by NN West
For a few seconds the tableau held as the echoes of the twin shots died away. On the far edge of the clearing Ojana poised nervously for flight, casting anxious glances into the shadows of the trees. The body of the mercenary lay where it had been hurled by the impact, a broken, bloody toy. There was no sound of pursuit--there wouldn't be, not from these hunters--but they had to be closing fast, drawn by the sound of gunfire.
Doyle looked up, his eyes locking with his partner's. "Get the hell out!" he snarled.
Bodie's gaze flickered to the bleeding wound in Doyle's leg; lowering his gun, he took half a step forward, shaking his head.
"Get going!" Doyle repeated, gesturing towards the impatient Ojana. "You know you won't make it if you try to drag me along."
The shrill note of a whistle jerked Bodie's head up; he glanced back at his partner, nodded once, then turned and ran, pushing his nervous charge ahead of him into the undergrowth.
Silence fell. Bodie had gone, and as yet there was still no sound of the hunters. Doyle twisted awkwardly, trying to sit up, gritting his teeth against the pain as he examined the wound. Bad enough--he wouldn't be going anywhere on that leg for a while--but it would heal cleanly... would have healed, he added, acknowledging that there was little time left.
Damn stupid way to end up! A revolution in one of those ten-a-penny countries whose fate, since Independence, had been to become the bloody battle-ground for one warring faction after another. A deposed leader, no better and no worse than all the others, who had to be rescued from the new regime; of little importance in himself, the information he carried in his head would give the government an edge with his successors. No official involvement, of course; send in a couple of men... and Bodie knew the country, had fought over it in his mercenary days.
Two men had succeeded where an army might have failed. A frantic race across country with armed men at their heels. Abandoning the jeep, taking to the trees; the plantation within sight. A waiting helicopter, and a fast ride across the border to safety.
Not so easy, though. One of the mercenaries must have circled, got ahead of them, slowed down as they were by Ojana. He'd laid his ambush well, Doyle conceded; only the startled flight of some small unseen animal had betrayed his presence. And he'd been fast--even as he was exposed he fired, missing Ojana, his primary target, but hitting Doyle. Bodie had fired in the same instant, killing his man with clean efficiency, but their cover was lost, and Doyle was out of the running.
Wincing again as he shifted position, Doyle grinned mirthlessly as the clatter of helicopter blades shattered the silence. Bodie was safe... that was something...
Wondering a little at the intensity of his relief, Doyle at last spared a thought for his own circumstances. There were two courses open to him, assuming his pursuers didn't simply shoot him on sight: he could surrender and hope for an opportunity to escape; or he could go down fighting, taking as many of them as he could with him.
Neither alternative looked very promising. If he resisted, he would not leave the clearing alive, yet given the state of his leg, escape in the near future was virtually impossible. The thought of a show trial and entombment in one of the hell-camps that passed for prisons in this part of the world was not something he regarded with enthusiasm.
However, there was Bodie. His partner was a stubborn, resourceful man, and let Cowley order or threaten as he would, Doyle knew that his fellow agent would move heaven and earth to get him out. It was a slim chance, but the only one he had; he would surrender, and take the gamble.
The decision made, still sheer instinct brought Doyle's gun up defensively as the undergrowth rustled near him; he held his breath, then relaxed with a sigh of exasperation as the tall figure emerged from concealment.
"You want to watch what you're doing with that, sunshine," his partner remarked, moving forward to kneel beside him. "You could've shot me."
"Maybe I should've done. What the hell are you playing at, Bodie? Ojana..."
"Safe, and on his way." Bodie waved a negligent hand skywards. "I heaved him on board the chopper and came back. I had an idea."
"Must've been the first time," Doyle grumbled, somehow holding still as Bodie touched his leg. "You could've got me out later."
"No chance." Bodie dug into one of his pockets, pulling out a field dressing. "I know this bunch. They'd shoot you without a second thought, mate."
"Great. So now they get two of us instead of one."
"No. I told you. I know them. And they know me." Bodie's hands were unexpectedly gentle as he applied the dressing. "Their commander owes me--it's time to collect." He laughed mirthlessly. "Some of my past misdeeds catching up with me. Well, you know what they say about old sins. We can use a few shadows right now. But Doyle... it's..."
"Quiet!" Doyle held up a hand, listening intently. "They're coming."
"Yeah, we don't have much time. Throw your gun away. Quickly!" Bodie tossed his own weapon to lie beside Doyle's and returned to the task of dressing the injured leg.
"Listen," he said abruptly. "There's no time now to explain. There's a chance, but it's a slim one, and you'll have to play along. Are you game?"
"Okay. Follow my lead. Do everything I tell you. Most of this I'll have to play by ear, and one false move from you will wreck everything. Don't argue, don't ask why--if I say anything, agree with me, if I give you an order, jump to it. Can you do that?"
Doyle held his partner's gaze steadily. "I'll do it."
"Right. We start now."
Movement at the edge of the clearing caught Doyle's eye. A dozen mercenaries emerged from the trees, guns trained unwaveringly on the two men. Doyle touched his companion's shoulder and jerked his head in their direction.
Bodie glanced round and nodded to the leader, who had come close to them. "Hi, Giorgio. Be with you in a minute." He turned back to Doyle and secured the bandage. "How does that feel?"
"Just don't try the hundred-yard dash." Bodie ruffled the tumbled curls, then rose and turned to face the mercenary; he was relaxed, seemingly unperturbed by the weapons still trained on him.
The leader came closer. "Bodie," he nodded in recognition.
"Been a long time, Giorgio." Bodie raised his hands. "The usual procedure?"
At Giorgio's snapped order two of the mercenaries came forward and searched Bodie. Somewhat to Doyle's surprise they took nothing from him, merely satisfied themselves that he was unarmed. Convinced of that, they turned to Doyle.
"Careful," Bodie warned. "It wouldn't be a good idea to hurt him."
The search was thorough, impersonal but considerate. "Nothing," one of the men reported, straightening. "What do you want done with them, Colonel? They killed De Torre."
"Fortune of war," the mercenary shrugged. "He should have been more careful. With Bodie around, we got off lightly."
"Thank you," Bodie grinned.
"You were one of the best--you still are." The hard eyes moved to Doyle. "And this is...?"
