Reflections Over Midnight Tea
by Anne Higgins
NOTE: Not something you'd expect from me, but this is as close to a Death Story as I've ever written. I do not consider it true DS because it does not involve the death of a main character (in Pros case that would be Bodie, Doyle and/or Cowley). It does, however, deal with two people in love helping each other cope with loss.
I wrote this for an edition of Chalk & Cheese that served as a memorial to the actor who played the character of Murphy. I was never fond of Murphy, but I drew on how I felt when I got the call telling me my ex had died of cancer, and I've always hoped I did a decent job of it. This might not be the best time to post up this piece, but then again, it might be the best time for it. I've decided to leave it to each reader to figure out what she can or cannot take right now.
Dedicated to everyone who has ever received a similar phone call.
William Andrew Philip Bodie walked through the front door, and, though their trip had required no luggage, claimed his usual pack horse rights of first in the loo, leaving his lover to deal with the locks and alarms. Feeling like something a cat would turn its nose up at it, he cleaned his teeth, stripped off his clothes, then stepped into the shower.
Exhaustion quickly won out over the pleasure of hot, soppy water, and he shut off the shower as soon as he felt reasonably clean. When he stepped out of the tub, Raymond Doyle enfolded him in a large, soft towel.
The long, graceful fingers guided the cloth over Bodie's body with a practical touch that made it difficult for Bodie to believe sometimes the mere sight of a towel in Doyle's hands could make him come. However, tonight they were both beyond the ability to enjoy anything, but a long night's sleep, and Ray was merely pampering him.
For that he kissed the auburn brushed curls when Doyle bent to the task of drying his legs.
Doyle finished with his feet, then looked up at Bodie and said, "I know you're all done in, pet, but you'd feel better if you'd eat something. I could make up some eggs. Only take a minute."
It was tempting airline food being neither satisfying or filling. "Thanks, sunshine, but I'm too tired to chew."
"All right, then." Doyle stood, then hung up the towel. "Off to bed with you."
Bodie reached up and caressed a gray temple. "You coming?"
"Just as soon as I wash up."
Satisfied he would not be alone for too long, Bodie gave him a quick kiss, then padded off to the bedroom. Tired as he was, he knew he couldn't hope to sleep until Doyle joined him. The last day had shaken Bodie to a level he didn't even begin to understand., but he hoped a decent night's sleep would let him put things in perspective.
He slipped into bed with a grateful sigh. Two nights had gone by since he'd left the bed. The first had passed without so much as a brief kip, while he and Doyle had coordinated a joint CI5/SAS move on an IRA stronghold. Theoretically, he'd had ten hours to sleep since then, but the quality of sleep on an airplane matched the food, and he'd done nothing more than drift off into brief, dreamless rests.
He stretched hard. Christ, flying took it out of a bloke. He'd felt better after sessions with Macklin than he felt now, and more than once he'd longed for a parachute and solid ground beneath his feet. Next time he had to make a fast trip to Hong Kong, he vowed he'd bribe an ex-RAF mate into flying them in something a lot faster than civilian aircraft. Fast trip, now there was an understatement. They'd flown in, spent less than three hours there, then had flown back to London. It was those three hours on the ground he was doing his best to avoid thinking about. As much as he hated flying for hours on end, he hated hospitals far more.
Fortunately for his faltering quest not to think about it, Doyle chose that moment to crawl into bed. The golli switched off the light, then opened his arms for Bodie.
They'd been lovers almost to the day in 1975 when George Cowley had made them partners, and they'd considered themselves married since 81. Bodie snuggled up against the body that at forty - one was still as strong and fit as it had been at thirty. Macklin and a host of other CI5 trainers saw to that, but Bodie reaped the benefits, and even after six years of monogamy no one could make his pulse race like Doyle. No one was a better cuddle either, he thought, felt Doyle's lips brush his forehead, then fell fast asleep.
Bodie woke abruptly, his eyes snapping open, while his heart pounded, but he managed to stay still and not disturb Doyle's sleep. He wanted to wake him up, wanted to feel those strong arms hug him until his ribs threatened to break, but he knew he was being a prat and Doyle need his sleep as much as Bodie did.
