Time Out: Past Tense
by Pamela Rose
Cowley was different today. Even the irrepressible Bodie was not inclined to levity. There was something about the set of the old man's face, a strange bleakness in his eyes, that stilled their tongues and made them distinctly uneasy.
The intense gaze rested first on Bodie. "Sit down, son."
Bodie half turned toward his partner, hoping for an antidote to the sense of doom crawling up his spine, but Doyle was as spooked as he. They'd known Cowley for years, but neither could recall such an air of defeat about him. It seemed an odd word to ever use in conjunction with George Cowley, yet nothing else could properly reflect the atmosphere in the office.
The old (another term they seldom associated with Cowley) man surveyed Bodie for several moments, causing him to squirm inwardly, wondering what he had done this time. Doyle, removed from the scrutiny, saw it as something far different and even more disturbing -- the expression of a father sending his son to the front line. He was startled and less than thrilled when that same expression was directed at him.
"You, too, 4.5. Sit down, lad."
Instead of obeying, Doyle stepped forward. "What is it, sir? What's wrong?"
Cowley didn't seem to hear, his eyes riveted once more on Bodie. He nodded approvingly. "You're a good lad, Bodie." He looked over at Doyle, including him in the melancholy smile. "You both are. Aye, good lads."
The generally glib Bodie was even more shaken by this benediction than his partner. "I don't understand, sir," he said uncertainly. "Is there is problem?"
A more familiar Cowley returned for a moment, scowling at his operatives with irritation. "I merely wanted to let you know I've appreciated your work over the years. What's so odd about that?"
"Uh...nothing, sir. Thank you, sir." Bodie rolled his eyes expressively at Doyle as Cowley leaned over to pull out the ever-present bottle of scotch from his desk. Doyle shrugged in reply, as confused as his partner.
"Here, have a drink, both of you," Cowley directed in his usual hearty tone, only the wasteful dribble over the edge of the glasses indicated his agitated state of mind. "Och, have all you want." He pushed the bottle across the desk and downed his own portion.
Bodie and Doyle exchanged another worried look, but picked up their glasses and drank. Doyle noted that Bodie took up the open offer and quickly refilled his own glass and reached automatically for his partner's empty. Doyle hesitated, then handed it over. He had the feeling it might be better to be fortified for the impending news, whatever it was.
Even after the second drink, Cowley remained silent, contemplating his desk top solemnly.
Bodie, the more impatient of the two and emboldened by the two neat whiskeys in succession, blurted out, "It's somethin' bad, innit?"
Cowley laughed. The strange bitterness of the sound was chilling. "Aye, Bodie. It's bad enough. Bad as can be."
As the old man gulped down still another scotch, they both wondered how many had been consumed before they arrived. Cowley wasn't drunk exactly, but he certainly wasn't quite himself either. As oddly as their boss was behaving, he seemed more human and approachable than usual. Doyle had no qualms about slamming his empty glass down on the desk and demanding, "What's all this about, sir?"
Cowley looked at them both, then stood, favoring his bad leg more than he had for some time. He limped to the window and stared out at the bleak cityscape.
"It's the end, lads."
There was a tense, perplexed moment of silence. Bodie looked at Doyle, shrugged.
"End, sir?" It came out a soft chorus.
Ordinarily, this would have had him whipping around, tartly demanding the source of the echo. Now he remained facing the window, shoulders slumped. "Aye," he repeated flatly, "the end."
Their minds seethed with possibilities to explain this cryptic statement. End of CI5? End of Cowley's reign -- was he retiring at last? Or had they fouled up so badly in some unspecified manner they were being bounced from the squad? Considering Cowley's bizarre mood, anything seemed credible.
The old man returned to the desk and poured out another drink, for once truly looking his age and more.
Of the two of them, only Bodie had the nerve to ask, "End of what, sir?"
Instead of having his head snapped off as both of them fully anticipated, Cowley simply sat down and lowered his head. "No more lilacs," he whispered bitterly. "No more roses..."
Doyle's throat suddenly felt tight. He didn't think he'd ever heard the old man sound quite so lost. "Sir, I wish you'd just tell us straight out. I'd rather know the worst."
Cowley regarded him soberly. "I've some information. Shouldn't have even come to me, I suppose. Shouldn't be telling you either, for that matter. But I've still some ties with MI6 so it leaked to me through very improper channels..." He shook his head. "Doesn't matter. Nothing any of us can do, of course. Better not to've known at all..." He trailed off again; took another drink, and straightened his shoulders. "But I do know. Have to do the best I can with it." He seemed to have recovered some of his steel. He pulled off his spectacles and tossed them on the desk. "Within a week, perhaps less, the button will be pushed. It's finally come to that."
Doyle was the first to understand. "You mean...World War III? A nuclear war?"
"Aye, though it's doubtful there'll be much of a war, lad. Not after the first few hours."
Doyle sat down very suddenly in the chair beside Bodie's. Bodie shook his head, still puzzled. "But how do you know this, sir? How can you possibly know?"
"I wish it were a hoax, Bodie. I wish-- But it's gone too far to be averted. The other side knows about it now. As far as that goes, most of the major governments on Earth know about it and are making their plans to retaliate -- or perhaps even strike the first blow. There's no backing off from it. It's too late."
Doyle looked up bleakly. "Who--?"
"Does it really matter, Doyle?" Cowley cut in. "An egomaniac backed by madmen who are insane enough to believe they can actually win a nuclear war if they are first off the mark. Or perhaps spark off a war in another direction. We found out when one of their pack developed second thoughts and ran. It was too late even then. When he defected, his government decided to send an ultimatum and deadline to the opposing leader. Once it was out, they couldn't afford to back down, even if they wanted to. The other side would never believe they had abandoned their original plans. The situation has escalated beyond one or two superpowers and their heavy-handed politics. What are the odds that someone, somewhere, out of all the dozens of countries who've bought, stolen or developed that particularly nasty weapon won't take this as open season on insanity? The fuse has been lit and there's no way to stop its burn."
Doyle's mouth felt very dry. "You said...a week?" He hardly recognized his own voice.
"Probably less. Someone's bound to get trigger happy." Cowley rubbed his face tiredly. "Do in your enemy before they do you in. A bloody free-for-all."
Doyle looked to Bodie, but the blue eyes were unreadable, refusing to meet his. Doyle chewed his bottom lip thoughtfully, then straightened. "So what do we do, sir?"
Cowley's gaze softened on the round, young face. "I expected something of the kind from you, 4.5." He shifted his view to the other. "And you, 3.7? What do you say?"
Bodie shrugged. "Not sure I believe it, sir." His voice was carefully nonchalant.
Cowley stared at him. "No, lad, you believe it." He gestured toward Doyle. "A good deal more than he does. You believe it in your gut."
Bodie met the old man's eyes squarely, not denying his lost illusions and refusing to mourn them. He'd learned human nature at a very early age; few things surprised him.
"All right, I believe it. What do you want me to say then? If it's for real this time, there's not much to say, is there?"
"God help us, it's real enough." Cowley steepled his fingers together, knuckles white with pressure.
Doyle stood nervously. "You didn't answer my question, sir," he prodded. "What do we do about this?"
"There's nothing we can do, 4.5."
Doyle blinked in surprise at the flat answer. "Maybe not to stop it, but..." Doyle spread his hands helplessly. "What about warnings being issued? Shelters being assigned? Some kind of emergency plan--"
"Wake up, Doyle," Cowley said harshly. "None of that is feasible. All we would accomplish would be to have a horrendous panic on our hands. Hundreds of thousands would die before the first attack even took place."
"Yes, but we can't simply sit back and do nothing, can we? All those people--"
"All those people would trample each other like cattle," Cowley said brutally. "There simply aren't enough shelters to house a fraction of them, and no guarantee that the shelters would even make a difference. They are mostly outdated, poorly stocked, and totally inadequate against any kind of direct assault."
Doyle clenched his fists, frustrated and furious. "We should have been prepared for this. We should still do something. Anything! There might be a chance for some ... even if only a few."
Cowley shook his head. "No chance. Use your common sense, lad. Better to keep a bit of dignity than to go out like rabble. Why make the suffering worse by creating a panic? It's not like it'll make a difference, not in this. Except that we might give John Q. Public a few more days of peace this way."
"Ignorance is bliss," Bodie muttered under his breath.
Doyle slumped back down in the chair. A strong hand gripped his shoulder but he didn't turn to Bodie, too absorbed with trying to accept the unacceptable.
"Don't you think I've considered all this?" Cowley said softly. "For the last ten hours I've thought of nothing else. But going public will make it even more of a tragedy. This was the Prime Minister's decision, not mine. I just happen to agree with her."
There was a long, empty silence.
Cowley finally looked across his desk at the two of them. "Enough of this," he said brusquely. "You're both relieved of duty. There's nothing ... nothing that needs takin' care of now."
Bodie's hold on Doyle's shoulder tightened painfully. "Come on, Ray."
Doyle stood obediently, but faced the old man. "Why did you tell us?" he demanded quietly.
Cowley started to speak, then shook his head. "I thought... No, it doesn't matter. Perhaps it was just wishful thinking." His smile was rueful. "Or perhaps misery truly loves company." The smile faded as he picked up his glasses and toyed with them aimlessly. "I just thought for once I would tell you what I know. You both deserve that from me. Deserve the time to make peace with yourselves in your own ways." He shook his head again. "Go on with you now. Get out of here and leave me some scotch." Then he added gently, "Good luck to both of you."
"And to you, sir," Bodie answered for them both, tugging Doyle's arm in the direction of the door. Doyle was still staring at Cowley, expression confused, hurt and disbelieving. Bodie was anxious to remove him from the office before he dug in his heels. "Let's go, mate. Ray!"
Doyle looked at him blankly, but followed his urging. Outside the office, however, he stopped cold. "Bodie, wait--"
"Not now," Bodie replied shortly. "Are you comin' or not?"
Doyle glanced back at the closed door, then at his partner's retreating back. Feeling torn, he trailed Bodie to the car park. They were driving Doyle's car today, but Bodie automatically slid behind the wheel of the Escort. Doyle climbed in the passenger seat without comment.
"Where are we going?" Doyle inquired dully as he handed over the keys.
The other man was somewhat paler than normal, but the old Bodie grin was miraculously intact, if somewhat unsteady. "For another stiff drink, what else?"
"No, Bodie. No pub. We've got to talk. Can't talk there, can we?"
"Your flat then. You've usually got some decent malt stashed away. No point in saving it, is there?"
The blue eyes concentrated on the London traffic. "Yeh?"
"Do you really believe any of this?"
The tires notably did not squeal as he turned a corner with careful precision, speed well below the legal limits. Oddly enough, the sense of impending doom had transformed him into a model driver. "What's not to believe, sunshine? It's not exactly unexpected, is it? Surprised the maniacs waited this long. We're just lucky to have some warning."
"Lucky?" Doyle's head jerked around. "I wouldn't call it that."
One muscular shoulder shrugged. "Anyway, you can't be all that shocked about it. Bound to happen sooner or later. Don't you listen to the newscasts?"
His partner's matter-of-factness was having a calming effect. Doyle leaned back in the seat, letting out his breath in a long sigh. "Thought you just caught the rugger scores."
Bodie grinned. "Ah, now be fair. Very up on current affairs, I am."
Doyle fell silent, droping his head back against the headrest and closing his eyes. After a minute, he said softly, "I suppose it does seem inevitable. Pandora's box..." He shook his head. "In spite of all that, y'know I never really reckoned it'd go this far. Never believed the human race was suicidal."
"Not suicidal, Ray," Bodie said grimly, "just bloodthirsty. You can bet the ones pushin' the buttons won't die so quick. Oh, no. They'll be nice and snug with enough provisions to last ten years."
"Ten years might not be enough if it....when it happens," Doyle pointed out.
"Maybe not. No one really knows, do they? It's mostly speculation. This end of the world stuff -- forty years of guessing how much we'll kill. Not that it matters. Just the existence of a weapon ensures itchy trigger fingers; especially when it ends up in the hands of people who don't think they got a lot to lose. Fuckin' fanatics. Religious nutters. It's a bloody miracle it's taken this long."
"We don't know who started this," Doyle pointed out, eternally the fair one.
"No, but I'll wager my next paycheck on it."
"Easy bet," Doyle murmured darkly.
Bodie blinked. "Yeh, right. No next paycheck at all."
Doyle opened his eyes and looked up at the drizzle on the windscreen. "I still can't believe this is real. I had more faith in people than this. No matter how crazy it seemed, I always figured someone would come along and call a halt to it before it got out of hand. Call time out." A thought occurred to him and he turned his head to Bodie. "Hey, maybe it's not real. What if it's just a test to see how we'd take it? One of Ross's stress indicators--"
Stopping at a light, Bodie just looked at him.
Doyle slumped further down in the seat, conceding his half-hearted attempt to grasp at straws. "All right, but maybe Cowley's mistaken. Maybe it's just another scare and it'll all blow over."
The light changed and Bodie foot nudged the accelerator. "The Cow doesn't scare that easily, Ray. You know he's right. He's always right."
Bodie glanced over. "It must be hell to be an idealist. The only sure thing is disappointment."
Doyle didn't reply and Bodie had time to regret the remark. "Sorry, Ray. I shouldn't have said that."
Doyle rubbed his nose absently. "'S okay. You're right, after all."
The remainder of the journey was accomplished in silence, each caught in his own forebodings and regrets. Neither spoke until they reached the flat. Bodie poured them both large drinks and settled down beside his partner on the sofa.
"Cheers," he offered drily. Doyle glared at him, but took a large gulp of the whiskey.
"Why so gloomy, Ray?" Bodie quipped, "It's only the downfall of modern civilization as we know it."
Doyle drained his glass and slammed it down on the table. "It's no time for your bloody black humor, Bodie!"
The dark eyes appraised him coolly.
"Name a better time," he challenged.
Doyle had no reply to that. He took a deep breath and let it out shakily. "Sorry. No reason to take it out on you. Well, what do we do now, then?"
Bodie contemplated his whiskey glass, having anticipated this question and already formulated an answer. "We get the hell out, mate."
The curly head turned to him. "Eh? What do you mean, `get out'? Where's to run from this, for god's sake?"
"There're places. New Zealand, for one. Australia, maybe. The action will be in the northern hemisphere. Most of the big targets are here -- Moscow, Washington, Tel Aviv, Teheran, Peking; not to mention the NATO bases in Europe and here in Britain. If there's a chance anywhere, it'd be at the other end of the world."
"Ever hear of nuclear winter, Bodie?" Doyle said sarcastically. "Do you honestly think there'll be a single spot that isn't affected by this?"
"I didn't say the odds were fantastic, just that it's the best bet on the books. I doubt if anybody will waste a bomb on Sydney or Wellington. It's worth a try anyway. Better than sitting here waitin' to be turned to glowing ashes."
Doyle stared at him. "You're serious, aren't you? You'd walk out, just like that?"
Bodie's jaw tightened under the condemning green eyes. "No, I figured I'd pack a bag first; have the most expensive dinner in London, and--"
"You can't mean it."
"And why the hell not? What's to keep us here?" Bodie heard the defensive note in his voice and tried to squelch it. "Listen, mate, why do you think the ol' man told us in the first place? Gave us a chance to make dash for it, didn't he? Bloody decent of him. The least we can do is take advantage of it."
"How do you know that's why he told us?" Doyle demanded angrily. "The Cow won't be leaving, will he? He'll stick it out, you know that."
Bodie shifted uncomfortably. "Why else would he tell us, dammit? Besides, for all you know he may have a first class reservation--" He stopped abruptly at Doyle's expression. "Okay, so I'll give you that much. The ol' man will hang about to the end. What's that to do with us?"
"It's our country, too, Bodie."
Bodie laughed. The sound was as bitter and black as anything Doyle had ever heard from him. "Don't go all broody and patriotic on me, Ray. Britain's barely had the power to piss by itself for the last forty years. The Empire's long gone, constable, and there's bloody little left to defend."
"I don't believe you're saying this, Bodie. You were in the Army; it must've meant something to you."
"Yeh, it meant a flaming pay chit every other fortnight, clean clothes, and food in me belly. Didn't have much of that in Africa, did I? Made for a nice change, didn't it?"
Doyle shook his head stubbornly. "No. That's a load of crap. Someone else might buy your hard line, but not me, mate. I've known you too long to fall for the tough act. England means a lot to you. It's our home, Bodie! Home. And those people out there, they mean something to you, too. Enough so we can't run out on them when they don't even have a chance to try."
Bodie stood, face flushed. "Come off it, Doyle! What do you expect we can do for those people anyway? Die beside them? Very noble. But also very bloody stupid! Not me, mate. The name of my country is Bodie, and I believe in protecting its one and only citizen -- me!"
Strangely enough, Bodie's outburst seemed to cement Doyle's resolution. He poured another drink and sipped it slowly, anger dying. "I understand, Bodie. I'm scared, too, y'know."
"Too bloody right, I'm scared!" Bodie yelled. "You'd have to be a damned fool not to be." He paced the room restlessly, suddenly uncertain and irritated by Doyle's continued silence, wondering how "we" leaving had suddenly became only himself. It hadn't been what he'd intended.
Finally, he sat back down beside his partner, trying to be reasonable. "Listen, sunshine, you have to admit there's nothing we can do by stayin', don't you? Even Cowley made that clear. Can't risk a panic -- could end up as nasty as the bombs without the advantage of being quick. Once it starts ... well, it won't be like the Blitz, mate. It'll be too quick and final for that. Chances are there'll be nobody left to help, Ray. It'll all be gone -- including us. What good will that do?"
When Doyle didn't answer, Bodie continued impatiently, "You know I'm right, so what's the point of all this? Do you have any better answer?"
Doyle shook his head solemnly. "No. No answers."
