Present Company


Written for the "Discovered on All Hallow's Eve" challenge on the discoveredinalj livejournal community. Enthusiastic thanks go to Slanted Light and Izzie!

The truest thing that Bodie knows is that the only thing that matters is Now. The past is over and done with, and the future will take care of itself if he can just survive the present.

Bodie fights desperately, his hands tied behind him, suffocating under the pillowcase they've pulled over his head. He has no hope of escape, but every grunt of pain he hears is a minor victory -- it's better than the sniggers, anyway. Someone keeps saying something about, "Perfect for Halloween..." and Bodie's quite sure he doesn't want to know what that means.

They're getting angry with him now. Hearing the frustration in their voices, Bodie finds a last inner reserve of strength and throws himself forward, tearing free of their grip.

Only the ground isn't where he thinks it is, and he falls into a pit, hitting the edge of something hard and rolling onto something soft and warm. A body. He's fallen on top of a body. It doesn't move, and Bodie assumes it's dead.

Howls of laughter erupt above him.

Bodie struggles to get his bearings, trying to push himself up onto his knees. He smells wet earth and the iron tang of fresh blood, and his skin is crawling in anticipation of the bullet that will end his life. His shout is cut off as something solid slams into the top of his head, knocking him down. He rolls over and tries again, and this time his knees and forehead both collide with a hard surface.

A wooden box, in a freshly dug hole, with a body already in it.

A coffin.

Bodie panics. He kicks and heaves, struggling against the ropes that bind his wrists, ignoring the splinters and the sound of cracking wood. He can hear them shouting, telling each other to hurry, to get the job done.

He hears the soft, heavy thumps of dirt hitting wood, followed by the more muffled sound of dirt hitting earth, and then he can't shift the lid anymore, not even a little. The pillowcase is loose and he's able to slough it off, but the air in the casket is already growing stale and the darkness is so absolute that he's not a hundred percent sure he has his eyes open. The damp smell of earth grows stronger, filling his nostrils, until he feels like he's drowning in it.

He might have kept on struggling indefinitely, insensible to the damage he was inflicting on himself, except that he hears a noise. It isn't much. Just a quiet grunt as air is forced from a pair of lungs that aren't his own.

He freezes.

There's no sound above him. Either they've left, or they've buried him so deeply he can't hear them any more. Next to him, however, he can hear someone breathing harshly, unevenly. Bodie takes a deep breath and tries to calm his racing heart. He isn't alone. He tells himself this is a good thing.

"Hello?" he says. There's no response. So he tries again, arching his back to free an elbow just enough to jam it into the ribs of the person beside him. "Damn you, wake up!"

The body shifts and the sound of breathing quickens. Bodie waits tensely, holding his breath.

After a moment, he hears a damp cough, followed by a very familiar, "Ow."

The dulcet tones of the prettiest bird in London couldn't have sounded sweeter to Bodie. He hits Ray Doyle in the ribs again, as hard as he can.

"C'mon, sunshine. Time to get up. Can't be lollygagging..." his voice cracks and he has to stop briefly to take a deep breath. "Ray, please."

"Mmm... Oh. Wha'?" asks Doyle, indistinctly.

"There's a good lad," says Bodie, keeping an iron grip on his self-control. "Rise and shine." Then he winces as Doyle tries to do exactly that, his head colliding with the lid of the coffin.

"Ow!" Doyle begins to cough again, harder this time.

Bodie can feel each painful spasm in the body pressed up against his, and his own throat tightens in sympathy. Then Doyle's breath hitches and he makes a gagging noise and Bodie feels a moment of real fear. If Doyle throws up...

"Gah," says Doyle, his body finally relaxing. "Gerroff, Bodie. Yer heavy."

Bodie breathes a sigh of relief and tries to shift to the side, pressing back against the wall of the coffin. It doesn't help. "Can't," he says, finally. His hip is half over Doyle's, and his right leg is trapped between Doyle's knees. He's managed to turn himself onto his side, but there isn't room for both of them to lie flat. Doyle is on his back with his shoulder pressed into Bodie's chest.

And his breathing is slowing again.

"Ray, wake up!" Bodie pleads, imagining Doyle bleeding into his brain, slipping into a coma. There's no response. Bodie wants to shake him, but his hands are tied. In desperation, Bodie tries the only thing he can think of.

He bites Doyle's ear. Hard.

Doyle mumbles, "Not now, love. Tired."

"Oh, for Christ's sake, Ray!"

But Doyle is already out again. Asleep or unconscious, Bodie can't tell in the dark. He has no way of knowing how badly Doyle has been injured. He can't even touch him.

