Acceptable Risks


The building was old, condemned, due for demolition. It stank of dust and frying onions; a few rooms were still occupied by squatters, kids who were running from parents and teachers, who slept on the floor and cooked stolen food over a stolen paraffin stove. London was no different to any other big city, but that made it no easier to accept the hardship, the privation.

And the death. There was blood everywhere, spattered on the stairs, the bannisters, the walls. Somehow Paddy Donovan had made it up to the third floor where his companion was asleep, but he must have been out on his feet before he got there. As Bodie and Doyle took the stairs two at a time they wondered how anyone who was hosing his blood away so fast could make the climb.

Desperation, Bodie guessed. It was often the only thing that kept a person going when his back was hard against the wall and the dogs were sharpening their fangs. He and Doyle had only to follow the blood to find the body. They came to a halt in an open doorway; Donovan was sheet-white, an unmoving heap huddled in a corner in a scarlet puddle.

The kid who had phoned CI5 was beside the body, snivelling wretchedly. Donovan had been a good looking kid with carroty red hair and bright blue eyes, and the kid beside the body had the same attributes, tipping them off; not just a friend, Doyle guessed -- family. He stepped into the room, hands in the pockets of his sports jacket. "Hello, son, you phoned for us?" Somehow the lad found his voice. He stood up, thin and small, bloodshot eyes going from Doyle to Bodie and back again. He was soaked in blood too, and scared half out of his wits. "Paddy's dead," he said, unnecessarily, and in the same Belfast burr. "He -- he was me brother. I'm Mick."

"Yeah, he spoke about you once or twice," Ray said quietly. "Who killed him, Mick?"

The kid could be no more than twenty. His face twisted and he dragged a hand across his eyes. "Conway's lot. I didn't see it, but he told me. Everything. Then he died." The thin, pale face twisted again, shock and grief setting in with a vengeance. Bodie dug into one pocket, producing a large, white

handkerchief. "Here, son, use this." The lad took it from him, burying his face in it, and they left him to collect himself for a moment. Bodie turned away with a thunderous expression. "See what you can get out of him, Ray. I'll send for a meat wagon and tell Cowley he's snuffed it."

"Not in front of him," Doyle murmured. "He's in bits already." Bodie nodded readily and left the room, his boots noisy on the bare floorboards, and Ray turned back to the kid. "Mick? We need to know it all, son. Come on, you want Conway's heavy boys to take the count for Paddy, don't you?"

And Mick pulled his shoulders square. "Yeah. Paddy was where he shouldn't have been, heard them talking. They never knew he was your informant, Mr Doyle, but they were planning a big secret. Paddy ran."

Stupid move, Doyle thought sadly. It made it obvious to one and all that he had heard. "And they chased him and blew him away," he replied.

"Aye." Mick hugged himself dejectedly.

"And he told you what he'd heard?" Doyle asked hopefully. Mick nodded. "He lived that long. Conway's mob are going to make a hit, a big 'un, a gun job. I dunno when or where, but I know the target. It's Prince Charles."

Doyle gave a soundless groan. "In which case, I think I can guess the when and the where," he said, "and it's just the how that bothers me." He put a hand on the lad's shoulder. "You'd better let a doctor look at you, you're about ready to drop. Shock's a funny thing, Mick. Can knock you right off your feet. Do you want a lift to hospital, or have you got a doctor?" Then he changed his mind. "Forget it, come back to Central with us. You're not going to be safe till we put a wrap on this anyway... If you were seen making the call, or if anyone saw us arrive, you'll be the next one who's bleeding all over the stairs. Sit down, Mick, before you fall down. We've sent for an ambulance."

When Ray turned away from the lad he saw Bodie standing in the doorway and crooked a brow at him in question. "I heard," Bodie sighed. "Murphy's going to get more than he bargained for, but he's as good as they come... Remember when we drew the in-house duty? Those Arabs -- Parsali. Wasn't fun, but we skated around it, got both of the hit men." He looked down at the body of Paddy Donovan. "Bloody pity. He was, what? Twenty-five?"

"Twenty-four," Doyle corrected. "And there but for the grace of God go I." He ran his fingers over his own chest and Bodie saw him shiver at the memory. It was a bad memory for both of them, just two years in the past, and he still ached sometimes when the operation sites had been strained.

They were silent for some minutes, standing at the filthy window, watching two teams of West Indian kids playing football below, beyond Ray's gold Capri, and they saw the morgue van appear, a big V8 purring up to park behind the car. Ray had said 'ambulance' for Mick's sake, but it was a deception, albeit a kind one, typical of Doyle.

Two men in dark blue uniforms strapped the body to a stretcher, and the CI5 men shepherded Mick Donovan out to the Capri, guns drawn as they came to street level, but the way was clear. Doyle slid in behind the wheel as Bodie slammed the left door, and gave his partner a speculative look. "Keep your eyes peeled, sunshine. I feel a little bit like a target, if you know what I mean."

"Yeah." Bodie drew the big magnum from its place under the dash and cocked it. "Conway's mob are getting ambitious, aren't they? What was it last time? The Woolworths bombing. Big jump from Woolworths to Prince Charles."

"So they've recruited some new talent," Doyle said, tripping the right indicator and pulling out into the late afternoon traffic. "Cowley must have been thrilled to bits when you told him."

"Danced a jig for joy," Bodie agreed. "Security around the place is as tight as a drum already, and he's talking about doubling it. I wish Murph and Jax joy -- Brian'll be turning them inside out. Remember the treatment he gave us before the Parsali do?"

"Don't remind me," Ray chuckled. "Oh, Brian's okay." He skirted a laden semitrailer and headed for the bridge over to the 'respectable' side of the Thames. "He knows his job, keeps us on our toes."

The traffic was thick as the business district emptied out into the suburbs; it was just short of five when the gold Capri parked in the garage under the tall, plate glass and concrete building, and Bodie, Doyle and Mick Donovan rode the lift up. The last they saw of the youngster, he was swallowing tranquilizers and taking off his clothes, which were stiff with his brother's dried blood. It was always a near-mortal shock, and it had the capacity to make even a tough person ill, Bodie thought with a good deal of sympathy. It was all too easy to remember the way Ray's blood had felt on his hands the day of the shooting, and the pathetic weeks that had followed, as he got back onto his feet... Two years had gone by and he rarely complained about it now, though he was still taking digitalis and the faint scars of the laser welds left over from the surgery would never completely fade away. Good thing laser welds were discreet.

The ops room door was open and Cowley was there, looking over the floor plans of the Regency Manor called Featherston Hall. CI5 had drawn the job of providing security for the peace talks between diplomats and politicians from fifteen nations, and Prince Charles was to preside over the conference; the theme was 'freedom' and, given that, IRA interest was par for the course. No one was less free than an Irishman in one of those troubled northern counties. Armoured cars and tanks and guns // Came to take away our sons // But every man must stand behind // The men behind the wire, Doyle thought as he followed Bodie through into the bright, warm ops room. It was winter and the November evening was cold, but the building was held at a constant temperature to please the computers.

There was a look of tense resignation on Cowley's face as he greeted them. "Too much to hope for that we'd get a plain run through his fiasco," he said drily, giving the floor plans a disapproving look.

"Fiasco, sir?" Bodie asked. "I'd have thought you'd have been all for a peace conference."

"If I thought they achieved anything," George sighed. "But they never do. The diplomats sit around a table and talk and eat and drink, and then go home and carry on as if nothing had been said. No changes in legislation, nothing but a three ringed circus at our expense, and my agents doing duty as targets. Why in God's name does Prince Charles have to be there?"

"Search me," Doyle shrugged, pulling a chair up to the table and yawning. "But we know it's Conway's group now, thanks to Paddy and Mick Donovan. There's a chance we can get to them before the fiasco starts."

Cowley nodded. "Aye. We've got an APB out on them, but it's a long shot. They'll have gone to ground."

"They came up long enough to blow Donovan away," Bodie observed.

"So now they'll be twice as cautious." Cowley rolled up the charts. "Och, there's nothing we can do to make this better. We drew up these plans to beat a hit, and we drew them up well, by the book. They'll do as they are. Incidentally, Susan and Anson are chasing up an informant of theirs who might know where one or other of Conway's people was up to today, or yesterday -- or now, if he's foolish enough."

"Foolish?" Doyle shot a speculative glance at Bodie. "More than likely, they'll be blowing everyone's informants to kingdom come... We've brought Mick Donovan here, sir. Won't be safe on the street for him now. We might have been seen picking him up, but we didn't spot a tail on the way here."

"We'll put him in a safehouse till it's all over," Cowley said, looking at the time. "Check CI updates. If they're making a hit they'll need special hardware and that stuff doesn't grow on trees. Find out what's on the stolen-guns list, and we might be able to make a guess at what they've got." He paused and shook his head sadly. "Four million pounds' worth of computers and resources, and we're still guessing."

Because it all comes down to people in the long run, Bodie thought as he and Doyle headed for the computer facility. Ray poured coffee and handed him a cup, his fingers lightly brushing through Bodie's open palm as he took it, a little caress that found its way into every nerve and brought Bodie alive and awake faster than a shot of speed. He looked up with a smile, catching and holding the green eyes, watching them darken with promise before Doyle was pulling a chair up to the terminal and typing in the data retrieval request.

The stolen hardware list was a hundred yards long. Bodie leaned on Doyle's shoulder as they read it, drinking the coffee. "Christ, there's everything up to twelve gauge full auto shotguns and an Enfield Enforcer. Where the hell does that stuff go? Can't all be in this country or there wouldn't be a copper left standing on his feet."

"Belfast, Lebanon, Nicaragua, Chile, Chad," Doyle yawned, "who knows -- who cares? We're only responsible for this little bit of real estate. Just so long as --" He broke off as the R/T in his pocket shrilled his operational number, pulled it out and responded. "4.5."

It was Susan's voice that answered. "Thought you might like to know, Ray. You might be in trouble."

Bodie's voice was a whisper in Doyle's left ear. "What a time for you to get pregnant."

Doyle ignored that remark with all the scorn it deserved. "What's up, Susan?"

"We're out at a flat in Croyden. Our informant thinks one of Conway's men was here -- he's gone now, as you'd expect, but... The idiot used to pencil his notes on the wallpaper beside the phone, and -- you're not going to like this, Ray. Your name's written there. Well, it says 'Doyle' anyway, in big, unfriendly letters, underscored till he must have snapped the point off the pencil."

"Oh." Ray gave Bodie a frown. "How the hell would one of Conway's boys know my name? Always supposing it's me. There's hundreds of Doyles in London, and thousands of them in Ireland. Okay, thanks, Susan. I'll watch my back." He signed off and pushed the R/T away.

"I'll watch your back," Bodie muttered.

"You? You'd be looking about a foot lower," Doyle said drily. "As bloody usual."

"So wear slacker jeans," Bodie grinned. "Get a printout of the stolen hardware list. We'd better cross check with the Met, see if any of the registration numbers have shown up. Cross off the ones that are accounted for and worry about what's left."

As he spoke flimsies were churning out of the printer and Ray was typing in the request for additional data, patching in to the Met computer. "List won't be up to date," he said. "There'll be today's thefts and finds, they won't have programmed them yet. But I can ask for a continual data feed overnight, direct to Cowley."

"Good thinking," Bodie said, draining his coffee to the dregs. "That'll get you a pat on the head and a tanner for a lolly."

Doyle gave him a frown of deep concern. "You know, sometimes I worry about you."

And Bodie laughed. "Had concussion as a kid. Was never the same again."

"The same as what?" Ray demanded.

"Why don't you just call me a moron and have done with it?" Bodie said resignedly, "you usually do." He shoved his hands into the pockets of his brown leather jacket. "I'm getting inured to these little jibes of yours... I'm hungry. You want to eat out tonight?"

The chair creaked under Doyle's weight as he leaned back, stretching his arms over his head. "There's a new curry house on Partridge Street; been wanting to try it." He looked at the black face of his watch. "We can knock off as soon as we've done this cross reference thing. Got a biro?"

"Here. Okay, let's have a look." Bodie held the printout to the screen and checked off everything that matched, which was not much. "Hm, that leaves just about enough to keep World War III in full swing for six months. Why don't we giftwrap this for the Cow and get lost?"

"You're on," Doyle agreed, pushing the chair back and draining his cup before following Bodie to Cowley's office.

The CI5 Controller was on the phone and they waited, catching the gist of his conversation with the Home Secretary. Fifteen assorted dignitaries would be flying in to London's major airport in three days. The Army was on alert, and MI5, which would be providing security at Heathrow. It was going to be the kind of circus that any operative of any security service loathed and dreaded, and Prince Charles' presence would only serve to make it a thousand times worse. The phone call to Whitehall was brief, just an update, and Cowley soon put down the receiver, looking up as Doyle handed him the flimsy. "The ones marked off have been accounted for, sir," Ray said. "I've asked for continuous data from the Met computer, piped to you."

"Aye, good," Cowley said approvingly. "You were off duty ten minutes ago, weren't you?"

"Yes, sir," Bodie said, already heading for the door.

"You're on standby as of now," the Scot called after them. "If we can stop Conway's people before the convention gets underway, so much the better."

"Which reminds me," Doyle said, pausing at the door. "We could have a little problem. Susan found my name pencilled on the wallpaper beside the phone in a flat in Croydon where a Conway group member was until recently. Well, the name of 'Doyle' anyway. Might be me, might be someone else entirely."

"So Conway might be onto you." Cowley's lips compressed. He looked hard at Bodie. "Stick with him, Bodie. Everywhere, all the time."

"Sir." Bodie hid a grin and shut the door behind them. "'Stick with him, Bodie'" he said in a decent Glasgow accent, "'all the time'." He rubbed his hands in a demonstration of glee.

"We already live together, you berk," Ray grinned, "how much closer do you want to stick?"

"Oh closer than that, Raymond, my lad, much closer," Bodie chortled as they stepped into the lift. "Right on top of you, or even closer still."

"Bodie," Ray remonstrated, colouring a little about the cheekbones, and then he relented and chuckled. "Mind you, if some Conway hard case is going to be shooting at me, I'd just as soon have some dense object between me and the bullets."

"Some dense object," Bodie winced. "Oh, thanks muchly. If I didn't love you I'd thump you for remarks like that." He sobered then. "How the hell did your name get onto a wall in a flat in Croydon? I mean, who squealed -- Donovan? Mick?"

"Nah, said Ray dismissively. "A pound gets you a penny it's just a coincidence -- just another bloke called Doyle."

"Underlined so hard the pencil point snapped," Bodie added.

"All right, a Doyle who's not popular," Ray conceded. The lift doors opened and they stepped out into the cool passage that led down to the carpark. "Do as you offered and watch my back."

"I'll do better than that," Bodie grinned, "I'll press it into a mattress and lie on top of it."

Doyle gave him a sultry look as they walked to the car.

The new Indian restaurant was not busy that Tuesday night. The curry was of the Madras variety, very strong, and they washed it down with soft drinks, employing the traditional 'antidote' of mashed bananas when it got too much. It did wonders for the sinuses too; Bodie was blowing his nose enthusiastically when they switched to fruit and icecream to douse the fire. Doyle chuckled under the ragas playing on the sound system; it was one of life's pleasures to watch Bodie eat. He had the appetite of a navvy and a dedication to his food that was nothing short of awe inspiring.

They talked shop, drinking brandy while the curry and icecream did battle in their innards, and Bodie was starting to yawn as he unwound. Doyle paused, brandy glass half way to his lips, and fell silent as he noticed one face among the restaurant's motley clientele. The man was small, fair haired, with a thin face and dark eyes that looked back at him intently, as if studying him. As his conversation ran down Bodie looked up. "Ray?"

As Bodie spoke the stranger melted back into the scenery. "Nothing. Just a bloke over there, looking at me," Ray shrugged.

"Maybe he fancies you," Bodie yawned. "They reckon curry's an aphro, you know, and you do look nice tonight. You always look nice, though."

"Ta," Doyle grunted. "Fancies me? Well, maybe." He drained the brandy glass and got up. "And maybe not. I've got a feeling I know that face from somewhere... Just can't place it."

"You sound worried," Bodie observed, following him to his feet. "That note on the wall getting to you?"

"Dunno," Ray sighed. "I'm not paranoid, but only idiots believe they're indestructible. Who's paying the tab?"

"Your turn, isn't it?" Bodie grinned. "I paid for the Chinese last week."

The November night was cold; there was frost in the air and if the city lights had been less powerful the stars would have been brilliant. As it was, with the glare and the slight haze of smog, there were only four visible as they walked to the car. The heater blasted warmth at them as Doyle started the motor and Bodie slumped in the passenger seat, watching the kaleidoscope patterns of the city go by until the gold Capri slid in at the kerb outside their building. For once in three months the lift was working.

"You know, Prince Charles ought to have his bloody brain examined -- there's no sense in chairing things like this," Bodie was saying as Doyle juggled with his keys. "I mean, look at what it does to security. Must be costing the taxpayer a fortune."

"Right," Ray agreed, releasing the CI5 deadlocks, "but it's traditional, isn't it? The Queen does these 'meet the people' walks all the time. She could get skewered at any moment. There's body guards by the score ready to dive in the way of bullets. That doesn't come cheap and it's the people who pay the bill every time." He shut the front door behind them; the flat was warm and the timer had tripped the lights as well as the heating, an hour before.