Bodie relaxed. "That's settled then. I'll check out the earliest flight--"
"I'm not leaving," Doyle cut in quietly.
"Oh, for chrissake! What the hell are you thinkin' about? You're not generally so thick, Doyle. We can't do any good here, do you understand?"
"I'm not leaving," he repeated flatly. "I don't have any answers, but in here--" he jabbed at his chest, "--in here I know right from wrong. And I know running is wrong." He sighed. "No one's stopping you, Bodie. Do what you like."
Exasperated, Bodie ran his hand through his short-cropped hair "It's not fair, is that it? That we have a chance and they don't? Christ, Doyle, you know your trouble, don't you? You've never been off this bloody little island in your life. Take it from me, mate, this isn't everything. Stayin' here to fry with your fellow Englishmen won't make a friggin' bit of difference; no one will care what a sacrifice you're makin' or how fuckin' decent you are. No knighthood in it for you."
"Sod off, Bodie," Doyle finally retorted, riled at last. "You're a natural runner, I'm not. I've never run from anything in me life. I'm not startin' now."
"That's why you've a broken face an' I haven't," Bodie snarled back.
There was a split second of tense silence, before Doyle saw the humor in the situation and chuckled. "Jesus, Bodie, what are we fightin' about, anyway? The world's ready to blow itself to bits and here we are snipping at each other."
Bodie smiled. "Yeah." He touched Doyle's arm. "You see it my way then."
Doyle pulled away very carefully. "I didn't say that."
"Bodie, I said I'm not leaving, and I meant it. But I'm not asking you to stay."
"Bloody good thing, too!" Totally out of patience, he jumped to his feet and grabbed up his jacket. "I wasn't asking your permission!" At the door, he paused.
Unwillingly, Doyle looked up, drawn by the soft note in his partner's voice.
"Come with me?"
For a second, Doyle hesitated, nearly seduced by the pleading blue eyes and the very real note of entreaty in the voice. Then he shook his head, smiling regretfully. "I can't."
Bodie's face hardened. "You mean you won't."
Doyle met his eyes again. "Whatever."
"Ray, it's crazy to stay here!"
"I know." His gaze dropped and he twisted his glass in the palms of his hands. "I'm not blaming you for going. I understand."
Too angry and frustrated to answer, Bodie moved to the door and opened it. He paused. "You're a fool, Ray."
"Probably." Doyle smiled gently, temper unruffled. He looked Bodie over from head to foot, as if taking a mental picture. "Good luck, mate. I hope it works for you."
Bodie opened his mouth to speak, but found he couldn't. Instead, he slammed the door behind him with a crash that nearly cracked the door frame, punctuating his fury and irritation.
"So go then!" Doyle snarled, reacting instinctively. As he would have before.... And then he remembered.
Doyle dropped his face in his hands, a wave of depression taking him so strongly he felt sick. It should have been there earlier, when he first knew what was destined to happen, but somehow the presence of his strong, rock-steady partner had held it off. It was hard to be depressed around Bodie -- he rarely permitted it. Considering the circumstances, anyone in their right mind had the right to be depressed. But he had felt angry, confused, a dozen other emotions, but no depression. Perhaps it was only delayed reaction, but as long as Bodie was with him he felt like fighting someone, struggling against the facts, positive there was something he could do. Now he felt empty, lost. And so sad he thought he could die of just the sadness.
He wandered over to the window and stared down at the dirty pavement. Watched the people crossing the street, wondering what it would be like when it was nothing but fire and panic and pain. A week. Probably less.
He missed Bodie already, admired him. Envied his sense of survival. Mankind's only chance of going on, people like Bodie. Doyle smiled to himself, hoping Bodie found a very nice Eve somewhere in Australia or New Zealand. It was an amusing thought: Bodie as Adam. If he could place a wager, Doyle would take a piece of that one. A true survivor. God knew Bodie'd always had a good dash of neanderthal about him. Primeval man at his best...but with a dash of poetry.
Doyle jumped, startled, as the door crashed open -- pushed by a size eight foot backed by a powerful leg.
"That's it, Doyle!" Bodie announced, moving toward him.
"What are you doing back?" Doyle asked, feeling absurdly pleased.
"Come to get you. Fuck your bloody guilt complex, Doyle. You're coming away with me. Right now. Shut up and pack."
Doyle bristled immediately. "And who the hell do you think you are?"
Face to face with his partner, Bodie stopped. "Don't be daft. We're leavin' here, an' that's that."
Doyle took a deep breath, steadying both his temper and his racing heart. "I told you once, I'm not goin'. I've made up me mind, Bodie. Don't push."
"Oh, I'm not pushin'." A huge fist came up and leveled Doyle neatly. Gasping, Doyle lay on the floor looking up the tall form. "What'd you do that for?" he said plaintively.
"Talk some sense--"
Bodie was cut off abruptly as a well-placed kick dislocated his knees from a standing position. Before he could get his breath back, Doyle had him in an armlock.
"--into you," he finished breathlessly. "Not very grateful, are you?"
"Not when you go breaking me bloody jaw, I'm not!"
Bodie turned his head sideways, grinning engagingly. "Okay, so I misjudged the situation. You're breaking me arm. Lighten up, eh?"
Doyle considered it, knowing Bodie too well. But Bodie was too impatient to wait. With a very unorthodox move the Geneva Convention should never hear about, he twisted their positions and held Doyle helpless.
"Ready to talk now, sunshine?"
Doyle coughed and choked, unhurt, but unwilling to let his adversary know that. Bodie loosened his grip.
Doyle braced his foot against the wall and used it as leverage to flip over his partner, using the momentum to roll away and jump to his feet. Bodie stood as well, circling him warily, knowing Doyle's penchant for darting kicks and slick feints. Doyle in his hands was a far better bet; Doyle three meters away could be lethal.
Neither of them relished this kind of battle, far too aware of the other's talents, knowing each other's weaknesses and strengths could be as big a drawback as taking on a stranger. New tactics were in order, and both were too fond of the tried and true methods.
"Lay off, Bodie," Doyle panted. "There's no point."
"Let you stay here and cook, eh?"
"If that's what I want, what's it to you? What do you plan to do, knock me out and drag me on an Aussie plane?"
"If that's what it takes, but I reckoned a few bruises might bring you round to my way of thinkin'. If you're not hurtin' you always feel guilty. Figured a broken bone or two might be recompense--"
Doyle dropped his guard suddenly and backed off. "Oh, Bodie..." His voice was hardly audible. "Damn you."
Bodie's fists fell to his side. "Ray, don't do this. It's pointless. Come with me."
Doyle refused to turn. "Why'd you come back?"
The question stumped Bodie for a moment. He fumbled, "Figured you'd change your mind ... but wait too long. No point in your buying it with the rest. Not when you know. Seemed a waste..." He trailed off. "Dammit, Doyle, why do you want to hang around?"
"The same reason Cowley is."
Bodie made an impatient gesture. "Cowley's an old man. Can't change, can't adapt. You're--"
"You don't believe that either." Doyle swung around.
"Don't be a fool, Ray," Bodie pleaded desperately.
"Give it up, mate. I'm pleased you tried, but enough's enough. You don't really expect to drag me off unconscious, do you? That's the only way I'll go, y'know."
Bodie took a determined step toward him, but Doyle held his ground. "Don't, Bodie. Please."
The larger man's fists clenched, but then relaxed helplessly. "I don't understand you, Ray."
"Yes you do."
Their eyes held for a very long time before Bodie surrendered, waving his hand in dismissal.
"Okay then, that's it. I tried. So go to hell your own way, mate." He headed for the door, but stopped one more time. "I'm leaving," he announced rhetorically.
"Yeah, I see."
"I mean it, Doyle."
With a muffled curse, Bodie barrelled out the door and down the steps. Once on the street, however, he stopped. He didn't have time to worry about the world right now -- just about the bit of it that mattered most -- Ray Doyle. He looked back at the ugly stone building, clenching his teeth in frustration, feeling the urge to go back up and drag the stubborn little bugger down by a handful of curls. It might take a bit of doing, he admitted that, but he figured he could manage it with luck. Still, that was the last way to convince Ray of anything, and what business was it of his anyway if Doyle was determined to turn himself into a radioactive flicker.
He stood in the center of the pavement for a moment, feeling at a loss. It took a moment for him to realize his car wasn't here; they'd come in Doyle's. He'd have to catch a taxi. One rumbled by very shortly, but he didn't flag it down, instead he sank down on the bottom step feeling bewildered and oddly deprived of something vital.
He missed Doyle already. Even through his fury, he admired him. Envied his sense of conscience, his devotion to something outside himself. Bodie figured he must have had a bit of that himself once, long ago, but it had been squeezed out of him at a rather early age. He was too aware of his own mortality, knowing so well how easily death could come, and believing it was his primary duty to make sure it was delayed as long as possible. Doyle, on the other hand, in spite of his hard-headed practical nature on so many other things, never quite envisioned his own death. Intellectually, perhaps, but never emotionally. And now, Bodie suspected, he couldn't accept the death of the world. Or if he did and still didn't want to go, he was even crazier than Bodie gave him credit for. The situation was infuriating, but Bodie wasn't sure what to do about it.
Abruptly he realized that he was behaving as stupidly as Doyle, hanging around worrying about getting the stubborn little bugger out when he should be concerned with getting out himself. Enough was enough.
Making up his mind, he stood and moved briskly off in the direction of the underground.
After his partner's explosive exit, Doyle felt unaccountably better. It was good to know Bodie cared enough to try that hard. Surprising, but comforting. Bodie was okay. Best mate a man could ask for -- even if he could be a royal pain in the arse most of the time. Easily the best and truest friend he had ever possessed. And he couldn't deny the twinge of regret that he hadn't taken him up on the offer. Natural instinct did scream to run. To hide. But this was one thing you couldn't really hide from. It went beyond flood or fire or famine. It was elemental and total destruction. And what little would be left he wasn't sure he would be strong enough to live with.
He moved back to the window, settling down on the ledge. It was nearly dark now and the heavy sky had begun to spit snow. Not pretty, fluffy flakes, but the sharp, dreary drizzle that encouraged melancholy. He was still depressed, but it was more tolerable now. He felt rather like a cancer case who, after the first wave of shock, settled into a kind of fatalistic serenity.
How long he sat there, he didn't know. The silent limbo continued for a long time; unable to decide what to do or why he should do anything. A death sentence was a difficult thing to accept. He hadn't bothered to switch on any lights and the flat was dark and quiet. Very faintly he could hear the base rhythm of a hi-fi in the adjoining flat. It sounded like a heartbeat.
Another sound, very hushed, drew his attention. He didn't bother to turn, the lock on the door had already been busted, saving the dramatics. "Hello, Bodie," he said softly, warmth spreading through him, more potent than whisky. "How far did you get this time?"
The door closed. "The underground. It was rush hour. Too crowded."
Doyle smiled to himself. "Keep trying, mate. You might even reach the airport next time." He could hear the soft footsteps on the carpet approaching him.
"Damn you, Doyle."
He turned then. Bodie was a large shadow in the darkness. "Why'd you come back, Bodie?"
"You don't seem very surprised."
"Should I be?"
Bodie stepped closer, and Doyle could see his face in the pale light of the window, expression solemn and remote, holding some secret purpose. Beyond his selfish relief, Doyle felt uneasy, suddenly wary.
"I'm not changing my mind, y'know. You're wasting your time," he warned.
Bodie's left hand came up to cup the smaller man's cheek and Doyle's breath caught in his throat, startled by the action, confused by the fragile tenderness of the touch. He didn't move, wondering what Bodie was up to.
Bodie's voice was seductively silky. "Shouldn't have said that about your face; it being broken. It's a nice face, it is. Bit odd, but very nice." His index finger traced the damaged cheekbone. "Interesting."
Doyle cleared his throat awkwardly. "What are you doing, Bodie?"
The sensual lips curved mysteriously; his hand tilted Doyle's chin up infinitesimally, and his mouth lowered to within an inch of Doyle's. Doyle froze, unable to move, pulse suddenly racing. Their lips met; a delicate brushing, then a deeper promise of more. Bodie stopped and pulled back to look in the startled green eyes.
"I always wondered what it would be like, kissin' you."
Totally baffled by this turn of events, Doyle returned to their earlier disagreement. "You can't talk me out of stayin'," he began weakly.
Bodie smiled. "Didn't say a thing about it, did I?"
Bodie kissed him again, more definite this time, tongue slipping inside Doyle's mouth teasingly.
Doyle jerked back. "What is this? What the hell are you trying?"
"Told you, didn't I? Wanted to kiss you...find out what it was like. My last chance, isn't it? Come 'ere--"
Doyle held him off shakily, feeling as if the floor had failed him. His skin was tingling, and there was a rush of adrenaline through his veins as if he were entering a shootout. He licked his lips, they still felt heated by Bodie's mouth. His voice was unsteady. "I don't understand you."
Bodie grinned at the ironic echo of their earlier conversation. "Yes, you do." He grabbed him again, and this time the kiss was passionate and voraciously thorough. Doyle's mouth parted unwillingly at first, but Bodie was very good, and Doyle found himself surprisingly susceptible to the urging. It was some moments before he could back off, breathing raggedly.
"This is mad," he whispered hoarsely.
Bodie touched his face again, slipping his fingers in the tangled curls. "The world's mad, Ray. And you're quibbling about a little kiss between two old mates? That's a bit daft, isn't it?"
"What is it you want, Bodie?"
"I thought I'd made that obvious. You."
Angrily, Doyle pushed the hand away. He switched on a lamp, blinking at the sudden brightness. As he crossed the room, he could feel Bodie right on his heels, stalking him. He swung around abruptly. "Listen, I don't know what game you're at, but I'm not playin'. Bugger off."
The smug smile caused Doyle to flush.
"You know what I mean. Just tell me what you want, Bodie!"
"So you've satisfied your curiosity. That's enough, innit?"
"Not nearly enough."
Doyle retreated behind viciousness. "Turned up queer, have you?"
Unruffled, Bodie moved closer. "Maybe. Doesn't seem to mean much when you've only a few days left to live, does it?"
It was a nasty reminder of reality. He was right, of course. In less than a week odds were they would both be dead, along with millions of others. He looked at Bodie, strong and solid and so very alive, and while he could envision the destruction of a world, he couldn't possibly imagine this one man's extinction. No, not Bodie.
"Why are you still here, Bodie?" he asked tiredly. "You could be well on your way by now."
The muscular arms slipped around Doyle's slender frame. "Don't worry, I'm still buggin' out. After."
"After?" Doyle repeated, furious that his voice cracked on the word.
"After I've taken you to bed." He nuzzled the curls away from Doyle's ear. "Unless you really object, that is," he added as an afterthought.
Bewildered, Doyle didn't pull away. He wasn't sure what was happening and even less what he really wanted to happen, but he couldn't deny the pleasure of the embrace or the fact his heart was thumping double-time due to the lips and tongue inching sweetly down the side of his throat.
Characteristically cautious, especially about something as extraordinary as this, he tried one more time to make sense of his partner's actions. "Neither of us have ever--"
"Come off it, Ray. You're tellin' me it's never crossed your mind, ever, in all the time we've been together? You've never even wondered?"
Doyle didn't reply. Certainly it had, in a vague manner, in pleasantly erotic daydreams that were universal to everyone. Just because Bodie had played a part in a few didn't mean that--
Bodie interrupted his mental justification. "Listen, mate, don't make such heavy weather of it, will you? I'd like to give it a try -- last chance an' all that -- but if it's not for you, just say so. It wouldn't be much fun if I didn't get a little cooperation." His hand slid down Doyle's side, exploring, going to the front of the jeans and finding the responsive swelling. "Ah..." Bodie took in a quick breath, delighted at the evidence. "Yeah, you want it, too. Funny how a death sentence works on the ol' libido, eh?"
Doyle shivered as Bodie's fingers worked at the button on his jeans. "Bodie, I..." His protests were stilled as the exploring hand discovered flesh. He arched against the lovely pressure, gasping.
"That's better," Bodie purred, having sensed that once he got Ray going, it would be clear sailing. If nothing else, Doyle was a sensual little animal; he just took a bit of graphic convincing. After all, hadn't he spent the last few years setting up his haughty, uneager partner with various birds, only to find him wilder and more debauched than Bodie himself once he got down to it? Common sense for Raymond Doyle ended with a hard-on.
Unwilling to lose his advantage, Bodie pressed the point, teasing Doyle's cock while skillfully unbuttoning the cotton shirt. His mouth was busy on Doyle's throat, discovering an extremely sensitive spot beneath his left ear. Judging it was time, Bodie whispered, "Bed?" in that ear, and received a moan in answer.
By the time they reached the bedroom, Doyle's head had cleared a bit, but before he could speak, Bodie wisely used his own mouth to stifle anything he might say. It was not only easy, it was delightful, and Bodie threw himself zealously into his work.
Once his partner's mouth was pacified, Bodie moved down farther, tasting the nipples, tracing the sparse line of hair down to the groin. He paused long enough to divest Doyle of his jeans and shirt, and was gratified when Ray reached as eagerly for his clothing. There was a primitive passion in Doyle that snapped Bodie out of the cool calculation he felt earlier. His reason for seduction was forgotten in the tempest he had stirred.
Doyle's mouth and hands were as surprisingly knowing as Bodie's. And easily as arousing. If Doyle hadn't the hands-on experience, he'd certainly fantasied enough to place him in the expert category. Bodie went under before the third count.
They found themselves in the time-honored sixty-nine position. It was hot and sweet and something less than gentle. Bodie paused once to convey his concern. "Christ, Ray, watch it! That bloody chipped tooth of your's is liable to maim me!"
