lot from him. Not that he was a martyr or anything like that -- it was just the nature of things. If he was honest (which he made a point of hardly ever being), he actually quite liked letting Doyle rant on and on and on at him. It was soothing for Doyle, and it was informative for him... He stored away the little annoyances and pet hates of his partner, to be dusted off and used as a weapon for later arguments. He often enjoyed winding him up every now and then, and setting him off on a topic just to see how fast the fuse could blow and how far the sparks flew. And he always listened. Well, nearly always.

But sometimes -- just sometimes -- Doyle's incessant hatred of the world got on his tits.

It was clear that Doyle felt utterly miserable -- even more so now he wasn't allowed to be angry outloud. Bodie heard him sigh with gusto, could almost feel the injured pride thrumming in the pitch-black air around his prone form.

Bodie glared numbly at the edge of the rough hessian, knowing he could never fall asleep in the position he was in. But he also that if he shifted, the sacking would rip into his back and arms without mercy. It was rather like trying to sleep on a smelly, mould-ridden cheese-grater. He sniffed woefully, and pulled his useless sleeping bag closer around him, trying to warm up enough to go to sleep.

It was abominably cold. The metal roof of the warehouse, seemingly miles above their heads in the vacant blackness, tinged uselessly with the odd raindrop or misguided owl. Outside there was nothing but the distant sound of cars on the motorway on the outskirts of the city. They were absolutely alone. Bodie shut his eyes against the crushing darkness and tried not to think of how many people would be curled up in warm beds, lit by orangey fires, wrapped around their loved ones, safe and sound and snug as a bug.

Sometimes, even Bodie got bothered by stakeouts. His shivering increased.

He tried not to think about how all the toes on his feet had gone numb, or the fact that something was digging into his side, or the fact that his head now ached rottenly with the seeping cold... He'd been kicked in the ribs by a bloody hippy at some point last week, and they weren't half throbbing, now. Was that a wheeze?

There was a scuffling noise, coming from nowhere, and Bodie's fingers wrapped around the cold metal of his gun before he'd even thought about reacting.


Doyle. Bloody Doyle shifting his sleeping bag some. Bodie smiled into the night, in spite of himself, and holstered his weapon. His arm snapped back under his own sleeping bag, the brief contact with the freezing air enough to make his skin stand on end.

He rubbed his upper arms distractedly, and raised his voice across the void. "Appreciate a bit of warning next time."

"Ey?" Doyle was making an awful racket, and sounded like he was struggling with whatever it was he was doing. Coarse sacking scraped across the floor, closer to Bodie. "Fuck, it's baltic, this place."

"I could have shot you, you dozy sod. Creeping about like that in the pitch black. What are you doing, anyway?" Bodie was frustrated because he couldn't see Doyle, couldn't see what he was up to, so he screwed his eyes shut instead. Listened to Doyle hiss and swear as he did something unfathomable in the freezing darkness.

"Going to give you a cuddle, aren't I? Got to get close enough." Doyle's sarky, disembodied voice appeared somewhere up and to the left of where Bodie lay.

"You what?" Bodie's eyes snapped open pointlessly at the vague half-challenge. He could barely see a foot in front of him, let alone six foot upwards.

Predictably, Doyle prickled audibly. "Ahh, don't be a girl, Bodie. I can here your teeth chattering from all the way over there..."

The sacking and shoved cardboard landed with a whoomph next to him, the impact sending a rush of cold, dusty air right into his face. He buried his nose in his sleeping bag with a cross cough. He bit down on his tongue, thwarting his traitorous teeth in their effort to embarrass him.

"Anyway, this just makes sense and I'm cold and I need me some sleep, so budge up." Doyle had his bossy voice on, and even Bodie had to let him just get on with whatever was in his curly little head when he took that tone. Admonished without really knowing why -- but in no state to examine it -- Bodie threw himself further across the sacking, hissing in pain as the rough weave tore out some hair from the nape of his neck.