"Get the impression half of it's coming out of my paypacket," Bodie grumbled. "Bloody income tax. By the time we get to sixty and we get the golden handshake, we'll be lucky to have scrounged up enough to buy a house to call home in our old age."

"You? You're loaded," Doyle scoffed. "You've got pots of money left over from your African campaign." Then he smiled as he hung his jacket over the back of a chair. "Sixty. It's hard to imagine... Wonder what we'll look like?"

"I'll still be beautiful," Bodie said smugly.

"And engagingly modest," Ray grinned. "Yeah, I expect you'll age with grace. Might have to watch your waistline, though."

"You trying to tell me something?" Bodie was pouring scotch and gave Doyle a sultry smile as he brought the glasses over to the hearth and held one against Ray's lips.

"Nah, I like 'em stacked." Doyle sipped as Bodie inclined the glass.

"Glad to hear it." Bodie tossed back the whiskey and put the empty glasses down on the shelf above the gas heater. He took Doyle in his arms for the first time since early that morning, hands massaging his back through the green tee shirt, and Ray lifted his lips in search of a kiss.

He licked across the familiar shape of Bodie's teeth as it broke, speaking against his open mouth. "Want to make love?"

"Oh, yeah," Bodie murmured, eyes closed, body rocking gently against Ray's warmth.

"Ought to shave," Doyle smiled. "You feel like a wire brush. Taste nice, though."

"So do you -- on both counts." Bodie drew away. "Want to go straight to bed or set it to music?" He indicated the hi-fi with one thumb.

Doyle considered and shrugged. "Decisions, decisions. Hell, I just remembered -- we're on standby. Be great if Cowley calls right in the middle."

"Think positive," Bodie told him. "Fetch the Ronson, then... You want Mozart? Nothing like Mozart for getting laid to. Funny how I had to start living with you to find that out; all my birds were playing rock, and since the songs change every two or three minutes it wrecks your rhythm, and your mood." He grinned. "How long have you been doing it to Mozart?" Ten minutes later, Wolfgang Schneiderhan was playing the D Major violin concerto on the hi-fi while music of a different sort was being made on the sofa. Gold lamplight, a few drinks, a good meal, warm room, soft cushions, two hard bodies pressed together, fingers stroking in time to the music... Bodie relaxed beneath his lover with a groan of contented surrender; it was going to be long and easy and gentle tonight, it just felt that way. Doyle could be wild, as he could himself, but not tonight; the mood was different, sweet and loving. He cupped Ray's face and Ray sucked his fingers while he stroked the smooth, white chest, rocking hardness against hardness and letting the urgency build in its own good time.

Then Doyle arched back, pressing them together, and Bodie lifted his head to nuzzle the furry chest, suckling on a nipple that was hard. Doyle chuckled, putting his own head down to return to gesture, licking and teasing until Bodie was squirming under him, his breathing deepening. Bodie coiled his fingers into the curls by his throat and tugged, murmuring, "Suck me, love. Please?"

It was not a difficult request to answer. The heat and smell and taste of Bodie were Bodie, and Doyle never felt closer to his love than when he could satisfy every sense he had at the same time, see the beautiful, white body rippling under his touch, hear the panted moans of delight, feel the velvet- over-steel shaft throbbing against his lips, sample the unique taste of Bodie and smell the special, musky scent that was him. He knelt on the carpet to comply, turning Bodie onto his right hip, and Bodie stroked his face, hair and shoulder as his body began to burn. Doyle brought him almost right to the edge and then sat back on his heels to wait for him to regain his breath and control.

Bodie's hands urged him back onto the sofa and his legs went around Ray in a demanding hug as they wriggled into position. He watched Doyle's face dreamily until the shaft of pleasure-pain blazed through him and he closed his eyes. Oh, but Ray was good at this, and everything he knew he had learned from Bodie in the last fourteen months. He was sure of himself, a skilled and clever lover who knew when to be tender, and when not to be. But more than that, he played this game with love, the kind of love Bodie had once given up on ever finding in his life, only to find it in the last place many would have called likely.

So the love of his life was a man. So what? Doyle was beautiful, as contrary and -- infrequently -- as charmingly feather-brained as any woman; but he was strong, physically tough, durable, with a man's appetite for sex. Only a few women were so voracious, and since they had discovered one another and decided on a home instead of two empty flats, they had fanned their appetites in a way that orthodox couples rarely did. There was a lot of loving in their lives, and the more there was, the more they wanted.

It was sweet and slow and easy, and Doyle made it last a long time, until his muscles were quivering with fatigue and Bodie was sobbing quietly in that curious mix of ecstasy and anguish, then he nudged them both over the edge with a volley of thrusts, quick and hard. Bodie howled into his ear, clinging to him as he went down heavily, exhausted, into the embrace, panting as Bodie drew soothing caresses up and down his spine.

The Mozart played on but for a few minutes they dozed, not needing to way a word. Bodie woke first, half suffocated under Doyle's weight, and kissed his forehead to wake him, collecting a kiss on his lips, warm and wet, as he came to. Doyle climbed off him and stretched like a cat, stooping to lick at the white, sticky beads on Bodie's chest, then he fished for tissues in the back pocket of his discarded jeans and gave Bodie a sleepy smile.

"Turn over and I'll get you all mopped up before we have to send the cushion covers out for cleaning."

Bodie turned with a yawn, giggling as the tissues tickled him. "Could do with a bath, maybe."

"No, we're not that messy," Ray judged. "We do it too damned often to make much of a mess, don't we? You want to make a big mess, we'd have to leave it alone for a few days. Then we'd need a bath! There, all clean. Roll over and give me a kiss."

Bodie drew his lover into a determined cuddle and ravished Doyle's soft mouth. "You taste of me," he smiled as they drew apart. "Was beautiful, Ray." He ruffled the tousled curls as the concerto finished and the diamond lifted off the black plastic. "Love you."

"Love you, Bodie," Doyle responded comfortably, old words, long ago familiar. "Want a cup of tea before we go to bed, or--" He broke off as there was a knock at the door. "Damn, who could that be? It's long gone nine." He reached for his jeans and tee shirt, dressing quickly, and was half way to the door before he turned back for the Browning 9mm that was slung over the back of a chair; he pushed the automatic into his belt at the small of his back as Bodie got his slacks on and headed for the bedroom with the oddments of their clothes.

There were fresh sheets on the bed, and Bodie turned them back with pleasure. Cool cotton and a warm body against him, his own body still thrumming to the rhythms of its mating... He smiled. Life's little pleasures were often few and expensive, but Doyle had a way of making it all simple. A trip to Cornwall might have been a ruin because of the rain, but they had spent it in bed in a quaint harbourside hotel instead, and it had been wonderful; vandals had destroyed the bike Ray had worked months to rebuild, so they had rebuilt it again, together, with an oil cloth on the kitchen table and Irish coffee by the gallon and long stretches spent frowning over the damaged parts, comfortable in an embrace by the heater; Bodie's fractured ankle last spring had made him irritable, bored to distraction by the long hours at home -- until it had dawned on him that he was at home, that he had a home for the first time in his adult life, and that the factor that turned a flat into a home was the love in it, the family. Doyle was family, and as he realised that much the annoyance evaporated and he began to revel in the indolence and domesticity until Ray had hysterics and bought him a frilly apron with pink embroidery. He had chased Doyle around the flat with a spatula in his hand until Ray allowed himself to be caught, wrestled him for the spatula, threw it behind the hi-fi and collapsed on the hearthrug under Bodie's weight, helpless with a fit of giggles that were smothered by kisses and quickly turned into passion.

It was all simple. Things went wrong as much as usual but when you were not on your own nothing ever seemed nearly as bad as it would once have seemed. Bodie dumped their shoes and was about to pad in search of toothpaste when the real world intruded with a vicious abruptness.

The last thing he expected to hear was gunshots from the door.

He knew the bark of Doyle's 9mm anywhere, but the first report was something European, or Russian. He clawed for his own .44 and dove into the cover of the passage wall just by the corner, cocking the gun and calling, "Ray!"

"Yeah, yeah, it's all over, it's okay," Doyle called back. "Bugger it -- he's bleeding all over the carpet, we'll never get the stains out."

Bodie stepped into the hall and blinked at the man on the floor. "Who the hell --"

"The bloke who was watching me at the curry house," Ray said mildly, going to fetch the R/T from the pocket of his jacket, where it hung over the chair. "Fancy me? He fancied having a go at killing me! 4.5 to Central, over." The dispatcher on the night shift was Pauline. "Send a meat wagon and a forensics team, Paulie," he told her, "and inform Alpha One. Somebody just tried to kill me. Male, Caucasian, about forty, blond, could be German or French or Scottish or Irish. He's dead now."

"Very dead," Bodie muttered, shutting the front door and bending over the sprawled body to go through its pockets. "Wallet... Driver's licence in it. Name of James Fitzroy mean anything to you?"

The breath hissed through Doyle's teeth in disgust. "I must be getting old, I should have known that horrible face. I put him away back in '74, not long before I signed on with Cowley. He was an IRA hit man. Bloody hell -- Conway's mob do know about me. Us, probably. The name on the wall was me. How?"

"Not important," Bodie said dismissively. "But from now on we play it safe. If you, or we, are the target or targets, we want surveillance on this building, a tap on the phone, and we don't answer the door."

As he spoke footsteps thundered up in the hall outside and a fist pounded on their door. Doyle grinned wickedly. "Don't answer it? Be a bit early for the forensics men, yet." He cocked the Browning and watched Bodie flatten out on the wall, then he opened the door, the two big handguns aimed at chest height through it.

The elderly couple on the threshold blanched and the CI5 men let the guns go down. "Hello, Mrs. Morrison, Mr. Morrison," Doyle smiled. "Nothing to worry about now."

The old man was gaping at the body. "But -- is he dead?"

"Yeah, I'm afraid he is. He was shooting at me," Ray said mildly. "You do tend to get a bit of this, in our line of work, from time to time. It's all taken care of though. Thanks for calling, Tom. Goodnight."

With that he shut the door and Bodie chuckled. "Neighbours. They could blunder into something nasty one day."

"And supposing you'd collected a bullet," Ray said seriously, "and were lying on the floor needing help. They could save your bacon for you."

"Yeah." Bodie put the gun down on the sideboard and pulled Doyle into his arms. "I remember when you were lying on the carpet, bleeding your life away. Jesus, that was the worst time of my life. Yours too, I expect. Was a time I thought you were going to die, and I'd never even kissed you. Was awful."

"So you made up for lost time when we found our way into the same bed," Ray smiled. "Glad you did, love. I didn't mind the risks so much, once, you know, but now... God, I wish you'd be careful, Bodie!"

"And you," Bodie said against Doyle's warm mouth.

"Especially you."

Ray kissed him, drew back and frowned. "Why me, especially?"

"Because the day they bury you I'll jump in the hole after you and they can bury the pair of us with the same spade," Bodie said quietly.

He meant every word of it and Ray felt a lump rise in his throat. "Not getting maudlin on me, are you, love?"

"Nah, just practical," Bodie said, trying to make light of it. "But you've got to admit, you collect more than your fair share of hard knocks. A damned sight more than me... Busted ribs when the Mafia had you in '78. You've been shot twice, one time so bad everyone expected you to be pushing up daisies, me included. You spent a couple of weeks in a wheelchair just last September, and for Christ's sake, if that didn't top it off, Alfie Lupino had to do that to you." He saw the green eyes flicker at the mention of Lupino's name... The incident that had brought them together at long last in the September of 1981, fourteen months before; time had frayed it all around the edges now, long since relegating it to the garbage bin of memory, but rape was rape and the knowledge that it had happened would always cause both of them a sharp twinge. Bodie brushed his thumbs across Ray's full mouth. "One of thee days the risks are going to get too much to live with, you realise that. You've got a scar for every year you've spent on the squad... Enough's enough.

"So I'll be careful," Doyle said throatily, kissing Bodie's warm palm. "What's past is past -- busted ribs, bullet holes, Lupino; doesn't matter any more. Right now all I've got to worry about is the nick I gave my thumb with the potato knife last night and -- him." He gave the corpse a frown. "We're not going to get to bed till forensics have finished with that, so I might as well put the kettle on. Have we got any chocolate biscuits left? No, we haven't -- you ate them all. You'll rot your teeth, love, and then where will you be?"

"Nibbling on you with my gums," Bodie grinned.

Doyle made a face. "What a disgusting thought."

Bodie chased him into the kitchen and nipped him vengefully as he put the kettle on the gas. The meat wagon arrived ten minutes later and it was long after eleven before they got to bed, tired out and very pleased that they had taken the opportunity to make love earlier, when they were energetic enough to get the best of it.

The office was a hive of activity twenty-four hours a day, but the presence of SAS, Paras and Met officers was unusual. Bodie thumped his old associate, Doug Smithson, on the back as he and Doyle arrived, and Smithson gave his hand to Ray. Two months before, Doyle had handled the Egyptian Embassy seige in his temporary capacity as Alpha Two; the unit from 3 Para, commanded by Smithson, had jumped to his orders. Smithson was clearly surprised to see Doyle on his feet but before he could comment on the miracle of modern physiotherapy, Cowley's voice cut across the noise.

The boss was looking strained, hassled, older. It was years since the doctors had warned him that the job was bad for the cardiovascular system, and there were some who said that he was living on borrowed time already. He was going over the security set up for the benefit of the military and police; CI5 were taking the mansion itself -- Murphy and Jax on the inside. Bodie and Doyle shared a faint smile, remembering the time they had drawn that duty, bodyguarding for a convention of Arabs, and remembering the working over Brian Macklin had given them in the fortnight before the job... Rather Murphy and Jax than us, Ray thought wryly as Cowley spoke, nursing a great relief that it was someone else's turn to be worked over in line of duty.

But the relief was short lived. As the military followed the Met toward the lifts Doyle and Bodie turned to the door to Cowley's private office and did a double take. Murphy stood there, crutches under both arms, right foot up off the floor, swathed in white bandages. "What the bloody hell happened to you?" Bodie demanded. "You were supposed to be with Brian, getting a refresher --"

"I was," Murphy said with a grimace. "Brian plays rough, sometimes too rough. He takes 'necessary risks' -- knives, chains, staffs. Tosses you about, full contact. I took a fall badly. He dumped me off a ladder, had to dive to stay out of the way of the chain he was swinging... Acceptable casualties, you might say. My ankle's not broken but it's bad enough to get me light duties for a fortnight. And that, my sweet lovebirds, puts you in the hot seat."

"Oh my God," Doyle groaned. "Not us, surely. Not again."

"I think it's our turn," Bodie said philosophically.

"Aye, so it is," George Cowley's voice said from behind them. He was on his way from his private office to the lifts, arms full of files and charts. "Doyle, Bodie, report to Macklin right now... It serves our purpose; you'll be off the street for a while, which means you'll be effectively beyond Conway's reach. If there's an IRA hit squad looking for your blood, that's no bad thing."

"And if Brian gives us a broken arm apiece?" Doyle asked drily.

Cowley turned back with a bland expression. "Then I'll break Brian's arm," he said mildly. "Acceptable casualties are acceptable, but one can play too rough. I want my men sharp, not in plaster." With that he was gone.

"So he pulls our muscles, wrenches our joints, tears our hamstrings, jumps our ligaments and then expects us to heal up by Friday and do the job," Bodie muttered. "If we were football players a pull or a strain would keep us off the field for weeks."

"We're better than football players," Ray grinned. "We know how to keep out of harm's way -- well, most of us do." He gave Murphy a wink. "Dittums fall down and go boom?"

"Oh, thanks a lot, Doyle," Murphy chuckled. "I get the last laugh, though. The conference meets in three days and till then you're sleeping on the floor and eating out of tin dishes and running ten miles a day, and you won't even be able to sneak a kiss with Brian breathing down your necks. He doesn't encourage that kind of exercise during training."

"He can take a running jump," Bodie said flatly. "Three days to 'go' -- there isn't time to pull muscles and heal up before we're due to leap around risking our necks. If we're below par due to being beaten up by him we'll be slow on reaction time... And if that happens, we get the squad physio to rate us unfit for duty. This time he treats us like the Liverpool strikers, like racehorses, or his butt will be in plaster, never mind a sling."

Doyle chuckled richly. "Well said. Nah, Brian's no fool. He's good at his job... I suppose we'd better go over there. What've they got you doing, Murph?"

"Chasing after Conway's lot," Murphy told him, "with Jax and Sue and Anson and Lewis. Hey -- they're one down for a start after the shooting at your place last night. Fitzroy... Nice shooting, Bodie."

"Ray shot him," Bodie said, getting his feet moving. "See you later, mate. Be kind to the foot, won't you?"

"Watch out for left crosses," Murphy sang after them cheerfully.

The gym had belonged to a Karate club until the building was sold to redevelopers. It would be gutted and refitted one day, turned into offices and perhaps a restaurant; for the moment it was perfect for its purpose and not uncomfortable. The floor mats wee springy underfoot and there was the aroma of bacon and eggs frying as Bodie led the way in. Macklin was sitting on the mat, pushing his breakfast around in a small frying pan, and gave them a smile of greeting. "Hello, fellows. Want tea or coffee? There's fresh bread and jam, and eggs, if you want them."