Bodie pushes his face up against Doyle's, feeling rough stubble and warm skin and a sticky tackiness that he knows is half-dried blood. He can feel the rise and fall of Doyle's chest with each breath of air he draws...

Bodie is trying not to wonder how much air is left and how long it takes to suffocate in a coffin.

...and he imagines he might even be able to hear Doyle's pulse, if it weren't for the fact that his own is now pounding so loudly in his ears he can't hear anything at all.

"Ray?" says Bodie. Still no answer. He thinks about biting him again, and then decides it's not worth it. With a resigned sigh, he rests his cheek on Doyle's head and waits.

He knows it will be better for Doyle if he never wakes up at all.

It's getting hard to breathe. Bodie wonders if the air is already running out, or if he's just more conscious of it.

He tries not to think about it, and finds himself instead remembering grave-digging duty in Africa. He hasn't thought about Africa in years -- he normally knows better than to look at the past -- but he can still recall precisely the heft of a dead body as it is swung onto a pile with the others. He remembers the way they bloated in the heat, so that if you weren't careful picking them up they'd rupture, releasing foul gas and other fouler contents.

Decomposing bodies were great for practical jokes - toss a rock at one just when some bloke had grabbed it and was about to heave it into the grave; if you hit it right, it would explode all over him. Funniest thing in the world. But more to the point, they were so far gone you didn't think of them as human anymore.

It was the fresh bodies, the ones that were warm and still bled - those were the ones that had always got to him. At night on sentry duty he'd look over at the recently dug graves and wonder if some of the bodies had been completely dead. There were so many and sometimes as the dirt settled a hand or a foot would work its way out. But even if they were alive when he'd buried them, they'd have still died, suffocating slowly...

No air.

The pounding in Bodie's ears grows to a deafening pitch, and the ground beneath him tips sickeningly. He feels a disembodied hand touch him...

With a strangled scream, Bodie kicks out, trying to throw himself back, away. He slams into the wall of the coffin and feels a light trickle of dirt on his arm. Someone nearby is coughing, and cursing.

"Bodie, you dumb crud! Settle down!"

"Ray?" Bodie manages.

"Yeah. Where the bloody hell are we?"

"C-." Panic strangles the word half formed.

Doyle touches him again, one hand resting on his stomach while the other finds first his chin and then his mouth, mapping the physical terrain of Bodie in the dark. In his mind's eye, Bodie can see exactly how Doyle must look right now, his normally mobile face gone stone still with the intensity of his concentration, his lips slightly parted. He takes a shaking breath and attempts to focus on the present.

"Where, Bodie?" snaps Doyle, his voice rough-edged with pain.

Bodie tries again. "Coffin," he says. "Wright's gang..." He doesn't say, buried us alive. He says, "Put us in a coffin."

Doyle's hands stop moving. Then they leave him, and Bodie can hear Doyle knocking against the walls and lid, as if trying to confirm what he's just heard. More dirt trickles down, in a sliding, whispering rush, almost like running water.

And Bodie's wayward subconscious immediately supplies him with lines from Poe, ones which are simultaneously so apt and yet also so completely inappropriate, that he snorts in grim amusement.

"What?" Being injured always makes Doyle snappish. Which is good, Bodie thinks, because it should be some sort of rule that only one of them can be scared shitless at a time.

"Thought of a poem, didn't I?" says Bodie. He sniggers, hoping that the edge of hysteria in his voice isn't as obvious to Ray as it is to himself.

"You would," says Doyle. He sounds tired now, and not particularly interested.

To Bodie, it seems like he might be falling asleep again. "Ray, wake up!"

"I am awake. Git." Doyle gives the lid of the coffin a shove, but succeeds only in loosening a little more dirt to fall in with them. "How did we get here?"

Bodie tells him again. "Wright's gang."

"Wright...? Who?" Doyle sounds puzzled. "I don't remember. There was a briefing in Cowley's office. Did I miss it?"

Bodie groans and presses his forehead into Doyle's shoulder. "Got a knock on the head, didn't you? Expect your gray matter's a bit scrambled."

"I missed the meeting?"

"No, you were there."

"Oh." Doyle clumsily pats his shoulder, and then feels down to Bodie's elbow. "Where are your hands?"

Good question, thinks Bodie. He hasn't felt anything from his hands in quite awhile. But it's a decent bet that the lumps under his back belong to him. "They tied 'em," he says.

"Roll over."

Bodie tries. On his first twist, he hears a yelp from Doyle.

"Sor-," he starts to say, but then Doyle catches him squarely in the nuts with his knee.

"Fuck!" Bodie tries to squirm away.

"Bloody hell!" snaps Doyle. "Watch it!"

