A Bodie Carol


Darlene Love wailed from the dashboard speakers, begging her sweetheart to return in time for Christmas. Given the condition of the roads, Bodie couldn't help but think she ought to cut the poor bugger a break.

Doyle and he had reached the outskirts of London just after suppertime that dreary Christmas Eve. In the hour since, they had progressed almost exactly three miles. The pavements and streets were overflowing with the harried and the hectic, all bundled against the cold and trying to fit in just one last something before day's end. The festive store displays and twinkling fairy lights did little to brighten the spirits of those trudging past, their eyes focused more on the slick pavement than on the wares the shops were trying to sell. All the tinsel in all the world couldn't make that holiday eve anything other than a dark and stormy night.

Would have reckoned the wintry weather to have kept most indoors, Bodie thought, grimacing when Darlene Love finished and Slade began. Reaching over, he silenced the radio. He had had about all he could take of Christmas songs for one day. About all he could take of Christmas, full stop. What a miserable day. Since early afternoon, sheet after sheet of sleet and ice had rattled against the windscreen glass like bones, chased there by gusty winds. He had been driving in the wet and gloom for hours, all the way south from the peaks of Cumbria, half blind with exhaustion, stiff and sore, and yearning to be anywhere other than behind the wheel of the Capri, his partner dozing fitfully beside him.

Bodie supposed he could have insisted Doyle do his share of the driving. Bloody Doyle with his too tight jeans, his too blind eyes and his all too bleeding heart. He could have, but he hadn't. Bodie might be dancing on the skinny edge of collapse, but Doyle was nursing a head wound. In their line of business, injury always trumped fatigue. Even a minor one.

The blow had come courtesy of Maeve McDonough, an auburn-haired slip of a girl who had greeted them at the entrance to her brother's rented farmhouse with a rifle. Following procedure, they had ducked for cover, even as their backup units had come racing down the lane to offer support. Their weapons in hand, they had demanded she drop hers. She had refused. Instead, she had fired the weapon with surprising skill for one so young, not hitting any members of CI5, but rather the rock wall behind which Bodie and Doyle had taken refuge.

One of her shots had caught the very edge of their hiding place, chipping off a bit of sandstone the size of an arrowhead. It was just Doyle's luck the projectile had ricocheted in his direction. The fragment had caught him on the forehead, startling the hell out of the man and opening an impressive gash an inch above his left brow. The wound had bled freely, initially spurring Bodie's concern. But the injury hadn't even slowed Doyle down. Handkerchief pressed to his head with one hand, he had fired off enough shots with the other to provide cover for the newly arrived agents, drive Maeve back into the house, and force her brother and his IRA cronies to take cover.

Careful not to be observed, Bodie glanced over at his partner. Doyle sat slouched in his seat, legs splayed, arms crossed, a square of gauze taped to his forehead. His coat pressed into service as a pillow, he leaned against the passenger side door, eyes shut, his body twisted in a way that made Bodie's spine throb just to look at him. The set of Doyle's jaw told Bodie the headache that had dogged the other man since his injury had not yet faded. That same headache had kept conversation sparse since they had got on the M1 hours before.

Almost as if he had somehow sensed Bodie's silent regard, Doyle murmured, "What are you going to do with our unexpected bounty?" His voice was husky with disuse. He didn't open his eyes.

Frowning, Bodie asked, "What, the day off?"

"Not just any day," Doyle said, lashes lifting. "Christmas Day." He smothered a yawn behind his hand and stretched, carefully, as if he were unsure what the movement might do to his sore head. "Couldn't believe it when the words left the old man's mouth. Don't remember the last time we had Christmas off."

"Our just reward for a job well done," Bodie said, steering the car around a Mini waiting for a parking space to open.

"Not so sure how 'well done' the job was," Doyle said, sitting up and putting his jacket back on.

Typical, Bodie thought with a scowl. So very typical. "What are you on about? We intercepted the shipment of guns and captured Lorcan McDonough, as well as three of his mates. Most important, we got out alive. All our blokes did. If that's not the definition of a job well done, I don't know what is."

Shooting Bodie a sideways glance, Doyle said, "All of our blokes got out okay. That's true. But you can't say the same for McDonough's sister."

"Oh, for Christ sake, Doyle. Don't make her out to be a victim," Bodie growled, his fingers clenching around the steering wheel in annoyance. "Did you not notice the rifle in her hand?"

"Did you not notice she was fifteen?" Doyle countered with a growl of his own, his glare even fiercer than his voice.

They had spent the last two bloody weeks holed up on the piece of land adjacent to the one McDonough had rented. Bodie had had nothing to do day after blessed day but stare across the field separating their dwellings, binoculars ringing his eyes like manacles. He had got to know the McDonoughs well. They both had.

"Yeah," he said, turning the wheel with more vigor than was strictly necessary. "I noticed."

The cottage Cowley had secured for the obbo had been small to the point of miniature, with one central room combining the functions of lounge, bedroom and kitchen. The only privacy afforded the two agents had been behind the door of a pint-sized loo, whose plumbing, Bodie would have wagered, dated back to Victoria's reign.

Their lookout point had been chosen because of its close proximity to McDonough's property and the open visibility between the two. Ironically, such advantages had proved a double-edged sword. While CI5 had benefited from an excellent view of McDonough and the road leading to his hideaway, McDonough had enjoyed, in turn, the same excellent view of them.

Acting on a tip, Bodie and Doyle had moved into the house prior to McDonough's arrival in the country and set up shop. Once ensconced, however, the two agents had soon come to feel like rats in a trap. They couldn't turn on the lights, couldn't pull open the curtains, couldn't open a window or step outside, not even under cover of night. Cowley had strictly forbidden such activities, worried the Irishman across the way might figure out their purpose there.

Feeling as he did about his partner, the fortnight had been Bodie's very own private hell.

For fourteen solid days, Doyle and he had traded off shifts, watching and waiting, with only the occasional comings and goings of the McDonough siblings to divert them. Bodie had had nowhere he could go to escape the man with whom he worked. No matter where he had looked or what he had done, Doyle had always been there...

Nestled, sleeping beneath the blankets on the bed in which they had taken turns. Doyle's hand would sometimes slip free of the covers to lay palm up, fingers curled softly in a way that made Bodie long to capture them in his own hand and hold on tight.

The smell of Doyle, his sweat, his soap, his very skin had seemed to permeate the air, the scent concentrated most heavily in the tiny bathroom, where the heat and steam had worked alchemy, distilling the essence into a kind of perfume.

Even when they had exhausted conversation and gone about their duties, silent as falling shadows, the sounds of Doyle had called to Bodie. He would lie on the bed, eyes closed, and listen to the hush of his partner's breath, Doyle's sighs, the rustle of his clothes as he had moved around their cramped quarters, the clip of his boots against the hardwood floor. All had disclosed secrets about Doyle's moods, his thoughts, his actions, and Bodie had hungered for such information, eager to take anything Doyle had been willing to share, no matter how unwittingly.

Helpless against such intense and prolonged exposure, Bodie had become painfully conscious of his partner in a way he never had been before. Though that wasn't strictly true. Bodie's awareness of Doyle had always been high. It could be nothing else, given what they did for a living and how much they relied on each other to survive.

Yet in the months leading up to the McDonough obbo, that knowledge, that sensitivity, had started changing in unforeseen and insidious ways. The affection he had felt towards Doyle since the early days of their pairing had grown into something more...earthy. Their time in the cottage had only confirmed for Bodie what he had begun to fear and could not control. He no longer wanted only his partner's friendship. He wanted more of him than he was certain Doyle would ever be willing to give.

"I know she had a gun," Doyle said, his weary voice breaking through Bodie's ruminations. "I know I didn't have a choice. But every time I think about it, all I keep remembering is her, over and over again, throwing the Frisbee to that damned dog."

Bodie didn't look at Doyle, all too well aware of what he would see. After all, he had the same memories, didn't he? Just because he didn't broadcast his emotions the way the man sitting beside him did, didn't mean he lacked them entirely. Why the hell did Doyle have to scratch at something until it bled?

"Where do you suppose it ran off to?" Doyle asked. "The dog, I mean. I looked for it afterwards. Just for a bit while Cowley was ordering everyone about. But I couldn't find it."

Bodie shrugged, unwilling to wonder. "Don't know, do I? It's a good-looking animal. I imagine someone took it in."

If there had been one consolation during their two week confinement, it had been that Lorcan McDonough had seemed every bit as bored as his watchers. Bodie had lost count of the number of times McDonough had stood, his shoulder propped against the farmhouse doorway, cigarette dangling from his lips, staring out over the landscape like Heathcliff contemplating the moors.

His sister, on the other hand, had seemingly had an easier time keeping herself entertained. Her amusement had been helped in no small part by a border collie mix, intent on fetching anything and everything his mistress threw. If the girl hadn't been flicking a Frisbee across the front yard, she had been tossing a stick or a ball. And every single time, the pup had brought it back, tail wagging with gleeful canine abandon. The two had been inseparable.

That is until a bullet from Doyle's Walther had ended Maeve's life and the dog had bolted out the kitchen door in terror. While the shot might have been necessary to save Bodie, neither man had fully absolved himself of guilt.

"Still don't understand what the hell she was doing there," Doyle murmured. Bodie glanced over to see his partner's eyes focused blindly now out the passenger side window. "Who invites their little sister along to a gun buy?"

"It's Christmas, innit? Maybe he thought a trip to the Lake District was the perfect pressie." Bodie said, dodging a shopper more intent on finishing her errands than on obeying traffic signals. "Mind you, right about now, I'll bet he wishes he'd got her a bottle of Chanel No. 5 instead."

"Don't joke about something like that, Bodie," Doyle said, looking his way. "Don't bloody joke."

"Fine," Bodie said, hitting the brakes when the car in front of them came to an abrupt halt. "I won't. Just don't you be breaking out the sackcloth and ashes."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means much as you enjoy playing the martyr now and again, it's not a role I relish," Bodie said, pounding the horn, at that moment, frustrated by more than just the traffic. "Stop trying to cast me in it."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Doyle insisted.

"I'm talking about you being so determined to feel guilty over the death of that girl." Bodie said, pinning his partner with his gaze. Doyle met his eyes unflinchingly, no less resolute.

"Determination has nothing to do with it, Bodie," Doyle argued. "That's how I feel. I'm sorry if you'd rather I didn't. What would you have me do?"

"Your job, Doyle," Bodie said, turning off of Sloane Street and on to King's Road. "Nothing more. Just do the job."

"Thought that's what I was doin' when I stopped you from taking a bullet to the belly," Doyle muttered.

Bodie pressed his lips flat, holding back the tirade lurking there, just waiting to be unleashed. The funny thing was, he couldn't say for certain who would wind up the target of such a harangue--his partner for being who and what he was or Bodie, himself, for allowing a schoolgirl to get the drop on him.

"That's right. Your job is to guard my back--or belly, come to that--same as I do yours," Bodie said, finally, wanting to end this ridiculous conversation once and for all. "And that's what you did. It all came down to a simple choice, her or me. And I'll tell you right now--I'm not at all sorry you chose me."

Seemingly having no rebuttal to that, Doyle pressed his head back against the seat and closed his eyes. Bodie wondered how badly his headache was bothering him.

They drove another few hundred yards before Doyle spoke again, his eyes open and looking in Bodie's direction. "Look, I don't want to fight. All right? We're both knackered, half starved and my head feels like a particularly well-used football. Let's have this out another time. What do you say?"

"You won't get any argument from me," Bodie replied, easing the Capri forward as he concentrated on merging. The road bottlenecked ahead.


They inched along in silence until Doyle said in an offhanded manner, "You know...I've been thinking about us having Christmas day off. Here we are, two mates. Both single, neither with any family about. Why don't you come over and spend Christmas with me?"

Hearing Doyle's suggestion, it was all Bodie could do to keep from rear-ending the car in front of them. "Spend it with you?"