Sleep, yes, he needed to go back to sleep. But the notion no longer appealed . He could see the clock on Doyle's nightstand and noted with disgust it was a few minutes after midnight. He couldn't have been asleep for more than two hours. Long enough to take the edge off his exhaustion. But that didn't mean he wasn't tired and in need of another six or eight hours sleep.
He tried to relax, tried to let himself drift, but his mind was too full, and he quickly gave up. Careful not to disturb Doyle, he slipped from his arms, then out of their bed. He grabbed a terry cloth robe, then left the bedroom, closing the door behind him as quietly as he could.
Now what? He thought about pouring himself a scotch, but though a part of him could really have used a drink, he'd always tried to avoid alcohol when he was feeling maudlin. And he couldn't think of a better word to describe his current mood.
Deciding a cup of tea would have to do, he headed for the kitchen. He made up the kettle, then while he was at it, he fixed a few pieces of toast. He slathered the toast with butter and strawberry preserves, then practically inhaled it. He thought about making some more, but he'd never enjoyed Doyle's metabolism. Between a more inactive job and his aging metabolism, he'd had to keep a close eye on his waist line. It was bloody annoying, but one of the newer entries on his list of Things that Must be Endured.
He poured himself another cup of tea, then wandered into the front room. He'd been thirty eight years old for two weeks and four days. He found that ... remarkable. Few would consider him old, but he was no longer young either. Nor was it an age he'd ever expected to see.
When he was fourteen the man he'd thought was his father had died, and Bodie had fled from an abusive mother into a hard, violent life. That had not changed when George Cowley had finally tracked down his son and brought him back to England five years later. So he'd always expected an abrupt, violent end. Instead, with Doyle to watch his back and vice versa, they'd both survived until Cowley had retired them from the field and made them his Deputy Controllers.
In twelve days, his father would reach his sixty fifth birthday and George Cowley would retire to his wife's country estate, while Bodie and Doyle would assume the posts of Joint Controllers. Even then the threat of a violent death would not really end.
More than one assassin had targeted Cowley in the past, and if Bodie and his partner did the job even half as well as his father had, a very large number of dangerous people would want to see them dead. Never one for hiding behind a nice, safe crime scene barricade, Cowley carried a gun and had had more than one occasion to use it. They same would be true of his successors. And given neither of them had a bullet from an old war wound lodged in their leg, he imagined they'd be even more prone to sticking their noses into things before the all clear sounded.
Yes, a bullet or a bomb might still have their names on it, but the odds were in their favor now, and dying of old age was a very real possibility. Bodie had just started to come to terms with that, had just gotten to the point were he thought he might fancy the idea of Doyle chasing him round the table in the retirement home, when the phone had rung yesterday morning.
Tired and more than ready for bed, Doyle had given it an expressive look before answering the damned thing. "Alpha Two," he'd growled, then looked surprise. "Esther?"
As far as Bodie could recall, they only knew one Esther. A detective with the Hong Kong police, she'd briefly been seconded to CI5 to work on an international drugs case and had ended up having an equally brief affair with Doyle. In some ways she had frightened Bodie more than Ann Holly ever had.
He'd known Ann was wrong for Doyle, had been his last frantic grasp at a respectable wife and 2.4 kids. After the relationship had quickly fallen apart, Bodie had settled back and waited for Doyle to stop pratting around and realize it had failed because the two of them were in love. It had taken six months and about as many brief relationships with other birds for the golli to finally come to his senses. Esther had been the first.
Unlike Ann, she'd understood Doyle's professional life. Though she didn't relish violence, she knew it was part of the job and it didn't threaten her. She understood the security angles, and, in any case, had already been thoroughly vetted before her plane had even landed at Heathrow. And she'd needed someone who understood the crazy hours she worked as much as Doyle had.
An almost perfect match. One, that if Bodie hadn't been madly in love with Doyle himself, he would have encouraged. Instead he'd done a lot of sweating until they'd put her safely aboard the plane for home. He'd been worried she'd find a position with the Met, or worse, his father might offer her a job with CI5. Years later he'd found out Cowley had indeed considered it, but he was Bodie's father and he'd known she threatened him, so for once he'd put Bodie ahead of the squad and had declined to do anything to prevent her return to Hong Kong. Of course, he suspected the fatherly altruism probably had a lot to do with the fact that while she would have been an asset to the B Squad, she didn't have the qualifications to make the A Squad.