"Doyle. My partner."
Without quite understanding why, Doyle felt a prickle of revulsion as the grey eyes held his. Something about that steady, appraising gaze was disconcerting, warning him of danger, and it was with a profound sense of relief that he saw Giorgio look away.
"And what brings you here, my friend?"
Bodie shrugged. "Same as you. A job to be done, and it paid well."
"On the wrong side," Giorgio murmured.
"The losing side," Bodie countered. "That's happened before--to both of us."
"True." Giorgio turned to receive a report from one of his men. "Our transport has arrived. We will talk further back at the base. There's a medic there for your... partner." The gaze shifted to Doyle. "Want any help?" He held out his hand.
"I can manage him."
Swiftly Bodie was between them, half lifting Doyle to his feet, supporting him so that no weight rested on the injured leg. He grinned apologetically. "Sorry for the indignity, mate, but we'll get on faster this way." As he spoke he lifted Doyle into his arms.
About to protest, the smaller man thought better of it. Bodie had warned him not to protest any of his decisions, and if the truth were told, he was grateful not to have to make his own way over the rough ground.
A jeep and an open truck were waiting just over half a mile away. Giorgio took his place in the jeep with three of the mercenaries, the others climbed into the truck, crowding up to make room for Bodie and Doyle. One of them pushed a pack over as a support for Doyle's leg.
"Thanks, mate," Bodie grunted, supporting his partner with his body.
White teeth flashed in a grin. "Is nothing." The name patch on his uniform read Tomas.
The man across from them leaned over, holding out a flask. "Water. Drink."
Gratefully Doyle obeyed, wondering as he did so at the reactions of the men. He and Bodie had killed one of their companions, yet they seemed to have no interest in revenge. Was it because Bodie had been greeted by their leader?
Conscious of his partner's gaze, he looked up, and Bodie grinned reassuringly. "You can stop worrying, Ray. We'll not be shot--not yet, anyway."
"Huh?" That was just what Doyle had been expecting.
"That's the way it is out here," the other man explained. "Remember what I told you, Ray? We're only in this for the money--all of us--on both sides. Oh, we'll fight if we have to while the job's on, and you do sometimes get personal grudge fights, but once the war's over, that's it. You don't go about killing a man you might want to recruit for the next job."
Doyle thought about that for a moment. It was an aspect of a mercenary's life that had not previously occurred to him, but on reflection it made sense. Of a sort.
"He is new to this, your friend?" Tomas asked Bodie.
"It's his first time out here, but don't let that fool you. He's good."
"As the partner of Bodie must be, yes?" The man leaned forward. "And from what I have heard, the partner of Bodie is never available. This is true?"
"You'd better believe it." Bodie's voice was cold. "No trespassers, my friend."
"A pity." Tomas leaned back with a comical expression of regret.
With the feeling that the two men were speaking a language he couldn't quite understand, Doyle glanced up enquiringly, but Bodie's arm tightened in warning, and the question remained unasked. The dark head bent lower, and with his lips almost touching Doyle's ear Bodie whispered, "Later." Then, aloud, he added, "Try to rest."
Resigned, Doyle leaned back against the supporting arm and closed his eyes.
They had been travelling for over an hour when the vehicles swung off the road through a heavy gate and came to rest in the middle of a small military camp. Wooden huts surrounded a central square, the whole enclosed by a high fence.
The mercenaries disembarked, and Giorgio came over to join them, calling an order to the driver as he did so. The truck moved off, and stopped again in front of one of the huts.
"Detention block. Sorry, it's the best I can do to give you some privacy." Giorgio indicated the hut. "Make yourselves at home. I'll send the medic over, and try to rustle up some clean clothes for you both. Perhaps you'll have dinner with me tonight? We've a lot to catch up on, Bodie."
"Fine." Bodie climbed out, watched the Colonel's retreating figure, then turned to lift his partner from the truck. "It won't be much," he confided cheerfully, "But it's a lot better than we looked like having an hour ago."
Doyle was forced to agree as Bodie carried him inside. The detention block was empty, the cell doors standing wide. The place was scrupulously clean, each cell containing a cot with a bare mattress. Just inside the door was a small area with a table, chairs, and a stove--presumably for the use of the guards; at the far end of the hut an open door revealed a washroom.
"Giorgio runs a tight operation," Bodie grunted, lowering Doyle to one of the chairs. "Hold on there while I see what I can find."
He rummaged in a cupboard, emerging with a grin of triumph and a tin of coffee. "Just the thing." Lighting the fire in the stove he set water to boil, whistling tunelessly as he waited. When it was ready he spooned coffee into mugs he found in the cupboard, added water, and handed a mug to Doyle.
"Here, get this down you. You sure you're okay?" he added.
"Yeah, fine." Doyle sipped the coffee, grateful for the warmth. "What now?"
"Now... we get you cleaned up." Bodie's voice held a note of warning. "Give me a hand, Tomas?"
Doyle turned; the man from the truck had entered silently, carrying a pile of blankets, folded clothes and towels.
"I help," Tomas agreed cheerfully. "The medic comes--and the Colonel send these."
"Thanks." Bodie tossed the clothes onto the bunk in the nearest cell, and handed the towels back to Tomas. The problem of moving his injured partner was solved by the simple expedient of picking him up and carrying him down to the bathroom.
Between them the two men stripped Doyle quickly and efficiently, careful not to jar the injured leg. It was Bodie who washed and dried his partner, noting with some alarm the cold clamminess of his skin, and the valiant effort he made not to cry out each time he was moved.
"Where's that medic?" Bodie demanded impatiently when he had wrapped Doyle in a blanket, carried him back to the cell, and settled him on the cot.
"All present and correct, Mr. Bodie, sir," a lazy voice spoke from behind him, and the agent turned slowly.
"Sven. So you're still here."
"As you see." The fair-haired man moved closer to the bed. "Let me get to my patient."
"He's all yours--metaphorically speaking, of course." Bodie made room for the man, but perched on the edge of the bed, watching intently.
"So you're Bodie's partner." Gentle hands probed the wound, and Doyle caught his breath. "Sorry. Is he still the same bastard?"
"Probably." Doyle tensed again.
"If you've both finished destroying my character," Bodie snorted. "Ray Doyle--Sven Haakon. Fix him up for me, mate--if you know what's good for you."
