The Blue Figurine


"Sometimes the snow comes down in June
sometimes the sun goes 'round the moon..."

"There's plenty of money to be made, Bodie. Fact is, I've got a choice one lined up. Two weeks work, five thousand easy. Slam, bam, sweet as a good arse fuck. I can sign you on right here. It'll be like the old days. What do you say?"

Bodie glanced quickly at Doyle's silent profile before he answered. "Sorry, Miller, I'm not in that game anymore. I like it right where I am."

"What, playing Army boy?" The big man sneered. "You've gone soft. You had a lot of promise, Bodie. You could've been the best of the best if you'd stuck it out."

"King of the jungle, you mean? No thanks. I've developed a taste for using utensils. And I'm not in the Army anymore."

The man laughed, his thick jaw working, the sound a rough bellow. "Yeh? I heard rumour you've become a copper." His laugh filled the air again. "That's funnier than the Army." The man turned slightly, his heavy, muscular frame rippling beneath the dark cotton t-shirt and cords he wore. His face looked as hard as his body, his dark eyes settling on Doyle. "Maybe you've finally developed other interests too, eh? Who's your 'friend'? He's a nice-looking piece. I could arrange to have you bring him along, if you wouldn't mind sharing."

Doyle took a step forward, his fists balling at his sides, but Bodie stopped him with an outstretched arm. "You owe my partner an apology."

"Partner, is it?" The man repeated, amused and unfazed by the anger in Bodie's eyes, and Doyle's.

"This is Ray Doyle and we work together. You've been in the jungle too long. And I'm waiting for that apology."

The man's teeth gleamed white against his deeply tanned skin and his dark, pomade-slick hair. "My, my, how sensitive you've become, Bodie-lad. I was just trying to be friendly. What the fuck, no offense intended," he added with a semblance of regret and a playful punch to Bodie's bicep. "Thought you might have broadened your tastes a bit. Nothing like a rough tumble and a tight arsehole to fill."

"Got out just in time," returned Bodie tersely.

"You don't know what you're missing, son." The man eyed Doyle again with a twitch of his lips. "Shall I give your regards to Kingsford and Moran?"

"You mean those bastards are still alive? Yeh, why don't you give them my worst."

The big man finished off his whisky and waved to the barman for another. "I'll be in town for a few more days. If you change your mind, you can always leave a message for me here or at The Whistle Stop."

"Not bloody likely."

"Come on, Bodie, they'll always be a merc inside you. You can't ever shake it completely."

"Well, it won't be for lack of trying, I promise you."

"Give it some thought, boyyo. I remember how you used to bethe sort to make his own rules, and break them, too. No 'yessir, no sir, three bags full, sir' from you. You've gone soft from all this city living, but you haven't changed that much, I'll warrant. The money's better than it's ever been. And the excitement, too."

"Too much excitement's bad for the heart, haven't you heard?" Bodie gestured to Doyle with a slight nod and started for the door. "Watch out for the snake pits and don't forget your suntan lotion, Miller."

"You're the one who always kept his pearly skin under the shadows, Bodie-lad. Me, I don't mind the heat at all. Hotter the better, if you know what I mean." The mercenary's gruff laughter followed them as they left the pub.

Doyle managed to hold on to his temper until they were back in the Capri and on their way.

"What a bleedin' Neanderthal. As if we didn't have enough lousy luck already, we have to run into that ape." He cranked open the passenger window, the movement allowing him to keep the rest of his unkind opinions to himself.

"I thought you were going to knock his teeth in," commented Bodie quietly, his eyes firmly on the road.

"Wouldn't soil my clothes, mate. All we need now is to get hauled in for brawling. The Cow would let us rot."

"Is that why you didn't say anything to him? Didn't want to tempt fate, eh?"

"Can't communicate with lower life forms so why bother trying." Doyle closed his eyes and turned his head towards the window. "We better check in and then split up and try to follow up those old leads again or we'll be at it 'til Boxing Day." He blew out a breath and shook his head. "Bloody useless. That pub must be a cesspool what with the likes of your 'ol mate' from the jungle patronizing the place. That grass, Mickey, probably ducked out the minute he saw us coming. We shouldn't have even bothered going in there. "

"Look, Ray, why don't you make like Vesuvius and get it over with. You've been bottling it up since the shoot-out. I tried to tell you why I"

"Don't start, Bodie. We don't have the time. We've got to try and clean up this mess before Cowley tosses us both out on our ears. But, don't you worry, I won't forget to knock some sense into your empty skull if and when we can finish this damn op properly. Running into that ape helps explain how you can act like you were born without a brain."

Bodie ground his teeth together as the Capri sped towards HQ with a squeal of tyres.

They were fortunate not to cross George Cowley's path as they hurriedly signed in for additional ammo.

Terry Anson saw them in the armoury. "Yeh, the Cow was called into a special meeting with the Minister, lucky for you. I, um, heard you boys let the Lehman Brothers slip through your hands this morning. Tut, tut, the almighty Bisto Kids are slipping."

Doyle ignored the gloating jab with effort as he and Bodie headed back out to the carpark. "We'll never hear the end of it if we can't find the Lehmans again," he grumbled. He was almost tempted to tear into Bodie right there in the carpark, his partner's stony silence egging him on.

Eight weeks of searching and sifting through leads, of late hours and canceled dates, of putting together a painstaking patchwork of information that led them out of London into the north countryside and back again, leading finally, finally, to their prize: the Lehman Brothers, chief suspects in the deaths of two CI5 agents. Every agent on the Squad wanted them. But Bodie and Doyle found them first, had them boxed in a rundown farmhouse, all ready to haul into Cowley with a red ribbon. Had being the operative word.

Doyle still wasn't sure what happened. One minute, they were closing the trap on the Lehmans and the next minute, Bodie was charging into the place, gun blazing, blowing their plan apart and giving the Lehmans a chance to make a getaway. The only thing Doyle was certain of was that his partner botched it. If Bodie'd stayed by the back entrance until Doyle was in position like they had agreed, instead of... Well, it wasn't going to do any good to dwell on the bloody idiot's mistake. Doyle drew in yet another long, steadying breath. He could have handled it better all by himself.

"So, what next?" Bodie's question made him turn, the tension palpable between them. "Do you want to check out the farmhouse area alone?"

Doyle nodded, knowing Bodie would have preferred their remaining together. "Yeh, you head for that old girlfriend's place. Maybe they went that way."

"Bit obvious."

Doyle gave his partner a heavy stare. "We don't have much else to go on, now do we? Besides, the Lehmans probably think we're so stupid we couldn't even think of the obvious."

Bodie merely looked off at the horizon, his lips drawn into a tight line. Nodding once, he turned on his heel and headed for the Capri.

As he watched the silver Ghia glide out into traffic, Doyle thought he probably should have just had it out with Bodie. Cleared the air and vented his anger. It was almost as if some perverse need in him wanted to drag it out, to make Bodie twist in the wind. He reached into his jacket for the keys to the Escort, his mind still holding the picture of Bodie's face and the hurt behind the stoic façade. Well, the berk deserved it, he decided. The foul-up with the Lehmans was not the only sore point between them lately, though certainly it was the biggest. For the past few months it seemed that Bodie was practically his shadow. He didn't mind the closeness especially; partners had to be close to make an effective team. But Bodie was downright smothering at times. Even the other agents were beginning to joke about it. "Where's your better half?" they'd ask him, or, "What, Doyle without his Lord Protector today?" It was an exaggeration, of course, but not by much as far as Doyle was concerned. The notion that Bodie didn't think he could take care of himself was irritating at best. The fiasco with the Lehmans proved just how dangerous Bodie's attitude could be, for both of them.

By the following day, after searching through half the countryside on three hours' sleep, Doyle would have gladly obliged Bodie with a punch in the nose as well as a shouting match. Wisely, his partner was well out of his way, following up another lead from another grass in London.

Tired and frustrated, Doyle's mood grew even darker as he thought about the damage the Lehmans could do before they were finally brought to justice. Their violent anarchism and self- serving political credo had led to the deaths of not only his CI5 mates but two other law enforcement agents as well. How many more would there be? Damn Bodie, he thought savagely.

He drove along several wooded, overgrown lanes until he spotted a barely visible cottage rooftop in the distance. The road was bumpy and he let out a choice obscenity as the hiss of a tyre puncture forced him to come to a stop.

As he heaved the spare tyre and tools from the boot, the clouds that had gathered overhead rumbled and it started to rain. Almost an hour later, the tyre was changed, but he was soaking wet, his suede jacket and jeans stained with grease, his new trainers caked with mud and grass, and his palms scraped from wrestling with the box spanner in the sudden downpour.

The rain was easing up when he finally neared the cottage, but the sky was a dismal grey. Obscured by a circle of trees and a spider web of vines that crept over its thick stone walls, the small cottage looked ancient. Doyle wondered how he'd ever managed to locate the place at all or why he bothered to check it out. It was too far from a main road to be the Lehmans hideaway and there seemed to be no sign of anyone having used the access lane in ages.

Fatigue was getting the better of his judgment, he decided. Feeling distinctly uncomfortable in his wet and dirty clothes and not looking forward to the prospect of hunting out every other cottage for miles around, he left the car and walked to the little house. He could ask for information about other houses in the area. There might even be a phone and he could check in with HQ as well, since he was well out of RT range.

There were no other cars in sight. Perhaps the cottage was abandoned or rarely used. It would be his luck. The grass and shrubs were overgrown and choked with weeds. He was about to give it up and return to the Escort when he noticed a faint light shining through the cloudy window panes. He glanced inside and noticed logs burning in a fireplace, yet he couldn't quite make out the rest of the room in the dimness. Frowning, he stepped back and gazed up at the roof. Sure enough, dark curls of smoke were weaving skyward from the stubby, stone chimney. Odd. He hadn't noticed the smoke as he approached.

He knocked on the door and waited. No one answered. He tried knocking again since there wasn't a bell. After another minute of silence, he tried the door handle and it creaked opened to his touch.

"Hello, anybody here?" Except for the crackling of the fire, there was no sound. He walked towards the fireplace and held out his hands to the flames. "Anyone here?" he called out again. He gazed around the room, squinting. The room was gloomy, even with the fire blazing, and he realized the walls were painted a dark colour, maroon perhaps, or purple. There seemed to be a large tapestry covering one wall, but it, too, was murky dark, no more than smudges of heavy colour only a shade lighter than the surrounding shadows. He called out one more time, but still no one answered. Someone had to light the fire, he reasoned. Probably some old recluse hiding in a cupboard, waiting for him to leave. Should learn to lock your door then. Doyle turned back to the fire, letting the warmth dry his damp clothing. As he gazed into the flames, his mind recalled the events of the last two days. What a fuckin' mess. He rubbed at the knotted muscles in his neck, his other hand resting on top of the mantle. Nothing was going right. He felt very weary with a fatigue that was as much emotional as physical. His fingers closed over something smooth and cool on the mantle as bits of ash danced above the crackling logs in the fireplace, specks of black against the flickering red and orange lights. Doyle whispered his moody thoughts into the flames.

"You should have stayed in the jungle, Bodie. That merc was right; you would've been right at home there...and I would've been better off without you."

A log cracked in half, sending a flurry of ashes up into the chimney as he thought how exhausted he must be to start muttering his grim musings aloud. Suddenly, his palm began to tingle and burn and he opened his hand. A small, blue figurine cast a violet-purplish glow against his skin. He must have grabbed it off the mantle without noticing, too lost in his broody thoughts. He crouched down to look at the object in the light of the fire. The worn, hardened clay looked like a human shape. It was barely two inches tall, its features indistinct, as if the figure was draped in a dozen blue-grey veils. It seemed to be holding flat, oval disc that covered most of its lower torso. Doyle peered at it, holding it closer to the crackling flames. Tiny, intersecting lines cut across the disc at odd angles. He also noticed markings etched within the disc and around the base of the figurine that seemed like hieroglyphics. He'd never seen anything like it. Palm still tingling, he put it back on the mantle and saw with a start that there were several other figurines there as well. They were all slightly different and all different colours as near as he could tell. The looked old and faded in an odd sort of way. He stared at them wonderingly, a faint dizziness passing over him, increasing until the room darkened to pitch around him. He blinked several times, bracing himself against the mantle until the darkness passed and he felt steady again. When he looked down at the hearth, the fire was almost out. The logs seemed to have burned up in an instant, leaving just the smoldering ashes.

Swallowing, he stepped away and glanced around the room once more, the dimness even more pronounced, closing in around him like a thick fog. Hurriedly, he left the cottage and almost ran towards the Escort, climbing into the car with a sudden sense of relief. He checked his wristwatch. Half past five. The afternoon seemed to have vanished. His time sense felt off, like someone coming out of an anesthetized sleep. He gazed at the cottage rooftop in the distance. There was no smoke coming from the chimney. Running a hand through his curls, he abruptly wasn't sure if he'd even been in the cottage at all, or whether he had only imagined it. All at once it seemed like a vague, unpleasant dream.

"Hell with it. Can't even think properly anymore," he told himself. "Need a good, long holiday." With a shake of his head, he gunned the ignition. It was time he headed back to HQ.

Maybe Bodie had had better luck checking out the other lead. They were certainly due for a turn of fortune.

When he walked into CI5, there were more agents roaming the halls than usual for that late an hour. Unfortunately, it looked like business was picking up. Doyle decided to await the Cow's summons in the restroom. He was in no hurry to be subjected to another lambasting for this impressive cockup. One thing was sure, Bodie's 'blue-eyed boy' status wouldn't save him from Cowley's worst this time. And that suited Doyle just fine. He certainly planned on giving his partner his promised earful as soon as the berk reported in. With that satisfying thought, Doyle headed for the kettle and poured himself a strong cup of tea.

"Hoi, Doyle, congratulations on the Lehman job. Meant to tell you earlier but I just got in from a bloody dockside obbo."

Doyle looked at Andy Lake with a frown. "What?"

"McCabe told me about it this morning. Great job, Ray, really great." Lake grinned and began an earnest hunt for a clean mug.

"What are you on about?" returned Doyle. Lake wasn't the sort for sarcastic jokes or leg pulling.

"No need for modesty, it isn't everyday one of us captures two armed fugitives without so much as a bruise. It's tough enough going into that kind of situation with a partner to back you up, but solopretty impressive, mate." Lake gave him a thumbs up and returned to his search for clean dishware.

Doyle was about to question the man's sobriety when Pennington poked his head in the door and called out to him. "The Cow requests your immediate presence in his office, 4.5."

"Yeh, okay." Doyle gave Lake's back a doubtful look, gulped some of his tea, and left the restroom. As he headed down the corridor towards Cowley's office, he called over his shoulder to Pennington, "Have you seen Bodie yet?"

Pennington stared back at him quizzically. "Who?"

Determined not to let Pennington's village idiot act get to him, Doyle replied, "You know, 3/7, the fellow who's very near as moronic as you."

The puzzled expression on Pennington's face seemed almost genuine. Doyle just rolled his eyes and continued on his way; he was in no mood for the usual foolishness today.

He rapped on the Controller's door and took a deep breath.


He knew something was very wrong when Cowley looked up from his desk, smiled and waved him into a chair.

"Well, 4.5, this shouldn't take long and then you can be off on your holiday." The Controller reached into the lower drawer of his desk and pulled out a bottle of Glenfiddich and two short glasses. "Will you join me, Doyle?" he asked, already pouring out two drinks.

Doyle was too dumbfounded to speak as Cowley handed him one of the glasses.

"As you know, I'm not one for praise, 4.5," continued Cowley as he lifted his own glass to his lips. "However, now that the report is official, the Lehmans are safely under lock and key, and we've closed the case, I feel it's only right to tell you that you've done an admirable job. I only wish we could handle all our operations so well. Cheers." With a slight tilt of his glass in salute, Cowley took a good swallow of the malt.

Doyle stared first at the glass in his hand and then at his boss.

"Well, go on, son, you deserve it." Cowley bestowed a rare, almost fatherly smile on him.

Suddenly needing the drink, Doyle brought the glass to his lips and drained half of it off, coughing slightly as it fired down his throat. "I don't understand," he began, his words trailing off as he watched Cowley top off his own glass again.

"Och, I'm sure you'd prefer a rise, but I've still got a budget to contend with. Still, I think I might be able to manage an increase for you in the next quarter. At the moment, however, I can only give you a short holidayfour days. I'm afraid that's all the time I can spare you. It looks like the arms robbery will be transferred to us within the week and I'll need you on it." Cowley put up a hand as Doyle started to speak. "You've more time off due you than anyone on the Squad; you need to relax a bit what with all the hours you've put into the Lehman case and the Rinehart op before that. Don't tell me you don't want the holiday, Doyle, because this time I'm ordering you to take it." The head of CI5 paused as he took in Doyle's expression. "What is it, 4.5?"

"I-I don't understand this. What's happening?" he answered softly, a feeling of dread slowly mingling with his sense of shock. "Where's Bodie?"

Cowley lowered his glass and looked into Doyle's eyes. "Bodie?"

Doyle glanced around the room. Everything seemed very close. His chest felt tight. "My partner."

Cowley put his glass on the blotter and straightened in his chair. When he spoke, his voice was uncharacteristically solicitous. "You have no partner." The Old Man was watching him carefully.

Doyle knew it couldn't be a joke. The Old Man didn't joke about such things. Or anything, for that matter. He put his own glass down and rubbed his hands over his eyes.

"You've been working very hard, Doyle. I want you to see Dr. Sanders before you leave tonight. He's still in his office, I believe."

