The Proof of the Pudding
This story stands on its own. However, it was conceived as a companion piece to Irene's story "Rice Pudding Again", available in the same zine in which this story was published (Roses and Lavender 5). That story is told from the point of view of Linda Stone, the daughter of Jack Stone from the episode "You'll Be All Right." Linda, defying family tradition, has become a police officer. While on duty at a Big Event wedding, she goes with her instinct and leaps on a man who appears to be about to pull a gun. Unfortunately, he wasn't. Disciplined by the officer in charge, she is leaving the scene in disgrace when an older, dark-haired, blue-eyed, vaguely familiar man stops her. WAP Bodie gives her his card and asks her to call him. With help from her mother, she remembers who Bodie is. Her family is still bitter about what happened, but she calls Bodie anyway, early on a Sunday morning, and he invites her to meet him for breakfast at a cafe. Linda arrives to find Doyle as well, and is recruited to join CI5. The story is utterly charming--and inspired me to write this companion piece.
Bodie turned on the charm, of course, to lure Linda Stone into CI5. He's well practised in it. He just smiles at them and perfectly rational women lose all sense. I've been watching this disgusting display for over twenty years now, and it rarely fails. It even worked on Cowley now and again--got away with rank insubordination, Bodie did. The Cow's blue-eyed boy. The only one it doesn't work on is me, thank God. He'd be impossible then.
Mind you, he was being impossible on Saturday, when all this started. We'd been invited to a wedding. Now, normally Bodie's the one rubbing his hands with glee over the prospect of free food and free-flowing champagne. He really gets into the spirit of things, particularly at the reception. I have vivid memories of the last wedding we went to. Some idiot thought it'd be a grand idea to set up an impromptu karaoke. Bodie, of course, couldn't resist. I still suffer nightmares.
He did have a point about this particular wedding, though, I'll grant him that. The niece of the Home Secretary was marrying one of the useless Whitehall Honourables, a merger of political and financial interests cloaked in the trappings of a 'wonderful love story'. It was enough to put anyone off. Although there were compensations--the Home Sec's brother-in-law, while famous for his holier-than-thou attitude, was also known for the quality of his cellars.
"He'll probably water it down," was Bodie's muttered comment when I pointed that out.
"Then stay home, if that's what you want." I was sitting in front of the mirror, struggling with the damn tie. I never know if it's better to look in the mirror or not. Stupid things, ties.
"And what'll you do?"
"One of us has to show up. It is expected, you know." I frowned into the mirror and stretched my neck. The tie still didn't look right.
With an exaggerated sigh he walked over, shoved my fingers out of the way and worked his usual magic on my tie. "C'mon, Ray. It's not like we know the girl, after all--or the fella, for that matter. We could go to the pub for lunch, round or two of darts, and then make an early night of it." He smiled at me with what I'm sure he thought was a seductive leer.
I peered around him to see what he'd done to the tie. "We sent our RSVP."
"Yeah, but Doyle...." He straightened and moved away a step.
I turned my eyes to his.
He looked self-conscious.
"Bodie, what is it you want to tell me?"
"You finally looked at the invitation, didn't you?"
He coughed. "Saw it before."
"No you didn't, I told you about it. And I don't remember mentioning names, now that I think about it. I told you it was the Home Sec's niece and that was why we'd been invited."
Bodie took unfair advantage, walking away from me, across the room, ostensibly to collect his jacket. He kept his back turned to me as I got up to follow him. "We've been paying for rescuing him for fifteen years now, you know. Long before he was the Home Secretary. Why couldn't Cowley have sent Murphy or Jax or Anson or--"
I reached Bodie just as he swung round, and he nearly had me over. At least I can still surprise him now and again. He wrapped a steadying arm around me and I grinned at him. Well, if he wasn't going to play fair then I was under no obligation to.
He crumbled. He muttered something into my hair before he tried the diversionary tactic of kissing me.
"Won't work," I said, when I could.
"Do you want to bet?" He leaned forward again.
I backed away. "Don't mess with the tie!"