"Yeah," Doyle said, warming to the topic. "Why not? You don't have a better offer, do you?"

"We only just found out this morning we had the day free," Bodie reminded him before he could think better of it. "When would I've found the time to get a better offer?" Why couldn't he have kept his mouth shut? Having other plans would have been the perfect out.

"Well all right, then," Doyle said, clearly enthusiastic. "It's settled. Drop me at the Sainsbury's round the corner from my flat. I'll stock up on provisions. You go home and pack a bag. I'll leave mine in the car and pick it up later."

"Wait a minute," Bodie protested with equal parts exasperation and dread. He couldn't spend any more time in the man's company. He would never survive it. Neither would their partnership. "Wait just one minute. Did you ever stop to think I might want to spend the day at my own place--sleep in, get some rest?"

"All right," Doyle said with an agreeable shrug. "Spend the night in your own bed and pop over in the afternoon. Probably for the best anyway. It'll give me the chance to straighten up the place. If you recall, we left in quite a hurry."

"For God sake, Doyle. I didn't say yes, did I?" Bodie said, wondering how the hell everything had suddenly got so out of control. "Is this the same technique you use with your birds? 'Cause I have to tell you, mate--I don't think much of it."

"More subtle with the birds, aren't I?" Doyle said, smiling now. Bodie could only imagine Doyle believed he was joking, having a bit of a laugh. Bodie had never been so serious in all his life. "They need to be handled delicately. Never noticed restraint worked all that well with you, though."

"After the last couple of weeks, think of me as a Wedgwood teacup," Bodie retorted, turning in to Doyle's street. He was almost there. Almost safe.

"Oh, I get it," Doyle said, edging closer. Sliding his arm around the back of Bodie's seat, he leaned in, so close his breath kissed Bodie's ear. "You need to be wooed."

"Doyle..." Bodie warned through gritted teeth.

Doyle ignored him. "How does this sound then? Turkey with all the trimmings, roast potatoes, brussel sprouts, a lovely pudding, fine brandy to wash it all down. And if you're a good lad, a pressie of your very own."

Spying an open stretch of curb, Bodie slid the Capri into the spot. They were still three streets away from Doyle's flat, but he couldn't have this conversation and continue to drive. Not if he wanted to get them both home safe and sound.

"Listen, mate," he said, pulling on the handbrake, and glaring at the man beside him. "Get this through your curly-headed skull--I don't want to spend Christmas with you. All right? Don't know how much plainer I can make it."

It looked at first as if his words didn't make sense to Doyle. But when Bodie said nothing further, Doyle's confusion slowly cleared. All that was left behind was hurt. His wounded expression pricked Bodie's conscience. Still, Bodie refused to budge, refused to say anything more at all. If he did, Doyle would win and everything would be lost.

Yet it was Doyle who spoke. "Why not?"

"Oh, for the love of god," Bodie exploded, shifting behind the wheel to confront the man seated beside him, all his good intentions well forgotten. "Leave the fuck off. Mind telling me where in Cowley's all-important small print it says I have to explain my every action to you? We're partners, Doyle. Not husband and wife. I am allowed a certain measure of privacy. One day, one bloody day. Alone. That's all I'm askin'. After fourteen straight with you, I think I've earned it."

Doyle didn't say anything right away. His eyes fell, focusing somewhere around the dashboard ashtray. "Right," he said, quietly, nodding, almost to himself. "Okay." Saying nothing further, he opened the car door and climbed out.

"Wait," Bodie said, surprised by his leave-taking. "Where you goin'?"

"Home," Doyle said, simply. Leaning into the car, he reached into the back seat to retrieve his duffle bag. Cold air rushed in through the open door, reminding Bodie how truly awful it was outside.

"I'll drive you," Bodie said, something perverse inside him now not wanting to part with Doyle's company. At least not like this.

Doyle shook his head. Bodie couldn't read what he saw in his partner's eyes. "It's not far. I can walk."

Bodie was going to thump him one. He really was. "Doyle, don't be stupid--"

Duffle slung over his shoulder, Doyle bent down to give Bodie a smile that had nothing to do with happiness. "That's what I'm trying to avoid. Happy Christmas, mate." Closing the door, he walked away, his long legs eating up pavement, his shoulders hunched against the wind.

Bodie sat there, the car engine idling, watching until Doyle disappeared at the end of the street, swallowed there by the dark and sleet.

All right, Bodie thought. That's good. He could breathe easy now. He would have no Doyle to bother and bewitch him, just peace and quiet for Christmas.

"Bah humbug," Bodie muttered, putting the car into gear and pointing it towards home.

By the time Bodie reached his flat, lugged his bags upstairs and got the heat going, it was half past eight. He had stopped off at the corner shop on his way, picking up a few things to tide him over, perishables mostly, and a four-pack of his favorite lager. His return to familiar lodgings wasn't as sweet as he had hoped it might be. He hated coming home in winter after a lengthy absence. The place was dusty and, with it being too cold to air it out properly, the flat smelled like his old gran's attic, neglected and unwelcoming.

The exhaustion he had suffered during the long motor trip back had dissipated a bit now that he was out of the car and moving about. So Bodie decided to unwind a bit before retiring for the night. He puttered around the place, unpacking his suitcase, getting together a sack of dirty clothes to take to the laundry, and basically setting things to right.

Chores finished, he made himself a cheese and pickle sarnie, and took it, a bag of crisps and a can of lager into the lounge, where he settled on the couch. Toeing off his shoes, he made himself comfortable and reached for the television remote.

It didn't take long for him to realize there was nothing much worth watching. Annoyed, he sat, munching his sandwich and idly flipping channels, clicking past a church service with a choir singing, and some heavyset woman coaxing music out of an oversized harp. Finally, he landed on something he thought he might be able to stomach, Scrooge, starring Alastair Sim. It was just starting. Given his earlier comment, Bodie felt it only fitting he spend some time with the miserly old curmudgeon. After all, it seemed they had a few things in common.

Of course, his issue really wasn't centered around Christmas, he admitted to himself, finishing his lager and going back into the kitchen with his empty plate and crisps bag to retrieve another can. While admittedly no great fan of the season, Bodie didn't hold any particular antipathy towards the day. In truth, he hadn't really given it all that much thought at all. He typically worked on December the 25th, and until that morning hadn't expected the custom to change. Besides, what did it matter one way or another? Work or no, it wasn't as if he had a family to come home to, a tree lit and packages stacked beneath it. That wasn't who he was. Christmas was a day, like any other day.

So what if it seemed as if the rest of the world felt differently, he told himself as he settled back on the couch. His life was his work, the very necessary job he and his partner had to do. Keeping the villains at bay so that others might practice peace and good will towards men. It wasn't the easiest way to make a living, but one at which he excelled. He couldn't see doing anything else. Bodie knew he belonged there, in the real world, not in some fantasy realm of mistletoe and roasting chestnuts and loved ones sipping punch before the fire. He would not apologize for that.

But for his feelings towards Doyle...

There, he admittedly had regrets. Bodie wished he could stop himself from wanting the impossible, that he could turn back the clock to the days when their partnership had been newly minted and Doyle had been nothing more than the ratty copper with whom he had been partnered. But such feats were beyond him.

"Christ, mate," Bodie murmured, knowing even as he spoke how utterly selfish his words were, yet at the same time recognizing the grain of truth they held. "My life would be so much simpler if you weren't around."

Stretched out lengthways on the sofa, his head propped on a wadded up cushion, Bodie's muscles gradually grew lax, his lashes weighty. Sipping his beer, he watched the film, so familiar with the story he could doze his way through entire scenes and still follow what was going on. When his second can of lager was drained dry, he knew he ought to go to bed. But he was awfully comfortable there on the couch. His flat had at last grown cozy with warmth. Dark save for the flickering television and the feeble light above the kitchen stove, the resulting ambiance was tranquil and snug. Might as well sack out here, he thought, turning on his side and slipping his hand beneath the cushion. He was too tired to get up and go in to the bedroom.

And so he drifted to sleep, Dickens' Christmas classic playing softly on the telly like a lullaby.

He woke to the sound of a gun being cocked.

Hearing the distinctive click, Bodie startled to awareness, eyes not yet focused, searching blindly for both the threat and his own weapon.

"Sloppy, Sergeant. Very, very sloppy."

Bodie knew that voice.

Mastering his alarm, Bodie looked towards the foot of the couch. There, seated on the coffee table, just even with his knee, was a man he recognized, even if all he could see was the bloke's shadowy profile. A long, distinctive nose and shaggy head of hair gave the identity away. "Keller. What the hell are you doing here?"

Dressed head to toe in dark clothing, topped by an equally dark overcoat, Jimmy Keller shifted to look at him. The glow from the television, now broadcasting only a test card, lit up the left side of Keller's face and body, giving him an odd harlequin aspect. He was holding the gun Bodie had heard and had it pointed in Bodie's direction. "I'm here to give you a wakeup call, Bodie. From where I'm sitting, you badly need one."

Swinging his feet to the floor, Bodie sat up and shook his head, desperate to clear out the cobwebs. Something wasn't quite right about this. How did Keller know where he lived? How had he got past the alarms? Then it hit him.

"You're dead."

"You only just now remembered?" Keller taunted with a smile. "I once described you as not too bright. Didn't realize at the time how accurate I was."

Bodie ignored the dig. "You're dead," he said again, needing to confirm the statement, if only for himself. "Flatlined on the way to hospital, months ago."

"Yes," Keller agreed. "After I saved your life. Again."

"Then how could you...," Bodie began, only to stop himself before he could complete the thought. Stupid question. "I'm dreaming. That's what this is. I'm not awake. I only think I am. This is all a dream."

"You keep telling yourself that, mate," Keller said. "But as you do, you listen to me as well. I'm about to save your life one last time."

Bodie chuckled, his laughter rueful. "That right? And you plan on doing that by pointing a gun at me, do you?"

Keller smiled and glanced down at the weapon, as if only just now recalling it. "I wouldn't worry about my gun, if I were you. You've got far bigger concerns."

"Such as?"

"Such as I'm just the first of several visitors you'll have tonight."

"You're what?" Bodie bleated. "Oh for Christ sake. Not the whole past, present, future thing. Can't a man take a kip on his own couch without his dreams goin' mad?"

"Apparently not," Keller said, his tone deliberately dry.

Bodie was not amused. "I swear to god, this is the last time I fall asleep watching the late night film."

"You're blaming this on poor old Dickens?" Keller queried, seemingly tickled by the idea. "That's not very nice, Bodie. Not very accurate either. This one's all on you."

"What are you talking about?" Bodie asked, getting pulled into the argument despite his better judgment. "Oh, what am I talking about--you're not real. None of this is. It doesn't matter whether you make sense or not."

"I'm making sense, mate," Keller said. "If you'd just listen for a second, you'd realize I'm making all kinds of sense."

Scrubbing his palms over his face, Bodie gave up. "Fine. Just...fine. You've got something to say, so say it. Maybe then I can go back to sleep."

"All right," Keller said. "Probably shouldn't waste time anyway. You've got a long night ahead of you." The glitter in his eyes contradicted his calm, measured tone. "The reason I'm here is I don't want you to end up like me."

"Shot full of holes by the terrorist I double-crossed?" Bodie murmured with a lift of his brow. "Not bloody likely."

"Listen to me, you cocky son of a bitch," Keller snarled, pressing to his feet to glower down at Bodie, his gun arm extended, the gun itself aimed at Bodie's chest. "You think you know it all, don't you? Know who you are, what's important. I was like that once. Thought I had it all figured out."

"I'm not you, Keller," Bodie said, warily eyeing Keller's weapon. "I won't make the same mistakes."

"No," Keller murmured with a shake of his head. "You'll make your own, won't you? Turn your back on what's good, what's right. Give up everything without even token resistance."

"What are you on about?" Bodie asked.

