What the Thunder Said
Part 2 of the Eliot Trilogy. The prequel is A Handful of Dust and the sequel is Lune de Miel
George Cowley had a famously low tolerance for mistakes. It was something the men and women who worked for him understood well -- mistakes in their line of work cost innocent lives and he never let them forget that. He had no patience for failure in others and even less for himself, yet before him stood an example of his own willful blindness. The cost of this particular miscalculation would be high.
Would be? No, the price for his arrogance had already been paid. Nothing left now but to contain the damage, if he could. Salvage the situation. Move on.
These thoughts marched through Cowley's busy mind as he shuffled files and maps, for the moment ignoring the stolid figure on the other side of his desk who silently awaited his attention. Cowley had watched him come in from lowered eyes - Bodie's ordeal had caused him to lose weight he hadn't regained during his convalescence and Cowley didn't like it. Bodie was dangerous at the best of times; now he was sleek with it, pared down to someone Cowley almost didn't recognize.
There was a moment's pause before Cowley heard the uncomfortable chair across from him give a telling creak. His eyes fixed on a report he'd already read, Cowley began to organize his thoughts, letting the path of his memory give him the context he needed to do what he had to do. What galled him most was that he himself was the cause of this current predicament. Had he known at the time -- a useless line of thought. Of the many things under his control, the path of a man's heart was not one of them.
He flipped a page and continued the pretense of reading, his eyes behind their thick glasses unfocussed in remembrance.
He'd had an inkling they'd make a good team. After studying both men separately, he'd placed them together in the hopes they'd find that rare ground that the best partnerships always seemed to achieve. And they had, beyond his hopes -- they'd become a perfect machine, flawlessly anticipating each other's thoughts and moves on the job and able to sustain a meaningful friendship in spite of it.
In those early years, Cowley had watched them overcome more than their share of obstacles and they'd only become better. Doyle's reaction to Bodie's knifing had been reassuring, not worrisome -- Cowley'd have worried more had Doyle not become emotional over the matter. The same in reverse seemed to be true as well; Bodie had perfected the art of matey worry where Doyle was concerned. Never too much nor too little, just exactly whatever Doyle needed to get him through a rough patch.
Should that have been his first clue? Cowley thought not -- a good partner was a partner in all ways, not just on the street but in private as well. And as reassuringly as night turned to day, there'd always been women in their lives. The two men played as hard as they worked and Cowley never had cause to question their extra-curricular activities.
That comfort was lost to Cowley when the Holly case crossed his desk. The operation had not gone well and Doyle had gotten his feelings bruised rather significantly -- but it had been Bodie who'd caused the first small gap in Cowley's once airtight assessment of his best team. Yes, Bodie, who'd walked away when Cowley could've used him. Bodie, who threw over the job for a friendship that had nearly shattered beneath the heavy weight of responsibility.
Yes, perhaps it was then, he mused. Bodie had ably demonstrated that CI-5 -- and Cowley -- were not at the top of his priority list. In fact, the man who sat so perfectly still before him had made it entirely clear over the past few years that someone other than Cowley commanded his loyalty -- among other things.
Cowley turned another page, aware he was testing Bodie's patience, knowing Bodie saw through his ruse.
"Pour yourself a drink, if you'd like. I'll join you."
Bodie rose without a word and Cowley set the unread papers aside. He kept his expression impassive when Bodie returned to place one glass in front of Cowley before regaining his seat. He'd not taken one for himself.
Cowley leaned back in his chair and removed his glasses, leaving the tumbler untouched. "All right, Bodie. You wished to speak to me?"
Bodie's reply was terse. "I want you to bring Doyle back."
For the first time, Cowley met Bodie's eyes. They were flat and calm, impassive to someone who didn't know him. But Cowley saw beyond the veil Bodie had drawn across his emotions, briefly glimpsing the soul of a man in torment. In that moment, Cowley both envied and pitied Bodie -- and Doyle, for that matter. Whatever was between them had caused them untold anguish, but this was not pain they'd inflicted upon each other - this was heartache described by poets since time began.
And with sudden clarity, Cowley realized he wielded the power to alleviate such terrible pain, to change the circumstances of two lives and keep safe something so rare not even he could estimate its worth. For a brief moment, the old warrior's soul in Cowley was swept up in the heady magic of it all, seeing for Bodie and Doyle a future perhaps even they didn't dare envision.
For only those who loved so well and so unwisely were allowed a glimpse of heaven. It was up to their earth-bound witnesses to protect it from the hell it could impart -- the hell Cowley'd seen in Doyle's eyes as his partner had fought for his life, the same hell in Bodie's eyes now that separation had turned from annoyance to agony.
