Too Many Men


(Written in response to a lyric wheel)

Awareness returns slowly, silently, so that he cannot say when he wakes up, or even exactly where he is. Instead he stares absently up at unfamiliar surroundings, waiting for the pain to return and aware of just one thing.

He is dying.

There can be no doubt of this; already he hears death whispering to him, and has done ever since the final bullet sent him to the ground. Strangely, he is not afraid. Instead he is resigned to his fate, and almost relieved that it is his turn at last. He has been surrounded by death all his life, forced to be a bystander over the years as the reaper took family and colleagues away from him. He has even become an agent of death, responsible for ending so many lives in order to protect thousands more who will never know his name, who can never understand the personal cost of his vocation.

Now that death has finally returned to him he is merely saddened by it, full of regret for all the things he was not able to do before his time ran out, but he has walked in its shadow for too many years to be truly afraid.

Even now death is not satisfied, its eternal thirst meaning that he is not the only man to die here today. He finds a macabre comfort in that, in the knowledge that he has been able to do his duty one last time. From where he lies he can see the other bodies, can hear the final gasps of those he has killed, and who have killed him in return. He would add their names to the tally of those whose deaths he has caused, if he had not lost count years ago. Of course, just because he does not know their names, that doesn’t make him unfeeling. He still regrets the loss of life, even after all these years, but the alternative, allowing them and others like them to carry on destroying the country he fought for, is horrifying. He knows that this was necessary, that it will always be so, in order to protect the innocent.

Strengthened by this knowledge he tries to move once more, aware that his obligation to CI5 demands that he try, that he doesn’t give up without a fight, no matter what the personal cost. He reaches for the R/T that is only a few feet from where he’s lying, but even that small movement is too much. Choking back a cry, he slumps back to the harsh ground mere inches from where he was, pain robbing him of his sight as the blood welling up from his chest drips slowly down his shirt to pool on the floor beneath him.

It doesn’t matter.

CI5 know where he is, and reinforcements are already on their way – along with medics if Bodie’s frantic message to his partner got through.

They’re already too late. His visions returns slowly as the pain changes to a pervading numbness; his surroundings darker than before, the shadows drawing closer with every tortured breath. He can still see, though, and once again his eyes are drawn to the body lying half concealed behind a nearby pillar.

Bodie is dead.

He can’t see the man’s eyes so he has no proof that he is gone, and yet he knows that it’s true. There has been no sound, no hint of movement for a long time and he knows that Bodie would fight to his last breath, would refuse to accept death’s embrace. In contrast he is too old to keep fighting, and has no desire to protest now that the end is finally here.

In all the years he has witnessed death first hand, watched it in action, walked with it, he has never really given much thought to his own. Someone once told him that if you think of it, if you find yourself wondering what lies beyond it or when it will happen, you’re as good as signing your own death warrant. He doesn’t remember who said it, that knowledge lost amongst so many other details of the life that was once his, but the words stayed with him all the same, and he believed in them enough to impart them to his own ‘children’, those he trained both in the army and in CI5.

He wonders whether Bodie ever thought about the end before it came. Probably, because he knows that Doyle did after the shooting, and Bodie and Doyle weren’t as different as they liked to pretend. In spite of their hard exteriors he knows that they talked, and by extension what affected Doyle would always come to pray on Bodie’s own thoughts.

No, for all he liked to be prepared for anything, to plan and double-think every eventuality, he has not prepared himself for this beyond the usual expectations. But there is no light, no tunnel, and all he finds himself remembering is the first and only partner he ever had. No family, no friends, just Simon. He remembers another shooting, the last official battle he fought in, and another time when he thought it was the end.

He had not been alone then, and all these years later he can still hear Simon’s voice in his head urging him to hold on, screaming at him not to give in as he was half carried, half dragged out of danger with a leg that would never quite be the same again. His partner had saved his life that day.

Two days later Simon had returned to the battlefield only to be killed by a landmine, and he had never been able to say thank you. His grief had been shocking in its intensity, and invalided out of active surface, he had never allowed himself to be closely partnered with anyone else. He could not go through that again.

