On Guard


For MB and the nights on the Northern Line.

A voice, loud and ugly with an execrable Scouse accent. It was the most wonderful thing Ray had ever heard. Then hard and competent hands, they belonged to the ugly voice he was sure, were lifting him up. He tried to open his eyes but couldn't be bothered, then as he was dumped none too gently into what later turned out to be a Jeep, he passed out again.

It was confused after that, like a dream that makes no sense but it was not frightening, which was at least some relief. He remembered being sick and losing control of his bowels at the same time, seemingly every orifice of his body spewed out filth, leaving him weak and wet and wretched. The hard hands were back again, dealing with the mess deftly and without fuss. He remembered being made to drink some foul tasting concoction, having his nose held until his mouth opened and the brew was tipped down his throat. Again the hard hands handled him easily. The stuff made him sleep and took away the pains in his guts and ribs.

Waking was something he did not want to do. The hard hands had coped with it all so far and he had no wish to interfere; he wanted to stay in this limbo forever.

Grey light pricked behind his eyes and he knew that--whether he liked it or not--limbo was no hiding place. He opened his eyes and tried to sit up. As he'd almost expected, the hard hands came to support him at once.

"Well, wakey wakey campers, back in the land of the living, are we?" said the ugly voice, the accent even stronger now. A big white moon resolved itself into a face, a man's face, English complexion shining through sweat and African sunburn. Ray looked at this apparition and tried hard to make sense of it all.

"Don't even think about talking old son," the moon face said with rough concern, "we'll save it for later eh?" Obviously, something in Ray's eyes asked the question, because moon face gave just the answer he was dreading but expected. "Yeh, you're with the JANTA. Picked up about twenty-four hours ago. No one else was left alive at the Mission, sorry." Ray went back to sleep not even caring anymore.

Later, still in limbo, he was aware of other hands and another voice speaking the native argot interspersed with some English swear words. He knew he was in a bed at last and later drank down some tea, black and unsweetened, the most lovely thing Ray could remember tasting in his life. A medic was there then, Ray could tell by the skill of the hands and the professional touch given to the rough bandages around his ribs. He was waking up for longer now and taking more notice.

"So," another face looked down at him, startling white eyeballs in a pleasantly ugly black face, "awake now, yes? Some medicine, nasty yes, but good for you." Ray sipped obediently and for once did not slip back into the darkness.

"Where," he assayed speech and was surprised that his voice sounded just the same--so much had happened to him, he felt vaguely, the changes should show in his voice too, "where am I?"

"Yes, they all ask that question," the medic answered, smiling a tight and meaningless smile that didn't reach his eyes. "You're with the 33rd Division of the JANTA, at our main base. My name's Uni--I'm what passes for a doctor out here. Soldier brought you in two days ago now. He found the Mission burnt out and you more dead than alive but he insisted on dragging you out anyway. Compatriots yes?"

"I'm sorry," it seemed a pointless question but it struck him as so odd he had to ask, "where did you learn your English?"

"Oh, the World Service--of course. Desert Island Discs, Today in Parliament, order order?"

Ray nodded his understanding and lay back down, only to sit straight back up again. "They're all dead then?"

"Yes, they were friends of yours?"

"I only came out here about two months ago, a volunteer you know, but yes, the Brothers were my friends."

"Maybe. Some would say otherwise. Government pigs," and the medic's face hardened and changed dramatically.

Ray subsided and knew he should feel worse than he did. The drugs did their magic and he drifted off to sleep again, still trying to feel something about the deaths of the Brothers who had tried to bring a little bit of light to the jungle.

He recovered--Uni was amazingly skilled for someone so untrained. Ray was patched up and mobile within days and as soon as he could hobble about he was given chores to do. Uni made it quite clear the base had no room for passengers. By their lights they had been kind and patient with him and after all, they owed him nothing.

Ray did his best and tried not to complain about the food (awful) or the conditions (impossible) or when (if ever) he was going to get to someplace with a consulate office.

The base was surprisingly well-organised. Ray had expected the rebel forces to be some sort of rag-bag team of cutthroat opportunists and mercenaries out for plunder and spoiling for any fight in town. As it was, the soldiers were disciplined and drilled twice every day and had little to do with the villagers--they paid for everything they used and were consequently worshipped by the local populace. Troops and trucks came and went and it was almost two weeks after Ray had become mobile that Moon Face came back to the base.

"Well, I thought you'd be dead or worse by now old son," the man said approaching on silent feet, surprising for someone of his build and size.

Ray turned at once to face him, still jumpy. The man held out a hand in a gesture of apology.

"Sorry, didn't mean to creep up on you, it's just natural to be--erm--stealthy."

"What's worse than dead?" Ray asked, feeling angry out of all proportion.

"I dunno old son, now you ask, insane maybe? Hopped out of yer head on the local heeby-jeeby juice? Whatever," and he walked away purposefully. Ray felt almost outraged; this man had saved his life, brought him out of the fire, literally, and then just looked in on him casually and walked away.

"Oi," Ray called and began to follow. The other turned enquiringly.

"What?" he bawled, parade ground loud.

"You--erm," Ray began lamely as he came up level, "I don't even know your name."

"Call me Soldier old son, everyone else does. You from London then eh?" and the blue eyes got very shrewd.

"Sort of," he didn't explain beyond that. "No need to ask about you Scouse," Ray added, making Scouse a name. A dazzling smile was his reward.

"Yeah, Tuebrook that's me. You don't," and his face got very very serious, "happen to know who won the Derby game, do you? We only get the World Service if the weather's all right, but it's been snow and static all the way lately."

Ray paused, wondering what the other was talking about--then was suddenly aware that back in England it was April and the end of the football season.

"Sorry, no," he smiled his apology and Soldier stopped in his tracks.

"What?" Ray asked, struck by the look on the other's face.

"That's the first time I've seen your face anything other than sick or tired or scared."

Ray's hand came up to touch his cheekbone, the bruise faded to the yellow stage by now.

"At least Uni saved the eye, you won't be going through life with no depth perception," Soldier consoled.

"Yeah, I know."

"Well, I'm glad all my hard work getting you back behind rebel lines wasn't wasted. Thought you'd die two or three times on that journey. Still, you're a tough old sod eh?" and Soldier smiled a rather charming smile and dismissed him with an automatic salute and nod, hurrying away to his duties, marching across the parade ground to the Other-Ranks tents.

