Of Trees and Needles


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

Warm and wonderful thanks to Slantedlight for being such a terrific beta!

A grey trilby hat, pinched from Cowley's hatstand, was passed around the agents gathered in the VIP room. Murphy shook it under the nose of each man; the solitary agent who preferred to work alone was in fact the one person who made sure this spirit of camaraderie happened within CI5.

"Hey, no cheating!" Murphy waggled a finger in sardonic admonishment at Ray, who screwed up his lips in disgust and flicked a glance to Bodie, before saying "Anyone would think you enjoy this, Murph".

He picked a piece of paper out of the hat, and about to unravel it, felt rather than saw Jax lean in a bit closer, eyes apparently on the ceiling. "Oi!" he cautioned and stepped back to look at the small slip of paper. No expression crossed his face other than the same slightly bored annoyance that had been there all evening.

The hat moved on, Murphy weaving his way amongst the agents and CI5 personnel that could gather for tonight. It was a CI5 tradition, the ceremonial passing of the hat. Bodie yawned openly; tradition, like dust, got right up his hooter.

Doyle had chosen the fate for both of them, so on his mop head be it. Damn Barry Martin, it was all his fault. He had brought his sometimes inappropriate sense of humour with him from MI5, when he had agreed to become the trainer for the new organisation under Major Cowley. Bodie could just picture Barry now, standing there in Murphy's size 9's, cajoling everyone along into picking a scrappy piece of paper. And look what happened to good old Barry, two faced bastard he turned out to be. Two faced dead bastard.

"Right is that everyone?" Murphy held the hat high above his head, turning a slow circle.

"Charlie hasn't got one." Sally's clear voice cut through the room, and everyone turned to where the caretaker was shuffling awkwardly in the spotlight now thrown on him.

"Oh now you don't want me to do this surely? It's for you young 'uns..."

"Now come on, Charlie -- we all do it, it is in the CI5 handbook," Susan said stridently and took the hat from Murphy to wave under his nose. Under much protest Charlie took a piece of paper, glanced at it and gave an audible sigh of relief.

"Yeah that's it Charlie, best not to give us a clue," Anson said, one of the rare occasions he removed his cigar to talk. Susan rolled her eyes at him.

"Right, now if everyone has chosen, then this hat is closed! But the Red Lion is open..." Murphy looked round hopefully, "Well - is anyone coming?"

"Don't you get enough of us in the day?" Bodie commented sotto voice, and Murphy pulled a face at him as the gathered agents made tracks to leave for the pub or home, those who could. CI5 never closed; like the criminals it sought to guard against it was an open shop twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, the forty or so agents forever working a rolling shift, with Cowley cryogenically frozen at the helm. There was a rumour going around that the Cow never actually slept; even during the night when Sally answered as 'Alpha One' every agent suspected that the wily Scot was lying in bed with his earphones tuned in.

Ray was fussing with his checked scarf as Bodie walked over. "You coming then? Or are you on a date with that bird again, whatsername, Rebecca?"

Ray gave Bodie a look. "Sarah. And no, I'm not."

"Not on a date, not going to the pub? Not...?" Bodie lowered his head, peering up, waiting for it.

"Not either. Neither. And neither are you." Ray looked as the last of the agents made through the door, and slipped Bodie the piece of paper he had picked. He then strode out the room as Bodie stood still and unravelled it, revealing Murphy's drawing of a very shaky Christmas tree. "Oh Christ you are joking" he muttered, and followed Ray out, jogging a little to catch up to where Ray was talking with Tully as they went down the stairs. He glared at Ray, smiled at Joe and joined in with the small talk down the four flights of stairs that constantly smelt of disinfectant, orange juice and Helen Tippett's perfume. God that girl liked to pour it over herself. He sneezed.

"Bloody Helen and her perfume." Bodie jumped down the last step.

Joe Tulliver followed him down more sedately, as befitting an older agent. "I thought I recognised that smell. What is it, Charlie? Bought that for the wife last year."

"More like Tramp." Bodie replied, memories elsewhere.

"Oh like that then is it? Should have known you'd have already been there Bodie. Night." Tully strode off down the corridor, tall frame disappearing round the bend. Bodie and Ray stopped walking and watched Tully go. Then Bodie waved the piece of paper at Ray in disbelief.

"So the only time in five bloody years I let you choose the damn paper, and you get the tree? Terr-ific Doyle. How the bloody hell are we gonna sneak a tree in here?"

Ray shrugged and looked worryingly enthusiastic. "It'll be fun! Look at last year -- you laughed at last year's tree. You thought it was the funniest thing you'd seen outside Susan's new glasses."

Bodie thought back. Yes, whichever agents had sneaked the tree in last year had had the inspired decorative theme of pasting Page Three tits on every bauble. They never did find out who it was, although Anson did read The Sun behind his copy of The Guardian...

"Yes I admit that was funny."

"And the year before that, the naked Sindys? You practically laughed your guts up."

Bodie couldn't help but snigger as he remembered that one. "Alright, alright, point taken!" He held up his hands in gracious defeat as they continued down to the main entrance. "But how are we going to do this so everyone doesn't know it's us? If we're doing this then we need to do it right, that's all I'm saying." He rubbed his hands briskly together.

"And we will my son, we will. Just needs a bit of thinking about, which is why we're leaving off the Red Lion. Anyway, I told the Smurph earlier I might be seeing Sarah, so if we don't go to the pub no one will be any the wiser."

"We?" Bodie interrupted, looking incredulous at his use of a pronoun. "So if you are out on a date, everyone assumes I'm...what? Your bloody chauffeur for the night?"

"And that means we can plan a really good tree this year, something really memorable..." Ray continued, oblivious to Bodie, as they went out the door. Bodie knew he wouldn't be listening, so his comment had been an automatic show of face more than anything. He didn't really mind that Ray included him in his thinking, but he felt bad for feeling good about it, although he didn't let himself question why, in case he gave himself a headache. Sounded a bit too much like bloody triple think for his liking.

Ray leaned on his elbows against the roof of the silver Capri while Bodie rummaged for his keys. He was coming up with a plan, Bodie could tell. The pursed lips and slightly glazed expression gave it away.

Bodie opened the door and let himself in, leaning over to press the release for Ray who got in. "It shouldn't be too hard, if we plan to get it in between shifts..."

Bodie started the ignition. "Eh?" He glanced over, looking bemused.

"We'll have to sneak the tree in after midnight I reckon; least amount of people in the building then.'Course, we'll have to get it past Fred and the security guards. The security lot; we can get their schedule on the night, but Fred ...he is a bit of a bugger."

"A bit?" Bodie turned out of the anonymous CI5 building in Whitechapel and nosed the car towards North London. He laughed sarcastically. "Do you know he still asks me for my flipping pass? I forgot it the other day, was in my other jacket. He wouldn't let me in."

"No!" Ray breathed, in dramatic shock.

"Yes!" Bodie was indignant. "He acted like I was in the bloody PLO! For four years it's been 'Morning Bodie, how are you Bodie?', and then he had his fucking gun on me! I said I'd go home and get my pass, as a joke, and he actually made me do it! Watched me every step of the way too and then, when I got back, he had the nerve to say 'Good Morning Bodie'!"

Ray grinned. "Well, that's his job; you can't knock a man for doing his job."

"You can when the next thing he does is tell you you're fucking late!"

Ray's expansive laugh rolled around the car, bringing Bodie's lighter chuckle to the surface. When he subsided Ray nodded. "Ok, Freddie's a tricky customer granted. But we can think of a way to get a Christmas tree past him surely? I mean, Cowley's top team?" He held his hands wide. "Should be a piece of Swiss roll."

Bodie made an uncommitted noise and expertly gunned the car through a just-turned red traffic light. "It was amber," he said, anticipating the rebuff. Ray just put a hand out to steady himself on the dash and looked at him, shaking his head, with the suitable gravity of a man all of two years older. "Should be in Formula One you should."

"Always wanted to be a racing driver." Bodie smiled a wicked smile, revving the car, slipping the clutch. Ray sighed, loudly, for effect. But he wasn't really put out. Bodie was just being Bodie.

There was a space outside Ray's latest flat which Bodie swiftly took advantage of, spaces along this kerb being harder to find than Cowley's Christmas cheer. There were ten flats contained together in this oddly converted old school building. Ray's flat was small, with living room leading onto a small kitchen, and a spiral staircase up to his bedroom and bathroom. Not perhaps as nice as other flats Ray had been in, but definitely a grade better than where-ever Bodie tended to find himself. Ray had even had a flat with a garden once or twice; the closest Bodie'd had to a garden was that patch of mould he discovered once on his windowsill. He wondered idly who Ray had shagged to get the best accommodation in CI5. Even a past dalliance with the ice maiden Betty hadn't ensured Bodie a free ticket to Kensington. In fact, he thought, the mere suggestion of being upgraded had ended that little affair, which also coincidently was around the same time he was moved to Streatham. He must admit he could have timed his request better. Perhaps not so soon after lying back in satisfaction on the bed. Bloody Streatham.

"Bodie? You want shepherds pie?" Ray ferreted in the kitchen, jean clad bottom high in the air as he bent down to open the fridge. "And don't bloody drink the Hofmeister, I'm saving it for my Dad."

Bodie was already on the settee, open can raised to his lips. "Ah. Um..." He looked at the can - well it was already open now, might as well carry on.

Ray came out of the kitchen with narrowed eyes; he knew that tone of voice. He stared pointedly at his partner. "Bo-die. They're not even cold! They've been on the sideboard since yesterday! I always get my dad a four-pack, it's traditional! How do you think he'll like his Christmas present this year -- one missing!"

Bodie gave an exaggerated shrug and looked guilty. "Well, how was I supposed to know?"

"Asking usually helps, y'know -- gives a pointer? Now I'll have to buy him another." Ray looked sulky.

"I'll buy it. I'll get his Christmas present of 'follow the bear'. Alright? Happy? And then we can drink the rest. Okay? Besides they're cold enough, don't you ever spring for heating in this place?"

"It's on a timer." Ray rubbed his nose and then neatly jumped over the arm of the settee, jogging Bodie's arm and spilling some beer on his trousers. "Okay, you've got a deal. Right, this tree."

Bodie absentmindedly rubbed the wet stain on his brown trousers and thought about Christmas trees. He couldn't think of anything helpful, other than the fact pine needles were quite painful if you stood on them in bare feet. He remembered spiking himself round Claire's one year, considering what they had been up to by that Christmas tree he was lucky he didn't spike himself anywhere else...

Ray stretched his legs onto the coffee table, stretched his arm out and then stopped. "Hey where's mine?"

"Eh? Oh." Bodie got up and fetched Ray a beer and then sat down again. Christmas trees. Nope, still couldn't think of anything.

"Could give Marli a call -- bloke with the van of furs, you remember? He still owes me one for that day. And we could use the van to get a tree in."

"Does everyone in London owe you a favour? Busy little copper weren't you Doyle."

"Yeah, like every gunrunner seems to owe you. Busy little merc, eh Bodie?"

Bodie grinned and drank his beer. "So we pay Marli a visit, get a tree -- still got to get it in the building."

Ray pulled a face. "Fred's got eyes in the back of his head though. We'll need some sort of distraction..."

"Oh don't tell me. Every year on the twelfth night an agent, not just any agent but the best of CI5 agents, goes up to Fred and says with due solemnity that there is a fire, commotion, a disturbance, 'points-out-the-window-and-says-what-is-that' -- and our man falls for it? Our CI5 head of security? If he did, sunshine, if he did, I'd be on the first plane to the nearest war. Safer."