Lowering his weapon, Keller didn't answer him. At least not directly. "Don't die like me, Bodie. Alone and dishonored, with no one to truly mourn your passing. Listen to the others. They'll set you straight."

Something in Keller's eyes spoke to Bodie. Without meaning to, he found himself moved by the sorrow he saw there, the regret.

"I don't plan on dying at all, mate," he said with what he hoped was a jaunty smile. "At least not for a very long time."

"Neither did I," Keller said, lowering his gun. "But look at me now."

As if those words were the equivalent of abracadabra, Keller suddenly started to change. His skin, which had appeared firm and healthy only moments before, abruptly turned tissuey and grey, scored with lines maturity alone couldn't draw. Once thinned and stretched to its limits, Keller's flesh began to tear from the bones in his face, sagging in messy folds before dropping away completely. His eyes bulged, then collapsed, like twin soufflés, falling in on themselves. His lips peeled back and away, exposing a terrible jack-o-lantern smile.

"Oh my god," Bodie breathed, unable to look away.

"Ashes to ashes, Bodie," gurgled the monster in Bodie's lounge. "Dust to dust."

With that, the thing's limbs shook as if with palsy and withered, growing frail beneath its clothes. As its skin shrank from its bones, its arms flailed, its legs twisted and jerked. The apparition danced like a demon marionette.

Bodie watched with horror as bony fingertips popped through newly fragile hide like knives spearing paper. The creature's shoulders narrowed and slumped, while its skeleton feet stumbled around in now oversized socks and shoes, clomping on the hardwood so loudly, Bodie was certain his neighbors below would be pounding on the ceiling before long.

Then as suddenly as it had started, it ended. With one last hideous shudder, the figure collapsed, its bones turning to powder, Keller's gun clattering to the floor now that no hand was there to grasp it.

"Remember," a ragged voice whispered, echoing, seemingly from everywhere. "Remember this. Remember me."

Staring wide-eyed at the heap of grit-covered clothing half a room away, Bodie swallowed once, then again, and realized he was trembling.

"Fuck," he mumbled, dropping his head into shaky hands and closing his eyes. "Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck."

"Very theatrical, I thought," a lilting, feminine voice murmured from just to the right of where Bodie sat. "I wonder how effective it was."

Scrambling from the couch, Bodie threw himself at Keller's discarded automatic, juggling the weapon when he tried to pick it up. Swearing under his breath, it took him a second to get a firm grip on the gun. But only a second. When he had it securely in hand, he whirled, kneeling on the floor, and faced the kitchen doorway. Framed there was his newest unwanted visitor. The stove light revealed only her outline. She was small and stood relaxed with one hand, waist level, on the door jamb.

"Are you going to shoot me, Mr. Bodie?" she asked with what sounded like humor in her voice. "I can assure you it's not necessary. Your partner saw to that this morning."

She stepped towards him, into the lounge and closer to the television's faint glimmer. As soon as the light hit her face, Bodie spoke her name.

"Maeve McDonough."

"That's right," she said with a smile.

Maeve was dressed as she had been when Bodie had last seen her: trainers, jeans, and a grey jumper over a lavender checked shirt. Her auburn hair hung to her shoulders in a smooth, shiny pageboy. A sharp little chin, pert mouth and smattering of freckles gave her face a piquant beauty. She would have grown up to be quite the heartbreaker, had she lived.

"What are you doing here?" Bodie asked, lowering the gun. What was the point? He couldn't kill a corpse. Besides, he reminded himself, this was all a dream.

Wasn't it?

"I'm here to help you," she said.

"Why?" Bodie queried, pushing to his feet and setting the gun on the coffee table. "It's because of me you're dead."

"No," she said with a shake of her head. "It's because of meself."

"What do you mean?"

"I picked up the rifle, didn't I?"

"Why, though?" Bodie pressed, the question something that had been rattling around inside his head since the raid. "We had the place surrounded. Your brother, his mates and you were outnumbered. Why didn't you surrender? Nobody had to die."

He watched as a series of emotions made their presence known on her expressive face. The one that seemed to linger longest was embarrassment. Eyes evading his, Maeve shrugged. "I'm sorry. So sorry for everything. It just...it all happened so quickly. I wasn't thinking clearly. All I knew was I couldn't stand by and let you take him. Lorcan is my brother."

"Your brother is a nasty piece of work," Bodie retorted, some of the feelings he had kept buried deep within him now bubbling to the surface. "He's a killer, Maeve. He murders innocent people--mothers, children. Last summer, he planted a bomb in the middle of a street festival packed with families. He deserves what's coming to him."

"He was all I had," Maeve insisted, taking a step closer, her arms spread wide, her hazel eyes gleaming in the shadows. "Brother, father, mother. Everything all rolled into one. He was my family."

Bodie didn't know what to say to that, how to convince a dead girl she had loved a villain.

They didn't cover that sort of thing in the CI5 training manual.

"I know what he did," she continued, dragging her sleeve across her cheek to erase a runaway tear. "What he was. I know all of it now that it's been revealed to me. But you can't understand...he was kind to me, loving. A good brother. And I loved him back. You should know as well as anyone, Mr. Bodie. You can't choose who you love."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Bodie asked, not liking the turn the conversation had taken.

"Let me show you something," Maeve said by way of reply. Crossing to the coffee table, she picked up the remote.

"What are you doing?" Bodie said, moving so he stood at the opposite end of the couch from Maeve. "There's nothing on at this hour."

"You'd be surprised," she said, glancing at him almost shyly as she perched on the edge of the sofa.

Aiming the remote at the television, she pressed a button. The channel changed. Onscreen was a pretty blonde woman and a small, dark-haired boy of no more than four or five, both wearing casual clothes from a generation ago. The woman had a small Christmas wreath brooch tacked to her blouse. Sitting side by side at a battered kitchen table, they were decorating gingerbread men. The woman had a cup of tea at her elbow; the child, a glass of milk. Bodie watched, curious despite himself. They looked familiar.

"What is this?" he asked, his voice hushed.

Maeve turned to look at him. "Do you know it?"

Bodie shook his head. "I'm not sure. I--"

Then the boy looked up from what he was doing, his face flushed with what appeared to be a mix of pleasure and the kitchen's trapped heat. His chubby cheeks framed a smile missing a bottom tooth. His eyes were very blue with quirky flyaway brows arching over them. Bodie knew those eyes. They stared back at him every day from the mirror.

He knew the boy.

And he knew the woman with him.

"Mum," he whispered with amazement.

"That's the way, Billy," the woman said, smiling with approval. "Press down on the chocolate drops. Gently now, gently. Good boy. Those are the eyes, you see."

"What about the raisins, Mum?" the child asked, his voice high and thin.

"Those are the buttons," she said. "See? They go down the center. One after another in a row. You want to try?"

The boy nodded and went to work.

"She's good with him, isn't she?" Maeve said quietly. "Patient. So pretty too."

"Yeah," Bodie said, his throat full, his eyes stinging. "She was a beauty, my mum."

He had forgotten that. It had been so many years since he had seen her face. The only picture of her he had ever owned had been lost in Africa more than a decade ago. He hadn't remembered how terribly young she had been, how lovely.

"She couldn't be more than 24 or 25 there," he mused, forgetting he had company.

"Do you remember this then?" Maeve asked.

Bodie shook his head. "No, not really. Bits of it, maybe. It was so long ago."

"This was your last Christmas together," Maeve said.

Bodie nodded, taking in the information. That would make him five. "She died the following May."

"Yes," Maeve agreed. "A terrible accident."

"A drunk driver."

"How are you two getting on?" called a voice from off-screen. "Don't you be messing up my kitchen."

While the words had sounded forbidding, the tone was anything but. Bodie's mother smiled. "You can't bake without a little mess, Mum. Come and have tea with us, and judge the damage for yourself. The gingerbread men are still warm."

An older grey-haired woman stepped into view. She looked frail, her hands blue-veined and spotted, her shoulders stooped with age, but her eyes were bright and her face kind. She wore a flowered housedress, cable-knit cardigan and slippers.

"Show your gran your decorating skills, Billy," his mother said, running her hand softly over his hair.

"Look, Gran," his younger self said. "These are their eyes and these are their buttons. Mum is going to draw their hair and mouth with icing. You can eat it all!"

His grandmother chuckled as she crossed to the teapot and poured herself a cup of tea. "I daresay you can. You two do good work. I'm sure everything is delicious."

"When your mother died, your grandmother raised you," Maeve said, intruding on the scene.

"I was more than she was prepared to handle on her own," Bodie said, unable to tear his eyes away from the happy trio. First Mum, now Gran too? His memory of the older woman was sharper than that of his mother. He had had more time with her, after all. Still, it had been nearly 20 years since he had been in the same room with the woman.

Nearly 20 years since she had died.

"Nonsense," Maeve scoffed. "You meant the world to her. After your mum died, you were all she had left. She used to tell her chums you kept her young."

"Shame I couldn't do the same for her ticker," Bodie said, at last looking away from the screen to meet Maeve's eyes.

She seemed unmoved by his stare. Her expression was sad, but not afraid. "Yes. Heart attack. It'd been coming for years. But she'd held it off, willed it away. For you. She would have moved mountains for you."

Hearing that, Bodie turned his head, fixing his gaze stubbornly on the television, unable to withstand Maeve's gentle scrutiny. The threesome on the telly had settled in for tea. His mother had pulled him onto her lap. He was biting the head off his gingerbread man, crumbs cascading down the front of him. The two women in his life laughed at his antics.

"When your gran was gone, it was hard, wasn't it? In and out of one foster home after another. Never belonging, never really part of anything."

He tried so hard not to think of those years. It wasn't that he had suffered as some in his situation did. He had never been abused or taken advantage of. Rather, it had been more like he had suddenly turned invisible. No one had seemed to really see him anymore, to worry about what he was thinking, where he was going, what he had wanted.

"You rebelled, didn't you? In your way. Keeping to yourself. Staying out late. Until one day you didn't come home at all."

Those who had taken him under their wing hadn't understood how to properly handle a grieving young man. They had been so careful with him, careful not to say the wrong thing, careful not to press. But all their care had done was drive him away, out of Liverpool, never to return.

He wondered what it would have been like if he had stayed.

He cleared his throat before he spoke. "Why are you showing me this?"

"You've been alone so long," Maeve said, looking up at him, her hands folded loosely in her lap. "Haven't you, Mr. Bodie? Holding at arm's length anyone who dared get too close."

"That's not true," Bodie argued.

"Isn't it?" she said, picking up the remote once more.

With the click of a button, the television channel changed, the cozy domestic tableau vanishing. In its place was scene after scene from Bodie's life, quick clips, one after another, like a slideshow.

His mates.

His women.

His jobs.


The Middle East


In every setting, every time, Bodie saw people he had cared about in one fashion or another, some he hadn't laid eyes on in years.

"There are people out there willing to love you," Maeve said, "if you'd only give them the chance."

Bodie shook his head, still focused on the telly. Doyle was onscreen now, smiling at him over a hand of cards, hair mussed, a day's worth of stubble darkening his jaw, devilment shining in his eyes. "I don't have time for love."

"It's not about time," Maeve said, her voice lightly mocking. "You know that. It's about courage."

That dragged Bodie away from the television. He looked at Maeve with disbelief. "What are you on about?"

"You're afraid, aren't you?" she said pointedly. "That's why you push away the ones who get too close."

Bodie shook his head, his face screwed up in disgust. "That's rubbish."

"That's why you're alone," she insisted.

"I'm not alone," he argued just as fiercely.

"It's Christmas Eve and you're chatting up a dead girl, Mr. Bodie," Maeve said with the first bit of temper Bodie had been able to coax forth. "Seems to me it doesn't get much more alone than that."

Dumbfounded by the notion, Bodie gaped at her for a moment, eyes wide. Then his sense of the absurd kicked in, and he laughed, loudly. Maeve stared back at him, seemingly bemused by his reaction, before giving in and laughing with him.