Ray watched him go, feeling very in the way. He'd no business in Africa, never had really. He'd taken it as a sabbatical to do three months charity work; it would look good on his CV and quiet his conscience too--watching the news reports had made him feel like a very fat white man in a world full of starving black babies. Probably just his bleeding heart nonsense, his 'let's make the world a better place' crap. Patronising white bastard--he judged himself sourly.

He saw Soldier later. Ray and Uni and a few others usually messed down by the camp hospital, Ray's borrowed tent pitched out back. They all sat around eating the slops the base cook turned out and the black unsweetened tea that only thirst could make palatable. Soldier had rolled up just as they finished and said something fluid and incomprehensible in the local language and the others smiled their greeting.

"So, how's it going old son?" Soldier asked.

"My name is Ray Doyle," Ray snapped, irritated by the hot darkness and the biting insects and the lack of milk in his tea.

"So, how's it going Ray Doyle?" Soldier repeated solemnly. Ray hid his smile within his tea mug and ignored the question.

Soldier addressed remarks to the others and Ray noticed for the first time how deferential they were to the Englishman. Uni patently adored him. But eventually they wandered off, until just he and Soldier were left.

"Who are you Soldier?" he asked simply.

"A wild colonial boy who's a long way from home," Soldier quipped and took a swig of tea. Ray just looked at him.

"I'm a merc old son, sorry, Ray Doyle. Here for the fun and the sunshine and the money. There are a fair few of us and round here I'm a Sergeant, believe it or not. But it's about time for the story of all this and how you got involved in it anyway. So go on then, get it off your chest, you'll feel better for it, trust me," Soldier was impartial and somehow uninterested.

"Sod off," Ray spat, feeling his old temper come back all at once in one fine rush of blood and heat. He put down his mug and stalked off to his tent. Soldier didn't move.

Ray sat down beside the bed roll set out on the ground and thought about going home and how he could do it. There was a cough and a shuffle outside the tent.


"It's me, Soldier."

He lifted the flap and made to move out, but was stopped as Soldier ducked his head and slipped inside the tent. He sat down with an ominous economy.

"OK, I can read--keep out, do not touch. It's nought to do with me anyroad but believe it or not, you'd be better off telling me. Somebody anyway. Get it out in the open, you know?"

Ray shrugged, feeling clumsy and disadvantaged by the other man's calm. His temper faded as fast as it had flowered.

Soldier accepted the shrug and the embarrassment and continued: "But what I was going to say was, Uni reckons you're fit enough so much as we'd love to have you stay," Soldier smiled, taking none of the sting from the sarcasm, "I reckon I should get you home. You fit enough?" the question rapped out unexpectedly.

"Yes," Ray said eagerly.

"It's no picnic old son, on foot probably from the road head. Still fit enough?"

"Yes," and Ray's voice was harder now, determined and proud and ridiculously young.

Soldier looked at him then nodded and left.

Ray didn't fall asleep for a long time.

"Where are we going anyway?" Ray asked.

"It's called Ballun City, but it's just a couple of shacks round a rail head really. Trains still go through--or did the last we heard. Twice a week you know, making the run to the coast. There's a consul's office there, Belgian of course but you should have no bother," Soldier was brisk, concentrating on his driving and not bothering to look at Ray, sat beside him in the Jeep.

The dawn light was cool and made everything look empty. It suddenly struck Ray what a beautiful big land it was for such an ugly little war.

They travelled for forever then left the Jeep and the escort behind at an indeterminate point where for no apparent reason the road just petered out.

"We leg it from here," Soldier said laconically, shouldering his rifle and various other bits of kit. Ray had enough to do loading up his own gear, then set off stoically in Soldier's footsteps. A sulky non-com officer that Ray did not recognise had taken over the driving seat of the Jeep from Soldier and with a cheery wave and subdued whoop, the whole of the rebel escort turned around and set off back to their camp.

"Four days Soldier," one of them called back, "we'll wait twelve hours--" and his words were swallowed up by distance.

It was getting dark by now. The sudden twilight lasted ten minutes or less but was haunting all the same.

"We'll have to bed down soon," Soldier said, not even turning around. Ray nodded but saving his breath for walking. His newly mended ribs were beginning to lodge their own protest at the unexpected activity.

Smallish, scrubby trees and some low bushes formed their camp. Soldier set out the kit with practice and ease. He drank long from the canteen and instructed Ray to do the same. "Evaporation can kill you long before thirst can in this climate," Soldier counselled sagely. He didn't light a fire and supper consisted of cold beans and bully beef. They hardly exchanged three words.

As Soldier set about bedding down, he became more communicative.

"If you want to go, now's the time. Don't go too far, I'm not shy. You'd better show me where you do it anyway, I'll go there too, just one scent for any trackers on our trail."

It took a while for Ray to understand and he felt uncomfortable at the concept. "Only sensible, I suppose," he admitted at last, seeing the sense.

"Yeah," Soldier replied evenly.

Messy details concluded, Ray wrapped himself in the old bed roll that Uni had dug up for him, careful to swathe himself in the small mantilla of netting proffered by Soldier. "What about you?" he asked.

"They never seem to bite me, don't like my taste or some such. Uni says it happens that way, some people get bit no matter what they do and others don't get bit at all. I've never had a nibble since I came to this heart of darkness. I expect," roughish now, "you'd taste pretty good."

Ray lay for a while biting his lip and let his hands ball into fists at the casual cruelty of the words, remembering the jumbled taunts of the government troops, about his taste, about his skin, about his--abruptly he moved, shying away from the memories. He really really hoped Soldier hadn't meant it.

Ray was tired through to his bones but the strangeness made sleep scarce. A cold glow began in the east and with silent majesty, the waxing moon emerged from the breast of the earth. He slept at last.

It was a grey morning full of neutrals, shade and shape indistinct. The dawn was good going for them both, the heat bearable. They trudged on, stopping briefly to rest up and redistribute their burdens. Ray kept going doggedly, putting one foot in front of the other, losing himself in tired and jumbled thoughts. Soldier walked ahead and kept up a brisk pace, not punishing by any means but they managed to cover a good deal of ground all the same.

