Home for the Holidays
by PR Zed
Story 5 in the Comfort and Joy series, following Making Plans for Bodie, Comfort and Joy, Family Secrets, and Do You Know What I Know
Written for "Discovered in the Brandy Butter" on the discoveredinalj livejournal community
It was the week before Christmas, and all through CI5 headquarters there were far too many creatures stirring. Not that there'd been any crises, any threats to speak of. But George Cowley was on record as saying that there'd damn well better not be any this year, not on his watch, and all available agents had better make damn sure there was no blood spilled till after Hogmanay.
Bodie and Doyle had spent the morning in Records, writing up the past few days' encounters with various grasses and cross-checking the information they'd received with other agents' reports. Doyle was in the rest room, a cup of tea in each hand, when Cowley found him.
"4.5. My office. Now." Cowley didn't even wait for a response before he stalked out of the room.
Doyle followed, swallowing a curse as hot tea sloshed over the edge of one mug and onto the back of his hand. He just hoped this wasn't going to take long. Bodie was going to be an utter bastard if his tea was cold when he got it.
Cowley was sitting behind his desk, a folder open in front of him, a scowl on his face, when Doyle entered his office. Doyle frowned himself as he sat across from his boss, struck by a sudden feeling that anything Cowley had to say wasn't going to be good. A nasty undercover op, likely as not. Or a bloody boring obbo. Nothing they'd enjoy, that much was certain. Which was too bad. If things had stayed as quiet as they were, Doyle'd been hoping he and Bodie could pop up to Derby for Boxing Day. His mum had been asking if they'd be up for the holidays for a month now.
After a deep sigh, Cowley finally looked up at Doyle. "What do you know about Bodie's family," he said. Doyle frowned more deeply, Bodie's family being as far from what he'd expected as was possible.
"Dunno, sir. Not much." He shifted in his chair. "His mum left when he was young, his gran is dead and I gather his dad was a right bastard. That's about it." He shrugged. "Bodie's not much for sharing and I've never pressed him."
"Hmmm," was all Cowley said in reply, then he looked down again at the papers in front of him.
Doyle waited for a good thirty seconds before he let his curiosity get the better of him. "Look, sir, what's all this about?"
"Bodie's family." Cowley flipped a page. "Specifically, his father."
"Is he dead?" Doyle bit his lip. "Bodie told me he reckoned the old bugger drank himself to death years ago."
"No, not dead. Not yet, at least." Cowley finally closed the folder and looked up at Doyle. "Not dead, but dying." Cowley's eyes looked hard as flint.
"Bloody hell," Doyle said, not knowing what else to say as he considered the idea. "I can't imagine Bodie'll be that upset about it. Do you want me to tell him?"
"No, Doyle. Not exactly."
"Then what did you want me to do? Exactly."
"I want you to go to Liverpool and talk to Mr. Bodie."
"What?" It seemed an unlikely thing for Cowley to ask of him. "Why?"
"The doctors have told me Mr. Bodie hasn't got long. A week or two at the outside. Before anyone tells Bodie about his father, I want to know what the man's like now. If he's as bad as he was, I think it's better that Bodie never hear about him again." Cowley gave a slight grimace. "I'd go myself, but I have too many pots on the boil here in London.
Doyle felt himself bristling at Cowley's presumption. "Bodie's a grown lad, sir. I don't think he needs protecting from his own father."
Cowley didn't respond immediately, just pressed his lips together until they were white. He stood and walked over to the window behind his desk and stood looking out of it, his back to Doyle.
"Bodie had been in CI5 a year when you joined, so you didn't see him at the start. He was...damaged."
There was no question of Doyle's reaction to that statement. He'd spent years watching Bodie's back; he wasn't going to stop now. "Now wait a bloody minute..."
"Damaged, Doyle. There's no other word for it." Cowley turned and fixed Doyle with a look that quelled any further outbursts. "Belfast did some of the harm, and Africa. But the worst was done to him in a council flat in Liverpool by his father. It took six months after he joined CI5 before he was fit for a real op. And another six months before I felt confident in partnering him with anyone, which is when you came along and took him off my hands."
"If he was so bloody damaged, why'd you take him on?" Doyle stood, unable to simply sit and listen to Cowley slag off Bodie. That was his exclusive privilege, and he only did it as a game, one in which Bodie gave as good as he got.
"Because he's good, Doyle. Damn good. The best, as you have reason to know." Cowley waved him back to his seat and collapsed back into to his own. "Ach, sit down, laddie. I know Bodie's worth. And not many do. Major Nairn, for one, was glad to be shut of him. Had no patience for keeping Bodie on track. But he steered him to me because he knows I have infinite patience." Cowley gave a small smile. "I'm willing to cultivate a plant if its bloom is worth the trouble. And Bodie has an exceptionally good bloom."
"Don't think he'd appreciate that: being compared to a flower."
"You're all flowers in my rather unruly garden, Doyle, some of you wilder and less domestic than others. Oh, don't give me that look. Why don't you pour yourself a drink? And get me one while you're at it."