The threat of Esther gone, Doyle had gone on to a few flings with some rather well-heeled birds, then he'd asked Bodie to move in with him. Still he'd not forgotten the lovely Esther by the time Murphy had been seconded to MI5 and assigned to the Hong Kong Station. He'd suggest Murphy give her a call and almost a year to the day, the two of them had married.
They'd lost touch with Murph after that. An exchange of Christmas cards, an announcement after the birth of their son - the usual, infrequent reminders he'd once been a part of their lives, but now had one of his own.
Or rather, he did. A month ago he'd gone into the hospital with what the doctors had assumed was acute appendicitis. Instead they'd discovered liver cancer. It had spread with frightening speed and had reached his brain. There was nothing that could be done, and Murphy was fading fast.
Bodie had been unable to hear the brief conversation, but he'd watched Doyle's face drain of color, then Ray had said, "We'll be there as soon as we can."
He'd hung up, then as he'd dialed Cowley's private line, he'd filled Bodie in, then told him Murphy had asked to see them.
Given CI5's imminent change of command and the aftermath of the terrorist op, it was not the best time for the two heir apparents to be flying halfway around the world to see a dying man they hadn't talked to in five years. But Cowley had approved it, and after a quick shower and change of clothes, they'd caught the first plane bound for Hong Kong.
At thirty - five, Murphy was two years Bodie's junior, but his pop star good looks had always made him look even younger. The gaunt, pain wrecked figure they'd found in the hospital bed, had looked years older than Cowley. Shaken as he was, Bodie'd managed to chat with him - some shared memories about the old days and some current gossip. Murph had laughed a couple of times, but he hadn't been able to stay focused on the conversation, a consequence of the rot in his brain. Esther had told them he often lost track of what year it was and thought himself back in CI5, recovering from the shoulder wound he'd suffered in 1981.
It helped explain the sudden importance of the good, old days' to Murphy and why he might want to spend a part of one of his few remaining days talking to Bodie and Doyle. Murphy had tired quickly and in less than an hour they'd said their goodbyes. Nothing maudlin, just a 'take it easy, Murphy' and a 'nice to see you again, mates, but by the way, could he have a few words in private with Doyle?'
While Bodie had liked Murphy, Doyle hadn't always got on with him, but his lover nodded in agreement and Bodie had stepped out into the hall. Five minutes later Doyle had joined him. He'd looked sad, but shook his head when Bodie had given him an inquiring look. Whatever had been said, Doyle hadn't wanted to talk about it. They'd spent the rest of the time between flights talking to Esther. Murphy wasn't expected to live another twenty four hours.
Two years younger than Bodie, and he'd probably be dead before sunrise. Bodie shook his head. He'd never really expected he'd be granted a pleasant death, but he'd always thought it would be a quick one. Then when he'd grown accustomed to the notion he might die of something as mundane as a heart attack or a stroke, he found himself faced with a whole new possibility. One he didn't care for at all.
The very thought of wasting away like that chilling him, he instinctively looked toward the bedroom where Doyle slept. He'd dreamed of death and dying, but not of Murphy. It was Doyle, his father and himself struggling and losing against a thousand different perils. He wanted to wake Doyle up for a good long cuddle, wanted to call his father to hear the sound of the old bastard's voice. Instead he got up and poured himself another cup of tea.
It felt strange, almost disrespectful, even callous to be so wrapped up in thoughts of his own mortality while a friend lay dying. But Murphy wasn't a part of his life anymore. He was a collection of memories, most of them good, from years ago. And it did hurt to think there would be no new memories to add to them - not that there was much chance there would have been in any case. But the possibility had always existed. And it had always pleased Bodie to know Murphy was alive, happy and living in Hong Kong.
He sighed. The names of those who had survived duty on the A Squad made for a short list, but Murphy had made it. Of course he'd been on the roster for less than a year. He'd made the squad only days before a group of terrorists had kidnapped a banker's family, in a rather complicated plot to assassinate a VIP flying into Herrodene for secret talks. He'd left eleven months later, a few days after Jack Stone had turned himself in, closing a case that had been on the Met's books for years.
