Permanent Change


Author's Note: This is a rape story -- a la Alexander Pope.

When Bodie walked into Cowley's headquarters promptly at 8, it wasn't unexpected, even if it was technically the man's morning off. Cowley had a portion of his resources behind a two-day-long hostage situation in Ireland at the moment; most of the non-assigned agents were keeping close watch on the crisis. The fact that one of their own was one of the hostages held by the True Republic explained CI5's extreme interest in the matter. The fact that the agent was Bodie's partner explained 3.7's single-minded attention to the case.

George Cowley looked up wearily from the documents he'd been reading, prepared once again to inform 3.7 that he was not to leave London. The box in Bodie's hands and the non-expression on Bodie's face stilled the words before they left Cowley's lips. Bodie was gloved; he held evidence.

"This came in the post this morning," Bodie said, and set the box down on Cowley's desk, right on top of the open file. Clipped, blunt words like grey stones, hiding everything.

The box was a small square thing, bearing the logo of the peanut packets that had travelled in it. It was addressed to: "The Honourable W.A.P. Bodie, MP", which made Cowley lift an eyebrow. Beside the box Bodie laid a white envelope; the slight bulge indicating that it held the cut string with which the box had been tied. Bodie had seen the contents, then.

Without breaking eye contact with his agent Cowley reached into his top drawer for a pair of his own gloves. Bodie's eyes were as unreadable as his expression -- their very impassiveness a sign.

Cowley opened the deceptively-light box, and he saw what the hostage-takers had cut off Doyle and mailed to his partner, even without moving the threatening note with its list of demands. He closed his eyes. "Oh, dear God." He met Bodie's eyes and exhaled. "Go

get ready."

"I am ready." Bodie looked into the box. "They're dead," he said as calmly as he'd say "It's raining" and with the same conviction. "They've made their last mistake. They are dead."

Cowley nodded. "Unless you get over there and stop Doyle."

Bodie nodded grimly. He reached in with one gloved hand and lifted out a shorn hank of brick-brown curly hair.

Noise and haste surrounded him -- war-whooping sirens, crying women, babbling men, the unwelcome return of the infernal guitar jangling. His head was down, his eyes focussed on his right hand being bandaged at the knuckles. It was a tiny haven of stillness amid the police and paddy wagons.

It had been worth it, watching those three moronic gunmen hit the ground spitting teeth and clutching knees or goolies. They'd looked a lot less terrifying to their other captives -- the pub-owner and his wife, their daughter Sharon the barmaid, the two old domino-players, and that annoying teen who'd spent most of her hostage-time composing a ballad about her adventure -- once they were staring down the opposite ends of their own guns. It had taken a true effort of will not to turn the gun on Sinead when she'd struck up her cursed instrument once again to try out her new opus.

As Ray Doyle had expected, all he'd had to do was wait the buggers out, catnapping in a pub booth, keeping one eye open, until the would-be freedom-fighters were so exhausted by their siege they were fighting each other over whose turn it was to sleep. Unlike the other captives, he had only a healthy fear of the guns in their drooping hands and had no qualms about striking when he had a chance.

His victory had come with one loss; one he was trying not to think about at the moment.

He heard approaching footsteps and he knew whose they were. He kept his head down. Oh, God, now it began...

"That's the last time you're goin' on holiday by yourself, Ray."

That was how they were playing it, was it?

"No argument here," Doyle said curtly as the medic finished with his hand. He stood and glared at his partner, three days of bottled rage holding back his humiliation for now. Time enough for the pitying looks, the subtle taunts, the conversations falling silent as he approached people in the rest room, the whispers behind his back.

"Phew, you're a bit whiffy mate," Bodie said, making a face.

Nothing subtle from Bodie.

"Went for a pint and forgot to bring a change of clothes with me," Doyle grated.

"Let's get you out of here." Bodie steered Doyle away from the doorway of the Slug and Lettuce, back to the melee near the paddy wagon. "Want to grab a bite before flying home?"

"Anything but pub-grub." Three days of ploughman's platters for breakfast, lunch and tea; Doyle would kill for a curry, a shish kebab, even spaghetti.

"Dunno, mate. Being held prisoner in a pub is some blokes' idea of heaven."

"Hell, mate. Pure hell," Doyle snarled. "Watching them drink up everything and givin' us water."

Bodie's face darkened. "Those bastards. Now I'm really surprised you left them alive."

"Didn't want to fill out the soddin' death-reports on top of this." Doyle glared in the direction of the cuffed gunmen being loaded into a paddy wagon en route to the prison hospital. The only thing those self-styled freedom-fighters had done was give this sleepy little town their biggest excitement in decades. "Next time I get a holiday, I'm spending it locked in me flat."

