Part 2 of the Fire Series

Ray Doyle leaned back in his chair, green eyes narrowing to watchful slits. His hands gripped the armrests and his booted heels rocked the chair slightly off balance so it moved just a bit away from the conference table, distancing him. It was a position Bodie would have recognised immediately as evidence of Ray's increasing impatience, and his efforts to contain it. Ray never was one to suffer fools gladly, and his temper could turn explosive given the right challenge. Here, he was facing one.

It had been ten years. Ten years since Cowley's death at the hand of an assassin had brought a new beginning for his best team of agents. Functioning per his wishes as co-controllers of the organisation Cowley had fought so hard to build, Bodie and Doyle had worked hard to preserve his legacy and to make CI5 everything Cowley had hoped for and expected. Now a decade later, partners in all respects, both men were convinced that CI5 was only beginning to hit its stride and fulfill its useful purpose and true potential.

Since the expansion of CI5's brief a year before, bits and pieces of MI5 had been carefully brought over, preempted to rest under the auspices of CI5, effectively combining the two groups into a single outfit to form what was unofficially referred to as the "British FBI." For the first time in decades, CI5's funding was unquestionably healthy, infused with MI5's budget allocation, yet relieved of much of its vast administrative burden through a careful combination of staffs.

Gradually, MI5's departments had been incorporated into the new organisation -- public relations, communications and the motor pool were among the first to transition. Susan had grudgingly found spots for some of the brightest information systems associates, and most of the other professionals -- forensics, ballistics, weapons -- had been merged into CI5's teams. The bulk of the administrative personnel such as clerks and secretaries had either been relocated to other government postings, taken civilian jobs or integrated into vacant slots within CI5. Many of the higher-level administrators were simply pensioned off.

Now the organisation was at its peak -- powerful, well managed, in favour with the current government, and ironically, and regrettably -- still necessary. It was what George Cowley might have called CI5's "fair-haired" years, had the controller survived to see it happen.

The two companies of agents were the last to be merged. Some from both sides had opted out, or looked to MI6 and special services or even the Met for new postings, but many were frankly curious about this newly blended organisation, so stayed around to see how things would shake out.

This day, a half dozen of CI5's best agents shared the table with Doyle, joined by six newly added souls from MI5's mob. This crew was the first to be fully integrated -- new partnerships formed, old habits and grudges laid to rest -- at least that was the goal. Nine men and three women, they had been chosen based on psychological testing, a diffident willingness to be involved and, mostly, Doyle's gut feeling that he could make it work. Doyle firmly believed that these different people could be forged into a cohesive team, that they would not merely acclimatize, but also learn to rely on their new partners. It was the start of the agent transition -- the beginning of the final chapter of incorporation.

Adaptation was not an easy process and trust never given over easily, so this was naturally a wary start. Doyle's job was to make it go smoothly, wipe down the seams until they could no longer be seen, try to figure out a way for agents who had thought one another enemies, to think each other allies, or at least comrades at arms. He had to make partners out of patchwork pieces and show a whole quilt when he was done.

Acclimation was something Doyle had got accustomed to in his years heading up CI5 as co-controller with Bodie. It was also something he had got used to in his personal life with that same man. And while compromise over who was to use the shower first, what to watch on the telly or which newspaper to receive was certainly less consequential than compromise over the choice of one's partner on the streets, it was accommodation, nonetheless. Making a convincing case for it to go forward was the challenge, especially with a group already cynical of its success. It was this frustration that Doyle now faced.

Bouncing his chair back to a resting position, Ray pushed both hands against the tabletop and rose, pacing over to the window and then turning back into the room. He had their attention now -- they were nothing if not a curious lot. He perched on the wide windowsill, folding his arms across his chest, glancing grimly out the window before his eyes roamed the table and he gave voice to his disgust.

"What are we doing here?"

Twelve pairs of eyebrows raised at the question and Doyle sighed and rose and began to pace. The eyes followed him.

"You think I'm joking, but I'm not. What are we doing here?"

Returning to the table, he put one booted foot up on his chair seat and leaned hard against his knee. "Because if we're just here to beat each other up over old history, we'd be better off taking to the mats in the gym. We'll accomplish a lot more and we'll get a lot more satisfaction. And if we're just here to check out the other guy, we might as well piss off and beat it now, because there's nothing to uncover."

Ray's calm voice held a steely edge that had stopped villains, broken up street fights and taken both agents and staff to task. It was more than a tone of authority; it commanded respect and attention.

He pulled the chair out and sat, folding his hands on the tabletop as if he had not left it moments before. "You know, we're not going to get any where until we get all the old kit out on the table. We have two mobs here -- and there's never been any love lost between them, but there are twelve people here as well and I don't think any of us are the bad guys. The villains are there...." Ray pushed his entwined fists toward the window, never taking his eyes off the group around the table. "Except we're already beaten. We can't even form up a team. It's pitiful. It's sickening. They don't have to do a bloody thing except wait for us to fall. Now look, I know how hard it is to make changes. You can't just ask a man to trust another. But I can tell you for certain, that if you don't make the effort, not a damned thing is going to happen."

Doyle handed the plastic carrier bag to Bodie and worked the locks and security system to his flat, finally pushing the door open and then repeating the process in reverse. The Thai takeaway smelled spicy hot, warm relief after the wet chilling rain of the show grounds and a ten-hour assignment that had resulted in no more than soaked clothes and chapped faces. They were to be back at it the next morning, but were relieved for the night.

Flipping the wall switch, Doyle turned on the lights and then tossed his keys onto the hall table. Bodie followed him down the hall and into the small kitchen and set the food on the counter. Doyle was already stripping off his wet sweater and soaked holster and Bodie followed suit with his jacket, collecting the lot onto a hook in the back entryway.

Opening a cupboard door, Ray plucked out two tea towels, tossing one at Bodie and using the other to scrub the wet from his own face and hair. "Won't be a minute -- want to put on something dry. Can lay out some gym togs for you, too, if you want a change."

"Ta." Draping the towel over his head like a hood, Bodie busied himself finding the bowls and digging in drawers for the silver. Odd that he had been to Doyle's so many times, but didn't know where he kept things. They had always left the private to the private -- separated.

Even in this past month since they had agreed there might be more to their partnership than protecting the other's back, little had yet to happen. A promised two week stand-down had not materialized thanks to a well appointed bomb at the polo grounds, so life had been necessarily mostly business. Progress was marked by a tentative snog when one left the other's flat for the night, a casual hand on the thigh or rear, a couple of shared dates where the women were incidental. There had been very little, if any, discussion. The topic of a relationship was not something casually broached, nor had the decision to pursue it been casually made. Time would take its own course, if it would. Neither man felt a particular pressure to rush to a resolution. It was still too new, too uncertain, too fragile, to be hurried. Neither wanted it to simply flare and burn out.

Bodie was spooning Massaman Gai into mismatched bowls when he felt Doyle re-enter the kitchen. Odd that he could feel Ray -- sense him, like a hand caressing him, warming him, just his presence relaxing and reassuring -- partner at his back. Partner.

Leaning across Bodie, Doyle poked a finger into the spicy coconut curry. "Better see if this is up to par."

"Leave -- off -- it's -- not -- bloody -- served." Bodie punctuated his words with a war against Ray's persistent hand, batting it aside with first the serving spoon and then his own hand, the tea towel falling from his head to the floor. Finally, realising a losing battle, Bodie captured the offending finger and pulled it up and into his mouth, sucking off the fiery sauce in triumph.

As Bodie raised his eyes to gloat, he met Ray's green gaze and realised the intensity of the moment. At first, neither man moved, then slowly, Doyle reached out and caught Bodie's other hand, guiding it to the curry and then drawing it to his mouth, sucking Bodie's middle finger inside, purposefully cleaning it off, swiping up and down with his tongue, suckling.

Bodie heard a sound that he realised was his own breath leaving his body in one singular gasp. He felt his knees challenging him to stay upright without their support. He leaned back against the counter, and slowly withdrew Ray's finger from his mouth. Doyle's finger was moist from Bodie's tongue and Bodie guided it down to his damp cords and the erection that pressed hard against the fabric there. A groan escaped him as Ray's palm connected and Ray stepped his feet apart to keep his own balance as Bodie faltered.

Shakily Bodie moved Ray's hand against the corded fabric of his slacks, hard and soft upon his crotch, and then with involuntary action and reaction, Bodie closed his eyes and moaned, sensation its own speaker. The intonation was echoed in breathy resonance.

Their hips moved slightly, wanting for motion, but in territory so uncharted that any movement might cast them adrift.

The pressure from Ray's fingers continued a moment more, and then ceased. He drew Bodie's finger from his mouth and pressed a kiss into the palm of his hand and then released it. "Should eat before it gets cold."

Bodie opened his eyes, his gaze intense and unrelenting, breath uneven, blood racing. "No danger of that, sunshine."

Ray raised a brow, flicking a glance down to Bodie's erection and then to his own. He grinned so seductively, it might have been lecherous; it was certainly victorious.

Bodie shivered involuntarily -- in part from his wet clothes, in part from the tempest of a storm that was raging around them. Odd that the one person who had always made him feel so protected and safe now made him feel so bloody imperiled and exposed. It was a thrill, like a rocket ride where the detonation shot him up past breathable air into unknown space, both pilot and passenger on a craft that had never before left the earth. He wondered if he could manage a way to have a lifetime of this rush. He wondered if he could manage a lifetime without it.

Doyle rubbed his eyes and sighed. They had all sorted out for lunch and then returned a few hours ago to have at it again. It had been a long day, a gruelling process. Him talking. Them listening. Silent, passive, resistance. Informal agreement not to agree. Bodie had bet him breakfast in bed that Doyle couldn't bring this lot together -- Ray had no intention of losing that wager, or everything else that lay in the balance.

Raising his gaze to the group, he scoured their faces and then shrugged, tossing his pencil down on the table and walking over to the window. He rested his forearm against the frame and the setting sun cast him in silhouette. He did not look at the group as he spoke, his voice spent.

"Your decision. I can't suss this out anymore. So should we just quit now, give it up? Just turn it over to the villains? You tell me. Tell me you don't want to make a difference. Tell me they're more powerful than we are. Tell me it's all their patch and we're all their mob. Tell me your reasons for joining up and staying on don't matter any more. Tell me you'd be as happy behind a desk in the Met. Tell me you're ready to toss it in."

He closed his eyes and dropped his head against the window frame in frank exhaustion, drained, unable to think of any more arguments, any more rationalisations. He'd put his idealism on the table and taken it as far as he could and now the silence that pervaded the room would have to hold in his place.

It was a pivotal moment. Ray didn't realise until later that he had been holding his breath. Bodie was standing silently, unseen in the doorway, watching expressions shift from doubt to faith as if a bit of their world suddenly made sense. He hadn't heard what Ray pitched them, but he could see the honest exhaustion on his partner's face and knew that Doyle had put himself flat on the table to earn their trust. Ray at his most ingenuous was difficult to resist; Ray at his most earnest was near to impossible.

There was a clap and thrum of thunder, lightening threatened, but was held at bay. There was grudging capitulation as this round was won, agreement reached, the first fragile bond forged. There would be a new generation of standard bearers. Ray let out his breath.

Doyle groaned at the persistent knocking, finally determined it was external, not within his head, and crawled from bed to pull on his robe and stumble to the door. Unfastening the locks, he opened the door, stepping aside to let George Cowley enter.

"Morning, Doyle. Forget to set the alarm?" the CI5 chief asked humourlessly, a glance taking in the dirty bowls and silver, the neatly crunched cans that had once held lager, the telly flickering an early morning exercise program, and Bodie's prone form draped across the settee, blanket half on the floor.

Doyle looked little better -- robe askew, though tied, feet bare, hair electric. He had a white t-shirt and pants on beneath the robe and was blinking owlishly. Behind him, the door to his bedroom stood open and Doyle's bed showed evidence of only one occupant.

So, they had not slept together. Not yet. Cowley raised a brow at the slight mark that peeked from Doyle's t-shirt. Ah. Close it would seem, but not yet.

Cowley plucked the blanket from Bodie's prone form. "Rise and shine, 3.7. Room service is here and breakfast is served."

"Oi!" Bodie widened his eyes. "Sir?"

"Oh, don't worry -- it's not starting time -- yet. I'm taking you off the show grounds assignment for a new one and thought I would come over and fill you in personally."

"Personally..." Bodie sat up and ran his tongue around the inside of his mouth. Just as he thought -- stale lager and curry, and a bit of Ray Doyle. Nice.

"Yes, Bodie, personally. Since the pair of you apparently decided not to answer your r/t's, I thought I would do you the honour of a visit. And just in time, it seems. You both look rougher than after a week at Macklin's course -- not that it wouldn't do you both some good. Now, before I begin, I don't suppose you would like to explain where your r/t's are -- I am sure you are aware they are government property."

