The Third Friday of October
"Ah, Kath, come on," Ray Doyle complained into the telephone receiver.
"I'm sorry, Ray. Really I am, but Mr O'Brien really needs me to come in this weekend. And you know we could do with a bit of overtime pay."
Doyle offered no reply, too busy fighting sudden anger and humiliation at the reminder that he could not support his own wife properly.
"I didn't mean that to be nasty, Ray."
Doyle sighed softly. "I know, love. Just a bit disappointed is all."
"Me, too." A small pause. "Listen, Ray, since I'll be working, why don't you go ahead anyway?"
Doyle let loose an inelegant snort of ironic amusement. "Yeah, right, Kath. I'll have a great time on a second honeymoon all by meself, won't I?"
"Ray... if it means that much to you...."
A master of the guilty conscience, Doyle let go of his own disappointment to assuage his wife's. "No, love. I know the job's important. Was in that position myself once." Before his wife could interpret his words as an attempt to assume the mantle of guilt himself, he continued. "Maybe I will go anyway. Could fish a bit." No need to remind her that he wasn't the fishing type. He'd never had the patience.
"And have a good visit with your mate, Jack Cramer."
"Yeah. There's that, too. See you Tuesday morning then, love." Doyle rang off and sat staring around his cramped office. "Great. Just great," he finally muttered in disgust.
"Well done, 3.7."
Bodie stared at the telephone receiver for a moment in surprise. "Ah, thank you, sir."
"You needn't sound so surprised. I give credit where credit is due."
Which was a bare-faced lie if he'd ever heard one. Bodie, however, was not about to point that out. "Yes, sir. Is there anything else, or shall I just get myself back to Town?"
"Aye, that's all. I'll see you in my office at 8:00 a.m. Tuesday."
"Tuesday?" Bodie echoed incredulously. True, he was due a bit of leave after the six-week op he had just completed successfully. In the years he had worked for Cowley's CI5, however, he had learned never to assume that being due necessarily meant receiving. He recovered himself quickly before Cowley changed his mind. "Tuesday, 8:00 a.m. Yes, sir. And thank you."
"Just remember it in future."
Bodie winced as the dial tone buzzed in his ear and replaced the receiver, then grinned in delight. He debated the wisdom of heading back to London immediately as he packed his case and loaded it in the car. It was only as he slammed the boot lid that he remembered he had, when he had first arrived, promised himself a visit with Jack Cramer to see for himself how the "grand experiment" was going. As he slid behind the wheel of the car and turned the key, his stomach gurgled beseechingly, reminding him it had been a long time since his breakfast of half-cold tea and soggy bacon roll. Deciding to let his belly make the decision for him, Bodie put the car in gear and headed out of town.
When Jack Cramer had been invalided out of CI5 four years ago, he had moved north and bought the land necessary to try a scheme he had wanted to try ever since he had visited Canada in his twenties. It was hard for Bodie to tell in the darkness of the October evening whether the resort as a whole was prospering, but the large main lodge which contained a restaurant and pub seemed to be busy enough when Bodie pulled his car into the car park.
Getting out, he made his way to the registration desk which was manned by a pimply faced youth barely out of his teens. "Can I help you, sir?" he asked as Bodie strode through the door.
Fronting up to the desk, Bodie let his eyes run over the room, noting the signs of apparent prosperity. "Is Mr Cramer here?"
The clerk shook his head. "Sorry, sir. Not expected back until tomorrow sometime."
Bodie debated silently with himself, but the fact of the matter was it would be very late when he reached his cold and empty flat with its very empty refrigerator. Not a happy prospect. He could, of course, just grab a meal and then go on, but there really was nothing to lure him back to London in any great hurry.
"Tomorrow, you say?"
"Yes, sir. Though I'm not sure exactly what time."
"Don't suppose you've an empty cottage by this time of the evening?" he asked, deciding he might as well hang about for at least one night.
The clerk laughed. "At this time of year, that's about all we've got. Only one other staying guest for the weekend. Off season, you know."
"How much?" Bodie asked, reaching for his wallet.
"Thirty pounds a night. Fifty pounds for the weekend," came the prompt response.
The price seemed reasonable enough to Bodie. He handed over the money in exchange for the registration card. A second exchange was made a few minutes later when he handed over the completed card for his key.
"No. 4, Mr Bodie," the clerk said. "Hope you'll enjoy your stay with us. Oh," he added as Bodie began to turn away. "If you want dinner, I suggest you hurry. The kitchen closes at 9:00 this time of year."
Bodie glanced at his watch and, seeing he had barely half an hour to spare, chose to forego a quick look at his temporary accommodations in favour of obtaining a proper meal. Satisfying his appetite had always been one of his top priorities in life.
The restaurant turned out to be a pub/restaurant combination and was still quite crowded. Giving the occupants of the room a cursory glance, he spotted an empty table and quickly moved to stake a claim.
Across the room, Ray Doyle lifted his gaze from the table just as he took a mouthful of his pint and, as a result, nearly sprayed everyone close to him. Half choking on the suddenly bitter brew, he swallowed hurriedly and stared in utter disbelief at the man who had just sat down at the last empty table. He would not have been more stunned if God Himself had sauntered into the place. Deliberately, he leaned back in the booth he occupied, knowing he was half concealed by shadows and hanging plants.
"Bloody hell," he murmured under his breath and drank in the sight of the man he had not laid eyes on for over two years.
Bodie. It was really Bodie sitting across the room calmly ordering his dinner from a waitress who was already showing all the signs of succumbing to that never-miss smile. The same man who had supported Doyle's decision to leave CI5. The same best friend who had stood as witness for him as he had promised to love, honour and cherish Kathy. The mate who had stood at the curb, a pint in one hand, a lecherous/drunken grin on his face, and seen Doyle off on his honeymoon. And that was the last time Doyle had seen him. When he and Kathy returned from a fortnight of sun, fun and sex in the sand, Bodie had vanished - CI5 flat vacated and no forwarding address or number. Oh, the missing agent still worked for CI5, but no one, from Cowley on down would give Doyle even a hint of where he had gone. At Bodie's request. Not that Doyle had given up that easily. No, it had taken nearly three months for him to accept the fact that Bodie never wanted to see or hear from him again. Accepted, yes. Understood, no. Nor had Doyle ever found a way to forgive him the deliberate cruelty.
Slowly, so as not to attract Bodie's attention and give him an opportunity to bolt, Doyle rose from the booth and made his way across the room to stand in front of the diner. "Hello, Bodie," he said softly. The other man's head came up with a near audible snap of the neck, and, for a brief instant, Doyle saw something in the handsome features he had never expected to see - sheer, unalloyed panic. "I ought to punch you right in the mouth, you bastard."
If Bodie really had teetered on the edge of losing it only a moment ago, not a trace of it showed in his expression now. Neither was there a trace of pleasure nor welcome, simply a watchful waiting that Doyle knew well. Bodie was waiting to see which way Doyle would break, so he could go the other. His tone, however, was falsely amicable. "Fancy meeting you here. Buy you a pint, mate?"
Doyle smiled, a feral expression that barely curved his lips and did not melt the polar regions of his eyes at all. He slipped into a chair, not across from Bodie, but to his right, blocking the door and leaving no easy escape route. "Oh yeah, mate. Let's have a pint... and a nice, long chat."
Recognising that he had been out-manoeuvred, Bodie leaned back in his chair, seemingly at ease, and signalled the waitress. The two men eyed each other like a couple of wary tomcats as they waited for the woman to fetch and serve their drinks.
"Nothing to say for yourself, you son of a bitch?" Doyle began the conversation he had imagined, even dreamed, hundreds of times in a voice low enough to carry to Bodie's ears alone, but sharp enough to flay the hide right off him.
"Bastard and son of a bitch, Doyle?" Bodie asked, his tone, in contrast, eminently civil.
Ray opened his mouth to retort, but snapped it shut again when the waitress appeared to deliver Bodie's dinner. He watched the big, capable hands take up knife and fork and wanted to sweep the dishes to the floor, knowing Bodie would use the meal as an excuse to focus his attention and block out Doyle, and Doyle had waited far too long for this to be blocked out by a sizzling steak.
"Those are only two of the names I've called you in the last two years. Two of the politer ones. Don't think they fit, eh?"
To Doyle's surprise, Bodie met his gaze, but the blue eyes remained guarded, giving nothing away of the thoughts going on behind them.
"Yeah. That and worse, I suppose," Bodie admitted before returning his attention to his plate. With deliberate precision, he severed a slice of well-cooked meat and chewed methodically.
Doyle found himself at a loss, suddenly acutely aware of the crowded room. He wanted to strip away Bodie's calm façade with his bladed tongue and hack and slice until the smug bastard was in the same emotional tatters Doyle had found himself in two years ago. But as much as he wanted to vent his spleen, he didn't want to do it in front of a room full of strangers.
Surprised that his tense stomach accepted the food at all, Bodie persevered in the speaking silence and under the watchful glare until both plate and glass were empty. He tossed some notes on the table to cover the bill and started to push back his chair.
"You don't have anything to say to me, Bodie? Nothing?" Doyle asked quietly. Sometime during the past few minutes of watching his former partner as he had watched him so many times in the past, the immediacy had gone out of his anger. Oh, he was still angry, wanted to wreak some kind of vengeance that would make Bodie feel the pain he himself had felt. But now, more than that, he wanted to understand.
"What's there to say? You've got your life, I've got mine," Bodie replied, just as softly, perhaps even as sadly.
"And ne'er the twain shall meet?"
Slowly, the ridiculously long lashes came down to veil the eyes Bodie obviously feared would reveal far too much. "Something like that," he agreed and climbed to his feet.
Doyle's hand flashed out to circle a sturdy wrist. "No, Bodie. No."
His grip tightened, forcing Bodie to look into green eyes from which had been wiped all emotions save anguish and bewilderment. "Please. I don't want you to vanish from my life again."
"Ah, Ray," Bodie said tiredly. "Can't you just let it go?"
"No, Bodie, I can't. It's been eating at me for two years. I need, at least, to understand why."
Sighing softly, Bodie gently disengaged his arm. "Come on then. There's no need to let the world view our squabbles. I've got a cottage."
Stopping at the bar on the way out, Bodie bought a bottle of whisky. Once outside, he turned towards he car park, shrugging off Doyle's restraining hand.
"I said I'd stay," Bodie growled, exasperated. He was backed into a corner. He knew it. He hated it. Worse, he had no glib lies prepared, and the truth was the last thing he was about to offer. "I have to get my bag."
Doyle relaxed a little. Realistically, there was damned little he could do if Bodie decided to make a run for it. Bodie could outrun him over the short haul, and, even should Doyle manage to catch him, they'd always been too evenly matched to fight each other without inflicting grievous harm. As difficult as it now was, he was going to have to trust Bodie.
It took only a few moments for Bodie to retrieve his bag from the car, and even less time for them to make their way to cottage four. Fumbling only slightly with the key, Bodie swung open the door and stood back to let Doyle precede him into the room.
Doyle looked around the cosy sitting room as Bodie deposited his bag in the bedroom, turned on the central heating and collected glasses from the tiny kitchenette. Optimistic that the chill dampness would soon be dispelled, Bodie shrugged out of his jacket and laid it aside along with his holster and gun. Seeing that Doyle had chosen to claim the stuffed chair nearest the door - obviously still not 100% certain that Bodie wouldn't bolt - Bodie took up an uncomfortable perch on the sofa.
"You want a drink?" he asked, already reaching for a glass, and received a shrug in reply. Accepting that as a yes, he poured two liberal splashes of whisky into the glasses and leaned forward to hand one to Doyle. He took up his own glass and forced himself to relax as he eased back into the cushions.
Doyle had always been as tenacious with a mystery as a terrier with a rat, and had been second only to Cowley in the more subtle arts of interrogation. Bodie, however, comforted himself with the knowledge that he had resisted even Cowley's sneakiest attempts to learn what lay behind his sudden rejection of his former partner. Bodie waited patiently for the questioning to begin, not particularly surprised when Doyle avoided a straight drive to the heart of the matter.
"So what are you doing up here anyway, Bodie?" Doyle asked, taking a small sip of his drink and never taking his eyes off the unrevealing face.
Bodie shrugged. "On an op."
"That's informative." Doyle gestured his own comment away. "But then I don't have security clearance any more, do I?"
"That's right. You don't," Bodie agreed bluntly. For a moment it appeared he would offer nothing else, then relented. "Finished a few hours ago. The Cow gave me a couple of days off."
Doyle contemplated that titbit for the time it took to swallow another cautious sip. "Don't tell me he's mellowing in his old age."
Bodie snorted. "Not so's you'd notice."
"I'd've thought you'd scarper back to Town. Not much around here this time of year."
"Hungry. Nothing to eat since breakfast," Bodie admitted. He was unable to suppress a small smile of his own in response to the grin that suddenly flashed across Doyle's face.
"Always said that belly of yours would get you into trouble," Doyle laughed, then sobered abruptly. "Really dropped you in it this time, didn't it?"
"Yeah," Bodie agreed sourly and knocked back the rest of his drink. He reached for the bottle, noted the barely depleted level in Doyle's glass, and refilled his own.
"Why, Bodie?" Doyle suddenly asked baldly.
"Already told you, Ray," Bodie repeated tiredly. Now that he was sitting down, stomach full and the tension of six weeks undercover beginning to leech away, he realised how exhausted he was. This was no condition in which to face the probing of a man as determined to obtain answers as Doyle.
"That's your story and you're sticking to it, eh, sunshine?"
Bodie winced as the pet name abraded his raw sensibilities. Seeing Doyle again was enough to knock him for six. He reached up to roll the glass he held against his forehead, hoping the cool pressure would ease the headache beginning to pound in his temples.
"You're knackered, aren't you?"
Bodie opened his eyes to find the round face wearing the expression that had gone a long way to delivering Bodie into the impossible position he had been dealing with for too many years. He would rather deal with Doyle in a vicious temper any time than this open expression of concern and affection. He had absolutely no defence that would stand up to a solicitous Doyle.
On the other side of their locked gazes, Doyle knew he might never forgive himself for what he was about to say. His anger, however, had never been proof against his concern. Bodie was so stoic it was easy to fall into believing him to be an iron man. For years that belief had allowed Doyle to indulge his own nature, striking out at the seemingly impervious ex-merc to relieve his frustrations. That façade only made Bodie appear that much more vulnerable whenever a crack or two did appear, and Doyle had always found himself with no defence to that vulnerability.
"If I let you get your head down, would you still be here in the morning?"
Bodie's eyes widened in surprise. "You'd trust me?"
"Only if you give me your word," Doyle qualified his magnanimity. "You've never broken your word to me. Nor lied to me, for that matter, unless I knew it was just one of your stories."
Except by omission, Bodie qualified silently. "Yes. I'll be here in the morning." And, if he could stay awake long enough, maybe he could come up with some lies that Ray would never know were lies.
"Good night, then." Doyle came to his feet in one smooth motion and stalked to the door. He hesitated only a moment outside, wondering if he was making a mistake. Shrugging, accepting that he would only know for sure in the morning, he set off for his own cottage.
Bodie woke the next morning to a pounding at his door that had him tumbling out of bed and scrambling for his gun before he was even partially awake. He got as far as the sofa before coherent thought and memory kicked in. Realising who had to be on the other side of the door, he yelled a hoarse acknowledgement and retreated to the bedroom to reholster the gun and shrug into his bathrobe. Despite the fact he would have liked to tell Doyle to sod off for a few more hours, he opened the door.
"Letting me in or not?"
Bodie eyed the soul of belligerence planted on his doorstep, tempted to just close the door in his face. Then his eyes fell to the heavily laden tray Doyle carried.
"Knew there's no sense trying to get sense out of you in the morning without tea and grub."
With a you-win gesture, Bodie swung the door open and waved Doyle in, watching in resignation as he set the tray on the table and began uncovering plates laden with a full English breakfast. He left him to it, retreating to the bathroom to attend to the clamouring of a full bladder and to attempt to reaffirm his impersonal demeanor. He splashed his face, combed his hair and looked up to find the eyes of a cornered rat looking back at him from the mirror.
Pouring tea and setting out plates, Doyle waited as patiently as he could for Bodie's return. When he had fiddled all he could, he took up his own plate and cup and retreated to the chair he had occupied the night before just as Bodie emerged from the bathroom, settled himself on the sofa and picked up his cup.
Bodie took a long gulp of the jump starter and met the waiting green gaze. "Nice of you," he commented, indicating the food.
"Yeah. So get it into you."
With a resigned shrug, Bodie tucked into the food, idly wondering if this was how the condemned man felt. Usually able to devote himself whole-heartedly to any passable meal placed before him, the strained silence soon had his favourite foods sticking in his throat.
"What are you doing up here? Visiting Jack, are you?"
Doyle shrugged, putting his own picked-at plate on the table beside him and wrapping both hands around the cup. "Could say that."
"Except you're not."
Another shrug, another sip. "Was supposed to be a second honeymoon," he admitted reluctantly.
Bodie digested the words, the tone, the wary expression. "So where's Kath?"
"Oh." Bodie devoted himself to his food once more, managing to get down a few more bites before the watching silence prodded him into further speech. "You and Kath okay?" he asked cautiously.
"Yeah," Doyle answered after a pause to consider the question. It was neither entirely the truth nor a lie. No need for Bodie to know of the tension his wounded masculine pride sometimes caused between him and the wife who supported him. At the moment, he refused to be sidetracked.
With relief, Bodie forked the last bit of sausage into his mouth and laid the plate on the table.
"Reprieve's over, Bodie. Why?"
Not having come up with any lies, believable or otherwise, Bodie opened his mouth to attempt a further delaying action, but was saved by a knock on the door.
"Bit early for maid service," Doyle observed drily to cover his frustration at this further delay. He had lain awake most of the night before thinking. Seeing Bodie had stirred up so many memories, both good and bad, and set him on an emotional rollercoaster that refused to slow down long enough for him to get off.
"Clerk told me there wasn't any at this time of year. That I'd have to shift for myself," Bodie commented as he left the sofa and moved towards the door.
The knock was repeated before he could reach it and an impatient voice demanded, "Come on, Bodie. Get those old bones out of bed."
Bodie swung the door open and watched with a welcoming smile as Jack Cramer limped into the room.
"Well, if it isn't the double act," Cramer exclaimed when he spotted Doyle. "I couldn't believe it this morning when I saw both your names on the register cards." Finished shaking Bodie's hand and thumping his shoulder, Cramer moved on to Doyle to administer the same treatment.
"Good to see you, Ray. But I thought you were bringing the missus." Easing himself down on the sofa, Cramer looked expectantly at Doyle.
"Kath ended up having to work," Doyle explained.
"And you had to make do with this great lump?" Cramer exclaimed, punching Bodie, who had taken up a seat beside him, lightly on the shoulder. "Hardly seems a fair exchange."
Doyle opened his mouth then closed it abruptly as he remembered that Cramer had been invalided out of the squad at least a year before his own resignation. Cramer knew he had left, and of his marriage, but not of the situation between Bodie and himself. He saw no reason to alter that state of affairs.
Forcing himself to adopt a bantering tone and expression, he eyed Bodie up and down, unaware of the effect this had on his former partner who barely restrained the urge to pull his robe more tightly around himself. "At least he'll pay for his own meals."
"Speaking of money," Cramer said, reaching into his pocket, he removed an envelope and handed it to Bodie. "Here's yours back. If I'm not going to charge your partner, I can't very well charge you."
Bodie tried to return the envelope. "Hey, this is your living."
The former agent shrugged. "It's off season. Come 'round in the summer and I'll make you pay through the nose. If I've got a free cottage, that is. But not this time of year."
"Business doing well then?" Doyle asked, watching in dismay as Cramer shrugged out of his jacket and poured himself a cup of tea from the pot. Obviously Cramer was settling in for a good long visit.
"Yeah. Has been for the past two years, anyway. Getting repeat customers now. Looks like the grand experiment is gonna work. I'm not rolling in it, but doing well enough. Restaurant and pub are popular with the locals and that helps. Keep them open all year."
Doyle grimaced, wishing he could say the same of his own business. He caught Bodie's interest in his reaction, but kept his attention on Cramer, who, unfortunately, had also noted his expression.
"How's the gym doing?"
Doyle shrugged, very aware of Bodie sitting there all ears. He raised his hand and waggled it in a so-so gesture. "Didn't have your payout to set up with."
"Nor the pension," Cramer commiserated. "Was many the month I was glad to see that cheque come when we were getting started."
Once again, Bodie pushed the envelope of money at his friend. "Just think of this as a bit of a bonus from CI5 then," he suggested with a grin. "I'll put it on my expenses."
Jack accepted the envelope this time with a reminiscent smile. "Expense chits. Ah, that brings back memories. Do you remember the chit Barry Martin handed the old man after the Blake/Harmon op? I thought Cowley was gonna have apoplexy."
With Jack well and truly into the do-you-remember routine, Bodie relaxed into the cushions, prepared to milk the reprieve for all it was worth, while Doyle did his best not to let his fuming frustration show.
"Not a very English arrangement, I admit, but it seems to be catching on," Cramer explained as he lead Bodie and Doyle out the back door of the lodge. Before them lay a playground, sad and empty now, littered with autumn's abundance of dead leaves and twigs, but the bright colours of the equipment hinted at the summer brilliance and the damp breeze seemed to carry an echo of the shrill laughter of children. Twelve cottages, well spaced for privacy, stood in a half circle, their back doors opening onto the playground. In the summer, parents could take their ease on their own patios while keeping a wary eye on their offspring.
"Reproduced the camp I stayed at in Canada as well as I could remember, " Cramer continued, limping across the grounds with Bodie and Doyle in tow. He pointed out the beginnings of three hiking trails and explained that the third one lead down to the docks. "Swimming in the summer and I've a few boats to rent as well. Can still fish if you've a mind to."
Both Bodie and Doyle shook their heads in rejection of the idea. Sitting for hours on end watching a bit of line that often as not did nothing was a bit too reminiscent of the long boring days of surveillance to suit either former or active agent.
Cramer chuckled. "Never acquired a taste for it myself," he admitted.
"What's going on there?" Bodie pointed towards a half-completed building some distance from the main lodge. He could actually care less if Cramer was planning on building a replica of Buckingham Palace. His only interest lay in keeping Cramer, figuratively and literally when he could manage it, between himself and Doyle as much as possible.
"It's to be a stable. Come on, I'll show you," Cramer invited.
Two silent sighs, one of relief, the other frustration, met the invitation, but both men followed along behind their former colleague without complaint.
"To partners," Cramer proposed, lifting his pint and waiting expectantly.
Doing his best to avoid the glare of his former partner, Bodie clinked his glass against Cramer's and, when Doyle had reluctantly raised his own glass, against that one as well before taking a small sip. Cramer and been indulging fairly heavily since lunch which was fortunate for the ex-partners. Despite being a once highly skilled agent himself, so far Cramer had seemed oblivious to the tension between his two guests. Bodie managed to keep up his end of the conversation, mostly asking questions which prompted Cramer into verbosity; Doyle on the other hand, had barely uttered enough words to constitute a complete sentence.
"Dinner's on the house. Order anything you like," Cramer invited, unknowingly granting Bodie a further reprieve.
Doyle ground his molars in frustration.
"See you in the morning then?" Bodie suggested without much hope as he unlocked the door to his cottage.
"Not bloody likely," Doyle growled as he rudely pushed past the other man and stalked into the room. After a solid twelve hours of reminiscences, which had continued throughout lunch, a tour around the camp, then dinner, his patience was reaching far past its limits. He wasn't about to let Bodie wriggle out of it again. He plunked himself down in the now-familiar chair with the air of a man who was prepared to grow roots.
"Dutch courage?" he sniped as he watched Bodie shed his jacket and head straight for the whisky bottle. "Ironic that," he laughed bitterly. "Was you that accused me of having the yellow streak down me back. Know better now, don't I? It's you that's the coward."
Bodie accepted the insult with barely a flinch, but altered his path away from the liquor. Despite Cramer's offers, he had been careful to limit his alcoholic consumption to only a couple of pints all evening. He had known this confrontation was inevitable and the last thing he needed was his self-control weakened by booze. He prowled for a few minutes, then settled at the window, his back to Doyle. All he could see was his own face in the rain-streaked glass, reflecting back his discomfort.
"You must have something to say to me, Bodie," Doyle pursued.
"Already told you, Doyle. You had your life and I've mine," Bodie repeated, gazing into his own anguished eyes.
"And since I wasn't your partner anymore, I couldn't be your friend either?" Doyle asked. He leaned forward, propping both elbows on his knees, studying the tense figure for some sign of a thaw. "You never said anything when I talked about leaving the mob."
"Had to be your decision, didn't it?" Bodie countered. He remembered how he had bitten his tongue, literally and figuratively, as Doyle had gone around and around the subject. "Not the kind of job you do if your heart's not in it." There was no surer way for a man to end up dead. "Besides, you know, except for a few exceptions like Jax, marriage and CI5 mix as well as petrol and flame."
Doyle absorbed that, let it sift around with all the whys and wherefores he had tried to come up with himself, but it refused to settle. Bodie wasn't telling him the truth. At least not all of it. He got to his feet and moved slowly towards where Bodie stood.
Bodie saw him coming, reached out and yanked the curtains together, not wanting to see the emotions Doyle wore so openly on that fallen-angel's face, nor have the perceptive ex-copper get a good look at his own eyes. They were known as the windows of the soul for a reason, and Doyle knew him far too well to miss seeing the emotions in his. Every moment he spent in Doyle's presence just made it harder to maintain the rest of his mask of indifference.
