The End Is Where We Start From

by


For Elizabeth O'Shea


At the first sound of gunfire Doyle moved, pushing himself from the wall and springing towards Sprecher. Hope didn't play a role in it, only desperation. Desperation, and the certain knowledge of who would come through that door first. Against all odds, he caught Sprecher unaware, ramming his left fist into Sprecher's sternum, and then into his throat. Sprecher went down with a choking wheeze that gave Doyle a fleeting moment of vicious satisfaction, even as he turned towards Bauer.

They should never have untied him; should never have believed him too beaten to act.

Bauer was at the desk, awkwardly reaching across it to open the top drawer, fumbling in his haste. Bauer, who had stayed in the background during the interrogation, asking questions, directing Sprecher's actions. Doyle leapt for him, cursing the slow response of shaky muscles. He grabbed Bauer, wrenching him from the desk, the two of them falling to the floor in a tangle. Ignoring the pain lancing through him, Doyle rolled free, then came to his knees just as Bauer reached his feet and revealed the handgun he'd found. A breathless half-second passed as Doyle stared at the barrel centred on him, and he wondered how Bauer would play it, whether he could count on fear leading to stupidity.

The door crashed open behind Doyle and Bauer stepped forward, pressing the gun to Doyle's head.

"Back off or I'll shoot him."

Stupidity. A savage humour nearly made him grin as Doyle was dragged to his feet and turned to face the door. Bodie stood there, face set in a cold mask, making a lovely target of himself. There was no sign of the others, although the gunfire had ceased. The handgun was digging into Doyle's neck, but Bauer hadn't secured him beyond a hard grip on his arm. Locking eyes with Bodie, Doyle saw the flare of a similar manic glee, tightly controlled. Chances were their lifeblood.

Doyle collapsed in Bauer's grasp, allowing gravity to aid him as he pulled the man off-balance, and brought Bauer in line with a bullet from Bodie's gun. Possibility offered and taken. Bauer's bullet tore into the wooden floor, the last reflexive action of a dying man. Doyle fell with Bauer to the floor.

Staying on the floor, welcoming its support, Doyle concentrated on breathing through the pain. Then he felt Bodie's hands on him, knowing their touch above all others. Hands that were gentle, capable, and offering what he needed, if nothing more.

"Come on, Doyle, we haven't got all day." Bodie helped Doyle to his feet, his eyes running over Doyle in a quick assessment.

Knowing full well what Bodie must be seeing, Doyle shrugged him off, his left hand supporting his broken right arm. "You wouldn't know it by me." He looked around, hoping to see his shirt, jacket, and shoes. "What did you do, stop off to admire the gardens?"

"Yeah, they've got a new scheme, you know. Very pretty." Bodie wrapped his jacket around Doyle's shoulders, and Doyle closed his eyes, for the warmth and the ache it brought him. He was far too susceptible just now; he couldn't seem to control the shivers any more. "Murphy was overwhelmed, poor lad," Bodie continued, and Doyle opened his eyes to see Murphy and Jax in the doorway, surprise and relief on their faces.

Doyle nodded at them. "Overwhelmed by the roses?" He watched as Murphy and Jax moved forward to check on Sprecher and Bauer, although Bauer's condition was obvious. Sprecher wasn't moving either.

"Nah, the pansies." Bodie's arm settled around him, and Doyle let it stay, let Bodie guide him from the room, concentrating on making it clear he could walk without help. They moved up the wooden stairs and into the kitchen, finding Anson there. Bodie steered Doyle towards a wooden chair in the corner near the oven.

Murphy came up the stairs, R/T in hand. "Ambulance on its way." He continued through to the hallway leading to the front door, skirting a bloodstain on the floor. If there had been a body, it had already been removed.

"I don't need an ambulance." Doyle kept his voice low as more CI5 agents entered the kitchen, the younger ones not hiding their curiosity as they glanced at him.

"Standard procedure, Ray." Bodie moved a step to stand in front of him.

"C'mon, you lot," Anson spoke to the new arrivals. "There's plenty to search upstairs, might as well get at it." The agents clattered from the kitchen.

Doyle closed his eyes again, sinking into the warmth of Bodie's jacket, of his presence. He hadn't doubted Bodie would arrive, but he had wondered if it would be in time. "Where's Cowley?"

"He's here."

"He's got a leak."

"He knows."

Hearing the clipped note in Bodie's voice, Doyle opened his eyes to peer up at him. "Taken care of?"

"Yeh."

Doyle settled back into his chair. "Well, that's something, at least."

After a moment, Bodie sighed. "Hell of a way to make a living, mate."

Doyle grinned. "And what would you do instead?"

"Just about anything, at this point." There was no humour in Bodie's voice.

Frowning, Doyle looked at Bodie, whose eyes were on the door to the hallway. "What do you--"

He was interrupted by Cowley's entrance into the kitchen. "Doyle. Are you all right, lad?"

Bodie beat Doyle to an answer. "As you see, sir."

Cowley glanced at Bodie, then Doyle. "Aye. And Bauer?"

"He's a bit the worse for wear." Bodie again, his voice smooth.

"I'm fine, sir." Doyle gave Bodie a look and he subsided. "Bauer was killed when he tried to hold me hostage to Bodie and the lads."

Another sharp look at Bodie, then Cowley turned to Doyle. "His mistake. Never mind; you've done well."

"Hirsch made it, then?" He blinked as a wave of dizziness struck him, and he leant forward, hoping it would pass.

"You never had Hirsch." Bodie's eyes were on Cowley as he spoke.

"What?" Doyle took in a deep breath, trying to concentrate. He looked from Bodie's face to Cowley, several anomalies suddenly making sense. "Bloody hell. It was a set-up?"

"A very important one; yes. I'll explain about that later." Cowley glanced away. "Ah, the ambulance crew. Bodie, I'd like a word with you and then you may follow Doyle to hospital." Cowley's voice was fading, drowned by the roaring in Doyle's ears.

"Doyle?" Bodie's voice. Doyle reached out a hand for Bodie, felt him take it, and then there were more voices, and more hands, and he was being eased onto one of those bloody ambulance chairs, while he tried to protest that he could walk for himself.

"You haven't got any shoes, sunshine." Bodie came into focus as the world stopped heaving around him, and Doyle found himself being transferred to a trolley by the ambulance crew.

"Find them."

"I will." They were in the ambulance now, and Bodie was stepping away. "I'll see you in hospital, Ray." The doors closed and took him away from Bodie, away from Kew, back to London. Doyle let the ambulance crew get on with their job. At least they didn't look at him with the same speculation as the younger Squad members, the ones who had never found themselves in an anonymous room facing questions and their own helplessness. Each man's breaking point was different, but they all had one. The trick was knowing where it was, and ensuring that you didn't live to cross it.

At the hospital, he could see the curiosity in the faces of the staff, but once he was identified as a CI5 agent, no in-depth questions were asked. They tended to the burns, the wounds, the broken arm; checked for internal injuries and told him he was stabilised. Doyle faded in and out, exhaustion catching up with him. Sometimes he knew where he was, other times, he believed he was still in that little room, facing another session with Sprecher and his toy box. The doctor gave him a sedative, encouraging him to sleep, but it made the confusion all the worse.

The touch of fingers in his hair, and a familiar voice, brought him round, Bauer receding to the back of his mind.

"Relax. Stop fighting it, Ray. You're safe."

"Bodie." He could manage nothing but a whisper--the first words he'd spoken in a while, only now certain of where he was. Doyle struggled with leaden eyelids.

"Ssh. No need. Go to sleep. You're worrying them."

A hand gripped his, strong and reassuring, and Doyle finally allowed himself to sink into the beckoning darkness--certain now where he would find himself when he awakened.

And, as he released control, he felt the warm touch of lips on his, the gesture so rare that it pierced him with both joy and sorrow, as he tumbled into his dreams.

It proved to be a restless night filled with nursing checks and his own over-active imagination. Yet he was grateful each time he opened his eyes and grounded himself in the reality of a hospital room. He drifted, sleeping and waking, until they brought him a small meal and called it breakfast. He'd had no clear idea of the day, or the time, before that.

Cowley arrived as the nurse took his tray away, his overcoat patterned with rain, bringing the scent of it with him. One of the perks of being a CI5 agent--although it was really a matter of security--was the use of a private room, when injured in the line of duty. The perk didn't extend to a room with a view, however, and Doyle could see nothing but grey through the slit of a window in his room. Cowley stopped for a few words with McCabe, stationed outside Doyle's room. A guard wasn't strictly necessary, but McCabe was there more for psychological than security reasons. Doyle resented it, and yet he couldn't deny that it had brought him a feeling of safety last night. CI5 protected its own.

Cowley settled himself into a chair beside Doyle's bed. "The doctor tells me you will recover."

"That's reassuring. When can I--"

"They'll release you tomorrow if all goes well. If you can assure them you won't be on your own."

Doyle nodded. "I'll see to it."

Cowley gave him a disconcertingly narrow look. "Yes, I'm sure you will." He reached into his overcoat pocket and produced a slim notebook. "I'll have your report now, while it is still fresh in your mind."

Doyle grimaced, unsurprised but dreading it nevertheless. This would be but the first of several sessions with Cowley. "Where shall I start?"

"When you left safe house eight with Hirsch."

"Not that I ever had Hirsch, apparently."

"Just so." Cowley's face was impassive.

With a sigh, Doyle leant back against his pillows and explained the journey across London that he'd taken with "Hirsch", escaping from one man tailing them by the simple expedient of taking a bus.

"Careless of them to allow you to see the tail." Cowley frowned.

"Yeah. It certainly put us on guard." He looked at Cowley. "Do you know who it was?"

Cowley raised his eyebrows. "My guess would be a member of the Brigade."

"Hirsch's mob? But they'd have known it wasn't him."

"Not necessarily. The members of Hirsch's cell are all either dead or in prison; the Brigade, however, is larger than one cell. When word leaked that Hirsch had turned traitor, the others had to act." Cowley glanced down at his notebook. "With luck, we have now crippled the entire organisation. Certainly we have made it more difficult for them to accomplish their goals, and we have ended their fledgling association with the East German government. What happened next?"

"I was extremely careful going in to the rendezvous with Bodie. It didn't feel right, so I contacted him and set up a new meeting place. I assume he reported that to you?"

"Yes."

Doyle looked down at his hands on the sheet. "You fed it to your leak."

"I sent a lure out, yes. One of several. Yours bit."

Doyle nodded.

"But you managed to deliver the man you thought was Hirsch to Bodie, nevertheless. That was well done."

Lifting his eyes, Doyle met Cowley's gaze. "Bauer's men were careless as well."

"I suspect it was a mixture of Bauer's men and Brigade members. The East Germans are limited in what they can do in this country. Bodie's report was that you covered his escape, along with 'Hirsch', when Bauer's men attacked."

"Yeah." Doyle looked away. "In retrospect, I should have given them the so-called Mr Hirsch."

"That is certainly Bodie's opinion."

"Who was he?"

"Nobody you need be concerned about."

"Ah. West German, was he? I hope they pay him better than we pay ours." He smiled at the severity in Cowley's face. The West German government certainly had an interest in the collaboration of East German agents with a West German terrorist group.

"You were captured then."

Doyle's smile faded. "Yes. I was taken from behind and bundled off to where you found me. I woke up in the cellar. Surprised, frankly, that I woke up at all."