"Very solicitous of you," Bodie said warily. He glanced at Doyle. "Doublecross, you reckon?"

"He wouldn't dare," Doyle growled.

"I would," Macklin chuckled, "but not this time. Three days? Can't take you to bits and put you back together again that fast. Rip a muscle today and you'll still be limping by the time the Arabs get here. Get yourselves killed that way." As Bodie and Doyle sat down he thrust mugs of tea at them.

"So what are we going to do for three days?" Doyle asked shrewdly.

"Play games," Brian said as he ladled his breakfast onto a tin plate. "Get your reflexes sharpened up, get your technique into order, get your 'eye' in. You're fit enough to pass muster, I think." He gave them a hard look. "If you keep your hands off each other for a while. You can do without that kind of drain on your resources."

"Drop dead, mate," Bodie said cheerfully.

"No, but you might." Macklin was serious. "You might need the edge, Bodie. I mean it. Do yourselves a favour -- 'bum to mum,' as the Australians say, till it's over. You can screw each other's brains out for days when it's over. I don't want to see either of you get hurt, much less badly hurt."

He was absolutely sincere, and Ray gave Bodie a speculative look. "All right, we'll be good," Doyle smiled, "Or, as good as we can be... You want to tell me something, Brian?"

"Yeah, what?" Macklin was forking eggs into his mouth.

Ray sipped at the tea. It was too sweet; it had been sugared for Murphy, whose sweet tooth was notorious, but he endured it without more than a pained expression. "When did you cotton on to me and Bodie? I mean, Christ, we're not obvious, are we?"

"No, you're not obvious," Brian said with surprisingly gentle humour. "I was going through your medical files, Ray, eight months ago, last time you two took the refresher. I noticed that you'd been hospitalised briefly the September before last, so I recalled the info. I wasn't trying to pry or anything -- it's my job to know your weaknesses as well as your strengths... I had no idea you'd been raped -- they did a great job of restricting the story." He saw the colour flush up in Doyle's cheeks, saw the green eyes cast down. "Hey, Ray, don't sweat about it, mate. I've been through it too."

The green eyes leapt up again, half disbelieving. "You? How? When?"

"The time they beat the stuffing out of me, the time they broke my nerve for me," Brian said candidly. "I told you about most of it years ago when I was sharpening you up for the Parsali job, remember? Oh yeah, they beat me within an inch of my life and dumped me...when they'd finished with me. The broken bones were not all that broke my nerve. Relax, Ray, it's all in the past, for both of us. Anyway, after I read the material in the file I watched you and Bodie together. You live together, you work as a pair, you're right together. I was just making educated guesses until I watched Bodie watching you, Ray, when you were on wheels for a while. No, you're not obvious, you're not even vague, but you soften up and glow when you're together." He grinned at their wry expressions. "It's sort of nice, actually."

Bodie looked at Doyle and Doyle looked at Bodie. "You don't mind?" Bodie asked softly.

"Mind?" Brian shook his head. "It'd be a bit like the pot calling the kettle black... Took me a long time to heal up after the beating they gave me, and I was impotent for a year or so. I had a good friend, a really nice bloke who cared a lot about me." He smiled sadly. "Kept me warm, didn't he? The nights can be bloody awful cold. Slept with me when I couldn't... Then one day I could again. Was beautiful for three years."

"He's dead now?" Doyle asked, seeing the expression of regret on Macklin's face and glancing at Bodie. "Killed on the job?"

"No, he was killed in a train crash. Bloody silly way to go." Macklin washed his breakfast down with a cup of tea. "Anyway, that's all in the past too. I'm engaged to be married, you know? Beautiful little woman from Defence, a little smasher. And she can put up with me, and if that's not a miracle I don't know what is! No, it doesn't bother me that you're enjoying each other, but what will bother me is if you're under par on the day and get yourselves chewed up. Do yourselves a favour, will you? Work now, fall into bed later. Make pigs of yourselves if you want, later."

Like football players, Bodie thought. He gave Doyle a faint smile. "I think we can manage to be good for three days or so...what are we doing today then? Karate or judo or playing darts? Anything for the reflexes?"

"Bit of everything," Brian said mildly. "This is quite a nice place, at least. Showers over yonder, nice locker room, and the exercise mats are not bad to sleep on. Murph and Jax left their gear; their workout suits'll fit you two... Okay, it's Tuesday. Let's see what kind of shape we can get you in by Friday!"

Macklin was no one's fool -- and contrary to popular opinion, he wasn't a sadist; he knew just how far he could push them to get the best of them, and the signs to look for to tell the difference between matey grousing and real pain, the kind of physical strain that telegraphed muscular damage; frequently he broke into their competitive antics to take Doyle's pulse. It was over two years since the surgery on his heart but he was still taking the digitalis and Brian's interest in his pulse rate was a purely clinical fascination. Ray was in great shape by anyone's standards. His heart ran faster than Bodie's, but that was natural, and it was dead regular.

The day was tiring but pleasant and sunset found the two field agents standing at the gym's west windows, looking out over the city from their third storey vantage point while Macklin went out for chicken and chips and soft drinks. They had showered and changed into fresh track suits belonging to Murphy and Jax, and Doyle's hair was still limp and damp, smelling of Murphy's shampoo, left behind with the rest of his gear when they departed so abruptly. Bodie slid an arm about his waist and drew him in close. "Give me a kiss while we've got the chance?" Ray asked softly. "Haven't tasted you since this morning."

They had made love when a dream woke Doyle, not long before dawn, and the clean sheets had ended up in the laundry bag before breakfast. This was the best time of day, as a rule; the toil was over, the job could be put 'on hold' until further notice, and the whole evening lay before them, rich with the promise of good food, a few drinks and the pursuit of pleasure.

For once, the latter would have to wait, Bodie thought wryly as he turned into Ray's embrace and opened his mouth to Doyle's tongue. Friday night, when it was all history, they'd get an early start on the weekend, he promised himself. Ray was just kissing gently, not holding him tight, not grinding them together as was usually a reflex, as if he, too, had decided that Macklin had a point. Bodie's hands rested lightly on Doyle's shoulders, not straying further, as he simply enjoyed the kiss and ignored the stirrings of arousal.

They ate chicken and chips and apricot pie, and curled up to sleep. Brian did not bat an eyelid when Ray, returning from brushing his teeth, crawled under the rugs with Bodie, wriggled into their familiar back-to-chest embrace, said goodnight and closed his eyes. The lights were out when Bodie dropped a kiss on the back of his neck; Doyle heaved a comfortable sigh and pressed back against the other's warmth, tired by the day's exertion and relived that Macklin knew his onions and was not going to make the job hell.

Brian's associate in creative sadism, Towser, came and went at intervals while they worked in the gym up to noon on the Thursday, when Cowley and the still limping Murphy arrived in the boss' big red Ford four door. In contrast to the last time Cowley had visited them after one of Macklin's ordeals, the field agents were cheerful, chipper and playing darts -- an excellent hand-eye co-ordination exercise. Macklin was scrawling the last paragraph of his report on their condition and gave the older man a smile as he appeared, Murphy in his wake. Cowley looked Bodie and Doyle over with critical approval.

"You two are still hanging together, I see," he said.

"Well, they're in pretty good shape," Brian conceded. "Reflexes and co-ordination couldn't be better -- life on the street makes you sharp. Oxygen transfer's good, muscle tone, all fine. Ray's heart is a bit quick, still, but that's to be expected. That's normal, since the shooting."

"Good enough?" Cowley asked shrewdly.

Bodie slammed two double tops into the dart board in quick succession and Macklin chuckled. "Yeah, I think they'll do."

"Very well," the Scot nodded. "Home with you, 3.7, 4.5. Pick up something decent to wear. You'll be checking out the venue for the conference this afternoon and staying there overnight with the rest of the security contingent. You can't rub shoulders with royalty looking like a pair of ragamuffins, can you? We haven't caught up with Conway's people yet, nor do I expect to, so whatever they have planned will doubtlessly go ahead. They must have gone to ground after you killed Fitzroy. Maybe, just maybe, his death will have thrown their plans out of gear. If Fitzroy was the man who was going to make the hit on Prince Charles --"

"Be too much of a risk," Ray said quickly, "wouldn't it? Why send the key man out to grease me? Compared to the Prince, I'm chicken feed."

"You're CI5," Cowley corrected, "and we're handling the internal security. The loss of one of the Alpha Squad leaders would place us in considerable disarray, just a few days before the conference. We're still a small unit, and because we're a small unit we're all colleagues if not friends, more like a family group than military... Kill one of us, the rest try to go out on the warpath. Laudable emotions, but dangerous ones. Too much anger, too much bitterness. Killing you, Doyle, would have Bodie, Jax, Susan, Murphy here, and a dozen others too, at sixes and sevens with their job... Killing you could have been in their plans from the start; but what I'd like to know is how they caught on to you in the first place."

It was Bodie who spoke up. "Had to be through Paddy Donovan, sir. Maybe they saw Paddy and Ray together, weeks -- months, even -- ago. The hit man, Fitzroy, had been following us; Ray caught sight of him at the new Indian nosh house where we had dinner that night."

"Aye," Cowley agreed. "that may well be the case... Are you done with them, Brian?"

Macklin nodded in reply. "They're in good shape, as good as they're going to be on short notice. It'd take weeks to make them any better."

"Well oiled machines," Ray quipped, "that's us."

"Then take yourselves home and find something decent to wear," Cowley told them. "Go out and hire something if need be. Meet us at Central in two hours and we'll go over the house a square at a time, together."

With that the boss and the limping Murphy were gone, and Bodie offered his hand to Brian. "It's been fun, mate. Too bad it couldn't be like this every time."

"Fun?" Brian laughed. "That's because you haven't been working. Playing and eating and sleeping cuddled up is not working, but this little session's done you good. You're sharp enough to do... Look after each other, for God's sake. And I'll see you later -- hey, you're invited to the wedding."

Once they had escaped through the door, Bodie frowned. "He's mellowing, isn't he? You reckon it's this fiancee of his? Being in love?"

"Oh, a bit, maybe," Doyle shrugged, "but you're seeing the 'real' Brian Macklin, I think. I mean, this time he wasn't beating the stuffing out of us, was he? No antagonism... Remember the way Murph was talking when he showed up at Cowley's office with crutches? He was green to the gills after whatever Mack and Towser had been up to -- same as we were. Brian's got more faces than Lon Chaney. Bet he's sweet and gentle with his lady; bet he was a lot like us with his bloke that time. Then, he's matey when you meet him at a party -- or when's he's going easy, like these last couple of days." He grinned wickedly. "Next time he works us over on the refresher he'll be back to his old self -- if we try to curl up in the same blanket the bastard'll probably wait till we're asleep and put the boot in."

Bodie winced. "Yeah, that sounds like Brian. I wish his wife joy."

Muscles limber and blood flowing freely, Doyle felt very good as he and Bodie jogged down to the car. "'Playing and eating and sleeping and cuddling up,'" he echoed with a decent rendition of Macklin's voice and accent. "I did eighty pushups yesterday, if that isn't working, what is?"

"Not according to him," Bodie grinned. "He does fifty between eating his Wheeties and washing the dish. He's a narcissist, that's his problem."

"You reckon?" Doyle chuckled as they opened up the car and got into it, then he sobered. "You know, I'd never have guessed that he was a victim. A rape victim, I mean."

Bodie gave his partner a long look of gentle appraisal. "Well, you'd never guess you were a victim. You're all teeth and claws, so macho it's not funny... Till you shut the front door at home and take off your coat, and do that little trick where you melt up against me and rub your whole body back and forth over me." He started the car as Doyle blinked at him, startled, as if he had not realised that he did that 'little trick' at all. "Don't say anything, pet, I'm aching enough as it is, and there's no way we can 'enjoy each other', as Brian so charmingly puts it, for ages." Bodie pulled out into the traffic, heading for home.

"It doesn't bother you, does it?" Ray asked after a moment.

"What doesn't?" Bodie asked, mind roving miles away.

"Well, the way I, um sort of --"

"Rub yourself against me when we get home, like a big siamese cat, like you've been wanting me for hours and can't wait to have me, touch me?" Bodie sighed, smiling at him. "Don't be daft. When you were in a wheelchair a couple of months ago that was the one thing I really missed. I mean, I could talk to you till my tongue dried up. I could kiss you till we both suffocated, and when you got into bed there was no stopping you - - like, half the time you were trying to prove to yourself that you could do it. But cuddling a bloke in a wheelchair when he's still on his wheels, is bloody difficult, and I missed it."

"Oh, well, that's okay," Doyle murmured, returning the smile.

"You mean, if it bothered me, you'd stop?" Bodie asked with a slight frown.

Doyle shrugged. "I know we annoy each other at times, still, though not as much as we used to, since we've started thinking almost like one person, but I know I can still get you mad... I don't deliberately set out to do that, though. I mean, I love you, I've got to think about when you want from me. Or don't want. I can't just take all the time."

"You're a clot, aren't you, Ray?" Bodie chastised fondly. "You know perfectly bloody well, as long as we're not at work you can do as you like with me, any way you like, any time you like, I lap it up, can't get enough of it. The only reason I have to keep you at arm's length at work is -- you can get me aroused by fluttering your eyelashes, and I don't know how much Cowley would like it if we took turns getting ravished on a desk! Somehow, I don't think he'd be too amused."

"I don't suppose he would," Ray laughed. "Remember the time we were on surveillance duty out in Harpendon -- two o'clock in the morning? We couldn't wait a second longer, we had it in the car. We'd only been together a month or so... God, I was desperate!"

"Same again when we were staking out that loading bay on the wharf," Bodie added, sharing the sheepish laughter, "under a travelling rug, 'cause it was so bloody cold. You'd been writhing around trying to scratch an itch. Don't suppose it dawned on you what you were doing to me till it was too late! God, it was good -- you know, getting it when you're desperate for it, can't wait for it, need it quick and hard... The kind of loving only another man can give you. Most women just don't understand, and the ones that do are already spoken for. But, not just that, I think... I think you've got to be in love to get the best out of it. Am I making any sense?"

Doyle reached out to squeeze Bodie's knee. "'Course. Can't figure out why I took so long to find out who I am. what I want, need. I never looked at another bloke that way until Lupino had me, then, when he was done with me I thought I'd die. Then you were there, and you made me love you... Not that it took much effort to make me love you. Know what frightens me?"

"What?" Bodie turned to look at him as he pulled up at a red light.

"If Alfredo Lupino hadn't raped me senseless, I might never have known. I might have wasted years and years, until you got sick and tired of waiting for me to wake up."

A soft sigh of exasperation passed Bodie's lips. "Rather that," he said, "rather be your friend than have you hurt, that way. Can't stand to see you hurting, Ray, never could. S'why it worries me when you get me going, when we're making love, and I'm so far gone I'm sure I'm too rough. Makes me guilty as hell later." As the lights changed he pulled on again.

"You mean, you'd have let it go, forever?" Ray asked quietly.

"Had to let you take your own time," Bodie smiled. "How would you have reacted if I'd showed up at your flat one night with a bunch of roses and a bottle of champagne, and made eyes at you. Seduced you? You'd have laughed your head off every time you saw me for a week or more afterwards, and thrown me out on my ear for making such a stupid joke. No, you had to take your time."

"You could have waited a bloody long time, Bodie," Ray said wryly. "Oh, I was always aware of you, if you know what I mean. But --"

"You never used to complain when I touched you," Bodie said, his smile widening, "and I used to touch you all the time, and sometimes I got pretty familiar, but you never took offense. How many blokes make a habit of ruffling their friend's hair, touching his face, his legs? I was pretty free and easy with you -- like I was trying to see how much you'd let me get away with, for years! Thing is, you let me get away with it all. Christ, we were double dating at every verse end, even taking holidays together. We were together three hundred and sixty-five days a year, and twelve hours a day! Most married couples don't see that much of each other. You got into bed with me a dozen times for convenience, woke up wrapped around me and warm as toast, and liking it, and both of us in the raw. By the time we started to kiss and pet it was just like adding the final piece of the jigsaw, the rest of it was already there. No bloody wonder it's been so good."

"So you reckon it would have happened anyway, sooner or later," Doyle murmured, realising how right Bodie was.

"I think so. I like to think so," Bodie nodded. "I could wait. I'd waited for you for six years already. Lupino... Well, he hurried it along, if he hadn't hurt you, I'd have shaken his hand, but as it was I gave a cheer when he got splattered by the train. Nah, I can't stand to see you hurting, Ray. That's the one reason this job gives me the shakes. Funny -- I used to get a kick out of the danger. The hunt, the kill, the adrenalin turn on. Now it's different. I worry."

"That makes two of us," Ray admitted as Bodie pulled in at the kerb and turned off the motor. "What time is it? We've got time for lunch before the Cow wants us?"

They ate standing up in the kitchen, cheese and tomato rolls and fruit, none of it particularly fresh since it had been in the fridge for days, and Doyle's mind was on the job as he dumped plates, glasses and knives into the sink. An odd tingling crept about the base of his skull, an irritating feeling, like deja vu. It felt bad, as if he should know something but could not quite grasp hold of the knowledge. Foreboding? He wondered, and then forcibly dismissed it. Paranoia was normal.