"I'm just trying-,"



"You're crushing me!"

"Yeah, well you could stop jabbing me with those boney hips of yours!" Bodie abruptly stops struggling. His face is pressed into the side of the coffin now, his shoulder jammed against the lid. He has dirt up his nose, he's sore in all sorts of interesting places, and he thinks if he doesn't laugh he's going to cry.

Except, of course, Bodie never cries.

Doyle thumps him between his shoulder blades, but affectionately this time. "Here, push your wrists together. See if you can get some slack."

Bodie tries to comply. It's hard. His hands feel as if they don't belong to him, strange objects bloated to twice their normal size and stuck onto the ends of his wrists.

Doyle is pressed up against him, hips to arse, his fingers working down near the small of Bodie's back, trying to untie him by touch. Every now and again he pauses and rests his forehead against the back of Bodie's neck, pulling in deep sobbing breaths in a way that makes Bodie wonder once again just how badly Doyle has been hurt.

Bodie tries to ease the tension, more his own than Doyle's. "Don't think even the Bisto kids got this close, eh mate? Cowley'd never approve."

"The rope's slippery..." says Doyle, ignoring him. "Does this hurt?"

"No," says Bodie. His hands come apart as the rope gives slightly.

"Hold still!"

Obediently, Bodie presses his wrists together again. Something damp trickles down to his elbow, tickling him. He bites his lip to keep from squirming.

The next time the rope loosens it goes all the way, and his hands are finally free. He still can't feel anything except a tugging sensation in his wrists as Doyle pulls the rope away from where it's become stuck to his skin.

His shoulders ache with the sudden release of strain. Bodie tries to move his right hand around from behind, dragging it between his hip and the lid of the coffin. Suddenly the blood rushing back into his hand causes it to awaken with a ferocity that takes him completely by surprise. An electric bolt of pain slams into his hand and explodes behind his eyes. His vision goes completely white, obliterating even the darkness of the grave.

He convulses, his forehead slamming first into the wall of the coffin and then the lid as he rolls onto his back, and onto Doyle. Distantly he thinks he can hear Doyle shouting, but his voice seems very far away. Bodie's left hand is still trapped beneath him, still numb, and his right feels like it's on fire.

Bodie kicks, trying to get away, but there's nowhere to go. His scream is trapped in his throat, throttled by the sheer unexpected intensity of the pain. Doyle grabs him, pulling Bodie around, his head tight against his chest, his arms and legs wrapped around him.

The agony in Bodie's hands then doubles as his left finally wakes up and joins the right. He presses his face into the warm space between Doyle's neck and shoulder, shaking as the returning circulation sends random spikes of flame through his hands.

Gradually, each jab begins to feel slightly less agonizing than the last, and Bodie becomes aware that Doyle is talking to him. He feels the vibration of the words, but it takes him a few moments to turn them into sense.

"...bloody hell, mate, trying to batter me half to death, it's a good thing we're partners or... anyway it's a good thing."

Good? He wants to say something about that, because there's nothing about this that's good. But what comes out of his mouth is hardly more than a whimper, and he cuts himself off, ashamed.

Doyle says, "Means you won't lose your hands, is what it means. Means you'll still be able to use a gun."

Oh, thinks Bodie. He knows that, actually. But it's hard to remember when his hands feel like he's just stuck them into a vat of molten metal. He curls forward, sheltering them against Doyle's chest, breathing in the scent of gun oil, sweat and aftershave. He can feel thick curls, stiff with dirt, cushioning the side of his face.

They've never been this close before and he half expects Doyle to stiffen up, push him away. Because that's what Doyle is - he's all hard edges and spines. Look, but don't touch. It's how it's always been.

But here, in the dark, Doyle is different. Bodie can feel his hand on the back of his head, pulling him close, and he's ridiculously grateful he's not alone.

"What's the poem?" says Doyle.

For a moment Bodie can't think of what Doyle might mean, then he remembers. "You don't want..." He stops abruptly and sucks in a sharp breath as tandem spikes hit both hands at once. " know."

"Yeah, I do."

The next jab is only in Bodie's right hand and it isn't quite as intense. He tries to collect his scattered thoughts. He knows he shouldn't say anything. Doyle won't like it. He'll go all prickly again.

But Bodie still says, "Okay," because there's something inevitable about it. No matter how long you live in the present, eventually the future arrives. Nothing can last forever, especially not a warm, nurturing Doyle.

His face still pressed into Doyle's neck, Bodie recites, "And so all the night-tide, I lie down by the side..."

Doyle stiffens and finishes for him, his tone utterly appalled. "Of my darling, my darling, my life and my bride? Good lord!"