"Yeah, well so are we," Doyle said beneath his breath.

"What's that 4.5?" Cowley had ears like a bat.

Bodie raised a warning eyebrow at Doyle. "Sir, I think Ray was going to tell you that our things were wet after our assignment yesterday. We hung them on the hook in the back entry and forgot our r/t's were in the pockets."

"Your weapons, too, I suppose? And your common sense with them both? Ach." Cowley shook his head in frustration. "And you two are supposed to be my best agents...."

"Yeah, well this agent needs a cuppa, sir," Doyle interjected, heading for the kitchen to set the kettle on.

"Make it all around, 4.5," Cowley called after him. "And you might want to fortify it. This new assignment isn't a nice one."

Bodie rescued the blanket from the floor and pulled it around his shoulders. He was still wearing Ray's sweatshirt and gym pants, but the room was cold in the early morning air, and in the glare of Cowley's intense gaze. "Can't imagine any assignment would be worse than ten hours in the rain," Bodie grumbled.

"Oh it can always get worse, 3.7," Cowley advised, clearing a chair of its load of books and taking a seat. "It's a rule of the business."

Doyle released his group with a wave of his hand and arched his back against the window frame, resettling himself. As the last of them filed past, Bodie shut the door, turned the lock and crossed over to Ray, sliding his hands onto the strong shoulders and working the muscles.

"Damn brilliant you are, sunshine."

Ray leaned his head back against Bodie's flat stomach and closed his eyes, sighing as Bodie's hands roamed over the knots in his neck. "Yeah well I think they would have agreed to anything to get me to shut up."

"Could be that, too," Bodie allowed, quirking his lips. "Works with me." He pressed a kiss onto the top of Doyle's head and slid his hands around, cradling Ray back against his chest, savoring the contact, the physical connection that kept them both grounded. "So what's next for the lot?"



"Yeah, well it's a cruel world. Villains getting tougher than we are. Better be prepared."

"Villains were always tough, Ray. We were just younger then."

"Speak for yourself."

"So whose birthday is it in a fortnight, lover?" Bodie nuzzled Doyle's forehead, hips pressing insistently.

Doyle groaned, partly from the contact, partly from the conversation. "Don't start on it, Bodie."

"Isn't every day someone turns fifty. I'll get to fornicate with an old man. Unless, of course, your dick falls off. You know I've heard that can happen. I'll have to get some glue or a clamp or something."

"Piss off. And you had better not be planning a damn thing." Doyle waggled a finger at him in warning.

"Touchy, Raymond? Now, now. I can make that better." Bodie's lips slipped up the side of Ray's neck and Doyle shivered.

"Your turn will come."

Bodie chuckled, nipped Ray's ear and released him. "No doubt in my mind. But of course, I am naturally youthful -- all that right living."

Doyle snorted and stood up. "Yeah, sure. You ready to go home?"

"Yeah, let's call it done here."

Bodie headed for the door, unlocked it and then stopped, hand on the knob, looking at his lover. "You know, Ray, you caught me up twenty years ago, heart and head, and you still have me, always will. Sometimes I still can't breathe when I look at you -- like right now. It's got my balls in a twist and I'm all knotted up inside, amazed by it. And I know I'll feel the same in another twenty years, you can make book on it." He turned the knob and pulled the door open, walking out.

Cowley tossed a folder on the coffee table and accepted the mug Doyle offered with a nod. He took a sip, raised a satisfied eyebrow at the welcome flavour of scotch amidst the tea and waited until Doyle had pushed onto the settee next to Bodie. "You still ride, 4.5?"

"Ride, sir? Horses?"

"Not horses, your bike. Do you still ride your bike?"

"Sure. Dirt track. Weekends. Why?"

"Why, sir!" Cowley admonished, but he didn't answer the question, turning instead to Bodie. "You, too, 3.7?"

"A bit out of practice, but I reckon I can manage."

"Good. Are you aware of a group called the Ravens?"

"Birds?" Doyle screwed up his face. He and Bodie had tussled and played like two virgin teens until the wee hours and he was still only half awake, his lips sore and his fingers still tingling with the feel of Bodie's skin beneath them.

Cowley made an impatient tsking sound. "Motorcycle club, Doyle. Get with it, lad."

Bodie coughed, raising an eyebrow at Doyle before addressing Cowley. "I've heard of them, sir. Rough lot. Into some nasty business, but nothing the Met couldn't handle. Petty theft. Harassment. Car jacking. Pimping teens. Usual mess."

Cowley scowled. "It's nastier than you might think, 3.7. Those days are over. They've taken to serious work. Heroin importation and distribution. And we suspect they have a high-up connection -- someone in customs helping them to bring in the goods. It will be your job to infiltrate the Ravens and find out who those connections are."

"Sir, those groups have some pretty significant initiation rites- tattoos and..."

Cowley waved his hand at Bodie impatiently. "Then you'll just have to deal with them, 3.7 -- but we don't intend that you should join up. We understand they are in need of delivery help. We'll help you out where we can -- get some of their mob off the street so they'll be looking for some new blood, but it will be up to you two to make contact and find your way in."

"That's street bikes, sir," Doyle said, finally finding his tongue.

"I beg your pardon?" Cowley was put off by the sudden change in topic.

"Street bikes. I used to have one, but what I have now is a motocross. Big difference."

"Ach. I know that. We've arranged for each of you to have the use of a bike." Cowley ranged through the papers in the file folder. "A Vincent for you, 3.7, and a Harley Davidson for you, Doyle -- presumably these models have some significance among the biker mob?"

Doyle lifted an eyebrow and exchanged a bemused glance with his partner. These classic bikes were no ordinary prizes -- they were venerable treasures -- myth and magic, the stuff dreams are made of -- trust Cowley to be unaware of their import, or to pretend ignorance.

Bodie hid a chuckle behind a cough. "Yes, sir -- some significance."

"Very well then, that's all for now." Cowley tapped the folder. "This file comes from a CID man at the Met who stumbled onto this. It's not much, but he did manage to get the location of the Ravens' base for you. Oh and lads, if you bring this one in successfully, the bikes are yours to keep."

Ray met Cowley's gaze. "Might be bloody worth it for that."

Cowley eyed both agents carefully. "Every man has his price, Doyle. It's just a matter of finding out what each would risk and for what gain."

They danced in stockinged feet, Bodie's hand slipping down Doyle's rear, Ray's arms twined around Bodie's waist, hips moving slowly, pressing and sliding, jeans against cords, marking time and making rhythm. Bodie held a glass of scotch at his side, fingertips cupped around the rim. He raised it and took a sip and then traded the glass into Doyle's near hand and pulled his lover even closer.

There was electricity in the air. Palpable. Jade and cerulean both running hot against the big chill of life. Alternating current converted to direct.

A single reading lamp cast warm shadows on the walls of the lounge and the muted sounds of bluesy harmonies drifted softly from the stereo. A woman's voice, throaty and seductive, coupled with a man's edgy melodies on the disc. It was not Ray's usual selection of music, but something more visceral -- rawly arousing. Its sultry offer had drawn Bodie into the lounge from his desk, half glasses still on his nose, tie pulled loose around his neck, offering a hand in invitation and guiding Ray up from his chair, Doyle's book slipping discarded to the floor.

Bodie nuzzled Ray's hair, breathing in the smell of shampoo and sweat that had become some kind of a lifeline in the 20 years of life together. Odd how scents could call up passions and with them their own kind of window to your soul. The musky smell of sex, pungent and redolent -- groin both ripe and rank -- it was incense for consorts who gave and made love, a come hither of the senses fully lacking deprivation.

Bodie's breath was warm and boozy against Doyle's cheek, his thigh and hands insistent. Doyle tugged Bodie's shirt free from the back of his cords and ran a hand up his partner's spine, fingernails slightly scratching along its length. Bodie arched. "Christ, Ray," he whispered breathily, hands delving into the back pockets of Doyle's jeans to thrust closer.

Doyle took another sip of the scotch, letting his hand slide out from beneath Bodie's shirt and drop to the other man's hip. They moved almost imperceptibly, swaying with the music, intoxicated more by the nearness of each other than the liquor or the song.

Bodie pressed his lips to Doyle's ear. "Gonna make me come just from your heat, Ray." And then he slid his mouth around and captured Doyle's, lips pressing and tongue searching. His hand reached down to his own zip, opened the button and then found Doyle's hand, drawing it over, pressing it hard against the straining fabric and pinioned erection. Bodie gasped at the staggering sensation of his own act.

"Easy lover," Ray managed, hand gliding and rounding, caressing his lover, nearly drowning himself in his Bodie's response.

Irregular breath met pulsing heart as Bodie closed his eyes and opened his soul. "Don't want easy, Ray. Want you to drizzle the rest of that high shelf scotch on me and lick all the drops off. Want to be in your mouth. Want you in mine. Want...."

The rest of his statement was silenced by the noise of their garden door shattering and a firebomb exploding in the back of the flat. Windows erupted and blew out, raining glass all the way into the street. They dove forward instinctively; flying out the wide jagged opening that had marked their front window, rolling as they cleared the flat, praying there was only the bomb and no one outside waiting with weapons. The belated shrill of their security alarm split the air, and flames and smoke added heat and haze in a macabre imitation of some WWII incendiary dropped from the sky.

"Jesus Christ!" Doyle hissed, pushing up onto his elbows, face contorted in pain. The hard toss from the window had mangled his knee, and ligaments twisted in the fall cried out for relief. With a panting breath, Doyle grunted up onto his elbows and scanned the yard, locating his partner, silhouetted nearby in the light of the fire and the moon, stationary, but able to move.

"Bodie!" It was an expletive, a question, an exclamation of relief, an expression of concern. All of his life and hopes wrapped up in one word, one name, one man.

Dragging his injured leg, Doyle pulled toward his partner. Bodie's arm had caught the jagged frame of the window and was sliced deep through the flesh into muscle. He had his hand clamped over the wound, ineffectually mocking a tourniquet, and blood ran in rivulets down to his wrist. Doyle crawled across the patch of damp grass and ripped off Bodie's tie, jerking it around the arm and tying it off.

Bodie gasped and panted through clenched his teeth, shuddering, cradling his injured arm. "Fucking hell, Ray."

"Gotcha now, lover. Rest back. That's it. Head onto my shoulder. It's all right."

Leaning into Doyle's shoulder, Bodie lolled back his head and the men watched in stunned silence as the flames attacked the second level of their townhouse and then shot through the roof, consuming wood and walls and with them all those things that had marked it a haven and home.

Approaching sirens heralded the arrival of the medics and fire department, and a contingent of locals raced up the walk, weapons drawn. This flat was marked in red on their map and the security system linked both to CI5 and the constabulary.

Bodie coughed and shivered. He was going into shock. He grappled for Ray's hand and found it, clasping his fingers and squeezing. "Gonna be sick. Pass out...."

Doyle wrapped his arms around his partner, offering warmth and strength and reassurance as it had been given to him so many times in the past. "'s'okay, lover. Right here for you. Medics coming. Be fine. We'll both be fine."

Bodie leaned against the entryway of the empty CI5 garage waiting for his partner, dressed for the obbo in biker leathers, black and threatening in the first breaching light of morning. Following Cowley's visit, Bodie and Doyle had spent most of the day and night handling the groundwork required for a successful operation -- requisitioning the bikes from the motorpool, performing a bit of tune-up work on clutch and carburetor, getting the right clothing together, reviewing the meagre information from the Met with the CID lad, Kastle, and adding some small bits of intelligence from their own sources. Now after separating to wash up, change their clothes and grab a fast kip, the two were meeting again -- off for their first survey of the Ravens' base.

Bodie fished a stick of minted chewing gum from a pocket, unwrapped it and rolled the thin strip into a neat coil before pushing it into his mouth. Peering at his watch impatiently, he glanced down the street looking for his partner, rewarded by the nearing sound of a motorbike.

He snorted and yelled as the headlamp appeared in the drive, pointing at his watch, "About time -- I could have slept another half hour."

Ignoring Bodie's grousing, Doyle eased his Harley into the space beside the Vincent, pelvis thrust forward almost defiantly, muscled thighs spread to accommodate the seat, legs astride the bike, gripping as the motor roared, He was power on power, exuding vigour and force and masculinity so strong you could nearly smell the musk.

Rocked by the reverberation of man and machine, Bodie's intended epithet died half-spoken, tongue rounding his lips instead, tasting his first sight of Doyle on the bike, harsh and hard and sleek, encased in black leather from head to toe. Neither man had shaved that morning and the dark stubble of beard was rough and rangy on Ray's face.

Bodie caught his breath at the beauty of Doyle's austere strength, savouring, salivating, his hungry gaze frank and admiring, the hard pulsing grind of his erection catching him by surprise even as it caught in the folds of his leather pants, his desires revealed beneath the short studded jacket.

