Bullet With Your Name
Love all, trust a few. Do wrong to none.
Right. Well, maybe Bill Shakespeare would have seen things differently if he'd worked for CI5.
Nine months into their partnership they were still learning to trust. But it was early days, even if those days had been spent in the slippery foxhole that was life on the A-Squad, and they were on one of their first undercover ops.
Anyway, maybe "trust" wasn't the right word, because Bodie had realized midway through his first pint with Doyle that the former PC Plod could be trusted. Whatever that meant. What Bodie feared it meant was that Doyle could be trusted to try and do the right thing if it killed him -- and everyone else.
It took Bodie a little longer to realize that he could rely on Doyle. Rely on his ingenuity and his competency. Doyle was good. Maybe as good as -- well, no. Let's not get carried away. But, surprisingly, Doyle put the same premium on loyalty that he did.
Bodie didn't care much for undercover work, but Doyle, the bloody chameleon, took to it like a mermaid to bubble bath. Appealed to his warped sense of humor, no doubt.
The op was so routine it fairly wobbled along on trainer wheels. Infiltrate an IRA splinter group -- so splintered they'd needed a magnifying glass and needle to locate them -- but an enterprising lot for all that. The word was that they'd managed to lay hands on a nuclear device. The rumor turned out to be somewhat exaggerated. Bill Kelly's bunch was in the process of purchasing an RDD or dirty bomb, which, granted, was alarming enough.
Weapons of mass disruption being a hot commodity these days, Kelly was planning a bank robbery to make up the difference in the purchase price. Doyle had been successfully planted for two weeks under the cover name of "Roy Dolan" when Bodie signed on as wheelman "Burke." The bank heist was set for the following Tuesday, and Cowley had still not determined whether they were to let the heist proceed and snap up Kelly and the arms dealer together.
In the end, Cowley decided to let the robbery go ahead as planned. Kelly and his gang were holed up inside a Birmingham tenement killing time playing cards and drinking beer. Dinner arrived courtesy of the brother-in-law of one of the gang, a sandy little man with pale whiskers and pink-rimmed eyes reminding Bodie of a white rat.
Divested of the sagging bags of takeout, smelling of the smog-scented night and cannabis, the sandy man stared curiously around the room, and his watery eyes lit on "Roy Dolan" who was frowning into a white carton of dubious chow mein.
"Oi, I know you," he said slowly and wonderingly. "You're that copper. You're Doyle."
The smoke-filled room, which had been loud with commentary and muttered complaints about lousy food and lousy company, went suddenly quiet. Doyle's head jerked up.
He laughed. "Not likely, mate." His body stayed loose and relaxed, and his voice was right -- you'd have to know him as well as Bodie did to hear that underlying note of wariness. "A copper!" He sounded genuinely amused.
"You are," insisted Sandy. "D.C. Doyle. I remember you. Nicked me for growing weed in me own private garden." He looked around and said plaintively, "He's a copper."
And suddenly Doyle was the center of everyone's unblinking and unsmiling attention. Bodie rested his hand on the butt of his 9mm and his eased his way towards the door, remembering exactly why he hated undercover work so much. If he'd wanted to be a copper he'd have joined the bloody Met.
"Is that so?" Billy demanded, advancing on Doyle.
"He's barmy," Doyle said, holding his ground. He was still smiling as though this were all a silly misunderstanding. Bodie could have told him it was too late. Could have told him he needed to be working out his escape route, not trying to salvage the op, but Doyle never looked his way -- and for that, Bodie was grateful.
"I'm not!" Sandy said. "Got a very good eye for faces, don't I?"
"Look, mate --" Whatever argument Doyle planned on making was lost as Bill Kelly piled into him. The smaller man staggered back against the wall, lost to Bodie's view behind Billy's massive leather-clad shoulders. Bodie saw Billy's arm draw back for a punch and heard the sickening impact. Doyle slid down the wall, arms clasped about his narrow midriff.
Billy roared, "Who sent you? Who are you working with?"
Doyle stared up at him. There were tears of pain in his eyes. "No one! Swear to Christ! No one!"
"Who are you working with?" Billy yelled again, and kicked Doyle in his belly. Doyle curled up protectively, and groaned from deep in his guts.
"No one," he got out on a broken gasp. Billy hauled him up by the lapels of his checked shirt, shook him like a rag doll and then hurled him back to the floor. He kicked him in the back over the kidneys, and this time Doyle didn't even try to get out of the way.