"Was it Kath then?" Doyle asked from only a few feet away.
The broad shoulders shrugged. "Nah. A nice girl, your Kathy. Better suited to you than that Holly bitch at any rate," Bodie allowed, stepping on his own emotions ruthlessly to keep them out of his voice. True, Ann Holly had hurt his friend, but she had, in the end, left him his friend.
"Then why, Bodie? Just tell me why and I'll leave. Left you alone, didn't I, after it really sunk in? Give me a straight answer and I'll leave off."
Bodie nearly laughed at the choice of words, but managed to contain his black humour.
"Come on, Bodie. Just spit it out, will you," Doyle persisted stubbornly. "Tell me what I did that you'd toss me in the rubbish. Make me understand and I'll bugger off."
Bodie winced. Trust Doyle to twist it around until it was all his own fault that the man he had thought his best mate had deserted him without so much as a fare-thee-well. Why couldn't he just curse Bodie out as a cold-hearted bastard and leave it at that?
"You self-centred, little...." The rest of what Bodie planned to say stuck in his throat when he swung around to find Doyle standing much closer than he had thought, almost close enough to touch. Automatically, he took a step back and froze when he felt the curtain-padded window press into his spine.
Doyle moved in when he saw Bodie's eyes dart left and right looking for an escape route. Sensing he almost had the answer in hand he had sought for so long, he was not about to lose it now. Bringing both hands up to bracket Bodie's head, he leaned ever so slightly into the big body. He felt Bodie's heart thundering wildly against his own chest and knew the other man was in full fight-or-flight mode. He brought his hands down to circle the hard biceps and immobilize, however briefly, the lethal hands. It was up to Bodie now. If he wanted to avoid talking he was going to have to perform some GBH on the same body he had protected for three years.
Bodie tried one last time. "You won't like it."
"I don't like what I've been thinking either," Doyle shot back, tightening his grip.
Knowing he was trapped, Bodie gave the bloody-minded, devil-take-the-hindmost side of his nature its head, and that mad bastard reckoned that if Bodie was going to pay the piper, then he might as well be calling the tune. Slipping his hands around Doyle's slim waist, he leaned forward and sealed his mouth to lips that had tormented him, waking and sleeping, for far too long. Assuming that in a mere moment he would be in need of urgent dental care, Bodie put everything he had into that one moment, using all his experience, sensuality and hopeless yearning to kiss Doyle as he had never been kissed in his life.
Having decided to carry on kissing Doyle until Ray himself put a stop to it, Bodie found himself caught in a fantasy that went on almost long enough to convince him that the passive creature in his arms was real. Not that the mouth he was so leisurely tasting responded. No, no responsive questing met his own passionate exploration, but neither was there resistance. It was that which finally caused Bodie to end the kiss, for never, in all the years of fantasy, had Bodie conjured a Doyle who would simply fail to react.
Bodie lifted his head just far enough to look into wide, confused eyes. He dropped his hands from where they had been gripped convulsively in Ray's shirt, but Doyle stayed where he was.
"You cut me off because you wanted to kiss me?" Doyle asked stupidly.
No one could be this naïve, certainly not the sensuous siren of Bodie's dreams. "No, sunshine," he murmured, unable to resist the temptation to slip his fingers into too-long curls. It had been so very, very long since he had been able to touch Doyle. "Even you can't be that thick. I wanted to fuck your gorgeous arse into the floor."
Now Doyle did move away, not violently as if he intended to vent a justifiable rage, but gently, stepping back just far enough to separate their bodies. He let his eyes roam down the front of the black-clad figure. They paused at the evidence of Bodie's arousal, then skipped back up to blue eyes that refused to drop in shame.
A reasonable question, Bodie supposed, but it certainly was far from the reaction he had expected. "Ever since I stopped hating you."
"A long time," Doyle murmured, finally turning away and running a hand through his curls. He paced about for a few moments, trying to sort out the thoughts in his head. It did no good, they were too busy careering around and ricocheting off each other to settle down into anything remotely coherent. He would like to take an hour or two, or maybe a week or two on his own to sort it out. If he left now, however, Bodie would be in his car so fast that he wouldn't displace air. Whatever else Doyle might be confused about, he knew one thing - he did not want Bodie to disappear out of his life again. Two years had dulled the ache left by Bodie's loss, but not the need for him. Partnership. Friendship. Companionship. He had called it many names, had acknowledged its many facets. Could Bodie's desire for him be just another manifestation? More to the point, why had Doyle never sussed him out?
"Why'd you never try it on before?" Doyle finally asked.
"Almost did a few times. Didn't want to lose my partner... or my friend," Bodie admitted. He remained at the window, half leaning against the pane, watching the lithe figure stalk the confines of the cottage sitting room.
"But since I wasn't going to be your partner anymore..." Doyle deduced, letting his restless stride carry him back to Bodie, stopping when only a couple of feet separated them and cocking his head to the side, waiting for Bodie to fill in the pause.
"Knew I wouldn't be able to resist seducing you," Bodie supplied obligingly.
"Not trying to seduce me?" Doyle asked, remembering Bodie's monumental ego and also remembering that no one had ever known him as well as Bodie did.
Bodie grinned that haven't-a-thing-left-to-lose grin that Doyle knew so well. He shook his head. "Nope," he stated with utter confidence.
Once again Doyle let his gaze rake Bodie's body from sapphire eyes to muscular thighs. Bodie had never flaunted his body the way Doyle did, but his ex-partner, of all people, knew exactly what lay beneath the layers of cloth in which he chose to shroud his masculine beauty. When combined with the emotions that already existed between the two men, Doyle had to admit that Bodie's confidence was merited.
"Yeah," he agreed softly.
"You'd have thumped me one. Gone a few rounds with your conscience." Bodie paused to savour the truth of the words he was about to speak. "Then you'd have fucked my brains out."
Doyle looked away, unwilling as yet to face the knowledge in Bodie's face, but he had never been able to hide from himself. Bodie was right, and just the sound of that well-remembered voice speaking their truth was firing his body, heating his blood with the expectation of Bodie keeping his promise.
"Then," Bodie continued, finally, at last and irrevocably bringing his truth out into the open, "royally fucked up your life. Not worth it for a bit on the side, mate. Even if I am tall, dark, beautiful and...."
"Engagingly modest," they finished together, and, for a moment, everything that had been the very best between them was alive and sparkling in their laughter.
Bodie sobered first, reached across that two-foot chasm and flicked a soft curl one last time. "My secret's out at last. I love you, angelfish." With that, Bodie tried to brush past, but Doyle's hand circling his wrist stopped him.
"Don't go, Bodie." Doyle hadn't even known he was going to say it, but he meant it. He was no longer confused. He knew exactly what he wanted - Bodie. Here. Now. And damn the consequences to tomorrow.
Bodie opened his mouth, but the protest died unspoken when the fingers of Doyle's other hand came up to silence him.
Moving with the breath-held caution of a man walking a tightrope, Doyle replaced his silencing fingers with the warm, wet persuasion of his lips and tongue.
To give Bodie his due, he tried to hang on to his integrity, but honour was no match for a determined Ray Doyle. Words of caution trapped in his throat emerged as a moan of surrender, as Bodie opened himself to the magic of his personal sorcerer. He rallied long enough when kiss-swollen lips left his to once again try to protect Doyle from his own nature.
"You'll regret this, Ray."
Doyle shook his head. He already knew that. He also knew he would regret it more if they parted now. "Just the weekend, Bodie. Right here, right now."
"Just a temporary aberration?" Bodie asked bitterly, wondering suddenly how often Ray had broken the vows Bodie himself had suffered so much to preserve.
"No, Bodie. A step out of the reality of our lives. A time for something that should have happened long ago."
Offering no further protest, Bodie silently allowed himself to be led into the bedroom. He stood passively as Doyle began to undress him, a soft moan the only sound to escape him when Doyle went to his knees to remove shoes and socks and the battered cheek pressed for a moment to Bodie's aroused cock.
Doyle stayed on his knees as he carefully slipped the fastening of Bodie's cords and eased the strained zipper open. Sliding his fingers into the gaping material, he eased trousers and pants down together until Bodie could step clear of them. Once again Doyle leaned forward to rest his face against the throbbing organ, marvelling that he felt no strangeness at touching another man so intimately for the first time. But then, this was far from just another man, this was Bodie, and he had been much more intimate with Bodie during the years of their partnership than this mere physicality could ever be. He had sometimes felt as if Bodie had permeated his very soul. Sighing softly, he turned his head and pressed a kiss of benediction on the empurpled head.
Gasping at the gentle touch of lips, Bodie entwined his fingers in the auburn curls, barely restraining himself from falling into fantasy and forcing entrance into the warm haven. The soft lips left him and he looked down to find the round face tilted up, watching him intently.
"Is this how you want it?" Doyle asked.
Gently, Bodie ran his thumb over the full bottom lip. He shook his head. "Want you naked and in my arms."
"Get into bed," Doyle commanded, coming to his feet smoothly and reaching for his own clothes. Hastily, he discarded layers of constricting material, never taking his eyes off the muscular body as Bodie stripped back the bedding and slid onto the bed. In only a few moments, Doyle was stretching out beside him, reaching out to stroke his hand down the smooth expanse of Bodie's torso from sternum to groin. His fingers caught in the black curls, tugging gently until Bodie rolled and took him in a firm embrace.
"Oh yeah," Bodie sighed as their nude bodies came together from shoulders to knees, each breath they took, every squirm of their close-pressed bodies making itself into a tantalizing caress of sensual delight. Bodie knew this was going to be fast. He had wanted the man in his arms for far too long for any semblance of control to be anything but a cruel joke.
Like a greedy child, Bodie grasped at his pleasure, clamping both hands onto the ripe cheeks of Doyle's arse and thrusting frantically into the heated welcome between their tight-pressed groins. Then, without warning, he was there, his whole body freezing but for his pounding heart and the aching clench and strain of his cock as his semen pumped between them.
Only a step or two behind his friend's frantic climb, Doyle continued to writhe as the slippery heat and gush of Bodie's semen spread between them, yanking him from almost there to the point of no return and beyond, he added his heated offering and echoing cry to Bodie's.
Muscles suddenly deprived of strength, they fell apart and lay gasping side-by-side on the wide bed. Long after labouring lungs had calmed and clamouring hearts had ceased trying to jump out of their chests, they continued to lie in a silence that soon became awkward and strained.
Bodie let it stretch for as long as he could stand it. "Told you you'd regret it."
The only reply he received was a soft snore.
Bodie slept only fitfully, waking repeatedly through the night to confirm that he had not been dreaming once again. Each time he woke, he reached out to touch, and every time he touched, Doyle would cuddle just a little closer, a tiny smile of contentment sketching around the full lips before all expression faded into deeper sleep.
Like a miser, Bodie drank in the soft expressions and stored them away. He knew, or at least feared he knew, that when full consciousness returned, Doyle's mood would be far removed from the contentment that presently cushioned his dreams. Ray's conscience tended to torment him over all the ills of the world, surely it would never let him off easily for adultery. Even if this were not the first time, and Bodie did not really want to believe that, for it made his own pain such a useless exercise in futility, then Doyle would find something else to agonize over.
Still, morning was several hours away with whatever it would bring. Bodie set aside his brooding thoughts and allowed himself to simply enjoy the here and now.
By the time the late-autumn dawn began to light the eastern sky, Doyle sat at the kitchen table, sipping absently at a tepid cup of tea and wrestling with his conscience. For one of the few times in his life, his conscience was losing. He knew he should not have done what he had with Bodie. He knew it was wrong to be unfaithful to Kathy. He knew that when the weekend was over and he returned home, he was going to suffer the guilty torments of the damned. The bottom line, however, was that right here, right now, he didn't give a damn.
As a consequence of his earlier wakefulness, when Bodie finally slipped into sleep, he fell deeply, not even rousing enough for complaint when his bedmate slid out of bed. Ignorant of the departure, he could not yet mourn it, but slept on blissfully unaware until, prompted by a dream of his coveted lover in his arms, he reached out and found the cold place where Doyle had been. He had no time to even begin grieving before his nose and his ears advised him he was not alone in the cottage. Wafted on the air of the central heating came the smell of coffee and the sounds of someone clattering about in the kitchenette. He hoped there was only one person that someone could be.
Even as he thought it, Doyle appeared in the doorway with a mug in each hand. Bodie struggled upright as he watched Doyle, who had appropriated his bathrobe, seat himself on the side of the bed he had previously occupied and set his own cup on the bedside table. Bodie reached for the second cup, but Doyle withheld it, leaning over to brush a good morning kiss onto Bodie's lips before placing the cup in his hands.
"Who are you and what have you done with Raymond Doyle?" Bodie had to ask.
"What are you pratting on about?" Doyle countered, taking up his own cup.
"Just that the Ray Doyle I knew would've been wearing a hair shirt by now at the very least." Bodie remembered his suspicions. "Unless, of course, he's become inured to the morning after the night before."
For a moment, Doyle's expression darkened, but as quickly as they had come the grey clouds cleared. He shook his head. "No, Bodie, I've never been unfaithful before."
"Then I suppose it's my turn to ask why."
Doyle considered his answer through several more slurping sips of his coffee, the sound taking Bodie back through a hundred memories of other times and places in the space of only those few moments.
"It's mostly what I said last night, Bodie," Doyle finally broke the silence. He set his cup aside and turned to sit cross-legged on the bed facing Bodie, his expression earnest as he tried to explain in logic a decision that had been made by instinct and based on memories. "All of this should have happened years ago. With everything we were to each other when we were partners, we should have been lovers."
"You're not trying to tell me...." Bodie's outraged accusation faded into horrified silence. Was Ray about to tell him that he had wasted literally years of his life wanting someone who could have been in his arms all along?
"That I wanted you back then?" Doyle finished for him, then shook his head. "No, Bodie, never have thought of going to bed with a bloke. But I cared about you...."
"Oh yeah, just what I'd dreamed of, a mercy fuck."
Once again the auburn curls bounced as Doyle indicated an emphatic negative. "I cared about you," he repeated, "more than I'd cared for anyone in my life, and I knew that you had let me further inside all the walls you live behind than you'd ever let another living being. If you'd made a move on me then, Bodie, it would have been just like you said last night - we'd have fucked each other senseless."
Bodie swallowed hard, trying to dislodge the painful lump that seemed wedged in his throat. "And you never would have left," he finally rasped, gaze fixed on the cup he held clenched between both hands.
Gently freeing the cup from the death grip and setting it aside, Doyle covered Bodie's fists with both hands, stroking softly with his thumbs until the fingers uncurled and entwined with his. "No, Bodie," he admitted. "I can't say that. Maybe I wouldn't have met Kathy if we'd been together, but...." He squeezed softly. "You were right about the life I wanted. Home, wife, kids someday. I love Kathy."
"Then how can you...." Once again Bodie trailed off, unwilling to throw away with both hands what little he was being offered. Just the weekend, Doyle had said. He could accept the prize that had landed so unexpectedly in his bed and just enjoy what he could get. It was, after all, the way he had so often lived his life. The truth was that if he didn't love Doyle, he could. But he did love him and that made all the difference.
"Because I care for you, too, Bodie. And I've missed you so bloody much." Doyle shifted again, kneeling now at Bodie's side and disengaging their tight-clasped fingers to slide his hands up Bodie's arms to circle the bulging biceps. "When you cut me off, Bodie, something inside me opened up and ached and nothing could fill up that space and make the pain stop. Nothing, Bodie, until you kissed me last night. I'm too damned selfish not to want to have you again, in every way I can, if only for a few days. I know that when I let myself think about being unfaithful, I'm gonna hate myself. But I've hated himself before and got over it. If I don't stay with you now, don't let myself have these days, I'll never ever stop regretting it. I won't screw up my life, I won't tell Kathy, I promise you that, but I will have this time now."
Bodie cupped the anguished face between his palms. "It's all right, Ray. You don't have to convince me," he murmured and drew the beautiful mouth down to his for a kiss of love and desire and bittersweet sorrow.
Bodie rumbled an acknowledgment of the whisper in the dark. It was Monday night. In just a few hours they would have to leave. As completely, utterly and totally exhausted and satiated as he was, Bodie nevertheless refused to let himself sleep away these last few hours.
"I can't say goodbye," Doyle admitted. He rubbed his face against the smooth skin of Bodie's shoulder. "I'm gonna leave while you're asleep. Don't know that I could...." His throat closed up, trapping the rest.
Bodie ran a loving caress down Doyle's back from nape to thighs. "I know, sunshine."
"Sh. Don't say it, Ray. I'm sorry. I can't be your friend without being your lover. A man's gotta know his limitations," Bodie growled in his best Clint Eastwood imitation to try to lighten the intense atmosphere.
Doyle tightened the arm and leg that lay over Bodie in a vain attempt to hold back the inevitable. "Can feel that place aching again."
"Yeah," Bodie agreed softly. "Got a lot more memories to take the edge off now."
He was going to come back here, Bodie decided then and there. On the third Friday of October next year, he was going to come back, take out the memories and live them again, and for the rest of the year, he was going to tuck them away with other memories too painful to think about. If he didn't, he wasn't certain he could remain sane.
Now it was Doyle's turn to rumble a reluctant agreement. Memories were just going to have to be enough. "Hold me, Bodie. Then go to sleep before I change my mind."
"Ray, are you sure you're all right?" Kathy Doyle leaned against the door of the bathroom, behind which her husband had locked himself.
"Christ! Can't a man use the bog without his wife interrogating him!" Doyle shouted back, giving the wood a solid thump. He glared at it, willing Kathy to leave him alone, until he heard the sounds of her retreat to their bedroom.
Staring into the mirror, Doyle sought once again to see what Kathy saw. To his own eyes, he looked every bit as guilty as he was, and yet Kathy seemed to sense nothing amiss. So much for the much-vaunted women's intuition.
"It was a one-off," he reminded his mirror image. "I can't call him and do it again, even if I wanted to. It was just something that I had to get out of my system. It'll never happen again."
It was a familiar litany. The same one he had been chanting every one of the past fourteen nights since his return from the North. He hoped he would begin to believe it soon before Kathy did sense something wrong. It was enough punishment that he felt like a bastard. Making confessions and breaking Kathy's heart would only compound his crime. After all, it was only a one-off, and it wasn't going to happen again.
Mouth set in mutinous rebellion, Bodie glared at the woman across the desk.
Kate Ross forced her frustration away from her as she returned the heated glare with a cool, professional regard. "I really will not be able to recommend that you retain active status unless you are willing to be honest with me. There has been some quite dramatic alteration in your life since your last review in May. Your tests all indicate an instability in your emotional equilibrium."
"If you deactivate every agent on the squad who's unstable, there wouldn't be a one of us on strength," Bodie quipped.
"You don't seem to realise the seriousness of what I'm saying, Bodie." Ross leaned forward earnestly, indicating the papers before her with a wave of her hand. "These results all indicate an alarming tendency to swing from elation to despair and back again for no apparent reason...."
"Why don't you just tell your story to Cowley," Bodie suggested. He'd finally had enough of this woman's poking and prodding. He knew exactly what emotional state he was in and why. He had no intention of sharing its cause with Ross, and, therefore, Cowley, or anyone else. He knew his results in all other areas were A1 and that, as usual, the squad was under-strength. Unless Ross could offer something more concrete than her usual psychoanalytical claptrap, Bodie knew that Cowley was in no position to stand him down.
"I'm not your enemy, Bodie," Ross pointed out.
"Not exactly my best mate either," Bodie countered with a charming smile that completely camouflaged the man behind it. "We could work on that, however, if you're free tonight."
Closing the file with a decisive snap, Ross allowed a small glimpse of her emotions to show. "Oh get out of here before I...."
Bodie obeyed with alacrity.
Doyle sat with barely concealed impatience while his wife carefully picked the tape from the beautifully wrapped package. "Plannin' on usin' that bit of paper again, are you?"
Kathy gave a pointed look at the tattered paper littering the floor around her husband's feet. "You do it your way, I'll do it mine."
Doyle rolled his eyes and settled back in his seat, crossing his arms over his chest and preparing to wait until Doomsday before he would show his impatience again.
Giving her attention to the Christmas gift, Kathy teasingly picked every piece of tape free before allowing the paper to fall away. Her heart pounded faster, then sank when she saw the velvet jeweller's box. What had Ray done? Feeling his eyes intently upon her, she lifted the lid to reveal a sparkling solitaire diamond ring.
"Oh God, Ray, we can't afford this," she murmured, falling in love all over again as she remembered just how careful her husband was with his money.
Doyle already knew that. It was he, after all, who had done without lunch for two months to save the down payment and who would continue his spartan diet from breakfast to dinner for many more months to come. He was irritated, however, that his gift could not be accepted with more appreciation.
"Can't think of anything nice to say?" he snapped.
Kathy's head came up, brown eyes brimming with happy tears. "Oh, Ray, I'm sorry. It's beautiful. Thank you so much."
Slipping to his knees by her chair, Doyle lifted the box from her hands and plucked the ring from its slot. "Thought it was about time you had an engagement ring," he explained, sliding the ring onto her finger until it rested snugly beside her wedding band.
"Ray, I love you so much," the happy wife exclaimed, throwing her arms around Doyle.
Accepting Kathy's embrace and returning it, Doyle hid his disappointment that his gift had been only half successful. As a way to delight his wife, it was an unqualified success; as a sop for his guilty conscience, however, it was a miserable failure.
Bodie woke up Christmas morning with a raging hard on and a hangover the size of Wembley Stadium. Both conditions were his own fault. He had drunk too much while sitting morosely alone on Christmas Eve. Cowley should have left him on duty. What did he care if he worked through the entire season of brotherly love? There was only one 'brother' that Bodie wanted to love and he was the reason for the second uncomfortable state Bodie suffered. Bloody wet dreams! Could have at least waited to wake him until he'd come instead of leaving him with the erotic dream image of Ray Doyle writhing underneath him begging to be impaled.
"Could've at least let me fuck him in my dreams," he admonished himself. He rolled to his side, determined to do nothing about either pathetic condition he found himself in in the hopes that one or the other would kill him before he had to go back on duty.
"Listen, Bodie, if you don't want me for a partner, why don't you just say so instead of trying to make my life so bloody miserable," McCabe complained.
Bodie leaned back in his seat, scrubbed both hands over his face tiredly, then sat staring morosely out the windscreen. He knew the other man was justified in his complaint, just as Anson, Murphy, Jax and four others had been. McCabe was Cowley's eighth attempt to repartner him in two and a half years, and the Controller was not going to be amused by yet another failure.
"Sorry, mate," Bodie finally apologised.
The soon-to-be-ex partners sat in the car park, listening to the pop and creak as heated metal cooled along with their tempers.
"Not your fault, you know, Mac. It's okay with you as a partner. Same as it was with Murphy, Jax.... But okay isn't enough. Christ!" A frustrated fist connected with the steering wheel a couple of times before fingers curled around the padded leather and squeezed. "Doyle knew what I was thinking before I did, same as I did him. Fuck, knew every single time which way he'd...."
"Belt up for fuck's sake, Bodie!" McCabe demanded.
Bodie closed his mouth, staring a moment at the back of McCabe's head before averting his eyes to give the other man some privacy.
"Anyone else'd gone on like that I'd thump 'em, but I know you understand. Ah, Doyle isn't dead, but he's just as gone as Lucas...." McCabe's voice husked out on the name of his dead partner.
"Sorry, mate," Bodie apologised again, reaching out and offering a comforting squeeze to a leather-clad shoulder.
Bringing himself back under control, McCabe shrugged. "You want to go talk to Cowley now or in the morning?"
"I'll do it," Bodie offered, determined this time to force Cowley to submit to his demand to be classified permanently as a solo agent. "If you're lucky, I'll give him a bloody stroke and you won't have to face him at all."
Doyle sighed with satisfaction as he closed his ledger. For the first time since he had started the gym, every single one of its monthly expenses would be paid by its own income. There was even enough left over to allow him to take a draw and finally pay off Kathy's engagement ring.
Easing back in his chair, looking through the glass panel of his little office out onto the main room where half a dozen men tested themselves against various pieces of equipment, Doyle acknowledged that he had one person to thank for his comparative prosperity. Only he couldn't thank him. Couldn't speak to him. Couldn't contact him in any way.
The fact remained, however, that the names of more than a few of Bodie's old mates now graced Doyle's membership roster, and every time he encountered one of those men, it brought Bodie to mind. Bodie his partner. Bodie his friend. Bodie his one-time, one-weekend-by-his-own-decree, lover.
With a second much less satisfied sigh, Doyle went to try to work off the heavy mantle of guilt that lay on his shoulders.
"Ray? You asleep?" Kathy whispered softly, conscious of the fact that her parents slept only one paper-thin wall away.
Doyle rolled, grimacing at the squeal of bedsprings that announced to one and all every move he made. "No, Kath."
"Are you feeling guilty about something?" Kathy asked in that same soft tone.
Of course he was feeling guilty. He had been feeling guilty for six months and Kathy had to pick now to notice while they were spending the weekend with her parents. There was a difference, and perhaps it showed, Doyle thought. Up to now, he had felt guilty for cheating on his wife that October weekend with Bodie. Recently, however, his guilt had been compounded by the fact that he wanted to do it again.