"Well, I'll say one thing," Bodie said, after their shared amusement had come to a comfortable conclusion. "You make a hell of a lot nicer dream than my mate Keller did."

Maeve smiled at him. "I'm not a dream, you know."

Bodie smiled back. "Of course you are, love."

The television picture flickered out, displaying no test card this time, just static.

"That's all I have to show you," Maeve said, turning off the telly and setting the remote on the coffee table. "My time here is at an end."

Bodie arched his back, stretching. Christ, he was tired. Weird he should feel that way while sleeping. "Thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed the trip down memory lane. For the most part."

"You're welcome," Maeve said, pressing to her feet.

She turned as if to cross to the kitchen and go back the way she had come. Bodie watched her for a step or two. The lounge was darker than before. She seemed insubstantial in the shadows.

"Maeve," he called after her, stopping her progress.

She turned. He couldn't see her face. "Yes?"

"I'm sorry about today. This morning." Bodie hesitated, unsure how to apologize, or even if he should, but wanting to just the same. "We didn't mean that to happen, Doyle and I."

Mauve nodded. "I know. It's all right. I didn't want to hurt you either. Not really. I think I went a bit mad for a moment, you know? Like someone else had taken over my body and I was watching from the outside."

"Yeah," he said. "I know that feeling."

"Happy Christmas, Mr. Bodie," she said. Her silhouette seemed to be losing shape right before Bodie's eyes, blending into the room's umbrae. "Don't be alone. Let yourself love."

"What for?" Bodie asked, in some way, wanting to hold her there. She was good company. "What did love ever do for you?"

He couldn't see Maeve now. She had disappeared into the blackness, but she lingered still. He could feel her.

"It gave me the world," she said, the words hushed, yet near, as if she were whispering into his ear. "And took it from me too."

Bodie shivered.

"That's what love is," she said, her voice fading. "It's scary sometimes. But you have to dare. Be brave, be brave..."

Bodie closed his eyes and imagined he felt a pair of soft lips brush his cheek. "Good-bye, sweetheart."

And for just a moment he was alone in his flat.

Then someone said, "She's a bit of all right, that Maeve." The voice was familiar and shaped by a Manchester childhood. "Pity she's too young for me."

Bodie's eyes flew open. Fumbling in the dark, he reached over and turned on the floor lamp at the end of the couch. This was one guest he wanted to see, in more ways than one. "Charlie?" he asked as he turned.

"That's Mr. Sam Houseman to you," said the man standing in Bodie's hallway. Short and slender with medium brown hair and a mustache that threatened to overwhelm his narrow face, the departed CI5 agent was a sight for sore eyes.

Bodie grinned in welcome. "Good to see you, mate."

"How you doin', Bodie?" Charlie asked with an answering smile. He looked healthier than Bodie had ever seen him. Dressed in navy trousers and suit jacket with a white, open-collared shirt, he could have been heading out for a night on the town. "You look well."

"I'm fine," Bodie said. "I'm doing fine. I'd ask the same..."

Charlie nodded, his smile undimmed. "But I'm dead."

"There is that, yeah," Bodie agreed, amused by the exchange, yet saddened by the memory that accompanied it.

Charlie had spent his last day on Earth doing the job he had loved. Unfortunately, on that particular day, the job had not loved him back. Masquerading as an assassin's target, he had been shot, with only Bodie on hand to provide comfort and care. Gravely wounded, Charlie had bled out before the ambulance could reach them. Bodie had held him while he had died.

"How long's it been, mate?" Charlie asked.

Bodie thought about it. "Two years come April."

Charlie shook his head as if amazed. "Time really does fly."

"Faster and faster, the more mature one grows."

"In that case, you've no worries."

Bodie chuckled. "So why're you here?" he asked, crossing to sit in the corner of the couch, his arm stretched out along its back. "Keller tried to scare me, Maeve tried to charm me. What's your racket?"

"No racket to speak of," Charlie said, taking a seat in the armchair nearby. He crossed his ankle over his knee, and got comfortable, as if he might be sticking around awhile. Bodie approved of the plan. "Can't a bloke look in on an old friend?"

Bodie shook his head. "Not in this dream."

"You still think this is a dream, do you?"

"All evidence points to it."

"Listen to you!" Charlie sniggered. "'All evidence points to it.' You sound like quite the copper. Looks like old Ray must've rubbed off on you after all these years."

Bodie shrugged, not at all certain how he felt about Charlie's observation. "I suppose he's had his influence. I like to think I've had mine as well."

"Of course," Charlie said, nodding sagely. "Stands to reason, doesn't it? Two men working together as close as you two have done. The relationship is bound to become...symbiotic. That's the word, innit?"

"That's a word," Bodie allowed, biting back another smile. "A rather posh word, come to that. You enroll in university on the other side?"

Charlie shook his head. "Crosswords. They were my salvation during obbos. Can't get enough of them."

"And it shows," Bodie murmured with mock admiration.

"But enough of that," Charlie said with a wave of his hand. "You're gettin' me off track. We were talkin' about you and Ray."

Bodie sighed and tipped back his head to look up at the ceiling. "Oh, here it comes."

"Here comes what?"

"Don't play the innocent with me," Bodie said, bringing his head level again, so he could arch his brow in Charlie's direction. "I'm on to you, you know."

"Here's another word for you, Bodie. Paranoid. Look it up."

"Listen here, Shakespeare. I wasn't born yesterday," Bodie said, giving Charlie his best 'don't mess with me' mien. His friend didn't appear terribly impressed by the effort. It seemed familiarity really did breed contempt, or at the very least amusement. "You've been gone awhile now, Charlie. Nearly two years. And I've never once dreamed about you. Now suddenly you show up, wanting to chat about Ray and me on a night I'm doing my damnedest not to think about him--"

"And why exactly is that?"

"Leave off!" Bodie barked, Charlie's persistence beginning to annoy. Christ, why couldn't he dream about getting laid, like any normal bloke? "I don't want to talk about it. All right?"

"Sorry, Bodie," Charlie said, shifting in his seat, leaning forward so his hands were clasped between his knees. "But it's not all right." He pushed to his feet. "Look, I wouldn't stick my nose in it, only you and Ray are mates. And I'm here to tell you, as a mate, you keep on as you are, and you're going to mess up the best thing that's ever happened to you."

"What--Doyle?" Bodie queried, surprised in spite of himself. The best thing that's ever happened to you. Could that be true?

"Doyle and you," Charlie corrected.

"There is no Doyle and me," Bodie said, standing now as well. He wasn't going to just sit there and let himself be berated, not in his own lounge.

And certainly not in his own dream.

"Don't you get it?" Bodie continued. "Doyle and I are partners. We work well together, we're friends. Sure, I'll go to his local for a pint occasionally, play a game of darts or some snooker. Or maybe we'll go out together with a couple of birds, spend the evening doubling. But that's all it is. That's all it can ever be."

"So, if the Cow were to...say tomorrow...break up the team," Charlie said, "pair you instead with Anson or Jax maybe, you wouldn't be bothered?"

Bodie tried to ignore the little surge of panic Charlie's words inspired. "'Course I'd be bothered. We're a good team. I don't want us split up."

"What's it matter?" Charlie said with studied nonchalance. "Anson and Jax are good agents. They're mates of yours, right? You've worked well with each in the past. What's the difference?"

"You know damned well what the difference is," Bodie said, turning and crossing away from his guest, recognizing his buttons were being pushed and why, but still unable to keep from reacting. "I'm used to Doyle. Know the way he thinks, how he works. Anson and Jax are good, but he's the best. And that's what I want watching my tender backside. The best."

"Oh, so this is about you then, is it?" Charlie queried in a way that sounded more like a statement.

"I'll let you in on a little secret, mate," Bodie said, stopping to look back at Charlie, his manner intentionally cheeky. "It's always about me."

"That was certainly true earlier this evening," Charlie said, his tone mild, his expression not.

Bodie dropped his eyes and sighed, his hand rubbing restlessly over the nape of his neck. "That wasn't intentional."

"Was he really asking so much?" Charlie asked gently, taking a step closer, his hand outstretched. "All he wanted was to spend the day with you. You cut him off at the knees."

"Because he pushed." Lifting his head, Bodie met Charlie's eyes, determined to defend himself. "That's what Doyle always does. As bad as a bloody battering ram, he is. He pushes and pushes and pushes."

"And you push back."

"'Course I do," Bodie said, more loudly than he had intended. "That's all you can do with a bloke like that."

"Like what?" Charlie asked.

Bodie answered without thinking, caught up in the conversation, in justifying behavior he wasn't at all certain was justifiable. "Passionate. He gets all worked up by things he shouldn't. Jumps in without looking twice. And I'm the one who has to drag him back out again."

"You like that about him," Charlie said knowingly. "Like the way he feels everything so deeply. The way it all matters to him."

"Like it?" Bodie said in amazement. "It's a bloody nuisance. I'll tell you right now--metaphorically speaking, Ray Doyle is the sort who could bleed to death from a paper cut."

"What do you mean by that?"

Bodie paced, trying to get his thoughts in order. "Lets little things get to him, doesn't he? Gives 'em way too much importance. He's a brooder, Doyle is, blames himself for everything. Takes the weight of the entire world on his shoulders without anyone asking him to."

Charlie watched him roam, his gaze measuring. "So naturally, a bloke like that will let a little thing like his best mate tearing into him roll right off his back."

Christ. Charlie was right. Even though he was innocent of any wrongdoing, Doyle would find a way to blame himself for Bodie's outburst.

"I'll make it up to him," Bodie mumbled, looking anywhere but at Charlie. "He's knows I was tired, out of sorts. He'll get over it. We'll be good as new by Boxing Day."

Charlie nodded, his lips pursed thoughtfully, before saying, "Let's see what we're up against, shall we?" Without waiting to see if Bodie was following, he headed for the door.

"Where you goin'?" Bodie said, staring after him.

"Out. Come on."

Out? Great. Fucking fantastic. Bodie just wanted to go back to sleep. He couldn't help but think he stood a better chance of that staying in his own flat, near his own couch and bed, than strolling down some dreamscape street on his way to Doyle's.

"Bodie, shift yourself. We haven't got much time."

"Coming, dear," he murmured, trailing obediently after Charlie.

"You won't need a coat, mate," Charlie tossed over his shoulder as he reached for the door. "Not where we're going."

Not given any time to ponder that odd remark, Bodie watched his front door open, not to the hallway outside his flat, but to Doyle's residence.

"Nice trick," he said softly, peering over Charlie's shoulder and into Doyle's entry hall. "Convenient." After both men had stepped inside, Charlie closed the door, locked it behind them and reset the alarm.

Bodie liked his partner's current flat. It was on the third floor of a terrace in Chelsea, which made the stairs a bit of a haul. But the rooms were large, the ceilings high and the lounge had a generous bay window that looked out over a small back garden. The building dated to the previous century, but had been renovated over the years and well maintained. Its hardwood floors gleamed; its plastered walls were whole and smooth. He had sometimes wondered who Doyle had bribed to land such a gem.

"You don't have to whisper," Charlie said. "Doyle can't see us or hear us. He's not even home as yet. I bumped back the clock a few hours to right around the time you got in. I want you to see how Ray spent his evening."

"Voyeurism, Charlie?" Bodie said, strolling around, peering into rooms and giving the place the once over. It appeared to his familiar eye much as it ever had, Doyle's comfortable clutter giving the space a homely, lived-in appeal. Yet, at the same time, without its tenant there, the flat felt hollow somehow, lonely, like a shell waiting for its center to be filled. "Very kinky, this undercover surveillance. Didn't know that was your scene."

"Only when it's for a very worthy cause," Charlie said, positioning himself in the doorway of the lounge. "Or if I'm passing by the ladies' locker room."

Bodie smiled. "Now what?"

"Now we wait."