It was difficult to say which engine was running hotter, that of bike or of man.

Doyle cut the throttle and slipped off the Harley, swinging a leg over the seat to sit sideways, one foot balanced on the chrome, the other boot on the ground. Pants pulling tight, accentuating his own reaction, he tugged off his gloves and draped them across his groin, point and counterpoint. His eyes flicked down and then up again from Bodie's crotch to his face, knowingly, and he rubbed his palm against the leather of his thigh, working off his own heat.

For moment he looked anywhere but at Bodie and then suddenly, shot him a clear, hard gaze that cracked green crystal against blue, a rainbow of emotions passing through the prisms of their eyes.

"You ready?" he asked, well aware of the double entendre, and the invitation, intentional, though intent unclear, even to himself. Testing. Wanting tested. His response to the man before him was primal, beyond experience.

Taking a slow breath, Bodie willed his pulse down, forcing cool while everything before him fanned the flames, sure that the heat sizzled in open abandon around them both. And it did. He cursed, unable to control the combustion, not certain he wanted to anymore, knowing this was neither the time nor the place, but little interested in such simple spatial concerns.

His voice was low and as urgent as his words. "Want to touch you, Ray. Want you to touch me."

Without waiting for a verbal response, intuitive to connection and mutual need, Bodie took a quick glance around the darkened garage and then two steps towards Ray, hand joining to groin as lips joined to mouth. Tongue and fingers found target and partner, and breathing was measured in convulsive beats as they grappled, shielded in the anonymity of costume and shadowed structure in the privacy of this empty garage.

Moments later, the sound of squealing tires somewhere down the street shook them both alert and they parted, both panting for completion, aching for fulfilment, seeking release, needing to disengage, a discharge, lightening from storm clouds.

Doyle's voice was husky, replete with emotion yet to subside. "That was close," he murmured, understating the obvious, deliberate in his ambiguity.

"Jesus, Ray," was Bodie's only reply.

Doyle braced his hands against the seat of his bike and then lifted his head to look at his partner. "Need to be off if we want to see how their day starts. Think you can ride now?"

"Think I just did," came the hoarse reply. "Or was ridden. Like the way you clutch."

Climbing back on their bikes, they revved their engines and pulled the motors to life, the sound masking the pulsing of their blood, or mirroring it, running hot and hard between their thighs.

Bodie slouched down in the padded chair, mindful of his injured arm as he shifted to ease the stiffness in his body. He had been lucky. The wound was deep, but clean, and he would suffer no lasting damage. The row of neat stitches transversing his biceps was covered with a pad and bandage, and he had the arm tucked in a sling. A pain shot had taken care of any residual discomfort from the repairs as well as the complaining from his bad leg, jostled in the tumble.

Still, just the simple act of shifting in the chair made him dizzy and he closed his eyes a moment, opening them to gaze on the empty bed that shared the hospital room. Ray was in surgery to evaluate the injury to his knee. X-rays had been inconclusive due to the swelling, so they were in to have a look. At the least, he would be several weeks on crutches and then need a cane after that for a while. The procedure was less of an issue than the recovery, which would not only be painful, but unsettling for a man used to demanding and receiving the best from his body. Ray also had cuts on his feet and knees from the flying glass and his crawl to Bodie, though those injuries were minor. Bodie himself had some abrasions and bruises and tiny cuts on his hands.

Ray's wallet was on the bedside table and Bodie reached across and then flipped it open. A soft smile teased his lips as he found the photo he knew was there -- he and Doyle in evening jackets, ties undone, shirts open past the second button, arms around one another, eyes only for each other. Susan's wedding. The first night they made love. After the reception. After too much champagne. After the sheer joy of a day devoted to something other than villains and crime. It was a snapshot that seemed to catch everything they were to each other, the strength and innocence and grace they brought out in one another.

Bodie flipped the picture back. Another snap. He and Doyle older now, on their motorbikes, in their leathers, the toughness of the image dispelled by the teasing light in their eyes. Bodie's fingers traced across the familiar face, his mind drifting, seeing the flames again, the walls collapsing, fire shooting to the sky. He dropped his head back against the cushioned chair. It was all so surreal.

Murphy was in charge of the investigation. He had proven to be a good detective. An excellent detective. By now he would have the site contained and a team ready to sift through the damage as soon as the fire department gave them leave to enter the shell of the townhouse -- probably early morning with the light to help them.

Shell. That's really all it was, Bodie thought philosophically. Just a container for the bits and pieces of their lives. Their real home was inside them, intangible and untouchable, not some odd collection of physical mementos and pots and pans and lampshades. Whatever might collapse around them, what they had together was impenetrable. It had to be. Life was too chancy -- even now that they weren't active agents, even this many years after they had last been -- there was no predicting the future. They had built their firewalls high and strong so no firestorm could breech them. Now it just remained to stand with their backs to the wind. So far they had managed just fine.

He rubbed his thumb over the soft leather of the wallet as if he were caressing its owner. His own wallet was lost in the fire. He could see it sitting next to the computer in the study where it had been casually tossed and less casually destroyed. Not elegant, that. Not at all. But effective. Someone had known their job and done it well. Bodie closed his eyes, his thumb still absently rubbing the leather, a talisman against the evils of the world, just as Ray was to him.

Their house gone. Their lives nearly so. Who? Why? How? The basic questions of good investigation.

He opened his eyes and thumbed through the wallet. Two credit cards. A petrol card. A page of stamps. Twenty quid. Ident. And the two photos. The sum of their belongings save for some clothes at the office and another set at a safehouse, most likely where they would stay this night. He had an extra pair of glasses there, too, and felt a want of them.

Most of their papers were in a safe deposit box, but photos were gone. His ID. His credit cards. Ray's collection of records. Their address book. Christmas ornaments. His Magnum. Ray's Browning. Pick up tag for the laundry. Tax forms.

The noise of a gurney being rolled in brought Bodie back and he opened his eyes and straightened up. Ray.

Bodie raised a questioning brow at the doctor, watching as the nurse and orderly settled Doyle into the bed.

The doctor helped situate the IV and then turned back to Bodie. "He's fine. Just sleeping now and will for another hour or so. It wasn't as ugly as I expected. The ligament had a nasty twist, but was just short of tearing. I think we took care of most of it. He's in excellent shape; that helped a good deal. I'll let you both out in a few hours and you can handle the pain meds on your own."

"That soon?"

The doctor paused, made a few notes on Doyle's chart and handed it over to the nurse before turning back to Bodie. "The miracles of modern medicine. Drive through surgery. Besides, I don't fancy running a high security wing here for much longer," the doctor advised, referring to the quorum of guards that protected the room, watched the windows, kept an eye on the parking lot.

"He'll be on crutches and is going to have to follow a regimen if he wants full use of the knee. I'll give you a packet when you leave with all the details. And you both need rest. This is more of a shock than just the injuries. You'll have more scars than show on your skin."

Bodie idled down the Vincent and dropped his black-booted foot to the littered ground, balancing the bike as he waited for his partner in the early morning shadows of the ramshackle buildings, scrutinizing the exterior of the seedy pub across the road -- the Ravens' firebase -- the Ravens' Nest, it was called. Ray had gone off to inspect the back of the place while Bodie came out front.

The two-story building was nearly was deserted in the early daylight. In fact, it almost seemed abandoned, ringed by warehouses and disused shopfronts, all but one window boarded or broken out, spray paint covering most of the reachable surfaces -- it was ripe for trafficking of many sorts. Two young prostitutes lounged near the open door, backs pressed against the brick surface of the building, skirts too tight and too short, tops gaping, hair blowsy, make-up defiant even from a distance. They looked like stereotypes of hookers, more bored than inviting, yet dangerous in some abstract way, maybe just to themselves. One disappeared into the side alley with a walk-by, her fingers on his zip even before the shadows took them. Street life. Life on the streets.

A set of metal fire-stairs ran up the side of the building and Bodie watched as a trio of bikers arrived, mounted the steps and were admitted through the steel door at the top. After a short time, they reappeared, laden saddlebags slung over their shoulders. There was little, if any, discussion and within minutes the packs were transferred to their waiting bikes and the men as quickly back on the road. Smooth. Organised. Bespeaking a professional operation.

The prostitute returned, her client trailing along a few minutes after, taking the opposite direction, and the girl resumed her bored perusal of the nearly empty walk and potential business, her back once again against the brick wall, bending over to absently pick a bit of stone from her knee and then tossing the pebble aside. A pimp appeared and collected her earnings, sliding one hand up under her top and tweaking her breast in a reminder of who was boss and who was hired talent. A professional operation of a different sort, Bodie thought. Still, business was business.

The sound of a bike coming around the corner and into the shadowed alley alerted him to Doyle, returning from reconnaissance.

Ray shook his head as he throttled down the bike. "Just a yard back there. Fenced. A fair amount of in and out, but the gate's monitored. Couldn't see much, but it looks like repairs -- cars and bikes."

"Probably hot -- changing them out."

"Reckon so."

Doyle pushed his gloves into the pockets of his jacket and glanced at the dilapidated building, the sign at its head a mockery of traditional pub signs, a crude graffiti-style illo of a fist, two fingers raised in defiance, the Ravens' logo spray painted beneath it. A bouncer paced in the entry, edgy, waiting for the inevitable, or maybe just waiting, the Ravens' emblem emblazoned across the back of his black leather vest.

"What about out here? Any action?"

Bodie shrugged. "Been mostly quiet. Some lucky sod got a fast blow job in the alley. Probably paid more than it was worth. Few saddlebags got packed up from the top floor and went out on bikes. Looks like the place. Come back tonight and we can start to get acquainted with the clientele."

Ray eyed the pub, pushing his dark glasses up onto to his head as he peered at the building, looking at both the door on the fire stairs and the open entry into the pub. Two ways in -- both to the same end. One higher. One lower. He pursed his lips, thinking, and then shook his head. "Christ, Bodie. What was the Cow thinking? We're going about this all wrong."

Bodie and Doyle picked through the ruins of their town home, Bodie's arm in a sling, Doyle on his sticks, Murphy trailing behind them, affording them as much privacy as protection allowed, filling them on the few facts they had gathered so far.

Doyle prodded a sodden mass with the tip of a crutch, turning it over to reveal what had been part of their library, but was now little more than charred mush. He drew in his breath, pursed his lips and glanced away. This was harder than either of them had imagined, talking the night before, lying together in a strange bed, in a strange room, in a strange flat, both wounded in so many ways. It was easy to make a convincing argument that a house was nothing more than a house -- until one saw the ruins of one's home and belongings spread like carnage before them.

Bodie bent down and poked at a partly burned stack of wet and smoke-stained paper, pulling his spare set of glasses from his pocket and setting them on his nose to see what he had found. Bills. Shit. Figured. Couldn't be anything of use or value. He laughed and stood. "Follow us to our grave, they will, damned creditors."

Doyle snorted and then started to chuckle. It was nervous laughter -- for both of them. A healthy outlet for the stress. Doyle looked his lover up and down and then tapped Bodie's leg with his crutch. "Jesus, we're a pair. One good body between the two of us."

"Yeah and only half a mind," Bodie countered with self-deprecating humour and a wry grin. "So tell us the good news, Murph."

Murphy stepped up to the two men, lips tight, more silver in his hair than had been there the day before. Cowley's death had barely faded -- even ten years after -- and this incident was too close for comfort, too reminiscent of the risks and realities of their lives. "We found the incendiary and it's in the lab. No one in the neighbourhood saw anything except the explosion. Other than your statements and whatever forensics finds, we don't have much to go on."

"Nice and efficient. Gotta admire that." Bodie kicked at a piece of window glass.

Doyle watched the glass land and shatter -- it was oddly poetic. He looked up at Bodie. "Yeah, well it was not quite efficient enough, if you catch my meaning."

Bodie nodded. "Cheers. Close though."

"Horseshoes and -- "

"Atom bombs, I know, Ray. Well this was damn well near that and I intend to be ready if there's another blast. At the least, we're not going to be at ground zero. If someone is after CI5, I want to bloody well know who, why, when and where."

Murphy cleared his throat. "Maybe it was personal."

Doyle scowled. "You think we pissed someone off that bad?"

Bodie touched his partner's arm. "I think what Murphy means, Ray mate, is that someone found out you're the fairy princess and I'm the queen and isn't happy with it. And he's right. We can't ignore the possibility."

With a grunt of both disdain and effort, Ray pushed his crutches into the rubble. "Yeah, well it's one hell of a calling card.

The movement revealed a green tag and Bodie bent to pick it up. "Laundry chit. Shit. Bills and a laundry chit. Let's get the hell out of here. This place makes my blood cold."