"Why do you ask that?" he whispered in belated reply.
"You're being nice to my family. I know you don't like them, Ray."
Which was the understatement of the bloody century, Doyle thought, nearly letting loose a snort of sardonic laughter. He remembered at the last moment that they were surrounded by a horde of Bakers. Don't like them just wasn't in it. Even after three years, Doyle had yet to figure out how a bright girl like Kathy had emerged from a family that thought being called thick was a compliment. That there had been a switch at the hospital was the only possible conclusion.
"Hell, Ray, I don't always like them very much myself," Kathy admitted.
Doyle reached out and drew his wife into his arms, pressing her face against his chest to stifle her giggles at the resulting chorus of yowling bedsprings. God, he loved this woman. So why did he still want Bodie?
"Are you demanding the next four days off, Bodie?" Cowley asked with the deadly quiet that presaged a verbal storm.
Standing at parade rest, Bodie had his eyes front and hands clasped behind his back. "No, sir. Asking," he clarified. "I've had no holiday time in a year and only a day or two of sick time. I'm asking for Friday night to Tuesday morning."
"And if I need you here?" Cowley probed, seeing rebellion cross the handsome face for a moment and preparing to meet it with indomitable will.
"Then I'll stay here," was the surprising reply. What did it really matter, Bodie wondered. No real person was anticipating the pleasure of his company. His companion this weekend would be a fantasy and would be just as available a week, a month or a year from now.
"So it's not so important as you'd have me believe," Cowley concluded, assuming Bodie had found some lass willing to be whisked away for a romantic weekend with this troublesome agent of his who possessed far more charm than was good for him.
Bodie abandoned the neutral spot above Cowley's head and met the probing gaze, lowering a few of the barriers he habitually maintained against the world. There was only one man who had ever penetrated those walls completely and he was gone from Bodie's life. Cowley, however, was also the recipient, whether he fully knew it or not, of all of the rest of the more positive emotions that Bodie allowed himself.
"It's important to me, sir," Bodie admitted softly. "But so is the squad."
Cowley searched the candid gaze, trying to sense if he was being manipulated. He knew he was often far too lenient with Bodie and it had given rise to some speculation by other members of the squad. But Cowley had never, up to now at least, caught Bodie out in a deliberate attempt to take unfair advantage. Nor was it the case this time, he decided.
"Away wi' you, lad. I'll see you on Tuesday morning."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir," Bodie replied automatically, feeling none of the elation he had expected. He'd turned to make a quick retreat, but Cowley's voice stopped him short of the door.
"And don't be late," the older man admonished.
"No, sir," Bodie promised with his sauciest grin and fled before the Cow could change his mind.
Doyle reached out, snagged his wife around the waist and dragged her down onto his lap. He kissed her laughing mouth soundly while she pushed playfully at his shoulders.
"Leavin' me, are you?" he accused when he allowed her to escape the kiss.
"I told you ages ago I was going to go stay with Sheila for a few days when she came home with the baby," Kathy protested. "Want to get in some practice," she teased, cradling an imaginary bundle in her arms and rocking it.
"Just teasing, love. I don't mind doing for myself till Tuesday," Doyle reassured her. In fact, he was bloody grateful to Kathy's sister for managing to produce her first born just at this time. He knew he was going to be rather unpleasant company for the next few days.
With a last peck on Ray's wonderful mouth, Kathy climbed off his lap and resumed her packing. "I don't know why you don't run up and visit that mate of yours. Jack Cramer, wasn't it? Was this time you went last year and you seemed to have had such a good time."
Unnoticed by his wife, Doyle stiffened at the suggestion, heart leaping at the thought of another stolen weekend with Bodie. The excitement died stillborn. He had no way of getting in touch with Bodie. He had tried a time or two to contact him through CI5 HQ but, on Bodie's instructions, the receptionist had refused to even take a message from him. Obviously, Bodie had no intention of allowing himself to be tempted.
Satisfied that she had everything she needed, Kathy reached out and slipped her fingers into her husband's hair, lifting the curls to reveal the silver at the temples. Her thumb rubbed at the crease that had developed beside his mouth some time in the past year. "You've been working too hard, love. Why not take a few days?" she urged again.
Doyle covered her hand with his and turned his head to press his lips into her palm. Why not indeed? If he was going to wallow in memories, why not do it where those memories had been made?
"Maybe I will at that."
In sheer frustration, Doyle closed his eyes, plunged his hand into the closet and pulled out the first thing he laid his hand on. He cracked one eye open and cursed, tossing the sweat shirt he held away and went back to scrutinizing the clothes he had brought to the cottage with him. He hadn't been this nervous since.... Hell, he couldn't remember a time when he'd been this nervous.
When in doubt, keep it simple, he decided, yanking out a pair of black jeans and white shirt. He stalked into the bathroom, shedding his travel-wrinkled clothing as he went and stepped into the shower. When he realised he had washed himself twice from head to foot, and certain strategic areas three times, he balled up the flannel and sent it flying into the corner of the tub where it landed with a sloppy squish.
"Bloody hell," he chastised himself as he rubbed at his tingling skin with a towel. "I don't know what makes me think he'll even be here." There was no reason, of course, but he had a feeling that just refused to leave him alone.
Despite his pessimistic admonishment, he nevertheless took extra care to shave as close as possible and ensure that his hair was tangle free and attractively arranged. Chosen clothing in place, he faced himself in the full-length mirror.
"Well, you're certainly worth a two-hour drive in the rain," he told his reflection. "Yeah, right, pull the other one," he growled, grabbed up his black sports coat and stalked off to the restaurant.
Having performed the obligatory shower and shave routine he adhered to while preparing for an evening out, Bodie paused a moment to reconsider the clothing he had laid out. The poloneck, cords and leather jacket, all black, were almost a uniform for him and he had been told more than once how well the combination set off his dark hair and fair skin. Bodie, however, was remembering one off-hand comment of Doyle's when they had occupied this cottage last year.
"Bloody hell," he admonished himself. "He's not really going to be here, you idiot." Nonetheless, he picked up the black poloneck and exchanged it for a white one. He just had the strangest feeling in the back of his neck.
Satisfied with the reflection he saw in the mirror a few minutes later, Bodie scooped up his key and headed for the restaurant.
Doyle thanked whatever deity happened to be listening that he was already seated at a table when Bodie walked through the doors. Had he been on his feet it would have been a toss up which would have embarrassed him most - his trembling knees or his instant hard-on. He saw Bodie spot him, the momentary surprise, and then watched as the arrogant strut ate up the small distance between them, and had to absolve himself of guilt. There were just no two ways about it - the man could get a rise out of the dead.
"This seat taken?" Bodie asked in a casual tone completely belied by the way the blue eyes devoured every inch of Doyle they could see.
"We look like the fuckin' Bobbsey twins," Doyle growled to cover his discomposure.
Bodie grinned cheekily as he slid into the chair. "Looks like we co-ordinated all right." Despite the tone, he did feel a bit conspicuous and slipped off his jacket.
Doyle bit back a groan, narrowed green eyes taking their turn at making a seven-course meal out of what was so obviously on offer. He'd spent the first six months after he'd left here convincing himself that the interlude with Bodie had been a one-off and the next six wishing it hadn't been. He had never, however, truly believed that Bodie would actually come sauntering into the restaurant tonight, just as he had a year ago. Doyle had never had that much faith in luck, at least not of the good variety.
"You just had to wear the white, didn't you?" he growled. He could barely restrain himself from jumping across the table and ravishing the body that had been featured in such erotic detail in his dreams.
"Problem?" Bodie asked innocently, unable to resist the temptation to flex his shoulders, feeling the muscles slide beneath the silky material of his poloneck.
"Nah, I'm just strangling here, you sod." Doyle's voice had dropped even further from his usual husky tone until it seemed to vibrate along Bodie's sensitive nerve endings rather than in his ears.
"Teach you to wear your pants so tight," Bodie taunted, but reached for his jacket. "But perhaps we should count dinner well lost in the cause of rescuing bits of your anatomy."
"Rather important bits," Doyle emphasized, careful to button his jacket decently before climbing to his feet. Painfully constricted as he was, he wondered if he could make it across the room without doing himself an injury, never mind all the way back to his cottage.
"Vital bits," Bodie murmured as he sidled up behind Doyle, using the other man's body for cover while he slipped on his jacket to make himself fit for public consumption.
Walking stiffly side by side with a carefully maintained three inches of cool, drizzling space between them, they headed for Doyle's cottage, chosen silently, but mutually, by virtue of the fact that cottage No. 3 was several steps closer than cottage No. 4.
Once again blessing an unnamed being for the forethought of putting his key in his jacket rather than his jeans where he never would have been able to retrieve it, Doyle fumbled with the bit of metal in his trembling haste to get them on the other side of the door. He had barely had time to register his success before he was being dragged through the portal and pressed up against its closing surface. A heartbeat later, the body he had been craving was slammed up against his and the mouth of his fantasies was trying to devour his tonsils.
Right where he'd wanted to be for a year and had never hoped to be again, Bodie took shameless advantage of his greater strength to jam his thrusting body against an equally enthusiastic one. With both hands tangled in soft curls, he devoured the perfect lips in unashamed hunger.
Lust giving him uncommon strength, Doyle dragged his lips free long enough to make a desperate demand. "Off!" he gasped before his mouth was once again filled with a demanding tongue.
As if the one word had jogged his memory, Bodie eased back just enough to let their hands get between them. Unable to coax the hands away from his own shirt long enough to drag the poloneck over Bodie's head, Doyle settled for shoving it up until he could run frantic fingers over the smooth skin of heaving chest and belly.
Bodie's soft moan of pleasure became a dual groan as he finally succeeded in getting Doyle's shirt open and the furry torso plastered against his own. Nipples already teased erect by grasping fingers flashed fire at the soft/rough caress of the other's hairy chest.
Once again exerting super-human willpower, Doyle pushed his lover away. "Vital bits," he reminded, dragging Bodie's hands to his belt. Abandoning the efficient fingers to working him out of the stranglehold his clothes had on him, Doyle set to work at freeing Bodie from his somewhat less-constricting trousers.
A moment later, naked flesh thrust together from nipples to knees, both men froze as climax overtook them, pulsing between their tight-pressed bodies. Locked muscles gave way suddenly and they slid down the door together to land, sprawled, side-by-side on the carpet.
When he thought his trembling muscles might just hold him, Doyle propped himself up on an elbow, leaned over his panting lover and ran lazy fingers over the slickness wetting Bodie's abdomen. Languidly, he brought his fingers to his mouth, reaching out with a tongue tip to delicately lick their combined seed with relish. A lazy hand wrapped around his, bringing the sticky fingers within reach of Bodie's kiss-swollen lips.
"Does this mean you're glad to see me, angelfish?" Bodie murmured, only to find himself suddenly flat on his back with Doyle leaning over him.
"Well that wasn't a roll of sovereigns in me pocket," Doyle growled and pounced, latching onto the smooth white column of Bodie's throat with all the tenacity of a vampire bat.
On hands and knees in the middle of the bed, Doyle rocked back demandingly. "Come on, Bodie. Do it already."
"Easy, love," Bodie soothed as he got the cap off the KY which he had brought with the expectation of it being only an aid for his lonely masturbation. "Have you done this since last year?"
"Course not," Doyle panted, too aroused to be offended. He'd tear a strip off Bodie about it later, if he didn't die of sheer frustration first. He wriggled enticingly, trying to coax Bodie into getting on with it.
Bodie ran a soothing caress down the long back, then gripped a jutting hip bone as the other hand reached between rounded cheeks. "Slow down, Ray. I'm not gonna take the chance of ripping you up because you're a one-minute wonder."
Doyle moaned in his throat as he felt the cool dab of gel against his anus. Blunt fingers spread the fast-heating slickness all around and he pushed backward, trying to force the caresses into him. His moan was one of disappointment this time as the fingers left him, then deepened to a groan as they returned with more gel and one ventured inside him. "More."
"Oh, yeah. I'll give you more. Gonna give you it all, mate, but gotta get you opened up first," Bodie insisted, pushing his finger as far up as he could, searching for the bulge of Doyle's prostate.
"Yesss," Doyle hissed when Bodie found what he sought. "Do it, Bodie."
"No." Bodie was implacable, despite the eager agreement clamouring at him from his weeping cock. He worked in a second finger, twisting and scissoring them carefully.
"'m gonna die if you don't fuck me soon." To prove his point, Doyle thrust back harder, trying to force the strong fingers deeper inside him.
Finally satisfied, and with an aching 'at last' throbbing in his groin, Bodie shifted to replace fingers with the blunt tip of his cock.
Doyle went suddenly and utterly still, waiting in anticipation for Bodie to claim him. He felt the head breach him and his whole body quivered with tension as Bodie opened him with one long, exquisite slide all the way in.
Watching his engorged cock disappear inch by inch, watching Doyle's body stretch to accept him was nearly Bodie's undoing. He teetered on the edge, trying to hold himself back, but he had wanted too long.
"I'm close, Ray," he warned, easing back, eyes squeezed shut to block one small portion of the sensory overload that claimed him.
"Yes! Give it to me," Doyle demanded, surging back, feeling the hot bulk of Bodie slam up into him. It was too much. He threw back his head and howled, feeling the pulse and throb of the cock inside him as Bodie was forced into climax with him.
It was several minutes before Bodie was able to gather enough wit to ease his slowly shrinking cock from the still softly spasming tunnel that sheathed him. Carefully, he eased himself to the side of his sprawled lover and gratefully flopped onto his back. After a few moments of breath catching and wit collecting, Doyle rolled to tuck himself, limpet-like, along his side, and Bodie put out a long arm to complete the contented embrace.
"All right, love?" Bodie asked softly. He had got a bit carried away there towards the end, and Doyle had little experience with being fucked. Next best thing to a virgin, in fact, especially with a whole year passing since the last time.
"Bit sore," Doyle acknowledged, happy to suffer the slight discomfort in exchange for the glorious pleasure that preceded it.
"Want me to check?"
"What? Kiss it all better, will you?"
Bodie gave the question due consideration. "Yeah. If you like."
"Christ, Bodie. Is there nothing you won't do?" Had he not been as close as dammit to purring, Doyle might have been able to invest his tone with a bit of outrage.
Once again, Bodie gave the question his most serious consideration. "No. Nothing," he finally admitted, "with you."
When Doyle fell silent, Bodie let it settle comfortably around them like the duvet he was too lazy to reach for. He opened his eyes in time to watch Doyle licking his own spent semen from his fingers. "Bit orally fixated this year, aren't you, sunshine?"
Doyle brought his hand to Bodie's mouth and slicked the pursed lips. "Taste's different."
Bodie's tongue flicked out to test the observation for himself. "Course. 's just yours this time. Deposited mine elsewhere, didn't I?"
Doyle refrained from commenting immediately, but lowered his hand to rub the remaining stickiness into the smooth skin of Bodie's chest. "Did you know, Bodie," he finally said, "that there's about a million sperm in this lot?"
"Just find that out, did you?" Bodie asked, sensing this was going somewhere but content to let Doyle get there in his own time.
"Nah." Doyle ruminated a bit longer. "Gym's doing better."
Bodie didn't blink at the non sequitur, familiar with Doyle's habit of creeping around a subject. "That right?"
Doyle poked the soft skin just below Bodie's last rib, earning a satisfying twitch from the big body. "As if you didn't already know," he accused.
Eyes widening in feigned innocence, Bodie let his expression voice the 'who me?'. Doyle met the beguiling eyes with a mild glare.
"Only mentioned the place to an old mate," Bodie finally admitted.
"One? That why I've got dozens of ex-paras on the roster?"
"Word of mouth, Ray. Swear it. Mentioned it to Bob Morely. He must've liked your place and passed the word."
One of the few people who could tell when Bodie was lying, Doyle accepted the truth of the assurance and settled back into the warm embrace.
When enough time had passed that Bodie was beginning to think about bestirring himself to seek out some breakfast, but knowing from experience the way something on his mind could bedevil Doyle into a tailspin, Bodie, as usual, chose a frontal assault. "Something on your alleged mind besides sperm and ex-paras?"
Doyle's lips puckered as he thought, unknowingly almost tempting Bodie to cast aside discussion in favour of further play. "Yeah," came the hesitant admission, eyes intent upon the drying evidence of their passion upon Bodie's creamy skin. "Kath wants to start a baby. She's pushing 30 and with the business bringing in a bit...."
"Thought that's what you always wanted, Ray. Wife. 2.4 kids." There was a long pause while Bodie considered whether he wanted the answer to his next question or not. No one, however, could ever call him faint-hearted. "Feel you're wasting it, do you?"
With only three days to fill with memories of Bodie and the too-sharp loneliness of the past year without any contact fresh in his mind, Doyle was not as oblivious as he once might have been to the trepidation behind Bodie's light tone. His arms wrapped around the muscular torso and squeezed until Bodie's breath left him in a rush.
"Nothing that feels this good could ever be a waste."
Bodie accepted the fierce embrace and returned it. "'s what you always said you wanted, Ray."
"Want this, too."
"No reason you can't have it. Talked about that last year - this is a time out of your real life. Could have a dozen kiddies if you want. It's not like it would ruin your boyish figure."
Doyle let the humour invade him, banishing the doubts. "Yeah," he breathed in relief and yet still feeling the betrayer. "Haven't you ever wanted children, Bodie?"
Somehow Bodie managed to look amused, scandalized and horrified all at once. "Bite your tongue, mate. Bite your tongue."
"I really should pack and get back to Town," Doyle said reluctantly, letting his fingers stroke the black silk of Bodie's hair.
"Mmmm. Me too," Bodie mumbled, face pressed into the smooth side of Doyle's throat. "I'd suggest one for the road, but haven't another in me, I'm afraid."
"Me neither," Doyle admitted although he still made no move to shift himself or release Bodie. He turned his head to stare into the embers of the fire. The two of them had spent all day on the rug before the fireplace, making love when both flesh and spirit were willing, talking when neither were, and simply cuddling in silence when the mood took them. It seemed to him that the three days had passed in the blink of an eye.
"You don't know what I was going to say," Doyle protested.
Bodie propped himself up on an elbow to look down into the face of the man he loved. "Sure I do, sunshine. Going to say you wanted us to see each other in Town, and the answer is no. I won't be your piece on the side."
Doyle reached down and gathered Bodie's genitals into his hand, giving the soft flesh a firm squeeze.
Bodie covered the caressing hand with his own and gently moved it away. "Ah, but this is a time apart, Raymond. Nothing really to do with real life," he reminded gently.
With the same hand, Doyle traced the stubborn expression, wishing he could erase it with the caress alone. "But I miss you so much, Bodie. You're my best friend. I'd promise to keep my hands to myself." Even as he made the vow, Doyle knew he was lying.
"And what makes you think I could?" Bodie asked, rolling away and climbing to his feet. "You don't get it, do you, Doyle?" The determination was now hardened by the spark of anger in the blue eyes. "I told you, I'm in love with you."
Intimidated by the muscular figure looming over him, Doyle also sprang to his feet, bringing them face to face in defensive poses more suited to the streets.
"Love me?" Doyle asked sarcastically. "So much you're happy to be with me three fucking days out of the year."
It took all Bodie's willpower not to strike out and wipe the taunting expression from the face of the man who had held him so tenderly only a few moments ago. Taking deep, calming breaths, he forced his hands to relax from lethal fists into those of a lover once more. He reached out and gently traced the soft swell of Doyle's lips.
"Ray, you love Kathy. You know you do. And now you're going to go home and start a family. It's what you always wanted. There's no place for me in that. Know you, don't I. You'd tear yourself apart with the guilt of it."
Temper melting away into tender despair, Doyle stepped into the embrace Bodie offered. He buried his face in the smooth, white throat, swallowing convulsively himself to ease the ache of tears and feeling the echoing ripple in the flesh beneath his cheek. "Promise you'll be here next year," he finally demanded in a husky whisper.
In a voice every bit as emotion choked, Bodie swore. "Won't let even the Cow keep me away, love. Promise."
"Jane? This is Bodie."
"Yes?" The voice held a wariness and chill that was far from welcoming.
Bodie shifted the phone to his other ear and picked up a sheet of paper that lay on his desk. "I got your letter."
"I would imagine it came as a bit of a surprise." The tone remained every bit as frosty.
Smiling slightly at the understatement, Bodie agreed, then, "Listen...."
"I don't think I'm being unreasonable...."
Bodie cut in on the fire under ice. "I agree."
There was a stunned silence on the other end of the line and then, "You do?"
"Yes. Seems fair," Bodie said, his eyes skimming over the lines of type before him.
"Well, uh... maybe it would be best if you came around to talk about the details."
Now it was Bodie's turn to hesitate. He thought about the suggestion, and all that agreement would entail, for a moment, then, "All right. Tomorrow afternoon, around 2:00?"
"Unless you get called in, of course." The chill had returned with a vengeance.
Bodie grinned wryly. "Yeah. Unless I get called in."
Tucking the letter away, Bodie was making a last check in his pockets for keys, more than ready to seek out a little sustenance and then his bed, when Cowley appeared at the door.
"Are you still here 3.7?" the Controller asked. "I believe I dismissed you well over an hour ago."
Shrugging, Bodie picked up a folder and handed it over. "Thought I might as well finish that report while all the details were fresh in my mind." It was neither a lie, nor exactly the truth, or, more accurately, the whole truth. Bodie suspected that his complete truth had come to resemble Cowley's far too closely. Sometimes devotion to duty was only loneliness in disguise.
"Very conscientious of you, Bodie." Cowley opened the file, let his eyes run over the neat, if unadorned, report, then closed it, looking up at his expectant agent. "I don't suppose you've had your dinner then."
"Not yet. Was just about to go 'round to the takeaway." Bodie paused. He was tired and all he really wanted was a long bath and his bed. Still, it never hurt to be polite. "Would you like me to pick up something and bring it back for you, sir?"
"No, Bodie," Cowley said, turning toward the door. "I want you to straighten your tie and come with me. As neither of us has eaten, we might as well dine at my club."
Having finally learned to always look a gift horse from Cowley in the mouth, Bodie restrained his pleasure and waited for the other shoe to drop. Cowley didn't disappoint him.
"I might as well brief you on your next assignment now as in the morning."
Tickled by the knowledge that even George Cowley was predictable in some things, pleased at the prospect of once again sampling the fine cuisine at Cowley's club, Bodie trailed contentedly along behind his boss.
"Don't you think it's about time you came to bed, Mrs Doyle." Propped - no, posed - he admitted to himself, in the doorway of the nursery, Doyle tried to attract his wife's attention.
"Hmmm? Oh yes, Ray. I'll just be a few minutes," Kathy assured absentmindedly, her attention focussed on the bit of lace she was attaching to the skirt of a cradle.
Failing with the pose, Doyle sauntered into the room, but once again his wife never even looked up. "You've at least three months to do that. Do you have to do it tonight?"
"I feel like doing it tonight," Kathy insisted.
Moving in behind the rounded body, Doyle laid his hands on his wife's shoulders, feeling the muscles tense as if to shrug him off, and began a gentle massage to forestall the now-familiar rejection. "I feel like doing it tonight, too," he murmured, leaning down to nuzzle her neck.
"Oh, Ray, it's so uncomfortable."
Doyle grimaced, wondering why no one had warned him before he'd gone ahead and got his wife pregnant. The baby wasn't even here yet and already.... Now that was just too ridiculous - feeling as if he was losing his wife to his child.
The problem was, of course, that Doyle had far too much free time on his hands. He had become so used to having none that he had let his previous interests lapse. Now he had a bit more time on his hands and with Kathy wrapped up with preparations for their unborn baby, no one to spend it with. He had never made friends easily, preferring to hold people at the acquaintance level. All except Bodie, that is. Bodie who had invaded his life completely. And who Doyle had no business thinking about while trying to seduce his wife.
Resuming his nuzzling, Doyle added gentle touches to swollen breasts to his persuasion. "Come on, love. I'll make it good for you. You know I will."
Knowing he spoke the truth, Kathy allowed her husband to sweep her off to bed.
"And you're still content to be solo?"
Bodie took a small sip of the scotch Cowley had bought him and let his gaze wander over the familiar decor of the Red Lion as he tried to double-think his boss before answering. He and Cowley had fallen into the habit of spending an occasional evening together and, for the most part, Bodie enjoyed them. The social atmosphere, however, never prevented Cowley from adding business to pleasure, and Bodie had learned to keep his guard up. Like tonight, conversation between them had been general until Cowley's latest comment, and Bodie was determined to avoid Cowley matching him up with some other partner after his repeated failures to mesh with anyone. On the other hand, it never paid to lie to the wily old bastard. It was like trying to lie to God. Finally taking the path of least resistance, Bodie shrugged wide shoulders.
"Ach, lad, that's no answer," Cowley complained mildly. "Speak up, man."
"Well enough," Bodie finally conceded. Solo had many drawbacks, but it was preferable to the awkward fit of an incompatible partnership. "I manage."
"Aye, you do," Cowley agreed. "You've done well on your assignments."
Bodie heard the thunderous 'but' hanging at the end of that sentence and waited, under no delusion that Cowley would forebear to finish his thought.
"But your injuries have more than doubled," Cowley obliged.
Bodie shrugged his shoulders once again, hand wrapped around his glass as he gazed into the amber liquid as if seeking enlightenment. "Nothing I've had to take medical leave for. To be expected, I'd think, with no one to watch your back."