Doyle knew he was being placated, but nonetheless he poured a generous shot from one of the better bottles in Cowley's collection for his boss, and an even more generous one for himself.
Cowley waited until they'd both taken large swallows of scotch before he spoke again. "Would it help you to think of this as a reconnaissance mission? Looking for hidden traps before your partner goes and trips one of them?"
"Yeah," Doyle replied with ill humour. "I suppose that'll have to do."
"This isn't something I ask lightly." Cowley's voice took on the gentler quality that he only used when he had to calm down some innocent caught up in a CI5 op. "I did the security check on Bodie's father myself when we were vetting him for the organization. To say the senior Bodie is--what did you call him? a bit of a bastard?--is a gross understatement."
"If he's that bad, why send me at all? Why not bury the information and be done with it?"
"Well, laddie," Cowley said, and downed the last of his scotch in a single swallow. "Let's just say I know a little about having a past you're not fond of. And I'd like to give Bodie a chance to make peace with his past. If there's peace to be had, and he's willing to make it."
Doyle didn't say anything to that, but couldn't help but think about what sorts of skeletons were lurking in Cowley's past. And he wondered if he'd discovered part of why the Cow was willing to let Bodie get away with insubordination he'd string other agents up by the balls for.
"You'll do as I ask, then?"
"Yeah. Don't see as I've got any choice, 'ave I?"
"Thank you, Doyle." Cowley looked as relieved as Doyle had ever seen him. "You can leave tomorrow. Tell Bodie I've given you a special assignment up north."
"Send me up to Liverpool without him? He'd never believe it. If I'm going to do this, I should do it right." Doyle gave a wry smile. "I've an idea of how to manage it."
Bodie awoke to the ringing of a telephone. He flailed about, but the phone wasn't in its usual position on his nightstand. He struggled with a sheet that seemed determined to keep him down for the count and by the time he was sitting up he'd finally realized why his phone had done a runner.
He wasn't at his own flat; he was at Doyle's. And Doyle had left the warmth of the bed and picked up the phone in its usual spot in the hall. Bodie could hear him, talking in tones low enough that the words weren't discernible. He stretched, wondering who was calling at the crack of dawn. Couldn't be work, or his R/T would have gone off as well. That left a family emergency. Christ, he hoped it wasn't anything to do with Cath. She was pregnant, expecting in the spring. And since Bodie had plans for spoiling this particular niece or nephew more than the rest of the Doyle clan, he didn't want to hear anything had gone wrong.
As he sat in the bedroom, he heard Doyle hang up the phone, then dial another number. This call didn't take nearly as long, less than a minute before Bodie heard the click of the receiver being replaced.
Fully awake now, Bodie was about to risk the chill of the flat and get up when the bedroom door opened and Doyle crept in.
"Who was that, then?" Bodie asked.
"My mum." Doyle hopped into bed and quickly pulled the covers over them both.
"Nothing too serious," Doyle said quickly. "She's come down with the flu. Nasty bout. Can't get out of bed. She's worried about getting ready for Christmas and the girls can't help. Half their little 'uns are down sick too, and she doesn't want to give whatever it is to Cath."
"So she's asked you to come up?" Bodie was both surprised and worried. Margaret Doyle was a lovely woman, but tough as old boots. If she was asking for help she must be very ill indeed.
"Yeah. Embarrassed about it, but yeah." Doyle pushed one hand through his already tangled curls. "I called Cowley and he's agreed to give me a few days off."
"Bet he wasn't well pleased."
"Not really, no. Not that I gave him much choice." Doyle chuckled. "Don't think he'd have dared turn me down, anyway. I'd take a bet that he's more that a little scared of my mum."
"I don't blame him." Bodie smiled himself. He'd seen Margaret Doyle take on the head of CI5 after Ray had been shot. After that encounter, George Cowley probably would have welcomed a shootout with the IRA on the front steps of Parliament. "Want me to come up with you? Give you a hand."
"No." Doyle leaned in to give him a kiss. "No need. I'll only be doing a bit of shopping. Putting up decorations. Making sure mum gets her tea and toast. Nothing for you to do." Doyle rolled over and straddled Bodie, one hand on each shoulder. "Besides, I doubt Cowley would be willing to lose both of us at once." He leaned down and bit lightly at Bodie's chin. Bodie tried to remain unruffled, even as he arched his neck to give Doyle greater access.
"Christ," he breathed out as Doyle's tongue trailed across his collarbone. "Wasn't last night enough for you?"
"Never," Doyle said with a grin, then leaned in to lick his way up Bodie's throat.
"How much time do we have?" Bodie asked, his breath catching as Doyle nipped at one ear then sucked at the line of his jaw.
"What do you mean we? I've got the next three days off."
"Bastard." Bodie leaned up and kissed Doyle, hard, before breaking it off. "How much time do I have then?"
"Enough." Doyle pushed him till he fell back into the pillows, then covered him fully with his lean body. Bodie knew he should fight it, should be getting ready to go into headquarters, to get a jump on the day, but it was far too easy to simply surrender, to let Doyle take charge and let himself drift and gasp and burn with Doyle's touch.