Not once did he look at Bodie.
And Bodie, who had been thinking fast and furiously on how he was going to get himself out of this cock-up alive, began to consider how he was going to get Doyle out of it.
The problem was solved for him when Billy abruptly pulled out his gun, aimed at the shuddering figure of Doyle, and fired.
It happened so fast there was barely time to register, let alone react. Bodie's foot shot out and he kicked Billy's hand up as he fired. Too goddamn slow. Doyle jerked and went still.
Bodie saw it out of the corner of his eye because by then he had pulled his own weapon and was shooting any and everything that moved, starting with Billy-boy who went down with an expression of astonished outrage and a gaping third eye. That one was for Doyle who lay motionless with an aureole of blood around his own head.
The rest of the rats -- starting with the little sandy man who had started it all -- tried to jump ship: three of them trying to wedge through the narrow doorway at the same time. Bodie took out the only villain with the presence of mind to reach for his own gun.
He shot the slowest man to escape through the doorway, and was blackly amused when the last of Kelly's remaining crew jumped out through the window only to fall off the fire escape in his panic.
Adrenaline -- and something uncomfortably close to exhilaration -- still coursed through his body. He took a deep, steadying breath. The room reeked of gunpowder and blood and worse. He could hear the hysterical babble of voices in the hallway, and screams from the street below. He needed to call it in. But first...
Bodie knelt beside Doyle, jaw clenched, ready for the worst. There was already a pool of blood, but as he parted Doyle's gore-drenched curls he realized the wound was superficial; a crease across the back of his skull.
Carefully, he shifted his partner onto his side, positioning the nearest limp arm at a right angle. And about that time Doyle fluttered his lashes and opened dazed eyes. His pupils were black and huge. He unglued his mouth and croaked, "That went well."
"Cowley will be pleased," agreed Bodie.
Doyle closed his eyes, said faintly, "Did that son of a bitch shoot me in the head?"
"Mmm. Surprised a bullet could find its way through this mop." The red-brown hair beneath his hand felt soft and springy, like a child's. He reached into his pocket, pulled out a clean folded handkerchief, and pressed it against the back of Doyle's skull. He took Doyle's unresisting hand and pressed it to the cotton pad. "Hold that --"
"Ow!" Doyle exclaimed, flinching.
Bodie squeezed his clammy hand hard for attention. "You're bleeding like a stuck pig -- no pun intended. Keep this pressed tight. I've got to radio in."
The local fuzz had arrived by the time he returned to the scene of the crime. Convincing them that he -- and Doyle -- were CI5 took some doing. Their pocket litter was convincing, and for obvious reasons they carried no other ID, but the cops didn't seem to follow this reasoning and keep insisting on seeing some. Luckily, their own team arrived, and he was able to retreat to Doyle's side.
Someone had covered him with a blanket. He was laying very still, his hand, now dripping red, still holding the soaked handkerchief in place.
"Ambulance is on the way," Bodie said. "Cowley too."
Doyle's eyes shifted his way, but he said nothing. It wasn't like him to suffer in silence.
Doyle said quietly, "My vision's off."
"Blurred, yeah?" Bodie said. "Everything fuzzy?"
"'S not like that." He swallowed. "Can't see anything out of my left eye."
Bodie swallowed hard too. "Probably normal. You took a hell of a wallop."
The ambulance arrived then and a few minutes later Doyle was loaded in, still weirdly mute and self-contained.
It was several hours before Cowley finished chewing over Bodie's remains. By then he needed a shower and a drink -- several drinks -- and a long sleep, but first he headed over to the hospital where CI5 took their wounded. Though past visiting hours, even here CI5 made its own rules and regulations, and a weary-looking doctor eventually materialized in the antiseptic-scented hallway to tell him that Mr. Doyle was stable and resting comfortably.
Bodie nodded. Cleared his throat. "What about his eyes?"
The man of medicine got that evasive look doctors always get when they don't want to commit to something that may later be thrown in their faces by hysterical family members. Cautiously he admitted that Mr. Doyle had suffered a blow to the occipital lobe, that his vision did appear to be at least temporarily affected, and that they were monitoring him closely.