Another night and another camp. More cold food and silence. Ray had never met anyone who could keep quiet for so long at a stretch as Soldier. Then Soldier spoke. "We should reach Ballun by dusk tomorrow, if we keep up the same pace. You've done well, old son." Ray looked his astonishment at the tribute. Soldier appeared serious and for once not sarcastic: "No, honestly, not a peep."

"I'm just glad to be alive and in one piece," Ray said totally honestly.

They had bedded down by now and sleep was stealing over him so he hardly heard the words: "I'm glad too."

It was undramatic and rather trite. The shacks and badly paved roads sprouted up from out of nowhere and one telegraph pole hung with loose wires.

"Train should come through any time--no one keeps to a timetable in a war," Soldier said slyly but with some humour. "Here, this should get you part way home," a small bag was stuffed into Ray's hand.

Ray couldn't help the flinch at the touch of the other man. Soldier's face hardened, but he made no comment. "What is it?" Ray asked stiltedly.

"Enough to buy some food and water until the train comes. The locals ain't exactly charitable people. You'll probably have to bribe a few along the way too. Now don't argue, I've got more salted away in Liechtenstein than I can spend in sixteen lifetimes." Soldier stood back and looked at him.

Ray realised something. Soldier was leaving. Then out of nowhere he remembered. "The escort--what did they mean? Four days and waiting for twelve hours?"

Soldier smiled charmingly with genuine humour. "They gave me four days and twelve hours to get you here and myself back."

Ray gaped at him. "It took us three days to get here."

"So that means I've got a day and twelve hours to go. Should be all right, I prefer to travel alone." Soldier smiled again and his face looked years younger, eyes flashing very blue and knowing in his suntouched face. He raised his hand in a crisp salute, gave a smart about-turn as if on parade and marched off; left-right-left-right-left into the quick darkness.

"Soldier?" Ray called. But he didn't look back.

With an odd tear inside, Ray realised this was it. "Soldier!" he called, desperate now and frankly feeling scared.

He was gone.

Ray turned away at last and made his way to the track side, pushing aside clutching hands, hearing the rattle of strange voices speaking strange languages.

He thought about Soldier when most of his brief time in Africa had faded. When he dreamed at all, he dreamed about the hard hands rescuing him, brisk and efficient. In all the horror the hands would keep him safe.

The only visible reminder was the lumpy cheekbone. Physically, he healed well and surprisingly quickly. The doctors were pleased--but Ray refused point blank to talk about what had happened. After a while they gave up trying.

His colleagues only knew his sabbatical had been an adventure. He'd come back harder and meaner and he worked harder too, especially at arms training. He was tougher, tougher to like and tougher to talk to--he always had been moody, true, but not like this.

Frankly, his CO admitted he was puzzled. Every review board said the same thing--Ray Doyle was good and going far on the fast-track. Fiery. Dedicated. Hard as nails. And yet unpredictable and unpopular--with subordinates and seniors. The CO told Ray to his face--you'll make chief constable or be in Dartmoor by the time you're forty.

Women fell for him with tedious ease. He was attractive, slim, graceful and somehow delicate looking and he screwed around with an icy indifference, as if it made no odds to him, which only made his success more assured of course. For that too, his colleagues mistrusted him. Oh, it was alright to screw around--all married coppers had O.T.S. For wives this was translated as "out taking statements". Every bluebottle knew it meant "on the side".

But Ray treated it differently. Ray was eating and he didn't even seem hungry.

But--Dartmoor? Ray laughed. Then he sobered; his CO was no fool and in spite of himself, Ray found the judgement hard to take. Was he really so close to the edge?

Cowley read the file and considered it over a whisky. He'd no room for bleeding hearts and consciences and as for that charity volunteer crap--if that was all, then Ray Doyle would be a liability to CI5. Reading about those three months when Doyle had gone to Africa, Cowley almost closed the file. 'Bleeding hearts' got on his bleeding nerves. But the 'bleeding heart' didn't get in the way of the copper.

He had a streak of wild in him the CO said. Well, then so much the better.

Ray looked at the old man across acres of desk. CI5 was as good as it got in the security forces. You'd have to look to the SAS to get even close to CI5 standards. He accepted the fountain pen and signed on the dotted line in legal black Indian ink.

Even as he did so, Cowley got the strange feeling it didn't really matter to this young man, that really nothing ever did matter.

"Is that all sir?" Ray asked, handing back the pen and the contract, neatly signed and dated.

"Aye, oh wait though," Cowley spoke into his intercom, "Betty, send in 3.7," and the door opened as he continued, "I'm partnering you with Agent 3.7 to begin with 4.5. He's usually solo but he'll supervise your induction before I decide anything permanent."

Ray turned around and said: "Soldier."

He's changed--that was Soldier's first thought. Well, of course he's changed simpleton, that's what people do.

That cheekbone still looks odd, a mess on an otherwise ordinary face. Very strange eyes. Too pale. Pouty lips. Slim as he was back then.

Changed? Not changed? The same? Different?

And my partner?

Bodie didn't argue with the Boss; there was no point. The Boss was sometimes wrong but he was always the Boss. He considered telling Cowley about the previous meeting with Ray Doyle, then shrugged. Cowley probably knew about it already.

He was honestly glad Doyle had made it back home alive. He'd done more and gone further than he should have for this particular refugee. Uni had told him to forget and let the 'other Englishman' rot--patronising git Uni had cursed, coming out here doing his charity bit. Sod him, let him stay here in the bush with the rest of us plebs. But Soldier couldn't let it go at that. Through the burning dusts and parching nights of Africa, this one good deed came as a comfort.

The attacking government troops had scattered as soon as Soldier had killed a few of them. The rest legged it double quick when they caught sight of him. They think there's more of us he exulted and fired off a few rounds jubilantly. Like fish in a barrel, he scorned, then once the compound was secured, made a quick recci of the Mission compound.

He checked every one of the bodies--nothing. Then the last one; he searched the body and found the ID and the wallet. Raymond middle-initial C Doyle, English, the usual statistics. Then the corpse had coughed, rolled over and thrown up. So--alive.

Very much alive. Later events proved that. Not one complaint from him though, not about the climate, not about the conditions, not about the insects. Hard as nails this Ray Doyle, and held together with spit and temper.