He watched Bodie drain a glass of orange juice and mineral water and tried to set the bad feeling away from him, but it persisted, drawing his brows into a frown which Bodie saw as he turned towards him. "Ray? What's wrong?"

"Oh, nothing," Doyle shrugged. "I'm just being my usual idiotic self."

"What doing? Worrying?" Bodie laced his fingers at the back of Ray's neck. Forget it. Give me a kiss, then let's get out of here. The Cow awaits."

As Bodie enfolded him he had to chuckle: Ray leaned against him heavily and shifted his weight from left to right, passing a caress across him with his whole body. Then he tipped back his head and smiled, eyes glittering with a moment's mischief... This time he had done it deliberately, and Bodie's heart skipped a beat. Now he knew he did it, he would do it all the time, and that suited Bodie just fine. He caught the curly head and kissed his mouth hard, his tongue plundering the offered riches fiercely. The compunction was to make a meal of each other, but time was against them and Macklin's warnings about physical stamina remained especially prudent. At last they let the embrace slip away and went in search of the kind of clothes that would do in front of Prince Charles and his dignified company.

Black slacks, black roll neck, black leather? Bodie wondered, and then opted for his grey suit, a white business shirt and a tie in the pattern of the public school he had attended for two endless, miserable years before he ran away to sea to escape. Ray chose his white slacks, his favourite sports jacket and a cream body shirt, and changed his jogging shoes for his new boots, the heels of which made him just on six feet tall. They packed the clothes into a case and headed for their rendezvous with Cowley, arriving at Central with a few minutes to spare.

November. The sky was an unbroken blanket of grey, and there was every chance that it would rain later in the day. It had never got above a decent twilight, and the British countryside was as bleak as it would ever look... Christmas in a month's time, Bodie thought, shivering as he followed Cowley and Doyle around the estate, checking out the security set up. Christmas. A time for finding oneself a year older and not a penny richer --

Maybe Dickens was right about the money, but Bodie did not count his riches in gold. They were measured up in a different currency, the kind of illegal tender that would be recognised by no bank, could not be passed as Monopoly money, would never buy a booby prize at a county fair, but which was, to those who knew its worth, a thousand times more precious than money. You had to live half your life without love to appreciate it when you got it, he thought wisely, watching Doyle bend over the charts which Cowley unrolled on the top of a stone wall. Ray's hair was long, tossing in the lively, chilly wind, and he was pale in the cold, though his colour would come up fast when he got warm again. He was all business now, tough and as hard as ever, and there was no difference in Cowley's attitude toward him that Bodie could discern, though George had known about their relationship from Day One.

Cowley was a wise old bird, as much a veteran as Bodie was himself... The Army was the Army, and war was war, the date on the calendar did not matter a damn, and Cowley had seen it all, from the savagery to the kind of gentleness that would melt the heart of a bigot. Raymond Doyle fell into that latter category; on the job he was as savage as any field agent was required to be, killing without hesitation, but at home...

He had never taken the job's savagery home with him. It ended when the day's work finished, and once through his own front door he was, perhaps, the man he would have been had he chosen to stick with art. Bodie smiled, watching the long, tapered fingers tracing out the grounds on Cowley's chart; Doyle as an artist -- a commercial artist, working in a studio with a big drawing board and opalglass, painting the bunnies for next year's Easter cards while his reindeer and angels and chocolate- spattered children were being sold by the million on this year's Christmas cards. Doyle would have liked that; off to work at nine, knock off at five, purr home in your six litre Jag and park in the garage under your half million quid split-level castle out in Surrey or Kent... Or maybe he'd work at home, have a studio put in where it would catch the best of the daylight, roll out of bed and drink orange-and-grapefruit juice while he looked at yesterday's work, and worked out which colours to paint the bunnies and eggs on today's cards.

It was easy to picture that, and it was an image Bodie liked -- and was afraid of at the same time, because he recognised it for what it was... I want to wrap him up, coddle him, hide him away from the world, keep the world away from him, he thought with vicious honesty, and I'm wrong. That's not who he is -- he isn't a feather, he's a man, taller than average, strong as a horse, fast on his feet, and bloody lethal in a fist fight. But he scares me, because he's not big enough, against some of them, out there, and he's not as tough as he thinks he is, and when he hurts --

When he hurts I hurt, I bleed for him, and by Christ, I'd die for him if it would keep him alive... Bodie shook himself hard. It was a trap that was too easy to fall into. Ray suffered his knocks and scrapes like a man, rarely complaining even if he was white to the lips with pain -- Bodie had seen it all too often. But Doyle and pain were opposite commodities, and it was inevitable that the danger he courted would lead to physical strife often. So I want to stop him, Bodie thought bleakly, want to coddle him as if he's a kid, something I should protect, and that's stupid. He's a man.

And that was something Doyle would never let him forget, though Bodie knew the reminders were not deliberate. Doyle could outrun him in a flat out footrace, and if it came to a brawl on the street he would leap between his lover and the opposition with an enthusiasm that made Bodie blanch at times. Working in the garage, he would potter over his bike until he smelt oily and the veins in his arms were extended, like ropy sinews under the skin, then give the machine a good cursing, nothing about him one iota less than two hundred percent male. If he forgot to shave, or let it go to give his face a rest at the weekend, because his skin was by nature so soft that it easily became sore with over-shaving, his beard was dark and dense and less like silk than fusewire. And when he got into his Rossi biker's boots, crash helmet and leathers, he could have been a Hell's Angel with as much ease as a civil servant.

Yet, when he shaved and washed his hair afresh, and wore his red robe over warm, damp skin, lately showered, smelling of Camomile and padding around the house barefoot with an ailing indoor plant in one hand and the Reader's Digest Plant Book in the other, puzzling over what could be amiss with the scrap of foliage he'd been nursing all winter...the illusion was complete. Bodie would coax him back to bed, tuck him up, love him till he was exhausted and then sit watching him sleep, dreading tomorrow, because tomorrow took them back to work, to danger and the possibility that he would be hurt all over again.

Damn! Bodie's lips compressed as he recognised the trap he had set for himself, and then wandered happily into it. Did Ray even know what he was thinking? Would he laugh, or understand, or worry about them even more? Would he be insulted -- that Bodie had reservations over his being able to look after himself? Bodie sighed, knowing that he would have to keep his mouth shut in future as he had in the past... Doyle was Doyle, there was no changing him or the world, and in all honesty, he did not want to change either. As said the Desiderata, the world was beautiful, for all its shortcomings... And so was Ray, and if he had shortcomings, Bodie had stopped noticing them years ago.

"So, the SAS will be at the perimeter," Cowley was saying, running the tip of a black gloved finger along a red marker line. "This is the fence, and as luck would have it, it's suitable for electrification. Take note of this, both of you: there is enough voltage in the wire to blow a man into the middle of next week. I wouldn't like to be the one to blunder into it." He swept his hand across the chart, and Doyle held the free end down against the wind. "Now, the Army -- 3 Para, to be exact -- are both inside and outside of that fence, but close in, around the house, is our domain. We'll have agents on patrol around the exterior of it, and inside too; and in the conference rooms, the dining room, wherever the diplomats are to be found, that'll be where you are."

"What about the loo?" Bodie said drily. "Are we supposed to accompany the Sheik of Allah-knows-where to the bathroom, too?"

Behind Cowley, Ray hid a chuckle, but George merely raised a scornful brow at the younger agent. "I hardly think that would be necessary, 3.7."

"Oh, I don't know," Doyle said, abruptly serious about the notion, "it isn't a bad idea. I mean, the loo would be the last place in the house we'd guard, for reasons of princely dignity. But a handful of C4 and a radio detonator, or a grenade on a trip wire, or a hollow nosed slug through the door, through the window... He'd end up just as dead."

Cowley nodded. "Aye, you've a point. Very well, we'll look at the facilities again, maybe have one of the agents on the inside check them every ten or fifteen minutes, and especially after any of the house staff have been in there. And that brings us to the staff, at last. The servants have all been employed here at Featherston Hall for many years, and all have been checked and cleared. They're old retainers, there's nothing more amiss with them than with the staff at the Palace. However, extra caterers have had to be brought in -- you know the way these diplomats like to gorge themselves on the finest of food. We've screened the extra help several times, and as far as we, Scotland Yard, MI5, Interpol, CSC-9 and the Mossad can tell, they check out clean. Each of them is wearing an ID badge with a photograph on it. Every time you see a member of the staff, check the face against the badge; we want no surprises.

"We've checked the house over from cellar to attic: there is no one there now who has not been in there for two days... Doyle, why are you frowning? If you have something to say, say it."

The deep frown about Ray's mobile brows broke as Cowley spoke up. "I...I don't know, sir. I've just had a feeling since this morning."

"Intuition?" Cowley rolled up the ground plans.

"I wish I knew, sir," Ray sighed. "It's just a feeling in here." He tapped his chest. "An itchy sort of feeling, as if... As if I'm waiting for something to happen, or as if I'm trying to remember a dream I haven't even had yet. I know it doesn't make sense, sir. Forget it."

But Cowley was considering Doyle with a frown of his own. "Sixth sense is something I never forget," he said, very seriously. "It runs in the blood of Celts like you, like me, like Bodie. What about you, 3.7? What does your gut tell you?"

"To beware, to be careful, to keep wide awake," Bodie shrugged. "Same things it usually tells me. Look, sir, I don't have a psychic granny, I'm not a seventh son of a seventh son, don't ask me. I've never seen a fairy at the bottom of the garden, and the only leprechaun I ever saw was Ray getting smashed at the Saint Patrick's Day bash two years ago."

"Indeed." Cowley hid a grin, watching 4.5 shoot a look of reproof at 3.7, who only grinned brashly in reply. "Well, unfortunately I cannot use intuition as the basis for decision." He tucked the rolled charts under his arm. "Now we'll go over the interior of the house."

The central heating system was running at full blast, and Bodie exhaled in surprise as they went inside. "It's like a bloody greenhouse in here!" he muttered, peeling off his jacket.

"Arabs and Asians flying in from the tropics," Ray grinned, "we wouldn't want the little flowers to freeze their duffs off, would we?" He was coming back to life in the warmth, his fair skin flushing a little as he took off his own brown leather jacket.

Bodie watched him with a smile, once again assaulted by his conflicting feelings. Doyle spent his whole life balanced on a knife edge: on one side of it was the hunter, the ruthless killer, the tough, brash street kid of his young life; on the other side of it was the artist, the lover, the lazy gentle kitten who liked to stay in bed and read on a Sunday morning, waking late after making love at some ungodly hour. As his moods shifted -- and, like a pendulum, they were forever shifting -- so his personality swung this way and that; sometimes it was hard to keep up with him, but Bodie had hit upon the solution...

It reminded him of the song from "Camelot", which he had seen on several occasions, since it was Ray's favourite musical. 'How to handle your Raymond?' Never be too upset when you can't understand what he's thinking -- he never stops thinking and often weaves a net to snare himself, and if that happens, you love him. Then love him some more, until he forgets whatever it was that plunged him into one of his moods in the first place.

Bodie was watching Doyle frown again, watching the preoccupation mist his eyes as they followed Cowley around, checking the old house room by room and servant by servant, trying to remember the names and the faces, which was largely impossible, because there were such droves of them. They would have the guests outnumbered three to one, or more. And the house was full of officers from the Police, the SAS and the Paras. The rest of the CI5 contingent would be along in the evening to set up the electronics. The whole of Featherston Hall was like a fortress. So why was Doyle wearing that frown of preoccupation, disquiet, worry?

Even Cowley noticed it, and he shared a raised eyebrow with Bodie more than once, but Bodie could only shrug: you know Doyle, he's not like the rest of us ordinary mortals. Cowley let it go, as Doyle refused to speak of it, and at six they joined the motley assembly of representatives from Britain's top security services in the dining room, eating well with HMG picking up the sizeable tab.

The evening was repetitious and boring. The CI5 electronics squad turned up at seven, offloading wagonloads of gadgetry, every piece of it to be installed, tested, tested again. Then Bodie, Doyle, Jax, Susan, Anson, Murphy -- complete with limp -- and Cowley himself played guinea pigs, going where they were told, stealthily or brazenly, tripping the beams and proving, by supper time, that the security net was complete.

The servants watched in fascination, barely understanding what was happening and fancying themselves characters in a TV drama, and there was a round of applause from them when control, up on the landing above the stairs, called down to say that the show was over. Cocoa came up from the kitchen by the gallon, and they sat on the stairs to drink it, tired and undeniably strung up. Cowley looked at the time as he drained his cup. "Time to call it a day," he said to his people, who were yawning already, due to the heat in this place and the cocoa. "You'll be on the job at six in the morning and if you're not sporting bright eyes and bushy tails, I'll want to know the reason why. It's ten now... Go and sleep."

With that, the boss departed and his agents drifted away to their accommodations; Doyle and Bodie were the last to hand their empty mugs to the waiting footman, shrugging themselves off the bottom stairs and ambling up towards the Hall's third floor, where their room was located. It overlooked the rear coach yard, which had been turned into a carpark in recent years, and Bodie lifted back the curtains to look down at the view before prowling around the room. It was big, with a bathroom ensuite, decorated with old world taste and style, and he approved of it.

"A bloody sight better than last time," he remarked, surveying the room with a nod of his appreciation. "I mean, kipping out on the floor in sleeping bags was one thing, but this -- this is nice. How kind and considerate of them: one big bed. Reckon that's a feather mattress?" He had the distinct impression that he was talking to himself, and wandered to the bathroom door. "Ray?" Doyle still wore that frown of preoccupation. "Hey, you're really worried, aren't you?" Bodie murmured, leaning on the door jamb and folding his arms on his chest.

Doyle seemed to come awake, hearing at last. He had been gazing sightlessly at his reflection in the mirror, and Bodie saw that he had his Ronson electric razor in his hand. "Worried? Yeah, as a matter of fact, I am. But I can't tell you why," he admitted. "Just a feeling, in here." He rubbed his chest, unconsciously finding the area where Bodie knew the scar was, the scar he knew the feel of, with tongue as well as fingers. "Funny little tingling feeling I don't like. Premonition?"

"I don't believe in it," Bodie said dismissively. "Do you?"

"I'm not sure." Ray sighed heavily. "I've just got a feeling, like tomorrow's going to be... Oh, I don't know." He turned on the razor and stood looking at it before lifting it to his jaw.

"Whatcha shaving for at this time of night?" Bodie asked, guessing.

"I want you," Ray said mildly.

"Tomorrow, pet," Bodie said huskily, registering Doyle's simple statement of his feelings with a kick through every nerve.

"Now," Ray said, quietly but forcefully. "Tomorrow... Tomorrow doesn't feel good, Bodie. It feels all wrong."

There was silence between them until he had finished shaving, and then Bodie pushed away from the door jamb. "There's no such thing as premonition, Ray. You're just tired and strung out. You had a case of nerves on the Parsali job too, remember. A good night's sleep's what you need."

"Yeah, that too." Doyle smiled faintly. "But I want you too, Bodie."

Before -- before it's too late? Bodie thought, and swallowed. "You're making the big farewell scene out of it, sweetheart? For Christ's sake, why?"

"Oh, just in case." Ray sounded relaxed, gently affectionate, resolved. He handed the Ronson to Bodie with a wider smile. "Shave, will you? I'd just as soon not get whisker burns before the big day... Doesn't bother me that much, dying. I was dead on the operating table once, remember... I've had it all, you know. The excitement, the adventure, the hunting and killing. I've been hunted, I've had the cars, the bikes, the speed and danger. I've known what it is to be the Alpha Male, and I've been beaten into submission. I've had the lust, the fury, the hate, I've even had the love, since you gave it to me. I haven't been short changed by life, if my number is up tomorrow. Eat, drink and be merry, then take your chances -- how often have you told that to me? Time to put it into practise, see if it proves out. Because, tomorrow..." He shrugged. "I just want you now, I don't want to wait. Call me selfish, but I want to have it all for a while before I can't have any of it."

"Selfish?" Bodie echoed. "Short sighted's nearer the mark. Christ, you lunatic, what d'you think I'm going to do if your number is up? I mean, it isn't, but --"

"Hey, hey," Doyle said gently, palms on his lover's hard chest, soaking up the body heat right through his shirt. "You'd do the same as I'd do if it was you. You'd get drunk, you'd let the crazies have you -- days, weeks, however long it took. Stay at home and dream and hurt and fight it till you were exhausted... Then one day you'd wake up and the sun would still be shining, and the rest of the world would still be the same, and it'd be behind you. You'd take a feather duster to me on the mantlepiece, smile over my picture beside the copper pot, give me a kiss on the lid and go out and get on with your life. Dream about me, never forget me, love me a lot, but go out and live." He stopped, seeing that the dark blue eyes were glittering dangerously. "It's the risk we live with, Bodie. We face it or we run away from it. You're the practical one, always telling me how you take your chances with what life throws at you, make the most of your life."