"Well you tell me then! Every year someone manages it, don't they? They must say something."

"Like what? Good thing Ramos is dead otherwise he could've smuggled himself in covered in tinsel. Marvellous." Bodie sat back further into the settee.

"Alright -- look however they did it before, it's got to be done, so you think of something clever clogs."

Bodie drank and thought while Ray got up to check the oven. He waited 'til Ray had sat back down again. "We could drive the van in to the car pool. Then it's in the building isn't it? All we have to do then is hang about headquarters, and go down later to get it out."

"There's someone always on duty in the car pool." Ray pulled at his lip as he thought it over.

"Yeah but it's not Fred. Look, you get checked at the entrance to the car pool, and it is not like they don't know our faces, they know who we are..."

"...If you remember your pass..."

"...And then we park near the door." Bodie ignored the crack about his pass. "That way we can come down later. Take the tree up the back stairs. Less people about, easier to hide it." He squeezed the empty can in the middle and pitched it perfectly into the wastepaper bin.

Ray was silent, a sure sign that he agreed. "Why would we have a van when we checked out the Capri?"

"Surveillance. We'll add it to the board, to be on watching brief down at Spitalfields. Place is chock full of white vans, it'd be perfect. Say we're following your grass. It's not like you don't have tons to choose from."

Ray finished his beer and lobbed it over to the corner. The wastepaper bin clanged. "Yeah, okay. So that's the tree sorted. What about decorations? Theme? 'S gotta be good."

"Ah this is where you come in, the great artist and all that." Bodie got up and fetched both remaining cans and handed one to Ray as he sat down. "I'll leave that bit to you." He eyed his watch; the match was starting in 25 minutes.

"Oh here we go. One confession of a life drawing class Bodie, just the one -- and I'm stuck with the artist monicker for the rest of my life."

"Well who goes to a life drawing class I ask you?" Bodie sounded distinctly Liverpudlian. "People into art. Makes them artists dunnit? Pen to paper, that kind of thing. You should be the one with all the arty ideas."

Ray pursed his lips and looked askance at Bodie. He then stared down at his open can of lager, and looked up, eyes shining; proof that inspiration can indeed come from a bottle, or in his case, can. "Hey we can use that framed picture of dear George. Where is that? You know, the big black and white head-shot you gave me, don't you remember? Kept propping it up all over my bleeding flats, never knew where I was going to see the smarmy old codger grinning at me from one day to the next. Nothing like having a framed picture of my boss to make the girls fancy me, Bodie."

Bodie, that esteemed one, could hardly contain his grin. "I forgot about that! That was priceless mate, priceless."

"Had to tell one of the girls that he was my bloody father -- that was the day you snuck him onto my bedside table -- remember? Took her into the bedroom and there was George Cowley, ready to have an ogle. What else could I say? I mean how many men do you know have framed pictures of their boss, by their bed at that? Put me right off my stride, every time I looked up I could see him staring at me. Most disconcerting." Ray paused, for effect. "And later she said I looked like him, bleeding cheek."

Bodie was all but pissing himself. "She said you looked like the Cow? You know, I think..."

"If you're about to say what I think you're about to say, I'd advise you to stop right there, Bodie." Ray tried to look stern as he got up, although it was hard to look anything but amused at a partner who was bent double over the sofa, giggling like a girl.

"Oh go on then, don't mind me," he said good-naturedly, and went through to the kitchen, pulling out plates, and serving up dinner. The sound of Bodie's giggles followed him through, slowly petering out, although the odd chuckle kept resurfacing. Ray filled Bodie's plate substantially more than his own, and carried both through to the living room, where they balanced them on their laps and blew on the hot food.

"'S good, this." Bodie said contritely through a mouthful.

"You'll burn your tongue if you're not careful." Ray was distracted, eyes flicking around his small flat. He took three bites in quick succession and then put the plate down on the coffee table, jumping up to dig through a drawer on the sideboard. It yielded nothing, so he returned to the sofa, pulling the plate back to his knees. He ate another bite, chewing rapidly as he twisted to glare at the sideboard. "Could have sworn..." The plate was down and Ray was up yet again, opening up another drawer in the hapless piece of furniture. Bodie kept his head down, kept eating, and only looked up when Ray made an exclamation of satisfaction and waved George Cowley, the framed version, at him.

"Hello Sir." Bodie said respectfully, if somewhat muffled through mince-meat.

"Got him!" Ray said, as if the picture had been a particularly clever mouse. "Now we can copy this a few times and..." He suddenly clicked his fingers and looked determined... "The amount of time he's had us by the short and curlies, the least we can do is stick him on the balls and repay the compliment".

The Cow's head on the balls. It was genius, it had to be said, so Bodie did. "Ray, that is a genius idea. What do we need?"

"Balls? In both cases of the word -- he won't be happy with this you know." Ray picked up his fork and rapidly stated eating.

"Well it's a good thing he won't know it's us then! So all we need is a tree, balls, glue and pictures of your father. Great. Got any more beers? Kick off's at 7.30." Bodie put his empty plate on the coffee table and sat back with a contented sigh, putting his feet up by his plate. "Hard work, being creative isn't it?"

Luckily Bodie had chosen to say that just as Ray closed his mouth on a whole potato.

Twelfth Night

Bodie closed the door quietly on the van for the fifth time and sighed into the gloom of the basement car pool. Ray's rapid hand movement at the door into CI5 could indeed mean someone was coming; it could also mean there was a weird noise or a piece of paper flapping down the stairs -- tonight it had already meant both, twice. Bodie was already supremely fed up with their idea. Short of giving the tree a shave, he had no idea how they were going to disguise this giant's approach up the back stairs of CI5. It wasn't as if they were on a quiet staircase for starters, any entrance or exit was heavily guarded. CI5 might be a discreet organisation, but there were lots of criminals out there who would just love to blow it out of, if not the water, then at least Whitechapel. Lugging a 9ft tree up four flights of stairs without being spotted would be nothing short of miraculous. Still, every year it had been managed, so there must be ways and means...

Bodie stiffened as Ray ducked out of sight and Murphy came through the lit doorway, chatting to Jax. Bodie watched them walk past, idly wondering what they were working on. The Smurph was heading that drugs case, he knew, but Jax? Something to do with bank fraud, he thought. Sounded like desk work to him, and he stifled a yawn. Murph revved his car and drove away, as Jax moved towards the bright windows of night watch office at the entrance to the car pool and disappeared inside.

Movement out of the corner of his eye, and he turned his head to see Ray's hand seesawing at the door. Bodie peered at it as it went out of sight and was just deciding the signal meant 'safe to move' when Ray himself appeared from out of the shadows. "Oi -- you gone asleep? Come on, it's clear."

Bodie slid back the door of the van, resisting the urge to tell Doyle he was an aggravating sod. They both stared at 9ft of conifer bristling angrily at them from the confines of the van.

"Right, off you go, I'll keep watch". Ray flattened back, eyes peeled.

"Oh right, cheers, thanks a lot." Bodie struggled to pull the tree out of the van, pricked by pine needles and blinded by branches. He set the tree down on the floor and managed to drag it over to the doorway, before he paused.

"Are the stairs clear? You'd better help me lift this, easier with two." He hefted one side, peering up the banister. It looked clear. However looks could be deceiving: he'd thought Ray looked like he would blow over in a strong wind when they were first partnered, an opinion that had changed the second time in a row that Bodie had ended up face first on the practise mats.

A heartbeat - and Ray was by his side, also peering up the banister. "Yeah, should be clear. I checked the schedule and it's only Jax and Murph on a changeover. Lucas and McCabe are already in records."

"Couldn't have happened to nicer fellers. Right, grab the top." Bodie bent to get the bottom of the tree, cursing as more branches aimed for his eyes. A yelp from his partner made him grin though, at least the little sod was getting his share as well.

"It's not light, this, is it?" Ray heaved the top of the tree up the stairs, twisting round every so often to peer up the banisters.

Bodie, considerably red in the face, was well aware that he had the heaviest part of this deal. "Just get on with it, will you?" Suitcases, equipment, bloody trees... He thought of every single thing he had hefted about for Ray bloody Doyle over the years and muttered darkly to himself.

They had reached the third flight of stairs when Ray stopped suddenly; the base of the tree thudded into Bodie's stomach. "Don't move" hissed Ray. Bodie was about to point out that he couldn't, sandwiched between the tree and the wall, but instead waited patiently as Ray leaned back with yoga-like bendiness, looking up the banisters. They heard the sound of high heels echoing down the stairs, which mercifully turned off along the third corridor. A door slammed, and the echoes faded. Ray turned around, rolled his eyes at Bodie, and only then saw something amiss.

"Oh, you trapped there son? Didn't notice." He grabbed his half of the tree with a smirk and started again up the stairs, Bodie smiling sarcastically at his backside. They reached the fourth floor without further incident and propped the tree by the fire escape doors. Ray opened one and looked down the silent corridor.

"I hate to point it out, but we're looking a bit like Hansel and Gretel here." Bodie drawled softly in his ear.

Ray jumped and turned round. "What?" he asked even as he looked down. Oh.

"Fuck!" he peered down the stairs. "We'll have to sweep those up, can't leave a bloody trail, someone is bound to come along any minute." He steadied the tree against the wall, and yanked open the door.

"Is that the Royal 'we'? The 'we' meaning 'me'?" Bodie raised his eyebrows as Ray started dragging the tree through the door. Ray stopped and turned. "Yeah, that's what I meant int'it? We." Ray suddenly grinned at Bodie, that grin that lit up his face and showed off his chipped tooth and then he turned to shove the tree through the door, another thousand or so pine needles dropping impatiently in their wake. Bodie poked his tongue against his cheek as the door banged shut and silently contemplated the needle clad stairwell, four flights of. He grimly started back down the stairs.

Lake jogged down the stairs twenty minutes later, to find Bodie on the fourth stairwell just in the act of straightening up, dustpan and brush in one hand, black bin liner in the other.

"Eh? You been demoted?" He stared in puzzlement at Bodie who simply shrugged, muscles rippling his black leather jacket. "I just can't stand mess" Bodie replied, batting his eyelashes, and coolly swung off into the corridor. Lake went slowly down the stairs, shaking his head. He was glad his shift was over, that bloody Bodie was a flaming nutter.

The corridor was curiously needle free, and Bodie dumped the bin bag in Anson's empty and dark office (manfully resisting the urge to upend it over his desk) before entering the VIP room. No Doyle and no tree. Only Sarah, the night secretary, holding two coffees from the new drinks machine. She was peering at one with apprehension when she looked up and saw him.

"Bodie! What are you doing here? You're not on night shift?"

"Couldn't sleep." Bodie shrugged; little boy lost voice in place.

"What do you mean you couldn't sleep?" Sarah looked concerned, as she walked across the room.

"Couldn't sleep without you!" He smiled at her, charm personified.

"Oh har har, 3.7, very good indeed. Now if you don't mind?" She indicted the closed door with her two coffees.

Bodie, ever the gentleman, held the door open for her. "I never mind," he said suavely as she walked past, eyes full of promise. Interesting, Bodie thought, very interesting possibilities. Should go to work there. He pursed his lips while he looked after her down the corridor, appreciating the way her hips swayed as she rounded the corner. An angry hiss caught his attention. It seemed to be coming from the cleaning cupboard opposite. He glanced over and Ray was holding the door open a crack. Bodie couldn't see all of him, but what he could see was looking vicious.

"Think you've got time to chat her up eh? Oh I'm just in here for my health I am, for the fun of it. Like sitting in here I do. Come in here every other day. Check the corridor."