Cowley stopped just outside the restroom door, glasses in hand, and watched his two best agents worrying over their case as if they were squirrels and it a nut to crack. The process was interesting, the exchange thoughtful, the chemistry unbelievable. It never ceased to amaze him.

Bodie got up to rescue the whistling teakettle and looked back at his partner, waggling an eyebrow. "Want something hot, sunshine?"

Doyle laughed. "Coffee, yes. Don't think I'm up for much else after 36 hours on duty and only an hour's sleep."

"Too bad. Best offer you've had all week."

"Only offer I've had all week."

Bodie nodded sagely. "Makes it the best, then, doesn't it?"

"Unless you count empty garages...."

"Oh I count them, mate. Best offer I had all week. Like I said, I like how you clutch, sunshine." He held Doyle's gaze, intensity and lust stringing between them, unspoken, but needing no words, stripping away the teasing banality of their conversation until their faces were laid bare.

Cowley shook his head, wondering just how far things had gone with the pair if they were being this open -- then again, it was likely they hadn't a clue as to how verbal their non-verbal communication could be. Electric. Electrifying. Something to grab at the pit of your belly and warm it. And it did. It was old-fashioned romance, courting, flirting. Ages-old rituals of mating being played out in a different age, with a different set of mates, but the rituals still the same.

Bodie handed Doyle a mug and pulled the sugar bowl over to his own side of the table as he sat. "So what do you mean, we're going about this Ravens' business all wrong?"

"Just what I said."

"Hell Ray, we haven't done anything yet -- how can it be wrong already?"

"Bodie, if this were a simple op and we were just storming the place -- how would we do it?"

Bodie shifted a second spoonful of sugar into his coffee and stirred for a minute. "Dunno. I reckon one of us would go up the steps and the other would work the pub door. Catch 'em coming and going. Close up all the holes."

Ray nodded. "Right out of Macklin's textbook. So take it a step on -- where's the holes in this op? The Ravens, right? But the other half is customs -- where the stuff is coming in."

Raising an eyebrow, Bodie nodded, comprehension dawning.

"So we put someone in customs and someone on the Ravens -- up the stairs and through the front door -- catch 'em both ways."

He grinned. "Right brilliant you are, Sunshine. Knew I let you be my partner for some reason."

"And they say you're short on brains."

"Who says?"

Shaking his head at the myriad of moods and emotions that passed like quicksilver between these men, Cowley moved in from the doorway. "Well, it appears you two have been listening to my lectures. And I approve of your recommendation, 4.5. If we want to understand the whole operation, we need to take a broader look. Bodie, I'm not getting what I want from the inspector in customs I want you to work them directly. Doyle, you will follow up on the Ravens."

Bodie blanched. The thought of dealing with bureaucracy made him near to ill. "Sir. I think Doyle would be much better with procedures and red tape -- taught him all that in constable school. He's a natural."

"Is that right?"

"I'm sure of it, sir."

Cowley scowled. "Well when you're running this organisation, 3.7, you can make all the assignments you want. And that won't be a good long time. Until then, I handle it -- understand? Think man. Doyle worked with customs in CID -- there's too much chance someone could recognise him and get wise to us. No, Bodie, you're our man. I suggest you trade in your leathers for a shave and a bath and something less disreputable in the way of clothing and I'll get something arranged for you with customs. Doyle, you stay onto the Ravens and see what you can find out. And both of you get some sleep. I want no mistakes on this one -- these villains don't play games. Let's do it right."

The cups and papers and half-eaten Danish were strewn across the table in Bodie's office as if they were the subject of the postmortem, not the explosion and fire of two nights before. Murphy slouched in a chair at the far end of the table while Doyle had taken his now customary seat on the window ledge, leg extended, crutches beside it, arms folded over his chest. Bodie alternately rocked and paced and perched. Two chairs were empty where Susan and Macklin and others had sat in and out during the day and into this long evening. Together they had chewed, digested and regurgitated the incident until it was more pieces than whole and they still had no answers.

"No messages. No letters. No warnings. No one claiming responsibility. Doesn't make a bloody bit of sense." Doyle's face was profiled in the darkened window and he spoke out loud to the room rather than anyone in particular.

"It makes sense if they just want you dead," came Murphy's tired voice. He fiddled with a pen and then tossed it on the table.

Bodie groaned and rubbed his arm just below the stitches. "Look we've been all through this. We have enough enemies between us to do in the entire army. Any mad berk out of prison or back in country could have decided to send us off. Let's go back to the bomb."

"Let's go back to that night," Murphy countered.

"Oh fer Chrissakes...." Bodie's temper erupted and Doyle dropped his head back against the window frame in exhaustion.

Ray closed and opened his eyes and then repeated automatically. "We ate dinner, did up the dishes, Bodie went to work in the study, I was reading. We took a break. The bomb came through the back door. We dove out the front window. The alarm went off and the place went up. Good enough?" He glared at Murphy.

At the end of the recitation, Murphy sat upright in his chair. "Christ!"

Bodie echoed the curse. "Bloody hell. Did you hear what you just said, Ray? The alarm went off after we dove out, after the explosion. Late. It was late. You're damned well right, too, now that I hear you say it."

"There's something else," Murphy started, rising from his chair and pacing over to Bodie's desk. "How did they know you were there?"

"You mean our address?" Bodie looked over his glasses at Murphy.

"Your address. That you would be home."

Doyle shrugged. "They followed us home. Followed me home. Looked in our window. Who knows. Got our address from the laundry. We've walked this ground."

"Did the laundry know your address?" Murphy looked from man to man, settling on Doyle.


"So who did?"

Ray picked up his crutches and pushed himself to his feet. He felt pissy and tired and more than anything wanted his own bed, which of course, was not to be. "You knew our address. So did the bloody Home Office. Payroll. Susan. Macklin. The tax department. The firm that put the new roof up. The same people who knew it four hours ago when you asked the last bleeding time. We don't even know they had the right flat."

Murphy glared back. He was tired, too, and frustrated as hell. "Yeah they wanted the little old lady next door or the pensioner sheep farmer on the other side. Controllers of CI5 were too exotic for their tastes."

Bodie waved his hand. "Look, we're just repeating the same bits. It's late. I need a break. My brain is going to rot out of my head. Murph, if you have an idea, follow it up. I have a meeting first thing tomorrow with the Minister -- the bloody organisation still needs to be run even if we're being targeted -- but we'll get together after that. Susan should have ready the list of all the villains who have recently come out of jail and we can look that over, too."

"I have rehab in the morning and then a session with my mob," Doyle advised, rubbing the back of his neck. "How about after lunch?"

Murphy sighed and nodded, heading for the door. "It'll give me the time I'll need to check something out."

Bodie pulled his glasses off. "Good. Now my arm hurts like hell and Ray looks like shit and I want to go to bed, even if it's in a damned safehouse. Tell your childminders to give us ten minutes to pull our gear together and we'll be down and ready to go."

Murphy nodded and left the room, closing the door behind him.

Bodie tossed his glasses onto the desk and began shuffling papers and disks into a stack. He stopped abruptly. "God dammit, I'm pissed, Ray. It's like all the anger I've had my whole life is collecting in one place. Makes me feel so bloody old."

"We are old, Bodie. I feel it in every bone and aching muscle. See it every morning in the mirror."

"Well, bloody cheers. No philosophy tonight, please Ray."

Doyle shrugged and started pushing his own gear in his holdall. "Fact of life, lover. We're old and gray and out of sorts. We don't have a place to call our own and some maniac wants to blow us off the face of the earth."

"Well now, that's a comfort." Bodie rolled his eyes and dumped the contents of his desktop into his briefcase.

Ray was momentarily silent. When he finally spoke, his voice was angry and barely controlled. "Yeah, well consider the alternative, Bodie. We could be dead. One of us. Both of us. One of us. We might be facing this alone -- and a bloody funeral. They can have the fucking flat."

The words hung in the room as both men acknowledged the power of them. Then Bodie spoke. "What you need, 4.5, is a sure hand and a stiff drink. And I'll have the opposite."

Doyle snorted. "Trust you to think of sex at a time like this. It's what I love about you."

"Always the right time to think of sex, now isn't it? And as I recall, I was about to get some when that bloody bomb interrupted us. Now grab your gear and let's go home."

Bodie pushed the door shut with his rear, reactivated the security system and headed into his kitchen, turning on lights in his wake. He and Doyle had decided that a go round in the gym would be a good way to relax before standing down for the night and both had been on the receiving end of not a few hard blows. Neither pulled their punches -- there was too much risk of inadvertently doing the same on the job one day -- and frankly after the sexual tension of the morning, both had needed to let off a bit of steam.

Bodie's knuckles were on fire and a purple bruise already blossomed on his shoulder. His ribs ached, but were intact. He wasn't so sure about the little finger on his left hand -- it felt dislocated, though was more likely just stoved. It had all got worse it seemed on the ride back to his flat.

Shrugging off his jacket, he collected some ice, a tea towel, a glass and a bottle of scotch, and then reentered the lounge and dropped down onto the settee with a groan. It was quiet in the flat and a bit distancing. Somehow it didn't feel much like home anymore -- despite the presence of his belongings and the knowledge it was his home. His flat, he mentally corrected himself as he sipped the scotch and grimaced at the feel of the cool ice on the hot blood of his knuckles. It was an abode, not a home.

He glanced at the phone. Ray was likely going through a similar ritual at his place, jacket tossed on a chair, boots toed off, waiting for the tea kettle for some hot water to temper the scotch, readying for bed. There was a warmth there at Ray's that Bodie no longer could find on his own, in his own rooms, at his own flat. It had nothing to do with place or possessions and everything to do with kith and kin and belonging, with human contact and connection.

Loneliness can be as powerful a motivator as lust, but this time it was something more that drove Bodie, a larger risk and a greater reward. He didn't want just sex or merely comfort or company, he wanted completion, and until that minute he had not realised he'd been so incomplete before.

For a man used to making his home where his gear landed, this was something of a revelation, a realisation that brought with it thoughts of commitment and responsibility and accountability and a confiscation of independence. Strangely enough, there was more fear he might lose that opportunity than have to face it.

Sucking down the last finger of scotch from his glass, he poured himself another round, wondering how complicated he was willing to make his life, wondering if complication came from having relationships or the absence of them, from taking up the gauntlet or laying it down.

Partnerships were tenuous things, a step beyond friendship, a step before marriage. He had enjoyed the former, never wanted the latter. He wasn't sure what he was going at with Ray, where he expected the innuendoes and touches and companionship to lead, save most likely to bed.

Muzzy from the buzz of both the booze and the workout, he rounded his lips with the rim of the glass and slid his hand up his thigh to his groin, touching himself through the soft leather of his trousers, head thrown back, expression wanton, sapphire eyes meeting the emerald heat of passion.

Across town, Ray leaned against the tiled wall of the shower, water sluicing down his bruised skin, hands exploring familiar territory, mind wandering into uncharted seas as roiling blue waves of release uncoiled within him. He sagged with relief, gasping.

Bodie panted the same staccato beat.

Even as it rained again outside, a greater storm brewed within both men, an intense fire in the belly and the brain that would flare and burn out or fuel their lives forever.

Doyle dropped his holdall on the floor of the safehouse flat and tossed his jacket after it, jostling on one crutch as he manoeuvred, feeling Bodie's hand beneath his elbow, steadying him as he had for so many years in so many ways.

His gear deposited, he turned and unzipped Bodie's jacket and helped him out of it, mindful of his lover's arm, pitching the coat in the same pile on the floor. Exchange. And trust. Not dependency, but interdependence. Who would have thought 20 years earlier they would be helping the other like this -- yet in some ways, it was the most telling aspect to their relationship -- allowing one to do for the other -- permitting care and caretaking. It defined partnership -- at least theirs.

Bodie leaned forward to press a kiss onto Doyle's mouth, late-day stubble a counterpoint to the soft firmness of their lips. Eager hands pulled shirts from waistbands, slipped against hard muscled skin, kneaded and relaxed. Doyle's crutches tangled and were dropped as the wall provided temporary support.

"Need to sit." Doyle's breath was uneven, some from the effort of balancing, some from the pain in his knee, some from the taste of Bodie's breath against his tongue and the back of his throat.

Bodie nodded, swallowing the flavour of their kiss as if it were nourishment. His fingers lingered on Doyle's cheek a moment, his expression shifting. "We both need our meds. Park and I'll get it together."

The settee was soft and lumpy, the unfortunate victim of too many agents camped out on its length during too many long nights, but it really didn't matter to Doyle. It was a place to sit. It was better than a hard chair or the floor and beyond that he didn't care. He dropped onto the cushions, arranged his leg on the coffee table and listened to the sounds of Bodie rummaging about the unfamiliar kitchen -- fridge door opening and closing, the rustling of silver in a drawer, the soft sucking sound of a cap lifting off a beer bottle, then another. Doyle had meant it when he said the unknown villains could have the flat -- they had got away with nothing save for plaster and shingles -- what made a house a home they carried with them everywhere they went.