Soldier shook his head ruefully. Three newly mended ribs, broken cheekbone and a newly re-located shoulderblade, but he yomped alongside me for three days with not a word. Credit where it's due Soldier, he may not be such a bad partner after all.

Now look at him, large odd coloured eyes and pale to the lips. Yet he looks at me like I was the one he was waiting for, out of all the world. I'll try a smile shall I? No, maybe not. Why are his eyes so much bigger than any other eyes? Why can I hear him breathing, when I'm stood here in the doorway, ten feet away?

"The armoury." He spoke without inflection. "We'll get you measured up for a side arm then shall we?" He led the way down the endless olive and drab corridors.

"What is your name?" was all Ray could think of to say. It seemed inadequate, not at all what he had imagined he'd say if he did see Soldier again.

"Bodie," was the reply. Ray looked the question.

"No, just Bodie will do," a lightning smile flashed across his face, pale but otherwise little changed from the past.

There was no time for questions or answers after that, 'just Bodie' being quite as uncommunicative as Soldier had been, pointing out "Payroll" or "Reports: Typing" or "Medics" laconically.

A fine figure of a woman introduced herself as "Locations" and set about filling in forms for him and then handed over a large and complicated set of keys. Of course now he was really with CI5 he'd have to leave his police flat in Sussex Gardens. Operatives needed secure dwellings the fine figure told him, along with instructions on what to do if he needed repairs or if new neighbours moved in who got a bit friendly. Bodie leaned in the doorway while this went on; observing and distant.

"But," the fine figure had ended with a sly smile, "I'm sure our Mr Bodie will help you to settle in." Our Mr Bodie blew her a smoochy kiss and stood aside gallantly for Ray to exit.

"What's the address?" he asked and casually took the piece of paper from Ray. He noticed--but did not comment on--the instinctive flinch. "Yeah. Anson had this one, it's OK. Good for the shops. I'll drive you over eh?" and that was it, they were out of the building and in the car, slicing through the London traffic: Ray's first day at CI5 over.

Just Bodie was true to the fine figure's recommendation and what was more did not try to get out of carrying all the really heavy kit. He left Ray in a cold, clean and well furnished living room and returned some fifteen minutes later with two huge carrier bags, one was filled with alcohol and the other with tins--soup, baked beans, macaroni cheese and pasta shapes, plus assorted items such as salt, loo paper, washing up liquid and Daz.

Just Bodie then cracked open two cans of Special Brew, handed one to Ray and raised his own in a mock toast. "Welcome aboard shipmate," he pledged and drank deep.

Ray stood, letting the very strangeness get to him at last, looking at the man he'd ended up dreaming about even more than the massacre, more than--he shook himself mentally. Don't just stand there like an idiot. Talk to him, ask him...ask him what?

Then Bodie took control as always.

"You got back alright then old son? Yeah, thought you would. Tough as old boots you." He drank again in tribute and plonked himself on the sofa.

"When did you...." Ray's voice trailed off.

"About six months after, caught a snipers bullet in the side--bit messy all round really. A few good kids did a bit of a perish. Nasty. Jacked it in, came back, signed up properly again, Paras for a while then got sent down to the Who The Fuck Cares Who Wins mob. You?"

"I was on sabbatical from the police force when we--met," Ray stated, oddly not offended by the other man's obvious disinterest. "So I went back to the job and got on with it. Then today I...." Ray tailed off. Bodie wasn't listening.

"Small world," was his only comment, then he finished his beer and left, with all the ceremony of a meter reader.

Ray's dreams that night were the worst for a long time, as bad as they had been when he'd first returned. He finally gave in about 3.00am and took half a sleeping pill, washed down with the Special Brew. It did the trick and he was up and ready in the briefing room when he should have been.

Bodie was there as well of course, so bright eyed and bushy tailed it was downright indecent. He took the chair next to Ray and casually handed the new boy a mug of hot strong coffee with three sugars; just what Ray had wanted, true, but how did he know?

It was spooky sometimes, how Bodie could read him. Like Doyle's brain was on some secret wavelength that only he could receive. The bugger knew his every move. Knew what he was thinking. Knew it before Ray himself sometimes. It was irritating to be so transparent. But the worst was that you couldn't hate the bastard. He was a lot of things but not hateful: smug, loud, funny, sharp as a tack, healthy, high-wide-and-handsome. And simply the best agent they had.

It didn't take long for Ray to figure that one out.

Cowley all but loved him, Macklin treated him like a younger brother and the typists downright worshipped him; they always did his reports before anyone else and brought him cake on Friday afternoons. Bodie damn well oozed it.

And when shadows clouded his lovely eyes to purple he would laugh it off quickly, shrug away from personalities and questions and you would swear you had never seen the shadows.

Bodie never referred to their earlier meeting. Whenever anyone asked him about the past he was imperceptibly evasive. Once Murphy asked him about Africa. Bodie shrugged and waffled on about mosquitoes and how he'd met Joy Adamson. He answered about tours in Belfast by saying the Guinness was actually better in London but at least Irish girls could cook. His only comment about his time undercover against the Basques was that he didn't hold with monarchy normally but he reckoned Juan Carlos was the best line officer he'd ever come across, King of Spain or not.

Surprisingly, Ray hardly saw him off duty. He'd come round to supper only after refusing so many invitations that to refuse again would have been rude. Knowing something of his tastes, Ray had kept to the "simple but plenty of it" school and Bodie cleared his plate with no problem, downed a civilised number of beers and toddled off after helping with the washing up.

It was weird, Ray concluded, as he washed the plates again (Bodie didn't realise plates had backs obviously) that apart from the job, which was fine, he didn't know this man at all. And what was more, this man made it quite obvious that he didn't want to be known. Ray was a copper--and he knew when people were lying or when they were telling the truth or when they were being evasive. And Just Bloody Bodie was the most evasive bastard he'd ever struck.

Observations, reports, missions, training: they were a team now, Cowley overriding Bodie's quiet insistence on working solo. Their combined results were the best the squad had ever seen--it wasn't sensible to split them up. Even Bodie couldn't be too upset about it; you'd have to be stupid to deny the teaming worked.

Stakeout; the bowling alley was noisy and sweaty. In between observations and appraisals, for some reason Ray found himself looking at Bodie; a Bodie who had dressed with that rare disregard for his appearance. Surprisingly the scruffy gear suited him. He looked more at ease, more human. Looking at them now, for once you could believe he was younger than Ray. It reminded Ray of--someone else.