It was just past noon when Margaret Doyle heard a knock at her door.
"Come on in, love," she called from the kitchen. "Door's open."
She heard the door open, and a few seconds later her only son entered the kitchen.
"'lo, Mum." He dropped a quick kiss on the top of her head. "Wish you wouldn't leave the door unlocked."
"There's no need, Ray. It's a nice neighbourhood. Nothing to worry about."
"You never know..."
"I don't live in your world, Ray. And I don't intend to start now." She shooed him into a chair with her tea towel. "Now sit down and I'll make you a nice cup of tea."
They shared a pot of tea and ate ginger biccies while she filled him in on family news, then asked about Bodie and their life in London. She watched with satisfaction as his eyes lit up telling her about the latest scrape Bodie had got into with some idjit at the Home Office. And she smiled at his obvious pleasure when he recounted how much Bodie had enjoyed the theatre tickets Ray had given him for his birthday.
It was a year ago, at Cath's wedding, that she'd asked Bodie if he made Ray happy. It was clear then that he did, and even more clear that he still did to this day. She was pleased for the pair of them. She'd despaired of Ray finding any sort of happiness for more years than she cared to consider. And Bodie was a nice lad, all she could have asked from a son-in-law.
"Tell me again why Bodie can't know what you're up to?" Margaret Doyle had definite opinions on life, and one of them was the inadvisability of lying to the people you loved.
"It's complicated, Mum."
"Explain it to me," she said firmly as she put her teacup down on the table.
"Bodie's not had an easy life. I don't even know the details--he never says anything about it--but Cowley does. And Cowley's convinced me it's better that I visit his father first. Suss out if he's as bad as he used to be."
"Bodie's a grown man, Ray. Shouldn't he be allowed to make his own decision about meeting his father?"
"I don't know, mum. But Cowley's sure this is how it should be handled, and Cowley's known him longer than me. Told me Bodie was in pretty rough shape when he joined our mob and he reckons his dad was responsible." Doyle blew out an explosive breath and pursed his lips. "Christ, I don't know about any of it. But I do know that he was fourteen when he left home. Fourteen, mum. You don't do that unless things are pretty dire. And that sort of hurt doesn't go away, however many years have passed."
"If you think it's what you have to do, Ray." Margaret Doyle wasn't entirely convinced, but she'd stand by her son. Just like Bodie would.
"I think it's best. And if I stop thinking it's best, then I'll call you, right after I call Bodie." Margaret could hear the passion in her son's cracked voice, could see it in his glistening eyes. "I'll do anything to spare him unnecessary pain, mum. Anything." His obvious caring stirred up emotions in Margaret's heart she'd thought long since dealt with.
"I know, dear." She reached across and stroked his broken cheekbone, remembering the wild boy her son had been and how she'd failed to keep him as safe as she'd wanted. "I know."
"Christ." Ray took her hand in his and gave it a squeeze. "I'm sorry, mum."
"No need for that, Raymond. It's all water under the bridge." She stood and patted his shoulder. "And besides, you turned out quite well in the end. You and Bodie both."
"Yeah," Ray said, and gave her a smile. "We've done all right."
"So what are your plans?" She busied herself tidying the kitchen.
"Thought I'd hang about here today, in case Bodie calls." Ray picked up a tea towel and started drying the dishes Margaret was washing. "I'll head over to Liverpool tomorrow morning. Have a chat with Mr. Bodie. Possibly spend the night. I should be back here by Saturday morning."
"Just in time for me to make a miraculous recovery from the flu."
"Sorry to draw you into this, mum."
"No need to apologize." She elbowed Ray in the ribs. "Give me a chance to see what your lives are like, all this cloak and dagger stuff."
"Be thankful you don't have to do it more often."
"Don't you think your old mum has it in her? Being a Mata Hari?"
"I reckon you could do whatever you set your mind to. But I don't think you'd enjoy it."
"Well, you're not wrong there." Margaret put the last dish into the drying rack and emptied the sink. "Come along, now. If you're going to stay the night you might as well visit your sisters."
Doyle approached the entrance of the Royal Liverpool University Hospital with the same reluctance that had marked his setting out from Derby. He'd agreed to this plan, but he still wasn't happy with it. Was quite dreading it, if he was being truthful.
Doyle tried to imagine what he'd say if he ever ran into the little gobshite who'd done his face in, and couldn't manage it. His emotions concerning that bastard still ran the gamut from fear to rage. If he ever crossed his path, Doyle reckoned he'd either run a mile in the other direction to avoid the confrontation or put a fist down the pillock's throat.
This was worse by far, confronting Bodie's father. The man who should have protected his son, and yet had done enough damage that his son never talked about him. Except to wish him dead. Doyle hated him, sight unseen.
But he couldn't not do this. For Bodie's sake. On the off chance that Bodie senior had seen the light and repented of his ways. On the off chance that he wasn't as bad as Doyle supposed he was. On the off chance that Bodie could find some peace in meeting with him.
