No Candle


Written for Discovered in the Mistletoe, on the discoveredinalj livejournal community.

Doyle was glad he hadn't pulled the short straw, glad it wasn't him who had to go and ring on a doorbell with that sort of news on Christmas Eve. Poor bastard: a few weeks in the squad, all fresh-faced and full of enthusiasm, and he'd walked straight into a bullet.

Nobody had volunteered to go and break the news to the bloke's family -- not even him, so they'd decided to settle it with a few matchsticks. He supposed it seemed fair -- they'd done it like that before for solo agents or if partners went together, but it still seemed harsh.

Doyle felt his throat tighten. Knew he had to get out of there or he'd make a fool of himself.

It was raining the damp, drizzly sort. There weren't many people about at nine in the evening, but there were plenty of signs of Christmas. Tinsel around street lamps, which had miraculously escaped vandals or partygoers with a few too many drinks inside them, a bus going past with Father Christmas emblazoned on its side, a pub decorated to within an inch of its life.

The church, when he found himself in front of it, wasn't the sort he'd grown up with, but what did that matter? He'd surrendered the last vestiges of belief in a benevolent God anyway. He even remembered when: the day, as a young copper, he'd seen a young pregnant woman dead in the wreck of a car driven by drunken louts. He remembered knocking on her door, too, and wondering who he despised most -- the drunks or the God he'd been brought up to believe in as the husband had answered.

So why was he thinking about going into a church at all?

By the looks of it, it wasn't a very churchy church either. It was the sort that his mother would condemn out of hand as being Spartan, almost unholy. Not enough candles or incense, stained glass and statues for her liking. Not a confessional in sight. His mother thought a quick confession solved just about everything.

Stop it, he told himself. This wasn't a time for thinking ill of anybody, much as he'd felt like thumping Bodie before.

How could Bodie just snap out of things? Switch it all off? Just how much death did it take to make you like that? How could he suggest a Christmas Eve drink at the pub, for Christ's sake, when Jax was driving towards the suburbs with his guts in a knot?

Another poor bastard, Jax. Another one who let death get to him: Doyle had seen that before. Apparently Jax drowned his sorrows in long, punishing runs.

Doyle looked down at his boots, considered the idea fleetingly, and pushed the church door open.

Automatically, he looked for the candles, but saw none. Not a church where you slipped a few coins into a box and lit one, then. That was a shame: religious he might not be, but somehow it would have been a gesture. He lit one for his dad, sometimes, when he went up home.

Old, wooden folding chairs were placed in not very straight rows, and to Doyle's relief they were all empty. No lingering priests, or vicars, or whatever they had here were to be seen either. Good he didn't want anybody to pour out his soul to, or even to tell them to leave him alone.

He sank onto a hard seat and stared at the simple altar. The Christmas decorations were modest too: greenery, a few of those red star-like plants with a name he could never remember. Poin, point... well, star things.

A wall at the side sported kids' drawings. Baby Jesus with a black face, with a white one, with an orange halo. Donkeys with smiles and more legs than seemed logical. Mary in a mini skirt. Joseph with what looked like a rasta hairdo.

Somebody cleared their throat at the back and made him jump. Somebody else giggled. A voice said something half-sternly, and then Doyle saw them: a dozen or so kids all jostling to form two lines either side of the altar and an older woman carrying a sheaf of music.

Maybe he'd better go, Doyle decided, but didn't. Memories of starched collars and stupid robes that got caught in the ironwork slid into his mind, but this lot were wearing jeans, boys and girls alike. Since when did girls... oh, never mind, he told himself.

Somebody hit a chord on a piano: no organ, clearly. A dozen chins went up, faces staring intently at the woman. Doyle expected something traditional: Hark the Herald Angels sing (and that last verse that was such a bugger with the extra, high bit, whatever they called it...), but no, it was something jazzy he didn't know.

He sat through that, then another one he'd heard before but couldn't put a name to. It was haunting, the lilting notes dancing and sliding and talking of life, not death. To his disgust and shame, felt his eyes wet.

This wouldn't do. He should leave.

He didn't.

They sang a few more things: traditional carols, the catchy one with the drummer-chorus-thing he'd always liked. The woman stopped them once or twice, at one point reminding them it was the last rehearsal before the midnight service, and that there was no excuse for picking noses or gossiping between the carols. That -- and the singing -- cheered him up a bit, just to see happy kids.They teased and jostled every time the music died away, but they were putting hearts and souls into the singing as well.

Then his mood changed again, and rapidly. The choirmistress went over to the piano for a moment, and one of the singers stuck out two fingers in a crude imitation of a gun, pointing it at the blonde moppet beside him. Doyle felt his fingers curl in fury, had to hold himself back from striding up there and shaking the little bugger, telling him what guns really did.

He didn't.

Instead, he got up and headed for the exit, pushing the swing doors leading into the porch viciously.

When somebody grasped his arm he whirled, ready to lash out. Another hand grabbed his wrist.

"Bodie." He said it flatly, shaking off the hold and refusing to meet his partner's eyes, not wanting to see scorn, amusement or even sympathy. "What the bloody hell are..."

"Shouldn't swear in church," Bodie said, quietly. "Apparently. And I followed you."

"For the 'let's drag Doyle out of the wallowing in misery', right?"

"No. Yes. No." Bodie paused. "Yes, I wanted to. But no, I'd decided to leave you to it. See, I supposed whatever I said or did wouldn't be what you wanted to hear. Liked the singing, though, so I stayed a bit. Then you left like a bloody rocket, so..."

"You..." Doyle had no idea how to finish the sentence. Fortunately, 'Hark the Herald' was in the background, and some poor kid was doing battle with the descant -- yes, that was the word, descant -- and losing.

"Ouch," Bodie grinned.

"It's hard," Doyle said. "That bit."

"Take your word for it. Fancy a pint? Quiet drink at my place?"

Doyle shrugged, knowing he was just playing hard to get now. Bodie didn't push, so he softened. "Your place, preferably."

"Your wish is my command."

"I wanted to light a candle." Doyle said, quietly. "Daft, I suppose, when you don't believe in..."

"Not daft," Bodie said. "At all."

The singing stopped. The silence hung for a moment or two.

"Thanks," Doyle muttered. To Bodie, to the church, to the kids: he didn't know.

Somehow, he felt better, felt watched over, and not just by Bodie. It was a strange feeling, but not an unpleasant one.

He lingered in the entrance just a few seconds longer, imagined a candle for his dad, for the bloke who'd died, and took one last look at the kids through the porch window.

Then he followed Bodie out into the rain.

-- THE END --

December 2006

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