Cowley nodded as he jotted a note down on his pad. "I am grateful for that, as well. What did they ask you about?"

Doyle felt a sudden chill at the back of his neck, and he straightened against the pillows. "Did you send out other kinds of lures?"

Cowley looked up, something close to approval in his eyes. "Very good, Doyle."

Christ. "I was bait as well."

"Yes, of a sort. We wanted to ensure Bauer's appearance; to damage not only the Brigade but the Stasi as well, at least in their operations with the Brigade."

"Did Bauer want Hirsch at all?"

Cowley leant back in his chair. "Oh, aye, he wanted Hirsch. But it was a matter of balance, of potential risk versus potential gain. Bauer and his masters wanted Hirsch dead, and, I suspect, he wanted information on a rumour making the rounds." Cowley eyed Doyle consideringly. "He asked you about Operation Vanya?"

"Our new collaboration project with MI6 that you've been touting. Yes. The one we've all wondered about."

"I trust you didn't express those doubts to Bauer." Cowley had a definite air of the cat amongst the pigeons.

"It doesn't matter what the hell I told him; he's dead." A sudden doubt gripped Doyle, the ground unsettled beneath his feet. "Isn't he?"

"Yes." Cowley's voice was oddly gentle, and Doyle resented it fiercely.

"Scuppered your plans, then, didn't it? You mistimed the rescue."

Cowley sighed. "It was not my intent to see you suffer, but better that than dead."

Doyle was silent.

"My hands were tied where Hirsch was concerned--CI5's involvement was requested in such a way that I could not refuse. If I was going to put my agents at that much risk then I damned well wanted a return for it."

"Thank you, sir," Doyle said with irony.

"With what he thought you could tell him, Doyle, Bauer wasn't going to kill you outright."

"No, he was going to milk me dry instead."

"Yes. And give us time to find you."

"After he had reported to his superiors." Doyle shifted in the bed, trying to ease the ache in his arm. "Well, I hate to disappoint you, sir, but I didn't tell him anything about the Vanya op. If there even is such an op."

"There may be, one day, although not if I have anything to do with it. It is useful enough that he asked you about it. We can trace the rumour. What else did he ask?"

Doyle stared at him, resentment burning him, but he pushed it down. He might as well ask the sun to reverse course as expect George Cowley to be anything but single-minded. Idealism wrapped in ruthless pragmatism. "What you'd expect: about our organisation, you, our relationship with MI6 and Special Branch. He had names he wanted information on--Frederick Bishop, Harold Ashford, our Minister, oh, and Manton. They wanted to know what had happened there."

"Aye, I'm not surprised. I doubt the Soviets were very forthcoming on that debacle." Cowley looked preoccupied. "Ashford, by God, now that is very interesting."

He could see the connections forming in Cowley's mind, the quick assessment and the hatching of plans. Most likely Doyle would never know the full result from any of it, the behind-the-scenes manoeuvring in the political sphere not his concern. But he would watch the next election cycle carefully. "Glad I could oblige, sir."

Cowley ignored his tone. "Very well. Anything else?"

"No. They'd just begun the second round with electricity when the Squad arrived."

Cowley closed the notebook, nodding. "You did well." It dawned on Doyle, then, that Cowley had complimented him more in the past twenty-four hours than he'd done his entire tenure with CI5. Perhaps the pragmatism had a crack, after all.

"Will you answer me a question, sir?"

Cowley looked wary. "Possibly."

"You said your best guess--before, about the first tail. Who else might it have been?"

Cowley shrugged. "Bauer's men, of course. Or MI6. Or MI5. There were several fingers in this particular pot."

"Where did the leak spring?"

"In your particular case, MI6--which will prove to our advantage. There are other possible weak links as well, who will bear watching."

"Bodie said the leak had been taken care of."

"Your man was. Bodie has a one-track mind at times."

That drew a slight smile from him. "Yeah." He looked speculatively at Cowley. "Was Bodie the reason the Squad arrived when it did?"

Cowley's face gave nothing away. "What do you think?"

"I think I'll buy him a drink."

"You'd better make it quick, then."

"Why?"

"Bodie has offered me his resignation."

Doyle waited until he was sure he could speak evenly. "Offered it? Did you accept it?"

"Don't be a fool; of course not."

"Why?" At Cowley's expression, Doyle clarified: "Why did he resign?"

"I was hoping you could tell me." Cowley rubbed a hand over his face. "He said, simply, that it was time he moved on. He pointed out that he had been with CI5 longer than with any other outfit."

"That's true." Doyle tried to think, to push his sluggish brain into speculation, but there was a leaden weight in his stomach, a block of ice, heavy and cold, and growing. He'd felt it before: Marikka, Keith Williams, and the old, old, wound--when Bodie had gone for Forrest on his own, after the restaurant bombing that had injured Claire. That had been right after everything had changed between Bodie and him, or so Doyle had believed, only to find himself pushed away to the outside with Cowley.

"Doyle." Cowley's sharp voice recalled him.

"I'll talk to him."

"See that you do. He offered his resignation in the heat of the moment. I've given him until after Christmas to think it through. I won't have him leaving on impulse."

"We've been through worse ops; it couldn't have been that."

"Whatever it is, I expect you to convince him to stay. I don't want to lose him."

Doyle looked up. "You were willing to lose me."

The ghost of a smile played around Cowley's mouth. "That was on my terms."

"Cheers." Doyle shook his head.

"You're my best team, Doyle. Bodie will be picking you up tomorrow?"

"I don't know." He had learnt to be cautious about certainties and Bodie. On the job, he trusted his life to Bodie; off the job, it was more complicated. Bodie's past, Bodie's decisions, Bodie's personal life--Doyle had been granted very little access to any of that, although it was more than anyone else had been granted. Of that, at least, he was certain, if of nothing else.

"I'll leave it to you. He was...quite adamant with me. But perhaps he will have cooled down in a few days." Cowley stood, and he buttoned his overcoat as he gazed at Doyle. "You may have cause to doubt this, but I am relieved that your condition is as good as it is. The doctor assures me that your arm is a clean break; it should heal nicely. Dr Ross will want to see you as well, to make sure there are no lingering after-effects."

Which was as much for CI5's security as his own, Doyle thought, as he watched Cowley leave. But he recognised the sincerity of Cowley's efforts. It was, after all, that very real caring that had them agreeing to believe in Cowley even when they knew he would play his games with their lives. So Doyle would be patched up, made good as new, and sent out again until he was either beyond mending or dead. You had to be crazy to be in CI5, or you had to find something for yourself in Cowley's idealism. Doyle often wondered which it was that kept him in CI5.

Or what it was that kept Bodie there. But Bodie had resigned. Hell of a way to make a living, mate. He'd kill him.

Doyle reached for the phone beside his bed, ignoring the deep-seated ache in his chest and ribs. He dialled Bodie's number, then listened to the tones, waiting through the repetition eleven times before hanging up.

Bodie could be running errands. He could be at a pub, considering his future. He could be gone already. The hard truth was, Doyle had no idea, no way of knowing. The only consistent pattern he'd ever found in Bodie was that when he was in trouble or unsettled, he excluded everyone. He preferred to deal with his troubles on his own. It had taken Kate Ross to see the pattern with Keith Williams; it had taken Cowley to find Bodie with Marikka. It was the one glaring inequality in their partnership. Doyle called on Bodie whenever he had a problem from his past to deal with; Bodie left Doyle out of it. Partnership, trust, it all went out the window, leaving Doyle gutted each time. You'd think he'd get used to it.

Doyle slumped down in the bed, let the rage and fear and grief wash over him like a tidal wave, waiting for the moment when he could swim parallel to it, swim away from it. Gradually, his breathing eased, and his mind cleared. Cowley would've made Bodie promise to stay until the next interview, after Christmas. Bodie, then, would come to visit Doyle, or, failing that, Doyle would find him. He'd make the stupid sod talk this time.

The morning passed slowly, Doyle too restless to sleep. The doctor came to see him, repeating all that Cowley had told him about his condition. They took the last of the IV lines from his arm, and helped him to the bathroom. He was steadier on his feet than he thought he'd be, but grateful to be back in bed afterwards. They gave him more tablets with lunch, and after that he slept, awakening in the late afternoon to find Murphy checking on him, relieving Lewis at the door.

"You're looking better." Murphy sat down in the same chair Cowley had used.

"Who'd you lose a bet to?" Doyle reached for the water glass beside his bed, Murphy moving it closer to his hand.

"I volunteered to guard you. To help out a mate, you know. They're going to have to go through me to get to you, Doyle."

Doyle sighed. "What's her name?"

Murphy grinned. "Cherie. She's working the afternoon shift here--off at midnight."

"Well, if they get me, you're the one who'll have to answer to Cowley."

"He's the one who risked you in the first place."

Doyle grimaced. "Don't remind me."

"Anyway, it's not Cowley who'll keep me to the straight and narrow until midnight. It's Bodie."

Doyle looked quickly at Murphy. "You've seen him today?"

Murphy frowned. "No. What's up? Hasn't he been here?"

Doyle shrugged, belatedly trying for nonchalance. "No."

"He'll be here later." There was no doubt in Murphy's voice.

"Did you--" Doyle stopped, rearranged his words. "You didn't notice anything odd about Bodie yesterday, did you?"

"No. Nothing unusual. The day before, he was going spare about you, of course. I saw him when he brought your Hirsch in--he'd found out he wasn't really Hirsch by then."

"He wasn't pleased."

Murphy grinned. "No, he wasn't. He was all for throwing him back--along with the real Hirsch."

"That'd get my vote, too. What happened to the real Hirsch, anyway?"

"I don't know. I never saw him, although Bodie said he was with Cowley and Willis."

Doyle stilled. "Willis was with Cowley when Bodie came in?"

"Yeah. Well, that's what Bodie seemed to be saying. He was still fuming about it when I drove him here last night."

"But he was fine in the car?"

Murphy shrugged. "Yeah, he seemed to be. He was acting normally, at least." Murphy paused, then added: "The way he is whenever you're in trouble."

Doyle smiled widely. "The big butch hero."

"Rescuing his frail flower, yeah, yeah." Murphy nodded, grinning. "You know, we can't even convince the new agents of that any more, Doyle. Your reputation for being an evil-tempered bastard reaches into the infancy corps."

"Thank God for that. So, who got the job of sitting on Bodie, then?"

"No one. He left. Cowley was angrier than I've seen him in a long time. But it was Bodie who found you." Murphy nodded at Doyle's look. "Yeah, he called us in."

"At least he had that much sense."

"What's this in aid of, Doyle? Is Bodie on suspension?"

Doyle raised his eyebrows. "Why do you think that?"

"That's the rumour. Bodie didn't keep his voice down when he was letting Cowley know his opinion on using a fake Hirsch. But Cowley's used to that, isn't he? I reckoned Bodie was on leave over the holiday, with you in hospital."

"Yeah. He'll be back after Christmas. This one hit a little too close to home. Bodie doesn't like working with Willis."

"Yes, and he hides it so well." Murphy stood. "I'd best relieve poor Lewis out there."

"What's poor about him?"

"Ah, you wouldn't have heard, would you? He didn't make it to the call out yesterday."

"Why not?"

"It seems Willis is as suspicious of Cowley as Cowley is of him. Lewis had the misfortune to be the agent two of MI6's finest found in a pub. They got him drunk."

"Lewis falls asleep when he's drunk."