Doyle hurled himself, sleeping bag and all, down next to Bodie, and spent the next ten minutes wriggling about, trying to get comfortable. Knees and sharp elbows jabbed into Bodie as Doyle furiously tried to arrange himself, and before Bodie quite knew what had happened, Doyle had himself wedged half-underneath Bodie -- lifting Bodie's side from the floor -- his head resting on Bodie's chest and his legs wrapped round his, the sleeping bags held tight against them by his own weight.

When he'd settled himself with a sigh, the empty dripping in the darkness around them was the only sound for a few moments.

Bodie was distinctly uncomfortable -- not with the arrangement (Doyle had actually engineered a good little den, given the materials he'd had to work with... resourceful little bugger that he was), but rather with the other man's sudden closeness. It was a funny thing to happen -- for him to feel so awkward about contact he usually tried to instigate and was nearly always denied -- but it was too dark and cold for Bodie to think about it properly. He'd probably just lost his mind in the sub-zero temperatures.

"You don't waste much time, do you?" The words sounded strangled as they drifted upwards.

Doyle grunted in agreement, a soft puff of warm breath hitting Bodie's chest as he shifted closer, his hips knocking into Bodie. "You're like a hot water bottle, mate. All roasty toasty." He grinned up at him suddenly, and Bodie could see his wonky teeth gleaming in the darkness, far too close for comfort. "Lovely."

And with that, Doyle had promptly fallen asleep. Bodie was left, meanwhile, wide-awake with a strange feeling of fury, delight and helplessness rattling around in his chest. His mind clouded over with possibilities and strange longings, and it had taken a wave of pure, overpowering exhaustion, about an hour after these proceedings, to push Bodie over his mind's clamouring and force him to sleep.

At some point later in the night -- or the exceedingly early morning, as it was -- Doyle had started shuddering, the cold having started to eat away at his bones, permeating even his tough skin. Not enough insulation on him, or some such explanation. Bodie -- without thinking, without even realising -- had simply gathered him into his arms, and hugged him in his sleep till the shivers slipped away to nothing. They warmed one another and drifted deeper into their dreams.

They had awoken with their arms wrapped around one another, the intense cold of the new, blue morning having kept them locked together all night. They could have explained it all away, they could have ignored it and eventually forgotten all about it, they could have even laughed about it... But, instead, Doyle had settled on simply given Bodie the best fucking blow-job of his life and, still tangled up in sleeping bags and hazy morning confusion, they had sealed the deal with a kiss before the new day began in earnest.

A golden smile greeted him as he got in the car. Like, a real cheek-to-cheek sunshiner.


His mood -- which had been trailing along the pavement, somewhere behind his heels, at the prospect of working a double shift on his supposed day off -- brightened considerably, and rather unexpectedly. Doyle's good-humour was as infectious as it was rare. His grin always made the world seem a bit less rotten, somehow.

But you couldn't let him know a thing like that.

Bodie looked the other way, struggling to keep the smile from his face as he folded his legs and got into the car. "What's up with you, then?"

"Just... Morning." Impossibly, the grin grew bigger.

Something deep down inside of Bodie rolled over and glowed. He let the smile loose, helpless, as a warm feeling settled in his chest. This was his, now. All his.

He slammed the door shut in triumph, ignoring the hiss of reproach that came from the car's owner at his carelessness. Fugitively, he darted forward and stole a kiss from his partner, by way of an apology, taking the laughter from Doyle's mouth.

Bodie smiled as he pulled back, his mouth brushing tenderly across Doyle's rough upper lip as they broke apart.

"Morning, yourself."

Doyle let out a shaky breath and glanced at the street, the idea of checking the coast was clear coming only as an afterthought. His mouth quirked again, his eyes glinting as he looked up, back to business. "Hurry up, will you? We'll be late."

Bodie rolled of his eyes and withdrew, shifting in his seat to get comfortable. "Ah, you're just worried the Old Man'll dock you."

"Too right, I am," Doyle nodded sharply, starting the car with a kick of his heels, a jerk of his arm. "Pittance he gives us: I can't afford to lose any hours. Which is what he'll from us take if you keep making us late in the morning!"