Spend it with me, mate, Bodie wanted to say. But right now Doyle would take that phrase as comfort, coddling, protectiveness -- anathema to partners who relied on each other. Doyle might have survived an extremely unpleasant three-day captivity, but he was CI5, tough as an old boot; feed him up, give him a bath, let him sleep off the bruises and he was right as rain.

This time, though, Doyle had marks from the encounter that would not disappear for months.

"Wasn't outside this soddin' pub long enough to find out."

"All right, let's get some lager into you on top of a decent curry -- they do have decent carry here, don't they?"

"Mr. Doyle! Mr. Doyle!" The girl raced up to them, clutching her guitar by the neck; her waist length dirty black hair flew around her face, and her eyes shone with awe that bordered on the worshipful. "I just wanted to say how brave you were to step in and take that blow for me like that! Even though you're English and all. I wrote a verse about it, want to hear it?"

At the look of dread on Doyle's face, Bodie decided his mate had suffered enough. "Sorry, Miss, er -- "


"Miss O'Connor, but Mr. Doyle has to be going."

O'Connor nodded, her eyes still worshipful as they looked at Doyle. "You did that -- you told them to hack off your hair to save mine, to send it to your important Parliament friend in London to show they meant business! That was the bravest thing I've ever seen!" One slender hand wound around her long black hanks that must have been beautiful glossy raven's-wings when clean and combed three days ago. "I'll never forget you, Mr. Doyle. Never! I'll find some way of honouring what you did!"

"That's nice, Miss," Bodie said and hustled Doyle past before the girl could whip up her guitar and serenade them anyway. They left young Sinead staring worshipfully at the shorn-headed Doyle, one hand still thoughtfully gripping her hair.

Bodie could sense Doyle's furious blushing without looking directly at him. "Daft git. Making me an M.P."

"Had to be important enough that they'd leave 'er alone. Last thing those turds needed was knowin' they had a CI5 agent."

"Last thing CI5 needed too," Bodie said thoughtfully. "Ow."

"Sorry." Doyle's face showed nothing of the sort. "Must be low blood sugar."

Upon being informed that the only nearby eateries were other pubs, both men opted for airline food instead.

It took some dealing to get Doyle's bag away from the pinch-mouthed woman running his B&B -- she thought he'd skipped out and in fact was wearing one of Ray's shirts (Bodie's,

actually) when she opened the door to them. "Bloody ugly 'aircut," she said nastily, flinging the goods to them in an ill humour. Bodie shoved Ray out before either of them could do something illegal. He wanted to kill the old bat himself; his favourite shirt now had a cigarette hole burnt in the front of it.

Doyle slept in Bodie's hire car all the way to the airport, and had two pints while waiting for their flight home. His glower was enough to keep strangers from staring at his head. It wouldn't be so easy when they got home.

The plane landed at Heathrow at 7 p.m. Murphy was there to pick them up. He'd seen the box in Cowley's office and did not stare at Doyle, who took the back seat. No one said anything during the drive.

They pulled up at Doyle's flat, and both got out. "Can open me own door, mate," Ray said, and the look said more.

"Your corner chippy's better than mine," Bodie replied, hauling Ray's bag out of the boot. "Ta, Murph."

The look Ray gave him as Murphy drove away was the exact opposite of "Come on in, mate, put your feet up, have a pint with me."

Bodie breezed past his partner and entered the flat, still lugging the case of smoke-befouled clothes. "Let's dump this and get me fed."

"We ate on the plane."

"I mean a real meal. Chicken and chips all right?"

"I'm not going out, Bodie."

"Just around the corner."

"I said I'm. Not. Going. Out. Bodie."

Just a thread of real rage in that voice -- rage hiding the humiliation of what had happened to Doyle at the hands of his captors.

No coddling, no comforting, unless Bodie wanted to wind up like one of those True Republic shite-for-brains now missing a few teeth and ligaments. "Well, no, of course not, not with your hair lookin' that way." Bodie strode to Ray's desk, rummaged about, and emerged triumphant brandishing a pair of scissors. "Siddown."

"Get the fuck away from me!" Doyle roared, backing away. "'Aven't I been cut up enough?"

"It's your call, mate!" Bodie snapped back. "You either park your bum an' let me turn that mess into a real haircut, or you walk into HQ tomorrow morning and pretend you don't hear people snickerin' at you." He folded his arms and glared back at Doyle, still gripping the scissors in one fist. "What'll it be?"