"I'm still a doctor, even if they did strike me off. He'll get the best I can give."
"I know. Sorry, mate."
The two pairs of blue eyes held for a moment, and Doyle felt that prickle of apprehension again. There was something between these men--some shadow out of Bodie's past--and Doyle was suddenly sure that he did not want to know what it was.
Sven opened the bag he carried. "Hold him down, Bodie," he directed. "I can patch him up, but we're short of a few things now--anaesthetic being one of them. You know how it goes--near the end of a job they start cutting down on our supplies."
Bodie moved further up the bed, his body blocking Doyle's view, strong hands reaching out to force the other man down onto the bed.
"Tomas, hold his leg," Sven instructed. "This won't take long, Doyle, but it's going to hurt."
That was an understatement, Doyle thought as he fought to remain still, to ignore the fire that burned up his leg. He felt sick and giddy, and wasn't at all sure that he remained fully conscious--Bodie's face was wavering alarmingly.
"Easy now... easy."
Yes, it was Bodie's voice, he realised at last, and a gentle hand brushed the sweat from his forehead. "It's finished, Ray. What's the verdict, Sven?" he continued over his shoulder without removing his eyes from the pale face.
"The wound looks clean, but there could be infection," the medic reported. "Give him these pills, and let him sleep for a few hours. I'll look at it again in the morning--if I'm not happy, there's a hospital just over the border. I'll see you get there. How do you feel, Doyle?"
"Better," Doyle managed. Although the pain had diminished the alarming dizziness was back, the room reeling around him as he was lifted and supported against Bodie's shoulder. Something was placed in his mouth, and a cup was held to his lips; he swallowed instinctively, choking down the pills.
"Good." That was Sven again. "He should sleep now. Give him these when he wakes up if the pain's bad. I think that's all."
The voices were fading in and out now, and Doyle had to strain to listen as he was settled back against the pillows.
"I owe you one. And Bodie... be careful."
"This one... he's special?"
"You could say that."
"Giorgio... is hungry."
"And he'll stay that way, mate." Bodie's voice was coldly determined.
Doyle gave up the struggle to stay awake, and relaxed into a deep sleep. The two men by the bed stood looking down at him for a moment, then moved away.
"Coffee?" Bodie offered.
"Yeah, fine." Sven took the mug between his hands. "It's been a long time..."
It was dusk when Doyle awoke to find Bodie standing by the bed. Behind him he caught a glimpse of Tomas, and did not need his partner's warning glance to bite back the questions that hovered on his lips.
Bodie's eyes held silent approval. "Dinner with our host, remember?" he remarked conversationally. "Feel up to it, Ray?"
"Suppose so." Doyle accepted a hand to sit up. "What about clothes?"
With some difficulty--and Bodie's assistance--Doyle hauled on the clean clothes Giorgio had supplied; his partner had already changed, he noticed. Dressed, he glanced up belligerently.
"You're not hauling me around like a babe in arms again," he declared positively.
Bodie chuckled. "Wouldn't dream of it, mate. Tomas, lend a hand, will you?"
The two men joined hands to provide a surprisingly stable seat; Doyle, his hands resting on a shoulder of each, grudgingly admitted that his position was less embarrassing than being carried by Bodie.
Crossing the compound, they arrived at the largest of the huts. Giorgio was waiting to welcome them. The interior showed all the signs of hurried but methodical packing; despite that a table set for dinner stood in the middle of the floor.
There were several other guests, among them the doctor. The Colonel introduced them, some fully, some by surname only; Doyle found himself wondering how many of the names were genuine. As they took their places at the table he looked around, aware of some... quality... these men had in common with Bodie--something he instinctively feared and distrusted... and yet he could accept it in his partner. He wondered why. It had always been there in the background, but real, solid, a ruthless quality that made Bodie the agent he was. Just how deep did it go? Doyle wondered now. He had always assumed that there was a limit to his partner's ruthlessness, but watching him now, so much at home among these cold-eyed mercenaries, he found that certainty slipping away from him.
The conversation during the meal was general, and it quickly became clear that most of those present knew Bodie, either personally or by reputation; references and allusions were made, which Bodie picked up and returned, fitting into the company as smoothly as though he had never been away.
As for Doyle... Gradually he became aware that Giorgio was watching him intently. Uncomfortable under the scrutiny, he was grateful for the quiet conversation of Sven, on his other side, since Bodie was too absorbed to spare him more than a word or two.
Gradually, however, Doyle became more than just uncomfortable. There was danger here. Hardly surprising, since they were prisoners, if apparently valued ones, and yet it was more than that; he could not identify the source, or the reason for his conviction, and it troubled him.
At the end of the meal the group remained at the table. A fine old brandy was circulated, and as Bodie turned to fill his glass, Doyle caught his eye. Using their almost telepathic ability to communicate without words, he signalled, "Danger!" Bodie's eyes flickered in acknowledgement. "Understood."
To Doyle's profound relief, Bodie remained turned towards him. "How do you feel?" he asked quietly.
As he answered, Doyle was watching his partner; Bodie glanced around the table, his gaze finally resting on the Colonel; Doyle saw the almost imperceptible tightening of his lips, and knew that Bodie was very, very angry.
When he spoke again though, his tone was light as he leaned back in his chair, sipping his brandy. "Well, Giorgio, what can you tell me about your plans now?"
One of the men at the far end of the table looked up abruptly. "What is this? You question us? Do you dare to spy?"
"Gunther, you are too suspicious." The Colonel sounded amused. "You must learn to judge more carefully. Bodie asked, 'What can you tell me?' He understands the need for security--better than you do, my friend."
Turning to Bodie, Giorgio continued, "Our operation here is finished--as I believe yours is?" Bodie nodded agreement. "I received our final payment today; tomorrow we pull out. You and your partner will go with us. We will take you across the border and ensure that you have transport to safety. Thereafter, I intend to relax for a few months. But tell me, Bodie, what have you been doing? I have heard nothing of you for the last few years--I had begun to think you dead."
Bodie shrugged. "I wanted a change. Went back home, joined the Paras--I was in the SAS for a while. Then I met Doyle here; we teamed up, and we've been working together ever since."