Bodie felt exceedingly defensive all of a sudden, and this acute sense of injustice made him whine slightly higher and louder than he intended to. "You were the one who started with the whole 'Morning' business! I was just following your lead!"

"I know exactly what you were following, son, and you should be ashamed of yourself." Doyle said viciously, jabbing a finger at him from over the steering wheel. He shook his head. "Filthy, is what that is."

Bodie couldn't think of anything to say, and spluttered uselessly while Doyle grinned that grin again, watching the traffic. Eventually Bodie closed his mouth and Doyle's smile split even further. Bodie laughed out-loud at that -- he always did. It was the cluster of laughter lines that lit up Doyle's face when he turned all Cheshire cat on him that did it.

He leaned in close to Doyle, deliberately whispering seductively in his ear. "Do I need to tell Cowley you've finally cracked and demand some personal time? The stress has gotten into your curly bonce?" He smacked him on the head, the palm of his hand making a cracking sound on Doyle's skull.

"Oi! Not while I'm driving, you tit!" Doyle rubbed at the back of his head in disgruntlement. "I could have you for lost pay, you know. Got a job tomorrow.... Idiot," he added, for good measure.

The words were said lightly enough, but the sudden tense look on Doyle's face caught Bodie off-guard. He searched his mind and tried to swallow the odd feeling in his throat. "The... Sykes case?"

Doyle nodded, disconcertingly gentle all of a sudden. "Just the usual. I go in as the man our man is sending, and find out who the boss is."

Bodie frowned. "It's Sykes, isn't it?"

"No, you wally." Doyle always did sound vaguely cat-like when he was angry, like a spitting tom. "You know, just because 'Sykes' is the name on the case, don't mean he's the one we're after, does it?" He squinted into road suspiciously, "Hang on a minute, exactly how long have you been in this game for?"

"'Bout two and a half years. Year more than you," Bodie added the last bit with a touch of superiority.

"And you're the man I'm supposed to trust to watch my innocent arse?"

Bodie smirked happily and crossed his arms, knowing it would irritate Doyle no end. He sighed smugly, relishing his role. "'Fraid so."

Doyle growled, even though he'd known the answer all along. "There by the bloody grace of God, mate, me. By the bloody grace of God."

He turned his head to navigate the junction they drifted up to, and Bodie settled back, basking in his victory. He might force Doyle to make him a cup of tea later, as an honourable sacrifice in the face of him winning today's early morning car argument. Deferential, like.

Doyle swore soundly as the car he'd been edging out to nip in front of shot right past him. It was like a dog who'd just been robbed of his last bone. Bodie had sudden second thoughts about making Doyle do anything he didn't want to do that day.

He cleared his throat guiltily. "Who is Sykes, then?"

"Ey?" Doyle snapped, concentrating hard on the traffic of a busy inner-London borough, glaring at it from under his curls.

"Who's Sykes?"

"He's my man! Jesus!" Doyle shot him a dirty look as he forced the car out through a break in the traffic that was smaller than it apparently looked. There was a moment where it felt, to Bodie, as if all four wheels were trying to go in separate directions, but Doyle hung determinately onto the wheel.

The car rolled forward into a new line of traffic, and Doyle's face smoothed ever so slightly. He cleared his throat. "He's my man."

Bodie did his best Dolly Parton, complete with uncanny Southern-American accent and appropriate fluttering of eyelashes. "You're my man."

Doyle got an odd look on his face, neither a smile nor a frown. Something infinitely better than either. "Give over," he said with a chuckle, but the words were thick.

Bodie spent the rest of the journey looking out of the window and trying to think of a way to define the feeling in his stomach. As they rolled into the car park, he concluded that it felt as if his insides had been squeezed by something big, enthusiastic and willing to share.

"Well," you nodded, at a loss for something to say. "Keep your hand on yer holiday money."

His eyes sparkled happily. He touched his imaginary curly forelock. "Yes, mum."

"Oi. Less of that, you."