Bodie automatically glanced both ways. "Clear. And I wondered why you smelled of bleach the other day. Thought it was that new aftershave you bought."

Both Ray and the tree looked exceedingly grateful to be out of the cupboard and into the corridor. Ray was rubbing his stomach where a few particularly spiky branches had made their mark. He had pine needles tangled in his hair.

"And anyway, how would I have known you and the monster could have fit in there?" Bodie held the tree while Ray pushed open the VIP door.

"Well we didn't, not exactly. I think the tree got its revenge though. Thinks it's descended from holly. C'mon, get it in here, charmer".

"Can I help that I was born handsome, witty and engagingly modest?" Bodie's eyes were sparkling as he pulled the tree through the door, propelling it towards the furthest corner of the room. They held it upright and Ray caught Bodie's eye. "We've forgotten something."

"Is that the Royal 'we' again?"

"Well, you 'aven't remembered it either have you? The bucket."

"Oh yes the bucket." Bodie looked about him, and back at Ray. "Bucket?"

"To stand the tree in, you moron! Haven't you ever done this before, Bodie? Hold this." Ray went across to the sink, digging into the cupboard, cursing when it revealed a distinct lack of bucket. Bodie made a face at his back, and held the tree. "Bored now Ray..." he called.

Ray twisted back to glare at him. "I'll go get us a bucket, just hang onto it for a minute."

"And what if anyone comes in while you are gone eh? What do I do then?"

"Pretend you're the Christmas fairy." Ray smirked at him, and left the room. Bodie pulled a face and eyed the tree. Bloody tree.

A minute later Ray was back muttering about pine needles and holding a bucket. Bodie watched him grab a dustpan and brush to sweep round the door, and choked back a laugh, thinking of what Lake would see if he came back now, 4.5 on his hands and knees sweeping outside the VIP room.

"What are you laughing at?"

"Thinking about how well you suit a pinny; especially with that hair." Bodie grinned widely. "Can I let this monster go now?"

"Yeah yeah, one sec. And what's wrong with my hair?" Ray grabbed two old copies of The Sun from the table, and damped them down in the sink. He then stuffed the metal bucket with them and shifted the weight a few times. "Okay, that'll hold. Now we have to lift it up and set it in. Ready?"

"More than. Think I'm turning into a bloody pine needle." Bodie steadied the tree as they set it down into the bucket. Ray packed yet more soggy paper round it, and then kicked across two heavy doorstops to help the balance. "Okay, let it go!"

Bodie did, slowly. The tree held. Bodie was ecstatic. "Hey Ray! It's a tree!"

Ray smiled at him and looked cheerful. "Now's the fun part" he said, and what's more, he actually meant it, at 1.35 in the morning. Bodie felt a surge of warmth looking at him. He couldn't imagine doing this with any other of his other mates. He thought about it. He didn't have any other mates. Well he had mates, course he did, but not ones he practically lived with, day in day out, and still enjoyed their company. This was more like, well, more like...

"Where's that flipping bag, Bodie?" Smile gone, Ray was kicking around the rest room, looking for the bag he had taken out of his locker earlier. Bodie promptly lost his train of thought as Ray found it stuffed behind the battered sofa.

"Oh you mean that bag, Ray -- the bag you put there only a few hours ago?"

"Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit you know." Bag retrieved, he started digging through, whilst Bodie, equally intent, went to dig through the fridge. Neither pair of hands came back empty. Bodie gratefully chugged down half his Carling in one gulp. "What if someone comes in now then?"

Ray leaned back on his haunches from where he had been untangling lights. He shrugged. "Nothing we can do, we'll just have to ask them to keep it to themselves. Look, we got it in, that'll do for me." He drank deep from his beer, and set it down carefully. "You gonna help me do this, or you gonna just stand there?"

"Er...second option?" However, Bodie came across, squatted down by Ray and held up a length of Christmas lights. "How do you start with this then?"

"You have done this before right? Tell me you have. How did you get out of it?" Ray deftly reached over Bodie and grabbed the end of the lights. He then looked at the tangle by his feet.

"Not much call for it in Africa." Bodie looked at the tangle with interest.

Ray didn't look up, but made a dismissive sound in his throat. "I don't mean Africa, I mean before Africa."

"Not much call for it then, either." Bodie took a swig of beer, and jumped to his feet, walking round to the bag. "When do we put these up then?" He toed the bag of baubles.

"Oi watch it. After the lights," Ray's eyes tracked him curiously. "Which you can help me with, whether or not you have previous knowledge, Santa."

Bodie wandered back. "No previous, but I have been told I am a very quick learner." He raised his right eyebrow and waggled it suggestively.

Ray snorted. "Right, learn quick and de-tangle this lot then. Pretend it's connected to a bomb or something. I'm getting us another beer. The first one went down rather too well."

Bodie studied the lights, and had them in order by the time Ray came back with two Carlings.

"You weren't joking about being quick, were you?"

"Missed my calling in life. Should have been an electrician. So, we just wrap these round then?"

"I'm impressed..." Ray drank from his can, eyes alight with laughter.

Bodie paused and glanced over. "As well you should be to have me as your partner. Back when I was in Africa..."

"Oh here we go. C'mon pass them over," Ray set down his beer and joined him wrapping the lights around, passing them across the back, waving them impatiently whenever Bodie was too slow.

Once Bodie held up his hand to Ray, indicating silence and looked over to the rest room's door, but no one came in. Ray paused and said "Perhaps they've heard about the drinks machine." It was enough to set them both sniggering as they finished with the lights.

"What do you reckon is in it to make it taste like that? It's not coffee you know. Not tea either." Ray scratched his nose.

"Cowley's old socks." Bodie straightened up and tweaked the lights.

"Anson's cigar butts."

"Murphy's toenails."

"Your brown cardie." Ray ducked swiftly out of range behind the tree.

"Eh, what's wrong with my cardie? I got that from Peter Jones you know!" Bodie was high on his dignity.

"Well p'raps you can give it back to him, he's probably feeling awfully cold without it." Ray peered round the tree and grinned.

"You..." Bodie launched himself at Ray, giggling as he shoved him against the wall. He tried to bring his arm up behind his back, but Ray was a slippery customer even before being trained by CI5 and promptly ducked out of it and grabbed at Bodie instead. The pair rocked into the Christmas tree and Bodie shot out a quick hand to keep it from falling over, letting go of Ray who raised his hands in mock surrender.

"Look, just because you get your clothes from an off-duty lumberjack, don't knock haute culture when you see it." Bodie said with a smile.

"Oh give over," Ray rubbed his arm, twisting the sleeve up to see if there was bruise coming. He frowned at it. "The only culture that cardie has seen is when you wore it eating yoghurt. Bloody awful, that cardie."

"Oooh!" Bodie made a sarcastic noise and set the tree upright. "So, do we turn the lights on now or what?"

Ray finished rubbing his arm and pulled his sleeve down. "Nah, wait until it's all on, that's what we did at home. Best bit, that. Well and getting presents of course. Got some great presents when I was a kid, well you do don't you? Mind you, nothing seemed to last long..." Ray drank some beer and bent down by the bag. "Comes of having three older brothers I guess. Anyway, lots of things get broken at Christmas don't they?"

"Yeah." Bodie rubbed his jaw, in memory.

Reading something flat in Bodie's voice, Ray glanced up, and narrowed his eyes slightly. "You're an only child aren't you?"

Bodie shrugged his shoulders. "Not quite." He groaned inwardly as soon as the words left his lips. He knew Ray wouldn't let him get away with such a tiny morsel and sighed that he hadn't just said yes. He hated talking about his childhood, it bored him. And he didn't need or ask for pity. But Ray was an inquisitive sod, especially once the bone was in sight...

"Got a couple of half brothers and a half sister somewhere. My mum and dad were enjoying a cosy little affair before I came along. Broke up two happy homes I did. So I was told anyway." Endlessly and without fail, Bodie added silently.

"Were they both already married then, your mum and dad?"

"Yeah, just not to each other. Caused no end of scandal down our road apparently." Bodie rolled his eyes at Ray. "After the divorces came through, they got married for my sake but they shouldn'tve bothered. As far as I could tell they hated each others guts. Always used to say how much better life had been before, y'know." His tone was light, but Ray frowned as Bodie turned away, ostensibly to find his beer, but more to stop himself from talking and revealing too much.

"And what about your half brothers and sister? Did they come and live with you?"

"Nah. Only met 'em once or twice. They were my dad's kids. His ex-wife wouldn't let 'em anywhere near us. A lot older than me anyway. So...What's next?" He drank his beer and made a show of examining the tree.

Ray rocked back on his feet and looked thoughtful. "Balls."

"No, honestly Ray, I do have a half sister and half brothers." Bodie smiled, looking quite cheerful again now he had turned the conversation somewhere that suited him. "And a very fine Aunty somewhere, used to look forward to her visits." He winked dirtily. "Oh Bodie," Ray was half amused, half exasperated. "I meant baubles! We'll be here all night at this rate. C'mon."

Both men turned their attention to the decorations. The other night, they had passed a merry and drunken evening pasting photos of George Cowley's head on cheap baubles purchased at Woolworths.

At the same time they'd had a brainwave for the tree's crowning glory. This was also the cause for much hilarity, and was celebrated by cracking open a bottle of Scotch. Both had woken up with a sore head the next day, and Bodie with a sore back from kipping on Ray's sofa rather than attempting to drive after putting away nearly half a bottle of whisky on top of four lagers. He had gone to sleep in his clothes with his head resting on the sofa arm; he had woken up with a blanket tucked round him, his head on a pillow and a glass of water left out on the coffee table.

'So, time for the balls then?" Bodie leered, holding the bag.

They started hanging them, both sniggering every now and then as Cowley's head swung round and looked at them.

"Christ, even a photocopy of him looks scary." Bodie commented.

"You ain't joking." Ray tied another bauble high on the tree, where George could stare out over the whole rest room. "Me mum used to hang everything us kids made on the tree, I think she'd be proud I still have my creative talents." Ray's mum had died when he was a teenager.

"Yeah I'm sure she'll be pleased with you sunshine, she'll be smiling down at you don't you worry. What did you make then? When you were a kid?" Ray wrinkled his nose. "Oh what every kid made I think -- pine cones stuck on cotton wool, paper snowmen -- she'd hang up anything as long as we'd touched it somehow. Dad's just the same, sentimental sorts." He smiled in fondness and looked over to Bodie. "What about your folks?" From the description Bodie had just given, he somehow didn't quite see Mr and Mrs Bodie as being the sentimental type.

"They got into the spirit of things at Christmas, you could say." Bodie was straight faced, standing on a chair to tie another bauble up high.

"Spirit or spirits?" Ray paused, looking up at him.

Bodie didn't answer for a second, and then just shrugged and carried on tying the bauble. "Gin mainly, although truthfully they never appeared fussy. Liverpool Irish you know. Would drink Old Spice."

Ray was silent, contemplating Bodie's tightlipped expression. He searched for the right thing to say. "Oh those Liverpool Irish -- you have to watch those you know. Drink you out of house and Hofmeister, so I've been told."

Bodie quirked his mouth and looked warmly down at Ray, before jumping down from the chair. Ray smiled back; objective met and cast his hand in the bag. "Think we are out of balls."

"Well you might be...So? Piece de resistance?" Bodie asked, in his best French accent.

"Piece de resistance." Ray replied, in his worst, which funnily enough, sounded much the same. "Go on my son, get it up there." He waved his hand majestically.

"Hmm. Just so you can claim it wasn't your hand that did it! I know how your mind works Raymondo." Bodie dug in the bag, and stood on the chair to add their finishing touch. He fiddled with it, and then jumped down to stand with Ray. "What do you think?"