Oh god. It had to be a dream. Maybe he was hallucinating. He looked into Cowley's pale, blue-grey eyes. "Who is agent 3/7?"

A brief frown deepened the lines across The Old Man's forehead as he calmly replied. "That number has never been activated. Why do you ask?"

Doyle was suddenly afraid to speak. Afraid to hear any more. His mind worked furiously to come up with some reasonable explanation. It didn't seem like a dream. It seemed...real. Everything seemed normal except...except... He remembered what Lake had said and the look on Pennington's face. He gripped the arms of his chair, knowing he was going pale and bowed his head. "I-I feel very tired."

Cowley was already reaching for the phone. "Derek, yes. I'm sending 4.5 to see you straightaway. He's feeling very, uh, fatigued and I'd like you to check him over. Yes, right now. The meeting can wait. I'll explain later. All right, good." He replaced the receiver and walked round the desk to stand beside Doyle's chair. "I've been pushing you quite hard these past few months. You've done a very good job, as usual, and I've demanded a great deal of your abilities. I think a few days off will do you a world of good, Doyle." He patted the young agent's shoulder once in a rare gesture. "Frankly, I'm concerned about these questions you've asked, 4.5." Cowley stepped back, looking into Doyle's face, waiting.

Glancing away, Doyle wondered what he should say. He could feel the fear curling through his stomach. He raised his hand and looked at his palm. The blue figurine. Out of nowhere, the image of it flashed through his mind. He remembered how it tingled against his skin. The strange dizziness. Had he really been in that cottage? Why did the rest seem so hazy to him? Except for the little figurine. That, that was vividly clear to him. But the rest. Had he really said

He felt Cowley touch his shoulder again, this time in a firm grip, shaking him lightly. "Doyle?"

No. It was impossible. Crazy.


He jumped at the sound, dropping his hand to the arm of the chair, and looked up at Cowley. "I'm sorry, sir. I don't know what's happened to me." It was certainly the truth.

Cowley nodded slowly and released his hold on Doyle's shoulder. He walked to the door and opened it. "You best see Dr. Sanders now. All you need is to rest and get away from the job for a little. You've been through several difficult ops, under strain more than most on the Squad. Let him look you over just to be sure."

Doyle could feel the Old Man's eyes on his back as he headed down the corridor towards the stairs and Sanders' office. Then he heard Cowley's door close and could imagine him ringing up Sanders' to fill him in. 4.5's gone off the deep end. He thinks he has a partner. Well, I have, thought Doyle savagely as he made his way up the stairs.

After a general physical exam laced with questions about his emotional and mental health, he had managed to convince Sanders that he was not quite ready for an asylum by saying as little as possible. Agreeing that Doyle seemed near to exhaustion, the doctor sent him on his way with the firm understanding that Doyle was to report back to him for a follow-up exam as soon as his holiday was over.

Instead of leaving for home, Doyle carefully detoured to the computer section, taking note of every physical detail along the way. There was nothing different. Everything was just the same, down to the red biro scratch on one of the lift doors and the crack in the window across from the restroom. He entered computer section as the evening shift came on duty.

"Hello, Ray, heard about the derring-do. Congratulations." Susan Fischer smiled at him as she settled in front of one of the terminals. "What are you doing here so late? Mr. Cowley still rattling the chains, is he?"

Doyle forced a smile and shrugged. "Just wanted to double- check on something for my report, then I'm on holiday." He watched as Fischer gave him a casual wave and turned her attention to her keyboard before he headed for an empty terminal. A couple of the other staff greeted him off-handedly. They were used to seeing the field agents pop in and out occasionally to use the computers.

With his security clearance, Doyle had access to most of CI5's general data files. He logged on and pulled up the field agents/teams rota for the past month. He was listed as solo. He called up his field listing a year ago. Solo. Two years ago. Solo. He tried calling up Bodie's listing. Entry does not exist. He stared at the blinking words for a full minute. He ran a personnel archive reference search on Bodie's name. No match found. His hands balled into fists. It was impossible. With as much self- possession as he could muster, he logged off and quietly left the room. The hallways were a little emptier. He avoided the area near Cowley's office, knowing that the Old Man would still be working and made his way to the locker room.

Murphy was rummaging through the locker next to his. Bodie's locker.

"What are you doing?" Doyle asked him, though the awful feeling in his stomach already told him what the answer would be.

"'Lo, Ray. Just had to change my shirt. Blood stains, 4.5. Not mine, I'm glad to say. Good thing I kept a spare change of clothes here. I've got a date with Sally tonight and I can't stop by my flat. I'm an hour late as it is, but fortunately, she's the understanding type."

Doyle stared at the open locker door. Bodie's Playboy June centerfold was gone. So was the yellowed cartoon that Doyle had drawn of him in a Superman costume. Bodie had Sellotaped it above the pinup. Doyle bit down on his lip. "How long have you had this locker, Murph?"

Hurriedly pulling on his clean shirt and throwing on his jacket, the taller man paused and gave Doyle a quizzical look. "What?"

"You heard me."

Murphy knotted up his tie and shook his head. "You do come up with the odd question, don't you. All right, I'll humour you since you're the Cow's fair-haired boy." The Irishman grinned at Doyle's grimace and continued. "Well, we've been locker chums for, um, let's see, almost three years. I suppose you don't want to tell me why in hell you asked me that?"


"Right. I can see your laurels have not improved your temperament, 4.5." Murphy shut the locker and started for the door. "I've much more pleasant company waiting for me, thank god. See you."

Doyle opened his own locker, his eyes focusing on the empty space on the top shelf that should have held Bodie's electric shaver, the one he borrowed weeks ago and never got around to returning. He closed the door slowly and gazed around the vacant room. He was so tired he felt numb, the sense of fear moving off to a distance.

He'd go home. Sleep. He'd wake up and everything would be normal again. If not, he'd deal with it then.

As he drove to his flat, he concentrated on the road, on his driving, clearing his mind of everything else. When he parked his car in front of his building, he looked about for a silver Capri. It was an automatic reflex, he was so used to finding Bodie perched on his doorstep, hoping for a free meal. Realizing what he was doing, he bit his lip in consternation and hurried into his flat.

The rooms were cold and he turned on the heat. He certainly had no appetite and only took time to wash before he stumbled into his bed.

All the same, he didn't fall asleep right away. He tossed and turned in a half doze, his mind cluttered with strange images of the old cottage and the blue figurine. He thought of Bodie, too. Pictured his face, the way Bodie looked when they walked away from each other. Had it only been yesterday?

His sleep, when it came, was deep and dark. He woke groggy and stayed in bed until mid afternoon, drifting in and out of sleep. He finally dragged himself into the bathroom, took a long soaking bath and felt his energy levels rising once more. Draped in a toweling robe, he made himself a sandwich and tea and forced himself to eat while his mind reviewed the last day's bizarre events. It still made no sense, of course. He walked over to the desk in his lounge and opened the first drawer. The pen set that Bodie had given him for Christmas was gone. He looked into the bookcase for the copy of On Her Majesty's Secret Service that Bodie had jokingly bought for him. It wasn't there. He reached for the phone and dialed Bodie's phone number. That number is not in service. He hung up quickly.

Doyle rolled his head back, his tiny hope disappearing. There was no reasonable explanation for any of it. Only the unreasonable remained. He thought back to the cottage and tried to remember everything he'd said, exactly. He squeezed his eyes shut. "I would've been better off without you. " That's what he'd said. The worst part was that, in that instant, he'd meant it. And now, somehow, his words had come true. All his instincts balked at the notion of some sort of magic or supernatural cause for what had happened. It was more likely that he'd been drugged somehow, he told himself, and that he was just hallucinating all of it. Unfortunately, it didn't make it feel any the less real. So he wasn't about to sit still and take it.

He decided to find the cottage again.

He drove for hours. He found what he thought were the right roads, took what he was sure were the proper turns, but they led him to nothing but overgrown fields, cow pastures, and groves of trees. Of course, the roads were very similar and poorly marked. He retraced his routes, tried different roads in the same area. He strained for the sight of that particular rooftop, for a glimpse of that old stone chimney, but he couldn't find it. "It has to be here. I know it was here." By the time it was too dark to see, he was frustrated but more determined than ever. He returned to the main roadway and found the nearest village. Tillston Wells was hardly large enough to qualify for a village, but it did have a pub with a small inn attached. The Swan and Stag was not as picturesque as its name, but it was clean and comfortable looking.

"I'd like a room for the night. Do you have one available?" he asked the woman behind the bar.

"Yes, we have." She gave him the rate and a polite once- over as he agreed and signed the register. "My name's Sarah Ames. My husband and I own the place," she told him as she read his signature. "We don't get many guests this time of year, Mr. Doyle."

He paid in advance and gave her a small smile. "I'm on holiday. I've been looking for...a cottage and I must've taken the wrong turn somewhere."

"It's easy enough to get lost if you're not familiar with the roads hereabouts."

"Is there any chance to get something to eat?"

"There's still a half hour before we stop serving. Nothing fancy though. We've a very good stew. It's my husband's specialty. You can have sandwiches or an omelet, if you'd rather. Why don't you have a seat ?"

Doyle told her he'd have the stew and a lager, collected his room key and sat at one of the tables in the cosy, wood-paneled room. There were only three other people in the pub: a couple deep in conversation in one corner table and an old man hunched over a chess set and a pint of ale.

The stew was tasty and filling, but he had to struggle to eat even half. The lager went down easier and he ordered another. He kept thinking about the cottage, wondering if he was losing his sanity. When Mrs. Ames brought him the second lager, he decided to ask her about it.

"I was trying to find a cottage that I came upon the other day," he told her again. He gave her the location as best he remembered it. She smiled kindly at him, and he wondered if the desperation was showing in his face or his voice.

"I'm sorry, but it doesn't ring a bell with me. I didn't think there were any houses out that way, frankly. But then, me and my husband moved to Tillston Wells only two years ago when John inherited The Swan. We stay in the village mostly. The pub keeps us pretty busy." She watched his expression and cocked her head thoughtfully. "Tell you what though, you should have a chat with old Ben McGuire." She glanced at the old man across the room. "He's lived here all his life, and he's near 80 if he's a day. Knows the countryside like the back of his hand, along with every family for miles. He's a walking history book. If anyone can help you, he can. He can be a bit crotchety, and he has been known to spin a fanciful tale or two, but don't mind it; he's really an old dear." She gave Doyle another quick smile and headed back to the bar.

Doyle looked over at the old man and sighed. Well, he had nothing better to do and he certainly needed all the help he could get. He picked up his lager and walked over to the old man's table. "Mr. McGuire?"

The old man lifted crepey eyelids at him from under bushy, grey brows. "I might be," he answered in a deep, rusty voice.

"My name's Ray Doyle. May I talk to you for a few minutes?" Doyle gestured to the other vacant chair at the table.

McGuire kept him standing while he considered it. "You selling anything?"


McGuire gave him a curt nod and Doyle seated himself. "Do you play chess, boy?"

Doyle looked down at the board. The pieces were hand- carved with a fine eye from dark and light woods and shiny with use. "On occasion."

"Good. It's no fun beating myself." McGuire replaced the pieces with surprisingly nimble fingers. "Your move."

Doyle took a sip of his lager and moved a pawn. "I'm looking for an old cottage and Mrs. Ames said you know the area round here better than anyone.."

McGuire snorted and played his queen's pawn. "I'm not the bloody Tourist Board."

Doyle moved his king's knight. He described the cottage's location and slowly the old man sat back in his chair. The rheumy brown eyes widened for just a moment then settled on him in a heavy stare.

"Why do you want to find this place, eh?"

Quickly debating how much to tell the old man, Doyle decided he had little to lose. Omitting the part about the Lehmans, he told McGuire of his tyre puncture, the storm, and finding the cottage. He also told him what he found inside. "Something...strange happened to me after I left that place. You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

The old man lifted his pint to his lips and finished off the last swallow. "A mantle full of odd figurines, you said?"

Doyle nodded and watched as the lines deepened into furrows across McGuire's weathered forehead.

"And the one you picked upwhat colour was it?"

The question made Doyle hunch forward expectantly. "Blue. A very peculiar shade of blue, as if the colour was mixed with ashes."

The old man wiped his hand across his mouth. "Buy me a whisky, boy." There was almost a quiver in the gravely voice. "And tell me what you think I won't believe."

Doyle fetched McGuire a whisky. "I was...angry at a friend of mine, someone I work with. Very angry and upset. I was thinking about it when I was in the cottage. I must've picked up the blue figurine when I was standing by the fireplace. There was a big fire blazing. I...I said something. I was out of sorts and tired."

"What did you say?"

Suddenly Doyle could see himself standing in the old cottage, the heat of the fire billowing against him, the feel of something cold and smooth in his hand. You should have stayed in the jungle...I would have been better off without you. His mouth opened at the memory. He felt his stomach lurch.

"What did you say, boy?" repeated the old man.

"I wished my friend out of my life... and that's what happened. When I went back to London, no one ever heard of him. It was as if I never knew him at all." Stayed in the jungle. The words rose like an accusing finger in his mind. He forced himself to look at McGuire. "Do you believe me?"

The old man gazed into his whisky glass and then met Doyle's eyes. "Yes."


"I've heard such things have happened to others."

The statement gave Doyle a cold shiver. "Then you know where the cottage is-"

"I know where it used to be."

Doyle drew in a breath and let it out slowly. "Please tell me what you know."

McGuire drank a little of the whisky and set it aside. His bushy brows knitted together pensively. "In my grandmother's day, there was a young couple named Sinclair that moved here and built a cottage. They were a fine couple, so it was said. He was a good farmer and she, well, they say she married beneath her station. She was a teacher and an artist, too, from a town family. She gave it all up easily enough because she loved Sinclair very much. After a year or so, they had a little boy." McGuire picked up a pawn and held it between his thick, gnarled fingers. "They were a happy family. Then, or so the story goes, Sinclair and the boy were killed riding home from market. There was a sudden storm and their horse and wagon overturned and they were thrown into a ravine."

"When did this happen?" cut in Doyle.

The old man looked off, his eyes crinkling in concentration. "Well over a century now, I'd say."

Doyle ran his hand through his hair. "Go on."

"The wife, well, she couldn't deal with it. She went mad with her grief. Shut herself away. The few times anyone saw her after the accident she'd talk like some kind of driven thing, saying she'd bring her husband and baby back. She said she would change what happened." McGuire paused and measured Doyle's expression before he continued. "She lived many years in that cottage, alone. The farm went to seed, of course. They don't know how she survived. They say she spent her time carving little statues out of odd bits of rock and clay. Truly mad. Tragic, too. I've heard said that the few people who'd venture out to see her, would often hear her chanting, strange nonsense words. She'd never let them in, just yelled for them to leave her alone. They could see the little statues through the window. They were all different kinds and colours. She'd be touching each one and chanting."

"What happened to her?"

The old man pursed his lips for a moment. "She disappeared. One day, after many years, a new minister decided to visit her. She was gone. And all her figurines with her. The cottage was empty, no sign of her, except for a fire blazing in the hearth."

Doyle folded his arms across his chest and leaned back in his chair, a chill running up his spine. If the facts of his own situation weren't so bizarre, he would have thought McGuire was spinning an old man's tall tale. "Did they ever find her?"

"They sent out search parties. Looked high and low. No one knows if she just up and left or if something terrible happened to her. They never found her or her remains."

"And the cottage."

"As far as I know, no one wanted it. Most of the land was bought up around it, but no one wanted Widow Sinclair's cottage. It fell to ruin and dust, supposedly, quite some years ago."

"But, I saw it. I walked right inside."

"So you said." The old man paused and drew in a thick breath. "So have others."

McGuire proceeded to tell him of two other people who came upon the cottage and what befell them. One was a spinster from a nearby village who afterwards swore that her invalid parents had vanished. All her neighbors thought something must have affected her mind because they knew she had been an orphan since she was an infant. The other was a traveler who later proclaimed, in drunken delight in this selfsame pub, that he was married to the girl he'd always wanted, as if it was something he'd only hoped for. His pretty wife was with him, as bemused at his behaviour as the villagers. The man surprised everyone, including his wife, by insisting he had been traveling alone until he had come upon the cottage. In both cases, the woman and the man mentioned finding a strange, blue figurine in the cottage.

Doyle talked with the old man until it was almost time for the pub to close. McGuire glanced at the clock on the wall. "I better be off. That daughter of mine starts cackling like a hen whenever I stay out too late. My son-in-law's no better. Growing old is coming full circle, boy. Everyone treats you like a child." McGuire rose slowly from his chair, stopping to finish off the last of the second whisky Doyle had given him.

Standing, Doyle offered the old man his hand. "Thank you for talking with me and telling me about the cottage."

"It passes the time." McGuire shook his hand with a strong, firm grip. "So, what are you going to do now, eh?"

Doyle gave him a grim smile. "I've got a few days off. I think I'll stay a while. Enjoy the countryside."

McGuire's cloudy brown eyes narrowed and the old man shook his head slowly. "You're a stubborn one, all right." He put the chest pieces back in their proper places and pushed the board to one side as if by long habit. "I think we may have a chance to finish the match then."

Doyle stayed in Tillston Wells for the rest of his holiday, using every daylight hour to search the nearby area for the cottage, going back again and again to the place where he was sure he had seen it. The days were getting cooler, grey skies and misting rain settling over the land, matching his mood. In the evening, he would sit in the pub, thinking over what Ben McGuire had told him. Figuring out what he should do.