"Got bored, didn't I? Fancied taking up the old trade again. Doyle came with me. This is his first job."
"Hmm. Do you have any plans?"
"We'll be out of commission until that leg heals. After that I'll see what's on offer."
Giorgio leaned forward. "There's a place with me, for both of you. You're still one of the best, Bodie, and if Doyle's your partner, so is he. Interested?"
"I'll be recruiting in six months. Contact me in Geneva--the usual place."
"We'll do that." Bodie turned to make some casual remark to his partner, a worried frown crossing his face as he saw Doyle's pallor. He was just wondering how soon they could leave when at a signal from Giorgio the other guests rose, said goodnight, and left.
"Sven, the brandy." Giorgio smiled disarmingly. "One last drink, Bodie?"
The doctor moved round filling the glasses, then resumed his seat. Doyle tensed, the sense of danger growing stronger. He caught Bodie's eye, and the blue gaze was oddly reassuring; satisfied, Doyle left his partner to handle the problem--whatever it was; he was out of his depths here, and he knew it.
At last Bodie set his empty glass back on the table and rose. "Time for your beauty sleep, sunshine," he said cheerfully, holding out his hand to help Doyle to his feet.
"Doyle stays here."
"Spoils of war, Bodie." Giorgio's voice held a warning.
"Not this time, Giorgio. He's mine."
"I could take him."
"You could. But you'd have to kill me first, and there's no guarantee you could do that. And if you could... you wouldn't be able to relax for a minute. He'd tear your throat out with his teeth if it was the only way to get at you." Bodie rested a hand on Doyle's shoulder. "Unless you kill us both, you'll never close your eyes again without wondering if we'll find you. Right, Ray?"
"Right." Doyle was none too sure he'd understood the situation fully, but he knew that suddenly the danger was right here, right now, and that it touched both himself and Bodie.
"Rather a waste, don't you think?" Bodie continued smoothly. "We're far more valuable to you alive. I can see the temptation... but is it worth it?"
Giorgio looked from Bodie's still face, the eyes alight with warning, to Doyle's coldly-furious green gaze. "So... it's an exclusive."
"You'd better believe it."
"He's that special?"
"Special enough for me to choke the life out of anyone who lays a finger on him." The voice was calm, but Doyle felt the tremor in the hand that rested on his shoulder.
Giorgio sighed, his hands sketching a gesture of defeat. "He is worth a try."
"I can't blame you for that," Bodie conceded. He glanced at the doctor, who had remained silent during the scene. "Sven, give me a hand, will you?"
The doctor came across to help Bodie. Giorgio was all smiling amiability, holding the door open for them as they made their awkward way out, bidding them a cheerful goodnight.
Bodie replied in the same vein, but as the door of the hut closed behind them, leaving them in the shadows of the dimly-lit compound, he gave vent to his feelings in an explosive, "Damn!"
"Quiet, Bodie!" Sven said tensely. "Don't take a chance now."
Bodie made no reply, and they finished the journey in silence. Back in the hut he accepted Sven's help to settle Doyle on the bed, undress him, and check the bandages.
Finally the doctor laid two pills beside the bed. "Are you sure..." he began.
"Not here!" Taking Sven by the arm, Bodie steered him towards the door, where the two men fell into intent conversation.
Craning his neck, Doyle could just see them, and their attitude puzzled him. Sven was talking, quickly, urgently, and Bodie was shaking his head violently. Finally the doctor reached out and shook the stubborn man, as though emphasising his words. Bodie's shoulders slumped in resignation, he nodded once, tightly, and as Sven left the hut he closed the door behind him, standing for a moment deep in thought before he returned to the cell.
Doyle hunched himself up in the bed to make room as his partner sat down. "When do you start explaining?"
"Right now. How much of that conversation with Giorgio did you follow?"
"Too much, if I got it right. Suppose you just give me the whole story?"
"Okay." Bodie turned away. "The gamble I took was that Giorgio wouldn't kill us when he saw it was me he was chasing. I won that one, and bought us some time, but there's a problem. Giorgio wants you."
Bodie swung round, his eyes bright with anger. "You can't be that dumb, Ray! He wants to screw you."
The smaller man nodded. "I thought that was it, but I had to be sure." His voice was calm, but his eyes held revulsion. "Let's have the rest of it."
Bodie shrugged. "Out here, women are as rare as hen's teeth. It gets lonely. After a while the thought of having someone in your bed becomes an obsession. Even another man begins to look good."
Bodie nodded. "Giorgio was the first, when I was new to the game. When he lost interest, we kept in touch--I worked for him a few times. Anyway... Usually it's just a one-night-stand, or a short-lived relationship, but--just sometimes--a couple stay together. Exclusively. I told him you belonged to me, and he backed off."
"Just like that?"
"Yeah, well... He owes me one. There was a guy once... I was shot, and out of action for a while. When I got back, Giorgio had moved in. The guy seemed happy enough, and I'd gone off him a bit by then anyway, so I didn't push it. But I could have done. Giorgio reckons he owes me--luckily for us."
"And if he didn't?"
"You're spoils of war, sunshine. He'd have fought me for you. And I couldn't guarantee to beat him--he's damned good."
"Well, you won't have to fight for my... uh... virtue, so there's no problem." Doyle's voice sharpened suddenly as his partner's gaze dropped. "Is there?"
"Yeah, I'm afraid there is. Sven just told me. Giorgio isn't 100% convinced. He's smart--reckons you don't react to me quite right. He wants you real bad, Ray; he's backed off for the moment, but we've got to convince him."
"You and me, mate. We've got to put on a show for Giorgio."
"No way!" Doyle's green eyes glinted with anger. "I'm not going to be pawed about by you in front of an audience to amuse that... that..."
"It won't be like that," Bodie said flatly. "Sven and I worked something out. He's going to tell Giorgio that he's sure about us, but suggest that they check up."
"Oh yeah?" Doyle sneered. "How're they going to do that--mate?"
"Bed check." Bodie's voice was strained now. "This guardroom--there's a way of looking into the cells from outside." His gaze touched Doyle's, slid away. "I can make it look convincing, Ray, without actually... But you've got to go along with it."
"And if I don't?" Doyle said tightly.