Ray could never pin point it, but the bowling alley was a start. Other times too, trivial in themselves but important when taken together. In the car with him. Catching him as he stumbled. Watching him, all serious concentration as he aimed for a rare official execution. They'd tossed a coin for it; a Crown sanctioned hit exceptional even in their world. Bodie won (or lost) but Ray sat with him all through it.

Then the time Bodie had shouted at him, really let rip, for the first time in their partnership. Dangling at the end of a rope from the top floor of a block of flats and trying to stop a top-flight sniper was no joke of course, but the way Bodie roared on--"monkey on a string" indeed--Ray felt like his world was caving in. Angry, tight with tension and a hundred miserable thoughts, high on adrenaline, he realised the implications of all this for the first time, the effect Bodie had on him. Ray had never been in the firing line of the Bodie temper before and he knew straight off he didn't like it.

But it blew over, like Bodie's tempers always did. In some sort of vague apology, he actually took Ray out: pasta for dinner, a few pubs then on to a club; lovely ladies, good beer, great music. My treat Bodie told him and woozy in the early hours, they'd ended up back at Bodie's place somehow and Ray didn't realise he'd never been invited there before. He dossed down in a spare single bed and awoke to Paradise; Bodie bending over him with a mug of tea, a bacon butty and a smile.

Ray had sobered up, bathed and dressed, stealing Bodie's clean underwear and a fresh T shirt. While Bodie was in the bathroom, he'd wandered around the flat and looked at the bookshelves and into the cupboards and tried to figure out his partner. He couldn't.

It was a week day and they were off duty. After a mild bracer in the local, they'd played squash (Bodie won) and then gone for a drive out to Newmarket racecourse, back later for a takeaway and The Big Match on the box.

All through the day, thoughts squiggled through Ray's mind. What did it make him, feeling this way about Bodie? His lovely smile and those long eyelashes and....

There was only one answer, of course. It was as simple as that.

Ray had smiled and smiled until his face was sore and his teeth ached from constant exposure to the cold October air. The church had been as warm as a meat store, the champagne coloured roses the bride had chosen still tightly in bud, looking frozen. The little bridesmaid provided the only colour, in old gold satin and ivory silk.

Obedient to the signal, Ray moved to stand in his allotted place as they were posed and moved about by the interfering photographer. He felt uncomfortable in his best (only) suit, the one he wore for weddings and alas too frequent funerals. It had been to so many of these that Ray swore it smelled of lilies.

Bodie had laughed outright at that. Ray had invited Bodie to come with him to the wedding of course, yet he'd been glad when Bodie had promptly refused, the way he refused nearly all invitations. It could hurt a bit sometimes, being with Bodie.

"Thank you, groom's aunts and uncles now please," the pseudo David Bailey smirked. Ray slouched off and spent an obligatory five minutes with his Auntie Josie and Uncle Brian, agreeing that yes, it was a lovely day for October even though it was cold and how glad they were it had kept "nice" for the girl. He managed to sound sincere which in a way he was.

He vaguely remembered Lee (Lisa Marie as the marriage vows had declared her to be--Ray recalled his Uncle Joe's love of all things Elvis). She'd been the usual loose-limbed sulky teenager when he'd last seen her. Now she was a blooming milkmaid of a girl, working the night shift in the local biscuit factory and married to Andrew James, who worked the day shift at the same establishment--he was on 'Garibaldis' and she did 'Bourbons' and they'd first "gone together" on the firm's trip to Blackpool last June. Ray was thankful she wasn't pregnant. It would have broken his Auntie Joyce's heart if she'd been denied a proper nuptial mass for her eldest.

The "do" was to be held at the Masonic Hall, thankfully not two minutes walk down the hill, past the recreation grounds. The Hall was warm and what was more important, the bar was open. He bought his round and had rounds bought for him, then ate his wedding breakfast of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. The speeches were the usual disaster then the mad scramble for the bar again. The oldies perched in the far corners near the radiators and drank whisky and water or just whisky. Gradually the place filled up with the people who had not been close enough to be invited during the day. Lisa Marie and Andrew James stood by the door and accepted the boxes of glassware and bales of bed linen that these later guests proffered. Both were drunk as skunks by now and chain smoking. Lisa's hair had disintegrated from its artful wedding coiffure and Andrew had loosened his (hired) cravat. They looked absurd, young and soft like something just emerged from its shell.

The disco was mindless and kept the younger element occupied. A squall of brats raced up and down, thrilled to be jumping on a real dance floor and executing daring Cresta Run glides over the French chalk and wood parquet.

Later now and the disco toned down to play "Feelings" and "This is my lovely day". The brats had been taken off to bed or the casualty department, depending on the severity of the bruising from unsuccessful Cresta Runs. Then it was time for the last waltz, traditional even in these disco days and the oldies got up and showed them all how to do it while the bride and groom, comatose with Bacardi and cider respectively, shuffled about in the middle of the floor and propped each other up.

Ray watched them; his family, the nearest and dearest to him on this earth. He'd never felt more alone and miserable in his entire life. Looking around the hall he noticed that every other person there was part of a couple. Everyone except him.

The pre-booked mini-buses arrived on the dot of 1.00pm and carted off the guests; Ray was billeted with a much removed cousin Kevin and his second (or third?) wife Sheila. Kevin was a painter and decorator and his house showed it.

Now there would be at least three more bottles of the good Irish stuff in honour of the occasion, plus sandwiches and sausage rolls from the evening reception buffet--as always the caterers had vastly over-estimated people's appetite for food and under-valued the bar prices.

About seven or eight people congregated in the over-furnished living room, all the ones who lived close enough to Kevin to walk home in safety even in the early hours of the morning. Ray marvelled yet again at small town values and in obedience to the universal command, did his 'turn' by singing "Whisky in the Jar"; he surprised himself by remembering almost all the words.

He called Bodie all the names under the sun for being half Irish, what with his St Patrick blue eyes and Galway black hair and Kerry white skin. But truth to tell, Doyle was probably a truer son of the holy ground; as the drink warmed into him, the music came bubbling out and it was more natural to sing than talk. Second cousin Mari stood in the middle of the living room and sang 'She walked through the fair' in the most heartbreaking voice he'd ever heard, clear as the wind. He was not the only man with tears in his eyes as Mari reached the refrain: "It will not be long, love, until our wedding day."