"That was before," Bodie said throatily, his voice very quiet, little more than a whisper. "When I had nothing to take chances with, nothing to live for. An empty flat, a handful of possessions, a string of girlfriends for sex; oh, I loved you, but I was just a friend to you. You'd grieve for me, I know, but you'd cry it out on your girlfriend's shoulder, get it into perspective and go back to work. Now... Put you behind me?" He shook his head. "Maybe you're more practical than I am when it comes to things like this -- all that meditation of yours or something. More in contact with your soul, whereas I don't even know if I've got a soul to be in contact with!"

"Bodie --"

"Shush, Ray, I want to say this. Got to be said, sooner or later... I reckon we've been brewing up for this scene for a long time."

"Okay, I'm listening. But I know what you're going to say."

"Do you?" From somewhere Bodie found a smile, ragged around the edges and betraying pain. Ray's heart squeezed in his chest and he put his arms around him, listening as Bodie spoke into his left ear, and closing his eyes against the warmth of his lover's strong shoulder. "I'm one of the world's Heathcliffs. I don't give my heart easily, but when I do, it's for good and all. I'll be blowing in your ear when your curls have gone stone grey and you're whistling through your third set of teeth at the edge of eighty-five. We may not be young and beautiful anymore, but it'll be us. You know that poem? 'Grow old along with me, the best is yet to be, that last of life for which the first was made.'"

"Oh, Bodie," Ray murmured, trying to remonstrate, trying to lift his head, but Bodie held him tight, right where he was, and he could hear the quicker beat of Bodie's heart.

"And if you get yourself killed --" Suddenly Bodie's arms tightened, knocking the breath out of Doyle. "Did you ever get around to reading Wuthering Heights? Heathcliff'd be sane by comparison. I can't help it, Ray, it's who I am. I've only been in love once, and that's you. I thought I loved the girl Krivas killed, but I can't have; oh, it hurt like hell when she died, but I was sane enough to jump into a hole and cry it out and -- put her behind me. That's not love, it's fondness. But I love you," he hissed fiercely.

"You're breaking me in two," Ray gasped against Bodie's throat, and as the embrace slackened a little he drew away to look at him. "We've got to work this out, haven't we? We've got to decide what's an acceptable risk and what isn't. We've been in this game for eight years now; before that you were out on a limb, since you were a kid -- and being a copper isn't exactly the safest of professions. There's two ways to look at it, love; we could figure that we're as safe on the squad as anywhere. Most people die in accidents in the home, for God's sake! Shot or knifed, or falling off a ladder or getting hit by a truck. What's the difference?"

Bodie closed his eyes. "Brian's lover. Killed in a train crash. Bloody silly way to go," he said. "I don't know, Ray. I honestly don't know. Maybe we're survivors -- guardian angels or something. Maybe Tommy McKay's still sticking around, looking out for us. Charmed lives? Look -- Cowley's survived, lots of them survive. Brian survived. Why not us? But... Tommy's dead, and Tony Miller. And Cookie, and so many others. And very nearly you, so many times."

"And you." Ray shrugged. "Ah, maybe we are survivors. Maybe we'd have bought it ages ago if we were ever going to. Remember that line in "Apocalypse Now", about the loony guy in the cavalry hat? He had a 'weird light' around him, like he knew he wasn't going to get a scratch. Maybe that's us. Won't know if we don't test it out, will we?"

"No," Bodie agreed. "But I'm not sure I want to put it to the test, Ray. You can always stay away from ladders and trains and trucks, but in this game you make a lot of enemies. You put Lupino away ten years before he caught up with you. Krivas took seven years to catch up with me. Kodak and Ramos came for Cowley. Okay, we all won, but how long can you keep on winning? You want me to play the Heathcliff part? I'd be crazier than him and I wouldn't live half as long. Wouldn't bloody want to."

"So the risks are unacceptable," Doyle concluded sadly.

"Maybe." Bodie sighed. "I'd have said definitely unacceptable, except I keep thinking about Brian's mate getting killed in a train crash. Christ, we could quit, and buy it on the motorway six months from now, or get into a plane crash, or a --"

"Hey, enough already," Ray said, smiling. "It's no different, is it? We might even be safer on the squad than on the loose. This way, we've got help as near as the R/T, the best of weapons, the fastest vehicles, they keep us fit as fiddles, we've got security alarms on the flat and the use of God knows how many quids' worth of computers. Okay, so we make enemies, but... Look. You watch my back, I'll watch yours. We stick together and we don't take unnecessary risks. We're careful. Cautious as virgins at a stag night."

"Which brings us back to tomorrow," Bodie said drily, "and these premonitions of yours."

"Haven't you heard?" Ray murmured, leaning in to kiss the tip of Bodie's nose. "There's no such thing. I just need a good night's sleep. Now, sit down and I'll shave you."

Bodie sat down on the foot of the bed, recognising the feel of feathers against his rump... Doyle was going to feel fantastic pressed into this mattress. He swallowed a chuckle. "If there's no such thing as premonition, and tomorrow's going to be fine, and we'll be at home in our own bed in twenty-four hours, why are you shaving me at this hour of the night?"

"Because I want you," Ray smiled. "Just in case."

The electric razor buzzed over Bodie's face for a couple of minutes before Doyle turned it off and tossed it onto the bedside table. He bent to draw his lips over the impossibly smooth cheeks, rimming Bodie's right ear with his tongue and kissing his closed eyelids. Beneath his hands, Bodie shivered, but he got his feet under him as Ray stood back to undress, and caught the thin, nimble hands to stop them. Doyle smiled, wondering how many times Bodie had undressed him, how many times they had kissed, stroked, sucked the life's essences out of each other. He let Bodie undress him again, but when he was on his knees at his feet, tormenting mercilessly, Ray said wryly, "I've just had a thought, love. This is a security do. We don't dare mess up the bed linen, we might as well throw a window open and shout the news for all to hear."

"Damn, you're right." Bodie sat back on his heels, Ray's slim hips cradled between his hands, looking up at him. "Be resourceful."

"Well... The room's nice and warm -- too warm, in fact," Doyle mused. "They'll turn the heating off overnight, though... We could get one of the big bath towels and spread it on top of the quilt, mess it up, and then dump it in the bath. Just a tick, I'll fetch one."

Bodie watched him pad into the bathroom and return with a vast, fluffy white towel. He spread it out on top of the bedspread. "Great," Bodie nodded. "Like that screwy book says, 'Don't Panic'. I guess towels do come in handy now and again, after all, even if you're not on a spaceship. Now, come back here, I'm not finished with you." He was still on one knee, and Ray stepped obediently back into his hands. Bodie grabbed Doyle by the hips and pulled him close, hugging him for a moment before he began to kiss the hot, throbbing cock again. Soon Doyle was rocking gently in time to rhythm of the sucking, head flung back, mind miles away, fantasizing the two of them in a landscape a la Boris...

Boris would paint Bodie like an augmentation of reality, white skin, black body hair, eyes too blue to be believed, muscles hard and sinewy, primeval, aroused, with his arms about his lover. He pictured himself in the same painting, seeing them in his favourite plate from the glossy "Mirage" art book... Boris -- or the publishers -- had also picked that plate as the jewel of the collection, for they had featured it in vignette form on the back cover. In Ray's mind, it was them, so beautiful, so timeless -- so irresistibly and beautifully erotic that he almost came on the spot.

"Hey." Bodie lifted his head and patted Ray's buttock gently. "Don't know where you're off to without me, my lad, but come back before you waste it. Time for you to lie down before you fall over. On the towel, remember? Jeez, you look nice against the white. Still got a lot of your tan, haven't you, love?"

Something inarticulate sighed over Ray's lips and he rubbed his back on the fluffy bath towel, opening his arms and lifting one knee. "Kiss me," he purred, and when Bodie lay heavily on him he crooked the raised leg about his lover's waist and drew it back and forth in a languid caress. Bodie kissed him deeply, slowly, and then turned him over to explore his back with countless licks and bites, leaving little red patches here and there, not enough to bruise him, but enough to make Doyle growl low in his chest, and flex his spine, thrusting himself into the bed's yielding softness. Bodie kissed his legs, fingers running like feathers up into the centre of him, stroking across his anus and tickling his testicles until he was short of breath and moaning softly.

Then Bodie sat back to survey his handiwork and let Doyle roll himself over. He smiled down at the reed-slim, tawny body, its legs spread invitingly, its left hand laid on its own furry chest, fingers rubbing at the left nipple until Bodie shooed it away and rubbed the hard little peak between thumb and fingers. "You're a slave to your body," he accused, nuzzling the ear closest to him, "and what's worse, I'm a slave to your body too. A couple of days of not being able to have you and I'm famished for you." He gave Ray his full weight, felt the long legs wrap about him, and plundered the willing mouth while Doyle panted under him, wriggling and trying to buck his hips to rub them together.

Fingers dug into Bodie's shoulders like the talons of a hunting bird and he felt the spark of wildness ignite between them. As Ray bit into him he gave a growl and caught Doyle's hands, trying to pin him down, but their skin was slippery with a sheen of perspiration and Doyle was wriggling like an eel, bracing the soles of his feet to get some leverage. Bodie held half his weight on his knees and was gasping as Ray's hips came up hard; fire blazed along his nerves -- a few more like that and it would be over. It was like making love to a boa constrictor; Ray, in this mood, was the most wildly exciting partner Bodie had ever known. There was no resisting him.

"Keep still," he muttered breathlessly, "keep still!" But Doyle was no longer hearing. One slender wrist was held securely above the curly head but the other was elusive and free, and Ray's whole body was moving, demanding. "Oh, Christ," Bodie groaned, lifting his hips. "Keep still while I get you wet," he hissed between teeth that were clenched, reaching down to collect the trickle of fluid that lay on Doyle's belly and his own. His fingers slipped straight into his lover's body; Ray was open like a flower, heaving and desperate. He went rigid from head to foot as the fingers intruded, holding his breath and clamping his muscles about them, and his face twisted as if he was in pain. Bodie knew better than that. When he was hurting a little he bit his lip in silence. That look of anguish was not pain but pleasure, delight beyond bearing. He twisted his fingers gently, drawing a whimper from Doyle, and then withdrew them, leaving the tight, hot passage slick.

Doyle sucked in a quick breath, lifting his knees higher, over Bodie's shoulders, eyes closed, waiting for it, needing it. Gritting his teeth in search of some semblance of control, Bodie probed gently into him, sinking his whole length into the heat of his lover's eager body. It was the signal for their wrestling to begin in earnest, and it was fierce, sweet and wild beyond reason, a combat that left them aching and sore, but the coming was devastating and seemed to go on and on, wringing them out.

At last Bodie swam back up to his senses; his groin, shoulders and mouth felt bruised, and he sucked at his swollen lips, rubbing at his neck where Ray had hung on. Beside him, Doyle rolled onto his side, flexing his back and reaching around to rub his buttocks, which felt pulped. He chuckled a little shakily. "Who won?"

"Dunno," Bodie admitted. "You'd better turn over and let me see if you're bleeding. You're a moron, love. You must be raw. what makes you do that?"

"Same thing that makes you do that," Doyle yawned. "For the high." He rolled over and Bodie examined him carefully.

"No, you're not bleeding, thank Christ, but you could do with a dab or two of ointment. And a bath." He managed to laugh. "There's a lot of it this time, isn't there? Haven't done this since Tuesday morning." He lay down and pulled Ray back against him. "Take a bath soon. Too tired now... Happy now, you twit?"

"Deliriously," Doyle muffled against his chest. "Was fantastic. But you're right, I am raw. Didn't think to bring anything to use, either. Vitamin E cream would have been nice."

"Yeah, you're a clot, I know," Bodie accused affectionately. "Lie still, will you? Stop squirming around. You want me to go and find you something? There's a first aid room on the second floor."

But Ray shook his head. "No, I'll survive. It'll be okay in the morning." He yawned hugely. "Tomorrow looks better now."

With that he drifted off to sleep, but Bodie lingered on the fringes of wakefulness; he put out the lamp and lay looking at Doyle's dark, sleep-gentled face, trying hard to picture life without him. It was odd; he had been twenty-five before he even met the scruffy/beautiful little ingenue who was Raymond Doyle in Cowley's office. Ray had been twenty-eight but looked years younger; he was almost thirty-five now and still looked years younger, but had mellowed. His dress sense had improved -- for which Bodie liked to take a generous measure of credit -- and he had a smooth style, an undeniable elegance, about him these days.

Blue jeans that were brand new, boots, expensive jackets, colours that suited him; he listened when Bodie talked about the way he looked, and remembered what had been said. He liked jewellery and colour and form-fitting garments; Bodie liked him in white or yellow, and gold, rings and bracelets and neck chains. Yes, he had changed, grown, expanded, over the years, but the little ruffian was still there, just under the skin, the tough-vulnerable urchin Bodie had fallen in love with on the spot, and stayed in love with through six endless years before he was permitted to kiss, to pamper and possess. Fourteen months as lovers had gone by like so many weeks; the love ached under Bodie's heart more fiercely now than it had on their first night, warm in the same bed. Doyle's bed, that became their bed; they had retired to that same piece of furniture almost every night since, only the job keeping them apart on infrequent occasions, and for the life of him Bodie could not picture it empty of Ray.

He closed his eyes tightly, trying to picture it: a copper pot on the mantle beside a framed photograph, dusted every day, cherished, kissed in passing. A tender memory that never quite left his mind; tears when he thought too closely about it, dreams while he touched himself, making believe... Half asleep and hearing the husky voice beside his ear, feeling the heat of that imagined body, just out of reach. Seeing the face he loved in the sunshine, in the rain -- losing his marbles one at a time as the impossible began to mean so much more than what was real. Heathcliff would be rational by comparison.

The impossible? They said that Death was no more than a door into another place, and of no real consequence. To Bodie, it was hard to grasp -- he had seen so much of Death, dealt it so often, that he was convinced of the finality of it, yet some sixth sense prickling at the back of his mind urged him to believe. As the Paras' motto read -- 'till death us do join'. And Ray would wait for him -- maybe play the guardian angel, as he had half-jokingly suggested of the long-dead Tommy McKay? Bodie struggled with the concept, as unaccustomed to such lofty imaginings as Doyle was at home with them. He reached up to touch Doyle's face, stirring him, and as he woke pulled him into his arms as the confused imaginings began to hurt, needing desperately to touch him, hold him and kiss him. Doyle opened his mouth to Bodie's tongue with a sigh, as if the embrace did not surprise him at all, and lay quietly beneath him while Bodie banished the hurt in the heat of their closeness.

Do we quit the squad and take our chances on the motorway? He wondered, licking up into the crevice between Ray's upper lip and teeth. There's a bus with my name on it out there somewhere -- or a train... Macklin's story returned to haunt him and the kiss became harder. Christ -- are we safer on the squad than we'd be if we left? When your number's up, it's up, and until it is you couldn't stop a bullet if you tried to...? It'll happen when it happens, if it happens? Damn! I used to say things like that to him and mean them, but now... I want to be kissing him like this in thirty years -- he'll still be beautiful, even when he's silver and sporting a few wrinkles! What are we going to do Jesus, what are we going to do?

Bodie lifted his head and smiled down at Doyle's half seen face. "Want to get into bed, pet? They've turned the heating off and it's starting to get a bit chilly."

"Well, I'm toasting under you," Ray chuckled. "God, you give off some body heat. But it'd be nice to tuck up... Thought we were taking a bath."

"Oh, we're not that sticky now," Bodie shrugged, climbing off his lover with a kiss on the nose. "Tomorrow will do... Look at the time. Bonnie Prince Charlie gets here at eight and we'll be babysitting till what time? Six? Ten straight hours of torture."

"Ah, it doesn't matter much," Doyle said dismissively. "SAS and Paras all around the perimeter, our mob in the house, us in the conference room itself -- they're even going to put a guard on the loo after your dry remarks. Conway's group is well trained and well armed, but he doesn't have a magic wand. He'd have to be a cross between Count Dracula and Batman to get in." He lifted back the quilt and dived into bed, bouncing the mattress. "C'mere and grab me again."

"Want a cuddle, do you?" Bodie dumped the towel onto the floor and slid into the bed.

"I want to be smothered," Ray chuckled. "You're good at that."

"Yeah, I get a lot of practise," Bodie said wryly as Doyle plastered himself against his chest, tucked his face into the contour of the bigger man's throat, wriggled one leg in between Bodie's own, snaked his arm about his lover's waist and, with a deep, contented sigh, went limp.

Bodie buried his own face in the loose, sweet smelling curls, and hung on tight.

The alarm on Bodie's digital chrono shrieked 'Yellow Rose of Texas' at them at 6:05 and Doyle came awake with a yawn, putting on the lamp and stopping the noise as the featureless mound beneath the blankets at his right side made a series of odd, dislocated groaning sounds. Bodie was invisible under the bedding, not even his hair showing; the morning was a little chilly and the central heating had yet to warm the air much. Ray was reminded of the date. November 14th. He peeled the blankets back, letting a wave of cool air into the bed as Bodie's face appeared, flushed with sleep and blinking dreamily against the light. Doyle finger-combed the short, dark hair straight and sat up as Bodie made a wordless mutter of protest at the disturbance. "Got to be up and at 'em," Ray said softly. "Come on, sleepy head. Last one under the shower's a rotten egg."

"I'm a rotten egg," Bodie groaned abjectly, "go away."