Rage, humiliation, a very real thread of grief, battled on Doyle's face, before he finally strode into the bathroom and turned on the light. "Oh, fuck," he moaned. "Oh, fuck."

It was clearly the first time Doyle had seen the damage; he'd wisely avoided mirrors all the way home. He wasn't the best-looking bloke to begin with, but his curls had given his features an appealing wildness. Now he just looked ugly. The hack job made his skull look deformed and vividly highlighted his lumpy cheek. Ray's usual appearance was something-the-cat-dragged-in; now he looked like something-the-cat-coughed-up. Bodie would have shot any barber who'd left him looking that way.

When Bodie heard the shower go on, he dragged a chair to the kitchen, turned on the light, and found a clean sheet in the airing cupboard. He tested the scissors on a piece of paper and made a face, reached into a pocket and pulled out the small whetstone he used for his Swiss Army knife. He concentrated on drawing the scissor blades along the stone for a long time, interspersing his honing by tightening the middle screw and lightly oiling the implement. By the time he'd turned a mediocre pair of scissors into passable shears, he realised that Ray had not yet emerged from the loo. "Doyle?" he called.

Long silence. "I can't go out like this." It was a whisper -- a very low, wet whisper. "Can't go to work-- " Oh, God, he was crying.

"Come on, mate," Bodie said roughly, "at least let me fix it a little. Come on out of there."

The door opened and the light went out. Doyle was wearing a towel wrapped around his waist; another was draped around his neck. What was left of his hair stuck out in damp tufts in all directions. His eyes were wet and full of fury, his lips white and thin. He looked like a half-plucked chicken.

Bodie matched him glare for glare, indicating the chair he gripped by the back.

Suddenly it was as if Doyle went limp. The rage left his eyes, was replaced by dullness, indifference. He all but collapsed into the kitchen chair, staring ahead. "Fine, what the hell. Take your own turn hacking it up. Fuck, shave it, doesn't matter."

"It'll grow back, you big baby," Bodie scolded as he whipped the sheet around his friend and pulled it close, determined not to let Ray sink into one of his sulks. "And thank God they didn't make any bald patches or even I couldn't help you."

"It wasn't this fuckin' short when I joined the Met!" Doyle pounded his fists against his knees, heedless of the bandaged hand. "Christ, five fuckin' years of growth!"

"Should be grateful those berks didn't cut something else off and mail it to me!" Bodie snapped. "Almost sprouted a full head of white hair, gettin' that box in the post." He fished out his comb and started work on the damp fluff.

"That bad?" Doyle actually sounded human.

"I've been in Belfast, Ray, I've seen what those shits do to kids. I was fuckin' relieved it was just your hair in that box." Bodie faced Doyle, noting the uneven tufts and stray curls jutting all over the man's head, making a mental game plan in his head before taking up the shears and beginning his work. There was nearly a full minute of silence as Bodie carefully clipped and trimmed the remaining hair, feeling a pang with every curl he snipped off.

"I was relieved it was just hair, too."

Bodie continued to mend the botch-work and said nothing in reply.

"They'd just taken the place. They were tallkin' about cuttin' something and sending it out to show they meant business. None of 'em had the stomach for fingers or ears -- kept fobbing it off on each other. That's when I knew I'd a chance of taking 'em, once they'd worn themselves down.

"Then the little prick grabbed Sinead by the hair, started laughing. `We'll send this to your mum,' he said. The look on her face..."

Bodie trimmed Doyle's savaged hair, kept silent. He felt the fine shivering under his fingertips as he turned and bent Doyle's head to shape the hair around one ear or the other, tilted it forward to even the back.

"I opened my mouth. Made meself as loud and obnoxious and English as I could. Rabbited on about me MP friend, his connections, they'd never get away with this -- everything they wanted to hear. I even tossed me head a little, made sure they noticed the hair. The tall thin bastard grabbed a fistful and shook me. 'Where's 'e live then?' he yelled at me. `Where's 'e live?' I gave 'em your name an' street, not the house number, I reckoned your postman would figure it out. And you'd get it to Cowley.

"The leader pulled out a pocket-knife and opened it, walked over to me. The short git stuck his gun under my chin."

Bodie stroked the top of Doyle's head on the pretext of removing loose hairs, dread building in his own stomach at this matter-of-fact recital of what must have been a terrifying ordeal.