On the third night, he found the old man in the Swan, sitting with his pint before the chessboard. They played a game, talking very little, McGuire winning without much difficulty.

"I'll be going back to London tomorrow morning," Doyle told him as he watched gnarled fingers replacing pieces and pushing the board carefully to one side.

"It's probably for the best, boy. You better get on with your life," the old man replied.

Doyle stared out at the night sky beyond the windows. "When I was in that cottage, I said more than I told you. I said I thought my friend would be better off...someplace else. He's half way round the world. Perhaps he is better off. Perhaps we both are." It was a thought that he had considered reluctantly at first, yet it had a strange feeling of truth to it that he couldn't seem to shake. If what he had wished for had come true, come true exactly, then...

"Change what you can change, boy. Accept the rest as best you can." The gruff voice made him turn back to his companion in time to see McGuire's stern, lined face soften for just a moment, giving him an awkward, kind look. "Just go on with your life," the old man repeated. "It's all you can do."

"Tell me, with all those stories you've heard about the ones who found that cottage, did any of them change things back?"

"I don't know that any of them tried. I truly don't know. But then, if they had there'd be no way of telling. No one would know the difference, would they? Well, except for the person himself, and I suppose if they didn't say anything about it, it'd be like nothing had ever happened at all." McGuire began to chuckle hoarsely. "Now there's a cat's cradle of a thought, eh?"

Doyle only nodded in agreement. He was over the shock of Bodie's disappearance; the mystery of it was beyond his control. Dealing with the consequences was another matter. He had little choice but to take Ben McGuire's advice and go on with his life.

On his first day back on the job, he sailed through the medical exam with Sanders, admitting to his temporary 'confusion' about having a partner, carefully assuring the doctor that he was all right now that the stress of the Lehman assignment was over. He wasn't sure if Sanders was completely convinced, but it was good enough for Cowley, who immediately sent him undercover on the arms robbery operation.

It lasted several weeks, taking all of Doyle's concentration round the clock to unravel the trail of suspects leading to the head of the underworld syndicate that brokered the sale of the million-pound shipment.

When the arrests were finally made, it was not without bloodshed, but at least the wounded were not CI5, and the guilty were still alive to face the dock when it was over. In fact, Doyle was surprised at how smoothly everything seemed to fit into place, the evidence irrefutable. It was a neat, clean job, relatively speaking.

"You did it again, Doyle. Damn good work. Should we just start calling you Clark Kent, or what?" joked Murphy as he marched one of the handcuffed hoods to a waiting car.

Doyle had to admit, he had done very well. At the very least, it didn't seem that his work was suffering from Bodie's absence. Quite the opposite, in fact. Had his partnership with Bodie just been holding him back all those years? The thought startled him.

He hadn't had much time to think about Bodie. He did his best to make sure of that. His thoughts only seemed to run in futile, little circles where his partner was concerned. It made him grateful for the constant distraction of the job.

Cowley and CI5 saw to it that he was even busier in the weeks that followed. It seemed that one op piled right on top of another, and it quickly became apparent to Doyle that he was not only considered the best agent on the Squad, but Cowley's heir apparent to boot. Cowley filled him in on general operations as he had never done before, giving Doyle ample opportunity to present his opinions on policy and procedures. It amazed Doyle even more when Cowley would listen and, on occasion, actually implement his suggestions. It challenged him to work even harder.

There were few days off and Doyle didn't even notice. He had little time to socialize, but he didn't mind it.

The weeks turned into months. One late night at HQ, Doyle was working on some reports when he stopped to get a cup of tea. As he neared the restroom, he heard two agents talking.

"I walked by his office a few minutes ago. He's still here, nose to the grindstone as usual. Wonder if he ever sleeps."

"Probably doesn't believe he needs to. Doyle's just like the Old Man. Two peas in a pod."

"Does he have a bird?"

"She'd be damn lonely if he did, don't you think? Nah, why'd you think him and the Cow get on so wellworkaholics, the both of them. CI5 forever. Sold their souls to it. No birds, no fun, no friends. That's their motto..."

Doyle recognized the voices. Stuart and Anson. He stayed in the shadows, listening.

"...when the Old Man kicks off, he'll step right into his shoes. We won't even notice the difference."

The two men chuckled and he could hear the clink of cups and spoons.

"Hoi, hand over those biscuits. Gawd, how long have these been here, they're hard as bricks."

"You sure you're not just jealous of 4.5, Stuart? Stole your thunder when he came on the Squad, now didn't he?"

"Don't be a moron. I count myself lucky. He deserves the pat on the back and the Cow's bloody job, too. He's earned it. I wouldn't pay that kind of price. He seems glad to."

"Yeh, well, I guess there's got to be men like Cowley to keep things going. Me, I'm enough of a nutter to like the job, but I sure as hell don't want to give it every day and night of my life, if you know what I mean."

"Speaking of which, you going to the darts match at the Red Lion tomorrow?"

"Wouldn't miss it, mate. I've got a tenner on Murphy..."

The voices trailed off into slurping noises and yawns. Doyle drew back from the doorway and returned to his small office. He sat down behind the desk and stared at the piles of folders and forms. Just like the Old Man. It was unfair. He wasn't at all like Cowley. Not that he didn't respect or admire the man; he did.

His mind wandered back over the last few months. He was absorbed in the work because there was a lot of work to be done, he told himself. But it wasn't quite true and he knew it. He remembered the date he had with Claire. Bodie's Claire. Only there was no Bodie as far as she was concerned. The date was pleasant enough. Claire was warm and pretty and fun-loving. At the end of the evening, they wound up in bed together. The sex was good and yet he couldn't forget that he was with Bodie's girl. How would Bodie have kissed her? How would Bodie have made her laugh? How would Bodie have made love to her? And with the questions, he could see them, in his mind's eye. Claire...and Bodie. It was the first and last time he'd gone out with her.

Working hard kept Bodie's memory from him.

He gazed around the cramped office. Stuart and Anson were right. He would be the next Controller of CI5, but not because he was just like George Cowley. It would be because he was good enough in his own right. And because he had nothing else.

He swallowed hard and squeezed his eyes shut. Like a dam bursting, a wave of emotions broke through his mental defenses. Crumbling all the walls he had carefully erected around his psyche over the long weeks and months.

Being without Bodie made him different. It changed him more than he would ever have imagined. Or perhaps it was more honest to say that he was now more like his true self. He had always been content to be by himself. A day off alone, tinkering with his motorbike was perfectly fine with him. But Bodie would come by and drag him off to the Red Lion for a darts game and drinks with the rest of the off-duty agents, or set up a double date for them that Doyle never wanted, or talk him into playing some foolish joke on Cowley that he would never have dreamed of doing. Bodie crowded his life with people and activities that he would naturally have avoided.

If he had never known Bodie, he would never have missed it. When it came to CI5, he was better off without Bodie. He'd proven that already. He was able to focus on the organisation as a whole without being distracted by any one individual. Nothing became too...personal. His emotional center was different now, protected and...remote.

He stared thoughtfully at the wall. Whatever else, you're not happier without him. It was the one major fact he couldn't deny. Doyle almost smiled at the truth of it. How obvious it suddenly seemed. With Bodie there had always been moments when Doyle had felt far more angry...and silly, and exasperated, and content, and...alive than he'd ever felt with anyone else.

With only the soft tick tick of a battered clock on the wall breaking the silence, he sat hunched over the desk, forehead resting against his folded hands, thinking. Confronting his present and his future.

By the time he finally left for his flat that night, he knew what he was going to do.

Doyle had learned a lot from Cowley these past few months. He knew how to make the most of the many doors that CI5 could open. It was time to call in some favours from MI6 and the Yard.

Within days, he had a small file on a mercenary named William Andrew Philip Bodie.

Bodie was currently presumed to be somewhere in Africa, but he had returned to England for short visits. Scotland Yard had a report on him as an associate of two suspected arms dealers based in London. MI6 listed him as a "field consultant" on two of their operations, one in Angola and the other in Jordan. The Yard's file detailed the date of Bodie's last visit to England as having taken place ten months ago. At that time, he stayed in London for five days and was initially spotted during a special surveillance on an arms dealer named Martell who was suspected of having current dealings with the IRA. There were no personal details on Bodie since his relatively incidental interest to both MI6 and the Yard did not merit a full dossier. He was simply described as a mercenary/recruiter without ties to any particular political faction.

Doyle had hoped to pick up something on Bodie in CI5's databanks by referencing his search on the name "Krivas". To his mild surprise, CI5 had nothing at all on Krivas. The possible conclusions from that bit of information sent a shiver up Doyle's spine. It made him wonder just how many changes his unknowing 'wish' had wrought.

He had to make sure he found out when Bodie came to England again. Using CI5's authority, he arranged for the Customs department to contact him immediately upon Bodie's arrival in the country. If Cowley learned of the strings he was pulling for his own personal ends, he would have more than just a little explaining to do. Doyle was willing to take the risk. He could no longer deny the fact that, good or bad, his life was less than it could be without Bodie. It was also likely that CI5's effectiveness suffered without Bodie, even if Doyle's didn't.

Weeks went by. Another successful op completed, Doyle was asked to review the newest crop of CI5 recruits and offer his recommendations to Cowley in addition to setting up a round- the-clock surveillance operation. Since he didn't have to work on the surveillance himself, he found he had a little more time to himself. It suited his purposes perfectly. All he had to do was wait.

Finally, one night when he was about to leave HQ, he received a call from Customs. Bodie had just arrived at Heathrow on a flight from Morocco. As Doyle had specified, he was cleared through Customs after the usual checks; there were no irregularities with his papers. When asked, Bodie had said he would be staying in London for a few days, on 'holiday' and even mentioned the name of his hotel. Doyle thanked the inspector for his department's assistance and rang off with a smile.

Bodie. For the first time in months, Doyle found himself looking forward to something other than the job. He'd almost forgotten the feeling.

Bodie had said he would be staying at the Dorchester. Doyle smiled again as he turned up his collar and walked out of CI5 and into the cold winter night. Given the means, Bodie would always go five-star. 'Nothing but the best for me, mate,' Bodie had joked to him once. 'What are you doing in CI5, then?' Doyle had countered. 'Penance for my sins, old son,' Bodie had replied.

As he maneuvered the Escort out of the carpark, Doyle considered his next move. He could drive to the hotel. And...what? He chewed at his lower lip as he signalled for a turn and headed the car towards his flat. A part of him wanted to see Bodie right away, just...see...him. It was an emotional need whose sheer force astonished him, but his rational mind counseled him to wait. Wait. Think it through. There was too much at stake. The rest of his life, and Bodie's, were on the line.

He drove home. He even tried to carry on with his normal routine. He fixed himself a light meal, spread out the evening papers, put Saint-Saæns on the stereo. But his mind was racing. He managed to get halfway through his salad before he gave up. Less than an hour later, he was standing in front of the reception desk at the Dorchester. He asked to speak to the night manager, discretely flashing his CI5 ID. He was shown into a tastefully appointed office and presented to a nervous-looking man with a drooping moustache whose eyes rounded as he examined Doyle's ID. After assuring the man that his inquiry would not lead to any unpleasant publicity for the hotel and that no one was about to be arrested during his shift, Doyle asked if Bodie was a registered guest and requested his room number. Perspiration dotting his receding hairline, the night manager checked his records.

"Mr. Bodie is not, uh, involved in anything, uh, illegal, is he?" asked the man as he confirmed that Bodie had arrived just an hour ago and had been shown to his suite. "He's stayed with us before, and there's never been any trouble. Always asks for one of our best suites. Pays in advance. Very good credit line. Never a whisper of trouble."

"No, no, nothing like that," returned Doyle assuringly as he watched the man dab at his forehead. "We would just like to ask him some questions regarding a business associate, that's all. Mr. Bodie is not under any suspicion whatsoever."

The night manager was visibly relieved as Doyle thanked him and left his office.

Bodie hadn't lied about staying at the Dorchester. Then again, there was no reason for him to lie. He was a mercenary, but there was no law against it. It also appeared that he was a very successful mercenary. If he had been involved with arms dealers, certainly nothing had ever been proven to lead to any charges against him. He could be in London again for the same reason, or possibly to recruit other mercs for some job. Or perhaps he really was in town on holiday. As Doyle left the hotel and returned to his car, he wondered, for the upteenth time, what this Bodie would be like. He knew how different his own personality had become without his partner, over only the span of months. How different would Bodie have turned out, not having known Doyle at all?

Hoping Bodie had not already left for the evening or turned in for the night, Doyle staked out the hotel and waited. A half hour later, as his eyes scanned the fancy revolving doors, an unmistakeably familiar figure stepped out onto the pavement.

Doyle's throat tightened with emotion. Bodie. In the glow of the hotel's subtle, golden lights, he seemed amazingly attractive to Doyle. Casually dressed in a dark shirt, slacks and a bomber jacket, he disappeared from Doyle's view into one of the waiting taxis. He was gone so quickly that Doyle was afraid he had only imagined the sight. Swallowing back a confusing tangle of feelings, Doyle gunned the Escort's ignition and slid out of his illegal parking space, following the taxi at a careful distance.

The taxi dropped Bodie off at a pub in a shabby, East End neighborhood. Doyle parked across the road and waited a few minutes before following Bodie inside.

As he walked up to the door, he eyed the peeling, red- lettered sign. The Whistle Stop. It took him a minute to remember why the name rang a distant bell. It was the name of the pub that the merc, Miller, had mentioned. A prickly sense of apprehension crawled over his skin as he pushed open the door and went in.

The pub blended well with its surroundings. It seemed like a place that was used to regulars and probably discouraged 'outsiders'. Doyle could feel the stares as he made his way to the bar. He gazed casually around the room as he waited for the bartender to finish the orders ahead of him. Several strings of small, multi-coloured lights hung from the ceiling like intertwined snakes. They twinkled dully through a heavy layer of cigarette smoke. The lighting was generally dim. Doyle figured it was probably a blessing. His eyes adjusting, he surveyed the room until he spotted Bodie sitting at a table in the far corner. A big man was standing in front of him. They exchanged a few words and Bodie gestured for the big man to join him.

Doyle watched them for a few minutes, Bodie examining a piece of paper that the other man handed to him before giving it back. Bodie was wearing his 'interrogation face'. At least, that's what Doyle used to call ita hard, no-nonsense set to his jaw, eyes stern and unblinking. He looked like he was asking short questions and listening carefully to the answers.

"What'll it be, mate?"

The barman's voice made him turn back. He ordered a gin and tonic.

"'Aven't seen you 'ere before, 'ave I?" queried the barman as he fixed Doyle's drink.

"No, just passing by," returned Doyle neutrally. He was grateful for the fact that he was rarely taken for a copper, his looks being too unconventional to trigger that speculation. He was also glad he'd left his gun and I.D. at home, though he felt almost naked without them. In this neighborhood, they were not likely to be the sort to appreciate any kind of copper in their midst. Several calls for more drinks drew the barman's attention to other customers and Doyle was left alone to hunch over his second-rate gin and glance towards Bodie's table out of the corner of his eye. The big man was already getting up and walking towards the door. Bodie sat back in his chair and watched as another man came up to the table and sat down in front of him. This man was as hard-looking as the first, taller though not as muscular.

They talked for several minutes as Doyle nursed his gin. The tall man took a booklet from his jacket and pushed it across the table for Bodie to see. Doyle wasn't certain from his vantage point, but it looked like a passport. Bodie gave it a once-over, nodding as he handed it back.

Recruiting. Bodie was recruiting for a job.

"Can I buy you a drink?"

Doyle felt a hand brush his shoulder and he glanced towards the speaker. The ruddy-faced man was stocky and almost a head taller than Doyle. He wore a battered leather jacket with a faded Paras insignia stitched over one shoulder. Confused, Doyle could only stare and mutter, "W-what?"

"I'd like to buy you a drink." The man leaned a little closer, his breath smelling heavily of whisky, his gaze trailing over Doyle's body. "I could use some company tonight, too."

It was as if the man was speaking a foreign language. It took several seconds before Doyle's eyes widened in comprehension. "I already have a drink," he said quietly.

"I could give you a lot more than a drink, pretty."

Doyle straightened slowly, taking a step back. "No, thanks." The last thing he needed at the moment was a brawl. His eyes scanned the room again. It was a fair-sized crowd, yet there were no women.

"You sure I can't change your mind?" A large hand snaked around his hip and cupped his arse.

Doyle gripped the thick wrist in a hold that brought a grimace to the man's face and pushed it away. "I said no thanks. Now get lost." He pitched his voice low, but his tone was unequivocal. For a moment, he thought the man was going to try and punch him, but then he gave Doyle an angry, dismissive look and moved away.

Doyle remembered Miller, the merc that he and Bodie had run into before this entire nightmare began. The merc's sexual tastes had been all too clear. The Whistle Stop was one of his hang-outs. Doyle leaned against the bar and drained most of his gin and tonic in a gulp. His hair prickling at the nape of his neck, he glanced in the direction of Bodie's table.

Bodie was looking right at him.

Doyle knew he should have turned away, but he couldn't seem to move, couldn't even blink. Remember me. Remember me. The instantaneous emotion made his heart pound like a drill. Just let it be the way it was. I was wrong. I was wrong.

But Bodie was staring at him like a stranger who happened to notice something interesting. There was no familiar light in the dark blue eyes, no hint of that irritatingly smug grin of recognition. Nothing.