Folly subsided and dry reason intruded as Cowley once again observed his agent with an unvarnished eye. Bodie was a changed man, though Cowley knew it wasn't due to the recent injuries he'd sustained. These changes had nothing to do with the job and everything to do with his partner.
And that was the crux of the matter and the beginning of Cowley's failure. He'd suspected for some time that the partnership had gone beyond friendship. A recent development, he believed, but years in the making. It wasn't until he'd observed Doyle as Bodie lay near death that he felt his suspicions were confirmed.
It wasn't the first time one of them had spent time at the bedside of the other. A friendly voice, juvenile gifts, a lift home -- that was their usual habit. None of that had occurred during Bodie's convalescence. In fact, his entire stay in hospital had been a private, quiet affair between the two of them. Even Cowley had been made to feel an outsider during his visits and his greatest contribution to Bodie's care had been smoothing the path for Doyle's constant presence. There had been no teasing, no flirting with nurses, no victorious wheelchair rides to a waiting car.
Furthermore, Doyle had not acted like a man whose partner had been injured in the line of duty, nor even someone who watched over a lover. There had been something menacing and desperate caged inside every move and word, a hint of something primal -- the same expression, albeit muted, that Bodie wore as he waited for Cowley's reply.
Cowley allowed himself a frown - although Bodie's request was expected, it still bordered on insubordination. "The operation in Cardiff is none of your affair. Nor has it been concluded satisfactorily."
"Doyle's indicated otherwise. Sir." That last added stiffly, as if Bodie was trying to maintain some semblance of correct behaviour. "It's been four weeks."
"I am not in the habit of allowing operatives in my employ decide when their duties are at an end."
"You've trusted Ray's -- Doyle's -- instincts in the past. "
"I am well aware of his assessment of the situation."
"Then why -- "
"That's quite enough, Bodie." The reproof was mild but sufficient. Bodie subsided with a slight flare to his nostrils and Cowley suppressed a sigh. He was going to grant Bodie's request, but he doubted he'd be pleased when he understood the extent of Cowley's plans.
No, he wouldn't like it at all, not at first, but they'd given him no choice. Even now, he could tell that Bodie had only one objective for being here. That objective had nothing to do with the job, his future with CI-5 or Cowley's displeasure. It was that single-minded pursuit that told Cowley he'd made the correct decision.
And he was sorry for it. Sorry and more than a little disgusted with himself that he hadn't seen it coming and done something to prevent it. Would separating them any earlier have worked? Perhaps after that Ojuka business, when Bodie had -- no, Cowley now knew that separating them was never going to be the answer. If putting them together had been his first error, pulling them apart after Bodie's recuperation had been his second and most grievous mistake.
He hadn't meant it to be a punishment -- he'd thought he'd done them a favor. They'd been in each other's pockets for so long that Cowley, suspecting they'd grown tired of such confined company, had sent Doyle to Oxford. Neither men had said a word and Cowley had counted it a job well done when Bodie returned to light detail without complaint.
He should've known such passivity was not in their nature. A discreet word in his ear about phone charges led to a review of petrol receipts and it was immediately evident that the bond had only grown deeper. Just as Cowley'd resigned himself to the reality of their relationship, a situation in Wales had arisen that needed someone with Doyle's level of expertise.
There had been no choice but to send Doyle, separating them further and bringing home the inevitable truth that it was far too late to try and disentangle one from the other.
It was already too late the day they'd met.
For years, there'd been walls around Bodie and Doyle, walls built by past experiences and the job they'd taken on -- walls they'd needed to survive. Then the two walls had crumbled into dust, replaced by a single fortress behind which they both now lived. They were everything to each other, more important than God and country, and no longer of any use to Cowley in their current positions.
Accepting that, Cowley contemplated Bodie for a few brief moments. Despite the weight loss he looked healthy enough, save for the shadows that lay like bruises beneath his eyes. Letting slip the professional aspects of the situation, he moved on to the emotional. With a silent apology, he struck.
"By the way, Bodie, you do realize that it was harder for him than it was for you, don't you?"
Bodie blinked. "Sir?"
"Your recent injuries compared to Doyle's shooting. You had your assignment and you completed it, despite the very real chance he'd die while you continued the job."
Bodie's mouth thinned. "I remember." The tone of his voice indicated he'd yet to forgive Cowley for it, either.
"Doyle didn't have that luxury," Cowley pressed. He wasn't immune to the discomfort he was causing but he had to make Bodie see for himself why things had to change. "No distractions, no purpose. Day after day, he had nothing to else to do but watch you breathe. All you had to do was watch him bleed."