"Wasn't a very sharp knife. Felt like they were pullin' all of it out by the roots. I didn't dare react or move. Short-fuck kept stroking my throat with the gun-barrel, aiming at my eye, my forehead. 'Give me an excuse,' he kept sayin', like he was Clint Eastwood, 'give me an excuse.' Other two just laughed at me, sang 'Baa Baa Black Sheep' while they were cuttin' it off. Sinead was cryin' and they kept yellin' at her to shut up."

Bodie had stopped cutting Ray's hair, wasn't even touching him; he didn't want his partner to feel his hands trembling. When he could speak with a steady voice, it was a growl.

"They couldn't just cut one off and send it?" That lush mass of curls he'd so loved to hold in his hands...gone, all of it.

"Where's the fun in that?" Doyle said bitterly. He took a deep breath. "It was all they did to us, none of the others were hurt, and by God I got me own back when they dozed off at last."

"Bit harder for teeth to grow back, innit?" Bodie returned, cheered by his savage partner's spirit. He continued his trim job. "Especially in prison."

"Yeh, they'll fit right in with those big tattooed blokes," Ray said callously. "They'll be lucky if that's all the teeth they lose."

Bodie stepped back. "Voila." He walked around to face Ray, tilted his head and squinted a little. "Still look like a shorn sheep, sunshine. At least you don't look like a wild sheep any more."

With a snarl, Doyle stood up and yanked off the sheet, fending off Bodie's hands whisking hairs off his shoulders, and stomped into the bathroom again. There was a silence after the light went on.

Bodie busied himself shaking the sheet onto the kitchen floor and wiping the scissors. He'd just gotten the broom out when Doyle re-emerged.

Doyle's eyes were wide; this time they were not wet nor full of fury. "Where'd you learn to cut hair, mate?" he whispered.

Now Ray only looked as if he'd gotten an out-of-hand crew cut. A dark, even fuzz covered his head and curved neatly around his ears. It was no substitute for the wild brambles, but this almost looked good on him. And it was an exponential improvement over the True Republic's barbering.

"Africa." Pleased at the result -- Doyle's attitude as well as his appearance -- Bodie began sweeping the bits of copper hair from around the chair. "You're out in the bush months at a time, it's hard to schedule a trip to the salon. We used to cut each other's, but they liked my work so much I got the job. They even paid me a bit -- cigarettes, mostly. The only clean money I made out there."

Doyle's hand went up and passed over the top of his head. "I could join the Army with this," he said mournfully.

"You could wear a suit and tie with that." Doyle stuck two fingers up at him for that remark and Bodie laughed, pleased beyond description; his bad-tempered partner was back to normal.

He knew he'd succeeded when Doyle rummaged in the desk drawer and emerged with his keys, saying, "No chicken and chips. I want Chinese."

Bodie's doctoring worked -- no one in the takeaway gave Doyle a second glance, though the counter man did ask about his hurt hand. "Drags his knuckles on the ground," Bodie said helpfully, and got elbowed.

They took the food back to the flat and ate in front of the box scores. When Doyle nearly dislocated his jaw with his third yawn in two minutes, Bodie relieved him of his nearly-empty carton, levered him off the couch and into his bedroom, and stopped at the linen cabinet for sheets and blankets to settle himself for the night. Doyle was already fast asleep.

Bodie stretched out on the made-up settee and sank into his own first real sleep in four days. Doyle was home, safe and well.

"Joined the Army, Doyle?"

"Sod off, Murph."

"What price did you fetch for that fleece?"

"Sod off, Lucas."

"Oh my God -- Doyle's a bloke!" "Sod off, Anson."

"I've seen better haircuts, four-five."

"Sod-- er, sorry, sir. Force of habit."

Cowley nodded brusquely and returned to the folder containing Doyle's report on his inadvertent three-day pub crawl. "I agree with your assessment of the situation -- your assailants' methods would have been laughed out of the Sinn Fein."

Doyle nodded and rolled his eyes upward. "This was the only thing any of them dared cut off anyone in that room. The IRA would have started by shipping me trigger finger to you. The situation was essentially a pub-robbery that soured. What they stole mostly was beer."

Cowley shook his head. "Ach, those can be the most dangerous -- drunken amateurs with loaded guns trying to prove themselves. Most deaths in combat are stupid ones, Doyle; this definitely would have qualified."

Bodie remembered his mate's casual comment about the trigger-happy moron aiming his gun at Doyle's eye during the brutal haircut and tamped down the chill again. A fucking sneeze and Cowley would be looking for two new agents right now-- It's over, three seven, it's over and no one was hurt, put it behind you the way you've always done. Put it behind you and stop thinking about it.

