Written for the Discovered Out of Context challenge on the discoveredinalj livejournal community
The hum of conversation from the CI5 Ops room washed out of the half-open door like an ocean current, swirling around the man hesitating in the corridor until he felt as if he was drowning in it. Silently he castigated himself for his cowardice. He was as good as any of those public-school prats, and better than most! Stop dithering, Doyle, he told himself. No upper-class, poncy twat was going to look down on him -- just let them try.
With a slight, betraying lift of his round chin Ray Doyle, newly-qualified CI5 agent, squared his shoulders and deliberately set himself to radiate the aggressive, insolent cockiness that screamed 'don't mess with me' to any who cared to look, then opened the door labelled 'VIP Lounge' and sauntered into the lions' den.
The cheerful talk and laughter stopped as if cut off with a knife and the new arrival became the target of eleven pairs of eyes. Neutral, wary, assessing... Doyle felt like a tasty morsel being eyed up by circling sharks. Here he was, surrounded by his fellows on CI5's elite A squad, and yet he had never felt lonelier. He was still the outsider, even here. He didn't dress like them or sound like them -- they came from different worlds, and Doyle was beginning to wonder whether he would ever really get to know any of them -- and even whether he wanted to.
Especially his partner, Mr. I'm-perfect-and-I-know-it Bodie!
Scowling fiercely against any attempt to intimidate or patronise, Doyle strolled across to the kettle and set about making himself a cup of tea, turning his shoulder against the almost tangible pressure of all those eyes. Behind his apparently oblivious figure agents grimaced at each other and returned to their conversations. Eventually Anson's precise tones rose above the rest. Despite himself, Doyle listened. Anson, after all, had been fully operational for several weeks now, and he and his partner Price were rapidly becoming one of the most effective teams on the squad.
"...so he spotted me and panicked! I went after him and what did he do but charge into the ladies' loos! Well, there I am outside, wondering what the hell I should do -"
"Go after him, you silly sod! D'you think Cowley cares about you dying of terminal embarrassment?"
"Yeah, yeah," was Anson's dismissive response to his partner. Unfazed, Price simply grinned at the big blond agent, who shook his head at the smaller, chunky Welshman and carried on. "Anyway, I'm standing there dithering and the next thing is, he comes running out pursued by this old bag who's belting him with her handbag and screaming for a policeman! The pathetic little shit ended up pleading with me to arrest him!"
"And of course you availed yourself of his generous invitation," drawled Bodie's voice over the shout of laughter from Anson's audience.
Doyle glanced up sharply from his concentration on putting the precisely correct amount of sugar in his tea. His partner's tall, dark figure was slouched in one of the beaten-up armchairs in one corner of the room, the Express racing pages adorning his immaculately-clad person, and Doyle sneered internally. Typical bloody Bodie -- can't be arsed to keep up with current affairs, but always up to speed on the racing results! Fiercely he squashed the small, aching stab of the realisation that Bodie had seen him come in, had seen the other agents' reaction, and -- had done nothing. Of course Bodie was ex-army, like the vast majority of the squad. That made him part of that world, the world of public school and privilege, by training if not by birth, and endowed him with the same intimidating self-confidence that they all shared.
Maybe this treatment was normal, and he shouldn't be fazed by it, but it was all so damn polite! Just silence and exclusion, all with perfect manners, and Doyle had no idea how to combat it or break through the wall that seemed to surround him. A good hard fight, or a stand-up row, he could handle, but this...
Chewing his lip and deep in thought, he stared morosely into the depths of his mug, briefly forgetting his surroundings until an empty mug landed on the table by his elbow and Bodie's voice said,
"Wake up, you dozy pillock! Is there any hot left?"
Jerked abruptly out of his gloomy cogitations, Doyle hastily reached for the kettle.
"Uh -- yeah, there's still -- here."
Dropping a tea bag into the taller man's mug he quickly put together a cup of tea, automatically adding the exact amount of milk and sugar and handing it over before looking up.
Bodie was looking at him quizzically, one eyebrow cocked in that annoying, superior way of his, and Doyle felt himself start to bristle in readiness for the sarcastic quip he was sure was coming his way. But --
"Ta, sunshine." The voice was calm, no edge to it that Doyle could hear. After a brief pause, Bodie took a cautious sip, nodded in satisfaction and added, "How come you know the way I like my tea?"
Doyle shrugged. To him it was obvious. "You're my partner. S'my business to know." Feeling that this was a bit abrupt, he added, "You get that way in the Met."
Bodie grunted and turned away, and Doyle looked back down at his mug, his brief hope -- that Bodie might have been trying to be friendly -- withering. It was no good, he just couldn't read the signals right. This was never going to work...
"Christ, Doyle, you're a scruffy bugger! Where d'you get your clothes -- Oxfam?"
That was from McCabe, and could have been meant as friendly -- but Doyle thought not. There was a definite edge in the voice, and as for the comment! McCabe's partner, Lucas, dressed as casually as Doyle, though admittedly from rather more expensive outlets. He could afford to...
Doyle was drawing breath to snap back a heated rejoinder -- and stuff good manners -- when a familiar, coolly amused voice came from his left.
"What's the matter, McCabe? Still sore about yesterday?"
Sniggers were audible from several listeners, and Doyle grinned broadly as McCabe spluttered. In training the day before Barry had put him and McCabe up against each other, and Doyle had taken his opponent three times out of three despite being stones lighter and several inches shorter than the big ex-army captain.
"I do so hate a bad loser," Bodie was continuing. "Tell you what -- we'll give you a chance for revenge. Darts match, Red Lion, tomorrow night. You and Lucas versus me and Doyle, and the losers buy the drinks. How about it?"
Somewhere within Doyle a small warmth began to bloom, banishing the ache that he had lived with so long that he barely noticed it any more.
"Oi!" he said softly. Bodie looked around and Doyle leaned forward so that no-one, least of all McCabe, could hear him. "I'd better warn you -- I'm crap at darts."
Bodie grinned -- a wide, goofy expression which lit up his whole face and brought an unfamiliar warmth into his blue -- really, incredibly blue, Doyle thought, with an odd sensation in his stomach -- eyes.
"Don't worry, mate," his partner whispered. "I'm brilliant enough for both of us. We'll walk it. You just keep the beers coming." He tilted his head slightly and his smile changed, becoming somehow warmer.
"That's what partners are for -- right?"
"Right," agreed Doyle.
Suddenly he knew with complete and utter certainty that it was going to be all right.
It felt like coming home.
-- THE END --