Doyle had worked Stone's case before joining CI5, and when someone started threatening the Stone family, the man had turned to Doyle for help, agreeing to turn himself in if he could be certain his family would be safe. Stone had almost reneged on the deal and had given Murphy the slip when he'd made his escape. The fact Stone turned himself in a few hours later, didn't change that, and Murphy had decided to hand in his resignation.
Cowley had refused to accept it and had instead approved his transfer to MI5. Murphy had been a competent CI5 operative. Not an outstanding one, maybe not even a very good one, but a competent one. And CI5's competent operatives were any other organization's treasures. So no one in CI5 who noted Murphy's successes had been only slightly more numerous than his failures was surprised when he'd had a brilliant career with MI5. Word was his name was even on the short list to head the Hong Kong Station when the current chief retired. Had been. It had been on the short list.
It all seemed a very poor reward for a life time spent in the service of his country. It hadn't been Murph's fault he could work with everyone, but he'd never bonded with anyone on the squad. Unable to find him a partner, Cowley had relegated him to solo agent status, but Murphy wasn't a good undercover operative. Solo, non-undercover work meant group ops and administration work. Made it hard for a man to keep his edge, and Bodie certainly hadn't helped matters when that first investigation had led to a bank within missile range of Herrodene.
Doyle's call broke into his train of thought, and he answered, "Out here, angelfish."
A moment later a sleepy-eyed Doyle appeared in the doorway, all wrapped up in his own robe.
Bodie recognized the sheepish look on his lover's face as a reflection of what he'd felt every time he'd considered waking Doyle, and he held open his arms. "Could use a hug myself, love."
A few quick steps brought Doyle to him, and he found himself in the midst of the bruising embrace he'd wanted. "Christ, I needed that," he whispered, nuzzling Doyle's neck.
"Me too," Doyle murmured, his hands caressing Bodie's lower back, right over the location of two blade-thin scars.
Bodie couldn't stop his own hand from moving to Doyle's chest and the scars of a bullet's entry and the surgery performed to save him. "Had a few nasty dreams myself."
"Funny thing is, I'd rather have gone that way."
Never liking to tempt fate - never knew who or what might be listening - Bodie shuddered, but had to agree. "Know what you mean. We've not lost one this way before."
Old timers now, few of the faces they saw these days in the halls of CI5 dated back to their time on the A Squad, but those who hadn't died in firefights or explosions were all alive. Anson had taken over Jack Crane's training center; Charlie ran CI5 building security; Ruth was an MP; Stuart had utilized all his time on undercover work and become a successful actor; while Susan and Jax had married, then set up a security firm with Lucas and McCabe. One by one, they'd all died on the streets or left for jobs with more promising futures. Murphy would be the first of them to just die.
"You never liked him much, did you?" Bodie asked, softening the question with a kiss.
"Liked him just fine as long as he kept his distance from you."
"Eh? Raymond, don't tell me you were jealous?"
Doyle snorted. "Chance'd be a fine thing." He drew Bodie's head down to rest on his shoulder and snuggled up against him. "You need a keeper, pet, and Murph wasn't up to the task. Every time the Cow let you two work together, you'd get yourself into trouble."
Bodie sighed. He could still remember the rollicking Doyle had given him about going into the bank were the terrorists were hold up alone. He'd stopped them from blowing up the VIP, but had broken his wrist and dislocated his shoulder in the process. The pain had been so bad he'd actually passed out before Murphy had reached him. Fortunately only a few seconds had lapsed and all's well that ends well. Except Doyle hadn't seen it that way.
Bodie'd had no business going in alone and getting his damned fool self hurt, let alone almost killed. Yes, his ears still burned at the memory of that little discussion, but it had seemed like the cooing of a dove compared to the strip Doyle had tore from Murphy.
How could he have been stupid enough to stay outside when Bodie had told him to? Being on the A Squad meant knowing when to tell someone 'not bloody likely' and getting after them. If Murphy wanted to stand around and follow a dozy prat's sodding orders then he should get his fucking arse back to the Boy Scouts or whatever sewing circle he came from and leave the work to the 'grown ups' had been the polite way of translating it.