Doyle tugged the blankets down. "Can't. Got to get breakfast, then do the rounds of the security set up, then get our posh togs on and be out front when HRH comes cruising up in his Roller at eight. We'll have to scoot as it is." He yawned. "Maybe we were a bit too merry last night."

"You're not hurt, are you?" Bodie asked. "You can do without being sore on a day like this!"

"Nah, just a bit hung over," Ray grinned. "But some deep breaths and a good breakfast'll sort that out. You know how many mineral salts you pump out of yourself every time you come?"

"I read the article," Bodie yawned. "Brian would say we were too merry."

"Brian'd be wrong," Doyle said, chuckling.

Bodie sat up, catching Doyle's slightly chilly body in a quick hug. "Hey, you're cold. Stand under a hot shower with you?"

"Now, there's an offer I can't refuse." Ray hopped out of bed. "Hey, look, clean sheets. Maybe we ought to do that at home -- save a mint on bloody detergents."

"Yeah, except when one of us wakes up later with the ache no aspirin will cure, and when it happens all over again, the sheets'd still end up in the washer." Bodie hid a grin. "If we had an hour or so going spare right now, for example, I'd have you back under the blankets so fast..." He let it go, smiling at the thin, brown body at the foot of the bed. "You're getting skinnier too, you know that?"

"And colder," Doyle added. "They'll have the slaves stoking the boilers down below, I bet. Toss me the towel, I'll get rid of the evidence."

Bodie scooped it up, tossed it to him and relinquished the warmth of the bed when he heard the water running in the next room. Twenty minutes later they were ambling into the staff dining room, sniffing the appealing aromas of bacon, eggs, kippers, oats and coffee. George Cowley was there already, collecting kippers, croissants and tea, and they saw Murphy, Jax, Susan and the 3 Para unit commander, Doug Smithson. They heaped their trays with everything they could carry and headed toward the CI5 people. Outside, it was still dark and the wind rattled at the windows.

Murphy looked up with a grin as they sat down. "Sleep well?" he asked shrewdly. "I did. Slept like a log -- woke up in the fireplace." It was an old, old Tommy Cooper joke, and they all made agonized faces. "Not a bad sort of job, this, is it?" Murphy went on. "Ought to get more work like this. Better than being in a good hotel -- you don't get the bill... I envy you two blokes, though."

"Why?" Bodie asked, buttering a fresh roll and assaulting his kippers.

"Obvious reason," Murphy shrugged. "Nice big double beds with feather mattresses were not made for one, but for two, if you take my meaning. I made Susan an offer but... No takers." He grinned cheekily. "Maybe I should have made Jax an offer."

Ray almost choked on a forkful of egg. "You are joking --?" I mean, you're not -- are you?"

"Kidding, Ray," Murphy said with a fond chuckle. "Had a nice time, did you?"

"None of your bloody business," Ray said cheerfully, returning to his breakfast.

The taller agent might have kept up the banter with his friends, whose secret he shared almost from the beginning, but Doug Smithson was leaning across the table, waving his tea cup. "Morning Bodie, old mate. And you, Mr. Doyle, sir. Alpha Two, sir."

"Just 4.5, or Ray, if you prefer," Doyle grinned.

"Okay, Ray it is." Smithson sipped his tea. "Must say, I'm surprised to see you on your feet. Thought you were in a wheelchair for good."

"Nah, just healing up," Doyle said dismissively, though at the time he had been wondering about his future too. "Taught me a lot, being a paraplegic for a while -- but I'm just as happy to have my legs back." He met Bodie's blue eyes and smiled faintly. "Life was...interesting there, for a while, mind you."

"I'll bet." Smithson did not catch the oblique meaning, for which Bodie was rather grateful -- not that he expected Doug to mind much, but because he knew he'd be up for the kind of ribbing about his unorthodox fancies that he had not had to suffer in years. As close as he came to that kind of humour was Murphy's quiet joking, and Murph knew to keep it low key 'for the good of the unit', as Cowley would have put it. No, the ladies and gentlemen of the press would not take kindly to the idea of two of Britain's 'saviours' cuddling up in the same bed though -- oddly -- they would be permitted to sow their wild oats wherever they pleased with whatever good time women they chose... Too much stupidity in the world and not enough justice, Bodie thought wryly as Smithson checked his chrono, drained his cup and scraped back his chair. "Got to go and sort the lads out, Bodie. Time's wasting."

He was right. Daylight was grey and bleak as Doyle wound his scarf around his neck, leading Bodie out of Featherston Hall to do the rounds of the security facilities. The place was crawling with operatives from four services, the Met, the SAS, the Paras and CI5 itself, and Ray dismissed last night's bad feelings as no more than tiredness, nerves, and a great hunger for Bodie... Bodie was right as usual. He had lived on his nerves for long enough to know the lot.

The whole security net was tight and they left Jax and Susan in charge of CI5's end of it by R/T, going up to their room to change with half an hour to spare. Time to indulge a little spit-n-polish, rosin the shoulder holsters, stuff pockets with reloads, drag combs through their hair and attune to the complexities of the job. Doyle watched Bodie check the big magnum automatic for the hundredth time and slide it away; his tie was a fraction askew and Ray stepped up to straighten it. Bodie cupped his cheek and kissed him once before setting aside their private life for their public one.

When they walked through the door to work they would be who and what they had always been; knowing that he could trust them absolutely was the main reason George Cowley left them alone. Doyle returned the kiss with feeling but said nothing, and they shared a smile before surrendering to the demands of the job.

It never ceased to amaze and amuse Bodie. On one side of the door his lover was a kitten, gentle, teasing, affectionate, playful; on the other side of it he became a big cat, hard and tough, deadly, unforgiving, and the only game such an animal played was Death. Bodie followed Ray to work without a word, going down to the Hall's big, blustery entrance, waiting in the bitter November wind until Jax's voice came over the R/T from the gatehouse. Six Rolls Royces were on their way in.

Nearly silent V8 motors came purring up the coachway, and the house's staff members went out to open the doors. There was Prince Charles, tall and bony in a dark blue suit, ears like taxi cab doors, selfconscious smile and all. The rest of the dignitaries were known only from stills: they came from France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Greece, Israel, the UAE and Egypt, Laos, Thailand, Chile and Ecuador, Angola and Zimbabwe. There were no South African dignitaries, none from Argentina or Chile, and none from Iran, Iraq or Syria, but that was to be expected. The world's war zones were still smouldering, after thirty-seven years of what was laughingly referred to as 'peace'.

It was the first time Bodie had seen Royalty in close up, but Ray had done duty on several public occasions as a Police Constable. He had seen the Duke of Edinburgh sneezing and Princess Margaret having a tussle with her cigarette lighter, and Princess Anne confiscating some royal brat's chewing gum -- all out of sight of the unsuspecting public. Once you had seen things like that, the pomp and circumstance became meaningless. Bodie had hooted with laughter at the stories, thoroughly enjoying them.

Dignitaries and royalty moved swiftly into the Hall, out of the cold. Most of them were from the tropics, and Britain's idea of fair weather (anything that was not actually chucking it down) was a good deal less than pleasant. Inside, the central heating had been on full since early morning, and Bodie was sweating inside of his suit. He and Doyle prowled the conference room like wolves; Cowley was in the passage outside, in R/T contact with the security forces which were scattered throughout the estate, so discreet that, to the uninitiated observer, they were invisible.

The talks were boring. After the first two hours Ray stopped listening and the tea trolly that came long at ten was a welcome break; he had not expected to be included in the refreshments, but Charles was never a man to stand on ceremony, and he had a strong military background himself. A small smile, a beckoning hand, and the CI5 men were invited to discretely help themselves to tea and pastries once the dignitaries had been served. Watching Arab and Asian diplomats browsing on chocolate cake was mildly interesting. Watching HRH Prince charles trying to hang on to his temper was faintly amusing but, by lunch time, the whole motley assembly took itself into the dining room and Doyle and Bodie were lulled into a state of numbness, literally doped by the droning discussions and beginning to yawn with the stuffiness and the too-hot conditions.

They would eat later, when the talks resumed, and while the dignitaries gorged on gourmet food they stalked like tigers to and fro, watching the details, passing over the major issues... The representatives from Laos and Zimbabwe were discussing the price of oil, which was of no consequence, but the waiter who pushed in the trolly laden with the desserts was wearing tennis shoes --

And that was so odd that Doyle's hackles came up at once. He frowned at the man's face, struggling to place him. He and Bodie had studied every servant in the household, but there was such a legion of them as to make it impossible to remember them all. He took a step forward, something in his carriage catching Bodie's eye --

The whole world seemed to change gear, switching into slow motion, where a second was a minute long. The lid came off the covered plate, exposing Danish pastries and a Smith and Wesson .44 Magnum. Bodie's hand clawed for his own gun, Doyle whipped the Browning 9mm out fast with his left hand, but the waiter in the tennis shoes saw their reaction a fraction of a second too soon. He never aligned on his target: the Prince of Wales froze with a glass of claret half way to his lips, watching the lightning tableau as the would-be assassin made a dive for the French windows.

Glass exploded outward and the gunman was away as shots hammered out of Bodie's and Doyle's weapons, deafening in the confines of the dining room. The shots were wide by no more than a whisker, chewing splinters out of the woodwork, but the waiter was away round the corner. Cowley was coming through the door in the same second, R/T in his hand, and as he barked for information he watched his field agents dive through the shattered windows. Cowley brought the SIS-issue radio up, alerting the security forces in the grounds, but by that time Doyle and Bodie were out and running.

They caught sight of the assassin vanishing into the tangle of woodland to the west; he was away like a sprinter, fear riding him hard, and there was no chance for a shot. They plunged into the woodland after him and pulled up sharply: he was gone. "Christ," Bodie muttered, "Which way?"

"Buggered if I know," Doyle said, turning slowly about. "And he's armed. Could knock us off like a couple of rabbits. The fence is that way... My guess is he's trying to make it out. Better split up, we'll cover more ground that way."

"Okay. Which way do you want?" Bodie said, clawing for his R/T.

"I'll take north." Doyle was moving as he spoke.

"3.7 to Alpha. We've chased him into the woods. If we can bail him up against the fence we might get him alive."

"Roger that, 3.7," Cowley's voice shouted, tinny over the little speaker.

Then Bodie was running. He skirted the tangled briars that choked the heart of the wooded area, sweeping every open patch as he would have swept a house. There was a bark of Doyle's gun twice -- four shots, then five shots, then silence as he reloaded. Had he dropped the man? Bodie lifted the R/T. "You got him?"

"Shooting at shadows," Doyle's voice told him. "Heard him, though. He's heading for the fence all right -- closer to you than me, I think. Watch yourself."

It was sound advice and Bodie took it. He broke from the woodland just a dozen yards from the fence, turning both ways with the instincts of the natural, born hunter -- and there was the gunman. He was struggling with rubber gauntlets and had a large pair of clippers under his arm. The gun was in his pocket, butt protruding. Bodie drew his own big automatic down into line, stepping toward the man. "All right, mate, drop the cutters and throw the gun away. Now!" He circled the gunman slowly; pale blue eyes, dazed with desperation, looked back out of a pale, freckled face, but the man was frozen, not moving a muscle, his hands as good as shackled by the gauntlets.

Then suddenly he seemed to remember where he was, and Bodie saw the right hand dive for the pocket that held the gun. His right index finger tightened on the trigger --

And his mouth dried.


It was a million to one chance, but it happened. Eight feet separated him from the assassin and there was only one action open to him. Bodie launched himself at the man like a rugby player in full tackle, giving thanks that the clumsy rubber gauntlets bought him the time he needed to grab the hand that held the big Smith and wesson magnum. It jerked upward, three shots punched into the sky, then they were grappling, plunging sideways, falling, scrambling to their knees in the rank grass next to the electrified security fence.

Breaking out of the woodland, Doyle saw the struggle and could only guess at what must have happened. The fact that they were wrestling was not important -- Bodie was too big to be argued with under those conditions. It was the fence that dried Doyle's mouth and even as he watched, bringing up the Browning but never able to try for a shot, he saw them tumble closer to it, and closer.

When they staggered into it Doyle was not surprised, but the shock reached down through every cell in his body, as if he had collected the stunning voltage himself. There was a terrible, protracted moment in which the two men were hung on the wire, then both fell forward and lay absolutely still. Doyle took to his heels, covering the fifty yards in a muscle-wrenching spring and slithering to a halt in the grass beside Bodie. Not a muscle twitched. He shoved the Browning away and lifted one eyelid, but the pupil did not contract by so much as a millimetre. Doyle sucked in a breath, diving down to press his ear to Bodie's chest.

Silence. He pressed his finger to the hollow of the throat in search of a pulse, but there was nothing there. He was dead - - the shock had stopped his heart. For a second that seemed a thousand years long he knelt in the grass, numb to the bone, hands resting on the lifeless body, thought refusing to gel in his mind as every fear he had ever had took root.

Bodie was dead, stone cold dead.

And then the fever broke out and suddenly he was thinking again, hot and furious. He tore the tie and shirt from him, knelt astride him and bunched his hands on the big arteries that pumped blood up through the heart valves, putting to work the skills he had mastered so many years before. CPR. Automatic skills, once learned, never forgotten. "Come on, Bodie," he muttered in time to the pumping, "live, damn you, live, goddamn it! Breathe, you berk, come on, breathe! Bodie! Damn you! Don't you dare leave me, Bodie, don't -- you -- bloody -- dare!"

How long he kept it up he did not know, but it could have been no longer than moments, though each one seemed at least a century. His vision misted with scalding tears of fury, dread and grief, and he almost did not register it as the lungs beneath his hands expanded, dragging in a vast breath, before the blue- black lashes fluttered open and Bodie lifted his hand to touch his lover's face.

"Hello, sunshine," he said, groggy, confused. "Must have passed out."

"Bodie!" Doyle's hands stilled. "Passed --? You were dead, you berk! Ah, Bodie --" For the life of him Doyle could not have stopped himself. He went down onto Bodie's cold, bare chest and kissed his mouth, savagely at first, and then gently as the fear ebbed away. "Jesus God, Bodie, you were dead," he said thickly as he raised his head again.

Bodie's lips, feeling nearly bruised after the onslaught, formed a smile. "Better get up now, love. They'll be here in a second, won't they?" As Doyle climbed off him he caught his hand. "'Thanks' just doesn't say it."

"Not asking for thanks, am I?" Doyle sat on the grass beside him, passing his hands over his face and scrubbing at his eyes. "Thought you'd gone and left me. I bloody knew something was going to happen today, but I thought it was me, I never thought... Oh, Christ. I love you Bodie. You leave me, and I'll make Heathcliff look like the Pope! You hear?"

"I hear." Bodie was examining his shirt. "You tore my buttons. Don't think I'll pass muster like this... 'Ullo, here comes the cavalry."

It was a squad from the Paras and Met, Smithson and Jax in the lead. Ray got up and pulled Bodie to his feet, propping him up. "How d'you feel?"

"Dizzy and hurting," Bodie admitted. "Nerves are jangling. There's enough voltage in that fence to kick you into the middle of next year."

Jogging to a halt, Jax surveyed the assassin's body and Bodie's torn shirt and demanded, "What the hell happened here?"

"I died," Bodie said quietly, straightening his tie as the world seemed to dance drunkenly around him. He leaned heavily on Doyle.

"Knock if off, mate," Jax scoffed. "How about what really happened?"

"He died," Doyle affirmed, just as drily. "He hit the fence, and I... CPR, you know. He and the gunman took the voltage, both of 'em died, but Bodie just doesn't know when to give up. Thank God." He gave his partner a speculative frown. "Stoppage?"

"Yeah, couldn't make the shot." Bodie hugged his aching chest, shivering. "Mind if we head back to the house?"

"On your way," Smithson growled, "we'll take the body in. You want to see the medic, Bodie. You know your nerve endings are burned, don't you?"

Bodie draped himself over Doyle's right side. "It's crossed my mind, Doug. Home, Raymond. Slowly."

They skirted the woodland this time, and Doyle had the R/T out. "4.5 to Alpha. The gunman's dead. He and 3.7 ran into the fence."

The Scot's voice was on the air at once, sharp with concern.

"And 3.7?"

"He was also dead," Doyle told him, weird words, difficult to speak. "He was. CPR is worth the hour or two it takes to learn... He's shaken up, though. Have the medic stand by."

"Ambulance?" Cowley asked.

"Nah, he's on his feet, he'll do," Doyle decided. "We'll be back in a few minutes." He put the R/T back into his pocket and tightened his arm about Bodie. "You gave me a fright."

"Yeah, gave myself a bit of a shock," Bodie said, somehow managing to make light of it as he heard the thin edge of horror in Doyle's husky voice. "Still, now I've done it, it'll be easier next time. Now, who said that?"

They came to a halt in the lee of a skeletal beech tree, just out of the wind, and Ray turned to face him. "We've both done it now, haven't we? Died. You know what that does for our chances, according to the law of averages? There's an old saying, about lightning not striking twice. It does strike twice, I know, but... Oh, Bodie."

"Maybe the law of averages'll keep us safe for a while," Bodie said, his fingertips brushing across Ray's cheek. "Long enough for us to see out the rest of this enlistment. Then... Then we can decide, next time we're due to sign up, if we want to. That's next year, 1983." In spite of his jangling nerves and aching joints, Bodie found a smile. "You should have seen your face."