It settled down nicely after that, and they both lost track of time or rhyme or reason. Doyle came first, pulling free from his task to cry out his incredible pleasure. Hearing the exotic cat-in-heat sound, Bodie released as well, no longer needing the suction to pull it from him.
After a shattered moment of panting breaths, Bodie squirmed around in the bed and pulled Doyle to him.
"Should've followed my inclination sooner," he panted. "You're a hell of a lay, mate."
Doyle didn't answer, still recovering his breath and scattered senses. His cheek rested against the broad chest, one finger idly circling a nipple.
Bodie felt himself reacting to the light touch. "Keep that up, sunshine, and we'll 'ave another go at it quicker than I thought."
Doyle leaned over to flick on the bedside lamp. Settling back into the curve of Bodie's shoulder, he stroked his palm wonderingly down his partner's smooth body, feeling muscles ripple as Bodie responded to the petting.
"Why didn't I ever notice how bloody beautiful you are?"
He could almost feel Bodie's smug smile without looking up. "Dunno. Told you often enough, didn't I?"
Doyle chuckled. "That's true." He was quiet for a short time, considering something else. "I'm almost sorry we did this, y'know."
"Oh yeah? Why's that? Liked it, didn't you?"
"It'll be a lot harder watchin' you go this time," Doyle answered, ignoring the last question.
The arm around Doyle tightened. "Not goin' anywhere without you, Raymond."
Doyle pulled away, looking down into his partner's face. "So that was it, was it? What it was all about, eh? Figured it must be something like that. Sorry, mate, but it won't work. Haven't changed me mind, have I?"
Bodie's jaw hardened. "Well here's some guilt for you then. When this beautiful body you were talkin' about goes up like a Roman candle, it'll be your doing, cause I'm not leavin' either.
"I knew you'd pull something like this!" Doyle rolled away to the edge of the bed and sat up, reaching for his jeans. "Nice try, mate. You think that's heavy blackmail, but I'm not goin' for it! I didn't ask you to stay."
"I know that," Bodie said very reasonably. "But I'm not going without you, and since you won't go..." He spread his hands.
Doyle tossed his trousers back on the floor and faced his partner. "Damn you, you bastard. Don't lay it on me! It's your decision!"
"Yeah, that's right." There was a triumphant gleam in the blue eyes. "But you can't get 'round the fact you're the reason for it, can you?"
"Christ." Doyle drew his hands through his snarled curls. "Okay, so why the change of heart, eh? What happened to that country called Bodie?"
Bodie smiled sweetly. "I've made you an honorary citizen, mate."
Doyle took in a breath, lost for words.
Bodie shrugged again, "Besides, why so shocked? You're hanging about, why shouldn't I?"
Doyle was confused and irritated and hopelessly flattered. "You're doin' it for the wrong reasons, that's why!"
"Oh, I see!" Bodie said smoothly. "You're doing it to be a bloody martyr, and I'm just doing it to watch you be a bloody martyr. My hearts not in it, y'see."
"You're twisting it all around. That's not-- Damn you!" Doyle took another deep breath. "This doesn't make sense. You still haven't said why. Why you won't go without me."
Bodie hesitated; truthfully, he hadn't quite worked out the answer to that one himself. Seeing the uncertainty, Doyle jumped in with gleeful sarcasism, "Don't tell me -- you've fallen madly in love with me, right?"
Bodie felt a sense of shock at the words, knowing that was little more than the truth but unable to admit it, to himself even less than to Doyle. He covered quickly. "Listen, mate, it's like the ol' man's bum leg. It's a right pain to him sometimes, but he'd sooner hang on to it, just the same."
Doyle stared at him, wondering if Bodie realized what he'd just said and what it implied.
Bodie cleared his throat uncomfortably. "Well, it doesn't mean he's in love with his bloody leg, does it?" he repaired falteringly, half-way realizing the import of the bald statement, "He's just used to havin' it..." He shut up abruptly before he dug himself in any deeper.
Doyle throat felt very tight; he shut his eyes for a moment, trying to regain his perspective. A strange mixture of emotions churned inside him, and among them somewhere was a tiny, exalted bubble of happiness. Bodie had just admitted something, clumsily and in his usual bull-headed manner, but it meant more than any open, glib declaration of undying love, touched him more surely than the earlier seduction. And the fact that Bodie, himself, wasn't quite sure of what he'd let slip was oddly more endearing. It was important to keep up the facade; perhaps neither of them were ready to deal with it any other way.
He opened his eyes at last to meet Bodie's. "Okay, I'll go," he said softly.
The blue eyes widened at the sudden capitulation, startled by it. But Bodie smiled broadly, becoming smug again. "Knew I could talk you into anythin'. Silver tongue, that's me."
"Don't push it," Doyle growled. "An' stop hoggin' the bedcovers. Get off, you great lump, it's gettin' chilly in 'ere."
Bodie accommodated him easily, the built up tension flowing out of his body. With a laugh, he hugged Doyle to him and dragged the covers up over their shoulders. "That better, sweetheart?"
"Bodie," Doyle threatened, "if you start getting sickening, I'll thump you."
Bodie laughed again. He held Doyle to him, stroking down his back soothingly. "You know I had some other plans to get you out of here if this didn't work."
Doyle smiled to himself; Bodie was already covering, trying to convince them both that what had happened between them had been no more than another ploy. "Ummmm."
Bodie continued, unaffected by Doyle's seeming lack of interest. "I thought I'd dope you up, then pretend you were my defective brother or somethin'."
Doyle chuckled in spite of himself. "They'd never go for it, mate. Take one look at your 'classic beauty' then at me-- Absolutely no relation. You'd be nicked for kidnapping right off."
Bodie smiled. "You've a point. Maybe I could've been your keeper. Not far off there."
But Doyle's interest was elsewhere. His mouth found the pulse on the strong throat and lingered there, while his hand slid down the line of the breastbone, reaching the start of hair just at the base of the stomach. Bodie's breath caught as the fingers combed downward; his cock twitched at the anticipation of the touch.
"Bodie, there's something I want to do before we leave."
Bodie squirmed, encouraging the slim fingers to complete their journey. "Yeah," he said breathlessly, "go right ahead, mate."
Doyle withdrew. "Not that, you randy sod."
Disappointed, Bodie sighed. "What, then?"
"We have to see Cowley."
"What? Whatever for? "
Surprised at the harshness, Doyle glanced over at him. "Bodie, you know you're fond of the old man, why--"
"Yes, I'm fond of him," Bodie snapped. "But why make it harder for all of us by seein' him? Just to say goodbye again. I don't like goodbyes."
"No, it's not that. I think--" He paused.
"I think there was something...something he wanted us to do, but..." He trailed off, shaking his head. "I dunno."
"What could we do? He told us straight out there was nothing anyone could do."
"I know what he said. I just don't believe it. Cowley never does anything without a reason -- he must've had a reason for telling us all this."
"You're imagining things, Ray," Bodie said dampeningly. "If there was anything in his head, he would've told us, wouldn't he?"
"Maybe not. Maybe it was something he didn't think he had the right to ask us. Too dangerous, or--"
"Come on, mate! Since when has the Cow had a problem with that? He's sent us out to die more times than either of us can count. He wouldn't think twice about it again, if there was a chance."
"Yes, I know that, but still..." His mouth tightened stubbornly. "I'm still going to see him. You do as you like."
"We shouldn't waste time. It might happen any time. We might not have a week--"
"You were ready to waste time a minute ago," Doyle reminded him sharply. Bodie took in a sharp breath and let it out slowly, holding his temper. "Okay, sunshine, we'll go see the Cow. But first..." He rolled over on top of Doyle, looking down into the wide green eyes. "...we have some unfinished business."
It was nearly one in the morning when they reached Cowley's home. It had been such a strange, eventful evening, it seemed as if it should be much later.
"He'll kill us for wakin' him up," Bodie pointed out discouragingly.
Doyle glared at him. "You don't really think he's asleep, do you?"
"No lights on. Or did he run out of coins for the meter?" he added sarcastically. "This is a bad idea Ray, admit it."
"Okay, okay. But you ring the flamin' bell."
Doyle hesitated. "No, you do it. He likes you better."
The argument was disrupted by the door opening. "Well?" Cowley snapped, "Are you going to stand out there all night, waking up the block, or are you coming in?"
They looked at each other.
"You were up, sir?" Doyle said weakly.
"If I wasn't, that noisy motor of yours would have fixed it, wouldn't it, Doyle? Not to mention you two out here bickering on the doorstep."
They followed Cowley into the house and stood awkwardly. Cowley was in a dressing gown, but it was apparent that he hadn't been asleep. There was a small reading light on in the corner and several books were spread out by the easy chair. He turned on another light and gestured toward the sofa. "Sit down. Perhaps you'll tell me what you're doing here in the middle of the night."
There was an uncomfortable moment of silence. Doyle looked appealingly to Bodie. The blue eyes glared at him for putting him in this spot. Cowley was the last person to go for sentimental claptrap, and there didn't seem much left to say otherwise. Doyle seemed strangely tongue-tied, so Bodie jumped in.
"We're leaving, sir. Wanted you to know," he blurted.
"Aye?" He looked from one to the other. "Where do you plan to go?"
"Australia probably. Figured the best chance would be there."
Cowley nodded. "You could be right. If there's any chance at all."
"He hasn't seen On The Beach," Doyle offered blackly.
Cowley turned to him. "This wasn't your idea, I take it, Doyle?"
Doyle's eyes moved to Bodie. "Not ... originally, sir."
Bodie flushed, feeling defensive. "Well, you said yourself, sir, there was nothing to be done. I don't fancy sitting around waiting for it."
"It's fine, Bodie. You're quite right."
Bodie didn't feel right, he felt like a coward. Doyle refused to meet his eyes, and he wondered if that was the whole idea of coming here, to shame him. But surely Ray wouldn't stoop that low. Even so, it wouldn't work. Cowley, the master of clichés, certainly knew the one about better to be a live coward than a dead hero. The hell with Doyle or Cowley or their damned ideals.
But Doyle's thoughts were far from Bodie at the moment. He was still lingering on his copper's instinct, the feel of an unfinished case, a knot left unraveled.
"Sir, was there something you didn't tell us before?" he ventured. "Something we ought to know?"
Cowley stared at him. "And what could that be, 4.5?"
"I dunno, sir. It's just--"
Cowley cut him off. "I'm forgetting my manners. I've some excellent malt here. No point in saving it. Would either of you care for a drop?"
They both nodded. Cowley poured it out, handed it to them, and sat down across from them. "You were saying, Doyle?"
Doyle took a nervous sip of the whiskey, then another. It was easily the best he'd ever tasted, smooth as silk, with a flavor that spoke of great age and great expense.
"Now I really believe it's the end of the world," Bodie muttered under his breath. "He'd never've wasted this on us else."
Cowley obviously heard the comment, but let it pass. He was concentrating on Doyle now, and his gaze was very sharp and bright. "Well, Doyle? What makes you think I'm holding something back?"
"I ... uh ... didn't say that, sir. I just wondered... Are you positive there's nothing we can do, sir? Nothing at all?"
Cowley shifted his gaze to stare into his glass. "There just may be, Doyle. If you're truly interested."
Doyle sat up straighter, throwing a triumphant look at Bodie. Bodie nearly choked on his drink. There was a cold sinking in the pit of his stomach, quickly counteracting the warming liquor, and he cursed to himself. He'd never get the stubborn little bastard out of the country now, damn Cowley.
"What is it, sir?" Doyle prodded eagerly.
"You must understand that this is more than a long shot -- it's more of a wild card. Personally, I think it's all a lot of nonsense, but ... considering the circumstances, even something this bizarre is worth a try. I didn't suggest it earlier because, well, chances are that it's all fantasy. And even if it isn't, there are no guarantees that it'll do any good at all."
Doyle waited patiently for Cowley to continue, while Bodie squirmed uneasily, not liking the sound of this one bit.
"I have a friend," Cowley went on, and for one of the few times in his life, he truly seemed embarrassed. "An old school chum, actually. We've kept in touch over the years. His name is Price -- Leonard Jacob Price. He has held a position in the Ministry of Science for the past twenty years. Nothing particularly classified or important, just solid research work. It's his hobby that has more bearing on our present problems."
"What's his hobby, sir?" Doyle prompted at Cowley's apparent reluctance to continue.
"Time. He's spent the last thirty years studying time."
"You mean...history? Archeology? Stuff like that?"
"No, Doyle, time itself. As a physical manifestation, the same as others study matter and energy. Actually, now that you mention it, I believe some archeology has entered into his work peripherally as well. It has certainly affected his present findings."
"Which are?" Bodie asked darkly, not really wanting to hear.
Cowley took another drink, as if to fortify himself. "About a year ago, Leo rang me up to say he'd finally located what he called a ... transitional temporal focal point."
Bodie snickered. "He thinks 'e's got a bloody time machine!"
"Not exactly," Cowley said coldly, his face flushing, manifesting his own chagrin. "He believes he's found a place where the magnetic fields cross with the time flow in ... och, I don't remember all the mumblings he used -- probably made most of 'em up himself -- and shut up your laughin', Bodie! It sounds as bloody silly to me as it does to you."
"Then why are you bothering with it, sir? I mean, the man's obviously a nutter--" Bodie broke off at Cowley's glare. "Sorry, sir."
"Leo Price is many things, but insane he is not. A tad eccentric at times, but I guarantee he's far saner than you, 3.7."
Unlike Bodie, Doyle was immediately entranced by the concept. "A time machine," he said softly, green eyes glowing eagerly. "Do you think there might be something to it, sir? You must, or you wouldn't be bringing it up at all."
"I don't know what I think, Doyle. A desperate man will grab at any straw. I do know that Leo believes it, and I've known him too long to doubt his word. He says he's had some success with his experiments..." Cowley shrugged, obviously uneasy with the concept. No less than Bodie, he was a hardheaded and practical man. The fact he was even considering it a possibility was very telling.
Doyle's mind was leaping nimbly ahead. "You want to send us back, is that it? Change time! That's fantastic!"
"It's bloody ridiculous," Bodie mumbled.
Before they could say anything else, Cowley stood. "This is enough wild talk for one night. There's the spare room down the hall there, if you want to stay for what's left of the night. We can start for Cornwall in the morning, if you're of a mind to."
"Cornwall?" Bodie asked suspiciously.
"It's where Price has set up his ... experiment."
"Oh, Christ..." Bodie rubbed his hand over his face. "This is crazier than the bloody bombs."
Cowley looked them both over slowly. "You're right, Bodie, it is. Make up your minds whether you're coming with me or not."
They looked at each other.
"Damn it, Ray, you promised me. We don't have enough time to waste on this kind of rainbow chasing. We're getting out while we can."
"I know what I said, but you can't want to leave now! We've got to see this through, mate."
"See what through? This load of rubbish? You're willing to risk our chance of getting out to go check out some mad scientist's tinker toy?" Feeling Cowley's gaze, Bodie met his eyes squarely. "I'm sorry, sir. But I can't go for it."
Cowley nodded. "Certainly if I didn't know Leo myself, I'd feel precisely the same. Even now, I can't believe it. Like you, I'm not much given to fantasy. You do what you must. I understand, lad."
Bodie was suddenly, explosively furious. He jumped to his feet. "I wish you'd both stop understanding me! I'm the only one who's taking this with any kind of common sense, and you're both acting like I'm..." He trailed off helplessly, unwilling to give voice to the sense of disloyalty they were making him feel. "Listen, I don't like what's going to happen any more than either of you do. If there was something, anything I really thought would help, I'd give it a try. But I'll be damned if I'll keep my finger stuck in the dike when there's more cracks than I have fingers."
Cowley was silent for a moment, then he drained his glass and set it down on the table. "I'll see you both in the morning."
Unsettled, Bodie watched him leave, wanting to say something more, but not knowing how or even why he needed to justify himself to Cowley or Doyle or anyone. He hated feeling manipulated.
He turned to Ray, all the trapped and resentful feelings apparent in his eyes.
Doyle touched his arm. "Bodie, listen. I'll go with you. We can leave now, if you want."
Surprised, Bodie studied Doyle's face, not sure if he was reading the truth, or only what he wanted to see. "You'll come?"
"I just said so, didn't I?" He turned away, putting his own glass down. "You're right, of course. It's all just wishful thinking. Even the Cow says so. Let's go."
Bodie chewed his lip doubtfully, wary of the too easy capitulation. "Hang on a minute. I suppose we could stay around 'til morning anyway. See what the Cow has to say then. Probably can't get a flight out tonight in any case."
Doyle kept his back to him. "Whatever you say, mate."
"You're damned agreeable all of a sudden," Bodie snapped.
"I wasn't backing out on you before," Doyle said quietly. "I didn't bring you here because-- Dammit, Bodie, I'm not setting you up. I didn't know what the old man had in mind. How could I? But I'm with you, one way or the other. I mean that."
"But you'll never forgive me if we don't try ... whatever this crazy scheme is that Cowley's cooked up. You'll always believe it might've made a difference, won't you?"
"If either of us are around to worry about it, it won't have anything to do with forgiving anyone. I won't lie to you; I'll always wonder, I suppose. Only human to wonder about it. But I won't blame you. How could I? You're not forcing me to go."
"No?" Bodie's voice was rather strange. Before Doyle could turn around, Bodie was beside him, taking Doyle in his arms. "Okay, sunshine, we'll check it out. I always had a soft spot for H.G. Wells, meself. Not too fond of Cornwall, though. Bloody spooky place."
Doyle smiled, leaning back into the embrace. He felt a twinge of quilt, realizing that he always got his way with Bodie in the end -- always had done, even from the beginning. He'd never stopped to figure why this was so, why Bodie let himself be maneuvered. Whatever the reason, he now wondered if there might ever come a time when it was a mistake.