Doyle was lying in small darkened cubical. There was a thick bandage on the back of his head. His ribs were taped, sharply white against his bruised skin and the dark scribbles of body hair. Both eyes were bandaged -- it looked stagy and unreal, like he'd won the starring role in a medical drama.
He was motionless but Bodie could feel his restlessness across the few feet of space between bed and door. They must have given him some kind of sedative, but it would probably take an elephant gun to slow Doyle's hyperactive system. He hitched a shoulder against the pillows, sighed; his fingers moved nervously on the bleached cotton sheet.
"Feel like company?" Bodie asked from the doorway.
Doyle stilled and then smiled that disarming chip-toothed smile. "Could do. How'd the clean up go?" He curled his lip. "What'd Cowley say?"
Bodie slipped away from the doorway, dragged a very uncomfortable-looking chair over to the bed, and said, "Let's just say I'd rather have a hole in my head than try to explain that one again."
Listening alertly, Doyle gave a slow, reluctant grin. "Not our finest hour," he admitted.
It was a relief to sit. He'd been going since -- well, since they'd started the op fourteen days ago. He didn't realize how tired he was till he let himself stop. Bodie said cheerfully, "We'll have other finer hours."
"Yeh." Doyle wet his lips. "Maybe. Did you --?"
"Talk to the doc? Yeah. You'll be fine, mate. Head as hard as yours, bound to be okay."
"Hope so. Was never much good at blind man's buff."
"Nah. Good at anything you put that mastermind of yours to. You'd be a regular...what's his name? The blind samurai in that flick you dragged me to see?"
"Zatoichi." Doyle smiled a twitchy little smile. "Yeh."
Way back when, Bodie had thought Doyle was extraordinarily ugly. Those big eyes and that poochy mouth and that broken cheek bone--and all those teeth. The better to eat you with. A regular little gargoyle, with that perennial scowl he wore, trying to make up with belligerence and force of personality what he lacked in physical weight. Afraid an ex-constable wasn't going to be taken seriously in the hallowed halls of CI5. Tried too hard at first, Doyle did.
But he was good. Well, they all were, of course. The crème de la crème -- and Cowley a macabre Miss Jean Brodie in men's drag. But even in CI5 Doyle stood out. He was whip-smart and a lot stronger than he looked. He was a crack shot -- possibly even better than -- well, no. But very good. Bodie liked his cleverness and his nerve and his sharp tongue and -- though he wouldn't have admitted it -- his astonishing capacity for compassion. Doyle believed they were making a difference in the world. Needed to believe it, apparently.
So Bodie had no problem with insinuating himself into any mix-up, lining up his powerful shoulders right behind Doyle, lending a little muscle -- or the threat of a little muscle -- illustrating the point for anyone too thick to realize that Doyle was enough of a threat all on his own.
Yeah, he liked Doyle. He'd even come to think that in the right light, or from the right angle, or when in the right mood, Doyle was rather attractive. Eyes as cool and light as Lake Tanganyika, and a sexy mouth -- if he'd only keep it shut. Beautiful tight ass. Not that Bodie thought a lot about his ass. He didn't go much for blokes these days -- too many problems. Especially here in her majesty's backyard, where it was liable to result in disgrace. He'd made a point of keeping his occasional disgraces to foreign climes. Besides, straight as die, Doyle, in every possible sense. And fairly provincial in his tastes, if Bodie knew anything about it -- which he did, being a man of the world. Or at least a very large part of the world.
Doyle turned his untidy head on the crisp snowy pillow. Weird how young and quiet he looked without the power of those eyes.
"Half-eleven. Why don't you rest a bit, Ray?"
"Yeh. In a bit," he agreed almost easily. "You'll be taking off any minute, I s'ppose."
Careful not to make it a question, but Bodie read him. He could guess how it would feel to spend never-ending Stygian hours waiting for the light of day -- wondering if you were ever going to see the light of day again.
"Here for the duration," Bodie informed him. "Got special dispensation from the dragon on duty. We can exchange our girlish confidences all through the long night," he added in a posh falsetto.
Doyle laughed and threw out a hand -- his direction slightly off, which touched Bodie in some strange way. "Thanks, mate."
"Anytime." Bodie grinned, letting Doyle hear it in his voice. He gripped Doyle's hand, feeling hard bone and hard tendon and hard muscle, despite the deceptive slenderness.
"Thanks," Doyle repeated, a little huskily.