Doyle had managed to keep his composure during agents' taunts and double-takes. When he learned he'd been docked two extra holiday days, however, he'd had to be dragged from Cowley's office before he acquired a reprimand for conduct and language on top of the docked leave.

"Tell me when this job starts bein' fair, Bodie," Doyle growled over his tea in the rest room.

"When virtue brings profit and evil none at all," Bodie replied, sitting beside him. "When you can catch a falling star or get with child a mandrake root. When pigs fly."

"Forget to put something on this morning, Doyle?" Carstairs inquired solicitously as he headed for the teapot.

"Sod off, Carstairs."

The comments would have been just as chirpy if Doyle had returned with an arm in a cast or even a finger missing. CI5 agents saved their concern and rage for combat; if Doyle had been put in the hospital they'd be prowling and snarling like wolves, ready to go after the luckless perpetrators, and if Doyle had been killed they'd be silent and deadly as sharks, cutting a wide swath around Bodie as they closed in on their targets.

"Hey, Doyle! How many Irishmen does it take to cut someone's hair?"

"Sod off, Woolridge."

It was going to be a long, long week.

He was strapped down in a chair, a gun under his chin, as his curls were pulled out one by one, taking out skin and blood and flesh as well. Everyone in CI5 stood and watched as they drank Guinness from the inexhaustible taps on the wall and laughed at him. The man with the gun sang to him.

A big curl was yanked out, taking most of his scalp with it. He winced.

His head exploded as the man fired.

Doyle spent the rest of the night pacing, reading, throwing the book down, pacing, and staying away from the phone.

Big baby, going to cry to your partner now? "Oi, I had a bad dream, mate, can I sleep with you tonight?" Give it a rest, don't call him, don't call him.

At that very moment the same thoughts ran through Bodie's head as he grimly sat with his back to the phone, drinking whiskey-laced tea, trying to shake off the sleep-vision in which he opened the box and lifted out Doyle's head.

"Hello, Jackie."

The young tough at the pool table glared up at Doyle, turned his back on him and kept playing.

"I understand Old Bob's been looking for enterprising lads again." Doyle perched on the edge of the table, bearing a patently false smile. "I understand you've been looking to find another job. Not so easy on the dole, is it?"

"Not tellin' you nuffin," Jackie said in a bored voice, and sent the balls flying with one whack.

"Jackie, I thought we had an understanding. Just wanted to ask if Old Bob's offered you any work lately." Doyle rested a hand on Jackie's arm.

Jackie's dreadlocks flew as he turned to face Doyle, pulling his arm away. "We don't got nuffin. I don't know you," he said, his face blank. "Dunno why you're bovverin' me. You don't belong 'ere."

Doyle looked around at the other young men in the poolhall. They all played or stood in clumps, giving both a wide berth, deliberately not noticing them. No angry looks, no recognition of the troublesome copper who came in now and then to get information. Hostility he knew, anger and dismay he'd expected -- not this stone-faced refusal to react to him. It was the way they'd react to a barrister or councilman blundering into their territory, this closing off.

How many times had he come here before? And now he was not to be trusted, even as an antagonist.

Doyle wanted to pick up a cue-stick, thick end out, and make them notice him.

"Go back to yer office, mon," Jackie said, turning back to his pool game. "You don't belong 'ere." He sent the cue ball flying with a smack.

Doyle grinned like a shark "Look at it this way, Jackie."

Seconds later the young man was sprawled across the table on his back, yelping and scrabbling at the fist entangled in his dreads as balls clacked loudly over the floor. Doyle sprawled atop him with the same cold-blooded shark's grin, deflecting Jackie's blows with his free arm.

"Nothin' for you to grab onto, is there?" Doyle said sweetly.

The aura of indifference boiled off into vapour. Men started forward and were reined back by Doyle's snarl, made all the uglier for its bare-faced nakedness and the rage behind it.

Turning back to the undivided attention he was getting from his wide-eyed grass, Doyle said softly, "Do you really want to see the inside of me 'office,' Jackie-lad?" At the vigorous head-shaking, he nodded curtly and two seconds later was dusting his clothes while Jackie stood braced against the pool table, rubbing his head and swearing. "Now I asked you a question, and I'm late for me board-meeting, old sport. Old Bob?"

Minutes later Doyle sauntered out of the poolhall with one dead-end accounted for, ten quid poorer and ready to take a cue-stick to his Irish captors for the difficulty they'd added to his job. Oh, if those pricks knew they'd laugh their idiot arses off over this fiasco.

So would Bodie. He'd ragged Doyle often enough about his unruly mop -- when he wasn't rumpling the curls or tweaking them. Decidedly mixed messages there.