Bodie returned from the kitchen with his tie loosened, two beers in hand and a kit of meds propped against the sling of his injured arm. Doyle took the kit and pulled out the plastic vials, doling out the meds -- antibiotics, anti-inflammatory. They would save the pain meds for bed, if they needed them.

Relieving Bodie of one of the bottles of beer, Doyle nodded toward the brew. "Not good, this, with these meds."

Bodie shrugged. "I doubt one beer's going to kill us. And if it does, it's more than the damned bombers could do, so we'll give it credit."

Raising his beer in tacit agreement, Doyle clinked the bottle against Bodie's, offered a "cheers," and washed down his pills along with half the brew, rolling his head back against the settee and closing his eyes.

Beside him, Bodie toed off his shoes with a grateful sigh and shifted down to rest his head in Ray's lap, mindful of Doyle's leg, settling in against his lover's groin, beer resting beside him on the floor. "Well that's 100% better."

"Cozy?" Doyle reached a blind hand down to Bodie's head and teased his fingers through his lover's silver-streaked hair.

His slinged arm carefully arranged, Bodie scrunched down into his nest, pushing his nose into the bunch and familiar scent of Ray's groin. "Almost human. Favourite pillow. Decent beer. I'll make it."

They drowsed in companionable silence, knowing there were no expectations, no conditions, no obligations. The warmth of togetherness wound around them, both bandage and balm, wrapping them in a protective covering none could breach as long as both were there, alive, able to connect.

Opening his eyes, Ray looked down at Bodie with the familiar fondness only a lover can have for someone hard asleep, a bit of spit running out the side of Bodie's mouth, late-day stubble and the soft honking intake of snoring breath signalling relaxation. With an indulgent grin, Doyle used the tail of his untucked shirt to clean Bodie's chin and was rewarded with a snuffle and a sigh.

Doyle chuckled affectionately and caressed his lover's back. "Don't know how it happened, but I love you more than life, William Andrew Phillip Bodie. Rather have you sleeping here with me on this borrowed settee than our whole damned flat without you."

Ironic, he thought, that Bodie slept so soundly in this strange place all scrunched up on an undersized settee, his head on Ray's lap, when neither of them slept well apart anymore -- even in their own comfortable bed at their old flat. Not that nights apart were often required, but there were times, meetings, training sessions. Ray had got to the point where he fell asleep in a chair those few nights Bodie was out, a book draped across his belly, a CD repeating on the player. Bodie usually dozed in bed, sitting upright against all the bed's pillows, papers strewn around him, half glasses still perched expectantly on his nose. Yet the night before, even in the cramped unfamiliar bed of the safehouse with the trauma of the day still fresh, both had slept hard and well in the comfort of the other's arms, and now Bodie slept here.

Doyle sighed and reached to the floor for his beer, his other hand absently riffling Bodie's hair. His mind wandered -- to the hours of meetings and absence of solutions, to Murphy's detailed report of the crime scene -- crime scene now; no longer their home -- to their own visit earlier that day, walking among the flamed-seared ruins. Something troubled him about it all -- something he could nearly grasp, could almost give purchase, but not quite, too exhausted and put through the wringer to see straight. He closed his eyes a moment, closing away the memories, and then opened them again to toss down the rest of his beer and prod his partner. "Come on lover boy, we're too old to sleep like this -- we'll get all stiff and out of joint and be snarky in the morning."

Bodie sniffled and stretched, acknowledging Doyle's comments with a yawn and then a wet smacking kiss. "Well Raymond, my son, how about we help each other to bed and then you work on getting me stiff and I take a hold of your joint?"

Doyle snorted and gripped the edge of the settee for leverage as he stood. "Real romancer, aren't you? All right then. Let's have a nice mutual wank. Put us both to sleep. Chase away the chills."

Resplendent in dark suit and old school tie, Bodie was the very model of the well-turned public servant, handkerchief in his breast pocket and shoes polished to a high gloss. He wished he felt as successful as he looked. So far there had been nothing at the customs office. Six days of access to any records he could care to examine. Six days of chatting up the girls in the steno pool. Six days of beer after work at someone else's local to listen to the gossip of the day. Six days of snooping about warehouses. And he had found nothing. Not a hair out of order. Not one piece of paperwork incomplete or incorrect. Every "T" was crossed, every "I" was dotted. Every entry in the master journal was perfect. Yet the heroin was still coming in.

Doyle had stopped by in the early morning hours with better news. He finally had a name -- Jaker -- one of the Ravens. The one who ran the distribution network. Who maintained himself in the aerie above the Ravens' Nest. Six nights of listening to the talk in the Ravens' Nest and helping the bouncer with an problem or two had got Doyle that much.

Doyle's boots lay in the middle of the hallway, positioned as they had been left the night before, toed off on arrival. He was still asleep in the bedroom, arm thrown across his unshaven face, smelling of cigarettes and dope and lager from the Ravens' Nest.

Their schedules were off-kilter now -- Bodie working nine to five at the customs office and Doyle in the Ravens' Nest until the pub closed -- so they had to meet in the early morning to discuss the case and trade tips and information, and then meet with Cowley individually to debrief and pass on reports.

Earlier that morning Bodie had sat with bleary eyes in his robe at the kitchen table, nursing a cup of sugared coffee and bemoaning his interrupted sleep while a roughly bearded Doyle finished the night with a beer and a cigarette and his small bit of news about Jaker.

Stubbing out the butt in the jelly jar which served as makeshift ashtray on those rare occasions when either of them smoked, Doyle followed Bodie into the loo, sitting on the closed seat while Bodie showered for work, watching him soap and rinse, purging his memory with a verbal report before details become incidentals that were too easily forgotten.

Then he had stripped off his jacket, unfastened the buttons on his pants and dropped fully clothed into the bed, like a stranger in a hotel unable to wait until a room was remade. Scents mingled. Sweat from his body harmonized with the sweat on the sheets. Muscled arms grappled the pillow into a shape to meet his chest. His beard was as stark against the white sheets as the black of his t-shirt, armpits wet, matching the band between his shoulders and at his neck. He was asleep before Bodie finished shaving and dressing for work

Sitting a moment on the edge of the bed, Bodie ran his fingers lightly through the mat of hair at the base of Doyle's neck, teasing where the curls had tangled in the wind of riding the bike. Doyle stirred, shifted, stretched, sliding into the gap between reverie and reality.

Bodie's hand strayed down to Doyle's groin and pressed against the tight fabric of Ray's leathers, deliberately arousing. Sleep granting what wakeful hours had not, Doyle thrust against the firm pressure, urging into it, willing consummation of what had been started in the garage six days before, what had been started two years earlier when a young officer from the Met had been introduced to his new partner in the offices of CI5 and they had sparked into an instant chemistry.

Ray moaned at the contact, hands gripping the pillow, mating with it as well as Bodie's hand, head thrown back in abandon as he convulsed and shuddered, expression naked though his body was clothed. Wanton. Reckless abandon. Absolute trust. He cried out in his sleep, chest heaving, and then gradually his breathing slowed and flowed back into the pattern of dreams and rest.

Bodie kissed Doyle's forehead softly, wondering briefly about himself -- how he had strayed from the solitary life -- when he had travelled that path from singular to set without even knowing it and found Ray Doyle at the end.

He lifted his hand to his nose and inhaled the musky scent of his partner and then covered Doyle with the duvet and left him to sleep.

Doyle had been dreaming. About the fire. About the fire scene. He awoke disoriented; Bodie pressed against his chest, nestled in his arms, awkward with their injuries, their nude bodies warming the other, Bodie's toes teasing his calves. Their groins stirred in a softly flaccid merger and then rested again.

The odd tendrils of the dream twined around Doyle, fogging as he passed through that time before waking and after visions have faded. Slowly he felt sleep slide away and a new day capture him. He reoriented and lay quietly a few moments, glad for the warmth of Bodie pressed beside him, aware of a dull ache in his knee, a few stray images of the dream still vivid in his mind.

Suddenly, he popped his head up, eyes wide and alert. Their motorcycles were gone. Shit. How had he not seen it? Not remembered. He jostled Bodie and repeated his revelation. "The bikes were gone."

"Eh?" Bodie grunted and shifted in his sleep. "On your bikes, lads," he mumbled, repeating one of Cowley's oft-used phrases.

Ray pushed impatiently at Bodie's head. "Wake up you damn fool and listen. The bloody fucks took our bikes, Bodie. The Vincent and the Harley. They would have been in the back entry. There would have been something of them left even after a fire. There was nothing."

Now Bodie was awake. He struggled to sit, mindful of his arm and Doyle's leg. "You sure, Ray?" He rubbed his face. "Hell I forgot all about them. So who would take the time to steal two motorcycles when they were firebombing a flat?"

"Well it makes you wonder, doesn't it? I mean, did they want the bikes or us?"

Bodie gave a wry grin. "I hate to tell you this, sunshine, but the bikes, as wonderful as they were, didn't merit a firebomb, even as a diversion to steal them. Still," Bodie rubbed his jaw, "if we find the bikes, we may find the bombers."

"Or at least get one hell of a lot closer." Doyle prodded his partner. "Move yourself and I'll call Murphy."

Bodie groaned and reached out. "Not even a cuddle or a good morning kiss?" he asked hopefully.

"Demanding sod, aren't you?" Ray replied affectionately. Sliding back across the bed, he leaned over Bodie and flicked his tongue across a nipple, once, twice, saliva and mouth soft against the skin, and then moved to Bodie's mouth, treating it the same. "Good morning," he offered huskily.

There was a soft groan and blue eyes opened. "More."

Doyle shook his head and slipped from the bed, grabbing up his sticks along with a robe. "We've business to attend to."

Bodie looked down the length of this body to a newly persistent erection. "I've business to attend to right here and it's a damn sight more pressing."

"If you don't look at it, it will go away." Doyle tossed another robe onto the bed on his way to the bathroom and it draped across Bodie like a small tent.

"Not bloody likely it's going to go away," Bodie grumbled, though he was enjoying the byplay and the early morning tease. It seemed normal, or normalizing, salvage from the fire, a haven of routine. And he was as curious as Doyle about the bikes. Their theft could have been an afterthought, wasn't likely the main motivation, but definitely was odd. They were worth money, sure, but why would a bomber stop to take them -- and how could one person take two bikes? That meant two villains involved -- at least. Or something premeditated. A bike trailer maybe. Progress. Every little bit was progress.

He turned out of the bed and pulled the robe onto his shoulder, thrusting one arm through and then padding on bare feet into the lounge as the toilet flushed and the bump-slide of Ray and his crutches signalled his partner behind him. Ray stopped at the table and picked up the cell phone while Bodie continued into the kitchen to put on the kettle for coffee, still picking the new evidence around in his brain.

Cowley sucked down the rest of his scotch and pushed the photos across his desk. "You need to see these, 3.7."

"These are from the Met, sir?" Tie loosened and top shirt button open after another fruitless day at the customs office and then hours spent in a traffic jam on the way back in from the airport warehouse, Bodie picked up the top photo and studied it.

Cowley acknowledged the question even as he handed Bodie a glass and tipped some scotch into it. "Aye. They were sent by courier not an hour ago. And they're not pretty, 3.7. Not one damn bit. This is not good news for us."

Bodie carefully paged through the colour enlargements, his face revealing nothing as he examined each photo, the next more grim and graphic than the one before it.

Kastle. The CID officer who had brought them all on to the case with the Ravens. Dead. And it hadn't been neat or tidy -- he was found cuffed to his own motorbike at the river's edge, pelvis crushed, mouth slit open from ear to ear to match the slash on his neck, back broken -- simply cracked in two. A warning. An acknowledgement. Parry and thrust.

The man had been undercover -- so that meant someone had found him out and then tortured him for it. And judging from the job, Kastle had likely talked -- to do less would have made him more than human.

Ignoring the scotch, Bodie neatly arranged the pictures, obsessive about getting the edges evenly matched. "When?"

"The body was found tonight. The coroner puts time of death at 5 a.m. The body wasn't found until 6 this evening -- a jogger with a nosy dog."

"After Ray left the Ravens' Nest."


"He was at my place this morning about 4:30 to tell me he had a lead. If Kastle talked, then they'll know about Ray tonight." Bodie checked his watch and pushed up from his chair, reaching for the phone on Cowley's desk.

Cowley's hand stopped him.

"Bloody hell, sir. It's near to gone 8. If we don't get him soon, he'll go off again tonight."

"He's gone already. Jackson saw him pass the check point." It was the first Murphy had spoken, quiet and certain from the chair next to Bodie's.

"And so he stopped him?" Bodie's words came out sharp and hard, stinging with condemnation.