Both stood back and pondered. Cowley's head had been stuck on top of a naked Action Man doll, which they had dressed in a paper kilt coloured with Ray's best felt tips. Bodie had attached this masterpiece to the top of the tree with sellotape.

"It's perfect." Ray grinned widely. "Best bit is this though." He strode across the room, and switched off the main lights and then groped his way over to the plug socket by the tree and turned that on. He came and stood back by Bodie, both transfixed as the tree transformed from being a monster to something quite magical.

"Now that's perfect." Bodie meant this, he really did. Finally the spirit of Christmas had touched him, and not with a fist.

The next day

George Cowley, that dapper old gentleman, was standing in the rest room trying to look stern. He was well aware that there was a gaggle of agents behind him, trying to look innocent. George stepped towards the tree, and reached out one hand to twirl round the bauble. His face beamed up at him. He let it go. "I see."

The agents behind him shifted uneasily and eyed each other. Susan whispered to Betty loudly, "It must have been one of the boys, that's three years on the trot they have done something stupid."

George silenced her with a glance, and then took in the rest of the agents gathered behind him. Doyle, looking bored. Jax, looking worried. Bodie, looking guilty. Yes...his eye rested on Bodie. Acting was not one of his strong points.

"Well I'm very disappointed, very disappointed with you all." He limped to the door in the sudden silence, and turned round to face the room. "You should know the colours of my tartan by now." He went through the door, smile on his face.

"Why that sneaky so and so!" Bodie walked across to Ray, laughing. "The old man really had me going for a second there."

"Yeah. I could tell, you went all red." Ray smiled sweetly. Bodie hit his arm as Ray laughed at him and they went to the operations room to see what detail they were on this week. Both had finished a case the other day, so they had nothing pressing, just a fear that they would be put onto something boring. Bodie was hoping against hope they didn't end up on Jax's bank fraud case. He had seen Jax sitting in the operations room with a pile of paperwork in front of him and the look of doom for the best part of a month and didn't fancy joining him.

"If we're on that bank fraud case I think I am going to commit murder. And I don't care if the deadliest crossfire's between two balance sheets; none of it seems to help my balance sheet any." Ray said into his ear as they walked down the corridor. Bodie jumped slightly and looked at Ray, who strolled along unconcerned. It was really uncanny the amount of times they did that, second guessed each other. On the job fine, that was what they had been trained to do. If they didn't, they'd be dead, it was that simple. But it was slightly un-nerving when it came out of the blue, just as it was for a hard bitten ex-mercenary to realise that the person who knew him almost as well as he knew himself was a 5ft 9inch snarky ex copper.

"Tch tch Doyle, and the amount of time you spend poring over that balance sheet as well, you'd think by now you could add it up in your favour."

Ray glared at him as they entered the operations room. He went over to the board and ran his eyes down the list of assigned agents, then joined Cowley conferring with Anson in a corner of the room. Bodie left him to it and queued behind Lewis to get his morning cup of...well it hoped it was tea. The way Lewis was looking at it he was not quite sure. Bodie stared at the drinks machine in distaste. This was progress was it? Something that looked like Doctor Who's tardis coughing up hot liquid that may or may not resemble tea. A gust of air on his neck and Ray was there, sighing heavily and looking like the world had fallen in. Bodie turned; his face dropping. "Oh don't tell me..."

Ray shook his head sadly. Bodie was wide eyed with alarm. "The bank case? We've been put on the bank case? Oh that's typical that is. Don't know why I bothered coming in..."

Ray suddenly grinned; delighted Bodie had fallen for it. "Nah, we're not working with Jax. We're to report to Murph..."

"Thank Christ for that. Hang on a minute... Report to...?" Bodie all but spluttered. "We're his bloody seniors!"

"No rank in CI5, you know that." Ray admonished with a smile before continuing, "Anyway Bodie, we're just being briefed on the job that's all, Cowley wants it wrapped up before Christmas. And he wants us to deliver the present."

"Well why didn't you say so?" Bodie was all smiles again and rubbed his hands briskly. "Nothing like being in on the end game."

"Yeah Murph will be thrilled for us to take his glory." Ray deadpanned and then looked over Bodie's shoulder at the new shiny drinks machine. "You gonna trust that? I hear Charlie still has the old kettle in his room..."

"Lead on my son. Let's leave the Tardis to the uninitiated." Bodie propelled Ray out of the room past a few newer agents yet to sample the dubious delights of CI5's leap into the brave new world of vending machines.

They tracked Murphy down in the computer room, staring glumly at one of the many screens. Green type flickered, numbers and dates flashed past.

"'Lo, Murph." Ray stood beside him, mug of tea in one hand, as Murphy turned to fill them in on the progress of what was proving to be an elusive case.

Bodie perched on the side of a desk and listened intently. For about twenty minutes. Then, as the talk increasingly veered to technicalities his attention wandered until he finally spied a calculator on the desk.

"... In which case he gets off. It's sickening; all of those accounts lead back to PO boxes, which lead back to Geneva. Then they sit tight a few weeks and the money leaves Geneva and returns here as heroin. We know it and they know it. They even know we know it! But proving Sir Langton is behind it? All dead ends."

"So we go in there and ask him. We'll even ask him nicely. Maybe." Bodie's voice was bored, fingers tapping on the calculator.

"Has anyone pulled him in yet?" Ray turned to Murph.

"Its Sir Henry Langton -- you want to pull him in without a decent charge? He won an OBE a few years back! We still need the proof otherwise this is just a load of hot air."

"And someone will get burned." Ray pursed his lips and stared at the screen. He heard Bodie giggle softly behind him and rolled his eyes, without turning round. "Bodie, if you've spelled 'boobs' on that calculator again..."

Murph spun round. "What? Where?"

Bodie proudly held the calculator upside down, tongue sticking out slightly, as it did when something highly amused him. Murphy peered at it and goggled. "How did you..."

"'S easy! Just type in 58008..."

Ray stared at the both of them in disdain. "How many more times will you find that funny Bodie?"

Anson came into the room and walked up to Ray. "You pair in on this as well? Good, I think we need all the help we can get by the sound of things. Ideally I'd like to break this in the next few days or so... What are they doing?" He turned, puzzled, to where Bodie and Murphy creased up laughing.

Ray was long suffering. "Don't ask. Right, so. Sir Langton." He yawned and rubbed his eyes in an effort to focus.

"Late night?"

"Sort of." Ray placed the mug down and stretched his arms. His shoulder cracked.

"Boobless!" Murphy exclaimed from behind them to the burst of new laughter. Anson turned fully round to stare at them, uncomprehending. "What did you do to get saddled with Bodie, Ray?"

Ray made a non-committal noise. Even when Bodie pissed him off, there was no way he would agree with any criticism of his partner.

"The case lads?" Anson clapped his hands at the laughing pair, a move which brought him two angry glares and a 'V' sign. However, Murphy had been sweating over this case for too long to be fully distracted and snapped back to business. He walked over to the desk and put his hand on a teetering bunch of files. "Yours, gentlemen." He smiled sweetly at Anson's expression.

"Great." Anson was sarcastic but moved towards the files. Betty came in and called Murphy over. Bodie pulled up a chair to join Ray and Anson. He too yawned as he flipped open a file.

"Hmm, another tired soul? Anyone would think you two had been busy all night." Anson said silkily as he opened the file in front of him. He put on a pair of glasses to start skimming the file, notepad poised on his right.

Bodie glanced at Doyle. "Would they now?"

Anson was already making notes in his neat handwriting. He didn't look up. "That Christmas tree must have been a bit of a bugger to get in."

"Must have." Ray murmured as he compared photographs of a rather flamboyant looking man in a bowler hat.

"You'd think the person or people that did it would take care to remove the pine needles from their hair before coming into work."

Ray instantly put his hands to his hair and caught Anson's highly amused glance. "Oh piss off Paul. Right, this saintly Sir Langton..."

One week later

The rain pattered onto the car bonnet, drummed on the roof and ran in rivulets down the window screen. Bodie sat behind the wheel, his fingers tapping impatiently. A frown marred his usually good-natured expression and his eyes were dark ringed with exhaustion. Ever since that day in the computer room, it had been a relentless battle to break the drugs case. There had been no more laughter; Murphy had taken to stalking headquarters in grim silence, worn out from checking the tiniest leads. The strain was showing on them all, from sleep deprived nights to endless days spent on the streets gathering sketchy details. And still Sir Langton sailed around London, dining here, being photographed there, looking for all the world as if he was one of life's good guys instead of someone who funded the sort of desperation that ended with a belt around your arm and a needle ready to take you on a lonely journey.

A singularly nasty visit to a particularly squalid flat in Hoxton revealed one end of such a journey. One of their informants was found dead, propped against the wall of the unfurnished flat, victim of an overdose. Drug paraphernalia littered the floor, old syringes and needles scattered by a mixing dish and a bottle of citric acid. A pretty girl once, not so pretty anymore. She had been clean when CI5 caught up with her, clean for three months she had said. They'd needed her to get in touch with her old drug dealer boyfriend and find out the details of the next shipment. She had laughed in their face until they pointed out that her brother's upcoming prison sentence could go either way, depending on her next words.

Eventually the words of course were what they wanted to hear but obviously the temptation of her old life had been too much to resist. Doyle had punched the wall of the flat in anger, glared at Bodie before spinning on his heel and leaving the squalid room to the forensics team milling about. Bodie had understood that glare, knew it wasn't aimed at him but at CI5. Without them, that girl would still be alive, trying to leave her demons behind her. CI5 had opened the door to those demons and ushered them through. Still, Bodie thought, as he went down the stairs, hearing Ray's footsteps echo below him, she had come through with the information that they wanted to hear and thanks to her, other lives, perhaps hundreds of lives, would be saved.

Her information had said that the next shipment would actually arrive on Sir Langton's own property. There was a narrow window of time when the heroin would be brought in, cut up and packaged on the spot, to be distributed to various London dealers. This was an unheard of move by Sir Langton, Cowley couldn't puzzle the connection and almost dismissed the information as fake until another informant filled in the jigsaw; the money was coming in with the drugs this time and Sir Langton didn't want to miss a single penny. Cowley had shaken out a recent copy of The Daily Express, folded it at the appropriate page and handed it to Doyle. Bodie read it over his shoulder and then silently passed it on to Murphy. It was an article about Sir Langton quibbling a bill at The Ivy; he had been short changed five pounds from a meal costing fifty times that amount. Cowley wiped his glasses and looked up tiredly. "This is a man that likes to know where his last penny is. I think we have him."

The plan for the night time raid was set. Sir Langton's home was a large mansion in sweeping grounds, with a long curved driveway flanked by bushes and trees. High walls enclosed the property and a guardhouse inside the grounds controlled both the power that opened the gates and other electronic surprises for the unwary trespasser.

Ray had volunteered to cut the power, still angry about the death of the girl and determined to fight his way to feeling better.

He was light and quick enough on his pins, Bodie knew all that. But still... His RT beeped distracting him from his thoughts and he put out a hand to the empty passenger seat beside him, eyes not moving from the gated entrance.



Bodie smiled at the sound of Ray's voice. "You drowned yet?"

"Should have brought me snorkel. The lights have gone off around the back."

"Right. Switching to channel four frequency." He twirled the dial and then raised the RT again. "Murph, Anson, you ready? Lights are down, repeat, lights are down."

The RT crackled with replies.

"Ready and waiting." That was Murphy.

"Team on standby." That was Anson.

Then the RT was silent for a moment and the very air seemed to still in sympathy. Bodie knew everyone was coiled, waiting...