They didn't have to wait long. Less than a minute passed before Bodie heard what he identified as Doyle's boots plodding up the stairs, the gait measured and slow. Something heavy was deposited on the floor outside, then Bodie heard the jingle of keys. One was inserted in the door, jiggled and turned. The portal opened and a very wet, very windblown Ray Doyle stepped over the threshold, his cheeks, ears, nose and hands as pink as those of a newborn.

"Stupid sod," Bodie muttered, taking in his partner's condition. "Look at him. He's half froze to death."

"A night not fit for man nor beast," Charlie agreed.

Carrier bags on the floor, it looked as if Doyle had made the same decision as Bodie. He had stopped at the supermarket before coming home. The only difference was, instead of driving to the shops and leaving his bag in the car, Doyle had apparently done his shopping while toting his oversized duffle bag.

"Why didn't he leave that monster at home?" Bodie wondered, almost to himself.

"He was afraid by the time he got home, dropped off his bag and set out again, the shops would be closed," Charlie said helpfully. "It's Christmas Eve, after all. Shopkeepers don't stay open indefinitely."

The duffle and grocery bags were leaning drunkenly against each other in the corridor. Pushing the door open wide, Doyle bent down and dragged his luggage into the hall before returning to the corridor to scoop up the shopping bags. Bumping the door shut with his hip, he stood with his back to it. Tipping back his head, he closed his eyes, sniffled, then sighed, his parcels clutched unthinkingly to his chest.

"Head's been acting up on him something fierce," Charlie explained, though Bodie didn't really need to hear the words. Doyle's face alone told the tale. "It bothers him when he moves around too much or overexerts."

"For Christ sake, there was no need for him to be dragging himself through the streets," Bodie said, angry at being made to feel the villain when it was Doyle who had made the boneheaded decision. "I would have driven him home, or even to the shops if he'd asked."

"Must not have thought the lift worth the aggro," Charlie said with a shrug.

Bloody hell. Bodie would show him aggro.

Seemingly having rested enough, Doyle turned and pushed away from the door, juggling the bags in his arms, so he could lock up and take care of the alarm. He then traipsed to the kitchen, his coat still on, sniffling loudly as he trod. Moving as if he were sleepwalking, he put away his purchases--milk, cereal, some fruit, bread, cheese and lager. Bodie and Charlie stood nearby, watching him unpack and turn on the heater.

"Thought he'd wanted to cook Christmas dinner," Bodie said, remembering the menu with which Doyle had tried to tempt him.

"Not for just himself," Charlie said. "A meal like that is meant to be shared. Who wants to go to all the bother for only one bloke?"

Groceries stored, Doyle returned to the hall. Shrugging off his jacket, he hung it on the coat rack, then leaned over to pick up his duffle. Before he could grab hold of its straps, however, he swayed and stumbled, losing his balance. Only by throwing out his hand and pressing his palm to the wall was he able to keep himself from falling.

"Ray--," Bodie said, taking a step towards him.

Charlie reached out his arm, stopping Bodie before he could go to his partner. "You can't help him, mate. This happened hours ago."

Doyle stood there for a moment, hand braced against the wall, his head bowed, before muttering, "Shit." Slowly adjusting his stance, he pulled himself upright. "You can stay there till morning," he told the troublesome bag, and headed slowly towards the bedroom.

Bodie and Charlie trailed behind him.

When Doyle reached the bedroom, he dropped wearily onto the bed, tugged off his boots, then unceremoniously flopped over onto his side, reached back and wrapped the bedspread around himself. Closing his eyes, he sighed and shifted beneath the covers until he got comfortable, his hands tucked under his chin like a child.

"His hair is soaked," Bodie observed with a frown. "He's going to ruin his bedding, not to mention catch a chill. He should get out of those clothes."

"He wants to take a shower and change," Charlie said. "But he's got to wait for the hot water, hasn't he?"

Doyle's body was just beginning to relax, his breath turning deep and even, when a knock sounded at the front door, jolting him back to awareness.

"Who the hell is that?" Bodie wondered, annoyed on Doyle's behalf.

At first he thought his partner might ignore the summons. One bleary eye opened, yet Doyle didn't roll free from his cocoon.

"Raymond? Raymond, are you home, dear?" called a voice from the hall. "I thought I heard your door."

"Mrs. Perry," Bodie murmured, identifying the visitor as Doyle's neighbor, a sweet-tempered OAP who lived across the hall.

Apparently, Doyle recognized her voice as well. He blinked once, then again. Aware now, if not particularly alert, he tossed back the covers and rolled onto his back. Taking a deep breath, he hoisted himself out of bed.

Padding to the front door in stockinged feet, Doyle opened it to find an apple-cheeked, grey-haired older woman with an ample bosom, and nearsighted blue eyes. Clad in blue trousers, matching cardigan and slippers, she peered up at Doyle over her half glasses. What she saw did not please her.

"Oh good heavens! Whatever happened?"

Bodie could see Doyle consciously draw himself up taller and paste a smile on his drawn features. "Nothing to worry about, Mrs. P. Had a slight accident at work. Be right as rain in no time."

"You certainly don't look right as rain now," Mrs. Perry said, brow furrowed in concern. "If I had known you were feeling poorly, I would never have troubled you."

"It's no trouble--" Doyle protested. Bodie believed him. He knew Doyle was genuinely fond of the old bird.

"Let me be the one to decide that," Mrs. Perry said, patting him on the arm. "You go and take some aspirin, and put yourself to bed. You look terrible. I'll work out some other way around my problem."

"If you could have done that, you wouldn't have come to me, now would you?" Doyle said, taking hold of her shoulders to keep her from leaving. "Come on. Tell me what's wrong, love."

She hesitated a moment longer, clearly torn as to what she should do. Then, sighing, she said, "I need a bit of help with my tree. The lights have gone out. I'm wondering if perhaps Arabella got underneath and pulled something, or if maybe a bulb blew. I can't work out what's wrong."

"I'll come and take a look," Doyle said.

"Let's tag along," Charlie suggested.

Bodie nodded and followed in his wake.

Mrs. Perry's home was of a similar size and layout to Doyle's, only her lounge lacked the bay window. Filled wall to wall with comfortable furnishings, chintzy prints, and tasselled scatter cushions, the space was cheery and almost overpoweringly feminine.

"There it is, dear," she said to Doyle, directing his attention to the evergreen in the corner. Towering over an assortment of brightly colored packages, and fairly dripping with tinsel and ornaments, the bushy pine stood, dark as the West End on a Sunday. "Work your magic."

"I shall try."

Crossing to the tree, Doyle knelt down carefully, as if still minding his head. Once settled, he lifted one of the lower branches and ducked beneath. Without warning, a sleek tabby came hurtling out from behind the tree. Awkwardly trying to scramble out of the cat's way, Doyle tumbled over onto his behind, grimacing at the impact.

"Arabella!" Mrs. Perry scolded, scooping the feisty feline into her arms and looking deep into her kitty-cat eyes. "Bad girl. Very bad, surprising poor Raymond that way. You're no help at all. Now get out of the way and let the man work."

Smiling sheepishly, Doyle did just that, peering beneath the tree and through its branches, checking connections and jiggling bulbs.

"My son and his family are coming by tomorrow after early service," Mrs. Perry said, sitting in an overstuffed armchair, watching him, Arabella balanced on the chair's arm. "We'll open presents and have some breakfast before we head to their home for the rest of the day. What are you doing tomorrow? Any big plans?"

"Not really," Doyle said, his face hidden by pine branches. "Didn't know I'd have it off till this morning. No time to make plans."

"You do work the oddest hours," Mrs. Perry murmured, her hand trailing down the cat's back. Bodie knew for a fact she had no idea what they did. "I suppose with your being away you didn't have a chance to get a tree or anything."

"'Fraid not," Doyle said, wiggling further beneath the tree. "Nothing to put under it anyway."

"No presents?" Mrs. Perry said as if scandalized.

"Not for me," Doyle said. "Bought one for my mate, though."

"That nice Mr. Bodie?"

"That's the one."

Doyle had bought him something? He had joked about it in the car, but Bodie hadn't taken him seriously. When had he shopped? Why? In the past, their way of exchanging gifts had been to shout each other a round at the local. What would make Doyle break with tradition?

"I'm pretty pleased with it, actually," Doyle said, backing out from under the tree to sit cross-legged before it. "We were in a secondhand shop a few weeks back, talking to a gra--...a colleague, and Bodie saw this robot. Silly little thing, grey metal with red plastic feet and pincher hands, Japanese made. They were all the rage when we were kids. Apparently, they're collectibles now."

"I think I know the ones," Mrs. Perry said with a nod. "They're remote controlled, aren't they?"

"Not this one. You turn a crank and its arms and legs move," Doyle said. "Its balance isn't too great, tends to keel over after a couple of steps. But it's got little radar thingies on its shoulders that turn and a grill for a face. Bodie loved it. Said he'd wanted one as a kid, only his gran hadn't bought it for him. I went back the next day and got it."

Bodie knew the toy, remembered the exact conversation.

"Will you look at that? My god, I haven't seen one of these in years."

"One what?"

"A mechanized robot. Do you remember these? They're brilliant."

"Oh, yeah. I think one of the lads down the street had something similar. Funny looking little feller. The robot, that is. Not the lad."

"I wanted one so badly. Asked for it for Christmas one year. Wound up getting shirts and socks instead. Nearly broke my heart."

Bodie had never thought Doyle would take any notice. Had never dreamed his notoriously tight partner would plop down collectors' prices for a bit of whimsy.

"Well at least you'll be getting together with him then," Mrs. Perry said, seemingly pleased by the notion. "Exchange presents and such."

"Maybe after the holiday," Doyle said, rising from the floor, his eyes avoiding hers.

"Is your friend away for Christmas?" Mrs. Perry asked, standing as well.

Doyle smiled, small and tight. "Far, far away."

No, he wasn't, Bodie wanted to shout. He was right there.

"Oh, that's so sad!"

Bodie couldn't agree more.

"Listen, Mrs. P., everything seems to be plugged in all right," Doyle said, plainly--at least to Bodie's way of thinking--changing the subject. "Might it have been a fuse? The wiring in these old buildings isn't all it could be. Maybe something overloaded."

"That's an excellent idea. Let me show you where the box is, dear," Mrs. Perry said, taking Doyle's arm and drawing him away.

"That's how it starts, you know," Charlie said as Bodie and he watched the other two walk towards the kitchen.

"How what starts?" Bodie asked.

"The doubts."

Bodie sighed. "Speak English, mate."

"Can do," Charlie said, turning to face Bodie, his hands in his pockets. "With a bird, it might happen when a bloke is late or forgets to call. With a man, it could be when his girl has a headache or wants him to meet her parents."

Bodie shook his head, utterly confused. "I have no idea what you're on about."

"It's not knowing where you stand, innit?" Charlie said. "You get into a relationship, any kind of relationship, and you establish a pattern, a way of being together, so one half of the couple knows what to expect from the other and vice versa."

"Doyle and I aren't a couple," Bodie said, thinking back to when he had told Doyle nearly that exact same thing.

"'Course you are," Charlie said, dismissing his argument. "Closer than any marriage, a CI5 partnership."

"How would you know?" Bodie questioned. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't recall your ever working exclusively with any one partner."

"I've got eyes, haven't I?" Charlie said. "You think I couldn't see what it was like when a pair really clicked? The way two people could operate as a single unit. Two become one--just like what they say before the groom kisses the bride."

"Really?" Bodie said mockingly. "So tell me--in Doyle's and my case, which is which? Because I have to tell you, I don't think I've got the hair to wear a veil."

"Drop the jokes and just listen a minute, would you," Charlie implored. "None of that matters, Bodie. What's important is trust."

"Doyle and I trust each other," Bodie said with certainty.

"Yeah," Charlie said. "You do. Only now you've given Ray a reason to second-guess himself. He's always believed he'd know which way you were going to jump. But today...today you surprised him. He never saw that little scene coming."