"I told you once a partnership was like a marriage," Cowley reminded. "Are you certain you haven't been a divorcé long enough, Bodie?" He raised a hand to hold back the protest he could see forming on the pursed lips. "I've no intention of ordering you, Bodie, I'm asking."
Bodie shook his head mutely.
"Still no one to take Doyle's place, eh?"
Standing abruptly, Bodie pushed in his chair and offered a stiffly polite smile. "Thanks for the drink, sir, but I'd best be off home. Early day and all tomorrow."
Cowley debated for a moment the wisdom of demanding a response but decided to let it slide. "Good night, Bodie."
If this went on much longer, Doyle knew he was going to go spare. He had suffered torture himself, had even inflicted it a time or two, but he had never before felt so helpless. The thought was quite appropriate, he thought darkly, as he stared down into his wife's tormented face. It was his fault that Kathy was writhing on that bed now, emitting pitiful little whimpers. He wished she'd just go ahead and scream.
The near bone-crushing pressure on his hands eased and Doyle realised that the contraction must have ended. Freeing one hand, he stroked the sweat-soaked hair away from his wife's flushed face.
"For pity's sake, Kath, this has gone on long enough." Fourteen hours according to the clock, but it felt more as if the two of them had been shut up in this little room for a small eternity. "Let them give you something," he pleaded.
"No. No drugs," Kathy panted. "Not good for the baby."
Doyle had known hardened terrorists who were less dedicated to an ideal than Kathy was to this whole natural birth bullshit. Allowing, hell no, encouraging a woman to put herself through this kind of agony in this day and age was nothing short of barbaric. At this moment, Doyle could have cheerfully wrung their doctor's lovely neck.
"Oh God, Kathy, I don't know how much more of this I can take," he blurted.
Surprisingly, Kathy found a smile and the will to tease. "How much more you can take? Careful what you say, Ray Doyle, or it may not be your hand I grab when the next one hits."
A lump formed in Doyle's throat and he realised once again why he loved this woman.
"That would certainly give him a clearer picture of the situation, wouldn't it, Mrs Doyle?"
Doyle straightened up from where he leaned over his wife to find Dr Walker had joined them.
"A bit fraught, Mr Doyle?" Walker asked tartly as her eyes scanned Kathy's chart.
"A bit," Doyle agreed sarcastically, retreating around the head of the bed. He knew all about staying out of the way of the professionals in a hospital room. He barely suppressed a snarled demand for help as he watched Kathy go through another seemingly endless contraction. How could Walker stand there so calmly and watch another woman suffer this?
The detachment disappeared abruptly as the choked off whimpers of the woman on the bed were overridden by the sudden strident bleeping of an alarm. While Doyle tried to swallow his heart back down out of his throat, the doctor became a blur of urgent efficiency and the room began to fill up with white-garbed people.
"What's wrong?" The question came from two throats - one whimpered and one roared - but the doctor was now totally focussed on her patient. "I'm afraid that's it, Mrs Doyle. The baby's in distress."
In less than sixty seconds, Doyle found himself abandoned.
Half an hour later, Doyle stood alone in the waiting room, trying to absorb the fact that he was a father and that everything was all right. Efficient, if not entirely coherent, he dug in his pocket for change and moved towards the phone. He was supposed to spread the news. It was only as he picked up the phone that Doyle acknowledged that the one person he wanted to call the most was the only one he couldn't.
Bodie, wearing a warm velvet dressing gown and a smile, let his gaze run over the cottage and his preparations with satisfaction. A fire crackled merrily in the hearth, a bottle of champagne sat cooling in an ice bucket close at hand to the sofa, and beneath the duvet on the big bed in the bedroom waited the creamy satin sheets he had brought and exchanged for the utilitarian cotton. Now all he needed was for Doyle to make his appearance.
As if he had been waiting for the preparations to be complete, there was a sharp rap on the door and Doyle's querulous voice demanded entrance. "For Christ's sake, Bodie, answer the door. It's chuckin' it down out here."
In two long strides, Bodie was at the door. It took only another moment to release the lock and swing the door wide, revealing a rather wet Doyle who wore an expression to rival the weather.
"Why does it always rain this fucking weekend?" Doyle groused as he stalked into the room. Late, wet and thoroughly at odds with the world, Doyle felt the bad humour suddenly desert him as he took in his surroundings.
"Ah, Bodie," he murmured, turning to face his waiting lover and held out his arms. "Com'ere and kiss me."
Grinning his relief, Bodie eagerly went into the offered embrace, claiming the willing mouth in a welcoming kiss. He felt himself being pushed up against the door and went with it as Doyle plundered his mouth. Allowing them only a few moments of the demanding kisses, Bodie pushed the lithe body away to arm's length.
"Well?" he demanded.
"Well what?" Doyle countered, recovering both breath and devilment, the beaming smile he was unable to control giving him away.
"Doyle," Bodie growled mock threateningly.
The idiotic grin not faltering for a moment, Doyle reached into the inside pocket of his jacket and, as fast as he'd ever drawn his gun, whipped forth his wallet and snapped it open. "May I introduce Andrew Michael Doyle."
Bodie took the wallet and sauntered past Doyle into the sitting room, knowing Doyle was trailing along behind him. Getting a bit of his own back, he studied the picture critically as he arranged himself on the sofa. Watching Doyle surreptitiously through his lashes as the new father sat beside him, he waited until just the slightest bit of doubt began to darken the sunny features. "Thank God the poor mite looks like his mother," he finally pronounced.
Doyle snatched back the wallet and aimed a punch at Bodie's shoulder. After a few moments of studying the picture himself, Doyle gave a philosophical shrug. "Doesn't really look like anybody yet," he acknowledged. "Though Kath thinks his hair is going to curl."
Bodie laughed, curving an arm around the broad shoulders and cupping the hand that still held the wallet, turning it to face him once again. "He looks a fine lad, Ray," he complimented, all teasing put aside for a moment. "But why'd you have to stick him with Andrew?"
Doyle raised large earnest eyes to his lover's face. He knew Bodie despised his given names, but from the first moment he had held his son, he had known he had to give him at least one of the names of the most important man to ever come into his life. "Who else would I name him after?" he asked softly.
"Ah, Ray." Unable to express his emotions verbally, Bodie gathered Doyle to him and let his loving arms speak for him.
Doyle snuggled into the passionless embrace, for the time being revelling in the friendship and affection that had bound them together for so many years. "We call him Drew," he informed sometime later.
"That's all right then," Bodie allowed graciously, leaning back into a corner of the sofa and drawing Doyle down with him to rest against his chest. He plucked the wallet from lax fingers and held it up where he could study the picture once more. "Got started on him right away, didn't you, you randy little bugger?"
Without comment, Doyle reclaimed the wallet, closed it and lay it on the nearby table. His son was nearly three months old. He, indeed, had not wasted much time and he felt guilty about that, just as these stolen weekends made him feel guilty, but not enough to make him give them up.
Sensing the slight darkening of his sensitive lover's mood, Bodie squeezed comfortingly, but kept his tone light. "Just like you, that is. Make up your mind, then get right on it."
"Think you know me that well, do you?" Doyle challenged, more than willing to leave behind the mantle of guilt.
"Oh yes, sunshine," Bodie murmured, turning the warm body in his arms and beginning the delightful task of revealing it for his own pleasure. "I know you very well."
"I reckon you do at that," Doyle agreed as Bodie's fingers slipped into his open shirt.
"It's stopped raining."
Doyle dragged himself back from the very edge of sated slumber, rolled over and eyed his lover where he stood, fully clothed except for his shoes, in front of the window. That Bodie was so far away, coupled with the fact that unless they were taking a turn running out to get food neither of them wore anything more substantial than a robe, made Doyle sit up and immediately take notice.
"What are you doing way over there? And why the clothes? You trying to tell me you've gone off me?"
Hearing the insecurity in the questions, Bodie left his post and sat on the bed, gathering the naked man into his arms. "Not a chance, sunshine."
Doyle allowed himself to be cuddled for a few minutes, then pushed away far enough to see Bodie's face. "But you do have something on your mind."
Without relinquishing the embrace, Bodie shifted around until he had his back propped against the headboard and Doyle lay against his side, the curly head resting on his shoulder. He let his fingers tangle in the soft hair. "Half expected you not to be here this year. Figured you'd have a baby by now, or at least one on the way. Thought maybe...."
"That I wouldn't need you any more?" Doyle completed the unfinished thought. "You know, Bodie, there isn't a day goes by that I don't think of you. See something on the news and wonder what you thought of it. When it's something really important, like Drew coming, I want to share it with you so badly...."
"I never thought you, of all people, would be able to live with this. Christ. You're being unfaithful to your wife."
"Sometimes, when I'm with Kath, it feels more like I'm being unfaithful to you. Sometimes I wonder if this had happened before, if it would have been you I'd be living with. If I'd never have left CI5, never married. If maybe that's the way it should have been."
Bodie groaned softly. "Don't say that, Ray. Don't say that now when it's too late to be any way but the way it is. You love Kath, you know you do. And now with Drew...." The words stumbled to a halt as the arms around his chest squeezed hard enough to stop his breath.
"Won't give you up, dammit!"
"Wasn't saying you had to, Ray," Bodie murmured reassuringly. "But I never thought with the way you've always been one to shoulder the guilts of the world that you'd be able to reconcile this."
"Can't sometimes. You're right. I do love Kath, and I love Drew. Each time I've left here, I've told myself that I won't do it again." Doyle pushed himself away to look into eyes as confused as his own. "But I need you so much. That's how I live with it, Bodie. I want you every single day of the year and I only let myself have you for three."
"Guess that will have to do us then, won't it?"
"You're dressed again," Doyle observed.
"Mmmm," Bodie agreed without turning away from the window.
"What's wrong?" Concerned at finding himself abandoned for a second time, Doyle struggled out of the tangled bedding and propped his back against the headboard.
"It's still not raining." Bodie finally turned away from the window, his expression introspective. "Come for a walk with me?"
"Don't fret, Ray. Nothing's wrong," Bodie reassured with a tolerant smile.
Curious and concerned, Doyle gave his love-ravished body a sketchy wash-up and hurried into his clothes. He had barely pulled on his boots, before Bodie had the door open. He snatched up his jacket and struggled into it while hurrying to catch up to his lover.
Emerging from the cottage, they saw Jack Cramer just coming out of the stable and waved. Wanting no one's company but each other's, by mutual, if silent, accord, they turned towards the path that would lead them into the woods and the plainly marked hiking trails. For the first half mile, Bodie set a pace that put Doyle in mind more of a forced march than a leisurely stroll. Recognising the signs of a Bodie with something on his mind, Doyle became more concerned by the minute until, mindful of how very little time they had together and unwilling to waste a moment of it in non-communication, he caught Bodie's arm and forcibly dragged him to a halt.
"Christ's sake, Bodie. You plannin' on marchin' us to Wales?"
Bodie grinned sheepishly and shook his head. "Got a bit of something on my mind."
"Is it Drew?" Doyle asked hesitantly. Bodie had certainly seemed happy enough for him, but, Cowley's opinion to the contrary, Doyle knew that when it came to hiding his emotions, Bodie could be a superb actor. Was Bodie feeling as insecure as he himself had earlier? Despite his stated pleasure, did Drew's existence make him feel threatened?
"Drew?" Bodie echoed in such open puzzlement it was obvious that Doyle's infant son had not been on his mind.
The sheepish expression returning, Bodie reached into his jacket pocket and withdrew his wallet. Flipping it open, he handed it to Doyle without explanation.
Doyle accepted the wallet and looked down into the face of... Snow White. Skin as white as snow, hair as dark as night, eyes as blue as a summer's sky. The words of the old fairy tale floated through Doyle's mind. A moment later, Doyle burned with shame as the realisation that this had to be Bodie's daughter wracked him with jealousy.
"You remember Jane Anderson?" Bodie asked. "Strawberries and cream?" he prompted when Doyle shook his head. "Seems she's the independent sort. Took her this long to decide I ought to be paying the piper. Emily is nearly four now."
Slowly, Doyle returned the wallet and resumed their walk at a much more leisurely pace. He took a few moments to get his emotions under control. "She's beautiful, Bodie," he murmured without looking up.
"Knows it, too. And not the least bit modest about it either," Bodie joked.
"So, you're back together again? You and Jane?" Doyle ventured, still not looking at his lover, chastising himself for his jealousy. How dare he begrudge Bodie when he himself had Kathy and Drew? A time apart, he reminded himself. That's all his and Bodie's relationship could be.
"No. Jane is no fonder of me now than she was when I ran out on our last date to go rescue the Israeli Ambassador. But when I didn't make a fuss about paying the support, she agreed to let me see Emily when I can," Bodie revealed in a tone that left no doubt that his new-found daughter had captivated him, however unexpected her appearance might have been.
Now Doyle looked at his former partner and the pride and pleasure he saw in the handsome face swept aside the last remnants of his negative feelings. As those emotions retreated, he began to chuckle and then laugh in fiendish delight. The look of uncomprehending consternation on Bodie's face at his reaction just made him laugh all the harder until he had to lean up against a convenient tree. Unable to control himself, he continued to laugh until Bodie's consternation slipped into annoyance and then into outright anger. Forcing himself under control, he pulled Bodie into his arms and offered a tender kiss in apology for his glee.
"So what's so bloody funny?" asked a somewhat mollified Bodie several minutes later.
Doyle chuckled as he pushed his lover away and poised for flight. "You, Bodie. The menace to virtuous womanhood everywhere is the father of a daughter. Now that's what I call poetic justice!" he crowed and took off at a flat-out run.
Even given his head start, it was only the moment or two of stunned comprehension Bodie suffered that allowed Doyle to make it back to the cottage a few steps ahead of Bodie's lascivious revenge. There was, after all, a limit to the things two men could do in public, even at a rain-washed summer resort in the off season.
Bodie put down the phone and began tidying his notes together. He had accomplished all he could on his latest assignment here at HQ and it was now time for him to get on his bike. He had almost made it to the lift when he heard his name being called in unmistakable tones. He turned to watch Cowley limping towards him. At one time, Bodie would have been bracing for a reprimand of some sort, but no longer. Over the past two years, the relationship between him and Cowley had changed. Not that they were the greatest of friends, their positions of employee/employer precluded that. But there was an occasional hour at the pub, or a shared meal between them now. A break for both of them from the loneliness they both suffered.
"Have you plans for this evening, Bodie?" Cowley asked when he reached the waiting agent.
Bodie shrugged. "Depends on how the case is going."
"Yes, of course." Cowley appeared distracted, but then he often did. "If it appears you will be available at 8:00 p.m., please let Betty know. I've something important to discuss with you."
"Yes, sir," Bodie replied to Cowley's retreating back. Curious, he thought, and then turned his mind back to his current case.
"Curiouser and curiouser said Alice," Bodie muttered as he tucked away his r/t and made the necessary lane change to head him in the direction he wanted. He had just reported in to Betty that he was free and had been directed to meet the Controller at his home. What was the wily old bastard up to now? It was true that the Scot had seemed pleased enough with Bodie's efforts for months now, but Cowley could go from pleased to pissed off faster than anyone Bodie had ever known. There really was only one way to find out. Bodie put his foot down.
This was getting well beyond curious into the realm of the truly strange. Bodie had not only been welcomed on arrival and ushered into Cowley's home, but had been offered a lovely meal made and served by Cowley's housekeeper who had immediately departed thereafter. Now he sat in the well-heated study with a glass of fine malt in his hand and, wrack his brains though he would, he was unable to think of one single reason for such princely honours to be bestowed upon him. He nearly choked on a fiery sip when he noted the pale blue eyes resting on him speculatively and an absolutely ludicrous thought crossed his mind. Surely the old bugger wasn't trying to seduce him?! No. Never Cowley.
"I can see you're trying to decide if I'm employing triple think on you or only double," Cowley commented with mild amusement.
Bodie cleared his throat, decided he really could think of no comment and nodded his head instead.
"Actually, Bodie, I've a proposal to present to you."
Proposal or proposition? Bodie thought with black humour. "Proposal, sir?" he prompted to prevent himself from voicing some inappropriate joke.
"Yes, Bodie, what I am proposing is to take you off the streets..." Cowley raised a hand to halt the automatic protest springing to Bodie's lips, "...and begin your training to become Controller of CI5."
Bodie retained his impassive façade only because he was so thoroughly shocked that his face froze.
"You don't seem surprised, Bodie. Perhaps you've advanced to triple think yourself?"
Not about to reveal what he had been thinking, Bodie kept his mouth judiciously closed.
Cowley shook his head, but seemed pleased. "Ah, Bodie, you've grown so much these past eight years. I sometimes find it hard to believe you're the same man as the brash young soldier I recruited."
"You mean I've learned to keep my mouth shut," Bodie observed wryly.
"More than that, Bodie, you've learned to listen and consider." Cowley wore the expression of a teacher who knows without doubt from where his student's skills have come.
Warmed by the compliment more than he would ever admit aloud, Bodie settled himself more comfortably in his chair. "I'm listening now, sir, and ready to consider."
"I am not going to live forever," Cowley began in the tone he used for briefings. He picked up a file from the desk in front of him and handed it over. "These are the results of my latest physical."
Bodie made no move to open the file.
"Oh, there's nothing particularly alarming there, but I am 63 years old. It's time, Bodie, for someone to learn before I am not here to teach."
"You know I couldn't do it on my own," Bodie pointed out. His belief in his own skills had never been so monumental as to blind him to his shortcomings. Only once had his faults not mattered and that was when he was one-half of the 3.7/4.5 team, for Doyle had been strong where he was weak, just as his strengths had shorn up Doyle's shortcomings.
"Aye. 'Twas why I first teamed you and Doyle." Cowley took a moment to mourn a perfect plan that had been wiped out of existence by Doyle's resignation.
"You can't fault him for wanting a life that CI5 couldn't offer," Bodie was quick to come to his former partner's defence.
"Still loyal," Cowley observed. Still fiercely loyal to your partner, he thought, despite long-standing orders that Doyle never be allowed to contact you and despite other, more recent orders. Both of Bodie's strictures intrigued Cowley, but he was prepared to shelve his curiosity and bide his time until their reasons were revealed. He was nothing if not a patient man.
"My next choice," Cowley went on, ignoring his own previous comment, "was Murphy."
Two pairs of blue eyes met and held in a moment of silent memorial for a man dead six months past.
"Which leaves...." Bodie thought about it for a moment, considering the senior agents still active. "Jax," he finally decided. "You do like that copper/soldier combination, don't you?"
"He does seem the best suited to complement you. You've worked with him quite often with excellent results."
Bodie shrugged his agreement. He and Jax had worked well together. Not as well as he and Doyle, true, but if that special spark between them had failed to ignite, neither had there been friction. Jax, in fact, was probably the most adaptable agent on the squad.
"We're neither one of us old enough. I'm only 36 and Jax is, what, a year more," Bodie pointed out.
"Ach, man, I plan on giving you a few years at least to overcome the affliction."
Bodie smiled at the choice of words and Cowley acknowledged it with one of his own.
"You've listened, Bodie, and now you need to consider. I don't expect an answer now, next week, or even next month. But I do have to ask you not to take too long."
With that, the conversation turned to other more immediate matters, and an hour later, Bodie was on his way home with a head full of indecision. What he needed more than anything was to talk it all out, but there was only one man he could do that with. He wondered if Cowley would be willing to wait three months for his decision.
Doyle jumped up at the knock on the door, crossed the room and flung the door open, fully expecting to find his tardy lover standing in the rain. Instead, he found Jack Cramer, who noticed how the expectant face lost its animation when he was recognised.
"You needn't look so happy to see me," Cramer said, brushing past Doyle and limping into the sitting room. He glanced around, taking in the cosy fire, conveniently placed blankets and cooling wine, but made no comment. He dropped onto the sofa.
"Your clerk said he wasn't sure when you'd get back," Doyle explained as he settled himself in the cabin. Although he was disappointed by his visitor's identity, he was more than happy for the company. Bodie was, even giving a generous allowance for traffic, at least four hours overdue. Over the past two hours, Doyle had become more and more worried.
"Yeah, made better time than I expected." Cramer looked around the room expectantly. "So where's Bodie then?"
Doyle shrugged, maintaining as casual an air as he could. "Never knows when or if he'll be able to get away."
"Oh, he'll get away," Cramer said with a straight-forward look that spoke of knowledge it had no right to have. "I think only a bullet in the brain would be enough to keep him away."
Doyle froze, unable to think of anything beyond the two frightening words 'he knows'.
"Come on, Ray. You never thought I was that stupid. You two don't exactly come here for the fishing, do you?"
Hearing no censure in his friend's tone, Doyle relaxed slightly. "No," he agreed hesitantly. He raised his chin defiantly.
"Don't get your knickers in a twist, Ray," the ex-agent said. "I know how it is with some partners. Seen it before, haven't I? More than once. And I haven't got a big mouth on me either. First thing you learn in this trade is that what your guests get up to behind closed doors is none of your business."
Doyle slumped in his chair muttering "Shit" under his breath.
"How late do you figure he is?"
"About four hours," Doyle admitted morosely.
"Did you call HQ to see if he's on an op?"
"I... can't." The first word was a bark, the second barely more than a whisper. Doyle sprang to his feet. He paced restlessly. "We don't have any contact except here."
Cramer whistled. "No wonder we never see hide nor hair of you when you're here." He held up a hand to forestall the temper he could see building in Doyle's face. "None of my business either. You want me to call?"
Doyle ran a hand through his hair, stalked around a bit longer, then slumped back into his chair. "No."
"No?" the older man echoed, surprised.
"No," Doyle repeated. He fell silent for another long stretch of minutes, listening to the fire crackle. "No, I don't want you to call. If he doesn't come, then he doesn't come. I mean, I'll wait a bit, but...." Silence again as Doyle considered the unimaginable. "He may have just decided not to come. You know?"
Cramer snorted inelegantly in disbelief.
"It's a daft set up, I know," Doyle admitted. "But no dafter than us being together like this at all."
Cramer leaned forward in his chair. "Ray, if you believe that, why do you keep coming?"
"Because I can't... I have to...." Doyle ground out between clenched teeth.
"And so does Bodie," Cramer said with quiet conviction. "He'll get here if he can. If he can't, well...."
Hearing the sound of a car entering the car park, Doyle jumped up and hurried over to the window. His shoulders slumped when he saw the outline of two people in the car.
Cramer followed and placed a hand on the tense shoulder. "Would you like me to stay?"
Doyle shook his head. "Thanks, Jack, but I think I'm better on me own."
Bodie gratefully put the car into first and leaned back in the seat, fighting the urge to close his eyes and go to sleep right here. Moving his head as little as possible, he scanned the lot for some sign of Doyle's car. He gave it up after a moment. There were too many cars in the car park belonging to customers in the restaurant, and he really had no idea what car Doyle was driving now. But for the rain that was pelting down as usual this weekend, Doyle might have brought his bike.... Bodie realised his mind was wandering and shook himself back to the present. He needed a bed desperately, but first he had to go to the registry desk and find out which cottage Doyle had been given. All supposing Doyle was already here. A fairly safe assumption since Bodie was a good five hours late.
Now that he thought about it, they had cottage three last year. Wouldn't it be worth it to simply try cottage three or the one next door? If Doyle wasn't there, then he could check at the lodge. It would only save him a few yards walking, but right at the moment, he would take it.
Forcing himself to act on his decision, Bodie pulled the keys from the ignition and labouriously climbed from the car. After locking it up, he turned carefully and began moving slowly towards cottage No. 3. To his relief, he saw that the lights were glowing behind the drawn curtains, beckoning him out of the cold rain. At this time of year, surely it could only be one person waiting behind the closed door. There was only one way to find out. Bodie rapped on the door.
Having been anticipating his lover's arrival, and imagining the worst, for several hours, it took Doyle only a moment to release the lock and fling the door open, fully intending to drag the sexy body in and plaster himself all over it. Fortunately, his reflexes were still finely honed enough to stop him in his tracks at the first sight of Bodie. It was almost all his worst imaginings brought to reality - a bruised, battered and exhausted Bodie stood swaying in the rain.
"For Chrissake, Bodie, get in," Doyle exclaimed, grasping Bodie's arm to pull him inside but releasing it just as quickly when Bodie yelped a hoarse protest.
Bodie shuffled into the entry hall and leaned a shoulder tiredly against the wall despite the pain it caused him. He moaned another protest of pain when Doyle's hand settled on the small of his back to guide him. Once again the hand was withdrawn as if burned. Determinedly, he shuffled his way to the sofa and subsided ever so carefully onto its welcoming surface. If Bodie had been a man prone to tears, he would have broken down and wept right then and there. He longed for Doyle's touch with every bit of his love-starved soul, but could honestly think of no place on his aching body where he would welcome it.
Hovering uselessly, it was all Doyle could do not to hit something in sheer frustration. "What the hell happened to you?"
The blue eyes, which had closed upon gaining the haven of the sofa, opened to regard his anxious friend. "Mate, I've had a helluva day," Bodie pronounced.
Gingerly, Doyle settled on the edge of the cushion beside Bodie. "You ought to be in hospital.
"Was. 's why I'm late. Nothing worth keeping me in for," Bodie explained. At least that was what the doctor had said after Bodie had made it perfectly clear that he was leaving with or without permission.
"Nothing worth... concussion," Doyle protested, indicating the abraded goose egg on Bodie's forehead.
"And from the way you're moving, broken ribs."
"What about your back?"