"Right. Go 4.5" Cowley's order came through the RT.

Bodie stared into the dark rain, eyes on the entrance gate but thoughts on his partner. Ray would be kicking in the guardhouse door, using the element of surprise that was so vital in their line of work. There should be just one guard in there, if their surveillance was correct. But that guard was still armed, still carried a gun that could shoot holes in people. And what if their surveillance team had got it wrong and Ray burst in to a room with three guards, all armed? Bodie pursed his lips in anxiety, imagining the fight, the shots. His fingers drummed on the steering wheel.

There was no reason to doubt the surveillance; but he only ever fully trusted what he saw with his own eyes. He shook his head slightly to clear the doubts. Ray would be doing his job; if there was more than one guard he would do it slightly differently, but just as effectively. Bodie knew all this. And how impressed would Ray be if he knew how much Bodie was worrying... He rubbed his chin, never taking his eyes off the gate.

The RT beeped loudly on the car seat.

"All units go." Cowley's voice was firm.

No time for any more thinking. Bodie opened the car door and dashed out into the rain. His mind fleetingly registered the cold and wet, but only because he couldn't see quite as clearly as he knew he would need to. He held his rifle loosely at his side as he reached the gates, not thinking as he pushed, sure in his subconscious that Ray would have done his job and cut the power. The gates resisted and Bodie baulked, suddenly winded although he knew not why. "Fucking..." He pushed again more frantically and the gates finally gave in and opened smoothly. He dragged them both wide, hearing the rumble of Murphy's truck coming up behind him, and then he was running for the open door, jumping in the passenger seat as they heard a shot fired in the distance.

Tension crackled as they roared up the long curved driveway. Headlights swept across the curve and then a car was bearing down towards them from the house, intent on escaping the area. Murphy pulled hard on the steering wheel and spun the truck to a halt, blocking the road. Bodie was out even before it completely stopped, crouching by the path, sighting in the tyres of the oncoming car. He blinked rapidly to see through the rain and fired - once, twice. The car swerved and ran off the road, through the bushes. Shouts were heard over the rain and shapes jumped out of the car, gesturing wildly.

"Drop your weapons!" Murphy shouted, as a gun shot broke the air.

'Fat chance' Bodie thought as he ran from the path and threw himself behind a tree, leaning against it panting as he reloaded. He glanced around when he heard answering fire from CI5 - that was Murph's Browning, he'd bet on it. A bullet bit a chunk of bark from the tree as he whipped back behind it, waited until he heard Murph's covering gunfire and then fired himself, aiming for the car's bonnet.

Once, twice.

He ducked back, reloaded, and then fired again. The car exploded into flame, the last shot right where Bodie wanted it. He leaned back against the tree, the grounds suddenly illuminated by the fire, easy for CI5 men hidden in position to see their targets.

'Oh there's a duck pond', he thought distractedly as screams and shouts came from behind. Murphy could clear up now, he was needed elsewhere. He threw down the empty rifle, checked his hand gun, counted five, and then dashed forward, using the trees along the drive for cover. Another shot sounded from the vicinity of the house and he redoubled his efforts, jumping a small wall and running across the front lawn, trying to stop himself slipping on the wet grass.

The front door was open, light spilling out of the hallway as a man dashed out towards a car parked on the drive. Bodie put on an extra burst of speed and shot from the darkness, leaping the car bonnet and throwing himself at the man, who looked up in terror, as if a panther had burst out of the night. There was barely a struggle, the cold steel of Bodie's gun pressing into the man's neck, demanding obedience.

Bodie cuffed his hands around one of the pillars on either side of the front door. "Don't go away," He tapped the man's shoulder and cautiously edged around the front door, drawing his hand gun on hearing the sounds of a fight, all senses on high alert.

The empty hallway yawned at him, but there were noises coming from a door to the right. Bodie slid past it and stepped into a large kitchen; gun trained on two men hammering against a closed door that was close to splitting.

Something heavy swung down on his gun arm and pain ricocheted up his body.

"Fuck!" he swore as his gun clattered under the table, and he ducked and moved backwards, missing the killing blow aimed at his neck. He turned and grabbed his attacker around the waist, propelling him back into a wall unit which rocked violently.

A wall unit that held all the knives.

'Oh, great move Bodie', he thought to himself as blades clattered down around them. His opponent saw his chance and grabbed a particularly nasty carving knife, slashing the air where Bodie had been standing not a second before.

The disturbance had caused the other two men to pause their hammering on the door and this was all the cue Ray needed to swing it open. He used the door lintel to heave himself up and delivered a flying kick at the man closest to him, making him crash into the far wall and slide down silently.

Ray's kicks could be deadly.

Bodie didn't dare take an eye off his man with the carving knife but he felt suddenly light headed with relief at the proximity of his partner, who by all accounts was giving someone back there a real good pasting. It made him grin at the knife wielder, who was taken aback at such a reaction from the man he was threatening to turn into a watering can. His knife arm wavered and Bodie grabbed it, bringing it forward as he slammed his back into the man's chest, to make him drop the knife.

"What kept you?" Ray sounded winded as he ducked a wild punch from the second assailant still standing.

"Oh you know... Had to... Wash me hair..." Bodie twisted the arm viciously as he spoke; finally hearing the knife clatter to the ground, then drove his elbow into the man's chest.

Ray managed to break the arm lock he was in and turned, punching the man hard in the face, feeling the crack of bone. The man fell to his knees, cradling his nose as blood leaked down onto the floor.

"That's for Diane, remember her? Well she remembered you alright. Before she OD'd that is."

He grabbed the man's hair, bringing his head up but saw the fight had gone out of him, so let go and grimaced at the blood on his hand. Looking over, he saw Bodie straighten as his man slumped unconscious on the floor. Ray indicated that they should continue going through the house and Bodie nodded and stooped to reach for his gun, moving ahead as Ray swept his arm majestically forward.

The hallway was still empty, front door swinging open in a light breeze. They moved stealthily to an open door on the left.

"Where's your gun?" Bodie hissed as they rounded an empty dining room. Tasteless statues leered at them as opulent chandeliers glittered from the ceiling. No other doors, no exits.

"Guardhouse." Ray whispered back. "There were four of them. One of them snatched it. No bullets left anyway."

"Four!" Bodie glared at Ray as they went on through the house.

Ray understood that the glare wasn't directed at him but at CI5's surveillance team. He guessed that James (a quiet man who practically lived in the buggy boo) would get it in the neck at some point. That's what Ray liked best about this partnership; they were equally pissed off at the things that mattered, like saving his skin for instance. He drew up short as Bodie in front of him held up a hand in caution. They both rounded the next room to see a man crouching in front of a blazing fire.

"Back away from the fire and hands on your head. Slowly." Bodie held his gun on Sir Henry Langton, who straightened and turned to stare at Bodie. He slowly moved away from the fire and mockingly raised his hands. Ray went over to the fire; a quick glance saw the papers merrily burning in the breeze. Too late to retrieve them. He glared at the man in front of him, whose exterior was barely ruffled, despite the sounds of violence going on around him.

"You won't get away with this, I have exceedingly good lawyers. They'll want to know why you threatened an unarmed man in his own house." Langton's voice was polished and smooth.

"Unarmed?" Bodie scoffed incredulously. He heard Murphy's truck draw up outside and hoped to God the good guys were in it. Rapid footsteps, and Cowley burst unceremoniously into the room, drawing up short at the scene in front of him.

"Ah, Sir Langton. How good to see you here tonight. Most fortuitous." Cowley was at his most polite, most icy and therefore most dangerous. Murphy stood behind him, gun out and RT held to his ear. He listened and then nodded at Cowley whose expression went from polite mask to what was almost a smirk.

Sir Langton's eyes flicked from one to the other. "I won't fall for all that Mr Cowley. I know my rights."

"And what rights are those then?" asked Murphy cheerfully, pulling a pair of handcuffs out of his pocket. "Turn around will you. No sharp movements my dear fellow..." He efficiently cuffed the blustering man and turned him back around to face Mr Cowley, who looked at his watch as a clock chimed loudly from the hallway.

"I do believe it is Christmas Eve. However, I don't believe it will be a particularly merry Christmas for you, Sir Henry. No, not merry at all." He gestured for Murphy to lead him away as the sound of police sirens drew closer and pulled his RT out of his pocket to speak with Anson.

"Doesn't even have a Christmas tree up." Ray looked around the room.

"I bet he has a few needles though." Bodie couldn't resist, chuckling to himself as he got a rather dour look from Cowley and an amused snort from his partner.

Christmas Eve

Ray leaned on the filing cabinet watching Cowley speaking on the telephone. He had been summoned by Betty to see the controller but ever since he was ushered inside George had been on the blower. He shifted position slightly so he could see the clock on the wall, and tried not to let his exasperation show on his face but impatient fingers betrayed him, tapping an angry staccato on top of the cabinet. George Cowley looked at him over the rim of his glasses, Ray instantly stilled. God he felt like he was back at school.

"They're rescinding the OBE? Well, well..."

Ray tuned out slightly and let his eyes drop. Christ he was knackered. And that bastard had fetched him a good one, right in the ribs. He ran a hand along his jaw line, feeling the roughness of stubble, pausing to touch his lip, which was sore as well. He licked it, grimacing slightly. Bastards...

"Of course Minister. What's that? Why, yes... thank you. It was a good team effort; the police are due their praise. No, we mustn't forget them... Well good will to some men... Yes. You too." George Cowley laughed rather self-consciously at the last few words and put the phone down.

"Well that is rather a turn up for the books. This department doesn't often get a 'well done' from ministerial circles. However, what that will mean for next year's budget..." He looked across at Ray slouching by the cabinet, now examining his knuckles with a frown.

Ray realised that his full attention was now required and straightened, looking across to Cowley.

"You wanted to see me? Sir?" he added belatedly.

George Cowley looked at him shrewdly. "Sir" was always an after-thought with this one. Not that Doyle didn't show respect, but he wasn't a man to automatically assume that rank equalled respect; you had to earn it in his eyes, on his own personal scale of merit. Rigid in some ways, flexible in others, hot-headed and not afraid to say what he thought...

"Yes Doyle. Your report..." Cowley indicated the papers on his desk. Doyle's eyes flicked across; the desk was covered with reports, MI6's reports could've been under that lot. He felt a sinking feeling... He knew what this was about but tried to stay nonchalant.

"That was a very scathing attack on this department, paragraph seven I think it was. Would you like to comment further?"

"I just wanted it noted that's all. For the record. I didn't think it was necessary."

"We needed her information."

"We could have got it another way."

"We needed quick results."

"We still should have had access to all the facts first!" Ray's voice was louder now. He checked himself but still went on passionately. "If we'd known she was likely to re-use we could have had someone watching out for her."

"How do you know we didn't?" Cowley's voice was calm.

Ray stared at him and then narrowed his eyes. "So we did...?" He paused and then set off on a new tack. "Who? They obviously weren't doing a good enough job!"

"If an addict, and do not lose sight of that Doyle, for that is what she was, chooses to re-use then they will. She gave our man the slip in Dalston and the address she went to was an unregistered squat. We offered her access to a hospital programme that could have helped her, but she didn't want our help." Cowley was back at his desk, sifting through the papers, trying to put them in some sort of order. He looked up again. "You would have preferred us to take her by force -- to arrest her, to lock her up? Would she have thanked us for that?"

"She'd have been alive." His reply was quick but the passion had gone and he cuffed his nose. Damn reason and logic...

Cowley finished straightening his papers and looked at the silent man, contemplating the floor in front of him. He then glanced at the clock and came to a decision.