Doyle took a deep breath and walked into the hospital. Winding his way through corridors and riding two elevators, he finally came to the ward where Bodie's father was meant to be. It was a cheerless place, the walls covered with a mucky yellow paint that was peeling where it wasn't fading. The only indications of the coming holiday were two battered cardboard reindeer and an even more battered Father Christmas suspended in an archway down the hall.
As Doyle entered the ward, the smell of it assaulted his nostrils. The air stank of piss and strong cleanser, of hospital food and shit, and overlaying it all, the grim scent of death. Doyle glanced in a room as he passed and saw a shrunken, grey woman on a bed surrounded by a worried looking man and three distraught teenage girls. Doyle looked quickly away, struck by a sense of having seen a private grief not meant for his eyes. He didn't look into any other rooms.
Near the end of the hall, he came to Mr. Bodie's room. He stopped at the threshold, as terrified as he'd been on his first drug raid when he hadn't known if it was an unconscious junkie or a pusher with a loaded pistol waiting on the other side of the door. Bloody stupid, since the only thing waiting on the other side of this door was a dying old man.
He exhaled once, shook his shoulders loose, and stepped into the room.
William Bodie was very obviously Bodie's father. He had the same jawline, the same mouth, the same nose. But in this man, the features Doyle knew so well had a very different effect. Bodie's eyes could sparkle with passion or humour, but his father's eyes were sunken, yellowed with jaundice, and shadowed with pain. And while Bodie's mouth could show his mischievous side, his father's seemed to have long since settled into an expression of cruel disapproval of the world and all in it which facing his own mortality had done nothing to lessen. He stared at Doyle with an absence of curiosity and an abundance of malice.
"Who the fuck are you?" The voice was quiet, but Doyle could clearly hear the Liverpool docks in its tones.
"Raymond Doyle." Doyle took two steps further into the room, stopping at the foot of the bed.
"And who's Raymond Doyle when he's at home?" The old man shifted uncomfortably in the bed. "My doctor's haven't sent you to talk to me, have they?" He turned to stare out the window with a frown. "Bloody vultures won't leave me alone. Won't let me have a fag, nor a drink."
"Your doctors didn't send me."
"Well that's good." Mr. Bodie turned back to Doyle, a hopeful expression on his face. "You wouldn't have a fag on you, would you?"
"I'm sorry. I don't smoke."
"Then you're no bloody use to me." He turned away from Doyle dismissively. Doyle stood watching him for a minute, the overwhelming desire to walk out of the room warring with the responsibility of discharging the duty he'd been given. As it always did, duty won the day.
"I work with your son."
Mr. Bodie didn't turn back to him, but Doyle could see his shoulders tighten, see his hand grip the sheet at his side until his knuckles were white and his arm was trembling with the effort.
"The little ponce is still alive, then." His voice seemed very small but filled with bitterness and venom.
"Yeah." Doyle did see there was anything else he could say, not without matching the obvious hatred this man held for the world in general and his son in particular.
"He ask you to come here?"
Doyle didn't even try to sugar the truth. "He doesn't even know you're still alive."
"Well, a few more days and I won't be." Mr. Bodie turned to Doyle and stared at him as if he was daring him to feel pity. "Never thought the little bastard'd outlive me. Never thought he'd see twenty."
"He survived." Doyle gritted his teeth. "No thanks to you."
"He tell you that?"
"No," Doyle admitted. "He didn't tell me anything about you. Just that he reckoned you'd drunk yourself to death years ago."
Mr. Bodie grinned, a death's head rictus of an expression. "Well, he wasn't far wrong." He patted his bloated abdomen gingerly with a hand that bore more than a passing resemblance to a bird's claw. "Liver cancer. The doctors told me it's the booze that did it. And now they won't let me have another drop." He coughed, a deep cough that sounded like a corpse rattling through dead leaves. "I mean, really. What good's tea totalling going to do me now? I'm dead already." The talking exhausted Mr. Bodie, and he seemed to collapse into himself, his chest heaving with effort, both hands clutching at the bed rails.
Doyle stood at the foot of the bed, wondering if he should just leave, if this had been a bad idea from the start. And just as he'd made up his mind to go, Mr. Bodie's breathing eased and slowed and his body relaxed.
"Well, if you're going to stay a while, Raymond Doyle, why don't you sit?" He nodded at the chair by his bedside. "You're putting a crick in my neck, standing there."
The chair was an ugly burnt umber and made entirely out of hard plastic. Doyle thought it looked about as comfortable as some of the devices he'd seen as a boy in a dog-eared library book on medieval torture, but he sat in it anyway.
"That's better, Raymond Doyle."
"Call me Ray."
"Fine, Ray." Mr. Bodie shifted in the bed and stared at him. "So if Billy didn't ask you to come, why are you here?"
"Our boss asked me to look in on you."
"And why the fuck would he do that?"
Doyle could only shrug. He had the feeling that telling this man there were those who cared about his son would be inviting ridicule.
"Cat got your tongue? Fine." He clasped the sheet on the bed in front of him. "Then let me guess. He wanted to see if I'd talk to the little bastard, before I die. That it?"
Doyle nodded. "Something like that."