Swallowing back a wave of guilt and disappointment, Doyle looked away. His hands clenched into fists. He knew it was irrational, but deep inside he had thought that once Bodie had seen him, really seen him, he would...come back. How could he not know Doyle, after all? It was ego and arrogance, his certainty of how important he had been to Bodie that made that part of him believe he could wipe out the nightmare with just one heartfelt look.

"Need a refill?"

The barman's question made him glance up. He didn't trust his voice, so he only nodded. When his second drink was set before him, he took a deep breath and turned once more towards Bodie's table. The tall man was getting up. Bodie scribbled something on a small card and handed it to him. The tall man grinned and tucked it into his jacket, tipping a hand in a sloppy salute as he made his goodbyes and headed for the door. Bodie watched the man leave and then, very slowly and deliberately, turned his head to lock gazes with Doyle.

Bodie raised his glass of whisky to his lips and drank, his eyes never leaving Doyle's face. Then his stare swept down the length of Doyle's body.

The quality of that stare reminded Doyle of Miller. He felt his stomach twist into knots. Still, he couldn't look away.

Bodie rose from his chair. He seemed leaner, almost menacing. He walked slowly towards the bar.

A flash of panic swept through Doyle as he waited. His mind absently counted the steps it took for Bodie to reach him. Thirteen steps. Lucky thirteen. Doyle's fingers curled around his drink.

"You've been watching me," Bodie told him. The sound of that voice, a voice Doyle had begun to believe he would never hear again, was music to his ears. Not knowing he was smiling softly, he nodded, examining Bodie's face.. There was a faint, crescent shaped scar near Bodie's right cheekbone that hadn't been there before.

"I've finished my business here. I've got a place round the corner. You interested?"

The words registering, Doyle frowned. The Dorchester was miles away and what was he talking about anyway? He focused on the easy part. "Round the corner?"

"Yeh, convenient, isn't it? Well? Or have I made a mistake?" Bodie's eyes narrowed, the predatory gleam dimming.

Every nerve in Doyle's body seemed to jump. He felt the knots in his stomach cinch tighter. He couldn't let Bodie walk away; he had to establish some kind of connection. This was his only chance. He could handle Bodie. He was always able to handle Bodie. "No, I'd like to talk to you. Where is this place of yours?"

For the first time, Bodie smiled, but the expression had no warmth, and it gave Doyle no comfort.

"This way," and Bodie led them towards the exit.

"Hoi, holding out for him, were you, pretty?" The ruddy- faced man spat the words at Doyle as they passed him. "Think he'll give you a better ride, eh? Damn little cock teaser..."

Doyle ignored him, grateful for the blast of cold air that enveloped him as they left the pub. He paused and took a deep breath. Several steps ahead of him, Bodie turned back. "It's this way," he repeated. His eyes almost glittered in the glow of the streetlights. Taking a last deep breath, Doyle shoved his fists in his pockets and followed him.

The 'place' was a bedsit on the third floor of a grimy building with a painted shingle by the entrance proclaiming it "The Tudor Arms". The lift was broken. As they walked up the stairs, Doyle could hear a radio blaring raggae and the sound of voices arguing. The wallpaper was peeling and the carpet was as thin as paper. "You live here?" he asked, infusing the question with deliberate incredulity.

They stopped in front of Number 35 and Bodie fished a key from his inside pocket. "No. It's just convenient." He released the deadbolt and pushed open the door, flipping on a standing lamp as they walked inside.

Bodie's answer not offering any enlightenment, Doyle surveyed the bedsit. It was as shabby as the rest of the building and it smelled musty. It was also very chilly. The only thing Doyle could say for it was that it looked fairly neat. The biggest object in it was the large double bed which took up most of the room. There was a nightstand with a small gooseneck lamp by the bed, a bureau and two wooden chairs. An alcove housed a small cooker, a sink and a few shelves with some plates and simple utensils. He could see the bathroom through a partially opened door on the far side of the bed.

"Looks like you haven't used this place in a long time," he noted off-handedly.

"I've been out of town. Don't use it much in any case." Bodie was hunched down near the window, tinkering with an ancient radiator, the sound of steam hissing through the old, clanking pipes.

"Rent it out, do you?"

"On occasion."

Bodie finished with the radiator, testing its heat with his hand. He stood up and walked over to Doyle. He looked into Doyle's eyes. "Room should warm up in a bit. Want a drink?"

That steady gaze was almost familiar. It hurt to see those blue eyes devoid of recognition...and friendship.

"Yeh." Doyle needed a little dutch courage.

Bodie moved away towards the alcove, opening a small cabinet to one side of the cooker and rummaging inside. He brought out a bottle and grabbed two glasses from a shelf. It was an unopened bottle of Glenlivet. "It'll have to be neat, unless you want water."

"Neat is fine."

Bodie poured a little in each glass and handed one to Doyle. He took a sip of his own drink and set it aside on the bureau along with the bottle. He proceeded to pull the brown checkered bedspread off the bed, sneezing in the process. "Damn dust," he muttered. He folded the coverlet and placed it on a chair.

The liquor burned down Doyle's throat as he gulped a swallow. He wiped a hand over his mouth. "You're very tidy."


"You act like a military man," prompted Doyle.

Bodie glanced at him with a lift of an eyebrow, but said nothing. He began to pull off his jacket.

"You Army?"

Bodie smiled at the question. "Hardly." Then he looked off towards the window. "I thought about it a few years ago, but I decided to stay where I was."

Doyle put his glass down. "If you had joined up, your whole life might've been different."

Turning with a comical expression, Bodie just stared at him like a man who'd missed the punchline to a joke. Finally, he laughed, a short, low burst of sound. "What a horrible thought."

Doyle gave the bedsit a slow, sweeping gaze. "You don't think there's any way of topping this?"

"I told you I don't live here." Bodie started unbuttoning his shirt, stopping after the top two and casting a wary eye at Doyle. "I only use the bed, on occasion."

"Why'd you come over to me in the pub?" asked Doyle, noting from Bodie's face that the other man was only too aware of the sudden change in topic.

"Seemed like you wanted me to. I didn't think you'd turn out to be such a talker."

"I knew someone who looked a lot like you."

"He's a fortunate man." Bodie gave a quick, smug grin that was almost, almost reminiscent. He returned to unfastening his shirt. "You can put your clothes on one of the chairs if you like."

Doyle felt the nerves tingling down his back. "My clothes?"

"Are you in hurry?"

Doyle shrugged and shook his head with as much nonchalance as he could muster. "Not especially."

"I prefer not to rush through my pleasures. It would be better if you felt the same." Bodie's shirt was loose from his pants, completely unbuttoned, revealing his smooth, pale chest. Fingers at his belt, Bodie waited. "Was I mistaken?" he echoed again as Doyle remained motionless.

Unconsciously raking his lower lip with his teeth, Doyle slowly pulled off his dark green jacket, playing for time. The movement seemed to reassure Bodie. He sat down on the bed and took off his boots and socks.

It was strange, very strange. Doyle could scarcely accept the idea that Bodie was making sexual advances to a man, let alone, to himself. It was just so different from the image he held of his partner. Questions buzzed through his brain. Why? Was it the jungle, the life of a merc? Had it been there all along?

"We'll be here half the bloody night before you get your trousers off."

Doyle glanced at the bed and swallowed. Bodie was nude, propped up against the pillows, hand stroking his cock to erection. Walk out, you don't want to do this, a part of his mind challenged. This is Bodie, this is what you've done to him, another mind voice whispered. Don't lose him. You'll never find him again. Fear and guilt curled around the thought like flames, burning away his reluctance. He crouched and untied his trainers, tossing them off along with his socks. He had to have more time with Bodie. He threw off the rest of his clothes.

The blue eyes travelled over him with a smile as Doyle approached the bed. Bodie was almost fully erect. His pubic hair was black and dense, his balls a dark contrast to the milky white skin of his thighs. His cock was circumcised and thick, though not particularly large, certainly no larger than his own. It was well-proportioned to his build. Bodie kept stroking the hard column in an easy rhythm. He'd seen Bodie naked before, but never sexually aroused. Never like this. There was something powerfully masculine, powerfully attractive about the way Bodie looked. There wasn't anything ugly about him, Doyle realized. At that moment, something new, or perhaps only sleeping, seemed to come alive and take breath inside him.

"You have a good mouth."

The words registered a beat later and Doyle looked up. "What?"

"Why don't you show me what you can do with it," continued Bodie. He moved over a little on the bed, giving Doyle room, his hand still sliding over his cock in long, steady strokes.

As Doyle climbed into the bed, propelled by that new something inside him that he could neither ignore nor command, he suddenly remembered they hadn't even bothered to introduce themselves. As far as Bodie was concerned, there was no need for it.

"C'mon, let me see you use that mouth," Bodie told him again, his voice husky.

Doyle settled over the muscular body, the feel of warm, hard flesh making him gasp, and swiftly covered Bodie's mouth in a deep, moist kiss. He wanted to make it very, very good, the best kiss Bodie had ever had. So Bodie could never forget him.

Seconds later, he heard something like a whimper and then he was abruptly thrust back, strong hands hooking over his shoulders like a vise. He looked down into angry, glaring eyes. He could feel Bodie's erection pressed against his stomach, was suddenly aware of his own full arousal. A dozen different sensations rippled through him.

"What the hell are you doing?" Bodie's voice was breathy and gruff, with an undercurrent of amazement.

Doyle found he had to catch his own breath. "Y-you said...use my m-mouth."


They stared at each other, the sound of their breathing filling the room. Somehow Doyle knew that Bodie was on the verge of throwing him out. He could feel it in the pressure of his hands, in the barely perceptible tremor of his muscles. "Okay," he whispered. "Let go of me first."

Bodie tightened his fingers on Doyle's shoulders in reflex or warning, making Doyle wince, but he let go. Doyle crawled lower on the bed and sat on his heels near the other man's thigh. Bodie's cock was still hard and he could see a drop of fluid glistening at the tip. He looked down at his own erection and stroked himself. He'd never sucked a man's cock before, never considered it, though he had occasionally fantasized being sucked by a man. What did it matter anyway? Everything was happening so fast, everything in his world turning upside down again. His only clear thought was that he wanted to be good at it. He wanted to be the best cocksucker in the world.

"What's so funny?"

Doyle shook his head, grin fading. "I just realized I'm a bloody overachiever." Before the frown could finish growing over Bodie's face, Doyle bent down and took the thick cock into his mouth. It felt silky and hard all at once. His lips covered the head and for a moment, he didn't move, feeling the hot flesh pulsing, Bodie's musk filling his nostrils. If he had just touched Bodie's erection with his hand, he probably couldn't have gone through with it. It would've given him too much time to think about what he was doing. But Bodie's cock was in his mouth, he could actually feel it twitching against his tongue. Images flickered through his mind, little snapshot memories... Bodie, his Bodie... reaching out to grab him a in quick hug, throwing an arm around his shoulder as he whispered one of his silly jokes, ruffling his curls as he walked by Doyle's chair, brushing a palm across his arse as they rushed up some stairs. Bodie always touching him, always as close as he could get, as close as Doyle would allow.

Shutting his eyes, Doyle began to suck in earnest, his fingers closing around the base of Bodie's penis, skimming over his balls. He tried not to take it too deeply into his throat, afraid that he would gag. He worked his mouth and his tongue the way he liked to it done to himself. There was times when he had wished he could have sucked his own cock, pleasuring himself just so, licking from crown to base and swirling back to the slit with just that right amount of pressure, with just that particular swirl and flicker of tongue tip while fingers massaged the underside of his balls and gently squeezed around the column of flesh.

Bodie's muscles tensed and quivered, his breathing deepened, his body seemed to move to the rhythm of Doyle's mouth. Then Bodie gasped, the sound lush with arousal. It made Doyle's own cock lift higher. He wasn't doing himself; he was doing Bodie. And Bodie was liking it. Yeh, he was loving it. Doyle reached down between his own legs and began to pump himself while his mouth sucked even harder.

A hand pressed against the back of his head, fingers weaving through his hair, tightening, pushing his face into Bodie's groin, making him take more of the thick cock. He thought he would choke as he felt Bodie jerk upward. Hot fluid filled his throat and he struggled to release himself. He pulled back, sputtering for breath, Bodie's cum spilling over his lips. Another stream of milky ejaculate splashed against his chin and dribbled down his neck as Bodie's hips bucked again and again.

Doyle coughed and covered his mouth. He stumbled out of the bed and managed to get to the toilet just as he began to retch. He stayed on his knees, hunched over the bowl for a few minutes, until his stomach steadied. His hand and face were sticky, the salty-bitter taste heavy in his mouth, the scent pungent in his nostrils. He finally pushed himself up and staggered against the sink, running the taps. He rinsed his mouth and washed away the glistening trails of semen. He felt suddenly awkward and embarrassed, feelings he rarely experienced when it came to sex. Then again, he'd never had quite this kind of experience before, and certainly not with Bodie.

He glanced towards the open bathroom door. He could only see the lower part of the bed. He couldn't see Bodie. Quickly searching for a towel in one of the small cupboards, he dried himself off and walked back into the room.

Bodie was sitting on the side of the bed, palms flat against the mattress. He looked at Doyle with a cool, almost clinical expression. "Throw me the towel."

Doyle tossed him the damp towel and watched as Bodie wiped at his groin and stomach. The silence between them made Doyle edgy. He didn't know whether he should climb back into the bed or not. He had no clue how Bodie would react. No idea what he might be thinking. There was no shred of their old rapport, the chemistry that had worked so easily between them. Then Bodie stood up, reached for his pants and started to pull them on.

"Are you getting dressed?" Doyle stared wide-eyed as Bodie picked up his trousers.

"What's it look like?" There was a note of irritation in the other man's voice.

"But I thought," Doyle took a step towards the bed. "But I thought you said you weren't in a rush."

"I changed my mind." Bodie zipped up his fly and turned to look for his shoes.

Doyle pressed a knuckle to his lips. His skin felt cold. Bodie's taste was still in his mouth. "What about me?"

The blue eyes surveyed him slowly, the languid gaze pausing at his now flaccid cock. "What about you?" the other man echoed sardonically.

"I'm used to being the one that's sucked off." That was certainly the truth. Doyle watched as a grin briefly touched Bodie's face. He felt a surge of indignation sweep through him. Part of it came from a sense of unfairness; he was angry that he had done what he had for Bodie and that Bodie was not acting grateful for it. "How about at least returning the favour?"

Bodie sat down on the edge of the bed, one boot in his hand. He looked into Doyle's eyes, steady and unblinking. The boot dropped to the floor with a thud. "Say please." Again his mouth stretched ever so slightly upward in a smile.

For an instant, Doyle wanted to wipe that glib smile off Bodie's lips with his fist, but the thought vanished as he remembered who was really to blame. The one who was truly responsible for the stranger before him. Guilt washed over him. He lowered his head and took a breath. "Please."

When he met the amused blue eyes again, Bodie merely crooked a finger. Swallowing the last of his pride, Doyle walked towards him as Bodie casually spread his thighs apart, grabbing Doyle around the hips, pulling him to stand between his legs. Doyle's heart began to race. As soon as Bodie put his fingers around Doyle's penis, it began to lengthen. The hand began to move over him, holding him, changing to a slow pumping.

Bodie was very good at it, as if he'd been doing it a lot. When the dark head leaned towards him and he felt Bodie's tongue and teeth against his nipples, Doyle gasped, eyes widening, then shutting tight against the sensation. He never considered his nipples particularly sensitive, but the rough laving was making him tremble, as if tiny bolts of electricity were shooting from his chest to his cock and back again.

The air felt cool against his wet, taut nipples as Bodie's head eventually lowered to his groin. He was pushed back a little as Bodie's right hand anchored around his hip. Doyle looked down in wonder as Bodie's mouth opened and took just the head of his cock, sucking it in slowly. In and out, like a lollipop, tongue swirling. The sight of Bodie's face, the fan of dark lashes, the sound of moist lips suckling, the quick flash of pink tongue darting in and out, aroused him even more. It was a sight he had never dreamed to see. Never dreamed to be so erotic. He wanted to push his cock into Bodie's mouth, make him take it all. He touched the nape of Bodie's neck, experiencing a moment's shock at the softness of the thick dark hair. He brushed his fingers through it over and over, feeling it sliding through his fingers like heavy silk, adding to the sensory overload. Reflexively, his hips surged forward, seeking more of Bodie's mouth but he was held firmly in place. Bodie pulled away and gazed up at him teasingly. "All in good time, little boy." He blew hot breath over Doyle's cock, watching it bob stiffly. "Not really so little, are you?" He laughed then as Doyle looked away in frustration, a whimper escaping him.

He cried out when Bodie's mouth took him in again, his legs swaying as a hand slipped beneath his balls, brushing knuckles against his testicles. The hand was gone a second later and then it rubbed along the outside of his thigh, up and behind to the small of his back. All the while, Bodie's mouth taunted him, taking just the tip of his erection, assaulting his senses as Bodie's tongue played over a spot that sent tremors right through him.

"Fucking finish it!" he growled. And then he almost cried as Bodie pulled away again. He grabbed at Bodie's shoulders, but before he could push him forward, he was flipped to one side, balance lost. The room spun and he found himself on the bed, his wrists pinned to the mattress, Bodie's weight pressing him down.

"You're really wild for it, aren't you?"

Doyle was breathing fast, his erection strained against his belly. He almost called out Bodie's name, biting his lip to keep from saying it. "D-don't play games." He tried to break loose, but Bodie's grip was like iron.