He grinned wickedly and you stepped closer, unable to help yourself, aware that the clock was ticking and Doyle was supposed to be installed within the hour. Inch by tremulous inch, you came closer and took his forearms. Held them awkwardly, for no reason other than that was the only way you could think how to touch him, how to make him understand.

He looked up at you, unnervingly shy under his copper mop of hair. Like a coy bride.

Your cock jumped up into your throat as you stifled a laugh, picturing him stuffed into a fetching white dress and veil, clutching a bouquet. Unwillingly, mind.

Doyle had bit his bottom lip, scraping his chipped teeth across its blushing flesh. He looked half-feral and completely, utterly debauched under the shadow of the fluorescent light overhead. The white hot heat in the pit of your stomach seared upwards to wrap around your heart as his hips drifted closer; you wanted to kiss him. So badly it hurt.

But you couldn't do anything, and you both knew it all to well. You were both helpless.

His head landed softly on your shoulder, and you smiled as it stayed there. The soft ringing of telephones in the other office kept you from wrapping your arms around him, as if that could take him away from what he had to do, what he'd already done. You wanted to tell him it would be alright -- but, really, you didn't want him to go -- but you didn't have the words and he wouldn't have wanted them anyway.

Without warning, he stepped smoothly away from you, winked, and clapped you on the arm. Only the brief squeeze of his hand -- hard and desperate -- let you know that he felt the same way as you. Exactly the same way.

You watched him walk away from you, his back straight and his manner brimming with confidence. It was all you could do. What can you do tonight?

What one needed, Bodie decided a week later as he stirred the third sugar into his brew, was one's rest.

One did not want to be in work by oneself when one had a busted face. One did not want Anson grinning at one from across one's way without someone to put the bastard down. One did not want to give oneself a heart attack every time one felt a sneeze coming without the pressure of someone laughing at one. One's immense want for welcome distraction without one meant one had to be ratty all on one's onesies.

He sighed, and glared at the swirling liquid as if it was the tea's fault Doyle wasn't there. One was fed up.

Bodie smiled a little to himself, while the voice of his father -- half-remembered, long dead and barely coherent at the best of times -- rolled round his head, as it did whenever he wasn't on his toes: simple things, lad, simple minds...

If Doyle was there, Bodie wouldn't have to turn half crazy for his own entertainment. Bodie could have said all that out-loud, wound the bugger up rotten and day could really have begun. As it was, Bodie was stuck doing office-work for the day -- Cowley's idea of keeping up a good, respectable image for the mob -- while Doyle was out, undercover and alone, having all the fun. He'd been gone a week, and Bodie had felt his absence more keenly than he was willing to admit.

It wasn't like Bodie needed him or anything like that, just... Well, truth be told, he was feeling a bit sorry for himself, what with the broken nose -- line of duty, sir -- spoiling his killer looks and all that. And on his first day back at work since having his features so expertly re-arranged by the rent boy from Elephant and Castle he'd had to bring in -- just more fodder for the jokes of the boys at base-camp -- he didn't want to be called ugly by anyone other than his partner.

Deep cover, that was what The Cow called it. Doyle was only supposed to get in touch when everything was set up for them to move in. Waiting for the phone call was hard -- waiting to be useful always was -- but Bodie had to admit he was struggling with not knowing what was going on. He felt cut off, dislocated... And all the idle chat and banter in the world was no compensation for what was really missing.

The doors smacked open in a sudden flourish of activity, causing Bodie to jump before he could help himself. Jax and Murphy stumbled into the office, slamming to a stop just in front of him. Murphy grabbed his shoulder before he could stop him.

"Bodie. Mate, something's up," he gasped, swallowing thickly as his heart shuddered and tried desperately to slow to a steady rhythm.

Bodie grabbed the hand clamping on his shoulder, throwing it off. "Murph? What the- ?"


Outside, a cloud meandered innocently across the sun, making the room go suddenly dark. Later, Bodie would remember this with a shiver while he tried to scoff aloud at the amateur dramatics of nature.