"One of two things. At best, Giorgio'll make me fight for you. I might win... At worst, he'll simply have his men lock me up, or shoot me. If he does--or if I lose... you're in trouble. I mean it."
"Yeah, I can see you do." Doyle hesitated. He wanted to argue further, but one look at his partner's face told him how serious the situation was. To gain time he asked, "What... uh... what will we have to do?"
"It's not as bad as you think," Bodie hastened to reassure his partner. "He'll think he sees more than actually happens." Bodie rose. "When I come back, we'll start. But don't worry--once I put the light out he'll not be able to see anything much. Then... later... we pretend to be asleep. Sven will tell Giorgio he gave us a couple of sleeping pills. They'll probably come in to check at close quarters. Look, Ray... it won't be so bad. I won't... I mean..."
"Okay, I'll do it." Doyle knew there was no point in making things worse. Somehow he managed an uncertain grin. "But you'll have your work cut out, mate--I don't fancy you one bit."
"I'll manage." Bodie matched his partner's tone. "Just don't fight it, huh?"
"You mean, you can? Just like that?"
"I've done it before," Bodie reminded him briefly. Turning, he picked up a towel. "I'll go shower."
"Can you trust this Sven character? He seems to be pretty thick with Giorgio. Why should he stick his neck out for us?"
Bodie kept his back turned. "I was his first feller. Took out a real nutter who had his eye on him. Sven knows what could have happened to him if I hadn't come along. He reckons he owes me, too." With that, he left the cell.
Doyle grew increasingly nervous as he waited for Bodie to return. He'd never... And with Bodie... It seemed unreal. Still, he'd trusted the man with everything else that mattered, and it was down to Bodie that he wasn't lying dead back in that clearing. No-one would have blamed him if he'd taken off with Ojana...
His tension increased as Bodie returned, carrying his folded clothes, a towel slung around his hips. He took one look at Doyle's face, went for a glass of water, and handed him one of the tablets Sven had left on his first visit.
"Here," he said gruffly. "This'll help the leg."
Doyle swallowed the tablet obediently. Bodie took the glass from him, set it aside, and turned back to his partner.
Savagely Doyle fought down a wave of panic as Bodie leaned closer. A warm mouth touched his, and he closed his eyes, surprised to find that the kiss was not as unpleasant as he had feared. Bodie's lips were warm, softer than he imagined possible; hesitantly he slid his arms around the broad shoulders, relaxing a little, allowing the other man to pull him closer.
Bodie broke the kiss, and slid his mouth to Doyle's ear. "You okay?"
Afraid to answer, Doyle simply nodded, lifting one hand to touch the short hair; at the pressure Bodie turned his head, and their lips met again.
The kiss lasted longer this time, and although Bodie moved his mouth on Doyle's he made no attempt to force the other man's lips apart; the embrace looked more passionate than it was, Doyle realised, and the last of his nervousness left him.
At last Bodie pulled away, and stood up, crossing the room to switch out the light. As he came back, a dark shadow in the dimness of the room, Doyle inched further over on the bed, dropping his gaze as Bodie removed the towel and turned back the covers, slipping in beside him.
Despite his new intention to relax, every muscle stiffened as a warm hand closed over his shoulder. Conscious of the ears that might be listening, he pressed closer, whispering.
"Bodie..." There was a hint of panic in his voice. "I don't think I can..."
"It's okay," Bodie's voice breathed into his ear. "Just relax, Ray--let me do it. Don't fight me..."
Warm fingers stroked him, travelling confidently over his skin, each touch producing an involuntary shiver. The sensations were not unpleasant, but it was with some surprise that Doyle felt the first stirrings of arousal. Shocked at his response, he pulled away; Bodie drew him back.
"Don't worry about it," he whispered, his voice the merest thread of sound. "Your response doesn't mean anything. Remember, a man knows how to turn another man on--and I've had plenty of practice. Just relax, Ray... please."
Oddly reassured, Doyle made himself lie still, fighting the urge to pull away, willing himself to accept the caresses, even finding a grim humour in the situation. He had endured pain without flinching, here he was shrinking from... pleasure? Yes, it was pleasant... not something he'd have chosen, but the experienced fingers moving over his flesh were producing a definite reaction.
Gradually Bodie moved his hands downwards until his fingers curled around firming flesh, and his touch grew more insistent, demanding response... and receiving it.
Doyle groaned as the threads of fire coiled languidly through his body. He made no protest when Bodie's free arm encircled his shoulders, drawing him closer. Everything narrowed down to the harsh sound of his partner's breathing, the urgent hands on his body, his own mounting excitement. He no longer cared that it was Bodie who held him, that a man's touch produced this pleasure; he threw his head back, then caught his breath as the tremors of climax shook him, whirling him to dizzy heights of sheer physical enjoyment.
As he lay gasping for breath it scarcely registered that a warm mouth touched his lips for a moment; only when his head began to clear, and he realised that he was clinging tightly to Bodie, did a sudden wave of embarrassment sweep over him. God, had he made a complete fool of himself?
"It's okay--it's over." Bodie still spoke in that scarcely-heard whisper, his voice slightly breathless. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine." Doyle managed to get his voice under control. Wanting to reassure his partner, he added lightly, "You know, that wasn't too bad."
"We aim to please." Bodie seemed to have himself in hand again. He settled comfortably, pulling Doyle closer. "Now, if you can just get your head on my shoulder... That's fine. Comfortable? Good. Now don't panic, but Giorgio'll probably look in on us, to check. Just don't let on you're awake, remember. We're supposed to look like a couple of lovebirds snuggled up together."
"Snuggled?" Doyle choked back a laugh. "No way--you're too bony in all the wrong places, mate." Beneath the blankets a prodding finger emphasised his words.
"All the right ones, you mean," Bodie retorted indignantly. "Get some sleep if you can, Ray."
To his surprise, Doyle did find himself dozing off. It was a cool night, there was no heating in the hut, and the warmth of Bodie's body was pleasant. He was well aware of the picture they must present, arms and legs entwined, but he couldn't seem to worry about it as much as he thought he should. It was only another part they were playing, after all.
Then suddenly he was fully awake, responding as Bodie's fingers tightened in warning on his shoulder. The door of the hut had opened, the light snapped on, and footsteps were approaching the cell.