"Oh, I could think of a few games for you, all right." Bodie's smile made him turn his head away.

Suddenly, his wrists were free and Bodie was sucking him again. This time, the mouth took him deep, fingers rubbing along his groin and over his balls, pushing his legs apart, slithering between his buttocks. Doyle lunged up, moaning as Bodie met and accommodated his rhythm, pulling the feeling from every nerve in his body, centering it all in his cock. He tangled his fingers in the dark hair, but Bodie shook him off. He clutched at the sheets instead. He was going to come in Bodie's mouth. He couldn't help it. He tried to shout a warning, but he couldn't form the words. The exquisitely practiced mouth sucked him faster and faster, deeper and deeper. Suddenly, a finger pushed into his anus. Doyle gasped, breath catching in his throat, his climax shooting through him. His body felt like a whip snapping, flexing powerfully with his orgasm as he spilled himself into Bodie's mouth.

He was still trembling minutes later, sprawled boneless across the bed, light as air, eyes closing as a pleasant languor settled over him. The warm weight against his side drew away and he became vaguely aware of the sounds of cloth rustling and movement. A warning sense made him open his eyes in time to see Bodie, fully clothed, striding into the bathroom.

The magnitude of what had just occurred between them, of how much Doyle felt changed by it, seemed bitter in his growing certainty of how little it meant to the man in the other room. Just a mutual blow job, nothing more.

But it was still Bodie in that other room, however much this reality had changed him. Somewhere in that man was the person who had been his best friend. Perhaps his only real friend.

He heard the sound of the rusty taps squealing shut, then Bodie walked out of the bathroom. He picked his watch up from the bureau, strapping it on. "You better get dressed," he said.

"Why the hurry?" Doyle asked him quietly.

"I want to finish up some business tonight."

"Yeh? Bit late, isn't it?" Doyle kept his voice as casual as Bodie's.

"Not for my kind of business." Bodie nodded towards the door. "C'mon, let's go." He gathered up Doyle's jeans and threw them on the bed.

"I thought you wanted to take your time," pressed Doyle.

"It was time enough."

Doyle waited until Bodie met his eyes. "My name's Ray Doyle."

If anything, Bodie seemed annoyed by the statement.

"I'd like to see you again," continued Doyle.

Bodie scooped up the rest of his clothes and dumped them on the bed. "I'm leaving town in a few days."

"How about tomorrow then?"

Bodie gave him an odd look. "I don't think so."

Doyle began sifting out his clothes, not really making any effort to dress, trying to pull his thoughts together, quelling a flash of panic. He stood and faced Bodie. "I think it could be really good between us." He waved a hand towards the bed. "I was nervous tonight. You look so much like my friend, you see. I'd be a lot better next time. We could really get it on, you know, do whatever you like."

Blue eyes roamed over him from head to toe. "There's something about you that..." He shook his head slowly, suspiciously, words trailing off. "Why don't you just go and have it off with that friend of yours, eh?"

Doyle thought how strange it would sound if he answered with the absolute truth. It almost made his lips twitch upward in a smile. "No."

"Don't tell mehe's straight as a die."

Doyle chewed at his lip, his gaze dropping. "He never seemed interested in men."

When he looked up again he saw Bodie's lips thin with an expression that said he was rapidly loosing interest in the subject. Bodie pointed to the clothes on the bed. "Just get dressed. I want to get going."

Doyle picked up his underpants and pulled them on, then his jeans. Bodie slouched against the wall, arms folded, watching him. It was a pose that reminded Doyle of the way his partner stood during long interrogations or boring stakeouts, his impatience or anger disguised as disinterest. Doyle grabbed socks and trainers and sat down on the bed to put them on. He cocked his head to one side and smiled at Bodie. The dark eyebrows arched up slightly in response. "That was the best blow job I've ever had, you know."

"I wouldn't doubt it." Bodie's face held the barest hint of a grin.

"I bet you're very talented at a lot of things."

"Well, let's just say, I wouldn't bet against you."

Doyle laughed, feeling at ease for the first time during their conversation. Bodie certainly hadn't lost his self-assurance. He remembered how competitive they were with each other when George Cowley had first teamed them. In that other reality. "I bet I can fuck better than you."

The dark brows rose again, accompanied by a brief smile. "Really?"

"Naturally gifted, I am."

"I don't care how well you fuck." Bodie's voice was wintry.

Doyle's smile faltered, but he recovered. "I'd like to know how well you fuck."

"Would you now?" Bodie pushed himself away from the wall and slid his hands into the pockets of his bomber jacket.

Doyle shrugged into his shirt. "Yeh." He stood up again and drifted towards the door, picking up his jacket as he crossed the room. He looked over his shoulder, let his lips form another half smile. "What time tomorrow?"

The few seconds before Bodie answered seemed very long indeed. But then the blue eyes danced. "Might be interesting at that." Bodie tossed the door key up into the air and caught it in his palm. "Nine o'clock tomorrow night. If I'm not here by fifteen after, forget it."

Doyle opened the door and started walking out. "I'll see you then." He didn't look back though he desperately wanted to see Bodie's face. He headed down the stairs at a regular pace. He heard Bodie shut the door, the click of the lock and the familiar thread on the stair behind him. After a moment the footsteps slowed, stopped altogether. Maybe Bodie was watching him. Maybe he only stopped to yawn.

Out on the pavement, the brisk night air filling his lungs, Doyle sensed a strange new insecurity settling into his bones. It was disconcerting enough to meet a Bodie so unknown to him. It was worse to realize that he knew himself so little.

He crossed the street quickly and melted into the shadows of an old building. He waited. Perhaps only a minute passed; it seemed much longer. Doyle thought Bodie wasn't going to come out at all when, finally, the front door opened and Bodie walked into view. He paused to glance first in one direction and then the other. Doyle backed deeper into the darkened alcove between boarded up windows, the smell of garbage drifting over him from a line of battered rubbish bins. A dog barked somewhere in a nearby alley.

Bodie turned up his sheepskin collar and gazed up at the sky, his face limned by the pale silvery light from a street lamp. A very solitary figure. The sight sent a pang of loneliness through Doyle. Memories spun through his consciousness. Bodie standing by him silently as Doyle complained of yet another bird flown and true love lost; the look in Bodie's eyes that was more than understanding. The moments of quiet after the near escapes when death had been a hair's breadth away; he would catch an expression in Bodie's face, too quickly concealed, that spoke of emotions beyond relief and friendship. Emotions Doyle refused to acknowledge even to himself.

The sound of a distant siren brought him back to the present. It was so easy to take things for granted, he thought suddenly, fiercely. To miss what was right in front of your eyes. To realize too late. He swallowed hard as he watched Bodie lower his gaze and walk away.

Doyle stayed in the shadows, tailing Bodie back to The Whistle Stop, watching as he went inside. There was no reason for Doyle to follow Bodie except that he couldn't help himself. Memories kept flashing through his mind, mingling with images of what had just gone on between them. Friendship and sex. Past and present. He wasn't sure what he felt for Bodie anymore beyond a terrible longing.

For over half an hour he waited in the cold and dark, the night wind rising and stinging his face, his eyes riveted on the pub entrance. Smudges of multi-coloured lights shone dully through the tops of the grimy windows. A few people left, a blast of noise and laughter spilling out as they opened the door. It was getting near closing time. Doyle wondered what 'business' Bodie was conducting. Then, a car drove up in front, a late model Jag. The driver sounded the horn. A few seconds later, he got out of the car and headed for the door just as Bodie came outside. Bodie must have been waiting for him. The light from the pub was bright enough for Doyle to see the other man's face. He squinted in concentration, then hissed in recognition. Miller. The merc looked exactly the same, big and muscular, a swagger to his walk. Bodie nodded a greeting and Miller slung an arm across his shoulders. Some words were exchanged and the big merc threw his head back and laughed. Bodie seemed to be grinning. They climbed into the Jaguar, Miller driving, and roared off down the road.

Doyle stared tensely after them, knowing he couldn't reach his car in time to follow. Miller and Bodie. Bodie must've called the merc from the pub. What was Miller doing in London? Recruiting? Putting together a job with Bodie? Doyle ground his teeth together at the thought of other possibilities. He couldn't feel the chill wind as he remained in the shadows, watching until long after the Jag was out of sight.

The rest of the night was long and sleepless. As a milky grey dawn crept over the city, Doyle lay awake, sheets jumbled across his bed from hours of tossing and turning, a mug of cold tea forgotten on the nightstand. He brushed long fingers impatiently through his curls, as if the gesture could wipe out the image of Bodie's naked body, the heat and hardness of his cock as Doyle felt it against his lips and in his mouth.

Doyle pressed a knuckle to his teeth. Even if he could somehow talk Bodie into staying, it would all be different now. Forever different. Would it be worth it, for either of them? What did he really want? He jumped as the alarm buzzed on the clock radio. He turned it off and sat on the side of the bed. The room was growing lighter. He looked at the clock. Just fourteen and a half hours before it would be 9 p.m.

He was summoned to a meeting with Cowley shortly after he arrived at HQ. The Old Man was in good spirits; the budget had been approved for another year. With an effort he was surprised he had to make, he gave Cowley a brief rundown on the unchanged status of the surveillance operation along with his review of the new recruit files. Then he waited to hear what was really on the Old Man's mind.

"As you know, Doyle, the Minister has signed off on the budget for the coming year. He would like to discuss specific allocations. It's a yearly ritual that seems to satisfy his sense of fiscal stewardship and has even, albeit on rare occasion, resulted in additional funds for some departments. I think it would be useful for you to attend the meeting with me."

Doyle could hardly believe his ears. For Cowley to include him in a budget planning session with the Minister was heady stuff indeed. He could almost hear the 'heir to the throne' buzz that would go up in the restroom once the other agents got wind of it. "Thank you, sir," he managed to say.

Cowley responded with a hint of a smile. "This organisation needs to exist, 4.5. Though I wish the world had no use for it, or any organisation like it, that simply isn't the case. My aim, my hope, is to make CI5 obsolete. Unfortunately, we have more work than we can handle, and it doesn't look likely to change in the foreseeable future. What we do is valuable, Doyle. It can and has made a difference. I think you understand what that means, perhaps better than any of your fellow agents. You're dedicated as well as talented." Cowley waved a hand in front of his face. "Och, don't let that young head of yours swell any bigger than it already is. There are other agents with just as much raw talent, several with more. But you have the kind of single-mindedness that, I believe, gives you the potential to contribute a great deal more to this organisation once you've left the field."

It was probably as close as the Old Man had ever come to telling Doyle that he saw him as the future Controller of CI5. Doyle felt a burst of pride and an unexpected twinge of anxiety. He couldn't think of anything to say, but then Cowley wasn't waiting for a reply.

"The Minister prefers to give the meeting a somewhat unofficial appearance. We'll join him for dinner this evening at his club. He's reserved a private room and we'll go over the particulars of the budget afterwards. Unfortunately, he enjoys mulling over the details, but barring any stumbling blocks, we should be finished by eleven or so. I think you'll find the discussion an informative experience."

As Cowley's words sank into his consciousness, Doyle felt a chill sweep through him. "Tonight? The meeting is tonight?"

Cowley was reaching for a folder, pushing it across the desk towards him. "Yes. Dinner is at seven. Now, here's a copy of the budget. Go over it and4.5?"

Whatever showed on his face, it made the Old Man pause and look at him questioningly. Doyle answered with words that seemed to flow of their own accord. "I'm very sorry, sir, but I can't attend. I have other plans for tonight and I can't change them."

Cowley stared at him silently, a frown slowly creasing his high forehead, eyes narrowing. "This meeting is an excellent opportunity for you to formally introduce yourself to the Minister. Surely you can reschedule your evening's engagement?"

There it was. A command draped in a request. What could he say? Well, no, I have to see if I can get fucked by Bodie. He forced down a bubble of hysterical laughter. His voice sounded surprisingly adamant, the emotion beneath it having no discernible connection with his rational understanding of what he might be throwing away. "No, I can't. Not tonight. I'm sorry."

Cowley leaned back in his chair, his lips thinning. "I see. Well, I'm sorry, too. Very sorry indeed. That will be all, 4.5." Disappointment and perhaps a certain bewilderment flickered in the pale steely eyes as the Old Man put on his glasses and bent over a stack of papers, effectively dismissing Doyle's presence.

Biting back the urge to try and explain, knowing that any semblance of the truth would only disappoint Cowley even more, Doyle left the office. It was only as he made his way along the corridor, the sound of his footsteps drowned by the buzz of activity around him, that it occurred to him that he had just made an extraordinary choice without even a moment's hesitation. And with a deep intake of breath, he knew it wasn't necessarily the right one. Letting Cowley down bothered him much more than he could have expected. Of course, he hadn't expected to let Cowley down at all. The job did mean a lot to him and he didn't want to jeopardize it. But losing Bodie, again, would be even worse. "You know, Ray, you're attracted to guilt like a kitten to cream," Bodie had chided him once upon a time. Unfortunately, little had changed as far as that was concerned.

Doyle saw Cowley a few hours later in a group briefing on the new training schedules. The Controller seemed his normal, stiff and exacting self, showing little patience with what he termed 'idiotic' questions from some of the newer agents. Only Doyle noticed the chill in the air whenever Cowley's glance brushed over him. Doyle had stumbled badly in the Old Man's opinion and he was sure Cowley would let him know it one way or the other for some time to come. Before this strange reality had begun, in the world where Bodie had been his partner, Cowley had often found fault with them both, but Bodie usually managed to diffuse the Old Man's wrath with a mixture of dark humour and cheek. There was very little laughter in Doyle's life now. It was an odd moment to realize how very much he missed it.

When the briefing was over, he went back to his cupboard of an office and worked on the final summary report on the new recruits. It was difficult to concentrate, the look of disappointment in Cowley's eyes slipping in and out of his mind. The heir apparent was not so apparent any more.

His door flew open and Murphy's lanky frame filled the doorway. "Hoi, 4.5, that nice, quiet surveillance set-up of yours just turned hot. Report's coming in, bomb went off a few minutes ago, one of our lads."

Doyle was out of his chair and running for the lift before Murphy even finished his sentence.

It was hours later before Doyle allowed himself to slow down enough to catch his breath. The surveillance site was chaos. Demolition teams swarmed over the old two-storey building. Except for the blown out windows on the ground level, it looked undamaged until you stepped inside. The floor was gone, leaving a gaping, splintered pit of what was once the basement beneath. The building wheezed and groaned, threatening to cave in on itself at any moment. Barricades were set up around the area, firetrucks mixing with panda cars along the perimeter.

"The 10 O' Clock News is trying to get an interview with just about anybody and at least a dozen of Fleet Street's lowest are doing their David Bailey imitations." Murphy's announcement made Doyle grit his teeth as he glanced over to see their chief's reaction.

Cowley's expression was ominously rigid, only a slight narrowing of the blue-grey eyes giving away any emotion. "You and the others can assist the Met boys as needed, then get back to HQ. If you're approached by any reporters, tell them an official statement will be issued shortly. Nothing more, understood?"

Murphy nodded sharply, knowing better than to make any kind of comment when Cowley was in this sort of mood. He loped off towards the barricades and the small knot of CI5 agents, leaving Doyle with the Controller.

"Clarke had a wife, did he not?"

Doyle looked towards the shell of a building. "Yes, sir."

"She'll have to be informed immediately."

"Edmonds said he would do it. He already left with the ambulance. Clarke was his partner and he knows the family..." Doyle's voice trailed off. "How could Clarke have been so damn stupid?" He only realized he had spoken the question aloud when Cowley answered him.

"Aye, stupid indeed. If he'd followed orders and stayed put, he'd be alive to make many more mistakes. Now we've not only lost a CI5 agent but any hope of finding the 'owners' of this little bomb factory. IRA, Red Brigade, freelancer, or perhaps some lunatic with a fetish for explosives and booby-trapped houses. We'll never know now, will we, because they certainly aren't coming back here again."

"The demo units might turn up something in the wreckage. We could still pick up a lead." Doyle knew it was very unlikely but the thought that a month-long surveillance would literally blow up in their faces with nothing to show for it but the needless death of one of their own was a bitter pill to swallow. If only Clarke had not let his boredom overrule his common sense, he'd still be alive and so would the operation.

Doyle would not soon forget the stricken look on Edmonds' bloodless face, the emptiness in his eyes as he had tried to explain what happened. "He said he was just going to take a quick look round. He never said he was actually going inside, I swear. It was so bloody boring for him sitting here day after day. More for him than me. And Lucas and McCabe weren't able to relieve us on schedule because of some emergency. We'd been in that bedsit for sixteen hours straight and we were both going stir crazy watching that empty house, hoping for someone to show. He just wanted to break the monotony of it. God, I swear I didn't know he'd go inside the place. Anyhow, we didn't think it was rigged to blow. We were starting to believe we had the wrong house altogether. Still, when I saw him go in there, I almost ran after the stupid bugger to haul him back out."

"It was a good thing you didn't or you'd be bits in a bodybag on the way to the morgue yourself," Doyle had replied, his anger grounding out any sympathy. The anger was more at himself than Edmonds because it had been his set-up. He'd put together the surveillance plan and assigned the agents. Cowley had trusted him to do it right.

"It's also possible that our quarry had already spotted the surveillance and was never intending to return. Perhaps they knew that we'd check the building eventually and set off the booby trap as Clarke did."

Cowley's remark brought Doyle instantly back to the present. "The surveillance was clean," he insisted. "They were careful from the beginning. They followed procedure to the letter until"

"Until today," finished Cowley tersely.