"I'd rather drink poison." The words were spat out. "I hate him. He's the reason my wife left. Did you know that, Ray? She couldn't take the sullen little prick." Doyle clenched his teeth, wanting nothing so much as to tell this insufferable old man that it was more likely his own drinking that had lost him his wife. "And after she left, he got worse. Took all I had to keep him in line. Bastard never did appreciate what I was trying to do for him: toughen him up, make him a man."
"I'll bet," Doyle muttered, not certain to be relieved or disappointed when it was clear that Mr. Bodie hadn't heard him.
"Was a relief when he left, let me tell you. Gave me my life back." He coughed again, then sat up and leaned closer to Doyle, as if he were about to impart wisdom gained from a lifetime of experience to his visitor. "They never tell you, do they? That children steal your life away. Doubt anyone would bother with the little buggers if they knew."
Doyle was suddenly grateful that Bodie had turned out as well adjusted as he was. And he wondered if this is where it had come from, his need to face all black situations with an even blacker humour.
He stood, forcing his features to remain impassive. "Thank you, Mr. Bodie. I think I've heard enough."
"I'll bet you have." Mr. Bodie's breathing was becoming shallower, more laboured. "You go running back to my son, Raymond Doyle. Tell him he stole my best years away. You tell him that!"
Doyle walked out of the door and down the corridor. Once he was out of earshot of Mr. Bodie and his abuse he stopped and leaned against a wall, let his head fall back against the concrete brick and squeezed his eyes closed. His mind was in turmoil. Bodie's father both was and wasn't what he'd expected. He was a bitter and hate-filled bastard, certainly. But Doyle found that he also could feel a certain pity for the man. After all, he was dying, and from the sterile bareness of his hospital room, Doyle guessed he was dying alone and unmourned.
But as for what he should or shouldn't tell Bodie, he was fucked if he knew.
"Are you all right, love?" Doyle straightened up and opened his eyes. A young nurse stood in front of him, looking harried but concerned. He absently noted that her nametag read Nurse Kerwin.
"Yeah, I'm fine. Didn't mean to be a nuisance."
"You're not a nuisance." She patted his arm in a kindly way. "Can be a bit much if you're not used to it."
"That it can." Doyle pushed himself off the wall and was about to leave, when the nurse touched him on the elbow.
"Do you mind if I ask you a question?"
"Ask the question and I'll tell you if I mind."
"You were in Mr. Bodie's room."
"Is that a question?"
"No. But I was just wondering if you're family."
Doyle shook his head. "No. Not family. Someone just asked me to look in on him."
"Oh." Nurse Kerwin looked disappointed.
"Can I ask you a question?" She nodded. "Does he get many visitors? Mr. Bodie?"
"Not one in the three months he's been here. You're the first."
"Poor old sod," Doyle said.
"Yeah, we feel a bit sorry for him." She gave a bit of a grimace. "That is, when we don't want to give him a swat. He's a miserable old bugger most of the time, excuse my language, but I hate to see anyone abandoned like that."
Doyle had no answer for that, so with a nod he walked away.
Doyle spent the next three hours walking the streets of Liverpool, alternating between thinking too much and thinking not at all. Instinct drove him west, meandering through streets he mostly ignored, except to wonder if Bodie had ever walked down this lane, or stepped into that shop.
At last he came to the River Mersey. He headed north, wending through old docks and car parks, the river always on his left, until he came to a bit where he could look across to Birkenhead without feeling himself hemmed in by the metal and concrete remains of industry. There he stood, a light dusting of snow beginning to fall around him, sticking to the ground but disappearing into the grey unforgiving water.
He stood at the water's edge for a long time, leaning over the barrier meant to keep the foolish from falling in, and thought about what he should do. The river had no answers for him, and neither did the sky, so finally he turned around and retraced his steps through the city and back to the hospital.
Though he hadn't seen even a trace of it since midday, the sun finally set when he was a few minutes from the hospital, leaving him in the gloom of winter twilight. The streetlights glowed warmly against the dark of the sky, and made the falling snow glitter. It was the sort of evening Doyle usually loved, reminding him of similar evenings in childhood, full of sledding and snowball fights, with plenty of hot chocolate after. But this night he barely noticed any of it: not the snow, nor the light, nor the silence that had descended over the whole city.
He walked up to the entrance to the hospital, still undecided about what he should do. Unbidden, his feet carried him inside the building and back up to the ward where William Bodie was. He wasn't sure what could be gained by talking to the man again. Perhaps he'd say something even viler than he'd already done and absolve Doyle of having to tell Bodie about his father. Or perhaps he'd demonstrate some remorse about what he'd done to his son.
Doyle turned the corner that would bring him to Mr. Bodie's room, only to run into the nurse he'd talked to on the way out.
"Nurse Kerwin," he said, nodding hello.
He expected a hello in return, maybe a nod. What he did not expect was that she'd grab his arm. "You said that someone asked you to look in on Mr. Bodie," she said without preamble.
"Yeah, I did."
"Who was it?"
"I'm sorry, is there something wrong?"
"He had a massive stroke not half an hour after you left. He's not expected to live out the night."