He sighed, picked up my jacket from the bed and helped me on with it. The silence worked a treat. "I know the mother of the bride."
I glanced at him. "The Home Sec's--"
"Ah. How well?"
Shrugging into his own jacket he avoided my look. "Too well."
I shook my head. "Can't take you anywhere, can I?"
He brightened. "The pub would be just the thing. I'll even buy." He followed me as I walked out of our bedroom.
"It's tempting, mate, but I reckon I want to take a butcher's at the competition." I dangled the car keys in front of him and smiled.
The sulk lasted through the drive, through the greetings of various colleagues from all the services, and well into the waiting period after we were seated. I stayed quiet, watching the other guests being seated, while he sat glowering beside me. After a few minutes, Bodie's hand found mine, and, when I looked at him, he squeezed my fingers.
I leant close to him. "Daft sod. If you really want to leave, we can."
"No, might as well see it through," he said with great gloom.
A few people stopped by to talk to us, among them Susan, whom we hadn't seen for a few years. Bodie unbent enough to flirt outrageously with her.
When Susan left, I nudged Bodie. "You never learn, do you. She's married as well, you know." I watched Susan walk to her own seat, several rows in front of us. Age agreed with her, it seemed.
Rather surprisingly, Bodie grinned. "She's done well, hasn't she? I should've married her--could've made my fortune."
"Oi, I'm the one she fancied."
"One date does not constitute a fancy, Doyle."
"It's more than you managed, Butch."
"Oh, well, that's only because, at the time, I was eating my heart out for you, sunshine."
"I might've known you'd blame me." I eyed him. "So, when did you have your fling with the Home Sec's sister?"
"Doyle," he hissed at me, looking around quickly.
Still nervy--and that, I must admit, re-kindled my curiosity. So I shifted to get a good view of the people at the front of the church. "Which one is she, then?"
He sighed but pointed her out to me. "She's wearing the light blue, right up front there."
"Not bad. A bit stiff, perhaps."
"Look at her husband."
"Colours her hair."
"She didn't when I knew her."
At his wistful tone, I turned to look at him. "You liked her."
The corner of his mouth curved up. "Yeah."
I settled back against the bench and pressed my leg against his. "She must've been beautiful when she was young."
"Very." After a moment he leant his shoulder against mine. "Felt sorry for her, really. Her husband's a prig."
"Hmm. She must've enjoyed her time with you, then."
And he pokered right up, like I was Cowley giving him a dressing down. "Yes."
After that, I wasn't the least surprised when he changed the conversation and started pointing out some of the security personnel on duty. They were all there: CI5, the Met, Special Branch--easy enough to spot if you knew what to look for. I made a mental note to speak with our trainers. Ivers caught my eye and nodded as he made his way to the front. As Controller of CI5 he'd have a place close to the Home Secretary, even if they were going through one of their periodic feuds. I looked to Bodie to share the joke but found him communing with the crowd again.
"Who're you looking for?"
Bodie scurried back to his topic of choice. "So, besides Ivers, I count four of ours, eleven Met, and five Special Branch."
"Who'd I miss?"
"Woman in the pink over there, next to the Martin Clunes lookalike."
"Undoubtedly. Look at the hat. Not in favour I'd say. Christ, I'm glad to be out of that lot." And I was, too. More than twenty years on and I still felt grateful for the chance that had brought me to Cowley's notice.
The music started to quiet people down and then the procession got under way. I glanced at the bride but kept my attention more on the crowd than on the main attraction. I also kept an eye on Bodie. He was concentrating on the bride, and he wore an expression I never thought to see on his face in such a circumstance: benevolence.
I sat down a bit harder than I'd intended and drew Bodie's attention. But the ceremony had begun, so I gave him a quick, reassuring signal and he settled back to watch the service. I was busy calculating years and dates.
Distracted, it was pure chance that I saw the girl's move when it happened--the pink-clothed Met officer, that is. Bodie picked it up from me and so we both saw her put a regulation-perfect hold on the man beside her, cuff him, and escort him down the aisle towards the door. One look at her face told us the whole story.