"Come on man; let's see if we can find that errant partner of yours. And Murphy is probably in need of a drink too. I asked Ted to open 'that cage' as you call it a bit earlier than usual. It is Christmas after all." Cowley hit Ray briskly on the arm and held open his office door. Ray looked at him for a moment and then nodded tiredly and walked through. Yes Christmas, it was at that.

Bodie leaned backwards on his chair, balancing it on two legs. He steadied himself with the table and then let it go, thumping on the floor. Anson looked at him, took his cigar out of his mouth as if to say something and then decided against it. He did however reach behind him to where Murphy was snoring on the settee to whack him on the shoulder.

"Wassit? What? Oh gerroff." Murphy shifted into the settee and settled back down again, this time snore free.

"Leave him be Paul, he's knackered." Bodie steadied himself on the table again and pushed his chair back. Maybe he could get it to balance further this time...

Anson removed his cigar. "We've all been working hard Bodie."

Bodie's chair thumped back down again in answer. He couldn't be bothered to reply, he was tired, bored and wanted to go home. He couldn't remember what his home looked like but he thought it would probably be quite nice if he could ever get there to find out. "C'mon Ray," he growled under his breath and sighed. There was a boxed Christmas cake on the table he had been manfully ignoring ever since he came into the VIP room all of ten minutes ago. Might as well cut himself a slice if all he was doing was waiting about...

The door banged open and a crowd of agents jostled through, Jax, Lucas, McCabe, Susan, Sally, Macklin... Macklin! Bodie almost choked on his cake, trying to quickly swallow it before...

"Already started with the Christmas excess then Bodie? Remember you have a re-training session coming up in January, don't over do it like last year. Only the geese should get fat!" Macklin clapped Bodie's shoulder hard as he came round the table, making him rock forward. Man didn't know his own strength. He smiled sarcastically at the blond trainer, who was now staring agog at the twinkling Christmas tree.

"Now Cowley said this had to be seen to be believed... I'll have to get Towser over."

Bodie shuddered. Ye Gods, not Towser. He pushed the cake box further away, twisting just in time to see Cowley and Ray finally make an entrance. He stood up and called over, "C'mon mate, we going?"

"The bar? Thought you'd never ask." Macklin clapped his shoulder hard again causing him to sway forward, and started motioning to the others in the room. "George -- did you agree it with Ted? Look's like Bodie's paying."

"What?" Bodie suddenly found himself surrounded by colleagues, each apparently dying of thirst and anxious to hustle him down to CI5's private bar. "Ray!" Bodie implored as he was pushed past, but Doyle held his hands up in submission, smile threatening to break like the sun from behind the clouds.

"Well thanks a lot mate! Just remember who's giving you a lift home! Oi!" Bodie yelled down the corridor at Ray, who was leaning round the corner of the door, waving a fond farewell at him. They all disappeared in a rowdy mass around the corner and Ray smiled and went to collect his coat from the VIP room, catching Cowley chuckling in amusement at the tree.

"Do you like it then?" Ray nodded up at it.

"Eh? Oh aye, one for the books that is. I wondered where that picture went. Still, at least it appears to have had two good homes." He threw a look at Ray and then glanced to where Susan was wrapping her scarf around her neck. "You coming Miss Fisher?"

Susan was taking a rather long time to gather her belongings and now seemed slightly abashed. Ray looked at her and then turned a slow circle to where Murphy was still blissfully slumbering. There was a faint rosy glow on Susan's cheeks when he turned back to face her, although she met his eyes steadily enough. "Yes, I'll be there, I was just..."

"Yes, wake Murphy there will you." Cowley walked to the door and looked down at him. "How anyone can sleep through that herd of elephants..." He muttered as he left the room.

"I'll leave him to your tender ministrations then," Ray said mischievously, knowing that Susan had a soft spot for Agent 6.2. He couldn't think where exactly she kept it though, there was nothing soft about Susan Fisher as far as he could see. Left ear perhaps? Behind her ankle? Little finger? He smiled as he followed George Cowley down the corridor.

In the cage Ted was using his skills as a diplomatic bar man to serve the thirsty so and so's from CI5's finest. Bodie stood at the bar, a look of chagrin on his face as he handed over his money. There goes Christmas, he thought mournfully as pints distributed themselves over his head and Ted came back with a sympathetic smile on his face and a handful of exceedingly small change. Bodie made a face at it and poured it into the Cancer Charity collection box. "Ruins the line of my jacket!" He smiled and turned to lean on the bar, taking a sip of his pint. Tired as he was, it tasted divine.

"Where's mine then?" Ray was at his side, also looking tired but certainly more cheerful than when he was writing his report. He'd had a face like thunder then.

"Judas!" Bodie turned back to the bar and raised his hand to get Ted's attention. Ted nodded at him and went to serve Lewis instead. 'Happens every time' thought Bodie in resignation.

"He does that on purpose now, you know." Ray looked over to Ted. "He knows it winds you up."

"Why would he want to do a stupid thing like that? The last person that wound me up ended on the...Oh hi Ted. A beer for the boy will ya? And put this one on Cowley's tab."

"The Major will sting you for that one soon enough, Bodie." But Ted was smiling and handed a brimming pint to Ray, who took a sip with his eyes closed. He set it back down and wiped his mouth appreciatively, wincing slightly at his lip. "Boy? You've got a nerve."

Bodie was back leaning on the bar, drinking his beer. "Smaller than me."

"Flippin' older than you." Ray poked him in his side.

Bodie buried his smile in his glass as Murphy came up and nodded over Bodie's head to get Ted's attention. Within seconds a pint was handed over, and Bodie threw a disgusted glance over his shoulder at Ted and then turned back to Murph.

"You got the day off tomorrow then?"

"Got four days off actually." Murphy was almost preening. "On account of my good work, the Cow said. Management material, that's me."

"Management? You can 'ave it." Ray said strongly.

"It's not all it's cracked up to be y'know. Comes with its own rules, its regulations." Bodie pointed out.

"Its own whisky tab." Ray muttered as Cowley picked up his glass of pure malt from Ted. Bodie and Murphy sniggered as Cowley made his way over, distracted by Macklin.

"Oh no not him, don't bring him over..." Bodie groaned into his drink.

"What, Macklin?" Ray raised his head and peered over. "When we got him? First week isn't it? That's just great that."

"That's when you've got your refresher? I tell you, the Cow just doesn't like you anymore. He likes me. Mine's not until the second week. Proves it." Murphy was smug.

"That proves nothing!" Bodie pulled a face.

"It just means the Cow wants us fit as a fiddle, in top form straight away. He'll let you stay fat for a bit, not as important." Ray tried not to chuckle but couldn't help it at Murphy's quick glance down at his belly.

"Sir." Bodie straightened slightly as Cowley and Macklin came to join them. Murph rubbed his stomach and glared at Ray before smiling at the two men. "Drink?" He indicated the bar.

Macklin held out an admonishing hand. "Not for me, one and one only. Can never let your guard down."

"Not even on Christmas?" Ray suddenly looked round to the clock. Hmm, he was pushing it a bit...

"Especially not at Christmas. You think the villains take Christmas off?" Macklin eyed Ray keenly and Ray suddenly felt like he was being sized up ready for the roasting tin. Shit, roasting tin. Where was his roasting tin?

"Get hurt did you?" Macklin was at his elbow now, looking at the way Ray was frowning.

"Eh? Oh no, well yes, but not really... AGH!"

Macklin withdrew his finger from where he had poked Ray in the ribs. "Ribs again? You have to watch for that."

"Did you see Willis, Doyle?" Cowley was now interested as well, damn him. Ray glared at both of them and rubbed his side.

"I don't need to see Willis, my ribs are fine. They were fine." He looked at Macklin in reproach but the man had moved on, and was now giving Bodie the eagle eye.

Bodie felt the scrutiny and endeavoured to jump in before any more remarks comparing him to a fat bird were made in this crowd's earshot, "So Mack... Brian, what are you doing for Christmas then? Any plans?"

Macklin blinked in surprise at the question. "Working. It's Towser's little girl's first Christmas, couldn't let him take that shift." Macklin coughed in embarrassment at the astonished silence. "Well, just need to have a quick word with Lucas, have a good Christmas everyone." He backed away as Ray, Bodie and Murphy eyed each other in disbelief. Fancy finding out their trainer was human. And that the tank had a little girl!

Cowley chuckled at their expressions. "Well, gentlemen. Happy Christmas." He made to move on.

"What are you doing tomorrow, sir?" Murphy asked.

Cowley turned back and suddenly looked a little older. "As Brian says, villains don't appreciate the festivities. I expect I shall be here with the other agents working this shift. That is, if someone hasn't eaten all our Christmas cake, I did think the VIP room was a bad place to leave it, even boxed as it was." He glanced sharply at Bodie's face and moved away, hiding his smile.

Murphy turned his dark head towards Susan who had slunk in beside him, and Bodie looked up from where he had once again slouched on the bar to find Ray decisively drinking up.


"Not getting another?"

"Nah, got things to do." Ray scratched his face and watched as Bodie finished his beer. They said their goodbyes, and pushed through the crowd to walk down to where Bodie had parked the Capri.

"What you got to do then?" Bodie opened the door, sat in the driver's seat and leaned over to open Ray's door.

"Secret," said Ray as he sat down. Bodie glanced at him and pouted slightly, then started the car with a roar and squealed the tyres out of the car park.

"What secret?" he asked as they sped down the high street.

Ray tapped his nose by way of an answer. Bodie eyed the car mirror and overtook a bus, slipping in behind a VW Camper van.

"What's the secret then?" he asked again.

Ray just stared levelly at him.

"Alright, alright don't tell me then. Your own partner. See if I care." Bodie was always good natured in defeat.

"What you doing tomorrow Bodie?"

"Eh?" Bodie put his foot down slightly. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, did you make any plans?"

"For what?"

Ray was exasperated. "For Christmas! That thing we celebrate over here. You know, Christ's birth and all that? You brought up in a cave or something?"

"Cage actually. Gilt and brass. All mod cons..."

There was a silence in the car as Ray mentally kicked himself for his unthinking comment and considered whether he really wanted to invite Bodie round or not. Ever since the day they'd put up the Christmas tree it had been on the tip of his tongue to ask the silly sod round, show him what a good Christmas could be like. But then there was the drugs case and he'd had no time to think, let alone plan a day of niceties. Now he had, what? Two hours left of shops open? And Bodie was an irritating annoying sod. He kept quiet and balanced his options as Bodie drove along Camden high street.

"No plans mate, not this year. Don't really celebrate it anyway. Never been a day of wonder..." He broke off suddenly and pulled into a quieter street, leaving the hustle of Camden behind him.

It was that voice that did it, Ray decided. Not a voice of regret or self pity, but the voice of someone that never expected anything at all. They pulled up outside his block, Bodie kept the engine running.

Ray put his hand on the door handle. "Come round tomorrow Bodie. We might as well have a good Christmas for once." He was slightly unnerved by Bodie's surprised silence. "Well that's if, uh, well, that's if you want to that is..."

"You're on." Bodie grinned widely and shot an imaginary gun at him. "You cooking? I am definitely there. What time?"

"Oh uh... Anytime. Don't matter what time if it's just us does it? Anytime." Ray was grinning as well now, suddenly undeniably cheerful.

"Well that's a... Ok then. See you tomorrow" Bodie almost choked on what he was unthinkingly about to say.

Ray just smiled broadly. He knew what had been on the tip of Bodie's tongue and it amused him no end. "I guess it is. See you then. And bring some beers!" He hopped out of the car and ran up the stairs to his building. Bodie was still grinning as he wheel spun away. Little toad!