He had just disappeared. Off the face of the earth, it seemed. No one knew what had happened to him -- one day he was there, working his role, the next he wasn't. Doyle's absence began to be forgotten.

While Ci5 didn't exactly operate with a revolving door for the staff room, it was depressingly common for agents to die on duty, or be lost to the mob in some way or another -- kidnapped, abandoned, injured, broken down... You had to have a tough skin to deal with the constant comings and goings of people you had to trust with your life.

Bodie had a tougher skin than most, and so he dealt with it as the others did. He did. He just put his head down and got on with it, ignored it... Ploughed through the depression that constantly threatened to settle on his head.

He never stopped looking for him, but he did stop trying to get Cowley to give him time off for it -- the department had moved on, apparently. Bodie had spent all his fury, railing at the walls of the establishment, but he did understand that there were bigger fish to fry. Cost-benefit analysis and all that. He didn't miss those damn looks the Old Man kept giving him, either, but he ignored them completely, too. If this was what he wanted, then fine.

He'd shaken Sykes down -- and the doctors were sure he'd eventually walk again, so no harm done -- and had single-handedly chased down every single lead on the Sykes Case (the memory Doyle flinching every time he used those words) until there was absolutely nothing left to hope for. A whole unhappy month had slipped through his fingers -- had just drifted right past him as he was looking the other way -- without any closure, without any hint of Doyle still existing, and he was reaching desperation.

There was a tight feeling in his chest these days that just refused to go away, no matter how many times he tried to swallow it down. He missed him so much it made him feel sick.

But a month was a long time. And Bodie knew too well the chances of finding Doyle had slimmed to near nil. He really tried to push it to the back of his mind -- but how do you ignore something like that?

Ignoring The Cow was bad enough... Ignoring something like Doyle not being by his side, not being in his bed, was something else entirely. He had to switch off entirely, had to ignore everything that wasn't his job just to make it through, day after pointless day. There was nothing but the job in hand anymore, and his life shrank down to one small pin-prick of existence: get up, work, telly, sleep.

But it still caught him, every now and then when he wasn't paying attention. When he caught himself doing stupid things like making coffee for the bugger. Forgetting himself for just a minute meant he'd snap to, five minutes into the operation, finding himself adding an extra spoonful of coffee to the second cup.

And it would always, always knock him sideways, no matter how many times it happened. Spending so long blocking everything out, putting the blinders on to his entire life, meant that even the smallest thing tended to devastate him -- seeing a curly head disappearing out of sight in a crowd; hearing a loud, filthy cackle in the street; happening across a scrawled note on his sideboard, not even a week after he disappeared ("You need more milk because I had the last of yours with my brew this morning and I'm late. Lovely cuppa, though! X r")... His mind was playing tricks on him, and it was more than Bodie could bear.

A month on, and nothing. And nothing was exactly what Bodie had become. The thought haunted him as he got dressed that morning -- kegs, vest, shirt, trousers, socks, shoes, jacket... It rolled over and over and over in his numbing brain. Nothing, nothing, not a single fucking thing. No hint, no light, no hope.

Waking up without him was the worst. That tantalizing moment of sleepy forgetfulness, just before reality hit. Sometimes he even thought he could feel him beside him, and he kept his eyes closed for a little longer on those mornings, indulging in his ignorance. After all, he had no clue what had happened, so who was to say Doyle couldn't just march back into the flat, complaining about the traffic, and slip into bed without waking him?

Cowley watched him constantly, eagle-eyed and trained to pick up even the slightest hint of debilitating depression. It was the same with all agents who's partner had died. But Doyle wasn't dead -- he couldn't be dead, could he -- and Bodie knew all too well that he'd withdrawn so far into himself that finding anything on him was about as improbable as finding anything on Doyle.

The phone rang as he was downing his morning cuppa, heading out the door. And his world tilted.

The sky was such a deep, mottled purple -- shot through with swathes of bottle blue and shimmering yellow vapour -- it looked like the work of some visionary painter. The late-afternoon clouds looked like mountains in the distance; staggered and solid, silhouetted against the burnt orange of the sky.