"Yes, unless he's sick first. Which he was--all over Willis, apparently, as they'd got Lewis into a car with him when they left the pub."

Doyle smiled. "I hope you told Bodie that."

"I'll leave that gem for you to tell. Shout if you need anything." Murphy turned for the door.

"It won't do me much good if you're otherwise preoccupied."

Murphy just winked at him, and closed the door behind him.

Doyle rubbed a hand over his face and eyes, and his glance fell on the telephone. He wasn't going to call Bodie again--the stupid bugger knew where to find him if he wanted him. What would Bodie think if he called, demanding an explanation, wanting to know why he hadn't come to the hospital? He wasn't going to set himself up to be laughed at. Or, worse, to be pitied. It was bad enough as it was.

The way he is whenever you're in trouble.

The problem was, they all thought it was unique to Doyle. He'd heard the rumours, long before there was any truth to them. He had Bodie wrapped around his finger; Bodie bled when Doyle was hurt. But that was just Bodie's way, his prerogative where his partner was concerned. Doyle had discovered that their first year as partners. An op had gone bad, Doyle's cover had been blown, and he'd heard all about Bodie's explosive scene with Cowley. He'd been surprised--it had made him look more closely at the smug army sergeant he'd been saddled with. He'd found the softness buried deep in Bodie, but it wasn't anything that was only there for him. Bodie had bled for Murphy, shot and hanging from that chimney, just as much as he bled for Doyle. That was how Bodie viewed partnership.

He'd grown used to Bodie's protectiveness, had grown to expect it and even to derive a certain satisfaction from it. It never interfered--once the danger was past, the protectiveness was buried. It was funny, really, how he'd heard, almost from the first, about Bodie's reaction when Doyle was in danger, but he'd rarely seen it for himself. Whereas the reverse.... Doyle had heard those rumours, too. They said Doyle was a cold bastard, that he didn't react when Bodie was the one in danger. But then his reaction, his fear, was something he'd only reveal to Bodie--it wasn't for the rest of them.

Doyle shifted in the bed, hesitated, then allowed himself to reach for the telephone once more. There was still no answer at the number he dialled.

His mistake was that he'd started to believe the rumours, the ones that said that Bodie liked him too much, that Bodie was in love with him. He'd started to hope, where he never should have, ignoring Bodie's basic tenet of non-involvement. After all, it was mostly true what they said--Bodie would do anything for him. He'd even have sex with him.

Doyle covered his eyes with his arm. Meeting Doyle's pathetic needs wasn't difficult. Hell, Bodie would even kiss him, after two days of torture.

But Bodie wouldn't confide in Doyle that he was going to resign. Bodie would handle that himself, just as he always handled everything else in his life that was marked 'private', 'no one else allowed'.

Bugger it. He wasn't one to stay with a losing cause; he rarely chased what he couldn't have. He'd learnt that lesson long ago: be the desired one, be independent, or you'd risk losing everything. If it was equal, he might be able to live with the vulnerability, but he wasn't going to beg at Bodie's feet.

Why should Bodie get everything he wanted--partner, friend, sometime lover--while Doyle was left panting for more? All the control given over to Bodie. And Bodie went and resigned on him.

Forget that.

Doyle reached again for the phone. It was answered on the third ring.

"Hello?"

"Hallo, Mum. It's Ray." He cleared his throat, his voice sounded odd.

"Ray, dear, how are you? You're ringing to say you can't make it for Christmas again, aren't you?"

"Don't sound so cheerful about it. I'm ringing to say I can make it, after all."

"Ray, that's wonderful! It's been years. I'll ring Mike and let him know he'll need to make more room."

"I can always stay at a--"

"No, of course not. He'll be delighted."

Thinking of the likely reaction of his older brother, Doyle doubted that. It made him grin. "All right. Tell Mike someone will have to come and get me, too."

"Where are you?"

"In hospital."

"Oh, Ray--"

"Nah, don't worry, it's nothing. Just a broken arm."

"They're keeping you in hospital for a broken arm?"

"They're letting me out tomorrow."

"Why do I get the feeling you're not telling me everything?"

"Because you're a bright old woman who would prefer not to know everything there is to know about her son. One of her sons."

"All of my sons. And you can throw in the daughters as well."

Doyle smiled. "You can keep them. Tell Mike to ring me if no one can come for me, all right? The usual number will do."

"All right, but I'm sure someone will come. Rest while you can; Tricia is bringing the children."

Doyle groaned.

"It's too late to back out now, love. God bless you. Bye-bye."

"Bye-bye, Mum."

He hung up the phone and stared out, rather blindly, at the monotonous grey clouds. It would do him good to go home for a bit, to get away from London. It had to do him good.

By dinner time he was more than ready to leave, bored and edgy, and fiercely resenting the loneliness that made everything seem like too much effort. If he was truly lonely, he could call Murphy in, couldn't he? But he ate his dinner in solitude, and kept his eyes from the telephone.

With nothing to do, and nothing to interest him, he drifted into sleep again, growing used to the plaster on his arm, to finding a position that didn't rub against the bruises and burns. The nurses were pleased at his progress, and he reckoned he'd be fine once he got out. He could leave Derby early, if it got to be too much. He'd be fine.

Doyle woke to the soft murmur of voices outside his room. The door opened fully, letting in a blinding stream of light from the hallway, and just as quickly closed nearly shut again. He'd recognised the figure in the light, however; he would know him anywhere. Doyle's heart leapt into his throat, so he stayed still, breathing as steadily as he could, giving himself time.

"Ray?"

Bodie moved closer to the bed, his expression hidden in the meagre light. All Doyle saw was the gleam of eyes and shadowed movements.

"About time you showed up." Doyle stayed on his side, head pillowed on one hand.

A sigh sounded above him, then Bodie sat in the chair by his bed. "I should've come earlier, I know. I had some things to take care of."

"All finished?"

"Nearly."

Doyle rolled over onto his back. "I get out tomorrow."

"Yeah. Throwing you out, eh?"

He wished he could see Bodie's face. "I'm going home for Christmas. My brother's picking me up."

"That's great." The relief in Bodie's voice sliced through Doyle. "Your mum'll be pleased."

"Yeh." There. He'd got that out all right. One word at a time, and thank God for the darkness in the room.

There was silence for a while, Doyle refusing to break it. Bodie cleared his throat. "Hirsch was killed tonight."

"What? Christ. They got to him?"

"It's still being investigated."

"Who had charge of him?"

"The West Germans, with help from MI6."

"Terrific."

Bodie moved restlessly in the chair. "It was a cock-up from the start. We still don't know the truth behind it. Cowley and his bloody games, and you caught in the middle of it."

But he didn't want to hear it, didn't want to start believing there was more than concern for a partner at work in Bodie. He couldn't take any more of it, not tonight. Not when he was still feeling this helpless. "It's done, finished. Leave it alone."

Silence again for a moment, and then Bodie spoke, quiet and gentle. "How are you feeling?"

Doyle closed his eyes. "I'm fine."

He heard Bodie moving closer, and felt the touch of a hand on his face, in his hair. "Yeah?"

Doyle stayed still, concentrating on his breathing. "Yeah. They wouldn't let me out otherwise. I just need sleep."

"That's a hint, is it?"

"Some might say so."

But Bodie didn't move, didn't withdraw his hand. He stayed there, a shadow in the darkness, lightly caressing Doyle's face. Doyle endured it; found, perversely, that he couldn't help but relax into it. All he could do to protect himself was hide the full effect from Bodie. He wished, as he hadn't wished since he was a kid, for Bodie to trust him.

Very softly, Bodie murmured to him: "Get well, Doyle." And, again, the light, fleeting touch of lips on his. Then Bodie was gone, with quiet footsteps, easing from the room, leaving Doyle alone, and shaking.



It was eleven the next morning before the nurse arrived with Doyle's brother and a wheelchair. Doyle was up and dressed, having found the bag Bodie must have left, with fresh clothes and his trainers. Sometimes he found himself wishing Bodie would forget the small kindnesses.

"Here's your brother, Mr Doyle. You're all set to leave."

Doyle smiled at Mike. "Sorry to drag you down here on the day before Christmas Eve." He sat in the wheelchair.

Mike smiled back at him. "No, you're not. But Mum wouldn't forgive me if I dumped you in the river on our way." He followed alongside as the nurse wheeled Doyle out of the room.

"I'm her favourite."

"Because you're not around very much."

Doyle glanced up at him and shrugged. "True." He hadn't seen his brother for several years. Fatherhood evidently agreed with him, along with a settled life. Only seven years separated them, but Mike already had the look of middle-age about him.

A blue Cavalier, obviously new, was parked by the entrance to the hospital. Doyle climbed out of the chair to find Mike holding the passenger door open for him. Doyle settled himself in the car, moving a little gingerly. Mike sat in the driver's seat and tossed a small bag into the back seat.

"Tablets for you. You're to take 'em. Doctor's orders."

Doyle grunted.

"I'll give them to Linda, then. She'll see you do what's expected. Are we going to your flat?"

"Yeah. Keep on the main road and follow the signs to Central London." Doyle leant back in his seat. It was still grey and damp, exactly suiting his mood.

"How did you get hurt, then?"

"I got careless."

"When are you going to get out of it, Ray?"

"And do what? This is what I'm trained to do."

Mike shrugged, putting on the indicator as he changed lanes. "You could find work. You've always been good enough at anything you tried for. You could do something with your artistic skill."

Doyle laughed. "Yeah, that turned out well, didn't it? I've only been really good at one thing."

"There's no future in it."

"Pete Townsend said it best, didn't he?"

Mike's jaw tightened. "We've had enough of that in this family."

"Well, it won't be drugs that get me."

After that it was quiet in the car, but for the occasional direction as Mike drove them to Doyle's flat. He hadn't meant to resurrect the memories, but then Stephen's ghost always seemed to surface when they talked, too much buried between them. Mike had never got over Doyle joining the police force, even after he'd straightened his own life out. It had been Mike who had turned Stephen on to drugs; Doyle who had tried to get him off.

Arriving at Doyle's flat, there was no space to be had for parking, so Mike stayed with the car while Doyle went up to pack. He'd found the time earlier in December to purchase presents for the family--the usual token offerings that his conscience prodded him to buy. He'd meant to post them, but the job had interfered. He bundled the presents into a bag, along with clothes and other necessities. The heat was already off in his flat, his refrigerator bare of perishables. Bodie, again.

Doyle hesitated, then he dug through his wardrobe and pulled out the present he'd bought for Bodie. He weighed it in his hand for a moment, then tucked it into his bag. With another quick look around, he left the flat, securing the double-locks. He'd already reported his destination to HQ; there was nothing left for him to do.

Mike pulled up by the pavement and Doyle dumped his bag into the back seat, before climbing in again. Mike made a U-turn in the street, and they headed out for the North Circular and the M1. Doyle looked out the window, watching the buildings fly by, aware only that he didn't want to leave. He wanted to tell Mike to turn around, drop him off back at home or, better still, drop him at Bodie's flat. But what good would it do either of them? He wouldn't be the one to weigh Bodie down.

They were nearly through Camden before Doyle spoke, giving in to at least one need. Maybe if he parcelled them out, they wouldn't be so overwhelming.

"Take a right here; I need to stop at the post office."

"Ray, we're going to be running into traffic as it is--can't it wait?"

"No. Just do it."

With a sigh, Mike complied, manoeuvring through the streets until they found the post office.