Doyle ran a tired hand through his curls. "It's my responsibility. I should have made sure backup was available to relieve Clarke and Edmonds when Lucas and McCabe couldn't "

"They were trained to adapt to any situation and they should have done so. Clarke made a fatal error and his partner let him. There's no use blaming yourself."

Cowley's comment was unexpectedly mild. Doyle had steeled himself for a major dressing down though the Old Man's weary, almost sympathetic response had very close to the same effect. Doyle felt terrible. Everything had been going so well, every op he worked on turning up roses. Nothing but success. And now this. Clarke dead. For nothing.

"I'll give the press a statement before they invent their own," Cowley was telling him. "Tie up the loose ends here, 4.5. I'll want a full report on the matter on my desk tomorrow morning, along with the findings from the demo units." The Old Man glanced at his watch. "I'll be getting back to HQ after I've given the reporters a statement. I still have a few things to prepare before I meet with the Minister this evening." He gave Doyle a pointed glance, lips thinning before he turned on his heel and walked away.

Doyle dropped his gaze, feeling like a failure on all fronts. For a split second, he was tempted to call out to Cowley and tell him that he had changed his plans, that he wanted to join him for the Minister's meeting after all. But he couldn't do it. He thought of Bodie, of the Bodie that had been his friend and his partner. How he missed that presence, the support that was always there by his side, quiet and unremarked but never faltering. To think that he had felt smothered by it. You never appreciate what you have until you lose it. Wasn't that the old cliche? Yet Bodie was not lost. Not yet. Not like Clarke. There was still a chance.

As he gazed at the ruin of the building, he confronted the fact that there were few things in his life that truly mattered to him: his job was one and his relationship with Bodie was another. Ironically, each impacted the other in ways both subtle and profound, and while he believed he could survive without one or the other, he was not quite complete without them both. CI5 gave him purpose; Bodie gave him humanity. And perhaps he gave that same gift to Bodie in turn, if in a different way.

For the first time in months, he thought of that last op with Bodie and the incident that had led him to wish an integral part of his life away...

The farmhouse was little more than a dilapidated barn located very close to a paved road, but almost impossible to spot because of the abundance of trees, overgrown shrubs and weeds that obscured it. Once passed the curtain of foliage the ground sloped downward and the small farmhouse could be seen at the base of the incline. A narrow lane led away from the place at a right angle, weaving through the trees and disappearing, probably connecting with the road at a different point further ahead.

"Wanna flip for who goes in the front?" Bodie asked him with a quick grin as they crept towards the farmhouse.

"Haven't got any change," Doyle replied, keeping low, adrenaline pumping through him. They were so close now. The Lehmans were little more than a stone's throw away. It would have been better if they could wait for backup teams but that would take hours. They had to act right away.

"Afraid you'd lose your 50p in all these damn weeds more like," Bodie whispered back. He pulled on Doyle's sleeve, bringing their heads together for a moment. "Nevermind, I'll take the front."

Doyle raised both eyebrows. "Very noble of you, I'm sure, but I think it's my turn. You had the pleasure of playing sitting duck with that gang of car bombers last time out, remember?" He pulled out his gun and clicked off the safety. "You go round to that side door near the back."

"I think we should both go in the front."

They were crouching in a thicket of shrubs, several ancient yew trees billowing over their heads. A thorny branch scratched at Doyle's collar as he twisted to gape at Bodie. "What the hell are you on about?"

"There's no cover at all going in the front. Just look at it. They've taken pains to make sure no one can walk up to that door without their noticing." And indeed, every shred of greenery had been pulled out in an arc in front of the entrance, leaving only a wide semi-circle of dark brown earth without even so much as a blade of grass. Another area had been cleared to one side of the farmhouse adjacent to the narrow lane. A beige-coloured Volvo was parked in the space facing the lane.

"I wasn't plannin' on marching up to the door and poundin' the push bell like I was selling double glazing, Bodie."

Bodie shook his head stubbornly. "We'd have a better chance each takin' out a front window and going in together."

"What, while the Lehmans run out the back? That's crazy and you know it." countered Doyle.

"Let me take the front then."

Doyle had had enough. "Damnit, Bodie, since when do you think I can't do my job?"

"That's got nothing to do with it."

"Doesn't it? We're supposed to be partners; fifty-fifty. The way you've been acting, pretty soon you'll tell me I can't take a piss by myself." He looked towards the farmhouse. "Now I'm not wasting any more time squatting with you in the fucking bushes while the Lehmans plan their next killing spree. We move in from the blind side. Those vines are blocking most of that window. You head for the back and I'll wait until you're in position. Three minutes should be more than plenty. Then I'll move to the door and we go in." He locked gazes with Bodie, daring his partner to object. Bodie's jaw tightened but then he glanced at the old farmhouse and nodded. Doyle started forward when Bodie's hand caught his shoulder. "What now?"

Bodie opened his mouth, then seemed to falter.

"For chrissakes, mate," snarled Doyle impatiently.

Bodie puffed out a breath and let go of his arm. "Just keep your head down, Ray, or they'll spot that mop of yours for sure."

Doyle just rolled his eyes and headed towards their target.

They didn't see any sign of the Lehmans through the windows as they crept closer. Once they reached the side of the house, Doyle nodded for Bodie to go round to the rear. He waited as Bodie silently slipped through the bushes. He looked at his watch, counting off three minutes. Then he dropped to a crouch and began moving out towards the front.

He hadn't even reached the window before he heard Bodie shout his name once and then start firing. He swore through his teeth just as the Lehmans began shooting in Bodie's direction. >From the sound of it, one of them had an automatic rifle. Doyle ducked and rolled, shattering a front window with his first shot, drawing their fire. Bullets were flying everywhere, the rifle taking out huge chunks from the door and windows. Then the shots changed direction again. He heard more glass shattering as he crashed through the door and hunched down, eyes adjusting to the dimmer light. He hit the floor and rolled again as a burst of shots flew over his head. He looked up to see a blur of bodies leaping through a side window.



They called to each other simultaneously as Doyle lurched up and moved to the broken window. Bodie was racing towards him. A staccato of gunshots rang through the air and they both ducked down and returned fire. Bodie paused to load another clip into his Browning, Doyle glancing over to notice the large tear in the right shoulder of Bodie's anorak. The edges of the tear were turning crimson. The sound of an engine revving and the squeal of tyres had him dashing through the obliterated window, dodging the wild spray of shots from the Volvo as it sped away in a cloud of dust. He spent the last of his clip vainly trying to hit the tyres.

It had all taken less than a handful of minutes. Doyle stood in a state of disbelief and watched the car disappear into the trees. There was no way they could get back to the Escort in time to follow them. The Lehmans had gotten away.

Bodie was standing beside him, blue eyes on the spot where the dirt lane weaved into the copse of trees.

"Is it bad?" Doyle asked him tightly, gesturing at the traces of blood on Bodie's shoulder.

Bodie kept staring ahead. "No. Just a scratch."

Anger was bubbling up through Doyle like a kettle reaching full boil. He flipped the safety on his gun and jammed it into his holster, turning to face his partner. "Fucking hell, Bodie, what did you think you were doing?! Why didn't you wait 'til I was in position!? We lost them. We fucking lost them!"

"I saw him heading for the door with the rifle. I couldn't see the other one."

"What? So? That doesn't mean they spotted me. I know they didn't. He had to go through a room before he got to the door. He could've been carrying the rifle to the front room to clean the ruddy thing for all you know! We know the Lehmans sleep with their guns, for godssakes!"

"No, they knew someone was outside. He was running. That rifle would've blown you-"

"Fuck it, Bodie! Why couldn't you give me a little credit for handling my end of it, eh?! I would've been ready. You used to trust me to do my job. We could've taken them, damn you! "

"No, that's not-"

"No, nothing! You're blowing the partnership, Bodie. You know that?!" Doyle shook his head in disgust and stalked back into the farmhouse...

"Hoi, Doyle? 4.5!"

Doyle swirled to confront the quizzical face of Simon Phillips, CI5 bomb expert par excellence. Phillips pushed his glasses back up to the bridge of his nose and shrugged narrow shoulders. "You looked miles away."

Doyle smiled faintly. "I was just remembering something." He let out a sigh. "What did you want to tell me, Phillips?"

Seeing that Agent 4.5 was not about to share anything further, Phillips jerked a thumb towards the bombed building. "I wanted to let you know it'll be awhile yet before we can check out the basement and give you a proper report. The place is too unstable. And there might be more boobytraps. It could all cave in any second. We have to go pretty slow on it."

"Yeh, be careful. No hurry now anyway."

Phillips raised an eyebrow at the bleak tone as Doyle walked by him towards the panda cars, the same faraway expression returning to the round, boyish face.

Doyle stayed at the site for another hour, taking care of other details. He was brisk and efficient even while his mind hovered between past and present. It was well after six o'clock when he finally headed for his motor and the trip back to his flat. He decided not to return to HQ. He couldn't start Cowley's report until Phillips could complete his evaluation, and that looked to take days. The Old Man would just have to wait. It wouldn't help Doyle's standing as far as the Controller was concerned but there was no help for it.

Twilight was fading into night when Doyle reached his flat. He had no interest in fixing a meal or even having a good stiff drink. He paced through the rooms feeling restless and depressed. Finally, he walked into the bedroom and lay down on the bed. He stared blindly at the grey shadows on the ceiling and thought about George Cowley playing verbal sparring games with the Minister over beef wellington and a fine Bordeaux. And about cold, cold blue eyes in a stranger's face and about sex like he had never known it before. He thought about Bodie, his partner and friend, too protective of him and struggling with other feelings that Doyle's wall of disapproval wouldn't allow him to express.

He let the images taunt him like a puzzle without solution until finally, with a groan, he dragged himself off the bed and gazed at the green glowing numerals of the clock radio on the nightstand. It was already quarter of eight.

Doyle wanted to make things right again. But how? How? He squeezed his eyes shut, wishing with all his might that he had never come upon that strange cottage and the strange, blue figurine. But he knew with sinking certainty that, this time, his wish would not come true.

At 8.50, he was standing in front of the Tudor Arms. After a few minutes, he moved to wait by the side of the stairs, taking shelter from the rising wind. By 9.10, he didn't notice the wind anymore. He walked back and forth in front of the stairs, nerves on edge. Bodie wasn't going to keep the rendezvous. He wasn't going to show. Perhaps he wasn't even in the country anymore. If I'm not here by fifteen after, forget it. That's what Bodie had told him. Doyle glanced at his wristwatch in the light of the streetlamp. 9.15 exactly. He felt angry. Bodie, in any form, could trigger many strong emotions in him. And anger was easier, familiar. Beneath the anger, Doyle was afraid. He felt abandoned and adrift in a way he hadn't since he was a little child, the fear tinged with helplessness. He hunched into his short green jacket, hands balled in his pockets and scanned the street in both directions, the wind ruffling his hair, biting at his eyelids. The minutes ticked by.

At 9.27, he turned and saw Bodie walking towards him in the distance, the gait unmistakeable, walking unhurriedly through the night shadows, through pools of light from the streetlamps. Flickering in and out. Like something not quite real, thought Doyle. A dream. A wish.

An almost painful sense of relief washed over him as he watched the man moving closer, the pale skin seeming almost white against the darkness, eyes gleaming like black stones. Doyle blinked against the wind, preparing himself, fighting to clear his face of all emotion, forcing himself to stand still as Bodie came to a halt in front of him.

"What are you doing here? Thought I said not to bother if I wasn't here by 9.15," the familiar voice told him.

Doyle lifted his chin and stared into the chilly blue eyes. "My watch must be slow." Before the other man could say anything, he added, "Lucky for you."

A sliver of a smile touched Bodie's face. "I was going for a drink at the Whistle Stop."

"You've got whisky up there," Doyle told him, jerking his head towards the bedsit.

Bodie just stared at him for a moment before the smile grew infinitesimally wider. "So I have." His shoulder brushed Doyle's lightly as he headed up the stairs.

Doyle drew in a shaky breath and followed Bodie into the Tudor Arms.

The room was warm, the radiator wheezing heat, Doyle just realizing how cold he was as he rubbed his hands together.

"Hoi, want a drink?" Bodie called out to him as he pulled the whisky bottle off a shelf.

Doyle turned to the other man without answering, waiting until Bodie looked at him. "I told you my name was Ray Doyle. What do I call you?"

The dark head tilted back, blue eyes regarding him with a vague aura of superiority. Then the tension seemed to ease in the muscular shoulders. Whisky poured into two short glasses with a splash as Doyle waited patiently, glad the other man couldn't hear his heart pounding.

"You can call me Bodie." The glass of whisky was held out towards him in a steady hand.

Doyle took the glass and sipped slowly, feeling quietly elated that Bodie had given him his real name. He also sensed that Bodie had shown up late deliberately. Because he had changed his mind at the last minute? Or did he want to see if Doyle would still be waiting? Whatever the game was, it didn't matter. They were together. Doyle set the whisky aside and walked up to Bodie. The blue eyes were staring at his wild tangle of curls. Then Bodie finished off his drink and put the glass on the bedside table. They were standing less that a foot apart. Doyle looked at Bodie's mouth and leaned forward. He caught the sudden frown just as Bodie stepped away from him.

"Take off your clothes and get into bed." Bodie folded his arms across his chest and waited for Doyle to comply.

Doyle swallowed hard. Of all things that felt strange, the sex seemed the least of it. The last night had been shockingly unexpected, but the sex had been, in undeniable fact, exciting and unforgettable. No, the strangeness came in looking into broody eyes that should have known him, into a face that should have offered him more than lust and suspicion. To have between them only a bed as their common ground.

Doyle pulled off his jacket and trainers and threw off the remainder of his clothes. All the while, Bodie just stood there watching him. Doyle stripped the coverlet off the bed and climbed in. He settled cross-legged in the middle of the mattress and met the other man's stare. "Your turn...Bodie." He thought he saw Bodie's jaw tighten at the sound of his name, as if he didn't want to hear Doyle say it. Of course, Doyle couldn't be sure what the other man was thinking. That was part of the strangeness, a key part of what he had lostthe comfortable certainty of always knowing Bodie's 'next move', of not needing to talk at all, meaning clear with the lift of an eyebrow or a slight twitch of lips. That had been the essence of their partnership until near the end when too much feeling seemed to come between them. Bodie's feelings. Doyle hadn't been ready to acknowledge them so he simply called them something else. It was clear to him now . When it was too late.

Bodie circled the bed slowly, eyeing Doyle from all angles, focusing finally on his genitals. "Pretty as a picture."

Doyle decided to risk just a little. "I'm glad you showed up, Bodie. I wanted to see you again." It felt good to say his friend's name.

This time Bodie seemed not to react at all. He unzipped his jacket and laid it on one of the chairs. He piled the rest of his clothes neatly on top of the jacket and then walked back to the bed. "Still remind you of that mate of yours, do I?"

The question startled Doyle. He tried to read Bodie's expression but it was as unrevealing as a mask. He eyes drifted over the wide shoulders, the smooth muscular chest, skin that was almost as creamy pale as it had ever been, narrow hips, thick black pubic hair, the full heavy sacs nestled behind a cock that jutted out slightly. Doyle licked at dry lips and answered honestly. "Yes."

Bodie smiled without kindness and reached to open a drawer on the nightstand. Doyle heard the crinkle of plastic and watched as Bodie ripped open a package with something black in it. Bodie was standing in such a way that he couldn't quite see what the object was until he finally turned to face the bed again.

Completely puzzled, Doyle looked on as Bodie slowly pulled on a pair of thin, black leather gloves. "What are those for?"

"Very expensive, these. Supple as silk. I keep several pair here."

Nerves suddenly prickling, Doyle gestured at Bodie's hands. "You haven't said what they're for."

"Oh, just to make things a little more...interesting." Bodie smoothed the leather over his fingers and knuckles, the material melding to his hands like a second layer of skin. The gloves reached just to his wrist. He leaned towards Doyle and placed one gloved hand on his shoulder. "Lie down."

The glove felt cool and sleek against his shoulder. Tiny lines criss-crossed through the black leather around the knuckles and finger joints as Bodie flexed, squeezing his biceps. The scent of fine new leather touched the air. Oddly, Doyle thought immediately of fingerprints. The leather would leave no fingerprints. But Bodie had already touched the glasses, the whisky bottle, the door, the lightswitch... Stop thinking like a copper, he chided himself.

Doyle let himself be tipped backward into the pillows. He stretched his legs out and waited as Bodie climbed into the bed and straddled his upper thighs. Bodie was very warm, muscles solid and firm against him. Bodie's cock arched, lengthening slightly yet still not fully erect. Doyle felt himself hardening as Bodie's leather clad index finger traced an imaginary line around his groin, at the very edge of his pubic hair before it moved across the plain of his stomach. Then Bodie placed his hand, palm flat, over Doyle's heart. "Feel good, does it?" Bodie asked him.

Doyle looked down at the black leather hand, shining dully in the amber light of the gooseneck lamp. It seemed disembodied, an entity unto itself, conjuring images of leather boys and whips and domination games played in the back room of some Soho sex club. The idea faintly repulsed him but then his gaze moved up to the strong forearm with its dusting of dark hair, up to the perfectly formed biceps and the wide shoulder that left no doubt as to the utter masculinity of the man that met his gaze with a vaguely arrogant smile. "I'd rather you took the gloves off," Doyle said at last.