He wonders if Doyle will reach as he did to Bodie’s loss. If he will accept comfort from those around him or if he will run from the grief, from all that could remind him of the friend he once had. He hopes that Doyle is stronger than that, wishes he could be there to see him through the pain but knows that is now impossible.

He knows too that his death will be mourned, that those who worked for him will miss his guidance, even if those he thinks of as something akin to a family mourn him merely as they would an employer, a comrade in arms.

Staring up at the broken ceiling, at the decayed, woodworm ridden beams that will become his grave, he still has time to regret. He wishes he’d had more time to find a real family, to meet someone with whom he could share his hopes and dreams, but the few women he has fallen for have never loved him in return. Slowly over the years, he has become used to returning each night to an empty house, never a home, and finding solace in malt whiskey and the daily crossword. Used to burying himself in his work, sacrificing his life to do a job he wishes to God wasn’t necessary.

For theirs should be a world where organisations like CI5 are not needed, where people like him are not expected to lay down their lives in the endless fight to maintain even the façade of freedom in this land. Long ago he had celebrated with the naivety of youth, when Simon had been by his side and they believed that they could save the world, that they were immortal. Theirs would be the generation that changed things, they would be the ones to make a difference.

He no longer believes that.

Years of bitter experience and endless loss have taught him the truth – you can never win. For every assassin killed, for every crime ring imprisoned there will always be another waiting in the wings, eager to succeed where the last could not. All you can do is fight to keep them contained, to stop the hatred from taking over and destroying the tenuous control of government and democracy. Even that simple task is getting harder, though, and the faint smell of roses is beginning to disappear.

Slowly, steadily, they are losing the fight.

He hopes that his successor fully understands that they are striving to attain an impossible goal, and that this will never change. Not as long as there are too many men making too many problems, prepared to find ever more ingenious ways to subvert democracy and sacrifice others for their own selfish ends.

But it is no longer his fight, and all he can do now is pray that something will change, that the next generation can break the standoff and succeed where he has failed.

Running footsteps jerk him out of his daze, and he forces himself to turn his head in the direction of the oddly distant sound, peering through the mist at the shadows racing towards him. Something comes close to him, and it’s a few seconds before he recognises the shape and grief-stricken voice of Ray Doyle.

“…hear me? Sir?”

The words seem distant, unimportant even though he can still hear the shock, the real fear behind them as Doyle glances over to the body of his partner before turning back to the man at his feet.

“Hold on, Cowley!”

~ Don’t give in now, Major! ~

The two voices echo around his head, and he isn’t sure quite who he’s actually talking to as he gathers up the last of his strength to form a whispered reply.

“Sorry, lad…not this time…”

His vision blurs again, fading into a mass of shadows as he closes his eyes, accepting the inevitable.

For George Cowley, the fight is over.

~*~*~ -- THE END --

Land Of Confusion

I must've dreamed a thousand dreams
Been haunted by a million screams
But I can hear the marching feet
They're moving into the street.

Now did you read the news today
They say the danger's gone away
But I can see the fire's still alight
There burning into the night.

There's too many men
Too many people
Making too many problems
And not much love to go round
Can't you see
This is a land of confusion.

This is the world we live in
And these are the hands we're given
Use them and let's start trying
To make it a place worth living in.

Ooh Superman where are you now
When everything's gone wrong somehow
The men of steel, the men of power
Are losing control by the hour.

This is the time
This is the place
So we look for the future
But there's not much love to go round
Tell me why, this is a land of confusion.

This is the world we live in
And these are the hands we're given
Use them and let's start trying
To make it a place worth living in.

I remember long ago -
Ooh when the sun was shining
Yes and the stars were bright
All through the night
And the sound of your laughter
As I held you tight
So long ago -

I won't be coming home tonight
My generation will put it right
We're not just making promises
That we know, we'll never keep.

Too many men
There's too many people
Making too many problems
And not much love to go round
Can't you see
This is a land of confusion.

Now this is the world we live in
And these are the hands we're given
Use them and let's start trying
To make it a place worth fighting for.

This is the world we live in
And these are the names we're given
Stand up and let's start showing
Just where our lives are going to.

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