Christmas Day

Bodie rang the doorbell and jangled Ray's door keys in his pocket. He felt such an occasion as a day off... Ok, as a Christmas Day off, deserved some sort of formality. Bottles clanked in the two carrier bags he was holding.

He had actually felt great when he woke up, as though he had something nice to look forward to. Of course, a good night's sleep had done wonders; he couldn't remember when he had last felt so shagged out without the shag. He found himself actually humming whilst shaving, leaning forward in the bathroom mirror to check out a minute cut above his eyebrow. Maybe it was just because he liked Ray's flat better. His own was cold and cheerless compared to the artificial gaiety of the shops when he had finally let himself in yesterday. Sort of bleak. That almost made him laugh; he remembered reading Bleak House as a boy, thought it was a brilliantly apt description back then. Bit ironic that he'd grown up to live in places that had the same feel to them. Sort of austere, he thought as he had put down his shopping and fiddled with the heating. Sort of boring, he thought later as he sleepily eyed the telly and kicked his shoes off under the table. But this morning, improbably, the sun had shone briefly through his bedroom window, frost covered the roofs of nearby houses and a sparkle of something was in the air. Not snow he thought, looking up. Just something.

"Why hello." He said by way of a reply into the intercom.

Ray's voice sounded breathless through the buzzer. "Yeah yeah Bodie. Push."

Bodie did and jogged up the stairs to Ray's flat. He could smell dinner. Mmm roasting turkey...

Ray was holding the door open, looking a little ragged round the edges. He laughed as Bodie held up the two clanking carrier bags. "Will that be enough for one day?" He hit the right note of mock horror and ushered his partner grandly inside. "Happy Christmas my dear fellow."

"There's more in the boot, and Happy Christmas to you too... Is dinner ready yet? And you have pine needles in your hair." Bodie grinned as he walked past Ray, who shut the door behind him whilst raking his head viciously with the other hand.

"Got hours yet, the key to a good Christmas dinner is in the preparation. Which we didn't get time to do, thanks to CI5 and all who sail in her. And you're early." Ray dogged his steps, keen to see Bodie's face as he entered the living room. He grinned widely at the surprised look. This was worth it.

Bodie turned in a circle. "Oh hey... When did you do all this?"

Ray rubbed his nose embarrassedly. "Oh it's been up a while..." He decided not to elaborate further on the mad dash around Camden he had done yesterday and the way he had acquired the real Christmas tree. Having a CI5 ID worked wonders although the shop was probably still wondering why the tree had to be impounded.

Bodie walked around the flat, looking at the decorations slung around the room. Slung was a good description actually; Bodie had a good idea of what Ray had been up to after he dropped him off yesterday. He lowered his head so his grin didn't get too out of hand and then smiled up at Ray who was looking a bit shame faced. "It's great. Really great."

Ray cheered up. "Yeah not bad. Good old Woolies..."

Bodie was now standing by the Christmas tree. Not quite a 9ft monster but a good size all the same, twinkling with lights. He raised his eyebrows at the few wrapped presents underneath and poked one with his shoe.

"One for me under there?"

"Depends whether you've been a good boy." Ray tried to stay serious but a smile twitched around the corners of his mouth.

"Oh I see, like that is it? Best not raise me hopes then." Bodie stepped backwards slightly and peered at the rest of the tree. He grabbed hold of one bauble, swung it round so George Cowley was looking at Ray and giggled to himself as he swung it back. "In case we forget father's face eh? And where's your homemade pine whatsits then? Or is it just artistic needle scattering?" The carpet around the tree was covered in dropped pine needles.

"Oh leave off. I've done my creative bit for this year." Ray gestured around the room. "Make yourself comfy, TV guide is there, thought you could choose the day's entertainment. Got to check on the old bird."

"Old bird? You got Cowley's girlfriend in there?" Bodie yelled after him and flumped down on the settee, kicking his shoes off under the coffee table. This was more like it, warm, welcoming, beer and food. And telly. Perfect really, no hassle about meeting the bird of the moment's dodgy relatives, no putting on a show, here he could just relax and enjoy himself. With that aim in mind he delved in one of the carrier bags at his feet and pulled out two cans, one of which he placed on the coffee table. The other he carried through to the kitchen, with the carrier bags.

Ray was opening cupboards and pulling out pans, and he turned to regard Bodie with suspicion. "It's not ready yet and don't go eating anything!"

Bodie clanked the beers at him by way of reply.

"Oh right, yeah, give 'em here, I'll put them in the fridge..." Bodie passed him the bags and the other can. Ray looked at it before opening. "I guess the sun is past the yard arm somewhere in the world."

"And it's Christmas." Bodie nodded wisely.

"Yeah -- cheers! Now piss off!" Ray flicked the ring pull at him and turned back to his chopping board, taking a healthy swallow of beer as he did so.

"Charming!" Bodie sniffed the air appreciatively and padded out of the kitchen, flopping down on the settee again. He drank from his beer and, pulling the TV Guide towards him, ran his eyes lazily down the listings. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Ray liked all that sci-fi stuff... He found a pen on the coffee table and carefully circled it.

"What film's on?" Ray shouted from the kitchen.

"Ermm.... BBC1's got some kids' film, Disney..." He tailed off, working down the listings. "Got Loophole in the evening, God that's crap, went with a girl to see that at the cinema and fell asleep..."


"Nothing!" Bodie raised his voice slightly. "There's a Bond..."

"There's always a Bond. Which Bond?" Ray appeared at the entrance to the kitchen, wiping his hands on a tea towel.

"Dr No." Ray pursed his mouth and nodded approvingly, going back into the kitchen.

Bodie shrugged and carried on looking, suddenly breaking out in giggles. "Hey! Guess what's on? RAY!"

Ray was back, throwing the tea towel into the kitchen. "What?" he asked, coming over to see what had Bodie so tickled. Bodie was beaming as he held the TV Guide up. Ray took hold of it and peered.

"The Muppet Movie? The Muppets?" He threw the Guide back down at his muppet of a partner.

"Hey I'm circling that I am. 6.30 -- ITV. That's booked, that is. And I circled one for you anyway. That hiking programme." Bodie was preoccupied drawing a line around The Muppets, sticking his tongue out slightly. Ray blinked, hiking programme?

"What hiking programme?"

"You know, you like it. Travel guide or summit. Walking the world, that sort of thing." He shot a quick glance up at Ray to see how he was taking it and looked back down again, smiling to himself. He straightened his face and carried on circling the line.

Ray thought about it. Travel show? "Is it a David Attenborough?" He held out his hand impatiently for the Guide as Bodie shifted further away up the settee.

"No. Do you want another clue?"

"No I want the Guide. Give." Ray gestured with his hand and moved a bit closer.


"Give!" Ray grabbed at it, but Bodie swiftly transferred it to his other hand and held it above his head. "I'll give you another clue."

Ray poked his tongue into his cheek as he tried to control his impatience. He nodded.

"It also explains about the importance of clean laundry." Bodie couldn't stop his giggles now.

Ray pulled a face. "It what? Right, you are giving me that Guide my son." He stepped onto the settee and reached over Bodie to snatch at it, who moved and brought the Guide low instead. Ray grabbed Bodie's right shoulder with one hand, trying to reach the TV Guide with the other.

"Oi -- watch the arm." Bodie's right arm was sporting a lovely bruise from yesterday.

"I know, I know, I am watching it..." Ray shifted his grip slightly, mindful of the arm and pinched Bodie's leg hard instead. Bodie yelped and held the Guide further away. "No rules about minding your leg now... Oi!"

Bodie pushed Ray almost off the settee and tried to scramble away, except that Ray had put a bony knee on his back and was now trying to pin his arms behind him. Bodie quickly stashed the Guide under his chest before Ray grabbed his hand and held it firmly.

"Give... Me... That... Guide...!" Ray struggled to hold Bodie's arms with one hand so that he could grope about for the Guide with the other. This might have worked had it been a) anyone but Bodie, who knew the way he fought and b) any other time, when he wasn't struggling with a few bruises and a bellyful of laughter. As it was, he over estimated how much of Bodie he was holding and quickly found himself thrown to one side and pushed face first into the back of the settee. Ray struggled but Bodie held his arms tightly behind him.

"Surrender?" Bodie suggested sweetly into Ray's ear.

"Surrender? Not bloody likely. And that tickles!" Ray kicked back but his special move was ineffective for once as Bodie was now lying with his full weight on his back. "BODIE!" Ray pushed back up against him but to no avail; Bodie was hot and heavy and he could smell the cleanliness of the soap he had used that morning and the faint tang of beer on his breath. He wriggled but there was no give anywhere. "Gerroff!"


"Okay, okay."

"Say it."

Ray started laughing into the back of the settee. "I can't! No... Bloody..." He tried again to struggle, but now Bodie had a leg over his and was laughing with him.

"C'mon - say it and I'll let you up. All you have to say is 'surrender'. Oh and 'Bodie is King'. Go on... 'Surrender and Bodie is King'." He felt Ray strain his arms, felt the tremors of laughter all down the long length of him. Ray's hair smelled clean and fresh, of apple shampoo. He breathed it in and squeezed his wrists in encouragement.

"'M not saying that. Agh!" Bodie pinched his backside. "Say it!"

"No! And you're blinking squashing me, no Christmas pudding for you... No stoppit!"

Bodie tickled him. Ray yelped and squirmed, waves of laughter taking over. He threw his head back. "OKAY! Okay, stop stop, mind me ribs, I minded your bloody arm -- STOP! I'll say it, I'll say it... I surrender and Bodie is the flipping King! Now gerroffme!"

"'Course!" Bodie immediately let him go and stood up as Ray coughed weakly and flopped back on the settee. Bodie retrieved the mangled TV Guide from where it had ended up under the coffee table and held it out contritely; Ray glared at him and snatched it away. He flicked through the pages in silence until he came to the entry that he was sure Bodie was talking about. He then leaned up on his elbow to look at Bodie laughing from a safe distance away.

"The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Written by Douglas Adams, this series tells us not to annoy Vulcans and the importance of keeping a clean towel when hitching a lift with strange star ships." Ray read out loud from the magazine and then threw it across the room at Bodie's head. "And it's not even on today. You really are..."

"What's that smell?" Bodie sniffed experimentally.

"Oh shit!" Ray jumped off the settee and back into the kitchen. Bodie chuckled and straightened out the sofa cushions, patting them back into place and re-settling down. He was beginning to like Christmas. He clicked the TV on and flicked between the three channels, settling finally on The Donald Duck Story. He looked again at the listings, yes, this was as good as it was going to get for now. Ray came through from the kitchen, stared at the TV in disdain and pulled a face before going back inside.

"Nothing else on. Should have brought me video around, we could have plugged that in to your telly." Bodie was quite proud of his VHS and even happier that he could still keep up with the football, despite his erratic working hours.

"Nah." Ray was back, this time apparently for good as he slumped on the settee and rested his beer on the table. "Christmas Day is all about Christmas telly, about watching what everyone else's watching, at the same time as everyone else for once. Means we're all in the same boat together." He eyed Donald Duck squawking in disgust and looked over to see Bodie starting to smile at the screen. He stared at him for a second and then swallowed his sarcastic remark and turned back to face the TV.

"Do you remember Bill and Ben and all that?" Bodie didn't turn to face him, but kept his eyes on the screen.

"Who?" Ray's thoughts turned to the Squad; did they have a Bill and a Ben? He didn't remember seeing those names on the active list...

"The Flowerpot Men. You know, Little Weed? How innocent we were."

"Oh." The penny fell. "Kids' show?"