Bodie's thumb brushed the other's pulse point and he could feel it hammering away. Doyle was about as terrified as a man could be, but he was holding it together, talking and laughing and not giving into it.
And Bodie, who knew that courage was all about how you functioned when you were afraid, and not about the absence of fear -- and who was still young enough to prize bravery nearly above all else -- felt something change inside him. He held onto Doyle's thin, strong hand -- and Doyle let him.
"Get some sleep, buttercup," he said a little roughly.
Doyle's full lips twitched. "Buttercup?"
"Sure. Just brimming with sunlight and sweetness, aren't you?"
If Doyle was blind -- even if the vision in just one eye was seriously impaired -- that was the end of them. The end of this team, and Bodie was startled to realize how much it mattered to him that they continued, that the team continued. He'd never had a better partner, and already the word around CI5 was that they were top dog, shaping up to be the best, Cowley's favorites. Bodie wanted that, knew Doyle wanted it just as badly. And beyond that, beyond the ambition and ego, Bodie knew that he would miss Doyle like hell.
Absently, he ran the edge of his thumb along the bony knuckles, stroked the pulse point in the fine-boned wrist lightly, and he felt Doyle's heart slowing, calming. He didn't let go of Bodie, though, and Bodie didn't let go of him.
Even when Doyle finally drifted off into an exhausted sleep, he hung on -- and so did Bodie.
The Cow had a saying that Ray liked to quote -- in a truly execrable Scot's accent. What may be done at any time will be done at no time, Bo-die!
Like so many of George Cowley's homespun proverbs, there was some truth to this one, which probably explained why it took Bodie so long to get Doyle into bed, even after he'd realized that Doyle wasn't nearly as provincial in his tastes as he'd imagined.
It wasn't that Bodie didn't want Doyle. After three years Bodie could hardly keep his hands off him.
He knew it was mutual. Knew from the way Ray watched him and laughed at all his bad jokes; knew the difference between the unguarded smile Ray gave him and the closed face he showed the rest of the world; knew from the tears he'd shed when Bodie had been stupid enough to get himself knifed; knew from the way he posed that lean, sexy body on every available flat surface for Bodie's glinting admiration; knew from the way he let Bodie tease and fondle him -- when he would have handed anyone else's head to 'im.
Oh, it was mutual. And it was dangerous.
Not just because it could cost them the job they loved -- and the partnership they needed.
It was dangerous because it could interfere -- did interfere -- with how they did that job. Loyalty had slowly, year by year, shared peril by shared peril, developed into something like devotion. Queen and country, yes, of course; but at what cost? Because gradually, it became clear that there was one price neither of them was willing to pay.
Dangerous because it could get them killed.
But it made them sharper too. They had more to lose now, even if it was unspoken. They acted in accord, finished each other's sentences, knew what the other was thinking when they didn't bother to speak. They were CI5's top team; practically a legend in their own time, the Cow's unacknowledged favorites -- the ones he turned to when he could trust no one else, when the situation was too sensitive or too deadly -- or he needed one of his damned personal errands run.
It was dangerous and it was inevitable.
"Where the hell were you?" Bodie demanded when Doyle finally loped up at the end of what he'd been calling the Mayhem Manor job.
The mop up had already begun, and Bodie had had a bad moment wondering where Ray had got to. He'd lost track of him after they'd separated in the woods. A few minutes later the shooting had started.
"Took a...wrong turn," Doyle said breathlessly.
"You what?" Bodie stared in disbelief, taking in Doyle's disheveled state. Twigs in his hair, the knees of his jeans muddied and grass-stained. Had he fallen? Surely not. Doyle moved like a cat. But just now he leaned on the pedestal of a statue of Diana looking more done in than the marble stag at her sandaled feet. "Turned left after Greenland, did you?"
Not bothering to repeat himself, Doyle raised his shaggy head and glared, still panting.
Uneasily, Bodie repeated, "You alright then?"
"Course!" And just like that Doyle seemed to pull himself together. He pushed off the statuary and stalked away to lay down the law to the local constabulary who were milling around the body-strewn grounds looking more like lost sheep than ever.
Eyes narrowed, Bodie watched him through the cordite-laced mist.
When the clean up was over he located Doyle in the stately home's rose garden. He was watching orange goldfish dart across the midnight water of an ornamental pool. And though he must have heard Bodie's approach -- and surely knew who it was -- he didn't look up.