Ray realised that he missed the sensation of Bodie's hands on his head, and dismissed the thought as an unimportant side-effect of the rape of his locks. Men weren't supposed to miss things like that from other men.

He met Bodie at their local for lunch; a few eloquent hand-gestures over the noise of the pub let Bodie know they'd hit another blind alley.

"None of my grasses have coughed either," Bodie replied.

"Was like pullin' hen's-teeth to get that lack of information out of Jackie," Doyle said mournfully, his head dropping for a moment. "Had to pull out me old tearaway bit to get him interested." One hand passed over his head and clenched in an empty fist -- the gesture of dismay that used to net Doyle a handful of curls like worry-beads.

Bodie looked at the expanse of dark fuzz atop Doyle's head, and for the hundredth time clenched his fists against the temptation to run his hands along the velvety-looking hair. Doyle was sure to snap his head off for reminding him of his loss. "Better luck next time," he said, and hoisted his glass.

Sally Woolridge's partner Linda Keogh passed their booth. "Running for office, Ray?"

"Sod off, Keogh." Doyle didn't even raise his head.

"And how can you lose with that kind of public rapport?" Keogh moved on.

Day three.

Doyle was in a fouler morning mood than usual. Once in the seat, he kept his eyes firmly out the window of Bodie's car.

"She didn't come across last night?"

"Sod off, Bodie."

After accompanying Cowley to a late meeting at Whitehall the night before, both agents had gone to a nearby pub. Definitely for the up-and-coming; both men were in suit and tie for the meeting and blended in.

Doyle had hit it off at once with some professional young woman who'd practically attached herself to Doyle at the hip. Bodie had toasted his friend, silently wished him good hunting, and taken the tube home, quelling his anger and loneliness by firmly reminding himself that he was the one overreacting, that he was reading things into their partnership that weren't there. Wasn't Doyle's fault he looked so sleek and elegant in his one good suit now he'd lost the mop, that he'd blended so perfectly into the crowd of young go-getters -- or that Bodie noticed such things.

Bodie firmly reminded himself not to rejoice over Doyle's lack of success. "Just a bit cross-legged, I reckon. The high-tone birds tend to bargain a bit, you know that-- "

"She wanted to see me beeper!"

Bodie blinked. "First time I've heard it called that."

Doyle turned to glare at Bodie, who was startled all over again by his friend's appearance. It would be months before he stopped being startled. "I mean, Bodie," he said in a dangerous sing-song voice, "she wanted to see the tools of me trade. Beeper, flash car, portfolio. She reckoned I was loaded."

Bodie's face split in a grin. "Oh, you poor bastard," he choked. "And when she found out you were just a lowly copper in a monkey suit with a stockbroker's haircut?"

Doyle flicked his fingers and made a rude sound, indicating how far and fast she'd run. "Said she should 'ave picked you -- at least you're good-looking."



"Even if she is right."

"Don't flatter yourself; Bodie. All she'd do is a quick grope to feel how big your wallet is."

"Shall have to pad our trouser pockets a bit next time we go there."

"They probably have our pictures behind the counter now -- 'Tradesmen, do not serve.'"

Bodie tugged his tiny forelock. "Ooo arr, just coom to muck out t'privy, squire, thankee." He was rewarded with the sweetest sound a morning could give him -- Doyle laughing.

"Nutter," Ray said affectionately.

"Yeah." Buoyed by hidden bliss, Bodie drove on.

"Complete nutter."

"That's me, mate. William Andrew Phillip Nutter Bodie."

"'Cos you didn't even stay long enough to pull a bird or two yourself." Doyle's eyes

were still on Bodie -- and with his new hairstyle they looked bigger than ever. "Shouldn't it 'ave been me playing the Ugly Sister and going home alone, watching them fall all over Prince Charming's feet?"

"My devastating good looks probably scared 'em off." Bodie privately thought that everything he wore made him look dangerous -- in grubbies he was a yob, in a tux he was Licensed to Kill. Doyle was the undercover artiste of the pair -- could look like a beggar or a crown prince and never make you realise there was a holster under the ratty jacket or natty suit. "Besides, I just wanted a pint, old son. You wanted a shag." Bodie bit his tongue.

Doyle's head tilted. "Did I? I didn't want your company?" He kept staring at Bodie, who now wished he'd kept his mouth shut and let Doyle sulk and stare out his window in blessed silence. "Unless you were keeping the playing field clear for me."

"That must be it."

"Took you too long to remember that, mate. What really happened last night?" Doyle asked shrewdly.