Doyle gaped at her. "A stroke..." He tried to come up with something intelligent to say and failed.
"Thing is, we don't have any family listed for him. He says he doesn't have any. But since you took the time to visit him, I thought you might know if there's anyone we should contact." She looked at him hopefully.
"He has a son. In London. But they're estranged. Haven't seen each other for..." Doyle stopped to calculate how long it must have been since Bodie had last clapped eyes on his dear old da. "Well, must have been decades, really."
"If you think he'd want to see his father before he dies, you should call him now. The old man doesn't have long." She disappeared back in the direction of the nurses' station, leaving Doyle frozen with indecision in the middle of the corridor.
To call Bodie or not. He'd been wrestling with the question all day and got no closer to a solution. And now all the time he'd thought he had was gone and he had to decide now.
He turned and walked back the way he'd come, to the waiting room where he'd noted the existence of a pay phone. He got as far as counting the coins in his pocket, calculating if he had enough for a London call, and lifting the receiver, before he stopped.
From what he'd found out and the little Bodie had ever told him, he knew Bodie had few enough good memories of his father. Possibly none at all. If Doyle called him, and he made it in time, it would only give him one more bloody awful memory of the man. No good at all could come of it.
As much as he hated keeping things from Bodie, there was no way in hell he was going to call him now. No fucking way.
But he found that he also couldn't just leave. Now that he'd met the senior Bodie, he felt as if he bore some responsibility for him. Utter bastard or not, he didn't want to leave him to die alone and forgotten in a sterile hospital room.
So, putting the change back in his pocket, Doyle turned on his heel and made his way back to the ward.
Nothing had felt right since Doyle got the call from his mother. Not Margaret Doyle asking for her son's help, not Doyle's lack of surprise at that call, not Cowley agreeing to Doyle's leave without any apparent pyrotechnics. Nothing. Bodie tried telling himself he was being paranoid. After all, it wasn't like Doyle to use his mother to cover a lie. Not like him at all.
Bodie called Doyle his first night in Derby. He supposed he was going soft, but he wanted to hear Doyle's voice. To tell him a joke and hear that deep, dirty chuckle at the other end of the line. Made the thought of facing an empty bed--something he seldom did these days--less daunting. He went to sleep that night with the memory of Doyle's "'Night Bodie" playing again in his mind.
The next day his sense of unease grew. He tried calling Doyle the first chance he got in the day, but just missed him. "Just popped 'round to the shops," Margaret Doyle had told him, sounding remarkably sprightly for a woman who was meant to be deathly ill with the flu. He tried again at noon as he was stuffing a stone-cold pasty down his gullet, only to have Margaret tell him Doyle'd gone over to have lunch with Cath. Three more phone calls resulted in three more excuses. By ten that night, when Margaret Doyle confidently told him that Doyle had gone over to help Nancy with her little ones since her husband was out of town on business, Bodie didn't believe a word of it.
He fretted through the night, worrying the problem like a terrier with a nice fat rat. What was Doyle up to? What had made Margaret Doyle lie for her son?
He woke Saturday morning--his day off--feeling as ill-rested as if he'd done an all-night obbo, his eyes gritty with lack of sleep, his mouth tasting foul. He tried to think of nothing as he performed his morning routine. He showered, got dressed, had breakfast, all the while using Shusai's techniques to concentrate only on the present moment, the now.
He couldn't do it for long. By nine he was in his car travelling north on the M1, heading up to Derby.
Three hours stretched out before him. A three hour drive and at the end of it the answers he was looking for. Bodie only hoped that he wouldn't regret making the journey in the first place.
William Bodie passed away at a few minutes past 4.00, with Ray Doyle at his bedside. He death was unremarkable to one who'd seen far too much of death at its most violent. One second he was drawing a laboured breath; the next he wasn't.
Doyle took a kip in the family waiting room as the body, now nothing more than a cooling piece of meat, was taken to the morgue. He woke when a nurse--not his Nurse Kerwin, though--touched his shoulder, telling him the paperwork he'd asked for was ready for him to be signed. Why he'd agreed to arrange for the body to be given a proper burial he wasn't quite sure. In life, William Bodie clearly hadn't been worth tuppence. Still, the thought of Bodie's father buried in a pauper's grave made Doyle unbearably sad, so he'd paid for a pine box and a simple headstone.
As soon as the formalities were done with, he trudged to the hospital caff. He had a bacon roll to fill the hunger in his belly, and two cups of wretched coffee to keep him awake on the road. Then it was down to the car park and on the road to Derby.
He might well have been asleep at the wheel during that drive, for all that he remembered of it later. By the time he pulled onto his mum's street, he was physically shattered. All he wanted to do was grab a few hours sleep and head back to London as soon as he was fit. More than anything, he wanted to see Bodie, to hold him and be held. To banish the memory of the past twenty-four hours in Bodie's arms.
He heard the voices from the pavement, a man's and a woman's, raised in argument. He shook his head. The Murchisons next door were always throwing pots at each other. It was a parlour game on the street to guess which one would be throwing furniture out the door this time. Last he'd heard, Mrs. Murchison was leading by a mile.