There was no answer.

"Fer chrissakes, no one stopped him?" Bodie flung his hand accusingly at Cowley, hitting the glass of scotch. The liquor flowed onto the pictures of Kastle, pooling like blood across the images.

Wearily Cowley pulled a cloth from a desk drawer and began to daub at the photos. "Jackson advised Doyle that there might be a breach. 4.5 decided to proceed anyway."

Bodie closed his eyes. Words failed him. Anger and worry consumed him. He paced to the window and stared out, arms tight across his chest, holding himself in lest he strike out with all the physical force his rage demanded.

Tight-lipped, he turned back to Cowley. "I'm going in after him."

Now it was Cowley's rage that rose, along with the man himself as he stood and he confronted Bodie. "You will do no such thing 3.7. Do you hear me? You will return to the customs office and do your job man. And when you find the person who is helping the Ravens with this foul project, and only then, can you go in after your partner."

He softened. "I know how you feel, lad."

Bodie was brutal. "You don't know anything."

"That's where you're wrong. Doyle didn't do this so you could race in after him and ruin any chance of breaking the case. You get me the name of that customs agent and I'll send the whole damned squad in after 4.5 -- and that's a promise."

Murphy tossed the file folder across the kitchen table and grabbed up a coffee and cake from the jumble on the counter. He'd delivered them the report several minutes before, waiting while the two CI5 controllers finished their morning ablutions and dressed.

Doyle sat before him, towel to his head. He paused in rubbing his hair dry and picked up the report, pushing the cover open and then glancing up at Murphy. "So what'd you find?"

Murphy swallowed and cleared his throat with a sip of coffee, perching on the edge of the table. "You were right, Ray. The alarm did go off after the blast -- or near as we can tell from what your neighbours remember. I have forensics poking through the pieces of the alarm system today and they should know more later."

"Then it was a set-up." Bodie appeared in the kitchen doorway, shirt in hand, but cleaned-up, arm held against his body out of the sling.

"Looks like it." Murphy nodded and chewed thoughtfully, pushing the rest of the scone into his mouth. He had been up half the night and his face and eyes bespoke his weariness.

Bodie crossed into the kitchen and handed his shirt to Ray, waiting, shifting and turning patiently while his partner helped him into the garment, buttoned the buttons and then patted him fondly on the rear to signal he was done. Bodie smiled a "Ta," tucked his arm into its sling and then turned back to Murphy who managed to wipe the bemused smile off his face before being caught at it.

Murphy had never thought two men could remain men and be lovers, but these two somehow passed it off. Even in the sweetness of their relationship, they had not become sweet, yet there was no doubt they cared, that there was romance between them. For a while Murphy had doubted, disdained, dismissed, but over time he realised that he could learn from them, and eventually accepted and took pleasure in their obvious pleasure in one another.

Bodie slurped a sip of coffee. "Did Ray tell you about the bikes?"

Murphy nodded. "On the phone. What's your take?"

"I wonder why in the hell some nutter would stop to take two motorbikes from a back entry of a house he was getting ready to firebomb."

"But you didn't hear anything?"

"We didn't hear anything," Bodie confirmed.

"Not an easy thing to do quietly -- I assume you had them locked in?"

Bodie nodded. "The door and padlocks."

Ray pushed a page of the report at Murphy. "What's this about truck tracks near the back alleyway?" he demanded.

Murphy shook his head. "Nothing. One of the local constables playing detective. They were old tracks."

"Roofers parked back there, " Bodie offered, idly swirling his coffee. "Probably from them. I remember they made a right mess." Then he startled. "Bloody hell. The damned roofers."

"The roofers never had access to the house," Doyle reminded him.

"But the damned inspector did." Bodie gritted his teeth. "Bloody hell." He turned to a baffled Murphy. "Remember Monday when I was late in? I worked at home in the morning waiting for the building inspector to approve the roof. He had to go up into the attic space for a finish check. He had all the time and access he needed to rig the alarm system. The central panel is right up there."

Doyle snorted. "Yeah, he might have done it if he was a bleeding genius. Hell, Bodie, Susan had that system tied in knots. Even if this guy had rigged it, he would have needed someone really good to tell him how."

Murphy's voice was deadly calm in the quiet kitchen. "Or someone on the inside."

"Shit!" Doyle breathed.

"Shit indeed, son," Bodie echoed. "If that's the case, we have a bigger problem than we thought."

"So what about the bikes?"

Bodie turned to Murphy. "Have Susan rerun her reports -- newly released from the nick, just back in the country -- tell her to add a keyword -- Ravens."

Bodie did his best to concentrate on the records before him -- the previous day's traffic through customs. Ray hadn't showed up this morning at Bodie's flat. But then he didn't always -- more like every other day during this op. It didn't mean anything was wrong. It didn't mean anything was right.

He could be just fine. He could be dead.

Thoughts like that had kept Bodie awake the entire night, nose pressed into the same pillow Doyle had gripped as a lover that morning before, heedless of the stink the unwashed man had left, glad for it in a way. At least it was contact, a connection.

Bodie was smart enough to realise that this concern had gone beyond that of partner for partner. That he had committed himself to Ray in private ceremony when he placed his hand on Doyle's erection and made love to him with fingers and palm. That the tightness in his belly and electricity sparking through his veins was more than adrenaline from a case going sour. That he was angry with Ray for being the man he was -- for casting out a line and reeling in a man who had never fallen hook, line and sinker for anyone so hard; for following his conscience; for making dedication a byword of the job; for not being less than Bodie would have expected or wanted or needed. Right was not righteousness. Doyle walked the fine line of difference with all the skill and nonchalance of a gymnast, but always before Bodie had been there as spotter.

They had done ops at opposite ends before. Had even worked cases with other agents before. Even been thrown to the wolves by Cowley a time or two, but they'd been together then and that had made all the difference. Now there was not the bracing presence of a partner at Doyle's back to watch how the wind blew, serve as windbreak. No back-up in case something went wrong. Only a gun beneath the leather of Doyle's jacket and a knife in his boot -- it was a poor exchange.

The whole damned thing was unnerving. Bodie felt it keenly. It made his gut twist. Made him feel as if he weren't doing his duty, or only part of it. It wasn't right -- going off to an office and the occasional warehouse at the airport while Doyle laid himself open to whatever dangers lay in store at the Ravens' Nest. It made Bodie feel exposed even though Doyle was the one in danger. But there are many kinds of exposure -- some that would chill you to the bone even when you're not the one in the cold. Bodie couldn't reconcile his guilt. He could only do his job. That had been Cowley's point.

He brought his attention back to the reports, looking now for a name -- the name Doyle had offered up -- Jaker. Or perhaps it was a first name -- Jack? Or Jack R.? Or Jake R. -- and as he forced concentration, his whole being still wondered how Doyle was getting along.

Ray leaned back against the edge of the whirlpool tub, the jetting swirls of warm water lapping over his belly and the fabric of his swim trunks. Bracing himself, he flexed his leg, tentatively bending his knee, wary of pain and uncertain of his limits.

When had he become this fragile? When had age and time combined in this traitorous salute to infirmity? Used to demanding and receiving the best from his body, Doyle could not acclimate to meeting its demands instead, no longer master of muscle and sinew, now supplicant to conditions over which he lacked control and had given no consent. He wondered if someone could gray from the inside out.

He closed his eyes, flexing leg and mind in acknowledgment of the inevitable truth -- that life was precarious of its own accord and even were he not in a dangerous profession, there were dangers enough just in living. It was a form of impotence, should one allow it purchase, affecting the mind more so than body. Shock from the bombing, the doctors might say, and rightly so, for mortality was a shocking thing and facing it even more so when the resilience of youth had fled and one did not do it battle daily on the streets.

Stretched back and drifting, Ray mentally sifted through the ruins of their home, of the explosion, searching for answers that would provide some measure of rejuvenation. That they had their lives was victory -- yet there could not be revitalisation without resolution and he needed that completion, as did Bodie, so both could heal.

"You're dead, 4.5." The soft hard tones of CI5's lead trainer bit through Ray's rambling thoughts.

Doyle opened an eye and flicked a glance at Macklin standing fists on hips before the tub. "I heard you coming from miles, Mack."

Macklin snorted and dropped onto a stool next to the tub, swiping the towel up from it and tossing the cloth over one shoulder. "Yeah, sure you heard me. Solving the world's problems in there are you? How's the leg?"

"It'll mend. Mob's ready for me, then?"

"Will be by the time you are. But one of your new lads wants a word with you first -- Sinclair -- I think you might want to talk with him. Saw the name Ravens come up in the daily reports and it struck a chord -- he wasn't keen to say more to me."

Doyle pushed himself up onto the tiled edge of the tub and reached a hand out for the towel, wiping down his chest before swinging first his good, and then more gingerly, his injured leg, from the water, using the edge of the tub to brace himself. He towelled both legs dry and sopped up some of the water from his dripping swimsuit. "He's in the gym?"

Macklin nodded, reaching down to shut off the jets to the whirlpool and tap the drain open. "Showers, actually. What's left of him. Towser's getting vicious in his old age."

"Towser was vicious in his young age, " Ray rejoined, unselfconsciously stripping, drying and dressing in front of Mackin, graceful even considering the awkward motions caused by jockeying on his hurt leg. He held out a hand for his crutches and Macklin picked them up, but then hesitated a minute before handing them over. "You two okay, Ray?"

Doyle shrugged, then nodded. "Yeah. We're okay. Bodie's about as pissed off as I can remember and I feel like I'm heading for 60 instead of 50, but we're alive and here. The rest will sort out."

"Scared the hell out of the whole place."

"Yeah. Us, too. Thank you, Brian. I mean it. Thanks for your concern, mate." He accepted the sticks along with the concern from Macklin and they started out of the therapy room. There were many kinds of partnership. Many layers to relationships. The importance of friendship should never be overlooked. Advocates came from many sources. All offered protection in a storm. Safe havens were not exclusive to romance, nor was love.

Doyle's boots sang on the metal steps running up the outside of the Ravens' Nest. This was to be his first visit to the aerie, a command performance as the man at the top had finally asked for him. The push of his Browning was firm at Doyle's back, but it was nothing near the sure knowledge of a partner in back-up. He felt not naked, but bereft -- as if one of his senses had been shut down -- his sixth sense, the one who knew when he was in danger. Absent this, Ray felt a jolt of adrenaline pulse through his veins, his own protection system slamming into place, and he willed his pulse down. It was as dangerous to be too keen as too wary.

His riding leathers snugged and fell against his rear and groin as he climbed each stair and it made him lose concentration for a moment, recalling the slide and pull of Bodie's hand against his flesh earlier that day. A dried crust on his stomach had convinced Ray of the reality of illusion -- it had indeed been Bodie, not some spectre of a dream, his partner's slick fingers an engagement ring on Doyle's shaft -- absolute trust married with abandon allowing this most private of acts with complete vulnerability. Bodie might have as easily stolen Doyle's soul with the act, and perhaps he had. They needed to talk now. No, they needed not to talk, but act. It had been an invitation and it was to Doyle to RSVP.

At the top of the steps the steel door opened, almost like a trigger had been activated, or "open sesame" spoken aloud. Pushing his dark glasses up onto his head, Doyle stepped into the room, leaving daylight and musing behind. He blinked a couple of times, pausing to get his bearings, and saw a ratty settee next to a scar-worn desk, a man standing between them. The man was bird-like: beaked nose, thin face, hair a smooth dark cap winged in gray. He smiled in greeting.

"We've been expecting you, Mr. Doyle."

James Sinclair was one of the agents who had come over from M15. A tall, wiry Irishman, Sinclair had been with the other force for three years and the Met for two before that. He was a listener; an observer, with a keen eye and cautious attitude who had honestly voiced his concern over this combining of forces, but seemed willing to give the collaboration -- and Doyle -- a fair chance. One of the best of the new group, Doyle had come to conclude. His records showed him to be a natural leader, good marksman, psychologically well balanced and still young enough to make the transition to the new squad. Indeed, he seemed to be acclimating as well as any of the team, perhaps better, yet Ray wasn't sure if he had won the man over or if Sinclair was still testing the waters to see if they suited.

Doyle found him in the locker room. Sinclair wore shorts and t-shirt, both sweat-soaked from a work-out with Towser in the other half of the training centre. He had a bandana around his forehead and a towel draped over his neck. A livid bruise coloured his biceps purple. Doyle nodded toward it. "Door jamb?"

Sinclair glanced down and then looked up -- surprise or grudging admiration registering in his gray eyes.

Doyle smiled and leaned a shoulder against one of the lockers. "I recognise the pattern -- Towser knocked you from the side into the open door jamb. Nearly broke my arm when he did it to me the first time. Mack says you know something about the Ravens...."