In his half-sleep he had turned his face against Bodie's neck; he lay unmoving, thankful that his face was hidden, breathing in the deep relaxed rhythm of sleep.
"You were right, Sven." Giorgio's voice held a note of regret. "There'd be no reason for them to sleep together if they weren't making it."
"I did tell you. Bodie's crazy about him."
"He told you?"
"Yeah, when I gave him a hand to put Doyle to bed. I put out a couple of feelers, just on the off-chance they'd agree to a foursome, but Bodie wasn't having any."
"Pity. Still, if they join up with us in Geneva, who knows? I want Bodie in on that next job too badly to risk pushing him over Doyle." A note of speculation entered the Colonel's voice. "You reckon he laid Doyle tonight?"
"I wouldn't count on it. Doyle's leg's been giving him hell." There was a trace of anxiety in Sven's voice, making Doyle realise the risk the doctor was running in covering for them by lying to the Colonel. He was doing it for Bodie's sake, of course--Doyle was well aware that his safety counted for little with these men--but three lives would be at risk if Giorgio discovered he had been tricked.
That realisation enabled Doyle to lie unmoving as the bedcover was pulled down, exposing his naked body entwined with Bodie's. His partner had anticipated the Colonel's curiosity, and had arranged for them to be discovered in a situation that must surely dispel any suspicion.
Obviously, Giorgio was satisfied. "That Bodie!" he chuckled. "I swear, he could turn on a dead man."
"I'm beginning to think so," Sven agreed, sounding relieved and admiring at once.
Doyle was forced to control a grin as he realised that the doctor was impressed by Bodie's success in so quickly persuading his 100% heterosexual partner to agree to the pretence. And only Bodie could do it, he added silently.
"Doyle is certainly attractive." The Colonel's voice now held a note of gloating appraisal that made Doyle glad he couldn't see the man's face. "I'm almost tempted... But no." With a decisive movement Giorgio pulled the cover back into place. "Bodie is too valuable to me to risk losing his co-operation. I would certainly have to kill him and probably Doyle as well. A pity."
The footsteps retreated, the light was switched off, and the door of the hut closed quietly. Doyle allowed himself a heartfelt sigh of relief, and was answered by an amused chuckle close to his ear.
"I'd say Giorgio was well and truly convinced," Bodie murmured.
"I hope so," Doyle retorted, lifting his head from Bodie's shoulder. "Can't say I fancy a repeat performance--you're not exactly my ideal... Damn!"
"My leg. Knocked it when I moved," Doyle answered briefly.
"You bet. I hope your Sven knows what he's doing."
"He does. He's a good doctor--he made a bad mistake once, though. That's why he's here." Bodie sat up. "Here--take another of these tablets--they'll help you to sleep."
"Thanks." Doyle took the proffered tablet and swallowed it with a gulp. "Where're you going?" he added as Bodie turned back the covers.
"To get some sleep."
Doyle considered for a moment. It was decidedly cold now in the hut, and all the blankets were on his bed.
"You might as well stay here. You never know--Giorgio might take it into his head to come back. It'll look a bit odd if you're not here."
"Okay." Bodie relaxed with a sigh. "It'll be warmer here, anyway, Just sing out if I'm crowding you."
Nevertheless, on the narrow cot it was necessary for them to sleep close together. Doyle rested his head on Bodie's shoulder, thinking about the scene they had just played. Something struck him as odd, but he couldn't quite think what it was; he was on the verge of sleep when he realised that although he had responded to his partner's handling, he hadn't touched Bodie in return--and yet the other man had climaxed. Vaguely, he wondered why, but had not explained it to his satisfaction when sleep overtook him.
In the morning Doyle was feverish, and his leg was swollen, hot to the touch. In response to Bodie's urgent summons, Sven checked the wound, cleaned and re-bandaged it.
"There is some infection," he admitted, nervously aware of the anger in Bodie's eyes. "It could be serious--and I don't have anything here to treat it."
"Then you'd better think of something, hadn't you?" Bodie suggested quietly, but there was a note in his voice that the doctor recognised, a note that told him he was on dangerous ground.
"There's a mission hospital just over the border," he suggested at last. "If Giorgio lets us have a jeep, we can take him there at once instead of waiting until the rest of the unit pull out."
"See about it, then. And Sven, remember... if anything happens to him, I'm not going to be pleased. With anyone. Got it?"
Sven got it. He left hurriedly, marshalling his most convincing arguments to persuade Giorgio that it would be wiser to free Bodie and his too-attractive partner ahead of schedule rather than face Bodie's anger if Doyle's treatment was delayed. Somehow, he didn't think the Colonel would take much convincing.
Nor did he. In less than an hour Bodie was lifting Doyle's shivering, blanket-wrapped body into a jeep. He took his place, supporting his partner's head on his lap, and watched impatiently as Sven slid into the driving seat. Giorgio leaned over the side to bid them goodbye.
"You've got enough money to make your own way out," he told Sven. "Your pay will be banked for you as usual. Bodie, are you okay for cash?"
"I've got enough."
"Good. You'll have to play it by ear when you reach the mission, but they won't refuse to treat Doyle. And if it sets your mind at rest, I know the place--the staff are good. He'll be all right."
Bodie nodded. "Thanks, Giorgio. I won't forget."
"Then I hope to see you in Geneva." The Colonel's eyes moved to Doyle. "Both of you," he added softly. "You are fortunate, my friend."
"I know." Bodie spoke casually, but there was a note of warning in his voice as he settled his partner more comfortably. "Be seeing you, Giorgio. Come on, Sven--let's get going."
The jeep moved off, and Doyle's blurred vision cleared long enough to afford him a momentary glimpse of the Colonel's face. He did not think Bodie had seen, and was grateful for that even as he shivered at the realisation of what that hungry gaze would have meant for him had he been taken alive--and alone--by the mercenaries.
The journey to the mission hospital lasted four days, although Doyle was unaware of the passage of time. He alternated between a semi-conscious delirium of pain and fever, and all-too-brief periods of merciful unconsciousness. During the journey Bodie never left his side, holding his shaking body when the tremors racked him, bathing his sweating skin with water, and trying in every way he knew to ease the discomfort of travelling. Doyle seemed to know he was there, and clung to his partner as to a lifeline, the pitiful shuddering much less violent when Bodie held him; after one brief attempt to share the driving with Sven, Bodie was forced to return to his place in the back of the jeep, his touch calming the violent threshing that weakened his already exhausted body.