Bodie glanced at me and then he stood up and followed them smoothly to the exit. I followed along at my own pace. The officer might have lacked a certain finesse, she might've jumped a little early, but her instincts were dead on. I knew the Met wouldn't appreciate it.
I reached the group--by then consisting of several police officers, two of Special Branch's finest, the irate wedding guest, and the female officer--just as the Met Superintendent in charge reached the climax of his verbal flaying. Bodie was leaning against the stone wall, at the top of the steps, by the entrance. I joined him there; no one took any notice of us.
I watched the girl. She stood, composed and blank-faced, her hat wilting in the steady rain but her spine ramrod straight. There was no give to her, no excuses offered, no emotion showing whatsoever. I glanced at Bodie and saw the interest for her in his narrowed eyes and the slight compression of his lips.
As the Controllers of Assessment we always keep an eye out for likely candidates for CI5. For some of the other services as well--we rack up favours that way, that often come in handy. We choose the best for CI5, of course, always. Of the two of us, Bodie has the better eye for recruits. I'm better at the other end--picking up the burnout just before it costs lives. When Cowley first proposed the assessment roles for us I thought he'd done it out of pity because of the accident. I didn't realise the true role he had envisioned for us, nor the trap he'd set. We fell right into it, and there we remain.
It didn't become clear, really, until his retirement three years later. CI5 had been a one-man show, but one-man shows are vulnerable, as Cowley well knew. He hand-picked his successor, and he used every shred of his own power, every favour he'd ever been owed, and all his political savvy, to set up a series of checks and balances so that CI5 retains its power but it no longer resides in only one man.
We hold a piece of it, and a larger piece than most are aware of.
Having decided that the public flogging had been sufficient, the Superintendent dismissed the girl and solicitously escorted the blond man back into the church, followed by the others. The girl turned and walked away. Bodie started after her, and then he hesitated, and glanced at me.
I knew that look. It had been one of the main reasons the first couple of years after the accident had been rather difficult. I'd read pity and apology in that look and I had wanted nothing of it. I used to yell at him for it, and he'd stand there, as blank-faced as that girl, and he'd never say a word. I finally realised that he wasn't apologising for his health, that he wasn't checking to see if it was all right if he left me to go haring off on his own. No, it was more instinctive than that, more involuntary. It was Bodie missing his right arm, and looking around for it when he needed to use it. On the street we were never as effective alone as we were together. It hit us both, knowing I couldn't back him up.
"Go on." I watched as he trotted down the steps after the girl.
Yeah, she might well be a good choice for CI5. If she was willing. If she held herself together after the day's fiasco. Remembering the look on her face, and her posture, I was placing my bet on her, and on Bodie's instincts.
I made my way back into the church, intent on making a few inquiries of my own.
Bodie, rather to my surprise, joined me as we filed out of the church after the ceremony. He looked far too pleased with himself.
"You gave her our home phone number, didn't you?"
He grinned. "Habit, Ray."
"She probably wanted to thump you. Just remember you're answering if she calls at an inconvenient time."
We took our place in the receiving line. I used my cane to good advantage to gain us a little privacy.
"Her name's Linda Stone," I told him. "WPC. No prospects, although they didn't want to say why. I called in for a background check, it should be ready for us later tonight."
"You've been busy."
"I wanted to please you, didn't I?"
He looked at me. I looked back at him. We moved closer to the bride and groom.
Lowering his voice he attempted to intimidate me. "Don't embarrass me at a wedding, Doyle."
"Would I do that?"
"It's not fair to Margaret, either, or--"
"Is that her name?"
"Your daughter?" I beamed at him.
He choked. Then he turned it into a not very convincing cough. That worked better than the cane for giving us some privacy. I thumped him on the back, smiling apologetically at the harridan behind us.
Bodie caught my hand and got himself back under control, with a speaking glance for me. I regretfully gave up on the father-daughter theory.
We sailed through the congratulations. Margaret's eyes widened when she saw Bodie but otherwise they might well have been complete strangers. Her husband nodded with the same distant civility to both of us. Bodie asked for a kiss from the bride, for old time's sake--claimed to have last seen her in her pram. And the groom ignored us in favour of exclaiming over his "dear Aunt Agatha" in the line behind us.