Bodie's eyes narrowed, his hands clenching in his lap. Then abruptly he relaxed, a delicate smile playing around his mouth. "You have a point, sir?" he inquired gently. "Or are we merely reliving happy memories?"
A sharp reprimand dying on his lips, Cowley felt a tug of remembrance and tried to pin it down. Something in Bodie's manner, so casual, so calm, that faintly playful expression --
"If anything happens to Ray…"
That was it -- good God, why hadn't Cowley realized? Four years past, a man waging a private war on Doyle -- he'd merely gone along with Bodie at the time, but now, looking at his agent, he knew that Bodie's threats had not been idle. That same glint of violence shone in his eyes now as it had that day, when he'd touched the woman with a tenderness that made Cowley's skin crawl to recall it.
He leaned back in his chair. "No, Bodie, not a point, an observation. Remember it when 4.5 returns."
Bodie tilted his head, his only evidence of interest in Cowley's announcement. "Returns?"
"I'll be instructing Doyle to leave the operation as soon it's practical. After that, you'll both stand down. Permanently."
Bodie's eyes flickered with an emotion Cowley didn't recognize. "So you're sacking us, then. Any particular reason or have we outstayed our welcome?"
Cowley almost smiled. "Not exactly."
Bodie shrugged. "Don't very much care one way or the other. Doyle's been making noises about us getting out. "
Cowley let pass Bodie's offhand admission that he and Doyle would have left together. "I said nothing about getting out for either of you."
"Then what -- "
"Times are changing, Bodie. Terrorism is a world-wide industry and we import it to these shores daily. Men of your experience are becoming rare simply by the fact that you've survived. You're smarter than the ones coming after you but no tougher, not any more. And you've seen more than your share of tragedy -- do I have to spell it out for you?" Frustration welled up inside him -- not toward Bodie, but for a world that never seemed to learn. "Damn it, Bodie, what I'm trying to say is that you and Doyle are needed!"
Crooked brows flew together at Cowley's vehemence. "Sounds suspiciously like a promotion."
Cowley relaxed slightly as Bodie's demeanor lost some of its repressed fury. "You could call it that. You could also call it tossing the two of you to the wolves. You'll be expected to use your brains now, on the offensive, not the defensive. Responsible for more than the catastrophe of the day. In other words -- "
"Intelligence." The word was said without inflection.
"Precisely. With field work as required. I'll not confine you to an office -- trust me to know the two of you better than that."
Bodie dropped his gaze and Cowley waited. If his instincts were correct, Bodie would welcome the chance to have his partner out of harm's way, as would Doyle. Cowley only had to navigate their damnable pride.
Bodie looked up. "I need to talk to Ray."
Cowley nodded. "Certainly. But make no mistake, Bodie -- this is the only way you and Doyle will remain in CI-5."
Surprisingly, Bodie grinned at him and Cowley's fears eased even more. "Wouldn't have it any other way, sir."
"Very well then. You are dismissed."
Bodie rose and strode to the door, pausing there as uncertainty flickered through his eyes. "Sir? Why now?"
Cowley had already turned his attention to other matters and looked up with a scowl. "What's that?"
"Why now? I've been cleared for duty, Doyle's been back for weeks." His face hardened. "Someone been telling tales out of school?"
Ah, so Bodie had realized that Cowley had no other choice, that no amount of discretion on their parts could disguise what could not be denied. Good -- it would make it easier on all of them. He straightened in his chair, swinging his glasses by one stem. Both Bodie and Doyle had many years of field work ahead of them -- or would have, had they not found something more important in their lives than national security. He didn't understand, had no desire to -- but he respected it. He had no choice.
"What anyone else has said is irrelevant." Cowley's tone gentled despite his best efforts. "It's time, Bodie. You've found something worth living for now -- and that makes you vulnerable. Since neither your nor Doyle are any good to me dead, I'll assume this is an acceptable compromise."
Looking bemused, Bodie nodded.
"Good. Now, you will remember what I said about Doyle's shooting? Compared to your own recent injuries?"
Bodie's eyes widened with the first hint of enlightenment. "Yes."
Cowley slid the glasses back on and reached for another stack of papers. "That will be all, 3.7. You may apprise Doyle of the situation. Take it or leave it but let me know your decision by Monday. Shut the door behind you, please."
He heard the soft click and heaved a sigh. He'd done what he could to contain the damage done so long ago when he'd introduced Bodie to Ray Doyle. No doubt they didn't view the event in the same light Cowley did, but he found he no longer regretted it.
After all, George Cowley had no tolerance for regret, either.
-- THE END --