Had Bodie bothered to look skywards -- bothered to lift his gaze beyond the thought of Doyle -- it would have struck him where he stood. As it was, Bodie was running, as fast as his legs could carry him, down a damp grassy field in some godforsaken arse-end of the countryside.

He thundered down the hill, hurling himself down the frosted grass with all his might. Every single nerve in his body willed him to go just that little bit faster, that little bit farther than he was. Murphy was left sprinting behind as Bodie threw himself at the farmhouse, gun glinting in his hands.

The door rang as it hit the dusty floor with enough force to floor a horse.

The rooms were old, filthy and empty. Bodie's teeth clenched tighter with every room falling empty under his search. He clattered up the stairs, two at a time, the banisters creaking as he pulled himself up to the next floor. The stench of old blood caught him, filled his nose and mouth. He gagged without meaning to.

Coughing, he looked around. The doors to all four rooms were open. The smallest of sounds wafted through the one at the end of the corridor; a sharp intake of breath, cut off abruptly.

The room was so dark he could barely see, the large window having big wooden shutters blocking them. Any spare light that dared to slip through these hardy barriers was mostly stopped by the black electrical tape, stopping up the cracks. Dust glittered in the fractures of fading golden sunlight, a single large shaft warming itself right across the room. It pooled over the bloodied floorboard, piled on top of the chests of the two dead men sprawled on the floor -- they must have been dead for about a week -- and yet it barely illuminated the figure sitting in the shadows.

Bodie, for a time, was stricken. Everything was numb, but his skin tingled with the memory of feeling. His right arm ached. There was a twinge somewhere near his kidney. He needed to cough. He stared at the corner of the room, where a man was half-sitting, half-hanging off the wall by his wrist.

Doyle didn't open his eyes as Bodie crouched in front of him... Didn't lift his head, didn't even respond when Bodie took his head with both hands and tilted his face up to the brief light. He looked filthy, bloody and dangerously unwell -- he trembled under the weight of his skin, and was as white as a sheet.

"Took y'time," voice nothing more than a dry rasp through bleeding lips.

It was all Bodie could do to keep the wavering gaze. "Drove through ghosts to get here."

But Doyle had already turned his face away from the light, and the approaching sirens were singing too loud in the distance.

He looked worse under the fluorescent strip-lighting of the hospital.

They had sedated him and strung him up to all sorts of packets of liquid, and all you could do was stand there and watch through the window as his fingers twitched in his sleep.

There was a big long list of things he was suffering from. The doctors told you all about the ones you didn't already know. Extreme shock, dehydration, malnutrition, pneumonia, sleep deprivation, broken ribs... The list went on and on. And yet you were stupid enough to think that a month's captivity in a cold, blacked out room was easily solved -- a few pills, a bit of bed rest and Bob's your mother's brother. Right as rain again.

Trauma, that was the one you cleverly forgot, wasn't it? Those bastards did things to him you never could imagine, didn't they? You know some of what he went through, of course, but you don't like those memories. You only know how you dealt with what you went through, not how to help him deal with his... At least, that was what you told yourself.

The doctors told you things, too. Things they discerned from the injuries sustained. Not letting him sleep for more than twenty minutes at a time. Chaining him by the wrist (broken) to the wall of a room with no light, for a whole month. Starved him, withheld his water, tortured him -- all in the name of revenge. How dare an undercover copper -- which is all they saw him as, just another faceless fuzz -- try to stop them?

They did things to him he never had a chance of standing -- a good little fighter he might be, but he was an ex-plod and that was that. It had hit him hard.

You stroked his hair as he slept on during that first night- when no one could see you, mind -- oblivious to the pain he was in, unaware that this was the last chance you'd be able to do it... He always hit out when you tried it again later, twisted away from you.

No. When you look back on what's happened since you finally found him again, this was the sweetest moment. Standing there in an empty hospital room, thanking all the things you've never believed in that he was safe and sound. Ignorance is bliss, after all.

"What did they do to you, eh?"