We walked back towards our car. Thankfully, the rain had let up, no doubt soon to be taken as a sign of favour for the newlyweds.
"My daughter, eh?"
"Yeah, well, you should've seen your face when she was walking down the aisle. All that paternal admiration."
"I was thinking what a pity it was she'd inherited more from her father than her mother."
"Exactly what I was thinking! Understandable mistake."
He moved a little closer to me as we walked. "We can go home now, can't we Ray? We've done our duty, and more."
"You're passing up free food?"
"I'd rather feast on you."
I made the mistake of looking at him. "All right. All right. As long as--"
"Ah, Doyle and Bodie! So glad you could make it to the wedding. Shall we ride together to the reception? Jason here can bring your car. A word or two in your ears--"
We obediently fell in with the Home Secretary, Bodie's face looking remarkably like Linda Stone's.
"I have it!"
Bodie, driving us home, looked over at me, indulgence all too evident on his face. All the tension that had turned him into an irritable bastard at the reception had drained away as if it had never been. It drove me crazy.
"What now?" he asked.
"You had it off with the groom as well as the bride's mother, and that's why he didn't greet us in the reception line--you broke his heart, didn't you?" I pulled at my tie and undid a couple of buttons.
"What do you mean his heart? I thought I was being very brave today, didn't you?"
"I grant you there is an age difference."
"Not to mention a law. He would've been about eight."
I slipped my hand around Bodie's thigh. "True. All right, scratch that theory." I was just as glad to be going home. The food had been good but Bodie had been right about the inferiority of the champagne. Either rumour had lied, or the bride's father was in dire financial straits.
"Well, it's better than the incest theory."
"Ivers happened to mention that there was another brother, mysteriously missing...."
"Nigel. I ask you Doyle, do I look like a Nigel?"
"You aren't going to tell me what this was all about, are you?"
"Got it in one, sunshine."
"I haven't seen you so harried-looking since the time you stole the Cow's shipment of scotch."
"At your instigation."
"Your corrupting influence."
"Leading my elders astray? I don't think it works that way." He yelped as I tried a bit of corrupting right then and there. Regretfully, for the sake of the other drivers, I took my hand away from his thigh.
It was nice to be alone, these sorts of affairs never something I enjoyed. I wouldn't have stayed as long as we did if I hadn't been enjoying Bodie's hunted expression. But then I caught him out when he didn't think I was looking at him and I knew it'd been enough. So I played the gimpy leg card and got us out of there.
If the stupid sod didn't want to tell me anything about whatever it was, then that was his problem. Nothing to do with me. Absolutely nothing.
After a long period of silence in the car, my resolution wavered. "She turned you down, didn't she?"
Bodie gave me a haughty look.
"All those years ago--that's why you were so tense. You were afraid she'd bring it up, how she spurned your attentions."
Bodie just looked at me with disbelieving eyes.
"Yeah, all right, point taken." I conceded defeat, for the moment.
Arriving home, I poured scotch for Bodie while he went to check the fax machine. I settled myself on the sofa, gratefully kicking off my shoes and elevating my leg to the coffee table.
Bodie came back into the room, carrying the fax, and sat down beside me, reaching for his drink. He eyed me but I waved him off. I was admitting enough about the state of my leg by not having anything else to drink.
"You'll never guess who her father is."
And that's when it fell into place for me. "Bloody hell. Jack Stone."
I whistled. "No wonder. Didn't pick the easy road, did she?"
"She has to be stubborn to have stuck it seven years." Bodie sounded admiring.
"Either that or she's a masochist. Or she's a plant."
Bodie glanced at me, then finished his drink. "That's the Met talking."
"Nah, that's common sense."
He turned so his back was against the arm of the sofa, then pulled me close to him, easing my leg onto the sofa. He began to knead my neck and shoulders. "Making that much of a disturbance at the wedding doesn't fit with a plant."
"You like her," he whispered into my ear.