"Sod off, Doyle."

"That doesn't work for me, Bodie, I'm still getting sheep-shearing jokes!" Doyle snapped, the week-old anger still flashing in his eyes. His pelt was a little darker but not noticeably thicker yet.

Too late, Bodie realised he could have simply said he was tired, or wanted to catch a game on the box -- could have stopped with the phrase "I just wanted a pint." Simple truths, reason enough to beg out early. Instead he'd buggered out of there like a cat with its tail on fire, unable to bear watching Ray make time with some bird, and now his stonewalling had attracted a copper's undivided attention.

He never had been able to protect himself from Ray Doyle. The truth would come out, sooner or later. Did Ray need this on top of the daily mutterings and comments about his bloody hair? (Now the whispers buzzed that Ray had been picked for Cowley's successor, that's why the haircut, the whole Ireland thing had been an exercise.) Or would this be a welcome distraction? Would he deck Bodie or go cold and silent on him? Would he ask Cowley for reassignment, or would he stay partnered with Bodie, flinching every time his partner got near him or reached out a friendly hand?

They turned the corner and headed for the last street near Headquarters.

"Still haven't told me, Bodie."

Ray's RT crackled. "3.7, 4.5, report to Paddington station at once," Murphy snapped. "Hostage situation in progress. Ten children being held captive. Alpha One en route."

Oh thank GOD. Bodie fishtailed the Capri and screeched off toward the evildoers even as Doyle got his armaments in order.

Bodie's relief was short-lived. "When this is over," said Doyle, "I still want to know--"

Bodie exhaled in exasperation. "Tonight, all right? Tonight. If this thing is over by then." That would give him a breath of space, time to compose himself, come up with a plausible alibi.

"Tonight," Doyle said, and Bodie could see fear on his face plain as day; Ray couldn't hide under his tangle any more. Bodie could almost read his mate's mind, for he felt the same way, thinking of the agony session in store for them. The four words a bloke never said were We have to talk. "All right, Bodie. Tonight. If we handle this thing at the station right."

They did. After two and a half hours of negotiation with four angry gunmen surrounded by hysteria (screaming children at one end, screaming parents at the other), the crisis that tied up Britrail was over and not a shot had been fired. It was Doyle who finally reminded the captors what the parents would do to them if one child was harmed, that the gunmen didn't have enough bullets nor CI5 enough men to prevent their being torn limb from limb by furious mothers. Minutes later the men laid down their weapons, preferring to face the dock than the mob.

"That was a dirty trick, sunshine," Bodie said admiringly as he dragged a cuffed man to the wagon.

"Just got a fresh look at how vicious women can be last night, dinn' I?" Doyle returned serenely, towing his own armload. "I saw how white these blokes went when they looked at the mums."

And no doubt Doyle's speech had replaced those women's expressions of terror with pure rage, making them look as dangerous as they could to the men who held their babies. Those same women now wept and hugged and kissed their crying children, completely oblivious to the men who'd saved them. It was the order of things, Bodie thought as he firmly pushed his captive into the wagon; the main purpose of men was as disposable protection for the cubs and their mothers, and everything else was a fancy name for the same thing.

"Back to the office, you two," Cowley said. "That was a big risk, four-five. It seems to have paid off." Without another word Alpha One headed back to his motor.

"Thank you, sir," 4.5 muttered. In any other branch of the service, what Doyle had done would have meant a medal. CI5 agents had to settle for the satisfaction of a job ill-paid. "Be nice if we got some kind of recognition," Doyle growled.

Bodie sighed. Now came the bad part of any moment of action, once the adrenaline had worn off -- the interrogations, the reports, the gleaning of information from their prisoners, the cross-checking with known criminal groups.

"Remember, Bodie," Doyle said calmly. "Tonight."

Damn him. Bodie glared after Doyle. "You bastard That's the real reason you cut this little situation short, isn't it?"

Doyle flashed a grin at Bodie -- and then was engulfed by a crying woman trying to hug him while maintaining a death-grip on her ten-year-old son at the same time. This mum, at least, had maintained enough sanity during the ordeal to pinpoint 4.5 as the man who'd saved her little boy.

It was hard to tell whether man or boy was more dismayed by the public display of affection; they bore identical expressions. Ray's in fact was a mirror of the one he'd worn outside the pub as Sinead prepared to sing her ballad. He shot one pleading, helpless look at his partner as he feebly attempted to detach the woman plastering kisses all over his face.

Bodie stood back with folded arms, grinning at the heart-heart-warming tableau. "Be careful what you wish for, mate," he said heartlessly, and winked at the grimacing boy.