You never did find out. He didn't talk about it, and when you asked him, his lips went thin and white, like the scars healing across his skin. All you know is what you've seen reflected in his eyes. And what you've seen with your own.

You took him back to your flat when he was eventually released from hospital. Cowley, perhaps ashamed of his own behaviour -- then again, though, perhaps not -- gave you an extended leave of paid absence.

Stupidly, you thought routine and normalcy was what he needed, but you soon worked out that it was not that simple. His attention span was shot to fuck -- he couldn't concentrate on your conversations, let alone all the familiar ornaments of rehabilitation such as books and telly. He screamed as he slept, and hit out at you when you tried to calm him down. That was a shock, wasn't it? Realising that you couldn't even touch him anymore, when that was all you wanted to do.

Worse than everything, though, was seeing him so sad. Most days he was so depressed he could barely move, let alone try to indulge you in your pathetic fantasy that none of this had happened. He just sat, just existed. And, for a time, this was enough for you because your heart never failed to leap a little when you saw him alive in the mornings.

You'd thought it would all be okay once you'd figured it out, once you'd worked your particular brand of magic. And you kept thinking that everything would, one day, be alright again.

It's been this one, silly hope that's gotten you through all the arguments, all the lost tempers -- all the smashed plates and books; all the long days of not speaking or moving; all the aching mornings of stiff bones and cramping joints; all the hours spent, sitting in darkness; all the tears you saw that he no longer bothered trying to hide; all the long dinnertimes of not eating, eating, throwing up and then eating again... What got you through it all was that it would all be worth something, at the end of the day.

You didn't really start to question this small, thin excuse for hope until you came home from work one day to find him sitting in the darkness on the floor behind the front door, staring at his knees. He didn't respond to you, not even when you touched him. You'd seen that look before, but you refused to remember where. Knew the name of it, too.

You scraped him up and put him in bed, but he was lost to you, and it shook you more than you could admit. You drank more whisky than you should have done that night and collapsed on the sofa.

Hours later, the sobs began. And they didn't stop. He sounded as if he was choking on his own frustration and tears, and you were so drunk and useless that you just lay on the sofa and listened, unable to think how to stop it. Unable to reach him. Instead, you tried to drown yourself in what had been before, tried to block out his gasping cries with the memory of his laughter.

Are you going to fail him again?

The tea -- super sweet for the pair of them, part of Bodie's continued effort (at the instruction of Cowley) to try and put some flesh back on his bones -- goes down quickly. They drink it differently: Doyle constantly chips away at his while it's still hot, whereas Bodie leaves his brew to cool on the coffee table before downing it in one.

The silence settles once more, and Bodie wonders what he's supposed to do now. In the old days, he'd have maybe dedicated the evening to irritating Doyle, which would -- more often than not -- be rewarded by a furious Doyle trying to prove his worth in the sack: it was an arrangement that worked out well for both of them. Just the same, though, he might have spent tonight with Doyle curled up next to him, watching a Gary Cooper film; they might have gone to the pub and tried to pull girls before going home with their arms round each other instead; they might have done nothing more than read, each other just being there enough for either.

Bodie misses how it was before, misses the easiness of their company... Even if all that was ever possible was for everything could go back to before the stakeout, he'd be happy. Well, not happy -- not as happy as he now knew he could be -- but it wouldn't matter, because Doyle would be happy. He wouldn't be this dark, unknown quantity, sitting in their chair.

Doyle's face is getting that slightly hunted look to it again -- he can feel something important is brewing within Bodie. And something is; Bodie just isn't sure what yet. But there's that tight feeling in his chest again which just isn't going away, no matter how much he wills it.

He's used to making it up as he goes along -- he's coasted along in life on the back of his own ingenuity, his own ability to land on his feet if he fell. But since that blissful month he'd been thinking things through a bit more. Because Doyle, for all his prickly temper and thick hide -- thick head, more like -- was a bizarrely sensitive soul, and Bodie had realised early on that he didn't want to hurt him. Not even a little bit. And that meant thinking things through from time to time. Bull at a china-shop, his dad -- or, in fact, Cowley -- might say.