Studying him, Bodie's chest tightened with unfamiliar emotion. What the hell was that? Love? Surely not. Unexpected and unwelcome. Like a thump between the shoulder blades, like a bullet out of the darkness.
It had been a strange night, and it felt increasingly surreal. The trees and skeletal walls of the old priory stood in stark black silhouette against the plum-colored sky and burnished copper moon.
Standing next to Doyle, shoulders brushing, Bodie stared down at the pond. The little spurts of flame-colored fish reminded him of fireworks shooting across a black night. What did Doyle see in the shadow water?
"Nah." Doyle wasn't looking at him, and his profile was hard to read, although by now Bodie knew his every expression and mood.
"Hoping for a faint whiff of those famous roses and lavender?"
Doyle's mouth twitched. "Not likely."
"We should start back."
Doyle nodded wearily.
It was eerily silent after all the sirens and shouts, the crack and whine of gunfire, the whup-whup-whup of the hovering helicopter. Not the first battle to take place on these baronial holdings -- and maybe not the last. And maybe it was just luck that tonight one or both of them hadn't joined the comfortless ghosts wandering these elegant grounds. Maybe not luck. Maybe it just wasn't their time.
Bodie reached out and gently picked a leaf out of that silky bird's nest. "Time for a quick one?" He meant stopping for a pint, of course, before they tackled the long drive back to London, but the quiet words, scented of moonlight and the musky antique roses, seemed to shape an entirely different offer.
And then Doyle did look up, his eyes wide and colorless in the moonlight. Strange. Fey. His face moved as though he were in pain, and he reached for Bodie.
Instinctively, thinking he was injured or grieving -- Ray could be an odd one -- Bodie reached back and found his arms full of lean, lanky male. Ray's arms fastened around him, Ray's mouth latched onto his, hungry, a little wild.
Surprising, but not unpleasant -- not at all.
Bodie could feel the heat of Doyle's body through the damp clothes, Doyle molding his body so tightly to Bodie's larger frame that the hard bulge against his hip was painfully unmistakable. Bodie's own cock tugged, trying to answer.
Right. Well. It had been a long time, but the principle was the same. Bodie ran one hand down a wide bony back -- very different that -- drew Doyle closer still. Doyle's hands tightened on his shoulders, his mouth moved urgently on Bodie's.
So that's what Ray tasted like....Cinnamon-sweet. He'd been chewing gum earlier.
Doyle was apparently trying to get Bodie's jacket off -- having equal problems with fine motor skills and logic. What the hell had happened to him in the woods? Bodie made encouraging noises and got his hand wrapped around Ray's belt buckle, nimbly unfastening it in a couple of moves, then on to pop the top button of his jeans.
Taking the cue, Doyle dropped his hands to Bodie's waistband, unfastened his trousers, yanked, closed on the band of Bodie's briefs. He groaned. Tore his mouth away from Bodie's, bit him lightly on his throat.
That small desperate sound startled Bodie. He pushed down Doyle's jeans, slipped his hand into a stretched tight silk -- silk? -- jock, and Doyle arched up into his touch. Jesus, the feel of hot bare skin and soft fine hair beneath his fingertips, and Doyle thrusting against him and making a weird sound in the back of his throat.
Bodie hooked his fingers around the elastic band, dragged the jock down, and Doyle's cock sprang free -- Bodie's moistly nuzzling him hello. Bodie's own briefs were down around his thighs, Doyle's lean body rubbing up against him, pressing closer, his rigid cock sliding against Bodie's. His thin fingers biting into Bodie's ass.
At this rate they were going to end up in the goldfish pond. Bodie hooked his foot around Doyle's ankle, tipped him backwards to the soft grass, putting an arm out to brace their fall. His other arm supported Doyle's back, his big hand cradling Doyle's neck and base of his skull.
They landed with a breathless thud and Doyle wriggled agilely into better position, his hands sliding up beneath Bodie's shirt, caressing. Fingertips finding sensitive nipples, pinching. Bodie, gasped, reached down, got them both in one hand, worked them with more energy than finesse.
Doyle rocked his hips frantically -- Jesus, but he was sharp-edged and thin. All elegant bones and beautiful angles, but his fierceness felt good, offered release. Bodie slammed back into him, pumping them hard together, partners in this as in everything. He found Doyle's gaze -- locked on -- unblinking, unwavering they stared into each other's eyes.