"That's easy to fix," Bodie said calmly.

"No, it's not," Charlie said, shaking his head. "Because that sort of thing won't only happen once. These feelings you have won't simply go away. You'll keep wanting him, won't you? Wanting him and denying him. Denying you both. Do you really think Ray won't notice?"

All at once, the tree lit up, dozens of tiny bulbs twinkling merrily from the needled boughs.

"Oh, Ray! Come and look! You've done it," Mrs. Perry cried from the doorway, beaming with delight.

Ray came to stand behind her, looking in on the lounge, a genuine smile lightening some of the fatigue shadowing his face. "Looks really nice. You did a good job, Mrs. P."

"I believe that's my line," she said, stretching up to give him a peck on the kiss. "Thank you, dear."

"My pleasure," Doyle said, his hand on her shoulder. "Let's go back in the kitchen and I'll show you what switch I flipped in case it happens again."

Bodie watched the pair go, thinking about what Charlie had said. Could he hide his feelings from his partner, pretend all was as it had been before?

Was he that good an actor?

"Every time you take a step away, Ray will eventually have to do the same," Charlie said, his voice soft, but unrelenting. "He may fight you at first. Fight for you, for what you two have. But he'll know you're keeping something from him. And one day he'll leave, just as he believes you're leaving him."

Bodie felt his insides twist and sink. He didn't want that, didn't want to watch Doyle walk away. Yet he seemed doomed to such a fate. It didn't matter if he spoke up or not, either way Doyle would go.

"I don't know what to do," Bodie admitted quietly, frowning, his eyes narrowed in thought.

"Why don't you sleep on it?" Charlie said, his voice kind.

Reaching out, he pressed his fingertips to Bodie's forehead. Bodie felt a rush of warmth roll through him, emanating from the spot.

"Happy Christmas, mate," Bodie heard Charlie say.

"Good-bye, Charlie," Bodie murmured, eyes fluttering shut.

Then he fell into a deep and blessedly dreamless sleep.

Something roused Bodie from slumber. He woke to find himself lying on his sofa, his mouth cottony, his back sore. It was still dark outside, but a glance at his watch told him dawn would be breaking soon. The seemingly endless night was nearly over.

Sitting up, Bodie surveyed what he could see of his flat. Things looked much as he remembered them. The lounge was dim, lit only by the light in the kitchen and the television, which currently displayed an early morning news program. His shoes were stashed between the sofa and the coffee table; an empty can of lager stood atop the latter. However, Keller's gun no longer lay beside it. Nor were his remains littering the floor. There were no signs of Bodie's ghostly visitors at all.

It looked as if he had been right.

It had all been a dream.

His RT's noisy summons ended Bodie's musings. Muttering a curse beneath his breath, he stood and crossed to where he had stowed his gear the night before. "3.7."

An unmistakable Scottish burr responded. "3.7, Alpha One. Is 4.5 with you?"

"No, sir," Bodie replied, running his hand over his rumpled hair. He wasn't yet entirely awake. "Did you try ringing his flat?"

"Don't be daft, man," Cowley replied, his voice tart with impatience. "Of course I did. There was no response."

Bodie frowned, the first seeds of concern beginning to take root. Where the hell would Doyle have gone off to? He had practically been asleep on his feet when Bodie had seen him last...

...but that hadn't been real. Had it? Bodie had only dreamed Doyle had made it home the night before and come to Mrs. Perry's rescue. The last time he had seen Doyle for certain had been when his partner had set off from the car so many hours before.

"Why are you looking for him?" Bodie asked.

Cowley hesitated before responding. When he spoke, his tone was oddly gentle. "I think perhaps you better come down here, lad."

All vestiges of sleep were instantly erased. "Why, sir? What's the matter?"

"Two bobbies picked up a vagrant about an hour ago, wandering down by the docks. The man was covered in blood and talking nonsense. He had Doyle's ID on him."

"What...what does he say about Ray?" Bodie queried, surprised he was able to ask the question in a reasonable tone of voice. Inside, he was screaming.

"He doesn't say a thing. Not yet. We can't get a sensible word out of him."

"I'm on my way."

Minutes later, in the car, speeding down nearly empty streets made shiny by puddles and streetlight reflections, Bodie couldn't even remember how he had made it to the Capri. He was operating on instinct alone, knowing only that he had to hurry, had to get to HQ, had to solve the mystery of Doyle's disappearance.

Feeling as if, somehow, in some way, he might be responsible.

"You better be all right, you reckless bastard," he muttered, shifting gears to accelerate smoothly around a corner.

He should never have let Doyle get out of the car. He should have insisted he stay, row or no. The man had been exhausted the night before, alone, his guard down. All it took was one moment of inattention. Anything could happen.

"He's fine," Bodie told himself as he headed towards Westminster. Doyle was as tough as old shoe leather and certainly not a novice to the streets. He could take care of himself.

He could.

Parking the car in the garage and flying past security, his ID in hand and waved under the guard's nose like a pennant, Bodie ran up the stairs to the controller's office, taking them two at a time. He was just about to step inside Cowley's inner sanctum when Murphy stopped him.

"Bodie!" the tall dark-haired agent called from the other end of the hall. "He's down here."

"Doyle?" Bodie asked eagerly, a smile at the ready.

Murphy's face fell. "No, sorry. I'm sorry. I...I meant the old man."

Bodie's breath rushed out of him, as if he had been dealt a physical blow. But he let nothing show on his face. "Right." Marching quickly down the corridor, he joined his friend outside one of the interrogation rooms.

"Listen, you might want to prepare yourself," Murphy said, his hand on Bodie's forearm, his voice low and more intense than Bodie was used to hearing from him. "I've been in there for the last half hour, watching the Cow trying to sweat this guy. He hasn't been making much headway."

"Didn't Cowley get anything?" Bodie asked. "Anything at all about how the bloke got Ray's ID?"

Murphy shook his head. "Not a word. I'm telling you--this one's a head case, mate. Spends half his time taunting us and the other half laughing at his taunts. There's something about the guy. If you ask me, he's spooky as hell."

Taken aback, Bodie wondered at Murphy's words. His friend was not the sort to get carried away by superstition or fancy. There must be something very odd indeed about their suspect for Murphy to indulge in such observations. "I want to talk to the nutter."

"Just don't let him get to you."

Entering the room, with Murphy at his heels, Bodie saw George Cowley, leaning with his hip propped on the edge of the room's only table, looking every one of his fifty odd years. A man was seated opposite him at the head of the table. Bodie couldn't see his face.

"Bodie," the Scot said, standing. "You made good time."

"You gave me reason for haste, sir," Bodie said.

"This is the cause of it all," Cowley said as the two agents came to his side. "Meet our very own John Doe."

Sitting, wrists handcuffed behind him and through the chair's back, was a brown-haired man of average height and weight. Bodie guessed he was perhaps ten years Bodie's senior. His face reminded Bodie of a hound's muzzle; it was long and fleshy with a pronounced nose and jowls forming at his jaw. His eyes were brown, his gaze keen. He was dressed in a pair of raggedy work trousers, battered lug-soled boots and a t-shirt with the collar ripping away at the neck. He was unshaved and unbathed, and an odor rose off him that made Bodie's eyes water in protest. But more disturbing than any of that were the dark brown stains splashed across the front of his clothing like spilled paint. Bodie knew what would cause such marks.


And an awful lot of it.

Catching Bodie's eye, the man smiled as if in greeting, revealing crooked, rotting teeth and no small measure of malice.

Bodie looked away, unable to hold his stare.

"He still hasn't given you a name?" he asked Cowley, ignoring the creature in the chair. Murphy was right. There was something about the bloke, something beyond the filth and the stench. Even though he stood with his back to the man, Bodie could feel the prisoner watching him. His attention made Bodie's skin itch.

"You gave me your name," the man husked from behind Bodie, sounding as if he had spent his infancy nursing on cigarettes rather than mother's milk. "Or rather somebody did. Bo-dee. Bodie, buddy, beauty. Don't I know you, love? Pretty, pretty boy."

Taking a deep breath, Bodie faced him once more, his expression schooled into remote politeness. "I don't believe we've met. I'm sure I would remember someone like you."

"I'm sure you would," the man said with a sly wink. "I'd make certain of it."

"We've taken his fingerprints and are running them through the system," Cowley interjected. "It will be awhile yet before we know if we have a match."

"What about the blood?" Bodie asked, turning to his superior.

"According to the lab, it's A positive," Cowley replied.

Bodie frowned. "That's Ray's blood type."

"Aye, lad. I know. This one's blood is O negative."

"Ray's blood type is red," crooned the man, drawing their focus back to him. "Red as a rose, like holly, like hearts. Red-Ray, Red-Ray. Red, red, red."

Cowley bent down to bring his face level with that of the other man, his hand braced on the table for balance. "What do you know about Ray Doyle? How did you come into possession of his ID?"

The man giggled, the laughter manic and high-pitched. "I-D, I-D, I-D. Hide-ee. Hide-ee-oh-doe-doe. I hid him, didn't I? Hid him good and proper."

"Hid him where?" Bodie demanded, stepping past Cowley and grabbing hold of the man's yellowed t-shirt with both hands, lifting him out of his seat so his chair dangled from his bound wrists, connected only by the cuffs. "What did you do with him?"

"Bodie," Cowley warned, laying a hand on Bodie's arm.

"Come on, mate," Murphy said, reaching over and taking hold of Bodie's shoulder. Bodie shrugged them both off. His attention was all for the man hanging in his grasp.

"Are you his partner, pretty?" the man asked, looking up at him, his fetid breath bathing Bodie's face. "The lad with the curly, curly hair? Is he yours?"

"Yeah," Bodie growled. "Doyle's my partner and I want to know where he is."

"You shouldn't misplace what's yours," the man tsked, shaking his head with mock reproach. "That's very careless of you. Anyone could come along and steal him away, couldn't they? Away, way far away."

"Is that what you did?" Bodie asked, clinging to his composure by his fingernails. "You stole him?"

The man didn't answer. Instead, he grinned up at Bodie, his eyes glittering with cruel amusement. "I like you. Bodie, buddy, beauty. I like you and your partner both. Give us a kiss, love. He can't. He's not here." He puckered up and stretched out his chin.

Disgusted by the man and fearful of what he might have done, Bodie released him, throwing him into his seat so hard the chair rocked and skittered across the floor. "Fuck you."

That small bit of violence transformed the mystery man. "Fuck me? FUCK YOU!" he screamed in what looked to be genuine fury, straining forward, face contorted with rage, the veins in his neck standing out in harsh relief. "You son of a bitch! You're the one who's FUCKED! You FUCKING COCKSUCKER! I've got you by the balls and don't you forget it, Bodie boy. I know what you want to know, you FUCKING FAIRY. But I won't tell you anything unless you're very, very nice to me."

"How do I know you can tell me anything worth knowing?" Bodie countered, his voice at a similar pitch, determined not to bow down before the bastard, not to let him know how unnerved he was by the man's insinuations. What have you got yourself into, Ray? How the hell did you cross paths with this lunatic? "The blood doesn't prove anything. A lot of people are A positive. How do I know you were anywhere near my partner tonight? You could have found Ray's ID on the street."

"I could have, couldn't I?" the man sneered. "But then I wouldn't know your friend had bumped his head."

"What are you talking about?" Bodie asked.

"Had a bandage, didn't he?" the man said. "Taped on his forehead, white and square like a tiny piece of paper. I wanted to write on it, but the blood already had."

Oh Christ. If nothing else, the man had to have seen Ray that night. That was the only way he could know about the head wound.

"What do you want?" Bodie asked, quiet and as scared as he had ever been. "What will it take for you to tell me about Ray?"

The man stared at him, like a cat considering a particularly desperate mouse. Then he smiled, his eyes glittering with an unholy gleam and whispered, "Be alone with me, Bodie love. Just we two. I can tell you all kinds of secrets if we're alone."