Swiping the towel around his neck and then tossing it to the bench, Sinclair nodded hesitantly, taking a steady breath, exhaling some demon before he could speak. "Danny Kastle was my uncle. My step-dad's brother. I know that case like it was one I worked on myself. If the Ravens do have a part in this business, I want to see them brought down."

Danny Kastle. CID. The poor bugger who had got them into the Ravens' op and then got himself taken out in such a nasty way. Ray was silent and tight-lipped as he listened, and then as he considered what had just been revealed. "CI5 doesn't exist for retaliation," he said finally, looking Sinclair straight in the eye. "You set about to fix a personal grudge and I can make Towser's handiwork look like child's play."

Ray was vehement in this and Sinclair studied him, knowing the truth of it, seeing what villains and hoodlums had seen in Ray Doyle in the prime of his career as an active agent, the vicious man beneath the veneer of civility, the wrath that Doyle had called upon to keep himself -- and his partner -- alive.

Sinclair nodded, acknowledging, his gaze unwavering. "I understand, sir. And that's not my style. There's enough retribution in my country without me adding to it here. But it's made me see the clear truth of what you said yesterday, what I felt when I first joined the Met -- it is us against them, isn't it -- always has been. MI5, CI5, coppers -- we all want the same thing, don't we? We all walk the same line. There's not a man or woman on the new team who don't feel like one of their own was taken down when your flat was bombed. I thought you should know that, too."

Doyle studied Sinclair a minute, evaluating the earnestness, seeing the attitude drop away and the man beneath revealed. He wasn't sure whether he wanted to sink to the bench in relief or punch the air in victory, but instead he stuck out his hand. "Welcome to the mob, Sinclair." Welcome home. Glad you found your place. Glad to have you bear our standard. Glad to have you watch my back.

Ray pressed his head down and dropped his hand behind his back. His fingers nearly grazed the Browning when his arm was jerked harshly aside and his feet kicked out from under him. There had been someone next to the door, waiting inside. Ray had not seen him.

Doyle hit the floor hard, his head thumping against the filthy wooden surface as the music from the jukebox in the bar below blared bass and blues. The gun was jerked rudely from the small of his back and tossed to the birdlike man who gave it a cursory exam and tossed it back. Jaker.

Giving himself a moment to breathe and the room to stop spinning, Ray did not move, but lay sprawled, one booted leg silhouetted in the stripe of sunshine coming in through the still-open door. He blinked, getting his bearings, appraising the situation. There was the goon behind him and the birdman, Jaker, in front of him, but seemingly no one else in the room. That made the odds uneven, but not impossible, though the Browning would have helped. He had a choice of taking the pair on or trying for the stairs and escape below.

A hard kick in the kidney caused him to double up, bringing his leg into the room as his knees tightened against his chest. The door shut with a slam and the options were suddenly reduced by half. He tried to raise his head and met with another kick, this one to the side of the face. Never underestimate your opponent. Never think they couldn't get the edge. Never believe they don't have it in the first place. Standard police training. Forgotten or misplaced somewhere in the egotism of this job. Doyle cursed himself silently even as he repeated this mantra.

Claw-like fingers entwined in his hair and pulled roughly, tugging him sharply onto his back. The birdman raised an eyebrow and snickered rudely as Ray struggled to roll onto his side, disallowing the movement with a firm boot on the chest. Ray objected, grappling for position -- he was too vulnerable like this. Open. Wide open. Unable to scramble up should the situation allow it, no access to his knife... there were a thousand things wrong with everything that was happening here. Inside information. Someone dirty. He had to find an advantage. Work the situation. The boot on his chest rose and then smashed down hard -- he heard the sound of ribs cracking almost before he felt the pain. Which travels faster -- sound or the flaming burn of nerve endings crushed into a screaming roar? Both were sounds of a sort. Sort. Sort it out. Back. Head. Chest. Legs. Legs were functional. He sucked in air, trying to fill his lungs with adrenaline as much as oxygen and he lashed out and twisted, directing his own booted foot to Jaker's groin.

He hit the mark. Screams. Curses. A man bent double, falling to his knees. Doyle had held back nothing. The fight for survival did not allow for unwritten rules of gender protection -- attack vulnerability without mercy. He slipped the knife from his boot and rolled onto his side seeking the other man, slashing, finding a calf, a knee, the back of a knee. Slash. Scream. Blood everywhere. Pass out. Don't pass out. He flailed for the door handle and dropped the knife to turn the knob with both hands, pushing the door open and half crawling onto the outside landing. Gulping for air as if he had just left a vacuum, he reached for the rail, blinded by the late day sun and his knee his touched nothingness. 26 steps. Metal. He rolled down them al, arms trying to protect his head as legs tumbled over hips, as broken ribs screamed. The motion stopped. He was at the bottom. His face was bloody and he swiped his hand across his eyes and blearily tried to focus.


Help me.

Did he speak the words aloud or not? And who would care? Who was there to care?

Roaring in his ears.

Fingers numb.


Gulping air.

His fingernails rasping against the sidewalk as he pulled himself along. Eternity. Black eternity.

The morning sun shone with a hazy brightness through the curtained windows of the Minister's office, somehow adding to the elegance of the surroundings. Bodie sat on the cushioned settee, arm in its sling, comfortably accepting a cup of tea as if he had been born to the gentry. In truth, he had spent significant time in this office since taking over as co-controller of CI5, and beyond that, he was simply not one to be intimidated.

"I am not happy this happened," the Minister advised, taking up his own tea.

Bodie stared, incredulous. "You're not happy? With respect, sir, I don't believe it's your home that was destroyed."

"Just why was it destroyed?"

"If we knew that we'd know who did it, sir."

"No speculation?"

"We're following up all available leads."

The Minister cocked an eyebrow. "Including that it might be retaliation for your personal lifestyle?"

Tired of the verbal fencing, Bodie set the teacup down with more force than intended. "We don't believe that was the case, sir, but if you have a point, I'd appreciate hearing it."

"You may be surprised to hear that I would find it most unacceptable if you and Mr. Doyle were attacked simply for your personal inclinations."

"I appreciate that, sir."

The Minister raised his hand, not quite finished. "However, I would find it more troubling should CI5 be jeopardized in any way as a result of this incident. I won't argue that you and Mr. Doyle have brought this organisation into modern times with unmitigated success, and in that, you have my unequivocal support. But let me warn you, should any of this cast a bad light on CI5, my support stands with the organisation first."

Bodie studied his tea. Expendable. Always. Even when running the damned mob. They accepted the terms when they accepted the job. Should it come to that, he and Doyle would be quickly cast adrift amidst a firestorm of political necessity. And they would survive it. Doyle or CI5. This relationship they had nurtured for 20 years or the organisation they had nurtured along side it.

Leaving CI5 would matter, of course, but it wouldn't destroy them. Self-preservation. Recognition of priorities. Putting their relationship first. It was a lesson they had learned from Cowley. From what Cowley had given up. Sacrifice could be noble, but it was damned lonely.

Bodie looked up at the Minister. "Should it come to that, you'll have our resignations, of course. But I don't believe that will be necessary."

"See that it isn't."

Bodie was exhausted. The damned customs' records were a blur before him. No Jackson. No Jack R. He took a swig of the now cold coffee from the mug on the desk and made a face, grimacing as he swallowed. He needed a break. And a break. A respite and some reward.

A shiver rode up his back as he checked his watch. Ten hours. Ten hours since Doyle left for the Ravens' Nest. Walked into the serpent's nest. Bodie glanced to the window. Dark. It was dark still save for a few vague wisps of dawn, most of those caught in the street lamps and the headlamps of vehicles.

The inactivity made him half-crazy. The waiting took him fully off his nut.

He pushed the customs' records aside and reached again for the Met reports. Kastle's reports. Good, thorough, detailed reports. They reminded him of how Ray made out reports -- dates, times, places, names, all neatly accounted for in sometimes infuriating detail. Bodie remembered events, how things played out. Doyle remembered the details. Put them together and you had a case -- something solid and tangible. Apart and they were merely incidents. Together. Apart. Rightness and wrongness of things. Merged. And separate. He and Ray.

Bodie rose and walked to the window, looking into the darkness as if he had some supernatural abilities that gave him vision beyond the visible. He wanted Ray at his back -- not just to have him out of danger, but to enlist his help to suss this out. Two minds. Two different perspectives on the same reports. The sum of the parts was greater than the whole -- that was their strength. He felt like he was operating on half his gears.

With some reluctance he turned back to his desk and set aside Kastle's report for the man's own records -- now recording life and death. He slipped the gruesome photos to the back of the folder and started through the documents, odd remnants of a man's life and service. Daniel Sinclair Kastle. Partnered with John Albert Calhoun one month out of the police academy three years earlier and until Danny's death the day before. Began undercover work a year prior. Ages 24 and 34, respectively when they were partnered.

A newspaper article, folded and yellowing, peeked out from the papers and Bodie opened it up. It was a report about their decoration for bravery, including some nice photos of both coppers, on and off duty and with the woman whose son they had rescued from a hold-up at a neighbourhood chemist's. The article included a small bit from their fellow coppers. Bodie scanned the text.

"We call them the Sinner and the Jackal," teased Harry McCain, their sergeant. "Danny was gonna be a priest, but decided to become a copper. John's always been Jack to us -- Jack Albert, the Jackal -- because he never gives an inch."

Bodie stopped and stared at the paper. John Albert. Jack Albert. Jack Al. Jackal. John. Christ. John Calhoun. John A. Calhoun.

He pulled the customs' records back across the desk and skipped back several pages, scanning, using his finger to rapidly go through the listings. There! There it was. John E. Calhoun. John Evan? John Edgar? John Earl? Jack Earl. Jaker. Jackpot!

The question was, what in the hell had he really found?

Bodie startled as the door to the rest room opened and Murphy's tall frame filled the doorway. "Beat coppers just picked up someone who says he's Ray Doyle. Been knocked around hard, but will survive and is spitting nails. Bleating on about being expected -- inside job."

Anguish. Relief. Amusement. Anger. How in the hell could those four emotions possibly co-exist in the space of a single reaction -- but they did -- and they ran a fast course across Bodie's face before he rose and met Murphy at the door.

"Kastle's fucking partner." It was all Bodie said, though his expression told far more.

Doyle handed a cup of coffee across the desk to Bodie and sat down opposite him, unwrapping the plate of sandwiches sent up from the cafeteria to make up their lunch. He pushed two sandwich halves and a paper napkin toward Bodie and sighed.

"So are you just going to glower or are you going to tell me how the meeting went with the Minister?"

"Glower." Bodie replied with perfect equanimity as he opened the bread of his sandwich, rearranged the pickles atop the cheese and took a bite. "How was the meeting with your mob?"

"We started talking partnering."

"Sounds like you're serious about this group. Any standouts?"

"Maybe a couple. It's really too soon to tell. They've only had the one day with Macklin and Towser and nothing in the field. Had a talk with one of the lads, though." Doyle took a swig of coffee, pulled two pickles off his picked-over sandwich and tossed them on top of Bodie's remaining sandwich half.

Bodie tucked them into the bread. "Ta. Which lad?"

"Sinclair. Told me an interesting bit of news. Seems Danny Kastle was his uncle -- from his step-dad's side."


"Gave him the usual speech -- we're not here to settle old scores...."

Bodie took a sip from his own coffee. "Aren't we? I mean, you and I did enough of that in our good days."

"We're older and wiser now."

"Speak for yourself. If I came up against that bloody bastard who blew up our house, I wouldn't be above a little old-fashioned vindication."

Doyle lifted an eyebrow, but didn't comment. "How's your arm?"

"Near to worthless. How's your leg?"

"Whirlpool helped."

"Good." Bodie picked the crusts from Doyle's plate and pulled out the cheese bits, rejecting the bread. "So does Sinclair want retribution?"

"No. He just thought we should know."

"Yeah well, the Minister thought we should know that he'll stand behind us -- unless it turns out to be personal, of course. Bloody hypocrite."

"Politician. And we knew it would be like this. Would you have made a different choice?"

Bodie looked at his partner and lover, affectionately. "Always hate it when you're practical, Ray.

"You just hate it when I tell you something you already know."

"Nah, that couldn't be -- I know everything, you know."

"Modest, too."

"Nearly perfect in every way. So what else did your lad have to say?"

"It seems our new mob took the bombing personally."

"Kind of them. I did think we were on the same side."

Doyle sat back with his coffee, sandwich abandoned. "Seems they may think that as well now. I hope you're ready to pay up on our bet."

"It's one bet I'd be glad to lose, Ray. And I mean that. So Sinclair came to you with this?" Bodie collected his coffee mug and leaned back in his chair, bookend to his partner.


"You must be getting to them. I'm impressed."

"I think it's the world that's getting to them. Didn't seem to like that we'd been targeted. It brought back some unhappy memories -- at least for Sinclair. Made him see it is us against them."