Then he got closer to his mum's door and realized he wasn't hearing the Murchisons at all. The voices belonged to Margaret Doyle. And Bodie.
Swearing, Doyle ran the last few steps and burst through the door.
"Why won't you let me know where he is?" Doyle could hear that Bodie was taking the same tone as he did with Cowley when he was especially pissed off.
"I've told you, Bodie, it's not my secret to tell." His mum, God bless her, had a spine of steel and clearly wasn't backing down. Doyle's guts twisted inside him at the thought of the two people he loved most in the world at odds. And all because of him.
"Bodie!" Doyle bellowed as he ran through to the kitchen. "Leave Mum alone, would you. This is none of her fault."
Bodie, dressed head to toe in menacing black, turned on him. His eyes sparked with anger, his mouth twisted into an ugly grimace. "Where the fuck have you been?"
"Liverpool," Doyle said as calmly as he could manage. He owed Bodie the truth now. Was beginning to regret he hadn't told him the truth three days ago. Or that he had called him from the hospital last night.
"Liverpool?" The anger in Bodie's expression was temporarily displaced by confusion. "What the fuck were you doing in Liverpool?"
"We need to talk."
"Bloody well right we do." And there was the anger, right back to the surface.
"But not here." Doyle turned to his mother. "Sorry, Mum. Didn't mean to dump this on your doorstep."
"It's all right, Ray." She moved towards the kitchen door. "You lads can stay here. I'll just pop 'round to see Nance. Colin's sick and I daresay she can use the help."
Before Doyle could protest, his mother had her coat on, her purse in her hand and was out the door. Leaving him alone with a seething Bodie.
Doyle took a deep breath and shrugged out of his coat, throwing it over the back of a kitchen chair. Bodie gave him that long before launching into him again.
"You want to tell me what's going on, Ray?"
"Was following orders, Bodie."
"Christ." Bodie's face showed a definite disgust. "What'd the old goat have you up to that you couldn't tell me?" He sank down in the chair nearest him and leaned on the kitchen table. "And getting your mum involved. That was low, Ray." Doyle could see the worst of the anger coil out of Bodie as he watched. Problem was, when Bodie knew the whole truth it was going to be even worse.
"I know, Bodie. Thought it was for a good cause, though."
"What could be worth dragging your mum into, Ray?" Bodie leaned forward, his expression serious and puzzled. "Nice lady, your mum. Doesn't deserve that." He looked down, his gaze sliding past Doyle's. "Didn't deserve me yelling at her either."
"She'll survive. She has me as a son, remember." Doyle gave a weak laugh. "Besides, she knew how important it was."
"How important what was?" Bodie looked up again, his eyes pleading with Doyle to make him understand.
Doyle took a deep breath and then said the one thing he wished he didn't have to, but knew he did. "Cowley sent me up to Liverpool to see your father."
Bodie didn't say a word. As Doyle watched, all the blood drained out of his face and his mouth opened and closed like a landed fish trying in vain to breathe a hostile atmosphere.
"Knew you wouldn't like it, didn't I? That's why I didn't tell you." Doyle felt an overwhelming need to fill Bodie's silence. "Cowley's idea, but I agreed with it." Doyle bit his lip. "Wish to Christ I hadn't. Wish I'd told you from the start."
Bodie finally closed his mouth and just sat there, staring at him with a look that Doyle found he couldn't read at all. It was as if Bodie'd taken the defensive barriers that Doyle had thought he'd long since breached and built them twice as high as before.
Finally, Bodie stood and began pacing the confines of the kitchen, a dark, dangerous cat caught in a very enclosed space. As he moved, the shuttered look changed, disappeared, transformed into an expression of violence and betrayal.
"My da," he finally said, his voice a quiet growl, not the expected explosion. "Haven't thought of him for years. Haven't wanted to think of him for years." He stopped and stared at Doyle with such revulsion that Doyle nearly flinched. "I ever tell you what it was like, growing up with him as my da?"
"No," Doyle tried to say, but though his mouth formed the word, his voice seemed to have deserted him.
"Was a drunk and a gambler and an all-round arsehole," Bodie continued, apparently not needing any input from Doyle now that he'd started. "Got his pay packet on a Friday afternoon and had it all drunk or gambled away by Sunday night. Only reason we didn't starve was my mum. She worked as a charwoman, took in laundry. Did whatever she could to make a few pence. Then she had to hide it from him." Bodie resumed his pacing. From the look in his eyes, Doyle could tell he was trapped back in the past now. "Wasn't easy for her. He'd knock her around when she wouldn't give him anything. Then he'd knock me around when I'd stick up for her."
Bodie stopped and put his hands on the sink, his back to Doyle. He was facing the window looking out on the back garden, but Doyle didn't think he could see a leaf of it.
"I didn't really blame her when she left. I would've too, if I could've." His shoulders tensed up. "Wish she'd taken me with her, though. Might have had a chance." He stopped talking, and for a moment the only sounds Doyle could hear were Bodie's breathing and the pulse in his own throat. Then Bodie began again.