Oh Soldier, Soldier....

Gradually, people fell asleep where they sat or managed to drift off back to their own homes. Ray helped to tidy up a bit and then went upstairs to the spare room, aware of the hastily hoovered carpet and damp sheets on the newly made up bed. The bed was single, old and saggy and it smelled of digestive biscuits and tangerines.

It was so late in October it was the night the clock went back from British Summertime to Greenwich Mean Time and he awoke thinking it was eight but it was really only seven. He had to sneak downstairs and dial the speaking clock just to make sure. "Seven seventeen and twenty seconds" it assured him. He tiptoed around some unidentifiable bodies that had kipped out on the living room floor and made a half cup of tea as quietly as he could. Thirst quenched somewhat, unrefreshed, unwashed and jaded, he found the house keys with policeman-like efficiency, let himself out and locked the door carefully after him and popped the set of keys back through the letterbox. No one would raise an eyebrow at him sneaking off in this way. It was that kind of family.

His car was round the back and he dumped his overnight bag in the boot and settled into the driving seat as if it was an armchair. He sat for a few moments, keys in hand, just savouring it, head back and eyes closed.

Ray was lucky; what with the early hour and the change in the time the roads were deserted. He reached the motorway junction quicker than he ever had before. He thought he would never be glad to see the M1 but he was, almost bare at this time in the morning. He drove at the limit (too much a policeman still to break the law) in the fast lane all the way, aware of the whisky from last night. Service station breakfast saw to that, expensive but coronary inducingly good; four rashers, two eggs, three Cumberland sausages and all the trimmings. Basically, he told the girl behind the counter, he wanted half a farm with a side order of toast and tea.

Some pounds poorer but much more human he went on his way and felt alive enough to turn on the radio and he listened with dazed contentment to the "Letter from America". At last he passed the Brent Cross shopping centre and saw his first London bus. Home again; really home again.

Ray's flat was cold and he made more tea then sat in the kitchen, with the oven on and its door open to let the heat circulate. He'd have to change the clock on the thermostat he reminded himself, what with the change from summer to wintertime. He poured away the rest of the tea and went to shower, staying under the water for far too long and savouring using his own things again. He hated overnight stays anywhere, being very much of the fussy class when it came to soaps and towels and things.

Slightly refreshed now, warmer, kinder, he looked back on his recent trip with a less jaundiced eye. They meant no harm after all and what difference did it make anyway? He'd never see most of them again. Just then there was a long sustained ring at the door. He knew who it was, the only person it could be. The only person he wanted it to be.

He'd stopped worrying over that fact long ago. It happened like the pop songs said it did, though he'd have laid money against it ever happening to him. They'd been partners forever it seemed. As he dressed and towelled his hair he remembered a day by the river, high summer it was; Bodie's eyes were bluer than the sky. It was that easy.

The doorbell pealed again. Ray shook himself free of musings and went to answer the door. Bodie smiled at him, his best light up your life grin, holding the 'Sunday Times', the 'News of the World' and a pint of fresh milk.

"Lo," he stated, handed over the milk and walked past Ray, and sat himself down, spreading the 'News of the World' open at the sports pages. "Woman, get that kettle on," he hollered in his best muck and brass voice.

Ray made the tea, too tired to object to such highhandedness. He slurped from his own mug and rested his eyes upon the muscled bulk of his partner slouched all over the sofa.

"Well, how was the frozen North? Awful?" Bodie asked, still reading the newspaper.

"Funnily enough, no. I felt a fool though, I was the only one there on my own--all the old fogeys asking me when I was going to settle down. Narrow minded old bats. I wanted to take out my gun and shoot them."

"Balanced as ever. It's what I like about you Ray, you're so sane about things. Did you?"

"No, you daft bugger, I didn't shoot anybody, not even the ones who deserved it. I ate my buffet and kissed the bride and even sang a song."

"Thank god I missed that particular musical gem."

"Ha ha, I've got a nice voice."

"Says who, Helen Keller?"

"Well thank you the music critic of the Times. You like Joy Division for God's sake, what do you know?"

"Aw leave it out, they were bloody good they were. Any more tea?" and he looked so thirsty and cold, Ray got up obediently. Bodie was deep in the papers, not saying anything and Ray realised Bodie had got up out of bed, showered and got himself over here just to be with him at the end of a long weekend and a long drive.

Every once in a while he would do something like this, not making a song and dance about it or anything, just some small thing that said--plainer than words ever could--what he really thought about you. He could break your heart sometimes, the bastard.

Bodie, uninvited, got up and selected some music and returned to the papers, seemingly quite at home and more than comfortable, not like a visitor at all, more like....

Ray woke and looked at his watch. It was four o'clock. He'd fallen asleep in the armchair. He was starving hungry but not cold--someone (Bodie obviously) had draped the duvet over him. Presumably this same someone had removed his shoes. And there was a thermos on the coffee table with "Tea" written on a scrap of paper and cellotaped to the top.

I can't take much more, Ray said to himself. I'm only human.

Ray watched them drive away and he wished, not for the first time that day, that he was in Susan Grant's shoes. Bodie always had a taste for the upper crust.

Ray had stolen a look at Bodie's file once and found it drearily predictable: council estate then local comprehensive school, a dad who belted him and a mother who drank--only natural he turns out to be a bit of a snob. Credit where it's due thought Ray, the bugger fits in anywhere and he's never servile even when rubbing shoulders with Ministers or Royalty. Princess Anne for one thought he was a teddy-bear.

He sighed. You and me both dear.

Still, Susan was obviously just his cup of tea. She was nice too, Ray acknowledged dully and wondered if all this was getting to him. This melancholy mood didn't shift, no matter what he did. Do grown men pine away? Men have died and the worms have eaten them but not for love, he remembered idly and thought again what a load of old cobblers that was. This was the worst thing that had happened to him in his whole life.

No, be honest, it was the best. Always.

Ray went out make a report back at the office and spent some time chatting to Murphy and then to Betty. Cowley called him in for something or other and even poured him a whisky. "All right?" he asked and Ray replied, yes of course he was, what was up? Cowley let it drop and Ray thought no more about it and mooched off, looking like the weight of the world was on his shoulders.