"It's about trust, Ray, always has been. You. Me. Sinclair and the new mob.

"Yeah and Danny Kastle and that bloody sadistic partner of his."

"Yeah, well not everyone can have the perfect partner, sunshine. You got lucky, my son."

Bodie inhaled sharply as he entered the room in casualty where Ray had been treated and now rested awaiting the determination of his status -- overnight stay or release. Doyle's leathers had been cut off and lay in a heap on the floor -- ready to be gathered up for disposal along with used bandages and gloves and gowns like so much refuse. Doyle's ribs were wrapped in white tape and gauze and bruises were in evidence on his chest and shoulders. The left side of his face was mottled and he sported a significant black eye. The lower half of his body was covered with a crisp sheet and Bodie wasn't sure he wanted to know what injuries had been inflicted from the waist down.

Stepping up to the bed, he looked back at Rogers guarding the door and jerked his head for the man to leave. "Get a coffee, would you, Paul?"

Bodie waited until the door closed behind the agent and then took Ray's bandaged hand in his own. Murphy had filled him in on the drive to the hospital -- one of the prostitutes who worked the Ravens' Nest had seen Ray tumble down the stairs and watched his agonizing progress as he tried to crawl across the street. Spotting an opportunity, she'd helped him stumble into the facing alley and then promptly relieved him of his 40 quid and his watch, heading back to her corner and gifting her pimp with a few pounds to make him think that Doyle had just been another drugged-up John.

Now Ray was sleeping peacefully, both exhausted and medicated -- and damned lucky according to the doctor and everyone else who knew what a fall down that many steps might risk. Three ribs were cracked, he had numerous cuts and abrasions -- including a nasty mess on his palms from having tried to pull himself along the street -- but he had instinctively protected his head with his arms as he rolled down the stairs and appeared to harbour no life-threatening or truly serious injuries.

Bodie traced the nose and eyebrows of his... lover. Yes, it didn't matter that the actual act hadn't been consummated, that they hadn't fucked -- hadn't made love, Bodie mentally corrected himself. And suddenly he knew what it would be like to make love with this man, to surrender, to grant that kind of trust and insight -- it would be no different than having him at his back everyday on the street -- absolutely natural and somehow pre-ordained, a symbiosis of the soul.

He glanced down at Ray and saw his green gaze flutter open.

"Trap," muttered Doyle, nearly incomprehensible.

Bodie squeezed Ray's arm. "I know, mate. It looks like that kid Kastle's partner has been in it all along."

Ray fought the drugs. "Someone else with Jaker. Mid-thirties. Short hair. Brown. Fit. Familiar."

"Is he the one who did this to you?"


Christ. The description would fit any one of a thousand villains. It would also fit John Albert Calhoun, but for this -- to take down a copper -- they had to be very careful and very sure. "Ray, did you hear a name?"

Doyle's eyes closed and Bodie repeated the question. "Did you hear a name, Ray? It's important. Or anything else that we could use to sort this out? Oh come on, mate."

In the back of Doyle's mind, a picture formed, but he was unable to call it to the front.

Bodie stroked his partner's cheek. "It's all right. You just worry about getting better and let us take care of these bastards. And in case you're interested, Jackson picked up your bike."

Jackson. Jack. Jack. Jackal. No. Jaker. But there were two. Doyle repeated the names aloud as reality merged with the dream-induced state created by the medication. His eyes fluttered, but remained closed.

Bodie tugged his r/t from his jacket pocket. "3.7 to base. We have a positive ID. Repeat, we have a positive ID. Request permission to proceed."

Cowley replied immediately. "Alpha to 3.7, permission granted. Murphy, Anson and Jackson will back you up directly. You co-ordinate this, Bodie, but no vengeance, you understand? We're sorting through the customs records now and if your lead is right, we'll have enough evidence to put both the Calhouns away for a very long time. Is that clear, 3.7?"

"Yes, sir. Perfectly clear." Bodie looked down at Doyle, tenderness and anger warring in his gaze, feeling every pain and bruise and injury as keenly if it was his own body so violated.

Yes, sir, perfectly clear. Still, I can't help it if one of the bastards is clumsy and happens to fall down the stairs now, can I? Or the other trips and breaks his face....

Murphy handed out the coffees and then took his seat at the meeting table in Bodie's office. Susan was already passing around neatly stapled reports, the results of the computer check that had been finished up in the morning.

"Page two's where you'll find something interesting," she noted, pulling her glasses down from her head to perch on the edge of her nose. "I've highlighted the important bits. Murphy's seen it."

Both controllers scanned the marked section. Bodie was the first to finish. "Christ."

"Elegantly put as always." Ray tossed his copy of the report onto the tabletop and took a pull of the coffee. "But I agree."

Someone on the inside. Someone in CI5. A new recruit from MI6. Joined the mob in the assimilation.

There had been another Calhoun. A sister to the Jackal, but with a different father, different name. And that sister had a daughter. And that daughter was now in their midst. Cleared. Vetted. Access as broad as anyone in personnel would need to do their job.

The question was, now what to do? Bodie posed it out loud.

Susan pushed her reading glasses back up on her nose. "I can track every moment of hers within our computer system for the past month. Everytime she accesses anything, we record it. So we can get our evidence."

"How long?" This from Murphy.

"Won't be fast. And it depends on how clever she is."

"Get started," Bodie directed. "And don't let on -- she wasn't in this alone. And Murphy I want a full vetting of her -- from scratch -- see if you can find out who she associates with...."

"And if there are any more bloody Calhouns out there," Ray finished. "We've had enough surprises."

They watched as Susan and Murphy left the office.

Ray lifted a brow. "So that's it -- simple retribution?"

"Nothing simple about it, mate, but my guess is yes. Hate crime of a different sort. We always knew it was a risk with this job. At least the Minister will be pleased -- won't have to worry about following his conscience or his party."

"Didn't know he had one -- a conscience, that is."

"Oh yeah, he does, it's one of those politically expedient models they make nowadays."

"Convenient, that."


Ray shifted his leg, absently rubbing his thigh. "I still wonder why they took the bikes."

"I reckon they just couldn't leave them to burn up with us. Probably ended up in the hands of some bugger who doesn't have a clue they were nicked."

"Nice to know we have less value than two motorbikes."

"Only on the open market. I dare say you'd still fetch a nice lot on the back streets."

"Nah, broken tooth would drop me value," Ray advised, baring his teeth to show the chip.

"Only to the less discerning buyer," Bodie assured him.

A knock at the door stopped the teasing banter. Murphy poked his head in. "We just got a call from the Met. It seems our Calhoun girl never came back in after lunch. They just found her in her car. Someone tried to burn her alive, but a passerby spotted the flames and pulled her out. She's not going to make it, but she wants to talk."

Bodie looked up from his chair at the side of Ray's bed as Cowley entered the room. The doctors had decided to keep Doyle in hospital for a day or two just to observe him in case the fall down the steps or the treatment at the hands of the Calhouns brought any injuries that took their time showing up. Now, on day two, it looked as if Ray were truly lucky; he sat up against the pillows munching a handful of the grapes Bodie had brought and had colour beyond black and blue in his face once again.

"You're looking better, 4.5," pronounced Cowley as he declined the seat Bodie offered. "Just here for a few moments, then I have a meeting with the Minister."

"Bodie was just filling me in on some of the details, sir," advised Doyle. Like how Jaker had mysteriously taken a tumble down the same metal steps Ray had been so intimate with, but had not been so lucky, breaking one leg and both wrists. And how the Jackal had been found hanged in his jail cell while under guard at the Met, apparently the victim of suicide -- apparently -- never mind his belt had been taken away at commitment. There was to be an investigation of that business.

Cowley looked from one agent to the other, saw the bond stringing between them as if they were touching sabre to sabre and the metal was joined by the heat of the forge. And perhaps it had been. The connection was visual, visceral. He knew he would learn nothing more about the events at the Ravens' Nest from either of this pair.

"So they were cousins?" Bodie was saying. He had seen the preliminary reports that morning.

"What? Aye," Cowley acknowledged. "Cousins. Your Raven friend was set up as a legitimate importer of motorbike parts -- the heroin came across inside the petrol tanks. Sergeant Calhoun acted as protection and used his influence with one of the inspectors at customs to schedule arrival of the 'special' shipments."

Doyle pursed his lips, his face tightening. "So we have a whole lot of crooked folk -- including a crooked copper."

"A copper who thought his pay was crap," amended Bodie.

"A copper who found out he could profit more from minding his cousin's business than minding his own," corrected Cowley.

"A copper who turned on his partner, bloody sodding bastard." Doyle was vehement in his anger and outrage, his face flushed.

Bodie touched his fingers to Ray's wrist. "Won't happen with us, sunshine."

Doyle was not calmed. "Bet Danny Kastle thought that, too."

"Yeah, but he didn't have me as a partner, now did he? Couldn't let anything happen to you -- I'd be out of a job -- on the dole -- who else would trust me to watch their back?"

"Who else would trust me?" rejoined Ray.

Cowley simply shook his head, and noticed Bodie's fingers still caressing Ray's wrist, unconsciously connecting, shielding and drawing strength.

Bodie was draped across Doyle, both naked on the bed. They lay head to foot, both sated, lips softly swollen, erections now lax, the sheets tumbled and stained. The shadows spiralled outside the window of the safehouse as dusk fell, darkness impending as soon as the last rays of orange sun dropped below the buildings.

Shifting around, Bodie pressed his mouth to his lover's. "Happy Birthday, Ray. You don't taste a day over 35."

Ray fingered the now-discarded cock ring that lay beside him in the covers. "Thought you might kill me this time, Bodie. How fast can blood pressure drop and a person still survive it?"

"Dunno. I might be willing to test it out, though. Especially if you push those gorgeous fingers up my arse again at the same time."

"Liked that, did you?"

"You know I did."

"Yeah, I know you did."

They were silent, comfortable in the other's company, inner walls breached two decades before, though outer defences still intact, both barricade and barrier to keep the world at bay.

"The girl died today," Ray said softly.

"I heard."

Ray leaned across Bodie and idly teased his chest. "It's sad, really. That her family would do her like that. Makes you wonder who to trust."

Bodie groaned, both from the contact and the topic. "Trust me, Ray. No work talk today. Please. We've been in the office night and day on this for the past week. The Calhoun girl gave us what we needed to get the Jackal's sons and now they're in custody all ready for the CPS. Yeah, it's rotten the way she died, but it's not our doing. It's our first evening off in two weeks and all I want to do tonight is fuck and go down to the pub for a chaser." And get you there after the mob has shown up for your surprise party.

"I don't get how a family can take out one of their own like that."

"She got nervous and was going to give them up."

"She was blood."

"They considered her a traitor."

"She thought they were only going to scare us, not try to kill us."

"So she said."

Doyle didn't respond so Bodie leaned up on his good arm and tongued Ray's lips. "Give us a kiss."

Doyle raised an eyebrow and shook his head. "Can't do."

"Why not?"

"Just had oral sex with a strange man, might infect you."

"Funny thing -- I just did the same." Bodie planted tender kisses across the bridge of Ray's nose. "You make it all alright, you know."


"Everything out there. The villains. The poor stupid fools like the Calhoun girl. The Minister and his bloody ambiguous morals. You make me feel safe, Ray. Never thought anyone could. Never thought I would need it or want it from anyone. But I do. More even the older I get."

"Didn't keep you too safe from the bombers."

"Saved my life. Two weeks ago. Twenty years ago. Every day in between."

"Yeah." Ray opened his mouth and pressed it against Bodie's, mingling his tongue and taste and heart as if salvation could be found there, for it had been.

Life could be a harsher reality than death, a greater storm, a truer peril, offering the ultimate risks of rejection or failure or disappointment, which could destroy heart and soul even as the body endured. There was sacred trust that this commitment demanded, beyond brotherhood or fraternity, beyond even partnership. Here was individuality woven into interdependence. Here was life and breath.

"Got you a birthday pressie -- on order anyway," announced Bodie as he exhaled after the kiss.

"Thought that's what this cock ring was?"

"Nah, that was a gift for meself."


"Found an advert and couldn't resist." Bodie pulled a ragged newspaper clipping from the bedside table and passed it over to Doyle.

"For sale: Vincent Black Lightening 1952. Excellent condition, rebuilt by owner."

"Christ, Bodie. This isn't cheap."

"You're worth it, sunshine. Got you some new leathers, too. You know, red hair and black leather, my favourite colour scheme. We can go off and collect it this weekend."

"How about for you?"

"A bike you mean?"

Doyle nodded and Bodie leaned over and stroked Ray's lax cock. "Guess we'll just have to ride double -- like we've always done."

-- THE END --

Originally published in Motet Opus 3 in B and D, Keynote Press

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