"Drive around, I'll be right back." Doyle slammed the door on his way out, not giving himself time to think about this. It was a small post office, at the back of a newsagents. He found a blank postcard and awkwardly, with his left hand, he quickly sketched a tree on it, and the edge of a bed with a stocking hanging from each bedpost. "Happy Christmas, mate," he wrote on it. Doyle addressed the card, sending it to the post office box that Bodie used for personal mail, and went to the counter to send the card on its way.

Back in the car, fighting the traffic heading north out of London, Mike kept up a steady chatter, filling Doyle in on the plans for Christmas and the current situation of each family member who would be there. Doyle, uninterested at the best of times in the lives of his various nieces and nephews, and already fairly up-to-date with his mother and siblings, let the words wash over him, until an unexpected name was dropped into the conversation.

Doyle turned his head to look at Mike. "Who did you say? Mary's brother?"

Mike shifted in his seat. "Paul, yeah. You remember him, don't you?"

"Of course. I was friends with him before you'd ever met Mary. I haven't seen him for years. I didn't realise you saw much of him."

"Yeh, ever since he moved to Nottingham. The kids love him, and Mary, of course. It's natural enough, isn't it?"

Mike's belligerence had its usual effect on Doyle. "Is it?"

Mike's jaw set. "Yes, it is. And I'm telling you right now that you can keep your thoughts to yourself. We had to shift the kids around to fit you into the house, and you'll be sharing Pete's room with Paul. If you've got a problem with that, then you can treat yourself to a hotel."

Doyle raised his eyebrows. "Mum told me not to stay at a hotel."

"Well, I'm not throwing Paul out. You can explain to Mum."

"Do the kids know he's gay?"

Mike threw him a suspicious look. "No. They aren't old enough."

"Pete's twelve, isn't he? He's got to learn the sordid facts of life sometime."

"Look, I know it's awkward, but Paul's harmless. Gays aren't so different from you and me."

"Are you sure about that? Can never tell, can you?"

"I'm warning you--"

"Relax. I'll keep a civil tongue around poor Paul. We were friends once, you know."

Mike flicked a glance at him. "People change."

Doyle smiled without humour. "So they do. Some of them even join the police force."

"It's not illegal any more."

"Except in hotels." Doyle waved a hand in Mike's direction. "Oh, give over. He's perfectly safe with me."

Mike nodded.

"Unless he attacks me virtue."

Mike gave him a withering look, then turned to concentrate on the traffic.

Realising that all the earlier chatter had been Mike working himself up to say all that, Doyle shook his head, bitterly amused. He was sorely tempted to explain to Mike just how well he had once known Paul, but that wasn't his alone to tell, and there'd be little point in it, anyway. As Mike had said, people change. He'd been ready to try anything once, and Paul, a year older than he, had introduced him to male sex. They'd had a good time for a few months, and parted friends when Paul had left for London. A year later, Doyle had followed, enrolling in art school, and going to live with Stephen in his London flat. Changes, indeed. He wondered if Paul would even recognise him.

Gazing out the side window, Doyle was stricken by an intense longing for Bodie. Bodie would've enjoyed the irony of Mike's assumptions; would've joined Doyle in taking the mickey, noticed the hypocrisy. He'd at least always had honesty from Bodie. Of a sort.

I don't want to be gay.

Bodie's words to him, a little over a year ago. Long after they'd begun to have occasional sex with each other; shortly after Doyle had realised how much he wanted from Bodie, how much Bodie meant to him.

It had stung, that simple statement. Not just for the rejection of what Doyle had wanted, but for the rejection of all they'd done.

"I hate to be the one to break it to you, mate, but you are gay," he'd told Bodie, rolling away from him in the bed. It had been one of the few times they'd made it to bed.

"No."

"What the fuck do you call this, then?"

"A good way to unwind with a friend."

Doyle had sat up, on the edge of the bed. "It's sex, Bodie. With another bloke."

"Mutual wanking, a blow job now and again. That's not what I think of as sex."

"Most people would call that sex. Would call that being gay."

"That's their concern." Bodie had crossed his arms under his head, lying there completely at ease.

"You've enjoyed this."

"Yeah, and I'd like to keep on doing it, if you're willing. That's not the point."

"I won't be your rough trade, mate."

"I'm not asking you to be. Look, Doyle, we both enjoy it, it's a good way to come down off an op. But it's not every day, it's not a way of life. It's--"

"Not being gay."

"Right."

Doyle had left the bed, had gathered his clothes and dressed as Bodie had watched him, not saying anything. Finally, Doyle had stood beside the bed, looking down at Bodie. "I call this sex. The way you touch me, the way you respond when I touch you--don't know what else you'd call it. I thought, maybe, we were building something."

Bodies eyes had flickered down for a moment. "We've already got something. Are you going to throw that away on this?"

A long silence had followed, Doyle too angry and too confused to work any of it out, except for one undeniable truth: "No. I'll pick you up at 8 tomorrow." And he'd got out of there, grateful only that he'd said nothing else to Bodie about his own discovery. He'd only danced around the subject, had only signalled he wanted to do more with Bodie, too afraid to risk everything at once on a fragile dream.

The next few weeks had been bad, nearly as bad as when they were first partnered. It had taken a too-close encounter with a knife, and the unexpected look of misery in Bodie's eyes, to change the situation, to force Doyle's acceptance of it. There was no doubt in his mind that Bodie was fond of him; no doubt, either, that fondness wasn't enough.

Bodie had been fond of Jax, and had worked well with him, but until the Zadi case, that hadn't been enough to change his opinions on blacks in general. It was clear that what he had with Doyle wasn't enough to change his mind about gays. I don't want to be gay. Bodie had drawn the line in his relationship with Doyle; it was up to Doyle, then, to accept it or not.

Doyle closed his eyes, leaning back against the headrest in the car. There were things, after all, that Bodie wouldn't do for him. The bleak truth was that Doyle would take the friendship, would even take the occasional "easy way to wind down", if it was all he could get. But the unfairness of it ate at him. It was Bodie's limits they had to abide by. Doyle's own limits he had to disregard and bury deep. And yet, he would do whatever he could to give Bodie contentment.

The M1 was crowded but moving quickly, and they made good time to Derby. Mike drove through the city centre, pointing out a few changes, surprising Doyle with his enthusiasm. Mike had wanted nothing more than to leave Derby once, but that had changed, too.

Doyle had only been to Mike's house once, and hardly recognised it as they pulled in to the driveway. It was a modern detached house of dark brick, with a tidy garden around it. Linda's car was parked in the driveway, another car already in the attached garage. Doyle took his bag and followed Mike into the house, experiencing a curious sort of anticipation. It had been years since he'd been at a family gathering; nearly a year since he had last seen his mother.

"Ray!" His mother greeted him at the door, wearing a heavy sweater and slippers, her hair now completely white. She hugged him gently, mindful of his sling, then turned him to face the others. "You look wonderful, doesn't he, Linda?"

"He looks exhausted." Linda came forward to rescue Doyle from his mother's embrace. Doyle smiled at her, a little surprised to see how much red had faded from her hair. His eldest sister, and his favourite. She stood half an inch taller than he did, much to his chagrin in his youth.

"Hallo, Linda." He kissed her cheek. "Still hanging around with this lot, are you?"

"Everyone has to have a hobby."

Mike handed Linda the bag from the hospital. "Here you go, love. See that Ray takes those, will you?"

"There goes my chance for a Christmas present from him, then." Linda grinned, then made way for Mary Doyle to come to greet her brother-in-law.

"And here are Peter and Sally," Mary told him, pointing to her son and daughter, standing by the door to the lounge.

Doyle nodded at them, receiving a stare and a self-conscious smile in return. Sally was eight, he thought, and she favored her mother just as Peter was the image of a young Mike.

"Here, let me take you upstairs and get you settled." Mary led him up the stairs, while the others dispersed to the kitchen or the lounge. The house was warm and comfortable, the smells of cooking permeating the rooms. It felt odd for him to be here, to be a part of this--something he hadn't experienced for a long time.

Pete's room was across from the loo, with twin beds and a window overlooking the street. Doyle set his bag down on one of the beds, then turned to Mary, who was hovering by the door.

"All right?" she asked.

"Yeah, this will be fine. How are you, Mary--it's been awhile."

She smiled. "Yes, it has." She looked down for a moment, then up at him. "Ray, it's awkward to ask but...you haven't brought your gun with you, have you?"

"No."

She gave him a quick, relieved look. "Good. It's Peter, you see. He dead keen on stuff like that right now, like all boys."

Doyle shifted the sling, hoping to ease the ache in his arm. "Is there any reason why he should think I'm carrying a gun?"

"We've told him you're a civil servant. But, well, he knows you were in the police and sometimes I've wondered if he might not have overheard Mike and me talking about you."

"Don't worry. I'd rather he didn't know about CI5."

"Thanks." She hesitated a moment. "Paul does know." When Doyle said nothing to that she seemed to relax, and her smile warmed. "It's good to see you, Ray. Just come on down to the lounge when you're ready." She turned and left him alone.

Doyle crossed to the loo, used the facilities, and washed his hands, careful of the cast. He met his own eyes in the mirror. Mike had been right, in a way--he'd changed beyond recognition since he'd last lived at home. More than his cheekbone had been damaged when Stephen had died and he'd decided to join the police.

Mary hadn't been so diffident around him before--she'd known him since he was ten, when his family had moved into the housing estate. That had been a step up, the first real home he'd known since he was four, when everything had started going so wrong with his dad. Mike and Linda were old enough to remember what it had been like when their father was steadily employed, before the poverty and the booze, and the constant moving around. In many ways, they'd grown up in a different family.

Back downstairs, he found Mike and Pete struggling to set up the Christmas tree, while Linda and Sally sorted lights. Doyle wandered into the kitchen for a cuppa, finding his mother and Mary there, and they shooed him back to the lounge, with a sandwich to go with the tea. He settled into a chair, watching the proceedings with an amused eye, listening to his brother's fatherly tone. Mike, after his rebellious years, had worked hard to give his family what he'd always felt his father had owed him. Maybe he and Mary had cause to worry about the random element they'd invited into their home for Christmas. Only children believed in unconditional acceptance.

They were summoned to supper soon after the lights had been placed on the tree, sitting down in the dining room adjacent to the kitchen. The doorbell rang just as they started dishing up and Mike soon returned with a tall, thin, brown-haired man in his wake. Despite himself, Doyle grinned. Paul, for one, looked little older than the last time he'd seen him, despite fifteen years.

"You remember Ray, don't you?" Mike waved in Doyle's direction.

"He's a hard one to forget. Hallo, Ray."

"Paul. You haven't changed." And Doyle grinned, for the wariness in Mike's eyes and the devilment in Paul's.

"Not a bit, mate. You're looking fit." Paul's eyes roamed over him. "Mike said you were in hospital?" Paul took a seat at the table next to Mary.

"Yeah. Broken arm."

"Didn't I always tell you not to chance it?" Paul reached for a jacket potato, yelping at the heat of it before he placed it on his plate.

"You always egged me on. Come to think of it, it was because of you I broke my arm the first time."

Mary groaned. "I remember that! You two thought you'd try jumping across the chimneys, didn't you?" There were smiles around the table at that, the children looking on with interest.

Paul looked indignant. "I did jump across the chimneys. Ray's the one who fell. He got out of all the punishment, too, because of that."

"I had a broken arm!"