When he examined the wound that night, Sven could not hide his unease. The run-down of the mercenary operation had left him short of drugs and equipment--there was little he could do now but dole out his last few painkillers sparingly, trying to keep a tiny reserve in case of some unforeseen delay. A knot of fear coiled tighter in his stomach as he realised that Doyle might not live to reach the mission; and if he died there was no telling how the unpredictable Bodie would react. Past friendship and gratitude might not be enough to protect him if Bodie took it into his head that he had not done all he could to save Doyle.
As for Bodie himself, he had not needed to watch Sven's face as he dressed the infected wound; if Doyle could be brought to whimper with pain, his condition was serious indeed. He had seen men injured before, far worse than this, and had felt nothing. But this was Doyle. And that made all the difference.
Just before sunset on the fourth day after leaving camp the jeep pulled into the compound of the mission hospital. Doyle was hurriedly transferred to the tiny but fully-equipped surgery, while Sven conferred with the mission doctor, outlining his patient's case and treatment. Bodie followed the stretcher to the door of the theatre, then propped himself up against the wall, refusing the head nurse's offer of a seat in the waiting room. He had come this far with Doyle, and could go no further, but it seemed to him that the closer he was, the better his partner's chances would be. Ridiculous, of course, and a startling reminder--not that he needed one--of just how important a part Ray Doyle played in his life. If anything went wrong in there... He closed the thought off firmly, refusing to acknowledge that anything could happen to his partner while he was there to prevent it, refusing to admit that this time there was nothing he could do. Nothing but wait.
Sensing a presence at his side he turned to face Sven. "Nothing yet," he said in response to the man's enquiring glance.
"Well, it takes time. But I'm sure he'll make it, Bodie--I wouldn't lie to you."
For a moment their eyes held as each remembered the weeks they had once shared. There was a question in Sven's eyes, but the small hope he had entertained faded as he recognised the denial in Bodie's.
"I'm sorry." The taller man's voice held a gentleness that conjured memories of long-ago jungle nights when that same voice had soothed a novice's fears. "He matters."
"Then he's lucky. But you.... He's not...?"
"Christ no!" Bodie's eyes widened in alarm at the thought. "He played along because he saw it was our only chance, but if he thought I meant it, he'd take me apart."
Sven, remembering the clouded green gaze that had fastened on Bodie's face with perfect trust and hope, wondered at that; but this was no time to raise his friend's hopes.
"Look, I've got to be going," he said at last. "You'll be okay?"
"Yeah, fine. I can contact my... boss from here--he'll get us out. Don't worry. And Sven... thanks. For everything."
"You're welcome." Sven touched his ex-lover's shoulder for a moment, then walked quickly away. At the bend in the corridor he glanced back. Bodie's eyes were again fixed on the door that hid Doyle from him--he had already forgotten that Sven existed.
With a wry smile Sven turned and walked on. Quickly--before he could yield to the overwhelming, and, he knew, useless, urge to return to the man who most certainly did not want him.
Ray Doyle came abruptly awake to a dimly-lit room, a raging thirst, and a numbness in his injured leg that at first comforted, then frightened him. Even as he turned his head on the pillow, a hand reached out from the shadows to cover his.
"Rest easy." Bodie's voice was rough with fatigue. "It's going to be okay, Ray. You haven't lost your leg."
With his first words his partner had answered the question he had not dared to ask. Somehow, Doyle managed a grin. "...thirsty..." he croaked.
At once he was lifted, supported against Bodie's shoulder, and a glass was held to his lips. He drank thirstily, but too soon the water was removed, and he was lowered again.
"More later," Bodie promised. "Try to sleep now."
Doyle narrowed his eyes, focussing on the face leaning over him. "You too, mate."
"Uh-huh." Bodie folded himself back into the chair that had been drawn up by the bed, watching as his partner's eyes closed. Only then did he allow himself to drift off into a light sleep, broken each time Doyle stirred or caught his breath.
A most satisfactory solution, he reflected, settling himself again into the chair after replacing the cover disturbed by his partner's movements. He'd brought Doyle safely out of Giorgio's hands, and within a few days he would be fit enough to leave hospital. Then it would be back to London, to normality, away from these velvet tropical nights that held far too many memories... far too many temptations...
Ray Doyle slid into the driving seat and closed the door with a bang. A last-minute flight had recalled his girl of the moment back to duty unexpectedly just as things were getting interesting. Trouble was, he mused sourly, that while it was too early to call it a night, it was also far too late to call anyone else. A wasted evening, in fact, he continued as he headed back towards his flat.
Recognising a familiar stretch of road, he acted on impulse and pulled into the car park of a pub. Not one of his regular haunts, it was a place he and Bodie used occasionally--and if his memory served him, there was always the chance of picking up an agreeable companion for what remained of the night.
He was out of the car and heading for the entrance when a flash of recognition pulled his head round abruptly. Half-hidden in the shadows, where one of the lights was missing, was Bodie's car.
'Course, there was always the chance that his partner was with a girl--in which case, he promised himself virtuously, he would not cut in--but if by any chance Bodie was on his own, it would be good to spend some time together. Cowley'd kept them hard at it since their return to London, and time off had been pretty scarce lately.
In the pub, Doyle collected a drink and propped himself in a corner of the balcony that overlooked the main room, studying the sea of heads below. The place was crowded, but within moments he had spotted Bodie; his partner was leaning forward, deep in animated conversation with someone.
More disappointed than he had expected to be, Doyle shrugged. A girl, after all. Well, he'd finish his drink and make a discreet exit. He'd just have a look at Bodie's date first, though--might be fun to tease his partner about her later...
Then a man who had been blocking his view moved suddenly, revealing Bodie's companion, and Doyle stiffened--it was Sven.
As he watched, Bodie smiled and laughingly shook his head. A storm of anger shook Doyle, its intensity bewildering him even as it surged. His partner had said nothing of this meeting... perhaps it was accidental? Or... perhaps not.
Two girls sitting at one of the tables on the balcony smiled invitingly as Doyle moved towards them, but he was unaware of their interest, having eyes only for the two men below. He leaned over the railing, grateful for the pillar that cast a shadow over his face--even if Bodie looked up, and there was no reason why he should, he would not be seen.