He'd gotten quite good at not hurting him, too... If he could have seen himself, five long years ago, he wouldn't have thought it was the same Bodie. For one thing, this Bodie is happy. Was happy.

Because after Doyle disappeared, he'd lost it. He's lost the knack of him. He's forgotten the secret trick that got Doyle to work properly -- if Doyle was feeling anything like him, these days. The key which only he knows. And he's hurting him without quite knowing how.

This Doyle scares him... This Doyle is unknown and quiet and suffering -- this Doyle doesn't like him. Bodie aches so hard to pull him close and keep him there. He would do anything to get him some sleep, get him to forget, to take that permanent frown from him... But he's not sure of his footing anymore -- is he a friend or lover? Both or neither? Only Doyle knows, and he's not speaking. So Bodie is left without a place, and without the heart to assert it.

There's something different in Doyle's eyes tonight, though. He looks worried, of course -- he always does these days -- but there's something more than that. He looks downright petrified, like he's about crawling out of his skin. Something's gotten to him while Bodie was out.

His bare feet are tucked underneath his legs like a child, his hands pressed to the insides of his thighs, and he's shivering slightly... Just as he was in the warehouse all those months ago.

Something inside Bodie finally snaps -- a light finally switches on -- and he goes to him. He wraps his arms around Doyle's head, awkwardly and too quick, bumping Doyle's face in his haste. Locking Doyle helpless in his embrace, Bodie doesn't quite know what he's doing, because all he's feeling is the loss of everything he once had, everything he never thought he'd get. He can't bear being on the other side of him anymore.

Doyle struggles weakly, and guilt rises like a wave of nausea in Bodie's throat, but he holds on -- this has to end. It has to end, because Bodie doesn't know what he's going to do if this is it. It's a desperate hug -- the last one.

A sharp knee to the thigh brings the struggle to its inevitable, painful conclusion. Doyle springs away from him, putting the chair between them. His face is like a thundercloud -- his colour's up, eyes glittering with rage, and the vicious snarl on his lips makes Bodie smile. For the first time in over two months, Bodie sees the smallest flicker of his old partner.

Doyle pants into the silence as Bodie grins idiotically at him. He clearly doesn't know what to do -- caught between extreme anger and a million other things he'd forgotten how to feel. His fists clench, trembling white, at his sides.

But then, realisation dawns. Bodie watches as the Doyle breathes out, his shoulders falling in defeat. His head drops, and he puts his hands to his face. Bodie is there.

They stand together a while, and Bodie holds Doyle very tightly. Doyle's hands eventually drop from his face and drift down to rest lightly -- hesitantly -- on Bodie's hips. Bodie's hands began rubbing circles on his back, raking his fingers through his curls -- drinking in the forgotten contact. Holding onto the solid feel of him. He's not a ghost. He's back.

Slowly, Doyle begins to respond: his hands curl into Bodie's shirt, and it's the first effort he's made to touch Bodie since he came home.

Doyle's breathing heavily, shaky gasps that throb against Bodie's collarbone. He mumbles something, and Bodie strains to hear it.

"Sunshine, I can't hear through my own chest, you know."

Doyle doesn't lift his head, yet even though he's speaking to the thin air above Bodie's shoulder, there's a steely note in his voice that lifts Bodie's spirits.

"Don't go. I'll do it... I will."

There's only a split-second of hesitation before a back-handed slap lands on the back of his head.

"Don't be daft... Need you to pick me up in the mornings, don't I?"

Bodie presses a hard kiss into the side of Doyle's head, pats him on the back and goes to wash the tea mugs. He whistles as he rattles the cutlery in the sink.

After a minute, Doyle joins him, appearing quiet and thoughtful at his side.

"Need any help?"

"What, from you? No thanks."

"Course I do... Thankyou, Doyle, for being a wonderful and considerate partner."

A splash of soap bubbles flicks across the sink. "Give over."

"Me? Never."

-- THE END --

February 2008

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