Bodie's vision of a mad scientist, or even a crackpot professor was rapidly dispelled when the reached Cornwall late the next morning. Leonard Jacob Price was a rather dapper man, with a neatly trimmed mustache, silver-grey hair, and sharply stylish and expensive suit. He reminded Bodie a bit of the Minister, although Price, not being a politician, was far more querulous and snappish than the Minister ever thought of being.
While pleased enough by Cowley's visit, he was less than enthusiastic about explaining his discovery to the two solemn-faced young men that accompanied him.
"Now listen, George, the last thing I need is two callow scallywags snickering behind their hands at my work and spreading uneducated rumors at my expense. I get enough ridicule from my colleagues, I won't stand for--"
"Don't worry about that, Leo," Cowley said hastily, fixing Bodie with a quelling stare. "Bodie and Doyle are both very open-minded, and extremely eager to learn more about your findings. Aren't you, lads?"
Bodie's face was a study of purity, but the blue eyes twinkled wickedly. "Yes, indeed, sir. Doyle here is kind of skeptical, but I convinced him of the importance of being receptive to new ideas."
Price bristled. "So you think I'm a kook, young man?"
Doyle scowled at Bodie before answering Price. "No, sir, not at all. I mean..."
"I know what you mean; no need to be polite. George here thinks I'm a kook, too, and he's known me for more than thirty years."
"Now, Leo, if I didn't believe there was something to all this, I wouldn't have bothered coming out here, would I? I'm afraid you'll have to explain it all again, though. I'm not sure I took it all in the last time."
Price glowered. "You let it go in one ear and out the other, you old goat. You didn't believe a word of it. Makes me wonder what bee's in your bonnet now, to drag you out here. Why the sudden interest?"
Cowley sobered. "I'd rather not tell you that, Leo. I've my reasons."
"State secrets, eh? No matter. I've had some even more dramatic success since I last spoke with you, George. Remember I told you I had a pencil gone for a several hours?"
"I had a tie missin' for a month once," Bodie whispered in Doyle's ear. Doyle stomped on his foot.
Price led them outside the cottage and down toward the cliffs, Bodie and Doyle bringing up the rear with Bodie limping slightly, certain his little toe must be broken.
"Well, here we are," Price announced grandly.
There was a large, crumbling stone, tilting slightly, with several smaller pillars at unequal intervals. They were tilting at roughly the same angle, facing inward.
"What is it? Some kind of shrine?" Doyle asked with interest. With some imagination, you could see there might have been other stones present at one time, completing the circle, filling the noticeable gaps. Now, most of them had either crumbled away, fallen down, or been carried off.
"It was probably a place of worship for the Celts or Druids or one of those cults -- never can keep them straight," Price dismissed absently. "I'm not very interested in the historical aspects of it; never bothered to look them up, actually. Personally, I think of it as a marker. I believe it may have had other purposes even before it's primary use was corrupted into some type of religious nonsense. But, of course, the mysticism of the location originated in the power it exuded. The ley lines here are exceptional."
"Like Stonehenge, you mean?" Doyle suggested. "Used as a calendar or astrological--"
"No...or perhaps yes. I've often thought Stonehenge might have been a focal point at one time. Considering it's size, it must have been very powerful at one time. Perhaps the magnetic flow shifted, or an ionic disturbance changed the temporal lines..." He shrugged. "It's useless there, now. I've tried it. Dead as last week's Tattler."
"And this place isn't?" Bodie asked, feeling uneasy. The wind was chill, blowing off the sea and the landscape was bleak. "Dead, I mean? What's... uh... alive about it, anyway?"
"The energy flow, man! Stand here. Can't you feel it?"
Bodie had to admit that his skin was crawling a bit, but he'd taken it for reaction to all the eerie talk of Druids and such; he'd never cared for that sort of thing.
Doyle's eyes, however, were wide and excited. "So there's no actual time machine at all. It's a place, not a mechanism."
Price regarded him with a patronizing smile. "My dear boy, were you expecting flashing lights and shiny buttons? George, you've been letting these boys read comics."
"Still seems pretty comical to me," Bodie muttered.
"Essentially," Price continued, "this area is a center of crossed lines of power -- ley lines, as they are termed. A place where the temporal fabric can be disturbed. In fact, objects can be entered into the time stream at this location. At the point when these stones were erected, this was a minor power source. It has increased in the last thousand years just as Stonehenge has decreased."
Bodie automatically backed out of the circle of rocks. "You mean things just ... pop out of existence?"
"In a manner of speaking. Oh, don't be so skittish, boy. The conditions have to be remarkably favorable. Some kind of instigator must be present to disrupt the field and engage the ... well, vortex is a good a word as any I suppose. There are black holes in space, and there is a similar phenomenon on Earth as well, on a much smaller scale, of course. While a black star in space draws in matter and light, I believe it may also possess elements of time distortion. Here on earth the power is limited, but nonetheless a portal of sorts."
"Instigator? Such as?" Doyle asked, intrigued.
"Oh, a solar flare might sometimes do it, or a seismic disturbance. Maybe something as slight as a thunderstorm, if the ionic particles are feisty enough."
"But you told me--" Cowley turned away, shoulders slumping. "I misunderstood you, I see. You've no real control over it."
"On the contrary, George, that's what I'm excited about. I've figured out a key to it. You don't think I was content to sit around waiting for solar flares, do you?" he added testily.
Cowley looked at him thoughtfully. "So you do know how to make it work, is that right?"
Price shrugged modestly. "Well, I've had a good bit of luck with it so far. I tinkered around until I came up with this." He pulled an object from his coat pocket. It was about the size and shape of an electric torch, but instead of a lens, there was a tiny hole in the casing.
"What is it?"
"Well, I haven't actually got round to naming it yet. It's rather like... well, I suppose you'd have to call it ... a spark plug of sorts."
Cowley looked amused and skeptical. "And it works?"
Slightly offended, Price frowned. "Would you care for a demonstration, George?"
"Yes, but I have another question first. I asked you over the phone if you can stipulate the exact time you send something back to. You told me you could. Do you stand by that?"
"Of course. At least, theoretically. It's all a question of--"
Cowley cut him off before he could lapse into technical jargon. "And you can bring the object back to this time again?"
Price hesitated. "They always come back."
Cowley picked up on the uncertainty. "Always, Leo?"
"Well, I suppose so. To be candid, I've nothing to do with the return. They just kind of ... pop back after a while. I've come to the conclusion the objects act as a type of ... antibody in the time flow. After a while, they get .... uh ... rejected. Expelled. They simply don't belong there, so..." He spread his hands. "I'm sorry, I simply don't have a better explanation just yet. But they always come back.
"How long do the objects stay in the other time?"
"It's hard to say. Sometimes as little as an hour, sometimes over a week. It usually depends on the size of the object. The larger the mass, the longer they remain. I'm not sure why."
"A week..." Cowley mused aloud. "Even a day or two might be enough..."
Bodie was following the old man's thoughts, for once less than a step behind, and liking it less and less. He had a more pressing question.
"These objects you've made go poof...were they...uh...damaged when they came back?"
"No, not at all." Price stopped. "Well, not to speak of."
Bodie swallowed nervously.
Doyle's mind was also racing. "Have you ever sent anything living through this?"
"And did it stay that way?" Bodie added quickly.
Price looked distinctly uncomfortable.
"Well, man?" Cowley demanded, "Answer them."
"Obviously no experiment can be complete until..." He trailed off, flushing guiltily. "I transferred a pigeon, a rabbit, and later a dog."
"And?" Bodie urged.
"The rabbit came back after four hours. It was perfectly fine. So was the dog, really. It just took longer; over a week. I'm afraid it was a bit starved, poor thing. But the time shift, itself, didn't seem to hurt it."
"And the 'not to speak of' damage?" Bodie demanded.
"The pigeon returned dead. It was rather savaged ... I think a cat got after it or something. Obviously, I can't protect them from what happens while they're in the physical world of the past or the future."
"Can you even tell which way they go?" Doyle asked.
"Oh yes. It's a matter of energy mass expenditure ratio and ..." He rambled on for a couple of minutes, none of them understanding more than one word in five.
"Jesus Christ..." Bodie kicked at a tuff of grass irritably. He knew what was coming and it made him angry. He could already feel the trap closing around him.
"Do you think there's enough power in that thing to send a man back?" Cowley asked slowly.
"It's not a question of power. My apparatus is no more than an instigator; it just starts the process, all the power is in the--" Price broke off. "Now, wait a minute, George, you aren't suggesting...?"
"Would it work?" Cowley inquired sharply.
"It's not a question of that," Price protested. "It's too dangerous--"
"You've just said there was no harm from it. Do you think it can be done or not, man?"
Price looked from one to another, he paled. "You're serious about this, aren't you, George?"
"Never more so. This could be very important."
"I don't think you know what you're saying." Price shook his head. "It's one thing to send back something that couldn't change the shape of time, but to send a man--"
"It's time we must change, Leo," Cowley said bluntly. "If we don't there won't be much of a future to worry about." When the other man didn't answer, Cowley continued. "You have to trust me on this, Leo. If this works at all, we have to use it for the best. Can you understand that?"
"You know something, don't you?" Price stared at him. "I've heard rumors, even in our office, but I didn't really believe... They're true aren't they?" He sat down suddenly on one of the overturned stones. "My god." After a long moment, he glanced up. "I wondered why you came here. Exactly what do you have planned, George?"
Bodie could hold back no longer. "See here, sir, you're not really meaning to try some kind of crazy time-trip, are you? Even if the blasted thing really works--"
"Not me, Bodie," Cowley cut in very coolly. "You."
Bodie was struck momentarily dumb. He'd known it was coming, knew practically from the beginning that this was what the old man had in mind, but it still knocked the breath out of him at the sheer audacity of the request.
Cowley nearly smiled at the young man's expression. "I'd go if I could, 3.7, but as much as I hate to admit it, I'm not physically up to it. If I was even ten years younger... My bloody leg would slow me down, hold me back. And there'll only be one chance, if that. Can't afford to waste it."
"Chance for what, sir?" Doyle asked, wondering why it was Bodie and not himself.
Cowley's eyes never left Bodie's. "I can't order you to do it, lad. But I'm asking you to. You know what's at stake here."
"But what is he to do?" Doyle insisted, watching the two stare each other down, feeling as if they'd shut out everyone and everything else.
"I want him to kill a man," Cowley said simply.
An hour later, they were back in Price's cottage, drinking tea like civilized men. Bodie hadn't uttered a word since Cowley's announcement, and he stood now by the window, strangely withdrawn into himself.
Doyle pumped Cowley for more details, realizing at once that the old man had this carefully plotted out even before they'd shown up in his office yesterday afternoon. Planned it all on the improbable chance that Price's discovery was genuine. It was very like Cowley to play the wild card, and even more like him to tug them both around like puppets. Tell them the worst, give them time to let it sink in, check out all the alternatives, and show up almost on signal at his doorstep. Of course that had been his idea, not Bodie's, but Doyle was willing to wager Cowley was confident Doyle would lead him there, willing or not. It wasn't an altogether pleasant thought, but Doyle had long become accustomed to their boss's convoluted machinations.
Doyle stirred his tea absently. "So, this man's death will change everything, eh? How can you be so sure of that, sir?"
"I can't, obviously. But it seems a likely bet. Without him, the development of the atomic bomb would be delayed, perhaps for several years, perhaps even longer. Once the war is over, the need won't seem as pressing. Once harnessed, atomic energy might never have been used as a weapon."
"What about the war...oh, I see what you mean. The Allies would still win, it would just take a bit longer."
"Aye. The bloodshed on both sides might have been greater, but there would be no destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; not in that manner at least. Delaying the atomic age just a few years might give mankind a chance to mature a bit. If the bombs were never used...perhaps, just perhaps...they never would be. It was only in the years after the war that we learned the extent of their damages. If that knowledge had been clear earlier... Delaying the actual construction of the bombs can only give mankind more time to consider the consequences. Perhaps we can do that now."
"All because of one man's death," Doyle mused sadly.
"Not precisely. It's more like knocking down a domino -- if it's strategically placed, it can affect a lot of others. If not, it will only disturb the ones near it."
Doyle took a deep breath and looked over at his partner, who was very still and very remote by the window. He asked the question that had been first in his mind. "Why Bodie, sir?"
Cowley didn't answer, not that Doyle had really expected him to. The Cow seldom saw fit to explain his decisions.
"He's not going alone," Doyle said fiercely. "If he agrees, I'm going with him."
"I anticipated that. He will need your help. It won't be simple. There was some security, even back then."
Doyle's gaze never left the man at the window. The morning sunshine lit up the perfect profile, and after last night, Doyle's view of him had changed radically. For the first time he really noted the masculine beauty of it, the long dark sweep of lashes, the sensual pout of the lips, the way the black hair curled a bit at the collar of his sweater. Bodie was in one of his rare, grim moods, and he looked every inch a killer, dressed in black with the sunlight shining on his hair. He looked hard and dangerous, the blue eyes darkened by secret thoughts. But Doyle read more than just that in the line of body, the set of the mouth. Beneath the surface was confusion and uncertainty.
"Will he do it, Doyle?" For the first time Cowley sounded less than sure. He was watching Bodie also.
"It's a lot to ask, sir."
"I've asked a lot from you both before."
"Not like this."
"No," Cowley agreed, "not like this."
But Bodie turned from the window then, as if coming to a decision. He moved to the table. Doyle wordlessly handed him a cup of tea, already heavily doctored with milk and sugar.
"Thanks, mate." He sat down and faced Cowley. "Okay, let's get on with it then. You have all the details worked out, I take it."
"I'm going with you," Doyle said quickly, wanting to get that out of the way up front before anything else was settled.
Bodie looked at him impatiently, but before he could speak, Doyle cut him off.
"Last night, I wasn't just talking about Australia, y'know." He grinned. "You wanted me, sunshine, you got me."
Cowley tactfully ignored this exchange; he'd moved over to the fireplace where he's left the valise he'd brought from his flat.
Bodie stared at Doyle, wondering why that crooked smile always managed to make him believe anything was possible.
Cowley returned to the table and spread out some papers on it. There was a photograph, old and grainy, some floor plans, and some other loose articles.
"If Price can get you back at the right date, this will be your best opportunity to do the job. It is the only time I am sure he was in London. You'll have to make your way back as best you can from here. I've brought fifty pounds to give you--"
"Fifty pounds!" Bodie protested. "Bit cheap, sir!"
"It was a lot more money back then, Bodie," Doyle pointed out with a grin.
"As I was trying to say," Cowley continued with a dash of impatience, "this is all the cash I could get together that had the proper dates. Wouldn't do to have you picked up for counterfeiting an hour after you get there."
"Oh," Bodie said weakly, "yeah."
"This meeting was relatively secret; mostly scientists from various parts of the world, some military people, a few politicians. There was tight security, naturally, but nothing compared to what would be normal today."
"Assassins were slightly rarer then, I suppose," Bodie commented blandly. Doyle shot him a glance, wondering just how he was dealing with this; he was as difficult to read as always.
Cowley ignored the comment and went on. "You should both be fairly familiar with this building. It's not far from Whitehall. It was damaged in the war, but the reconstruction was similar to the original layout. Your easiest way in would be over the east wall, up the fire exit and over the roof to the gallery skylight."
The heads bent over the maps, the strangeness of the situation forgotten in the intricacies of an operation, comfortingly prosaic to all of them.
"What about our clothes?" Doyle brought up. "Won't they be a bit out of place?"
Cowley frowned. "It can't be helped. Didn't have time to get to a costumers. You'll have to make do."
Bodie chuckled, "They'd never go for that hair anyway, Goldilocks. Unless you'd like me to give you a quick trim?"
"Never mind all that," Cowley said. "If you're careful enough, you can get the job done without drawing too much attention."
"And get back out alive," Bodie added grimly.
"What about weapons?" Doyle asked. "Rifles or handguns?"
Price, who spent the time off to one side, muttering occasionally to himself as he fiddled with his 'spark plug', looked up at this.
"I wouldn't advise trying to take weapons through, George. A regular mishmash of different energy fields in this -- could end up with one large bang if there's anything explosive involved."
"Damn." The unusual profanity illustrated the tension Cowley was feeling. He clenched his fist in frustration. "Well, no help for that either, then. You'll have to arm yourselves once you get there."
"No one said this would be easy, Bodie."
"Easy? Now there's a laugh." He turned to Price. "So how do we get back here?"
Price shrugged. "You return when you return. I have no way of being specific. Not enough data. Beside the fact I've never sent through anything of this mass before. Judging from earlier experiments, you should be there ... a month or more perhaps. However, that is our time. I don't know how much time elapses on that side. From my experiments, it seems equal in length. I cannot guarantee that, however."
"Better and better," Bodie grumbled, "How'd'y fancy being a guinea pig, Raymond?"
"I've run a few mazes in me time," Doyle answered with a smile. He felt better now that Bodie was bitching vocally; it was a cold and quiet Bodie that worried him most.
Cowley rolled the maps and papers up and handed them to Doyle. "Best get at it, lads. We don't know how much time you'll have. Leo, do you have that thing set to put them in the proper date?"
"Again, no guarantees, George -- about anything. But I believe so, yes."
Cowley turned to Bodie. "Are you ready, son?" he asked quietly.
"No." Bodie gave a lopsided grin. "But I reckon I'll do it anyway."
They walked back out to the broken circle of stones. Standing inside the circle, Bodie leaned over and whispered to Doyle, "I still think this is a load of crap, y'know. But I figure we might as well humor the old man."
Doyle chuckled. "Nah, mate. You believe it all right -- else why are your knees shaking as bad as mine?"
"Uhm...you would notice, wouldn't you? Doesn't mean I'm swallowing this twaddle. We're just as likely to get electrocuted or lasered or something."