Panting harsh breaths in the smoky cold night.
They couldn't last. It took no longer than the average street fight -- a minute maybe two, but with much sweeter results.
Doyle sucked in sharply, his eyes rolled back and Bodie felt heat spreading between their bodies, Doyle's come slicking his fingers. He ground into his own jerking, pulling, pushing harder, harder -- his balls drawing up tight --
"Jesus fucking Christ..."
There it was: the hot shuddering release like no other. Blood hot relief spilling between their plastered bodies, shocked pleasure rippling through nerves and muscles leaving them loose and limp -- and more than a little dazed.
"You don't suppose this is going to turn up on a security cam somewhere?" Bodie asked what felt like a long time later.
More time passed. The cold ground began to make itself felt.
"We should try this in a bed sometime." Bodie stared up at the roses swaying gently over their heads. "A mattress, I mean."
"Was that yes, no, or maybe?"
"What do you want it to be?"
"Whatever it is." He shrugged. "However long it lasts."
Doyle turned his head. Stared at him, unblinking.
Bodie leaned forward. Touched his mouth to Ray's. Felt Ray's lips quiver. Surprisingly soft lips. He moved his mouth with gentle insistence, and Ray's lips parted.
It was different from that first crazy kiss. Slow. Deliberate.
When they parted, they continued to study each other curiously. Doyle inched over and put his arm around Bodie's chest.
"What?" Bodie asked finally.
"The body on the hillside? The one with the L96A1?"
"Yeah? Nice shot by the way. Clean."
"'E had you in his sight." Doyle swallowed, Adam's apple jumping. "I couldn't -- almost didn't --"
Bodie was silent for a moment, absently stroking the long spare back. "Yeah, but you did, didn't you?"
"Let it go, mate. You start thinking about the might-have-beens and you'll go mad."
"Life in a word," Doyle quoted bitterly. "If." He rested his forehead on Bodie's shoulder.
"Bloody rain. You two don't work undercover much anymore, do you?" Anson asked idly, not looking up from the latest issue of Club International.
"Nah." Bodie squinted into the telescope's eyepiece. The house across the street couldn't have looked more ordinary -- right down to the plastic petunias in the flower boxes. He'd caught a glimpse of Ray a few minutes earlier when he'd walked past the upstairs window. You'd think he'd put some clothes on in this weather. Then again, maybe the peep show was for Bodie's benefit. "Too famous these days."
And he was not entirely kidding. Nine years on the squad was a long time; probably equaled twenty civilian years. Felt like it, anyway.
We're pushing our luck, Ray had said last night when he'd arrived under cover of darkness for a few stolen minutes together while Anson was out getting grub.
We're fine, Bodie had reassured. Ray had been strung tight, shivering with the bitter night and the kick of adrenaline. At the time Bodie had thought they'd been talking about the possibility of Anson walking in on them in a compromising position. Now he wondered.
Getting nervous in your old age?
Quick grin. Yeh. Maybe. Chilly hands sliding up beneath Bodie's pullover -- and that wicked chuckle. That wicked...skillful...mouth.
"Legend in your own mind," Anson returned equably, and the scrape of turning pages and rain pricking the window were the only sounds in the room for a time.
His mind on Doyle, on his hot hungry mouth and the taste of his skin and the smell of his hair -- and the quiet tension that Bodie felt as keenly as if it were his own -- he watched the wind-blown progress of a slight figure in an ill-fitting mac as it pushed through the gate of the house across the street.
Early for callers on a Sunday morning -- and the mob across the street were not churchgoers.
Something familiar about that bowed figure and the guilty glance the sandy little man threw over his shoulder...
"You have got to be fucking kidding me!" Bodie straightened from the telescope; the blanket fell from his shoulders.
Anson snapped to alertness. "What is it? What's wrong?"
"Doyle's cover is blown. We're pulling the plug --" He was already running for the doorway and the stairs.
"Eh? What are you talking about? How?" Anson babbled his bewilderment to deaf ears. "You can't know that for sure. We can't just pull the plug! Bodie!"
"Radio the old man!" Bodie's voice echoed hollowly from the stairwell.
The street was black and shiny with rain -- slick. Not a lot of traffic on a rainy Sunday morning; Bodie darted through the cars parked at the kerb, barely sparing a glance for the unassuming little van down the street listening in to all that happened within the house.