I grinned. "That's true, too. But I never let liking interfere with my judgement."
"Her family must've given her hell."
"And then some. Loyalty is everything to families like hers. Hell, that's the only reason Jack turned himself in."
"Yeah." His voice was odd, and I tried to turn to look at him but he held me in place and continued the massage. "It said in the fax that Jack died in prison."
"Yeah, I know."
"You didn't say anything."
"What was there to say? It happened."
He was quiet, probably thinking, as I was, of the last time we saw Jack Stone. He and Chrissie and the kids. I saw the resemblance now, in the flashing memory I had of Linda Stone, and in the stoic copper on the steps of the church. What had brought her to the Met, of all places? But then, what had brought any of us to where we were?
"I can understand why he stayed in the attic all those years." Bodie was holding me close now, one of his hands settling over my heart.
"No way to live."
"It was the only way there was, for him."
"But what did it leave for his family?" I stroked his arm, unbuttoning the cuff to get to his skin.
"Maybe that's why Linda Stone is in the Met. She reminds me of you."
I turned my head to peer at him. "She what?"
"Fighting against everyone." He nuzzled my neck.
"You're barmy." I tilted my head, giving him better access. "You know we'll have to test her."
"Yeah." He moved his lips to my face, and his hands lower. "But later. Come into my attic, Ray."
So often, now, it's gentle between us. Sweet, slow loving that, twenty years ago, I never would have believed would be so very satisfying. I know every inch of him, every touch that brings him pleasure. But it gives me no end of pleasure to rediscover them, as often as possible. And to have his hands on me, telling me more about him, and us, than words ever could.
But he gave me words as well that night, filled my ears with them as he chooses to do every now and again. All the soft things that he held inside him for years, that he slowly learned were safe for me to hear. And, afterwards, in our bed, I held him until he slept, thanking God and Cowley that he'd found his way to me.
I didn't sleep; I knew I wouldn't that night. When he was safely dreaming, I eased away from him and went to the spare room. On the nights I can't sleep I stay there, not wanting to disturb him. I get a lot of reading done on those nights, or I write reports, or plan new ways to test our agents so what happened to us will never happen to them. That's just what Macklin had tried to do for us. Only, I'm far more ruthless than Macklin ever was--and all without laying a hand on any of them.
I shifted on the bed, trying to get comfortable. After reading the same page three times over, I gave up and tossed the book aside.
Jack Stone's daughter. She'd have grown up believing that the only people she could trust were in her family. You only turn for help to one of your own. But it'd been a connection to her family that had tried to kill her--the father of her cousin's bride. And Jack and Chrissie hadn't been able to protect them on their own. Was that the first crack in her family?
I pictured her as I'd seen her at the church--smoothly efficient as she'd escorted the blond to the door. She'd been doing her job, knowing she'd destroyed all she'd built in seven years. Jack Stone's daughter couldn't make any mistakes.
So like Bodie in her reaction to rank unfairness; so unlike me.
A muscle spasm in my leg got me up and moving from the spare room to the loo--giving in to the need for the pills. I swallowed two of them, then caught my own gaze in the mirror. Nearly fifty years old: greying hair; face more full of dents than ever; and eyes that had seen too much and forgotten too little. The best thing I had from it all was Bodie. The only thing that mattered, in the end. He'd finally taught me the value of the personal.
Funny, really, considering that, like Cowley, he'd been convinced Jack Stone would abandon his family. I knew the ties that bound Jack; I knew he'd come back. Just like it was yesterday, I heard Bodie's voice in my head, when he saw Jack walking towards us: All right, give you that one.
But it was Bodie who'd always given his loyalty, and his love, to individuals. Like he said, he understood Jack Stone very well.
It was the only way there was, for him.
Understood him now.
Come into my attic, Ray.