Doyle shrugged. He felt in his bones that it would work. But he didn't want to mention the idea that had just occurred to him that they could return to find themselves in the aftermath of a nuclear hollocaust. Not that they had a lot of options at this point.
Cowley smiled at them then; one of his very rare, genuine smiles, full of charm and sweetness. They'd both seen him smile like that at Annie Irving, and Doyle had glimpsed it once at Bodie's bedside when they'd been told Bodie would recover from knife wounds.
"Good luck to you, lads. I know you'll do your best." He turned away and nodded to Price, who twisted a lever on the device he held.
For a second nothing seemed to happened, but Doyle grabbed for Bodie's arm as he felt the build-up of pressure around them. There was a split second of blinding brightness and the smell of ozone, then they were falling.
They hit the earth with bone-jarring thud that knocked them both flat. Bodie was positive there had been no real fall, that their feet had never left the ground. Actually, he'd rather enjoyed the sensation. It reminded him of his sky-jumping days in the Paras, waiting for the very last second to pull the cord; the jolt from the chute could practically break your neck, but the feeling was exhilarating.
He looked around for Doyle, and had no trouble locating him. His partner was hunched on his hands and knees terribly occupied with trying to spew up everything he'd eaten for the last five years. Bodie patted his shoulder worriedly.
"You okay, mate?"
Another retching sound greeted his inquiry, and Bodie moved back hastily to give him room. He tried to feel properly sympathetic, but failed. Having a cast iron stomach himself, it was difficult to empathize.
"You never were a very good traveler, were you?" Bodie offered lightly. "S' all right, Ray. Next time we'll fly first class. They give you little bags--"
"Bodie, I'll kill you," Doyle croaked, "if you say one... more... word." Bodie wisely let the matter rest.
After a few more miserable minutes, Doyle was able to straighten. Bodie handed him his handkerchief as a peace offering, and Doyle wiped his mouth and blew his nose. When he offered it back, Bodie refused it hastily.
"No, you keep it, son. It's not monogrammed."
Doyle glared at him, then looked around. "I suppose this means we made it."
"Give me a break. Nothing's happened. We're right where we started. That thing gave us an electric shock or something. You don't really believe we--
"Well, there's no cottage up there, and the stones are still here, so explain that."
Bodie looked around. "I... I still don't believe it. Hypnosis maybe."
"Bodie, it's different, can't you feel it?"
He did, but he didn't want to admit it. There was something different. The scent of the air perhaps. Doyle was right, there was no longer a cottage on the cliff. The stones were unchanged but the landscape was slightly different, the erosion of the path narrower, the air more crisp and clear. Silly thought; they were in Cornwall, of course the air was clearer. He just couldn't remember it being this clear ten minutes ago. It took a long second for everything to register, to combat his initial disbelief.
"God... it's real, isn't it? It happened."
"I think so." Doyle sounded almost as stunned.
It was impossible to take in stride. Impossible to believe, whatever their senses told them. And yet.... Bodie touched the damp earth; it was real. The light drizzle of rain was real. And the off-center sensation in his brain was real. He met Doyle's eyes, finding a like confusion and wonder.
Doyle took a deep breath. "Something's different anyway."
"A lot is different." Bodie tilted his face up, feeling the cold rain. "Christ, Ray...."
"I suppose we ought to head toward London."
Bodie shook his head. "Not yet. If this is...what it seems, if we're not hallucinating....we need to find out if this is the right time or not. To do that we need a newspaper or radio. If Price knew what he was doing, this should be the day before the conference, right? I think we should hang around here a bit, until we get our bearings. Besides, whatever time we left at, it's nearly dark here, and it's getting bloody cold. I don't fancy a hike on the highroad in the middle of a winter night."
Doyle eyed him suspiciously. "You're taking this much easier than I expected you would."
Having already decided that this had to be some kind of vivid dream, Bodie just shrugged. Maybe he'd cracked up his car and was at this moment lying in hospital with a concussion, in a coma or whatever--it was certainly more believable scenario than the last twenty-four hours. "I take it as it comes, Ray."
"Maybe you're right," Doyle conceded shakily. "What do you suggest?"
"Should be some cottages along these cliffs somewhere. Probably deserted at this time of year, too. Price wouldn't have been here either, if it hadn't been for his bloody hobby."
Bodie helped Doyle to his feet and trudged along the path in silence. In less than half a mile they came on a house, seemingly deserted and dark.
"What d'ya say, Ray? A bit of the B&E?"
The sun had set now, the wind had picked up, and to make things worse, the cold drizzle of rain had turned to sleet. Doyle shivered. "I must admit, it's tempting." He shook his head. "Nah, too risky. Wouldn't it be just lovely to get nicked as burglars?"
"Ah, com'on, Ray. No coppers out this far -- no neighbors either that I can see. Should be safe enough. Besides, we need to get hold of some different clothes before we present ourselves in public, don't we? Might be some in there."
"Thought you weren't worried about the clothes. I thought you didn't even believe it?"
"Well, I don't...exactly. But just in case, I might pass, Raymond, but only cowboys wore jeans in this time ... if it's the time it's supposed to be...I mean...hell, you know what I mean."
"Nobody would be caught dead in trousers as tight as the ones you're wearing either," Doyle retorted.
"Come on then," Bodie said impatiently. "No sense standing here getting wet."
"All right. But if the only thing available is Aunt Jane's pinafore, it's all yours, mate."
"Only if it matches me eyes, sweetheart," Bodie called back, their silly humor perilously close to hysteria. They approached the house cautiously, but it seemed truly closed and locked up for the season. Peering in the window, they could see the ghostly shapes of the dust covers.
"See? I was right. Give us a hand with the window, will you?" Doyle helped him pry it up. Once inside, Bodie found some candles on the mantle and lit one with his butane lighter. It was a pleasant little place, not fancy but comfortable.
Bodie set the candle on a table and rubbed his hands together. "Now a little fire to take the chill off--"
"Do you think that's a good idea?"
"Ray, it's raining harder out there; probably turn to snow soon. No one's going to be going by in this kind of weather. This isn't the 1980's, y'know -- if Price was on the mark, that is. Folks weren't so suspicious. People stayed home and played Happy Families, or something. And we're in luck -- they left some wood in. Here, grab that newspaper while I get the kindling."
Doyle glanced at the paper before handing it over. "The year's right, anyway."
Bodie paused in the process of setting it alight. He uncrumpled the page and stared at it for a long moment. "Christ." He sat down suddenly, wondering if he was ever going to wake up. This dream was too fucking real. September 20, 1937.
"Must've been the last paper before they left." Doyle scanned the front page; caught the name Hitler. "Bit eerie, innit?"
Bodie made sure the flue was open, then lit the fire. The dry wood and paper caught and began to crackle merrily.
"Hey, Bodie," Doyle called from the other end of the sitting room, "I've found a radio."
Bodie joined him beside the big, ornate box. "Pity there's no power." Doyle clicked the switch experimentally, and after a second of static, a BBC announcer came on to extol the purity and richness of Brindle's Tea, bringing to them the swinging dance sounds of--
Doyle switched the volume down a bit. "Well, they haven't cut the electric yet. Maybe they're coming back."
"Or maybe they just forgot." Bodie shrugged. "No point in worrying about it. I'm not going back out in that mess."
Doyle was easily persuaded. He still felt a bit queasy from the bizarre journey and more than a little vexed that Bodie had seemed to accept it so effortless. He comforted himself with the thought that sensitivity had never been his partner's strong point.
"Here's a thought," Bodie suggested, "if they've only just left, maybe no one else knows it for sure. If anyone sees the lights or fire--"
"I thought you said they left September 20?"
Bodie made a face. "I'm turnin' some lights on. I'm starving. Maybe there's some food about."
The fire managed to warm up the room quickly enough, and Bodie's foraging through the pantry ferreted out a couple of tins of condensed soup. Once he had them warmed, Doyle discovered his stomach was settled enough to take a bowl easily enough.
While he ate, he turned up the radio, hoping to catch the date. He did, along with the news.
THE FOREIGN SECRETARY RETURNED YESTERDAY FOLLOWING A CONFERENCE WITH THE GERMAN GOVERNMENT. PRIME MINISTER CHAMBERLAIN FEELS CERTAIN THAT AN AGREEMENT OF MUTUAL BENEFIT CAN BE REACHED--
Bodie returned from the other room, his arms piled with blankets. He dumped them on the rug in front of the fire.
"What, no bed?"
"Too cold in there," Bodie explained. "A window's cracked." He fluttered his eyelashes dramatically. "Besides, firelight is so much more....romantic."
"Sod off, Bodie," Doyle growled.
Bodie grabbed up some dust covers to roll up as pillows. "Why, dearie? Havin' second thoughts?"
Doyle's jaw clenched. "Stop it, damn you. Just cause we've--"
"Made mad passionate love?" Bodie put in helpfully.
"--screwed each other, doesn't mean we're--"
"Ah, but we haven't actually done that yet, have we?" Bodie said sweetly. He warbled, "Ah, sweet mystery of life, at last I've--"
Doyle threw the first thing that came to hand, which happened to be quite hard. Bodie shut up with a whoof.
"Take it easy, mate," he rebuked, rubbing his shoulder, "I'm very delicate, y'know."
Doyle didn't bother to reply. "We're right on the date, anyway. Just heard the news. Tomorrow's the first day of the conference."
Bodie busied himself with the bedding, not answering.
"Did you hear me, Bodie?"
Doyle started to say something else, but the tone of his partner's voice changed his mind. He watched as Bodie finished laying out the blankets and settled in front of the fire with a chipped mug of tea, minus the milk or sugar. Doyle waited a moment, then joined him, sitting cross-legged beside him.
"The soup was good," he said softly. "Thanks."
"Specialty of the house," Bodie mumbled.
Bodie stirred restlessly, sipping the tea, leaning forward to stir up the fire. "Sure, why shouldn't I be?"
Doyle took the cup from his hands and slurped it himself. "Mmmm. Nice and warm."
Bodie glanced at him. "You still cold?"
"My front isn't, my back is. Problem with fireplaces, innit?" Bodie smiled then, devilish eyebrow arching. "I can solve that." He moved closer and pulled Doyle against him, arms curved around him. Doyle leaned back willingly, closing his eyes. It felt incredibly good. Good enough to forget it was Bodie he was intending to reassure when he came over. To understate, it had been an extremely harrowing day. Difficult to believe it had been only a little over twenty-four hours since Cowley had told them the news. Twenty-four hours and forty odd years.
Bodie rubbed his cheek contentedly against the curls. "This feels nice," he murmured drowsily.
Somewhere in the back of Doyle's mind, he was pleased that he'd unconsciously done the right thing. Bodie was one who offered comfort much easier than he accepted it.
"Falling asleep on me?" Doyle asked in amusement.
"Didn't manage much rest last night, did we?" Bodie kissed his ear.
"Don't remind me."
Bodie stiffened imperceptably, but Doyle noticed it and amended, "I mean the missed sleep. Don't need to be reminded about the rest. Not likely to forget, am I?"
"Would you like to?" the voice was cautious, unrevealing.
"If I did, I'd hardly be cuddlin' up with you now, would I?" He could feel the muscles relax slightly, and the tone became comfortingly light, "You'd cuddle up to the Cow, if it kept you warm, Raymond. Very hedonistic, you are."
"Yes, very." Doyle settled himself more cozily between Bodie's outstretched legs.
The music changed on the radio again; faded into a soft, dreamy dance number. A log fell in the fire and sparks scattered in the fireplace with a soft whispering sound. They could hear the rain turned to sleet against the windows, pattering wetly.
"Couldn't have a better set-up, could we?" Bodie remarked sleepily. "Birds would love it."
Still watching the fire, Doyle grinned. "Maybe we could find a nice rock station on the radio, eh?"
"Not sure the world's discovered the blues yet, sunshine." He could feel Bodie's smile against his hair.
"How about classical then?" Doyle suggested. "Now that they should have."
"Nah, leave it. We might as well soak up a bit of current culture."
"Rather have Bowie," Doyle complained teasingly.
"Knife?" Bodie asked with mock innocence.
"David, you ignorant sod."
Bodie chuckled and hugged him tighter. He released his hold to run his hands up Doyle's shoulders and neck into the heavy curls, fingers spreading out to massage the scalp. Doyle closed his eyes and rolled his head back into it, on the verge of purring. After a moment, fingers moved down, rubbing his neck, circling his throat, tracing up his chin in a sensuous movement.
Doyle let himself float on the feelings. "Mmmm.... terrific..." The hands descended the front, unbuttoning the shirt very slowly, fingers acknowledging flesh as it was revealed. Doyle was erotically aware of the heat of the fire as his bare skin was exposed, a button at a time, burning with a sensual warmth, just on the edge of too hot. The hungry touch was beautiful. Bodie's fingers found his nipples, stiffening under the dual stimulation, and Doyle tried to turn, to give something back. But Bodie held him firmly.
"Shhhh, just be still," the voice crooned in his ear. "Let me do this." Excited by the throaty voice and the touches, Doyle surrendered. Bodie's mouth sought his ear again, rimmed it delicately, breath stirring the curls, and the hands continued their reconnaissance over the front of his body, nipples were examined, pinched, then soothed by whisper-light touches. His chest was swept by flattened palms, caressing and cajoling him.
By the time Bodie reached his belt, Doyle could already feel his cock helplessly swollen against the material. He gasped out Bodie's name, but the man refused to be hurried. He unbuckled the belt and unfastened the snap with infuriating slowness. The zip came down inch by inch as Bodie's hand disappeared under the material. Doyle's hips arched upward, and Bodie used the advantage to slide down the jeans and pants, leaving them caught on the thighs below his reach. Bodie stroked those thighs, silently asking them to part for him. Doyle obliged, as far as the hobbling denim would permit. The long fingers slid between his legs, tracing inside the tender flesh, moving tantalizingly up to the balls. Doyle moaned then, lost in the sensation, and the hands closed on his cock. Bodie began stroking him, eerily picking a rhythm Doyle would've chosen for himself. Doyle felt his body begin the breathless rise to the edge, the excitement curling in his stomach, centering in his balls. It was incredibly arousing, and somehow mildly kinky, to be held back against Bodie's fully clad chest, his own clothes disarranged only in strategic places, the fire hot on his skin, the eager hands even hotter now, burning...
Doyle cried out loudly, stiffening and thrusting forward as he reached the peak, pouring out in explosive bursts of pleasure.
Bodie held him, soothing the exhaustive aftermath with as great an expertise as he'd used to bring him to the quivering finish.
Finally, Doyle twisted around and kissed Bodie. "Christ, mate, that was..." He couldn't find an adequate word, so he fell back to teasing. "Where'd you learn that, eh?"
The blue eyes twinkled. "Just pretended it was me, didn't I?"
"That's it, then, you can't drive me car anymore. Your eyesight's bound to be wretched."
Doyle pulled himself free and jerked off the rest of his clothes. With a lecherous grin, he reached for Bodie's sweater, but Bodie caught his hand.
"Eh? Isn't it your turn?"
Bodie shrugged uneasily. "I'm okay."
Doyle's gaze shifted to the shadowed crotch; it wasn't difficult to see that his partner was being less than truthful. The swelling there looked almost painful. He didn't understand Bodie's sudden reluctance--shyness had certainly held no part in their first night together, Bodie had been as demanding and voracious as himself.
"What is it?" Doyle asked softly.
Doyle sought eyes that refused to meet his, carefully staring at the dying fire. Bodie finally got up on his knees to add more wood.
"Bodie, either you strip, or I get dressed."
His partner was occupied stirring the coals. "Listen, we need to get some sleep--"
"You usually sleep with your clothes on?"
"All right," Doyle said, miffed, "I'll get dressed."
Bodie turned to look at him, humor bubbling up in the eyes and around the pouty mouth. "Is that a threat?"
Grinning, leaning back naked on the blanket, Doyle replied, "Yeah."
"Oh, in that case..." Bodie stripped off the sweater, kicked off his shoes and socks, removed his trousers.
Bodie's erection had subsided a bit, and Doyle decided not to push it for the moment, realizing something was behind his hesitation. Instead, he simply pushed him down on the blankets and lay there with him, listening to the intimate thud of his partner's heartbeat. He was beginning to doze off when Bodie spoke.
"What the hell are we doing here, Ray?"
Startled, he tilted his chin to look up at the stony, troubled face. "Bodie--"
"Christ, I still don't believe it. I can't! I keep thinking I'm going to wake up, but it just goes on and on. And, in some ways, I guess I don't want to wake up." His hands tightened painfully on Doyle's shoulders. "But then...I hear the radio, see the furniture... and... Damn, it's real."
Doyle said nothing, letting him talk, knowing what was behind it all, knowing the dread tomorrow held. His first impulse was to offer to take his place, to be the trigger man -- but he knew Bodie would never permit it, would be infuriated by the very idea. Whatever the answer, it wasn't that. Not for Bodie.
"This guy I'm to kill," Bodie said abruptly, "He's German, right?"
"What else do you know about him?"
"I read about him somewhere...don't remember much. Do you?"
"History wasn't my best subject. Was he a Nazi?"
Puzzled and concerned by his partner's tone, Doyle said cautiously, "I...dunno. I don't think so. Bodie, I really don't know much more than what Cowley told us. He's a cog in a very important wheel. Cowley wants that wheel stopped before it runs over everyone." He hesitated. "I don't like it either, Bodie. But I don't like what's going to happen even less."
Bodie didn't reply, but Doyle could feel the iron tenseness in the muscles under his hands. He slipped a hand down the smooth side, trying to relax him, pull Bodie into different interests. It worked more than he'd bargained for.