"Yeah. Watched that one Christmas, I remember that. Don't know how old I was though. Must've been a quiet year for the folks."

"Did you have a telly then? Lucky bastard."

"Oi watch it, I almost was you know." Bodie waved his finger at Ray and grinned engagingly. "Yeah, we had a telly."

"Should've known, you posh git." Ray settled himself into the settee.

"I take it by that chip on your shoulder that you didn't then, Raymond?"

"A telly? Where I lived? Gah, you've got to be joking, we were lucky to have a radio. Used to listen to Radio Luxemburg at night, had to fight my brothers for it though."

Bodie rubbed his arm and looked sideways at Ray. "Bet you won," he said loyally.

"Nah not always." Ray was pragmatic. "They used to gang up on me. Gave as good as I got though." He grinned at Bodie.

"Is that where you got..." Bodie nodded at Ray's cheekbone "...that from?"

Ray was still a moment and then he leaned to pick up his beer. "You know how I got that," he said carefully.

"Well, you said fight. You didn't say what fight or who you were fighting... Want another?" He saw Ray waggle his empty can and drain the dregs.

"I'll get them; I want you out of that kitchen. I know what you're like; you'll have eaten the turkey and left the foil roasting if I let you go in there." Ray got up and sauntered out, coming back with two cold beers. "Shouldn't drink too much beer before eating really."

"Says who? And you still didn't say."

"Say what? Oh that." Ray rubbed his face reflectively. "It was just a fight Bodie, nothing dramatic. Not with my brothers either. Just me, thinking I knew it all, and some other bloke, thinking he did instead. Same thing that happens all over." Ray was silent for a while and then he looked up. "Bloody big bloke though, as it happens." He shrugged and turned to grin at Bodie, who playfully swatted him on the shoulder.

"Nothing dramatic, he says. I'll remind you of that next time you get a paper cut."

"Well! They're vicious. Prefer a go with Macklin than a paper cut." Ray got up to check the dinner.

"Your wish'll come true there, sunshine. Only seven days to go." Bodie idly flicked channels, sipping his beer at intervals and listening to Ray knocking around the kitchen. He got up and wandered the room, stopping in front of the Christmas tree. He glanced behind him but could hear Ray's muffled singing, accompanied here and there by a swear word as he presumably touched something too hot to hold. He looked back at the small pile of presents under the tree and bent down. To Ray, to Ray... He carefully pulled out one square parcel from the back and raised his eyebrows. Nothing fancy, just his name written on the tag in Ray's sprawling handwriting. He smiled and tucked it back where he found it, wondering what it could be. Maybe he could add his present to Ray in amongst that lot and then let Ray find it himself... He stepped back and cursed as a pine needle spiked his foot - bloody things, every bloody time...

"Mate, can I just get..." Bodie was already in the kitchen and he ducked round Ray to pull out the dustpan and brush from the cupboard under the sink. Ray looked puzzled and then wary. "What've you done? What've you dropped?"

"I've dropped nothing! It's that tree that's doing the dropping."

"Oh, okay. Be my guest."

"I'm already that, more than that if I'm doing your housework as well!"

"Ah Bodie, you'll make a good wife one day petal!" Ray called after him.

"Har de har har." Bodie swept the pine needles up and, about to tip them into the bin, was suddenly struck by inspiration. He kicked the wastepaper bin so it clanged and then went up the stairs. A moment later he ducked into the bathroom to ostentatiously pull the chain and then was back down again, sitting on the settee, flicking idly through the Guide. Good wife indeed! Not going to get away with that one Raymond, who's doing the cooking I'd like to know, eh?

Dinner was a grand affair; both men knew how to cook but Ray certainly had the edge on Bodie and Christmas Day was a good excuse to show off to a very appreciative audience of one. Refresher courses and the imminent New Year treat with Macklin suddenly felt far off in the distance, as the radio played Christmas songs in the background. Not all of Bodie's clanking carrier bags had been filled with lager, he'd also brought round a very fine wine to accompany dinner and that, combined with the food, was making both of them feel tranquil and at peace with the world.

"Time for presents then?" Bodie asked lazily as they sprawled on the settee. The Christmas Top of the Pops special was on, Bucks Fizz trying to convince people they lived in a Land of Make Believe.

"What makes you think you've got one?" Ray rolled his eyes and stretched. "Silly question, you've been looking haven't you? Might've known..." He patted his stomach. "'M stuffed."

"Yeah mate, that was the best Christmas dinner I've ever eaten." Bodie smiled suddenly as he looked at Ray, aware that he might've just sounded soppy and added quickly "It's not me that'll make the good wife."

"Oh shurrup. Alright, lets see what me brothers have got me this year." Ray dropped to his knees and shuffled over to the tree. "You did do your sweeping well."

Bodie stretched out on the settee and ignored the crack. "What did you get then? Share the wealth."

"Hmm," Ray held up a wrapped bottle and read the tag. "Best go easy on that one, he makes it himself. You open it."

He passed it over to Bodie who held it at arms length. "Home made brew eh? 'From Ken'. Ken? Have I met Ken? Is he the one with a beard? Works something to do with horses?"

Ray looked thoughtful. "You met him? Don't remember that. He did have a beard last I saw him though. And he works at a donkey sanctuary."

Figured. Bodie eyed the now-unwrapped bottle in apprehension. "I hope he makes this away from the donkeys."

"Best pour it in a glass first, just to be sure. His home brew knocks your head off." Ray was shaking another present.

"Could be fragile that." Bodie set the bottle down carefully on the coffee table.

"Fragile? From Jack? Surprised he's bothered, doesn't usually. Must be going soft." He ripped it open and laughed sarcastically. "Now that is more like him." He held up a tie. "Recognise it?"

Bodie squinted and held out his hand as Ray threw it over. He looked at it and flipped it over to see the label. "Buys the same designer as me..."

Ray snorted with laughter. "Bodie it's your tie! I borrowed it ages ago to go with that suit I bought, remember? Then Jack borrowed it from me. And this is how he gives it back. That's brotherly love for you."

"Don't any of you Doyles own a tie? All scruffy buggers, the lot of you?"

"Don't like ties, never have and never will. What's this?" Ray held up a gold wrapped present and looked across quizzically.

"Ah. Well, that's from me innit. And it's non-breakable, apparently." Bodie smiled, thinking back to their chat under the CI5 Christmas tree.

"Why Bodie, I never knew you cared. And here's something for you then." Ray said it as an after thought and handed over a hastily wrapped present with dancing Santa's printed gaily on the paper.

"For me?" Bodie held it and wondered before ripping the paper. A yellow Citroën 2CV Corgi car was revealed, with Roger Moore as Bond staring out from the packaging.

"I think you'd make a good Bond. You can start by having his car."

"Cheers! Prefer to have his Aston Martin but this will do for now. Thanks mate!" Bodie grinned widely.

"That's his latest that is." Ray poked at his present. "Shall I open it?"

"Nah keep it 'til Easter. Of course open it!"

Ray ripped open the paper. "Oh hey... Cheers!" He turned the box around to read more about the Sony Walkman.

"So you can keep that classical nonsense to yourself." Bodie turned back to the television, pleased with Ray's response.

"Hmph?" Ray was engrossed, walking across and swatting Bodie's legs down off the settee so he could sit down. "Best present ever this."

"I am renowned for my good taste and my generosity of spirit, talking of which, when are you going to be generous with yours?"

"Eh?" Ray looked up and over to where Bodie was indicating. "Oh yeah."

He placed the Walkman down reverently and jumped up to get two glasses and the bottle of Scotch. "Help yourself. And while you're there you can help me too ..." He put the bottle and glasses down on the coffee table. "I've got a cassette somewhere, gotta try this out."

He rummaged in the sideboard, pulled out a caseless cassette and slid it into the Walkman. Pressing play, he held his thumb up to Bodie, who smiled and poured the drinks, before turning back to the television. Muppets soon, he thought happily. Hopefully Gonzo would have a starring role.

Much Later

Bodie wondered if Ray was asleep. Earlier there had been a brief struggle over how they could both fit comfortably on the settee -- "'M not sitting with your feet up me nose" - and they had eventually ended up watching the late night film with Bodie upright and Ray laying down, legs across Bodie's lap.

"No tickling!" Ray had warned as he kicked Bodie's leg lightly with his foot and leaned back, one arm behind his head.

"Wouldn't dream of it." Bodie had sat silent for a bit, watching the TV. "No point dreaming if I can actually do it..." He had made a light hearted attempt to tickle Ray's foot.

"Oi! Truce!" Ray had raised his head and held his foot away.

"Okay, okay." Bodie had patted his lap and Ray settled his feet back down again. The film rolled on and candles threw flickering shadows around the room, enhancing the glow from the Christmas tree.

But now the film was over, the candles had burnt low and Ray had turned his head to one side. Bodie couldn't see his face under all those curls. Asleep he reckoned. His hand had come to rest on Ray's leg during the film and it was warm under his hand, the denim soft and smooth to the touch. It wasn't a decision at all to give in to temptation and he slowly rubbed his fingers in a circle, feeling the heat from Ray's body and the hard strength of his muscles, enjoying the feeling of closeness and companionship.

And so they live to fight another year... Bodie felt something fierce for this man lying here beside him, something unlooked for had taken root under his ribs over the years and it hurt, surprisingly it hurt. Who'd have thought..?

"That tickles," Ray said sleepily and Bodie instantly stilled his hand. "Nice though, you don't have to stop."

Bodie sighed and turned the rub into a pat, and then withdrew his hand. "Oh but I should. Just wanted to say... It's been a really nice day. I appreciate it. It's been grand."

Ray shifted so his face was turned to Bodie, eyes still closed. "Pity... Yeah, it's been a good Christmas. Back to it tomorrow though."

Bodie was hardly listening; had he imagined that softly breathed 'Pity'? He realised he was holding his breath and let it out carefully. Must've. God he wished life had a rewind button. Had Doyle really said that? Maybe he hadn't. Maybe he should ask? Yeah right, maybe...

"You staying? I'll get the blankets..." Ray suggested, but he made no move to sit up, just lay there, one hand idly playing with his hair.

"Yeah I'm staying. Always here, me." Bodie spoke softly and realised the truth in his words. He'd only ever said 'I love you' to two women before in his life and here he was, saying it again in a roundabout way, to a man. Someone up there was playing a joke on him somewhere he reckoned.

Ray looked at him then and smiled warmly. "Yeah, I know sunshine."

He pushed on Bodie's thigh with his foot and finally lifted himself up, padding around the flat. Bodie watched Ray from the settee, quietly thoughtful, as he pinched out the candles and swung upstairs for the bedding. He came back down with his arms filled with blankets, which he heaped upon the settee.

"There's a pillow somewhere in that lot. Sleep well Bodie."

Bodie nodded and pulled the blankets around himself, finding the pillow and settling it behind his head. He looked up and Ray was still standing on the stairs.

"You alright then?" Ray asked, hand tapping against the banister.

"Snug as a bug in a..."

"No bugs in my rugs I'll have you know. Clean they are." Ray took a step up, and then another. "Yeah, was quite good today." He had the air of continuing from an older conversation.

"Very good. One of the best." Bodie was watching him carefully, wondering what he was building up to. Ray looked down and smiled.

"Not bad for a first date, anyway." And then he winked and was off up the stairs, grinning.

Bodie almost laughed out loud as he turned round and punched the pillow into shape. He settled his head down. First date! He snorted in amusement and then remembered something, raising himself up on an elbow, waiting expectantly. He didn't have long to wait.


Now Ray knew where all those pine needles had gone. Bodie grinned and closed his eyes.

-- THE END --

December 2006

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