"Pulled muscles and bruising." Bodie made an effort to purse his lips which was spoiled completely by the swollen upper lip and split bottom one. "Come on, Ray, aren't you even gonna offer me a drink?"
"Yeah, right. Scotch do you?" Doyle babbled, jumping to his feet. He turned to pour a generous splash without waiting for Bodie's reply.
Doyle swung around, nearly spilling the liquor, to find Bodie trying to struggle to his feet. "Here, where are you going?"
"Forgot my case. 's still in the car. Doc gave me some tablets," Bodie explained, subsiding back onto the couch with a groan and accepting the glass Doyle handed him.
"I'll get it," Doyle said. Carefully he fished in the pocket Bodie indicated for the keys and hurried outside.
Bodie braced himself and brought the glass to his lips. The deep swallow he poured into his mouth stung every cut and scrape inside, but was worth it for the warm glow it began to instill as soon as it hit his stomach. If only he could sleep for a week and wake up to find himself miraculously healed.
Coming back in out of the rain with Bodie's carry-all in hand, Doyle was treated to the sight of his former partner teetering on the very edge of sleep while the half-full glass of scotch teetered on the edge of disaster. Pouncing across the room, he caught the glass just before it tipped and brought it to his own lips. From the looks of Bodie, drinking out of the same glass was going to be as close as he would get to the man's mouth all weekend.
"Come on now, Bodie, you can't sleep here," he coaxed.
One blue eye opened to a glaring slit. "Watch me."
"No, Bodie. If you sleep there, any muscle that isn't protesting right now will be in the morning."
Bodie knew the truth of the statement, he just quite seriously doubted his ability to do anything about it.
"Come on, sunshine. Let me get you to bed," Doyle coaxed. He took Bodie's hands in his and slowly drew the bigger man to unsteady feet.
Despite the pain of it, Bodie allowed himself to rest against the slight frame. "Aw God, Ray, I've been waiting all year to hear you say that."
Deciding on short-term pain for long-term gain, Doyle slipped an arm around Bodie's waist and half-led, half-carried the stumbling man into the bedroom. Once there, he stood the swaying figure at the side of the bed and, as gently as he could, began stripping away the layers of clothing Bodie always muffled himself in. Although he longed to explore each and every bruise, scrape or lump as it was revealed, he restrained himself in favour of getting Bodie horizontal as quickly as possible. When he had him naked from neck to knees, Doyle helped him sit on the side of the bed and knelt to quickly dispose of shoes, socks, trousers and pants. Seeing that the skin around Bodie's ankles appeared unharmed, Doyle wrapped warm hands around them and, after giving warning, helped Bodie swing his legs up and settle on his back.
Doyle took a moment to do a quick visual inspection of the pitiful figure, then pulled the duvet up and tucked it tenderly around the bare shoulders. He knew Bodie was nearly out for the count and would likely sleep for hours, but he still could not force himself to leave. Instead, he moved to the other side of the bed, stripped off his clothes and, moving as cautiously as he ever had on an op, slid in beside his lover until he could feel the heat of him although the smallest of spaces remained between them.
"Aw, Ray. I want to be in your arms so badly. Been dreaming about it for months." Bodie would have liked to rail more vigorously at the unfairness of it all, but the energy required was simply beyond him.
"In the morning, sunshine," Doyle soothed.
"Touch me, will ya, Ray? Somewhere. Don't care how much it hurts," Bodie mumbled.
"Aw, Bodie." With gentle fingers Doyle stroked silken black strands away from the broad forehead, careful not to brush the discoloured bump beneath. "I hope you got the number of the bus that hit you."
"Yeah. Punched his ticket for him, too," Bodie muttered and abruptly slipped over the edge into sleep.
"That's my Bodie," Doyle whispered, taking away his hand and letting his eyes continue the caresses. "My Bodie."
He hurt. That was Bodie's first realisation when the drug-induced sleep left him. The second was that when he opened his eyes and tried to move, the word hurt would only begin to cover it. Even Macklin had never damaged him quite this badly. Why did this have to happen now? Last week, or next week, any time but yesterday.
"Can you sit up and swallow these, Bodie? Need help?"
Bodie opened his eyes, actually the right one as the left was nearly swollen shut, to find Doyle leaning over him with tablets and glass in hand.
"Don't wanna sleep," Bodie protested hoarsely, his throat still sore from the stranglehold one of his assailants had had on him.
"Know that. It's just disprin. Take the edge off," Doyle reassured.
Bodie opened his mouth for the pills, feeling his split lip pull in protest, then lifted his head enough to let Doyle spill some water into his mouth to wash the bitter tablets down.
"Can I take a look at you now?" Doyle asked. He pulled the duvet back without waiting for permission, exposing the naked body to his gaze. It looked far worse this morning now that the bruising had had a chance to develop and paint the fair-skinned torso in Technicolor shades of red, blue and purple. Tentatively, he reached out to gently stroke a somewhat less livid-looking bruise on the sturdy thigh.
"Better there than where he was aiming," Bodie said wryly.
Fingers drifting to the unharmed, but unresponsive genitals, Doyle smiled slightly. "Always did know how to protect your goolies." His hand encircled the flaccid penis.
"If you're expecting anything out of that today, you must really be the eternal optimist," Bodie muttered ruefully.
"It's about the only place I can touch you without hurting you right now."
"Could kiss me arse, but I'd have to roll over." Bodie paused to consider the pros and cons of the proposal, then shook his head. "Don't think I can."
Reluctantly, Doyle released the soft flesh he held. "Bath?" he asked. "Should help."
Bodie nodded agreement, but made no effort to move.
"Stay there and let the disprin work. I'll run it and then come help you up."
"Brought a block and tackle along, did you?"
Doyle laughed and went to start the bath, returning when it was half full to begin the arduous process of getting Bodie on his feet. To his surprise, Bodie had already got himself as far as sitting on the side of the bed.
"Why didn't you wait? I'd've helped."
"I'm not an invalid, Ray. I've had worse. So've you. Sooner I get moving, the faster I'll heal. You know that as well as I do."
Reluctantly, Doyle had to agree, but nevertheless insisted on helping Bodie to his feet and assisting him to the bathroom if for no other reason than to get his hands on the man.
Once in the bathroom, Bodie took a few minutes to empty his morning-insistent bladder, then turned towards the tub, contemplating its high side. "Looks like bloody Everest," he complained.
"Be worth the climb," Doyle reminded and offered a supporting hand as Bodie climbed in and settled himself into the steaming water. "I'm going to get some breakfast from the restaurant and make us a cuppa. Don't slip under and drown while I'm gone, will you?"
Head leaning back against the back of the tub, Bodie quirked a sore lip and locked his knees to demonstrate his determination to stay upright.
Doyle departed and Bodie lay in the water, occasionally bestirring himself to let out a little of the cooling water and topping it up with hot. He let the heat work its magic while his mind wandered. This was all so poignantly familiar. How many times during the years of their partnership had they nursed each other over the physical consequences of an op? It was one of the things he missed most about having a permanent partner, right behind having someone he knew and trusted to watch his back. Despite the many reteamings Cowley had attempted for him after Ray's resignation, Bodie had never been able to accept a replacement. After McCabe, Cowley had finally given in and allowed him to work solo. He managed as a solo agent but, more than anything, it was lonely work.
The proposal Cowley had made to him three months before didn't promise to decrease that loneliness one whit. In fact, it would only isolate him further. Once over the initial shock, Bodie had seen Cowley's logic in wanting to start grooming his successors, but had been unable to decide if it was a move he wanted to make. Normally, if he kept himself fit, he could expect to stay on the streets well into his forties, assuming, of course, that he lived that long. Last night, when he was uncertain whether he wanted to see the morning, the prospect of avoiding such injuries in the future had seemed very attractive. Now, with disprin and hot water combining to ease some of the pain, he wondered if he was truly ready to relinquish his active status. Except for when he had first discovered himself to be in love with Doyle, Bodie had never been so indecisive in his life.
"Breakfast in the tub, in bed or at the table?"
Gratefully emerging from his unsettling thoughts, Bodie sat upright and reached for the plug. "Bed or table, but definitely not in here."
Doyle reached for a towel as Bodie struggled upright, drying the battered torso, before once again offering a supporting hand to help him climb out. Kneeling, he dried the front side of Bodie as impersonally as he could manage, then nudged gently at his hip until he turned around.
Thoroughly enjoying the unaccustomed pampering, Bodie let himself drift with the tender caresses masquerading as efficient drying, then gasped as he felt the wet heat of an open-mouthed kiss on the cheek of his arse. His cock stirred softly, giving the lie to his earlier claims of impotence. He twisted carefully to look over his shoulder and down into Doyle's sparkling green eyes.
Still kneeling, Doyle leaned forward to press a second kiss to the other, neglected cheek. "You did say I could kiss your arse," he reminded.
"Come up here, sunshine," Bodie demanded, gathering Doyle into his arms and holding him close. Bruises be damned. He had only so many hours to indulge his heart's desire and, to his way of thinking, he had already wasted far too many of them.
Doyle's head reared back as Bodie's lips sought his. Gently, Ray touched the damaged mouth with a careful finger to explain his withdrawal.
"Been wanting your mouth for a year, Ray. You think I care if it hurts?"
As an act of carnality, the kiss was less than a sparkling success. As food for the soul, however, it was a banquet as they fit mouths together to tenderly cherish each other.
"Your breakfast will get cold," Doyle reminded when Bodie allowed retreat. Turning within the embrace and leaving one arm around Bodie's waist, he led him back to bed, noting how much more easily Bodie was moving after the bath.
Relishing and despising his role of nurse in equal measures, Doyle arranged a tray on Bodie's lap, then settled on his own side of the bed to eat his breakfast. The food failed to hold his attention and his gaze strayed again and again to the damage some nutter had inflicted on his lover.
"I'm sorry, Ray."
Doyle snapped out of his angry thoughts. "Eh?"
"You look like you'd like to murder me. I'm sorry to show up like this." Bodie's vague gesture encompassed his entire sorry state.
"Murder you?" Doyle echoed, shaking his head. "Would like five minutes alone with the bastards who did this to you. But you...." Once again his eyes travelled over every visible feature of this man who meant so much to him.
"Me?" Bodie prompted, nearly squirming beneath the intent regard. He was used to Doyle looking at him with desire, but was unable to decide what to make of the desperation in the green eyes.
"You know, I have nightmares about this, Bodie. This and worse. I wake up at night sometimes, sweating and shaking from a dream where you're hurt or... dead." Doyle fell silent, swallowing the tightness in his throat. "Kath thinks I'm dreaming about when I was on the squad. I don't tell her any different. Thing is, Bodie, sometimes I can't shake that feeling for days." Another pause as he poked at the contents of his plate, finally setting it aside and picking up his cup. He wrapped his fingers around the warmth though it could do nothing to dispel the chill inside. "You see, I know it could happen. You're still active. You could die, and, unless it made the papers, I wouldn't know. Not till I came here and you never showed up. Then, well, then I'd know. Or maybe I'd wonder, hope, that you'd just gone off me...." Ashamed of the weakness, Doyle turned his head away to hide the glittering of his eyes.
Bodie put aside his half-eaten breakfast, disposed of Doyle's cup and shifted to gather his lover into his arms. Cradling the back of the curly head with one hand, he pressed Doyle's face into the curve of his neck, letting the man he loved hide his emotions.
"It won't ever be like that, Ray. I promise you. If I'm ever hurt bad or killed, Cowley'll let you know. I swear it, Ray. I wouldn't leave you wondering." Bodie squeezed the trembling body he held and tousled the silken curls. "Come on now, sunshine. Enough of this." He leaned back, holding his lover close. "I want to hear about me namesake. Walkin' and talkin' yet, is he?"
Although the spirit was willing, very nearly desperate in fact, Bodie's flesh was still in no condition to rise to the challenge just yet. They had, therefore, spent the entire day cuddled under the duvet, talking when there was something to say or simply absorbing the comfort of each other's nearness.
"Mmmm," Doyle murmured. With Bodie lying on his less-injured side and the dark head resting on his shoulder, Doyle had been contemplating with distaste the necessity of soon rising from their warm cocoon to seek out some sort of dinner. He would have to rouse himself soon or the restaurant would be closed and they would have to subsist on tea and biscuits until morning. They had certainly done so before.
"You think about me, then?" Bodie asked hesitantly. "During the year, I mean."
Think of him? Doyle echoed silently. Only every day for the past five years. At first the thoughts had been full of bitter bewilderment, but since the night they had first met here three years before, his thoughts had been flavoured with many emotions. Sometimes guilt, often lust, but always with a longing for the friend Bodie had always been and the lover he had become. Such sentimental mush still failed to flow with ease from Doyle's tongue and he sought in vain for a way to express himself around the tightness in his throat.
"You worry about me?" Bodie prompted when no answer was forthcoming.
Having got himself back under control, Doyle answered with a simple "Yes."
"Cause I'm still active?"
This was more than just idle curiosity or even insecurity, Doyle realised belatedly. Bodie was going somewhere with this. "What's this in aid of then?"
Bodie sighed and moved away, settling on the pillow, unsurprised when Doyle shifted so they could see each other. Succinctly, he told his lover about the offer Cowley had made.
"What did you decide?" Doyle prompted when Bodie fell silent.
Bodie shrugged as well as he was able. The last dose of disprin was wearing off along with the therapeutic effects of the second bath he had taken. "Haven't yet. A day like yesterday makes it seem a good idea, then I think of being cooped up in an office, polishin' a chair with me bum...."
"Hang about. When've you ever known Cowley to be cooped up in his office?"
"There's that," Bodie admitted. "Would you feel better, Ray, knowing I wasn't on the streets any more?"
"You can't make a decision like that to make me feel better. You're the one who'd have to live with it," Doyle protested.
"Yeah, for 362 days a year. But I've got something I want to live for for the other three days. I want to be here, and healthy, for this for every year till we're 80."
Doyle grinned at the image those words evoked, but still refused to allow Bodie to foist this decision off on him completely. "And Emily?"
"Yeah," Bodie acknowledged. He had spent at least an hour bending Doyle's ear about the daughter who had popped into his life so unexpectedly and, he admitted to himself, so conveniently housebroken. Doyle had also held forth extensively on the subject of his son, and specifically about the less than joyous experience of nappies.
They shared a grin of mutual understanding of the other's thoughts.
Sober once again, Doyle insisted. "It has to be your decision, mate."
"Mmm. And I'll have to make it soon. Cowley's not getting any younger, and I think the quack's been onto him to slow down. If it's not me, it'll have to be someone. I imagine Jax and I would do well enough at it together."
"He isn't your partner now?"
"No. Never could settle to anyone else after you, sunshine," Bodie tried to joke, seeing the horror dawning on Doyle's face.
"You work solo?" Doyle asked quietly. "Shit!" he exclaimed with greater volume when Bodie nodded and suddenly rolled out of the bed. Snatching up his bathrobe, he stalked out of the room still struggling into it.
Bodie waited for ten minutes in the hope that Doyle would remember his limited mobility and return. Not willing to let Doyle brood on the subject any longer than that, he struggled out of bed, into his dressing gown and made his slow way into the sitting room. He found Doyle standing beside the window, looking at his own reflection and holding a large scotch.
"I've been comforting myself since I decided to resign with the thought that there are some fine lads on the squad and one of them'd be watching your back. I always thought Cowley might put you and Murphy together."
"Murph was killed in a bombing right after the New Year," Bodie informed him reluctantly, knowing he was only making matters worse.
Doyle's hand tightened on the glass until his knuckles whitened. "Christ."
Bodie hobbled to the chair and sank into it gratefully.
"You were never meant for solo work, Bodie."
"I manage all right. Never had anything like a permanent partner before you. Might hook up with somebody in the mercs for a while, be part of a team in the Paras or SAS. But never had a partner before. Not like you had Sid." Nor had he ever lost one before, Bodie thought, but left unspoken. There was no sense engaging Doyle's ever-present guilt. At first, it had been as if his right arm was gone, half his brain and all of his confidence. But Bodie had adjusted just as he had been adjusting to change all his life. Bodie never truly believed anything in his life, especially the very good things, would last for long.
"No one watching your back."
The note of hopeless despair in Doyle's voice brought Bodie to his feet once again and across the room. He slipped his arms around Doyle's chest and pulled the slim body back against the solid reality of his own strength. The decision that had seemed so impossible to make was now a fait accompli.
"Not any more, Ray," Bodie whispered to the anguished reflection. "Jax will be my partner from now on."
"Ah, Bodie, you know you're not up to it."
His battered visage lending his glare an even more menacing aspect, Bodie held out an imperious hand. "If you think either one of us is leaving here until we've made love at least once, you've got another think coming. Get in here."
Persuaded as much by his own desires as Bodie's demands, Doyle climbed onto the bed. "All right, you great lump, you needn't get ratty about it." Deftly, he avoided Bodie's seeking hands and gently eased him back down flat on the sheets. "But you just lie there and let me do all the work."
"Want to love you, too," Bodie protested.
"So love me. Just don't strain yourself," Doyle admonished.
"Ah, sunshine," Bodie sighed, reaching up to wrap his fingers in wayward curls and draw the beautiful mouth down to his. "Loving you is never a strain."
"What the hell did you do to your hair!" a horrified Bodie exclaimed at his first sight of his lover.
"Cut it," Doyle stated the obvious as he dropped his suitcase and reached for Bodie.
Bodie couldn't take his eyes off his shorn sheep and leaned away from the seeking mouth. He lifted one two-inch strand, fingering it incredulously. There was hardly even a wave left, let alone the curls he loved to tangle his fingers in.
"You gonna go off me 'cause I cut my hair?" Doyle growled in accusation while securing a tenuous finger hold in Bodie's ultra short waves. "You, sunshine, are in no position to gripe."
"No, 'course not," Bodie muttered absently, still stunned by the change. He managed to collect himself sufficiently to pull the slim body close, relieved to discover as their passionate hello kiss deepened that the hairstyle seemed to be the only thing about Ray that had changed. The muscular arms held him just as tightly, the sensitive hands were every bit as demanding, and the aroused cock pressed between their urgently grinding groins was every bit as hard. Doyle caught fire faster than anyone Bodie had ever known.
"Unless you want it right here on the hall floor, we'd better move. Now," Doyle warned.
"'s a tradition, isn't it?" Bodie panted, fingers busily freeing swollen flesh from tight denim. He leaned up against the door as Doyle returned the favour.
Doyle's filthy chuckle gurgled in his throat as he squirmed until two very hard and eager cocks were pressed length for length. "Ah, yeah. Ain't tradition grand!"
Some time later, lying side-by-side in bed and recovering nicely, Bodie's attention was once again drawn to Doyle's hair, or the lack of it to be more precise. Experimentally, he ran his hand through what remained, encountering the familiar satin softness, but missing how the tangled curls would catch his fingers.
"Why, Ray?" he asked mournfully.
"Ah, give it a rest, Bodie!" Doyle snapped and yanked his head away from the stroking fingers. He was sick to death of the subject of his hair. He had only had it cut two weeks before and was still uncertain he knew what he thought of it himself. Unfortunately, everybody else, from the milkman to the students in his defence class, seemed to have an opinion and no one hesitated to voice it. Even Jack Cramer, who had caught him up as he got out of his car, had commented on his lack of curls.
Neither had his wife been any too pleased by the abrupt change and was still eyeing him reproachfully every time he combed his hair. His son, however, had been the worst. Drew had taken one look, burst into tears and run to his mother as if the hounds of hell were on his heels. It had taken Doyle three days to convince the toddler that the stranger who had suddenly appeared in his life was, indeed, his daddy.
Bodie reclaimed his handful of satin and turned the stubborn face his way. "Why?" he repeated.
"For Chissake, I looked like an aging hippie with all that hair," Doyle exploded. "I'm 38 years old. It's about time I...."
Bodie applied his mouth in the only tried and true method he had ever found of halting his Doyle in a full-blown temper fit. Several minutes later, he lifted his head to find a much more favourable countenance gazing back at him.
"Not sure you like it yourself, are you, love?" he asked gently.
"No," Doyle admitted the source of his temper. "Keep catchin' sight of meself and wonderin' who the hell that is." He ran a hand through the crop under discussion and felt it flop back into place. "Can't believe how straight it's gone. Never did that when I was younger. As for where the hell all the grey came from...."
"All right, let's have a proper look at you," Bodie said, sitting up. He took the rounded chin in one hand and made a production out of turning Doyle's face this way and that. Somewhere along the line, he forgot to grieve for the old as he discovered the all-too-startling new. With the distraction of the curls gone, the exotic face had left behind the last trace of a much-too-pretty youth. What they left in their stead was... devastating. Where the curls had distracted from the exotic features, the short waves with silver at the temples and feathering back through the rest, accented them to a breathtaking degree. This was the face of a man who knew who he was, what he wanted and how to get it. Ray Doyle's beauty was only truly coming into its own now.
Bodie was utterly captivated. "You're gorgeous," he breathed reverently, cupping the newly discovered treasure between his hands.
Looking up into that reverence, Doyle decided that just maybe he would be able to get used to his new look himself.
"What are you doing?" Bodie asked lazily, not really caring. Some time ago, maybe as much as an hour, Doyle had urged him to lie flat on his back and then, beginning at his neck, had started going over every inch of him all the way down to his toes. Seemingly satisfied he had then nudged Bodie over onto his belly and begun the process all over again. Not quite caresses, yet far from impersonal, the skimming fingers were once again stroking lightly over his ankles, and Bodie's curiosity had finally begun to stir along with other parts of his anatomy presently trapped uncomfortably beneath him. He spread his legs to ease the pressure and felt Doyle settle between them.
"Checking," Doyle explained absently.
"New scars," Doyle replied, running the backs of his fingers along the soft inner thigh, rubbing the hairs the wrong way and provoking a shiver.
"It's all behind me now, mate," Bodie reassured. "Worst danger I'm in is getting secretary's spread."
Doyle ran firm fingertips over the satiny expanse of creamy white globes, watching the muscles bunch and relax. "Not yet, lover," he murmured and bent to worship at the altar of his own personal fetish. Or one of them. It was just as easy for the breadth of muscular shoulders, the hairless curve of pectoral muscle, or tight-drawn velvet of testicles to invoke this nearly religious fervour he felt.
"Don't stop now," Bodie protested when Doyle sat up.
Doyle hushed the impatience, running his hands in broad sweeping strokes up the wide back, over the flare of shoulders and back down again and again to temper the urgency he had created.
"Is it awful, Bodie?"
"Ah, God, no. 's wonderful," Bodie moaned, lost in the massage that rocked him just perfectly against the satin sheets.
Leaning down once again, Doyle delivered a sharp nip to a nether cheek. "The job, Bodie," he admonished.
Bodie's breath left him in a hiss at the stinging pain.
"Tell me," Doyle coaxed, mouth poised over the crimson mark of his teeth, "and I'll kiss it all better." His tongue tip circled, just barely touching the reddened imprint.
Suddenly, Bodie heaved upward, catching Doyle unprepared and easily subduing him with his greater strength.
"You are a rotten tease," he accused.
"No, I'm a very good tease," Doyle challenged, locking his thighs around Bodie's waist and arching his spine.
Bodie groaned as his cock brushed against the opening that had already accepted him once today. Considering their lack of practice throughout the year, once each was all they could indulge in that particular practice. This year in particular since Bodie had been in no condition last year for anything even remotely as energetic as fucking. Doyle's legs fell away as Bodie pulled back and settled himself beside his tormenting lover.
"Slow down. Anticipate," Doyle advised, rolling to wrap himself around as much of Bodie as he could. "Tell me all about it."
Controlling himself down from a full boil to a simmer, Bodie complied. "It's bloody boring sometimes. Reading till I think my eyes are going to drop out of my head. Can be dead interesting though. And Cowley. Sunshine, we never guessed the half of it. The things that man knows. Would you believe...." Abruptly, Bodie shut his mouth as he remembered Doyle no longer had security clearance.
Doyle felt a twinge of envy and regret, but pushed it aside. "So you're not sorry you decided to climb the ladder?"
Bodie considered the question that he had been asking himself for a year. Occasionally, yes, he missed the action, but for the most part the sheer weight of the workload kept him well occupied. He had so much to learn. "Not as much as I expected to."
Satisfied with the honesty of the answer, Doyle let his fingers slip to a small pink nub, ready to resume their love play now that they had both cooled a little.
"There's something you should know."
Doyle stilled his fingers, alerted by the sudden tension of the body he held. He waited silently.
"I had to tell Cowley about us."
"Bloody hell," Doyle exclaimed and tried to roll away, but Bodie tightened his grip, holding him in place.
"Come on, Ray. I'm not just an agent anymore. I'm Deputy Controller of CI bloody 5. He had to know."
Doyle held onto his outrage a moment longer, then relaxed.
"You don't have to worry it'll come out, Ray. That old bastard can keep a secret better than a priest in confessional." Bodie massaged gently at Doyle's scalp. "Besides, he sort of knew anyway."
"What? He been having you followed?" Doyle demanded belligerently.
"No. At least not that I know of," Bodie qualified. One never knew for certain with George Cowley. "He seemed surprised when I told him it was you. But think about it, sunshine, I've insisted on the same weekend off for four years running. Takes less than that to rouse old George's curiosity."
"Especially when it involves his fair-haired boy."
Considering the position he now held, Bodie was hardly in a position to refute that claim any longer. He shrugged.