"I don't know about this, sir," Murphy said from somewhere behind Bodie. Bodie had forgotten he was even in the room.

"I see no harm in allowing Bodie to question the man on his own," Cowley said, coming to stand between Bodie and the man in the chair. "Our guest is locked up good and tight, and Bodie knows how to handle himself."

"I'll be fine, sir," Bodie assured him, sparing the older man only a brief glance, his focus centered wholly on the man in the chair. "Leave him to me."

Cowley nodded. "All right, lad," he said, clapping his hand on Bodie's shoulder. "Take your time. If you need us, call. Murphy, you're with me."

"Yes, sir," Murphy said, giving Bodie a worried look and a supportive pat on the back before following Cowley out of the door.

Left alone, neither Bodie nor the prisoner said anything at first. Each man sized up the other, like prizefighters, circling in the ring, searching for their opponent's weakness.

"All right," Bodie said at last, perching on the table now, much as Cowley had done, his arms folded across his chest. "You got what you wanted--me, all to yourself. Seems as if you might reciprocate, give me something I want in return. How about a few answers? You can do that, can't you?"

The man lifted his brows. "I can do quite a lot of things, Bodie baby."

"So tell me," Bodie said, ignoring his sally. "How do you know Ray Doyle?"

The man smiled, the noxious grin a leer. "Intimately."

Jaw clenching in frustration, Bodie stood and crossed away from the prisoner, thinking perhaps he should change tactics. "Where did you see him tonight?"

The man sighed, as if relenting. "I called and asked him to come out and play, didn't I. 'Come play with me, Ray', I said, I said. 'Come play by the water'. And he did, beautifully."

"By the water?" Bodie echoed, latching on to that bit of information like a lifeline. "What water? The Thames? Did you meet Ray by the Thames?" That made sense, didn't it? After all, they had found the man near the Docklands.

"I like the water," the man said, his eyes going soft and dreamy, not looking at Bodie at all. "It's cold and clean, the water is. And it moves, wiggling, wiggling, wiggling. It won't tell your secrets. It holds them, keeps them, hidden away, away, away in its deepest, darkest heart."

"What secrets have you got, mate?" Bodie said, returning to his place at the table, leaning in now as if hoping they might share confidences, even though such close proximity to the man made his gorge rise. He kept his tone low and persuasive. "You said you were going to tell them to me. Your secrets. I'd like that, I think."

The man's gaze refocused to meet that of Bodie. Their eyes held for a beat or two. Bodie said nothing, determined to wait him out. He allowed his lips to curve, smiling gently, coaxingly...

Come on, come on.

At last, the man smiled back. "Do you know what's inside your partner, Bodie love?"

Bodie shook his head, losing the direction of the conversation. "What do you mean?"

"Do you know what Ray's made of?" the man asked in a hush, his voice strangely compelling. "What makes him who he is?"

"Of course I do," Bodie said, sitting back. "I've known him for years. He's my partner."

"Describe him for me," the man wheedled. "Maybe I can help you find him."

Describe him for me? You son of a bitch. You said you'd been with him. You've seen his picture. You know who he is.

"All right," Bodie began, trying to give the madman what he wanted. Hoping against hope that if he did, Bodie might finally gain something in return. "He's...uh, a bit shorter than me. Brown curly hair, green eyes. His right cheekbone--"

"The inside, Bodie beauty," the man admonished, gently, as one might correct a child. "The inside. All blokes are the same in the dark, aren't they? It's the inside that matters. Describe that for me."

Standing, Bodie hesitated. They were wasting time. He shouldn't be chatting with this monster about Ray's inner workings. He should be out, looking for him.

But he couldn't do that until he knew where to look, now could he?

Bodie would have beaten the information out of the man with great pleasure. Only the bugger didn't seem to respond well to violence. He didn't get scared; he only got angry. No, fists wouldn't work. Bodie was going to have to persuade, something Doyle was better at than he.

Hey, Ray. Would you mind questioning this bloke about where you are? I think I'm in over my head, mate, and could really use a hand.

Christ. No help for it.

"He...Ray's...well, he's tough," Bodie said, picking his words with care. "He's not as big as a lot of blokes on the squad, but he's not scared of anything. He never backs down."

"Has a bit of a temper then?" the man asked.

"Ray?" Bodie queried, unable to hold back a chuckle. "Oh yeah. He doesn't suffer fools gladly, nor is he particularly tolerant of bullies. Can't say I blame him on either account. But I usually try to ignore idiots. Not Ray. He's not built that way."

"What else?" the man prompted, leaning forward in his seat. "Tell me more about your ravishing Ray. What sort of mate is he to you?"

"The best," Bodie said, without thinking. The words were flowing easier now that he had got started. "He makes me laugh, the stupid sod. Always has some sarky comment to make, usually at the worst possible time. Or sometimes...sometimes he doesn't say a word. He'll just give me a look out of the corner of his eye and it's like I can hear the punch line in my head. I don't know how he does that."

"Do you work well together?"

"Yeah. Ray's a good partner. He's bright. Not in a bookish way, but he knows things. Things I don't."

"Like what?"

Bodie shrugged, then began to pace. "All sorts of things. Copper rules and regs, the city, modern art. 'Course, I'm the same, with the army and such. It's one of the reasons we're a good team. We're different, but we complement each other, fill in the gaps."

"What does he care about?"

"Justice," Bodie said, not even breaking stride. "He cares that the streets are safe and the villains get what's coming to them."

"What about you?"

Bodie looked over his shoulder at the man. The prisoner stared back at him, his gaze unnervingly acute. All at once, Bodie felt as if he were the one being interrogated, rather than the other way around. "What about me?"

The man smiled. "What do you care about, Bodie buddy?

Bodie turned to face him more fully. "I thought you wanted me to describe Ray to you."

"I've changed my mind," the man said, the smile gone, steel underpinning his voice. "Answer my question."

"Then you'll answer mine?" Bodie bargained, hands on his hips.

The man nodded slowly. "Oh yes."

Bodie sighed and dropped his head, frustrated, tired and wanting more than anything for this man to give him something--anything--he could use to find Doyle. "Fine. I'll answer your question."

"What do you care about?" the man said again, prompting him, his eyes locked on Bodie. Bodie couldn't look away.

"At this moment?" Bodie said. "I care about my partner. I want him found and I want him safe."

"But you didn't want him at all, earlier this evening," the man said softly. "Or maybe he didn't want you."

Bodie frowned. "What are you talking about?"

"When Ray came out to play with me, he was alone," the man said. "All alone."

"He didn't call me," Bodie said. If he had, Bodie would have been there to back him up, no questions asked. Just like always.

"Why was that, do you think?" the man queried in a way that suggested he already knew the answer. "Why would your partner leave his flat in the middle of the night to meet a bloke like me, all on his own?"

Bodie had no answer. Oh god, what had he done?

The man shook his head. "He must not have thought you'd want to hear from him."

"No," Bodie mumbled, agreeing, denying. He couldn't be sure anymore.

The man smiled mockingly. "He doesn't sound all that bright to me."

In the blink of an eye, Bodie was across the room. Patience gone, reason vanished, he was aware of only one thing. He needed to know where Ray Doyle was. Now.

He fisted his hands in the man's t-shirt and leaned in close enough to bite. "All right, you bastard. I've played your game, answered your questions. Now you're damned well going to answer mine. What have you done with Ray? Where is he?"

"Came to meet me, didn't he?" the man told him, unafraid. His voice had gone oddly sing-song, his words hitting Bodie's face in moist rancid little puffs of breath. "When I called, he came. All alone, poor sod. Alone, alone, alone, except for his shooter. But even that I took from him. I took so much. Didn't see me in the shadows, standing there, watching him. The night is my friend. My bestest, bestest friend. We're mates. Almost like you and Ray."

"What did you do?" Bodie gritted out, shaking the man so hard his head lolled like that of a rag doll. The creature only laughed. "What the fuck did you do?"

"I hurt him," the man whispered as if he were speaking love. "I hurt him slow and I hurt him deep. And when I hurt him last, Ray called to you, called for you. 'Bodie,' he said, real soft and whispery like. Only you never heard him, did you Bodie boy? Because you weren't there."

"No," Bodie said in a hush.

"I know what's inside Ray Doyle," the man said. "I've seen it all and it's covered in blood."

For a moment, the earth ceased its rotation. Nobody breathed, nobody moved. What was the point anymore?

Then the man smiled. And Bodie's vision turned red, yet blurry. Fire and water, both at the same time.

"I'm going to kill you," Bodie promised, his voice cracking on the words.

"You can't kill a dead man," the man replied, smug as a cat with cream on its whiskers.

"Watch me!" Bodie roared and wrapped his hands around the man's throat. He had only just begun to squeeze, when the interrogation room door flew open.

"Bodie, stop!" Cowley cried, crossing to take hold of Bodie's arm, intent on prying him loose. "You're not his executioner."

Two more agents poured into the room behind their boss, Murphy and a big bloke named Samuels. They were able to accomplish what the older, smaller man had not. They tore Bodie from his intended victim, dragging him away, one on each side, while Bodie fought them with everything he had. Unfortunately, they were as well trained as he. He could not break their grasp.

"He says he's killed Ray!" Bodie shouted, twisting and bucking to get free.

Cowley stepped in front of the prisoner as if to shield him, his complexion grayish beneath the overhead light, his expression so very regretful. "Aye, son. He may have done."

That stilled Bodie's struggles. "What are...what...why...?"

"We've found Ray, Bodie," Cowley said almost tenderly. "His body was spotted in the water, not far from Greenland Dock. That's what we were coming in to tell you."

"How...?" Bodie said, trying but unable to find the words. Murphy and Samuels kept hold of him. Dizzy with grief, he was almost grateful for their support. "No, that can't..."

"I'm sorry, Bodie," Cowley said, taking a step towards him.

"No!" Bodie said again. That couldn't be true. It couldn't. Because if it were, Bodie would never have the chance to make it right with him. Never apologize. Never tell him...

"I want to see him," Bodie said.

"Bodie--," Cowley began.

Bodie looked, unblinking, at his superior, putting every ounce of will he owned into his stare. "Take me to him now."

Cowley regarded him, stone-faced, seemingly weighing his decision with care. "All right." He looked at Murphy. "The two of you escort him. See that he doesn't get lost."

"Yes, sir," Murphy said.

Together, the three agents headed for the door. They had just reached the threshold when the man in the chair spoke one last time.

"He loved you, Bodie boy, Bodie buddy, Bodie beauty," the man said. "Loved you fine and true. He told me so. I could see it in his eyes when he whispered your name. Would have followed you willingly through hell itself. Only you didn't want him to. So now you'll go there alone."

"Let's get out of here," Murphy muttered and, with Samuel's help, shepherded a shaky Bodie out and away.

Blinded by misery, Bodie didn't pay any attention to where the agents guided him. All he knew was they walked a while and took a lift down to the basement. He was almost surprised when they let go of his arms. They were standing outside the morgue.

"Bodie, mate, go in and say your goodbyes," Murphy said, compassion darkening his spaniel eyes. "I'll wait for you out here. When you're ready, I'll take you home."

Bodie nodded, then turned to enter the room. Once inside, he saw his partner laid out before him like a sacrifice, ashen and still on a slab, a drab green sheet covering him from his shoulders to his toes.

"Ray," Bodie whispered when the door had closed behind him. They were alone.

Bodie crossed to his friend on legs he feared too feeble to complete the journey. He stopped at Doyle's side and looked down on the pale waxen features he knew so well. "Oh, sunshine. Look what you've gone and done."

Doyle's hair was still damp, the icy water weighing down its curl. Beneath the strands, Bodie spied a new wound, just above his left ear.

That had to have been how the man had got the advantage. A blow to the head like that would have stunned Doyle into insensibility. Making him as vulnerable as a newborn and leaving him in the tender care of a lunatic. What had the bastard done?