And something changed within him. Perhaps a dose of courage, perhaps his devil-may-care attitude popping up in defence. Perhaps madness.

Perhaps it was realising that at that precise moment, as he ragged his mate after a harrowing job, Doyle was simply and 100% his partner and best mate, and Bodie's yearnings didn't touch anything in that moment.

Let the bad-tempered bastard deck him, let him shout and call Bodie names, let him go for months without speaking a civil word to Bodie -- Doyle had done it all before. However this worked out, they would still be the best team in CI5 and nothing would change that. And Bodie would still love that bad-tempered bastard with all his heart, even if he couldn't love him with all his body.

Doyle finally extracted himself from his grateful public, exchanged sympathetic looks with the kid, and turned down an offer of dinner, explaining that he couldn't accept any gratuities for his job. He fled rather gracelessly to the Capri as if seeking asylum. Bodie was already in the driver's seat and they peeled away slightly less quickly than they'd arrived .

"Fuck tonight, mate," Bodie said. "I can tell you now."

"Yeah?" Doyle said, glowering at him.

"Smudge," Bodie pointed out, and handed Doyle his handkerchief to deal with the lipstick on the side of his face. "Yeah. Remember when I gave you that haircut?"

"It was a sodding week ago Bodie, I'd think I could remember that far back," Doyle growled from behind the kerchief.

"Well...You know what they say about hairdressers?" Bodie carefully turned a corner. "Well, they're not wrong." He did not look at Doyle as he waited for him to get it.

"And you had to tell me this because?" was all Doyle said. It was a calm, level tone of voice, not flat to cover anger or disgust -- or so Bodie thought. Maybe a hundred things were clicking together in his mind with Oh, now it's all explained. Maybe Doyle was simply considering the most plausible way to ask Cowley for a new partner.

"Because you're my partner and you deserve the truth."

"Do you think I can handle the truth? All of it?"

Bodie was being most conscientious about his driving, keeping his eyes ahead, his hands on the wheel, and his self focused anywhere but to his left. "I hope you can. However you handle the truth, I want you to have all of it."

Doyle was silent for a full wait of the stop-light. "Tell me," he said as the light went green.

"I'm in love with you."

Doyle's breath fled him in one great huff of air, and he sagged forward. "You want to sleep with me?" he whispered.

"Yes." Bodie's teeth were locked.

"Thank God. I thought you were working up to say you didn't want to sleep with me."

Bodie nearly drove into a lamp-post.

They shouted a bit, the rest of the way to HQ.

"You stopped touching me, Bodie! How do you think I interpreted that!"

"You'd just lost all your fuckin' hair, mate! You wanted me reminding you of that!"

"I thought you weren't attracted to me any more!"

"Any more!"

"Come on, Bodie, no bloke touches another bloke as much as you do me who isn't gay!"

"And you couldn't have said something yourself?"

"Oh, yeah -- send you screaming into the night, you mean? Christ, if you didn't 'ave the balls to own up to what it meant to you, 'ow was me telling you going to help?"

"What about you? Chatting up that bird last night -- or was she your sweet grey-haired old mum?"

Doyle snorted loudly. "Me mum could flatten both of us -- and she will if she ever finds out about me. Fuckin' good Catholic." Now, for the first time, Doyle looked discomfited. "All right, I was chattin' her up. Felt good, all the little games. Started feelin' sexy again, first time since I got chopped. And you weren't touchin' me any more..."

Bodie had had enough of Doyle's lament. At the next red light he faced his partner, very deliberately stroked both hands over the top of Ray's head and down to frame his cheeks, and moved in. Ray's squawk of surprise was most satisfactorily muffled. Only when the cars behind them started honking did he pull back, say "All right, I'll start touching you again," and put the Capri in gear once again. Both his hands tingled; it was like stroking velvet. His lips tingled for the same reason.

"You bastard," Doyle said breathlessly. "We have to sodding' work the rest of the day!"

"Or make a damn good try," Bodie agreed blithely. "It's all your fault."

"My fault!" Doyle snapped, outraged.

"If you hadn't cut short the negotiations we'd be 'aving this talk on the way to the flat at the end of the day."

Doyle growled. "I am sick to death of things getting cut short!"

"Agreed," Bodie said serenely, and took a swipe at his mate's missing curls. "Tonight, you had better not cut anything short."

"Nor you," challenged Doyle.

That settled, they finished their drive to HQ in relative serenity.

-- THE END --

Originally published in Priority A-3!, IDP Press, 1999

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