"Looked like Frankenstein, did I, bringing the dead to life?" Doyle muttered.

"Like Joan of Arc," Bodie sighed, wishing he would be serious.

"She was a girl," Doyle said softly.

"And you're beautiful." Bodie leaned forward and kissed him, and they sagged back against the tree, pressed together, hurting and relieved and high on the fact that they were alive. "Oh, Ray," Bodie murmured against Doyle's soft open mouth, "what am I going to do with you?"

"Do?" Doyle smiled, stepping back. "I expect you'll think of something, you usually do."

Ten minutes later Bodie was stripped to the waist while the medic, Dr. Jenkins, went over him methodically. Doyle stood watching with a cup of tea in both hands, his fingers coming back to life as he warmed through, and as Bodie was pronounced fit enough to suffice, if slightly scorched along the neural pathways, Murphy appeared at the door of the first aid room. "The walking dead," the younger agent observed cheerfully. "Jax called in... God, Bodie, what a thing to happen. Getting careless in your old age. Hey, I thought you might like to know where the security break was."

"You've found it already?" Doyle blinked.

"Yup, Super Smurph, that's me," Murphy grinned. "Nah, it wasn't all that difficult. Jax went through the gunman's pockets and the idiot had his charge card on him. American Express -- what else? His name is Seamus O'Herlihy, and his half brother, Bobby Taff, has been working here for over a year. The servants knew weeks ago that this house was going to be the venue for the talks, when they got orders to see to the accommodations for our lot and the nosh for the big wheels. So O'Herlihy got his brother to get him a job as a temporary gardener --"

"But he'd never have been cleared by security, not in a month of Sundays," Bodie protested, pulling his shirt back on.

"Right. But he and Bobby Taff are like a pair of bookends. You'd have to be their Mum to tell them apart, and even she'd be lucky to guess right half the time. Certainly, on a one inch square photo on an ID badge, you'd never tell who was who. Or is it whom? so, two days ago, Seamus came to work as Bobby, and none of the servants have been off the premises since then. According to Mrs. Bell, the cook, she hasn't been able to wring a word out of Bobby lately -- hardly surprising, since it's Seamus. She thought he was coming down with 'flu, he'd been acting so strangely. Bobby Taff will be a prisoner somewhere, and Seamus... Well, that's a suicide raid for you."

"He chickened out," Ray said quietly. "Could have shot HRH before we got to him if he'd had his heart set on it, but he saw us, cut and ran. Suicide raid? Conway wants to choose his martyrs with a bit more care. How the hell did we manage to miss that?"

Bodie was reaching for his jacket, but looped it over his shoulder instead of putting it on; after the chill outside, the house was much too hot. "O'Herlihy, Taff -- you'd be bloody lucky if a computer made the connection for you. Takes Mrs. Bell, the cook, to do that for you... Can I go now, Doc?" The medic was a man of sixty with silvering hair and bifocal lenses. He studied Bodie through the tops of them with a stern expression. "Rest, Mr. Bodie. You will feel the effects of the shock for a while, but you are fine, thanks to your associate. Little harm done, this time."

Outside the closed door, Doyle echoed, "This time?"

"Just a figure of speech," Murphy said kindly. "Jax and Susan and the Cow, and half of the SAS have got the big shots surrounded. Why don't you two go and do whatever it is you do to calm down? I'll tell the boss you're okay -- he can yell by R/T if he wants you."

"Thanks, Murph," Bodie said gratefully. The worst of the shock had worn off now; he was just weak, tingling and light headed -- a little like the aftereffects of being ravished by his lover to the point of destruction. He sat down on the bedside and rubbed his neck until Ray came to massage the tense muscles for him.

Slowly, drowsiness set in and he slid sideways and inched his way into the middle of the bed, and Doyle leaned over him, drawing the ruined shirt off his chest and frowning over what he saw. "Oh, damn."

"What?" Bodie blinked sleepily up at him, seeing the look of regret.

"I've bruised you," Doyle murmured. He bent, kissing the area that had taken the punishment, licking a spiral pattern over the purpling bruise before he turned his head and pressed his ear to Bodie's chest.

"What're you doing?" Bodie asked softly, lacing his fingers into Ray's hair to hold his head there.

"Listening. To your heart." Ray closed his eyes. "It runs so slowly, not like mine. Mine gallops now, all the time."

"You were shot." Bodie let him raise his head and hoped for a kiss; he was not disappointed. "You know, those premonitions of yours have got me fascinated. You knew there'd be trouble today."

Doyle sighed. "I thought it was going to be me. Last night, I was so sure I was going to cop it!"

"But you still went out to work."

"Well, yeah. It's my job," Ray said quietly.

Bodie's reaction was startling. He grabbed Doyle by the upper arms, and the pressure of his fingers bruised the muscle there. "Don't you ever, ever do that again," he said fiercely, manhandling Doyle onto the bed and straddling him to hold him down. "Do you hear me? I mean it. If you get one of these premonitions the bloody pair of us call in sick."

"We can't do that," Ray argued breathlessly. "I'm not psychic or something. Nine times out of ten I'd be wrong and Cowley'd never be able to trust us again! You can't just say, 'use the Force, Ray', it's not as simple as that."

He was right, and Bodie bit his lip in thought. "What about the law of averages, then? I mean, now that's happened it ought to be plain sailing for ages. Maybe I was meant to die out there. If you'd called in sick because of your premonitions, would there have been anyone there to do the CPR? God only knows. So if I've collected the one-in-a-million chance of buying it and got away with it, maybe there's clean air for a while."

"Unless you follow Murphy's Law," Doyle shrugged. "If it can go wrong, it will."

Bodie groaned. "Bloody confusing, isn't it? I...I don't like it, Ray. One minute I'm ready to give Cowley due and fair notice, and then I remember Brian's mate, and... Who was it who said, 'the wisest thing to do is wait and see?'"

"Somebody smart," Ray admitted. "But we can't wait too long, can we? Or Murphy's Law will beat the law of averages to the crunch... You're squashing me, Bodie. Can't breathe."

"Sorry." Bodie stretched out beside him and Doyle sat up. "Wait and see. Wait and see... Brilliant match plan, sweetheart."

"It'll do. Better than jumping out of the frying pan. You could work it out mathematically, you know? I've seen it done."

"Well, don't." Bodie found a smile. "I hate it when you go all logical and rational."

"Do you?" Doyle smiled. "One of us has to make sense."

"Oh, ta muchly," Bodie said. "Just for that you can kiss me, and be quick about it."

The R/T called Doyle's name as their mouths met, and for a few moments they ignored it. Then Ray reached blindly for it. "4.5," he responded, still licking Bodie's lips.

It was Cowley, of course. "We're short handed, Doyle. If Bodie is all right, we need you."

"4.5, roger. Be there in a minute." Ray shut down the R/T, took Bodie's supple lips once more and sat up. "Got to go back to work, pet. Put this on hold till we get home, all right?"

"Yeah, off you go," Bodie nodded. "Aladdin Cowley. He rubs the R/T and we appear." He chuckled. "Bet HRH has got a few stories to entertain the missus tonight. And maybe his Mum too."

Doyle laughed. "Oh yes, I can see Princess Di and the Queen struck speechless by the heroics of the two CI5 men. We might get invited up to Buck House to tea and a quack."

"A what?" Bodie demanded.

"A quack. It's Sloane Ranger talk for a chat."

"Oh, how tres, tres ippsy pippsy," Bodie grinned. "That wan't bad, was it? Three languages. Scram, before the old man gets his kilt in a twist." Doyle was at the door before Bodie called, "And Ray?" He turned back. "I love you," Bodie said almost soundlessly. "So be careful."

"I will," Doyle smiled gently. "I'm always careful." Then he was gone, and Bodie lay back to rest, only then becoming aware of how bad he felt.

It was raining again when Cowley's red four door pulled into the CI5 garage; in the front, Bodie was yawning, in the back, the Scot was going over the day's paperwork, his briefcase balanced precariously on his knees, and beside him Doyle was watching the rain sluicing over the windscreen, brushed aside by the blades of the wipers. Cowley's pretty driver pulled into the reserved space and out of the weather; the fluoros paled Bodie's face out to bone white, and Ray frowned at him, though he said nothing.

"We're giving you to Johnson and Rollins," Cowley was saying to his field agents. "Conway will have heard by now that his plan has gone into the bin, that his man O'Herlihy is dead, perhaps even that it was CI5 who killed him."

"We didn't," Doyle said indignantly. "He danced into the fence along with Bodie!"

"You're splitting hairs, Ray," Bodie growled. "Conway won't see it that way, will he?"

"No," Cowley agreed, "he won't. I was questioning young Mick Donovan yesterday, incidentally... Apparently Paddy had been under some suspicion within Conway's group, from what can be pieced together. He was being watched and when you met him a fortnight ago, Doyle, at the bowling alley in Islington, you were seen and recognised --"

"By James Fitzroy," Doyle finished. "I put him away in '74. Damn! The only trouble with putting people away is, they get out one day, mad as hell, with a chip off both shoulders."

"Look on the bright side," Bodie suggested as the car stopped, the motor stilled, and they got out into the fluorescent light of the under-building carpark. "O'Herlihy's dead, Fitzroy's dead, that leaves -- who? Conway himself and Scoby and Sands and Flood -- and young Bobby Taff, who'll be a prisoner. Now, Conway won't even be in the country, not while his cell's doing a job, it's too dangerous. He'll be in Germany or Libya or somewhere safe, so it's no use APBing him. So we're only after the three -- Scoby, Sands and Flood."

"Aye," Cowley agreed with a deep nod, "and of the three it'll be Flood who will be the focus."

Bodie frowned at the boss as they came to a halt by the lifts, waiting for a ride up to the warmth and light of the offices. "Am I missing something?"

"Geoffrey Flood has been connected with Seamus O'Herlihy for almost twenty years," Doyle said quietly. He had done his homework. "Where one goes, the other goes; bit like us. They lived together, worked together, fought together..." He did not say 'loved together', but the meaning was implied.

And Bodie muttered an oath. "Damn. That means he'll be looking for some kind of pay-back -- he'll have access to Conway's contacts, so he'll know we're CI5, not just Met, and they'll have watched us coming and going. They'll know we were at the Hall, if no one else... You reckon they'll target us, sir?"

"After Doyle did away with Fitzroy, yes, I do," Cowley said. "It's a safe bet, if you're willing to wager your pension. You are going to be the tethered goats, Doyle, Bodie." They stepped into the lift as the doors opened. "Go home, relax, set your locks and wait. Until we get Conway's group you'll be of no use to me, so count yourselves on assignment."

"On assignment as stationary targets," Doyle said acidly. "And we're due leave in a fortnight, too."

"Was that a nonsequiteur, or am I getting slow?" Cowley inquired, one eyebrow up.

"I think," Bodie said, "he'd be a pity for one of us to be injured or k-- to be injured when we're due three weeks in the sun."

"Aye, so it would," Cowley agreed as the lift slowed and stopped. "So be careful. You'll have Rollins and Johnson on the outside, R/T, and whatever you want to check out of the Armoury. With the security system at your flat, you're safer than you'd be out on the street. I want hourly check-ins from both of you, and you call before you go out for any reason so we can put a tail on you. Murphy and Jax can cover that -- and I want a radio locater on your car. Go home and consider yourselves at work..." He chuckled. "By God, I wish Her Majesty's Government would pay me to laze around at home all day."

As Cowley headed off toward the computer facility, Doyle and Bodie sauntered along to sign out for the day; it was 7:45 and they had been on overtime pay since four in the afternoon, due to the day's early start. "HMG's going to owe us a fortune," Doyle observed as he scrawled the time and his name.

"All the more to blow on a really smashing holiday," Bodie said, signing out also. "To hell with Scotland, Ray. What about Paris? No -- what about a Pacific Island? Imagine the two of us on a beach by moonlight, under the nodding coconut palms, while the tide goes out, drinking Bundaberg rum and listening to the mating calls of the fiddler crabs and loving each other witless."

"Mating calls of the fiddler crabs?" Ray grinned. "I don't believe a word of it, but -- you're on. Mind you, for now, how about the two of us lyin' in bed by lamplight, listening to Vivaldi, drinking brandy and catching up on a bit of cuddling?"

"You're on," Bodie laughed. "Let's go home, love."

Evening traffic was light and ten minutes later Ray was setting the locks with deliberate care. Down below, Johnson and Rollins had taken station, staking out the building, and Doyle went through a mental inventory. There was his own 9mm and Bodie's .44, plus another Browning taped under the table in the hall, and a PPK behind the bedroom mirror, and a neat little Colt auto under the kitchen sink. There were reloads in the dressing table under the fresh laundry, in the cutlery drawer and behind the phone books, more in the hall cupboard, and several knives salted here and there. He picked up the phone, hearing the hollow sound that betrayed the tap, and brought out the R/T. "4.5 to Central. We're at home and locked up. Closing down for the night."

He put down the R/T and turned toward the couch where Bodie sat, slumped over to one side, his hands massaging his chest. "You look pale. You okay?"

"Sore in the joints, and I've got a bit of a headache," Bodie admitted.

"How about a nice hot bath? Go on, get in and I'll bring you a cuppa and see what I can rustle up for dinner. Have to be out of a tin or a packet, I'm afraid -- last time we bought groceries was about a hundred years back, so there's nothing fresh... Go on, pet. A soak in a hot bath cures half the ills known to man."

He was right. Bodie had been in the bath for fifteen minutes and had freshened up the water twice, pulling the plug to let a measure of the cool liquid out and topping it up with scalding water, and was feeling much better when Ray appeared with two mugs, handing him one. There was brandy in the tea, warming his innards at once as Doyle sat on the edge of the bath and leaned down to kiss his forehead. Bodie raised his lips and collected a 'proper' kiss, and Ray smiled; Bodie was pink now, heavy eyed and uncoiling as relaxation wormed its way through his nervous system, and he reached up to catch Doyle's head again, wanting his mouth once more. As he straightened, Doyle suppressed a shudder, thinking back to the sightless, mindless gaze of those sapphire blue eyes as Bodie lay dead at his feet, and then his gaze fell to the bruises on the white, smooth chest. They were purpling nicely.

"Ray?" Bodie murmured, seeing the other's expression darken.

"Nothing. Just thinking." Doyle sipped his tea.

"So stop. Thinking's what ruins your whole day, sunshine."

Doyle's smile was back. "Yeah, you're not wrong. Look, I've got a casserole in the oven -- I whacked it into the freezer a couple of weeks ago and forgot about it. Best I can do for dessert's stewed apple trifle, though. Tuesday's apples have gone mushy in the dish, they won't eat raw, and Monday's cake gone like cardboard. So I poured brandy on it to soften it, and pasted strawberry jam on top, then stewed apples on top of that, and brandy custard on top of that. How's that sound?"

"Like you've discovered a new dish," Bodie grinned, "and like you're trying to get me smashed... Are you?"

"Trying to get you warm and relaxed," Doyle purred. "Nothing like brandy for doing that."

"No mistake there." Bodie drew his fingers over his own stubbly jaw. "Get my razor out of the cabinet, will you?" As Ray handed it to him he winked. "Might want to shave yourself."

"Thought you were feeling under the weather," Doyle smiled.

"Hot bath, brandy and your cooking, and I'll wrestle a bear for you," Bodie smiled, balancing his cup beside the cold tap and turning on the razor.

"Yeah, a teddy bear," Ray muttered.

"You making me an offer?" Bodie demanded wickedly.

"Bears and dragons and tigers can wait till tomorrow to get wrestled," Ray said, getting up with a smile. "I'd better go and see to the apples before they boil all over the cooker."

They yawned their way through dinner and "The Four Seasons", and for all his good intentions, Bodie wriggled gratefully into Doyle's arms and was asleep before Ray had even had his fill of kisses. Doyle let him drift away, happy to hold him in the dark, rubbing one foot up and down his sharp shin bone and licking delicately across his forehead. He could feel the slow, steady beat of Bodie's heart against his chest, solid, reassuring, lulling him into a sense of security, and he too was drowsing before long. Make love tomorrow, he told himself. They had all day, maybe several days, if Conway's group took their time over striking in retribution. Maybe he would wake Bodie with a kiss in the early hours and take him without making a big event out of it, maybe just lie on him and rock against him until they came, slowly and sweetly...

With a groan Bodie turned over in his sleep and Doyle drew him back against his chest, the reverse of their usual embrace; Bodie, bigger and physically much stronger, so often assumed the role of the protector. Doyle revelled in it too, but Bodie was so nearly impervious to harm that there were seldom any opportunities to indulge himself, whereas Ray always seemed to be coming home with scrapes and scratches, and lapping up the offered comfort.

Not this time, Ray thought, smiling against Bodie's hair, fingers moving in leisurely caresses about the warm body he knew so well. This time Bodie was decidedly the worse for wear, and was lucky to have come home at all. How easy it would have been for him to be on a marble slab right now -- Ray squeezed his eyes shut as the thought, the image, hurt. Here dead lie we because we did not choose to live and shame the land from which we sprung; // Life, to be sure, is nothing much to give, but young men think it is, and we were young. The old verse was an ache down under his heart.