In a quick motion, Bodie flattened both hands against his chest, palms rubbing across his nipples. The sensation made Doyle hiss in a breath. His nipples hardened into tiny peaks as the leather rubbed against his flesh. The hands swept down the sides of his ribcage and up to his shoulders, slowing as cool leather fingers moved over his neck, his jaw. Bodie withdrew a hand, the other remaining to skim lightly over his lips.

Doyle's eyes widened as he felt a finger penetrate his mouth, leather taste against his tongue, the scent strong in his nostrils. One finger, then two, pushed deeper into his mouth, leather grazing his teeth as his lips parted reluctantly. He reached out and grasped Bodie's wrist. He looked up into the dark blue eyes and released his hold, the fingers slipping from his mouth slowly to pause against his lips, black leather glistening with saliva.

"You've an interesting face," Bodie told him, cupping Doyle's jaw with his gloved hand. "Bit battered. Some old lover, eh? Or was it the straight bloke that looks like me?"

Doyle frowned, wishing again that there was something in the veiled expression that he could read. "He would never hurt me," he answered softly with more emotion than he realized. He closed his eyes. "I think I hurt him. I...I wish I'd known better." A moment later, the hand left his face and Bodie's weight shifted off him. He opened his eyes and saw that Bodie was stretching out beside him, not quite close enough to touch.

"Suck me off," Bodie told him crudely. The pale face was stony, only the eyes gleaming with heat. "C'mon, do it."

Doyle pushed himself to his knees and reached out to stroke gently over Bodie's flat stomach, then over a well-muscled thigh. He bent down and placed his lips against the rising shaft, kissing a spot near the base, his fingers still caressing thigh and hip. Black leather pushed roughly against his shoulder.

"Quit mucking about."

The irritation in Bodie's voice puzzled him. "I want to make you feel good," Doyle told him. Bodie was staring up at the ceiling. The dark head partially turned away from him. Doyle watched the smooth chest moving up and down with breath that was heaving slightly.

"Forget the foreplay. I'm not your bleedin' sweetheart. Just take it in your mouth, damnit," came the curt reply.

The little intimacies bothered Bodie. Bothered him a good deal. Doyle considered the fact as a gloved hand found and clamped around his forearm, the grip tightening. Doyle realized his was still absently fondling Bodie's inner thigh. He stopped and the hand released him. He bent over Bodie's groin again and took the cock in his mouth. Almost immediately he felt himself choking as a gloved hand tangled in his hair and Bodie bucked up, forcing his erection deeper into Doyle's throat. Sputtering and struggling for breath, Doyle pulled back, feeling the sharp pull of fingers on his curls. He shook them off painfully and sat back on his heels. Wiping the back of his hand across his mouth, he looked at the straining erection and then up at the even harder blue eyes. "Don't force me. I'll give you what you want, what we both want, but don't ever try to force me."

Bodie's eyes narrowed, a twist of a grin showing at the corners of his mouth. "Or what?"

"I'll beat the hell out of you."

Bodie's grin never faltered. "You've a sense of humour."

"You won't be laughing, Bodie, I promise you."

The dark head shook slowly in negation. "While I'd prefer fucking you, and I intend to, by the way, I can take a little time out first to teach you a lesson in the folly of making statements you can't possibly back up. In fact, the idea has great appeal." If anything, Bodie's cock seemed to leap even higher at the prospect.

"Yeh, you'd like that. Much easier than letting me kiss you, right?" Doyle was pleased to see the other man's smile instantly disappear, the pouty lips stretched into a tense flat line. Bullseye. He reached out and caressed the taut abdomen in soft, slow circles. His own flared anger dissipated. "I don't want to fight you," he paused, choosing his words, knowing there was little satisfaction in being right if Bodie walked out on him. "I just think it'd be better all round if we took it slower, that's all. Be more pleasurable. Nothing wrong with that. Better than my gagging and throwing up over the both of us." It was as unemotional and practical a statement as he could make.

Bodie neither moved to leave the bed nor did he reply. Taking the non-reaction as the nearest thing to an agreement as he was likely to get, Doyle skimmed his fingers down through the dark patch of pubic hair and took hold of the softening shaft. He started pumping it, his other hand rubbing and massaging the full, round sacs. He didn't glance at Bodie as he bent to lick at the thick veins on the underside of his penis, playing his tongue intricately over a particularly sensitive spot just beneath the crown. A few moments later, the cock swelled against his lips, a drop of precum pooling along the slit and Doyle was rewarded with a groan of pleasure. Cool leather began stroking across his spine and over his buttocks.

Very high adaptability rating. It was in his psyche profile. Dr. Ross had mentioned it on one occasion during her interminable battery of bi-annual tests. Cowley had noted it, too, after a successful undercover op. If they could only see him now. The thought wandered through Doyle's mind as he took Bodie's cock into his mouth again and began to suck in earnest. He wondered fleetingly when the enormity of the change in his sexual behavior would finally hit him. Or if it ever would. High adaptability. It had its benefits.

He could smell leather and sex, feel his own shaft slapping against his belly, hard and demanding. Bodie's cock felt smooth and slippery in his mouth. He raked his teeth very lightly across the velvet skin and Bodie's hips thrust upward, but he didn't hold Doyle's head down. Didn't force him. Daring that Bodie would not deny him, Doyle moved to straddle the wide chest, wanting Bodie to suck him in turn.

The moment stretched long enough to worry Doyle. His mouth filled with pulsing cock, he raised his head slightly, swirling his tongue up to the head of the shaft, and stilled, waiting.

Leather slid slowly up his outer thighs, gripped his buttocks, squeezing the globes once. A finger trailed along his cleft, skimming from the base of his balls to his anus, pausing to draw tiny circles over and over the puckered open. The sensation made Doyle clench protectively, Bodie's cock slipping from his mouth to bump stiffly against his lips. He heard soft, rumbling laughter and then the finger left him, a gloved palm suddenly covering and massaging his balls.

When Bodie's wet mouth sucked him in, Doyle let out a cry. Bodie took him deep and pumped him hard, tongue stroking firmly, in a fast, exciting rhythm. He moved his arse to the rhythm of Bodie's mouth, not even noticing when the leather covered his cheeks, kneading and spreading them apart, the tips of black clad fingers grazing back and forth over his crack.

It felt good, exquisitely good. The mouth on his cock was perfect, knowing how to send waves and waves of pleasure through his body with just the right touch, the right pressure. The strength of that mouth, the knowledge, amazed him. Bodie's mouth. How could he have never considered it? Never seen the heat in his Bodie's eyes. Never even guessed at it. Had he been so adamantly determined not to see it? The rest of his thought was burned away in sensations that left him moaning.

The soft, wet sounds of Bodie's mouth on his cock seemed suddenly loud to his ears, the scent of cum and new leather rich in the air. He felt totally alive. Soaring. He lowered his mouth and licked at the pearly fluid along the slit of Bodie's cock. It tasted thick and salty. He wanted to drink Bodie's cum. It seemed like the only thing in the world he wanted to do. His eyes closed as he covered the glistening head with his lips, wild sensations rocking him as Bodie's sucking brought him right to the edge.

In an instant of shock he was thrown off balance, tumbled onto his side. He lay panting, cool air rushing over his groin. "Wh-what" His vision seemed to spin for a second, Bodie's shadow darting in and out of view, mattress dipping again as Bodie shifted in beside him.

"Turn over." Bodie's voice was rough with desire. He pushed Doyle onto his stomach impatiently, lifted the slim hips to bring him up to his knees. As Doyle realized what was happening, something slick and cold was spread between his cheeks. Leather pressed against his opening, pushing through the tight bud of muscle. Pressing deeper and deeper.

Doyle twisted away, unbalancing Bodie who toppled against the mattress. Doyle rolled and maneuvered on top of the other man, pinning Bodie down with an arm across his windpipe.

Blue eyes stared up at him with amusement. "Nothing like a rough tumble before a fuck," he whispered with a trace of hoarseness. Then he smiled thinly, a wild glint dancing in his eyes.

The words triggered a small, painful echo. With a start, Doyle remembered the merc, Miller, saying much the same thing to him and Bodie, in some grimy little pub, a universe away. In that split second of shock, when his hold loosened, Bodie saw his chance and suddenly Doyle was spinning backward. Scrambling quickly off the bed, Doyle held up his hands. "No! I don't want us to fight! There's no reason for it."

Bodie was off the bed, taking a deliberate step towards him, his cock still hard. Doyle's own erection was fading. "Too chicken to fight? Fine. Just crawl back into bed and get your pretty little arse into position. Now."

"Take off those damn gloves," countered Doyle.

Bodie merely laughed and advanced another step. "You don't like it, you can get out." One leather covered hand gestured grandly towards the door. "I give you three choices: get fucked, get beaten, or get out." Bodie stroked his cock with his other hand, his pale chest heaving as a snarl grew over his face. "Make up your mind."

Even while the other man was still talking all Doyle wanted to do was attack. To teach Bodie a lesson and show him which of them was really the better man. Whatever Bodie thought he knew about fighting, whatever tricks the jungle had taught him, Doyle could take him because Doyle could fight even dirtier. He was sure of it. He could wipe that ugly sneer off Bodie's face before the other man knew what hit him. He could have the bastard bleeding all over himself-

He blinked in horror. What the hell was he thinking?! If this...stranger angered him, revolted him, who was to blame? Had Bodie chosen to become who he was? The question drained Doyle's rage away. They were both strangers to each other now. Doyle was even a stranger to himself.

As if in a daze, Doyle turned away from the cold eyes and picked up the tube of lubricant that lay on the mattress near the bed's headboard. The cap was half off and it was squeezed in the middle, his mind noting the detail absently. He tossed it to the other man and slid into the bed. "Use plenty and take it slow." How blase' you sound, an inner voice taunted. As if you had a cock shoved up your arse every day.

He hadn't consciously thought about this particular act, even when he had had Bodie's dick in his mouth, even when Bodie had told him that was what he was going to do. It never quite registered somehow except as a hazy abstraction. He knew he didn't want it to happen like this, with Bodie distanced from him in every meaningful way. He dreaded it, so much so that he had closed his mind to it. If he had thought about it clearly, pictured the act in dispassionate detail, he might not have shown up tonight. Now, it was going to happen and he just had to see it through. For fucking up both their lives, he'd be fucked in return. Well, that at least would be a just exchange.

He lay face down and pulled a pillow underneath his stomach. He didn't even know if this was the best way of going about it. He should have studied up on sodomy during lunchbreak. His grim smile was fleeting. He tensed, fear worming through his insides as he suddenly felt the mattress dip and a leather palm fall flat against the small of his back. Bodie moved between his legs, spreading them wide.

He hated the gloves. He couldn't feel Bodie's hands, the heat and texture of his skin. And Bodie couldn't feel him, hold him properly. Really touch him. It was an effective way of keeping the sex impersonal, leaving it little more than a kinky sex game.

Leather stroked down the sides of his ribs, grasping him under the hips and pushing him up, raising his arse. He heard a groan and the sound of Bodie's quickening breath.

He tried to relax his body. Tried to blank his mind as he felt cream-smeared leather pushing into him again, stretching him. He tried to breathe slowly, but gasped as the fingers left him and he felt Bodie's cock hot against him. He squeezed his eyes shut and fought the fear and the awful sense of loosing control.

This is Bodie. BodieBodieBodie. I owe him. Owe him. Sorrysorrysorrysorry...

Yet he couldn't hold back the cry that burst from him as the cockhead breached him. He buried his face into the sheets.

"God, you're--tight. My--god--" muttered Bodie, the words changing into an ecstatic moaning.

Leather anchored his hips as Doyle instinctively tried to jerk away from the relentless pressure. It felt as if the cock was enormous, as if at any moment, it would split him apart. And still it pushed into him, grinding into him until he thought he couldn't stand it anymore. He cried out again as he felt the cock enter him completely, Bodie's groin slapping flat against his buttocks. He tried to steady his breathing, struggling against the horrible pressure that filled him. He felt trapped, subjugated. He hated it, hated it.

And then Bodie began to fuck him. Slow short strokes at first. The pull of the cock inside him brought him to his knees as he used all his willpower to stay in position, not to wrench away. It hurt. There was no pleasure in it. How could anyone ever find pleasure in it, he wondered through a veil of pain and discomfort as Bodie's thrusts came faster, deeper. But Bodie liked it. There was no mistaking the grunts of pleasure, the moans of satisfaction as the cock pistoned in and out of him. In and out. In and out. The sound of flesh slapping against flesh. It seemed like he was being fucked forever. Come, damn you, finish it, Doyle thought viciously. Just finish it!

Then, for an instant, he felt a jolt of shocking pleasure as Bodie's cock rubbed deep inside him. An instant of sheer ecstasy. Sweet pleasure joined them, bound them. But then it was gone. The moans behind him changed to a half cry. Leather gripped him hard around his waist as Bodie stiffened over him, their sweating bodies pressed tight. The cock jumped deep inside him, pulsing hot.

Bodie was coming inside him. Finally. Finally. It was almost over. Despite the sense of relief, Doyle still felt that fleeting, amazing moment of exquisite pleasure. If only...

Bodie's weight fell across his back, pushing him into the mattress. The cock slipped from his body with a soft smacking noise. Bodie rolled off and lay beside him. The blue eyes were closed, the pale chest rising and falling in quick beats.

Doyle maneuvered gingerly to his side, immediately feeling the soreness between his legs. He would feel it for days. He looked at Bodie's face, watching for the other man to open his eyes, anxious to see what they would reveal.

Bodie's breathing slowed to normal. The dark head turned towards him. Eyes like a smooth, arctic sea gazed at him with casual indifference. "That was worth the bother." And then he yawned, jaw cracking open to reveal even white teeth. A gloved hand slid lazily over Doyle's right buttock, patting once before moving off. Long lashes lowered as Bodie yawned again, turning his face away to settle himself on the pillow, as if he were entirely alone.

It was like sinking into a dark, cold vacuum, the sensation crowded with futile anger and frustration. Doyle had to take a deep breath to keep it from overtaking him. He reached instead for the memories of his partner. He stared at the cool profile before him, envisioning a smile that Bodie would show to him and to no one else. He could see it in his mind's eye, so very distinctly, as he had never let himself see it before. It was a special smile that held friendship and trust Bodie's love for him.

Doyle bit down on his lip, the memory hurting him with the terrible certainty that he would never see that smile again. A desperate impulse gripped him, pulling him to the man beside him. Without conscious thought, he found himself circling Bodie's shoulders in a tight hug. His mouth fastened onto warm, startled lips. Sluggish arms lifted, trying to push him away.

"Come back to me, please. Come back. I didn't understand before. Forgive me. I need you. Didn't know how much before..." He blurted the words against Bodie's mouth, his cheek, the curve of his jaw. "Give me another chance. I'll make it up to you this time. I promise-"

He kissed the warm lips again with a tender pleading. Muscles heaved beneath him, the mouth evading him, but he captured it again, held on tighter to the wriggling body. "Come back. Need you-"

The body rocked beneath him, mouth struggling free. "Fuckin' damn!" Bodie jerked his head away as he tried to free his pinned arms. "Who the hell do you think you're talking to?!" His voice was loud, sharp, snapping Doyle into stillness, long enough for Bodie to roll away to the edge of the bed, body coiling dangerously.

"We were partners. Friends. Best friends. Something...terrible happened and it was wiped away. All those years together. I-I wished you away and, and it...happened"

Blue eyes gazed at him with sudden wariness and Doyle realized what he'd just said. Too late to take back the words. "I know it sounds crazy, but it's true. Bodie, please, listen-"

Bodie shook his head, lips pursing as he backed out of the bed. "I can pick 'em, all right," he said quietly, not taking his eyes off Doyle as if he were some wild animal.

Doyle scooted to kneel on the mattress, damning himself for blurting out the truth. "I can explain. It'll sound crazy, I know." Bodie was already tossing off the gloves, reaching carefully for his clothes, his movements measured. "We worked together, Bodie. The man I talked about, the one that looks like you. It is you." He was only making it worse. Making it hopeless. How could he possibly explain the unexplainable?

"You think whatever you want, mate," Bodie told him decisively. "Just take it the hell out of here right now." Bodie tucked his shirt and zipped his pants, still watching Doyle's every move.

A dozen thoughts flashed through Doyle's mind. He could tell Bodie that he knew all about him, about his mercenary jobs, that he was here recruiting, that he was staying at the Dorchester, all the other details. But what would that prove? That Doyle had been spying on him, tailing him? Maybe Bodie would assume he was some sort of copper. A mad copper, or maybe he'd reckon he was just a plain, ordinary lunatic that had decided to stalk him. It would hardly make him sound any more credible. And what if he told Bodie about the past? Their past in CI5, Bodie's past in the Paras, the SAS? And then Bodie would be certain Doyle was out of his mind.

Someone knocked on the door, a quick staccato of two taps, a pause, then three taps more. Doyle jumped at the sound, staring at the door and then at Bodie. The other man was frowning, glancing at his wristwatch. "Fuckin' damn." The cautious blue eyes swept over him as Bodie moved to the door and turned the lock.

The door swung open. The man in the doorway was big and tough-looking, just like Doyle remembered.

"There you are, Bodie-lad." Miller grinned and turned to towards the bed. "When you didn't show up at the Whistle Stop, I figured you'd changed your mind about that bit of arse you had lined up." White teeth gleamed against tanned skin as he gave Doyle the once-over. "Good thing, too. Can't see how you could've had a moment's hesitation, in fact." Miller laughed as he walked up to the bed. "Ready for a little more fun, boyyo? You drew the winning ticket tonight--double your pleasure. You should be well-greased and fucked by now, knowing Bodie." The man laughed and rubbed his corduroy covered crotch.