"And all the sympathy." Paul leant over to Pete to say confidingly: "They all thought I led him astray."

"You did. Often."

"Not that time--that was all your idea."

Doyle grinned. "Actually, I was following in both my brothers' footsteps."

Seven pairs of eyes turned to Mike.

"Mike?"

"Dad?"

Doyle's mother shook her head. "You really shouldn't have, dear. Ray was bound to fall."

After that, dinner descended into a round of competing reminiscences and much laughter. Doyle, to his own astonishment, enjoyed himself, renewing the connection of shared memories and events. It saw them through dessert and back into the lounge to finish decorating the tree.

It was with a sense of dj vu that Doyle heard his mother suggest they listen to Sally's piano recital piece while they decorated. She'd said much the same, for every occasion, all the years he'd lived with her. Only then, it had been Stephen brought out to entertain them all. Or Tricia. Never loath to praise her children, or to point out to others their various talents, it had been his mother's way of coping with the family's ever-changing fortunes. Now, basking in her grandmother's approval, Sally gave them her enthusiastic version of "Fr Elise".

"That was brilliant, Sally." Doyle's mother hugged her granddaughter. "You'll make a fine musician with all the talent in you. You'll remember us, won't you, when you're famous?" Sally giggled with delight.

They were distracted from the budding musician when Pete stumbled as he navigated through the boxes to the tree, and lost his grip on the angel he'd been carrying. It fell to the floor with an ominous sound.

"Oh, no!" Sally rushed to the angel, while her mother rushed to Pete. Pete was fine; the angel, however, was broken in two. Sally held up the pieces.

"Don't worry, sweetheart." Doyle's mother wrapped a comforting arm around Sally. "Your uncle Ray is here. He'll make her like brand new."

Sally looked dubiously at her uncle.

"Ray's an artist. You'll see, he's got very clever fingers."

"Mum, he has a broken arm." Linda gently retrieved the angel from Sally's hands.

"You'll do it, won't you Ray? Linda will help you."

Doyle, looking from his mother to his niece and back, simply nodded and followed Linda from the room. They found glue and tape and set to work on the kitchen table. Or, rather, Linda set to work, with Doyle helping to hold when necessary.

"She'll never change, will she?" Doyle held the angel's wing still.

"Do you still expect her to?"

"Not really. She'll always see dreams rather than reality. Relentless optimism."

"It was all she had left for awhile." Linda put glue along the break in the angel's head.

"She had us."

"And her dreams for you. Hold that, please."

"Yeah. Tricia the dancer, me the artist, Stephen the musician. Only you and Mike escaped it."

"Did she hurt you so much, Ray?"

He shrugged. "No." After a moment, he added: "It hurt Stephen."

Linda looked at him. "Yet she was right about Steve. He had all the talent he needed."

"And a head full of dreams and expectations. It didn't give him what he needed to survive."

She ducked her head. "Maybe not."

Doyle sighed. "Well, Sally's got her mother and father to ground her. I can't see Mike ignoring reality."

Linda smiled slightly. "No. Or Mary, if he does get blinded." She smoothed away a bit of the glue. "Dad wasn't any help to Mum, of course."

"No." Doyle let the subject drop as they worked on, carefully putting the angel back together so she could stand watch over the tree. Stupid, really, to bring it up, it wasn't going to change anything. He supposed it was his mother bringing Sally forward in the old way that had reminded him. He hadn't felt Stephen's memory so keenly in years.

Linda set the angel down. "There, do you think that'll do it?"

Doyle looked at the angel. "A little battered, but it'll do."

"I could say the same about you." Linda touched his arm lightly. "Do you ever let dreams back into your head, Ray?"

Doyle gazed at her, his smile fading. "Too often."

They returned to the lounge to find the children had been sent to bed while the adults settled in with drinks and snacks. They talked about relatives and friends, catching each other up on news. Doyle listened on and off to the conversation, unable to contribute. The contentment he'd found such a short while ago was drifting away--the lives he was hearing about were too different from his own. They wouldn't understand something like Bodie's black humour, or Anson's pranks, or even Cowley's hidden affection. He couldn't talk about his work, or his friends, couldn't begin to describe the life he led. They teased him about girlfriends, and he thought of Ann--the only one he could've introduced to them; the only one they would have understood. And she hadn't understood him.

He retired early to bed, leaving them to start a ruthless game of Hearts. In his room he undressed, slipping on a pair of track suit trousers, before he visited the loo. Linda had handed him a tablet with a speaking look, so he swallowed that, and then sought out the comfort of the bed. He was still recovering--no wonder, then, that he was blue-deviled, dredging up things best left buried. With the ease of practice, he slipped into sleep.

A short time later, Doyle was jolted awake by a hand brushing against his face. Reacting instinctively, Doyle went for his attacker, hearing a yelp and a crash before he was awake enough to remember where he was. He found his left arm locked around Paul's throat. Doyle sagged back against the bed, easing his grip and taking in a deep breath. His whole body protested the sudden violence.

"Ray?"

"Sorry. Did I hurt you?"

"No, of course not." Paul moved away from him, stumbling against the table between their beds.

There was a sudden knock on the door, then Mike's voice. "Ray? Paul? Is everything all right?"

"Bugger it." Doyle sighed.

"We're fine," Paul called.

Doyle dragged himself to his feet and went to the door. He opened it just as Mike raised his hand to knock again. "Don't worry, I haven't killed him."

Mike looked past him into the room as Paul switched on the lamp that stood between the beds. "We heard a crash...."

"Just going down memory lane again," Paul assured him. "Sorry about that."

"Yeah, okay." Mike, however, had turned his attention back to Doyle. He was staring at Doyle's chest, at the old scars from the shooting, and the newer, more livid marks. "My God, Ray."

Looking at Mike's appalled face, it came upon him like a shock, the sudden perception of the depth of the chasm between him and his family. How could he ever explain? The realities he dealt with every day were unreal to them, unfathomable. His way of life, his choices, had no place in their lives, although what Doyle did guaranteed them the security that kept them unaware. The risks he was willing to assume would seem all out of proportion to them. They had no experience to give them perspective. He touched Mike on his shoulder, then gestured to the hallway. "Go on, Mary will be wondering."

Mike stayed put. "Are you all right?"

Doyle noticed the lines in Mike's face, the years of struggle showing clearly. It made his tone gentle. "Yeh. They wouldn't let me out, otherwise."

Mike nodded, trying to control his expression and failing. He turned away.

Doyle closed the door behind him and turned back to face Paul.

"That's CI5, is it?" Paul gestured towards Doyle's chest.

"Sometimes." Doyle returned to his bed.

"You'll probably hit me if I ask if you're all right."

"Probably."

"I recognise burns when I see them, Ray."

"Then you know these are healing." Doyle closed his eyes, sinking into his pillow.

Paul settled himself at the end of Doyle's bed. "You don't want to talk about it, do you?"

"No." After a moment, Doyle opened his eyes and glared at Paul, who smiled back at him. It was only then that he noticed the pajamas Paul was wearing. Claret and gold. Monogrammed. "My God. Styling yourself after Elton, are you?"

Paul flung an arm out gracefully. "We all do, ducky."

With a sigh, Doyle pulled himself up to a sitting position, no longer minding that Paul could see what had been done to him. "What were you trying to do earlier, anyway?"

"Just wanted to say hello properly."

"Oh, I see. Next time give me some warning."

"I'll remember that." Paul cocked his head to one side, studying Doyle. "You've aged well."

Doyle smiled. "Except for all the changes."

"Hmm. I remember that one." Paul reached forward to flick Doyle's cheek. "It looks better than it did. But, yeah, there are changes. You always were an aggressive sod--for which I have reason to be thankful--but there's more control there now. You're a dangerous man, Ray, aren't you?"

Doyle's smile disappeared.

"That's a gorgeous expression. I wish I could photograph that."

"Photograph?"

"Yes, didn't you know? I'm a photographer now."

"No, I didn't know. Fashion?"

"Pets. And horses." Paul grinned. "They're much nicer than models."

"Warn you before they bite, eh? Yeah." Doyle nodded and smiled back at him.

"So, may I say hello properly now, please?"

Doyle hesitated, then shrugged. "Yeah, 'course."

Paul eased forward towards him, then kissed him gently on the mouth. It was just a brush of lips--friendship not passion. Paul laughed when he saw Doyle's expression. "You're lovely, Ray, but I know you're not for me. Relieved?"

"Puzzled, maybe."

Paul settled back at the end of the bed. "That's because you weren't looking into a mirror all night. Someone broke your heart." Doyle stared at him. "Oh, don't worry, you didn't give anything away--you've got that mask down pat. I'm just familiar with what to look for."

"Who broke your heart?"

"Some drunk. He hit my lover on a bike, four years ago."

"I'm sorry."

"So am I." After a moment, Paul raised his eyebrows and mimed impatience.

Doyle shook his head. "We aren't even lovers, really. He's my partner."

Paul winced. "Straight?"

"Image-conscious."

"Oh. One of those. Hypocritical bastards."

"No, just blind. Or, maybe it's just that he knows what he needs and I'm not it."

"He must be blind to think that. What's he like?"

Doyle grinned. "Dangerous."

"He would be. Is that why you're here? Taking a breather?"

"Our boss said he resigned. After this." Doyle gestured to his chest. "He has until after Christmas to think about it."

"Ah. And you're paving the way for him, is that it?"

"No. He makes his own decisions. I don't need to watch."

"Hmm. And why'd that set him to resigning?"

"Who knows? Our boss said he said he was just ready to move on. He's never stayed anywhere as long as he's stayed with CI5."

Paul got up from the bed, switching off the lamp as he moved to his own bed. "You're a fool, Ray."

"Why?"

"He's stayed with you all this time, and suddenly resigns when you're hurt?"

"Nah, it's not like that. I've been hurt before."

"Did you ever hear of the last straw, mate? Good night, Ray. I'll kiss you in the morning, too, if you'll let me."

"Lecher."

"For old time's sake."

"Good night, Paul."

Doyle closed his eyes, but his mind turned the question over and over: why had Bodie chosen now to leave? It wasn't Doyle's injury, but could it have something to do with Cowley's betrayal? No, it couldn't be that. They both knew Cowley was capable of throwing them to the wolves at any time, of betraying them if necessary. They'd had enough experience with it. Doyle had always protested more at it than Bodie. Pragmatic soldier that he was, Bodie understood Cowley better than anyone on the Squad. Doyle couldn't see that there was anything different about the situation this time around.

Murphy had said that Bodie had disobeyed Cowley--had gone off on his own in search of Doyle. Nothing new there. The new thing would be if Bodie took anyone along with him, confided in anyone. Bodie had gone off on his own to rescue Doyle from Ojuka's enemies, to save himself from Willis, to avenge Keith Williams. If anything, he'd learnt to confide less in other people, in Doyle especially.

He remembered, with perfect clarity, the scene after the restaurant bombing, when Bodie had been determined to work the Forrest case on his own, disobeying Cowley. He'd found Bodie at the hospital, interviewing the restaurant owner, and he'd followed Bodie to the car park, arguing with him, trying to keep him out of it. Bodie wasn't having any of it:

"Just stay clear of me. I'm going to get whoever did this, Ray. And neither you nor Cowley or anyone else is going to stop me. Okay?"