Bodie still felt badly about it. He'd got used to Doyle guarding his back, so he'd opted to go it alone. Dumb. He'd known it before he'd even started breaking bits of himself, but by then he'd been committed to solo action. If Cowley hadn't ordered Murphy to come after him instead of watching the street as Bodie had told him, things could have had fatal consequences.
Hardly an auspicious beginning to Murph's CI5 career, and for weeks the poor sod had taken stick about shifty characters lurking about so perhaps he should go guard the street to make certain no one stole it.
To make it up to him, to prove he'd known Murphy was a good man and could guard his back any day Doyle wasn't available, Bodie had made his second great mistake with Murphy. But ... "Climbing that smokestack was a good idea," he muttered.
Doyle sighed. "Whatever you say, pet. But I still think your old man should have handcuffed you to the nearest heavy object when you suggested it."
"Wouldn't be saying that if you hadn't found the getaway chopper and made the whole thing a mote point." A nutter had built a foxhole on a warehouse roof and used it to hold a hospital ward hostage. The only higher point in the area had been an old smokestack. Leaving the investigating to Doyle, Bodie had convinced both Cowley and Murphy climbing it was the only answer.
It had worked too. Murph's skill as a climber was undeniable and the whole thing would have been over with as soon as they'd reached the top, except for Bodie's mistake. Class A Marksman was the highest shooting classification anyone could earn, but it did not mean everyone who held it was of equal skill. Bodie had pretended it did and, when they'd got into position, he'd let Murphy take the shot.
He'd missed. Then he'd compounded the error by not immediately shifting his position and had gotten himself shot. Bodie hadn't missed, but by that time Doyle was in the helicopter the nutter was hoping to escape in, so it hadn't mattered. "I don't think he ever got over the loss of confidence that op caused."
"No, but it wasn't your fault Bodie. Told me yourself he'd suggested you take the shot, but let you talk him into doing it." Doyle gave the top of his head a kiss. "He got you hurt by not acting when he should have, and got himself shot by acting when he shouldn't have. He was a good man, Bodie, but he didn't have what it takes to thrive in CI5. And he knew it."
"Told me so himself a few hours ago." He tightened his grip on Bodie, hugging him close. "Was the reason he sent for us - he wanted to tell me he was sorry he let you go into the bank alone. Jesus, what a waste of a man's final hours."
"No, Ray, maybe that's the only good thing about dying that way. Gives you time to say the things you never got around to saying. Time to say goodbye."
That got him another kiss. "Come back to bed, Bodie. Even if we can't sleep, we can still hold each other while we rest."
" kay," Bodie agreed, and they got to their feet.
They were halfway across the room when the phone rang. They both stopped and stared at it for a moment. There were a hundred reasons why someone would be calling Alpha Two and Three at this time of night, but whether it was one of those weird near psychic moments or simply the timing, a shared glance confirmed both knew it was either Esther or member of her family calling to tell them it was over.
Doyle answered it on the third ring, while Bodie headed for the bar. In the morning they'd arrange a wreath, approve leave for anyone who wanted to attend the funeral and notify those who were no longer in CI5, but would want to know. The two of them had exchanged any thought of going to the funeral themselves for the opportunity to say goodbye, and he didn't regret that for an instant.
The news spread, a few sad words exchanged, then life would go on as it always had. They'd still have those memories, mostly good ones, from years ago, but there would be no more Christmas cards, no birth announcement of the second child Murphy had wanted, and there would be one less person in the world who would look forward to their Christmas card. It didn't seem like much of a difference, but it felt like a very large one.
He took two glasses out, then poured a splash of scotch in each. When Doyle hung up, he handed one to him.
They looked at each other, and Bodie raised his glass. "To Murph."
"To a good man."
The glasses clinked together, then they drank.
-- THE END --
AUTHOR'S NOTE: In the series, George Cowley has a fairly paternal relationship with Bodie. However, while it is never stated Bodie isn't his son, it was most certainly never said that he was. In most of the Pros fic I write, I assume the blood relationship exists, but it is pure fanon.