Doyle let the feel of the rippling muscles beneath his cheek scatter the storm clouds. "Enough of the Cow, Bodie. Roll over."
"Promised to kiss it all better, didn't I?"
Bodie rolled with alacrity.
On Sunday morning, the rain retreated for a few hours and the two men took the opportunity to stroll along the secluded path to the lake. At the height of the season, the walk would be alive with happy families and strolling lovers, but today they had it all to themselves.
Never one for public demonstrations of affection despite his affectionate nature, Bodie revelled in the freedom to walk hand in hand or to slip an arm around Doyle's slim waist. Had circumstances been different and he and Ray could form a permanent relationship, Bodie knew he would never have hesitated to thumb his nose at the world. But such freedom was denied him, and so Bodie revelled in what he could have. They were safe from unfriendly observance here and, therefore, Ray was safe. Safe to have the life he had always wanted. That was all that mattered to Bodie. But it did remind him of something.
"Something I've been meaning to ask you, Ray," he said, giving the hand in his a squeeze.
"Well, I've just been wonderin' why me little namesake hasn't a baby brother or sister by now. Randy bugger like you, I'd've thought there'd be at least one or t'other by now."
Doyle smiled a little sadly. "Surprised I've never told you. Kath can't have any more."
Bodie tried to remember if Doyle had ever mentioned it before, but was sure he would have remembered. The memories of their lovemaking, precious as they were, tended to blend together in Bodie's mind into one long orgy of sensation. What stayed crystal clear were their conversations, for it was from them he gleaned the snippets of Doyle's life upon which to dream for the rest of the year. As much as he longed for his lover during the empty months from October to October, it was the friend and daily companion he often missed with near desperation.
"Sorry," he finally muttered inadequately.
"I've had a long time to get used to it," Doyle admitted. "And it has worked out well now with the second gym up and running. I've barely the energy to keep up with Drew as it is."
They walked along silently for a while longer before Doyle once again took up the conversation. "It's been hard on Kathy though. Especially with her sister bringing one along every ten months or so. Think she's working on number five or thereabouts now."
"Kath wants a baby or nothing." Doyle shrugged. "Since we've one of our own, we're not really in the running. Besides, they don't like to give a child to a working mother and Kath does like her job."
To Bodie, it sounded as if Kathleen Doyle wanted to have her cake and eat it too, but he had no intention of saying any such thing. Even if Doyle had been openly critical of his wife, Bodie still would have kept his mouth shut. He had no intention of placing Doyle in any more of a position of divided loyalties than the very existence of their annual three-day-affair did.
"Drew's enough for me," Doyle declared firmly.
"Of course he is. How could he be anything short of superior when he's my namesake," Bodie declared with the insolent arrogance that used to get right up his former partner's nose.
Predictably, Doyle cuffed him with his free hand and they tussled along the path for a few steps.
"Got nothing to do with his name, you berk. 's my superior genes he's got to thank," Doyle declared with paternal arrogance.
Bodie freed his hands and made a grab for Doyle's shapely rear. "Got to agree with you there, sunshine. Always did say you had superior jeans." He pulled Doyle against him and squeezed his double handful.
Laying claim to the same portion of Bodie's anatomy, Doyle cuddled close, enjoying the warmth created between their tight-pressed bodies in contrast to the chilly fall air around them. They stood that way for pleasurable moments, then separated to continue their leisurely perambulation, one hand tucked in the other's back pocket.
"So you decided to open the second gym after all, did you?"
"Yeah. About six months ago. It's doing well, considering."
"Considering where it is. Mostly lunch hour and after work members. Civil servants, accountants, clerks. Want to look like Adonis, but don't really want to put in the time and effort." Doyle shook his head, not really understanding the mind set. Always slim, he had yet to have to worry about the advance of the dreaded middle-age spread. But Doyle had never been satisfied with simply adequate. His slighter build worked against him in maintaining the strength and musculature that satisfied his own definition of fitness.
"The gain but no pain crowd," Bodie summed it up. "Bet you piss 'em right off strutting around in your tight T-shirts and jeans. And you ten years older than them. Bet you just love it."
Doyle grinned sheepishly, admitting the truth of the accusation.
"Just imagine what Macklin could do with that lot." Bodie's face brightened. "Why don't you hire him?"
"Still have to take refreshers, do you?" Doyle guessed easily.
"Soon as I get back," Bodie admitted ruefully. "Gotta take 'em every six months now that I'm sittin' around on me arse so much."
Squeezing the well-muscled cheek under his hand, Doyle said. "Good. Like you just the way you are."
The sexy growl tracing straight down his spine and into his groin, Bodie steered them around until they were headed back towards their cottage. "Good, 'cause you're about to get some more of me."
With one last kiss, Bodie opened the door and stepped out into the chilly morning. Wishing with all his heart that it was Friday night and the weekend still stretched before them, he hid his feelings behind a confident air and strutted off to his car. Turning after dumping his case in the back, he found Ray framed in the doorway in his characteristic hip-shot pose. Tempted almost beyond resistance to drag his lover back to bed, Bodie forced himself to get in the car. Offering one cocky wave as he drove by, he set himself to endure the year to come.
After watching the silver motor - why did Bodie always choose silver cars? - Doyle turned back to the empty cottage to hurriedly finish his packing. After the love and laughter that had existed in this little cottage for the last three days, the echoing emptiness was now too much to bear. Every year it got harder and harder to let Bodie go. Some day, he knew, the sorrow would outweigh the joy and he would stay away. But not yet. He knew that come the third Friday in October, 1986, he'd be back.
On a rainy afternoon in April, Doyle sat at the desk in his small office trying to review the financial report that had just arrived from his accountant. Realising the columns of figures just were not holding his attention, Doyle set the document aside and leaned back in his chair, resolved to let his mind wander as it would for a while at least. More and more often lately, he found himself falling into reflection upon his life. Perhaps if he gave his thoughts free rein on this dreary afternoon, when there was really nothing terribly urgent to occupy them, it would allow him to draw some conclusions as to what was wrong with him.
His problems certainly were not financial. Both gyms, he had yet to learn to think of them as fitness centres, were doing very well. So well, in fact, that they both had full staffs and he only really showed up at one place or the other if he wished.
Doyle could hardly look on that as a problem for it gave him plenty of time to spend with Drew. Nearly three years old now, the infant was being left behind and Drew was beginning to develop into a person. The process itself fascinated Doyle, as did the personality that was emerging. It was one of the greatest joys of his life that he could be there to watch and participate in the gradual transformation. It was something, he understood, that few fathers got to share in. Kathy had no idea what she was missing.
That thought, of course, lead him to the consideration of his wife. Kathy Doyle was a different woman than the one he had married eight years ago. The change wasn't necessarily a bad thing, just different. She still loved him, he had no doubt about that, but the passion had cooled. In all honesty, he had to admit that so had his own. It was bound to happen in any long-term relationship.
It was amazing, really, how many of his thoughts lately (and before if he was being honest and why not be in the privacy of his own mind) always seemed to lead to Bodie. His relationship with Bodie was over 13 years old and there had certainly been no lessening of his longing for his former partner. Hardly a fair comparison, he admitted, but it was one he could not seem to avoid. Through all of its various mutations, his relationship with Bodie had permeated his life and, except for the first stages of mutual suspicion and competition, Doyle had longed desperately to immerse himself in the completeness of what they shared.
With a jolt, Doyle dragged himself from his thoughts. Body inflamed, emotions trying to bring tears to his eyes, he sat there and fought to bring himself back under control. Damn! Sometimes he wished he had never met up with Bodie again. Not very often, he admitted, just when the longing overwhelmed him like it was today.
Impatient with himself, Doyle jumped to his feet and went to stand by the window, looking through the rain-streaked glass to the wet, dirty street below. Still being ruthlessly honest with himself, Doyle acknowledged that there was nothing on earth he would trade in exchange for his three days a year with Bodie. Except perhaps for 365 days a year, but then the cost would be his wife and son. He couldn't pay that price, but that didn't stop him from yearning for Bodie's presence.
He tried to convince himself that he was just bored. He had always had a lot of energy and now had too few outlets for it. No longer struggling to make a success of his business, his social conscience was also stirring. He missed doing something that made a difference. He had a few ideas about that, but wished he had someone he could talk them over with. Doyle smiled wryly when he realised once again that, as usual, all the roads of his thoughts lead back to Bodie. There was no one he wanted to talk to but Bodie.
Sighing softly, Doyle returned to his desk and the financial statement. So much for introspection solving his problems. He should expect no better, after all. He'd been going around in the same mental circles since a Monday night last October on the A1 when he had realised that somewhere along the line, he had fallen in love with his lover.
Bodie turned the key to shut down the engine and leaned his head back against the seat. After a few moments, he opened his eyes and sought out cottage No. 3 and saw the welcoming shimmer of light through the curtains. Doyle would already be there. He should not have come.
No, he shouldn't have come, but he had to. Their relationship now consisted of no more than three days of as much sex as they could possibly manage with little bits and pieces of their lives wedged in between when sated flesh demanded a rest. Long before they had been lovers, however, they had been everything else to each other, and it was the friend, companion and confidant that Bodie both longed for and yet dreaded seeing. One look at Doyle and it was all going to come apart. All his hard held control was going to unravel.
Accepting the inevitable, Bodie left the car and soon stood before the door to cottage three. He raised a hand and hesitated, knowing Doyle would have heard his approach and be waiting to fling open the door. Resolutely, he rapped his knuckles against the wood.
The same reflexes that had stopped Doyle cold when Bodie arrived battered and beaten two years ago once again halted his immediate reaction to his lover's arrival. He took two steps back to let Bodie enter and pushed the door shut.
The iron-clad walls began to crumble with just the sound of Doyle's voice. Bodie moved stiff-backed into the room, automatically shedding his jacket and laying it neatly aside as he fought to retain his control. Unseeing eyes stared straight ahead and he felt his body begin to tremble with the strain. A light touch on his arm brought his attention back and he looked down to see Doyle's hand upon his arm. He accepted the glass pressed into his hand and allowed himself to be pushed down on the sofa. He felt Ray settle beside him, felt his hand taken.
"Drink it, Bodie," Doyle commanded. "All of it."
Like an automaton, Bodie lifted his glass and poured the fiery spirit down his throat. The glass was removed and his hand captured. He felt the waiting presence beside him and knew a moment of wonder. When had Doyle learned patience?
"Cowley's dead," he whispered between stiff lips. He'd said it at least fifty times in the past four days, but in saying it to Doyle, the only one who would truly understand what it meant to him, he finally accepted it as real.
His hands were freed and he was drawn into strong arms, his face pressed into the soft juncture of Doyle's neck and shoulder. The Berlin Wall of isolation that had protected him from without and within was tumbling, coming down brick by brick with each stroke of Doyle's hand down his back. For the first time in years, sapphire blue eyes filled and spilled as he wept silently for the man he had loved and respected.
Unfortunately, being the man he was, Bodie could give way only so far and the storm abated too soon for any true relief. He sat up and turned away, wiping at his eyes with his sleeve and feeling embarrassment beginning to creep between them.
"None of that now, mate," Doyle refused to be shut out. He slipped his arms around the broad chest and forced Bodie to lie back, cradling the larger man against him. He let the silence drag on until he felt his lover beginning to relax, the solid body growing heavy against him.
"Now talk to me, Bodie. There's no one else to hear, and you need to say it all," he demanded.
"A heart attack," Bodie began, knowing the specifics were of little interest to Doyle, but he had to start somewhere. "Four days ago. Just dropped like a stone in his office. Just like the old bastard not to leave a chance for...."
Doyle stroked the trembling man to quiet again before supplying the missing word. "Goodbye."
"Yeah. It's being kept under wraps for now. The mob's in a mess. Everything shut down until the HS confirms me and Jax. Seems so odd to see CI5 at a stand-still."
"I'll bet," Doyle murmured.
Bodie fell silent again and Doyle let it stretch and stretch until his friend was once more ready to talk.
Bodie snorted. "I can feel them all watching and waiting. All the old rumours have cropped up again."
Doyle grimaced. Gossip had been rife within the squad even before Doyle's departure. No one but him had seemed to understand the special relationship that had existed between Bodie and Cowley. It was obvious that Bodie was Cowley's fair-haired boy despite the younger man's dark tresses. Cowley was far too lenient with his headstrong agent, giving rise to speculations that somehow the Controller of CI5 was, in fact, Bodie's biological father. Bodie had laughed in the face of such gossip, pointing out that, were it true, he certainly would never have settled for his present miserly salary. Doyle, however, knew that Bodie had been secretly flattered.
The next set of rumours had been met much less equably. In fact, Doyle had never before or since seen Bodie in a rage to match the one that overtook him when he heard the suggestion that he was Cowley's lover. The Controller was far too ready to be amused by 3.7, the speculation ran. Perhaps the incorruptible Cowley had a weakness after all and the blue-eyed, fair-fleshed agent held the Scotsman in thrall with his willingly given beauty. Enraged not on his own behalf but his superior's, Bodie had been saved from committing mayhem only by his partner's intervention.
The memories had gone through Doyle's mind in only a matter of moments. He tightened his grip as he pronounced sentence on Bodie's workmates. "Berks."
Bodie crossed his arms over his chest, holding Doyle's arms captive. "They're all wrong, you know."
Doyle pressed his damaged cheek against Bodie's unshaven jaw. "I know."
"When I was in the SAS, I was becoming a killing machine. Not as bad as Tommy McKay yet, but going that way. Cowley saw something else in me and he encouraged... no, he made me find it and use it. He rescued me and I... loved him for that."
"Yes," Doyle encouraged the outpouring softly.
"He was totally incorruptible. Gave up everything to do a thankless job. I... I would have followed him through hell."
"You did, Bodie. More than once. And though he never said it, he counted on that. Your loyalty meant more to him than all the rest of us put together."
Bodie's head fell forward, resting on his chest as he accepted what he had known intellectually but never before had been able to understand completely with his heart.
Slowly, Doyle manoeuvred until he could get to his feet and pulled Bodie up with him. At the door of the bedroom, Bodie balked, then allowed himself to be lead into the room. He stood passively as Doyle efficiently stripped them both and got them tucked under the duvet. Arms reaching for the comfort he so desperately needed, he cuddled close to the other man's warmth.
"Probably shouldn't have come," he admitted softly. "Bound to disappoint you."
Doyle felt his own eyes fill and held on tighter. "Sh, love, you can never be a disappointment to me."
Disgusted by his needy state, but unable to overcome it, Bodie echoed. "Love?"
Slipping his fingers into the dark hair, Doyle held Bodie's face close to him. "Oh yes. Love. So sorry I never said it before. I love you."
Surrounded by the love he had waited so long for, Bodie gave up the battle and let grief take him.
Five days after leaving cottage No. 3, Doyle stood well back in the crowd at the gravesite, watching the proceedings as the persistent drizzle slowly soaked through his coat. He could almost hear the voice of the man, now forever stilled, who lay in the box: Haven't you the sense to come in out of the rain, laddie? Even if knowing it was beyond Cowley's far-reaching powers, Doyle could almost have sworn the old man had ordered the miserable weather as one last dig at those, both enemy and friend, who dared not snub the graveside funeral he had insisted upon.
Only one largish group stood through the service in relative comfort - the men and women who had jumped to Cowley's orders huddled together beneath an open-sided tent, protected by their mutual grief and shock at the loss of their Controller. Doyle made no attempt to take a place beneath the meagre shelter, but stood with the other bedraggled mourners as the service wound its way towards an ending much less abrupt than the blow that had ended the life of the man it served to memorialize.
One figure, however, whose right to seek succour from the elements no one would question, stood alone, head bared to the elements and bent in silent tribute to the value of the life now passed. It was on this lone mourner that Doyle's attention dwelled.
Yes, of course, Bodie would stand alone now, that proud neck bent to the cool rain one last time as it had bent, time and again, only to George Cowley. And beneath that uncaring façade would dwell the pain of a child who had lost the closest thing to a father he had ever known. He was the reason Doyle stood quietly in the foul weather, patiently waiting until the last words were spoken, the last flower laid, and the final shift and shuffle of departing bodies faded away.
On silent feet, Doyle made his way to the figure that had not moved so much as a hand to wipe away the rain from the immobile face. "Hello, Bodie," he offered into the profound silence.
A soft sigh escaped the thinned lips and Bodie raised his head. Blue eyes locked with green and Doyle saw the serenity Bodie had found. It was a peace and acceptance that only he, Doyle, could have given and Doyle was proud of that. He was also relieved to see acceptance of his presence in the serene gaze. It was the first time in so long that they had been together outside the private haven of cottage No. 3.
"Ray. You came," Bodie whispered. He reached to enclose the bedraggled figure, gripping convulsively at the slim form.
They stood that way for what seemed hours as the last sounds of retreating motors faded into the mist. This was the one place in the civilized world where two men could openly cling to each other, but even grief could only excuse such a needy display for so long. All too soon, the comforting silence was broken by the discreet throat clearings of the grave diggers, anxious to finish their job of work and return to hearth and home.
Reluctantly, Bodie and Doyle drew apart, Bodie returning his attention to the open grave, while Doyle's remained fixed on his former partner. After allowing Bodie a few more moments of silent contemplation, Doyle grasped a broad shoulder and drew the other man away.
"It's time to go, Bodie."
Turning away, they walked along the path, separating when they reached their cars which were parked side by side.
Doyle studied his lover closely. "Bodie?"
Bodie smiled sadly. "No, mate. Time for you to get on. I'm all right."
It was true and it wasn't, and Doyle knew it. He also had to accept it. "If you need me...."
"I will," Bodie admitted. "And you'll be there." He paused to straighten his shoulders beneath the burden of wanting so much what he couldn't have all the time. "You'll be there the third Friday of October."
"Ray, have you seen this?"
Doyle dragged his early-morning focus away from the sports page and transferred it to the news spread his wife held. A large picture of a very familiar face dominated the page. Subduing the sudden trembling in his hands, Doyle took the paper and scanned the headline, releasing a nearly inaudible sigh of relief as he realised the story was about the confirmation of Bodie and Jax as Co-Controllers of CI5 and not about Bodie's death.
"Will you give him a call or something?"
Glancing up from the story, Doyle knew he must be wearing a stunned expression but hoped his wife would take it for simple morning stupidity. He had, of course, known Bodie was going to be confirmed, it just came as something of a shock to come face-to-face with the man over his morning tea. "What for?" he asked belatedly.
"To congratulate him. He was your partner." Kathy studied her husband's face for a few moments. "I always thought there was something odd about that," she mused, causing her husband's heart to hesitate in his chest and then pick up again double time. "You and Bodie were so close and then when you left CI5..." she snapped her fingers, "nothing."
Doyle forced himself to shrug casually. "That's the way it is sometimes with partners. Live in each other's pockets when you work together, but when you don't, turns out you had nothing but the job in common all along."
Kathy shook her head in disgusted exasperation. "Men!"
Bodie ran his hands through his hair, then scrubbed tiredly at his face before trying to focus once again on the computer screen. It did no good. The tiny lines of text continued to dance across the screen to a tune that only the infernal machine could comprehend. He blanked the screen for a moment, wishing for an interruption. Immediately the phone rang and someone knocked on his office door reminding him, as if he needed it, that he should be careful what he wished for. Calling admittance to whoever was behind the door, he picked up the receiver.
"Alpha One," he barked into the phone, that being his designation for the evening since Jax was supposed to be taking a well-deserved 24 hours with his neglected family. He listened to the agent on the other end of the line for a few moments, gave several succinct instructions and hung up. Head bowed, he scribbled a notation on the scratch pad before him.
He looked up as a glass of his own scotch was placed before him. Jax grinned at him, took a healthy swallow from his own glass and sank into the facing chair.
"What the hell are you doing here?" Bodie asked, reaching for the drink and knocking back half of it in one gulp.
"Celia threw me out," Jax explained with much less chagrin than you would expect from a man making such a statement.
"Bloody hell, Jax...."
The black man held up a hand to hold off the rest of the exclamation. "My Celia is one in a million. Said since my mind was here anyway, my body might as well be. She knows things will settle down once we get used to the load."
"Do you really believe that?" Bodie asked hopefully.
"No, but as long as Celia does, it will keep things quiet on the home front."
Bodie grinned in agreement then rested his head back against the chair, closing burning eyes.
Jax leaned over the desk to read, upside down, the scribbling on the pad in front of Bodie. "Anson's op about ready?"
"Yeah. Thought I'd go out there and look it over myself," Bodie said. "Make sure everyone's on their toes."
Jax laughed. "You don't fool me, mate. You're just looking for an excuse to get away from the computer."
Bodie pouted at his partner, eliciting almost the same response as he had ever gained from Doyle - Jax laughed again. "Oh, all right," he conceded. "Get out of here so I can get back to it."
Jax came around the desk and stood over the obviously exhausted man. "No, you get out of here. I'll go over this and see the Minister in the morning. I had a few hours' break at home. Why don't you see if you can scare yourself up a date?"
Bodie snorted at the suggestion, but vacated the seat to let Jax take over the Alpha One position. "The only thing I'm interested in scaring up tonight is a dream. I'll run by Anson's op. If everything is under control, I'll head off home." He shrugged into his rumpled suit jacket.
"Okay," Jax confirmed, bringing the computer back on line. "Just do me a favour, Bodie, and get some glasses. I'm not gonna do all the computer work forever."
Glasses, Bodie thought in disgust as he made good his escape. This job was going to make him old before his time.
Receiving no response to his knock, Doyle tried the handle of cottage No. 3. Discovering the door unlocked, he swung it inwards to find himself facing a bleary-eyed Bodie sprawled on the sofa and the wrong end of a very serious-looking hand gun.
"Christ, mate, you look like shit!" he exclaimed, shutting the door, dropping his case and crossing the room to sit beside his lover.
"Feel it," Bodie admitted, safetying the weapon and laying it aside. "Why are you late?" he asked around a jaw-straining yawn.
"Motor kept threatening to pack it in," Doyle explained, eyeing the other man with concern. "Are you as tired as you look?"
"Dunno. Haven't had time to look at myself in days." Bodie rubbed both hands over his face. "I don't know how the hell Cowley ever did it alone."
There was silence for a few minutes and Doyle began to think that, despite the open eyes, Bodie was drifting back into the sleep he had obviously disturbed. He watched as the younger man dragged himself away from the enticement and forced himself to focus.
"If you want to help me up and over to the door, I'll try to observe tradition," Bodie offered ruefully.
Doyle laughed, rose and grabbed a muscular arm to drag Bodie up, then began steering him toward the bedroom. "You're going to bed. We can indulge in a knee trembler in the morning, Bodie, and then you can help me fix my fucking car."
"Well, I can see a bit of blue amidst the red now," Doyle observed twelve hours later when Bodie emerged from his near coma-like slumber. He lay on his side, head propped so that he could look down into his lover's face.
Bodie yawned and stretched, blinking owlishly at the other man.
Doyle reached out to tenderly thumb a spiky sideburn. "Not to mention a bit of silver amidst the black."
"Yeah? Well I earned every one of those this year," Bodie countered. He slipped his arms around a trim waist. "Sorry I faded on you last night. I do seem to remember at least one of us making some extravagant promises however."
Rolling onto Bodie and settling himself between thighs that obligingly parted for him, Doyle grinned happily. "We're both a bit old for knee tremblers, love." He nuzzled wet kisses into Bodie's throat below the morning stubble. "I think we better just continue right here."
Bodie caught a handful of waves and coaxed the busy mouth upwards. "And to think people used to say I was the brains of the partnership."
"Knew you couldn't resist getting back on the side of the angels for too long," Bodie said with a grin.
The two men leaned over a fender each under the bonnet of Doyle's car, taking turns tugging on hoses and wires and getting happily covered in grease and oil. They had borrowed some tools from Jack who had gone on his way after they had assured him that they would ask him for help if they needed it.
"I'm not exactly fighting the good fight, Bodie," Doyle protested. "Just spend a bit of time at a couple of youth centres."
"Yeah. Nothing important," Bodie drawled. "But you must wonder how many kids the police or my mob won't have to deal with because you talked or knocked a little sense into them."
"Be worth it if there's only one," Doyle said, looking away from the interconnected mass of machinery to lock gazes with Bodie. The moment stretched, the admiration in Bodie's gaze becoming too intense. "Be a mate and get me that spanner. Left it on the door step."
Recognising the ploy and going along with it, Bodie retreated from under the bonnet and went to search out the tool.
"Did I tell you I bought a bike?" came the muffled inquiry from beneath the bonnet.
Bodie grinned as he searched through the tools on the doorstep. "Let me guess. Another Bloody Sore Arse."
"Yes, a BSA." Doyle shuffled around until he bent over the bumper. He raised his voice so that his indignant response would reach the man behind him. "And I'll have you know it's in very good nick. Have it on the road in no time. Of course, I'd be a bit further along if Drew didn't insist on helping me. Dropped the crankshaft the other day and bent the hell out of it. You ought to hear Kath bitching about the oil stains on his clothes...."
It belatedly occurred to Doyle that although he had left appropriate pauses in his monologue, there had been no further sarky comments from his lover. He backed out from under the bonnet, straightened, turned and froze. Bodie was standing stock still, the spanner dangling forgotten in one hand, the look on the handsome face making Doyle feel like prime sirloin set before a starving man.
"Bodie?" he murmured tentatively, glancing furtively around the public car park.
"Think we better go inside," Bodie ground out between clenched teeth, turned on his heel and marched through the door.