"Gran tried to make it better, but there was fuck all she could do. Made sure I had enough to eat and that he didn't kill me outright. When she died..." Bodie stopped again, bowed his head and gripped the counter until Doyle could see his knuckles go white. "When she died," Bodie continued, his voice sounding strangely distant, "that was it. Lasted another six months and then I buggered off. Lied about my age, got on a cargo ship and never looked back."
Slowly, Bodie turned until he faced Doyle. His expression might have looked blank to those who didn't know him, but Doyle did know him. And Doyle could see the deep pain the blankness hid.
"You didn't know all that, but Cowley did. So why..." Bodie choked on the word. He looked down, swallowed deeply, then looked straight at Doyle. "Why the fuck would Cowley send you to talk to my da?"
"He was dying," Doyle said, simply and calmly. "Cowley found out he was dying and he sent me to..."
"To what?" Bodie roared. Doyle had to force himself not to recoil from the volume, not to flinch from the look on Bodie's face. "To find out if he's still an utter bastard?"
"Yeah, that's about it." Because really, what else could Doyle say.
"And is he?"
"Yeah. He was."
"Fuck." Bodie sighed once and then his legs went out from under him. He slid down the cupboards and landed on the floor with an audible thump. Doyle was at his side in an instant, with an arm thrown around Bodie's shoulders.
"We didn't want to hurt you, Bodie. Not Cowley, not me. I think we were hoping you could--Christ, what did Cowley say?--make peace with the old bastard." Doyle held Bodie as tight as he could, as if to assure him that he was still there, that he wasn't going anywhere. "I don't think you could have, though."
"Were you going to tell me where you'd got to?"
"Not sure. Probably. Don't like keeping anything from you."
"Don't like it when you do. Nearly drove me spare when I couldn't reach you. Got worse when I realized your mum was lying for you."
"I'll never put you through that again." Doyle buried his face in Bodie's shoulder. "Cowley ever asks me to do anything like that again, I'll tell him to fuck himself."
"Should like to be there when you do." Doyle smiled into the skin of Bodie's throat. That almost sounded like his Bodie, the fearless, sarcastic bastard he loved.
"Don't worry. I'll sell tickets. Set us up for life, that would."
"Yeah, it would." And Bodie did the impossible and chuckled. "I'll bet most of CI5 and a lot of the Home Office would pay through their teeth to see that."
Then, just as he thought Bodie was relaxing, that it was all going to be okay, he felt him stiffen under his arm.
"'Was dying' you said. 'Was' a bastard. You didn't think I could have made peace with him, you said. Past tense."
"And here's me thinking you don't know your grammar." Doyle tried for humour and could feel when it fell flatter than an iron zeppelin.
"Stop it, Doyle." Bodie fixed him with a look that combined fearlessness with apprehension. "Past tense. What happened?"
"He died." There was no use in delaying the news. Not now. "Last night. Well, this morning, really."
"He's dead?" Bodie asked the question as if he couldn't really believe the news.
"Yeah." Doyle swallowed once to moisten his dry throat before he continued. "He had cancer, but it was a stroke that got him. Probably no surprise to anyone, that. He tried to cadge a fag off me."
"Dead." Bodie said the word as if he were trying it on for size and finding it didn't quite fit. "Always thought I'd be happy, when I heard he was dead."
"And how do you feel?"
"Dunno." Bodie shut his eyes and threw back his head. "Empty, I think. Like something I thought I wanted turned out to be nothing at all." Bodie turned and looked at Doyle, his eyes wide and wild. "That make any sense?"
"More than you'd think."
"Hold on. You said he died this morning. How do you know that?"
"I sat with him. Right till the end." Doyle examined Bodie closely, trying to read his reaction to that news. "Couldn't quite let him die on his own. I mean, he might have been a total arsehole, but he did do one good thing."
"Oh yeah. And what was that?"
"Managed to father you, didn't he?" Doyle squeezed Bodie's shoulders. "Owe him my thanks for that if nothing else."
"Prat," Bodie said, but there was no malice in the word, just understanding and affection.
Doyle stood up and held out a hand to Bodie. "Up you get, soldier." He hauled Bodie up then took him in a bone crushing hug that held everything he felt about the other man, the love, the loyalty, the need to protect. Everything.
He had one more thing to say before he released Bodie. "You know you've got all the family you need, right?"
"What, you?" Bodie said with a laugh.
"No joke, Bodie. Me, mum, Cath. All my sisters and cousins and aunts and uncles. All your family."
He felt a hitch in Bodie's chest, then was taken in a grip so tight he was surprised his ribs didn't crack.
"Thanks, Ray. Means a lot, that."
"Okay." Doyle let go, and when Bodie did the same he took hold of Bodie's hand and started pulling him to the staircase.
"Where we going?"
"I am going to have a kip. I was up all night and then drove straight from Liverpool. Can barely keep my eyes open."
"And what am I going to be doing while you're having a kip?"
"You're going to hold me," Doyle said, with complete and utter confidence that Bodie would do exactly that.
And he did.
-- THE END --