Sven was leaning forward, gesturing emphatically as he spoke; Bodie was listening intently, with the air of a man interested in what was being said, but reluctant to believe it. He shook his head again, decisively, then lifted his glass and drained it; the subject--whatever it was--was closed.
Then Doyle was moving, pushing his way down the narrow staircase and out into the car park. Bodie and Sven had stood up to leave, and he had responded instinctively to their movement. He was not quite sure why, but he didn't want to be seen, not until he had brought some order to the chaotic jumble of thoughts and impressions that filled his mind.
He was already behind the wheel when the two men emerged and entered Bodie's car, following smoothly as his partner turned out onto the main road, keeping at a safe distance but making sure he kept the other car in sight. Almost angrily, Doyle concentrated on his driving, refusing to think about why he was following Bodie like this, knowing only that he had to.
The leading car pulled into the kerb outside one of London's better hotels. Doyle killed his lights and drew in a few yards behind on the other side of the road. He leaned forward as Sven got out and walked round to the driver's side, leaning down to the window. There was a brief exchange, then Doyle released the breath he had not been aware he was holding as the doctor straightened, turned, and walked into the hotel--alone.
Surprised at his feeling of relief, he almost missed Bodie's swift acceleration away; muttering under his breath he slid the car into gear and followed, relaxing imperceptibly as the streets around him took on a familiar appearance. He was prepared this time, already parked before Bodie stopped at his own door and vanished inside.
Drawing another ragged breath Doyle leaned forward, watching as the familiar window sprang into light; Bodie was safely home, and it didn't look as though he would be leaving again tonight... but if he did, Doyle's vantage point would give him ample warning.
Slowly, then, Doyle leaned back in his seat, lacing his fingers behind his head, and for the first time he allowed himself to think about what he had just done, and why he had done it.
The whole thing was ridiculous! Sneaking around, spying on Bodie like... like...
Angrily he sought the most insulting comparison he could find. Yes, he had been acting like a lovesick schoolgirl jealously shadowing her boyfriend, fearful that he was dating another girl. Involuntarily his lips curved as the sheer ludicrousness of the image struck him--Bodie as a pimply teenager!--but he could not deny that those same emotions had been called into play.
Jealousy. Over Bodie. Not a pretty picture, he told himself savagely.
But that was just what it was, he added honestly. Since their return to London he'd seen Bodie with a girl a few times, and it hadn't bothered him; only tonight, and the meeting with Sven, had brought a lump to his throat and a painful tightness to his belly.
All right. Face it. He was jealous. Those anonymous girls had been no threat to the relationship he had with his friend--they had been as meaningless as his own diversions. But Sven... Sven, with all the memories he evoked... with the unguessed-at power he wielded because he and Bodie had once been...
Or as near to it as Bodie would permit.
And what had been once, could be again.
During the long hours of the journey to the mission, Doyle had been conscious far more often than either Bodie or Sven had realised. He had not always allowed it to show; it had been far easier just to lie, eyes closed, accepting the pain it took so much effort to fight.
But he had been clear-headed, alert, for much of the time. He had felt the gentleness in the hands that tended him, and heard the desperate anguish in the voice that pleaded with him to live. He had remembered the touch of those hands in the hut, and had known what Bodie had struggled to hide from him. He had felt the touch of lust, of counterfeit passion, many times in his life, often enough to know the difference; Bodie had touched him with love.
In the dark hours he had listened to the conversations between Bodie and Sven, hearing what was said--and more, what was not said. Sven had hoped to renew the relationship, and Bodie had refused... because of Doyle.
Bodie--arrogant, confident, touch-me-not Bodie--loved him... and wanted him.
To the increasingly feverish Doyle there had been nothing surprising or frightening in that. It even made a kind of weird sense--every day they trusted each other with their lives, so why not with this, too? He had even tried to explain that, to make Bodie understand, but the pain and fever roughened his voice, blurring his words to a confused, gasping babble.
Then when he had awoken in the hospital, Bodie had been there--but cool, distant, his concern firmly back under its skin of flippant comment, and he had not dared to speak. Perhaps he had been wrong... in his delirium he might have read more into his friend's words and actions than had been there. If he was wrong, he could lose what they had built so carefully over the years, the absolute trust and the teasingly-affectionate confidence that had made them the team they were.
"Better half a loaf," he had shrugged, accepting that it was all he would have; gradually, as the weeks went by, he had buried the feelings decently, returning almost with relief to the long-familiar companionship they had forged from their very different natures. It had been enough, until that sight of Bodie and Sven together.
But... what did he want? Doyle hunched forward, stiffening suddenly as a silhouette appeared at the lighted window above. He could see Bodie's outline clearly as he lifted a glass to his lips and drank, then stood gazing out over the city below. Doyle watched him curiously, aware that he could not be seen. It was time to decide... and he was not sure what he wanted.
He could simply do nothing. If he left now, Bodie would never know he had been here. Nothing would change between them, for Doyle knew with absolute certainty that Bodie would never make a move towards him. He'd have to put that night out of his mind, surround himself with the life that had seemed so satisfying until now, and refuse to admit that there could be anything more.
Or... he could get out of this car and go to Bodie now.
Was that what he wanted? Doyle wondered. And if it was, would it work out for them? Could it?
Even as he asked the question his body answered for him, remembering the touch of his partner's hands, the feel of the warm body close to his. He wanted that again, and this time without any pretence between them. Bodie had aroused him... and in turn had been aroused by Doyle's response, for he had received no reciprocal caresses. Sex between them would be good... and Doyle knew that there was more, much more, that they could share--if they dared to reach for it. Bodie might need some persuading that he meant it, but not too much--where his own desires and pleasures were concerned, he was hardly the self-denying type. So, it all depended on Doyle...
Calmly, he faced the problems--not just Cowley, society, his family, but their own stubborn natures. It wouldn't be a placid relationship, it certainly wouldn't be easy... but it was what he wanted.
Slowly, his mouth dry with anticipation, Doyle slid out of the car, cast one speculative, appraising glance at the familiar silhouette in the window, and moved with fast, eager strides to the door.
-- THE END --