The sandy man had vanished inside the house. Where was Ray? Still upstairs hopefully? Bodie spared a glance for the blank unrevealing windows above him.
The direct approach was a bad mistake -- he realized it almost instantly, but he hadn't had time to formulate a plan. Now he slowed to a trot, cutting right, and making for the house on the other side. He pursed his lips as though he were absently whistling, hands jingling pockets. See, just paying a visit to the neighbors...
He strode jauntily up the walk, pushed through the gate -- silencing the cheerful bell with his hand -- stepped over the bicycles littering the path, and hoped to hell their bleedin' mongrel was still shut up inside the house.
The moment he hit the blind spot of the tall hedge, he ducked and ran for the back. Squelching through wet grass, he managed to avoid the snare of a tangled garden hose and still another discarded bike. He flashed past a startled face in a kitchen window, waved his hand in a quick warning salute, and hauled himself up and over the fence separating the two houses.
His muscles protested the lack of warm up -- getting old, Bodie me lad -- and he dropped down to land in a tense crouch, reaching for his 9mm. He slid out of sight of the rear window, flattening himself against the nearest wall.
He could hear voices -- just the tones, not words, and everything sounded normal. Normal for a household of jittery borderline-psychopathic terrorists, anyway. No one was screaming and no one was shouting, and that was always a good sign. There were five of them, not counting Ray -- and not counting the sandy man.
He waited, catching his breath -- too old for this, Bodie -- listening. No sign from the street that Anson had acted on his orders. Then again, they might be waiting for him to make his play.
And that would be...what?
Throwing pebbles at Ray's window? What light through yonder window breaks? Bursting in through the front like John Wayne, six guns blazing? And Ray caught in the crossfire?
He could hear the raised voice of the woman next door. He risked a quick look into the rain-streaked window next to him. A man eating cereal watching cartoons on the telly. So difficult finding decent terrorists these days.
Inching along the wall, he moved towards the back veranda. The screen door was latched, but gave after one hard jerk. Two steps and he was at the kitchen entrance. He holstered his gun and thought longingly of his lock pick set gathering dust at home. He reached into his back pocket, felt around, pulled out a credit card -- hopefully one he could afford to do without for a while.
Sliding the card between the door and frame, he pried with the plastic while wiggling the door knob. The card snapped as the door popped open. Bodie slipped inside the kitchen. Dirty dishes, empty takeout containers, overflowing trash bin -- and on the table a couple of London guide books and a set of blueprints.
Voices from the front room, television turned too loud in the room off the kitchen. Footsteps overhead. With any luck that was Ray -- on his own.
Soundlessly, he crossed the scratched lino. He had an angled view of the front room. Three of the usual suspects and the sandy man -- who was catching hell for not using The Signal. With the fourth man watching telly, that left one villain unaccounted for. And Ray.
He started up the narrow staircase, freezing as one of the living room occupants moved past the doorway. She never looked his way, and Bodie continued on up the stairs.
Second level. Musty smells and the drum of rain on the roof. Voices from down the hallway. Ray -- sounding perfectly all right -- laughing, in point of fact, sod him -- and another male.
Hushed careful steps down the carpeted hallway. A floorboard creaked. A head poked through the doorway of the room in front of him. A bearded, unfamiliar face, eyes narrowing in shock as Bodie loomed up seemingly out of nowhere. The man inhaled audibly.
Bodie hit him web-handed in the throat, strangling the target's yell and crushing his larynx. Quietly, Bodie eased the body to the floor. Quietly, but not quietly enough. He had been a big man and he'd hit the wall heavily. Bodie could feel the questioning silence rising from downstairs.
"Col?" called the woman from the bottom of the stairs. "Roy?"
Ray stepped into the hall -- still bare-chested -- Browning in hand. His eyes dropped to the man slumped against the wall. Rose to Bodie's face. "Oh," he said without emotion. "'Uullo."
"'Wasn't expecting you."
"Can see you're not dressed for company. Bet you weren't expecting your friend downstairs either."
Doyle considered this. He said casually, "I know so many people..."
"Small, sandy fellow. Looks like a white rabbit. Used to run with Bill Kelly."
Doyle's face changed. "Ah."
"Needed to talk to you anyway."