Doyle looked from Miller to Bodie. The expression on Bodie's face worried him far more.

"Forget about it." Bodie's voice was like ice. "He's a nutter."

Miller's grin faded and he gave Bodie a puzzled glance. "What?"

"He thinks I'm his partner, long lost lover, or something. Some rubbish about him making a wish and me disappearing." Bodie waved the rest away. "Full blown looney."

Miller turned back to Doyle and began to chuckle. "You're kidding? 'E looks normal. Looks very good, in fact."

Doyle said nothing. Miller's unexpected arrival hardly bothered him, except to realize that Bodie had planned it all along, that it was the sort of thing the two of them had done before.

He was losing Bodie. He could see it in the blue eyes. He was losing him forever and he didn't know how to stop it.

"So, you think Bodie here is your fairy godmother, do you?" The chuckle rumbled into laughter and Doyle felt a callused hand rub against his jaw. He pushed the hand away and looked into Miller's grinning face. "Maybe he was just havin' you on, Bodie."

"No, he meant it." Bodie marched to the other side of the room and shrugged into his jacket. "If you're gonna fuck him, get on with it and let's throw him out of here."

"What, don't you want to join in the fun? Can't be tired out so soon?" asked Miller with amused patience.

"I told you he's mad as a hatter. Puts me right off."

Doyle swallowed and gazed steadily at the man who should have been his best friend, his voice trembling slightly. "I told you the truth. I just want you back as my partner, my friend. I need you, Bodie."

Miller's laughter bellowed through the shabby room. "Christ! He is off his rocker!"

Bodie raked his lip with sudden nervousness. "That's it. I'm leaving."

Miller threw out his hands. "Oh, come now Bodie. So the kid's a looney, seems harmless enough. C'mon, let's have a little fun first. Maybe he'll even put up a bit of a fight, eh. Make it real exciting."

"Do what you want. I've had enough." Bodie reached into his jacket pocket and tossed the keys to Miller. "I've got a plane to catch tomorrow and I'm not spending my last night with a bloody asylum case."

Last night. Bodie was leaving England. Leaving him. "Don't go, Bodie. Give me a chance to-"

"Yeh, let him explain it to you, Bodie, while I fuck him. One quick one. You'll enjoy the show, like always."

Doyle heard the sound of a zip and then Miller was pushing him down into the mattress. He didn't resist, relaxing as Miller took hold of his shoulders. He turned his head and looked at Bodie. Hoping for...something.

Bodie's hand was already on the doorknob, but his gaze was fixed on the two men on the bed. Sapphire eyes suddenly narrowed slightly, unblinking. Slowly, a thin, expectant smile grew over his face. His tongue snaked out, licking absently at his upper lip.

It turned Doyle's stomach. A sense of failure and loss hit him like a punch. He felt Miller's sweaty hands running over his back. He waited until they reached his buttocks and then he threw himself backwards and twisted, aiming his elbow full force at Miller's face. He felt the blow connect with a crunch. He leaped off the other side of the bed as Miller moaned through the blood and mucus that streamed from his broken nose. Before he could lunge, Doyle aimed another blow to the jaw that sent the big man crumpling unconscious into the mattress.

Face wiped clean of that sickening smile, Bodie stared at him incredulously, his hands balling into fists. "You're a fuckin' maniac," he whispered, darting a glance at Miller's prone body. He took a step forward, tension rippling through him.

"Was that enough of a fight for you?" Doyle heard himself ask. "That how you get your kicks?" His voice broke and he gulped a breath, watching as Bodie took another cautious step towards him, circling a little to his side. "You couldn't have changed that much. Not you. I don't care how long you were in the bloody jungle. God, Bodie, you're not like that! We were partners, we looked after each other. You and me. Together. That's how it's supposed to be!"

Bodie froze, a look of bewilderment crossing his face before it set into a hard line. "I don't know who you are, you little mad bastard, but you're going to need a fast transport to Casualty when I'm through with you."

A groan rose from the bed as Miller coughed and flopped onto his side, clutching at his face.

"I don't want to fight you, Bodie! I want you to believe me!" Doyle's arms dangled at his sides defenselessly, the look in his eyes as naked as his body.

Miller's sputtering moans filled the room.

Bodie walked to where Doyle's clothes littered the floor. He reached down and gathered them up, hurling them at Doyle. "Get dressed and get the fuck out of my sight. Get the hell back to whatever asylum you escaped from and count yourself lucky."

His clothes jumbling near his feet, Doyle could feel his heart beating in his chest like a drum. "Please, Bodie..." His voice was a whisper between them as he raised a hand imploringly, unaware of the blood that smeared his knuckles.

In a few swift strides, Bodie was in front of him, but before Doyle could speak again, a fist smashed against the side of his face, sending him falling to the hard floor. His clothes were kicked into his chest. "Get dressed, you lunatic, or I'll throw you out of here naked!"

The anger in Bodie's eyes was so strong, so palpable, it almost obscured the fear. Almost. But Doyle recognized it at once. It gazed out at him as if he were an aberration, a strange loathesome insect to be avoided at all costs. It was the fear of something unknown and unwanted. It was the kind of fear that would never go away. There was no rational explanation that could convince Bodie that Doyle was not the madman that he seemed. The truth was totally irrational and Doyle had made the irrevocable mistake of letting it slip out.

With hands that trembled, Doyle fumbled with his clothes, pulling them on carelessly, ducking his head to avoid that final, horrible look in Bodie's eyes. Jeans unbelted, shirt unbuttoned, he put on his trainers. Miller coughed and groaned from the middle of the bed, a faint muttered obscenity escaping the man as he collapsed back on the bed in his effort to sit up, blooding streaming down his face.

Doyle felt rather than saw Bodie approach him, his jacket thrust into his chest. A rough hand pushed him towards the door. Bodie reached passed him and flung it open as Doyle stood unmoving, an awful emptiness spreading through him.

"I never want to see your face again, you hear me?! " Bodie's voice was as cold as he had ever heard it, the words plunging into him like a knife. In the next instant, he was shoved through the door, stumbling into the hallway where he fell to his knees. The door slammed shut behind him, lock clicking into place.

His mind seemed a cloud of dark, swirling shadows. He didn't notice how long he stayed huddled on his knees in that corridor. He didn't even remember how he managed to make his way out of the building until the winter wind shivered through him and he blinked to find himself standing on the pavement. He raised his hand and touched his cheek, amazed at the tears that came away on his fingertips. He gazed back at the shabby block of flats, the wind whipping his curls against his face, the wetness still staining his cheeks. There was no one about and only the sound of the wind and a lorry rumbling somewhere down the road. He realized he was clutching his jacket in his hand and he put it on. He was shaking, though it was not from the cold.

Eventually, he found himself beside his car. He drove back to his flat, wondering fleetingly how he had managed it when he had barely taken notice of where he was going. He sat in the Escort and stared out through the windscreen, the blur in his mind filling slowly with painful emotions.

It was over. Bodie would be gone tomorrow, back to his jungle with Miller and all the others just like him. Just like him. Doyle swallowed hard at the thought. His friend, his partner...the Bodie that loved him, was gone. That Bodie was dead, as sure as if he was buried under six feet of cold earth. The man in the rundown bedsit was someone else. A stranger with another life, a life that had no need and no place for Raymond Doyle.

Doyle closed his eyes and leaned forward, resting his head against his hands where they gripped the steering wheel. His body was sore, reminding him of how bitter fate could be. To find out what truly mattered in your life, what you wanted most, only after you had thrown it away.

The wind eddied the chill air around him as he left the car and walked slowly up the short set of stairs and into his flat. He shut out the night and leaned heavily against the door. Switching on the light, his eyes gazed dully around the room. The navy coloured sofa was large, its cushions plump and firm. "Too comfortable this. How about bringin' us another lager, Doyle? The match is about to start." Bodie's image smiled up at him boyishly, reminding him of the many times his partner had stretched out on that sofa as they shared an evening. With a stab of pain, Doyle's eyes moved on to the bookcase, seeing Bodie standing with one of Doyle's artbooks in his hand, pretending ignorance as he mugged idiotic faces at the colour plates of modern art until Doyle couldn't help but laugh. The stereo brought images of Bodie gleefully stashing jazz albums among Doyle's collection of Mozart and rock so he'd have something to listen to when he came over. The armchair conjured Bodie's slumped image, one leg thrown over the chair arm as he listened with a subdued grin to Doyle's monologues on the ills and injustices of the world. Even the woven rug reminded Doyle of Bodie, recalling the times Bodie had paced back and forth across it as he waited for Doyle to finish dressing for a double date or a trip to the local after an op.

He brushed a hand across his tired, burning eyes, and struggled to shut out the visions. He took a deep breath and headed for the bedroom, stopping beside the mirror that stood atop the bureau. His face stared back at him with leaden, red- rimmed eyes. A darkening bruise marred the left side of his jaw.

Doyle hurt, inside and out.

He knew the memories would torment him but, perhaps, one day, their soft cruelty would dim. He knew they would never leave him completely. He was responsible for changing the past and now he would have to live with its future.


Yet there was still CI5. And Cowley. Doyle still had that. It would be his refuge. He would work and work hard. He would regain Cowley's respect and, eventually, he would take his place. Controller of CI5. He would fill up the emptiness with the job. He would be the best. And if there was nothing else, it would have to be enough.


It started to rain. In the distance, a streak of lightening slashed the gloomy sky, the sound of a thunderclap following in its wake. Bodie turned up the collar of his anorak and grimly scanned the few shops along the winding street. A wasted morning. He hadn't even managed to keep his appointment with Martell. What the gun dealer was doing hiding out in some musty village in Kent was a mystery to Bodie. Perhaps life was getting a bit dicey for him in London. Martell was nothing if not a cautious man, despite his choice of profession. Bodie shouldn't have bothered trying to contact him. There were other outlets for the kind of equipment he needed. Still, Marty was trustworthy and that was a rare commodity in their line of business.

Bodie shrugged the thoughts away and eyed the dark, rolling clouds overhead. The rain was getting heavier, fat droplets pelting the roadway and sliding toward the gutters in thin sheets. He shifted impatiently in the sheltered entrance of the pub. Maybe he should just go back inside and have another coffee and hope the storm would pass quickly. He glanced at his watch. His plane would be leaving at 6.30. If he left now, he could be back in London with a few hours to spare, barring any accidents or roadwork once he found his way back to the A2. If he hadn't had trouble with the damn gear lever of his hire car, he could've made the meet with Martell and been on his way back to London already. As it was, he was lucky to find a decent mechanic in this out of the way hamlet. Now that his car was ready, the notion of waiting out the storm was more unpleasant than driving in it.

He looked forward to leaving England. For once, there was no twinge of 'homesickness', no second thoughts about accepting yet another jungle assignment. This time, he wanted to go, was eager to leave England far behind him.

Shoving his hands into the deep pockets of his anorak, he dashed into the rain and across the road towards the mechanic's garage. The sky flashed white and a boom of thunder sounded in the distance. The rain was coming down in sheets, soaking his feet as he stepped into a large puddle. Swearing, Bodie ducked into a nearby doorway. His hair was plastered against his forehead, water dripping into his collar. The wind was cold and stinging, adding to the miserable weather. There was something to be said for the dry heat of an African veldt, he thought with morose humour.

The door behind him pushed open as he leaned against it, triggering a small, tinkling bell over the doorframe. He caught his balance and turned, hurrying inside to escape the rain and wind for a few moments. Droplets of water pooled around his feet as he took in his surroundings . It was a small bookshop. Wooden racks of books, mostly used, flanked the cluttered room. A counter with an old fashioned cash register, a vase of dried flowers, and a small display of bookmarks stood to one side of the racks.

Bodie walked up to the counter and read the yellowed, typewritten sign propped up in front of the register. "Will return shortly. Please feel free to browse. All book prices noted on inside of jackets. If you wish to buy, please leave payment on counter along with title of your purchase." A small pad of notepaper and a pencil lay nearby. Shaking his head at the gullibility of country hayseeds, Bodie eyed some of the titles on the racks, wondering if he should walk out with a few just for the hell of it. However, titles like How to Tend Your English Garden, and The History of Antique Pottery were hardly tempting. He spotted a rack of mystery books and another rack of dusty novels that looked only slightly more interesting. No wonder the proprietor used the honour system.

Brushing back his dripping hair, Bodie walked over to the wall near the front window display. The wind had grown stronger, lashing the rain against the diamond-paned glass and whistling through the shop's old wooden frame. The dark clouds made the day look more like evening. The storm had been unexpected, the day starting cool and merely overcast when he had begun his drive.

Bodie gazed down at the displayed books that stood in their little metal stands amidst a carpet of wild dried flowers and a few scraps of artfully folded brown velvet. Next to a large, colorful children's book lay a small, faded tin trumpet and an open bag of marbles. Bodie suddenly thought back to his own childhood, one that had held no place for toys.

He shook the remembrance away in bemusement; he rarely thought about his past and certainly never about his best forgotten boyhood. It must be the dispiriting weather, he decided. His eyes moved over the rest of the display, suddenly fastening on an art book that lay propped open amidst a bed of dried rose petals. He guessed the painting was from the High Renaissance period by the naturalistic style and the rich, deep colours.

A frown grew over his face, his lips tightening as he looked at the vibrant scene of three street youths playing a game of dice. It was an unusual subject for that period, but it was the shiny tumble of auburn curls on one of the youths that captured Bodie's reluctant eye. Reddish highlights reflected in sunlight, curls spilling down a slender golden neck, a long-fingered hand holding a dice cup, full sensual lips lifting at the corners in an impish smile, a fan of long brown lashes dipping over slanted eyes. Eyes that were the wrong colour, thought Bodie automatically.

"Damn. Damn it." Bodie stepped back until he bumped against the shelving in the wall, fixing his gaze on the storm beyond the windows. "Fucking lunatic," he swore under his breath, knowing he couldn't shut the memory out of his mind as he had tried so hard to do.

Raindrops beaded down his forehead and he wiped them away angrily. Miller wouldn't forget the mad bastard, that was for sure. Broken nose and a bruised face would remind the merc of their encounter for a long time to come. If Miller had had enough time on his schedule, he probably would've hunted the nutter down. It was all Bodie could do to convince the big man to save his energy for finishing up the special recruit job in Ulster. There was enough trouble just traveling through Northern Ireland these days to take Miller's mind off one scrawny madman.

Bodie swallowed hard at the confusing rush of emotion that seemed to ambush him out of nowhere. The rain drummed against the window panes, the sky a claustrophobic lid of grey clouds. He shut his eyes, only to see the image of Ray Doyle lifting a pleading hand, calling him friend and partner, begging for belief.

With a groan, Bodie opened his eyes, forcing the image away. Why couldn't he just forget him?! Cross the incident off as a stroke of very bad luck. All Bodie had wanted was a nice, uncomplicated fuck. Same as always. Nothing more. Sometimes the lay wanted to talk afterwards, maybe exchange phone numbers or go out for a meal together. Danger signs, but easily avoided with a firm "no thanks". But he'd never met up with a lay who was completely out of his mind. We were friends...we looked out for each other... Bodie could almost hear the man's voice, the awful need bleeding through the words. We worked together...all those years...forgive me...

Forgive? What the hell had he been raving on about? Why couldn't he have been normal? The sex had been so good. So damn good. He'd even had to wear the gloves, just to keep control. Otherwise, he might've been tempted to get too close, reveal too much, and that was always a mistake. Even so, there had been something about Ray Doyle from the very first that had both attracted and disturbed him. From the moment Bodie felt those green eyes watching him so intently, he felt drawn to the man, but there was also that sense of touching fire.

That was why he'd be glad when he was on the jet and on his way back to Luanda. As far away from the lunatic and his crazy delusions as Bodie could get. Back to the life he'd carved out for himself. Money, excitement, living on adrenaline and danger. Being the best. King of the merc's jungle. That was his place in the world, he told himself insistently. No one to rely on but himself, no one to make demands or clutter his life.

The memory of a warm moist mouth against his lips rose to taunt and refute him. An unwanted kiss that sent ripples of feeling through his body...and soul. Feelings he had forgotten, that he had diligently frozen out of his heart over years of disappointment and loss. Best friends...come back to me...I need you...

Bodie's fingers tightened into a fist. The man was insane, not even worth the bother of remembering. And yet, and yet... Something he couldn't explain seemed to tug at his insides. A need that surfaced from a dark, empty place inside him. In a moment of stark honesty and irrational, foolish hope, Bodie wanted the crazy delusion to be real. "I wish it was true," he murmured. "I wish we were partners, friends...lovers. God help me, Ray Doyle, I wish it was true."

He blinked as the room seemed to spin around him. Everything began to blur like a thick wall of fog closing over him, fading the room to black. He leaned heavily against the shelving as the wave of dizziness slowly subsided. Eyesight clearing, he shook his head and looked down at his fist where it lay on one of the shelves. A few odd, little statues decorated the end of the shelf, along with old miniature painted boxes and antique bric-a-brac.

Bodie's attention was drawn to a sudden faint burning in his palm as he realized he must've grabbed something from the shelf without noticing. He opened his hand, wonder and surprise filling his eyes at the eerie, deep violet glow that touched his skin.

In his palm was a small, blue figurine.

-- THE END --

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