Despite the pain in his hands, Bodie begins to grin. "Wasn't that bit! It was the next lines, the ones that go, 'in the sepulchre there by the sea, in her tomb by the sounding sea'." Darkly amused as he is, he's able to keep talking right through the sensation of barbeque skewers repeatedly jabbing through his hands, and never mind the pins and needles.

"Yeah, but you've still got me in the role of the bride!"

It's just too tempting. "An' a lovely blushing bride you'd be, too," camps Bodie. "Can just see you in ivory silk and lace..."

"Gerroff!" Doyle finally gives him the firm shove he's been expecting all along. Bodie's shoulder hits the top of the box. The lid creaks, dirt runs in a sibilant stream down the inside walls, and they both freeze.

Bodie feels Doyle's breathing quicken, and he knows he's also imagining the lid collapsing, burying them both under rubble. The box feels suddenly smaller than before, the air more stagnant and close.

But first one minute passes, and then another, and the lid holds. Doyle says, carefully, "It's occurred to me that we're still alive."

Bodie manages only the smallest of sounds in response, words still beyond him. The ghosts of Africa are crowding close around him, the corpses of the dead almost as real as the living body of his partner at his side.

"We've got to be getting air from somewhere," says Doyle, determinedly.

As Bodie considers this, his anxiety eases and Africa recedes part of the way back into the past where it belongs. Doyle's right. "Dirt's not packed," Bodie suggests.

"Up for some digging?"

Bodie tries flexing his hands and hisses under his breath as fire ripples across the backs of his knuckles. But what he says is, "Can you feel any loose boards?"

Doyle reaches past his shoulder, and Bodie hears the scrape of his fingers across the underside of the lid. "It feels like there's a broken piece here." There's a moment's silence, and then Bodie feels Doyle's body tense as he tugs on something. Several clumps of dirt hit the back of Bodie's head, and Doyle grunts. "Ah, it's stuck."

Bodie twists until he can reach the lid. "Where is it?" His fingers are alternating between painful tingling and numbness and every time he moves them he can feel electric shocks all the way up to his elbows.

When Doyle grabs his hand, he can hardly feel it. But it's enough to guide him. The loose plank turns out to be directly over their heads.

"Wait," says Bodie. He reaches up and starts feeling around the top of the coffin, searching.


"There's a pillowcase up here somewhere. You should use it to cover your nose, so you don't get a face full of dirt when we pull the lid apart." Bodie makes a frustrated noise. He can't feel anything. His hands are next to useless.

But Doyle twists over onto his belly and finds the pillowcase for him. Then he rips it in half, and ties one piece over Bodie's nose and mouth.

"Why howdy there pardner," says Bodie, doing his best John Wayne impression. "Normally I per-fer mah fillies a bit more curvaceous, but..."

"Shut up, Bodie. Or I'll use this to gag you instead."

Bodie shuts up, because Doyle sounds like he's serious. He waits until Doyle has covered his own face, and then he fumbles for the loose board again. Doyle helps him until he finds the edge and stuffs his uncooperative fingers into the crack.

Bodie takes a firm grip and a deep breath and then yanks as hard as he can. He can feel Doyle next to him, working in tandem. Bodie's hands hurt ferociously. He hears himself whine, deep in his throat, and bites his lip instead. After a few minutes he's tasting blood, but he keeps pulling anyway.

There's a sharp crack, and suddenly earth cascades down into his face as the board comes loose. The cloth over his nose and mouth only keeps some of the dirt out, and as he coughs he can hear Doyle wheezing and choking beside him. Bodie wonders if maybe they've miscalculated and there really is a lot more soil up there than they'd expected and all they've done now is bury themselves for real.

He wants to stop and curl up in a ball and try to protect what air remains, but instead he grabs for the next board. He finds that this one is looser now that the first is gone, and as he works he tries not to think of mass graves and the bodies in them, which might or might not have really been dead. He tells himself that this can't be some kind of delayed justice for past crimes, because what did Doyle do in his life to deserve this kind of end?

And then Doyle shouts and Bodie feels the smallest breath of sweet, fresh air on his face.

There's a lot more digging to be done, of course. But from this point on, Bodie is back in his element. Hard work and pain are things he understands, especially when the goal is within reach. Even the worms don't bother him much. He hardly notices them, except to pause occasionally to pick the squished bits out from between his fingers.

By the time he and Doyle have clawed their way to the surface, Bodie is almost giddy with relief. Old dark memories of bodies and graves seem like nothing more than bad dreams, easily forgotten in the morning light. All Hallow's Eve is over and Bodie can lay his ghosts to rest once more.