Reaching behind him, Doyle brought the bonnet back down into place and hurried after his partner. He had barely got a foot across the threshold when he was grabbed and dragged inside into the strong embrace, the door banging closed behind him. Two hands clamped on either side of his head tilting his chin into position and holding it there while a hungry mouth descended on his.
"Knee trembler?" he murmured a very long time later when his swollen lips were freed. He started to lean back into the door.
"No!" Bodie growled, catching a slim wrist and dragging Doyle behind him to the bedroom. Once there, he clawed the T-shirt over the auburn head and began on the tight jeans.
Doyle reciprocated with Bodie's shirt, popping a button or two in his haste, but sobered as he stroked his hands over the creamy expanse of Bodie's exposed chest leaving behind unsightly black smears. He pulled back as far as he could. "At least let me wash my hands."
"No!" Bodie repeated, having switched his attention to getting his own lower half bared. He managed it one-handed, but the discarded trousers caught around his ankles. He tumbled backwards onto the bed, bringing Doyle with him.
Doyle grimaced as he took in the two perfect hand prints the tumble had left on Bodie's chest. "Look what I'm doing to you, lover."
"Don't care." Kicking free of his trousers and shoes, Bodie lay back and spread his legs. "Fuck me," he demanded.
Not needing to be asked twice, Doyle shifted to reach for the tube of KY on the bed stand.
"Just get in me!" Bodie demanded, yanking him back.
"Not bloody likely, mate," Doyle said and reached again for the tube only to have it snatched out of his hand. He watched as Bodie ripped off the top and squeezed out an overgenerous dollop, heaving the tube away from him before smearing a haphazard application of gel of Doyle's rampant cock.
"Now, Ray. Do it!"
Bodie's urgency refused to let Doyle go slowly, insistent hands on his arse demanding he impale the other man in one long brutal thrust. Once there, however, the hands fell away and the muscular body beneath him went slack as a sigh left Bodie's lips.
Doyle propped his greasy hands on Bodie's shoulders and lifted up, eyes asking the questions his panting breath precluded.
"'s okay now," Bodie slurred, stretching contentedly, feeling the hard bulk of the man he loved inside him. "Do it any way you like now."
Looking down into the love-soft features, Doyle decided that long and slow and gentle was going to be the only way he liked. They flowed together like two complementary tides, Bodie surging as he ebbed and equally harmonious in reverse. For something that had begun so close to the edge of violence, their coming, when it overtook them, was languorous and sweet, Doyle deep inside the welcoming heat and Bodie cradled in a loving palm.
When he could gather the strength to move, Doyle slipped carefully from his lover and sprawled on the other side of the bed. His hand found Bodie's and held it as both bodies gradually returned to normal. Eventually, he propped himself on an elbow and let his gaze travel the length of Bodie's grease-streaked body.
"Look what I've done to you," he said, adding to the mess with a fingertip.
"Yeah, and you did it so bloody well, too," Bodie agreed languidly.
The stroking finger became a poker, seeking out a particularly sensitive spot between sturdy ribs. "Berk."
Bodie barely twitched.
Failing to elicit the desired response, Doyle lay down again, this time with his head resting on a broad shoulder. "Gonna tell me what happened?"
Bodie shrugged as well as he could. "Brought back memories, turning around and seeing you like that, legs spread and arse in the air. Used to happen sometimes when we were partners and I'd stand there behind you fighting to keep any sign of it off my face and out of my crotch. Was doing that today when I suddenly remembered I didn't have to and it all sort of... overtook me."
"With that kind of provocation, I'd've thought you'd be hot to do me."
"Yeah, well, a bit too hot. Didn't want to hurt you."
"But it was all right if I hurt you?"
"This your subtle way of telling me I'm not the only man you let fuck you?"
Bodie knew Doyle was in no position to see his face, so he allowed his smile to blossom. Imagine that, Ray Doyle was jealous. "Are we about to have our first quarrel?" he asked sweetly.
"No, we bloody aren't," Doyle snapped, wrestling with the green-eyed monster riding him. "Be far from our first anyway."
"True," Bodie agreed but continued to withhold the information Doyle sought.
Doyle felt himself beginning to do a slow burn, but his temper cooled abruptly as he remembered that he was one little black pot who was in no position to be calling the kettle names.
Satisfied he had given Doyle time to get over his initial reaction, Bodie stretched and provided a pointed reminder. "Remember what I said last night? If I've no time to look in a mirror, I certainly haven't time to sort out the complicated business of the Controller of CI5 getting his leg over with another man. I'm lucky if I get a chance for a wank."
"Oh," Doyle muttered contritely, then fell silent for a few minutes, digesting everything Bodie had said. "So who'd you have to screw to get here this weekend?"
"Didn't quite come to that," Bodie admitted. He had simply dumped the whole mess in Jax's lap for the three days along with the pointed reminder that Bodie had covered Jax's two-week holiday with his wife and family. "Lips are a bit sore though. Arse kissing, you know."
Doyle loosed his filthy chuckle and rolled away, coming to rest belly down. He waited for Bodie to follow the move, then flexed his arse teasingly. "Not too sore, I hope," he pouted.
As Doyle had hoped, Bodie attacked.
Bodie swallowed his mouthful of dinner, then followed it with a sip of wine before he spoke. "Too bad it always rains this weekend or you could bring your bike up next year. We'd have a grand time tinkering away."
It was usually Doyle's nature to worry at things a long time, turning them this way and that in his mind while those around him suffered for his introspective state. However, when a man only had three days, a long brood was really impractical. Nevertheless, he kept his own counsel regarding Bodie's statement until they had both finished their dinners and settled back with the last of the wine to consider the wisdom of dessert. It was also convenient that the interlude allowed many of the other diners to leave the restaurant, affording them a bit more privacy.
In any case, Bodie was in no mood to have the few hours they had left spoiled. "Come on, Ray. Out with it."
Smiling ruefully, Doyle obliged. "Are you getting bored with me?"
Bodie studied the earnest expression, quite certain Doyle was winding him up, but had to conclude that his lover was quite serious. "We're in here having dinner because we've fucked so much neither one of us can get it up again. Yeah, that sounds to me as if the bloom's gone off the rose. What are you on about?"
Doyle acknowledged the stupidity of his thoughts. "Wanting to mess with the bike next year."
"Aw, Ray," Bodie exclaimed. "Just liked doing something we'd done together before. Used to spend hours at it. Remember?"
"Yeah, I remember, every time I work on the new one," Doyle agreed, not meeting Bodie's eyes.
But Bodie refused to be drawn into that discussion, choosing to try to lighten the mood instead. "Besides. Old man like you. Can't expect you to go at it like knives all weekend. Give you a bit of recovery time, eh?"
Slowly, Doyle placed his crumpled napkin beside his plate and got to his feet. "I get you back to the cottage, mate, I'll show you recovery time," he challenged and stalked out of the restaurant.
Bodie happily followed.
"Ray, I need... mmphf!"
"Ray, there really...."
By the time Doyle released Bodie's lips for the fourth time, they had stopped trying to tell him whatever it was that his lover had on his mind. Which was just fine with Doyle. Both hands busy - it was such a convenience at times like this to be ambidextrous - he quickly bared the front side of his lover, parted his own robe and jammed his body against the muscular form in his arms. Caught between Doyle's erection and the door, it seemed to Bodie that there was nowhere better to be on earth than between that particular rock and a hard place. As usual, their first coming together of the year lasted about a minute and a half.
Sliding down the door with Doyle coming to rest astride his thighs, Bodie happily panted his way back to normality. "Randy little bugger this year, aren't you?" he accused delightedly. "Thought we were too old for this."
"Well," Doyle murmured, nuzzling into the satin smooth skin of Bodie's shoulder. "It seemed to me we've been honouring tradition more in the breach than the observance. Thought it was about time we showed proper respect."
"By having heart attacks?" Bodie wondered. "Feel like I've run the one-minute mile with Towser nippin' at me heels the whole way. By the way, how is Towser?"
Doyle pushed up to check Bodie's expression. When he saw the cat-got-the-cream satisfaction all over the handsome face, he relaxed back to his comfortable cushion. "Towser has brought all new meaning to the expression 'no pain no gain' to the lunch-hour crowd."
Bodie chuckled softly. "Got any strength in your legs yet?" he challenged. Now that their passions were cooling a bit, he was becoming uncomfortably aware of the cold draft creeping beneath the door to dance its icy fingers over his half-bared arse.
"Might make it as far as the fire if you let me lean on you."
"Who'm I gonna lean on?"
"All right, so we'll lean on each other."
Bodie tightened his arms until the breath left Doyle's lungs in a rush. "Ah, mate. Just like old times."
"You almost got to meet your namesake this weekend." With his head comfortably cushioned on Bodie's chest, Doyle felt the sudden catch in Bodie's breathing at the announcement.
"Eh?" Bodie prompted, his hand stilling where it had been carding through the luxurious waves.
"Yeah. Kath thought for a while there was going to be some sort of conference at work this weekend. We had a hell of a row about it," Doyle admitted.
"Not your fault, Bodie," Doyle reassured. "We've been doing that more and more lately. It's her bloody job. If she spends one night in five with Drew, the lad's lucky." He propped himself on an elbow to look down into Bodie's face. "Then she's telling me to bring him so he can have some time with his Dad. I'm with him a good part of every day thanks to the clubs doing so well. She's missing so much and she doesn't even know it."
Bodie knew Doyle was waiting for some comment, but there was no way on earth he was going to disparage Kathy. He could, however, offer his opinion of Doyle. "You're a lucky man, sunshine. Most fathers just have this sort of vague notion that there's short people living in the house."
Feeling vindicated, Doyle snuggled back down into the warm embrace. "I reckon I could've got you to bring Emily. Maybe they'd have kept each other company," he suggested, ignoring completely the fact that he had no way to contact Bodie. Ignoring the tension that suddenly possessed his resting place was another matter entirely.
"What's wrong," he prompted without raising his head, knowing it was sometimes easier for Bodie to talk when he knew no one could see his face.
"Jane's moving to Australia next month," Bodie said bluntly.
"Shit," Doyle cursed, tightening his grip.
"Yeah," Bodie agreed. "It's not like I see Emily much anyway, you know. Christ knows I'm not much of a father."
Protecting the soft centre of himself, Doyle recognised, and let him do it. There was no rule, however, that said he couldn't try to distract him. He set out to do just that, seeking out every well-known sensitive spot to tease with lips and tongue and teeth until the only thought Bodie had room for was the fervent wish that his heart would hold out.
"What the fuck!?" Doyle shouted, yanking his very delicate flesh away from Bodie's mouth as a strident beeping filled the room. Automatically, his hands went down to console his ardent cock that was demanding the return of its warm, wet haven.
Bodie, in the meantime, had scrambled off the bed and was frantically pawing at the suit jacket that had been casually discarded along with the rest of his clothes. His hand emerged with a cell phone that he flipped open and brought to his lips.
"Alpha Two," he acknowledged hoarsely, wiping his glistening lips with the back of his hand. He listened a moment, then said: "Details, please," even while his hands sorted out scattered clothing and he began to struggle into it.
"I understand," he confirmed. "Proceed. I'll be there in two hours. Alpha One out."
"What the fuck is going on?" Doyle repeated when the phone was safely tucked back inside Bodie's jacket. He watched as his lover finished dressing and shivered when Bodie finally turned to him. All trace of the carefree lover was gone and in his place stood the Controller of CI5.
"I'm sorry, Ray. I have to go," Bodie explained.
"But you've only been here a couple of hours," Doyle complained plaintively, not sure whether, at the moment, his outrage was more physical or emotional. He reached for the sheet and drew it up over his lap to hide the evidence that his willful body had yet to catch up with the turn of events.
"You think I don't know that?" Bodie snapped back. His cock may have deflated faster, but he was every bit as frustrated as Doyle. This was not, however, how he wanted to leave his lover. He took a deep breath and forced himself to calm down.
"What the hell is so bloody important that you have to go haring off...."
"Jax has been shot," Bodie replied quietly, effectively shutting Doyle up. He sat on the side of the bed and reached to rub the backs of his fingers against Doyle's cheek. "Did you think anything less could get me out of our bed?"
Doyle laid his hand over Bodie's and pressed it hard against his face, battling his frustration into submission before speaking again. "How bad?" he finally asked softly.
"Not bad. Shoulder wound. But he has to have surgery now, and I have to take Alpha One. I'm so bloody sorry, Ray," Bodie offered. He was sorry for his lover and, when he had a chance to think about it, he knew he was going to be even sorrier for himself. It was a miracle really that this was the first time they had ever been interrupted. That was small consolation now. He gathered the slim body close and held on tight for another precious minute, his devotion to duty wavering.
It was Doyle who broke the embrace. "Go on then, Bodie. I know what it's like."
Bodie gathered up his overcoat and bag and left without looking back at the man on the bed. He didn't dare.
Doyle sighed softly as he heard the outer door close. He might as well have brought Drew after all.
It was one of the driest, warmest Marches that England had seen in years. Standing looking out of the big window down onto the expanse of green lawn, Doyle wanted to rail at the unfairness of happy people, sunny days and laughing children. How dare they?
He heard the soft sound of his wife shifting in her chair, but remained isolated in his own bubble of rage for a few more moments. His temper had never been one of his better traits, and there was no place now for one of his self-indulgent tantrums.
All too soon the opening of a door and the appearance of a figure in white announced the end of the waiting.
"Mr and Mrs Doyle, you can come in now."
If William Bodie believed in anything, some nebulous omnipotent being was well out of the running, and he had certainly seen far too much in his less than 40 years to harbour faith in any benevolent deity. What Bodie did believe in was instinct and intuition.
Naturally gifted in those areas, Bodie had also learned over the years to both heed them and hone them. He knew on a very basic level, actually had known for some months, that something wasn't... right. He would wake in the night haunted by unremembered dreams, but retaining a clear certainty that someone needed him; several times he would reach for the telephone and actually pick up the receiver only to replace it when he realised he did not know who it was he wanted to call; most disturbing, he would pause in mid-sentence with the disturbing feeling that he ought to say something quite different from what he had intended.
Years ago, when he was more or less an island unto himself where his actions could harm only himself or a very few others, Bodie might have ignored his present condition. He had far too many bridges to the mainland of humanity now for such self-indulgence, far too much power to take the chance that something nasty in his psyche was preparing to jump up and bite him on the arse. Which was why Jax was attending a meeting with the Minister (not Bodie's favourite part of the job in any case) and Bodie, who had already submitted to the tender mercies of the Queen of Cybernetics and her computers, was now on his way to discover the results.
"Controller," Kate Ross greeted him immediately upon his arrival and ushered him into her office.
It had been over two years since people had begun calling him that and yet, occasionally still, Bodie had to suppress an urge to turn around to make sure Cowley was not behind him. That feeling was absent today, there simply was no room in his mind for it. He took the seat across from Ross and demanded, without preamble, "Well?"
"There has been no appreciable change in any of your levels since your last testing only nine weeks ago," Kate Ross pronounced just as abruptly, well aware that time was no longer a commodity Bodie could afford to waste.
"Nothing?" Bodie echoed. He felt cheated somehow, remembering how at one time he and Doyle had thought Ross to be nearly as infallible as Cowley. In ignorance, they had truly believed there was no thought in their heads that the woman, given sufficient opportunity, would fail to ferret out.
"There is a small possibility that after all these years your mind has become so conditioned to frequent testing that the subconscious the tests seek to analyse has learned to protect the information we are looking for."
"The chance of that is..?" Bodie prompted when the woman fell silent.
"Perishingly small. Approaching nil would be my opinion," Ross admitted. "The tests are changed frequently enough to preclude such a possibility."
Once again the silence fell and this time Bodie let it stretch. He had already explained that he felt less than 100% and it was up to Ross to help him discover why and correct it or else go over his head to have him suspended. It was very true that absolute power (which described the powers of the Controller of CI5 rather accurately) could indeed corrupt absolutely. Their eyes met over the desk in acknowledgement and the doctor sighed softly.
"How long ago did you first notice the disturbances?"
Bodie leaned back in his chair and crossed one leg over the other. He was unsurprised that Kate would chose to abandon her machines when they failed for the more personal approach. "Two months, at the very least."
"Is there anything in particular you can think of that occurred at about the same time?" Ross expected a negative answer or Bodie himself would certainly have been aware of the correlation.
Without speaking, Bodie gave an eloquent shrug of wide shoulders.
"What about your social life?" Ross asked, not bothering to take notes. A tape of the conversation was being made. When the session was over, she would listen and record the bare minimum of facts into his now ultra-secure file and destroy the tape.
Bodie's expression was a picture of incredulity and his laugh bitterly ironic. "What social life?" He recovered his sense of humour quickly. "The only woman I know now who isn't directly under my command is you." The full lips swelled into the pout of a thwarted child. "And you won't have anything to do with me unless I tell you I'm suffering from a mental aberration. Hurts my pride, that does, that you're more interested in my mind than my body," he teased.
Where once Ross might have cut Agent Bodie off at the knees with an icy comment regarding his immaturity, now she laughed. Controller Bodie was far from the same man. Responsibility had finally completed the maturing process, and Ross suspected that the more carefree aspects of Bodie's personality were allowed too little freedom. It worried her that the things that might well be the most important inside him could so easily wither and die. If that happened, Bodie would become far too close to an automaton to do his job. As far as she knew, there was really only one hope for the gentler side of Bodie's nature.
"Is your affair with your former partner still continuing?"
Sobering abruptly, Bodie looked away, unable to meet the compassion in those candid eyes. "I don't think I'd call a three-day tryst once a year an affair, Doctor." From somewhere, he dredged up the cheeky challenging grin of the Bodie of old. "More of an orgy, if you know what I mean."
How fiercely he still guards the vulnerable side of himself, Ross thought, but withheld the insight from her expression. "Oh, from what little you've told me, I think those weekends are far more to you than sex, as is your relationship with Raymond Doyle."
The doctor's tone demanded honesty and Bodie gave it with a soft-voiced, "Yes."
A maternal instinct long suppressed made her want to reach out and hug the saddened creature across from her, but Kate Ross knew she would never do any such thing.
"You're lonely, Bodie," Ross diagnosed softly.
Slowly, Bodie drew his defences around him and once again fell back on humour. "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy, eh, Doctor?"
"I'm not treating Jack at the moment so I couldn't say, but they do seem to give Bodie mental aberrations," Ross retorted, deliberately using his word. "You have a Co-Controller, Bodie. You don't need to drive yourself or isolate yourself the way George Cowley did. My prescription is to have some social life."
"Why Doctor, are you telling me to get laid?"
Her expression revealing the exasperation this man could still drive her to, Ross shrugged. "If that's what it takes, then, yes, that's what I'm telling you to do."
Getting laid had not been the solution, though he had never tried particularly hard to bring that about, Bodie thought as he remembered that springtime conversation. However, an occasional drink with a few of his agents after an op, a bi-monthly, home-cooked meal with Jax and his wife, and even a rare date had seemed to attenuate his loneliness somewhat. Nothing, however, had completely chased away that haunting feeling of being needed if he could only grasp it. Nothing until this weekend had approached and he had allowed himself to experience his growing excitement.
Kate Ross had been right about one thing, the three days with Doyle were about far more than sex. He was, however, anxious to get his hands on the man. In fact, after their truncated meeting last year, Bodie planned that as soon as Ray walked through that door, he was going to have the sexy little sod against it in observance of their traditional greeting.
More than anything, however, Bodie longed for the hours when, bodies temporarily appeased by abundant sensation, they would lie together and talk, or ravenously devour infrequent meals and talk, or walk hand-in-hand on secluded paths and talk. He yearned for the sound of Doyle's husky voice revealing bits and pieces of his life that Bodie could horde against the emptiness of the year to follow.
Hearing a car door slam shut, Bodie abandoned tomorrow's thoughts and moved to stand beside the door. It began to open, and as soon as he had a clear shot at the slim wrist, his own hand shot out, secured a grip and yanked the smaller man into the room. Closing the door with their combined weight, Bodie brought his mouth down to capture the beautiful lips he had hungered for.
Because he had longed to be touched as much as to caress, to taste Doyle's passion as well as assuage his own, it took only a moment for the lack of response to stab into Bodie. Slowly, he raised his head, horrified when Doyle's head fell back limply against the door, tears flowing down gaunt cheeks.
"Ray?" Bodie demanded, hands going to grip the arms that hung limply at his sides. "What's wrong? Are you sick?"
Doyle just closed his eyes, squeezing the great wave of tears down his face.
"Kath? Is it Kath?" Bodie pursued in growing fear and near panic.
The weary head shook listlessly, tears spraying out to splash Bodie's cheek.
"Drew?" Unconsciously, Bodie's grip tightened and he shook Doyle gently. "Is he sick, Ray?" A pause as the very worst hesitated on his lips. "Not dead? Drew's not dead?"
"Ah, God, Bodie," Doyle moaned from what seemed the very depths of his soul. "I wish he was."
In a moment, Bodie found them crumpled on the floor in a parody of their usual boneless state, his arms full of a man who was trying to turn himself inside out with great gulping sobs of agonized grief. Not yet fully understanding, Bodie nonetheless felt his own throat tighten while something swelled in his chest until he could hardly breathe. Quashing the urge to badger for answers, Bodie pulled his lover close and offered what comfort he could.
What seemed like a lifetime later, Bodie still held no further information, but he did hold a man who had finally wept himself to sleep. So exhausted, both physically and mentally, Doyle barely stirred when Bodie picked him up off the hall floor where they had huddled together and carried him into the bedroom. Tenderly, Bodie laid his burden on the familiar bed, stripped him to pants and T-shirt and tucked the chilled form under the duvet. Unwilling to leave for even a moment in case Doyle should wake and find himself alone, Bodie abandoned unlocked door, burning lights and cooling wine in favour of climbing in beside his lover and drawing him into loving arms.
What the hell could Doyle have meant when he had said he wished his son were dead? What could make a father as loving as Ray wish his only child dead? The only conclusion Bodie could draw was that there had been an accident that had left Drew maimed, perhaps brain-damaged. How long ago? From the look of Doyle, too bloody long ago. The body that had once been lean was now skinny with the clear delineation of bones pressing through the taut skin, and the face that was once round and impish was now gaunt, careworn and lined in a way more befitting a man 15 years Doyle's senior. How long? Long enough to be the cause of the restlessness he himself had experienced? At one time, many members of the squad used to insist that he and Doyle could read each other's minds. But life wasn't science fiction. They commanded no special magic or other-worldly powers. The empathy they did share was based on their deep knowledge of each other rather than telepathy.
With a soft groan, Doyle shifted restlessly and Bodie abandoned his thoughts, stroking him softly to ease the troubled sleep. Hand coming to rest in the soft hair in which there seemed to be so much more grey, Bodie cradled the tossing head against his chest. One of the fine-boned hands reached out, found the lapel of the velvet dressing gown Bodie wore and twisted a fierce grip into the material. It seemed the respite was to be too brief to give the tormented man even an illusion of rest.
"Want a cuppa?" Bodie asked softly.
His grip on Bodie tightening further, Doyle shook his head. "No," he croaked. "Couldn't keep it down."
Bodie winced at the harsh whisper, the memory of throat-tearing, rasping sobs crowding his ears. Doesn't feel as if you've been keeping much down, love," he murmured, running his hands over jutting bones, longing to channel his own great strength into Doyle to banish the frightening fragility.
"No," Doyle rasped.
Waiting, offering the only support he could in his ignorance, Bodie let the silence stretch and stretch. After a time, he realised that his dressing gown was wet. Without making a sound, Doyle was weeping again. Bodie thought his heart would break at the silent suffering, but understood that at the moment there was nothing more he could do.
Another long time later, Doyle gave a shuddering sigh, his hand moving to smooth the wet material. "Sssorry," he murmured. "Would think there'd be no more left after that lot in the hall."
"Ah, love, don't. Doesn't matter," Bodie reassured, feeling so desperately inadequate. "Can you tell me?"
Doyle tried to bring words to his lips, understanding the bewilderment Bodie must be feeling, but failed. He had been strong for too long, burying his own grief and rage day after day to offer what comfort and care he could to his suffering son and devastated wife. He turned his face into Bodie's chest once more and clung to the only bit of stability he possessed as the enormity of it all overwhelmed him.
Like the tide slipping away, the wave of grief receded once again, leaving Doyle gasping and spent in Bodie's supporting arms. When it seemed a certain, fragile calm had finally descended, Bodie ventured his question again. "Can you tell me, Ray? Was it an accident?"
Doyle's head pressed a negative into Bodie's tear-sodden chest. "He's sick, Bodie. So horribly, horribly sick," he finally forced around throat muscles that wanted to close, hold the terrible knowledge inside. Salt burned his eyes again and he despaired that now he had let it begin, it might never stop.
Aching to help, knowing he couldn't, Bodie held the other man and let him cry himself to sleep once more.
Bodie woke alone the next morning, instinct telling him the place beside him was empty even before his arms reached out and found only the cool sheets Doyle had abandoned. Memory returning only a few steps behind consciousness, Bodie was out of the bed and into the sitting room before his brain had had a chance to catch up with his body. He stopped abruptly when he saw Doyle, slumped at the table. The poor bastard was so far gone, he had never even bothered to pull on a robe.
"Tea's made," Doyle informed tonelessly without looking at Bodie, continuing to stare into his cup as if he expected to find cosmic answers there rather than cold tea.