He got home with a takeaway and had a drop too much to drink and took himself off to bed. He lay there, naked, one hand round his cock and tried to imagine himself as Susan Grant or someone like that, someone small and needing protecting and there was the Knight in Bloody Armour to the rescue--it would be nice that, having Bodie all mean and moody and sulky, prowling round him like he was some sort of precious thing that needed to be guarded. Very very nice.

The stolen moments when he fantasised about Bodie loving him were the best sexual highs he'd ever had. The climax was slow; sweet pulses that warmed through him, heart and soul, rocking him to sleep.

Middle of the night it seemed--and he woke up screaming so hard his lungs nearly burst. There was something there, something creeping closer, going to get him, grab him and smother him in something black and horrible and take him away and there was no one to stop it, he was alone--he shrieked his terror--lights blinded on and something large and black hurtled through the door, gun in hand, then landed on the bed and grabbed him efficiently.

"What, what?" the ugly voice shouted in his ear and Ray froze, shocked rigid by it; the horror the nightmare and coming awake like that, so suddenly. He gasped, feeling his heart race and his breath come too quick. He felt dazed and faintly sick and then quietened himself and realised Bodie was astride his lap as Ray sat bolt upright in bed and that Bodie's left arm was round his back and hugging him close to Bodie's chest and Bodie's gun was ready for anything.

"Bad dream," Ray managed and Bodie let him go at once, got off the bed and disappeared for a second. Then he was back, with a tumbler full of cold water and a damp flannel from the bathroom.

Ray drank thirstily, great gulps that spilled the water. The flannel dealt with that, as well as the sweat and other things on Ray's face--Bodie efficient and prosaic as he mopped up.

Ray was used to the lights now and unscrewed his eyelids, feeling stupid and very very exposed. Bodie looked at him expressionlessly, disposed of the flannel and glass and sat on the end of the bed.

"Thought I'd drop by and see you, you looked a bit odd earlier on today Ray, like you envied the dead or something, like you were on your way to make a hole in the river. I heard the most god-awful scream so I busted in." Bodie looked quite calm as he said all this though his face was very pale--his eyes seemed violet by comparison.

"Nightmare," Ray croaked, throat still sore from his shouts of earlier. "Don't usually get the screaming hab-dabs, sorry." He managed a weak grin and moved to get out of bed. He remembered his nakedness and settled back at once.

"We all have our share," Bodie replied kindly and moved away. Ray could hear sounds from his kitchen and Bodie came back with two mugs of very hot strong sweet tea. "Best thing for you mate," he admonished and handed Ray a mug. Glad of the warmth, inside and out, Ray clutched the thing to him and gulped the tea. He felt shaky and not at all sure he wasn't still dreaming.

"Whassa time?"

"Barely midnight," Bodie said after a mouthful of tea. He was still sitting at the foot of the bed and considering the circumstances, looked rather wonderful. Ray felt a familiar pain twist inside his chest.

"Want to tell me about it?" Bodie asked after an uncomfortable silence.

"God, no!" Ray exploded.

"I might understand you know, I was there," Bodie said neutrally.


"Africa, I was there too you know."

"Yes, I know," Ray said and something in his voice made Bodie look at him sharply.

"Does that mean I'd be the last one you'd want to tell about it? Wouldn't blame you of course, but you'd better talk to someone."

"I don't get them very often any more," only when I can't stop myself Ray added inwardly, "I'm over it, it wasn't all bad."

"No, I know it wasn't, some of it was pretty good really. But I'm not over it, I'll tell you that for nothing." Ray stared at him, this the closest Bodie had ever come to opening up about what was happening inside. "And I'm a big bad mercenary. If I can admit it, so can you." Ray felt insulted, warmed and amused by the almighty cheek of the sod.

"They didn't do anything to me you know, not beyond the beating and the broken ribs and my cheekbone. You did get there in time," Ray said, after a timeless subdued silence. It was weird, Africa was years ago now and all of a sudden, sat here in the middle of the night, it's all coming out.

"I know that, I've seen the signs of male rape before," Bodie said, equably, "but it was only in the nick of time old son, a minute longer and you'd never have been able to get married in white. Don't want to cut it that fine ever again." He quirked a rather sour smile.

"Did I ever thank you?" Ray asked, a little breathless; Bodie's smiles, even sour ones, could be overwhelming.

"Don't think so," Bodie drawled. "You threw up over me, threw up over my Jeep, crapped your load, threw up over me again, told me to bugger off several times and that's about it."

Ray threw back his head and laughed, a laugh of mingled tension and relief and hiccupped to a stop, before the laugh became hysterical. Suddenly his eyelids got heavy and he was dog tired.

"Aw, get some shut-eye old son, I'll keep guard just like always, no big bad monsters'll get you while I'm around," and a hard and capable hand brushed his curls very gently and Ray felt himself being tucked in like he was a child again, then blessed darkness, cool as moss. Drowsily, the last thing he noticed was Bodie stretching out beside him on top of the covers, laid out like a Crusader in a church, hands folded and legs crossed at the ankle. Keeping guard just like always.

Ray awoke to the odd sensation of something extremely big and heavy on the bed beside him.

Bodie was flat on his back, face untroubled and young in sleep. His eyes opened, stared at the ceiling for a moment, then Bodie turned his head and looked at Ray, right in the eye, so thoroughly it was as if he'd never seen Ray before in his life. It was chilling, a strange distant chill.

Ray smiled rather shakily and started to say something like 'hullo' when everything seemed to shift with a sudden jolt, like stepping forward confidently only to find there's another step on the staircase--Bodie leaned over and kissed him.

Or rather, Bodie's lips touched his lips. Did that count as a kiss? Ray pondered seriously. No pouting, very little pressure, just one pair of lips resting against another pair of lips. He breathed out sharply, down his nose, then shied back, startled and very confused.

Bodie got up stiffly and stretched, with a mighty yawn. "God, I feel rotten. And cold. Should have got a blanket or something," and he gave another stretch, collected up their mugs of the night before and went out without another word.

Ray found him in the kitchen making the tea. He was even singing to himself under his breath, something about lonely prizes, a song Ray did not recognise.

"What was all that about?" Ray managed after a moment.

"What was all what about?" Bodie didn't even turn around.