Doyle climbs out first. He braces his hand on top of Bodie's head and steps on his shoulder to heave himself up over the edge of the grave and onto the grass. Then he turns around and reaches down to haul Bodie up in turn.

It's past midnight, but the light of the moon in contrast with the utter blackness of the coffin makes the graveyard look as bright as day to Bodie's eyes. He thinks he's never seen anything so beautiful in his life as the neat rows of grey headstones and the skeletal trees.

Doyle is stretched out on the grass with his eyes closed, too exhausted to stand. Bodie, for his part, couldn't have remained still if he'd wanted to. His skin feels as if it's crawling, his nerves are jumping and alive.

Bodie spreads his arms, feeling the burn in his shoulders. He tilts his head back and pulls in a deep breath of clean, cold autumn air. A small movement catches the periphery of his vision and he suddenly realizes they aren't alone.

He glances over toward the path, and then kicks Doyle's ankle. Doyle sits up, quickly.

Bodie's first thought is that he's looking at real vampires. Then common sense reasserts itself and he realizes that it's only a couple of teenagers, black clad, white-faced... Goths, staring horrified at two CI5 agents who've just clawed their way out of the grave.

Before either Bodie or Doyle can say anything, the lad suddenly bolts. His date shrieks and follows close on his heels.

Bodie looks at Doyle and starts to grin. Doyle is covered with dirt from head to toe, his hair standing on end. Bodie glances down at his own hands, caked with blood and earth, the cuffs of his shirt torn, and knows he didn't look much better. But at least he doesn't look like a real Golliwog come to life, black face and all.

"Can't you just imagine what they'll be telling all their friends?"

Doyle snorts. "I'm more worried about what we're going to tell Cowley."

Bodie sits down abruptly on the damp grass as the adrenaline rush that had sustained him this long abruptly vanishes. At least Doyle will be able to claim he doesn't remember anything. Bodie tries to visualize himself explaining how Wright managed to get the drop on both of them, and how they'd let him get away with the stolen arms shipment...

Bodie looks over at the grave, a dark depression filled with loose dirt and broken boards. "The old man will appreciate not having to purchase a plot, once he's done with us."

"Unless he donates our bodies to science."

"Oh, Christ," Bodie begins to laugh, helplessly. After a moment, Ray joins him.

They are still on the ground, giggling, when a very puzzled plod comes up the road with his lantern to see what the fuss is all about.

Five nights later Bodie is lying in bed next to his girlfriend, feeling like something is missing.

He listens to her breathing, asleep beside him, and wonders why he isn't happy. Certainly it can't have anything to do with the past evening. She's a sweet girl, and an enthusiastic lover. Dinner was a success. The food was good, the conversation pleasant. And bonfires are always entertaining.

Bodie touches her hair, twisting the long soft strands through his fingers. She stirs, but doesn't wake. It's after midnight and he can still hear revellers shouting on the streets outside, and the intermittent pop of a stray firework.

His discontent can't have anything to do with the job, either. Cowley was a bit put out, at first, but they'd managed to track down Wright and retrieve the stolen guns. Then the old man smiled, said the operation could be considered passably successful, and told them to stand down for the weekend. So everything was back on an even keel there, too.

Bodie himself was patched up, and healing nicely, no nerve damage in his hands. He'd had to talk to Dr. Ross of course, but she'd failed to ferret out any evidence of psychological trauma. Which made sense, since there was nothing in his subconscious to trouble him anymore now that his ghosts had all been tucked neatly back where they belonged. Doyle still hadn't got his missing memories back, but otherwise the doctors said his mental faculties were in as good a shape as ever.


Bodie pauses, disturbed. Doyle is fine. The partnership is fine. Everything is the same as it's always been...

Except that Bodie can't forget the feel of Doyle's coarse springy curls against his cheek, the rough texture of his skin, the scent of him and the warm weight of his body.

Bodie gives himself a mental shake. He's being ridiculous. Rolling over and propping himself up on his elbow, he brushes his lips across the exposed curve of his girlfriend's shoulder. She smiles in her sleep. Encouraged, he places gentle kisses up the line of her neck until he arrives at her ear. He pulls the soft lobe into his mouth, finding the tiny dimple where she's had it pierced. She tastes clean, faintly like soap, and she smells of Charlie Girl perfume. He very deliberately does not think of the salty grit of Doyle's skin when he'd bitten his ear in the coffin to try and wake him.

The girl's eyes open and she smiles at him sleepily. "Again?" she asks.

"Why not? There's nothing I'd rather be doing," lies Bodie.

And so he does his best to bury himself in the present, because the past is gone and the future will never give him what he wants.

-- THE END --

October 2006

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