Bodie rolled on top of him, holding him with a grip that was bruising, the kiss touched on a violence that Doyle wasn't sure he liked, in spite of the innate excitement of it. Bodie's tongue plundered his mouth, asking no response, permitting little. Doyle's first reaction was to resist, but the dichotomy of the situation held him. He could/couldn't fight Bodie. Bodie would/wouldn't hurt him. It had always been a test between them from the beginning, test of strength, of wills. The respect was the only constant. But now there would be no contest. Doyle recognized Bodie's fear and uncertainty, and fell before it quicker than he would for any other reason.
Bodie's knees parted Doyle's thighs, his mouth moving to bite into the shoulder. Doyle felt a moment of panic as the hard cock nudged against his balls, slipping under to touch his anus.
"Don't! Bodie, I--"
"Please....let me, Ray...please...."
The strange desperation in the voice melted him. He wrapped his arms around the broad shoulders and waited. Bodie moved against him, cock pressing against the tensed muscle. Doyle gritted his teeth and tried to relax. Bodie was too aroused to wait or to exercise more than a degree of caution.
It hurt; more than Doyle had even expected. But Doyle was accustomed to pain and the methods of dealing with it. And this was an offered pain, something he was willingly giving. It made enough of a difference, enabling him to hold Bodie tightly rather than pushing him away.
Then there was a moment, brief and shocking, when the sensation was good. Something was touched inside him that made him quiver and catch his breath at the strange pleasure. It was over too quickly for him to define, for Bodie was too lost in his own passion. Unlike Doyle, he wasn't vocal in his climax, but the imprint of his fingers lingered for some time. With a final thrust, he came, burying his face in Doyle's neck with a sob.
They lay like that for a long time, until the heat made it physically uncomfortable on the side nearest the fire. Bodie rolled over, his arm moving up to cover his face.
Doyle, unsure of how he felt, lay very still, inventorying his aches and coming to the conclusion he was all right. He hurt a bit in unmentionable places, but surprisingly it wasn't that bad, and was fading rapidly.
While physically unharmed by it, he was still emotionally shaken by the enormity of the step they'd taken. Being a normal man reaching the ripe age of thirty-four, and having the normal male impressions of such an act, it took a few minutes for him to adjust his perceptions. Far less than it would have taken most men, for Raymond Doyle had a very sure sense of self and his own masculinity. It wasn't exactly easy, but he dealt with it with a degree of grace. He was a bit depressed that Bodie had nothing to say, but he tried to meet the absence with humor.
"Not a virgin anymore, am I? Me mum will be very upset."
Bodie, surprised by the bland reaction, lifted his arm from his eyes. "You okay?"
"I'll live with it. But it's your turn to lie by the fire."
Bodie's tension was dispelled by laughter. "Okay, snowflake, shift sides."
They did, but wound up much closer this time. Doyle located the other blanket and pulled it up over them, then cuddled up under Bodie's arm.
Not meaning to ask, but needing to, "Have you ever...."
Eloquently, Doyle didn't answer.
"That's old news, mate," Bodie replied.
It didn't really surprise him, considering his partner's checkered past. It surprised him more that Bodie admitted it, although it might have been rude not to, considering the circumstances.
"In the army?" Doyle asked, curiously, "Or Angola?"
"Neither. Public school."
Doyle levered himself up to look at him. "No kidding? Always suspected your family were toffs. Da had money, eh?"
"Not really. Just keeping up with the Harper-Smythes." The darkened look on Bodie's face made him feel he should let it alone, but he was unable to resist the chance of finding out more about his partner's murky past.
"How old were you, then?"
"When it....when I got fucked? Dunno. Thirteen... maybe fourteen."
"Was it bad?"
Bodie's chuckle was blackly ironic. "Let's just say it wasn't one of the more tender experiences of my young life."
"Is that why you ran away?"
A pause. "Nah, not really. Part of it, maybe. Mostly, I just figured it was time to run me own life." He laughed humorlessly. "That's a laugh, innit? Christ, I'd just turned fourteen when I skipped on that bloody freighter." Another pause, even more tense. "Three years later when I jumped ship in Dakar, I hardly remembered ever being a kid."
He turned his head to stare into the fire. "You wouldn't have liked me much then, Ray. I've mellowed a lot since then."
Trying to lighten the atmosphere, Doyle said, "Didn't like you much when I met you either, did I?"
Bodie turned back, smiling. "I know you didn't. Main reason I didn't pack it in right away. Too much fun driving you up the bloody wall." A gentle finger traced over Doyle's mouth. "I liked you though, y'know. Right off. Nasty tempered little bastard that you were. Didn't like where you came from. Hated coppers. At least in the army, rank sometimes came through worth. Coppers just took authority by wearin' the unis. You were different, though. You were good. Besides, you reminded me of a doll me sister had--all eyes and hair and bottom."
"Oh, I'm very flattered."
There was a moment of silence as Bodie worked himself up to say something. "Didn't mean to do that, y'know. Didn't mean to come on that strong. If I... hurt you... I'm sorry."
"Did I hurt you?"
Doyle grinned. "Let's just say it wasn't one of the more tender experiences of my young life."
The blue eyes sought his face bleakly. "Ray, I--"
"Oh come on, mate. I'm hardly thirteen, am I? An' I'm not made of china. You, of all people, should know I can take a bit of rough treatment."
"It shouldn't have been like that, though," Bodie said regretfully. "I didn't mean it to be."
"It's okay," Doyle said quickly. "I'd like to try it again sometime, if that tells you anythin'."
Bodie seemed relieved by this. "Really?"
"Really. It had it's good points. 'Course I want to give it a try the other way 'round, too."
Bodie was a bit more ambivalent about this, but Doyle ignored it. He had no intention of becoming anyone's bottom man, and that included Bodie. He hadn't quite figured out what was going on between them, hadn't had time to think about it considering the total insanity of the last day, but he was determined they would be equal partners in everything. Even Bodie wouldn't like it any other way, whether he admitted it or not.
Bodie took Doyle's face in his hands. "Ray, I'm glad you came with me."
Doyle felt a soft warmth inside him. "Yeah?"
"Yeah. This way you have to get up in the cold and switch off the radio. You're nearest to it."
Bodie was the first to wake. The fire had gone out long before and the room was cold outside the protection of the blankets. There was pale, early morning light, and his inner clock told him it was near to six. The warmth in his arms didn't stir, but he could feel the slight abrasion of a prickly chin on his bare chest. He looked down. Only a few wild curls escaped the cover of the blanket, the rest of Doyle was a muffled lump plastered to Bodie's side.
Recalling the night before, Bodie felt a pang of guilt. He'd hurt Ray, whether he was willing to admit it or not. Not badly, perhaps, but it couldn't have been pleasant. Doyle could have fought him, made it even uglier than what it had been. He might even have won. Bodie didn't think so, but it had always been an unsettled question between them; he knew his partner well enough to at least admit he could have given him a devil of a struggle. But he didn't. He let it happen, salvaging something tender from a potentially nasty scene.
It had always puzzled Bodie, Doyle's ability to find triumph in surrender, to remove himself from the violence to see the reason at the core of it. Bodie himself wasn't sure if he knew the reason he'd needed to do that, but he sensed that Doyle did--or at least been willing to temporarily accede to that need.
Bodie wasn't a man to hold many regrets, but he sincerely regretted what had happened -- or rather how it happened. Never really considered asking it of Ray at all. That specific act belonged to another place and another time; a time he'd have preferred never to have touched Doyle.
But there was no point in worrying about it now. It had happened, and Doyle had accepted it. They'd manage to go on from there, as they'd always done.
He pulled down the blanket a bit so he could see Ray's face and felt a strange curl of warmth in the pit of his stomach. No one could ever truthfully call Raymond Doyle 'handsome'. But Bodie was forced to agree with Doyle's friend Marge, the dealer. He 'had something'. It was that indescribable something that had birds, who ignored Ray at first look, practically wetting their panties after ten minutes in his company. Bodie had watched this phenomenon for years, amused that Doyle was nearly always surprised by it. Not that Ray was good with birds once he got them, either. He nearly always put his foot in his mouth, or treated them with the same off-hand manner he treated his partner--a fatal flaw with women.
Bodie ran his finger over the imperfect cheekbone, openly realizing his partner was a uniquely beautiful man. He'd known it for years, of course. His eyes had lazily cataloged his attributes, finding a comfortable, undemanding degree of arousal in watching him move, watching him smile. But he'd never really felt the need to claim more until he thought he was losing him forever.
Bodie bent to kiss his forehead. "Ray, time to wake up." Doyle stirred, the green eyes flicking open. "Hmmmmm."
Bodie pulled reluctantly out of his grasp, feeling the morning erection nudging his thigh, but strangely loath to start anything on this particular day. His own black humor whispered to him: places to go, people to kill.
Doyle, adjusting to his absence, curled up in the blankets. Bodie started to make up the fire with the last of the wood. "Come on, Ray. Get up."
Doyle tugged the blanket over his head. "Wake me up when it's warm in here."
The blaze started, Bodie jerked on his clothes, shivering. "Oh, yes. Can't let the boy be chilled, can we?"
"Have a heart, mate," Doyle mumbled. "Had a nightmare, didn't I? Dreamed I 'ad to sing in a thirties dance band."
"It is a nightmare. I've heard you sing."
Doyle pushed the covers back and groaned. "Christ, what time is it?"
"Around six. I'll put on some water for tea. There's a bit left."
Doyle stretched, shivered, and grabbed for his own clothes. "Think we'll have any trouble gettin' to London?"
Bodie hung the kettle over the fire. "Nah. Once we reach the main road, we ought to be able to hitch a ride with someone. People were much friendlier in these times, weren't they? Watch the pot, will ya? Fix the tea when it's ready. I'm goin' to look for some proper clothes."
Rummaging in the closets, Bodie managed to locate a dark navy pea jacket that suited him beautifully. For Doyle, he found a rather ratty overcoat that had witnessed better days, but it had the advantage of reaching to his knees. To Bodie's delight, there was an equally scruffy knit cap shoved in the pocket.
"Just the thing to tuck up your pretty curls in," Bodie said gleefully, tossing it to Doyle.
Doyle scowled at him. "And just why do you get the good coat, eh?"
"It's too big for you."
"So's the other."
"Yeah, but trenchcoats are supposed to be tatty-looking. Besides, it matches your hat, doesn't it?"
Doyle had an impressive reply for this, but Bodie doubted if it was physically possible--although he assured him he was more than willing to try. Doyle shot him a killing look as he poured the tea.
Bodie looked out the curtain. "Still raining," he grumbled. He returned to sit beside his partner, accepting the offering cup. "Cowley said the meeting is at eight tonight, didn't he?"
"Yeah, first meeting of the conference. Have you thought of where we're going to find a gun?"
Bodie nodded. "There's bound to be guards, a couple anyway, what with all the big mucks inside. They'll be armed. We'd need to put them out of commission anyway, if we want a clear way out again."
Doyle slurped the tea. Bodie, whose nerves were more edgy than usual, threw him a disgusted look.
"Do you know how irritating that is?"
Unfazed by this, Doyle regarded him with bland innocence. "I know. S'why I do it, innit? Want a list of your flaws--alphabetically or numerically?"
"Impossible. Don't have any, do I?"
"'Course not, Miss Manners. But I didn't go to public school, did I?"
"Neither did I for very long." Bodie sat down his cup, sorry they'd begun the ridiculous conversation. They'd picked at each other like this often enough in the past, to relieve tension or boredom, but it wasn't working this morning, only making it worse. "Wasn't manners I learned there, either, was it?"
Doyle, sensing the building tension, didn't try to dispel it. He could feel it too strongly within himself as well. "Bodie, what if it doesn't work? What if we can't change time? Logically--"
"Forget it," Bodie snapped. "Either we do or we don't. No sense in thinking 'what if's'. Logically we shouldn't be here to begin with. But we are. Have to concentrate on that."
"So you've decided it's not a dream after all?"
"I can't think about that anymore. I can only think about what I have to do."
Doyle turned to meet his partner's eyes, recognizing the slightly dazed expression that must surely be mirrored in his own. They were both probably still in a mild state of shock -- had been since Cowley had pronounced the death sentence on their world. Compared to that, even travelling through time seemed acceptable. They were both very carefully, minute by minute, pretending to be rational in a wildly irrational situation.
Afraid to dwell on the thought any longer, Doyle stood. "We'd better get on, if we're to make London before evening."
"Right." Bodie rose to his feet, and they stood there a second, just looking at each other.
"Y'know," Bodie said slowly, a slight quirk to his lips, "I really don't bloody care if you slurp your tea or not."
Doyle smiled, oddly touched by the irrelevance of the comment. "An' I don't bloody care if you doze off in odd places."
The black brows knitted together. "I don't."
"Yes you do. Fell asleep in a tree once, during the Marsden op."
"Wasn't asleep," Bodie protested with affronted dignity. "Just thinkin', I was."
"Well you thought hard enough to fall out of the tree, didn't you?"
They both burst out laughing at the memory, and suddenly it was all right again. They'd walked the razor edge of hysteria again and found safe ground. For the moment. But Doyle wondered as he donned the coat and cap, how long they could go on ignoring the insanity of the situation without one of them cracking from the strain.
When they reached the highroad, they discovered it was little more than a muddy lane, and the traffic was nonexistent. They were forced to walk for over two hours before someone pulled over in a '32 Ford lorry. They climbed into the back with a load of protesting geese and rode the remainder of the way to Turo at a speed not much greater than what they'd have made on foot.
When they reached the city, they had time for breakfast before the next train left for London. Bodie was overjoyed by this, and said as much through a mouthful of biscuit.
"Don't talk with your mouth full," Doyle chided vindictively. "It's very uncouth. An' you've the nerve to talk about me."
Bodie grinned. "Starving men are exempt from such fine points. Haven't had a solid meal for ages, have we?" The grin broadened, "Forty-seven years to be exact."
Busy chewing himself, it took a moment for Doyle to reply. "Ha, very amusing. What about the soup, then?"
"Not solid was it? Anyway, this is fantastic, innit? Nothing packaged in this. Good ol' 1937. Must dine here more often."
Doyle leaned back in his chair, feeling very full, watching in amazement as Bodie stowed away his third helping. "Listen, mate, we've less than fifty quid left, y'know. Don't eat it all at one sitting."
Bodie gave the waitress one of his famous smiles as she refilled his cup. "That's marvelous, sweetheart. Any desert?"
She'd been looking over Doyle's cap with disapproval--he'd figured it a lesser evil to leave it on than display his untimely curls--but Bodie's smile melted her. "There's some custard, love. Made this morning."
"Sounds lovely. Bring us some, will you? And another glass of milk for the boy, 'ere."
Doyle glared at him. "Nothing for me, thanks."
Her gaze returned to him with renewed disapproval. "Something wrong with the food, then? You've hardly touched the stew."
Doyle, who'd put away a bowl of it, was amazed. Why did his partner's ravenous appetite guarantee such maternal approval? Never mind the age of the female, devouring mass quantities of their cooking must have deep sexual connotations.
He smiled up at her brightly. "I'm fasting. Religious reasons."
"Cheeky," she sniffed, and headed back to the kitchen.
They reached London by mid-afternoon. Their first action was to locate the building where the conference would take place, plot out a line of action, check out where the security points would be weakest, and generally figure out most possible contingencies. That settled, they went to purchase the necessary equipment--rope, grappling hooks, a couple of decent blades, and they located a second-hand store where they bought some clothing more suited to the times. Bodie insisted on stopping at a chemists where they purchased razor, soap, tooth power and various other personal items.
"We go around that neighborhood at night looking like a couple of bums, we'll be nicked in a flash, mate. We clean up first. Besides, my whiskers are itchin'."
Doyle was just as eager for a wash up, but couldn't help but tease his self-consciously fastidious partner. After all, he couldn't recall ever seeing Bodie with even a less than perfect shine on his shoes. He remembered Bodie's outraged grumbles when he was once required to go undercover in a flop house. Cowley never heard the end of it for months.
"Always wondered how you managed in Africa, with your neatness fetish." Doyle tossed a bag of their purchases on the bed. The room they'd rented was adequate, if a bit shabby, and the landlady had asked no questions, merely telling them in a bored voice that there was a WC on each floor, but the only bath was on the second.
"I like to be clean, is all," Bodie replied shortly.
Doyle flopped down on the creaky bed, tired from the walk and the train ride. "Must've been rough in the bush, keepin' tidy," he continued lazily.
"Yeah, well, maybe it makes you appreciate the finer things in life." Bodie was quiet for a moment, thinking. "I was locked up for a while once. Some bloody Congo jail...don't even remember the name of the place. Got caught running guns."
Doyle sat up, interest stirred. Another bit of Bodie's past that he'd never heard before. "Yeah? And?"
Bodie shrugged. "And it makes you appreciate soap and water is all."
"How long were you there?"
The handsome face was carefully blank as he unpacked one of the shopping bags. "Five months, three weeks, and six days."
"Christ," Doyle said reverently, his imagination furnishing the gruesome details in glorious color. "You must've been nearly mad when they let you out."
"No, between chasing lice and watchin' out for rats, I had plenty to keep me sane. I had a cell to myself, so at least I didn't have to worry about unwanted advances, did I? It was--" He broke off suddenly, grabbed up the toilet articles and started for the door. "I'll take the bath first, okay?"
"Bodie, wait." Doyle felt a sour taste in his mouth, a strange ache in the pit of his stomach. He realized he'd managed to churn up another nasty memory. Or perhaps it wasn't him at all, it was the insane situation that was dredging it all up. For the second time, Bodie was spilling something that he'd kept close for years. "You've never told me any of this," Doyle said softly. "Why?"
Bodie paused at the door. He shrugged. "Didn't think you'd be interested. Never liked my `African stories', have you?"
"Stories, no. You're full of those. The truth, I think I'd like to hear."
The blue eyes met his, bleakly, but the smile was ironic. "No, you wouldn't." He left before Doyle could reply.