We'd never talked about moving in together. He just showed up to take me home from hospital, and he never left. I reckon both of us were too afraid to touch it, after the year we'd had, too afraid to even think about it, much less discuss it. We'd gone through too much, after Bodie's injury and his withdrawal--when he'd shut me out, even though we'd been lovers for years. I still sometimes wake in the night and check to see if he's there. It wasn't until my own accident that he came round. I woke up to find him next to my bed in hospital; thought I was dreaming at first. He'd finally started working on his physio, getting himself back to health, if not to CI5-standard fitness, and then he'd come to find me. Everything was back to normal on the surface. But it took me years to believe he wasn't going to disappear again. That he wasn't going to put the walls back up and finish what he'd started for me the day he'd been careless.
There were times, early on, when I'd almost wished he hadn't returned, when I'd wished an end to the pain and to the uselessness the accident had brought me to. But he stayed through it all, and he made sure I did, too. It didn't seem to me that he'd got much out of it. Not much to show for staying in an attic of his own making.
I turned from the mirror, stumbling a little, and a warm hand grasped my arm and steadied me. Bodie, of course. I stared at him, seeing the years in his face, too, seeing the worry that was never hidden well enough. Fear for me? Or fear of me, and an attic that was a prison?
"Ray? Are you all right? You've been in here for--"
"Bodie." I reached for him, drew him close and kissed him, kissed him like Jack Stone had kissed his Chrissie all those years ago. I kissed him as I'd wanted to kiss him when he lay in hospital half-dead from all that Grier's men had done to him.
He broke the kiss eventually, hands running soothingly over my back, over my arms. "Come on, mate, take it easy. You're freezing. Come on, let's get you in bed."
"Bodie. I love you."
"Yeah, that's fine. Come on." He tugged at me.
I stood my ground. "No, I mean it. I love you."
He blinked at me.
"More than anything."
He nodded, his hand running up and down my arm. "How many pills did you take, angelfish?"
"Listen to me, you berk. I'm trying to tell you something important."
He kept nodding. "Can't you tell me in bed?"
Exasperating pillock. I towed him to the bed and climbed in, dragging him with me. It had to be said; he had to know that it went both ways.
"Listen to me. I just wanted to tell you that, well.... These years...mean a lot to me. They've been the best ever. I wouldn't change anything."
His tone was the one you use when humouring the insane. I began to feel a bit irritated. I tapped him on the arm to gain his attention. He winced dramatically and looked aggrieved.
"Don't ask me why I love you, you annoying sod, but I do. I want to make sure you know that."
He reached out and rubbed his thumb along my cheekbone. "Don't you think I know?"
"Maybe not. I don't tell you. And you, you're so.... I start wondering...."
His lips followed his thumb, and then he stretched out beside me and gathered me close. "I learned a long time ago to pay more attention to what you do than to what you say."
I lifted my head up. "You what?"
He pushed my head back down. "I love you, too, Ray."
I kissed his collarbone and we lay there in silence for a while. It needed saying, once and for all. "There are some mornings I wake up, and I'm bloody grateful for the accident." I tightened my hold on him as he tensed. "And you fucking well know why."
I waited and then, very slowly, I felt him relax. His lips found mine, and he kissed me again, then he whispered: "I'm sorry."
"You've never left me since. Do you think you could stop paying for it?"
His smile was slow in coming, but it finally did, and he pressed his face against mine. "I'll give some thought to it." He settled back again, his hand rubbing slowly over me, offering comfort. "What brought all this on?"
Well, you couldn't expect me to avoid an opening like that, could you? I was trained by Cowley, after all. "Why were you acting so strangely at the wedding and the reception?"
I bore up pretty well under his suspicious glare. I kept my eyes wide and blanked my mind.
"Leave it out, mate." He pulled back a little, then heaved a sigh and shook his head. "All right, then, we'll deal. Mine for yours. Do you remember McKay?"
"The mad SAS bastard? Of course."
After a full minute I nipped at him. "Well?"
"Well...it's hard to explain properly."
"I lost a bet and McKay collected the favour. He knew Margaret, grew up next door to her, in fact."
"And...McKay knew she was miserable in her marriage--it'd only been a year--and he thought that maybe if she made her husband jealous, if she treated him like he was treating her...."
"But her husband doesn't have affairs."
"Not now, no, but back then he did."