No, it was not going to happen, not to Bodie, and not to him if he could manage it. The loss of his own life was of secondary importance -- as the wise old saying said, it was much, much easier to die than to live, and often the staying alive took more courage; but Bodie meant everything he had said about 'playing the Heathcliff part', and he'd do it. That would be the ultimate in waste, to lose his own life and then have Bodie tear himself to shreds, so that even the memory of Raymond Doyle was nothing good. Would Bodie do it -- go all the way, and offer up his own life as a sacrifice to the demons of the past -- to a love that had broken him?

Doyle was not sure, but everything he knew about Bodie was fair warning. There was not much of the idealist about Bodie, but he had a nature that was as stubborn as a mule; once he set his sights on something he had a cussed determination that was unswerving. He had waited for six years to be able to lie in bed like this, sound asleep and knowing he was loved at last. That kind of commitment went beyond duty and loyalty, straight to insanity -- the kind of insanity that came over people once in a lifetime and which was called, for want of a kinder expression, love.

It was a gift, but not one given without cost, Doyle realised; but the price they paid for it was little by comparison to the alternative, the mortal loneliness that everyone dreads and fears, and somehow comes to terms with when it becomes apparent that the missing half to themselves never will be found. Ray blinked at the back of Bodie's dark head, counting himself lucky beyond all credibility to have stumbled into the love of his life.

Now, how to make life last long enough to enjoy it? He was almost thirty-five, and they would leave him on the street for another ten, perhaps fifteen years, if his health and physique lived up to expectations, and if he managed to keep out of the way of a bullet that would cripple him. One kick in the wrong place, one ricochet, and he'd go down and stay down -- the memory of the last time that had happened, still only two months in the past, was painfully vivid. A blow across the lumbar region, a split second of pain, numbness, and weeks in a wheelchair while his legs defied him and Bodie propped him up through his terror, his moods and his desperation, loving him in bed and out of it with a ferocity that had startled Doyle, although they had been lovers already for a year.

Pushing your luck was a fool's game, and Doyle went to sleep weighing and measuring the odds. Their enlistment with CI5 was renewed every two years, and they had signed George Cowley's papers last time in the April of 1981, just before the bombing spree had almost crippled London's legal court network. Outside the bedroom window, the November wind blew rain at the glass, and Ray counted the weeks. Twenty weeks, and Cowley would be proffering his enlistment papers again, expecting them to sign. Three of those weeks were holidays, commencing late in November.

With luck, if their guardian angels were watching, they would make it through to April unhurt, and then... Maybe, just maybe, George Cowley would be on the lookout for two young hard cases who would train up as good field agents to fill a certain gap in his ranks. Maybe. Ray leaned forward by an inch and a half to nuzzle the nape of Bodie's neck. There was a whole world out there, waiting to be conquered, and an invalid pension and a wheelchair or a walking stick was no bloody substitute for him, or for Bodie. As regards a copper pot on the mantle beside a framed photograph, his wilful mind refused to even consider the possibility.

Worn ragged by the fretting, he closed his eyes at last, and drifted to sleep with his nose still nestled in Bodie's hair.

"4.5 to Central, all quiet on the home front. The time is 11:00 a.m. Bye-bye till noon." Doyle put down the R/T and went back to the Radio Times, scanning for something that was worth watching. Saturdays were a dead loss as far as telly was concerned, all kiddy shows and sport, as a rule, and unless it was football, motor racing or women's gymnastics -- for wildly different reasons -- they could do without sport. He dumped the magazine back into the rack, remembering that he had set out to fetch orange juice, and padded barefoot into the kitchen. Bodie was still in bed and showing no signs of getting out of it, stretched out on his stomach with the morning paper on the pillow, reading the scandal pages and tittering occasionally. There was a match that afternoon, though -- that would get him out of bed. Manchester United was due to clash with Manchester City, and though the game was at Old Trafford, which almost guaranteed a United victory, the Red Devils were short of both Brian Robson and Ray Wilkins, both out injured after spills in the European Cup match in Rome at midweek.

Doyle's eyes went to the paper as Bodie turned it over, going back to the sports on the back page. "So, who d'you fancy this afternoon?"

"Loaded question," Bodie observed, listening to the patter of bare feet on the rug beside the bed.

"Cheeky," Doyle accused.

Bodie flashed him a sultry grin over his shoulder as Ray handed him his orange juice and sat on the bedside. Dipping a finger into his own drink, he dabbled it the length of Bodie's spine, tickling till he wriggled, then bent to lap up the cold juice. Bodie laughed. "You've already made a meal of me once today, Raymond," he said, admiring Doyle's bare chest. "At it again, are we?"

"Later, maybe," Ray grinned. "We've got all day. All day. And all Sunday. A whole weekend -- positively decadent, innit?"

"Not half as decadent as three weeks on a Pacific Island's going to be," Bodie said, throwing the paper onto the floor. He put the glass down, half empty, on the table at the bedside and rolled over onto his back. "Come here and lie on me, like a good lad, I want to cuddle you. Who needs a teddy bear when they've got you?" Doyle put his glass on the table and obediently stretched out on top of Bodie; his jeans and the blankets separated them but the shared body heat was there immediately and Bodie sighed. "Love you, Ray. I never get sick of saying that."

"I never get sick of hearing it." Doyle's fingers played with Bodie's fringe, rearranging it. "You've got your heart set on this Tahiti thing?"

"What -- you on a beach by starlight, panting in my ear?" Bodie chuckled. "Course I've got my heart set on it. But not Tahiti, though, that's too commercialised. How about further south, under Capricorn? The Maldives, the Solomons, the Coral Sea. Terrific scuba there. There's a place they call Iron Bottom Sound, because there's so many ships sunk there -- World War II relics, you know."

"A diving holiday?" Ray mused. "Haven't done that before. Nice hotel --"

"Better than a hotel," Bodie corrected. "You get a shack by the beach all to yourself, the hotel's just a dining hall and laundry and bath house. It's practically as private as if it was your own home, so two blokes can do as they like without making the locals suspicious... So you, you noisy little twerp, can howl and yell to your heart's content while you're getting it."

"And you, mate, you've got a voice like a foghorn," Doyle chuckled. "You been to this place, or something? You know a lot about it?"

"Read the brochures in the dentist's one day." Bodie tousled Ray's hair gently. "We'll hire a boat and go out on the water all day. Make love in the sunshine, five miles offshore, sleep it off, then dive the reef and come up and have lunch and make love all over again before going back ashore to eat and doze and be lazy."

"You've convinced me," Ray grinned, "when do we leave?" He paused. "In fact, I may not come back at all. I always had the 'Moon and Sixpence' syndrome... Go to Tahiti and paint, eat coconuts and lie in a hammock getting waited on hand and foot by a stacked Malanesian beauty." He laughed. "It didn't happen, did it?"

Bodie tugged at the curls in his right hand. "What's this stacked young beauty business all about? I'm stacked, and I'm young, and I'm beautiful. You told me so yourself."

"Yeah, but you wouldn't pamper me while I lie in a hammock," Doyle chuckled.

"Raymond, you're shameless," Bodie accused. "I pamper you in lots of places. You've had it in bed, on the couch, on the floor, even in the car, and in three different hotels. You've had it under the shower and in the bath, and even on the moors when we were hiking. What's so taboo about a bloody hammock? Or are you kinky like that?"

"Kinky like what?" Doyle demanded, unsure if he should be indignant.

"You want it in midair," Bodie teased.

Ray laughed out loud and punched Bodie's shoulder. "Berk. I'm not kinky at all."

"A lot of people would say we are," Bodie said, sounding wry. "Two men being this much in love... It isn't 'normal', so they say."

"Then a lot of people want to buzz off and find out what 'love' means. It's got nothing to do with who's wearing a skirt and who's not. Okay, the way we make love isn't exactly copybook as women understand it, but the basic principle's the same, and the feeling..." He closed his eyes and Bodie felt him shiver through every nerve. "If that's what it feels like to a woman, then sex is a woman's game."

"That," Bodie said, smiling, "is what they were saying in Athens two and a half thousand years ago. Who knows what women feel? But it must be good or they wouldn't be so hot on it, right? I know what I feel when you're deep inside of me, that's all I need to know." They were silent for a long time, just looking at each other, nose to nose, then Bodie reached up, kissed Doyle's smooth, recently razored chin and said plaintively, "take your jeans off and get back into bed, pet."

"It's nearly time to put lunch on the table," Doyle remonstrated, but did not mean it.

"Lunch can wait, I can't." Bodie lifted his hips under Ray's sprawled weight, and Doyle felt the evidence right through the blankets.

"I'm still a bit sore from this morning," he warned. "You took me by surprise. I'd been intending to ravish you until you sucked me, then I couldn't think too straight --"

"And got ravished yourself instead." Bodie watched his lover kick off the blue jeans; Doyle was turned on already -- he turned on at the whisper of an endearment, let alone a caress, and he was hot as he slid back into bed. Bodie peeled back the blankets and worked diligently until Ray could barely keep still; the delight of reducing him to a quivering heap of desire was powerfully arousing -- Bodie had no need of his hands and mouth this time, and sat astride him, pausing only to make them both slick with their own warm moisture before taking Doyle's aching length into himself. Ray whimpered his delight, unable to move under Bodie's weight, struggling to hold back, and reached out to grasp Bodie's throbbing cock while Bodie rocked gently to and fro, head tipped back, not able to move much for the impalement. It was too wildly ecstatic to last long, and then they were in a sticky tangle of arms and legs, laughing at each other and themselves until the R/T on the table beside the clock beeped for attention. Bodie picked it up, relinquishing Doyle's mouth with reluctance. "3.7."

It was Murphy. "There's a suspicious looking bloke just wandered into your building, Bodie, carrying a suspicious looking box. Might be nothing at all, but it might be worth staying on your toes for ten minutes. Get your pants on and stand by."

"Will do," Bodie responded, shut down the R/T and frowned at Doyle. "How did he know we were --"

"Educated bloody guess," Ray grinned. "After three days with Brian and one on the job, where else would we be?" He slid out of bed and grabbed a handful of tissues, performing a quick, deft cleanup before yanking on his jeans and pulling a clean tee shirt out of the dressing table drawer. "Going to say in bed all day, are you?"

"Oh, maybe," Bodie shrugged, stretching indolently. "It's not every day I have to get over a brush with death." He watched Doyle's departing back and sighed; he was right. It was time to vacate the bed and think about lunch, but... Later. If Murph's call came to nothing Ray might cut some sandwiches and come back, and lie down and doze, and there was nothing like dozing in the afternoon, remembering the morning's loving and anticipating the night's.

Doyle stood by the door with the Browning cocked in his right hand, eyes closed, ears straining. He heard the lift come grinding to a stop; Murph had not called again to mention anyone else arriving, so, unless some resident from the floor below had decided to make a social call on this floor, it could only be the 'suspicious looking bloke'. Clang -- the doors slid open. Footsteps echoed between the walls, muffled by the door. He counted them; it was twelve strides to the lift.

They stopped right by the door and he tensed, fingers tightening on the automatic, but the knock he expected never came. A moment later the footsteps were echoing back toward the lift and the doors changed open and shut. With exaggerated caution, Ray opened the door a crack, then wider, and froze as he saw the box left just outside.

He closed the door gently and dived for the R/T he had left on the mantle. "Murph! That bloke left the box outside our door -- don't let him get out of the building."

"Got you, Ray," Murphy called. "Get the bloody bomb squad, pronto!"

"You don't say," Ray muttered, then swiftly switched up to the higher frequency to call Central for the 'blow up boys'. Old Reginald Proctor was the specialist on the current shift -- the same man who had dissected Ray's wrecked E-type as long ago as 1978, and he had the original answerless question for Doyle: is there a timer on it? "How the bloody hell do I know?" Ray demanded. "And I'm not going to muck about with it, there could be a trembler as well!"

"Building'll have to be evacuated, fast," Proctor said sagely. "The boys are on their way, son, and I'll get the Police round there, pronto. Get out of the flat, get the neighbours out too, everyone you can shift."

"Roger that," Doyle muttered, then shut down and went back to Murphy's frequency. "Murph, you got him?"

"Jax has got him by the scruff of the neck," Murphy told him. "It's Flood; he's had his hair cut and shaved off the beard, but up close there's no mistaking him. You'll have got yourself a bomb, Ray."

Doyle was already back in the bedroom, pulling on his tennis shoes and brown leather jacket. "Yeah," he said, watching Bodie dressing fast. "We'll get the neighbours out, the bomb squad's on its way, so's the local Met. Murph, threaten Flood with whatever you can think of -- we need to know if it's on a timer or trembler, and we need to know now."

"I'll try," Murphy said, sounding dubious, "but I dunno if he'll talk."

Bodie's hands took Doyle by the shoulders as he shut down. "Out. Move, will you, Ray? Got to get the damned neighbours out!"

The November day was bleak and cold, threatening rain, and the residents huddled dejectedly between Police vehicles, watching the bomb squad van roll up. Murphy had the stony faced Flood in handcuffs in the back of his white Escort and was shaking his head in answer to Doyle's unvoiced question: no, he had not said a word yet. Cowley's big red Ford pulled in at the kerb as they waited, listening to the R/T signals between the bomb squad men. The Scot looked disgusted and relieved as he recognised Flood: an armful of Pentothal and he would surrender the location of Scoby and Sands, and it would be over for Conway's people, possibly even for Conway himself, if he did not move fast enough, wherever he was hiding.

It took an hour and the residents were frozen and unhappy, but the bomb squad operative in charge called Cowley direct. "Tell your boys they're bloody lucky. There's ten pounds of Thermite in this, enough to gut this whole building, and there was a trembler, and it was on a twenty-minute timer. Your enemies meant business, but it's just putty and wires now. Tell the good people they can come home now."

"You heard that," Cowley said, looking up at his field agents. "And that puts a lid on this, I think. The Conway group doesn't exist anymore, just two men left, and we'll have them soon enough now we've got Flood." He watched two Policemen and a Policewoman removing the detour barricades from the street and headed back toward the car; Bodie and Doyle exchanged waves with Murphy and Jax, and as Cowley pulled out the residents of the building began to shuffle back inside.

The bomb squad men were still there, packing up their tools on the threshold, and Ray frowned over the contents of the box: coloured wires, nickel cadmium cells, reeking explosives and the little electronic timer sitting in a bed of shredded cardboard. He and Bodie nodded hello and goodbye to the demolition experts and shut the door.

"Close call?" Bodie asked, one brow up.

"Would have been if Murph and Jax hadn't been on surveillance," Doyle said soberly. "We'd have stayed in bed, maybe got as far as putting lunch on the table, maybe decided to share the shower, and whammo. All over, just like that." He snapped his fingers.

"What a way to go out," Bodie sighed. "Wrapped in your arms, blissful one moment, gloriously dead the next. Now, that is the way to end it all."

"Like something out of a classic tragedy?" Ray made a face. "No, ta, not for me, love. Some people want to be immortal through their art or their kids. Me? I'd prefer to do it by staying alive."

"Ambitious," Bodie smiled. "Live forever?"

"For as long as I can, at least," Doyle conceded. "Christ, I'm hungry, and the place is just about cleaned out. Shortbreads and cheese sandwiches just won't do it. Why don't you take me out and feed me lasagna and wine by lamplight?"

"My turn to pick up the tab," Bodie observed.

"I paid for the curry the last time." Doyle headed for the bedroom for the car keys and their wallets. "If our overseas mob moves fast enough we could get Conway too."

"Doubt it," Bodie said as they locked the flat and headed for the lift. "He's been two jumps ahead of us for -- how long? Donkey's years."

"But there's always a first time for getting caught," Doyle added. "Like us, I suppose... Okay, we take acceptable risks, but... How long can we keep on getting away with it? I don't want to be pensioned off and limp my way through the next forty or fifty years, or get my ears blown in, or something, when a bomb we don't find in time goes off. How long can we get away with it -- answer me that."

"Can't," Bodie admitted. They stepped into the lift and he fixed Ray with a level, serious look. "All we can do is play the game by its own rules until April. Then... Got some decisions to make, haven't we? And the old man will sweet talk us, and if we're gullible enough we'll get suckered. Maybe the risks are acceptable -- I don't know anymore, but... How about Tahiti? Tropical island, painting, getting pampered by this here stacked young beauty, in a hammock?"

Doyle laughed. "You're the pits, have I told you that recently?"

"Frequently, as I recall," Bodie said glibly. "But you love me anyway."

"Yeah," Ray agreed honestly as the lift stopped and opened onto the lobby. "Yeah, I do. That's the silly part of it."

"Silly?" Bodie demanded indignantly.

"Loony," Doyle affirmed. "Life's spent thirty-odd years teaching us how bloody stupid it is to get involved with anyone, and yet here we are." He tossed Bodie the keys to the silver Capri that stood at the kerb. "Off you go, Heathcliff, I'm starving."

Bodie chuckled as he slid in under the wheel and reached over to tousle Ray's hair as he slammed the left door. Doyle caught his hand and squeezed his fingers for a moment, and one green eye winked at him, cheeky, easing, promising. "You're wicked, Raymond," Bodie said fondly.

"But you love me anyway," Doyle said with a smile that was angelic.

"Yeah, I do," Bodie said, starting the motor. "I always was an idiot... Thank God."

-- THE END --

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