They paused, hearing the sounds of voices calling inquiry from below. "Urgent, was it?"
Doyle nodded. "Step into me boudoir." He backed into the room, locking it after Bodie. Footsteps pounded down the hall. Stopped. Voices conferred loudly -- then quietly -- and then fists began to bang on the door.
"'S on your mind, sunshine?" Doyle went over to the window and pushed it open. Rain blew in on a sharp gust. Doyle swung a long leg over the sill, hastily drew it back. Hopped away with less than his usual grace. "Shit."
A rifle cracked. The window silvered into a spider web around the hole -- the bullet planted itself in the far wall.
"I'm thinking of taking early retirement," Bodie said, shoving the bureau in front of the door.
Doyle's head snapped his way. Green for Danger, Bodie thought, meeting that searing gaze. But when Doyle spoke his voice was even.
"Soldier of Fortune recruiting again?"
He actually looked pale -- eyes bright, mouth too tight like he was holding fierce emotion in check. Suddenly Bodie wondered if he'd miscalculated. Nine years, yeah, but did you ever really know anyone?
"We've talked about it."
"We've joked about it."
"Well, now we're talking."
"Now we're talking?" Doyle glanced meaningfully at the door which was well on its way to being kicked in. The bureau scraped a few inches forward. A hand waving a gun slid through the opening.
Doyle shot's went clean through the attacker's arm and there was a scream of pain -- and an extra gun. If they lived long enough to need it.
They moved in accord to the corner of the room, backs to the wall, assuming firing stance. "Brilliant plan, this," Doyle added dourly. "Maybe you're ready for your pension at that."
His bare shoulder brushed reassuringly against Bodie's -- just that hairsbreadth shorter. Bodie could smell the shampoo he'd used -- his hair wasn't quite dry -- and the clean bite of his perspiration. His own gut clenched with a desperate mix of love and fear -- for Ray.
These days it was all about Ray. Had been ever since what he called -- to Ray's vast lack of amusement -- the Mayli Massacre. Peculiar lack of humor sometimes, Ray, but Bodie couldn't picture life without him. Not anymore.
"Look, Ray," he burst out. "We keep on the way we're going and we're going to get into serious trouble."
Doyle spluttered and then laughed that crazy laugh. "Bodie!"
"One of these days one of us isn't going to walk away." Bodie fired at -- but missed -- the head that briefly appeared above the dresser.
"So you're walking away first?" Doyle fired twice, aiming into the space between door and frame -- sheer bad temper, in Bodie's opinion.
"I'm asking you to go with me!"
Silence. Well, relatively speaking. Rain thundered down. There was a siren in the distance and pandemonium in the immediate present, but Doyle was silent -- and Doyle's silence was always deafening. Bodie could hardly hear the shouts and gunfire over it.
They each squeezed off several rounds but no one was firing back. Anson must have made the call. Or maybe the listeners in the van had caught on quickly to the fast-deteriorating scenario. From behind the house came the sound of pounding feet, more yelling and the ragged sound of automatic gunfire.
"That'll be the cavalry," Bodie said with satisfaction. "The other cavalry."
"And do what?" Doyle said, turning to face him.
Bodie didn't pretend not to follow. "Whatever we want. Jesus. I think we've earned it."
He understood the fear. What if the thing that held them together was CI5? What if the bond between them was violence -- and that aching need was simply the partnership of survival?
What if? One thing Bodie was not afraid of was what if. You pays your money and you takes your chances.
"Yeh? And what'll we do for money?" The telepathy apparently working at a tangent.
Bodie stared at him -- Doyle stared back -- and Bodie began to struggle to keep a straight face.
Unwillingly, Doyle's mouth twisted into a grin. "'Ard to make a living at that, mate."
"Be fun trying." He snaked an arm around Doyle's shoulders, put his lips to damp curls and warm ear. "Say yes, Ray."
Ray tried to shrug him off, but only half-heartedly.
"You know you can't live without me."
Ray scowled, turned his head in the curve of Bodie's arm. His forehead bumped Bodie's. "Who tells the old man?" he asked huskily, finally.
Bodie lifted an eyebrow.
"Oh, no! No way."
Bodie grinned, planted a velvety kiss on the bridge of Doyle's militant nose -- Doyle actually lowering his lashes and letting him -- and whispered, "For you, sweetheart, I'll take the bullet."
-- THE END --