I gazed at him. "That's the stupidest idea I've ever heard."
He nodded, glumly.
"So, what happened?"
"Nothing! We had one date, I kissed her in public, and then all hell broke loose."
I grinned. "The husband found out."
"And the husband was a friend of Major Nairn's."
"Oh God." I collapsed, shaking.
"It's all well and good for you to laugh, but...."
I looked up. "Wait a minute. You're never saying that that's why Nairn was willing to turn you over to Cowley?"
Bodie looked guilty.
I grinned. No wonder he had been on tenterhooks, waiting for Nairn or McKay to put in an appearance at the wedding. I shook my head in sadness. "The things you got yourself into before you settled down, Romeo."
"Before you wore me out, you mean."
"That too. And to think, we owe it all to that mad SAS bastard-- Oi! That's meant to be attached you know."
"Come on," Bodie said. "Your turn."
"Oh, good." I reached for his nipple.
He evaded me. "Stop that." And then his voice turned serious. "I didn't like seeing you looking like that in the loo, Ray. What brought it on?"
I stroked his face, then settled him down next to me again.
"I got to thinking."
"Shut up. I was thinking about loyalty. You're what I held onto when all my ideals slipped away from me, one by one. And then I started worrying that I'm not--that it's not enough for you. I get so involved with what I'm doing on the job, and...well...I'm not the easiest...."
It's very off-putting to be pouring your heart out to a man who's sniggering into your neck. I thumped him. Hard. It just made him laugh all the harder so I let him have his fun and waited. Patiently.
He finally lifted his head, took one look at my face and choked. His cough in bed isn't any more convincing than his cough in church.
"All right, all right, pax," he gasped, holding me off. "Just give me a minute." He propped himself up on an elbow, gazing down at me, and all my resentment vanished at the expression in his eyes. "You idiot," my adoring partner said. "You never could see the trees in the forest, could you?"
"I think you have that slightly wrong."
"Listen to me now, all right?" I assumed a patient look and this time he thumped me. Aggressive sod. "You're the most loyal person I know. It worries me, sometimes, what you'll put up with in a friend." He looked reflective. "It's a good thing you hold most of the world at a distance, actually. Obnoxious and demanding bast--"
I pinched him. He grinned and kissed me, before he continued on: "You'll do for me. And you've lost nothing of your dedication to idealism. Maybe the goals have changed but not the fire that drives you."
"Why'd you accept Cowley's plan for us? Why'd you take on Assessment?"
"It was all we were fit for, wasn't it. We were both crocked up. You weren't going to make the fitness needed for a street agent again."
"Right. And we both know how I ended up in that state, don't we?"
My eyes slid away from his.
"Macklin had passed me fit but I'd lost the edge, hadn't I? I'd lost what I needed to survive on the street."
He waited until I nodded, and then he smiled and gently threaded his fingers into my hair. "You're not going to let what happened to me happen to anyone else. You're not going to let anyone else bugger up their partnership the way I did ours, despite everything we were to each other. You're the one who taught me about loyalty, mate, after I failed you."
"You weren't responsible for my accident," I said fiercely.
"Maybe not. But it's not your accident that drives you on the assessments, is it? It's thinking about me. And that's why I came to you, after the accident, after I finally saw the truth. It wasn't that you were injured when I wasn't there--wasn't even on a job, was it? It was that you needed me, on or off the job, and I sure as hell needed you. It's about who you put first in your life. Who you live for. I know what I mean to you; it's what you mean to me."
"Our own mobile ghetto." I pulled him down to me, kissed his eyes and his mouth. Daft sod. But he knows more than I do, sometimes.
"Our own family, like Jack Stone." He moved against me, warm and comfortable and familiar. It isn't a prison, when an attic is shared.
I smiled, and thought of Linda Stone. She'd lost her family, and the Met was throwing her away. But she still did her job, the job she'd chosen.
"We'll give her a partner of her own, Bodie."
"I knew you'd see it my way."
And I kissed him to shut him up.
-- THE END--
Originally published in Roses and Lavender 5, Allamagoosa Press, October 2001