Implacable determination. Bodie had even been gentle about it, when Doyle had protested. But the message had been the same: keep out. Doyle hadn't tried to dissuade Bodie after that, but he'd worked the case harder than ever. He'd cracked it, too, along with his ribs. And, ever since then, he'd had even less from Bodie whenever he'd gone off on his own. Less explanation, no time for debate. It had been, almost, as if the more sex they'd had, the less Bodie had trusted him.

They'd first gone to bed right before the Forrest case. An op had finally concludeded in a hail of bullets and they'd ended up in Bodie's flat, and Bodie's bed, both too exhausted even for food, too dispirited for anything but sleep. But they'd been wound too tight with tension, and they hadn't been able to sleep, to settle. An argument had led to wrestling and then, somehow, to fumbling and needs and hands in the dark. Afterwards, they'd slept in each other's arms, and Doyle had felt at home for the first time in years.

It had disappeared soon enough, like the will-o-the-wisp home always was. But deep inside, Doyle had held on to the feeling--truly his mother's son. He'd protected it even as Bodie had shut him out, had sheltered it even as his own need for Bodie had been exposed. He'd nourished hope, feeding it on the foundation of their partnership, on the way that Bodie seemed to enjoy meeting Doyle's needs, whatever they were--until they crossed his own.

Get well, Doyle.

For what? To see Bodie leave?

Once his mind was made up, Bodie didn't change it. Doyle had never had any influence on that. He knew a farewell kiss when he was given one. Four kisses he'd had of Bodie, more than he'd expected. The last two had meant goodbye. All Doyle had to do now was survive until the last kernel of hope was crushed, and then he could get on with his life.

Resolutely, Doyle turned onto his side, cradling his right arm along his body. He was good at surviving. He'd just forgotten what it felt like to have nothing more.

Doyle woke late the next morning, a little surprised at how well he had slept. He stretched carefully, feeling better than he had in days. Heading downstairs, he found his mother, Linda, and Mary in the kitchen, going over plans for the Christmas meal. While he ate breakfast, they asked his opinion as they debated the benefits of custard versus brandy butter, and sage and onion versus chestnut stuffing. Afterwards, he sat with his mother, evading questions about his future, about his choices, steering her instead to speak of her grandchildren. She tried, again, to convince him to leave CI5; he, again, found a way to distract her, so he wouldn't have to try to explain the inexplicable. Paul rescued him when he wandered into the kitchen, looking for help in a mysterious project that turned out to be a bicycle for Sally needing assembly.

The hours passed quickly, and yet in a strange way Doyle felt that time was standing still. It was as if he was stuck in the same hour, without end. He found himself wondering what was happening at CI5, whether it was quiet or busy--Christmas was always unpredictable. When his mother turned on the radio to listen while she cooked, he listened as well, waiting for news. It seemed to be a quiet day in England, but then he knew how unreliable the news reports really were.

They all gathered 'round when the Carols from Kings began, his brother and sister, the children and Paul, and Doyle saw, even in the midst of them, how very apart from them he was. The distance between them, begun after Stephen's death, had only widened after he'd joined CI5. And now there was an emptiness next to him, where his partner should be. For six years he'd had a companion, someone to look at to share jokes or terror or anger with. With Bodie there, maybe he could have bridged the gap with his family. The common memories that had joined him with his family yesterday were layered beneath newer memories that he shared only with Bodie. Severed from the one, disconnected from the others, he felt unbalanced, struggling to find his footing.

It was worse when Tricia arrived, husband and kids in tow. The family circle was now complete. They sat down fourteen for dinner, the kids at their own table in the kitchen. Over boiled bacon and pease pudding, they talked kids and illnesses and neighbours long gone. Had he heard that Mrs Gordon had finally thrown her husband out, stark naked into the cold, poor man, because she'd found him in a compromising position with the new girl on the tills down at Tesco's? Did he know that Daniel Sterner had disappeared on a holiday to Australia--murdered, some said, running away others said, because they found he was hopelessly in debt. And on it went, into the evening, and right through to midnight mass, all of them attending together, to the joy of his mum.

Afterwards they returned home, the kids hustled off to bed, including Tricia's four, the two girls with Sally in her room, the two boys with Peter in the little room off the kitchen. The adults collapsed in the lounge, waiting for the kids to quieten down before bringing the presents out and then sneaking in to fill the stockings.

Tired and aching, Doyle looked around at his brother and sisters, their spouses, and Paul. Paul was far more comfortable with them than he was, joining in their conversations, celebrating and commiserating as need be. Paul, rejected by his own parents, had found a home with Doyle's family--the one that Doyle had lost long ago.

Lastly, he looked at his mother, seeing the indomitable spirit of her, even if it took her to flights of fancy. Who was he to blame her for it? And he knew what his mother was going to say, even before she opened her mouth. He knew her heart was bursting with pride in her family, with happiness that they were all there, except for Stephen, and even he--

"This is lovely, isn't it? All of us together again? I just know Stevie's looking down at us, poor lad. Happy for us."

He stood up as the others murmured their agreement, he kissed his mother on the cheek for her happiness, and he got himself out of there. He was putting on his jacket when Linda found him.

"Had enough?" But she was smiling as she said it.

"I'm not used to all this."

The smile lingered, a hint of wistfulness in her eyes. "It's all right, Ray. You always did need to be on your own more than the rest of us. I just wanted to wish you happy Christmas. I'm glad you came."

He nodded, fastening his jacket.

She hesitated, then reached out and brushed his broken cheek. The cheek that his mother always avoided. "There's something I've been wanting to tell you for years--should have told you--but I was as shy of the truth as any of us. It's about Steve. Stephen. It wasn't Mum's fault, it wasn't Mike's, and it certainly wasn't yours. You were seventeen years old, Ray, and no match for him. No match for the need he had for heroin. He hurt you, and then he killed himself--and you know he never would have done either, if it weren't for the drugs."

"I know." It still could hurt, after all these years, after all he'd seen and experienced.

"We made it more difficult for you afterwards, some of us. Finding blame, or, just not wanting to deal with any of it. I'm sorry."

He smiled at her, banishing shadowed memories, and took her hand in his. "I didn't make it any easier on you. I haven't wanted to deal with it, either."

"Maybe you'll come to see us more often?"

"Maybe." He didn't want to lie to her, and maybe he would come again. Maybe there were other ways to build bridges.

She nodded and then she gave him the look he remembered from childhood, the one that told him she saw right through him. "There's a park, down at the end of the lane. It's a good place to go for a walk."

"Thanks." He left her behind and walked out into the dark, feeling more himself with each step. It was a cool night, but not cold, and for once the skies were clear on a Christmas Eve. Technically, it was already Christmas. He wondered where Bodie was; wondered if he'd find him still in London when he returned.

And return he would, realising only then that he had been thinking of his own resignation when he'd gone home to Derby. But he'd merely confirmed that this wasn't his life any more, that he could be only a visitor here. Paul was right--he was far too dangerous to inflict on his family for any length of time.

So he'd go back after Christmas. After the season of miracles was over, he'd deal with reality. Somehow, he'd find the strength to accept Bodie's decision, whatever it was. He'd start fresh with a new partner, work on his career. And he'd follow Bodie's bloody creed about no involvement.

Sod it.

He reached the park, wandering through it to a bench beside a small pond. It was quiet and still, with very little breeze to rustle the dead leaves scattered on the ground. There were no people about, no one to wonder why he was here. Who would be out on Christmas Eve? He sat on the bench, eyes on the darkness of bushes and trees. He'd go through his memories once more, hold up his tattered little dream for one last look. And then he'd tuck it away with all the other buried dreams and he'd go on.

Four times he and Bodie had kissed. Once, right after their first sex, when they were falling asleep and he'd murmured his contentment, and kissed Bodie before sleep had overtaken him. He remembered the feel of it, the rightness of it. And then Bodie had kissed him twice in hospital, after Bauer and his games. He thought he knew the reason for those.

The fourth time.... Ah, the fourth had been two months ago when Bodie, in a rare black mood after a bitter op, had tried first to get rid of him, and then had stood there, unable to ask, but holding on to Doyle with a grip that bruised. Doyle had gentled him with one touch, and unleashed him with another, and he'd taken all of Bodie's anger and aggressiveness into himself, in the very act that Bodie had shunned. Afterwards, Bodie had clung to him, and Bodie had kissed him--voraciously, desperately, kissed him, turning sex to love, acknowledging it. Doyle hadn't said a word--with Bodie's need imprinted on his flesh, he hadn't had to. For a brief moment, he'd held the dream, touched it, and then reality had swept in on the signal of an R/T.

Whatever Bodie needed, Doyle hadn't been able to supply it.

Doyle lifted his gaze, stared up at the stars, long the symbols of hope and promise and change. He remembered Bodie's smile, and his kiss, and the touch of gentle fingers on his face.

Get well, Doyle.

The cold-hearted bastard. To leave him with that. Without an explanation. Without facing him. He'd be damned if he'd let that go unanswered. He wasn't seventeen years old, and he knew a hell of a lot more about fighting demons.

Hearing a sound behind him, Doyle swiveled around, unsurprised to find that Paul had followed him. He stood as Paul joined him, his hands jammed into a dark wool overcoat.

"Made up your mind yet?"

"I'm going back to London, if that's what you mean."

"Oh, that wasn't hard to guess. No, about your nemesis."

"Oh, him."

"Yeah. You're just going to let him have the running of it, is that right?"

"I told you, I'm going home."

"And if he doesn't resign?"

"Then nothing's changed." Doyle looked up at the sky, finding Orion's belt. "I can't stop needing him just because he doesn't need me as much. I'll settle for what I can get."

"And hope?"

"Sometimes."

"What if he resigns?"

"Then I get a new partner." Doyle shrugged.

"You'll let him go without a fight? You? The Ray Doyle I knew preferred to fight."

"You said it yourself--I've learnt control. I had to after I cut up that kid. And after Stephen."

"You cut up that kid because he was beating me up. You fought Stephen to keep him from the heroin. There's nothing wrong with fighting, Ray."

"My boss'll be pleased to hear that."

Paul flung out a hand. "So fight for your partner."

"I can't force him to love me."

"Why not?"

Doyle grinned at the fierceness in Paul's voice.

"Well, you won't know until you try, right? So, go on, then."

"You're barmy."

"So I've been told." Paul gave him a wry smile. "Ray, I don't know your partner, or what his problem is. I do know that you'll never forgive yourself if you don't try. What the hell have you got to lose? If he is leaving because of those marks on you, then you must've got under his skin. Maybe it's time you told him that. Obviously, in words of one syllable."

Doyle shook his head, then looked sidelong at Paul. "Take one last shot, eh?"

"At least you won't have any regrets."

"That's true."

Paul watched him, his eyes narrowing. "I'm wasting my breath, aren't I?"

"No, you were wonderfully eloquent."

Paul sighed. "I could've stayed in that nice, warm house. You'd already thought of all this."

"It's always good to get confirmation. Besides, what if he's already gone when I get back?"

"Experienced detective like you? Piece of cake."

Doyle put his hand on Paul's shoulder, squeezing it gently. "Have you got any regrets?"

"Oh, lots. But not about Matthew."

Doyle smiled. "You're a nice lad, Paul Duggan. I should've followed you to London."

"I'd've bored you, sweetheart. You can give me a goodbye kiss, though."

"You're obsessed with kissing."

"But you do it so well." Paul leant forward and Doyle gave him a proper kiss this time, reliving the past with the experience of age. Paul rested his chin on Doyle's shoulder. "This nemesis of yours, is he the jealous type?"