Doyle lay back on the bed, hands folded behind his head. He'd learned more about Bodie in the last two days than he'd discovered in all the years of their partnership. Number one, that Bodie loved him; number two, that Bodie's ghosts weren't as well buried as he'd imagined. The first didn't truly surprise him; he'd have to be totally blind not to catch all the tip-offs in the last couple of years. True, he'd been willfully blind to it, mainly because he wasn't sure if Bodie even realized it, and he had no intention of setting himself up for a fall. Plus, he hadn't been all that sure of his own mind. The second point was more startling. Bodie always seemed so sure of himself, oddly free of the twist and turns of guilt and doubt that often plagued himself. He'd always been more amiable to letting higher authority make certain decisions and take the consequences of them, while Doyle preferred to shoulder the responsibility himself. He'd always figured it was Bodie's army training that made the difference between them, but now he wondered if there was more to it. How much self-doubt was hidden behind his partner's brash, assured facade?
He chewed on the thought for a while until he dropped into a light doze, coming out of it when Bodie returned some time later, slightly damp and well scrubbed.
"Your turn, angelfish. Be sure to wash behind your gills." Doyle rubbed his eyes groggily, and stumbled off to locate the bath. A half hour later he returned to the room feeling one hundred percent better.
Bodie was standing at the one narrow window, staring down into the alley. He was partially dressed in the clothes they'd picked up earlier, grey flannel trousers and the old fashioned undershirt. As Doyle entered, he turned almost guiltily, as if his thoughts had been furtive and impossible to share.
Doyle found a comb and began the painful task of raking it through his tangled wet curls. "We've three hours before we have to go. I suppose we could take another jaunt out there, check it out again."
Bodie shook his head. "Better to keep a low profile, stay clear until we have to be there."
Doyle saw the sense of that, but felt restless. "We could go have some supper."
"Nah. Not hungry."
"That's no surprise; you put away all three meals at breakfast. Well, how about finding a nice pub and downing a pint or two?"
Again Bodie shook his head. "You can if you want." He moved to the bed and laid down.
The idea of going alone didn't appeal to Doyle at all. For one thing, he didn't think they should be separated, for another, he wasn't sure if he was up to facing this brave new--or old, rather--world on his own. He sat down on the other side of the bed, leaning back against the headboard.
Bodie seemed to have developed a fascination with the stains on the ceiling. The paper-thin walls brought them various sounds of life: a pipe gurgling, a girl's giggle as she admonished Rudy "to keep 'is flamin' 'ands to 'imself", the static whisper of the BBC.
"Bodie," Doyle began awkwardly, "what you were tellin' me before, about being locked up...how old were you then?"
The other man didn't move, but his eyes fell shut. He let out a little breath. "You don't really want to hear this, do you?"
"If you want to tell me, yes."
"Okay, then. I was twenty. I'd just got clear of Angola, but Krivas and I didn't exactly part on the best of terms, so I didn't get paid for the job. So I did a bit of smuggling...guns, ammo. Went well for the first few months -- it was a set-up, y'see. Pay offs all down the line. Well, someone didn't get their share, did they? So I end up being nicked."
"You were the only one caught?"
"No, a bloke named Miller was with me. Only he never made it to the lock up. They shot him in the back of the head. Don't know why they didn't do the same for me. Maybe one was their quota." He paused. "Just as well. The rooms were a bit cramped for double occupancy. Six by ten feet with about a twelve foot ceiling. There was a narrow window up near the top, too far to reach, of course, but it let in a bit of light during the day. The nights were the worst...they lasted forever, y'see."
The blue eyes had opened again, but Doyle knew they weren't seeing what was here and now.
"I panicked once, totally bonkers...screaming, pounding my head against the walls," Bodie continued, voice incredibly calm, belying the expression in his eyes and the bow-string tautness of his body. "That night had gone on so long, impossibly long. I finally reckoned they'd blocked off the window so it'd be black forever, that they'd taken the light from me for good. They hadn't, of course. Didn't have enough imagination for subtle torture such as that. But then, they didn't really need it, did they? I had enough of me own."
Doyle's mouth felt dry; he swallowed with difficulty. "You were alone all that time?"
"Oh, about once a week a guard would come to empty the slop jar and toss in some wheat cakes and a rotting cabbage. There was a pipe in the corner that dripped rusty water. It took nearly a day for it to fill a pan. I used to make myself wait until it was almost full, counting each bloody drop like a miser counting his pennies. It was another fear that lived with me--that the leak would just stop...dry up. And even if I didn't die of thirst, if they began to bring me water along with the mangy food, it wouldn't have mattered. I wouldn't have anything left to live for anymore, y'know? I lived for that damn drip, like it was my fuckin' heartbeat."
Doyle wasn't sure how to respond to any of this, or even if he should. He'd been through some rough times in his own life, but nothing like that. He didn't think he could have survived it. Finally Doyle said softly, "Why did they let you go at last?"
Bodie shrugged. "Didn't, did they? One day the gaoler got a bit careless, reckoned I was too weak or..." He trailed off, then glanced at Doyle. "You want to know something funny? I almost didn't escape. Almost just sat there and rotted. Fear can do that to you. Terror, actually. It can freeze you up so hard you can't move, can't think, can't even breathe. Like an animal caught in the glare of headlamps on a country road. Every sensation, every rush of life is held right there in your nerve ends, right on the surface of your skin."
Doyle nodded, understanding that kind of terror very well. He'd lived it with every jammed gun, each unexpected sniper, every ambush. There was always that split second of numbing fear, animal and instinctive.
"Then there's the other kind of fear," Bodie went on quietly. "Like the rabbits in the farmer's cages. After a while you get more afraid of the open door than the locked one. The existence doesn't get better, the dirt and rats and hunger and boredom, the routine is...safe. At least you know what to expect. Just like those rabbits. It doesn't make sense, but it happens."
Doyle looked at him. "Is that how you felt?"
"For a while, yes, I suppose I did. Each time that door opened, I was frozen scared. At first because I was afraid they were coming to do to me what they did to Miller. Or they were going to take me out and torture me. Then, as time went on, I realized it was just the thought of being taken out at all. The not knowing what was waiting out there was worse than all the rest." He laced his hands behind his head, still staring at the ceiling.
"Anyway," he continued after a minute, "they'd stopped worrying about me. Reckoned I was well cowed after all that time in the hole. Got a bit lax. Until one day something snapped, and I wasn't scared any more, just bloody mad. Don't know how the hell I managed to break that guard's neck, weak as I was. But I was half crazy by then, so that might explain it."
"So you escaped," Doyle finished for him, feeling quite shaken by the account. He was glad Bodie had been able to tell him, but was concerned by the strange note in his partner's voice.
"Yeah, and came back to England as fast as possible. Joined up with the army." He took a deep breath. "And that's why I list a hot bath only one step below a hot meal, mate," he said lightly.
He fell silent for several moments and Doyle didn't try to break it, still unsure of what to say. Then, suddenly, Bodie turned and grinned at him.
"Nice story, eh? Read it in an adventure book. Very dramatic, I thought."
Doyle stared at him, eyes widening.
"You don't mean...all of that...? You never just made it up? That whole thing?"
Bodie's grin became feral. "You wanted a story, mate. Didn't want to disappoint you, did I? Killed a half hour anyway, didn't it?"
Doyle was stunned, furious, hurt. "Christ, Bodie, you dumb sod! The last thing I wanted was another one of your bloody yarns! Don't you ever give it a rest--?"
While Bodie's outward expression didn't alter, there was something there that cut short Doyle's outraged speech. He was abruptly and explicitly positive that Bodie was lying now. For some reason he was backing off from the revelations, preferring Doyle to believe them fiction. And Doyle realized, just as surely, this was the only way Bodie could handle it. He didn't want pity; was paranoid of it.
Doyle's first impulse, unusual for him, was to reach out to Bodie, to hold on to him. But he knew instinctively that Bodie wouldn't accept that right now, couldn't deal with that either.
As if to prove that point, Bodie rolled over on his stomach and buried his face in his arms. "I'm taking a kip, mate. Wake me in a couple of hours, will you?"
In spite of himself, Doyle touched the silky black hair fleetingly, but pulled back before the man could react. "Sure, sunshine. Sleep."
They were both appalled at the simplicity of getting past the outside security. Of course, there was little reason for the guards to suspect any trouble; the discussion scheduled to take place was more of a scientific rather than a political nature. But, considering the number of important people attending, the relaxed atmosphere seemed incredible to two men born in a very different era that fostered much less trust in their fellow men.
They made it over the wall with no difficulty, knocked out the only guard at the rear of the building, and lifted his rifle. Now armed, it was merely a question of getting to the roof, crossing to the adjoining conference hall, and finishing the job. Their eyes met uneasily in the darkness of the garden. It was too easy; they both felt it. Nothing went this smoothly.
Leaving the soldier tied with his own belt and securely gagged, they proceeded to the fire escape. At the top, using the rope and hooks, they caught the edge and climbed up, Bodie first, Doyle following. Bodie grabbed Doyle's arm as he skidded on the slippery tiles. It was drizzling slightly, and the slates were treacherous. The cant of the roof was steep at this section, and they made their way across it cautiously.
"We have to go over," Bodie whispered, indicating the steep incline of the roof. "Skylight's on the other side."
"I hate high places," Doyle whispered back, "Did I ever tell you how much I hate high places?"
"Only mentioned it a couple dozen times is all. Come on." They reached the top of the slope and started down the other side, discovering it was trickier going down than up. Taking the safe way, Doyle fastened the hook at the peak with the intention of using the rope to brace his descent--and lay the path for a faster get-away if necessary. Bodie had moved on ahead, inching and sliding down the slope. Near the bottom, he paused to check on Doyle's progress. He could see the curly head outlined against the night sky as he fumbled to anchor the hook.
"Halt! Stay where you are!"
Realizing his vulnerable position, Doyle leaped nimbly over the peak out of the line of fire, then found himself scrambling wildly for a handhold as he began slipping back down the other side. At the same moment, Bodie was very conscious of the lovely target Doyle had made. He launched himself instinctively the last few meters of the slope, aiming for the darker shadow near the chimney wall and the distinctive gleam of metal. There wasn't time to get his own rifle off his shoulder, so he contented himself with throwing off the aim of the other.
It worked well enough that the gun didn't go off. The soldier obviously hadn't been expecting a direct attack. But he recovered quickly and they ended up struggling fiercely on the rain-slick roof, rolling precariously near the gutter. The soldier was much smaller than Bodie, but his repertoire of dirty moves seemed nearly as extensive as the ex-mercenary's. And one new one, Bodie wasn't familiar with. It sent him flying back, grabbing wildly as he felt himself sliding over the edge. He held for an instant on the gutter, but the rusted bolts broke free and he fell.
Doyle made it back to the top in time to hear the protesting screech of metal. Somehow he knew, without even looking, that it was Bodie that went over. The soldier was scrambling for his rifle, which had slid down to catch in the gutter. Without even thinking, Doyle reached for the knife Bodie had insisted on buying. Not sharing his partner's talent with the weapon, it was more luck than skill that helped him hit his mark. The blade entered the soldier's side, not deeply, but enough to throw off his balance so near the edge, and he, too, fell out of sight.
For a long moment, Doyle just lay there, heels dug into the roof to keep from slipping. The night was very quiet, and the drizzle had thickened to cold rain. If anyone had heard the noises, there was no indication of it.
"Bodie..." Doyle whispered, not thinking of the need for quiet; he simply didn't have the breath for more. He wanted to scream the name, but was very afraid he would get no answer.
Methodically, he made sure of the hook's anchorage, and slid down the rope to the edge. He looked over, then shut his eyes in relief. It wasn't a straight drop as it had been on the other side. There was a lower roof, ten or fifteen feet down, also slanted. He threw the rope over and climbed down, then slid quickly down to the next edge. The drop on that side was perhaps another twenty feet to another garden at the side of the conference hall. He could just make out two figures lying very still on the grass. He tossed what was left of the rope over and slid down.
Bodie moaned as Doyle knelt beside him. Doyle touched him gingerly, feeling his face was wet from the rain.
"Yeah, mate, I'm here," Doyle replied shakily.
"Watch out for that last step...it's--" The joke cut off with a sharp intake of breath.
"You're hurt. Lie still for a minute."
Bodie struggled to sit up. "No...nothing's broken...I don't think. Just had the breath knocked out of me. I--" He chopped off again, stiffening.
"What is it? Where does it hurt?"
"My shoulder...not broken. Dislocated, I think. Should recognize the feelin', done it before, haven't I? Some people have glass jaws, I'm stuck with a--" Another sharp intake of air, and an audible swallow. "Christ it hurts. You'll have to fix it."
Doyle couldn't see his face well in the dark, but the sarcasm in his voice was comfortingly familiar. "No, mate, run out an' have a couple pints at the local first. I'll wait."
In one quick, excruciating moment, it was over. Bodie was shaking in reaction, teeth still clenched on his jacket cuff to muffle his scream, but after a couple of minutes he assured Doyle it was better, his voice a bit unsteady.
"What about the soldier boy?" he asked at last.
Doyle glanced over. "Unless he fell on his neck, he should be okay. I think he's breathing. Knocked him cold, though."
Bodie used his good hand to push himself up to a sitting position again, leaning back against the brick wall. "So what now? Give it up? I'm not going to be able to climb with this shoulder, and the room doesn't have a window. It has to be the skylight."
Doyle leaned back on his heels. "I'll do it, of course."
"What difference whether it's you or me? I'm the better shot anyway," Doyle snarled. "It has to be done, that's what counts. Hahn has to die."
The other man was silent for a moment, thoughtful. "Reckoned it was too easy at first. Now I think it's jinxed. No way it's going to happen. You can't change time. It's crazy. All of this is crazy."
"We've changed time by just being here. Sod your bloody superstitions," Doyle said angrily. "The only reason this happened is that we got careless; figured they were all off havin' a smoke. Didn't bank on conscientious joe there. He must've seen us on the fire escape and got up the other side some way. The bloody little bastard."
"Why so hard on him? Just doin' his job, wasn't he?"
"He threw you off the bloody roof, that's why!"
"Keep your voice down," Bodie advised testily. "Besides, you did the same for him, didn't you? He's the good guy here, Ray. We're the villains."
Doyle stood, looked around until he found the stolen rifle in a flower bed. He checked the ammunition.
"Yeah, I'm going."
"Be careful, then."
Without answering, Doyle slung the rifle over his shoulder and jumped up to reach the dangling end of the rope far above his head. He caught it on the first try and was shortly out of sight.
Bodie lay there, cataloguing his bruises, enduring the throbbing ache in his shoulder. He'd been very lucky and he knew it. But that same luck had sent Doyle up on the roof to kill a man.
Should've been me, he thought dully. Tommy McKay is dead, and who's next on the line for chief nutter? Me, of course. Cold-blooded killer. Doyle even said it once, didn't he? What makes you so different? Nothing, mate, nothing at all. Except I hate it. It makes me puke. Didn't know that, did you? That it makes me sick. Sicker than anything. But I was the natural choice; got to give Cowley his due. And I wish Ray didn't have to deal with it. It'll eat him up inside...him and his bloody guilt-trip. He'll have a round the world journey on this one.
It wasn't a sound, it was the lack of any that drew his attention to the body laying a few yards away. The soldier hadn't fallen any farther than he had, she the figure dimly in these shadows, but it was easy to see that the soldier was hardly more than a boy--eighteen, nineteen at most. Remembering the battle on the roof, he was surprised, and admiring. The kid was good. If they hadn't been fighting where they were and the luck hadn't been with him, the soldier wouldn't have stood a chance against Bodie, but Bodie also realized he would have given him a good fight. He was a small man, smaller than Doyle even. But that brief, dramatic struggle had told Bodie a lot.
"Come on, mate. Might as well give over. Where you hurtin'?"
After another silence, the boy answered, "Leg..."
Bodie checked it, found it was twisted in an odd angle. The break seemed at a very dangerous place; right at the knee.
"Don't think I can help with that, old man," Bodie said softly. "Better if I don't mess with it for now. Someone will be along to fix it. Hurt anywhere else?"
"Side--" The teeth clicked together as they bit off the pain. "..knife..."
Bodie felt his side, hand coming up sticky. "It's out now, mate. Don't think it went deep. The bleeding isn't too bad. Hang on, okay?"
The blond head nodded stiffly. Bodie felt awkward, regretful. He managed to get the boy's head in his lap so he could shield the increasingly heavy rain from his face.
"Wish you hadn't come by, y'know," Bodie said conversationally. "Sorry you got hurt in this mess. My friend there, he wouldn't have wanted to hurt you. Not his thing at all." He chuckled. "Not that he's all that fond of army men, now that I think on it. I was an army man meself, y'know. Paras."
He could almost feel the puzzlement. "Never mind, after your time, I reckon."
There was a choked cough from the man he was holding, and Bodie wondering if he'd a punctured lung as well as the rest. But the boy spoke, just one word but it was said in a voice that truly wanted to know.
"Dunno," Bodie said bleakly. "Because he felt he had to try. Because the Cow asked it of us. I dunno. Don't believe in it meself. It's all too strange for me. We have to try, though. I can almost see that. And if it works, I suppose no one will ever know why it had to happen. That's the way it works, innit? No one ever knows the real reasons." Bodie wasn't sure why he wanted this anonymous soldier to understand, but it was suddenly important.
"We're not killers, y'know. He isn't. Wouldn't do this if we didn't have to. Most times we try to stop it." He paused. "Now me mind's all screwed up with all the times we stopped it that we maybe shouldn't have. Maybe we weren't the first, y'know. Maybe there were others tryin' like we did. How can we know? Used to feel so bloody righteous sometimes. The good guys. It's better to be a good guy. You can go home and get a peaceful night's sleep. Still a bit sick if you've had to do one in, bad guy or not, but...at least you sleep."