Bodie had to know.

Taking a deep, shuddering breath, Bodie grabbed hold of the sheet and pulled it down to Doyle's waist.

"Oh, Christ."

I hurt him slow and I hurt him deep.

Doyle's torso was...desecrated. That was the first word Bodie could think of. Then another one came to mind--defiled. That thing they had sitting in interrogation had taken a blade to Doyle's chest and carved into it, giving madness shape and form. Some of the marks were shallow, little more than nicks. Others were deep, ugly punctures, gouges, slices...

He must have been a long time dying.

Unable to look at it any longer, at the pain his partner had been made to endure, Bodie yanked the sheet back into place. As he released the cloth, the back of his hand grazed Doyle's jaw. He stopped, gazing down at his friend's deceptively peaceful face and rubbed his knuckles against Doyle's cheek. The beard there prickled his skin.

Blinking away the moisture threatening to drown his eyes, Bodie reached out and took one of Doyle's hands in both of his. It was cold in Bodie's grasp and rigid, not the warm, sleep softened flesh Bodie had yearned to touch these last two weeks. Ligature marks circled the wrist. Doyle had been tied down while his murderer had hurt him.

"Had to, hadn't he?" Bodie said quietly, having trouble pushing the words past his thickening throat. "Or you would have ripped his fucking head off."

He tried to smile at that, to share the joke with his best mate as he had so many times before. Only no smile answered his. None ever would again.

That realization made everything inside Bodie clench and ache. Suddenly, he couldn't breathe, couldn't swallow, couldn't speak. Whimpering a terrible animal sound, he closed his eyes and clasped Doyle's hand tight, so very tight. Sinking to his knees beside his partner, Bodie rested his forehead atop their joined hands and finally allowed himself to cry.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, his apology watery and thin. "I'm so sorry, mate. I didn't know how to...wasn't brave enough, was I? Ah, Christ, Ray. I love you, you stupid son of a bitch. What do you think of that, eh? Fucking ridiculous, isn't it? The likes of me fallin' in love with the likes of you."

Punch drunk with emotion and so tired, he thought he might fall asleep right there, kneeling beside Doyle's body like a penitent, Bodie was startled to feel a hand laid upon his shoulder. Must be Murphy, checking on him. Bodie hadn't heard him come in. He was embarrassed to be found in such a state.

Bodie turned, rubbing at his eyes with the heel of his hand. "Sorry, Murph, I--" Only his fellow agent wasn't crouched behind him.

Doyle's murderer was.

"That wasn't so hard now, was it?" the man said before Bodie could react, grinning with approval, as if Bodie were an exceedingly clever lad.

Then the man grabbed hold and kissed Bodie, firmly on the mouth...

...and Bodie bolted upright on his sofa, shaking with adrenaline, his face wet, the words, "Merry Christmas, Bodie boy" echoing through his head like a conscience working overtime.

What the hell?

Gasping as if he had just run a race, Bodie looked wildly around his flat. The sun was coming up outside, bleeding pink and orange through morning clouds. Otherwise, all was as it had been before.

As it had been...

What if...?


Oh, please, God. Please.

Pushing drunkenly from the couch, Bodie stumbled to his phone. It took him two tries before he could dial the proper number. Doyle's number. He couldn't get his fingers to work.

It rang.

"Pick up," Bodie urged, his hand clenched in his hair, his heart threatening to pound its way through his clothes. "Come on. Damn it. Pick up."

On the fourth ring, he got his wish.


"Ray!" Bodie shouted down the wire. "Ray, is that you?"

"Bodie?" his partner asked, morning-throated and obviously annoyed. "Christ, mate. 'Course it's me. It's my number, innit?"

"Listen," Bodie said, ignoring Doyle's spleen. "You stay right there. I'm coming over. You hear me? Don't leave the flat until I get there."

"It's eight o'clock in the morning, Christmas Day. Where the hell would I go?"

"Promise me, Ray."

"Have you been drinking?"

"Promise me!"

"All right! Yeah, sure. Whatever. I'll stay here."

"I'm on my way."

Bodie paused only to shove his feet back into his shoes, and grab his jacket, gun and car keys before dashing out the door. The morning was chilly, but clearing. There was no wind to speak of. It was a new day.

The drive to Doyle's place didn't take long. As in his dream--it had been a dream, hadn't it?--the streets were all but deserted, and Bodie had never been one to follow the posted speed limit. He made it to Chelsea in less than fifteen minutes.

Bounding up the front steps of Doyle's building, Bodie laid siege to the door buzzer. It didn't take long before he heard Doyle's voice through the speaker say, "Push." Bodie did, and raced to the third floor, needing to see his partner, really see him, touch him maybe. Not just hear his voice.

Doyle was waiting for him in the doorway, barefooted, dressed in grey tracksuit bottoms and a white t-shirt. His forehead had a new bandage taped to it, but his eyes were clear, his brow unlined. It seemed his headache had finally run its course. Bodie beamed at him. Doyle scowled in response, feet planted wide, effectively barring entrance to his flat. "What is wrong with you?"

"Nothing," Bodie insisted, unable to stop smiling. "Can't a mate visit his friend on Christmas morning?"

"Thought you needed some alone time," Doyle said, folding his arms, not giving an inch.

"I did then," Bodie said brightly, wishing they could just skip this part. "I don't now."

"Simple as that, eh?" Doyle said, unmoved by his eloquence.

"Look, Ray, what do you want me to say?" Bodie asked, reaching out to touch Doyle's arm. The flesh was warm beneath his fingertips and supple. Alive. He didn't want to let go. "I was an ass, all right? I was tired and ill-tempered, and I took it out on you. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I said those things. I didn't mean them. Can you forgive me?"

Doyle looked surprised and pleased by Bodie's apology. His arms fell to his sides. "Suppose so. It's Christmas, after all."

"It is," Bodie agreed, nodding.

"Well then, better come in."

Bodie walked past him and in to the hall.

"Bodie," Doyle said as he closed the door. "Aren't those the clothes you were wearing yesterday?"

Bodie looked down at his tan trousers and black polo-neck, and shrugged. "I reckon so."

"Did you sleep in them?" Doyle asked, forehead wrinkled as he crossed towards Bodie.

"Must've done."


Bodie looked away. What could he tell him? I had a dream where I was Scrooge, mate, and you played Tiny Tim. That would go over a treat.

"I fell asleep on my couch, Doyle," he said, wandering into the lounge. "Don't make such a big deal out of it."

Doyle followed on his heels. "Fell asleep on your couch, woke up and called me, all worked up, spouting nonsense, then rushed over here without even taking time for a shower and a change of clothes."

Bodie turned and tried to joke his way out of it. "You got a problem with the way I smell, mate?"

Doyle was having none of it. "No. I've got a problem with you acting like a lunatic. You want to tell me what's really going on here?"

Bodie didn't know how to answer that, what lie he could tell to get Doyle off the scent. Then he remembered what Charlie had said.

But he'll know you're keeping something from him. And one day he'll leave, just as he believes you're leaving him.

Bodie had seen that future. And he wanted no part of it.

"I had a dream last night," he said, crossing away to look out Doyle's beautiful bay window. Water dripped from the roofline above, exploding on the sill like tiny bombs. Bodie counted every drop as each one hit and scattered. "You went off on your own, without me, and got caught by a right bastard. I don't even know what made him choose you or why you went after him. But he...he killed you."

"He killed me?" Doyle echoed from very close by.

"Yeah," Bodie said with a nod. "Dead and gone, mate. It was terrible. I saw your body in the morgue." His confession made, Bodie waited for Doyle's derision. He deserved it, didn't he? Big tough secret agent man, broken up over a silly little dream.

Only Doyle's ridicule never came.

Instead, a gentle hand turned Bodie and a pair of strong arms enfolded him in a warm embrace.

"You big old softie," Doyle murmured, the bridge of his nose pressed against Bodie's neck, his hand rubbing soothing circles on Bodie's back. "Nightmare got you all twisted about, didn't it?"

"Yeah," Bodie admitted, his eyes shut, his arms closed firmly around his friend.

"It's all right," Doyle assured him. "To be expected, really. We've had a rough couple of weeks. All that stress is bound to affect a man one way or another. At least you didn't do something stupid like pick a fight with a behemoth twice your size and three times as ugly."

Bodie chuckled, feeling happy as hell and like the world's biggest idiot all at the same time. "Oh, I don't know. Might not be so bad. I'm awfully beautiful. At worst, the bloke would just be well built and passably attractive."

Doyle laughed, as Bodie had meant him to, and pulled back to meet Bodie's gaze. "Bodie," he said softly, his smile lingering still.

He loved you, Bodie boy, Bodie buddy, Bodie beauty. Loved you fine and true. He told me so. I could see it in his eyes when he whispered your name.

And all at once, Bodie thought he could see it too. Believed he saw a reflection of his own feelings shining in Doyle's canted green eyes.

There are people out there willing to love you, if you'd only give them the chance. But you have to dare. Be brave, be brave...

Maybe it was time for a little courage.

Taking his arms from around Doyle, Bodie captured his partner's face between his palms.

"Bodie, what's wrong?" Doyle whispered, his hands coming up to cover Bodie's.

Bodie didn't answer at first. He looked at the battered features he knew as well as his own--the hard drawn lips, the sweeping arch of his brows, the mismatched cheekbones, the shadows beneath his eloquent wide-set eyes--and thought about the last time he had seen them.

He shook his head. "Nothing," he answered quietly. "Nothing is wrong."

Then he closed his eyes, leaned forward, and pressed his lips to Doyle's, the kiss innocent, yet enduring. With it, Bodie tried to express all the feelings he had been struggling with--all the want, all the need. He tried to say everything he feared he would never be able put into words, not knowing if he would ever have the opportunity to convey them in this way again.

Doyle allowed him such liberty, the tightening of his fingers on Bodie's wrists his only noticeable reaction.

After a time, Bodie pulled away, his hands dropping to Doyle's shoulders and opened his eyes. Doyle was looking back at him, arms at his sides.

"What was that for?" Doyle asked, his voice low and soft.

"Nothing," Bodie answered with the smallest of smiles. "Everything. I'm just really glad you're here."

Doyle's gaze searched his face. Bodie wished he knew what Doyle was looking for. In the end, it didn't seem to matter. Doyle smiled.

"I knew you'd earn yourself a pressie in the end."

Bodie widened his grin. "Did you really buy me a Christmas present, Raymond?" he asked, wanting to test a theory.

"I certainly did," Doyle said smugly. "Saw it weeks ago. I know how a lad like you enjoys his toys."

Bodie knew it would ruin the surprise, but he had to ask. He really did. "Ray, you didn't buy me that robot, did you?"

Pushing them apart with a firm shove to Bodie's shoulder, Doyle's jaw dropped. "You toe-rag! How did you know?"

"Would you believe the Ghost of Christmas Present whispered in my ear?" Bodie teased.

"I'll turn you into a ghost if you're not careful," Doyle warned with mock menace, his finger wagging. "I can't believe you sussed it out, you cheap bastard. Don't think I didn't notice you showed up empty-handed."

"Everything I have is yours," Bodie assured him, arms open wide, what he knew to be a fatuous smile shaping his lips.

Doyle didn't seem to care what kind of smile it was. He responded just the same, his gaze turning tender. "Don't want everything, do I? Just you."

"Really, Ray?" Bodie asked with a touch of wonder. "Are you sure?"

"Yes, you idiot," Doyle said with his own particular mix of exasperation and affection. "Feel like I've been waiting forever for you to get a bloody wakeup call."

Smiling so widely he thought his face might split, Bodie laughed and hauled Doyle in for an enthusiastic, rib-cracking hug. Doyle hugged him right back, his hold just as fierce. "Well then, God bless us every one."

-- THE END --
(Ho, ho, ho!)

December 2006

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