"Depends. Why?"

"Because it looks like you might need to protect me again." Paul stepped back as Doyle turned to find Bodie standing at the edge of the park. He was dressed in dark trousers, a black polo neck, and his warm jacket, and he stood very still, waiting for Doyle, his face expressionless.

Doyle walked towards him, Paul behind him. He stopped in front of Bodie, studying the closed face. "Paul, this is my partner, Bodie. Bodie, Paul."

Bodie nodded once, not saying anything, his eyes on Doyle.

Paul coughed. "I know you two have a lot to say, if you get around to it. I'll, uh, be off, then." He sidled round Bodie, made an encouraging face at Doyle, and hurried away.

Doyle stayed where he was, watching Bodie through narrowed eyes. "I heard you resigned."

There was a slight movement in Bodie's face, quickly controlled. "So you've moved on, have you?"

"Any reason why I shouldn't?"

Bodie was silent.

Doyle's patience snapped. "Bugger this. What are you here for?"

And still Bodie was silent, his face the same uninformative mask that he always used when he was shutting Doyle out.

Doyle gritted his teeth. "No, I'm not having it off with him, he's an old friend. I had it off with him years ago. When he left, he had the guts to tell me he was leaving. What the fuck are you doing here? How'd you find me?"

Bodie stirred, shifting his weight. "I went to your brother's house--found him in the phone book. I asked for you." Bodie eyes were roaming over him, flicking from the sling to his face, to his chest.

Doyle ran a hand through his hair. "You asked at the house? Yeah, 'course you did. Sod it. They're going to be wondering about that, thinking it's the job." He looked at Bodie suspiciously. "Is it the job?"

"No. I told them I was your boyfriend."

Doyle stared. "You what?"

Bodie shrugged. "It's true, isn't it?"

And, quite suddenly, Doyle was consumed by a fury the likes of which he'd never known before. It took him, not to violence, but to deadly softness. "No, it's not true, you bloody bastard. You made that very clear. I'm not letting you do this to me." He moved to go round Bodie.

Bodie reached for him. "Doyle--"

Doyle swung out of Bodie's grasp. "Leave it or I'll take your head off." He slipped his arm from the sling, standing poised on his feet.

Bodie raised his hands, backing off a step, his face no longer impassive. "All right, sorry. But you've got to listen to me." There was a trace of desperation in his voice.

"I don't have to do a fucking thing." He walked away a step, two, and stopped with his back to Bodie. "What then?"

"Ray." Bodie said his name on a sigh. When he continued, his voice was stronger: "I want it to be true. I want to start over with you, do it properly. You and me, as long as we can make it last."

"You don't want to be gay." Doyle turned to face him.

"I don't want to be alone." Bodie took a step nearer, but stopped at Doyle's look.

"You already made that choice."

"I was wrong."

"You resigned, mate."

"Cowley will take me back."

"And why should I?"

"Because...because you love me." Bodie smiled at him.

"Wrong answer." Doyle turned to walk away, but Bodie grabbed him, wrenching him around. Off-balance, Doyle flung out an arm to steady himself, and walloped Bodie with his plaster. Bodie went down on his knees.

Doyle knelt beside him. "Bodie?"

"Christ, Doyle," Bodie said thickly, one hand covering his nose and cheek, the other latching onto Doyle's thigh. He squinted up at Doyle. "Are you all right?"

"Yeah, fine. I didn't feel a thing."

Bodie groaned. "Shooting me would be quicker."

"Don't tempt me. C'mon, let's get you over to the bench and the street lamp." He tugged Bodie up and guided him to the bench. Gingerly, he pushed Bodie's hand away from his nose and took a look. "It's not bleeding."

"It's broken."

"Nah, just bruised, I think. Clumsy oaf." Doyle sat on the bench next to Bodie.

"Me!"

"You. Here, lean forward in case it does start bleeding." Obediently, Bodie leant forward slightly, his hand again closing around Doyle's thigh, holding him in place.

Doyle eyed him, then sighed. "Perhaps if you started from the beginning."

Bodie closed his eyes. "When's that?"

"You've got me, sunshine." Doyle took a breath in. "'Do it properly' you said. Are you trying to tell me that you love me?"

Bodie nodded, his hand tightening around Doyle's thigh.

"It might help me believe it if you could actually say it."

"I love you." As a declaration it left much to be desired, given that Bodie was glaring at him when he said it. Then Bodie swore and leant further forward, his free hand going to his nose.

Doyle felt around in his pockets, then in Bodie's pockets, and found a handkerchief. He pressed it into Bodie's hand, receiving a mumbled thanks. "Right, so we've established that you love me. And you resigned. I hope the two aren't connected, but knowing you, they probably are. Terrific. So, um, how long have you loved me?"

Another glare and a mumble.

"What?"

"I said, 'for as long as I've bloody well known you'," Bodie snarled at him.

Doyle digested that. "You pushed me into a canal the second week we were partners."

"I didn't say I didn't find you an annoying little git."

"The feeling is mutual. Both feelings." Doyle looked at him, hardly daring to believe in what Bodie was saying, or that he was even there at all. I told them I was your boyfriend. Christ, that must have gone over well. Although his family would probably take that news a lot better than they'd taken him joining CI5. But what was Bodie up to? "Why did you resign, then?"

A pause. "I thought it was time to move on."

"Not even Cowley bought that one. Was it because of the Hirsch fiasco?"

After a few moments, Bodie nodded.

"It's happened before; what was different this time?"

Bodie shrugged.

"I'm going to bash you again in a second. Paul reckoned it was the last straw for you."

Bodie looked up quickly. "You told him?" He ducked his head back down again.

"He guessed there was a reason why I ran home with my tail between my legs."

Bodie snorted. "You didn't."

"I did."

Looking at him sceptically, Bodie dabbed at his nose with the handkerchief.

"What was different about this op?"

Bodie looked away. "Dunno."

"Bodie."

"Look, why do you need to know? Call it the last straw, if you want. Sodding hell, Doyle, do you have to go over every little scrap?"

It was Doyle's turn to be silent now, to wait. Bodie hated being interrogated but he wasn't trying to change the subject, wasn't walking away. Bodie's hand was still heavy on Doyle's thigh, providing warmth against the increasing cold. Doyle would sit here all night if he had to.

Bodie blew out a breath. "I got your postcard."

"Did you?"

"Yeah." Bodie fumbled with an inside pocket of his jacket, then produced the crumpled postcard.

Doyle took it from him, looking at it in silence. "Took you this long to decide to come?"

"I took a roundabout path."

Doyle's fingers tightened on the card. "Ah. How far had you got?"

"Maidstone."

Doyle nodded, tucking the postcard into his own pocket. "Taking the scenic route." Christ, it had been a close-run thing. Maidstone was on the direct route to Dover.

Bodie didn't say anything, but his hand left Doyle's thigh, resting on the bench between them, his fingers curling around the edge.

Doyle centred his gaze across the park. "Why did you run? You know what I feel for you." At Bodie's continued silence, Doyle turned his head towards him. "Or was that the reason you left?"

"I came back."

"Because you don't want to be alone. That's worse than being with me then, is it?"

"Don't be stupid, Doyle." Bodie jammed the handkerchief into his jacket pocket.

"Well, it's a bit confusing, mate. You weren't singing this 'I've always loved you' tune before." Scanning the hunched figure beside him, Doyle changed tack. "I've been wondering what Cowley said to you after you rescued me."

Bodie answered that readily enough. "The usual. How I'd put the op in jeopardy, how you couldn't be more important to me than the op or he'd have to split us."

"Split us?" Doyle was startled.

"Yeah."

"He can't split us!"

"He won't. He'll make me promise that I'll put CI5 first, and I'll agree, and we'll both know I'm lying. I'm still valuable to him, and he knows I'll leave if he separates us." Bodie met Doyle's gaze easily.

"But--"

"It's nothing new. We've had that conversation a dozen times."

Doyle shook his head. "Yeah, but you don't put me first."

Beside him, Bodie shifted on the bench. "Sometimes I do."

Doyle met Bodie's eyes. "No. Not when it matters."

His gaze suddenly faltering, Bodie turned away.

Doyle's stomach tightened as pieces began falling into place. "Tell me what happened."

Bodie's hand clenched around the bench edge.

"Did you put me first?" Holding himself completely still, Doyle endured the silence.

"No." Bodie's voice was less than a whisper, but it held a wealth of pain.

A cold knowledge growing within him, Doyle waited.

Bodie's voice turned harsh. "I got there early, Ray."

Doyle found himself nodding, already knowing the answer before he asked: "How early?"

"I heard you. I was right outside that bloody door when they.... I couldn't go in. Cowley's direct orders. And your life wasn't--they weren't going to kill you, then. I knew that. I waited for the Squad."

Doyle drew his arms in close, warming himself. "You didn't have a choice."

Bodie's eyes flickered to his, and away again. "There's always a bloody choice."

"No."

Bodie's head jerked up. "Yes. Every fucking time, there's a choice!"

"All right." Doyle touched Bodie's arm, feeling the hardness of it even through layers of cloth. "All right. It was the right one."

There was searing contempt in Bodie's eyes. "'The right one'. Bloody hell. The Squad arrived, bungling in their eagerness, and started an unnecessary shootout with a couple of Bauer's men. I busted in to find you on your fucking knees with a bloody gun at your head!"

"You saved me."

Bodie jumped to his feet, tension in every line of his body. He took a couple of rapid strides away, then stopped. "Yeah," said Bodie, bitterly caustic, "I saved you."

Doyle held his voice very steady. "We both know you did. That's how it's supposed to be."

Bodie whirled on him. "Supposed to be? Supposed to be?" He stalked to Doyle, grabbing him ungently, dragging him to his feet. "Can't you get it through your stupid, fucking head? They tortured you, mate, while your bloody partner waited. Don't you get it?"

"Yeah, I get it. It's not cause for resignation." When Bodie said nothing, Doyle continued. "If I can live with you hearing everything, you can bloody well live with waiting, with doing your job. I don't blame you."

Bodie's grip tightened on him. "There are days," he said, very softly, "when it's all I can do to let you out the bloody door." Abruptly, Bodie released him, turning away.

Doyle regarded Bodie's back. "What happened to the non-involvement credo, then?"

Bodie gave a short, sharp laugh. "Long gone."

"Bloody hell, Bodie, then why did you leave?"

Bodie turned round, his face reflected by the park light. "I had to get away."

"From what you did, or from me?"

Shrugging, Bodie lowered his head. "Both, I reckon."

Doyle shook his head, feeling a hundred years old. "You stupid, sodding bastard." He looked across at Bodie and sighed. "Why did you come back?"

"For you."

"You just said I'm the reason you left."

A slight smile quirked Bodie's mouth. "Contradiction's your middle name, Ray."

"Yeah, well, you're going to have to lay it out for me, mate. I can't take any more guessing games." Doyle turned and walked back to the bench, settling himself on it without looking at Bodie. After a moment, Bodie followed and sat down beside him.

Staring straight ahead, arms on his knees, Bodie started talking. "I wasn't thinking clearly; I just knew I had to get away. I convinced myself it was for your good as well as mine."

"How'd you do that, then?" Doyle kept his tone mild.

Bodie gave a short laugh. "God knows." They were both quiet, and then Bodie continued in a low voice. "Do you remember Plymouth? After the Barton op?"