"That just now. You--kissed me."

"Suppose you could say that," Bodie agreed. "Looked like you needed it."

Ray slumped down onto a chair, feeling as if he'd just been sandbagged. "I looked like I needed a kiss, so you kissed me?" Said like that it did have a twisted kind of logic--he'd always known Bodie would do almost anything for him. Just as he would for Bodie.

"Yes, why? Are you offended?"

"Er, no, I don't--er, no." Ray stumbled to a halt.

"That's OK then, eat your toast," and Bodie was all business and as calm as a sunny day. Ray ate his breakfast and drank his tea in a mechanical fashion and watched with fascinated enquiry as Bodie pottered about his flat.

He heard the shower running and trailed after Bodie to stand in the doorway and watch, with no shame at all, as his partner got cleaned up. This was very very odd, Ray realised, but not uncomfortable or even embarrassing. In a strange way, it was rather impersonal.

He watched Bodie dry himself and didn't protest when Bodie used his most expensive talc and smellies. He stood aside as the naked figure of his partner passed him in the bathroom doorway and Ray followed him to the bedroom.

"Help yourself," he answered Bodie's enquiring look regarding underwear and so on and watched him get dressed.

At last, every button buttoned, Bodie stood before him with hands on hips and gave him a sweet and patient look. "You look like you've been hit by a steam engine old son."

"That's how I feel," Ray admitted blankly.

"Can't see it was quite as earth shattering as all that but you seem fair gob-smacked."

"Bodie what's going on?" Ray asked, a genuine question.

"Do you know how I felt last night when I stood outside and I heard you scream like the legions of the damned were after you? I don't ever want to feel that way again."

"We protect our own," Ray managed a smile, the ice getting far too thin for him.

It was the wrong thing to say--all the warmth faded from Bodie's face and he stood up straighter, shoulders braced and head up. "Yeah, we do at that; well, who else can we rely on?"

All the hurts of a long lifetime of hurts were hidden by that glibness and Ray had a sudden image of Bodie as a boy, scuffing his shoes against the playground wall and muttering 'I don't care anyway' when the other boys made fun of him.

Ray reached out a hand, instinctively, to express his contrition. "I know." Bodie's face emptied of every trace of colour, even his eyes seemed to grow paler. "Yes," Ray repeated, "I do know how you felt last night because it's how I feel. Every day and every minute of every day. Yeah, I know." Ray stopped and swallowed, words tight and bottled in his throat, too many words and too much to say, crowding his mouth so he didn't even know where to start.

"Ray," and it was the soldier's face now, defeated, "Ray, the way I feel about you frightens me," he said it aloud; brave and simple.

Ray breathed out, a breath he seemed to have been holding for years and something tight and knotted in his stomach dissolved into a liquid warmth that treacled down into his buttocks and made his knees shake just a little. In the face of such courage, there was only one response.

Ray closed the remaining space between them, unhurried and unstoppable. He was serene; his head tipped back--just that little bit--because Bodie was just that little bit--taller. It was difficult to breathe and Ray found his eyes fastened to Bodie's mouth and trying to be objective, concluded that yes it really was the most sexy mouth in the entire universe. Inevitable, Ray thought fuzzily.

Not just lips touching this time, kissing this time, definitely, no mistaking this. It was sweet, like the first time you taste ice cream, like the first time you see the sea or read Keats or....

Hard and competent hands were cradling him efficiently and with a certain tough tenderness. He was plastered all down the front of Bodie and he felt every beat of two hearts through his own veins.

"Worth it," Ray sighed at last into Bodie's neck. There was a sudden light behind the blue of Bodie's too blue eyes, then they darkened to a sombre brilliance. "It will have to be," he managed.

"It is," Ray insisted with a rather brazen lick at Bodie's earlobe. "It's all there is, all there ever is."

His arms came around Bodie again and willingly for the first time in his life he rested all his weight upon another. "I've loved you since you walked away from me across that parade ground and I ran after you." Bodie didn't reply, just gathered him closer, his hands sweeping up and down Ray's back in a loving and somehow very tender caress. "How long have I scared you, tell me the truth."

"Since this morning, since I dragged you out of that Mission and you threw up over me, since a day by the river and I noticed your hair was the colour of autumn, since that night in the bowling alley, since the morning you came back from the wedding--" Ray gave a smothered sound and dragged Bodie's head down and kissed him, hard. He gentled as Bodie opened for him, tempering his passion. Their lips parted, slowly.

"It's like hearing my life told out loud," Ray said simply when he could speak at all.

"Crate-egg," Bodie chided indulgently and kissed his nose.

At first the bed was cold and a bit too cramped for two such big men. They held each other, clumsy and experimental. Bodie's elbows were very bony and Ray's knobbly knees did some damage to Bodie's thighs.

"All angles and spikes, that's you," Bodie said into Ray's neck, the gusty breath wet and shockingly erotic.

"What about yourself then you great lump?" Ray retorted with spirit. A snort of amusement was his reward and suddenly the jigsaw of unfamiliar bodies fitted together.

Soldier was gentle, gentle in many unexpected ways and yet strong beneath the gentleness. Ray unravelled nerve from nerve and then afterwards, Soldier knitted him back together and the threads were silk, twisted with barbed wire.

Tired and yet not sleepy, Ray moved around the room and looked at Bodie lying in his bed from every conceivable angle, wanting to fix this in his mind. Bodie regarded him with bemused confusion.

"Just looking," Ray told him and Bodie nodded, none the wiser. As slow as a soap bubble landing, reality intruded. Ray looked at the alarm clock. "Should I get dressed?" he asked, almost in his usual tone.

"Not on my account," Bodie said, "but Cowley might be a bit miffed." He'd looked at the clock too.

"Oh, God, the bloody briefing..." and Ray's face was a mixture of outrage and misery and humour. Bodie grinned at him just as he would have done yesterday, just as he had all those years ago. Some things never change.

Ray padded off to shower. Washing himself, he stroked his body, remembering Bodie's touch upon his skin, remembering the passion--the wonder, the challenge.

After seeing a firework explode, your eyes are bound to be a bit dazzled and it takes a while then to see anything else. But when we're both a bit more familiar, being happy at last won't seem so strange.

-- THE END --

July 1994
Originally published in No Holds Barred 10, Kathleen Resch, August 1995

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