Bodie crossed the room. "Ray?" He lay a hand on the slumped shoulder, finding the flesh as cold as the grave. He shivered in sympathy.
Stiffening at the touch, Doyle attempted to shrug the warm hand away. "Don't touch me!"
Bodie recoiled as if burned, snatching his hand away and stuffing it in his pocket as if to restrain himself from reaching out again.
"I have to tell you," Doyle continued, voice once again returned to the flat monotone. "If you touch me, I'll just start wailing again like a fucking old woman."
Accepting the rejection, hoping it was temporary, Bodie turned his mind to more practical matters. Returning to the sitting room, he scooped up the afghan that lay across the back of the sofa and, detouring by the thermostat to raise the heat, he returned to where Doyle sat at the table. Without touching the man who sat so forlornly alone, Bodie tucked the afghan around the bowed shoulders then scooped up Doyle's cup. Returning a few moments later with cups for both of them, he placed one between Doyle's hands where they rested on the table and took his place beside him. He set himself to wait patiently until Doyle was ready to talk.
"Don't know where to start," Doyle admitted after a long silence. "My mind feels like one of those lab rats in an endless bloody maze."
"You said Drew was sick." Bodie hesitated, visions of small bald heads and tiny wasted bodies parading before his eyes. "Is it leukaemia, Ray?" He nearly choked on the dreaded word.
"Wish it were," Doyle husked. Visions were filling his mind's eye as well. Not the frightening imaginings of a parent's worst nightmare, but memories all too sharp and clear. He shook his head to dispel them, but they refused to be banished. "There's hope with that. Some at least." Holding his head in his hands, he pressed his palms into eyes that were nearly swollen shut and pressed until all he could see was fire-shot darkness.
"It's horrible. Poor little mite's been dying by inches. Before we even knew it was happening. At first he just got clumsy, falling all the time. We thought, you know like parents will, that he was just growing. Not co-ordinated yet."
More frightened by the matter-of-fact delivery than the words themselves, Bodie tried to fit them with anything he had heard before. A half-forgotten magazine article or some medical drama on the telly, perhaps, but nothing seemed to fit.
"Was Christmas before we noticed anything. All of a sudden he was limping. Not like he fell and hurt himself, but dragging his leg. Took 'em months after that to finally find out what was wrong."
"What?" Bodie very nearly shouted, heartsick for the man he loved and the child he had grown to love for that man's sake. "For Christ's sake, what?"
Doyle's head shook slowly from side to side. "Can't ever remember the name of it, Bodie. It's a virus. Everybody's got it. Lives in the brain, you see, and there's some function or other it serves. Only in Drew...." The harsh whisper choked out, throat closing over his son's name. He battled to bring the words forth, desperate to purge even a tiny portion of the pain. "Something happened and it attacked his brain. Killing a bit every day."
Suddenly, Doyle jumped to his feet as if he sat still one more moment he might fly apart into a million tiny pieces that no one would even be able to see or put back together again. Shrugging off the blanket, he began pacing, his stride speeding with each circuit of the small space while the vitriol that had been bubbling inside him spilled forth.
"No rhyme, no reason. So fucking rare there's only been one other case in England. Only a dozen in the world. Fucking doctors haven't a clue. No bloody idea. Trying every damn thing. Pumping him full of chemicals and radiating him until he blistered. And all the time me holding him and telling him he'd be better soon. Lying through me teeth 'cause he never, never got any better." Sinewy arms wrapped around his own chest tightly, as if Doyle held the wasted body, no longer pacing but simply turning in circles as he sought a way to escape the nightmare.
"And the pain. Ah, God, the pain. So bad he'd scream and scream till his little voice was gone. Pumping him full of as much morphine as any junkie and still he's hurting. Begging me to make it stop. Begging to die...."
Bodie had reached his limit. He charged, catching Doyle from behind and wrapping his arms around the heaving chest, trapping the flailing arms. "Don't, Ray. Oh please, love, don't."
"Don't? Don't!" Doyle screamed, struggling viciously to break free. Despair had given way to rage and if it could find no outlet, he'd go mad. "Don't fucking tell me don't, you bastard. It's my son! Don't tell me not to grieve. Don't tell me not to care. Don't tell me to be strong. Don't. Don't. Don't."
Hanging on tightly, Bodie let him fight, ignoring the damage inflicted and the verbal abuse heaped upon him, until the exhausted man hung limp in his arms. He scooped him up then, heart wrenching again at how much lighter was the burden, and settled on the sofa with Doyle curled in his lap.
"Finish it, Ray," he commanded softly.
Doyle took a deep, ragged breath. "A month ago they finally admitted there was no hope. Convinced us to remove the feeding tube." The monotone was back. A computer would have had more inflection than the dead-eyed creature that shivered in Bodie's warm embrace.
"No nourishment for a month and still he's hanging on. Was so healthy to start with, you see. Strong heart and lungs and all the rest. Now he's barely even a bump under the covers.
"Kath sits there day and night. Holding his hand. Stroking his face. Nurses keep telling her that sometimes with the little ones you have to leave them first, or they just keep hanging on and on. But Kath can't leave. Barely even living herself. I sit and watch and her chest is moving just like his. Rising and falling and catching when his does and then I'm doing it, too."
No more, Bodie begged silently. Oh please, love, you can't take any more.
Doyle's hand rose and brushed across his eyes as if to brush away the sights before them.
"Then the doctor came and asked us to let them stop the IV. Starve him, let him die of thirst. We're kinder to our animals." For the first time, Doyle looked into the eyes of his lover, his friend.
"Wasn't going to come here," he admitted in a small voice. "Had to. Had to. Can't be strong any longer." His arms slipped around Bodie's neck and clung feebly. "Please, Bodie, help me to be strong enough to murder my son."
Although cruel and capricious, occasionally Mother Nature could be kind, if for no other reason than to ensure herself another opportunity to indulge her whims. When the body and mind could take no more, she allowed them to slip into the oblivion of slumber, to escape for a time what could no longer be borne. So it was that Doyle, his burden shifted for a time to shoulders so much stronger than his own, was allowed to sleep deeply and dreamlessly for the first time in nearly a year.
He was even allowed, on waking some time long after the darkness had returned, to lie contented in the arms of the man who loved him above all else. Not that he had forgotten. He doubted that for the rest of his life he'd be given even fleeting moments of forgetfulness. But Bodie had allowed him to rage, encouraged him to grieve, and with his acceptance had helped Doyle to find his own calm centre. Doyle had begged him for his strength and, though Bodie could never give him that no matter how much he longed to, he had led the grieving father to his own.
"I have to go," Doyle murmured softly, never doubting that Bodie was alert, had, in fact, stood guard over his rest all the long day through.
"I know," Bodie agreed. Doyle had another place to be and, as much as Bodie ached to keep him here, safe and protected from a world ready to land a lethal blow, he knew he could not. "But not until you've eaten."
The smallest of smiles touched Doyle's sad, beautiful mouth. It was so very wonderfully predictable. "Yes, Bodie, I'll let you feed me."
The last crumb was gone, the last sip of tepid tea slurped and Doyle's case sat ready beside the door. Still the two men sat, hands clasped tightly together.
"Ray, say you'll call if you need me," Bodie begged, placing nearly irresistible temptation before a starving man.
Doyle's hand tightened, gripping unbearably and then relaxing. "I'll need you every day, Bodie, but I can't call. I'd never be able to resist running to you, falling apart. I can't do that. I have to be strong for Kathy now." He lifted the hand he held, pressed his lips to the scarred knuckles, the warm moist palm. "But, Bodie, if I didn't have you, if I didn't love you and know you love me, I'd never live through what's to come."
And Bodie, used to accepting crumbs when he hungered for a feast, accepted his place once again. It was enough. It had to be.
Bodie picked his spot as carefully as he had ever chosen a crucial surveillance site and settled himself to wait. He had already made it clear that for the next two hours on this cold, bleak November morning there was no emergency that could possibly occur on the face of the entire planet that was worth disturbing him. For the first time in many years, he had even left his r/t in the car. This once, he would abandon duty to Queen and Country for the sake of a man who he hoped wouldn't even know he was there.
Concealed by convenient evergreen foliage, Bodie straightened to unconscious attention as he watched the procession of cars approaching. Eyes following the black Roller that crept along behind the hearse, his gaze rivetted when it finally stopped, the door opened and Doyle's straight-backed form emerged. Not for Bodie to experience was the sorrow for the too-tiny coffin that was drawn from the back of the hearse; compassion for elderly grandparents who stumbled in their grief; nor admiration for the behaviour of small, sober cousins introduced too soon to the cruel fact that sometimes children did die.
Bodie saw only one man, the man he loved. He focussed all his energy on somehow sending that love as comfort and shield across the bitter cold space that stood between them. He watched the beautiful frozen face as the funeral rights were observed and let his eyes shed the tears Doyle refused himself. His heart bled, his soul ached to offer comfort, and he did not move so much as a finger. He had no rights here except to stand his own secret vigil.
An eternity later, the last function performed, Bodie watched as Doyle reached out to the woman at his side and saw her turn away into the arms of her family. Bodie left then, fleeing silently from his place of concealment for if he remained, he would no longer be able to hold back from crossing the space between himself and that lonely, grieving man. And Bodie had no place here. No place at all.
"Bodie, I can't let you do this again."
Bodie gave his Co-Controller a cheeky grin and pointed to a spot on his desk. "Of course you can. Dump 'em there and go home."
Reluctantly, Jax laid the stack of disks he carried onto a corner of Bodie's desk. His fine features a study in indecision, he turned to leave, hesitated, then planted himself in the chair across the desk.
Pretending surprise, Bodie reached out for the top disk. "What? You still here?"
"This has gone on long enough," Jax stated in an unequivocal tone that demanded sober attention. "Since before Christmas you've been taking on more and more of my work. Have I fouled up somewhere? Don't you think I can do the job any more?"
The surprise on Bodie's face was no longer feigned. "You?" he exclaimed. He was guilty as charged, but had never dreamed that Jax might draw this conclusion from his actions. "Christ, no. I don't know how the hell.... I trust you the way I trusted the Cow."
Jax relaxed back into his chair a little, recognising Bodie's affirmation as the highest compliment he could offer and that no amount of double or triple think would prompt him to voice it if it wasn't the truth. "Then why, Bodie? For three months you've been shouldering more and more of this place as if you thought you'd suddenly become bloody Superman."
"No, not Superman," Bodie denied with a rueful smile. Unconsciously, he reached to rub at the back of his neck as tired muscles reminded him of his human frailty. "But I am a man on his own. It's your youngest's birthday today, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Jax replied, understanding now that not mistrust but solicitude had prompted Bodie's actions. "Was going to read that lot," a wave indicated the stack of disks, "after the party."
"So I'll fax you a summary and you'll read it over breakfast," Bodie replied. "I'm not trying to insult you, mate. I've seen the type of father you are. Let's just say I've had a recent reminder that time waits for no man." For a moment, he allowed Jax to see beyond his self-protective shell to the lonely man beneath. Then the moment was gone as he brought humour up to defend his vulnerabilities. "Besides, if I don't let you get home on time, Celia won't let you bring me any birthday cake."
"Fair enough," Jax allowed the retreat, knowing he would never completely understand this man he called friend.
Bodie watched as the other man left his office, then rose and moved to stand at the window, looking down upon the lights of London. As he had night after night, he looked east, willing away the miles that separated him from the lover who occupied his thoughts. Where was Doyle right now? At home, in a house that no longer rang with his child's laughter? At his local? Downing a pint and losing himself for a time in the noise of the crowd? Or, like Bodie, was he working?
Curtailing his self-indulgence, Bodie returned to his desk, slipped the disk into the slot in the computer, and immersed himself in the job that was his life.
Standing at the door of his son's room, Doyle suppressed a tired sigh. He moved into the room and sat beside his wife who huddled on the bed, rocking gently with a stuffed dinosaur in her arms.
"Ah, love, don't. Please, Kathy, don't do this to yourself," he murmured softly, slipping an arm around her shoulders.
"Can't help it," Kathy sobbed, still rocking, hands caressing the soft toy. "My arms are so empty."
"Hold me, Kath." Doyle turned her to him, wrapped his arms tight around her.
"I want my baby," the grieving mother moaned.
Feeling the toy pressed between them, Doyle felt as if it was the ghost of his child separating them, forever holding them apart. "I miss him, too," he whispered as he own tears started. Tears seemed to be all they had left to them.
There was no traditional knee trembler just inside the door of cottage No. 3 on the third Friday of October, 1990. When Bodie arrived and Doyle opened the door for him, there was a pause, as if neither man knew exactly what to do, and then they were in each other's arms, holding on as if their very lives depended on this embrace.
"Christ, Ray," Bodie finally whispered, not trusting his voice, "I've been scared witless you wouldn't be here."
"And I didn't think this weekend would ever come," Doyle whispered back, none too certain how his own tight throat would handle a louder tone.
It took several minutes before the dampness of Bodie's overcoat soaking through his own clothes penetrated Doyle's single minded focus on the comfort that seemed to be imbuing his soul from Bodie's embrace.
"I haven't even let you get your coat off," he said hoarsely, drawing away to the limit Bodie would allow, which was enough space for him to unbutton the coat. "Come on, love, let's get this off you."
Belatedly realising Doyle's intent, Bodie allowed the retreat, co-operating with getting the long coat off, never allowing them to be completely separated. His hands kept moving, bestowing gentle touches to Doyle's hair, face, shoulder, and resting for a moment at his waist.
"Want to sit by the fire for a while?" Doyle asked, revelling in the contact, marvelling in the complete lack of sexuality in either the touches or his own response to them.
"Yeah. Anywhere. Just want to hold you."
They moved together to the thick rug laid before the fireplace in which a cheery fire already burned. Bodie sank down to the floor with his back propped against the sofa and held out his arms. Willingly, Doyle went back into the embrace, and they remained that way, absorbing the comfort and joy of the other's presence, for what could very well have been hours.
"Seems I've lived a whole lifetime in the last year," Doyle finally said into the silence that cushioned them. "I've got so much to tell you."
"And I want to hear it, Ray. Every word," Bodie reassured. He pressed his face into the short waves covering Doyle's head and inhaled the clean, rich scent of him.
"Want to thank you for being there, Bodie. At the funeral," Doyle added as if there could be any doubt what he referred to.
"Thought I'd kept out of sight," Bodie murmured.
"I didn't see you." Doyle shifted, tightening his embrace. "I... felt you, I guess. I knew you were there. Was the only thing that kept me on my feet."
Bodie remembered the heartbreaking sight of Doyle offering/seeking comfort from his wife and being rejected. His arms tightened protectively.
"My life is so bloody sad now." Doyle reached out and turned Bodie's face toward him. "Make love to me, Bodie. I need to feel joy again."
"This is our tenth anniversary."
Lying spoon fashion with Bodie, the whole solid length of that muscular body pressed up against his back and the possessive arms wrapped around him, Doyle could feel the coiled tension in his chest, which had been his constant companion for almost two years, finally beginning to ease. He felt like a punch-drunk fighter that had finally staggered into the security of his own corner and he had no wish to ever leave it again. Impossible dream, but that dream had kept him sane and stable for so long now.
"Fifteenth," he corrected softly, smiling when he felt the puzzlement radiating from behind him. "I'm not willing to write off those first five years even if I hadn't the wit to fall in love with you then. Even those two years we were apart, you were still my friend."
Bodie resisted the urge to squeeze the stuffing out of the body in his arms. To his way of thinking there was hardly enough in there to begin with. He nuzzled the soft nape and nipped an earlobe instead. "I've missed you so much," he admitted. It was never easy for Bodie to admit what he felt, but cushioned by the dark, he could no longer hold it all inside. "I know how you felt now, when I cut you off. Night after night I'd stand at the window in my fucking office and I'd wonder.... But you were right to make me stay away.... I had no right, no place...."
Doyle wrapped his arms around the ones that held him and hung on tightly. "Maybe I was right then. Not because you had no right to a place in my life, but because you had too much right. I owed it to Kathy to try to put the pieces of our lives back together. I couldn't do that, knew I wouldn't even have wanted to try if I could have had you all this past year." Doyle paused a moment to allow himself to wonder once again what effect his next words would have on Bodie. He himself had had months to get used to the idea. But regardless of his fears and hopes, the words certainly had to be said. "Kathy's divorcing me."
After a silence that seemed to stretch out for an eternity but was really only a minute or two, Bodie turned Doyle until they were face to face. Where a few minutes before he had been grateful for the darkness, now he resented it. Impatiently he groped for the lamp and flipped it on. He found sorrow, regret, guilt and hope looking out at him from the wide green eyes. "You're free?"
Doyle shrugged. "Not legally yet. Only got the papers a few days ago, but she left back in August." He lifted a shaking hand to trace the handsome features he loved so well. "Ironic, isn't it?"
"What?" Bodie prompted absently, most of his attention on the stunning knowledge that Doyle was now, or soon would be, an unmarried man.
"Now I'm free and you aren't."
That brought Bodie's wandering attention back with a snap. "What do you mean I'm not? It's been years since I had a girlfriend. Never did have a wife."
"I remember what you said two years ago, Bodie, and I quote '...the complicated business of the Controller of CI5 getting his leg over with another man'."
Bodie reared up, flattening Doyle to the bed and looming over him. "I've loved you for 15 years, mate, if you honestly think some job is going to...."
Doyle stopped the words with a finger to full lips. "It isn't a job, Bodie, it's a commitment. You'd have packed it in long ago if that weren't the truth."
"You'd settle for this when we could...."
Once again Doyle forced Bodie to stop. The man was saying just what he wanted to hear and it was all so tempting. "Stop it, Bodie. I thought you'd finally learned not to go off half-cocked. Think it through."
"Christ," Bodie ground out between clenched teeth and flopped over onto his back. He stared at the ceiling in disbelief. Everything he wanted and yet still so far out of reach. "Just one thing I need to know, Ray. Do you want me?"
There were a hundred answers Doyle could make to that. Poetic words he had learned from Bodie himself or words so sappy they would bring a rosy blush to that fair skin. All in all, however, it really boiled down to just one simple reply: "Yes."
"All right then. I'll think it through."
"Please let it stop!"
"Don't hurt him any more."
Bodie held the restless figure closer and gently caressed him into a quieter sleep. Nightmares. This was the third time in as many hours that Doyle had begun tossing and mumbling, speaking clearly often enough to leave Bodie in no doubt as to the terrors that tormented his sleep. Did he suffer like this every night, or was it only because the first anniversary of Drew's death was so near? It was small wonder Doyle looked so drawn and tired if his rest was so troubled every night. It tore at the soft centre of him that Bodie guarded so well to think of his lover going night after night so comfortless.
Doyle had admonished him to think their situation through and, to satisfy his lover, he would, but Bodie knew that his decision was already made. If the powers that be wanted no part of a homosexual Controller for CI5, then they were going to have to find Jax a new partner. He had always known that if it ever came to a choice between CI5 and Doyle, that CI5 would be left hanging in the breeze. Cowley may have been willing to sacrifice himself on the altar of duty to Queen and country, but Bodie knew he could never be that selfless. This would be their last stolen weekend. From now on they would have every day.
"Really come up in the world, haven't you, golly," Bodie teased, laying on the mock subservience he had perfected for the sake of raising Cowley's blood pressure. He continued his walk around Doyle's candy-apple red, fully-loaded Jag.
Leaning against the boot of his car, Doyle nodded toward Bodie's equally sleek silver model parked directly across the car park. "And you haven't?"
Completing his circuit, Bodie planted his behind right next to his partner's and crossed his arms over his chest. "Company car," he dismissed haughtily.
"So's mine," Doyle reminded with a side-long glance that invited Bodie's expected rejoinder.
"Ah, true, sunshine," Bodie supplied on cue, "but you own the company." Slipping out of the double act role suddenly, he leaned closer and delivered a delicious nuzzle to his lover's neck. "How long do I have to keep thinking about it before I can tell you I want you?" he whispered. Mouth still pressed close to Doyle's ear, he slipped both arms around his waist. "All the time, Ray. Not just three lousy days."
Automatically, Doyle scanned the car park for onlookers, but they were alone. "'s only Sunday."
"Yeah," Bodie agreed, the persuasion of his lips not straying. "I want to make love to you in my own bed tonight."
"You really know how to pick your time and place, don't you," Doyle complained, scanning again, this time including the lodge in his scrutiny. He thought he saw a curtain twitch in the otherwise placid exterior. "We have to do this out here?"
"Anybody here who hasn't figured out we're lovers is blind, deaf or terminally thick." Bodie's embrace tightened into something more closely resembling restraint than a lover's caress. "Here and now."
This was really and truly temptation well beyond what any man should have to resist and Doyle had already accepted that his will to resist Bodie was gone. He turned into the arms that held him and drew the irresistible lips to his own.
"You go check out," Bodie ordered when the kiss of promise and acceptance finally ended. "I'll pack."
Bodie halted their progress just before they left cottage No. 3 for the last time to hand Doyle a folded piece of notepaper.
"What's this?" Doyle asked, flipping open the note and reading the few lines of Bodie's distinctive scrawl.
"My address in town," Bodie explained, continuing their interrupted progress out the door. Doyle had already turned in the key, so all he had to do was pull the door shut behind them. "You'll need to know where to find me when I lose you on the A1." He flashed a grin full of arrogance and teasing. "I'm still the better driver."
"Is that right?" Doyle asked, following the other man across the car park to where the silver Jag stood. He waited patiently for Bodie to open the boot. "You know, Bodie, I don't really think I'll need this." He slipped the note into his jacket pocket. He noted the dismay on Bodie's face and chastised himself for winding the man up. But Bodie's discomfort would only last a little longer. At that moment, Bodie opened the boot and Doyle tossed his bag in. "Can't lose you if I'm sitting right beside you."
Bodie gave him a look full of promised retribution and tossed his own kit in beside Doyle's. He brought the lid down a bit more firmly than was necessary. "And how is that company car of yours going to get home?"
"Jack'll bring it to town at the weekend. Already sorted it out with him." Doyle pursed his lips, eyebrows drawn together. "You know, maybe I ought to drive. Want to arrive alive after all, don't we?" He made a playful grab for the keys in Bodie's hand.
Bodie fended him off easily, his own delighted laughter as much in response to Doyle's glee as to the teasing. "Give over, mate. Can make this trip with my eyes closed."
"Please don't," Doyle pretended to beg as they climbed in together and settled into the plush seats.
"Don't you worry, sunshine. For the next two hours, my attention's going to be strictly on the road," Bodie reassured. He started the engine and put in the clutch, reaching past the gearshift to fill his palm with the well-filled crotch of Doyle's jeans.
"That, my love, is not the gearshift."
Bodie gave the warm handful a loving squeeze and then reluctantly moved his hand back. "My mistake."
Doyle slid down the seat into the sprawl that Bodie had longed to see lounging beside him for twelve very long years. One booted foot found its accustomed place on the dash. "Home, Bodie. Let's go home."
"At long bloody last," Bodie murmured and put the car in motion.
After fifteen minutes on the road, Doyle shifted his bum on the comfortable seat and leaned over to have a look at the speedometer. "I see you still have your pilot's licence."
"You really want to drive, Ray?" Bodie asked seriously.
"Hell, no." Doyle also dropped the teasing. "I certainly don't want to have to keep my eyes on the road." He shifted again so that he was propped against the door and could comfortably look at his.... "Looks like we've come full circle. We're partners again."
Bodie accepted that statement with the wordless satisfaction of a man whose world has finally come right. He knew everything was unlikely to be happily-ever-after. There was still, and probably always would be, Doyle's grief for his son and guilt for the failure of his marriage. As for CI5, despite his flippancy, Bodie would like to continue with the mob. This was the 90s, however, and although the Home Secretary might verbally ream him out a new arsehole, the laws on discrimination were quite specific.
But those were tomorrow's worries, and for now Bodie focussed all his attention on his driving. This last side road before they connected with the A1 was particularly treacherous with sharp turns, blind rises and hidden driveways, and was especially so in the light rain that had begun to fall.
Doyle glanced out the side window as they climbed the rise, noting the hidden entrance sign and wondered, as he always did, where the barely visible driveway that existed just beyond the top of the rise led. He always meant to ask Jack and never remembered. Maybe next year, when he and Bodie returned for their first anniversary....
"Oh my God!"
Doyle's gaze snapped around and he froze in horror, his vision filled with the massiveness of red painted metal that sprawled across both lanes of the narrow road. Instinctively, he braced himself, knowing it was already too late. But we've only just begun, his heart protested, his head turning so that his last sight would be of Bodie.
When the car finally came to a standstill, Doyle fully expected to be facing St Peter. What he found instead was the mud-spattered windscreen of Bodie's expensive motorcar. He looked at the man beside him who was slumped in boneless reaction, then slowly shifted to take in the scene of devastation behind them. The tractor still straddled the road, the hedging that girded the road bore the scars of their passage as did the grassy shoulder. Several signs lay flattened where they had been knocked down by their silver meteor. Inside the car, however, neither man had so much as a scrape.
It took a few moments for the sick horror to pass, then Bodie straightened in his seat and reached to put the car in gear. "Aren't you glad now that you let me drive?"
For one of the few times in his life, Raymond Doyle completely failed to come up with a snappy reply.
-- THE END --
Originally published in Motet Opus 4 in B and D, Keynote Press, November 2000
AUTHOR'S NOTE: "The Third Friday in October" was inspired by the play "Same Time, Next Year" written by Bernard Slade.