Doyle's stomach tightened. "Yeah."

"I was furious with you, ready to kill you for the risks you took."

Doyle swallowed, forcing words through a suddenly constricted throat. "So, you fucked me instead."

"Yeah." Bodie let out a sigh. "Only--"

Anger of his own stirring within him, Doyle interrupted. "Punishment. You sick bastard, you thought you'd punish me by fucking me?"

"Doyle--"

But Doyle was off the bench, striding away, unable to keep still. He had held the memory of that night close. Bodie's intensity, Bodie's need. Bodie's desperation. Doyle ground to a halt, eyes closed, teeth biting his lip. Bodie had clung to him that night as if he were the only anchor in a wind storm. He could still feel Bodie's hands, and Bodie's kiss. Doyle opened his eyes, realisation sweeping through him. That kiss had nothing to do with punishment or denial. Whatever the night had started out with, it hadn't ended with anger. It hadn't been marked by fury or betrayal. Doyle turned round.

Bodie was still on the bench, head bowed. Doyle walked back to him. "You didn't hurt me."

Bodie wouldn't look at him. "I could have."

"No."

"You love me. You would've let me--"

"I did let you; I took everything you threw at me that night, mate. I'd do it again."

Bodie surged to his feet. "Dammit, Doyle."

Doyle grabbed him with his left hand, and Bodie instantly stilled. "Listen to me, you stupid prick. I'm not some innocent. I've been through a hell of a lot worse than you could ever dish out to me. I remember that night very well. It wasn't your idea to take me to bed. I could have walked away. I knew exactly what I was getting into. You needed it. So did I. You didn't hurt me."

Bodie stared at him, his breathing rapid and shallow. "I came into that room, after hearing them hurt you. A bullet was too quick for Bauer. I wanted to make him suffer."

"That's my Bodie."

Bodie didn't seem to hear him. "You were on the floor, so damned bloody and burnt. I'd've killed Bauer all over again." Bodie swallowed. "I wanted to fuck you then, too." His eyes found Doyle's. "I couldn't handle what I was feeling, what you've always made me feel. It's like holding your hand in a flame--you pull back, only sensible thing to do. Bloody hell, it's like living in a flame, being with you. Loving you."

Doyle let out a long sigh, relaxing his hold on Bodie, letting his hand fall to his side. "Self-protection. You're experienced in it."

"I got as far as Maidstone. I stopped for lunch and stayed the afternoon in the pub. I finally admitted it then."

"Admitted what?"

"That I couldn't say I was protecting you by leaving you. That I had to face what I felt for you."

"Hard realisation, was it?"

Bodie reached out and lightly touched Doyle's face. "Contradictory. I know I'm the only one who can hurt you, Ray."

Doyle looked away at that, shielding his expression.

"I went back to London. I drove by your flat, but of course you were already gone. I'd been glad you were going to your family--thought that'd make it easier. Today I waited around, changed my mind a hundred times, wondered what was best. I went out and picked up my post. I found your postcard."

After a long pause, Doyle prompted him. "And?"

Bodie took in a deep breath. "And...everything fell into place for me. A Christmas tree, a bed, two stockings side-by-side, and you."

Doyle looked at him. "As simple as that?"

"Yeh."

"Impulse decision. You're good at that, too. Better than you are at self-protection."

"No, this is different."

Doyle backed away. "Why? You saw my postcard and, snap, everything falls into place and you're ready to change your whole sodding life, and lifestyle, just like that. Yeah, it fits your pattern, sunshine, but it's a bloody dangerous pattern. My brother was like that, impulsive decisions, especially when the going got tough, when it got a bit risky. You want to talk about hurting me? He broke my bloody cheek before he went out and topped himself, hyped up on the heroin he'd sworn off. Do you think a relationship's going to be fucking easy? What about the next time I'm held hostage to you? What about when I want to fuck you? I can't go back to what we had."

"I'm not asking you to. Bloody hell, Doyle, I know better than that. Why do you think I ran? There's no half measures with you, mate. The only way I'll ever have you is if I give myself to you. Do you think I don't know that? You'll meet me halfway but only half. Bloody demanding sod that you are. It's all or nothing."

"You don't want to be gay."

Bodie stepped closer to Doyle. "I'm gay."

Doyle's eyes narrowed. "You've hidden it well."

Bodie took another step closer. "So I was a prat. I haven't seen you announce it to the world."

"I like my job."

"So do I. As for being gay, you stopped caring about it before me, that's all."

"That's all?" Doyle let his disbelief show. "When did you stop, then?"

"When I stood outside that fucking door, Ray."

Doyle's breath caught in his lungs.

Bodie touched Doyle's face again, fingers gently gliding over his cheekbone. "I want it all. I'm choosing the flame, sunshine."

"Self-immolation?"

"I don't care. As long as it's with you."

Blindly, Doyle reached out and Bodie was there, his arms wrapping around Doyle, his mouth on his. The world around him shifted, settled, with a nearly audible click, like the pieces of a gun being joined together. Bodie's mouth moved over his, then to his cheek, his eyes, and back to his mouth, before he was gathered close with Bodie's face buried against his neck.

"I didn't last twenty-four hours without you. I've always been a loner, but I'd never felt so alone before. I was lost."

"Fool. I know the feeling." Doyle blinked away the stupid moisture in his eyes. Bloody dreaming, he had to be.

Bodie pulled back to look at Doyle. "Would you have come after me?"

Doyle raised his eyebrows. "When I was free of you at last?"

Bodie grinned. "You'd've dragged me back just to make me suffer with you."

"You're going in with your eyes open," Doyle marvelled.

"It's hard to hold illusions around you, sunshine."

"Prat."

"I won't deny it. He eased away from Doyle, taking his hand and tugging on it. "Come on." He pulled Doyle into a walk. "Let's get you home; you're not two days out of hospital."

"I'm fine, now." But Doyle settled with Bodie into a slow stroll, heading out of the park. He was realistic enough to know there'd be more difficulties, more misunderstandings, more pain. The odds were against them making it at all. But right now he had Bodie beside him, and that was enough. He tracked a stray thought. "You said you'd had similar conversations with Cowley about me a dozen times?"

"At least."

"Strewth. I don't suppose you've had that conversation with him over anyone else?"

Bodie look at him with unhidden incredulity.

"Yeah, all right, enough said."

"And you call me the fool." Bodie dodged a blow to his stomach with a laugh.

Doyle sighed. "I heard about it from the lads, but I reckoned it was just your way with partners. You never let on it was anything else to me!"

"Too dangerous."

"I'm going to teach you to be more open and giving."

Bodie grinned. "That should prove interesting."

"And there was me, making a right prat of myself over you every time you were in trouble."

"Yeah, but sometimes I like it."

Doyle glanced at Bodie and caught a guilty look. "Go on, confession is good for you."

"I doubt it." Bodie jumped as Doyle poked him in the ribs. "Stop that. Bloody poker. I was just thinking about that time when you thought Rahad had hit me with his car."

"Oh! Insecure bastard."

"No, just confused."

Doyle patted Bodie's arm. "I'm used to it."

"Don't give me that. You reckoned I yell at Cowley about everyone I work with!"

"Speaking of your insecurities, you're going to let me into your troubles from now on or this ends here and now."

Bodie stopped walking. "That sounds like your insecurities."

Doyle turned to face him. "Yours, mine, they're ours to deal with. If you shut me out again, I'm gone. Believe it."

Bodie started to say something, then stopped, his expression grim.

Doyle nodded, darkly amused. "Yeah, it's a bloody double-edged sword, isn't it?

"I can't help it. I--"

"Don't want to let me out the door, yeah, I heard. You'll have to get over that."

Bodie muttered something and pulled Doyle to him.

"You can do some more of that impulsive, life-changing decision-making you're so proud of." Bodie's arms were tight around him. Doyle ran his hands soothingly over Bodie's back. "At least you know the terms, sunshine."

Bodie brushed Doyle's mouth with his own. "Which is more generous than I've been with you these past years. I'll try, Ray."

Doyle kissed him properly. "Fair enough." He started them walking again, holding Bodie's hand with his own. "We both like our jobs but we could get out."

Bodie stopped them once again, turning to Doyle. "Is that what you want?"

"I want you in my life."

"The same goes for me. But it's time I practiced your brand of decision-making. We've got time. You won't be fit for awhile. We can talk about it, make plans. Once you're back, I reckon we're good for at least three more years with the Squad. Maybe four."

"Unless Cowley sacks us, of course."

A beautiful, dangerous smile lit Bodie's face. "We'll be playing with fire, you know that."

Doyle grinned, challenge sparking between them. "When have we ever done anything else?"

Bodie leaned forward and kissed him briefly. "Well, we won't be bored."

"No." He pushed at Bodie to get him moving again. Maybe Linda was right and there was a place for dreams. Maybe he'd never given up trying. He wondered what his family would think of his choice.

"What are you looking like that for?" Bodie's voice in his ear.

"Like what?"

"Like we're going into a firefight."

"Where are we going? To London?" Doyle saw his Capri parked in the street. "You brought my car?"

"I didn't have mine."

Doyle regarded him with malicious glee. "You already turned in your keys?"

"Posted them to Cowley." Bodie scrunched his face up.

"You're going to have a lovely meeting after Boxing Day, aren't you?"

Bodie put on a wounded look. "What happened to yours is mine and all that?"

"Cowley in that kind of mood is all yours, mate."

"Coward."

"You were notable for your absence when he came to see me in hospital. He was asking about you."

"Oh."

Doyle's smile faded as they arrived in front of his brother's house. Lights blazed from the lounge, the kitchen, the dining room--every room in the front of the house. "Bloody hell."

"What?" Bodie looked around the street.

Doyle gave him a hard look. "What exactly did you tell my family?"

"When?" Bodie started to edge away from Doyle.

Doyle grabbed Bodie's arm. "When you came looking for me."

"I told you already. Your brother is a suspicious man."

"You didn't say anything else?"

Bodie shuffled his feet.

Doyle closed his eyes. "No, maybe I don't want to know." He turned a glare on Bodie. "It didn't occur to you that it might've eased his suspicions if you'd told him you're my partner?"

Bodie took hold of Doyle's hand, holding it firmly. "They're your family, Doyle."

Doyle groaned.

"If I'm going to be gay, then I'm bloody well going to be gay."

Doyle shook his head, but held on tightly to Bodie's hand. "What about in London?"

"It's no one's business but ours there. We'll play the game by their rules, for as long as we can get away with it."

"Or as long as it suits us."

The reckless humour that had always united them, even from the first day, flared in Bodie's eyes. "Right. But, here...."

Behind him, Doyle heard the door open. "Here," he said, drawing Bodie to him, "we'll share what we are." He kissed Bodie, taking joy in it, knowing that now this would be his for as long as they could stay alive.

"Ray!" Mike's voice, sounding a little strangled.

"Oh, my." His mother, breathless.

Linda chimed in then, her tone rich with satisfaction. "That's ten quid you owe me, Mike."

As Doyle broke the kiss he heard Paul's ebullient voice: "Happy Christmas! God bless us, every one."

Bodie whispered to him, "I think I'm going to like your family, Doyle."

Doyle smiled at his partner. "Wait till you see where we're sleeping."



What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from
--T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding (No. 4 of "Four Quartets")

-- THE END --

Christmas, 2001
Published in Roses and Lavender 6, Allamagoosa Press, 2007

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