He went on talking, hardly knowing what he was saying. He remembered being hurt before, really hurt, and needing a voice, a feeling, something to keep him going on, cutting the long wait for relief of the pain into acceptable segments.
"If we don't get out, and we probably won't, I hope they don't push it all on Ray. Wasn't to be him at all, y'see. I was supposed to do it. The Cow knew. He always knows. It hurt for him to know it. I thought maybe, just maybe he was wrong, and that I couldn't do it at all. Now, maybe I'll never know. I'll never know if I could've pulled that trigger. He thought so. And the old man's always right."
After a very long time, Bodie ran out of words. He'd never been much of a talker, not to dribble on and on, so he was surprised at how long he'd seemed to talk. Whisper, rather, for he was still unconsciously being careful.
He realized suddenly, that Doyle had been gone for a long time. Impossible to see his watch in this light, but it seemed a long time. He decided suddenly, that he was being very stupid. Being hurt was no excuse, worrying about some nameless soldier wasn't enough. He should've been checking escape routes from this end. Obviously, he wouldn't be able to climb out the way they'd came, and almost as obviously, Doyle wouldn't leave without him.
He shifted to one side carefully, moving the boy's head. "You okay?"
The boy nodded, tried to move and cried out very softly. The leg was the thing that had him down. Any movement was torture.
"Lay still, old man. It'll be okay."
Bodie stood up cautiously, finding it was only his right shoulder that gave him any real trouble. He paced along the wall, and soon discovered a metal gate. It was locked with a very archaic padlock. Delighted, he patted in his pockets and discovered he'd transferred his trusty lockpin. Seconds later he had it open. He breathed a real sigh of relief, for he'd been wondering how a very stubborn Doyle was goin' to manage getting him over the ten foot wall.
Replacing the chain carefully, so it still looked intact, he returned to the soldier.
The head tossed fitfully. "Hot..."
Bodie touched his neck. It was burning. Infection? Too quick for a simple break. But the boy was in a fever. Bodie screamed silently for Doyle, so they could get out of here and let someone know about this boy. It had been hours, hadn't it? Hours.
He had longer to wait. He held the boy as he twisted, feverish, hurting. The knife wound was nothing to the agony of the leg. Bodie didn't understand it, but he held him, comforting as best he could, feeling the insane impulse to run to the front of the building and find help.
Finally, there was a scrambling sound from above, and Doyle dropped down from the rope. He sat down rather suddenly.
Bodie moved the soldier's head carefully onto the grass and stood. Doyle didn't answer.
"Shouldn't we be runnin' for it? Won't there be a stir?" He hadn't heard a shot, but he didn't know what else to say. He could see Doyle's head tilt up to look at him, but the expression, as everything else was too dark in the garden.
"No one's going to be looking. Nothing happened."
"Eh?" Bodie sat down beside him, a careful six inches distance.
"Didn't do it, did I?" Doyle said in a strained voice. "Couldn't. Had him in me sights for two hours at least.... couldn't..."
"I know," Doyle exploded, "I had to do it! But I didn't. I didn't make it, okay?" He paused, head lowered. "I watched him, finger on the trigger. Could have killed him a dozen times over. Spattered his brains over the wall. Kept thinkin', y'know, next minute, I'll do it. Pull the trigger. Wait 'til he'd had his say. Wait 'til he's finished laughing. Wait 'til he's looked over the pretty bird across the room. I just kept waitin'."
His head turned to look at Bodie, expression impossible to read in the light, but all too visible in the mind. "I couldn't do it, Bodie. He was so bloody alive, y'know? Not all that much older than we are. The pictures we saw, they all came later, after he'd done his thing. Split the atom, or whatever. He was so young when he did it. Must've been. Thirty-six, thirty-seven. Not ready to die. That man had so long to go. I felt it. Felt it!"
Bodie touched him. "'S'okay, mate."
Doyle flinched away. "Okay? No, it's not bloody okay! I didn't want to kill him, but the whole bloody world will die if I don't. That's not bloody okay! That's insane. The conference ended before I could work up the nerve. Never killed a man straight out like that. Killed a lot the other way--shoot outs, self defense, even a split second of knowing they were bad and I wasn't. But this man isn't bad, Bodie. He's a good man. Intelligent, caring.... good. I lied to you earlier. I know he wasn't a Nazi. He's even known for being one who made certain the Nazis didn't discover the A-bomb, although he was trapped in Germany when it happened."
"Ray, let's go--"
Doyle shrugged off his hand. "You don't understand. That's why Cowley told us so little. Only gave us a name. Hoped we wouldn't know. Otto Hahn wasn't someone I remembered right off either. Why didn't he give us Einstein or Oppenheimer or a dozen other people? The hell of it is most of the people who developed the atomic bomb are good people. Not terrorists, not criminals. And that's why he picked Hahn, 'cause not many people know what he did. That he really started it all. It's hard to kill someone you know."
"Ray, it was me he picked," Bodie said quietly. "Didn't matter whether we knew him or not. Would it really have mattered to you?"
Doyle hardly heard what he said, was shaking, furious and shivering from the emotional turmoil. "I can't kill someone cold like that. I can't! Cowley knew that. Knew I couldn't do it, damn him! Knew that if I understood who it was--"
Bodie cut in sharply. "I knew, too, Doyle."
Doyle turned to look at him, stunned. "But--"
Bodie's grip on his arm tightened painfully. "Cowley thought I could do it. Don't worry that he thought you couldn't. What's the hardest to believe, Doyle?"
Doyle shut up. It came to him much slower than it should've how hurt Bodie was that Cowley had believed him capable of such an act. Hadn't bothered Doyle before; he'd seen it more as a sacred trust, saving the future of the world, romanticized beyond the point of reality. Until he got Hahn in his gunsights. Doyle had never been as romantic as Bodie or Cowley in some ways, perhaps that's what made the difference. It was easier for both of them to see the divider line between reality and idealism.
The sandpaper grit of Doyle surfaced suddenly. "We've still got to do it. Doesn't change the facts, does it?"
"Yeah?" Bodie asked cautiously.
"He's still right, y'know. We have to do something. This is still the best bet. Maybe I can do it next time, now I've got it figured out in me head. I have to kill him, so I will. Or you will, when your shoulder's better. We still don't have a choice. Nothing's changed. We missed the first chance because I wasn't ready. But he'll be in England for a couple of days yet. We've still a chance. We can trace his movements."
"They'll be onto us now." Bodie pointed out.
"No, why should they? Even with the guard at the wall, they won't know who we were after. There was at least a hundred and fifty people in there, most of them important. There's no way they can protect them all. Plus the fact they may take it for a simple B&E. Looking for money in the German Embassy: its roof adjoins this one. How will they know?"
Bodie gestured to the man laying a few meters away. "He'll tell 'em."
Doyle paused. "Tell them what? We were here? They'll know that anyway, won't they?"
"No, he knows who it is we're after. Hahn."
"He was awake, wasn't he? When you were talkin' earlier, probably heard every word you said."
Doyle stood and walked over to the soldier, catching the feverish glint of the eyes looking up at him. He returned to his partner. "You're sure?"
"Damn." There was a long moment of silence as they stared at each other in the darkness. Doyle finally spoke what they were both thinking. "There's one way to keep 'im quiet."
"No." Bodie stood, rejecting the idea flatly. He felt a strange affinity for the nameless soldier that he couldn't explain.
Doyle, liking the idea as little as Bodie, was irritated. "Just what do you suggest, then? Take him on as a mascot? We can't very well drag 'im all over London with a smashed leg, can we?"
Bodie didn't answer. Doyle repeated impatiently, "Well, can we?"
"I can't kill him," Bodie responded viciously. "D'you think you can?"
It was Doyle's turn to be silent. Bodie had always been the cold one with strangers, with he the more compassionate. The switch in roles was uncomfortable, and he wondered, not for the first time, if he had been reading Bodie all wrong for a lot of years.
Bodie's hand gripped his shoulder. "Com'on, mate. Let's get out of here." Doyle nodded, and Bodie moved to kneel beside the boy.
"Someone will be along any minute now, eh? Just 'ang on, son." Bodie led his partner to the broken gate, they left the rifles propped against the wall, guns being something else they couldn't lug around London without attracting unwanted attention, and fifteen minutes later they were far enough away they were reasonably certain of safety.
Bodie finally grabbed his partner's arm and pulled him through the doorway of a pub. It was dim inside and noisy; several tipsy blokes were singing boisterously at the bar. They made their way through the crowd to an empty table at the very back. Bodie sat down very carefully, trying to avoid any more jolts on his shoulder; it was already throbbing like the devil. He caught the barmaid's eye with no trouble and ordered two whiskeys--doubles. When they arrived, Bodie belted his back quickly, grimacing as the movement shot another pain through his injured shoulder. Doyle just sat there, staring down at the muddy floor and his very out-of-place, not to mention out-of-time sneakers. Bodie leaned across the table and ordered flatly, "Drink it."
Doyle blinked, green eyes lifting to meet his partner's. He shrugged, picked up the glass and downed the contents in two gulps. Whiskey, as usual, loosened his tongue a bit, diverted him from the introverted path Bodie had sensed he was taking. It was natural for Doyle to talk out his thoughts and guilts, just as it was natural for Bodie to hold them inside. When the situations reversed, it was always a very real danger sign.
"I've made a mess of it, Bodie," he said glumly, nursing his second drink. "Because of me--"
"So we'll try again," Bodie cut him off hastily.
"It'll be harder next time," Doyle pointed out. "They'll have a guard around him now, after the soldier talks. It'll have to be a long shot. And--" He broke off, biting his lip. "What...what if I still can't pull the trigger?"
The noise level was so loud they could barely hear each other, but Bodie caught a curious glance thrown at them from the next table.
"Drop it, Ray."
"No," Doyle continued stubbornly. "I froze. I knew I had to do it, but I just couldn't---"
Irritated, Bodie snapped, "It's not the first time, is it?"
Startled, Doyle stared at him. They both thought of the last time. Bodie's shoulder was hurt then as well, but it had been a knife sticking out of it, and it had been Barry Martin in Doyle's sights.
Feeling he had hit below the belt, Bodie softened it. "Listen, mate, you just weren't prepared, that's all. Next time you'll know and you'll be ready for it. Or else I'll be the one."
Distracted, Doyle pulled off his cap and ran his fingers through his long curls. Bodie groaned and closed his eyes, having already noted a couple of turned heads and more than a few raised eyebrows.
Doyle took another drink, still oblivious to the fact his hairstyle was more than a little out of place in a lower class pub circa 1937. "What?"
"Shouldn'ta taken your hat off, should you?"
"Oh...yeah. Suppose not." He glanced down at the balled-up cap in his fist, then tossed it on the table. "Sod it."
Bodie opened his eyes cautiously, and saw exactly what he'd expected to see. Even in the dim lighting, Ray's tumbled curls had caught the attention of more than a few of the big, beefy, hard-working, hard-drinking, red-blooded Englishmen. One of them was feeling frisky.
"Hey, look't little lord Fauntleroy there. Ain't 'e sweet?" Doyle, hardly accustomed to being addressed in such tones, didn't even consider it might be he they were talking about. He was sunk deeply in his own thoughts, and still trying to work it all out.
"It shouldn't be all that hard to find where Hahn is staying," he went on. "Maybe even in the German Embassy--"
"Does yer mum know you're out with such a big, tough brute, darlin'?"
"--once we know where, we figure out--"
"Take long to put up those dear little pin curls, sweetheart?"
"--getting a gun will be more of a trick this time--"
"Ray," Bodie cut him off this time, amazed that all the jibes were still going blissfully over his head. Even in the 1980's Doyle didn't realize what he looked like at times...almost other-worldly. He'd certainly never accepted the fact he was small--or overcompensated for it to the point where it was utterly unimportant. But in the 1930's he was as out of place as the Queen in a g-string.
"Ray," Bodie repeated, having finally gotten his attention. "Let's get out of here quietly, shall we?"
"Ooooh, ducky, is he proposing?" The raucous laughter that followed the remark got through to Doyle at last. He looked around warily, appraising the hostile faces.
"Ray!" Bodie said with more urgency, "let's get the bloody hell out of here, okay?" Visions of a wild pub brawl at this particular moment sent searing cries of protest from the nerves in his damaged shoulder.
One of the ugliest and biggest of the crowd moved forward and made kissy noises. "Doesn't 'e love you anymore, sweetheart?"
Doyle's temper, never stable in the best of circumstances, rocketed into the red zone. "You talkin' to me?" He asked icily.
Bodie's good arm went up in a frustrated gesture of defeat; defusing his partner at this stage was too much for even his powers of persuasion.
"Yeah, buttercup." A meaty hand plopped on Doyle's shoulder. "Y'oughta ditch the gorilla there. Your place or mine?" A roar of laughter greeted this sally as his mates crowded around, eager to see the sport. The man across the table looked darkly dangerous, but they were all confident that good ol' brickfisted Ralph could do him up quick enough. They didn't even consider curly-top other than as a convenient start for a happy brawl.
Doyle turned his head and looked calmly at the hand on his shoulder, then up at the red-faced, sixteen stone mass of flesh. He smiled, uneven teeth flashing whitely in the dim light. "I don't believe we've been properly introduced."
In a movement that was almost too quick to follow, he grabbed the fellow's wrist and twisted it back in an impossible position.
Surprised, the man struggled to free himself, increasing the pressure even more. "Let me go, you bloody fairy!"
There was a very audible snap, heard even over the noise of the pub, and the man screamed. Doyle brought his knee up into the man's stomach for good measure.
"Let's go, Bodie," he said coolly.
Bodie was only too willing to comply before the amazed reaction of good ol' Ralph's friends wore off. Nor did he want to be around when good ol' brick-fisted Ralph realized that the 'bloody fairy' had him writhing on the floor in agony.
He caught up with him on the pavement. "Why the hell did you have to go an' do that for, eh? Could've led to a nasty situation in there!"
Doyle scowled. "Since when are you such a pacifist?"
"Since me shoulder took a vacation from its socket, you stupid ass!"
Doyle halted abruptly, stricken. "I...forgot. I'm sorry, mate."
Bodie couldn't see his expression in the dark, but he could well imagine it. More guilt. "Is it still bad?"
"It's okay. Just not up to any round-house punches defendin' your honor."
"I didn't think," Doyle replied, crestfallen. "Not exactly A-l undercover work, was it? Christ, I've fucked this job from the word go--"
"Leave it be, Ray," Bodie cut him off impatiently. Before he could continue, however, Doyle caught his wrist; pulling on his bad arm so that he jerked away automatically. "Dammit, what is it?" But by that time, he felt it himself.
It was a sudden build up of pressure, a tingling feeling on the skin. Within a second the pressure increased, pushing in on all sides, stealing breath away. He didn't have time to wonder about it, the next conscious feeling was of falling....
Bodie gritted his teeth as the jolt hit his shoulder. He appreciated the fact it wasn't as bad as it could have been. He sat up and looked around. The stone monolith stood nearby, casting a crooked shadow in the moonlight. A few meters away he could hear Doyle being violently ill.
He looked up at the sky; the stars were very bright and crisp, amazingly so for a moonlit night. His first reaction was relief. It was good to be back. They didn't belong in that other place, and he'd felt it every minute. That they had failed didn't bother him overly much--he'd never expected it to work in the first place.
While he waited patiently for Doyle to recover from his motion sickness, Bodie looked around, beginning to feel an eerie chill of unease. Something wasn't right. He possessed an unconscious 'bump' of direction and right now it was off a bit. North was still north and so on, but he sensed an uncomfortable feeling of being out of place.
Doyle had managed to get to his feet and was standing, braced against the stone, head lowered. "It's too late, Bodie. We only had the one chance and I botched it. Christ, we knew we could be pulled back at any time. Price told us--"
"I don't think we're back, Ray."
"Eh?" Doyle looked up. "What'd'ya mean?"
"Take a good look around, mate."
Doyle did, and began to see what his partner meant. It was different. Even in the weak moonlight, he could see the terrain was different. Even the stone he was leaning against was tilted at a steeper angle. He jerked his hand away as if burned.
"What...? I don't understand. If we didn't go back where we started, then where--or when--are we?"
Bodie shrugged. "The cottage isn't there either," he pointed out.
"Well, it wasn't there in 1937, was it? Could we have gone back even further?"
Bodie shook his head. "I don't think so, mate. Wouldn't the stone there be straighter? It's settled more--a lot more. How long would something like that take?"
"The future?" Doyle's voice was strained. "You're sayin' we overshot our own time? But why...how?"
"Listen, mate, I don't know anymore than you do. Just that something isn't...right. You got a better explanation?"
"Damn it! There has to be one! Price said that everything returns to it's own time. We should've..." He trailed off, taking a deep breath.
"Well, if there was a war," Bodie filled in the silence, "it doesn't seem to've hurt things much here. Unless that's what took out the cottage." He caught a glimpse of white in the moonlight, and knelt to pull it out of the grass. It was a wild daisy. "This is doin' fine, anyway."
Doyle's head jerked up as something occurred to him. "The war! Maybe that was it. Price said this focus point or whatever it is, is activated by energy bursts...like solar flares, lightning...stuff like that."
"So?" Bodie pulled the petals off the daisy one by one, letting them drop to the grass.
"Sudden, erratic power source.... So what would a sudden burst of atomic radiation in the atmosphere do to this thing? Maybe that's why it threw us forward. Like a slingshot."
"Ray, if that's what happened, would this be left?" He held out the flower--or what was left of it.
"Depends on how far forward we've come, doesn't it?"
They stared at each other, suddenly realizing they had truly entered a brave new world--and that they just might be the only two human creatures in it.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink, Manacles Press, 1992